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

1 December 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.


At 3 pm, as you know, the Secretary-General will present to the General Assembly the UN’s new approach to cholera in Haiti in an informal briefing.  The report unveiling that approach is now out online and hard copies are available in our office. The report provides information on the two tracks of the new approach, identifies challenges in connection with its implementation and sets out a proposed timeline.

Right after this briefing, at 12:30, we’ll have a briefing by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and the Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, Dr. David Nabarro. They will be discussing the Secretary-General’s new approach and his statement.  What we will do at 12:30 p.m.  That briefing will be under embargo until the Secretary-General speaks at 3 p.m.


The UN Mission in Colombia today welcomed the ratification of the definitive Peace Agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) by both the upper and lower houses of parliament.  This ratification opens the way for the implementation of a comprehensive agreement that holds the promise of a new era of peace after over five decades of a protracted and brutal conflict.  The UN Mission expresses its readiness to fulfill its mandate to verify the Agreement on the Ceasefire and Cessation of Hostilities and Laying down of Arms.  And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, also welcomed this development in a statement that was issued out of Geneva.


Yesterday, in Syria, an inter-agency assessment mission reached locations in eastern Aleppo that were recently taken by the Syrian government.  There were no civilians in these neighborhoods that used to be home to 30,000 people before fighting intensified last Saturday.  Shelter, food, health and other life-saving assistance is being provided to those who have been displaced by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local partners, with UN support.

Today, a UN inter-agency mission led by Humanitarian Coordinator Ali Al-Za'tari arrived in Aleppo.  The mission is assessing the needs of the newly displaced people from eastern Aleppo, enhancing the current response mechanisms and looking at plans for an inter-agency cross-line mission into the eastern part of the city, as requested by the UN in its December plan.  Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in other areas of eastern Aleppo remain besieged and are in dire need of humanitarian aid.  The last assistance to the area was in July of this year.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need, particularly to those in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.


And our colleague, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, arrived in Aden today in Yemen to meet with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to discuss the latest updates and the UN peace framework.  The Special Envoy is expected to travel onward from Aden to Riyadh.


And from Iraq, our colleagues tell us that 2,885 Iraqis were killed and more than 1,380 injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in the month of November.  That’s according to the casualty figures recorded by the UN.  The number of civilians killed in November was 926.  Baghdad was the worst-impacted Governorate with over 733 casualties.  And we have more details online if you’re interested in following up.


Meanwhile, WFP (World Food Programme) said today that more than 45,000 people received life-saving food or nutrition support in northeastern Nigeria in the last week through a new tactic to reach those in the most remote, hard-to-access places hit by Boko Haram violence.  WFP has more information online.

**World AIDS Day

And today is… what?  Yes, you’re passing attention.  It’s World AIDS Day and this year’s theme is “Hands up for #HIVprevention”, aimed at drawing attention to what HIV prevention means to specific groups of people, including adolescent girls and young women.  As part of World AIDS Day, our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) have released a report showing that new HIV infections among adolescents could rise by nearly 60 per cent by 2030 if progress in combating the disease stalls.

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, said in the report that if more isn’t done, “Every two minutes, another adolescent — most likely a girl — will be infected with HIV.”  AIDS remains a leading cause of death among adolescents, claiming the lives of over 41,000 of them between the ages of 10‑19 years old in the last year.

**Press Briefings

And just to flag a couple things, more press briefings, as I mentioned, the DSG and Dr. Nabarro at 12:30 p.m.  At 2 p.m., a press briefing by ASG Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED).  He will be joined by Ambassador (ret.) Daniel Stauffacher, Founder and President of ICT4Peace, and Dr. Rasmus H. Wandall, General Counsel of the International Association of Prosecutors.  They will brief you on how terrorists can be prevented from exploiting information and communications technologies.  And finally, at 5 p.m., Ambassador [Román Oyarzun] Marchesi of Spain will be here to brief you in his capacity as President of the Security Council for the month of December.  Today is 1 December, as we know. 


This evening, the Secretary-General will be honoured at a special event hosted by ZAKA, the international rescue organization that sends specially-trained paramedics and search and rescue volunteers to mass casualty incidents.  The Secretary-General will deliver remarks at the event, which takes place at 6 p.m. at the Park East Synagogue on East 67th Street.  If you’re so interested, contact Veronica in my office.

