The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, I really apologize for being late today. I want to start off with a statement on the killing of an ICRC aid worker in Nigeria: The Secretary‑General is appalled and strongly condemns the killing of an aid worker from the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] in north‑east Nigeria on Monday. The aid worker, Hauwa Mohammed Liman, had been held hostage since March 2018 and was killed by her captors. The Secretary‑General expresses his deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Ms. Liman and expresses his solidarity with the President and staff of the ICRC. Those responsible for the killing must be brought to justice. The Secretary‑General expresses his concern for the safety and well‑being of the remaining hostages and calls for their immediate release. The Secretary‑General also emphasizes that all parties to the conflict must protect aid workers who provide life‑saving humanitarian assistance to the millions of people in need in north‑east Nigeria. And the Secretary‑General just got off the phone with the President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, to express personal condolences on this horrific case.
Back here, the Secretary‑General today spoke at the Security Council meeting on natural resources and conflict, and he said that the exploitation of natural resources, or competition over them, can and does lead to violent conflict. Preventing, managing and resolving such conflicts is one of the major and growing challenges of our time, he added. The Secretary‑General said UN studies show more than 40 per cent of internal armed conflicts over the last 60 years have been linked to natural resources. He said that more needs to be done to regulate the provenance, sale and trade of minerals through cooperative arrangements involving civil society, governments, and regional and international organizations. A positive example of this is the Kimberley Process, he added, which succeeded in reducing the trade in conflict diamonds. His remarks are available to you.
And I want to flag that at 3:30 p.m. the Secretary‑General will speak at the launch of the UN System Workplace Mental Health and Well-being Strategy. He will be highlighting the importance of ensuring the well‑being of staff, many of whom work in increasingly dangerous environments, and will also stress the need to combat the stigma of talking about mental health issues in the workplace so that staff feel comfortable disclosing what they’re going through and can get the support they need.
And our colleagues of the UN Country Team in Cameroon are expressing their concern about hate speech focused on ethnicity following the 7 October presidential polls. The UN received reports of individuals from opposing communities threatening to attack members of other communities, their properties in Yaoundé, businesses in Douala and other parts of the country, while others have been inciting hatred and violence along ethnic lines, using derogatory language. The United Nations reiterates that all stakeholders must exercise restraint and ensure a peaceful process as Cameroonians await the final elections on October 22nd. The UN condemns all threats of violence or acts of intimidation and urges all actors to prevent risks [to] the electoral processes. The United Nations continues to follow the situation in Cameroon and expresses concern about increasing violence in the North‑West and South‑West regions.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo-Angola
And our colleagues in UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have expressed concern over a fast‑developing humanitarian situation in the Kasai region of the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], sparked by mass returns from Angola over the last two weeks. Congolese Government officials estimate that some 200,000 nationals have arrived in the Kasai Province alone, with more arrivals reported in neighbouring Kasai Central Province. Their arrivals follow an expulsion order by the authorities in Angola targeting migrants. UNHCR is appealing to the Governments of Angola and the DRC to work together to ensure the safe and orderly population movement.
And our humanitarian colleagues in Syria say the ongoing violence in Hajin in the eastern governorate of Deir ez‑Zor is having a devastating impact on civilians. Armed conflicts, both by air and ground, have reportedly resulted in the deaths and injuries of civilians. The UN estimates that at least 10,000 civilians are exposed to hostilities in the Hajin area; while 7,000 civilians have been displaced to Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] controlled areas in the past month, the majority of whom are women and children and elderly. Many of the displaced are sheltering in the Gharanij town, while others are in makeshift settlements, where the humanitarian situation is reportedly dire. While UN partners were able to provide a one‑time delivery of food, nutrition and water, hygiene and sanitation assistance to some 5,000 displaced people, more assistance is needed to respond to the needs of displaced people and host communities. And Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will be here tomorrow to brief the Council tomorrow. He will be here in person [and] we have asked that he stop and speak to you at the stakeout right afterwards.
And turning to Afghanistan, the UN Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund and the Central Emergency Response Fund [CERF] have allocated nearly $35 million to support 2.2 million people impacted by a severe drought in the country. Toby Lanzer, the Humanitarian Coordinator, said the impact of the ongoing drought spans the north and west of the country, leaving communities in deep distress. He said that village elders in rural areas have told him that this is the worst drought in their lifetime, and that food, fodder and seeds are needed urgently.
And a new report from the UN Migration Agency, the IOM, says that young girls sold in forced labour are the largest group of traffic victims in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps who have been identified. IOM experts warn that, more than a year into the crisis that has seen the number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar soar to nearly 1 million people, more desperate families are sending their young daughters off into dangerous work situations because most households have no other way to earn money in the camps.
And I just want to flag that the Director‑General of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Audrey Azoulay, met with President Moon Jae‑in of the Republic of Korea today. She said UNESCO wants to commit… is committed to supporting inter‑Korean reconciliation through concrete and symbolic projects.
