The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
In a statement today, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) expressed profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO. She said that after receiving official notification by the United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. She cited the many common goals shared by UNESCO and the United States. At a time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, Ms. Bokova said, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.
She added that UNESCO will continue to work for the universality of this Organization, for the values we share, for the objectives we hold in common, to strengthen a more effective multilateral order and a more peaceful, more just world. I would like to add that the Secretary-General deeply regrets the US withdrawal, in light of the major role that the US has played in UNESCO since its founding.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Sandra Honoré, gave her last briefing to the Security Council before the end of the Mission this weekend. She said that, 13 and a half years after MINUSTAH was established, Haiti has a very different outlook, despite the many challenges still facing the country: the Haitian people enjoy a considerable degree of security and greater stability; political violence has diminished considerably; and armed gangs no longer hold the population hostage, also thanks to the work of the national police, now 14,000 agents strong. However, she stressed that those achievements, while significant, are only initial steps. The most urgent task confronting Haiti today is to ensure the conditions for continued stability, thereby enabling long-term socioeconomic development.
Ms. Honoré said the new [United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti], MINUJUSTH, which becomes operational in four days from now, stands ready to play an effective role, alongside the UN country team. She also stressed that the UN will continue to make every effort to assist the Government in alleviating the suffering caused by the cholera epidemic. Finally, Ms. Honoré said it has been an honour to serve under the flag of the United Nations and to support Haiti and the Haitian people in the creation of conditions which ultimately allowed the Council to decide on the closure of MINUSTAH. She will be at the stakeout once the meeting is over and that should take place just a few minutes from now.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, will visit Myanmar from 13 to 17 October. Following the Secretary-General’s repeated calls for an end to the military operations and violence in northern Rakhine State; unfettered access for humanitarian support; and the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees to their areas of origin, Mr. Feltman will be undertaking consultations with a view to addressing these urgent issues in close cooperation with Myanmar. His discussions will also focus on building a constructive partnership between Myanmar and the United Nations to tackle the underlying issues affecting all communities in the areas concerned.
UN humanitarian agencies report that, as of yesterday, the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since late August has reached 536,000, with 14,000 people having crossed the border in the past two days. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government of Bangladesh agreed yesterday to quickly construct 10,000 latrines in camps and settlements for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar to avert a major disease outbreak. Each latrine will cost just under $150 and they will provide sanitation coverage to some 250,000 people. UNICEF says there have already been reports of water-borne diseases in the camps, stressing the need to enhance sanitation coverage.
Our colleagues from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today released a report which found that civilian deaths and injuries in the country remained near record high levels during the first nine months of this year. The Mission documented 2,640 deaths and 5,379 wounded people during 2017, which represents a 1 per cent increase in deaths and a 9 per cent decrease in the number of wounded from the same period last year. The report is available online.
UNICEF has received reports that ongoing violence in Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria has destroyed a UNICEF-sponsored vaccine cold room in Al-Mayadin district, with at least 140,000 doses of vaccines lost, including some planned for the ongoing vaccination drive in the area. UNICEF is currently verifying this alarming report. The reported attack is likely to hamper efforts to protect children from diseases. Al-Mayadin is the centre of an outbreak of vaccine-derived polio which has so far paralysed 48 children since March. Our humanitarian colleagues also received reports that airstrikes in Al-Qouriyeh city in eastern rural Deir ez-Zour yesterday reportedly killed at least 20 people, wounded many others and damaged a mosque.
With today marking one year since the start of the military campaign to retake Mosul from Da’esh, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, says that, of the 1 million people who fled the city, some 673,000 are still displaced from their homes. She noted that the number of people who fled exceeded the worst-case projections of aid workers. While a vast majority of people have returned to their homes in eastern Mosul, conditions in the western part of the city are very difficult. Also on Iraq, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs led a joint mission to the recently retaken Hawija district to assess the needs of people who remained in the area during the military offensive. The mission found that the most acute needs are water; sanitation and hygiene; and medical assistance.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the peaceful holding of the presidential and House of Representatives elections in Liberia on 10 October and congratulated the people of Liberia who turned out enthusiastically in high numbers to vote. The Secretary-General reiterates the continued support of the United Nations to the consolidation of peace and democracy in Liberia. The full statement is online.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General will travel tomorrow for one day to Washington, D.C., to participate in the World Bank/International Monetary Fund Annual Meetings. She will attend the Ministerial Luncheon on Sustainable Development Goals and will deliver remarks at the high-level event entitled “After the storm: recovery and resilience in the Caribbean”. She will also have bilateral meetings with high-level Government officials and with senior officers from the World Bank.
