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.
In Bonn, Germany, the UN Climate Change Conference opened today. The Conference aims to raise the level of ambition that is needed to tackle climate change and put the world on a safer and more prosperous path. Governments will work to increase climate action under the terms of the Paris Agreement, and cities, States, business and civil society will also work to expand initiatives in support of national climate action plans, the internationally agreed temperature goal and the wider objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can find the full list of activities in Bonn on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website.
Continuing with climate‑related news, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said it is very likely that 2017 will be one of the three hottest years on record, with many high‑impact events that have already taken place, including catastrophic hurricanes and floods, debilitating heatwaves and drought. WMO’s provisional Statement on the State of the Climate says the average global temperature from January to September 2017 was approximately 1.1°C above the pre‑industrial era. As a result of a powerful El Niño, 2016 is likely to remain the warmest year on record, with 2017 and 2015 being second and third, and the period from 2013 to 2017 is set to be the warmest five‑year period on record. More details are available on WMO’s website.
The Secretary‑General is in Lisbon today, where he is speaking at the Web Summit 2017 this afternoon. He is expected to talk about the need for much greater collaboration between those who invent new technologies and those who invent new public policies. And he will highlight the need for a new generation of strategic thinking, ethical reflection and frameworks for action. The Secretary‑General will be back at the office tomorrow.
**Central African Republic
The Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, briefed the Security Council this morning. He stressed that the security situation in the country remains volatile and the humanitarian situation disastrous. In that context of incredible brutality, where there is often no peace to keep, UN peacekeepers are risking their lives on a daily basis, he stressed. He recalled that during his recent visit to the country, the Secretary‑General had urged for greater international solidarity with the Central African Republic. Mr. Onanga‑Anyanga emphasized the need to engage all in an inclusive political process, adding that stability in the country will require strong State institutions at the local level. The Secretary‑General’s request to increase MINUSCA force levels by 900 troops is part of a comprehensive strategy to address the deteriorating situation, working closely with the Government, and to create space to advance the political process, he added. His remarks have been shared with you.
On South Sudan, a joint study on food security released by the Government and humanitarian partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warns that the current harvest season will not end the hunger crisis. Conflict persists in most of the country and hyperinflation puts food out of reach for many. The number of people experiencing severe food insecurity across the country is likely to drop to 4.8 million for October to December, down from 6 million in June. However, the 4.8 million who are severely food insecure are 1.4 million more than at the same time last year, and much of this growth has been in the Emergency category. We are [awaiting] more details from FAO, UNICEF and WFP.
In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General expressed concern at the news of the offer of resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. He hopes all sides will focus their efforts on supporting the continuity of Lebanon's State institutions, in adherence with the Constitution, and safeguarding the country's security and stability. The United Nations remains committed to supporting the security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.
Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, expressed his horror yesterday at the continued violence perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Yemen which again, this week, claimed the lives of innocent civilians, including 13 children. He repeated the wide array of calls by the international community to all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations and responsibilities under international humanitarian law. In particular, he asks them to adhere to the principles of distinction between civilians and combatants, and proportionality in the conduct of hostilities, and refrain from directing attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Mr. McGoldrick also reiterated his calls on States who have influence over the parties to step up their engagement to bring about a political solution to the crisis.
Almost 3,000 people have been recorded as displaced due to clashes in Warshafana and surrounding areas, to the west and south of Tripoli in Libya. Clashes have been ongoing since 31 October, killing at least two people and injuring eight, and forcing local schools to close as of 1 November. The total number of people displaced from the area is likely higher, as many families are reportedly staying with relatives in safer areas and have not been registered as displaced so far.