**Honour Roll

And today, we thank Togo, as it has paid its regular budget dues in full.  Very good.  Did you look at my notes before I briefed?  Good.  Well, you get the first question, Joe.  You win.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  My question is, my understanding is that Canada has submitted a letter to the President of the General Assembly asking for a formal meeting of the General Assembly to take up the Syrian situation, and some have… civil societies have called for the in…invoking the emergency session of the General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace Resolution.  Will the Secretary‑General come out publicly and endorse either a special emergency session of the General Assembly or support Canada's call for a meeting on Syria? 

Spokesman:  We'll take a look at exactly what Canada asked for.  What is clear is that the General Assembly does have an important role to play in this matter.  They have over the past few years.  The Secretary‑General [and] Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura has regularly briefed them.  So the Secretary‑General definitely feels that.  The General Assembly has, being representative of the membership, the whole membership, has an important role to play to try to break this logic… this military logic that we're currently seeing in dealing with the conflict in Syria.  Masood-ji?

Question:  Just to follow up on the same question: What is the hesitancy on the part of the Secretary‑General?  This is a humanitarian crisis, which everybody in the United Nations organization has said is horrible.  What is happening in Aleppo and all over Syria is absolutely horrendous.  Secretary‑General should wholeheartedly… I mean, I'm assuming Secretary‑General should wholeheartedly endorse such a move that the General Assembly should meet urgently to consider measures to… how to end this conflict.

Spokesman:  Was that a statement or a question?

Question:  No, my question is, Secretary‑General, is he ready to endorse this?

Spokesman:  I mean, I don't know.  I thought I was pretty positive in my answer to Joe.  I just said we need to take a look at the letter and, clearly, that the General Assembly has an important role to play.

Question:  The only… my question was, why is the hesitancy on the part of the…

Spokesman:  I'm a cautious guy.  I just said I needed to take a look at the letter.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About Aleppo, the Russian Foreign Minister recently said that they will continue the military operation in Aleppo until, I quote, all the terrorists are cleared from the city.  What is your comment about that?

Spokesman:  I think, whether it's the Secretary‑General, whether it's Mr. de Mistura or Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien, I think we have repeatedly asked for a halt to this conflict, especially what we're seeing in Aleppo, to break this military logic, to go back to a diplomatic solution.  The first step is, obviously, a pause or a halt so we can get the humanitarian aid in.  As you saw, we already are seeing our colleague Ali al‑Za'tari going to the area.  We're very keen to hear what he sees, what he says, and hopefully, maybe we can get him to speak to you here by telephone.  I think the Secretary‑General has never disagreed with the need for a security response to the fight against terrorism, but that response cannot be done at the expense of civilians, which we have seen in all parts of the conflict in Syria.

Question:  One more.  Yesterday, Mr. de Mistura said, on 8 December, he will provide political options.  Can you give us an idea about… just a clue about what he's talking about?

Spokesman:  You know, I think we all need to be a little bit patient.  I think if you go back and look at what he actually said at the Security Council, he does give some ideas, but I think we have to be patient and wait till 8 December to see what he will reveal.  Mr. Lee?  Sorry… and then Linda.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, today's election day in Gambia, and it has been wildly reported the internet has been turned off, and no international calls are being allowed.  I know that the DPA [Department of Political Affairs] had some involvement previously or tried to have some involvement in Gambia.  What… what is the position on the UN of… well, one, on the election generally, he said… the President has said he'll stay in until Allah says differently, but also on the turning off of the internet to an entire country…

Spokesman:  Well, I think it's… we would like to see, as we would like to see anywhere, freedom of access to information, including freedom of access through the internet.  We're obviously watching the developments in the Gambia very closely, and then we'll have probably a bit more to say later on.

Question:  How are you watching it if the internet's turned off?

Spokesman:  We do have a country office that's there.

Question:  And just a re… I guess a related as to internet question, in Qatar, access to something called Doha News, which reports about Qatar, has been blocked in the country.  And I wanted to know… you might say just the same thing, but do you see this also as… as… as… 

Spokesman:  Let me check on those reports.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I'm sorry if you've addressed this already, but my question has to do with Mr. de Mistura's offer — I don't know, maybe it's a month ago — to escort the… I think he said there were 800 or 900 Al‑Qaida‑linked terrorists in Aleppo.  Has there… have there been any developments?  Has he been in touch?  Has there been any communication?

