Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 1 September 2015
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the General Assembly to hand over the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to be endorsed at the Summit later this month. He called today the start of a new era, noting that Member States overcame differences in the interest of the common good. The Secretary-General said that the new agenda aims high, putting people at the centre of development and aiming to foster human well-being, prosperity, peace and justice, and a healthy planet.
At this month’s Summit, the Secretary-General said, he expects Heads of State and Government to not only endorse the new Agenda but to affirm their strong political commitment to its timely implementation. The Secretary-General’s full remarks are online and in my office. And related to this, this Thursday at 1 p.m., in this very room, Richard Curtis, the renowned filmmaker, [will be] joined by Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Agenda. And they will speak to you on the Global Goals Campaign, which aims to bring together public figures, companies, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and other to inform the entire world about the new Sustainable Development Goals.
As I had mentioned to you previously, the Secretary-General is just… is heading off to China. He is on his way to the airport as we speak. On this occasion, I’d like to announce the publication of the flagship UN handbook Basic Facts in Chinese. This is the first time in 29 years that we have a new Chinese-language Basic Facts. For those of you who can read Chinese, it will be useful.
We want to thank the Institute of Interpretation and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University, which was key in preparing the translation for us. And this Chinese edition of Basic Facts will be available through print-on-demand from UN Publications, and later as an e-book. An electronic version of the volume is also being prepared for publication.
Turning to Syria, analysts at UNOSAT have used commercial satellite imagery over Syria to confirm reports that the Temples of Bel and Baal Shamin in Palmyra have been destroyed. Only hours earlier, on Monday, some in Syria believed the Temple of Bel was still standing, despite rumours of its destruction. But, after acquiring rush imagery from one of its partners, UNOSAT confirmed the loss of the ancient monument overnight.
The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, Irina Bokova, expressed profound dismay as she condemned the destruction of the Temple. Ms. Bokova said that the destruction of Palmyra constitutes an intolerable crime against civilization, [but 4,500 years of history will never be erased].
She said that each of these attacks invites us to share ever more widely the heritage of humanity, whether in museums, schools, the media and our homes. This is the sense of the initiatives launched everywhere in the world by UNESCO and countless citizens of all nationalities, religions and origins, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world. The Secretary-General joins Ms. Bokova’s voice in strongly condemning this wanton destruction of this global heritage.
And turning to the political track, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met today in Beirut with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Arab African Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hussain Amir Abdullahian. The meeting was an opportunity to analyse the evolving situation with a key regional player and to discuss efforts in follow-up to the Security Council presidential statement supporting the recent UN initiative to operationalize the Geneva communiqué. Mr. de Mistura elaborated on the usefulness of the Working Groups aimed at facilitating the political solution to the ongoing Syrian conflict. The Special Envoy will proceed from Beirut to Brussels, where he will continue his consultations with European Union officials and relevant Member States.
Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien will be in Turkey from tomorrow until Friday in Ankara. Mr. O’Brien is scheduled to meet senior Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Davutoğlu, and senior representatives from Turkish NGOs and the Turkish Red Crescent. He will discuss the Syria refugee crisis and the World Humanitarian Summit, which will be held next May in Istanbul. In Gazientep, Mr. O’Brien will meet representatives from local authorities and from Turkish and Syrian NGOs, and he will visit the UN hub for cross-border shipments. And in Istanbul, he is scheduled to meet the Governor, Vasip Şahin, and the Mayor of Istanbul for talks on the World Humanitarian Summit.
Meanwhile, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said today that a total of 1,325 Iraqis were killed and another 1,811 were wounded in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in August. Jan Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, highlighted the steadily increasing number of casualties and stressed the importance of the Government’s reform plan to restore order, legality and social justice in the country and renew confidence in the fair participation of all Iraqis.
And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Bernardino León, is holding consultations in Istanbul today with representatives of the General National Congress to discuss ways to move forward the Dialogue process, with a view to reaching a peaceful solution to the current political, military and humanitarian crisis in Libya. The meeting in Istanbul, which is taking place ahead of the new round of planned dialogue on 3 September, will discuss GNC concerns with respect to the political agreement and ways to overcome them. Mr. León reiterates his call to all the Libyan parties to uphold the national interest of Libya and engage constructively in the discussions to expedite the dialogue process.