The shortage of essential drugs and medical supplies in Gaza continues to deteriorate, severely impeding the provision of healthcare, our humanitarian colleagues say. In October, some 130 critical medical items and drugs, including 50 items for medical surgeries, have reached zero‑stock level. The drug shortage is worsening, with 45 per cent of the total list of critical items at zero level, a rise from 41 per cent recorded in September. Despite the reconciliation agreement signed in October and the Government of National Consensus assuming authority over Gaza, the situation has not improved. We hope that the recently signed reconciliation may lead to alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Following the Iraqi Security Forces’ recapture of Ka’im district and surroundings over the weekend, civilian displacement from the area has slowed. Our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 11,000 people were displaced from Ka’im district since military operations to recapture the area resumed on 26 October. Overall, some 65,000 people have been displaced in the context of military operations in western Anbar [province] since the start of the year, according to displacement tracking by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The Deputy Secretary‑General was in Haiti over the weekend. In a press conference at the end of her visit, she said it was important to acknowledge the work done against cholera, with a 99 per cent reduction in transmission, while emphasizing that the glass is only half full. She said her visits to cholera centres and communities impacted had only increased her commitment and passion to do what is needed to get to zero transmission, along with Special Envoy Josette Sheeran and the leadership of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH). Following her visit to development projects in the country, Amina Mohammed stressed the importance of investing in Haiti in agriculture, in roads, in water and sanitation. To do all this will take some time, but the United Nations is not in the country for a quick fix. We're here for the long term, she added. You can find more details about her trip online.
UN Police Week kicks off at UN Headquarters today. Heads of UN police components from 12 peacekeeping and special political missions are here this week to discuss how to make UN police even more nimble and effective. This afternoon, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, as well as Police Commissioners from our missions in Mali, Haiti and Darfur will brief the Security Council on the role of UN Policing in peace operations. We will update you on their activities this week.
Today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, which aims to prevent the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources from fuelling conflict or threatening peace. According to the UN Environment Programme, over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources. More information is available online.
In Bangkok, Thailand, the final regional preparatory meeting for the Global Compact on Migration began today. Speaking at the Conference, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, said the adoption of the Compact next year will encourage States to cooperate on a whole range of international migration issues, thereby facilitating safe, orderly and regular migration, not curtailing it. She added that when drafting the Compact, countries should pay particular attention to the need for robust social inclusion programmes that focus on benefitting all members of the community, and not encourage — even unintentionally — suspicion and discord between newcomers and hosts. Her full remarks are available online.
I have an appointment for you: the Secretary‑General, the FAO Director‑General and the WFP Executive Director announced today their appointment of Valerie Guarnieri of the United States as Assistant Executive Director, Operations Services, of the World Food Programme at the Assistant Secretary‑General level. Ms. Guarnieri succeeds Ramiro Lopes da Silva of Portugal, to whom the Secretary‑General, Director‑General and Executive Director express their deep appreciation for his leadership of WFP’s Operations Services over the last seven years. He retires after close to 33 years with WFP, in which he has led and supported the responses to some of the largest humanitarian crises the world has had to face, saving countless lives. Currently WFP Regional Director for East and Central Africa, Ms. Guarnieri brings to the position extensive experience in humanitarian and development operations. Having served in senior positions in Zimbabwe, the Philippines and [UN] Headquarters, she has led efforts to tackle some of the world’s most protracted and complex hunger challenges. Her bio is in our office.
For press encounters: after I am done speaking, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. The President of the Security Council, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, will brief at the Council Stakeout following consultations on the Central African Republic. That could be fairly soon. Later this afternoon, the Council President, along with the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, and UN Police Adviser Luis Carrilho will brief press at the Council Stakeout following the briefing on peacekeeping. For tomorrow, the noon briefing guest will be Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs. He will brief you on the Synthesis report of the 2017 Voluntary National Reviews. That is it for me. Yes, Michelle?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the UN have any comment on the announcement by the Saudi‑led Coalition that they're shutting all the borders to Yemen? And how has that affected the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are aware that there were no flight clearances granted to our flights today. We had expected to have two flights going, and those are on hold for now. We are in touch with our counterparts, and we're trying to see whether we can get our normal access restored, and we're hopeful that we will be able to continue our normal operations. We once more underscore to all parties the need for regular humanitarian access to all parts of Yemen that are in need. Yes, Joe?
