The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned the Security Council this morning that Gaza is imploding. In an intervention via video conference, he noted that the World Bank recently warned that the Gaza economy is in “free fall” with an official unemployment rate of 53 per cent, and over 70 per cent among Palestinian youth. Every second person in Gaza now lives below the poverty line. At the same time, he said, there is a growing consensus and determination among key international and regional partners on moving forward to defuse the powder keg that is Gaza. He said that humanitarian efforts there are taking place in coordination with, and in support of, Egyptian efforts to bring Gaza back under the full control of the legitimate Palestinian Government. He added that the Government’s return to Gaza and the lifting of the suffocating movement and access restrictions are necessary for addressing the humanitarian and economic needs of the population in a sustainable manner. Mr. Mladenov also said that violence is on the rise and Israeli authorities have continued the demolition and confiscation of Palestinian‑owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He once again called on Israel to cease demolitions and other measures that run contrary to the obligations under international law. And he noted the recent killings of two Israelis and one Palestinian in the West Bank, which he condemned in the strongest of terms while calling on everyone to stand up to violence and condemn terrorism.
Turning to Syria, today, the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered food and wheat flour for 13,500 women, children and men in need in Al Lajat in southern Syria. This is the second such convoy to the area this week. Two days ago, the UN and the Red Crescent delivered food and wheat flour for 14,000 people in need. Between July and September, the UN provided food aid for more than 630,000 people in the south of Syria, mostly delivered through the Red Crescent. The UN continues to call on all parties to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded access to all people in need in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
A new UN report has documented the immense suffering of civilians in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region, where 900 people were abducted and 24,000 forced to flee their homes during a surge in violence between April and August of this year. The report, jointly published by the UN peacekeeping mission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), notes that starting in April this year, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army engaged in attacks that resulted in harm to civilians. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the release of the abducted civilians, and said it was essential for the Government of South Sudan to hold the perpetrators to account. For his part, David Shearer, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for South Sudan, said the country’s new peace agreement puts the onus on the warring parties to ensure that no atrocities are committed in the future.
Yesterday, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], announced that a decision has been taken not to declare the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a public health emergency of international concern. The decision was taken during a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee. The Committee also expressed concern about the outbreak and emphasized the need for the response to be intensified. And it highlighted the risk that the outbreak could spread to neighbouring countries remains very high. It added that resources needed to be made available immediately for the ongoing response and for preparedness in surrounding provinces and countries.
After you are done with me, you will hear from Monica [Grayley] on behalf of the President of the General Assembly. And then our guests will be Bience Gawanas, the Special Adviser on Africa, along with Ibrahim Mayaki, the Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, otherwise known as NEPAD. They will brief you on the Africa Dialogue Series, which is currently taking place. And, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, will be here to answer your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi, Steph. UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] has just hosted a press conference with the Committee to Protect Journalists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, where they all collectively called for Turkey to request the Secretary‑General to appoint an independent panel of investigators to probe the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi in… in Turkey. Would the Secretary‑General be open to such a request, premised on… on similar… a similar investigation appointed by Ban Ki‑moon into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?
Spokesman: Okay. Couple of points to make. One, the Secretary‑General has repeatedly called for the truth to come out in this situation, that he remains very concerned about the fate of Mr. Khashoggi. We understand there are a number of investigations… investigation led by Turkey under way. So, that's the first focus. The call from Amnesty… Human Rights Watch was made to the Government of Turkey. So, I can't answer for them. As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General can initiate an investigation if all the parties involved request it or if there's a legislative mandate from a UN body. So, we're a little far… we're a little removed right now in terms of hypotheses. We'll, obviously, follow this situation. But, for the Secretary‑General, it's very important that the truth come out.
Question: You are correct that there have been calls for a credible investigation, but, given the two countries involved and their record of treatment of journalists, it's Turkey, which is listed by CPJ as one of the worst abusers of journalists in the world, and Saudi Arabia, and I think that speaks for itself. Does the Secretary‑General have confidence that these two governments can lead a credible and independent investigation that will, at the end, deliver the facts?
Spokesman: Look, before we answer that question, I think we need to let the initial investigation play out. Edie?
Question: Point of clarification, if Turkey called for an investigation… asked the Secretary‑General to launch an investigation and Saudi Arabia didn't go along, could the Secretary‑General in that case still launch an investigation?
