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

19 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.


First on Haiti, the peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) continues to facilitate the escort and provision of security for humanitarian convoys from Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes and Jérémie. Escorts are provided primarily by UN Police in collaboration with the Haitian National Police. Since 5 October, the Mission has operated 33 flights in support of the humanitarian response and the peacekeepers are providing security in the airport of Les Cayes and Jérémie.

The peacekeeping Mission also reports that access to isolated areas, as well as the repair of secondary roads, remain major concerns.  In support of requests by the Haitian authorities, peacekeepers are undertaking road repairs and maintenance in a number of places, including around Camp Perrin, which is located on the main supply road between Les Cayes to Jérémie, as well as the western tip of the peninsula, northwest, and the southwest coast. Peacekeepers are also working to repair and maintain the road from Belle Anse to Grand-Gosier in the south-east of Haiti.

The humanitarian response is underway across most sectors and is expected to scale up substantially in the weeks ahead as road access is restored to cut‑off communities.  So far, 58,000 people have received food rations in the Departments of Sud and Grand’ Anse.  Humanitarian staff are working to restore destroyed cholera treatment centers, and ramp up access to clean drinking water and emergency sanitation to help prevent the further spread of cholera.  Some 71,500 tarpaulins, 30,000 hygiene kits and more than 24,000 kitchen sets have arrived or are in transit to Haiti.  The $120 million Flash Appeal has received additional contributions, for which we are thankful, but it remains critically under‑funded with just over $26.5 million received so far.


And meanwhile, from Mosul, our colleagues there report that military activities remain concentrated in less populated areas, with civilian displacement still limited at this stage.  So far, 1,900 people have been received in Qayyarah district, south of Mosul, primarily from Al Houd town, and from other areas south of Mosul.  Humanitarian partners have conducted assessment missions in the area to identify urgent needs and access issues and are providing arriving families with assistance.  A further 900 people who fled into Syria have been received in the al Hol camp in eastern Syria.  Serious concerns remain for the protection of civilians as hostilities intensify closer to and in densely populated urban areas.  Displacement is anticipated to become more significant in the coming five or six days.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Babatunde Osotimehin, said he is deeply concerned about the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in Mosul, and the heightened threat to the health and lives of pregnant women who may be cut off from life‑saving emergency obstetric care.  He said that among the 200,000 people likely to be displaced during the initial weeks of the military operation in Mosul, an estimated 46,000 are women and girls of reproductive age, including about 8,000 who are pregnant or about to give birth.  He added that life‑saving health services must be maintained and accessible to all who require it.


And for the first time in a month, since 25 September, an inter‑agency humanitarian convoy today is on its way to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the besieged town of Duma in East Ghouta, in rural Damascus in Syria.  The UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent/International Committee of the Red Cross convoy is delivering food, health, water and sanitation and other emergency supplies for 35,000 people in Duma.

**Human Rights

And the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke this morning at the General Assembly event to mark the 50th anniversary of the two human rights covenants which completed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to form the International Bill of Human Rights.  Mr. Eliasson said this marked the beginning of a global constitution of human rights protection and galvanized the consensus view that the protection and realization of human rights is fundamental to building resilient, inclusive and peaceful societies.  But he said that regrettably, serious human rights violations remain a huge challenge.

Mr. Eliasson stressed that in a world of widespread suffering, war, poverty and discrimination, this 50th anniversary is appropriate moment to rally around the Covenants’ principles and vision.  For his part, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the Covenants have been a lifeline for millions of women, men and children over the past 50 years.  They have helped to shape constitutions of many countries.

**Middle East

And in the Security Council, Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning and said that settlement announcements, outbreaks of violence and terror, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.  He said that the absence of progress has led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among the Israelis.  It has strengthened radicals and weakened moderates on both sides.