In Geneva today, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it deeply regretted the resumption of the death penalty in Chad. Ten people were executed by firing squad on the morning of 29 August, after being sentenced to death under the new anti-terrorism law. It was the first use of the death penalty in the country since 2003. The Human Rights Office has called on the Government of Chad to introduce an official moratorium aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
The UN refugee agency said today that last month saw heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine. Since the start of the conflict, some 40 per cent of the population of the town of Horvlika has now left. This past weekend, the agency delivered humanitarian aid to Horvlika and nearby areas not controlled by the Government for the first time in several weeks, [with] 13 UNHCR [Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees] trucks carrying 260 metric tons of shelter and basic relief items for more thousands of people.
The agency said that in recent weeks, access to the conflict zone has remained challenging, greatly restricting the delivery of much needed aid to those in need. With the imminent arrival of the cold season, preparations for autumn and winter are becoming a priority, especially for towns and villages with a high level of destruction.
Yesterday afternoon, I was asked by some of your colleagues about our reaction to more recent violence in Ukraine, notably in Kyiv. I can say that the Secretary-General is following with concern the recent developments in Kyiv, following a vote in the Rada to amend the constitution in relation to decentralization. He deeply regrets that yesterday’s events resulted in loss of life and serious injuries. The Secretary-General urges all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and calls for differences to be resolved through peaceful means, in accordance with the laws of Ukraine.
On the climate change front, a new UN programme funded by Germany will help eight developing countries revamp and strengthen their adaptation responses. The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] will work with ministries of agriculture in Nepal, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda, Uruguay, Viet Nam and Zambia to incorporate agricultural sectors into their National Adaptation Plans.
Tomorrow, after the noon briefing at 12:30 p.m., briefing by Ambassador Churkin, who is as you know the President of the Security Council for September, starting today. He will of course brief you on the programme of work. And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) with IPU President Saber Chowdhury and IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong. And they will be here to discuss the outcomes of the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament. Masood, then…
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. I'd like to know yesterday when I asked you a question about a situation on India-Pakistan border, people have been killed, you said the Secretary-General is monitoring the situation. My question is, how long has the monitoring, has the monitoring going on? And has the Secretary-General come to any conclusion about the situation that exists over there now?
Spokesman: Well, I think the… I have nothing to add to what I had said yesterday. And the Secretary-General's position, as I expressed it yesterday, remains the same today. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, the Israeli ambassador has written to the Secretary-General to… on the issue of the Palestinian flag flying at the UN, and he… he's questioning why stray from past practice at this point. Do you have any response?
Spokesman: Well, my, if you're referring to the resolution that's under discussion in the General Assembly, obviously, we will abide, as we always do, by whatever the General Assembly… the General Assembly decides. It's up to the Member States to make that decision. It's… and the Secretariat will await whatever the General Assembly decision makes. Abdel Hamid, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You mentioned there will be a summit meeting on the Syrian refugees on 30th of September. First, can you give us more information about that? And why it is so late to do a conference on 30 September? And on the other hand, why do UN and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees not doing a little bit more to try to absorb those thousands of Syrian refugees who are risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean or crossing some borders and they're not being welcomed in many European countries? Why they don't talk to, for example, Algeria or Morocco or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or any other country to have at least a temporary safe haven for the Syrian refugees?
Spokesman: I think, two things. The event that I mentioned, I'm glad you brought it up, is a side event on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Obviously, these high-level events take place during the General Assembly because we piggyback on the General Assembly. So, that's why it's taking place on 30 September. This is something that has been in the works for some time. The focus will not be only on Syrian refugees. The focus will be on strengthening cooperation on migration and refugee movements in the perspective of the new development agenda. Obviously, the issue of refugees and migrants is very much in the news.
The… one of the new sustainable goals deals with migration and ensuring, ensuring the proper process is, exists for humans, for these people who, frankly humans have been migrating and moving since we began to walk. There needs to be better policy on how to handle what we would call mixed flows, which is what we're seeing, where there are flows of humans that include both refugees and migrants and others trying to figure out how to ensure that long-term policies are put in place from the destination country to the transit countries to the origin countries. Often they're the same and figure out what proper… how the UN can help coordinate, how the UN can help ensuring that the Governments are focused on putting these policies in place.
In terms of, and I'll give you a bit more on… on the… on that side event as the… as the days and weeks go along. But, again, it's not an emergency meeting. It's something that the issue of refugees and migration has been on the agenda for the last… I mean, there's been a huge focus on it, we could say, over the last year. So, this is something that we've been working on now for the last, for the last few months under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General. On the issues of what we're seeing in Europe, quite to the contrary, I think UNHCR has been doing a tremendous job with very limited, very limited capacity. I know they have staff through central Europe, in the Balkans, in Greece, in Italy working with our partner organization, the International Migration Organization, local NGO's and Governments.
