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

22 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

I wanted to flag for you some travels for the Secretary-General.  On 24 November, he will travel to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.  On Friday, 25 November, the Secretary-General will meet with H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and speak to and engage in a discussion with young diplomats at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy in Abu Dhabi.

That afternoon, the Secretary-General will travel to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where on Saturday, 26 November he will open and along with President [Gurbanguly] Berdimuhamedov, convene the first-ever UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference.  The Conference is an important contribution to advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The Secretary-General will also have a separate bilateral meeting with the President of Turkmenistan, speak at the opening of the new United Nations House in Ashgabat and visit the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia.  He will also take part in an event on the rolling out of the Sustainable Development Goals in Turkmenistan.   The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Sunday.

**Security Council

And this morning he spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on water, peace and security.  He said that access to water can exacerbate communal tensions, pointing to how competition for scarce water resources has contributed to tensions in Darfur and Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General said that armed conflicts themselves can affect access to clean water, for example through the deliberate destruction of water facilities.

We have also seen warring parties seek to control dams and dikes, he said, citing how control over strategic dams over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been at the centre of military operations carried out by Da’esh in Syria and in Iraq.  But, the Secretary-General said that despite these serious challenges, we must recognize the potential for cooperation around shared water resources, which the UN has actively promoted.


And I was asked earlier by some of your colleagues about the recent talks on Cyprus.  And I can tell you that while the intensive talks in Mont Pèlerin, Switzerland did not achieve the desired outcome, the Secretary-General is confident that the two leaders will rise above the current challenges in this process.  He is also hopeful that they will continue to work tirelessly, as they have so far, towards reaching a settlement within 2016 for the benefit of all Cypriots. The United Nations and the Secretary-General personally will continue to support these efforts.


And our humanitarian colleagues tell us today, an inter-agency UN-Red Cross-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy deployed to the hard-to-reach area of Rastan in northern rural Homs in Syria to deliver food, water and other supplies to 107,000 people in Rastan and nearby villages.  This is the first cross-line inter-agency convoy in November and the fourth inter-agency delivery to the area this year. Rastan was last reached on 27 July.

While we welcome the convoy to Rastan today, it is worrying that no inter-agency convoy had been able to deploy until late November. The result is that we are once again unlikely to reach more than a small portion of those for whom we receive formal approval to access – due to deliberate restrictions, needless administrative hurdles as well as insecurity.  The UN continues to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need in Syria, particularly those living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.


With over a month into Mosul military operations, more than 68,000 Iraqis are currently displaced from Mosul and adjacent districts, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  Over the past four days, the agency says, total displacement has increased by more than 8,300 individuals. As fighting is progressing inside the city limits of Mosul, more individuals have been displaced from inside the sub-district of Mosul.  The majority of the displaced are from Mosul district, 59,200 people, and most of them, almost 98 per cent of the displaced, are currently residing within the Ninewa governorate.  IOM has more information online.


And in a statement issued last night, the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Ghassan Khalil, said the UN is concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Ganfouda area of Benghazi due to the increased hostilities in the past week.  He stressed that civilians must be allowed to leave the insecurity in safety and dignity without delay. The UN calls on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to allow the safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to Ganfouda district immediately and to provide life-saving assistance to people in need.

**Central African Republic

And from the Central African Republic, the UN peacekeeping mission there (MINUSCA) has called for the end of clashes that started yesterday in Bria between two armed groups (the FPRC - Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique and the UPC - Union pour la paix en Centrafrique).  About 5,000 displaced civilians as well as local authorities and humanitarian organisations have taken refuge in MINUSCA's premises there. The UN mission stresses that the armed groups will be held accountable for the violence, particularly against civilian populations.

Yesterday, a UN base was targeted by fighters of the FPRC before peacekeepers fired back. The UN mission warns that these attacks are against its personnel and its facilities and notes that the UN will respond appropriately to any hostile act. The peacekeeping mission has taken measures to protect civilians and peacekeepers that are patrolling in Bria. The Mission is pursuing mediation efforts together with local and religious authorities. UN agencies are planning a humanitarian response.


And our colleagues and UN Country Team and the UN Mission in Colombia say they are concerned about violent actions, including recent killings, targeting social leaders in several conflict-affected areas. The UN team understands that fears voiced by affected social organizations and their call for urgent action to prevent the escalation of violence, which undermines the confidence in a stable and lasting peace, ahead of the expected signing of the Final Agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP).

