17 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.


In just a short while we are going to be joined by Lise Grande, who will be speaking to us from Iraq.  As you know, she is the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq and she will talk to you about the humanitarian perspective on the on-going operations around Mosul.


And in a statement issued last night, Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said he was extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people living in Mosul who may be impacted by military operation.  He said that families are at extreme risks of being caught in cross-fire or targeted by snipers, and that tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys, women and men who may be under siege could be used as human shields.  He renewed his call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and to ensure they have access to the assistance they are entitled to and deserve.  And obviously we expect Ms. Grande to give you a lot more detail on what’s going on.


The Secretary-General for his part is in Quito today for Habitat III, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.  In his opening remarks, just a few minutes ago, he said the event marks the culmination of an intense period during which the international community has defined a universal vision for sustainable development.  The Secretary-General recalls that approximately a quarter of urban dwellers live in slums or informal settlements, and that it is therefore clear that transforming our world for the better means transforming our towns and cities.

And yesterday, during the second World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments, the Secretary-General also urged Mayors, Governors and Councillors to take ownership of the New Urban Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.  His remarks are online and the Secretary-General will also be giving a press conference a bit later today following a bilateral meeting with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.  We will obviously issue transcripts of that as soon as we have it.


And over the weekend, you would have seen that on Saturday, the Secretary-General was in Haiti to visit communities affected by hurricane Matthew.  He said he witnessed complete devastation.  He visited a high school in the southern city of Les Cayes that is currently hosting 500 people who lost their homes during the disaster.  He said he was disappointed by the response of the international community so far and also expressed his concern regarding a rise in the transmission of cholera in the aftermath of the hurricane.  During a press conference with provisional President Jocelerme Privert, he reiterated that he deeply regretted the loss of life and suffering from the epidemic.  He stressed his resolve to intensify the fight against the epidemic and provide support for affected communities. 

Regarding attacks on humanitarian convoys, including one on the very day of his visit, the Secretary-General said he understood the impatience and anger of the population but condemned the incidents, saying that they ultimately hurt those who are in need.  And the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, says they are working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international aid delivery teams.  It is also managing to ensure the right amounts of aid distribution to Grande Anse, Nippes, Sud, Ouest and Sud Est departments.  Various peacekeeping units have been providing security escorts for aid convoys and are helping to repair camps and other facilities that were damaged during the hurricane.

Also on Haiti, Dr. David Nabarro, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser arrived in the country this morning [sic; he arrived over the weekend].  He is there to visit the town of Jéremie, which is one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Matthew.  Dr. Nabarro is there to assess the overall damage, with particular focus on the public health impact.  He will meet with local health authorities, humanitarian partners and visit a cholera treatment centre, as well as water purification facility.  Dr. Nabarro is accompanied by the senior UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and WHO/PAHO [World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization] officials based in Haiti.  While there, he will also meet with UN partners in the country.  And I must say, just a correction, Dr. Nabarro arrived over the weekend with the Secretary-General, not today.  But he is visiting Jéremie today.


And the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura will brief the Security Council by VTC (video teleconference) later this afternoon.  As you will know, over the weekend and earlier today, he met with European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg, and, speaking to reporters afterward, he said that he had insisted that the issue of Aleppo is vital and crucial.  He said history will judge us for any kind of discussion that ignores the needs of the people of Aleppo.  He said that as the world is watching Mosul, Aleppo should not be forgotten.  Mr. de Mistura added that over the weekend, in Lausanne, there was some progress on which we need to build.  The transcript of his remarks has been distributed.

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission there report the situation in Malakal remains calm but tense after Friday’s exchange of heavy gun fire, including mortars and rocket propelled grenades, between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition fighters.  The Mission also reports explosions yesterday coming from the direction of Pillieny and Thornyor in Unity.  Sixty-seven civilians have arrived at the UN compound seeking protection.

The UN Mission remains extremely concerned by the fighting between the SPLA and the opposition, which continues to prolong the suffering of the population.  It calls on both sides to respect the ceasefire agreed to by the parties in July and reiterates the need to fully implement the peace agreement.  Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is currently briefing the Security Council on South Sudan in closed consultations.

