Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
30 November 2015
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
This morning in Paris, the Secretary-General told the more than 150 leaders gathered for the UN Climate Conference (COP21) that they were here to write the script for a new future — a future of hope and promise, of increased prosperity, security and dignity for all. He added that a political moment like this may not come again. The Secretary-General said that the national climate plans submitted by more than 180 countries covering close to 100 per cent of global emissions were a good start. But we need to go much farther and much faster if we are to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. He called for durability, dynamism, solidarity and credibility, and stressing that we cannot afford indecision — half measures or merely gradual approaches. He said that our goal must be transformation and that history is calling. His full speech has been shared with you and is online in both English and in French.
The Secretary-General also participated in a high-level meeting on climate resilience, during which he said that three out of four humanitarian disasters are now climate-related, hitting the poor and the vulnerable the most. Therefore, we must anticipate climate risks and absorb them in new development models.
In the afternoon, the Secretary-General also spoke at the launch of the International Alliance for Solar Policy and Applications, hosted by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. He said that solar energy offers major potential for reducing poverty and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
And the Secretary-General should be giving a press conference in a few minutes. We will, of course, issue the transcript and share with you the Q&A. [The Spokesman later added that the press conference has been cancelled for logistical reasons.]
Also, Ambassador Oh Joon, President of the Economic and Social Council, said today that we are at a tipping point in the Paris Climate Change Conference. He said that there is no turning back. A global decision needs to be taken for a low carbon agreement.
And as you'll recall, in resolution 2248 (2015), the Security Council asked for an update on Burundi from the Secretary-General, including by presenting options on the future presence of the United Nations in that country. The Secretary-General's Special Adviser, Jamal Benomar, is scheduled to brief the Security Council this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in closed consultations. We have also asked to see if he will be available to speak to you afterwards.
In recent days, Mr. Benomar has consulted with the Government of Burundi, the African Union and other partners and relevant UN entities to assess the situation in Burundi and develop options to address the political and security concerns. And last week, as you would recall, he was in Burundi, where he held meetings with the full range of Burundian stakeholders, including the President and other Government officials, political parties and civil society organizations. The Special Adviser also met with the UN country team, and officials from the African Union and the diplomatic community in Bujumbura.
**Central African Republic
And on the Central African Republic, the UN Mission there, MINUSCA, reports that today, Pope Francis concluded his two-day visit to the country, which was the final leg of his first visit to Africa. The UN Mission supported the efforts of the Central African Republic authorities in securing the city as part of the Pope's visit, including with the deployment of a special unit of 250 peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI), which will remain in the country for a period of eight weeks. And as you may not know, the UN Mission also helped to build the Popemobile that the Pope used during his visit to Bangui.
All of his planned schedule was accomplished without incidents, the Mission reports. And the Mission was pleased to see that Pope Francis delivered messages of peace and reconciliation to members of the Christian and Muslim communities, including victims of violence. He ended his trip this morning with a visit to the Mosque in the Muslim enclave known as 'PK5', where he called for peace between Christian and Muslim communities. The Mission reports that following his visit to PK5, crowds followed the Pontiff to the Bangui Stadium, where he concluded his tour by officiating a mass. Also, unfortunately, on a sad note, the Mission reports that today that its Force Commander, Major General Martin Chuma Tumenta of Cameroon, passed away. Maj Gen Tumenta had been on medical leave for the past month back home.
And also just to let you know that the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is in Entebbe, Uganda, today — the first-stop of a visit that will include Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan, where he is expected to meet with government officials and regional partners and visit the UN Missions in South Sudan (UNMISS), in Darfur (UNAMID) and Abyei (UNISFA), as well as the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE).
I also want to flag that yesterday in Paris, the Secretary-General met with the Vice President of Yemen, Khaled Bahah. During the meeting, he reiterated his deep concern regarding the continuing conflict in Yemen and the desperate humanitarian crisis in the country as a result of the ongoing conflict — he said this despite the strong calls from the international community for an end to hostilities. The Secretary-General urged the Government of Yemen and the Houthis to engage as soon as possible in dialogue, without preconditions, through talks in Geneva, organized by his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Today, the General Assembly is holding a debate on the situation in Afghanistan, which followed the Secretary-General's report, which was submitted on 1 September. Next month, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, [Nicholas] Fink Haysom, is expected to brief the Security Council, and we will keep you posted on exactly when that will take place.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, welcomed the recent declaration by 92 members of the House of Representatives endorsing in principle the Libyan Political Agreement and the proposed Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord. The Special Representative also welcomed the calls by the majority of the members of the General National Congress to reach a positive conclusion to the dialogue process and expedite efforts to bring an end to the suffering and hardship [of] the Libyan people. Mr. Kobler is in Tunis today and he will travel to Algeria tomorrow to attend a meeting with neighbouring countries.