The UN in Colombia stresses that the Final Peace Agreement provides for the implementation of several measures to ensure security for social organizations’ leaders and human rights defenders, as well as security for political action.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is currently verifying areas where recent killings took place. And the entire UN system in Colombia asserts its commitment to protect the civilian population, within the framework of their respective mandates, and to provide continued support to build peace and respond to the expectations of all Colombians, particularly in the conflict-affected territories.


And our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that they are concerned that two weeks after their detention, two Gambian journalists continue to be held incommunicado, with no access to family members or lawyers in the Gambia.  Momodou Sabally, the head of the Gambia Radio and Television Services, and Bakary Fatty, a reporter for the same organisation, have been detained arbitrarily by the National Intelligence Agency in Banjul since 8 November with no charges laid against them. A number of other people also remain in incommunicado detention.

The Human Rights Office notes that these types of detention without charge are a clear violation of the Gambian constitution and of the country’s international human rights obligations. They stress that, in the run-up to the presidential elections of 1 December, it is particularly crucial that the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are fully respected. The Human Rights Office calls on the Government of the Gambia to release all those who are being detained for the exercise of these rights.


And finally, a senior appointment announcement:  The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is announcing today the appointment of Lieutenant General Carlos Humberto Loitey of Uruguay as the Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations.  Lieutenant General Loitey succeeds Lieutenant General Maqsood Ahmed of Pakistan. The Secretary-General is very grateful indeed for Lieutenant General Ahmed’s tireless efforts, hard work and dedication to strengthen the effectiveness and performance of UN military components operating in increasingly challenging and complex peacekeeping environments.  General Loitey brings with him over 40 years of military experience.  And we have more information in a biographical note upstairs.  Khalas.  Carole?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, on the Cyprus talks, you mentioned the Secretary‑General's… would personally try to support those efforts.  What… what does he have in mind?  What is he doing?  Any phone calls?  What can you tell us?

Spokesman:  He will be briefed today, if he has not already done so, by his Special Adviser, Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide.  I think they will take stock and see what is the best way forward in order to deploy the Secretary‑General's personal efforts.  But, as you know, he's been very much involved in this process.  He had opened the… this round of the talks in Mont Pèlerin on 7 November, a few days ago.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about South Sudan, and we had this briefing by Adama Dieng about the potential for genocide there.  There's been… on Saturday, the paramount chief, Azande paramount chief in Yambio, Wilson Peni Rikito, who was arrested, and he's been disappeared since then.  And I'm just wondering, I haven't seen anything from UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan].  I haven't seen any comment from the UN.  Is the UN aware of this…?

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I don't have any information on this gentleman's particular case, but obviously, we'll check.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask you, on Burundi, they've just announced that there are these three new panelists from the Human Rights Council to replace the three that were PNG'd [rendered persona non grata] in the past.  So it made me want to, I guess, wonder… maybe it was while you were away, but the Resident Coordinator, Paolo Lembo, was in town, and there was a request that he speak or that you provide from your office information about visas being denied or delayed by the Government there.  Is there any information you can provide on that…?

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I don't have any updates on that.  Okay.  Yes?  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  I mean, I'm sorry that some of these are follow‑ups, but I did want to ask you, on Myanmar, I'm sure you've seen, in The New York Times today, there's an… their editorial about the attacks on Rohingya.  So, again, I wanted to know, if Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar briefed the Council, as he did last week, can… at least some summary.  What is the UN's… what… I'd heard and I'll say it again that Mr. Nambiar's advice to the Council was to give the Government of Aung San Suu Kyi time because she's in a tough spot because she doesn't really control the military.  But is that really what… is that really the UN Secretariat's advice to the Council, when the things described in The New York Times are taking place? 

Spokesman:  I think we have been very clear in what we've seen with our own eyes in terms of the Humanitarian Resident Coordinator having gone to the area, our deep concern of the violence that we've seen, the burning down of villages, the reports of rape.  Our colleagues at UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have expressed… have highlighted the issue of the need for safety of civilians in Rakhine State.  Our advice to the Government continues to, first of all, initiate an investigation… a clear investigation into what happened and ensure that the safety of all civilians, regardless of origin or religion, is assured in Rakhine State.

