Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 October 2017
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Three United Nations representatives took part in a visit organized by the Government of Myanmar to northern Rakhine today. This was a positive step and our colleagues in Myanmar believe it could help in our efforts to explore how the UN could cooperate with the Myanmar authorities to alleviate the dire situation in northern Rakhine. The three UN representatives who took part in the field visit were: the Resident Coordinator, Renata Lok-Dessallien; the World Food Programme [WFP] representative and Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Domenico Scalpelli; and senior United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] official, Cécile Fradot.
As the Secretary-General told the Security Council last week, the UN calls on the Myanmar authorities to end the military operations; to allow unfettered access for humanitarian support; and to ensure the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the refugees to their areas of origin. Building on this visit, the UN looks forward to strengthening trust and cooperation with all communities and the Government of Myanmar. This will be critical in addressing the root causes and setting a sustainable path towards peace and prosperity for all people in Rakhine State, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or citizenship status.
The UN stands ready to provide its full support to the authorities in responding to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in northern Rakhine, as well as the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
Meanwhile, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] Executive Director Anthony Lake began a three-day visit to Bangladesh, where today they visited Cox's Bazar and saw for themselves the devastating humanitarian situation of Rohingya refugees. Since 25 August, the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh stands at 507,000. Aid agencies continue to work with the Government of Bangladesh to scale up relief operations, with staff and supplies continuing to arrive in Cox's Bazar.
UNICEF is launching an emergency $76 million appeal to help 720,000 children – Rohingya refugee children who arrived in Bangladesh recently as well as those who came before the recent crisis, as well as children from vulnerable host communities. Up to 60 per cent of the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar since 25 August are estimated to be children, and UNICEF is concerned about the desperate, traumatized children and their families who are fleeing the violence in Myanmar every day.
The head of the World Food Programme [WFP], David Beasley, today wrapped up his visit to Bangladesh, where he heard what he called "heart-breaking" stories from Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar. These horrors must stop, he said, noting that many of these refugees had been receiving WFP aid in Myanmar and would now receive it in Bangladesh until they are able to return safely home. WFP has distributed rice to some 460,000 refugees, and has also been providing high-energy biscuits to more than 200,000 people as an emergency measure when they arrive in the settlements and at border crossing points.
Our humanitarian colleagues continue to be deeply alarmed by reports of fighting and airstrikes in several parts of Syria resulting in the death and injury of scores of civilians and damage to critical civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and centres for displaced people. Fighting and attacks in Raqqa city, Eastern Ghouta in rural Damascus, and Idlib Governorate continue to be reported. Three explosions in Damascus city today reportedly caused the death of 10 people and injured 15 more.
We remind all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including facilitating access to those in need in a regular, sustained and impartial manner, in line with International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.
The Head of the International Organization for Migration [IOM], William Lacy Swing, is in Yemen, where today he called on the country's authorities to step up access for aid workers. He stressed that nearly 80 per cent of the population – or 21 million people – do not know where their next meal is coming from.
Mr. Swing emphasized the authorities' responsibility to give aid workers more access, including reopening the airport for deliveries, while the world has an obligation to help the Yemeni people. He also spotlighted the dangers faced by many of the 6,000 migrants who enter Yemen every month, few of whom realize the grave dangers they are likely to face, such as exploitation and abuse. You can read more online.
As we made clear over the weekend, the Secretary-General reiterates his strong support for the continuation of Kuwait mediation efforts aimed at bringing the crisis in the Gulf to an end. He expresses his gratitude for the personal efforts and initiatives of His Highness [Sheikh] Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, the Amir of the State of Kuwait. The Secretary-General calls on all sides to resolve their differences through negotiations, in the spirit of good neighbourly relations and respect. The United Nations stands ready to support such efforts.
As we told you last week, in consultation with the Government of Dominica, the humanitarian community launched a Hurricane Maria Flash Appeal for Dominica last Friday. The appeal seeks $31.1 million to reach 65,000 people (or over 90 per cent of the population) who need immediate assistance from September to December of this year.
Following the appeal, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock announced a $3 million allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund [CERF] to meet the most pressing needs of the impacted people. The funds will be jointly prioritized by UN agencies and humanitarian partners to kick-start response operations based on the frontline responders' rapid assessment of the damage and needs. These funds will not be enough to meet the needs of all the affected communities of Dominica. Further support is therefore urgently needed in the coming weeks and months to help rebuild people's lives and livelihoods.
The World Food Programme [WFP] announced today that it would cut food rations by 30 per cent for the 420,000 refugees living in Dadaab and Kakuma camps in northern Kenya due to insufficient funding. WFP urgently needs $28.5 million to adequately cover the food assistance needs for the refugees for the next six months. WFP provides food assistance to refugees in Kenya as a combination of food and cash transfers sent via mobile phones used to buy fresh food items from local traders.
