Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
21 September 2015
I will be joined after you are all done with me here by the new UN Global Compact Executive Director, Lise Kingo. She will brief you on the forthcoming UN Private Sector Forum and other business-related events taking place during the General Assembly plenary.
And then at 1:00 p.m., there will be a press conference by the President of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft.
**Refugees and migrants in Europe
Statement by the Secretary-General on the situation facing refugees and migrants in Europe:
The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the deteriorating situation facing refugees and migrants arriving across Europe. He recalls that many are fleeing persecution, conflict and human rights abuses and have endured arduous journeys in order to reach safety.
He calls on all European States to ensure that they abide by their international obligations, including the right to seek asylum, and the prohibition of refoulement. All persons must be received with dignity and their human rights must be respected. The Secretary-General has followed with increasing concern the closing of some borders in Europe, as well as the lack of proper reception facilities as well as the increased use of detention and criminalization of irregular migrants and asylum seekers.
The Secretary-General has called on European leaders to express his concerns, and to encourage them to ensure the proper treatment of refugees and migrants. As EU Ministers gather on Tuesday, and as an emergency EU Summit is scheduled for Wednesday, the Secretary-General appeals to all EU leaders to show leadership and compassion. He calls on them to forge a common approach which is in line with their international obligations and honours the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.
The Secretary-General looks forward to receiving the European Union leaders at the 70th United Nations General Assembly. He has invited Member States to a special meeting on 30 September to discuss the challenges of increased movements of migrants and refugees in the world.
On a related note, the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, is helping survivors of two separate incidents over the weekend involving boats carrying refugees and migrants between Turkey and Greece that left some 40 people dead or missing.
UNHCR and its partners in Greece are providing ongoing support for the survivors and families, including medical and psychological care, accommodation, legal assistance, food and water.
In all, Europe has seen more than 442,400 arrivals by sea so far this year – 82 per cent of those arrivals from the world's top 10 refugee-producing countries, led by Syria. Nearly 3,000 people have died or gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.
Meanwhile, at the end of his first official visit to Jordan, the UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O'Brien, said that a disproportionate burden of the response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria has fallen on the neighbouring countries, including Jordan. Syria's neighbours are reaching the point where the rest of the world urgently must share more of the responsibility in responding to the humanitarian needs caused by the crisis.
The needs generated by the Syria crisis are outpacing the generous funding received so far. For 2015, the humanitarian community has appealed for $7.4 billion, but only 38 per cent of the essential funding has been received so far.
Today is the International Day of Peace. The Secretary-General, this morning, rang the peace bell.
Speaking to UN Messengers of Peace Jane Goodall and Michael Douglas, as well as Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock and staff members gathered at the garden, the Secretary-General said that by ringing the Peace Bell today, we are expressing our resolve to continue until we realize the vision of the UN Charter – to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
Following that, the Secretary-General participated in a student event where he stressed the role of young people in building peace. He encouraged the youth to raise their voices and denounce injustice.
During the event, the Secretary-General took part in his very first SnapChat – and that snap will be available on the UN SnapChat account. I can tell all of you are on SnapChat, or at least your offspring should be.
The Secretary-General also participated in a tea ceremony with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Goodwill Ambassador Dr. Genshitsu Sen.
Turning to Burkina Faso, the Secretary-General continues to follow with great concern the situation in Burkina Faso and strongly condemns reports of violence against civilians, which has resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths and injuries.
The Secretary-General firmly reiterates his call on the Burkinabe defence and security forces, especially the Regiment de Securite Presidentielle (otherwise known as the Presidential Guard), to exercise restraint and ensure respect for the human rights and security of all Burkinabe citizens. He also calls on all other national stakeholders to refrain from the use of violence.
He is following closely the ongoing regional mediation efforts towards the resolution of the crisis. In relation to that, I know he spoke to the President of Senegal over the weekend.
The Secretary-General also reiterates his demand for the swift resumption of the country's political transition in accordance with Burkina Faso's Constitution and Transitional Charter. Those responsible for the coup d'etat and its consequences must be held accountable.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, continues to coordinate with ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the African Union and other international partners to support and safeguard the transition in Burkina Faso.
In fact, Mr. Chambas is currently in Abuja, Nigeria, ahead of the ECOWAS Extraordinary Summit which is scheduled to take place tomorrow and obviously to focus on the situation in Burkina.
On Saturday, Mr. Chambas met President Michel Kafando at his residence, as well as the Chairman of the ECOWAS, President [Macky] Sall, and President [Yayi] Boni of Benin, as well as the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo.
Mr. Chambas reiterated the strong condemnation by the UN of the coup and the international community's support to help find a quick solution to the crisis.
