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

15 November 2017

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Climate Change

Good afternoon.  In Bonn today for the high‑level segment of the twenty‑third Conference of the Parties, COP23, the Secretary‑General said that we need more ambition in the fight against climate change, the defining threat of our time.  He identified five ambition action areas.  First, reducing emissions, as 2017 will see the first increase in CO2 emissions in three years, and the window of opportunity to meet the 2°C target may close in 20 years or less.  Second: adaptation and strengthening resilience; the Secretary‑General stressed the catalytic role that the Green Climate Fund can play on this, as well as the role of the insurance industry.  A third action area is finance, as the Secretary‑General recalled that we need to mobilize the agreed $100 billion annually for developing countries.  Upholding this promise is essential for building confidence and trust, he said.  And he added that to meet the Paris [Agreement] goals, we need at least 50 per cent global coverage and a higher price on carbon to drive large‑scale climate action.

The fourth ambition action area is partnerships, the Secretary‑General stressed.  He said that partnerships — with the private sector, local and regional governments and civil society — will make or break efforts to implement the Paris Agreement.  Fifth, we need heights of political leadership.  The Secretary‑General said he could think of no greater way for leaders to show people that they care for the well‑being of their citizens than to claim the mantle of climate leadership, and he asked them to show courage, wisdom and compassion.  In Bonn, the Secretary‑General also held a series of bilateral meetings, including with President Emmanuel Macron of France and China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Affairs, Xie Zhenhua.  Tomorrow, the Secretary‑General will be in London to give a lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London on “Counter‑terrorism and human rights: winning the fight while upholding our values”.


In Vancouver, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, just addressed the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial.  He said that UN peacekeeping is one of the most effective tools available to the international community to respond collectively to challenges of global peace and security.  Since the deployment of the first mission in 1948, he said conflicts, and therefore peacekeeping itself, have evolved and he stressed that we should not be limited by the stricture of past practice.  Twenty‑first century peacekeeping must have an agile and targeted presence, a tighter command structure, and more mobility.  Peacekeepers must be prepared to implement mandates safely and effectively, with the right capabilities for high‑threat environments such as terrorist threats and transnational organized crime, he added.  He also noted that women peacekeepers, troops and police are central to our strategy to protect civilians and engage with communities.  While we have made some progress on reaching our goals for women peacekeepers, he said that most Member States have not met the modest target of 15 per cent female staff officers and military observers.  He also reiterated the need to ensure that we uphold the trust of the population, in particular by enforcing the Secretary‑General’s zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for 12 months and authorized an increase of 900 troops in its troop ceiling, as recommended by the Secretary‑General.  MINUSCA’s new mandate will focus on three priority tasks:  the protection of civilians; enhanced support to the peace process, including national reconciliation, social cohesion and transitional justice; and facilitating the creation of a secure environment for the immediate, full, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The Assistant Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, then briefed the Council on Darfur.  She said that the political process to negotiate the settlement of the conflict with the non‑signatories of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur remains stalled.  At the same time, she noted that armed clashes between the Government and these non‑signatories have subsided.  Ms. Keita said it is evident that Darfur today is different from the time of UNAMID’s [African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] initial deployment, given the overall improvement in terms of security.  However, positive developments have not resulted in the voluntary and sustainable return of internally displaced people and nearly one third of the population in Darfur remains displaced.  Ms. Keita added that this reflects anxiety about security and uncertainty about the occupation of their land, as well as the lack of confidence about their present and future prospects.  Key to this dilemma, she said, is slow progress in addressing critical issues, such as land and other scarce resource management, accountability, and security sector reform.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today called on the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to halt the inflammatory rhetoric against protestors and to ensure that demonstrations across the country today are handled in line with international human rights laws and standards.  Upon publication of the electoral calendar on 5 November, civil society organizations called for nationwide protests to be held today.  The Human Rights Office said that, in response, a number of alarming comments were reportedly made by provincial police inspectors in Goma and Kinshasa.  The High Commissioner called for political leaders at the highest levels to ensure respect for the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the freedom of expression.  He also called on all sides to exercise restraint and to renounce the use of violence.  And the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has urged the authorities to respect freedom of assembly and of demonstration.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of 12 November, there are over 925,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen, with more than 2,200 associated deaths.  Aid workers continue to respond to the outbreak, but warn that fuel to run hospital generators and to pump clean water will run out in less than three weeks.  Vaccines needed to treat diphtheria will also run out in two weeks.  Ships and planes carrying humanitarian supplies have been unable to reach Yemen since the start of the blockade.


