The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a trip announcement.
The Secretary-General will be traveling to Paris over the weekend. On Sunday, he will take part in the ceremony for Armistice Day, which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. That afternoon, on Sunday, 11 November, he will also give the keynote speech at the first Paris Peace Forum on multilateralism, which is being hosted by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. On Monday, the Secretary‑General will visit the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the first time, to speak at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, which is taking place there. While in Paris, the Secretary‑General will have bilateral meetings with President Macron, as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel [of Germany], who is also attending the Peace Forum. He may have other bilaterals, which we will be able to confirm later. The SG will be flying back to New York on Monday afternoon.
**Chief Executives Board
The Secretary-General is currently meeting with his Chief Executives Board (CEB). This afternoon, the CEB members are to discuss the common UN system position on drug policy in preparation for the 2019 ministerial meeting in Vienna. They will also hear by video conference from the World Health Organization (WHO) Director‑General, as well as the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, who are both on the ground to assess the UN system’s response to the latest Ebola outbreak.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And, as I mentioned, they will be speaking – both Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] and Mr. [Jean‑Pierre] Lacroix – will be speaking, in fact, from Beni, in North Kivu, which is the epicentre of the current Ebola outbreak. They met with local authorities, UN agencies, civil society and first responders in Beni to assess the situation on the ground and to discuss ways to strengthen the response. As of today, there are 311 reported cases of Ebola. The Director‑General and the head of peacekeeping praised the responders’ courage and determination and emphasized the numerous challenges, including security, particularly for women. Mr. Lacroix said that health workers in the affected zones do crucial work amidst a difficult security environment and that the UN Mission in the country, MONUSCO, is actively supporting the Government to improve security. Dr. Tedros, the head of the World Health Organization, added that the work being done around the clock to end Ebola made him proud and confident that the outbreak would be defeated despite the numerous challenges. Tomorrow, they will travel to Goma and then to Kinshasa, where they are expected to speak to the media.
We continue to be deeply concerned by the escalating conflict in Yemen. The fighting has now continued around the outskirts of Hodeidah City in the last 24 hours. About 2,100 people have reportedly fled their homes in the area close to the fighting. Humanitarian agencies have consistently warned that protracted fighting inside Hodeidah City, or any incident that interrupted port operations, could set off a humanitarian catastrophe. Conflict has also escalated along other fronts in Yemen, including southern Hodeidah Governorate, Hajjah and Sa’ada Governorates. There have been initial reports of civilian casualties in some areas, but figures are not currently available. As you will recall, the Secretary‑General last Friday outlined urgent steps required to decrease the risk of famine in Yemen, including, of course, the need for the violence to stop immediately. The United Nations also continues to call on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to respect international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
**Central African Republic
And from the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that tensions remain high in Batangafo town in Ouham Prefecture, where an internally displaced site was set on fire due to clashes and retaliation by opposing armed groups on 31 October and 1 November. Our colleagues from the peacekeeping mission tell us there has been increased patrolling as sporadic shooting continued between anti‑Balaka and ex‑Séléka fighters. The fire resulted in the displacement of around 30,000 people, the vast majority of whom were internally displaced people who lost everything. Humanitarian workers remain in Batangafo and continue their operations, but the response is being undermined by persisting insecurity and threats against humanitarians. Access to the only hospital in the area is extremely limited to some parts of the population. International NGO partners have established mobile clinics and have increased water [distribution] to 30,000 people; malaria treatments; enriched food; and providing psychosocial services to people impacted by the violence.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tell us that one in five deaths are associated with a poor quality diet, which is now a greater public health threat than malaria, tuberculosis, [or] measles. That’s according to a new policy brief backed by the Food and Agriculture Organization, which stresses the need for reducing food loss and waste to improve access to nutritious and healthy food. With nutrient‑rich food such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and seafood [being] highly perishable, one third of all the food produced for human consumption never reaches the consumer’s plate. The FAO Director‑General, José Graziano da Silva, said that, to tackle all forms of malnutrition and promote healthy diets, we need to put in place food systems that increase the availability, affordability and consumption of fresh, nutrient‑rich food for everyone. More information on the FAO website.
In Mexico, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that many children traveling with the migrant caravan are showing signs of anguish [and] psychosocial distress. In certain cases, children are expressing fear of violence or separation from their families, while other children are finding it difficult to engage in play and recreational organized activities by UNICEF staff on the ground. The agency and its partners are quickly scaling up support for psychosocial interventions to reach these children in need. Psychosocial support can help lower the impact on children of having to abandon their homes and endure gruelling travel conditions. Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In this… you just earlier gave a statement on… on Yemen. The thing is… and… and Secretary‑General, part… over the last week also made an appeal for this… so the… all the warring bodies to come to agreement. It seems as though the Saudi‑led Coalition, Saudi and the UAE [United Arab Emirates], have increased their attacks in Yemen, killing the children, more than anything else. It's absolutely horrendous. Has the Secretary‑General been able to talk with them? They don't pay heed to what he’s saying.