Turning to South Sudan, our colleagues at our Humanitarian Office (OCHA) says that 34 children under 5 years of age died from malnutrition in the civil protection site in Bentiu, Unity State, in the first week of September.
It adds that water and sanitation organizations are stepping up activities to address malnutrition and child mortality.
OCHA says that malnutrition remains a major concern across South Sudan, with about a quarter of a million children severely malnourished.
Meanwhile, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) recently launched a joint nutrition scale-up plan, which will see the agencies and their partners assist over two million people – children, pregnant women and new mothers – for the treatment and prevention of acute malnutrition until May of next year.
Just to give you a scale of the issue: following the recent fighting in central Unity State, we are now housing 112,000 people in our protection of civilians' camp in Bentiu.
Regarding Yemen, Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has called the situation in Yemen "beyond tragic". She said that the scale of killing and maiming of children has increased dramatically in 2015.
In a press release that was yesterday, she said that more than 400 children were killed and more than 600 injured in Yemen between 26 March and August. She said that this is already more than triple the number of children killed and maimed during the whole of 2014.
Ms. Zerrougui said she was appalled by the high level of child casualties, which indicates a failure by the parties to the conflict to distinguish between civilian and military objects, and to take precautionary measures to avoid and minimize civilian casualties.
In a briefing to a Security Council working group last Friday, Ms. Zerrougui said that 73 per cent of child deaths and injuries during the second quarter of 2015 were attributed to air strikes by the coalition. She added that 18 per cent of child deaths, and 17 per cent of child injuries, were attributed to the Houthis during the same period.
Meanwhile, on the political track, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, is in Muscat today to take part in the political discussions and meeting with the Houthi-General People's Congress delegation, which arrived from Yemen.
Moving on to Europe: The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, kicked off a six-day visit today to Ukraine, where he will be visiting both Kyiv and parts of the east.
This is Mr. Šimonović's first to the country since December 2014. It is an opportunity to assess the human rights situation in Ukraine ahead of the Human Rights Council's interactive dialogue on 29 September.
A note from the World Health Organization (WHO), who said that in Iraq over the weekend the number of cholera cases is expected to increase in coming days and that Iraq's health authorities are working with WHO and other health partners to manage this situation. In a lab tests, 38 people have now tested positive for cholera. More information from WHO.
A new UN-backed report has found that broadband Internet is failing to reach those who could benefit most, with 4 billion people – that is nearly 60 per cent of the world's population – still offline and unable to take advantage of the enormous economic and social benefits the Internet has to offer.
Internet access is reaching near-saturation in the world's rich nations but not advancing enough to benefit billions of people in the developing world. The report was prepared by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Just a couple of answers to questions that were asked in preparation for the briefing earlier today: one is on Nepal and the recent adoption of the Constitution in Nepal.
I can tell you that the Secretary-General acknowledges the adoption of the new Constitution in Nepal. Noting that the Constitution is a living document, he urges all political leaders to act in the broad national interest and with continued flexibility and inclusivity. He remains concerned about the recent violence and stresses the importance of dialogue and non-violence, as well as respect for peaceful protest and freedom of assembly. A peaceful and democratic Nepal is what the people of Nepal seek and deserve.
On Nigeria, as you will have seen, there were attacks in Maiduguri, in the north-east of the country. I can tell you, obviously, that the Secretary-General deplores the multiple bomb attacks at a mosque and nearby areas yesterday evening in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. These were conducted by suspected Boko Haram elements that reportedly led to the killing of at least 50 civilians and injured scores of others. The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims, to whom he wishes a speedy recovery.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the continuing brutal attacks against civilians, including children. He is also deeply concerned about the increasing number of those displaced, including some 500,000 children over the past five months, with serious humanitarian consequences.
The Secretary-General reiterates the UN's support to the Nigerian Government in its fight against terrorism, which should be grounded in international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.
Over the weekend, yesterday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned the recent rocket attacks by Palestinian militants [in] Gaza, and that's online.
I do want to say that Eritrea has paid its budget dues in full, bringing to 125 the number of Member States who have done so.
Tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m., there will be a briefing here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Estonia on the selection process for the next Secretary-General. Speakers will include Sven Jürgenson, the Ambassador of Estonia, and Ambassador Juan Carlos Mendoza Garcia of Costa Rica.
At 11:35 a.m., there will be a press conference with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, and that will include UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira, and Director of Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child, Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff. That will be on the urgent need for increased investment in early childhood development.
I will try to brief at some point and then at 12:30 p.m., Cristina Gallach, the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information, joined by Amina J. Mohammed, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, will be here to give you a preview of the General Debate and adding more details.
