Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In just a short while, Jamie McGoldrick, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Republic of Yemen, will join us by telephone link from Sana'a to brief on the situation there. After the guest is done we’ll also have Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. First, I’ll read a few notes and take a few questions and then we’ll get to our guest.
The Security Council met on South Sudan this morning. The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, warned that, as the dry season sets in, we face the possibility that the military conflict will escalate, as well as intercommunal fighting. Civilians will suffer the consequences of any escalation of violence, he said, adding that we cannot continue to stand by and watch. Mr. Lacroix therefore urged the Council to remain vigilant and exert more effort to condemn and stop the violence, protect civilians, and urgently facilitate a political settlement of the conflict. Fighting cannot continue in tandem with efforts to craft a durable peace, he said. The two are simply incompatible.
The Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, added that, while over 2 million people have fled South Sudan as refugees over the past four years, 7 million people inside the country — almost two thirds of the remaining population — still need humanitarian assistance. One and a quarter million people are in an emergency phase of food insecurity — that is almost twice as many people one step away from famine as the same time last year. In early 2018, half of the population will rely on emergency food aid. Mr. Lowcock called on Council members to use their influence to ensure that the parties comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to respect and protect civilians, including humanitarian workers, and to ensure that the parties allow and facilitate humanitarian relief operations and people’s access to assistance and protection.
And the Victims’ Rights Advocate, Jane Connors, is wrapping up a four‑day visit to South Sudan. This morning, she briefed the press in Juba on her role as the UN's first Victim’s Rights Advocate and on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, in close partnership with the UN system in the country. She also strongly reiterated the Secretary‑General’s message of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse. During her trip, she met with UN representatives and civil society. She also visited the Protection of Civilians site in Malakal and met with community and traditional leaders, as well as the humanitarian community. This is her second visit to a peacekeeping mission since taking up her assignment in September, after visiting the Central African Republic with the Secretary‑General in October.
Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and confirmed that the Syrian Government has informed him that its delegation will return to Geneva on 10 December. After that, he said, discussions with the parties will continue, with no preconditions, until 15 December. Based on how this round of talks goes, the Special Envoy said, he will assess whether the parties are negotiating seriously and draw conclusions accordingly. And Mr. de Mistura’s Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, also briefed the press on the situation of some 400,000 people trapped in eastern Ghouta, adding that for the past six months, we have been trying to get acceptance from the Syrian Government of a very detailed evacuation plan for what is now 494 people who need to leave eastern Ghouta on medical grounds. He again pleaded for the Government to allow those evacuations, including those of children with serious long‑term medical conditions.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
This afternoon, the Deputy Secretary‑General will depart New York for Paris, to co‑chair the Ministerial meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon on 8 December. On Sunday, 10 December, she will proceed to Quito, Ecuador, to address the High‑level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South, to be held the following day. The Deputy Secretary‑General will return to New York on Tuesday, 12 December.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that an acute hunger emergency in the Greater Kasai could turn into a long‑term disaster. While the agency has been working against the clock to help ever more people, cash is quickly running out. Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that a tightly planned surge makes a big difference, but WFP has largely funded this from its own resources. He added that without immediate donor support, many will die, particularly women and children. With 3.2 million people desperately short of food, WFP has stepped in with emergency assistance. A lull in fighting has allowed more staff to be deployed. As a result, the number of people assisted has grown rapidly — from 42,000 in September to 225,000 in November. But donors’ reluctance to commit to Kasai is jeopardizing this effort.
From Geneva, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Neal Walker, today urged Member States to support the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $187 million to help 2.3 million people in the country’s east. As Ukraine enters its fourth year of conflict, many people in conflict areas have exhausted their savings and ability to cope. They are now forced to make impossible choices between food, medicine, shelter, heating or their children’s education. Mr. Walker said that the people of eastern Ukraine continue to pay the highest price for the conflict, adding that, while Ukraine may no longer be front page news, millions of men, women and children urgently require our help. And we’ve been informed that the World Food Programme will stop providing food aid to conflict‑affected people in the east at the end of February 2018. Food insecurity levels have doubled in both Government‑controlled and non‑Government controlled areas, with up to 1.2 million people in need of food.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tell us that even though global food production is booming, localized drought, flooding and conflicts have intensified and perpetuated food insecurity. According to FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, some 37 countries, 29 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food. Ongoing conflicts continue to be a key driver of food insecurity, having triggered near‑famine conditions in northern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, as well as widespread hunger in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria. And adverse weather conditions are also taking their toll on farm food outputs in some regions, notably due to drought in East Africa and floods in parts of Asia. The full report is available online.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that the number of people affected by dementia is set to triple in the next 30 years, going from 50 million people with dementia to 152 million by 2050. According to the agency, the annual global cost of dementia is $818 billion dollars, equivalent to more than 1 per cent of global gross domestic product. By 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled, to $2 trillion, a cost that could undermine social and economic development and overwhelm health and social services, including long‑term care systems. WHO has just launched a Global Dementia Observatory, an online platform to track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them, both within countries and globally. More information is available online.