Today, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change announced the winners of this year’s UN Momentum for Change Climate Solutions Awards, which seeks to shine a light on innovative, scalable and practical examples of what people across the globe are doing to combat climate change. This year’s winners include a women-led eco-fashion business in Italy, an ICT [information and communication technology] tool that helps farmers in Latin America analyse weather data, and a “green credit card” that rewards users in the Republic of Korea for environmentally friendly activities, such as using public transport and saving electricity. There is more information on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website.
I also want to flag that the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, today appointed Ms Elizabeth Iro as the Chief Nursing Officer at WHO. Ms. Iro is a registered nurse, and the Cook Islands’ current Secretary of Health. With this announcement, Dr. Tedros fulfils a commitment he made during his transition to the Director-General role to appoint a nurse to his senior team. More details about this are available on the World Health Organization’s website.
For press conferences: tomorrow at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Jens Modvig, Chair of the Committee against Torture; along with Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Evelyn?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Thank you, Farhan. Do you have more details on Mr. Feltman's visit? Is he going to Rakhine? And who's he meeting with?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, these are the details that we have. We'll try to provide some more once he's on the ground, and we'll give you some updates about his meetings. Yes?
Question: Same… same… on the same topic, I… you know, the… so now it's said that… that Renata Lok‑Dessallien is leaving by the end of October. Having… since the Secretary‑General so recently said he fully supports her, what's the connection between that and what seemed to be a… has a replacement been named? What explains her leaving at this time? Is it Mr. Feltman's mandate to… to get the Government to… to accept a particular replacement, to accept an Assistant Secretary‑General? And… and what changed between the… the announcement by the Secretary‑General that he fully supported her and her decision now to leave by the end of the month?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we had announced, even as early as the spring at this very briefing, that we expected to rotate Ms. Lok‑Dessallien over the course of this year, and we've been trying to make the appropriate arrangements. We are now closer to that stage. She has been there for 3 years and 10 months, which is actually a fairly long time for her to be in one position. And the Secretary‑General, of course, continues to support her fully while she goes about her job. But, at some point, she will be back at a different posting, and so her time is ending. And the regular rotation of that position will go on.
Question: But when you… when you say… when you say you're closer to it, has… has… does the UN have a candidate that… that Mr. Feltman will be arguing for? And also, I guess it just seems like, if the reason to not have moved her out in June was that there was no replacement in place, there's still not a replacement in place. So, what changed?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there are times when we announce our replacements. We'll… you'll know it when we announce it, and we should announce it at some point. Yes, in the back.
Question: Yeah. You did talk about Liberia and elections. I wanted to find out if there's already a winner. And if there's none, is the UN on standby should there be… should there be an issue that needs to be dealt with? Because, last I checked, there's… there's… they're running neck and neck with George Weah and the former Vice-President of the country. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, there's no confirmation from the electoral bodies on the ground of who has won that election. We will, of course, continue to monitor developments on the ground. We trust and expect that all parties, if they have any problems with the course of the electoral process, would channel their objections through the electoral system. Yes?
Question: Farhan, concerning the US withdrawal from UNESCO, what can you tell us about what this says about the state of relationships between the US and the UN? The Secretary‑General invested a lot of personal energy in trying to keep it stable, and basically, they're… they're walking out of UNESCO.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, the Secretary‑General does deeply regret this decision to withdraw from UNESCO. At the same time, of course, we interact with the United States very productively on a range of issues, through a range of organizations, and we'll continue to do that. The US and the United Nations have always had a deep and complex relationship spanning the work of dozens of UN organizations and entities. Obviously, as with other Member States, there are times when there may be differences on this or that issue, but the Secretary‑General, as you've seen, works well with the Government of the US and will continue to interact with them in an effort to make sure that we can continue to achieve our common goals. Yes?