And just to flag — the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, today warned that more than three million children under the age of five in Nepal are at risk of death or disease this winter due to severe shortage of fuel, food, medicines and vaccines. In recent weeks, vital imports of essential commodities have been severely restricted in Nepal's southern border due to unrest over the country's new constitution.
UNICEF cautions that children still recovering from two major earthquakes in April and May could be the worst hit. Anthony Lake, the head of UNICEF, said the risks of hypothermia and malnutrition, and the shortfall in life-saving medicines and vaccines could be a potentially deadly combination for children this winter. And as you'll recall, earlier this month, the Secretary-General expressed his growing concern over the blocking of essential supplies on the Nepal-India border, and called on all sides to lift restrictions without further delay.
And from Iraq, the Deputy UN relief coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, called for the international community to do more in response to Iraq's humanitarian crisis, as she wrapped up a two-day visit to the country. She said after visiting communities in Baghdad and Erbil that the human cost is devastating, with all indicators pointing to a dramatically worse situation in the months ahead. The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator added that insecurity puts the whole aid operation in Iraq at risk. Less than 50 per cent of the prioritized aid plan of $498 million launched in June has been funded so far, forcing aid agencies to close scores of lifesaving programmes. And she called on the funding to be increased and donations to be increased.
Also, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) — they report that NGOs in Gaalkacyo, in Somalia's Mudug region, have reported that an estimated 40,000 displaced people that have fled settlements in the area due to renewed fighting between armed forces on 28 November. More than 30 people are estimated to have been killed. UN agencies and international NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] have temporarily relocated because of the fighting. This has left a gap in provision of basic services for vulnerable communities in Mudug, Galgaduud and Hiraan regions. OCHA continues to warn that humanitarian needs in Somalia remain immense, with an estimated 4.9 million in need of assistance and 1.1 million people displaced around the country.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And I do have a statement — two statements in fact — one on Burkina Faso and another one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the DRC, I can tell you that the Secretary-General condemns the attack by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) against United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) base yesterday in Makembi in North Kivu. One peacekeeper from Malawi was killed and another was wounded during the heavy exchange of fire. Four soldiers from the DRC army and a number of civilians were also killed in two other ADF attacks in the area.
The Secretary-General calls for swift action to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice. He is extremely concerned by series of attacks by the ADF in North Kivu, which already resulted in more than 500 known civilian deaths since October 2014. Such attacks on civilians are a clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the UN to support the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their efforts to neutralize armed groups and end impunity, in line with the UN's mandate in the country. The Secretary-General offers his condolences to the family and to the Government and people of Malawi. He wishes a speedy recovery to the wounded.
And our humanitarian colleagues add that aid agencies are concerned over the impact of the fighting in North Kivu. The fighting caused population displacement, with some people crossing into neighbouring Ituri Province — however, specific numbers are not known at this stage. The clashes also further delay humanitarian aid distributions for some 15,000 internally displaced people living in Eringeti — distributions that have already been delayed several times due to insecurity.
And also to let you know that the Secretary-General welcomes the peaceful conduct of the presidential and legislative elections in Burkina Faso which took place yesterday. He congratulates the people of Burkina Faso for their enthusiastic participation, which shows their strong commitment to the democratic process. In particular, the Secretary-General salutes the strong participation of women in the electoral process.
As Burkina Faso awaits further results, the Secretary-General encourages all political leaders and national stakeholders to maintain the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed on Election Day. He calls on all parties to resolve any dispute that might arise through established legal procedures.
And over the weekend, we also issued a statement condemning the attack on a UN camp in Mali (MINUSMA).
And you would have noted there were a series of senior appointments in recent days. And then on Friday, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Edmond Mulet of Guatemala as his Chef de Cabinet and Patrick Carey of Ireland as his Deputy Chef de Cabinet ad interim.
