The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Happy November, everyone. First of all, I want to start off with something I know many of you have been asking about in recent days, which is the venue of the 25th Conference of Parties (COP 25) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
I just want to let you know that in a statement published a few minutes ago, the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said they are pleased to announce that the Conference of Parties Bureau has agreed that COP 25 will take place from 2-13 December in Madrid, Spain.
The Secretary-General met this morning with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. The Secretary-General expresses his deep appreciation for the strong cooperation and support of Turkey to the United Nations.
They both expressed their full backing to the ongoing Syria Constitutional Committee meetings and the need to find a political solution to the conflict in line with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).
President Erdoğan presented the Secretary-General with a Turkish plan for new settlement areas for the return of Syrian refugees.
The Secretary-General stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. He informed the President that UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities, in line with its mandate.
They also had a constructive exchange of views on a number of ongoing situations in the region, including Yemen, Libya and the Middle East peace process, as well as several additional issues of mutual concern in other parts of the world.
The Secretary-General also reaffirmed his backing of a memorandum of understanding between Turkey and a group of development partners in relation to a programme of support for Turkey’s action on climate change.
The Secretary-General also briefed the President on his visit to the UN Technology Bank and thanked Turkey for hosting and financially backing this important initiative. The Secretary-General stressed the need for increased international support for the Bank serving the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Least Developed Countries. And the Secretary-General has left Turkey now and is on his way to Thailand.
You will have seen that last evening, the Secretary-General said he was saddened by the death, earlier this week, of at least 43 people following a landslide in the city of Bafoussam, in Western Cameroon.
He expresses his deep condolences to the families of the victims and affirms the readiness of the United Nations to contribute to ongoing efforts to address the needs of the affected population.
And the Secretary-General was deeply saddened by the loss of life following a fire, which erupted on a train travelling between Karachi and Rawalpindi, in Pakistan, yesterday.
The Secretary-General extends his deep condolences to the families of the victims, as well as the people and Government of Pakistan. He wishes a swift and full recovery to those who were injured.
The UN Human Rights Office has signed an agreement with Colombia, which will allow the Office to remain and operate in the country with its full mandate for a further three years.
Over the past 22 years, the Office has worked very closely with the Government and others to protect and promote human rights, as well as to support the implementation of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
The UN Human Rights Office stresses once again the urgent need for effective protection and preventive measures for indigenous peoples across the country. You can read more about this online.
Juan Gabriel Valdés, adviser to the Secretary-General, travelled to Quito, Ecuador, on 29-30 October. The visit follows a request to the United Nations by the Government of Ecuador, indigenous organizations and different social sectors for support in reaching an understanding about how to bridge their differences.
Ambassador Valdés met President Lenín Moreno, members of the Government and social leaders, whom he congratulated for halting the escalation of social tension experienced in early October through a constructive attitude and willingness to engage in dialogue. He urged the parties to continue to bring their positions closer together and avoid situations that hinder dialogue. The objective of all national actors must be to reach consensual solutions that benefit the entire country and facilitate governance, inclusive dialogue and prosperity.
The United Nations reiterates its readiness to accompany an inclusive and nationally led dialogue process that contributes to the fulfilment of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will visit Venezuela from 4 to 6 November 2019 to learn first-hand about the humanitarian situation and strengthen cooperation and coordination among the various humanitarian organizations operating in the country.
During the visit, Mr. Lowcock is scheduled to meet with senior Government officials and members of the National Assembly, representatives of non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and the diplomatic community, among others.
He will also assess the humanitarian response supported by the UN staff on the ground and meet with people affected by the crisis.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan calls for $223 million to assist 2.6 million people and focuses on providing life-saving humanitarian aid and protection and strengthening community resilience.
According to information verified by the UN Office for Human Rights, at least 42 people have died and 86 were injured in Haiti since the latest round of protests began on 15 September. Most of them suffered gunshot wounds. Reports indicate that security forces were responsible for 19 of the deaths while the rest were killed by armed individuals or unknown perpetrators.
Journalists were among the casualties, with one killed and 9 injured. As such, the Human Rights Office urges all people to refrain from targeting journalists and to respect the freedom of the media.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 35,000 people have been affected — with 19,000 people displaced — by the worst flooding in seven years in north-east Nigeria’s Adamawa state.
The Government is leading the response and providing shelter for those who have been affected.
For its part, the UN and its partners are providing water, hygiene kits, and essential drugs, among other supplies.