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said that poverty and unemployment have driven more than a quarter of all Palestinian households to food insecurity; half a million school children require humanitarian assistance to access quality education; and an estimated 1 million people are in need of humanitarian health and nutrition interventions in the Palestinian territory.  Overall, some 2.3 million Palestinians out of a total 4.8 million in the occupied Palestinian territory, are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.


And, an update on Myanmar: though the fighting between the country’s security forces and attackers identified by the Government as belonging to the organization “Aqa mul moujahideen” appears to be continuing in some villages in the outskirts of Maungdaw township of Northern Rakhine, they seem to have reduced in severity and frequency over the last two days.

Meanwhile, we understand that tight restrictions on movements continue in the “operation zone” in Northern Rakhine State, blocking access for the UN and other international personnel as well as the movement of local Muslim villagers. Since 9 October, almost all humanitarian activities have been suspended and many international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) continue to have national staff members stuck in the affected areas.  An atmosphere of fear and tension continues to affect the lives of the local population.

While deploring the attacks on the security forces and noting their sober response to these attacks, we continue to underline the importance of caution to avoid any loss of innocent lives or damage to properties of the local population from the continuing operations against the attackers.  We also note the strong commitment expressed by the Government in upholding the rule of law, proceeding against the perpetrators in accordance with proper judicial process and guarding against any looting, provocation or hatred among the people or incitement to communal violence.

We also note that Bangladesh has sealed the borders with Myanmar to deny perpetrators easy escape and has handed over two suspects to the Government authorities.  The UN hopes that this situation can be resolved quickly so that Rakhine State can be restored to normalcy and its people can move forward towards a peaceful, prosperous and harmonious future.


And from Lebanon, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, today visited El-Qaa and Hermel in the country’s north‑eastern border area.  During the visit, Ms. Kaag reiterated her condemnation of the suicide bombings that struck El-Qaa last June and commended the local residents for their measured response to the attacks.  The Special Coordinator underlined the need for additional international support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and security forces.


And just to announce a trip by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.  He will travel to Morocco, Western Sahara and Tindouf in Algeria from 21 to 25 October to visit the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, otherwise known as MINURSO.  The visit will be an opportunity for him to speak to the parties to the conflict and encourage their adherence to the terms and the spirit of the ceasefire agreement.  In Laayoune, Mr. Ladsous will assess the situation on the ground and evaluate the progress towards the return of the Mission to full functionality.

During the course of the visit, he’s also expected to visit Guerguerat, the site of recent increased tensions between Morocco and the Frente Polisario.  He will also evaluate the situation there, and assess the difficult conditions facing UN military observers in the location.  Mr. Ladsous will then travel to Paris to participate in a ministerial conference on peacekeeping in Francophone countries.


And our colleagues in the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) are calling for stepped‑up efforts to protect civilians in the country.  The latest figures released today by UNAMA for the first three quarters of 2016 show continuing high numbers of civilian casualties from the armed conflict.  Between 1 January and 30 September of this year there have been nearly 8,400 conflict‑related civilian casualties, including more than 2,500 deaths and 5,800 injured.  Ground engagements remained the largest cause of civilian casualties, followed by suicide attacks and improvised explosive device.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

And UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said today that the price of a vaccine that protects children against five deadly diseases has been halved to below $1 a dose.  Over the next three years, UNICEF will buy 450 million doses of vaccines to send to 80 countries.  The vaccine will protect tens of millions of children from diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and hepatitis B.  Shanelle Hall, Director of supply and procurement for UNICEF, said that for the most vulnerable children in the world, pricing can make a difference between life and death.  You can read more about this on UNICEF’s website.

**Central African Republic

And our friends at the World Food Programme (WFP) said they are providing emergency food assistance to 8,000 people affected by an upsurge in violence in the north of the country. This is in addition to regular food and nutrition support for some 120,000 people.  And over the next three months, WFP plans to assist an additional 17,000 people with food or food vouchers.  In 2016, WFP and its partners plan to assist 1.4 million people in the areas of the Central African Republic worst hit by conflict and hunger.  But with only 44 percent of funding needs met, they urgently require US$42 million to keep going.