And today is World Food Day. This year’s theme is “Our Actions are our Future. A ZeroHunger world by 2030 is possible”. In his message, the Secretary‑General said that in a world of plenty, it is intolerable that one in nine people do not have enough to eat. He called on governments, businesses, institutions and individuals to join forces to achieve zero hunger and commit to a world in which every person has access to a healthy, nutritious diet. And new research released today by the World Food Programme [WFP] shows that food is becoming less affordable in countries in conflict or subject to political instability. In dozens more countries, persistently high food costs are putting the hope of a nutritious meal beyond the reach of millions. You can find the report on WFP’s website.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Ahmadou Tall, the Chair of the Committee on Migrant Workers. And at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Idriss Jazairy, the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures.
Today, we want to say that Yemen has paid its budget dues in full, bringing the honour roll to? [144.] That is a perfect guess. You should have played the lottery today because you only get lucky once. Mr. Klein, you have the floor.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Okay. It’s been reported that UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] has posted a job opening for Director of External Relations, which is going to be compensated approximately $108,000 a year, tax‑free, six weeks of vacation, a lot of benefits. And it’s calculated that that’s about, I believe, 14 times the average annual salary of a Palestinian. So I’d like to know, given the financial pressures on UNRWA, why it is opening up a job for Director of External Relations at that level of salary and benefits?
Spokesman: Well, I don’t know about the particular job opening, but job openings at the UN are all on a certain level, a certain scale. The scale of salary of the UN is public for all to see. Staff pay a… there is a staff assessment, which is akin to a tax, which is about 30 per cent, that goes… that is taken out of our pay checks. I think it’s clear that UNRWA is in deep crisis, financial crisis, as we’ve reminded people. And it is very important, I think, for UNRWA to be represented as best as it can in terms of relations, donor relations and external relations, to try to get its operations fully funded.
Question: But, given the fact that schools may be closed, according to the UNRWA Director and people laid off as a result, I presume, why this opening now? And will it be offered to… or preference given to people on the ground, their local folks?
Spokesman: Listen, I don’t have the details of the job opening. What I can tell you is that job openings are pretty clear. They’re either a local hire or international hire, and the full, transparent and open process will be followed. Masood, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. I want to ask you about the Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi’s investigation which Michelle…
Spokesman: Can you put your microphone in front of your mouth, so I can hear you properly?
Question: Okay. Sorry. Michelle Bachelet has called for independent transparent investigation of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, apparently, because that is what is being suspected. Does the Secretary‑General also echo the pleadings of his Human Rights Council chief?
Spokesman: I think what Ms. Bachelet said is the need for a prompt, thorough, effective and impartial and transparent investigation. The Secretary‑General has absolutely nothing to object to in what the High Commissioner says, not that he would object to what she says, but he fully backs her comments today. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Dujarric. I wanted to ask you about the Palestinian woman, a mother of eight, that was killed by an apparent terrorist attack of a settler. I know Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov issued a statement, but he did not… he refrained from calling that a terrorist attack. I think if the other way around occurred that there would not be… there would have been no hesitation to call it as such. Would you call it as a terrorist attack?
Spokesman: I would refer you back to Mr. Mladenov’s statement.
Correspondent: No, I understand…
Spokesman: No, I understand but I… Mr.…
Question: Okay. Let me rephrase… Given the circumstances and given that we have seen this kind of incident many times before and it was immediately labelled as a terrorist attack, why in this case are you so reluctant to call it as such?
Spokesman: It’s not that I’m reluctant. I said Mr. Mladenov issued a statement on behalf of the United Nations, and I have nothing to add to it.
Question: Would we expect the Secretary‑General to call it as such?
Spokesman: Mr. Mladenov is… represents the Secretary‑General, and he’s… his statement is a reflection of the Secretary‑General. We’ll go to Linda.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have a question regarding Yemen. We know about the dire humanitarian situation there, and there’s been information about the air attacks. I was just wondering what the status of the conflict is there in terms of the Houthi rebels in terms of, you know, what activities they’re up to.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, the conflict is continuing. I can’t speak for them. What I can tell you is that Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has been very focussed on trying to get the parties back to the table. We had a meeting in Geneva, which did not pan out as we had hoped. There were a number of hiccups. He’s trying to fix that situation to get the parties back to the table. The only solution is a political one. The fighting is continuing, and obviously, the tremendous suffering of the Yemeni people is also continuing. Nabil, and then we’ll…
Question: So, two crossings were opened recently between Syria and Jordan and also in the Golan area in Quneitra. So, on Golan, how do you describe now the operational situation for UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force]? Is… is… is it now easier for UNDOF to monitor the sit… the… the area and for convoys…
Spokesman: Yeah. The opening of the Quneitra crossing is very much welcomed by UNDOF as they had not been able to use it, and it’s important for them to be able to get to both from the Alpha and the Bravo side. So, for them, it’s a very much… it’s a positive development. We would want every peacekeeping mission or observer mission to be able to operate freely in the area in which they’re mandated to operate.