Spokesman:  You know, Mr. de Mistura was in Damascus not too long ago.  All these proposals were brought up.  Unfortunately, we're not able to report any progress.  We're seeing what the situation in Aleppo continues to be.  As the Government makes gains, it is producing obviously a mass movement of civilians with the ensuing humanitarian crisis.  So, you know, if we had any positive news to report, I think we would have, unfortunately.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  Has the UN actually been in touch directly or even indirectly with these terrorists?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the… our colleagues who were involved in this are in touch with the parties they need to be in touch with.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Myanmar.  As far as I’m aware of, the UN hasn't been granted access to the Rakhine State yet.  What is the Government's response to the UN, and how many people have been displaced so far?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We have had some access.  As you know, the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator joined a group of diplomats there about two weeks ago, if I'm not mistaken, to take a look at first hand at what they've seen.  Obviously, I think there was a lot of concern about what they saw and what they heard from people they were able to talk to.  We've had limited access and limited reach in terms of humanitarian access.  I think the last numbers I have is about 19,000 people assisted in IDP [internally displaced people] camps [and] different communities in Rakhine State and that was last week.  WFP's had some access, but we've not had the access that we need, and I think different parts of the UN system have expressed their very grave concern about what is going on, whether it's from the human rights side or the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, who issued a statement recently.  Yeah, in the back.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  You mentioned the statement of the United Nation mission on… in Colombia, but is there any specific reaction of SG on the approval of the peace agreement…?

Spokesman:  I think this is something the Secretary‑General would most definitely welcome.  As you know, he was down for the signing of the accord in Cartagena.  This is something he has been deeply involved in, the UN has been deeply involved in.  We are there to help the parties and help the Colombian people on the road back to peace after these decades of conflict.  And we hope to have a bit more of a formal statement later this afternoon.  But there is no doubt that this is something the Secretary‑General welcomes.  Yeah, and then… sorry.

Question:  Hi.  Coming back to Aleppo, I was wondering if you can give us any information about the humanitarian assistance that's been provided to the people that are now on the Government‑controlled areas, in Eastern Aleppo, if you have any numbers, maybe.

Spokesman:  No, I don't have any more details than what I've shared with you, but I'll try to get something from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].

Question:  Yeah.  In Eastern Aleppo, so you… you said in the beginning that the UN went into two neighbourhoods in Eastern Aleppo?  That was today or yesterday?  And…

Spokesman:  There are a couple of things.  Yesterday, an inter‑agency assessment mission reached locations in Eastern Aleppo that were recently retaken by the Syrian Government.  What they saw is that the area was devoid of civilians.  As I said, there were no civilians in where… an area that used to be home to 30,000 civilians.  So going back, I think, to what I had told Linda, this renewed military push has had a negative impact and has forced people to flee.  Today, our Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator, Ali al‑Za'tari, arrived in Aleppo to look at the needs of the newly displaced people who had come from Eastern Aleppo.  So he's arrived in Western Aleppo, taking a look at what those thousands of people who have come in from the east need.

Question:  So they fled or they… or were they killed or both?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, he's taking a look at the needs of those who are alive, who fled.  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  So can I ask you about the Gambia since you said the UN has an office there…

Spokesman:  Yeah, we have a country office there.

Question:  Okay.  So are they monitoring the election at all?  Do they have a role in that?

Spokesman:  We don't have… as far as I know, we do not have an official role in the elections, but obviously, we're watching the developments closely.  Masood?

Question:  On this warning by the CIA chief telling Mr. [Donald] Trump that it will be a folly to destroy the Iranian nuclear deal, what does the Secretary‑General believe that… is it… he's right?  Is this… is the CIA chief right in telling Mr. Trump that?

Spokesman:  It's not about whether or not that person is right or wrong.  I think the Secretary‑General, from the beginning, has expressed his deep support for the Iran deal, which he feels is a major diplomatic achievement and something that is to be welcomed and a deal that needs to be monitored along the lines that were established by the agreement signed between all those involved.

