Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 September 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We will be joined in a short while by the Chief of the Office of Legal Affair's Treaty Section, Santiago Villalpando, who will be here to brief you on their annual treaty event, this year's theme being "Seventy Years of Multilateral Treaty Making at the United Nations".
A couple of statements to share with you: one on the accident near Mecca:
The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of more than 700 Hajj pilgrims and of injuries to many others as a result of a deadly incident in the Mina Valley in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This tragic incident is all the more distressing as it took place on the first day of the Holy Eid Al-Adha marking the end of the annual Hajj season.
The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and expresses his sympathies to all the Governments concerned.
Also a statement on the situation in Yemen: the Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack today at the al-Bolayli mosque in Sana'a during prayers for the Eid al-Adha holiday. He expresses his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and to the people of Yemen.
Such attacks against places of worship, or civilians anywhere, cannot be justified by any cause. The Secretary-General calls for a full investigation of the bombing and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Also early this morning, we released a statement on the agreement regarding Colombia, in which the Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached by the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) that was done in Havana yesterday, on the issue of victims. He commends the parties' commitment to place victims at the centre of the peace process.
The announcements made in Havana by the parties represent significant progress towards reaching a final peace agreement and bring Colombia even closer to ending the hemisphere's longest armed conflict.
The Secretary-General looks forward to welcoming President [José] Manuel Santos of Colombia at the UN very soon and hearing his views about the way forward for the peace process. The full statement is online.
We issued a statement last night on the situation in Burkina Faso, in which the Secretary-General welcomes the reinstatement of President Michel Kafando and of the transitional institutions in Burkina Faso.
The resumption of the transition process will enable the country to hold presidential and legislative elections in accordance with the country's Constitution and Transitional Charter. He calls on all national stakeholders to exercise restraint and to ensure respect for the physical integrity and human rights of all Burkinabè citizens.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, will continue to work closely with regional and international partners to support national authorities in the lead-up to peaceful and transparent elections.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) Voices for Children event with the agency's Executive Director, Anthony Lake, and their Goodwill Ambassador, David Beckham.
Focusing on the new sustainable development agenda, the Secretary-General said that the new global goals, which will be adopted tomorrow, put people, especially children and young people, at the centre of development.
He also thanked David Beckham for his commitment to UNICEF and efforts to help children and youth.
The Secretary-General also spoke earlier today at the ministerial meeting of the Group of 77 and China. He commended the G-77 and China for playing an extremely important role in shaping the new development agenda, and added that now is the time to build awareness and commitment to the agenda at the national-level. His full remarks are available.
I also wanted to flag that the Secretary-General has several bilateral meetings today with high-level government officials and heads of international organizations. The list includes the Head of State of the Transitional Government of the Central African Republic, the President of Viet Nam, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Chad, Myanmar and Niger.
He will also meet with the heads of the African Development Bank, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the League of Arab States, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and the Secretary-General of Iberoamerican [Summit]. We will be issuing readouts of these meetings as they come.
From Geneva today, the UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, today welcomed a decision by European Union leaders to boost resources for humanitarian aid to countries neighbouring war-torn Syria.
It also welcomed a parallel decision to relocate an additional 120,000 people in EU countries.
António Guterres, the Head of the Agency, said that the relocation plan will not put an end to the problem, but it hopefully will be the beginning of a solution.
The World Food Programme (WFP) also issued remarks welcoming the substantial additional resources being put forward by the European Union for humanitarian work.
For its part, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the recognition by the EU that the best interests of children – who make up one in every four asylum-seekers in Europe this year – are paramount in their relocation within the EU. You can read more about both of these items online.
From Iraq, the UN system in Iraq is concerned about the cholera outbreak there. Laboratory tests have confirmed 52 cholera cases in different parts of the country. More than 1,200 people have been treated for diarrhoea, according to data from health facilities.
Primary school reopening has been delayed in the country by one month until mid-October to prevent the outbreak from spreading.
Our colleagues at DPI (Department of Public Information) have asked us to flag that at 1 p.m. today at the "We the Peoples" tent at the Visitors' entrance, there will be a media event to launch the Global Goals Campaign.
Filmmaker and Founder of Project Everyone Richard Curtis, Actor Arjun Kapoor, Ghanaian musician Becca, Founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales and many others will be there.
There will be interview opportunities, so try to be there by 12:45 p.m., which may be difficult to a few of you in this room.
