The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will be leaving for San Francisco this morning from Los Angeles. In San Francisco, he will have a meeting with Governor Jerry Brown of California to thank him for his and his state’s support for the fight against climate change.
He will also visit the person he calls his “American mother”, Libba Patterson. Ms. Patterson, who is now 99, and her family hosted a young Ban Ki-moon in 1962 when he was in the US as part of a Red Cross-sponsored programme.
As we mentioned at yesterday’s briefing, the Secretary-General had a series of events yesterday in Los Angeles. He participated in an event for recently resettled refugees from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East at an event co-sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, the Annenberg Foundation and the UN Foundation.
In his discussions with the refugee families, the Secretary-General said the UN would be there for them as it had been there for him when he was a displaced young boy in war-torn Korea. And in a message to communities that had seen a recent influx of refugees, the Secretary-General said that these newly arrived families needed to be welcomed, embraced and integrated into their new communities.
The Secretary-General also participated in a public discussion with Congressman Ed Royce, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He thanked the Congressman for his leadership on a wide-range of global issues. During a bilateral meeting, they had an opportunity to discuss the situations in South Sudan, Myanmar and the Korean Peninsula.
He also participated in two events with the creative community yesterday, in which he talked to attendees about how he strongly believed in the ability of the industry to be a power for social good.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and said that the fighting in Aleppo right now shows that no military solution is possible in Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria.
He said that discussions have been continuing in Geneva with US and Russian officials on how to obtain a workable humanitarian pause in Aleppo, and he expects those talks to continue tomorrow.
Mr. de Mistura and his Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, both underscored that a three-hour pause is not enough for humanitarian workers. They reiterated the UN’s request for a 48-hour pause so that humanitarian convoys can effectively go into Aleppo and provide aid. We’ll have the transcript of their remarks available later.
This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations via videoconference.
The UN High Commissioner for Human rights today criticized what he said was Bulgaria’s system of automatically jailing migrants attempting to enter and attempting to leave the country in an irregular manner.
The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, speaking after a staff visit to Bulgaria, praised improvements in the country’s asylum systems, including upgraded facilities, and better treatment of children.
But, he said that one of the most serious problems is that virtually all people entering Bulgaria in an irregular manner are detained as a matter of course. Mr. Zeid said, “Even worse, they may also be prosecuted and jailed — for a year or even more — if they try to leave the country.”
The act of leaving the country is criminalized in spite of the right of everyone, under international law, to leave a country, including their own, he said. Details are on the Human Rights website.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Iraq signed an agreement in Baghdad today to help the Government to detect, investigate and prosecute corruption.
The agency said that with Da’esh nearly defeated, strengthening governance is a top priority.
The Development Programme said it will recruit international investigators to help train Iraqi investigators. More details are on the UNDP website.
And further to what I said earlier about Special Adviser Han Seung-soo and his involvement with the company Doosan Infracorps, I have been informed that the company did not engage in any contractual activities with the UN during the period of Mr. Han’s involvement in its board.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes?
Question: Actually, I have other stuff, but I wanted to ask you this because of this back‑and‑forth. It seems that Mr. Han Seung‑soo is also on the board of Standard Chartered Bank, which was awarded, according to the… the most recent report of the… on the Chief Executive Board's proceedings, Standard Chartered Bank was awarded the UN's master servicing banking contract. So I wanted to know… I mean, this is why I think I was asking for kind of a more comprehensive response from the Ethics Office in terms of what restrictions they've placed on Mr. Han Seung‑soo, because if, as is reflected by the bank's website, he's on the board of a bank that, in fact, has this major contract with the UN, can you please describe to me what possible restrictions deal with this?
Deputy Spokesman: I've described to you how the Ethics Office's guidelines work and that those guidelines apply to Mr. Han Seung‑soo. He has engaged and informed them of a number of his business dealings, and they have taken those into account.
Question: How can you be on the board of a… of a… of a bank that has a con… you just made a point of pointing out that Doosan, although it's listed in procurement contract… procurement database, didn't have contracts during this particular period of time. But if… I'm… I'm informing you that the Chief Executive Board's report said that Standard Chartered Bank has this contract with the UN, and he's on their board. So is he still on their board, or is he somehow half on their board?
Deputy Spokesman: I've described to you what the series of procedures are, and those are what applies to him as well as to other special advisers.
Question: So how is…
Deputy Spokesman: We're not going to interfere with their own outside‑of‑UN lives by going into all of their details at great length, but the Ethics Office has been dealing with this, and they have a series of guidelines, and he's aware of them and is in compliance…
Question: How can you be on a board of a corporation…?
Deputy Spokesman: You keep interrupting me.
