Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

20 May 2016

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Egypt Air Flight MS804

The Secretary‑General is deeply saddened by the crash EgyptAir’s flight MS804 yesterday.  He sends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, and to the Government, and to the people affected by this tragedy.  The Secretary‑General is grateful to those who have joined the recovery operations for their quick response.


Earlier this morning, as you have seen, the Secretary‑General met two Afghan cyclists, Nader Shah Nangarhari and Firoz Khan — a father and son team, who started their cycling journey around the world in July 2015.  Called the Journey for Peace and Solidarity in Afghanistan, the tour, which started in Turkey, has now taken them through Europe.

They arrived in Washington, D.C., in March before heading to New York to meet the Secretary‑General.  As you have seen, they presented him with a message of peace from the people of Afghanistan.  This evening, the Secretary‑General is expected to speak at the closing session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as well as at a Vesak Day commemoration in the General Assembly Hall.

And as he told you on his way out this morning, he will be heading to Qatar this evening when he will attend tomorrow the sixteenth Doha Forum.  From there he will then travel to Turkey to open the World Humanitarian Summit before heading to the Republic of Korea for the Jeju Forum and Japan for the G‑7 [Summit], and then back to Korea to attend the annual UN DPI [Department of Public Information] NGO [non-governmental organization] conference, and then back to New York on Memorial Day.


Just an update on the humanitarian situation in Syria:  a [UN] relief convoy has successfully delivered vital food, medicines and other aid to some 10,000 residents cut off in the Syrian farm town of East Harasta, who had been without power and running water for more than three years.  The 29‑truck convoy — packed with items including cooking oil, flour, lentils, tarpaulins, cooking utensils — this week reached residents of East Harasta, which is just 11 kilometres from Damascus.  Local people have been able to survive by growing some fruit and vegetables since the siege began in early 2013, but have lacked most of other basic staples. Access to services including healthcare and education is obviously limited.

**Sri Lanka

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that as of today, nearly 428,000 people in 22 districts of Sri Lanka are reportedly affected by floods, landslides and heavy rain — and this is according to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Disaster Management.  The UN continues to support the Government in its efforts to respond to the needs on the ground.  International NGOs are organizing a joint rapid assessment in 11 districts starting tomorrow to obtain further information about the needs on the ground.  OCHA is also helping to strengthen local UN coordination and assist agencies in resource mobilization efforts.


One month after the earthquake, humanitarian needs in Ecuador persist.  According to official figures, some 73,000 people have been displaced and are now living in organized shelters and camps, with host families, or in spontaneous sites.  Over the past month UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, chartered two airlifts to provide immediate assistance to the most impacted communities — tents, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and mosquito nets.  In addition, UNHCR is working closely with local authorities to coordinate activities relating to child protection and fighting sexual and gender‑based violence.  UNHCR calls on donors to urgently fund the Flash Appeal for $73 million which was launched on 20 April.  This appeal is currently funded at only 15 per cent.


From Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today talked about a certain number of alarming reports on the state of the climate.  The global temperature record was set in April both on land and the ocean — this was the twelfth consecutive month during which temperature records had been broken.  El Niño has been a major contributing factor but was now fading fast, and could be replaced by La Niña, which has had a cooling influence.  WMO added that the main factor responsible for the situation was global warming caused by human emissions, and has called for the rapid implementation of the Paris Agreement.

** Iran

In a statement issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), it said that is was appalled by the sentencing of a prominent Iranian anti‑death penalty campaigner, Nargis Mohammadi, to 16 years’ imprisonment in charges that stem from her human rights work.  Ms. Mohammadi is already in Evin Prison in Tehran, serving out a prison sentence for breaching the country’s national security laws.  More information online.

** Roma

A new [video] being released today by the UN Human Rights Office shows how adequate housing is not a luxury, but a right.  The film focuses on the case of the Burgazi Roma family in Belgrade, who fled to the Serbian capital from Kosovo in 1999. Last year, the Burgazi and 60 other Roma families in Belgrade were faced with evictions for illegally building their homes.  The film follows the saga of the Burgazi family until their legal victory, when a Serbian court recognized the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and halted the forced evictions until adequate housing was found.


A new policy paper, “No more excuses”, jointly released by the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Global Education Monitoring Report and the Office of the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that only 50 per cent of refugee children are in primary school and 25 per cent of refugee adolescents are in secondary school.  Calls for countries and their humanitarian and development partners to ensure that those forcibly displaced are included in national education plans and to collect better data to monitor their education status and progress.