And finally at 1:00 p.m., for dessert, the Under-Secretary General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Gyan Chandra Acharya, and others will be here to brief on their recommendations regarding the establishment of a Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, on the meeting on the 30th on migration and refugees, can you give us a clearer picture, please, of what the SG and the UN hope to get accomplished at this? Because there's all this talk, a meeting, a meeting, a meeting, but nobody… is it just going to be another talkfest or is there going to be something concrete that we can expect out of this?
Spokesman: Well, the meeting will be focused, obviously, on the current situation that we've seen in Europe as well as in Asia, but the framework to it will be goal 16 of the SDG's [sustainable development goals], which looks at managing migration. What we're trying to get out of this meeting is to get leaders focused not only on the immediate needs of migrants but on the medium-term and the long-term needs to manage this process more clearly. There needs to be a good and effective dialogue between the countries where the migrants and refugees come from and where they're transiting through and where they're going. So it's really… it's an occasion to get world leaders to focus on the long-term policy needs that we need to deal with in the refugee and the migrant crisis.
Question: So then, are you expecting any particular commitments to be announced at this meeting?
Spokesman: No, I think it's a little early to talk about commitments. It is really just an opportunity for them to just focus on those long-term policy needs. Yes, sir? Then we'll go across.
Question: Thank you. A follow-up on the side event on refugees and migrants: Do you have idea who are the leaders that have confirmed their participation?
Spokesman: We expect a number of European leaders and leaders from other parts of the world. I think when we get a little closer to the date, we'll be able to give you the list.
Question: Another thing you promised us there's going to be a schedule for… or table for all the side events around the GA…
Spokesman: I did promise and I think I delivered. If you look on the "week ahead" on the website, it has quite an exhaustive list of events that are taking place during the GA. If you need more information, let me know.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the negotiations in Muscat, you mentioned that the Houthis are meeting with Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed. Who's from the other side, from the government side, since Mr. [Khaled] Bahah is in Aden and there are rumours that Mr. [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi is also in Aden. Can you confirm that they have re-arrived in Aden?
Spokesman: I'm not able to confirm they arrived in Aden. I know the Special Envoy has been shuttling back and forth between different places, notably Riyadh and now he's in Muscat to talk with the Houthi-General People's Congress delegation that has arrived. It's part of his ongoing diplomatic efforts that are… that keep getting, in a sense, more and more important as we see every day the increased devastation and suffering of the Yemeni people.
Question: Yeah, but who's… who from the Saudi or the Yemeni Government…?
Spokesman: This is not getting all the parties together. This is part of his discussion with one side, and as I said, he's been in Riyadh previously to talk with the other parties.
Question: On the same thing, just… the Muscat government, Omani Government has protested the bombardment of the mission, their diplomatic mission in Sana'a. That coincided with the declaration that there's progress in Muscat negotiations. Also, on the release of prisoners, there were… I understand, at least six people were released from Sana'a. Was there… was that sponsored by the United Nations?
Spokesman: I hope to have a little bit more to say on the release of the prisoners and of these people soon. That's all I have to say for now. Mr. Lee?
Question: I guess… I mean, I want to ask you about Burkina Faso, but I did… normally the Secretary-General has issued statements when diplomatic premises are hit by airstrikes.
Spokesman: When I have something to say, I will say it.
Question: On Burkina Faso, what has been Mr. Chambas's role in the hotel in Ouagadougou? Was he there when journalists in the lobby were assaulted by representatives and supporters of the presidential guard? Can you answer that?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware that he was there. Obviously, I think, as we've just said, the Secretary-General calls on the authorities in power to respect… to use… to respect the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and, of course, clearly, for the media to operate in a safe environment.
Question: And maybe, just related to this Yemen question, I wanted to get your quote on this. There's a lot of media coverage of Saudi Arabia being named onto this five-member commission to appoint Special Rapporteurs at the Human Rights Council. And people are saying… given that it's, quote, beheaded more people than ISIS this year, given Raif Badawi, given the airstrikes in Yemen. So what… as sort of speaking for the UN system, how does this come about? Is it… can you confirm that they have this position and…
Spokesman: Yes. My understanding is that they have. As you know, this organisation is an organisation of Member States. Which states participate and which bodies and committees and working groups and so on is clearly the decision of the Member States. This is not one in which the Secretariat is involved. It's up to Member States to make those decisions and their processes in place. Obviously, we would expect… we expect every Member State to live up to their commitments in the UN charter, as well as the Declaration of Human Rights, especially, I think, those who are in leadership positions in those kinds of bodies.
