The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I wish it was a happy Monday, but no. We’ll start off with a statement on Syria: The Secretary-General is gravely concerned over the military developments in north-east Syria, which have already reportedly resulted in many civilian casualties and the displacement of at least 160,000 civilians. He continues to urge for maximum restraint and stresses that any military operation must fully respect international law, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General calls for the immediate de-escalation and urges all parties to resolve their concerns through peaceful means.
The Secretary-General emphasizes that civilians not taking part in hostilities must be protected at all times. Likewise, civilian infrastructure must be protected in accordance with international humanitarian law. He recognizes in particular the vulnerabilities of internally displaced persons. He further stresses that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need must be guaranteed, including through the cross-border modality, in order to allow the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out its critical work in northern Syria.
He also notes with serious concern that the current military operations could lead to the unintended release of individuals associated with Daesh, with all the consequences this could entail.
The Secretary-General recalls Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), which stresses that any solution to the Syrian crisis must reaffirm the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
In addition to the statement, colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that since 9 October, those on the move have been displaced by the violence from areas around Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain. Most of the displaced are staying with relatives or host communities, but increasing numbers are arriving at collective shelters in the area.
The latest fighting compounds an already dire humanitarian situation in north-east Syria. Of the 3 million women, children and men in the north-east, 1.8 million were already in need of humanitarian aid, including over 910,000 in acute need. Close to 710,000 of those living in the area were already internally displaced.
There are also heightened concerns for thousands of vulnerable displaced persons, including women and children at various camps for internally displaced people, including Al Hol – which currently host over 68,000 people, 94 per cent of whom are women and children.
We are of course continuing with our contingency planning and humanitarian workers are committed to stay, but we are concerned about their safety.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has so far provided immediate food assistance to more than 70,000 people fleeing towns in the area. WFP is deeply concerned about the safety of civilians caught in the violence and urges that vital supply routes must be kept open and safe for humanitarian deliveries. The food agency is providing families in shelters with ready-to-eat food that does not require cooking while those staying with host families receive a regular food package.
On the political front, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, has met with the 28 EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg today. He expressed deep alarm at the developments in north-eastern Syria. He urged the concerned parties to refrain from actions that further imperil civilians, undermine sovereignty, destabilize the fragile situation and endanger efforts on political track.
Over the weekend, Mr. Pedersen consulted with the Syrian National Committee in Riyadh. He will head to Damascus very soon and stressed that all must work constructively to achieve the goals of the Constitutional Committee.
And I have a senior personnel appointment to announce. The Secretary-General has appointed Helen Meagher La Lime of the United States as his Special Representative for Haiti and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).
As you know, the mandate of the Mission is changing tomorrow. Ms. La Lime had been the head of the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, otherwise [known as] MINUJUSTH. Her bio is online.
In response to questions I have received on the situation on Guinea, I can tell you that the Secretary-General is following with increasing concern the situation in Guinea, where demonstrations against a government proposal to review the current Constitution have been called for today, 14 October.
The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to resort to inclusive political dialogue to resolve their differences. He reiterates that freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights and calls on security forces to exercise maximum restraint and uphold relevant international human rights standards in responding to any demonstrations. He calls on all actors to take all necessary measures to prevent the current situation from escalating and undermining peace and stability in the country and the region.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel continues to monitor the situation in the country and remains in contact with key national stakeholders towards de-escalating tensions and the promotion of a peaceful environment ahead of the legislative elections and the 2020 presidential elections in the country.
Turning to Mali, the UN Peacekeeping Mission in that country (MINUSMA) reports that on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered in the town of Sevaré in the Mopti region and marched towards the Mission’s camp.
Demonstrations quickly turned violent, with protesters throwing stones and chanting anti-UN slogans. They broke into several of the Mission’s storage containers, located in front of the camp, and caused some material damage.
Malian security forces and the UN Police dispelled the crowds.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the UN Mission reiterated its support for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful demonstrations but strongly condemned the acts of vandalism.
Today, the Government reiterated its strong support to the UN and recalled that the peacekeeping mission is in the country to support Malian security forces. As an example, they noted the support provided by the UN following the Boulekessi attacks against the Malian army two weeks ago.
And the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack on a mosque that took place in Burkina Faso during Friday prayers.
He expressed his deep condolences to the families of the deceased and the people and the Government of Burkina Faso. And that full statement was issued over the weekend.
We also issued a statement over the weekend strongly condemning the mortar attacks on 13 October against the International Airport in Mogadishu that hit the compound of the UN and the African Union Mission (AMISOM).