It is incumbent on those, on the Governments of the European Union, first and foremost, right now to focus on how to handle the flow of refugees in a manner in which the human dignity of every man, woman and child is respected. I think the pictures we're seeing out of Hungary and other places are very troubling, to say the least. But, this flow that we're seeing is also a sign of the fact that the countries that are bordering Syria, you know, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, have also reached a capacity. It's a sponge. And at some point, a sponge stops absorbing. And so we're seeing this flow. So we also need to address the root causes, which is the violence in Syria, the violence in Iraq. And we need to make sure that the humanitarian operations of our agencies are fully funded, and that's not the case. That was a very long answer. Yes, ma'am.
Question: Yeah, a follow-up…?
Spokesman: Sorry, Matthew, then…
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph. Follow-up to that question which is that the German chancellor has called for an… this time an emergency meeting on September… I mean, yeah, 14 September to deal with the European…
Spokesman: I think… yes, the… the…
Question: Is the [Secretary-General]…?
Spokesman: Different people have… different groups have different responsibilities. It is clear that the European Union is very much focused on coming up with a comprehensive plan. It's their business. They need to come up with it. It is clear that right now we're seeing a small number of countries handle what is above and beyond their fair share of the burden. So, we're very much keeping an eye on what the European Union will decide.
Question: Just on that, there's been a call for some unified, within the European Union, Schengen area some kind of refugee processing reception areas, and they've referred to UNHCR and others. Do you expect anyone from the UN to be attending…?
Spokesman: I don't… I'm sure UNHCR is in touch with European Union in terms of assisting on policy and implementation, but the UN is usually not represented at its, at the EU ministerial meetings. If that changes, I will let you know. Mr. Lee.
Correspondent: Sure. I wanted to ask a follow-up on the Palestinian flag question, then a press freedom question. One, I'd asked your office last week and maybe now there's an answer about… on… I understand, obviously, it's pending in the GA, but a member of the Palestine delegation told me they've gotten a letter from the Secretariat about their readiness to install a flagpole. I wanted you to confirm that letter. And also whether protocol or OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] can confirm where the flag would go.
Spokesman: No, I can't confirm the letter. I'm not aware of the letter. Obviously, the resolution needs to be passed, and then we will make whatever provisions need to be made if provisions need to be…
Question: Right. Does it go under "P" or does it go to the end of the line?
Spokesman: As I said, I think we have to wait… we have to wait for the resolution to be passed or not passed. And then we will make, we will make the necessary arrangements, but we're, we have to wait for instructions from the General Assembly.
Correspondent: Right. I just wondered what the rule was, there's no rule…
Spokesman: Obviously, I think we're moving into somewhat uncharted territory here. So, we are always glad to get guidance from the General Assembly.
Question: And I wanted to know, there have been these arrests in Turkey of journalists from VICE News, two journalists and their translator, and there's also been a raid of a company called Koza-Ipek Media in Ankara. I wanted to know, what does the Secretary-General and the Secretariat think of these arrests of journalists reporting on conflict?
Spokesman: Sure. We're obviously… we've become aware of the issue regarding VICE News. We're looking into it. The reports as they stand are troubling. We're obviously trying to harvest more details before expressing an opinion. I think the Secretary-General has come out rather forcefully, notably in the last few days on the situation with the Al Jazeera journalist and others in Egypt, and that there is a need for Governments to ensure that journalists are able to work freely, I would say especially in zones of conflict where the risks to journalists are already high enough as they.
Question: And just one follow-up. The US Department of Defense has put out a handbook basically that will require journalists to register in some way or to be viewed as sort of unauthorized possible combatants, and so there's a lot of pushback to that. And I wanted to know, is that something that, in terms of the United States’ only policies that the US, that the Secretariat…?
Spokesman: I think, listen, I haven't seen… I haven't seen, you know, I haven't seen the Department of Defense booklet you're referring to. Obviously, I think it also helps for policies to be put in place for journalists to ensure the safety of journalists. There's always an equilibrium that needs to be found, and I'm sure there is a healthy dialogue between the Department of Defense and the accredited journalists at the Pentagon, and I will not get into it. Olga.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There were reports that Secretary-General has plans to visit Tehran in the near future. Can you confirm that?
Question: And will it be the… only the visit to Iran to discuss nuclear deal or regional…?
Question: …visit to Yemen…?