And our friends at the World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed that the Zika virus strain was imported from the Americas to Cabo Verde.  Sequencing of the virus in Cabo Verde by Pasteur Institut in Dakar confirms that the Zika virus currently circulating in Cabo Verde is the same as the one circulating in the Americas — the Asian type — and was most likely imported from Brazil.


This is the first time that the Zika strain responsible for the outbreaks linked to neurological disorders and microcephaly has been detected in Africa.  The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa.  As a first step, WHO says that countries should heighten risk communication to pregnant women and promote protection steps and avoid mosquito bites as well as sexual transmission.   More on WHO’s website.

**Press Encounters Today

In a short while, I will be joined by Elliott Haris, the Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in New York Office.  He will brief you on the second session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA‑2), which will take place from 23 to 27 May at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, under the theme of “Delivering on the Environmental Dimension of the 2030 [Agenda] for Sustainable Development”.  And then at 2:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the UN Office for Partnerships on “ID 2020:  Harnessing the Power of Digital Legal Identities for Global Good”.  Voila.  Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Today, the Turkish parliament suspended the immunity of 138 MPs.  How does the United Nations view that?

Spokesman:  We're obviously following this situation, but I have no particular comment at this time.

Question:  Yes.  I already asked about this.  The possible death sentences of 31 people.  Do you have anything to say today about that?

Spokesman:  You know, I would just say again, we reiterate our stance against the death penalty in any case.

Question:  How about the charges against these people?

Spokesman:  That's what I have to say today.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, you mentioned these relief supplies getting to Harasta.  What about efforts to get anything into Daraya, and I think there were… there had been six besieged cities, so now there were five others, including Daraya?

Spokesman:  There's been no further successful efforts to get aid into a number of besieged areas.  I think Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura said yesterday it remains an issue of grave concern to us, as obviously we need to get aid unimpeded, unhindered, and by road into these areas.  James then Matthew.  Then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Question about the World Humanitarian Summit.  Successful international summits normally have clear goals and targets.  For example, the Climate Change Summit in Paris at the end of last year.  Can you tell us what the Secretary‑General hopes will be achieved at this summit?  Is there anything concrete, or is this just a talking shop?

Spokesman:  I think it's about renewed commitments to humanitarian principles.  And it's about ensuring that all those who are… were involved in the humanitarian sphere come together under one roof.  And it's also about understanding the continuum between humanitarian and development aid, that it's not two separate things.  All of these things need to be looked at as one.  We look forward to the number of high level presence, the presence of NGOs, civil society actors, all those who have a stake in trying to bring help to the more than 130 million people who are in need of assistance.

Question:  A follow-up, if I may:  You mentioned the word "high-level", but to get everything done in the international system, you need the most powerful countries invested.  Is the Secretary‑General disappointed that the post powerful countries in this organization, the P5, are only sending people at development minster level and not anyone higher?

Spokesman:  I think what is important is that everyone is represented at the table and they will be represented.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  There are stories from Sudan saying that Omar al‑Bashir has been invited by the Secretary‑General.  Some stories say it's just for the General Assembly.  Some say it's for the AIDS meeting in June and that he's applied for a visa.  So, I wanted to know… I mean, it seems like the Host Country Agreement requires the US to give a visa to somebody seeking to come to an UN meeting.  One, which meeting have you invited him to, and what's the UN's position on the granting of visas?

Spokesman:  You know, I have no way of confirming whether or not the President of Sudan has applied for a visa.  Obviously the Secretary‑General would hope that every Member State is represented at the migration meeting and obviously at the General Assembly meeting.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about… one of the stories out of Khartoum talks about this upcoming AIDS meeting Khartoum… and I want to… maybe I've missed it.  I'm sure you've seen the reports that a number of NGOs… 22 NGOs have been banned from attending an upcoming AIDS meeting.  Various countries have talked about it.  Do you have anything in your binder about it?

Spokesman:  It's not only in my binder, but it actually happens to be in my head, which is often better.  For the Secretary‑General, it is clear that, you know, we have a big tent.  We need to have all the voices represented in these meetings, including those that represent a civil society of people living with HIV/AIDS, other civil society groups that have a stake.  We would like to see as large of a representation and participation in these meetings.  Obviously, these are Member State meetings, and it will remain Member State meetings.  But, I think in the big tent that these meetings offer, we would like to see as large of a participation as possible from those who are impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Question:  Is he speaking to any of the States involved?

Spokesman:  I think that message is being conveyed.  Luke?

Question:  Any comment on the extension of the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] mission to Afghanistan today?

Spokesman:  No particular comment.  Obviously, the UN works closely with the international force in Afghanistan, and we will continue to do so.  Nabil?

Question:  I heard that the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] group and the Arab League group requested an urgent meeting with the SG [Secretary-General] to protest on the Israeli mission’s exhibit.  Have you received this request, and do you know when this meeting…?

