The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today is World AIDS Day, and in his message for the Day, the Secretary-General praised the progress made on ending the epidemic and said the world is on track to provide access to HIV treatment to 30 million people by 2020. However, he added that some parts of the world are lagging behind, with women and girls in Africa being most at risk, and he called for a renewed commitment to make AIDS a thing of the past.
And after we’re done with the briefing, we’ll have Brenden [Varma] come up, and then we’ll have our guest, Simon Bland, who heads the New York Office of the UN Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
A couple of travel and senior appointments: Travel-wise, the Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York for Cairo today to hold consultations with senior Egyptian Government officials, as well as the United Nations Country Team in Egypt.
On Monday, she will proceed to Frankfurt to attend a meeting of the G20 Eminent Persons Group.
The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 4 December.
And I have a personnel announcement to make: The Secretary-General is appointing Colin Stewart of Canada as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and Head of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO.
Mr. Stewart succeeds Kim Bolduc of Canada. The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms. Bolduc for her strong leadership and perseverance over the course of her tenure.
Mr. Stewart brings to the position demonstrated management and leadership, with more than 25 years of experience in peace and security and international affairs. Most recently, he served as Deputy Head and Chief of Staff of the UN Office to the African Union in Addis Ababa. He has also held appointments in a number of UN field offices and we have more information about him in our office.
With some 136 million people around the world in need of aid and protection due to conflicts, natural disasters, epidemics and displacement, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today issued an appeal for a record amount of $22.5 billion.
These funds aim to reach 91 million of the world’s most vulnerable people in 2018 with food, shelter, healthcare, and other basic assistance.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that aid workers can only respond to the growing needs with the generous support of donors.
He emphasized that investing in coordinated response plans is a sound choice, which helps to deliver tangible and measurable results and has a proven track record of success.
In Geneva, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) launched its World Migration Report 2018. The publication seeks to shed light on complex issues around migration, including labour migration and remittances, smuggling and human trafficking, integration and irregular migration, and it’s available online.
And I also want to flag that on Monday the preparatory meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will kick off in Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, released a paper on the 12 Living Intra-Syrian Essential Principles, which was distributed by the Special Envoy to delegations in parallel meetings yesterday. You will have seen the note that we shared with you a few minutes ago, as well as the transcript from last night’s press conference by Mr. de Mistura.
The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, concluded her four‑day visit to Turkey today. During her visit, she met with senior Government officials and humanitarian partners to discuss the achievements and challenges of the cross-border operations in Syria. She also commended the ongoing partnership between the Government of Turkey and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
While in Gaziantep, she also met with authorities and humanitarian partners to discuss cross-border operations in the response to the Syria humanitarian crisis, and she thanked the Government and the people of Turkey for doing so much to assist people in need and for their support for renewal of the resolution. Turkey hosts over 3.2 million refugees within its borders, and facilitates delivery of critical humanitarian assistance through cross-border operations. OCHA has a press release with more details.
And UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] tell us from Zambia that the number of refugees fleeing militia violence in the south-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and arriving in Zambia has crossed the 12,000 mark, with more than 8,400 arrivals in the last three months. 80 per cent of the refugees are women and children, driven out by the extreme brutality of rampaging militias, with reports of civilians being killed, women being raped, private property looted and houses torched.
The Kenani Transit Centre, which currently hosts over 8,000 refugees, is filled to capacity. Zambia has made more land available for a new site, but UNHCR and its partners urgently need resources to develop the new site and for refugees to receive life-saving assistance.
And, as I mentioned, in addition to our two briefers today, at 3:00 p.m., please don’t forget the briefing by the President of the Security Council for the month of December, the Permanent Representative of Japan. And he will be here to brief you on the programme of work at 3:00, right here.
**Questions and Answers
Question: At 3:00?
Spokesman: At 3:00, right here. Was that your question? Go ahead. That was an easy question. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Reuters reported today that they have access to a secret report by UN investigators affirming that the missiles fired at Saudi Arabia were made in Iran. Can you confirm or deny this report?
Spokesman: No, neither. As you know, at least from what I read in the press reports, this appears to be a report of a panel of experts to a Security Council Sanctions Committee. It is not something that comes through our office. Yes, sir?