Spokesman: I shouldn't use this word, but I am honestly not aware of any plans for a visit to Iran. And I really, I'm usually honest in my answers anyway. No, I don't know. There are no plans. The visits, you know how things go. When, if there are visits to be announced, we will do it. But, I'm not aware of any plans.
Question: Okay. But, for example, the Tass news agency, they reported that Secretary-General, in a meeting with Iran and Iran's parliament speaker here at the UN Headquarters, welcomed the conclusion of a nuclear deal and announced that he has plans to visit Tehran. So, can we have some readout maybe after the meeting?
Spokesman: I think we did issue, if I'm not mistaken, a readout of the meeting between Mr. Larijani and the Secretary-General. But, as I said, if there are plans to travel to Iran, an announcement will be made from here to confirm it. Carol, then Masood, then Matthew.
Question: Stéphane, I was wondering about an update on Staffan de Mistura's plans for these workshops. Do you think that might get off the ground before…?
Spokesman: Yeah, as I just mentioned earlier…
Question: …the General Assembly or…?
Spokesman: …he was in Beirut discussing these issues with an Iranian senior official. The target date is still the beginning, you know, is soon to get these groups under way. Probably by mid-September, if I'm not mistaken, but I will double-check for you. But, the work is going ahead. Masood, and then Erol.
Question: Yes, sir. Follow-up on your eloquent answer that you just gave on the refugees and the migrants. The Saudi Arabian Government, if you remember or recall, had promised they will give $274 million to help alleviate the… mitigate the suffering of the Yemenis. Has that funding come through? Is there any other…?
Spokesman: No, the discussions with the Saudis are continuing, and I really, I do hope to have some good news to report to you soon.
Question: Are there any other countries which are being tapped to, what do you call, help…?
Spokesman: There are others who are, who have given to the humanitarian appeal. In fact, just before the briefing, I was on the phone with my colleague at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], and we'll get you an updated… because I had asked for some updated figures on where we were on these appeals.
Question: On this question about this destruction of the temple by ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham] now, has the, UNESCO looked into the destruction… is that destruction complete? Or is there a possibility it can be…?
Spokesman: I think… The only thing, the only eyes we have right now are the use of satellite imagery, as I have mentioned. So, our colleagues at UNOSAT, which is part of the UN training agency, have confirmed the destruction. Obviously, UNESCO is also looking at it. But, we don't have our own… obviously don't have our own people on the ground. But, it does look like two major pieces of global heritage are no longer standing. Erol.
Correspondent: They can't be restored in other words.
Spokesman: I think there all these, you know, like you, I've read all these different reports of different high-tech ways of re-creating them. But, before anything can be restored, I think one has to assess the damage on the ground and we're not there yet. Erol, then Matthew, then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. And thank you for everything, indeed. Since you are in the very good mood of giving eloquent answers, obviously after the productive vacation, I would like to touch the base actually and to ask you, between the mood of celebration and the soberness and even assessment that world is facing mushrooming of the crisis for the upcoming seventieth anniversary of UN, what are… would be… what would be the wording that would prevail in the message of the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: You know, this is not a, we are not celebrating as much as we're commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the United Nations. It is obviously a time for celebration in terms of what the UN has achieved and… but, as you mentioned, it is also a very sober time of the highest number of refugees we've seen since the creation of the United Nations, the underfunding of our humanitarian operations as we speak. But, it is also a time of hope in the adoption of new goals… new development goals that will put us on the track towards the eradication of poverty, a new and positive momentum on the issue of climate change, hoping to reach that agreement that the Secretary-General so, has been pushing for to reach in Paris. So, I think it is a very, it's a very realistic mood. I do expect that we may see the highest number of Heads of States and Governments come together in September that we've ever seen at the United Nations in recent history. The Secretary-General will use that time to have a large number of bilaterals to push the agenda forward, and he very much hopes that the Heads of States and Government that are here use the time for bilaterals and all sorts of side meetings, notably the one on refugees and migrants to move the global agenda forward. Abdelhamid, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I want to ask you about the travelling time of the Secretary-General. I mean, do you have any statistics to compare the travel time this this current Secretary-General had undertaken compared to all other Secretaries-General?
Spokesman: I think we keep track on the number of trips he's taken. I think you can always do a compare and contrast, but I think it's clear that communications and travel technology have evolved not only since the time of the first Secretary-General and the seven others that preceded Ban Ki-moon. And obviously, the, we now live in a time where you are able to travel and keep in touch with daily operations as never before. So, we can provide you with those statistics if you'd like. Mr. Lee.
