Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

6 October 2016

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

In Rome today, the Secretary-General held meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, with the President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso, and the President of the Chambers of Deputies, Laura Boldrini.  In his meetings, he said that he had discussed some of the most pressing issues on the international agenda, including Syria, Libya and the refugee and migrant crisis.

In remarks to the press in Rome, the Secretary-General said that yesterday marked a historic day for the United Nations and the human family.

He said he was pleased to report that 73 countries — representing more than 58 per cent of emissions — have now officially ratified the Paris Agreement.  As a result, the agreement will enter into force on 4 November. He said that this demonstrates unstoppable momentum for action to meet the threat of climate change, the defining challenge of our times, as well as his top priority throughout his 10 years in office.

In that same spirit, the Secretary—General congratulated António Guterres, who has been nominated by the Security Council for the General Assembly’s consideration to become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. The Secretary-General said that he considers Mr. Guterres to be a superb choice, and that he looks forward to working closely with him and his team to ensure a smooth transition. The Secretary-General’s full remarks are online.

**Haiti

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are reporting that Hurricane Matthew has severely affected southern parts of Haiti, especially the departments of Grand Anse and South, where the wind caused severe damage.

The Government of Haiti estimates that at least 350,000 people are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, although it is expected that number may rise as assessments are carried out.  At least five people are reported to have died.

Authorities also report that over 15,600 people were evacuated and nearly 1,900 homes were flooded. Hundreds were damaged or destroyed.

Today, the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team and the Government of Haiti hope to conduct a joint assessment with other humanitarian partners. Communication with and access to the worst affected areas remains extremely limited.

The World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), along with NGO (non-governmental organization) partners are all scaling up support for critical shelter, water, sanitation and food assistance.

Meanwhile, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is supporting the Haitian authorities in their assessment and reconnaissance efforts, especially towards the most affected areas in the southwestern tip of Haiti, and the cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes.

MINUSTAH has deployed assets by air and road, while its police and military components have been helping to clear debris from the roadways.

**Syria

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and said that the decision of the co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to suspend their bilateral cooperation was a setback.

At the same time, he said that the UN will continue to hold meetings of the Humanitarian Task Force created by the ISSG.

Mr. de Mistura once more drew attention to the needs of the 275,000 people who are currently besieged in eastern Aleppo; 100,000 of whom are children.  The Humanitarian Task Force has reported that since 23 September, 376 people were killed in eastern Aleppo, and another 1,266 wounded.  He expressed concern that, if this level of killing continues, the city of Aleppo may be totally destroyed by the end of the year.  We expect to have a transcript of his remarks shortly.

**Libya

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, today called for a humanitarian pause in Benghazi’s Ganfouda neighbourhood.  Mr. Kobler said he is deeply disturbed by reports that civilians in that neighbourhood continue to be caught in cross-fire and suffer from shortages of food, water and medicines.

The humanitarian pause would make it possible to reach those in need and create a safe passage to allow civilians who wish to leave to do so in a safe and dignified manner.  Mr. Kobler stressed that the protection of civilians is the number one priority and that the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is ready to support the evacuation.

Mr. Kobler also stressed that the use of civilians as human shields and the carrying out of indiscriminate attacks are prohibited by international humanitarian law.  Such violations would constitute war crimes and perpetrators would be held accountable, he said.

**Yemen

The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived yesterday in Oman after a three-day visit to Riyadh, where he met with a number of political representatives and diplomats who reiterated the international community’s strong support to the UN-led peace process.

In Oman, the Special Envoy will meet with Yemeni stakeholders and Omani officials and discuss the urgent need for a resumption of a full and comprehensive Cessation of Hostilities.  The Special Envoy will also review mechanisms for advancing towards a comprehensive agreement, based on the Kuwait consultations and the recent meetings in Jeddah and New York of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Special Envoy met with the delegation of Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress in Muscat, to discuss the Cessation of Hostilities, among other topics, and further discussions are scheduled to take place.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that the situation remains tense in the capital, Bangui, following recent violence in the PK5 area.  A MINUSCA team visited affected communities yesterday to assess the situation and noted the presence of armed youth, some in armed forces uniforms, in almost all areas of PK5.  Meanwhile, the UN Mission maintains a robust presence in the PK5 area, including through intensified patrols.  Efforts to rescue and return civilians stranded in the city to PK5 also continued.