Question: Do you have any comment on this reported walkout of the Syrian Government delegation in Geneva that was not in Mr. de Mistura's…
Spokesman: No, I think I will let our colleagues in Geneva speak to that. It's an ongoing situation and they will speak to it. The Secretary-General is obviously being kept informed by Mr. de Mistura of all the… all the developments. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you. Upon his return to Yaoundé, Cameroon, from the… the… from the AU-EU conference in Abidjan, Paul Biya did a national address and he said that… he said there's secessionist violence and he's going to crack down on it and put an end to it, and people have said that already, basically kind of roundups and… and the targeting of any youth between a certain age has come about. What I'm wondering is, given that the… the UN has been calling for dialogue for some time, do they see this, which was triggered by the… by the deaths of some policemen, as a… as a… as a negative step? And what's the UN trying to do to stop what many people see as a forthcoming escalation?
Spokesman: We're obviously still looking at exactly what the President said. Our appeal for calm continues. Our availability to support the search for a lasting solution to the crisis in the Anglophone provinces remains.
Question: Has what… in terms of the UN, either its envoy or the Secretary-General or Deputy Secretary-General or anyone else, when was the last… is the last time that… that the UN at that level has spoken with the President was that meeting in Yaoundé in October?
Spokesman: The last time the Secretary-General spoke to the President was at that meeting. I'm not aware of any other contacts, but in terms of the Secretary-General, that was the last time. Nizar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Obviously, this opening of the… of the blockade in Yemen is not taking place. The Secretary-General met with the Security Council and then they issued a statement demanding immediate opening of the blockade… or I mean, alleviating the situation there. However, it seems this is not working. Is the Secretary-General intending to meet again with the Security Council and demand something stronger?
Spokesman: What we've seen, I think, as we've updated you regularly over the last three days, we have seen some progress with some ships being able to berth. Obviously, we would like to see all the commercial ships cleared to land. As I've said, we've seen some progress in the right direction, but obviously, we're not at the level of unimpeded and free humanitarian access that we would like to see.
Question: When you say "some," how many ships? One, one ship? [Cross talk]
Spokesman: I think I briefed you yesterday. I think we were talking about three. Yeah, I think there are three ships altogether, but I'm waiting for an update.
Question: Three in two weeks?
Spokesman: I'm just saying in the last few days, because we know that the blockade has been somewhat lifted, so as soon as I have more of an update from my colleagues at OCHA, I will give one to you. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. Ten members of the U.S. Congress wrote a strong letter to Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu calling him to rescind his decision to destroy two Palestinian communities, Khan al-Ahmar and Susya. It's unprecedented for ten U.S. Congress to write that. However, we're still waiting for the special envoy, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, to say something about that. Why he's not saying anything so far?
Spokesman: I think these issues have been raised and we've made our concerns known. Iftikhar and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any statement by Secretary-General on the terrorist attack at agriculture college students in Peshawar, Pakistan?
Spokesman: We obviously… the Secretary-General is aware. He's seen the reports. He condemns these attacks in no uncertain terms. I think attacks, especially on students, is especially heinous. He is… he will be writing to the Government of Pakistan to express his condolences, which he sends to the families of the victims and the people of Pakistan. Sorry. Matthew, and then Ibtisam. Go ahead.
Question: I wanted to ask you. You had mentioned Egypt. I wanted to know is… is the UN aware of this claim by Ahmed Shafiq, a potential presidential candidate, saying he's in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and was barred from going back? And what… And so there's one question. The other one is just… is this a kind of a… is this going to become a… a… way of outreach? What… what triggers the Deputy Secretary-General's trip to… Egypt to meet with the country team at this time?
Spokesman: We've seen the press reports. It's unrelated to that specific case. We're not going to… yeah, so, I mean, the Deputy Secretary-General's trip was scheduled long ahead. There are a lot of issues to be discussed, notably on development issues and, you know, we'll brief you after her trip.
Question: Do you think press freedom… I mean, it's almost every… many of the press freedom groups around the world have… have already talked about different… different people that are in jail there. Is she… do you think that she will be raising…
Spokesman: I think… I don't want to give out pre-readouts of her meetings.
Question: And I want just also on travel. I've seen some… some… put together some online clues and I wanted to ask you if you can confirm the Secretary-General is going to be travelling to Japan in the near future to a health conference there?
Spokesman: As you know, once we're able to confirm travel, we will. Often other parties announce trips, but until we announce it, it's not official. In the back, Madame, and then we'll go to Monsieur.
Question: Two questions, one on Yemen and the other on Palestine. On Yemen, when you say… do you get any answers why the blockade is yet not fully lifted yet when you are talking to the authorities?
Spokesman: I think those are questions best answered by the Saudi-led coalition.
Question: Yeah, but you are in contact with them?
Spokesman: We are in contact, but we're focused on trying to get as much aid in as possible. As for the reasons, I think that's a question you need to ask them.
