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

23 October 2018

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.

**Central African Republic

Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic and head of the UN Mission there [MINUSCA], Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that despite ongoing challenges, he was hopeful that the necessary foundations for a lasting peace in the country had been established.  Together with the Central Africans, we must now help move the country from a phase of containment to one of transformation, where the dividends of peace can be felt by all communities and all citizens, he added.  The Special Representative also said the path towards peace and reconciliation would not be an easy one and that the international community must work with the Government of the Central African Republic to ensure that this peace process is people centred and does not fail.

He stressed the importance of putting in place the conditions that will give the African Initiative the greatest chance to succeed.  That means ensuring that the parties enter into negotiations in good faith and with a true commitment to the dialogue and its outcomes; having the buy in of the Central African people; putting in place security conditions conducive to the dialogue and the enforcement of its outcomes; and having the unified political support of the members of the Security Council, the countries of the region, and the international community at large.  His full remarks are available in our office.


The UN in Nigeria is expressing concern over news of renewed killings by the armed insurgent group Boko Haram, with reports of close to 40 lives lost in separate incidents over the last few days, when the group attacked civilians in Borno State.  In a statement issued today, UN Resident Coordinator Edward Kallon said he had also learned with sadness about the loss of over 50 lives following communal clashes in the Kasuwan Magani area, south of Kaduna State.  Mr. Kallon appealed to the Government of Nigeria and security forces in the region to scale up their efforts to protect civilian communities, especially in areas where sporadic attacks have been recorded recently.  He warned that, left unchecked, these attacks may reverse the gains made so far in securing lives and property in the region.  The full statement is available online.


The UN agencies in Mexico have staff in place, with more to be deployed in the coming days, to cooperate closely with local and federal authorities, among others, to attend to migrant needs in Tapachula, Chiapas, and nearby towns.  Teams are prepared to help with the registration of those who have been admitted, as well as to help the migrants reach shelters and facilities equipped and waiting for them to give them humanitarian aid.  Rapid assessments are being done by the UN agencies to gather information on the needs of children and their families, as well as people with special needs, including those in nearby towns along the migratory route.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] is concerned about the known kidnapping and security risks in areas where the caravan may travel.  Stabilizing the situation has become urgent.  It is essential that there are proper reception and other conditions for those seeking asylum, as well as for others on the move.  UNHCR emphasizes that in any situation like this it is essential that people have the chance to request asylum and have their international protection needs properly assessed, before any decision on return or deportation is made.


UNHCR today appealed to the Government of Australia to take urgent action to save the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.  UNHCR noted that elected officials from all sides of politics have highlighted the human cost of so‑called “offshore processing” in recent weeks, but decisive action has not been taken.  The agency said that the immediate evacuation of refugees and asylum seekers from Papua New Guinea and Nauru to Australia does not require legislative change.  It added that concerted action, founded upon a clear humanitarian imperative, is needed to prevent further deaths and harm to innocent men, women and children.  UNHCR also stressed that the circumstances of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru are entirely distinct from those of nationals and people who have migrated voluntarily.  It said that the unique needs of people who have fled war and persecution, have been forcibly transferred, detained and subject to harrowing conditions require an intensive response that is not available locally.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that inadequate schools, teachers and learning materials, coupled with insecurity and a shortage of food, water and sanitation facilities have left more than 70 per cent of school‑age children — or some 3 million out of 4.4 million children — out of school in Somalia.  The situation is even more grim in rural areas and in urban Internally Displaced Persons settlements, where just 17 per cent of children are enrolled in primary school, according to education partners.  The Office says funding for Education in Emergencies activities in Somalia is low, currently at just $8.8 million, 16 per cent of the required $51 million in 2018.  Despite these challenges, humanitarian partners have reached nearly 175,000 children and youth with emergency education services in the worst‑affected areas of Somalia since the beginning of the year.


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL] Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, had separate meetings today in Beirut with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Prime Minister‑designate Saad Hariri.  Discussions focused on the implementation of UNIFIL’s mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and related resolutions, violations and the situation in UNIFIL’s Area of Operations in South Lebanon, with a special focus on continued strong cooperation between UNIFIL, the Lebanese Army and host communities.  During the meetings, Major General Del Col emphasized the need for UNIFIL to have unimpeded access to the Blue Line.

**Climate Change

In Krakow, Poland, the preparatory meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Climate Change Conference, also known as pre‑COP, began today.  The meeting aims to lay the foundation for a successful Conference of the Parties, which will take place in Katowice in December.  At the opening, high‑level representatives urged countries to speed up work and to identify possible bridging proposals in the negotiations on the guidelines that will tell the world how to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement fairly and transparently for all.  UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa strongly urged leaders to make progress, noting that emissions from the energy sector were on the rise.

