The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, today in Bali, the Secretary-General attended the Leaders’ Gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which focused on sustainable development. In his remarks, he said that our world is simply not going far enough and fast enough to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and stressed [two] areas of particular concern: inequality and climate change.
To tackle inequalities, he said, we must take a broad range of strategies to eradicate poverty and ensure inclusive development – among them, improving access to quality education, health care, reforming the tax system to make it more equitable and harnessing the rich diversity and demographic dividend of youth.
(Have a seat, Benny, please. Thank you. All right.)
And on climate change, the Secretary-General said that we can limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and have many of the technologies we need. Ahead of the twenty-fourth session of the Conference of Parties (COP24) of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place in December in Poland, he urged countries to resolve the sticking point and make sure the world leaves Katowice with critically important implementation guidelines for operationalizing the Paris Agreement. His full remarks are online.
Also this morning, the Secretary-General met with President Joko Widodo of Indonesia. And tomorrow, as we’ve been telling you, he will visit Palu on Sulawesi Island, which as you know was struck by an earthquake and a tsunami almost two weeks ago.
Also on Indonesia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in Central Sulawesi, more than 2,000 people have died, almost 11,000 have been seriously injured and 680 are still missing following the recent earthquake, tsunami and landslides.
Buildings have collapsed, been swept away, or suffered extensive damage, with whole villages having been submerged when the ground is liquefied. Some 67,000 houses have been damaged and nearly 88,000 people are currently displaced.
Eighteen thousand people have left Palu and are staying with relatives in other parts of the country.
While many families’ homes are still standing, many people are choosing to sleep outside at night in the displacement camps, fearing further aftershocks.
Despite the damage to infrastructure, life in Palu is returning to some sense of normalcy, with shops, markets, banks reopening and electricity and telecommunications being accessible across most of the city.
And yesterday evening, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at a UN Foundation Global Leadership Dinner.
She paid tribute to former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, calling him her touchstone.
For all of us who believe in affirming the power of our common humanity, he was an inspiration, Ms. Mohammed said. She paid tribute to his courage, compassion, humility, commitment to peace and enduring conviction in the dignity of every person and in the power of collective action.
She stressed the need for more leaders like Kofi Annan, adding that the best way to honour him is to take up the torch he passed.
Earlier today we issued a statement on Nigeria in which the Secretary-General said he is deeply saddened by reports that 200 people have died, 1,300 have been injured and nearly 2 million are affected by recent flooding along the rivers Niger and Benue in Nigeria.
More than half a million people have been internally displaced and over 350,000 are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the UN also expresses its solidarity with Nigeria during this difficult time and stands ready to support as required.
And we also issued a statement last night on the very fatal bus crash in Kenya.
On Yemen, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is in Muscat, in Oman today, where he arrived after visiting Riyadh over the past few days, where he met with Saudi and Yemeni officials.
Meanwhile, humanitarian partners are monitoring cyclonic storm Luban, which is likely to move towards Yemen, and preparing to respond alongside local authorities, as needed. The storm is currently in the west-central Arabian Sea and is expected to intensify further and move westward over the next four days, along the Gulf of Aden, and it is east, north-east of Socotra island currently.
Our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) are in contact with the Government of Yemen’s High Relief Committee and Ministry of International Cooperation, as well as local authorities in the impacted Governorates.
NGOs are preparing to undertake rapid needs assessments in affected areas. Rapid Response Kits [for] over 5,000 people are pre-positioned in Mukalla/Hadramawt and in Shabwah for 7,000 people.
Humanitarian partners are also pre-positioning supplies in Socotra if needed. Rapid response for Abyan and Aden will be supported from stocks available in Aden.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues there are reporting an escalation in air strikes and ground-based hostilities that continue to impact civilians [as] part of the anti-Da’esh operations in Deir Ezzour in Syria.
Yesterday, several civilians were reportedly killed, including a child, and several others were injured by air strikes on Al-Sha’afa town in south-eastern rural Deir Ezzour.
Over the past month, scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and injured, while up to 10,000 civilians remain trapped inside the Hajin area.
Thousands of civilians from Hajin have been displaced due to fighting. Some of the displaced are in makeshift camps where conditions are reportedly dire, with a lack of access to health care, water, sanitation and hygiene.
The UN continues to urge all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and to take constant care to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian personnel and assets.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Earlier today, Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the UN peacekeeping mission there (MONUSCO), briefed the Security Council via teleconference on the situation in the country.
She thanked members of the Council for its recent visit to the DRC, and Ms. Zerrougui said the trip gave the Council a unique opportunity to witness – first hand – the situation on the ground ahead of the December elections. She noted that the electoral process was progressing according to the set calendar, but also highlighted major challenges in the process, including armed group activity in east of the country, the opposition’s lack of trust in the process and the [low] number of female candidates on the ballot.
She further highlighted that insecurity in the east – notably armed attacks around Beni – had complicated ongoing efforts to end an ongoing Ebola outbreak.
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. The theme this year is “With Her: A Skilled Girl Force”, and it looks at today’s generation of girls preparing to enter a world of work that is being transformed by innovation and automation.
In his message, the Secretary-General said that far too often, girls are not given the space and opportunities they need to achieve their full potential and they face multiple barriers such as systematic discrimination, biases and lack of training.
He stressed the need to equip girls with transferable and lifelong skills such as critical thinking, creativity and digital awareness, as well as providing them with role models, especially in the sciences and other fields where the presence of women is sparse.
