The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General as you know is in the Philippines today, where he addressed the ninth Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)‑UN Summit. He called on ASEAN’s leaders to strengthen resilience and reduce the risk posed by climate change and other natural disasters, and he commended the 4,500 military personnel, police and civilians from eight ASEAN countries who are serving in UN peacekeeping missions around the world.
The Secretary-General emphasized the importance of regional cooperation against terrorism and violent extremism, as well as by the recent conflict in Marawi in the Philippines. He said the United Nations stands ready to provide technical support and assistance to ASEAN countries in their efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism, and to combat transnational crimes, drugs and people trafficking, with policies able to protect their civilians with effective law enforcement and respect for human rights.
He also said the dramatic movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh is a worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and a potential source of instability in the region. Beyond the end of the violence, he reiterated his call for unhindered humanitarian access to affected communities; and the right to safe, voluntary and dignified return of those who fled to their places of origin.
The Secretary-General also noted that sustainable and inclusive development is the best way to prevent conflict and violent extremism. As this region powers its way to becoming the world’s fourth largest economy by 2050, we look forward to including millions more in the shared benefits of prosperity, he said.
Today in Manila, he also held a series of bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Laos and Viet Nam, as well as with the President of Indonesia. And we have readouts of those, and as we previously announced, the Secretary-General will continue his meetings tomorrow before flying overnight to Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23).
Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the impact of the blockade is leading to severe shortages of commercial and aid materials reaching the country.
The entire population of Yemen is dependent on food, fuel and medicine imports, primarily through seaports. More than 17 million Yemenis — or more than two thirds of the population — are already food insecure.
Without the import of critical commodities through a lifting of the blockade on all ports, including Hudaydah and Saleef, the situation will deteriorate further. And as a point of reference, the World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that there are 111 days until the current stocks of rice run out and 97 days until the current stocks of wheat run out.
More than two thirds of people in need and more than 80 per cent of all cholera cases are located in the areas closest to Hudaydah and Saleef ports.
Only the al Wadea land crossing in Hadramaut governorate and the Aden seaport are open to commercial imports. However, the port at Aden does not have the capacity for commercial and humanitarian cargo, and unless the Red Sea ports in Hudaydah and Saleef are opened immediately, the UN will not be able to feed 7 million people every month.
**Central African Republic
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) today announced the appointment of Brigadier-General (retired) Fernand Marcel Amoussou (Benin) to lead an independent special investigation into a number of recent incidents in the south‑east of the Central African Republic that occurred from 1 May and 31 August 2017.
The investigation will look into attacks against civilians by armed groups that occurred in close proximity to a UN Mission (MINUSCA) presence in Haute-Kotto, Basse-Kotto, Mbomou, and Haut-Mbomou prefectures, as well as the Mission’s response to these incidents.
DPKO is launching this special investigation in light of recent deterioration of the security situation in the south‑east of the country and with a view of improving the Mission’s ability to prevent violence and protect civilians under imminent threat within its capabilities and areas of deployment. The investigation will make recommendations to address any shortcomings, if applicable, and on the Mission’s overall performance with regard to the protection of civilians, in the context of the Mission’s mandate renewal.
The investigation team will deploy to the Central African Republic from 14 to 28 November, that is starting tomorrow, and a final report will then be presented to the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, and the findings of which will be made public.
Just as a note, retired General Fernand Marcel Amoussou had been the Force Commander of the UN Mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) from 2006‑2010.
Staying on the subject of peacekeeping, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean‑Pierre Lacroix and Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare will be participating in the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial meeting that begins in Vancouver tomorrow. Mr. Lacroix will be representing the Secretary-General. Defence ministers and senior officials from more than 80 countries and organizations will attend this two‑day event to discuss the challenges we face in the field, our current and emerging capability needs and how we can work together with Member States to find solutions.
Among the highlights of this conference is a side event on Mali, which will take place tomorrow on the critical capability gaps that the UN Mission in the country (MINUSMA) is facing and the generation of those key resources. The main day of the conference, Wednesday, kicks off with a session to encourage Member States to mobilize the women, peace, and security agenda within their own military. A female UN peacekeeper will also be honoured with the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. Member States will have an opportunity to announce their pledges for UN peacekeeping on Wednesday. We'll be providing you with daily updates from that Conference.
You will have seen the statement we issued last night expressing the Secretary-General’s sadness at the loss of life and damage following the earthquake that struck the border region of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq on Sunday evening. He conveys his condolences to the bereaved families and to the Governments and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq. He wishes those injured a speedy recovery.
The Secretary-General commended the local response efforts underway. The UN stands ready to assist if required.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said humanitarians’ priority right now is to help local authorities respond as quickly as possible, and our country team in Iran has also been reaching out to local authorities.
