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.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General concerning the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him. It is a little bit long so bear with me:
The Secretary‑General is pleased to announce that he transmitted the report of the Eminent Person, appointed pursuant to General Assembly resolution 71/260, to the President of the General Assembly, together with his own observations on the progress made and on the way forward in the search for the truth relating to the conditions and circumstances resulting in the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him.
The Eminent Person concluded in his report that it is almost certain that Dag Hammarskjöld and the members of the party accompanying him were not assassinated after landing and that all passengers died from injuries sustained during the plane crash, either instantaneously, or soon after. As to the cause of the crash, the Eminent Person considered it plausible that an external attack or threat may have been the cause. The Eminent Person also noted that it remains possible that the crash was an accident caused by pilot error without external interference, and that it was plausible that human factors including fatigue played a role in the crash. Based on the Eminent Person’s findings, the Secretary‑General is of the view that the information made available to the United Nations to date has been insufficient to come to conclusions about the cause or causes of the crash. The Secretary‑General also considers that it seems likely that important additional information exists.
The Secretary‑General calls on the General Assembly to remain seized of the matter, and to endorse the report of the Eminent Person and his recommendations. In particular, the Secretary‑General calls on Member States to make available information and endorses the Eminent Person’s recommendation that Member States appoint an independent and high‑ranking official to conduct a dedicated and internal review of their archives, in particular, their intelligence, security and defence archives, with a view to ensuring comprehensive access to relevant information and establishing what happened on that fateful night. The Secretary‑General wishes to express his profound gratitude to the Eminent Person for his excellent work. The Secretary‑General considers the report a further important step towards fulfilling our shared responsibility for the search of the truth, which remains our solemn duty to the distinguished former Secretary‑General, Dag Hammarskjöld, to the other members of the party accompanying him, and to their families.
**Central African Republic
This morning, the Secretary‑General met with the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin Archange Touadéra, and members of his Government. In remarks to press afterwards, the Secretary‑General said that he is making a visit of active solidarity. He called on the international community to engage in the country because there is an opportunity to build a new Central African Republic that is peaceful, secure and prosperous. He also reiterated the need to strengthen the UN Mission, MINUSCA, so it can better protect the population. The Secretary‑General and his party then travelled to Bangassou in the southeast of the country. At the local UN Force camp, he laid a wreath to honour Moroccan and Cambodian soldiers killed earlier this year in the line of duty as UN forces tried to protect the population. In addressing representatives of the contingents, he told them how proud he was to be one of their colleagues and that their efforts were courageous as they attempted to keep the peace in areas where all too often there is no peace to keep.
From there, the Secretary‑General went on to the compound of the Catholic church in Bangassou, which is now home to more than 1,200 Muslim residents of the area. They had sought shelter from communal violence earlier this year. The Secretary-General listened as a 14‑year old Muslim girl named Fatimah [explained] her community’s situation and concerns, as well as their wish for reconciliation. In speaking to the assembled crowd, the Secretary‑General expressed his personal solidarity with the people of Bangassou and urged them to work for reconciliation. He underscored that it would not be easy. The Secretary‑General excoriated politicians who use religion to divide communities that often worship the same God, albeit with a different name. He also urged religious leaders to live up to their responsibilities. Religious leaders need to be apostles for peace, said the Secretary‑General. Prior to flying back to Bangui, the Secretary‑General met with local authorities and civil society leaders, encouraging them as well with a message of reconciliation. He has now just landed back in Bangui, where he is scheduled to meet with the UN humanitarian and development team, as well as with NGOs later tonight.
The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, today wrapped up a four‑day visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he met with senior Yemeni and Saudi officials. In his meetings with Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek al-Mikhlafil, the Special Envoy discussed his efforts to move towards a viable negotiated settlement. He said that steps are being explored, focusing on three pillars: the resumption of the cessation of hostilities, specific confidence building measures that can alleviate suffering and the return to the negotiating table to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. While in Saudi Arabia, the Special Envoy also met with the Saudi Foreign Minister, the US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and diplomats. Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed stressed that, at heart, this is a political conflict that can only be solved through political negotiations. He also emphasized that the large-scale suffering must end, appealing to the parties to make the necessary concessions that can help pave the way for a long-lasting peace.
Meanwhile, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock continues his visit to Yemen, arriving in Sana’a today. In Aden yesterday, he met with Prime Minister Bin Dagher and encouraged authorities to pay the salaries of civil servants and emphasized the need for the expansion of the presence of aid workers further in the country’s southern governorates. Mr. Lowcock also met with the heads of the Emirates Red Crescent and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre in Aden to improve humanitarian coordination. He also spoke with internally displaced people and visited a hospital in Lahj, where he met patients receiving treatment for cholera and malnutrition. In Sana’a, Mr. Lowcock will meet with the authorities there and travel to other governorates, including Hudaydah.
