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

13 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


As you’re aware, the General Assembly this morning designated António Guterres to be the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General congratulated his successor and said that Mr. Guterres is perhaps best known where it counts most:  on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering.  He said that the Secretary-General-designate is a wonderful choice to steer this Organization as we build on the progress of the past decade while addressing the insecurity and uncertainties of today’s world.

Ban Ki-moon also commended the Member States, not only for their choice, but for the way in which they went about it.  He said the first-ever public hearings on the selection of a Secretary-General opened the process to the world.  Several highly qualified women and men were given a unique platform from which to share their vision and answer questions from the diplomatic community and civil society. These new steps, the current Secretary-General said, established a new benchmark of openness and engagement.  His remarks are available online.


And as you will have heard, the Secretary-General also, at the start of the meeting, expressed his deep condolences on the passing of the King of Thailand.  We also issued a statement this morning in which the Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the Royal Family, the Government and people of Thailand on the passing of the King.  The Secretary-General acknowledged his long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader.  He was revered by the people of Thailand and highly respected internationally.  In recognition of his work, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Nations Development Programme in 2006.  The Secretary-General expresses his hope that Thailand will continue to honour King Bhumibol’s legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

And the Secretary-General will be traveling to Washington D.C. on Friday, 14 October, on the first leg of a trip that will take him to Haiti to visit areas affected by Hurricane Matthew, and Ecuador for the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III.  On Friday morning, the Secretary-General will travel to Washington to participate in the University of Maryland’s transformative initiative to "Do Good", where he will be conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service.  The University is the first campus in the United States that has been designated as a “Do Good” campus to drive social innovation and a mission of service.  During his visit, the Secretary-General will also attend the Council of Korean Americans’ National Summit and Gala Awards Dinner.

And on Saturday, 15 October, the Secretary-General will travel to Haiti to meet with communities affected by Hurricane Matthew, Government officials and humanitarians working in the country.  He is scheduled to visit the city of Les Cayes, one of the hardest-hit areas in Haiti, along with provisional President Jocelerme Privert.  Following this visit, the Secretary-General will travel to Quito, Ecuador, for the opening of Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, on 17 October.

In Quito, the Secretary-General will participate to the Second World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, and address the opening session of Habitat III.  He will also meet with President Rafael Correa, Foreign Minister Guillaume Long and Mauricio Rodas, the Mayor of Quito.  His schedule includes a visit to the Galapagos Islands to observe measures implemented by the Government of Ecuador to ensure the environmental protection and sustainable development of this site, the first to be added to the World Heritage List in 1978.  And the Secretary-General will be back late on the night on 19 October.


On Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the Deputy Special Envoy for Syria, convened a meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva today and told reporters afterwards that there had been no relief for the people of Aleppo, who continue to suffer from heavy air strikes and shelling.  He added that the health situation there remains dire, with hospitals continuing to operate poorly in recent days.  Mr. Ramzy reported that the Government of Syria had approved the October plan for humanitarian work in the country, but not in full.  He added the approval of the plan is not sufficient, with other steps needed to be taken so that deliveries can be made, and he called on all parties to help to ensure that the UN will be able to deliver on the October plan as soon as possible.  On the political front, he noted that there is going to be a meeting on Saturday in Lausanne, and that the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, had received an invitation and will be participating in the meeting.  The transcript of his remarks will be available shortly.


Also here, Special Adviser Jamal Benomar is briefing the Security Council on Burundi in closed consultations this morning.  He will speak to you at the stakeout around 1 p.m.


On Mali, Toby Lanzer, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, says he is concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian access to populations in need in the country.  The resumption of violence in a number of areas in Mali has a negative impact on the work of UN humanitarian needs and our partners.  While we are doing all we can to get assistance to affected populations, distribution of aid is getting increasingly risky.  Mr. Lanzer says he is worried about a major deterioration of the humanitarian situation, while the peace process remains fragile.

Mr. Lanzer notes that almost three million people remain food insecure.  Over 700,000 children are at risk of acute malnutrition.  He calls on the international community to increase its support to the population of Mali.  The Humanitarian Response Plan to assist one million people in the country in 2016 is only 30 per cent funded, which hampers the implementation of the programmes on the ground.


