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

10 November 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.

Good afternoon.  Starting off with Syria.


Jan Egeland, the Special Adviser on Syria, briefed the press in Geneva a bit earlier today about humanitarian conditions in that country, saying that he feels that this will be the worst winter in the five‑year war.  Some of the areas are freezing cold, he said, and people will be in need of digging themselves down into the ground in extreme cases, because they cannot be reached to receive humanitarian aid.

He added that the reports we have now from within east Aleppo is that the last food rations are being distributed, and there will be nothing more to distribute next week.  He said that we now have a UN initiative for east Aleppo that has four parts, involving medical supplies into the medical facilities in east Aleppo; medical evacuations out of east Aleppo for the estimated 300 or so patients that need medical evacuation and their families, the delivery of food and other urgent supplies to east Aleppo, and the deployment of more medical personnel to provide relief in east Aleppo.  That transcript has been shared with you.


From Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues say that a further 3,300 people have now been displaced since yesterday, bringing the number of people displaced in the context of the Mosul military activities to 45,000 since 17 October.  At this rate, camp capacity is still keeping pace with the steady flow of displacement, but additional camp space and emergency shelter options will be needed in the next week to accommodate anticipated displacements.  Total camp capacity is expected to expand to 90,000 available spaces by the middle of this month.

A humanitarian mission to Hamam al Alil and Al Shura, approximately 23 kilometres south of Mosul city, yesterday reported an estimated 71,000 people in the villages.  Priority needs include food, potable water and health care. The Ministry of Migration and Displacement organized a first distribution, but sustained humanitarian assistance is needed in these villages.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, our colleagues at the UN Mission there (UNMISS) report sporadic gunshots and firing of large calibre weapons in Yambio —— that was earlier today.  The instigators of this firing are unknown.  Shortly after, some 44 civilians, mainly women and children, entered the compound of an NGO (non‑governmental organization) located next to the United Nations base.  Later in the day, the civilians left the compound and returned to their homes.  The UN Mission provided medical assistance to one injured civilian. The Mission also conducted a patrol into town, where the situation is reported to be calm.


I wanted to flag a statement from our colleagues at the UN Children’s Fund.  UNICEF is calling the air pollution currently experienced in the Indian capital Delhi a wakeup call for the world.  This is not just a challenge in Delhi but a growing one for many cities around the world with air pollution levels in other Indian cities, such as Varanasi and Lucknow, equally extreme in recent days, and over the past year, alerts in cities like London, Beijing, Mexico City, Los Angeles and Manila.

Unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in India over the past week are likely to be increasingly common, UNICEF says.  As you may remember, recent UNICEF analysis has shown that, globally, nearly 300 million children live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution.  More information online.

**Food Prices

Our good friends at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today tell us that sugar, dairy and cereals lift their Food Price Index in October by 0.7%.  This index has risen continuously through 2016 except for a brief dip in July; it is now 9.1 per cent higher than it was last year.  More information online as well.


A couple of follow‑ups to questions raised yesterday:  I think it was you, Oleg, who asked about the detention of a judge in Turkey, and I can confirm that the United Nations has raised the arrest and continued detention of Judge Aydin Sefa Akay, who serves as a judge of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, with the Turkish authorities.  

The Organization has informed the Turkish Government that Judge Akay enjoys diplomatic immunity under the Statute of the Mechanism and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.  On this basis, we have requested his release and the cessation of legal proceedings against him so that he may resume his important functions for the Mechanism.  The continued detention of the judge is a matter of serious concern to the Organization but I am unable to provide further details at this point.


Matthew, you were asking about famine being reported in Burundi.  According to the latest information we have here at Headquarters, there are no people in famine in Burundi at present.  However, humanitarian needs in Burundi have increased sharply this year.  There are an estimated 606,000 people in phase 4 (or emergency phase) and between 1.3 million and 1.4 million people in phase 3 (crisis phase) on the integrated food security phase classification.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is conducting evaluations and food distribution in affected provinces.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, I will be joined here by the Under‑Secretary‑General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Wu Hongbo.  He will be briefing you on the Global Sustainable Transport Conference.  


I wanted to flag to you today that you are all invited to an event today on Youth Boosting the Promotion and Implementation of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], featuring Dr. David Nabarro, the Secretary‑General’s Special Advisor on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, along with other speakers who will launch a new app on the SDGs.  That’s at 1:15 p.m. in Conference room seven of these very United Nations.  Questions?  Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding your statement… UNICEF statement on smog in India… I don't know why UNICEF confined it to India only, because the same smog has travelled to cities in Pakistan, Lahore, especially, where there is thick smog and it is creating all sorts of health problems.  It's next door.

