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

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

22 September 2015

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

**Joint Investigative Mechanism

Just a note on the Secretary-General's meeting today with Ms. Virginia Gamba, the Head of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) which as you know was established by Security Council resolution 2235 (2015) on the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.  And he also met with Adrian Neritani and Eberhard Schanze, the Deputies to Ms. Gamba, who together comprising the Leadership Panel of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).

The Secretary-General congratulated the members of the JIM Leadership Panel on their respective appointments, and expressed his confidence in their ability to lead the work of the JIM with utmost integrity and professionalism.

Ms. Gamba provided an update on the progress made toward bringing the JIM to full operations.  The Secretary-General and JIM Leadership Panel agreed on the importance of the JIM's independence and impartiality.

The Secretary-General expressed concern at the continuing allegations of the use of chemical as weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic and reiterated his condemnation of any use of chemical weapons.  In this context, the Secretary-General underlined the unique mandate of the JIM and how it demonstrates the determination of the international community to hold those who use chemical weapons accountable.

**Syria

Also on Syria, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, announced today that he had met over the last two days with the facilitators appointed by the Secretary-General to head the intra-Syrian thematic working groups.

Those facilitators are Jan Egeland and he will head the Safety and Protection thematic Working Group; Nicolas Michel for the Political and Legal Issues thematic Working Group; Volker Perthes for the Military, Security and Counterterrorism thematic Working Group; and Birgitta Holst Alani for the Continuity of Public Services, Reconstruction and Development thematic Working Group.

The Special Envoy said that it is hoped that the outcome of the Working Groups could eventually set the stage for a Syrian agreement to end the conflict on the basis of the Geneva Communique.

Mr. de Mistura has just returned from consultations with Syrian interlocutors most recently in Damascus and Istanbul, and is now heading to New York to carry out his discussions on the margins of the General Assembly.

**Burkina Faso

Turning to the situation in Burkina Faso, we are obviously continuing to follow with great concern all the unfolding developments in the country.  The Secretary-General calls on the defence and security forces, and generally on all stakeholders, to avoid at all costs an escalation of violence and to ensure the respect for physical security and human rights of all Burkinabé citizens.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for a swift resumption of the transition process to enable Burkina Faso's return to constitutional order with the holding of presidential and legislative elections in accordance with the Constitution and the Transitional Charter.

The Secretary-General is closely following the ongoing regional mediation efforts towards the resolution of the crisis.  His Special Representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is currently in Abuja, meeting with the ECOWAS leaders who are assembled.

**Yemen

On Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues report that the conflict has had dramatic consequences on children's access to education and eroded an already vulnerable education system.

Some 2.9 million children are no longer attending school in the country – an increase of 1.8 million since the crisis escalated.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also says that as of 18 September, an estimated 140 schools were destroyed and 390 partially damaged across Yemen since March.  School damage and destruction has been particularly severe in Hajjah, Marib, Sa'ada, Sana'a and Taizz governorates where the conflict has intensified.

I do expect a longer statement on the situation in Yemen shortly.

[The following statement was later issued by the Spokesman:  "The Secretary-General is extremely concerned by the escalating ground fighting and airstrikes that have caused further devastation to Yemen's cities and an ever-growing number of civilian casualties in recent days.  Recalling that all parties to the conflict are obligated to take all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects, the Secretary-General reiterates the need for accountability for serious violations of international law that may have occurred during the conflict.

The Secretary-General welcomes the release of three Saudi citizens, two American citizens, and one British citizen by the Houthis on 20 September 2015.  This measure represents a concrete and positive step in efforts to lessen tensions in the region and ease the path to a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen.

The Secretary-General hopes that the release of these six foreign citizens will be followed immediately by the release of all civilians detained or held for political reasons in Yemen. 

The Secretary General calls upon all parties in the conflict to work with his Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, in the search for a durable political solution."]

**Children

You just heard from UNICEF's Executive Director as well as Shakira.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General joined them in an event on investing in early childhood development as the foundation for sustainable development.

During the event, the Secretary-General stressed that such investments not only benefit children, but entire societies.

His full remarks are available online.

**Guinea

A quick note from Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special Representative [on] Sexual Violence in Conflict, who wrapped up a visit to Conakry, in Guinea.  Her office is providing technical and logistical support to a Panel of Judges investigating the incident of 28 September 2009, where at the national stadium, an estimated 156 people were killed and at least 109 women were raped during an opposition demonstration.

**Eritrea

Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the Foreign Minister of Eritrea.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister exchanged views on a number of issues, including the cooperation between the UN and Eritrea, sanctions imposed on the country and the peace and security situation in the region.

The Secretary-General also encouraged further engagement between Eritrea and the United Nations in furthering human rights in the country.  The Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister agreed that mixed migration, and related human trafficking challenges, presented an issue of concern for countries of origin, transit and destination and required a comprehensive response.  