Spokesman:  We have received this request.  I don't know when and who exactly they will meet, but I'm aware of the request.

Question:  Thank you.  On the humanitarian summit, how many countries and Heads of State will participate in the conference?  And secondly, when will the chairman’s summary, as an outcome of the meeting, be published?  When will it come out?  I mean, will it come out by the closing ceremony?

Spokesman:  My understanding is, yes, it will come out by the closing.  As far as I understand, about 90 world leaders have committed.  [He later clarified that, so far, some 60 Heads of State were to attend the summit.]

Question:  There are growing fears of instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I wanted to know if the Secretary‑General is concerned about the arrest warrant that was issued for the opposition leader and the talk, the rumours that perhaps the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] could descend again into civil war.  What engagement is MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] involved in, with the Government there?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we're watching the situation very closely.  MONUSCO is in constant contact at various levels with the Government.  I think as the Secretary‑General said when he was there just a few months ago, I think it's important that there is a space for political discussion and that all those who want to express their opinion be allowed to do so freely and fairly without the risk of repression.  Joe?

Question:  Back to the World Humanitarian Summit.  You mentioned that you expect there would be some sort of a document put out at the end of this summit, but what's its nature going to be?  An outcome document that simply summarizes the proceedings, or will there be an agreed upon set of concrete commitments?  And related to that, you mentioned this study in which UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] participated, related to education.  I know one of the objections of the Humanitarian Summit is try to break down silos.  So, I'm wondering to what extent Mr. [Gordon] Brown was involved, since he's focused on education in that study.

Spokesman:  The UNESCO study?  It's a good question.  I can find out.  I think Mr. Brown has been very much involved in the implementation on a lot of the recommendations that we've seen on increasing access to education to refugee populations, notably through his efforts in Lebanon, and opening up the schools for so‑called “second shift” to absorb the refugee children.  You know, what we're looking for are commitments, concrete steps that all the partners will bring together around the five core responsibilities that the Secretary‑General highlighted in his agenda for humanity. Masood and then Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What I wanted to know is the situation in Bangladesh.  As the Secretary‑General has time and again called for caution, especially in the killings of many religious leaders, as well as some are hacked to death by the extremists.  Some are put to death by the Bangladesh court.  Is there any way that the Secretary‑General can engage the Bangladeshi Government in some sort of a dialogue to somehow stem this situation that exists there, extremist situation that exists there?

Spokesman:  I hear what you're saying.  I have nothing to add on to what we've already said on Bangladesh.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  On South Ossetia and Georgia.  As you may have seen, the South Ossetian authorities sent a letter to Ban Ki‑moon, which was transferred through the Russian Permanent Mission, asking for the opportunity to speak before the General Assembly will vote on this annual resolution on the return of refugees from these regions — to these regions, rather.  In this letter, they blame the United States for not letting… the State Department for not letting them… for blocking access to their diplomats and representatives to the UN to voice their point of view.  I wonder:  Is there anything Ban Ki‑moon could do probably to provide some space to speak?  As you know, in some other conflicts where one of the parties is not considered a state in the UN, like Western Sahara or even in the Syrian conflict, the representatives of the other side have an opportunity to speak at the UN, either officially or not.  In this case, there's obviously some sort of problems with that.

Spokesman:  That's an issue… who speaks in front of the legislative bodies in the organization is one that is decided upon by those who preside over the legislative bodies, whether it's President of the Security Council or President of the General Assembly.  Edie?  Go ahead.  Sorry, your colleague had a follow-up.

Question:  My question is what can Ban Ki‑moon do?

Spokesman:  I heard your question.  That's my answer.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, you said that there were about 90 world leaders expected at the Humanitarian Summit.  How many countries in all are going to be represented?  And on Congo, is this a situation where the Secretary‑General's good offices or some other kind of preventative diplomacy should be used now, rather than wait to see what happens? 

Question:  On your first question, I have to get the exact number updated.  We should probably get it by the end of the briefing if we can.  On your second question, I think it is one where we are obviously already engaged.  We have a peacekeeping mission with a political component to it, so we're obviously engaged.  I will leave it at that.  Mr. Lee and then Olga.

Question:  I wanted to… I know you've fended off most questions about the next Secretary‑General, but today it was announced from Argentina, Susana Malcorra has said that Mr. [Mauricio] Macri will be announcing her candidacy for Argentina today.  Since she was his chief of staff, do you have any particular… do you welcome this?  Often, people will have some comment on a former staff member’s…

Spokesman:  Other people may.  This is one for the Member States, and the Secretary‑General will be watching this closely.