The Secretary-General reiterates his strong support to all United Nations colleagues in Somalia. He reaffirms that the UN remains determined to support the Federal Government of Somalia and all Somalis in their pursuit of peace and stability.
And also over the weekend, we welcomed the announcement of the start of a dialogue process between the Government of Ecuador and indigenous organizations, facilitated by the Episcopal Conference and the United Nations Country Team. The Secretary-General calls on all concerned to commit to inclusive and meaningful talks, to work in good faith towards a peaceful solution to the pressing challenges facing the country.
The Secretary-General also calls on all actors to reduce tensions, refrain from acts of violence and exercise restraint.
Also over the weekend — it was a busy weekend — we issued a statement from the Secretary-General on Japan, in which he said he was saddened by reports of loss of life and extensive destruction caused by the typhoon that hit over the weekend. He extended his deep condolences to the families of the victims, the Government and people of Japan.
The UN continues to monitor the situation and stands ready to assist if requested.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) urged Afghan authorities to safeguard and complete the ongoing election process.
In a statement issued over the weekend, the Mission [recalled] that this presidential election was the first completely run by Afghan authorities since 2001 and is an important milestone in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance.
The Mission also stressed that all Afghans involved in the process must demonstrate their commitment to safeguard and complete the election, and to protect the integrity of the process, especially with regard to tabulating and announcing the results.
For the first nine months of the year, over 80,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe via Mediterranean routes. More than a quarter of them were children, many travelling without their parents.
In a new report titled “Desperate Journeys”, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) recognized positive steps taken across Europe to improve the protection of refugees and migrants. But the agency also calls on European States to step up their efforts to protect child refugees and migrants through measures such as: ending the use of immigration detention for children, appointing trained [guardians] or social workers and ensuring that refugee and migrant children can receive an [education].
Lastly, tomorrow, at 11, there will be a press conference here featuring Jens Modvig, Chair of the Committee against Torture; also Malcolm Evans, the Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
**Questions and Answers
Question: No payments? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Ibtisam. None… no full payments that I can report, but I understand some… a few partial payments have arrived, but I’m trying to get some numbers for you. Yes, Madame?
Question: Stéphane, on Syria, so the Arab League met on the weekend, and they had… and the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammad Ali Al Hakim, who is the president of the current Arab League session, condemned Turkish offensive. Also, they issued… the ministers issued a statement, calling on the UN Security Council to take necessary measures to stop the Turkish aggression and for the withdrawal of Syrian terr… from Syrian territory immediately. What is the position of the Secretary‑General on this statement? Does he agree and, if not, why?
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, it’s not for the Secretary‑General to comment on statements by other organizations. Our position, I think, has been made as clear as possible. In the statement we just issued, including for the Secretary-General, the… stressing the need that any military operation must fully respect international law, including the UN Charter and international humanitarian law. We have been in touch with Turkish authorities at different levels, especially Mr. Pedersen, who has been in very frequent contact with his Turkish counterparts, and the message of restraint is one that has been passed on.
Question: A follow‑up. Does he see it as an aggression or does he… I mean, does he condemn the Turkish invasion of Syria? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Look, for us, the important… as we’ve said in a statement, it’s the territorial integrity of Syria and that any military operations — and we’ve seen quite a few in Syria over the past more than eight years. The Syrian people have been… I think, have been clearly suffering from those — that any military operation must fully respect international law, including the Charter. Yes, sir?
Question: So, my question, Steph, is about your reference to the UN Charter in the context of this military operation. The UN Charter, article 2, is very clear that the Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all Member States. Article 2.4: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” Clearly, Turkey is in violation of the UN Charter. Why then can the UN Secretary‑General not call on Turkey to stop its actions?
Spokesman: I think I would again… I appreciate the reading of the Charter, but, again, I would refer you to what I’ve said, is that we have… in light of this current military operation, it bears reminding that any military operation going on needs to respect the Charter and international humanitarian law.
Question: But, surely, the military operation in itself is a violation of the Charter. Why is it not…? [cross talk]
Spokesman: I will leave that analysis to you. Yes, James?
Question: Yes. First question, to follow up on your talk about contacts between the UN and Turkey, this has been going on for some days now. Has the Secretary‑General picked up the phone and spoken directly to President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan?
Spokesman: As I said, I’m not aware of any direct phone calls. Contacts have been had at various levels.
Question: Would… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I’m not aware… I’m not aware of any direct contacts at this point.
Question: If you could check for us.
Question: And if I could follow up on another aspect of this, which is the… the ISIL prisoners and families, because we’ve asked so many questions over many, many months here about the custody arrangements for them. Isn’t it time now for the international community to come together and try and arrange proper custody for them? And, surely, someone needs to take a leadership role here. One suggests, perhaps, the Secretary‑General might be the right person to do that.