**Central African Republic

And from the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission there (MINUSCA) today condemned the repeated attacks against its peacekeepers.  A UN convoy was attacked yesterday in the area of Dekoa and another one between Grimai and Sibut three days before.  Five peacekeepers were wounded in the first attack.  The UN Mission stressed that the perpetrators of these attacks will be held to account, including, where necessary, for war crimes.

**Poverty Eradication

And today Secretary-General released a message marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, noting that about 1 billion people live in extreme poverty and more than 800 million endure hunger and malnutrition.  Yet, poverty is not simply measured by inadequate income, said the Secretary-General – it’s also manifested in restricted access to health, education and other essential services, as well as the denial or abuse of fundamental rights.

**Montreal Protocol

And in a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the adoption by governments meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, of the critically important amendment to the Montreal Protocol phasing-down production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  They are also the fastest-growing of all greenhouse gases, curbing their use will limit near-term warming of the planet.  Adoption of the amendment on HFCs will provide considerable benefits in the coming decades to help advance the Sustainable Development Goals.


And just to flag that the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime began today in Vienna.  The five-day conference will help promote the strategies needed to counter transnational organized crime under the crime convention and its three protocols on human and firearms trafficking, and migrant smuggling.  Madame?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, the Russians announced an eight‑hour ceasefire for Aleppo, and I was wondering what your response would be to that.  Does it matter at all, given that the UN has been asking for 48 hours?  Is… does…

Spokesman:  You know, I haven't seen the Russian announcement.  Obviously, any lessening of the violence, lessening of the fighting, any pause that's actually implemented will be very much welcome.  We have been calling for at least a 48‑hour ceasefire, cessation of hostilities, so in order to get humanitarian aid in.  Olga?

Question:  Can I follow up on Carole's question?  But even if you haven't seen the reports, will UN use this eight hours to deliver humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  We will use whatever pause we have to do whatever we can.  Obviously, there is a need for a longer pause in order to get trucks in and trucks rolling in.  But, obviously, any pause is welcomed by the UN and by the inhabitants of Aleppo.  Mercedes?

Question:  Given the disappointment of Secretary‑General with the lack of attention on Haiti, what is the plan to actually bring the attention of the international community to this matter?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think the Secretary‑General, by going to Haiti himself, was very much… that was very much part of bringing the attention to the media and the world on what is going on in Haiti.  We will continue to raise the issue to ensure that the world knows of the needs of the people of Haiti.  I think the Secretary‑General was very moved by what he saw, by the testimonies that he heard when he visited the shelter.  He will continue to raise the issue.  And I think, as of… the last number I had was that the appeal was still only 13 per cent funded.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to know, first, as you may have seen, Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, while he was there, said it was out… quote, it is outrageous for the Secretary‑General to come to Haiti… and I'll simplify it to say… to not directly address the UN's culpability for having brought cholera.  So I wanted to get your response to that.  Also, in terms of media coverage, I did want to ask you why, during the meeting in Conference Room 2 on Friday on this very topic, the press was ejected while Sandra Honoré was speaking.  Was there some miscommunication? And I have other questions.

Spokesman:  On the second part, what I said both on Thursday and Friday is that the meeting would be open to webcast.  I never said the meeting was open.

Question:  What's the difference?  If a meeting can be seen on television, why can't the press be there…?

Spokesman:  Matthew, that's just the way it is.

Question:  The room was empty and I think… 

Spokesman:  Everybody… the room was… it was attended by key Member States, and I think we were very pleased with the meeting.

Question:  Then why not let the press go?

Spokesman:  And you were able to follow the issues on the webcast.  On your first part, obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion.  I think the Secretary‑General did address, head on, the issue of cholera and, again, expressed his… his regret and his compassion and underscored that the UN would be… is currently working on a plan… on a two‑track plan to address the issue of cholera in Haiti, as the Deputy Secretary‑General and others did on Friday, and he will go back to the General Assembly soon with a great… with more details.