This morning, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent an immediate response team and two ambulances to Sulaymaniyah Hospital, the primary hospital in the Iraqi side of the area, along with trauma and surgical kits, and an assessment team has arrived in Darbandikhan, one of the worst-hit areas.
Upon request of the Iraqi Government, a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team is also being dispatched from Geneva. This is a highly specialized team that will help to assess conditions and coordinate the response.
Turning to Syria, a UN/International Committee of the Red Cross/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy delivered life-saving multisectoral assistance, including food, nutrition and health items for [21,500] of the estimated 90,000 people in need in Duma city in besieged East Ghouta of rural Damascus. The area was last reached with inter‑agency humanitarian assistance on 17 August of this year.
Meanwhile, we are concerned about the protection and well-being of civilians in Atareb, rural Aleppo, following reports of infighting between different non‑state armed groups over the past five [days].
Shelling on populated cities and towns in the area is affecting civilian movement, including commercial activities, and it has interrupted humanitarian activities in the area due to the clashes and road blocks. Furthermore, schools have reportedly suspended classes.
Over the weekend in Bonn, at the Climate Change Conference, countries, businesses and civil society organizations showcased examples of climate action on various themes including oceans and forests. Today they will be focusing on financing for climate action.
Some of the commitments that have been made include an Ecuadorean initiative to reduce 15 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the forest sector; a commitment to deforestation-free commodities by Walmart; a new policy by the company Mars Incorporated to reduce their carbon footprint 27 per cent by 2025 and 67 per cent by 2050 through addressing deforestation throughout their corporate value chain; as well as the Gabon National Park Service’s efforts to combat illegal logging.
In addition, the Fiji Presidency of the COP announced an agreement on a Gender Action Plan, highlighting the role of women in climate action, which is subject to adoption at the end of the Conference. More information on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website.
I just want to flag that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, will be heading to El Salvador from 15 to 16 November. That’s the first ever visit by a High Commissioner for Human Rights.
He will hold talks with the President, Foreign Minister, Minister of Justice and Public Security, and other legislators.
The High Commissioner will also meet civil society representatives and human right defenders, and he will attend a ceremony to mark the 28th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter by Government soldiers.
He will then go on to Guatemala for a two-day visit, from 17 to 18 November. There he is expected to meet with the presidents of the Supreme Court of Justice and Constitutional Court, the Foreign Minister, and others. He is also scheduled to meet with human rights defenders, victims and journalists.
Our colleagues at the International Labour Organization (ILO) will host the fourth Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour starting tomorrow in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Conference will address the consolidation of the global commitment to eradicate this practice and government, employer and worker’s representatives will be discussing proposals to develop policies to ensure education for all children and a seamless transition to the labour market.
And I also want to flag that this week is Antibiotic Awareness Week which kicks off today with the theme ‘Learn how to handle antibiotics with care’. As you know, the development of resistance is a big issue. You can find more information about it on the World Health Organization’s website.
Following my briefing, Brenden Varma will be here to brief you.
Shortly after, at 1 p.m., Ambassador Abdallah Y. Al‑Mouallimi, Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, will be briefing you.
Then at 2:30 p.m., there will be a briefing entitled "2018 Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea and the General Assembly resolution Building a peaceful and better world through sport and Olympic ideal and its adoption".
And at 3:15 p.m., Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, Permanent Representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations, will be at the Security Council stakeout for you. That’s why he will be there.
**Questions and Answers
I will now take your questions. Mr. Bays?
Question: Follow‑up question on the statement you read on Yemen. Saudi Arabia has said it's going to ease its blockade, but so far, it's announcing that… or nothing's happened yet, but the areas that it's going to allow aid to go to are areas its Coalition controls, whereas there's no aid going to be allowed for now to the areas the Houthis control. How concerned are you about this, given the grim warning from Mr. [Mark] Lowcock last week?
Spokesman: Well, you know, obviously, we've taken note of the Saudi announcement regarding the humanitarian assistance. For the Secretary‑General, he will continue to insist once more on full and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen as well as a free movement in and out of Yemen for humanitarian workers. I would also add, because I think there were some questions raised, that the Secretary‑General has categorically condemned the attack on Riyadh last week with the missiles, as he does with all indiscriminate attacks on civilians. You know, obviously, we have to wait to see what actually comes into being. What is important for us, as I said, is that the ports that we need access to are the ones where the humanitarian needs are the greatest, and that includes Hudaydah and Saleef seaports. Obviously, we welcome the opening of other ports, but those are the ones that we need. You don't want to get into a situation where the transport of aid is made more complicated by having to cross combat lines and front lines. We see that in… we see the challenges that poses in Syria, and I think, for here, we have the needs that we have. The hum… Yemeni people have the needs that we've talked about at length here, and we need to meet them. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You mentioned that the Secretary‑General condemns this attack on Riyadh, which was intercepted… the rockets was intercepted. And, according to the Saudi sources, it did not result in any damages. However, hardly any day passes in Yemen without a massacre targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure. Does the Secretary‑General condemn each and every one of these massacres?