Elsewhere, the Mission reports that it continued to liaise with anti-Balaka and Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R) elements yesterday in Koui, Ouham Pendé prefecture, to reduce tensions, following clashes between both groups in September.  The parties agreed that talks would be held in Bouar, Nana-Mambéré prefecture.  UN peacekeepers will provide security.  In Kouango, Ouaka prefecture, MINUSCA concluded a joint fact-finding mission with the Government of the Central African Republic to verify the facts around the 10 September killings of Fulani on the Kouango-Bianga axis.

**Ethiopia

I’d been asked about recent violence in Ethiopia, and I now have the following to say:

The Secretary-General deplores the deaths resulting from a stampede following a security response to protests which occurred during the celebration of Oromo Irreecha, or thanksgiving, festival last weekend in Bishoftu town, Ethiopia.

He expresses his condolences to the families of the deceased and to the people and Government of Ethiopia.  He wishes those injured a quick recovery.

The Secretary-General calls for calm and restraint in the aftermath of this sad event.  He also calls for a dialogue to address any grievances.  He urges the Ethiopian authorities to conduct a credible investigation into the incident and to ensure full accountability in case of any violations.  He underscores that the security forces must at all times operate in line with international human rights standards.

**Honour Roll

Our thanks go to our friends in the Gambia, as the regular budget dues for that country have been paid in full.  This brings the total on the Honour Roll to 127.

**Press Briefing

And for press briefings: At 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference with Lazló Solymós, Minister for Environment of the Slovak Republic, and Miguel Arias Cañete, European Union Climate Action and Energy Commissioner.  The topic of the conference is, as you can imagine, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

And today at 1 pm at the UN Bookshop, on the occasion of the launch of the book entitled “Death Penalty and the Victims”, there will be a discussion with the publication’s editor, Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Šimonović, and Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, as well as Walter Long, criminal defence attorney, and Lucinda Delvin, photographer, who both contributed their work to the publication.

**Iraq

And I have a response to questions I have been getting earlier this morning [about the] issue of Turkish troops in Iraq.  On that, I can say that any support to Iraq must conform to the principles of the UN Charter, notably the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference.

The Secretary-General hopes the Government of Turkey will ensure that all activities in Iraq are conducted with the full consent of the Government of Iraq.  And that’s all I have.  Yes?  Mr. Abbadi first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I would like to ask you the same question I asked Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin this morning at the stakeout.  What would the Secretary-General say to the millions of women who had hoped that there would be a new Secretary-General, a woman, and who are today very disappointed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in fact, the Secretary-General did speak about this election of António Guterres this morning in Rome.  We have the transcript out.  And I would draw your attention to the fact that he did point out… and this is a quote from what he said… “As the ninth man to serve as Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres has a special responsibility to include, support, and empower the world's women and girls.”  And, of course, beyond that, I know you've spoken to the current President of the Security Council on this.  And as you know, the decision concerning Mr. Guterres remains in the hands of the Member States.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions:  One on the procedure of the question on the election, the vote of the General Assembly for Mr. Guterres.  Is the Secretary‑General going to be attending, and when is that going to happen?  What is the procedure, the steps that are going to happen?  And my second question, the… obviously the trial of Mr. Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain has been postponed until the end of the month.  Do you view this as a positive step, or how do you look at this decision?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to take your questions in order.  First, on the procedures:  After the Security Council took its action by acclamation this morning, the President of the Security Council, as you may be aware, transferred a letter to the President of the General Assembly containing the Security Council's recommendation that António Guterres become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.  It's now up to the General Assembly to come to a vote.  I believe the President of the General Assembly will make a decision on what the date of that will be.  That has not… that date has not yet been decided, so I can't say at this point whether the Secretary-General will be here or not.  But our hopes are at least that he will be here for that.  Regarding your second question, the basic point on this case is that we want to make sure that he is afforded due process and that the trial proceedings are open and transparent and abide by international norms.  We'll have to see what happens when the actual trial takes place.  But as you're aware, we've expressed concerns in this case earlier.  Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I… I believe… I don't know if I missed it, but the last thing you talked about was about Iraq.  I'm going to ask this question about… I don't know if you talked about this.  As you might have heard, Iraq has complained to the Security Council of the United Nations about the presence of Turkish military.  It's not the first time, but this time Turkey says they will participate in the operation to liberate Mosul.  Iraq is saying we have no consent for that, and we want all the force out of the country.  I wonder your position about this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I just read a few minutes ago but I'll mention this again:  What I said was that any support to Iraq must conform to the principles of the UN Charter, notably the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference.  The Secretary-General hopes the Government of Turkey will ensure that all activities in Iraq are conducted with the full consent of the Government of Iraq.  And we do understand that the Turkish and Iraqi Governments have held talks to resolve the matter amicably, and the Secretary-General does call upon the two parties to continue these efforts.  And he stands ready to support the parties if requested.  Yes, Stefano? 