**Press Briefings

And after me you’ll hear from Monica Grayley and then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Marzuki Darusman, Chair of the UN Fact‑Finding Mission in Myanmar.  Then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.  And at 1:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.  That is it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  Is the Secretary‑General still calling for an independent investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi following the speech to Turkey's parliament today by President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the speech made by President Erdogan and the recent developments in Jamal Khashoggi's case.  The position that we expressed over the weekend in the statement that the Secretary‑General put out remains the same, but we're evaluating the information as it comes up.  If there is any change, including any special requests one way or the other, we'll have to consider those in due course.

Question:  So, by that, I assume, because, in that statement, he did call for an independent investigation, that he does still stand by that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes, he does.  Yes, James?

Question:  First, Farhan, if you don't mind, a polite request.  This briefing sometimes starts a fair bit after the top of the hour, and sometimes it starts very punctually.  Could we please have the squawk with a couple of minutes to get here?  Because, otherwise, we… we can come down here at midday and sometimes wait for 15 minutes.  So, it would be nice if we could just have a little bit of time to make it down, because otherwise, we miss the first thing you say.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  I'll try to move here slower.  Normally, when I'm doing it, it starts at noon, and I've got nowhere else to go, because I'm right down the corridor.

Question:  No, no, I know, if we could just have a moment to get in… get into the room.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  I'll move slowly.

Question:  And, secondly, just on the Secretary‑General in Washington, D.C., do you have a full list of who he's met so far?  We know he's going to be meeting the Secretary of State in the coming hours.  Can you give us a readout of how things are going and the full list of people he's seeing today?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll try to get a list from my colleagues in Washington.  I've asked for my colleagues at the UN Information Centre there to give me some of the details.  I know that he is also meeting, I believe, with people from the House Appropriations Committee, and I'll try to get the names.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, on the Khashoggi case again, the Turkish Secretary of State today said they're welcoming a joint investigation with the United Nations or any international court.  So, here it is, the formal invitation to the United Nations.  Your colleague Stéphane [Dujarric] just told us that would be a condition.  Here is the condition fulfilled, obviously.  Will there be an announcement soon by the Secretary‑General about an independent UN investigation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that announcement is not in and of itself a formal request.  We would… we will wait to see whether we get a formal request from a Government such as the Government of Turkey, but if we get something like that, we will evaluate it and then make a decision based on the request that we receive.

Question:  One follow‑up.  This morning, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, told me he's asking for a formal investigation, a UN investigation.  The Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, is asking for a formal investigation, a UN investigation.  Why is the Secretary‑General so silent about this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we haven't been silent.  We've spoken out repeatedly on this case.  And, again, as you'll have seen, the Secretary‑General himself has called for an independent investigation into this.  We would need to evaluate… as Stéphane also explained to you last week, for UN investigations to be successful, we need cooperation from the various parties who would be involved.  And, normally, we expect to have some form of a mandate from a body of Member States.  And, so, we'll have to see whether that can be achieved.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just to clarify, so, when you talk about independent investigation, do you mean an investigation by Saudis and the Turk… and the Turkish Government, or what exactly do you mean then?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've also already asked for cooperation among the Turkish and Saudi authorities in getting to the bottom of what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, but an independent investigation would have to be just that, an investigation by an independent body that can credibly look at the evidence before it.

Question:  And that should… a follow‑up.  That should be an international body, or how do you understand this?  Like, how do you understand what you are saying?

Deputy Spokesman:  We will have to see what the parties involved agree to.  But, ultimately, we want to make sure that there's agreement on a strong investigation, one way or another.  Of course, if we have a role to play in that, we will consider that.

Question:  Another… sorry.  Another follow‑up.  So, when you are saying that you would like to have a body… responsible body in the UN to request this in order that you can… are you… that you can go ahead and… with such investigation, are you talking about the Security Council?  Are you asking for a mandate by the Security Council, or what you're asking exactly?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there have been different investigations mandated by Member State bodies at the UN, whether you're talking about the General Assembly or the Security Council.  The Human Rights Council has also created commissions that have been investigating different conflicts.  So, I am simply talking about a Member State body in that regard.  If, for example, you think of the investigation into Benazir Bhutto's assassination, that request was dealt with in an exchange of letters between the Secretary‑General at the time and the President of the Security Council.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The caravan keeps moving from Mexico, and they're trying to get to the United States southern border.  However, the Presidents of Honduras and Guatemala, over the weekend, presented a plan called retorno seguro, secure return, and they said that around 2,000 Hondurans and Guatemalans together have come back to their countries from the caravan.  Does the United Nations has been helping with that process?  Is any information about the return plan that they have?  We understand that sending groups is… as a force is not under the proto… protocol of the refugees, but, in this case, they're saying it is voluntary.  Will the United Nations assist?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, for us, it's important that any returns be voluntary to avoid the problem of refoulement, but the other thing we've emphasized is, in situations like this, it's essential that people have the chance to request asylum and have their international protection needs properly assessed before any decision on return or deportation is made, and we've called on all authorities to respect that.  Yes?