Correspondent: All right. I'm asking because I see you already looking away, and I want… this is a very simple question.
Deputy Spokesman: I'm looking at someone else who is raising a hand. But, please, behave yourself. You need to understand that when someone is asking a question, you allow them to answer. I've actually lost my train of thought. So I'll have to gain it…
Correspondent: I'm asking… I'm willing to because I have a follow‑up question…
Deputy Spokesman: Because the continued interruptions… you're doing it again… actually break people's train of thought. He has been in touch with the Ethics Office. And, like I said, they have a series of remedies for the steps which I've detailed. Beyond that, this is what we have.
Question: What other boards is he on? That's my follow‑up question.
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, Matthew…
Correspondent: It's simple. It's simple, because he's on the board of a bank that does business with the UN… I'm finishing my question. You're cutting me off.
Deputy Spokesman: No…
Question: My question is, how many corporate boards that do business with the UN…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, when I start to say something in reply to your question and then you cut me off, then don't accuse me of cutting you off.
Question: Right, you tried to call on someone else, and I was asking another question. How many boards is Han Seung‑soo on that do business with the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, you're actually just trying to bully me. To be honest, I've given you a wealth of information about this, including details about how the Ethics Office goes about it. That's what we've got. Yes. Carole?
Question: Farhan, do you have any information on reports today of a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo?
Deputy Spokesman: I do have the information that Staffan de Mistura did speak about this in Geneva. He said that if this were proven that this could constitute a war crime. Obviously, this is something that needs to be investigated. He did think that there were some signs that such an attack had taken place. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Farhan, I wanted…
Question: One more. Do you know if there's… would this be the OCPW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) that would be looking into it or is there anyone on the ground who has information?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, this is the sort of thing that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would need to be able to look into, if they could. Yes?
Question: Farhan, I wanted… sorry, Farhan. Wanted to find out about this continued attacks by the Saudi coalition inside Yemen. Do you have any updated information, how many civilians have been killed or children have been killed? Because there are reports… conflicting reports coming out from there.
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have numbers, but we are aware of reports of attacks in various governorates, including Sa’ada and Hajjah Governorates. But we have been concerned about all casualties but also the fact that this exacerbates the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Question: Yeah. But also, the… the Secretary‑General's Special Representative, Mr. [Ismail Ould] Cheikh [Ahmed], had already said that he has put the talks in abeyance. Are the talks going to begin again? What's the story?
Deputy Spokesman: The last round ended Saturday in Kuwait. Right now he's working with each of the parties to follow up with the parties individually, and he does anticipate a further round once they've consulted with their respective leaderships.
Question: So why did he decide that there are going to be no talks basically?
Deputy Spokesman: He'd come up with a series of agreed principles at the time. I would point you to the transcript of his remarks, which we put out on Saturday, which tells you about what the common points are, and now he's trying to get the parties themselves to consult with their leaderships, as… as is standard in a lot of the processes like this. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Couple of questions on Syria: First of all, the Russian Ambassador now said that… that some convoys are entering Aleppo right now. Do you see any difference in the humanitarian situation over there? And also, as a follow‑up to the meeting in St. Petersburg yesterday between [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and [Vladimir] Putin, there was an announcement that they're going to do some joint operations against ISIS. Is that something you would welcome, you're looking at? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, on the second point, we welcome any signs of greater international unity against Da’esh. We have discussed many times the problems with this group and the need to reverse their control over the parts of Iraq and Syria that they have been holding. Regarding the latest situation in Aleppo, we do remain gravely concerned over the safety, health and protection of terrified civilians across Aleppo City who continue to suffer as fighting has persisted. The attacks on hospitals and clinics has continued unabated, and that seriously jeopardizes the health and welfare of all citizens. There is some sign that water has been returned to some people in Aleppo, but the situation remains precarious for hundreds of thousands. And, as you know, we and our partners stand ready to respond to the immediate needs of Aleppo's vulnerable people right now, but we are asking for a much longer cessation of hostilities that would allow humanitarian work to continue. Yeah?
Question: And also in Syria, a quick one, do you see the reports regarding an airstrike in Raqqa? Do you have any information on what happened over there?
Deputy Spokesman: We have no first-hand information of such airstrikes. Yes?
Question: Yeah, Farhan, do you have any comment on this Turkish‑Russian alliance to attack inside to get to ISIS? Do you think that that's a strategy that can work?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, your colleague Oleg just asked that very question seconds ago, and so I'd repeat my answer to him, which was that we welcome all international unity against Da’esh. Yes?