Spokesman:  I don't think you should read this as a focus only on India.  The statement itself refers to alerts we've had in London, Beijing, Mexico City, and Manila.  And clearly, the issue of pollution knows no boundaries, so the… and I would also refer you to the UNICEF report on the impact of air pollution on children, which looks at the picture globally.  I think they were using the dramatic pictures and reporting that we've seen out of India to underscore a point that is valid globally. Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some follow‑ups to your follow‑up, but I wanted to ask you first about Yemen.  There is some published reports that the… the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, was unable to meet with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi, that President Hadi and his team did not meet with them.  So I wanted to know, did he meet with them?  And I also wanted to know, the reports in Sana'a, protest of the UN for its role in what people are calling the blockade.  You just distinguished famine as… as to problems.  Does the UN consider the situation in at least parts of Yemen to constitute a blockade?  And finally, also on Yemen, I wanted to ask you whether it's… it's the case that this review of the Saudi‑led Coalition being on the Children and Armed Conflict annex on Yemen is, in fact, not going to be done until March, when the Secretary‑General is already gone, that the decision has been made…

Spokesman:  No.  I'm not aware of such a decision having been made.  Walking backwards, you know, the issue of famine or not famine for WFP and the UN food agencies is one that's a… that is placed on a scale.  The fact that we may not be using the word "famine" doesn't mean there aren't terrible, terrible humanitarian conditions with people going hungry every day in different parts of the country, whether that's in Yemen or whether that's in Burundi.  We have seen reports that some elements of the Houthis/General People's Congress are blocking the entry of humanitarian vessels into Hodeidah, according to OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  And humanitarian personnel at Hodeidah ports receiving the transportation… we have personnel at the ports, and we have no indication that they are blocking the issue.  Commercial vessels are also trying to enter ports that are not controlled by the Government of Yemen, and these are being cleared by the UN Verification Mechanism.  As for the exact agenda of the Special Envoy, I don't have any specific information with me on that.

Question:  Has he left Riyadh? 

Spokesman:  I believe he may have left Riyadh, but I can… we can check.

Question:  Can we just… just a yes or no if he met Hadi?

Spokesman:  I will check what I can have.  Mr. Astor?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any comment on Russia's Defence Ministry dismissing as counterproductive requests for extended future pauses in Aleppo to allow aid as winter comes?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it's clear from what Jan Egeland said that we need the agreement of all parties, whether that be the Russians, the Syrian Government, all the other parties that are involved in the fighting, the armed elements and other countries that are directly or indirectly involved in one side or the other of this fight.  In order to get aid in, in order to get people out, we need a chunk of time.  We need a few… I think Mr. Egeland referred to 72 hours of preparation, then a few days to get people out.  These are… it's a critical necessity for us to do the humanitarian work that we need to do.  From what I gather, the discussions with the high‑level group in Geneva are continuing, and Mr. Egeland said we put a plan forward, and we hope to be able to implement that plan.  Carole?

Question:  Do you have an update on the inquiry on the bombing of the aid convoy in Syria?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  When do you expect that?

Spokesman: It's a good question.  I was thinking of asking that question myself about 15 minutes ago, and I will need to get an update of where we are on the commission inquiry, whether they've managed to go in or not and just to get you a general update.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on what you read out on Yambio, it seemed to… there are reports there of two civilians and I've published the name… of being killed and the actual… what occurred there, it said, is that the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] in Government arrived at the town and killed unarmed civilians in their homes.  So I wanted to know, if you're now saying that the UN has done a patrol, are they saying that they… they're unaware of deaths occurring?  And how is it that they're unaware of who attacked the town?

Spokesman:  Well, it's… I'm not saying they're unaware of deaths occurring.  They can only report on what they've actually seen.  Our resources, as you know are fairly… are stretched.  They… when you are involved in these situations and there is fighting, you may be facing men, because they're usually men, with guns in uniforms who may not have specific markings or who may not stop firing to fully identify themselves.

Question:  Sure.  I guess I'm going to ask you again… maybe it's just a yes or no.  Can you… can you ask the… the… the… UNMISS whether Isaac Jacob of the youth choir of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Yambio was, in fact, killed?

Spokesman:  I don't have… you can email the UNMISS PIO [Public Information Office].  I don't have that information here.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, I just want to come back to Donald Trump and the reaction here at the UN.  Are there any meetings, discussions to try to measure the impact, what effect it might have on multilateralism, how the UN is going to deal with this new reality?

Spokesman:  As there… every time there's a change in administration in any country and especially in a country that's the largest donor to the United Nations, it does give way to some thinking and some implement… some thinking and what the impact could be.  I think the Secretary‑General was clear yesterday in his statement on the need for continuing American leadership on a number of issues, on human rights, on climate change, on development, and on the host of security issues that we face… that we have to deal with here every day.  I think… this is Day 2.  We have to see also who the team is that will be around the President‑elect on foreign policy issues and when we can get in touch with them.  But I think it's still early days.  Oleg?