Spokesman: We're getting into a hypothetical zone that my boss doesn't like me to… let me try to please you and my boss as well, maybe in a reverse order. In terms of hypotheticals, remove the countries involved — obviously, a legislative mandate. If there is a request to… by a country for the Secretary‑General to launch an investigation into something that happened in their country, the Secretary‑General could do that. Obviously, in… there is also… so, we'll leave it at that. But I think we're still… we are waiting to see what the initial results are. James?
Question: You say it's hypothetical, but, clearly, if the Secretary‑General got that request, it's something he would need to move on quickly, and you would have to do preparatory work…
Spokesman: Well, I mean… what I'm saying, he would have… if he got that request, he would have to take that request under advisement.
Question: But, also, you'd want to move quite fast. Is there any preparatory work being done at this stage?
Spokesman: I think we need to take things one step at a time. Erol?
Question: Yes, just follow‑up, obviously, on this topic. You mentioned legislative mandate. What about moral authority? Those three organizations and UNCA called upon Secretary‑General to lead, to exercise his supreme moral authority and to ask this investigation not to be whitewashed either by Turkey or by Washington or any other States.
Spokesman: I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General, I think, said to the BBC in Indonesia, where he said, "I think, first of all, we need to have a strong request for the truth. To be clear, we need to know exactly what has happened, and we need to know who is responsible for it." So, there is an investigation going on. The UN is an organization of rules and regulations. And, obviously, any investigation needs to have the cooperation of the parties.
Question: But are you… follow‑up, please. Are you afraid that, while taking that time… needed time, obviously, for rules and obligations, things could be really whitewashed…?
Spokesman: It's not a matter of being afraid or not afraid. It's a matter of calling for the truth to come out and taking things one step at a time.
Question: Did the Secretary‑General talk to… anytime soon or recently, with Washington, Riyadh or UNCA?
Spokesman: There have been discussions had with both the Turkish authorities and the Saudi authorities. Stefano?
Question: Yeah. Speaking with Sherine Tadros of the Amnesty International that just was that on the press conference, I asked if… in situation like this, if she… if her organization, in approaching the UN, had problem or more obstacles when has to do with Saudi Arabia. This was asked after the press conference, because there was no time, but she answered me, say, Oh, I talked this during the press conference. Yes, of course, when it's with Saudi Arabia and United Nations, there are much more obstacles. Reason: Money. Means it's a major contributor…?
Spokesman: I'm glad… what's the Q&A? There was a Q&A with those people. What's your question to me?
Question: Question is… no, no, no, the question… So, comes with a question. If not, people will not know what I'm asking for.
Spokesman: We can always… we're pretty informed here. We know.
Question: Does this… with the Guterres… we know that this happened actually in the past with the person with Ban Ki‑moon, but with the [António] Guterres Administration, is this happening? When has to do with Saudi Arabia, maybe things are taken more cautiously? You know, caution is more?
Spokesman: There are 193 Member States in this organization, all with rights and responsibilities. The Secretary‑General speaks out when he needs to speak out, and I would refer you to the past statements he's made on the issue that you've raised. Abdelhamid?
Question: A follow‑up with the same question. So, you said the SG can send an investigation team in two cases: if he is mandated by the Security Council, for example, or requested by a Member State. Is there another third option, when the SG himself initiates an investigation mission due to the moral authority he has or due to the brutality of the crime or war crimes or crimes against humanity…?
Spokesman: Look, I will leave the answer to what I've already said. For investigations to be useful and to be productive, they need the cooperation of the parties involved. Madame?
Question: Hello, from the Portuguese News Agency. I wanted to ask, how's the mission to the… of peacekeeping for the Central African Republic? Yesterday, the Security Council had another meeting, and we know that MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] is almost ending its mandate in November. So, I would like to know, how is it for the Central African Republic and for the countries like Portugal that have their militaries there?
Spokesman: We would expect the mandate of the mission to be renewed. Yes, sir?
Question: This is a question so you can…? I think you will like it.
Spokesman: I would like a question.
Question: You will like it. Does the…?
Spokesman: Will I like the question, or will I just like the fact that it's a question?
Question: Does the… does the Secretary‑General think that we journalists should put this… you know, fasten this energy also when it's not a journalist involved?
Spokesman: It is really not to him or to me to tell you how to do your job. On that note, I will leave Monica to do her job and answer your questions, and then we will have our guests, please. Thank you.