Spokesman: Nizar, I think you've been at almost every one of my briefings. I think you will have heard each and every condemnation on attacks of… on civilians and civilian infrastructure that takes place in Yemen. I think the fact that we have called those out and we have condemned those is really a fairly easy fact to check.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General calls for any particular action with regard… because these have been repeated almost on daily basis for 2 1/2 years.
Spokesman: We call… we have been calling, we continue to call for a halt to the fighting. We have been calling, we continue to call for a recommitment to the political talks. Civilians and civilian infrastructure, wherever they are, should not be targeted, regardless of who they are, and we've condemned all of those attacks.
Question: Well, should they be referred, for example, to ICC (International Criminal Court) for…
Spokesman: The International Criminal Court is an independent body. What we know is that these attacks need to stop, and our focus right now is on getting the humanitarian aid. I mean, I gave you the… you know, we have a countdown. I mean, according to my colleagues at UF… WFP, 111 days until the wheat… the rice runs out, 97 until the wheat runs out. What we're already seeing is a spike in food prices. We're seeing a spike in fuel prices. The supplies of fuel, the supplies of diesel are not endless. Those two are running low. And I don't think anyone wants to contemplate what happens when the diesel runs out. Trucks don't move. Water pumps don't work. Electrical generators don't work. Mr. Lee. Sorry. Then… go ahead.
Question: Sure. I wanted to… I've been looking closely at this Environmental Investigation Agency report about, among other things, the Deputy Secretary‑General and her role in signing thousands of certificates for rosewood. So, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions. They… they… just because I heard… I… I… I've heard the statement that the Secretary‑General stands behind her, and I wonder, first of all, can you say has he read the whole report?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is fully aware of the report and the accusations therein.
Question: Okay. So I guess my… my question is, they quote directly a… a… a… a member of the… the Wood Experts Association, saying that Chinese businessmen travel to Abuja and paid a minister. They didn't say who the minister is. But so he's very clear that that is… was… is the Deputy Secretary‑General aware of any payments by Chinese businessmen to Nigerian officials involving the export of this rosewood?
Spokesman: Look, what the Deputy Secretary‑General is very clear on, she has never taken any sort of illicit money, and she rejects categorically the accusations herein… to the report. As for any other questions having to do with the functioning of the Federal Government of Nigeria, I would encourage you to ask the Nigerian Government.
Question: Can you see why signing of thousands of certificates right before she came to the UN seems strange? Do you at least acknowledge that? And I have another question. Because in the report, they actually say that much of this wood came from Cameroon. So, I want to ask you directly. When she signed the certificates, what was her understanding of where the… the wood at issue… because she definitely acknowledges signing the certificates and that the wood… there's some dispute of when it left Nigerian shores.
Spokesman: She… I think I would refer you to the statement that we issued. She categorically refutes any claims that she signed illicit or any forged documents. She only dealt with issues having to do with wood coming from Nigeria.
Question: I guess my question is this, is that I see… I've seen… she did… she did an interview, I guess, over the weekend with something called the cable in Nigeria. And she said that she's been asked by… by Chinese… a Chinese journalist about the timing between the certificates and the wood leaving. And so I'm just wondering, what is the… what is the procedure to actually get direct answers to these questions? Is she fielding questions by phone from Chinese journalists? Do we write to you?… How does it work?
Spokesman: First of all, I mean, I don't think it is Spokesman‑like ethics to tell another journalist what contacts others are having. So, that's not what I would get into. I would refer you to the statement that I read out last week, which I think covers your answers. If you have more questions, you can provide them. Yes, ma'am. Sorry and… I'm jumping around here. Go ahead and then I'll come to you.
Question: Stéphane, just to get back to the… to Yemen, the Saudi statement yesterday mentioned an invitation to the UN to send experts to Riyadh. Have you received this…?
Spokesman: Sure, we're aware of the invitation, and we're taking a look at it. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. Also on Yemen, which are the Red Sea ports? Is it Hudaydah or that… that WFP and others say may need?
Spokesman: It's the two that I just read out, Hudaydah and Al Saleef. Yes?
Question: Do you have new information on Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, whether he's under house arrest or not?
Spokesman: No, we have no way to confirm the nature of his presence in Saudi Arabia, whether he's even in Saudi Arabia. Our concern at the situation… the political situation in Lebanon continues. I think everybody would benefit from some clarity. Yes, sir?