We continue to be concerned for the protection and well‑being of civilians in eastern Ghouta, in Syria, as civilians continue to bear the brunt of continued fighting in the past days.  A market in Duma was reportedly hit by an air strike today, with additional air strikes and shelling reported in multiple towns in eastern Ghouta, resulting in civilian casualties.  At the same time, indiscriminate shelling on different residential areas in Damascus was also reported.  Yesterday, a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent/International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) inter‑agency convoy delivered food, water and sanitation, health, education and other relief items for 107,500 people in need in the hard‑to‑reach area of Ar‑Rastan in Homs Governorate.  Solar lamps and some health items were rejected or not approved to be loaded.  The last UN inter‑agency convoy to the hard‑to‑reach area was on 27 August.


Our colleagues at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) tell us that opium production in Afghanistan has jumped to a record level this year, up by 87 per cent compared to 2016.  According to the agency’s latest survey, the area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to a record 328,000 hectares in 2017, up by 63 per cent compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016.  UNODC said the increase in production is mainly a result of an increase in the area under opium poppy cultivation, while an increase in opium yield per hectare also contributed.  The agency also noted that a lack of quality education, scarce employment opportunities, and limited access to financial markets and services, are turning people to opium cultivation, and it called on the Government and the international community to reprioritize drug control in the country.  More information is available on the UNODC website.

**Kids Corridor

In the lead‑up to the sixty‑third World Children’s Day, our colleagues at the Visitors Services have inaugurated this morning a UN Kids Corridor, where tours for 5 to 10‑year‑olds will be conducted.  Alison Smale, Under‑Secretary‑General for Global Communications, gave welcoming remarks surrounded by children from The Montessori “Family School” of Manhattan, who in turn sang a song of peace.  The space, located in the west corridor of the General Assembly Building, mirrors the different stops of the regular tour route in a child‑friendly way.  Wall‑sized world maps, mounted flags of the Security Council’s 15 members, a child‑friendly version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a real‑size refugee tent are part of the new tour area.  You are all more than welcome to visit the new space and bring your children on a tour offered every afternoon.  Please contact Vincenzo Pugliese, Chief of Guided Tours, for further information.  And that is it for me.  After I'm done, you'll hear the dulcet tones of my colleague Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  But, first, are there any questions for me? If not… oh, okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… I have two things.  And I'm sorry.  I'm keeping asking… asking this because I don't feel that it's been answered, so I want to ask you… maybe with a different… maybe you'll get an answer to this one.  The answer is as follows:  It has to do with… I mean, the, quote… so‑called Rosewood Racket and the report that was put out by the Environmental Investigation Agency.  And it's a very detailed report.  And one… and I've read what was put out by the Secretary‑General [sic].  I've read what her interview with the… of the Cab… the Pulse, the Cable.  And what I wanted to ask you is, when she signed these 4,000 certificates, CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna] regulations require that they be filed with the Secretariat of CITES if they are, in fact, retroactive.  And so… it's not answered anywhere.  And I'd like you to either maybe get an answer from her or have her have a press conference when she comes back.  If that was committed to, that would seem to be the way to go.  Were these certificates ever filed with CITES, given the various pronouncements that it's made by this Secretariat about commitment to these regulations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe Stéphane [Dujarric] has already given you the details of where we stand on this.  I don't have anything further to add on this.  If the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, has any actions, we can evaluate it at that time.  But, at this stage, we've said what we've said on terms of her actions.

Question:  But I guess… my question is, he said… I mean, I'm asking a question.  He said, your question is answered by the statement by the Secretary‑General, but it's not answered.  It's a straight, factual question.  Were… she signed the certificates.  Were they, in fact, filed with the CITES Secretariat as required? It's just a yes or no…

Deputy Spokesman:  The Deputy Secretary‑General has made clear that she followed the procedures that were supposed to be followed in what she was doing.