Question: Yes. I know you read out the statement concerning the resignation of Lebanon's Prime Minister and the concern expressed by the Secretary‑General, but it was very general in terms of… of, you know, its content. The Prime Minister stated as one of his reasons he claimed was an assassination plot engineered by Iran against him. As you know, his father was assassinated. Hezbollah has… has been determined to have been the agent involved in that assassination. So, I'm wondering whether you can be somewhat more specific in light of… of… of this allegation that Iran is reportedly playing a role in trying to destabilize Lebanon, either directly or through Hezbollah, and has allegedly targeted the Prime Minister, forcing him to resign.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have no first‑hand information on that, and I don't have anything further to our statement to share on that particular allegation. Regarding the death of Mr. Hariri's father, Rafik Hariri, as you know, the UN was instrumental in setting up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to investigate that particular case. Yes, Ali?
Deputy Spokesman: One on Lebanon also. Has anybody from the UN tried to get in touch with Mr. Hariri, one? Second, do you have any comment on the alleged launch of ballistic missiles towards the Saudi capital from Yemen? Any comment on that, please?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything to share with you regarding contacts with Saad Hariri. Regarding your other question, we do take note of the 4 November statement by the Saudi Ministry of Defence that a ballistic missile was intercepted over north‑east Riyadh and that the Houthis have claimed responsibility for firing the missile from Yemen. We're aware of the sharp increase in airstrikes by the Saudi‑led Coalition on Sana'a on the same day. We would like also to express concern about the announcement by the Saudi‑led Coalition that it is temporarily closing all of Yemen's air, land and sea ports. This may hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country's population. We call for restraint on all sides and reiterate that military escalation is not the solution. We urge all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure against attack. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes. Farhan, I know that you've been… you must have answered a lot of questions about the… the Saudi and the… and the so‑called turmoil in Saudi Arabia where all the princes have been arrested or some have been incarcerated, and I'm sure that you've made a statement. Do you know what is it that… do you have any contact with the Saudi Government that tells you what is the fate of these people who have been picked up or jailed?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't have anything to share about that particular development within Saudi Arabia's internal situation. Of course, we're in regular contact with Saudi officials, including through the Permanent Mission here, and we continue to be updated on developments through our regular channels. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to… about this announce… the Saudi announcement of the alleged… you know, temporary blockade of all entry in and out, I wanted to ask you two things. One, in the various statements, I saw Mr. McGoldrick's that you read out, but the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, this would seem to be among his jobs to try to defuse this. Has he had any communications with either side? And where… where has he been on this? And, number two, if you can say a little bit more, because it's a pretty extreme move to announce a blockade of an entire country, as we saw in the [General Assembly] last week on another topic. Where… what's the basis of the UN saying that you believe that you can get your flights in? Is that… is that a belief that other, you know, types of… of things can happen, or is the UN just trying to get its own flights in? Or does it have a statement on the… the app… the… the compliance with international humanitarian law of the announcement?
Deputy Spokesman: You heard what I just said in response to Ali. Right?
Deputy Spokesman: So this is part of the views expressed by the officials of the UN, including, by the way, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. And, as I said, to repeat, we would like also to express concern about the announcement by the Saudi‑led Coalition that [it] is temporarily closing all of Yemen's air, land and sea ports. This may hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country's population. Because they have said it's temporary, it's on that basis that we're hopeful that those ports will not continue to be closed. And, therefore, we expect our flights, as well as those of others, to resume. We hope it will not take too long.
Question: My question is about whether I… the Ismail… the envoy… it would seem like his job would seem to involve, not only just reaping out after such an announcement, but maybe being in the loop. Has he… has he spoken to them? Did they tell him in advance, we're about to announce a blockade of the country for which you're the UN envoy? And… and… you're saying people should somehow intuit that he's part of the statement, but we haven't seen anything from him.
Deputy Spokesman: I've just said that he was part of the statement. And he was involved in the writing of this. He's been in touch with all the various parties. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I just wanted to ask you one question which I've been asking a long time about the Palestinian children in Israeli jails. Short of being, you know, doubted that I'm asking it again and again with no answer, I mean, except for what happened… what statement that you gave in the beginning of this year, do you have any update on how many children are in Israeli jail?