Overall, refugees living in Dadaab and Kakuma camps will receive a food ration equivalent to 70 per cent of their requirements, while keeping the cash transfers unchanged. In addition, WFP will not provide fortified flour to the general population, as the low stocks remaining will be prioritized for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers through health clinics.
The World Health Organization [WHO] is rapidly scaling up its response to an outbreak of plague in Madagascar that has spread to the capital and port towns, infecting more than 100 people in just a few weeks. The Government of Madagascar has confirmed that the death of a Seychellois national was due to pneumonic plague. The basketball coach died in Antananarivo last Wednesday while visiting the island nation for a sports event.
Health authorities are tracing people with whom he came into contact in recent days and who may have become exposed to the illness. Once identified, they will be given antibiotics to prevent infection as a precautionary measure. The incident brings the death count to 21 since the outbreak was identified in late August; at least 114 people have been infected.
This afternoon at 3 p.m., the President of the Security Council for the month of October, Ambassador François Delattre of France, will be here to brief you on the Security Council's programme of work for the month that was just agreed to this morning. And we will also have with us Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. You told us about the visit of the resident coordinator and the WFP and UNHCR representatives to Rakhine State, but you didn't tell us what they found. Did they see burned villages? Did they see… were they able to speak to people who were left behind? What… what exactly did they find there?
Deputy Spokesman: We're waiting to get some updates from them. They've gone through… they've seen a variety of sites in northern Rakhine. And clearly, for us, it's crucial that they be able to visit northern Rakhine in the first step. So, we're welcoming that. But we do await a full report from our colleagues about what they've witnessed while they were there. Yes?
Question: Thanks. Also on Myanmar, I guess I'm just sort of struggling to understand the UN line here more broadly. You repeated just now… or during the readout the SG statements last week calling for the Myanmar Government to ensure the safe return and then mentioned that the officials that just visited Rakhine were also looking into ways to, quote, figure out how to work with the Myanmar Government. And yet UN officials are accusing this of being a campaign of ethnic cleansing. At what point do you stop trying to hope that the Government can help and say they've lost le… the legitimacy to be able to handle this on their own and the focus should be to get people out?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been working, as you know, with the Government of Myanmar for some time, trying to make sure that the three points that the Secretary-General has emphasised are upheld. So, what we want is for an end to all of the military operations. We want unfettered access to humanitarian support, of which today's start of access is at least a first step, and then we want conditions for the sustainable return and the voluntary return of those who have been displaced. So, we do need to work with the authorities on that. Our concerns remain as they are. We've been very clear in articulating that. The Secretary-General has also been very clear in bringing this matter to the attention of the Security Council, who have themselves pronounced themselves on this issue in their discussions. But we do need to work with authorities to make sure that the three points that the Secretary-General has been emphasising are implemented. Yes, Joe?
Question: Also on Myanmar, presumably, Myanmar's military operations are being funded at least in part by revenues from oil and gas exploration, some of which is offshore. Two companies at least, Shell and Total, are members of the UN Global Compact. In fact, Total's CEO last year received an award as a SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] pioneer. What I'm wondering is, given the fact that… that these two companies are effectively contributing to the pool of revenues available to the Government of Myanmar to conduct its military operations, why is the UN continuing effectively to give these companies sort of positive branding, if you will, and actually not denounce them, as was done last week from this podium with respect to Philip Morris?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the Global Compact, as you're aware, every year, the companies who are part of that have to report on the activities that they carry out. If there are concerns, as you've been elucidating, about different transactions by those companies, that can affect their membership in the Compact as well as the sort of nature of their participation with the Global Compact. And so the Global Compact will need to be in dialogue with all the various companies, including the ones you've mentioned, in terms of what they're doing, in terms of socially responsible business practises.
Question: But why… why isn't there a… a statement from this podium on behalf of the Secretary-General calling out companies that are continuing to contribute revenues supporting the very military operations he's called for a halt to? Again, he selected out and for good reason… or WHO did but reiterated at this podium Philip Morris for its tobacco-related activities and yet we're… there's silence with respect to these oil companies that are helping to support Myanmar's military operations through their revenue.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, with respect, WHO last week was calling out a particular tobacco initiative and the ways in which they were concerned about how Philip Morris, which itself sells tobacco products, would be using this in its own efforts essentially to enhance their brand. Regarding transactions more generally, like I said, there's a process the Global Compact goes through. It's not something that we talk about from this podium because, from this podium, what we're concerned about at this stage, as we made clear, is what the authorities in Myanmar are themselves doing and how we can try to change that. Yes?