Question:  I want to ask about the use of tear gas in Haiti.

Spokesman:  I'll come back to you.  Oleg.  Go ahead.


Question:  Yeah, thanks, Stéphane.  There were, I guess, two separate reports coming yesterday or today on the airstrikes in Syria, one in Aleppo and the other in the northern part of the country.  Can you confirm any of those?  What happened?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to confirm.

Question:  And on a separate issue, there were some calls towards Leonardo DiCaprio… for him to leave his UN post because of this Malaysian money‑laundering scandal.  What does Ban Ki‑moon think of this?  I mean, does he want such a person to be…?

Spokesman:  My understanding from our colleagues in DPI [Department of Public Information] is that Mr. DiCaprio's foundation is working with the relevant authorities in the US, and we continue to welcome his public work on behalf of climate change.

Question:  Even though he is apparently involved in something like this…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think they're talking to the relevant authorities in the US.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Hi.  Some women's groups in New York are now calling for a boycott of the 21 October debut of Wonder Woman as the UN honorary ambassador, so would the UN consider dropping her in that role?  And did Ban Ki‑moon sign off on this Wonder Woman ambassadorial position?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  The project, which we've been working on… which the UN has been working on in close cooperation with UN Women and with UNICEF will go forward.  I think… you know, we try from… in our own ways to reach out to the population at large about issues that are of importance to the world, covered by the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], whether it's on human rights, children's rights, or gender issues.  And I think, in order to reach young people, in order to reach audiences outside of this building, we need to be creative and have creative partnerships.  I know there's been some… you know, some negative coverage of the announcement.  I would ask for people to wait for the announcement… the unveiling on the 2… later next week.

Question:  It… it's 21 October.

Spokesman:  It's on 21 October.  Sorry.  On 21 October and, I think, to judge the project by the artwork that you will see, the commitment that you will see.  And, again, I think this is a new and creative way for us to reach a different audience with critical messages about women's empowerment and parity and…

Question:  Did… did the… DC Comics, did they pay for her to take on this role?  Did they contribute money to the UN?

Spokesman:  No.  There's no money exchanged.

Question:  There's no money exchanged?

Spokesman:  This is a partnership again with the UN, with UN-Women, with UNICEF, with DC Comics and with Warner Brothers.

Question:  And so did Ban Ki‑moon sign off…?

Spokesman:  It went through all the proper authorizations…

Question:  So, it went through Ban Ki‑moon's office?

Spokesman:  It's gone through, yes, all the proper authorizations.  No, one second, please.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Yemen, how satisfied are you with the conclusions the Saudis have reached regarding the war crime which was committed in the funeral in Sana'a?  Hundreds of people are still waiting for treatment or evacuation.  And the outcome of the investigation, as the Saudis put it, was… they said some erroneous messages or information given to them.

Spokesman:  We've seen… I think we've seen the reports over the weekend where the Coalition appears to be taking responsibility for this.  Obviously, I think we want this to be fully investigated.  Our stance on the attack itself isn't changed.  The humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to be of great concern to us, the inability for people to fly in or fly… for greater amount of supplies to go in, for the wounded to go out.  Meanwhile, the Special Envoy, as you know, was, I think, recently in London to meet with the U.S., U.K., Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.  He's currently travelling to Russia, where he'll hold several meetings with Russian officials to discuss his vision for the security and political steps to bring about a political resolution to Yemen.

Question:  As I understand you correctly that you are not satisfied with this conclusion or you want further investigation…?

Spokesman:  I think we would want to see a full investigation to exactly what happened and, obviously, that people need to be held to account.

Question:  Did the Saudis communicate to you today their terms for the ceasefire?  They said they will accept a ceasefire if the Houthis accept.  Did they communicate the…

Spokesman:  There have been discussions had.  As I said, the Special Envoy was speaking, among others, to Saudi officials over the weekend.  We may have more on Yemen a bit later on today.  Yeah?

Question:  Can I follow up?  Reports were talking about a ceasefire imminently to be announced.  Are you expecting something along those lines?