On Haiti, our colleagues from the UN Mission (MINUSTAH) report several security incidents affecting delivery of some humanitarian aid.  On 11 October, UN escort troops fired non-lethal ammunition to disperse crowds attempting to loot a humanitarian convoy in Les Cayes, where the Secretary-General will be going.  MINUSTAH military are providing escort and static security to humanitarian convoys while UNPOL (United Nations Police) has conducted over 860 patrols with the Haitian National Police since the hurricane went through the country.  MINUSTAH FM is back on air in the South, providing critical information to affected communities.  And on the humanitarian front, unfortunately we have to report that the Flash Appeal for Haiti is only 5% funded, with 6.1 million out of the $120 million requested.  We obviously thank those who have already donated to the Appeal.


Marking the International Day for Disaster Reduction today, the Secretary-General noted that while we can replace material possessions following disasters, we cannot replace people.  He pointed out that the majority of victims are invariably the poor and vulnerable.  He notes that [fighting] extreme poverty is essential to reducing disaster risk, pointing to the new report by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) which found that high income countries suffer huge economic losses in disasters, but people in low income countries pay for it with their lives.  


Two WHO (World Health Organization) reports to flag, the first which says that countries need to move much faster to prevent, detect, and treat tuberculosis if they are to meet global targets – that is according to the 2016 "Global Tuberculosis Report" from the World Health Organization.  It highlights the considerable inequalities among countries in enabling people with TB to access existing cost-effective diagnosis and treatment interventions that can accelerate the rate of decline of TB worldwide.


And also today, WHO calls today for better working conditions for midwives in its first global survey of midwifery personnel.  In that document, midwives report that their efforts are constrained by unequal power relations within the health system, cultural isolation, unsafe accommodations and low salaries.  That report is online.

**Press Conferences

As you are aware, I will be joined in a few minutes by the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Mr. [Yukio] Takasu, who will speak to you following his briefing to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee on the Organisation’s financial situation.  At 1 p.m., there will be a briefing by Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who has briefed the Third Committee of the General Assembly today.  And tomorrow at 1:15 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Malaysia is sponsoring a briefing with Professor François Dubuisson of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Lara Friedman, the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now (APN), on Illegal Israeli Settlements.


And also, something to flag for tomorrow:  As you will recall during his speech to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General said he would announce this fall the UN system’s new approach cholera in Haiti.  A number of consultations have already taken place, and in advance of the Secretary-General’s announcement, tomorrow afternoon there will be a briefing for Member States on the issue.  The Deputy Secretary-General, the SRSG in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, and Dr. [David] Nabarro will share with Member States some of the initial thoughts on the way ahead.  The interventions by the UN officials will be available to you on Web TV.  Khalas.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  In Yemen, 300 of those who were hit by the aerial bombardment on Saturday are in critical condition as the reports are coming from there.  Is the United Nations doing anything to rescue them, to send any… any medical aid or bring them to hospitals elsewhere?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, we're obviously seeing a humanitarian situation in Yemen, which is clearly deplorable.  Our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] are working to get the wounded out and working with a number of parties, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  They're also looking at options to get Iranian supplies in, which are seeing what practical ways can be put together to get people out.  You know, we've seen situations like this also in Syria, where negotiations need to be had to get the wounded out, which is frankly unacceptable.

Question:  Why do you always make parallels between Syria and Yemen here?

Spokesman:  I'm making parallels because we're… it's two situations where I think there's been disregard for human life, and we've seen it recently in Syria where negotiations had to be had to get people out.  It is a comparison of… in terms of the humanitarian situation, and I'm not making a political comparison.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Also on Yemen, I wanted… I'd asked you this in writing but maybe you'll have a statement.  The US has announced that it fired Tomahawk missiles at Yemen, they say at radar‑controlled and Houthi‑controlled territory, which they say targeted their boat.  The Houthis deny it, say it may have been Saudi Arabia.  Has the US communicated anything to the UN about this use of force on Yemen?  And does the… does the Secretary‑General have any concern about the escalation?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any official communication.  The Special Envoy for Yemen urges all the parties to exercise maximum restraint in order to bring the violence down, and he will continue to focus his efforts on securing a recommitment to the Cessation of Hostilities.

Question:  And I'd also… I'd asked you this in writing as well.  I wanted to know, can you say who Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien, when he visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia… I've heard from two separate source saying that, in fact, he was snubbed, was the word used.  Who did he meet in the Saudi Government?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I would encourage you to talk to either Amanda Pitt or Russell Geekie at OCHA.  Sir?

