The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Spain. Today he attended an event at the Royal Palace in Madrid marking the 60th anniversary of Spain’s membership at the United Nations. Speaking to Spain’s leaders, including King Felipe, the Secretary-General applauded Spain’s leadership over the years and said that he looks to Spain, united in its diversity, to do even more on the global stage in the future.
In a meeting with King Felipe, the Secretary-General thanked Spain for its support to the UN, including to peacekeeping operations, as well as for hosting the World Tourism Organization in Madrid and the UN Support Base in Valencia. The Secretary-General commended Spain’s continued critical support for the UN Alliance of Civilization initiative.
The Secretary-General also met with the Foreign Minister of Spain and they just held a joint press conference and the transcript should be out very soon.
In a short while, the Secretary-General will address Spanish CEOs whose companies are part of the UN Global Compact, as well as representatives of the civil society.
Tomorrow, as expected, he will leave for Geneva. As we had mentioned previously, he will meet the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross and speak to media after that.
An update that we have just received from our Mission in South Sudan: I know some of you have been curious about these incidents.
On 26 October, one of the Mission's barges resupplying fuel travelling on the Nile North of Malakal was blocked in Kaka by over 100 heavily armed men affiliated with the SPLA in Opposition [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition] who detained the UN peacekeepers and the crew manning the barge. The fuel was looted.
Today we can report that earlier today, all 20 of the detained UNMISS peacekeepers were extracted by helicopter from Kaka to Malakal. The Opposition has, however, kept in Kaka all 12 of the UN contractors, the barge and some of the weaponry and equipment belonging to peacekeepers.
The Mission is extremely concerned that the national crew of the barge have also not been released, the barge has not been returned to the UN, and neither has its equipment.
The Mission calls on Riek Machar to take his responsibilities as leader of the SPLM in Opposition, and uphold his commitment to the United Nations that all be returned safely.
The Mission demands that the UNMISS national contractors be released immediately, unharmed and unhurt.
UNMISS further recalls that attacks against peacekeepers and other UN staff can constitute war crimes, which could be brought to the International Criminal Court.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN Mission in the country, MINUSCA, notes that the country’s electoral commission announced yesterday that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on 13 December, with run-off presidential polls on 24 January. A new president and a deputy were elected for the National Electoral Authority.
Meanwhile, the Mission says that sporadic firing was reported yesterday in the second district and PK5 location of Bangui, prompting six Muslims to seek temporary shelter at UN premises.
The Mission also intervened and pushed back a small group of Muslims when it entered the Fatima Church area in the sixth district of Bangui. Reportedly, two houses were burnt and four individuals were killed by unknown perpetrators. The Mission reports that following the incident, civilians started fleeing the area.
MINUSCA remains on high alert and a Joint Task Force and Quick Reaction Force was immediately dispatched to the sixth district to be positioned between the opposing groups.
The Mission adds that patrolling has been intensified and protection in front of MINUSCA installations has been reinforced.
Just a quick note to tell you something that you already know: the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will be representing the Secretary-General at the Vienna Conference on Syria which opens up officially tomorrow.
Regarding Yemen, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it is deeply concerned about the dire food security situation in the city of Taiz in southern Yemen, where a lack of humanitarian access has left tens of thousands of people without food assistance for more than a month.
WFP food assistance last reached Taiz more than five weeks ago through WFP’s local partner, which distributed food assistance to nearly 240,000 conflict-affected people in the city. The agency is pleading for safe and immediate access to Taiz to prevent a humanitarian tragedy as supplies dwindle, threatening the lives of thousands.
A June report classified Taiz and nine other of Yemen’s 22 governorates as facing food insecurity at ‘emergency’ level — one step below famine on a five-point international scale. The report revealed that Taiz was the worst affected in Yemen with the price of diesel increasing by 500 percent compared to pre-crisis levels and the price of wheat flour doubling.
Turning to Iraq, initial assessments from our humanitarian colleagues indicate that several camps and sites where internally displaced people live near Baghdad have been affected by flooding, affecting thousands of displaced people. Some displaced people are reportedly sheltering in schools, religious buildings or with host families as tents have been destroyed or damaged across numerous locations.