Question:  Can I just possibly give you a chance at clarification?  Because I just want to check whether your position has changed, because you were asked what was meant by an independent investigation, and then you gave us the previous historic examples of various bodies in the UN that have called for investigations.  Are you saying now that you want one of those bodies to ask you to investigate, or is the position as it was before?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, the position is the same, but people have been asking in recent days about different investigations that have involved the UN.  Obviously, we're not at that stage yet, but you are hearing different parties talk about the possibility of a UN role.  And I'm just pointing out the ways in which that has been achieved.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, again, on this, do you… do you still want a… a… a request from Turkey, or is it okay to get a mandate from a UN body, or do you need both?  And I have another question, yeah.

Deputy Spokesman:  I haven't specified where a request needs to come from.  Ultimately, if requests come in, we'll have to evaluate them fairly, regardless of which quarter it comes from.  But, in this case, of course, Turkey is where the incident happened.  It happened in a Saudi consulate office.  So, clearly, the cooperation of those two countries would be essential for an effective investigation to be carried out.

Question:  And one more question.  Has a decision been made on the successor to Staffan de Mistura?  Is it the Norwegian, as Colum said?

Deputy Spokesman:  Whenever we have an announcement to make, we'll make it, but we're not at that stage just yet.  Yes?  Hold on one second.

Question:  Follow‑up on that?  Thank you, Farhan.  I'm sorry.  I was a little late.  I missed some of the parts, but the Turkish Foreign Minister this morning said that Turkey would cooperate transparently and share the evidence, all it has, with the… with the United Nations if there was an investigation.  So, my question is, will you still wait for a request from Turkey or from any other countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  For any UN role, of course, as we've been saying, for the past week or so, we would need a formal request for involvement.  And, as I've informed your colleagues prior to your arrival, normally UN investigations have a mandate that is given to them by a body of Member States.  And, so, we would need to see whether that can be provided.  Yes, now you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you give me a yes‑or‑no answer on this question?  Is Mr. Ján Kubiš, the current head of UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq], considered for the position of UN envoy to Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't actually provide lists of candidates for positions.  If there's anything… announcement to make, we'll let you know once a decision has been made, but…

Question:  Is he on the list?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't tell you who's on the list.  Basically, as a means of respecting the wishes of the various candidates; there are many times when people who are candidates who do not get the position in the long run would have preferred that they're not mentioned.  And, so, as a result, we do not give out those lists, no.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is a bit of clarification regarding migrants.  I was just wondering, with the caravan, do… what… what are the responsibilities of countries that migrants pass through?  For example, if migrants are going through Honduras or going through Mexico, does Mexico have the responsibility legally to try to process these migrants, determining who they are, or not?  And I guess my question is, are migrants free to just go wherever they want, or are they supposed to be processed first by the nearest country?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'd refer you to the Refugee Convention in terms of the processing of asylum claims.  The basic point is, of course, we recognize the right of States to govern their own borders and to govern who can cross those borders and enter their countries.  That is one of the fundamental rights each State has.  At the same time, of course, there are people who are in different sets of need and UN agencies, including in Mexico and the various other Central American countries and North American countries have been deployed on the ground to make sure that their claims can be heard and that their needs can be assessed.  And, for us, we believe that, throughout the various countries in which they're transiting, it's essential that there are proper reception and other conditions for those seeking asylum, as well as others who are on the move.  And with that… oh.  One more?

Question:  If they start moving north in Mexico, how can their claims be heard at the US border?  Who would… who would look at that before the children are separated?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, like I said, UNHCR and various other agencies, IOM [International Organization for Migration], are there and present and are able to listen to any claims that they present right now in southern Mexico.  If that changes, we'll see what needs to be done.  Monica, come on up.  Oh, wait.

Question:  Farhan, just one last one.  Can you tell us when Mr. de Mistura is going to Damascus?

Deputy Spokesman:  [24 October], which is, I believe, tomorrow.  Okay.  See ya.

For information media. Not an official record.