Adamawa is one of the states most affected by the decade-long conflict in north-east Nigeria, with 7.1 million people still in need of urgent assistance.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria seeks $848 million to help 6.2 million people and is 59 per cent funded so far.
In Somalia, Beletweyne district and other areas have been severely affected by unusually heavy rains and flooding, and humanitarian needs are dire.
As part of the Flood Response Task Force, the World Food Programme (WFP) is working closely with the Federal Government of Somalia’s Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and other Government agencies.
WFP is also collaborating with sister UN agencies to coordinate the response and reach the hardest-hit people.
The Agency plans to assist 4,000 families from seven villages in Beletweyne district.
Trucks loaded with WFP food are due to arrive in Beletweyne today and 24 metric tons of high-energy biscuits will be distributed by helicopter in a series of flights to Beletweyne, the Agency said.
**UN Female Police Officer of the Year
I’m pleased to announce that Major Seynabou Diouf of the Senegal National Police has been selected as the 2019 United Nations Female Police Officer of the Year.
Major Diouf currently leads a task force that helps to prevent and end sexual exploitation and abuse with the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in Goma.
She also leads the UN Police Women’s Network, which connects female officers for mentoring, training, professional development and mutual support.
The United Nations Female Police Officer of the Year award was established in 2011 to recognize exceptional contributions of female police officers to UN peacekeeping and to promote the empowerment of women.
In choosing Major Diouf, the selection committee commended her exemplary service, which has a direct and positive impact on the community and the Congolese national police. We have her full bio in our office.
And following my briefing, at 12:30, Ambassador Karen Pierce, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom and President of the Security Council, will be here to brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.
Before we get to that, yes, Ibtisam.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, on northern Syria and the meeting of the Secretary‑General of the… the Turkish President, is there any plan to put the issue of safe zones to vote and to… for… in front of the Security Council? And who is also involved in this plan? Is it the Turkish‑Russian plan or only Turkish plan? And which role do you see… are you going to have an active role there or just consultations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, as you know, these are agreements reached between, in particular, the Governments of Turkey and Russia. We, as you know, have welcomed all moves aimed at de‑escalation of the conflict, and we’re seeing how that develops. But, regarding the Security Council, it would be up to the Council to determine how to consider this issue.
Question: But you said that the Secretary‑General or his team is going to view the issue of so‑called safe zones or moving refugees from Turkey or maybe other places to Syria, so…
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, he was presented with a plan for new settlement areas, and he stressed again the basic principles that we have, which is that all returns must be voluntary, safe and dignified. And what he has done in terms of next steps is that he informed President Erdoğan that UNHCR will immediately form a team to study the proposal that Turkey has made, and they’ll engage in discussions with the Turkish authorities. Yes, Betul?
Question: A follow‑up on that, as well, Farhan. I was wondering if the issue of Cyprus has been raised in that meeting between the SG and the Turkish President?
Deputy Spokesman: As far as I’m aware, the issue of Cyprus came up in discussions with the Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavusoglu. Yes?
Question: Yes, also a follow‑up. What is the latest figure that the UN has on internally displaced persons in northern Syria since the Turkish incursion? And, related to that, is the Secretary‑General considering or did he discuss with the Turkish President that resettling the Syrian refugees who are now in Turkey in northern Syria is… might be at the expense of those internally displaced Kurds? Has he considered that issue?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I just pointed out the nature of the discussions concerning the resettlement, and you’ll have in your email the full readout of their discussions. So, I will leave what the Secretary‑General said on this issue at that.
Regarding the numbers, we’ve provided you with the numbers initially, and we haven’t had any fresh updates since then, but I’ll check whether we have any new numbers from what we said about a week ago. [He later said that some 100,000 people continued to be displaced.]
Question: Yeah, but I’m… it begs the question, though, in terms of whether he would have any comment or the Spokesperson would have any comment on this, what appears to be a trade‑off between the displacement of the Kurds as a result of the Turkish incursion and Turkey’s proposal to resettle the Syrian refugees that are now living in Turkey. I mean, what is the trade‑off here, and what would… the Secretary‑General’s attitude towards it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I wouldn’t call it a trade‑off. Again, our bottom line is that all returns have to be voluntary, safe and dignified. And UNHCR, at this stage, will now consider what these proposals are and what sort of follow‑up is needed. Edie?
