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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General, in a message out today to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which is observed on 2 November, warns that more than a thousand journalists have been killed while carrying out their work in just over the last decade.  Ninety per cent of those killings are unresolved with no one held accountable.  The Secretary-General says that the attacks and harassment of journalists are outrageous and should not become the new normal and he calls on governments and the international community to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.  The text of the video message will be distributed and the video should be online.


In a statement we issued late last night, the Secretary-General expressed his deep sadness by the loss of life and extensive damage that resulted from the large-scale flash flooding at the Zara Maeen hot springs area near the Dead Sea in Jordan.  He wishes to convey his condolences and deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The United Nations stands ready to support ongoing rescue and relief efforts.


On Sunday, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Sweden to give a keynote speech at the ACT Alliance — which is a coalition of 150 church and church-related organizations.  That will take place, that meeting will take place from 28 October to 1 November 2018 in Uppsala, in Sweden.  She will also have bilateral meetings with senior Government officials from Sweden during her visit.  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on Monday.


This evening, she will speak at the opening of a photo exhibit entitled “War and Peace in Liberia” at the Bronx Documentary Center.  We strongly encourage you to visit the exhibit, which showcases the work, some never shown before, of photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros.  The photos document the humanitarian disaster in Liberia and helped to build global momentum which resulted in the deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission.  In 2011, both photographers were killed by artillery in Misrata, in Libya.  This exhibit is sponsored by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Foundation, Magnum Photos, Getty Images, and Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues.  We have a press release available for those of you who are interested.  And we have seen some of the photos — they are really indeed very powerful.


The Department of Field Support is pleased to announce the Government of India has donated approximately $300,000 for the “Pipeline to Peacekeeping Command Programme” with a specific focus on issues of conduct and discipline.  The programme will, over a period of three years, help develop the capacity of future commanders and managers to lead by example and raise awareness of UN standards of conduct among their personnel.  We have more information in a note to correspondents that is being issued.


Back here, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council via video-conference.  He spoke to the Council members about his meeting with the Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem which took place in Damascus on 24 October.  That meeting focused on the political process and the efforts to convene a constitutional committee.  Mr. de Mistura said that he appreciated the frank, and sometimes quite frank, nature of the exchanges that they had in Damascus and discussed the points each of them made about selecting committee members.  Tomorrow, Mr. de Mistura will be traveling to Istanbul to brief the Presidents of France, Germany, Russia and Turkey when they meet to discuss Syria.  He said that he will use that occasion to remind these four important leaders that there is still a clear window of opportunity that needs to be urgently seized.  His remarks were shared with you.


On Yemen, I wanted to flag that amid a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Yemen, UNHCR (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has stepped up its efforts to ensure that tens of thousands of displaced Yemenis have access to cash support.  Current pre-famine conditions and cholera cases in Yemen come on top of the disastrous impact the conflict has had so far — massive displacement and mounting civilian casualties.  Therefore, it remains vital that the critical life-saving activities — including protection and emergency shelter — are addressed and supported in parallel with food, health and education programmes.  More than two thirds of an estimated 2.7 million internally displaced people have been living in displacement for more than two years.  Many of them fled to safer parts of the country and have now depleted all their resources.  In order to meet their immediate needs and strengthen their resilience, UNHCR is providing cash assistance to the most vulnerable families.

**Angola/Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that the mass deportation of Congolese nationals from Angola has already resulted in serious human rights violations by security forces on both sides of the border, and left at least 330,000 returnees in an extremely precarious situation.  In interviews with people in the border town of Kamako in the Kasai region, the UN Human Rights Office received reports indicating that security forces in Angola used excessive force in their operations to deport the Congolese nationals.  High Commissioner Bachelet called on the Government of Angola to halt any ongoing deportations until it can be assured that any returns will be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and human rights of all affected migrants.  She also urged the Government to ensure that security forces and others responsible for violations in the course of these expulsions be held accountable.

Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that these Congolese who have returned from Angola are looking for safety and aid.  The United Nations and humanitarian partners are present in Kamako and along the border with Angola and have already conducted several rapid needs assessments.  They are responding to ensure that those most at risk are provided with food, non-food items, water, sanitation and transportation to health facilities.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that there are approximately 2,300 children travelling with the migrant caravan which is now in southern Mexico and warned that they’re in need of essential services like health care, clean water and adequate sanitation.  The long and arduous journey has left children exposed to inclement weather, including dangerously hot temperatures, with limited access to proper shelter.  Some have already fallen ill or suffered from dehydration, according to UNICEF teams on the ground.  UNICEF is working with the Government by providing technical assistance on nutrition and child protection and expanding access to psychosocial support.  They are also providing children and families in the caravan with more than 20,000 litres of safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation packs, oral rehydration salts, sunscreen and soap.  For its part, UNHCR is supporting the Mexican Government to ensure timely registration of asylum seekers.  It is also setting up identification and referral processes for those with vulnerabilities and needs.  And in Honduras, UNHCR continues to monitor the situation at the border with Guatemala.


