The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The UN turns 71 today. The day is being marked at UN offices and duty stations around the world. There are dozens of events and activities taking place, including ceremonies, seminars, panel discussions, student briefings, art competitions, exhibitions, film screenings and special programmes on local radio and television stations.
Here in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a proclamation declaring 24 October as UN Day across New York City. The proclamation recognizes the UN "for the indelible impact it has made on our great city and our world". The proclamation was presented by the NYC Commissioner for International Affairs, Penny Abeywardena, to Under-Secretary-General Cristina Gallach in front of the UN earlier this morning.
In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General said that this year’s observance of UN Day occurs at a time of transition for the world and the United Nations. He noted the UN is also in transition, from its eighth to its ninth Secretary-General. He thanked people across the world for their support — and urged all to give full backing to the new Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in continuing our global mission of peace, sustainable development and human rights.
And an update on Syria, where I can say that we regret that adequate guarantees have not yet been provided for humanitarian and medical assistance into besieged areas in eastern Aleppo and urge all parties to facilitate immediate and urgent medical evacuations of the sick and wounded and their family members. These are basic requirements under international humanitarian law and human rights law, and compliance is an obligation for all parties.
And turning to Haiti, the UN mission in that country reports that heavy rains over the past few days have worsened conditions in areas already affected by the storm, increasing the challenges to humanitarian aid distribution.
MINUSTAH continues to facilitate the transport to the area, including an Internews team to Jérémie yesterday. The media foundation Internews will establish and support the work of community radio stations in the south-west of Haiti.
And on the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme provided another 1,100 tons of food, reaching some 173,000 people between 8 and 20 October as well as water purification tablets, which are being distributed for about 190,000 people.
13 trucks for 175,000 people in 307 temporary shelters were sent to Les Cayes and Jérémie in the past week.
And our humanitarian colleagues from Iraq report that more than 7,000 people are internally displaced as a result of the Mosul military operation. The situation is fluid and the numbers and patterns of displacement are fluctuating among the front lines.
The majority of displaced people are sheltering in host communities; some families move out of harm’s way only for a short time and quickly return home once conditions allow. Regardless of displacement pattern, all families are reported to be in a vulnerable condition and need assistance.
Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance wherever access allows. Partners provided assistance in Al Houd within 24 hours of its being retaken from Da’esh on 18 October, and in recent days have provided assistance packages to newly retaken areas of Ibrahim Al Khalil and Al Adla, south and south-east of Mosul.
**Central African Republic
And from the Central African Republic, the UN peacekeeping mission there reports violence and unrest in Bangui today, following civil unrest and protests against the Government and the United Nations. The Mission reports gunfire as well as incidents of looting in a number of neighbourhoods in the capital, Bangui. Unconfirmed preliminary reports indicate some casualties.
According to preliminary information, at least four UN peacekeepers have been injured. Government security forces and UN peacekeepers have also been deployed to contain the demonstrations. MINUSCA has strengthened its patrols in Bangui to protect the population, including through the removal of barricades in parts of the city.
The Mission continues to closely monitor the situation and urges for calm. The UN remains committed to supporting the people and the authorities of the Central African Republic, in accordance with our mandate.
And I wanted to flag that the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General Jamal Benomar is in Burundi, where he had constructive conversations with the Foreign Minister in Bujumbura today.
He will meet with more Government officials and other stakeholders in the coming days.
The visit comes in response to a decision by the Security Council to send him to Burundi in order for him to cooperate with the Government to develop, in a consensual manner, a plan and timeline for the implementation of resolution 2303.
And I wanted to flag a report by our colleagues at the UN Office [on] Drugs and Crime, detailing a marked increase in opium production in Afghanistan.
The latest data from the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC show that opium production rose by 43 per cent to 4,800 metric tons in 2016 compared to 2015 levels. The area under opium poppy cultivation also increased by 10 per cent over the previous year.
Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of UNODC, said that the new report shows a worrying reversal in efforts to combat the persistent problem of illicit drugs and their impacts on development, health and security in Afghanistan.