Question:  What would the Secretariat… I mean, the Secretary‑General at times asked the Security Council to act on situations.  And given that his Special Adviser spoke to the Council, what would they like… would you like… I've heard that the Security Council committed to take no action as… in conditions…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that.  I think we would obviously like the Security Council to use its power, so to speak, in a positive way in the situation.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  I just want to clarify, on the aid delivery to the town near Homs, you said it's a cross-line.  So is this town under siege?

Spokesman:  It was a hard‑to‑reach area.

Question:  So this will be the first delivery of aid to a hard‑to‑reach area in November?

Spokesman:  Indeed.  If that's what I said, that's what it is.  Let me… I didn't mean to say it that way.  Let me just double…

Question:  But do you have a bit more on the circumstances, why this place and all of a sudden… 

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, it's…  We try… our humanitarian colleagues try to reach all the hard‑to‑reach areas or besieged areas.  It's a matter of getting… of aligning all the right permissions, whether it's bureaucratic, whether it's permissions from various armed groups.  When those permissions align, we go in, as we would be able to go into any of these places if we have the right permission.  As I said, I mean, this place was last reached in July, late July.  Yes, behind you.

Question:  Do you have any figures, any number of the people killed in the airstrikes in Aleppo since the collapse of the ceasefire?  And I was also wondering if you have anything on the chlorine gas attack in Eastern Aleppo yesterday.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, unfortunately, I don't have anything on those two.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you… you'd said that the…

Spokesman:  Please no double chin with the Periscope.

Question:  No, I… I'm… it's… your podium is blocking it to the degree it exists.  I wanted to ask, since you're going… since you… the Secretary‑General is going to the UAE to speak at this Arab… Emirate Diplomatic Academy, whether… there was the controversy around Bernardino León negotiating a position there while he was Special Representative in Libya.  Is he still the director? and has… has there been any reforms instituted in terms of the post‑UN employment negotiation for employment by UN employees, such as took place in the Bernardino León case? 


Spokesman:  We would expect all senior officials who leave the United Nations to follow the most ethical rules possible.  As for Bernardino León's current situation, I think that's a question to ask for the Diplomatic Academy, if he's still there.


Question:  If you don't mind, I wanted to ask you, yesterday, the… the… the… I don't know if… may have been the Trusteeship Council was given over to a premiere or screening of a Syfy network show called Incorporated.  And it turned out that there's not a… there's no mention of the UN in the first episode.  In fact, it seems like there's no mention of the UN in the entire first season.  So I wanted to know… it does mention climate change, but what's the process for for‑profit television networks getting their premiere shows promoted and advertised by the UN?  Who makes the decision? 

Spokesman:  It’s not… I don't have specific information about this.  But what I can tell you is that our colleagues in DPI [Department of Public Information] are involved with the creative community all over the world, whether it's in Mumbai, in Hollywood, in Nigeria, anywhere else.  And it's not about getting the UN's name.  It's not about product placement.  It's about getting issues included in television, in movies, whether it's climate change, whether it's malaria.  Whether or not they mention the UN is really almost secondary.

Question:  But I'm saying… I guess, having watched now the episode that was shown, it has… it has, you know, a lot of violence.  It has at least three retching sequences.  Who makes the decision at some point that the show… even if you sent, as they did, somebody from UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] to the writer's room, at some point, if the show is more about violence or… or retching…

Spokesman:  Look, everything is…

Question:  Who choose?  Is it the head of DPI? I just want to know, who decides?

Spokesman:  As I said, it is not… I don't know anything in particular about this show, but it is a project led by our colleagues in DPI.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Do you have a account of the SG's travels in… since he came to office or maybe even in the last year, countries and…

Spokesman:  Well, they're all listed up on our… on the website.  I mean, we can probably pull figures together.  But they're all updated as they happen.

Question:  Which website?

Spokesman:  The Spokesman's website, under SG travel.  You'll have a summary of all the travels. 

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Question:  I guess follow‑up on that.  One is to ask again for the carbon offset purchases.  But also, where… where… when… Under-Secretaries‑General travel, sometimes you announce it here.  You say Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman went so‑and‑so.  [Hervé] Ladsous went so‑and‑so.  Sometimes you don't in some… for some departments.  But is there some… what are the rules for when the travel is paid by the UN and when the travel is viewed as a personal trip of the official either to their home country or home territory or to get an award for themselves?  What are the rules involving when it's a UN trip and when it's not a UN trip?

Spokesman:  They can check with the Ethics Office if there's any issue.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.