Question:  Can I ask a follow‑up on that?

Spokesman:  As I would expect, you may.

Question:  Thank you.  My follow‑up question is, part of… you know, when you drill down into the details of the… of the deal, one of the items was a delisting of a whole bunch of institutions, entities, individuals from sanctions.  At least one of those is an Iranian bank that's had close links with North Korean companies and banks.  So is the Secretary‑General concerned, given his statement yesterday about all Member States having to fully implement the resolution that was passed yesterday by the Security Council regarding North Korea, that there's an unintended consequence of this nuclear deal with Iran, that… that frees up Iranian institutions and entities that have collaborated with North Korea?

Spokesman:  I think we're sort of… you're trying to bleed one issue into the other.  And I don’t…

Correspondent:  I connect it.

Spokesman:  I'll respond.  I don't completely agree with you.  I think, obviously, the deal… whatever delisting needs to be done by the Security Council is up to the Security Council to be done.  The Iran deal does not in any way, shape, or form exempt Iranian companies or any other companies or any state from following the letter and the spirit of the sanctions… the North Korea sanctions regime.  The Secretary‑General, I think, was very strong and clear in what he said yesterday regarding the need for all to respect the sanctions regime.

Question:  But is it realistic to expect that Iran, which has been collaborating — this has been documented — with North Korea on missile… missile development, as well as the nuclear device technology, is going to fully comply with the implementation of the north… of the resolution of North Korea?  I mean, is there concern on the part of the Secretary‑General of the distinct possibility that Iran will not abide by… by the resolution?

Spokesman:  We expect every Member State to abide by the sanctions regime.  We expect every Member State to ensure that its companies abide by the sanctions regime.  I think what… the sanctions regime currently on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is very targeted and very comprehensive and very detailed, and it needs to be monitored.  And whether it's Iran or any other country, they need to follow up and ensure the respect of the sanctions as voted by the Security Council.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Follow‑up on Myanmar and something on Burundi.  Just on Myanmar, I'm sure you've seen the… the opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal by José Ramos‑Horta, former UN employee, saying the Secretary‑General should go… go to Myanmar and… before his term expires in order to prevent this ethnic cleansing or genocide.  So I wanted to know, what's your response to that… to that recommendation?  And also whether the Secretary‑General or anyone in the UN has spoken to Bangladesh about reports that the fact the border is entirely sealed and those trying to flee the army's violence cannot cross it?

Spokesman:  I do not believe anybody at the Secretary‑General's Office has spoken to the Bangladeshi authorities.  I do believe there has been some contacts from the various funds and programmes and at other levels on the issue regarding the border.  I don't think it's realistic to expect the Secretary‑General will be able to go to Myanmar before the end of his term.  That is not to say that he is extremely worried about the current situation and, I think, as expressed by his Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide or the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  How about his… his… his good offices' envoy?  Is there some… I guess I want to request again… just because the accounts that I heard of what Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar said to the Council was basically give Aung-… give the country time, which some interpreted as basically a hands‑off policy…

Spokesman:  I don't think… I don't think… I think it is… the authorities in the country need to live up to their responsibilities, and we need to make sure that happens.  I don't think anyone here is taking a hands‑off policy.

Question:  And just I wanted to ask… on Burundi, I'd meant… there's been… as you may know, there's an attack on the presidential adviser, Willy Nyamitwe.  And it's unclear sort of who did it.  They accused Rwanda.  There are pictures circulating today saying this was an intra‑government thing by General Bunyoni's forces.  Is the UN itself looking into who attacked him?

Spokesman:  We have no way of knowing who may have committed the attack, but, obviously, regardless of who may have committed it, is something we condemn, as we condemn all forms of violence, especially political violence.

Question:  And did you… one last thing.

Spokesman:  One last thing.

Question:  Yeah.  I wanted to know, I'd asked, I guess, two days ago, there's a widely, at least in Burundi, reported letter by the opposition to the Secretary‑General saying that… that the Mkapa/Museveni process has not worked at all.  Today, [Benjamin] Mkapa put out another statement.  I just wanted to make sure that the Secretariat has, in fact, received a request that that process be superseded.  Is that…

Spokesman:  I will check.  I will go get our guests, and we'll be right back.

For information media. Not an official record.