**Human Rights Day
Ahead of Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the General Assembly back in 1948, the High Commissioner for Human Rights underscored the need for the values enshrined in this landmark document to be defended. He cautioned that the universality of rights is being contested across much of the world, pointing to what he called mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world, as well rising levels of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination. His full message is available online.
Today is International Civil Aviation Day. This year’s theme is “Working together to ensure no country is left behind” and it highlights the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) efforts to assist States in implementing standards and recommended practices so they can have access to safe and reliable air transport and can address safety, security and emissions‑related issues. Like I said, we’ll have Jamie McGoldrick talking about Yemen right after. Yes, Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Eight members of the Security Council have asked for an emergency meeting on Jerusalem, and they have asked for the Secretary‑General to brief the meeting. The meeting is expected to take place tomorrow morning. Will the Secretary‑General be briefing?
Deputy Spokesman: Our expectation, if a meeting is called tomorrow… and I believe it's yet to be confirmed… but we anticipate that there will be something tomorrow, and if that's the case, then the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, will brief the Council members by video conference. Yes, Ali?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have anything on the clashes today in the occupied territories between the Israeli forces and the demonstrators? This is one. And the second part of my question is about the legality of the… of President [Donald] Trump's announcement regarding the move of the embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Asking about the legality from the UN perspective. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, you're aware of the resolutions of the Security Council, and you're aware that the Security Council does intend to hold discussions tomorrow, so we'll be waiting to see what they have to say. You've already heard what the Secretary‑General had to say on the issue. As he made clear, Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. As for your question about today's clashes, as you know, we've always been concerned about being sure that the status quo in the city of Jerusalem is preserved, and we hope that all sides will exercise calm and restraint.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General have a say on the legality of the US move, or this is a US sovereign decision? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: He's made his comment on what he believes the situation is and what is needed in what he's told you yesterday. And like I said, we will await anything further in discussions as the Security Council is scheduled to meet. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. This is also on Jerusalem. Has the SG spoken to the White House or to any officials from the United States on the issue of Jerusalem? You know, Mr. Trump spoke to many world leaders, and I was wondering if the SG was one of them? If not, did the SG speak to anybody about this dangerous move? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: We've made clear our views, including through various interlocutors, but, no, the Secretary‑General has not spoken by phone with President Trump. Yes, Joe?
Question: Simple question. Has a date yet been set for the Secretary‑General to have a year‑end press conference?
Deputy Spokesman: What the Secretary‑General intends is actually to have a press conference for the beginning of the year. So what we're looking forward to is something that will be in the early part of January. Yes, please?
Question: Thanks. It appears that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman has met with Ri Yong Ho, the Foreign Minister of North Korea. Is there anything at all you can say about that meeting or about the progress of his trip?
Deputy Spokesman: Not really at this stage. We're aware of the discussions he's been having. We believe that the process so far has been constructive, but we won't have any particular details to share until a little bit later, once he's completed his trip. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Do you have any updates about the relief to Yemen? Are any ships coming in?
Deputy Spokesman: You're in luck. The guest of the briefing who is going to speak… you can't see him. We only have a UN seal up. But Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator, will talk right after we're done. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to… I mean, I guess you won't read out the meetings that Mr. Feltman's had in North Korea, but the Swedish ambassador today in front of the Security Council said that he has a report from Sweden's embassy there. Can you say whether… has Feltman met with any of the remaining diplomatic corps in Pyongyang? And also, in terms of… for getting readouts, can you say what the composition of his team is? Is Katrin Hett on it, and if so, is she back with DPA [Department of Political Affairs], and who else is with him? Usually people do readout who went to a place.
Deputy Spokesman: No. We're not doing that at this stage. Like I said, we're waiting until he's completed his visit to be able to provide some details. And he does intend to brief both the Security Council and the press corps once he's back.
Question: And on Jerusalem, I wanted to ask you, the decision… because a number of ambassadors were saying that they were hoping that the Secretary‑General would be the briefer. Is there some reason that it's Mr. Mladenov and not… and not António Guterres?
Deputy Spokesman: We feel it's best at this particular point in time for Mr. Mladenov, as the lead expert on the ground, to provide the details. Yes, Evelyn? Just press the button.
Question: Terribly sorry. Thank you, Farhan. Jan Egeland, at his briefing today, talked about Syria, the Damascus Government, not giving the right licenses to get humanitarian aid into many areas. Is anyone here picking that up? Complaining or what?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. We've been complaining at various levels, but I also mentioned at the start of this briefing his concerns, particularly about the situation in eastern Ghouta. And we're trying to do what we can to make sure that various of these areas that have been essentially under siege for a long period of time are opened up. Yes?