Our humanitarian colleagues in Syria are deeply concerned about the situation for civilians in East Ghouta. We are aware of reports indicating that children in the besieged enclave are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. The last UN inter‑agency convoy reached Eastern Ghouta on 23 September with assistance for 25,000 people in the besieged towns of East Harasta, Misraba and Modira. The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict — and those with influence over them — to ensure sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian workers and to allow them to independently assess needs and provide services to people affected by fighting.
According to the UN migration agency (IOM), nearly 136,000 people are still displaced due to recent military activity in northern Iraq. This includes some 60,000 people who fled from Kirkuk governorate and some 35,000 displaced from the Tooz district in Salah al-Din governorate. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that aid workers continue to respond to the needs of families in need, wherever access allows. OCHA says that the closure of checkpoints in Ninewa governorate is slowing down aid operations which target 300,000 people, including in the Mosul, Telafar and Sinjar areas. Humanitarians continue to appeal to all parties to ensure that civilians are protected, can leave affected areas if they choose, and ensure that humanitarians have access to provide assistance where needed.
In Afghanistan, the UN today welcomed the holding of the Second National Election Forum and the commitment of the Electoral Commission to continue consultations with election stakeholders so that credible, transparent and inclusive elections can take place next year. The UN [Assistance] Mission [in Afghanistan] (UNAMA) said it is encouraged by recent decisions taken by the Electoral Commission and it encouraged Afghanistan's political leaders and civil society to unite their efforts to prepare and support credible elections in 2018. The Mission also reiterated its commitment to working with Afghan institutions as they implement reforms to enhance transparency and build trust in Afghanistan's democratic processes. More information on UNAMA’s website.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar and arrived in Bangladesh since 25 August has reached 604,000. Refugees have sought shelter in Bangladesh since the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August. More than half of the new arrivals are living in the Kutupalong Expansion Site, which includes several makeshift settlements and land allocated by the Government. Nearly 570,000 people have received food assistance and nearly 310,000 people received health care. There are concerns about sanitation, with less than one quarter of sites hosting refugees having access to clean water.
**Economic and Social Council
The President of the Economic and Social Council, Marie Chatardová, has issued this morning a Presidential Statement on the special meeting of the Council on the “Aftermath of recent hurricanes: Achieving a risk‑informed and resilient 2030 Agenda” that took place yesterday. The President underscores the need to act urgently and calls for sustained and coherent international support to accelerate recovery, ensure risk‑informed reconstruction, and strengthen resilience in all dimensions of sustainable development in the affected States. For additional questions, please feel free to contact Paul Simon.
For further press briefings: after me, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for of the President of the General Assembly. Today at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights.
Then tomorrow we have a large number of press conferences taking place here. At 10:15 a.m., there will be a briefing by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Immediately after, at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing by Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Then at noon, I will be joined by Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring Report of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Following that, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. And last, at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. That's it for me. Yes, Joe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah, earlier this morning, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, critiqued the UN's, in his words, failure on freedom of information access. He also, you know, previewed a report to be submitted to the UN General Assembly on that subject. And… and he indicated that… that there were things or steps that the Secretariat could take and recommended some to systematise more open access, freedom of information processes and so on. His report also, while praising the Secretary‑General's efforts on whistleblowing protections, the report criticised the fact that there were apparently no consequences, no punitive consequences, to be imposed on those who, you know, clamp down and retaliated against the whistle‑blowers. So I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General would have any comment and whether he intends to address the call for more open freedom of information access at the UN.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the freedom of information access, this is something that we've been exploring for some years. There continues to be input from various different departments, including those dealing with our archives and those dealing with legal affairs, to look into the situation. And so we'll be in touch with the Member States. So, that is something that is a work in progress that, as time goes on, we always try to reinvigorate and revamp our processes for dealing with situations, and we'll do that in this case, as well.
Question: Same topic? Yeah, he seemed to say that… that it's as simple as set… it's not about archives. It's as simple as setting up a procedure in which, rather than just the inform… the UN choosing which information to push forward, that it's set up a procedure in which, based on a re… a request by the press or the public, there's some responsibility on the Secretariat to provide information. And he said that that can be done… although it would be good to bring Member States along and to get buy‑in from the General Assembly that, although it's been said here many times, it doesn't require the General Assembly to… to authorise the Secretariat to make financial and other information available to the public upon request, not just as it's put out. So, I'm just… I want to be very specific. It's not about archives or Member States. Will António Guterres establish, during his… I don't know… in the next three months, six months, a procedure in which requests for information can be made and will be answered as required not voluntarily or by discretion?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, with respect for the envoy's… the Special Rapporteur's views, those are his views. And we do have, like I said, a process in place, which does include involvement with the Member States, and so we'll continue on that track.
