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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Security Council met this morning. During the meeting, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said that over the past months, the debate on the revision of the Constitution, as well as clashes between the two signatories of the peace agreement, have almost derailed the implementation of the agreement. While these crises have been averted, Mr. Annadif called on all parties to redouble their efforts to re-establish confidence, commit to reforms and provide peace dividends to the population.
Mr. Annadif warned that the UN Mission is confronted with major challenges related to the activities of extremist and terrorist groups, as well as criminal networks. These are the main obstacles to the return of peace, he said. He added that the almost daily loss of peacekeepers is becoming unbearable. He reiterated the need for funding to invest in protection against indirect attacks, as well as in the improvement of surveillance, detection, and early warning alarm systems.
Mr. Annadif also noted that only 35 per cent of the humanitarian response plan for Mali has been funded so far.
Just a quick note on the humanitarian operations in Myanmar: the UN response plan has been revised to $434 million to scale up the relief operation to help 1.2 million people, including newly-arrived refugees, earlier arrivals and local host communities. In support of this, the Central Emergency Relief Fund [CERF] has released an additional $12 million to help build new sites for the newly-arrived refugees. The total number of Rohingya refugees to have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25 still stands at 509,000, according to the latest figures we have.
Ahead of the Secretary-General’s visit to the Caribbean, our humanitarian colleagues report that in Dominica, UN Agencies and their partners have scaled up the relief operation dramatically as access improves across the island. The World Food Programme [WFP] has distributed some 70 metric tons of food, covering about half the population of Dominica.
And in Antigua and Barbuda, the UN Development Programme [UNDP] has mobilized $2 million to provide materials, tools and training for the permanent roofing of up to 250 houses and community buildings in Barbuda.
Meanwhile, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] is working to provide the necessary equipment for children to return to school, as well as hygiene kits, water purification tablets and safe drinking water.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the news of the passing of the former President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani. Mr. Talabani will be remembered as a compassionate political leader and a symbol of Iraqi unity who made a significant contribution to democracy, dialogue and mutual understanding amongst all Iraqi communities.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, said today that he is appalled by reports of high numbers of civilian casualties due to heavy air attacks in Syria. Hospitals, ambulances, schools and displaced people escaping violence have been targeted by direct air strikes, resulting in deaths and injuries of innocent civilians. He noted that September was the deadliest month of 2017 for civilians, with daily reports of attacks on residential areas resulting in hundreds of conflict-related deaths and injuries.
Global food prices rose slightly in September, as firmer prices of vegetable oils and to a lesser extent dairy products offset declining prices for staple cereal grains. That’s according to the latest Food Price Index released by our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]. The Index, as you know, is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. The Index is up 0.8 percent from August and marking a 4.3 percent increase from a year earlier.
Today is — Do you know what today is? — it’s the day we should all honour our teachers — World Teachers’ Day, and this year’s theme is “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers”.
In a joint statement, the heads of several UN agencies — UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], the International Labour Organization [ILO], UNICEF and UNDP — stressed how teachers are a critical foundation of every society’s long-term strength, providing children, young people and adults with the knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their potential. But they noted that, around the world, far too many teachers don’t have the freedom and support they need.
As the world works together to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, the statement stressed the need to raise the status of teachers around the world in a way that honours and reflects the impact they have on the strength of society. The statement is online.
Tomorrow, I will be joined at the briefing by Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries [LLDCs] and Small Island Developing States; along with her will be the Permanent Representative of Mongolia, who is the Interim Director of the International Think Tank for the LLDCs; and the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Zambia, who is the Chair of the Landlocked Developing Countries group. They will brief you on the intergovernmental agreement on the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries, which enters into force tomorrow, 6 October 2017.
Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Ambassador Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations.
We will confirm this to you but there will likely be a briefing at 9 a.m. by Virginia Gamba, who is the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict of the Secretary-General. We will confirm that a bit later today.
One more activity and that is for tonight: we will have the red-carpet premiere of a film about human trafficking that was inspired by true events. The film is entitled “Trafficked”. The premiere is hosted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], and I am told that the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit [MALU] has a number of tickets available for you, if you would like to go to the movies. Simone Monasebian, the Director of the UNODC New York Office, said that she hopes this dramatic and true-to-life film will move people to take action against the scourge of human trafficking.
Today we say thank you to Cameroon and Poland for their full payments to the regular budget, which brings us up to?
Correspondent: One hundred and thirty-five.
Spokesman: Matthew wins for the first time.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Well, you said there was another quiz, and I wanted to ask you about Myan… Cameroon, as it turns out.