Question: So, does this mean that UNDOF now is back to all the previous positions…?
Spokesman: As far as I’m… no, they are not back to fully exactly to where they were before the conflict started, but this is obviously a move in the right direction.
Question: And, with Jordan, is the flow of… of humanitarian aid and goods between Jordan and Syria now…?
Spokesman: I’d have to check on that part. We’ll go all the way to the back and come…
Question: Thank you. The United States that have been criticised on human rights issues is having today an event in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] chamber about human rights in Cuba. The Cuban Mission sent a letter to the Secretary‑General asking for the cancellation of this… of this event and rejecting this action against the island. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this issue, in particular?
Spokesman: Sure. As I said yesterday, the parameters for holding UN events… events at UN Headquarters is regulated by an administrative circular, which is public, which I think you all have access to. The rules require that a proposed event must be consistent with the purposes and principles of the UN, and it has to be non‑commercial in nature. As a result of this requirement, the sponsoring Permanent Mission must certify that this is the case upon requesting the use of a UN conference room. In the implementation of the in‑house regulations since their adoption in ‘96, the Secretariat has relied on the responsibility of Member States to proceed in accordance with the relevant regulations and the purposes and principles of the Charter. The sponsoring Mission is fully responsible for the content of the meeting. Abdelhamid, you’ve been very patient.
Question: No problem. Thank you…
Spokesman: Others have been very patient as well, but…
Question: I want to follow up with the Mladenov issue. Remember I… we raised the issue that the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] has now a stand, and they supposed to communicate to the Secretary‑General of their displeasure of his activities regarding the mediation between Hamas and Israel. According to the PLO office… I contacted them and said a letter should be going from the PLO to the Secretary‑General. Can you confirm that…?
Spokesman: No, I… we have… I mean, I checked with my colleagues upstairs. We have not received any official letter at this point.
Question: And there is no development on this issue?
Spokesman: No. No, sir.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have a question on Guatemala. Over the past couple of hours, the Government of Jimmy Morales has blocked and denied the visas to 11 officers of the Commission against Impunity [CICIG] there, making it clear that he’s taking further steps to block the work of the Commission there and also making it clear that he’s going against repeated calls by the UN to allow the work of the Commission. So, I wonder, what’s the reaction on this new attack by the Government of Guatemala against the Commission?
Spokesman: Listen, I did not see that story this morning. What is clear is that the Secretary‑General continues to stand in support of the work of the Commission and its staff. Evelyn?
Question: Just clarification. Was… was it one aid worker or two aid workers in Nigeria?
Spokesman: One was murdered by her captors yesterday.
Question: Because I thought they said it was the second today…
Spokesman: One was murdered, and others are being held, and they need to be released.
Question: And is there anything new on Cameroon in the disputed presidential election?
Spokesman: Not anything more than I said earlier in the briefing. Mr. Roth?
Question: I don’t know if you discussed the Khashoggi matter before I came down here… I guess not. All right.
Spokesman: I did. But you’re welcome to ask. Anyway, go ahead, Richard.
Question: Was there any contact between the Secretary‑General now that he’s back plus one or two days with the Saudis in person? And I don’t think he talked to the press, as I asked for it today, though everyone else seems to be talking about this story. Does he have confidence in some type of actual investigation cover… to find out what happened to him?
Spokesman: I think… we’re following the situation very closely. I mean, we’re hearing the same reports that you are. I think once something official comes out from one party or another, we’d be able to comment further. At this point, what is important is for the truth to be established, for us to understand what has happened to Mr. Khashoggi. And, obviously, the more facts we’re able to get, the more we’d be able to comment. But, at this point, I would refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has already said this morning on the issue. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, I just wanted to find out about the Rohingya refugees. Is there… has there been any updates between the conversation with the Myanmar Government on repatriation and the plight of the Rohingya refugees?
Spokesman: As you may recall, there have been site visits by UN officials in Rakhine State. And the last we reported, the conditions are not yet conducive for a return. A lot of the work still remains to be done. And I… sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Who will determine that these conditions are now good enough to have… to repatriate them?
Spokesman: Well, there are issues, obviously, of human rights, of access to humanitarian services back in Rakhine State. But, at the end of the day, it also bears reminding that it is up to the refugees themselves to decide when to go home. No one should be forced to return.
And I did want to say… yesterday, I was asked about Western Sahara, and I wanted to confirm that the Polisario, the Moroccan side as well as Algeria and Mauritania have confirmed they will be attending the talks that will be convened by Mr. [Horst] Köhler in Geneva in December. Monica, it’s all yours.