Question: Sure. Question on Ethiopia. But I wanted to ask you first, Mr. Jeffrey Feltman, the Under‑Secretary‑General of Political Affairs, is in the news, has referred to e-mails that were released in which it was said that a billionaire, Nigerian Lebanese businessman, Mr. Gilbert Chagoury, was… at the time that Mr. Feltman was at the State Department was referred to speak to him about matters in Lebanon. And the reason I'm asking you is that Mr. Feltman has seen fit to… to deny to CNN that he, in fact, ever spoke to Mr. Chagoury. What I wanted to know is, was this contact done through his DPA (Department of Political Affairs) Spokesman's office? And can we get an answer from Mr. Feltman about the number of times he's spoke with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia during the time frame immediately before Ban Ki‑moon dropped Saudi Arabia from the Yemen Children and Armed Conflicts annex, since this is his current job?
Deputy Spokesman: We… first of all, we don't provide details of all the diplomatic contacts our diplomats do. That would impede their work. Second of all, Mr. Feltman did convey to us, including to me as well as others, the information that he did not speak to Mr. Chagoury, and we've passed that on to reporters as they asked.
Question: I guess what would you say to the fact that a current UN official immediately responds to a question about his previous employment at the State Department but has yet… has not done a stakeout in front of the Security Council in I don't know how many months? And I'm asking you… this is a question I'd like to try to get an answer from him, the same way of how many times did he speak with Mr. Foreign Minister [Adel] al‑Jubeir of Saudi Arabia? Just the number.
Deputy Spokesman: On Foreign Minister al‑Jubeir, when he has met with the Secretary‑General, we've provided readouts. We do not provide lists of all the contacts that our diplomats have, since that would affect their ability to go about their work. Mr. Feltman does actually offer information… whenever there are requests for information about his work, he provides it either through us or through his own spokesperson.
Question: Will he be willing to similarly deny contacts in terms of his UN work? I'm just wondering about this… the… I'm comparing the levels of transparency. You immediately responded on one topic, and I'd like to ask you about a topic about his current work.
Deputy Spokesman: You're comparing dissimilar things. You're comparing dissimilar things. Like I said, his diplomatic work, a lot of it has to do with how he goes about contacts with different people. And it's up to him to decide how to engage on that. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Yesterday, Farhan, you said that you… that the Secretary‑General's Office provided the Security Council information about the children… women and children incarcerated by Israel. I tried to find… I could not get to that. Is there a consolidated list or a number we could… there used to be… when… earlier Michele [Montas], the… the Secretary‑General's Spokesman earlier, used to provide us with the detailed information about this, affectees.
Deputy Spokesman: We provide periodic numbers about those who are incarcerated by the Israeli authorities in… in the briefings that go to the Security Council. So those are just part of the text of the briefings.
Question: Are they kept… are they…
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that they should be available at least on the webcast, if not through press transcripts. Yes, Oleg?
Question: Finally, on the situation in Crimea, are you following what's happening over there? There… there's an exchange between the Russians and the Ukrainians right now.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we're aware of that, and this is a matter for the Security Council members to consider, and we'll see what they do. Yes?
Question: On… I have something else, but on that, at the stakeout yesterday, the Ukrainian Ambassador said that he's been in touch with DPA about briefing the Council, and he also mentioned DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), which I found strange. Can you say, in the Secretariat, who's been contacted by Ukraine to brief and which one is… and on what basis they would be providing the briefing? What kind of information do you have about these various claims?
Deputy Spokesman: We provide briefings as requested by the members of the Council. If there's a request, we'll provide it.
Question: What would be the purpose of DPKO briefing on the matter of Crimea?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't know whether there would be a DPKO briefing. The point is that, once we have a request for a briefing, we determine who is the best briefer. We'll let you know what happens if such a briefing is called.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, on Ethiopia, you'd come back with this statement of concern by the Secretary‑General, and now the Minister of Information of Ethiopia has dismissed and rejected any of the requests for any UN access to these areas where people have been killed. Again, you seem to say it doesn't matter that the UN has an office there, but given that it's a host country and you have a lot of operations there, what is the response to the host country denying access to these areas?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, this is… the need for access is something that has been called for, particularly by our human rights colleagues. The Human Rights Office and the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Ethiopian Government to allow access for international observers into the affected regions to be able to establish what exactly transpired. The Government must ensure that any use of excessive force by law enforcement officers is promptly and transparently investigated and those found responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice. All those detained for exercising the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly should be promptly released.
Question: Has the Secretariat reached out… whether the Secretary‑General or the… the elusive Mr. Feltman or anyone else, reached out to Ethiopia, given the relations between the two countries, to try to get such access?
Deputy Spokesman: The UN remains in touch with its Ethiopian counterparts, but I've told what you the High Commissioner has just said on this. Have a good afternoon, everyone.