Spokesman: Well, contacts continue to be had, both on the ground through our humanitarian partners, who are doing their best on the issue of deconflicting, and, of course, on the political track with contacts between Martin Griffiths and all the parties involved. It's absolutely critical that the fighting stops. The suffering of the civilian is… continues to grow. And, as you well noted, we've seen an intensification of the fighting. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Yes. That's okay. But the thing is, the attacks by the Saudis… Coalition seems to be increasing. Is it sort of a tactic?
Spokesman: That's a question you have to ask them.
Question: I'm just asking, has Secretary‑General not been able to prevail upon the Saudis?
Spokesman: We have had contacts at numerous levels. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. King Mohammed VI of Morocco has made an important proposal to the Algerian Government, namely, the establishment of a mechanism to be [inaudible] defined to discuss any issue on the table — national, bilateral or international. What does the Secretary‑General think of this proposal?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has always been very supportive of increased dialogue between Algeria and Morocco, and I think we… just, on the broader declarations by His Majesty, I also wanted to say that the Secretary‑General welcomes the support extended by His Majesty, the King of Morocco, in relation to the efforts made by the Secretary‑General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, towards the resumption of the talks. He commends the parties and neighbours for responding positively to the invitation of Mr. Köhler for an initial roundtable to be held in Geneva on 5 and 6 December. The Secretary‑General expresses his hope that this initial roundtable will be the beginning of a process that will lead to a solution of this long‑standing conflict. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. Any Secretary‑General's comments on the outcome of elections in the United States?
Spokesman: No, sir. I mean, no specific comment. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. First, a technical question. Sometimes you have a statement, and you read it. And sometimes you have a statement, but you don't read it unless asked. I can give you three examples…
Spokesman: No, no, I know how it works, yeah.
Question: Yeah, how it works, I want to know. In another case, when Masood asked you about the three Palestinian children killed by Israeli air raid, you… then you pulled out the statement, and you read it. Why you didn't read it from the beginning and makes it… highlight it? Because it's an important issue and just the question of my colleague Abbadi, also the same. So, I need… if you have explanation. When do you read it first and when you don't read it unless asked?
Spokesman: You know, the way this briefing is put together is a bit of secret sauce, so to speak. There is a… decisions are made to issue statements, proactive statements, on issues. Other times, we know we will be asked for a reaction, and we're ready. Other times, we are being asked for a reaction, and we're not ready, and then we get language in the past. It's decisions that are made on how we want to express our position on certain issues.
Question: But it has nothing to do with the significance of the development…?
Spokesman: No, it's just… no, it does not. Yes?
Question: Now, my question is, the new elected Brazilian president, [Jair] Bolsonaro, he stated that he would be moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem. Have any effort made to make the UN position vis‑à‑vis this move is in violation of UN resolutions?
Spokesman: Well, a couple of things. First, the president‑elect of Brazil is the president‑elect of Brazil. He doesn't take office, as far as I know, until 1 January. So, it is not in our habit to comment on things that have yet to happen or statements of things that may happen or may not happen in the future. The Secretary‑General's position on issues that need… on the need to avoid unilateral moves when it comes to the Middle East peace process has been stated by himself directly and by others, and that remains unchanged. Let's go to the back. Zach?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Regarding Cameroon, I saw the statement yesterday regarding the abduction of some students and the statement from the Secretary‑General. Any updates on that, first of all?
Spokesman: Well, we've seen the press reports that the students have been freed, and we're waiting for some sort of confirmation from our… but if that is, in fact, the case, we very much welcome it. And we would hope that what… from what we've seen from the press reports that the two… there are two teachers, the two adults who are with them, should also be released. Hold on, Masood. Let's go to people who haven't asked yet.
Question: From the travel announcement that you read before, I understand the Secretary‑General is not going to the Palermo conference on Libya on Monday and Tuesday. Is there any specific reason for that or… and what kind of hopes and expectation has he on the conference on Libya?
Spokesman: No, he will not be going to the meeting. He will, obviously, be [represented]… but we very much hope and we very much welcome these meetings that are there to really support the work that has been done, being done by the United Nations in support of the people of Libya. Masood?
Question: Two questions. Stéphane, on this Rohingya thing, it is being said that still the conditions are not good enough for the Rohingya refugees to return. Do you have any update on that…?
Question: They're still not…?
Spokesman: No, no up… no change in that assessment. Three.
Question: And the other question I wanted to ask you is about this Asia Bibi, that one statement that you gave the other day. Italy is saying that it is… it wants to help her get out of Pakistan to save her life. How do you see the effort of the Italian Government…?
Spokesman: I don't have the details of the efforts of the Italian Government, but obviously, we'll check with the country team there in Pakistan to see if we have anything. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes. There was a leaked document recently, came to the press that Saudi Arabia sent a letter to the UN officials to highlight their humanitarian support in Yemen, the $950 million. And that document now has been public knowledge. Can you confirm that you… the UN has received a letter from Saudi Arabia emphasizing to… the highlighting of this…?
Spokesman: Abdelhamid, with due respect, this came up a couple of times earlier, and I… there was an extensive back‑and‑forth, which you can refer to. Thank you very much.