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

27 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.


The Secretary-General is appalled by reports of attacks that killed students and teachers in a school complex in Haas village, Idlib governorate, Syria on 26 October. If deliberate, this attack may amount to a war crime.  The Secretary-General calls for immediate and impartial investigation of this and other similar attacks against civilians in Syria. If such horrific acts persist despite global outrage, it is largely because their authors, whether in corridors of power or in insurgent redoubts, do not fear justice. They must be proved wrong.  That statement is available online, or will be shortly.

Also on Syria, on Wednesday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered much needed humanitarian assistance to the Al-Waer neighbourhood in the Syrian city of Homs. The teams delivered food, health, water and sanitation and other emergency supplies for 70,000 people in the besieged neighbourhood. This is the tenth convoy to Al Waer this year, which was last reached with inter-agency humanitarian delivery on 26 September of this year.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien made a plea yesterday for the Security Council members to act to save the people of Aleppo, at a time when no UN assistance has entered the eastern part of the Syrian city in nearly four months.  Mr. O’Brien told the Council yesterday afternoon that Aleppo has essentially become a kill zone, with 400 people having been killed and nearly 2,000 wounded in eastern Aleppo just in the past few weeks.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator noted that the UN was ready to launch operations for medical evacuations from eastern Aleppo this past Sunday. However, objections by two non-State armed opposition groups, namely Ahrar as Sham and Nureddin Zenki, scuppered these plans.   His remarks were made available to you and should be online.


And from Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues report that the number of internally displaced in Iraq because of the ongoing operation in Mosul is now up to 15,800 as of today.  The displacement figures are likely to continue to fluctuate as the front lines move. Some displaced families also choose to return home quickly, once conditions in their home town or village allowed it.  Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance to families in their areas of displacement, as well as in the towns and villages around Mosul where access allows.

**International Criminal Court

And also, a number of you have been asking me, but I can confirm that this morning, the Secretary-General’s office received, from Burundi, an official letter indicating their wish to withdraw from the ICC (International Criminal Court).  The letter will now go to the Legal Counsel’s Office and be studied and then processed, if it appears to be in order.  We will keep you posted on that.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Yemen has reported 51 confirmed cases of cholera from nine governorates in the country, with more than 1,180 cases.  Yemen's Ministry of Public Health has reported six labs-confirmed deaths related to cholera in Sana'a, Aden and Ibb.  WHO is estimated that 7.6 million people are living in affected and at risk areas.  And there are delays in confirming the suspected cases of cholera since there are only two labs in the country, one in Sana'a and one in Aden.  Humanitarian partners continue to provide people with water supplies in the affected areas and improve water infrastructure as much as possible.


And the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are jointly [warning about], once again, the lasting impact of consecutive years of drought and crop production in southern Madagascar.  They say some 1.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure and nearly 850,000 people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.  To date, out of the $22 million needed for FAO's relief interventions, only $3.8 million has been received.


And WFP says it’s also concerned about the potential deterioration of food security for people affected by recent violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State.  WPF yesterday resumed its regular cash assistance for some 20,000 people in vulnerable households in Buthidaung.   It is on stand-by to resume its regular distributions of food for 17,000 pregnant women, nursing mothers and malnourished children in the area.  WFP is ready once again to distribute food to an additional 50,000 people in Mangdaw Township once it becomes accessible.


And over one million people in low- and middle-income countries have been treated with a revolutionary new cure for hepatitis C since its introduction two years ago.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says, thanks to a series of access strategies including competition from generic medicines through licensing agreements, local production and price negotiations, a range of low- and middle-income countries are beginning to succeed in getting drugs to people who need them.  For more information, you can look at the report released today by WHO called Global Report on Access to Hepatitis C Treatment.

**United Nations Association

And yesterday the Secretary-General spoke at the Humanitarian Awards Dinner for the United Nations Association of New York.  The Association honoured Jean Todt, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, and Michelle Yeoh, a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Goodwill Ambassador.

Noting that accidents on the roads kill more than one million people and affect tens of millions more each year, the Secretary-General said that the two honourees have mobilized sustained commitment towards road safety.  He said that as a former racing champion, Mr. Todt is a competitor to his core and he now is competing to save lives, while Ms. Yeoh is a powerful advocate for road safety through the Safe Steps and Make Roads Safe campaigns.  His remarks are online.


This afternoon, 2 p.m. briefing by the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee.  2:30 p.m., Special Rapporteur on the human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), Tomas [Ojea] Quintana.  And this afternoon, the Security Council will consider the fourth report of the UN-OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) Joint Investigative Mechanism. Around 5 p.m., the Head of that Mechanism, Virginia Gamba, is expected to be available to speak to you at the stakeout.