Deputy Spokesman: The figure has not changed appreciably over the course of the year. It's been around 500. We've made our concerns known. Of course, we expect that the legal process will be applied fairly and that they can either be charged or released. But, certainly, our concerns about the detention of children remains the case for all of these situations.
Question: Yeah, but have you had any substantial contact with the Israeli Government as to what they're going to do… what's the fate of these children? I mean, it's against all international laws, and we all know that, but it… international laws do not apply to Israel. So, do you know what is… what they have said?
Deputy Spokesman: We've made our concerns [known]. Like I said, the number hasn't changed appreciably over the course of the year. Yes?
Question: Yeah. I just want to go back to Saudi Arabia. You had characterized, as I understood you, the sweeping arrests, detentions without due process of law of tens of princes and business people and media people and so forth on alleged anti‑corrupt… corruption charges. You said that was something that was internal to Saudi Arabia, but the UN has spoken out frequently in other cases, other Member States, where there were alleged violations of basic human rights, due process of law, and so forth against arbitrary detention. So I… I'm not clear why you're making a distinction here. And the not… and this is not a comment on whether the allegations of corruption, money‑laundering, bribery, etc., are true or not. It's just a process that involved very sweeping arbitrary arrests.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, we would need to… further information about these particular charges to know exactly what the substance behind them are, whether they're fairly applied or not. In any legal and judicial proceedings, we want to make sure that due process is upheld, and we would have concerns if it was not. Yes, Farnaz?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I wanted to ask you about the Security Council's Presidential Statement on Myanmar and whether the SG thinks this is enough, or is he continuing to urge the Council for more action, perhaps a resolution?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, we want to see Security Council unity on the issue, so the very fact that the Security Council was able to unite and come forward with a Presidential Statement is a positive step, and we hope that they will build upon that to make sure that we can have actions that can, again, restore those three principles that the Secretary‑General has underscored as our key points of action for dealing with Myanmar. Yes, Herman?
Question: On Central African Republic, the [inaudible] coordination of the anti‑Balaka recently constituted a new movement called Self‑Defence Fighting Resistance Leader, according to one of the leaders. They claim to be pacifist and good relationship with ex‑Séléka. For the UN, is there any good news for the unity of the country? Do you know… are you aware of that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen the briefing by Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga to the Security Council and his concerns. There's been quite a bit of alarming news, including news of activity by different factions. But I would refer you to his briefing for the various details that he has shared with the Council today. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you a couple things. One is, there's this pretty high‑profile standoff involving Australia and Manus Island or the detention centre at Manus where it's now being closed down. Papua New Guinea says they can't continue to provide services. And Australia is absolutely saying they won't take anyone and actually blocking, it seems, other countries from taking these people. Given the Secretary‑General's historic previous role on refugees, does he have any view of this? And has he had any involvement in trying to resolve this what people consider a pretty outrageous abuse of the people detained there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe that this is an issue that the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], UNHCR, has been expressing its concerns about, and we'll leave the matter in their hands. But, of course, you're well aware of the Secretary‑General's concern that all refugees be treated with respect and with respect for their dignity. There's some concerns about the question of how that's possible in the conditions that these particular people have been facing.
Question: And also… also wanted to ask you, there's a controversy in Egypt where a lawyer, Ibrahim Metwaly, is… has… is detained. And he was working on the case of the killed Italian student, Giulio Regeni, and he was detained on 10 September. Various countries… I don't know what the UN has had to say, but the various countries have raised the concern. And the Government of Egypt has said this is entirely internal. Given that he was trying to reach the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances at time of his detention, what has the UN system done about his detention? And does it agree that it's an internal matter if a human rights lawyer is trying to reach a UN body?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly want there to be respect for all human rights defenders, and anyone who is trying to work with the mechanisms of the United Nations, including our human rights mechanisms, must be allowed to do so.
Correspondent: I have one more… I have another one but it's…
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, one more, and then we'll go on. Yeah.