Spokesman:  No, I saw the tweet from a number of Security Council… at least one Security Council ambassador.  Again, we're not in a position to confirm that statement as of now.

Question:  But, are you… is that what you're working on?

Spokesman:  Well, that's what we've been working on for quite a while.  Linda?  Sorry, then we'll go back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You mentioned a possible eight‑hour pause that the Russians have agreed to in Syria.  I may be a little dense, but how do these humanitarian pauses work in the sense that, don't you need the cooperation from both sides?

Spokesman:  No, I think my… the… I… I didn't… I was asked about it and, obviously, on the… in a conditional answer, said we would welcome any pause in the fighting but that we need… you know, there's a need for a longer pause in order for us to get the aid in.

Question:  But, does that mean that the… I mean, since Aleppo is rebel head… held… does that mean that they've obviously…?

Spokesman:  Of course, we need… Before the trucks start rolling in, we need assurances from all parties for the safety of the drivers… the Syrian drivers themselves, that they need to be comfortable enough, given the extremely dangerous situation, that they can actually drive into the city without being hit.  Fathi?

Question:  Maybe it's on a lesser serious tone, follow‑up on the Wonder Woman story.  Was this the best thinking of the UN DPI and the Secretary‑General and the Secretariat that a cartoon or a comic personality would be a Goodwill Ambassador while there is disappointment among the women groups for gender parity and dodging all the female candidates for the position of the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  I think the two are… the announcement… the press release that went out and, obviously, the vote on the next Secretary‑General are clearly not related.  The aim of using cartoon characters, whether it's Angry Birds, whether it's Wonder Woman, is not to reach people like you and I or at least not to reach people like me.  I don't know what you like to read. [Laughter] You know, the campaign's main theme, which it'll be think of all the wonders we can do will highlight what we can do collectively to achieve… what we can collectively achieve if women and girls are empowered, along with examples of women and girls who have made and are making a difference by overcoming barriers and beating the odds to reach their goals.  You know, people are free, obviously, to have whatever opinion on a campaign that hasn't been fully launched.  I would urge all of you to sit back and look at the campaign and judge it on what you'll see on 21 October and, again, with the understanding that it's not the old folk like us who are the targets of this campaign.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Just a technical problem with Wonder Woman, because I used to read the comics, constantly, this was science fiction, and it's still considered science fiction.  So to portray a woman of supernatural powers as a role model is to confuse the… the whole concept of women as capable of accomplishing something.  I mean, it would have been better to have…

Spokesman:  You know, I think we're entering into a zone where I wish I could use my last Lasso of Truth, but it's… yes, it's a comic book.  It's science fiction.  There are other way… there are ways to get messages out on climate, on human rights, on everything that's covered in the SDGs through nontraditional media coverage.  It… you know, there are a lot of good messages in Star Trek.  I love Star Trek, a lot of good messages and positive message, but I'm fully aware it is science fiction.  Let's go to something a little more serious.  It's a challenge.


Question:  Okay.  I'd wanted to know about the UN's use of tear gas in Haiti and South Sudan, but I want to be sure to ask this before time expires and you run through the door.  So, I wanted to know, Ban Ki‑moon gave a speech on Friday at something called the Council of Korean‑Americans in Washington, D.C.  It was a pretty big speech.  And it's been covered extensively in the South Korean press as Ban Ki‑moon defends leadership to counter Western media's criticism.  What I don't understand is why your office sent out his University of Maryland speech, but not this speech.  Was this given as a UN official?  Was it given in a personal capacity?  Were UN funds given?  And what do you make of the coverage that the purpose of this speech was to rebut…

Spokesman:  It was a private event that the Secretary-General attended.

Question:  S,o did he take UN security?  Was it UN funds…? I don't understand…

Spokesman:  It was part of his UN trip to Washington, and it was a private event, which he sometimes has.

Question:  Can we get the transcript of what he said rather than…?

Spokesman:  Madame?

Question:  I just wanted to know if the inquiry on the aid convoy bombing in Syria, if that… when do you expect that to… to be?

