The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is visiting the Galapagos Islands today, to observe measures implemented by the Government of Ecuador to ensure the environmental protection and sustainable development of the site, the first to be added to the World Heritage List in 1978. The Secretary-General also met with President Rafael Correa yesterday in Quito and told reporters afterwards that they had positive and productive meeting in which they discussed Ecuador’s reconstruction following the recent earthquakes. They also discussed Ecuador’s contribution to the United Nations.
And in a separate meeting yesterday on the margins of the Habitat III Conference in Quito, the Secretary-General discussed the peace process in Colombia with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Secretary-General said he remained encouraged by the commitment to peace reiterated by all parties to the Colombian peace process; that was the main point of their discussion. He also welcomed the upcoming negotiations starting on 27 October in Ecuador between the Colombian Government and the ELN [National Liberation Army].
And also on Colombia, this afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will meet in closed consultations on Colombia. Following the meeting, at approximately 5 p.m., Jean Arnault, the head of the UN Mission in Colombia, is expected to appear at the stakeout to answer your questions. [That press encounter was later cancelled.]
From Haiti, our humanitarian colleagues report today that while they continue to reach the most affected areas along the southern peninsula, remote inland parts of the country are still difficult to access. OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] reports that more than 175,000 people are living in 224 temporary shelters. An estimated 116,100 children have had their education disrupted. Efforts are made to prioritize the clean-up and repair of lightly damaged or undamaged schools to enable children to return to class.
Over 1.2 million people, including 500,000 children, need safe water and adequate sanitation to help prevent the spread of diseases, especially cholera. To meet these needs, water purification tablets were airlifted to provide safe drinking water to about 475,000 people and chlorine is being procured to help local authorities chlorinate piped water systems throughout the country. A newly established water plant is now providing 300,000 litres of potable water to 20,000 people per day in the town of Jérémie, which as you know was particularly hard hit by the hurricane. The UN is concerned by the poor donor response to the flash appeal launched on 10 October. The $120 million appeal which aims to assist 750,000 of the worst affected people is critically underfunded with just over $15 million contributed so far.
The UN [Stabilization Mission in Haiti] (MINUSTAH) reports that peacekeepers are continuing to provide security to humanitarian convoys. They provided security to four convoys that departed Les Cayes earlier today. UN police and military continue to assist the Haitian National Police in securing humanitarian aid, including when it reaches its intended location. A UN military hospital is also now operational in Jérémie and available to provide medical assistance to the population in two locations in Grande Anse.
Meanwhile, Dr. [David] Nabarro, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, continues his visit to Haiti. After returning from Jérémie yesterday, Dr. Nabarro engaged with members of the donor community last night. Today, he will hold a series of meetings on the cholera situation, including with Haiti’s Minister of Health. He will participate in a press conference in Port-au-Prince before leaving for New York.
And with the start of the operation to liberate Mosul from Da’esh terrorists, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) called on the Iraqi people to unite in support of their country’s armed forces and is urging that every step be taken to avoid civilian casualties. The UN mission also said that liberation must be followed by genuine political dialogue leading to an historic compromise among all components of Iraqi society in order to consolidate victory and ensure sustainable peace for the future.
And on the humanitarian front, 36 hours after the military began, at this point, they’re not leading to immediate, large-scale displacement of affected people. No significant civilian displacement out of Mosul has been reported so far. Most of the military operations have been concentrated in less-populated areas of the region. Serious concerns remain for the protection of civilians as hostilities intensify closer to and in densely populated and urban areas.
Movements out of the city have been limited and displacement is anticipated to become more significant in the coming weeks. An estimated 200,000 people are anticipated to be displaced in the first weeks of the offensive. In a worst-case scenario, 1 million people could be displaced. Humanitarian partners will do everything possible to support people that may be displaced in the context of the operations. Preparations are focusing on identification, assessment and establishment of displacement sites to receive uprooted families and continuous monitoring of civilian displacements.