Question: But also Myanmar. As I'm sure you know… I'm sure you've seen the Guardian story once again about Ms. [Renata] Lok‑Dessallien, in this case, saying that she suppressed a report about the UN's role in Rakhine State. And it has, again, quotes from people that work for the UN, saying that… that the… the Human Rights Up Front, which was announced with some fanfare by your previous Secretary‑General you spoke for, has not been implemented. So I wanted to ask, just factually, does the report exist? Did she suppress it?
Question: How is… when… just one… I have…
Question: I… I'll end with this one, that the… the… this statement that he stood behind her, while… while, obviously, a good thing to stand behind your officials, seems to have sent a message to staff that, even if you speak up and say my supervisor retaliated against me for raising human rights in an internal UN meeting, that the Secretary‑General will, out of hand, reject your claims and side with your boss. How would you respond to that?
Spokesman: Okay. So, let's take the granular first. I don't agree at all with your analysis. If people have grievances, there are all sorts of internal systems they can go through. They can also… there's a very strong whistleblower protection that's available to every staff member of this organisation. The Secretary‑General does stand by Renata Lok‑Dessallien, the Resident Coordinator and the team that she leads in Myanmar. There was a report. It was not spiked in any way. It was presented to the UN country team in April, and I think, far from suppressing information or censoring ourselves, I think, in our dialogues with the Myanmar authorities, the UN system has consistently urged the leaders of Myanmar, whether the military or civilian leadership, to uphold their responsibilities. I think, if you look at the public statements from the Secretary‑General, if you look at the public statements earlier this year from the Resident Coordinator, and from the team, I think they have been clear and to the point. We engage with the authorities of Myanmar as we engage with the authorities in any country. We engage constructively with them. Engagement does not mean that we lose our principles. On the contrary, I think we stand strong on our principles. I think the Secretary‑General, in his statement to the Security Council, whether by letter or in present to the security… excuse me, in his statement that he did in person to the Security Council, was extremely clear about his message to the Myanmar authorities. And we will continue to be clear both in our public statements and in our private conversations with the authorities.
Question: So just… thanks. The Guardian quotes a UN official in Yangon, quote, “Human Rights Up Front isn't being implemented. It just isn't. They can say that they are ticking some boxes, but, in terms of actions that lead to results, we're seeing nothing.” And the other… I just wanted to… because there is a perception. You're saying that, if staff go internally, then the Secretary‑General won't automatically side with their supervisor. But, if they go public…?
Spokesman: This is not… this is… the statements that I'm making I've… have to do with the attacks that the Resident Coordinator has been subject to, the attacks that the UN team in Myanmar has been subject to. Let's not forget where responsibility lies in terms of protecting people. It lies with the Government.
Spokesman: That's where the responsibility lies. Any assessment of our public statements in the last year, in the last few months, have been clear in us raising our concern about the situation, the human rights situation, in Rakhine State, about the lack of humanitarian access. I think we have been very clear. Now, current, past staff members, people talk to the press. That's their business. I think we've said what we have to say. Yes, sir?
Question: I have question on the team was announced…
Spokesman: On the what, sorry?
Question: Team announced by the SG.
Spokesman: I'm sorry.
Question: To give them advice. I think they have 15 members on preventive diplomacy.
Spokesman: On the mediation team, you mean?
Question: Yes. Are they going to have, like, office at the… at the UN? How are they going to work?
Spokesman: No, there'll not be an office. They'll be coordinated through our…
Spokesman: They'll be coordinated by the Secretariat staff here. This is not a job. This is a voluntary participation. They will be called upon at different times by the Secretary‑General to work on preventive diplomacy, to work on mediation. And they will be… they have said they would be available as needed. The Secretary‑General intends to call a meeting and bring them to New York, I think, in the near future. And, when that happens, we will let you know ahead of time.
Question: Okay. Can I follow up?
Spokesman: You may.
Question: Yeah. Thank you. [inaudible] SG will have a work plan which subjects or what areas in the world… [cross talk]
Spokesman: It will be… this is… they will serve at the Secretary‑General's discretion. When he feels there are conflicts or tensions in various places in the world where he needs to… he… there is room for UN mediation, he may call upon one of the members of the board who he feels may be best suited to work in that… on that crisis. Yes, sir, and then Evelyn. Yes, sir, Nizar?
