The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Monday.
Last night we issued the following statement, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on Yemen. The Secretary-General condemns the attack, reported to have been an airstrike, on a school in the Sa'ada governorate of northern Yemen on the 13th of August. The attack killed at least 10 children and injured many more. The Secretary-General notes with dismay that civilians, including children, continue to bear the brunt of increased fighting and military operations in Yemen.
He calls for a swift investigation of this tragic event and urges the parties to take all necessary measures to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and do everything in their power to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no military solution to the crisis in Yemen. He calls upon the parties to renew — without delay and in good faith — their engagement with his Special Envoy for Yemen in pursuit of a negotiated solution.
The United Nations remains deeply concerned over the plight of up to 2 million people in need of assistance around Aleppo City and for those in the surrounding countryside. The humanitarian situation in Aleppo is dire, including in the east of the city where between 250,000 to 275,000 people remain trapped following the July closure of the Castello Road, the last remaining access route in and out of the area. And the situation is also bad in Government-controlled areas in the west, where between 1.2 and 1.5 million people live, as well as in the surrounding suburbs and neighbouring countryside which have continued to suffer from attacks.
Hostilities persisted over the weekend, including airstrikes and barrel bomb attacks on three medical facilities in Aleppo governorate. Airstrikes reportedly struck a pediatric hospital in Big Orem, and Al-Huda hospital in Hor on 13 and 14 August. In eastern Aleppo City, several rockets reportedly struck the area in the vicinity of Al-Quds hospital in Al-Sukari neighborhood on 14 August. In the absence of a ceasefire, the UN continues to call for a weekly 48-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting to provide assistance to those cut off from aid across the city to receive food, water, and other life-saving assistance.
The Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin, strongly condemned the brutal killing of a journalist, named Widad Hussein Ali, in Dohuk City in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He has called on the Government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to implement urgent measures to guarantee the safety of all journalists and media professionals.
Mr. Busztin said that he was deeply disturbed by the killing of this journalist. Such an act appears to have been part of a growing pattern of threats, intimidation and violence being directed against journalists and other media professionals in carrying out their duties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He called upon the Government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to ensure that this crime is urgently and thoroughly investigated and that the perpetrators are held accountable according to law.
Also on Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that military operations have reportedly intensified in Ninewa and Salah Al-Din Governorates. Approximately 900 displaced people have arrived in Haj Ali, south of Al Qayyarah in Ninewa, where they are being sheltered in a school and have received some assistance from a local NGO [non-governmental organization], according to humanitarian sources. Access for humanitarian partners is extremely difficult due to the ongoing military operations in the zone.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, Maman Sidikou, yesterday condemned the killing of civilians that took place in the village of Rwangoma in the area of Beni during the night of the 13 August. Thirty-six people reportedly lost their lives in the attack, believed to have been carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Mr. Sidikou presented his condolences to the families of the victims and the Congolese people and reiterated the support of the UN [Organization] Stabilization Mission in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], or MONUSCO, to the Congolese Armed Forces and the Congolese National Police to protect civilian populations in Beni.
In response to the news of the attack, MONUSCO has reinforced its military deployment in Beni town and the affected areas, increased its police patrolling, and deployed teams to gather further information. MONUSCO is also closely coordinating with local authorities, the police and the army in the Beni area and undertaking deployments to prevent further attacks against civilians. The UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, also said that this attack would “not deter from the collective determination to neutralize all negative forces that continue to cause sorrow and atrocities in eastern [Democratic Republic of the Congo]”. He stressed the urgency to implement the commitments of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework.
**Central African Republic
The UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that on 13 August, which was Saturday, MINUSCA forces stopped a convoy of approximately 35 heavily armed men in seven vehicles 50 kilometres south of Sibut. The convoy had exchanged fire with national security forces at several checkpoints, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. After MINUSCA’s demand that all weapons and munitions be surrendered was rejected, a stand-off ensued for several hours. Members of the convoy fled into the surrounding bush but MINUSCA captured and detained 10 armed men, who were taken to the Mission’s military base in Sibut. MINUSCA recovered a significant quantity of weapons and munitions.
MINUSCA has remained in contact with the Government throughout this episode and sought to deploy a joint team of governmental authorities, with MINUSCA support, to handle the situation in accordance with the rule of law. The UN Mission reiterates its appeal to all armed groups and militias to adhere to the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation process initiated by President [Faustin-Archange] Touadéra and encourages all Central Africans to prioritize dialogue.
**World Intellectual Property Organization
Switzerland once again leads the world in innovation, according to the global innovation index released today. The index, compiled by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and partners, ranks the innovation performance of 128 countries and economies, based on 82 indicators. This year’s edition explored the impact of innovation-oriented policies on economic growth and development. Switzerland was number one last year, too. Joining the top 25, for the first time this year, is China. And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. With the deteriorating situation in Yemen, which seemingly would not reach any end, is the Secretary‑General ready to declare the mission of the Special Envoy to Yemen has failed? We don't see any signs of successful…
Deputy Spokesman: No, not at all. The Special Envoy, as you know, continued. He had tried his best to present proposals to the parties for them to consider, and this phase, over the past little bit more than one week, has been a time when the parties were supposed to consult with their respective sides and move forward in terms of the proposals that Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had presented to them. As I just pointed out, the Secretary‑General continues to say that there's no military solution to the problem, and he once again is calling on the parties to renew their engagement with the Special Envoy, with Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. And he wants them to act… and this is crucial… in good faith, which is something that has not happened consistently throughout the process.
