The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
The Secretary-General arrived earlier today in Vienna for what is likely be his last overseas trip before he leaves office at the end of this month.
The Secretary-General was hosted for a working lunch by the Foreign Minister of Austria, Sebastian Kurz. Following the lunch, the Secretary-General and Foreign Minister Kurz held a joint press encounter. The Secretary-General said that they had discussed the cooperation between the UN and Austria in addressing some of the most pressing issues on the international agenda, including the large movement of refugees and migrants.
Asked about the situation in Syria, the Secretary-General said that what we have seen happening in eastern Aleppo is heart-breaking. He said that the parties have not allowed for a lasting cessation of hostilities to take hold, which has made it very difficult for the UN to bring in humanitarian assistance. He reiterated the importance of a sustainable cessation of hostilities.
While at the Foreign Ministry, the Secretary-General also had a courtesy call with the President-elect of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen. In addition, the Secretary-General also had a separate meeting with his Special Envoy on Youth Employment, Walter [Werner] Faymann.
Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General met with Federal Chancellor Christian Kern, as well as a brief meeting with the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl. A short while ago, the Secretary-General was at the Vienna International Centre, the UN’s home in Vienna, to bid farewell to the United Nations staff in Vienna. He said he was proud of their work and commitment to peace, security and development.
François Lonseny Fall, the Acting Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), briefed the Security Council this morning.
Regarding the Central African Republic, he said that while enormous challenges remain, the Government has made important progress by engaging with the armed groups through a formal framework.
Mr. Lounceny Fall also said that the collective efforts of the Lake Chad Basin countries against Boko Haram have resulted in substantial military and security successes, but stressed that available resources are insufficient to finance the operations and to effectively support humanitarian and early recovery activities.
He also emphasized the continuing threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army and of piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea on the peace and stability of the region. His remarks are available in our office.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Yesterday, we issued the following statement: the Secretary-General welcomes the announcement of the continuation of the mediation led by the Conférence épiscopale des églises du Congo, or CENCO, to achieve a more inclusive consensus on the holding of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He takes note of President Kabila's expressed support and encouragement to CENCO's mediation, and of the stated readiness of The Rassemblement opposition platform to remain engaged in dialogue.
The Secretary-General expresses his support for the mediation led by CENCO. He calls on all political actors in the DRC to recommit themselves to this mediation.
Less than two weeks before the end of President Kabila's second and final term in office, the Secretary-General underlines the need to pursue, in earnest, this Congolese-owned process to reach a consensual and peaceful solution to the current impasse.
The UN remains deeply concerned about the safety, protection and well-being of civilians in Aleppo, particularly those still trapped in the besieged enclave of eastern Aleppo, including humanitarian workers, as the fighting has dramatically spread and intensified in the last 24 hours, leading to deaths and injuries of dozens of people in eastern Aleppo and western Aleppo.
The UN has received reports of more civilians displaced, including an estimated 800 people from east Aleppo who arrived at the cotton factory site in Jibreen yesterday and more than 1,200 people who arrived in Hanano, a neighbourhood that has been retaken by the Government. The overall number of displaced people remains extremely difficult to gauge at this time, as the UN does not have verifiable information about new displacements and people continue to arrive and leave existing shelters and lodge with family members.
The UN is following the situation closely and providing assistance to all those fleeing eastern Aleppo city, wherever they are displaced to — as long as we have access. However, the UN and partners have not had access to the besieged part of Aleppo city for several months.
The UN is also increasing emergency preparedness in the event of further displacement, with food and current supplies available in west Aleppo, with more supplies that could be brought in quickly from Damascus, Homs, and Tartous. It is critical that wounded and sick people are urgently cared for, and that all necessary measures are taken by the parties to spare civilians in accordance with international law.
Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that internal displacement in the context of the Mosul offensive has reached nearly 84,000 people. Most of the displacement in the last week has happened in areas east of Mosul city, with most families moving eastwards towards the camps in the Hamdaniya district.
A new emergency site was opened yesterday at Qayyarah Airstrip in Al Qayyarah district, receiving more than 600 people. New arrivals to this site are expected in the coming days.
As many as one million people are estimated to remain out of reach of humanitarian assistance in Mosul because of ongoing hostilities. The humanitarian community is extremely concerned for their safety and food and water shortages continue to be reported.