And on Yemen, you will have seen last night we issued a statement from Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, announcing a plan for the resumption of a comprehensive Cessation of Hostilities in the country. The Special Envoy has received assurances from all Yemeni parties to their recommitment to the Terms and Conditions of the Cessation of Hostilities on 10 April. This will enter into force at 11:59 p.m. Yemen time on 19 October; that would be tomorrow, for an initial period of 72 hours. And that statement was shared with you.
Also, we want to flag that the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El-Ghassim Wane, was in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, yesterday where he officially presented the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire’s (UNOCI’s) consolidated handover plan to Prime Minister of Côte d'Ivoire , Mr. Daniel Kablan Duncan. This plan outlines all major activities undertaken by the peacekeeping mission since 2004 and lists the remaining activities, which will still need to be pursued by the UN partners and the Government. And as you know, the Mission’s mandate ends on 30 June 2017. And later this week, Mr. Wane will travel to Sudan to attend a meeting of the Tripartite Mechanism between the UN, the African Union and the Government of Sudan, that will be in Khartoum on 20 October. The Tripartite Mechanism will discuss the status of the operations of the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the work of the trilateral Joint Working Group on UNAMID’s exit strategy.
And our colleagues at the UN [Assistance] Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have released a special report focusing on this summer’s attack against a peaceful demonstration in Kabul. Suicide bombers attacked on 23 July a gathering, leaving 85 civilians dead and more than 400 others injured. Almost all the casualties were male from the Hazara community, which is predominantly Shia. Da’esh claimed responsibility for the attack. The report stresses that the fundamental human rights of all Afghans must be respected, while also examining the planning and preparedness of the Afghan Security Forces in the lead-up to the demonstrations.
And our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] say they inform us with sadness and concern that former UNICEF staff member Baquer Namazi, who has been incarcerated in Iran since 22 February, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison. Mr. Namazi served at UNICEF as Representative for Somalia, Kenya and Egypt, among other positions. He worked tirelessly on behalf of children in all those positions, often in highly difficult circumstances. He deserves a peaceful retirement and UNICEF appeals for his release on humanitarian grounds.
And you will have seen that the flags at UN Headquarters are not on display today and that is as we pay tribute to the late King of Thailand.
And in response to a question that I think you Matthew had asked on Friday, after checking with our colleagues in Geneva, I can confirm that the allegation of a letter from D-2s of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights protesting about the appointment of Andrew Gilmour as the new Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on the grounds that the post wasn’t advertised is completely false. I can also confirm, as I said, that Kate Gilmore, and that’s G‑i-l-m-o-r-e, has only one nationality and it is the proud passport of Australia.
At 1 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a press conference by the Chair of the UN Committee against Torture, Jens Modvig, the Chair of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Malcolm Evans, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, our friend, Juan Mendez. And I think they’ll do that as soon as we’re done here.
And lastly, we say thank you to our friends in Bucharest and Vienna who paid their regular budget dues, which brings us up to… come on, we haven't done this in a while. How many? You get the first question, Joe. It was 131. It's like The Price is Right. It's a game show. You got to speak up. You know, Member States are being generous. I can only be generous, as well.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. I have two questions, actually. The first one is whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on the allegations by Mr. [Julian] Assange that Ecuador had cut off his internet access and whether that topic came up in his discussions in Ecuador that you had described.
Spokesman: I… first question, no, I don't have any comment, and I do not believe that came up in the discussions.
Question: Okay. And the second is really just a follow‑up on what I had asked a number of days ago concerning the letter that was sent by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Deputy Secretary [Jan] Eliasson relating to boycott or requested boycott of firms doing business in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Has there been any confirmation of receipt of that letter? And, if so, what… what response is being envisioned?
Spokesman: I have no update from what I've told you, but I will check. Michelle?
Question: Residents of Mosul are reporting that… or some of them are reporting that they're being prevented from leaving and possibly being held as human shields. What does the UN have on this?