Humanitarian concerns include shelter, household items, food and clean water. The impact of flooding on public health is also being assessed, as the flooded areas are those affected by the current cholera outbreak.
Iraqi Government authorities are working to provide excavators and evacuate people from affected displacement sites.
Humanitarian actors are pumping out water from selected sites and providing immediate support.
The full impact of heavy rains and flooding, which began in Baghdad yesterday, is still being assessed.
The UN High Commissioner [for Refugees] António Guterres launched yesterday in Washington a new report entitled "Women on the Run" which looks at the consequences of the violence being perpetrated by organized, transnational criminal groups in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and certain parts of Mexico.
The full report is available on UNHCR’s website.
The World Health Organization released its Global tuberculosis report 2015, showing this year’s death rate is nearly half of what it was in 1990.
Nevertheless, with 1.5 million deaths in 2014, the disease still ranks alongside HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death worldwide.
Most of these deaths could have been prevented, according to the report, which calls for detection and treatment gaps to be closed, funding shortfalls to be filled and new diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to be developed.
More information on WHO’s website.
**Republic of Congo
Yesterday I was asked about the situation in the Republic of Congo.
I can say that as you will recall, the Secretary-General noted with concern the reports of violent clashes between protesters and the police in Brazzaville, ahead of the referendum, which resulted in a number of casualties and wounded. He is aware of the tensions between the opposition parties and the Government. He is also concerned about reports of detention of opposition leaders in the Republic of Congo.
The Secretary-General stresses that the Government is responsible for upholding the right of citizens to freedom of expression and assembly, and urges the authorities to ensure restraint in dealing with peaceful demonstrations in order to avoid any further escalation.
Ahead of the referendum, the Secretary-General had dispatched his Special Representative for Central Africa and Head of the United Nations Office for Central Africa, Abdoulaye Bathily, who spent the last few days in Brazzaville facilitating dialogue among all stakeholders. He encourages the full participation of all relevant parties in discussions regarding potential electoral reforms.
The United Nations will continue to monitor the situation, in consultation with relevant partners.
**Questions from Yesterday
Yesterday I was also asked about the report of the African Union on the human rights situation in South Sudan.
I can tell you that in line with relevant Security Council resolutions, the UN Mission supported the African Union Commission of Inquiry.
The Mission fully cooperated with the Commission's investigation team at all stages of its work in South Sudan, in accordance with standard practices and policy, including the need to preserve confidentiality and to protect victims and witnesses.
This support is acknowledged in the report of the Commission, in its paragraph 3 where it states that the Commission would like to thank the former Special Representative of the Secretary General, her interim successor, and their team for the immense support provided to the Commission in the course of its work in South Sudan.
**Press Conferences Today
In a short while, I will be joined by John Ging, who will talk to you about his trip to Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia.
And then at 1:15 p.m., a briefing by the Mike Smith, the Head of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.
Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., the cavalcade of Special Rapporteurs continues. You will hear from the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns.
And then at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft.
Finally, I have a bit of sad news. We have been informed that Haider Rizvi, who was, as you know, a reporter in the UN press corps for many years, died last night in Lahore, Pakistan. Our thoughts are with him and his family.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Sad news about Haider.
Two questions. Following up on your announcement on the rebels seizing these river barges, they said initially that they suspected that the barges were transporting weapons for government troops. Were there any weapons on those barges? You talked about fuel, I know.
And, secondly, there was another tragic sinking of a boat with migrants off of Lesvos last night in Greece, and this seems to be almost a daily occurrence, and I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any comment on the continuing wave of migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe even as winter sets in.
Spokesman: Well, obviously, I think on your last point, the tragedy that we saw yesterday off the coast... or this morning, rather, excuse me, off the coast of Lesvos is yet another tragedy, and I think the Secretary‑General, as he has said previously, is heart‑broken by the number of deaths that we've seen in the Mediterranean this year.
I think this, again, underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to dealing with the current refugee and migrant crisis we're seeing in Europe. I think the Italians and the Greeks have been on the front lines of providing whatever support they can, and we have noted, I think, the increased support from the European Union.