Question:  I have one other… because… and the reason I'm asking you this is because the Resident Representative of the UN in Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, has today issued an interview saying that the whole report is fake news and she's a great person.  She may be a great person, but what I wanted to know is, is he speaking on behalf Amina Mohammed or the UN system when he says this detailed report of… of seeming violations is CITES regulations is fake news?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have to comment for him.  He's offering his personal view.  This is… that's outside of his particular area.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  On Zimbabwe, the situation… political situation is kind of confusing, actually.  Do you have a clear idea about what's going on, who is ruling the country, actually?

Deputy Spokesman:  You're right that the developments are a little bit confusing right now, and we're trying to get the details on this.  The Secretary‑General has been monitoring the evolving situation in Zimbabwe.  He appeals for calm, non‑violence and restraint.  Preservation of fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, is of vital importance.  The Secretary‑General stresses the importance of resolving political differences through peaceful means and dialogue and in line with the country's Constitution.  In this context, he notes the efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions, both on Africa, and actually the first one is follow‑up on Zimbabwe.  There were some reports that after… after replacement of Robert Mugabe, his wife, Grace Mugabe, can possibly be a candidate to lead the country.  Does UN have any information on that? And, also, the chief of opposition, Tendai Biti, called for dialogue with African Union, with United Nations and other international leaders in the region.  Is UN going to engage in such kind of dialogue? And, if yes, when and how?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to speculate what will happen in the future.  At this stage, there's a bit of confusion on the ground.  We are aware that our colleagues in Harare have been able to go about their work, and we're continuing to go about our work and monitor the situation.  At the same time, as I just pointed out, what we do want is for all political differences to be resolved through peaceful means and dialogue.  And, of course, we do note the role of the main regional group, the Southern African Development Community, in that context.

Question:  Of course, I wasn't talking about speculations.  Is there a roadmap in the place or not yet for… for UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  We can see what role we have as matters progress.  At this stage, like I said, we're monitoring the situation.  We're in touch with parties through our office on the ground, and we'll see where we go from there.

Question:  And my second question is on Niger.  Several months ago, there was this horrible altercation between tourists and American troops and Government troops, and four American soldiers were murdered and four Government soldiers were murdered in the village of Tonga Tonga.  And there was an investigation under way.  Is UN partaking somehow in this investigation? And do you have any further information? Is anything being done to stabilise the situation in general?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the investigation you're referring to is being conducted by the United States, and it's not one for the United Nations to play a part in.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I want to ask about Iraq.  Today, Mr. [Ján] Kubiš had a meeting with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  And, after the meeting, the Prime Minister's office issued a statement that Mr. Kubis handed the Prime Minister a letter from Secretary‑General that encouraged the dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.  Can you tell me more about that letter from the Secretary‑General to Kurdistan region of Iraq?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't have any details.  If there's anything to share about our diplomatic correspondences, I'll let you know.  Of course, you're aware of the role that Mr. Kubiš and the UN [Assistance] Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) have played, trying to make sure that any differences between Baghdad and Erbil can be resolved constructively.  And this is part and parcel of that effort.  But if there's any further details to share, I'll let you know at that point.

Question:  Also about Iraq, it's been more than a week I asked for a… any humanitarian update from Iraq.  And, I mean, during the Mosul operation, we used to have at least two or three updates… humanitarian update about the situation in Iraq, but recently, I don't understand why the humanitarian office and OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] don't release any reports about what's going on there, especially the refugee crisis still going and… the crisis is the same, but we are getting less and less information.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, for today, what I can tell you on our humanitarian side is that one of our aid partners secured access to the newly retaken Rumana area, northwest of Qa'im District in Western Anbar.  Rapid response emergency packages have been distributed to over 1,000 people.  Since military operations in Western Anbar resumed in late October, partners have reached over 9,800 people with rapid response and emergency health services in newly retaken areas of Western Anbar.  So far, this year, more than 67,000 people have been displaced from Western Anbar, 16,000 of whom have been displaced in the context of the resumption of counter‑Daesh military operations in the region last month.

Question:  What about Kirkuk? That's Anbar.  And the situation in Kirkuk and other… Mosul?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a Kirkuk update for you today.  Yeah, Benny?