Question:  Yes.  In recent days, the High Commissioner for Human Rights had written a letter to Mr. [Jan] Eliasson asking him to prepare, to publish a black list of Israeli businesses and international corporations with ties to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights and to have the UN's procurement division look to launch would amount to a boycott of such firms, at least in terms of UN purchases.  I'd like to know, A, whether… you to confirm whether the letter has been received and what the response from Mr. Eliasson is projected to be, particularly in light of our discussion a few days ago regarding the firms that the UN's doing business with in Syria that have ties to the [Bashar al] Assad regime, which you said needed to continue because those were the only choices available.

Spokesman:  All I can tell you at this time… I mean, as you know, there was a resolution passed in the Human Rights Council, and as requested by the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has started implementation of the resolution, in consultation with the working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.  And I think this will be taken up at its March session, 2017.  I will see if I can get you any other further details, which would hopefully answer a bit more of your question.

Question:  Can you confirm that that letter has been received? 

Spokesman:  I cannot, because… but I can ask afterwards.  And I've just been asked to share this with you, that, in response to your earlier questions, the Secretary‑General continues to follow deployments in Libya closely.  Just this Tuesday, he discussed his concern about the political situation and security situation in great detail in a phone conversation with his Special Envoy, Martin Kobler.  Mr. Kobler also briefed the Secretary‑General on his work with the parties to encourage the full implementation of the Libya Political Agreement and specifically the Presidency Council's efforts to form a new Government and the responsibility of the House of Representatives to endorse it.  The Secretary‑General commended Mr. Kobler and the staff of UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya) for their tireless efforts in support of peace and stability in Libya.  He also reiterated his strong and full support for Mr. Kobler.  Madame, you've been patiently waiting.


Correspondent:  I wondered if Ban Ki‑moon has made any response or intends to make any response to the women who crossed the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and who sent him the letter about initiating a peace treaty process before he leaves office.

Spokesman:  No, I know the letter has been received.  I'm sure it will be answered, and obviously, I think the Secretary‑General has said repeatedly that he is willing to do whatever it takes to help with the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Question:  On 25 October, the Security Council will have an open debate on inter… on women, peace and security, and I'm wondering if the Secretary‑General might try to make some response to the letter as part of that.

Spokesman:  I think we'll have to see the remarks.  Abdelhamid and Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you.  My first question is about Iran.  Baquer Namazi, N‑a‑m‑a‑z‑i, a former UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] staff, was arrested six months ago.  He was put on trial on 5 October.  UNICEF issued a statement about the… his trial.  Is the UN following this trial and trying to maybe conduct…?

Spokesman:  No, I think we did… as you know, UNICEF did issue a statement, which we echoed from here.  We also expressed our concern and our request that he be shown humanitarian treatment and be released, but that's all I can share with you at this time.

Question:  My second question is about the visit of Nickolay Mladenov to Gaza today.  I'm sorry if you mentioned that in your briefing, but can you tell us more about it?

Spokesman:  I cannot because I wasn't… I didn't receive anything on it.  But let me see what I can get.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General‑designate, António Guterres, this morning, in his statement to the Assembly, said that he will make available his good offices and that he will act as a convenor, mediator, bridge‑builder to reduce tension between the actors.  And this sounds like he's placing preventive diplomacy on top of the agenda.  Does the Secretariat understand it that way?

Spokesman:  You know, I speak for the Secretary‑General, the… and there's only one Secretary‑General at a time.  I think… I'm not going to parse the Secretary‑General‑designate's speech.  I think… the current Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, I think had extremely warm words for his successor in terms of the political experience he brings, the compassion he brings in… from his years at UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and his experiences before in national government and as a young man.  The issue of preventive diplomacy is one that this current Secretary‑General has also been pushing forward in terms of investment in the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and using it as much as he can.  Sir?

Question:  Yeah.  It's about ISIS fighters.  In Jarabulus near the Turkish border, the Turkish authorities there allowed ISIS fighters just to shave their beard… beards and to remain in the town reconciliated with them.  Does the United Nations view this as an example to be implemented in other areas, such as Mosul or…?

Spokesman:  I'm always happy to comment on things, but I have to have some knowledge of them before I do.  So let me look into this report and see what I can tell you.

Question:  About Mosul, what do you think… is there any suggestion about what to do with the fighters if they… if they surrender or if…?

Spokesman:  You know, I think what is clear is that, in the fight against extremism, we do need to respect human rights.  We need to respect international law.  People who are combatants need to be taken prisoner and face justice for some of the… you know, some of the horrific crimes that we've seen in the area.  It's very important that the fight against extremists be conducted along international norms.  Our concern with the situation in Mosul is obviously the humanitarian impact that we expect once the fighting starts.