Trauma injuries among civilians are increasing. Between 28 November and 4 December, 410 injuries were reported, mainly from gunshots, mines, shelling and mortar fire. That is a seven-fold increase from the previous week.
Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), provided a briefing to the ad hoc committee of the General Assembly by videoconference from the Gaza Strip, to inform them that his agency still lacks $37 million for this year’s budget. He expressed hope that this gap will be overcome in the next few days.
Mr. Krähenbühl said that next year’s UNRWA Programme Budget will have to rise, by about 5 per cent to $715 million, simply to preserve the Agency’s operations at their current level. He estimated that the gap projected between income and expenditures in 2017 will be $115 million.
The world cannot afford to abandon Palestine refugees, the Commissioner-General said. The stakes are too high. Pending a just solution to their plight in accordance with UN resolutions and international law, he said, we must act decisively to uphold their rights, dignity and the quality of UNRWA services.
His remarks are available online.
In a new report, the UN Human Rights Office stresses the urgent need to address the continuing plight and pain of families torn apart on the Korean Peninsula, especially due to the advanced age of many of the victims.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that the emotional, psychological, social and economic toll of involuntary separation persists to this day, as people continue to search for the truth and for contact with their loved ones.
The new report includes powerful testimonies from mostly elderly victims. It looks at the way families have been separated since the Korean War through displacement, enforced disappearance and abduction, and also as a result of individuals fleeing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The High Commissioner said that these people are not just statistics — they are not a faceless mass of victims caught up in the sweep of history.
You can read the full report on the UN Human Rights Office’s website.
Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are closely monitoring the impact of the earthquake in Indonesia, which national authorities say has killed more than 90 people.
No official request for assistance has been made at this point, but the United Nations stands ready to support Indonesia as required.
In Haiti, the Food and Agriculture Organization has begun emergency distributions of seeds and tools to help disaster-affected families produce food and restore livelihoods.
Hurricane Matthew struck during Haiti's second main harvest time, causing losses to agriculture of $580 million and striking a major blow to the country's food security.
Family farming — a primary food source for most Haitians — took an especially heavy blow in the hurricane which wiped out 90 per cent of the country's harvest.
Some 1.4 million people are in need of food assistance and out of this number, some 600,000 base their livelihood exclusively on agriculture.
More details on FAO’s website.
**Republic Of Korea
I was asked earlier today about Korean political issues involving the Secretary-General.
As has been repeatedly said, the Secretary-General is fully focused on his UN responsibilities until the end of his mandate. Come mid-January, after his return to Korea as a private citizen, he will listen and consider what is the best way to contribute to Korean society.
Recently, there have been some reports about groups and individuals in the Republic of Korea claiming to speak or act on his behalf in the context of Korean politics. I want to be clear: the Secretary-General has nothing to do with any of them and they cannot claim to speak or act for him.
And I just wanted to inform you that the date of the Secretary-General’s year-end press conference has changed by one day. We had earlier said it would be on 15 December, which is next Thursday. It will now take place on Friday, 16 December, from 11:30 am to noon. That's it for me. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the SG's office plan to release a statement on the most unfortunate passing of highly esteemed diplomat Sana Maboneza from the Mission of Rwanda? And also, when the SG returns from Vienna, does he plan on signing the condolence book at the Rwanda Mission?
Deputy Spokesman: We are aware of the death of our Rwandan colleague and we're very sorry for that. We express our sorrow to his, to his family and to the people and the Government of Rwanda.
Beyond that, of course, if there's a condolence book open, presumably that will be signed at some point. We'll have to check with the mission of Rwanda what they intend to do on that. But, of course, we're sorry to hear this latest news.
Question: Sure. Ask about… in South Sudan, there's… there's a… pretty serious reports of fighting in Yei, where the Government is saying that there… seems that there was some sort of an attack by SPLA in Opposition. The Government is saying it's just criminals, but I wanted to know whether UNMISS can provide some clarity and also if UNMISS has any comment on the Government deporting AP reporter Justin Lynch, which happened yesterday, and was somebody who was obviously reporting on these topics. What's the UN's response to that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the latter question, we don't have confirmation from the UN Mission, UNMISS, but we are aware of the reports, including from the Associated Press, that, that their reporter has been excluded.