Question: Farhan, about developments in Iraq, yesterday, Wednesday, Kurdish authorities said that they feared an Iraqi forces and the allied Shiite militias will launch an assault on Kurdistan region. Basically, in the last 24 hours, the situation was very tense. Iraq was on brink of another war. Does the Secretary‑General has anything else to say or do, other than the usual call for calm?
Deputy Spokesman: Right now, as you're well aware, we have our officials, including our Special Representative there, Ján Kubiš, who are dealing with the parties. We continue to stress the need to resolve all issues through structured dialogue and constructive compromise. We do continue to expect that the calm that has prevailed will continue to prevail, and we are working with all sides to ensure that it does so. Yes?
Question: Stéphane [sic], on Syria, does the Secretary‑General have a view on whether the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism] should continue its work past its… that its mandate should be renewed, which comes to term in November?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the decision on the mandate is one that's up to the Member States as a Security Council. And we'll leave it in their hands. Obviously, the Joint [Investigative] Mechanism has been going about its work. I believe that they will brief the Security Council… Mr. [Edmond] Mulet will brief the Security Council sometime over the next week or so about the work that they're doing, and you will probably have an opportunity to talk to him then about their work. As far as I'm aware, there are some concerns that they are still trying to address, but it's up to the members of Council to make sure that they can go about all their mandated tasks. Yes?
Question: Sorry, question on Myanmar. Can you tell me why the resident coordinator is ending her term… I understand she's been there a long time… before a replacement is named? We're not… we're very close to the end of the month. Will there be somebody in place replacing her?
Deputy Spokesman: We expect that we will have a replacement in line, obviously, but… because that, of course, is the nature of the rotation process. This is something that we've been trying to achieve for some months, as we first mentioned in the springtime, that we were going to be undergoing this rotation. She's stayed past that point, and, of course, we've supported the work that she has been doing and continues to do. But, at some point, yes, there's going to be a transition, as we had previously said.
Question: Will the transition be in place by the time she leaves?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, let's see, but we'll make an announcement once we can announce the replacement. I don't have that announcement ready just yet. Yes?
Question: I understand you don't have a name yet on that, but does the Secretary‑General believe that it should be at the Assistant Secretary‑General level… General level as proposed? And does he have any view whether, in retrospect, the ending of the mandate of… was… was then Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar… was well timed in terms of the UN system? I understand that was a Member State decision, but given what's happened since, what is… what has he learned in terms of UN reform about that decision?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, as you yourself pointed out, this was a decision taken by Member States. We respect that decision. We're going to continue to do our work on Myanmar. And, as you see, we raised it up at high levels regardless. The Secretary‑General himself, as you know, has taken this up, including directly with the Security Council. So, we're continuing to express what our concerns are, even without that position in place. And of course, regarding Ms. Lok‑Dessallien, this is, like I said, an effort that's been under way for some time now. Yes?
Question: Yes. My question is about Turkey. The visa crisis between Turkey and the United States has been increasing. So, the… does the UN has been affected by that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, we've been continuing our functions in Turkey without any effect caused by this particular issue. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, Stéphane [Dujarric] had made sort of a mention of a… of a new sexual abuse and exploitation case in [the Central African Republic]. But, as you… as you may know, Amnesty International has said publicly that they've interviewed a 19‑year‑old woman who says that she was both drugged and then raped by UN peacekeepers in Bambari in [the Central African Republic]. And it's a very detailed account. She was on her way to a funeral. She was offered tea. She woke up naked and having been raped. And I'm just wondering, what steps has the UN taken with regard to the peacekeeper at issue or other peacekeepers in this case?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, yes, we were provided with information that members of one contingent sexually abused a 16‑year‑old girl on… not a 19‑year‑old girl, by the way. The information we have is that she's 16… on 30 September. As of 10 October, which is Tuesday, the [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] (MINUSCA) informed the relevant country through official channels from the Department of Field Support for further investigation and action. And what we're expecting is we've requested that… normally, a Member State has up to 10 working days to respond to the UN about whether it will investigate the matter through the appointment of a national investigation officer, and we've requested that this be expedited to five days. So, we're awaiting a reply.