Question:  Couple of questions.  First of all, just a technical one, if the Security Council doesn't manage to renew tomorrow night the mandate of the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism], does that mean effectively that the JIM is over?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, anything for which we require a mandate needs the renewal of that mandate.  If you don't get the renewal of the mandate, then it expires.  That's where we stand on any such case.  Let's see what the coming day brings.

Question:  So this… so the… but the Secretariat… Secretariat… Secretariat part of the JIM is dissolved in that case?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  But, obviously, if you don't have a mandate for operations, the operations end.

Question:  Okay.  Second question is about report from Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, about a ship that was… ships that were caught with North Korean arms to Somalia, Iranian ships.  There's too many violations of Security Council here to count… Security Council resolutions to count, but does the UN have any information on any of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this… all the relevant information needs to go to the Sanctions Committee that deals with this.  Actually, there potentially a couple of sanctions committees, but at least the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Sanctions Committee would need to be informed and to react.  Yes, yes, please, the back.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Mr.  Haq.  About Rohingya crisis, first question is simple.  Did Secretary‑General had a chance to talk with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in Philippines during the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, and we put out a readout of that meeting.

Question:  Okay.  And second question is about High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Zeid’s speech yesterday at Columbia University, and he said that… about ASEAN summit, "I'm very unhappy, given what I have seen in the summit.  Many world leaders have avoided even using the term 'Rohingya'.  After what they have suffered, it's very, very disappointing."  And also, about Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, "I'm hugely disappointed".  So, Secretary‑General share these views?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those views expressed are those of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and he's certainly entitled to them.  The Secretary‑General, as I pointed out, met with Aung San Suu Kyi just two days ago, and he's continuing his work on this issue.  And you are aware of what his priorities are.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Excuse me.  Thank you, Farhan.  Going back to Afghanistan, you mentioned that the UNODC has obviously reported a large increase in the production of opium.  I was just wondering what the actual presence of the UN is in that area and the principal role it plays.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN… part of the point, beyond reporting on opium cultivation, is that the UN tries to make sure that there is encouragement for alternative practises so that people can shift away from the economy of harvesting opium.  And so, UNODC is involved but also, of course, we have our mission on the ground, UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], that is trying to help wean people away from that extremely dangerous lifestyle.

Question:  Do they run schools or any other… or various… provide jobs and that kind of thing?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are entities, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP), that try to help with job creation initiatives, yes.  Yeah?

Question:  I have a follow‑up question on my colleague's mentioning of Rohingya people.  US Holocaust Museum officially stated that there is enough evidence to consider genocide that's being committed against Rohingya people in Burma.  What is UN's official take on this? How does UN qualify what's happening to Rohingya people in Burma right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've already talked about the brutalities of it.  Regarding the charges of genocide, as you know, that would need to be determined, you know, by a properly competent court for that to be established.  But, as you know, the Secretary‑General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and many others have spoken out very clearly against the sort of brutal treatment that has been inflicted upon the Rohingya population.  And we're trying to do what we can to make sure that they can return peacefully to their home.

Question:  Farhan just a little clarification.  So what's the official term that UN would use at this point?  Because the terms are very important in these kinds of issues of human rights.  It's atrocities, brutal treatment? What is it?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have talked about atrocities.  Indeed, if you remember, just a few weeks ago, the High Commissioner for Human Rights called this a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, in Iran, there was an earthquake, also on Iran‑Iraq border, and especially on the Iran side, there are reportedly more than 500 deaths and hundreds of victims.  It's a catastrophe.  I wanted to ask, what is the UN's role in this… in helping the victims and the affected areas? Is the Government allowing international aid to go in?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Regarding our actions in Iraq, we have been working with the Government of Iraq and we are trying…

Question:  Iran?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Iran is slightly different, and we're looking to see what role we can play to help there.  With Iraq, we've been providing help with… including with assessment of the damages that have been done.  And so we're… but as you saw from the statement we issued on Sunday, we're willing to play a role with both of the countries trying to help them recover from the effects of this tragic earthquake.