Tomorrow, a couple of things to flag: there won't be a briefing here at noon but Malala Yousafzai is expected to come to speak to you here between 12:30 and 12:45; the details will be announced.
Obviously, the highlight of the day will be the visit by Pope Francis. We expect him to arrive in the building at about 8:30, where he will be greeted by the Secretary-General. He will also address staff downstairs in the lobby and then, of course, he will address world leaders in the General Assembly Hall, and that will take place at about 10:45 or so tomorrow. He will then exit the building around 11:00 to continue his visit to New York.
We will start with speeches tomorrow after the Pope's speech for the High-level event on the adoption on the Post-2015 Development Goals. The speakers' list is out and we expect the official adoption to take place around midday.
There may be other press opportunities tomorrow but we will keep you updated. Of course, the Pope's movements throughout the building will be available for you to watch on the webcast, unless you bump into him somewhere in the building.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Regarding the grave incident which happened today in Mecca, some social media, people over there, they broadcast some videos, and they openly blamed the police in Saudi Arabia for closing a gate, which caused the stampede that killed eight… about 800 and injured more than 2,000. This is not the first incident that happens. Before that, we had the crane. The investigation into the crane incident took place only for two days, and the conclusions were reached within two days. Does the Secretary‑General call for an investigation in this incident which occurred many times?
Spokesman: I think this tragedy that just happened, in fact, is unfolding. We would all very much hope, obviously, that investigation is carried out to ensure that these types of incidents don't happen again. I think the challenges of organizing the Hajj are extremely great. And we'll leave it at that. But let's see what happens.
Question: If we compare similar incidents, Karbala every year is visited by millions. We never heard about an incident in Karbala, except when suicide bombers…
Spokesman: I think they've been… whenever there are large crowds in any country, there's always a risk for an incident. We just hope this one is obviously investigated. At this time, our thoughts are with the families.
Nizar, I promise. I promise I will get back to you. Masood-ji and then…
Question: Two things about this incident that in the past, whenever Secretary‑General… it has never come… inquiry has never come… is never transparent and never coming. This is becoming a serious issue. That is why this is being said. The other question that I have…
Spokesman: Thank you for your statement. Can I have a question?
Question: The other question is about Malala Yousafzai, when we… tomorrow when she comes here, is she coming here tomorrow? How… I mean, will we be able to come inside? This is the press…
Spokesman: If she does a press briefing, it will be in this room, and journalists will be allowed.
Question: Okay. So now on Yemen, I want to ask a question on Yemen. On the… on this mosque attack and the killing of the children, women and children: Has the Secretary‑General made another effort to ask the Saudis and the coalition forces to stop bombing?
Spokesman: It's not about making another effort. The efforts that are ongoing by the Special Envoy are continuing, and I think the violence that we see every day should serve as motivation to all the parties involved to come and heed his call and sit around the table. Yes, sir?
Question: Stéphane, we just saw a news report saying that the Syrian warring parties just reached an agreement about Foua, Kefraya and Zabadani, a ceasefire on these Syrian villages, under the auspices of the United Nations. Do you have any information? And did the UN play any role in the negotiation that took place in the recent few days?
Spokesman: I wish I could give you an answer, but your mention is the first I've heard of it, so we're often a few minutes delayed. We'll get you information as soon as we can. Yes, Go and then Matthew?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have the final number of the Heads of State, Government attending to the summit?
Spokesman: We're still trying to get… there's… the numbers keep changing. We hope to have those to you by the end of today.
Question: Can we say it's about 150?
Spokesman: Again, I… we shared numbers with you last week. I will try to update you. We do expect a record number.
Question: Record number mean…
Spokesman: But we will update you with those numbers.
Question: It could be the biggest summit ever.
Spokesman: It could be, but we'll get you the numbers as soon as we can. We're just trying to harvest the numbers from the right places.
Question: This is for the summit, not for the general debate; right?
Spokesman: No, this this is for both the summit and the general debate.
Correspondent: Both. Okay. Thank you very much.
Spokesman: Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. A couple questions on peacekeeping. One is, there was a ship that was stopped in Mombasa in Kenya and on UN vehicles bound… it seems from MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), they found weapons that hadn't been registered and powder they believe to be cocaine. And I want to know, what does the UN say about this, about the… you know, the movement of unregistered weapons and whether or not there were drugs? There was also the death, previously unreported, of the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) individual in the port of Mombasa that some are connecting it to. What can you say about this troubling pattern?