Spokesman:  I had hoped to be able to announce it to you last week.  I will continue to remain hopeful that I can announce leadership and a little more details this week.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Again, on this eight‑hour alleged pause in Aleppo, the last time the Russians suggested it… or the Syrians did, Mr. O'Brien said it was much too short and that it had to… it wasn't that he hoped it would be longer, said it was just impossible to deliver aid…

Spokesman:  I think that's what I said, yeah.

Correspondent:  Well, you… yeah.

Question:  Can I follow up with that?

Spokesman:  Yes, Mercedes.

Question:  If you already told them and let them know a few times that you can't do anything in eight hours, what is it they expect to accomplish, if you know?

Spokesman:  I think you would have to ask those but, obviously, who sponsor the cessation of hostilities… but any pause in the hostilities is positive for people who are living under bombs and are being shot at and bombed.  What we're saying is that, obviously, in order to get the humanitarian machine rolling and rolling in, we need more time.  Oleg, then Matthew, and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any updates on what's happening in the Libyan capital after the attempted coup that happened over the…?

Spokesman:  Indeed.  I think the Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, condemned the attempt to seize the headquarters of the High Council of State.  I think, for us, such action is… in terms of the efforts to create a parallel institutions and obstructing the implementation of the Libyan political agreement generates further disorder and insecurity.  Mr. Kobler called on all to end such acts for the sake of the Libyan people, reminding that the Libyan Political Accord remains the only political framework for a peaceful solution in Libya and urged all political actors to unite behind it.

Question:  Yeah, we've seen some progress in Libya, but now, obviously, the process is not going anywhere.  Maybe there is time… this is the time to start something else?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it's… I don't think it's the time to abandon what has already been agreed to.  It's the time for all those political actors to rally behind what has already been agreed to.  Matthew, then Pam.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you there, this state of emergency that was announced in Ethiopia with restrictions on the travel of diplomats and restrictions on the media, first… I mean, in one sense, does it apply to any of the UN's personnel?  And doesn't the UN, which has a major office in Addis, have some comment on these restrictions on press and diplomatic movements?  

Spokesman:  I'm not currently aware of what… of how it applies to… to the UN in Addis, and we'll try to get… I'm waiting for a bit more reaction on the issue.

Question:  But I guess… I mean, it seems…

Spokesman:  We've already expressed our concern at the… obviously, at the developments there.  But I hope to have a bit more for you on Ethiopia a bit later this afternoon.  Pam, and then we'll go to our guest. [He later added: The Secretary-General has been following the developments in Ethiopia with concern, including the declaration of a state of emergency effective 8 October.  We are aware of the latest reports about new measures being imposed and are looking at the available information.  The Secretary-General urges the authorities to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights.  He reiterates his call for calm and restraint and calls for inclusive dialogue to resolve all grievances.]

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I know we'll hear something from Lise Grande on this, but has the Secretary‑General made any statement about Mosul and the reports that there may be human shields held and 1.5 or 1 million civilians…? 

Spokesman:  I hope to have a formal statement on Mosul.  Obviously, we're aware of the… that the operations started.  We're, obviously, also… while we hope that it will bring solace to the people who have been trapped by Da’esh in the area, we also remind all the parties concerned of the need to respect human rights and International Humanitarian Law in the fight against Da’esh.  But, as I said, I hope to have a formal statement…

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Mr. de Mistura suggested that an al‑Nusra Front be escorted out of Aleppo as an exit strategy to prevent any bloodshed.  Would this apply to Iraq with regard to ISIS?  I mean, such a proposal, would that be coming forth, coming from the UN?

Spokesman:  You know, I think in the… we're in the midst right now of a military action, and I think, for us, the focus is on ensuring that it brings solace to the people of Mosul and liberates them from Da’esh but that it also… but also all those intervening respect international law and international human rights.

Question:  The same applies to Aleppo, doesn’t it?

Spokesman:  You can make that conclusion.  All right?  We'll go to Lise Grande… is Lise on?

For information media. Not an official record.