The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
After we’re done here, I’m going to have two guests. One will be Santiago Villalpando, the Chief of the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs, who will brief you on the annual Treaty Event that takes place every year on the sidelines of the General Assembly, including the special event related to the Paris Climate Change Agreement. We will then also be joined by Karen AbuZayd, the Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, and she will brief you on that upcoming Summit.
And at 1 p.m., you will be hearing from Dr. David Navarro, the Special Advisor on the 2030 Sustainable Agenda and Selwin Hart, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team and they will be here to talk to you more on the climate change event — on the substance of that event.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General told the Security Council this morning that the two-State solution for the Israelis and Palestinians is at risk of being replaced by a one-State reality of perpetual violence and occupation. The Secretary-General said that the reporting period saw the continuation of statements by both sides that only perpetuate an environment of mistrust.
In Gaza, the Secretary-General said that there had been progress in the two years since the 2014 ceasefire, with houses, hospitals, schools and critical infrastructure having been repaired. Looking at the broader situation, he added, Gaza remains under closure and is a ticking time bomb. Instability and the risk of violent escalation are ever-present. His remarks are online.
And we do expect Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator, to speak at the Security Council stakeout — I’m keeping an eye on it so I will let you know.
Speaking of stakeouts, earlier today Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva and said the reduction of violence in that country is still holding, by and large, adding that the reduction has been substantial.
However, he said, humanitarian convoys have still not been able to travel to Aleppo and other besieged and hard-to-reach areas. Mr. de Mistura made it clear that the United Nations counts on the Russian Federation and the United States, with the support of other members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), to ensure the implementation of the steps that have been announced.
In addition to Aleppo, the UN will continue to uphold its priorities to provide aid, including to areas like Moadamiyeh, Al Waer, as well as the Four Towns, once we have the necessary clearances.
And a couple of updates from our peacekeeping colleagues in the field: In South Sudan, the Mission in that country (UNMISS) expressed its concern over the continued volatile situation in Central Equatoria. The Mission has received reports of military operations by the South Sudanese People’s Liberation Army forces in the areas of Lutaya and Dam on the outskirts of Yei that took place on Tuesday. Heavy shooting also reported from the areas of Nyomgbe, Lupapa and Jezira yesterday.
The Mission reiterates its call for a complete cessation of hostilities and for the parties to fully implement the peace agreement.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
And also from our colleagues in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): the UN Peacekeeping Mission in that country (MONUSCO) reports that the extraction of armed elements and civilians affiliated with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in opposition, the SPLM-IO, from the Garamba National Park in north-eastern DRC has now been completed. The total number of individuals extracted is 752, including the former Vice-President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, his wife and son. The operations were conducted at the request of the Government of the DRC.
The Peacekeeping Mission reiterates that of all these extractions took place exclusively within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, namely from the Garamba National Park, to other locations in the DRC. Not a single extraction conducted by the UN Peacekeeping mission in the DRC took place beyond the borders of the country. All of those extracted were disarmed before boarding UN helicopters and the UN Mission has those weapons secured.
The Mission also reiterates that its operations were conducted on humanitarian grounds and within the role of contributing to stability in the DRC. At all times, the UN has informed the authorities of South Sudan and of DRC of MONUSCO’s actions on the ground.
The UN continues to engage with both DRC and South Sudan authorities to find a solution to the presence of South Sudan fighters within the territory of the DRC.
The latest UN human rights report on Ukraine says the situation in the east of the country is deteriorating, with a continued disregard for the protection of civilians by both sides of the conflict.
The report, the fifteenth so far, covers the period from mid-May to mid-August. It shows a 66 per cent increase in the number of conflict-related civilian casualties in the east, compared with the previous reporting period.
By 15 September of this year, the UN Human Rights Office recorded 9,640 conflict-related deaths and 22,431 injuries since the conflict began in mid-April 2014. The Office says these are conservative estimates.
The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that while the situation has improved since the ceasefire was restored on 1 September, the situation along the contact line remains deeply unstable.
He said there is a real risk that a new outbreak of violence could happen at any time.
And our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today welcomed an agreement between Indonesia and the European Union (EU) to issue the world’s first timber license as a major achievement in the fight against illegal logging.
As of 15 November this year, this license can accompany shipments of timber exported from Indonesia to EU member States to certify that the timber has been harvested, transported, processed and traded according to Indonesian law.