Spokesman: Listen, this is an issue that we have expressed our issue… our concerns about for… as you said, for many months. We have briefed the Security Council on it, and there are structures that need to be respected in terms of human rights, especially in terms of the children, and we’re continuing to highlight those to the Security Council.
Question: One other follow‑up on that. You do have UNITAD (United Nations Investigation Team for the Accountability of Da’esh) and Karim Khan, which I know its main role is in Iraq, yes, and accountability for ISIL’s crimes…
Spokesman: Well, UNC… I’m sorry, I thought you said UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). No, no, but I… the other UNCTAD. Okay. So I…
Question: And… but he… I think he has a wider role for accountability to ISIL’s crimes. Has he had any involvement with… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Very good question. I will double‑check for you on that. Edie? No…?
Question: Thank you. A follow‑up on Mali. You said that the UN bases there or facilities were being stoned and attacked, but you didn’t say why. What were all these protesters protesting about against the UN? And my question is a follow‑up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize for economics, which deals with an issue that I know is close to the Secretary‑General’s heart, which is ending poverty and reducing inequality. Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the awarding of the Nobel Prize for economics in that particular field?
Spokesman: Yes, I mean, I think he thinks it’s a very timely choice in the sense that this is an issue that we have been talking about here for quite some time. It [has] direct impact to the Sustainable Development Goals, and we hope it leads to increased study in the field on the alleviation of poverty. You asked me something completely different…
Spokesman: Yes, Mali. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. On Mali, well, I mean, I can’t speak for the protesters. They were clearly… this is an area that has seen quite a bit of violence against the Government and against the UN so… Maggie’s been patient.
Question: Back to Syria. You said vital… it’s imperative that vital routes must be kept open for the humanitarians. Do you have any reports that the cross‑border aid can go through or any updates on that? And then feeding off of that also, Mr. [Mark] Lowcock was in Ankara on Friday, I believe. I didn’t… I don’t think I saw a readout over the weekend. Was there?
Spokesman: I think we issued one. I tend to wipe the previous week from my memory every Monday so… we did put out a readout which… [cross talk]
Question: You don’t have it in your book?
Spokesman: … we can both reread again.
Spokesman: Second, on the cross‑border, in the north-west, my understanding is that they’ve been able to go on fairly regularly. It’s been much more challenging in the north‑east. Let’s stay on Syria, and then we’ll go to a different part of the world.
Question: Yeah. Malachy Browne, New York Times. Yesterday, we published an investigation that showed that the Russian air force bombed four health‑care facilities, in fact hospitals, that are on the UN’s no‑strike list. What’s your response to that?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve seen the report. As you know, there is a Board of Inquiry that was established by the Secretary‑General to look into the destruction of UN‑funded or UN‑supported health facilities. I know the Board of Inquiry has seen the report, the report from The New York Times. Their work is ongoing. They’re right now going through kind of a desk review, and they plan to go to the region fairly soon.
Question: The Board of Inquiry doesn’t intend to assign blame or name perpetrators. Why is that?
Spokesman: The Board of Inquiry has very specific terms of reference. They will report to the Secretary‑General, and then we’ll take it from there.
Question: But the… the… in light of the evidence that we’ve laid on the table, how can they not go there with purp… assigning blame?
Spokesman: Look, they have a… it is a fact‑finding mission. It is not a legal investigation. It follows a framework of traditional UN boards of inquiries that are under the specific authority of the Secretary‑General. Any kind of legal or more criminal inquiry would require a different mandate… require a mandate from the Security Council.
Question: The Secretary‑General has indicated that he will not make the report public, and it’s up to… it’s his discretion to make part of or all of it public. How can there be any accountability?
Spokesman: I have nothing to add to what I’ve previously said on that at this point. Señora?
Question: Steph, we understand that the dialogue ended up yesterday with the ending of the strike by the indigenous communities in Ecuador, and they will have meetings today with the groups that have to do with the labour unions. What is the hope from this point on after they decreed that 833 was derogated? And then what is the concerns that the office has in Ecuador, because the indigenous group said they had serious concerns about the use of force and violations of human rights against some of the protesters in Ecuador. Can you give us a little sense?
Spokesman: I mean, I think both ourselves and the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed our concern on the use of force and then called for restraint. Our colleagues in the country team are working with the Episcopal Conference, trying to ensure that any issues that arise and concerns that arise are addressed and addressed fully through political and peaceful means.