Question: On Palestine, on Gaza. The winter and the very… the siege there. Is there any way to try to ease it, especially that the situation is going from worse to, I don't know, to catastrophic or if it's not already catastrophic?
Spokesman: We've… you know, we've raised our concerns over and over again about the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the authorities in Israel, the authorities in Egypt, and also encouraging the full implementation of the inter-Palestinian agreements to ensure that the people of Gaza are able to live with the best access to humanitarian aid that they need, so it's issues that are continuously being discussed.
Question: But I mean, a follow-up. But I mean, you have been doing this since a long time, and there's no really practical steps that are taken on the ground, so what are you willing to do to… to…
Spokesman: These are issues that we have to… we keep hammering at, we raise publicly and privately. Obviously, the UN doesn't control the access. The UN doesn't control the situation on the ground, but we're trying our best to get as much humanitarian aid in. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. The Israeli Minister of Social Equality, her name is Gila Gamliel, said that the future Palestinian State should be in the desert of Sinai, on the Sinai Peninsula, and yet these statements are not listed on the UN report or the UN incitement narration and the report of Mr. Mladenov. Have you heard of this statement?
Spokesman: I haven't seen any report. The Secretary-General's position on this issue has been clear. Matthew and then Nizar. Sorry.
Question: I wanted to ask. The… a couple of days ago, I had asked you about… you said and maybe… you had said that there's no… you don't see any UN staff connection to the… to the indictment that was brought against Cheikh Gadio and Patrick Ho, and I'd said to you that it was said in… at the bail hearing for Mr. Gadio that the… that a UN staff member in Equatorial Guinea paid his bail, which it seems from online sources…
Spokesman: Well, I think… from what I read, the person happens to be the spouse. Which I think is the more relevant fact.
Correspondent: Sure, right. I mean…
Spokesman: And I'm not going to comment on what the spouse might… This person did this as a spouse, right? And I would hope my spouse would do the same, if I needed to post bail. [Cross talk]
Question: I knew that you’d [inaudible] with family values. My question is this. You had said no UN staff member is involved, and so I wanted to ask you the following. The person is the Resident Representative in Equatorial Guinea but it was now represented in the bail hearing that they'll be back in Maryland, so I wanted… there are obviously questions that are raised that can't go behind some veil of… of… of… What I wanted to know is, is the person still the Resident Representative in… in… in Equatorial Guinea for the UN? Number two, given what's alleged in… in… in the indictment, I guess I'm just wondering… let me go back to the original question. There's going to be a bail hearing for Mr. Patrick Ho now today, so I wanted to know, at what point does the position that this case doesn't have to do with the UN, even though it describes facts that took place right down the hall from here…
Spokesman: I didn't say that. That's not what I said. It's not what I said. I said we are taking a look at the whole situation. When we have more to announce, we will. I didn't say the case had nothing to do with the UN, because it clearly involved NGOs… an NGO that was involved here and, as I said, we've suspended our relationship with them. So that's what I said. As for the status of the spouse of the person who was indicted, I can check. I believe she still is the resident representative, but we can double check. Okay? Nizar?
Question: Now, before leaving Geneva, the Syrian delegation accused Mr. de Mistura of not consulting with them about many things. One of them is this statement, or paper, which you mentioned earlier in the briefing. Is it a prerogative to make suggestions without consulting first with both parties about it?
Spokesman: This is an ongoing, developing situation. I think those questions are best answered by Mr. de Mistura and his team on the ground. Mr. de Mistura is an able mediator and negotiator, and I'm not going to start commenting on what he's doing from here. Okay, yes?
Question: Yeah, I have another question, because I'm sorry. I didn't know that the pushback would be… be in that way, but I wanted to ask you. So Mr. Gadio was described as being in the building and in the office of… of Mr. [Sam] Kutesa, etc. He's not a member of… of China Energy Fund Group [sic], so I wanted to know what are the… what are the… and I think I had asked you in writing actually on Friday. You were away last Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Under what pass did Mr. Gadio come into the building? I know at one point he was also the… the Organisation for Islamic Conferences (OIC) representative on CAR [Central African Republic], but the… the context you’ve described… for example, does the spouse of a resident representative have some type of a pass? These are not private questions. I'm asking you how a person charged with bribery… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: Okay. Obviously, those details will be looked at. Spouses of staff members do not have passes that enable them to come in and out of the building. Thank you.
Correspondent: If you sign somebody in and they committed bribery, would this be…
Spokesman: As I said, everything will be looked at. Thank you. Brenden?