Obviously, we believe that all reporters have to be allowed to go about their work without interference or without hindrance. We've raised up several times in recent weeks our concerns about the treatment of media in South Sudan, and we reiterate that in this case.
Regarding the fighting in Yei, I don't have any details at present from the Mission, but we'll check with them whether they have anything.
Question: And can I ask just one… just because it's related. In Burundi yesterday, the Parliament took up the issue of further crackdown on media, including some… Humura Radio, which was set up after the four radio houses were shut down and only the pro-Government ones allowed to reopen.
They're basically trying to now shut down an Internet radio station, which it's unclear how they would do it, but, I wanted to know, given that the UN has a presence there, and this was… it doesn't seem hard to confirm since it happened in the parliament that this discussion took place, what is the UN's response to this ramping up of censorship?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as with the question in South Sudan, the basic point is we want all media to be able to go about their work freely and without any hindrance. Any efforts to block or curtail media access is a matter of concern, and we want that to be looked at extremely carefully by all those with power in Burundi.
Yes. Did you have your hand raised or no? Okay. Yes, you then.
Question: Good afternoon. There's a letter from DFID and the European Commission Humanitarian Office. It expresses concern about the situation in the northeast Nigeria. It says that it is concerned that some of the UN agencies have not been able to demonstrate a capacity to deliver, you know, at scale. It also says that, expressed concern about the high turnover in UN leadership position in Nigeria's northeast. So I don't know whether the UN is in receipt of the letter, and what is its response?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, well, the basic point from, from us is that we are trying to provide a proper humanitarian response for the needs of Nigeria. You've heard a number of officials, including our colleague, Toby Lanzer, brief you about the nature of the humanitarian problems in Nigeria. We have a Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria for the year 2017, which was developed in close consultation with the Government of Nigeria, and that seeks more than a billion dollars to address the needs of those in crisis in the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
And we have 75 partners ready, partner groups ready, to respond to those needs where access allows. And so our humanitarian response plan is designed to address the needs of almost 7 million people who are in dire need of nutrition, food, shelter, health, education, protection and water and sanitation needs.
Yes, Stefano. Now you, and then Linda.
Question: Yes, there's going to be a report from CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, that is going to say that this year, since 1990, is the year that has been more journalists than have imprisoned. They're going to put all the list of the countries and so on.
Does the Secretary‑General, is going to have a reaction about these… these that is for sure is news that this year is going to… is the most…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we ourselves have expressed our concerns, including just seconds ago in response to some, some of your colleagues' questions, about treatment of journalists in specific circumstances. Obviously, it's clear that, in a number countries, there's been a growing number of restrictions.
The Secretary‑General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the head of UNESCO, our, our main body dealing with journalists' rights, have all raised concerns about these growing restrictions. It's an extremely worrying trend.
Ultimately, healthy societies need healthy, independent, free media to go about their work without restrictions. Any effort to curtail media rights is part of an overall effort to, to curtail the rights of people in general, to curtail their rights to get information, to understand about the situations that they're in. And that cannot be allowed to continue.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. This question is basically sort of housekeeping in terms of the SG and the SG‑elect. I believe that Secretary‑General Ban will be leaving New York in mid‑January. So my question was, will he be staying around the UN, you know, from January 1st to January 15th, in terms of conferring with Guterres, or will he be going about his business, travelling, etc.?
Deputy Spokesman: The impression I've gotten from the Secretary‑General is, come January 1st, he will initially take a well‑deserved rest. He's had an event‑filled decade in office, and he wants to have a little bit of time for relaxation.
I don't know where his precise whereabouts will be, but I think we made it clear that his intention is to return to the Republic of Korea in the middle of January, so he will probably be available on hand. And, of course, he's contactable by the Secretary‑General‑designate and his team for whatever advice is needed, as was the case ten years ago when he came into office and needed some information of his own.
And of course, at this point, the officials of the existing team have been providing as much relevant information as can be provided to the transition team as they go about their work.
Question: Yeah. I wanted to ask about Yemen, but just one follow‑up on that. When is he actually moving out of the UN residence?
Deputy Spokesman: I…
Question: January 1st?