Question: How many… sorry. Just… for how long do you think that the process could last? Because it started yesterday, and they were successful. In about four or five hours, they were able to get to an agreement, establish the process of peace. How many days could it work out, and if there are… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I can’t give you an end date. We obviously hope these things are resolved quickly. Yes, sir, and then Stefano.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Since you answered to Edie’s question and commented on behalf of the Secretary‑General on Nobel Peace Prize, on the Nobel committee, as well, since there is also a topic very close to the heart of the Secretary‑General… General’s heart, hate speech, Austrian writer Peter Handke was awarded with the Nobel Prize for literature. He’s characterized as a genocide denier in Balkans, in Bosnia. What is the comment of the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: Look, I’ve seen the controversy around that. I, frankly, am not familiar enough with the writer to offer comment, and I have not had a chance to speak directly to the Secretary‑General on that issue.
Question: When you look in this, this is very serious issue regarding Srebrenica. You issued a report on Srebrenica in 1999, and it’s a part of institutional memory… [cross talk]
Spokesman: No, no, I’m aware, but I just… I don’t know enough about the writer personally to comment off the top of my head.
Question: Would you look?
Spokesman: I will always look. Signore?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It’s a follow‑up on Syria. I think the questions before is that we’re noticing the Secretary‑General reaction wasn’t strong enough, and I give you an example. When it was a situation… it’s not exactly the same, but it was a situation in Burma where the Secretary‑General… when he thought the population was really, really in danger, he reacted, sent a message to the Security Council. The Security Council acted. There was a lot of… it was a good reaction, and the Secretary‑General just started his mandate. This time we looking at… that the Secretary‑General has been more prudent. And, so, the Charter of United [Nations] is also talking about self‑determination of people. There are many ways for the Secretary‑General to address this issue, and we see already… for example, just yesterday…
Spokesman: Cara professore. [cross talk]
Question: No, we… it is… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I mean, I’m interested in what you’re saying, but I would love a question. [cross talk]
Question: No, no, this moment there are people dying.
Spokesman: I’m fully…
Question: And I think… so, the question is, because it’s not any more, it’s not doubted the people are being bombed, civilians, would… what is exactly the reaction the Secretary‑General and, also, on, you know, the responsibility to protect? This is a phrase that we heard a lot at the United Nation. What does he think?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General, as I’ve said and I’ve tried to express, is following this extremely closely. Messages are being passed on to the Turkish authorities. It is also worth remembering that there is a political process that needs to go on. Right? We had achieved some progress on the Constitutional Committee. We need to secure that progress. We need to continue with that, because, ultimately, the best solution for the people of Syria will be a political one, and that’s exactly what Mr. Pedersen is doing.
Question: Follow‑up? It’s the very political process that is being undermined by this action. The very process that the UN is leading is being undermined by this military offensive in north‑east Syria, and there’s an inability for the UN to ask them to stop. It beggars belief as to why… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think our statement is clear on that, and I think the statement reflects what you’ve just said. Edie?
Question: Going back to all of the camps, what exactly, if any, is the UN presence or role in Al‑Hol and the other camps, not for the fighters but for supporters, family members, children?
Spokesman: As far as I know — and I will double‑check — is that we do not have a presence… we’re not able to have a presence in Al‑Hol, but I will check with you very quickly after the briefing.
Question: Follow‑up. Two questions. Is the Secretary‑General reluctant to condemn the Turkish invasion because he didn’t do so in other… when the Americans, Russians, etc., did it, because he also back then said… like, had a similar or different comments, and now he’s not able to do this because he didn’t do it in the past, in this case?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General’s aim is to do whatever he can and whatever he needs to do, whether himself or Mr. Pedersen and others, to save a political process and to find a political solution. That’s his focus, and sometimes it means being criticized for not speaking out loud enough, but that is his focus.
Question: On aid, you said that many of the families who had… were forced to leave their pl… their houses now with relatives. Is… do they get aid, too? Are you able to reach them or… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, the people we have access… if you are staying… I think, as we said, if you’re staying with relatives, you do get aid. I mean, we’re trying to reach people who need it, whether they’re staying in makeshift camps or whether they’re staying with relatives, if either we have access to it, or we have access to them through our Syrian partners.
Question: And the number you gave is 100… 1,160… 160… [cross talk]
Spokesman: We’ll circulate all the numbers afterwards.
Question: How do you… I mean, you said, like, I think, last week that you don’t have a presence in north‑east Syria and you have other organizations that… [cross talk]
Spokesman: These are, obviously, estimates that we work through our partners. We have a small presence in the very north‑east of Syria, but a lot of these are estimates or numbers we get through our partners. Maria?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Follow‑up on the inquiry committee. So, does it have a clear time mandate? If now… they begin its work on 30 September, in two weeks, they’re only going to Syria and…
Spokesman: I didn’t say two weeks.