The increased production is attributed to higher opium yield per hectare, and the fact that more land is being used for opium and poppy cultivation.
And our colleagues at the World Meteorological Organization say the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a record high, according to the new bulletin.
The rise was fuelled by El Niño, which led to droughts in tropical regions and reduced the capacity of forests and oceans to absorb carbon dioxide.
More information online.
And today is also World Polio Day.
It is World Polio day, and since the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, polio worldwide has [been] reduced by 99 per cent.
Despite that progress, as long as a single child remains infected with poliovirus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease.
There is no cure for polio, but polio vaccine, given multiple times, can protect a child for life.
Over the past 12 months, in addition to polio endemic countries Pakistan and Afghanistan, the World Health Organization and UNICEF have supported polio campaigns in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Djibouti, Jordan and Lebanon.
Campaigns will continue in countries with higher risk until polio is eradicated worldwide.
**Museum for the UN
A couple of public information notes: I wanted to say that the Secretary-General welcomes the announcement today of the creation of the "Museum for the United Nations — UN Live".
This new, global museum, headquartered in Copenhagen, will engage audiences on the work and values of the UN through online and other exhibits in locations around the world.
The Secretary-General is appreciative of the many partners, including the Government of Denmark, whose support for this project helps the United Nations by making its work accessible to a broader global public.
The Secretary-General looks forward to cooperation between the UN system and the Museum to help raise awareness and to build support for the Sustainable Development Goals and our efforts to build a better shared future for all.
And our colleagues in DPI wanted me to let you know that the UN’s social media campaign "Angry Birds for a Happy Planet" has won the award for Excellence in Advertising at the Environmental Media Association’s 26th Annual [Awards] Gala in Los Angeles over the weekend.
The UN launched its “Angry Birds” campaign in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment earlier this year to encourage the public to take action on climate change and share their photos and commitments on social media.
Since 1991, the Environmental Media Association has worked to link up the power of celebrity with raising environmental awareness in Hollywood.
**UN Visitors Centre App
Also, to celebrate UN Day, our colleagues in the Visitors Section of DPI are launching today a free mobile app showing over 65 works of art and architectural elements located in the public area of UN Headquarters. These include the UN Plaza, the Visitors Lobby, and the Visitors Centre, at the lower level of the General Assembly Building.
You can download the app advertised here from the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon, and search for “UN Visitor Centre — NY”.
And fliers, I think, were at the entrance there.
And at 3 p.m. today, there will be a press briefing by the Special Rapporteur François Crepeau and the Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers, José S. Brillantes, who will speak to you following their briefing to the Third Committee.
And tomorrow, we will have the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Ms. Hilal Elver, available to you.
**Questions and Answers
Yes, Linda. Yes. That was your cue to ask questions. Yes, thank you. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. You mentioned that the Secretary‑General said that he's looking forward to a smooth transition from the eighth to the ninth SG. I was wondering if there are any plans yet in terms of what the Secretary‑General himself will do to help prepare Mr. Guterres for assuming the office.
Spokesman: Sure. He's already had a number of meetings with him, I think on Friday or later last… earlier… later last… earlier… later…
I try to figure out here. … Thursday or Friday last week. He hosted the lunch for the Secretary‑General‑designate, his transition team and a number of USGs here.
You know, we have been at work here now for a number of months preparing briefing papers and anything that would help the transition.
The Secretary‑General is determined to ensure that the transition is as smooth and as flawless as possible. That's his personal commitment, [he] has instructed his staff along the same lines.
From our end, it is being led by the Chef de Cabinet, Edmond Mulet. But there will be a number… the Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General‑designate, I'm sure, will meet on a number of occasions between now and December. But the teams… there have already been a number of briefings by departments briefing the incoming team, and those will continue over the next few weeks.
Question: Can I follow up?
Question: [inaudible]. Can you enlighten us on what happens with the senior leadership positions? Do they… do all of the USGs resign, the SRSGs? What happens to the Spokesman?