Deputy Spokesman: It ceases to be his residence at the end of this month. I believe he's making his own, his own arrangements.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Olga.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There is a joint statement from the leaders of the United States, Canada and Great Britain, Germany and other EU countries on Aleppo saying that they are… countries are ready to consider new restrictive measures on, for those who support Bashar al‑Assad in Syria. So just the question, if Secretary‑General thinks the new restrictive measures will help to improve the situation on the ground.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we've made clear what our own priorities are. In order for the situation on the ground to improve, there needs to be a lasting, sustainable cessation of hostilities, as the Secretary‑General himself said from Vienna earlier today.
Any particular pressure that can be brought to bear on the parties to make sure that there will be such a cessation of hostilities would be a step forward. How that is to be accomplished, as you know, different parties have tried different means, but nothing has succeeded so far, and we need a step forward.
By the way, I'd been asked earlier today by one of your colleagues about an arrest in Egypt, and I do have something to say in response to that question, which is this: the Secretary‑General is concerned by the reported arrest of Ms. Azza Soliman, a prominent human rights lawyer and founder of the Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Aid, in Cairo this morning. This is the latest manifestation of the progressive closing of space for the public exchange of views in Egypt. The Secretary‑General underscores the important role that civil society and NGOs play in assisting governments to meet both developmental and civic objectives.
Yeah. You had a question on Yemen?
Question: I do. Yes. As I'm sure you've seen, President Hadi has rejected the envoy's most recent proposal in a letter to the Security Council. And it seems like almost everybody else, even Member States like Saudi Arabia, are, have said that they support this roadmap. US and UK have both said it.
So it seems like the… the… the… I guess what I'm wondering is, what… does the Secretary‑General… I know you're saying this is his last trip. Does he have any idea… does he have any intention to try to speak… it seems like, in the same way that it was presented at one time in Syria, that the blockage here seems to be an individual as opposed to, like… does the Secretary‑General stand behind the roadmap? And does he intend to speak to President Hadi about the… the continuing bombing that will take place if he, in fact, rejects this roadmap?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General continues to support the work of his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and of the roadmap that Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed is presenting to parties.
We're aware of the remarks from President Hadi's side. And, of course, we're aware from past experiences with many diplomatic processes that many times things are said that could be interpreted as a way to influence or shape a process of negotiations as it proceeds.
Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been in touch with the parties. He will continue to be in touch with the parties, and he will continue to work to make sure that all sides agree to a roadmap out of this crisis.
Question: I know the Secretary‑General met with President Hadi, I guess, in September. I saw their meeting upstairs. But has he spoken to him since, since September?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe he's been in contact with different officials in Yemen. And, of course, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met President Hadi very recently, just about a week or so ago, I think.
Question: Okay. And could I… there's a… in… in Congress, in the House of Representatives on Monday, there was a… the House version of a bill, the Department of State Authorization Act was passed. And the reason I'm asking you is it now contains a provision having to do with the UN… well, the Secretary of State would be required to report on the UN's hiring of Americans. So obviously, the pressure… I'm tying it to the press conference that was given here yesterday about how much the UN is… is impacting employment and the economy of New York.
Are you aware of that provision? And can you provide some description of how… how the… the… the… on this economic front, on this wider nationwide and even worldwide, how the UN… how its employment practises work?
Deputy Spokesman: Our employment practises work insofar as we hire people from each and every country. Regarding this particular legislation, as you know, we don't comment on domestic legislation as it's being crafted. Provisions come in, provisions go out. We won't have anything to say about that. But I would refer you back to what Penny Abeywardena said yesterday in her role as the New York City Commissioner for International Affairs about the more than $3.3 billion, I believe it was…
Correspondent: Those were the numbers she said.
Deputy Spokesman: …that is contributed by the United Nations to the local economy.
Question: Could I ask just one… because there was… she also said… I asked her whether the UN is subject to New York City health rules like on Legionnaires' disease and on self‑inspection, and she sort of said, oh, we work very closely, the UN basically kind of philosophically accepts all of these things even if it's not legally required.
So I'd wanted to know, one, things like the First Amendment, as to the freedom of the press or due process, is there… can you say that the UN is… is… is accepting, in the same way she described as Legionnaires' disease and health regulations, of freedom of the press and due process provisions of its host country?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not about the laws of the host country. Of course, the UN also upholds the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as you know, that includes the freedom of the media, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and many other key rights.
Have a great afternoon.