Question: Speaking about future repatriation of the Rohingyas, has the [inaudible] found any kind of response from the Myanmar Government that they're willing to accept the Rohingyas back in the first place? Are they even willing to discuss that or talk about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that's nothing I can report on at this stage. Obviously, this is something we'll continue to push, but the response from the Myanmar authorities… you can ask them yourselves what their position is on this, but there's no progress to report on that at this stage. Yes, Nabil?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Any updates on your humanitarian operations in Kurdistan, Iraq? Because, as you know, international flights cannot go there now, and I want to know, how are you conducting your humanitarian operations there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, one of the things I can say appreciatively is that the governments in Baghdad and Erbil both have been understanding and supportive of our humanitarian mandate and activities, and they've pledged to continue their support, cooperation and facilitation. So, we are working with them to make sure that we can continue to go about our humanitarian activities. But we are encountering cooperation from both of them.
Question: You mean that the UN flights are still doing their operations in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, on the humanitarian front, we continue our operations to serve the people who are most in need, including the many displaced people who are in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. We appreciate the assurances of support and full cooperation that we've received from the authorities in Baghdad and in the Kurdistan region to ensure that our work in all fields, in particular humanitarian affairs, human rights, development and political affairs, will continue unhindered.
Question: Just to understand you correctly, do you mean that your flights are still landing in… in Kurdistan or Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: We have continued to receive the cooperation we need, and we hope and expect that it will go on. Yes, Herman?
Question: On Cameroon, as you know, last Saturday, the Government blocks media access in the restive English region. Is there any reaction from the SG? And when is the UN going to take action to end this clash between Francophone and English?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we're very concerned about the developments over the past weekend. I do expect us to have a statement… I was hoping to have it by now, but I do not. So, hopefully, we shall have it a little while from now, a fuller statement of our concern. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Does the SG have any statement on the rampage that took place last night in Las Vegas?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. He was certainly very shocked and alarmed by this horrific attack that took place in Las Vegas. The Secretary-General will be writing a letter of condolence to the Government of the United States to express our sorrow at the large number of killings.
Question: Do you consider this to be a terrorist attack?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't characterize it one way or another. Obviously, it's a horrific loss of life, and we stand against any such mass killings regardless of what the motivation is. Yes?
Question: Hi, yeah. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the referendum held in Catalonia yesterday? And has he been in touch with the Spanish authorities on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, you're aware of what he said in the past. Beyond that, I can just say that the Secretary-General trusts that the democratic institutions of Spain will find a solution. Yes, Joe?
Question: Well, I know, last week, Stéphane [Dujarric] said, when I asked, that this was an internal matter for Spain itself to work out, but there has been violence and suppression by Spanish Government forces that have resulted in at least some injuries. So, wouldn't the Secretary-General have more of a comment than they'll just… he hopes they'll just work it out?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, beyond that, I mean, you'll have seen what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said. He's spoken out on this, and I'd refer you to what he said. But, among other things, he did call on the Spanish authorities to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all acts of violence. Yes, Luke?
Question: Thanks. On the upcoming trip to the Caribbean, I know the situation in Dominica is very dire, as it is in Barbuda, and yet there are 3.5 million people in Puerto Rico, a much bigger disaster in terms of scale and scope, without water and food in many cases. Two questions. Was the US ever approached by the UN to see if they needed international aid? And did the SG reach out to see if he could visit Puerto Rico on his trip or was that…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, that's really a question for the US authorities. Obviously, we are willing and ready to provide aid to any Government that requests it. We haven't received a request from the United States Government regarding the situation in Puerto Rico. But, of course, our hearts go out to the people affected there just as elsewhere in the Caribbean who have been affected by Hurricane Maria.
Question: And did the SG request to visit or…?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on this, I mean, again, this is a US territory, a free associated state of the United States. So, it's really a question ultimately for the US. If they want us to be involved, of course, we'd be willing to do that.
Question: So, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda asked the SG to come.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And, hopefully, we'll have some more details to tell you about that in the coming days. Herman?
Question: Still on Cameroon, during the GA, the SG had a meeting with President Paul Biya. Did they talk about the situation in southern Cameroon? What did they say exactly?
Deputy Spokesman: I can just refer you to our readout, but beyond that, yes, of course, they referred to this particular situation. Yes?
Question: Still, again, about Las Vegas, what is the procedure at the UN to decide on the language to use about criminal acts or any other act? What… how does it… how does it work to formulate this language?
Deputy Spokesman: It's just an evaluation that's made by the relevant departments.
Question: What kind of evaluation? I mean, is it the number of victims or something else?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, this is an evaluation that's made by our various departments. As you know, we have people who deal with political affairs. There are people who deal with questions of disarmament. There are other offices that deal with counter-terrorism and so forth. And they can weigh in. And with that, I would like to bring Brenden Varma to the stage.
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