Question: On Yemen, in the last 48 hours, there has been… there have been three air attacks by Saudi‑led Coalition against civilians killing at least 17 civilians in one strike and others. And I feel… I feel the United Nations is mute about what's going on in Yemen. You mention it every now and then. Procrastination in releasing that report about Children and Armed Conflict, under pressure from Saudi Arabia again as you are… you have been accused. These accusations are littering the media everywhere, that the United Nations is yielding to pressure from Saudi Arabia. Why is this… we have a catastrophe in Yemen unlike any other place in the world, more than 700,000 people…
Spokesman: Okay, Nizar… [cross talk] I appreciate your statement. I would love to hear a question mark.
Question: The question is, why the United Nations looks mute with regard to the disaster in Yemen?
Spokesman: I think, if… for anyone who has been listening, and I know you have, we are anything but mute. We have been talking about Yemen, not now and then. We have been talking about Yemen consistently here in this podium. We have been talking about Yemen consistently in the Security Council in very stark terms. We are anything but mute. The report of the Secretary‑General on Children and Armed Conflict will likely go to the Security Council, most likely at some point today. You will soon be able to see for yourself and judge the report for itself and judge the security… the Secretary‑General's position for yourself. And un… I would ask you to reserve judgment until you actually read the report. The Secretary‑General took his time in putting the report together to ensure that he had a report that he was happy with, to have research that he was happy with, and he has taken the decisions concerning the report that he feels are the right decisions. And I would ask you to reserve judgment on that until you've actually read the report.
Question: Today you read a statement by representative in Syria about attacks, aerial attacks, against civilians in many areas. When did Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed issue similar statement about Yemen? He always sounds like he's trying to balance, to appease those aggressors all the time.
Spokesman: I think… the Secretary‑General's Special Envoy is not appeasing anyone. He is involved in political and diplomatic negotiations. He is but one voice of the UN system on Yemen. The Secretary‑General has spoken out. Our humanitarian colleagues, whether emerge… successive emergency relief coordinators, heads of UN agencies, the Secretary‑General in their briefings to the Security Council have been very clear about the unacceptable, heart-breaking suffering of the people of Yemen. [cross talk] Nizar… Nizar…
Question: Last follow‑up. What… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I will come back to you. I will come back to you, Nizar. Nizar, I will come back to you. Evelyn?
Question: Okay. Let's go to Syria. The latest airstrike that I could find was Russia, civilians crossing Euphrates. Do you have other examples of it? Is it Syria? Is it the Coalition? Is it Iran?
Spokesman: We're not… you know, there are a lot of various air forces in the air over Syria. We do not have… in most cases, we do not have the forensic capability to analyse who is responsible for what attack. What we do know is that civilians are bearing the brunt of the falling ordnance in Syria. That is clear, and that's something we have been concerned and speaking out about for, unfortunately, too many years. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. I had asked earlier about Cyprus, whether the Secretary‑General has submitted his report to the Security Council, and I do have a follow‑up question on that. The Turkish Cypriot foreign minister said that they would, from now on, follow a policy which would allow them to be recognized within the international community as a sovereign state or establish an autonomous region which would be a part of Turkey. What does the UN have to say about it? Thank you.
Spokesman: My understanding is that advanced copies of the report have gone to the Security Council. I don't think it's a public document, but it's been shared with the Security Council. As for recognition of any territory and international organisation, that's an issue that is up to the Member States, the membership of each international organisation. There is a procedure for the United Nations. There are procedures for other international organisations. That's not for the Secretary‑General to decide upon. Yes, sir?
Question: I've been wanting to ask you about Cameroon. In fact, I've asked you some stuff in writing, but I want to ask you now in person. Since your last statement… I mean, there… there… I've asked you how many people the UN thinks have been killed in Cameroon, because Amnesty International said 17 some days ago. People in the country are saying it's well over 100 now, their bodies being discovered. So, I just… one, I wanted to know, what is the role of the UN there in getting to the bottom of that? How does it square with this… people there are saying the idea that calling for dialogue with a President who seems to still be in Geneva when people are still actively being killed is a strange message from the UN. So I wanted to know… and where is Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall? You said he'd be going this week. It's now Thursday. Where is he?
Spokesman: He will travel as soon as it is appropriate and as soon as travel can be arranged. There is a need, as in any situation, for a need for dialogue. I have no specific information where the President of Cameroon may be, but there are… there is a need for dialogue between the authorities and between the leaders of the Anglophone community. I think the Secretary‑General is extremely concerned about the increased tensions we've seen in the northwest and the southwest parts of the country. He's been clear in condemning the violence that we've seen. And we are… as we've said in the past, we're ready to support any efforts by the parties for constructive engagement.
Question: I guess…
Spokesman: I don't have… We don't… we're not in a position to, as far as I know, right now from here, to estimate the number of casualties. We've seen the press reports, which are, as we've said, very worrying, but I have no… we have no… I… at least I have no independent information from here.
