21 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.

**Violence against Women

Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at an event to mark the International Day to End Violence against Women and Girls.

Noting that this will be his last observance of the Day as Secretary-General, he expressed his gratitude for the global activism towards ending the scourge, adding that he will continue his efforts after his term ends.

The Secretary-General said that ending violence against women and girls is truly a matter of life and death, and that he has tried to put the full UN machinery behind the efforts to rid the world of it.

At long last, he added, we are seeing a growing global recognition that violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, public health pandemic and serious obstacle to sustainable development.

Yet he stressed that there is still much more we can and must do to turn this awareness into meaningful prevention and action.  He called for stepped up funding from governments, the private sector, philanthropies and concerned citizens.

His full remarks are online.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, here, the Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that what has been unleashed on civilians in Aleppo and other parts of Syria this past week is yet another low in an unrelenting, inhuman onslaught, and it is as heart-breaking as it is not inevitable.

Regrettably, he said, over the last week, we have seen an intense unleashing of military aggressions in Aleppo and the surrounding rural area with truly devastating consequences for civilians.  Reports of a high tempo of airstrikes and shelling across non-State armed group-held areas of Aleppo city reportedly by Syrian Government forces began again on 15 November. He added that the Russian Federation have repeatedly asserted that its air force and airstrikes have resumed only in Idlib and Homs, and not over eastern Aleppo.

In parallel, Mr. O’Brien said that more than 350 mortars and rockets have been reportedly launched by non-State armed groups indiscriminately into western Aleppo since 1 November, killing over 60 people, including women and children, and injuring more than 350 more.

His remarks are available in my office.


And in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned the reported intense air assault over the last several days that has killed and maimed scores of Syrian civilians, including women and children, and left eastern Aleppo without functioning hospitals.  He also condemned the indiscriminate shelling that has been reported in areas of Aleppo governorate and the western parts of Aleppo city, including strikes on schools that have killed a number of children.

The Secretary-General reminds all parties to the conflict that targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime.  He calls on all sides to immediately cease any such attacks.  Those responsible for these and other atrocities in Syria, whoever and wherever they are, must one day be brought to account.  The Secretary-General also calls on all the parties to ensure freedom of movement of civilians and immediate unhindered access to humanitarian assistance.

And Staffan de Mistura, his Special Envoy met yesterday in Damascus with Foreign Minister Walid al Mouallem.  He told reporters afterward that he was outraged by the news of hospitals being heavily bombed by aerial attacks in Aleppo.  Noting that the Foreign Minister had denied that Syrian aerial attacks had struck any hospitals, the Special Envoy suggested that the United Nations be allowed to send a verification team to examine the damage done to hospitals in both east and west parts of the city.  He added that the UN still do not have agreement from the Syrian Government on the four-point humanitarian plan that it has presented.


Our colleagues at the Office of Humanitarian Affairs report that, as of yesterday, the UN has registered more than 68,500 people as displaced in Iraq [due to] the military operations to retake the city of Mosul.

This is a jump from nearly 60,000 just three days earlier.

A health assessment carried out in Zelikan Camp, north-east of Mosul, showed the urgent and widespread need for psychosocial assistance among displaced families, with nearly three-quarters of those interviewed expressing a strong level of distress.

From 14 to 20 November, psychosocial support has been provided to over 1,000 women and 160 men affected by the Mosul conflict.  Nearly 1,200 boys and nearly 1,100 girls received psychosocial first aid in child-friendly spaces.


And our colleagues at the UN Mission in Libya today deplored the outbreak of tribal violence in the eastern city of Sabha that resulted in at least 20 people killed and over 50 injured.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler, commended the efforts by community leaders to reach a ceasefire and put an end to the violence. The UN Mission appeals to national and local authorities to prevent further escalation.


And the UN Mission in Afghanistan today condemned an attack at a mosque that took place in Kabul that killed 32 civilians and injured more than 50 others, many of them children.