**Press Briefings

And at 1 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Jean Arnault, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia.  As you know, he briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon.  And the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, will be Richard Kollodge, the Editor of the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of World Population 2016.  He will brief on the main findings of this annual report.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stephen O'Brien just, in the Security Council meeting this morning, again expressed his concern about the safety of 1.5 million people who live in the city of Mosul.  And he… it's not just him.  Other international humanitarian agencies, they’re worrying about what's going to happen once the forces reach the city.  I just wanted to get a sense that, if the worst case scenario happens that Mr. Stephen O'Brien talked about, will the UN call up… call for some kind of ceasefire or limiting of the… of the operation or pause for operation?  Do you think the Coalition should consider that, in that case?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we are speculating and getting a bit ahead of ourselves here.  I think, whether it's Stephen O'Brien or Lise Grande, when she was here recently, I think, outlined the very real dangers for the civilian population and what we are doing to prepare ourselves for what will be a very difficult humanitarian situation.  I think the key is for all the parties involved in the battle for Mosul to ensure that they respect human rights, they respect international law and that they do their utmost to protect civilians.  This is our… this is Mr. O'Brien's message.  It's our consistent message.  Obviously, colleagues [had contact] in Iraq with the various parties, whether it's the Iraqi army or the Peshmergas, to ensure that they understand and know what, in a sense, is expected of them in that regard.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  But, those concerns about operation to liberate Mosul is not speculation anymore.  As you mentioned, Mr. O'Brien talked about it.  It's a highly possible topic… 

Spokesman:  I'm not speculating on the concerns.  What I'm saying is, you're asking me if we will call for a halt to the military operation.  I'm just saying what our focus now is to ensure that the military operation is done in a way to limit the hurt to civilians and that it is done in accordance with international law.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Russian military just announced that they extended humanitarian pause in Aleppo from 8 to 11 hours in a way to allow medical evacuation.  Can you confirm that UN will… will do this medical evacuation on Thursday?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not in a position to confirm it.  Obviously, we've seen the Russian announcement.  I think there are discussions and contacts being held at many different levels.  We would like to see a situation that allows us to evacuate people and, of course, allows us to bring in humanitarian aid.  So I think we're going to take things one day at a time.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about South Sudan.  I would think that you've seen it.  The Guardian has a very long piece about the Terrain situation, and it says, among other things, that there have been very few safety improvements for humanitarian workers since the attack on the Terrain Hotel.  And one… and it has a source… a security expert who lived in the Terrain saying that the approved evacuation plan involved putting blankets on the top of razor wire in order to escape.  So since the DSS [Department of Safety and Security]… I've asked you this before… has to certify the safety of such places and did, in fact, certify the Terrain, what's your response to somebody on the record saying that the plan was to put blankets over razor wire, and where is the Cammaert report?

Spokesman:  I think the Cammaert report should be out shortly, hopefully before the end of this week or early next week.  We're in the final stages.  It will also obviously look at lessons learned.  As far as the details of the security plan for any UN premises, we're not going to discuss them here.

Question:  What about accountability?  Like, you're saying it's already moved to lessons learned, but isn't the idea…

Spokesman:  I didn't say it's already moved to lessons learned.  I said lessons learned will be part of that.  I would ask you to hold off judgment until you see the report.

Question:  What explains the delay from 23 September, when it was due, to now, 19 October…?

Spokesman:  I think, as I said, there was a long delay… there was a delay due to the Security Council coming in, because the mission didn't have the absorption capacity to deal with both the Security Council mission and the… and Mr. [Patrick] Cammaert's team.  Obviously, I think what's important is for Mr. Cammaert to take the time he needs, and the report is just about done.  The Secretary‑General will get it very soon.

Correspondent:  Just to nail this one… I mean, the Security Council trip was at most four days.

