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 visited the Golden Temple in the Indian city of Amritsar just now, which is his last stop in the country before he heads back to New York. He expressed his deep respect for the religion of the Sikh people and the wonderful Golden Temple, in which the spirit of peace, tolerance and ecumenism is present. During his visit to the site, the Secretary‑General shared a meal in the Temple’s kitchen, which is the biggest community kitchen in the world, serving thousands of meals a day, 24 hours a day, and open to all. In addition, no plastic is used in the kitchen and all implements are metal.
Earlier this morning in New Delhi, the Secretary‑General presented Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the 2018 Champions of the Earth Award. In giving the award, the Secretary‑General said that Prime Minister Modi is being honoured as a statesman who recognises that climate change poses a direct existential threat and understands the enormous benefits of climate action. This, the Secretary‑General said, is the bold environmental leadership the world needs. Afterwards, the Secretary‑General met with President Ram Nath Kovind, whom he thanked for his warm welcome. The Secretary‑General lauded the strong bonds between India and the United Nations. Later in the afternoon before traveling to Amritsar, the Secretary‑General and his delegation met with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj over a working lunch.
Yesterday afternoon, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, announced an allocation of $15 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, to bolster relief assistance for people affected by the 7.4‑magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi late last week. Mr. Lowcock said that the Government of Indonesia is experienced and well‑equipped in managing natural disasters, but sometimes, as with all other countries, outside help is also needed. Given the scale and complexity of this emergency, United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations are working closely with Government counterparts to provide life‑saving assistance. CERF funds will allow United Nations agencies and humanitarian organizations to support the Government‑led response in the areas of logistics, shelter, safe water and sanitation, health care, camp coordination and camp management, emergency livelihoods and protection services.
Our humanitarian colleagues say that, as of today, more than 1,400 people have reportedly died, with more than 2,500 people seriously injured. It is expected that these figures will increase as more areas become accessible. Vital infrastructure, including roads and bridges, have been destroyed, while the main airport in Palu has sustained damage. Numerous land and mudslides have cut off affected communities, severely hampering the delivery of relief. Some 66,000 houses have been damaged, with nearly 71,000 people having been uprooted. The Government has welcomed specific offers of international assistance in line with identified humanitarian needs on the ground, which, at this time, include air transportation, tents, water treatment, and generators.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Achim Steiner, and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will travel together to Nigeria and then to Chad over the weekend. Their mission aims to highlight and support joint humanitarian and development efforts in these countries. In Nigeria, they will travel to Borno State and visit a site for internally displaced persons and a transition centre. In Chad, they will visit a nutrition centre in N’Djamena where international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies are treating children with malnutrition, amid one of the worst nutrition crises the country has ever experienced. They will also meet high‑level officials in both countries.
**Children and Sexual Abuse
This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the event on “Shedding Light on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation”, which also served as the launch of the Economic Intelligence Unit Benchmarking Index. She said that every day, across all countries and levels of society, millions of girls and boys face the alarmingly common childhood experience of sexual abuse and exploitation, scarring them for life. The global economic impacts and costs of this can be as high as $7 trillion. The Deputy Secretary‑General said that countries have started to address this issue and the Benchmarking Index will help push this challenge higher up the global agenda. She said that preventing violence and exploitation of children is everyone’s business, everywhere, at all times, adding that we must address this challenge and break the silence.
And again today, I thank a Member State for its full contribution to the regular budget. Saudi Arabia’s payment takes the Honour Roll to 143 members.
**Press Briefings Today
Following my briefing, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Monica Grayley, will be here to brief you. She’s here in front of you as we speak. And then, at 1 p.m., the Permanent Representative of Bolivia and President of the Security Council for the month of October, Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme for the month. That is slightly later at 1 p.m. — yes, that’s slightly later than we had previously advertised. Tomorrow my guest will be Ali al-Za’tari, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Syrian Arab Republic, and he will brief you on the situation in the country. Any questions for me before we go to Monica? Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Farhan. A prominent Saudi dissident and journalist visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul yesterday, and he hasn't been seen since. His name is Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi officials say that he left. Turkish officials say that their information… according to their information, he's still inside. Does the SG have any concerns about him and where he may be?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly hope that Mr. Khashoggi will be found and be safe. We, of course, do not have any first‑hand information about what's happened to him, and we would need more information in terms of evaluating any kind of response. But we'll stay abreast of the situation and try to see what has happened. But, certainly, we hope that he is safe and sound and will be found shortly. Yes, please?