**Questions From Yesterday

Olga – Yesterday you asked about the attack on the Russian embassy in Damascus.  And I can tell you that the Secretary-General clearly condemns yesterday's shelling of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Damascus.

Violations and attacks against diplomatic or consular mission premises are clearly prohibited under international law.  Diplomatic facilities must enjoy protection even in times of conflict.

As the violence in Syria causes growing levels of suffering and destruction, the Secretary-General reiterates his appeal to all Syrian, regional and international actors to show vision and leadership and act in concert towards a political solution.

I would add that the Secretary-General also condemns the attack on the diplomatic mission of Oman that also took place in Yemen earlier and shares those same sentiments.

**Death Penalty

Also I want to flag today the launch of a social media campaign in support of moving away from the death penalty.

The campaign is led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and comes on the heels of an ongoing advocacy on this issue.

The social media campaign's hashtag is #EndExecutions.

Also in relation to the issue of the death penalty, on 29 September, there will be a High-Level side event of the General Assembly featuring, among others speakers, Sister Helen Prejean, a renowned activist against the death penalty.

**Noon Briefing Guest Thursday

As soon as you are done with me, we will be joined by Cristina Gallach, the Under-Secretary-General for Public Information and Amina J. Mohammed, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning to brief you on the General Assembly.

Tomorrow as you may know is an official UN Holiday, the building will be closed and we will not brief.  We will brief on Thursday.  As of now, we do not plan to brief on Friday, because I think there are enough activities to keep you busy.  And we will likely not brief on Monday either.  We will resume the briefings on Tuesday.  If there is an emergency, we will of course brief.

Of course, the building will be fully operational and open Saturday and Sunday.  We will all be in the office and we hope you will be as well.

On Thursday, I will be joined by the Chief of the Office for the Treaty Section, Santiago Villalpando, for the Treaty Section's annual briefing on treaties.  Sometimes we're logical.  Yes, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Tomorrow is official holiday.  What holiday is tomorrow?

Spokesman:  It's in celebration of Eid.

Question:  But Eid is the day after tomorrow.

Spokesman:  Don't come to work.  It's Eid.  That's all I'm telling you.  You can… Talk to high powers about this.

Question:  And it's tomorrow.

Spokesman:  Yes, it is tomorrow.

Question:  So UN says Eid is tomorrow.

Spokesman:  Let's move on to a question.  Do you have a question besides that?  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  But I just wanted… on this announcement of the working groups on Syria.  Can you… the… Are these full‑time posts?  Are the people still working in their other jobs?  How does it work?

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  As I was reading, I was anticipating the question.  So I will check.

Question:  On the DRC… in the DRC, there's been a lot of, there's been unrest.  There were firing of the government coalition partners of Mr. Kabila that oppose a third term and there's been violence in the streets, so I was waiting to see what MONUSCO had to say.  Have they had anything to say?

Spokesman:  I haven't gotten anything from them today.

Question:  Mr. Kobler's been tweeting that he's on a farewell tour throughout the country.  When does he leave?  Who's the next…

Spokesman:  I think he announced, he announced his own departure a few weeks ago.  When a replacement will be announced, we will announce it.

Question:  And is he Libya‑bound?

Spokesman:  Matthew, it's… We will announce the replacement for people who are leaving when we're ready to announce them.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I know you will like my question.

Spokesman:  I always love your questions.  As long as there's a question, I love to hear from you, Abdel Hamid.

Question:  Yesterday, the SG [Secretary-General] issued a statement condemning throwing a rocket on Southern Israel.  Today Israel killed two Palestinians in the vicinity of the city of Hebron.  A young man of 23 and a young woman, they were both murdered by IDF [Israeli Defense Force].  Did the SG… are you aware of that?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report, but we will look into it.

Question:  Yeah, of course, when Palestinian kills are…

Spokesman:  I think… You're always free to comment, but I think that comment is unfair.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi.  I'm sorry.  And then…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General encouraged by the discussions between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Minister Lavrov of Russia regarding the possibility of finding some compromise to resolve the Syrian crisis?

Spokesman:  We're obviously, I think, always pleased to see senior‑level dialogue between Russia [and] the U.S. especially on the issue of Syria, and I think any movement that would heal some of the divisions that we sometimes see in the Security Council would be quite positive.  Iftikhar.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Some of the UN envoys and rapporteurs have brought to the attention of the United Nations sexual abuse of boys by foreign troops.  And yesterday The New York Times also highlighted this problem.  Can the United Nations help in alleviating this thing?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, I think the reports that we've read in the press and other places are extremely troubling, and we're seeing violence committed against vulnerable populations in a country that's already wracked by violence.  We would expect that all security forces, whether Afghans or others, who are in a position to protect vulnerable populations, would do so.