Question:  About the de Mistura press conference today in Geneva.  I think it's a very, very bold statement if you remember the question I asked yesterday about if the Secretary-General was planning a move.  Well, that could be an answer.  So just to make sure that we understood.  He is proposing to go there, being a human shield, a human shield probably for having the fighters of Al-Qaida or Nusrah fighters, or however you want to call it, to leave the city and in this way, the Syrians, the Russians should stop bombing the city.  This is what he's proposing, and I believe that when he was asked what if the Russian or Syrians don't accept your proposal, what's going to happen?  He say: Well, history will judge.  From what I understood, he is ready to resign.  So this bold move, how the Secretary-General was involved in this, was his idea, came from… came last night, came after the meeting with the Pope.  Can you tell us a little bit more, because we think, I think, that this is a very bold move?

Deputy Spokesman:  What we would characterize it as is that this is a proposal and a sign of the sort of tremendous worry and indeed almost desperation that we feel regarding the continuing fighting in Aleppo.  Mr. de Mistura has made clear that he is seeking any kind of proposal that would help relieve the suffering of the besieged population of eastern Aleppo.  This, mind you, is a proposal in its initial stages.  He'll need to talk to the various parties and see what kind of headway we can make towards making this an actual concrete thing.  But at this stage, you can see this as a way of underscoring how serious the problem has become and how much needs to be done.  If this does not work, he's made it very clear, he's going to keep looking at different proposals just to find some way that the killing can stop, because this is a desperate situation, and we as a community, we as people around the world, cannot just stand by and allow this to happen.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you first about Burundi.  There was a meeting of the Council of Ministers today, and they did a couple of things.  They set up something called the National Volunteer Corps, which people think is going to be a parallel militia, but they also are moving to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the face of a preliminary inquiry by Fatou Bensouda.  So I wanted to know, what does the UN think of these two moves, and what steps has DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or Mr. [Jamal] Benomar taken in terms of the deployment of the police, and do you see this as a worsening situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to start from the last bit about the deployment of the police:  Of course, you've noted the rejection by the Government of Burundi of a police deployment, and following that rejection, the UN made a request to the Government of Burundi to carry out a technical assessment mission on implementation of the resolution.  The Government also rejected this request.  While the Security Council reviews its options, the Special Advisor, Jamal Benomar, and his team have been consulting with the Government to find a way forward.  The Special Advisor will travel to the region ahead of reporting to the Council at the end of the month.  In addition, the Security Council has requested the Secretariat to brief on 13 October.  The next round of East African Community-led consultations on an inclusive dialogue in Burundi is expected to take place in November.  So that's where we stand.  And, like I said, Mr. Benomar will go ahead now with his travels and will then brief the Security Council.