Question: What would you say to those who say it was a deal to not run for the presidency of the Human Rights Council to get this position? Is that an appropriate UN process?
Spokesman: Clearly, I have no knowledge or idea of what deals or discussions may or may not be taking place between ambassadors, who rarely invite the Secretariat to those discussions. Mr. Klein?
Question: Thank you. Could you repeat or maybe I just missed the proportion or the estimated proportion of children killed, I think, in Yemen, 400 or so total…
Spokesman: I can tell… I can refer you back to…
Question: Well, let me just finish… By the coalition bombing versus the Houthis and also what are the sources for this, I mean to the extent that the UN doesn't have a comprehensive presence?
Spokesman: I think we have to ask Ms. Zerrougui, but obviously they use a fairly well established… established sources from NGO, government… government figures or from other parts of the UN. What she reportedly told the Security Council working group last Friday: 73 per cent of child deaths and injuries during the second quarter of 2015 were attributed to airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. Eighteen per cent of child deaths and 17 per cent of child injuries were attributed to the Houthis during the same period. Abdel Hamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, it was 20 September, the deadline for Mr. Bernardino León to conclude the agreement. Was it concluded? Do you have any update on that? And I have another question.
Spokesman: No, my understanding, the update we've just received is that those talks in Morocco are ongoing.
Question: Okay. The second question, on 30 September, Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas will chair the flag‑raising ceremony in the rose garden. First, why is it in the rose garden? And second, would the Secretariat be represented at this meeting?
Spokesman: I do expect the Secretariat to be represented. I think it was agreed to that, given where the flagpole for the permanent observers, which are all the way down at the end, the logistics and the security, I think, made it an extreme challenge to do it there. So the agreement was to do it in the rose garden so it could be done in a safe environment. If you go with your own eyes, as you leave the building on 42nd Street, you'll see those two… the Vatican flag, the Holy See, and the Palestinian flag will be right at the end on the corner of 42nd and First. And you can't… it's very difficult to physically have more than one person in that area.
Spokesman: Okay. Yes, ma'am? Then we'll go…
Question: Good afternoon. Tatiana [indiscernible name] of RIA Novosti. Sunday morning, Russian embassy was attacked in Damascus and Russian MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) reported that Moscow expects a clearer stance in regard to this terrorist attack by all members of the international community and is waiting for concrete steps. So what is the UN position on that?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that report, but I will… let me check and we'll get back to you on that one. Yes, ma'am… yes, sir?
Question: Stéphane, first of all, when the Vatican flag is going to be raised and why it… the opportunity… during the Pope visit? Or…
Spokesman: It will be on the morning of the 25th; as all the flags are being raised, the Holy See flag will go up. There will not be a special ceremony. Except if you could maybe consider the visit by the Pope to the UN on that day to be a special ceremony.
Question: And number two, for tomorrow's meeting with that… regarding the choosing of the new Secretary-General, does those representative of Eastern European group to the UN has something to present to us? And how many speakers are there, because we have 35 minutes, obviously.
Spokesman: I think… you know, we're trying to… I think you should just speak to the mission. They've asked for that slot. We've given it to them. What they plan to present is up to them. We just hold the reservation book for the press conference. We don't check for content.
Question: And can we ask you for them not to go with long speeches, in order…
Spokesman: We will pass that request along. [Laughter} Yes, go ahead?
Question: Thank you. In Geneva, head of UN independent commission on Syria, Sergio Pinheiro, presented his report. And he says Kurdish armed groups in Syria looted and destroyed some areas and committed some human rights violations. And what's the Secretary-General's opinion on that?
Spokesman: First of all, it's an independent report. I have no particular comment to make. But I think the Secretary-General has been clear that anyone… any group or anyone who commits human rights violations must be held to account.
Yes, we'll go down the line.
Question: I have two questions. One, regarding the 30th of the… the meeting on the 30th regarding the refugees. If I understood you right, you said that there will be also representative of the countries that refugees are fleeing from?
Spokesman: Yes, we hope for a very broad representation of leadership.
Question: So you are expecting to have also a representative from Syria and… is that right?
Spokesman: It's open to everyone. As soon as we get closer to the list, we have a cleared list, we will let you know. Those details are still being worked out. But we're also talking… obviously, there will be a lot of discussion about what's going on now, but I think it's also trying to get people to talk and discuss about the longer term and looking at all the coun… and making sure there is a dialogue from all the countries where refugees come from, the transit countries and the destination countries.
Question: Sorry. I have…
Spokesman: It will be… the meeting will be webcast and open. Whether or not there will be physically room for press, I don't know, but the meeting will be broadcast.