Spokesman: I've given you all the information I have on Mosul. Obviously, we don't have anyone directly involved with the UN inside. We're sitting on the outside. Obviously, as I said, we haven't seen that many civilians come out. Part of that is probably due to the fact that most of the military activity has not really hit the more densely populated areas, but I will ask my colleagues to see if they have anything. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I have a follow‑up question on what you read, but I wanted to ask you first about the Security Council today. It was said that… that there's no plan… Uruguay helpfully was… spoke before and after the meeting. No one else spoke including… well, from the Secretariat side. So, I wanted to ask you, one of the things that the Permanent Representative of Uruguay said is that there's no time scheduled for [Christopher] Ross to return to the region. He described the political process as entirely stalemated, but did say that Ban Ki‑moon will go to Rabat before he goes to Marrakesh, which I'd asked you about before. So, I wanted to know, from the Secretariat side, given that his envoy, Ross, is apparently blocked from going to the region, what does the Secretary‑General seek to accomplish in Rabat during that stop? And can you provide us now a number of how… is it still at 25? What is the force level? And can you explain why it is that new staff are being recruited for MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara]? I understand that there's some who have retired, that left, but there seem to be a certain number that neither retired nor were reassigned that are simply being paid to not be back there. And was Morocco allowed to hand‑pick which people can return?
Spokesman: No, the choice of who works for the United Nations is the choice of the United Nations. The special… a trip for Mr. Ross is still under discussion. As soon as we have something to announce, we will do so. The Secretary‑General, no surprise, is very likely to attend and will be in Marrakesh for COP‑22. I think that's fairly… pretty much an open secret. We'll announce it officially a little closer to the date. And we will be in a position closer to the date to announce any bilateral visit that takes place with Moroccan authorities, but I can't confirm anything at this point.
Question: But, again, I guess I wanted to know, I mean, you're saying that the UN makes its own selection, but how can you explain people that were ousted among the 83 still being paid to not return when you're, in fact, recruiting new people?
Spokesman: The… listen, none of us here have the exact details of people's hiring or all the jobs that are being recruited and so forth. The Mission, as far as I understand, is still not up to full capacity, and we continue to work towards that end. Abdelhamid and then… sorry. Go ahead and then Carole. Yeah. Go ahead. Go ahead. No… somebody speak, because otherwise, I'll continue to speak. Go ahead.
Question: It has been months, though, since the regional tour for Christopher Ross was announced. So, why is it taking so long?
Spokesman: To say that the issue of Western Sahara is a complex and complicated issue that has been on the UN's agenda for some time, I think, would be an understatement. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. Regarding UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], today the resolution passed last week had been endorsed without a vote. Now, my question, does the Director‑General, or, on that matter, the Secretary‑General have the right to take a position contrary to what had been decided by the Executive Board?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has a right to speak up on any issue he feels he needs to speak up on. A vote was clearly taken… I mean a decision was taken in UNESCO. And, again, I would say today that we… the Secretary‑General reaffirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions and stresses the importance of the religious and historical link of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian people for the holy sites. The Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al‑Haram al‑Sharif, which is the sacred shrine of Muslims, is also the Har HaBayit — or Temple Mount — whose Western Wall is the holiest place in Judaism, a few steps away from the Saint Sepulchre Church and the Mount of Olives, revered by Christians. Again, we would reiterate that any perceived undertaking to repudiate the undeniable common reverence of these sites does not serve the interests of peace and will only feed violence and radicalism. The Secretary‑General also calls on all sides to uphold the status quo in relation to the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is his opinion, which, I think, he has a right, as anybody else does, to express.
Question: Even… even it goes against the policy that has been adopted? That’s my question.
Spokesman: It goes… it is his position. The Secretary‑General also has a role in the Middle East peace process, and I think anything that denies the Christian… or any religion…
Question: But the resolution does not deny that… It talks about the importance of Jerusalem for all the three. It does that. It talks about also the obligation of the occupying power…
Spokesman: You and I can have different opinions. I think the Secretary‑General's position on this is the one I just read, and I think no one can deny him the right to have a position.