A suicide attacker detonated an improvised explosive device at the Baqer-ul Ulom mosque, killing and maiming worshipers from the Shia Muslim community.

The attack followed two similar incidents last month against Shia congregations that claimed 29 civilian lives.

In a statement, the Deputy Special Representative for that country, Pernille Kardel, called the attack appalling and expressed revulsion at this latest effort by extremists to stoke violence.


And UNICEF and the UN Population Fund joined UN Women and UNDP in Turkey today in jointly expressing their deep concern over a draft bill in the Turkish Parliament that may lead to some type of amnesty for child abuse perpetrators on the conditions that the perpetrator marries the victim.

They said that, if adopted in its current form, the draft bill would weaken Turkey’s ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriage.

The Bill would create a perception of impunity in favour of perpetrators of such child rights violations, and it would increase the risk for further victimization of the child if she marries the perpetrator of sexual abuse.

The joint statement noted that Turkey is a State party to both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

It emphasized that any forms of sexual violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such, adding that in all cases the best interests of the child should prevail.


From Mali, as you know, yesterday, voters were called to the polls for the first time since the presidential elections in August 2013 to elect members of the local and municipal council.  The UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA, reports that overall the elections took place in a relatively peaceful environment in localities where they were able to proceed.

Some security incidents and obstructions to the elections were reported in some municipalities, particularly in the northern and central regions of the country.  Five members of the Malian Defence and Security Forces were killed in an attack by armed assailants near Bambara Maoude in the Timbuktu region.

And in a statement issued on the eve of the elections on Saturday, the Secretary-General had called for the Malian Government to pursue a constructive dialogue with all stakeholders to defuse tensions that may arise before and after the polls and to ensure that the holding of the elections does not compromise the progress made so far in the implementation of the peace agreement.


Ahead of World Aids Day, which is on 1 December, a new report by UNAIDS launched today in Namibia shows that 18.2 million people are now on antiretroviral therapy.

If these efforts are sustained and increased, the world will be on track to achieve the target of 30 million people treated by 2020.

The report shows that people are particularly vulnerable to HIV at certain points in their lives and calls for a life-cycle approach to solutions for everyone at every stage of life.

**Expo 2017

And lastly, the Secretary-General has designated Cihan Sultanoðlu as UN Commissioner-General for the Organization’s participation in Expo 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Ms. Sultanoðlu is, as you know, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States at UNDP.

**Questions and Answers

That's it.

Mr. Klein.

Question:  Yes.  Could you tell us the current status of the Board of Inquiry that the Secretary-General set up to investigate the attack on the humanitarian convoy in Syria?

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  I don't have any update from them, which I should have had.  I'll try to get something to you by this afternoon. 

Yes, Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  What about the status of this Yemen cessation of hostilities or ceasefire that was announced by… by the Envoy?  Seems like the Saudi side has said that they will not… didn't really necessarily comply in 48 hours.  Maybe you have information about that, but will not be carrying it forward after 48 hours.  Is there a similar statement by the Envoy?

Spokesman:  I mean, what's, from our point of view, the 48 hour Cessation of Hostilities has expired without a renewal.  Both sides to the conflict reported violations, including airstrikes and ground clashes, during the Cessation of Hostilities.  The armed conflict, unfortunately, has clearly resumed. 

The main obstacle to the provision of humanitarian assistance in Yemen are bureaucratic impediments imposed by all sides and insufficient funding, not the ongoing hostilities. 

Despite the challenges, a growing humanitarian effort is underway.  Humanitarian workers are responding to the humanitarian needs of Yemenis, with about 4.6 million people receiving aid last month, wherever they are.

Question:  In terms of the political process, if it was Secretary Kerry that spoke with the Houthis last time and the Envoy didn't speak to, to President Hadi, where's the UN… I mean, that was confirmed from right where you're standing.  And many people said it's because Hadi refused to meet with him, but in any case, he didn't meet with him. 