Question: Okay. Great. I have something beyond that, but I'm glad to ask you this one. It has to do with Cameroon, where… where… where the Secretary‑General stopped, met President [Paul] Biya. Today, they're celebrating the thirty‑fifth anniversary of his accession to power. And a letter's emerged that orders all Government employees to participate in the ceremony marking the thirty‑fifth year in power of Paul Biya, saying, basically, names should be provided, and they will be punished for not. Given… I guess I'm just wondering, is the Sec… was the Secretary‑General, when he stopped, when he took this golden statue, what did… was he aware of this? What does he think of… is it… is it permissible, from the UN's point of view, for a Government to order its civil servants to mark the thirty‑fifth year in power of a leader or face punishment, or should this be discouraged? And does he have any comment on it?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, people everywhere have the right to freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. Those freedoms need to be respected in all circumstances. Regarding the gift, Stéphane [Dujarric] made very clear to you that's a standard protocol gift — which happens in many different countries and contexts. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. A follow‑up on the Egyptian lawyer, Ibrahim Metwaly. He was supposed to be flying to Geneva to testify in front of the UN Committee or Rapporteur. What are the protections provided for those defenders of human rights, activists, etc., that cooperate with the various entities when they are exposing a wrongdoing by Member State, whether it's their own Member State or other Member State? What are the safeguards to protect these people?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the UN human rights mechanisms also have their own way of handling it if people are not able, for whatever reason, to testify to them. So, I'll leave that matter in their hands. But, at the same time, from our standpoint, what we do is implore all States to allow the individuals who wish to speak before the human rights mechanisms their opportunity to do so. But, if there isn't any, the mechanisms themselves will handle the situation.
Question: He was willing to speak, and he was picked up from the Cairo Airport on his way to Geneva.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. We're aware of those reports.
Question: And UN went into complete silence on that.
Deputy Spokesman: I haven't been completely silent, as you may have just noticed. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Does the UN have any reaction to the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] announcement of elections in December next year, which is about a year after when they were planned to be held?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. We certainly take note of that announcement. And, while regretting that these crucial polls have once again been postponed, we continue to call on political leaders on all sides to place the interests of their country and people above all else and ensure the holding of credible, free and fair elections. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Burundi. The President, Pierre Nkurunziza, had solicited a proposal for… for… it's a constitutional amendment. And, under this amendment, basically [he] would be able to now remain in power until 2034. It would involve two seven‑year terms, but it's not retroactive, so it would basically start the clock again for 14 years. I know Mr. [Michel] Kafando… I've seen at least a photograph of him there with Mr. Foreign Minister [Alain Aimé] Nyamitwe. Does he have any view of… given the… given that a lot of the bloodshed has been about this contested current term, what about until 2034? What's… what's his view on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, Mr. Kafando was, in fact, in Burundi, I believe, last week. We'll try to get an update about his activities there.
Question: And I wanted to ask, I saw… and it's kind of time‑bound. You'd said that Amina Mohammed was in Haiti. She's coming back. First, I want… I just… I guess it's a request for her and Ms. Sheeran to do a press conference of some kind. But, also, I see on her public schedule, it says: "After her visit to Haiti, Ms. Mohammed will travel to Washington, D.C." Can you say what that's for?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. She's there. We announced it yes… last week. It's in line with the announcement that we made last, I believe, Wednesday or Thursday.
Question: What was it for? I'm sorry if I missed what it was for.
Deputy Spokesman: It's slipped my mind, but we made that announcement. Just…
Question: Was it an award, or was it to speak to the US Government?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I can't remember off the tip of my head what we announced on Wednesday or Thursday. But, it's in line with what we announced. It's… just look at our highlights from Wednesday or Thursday, and it's there. [The Deputy Spokesman had earlier announced that the Deputy Secretary‑General, while in Washington, would meet with high‑level Government officials and the senior leadership at the World Bank. She would also speak at the Foreign Policy 2017 Diplomat of the Year Dinner.] Brenden, come on up.