Question: He also called a previous response to one of his inquiries to the UN unsatisfactory. I don't know if you've seen the press conference, and I don’t want to actually… I'm pretty sure what you'd say if I… so, I'm wondering, you say there's as process, but doesn't the UN encourage Member States to respond to Special Rapporteurs and probably to take into account if the Special Rapporteur who made the inquiry calls the response unsatisfactory maybe to do another response or figure out why it's unsatisfactory?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we do. And, of course, we'll continue to be in dialogue with Special Rapporteurs. We want to make sure that their various concerns are addressed. But this is, as I mentioned, a topic on which we've been doing work, and we'll continue. Yes, please?
Question: A few hours ago, Raila Odinga has declared that his political party in Kenya will become a resistant movement and will mobilise for fresh polls in 90 days, ahead of tomorrow's elections, obviously. Is the UN prepared for the chaos that is to come in that East African country?
Deputy Spokesman: You'll have seen the statement we issued over the past weekend in conjunction with the African Union, and the sentiments that we've expressed there remain. We want to make sure that all parties on the ground, all leaders, all people involved do their utmost to make sure that what happens in the coming days happens peacefully, so that free, fair and peaceful elections can be held. We have also called, of course, upon the security forces in particular to respect the rights of the people, and we'll keep monitoring the situation and see what happens in the days ahead. But we're hoping that all the parties are heeding that call. Yes, please, Olga?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just want to check if you are aware of what seems to be the new development from Kurdistan. The original government of Kurdistan says… said it's ready to freeze the results of the referendum if the Iraqi forces will cease fire in the region. Do you think it's going to be a helpful exchange?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are encouraged by any efforts by the parties to reach out to each other, and we encourage all efforts at dialogue. You'll have seen the statement that the UN [Assistance] Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) put out yesterday, and we continue to affirm that statement, and we hope to be able to help the parties as they need. Yes. And… oh, and… actually, you haven't asked.
Question: And, Farhan, I wanted to ask about a statement that just issued by the Russian Defence Minister. They're saying that the US and armed forces… they prevented Syrian Government forces from accessing an area for the purpose, as the statement said, for humanitarian purpose, in the southern province of Homs. Do you have any update about this? This seems to be a very tense situation in the province overall in the past week.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have no first‑hand information to verify what they are claiming. At the same time, of course, we do urge all parties on the ground, including all parties conducting military operations, to allow for humanitarian access to the areas in their control.
Question: There's no humanitarian partners in the Homs, in that area, in the south of… and in the south…?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been working with humanitarian partners in many areas, including trying to get aid into Homs. Sometimes, as you know, parts of Homs have been inaccessible. Benny?
Question: The BBC asked the UN to… to interfere in the situation where you have a lot of arrests of… or, you know, narrowing the situation… you know, basically annoying that… restrictions on journalists in Iran. Has… has the UN… anybody got this request? Can you… can you tell us anything about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I'll see whether we've received any formal request from them. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Who would handle such a request?
Deputy Spokesman: We'd have to see. It depends upon the request. Yes?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions. You know, when Halab… Aleppo was attacked late last year, there were many Security Council meetings. There were many statements. Every day there is talk about Aleppo. However, now, we saw Raqqah, the city of Raqqah, has completely destroyed. Eighty per cent of the city is being completely destroyed. Civilians, we don't know what happened to them. There are so many humanitarian crises. Yet everything is going fine. Is that the difference between that Aleppo was attacked by the Russian forces and this one by the Americans? Why there is double standard here?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, that's not true. Look at the briefings that we've been giving just over the past several weeks, and you'll see that every couple of days, we've been mentioning our concerns about the humanitarian conditions and the fighting in Raqqah. It's the same as what we did with Aleppo and it's the same basic standard. We're aware of different military operations in different parts of Syria, but we are always alarmed by the consequences in terms of humanitarian conditions for the population in those areas, and we'll want to make sure, in all of those cases, that the parties on the ground do their utmost to ensure that civilians will be protected.
Question: My second question is about the report just published by B'Tselem, Israeli human rights group, about the rights of Palestinian children. Is the UN aware of this report? Do they take note of it? Do they benefit from these facts introduced in the report?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we're aware of the report, and we'll study its findings. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask a follow‑up on Kenya and then about the Secretary‑General's trip. Even before the Raila Odinga announcement, there was this controversy around the courts. I know that the UN and AU have called for, you know, obeying the courts, the rule of law. In order to rule… to rule on a request to postpone the election, it seems that some judges were definitely delayed if not physically attacked to… to… to bring about a problem with quorum. So, I'm wondering, is the UN actually… it's… it's… it made its statement. Is it following that? Does it believe that… that… that… that the… the… the… the… the Supreme Court was able to deal in a fair and partial and unimpinged way with… with the request to postpone the election?