Question: Can I follow up? I mean, when he talk… when he gave a statement contrary to the UN policy in terms of death sentence, he apologized and he retracted. Right?
Spokesman: I don't think it's the… I don't think the comparison is valid. Masood and then Olga.
Question: On this impending Yemen ceasefire, I mean, just last week, the Saudi Coalition killed 140 people in a funeral home. Was there any inquiry held as to why this was done? And… because the Coalition blames on mistaken information, so‑called mistaken information, now, does the Secretary‑General, does the United Nations, still believe that this new ceasefire that is impending will hold given the fact that Saudis have become so prone to misinformation and killing people?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is very clear in the condemnation of the attack, which killed many, many civilians, including women and children. I don't think he could have been any clearer. He has called for an in‑depth investigation. We've taken note of what appeared in the press as a statement by the Coalition taking responsibility for it. But, I think that it still needs to be further investigated.
Question: Is there any move to reconsider Saudi listing on the…?
Spokesman: That process continues. Olga?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Russia announced the end of airstrikes in Aleppo already today. Do you have any agencies on the ground that can confirm the situation and tell what's going on there? And, also, will it give UN more time to prepare for humanitarian aid that is set for Thursday?
Spokesman: You know, we've obviously taken note of the announcement by the Russian Federation and Syria of the pause to halt… and the decision to halt airstrikes ahead of a pause on 20 October. The UN and its partners have been and remain ready to proceed with urgent medical evacuation, provide urgent life‑saving assistance when all security assurances are provided. Again, we reiterate that assurances must be provided by all parties for safe and unimpeded access… humanitarian access, so that critical aid can get through. And we're not… what we need to see, I think as we've said from here, as our colleagues have said in Geneva, we need at least a 48‑hour pause in order to get the aid in. And we haven't been able to get into… aid into Aleppo and other hard‑to‑reach areas and besieged areas in quite some time. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: Just follow‑up. So, for now, for the moment, you have no guarantees from nobody about…?
Spokesman: We need guarantees from all sides, and we need at least 48 hours. I mean, these are… it's trucks that need to move in. These things take… unfortunately, take a bit of time. And we need to see that 48‑hour window.
Question: No one communicated the United Nations about the guarantees of securities?
Spokesman: We don't have the security guarantees that we need right now to get the aid in. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. António Guterres has established a transition team to discuss the transfer of functions or coordination and the office has been established “in front of the Secretariat”. One, where is it located exactly? And, second, who is leading the discussions for the… for the coordination from the Secretariat side?
Spokesman: The Chef de Cabinet, Mr. Edmond Mulet, is in charge of the transition team from the Secretariat side. Frankly, I don't physically know where their offices… whether they're in this building or in DC-1. I don't know. But, obviously, if you have any questions on the incoming Secretary‑General, as you saw, Melissa Fleming is here and can be reached. Yep?
Question: Thanks. On Mosul, I've seen that the head of the IOM [International Organization for Migration] in Iraq, Mr. Weiss, is quoted in Reuters today as saying they're concerned about the use of chemical weapons in the operation, but have not managed to procure any gas masks yet. Just curious, have they asked the Secretariat for help in obtaining this? And just to understand, I mean, do you… I know WFP [World Food Programme] has warehouses of food. Is there like a UN warehouse of gas masks or…?
Spokesman: I think we try to give our staff all the necessary safety equipment that they have. But, I don't know if IOM has asked for anything specifically. Yeah?
Question: Yes, just a follow‑up on that. You have safety for the staff, but what about IDPs [internally displaced persons] and…?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we will try to get the IDPs out as far away from the conflict… from the immediate conflict area as possible.
