The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, everyone. The Secretary‑General is just about to leave Paris, where he took part yesterday, along with other world leaders, in the commemoration of the 100th Armistice Day. In a tweet, he said he hoped that we would draw from its lessons and strengthen international cooperation to face the tests and threats of today and tomorrow.
Yesterday afternoon, he spoke at the opening of the Paris Peace Forum — along with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In his remarks, the Secretary‑General said multilateralism was a necessity and that the United Nations remained at the centre of the harmonisation of efforts to achieve peace and sustainable development. He added that governments would not be able to meet their people’s expectations for protection in the absence of international cooperation.
This afternoon, the Secretary‑General opened the Internet Governance Forum with President Macron and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. He told the Forum that technology should empower and not overpower us. The Secretary‑General also encouraged the Forum to focus especially on innovative solutions that can increase trust in the Internet.
Earlier today, the Secretary‑General met with President Macron at the Elysée. They discussed Africa and particularly the Central African Republic and the Sahel; the situations in Yemen and Syria; and the forthcoming Conference of the Parties (COP‑24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland next month.
He also had bilateral meetings on Saturday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and on Sunday with Chancellor Merkel and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
The Secretary‑General will travel on Tuesday to Washington, D.C., where he will make remarks as the Templeton Prize is presented to King Abdullah of Jordan. He will be back in the office on Wednesday.
This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, spoke to the members of the Peacebuilding Commission, which is focusing this year’s Annual Session on the Sahel.
She noted that this morning’s session, as well as the joint session with ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] tomorrow on climate security in the Sahel, are opportunities to reiterate commitment to addressing the multidimensional challenges in the Sahel region in a coordinated, comprehensive, coherent and efficient way.
Only a collective, integrated and inclusive approach, owned and led by the countries of the region, will support sustained progress towards the lasting peace and development that are so urgently needed in the Sahel.
“Investing in this region is vital,” she said, “to prevent countries experiencing fragility today from becoming failed states of tomorrow.” You can find her remarks online.
We issued a statement over the weekend expressing the Secretary‑General’s concern at President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Sri Lanka’s parliament and move to new parliamentary elections on 5 January 2019.
The Secretary‑General underlines the utmost importance of respecting democratic processes and institutions and resolving differences in accordance with the rule of law and due process. He renews his call on the Government to ensure peace and safety for all Sri Lankans and uphold its commitments to human rights, justice and reconciliation.
Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned by reports of ongoing hostilities and airstrikes in Syria’s south-eastern Deir Ezzour governorate, which have resulted in civilian deaths and injury.
Yesterday, four internally displaced people were reportedly killed in an airstrike on Hajin city. The attack follows reports of intensified airstrikes on residential areas in Hajin, in which at least 10 civilians were killed last Thursday.
The United Nations continues to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including ensuring the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
In a statement issued yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, said that his agency supports the voluntary and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees in safety and in dignity to their places of origin or choice, and will work with all parties towards this goal.
The High Commissioner said that, before making a choice of whether to return or not, the refugees reportedly verified by Myanmar as having the right to return should be allowed to visit their places of origin in Rakhine State, or other places to which they might choose to return, so that they themselves can make an independent assessment of whether they feel they can return there in safety and dignity.
He emphasized that the responsibility to improve those conditions rests with Myanmar. Although UNHCR does not believe current conditions in Rakhine State are conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees from Bangladesh, the agency remains committed to supporting the Government of Myanmar’s efforts to create such conditions, under the terms of the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding.
UNHCR also remains deeply grateful to the Government of Bangladesh as it continues to generously host Rohingya refugees until they can voluntarily return to Myanmar in safety and dignity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that new measures to overcome challenges in the response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are having a positive impact, although the outbreak remains dangerous and unpredictable.
Led by the Ministry of Health, WHO and partners are using targeted, multidisciplinary teams to accelerate community engagement in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province. The UN peacekeeping Mission, MONUSCO, has also taken an active approach to armed groups operating in North Kivu, which has contributed to a period of calm in and around the city of Beni, although some attacks have continued in surrounding villages.
Since the start of the outbreak in August, some 294 Ebola cases have been confirmed, with 170 deaths confirmed. Additional information is available on WHO’s website.
In Bonn, Germany, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) today kicked off an expert meeting to use space data to respond to natural disasters.
The meeting is focusing on increasing the use of big data — including social media and crowdsourced geographic information — and satellite imaging to respond to challenges posed by natural hazards in African countries. You can find more information on this online.
**Questions and Answers
And that is it for me. Since you were here first, you get the first question.