We also announced the appointment of Catherine Pollard of Guyana as Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. She succeeds Mr. [Tegegnework] Gettu of Ethiopia.
And we also appointed Robert Glasser of Australia as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. And he succeeds Margareta Wahlström of Sweden.
And also the appointment of Rashid Khalikov of Russia as Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with the Middle East and Central Asia — and he will be working out of Geneva.
A couple more notes — ahead of World AIDS Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized that expanding antiretroviral therapy to all people living with HIV is key to ending the AIDS epidemic within a generation. According to a new report by WHO, expansion of antiretroviral therapy has resulted in a stark reduction of AIDS-related deaths. Moreover, increasingly effective prevention efforts have reduced the number of new HIV infections. Since the epidemic's peak in 2004, the number of deaths has fallen by 42 per cent and the number of new infections by 35 per cent since the turn of the century.
Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, UNICEF has warned of a 'hidden epidemic' of HIV among adolescents. In a new report, there were an estimated 50,000 new HIV infections among adolescents aged 15 to 19, accounting for 15 per cent of new infections total in Asia-Pacific. An estimated 220,000 adolescents are living with HIV in the region. After I am done here, I will be joined by the [New York] Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV-AIDS Office, better known as UNAIDS, Simon Bland, and he will be here to talk to you about another report from UNAIDS, in advance of World AIDS Day.
And I may be done, maybe not. Sorry, I was told the Secretary-General for logistical purposes had to cancel his press conference in Paris. Good thing you didn't go to Paris. Yes, Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. Some other questions, but here's one that I tried to ask your office on Friday, so I'll ask you now: Flavia Pansieri, who was the deputy of the… at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It was said in July that she had… was leaving, some people called it resignation; some people called it retirement, in light of the Central African Republic rape allegations and failure to act. And I see she's still quoted as working with the agency, so what is her status, and why wasn't an update provided?
Spokesman: The resignation or her departure, I'm not… if I recall, when she announced it, she said she would leave in December.
Question: And she's still…?
Spokesman: I don't… we can check. I'm not… I don't have the exact date. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, do you have any background on the ADF attacks in the DRC, what's behind it, why?
Spokesman: Unfortunately, nothing more than I've been able to share with you. Obviously, this is not a one-off. There have been clashes with the ADF, MONUSCO, and the national army of the DRC for quite some time, which continues to be of concern to the Secretary‑General, notably for the suffering that… the increased suffering that it brings to the local populations. Edie?
Question: Stéphane, I note that you said that Martin Kobler's been doing a lot of travelling in the region. With the apparent growing influence of the Islamic State extremist group, is there… are there any efforts, new efforts, on his part to get the parties together to actually try and sign this agreement?
Spokesman: That's exactly what he's doing. Mr. Kobler picked up the baton from Mr. [Bernardino] León. We're trying to close the deal. I think he was happy to see that a number of delegates from the two different groups pledged their support to the agreement. Obviously, also, the countries in the region have a role to play, and that's why he'll be going to Algiers. But I think, obviously, the growth of extremist groups like Da'esh in Libya should only refocus the efforts by the Libyan parties to close the deal and bring a stable government back to Libya. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions. First on Paris: Is the Secretary‑General trying to bring together the Turkish and the Russian leaders to calm down the situation? Any development on that? And that's my first question.
Spokesman: There's no development to report on that. I think [that] the Secretary‑General would want the two to engage obviously in dialogue and try to lower the tensions that currently exist.
Correspondent: And my second question is about the situation in Palestine. The last time the Secretary‑General issued a statement was on 13 November. That means 17 days ago, when three Israelis were killed, one Palestinian and one American. That's the last statement. From that day until today, at least 30 Palestinians were killed, many of them children under the age of 16. Three girls of the age 16 were murdered in a cold blood by settlers, and there was no mention of what's going on from that day until today. Over 102 Palestinians were killed.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, through his representatives on the ground, have spoken. There have been briefings to the Security Council. Obviously, the Secretary‑General continues to be increasingly concerned about the continuing… the continued violence we're seeing in the region. Sherwin and then Olga?
Question: Thanks, Steph. The Secretary‑General's high‑level panel on humanitarian financing is due to report back by the end of November. Is that still correct?
Spokesman: No, because I think we are at the end of November.
Correspondent: And the report is not in.