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk.  At 11:30 a.m., another press briefing by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth.  And following the Noon Briefing, at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing on the “Global Sustainable Transport Outlook Report”. The report will be launched by the two co-chairs of the Secretary-General's High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport, Martin Lundstedt, the CEO of Volvo and Carolina Toha, the Mayor of Santiago, Chile. Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah.  Yesterday, Mr. Vitaly Churkin, the President of the Security Council, accused Mr. O'Brien of ignoring serious matters regarding the cessation of air raids in Aleppo.  Do you… does the Secretary‑General believe that he should have reported on these… on eight days of no attacks by aerial… aerial attacks by Russia?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General fully stands by Mr. O'Brien's statement to the Security Council, as well as his work as Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Question:  But should he have…?

Spokesman:  He fully stands by, and he's not going to second‑guess Mr. O'Brien.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  On these African nations, one after another, I mean, which you were just talking about withdrawing from ICC, you know, was the Secretary‑General expressing concern as to why this is happening, or is it just that being ignored… ?

Spokesman:  You know, maybe you missed the briefing yesterday, but I think we went into quite some detail.  You know, obviously, we regret the decision by South Africa and now by Burundi and the one that's reported to have been taken by the Gambia.  We've not received any official communications by the Gambia.  The ICC is a key pillar in international justice, and I think we can all accept there may be issues relating to the ICC and its work, but it's important that those issues be raised and addressed through the Conference of States Parties to the Rome Statute.

Question:  But it seems the African nations believe that the International Criminal Court is stacked up against them and that they will never get sort of a…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think that's a question to be asked of those who wish to leave the ICC.  Oleg, then Matthew.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  From the part of Secretary‑General, would he like to persuade the leaders of these countries to revoke their decisions or…

Spokesman:  I think we very much would like to see those decisions reversed.  Of course, legally, Member States, even if they've sent in a letter of withdrawal, that withdrawal can be withdrawn.  So we very much hope that that will be taken.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Wanted to ask you about Yemen.  Seems that the… the Secretary‑General's envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has put forward a roadmap which would involve the Vice President, Ali Mohsen al‑Ahmar, stepping down and Mr. [Abd Rabbuh Mansour] Hadi transferring his powers to a new Vice President.  I want… I guess I wanted to say… if this is… you'd said that they have the same view.  Yesterday, you'd said the envoy and the Secretary‑General are as one.  So I wanted to know, will the Secretary‑General be calling various parties to the conflict, such as Saudi Arabia, to ask them to… to urge them to accept this proposal with the Vice President stepping down and the President [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  My understanding is that certain documents were leaked that were shared, so we're not going to comment on these leaked documents.  I think it's not a surprise that, in any mediation negotiation effort, different plans are put forward, and what we very much hope is that all the parties involved will support and continue to support the work of the Special Envoy.

Question:  And today, the International Monetary Fund, at its briefing, said that… expressed greater concern about this plan by Mr. Hadi, who may not be long for his powers, to move the Central Bank to Aden, saying this would cause… it's a very complicated process.  I wanted to know, what… what does… on the humanitarian front, does the UN have any update on steps that have been taken and… and does it have any renewed call that the… the Central Bank not be moved at this [inaudible] time… 

Spokesman:  No specific information on where that plan lies.  I think the Special Envoy answered that question that in fact, you had asked him, and I don't see any reason why his opinion has changed in any way.  Masood?

Question:  Yes.  On this follow‑up on Nisar's question, on this position taken up by the Russian ambassador on… on Mr. Stephen O'Brien's, basically what he was trying… I mean, what interpretation people are getting, trying to suggest that he's expressing a Western point of view and that that also manifests the divisions amongst the Security Council members.  So is that right…?

Spokesman:  I'm not in the interpreting business.  What Mr. O'Brien was doing was reporting on behalf of the United Nations as an international civil servant on the humanitarian situation in Syria and particularly in Aleppo.  And, again, as I told Nizar, the Secretary‑General stands behind Mr. O'Brien.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Gordon Brown just spoke about wanting the Council to refer Idlib to the ICC, the bombing of schools, in particular.  Is this something the Secretary‑General would endorse?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary‑General would endorse is any plan that would give us an impartial investigation.  Now, obviously, the responsibility first lies with the country in which it happened, in this case Syria, but there are other options, whether it's the Security Council.  There is also a Commission of Inquiry that has been mandated by the Human Rights Council and, obviously, the ICC.  There are different options available.

Question:  But wouldn't it have to be done quickly?

Spokesman:  I think any… the… obviously, any investigation would be need to be done as quickly as possible.  Nisar?

Question:  Do you think that, given Idlib is under the control of Jabhat al‑Nusra and similar extremist groups, do you think that an investigation could be impartially conducted there?  I mean, does the Secretary‑General think that?

Spokesman:  If there's a will, there can be any… an invest… impartial investigation can be held.