Spokesman:  No, no, I completely…


Question:  The delay is 26 days…?

Spokesman:  I… that was a delay, and then Mr. Cammaert, as lead investigator, took the time he felt he needed to do a thorough job.  Madame?

Question:  Are you concerned that the ISIS terrorists would be among the civilians who fled to Turkey and… sorry, to Syria?  And are you expecting any civilians to flee to Turkey from Mosul?

Spokesman:  I think civilians will… it's hard to predict.  I think Miss… where civilians will flee, they will flee to wherever they think is safe.  They will flee to wherever they think they can get humanitarian aid.  I think Ms. Grande gave a fairly detailed briefing about the preparations we're doing.  We are already seeing some civilians flee into Syria… excuse me… for safety.  Again, I would refer you to what Ms. Grande said about the checkpoints and the screenings and our wish and ability to hopefully have some observers there.  It's very important that any screening of civilians be done in a way that is fully respectful of people's human rights and that it really is out to seek terrorists and not to seek any sort of other purpose.  Masood?  Masood, yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, I wanted to know, on this 72‑hour ceasefire, which the United Nations…

Spokesman:  To where?  To where?  Sorry.

Correspondent:  To United Nations… the United Nations announced.

Spokesman:  Yes, thank you.  Sorry.

Question:  In Yemen.  In Yemen.  Why 72 hours?  Can it be sustainable?  Does the United Nations know it can be sustainable?  Why 72 hours?  Why couldn't it be 36 hours or 48 hours?  I'd like to know.

Spokesman:  Well, I think we would rather have it [72] hours rather than 36 or 48 hours.  

Question:  I would rather have it indefinite.  What I'm trying to say is, why 72 hours?  And is there a possibility of sustaining it?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, first of all, we have to get there, right?  We have to get to the point where it starts, which should be not too far from now.  At 11:59 p.m. in Yemen it’s when it is supposed to start.  You know, this was part of discussions and negotiations led by the Special Envoy with the various parties.  Obviously, 72[hours] was the number they could agree on, initially.  As with any cessation of hostilities or ceasefire, we always hope that that initial period is really a seed for a longer cessation of hostilities, for a longer ceasefire.  It's an initial first step.  It's an important first step.  And let's see how we do with that first step.

Question:  Can I follow up?

Spokesman:  Yes, Carole.

Question:  Just a technical question, Stéphane.  Would you be able to say something around, you know, 5 p.m. or shortly after, when it comes…?

Spokesman:  I… listen, I tend to doubt it.  I think we will have more information tomorrow morning by the time day breaks in Yemen, by the time day breaks here to see what kind of information has filtered up.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you [inaudible]… I was hoping to ask you yesterday, but I'll ask you about it today.  It's in the Columbia Journalism Review, pretty highly respected magazine.  And the first line of the article is, "Three years ago, United Nations officials told editors of its in‑house news service to stop covering the Syrian war."  It's about IRIN and its spinoff from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  "The UN office, which controlled the $11 million budget of IRIN, worried that detailed coverage by the service could derail Syria‑related talks involving the UN."  This is the first paragraph.  This is the intro to the article.  So I'm wondering: Is this something that the UN disputes?  Did it, in fact, order its then in‑house media to not cover Syria?  And, if so, like… if not… if you do that… 

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  I haven't read the article.  I'm happy to take a look at it.  Obviously, IRIN is now no longer on the… under the auspices of the UN.  They're a news organization like any other, and they're free to do what they want.  But let me read the article first before I even attempt to comment on it.