Correspondent: So can you… so please eliminate…
Spokesman: We're looking at early December, Detective. Thank you. [Laughter] Olga and then Iftikhar and then Carla.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Israel announced yesterday it postponed the diplomatic contracts with EU [European Union] representatives dealing with settlement of the crisis with Palestine. How can Secretary‑General resolve the situation? Because UN and EU are both part of Quartet.
Spokesman: Obviously, the work of the Quartet will continue, and we very much hope that the Israeli authorities will engage with the European Union on the peace process. Iftikhar, then Carla?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is… regarding the appointment of Rashid Khalikov, is this a new — for Middle East coordination, is this a new office?
Spokesman: I believe it is a new role. Obviously, it is a… our partnerships with a number of countries in the Middle East is of increased importance, and I think it is reflected in that appointment.
Question: And, secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any comments on the meeting in Paris today on the margins of climate conference between prime ministers of India and Pakistan?
Spokesman: I had not seen that the meeting took place, but obviously, if the meeting did take place, we would welcome it. Evelyn and then Carla?
Question: A quick question on the conference in Paris. Does any decision have to be done by consensus? In other words, can OPEC members block any decision that the vast majority have?
Spokesman: It's a complicated negotiating process, but obviously, we would like to see a very strong consensus on whatever text is adopted.
Question: Is that necessary or what?
Spokesman: We would like to see a very strong consensus.
Question: Oh, yes. Okay. And second question. On Burundi, was the presidential palace attacked or not? Do you have a… it seems to be a dispute over…
Spokesman: I don't have any detail on that. Carla, then Sylviane?
Question: Staffan de Mistura had mentioned at the last Vienna Syria peace negotiations that there would be a meeting in December. Do you have a date for that, and do you know which countries will be attend… will be involved?
Spokesman: No, we believe the same countries that were part… have been part of the International Support Group for Syria will continue. We expect a meeting in December. We are very much focused on January, on bringing the groups together, on focusing on political agreement, as well as a ceasefire.
Question: Do you have any date for December?
Spokesman: I do not. Sylviane. Sorry. You've been very patient.
Question: Thank you. Is there any scheduled meeting between Mr. Ban Ki‑moon and President [Vladimir] Putin and between Ban Ki‑moon and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan in Paris?
Spokesman: I have not seen that on his schedule.
Question: Is he going… is Mr. Secretary‑General will be meeting with the Prime Minister of Lebanon on the situation of refugees and migrants?
Spokesman: I have not seen that bilateral… I have not seen that bilateral on his schedule. The Secretary‑General is scheduled to come back… be back in New York tomorrow afternoon. Yes?
Question: How does Mr. Secretary‑General feel due to increasing number of reports that the large majority of Russian airstrikes in Syria have not aimed at terrorist groups but targeted civilian areas and moderate opposition groups? Because yesterday at least 60 people were killed when Russian airstrikes hits a crowded market space in Idleb. And one of the targets was a bakery that was providing daily bread to displaced people. How does Mr. Secretary‑General view this?
Spokesman: I don't have any particular information on the targeting done by the various countries that are operating in the air over Syria, but I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said last week after the incident, which he reiterated a number times that all those engaged in military activities in Syria, especially air campaigns, need to maximize measures to avoid unintended consequences and, most importantly, to do whatever they can to avoid civilian casualties and to protect civilians. Linda?
Correspondent: Thank you, Steph. The Secretary‑General in his meeting with French President [François] Hollande said that he would be presenting a comprehensive action plan on countering extreme terrorism. And he urged the French President to support a strong resolution on the issue. I was just wondering how developed that was and if there were any further details in terms of who he would be meeting with or how it's moving along.
Spokesman: The report is being worked on, and we expect to have it released in the new year. Stefano and then…
Question: Yes. Thank you. I don't know if you heard about a few days ago, the Vatican state put on trial also two Italian journalists on concern about leaking doc… about some documents that were leaked for the publication that were published two different books. Do you have any reaction? Because it seems that there is… in the book there is nothing that he's… they are not put on trial because… only because they were able to obtain some document that this is part of the journalistic process. So is there any reaction on that trial?
Spokesman: No, I don't have… obviously, I'm not privy to the details of the charges against these two individuals, but we would hope that whatever judicial proceedings take place are done at the highest international standards. Go ahead.