Question: I just have two… because one is… is also there… there are not only reports but proof that both the internet and social networks have been cut off again, which was a bit issue earlier this year. And I didn't see that in any UN statement. And also, often it's… sometimes human rights issues are not raised from here, but they're raised by the High Commissioner. I haven't seen any statement by him. So, people are saying they've seen him comment, for example, once there were, you know, mean tweets against CICIG [International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala] and he commented on that. I'm not asking you to respond to him, but is this idea of this kind of division of labour, has something been dropped here? because it's a… 100 people killed and the internet… young people are having their feet shot by soldiers so they can't protest… [cross talk]
Spokesman: As I said, we've seen the press reports, which are extremely alarming. The… for the High Commissioner, I think he may have spoken out, but I think, again, that's a question you need to ask… to address to his office. There is a basic need to keep the internet flowing anywhere. Access to information is critical for everyone, and that… I think it's important that people have access to the internet. Nizar, would you have another series of questions?
Question: Yeah, of course. Follow‑up on Yemen. I mean, the number of those who are infected with cholera is over 700,000, as we know. It's close to 800,000 in reality, as they say…
Spokesman: I know. Those numbers come from us.
Question: Yes, of course. And… and we don't hear any update about progress in combating cholera. That's something more urgent even than the hurricanes and the Rohingya situation, because this is only parallel to what happened in World War I, that a nation is left to rot with cholera… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Nizar, with all due respect, you don't have to explain to me the crisis situation that we have in Yemen. As I said, we've talked about it repeatedly. Whenever we receive updates from the World Health Organization [WHO] about the number of clinics, the number of rehydration corner stops they've set up, we share them with you. The fact that there is not a regular update from here on exactly what WHO is doing does not mean that our colleagues have… in WHO and UNICEF who are on the ground in Yemen are not working every day with Yemeni health professionals to try to combat this outbreak of cholera.
Question: Obviously, the banning of medicine reaching those who need it and the food… eight out of ten children in camps are suffering from acute malnutrition in…
Spokesman: I'm fully aware of everything we've said, and I think the bottom line, Nizar, is that we have been flagging this issue consistently since the start of the conflict. We cannot have been clearer in making sure that all the parties involved in this conflict understand the horrors they are imposing on the people of Yemen, a country that was already extremely fragile before this conflict started. And the ongoing conflict has made it worse. Our continued call is for a halt to military operations. Our continued call is for the parties to sit down and engage constructively with our Special Envoy.
Question: But those who are laying siege should be finger‑pointed. They should be…
Spokesman: I think we have been very clear on that front.
Question: What's your position regarding holding the cranes in Dubai for such a long time?
Spokesman: The cranes… let me give you… I had an update on the cranes. We understand — this is from a little bit earlier this week — that the World Food Programme received funding from USAID [United States Agency for International Development] to procure four mobile cranes to increase the offloading capacity to Hudaydah. The cranes were denied clearance to enter Hudaydah port by the Coalition in January and remain in Dubai in the manufacturer's warehouse. We, obviously, would want to see those cranes deployed.
Question: So what… what… what's the reason for keeping them…
Spokesman: I think that's a question you need to ask those who've denied us entry. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Kenya and Haiti. In… in Kenya, I did see… I guess Farhan [Haq] sent a statement by the… by the U… the UN Information Centre there, but things… I wanted to ask you about this, because we often hear from Gordon Brown in here about attacks on schools. And there's been a widely reported teargassing of a nursery school in an attempt, I guess, to get the Raila Odinga NASA supporters a school… a school was teargassed. So, I'm wondering, does this… is it only Gordon Brown's job in the UN system or is the UN… [cross talk]
Spokesman: I have not seen that reported. It is clear that we and the Secretary‑General and others have spoken out whenever schools have been attacked, but I will look at that report.
Question: Okay. And the other one just has to do with Haiti. I notice that the Deputy Secretary‑General is meeting today with Josette Sheeran, who we've been asking to have some Q&A about the cholera issue and also then with Paul Farmer. So, is the Deputy Secretary‑General the point person on the response to the UN and cholera in Haiti? And, also, is it possible, given that Ms. Sheeran is in the building, that she can at… at… do a stakeout at some time? [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think we'll have… we will try to have Ms. Sheeran talk to you maybe after she's able to do her first visit to Haiti. Thank you. And Brenden [Varma] will now brief you on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly].
Correspondent: Can I ask one more?
Spokesman: Yes, you may.
Question: When is the Secretary‑General leaving?
Spokesman: He's leaving Saturday morning. And he'll be back in the office on Monday. All right. Thank you.