Where does it stand in terms of the UN's role in trying to… to get the sides talking…?

Spokesman:  The UN continues its effort to get all sides talking.  Obviously, there is always a role in these, in these mediation efforts for countries that may not be directly involved but have influence on one side or another to help us and use that influence in a constructive way.  And it's something we welcome, and it doesn't lessen in any way the role of the UN as a Special Envoy in trying to get the parties to the table.

Question:  And just one last thing on… I guess relatedly, since Jan Eliasson said that the UN's working closely with Saudi Arabia on, I guess, trying to get President Hadi, over whom they have some influence, back to the table, can you… it came up last week, and it wasn't really clear.  Is there any communications… is there, is there any information being requested by the UN from Saudi Arabia in terms of revisiting or checking compliance with the Children and Armed Conflict mandate or is that…?

Spokesman:  When I have an update on that process, I will share it with you.

Two statements were just handed to me, one on the elections in Haiti.

The Secretary-General welcomes the holding of elections in Haiti on November 20th.  He salutes the people of Haiti for having peacefully expressed their democratic right to vote.  He commends the Haitian institutions, in particular the Provisional Electoral Council and the Haitian National Police, for their leadership and professionalism during and in the lead-up to the polls.  He also welcomes the role of the Haitian institutions in ensuring an environment conducive to the holding of these elections.

The Secretary-General stresses that this electoral process is crucial to ending the current governance vacuum in Haiti.  He urges all parties involved, in particular Presidential candidates and political party leaders, to show the utmost statesmanship at this critical time for the country.  He calls on them to reject and discourage all forms of violence and intimidation and place the national interest above any other consideration.  He urges all actors to await the results proclaimed by the CEP [Permanent Electoral Council] and only use legal channels for any eventual challenges. 

The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the UN to extend its full support to the Haitian people and the fulfilment of the democratic aspirations.

And also a statement on Afghanistan:

The Secretary-General condemns today's attack in Kabul targeting civilians gathered for worship.  The suicide bombing at a mosque where Shia Muslims had gathered follows two similar attacks last month.

Attacks deliberately targeting civilians exercising their right to freely practice their religion are clear violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He expressed his solidarity with the people and Government of Afghanistan and calls for those responsible for these attacks to be brought to justice.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Last week, the Secretary-General indicated that he hopes to meet President-elect Donald Trump very soon.  When is that going to happen?  Any date fixed?

Spokesman:  As soon as, as soon as we know, we would share it.  There has been no date fixed as for now.

Yeah.  Yes, Sato.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The, I have a question about the next Secretary-General.  I'm not sure that you are…

Spokesman:  I do one at a time.  But go ahead.

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  If I can answer it, I will.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, the Chinese Government announced that the next Secretary-General, Mr. Guterres, will visit China on 28th to 29th and to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister.  And how do you expect to… the… his… the next Secretary-General's new diplomacy?  And will he have any plan to, to travel around to Russia and Britain or any other P5 [Permanent Five] country next to China?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I, you were right.  That's a question for the next team.  I will put you in touch with them.  They can hopefully answer you today.  I did see those same press reports that you had.  But I was curious to hear the question.

Olga.  Then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There was a statement during the Security Council meeting that there is no UN presence in Aleppo right now.  Can you update us on the status of the mission or the office of the UN in Aleppo?  Are they working?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that we have no presence in, in Eastern Aleppo.  I will check to get the latest numbers from, from OCHA as to what the staffing, the staffing is.

Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Yes, again, on Aleppo, on the horrifying Security Council meeting today, the… can you go into any more detail on the proposal for the al‑Nusrah fighters to leave?  And I think there was yesterday, as you mentioned, there was a meeting yesterday between the Syrian Foreign Minister and, and Staffan de Mistura.

Spokesman:  You know, I would encourage you to read the, what Mr. de Mistura said yesterday in Damascus.  There's been no, no update on those issues.  And I think, as Mr. de Mistura said, there's really been no update on and no approval by the Syrian Government of the humanitarian plan, the four points that he put together, which really focuses on trying to get people out.  We need to go out.