Question: I have two follow‑up questions, one on Syria. Is there anybody then from the UN who is monitoring the different areas where… that are bombard to see where is the bombarding happening or reporting back to the UN about it?
Spokesman: We don't have any observers on the ground who actually monitor where these places are hit. It's an active conflict zone, but we obviously receive information from local humanitarian partners. And those are often reflected in the reports to the Security Council on Syria.
Question: Okay. A follow-up… another follow‑up question regarding Iraq. When you're talking about the humanitarian crisis, are we talking only about… or mainly about areas that… under ISIS control or it's also other parts of Iraq where the Government is mainly controlled, Baghdad?
Spokesman: The humanitarian crisis in Iraq involves both places that are under the control of extremist groups like Da'esh and, as a result, due to the huge population displacement, also areas that are under Government control. Round two. Matthew, then Carole, then Abdelhamid.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about Burundi and also South Sudan. In Burundi, it's said this Jabe neighbourhood, which is seen as an opposition stronghold, is now being blockaded by police, and I wonder is this… does your team on the ground have anything on that? And any reaction to Presidential Adviser Willy Nyamitwe over the weekend basically equated the opposition to Islamists? Which many people found both an insult on the religious basis and probably not helpful to the talks. Is there any response to that?
Spokesman: As we've said, we think any inflammatory discourse is unhelpful to bring political solution to the current crisis. I will let Mr. Benomar speak in more detail when, hopefully, he speaks to you after he speaks to the Council. Carole?
Question: I just wanted to ask about Yemen, because several weeks ago, the envoy was talking about peace talks in the middle of November. Last week you mentioned peace talks in November. Here we are heading into December. Are all bets off or…?
Spokesman: No. I think all work goes ahead with great…
Question: Why is it dragging on?
Spokesman: As we've been reporting from here, the envoy has been shuttling around the Gulf, whether it be in Oman, in Riyadh, in the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. He's in many different places, trying to talk to representatives of all the parties involved and convince them to join him in Geneva. Obviously, when he feels secure enough that he can announce a date, he will, but it's a long and difficult process, but he continues to put all his energy into it.
Correspondent: It's just that you have suggested dates, and nothing came of that so, clearly, you've been too optimistic.
Spokesman: Well, you know, we're… we tend to be optimistic realists here. We had, I think, in the past announced hard dates, which you know did not come to fruition. I think we have avoided giving exact dates, and the Special Envoy, I think, when he feels confident that he can, he will do so. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. Christopher Ross today is in Algiers, and he concluded a visit to Tindouf refugee camps on Friday, and he was in Morocco. Does he have any new idea to revitalize… as he said, revitalize the negotiations or just as part of preparing the Secretary‑General's report?
Spokesman: He will obviously report back first to the Secretary‑General, and we'll see what he has to say. Go ahead.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. What's the status of the Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria? I understand that they were set up in three cities, Geneva, New York, and Damascus.
Spokesman: The clock started about ten days ago, and I think they have their first… I have to look at the resolution, but their first report back to the Council in a few weeks. We can try to get an update for you, but they've started their work. Matthew, and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about South Sudan and then two things to see if you have any… asked on them. On South Sudan, on Friday, your office had said that UNMISS was going to investigate these reports of 14 people killed in airstrikes in Western Equatoria. And since then, there's been more… the report of more fighting on the west side of the Nile there. Do you have… is there any… is UNMISS reporting what it found out, given that it said that it was going to go check this out?
Spokesman: I don't have an update from them.
Question: Okay. And do you have any response to the killing of the Kurdish lawyer in Diyabakir on Saturday and the crackdown on the protests in Istanbul on Sunday?
Spokesman: Obviously, we hope that whoever killed this lawyer is brought to justice.
Question: Okay. And there were these protests about the G4S, this… this… some people call it a private military contractor that does work in the occupied Palestinian territories. There were protests in Amman, Jordan, and elsewhere against the UN continuing to use it. One, can you confirm that the UN system does use this private military contractor, G4S, and how that's consistent with UN principles?
Spokesman: I can't… A, I can't confirm it, and I don't… I'm not sure they are really a private military contractor. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. Is there any news on Burundian refugees in Rwanda being recruited into their own separate army?
Spokesman: No, nothing. I'll invite our colleague from UNAIDS to join us.
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