Question:  On the ICC issue, I mean, I… it's… it's… you might say it's just a matter of national… they've been a member, and now that there's an inquiry and there have been some communications by the ICC about the country, they're moving to withdraw from it.  Do you see this as an attempt to get away with international crimes of war?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn't speculate on what they may or may not do with regard to the ICC.  What we have asked for is that all the countries who have ratified the Rome Statute continue to abide by the terms of the Rome Statute. Joe?

Question:  The election of the 2017-2019 members of the Human Rights Council will be coming up by the General Assembly later this month.  And I know that the General Assembly has empowered the Member States to make those decisions.  But I'm just wondering, in light of the Secretary-General's Human Rights Up Front programme, and his emphasis on the importance of human rights whether he… to what extent does he believe it's appropriate for him to provide his input on certain candidates for these positions, particularly Saudi Arabia, who has one of the worst human rights record in the world and in which he's still trying to work out the issues surrounding their alleged involvement in the killing of children in Yemen.  So is the Secretary-General just going to stand aside and not implement, at least as a moral voice, his Human Rights Up Front Programme with respect to the candidates with dubious human rights records, or does he intend to provide some sort of input?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, the Secretary-General doesn't provide input into who should be elected nor is any such advice sought by the Member States as they vote on members of the Human Rights Council.  The decision on who gets to sit on the Human Rights Council is a question for the Member States, and we leave the matter in their hands.  What the Secretary-General has done is point out the records on human rights by nations when they've been a concern.  You've heard what the Secretary-General has had to say throughout this year about the question of Saudi Arabia and his record on that stands.  What the Member States choose to do with that information is up to them.

Question:  Well, but would he least, again, given his emphasis on Human Rights Up Front, set out clearly his views of the standards in respect to the selection of appropriate candidates for positions on the Human Rights Council, particularly in light of the resolution that requires members to uphold the high standards and the promotion and protection of human rights beyond the Council?  Maybe he doesn't have to call out specific names in this context, but wouldn't it be useful for him to at least lay out some clear standards and examples of behaviour that are not acceptable, in his view?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Member States are well aware of what the standards are.  They drafted it in their resolution concerning the creation of the Human Rights Council in the first place.  The Secretary-General does expect all Member States to uphold human rights ideals, including the principles of the United… of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Like I said, he does raise human rights concerns about the specific nations.  How the Member States choose to reflect upon that as they make their vote -- that is up to them.  The matter of membership in these bodies is a question for Member States, and we do not interfere with that process.  Yes?  No, Mr. Abbadi first and then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions on procedure and the Security Council.  Number one, it has always been the tradition for regional group to submit a candidate for the post of Secretary-General.  This year the Council chose not to follow that procedure.  The second question is the statement of the resolution adopted this morning, it seems to me, if I'm not mistaken, was done in private meeting.  Was it statement, or is it a resolution?  And if it's the latter case, how can the Council adopt a resolution in private meeting?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to take the question of how the Security Council adopts this to the members of the Security Council themselves who, as you know, can determine their own rules about how they go about this.  They have submitted a resolution to the General Assembly, and they did that by acclamation, as the President of the Security Council described earlier this morning.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Just wanted to ask a follow up on that question: Given that the Secretary-General, whether you called it removed or temporarily removed or suspended Saudi Arabia from that Children in Armed Conflicts List what… what message does it send?  Obviously, one of the things that people… that Member States might weigh is whether a candidate for the Human Rights Council is on one of the annexes of Children in Armed Conflict or sexual violence or any of the other, sort of, lists of shame.  So how should they read this removal?  Are they going to be put back on during this campaign season?  Are they remaining off during it?  And doesn't he then acknowledge that he's had some impact on the way in which they will be evaluated for this position?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think if you look at the website, it makes clear that Saudi Arabia is currently temporarily suspended while a review is ongoing.

Question:  Which is a different status than people that are on the list.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's also a different status from people who are not on the list entirely.