Question:  All right.  And I wanted to ask you about a letter that was filed in the Ng Lap Seng, UN case in the Southern District.  I was surprised to see it, but it says, "Mr. Ng's counsel reports that on 7 October the UN produced approximately 61 documents to Mr. Ng's defence team.  It is clear that there are additional requested materials that have not yet been produced, and Mr. Ng's defence team is in discussions with the UN counsel, Daniel Gitner, Esquire, to facilitate such production".  So I know I've asked you before whether the UN would cooperate.  You said, if ordered by the authorities.  So I have a… I wanted to ask, one, have the authorities ordered the UN to produce?  Number two, since you have produced, can you give some idea of what type of documents?  I've asked you before about… he asked for a slew of documents including…

Spokesman:  I'm not privy to the details or discussions between lawyers.  As I said, we, as in just about any criminal case, we will cooperate with the authorities as required.

Question:  Is Daniel Gitner an OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] lawyer or an outside counsel?

Spokesman:  I have no clue… I have never heard of Daniel Gitner.  Doesn't mean that person doesn't… 

Question:  Okay.  Can you get something back…? 

Spokesman:  If I have anything more, I will share it with you.  Ms. Landry?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to ask about DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  There are strikes… a strike today in…

Spokesman:  Sorry.

Correspondent:  Strike in Kinshasa.

Spokesman:  Yeah, strike, sorry.  Yeah, sorry.  I thought you said stripes.

Correspondent:  Today linked to the… not stripes.  Strikes.

Spokesman:  No… okay.  We understand each other now.

Correspondent:  And I was wondering if, generally, you had some comment about the way things are going there.

Spokesman:  Sure.  We asked for some information from our peacekeeping colleagues.  They're reporting the situation in Kinshasa to be quiet with very few shops open.  There is a strong security presence on the ground, mostly Republican Guards, Congolese Republican Guards, deployed in strategic locations, including around the Parliament.  The Mission also reports that youth burnt tires in the morning and the national Congolese police fired tear‑gas to disperse crowds in the Limete and Lemba neighbourhoods.  Reportedly, six civilians have been detained in Limete and another one in Lemba.  At least one police station in Limete was also set on fire; there are also reports of vehicles being vandalized.  Some rallies were observed in other parts of the country, in Goma, Beni and elsewhere, and Lubumbashi was reportedly quiet.  The UN police patrols are in Kinshasa monitoring the most frequented areas of the city.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I'd wanted to ask you about this upcoming UN Staff Day.  Obviously, there's some signs around and stuff, but there… a number of people have raised that, in all previous years to… they say, the staff union has been a part of the Staff Day.  The idea is that it's Staff Day.  The staff has a union.  So some… here's… here's a sample comment on the UN's own… own day website.  "You can't hold Staff Day without a staff union, the elected staff union, that is.  The event subverts everything Staff Day stands for.  Shame on the UN."  What's the response by management to…?

Spokesman:  First of all, the issue of which staff union in New York exists is still an unresolved question.  I know our colleagues in the department, the concerned departments, have been working with the full support of the global staff union federations, and I know our colleagues in Geneva and other parts have been very supportive of Staff Day, which is really a global day involving all staff working at the UN.

Question:  And can you confirm that the… the… the… the much discussed Ban Ki‑moon Highlights of the Tenure of Ban Ki‑moon book will, on that day, be launched?  And, if so…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of a launch in the bookstore.  I think the book is already available for purchase for anyone who is interested.  Carole?  Put the book down.

Question:  Getting ready to leave.  The General Assembly is picking up Syria tomorrow.  I know it's not really your brief, but generally, the idea is that the Security Council is deadlocked and what… what can you say about how unusual this step is and what might reflect on the UN…?

Spokesman:  We've seen the General Assembly take up issues that have also been in the traditional remit of the Security Council.  Whenever we've been asked, the Secretariat, whether in the person of the Secretary‑General or his envoys have briefed and cooperated with the General Assembly.  They…

Question:  Tomorrow?

Spokesman:  I believe, if I'm not mistaken… I'm having a little memory trouble here, but I believe the Secretary‑General will address the General Assembly tomorrow.  If I'm wrong, I'm sure Farhan [Haq] or somebody else will run into this… into the briefing room and tell me that I'm wrong.  No, I think we're still safe.  All right?  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.