Question:  Do you have a clear idea about what happened to the fighters who left Fallujah, for example?

Spokesman:  I do not from here.  Mr. Lee.  Then Oleg.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Haiti.  The… the… the… and disaster risk reduction, which I saw a statement by the Secretary‑General on today.  There's a World Bank‑managed fund called the Haiti Reconstruction Fund, which redirected $14 million that had been earmarked as natural disaster mitigation.  He… they earmarked it… redirected it to energy projects.  And people are pointing to this as saying, like, is there some coordination between what the UN says and what the World Bank does?   And also, I'd been meaning for some time to ask you about a report… maybe you'll deny this… that for the for the Caracol Industrial Park in Haiti, "With the help of UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon, a former South Korean trade minister, the organizers recruited Sae‑A Trading Co., a South Korean‑based global garment giant that supplies many of the clothes you buy at Target, Wal‑Mart, Gap, Old Navy and stores…”

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.

Question:  Are you aware of that?  Can you ask him whether, in fact, he played a role in…?


Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the report.  On your first question, I think it's a question for the World Bank.  Oleg?

Correspondent:  It's in Slate, that report.  The one saying…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Any updates on Burundi?  Did you receive the letter from them on…?

Spokesman:  No, as far as… as of this morning, not received… did not receive the… I was not made aware of a letter having been received.

Question:  And, also, on Syria, any updates on the Saturday meeting?  Do you have any idea of the UN participating…? 


Spokesman:  Mr. de Mistura will attend the meeting.  Yeah?

Question:  The Secretary‑General mentioned today that 13 October 2006, was when he was confirmed, voted on by the General Assembly.  And I was on the 4th Floor at that meeting, and what's interesting is there were earphones so people could hear and hear translations on the 4th Floor press gallery.  Now when… when I was just there, on the 4th Floor press area, there were no earphones, that there's no way then to hear the translation unless you know that in advance and bring your own… own earphones…

Spokesman:  I'm happy to look into that.

Question:  Could you look into that? And then the other thing is that there were tour groups going through.  And when I asked them to be quiet, the guards would have said they have to move people along, but they were making noise, so you couldn't hear…

Spokesman:  I'm happy to look…

Correspondent:  To look… thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, Mr. Lee and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General‑designate Guterres also this morning, in the statement to the GA, said that he praised the staff commitment and dedication.  This is in complete contrast to what Boutros‑Ghali had done the first day of his work in the office here when he said “you must descend on the staff with stealth and violence”.  Do you think the staff would respond positively to this comment?


Spokesman:  Well, given the choice of the two, I would prefer the words of the Secretary‑General‑designate.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Sure.  I have a question but I just… on this issue of… of sound that you say you'll look into, this is also the truth.  In the photo booths over the Security Council… and you said that this Haiti meeting will be on EZTV but since…

Spokesman:  No, I said it would be on WebTV.

Question:  Okay.  The substantive question I wanted to ask you is this.  As I'm sure you know, as to the sexual abuse allegations in the Central African Republic, there's been a published report using and quoting a 24 August memo from Mercedes Gervilla of the UN peacekeeping, basically saying that the accusers may be lying, that their testimony was coordinated.  It's the kind of thing that, at least here in the United States, this is viewed as kind of explosive.  This is kind of smearing alleged victims of rape.  So I wanted to know, what's your comment on… on… on… on UN peacekeeping writing such a memo?  And since it says that she was citing the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), it's widely said among staff and some others that her spouse, Michael Dudley, is working for OIOS.  What safeguards do you have in place to make sure that these two units don't conspire to smear victims?

Spokesman:  I think… There's no… there is no conspiracy.  The head of the conduct… of the conduct and discipline unit is a dedicated staff member, and I think we all appreciate her work.  The document that was reported on at Reuters, I can't comment on the veracity of things that are leaked, whether it's true, whether it's not true.  What is true and what is going on is that OIOS is finishing up its investigation into what happened in Kemo prefecture, and we hope to have that soon.  Thank you.

Question:  And will the supposed repetitive nature of child victims of sexual abuse be held against them?

Spokesman:  I think the… I don’t think… nothing is being held against anyone.  What is happening is that there is a thorough investigation that took place of the incidents that may have taken place in Kemo.  I'll be right back.

For information media. Not an official record.