Question: And is the Member State at issue Mauritania?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, yes, it is.
Question: Farhan, on Iran, other than the nuclear deal, there's… right now, as you know, there's a debate especially between the US and the European Union, members of the European Union, about whether to be more critical of the human rights records in Iran. Where does Secretary‑General stands in this… in this debate when it comes to human rights records in Iran?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding human rights, obviously, all States need to have their records closely examined. That includes Iran, but it includes all other countries, as well. We want to make sure that, if there are human rights problems in a country, all the nations have to go through a process of reviewing them so that their records will be improved. Yes?
Question: Is the UN monitoring the political situation in Kenya? There's been a massive crackdown of protesters there. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Yes, we have been. I mean, we're continuing to follow this situation closely on the ground. Along that line… along those lines, we would like to stress the importance of dialogue among the political actors in Kenya, and it's critical that all political stakeholders send clear message of peace and restraint to their supporters. And of course, that would also entail that the security forces in the country abide by that. Yes?
Question: Any… any comment on [Raila] Odinga having pulled out of the second election? Is anyone asking him from the UN to reconsider or what?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, we would like to stress the importance of dialogue among all the political actors in Kenya, and that also includes in reference to the actions taken by Mr. Odinga. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about Cameroon. Stéphane has said a couple times that Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall is… he's definitely going. The Government has welcomed it. It's just a matter of days. Yesterday, I spoke to the Permanent Representative of Cameroon, Tommo Monthe, and he said: “Why should he visit Cameroon?” So, I'm just wondering, have you gotten… has… has… one, has the UN spoken with the Cameroonian mission here in New York? Because they don't, at least according to that, seem to be on board with the visit. And two, when will the visit take place? And will it include the Anglophone areas?
Deputy Spokesman: We are in touch with the Cameroonian authorities about a visit. They have agreed in principle to that, and we're working out the dates and arrangements.
Question: Do you think, because there… there… there are commemorations of the 1 October killings scheduled for this Sunday, 14 October… is… does he intend to go before then? Does he… is he aware of the potential for a repeat of what took place on 1 October? Because the… what's alleged now is that people were thrown out of helicopters, that live individuals picked up in the Anglophone areas were flown in helicopters and dropped to their death.
Deputy Spokesman: We want to make sure that all parties respect the rights to freedom of assembly, the rights to freedom of expression and, at the same time, of course, want to make sure that all protest is carried out peacefully. Regarding Mr. Fall's travels, we'll provide further details once we have an announcement to make.
Question: And could I ask something… just a little more bureaucratic, less… it has to do with… on the schedule of the Deputy Secretary‑General today, it has listed in the morning something called an Utstein meeting or an Uts… with UN funds and programmes; DSG will make remarks. One, I wanted to know if we can get the remarks. Two, what is an Utstein? I wasn't… it seemed to be kind of a term of art that we're supposed to understand. I'm not sure what it is. And thirdly, I'm wondering, again, if, for the Deputy Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General, you can make the same change that the PGA [President of the General Assembly], Brenden Varma, or, you know, the PGA himself made, which is to archive the daily schedule, just leave it up so it can be searched going back and doesn't disappear at the end of the day so you can sort of find out who he's been meeting with and what's been going on? Is there a reason not to do that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, there's a technical reason. It's difficult to add more buttons technically and more functions technically to our sites. If we can do it easily, we will do it. Otherwise, we do have paper records if you need those. And beyond that…
Question: How about the Utstein business?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware what an Utstein meeting is either. It's… there are many, many, many more bureaucratic phrases at the UN than one can possibly comprehend over the course of a lifetime. [He later said that an Utstein meeting was a meeting between UN agencies and donor countries.]
Question: Is there a way to get those remarks and also for some… maybe I just didn't get it, but the Secretary‑General… well, the presentation that was made to the Budget Committee yesterday, is there a way to actually or… and/or even the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] one, if these are presentations having to do with UN reform, is there a way to actually get what the… what the proposal is?
Deputy Spokesman: I think some of them are posted online. So, you can find them on our website. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
Question: Can you confirm a North Korean was appointed to a low‑level spot in DPA [Department of Political Affairs]?
Deputy Spokesman: No.