Question:  Even under ISIL?

Spokesman:  An impartial investigation needs to be conducted for the sake of justice for those who were killed, for the children who were killed.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Let me go humanitarian and then something on speeches.  I wanted to know, is… if… maybe you can find this out, but if the UN system is aware of… of what's being called a drought in Somaliland.  They've put out a call.  I guess I'm asking you because it's not clear to me ever who… which aspects of the UN system are addressing them given the legal… legal status or… or… are they aware of this and… and… and…  and what can be done?

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  And the other is… has to do with the humanitarian fundraising.  There's something called the Charity Network, which has become pretty prominent.  It claims to have raised… and this is coming at a time of the Haiti hurricane… have raised $100 million.  It's a for‑profit.  It says it takes a 20 per cent cut.  And I'm asking you because it has a big UN logo on its front page.  And so I'm wondering, who… does the UN police these things to make sure… 

Spokesman:  We police them as much as we can.  It's… trying to police the misuse of the UN logo and is sort of like playing Whack‑A‑Mole, but we have a number of very able lawyers upstairs whose job it is to do this.  So send me the link, and I will see if it is authorized or not.  We depend on the public to report these things.  Sir?

Question:  Stéphane, maybe I missed this, but the SG is calling for investigations on the attack on the school in Idlib, right?  So does this mean that he's calling… he's going to take an initiative and establish an entity to do these investigations, or is he calling other UN bodies to do that, the Security Council?  What's…

Spokesman:  I think there are various options, whether it is a mandate… an investigation mandated by the Security Council, one under the umbrella of the Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry, but the primary responsibility, obviously, lies in the… with the country in which this attack happened.  I think we'll have to wait and see not too long how this pans out, but it is clear that we need to get to the bottom of who did this, and those people will need to face… need to be accountable for what is… can be tantamount to a war crime if it's a deliberate attack.

Question:  So you mean that you're calling on the Syrian Government to start…

Spokesman:  It is their… that's where the primary responsibility lies.  But, obviously, there are other mechanisms through which an impartial investigation will need to take place.

Question:  And… and last follow‑up, so the SG is not going to establish any new entity or take any other steps…

Spokesman:  I think, as soon as I have more on this, I will share it with you.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  I have a follow‑up, actually, and another question.  Why not doing the same thing that was done also a committee for the… it was, I think in Damascus, the attacks on the UN convoy?

Spokesman:  There's a different procedure when there is an attack on UN property or personnel.  Then there's an automatic board of inquiry that is… that gets underway.  And that's what we've seen in various places around the world.  So that's the kind of sort of legal difference.

Question:  [inaudible] … on yesterday meeting in the Security Council.  Do you have any comments on the way and art that Mr. Churkin was criticising Mr. O'Brien, the words that he was using and the way things went there?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think emotions ran high.  It's an open meeting.  It's Member States and the Security Council is master of its proceedings.  What is clear is that we stand by Mr. O'Brien, and we stand by his report and his work. Matthew, then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  Just on… on… following up on that, has the Secretariat received any notice that the 31 October session on Yemen will, in fact, be open?  And, if so, will Mr. O'Brien be test… be testifying…?

Spokesman:  No, that's a question for the President of the Security Council.

Question:  They said they intend to do it, so… 

Spokesman:  Well, then if they… the President will decide on open or closed and who briefs and so on.  

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you… this is on speeches.  First, it was about the speech that was given yesterday at Columbia.  I was reading the “as prepared”.  I did listen to it and there's something he said that I want to ask you about.  He said, I guess, as kind of a throwaway line, that when he first came in he was told that, for… because he travelled, he should buy credits, i.e., offsetting carbon credits.  And he said that he has done it.  So I guess I'm asking you, given that he said this in a public speech, can we get some estimate of how much…

Spokesman:  Sure, I'll try to see what we can do.

Question:  Okay.  And the other one has to do with… thanks for the readout on this other speech he gave last night.  I don't know if you call… would you call that a private event?

Spokesman:  No, it was a UN… it was very much a UN‑related event.

Question:  Right.  But I guess… so yesterday, I'd asked you, can we get a list… you'd said that the event with the Council of Korean Americans was a private event, even though they raised money off it and used a UN flag.  Is there any progress in getting such a list? 

Spokesman:  Let me see what I can do.

Question:  Both the Governments of Syria and Iraq have refused the interference by Turkey and, however, the Turks are adamant to continue to pursue their push into Turkey… into Iraq and into Syria.  Do you have any new stand on that or any position?

Spokesman:  No, not anything new to what we've already said.

Question:  About the atrocities committed by ISIL, there are reports that hundreds of civilians have been killed by ISIL, part of the human shield.

Spokesman:  Yes, we've reported on those reports through the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this week, and obviously, they're keeping a close eye on the issues.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.