As you may know, Indonesia supplies one third of tropical timber imports by value to the European Union. Worldwide, forest crime is estimated by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL to be worth $30 billion to 100 billion annually, or 10-30 per cent of the total global timber trade.
The World Food Programme (WFP) today says it is scaling up its assistance to reach more than 1.5 million people in desperate need in the Lake Chad Basin, as further areas become accessible inside Nigeria.
Across the Basin, the UN estimates that over 9 million people need humanitarian assistance. In the areas impacted by Boko Haram violence, almost one in three people suffers from moderate to severe food insecurity.
WFP urgently needs support to continue to provide food and nutritional assistance to displaced and host communities alike; $72 million is required over the next six months.
I also want to flag that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) released a report today showing that more than half — that’s 3.7 million — of the 6 million school-age refugee children under its mandate are out of school.
According to the report, 1.75 million refugee children are not in primary school, while 1.95 million adolescents are not in secondary school. Refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than the global average.
The report is online.
And tomorrow we will be joined by Gordon Brown, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Global Education.
**International Day of Peace
And just to flag some things for tomorrow: tomorrow we will celebrate the International Day of Peace here at Headquarters.
At 9 a.m., as per tradition, the Secretary-General will ring the Japanese Peace Bell. Also present will be the incoming President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, and five UN Messengers of Peace — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall, Midori and Stevie Wonder. Other special guests will include Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Shirin Ebadi, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, and the winner of the 2016 Global Teacher Prize, Hanan Al Hroub.
All of these individuals will then deliver remarks at the annual International Day of Peace student conference, which will be held in the GA Hall for the first time ever. Michael Douglas will MC the event, and there will be performances by Midori, the Rainbow Choir of Korea, hip hop artists Ike Ramos and Nitty Scott of Flocabulary. And 800 students will participate in person, with more joining by videolink from Peacekeeping Missions in Cyprus and Liberia and the Italian Society for International Organizations in Rome. The event will end with Mrs. Ban Soon-taek ringing the Peace Bell and offering a minute of silence.
And there will be a media briefing tomorrow also at 11 by the filmmaker and founder of Project Everyone, Richard Curtis, who will be joined by the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, Cristina Gallach, and they will brief you on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals)-related events and things we have to share with you during the General Assembly.
And we end this briefing by thanking Antigua and Barbuda and El Salvador for their recent payments, bringing up the Honour Roll to?
Spokesman: 111. You’re the closest, Joe. If you have a question, you can ask the first one.
Correspondent: I was going to say 111, too, but you threw me off.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you about Yemen. At the G-20 conference, the Secretary‑General had referenced, in meeting with Saudi Arabia… a Saudi Arabian representative, that the assessment of protections for children whose rights are being violated in the conflict was still under way. I wanted to know whether, as a timetable of completion of that assessment, does the Secretary‑General want to aim to have it completed prior to the end of his term? And, secondly, Mr. Machar, you mentioned, was extracted along with the several hundred others from South Sudan. Is there any information on his current whereabouts? Do we know whether he’s still in the DRC? Is the UN keeping any tabs on it in concert with the DRC Government?
Spokesman: Taking your questions backwards, I don’t have an exact location on his whereabouts. We do know he’s not in the DRC. I think we’d seen press reports and confirmations from the Government of Sudan that, at one point, he was in Khartoum. I have not received any other updates, but he is not, as far as we’re… the UN is concerned, he is not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As for your first question, we obviously remain extremely concerned at the continuing military activities in Yemen, including by the Saudi‑led Coalition. I think we’ve seen the last few weeks continuing damage, damage done, including to civilian infrastructure. The review is continuing. This is something the Secretary‑General did raise with the Deputy Crown Prince, and we’re continuing our work. And I’m… I cannot put a timeline to it. Mr. Abbadi? Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In his statement before the Security Council this morning, the Secretary‑General devoted two lines to the work of the Quartet. Is the Quartet in hibernating stage? [laughter]
Spokesman: You know, I think those of us who have been here a long time like to count words and do word counts as to how many words focused on one thing or another. I would disagree with you. I think the Quartet put together a very important and impactful report not too long ago. I think the impact of that report is still being felt and is being discussed, and the Quartet’s work is not in hibernation. Mr. Lee, then Mr. Avni. And then we’ll move to the left.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Burundi and Western Sahara. In Burundi, there’s a… yesterday, a former member of the army, a Tutsi member of the army, ex‑FAB named Claude Mangera was killed and the secret… whatever, SNC, the… the… the police of the Government have said that he committed suicide with a grenade, which people there are viewing with a lot of suspicion, given how did he get it in there? They basically think he was executed. So I wanted to know and I’ve asked you before, this team on the ground, this vaunted team on the ground, what are they doing as these killings continue? Do you have any update on DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) trying to get UN Police into the country under the resolution? And do you have any update at all on Mr. [Alfred] Mayuyu? I just want to check again since we’ve had…
Spokesman: Backwards, no, I don’t have an update on the individual you mentioned.