Question: Okay. And my question was also about Mosul. Residents from Mosul, from inside Mosul that they're really concerned about sectarian retaliation, you know. As you know, Mosul is predominantly Sunni, and they are worried that, as in the case of Fallujah, they will be harmed as they escape the city, given the forces are increasingly approaching the city as we speak. So, has the UN received any assurances from… from especially the militias, the Shiite militias, to not harm the Sunni civilians?
Spokesman: I think, whether it's what we've said from here, what Lise Grande said… Grande said yesterday, there's obviously a concern that the fight against Da’esh not make the people of Mosul suffer twice. We've expressed those concerns to the Government… the federal Government in Baghdad. We've also had discussions with the regional Kurdish Government. The issue of the protection of human rights and protection of civilians in the fight against Da’esh is one… is an issue that we've raised repeatedly and will continue to raise. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As a follow‑up to the questions on Aleppo, you said no guarantees from the parties you need. There was a letter, I believe, from 11 October from the Syrian Mission to the UN addressed to Ban Ki‑moon and the Security Council, where he explicitly says that they are ready to provide security guarantees to evacuate the wounded and the sick and to let the… even the armed opposition members to leave the city. My question is: do you receive any sort of such communication from the other parties they're fighting with? I mean, now you have the promise of the Russians and the Syrians that they will stop the strikes. You have the guarantees necessary from the Syrian Government. The only thing you need is the guarantees from the Al-Nusra fighters and other groups that are concentrating in Aleppo. Will you get that?
Spokesman: Obviously, we need to have security assurances, as I said, from both sides, whether it's directly from those parties or for those countries who have an influence to the parties on the ground. At this point, we do not have the security guarantees we need, nor is there the window… long enough window for us to bring aid in. Abdelhamid, then Matthew.
Question: Yes. I want to ask if the UN is involved with the planning of… or have the UN been informed about what's going on in Mosul? Not only at the humanitarian level but at the level of planning. And there's another question about the Russian Foreign Minister, [Sergey] Lavrov, said that there is a fear that the ISIS fighter will slip into Syria. Is the UN aware of this possibility?
Spokesman: I think it goes without saying, in this action against Da’esh, there is a fear that some of the fighters may escape. The fight against Da’esh is a necessary one. And, again, it's important that in that fight that the rights of the civilians, the right of the population, be respected. Your first question was?
Question: Is the UN involved…?
Spokesman: No, I… we're not involved in the military operation. Obviously, we've had… our colleagues have had contacts with the various security forces to see how the operations may impact the humanitarian needs. So, in that sense, we're in touch with them. But we are not, as far as I know, privy to any of the actual military planning that is going on. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Myanmar. I saw… whatever. It seems like, in Rakhine State, there continue to be burning of villages. There's an open letter by 16 Rohingya civil society groups naming the villages, naming Battalion 551, and all of this has happened since the last statement by Vijay Nambiar on 11 October. So, I wanted to know, what exactly is the UN doing? In what seems to be a planned, comprehensive military crackdown on the region and the burning and… and destruction of whole villages, what has been the actions of Mr. Nambiar since 11 October until today's date?
Spokesman: Obviously, it's something we continue to follow. I don't have any other… anything else to add than what we said in Mr. Nambiar's statement, which is his concern at the ongoing military operation, and I think that stands.
Question: And I wanted to… as to… on what you said at the top, I wanted to ask you the following and just if you can explain this. The ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] post that went to Mr. Andrew Gilmour and without any rancour of his record or anything else, you may not believe it, but a number of ambassadors through G-77 and elsewhere said they never got a letter. And so they look at the ASG of OCHA, for example, Kyung‑wha Kang, and they did get a letter saying put forward… how is it decided? They thought… so, I'm asking you… that when ASG posts become open that the Member States are told they can put in candidates. Even if you have somebody in mind, you go through the motions. Why was that not done in the case of ASG for Human Rights?