Question: First, is there any update, readout, on how the early days of the meeting of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva on Syria are going from Geir Pedersen?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think it’s important as these talks proceed to give them essentially the space to have constructive and frank discussions with each other. The parties are there. They’re meeting face to face. All of that is a good sign and a positive development, and we won’t provide any day‑to‑day details about what is being discussed. But, certainly, we see this as a step forward, and we hope that this will also open the door for the possibility of an overall effort to bring the parties together to deal with broader questions of peace, but there’s… but the talks are ongoing.
Question: And a housekeeping question. The escalator going up the delegates’ entrance has never closed, and I note that the escalators in the Secretariat building from the first basement to the ground floor and from the first floor to the second floor have re‑opened. Can you please tell me how much the UN is saving by keeping… [laughter] …the escalators closed from the 2nd to the 4th Floors?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s actually, believe it or not, a reason for this, that the escalators that are closed are the ones where there is an elevator service nearby that can accommodate. So, for example, from the basement, since there’s no elevator that goes from the first floor down to the basement, that’s why those escalators remain open. We’ve already given you the figures, which, as we’ve pointed out, are fairly small, but, in light of the financial problems that we’ve had in terms of being able to meet our payroll and our commitments to contractors, this is the steps that we determined we had to take.
Question: Just to make the point, there is an elevator from the first floor to the second floor. Now there is an escalator, as well. And you said that the cost of the escalators for a year was $14,000.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: So, I would like to know what part of that is being saved for the next two months. Thank you. [laughter]
Deputy Spokesman: Well, if you divide 14,000 by 12 and realize that there are eight [escalators], so you divide it by one out of those eight [escalators], that’s the number. Yes?
Question: Me or…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Edie, for this question. At least we have reason to smile.
I’ve been asking Stéphane [Dujarric] about two Jordanians in custody in Israel, and he said, “I’ll get back to you,” and he didn’t. And I reminded him again, and he didn’t get back to me. There are two Jordanians in Israeli custody, Heba al‑Labadi, she was arrested on 20 August, given five months’ detention, administrative detention; and then Abdul Rahman Miri, also arrested early September. They both going on a hunger strike. It’s now becoming viral. The Jordanian Government withdrew their ambassador yesterday, and yet we didn’t hear neither from [Nickolay] Mladenov or from the Secretary‑General or from the Spokesman. Can you explain that, please?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we believe that everyone who is under detention should be given their due process rights and that is the case here, and we would insist on that in this particular instance.
Question: Heba now is in the hospital, and she is tied. Her legs are tied to the hospital bed because she’s been on hunger strike. Her weight is going down. She’s might lose her life in the next weeks or so. We don’t know. I mean, if the UN does not put a smaller weight into this moral question, then what is the UN doing in this case? She has not been accused of anything.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, and, again, there’s an important point, and this is something Mr. Mladenov… [cell phone ringing] This is something that Mr. Mladenov and his offices have raised repeatedly, is that all of those detained must be charged or else… we have said, if they’re not charged and brought to trial with their full due process rights, they must be released. Yes, Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, I’m just wondering what the status is of replacing Horst Köhler in Western Sahara, MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), because it’s been six months now. Is there pressure from certain Powers not to replace or to give a successor?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, no, that’s not the case, but I don’t have anything to announce just yet. As you know, with all appointments, once we have them, we’ll announce them. Yes?
Question: On the elevators, do you have an expected date from when they will function?
And, secondly, to belabour the northern Syria issue again, did the SG mention anything about the treatment of the Kurds?
Deputy Spokesman: I’d just refer you back to the readout for the second question, but for the first, we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to the financial picture, but we still expect further contributions to be coming in from Member States. Our discussions with them have been positive. So, hopefully, the money will come in, and this will become a distant memory. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. This is in regard to the Syrian Constitutional Committee meetings. I was just wondering what the best guess is at this juncture about how long they’ll be meeting.
Deputy Spokesman: Your guess is as good as mine. For us, the objective is to keep them talking and to make progress on the issue. Once we know that we’re at a good point, we can evaluate the progress then.
Have a good weekend, everyone. Oh. You had one more? Yeah.
Question: Could I just follow up on Dulcie’s question about Western Sahara? What can we put this delay down to, given the urgency of this issue? I mean, we didn’t see this kind of delay in the replacement of Syrian envoys, and we’ve had a number of them in succession. So, why is there a six‑month gap here?
Deputy Spokesman: There have been many envoys, including for positions like Western Sahara, where it takes a while to find people. It’s just the case of the appointments process.
Have a good weekend, all.