Question: That means he’s still in the country?
Spokesman: I don’t have an update from what I last told you, so I would hope that, if he left the country, I would have been told. On your second part, obviously, we’ve seen the comments by the Government of Burundi not welcoming the deployment of UN police, to put it mildly. I think it is also up to the Security Council to ensure that its resolutions are respected. And on your first part, I have not seen those reports, but I’m happy to look into it. Mr. Avni?
Question: Couple of questions. First of all, has the office of Mladenov or the Secretary‑General received any communication from the Israeli Defence Minister, [Avigdor] Lieberman, to the effect that Mladenov is unwanted or that… that the Israeli Government is not going to talk to him anymore?
Spokesman: Mr. Mladenov, as far as I know, is continuing his work with the official support of all Governments… [inaudible]
Question: So no such news? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’m not aware of any of those kinds of things. But I know he has not been PNG’d (persona non grata) or as I think I’d heard a rumour to that effect. He’s not gone. He’s very much… he’s here, but he’s very much there as well.
Question: Well, he’s… technically here… [inaudible]
Spokesman: But he’s also very much there.
Question: Second question is, in regard to word count that you mentioned in the… here’s one word count that I noticed: zero, about the Russian attempt to get a peace conference going and the Secretary‑General didn’t mention it. Is there… is there any UN… do you encourage it? Do you discourage it? Whose fault it is that it never happened? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t think we would ever discourage any dialogue. We obviously… we know there are a number of various initiatives that we’ve seen over the last few months. None of them are mutually… are… I can’t speak English. We would support all of them. I think they’re all mutually beneficial to each other. We’ve seen the reports of a possible meeting in Moscow. I think these have been press reports. Obviously, any… any event that would see the… the resumption of d1irect talks between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership would be most welcomed.
Question: One last question. In his remarks, the Secretary‑General’s characterised the famous ethnic cleansing video as something that [Benjamin] Netanyahu said about people who oppose settlements expansion. That is not what was said in the video, and if it was, could you point out to where exactly it was said?
Spokesman: I have nothing to add to what the Secretary‑General said, and I think he also made comments to that effect… he commented on the video yesterday in answer to one of your questions.
Question: Right, but my point is… [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, I hear… [inaudible] I hear your point, but I have nothing to add. Ibtisam?
Question: I have one question regarding Aleppo. Is there any… I know that there are the… talks are moving a little bit, but can you please get into details why it’s not going…
Spokesman: You know, I wish I could. I think the situation is fluid. We’ve seen reports of fighting along the Castello Road. The up‑to‑date information right now is coming out of Geneva out of Mr. de Mistura’s office, out of Mr. Egeland. I will let them speak on this. So that’s the latest that I have. I think the bottom line is that the UN is literally ready to roll as soon as we feel that there is a safety level that is acceptable to us, to the safety of the Syrian drivers who are driving the trucks to ensuring that we have everything that we need to get through the checkpoints. I think there is… the Syrian people themselves and those in need are awaiting calm, are awaiting these UN convoys, and we are ready to go as… I, as I think Mr. de Mistura said, as the Secretary‑General has said, there are trucks that are literally loaded. Some are… for the cross‑border are in no‑man’s‑land between Turkey and Syria. As soon as we feel we can go ahead and move these trucks safely, we will do so. Yes, in the… sorry. Linda and then the back. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to Ukraine, you said that there was a 66 per cent increase in the number of civilian casualties during the last three months. I guess we can… can we assume that those casualties are a result of both Government and rebel activities? And if so, do you have breakdown in terms of responsibility?
Spokesman: No, unfortunately, we’ve… I think this has come up before. We’re not able to do the forensic investigation a way to really… in a lot of the instances to see who is response… which side is responsible to the other. But for the civilians who are suffering, it’s one side or the other. Yeah, in the back.