Spokesman: You know, I'm trying to get a… over the weekend, I was trying to get a button that just says "Don't ask."
Most of the… obviously, it depends on their contracts. It will depend on what the Secretary‑General‑designate wants to do. I think a lot of people… senior colleagues have contracts that go in until March. That's been the tradition. But obviously, they're all different, and that's really a question for the Secretary‑General‑designate's team.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu, pledged that he would participate himself in the excavation going on under the Al Aqsa Mosque. And he called on the Israeli public to join him. It also now… it has been decided that every recruit to the army should serve in the excavation under the army… under the Al Aqsa Mosque.
So why there is no statement on that?
And I want to ask directly to Mr. Mladenov, how could such a statement pass without a real clear position from the UN? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, the position of the UN has been made clear. We made it… we made it last week. We've made it repeatedly, is that, for the Secretary‑General, the important thing is to uphold the status quo in terms of… of the holy sites.
Question: Thanks. On the ICC following actions by South Africa and Burundi, [I am] specifically curious what steps the SG might be taking to engage with other members who we're hearing actually might also be interested in withdrawing. Is he making calls? Is he fielding calls on this?
Spokesman: I think… this is obv… the withdrawal by… of South Africa, the withdrawal of the IC… from… of South Africa from the ICC was something the Secretary‑General deeply regrets and regretted. We have not received any updates from other countries, which have been press reports. No letter from Burundi as of this morning. We were not advised that one had been… had been received.
This is something that concerns not just the Secretary‑General but, I think, the international community as a whole. We would hope that all those countries that belong to the State parties, especially those that would be… that would be… that were part of the founding movement of the ICC would also have discussions with Member States to ensure that — it is important that — this key part of the international justice architecture remains strong.
There have been discussions at various levels within the UN Secretariat with some concerned Member States.
Question: Can… any calls with Kenya or Uganda that you can discuss?
Spokesman: Not that I can share.
Question: Sure. Some other questions, but I was, I guess, expecting something on Yemen. What's the status… people are reporting that the airstrikes have resumed or even picked up escalation — the expiration. And there's also some reports that the Saudi‑led coalition was targeting what little agricultural land there is in the country, and there are picture… troubling pictures of starving people being brought down from mountains to clinics.
So what exactly is the plan of the UN? What's their read on… on how the bombing has resumed? And [inaudible]…
Spokesman: It's clear that the bombing has resumed. I think the pause, although very short, gave respite to some Yemenis. It allowed us to start some humanitarian… some humanitarian distribution, though some were blocked, notably some continue to be blocked in terms of entering Taizz.
The Special Envoy is in… is in Yemen. He, as you saw over the weekend, has asked for… had asked for an extension and asked for a renewed commitment to the pause. And he will continue… he will continue to advocate for that.
Question: Does he consider… does the Secretary‑General, who removed the Saudi‑led coalition from the children and armed conflict annex on Yemen, consider the intentional bombing of agricultural land to also be something relevant to his consideration before he leaves of putting them back on the list?
Spokesman: The… if there was intentional bombing of agricultural land, that would fall under the intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure, which is prohibited by international law.
Question: Stéphane, any updates on the wounded people in Aleppo, like the number or…
As I said… I don't know if you came in little later… we're obviously disappointed that none of the evacuations that we were planning to have over the weekend were able to take place.
Question: Why not?
Spokesman: Not enough security guarantees.
Question: From all parties… [inaudible]?
Spokesman: From… security guarantees that we felt safe enough and obviously from all parties.
Question: [inaudible] How long it takes the UN to evacuate these people? How many hours you need?
Spokesman: I'm not going to get into the minimum time needed. Obviously, an evacuation can be done sometimes in a shorter amount of time than the rolling in of humanitarian trucks. You know, we have colleagues on the ground and in the region who are in touch with all the parties. It's a… more than a multidimensional chess game: it's a matter of making sure that all the stars are aligned for them to say, we can go ahead with this or we can't go ahead with this.