Question:  All right.  Okay.  That's fine.  I wanted to ask you a question, there was a report that was put out by the Center for Civilians in Conflict… for Civilians in Conflict.  And among other things, it was about South Sudan and Terrain.  And so it sort of… I guess it's a curtain raiser to the Cammaert… the report that's supposed to come out.  But it said… it said a couple of things about repatriation.  It basically said that DPKO had in some instances claimed that people had been repatriated, you know, when they had not.  And the example they gave is they said… they said that Ghassim Wane, Assistant Secretary‑General of Peacekeeping, said in an early August interview with RFI the two commanders had been repatriated; however, a senior UNMISS (United Nations Mission in the republic of South Sudan) official told Civic several weeks after that only one had been repatriated.  It kind of reminded me of the Mayuyu one.  How is… what does DPKO mean when they say "repatriated"?  Does it mean that somebody actually has left or intends to leave?  And can you kind of clear up, if that's the main penalty that there is for misdeeds, should DPKO be saying people are out when they're not out?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  On that, a decision was taken to replace commanders in a unit following the crisis.  One of the two identified commanders was repatriated.  The other had already rotated out with his unit.  In the current context of South Sudan, where the UN Mission in South Sudan is overstretched, it was decided not to replace an entire unit without immediate replacement and leave the protection of civilian site with even less resources to be protected.  And, of course, the overview of how this crisis happened and how we handled it will hopefully be available shortly once we have Patrick Cammaert's team finalize their report.

Question:  They also… I mean… and maybe that's the thing that I'm not reading between the lines correctly.  They said that basically, like, one of the so-called repatriations was, in fact, just leaving with a unit.  Instead of staying behind for an extra additional month to provide some kind of a re-up, they left at that time.  But it seems that's less than repatriation.  Right?  That's just leaving in the natural course of things.  I mean… I guess I just… is there some way to…

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, one of the two identified commanders was repatriated.  The other had already rotated out with his unit.

Question:  And when is the report coming out?  When is the Cammaert report coming out?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hopefully not too much longer.  It's being finalized right now.  I will never make an actual prediction because it never quite works out, but I don't think it's that much longer before we get that.  Yes?

Question:  I just want to go back to my question and Matthew's follow up.  As you said, Saudi Arabia's listing in the annex involving violence against children and children in war was suspended pending an investigation.  Is that investigation, in light of Saudi Arabia's candidacy for the Human Rights Council which will be voted upon at the end of this month, is that investigation near its conclusion, and will the Secretary-General announce before that election the outcome?  Since it's… it's highly relevant to the Member States' determination of whether Saudi Arabia should indeed be elected to the Human Rights Council.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we continue to be in dialogue with the Saudis.  As long as that happens, I don't have a date on which that… the review will have ended.  But that's ongoing.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about an email that the Secretary-General sent, I think, to all staff about fraud yesterday.  It was a blast e‑mail, a UNHQ (United Nations Headquarters) broadcast.  And it was sort of instructed staff to… that fraud is a serious matter.  There's something called the 2017 Leadership Dialogue.  And I guess, what triggered the e-mail.  In having read it and published it, it's not clear.  Is this something that's being newly announced?  Why was this anti-fraud e-mail sent yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are a number of internal e-mails that go out from time to time.  This is simply another one of those, and it's on a topic that the Secretary-General feels is important.

Question:  And I guess… because I'd asked you this before, and I keep… I go… you had said that… to somehow to ask Colliers if the individual who's listed in the newspaper as the nephew of the Secretary‑General as working for them at the time that the fraud that he was just convicted of occurred.  But I'm asking you… I want to, I guess, just reiterate.  As the UN, doesn't the UN have a duty, if it has existing contractors… and I just went by 45th Street today.  The sign is still up, so the UN is doing business with Colliers.  If a newspaper, widely circulated, says an employee of their company was convicted of fraud, isn't there some follow up totally outside of the familial relationship of the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do not determine the staffing of Colliers.  You would have to ask them that.  Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.