Question: Thanks very much. Jonathan Rozen, IPS News. The Security Council last night expressed its continued concern over South Sudan’s wavering commitment to traditional UNMISS troops. Can you update us on the UN’s efforts regarding the implementation of an arms embargo?
Spokesman: The arms embargo is something the Secretary‑General has been calling for, for quite some time, and we’ve seen with every month that has… the arms embargo has not been put in place, we have seen more weapons flow into South Sudan. So the message from the Secretary‑General to the Security Council would be for them to act on an arms embargo as quickly as possible. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Western Sahara and then something else. I just… I… I think this came out Friday, so I wasn’t able to ask you. It was reported or Polisario says that the Secretariat is proposing or has proposed to continue the construction of the road that Morocco began asphalting in this contested Guergarat area. And I wanted to know, one, will you confirm that? And, two, how does that jibe with previous Secretariat… maybe it may have been under Kofi Annan but… Secretariat statements that such a road would be… you know, shouldn’t… should not be constructed?
Spokesman: You know, I’ll try to get something on that particular road. I don’t have anything with me.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask… I’m sorry to follow up on this, but I think my understanding is that the last you answered about promotion of the Secretary‑General’s son‑in‑law into the top post in Kenya was that you hoped that at least the agencies or some information about this inter‑agency panel could be provided, and I think it should be. So I wanted to know do you have now any information on that…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t have an update, but if I have something, I will share it with you.
Question: And I’d asked you in writing about… it goes back some time but about the son‑in‑law’s activities in Sri Lanka as part of the Indian peacekeeping force. And since he’s gotten his commander to write an op-ed saying that questions about this are unreasonable… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Whatever words I’ve had to say about… on this issue, I have used. I really have nothing else to add… [inaudible]
Question: Right, but you said… the last thing you said was you would look into the inter‑agency panel… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I have nothing… [inaudible] Yes, that I said. On the rest, I have nothing else to add. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. These US-Syria agreements, they were not made public. Would you rather think they should be public? And have you… have actually Ban Ki‑moon or anybody… [inaudible]
Spokesman: We’ve… Mr. de Mistura has been in touch… very much in touch with the parties. He was in Geneva. He was part of the meetings that took place in Geneva. I think what is important for us is that they be fully implemented and that we’re able to see the trucks roll as quickly as possible. Yep?
Question: Yeah, but some world leaders… I think the French President…
Spokesman: No, I’ve seen… [inaudible] I’ve seen the reports. I can only speak from here about here. Mr. Lee?
Question: Just another Geneva question. I’d asked you before, I think it was August 25th, about a plan… a reported plan by the UN in Geneva to lease part of its land without bidding to a company to build a music hall, and you’d said, if it’s a music hall, you’d like to headline it. But I wanted to ask you again, have you been able to confirm that it’s no‑bid process…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: There is nothing… there is no… no decisions have been made. There is a security… there is a General Assembly resolution that calls on the Secretary‑General to look into ways to valorize the land in Geneva, so as to offset the talk… the costs of the refurbishment of the Palais des Nations. Whatever discussions are being had are being had within the framework of the General Assembly resolution and whatever agreements may or may not be agreed upon with an outside party will be done in the… within the framework of the UN financial rules and regulations.
Question: But is a sole source… I mean, what I’ve heard… [inaudible]
Spokesman: What I… what I’m telling you what… You’re hearing what you’ve heard. That’s not at all what I’ve said. You’ve heard things. What I’m telling is that nothing has been agreed upon and no decision has been made. And whatever decision will be taken will be done in accordance with UN rules and regulations. Benny, Mr. Abbadi, and then we’ll go to our guests.
Question: Very quickly, on Syria, who is it that is not giving you the assurances? Is it the Government? Is it the rebels? Is it both? Is it either?
Spokesman: It’s a combination and it’s also the continued… what we have seen just in the past couple of hours a shelling along the Castello Road. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: So you’re not… you’re not pointing out the Government specifically.
Spokesman: I’m just saying… and, as I said to Ibtisam, the situation is extremely fluid, so I think the latest information will come out of Geneva.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Syria still, de Mistura says that permission has not been given yet for the humanitarian assistance to move in. Who is going to make the first move to ask the Government of Syria to have permission?
Spokesman: We have been in contact… we obviously have been in contact with the Government of Syria on all of these issues. Thank you. I’ll get our guests.