Question:  Can you describe the communications since Ms. Malcorra left, between the Executive Office and her?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, there's no… there are no particular communications that I'm aware of.  She's the foreign minister of a Member State.  Nizar?

Question:  Today,the protesters in the Green Zone stormed the office of Mr. Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister.  Do you have any updates on that…?

Spokesman:  I have none.  Unfortunately, I have not seen that report.  Edie, thanks to the fast work of my colleagues, so far 170 Member States will be represented at the World Humanitarian Summit.  Obviously we hope that number goes up when things get under way.

Question:  Another thing, why is it that 31 people in Saudi Arabia who are just charged of supporting protesters, their lives are not important to the United Nations to issue a little statement?

Spokesman:  Nizar, I don't agree with you.  You've asked me, and I've stated over and over again our opposition to the death penalty.

Correspondent:  I'm talking about the charges.

Spokesman:  It's what I can tell you… it's what I can tell you today.  Olga?  And then Go.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  You might have seen Russia just proposed to the US to start the air strikes and to bomb Jabhat al-Nusra together.  Do you think such an operation can be useful and successful?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think it's important that the fight against extremist groups in Syria be as coordinated as possible.  Our focus and the UN's focus, Secretary‑General's focus remains on getting the political talks back on track and getting the humanitarian aid in.  I think, as Mr. de Mistura said, we need to see a larger… greater respect for the cessation of hostilities, and we need to see more humanitarian access.  If those things don't come through, it does put in jeopardy, as he said, the resumption of the talks.  Go?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You announced a couple of days ago that the SG will visit Japan after Istanbul to attend the G-7 Summit.  What kind of message does the SG want to convey to these leaders, especially maybe right after Istanbul?

Spokesman:  He will be participating in the outreach session.  A large focus of his intervention will be on the Sustainable Development Goals and the importance of incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals in the policies put forward by the G7.

Spokesman:  Just a follow-up:  It's right after the Istanbul summit.  Do you think there may be some connection?

Spokesman:  I think he'll obviously bring with him what has been agreed to in Istanbul, but that's the focus of the outreach session.  And, again, to stress the importance of breaking down the barrier between humanitarian aid and development aid, so we see one continuum of aid in order to better use the resources that we have.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about Burundi and something else that I'll leave to the end. The real question here, it sounds from what you said yesterday that the human rights due diligence policy may be different as to AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] than as to, for example, the Central African Republic.  I ask because the Burundian military official I have asked you about is in a UN‑written cable as distributing weapons to the youth wing.  So if that isn't foreseeable harm if the UN provides support… do you have an answer on this personnel question?

Spokesman:  Well, the information I have on General [Audace] Nduwumusi is that he departed in 2012, having previously served in the position of deputy force commander.  We're not currently aware of any plans for him to return.

Question:  And Francois [Inaudible]?  Because there's a list.  I published it. 

Spokesman:  I don't disagree with you.  I’m just telling you, in my binder…

Correspondent:  I have another question, but I don't want to…

Spokesman:  Well, just ask it.

Correspondent:  No, no, I'll wait.

Spokesman:  I'd like you to ask it now.

Question:  Okay.  Stay where you are and I’ll do it as fast as I can.  I wanted to ask you, you sometimes say you don’t have a long memory, but you’ve been a Spokesman for a while.  When is the last time, to your knowledge, that the publication Akhbar al Youm has been in this room and asked a question?  And the reason I asked… you said I could ask.  I’ll do it quickly.  The office that was formerly "Inner City Press", has been given to this organization.  I've never seen them here.  I'm aware there's a rule of being three days a week here.  So, I’m wondering… and you used to implement that rule.  And the reason I’m asking you, and you’re going to say, ask MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit], I want an on the record quote.  This is a media organization that CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists] says targets other medias for arrest for not agreeing with the Government.

Spokesman:  I will tell you that I do not have in my head the attendance records of journalists here.  Some of you are here every day.  But, for the rest of you, I don't keep tabs in my head.  And again, that’s a question for you to ask MALU.Question:  But, I'm asking for an on-the-record comment.  What does it say about freedom of the press…

Spokesman:  I’ve given you… Nabil?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any readout from Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag’s meeting in Beirut with the foreign minister to discuss the misunderstanding about the report?

Spokesman:  Not yet.  I think she's carrying the same message that I tried to elaborate yesterday.  We'll try to get a readout.  [He later issued a press statement by Sigrid Kaag following her meeting.]

Question:  What does the United Nations think about this decision by the Congress to allow a sovereign state to be tried in American courts here for compensation for the 9/11 victims? 

Spokesman:  It's a national legislative issue in the US.  But, I have no comment.  That's it.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.