Spokesman: I don't know that it was… that Member States were not informed. The Secretary‑General… the Secretary‑General has the authority to appoint ASGs or USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] without posting… posting the post as it is being done for OCHA. That is his prerogative. It is within the well‑established rules and regulations of the Organization. The procedure for the hiring of Andrew Gilmour was clearly within the established rules and regulations of how these posts are named. The Secretary‑General has various options and uses those various options for various posts.
Question: So, now that Kyung‑wha Kang is part of the transition team for António Guterres, what's the status of that post and of the recruitment part? It would seem to make more sense to do that one fast, given the…?
Spokesman: I appreciate your HR [human resources] advice. I think…
Question: Sure. Well, where does it stand? It's not really advice. It's a question.
Spokesman: She had indicated and announced her departure months ago. That continues. She's no longer on that post, so that recruitment continues. Masood and then Joe.
Question: Yeah. Stéphane, on these secret talks between the Afghan Government and Taliban in Qatar, does the United Nations have any information about it? It is being reported that some of the UN officials and other officials are… have been attending those…
Spokesman: I'm not privy to what may or may not be going on in secret talks. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. Maybe I just missed this, but going back to Aleppo and the conditions that would be necessary for the UN to feel that there's sufficient security to move in the humanitarian aid, Al‑Nusra has always been considered outside the cessation of hostilities, a terrorist organization. So, is it a condition that somehow the UN or its partners receive assurances from Al‑Nusra representatives that there will not be hostilities?
Spokesman: It is a judgment call made by those in authority to see when they feel it is sufficiently safe. We know we will never be 100 per cent safe — when they feel that they have enough assurances from various parties to allow the trucks to move in. It needs to be sufficiently safe for those Syrians that are driving those trucks to get in the trucks and turn on the engines and decide that they are willing to take the risk to go. It is an active conflict zone. I think no one expects to receive 100 per cent assurances or insurances that there will not be any issue and not be any attack. We have seen, in the not‑too‑distant past, humanitarian convoys get attacked. Those who are on the ground, those who are driving the trucks are putting themselves at risks even with the best of assurances. So, there is a… it is a judgment call that is made. Our colleagues on the humanitarian and political front are in touch with the various parties. When they feel that the temperature is right, that the situation is right, then the green light is given to those trucks.
Question: But, who… I'm just trying to get a little bit more detail on who those parties are and whether there are channels… I know you can't describe them in any detail, but are there channels somehow to… to Al‑Nusra and other organizations… that [inaudible] are terror organizations…?
Spokesman: It is clear… there are extremist groups, terrorist groups operating in Syria that are not going to give us assurances…
Question: Well, they're in Aleppo.
Spokesman: …in Aleppo and other places. It is a matter when we feel that there is sufficient safety for us to go forward. Oleg?
Question: If I could just change the subject, the… you remember the former UNICEF official Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi, who was sentenced today in Iraq. Do you have any…?
Spokesman: I just… were you here at the beginning? Ask Olga to share her notes with you. Matthew?
Question: Two quick follow‑ups from yesterday. One is on Ethiopia. After I asked you a question, you'd sent out a note to correspondents that said: "We are aware of the latest reports of the new measures, and we are looking at the available information." Have you now looked at the information of diplomats being banned from going…?
Spokesman: I have nothing more than what I said yesterday afternoon.
Question: Okay. And I wanted also to ask… it took me a second to kind of reflect on it. You'd said that Ban Ki‑moon's speech on Friday in Washington to the Council of Korean-Americans at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center was somehow a private appearance, but I've seen pictures of it. He was in a tuxedo with a big screen behind him, and the media was present. So, I'm left… I guess what I wonder is, what do you mean by "private"? Was it open only to some media? What… was…
Spokesman: You'd have to ask the organizers.
Correspondent: But, if he spent… the money question is this… if it was a private…
Spokesman: He was in Washington for a UN‑related event, and he participated in a… in this event organized by this foundation, which was considered a private event.
Question: Was money charged to attend it?
Spokesman: You'd have to ask the organizers.
Question: Would that be against UN rules?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General and others appear sometimes in dinners where money is charged. Thank you.