But this also goes to the heart of the need to deal with the root cause of this crisis, notably the continued fighting in Syria and the increase we have seen in violent deaths in Syria and then the suffering of the Syrian people and the daily deterioration of the situation in Syria.
And, obviously, on that point, the Secretary‑General, I think, is very much encouraged about the meeting in Vienna. This is something that he has been calling for, of getting the key international countries around the table, the key partners around the table, in trying to resolve the situation in Syria through dialogue.
On your first question, the only weapons I'm aware of were the weapons that belong to the peacekeepers.
Matthew and then Majid.
Correspondent: I want to ask a follow‑up on South Sudan and then something on the John Ashe/Macau/South‑South case. And thanks for the response on the African Union report. But, obviously, I mean, they said that no data was provided to them. So maybe there's some... I just... I guess I would like you to explain, because this same issue seemed to have come up with the rapes in the Central African Republic, that the UN seems to have some reading of confidentiality, which either makes it impossible to make information available or, in this case, you know...
Spokesman: I think they're two different... very much two different cases. The case in the Central African Republic, as you know, is the subject of an inquiry.
On South Sudan, you know, obviously, people can interpret it different ways. Obviously, there is a need to respect the confidentiality of witnesses and victims. When you are a human rights investigator and you collect those names and the witnesses, you do so in confidence. So it's important to protect that. I think it's clear from the AU mission's report that, overall, they were very grateful for the support and work from the peacekeeping mission.
Correspondent: But they said any... the Commission was unable to access any data in the possession of UNMISS.
Spokesman: Well, I think people can have different interpretation.
Spokesman: The AU have... has said what it has said and I have said what I have said.
Question: Okay. Here's what I wanted to ask you, and you may again say this is subject to an inquiry, but I think it's a... various documents were signed at that Macau South‑South event in August, and at least as to Dominica, the document was signed by a UN official as well. It was a tripartite signing for some technology centre. So the question is, are these documents that the UN signed with a Government, a now‑indicted essentially Foundation and the UN, can those... are those documents available?
Spokesman: You know what? I can't answer that, because I don't know exactly what documents you're talking about.
Question: It's called a tripartite agreement for technology transfer centre in Dominica.
Spokesman: Let me take a look at it.
Correspondent: And did the UN staff... UNDP still hasn't given a list of its people that were there, but since there were Secretariat staff there, I wanted... I've asked you this before...
Spokesman: I think the list has... I mean, I'll check...
Correspondent: There is a list, but it has no UNDP people on it...
... if you see what I'm saying.
Spokesman: I'll see what...
Question: I've seen that list. I've seen that list, and as to the people from the Global Compact and DFS, I've asked you before, who paid for their travel? Were their hotel or local expenses paid by Mr. Ng? And did they get DSA at the same time?
Spokesman: As I said, I think all of these things are being looked at at the audit.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, the Saudi Ambassador denied that coalition, the Saudi‑led coalition hit UN‑run hospital in Sa’ada. How did the Secretary‑General reach the conclusion that that hospital was actually hit by a Saudi airstrike?
Spokesman: I think we have been in touch with MSF. They have provided quite a lot of detail. Obviously, Médecins Sans Frontières is a critical partner to the UN's humanitarian work. The issue of who controls the skies and who has the air power, I think, is clear for many people to see.
Correspondent: So based on what you're saying, the UN is like 100 per cent sure that it was...
Spokesman: I think... I have nothing to change to the statement that I made.
Question: I've been wanting to ask this, and it's because... I've heard... I mean, the Secretary‑General has spoken a lot about the Korean peninsula including human rights in North Korea, and there's this pretty detailed report that's getting more and more play, basically that the United States' Pentagon used a humanitarian NGO, one of the few outside groups active in North Korea, to spy, to bring in military [inaudible]. It’s in the Intercept, it's now been published in numerous other places. And I wanted to know, I guess, just... as a general matter, is the Secretary‑General aware of it? Is he concerned about it? Does he have any guidance about the way in which countries that say they're concerned about human rights in other countries, whether they should use NGO's for intelligence?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the particular report you mentioned to. I think the sanctity of humanitarian work needs to be respected as a matter of principle.
I will get Mr. Ging, who will be delighted to talk to you.