Question: I have a second question on Iraq and cholera. Do we know more about the circumstances, since cholera disappeared from Iraq, if I'm not wrong, decades ago and, like, in the '70's, maybe. And do you have more information and each areas…?
Spokesman: No, I think… I think I would refer you to World Health Organization, but I think we seeing… we are seeing the resurgence… we're seeing… sometimes I have trouble with my English. What?
Spokesman: Not resurrection. Yes, exactly. [Laughter] Of a number of deadly diseases that have been treated due to continued fighting and an inability of the central government, regional governments to handle these things. Added to that is the huge human… funding shortfall for UN's humanitarian operations.
Nick, then we'll go to Masood and then Linda.
Spokesman: Yes, I mean, he has been on the phone over the last few weeks with European leaders. He has been, if I'm not mistaken, recently on the phone with the President of Croatia and with others. I will get you a list right after the briefing. I had meant to do it and I forgot to do it as I was coming in, but he's been in, I'd say, quite frequent contact with European leaders on this account.
Spokesman: I will. Masood and then Linda?
Question: Yes. Will the Secretary‑General, I mean, make another push for peace in Yemen and we will all… I mean, because his representative on child abuse and everything has said that horrible things are happening over there. So now… but the Secretary-General has appealed again and again for a ceasefire. The Saudis and the coalition parties don't seem to heed. So is he going to make another push?
Spokesman: I think it's not about him making another push. It's about having his envoy continue to push for peace and that's exactly what he's doing and that's why he's in Muscat today.
Question: That's what the representative for children was saying, when she says that there's a need for international push.
Spokesman: I think that's exactly what we… that's exactly what we've been doing. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding Syria, would you have the latest update regarding conditions there, whether they be political, military or humanitarian?
Spokesman: I don't have anything new to add to what we put out from Stephen O'Brien on Wednesday or Thursday… when he briefed to the Council. I think those are the most up-to-date figures.
Question: On Burkina Faso, could you tell us who is controlling exactly the country now? And, also, there's an agreement submitted by the ECOWAS saying about ECOWAS giving amnesty to the perpetrator, and you just say that the SG [Secretary-General] say that those perpetrators must be held to account. Are you aware of the agreement?
Spokesman: Sure. We're… obviously, the situation there is rather fluid. It does appear like the coup leaders continue to be in control at least of the state, parts of the state apparatus. I think as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, I think, one, it's important that the voices and opinions of civil society be heard. As a matter of principle, the Secretary-General is firmly opposed to amnesties for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, crimes of sexual violence, or other gross human rights violations. And I think those are the opinions that Mr. Chambas will bring to the table in the meeting in Abuja.
Stephano and then Majeed and then we have to go our guest.
Question: Thank you. This is about the visit of Pope Francis. This morning there was a press conference by SNAP, Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, and they came up with the very, very discouraging data list. It looks like that, for them, for their opinion, this Pope is not doing at all what should be done and they mention a lot of UN commissions that been asking for certain information in the Vatican… from the Vatican and again from their information given during the press conference the Vatican has not complied with the request from the UN. So my question is: What does the Secretary-General think of this organisation? And… I mean, of what… what they are asking that the UN and the Vatican in their relationship about this issue but also, very important, when the Pope is coming here on the 25th, would the… in the conversation, is this problem of the abused children going to be part of the conversation?
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary-General… I think, first of all, my understanding is that the Holy See has been engaged in a dialogue with the various competent human rights bodies that you've talked about, over the last year or so. The Secretary-General will have a broad ranging discussion with the Pope. We'll get you a readout afterwards. I'm not going to go in to try to prejudge what will be raised and not raised. But I think as a matter of principle, the Secretary-General has always spoken out in defence of the victims of human rights abuses and the need for people to respond to them properly.
Majeed. And that will be the last question.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch published a report that documented violation committed by pro-Government militias in Iraq back in March in the city of Tikrit. They destroyed entire neighbourhood after they took over the city from ISIS and many other crimes. Two questions about this, is how… what is your comment about this report? And the second is, why the UN seems more vocal about human rights violations, say, in a country like Syria, not so vocal in Iraq, which is, there's already a war going on there, many crimes…
Spokesman: I would respectfully disagree with you. The issue of human rights abuses by… reported human rights abuses by Government troops or Government‑affiliated troops in Iraq is something the Secretary‑General raised both privately and publicly during his recent… his last visit to Baghdad. And I think he's always said that while there is obviously a military component to fighting it extremist groups, whether it be in Iraq or in Nigeria, that response from the state needs to be anchored in human rights law and in humanitarian law and that it is clear that those who are… live under the grip of extremist groups should not also fear their liberators. Thank you; and we'll get the head of the Global Compact.
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