Question: Thank you. I have question about Ukraine, which is probably predictable. So, yesterday, the occupying authorities in Eastern Ukraine conducted the so‑called elections of their new leaders. It is the development… the development that was widely condemned by the international community over this weekend, all last week, and today as well. Because those kind of so‑called elections are violating the Ukrainian legislation and the Minsk Agreements. Since I haven’t seen any official public statement or reaction from the Secretary‑General, could you please inform us of his official position of those so‑called elections?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. As we have repeatedly stated, the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, as endorsed by the Security Council, are the basis for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Rosemary di Carlo, recalled in the Security Council on 30 October that election‑related matters are addressed in the Minsk Agreements as part of a comprehensive package, and they are under consideration in the existing international negotiating mechanisms. Any such measures taken outside Ukraine’s constitutional and legal framework would, therefore, be incompatible with the Minsk Agreements. We urge all concerned to avoid any unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the Minsk Agreements. Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. One follow‑up question on Filippo Grandi’s statement. Is there any indication from the Government of Myanmar that refugees who did return to go and look at where they might be living or be resettled would be able to return to Bangladesh if they were unhappy with what they saw?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that’s a question, really, for the authorities in Myanmar. Under the Memorandum of Understanding, we want to make sure that everyone who is coming back will have the ability to come back in conditions where they can do so in safety and in dignity. So, this is something that the other parties of the agreement, which is to say, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), are trying to work out with the Government of Myanmar.
Question: Okay. And, on the latest violence that we’re seeing right now between the Israelis and Ha… Hamas in Gaza, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the Secretary‑General was talking to reporters in Paris about the latest developments earlier today. One of the things he said is [that] he warned about the risks of escalation of conflict, and he said the following: “I hope that the recent incidents will be contained and that this escalation will not happen, because we would have a new war in Gaza, which would be an incredible tragedy. We need to avoid it at all costs.” Yes, Erol?
Question: Yeah, thank you, Farhan. Probably I missed the reading out of that… what you mentioned that President Erdogan met with the Secretary‑General to start with. I have a couple of questions, but what did they talk… did they tackle the issue of gruesome murdering of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi?
Deputy Spokesman: As far as I know, that did not arise. They did cover a range of other topics, though.
Question: Okay. In regard with that issue, my question is very simple. Since you have informed us and I asked you several questions, both… colleagues asked you, and you said we have to wait to see what is the development, now, after all developments, the question is, will the Secretary‑General be a moral champion and pursue and be behind the full truth of uncovering what has happened to Mr. Khashoggi?
Deputy Spokesman: We have repeatedly encouraged the uncovering of the whole truth. The Secretary‑General is on record as calling for a thorough, prompt and transparent investigation. And we’re continuing to follow up to see whether that happens or not. And you’ll have seen that Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has also spoken out about the need for an independent investigation, and I would refer you to her remarks, as well.
Question: Yeah, but just, if I can, with all this that has been said, it has been said before, exactly, you are repeating the same thing. But now we have a new developments, and would you say something new in the sense that Secretary‑General is also… probably will use that and talk or go to Saudi Arabia, and we have a developments on Yemeni situation where the Western leaders are traveling actually there in try… they try to stop the bloodshed of… in… in Yemen. So, what does the Secretary‑General plans do in regard on that and put in that context?
Deputy Spokesman: Those are two different topics. [inaudible]
Question: Yeah [inaudible] still in the context.
Deputy Spokesman: I think I’ve said where we stand about Mr. Khashoggi’s case, and that remains unchanged. Regarding Yemen, we have been trying to encourage all sides to put a halt to the fighting in Yemen. The Secretary‑General, again, speaking today in France, warned that the risk of famine remains very serious, and he stressed that Hodeidah is essential to guarantee access of aid. So, he believes that there is a need to stop the fighting, and it’s essential to do that and to start a true political dialogue. And he continues to push for that. [inaudible]
Correspondent: Will he travel to the region?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t have any travels to announce at this point. Yes?
Question: Right. What did he talk about with Turkey? Was it Syria? And, also, independent investigation doesn’t mean UN investigation, does it? On Khashoggi.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what the Secretary‑General called for was something that was prompt, transparent and thorough. Whether anything further is needed and what the format of that should be, we would have to evaluate depending upon the current results of what’s under way right now.
Correspondent: And second… yeah, go ahead.
Deputy Spokesman: And regarding the meeting with President Erdogan, they discussed a number of regional developments. [He later clarified that topics included Syria, Yemen, Libya, Cyprus and US‑Turkey relations.] Yes?
Question: Secondly, in any of his comments, which we haven’t all received yet, does he have a reaction to President Macron’s statement that nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe that there were a number of very moving speeches made yesterday, and I think the Secretary‑General was very happy to be part of this commemoration. He made the case, as did President Macron, that the events of 100 years ago showed exactly why there’s a need for international cooperation and for multilateralism. And he believes that what the French President said was very eloquent about that.
Question: [inaudible] Follow‑up on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure.
Question: Since we have all media re… reports that are indicating actually that President [Donald] Trump was rebuked by President Macron on the issue of nationalism where President Macron preferred some kind of patriotism and having all the experience through this organization, as well, what did the pat… the nationalism produce, for example, in Balkans? And that the Secretary‑General is very well involved in understanding that. What is his inclination, toward patriotism or kind of positive nationalism?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think that kind of analysis is best left to you, not to us. Where we stand, of course, the Secretary‑General, his positions are laid out very clearly in the remarks that we put out yesterday and includes his support for international cooperation and the entire framework of multilateral organizations. And with that, I bid you all a good afternoon.