Question: And the destination, do you know or is it clear what hospitals…
Question: …where exactly there will be…
Spokesman: At least I don't have that information from here.
Question: Thanks, Stéph. Following the statement on the DRC on the 19th, has the Secretary‑General reached out to President Kabila? What are his thoughts on this accord that has been reached by a faction of the opposition that still excludes a large coalition of opposition parties? We saw a tweet from the US Ambassador saying elections should be held in the DRC by 2017. Where does the SG fall on the April 18th date now that… that they've announced and calls from the US and the EU for elections to go ahead as soon as possible?
Spokesman: There are still discussions being had at the local level. I think what's important for us is that those parties that may have been… that were excluded from the political process be included.
Question: Yes, Stéphane. In the aftermath of what is happening in Kashmir, the Indian bureaucracy is now saying openly that the 1948 United Nations resolution calling for a plebiscite in Indian‑ and Pakistani‑occupied Kashmir should be held, saying that it is the personal decision of then‑Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to go and sign on to that resolution. His personal decision is not binding on the Indian Government.
So what is the position the United Nations is going to take on this? Is it binding or…
Spokesman: I'm not in a position to take a position on your question at this point. I think we've stated our position on the situation in Kashmir, and there's no changes to that for the time being.
Question: But… but even if he has signed on, it's a personal decision of the Indian… then‑Indian Prime Minister…
Spokesman: No, I hear what you're saying, but I have really nothing else to say.
Mr. Lee and then, sorry, Emoke.
Question: Sure. You'd said that Mr. Benomar is in Burundi. As maybe he… you or he knows, there were, among the many things happening there, some journalists were arrested, reportedly while investigating mass graves. It was an American journalist, J.C. [Julia] Steers, and a Burundian journalist, Gildas, and their driver. This has been… gone out all over the world. There's a list that's emerged of enemies of the State put out by the CND‑FCC [CNDD‑FDD].
So what I wonder is, what… if he's there and these things are taking place, how… do these constructive meetings involve talking about journalists being arrested for trying to document [inaudible]…
Spokesman: We're very much aware of the arrests of the journalists, something that's very regrettable to say the least. We understand that both the journalists and the driver, who was also arrested, have now been released. We are in touch with our colleagues at the Human Rights Office in Bujumbura and trying to look into the exact circumstances of what has happened.
It is clear that there is a need for the media and the press to be able to operate freely in Burundi and every other… every other place for that matter.
Question: And what about the lists that emerged? Are there any steps being taken by the UN to make sure the UN itself doesn't target media that are listed on the list?
Spokesman: The UN is not in the business of targeting media.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. This is more of a process question, I guess. So, once a country notifies the UN that they want to leave the ICC, can that decision be reversed in that one year before the withdrawal comes into effect or…
Spokesman: Yeah, nothing…
Question: …what's the process for that?
Spokesman: A country could tell us… could send us a letter withdrawing their withdrawal.
Question: And then that would nullify the…
Spokesman: That would nullify the process.
Question: Do you have any opinion on the process in South Africa, whether… the way the…
Spokesman: I mean, that's…
Question: …withdrawal was handled…?
Spokesman: That's an internal matter for the South Africans. We've received the letter, duly signed by the Foreign Minister. The role of the UN as… and the Secretary‑General as depository of the treaty is to ensure that the letter, the communication, is… is a bona fide one; it comes from the right people and it's come through the right process and that it has.
Internal debates are that.
Spokesman: Thank you, Stéphane. And thanks for the response you sent me on the South Sudan… on the opposition fighters on Friday. Maybe it was Farhan but…
Spokesman: I'll pass on your thanks to him.
Question: All right. So the main point is the UN denied the Government of the DRC of sending back the troops of Riek Machar.
So… but what's their status right now? Where are they concentrated? Are they in the hospitals? Are they cured? Or what's happening with them?