Question: Today, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov issued a statement in which he said the militants in Gaza risk a dangerous escalation. He said their reckless actions and statements. So what does he mean by "reckless actions"? And two of the factions issued a strong statement against this statement, accusing Mladenov of being biased, covering for the Israeli occupation. He… he's silent when 12 Palestinians were killed, but when a Palestinian faction said they will take revenge of this action of Israel, he issued this strong… strong statement, calling it reckless actions and…
Spokesman: Okay. What is… Abdelhamid, with all due respect, what is the question?
Question: The question, do you have any comment on the statement issued by two militants against… accusing him of being biased?
Spokesman: I think Mr. Mladenov issued a… you know, I think if we showed you the number of times we also get complaints from the Israeli side, I think no one can accuse Mr. Mladenov of being biased. I think it comes… we get complaints from Palestinians. We get complaints from Israelis about Mr. Mladenov's action. Mr. Mladenov speaks when he feels it is appropriate for him to speak. What we do not want to see is an escalation in violence. I think the agreement to reassert the authority of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza is an important one, and everything should be done to support that.
Question: But he's condemning action. This is my question also. I mean to condemn the reckless statement, one thing, but to condemn the reckless actions, there was no actions on the part of the Palestinian factions.
Spokesman: I will leave my answer as already spoken. Yes, sir?
Question: Sure. I want to ask you about another report, the Small Arms Survey Report. Highly critical of UN peacekeeping for losing or not keeping track of weapons. They say it could basically arm a whole militia. But one of the issues seems to be when issue… when arms are collected through cordon and search or other ones. Does the UN… does the UN acknowledge that there is a problem? Do they disagree with the survey? What steps are being taken to address this?
Spokesman: I think the… our colleagues in peacekeeping have noted the findings of the report. They, obviously, take very seriously the performance of peacekeepers, including any loss of arms or ammunition. You know, I think the… what's regrettable that the report, I think, distorts some… the context as well as the figures and implies that the loss of weapons have a large impact on conflict. I think the percentage of… the loss of weapons in peacekeeping operations are, I think, as we know, very much an exception. The number of weapons that are lost are… is extremely small, far less than half of one per cent of the total amount of weapons and ammunition in circulation around conflict zones, such as Darfur and South Sudan. Where the loss occurs, there are often a consequence of military operations in very challenging conditions, and they occur despite the best efforts of the troops involved. In circumstances where a troop contributor's poor performance is a contributory factor, the UN has done as much to improve performance, working closely with Member States on the training, skills and equipment of peacekeepers. I think the Report itself acknowledges that, despite some shortcomings in the stockpile management and accountability of Contingent Owned Equipment, UN policies and practices are far more advanced than in many other organisations.
Question: I wanted to ask you about one related arms collection question, which is, over the weekend, in Cameroon, in both the northwest and southwest, there was a collection apparently in light of… of… of… of not only armaments, rifles and handguns, but even hoes and cutlasses, it said, basically a total disarmament and… and… impinging on even farming work by people. And I'm wondering, given that François Fall is… calls for a dialogue, what… is the UN aware of this? There are written orders online that you can see telling people to turn all of these things in…
Spokesman: I have nothing on these reports as of now. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Does the SG intend to have a bilateral with the President of the Philippines?
Spokesman: No, there's nothing… I mean, they saw each other at the gala opening. They shook hands, but there's bilateral scheduled, as far as I'm aware.
Question: There's nothing on human rights scheduled?
Spokesman: There's no bilateral, as far as I'm aware. Nizar and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Yeah. Mr. [António] Guterres mentioned on Friday that he is making… doing contacts with leaders in the region regarding the absence of Mr. [Saad] Hariri. When he talks to the Saudis — and, of course, since Friday, probably he has talked to the Saudi authorities — how do they explain the freedom of Mr. Hariri to leave or remain in the country? Do they allow him to leave at his will?
Spokesman: I think… Nizar, I think it's a very good question. I would wait till 1:00 until the Saudi ambassador is here. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. The BBC has uncovered details of a deal that let hundreds of IS fighters, including foreign militants, and their families escape from Raqqah, which is under the gaze of the US, British and the Kurdish groups. What that… doesn't that make mockery of this war on terrorism? Do you have any statement? Are you aware of this report?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the report…
Question: It's from BBC…
Spokesman: I have no… I would be the last person to ever doubt the veracity of a report that you read to me. I'm just saying I haven't read it personally. As to whether or not it makes a mockery of the war on terror, I think, as far as the Secretary‑General is concerned, the whole issue of counter‑terrorism is one that needs to be… look at the bigger picture, not only, obviously, the security aspects of it, but the human rights, the international law, and global development. Thank you.
Question: Mystery ASG (Assistant Secretary-General)? Have you…
Spokesman: No, no, I… it's a good question. I need to go and find… If I can find my mystery ASG. I will leave you with Brenden.