Question:  I just want to understand about the Iran‑affected area, which is all Kurdish areas, and reportedly foreign journalists are not allowed to go in to report on the damages.  I just want to understand, is UN allowed to… to send aid or send personnel there so far? And do you have any information about the victims? What's going on over there? Since there's no media reports.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this point what we're doing is working through our… you know, through our office in Tehran to get more information.  We've offered our help as needed, and if we get a particular request for assistance, we would be willing to provide that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about, in… in… in Togo, there have been these protests.  People have been killed, and now… now the opposition yesterday held a press conference and said that the… the… the President has called the protesters terrorists as… as has… said that the army can easily put this down.  So they've said this is kind of a declaration of war on them, and I just… it made me wonder… I know that Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas had gone there, was working on this issue.  In terms of conflict prevention, what does he think about the President's comments that protesters in the street are terrorists? And what's the UN, I guess, doing on this issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, we reiterate our calls to Togolese stakeholders to engage in dialogue in order to arrive at a speedy, consensual and negotiated resolution of the ongoing crisis, to refrain from violence and to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law.  And we do stand ready to support the Togolese in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.  And, as you know, Mr. Chambas is involved in that effort.

Question:  Okay.  And, also, just on… since it's… I guess since the Secretary‑General's going to give this speech on… on countering terrorism while it's en… you know, holding up values, tonight, Cameroonian journalist Ahmed Abba is going to get an award… the International Press Freedom Award, not in person because he's been sentenced to ten years in jail for reporting on the conflict in Cameroon.  He's been convicted under antiterrorism laws.  So, it made me wonder, when the Secretary‑General visited, met with President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, who's largely responsible for this prosecution and imprisonment of a journalist, was this issue raised? And… and does it fall within the ambit of the Secretary‑General's views of proper use or improper use of terrorism laws, in this case, to imprison a journalist?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has made it clear that any measures that are counter‑terrorist measures should not be used to restrict the enjoyment of human rights in any aspect, including freedom of expression and freedom of the media.  And that would be the case here, as well.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  On… just a follow… follow‑up on the Rohingya problem, Rohingya massacre.  I mean, if you can enlighten us a little bit, how does the UN works when it comes to prosecution this kind of ethnic cleansing, as it has been called? Does the Security Council… does it have to create an out of tribunal like it did for the Former Yugoslavia and… and Rwanda or the ICC [International Criminal Court]… the ICC prosecutor could just get involved in the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  Questions about the International Criminal Court really need to go to them.  They operate independently of us.  But, by and large, any tribunal would need to be created with a mandate, whatever the topic of it is.  At this stage, when we're talking about accountability, it would need to be pursued by the authorities on the ground.  If anything further needs to be created, it would need to be established one way or another.  Yes?

Question:  There's a story presented yesterday on CNN showing how migrant, mostly West African, have been sold in a detention camp in Libya for roughly $400.  Are you aware of it? And is it normal to still have a slave… slave market today, twenty‑first century?

Deputy Spokesman:  It is not in the least bit normal.  Yes, we saw this, and it's horrifying, the information.  I believe the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also reacted against this.  We have to put a stop to all these sorts of practices, and it emphasises once more the need to make sure that all migrants are treated with full respect so that they don't face this sort of horrifying practice.  Yeah?

Question:  Just on… on… I guess it's Myanmar related.  It was said when… on… one, if there's any update on getting a… a formalised Resident Coordinator.  And also it was said that Ms. [Renata] Lok‑Dessallien, around whom there was some controversy in terms of dealing with the Rohingya issue, it was said that she's come back to headquarters to assume another role.  And so I asked… I've asked once before, but I just want to know, what is that role? Is it going to be as Resident Coordinator in another country? Is it for DPA [Department of Political Affairs]? What is the role?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have anything to announce at present.  When we do, we will.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Just a follow‑up on the Zimbabwe situation.  Since he first… his first remarks to the Security Council, the Secretary‑General has emphasised the need for prevention and, you know, preventing crises rather than just responding to them.  And so I was wondering, will he note… bring this to the… this situation to the attention of the Security Council in accordance with his role, you know, outlined in the UN Charter, so that they can see… so that they can have a meeting to discuss a way to… if the reports are true, that they might be able to mitigate or prevent further deterioration of the situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think it's too early to tell what steps need to be taken.  Let's see what happens with the situation on the ground.  You've heard what we've had to say on that.  Brenden, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.