Question: What is this impact on the pending report of Children and Armed Conflict, since the… the… the… the shelling and killing of children and civilians continue?
Deputy Spokesman: As the Secretary‑General has made clear earlier this month, that report still stands. The text of it has not changed and will not change. Regarding the listing of countries in the annex, that… the listing of Saudi Arabia remains under review, and of course, you can judge for yourself how incidents like this affect that review. Yes?
Question: Farhan, first, as a follow‑up to that, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the report that just came out in the past hour or so that an airstrike hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen, killing about 20 people? And then I have another question.
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the latest reports and are trying to gather some details. Of course, you're aware that we have condemned all attacks on medical facilities by any side, and we would similarly condemn any attack that caused the sort of damage that we have heard reported in this attack on an [Doctors Without Borders] facility.
Question: The Associated Press has reported today on the rapes and beatings of civilians in a compound very close to the UN base in Juba on 11 July and that the people inside made repeated appeals to the UN peacekeeping force, calling for an intervention brigade to come and help them and rescue them, and there was no response from the United Nations. Does the UN have any response?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I'm aware of today's report. And as you know, this is something that we've been informing you about from this podium since the incident first happened in the middle of July. And, as I believe we pointed out at the time, we were trying to investigate that. Obviously, we regret the loss of life and the violence that the people who were in Hotel Terrain endured, and we take this incident very seriously. As you're aware, we have called on the national authorities to investigate the incident thoroughly and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Meanwhile, the UN Mission [in South Sudan], UNMISS, is also currently investigating the circumstances, including our own response to the incident. Once that investigation concludes, we'll consider appropriate measures, but that process is under way.
Question: Will… as a quick follow‑up, will the results of that investigation be made public?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we'll certainly try to do that, yes.
Question: Same topic? Sure. I wanted to ask you, because I actually asked… Ellen Løj was in this room, and I asked her about the Terrain apartments on 13 July, and she said that the Mission had called the Government because they could get there quicker. Given that the… the… those accused of doing the rapes and beatings and the killing of the journalist John Gatluak were at least dressed in Government uniforms, the answer seemed strange at the time. And I'm wondering, is that… that's what she said sitting… you know, I guess she was on a screen rather than sitting there. Is that… I don't know if you were here for that; that was a month ago. That's what she said…
Deputy Spokesman: I was here for that, at the same spot I'm always at.
Question: My question is, if… the report for the AP actually names the battalions who refused to go, including from Ethiopia, China and Nepal, but if… by what… if, in fact, the Government or SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] troops were the ones doing the rapes, does the UN informing the Government… is that a sufficient response? And is that a possible, you know… actionable in some way?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, we're reviewing exactly what our response was, and we're trying to see what the deficiencies were. And once that happens, we'll consider what the appropriate measures are.
Question: But, I'm just saying there was an answer from a… the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in this room, so there's no need to investigate that part of it.
Deputy Spokesman: There's clearly a need to investigate exactly the totality of everything we've done and see what could have been done better.
Question: Right. But, there's no change of what she said. I guess I just want to know in terms of…?
Deputy Spokesman: She said what she said. But, we're looking into the totality of what happened. Obviously, that's what's important to do. All right. One more.
Correspondent: I have a couple more. One is on… I wanted to ask you about in Western Sahara, just if you have anything on this. There are reports of… of troop movement by Moroccan troops in an area in which supposedly MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] is in control. I wanted to know if you have anything on that, and also if you have any answer now to the letter that was written by the staff unions about the failure to return staff to MINURSO and their impression that they're being politically traded away.
Deputy Spokesman: The process of returning staff to MINURSO continues to be under way. Like we said at the time when the first 25 were going back that that was intended to be the start of a process of returns. So, that is continuing. And we're working in this in as thoroughgoing a manner as possible.
Question: I wanted… I mean, on Friday, you hadn't… I'd asked you how many other boards Mr. Han Seung‑soo is on that do business with the UN, and you seemed to not answer that. I wanted to ask you about… there's another special… given that you won't answer that, there's another special… the Special Envoy on road safety, Mr. Jean Todt. According to public records, he's on the board of a group, Lucien Barrière, which… whose businesses include bars and online poker. And what I wanted to know is, first, I guess, just factually, whether the Ethics Office has signed off on these two outside board… there's another board that he's on that's a… movie theatres. But, the contradiction between road safety and being on a for‑profit board of a company that runs bars seems extraordinary. So, I wanted to know, has the Ethics Office signed off on this? And will the UN live up to what the World Bank says, which is that outside board memberships by… by its officials are made public as a matter of course to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest?
Deputy Spokesman: I've explained to you how the Ethics Office goes about this in general, and I'll look into what specifically they're doing about Jean Todt. Have a good afternoon, everyone.