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of the reports, but we don't have any way of verifying those particular reports of harassment. We want to make sure, however, that all those involved, including the court system, are treated with respect and are able to go about their work without any hindrance.
Question: Sure. Thanks. And on the trip, I'd asked… I just wanted to… I asked you yesterday whether… whether… not just will… will the Secretary‑General meet with, but whether this Renner Onana, who was named in the UN's own report on sexual abuse in CAR, is still with the mission. And I've since… since asking you — I don't have an answer yet, but I've seen a photograph of him with Fabrizio Hochschild as recently as 5 December, 2016, and him described as the head of MINUSCA regional office sector… centre, which seems to be a promotion. Is it the case that Renner Onana, after being named as… in a problematic way in terms of the cover‑up of sexual abuse in CAR, was promoted? Is he still with the mission? And what does the Secretary‑General… how does he explain that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, I'm still checking up on his status. I believe he may still have a position with the mission, but whether he's on active duty or not, I'm checking about that, and I'll need to figure out where he stands.
Question: And, on the issue of sexual abuse, have you seen this… there's a report out by a new group called Hear Their Cries, which involves some former UN OIOS (Office for Internal Oversight Services) investigators, law professors, and others. They put… they have a very high number — 60,000 is the number they put — at… at child sexual abuse by UN personnel, not just peacekeepers, but including civilian, over the last decade. I have no… I'm not… seems like a very high number, but they are… there… these are serious people that have worked for the UN and OIOS, and I wonder, what's the UN's response to their proposals that there be a… much more serious investigative measures and waiving of immunity in all… in these cases?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've seen the response that we've been doing over the course… in particular of recent months. We have had a revamping of the system for dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse. As you know, even on the trip that he's going on in the Central African Republic, the Secretary‑General is accompanied by Jane Connors, the Victims' Rights Advocate, and she is starting her work. And we're going to continue to find ways to make the system more effective.
Question: And just, finally, on the trip, just because it's related… Cameroon, do you have an announcement?
Deputy Spokesman: There's other people; excuse me. There’s other people. Yes?
Question: On the Dag Hammarskjöld report, you just mentioned that the report says that there's important information held by Member States. Can you… can you… does the report say who are those Member States that hold additional important information?
Deputy Spokesman: I'd just advise you to read the full report. The report is available online, and we can make it available in our office, but it's a lengthy thing. So I'd just suggest read the whole thing. Yes?
Question: Yeah, I apologize if I missed this, but does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the veto of the Security Council resolution yesterday to extend the JIM's [Joint Investigative Mechanism] mandate?
Deputy Spokesman: No, we don't have any particular comment on yesterday's proceedings. Of course, the Joint Investigative Mechanism will continue to be briefing the Security Council. If they have need to do further work, we hope and expect that the Security Council will give them the ability to do so. Yes. Benny?
Question: Just to follow up on my question before, so what you're saying is the BBC hasn't… that nothing came from the BBC as of yet.
Deputy Spokesman: No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is I would need to check up on what… whether the request has been received. I'm…
Question: Well, it's like all over the media; the BBC put out a…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I'm aware that they've put out on the media that they've sent in a request. As you're aware, there are things like the formal reception of requests, and I just need to know whether a request has been formally received.
Question: So you're not saying that it hasn't been received yet. You're just saying that you don't know whether it has been…
Deputy Spokesman: I'm saying I would need to check, which is what I said, literally. Yes. Did you have a question? Okay. Back to you.
Question: Sure, yeah. I wanted to ask about on the trip, but I'd asked yesterday and, again, there… there… there… since… the Cameroon mission to the UN has… has… has told me that the Secretary‑General will being stopping in Yaoundé on 27 October and even named the number of the Air France flight. I'm just wondering… there's a lot of interest in it, and there's been a lot of questions about the UN's response or lack of response or hearing questions about Cameroon. Can you say whether they're going… whether he, in fact, is going there? And, if so, will he meet the president? This seems like a basic…
Deputy Spokesman: At this point, I've got nothing to announce. As you know, when we get to confirm things, we'll announce them, but we're not at… at that point.
Question: Has he made his… his airplane reservation? Because they know… named the flight.
Deputy Spokesman: We do not talk about airplane or airline arrangements. If there's any meetings to announce, we'll announce that in due course. Brenden?
Question: Wait. I have a UNICEF question; does the UNICEF…?
Deputy Spokesman: What?
Question: UNICEF… has the post been out put out to… to… for… for… for applications? And, if so, why wasn't OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] put out for applications and yet UNICEF is? Can you explain that?
Deputy Spokesman: Different posts have different processes. Once there's something to announce on the hiring process regarding the Executive Director of UNICEF, we'll let you know.
Correspondent: There's a notice on the website.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, we don't have an announcement to make about UNICEF at this point. Once we have something to say, we'll let you know.