Question:  You said when you can get in touch with him.  Are there any planned meetings between Ban Ki‑moon and Trump?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of.

Question:  Is he willing to organize a trip?

Spokesman:  Of course, the Secretary‑General is willing to meet anyone.  But as I said, you know, there's… there are steps.  I think we also have to wait and see who our interlocutors will be, who will be… the foreign policy people be around the President‑elect.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Just to follow up, how would you describe these discussions, as you mentioned, about the fact that… I mean, that the… the mood in the building, how would you describe the… the reaction?

Spokesman:  I'd describe the discussions as ongoing.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I guess I just want to… given that… that there are obviously two transitions taking place at once, one of the issues is what countries will get what Under‑Secretary‑General posts and other posts.  Is it your understanding that… that… one, does the Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, have any role in that, or is that entirely up to his successor?  Does he have… Does his team…

Spokesman:  The transition, from our part, from the part of Ban Ki‑moon, is about handing over.  It is up to the next Secretary‑General to put his team together.  And the Secretary… the sitting Secretary‑General, it's not his responsibility nor will it be his role to do that.

Question:  Is Kyung‑wha Kang currently a UN official or who's… what's her status?

Spokesman:  Yeah, she's a UN official and been assigned to work with the transition with Mr. [António] Guterres.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you something about Kenya.  There's a report… there are human rights groups that are pointing at a number of killings recently by something called the administration police.  There's a very public call they've made for an investigation of a 12‑year‑old girl, a mother and a middle‑aged man that took place this week, but they're also pointing to other alleged police abuses.  And so I'm wondering, you… I'm again trying to figure out what's the role of the Resident Coordinator in Kenya?  Is… is… is there a human rights office?  It doesn't seem like UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] can deal with this.  Obviously, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] is not dealing with this…

Spokesman:  I know you're very concerned about the work of the human… the Resident Coordinator in Kenya.  As a general rule, the… as we've said before, the Resident Coordinator coordinates the work of the UN, whether it's the Human Rights Office, UNICEF, UNHCR.  They all have their representatives.  They all deal with… directly with the host government on the issues that pertain to their work.  In terms of political issues in Kenya, I will also check with DPA [Department of Political Affairs] if we have any guidance.

Question:  Okay.  And were you able… yesterday you'd said as to the person blocked from attending COP [Conference of Parties] 22 that there…

Spokesman:  I don't have any further information.  I would follow up with UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change].  Linda, then George.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of days ago, a former President of Georgia, who was appointed as governor of Odessa, I gather, in Ukraine, resigned abruptly, citing tremendous corruption on the part of the government, in fact, comparing it… equating it with the corruption of the former President.  I was wondering if there is any UN reaction to that, and also what role, if any, is the UN playing in trying to address the corruption issue?  

Spokesman:  There's no specific UN reaction.  I think the discussions that we've read is really an issue between the central administration in Ukraine and Mr. [Mikheil] Saakashvili.  On the issue of corruption and how we can help to grow the capacity of the Ukrainian Government to fight corruption, I will check with my colleagues at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] to see if they have any local programmes.  George?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following up just a bit further on the change of administration situation, if I may, has anyone in the UN either now…

Spokesman:  Which administration, the Ban/Guterres or Clinton… Trump/Obama? 

Correspondent:  Not Guterres.  The Trump situation.

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Has anyone at the UN either commented now or a few months ago when it was originally made on Mr. Trump's comment to the effect that the UN is just a useless organization?  I think I'm quoting him almost verbatim.

Spokesman:  Well, I think… the election is over.  The rhetoric of the election is over.  We will now focus on what is being said post‑election.  Oleg, Mr. Lee.

Question:  Following up on the election, do you think that the… some statements made by the UN officials towards Trump may in some way… like Prince Zeid, for instance, may have some effect on the cooperation between the US and the administration…

Spokesman:  The High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke clearly within his mandate, as he does forcefully all over the world when he feels he needs to raise his voice.  I'm not going to speculate.  As I said, the election is over.  There is now a transition.  We have a President‑elect.  And we very much hope we can continue to count on the deep cooperation and the leadership of the United States within the United Nations system.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I guess I'd wanted to ask you, yesterday after the briefing, I did send you these links about the Secretary‑General's brother being reported…

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that yet.

Question:  Okay.  And also what about Bambari?  That seems pretty straightforward.  I mean, Mr. Ladsous…

Spokesman:  Oh, my understanding is that there was an investigation that was open in the incident in Bambari.  And as soon as we have something to report, I will share it with you.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.