Spokesman: Without affirming your point in the statement, first of all, I think on the death of the colleague, my understanding from our colleagues in Kenya is that it was from natural causes. There was a ship, in fact, that did come from Mumbai to Mombasa carrying contingent‑owned equipment for the Indian peacekeeping units serving in MONUSCO. Weapons were found by the Kenyan authorities as part of legitimate and declared contingent‑owned equipment. The investigation is ongoing. What it looks like may very well have happened is that the weapons were declared in the bill of landing provided by the shipper, but we're not… that part was not transferred to the manifest. What often happens, when APC's, armoured personnel carriers, are shipped is that the weapons that are on the outside of the vehicles are transferred for safe keeping inside the vehicle. So as far as we can tell, at this point, it looks like it was a clerical error, where information on the bill of lading was correctly registered but was not transferred to the ship's manifest by the ship's owners. We're obviously cooperating fully with the Kenyan authorities, but I don't think there's any… there's… you know, this appears to be a misunderstanding. We're trying to get to the bottom of it.
On the issue of white powder that was found around the vehicles, that is indeed the case. The Kenyan authorities are checking. Again, from what we understand from Mumbai and from the shippers is that often, on new vehicles, there's some… what do you call it?… anti‑humidity powder that's put around tires for long shipments, which is a white powder. So, anyway, the Kenyan authorities are doing tests, and we're obviously cooperating fully with the Indians.
Question: Also on MONUSCO, there's this report of South Africa repatriating by its own decision up to 50 peacekeepers, and it's said that they violated not only the South African military code but those of UN peacekeepers. So I'm wondering, given the focus, rightly so, as a statement, on sexual abuse and on other allegations in peacekeeping, what does the Secretary‑General say in terms of what is the accusation here? What's behind this?
Spokesman: Well, I think it was behavioural issues having to do with violating of curfew and other issues. I think the fact that the South African has… South Africa has taken this decision to do it on their own is to be commended. And if I have more details to share with you, I will.
Question: This is the Force Intervention Brigade? That's what I wanted to know… is…
Spokesman: I don't know. I'll see what I can do. Oleg?
Question: Stéphane, after the readout you provided some days ago on the JIM (Joint Investigation Mechanism), J‑I‑M, is there any understanding when the team is going to go to Syria, when they're going to start?
Spokesman: No, the clock will… the clock will start ticking when we inform the Security Council that everything is ready to go. Then the clock starts and the 90 days start. Obviously, I think in the first steps will be a lot of the desk work, so to speak, of going through the previous investigations and the information harvested by the two previous attempts, the two previous efforts, having to do with chemical weapons in Syria. Yes, and then we'll go to…
Question: I was just wondering if you have already any information on the meeting of the Secretary‑General today with the IberoAmericans?
Spokesman: No, we'll issue… as the readouts come from heaven, we will share them down. Ms. Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is regarding the refugees making their way into Europe. We know there's been great concern about the possible entry of members of ISIS or al‑Qaeda members, sort of blending themselves into the thousands of refugees. Do you know if the UN has identified or stopped any extremists or seen any extremists in this screening?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. Obviously, countries have legitimate rights to protect their own country on issues of national security, but that doesn't prevent and should not prevent them from treating refugees and migrants with dignity. But that would be more the work of the countries themselves than of the UNHCR. Carla?
Question: Stéphane, this is just a logistical question. At the time of the nuclear nonproliferated… Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, there was one individual who was enormously helpful; that was Ewen Buchanan, who very patiently directed members of the library staff and me to lists of all the events that were occurring where there were… is there some individual at the Sustainable Development Summit in charge of… and in charge of the GA (General Assembly) that could give us a printout of all the events? Because there are so many things going on.
Spokesman: Well, we have… you know, we… my… this building is staffed with people who are trying to be helpful. We have… in my office, we have printed up… we have the "week ahead", which has a list of as many side events that we know are ongoing. You can also contact the President of the General Assembly's office through Dan [Thomas], whom you've already seen. Or our colleagues in DPI, Margaret Novicki and others, who will be able to help you. But I think, if you go to my office, we have the lists of more events than you will probably care to know about.
Question: Well, I doubt that. We have the week ahead, but what Ewen Buchanan directed us to was a list of speakers, the time of the speeches, where, when.
Spokesman: I think we have most of that information, and I would agree with your statement that Ewen Buchanan is extremely helpful, and he continues to be.