The Secretary-General noted that his Youth2030 strategy aims to work with girls, understand their needs and help put their ideas to work. Now comes your part.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. So, the… the… the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, they say they have more than 900 foreign fighters from ISIS. They are captured by them. So, do you believe or does the SG believe that they should be prosecuted before an… any international body or that the UN should be part of the justice…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Obviously, this is a complex issue, given the nationality… the fact that they’re foreign fighters and that some of the countries they come from are not… they’re not able to return or do not want them back. What is important is that those who have committed crimes during this conflict face justice. Exactly how that happens, I think, is something we will have to see.
Question: And, on Western Sahara, if I may, so, the SG recommended that MINURSO’s (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) mandate to be extended for one year? Why one year? It was extended for six months before. And what’s his message to both parties before the resumption of the informal talks in two months from now?
Spokesman: I think one year, obviously, gives it greater stability, which I think is important. And the message to the parties as well is, obviously, also to work with his Special Envoy, Mr. [Horst] Köhler. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Martin Griffiths, we know he’s been travelling. Is there any progress report on what he’s achieved in trying to get the Houthis and the Government to actually sit down to talks?
Spokesman: You know, I think when he’s ready to announce progress and a new date, he will. We know what happened in Geneva not too long ago. Mr. Griffiths is now, as you know, back on the road trying to get the parties again to the table. But I think we remain realistic at this point. Mr. Avni, and then we’ll go to Mr. Roth.
Question: Couple of questions about the [Jamal] Khashoggi affair, and then I have another question about something else. First of all, does the UN have anything? I mean, we have, obviously… I mean, do we have any information? Secondly, the… speaking of Yemen, is there any concern in… about the… the realignment of alliances that… I mean, Saudi Arabia is, obviously, very involved in Yemen. Does the Special Envoy, who, as you said, just happened to be in Riyadh, have any concern that, because of this whole affair, there will be some different approach towards…
Spokesman: One thing the situation in Yemen does not lack is complexity. [laughter] So, in terms… on the political track. So, I think I will leave the analysis and the forward thinking on that end to you and your colleagues. Mr. Griffiths is very much focused and continues to be focused on the political track. On the case of Mr. Khashoggi, we have no independent information. We’re not, obviously, involved in any investigation. There have been contacts with Saudi officials – from the UN Secretariat to Saudi officials – to express our concern about Mr. Khashoggi and his fate. And we continue to call on… obviously, on the Saudi authorities to cooperate fully with the investigations and we understand the Turkish authorities are doing. Mister…
Question: Wait. Another question I have, and that is on something completely different. Is Matthew Lee barred from the building even though… even not as a journalist? I mean, if he is… like, he’s… there’s a story that he came to… he tried to join a meeting… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Yes, your… I… you may not have been in the room, but your colleague, Mr. Klein, asked that same question, and I answered in the affirmative. Mr. Roth. Just look at the transcript. Mr. Roth?
Question: Continuing on the Khashoggi trend, on my question yesterday, and now you’re saying there are contacts, but has the Secretary‑General himself spoken to someone?
Spokesman: No, senior officials here in the Secretariat have spoken to…
Question: And do you feel that the climate created by many world leaders calling the press an enemy of the people, certain… the rise of the strong men around has contributed to attacks on journalists like Mr. Khashoggi? And do you think the UN should be making more of a public fuss about this? Enough with the quiet diplomacy. Doesn’t have to be a journalist. Man walks into a consulate and may have been dismembered by a saw.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has been very public and very strong in his defence of journalists, in calling for protection of journalists. He raised the issue of the two Reuters journalists very publicly in the Security Council, as he has with other cases. I don’t think he’s ever been shy on that issue. Madame?
Question: A follow‑up on that, Stéphane. You said you’re not involved, but would you be involved or did you ask to get involved in the investigation?
Spokesman: No, I think this is an issue that happened on Turkish soil. The Turkish authorities are clearly in the lead in the investigation. We would hope that the Saudis and everybody else cooperates with them.
Question: I have a follow‑up on that and then two other questions, two other subjects.
Question: I know. [laughter] When you talk about that UN officials contacted somebody… Saudi officials, can you more specify, please? Is it in Riyadh or here?
Spokesman: It was here in New York, but I’m not going to give any more specifics at this point.
Question: And what… what… which answer did you get, I mean?
Spokesman: We expressed our concern. I’m not going to relay what was said by the Saudi official. I would… I think you can ask Saudi authorities.
Question: The other question…
Spokesman: Yes, you had another one.
Question: So, the other question is on Yemen, if you have any updates regarding the humanitarian situation there?
Spokesman: No, in fact, we asked, and we hope to get a more thorough update of what’s going on around Hodeidah and other parts of the country tomorrow. Evelyn?
Question: Yeah. To continue to belabour… belabour the Khashoggi incident, has the SG spoken to Turkey at all? Journalists have been killed and murdered, but this is a particularly egregious case.
Spokesman: No, we’ve… the Secretary‑General has not… as I said, he’s been travelling in quite a far‑away time zone, but they have also… we’ve also been speaking to Turkish officials, as well. Stefano? I will leave it at that.
Question: When the Secretary‑General went to Saudi Arabia, I believe, last month… no? Or… yes. Did he… because you said that the Secretary‑General always talks with leaders about the concern of freedom of the press and safety of journalists. Did he talk with… with the king or with any official at that time of the concern about the safety of journalists in Saudi Arabia?
Spokesman: I don’t have… you know, he went there on very short notice having to do with the Ethiopia‑Eritrea agreement, and I think that’s where the discussions focused.