Question:  Stéphane…

Spokesman:  I can hear you but I think we need a microphone so others can hear you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I mean, we… we generally know about… just to… if you can update us on the Secretary‑General's view of Mr. Assad's role in the future of Syria.

Spokesman:  I think the future of President Assad needs to be determined by the Syrian people.  The Syrian people need to decide who their leaders will be.  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Thank you.  I'm from China Central Television.  Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay his first visit to the United Nations.  What does UN's expect… expectation on his visit?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we're very pleased that President Xi will be visiting the United Nations as part of the 70th anniversary, to help us commemorate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.  I think we expect the Secretary‑General to discuss a whole round of issues with the President when he meets him, but obviously, there are important issues such as sustainable development, lifting people out of poverty, and climate change in which China has a crucial and leadership role to play.  Signore.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Grazie.

Spokesman:  Prego.

Question:  But this is about a German company… 

Spokesman:  About what?

Question:  About the German company.  It's not to do with Italy.  It has to do with Volkswagen scandal of 11 million cars because we talking a lot about the environment here.  What is the reaction of the Secretary‑General in general about private company of such importance?  Is… 

Spokesman:  You know, I think we've read the reports as you have, the reports that a company may have misled issues having to do with the emissions of over 11 million diesel vehicles is extremely troubling.  I think the auto industry has to be a partner in all our efforts as the private sector is in terms of combating climate change.  So I know these issues are being investigated, and I hope the company Volkswagen cooperates fully and rectifies the issue.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  There was a press conference here earlier today about the next Secretary‑General process, but what I glean from it and wanted to ask you is, on this currently I guess the nominations are closed to head UNHCR, but it seems like, with the resolution that was passed in the GA about transparency and process, I'm wondering if you can say anything at all about, is it entirely the Secretary‑General's decision?  Is he conferring with people?  The PGA [President of the General Assembly] says he plays no role.  How does the selection of this…

Spokesman: I would encourage you to read a note the Secretary‑General sent to the General Assembly in, I think, 2012 which outlines how he intends to manage the nomination of senior officials in which there is – he balances transparency, you know, with the need to protect confidentiality and it clearly outlines his consultations with Member States and with regional groups as a critical way of increasing the transparency of the selection process.  I think we have seen how for senior, heads of senior agencies, often a letter is sent out asking for nominations.  So I would encourage you to read that which really outlines the process and the thinking behind the process.

Question:  Specifically on this post, can you say whether there's any finalist that comes from a country from which refugees predominantly come rather than a host country…

Spokesman:  I think Matthew…

Question:  Would that be important?

Spokesman:  The date for… the date for, the closing date for nominations, I think, was less than a week ago.  While we do not share the short list, I can be pretty sure that there is no short list as of yet and the Secretary‑General and his team will be looking for the best possible candidate to lead what is a critical agency, especially at this time.  Mr. Klein.

Question:  Thank you.  Given the Secretary‑General's now moving toward the close of another year of his second term and suggestions that were made today at this press conference that Matthew alluded to that perhaps it would be more efficient to have just one longer term for Secretary‑General moving forward to avoid the politicking that sometimes characterizes having two terms and running for re‑election.  Based on his experience, does the Secretary‑General believe that that would be a good idea, to replace two terms with one longer term?

Spokesman:  You know, I don't think that's something the Secretary‑General will opine on at this point in time.  I think he has in the past, I think, welcomed the greater transparency and the selection process for Secretary‑General.  I think even when he, when Ban Ki‑moon ran for office, we did see already a greater open campaigning by the different candidates.  I think whether we see it at the national level or the international level, there are different views on presidents or leaders should have one fixed term or two terms or – I mean, I think it's a debate, it's a very valid debate to have, but it is not one I expect the Secretary‑General to weigh into at this point in time.  Mr. Abbadi.  And then there's clearly a party going on behind me, so I think we'll let Ms. Mohammed and Ms. Gallach come.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you know, Pope Francis will be here in few days to deliver…

Spokesman:  Indeed.

Question:   …what is expected to be an important message.  Would the Secretary‑General encourage the highest authorities of all major faiths to do likewise?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, faith‑based groups as civil society groups and the private sector all have a critical role to play in addressing the challenges that we face, whether it is poverty, whether it is climate change.  And I think the positive involvement of faith leaders is to be welcomed and the Secretary‑General has met just a little earlier this year, had a meeting with faith leaders on fighting extremism.  So I think it is something that needs to be – I think all segments of society need to step up and play a positive role in fighting the challenges we have ahead.  And you know, in fact, it will be, I think Friday will be truly an historic day.  I can't think of another time in history where a pontiff has addressed a gathering of so many world leaders.  So that's why we won't brief on Friday.

I will leave you and I will go get our guests.



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