Question: You said they are going now…
Spokesman: I said soon.
Question: Yes. So…
Spokesman: I didn’t say… [cross talk]
Question: I mean, it seems…
Spokesman: Don’t chain me to a calendar, please… [cross talk]
Question: … they’re not in a hurry. [laughs]
Spokesman: Well, I mean, they… they are… you know, they are trying to work as quickly as possible but as thoroughly as possible as well.
Question: No, the short question is when… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I’m sorry. I don’t mean to…
Question: … when can expect the results of this…?
Spokesman: When any investigation starts, I don’t think anyone wants to say exactly when it will end, but they are working as thoroughly and as expeditiously as possible.
Question: And the second question is if they are going to take into account the data which was provided… which was provided to journalists by Russian Mission, and Russian Mission claimed they will give it to UN as well the data about miscommunication on the location of these hospitals. [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think they will take into account whatever information and any information that is given to them, whether from public sources or from Governments. That’s their job. Yes, sir?
Question: Thanks. Is the UN’s current budget crisis impeding your ability at all to provide aid to this region?
Spokesman: No, not at this time, because the… I mean, there… there are restraints in terms of the financing of the humanitarian appeal, but that’s separate from shutting down the escalators. Yeah. Señor?
Question: Gracias. Stéphane, probably I missed. I apologize, but if… did Secretary‑General reacted on… or commented what President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan said that he will practically open the gates of Turkey and send 3.6, as he said, million of refugees to Europe? And, obviously, that’s with pass through Balkans, etc.
Spokesman: No, there’s no particular comment on that. Stefano?
Question: Is he… is he concerned about the destiny of 3.6 million people? [cross talk]
Spokesman: Of course, he’s concerned about the state of refugees. What is clear is that, for us, any movement of refugees needs to be done in a way that is voluntary, that is safe, and that is done in dignity. Stefano?
Question: The celebration today in America, is it Columbus Day or Indigenous Day? [laughter]
Spokesman: I’m in enough trouble on many issues. [laughter] I have no… just give me a break. It’s only Monday. Please, Stefano. [laughter] I… and I… and by no means do I not say that you have a valid question. I just want to take my… play my joke and take a pass for this briefing. Yes, ma’am? I should have eaten the bottle.
Correspondent: It’s important.
Spokesman: I’m not saying it’s not im… definitely not saying it’s not important. I just… there’s some things I just don’t want to step into.
Question: On Syria, also.
Question: After all this killing and civilian who are being killed by Turkish regime, when Secretary‑General may call Syria directly to stop its invasion?
Spokesman: Listen, as I said, the messages that we’re expressing publicly have also been passed in privately to the Turkish authorities. Liling?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Can you give us any update at all… at all about the cash flow crisis? I know you said there may have been some partial payments. Any update while I have you recorded? [laughter]
Spokesman: I didn’t know you were recording. [laughter]
Question: Forty-five minutes.
Spokesman: You should have told me. No, as I said, I checked with our… with the comptroller this morning. He did mention there were some partial payments coming in, but we’re still trying to run through some of the numbers. So, hopefully, we’ll have an update tomorrow. Okay. And, Maria, you know, on the Board of Inquiry, I just relooked at some of my notes from then, that there is hope that the work will be done in three months, but that’s not final, but that was the hope…
Spokesman: …that we expressed when we first… James.
Question: Yeah. As you’ve been speaking again to the comptroller, did he give you the savings that we asked for a list of what you’re saving by roping off the escalator? [laughter] [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yes, I’ve asked for that. Well, at least we’re spending… we’re burning calories, which is good.
Question: But can I actually… serious access point. Can we remove those silly ropes and just go up and down? They’re always broken anyway. We always walk on them… [cross talk]
Spokesman: A, that’s not fair. They’re not always broken. And, B, I think using escalators that are not moving could be a safety issue since… I wouldn’t want you to trip on the steps.
Correspondent: There’s nobody to come rescue you.
Spokesman: No, it is pretty easy to access someone who is stuck on an escalator. [laughter]
Question: But you are going to try to get us a breakdown.
Spokesman: Yes, I am.
Question: And when you get the breakdown, could you also get the breakdown on what closing the Delegates’ Lounge, particularly on Thursday and Friday nights when it is overwhelmed and makes a whole lot of money, is going to save the United Nations?
Spokesman: There’s so many things I want to say, but I’ll just tell you that I will try to get some numbers. Let’s hope to see each other tomorrow.