Spokesman: My understanding: they're still in the Goma… in the Goma area. I think some may still be in hospitals, and others sort of in limbo, to put it bluntly.
Question: Follow‑up on the ICC. Given the Secretary‑General's expressed regret, what proactive actions can he take to convince South Africa to change their decision and… and to prevent African countries from following suit?
The AU Commission chair this morning said that African countries should try their own leaders in African courts. So there seems to be a trend away from the ICC. What are you doing to stop what could be a… become an open wound?
Spokesman: Well, I think we're doing it through public statements. We're doing it through dialogue at other levels. The work of the ICC has been critical to bringing justice to people in Africa and potentially to other places in the world.
The prosecutor of the ICC is herself African. I think it's important that all the countries that signed on to the Rome Statute support the work of the court.
Question: Why doesn't he call President Zuma?
Spokesman: I think there are also… there are, obviously, discussions going on within… within South Africa.
Question: Sure. I wanted… I heard… thanks for your readout about Haiti. I wanted to ask you, first, about this report of the… Philip Alston will be presenting tomorrow to the GA about the new approach. He's quite critical of it. He says, "There's not yet a promise of an apology or acceptance of responsibility. The regret and moral responsibility don't do it and set a terrible"… they say… "this will be the ultimate ongoing travesty of justice."
So I wanted to know, one, what… in advance, what the response of the Secretariat is to this critique, two, why Mr. Alston's press release in this room that's set for tomorrow at 1 p.m. wasn't in The Week Ahead and everything else is.
Spokesman: I don't… for some reason, I don't have it on my calendar. If he is booked for this room at 1 p.m., I'm sure somebody will bring me a note, but I don't have him on here.
Question: What do you make of the critique…?
Spokesman: I… first of all, I think we're obviously all looking forward to his briefing in the Third Committee tomorrow. We will take a look at that. We're not going to engage in a tit for tat. Mr. Alston, as all Special Rapporteurs, plays an important role in speaking out freely and independently.
The Secretary‑General expressed his deep regret and his personal commitment when he was in Haiti at doing whatever he can for the UN system to help the people of Haiti deal with the cholera outbreak.
Deputy Secretary‑General and others have outlined this two‑track approach. The full details of it will be announced before the end of the Secretary‑General's term.
Question: What I wanted to… I guess… you're saying that you don't want to prejudge it, but I've seen this interview by the Secretary‑General or a response by him to Deutsche Welle about…
Spokesman: Is that Margaret Thatcher?
Spokesman: And in Sherwin's phone. Yes, exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sounds like one of my old English teachers. Scared me there for a second.
Go ahead. Sorry.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, I guess, you're saying not to prejudge, but one of the things that he's most critical of is the Secretary‑General's repeated assistance that he doesn't know who brought it. And, just recently, I don't know when this answer was given, but published, I think, today by Deutsche Welle is a quote by Ban Ki‑moon where he says, "On Haiti, we should have done more irrespective of judicial immunity or who caused the epidemic." And Alston is saying these comments are… are… create an ongoing judicial travesty when it's entirely clear who caused it.
Spokesman: I… I think people are allowed to disagree. We appreciate Mr. Alston's work. The Secretary‑General has made his position… has made his position clear.
The legal position notwithstanding, he is focused until the end of his term on trying to get as much help to the people of Haiti to deal with the issue of cholera on the island.
Question: And can I ask about another Ban Ki‑moon quote?
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you, it seems like on Friday he gave an interview to Reuters in which he said… it's said that he said it was the first time he publicly said he's returning to South Korea in mid‑January and exploring how he could help the country. I think you were there when he met publicly with the […] legislators and said the same thing. But I wanted to know, how do you view this interview? Is this him announcing… it's been portrayed as him saying… implying strongly he's running. What was first about the thing? And does he have any response…
Spokesman: I think you'd have to ask the…
Question: I haven't…
Spokesman: …the journalists why they interpreted it the way they did. I think the Secretary‑General has made no secret that he will return to Korea, and he will decide whatever his next move is once he returns. There is really… you will have… that's not a question directed to me. I think it's a question directed to journalists…
Question: What's the position on term limits?