Question: Can we run through this anti‑gay legis… directive that the US has imposed? Does this mean that a partner of a UN staff member can't get into the country even if they want to get married here? Because a Russian, for example, who has a partner in the… among UN staff and may get married in New York, but can the person get into the country at all?
Deputy Spokesman: This is about US regulations for a G‑4 visa, and for the most part, we would need to refer you to the US State Department, which is the one who has informed us. But it's clear; they informed us in mid‑July of a change in their policies by which they grant G‑4 visas to our personnel. Ultimately, the idea is that, for the spouses of UN staff to get G‑4 visas, whether they are in a same‑sex or in an opposite‑sex relationship, either way, they would have to provide a marriage certificate in order to get that visa status. That's a change in the previous policy, which had allowed, in the case of same‑sex relationships, for there to be a certificate of domestic partnership. And, so, there's a change in that, and we have informed our staff accordingly. There's a bulletin that's gone out to staff and we are following up with that. Meanwhile, we continue to be in touch with the authorities on the ground. But, like I said, this is a policy decision that was changed by the United States.
Question: But this means that the partner can't even come into the country even if they intend to be married in New York. Right?
Deputy Spokesman: In order to get… that's… a G‑4 visa doesn't account for all ways of getting into the country. There are other types of visas, as you're aware. But, in order to get the G‑4 visa, this is what would need to happen. They're requiring, across the board, for same‑sex and opposite‑sex relationships, a marriage certificate. Yes?
Question: Farhan, a follow‑up on Indonesia. What specifically is the United Nations doing to help speed the delivery, especially of food and water, since we read stories of people — they're clamouring for food and… and water and the essentials of life?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yes, and as I pointed out, while we appreciate that the Government of Indonesia is experienced and well equipped in managing natural disasters, the scale of this particular crisis is much larger. As we mentioned yesterday, the UN is at work with other local partners on the ground, trying to see what assistance we can provide to non‑governmental groups. And, as I've said, we are also working closely with the Government in order to provide assistance. So, we're trying to see what can be done to improve the delivery of aid throughout Sulawesi.
Question: But it sounds like there's some kind of a roadblock, and I'm wondering what the UN is trying to do to try and speed this up.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the basic problem is the problem of access in an area that has been struck hard by an earthquake and a tsunami. As you can imagine, many roads, many different areas, are now inaccessible. But we're trying to do what we can to work through that and get access to as many areas. And access will be improving day by day, but it's been a challenge, considering the scale of the destruction that was created.
Question: Is there any reluctance on the part of the Indonesian Government to accept help from the United Nations or from NGOs when it comes to food and water?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the Government of Indonesia has said that, in this exceptional circumstance, it is accepting help from the United Nations and from other bodies, and we're providing it as much as we can. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. At the General Assembly on the Day of Peace and [Nelson] Mandela, the last paragraph of the resolution which adopted calls on musicians, poets, youth, artists to contribute a new life to the principles and values of the United Nations. Why is it thought necessary to revive those values? And does the UN would like these groups to go about doing it?
Deputy Spokesman: It's simply an effort to make sure that all groups, including those involved in the works of culture and the life of the mind, help also enshrine the sort of values of non‑violence and of resolution of conflict that we are hoping to see taken up by the peoples of the world. We try to interact with outside communities in many ways outside of this resolution, but this resolution is also part of the effort to involve the groups into that process. Yes, please?
Question: Farhan, in his speech at the General Assembly, the President of Venezuela, Mr. [Nicolás] Maduro [Moros], asked the UN to set up an independent investigation in the attack he… he suffered in… in August. Is there any step being taken to… to set up this investigation?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, what I can say, I'm aware of the announcement made during the general debate, but, as far as I'm aware, the Secretariat has not received a request to undertake such an investigation. And with that, Monica, please, come on up.