Question: You mentioned on South Sudan. There are 2 million South Sudanese, they are refugees, the 2 million are refugees? And can you tell us, like, how many are IDPs [internally displaced people], as well, and then if you have a break, or how many… like, where are they, the 2 million?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. The basic numbers are that there's 2 million who have fled the country as refugees basically to neighbouring countries in the Central African region. There's 7 million people in need in the country. Many of them displaced people. And, as you know, there have been well over 100,000 in the various UN camps in protection of civilian sites in the country. And 1.25 million people are in an emergency phase of food insecurity. Yes?
Question: Shifting gears. I'm sure you and the SG have seen that a prominent American magazine has named these women, Silence Breakers, as the person of the year for exposing really horrible workplace culture and abuses of power by men. I'm curious, does the SG believe that the mechanisms that the UN currently has, particularly here in the Secretariat, putting aside peacekeeping in far off places, are sufficient to address this behaviour?
Deputy Spokesman: It's always hard to say whether something is sufficient. I mean, we are trying to improve the mechanisms. As you know, the Secretary‑General has put in place new procedures to try to do what we can to improve how any of these allegations can be reported and responded to. At the same time, part of what's needed is a change of culture. What you've seen with the Silence Breakers is the idea of changing the idea that certain types of behaviour are normal or acceptable, and that requires a change in culture, and that needs to happen here as elsewhere. By the way, one of the things I wanted to point out in terms of the Silence Breakers that were recognized by Time magazine, one of them is, of course, UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, and we're proud to see that her work has been recognized.
Question: Just following up. I understand, I've seen the quarterly update with the road map for some reform here in the UN. But at least looking in Washington, there's an effort, perhaps, to go back and look at claims that may have been settled in the past under a different system and maybe open them up again to see if they deserve to be reheard under a new system. Is there any push by the SG to look at sexual claims within this institution in the past and give them the light of day again, or is the past just going to be the past?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly if people have stories like this, you know, outrages that have been committed upon them, they need to feel that it's always appropriate and always acceptable for them to speak out. And they will be listened to. And we do have systems in place, including the work of the Ethics Office, the Ombudsman, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and various other mechanisms to make sure that they're listened to. Yes, in the back?
Question: Yes, sir. Yesterday the Secretary‑General, on this thing on Jerusalem, mentioned about Jerusalem being the capital of both countries which is echoing what Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon said. Does the Secretary abandoning… or have any ideas of resurrecting the idea to internationalize the… Jerusalem, place it under a special international regime, as was the original idea back in late 1940s?
Deputy Spokesman: I think what he said yesterday is where we stand. And how that vision, including the vision of a two‑State solution, is to be achieved is really a question for the parties and for all of those who are trying to support the peace process. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you on Burundi. The most recent round of talks in Arusha has ended without any outcome document, and the mediator, [Benjamin] Mkapa, is basically blaming the participants for not moving at all. And most of the opposition didn't even attend. Does the UN have any comment on what people are saying is kind of a failure of the process? And was Michel Kafando there in Arusha or not? And if not, where is he?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe he has been involved in the process. We'll see whether there's anything he has to say by way of an evaluation, but certainly he's continuing to deal with the various parties and try to get the process going again.
Question: And on the ramifications of this indictment of the China Energy Fund Committee and what it says by name about Sam Kutesa and a bribe being directed to the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, their role in this process. Does the UN have any reflection on what this means for the process?
Deputy Spokesman: Nothing beyond what we've said before. We obviously want the officials who serve as the President of the General Assembly to uphold the highest standards, but this as an issue is really an issue that the Government of Uganda needs to respond to, and I'll leave the response in their hands.
Question: Can I ask you also on Cameroon? Stéphane [Dujarric] had said the UN was trying to figure out what President Paul Biya has said. Since that time, there's said to be… many people have left the region where they were told that they'll be viewed as collaborators if they don't leave. And now a writer, Patrice Nganang, has been disappeared from Douala Airport. He's a professor here at Stony Brook, and he went and reported on the Anglophone region and was taken off his flight and whatever. It seems to be a pretty… Many people are saying that somebody needs to get involved. I wonder if Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall is aware of it. Has the UN system taken note of the disappearance of this journalist?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously everyone who is in Cameroon or traveling to Cameroon, if there are any problems that occur during their travels, that needs to be investigated thoroughly by the local authorities. We certainly hope and expect that this particular person will be found, and we're hopeful that nothing untoward has happened. But…
Question: What if the authorities are at fault?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll have to see what happens, but first and foremost they need to investigate what's happened. And with that, let us get to Mr. McGoldrick.