Question: Can you bring us up to date on the OIOS investigation in Central African [Republic]?
Spokesman: It's moving along. Hope to have something for you shortly, but it's… it's moving through the pipeline.
Question: Shortly is?
Spokesman: You know, our definition of "shortly," "quickly"… let's hope weeks and not months.
Question: Thank you. The Mayadeen television station in Lebanon has said yesterday, Sunday, that the Sultanate of Oman has… and I'm trying to translate from Arabic into English to what they said. I'm being accurate to what they said. They have submitted an official complaint, letter, to the Secretary‑General concerning Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. They said in their letter, according to the television station, that he has many shortcomings that include loss of confidence…
Spokesman: Okay. I think I get the general gist of it.
Question: his… his bias position, and serving specific agendas. Any truth in any of this?
Spokesman: I have not seen the letter, not been aware… made aware of the letter. The Secretary‑General obviously has full confidence in the work of his… his envoy, who I think has been working tirelessly in the cause of peace for Yemen.
Spokesman: Yes, you may.
Question: The letter is very important, because it comes from a member from a GCC…
Spokesman: No, no, I get…
Question: Has there been any letter?
Spokesman: No, no, that's the first I've heard of a letter. I will… as soon as I'm released from here, I will check the post.
Question: Stéphane, if you have any update on Libya — we haven't heard from Mr. Kobler for some time. Do you have any update?
Spokesman: Not particularly. I think we heard from him last… in the last week. He was in Niamey, in Niger for a meeting of the neighbouring countries of Libya. And I think his general message is to encourage all the parties in Libya to rally around the plan that's already on the table.
Question: Sure, I want to ask about Western Sahara, but just to finish this South Korea question, does the Secretary‑General have any view on the announced plan by President Park Geun‑hye to extend… to two limits, to…
Spokesman: It's not for the Secretary‑General to have an opinion on this plan.
Question: Right. But he's commented on other…
Spokesman: I'm just… you've asked me a question. I've answered it.
Question: The Commission of Inquiry on the Red Crescent convoy in Syria, are they planning to visit Syria, or have they applied for visas?
Spokesman: Yes, part of the plan, obviously, is to go to… to Syria. Whether the visas have actually physically been applied for, I'm not sure, but, obviously, going to Syria is an important part of their work.
Question: And you mean through Damascus, right? And this will need a visa from…
Spokesman: We've briefed the Permanent Mission here on the… and they have pledged to cooperate and support the work of the mission.
Question: Yes. I don't know if I missed this or not, but did you announce the UN concert tonight for UN Day at 7 p.m. called Freedom First with Members of the Hungarian State Opera?
Spokesman: No, I made a broad mention of all the concerts that are taking place around the world, but I stand corrected. There is a… a concert in the General Assembly Hall with an orchestra from Hungary this evening, which the Secretary‑General will attend.
Question: Yeah. Maybe you have answered this question earlier. Stéphane,
this is about the cold war ramping up between United States and Russia, and Russia is upgrading its missile sites and bomb shelters and everything in anticipation of some sort of attack from the United States. Does the Secretary‑General have any response to this? This article, this is now printed in The Wall Street Journal.
Spokesman: Not on the particular article. Obviously, the Secretary‑General would hope that there are constructive and positive relationships between both Russia and the United States.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you on Western Sahara and/or Morocco, since Mr. Ladsous went there. First, there are reports of, quote, police brutality in Laayoune on the eve of Mr. Ladsous' arrival, people protesting being… being abused by the police. There was also… I saw that, I think, at least one of Mr. Ladsous' announced meetings in Morocco did not, in fact, take place. Do you have a readout of the meeting? And what's the response by MINURSO, which apparently is at least still in Laayoune to these reports of…?
Spokesman: I don't have an update on his travels, but I do expect one shortly.