Round… oh, no. Mr. Iftikhar, you're still squeaking on round one.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You said the Post‑2015 agenda will be adopted around noontime.
Question: Who will put it to vote?
Spokesman: Through the President of the General Assembly. There will also then be a recognition of young people who will be in the balcony, including Malala Yousafzai.
Question: And the President of the General Assembly will also open the conference?
Spokesman: The President of the General Assembly will also… I believe, will speak, as will the Secretary‑General.
Question: All right.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is a question in reference to South Asia, where Mr. Donald Trump, the front… Republican front‑runner is saying he will pit India against Pakistan in confronting these two countries. My question to you is that, in view of his statement, will the Secretary‑General make any effort for these two countries, which are coming here but do not intend to meet, to at least meet over here and talk to each other?
Spokesman: I will answer your question, but let's be honest here. I will try for as long as I can not to have to comment on anything that the presidential candidates in this country are saying. That being said, the Secretary‑General has always encouraged India and Pakistan to have a dialogue, and he has welcomed it when it has happened between various officials, and it is always an issue that he brings up in his various meetings with the Pakistani leadership and with the Indian leadership. You know, the holding of the general debate is always a great opportunity for leaders to meet, whether formally or informally, whether with the United Nations or just us giving them the space to do it, so let's see what happens.
Nizar, Mr. Lee, then Oleg.
Question: Yeah, going back to the stampede in Mecca, will the Secretary‑General call for an investigation, a thorough investigation, to establish how these people perished?
Spokesman: I think I just… you had asked me the question. I answered it. It may not have been to your liking. But I would refer you to the words I used about 15 minutes ago.
Question: Okay. Now, my question is about Yemen. That was just follow‑up on the first thing which I was denied to.
Spokesman: No, you're never, never denied anything, Nizar. No one has ever dared deny you of anything. [laughter]
Question: Anyway, on Yemen, can you tell us where Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is now? And who are the spoilers preventing any ceasefire? This war has been going on for the seventh month now.
Spokesman: I understand. We've… we're well aware of the length of the fighting. We've been flagging it every day and including the human suffering that takes place every day, as we just saw today with the terrorist attack in the mosque. The Special Envoy remains in the region. He's trying to get his… continue his contacts. As to who is responsible for this delay, I will not go there, but as I said, the Special Envoy is continuing his efforts.
Question: But… a follow‑up on that. I mean, the bombing of the mosque is a very tragic and terrorist attack, of course. But the bombing from the sky of a factory of… ceramic factory, a very big one, yesterday by F‑16's…
Spokesman: I think we have… we have… the Secretary‑General himself, I think, made a reference and condemned the continuing aerial military attacks.
Mr. Lee, then Oleg. Then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Okay. Then I'm going to try to slip two in here. One is quickly about the UNHCR position. I wanted to ask, it's been reported publicly that the Deputy Secretary‑General, Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, is on the panel or heading the panel to review, and I wanted you to respond to that.
Question: In terms of transparency.
Question: And Mr… here's a question. It's reported that Achim Steiner is a candidate. He said so himself. What I wanted to know is, in the UN system, in the five‑year role that Mr. Ban [Ki-moon] has or, just generally, when does Mr. Steiner have to leave UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) or when does his term at UNEP expire?
Spokesman: I think his term at UNEP is constitutionally mandated, so I would refer you to the man… to the UNEP bylaws.
Question: Okay. Rather than follow up here, I just wanted to ask this because there will be no chance to ask it afterwards. For tomorrow's Pope… visit by the Pope to the UN, there was a lottery, which is fine, but it was also said that there was a pool created. And I wanted to know, how was this created? Was it the decision of… of… who will have pool coverage of the Pope made by the UN or in some other way?
Spokesman: I have no clue, and I would refer you to my colleagues in DPI and in MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit). Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I was checking the schedule on, I think it was going to be Tuesday when there's going to be a first ever summit on terrorism chaired by President [Barack] Obama, and then in the second half of the day, there's going to be a high‑level ministerial meeting on countering extremism. What's going to be the difference between those two events? And in… on which one… what's the point of having two different discussions?
Spokesman: I'll have to check. I think one of them is org… some of them are organized by Member States. So it's up to them to set the agenda.
Question: And which Ban Ki‑moon is going to present his plan? Sorry.
Spokesman: The plan… I think that will not be done during this week.
Thank you. I will get our guests.
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