I think Mr. de Mistura said it was a, indeed, a very frank meeting where they exchanged their views, but I think, unfortunately, not much progress was able to be reported out of those discussions.

Yes, Fethi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  With regard to, with regard to the situation in Yemen, in light of the cessation, was the United Nations able to deliver any of the aid to the impoverished 4.6 million Yemenis?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think, as we've said, we've managed to, there are about 4.6 million Yemenis receiving aid every month, wherever they are.  So there's some delivery of aid. 

The problems are, as OCHA says, bureaucratic impediment, as well as insufficient funding.  And obviously, the continuing violence does not help in any way, shape or form.

Question:  Bureaucratic impediments, is it from the Houthis’ side or from the…

Spokesman:  I think it's from all sides.

Correspondent:  All sides.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  A couple questions on immunity and a couple questions on Myanmar.

This issue of the… the Turkish judge that was locked up and has said that he has immunity and the Government of Turkey has tried to say he has only functional immunity, where does it stand?  What is the UN, I guess, doing to actually get the UN system judge who's been arrested, released?

Spokesman:  We are in touch with the Turkish authorities.  I think we are extremely concerned about his continued detention, and we've informed the Turkish authorities that, as far as the UN is concerned, he is covered by the privileged immunities and has full immunity, and we would like to see him released.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to, to ask about Haiti and cholera, also on the immunity front.  I'm sure you've seen the story in IRIN where they're saying that very little money has yet been contributed after that meeting on October 13th, but what jumped out at me was a quote by David Nabarro saying, it's hard to have certainty that there will be money without clarity on what the actual material assistance might look like. 

So since he's part of the UN's team on cholera and he seems to be saying, like, the time is running out, what is the time schedule for the Secretary-General to… to lay forth his plan?  Does he expect to vote on it before he leaves?

Spokesman:  We expect the Secretary-General to present his plan next week to the General Assembly, and we'd also try to organise a briefing for you, either on or off the record, prior to that, the day before, so you get a little bit of understanding and deeper understanding of what the Secretary-General is going to propose.

Correspondent:  Request that it be on… on the record.

Spokesman:  I hear…

Question:  Okay.  And I just wanted to ask on Myanmar, very quickly, there's… since… I mean, there was this briefing of the Council last week in closed consultations, but it seems that very little information came out.  So I'd asked Farhan whether… what Mr. Nambiar said, some of which I heard would be released, but since then, now these satellite images have come out showing 820 structures burned and demolished by the army. 

So I'm just wondering, one, what does the UN say about these new images?  And, two, is there some way to at least get a summary or synthesis of what Mr. Nambiar is telling the Council to do about this upsurge in attacks?

Spokesman:  I think the, the escalation that we've seen, you know, I think, after doing the, excuse me, the mission with the other diplomat, the Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator, I think, was very clear in expressing her concern and the international community's concern at the situation, having seen houses that, that were burnt, calling on the Government to put forward a very transparent and open investigation as to, to what happened.

Obviously, the situation in Rakhine state continues to be of concern to us.

Question:  And the only… and I just… I wanted to get to the bottom of this.  This has, again, to do with the Secretary-General's brother Ki‑ho.  And I just want to make clear what I'm requesting.

Farhan has said, ask certain things of the two companies that he works with in Myanmar.  And most of the websites are entirely in Korean, but I'm doing my best to do that.

But my request to your office is, there is a Myanmar Government website whose URL I sent to you, whatever, 12 days ago that says there was a UN delegation that he was a part of.  What I'm asking you… and the companies are not going to give it… is, what was that UN delegation?  Is there… can you… I guess I…

Spokesman:  I have not been able to find any information or confirmation of that, but I will keep looking.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Have a good day.

Just a reminder we will not be briefing on Thursday on Friday.

For information media. Not an official record.