Correspondent: Also, many of the meetings could be conducted through satellite and through videoconferences and need not to be travel…
Spokesman: You know, and I also think it is very important for the Secretary-General of the Organization to get out of New York. It is, this Organization is, has its primary Headquarters in New York, but it is a global Organization. I think there's also an expectation from people around the world, from Governments and people around the world from civil society to actually see and meet with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. I think it's very important that the Secretary-General, any Secretary-General, not be captive of the building itself and that he goes and sees things for himself and meets with people. And I think that's a very important part of his job.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and drones or drone. The Congolese Government or army has said that six of its soldiers were killed in North Kivu by Rugari and it's pretty much in the area in which the FDLR is the strong armed group. So, I wanted to know does MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] know anything about this, and has there been any progress on fighting the FDLR together with the…?
Spokesman: I don't have an update from MONUSCO. You can check with the Mission, but I don't have anything.
Correspondent: I'm asking because Mr. Kobler had said we're very close, or maybe it was Mr. Ladsous, but very close to working with the Government.
Spokesman: I have not had any update, but you can check with the mission as well.
Question: Yesterday there was… a small drone was flown above the UN traffic circle, and I saw it, so I went down. I was told that, in fact, there had been… it was done by UNTV for something for the seventieth anniversary but that, this is why I'm asking you is that I was told, I don't know if it was formally or informally, that the FAA and the 17th Precinct, permission was sought from them. So, because it often arises that the UN says it's exempt from things like Legionnaire’s Disease or a variety of other laws, if you don't know, can you check whether, in fact, it's true?
Spokesman: You know, I think, first of all, I don't know if permission was sought or not sought. What's important is, whether or not we are legally bound from, you know, to local or federal regulations here, it's very important that we are a good partner to our host city and our host Government, whether it's in cooling towers or other things. So, it is, I would imagine, that our colleagues fully informed the relevant authority of what we were doing, and I would also imagine that the air space around the United Nations is fairly limited, and so I'm sure the drone must have flown over the City of New York or parts thereof. So, I think there's nothing, there's nothing wrong or untowards with making sure that everybody is aware and that, if permission needs to be sought and whatever, I…
Question: Can you just get… I guess the idea is that… were they informed or were they asked? Because I think others can't fly drones whether they tell the precinct or not so…
Spokesman: I think others, production companies, television crews fly drones all the time, so I think we did everything within our responsible needs. Carole.
Question: I just wanted to follow up on Burundi. Is the Secretary-General still looking for an envoy? It was raised with a sense of urgency several weeks ago, and then it seems to have stalled.
Spokesman: Those discussions are going on. I think the sense of urgency continues by the situation we're seeing on the ground, but unfortunately, I have nothing new to announce on that end. Erol.
Question: I have a proxy from our colleague Thalif Deen from IPS to ask you whether did you… did you have a chance to read the series of on UN 70 anniversary written mostly by current and former UN officials?
Spokesman: I'm sorry?
Question: Did you have a chance to read pieces…?
Spokesman: I appreciate all sorts of questions. I do read quite a lot, but my… I'm not sure my reading list is briefing material. Yes, sir.
Question: Sorry. I wanted to ask again about South Sudan, one, whether you've been able to confirm this thing of the airport and UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] staying away and also whether the UNMISS or the UN here has any comments on… on… on the… the South Sudan Government saying that the Ugandan troops may remain in the country despite the terms of the agreement…
Spokesman: We've seen those reports. I think it's important that all the signatories and the guarantors and all those involved in the talks in Addis and the signing of the deal live up to their, to their commitments. On Juba airport, I understand that the authorities had… had temporarily closed it. The authorities have run… run the airport, and I think we were duly informed.
Question: And is that in-house that you were able to check?
Spokesman: I don't know. One last one.
Question: Okay. I want to ask about the… there's two letters. One has to do with JEM has written an open letter, the Sudanese opposition group JAM has written an open letter to the Secretary-General about his trip to China very much focused on how he will engage or even be in proximity with Omar al-Bashir? Have you seen the letter? And what's your response? They say the UN has been criticized for not doing enough to ensure the arrest of Mr. Bashir. Do you agree or not?
Spokesman: Well, I think it is up to Member States to live up to their commitments to the International Criminal Court. The Secretary-General has absolutely no plans to interact with President Bashir. There are no plans for any bilateral meetings between the Secretary-General and President Bashir. We're obviously aware of his, of his presence in Beijing. Okay. We'll stop there. Thank you.
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