Turning to Indonesia, nearly one month after the deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck Sulawesi, UNICEF says that some 375,000 children still need life-saving supplies and services.  More than 2,000 were killed, and key services for children — such as schools and health centres — have been rendered inoperable due to the tsunami and the earthquake.  UNICEF continues to work with the Indonesian Government and other partners to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable children — through medical assistance, clean water, hygiene and sanitation, education, shelter and protection.

**Evgeniy Menkes

And just a sad note to report — we have received the sad news that our friend and long-time colleague Evgeniy Menkes, the former President of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] and a long-time TASS correspondent here, passed away yesterday in Moscow.  As you know, he served the UN for 25 years in various capacities, including as the TASS correspondent, a diplomat with the Russian Mission and a colleague as a Senior Radio Producer in UN Radio.  We send our condolences to his family.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have any updates on the situation in Rukban camp in Syria? We saw many reports that the situation is getting really severe.

Spokesman:  Yes.  [cell phone ringing]  Sorry.  Somebody…  If somebody could turn off that phone, that would be appreciated.  We have a UN-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy to Rukban camp which has, unfortunately, been delayed due to logistical issues and security concerns, but we still plan to deploy it as soon as possible.  We remain ready to deliver aid for the 50,000 people in need as soon as the security conditions allow.  And the UN continues to call upon all parties to ensure safe, sustained, unimpeded access to all people in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  What kind of logistics and security reasons?

Spokesman:  Obviously, partly is the terrain, and the security is the security.  We need to ensure that the people who man the convoy are safe and that the convoy will be allowed to proceed without any problems.  Well…  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Is there any news of… of these armaments that the US wanted the United Nations to inspect to see whether Iran was sending hardware to Yemen?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I saw the press reports, and I think that refers to experts from the sanctions committee, so you should address that question to them.

Question:  And secondly, if you don’t have anything else?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have anything else.  [He later added:  While the Secretariat does not comment on ongoing work of UN experts, we can confirm that UN experts with responsibilities in the area have carried out an inspection of the weapons seized and will report to the Security Council and/or its Committees in due course.]

Question:  The migrants.  I mean, they’re nowhere near the US border, but I’m not sure how UNHCR or anyone else can help.  On the books, both the United States and international law say that people seeking asylum have to be listened to, but the United States is now moving troops and getting totally hysterical about the southern border.  I’m…  I’m not sure what role UNHCR will play.

Spokesman:  As I mentioned, UNHCR is in Mexico, working with the Mexican Government, helping people register for asylum claims.  As a matter of principle, governments…  every state has a sovereign right and responsibility to control its own border.  There is a body of law having to do with refugees, which needs to be respected, and there is also the need to treat migrants with the dignity they deserve to be treated.  Our work right now is with the…  as I mentioned in Mexico, supporting the Mexican Government through various humanitarian agencies.  Oui.  Yes?

Question:  On the same subject, do you have still the same number, more than 7,000 people in this caravan?

Spokesman:  I have the numbers, which I think…  I just got from UNICEF just now, which…  well, I…  the numbers that I have right now are just focusing on the children.  I’ll see if UNHCR/UNICEF has broader numbers on people.  Okay.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question.  Mr. Baskut Tuncak reported yesterday at General Assembly, about the trust fund that was created one year ago under Roma, Ashkali that were… that lived in this camp, yes?

Spokesman:  Yes, on the trust fund, yes.

Question:  That there is no money there.  And he send it also later on the General Secretary in July this year, who were…  he was asking for the same thing.  I sent an email to the office today to ask about the question, that maybe…

Spokesman:  I’ll try to find out.  On, you know, these…  the trust funds are open for voluntary contributions and, like a lot of our appeals, they’re often underfunded, but I will try to get an update for you.

Question:  Okay.  Is… is there any amount that mentioned what they want to…

Spokesman:  Let me see what I can… let me see what I can find out.  [He informed the correspondent that the Secretary-General reiterates his call for contributions to the trust fund to support the Ashkali, Egyptian and Roma communities affected by lead poisoning in Kosovo.  Contributions to the trust fund will support the implementation of projects addressing the most pressing needs of these vulnerable communities, including in the areas of health, economic development and infrastructure.]  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Khalas.

For information media. Not an official record.