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

23 January 2017

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.

**Guest

Just as a reminder, our guest today is Mr. Toby Lanzer, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel.  He will brief you on the latest humanitarian situation in Nigeria and around the Lake Chad basin.

**Whistle-blower Protection Policy

As part of his reform agenda, the Secretary-General has made it a priority for the UN to have a whistle-blower protection policy that meets the highest possible standards.  He has just approved a policy to have the UN function in a more open, transparent and fair manner, with the objective of enhancing protection for individuals who report possible misconduct or cooperate with duly authorized audits or investigations.  Staff and management both agreed on the policy earlier, just a few days ago.  The policy is now contained in a bulletin that was just issued, which meets best practices.

The major changes include the following elements:  The Ethics Office and Office of Internal Oversight Services will now be able to take preventive action where a risk of retaliation has been identified (instead of staff being required to identify a specific retaliatory act before they can request protection); the policy affords protection from retaliation to whistle-blowers who report wrongdoing committed not only by staff but also by contractors, non-UN peacekeepers and others; staff now have the right to seek a review of Ethics Office determinations; complainants will be notified of disciplinary measures taken against staff members found to have retaliated against them.

The Secretary-General has also tasked an internal working group to examine whether the policy on protection against retaliation should be further expanded to also provide more protections for consultants and individual contractors.  He has given the working group a deadline of the end of June of this year to come back with their recommendations on this.  Until this matter is decided, the Secretary-General has asked the Ethics Office to continue its practice of providing assistance to consultants and individual contractors who seek protection against retaliation.  This has been done on an informal basis, but we would like it to be codified into regulation. To include this category of individuals within the policy would have resource implications which need to be looked at.

The Secretary-General is in favour of enhancing the independence of the Ethics Office by having it report directly to the General Assembly, instead of through the current arrangements, which provide for it to report to the Secretary-General.  He has requested the Ethics Office to urgently examine this issue and to revert with advice as soon as possible. Such a change would of course require the General Assembly's approval.  The Bulletin will be made available to you and more background information, if you so need it.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for that country, spoke at the opening of the talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, and he expressed the hope that those talks would consolidate a cessation of hostilities, while talks in Geneva next month would be used for the genuine relaunching of political negotiations to address the core issues of the conflict.

He said that the violence has dropped in Syria, but it has not ended yet, including in particular in Wadi Barada, where fighting is jeopardizing access to water for residents of Damascus and neighbouring areas.  He said that sieges are totally unacceptable methods of warfare that cause civilians to be deprived from food, medicines and other essential items.

Mr. de Mistura said the UN remains guided by Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the only viable, internationally agreed basis for a political solution.  Its core principle, he recalled, is to foster a cessation of hostilities in parallel with a comprehensive and inclusive political process, where women and civil society play an active role.  His remarks are available online.

Also on Syria, our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] say an estimated 1.8 million people in Aleppo remain cut off from their main water source since 14 January due to a technical failure at the Al Khafse water station.  The station is located in an eastern rural Aleppo area that is controlled by Da’esh, which reportedly is not allowing repair teams to access the water station to make repairs.  The UN, water authorities and other humanitarian partners have been responding with fuel, water trucking and water purification tablets, and are installing tanks and rehabilitating additional wells in the city.

**Iraq

From Iraq, as of today, more than 161,000 people are internally displaced as a result of ongoing fighting in Iraq’s Mosul city.  Yesterday, humanitarian partners delivered aid packages consisting of ready-to-eat food, water supplies, high-energy biscuits, and hygiene materials to 4,500 people in an east Mosul neighbourhood.  Overall, between 16 and 22 January, some 56,000 people living in newly accessible east Mosul city neighbourhoods received aid packages from UN and its partners.  Access missions by humanitarian partners continue.  An access mission to north-eastern Mosul neighbourhoods, which is underway today, will assess the level of explosive hazard contamination around water treatment facilities.

**Afghanistan

From Afghanistan, the humanitarian community has launched a $550 million appeal to support the most vulnerable and marginalized Afghans in 2017.  Strategic, life-saving interventions related to food, health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation will reach an estimated 5.7 million people under the Humanitarian Response Plan.  More information is available online.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, met on Friday with the Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan and received on behalf of the Secretary-General a contribution of $10,000 to the UN Trust Fund for Assistance to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  Mr. Khare thanked the Government of Bhutan for demonstrating its commitment and care for victims.  He said the UN and its Member States have a responsibility to do more to ensure that the trust in our values and institutions are not eroded through acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by those whose calling is to protect.

This latest contribution will bring the total amount of the Trust Fund to $536,000.  The Trust Fund was established last year.  So far, contributions have been received from Bhutan, Cyprus, India, Japan and Norway.  The UN reiterates its appeal to all Member States to contribute to the Trust Fund, which aims at providing immediate assistance to victims.

**Honour Roll

While we are on the subject of money:  today, we welcome Luxembourg to the Honour Roll.  The Grand Duchy has paid its regular budget dues in full, bringing the total to 14 of Member States who have done so.

**Holocaust

Just to flag to you that you are invited to attend the opening of the exhibit titled “Education and Remembrance:  The Holocaust in Romania”.  The opening will take place this evening, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby.  The exhibit is one of several events organized for Holocaust Remembrance Week.  And as you will know, the Secretary-General will address the Special Commemoration in the General Assembly this Friday late morning.  Masood-ji?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Secretary‑General was in… what do you call… Davos, Switzerland, where he met with the leader of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, who gave him a long litany of complaints about India and Kashmir.  And we were made aware as to what he was told by the Pakistani leader.  What was it that the Secretary‑General said in response to his demands about asking India to hold talks with Pakistan?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General listened very carefully to what the Prime Minister of Pakistan said.  And as you said, the Prime Minister presented the Secretary‑General with a number of information.  And I will leave it at that.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Some other things, but I wanted to ask you, now that you've announced this… the whistle-blower policy, I wanted to ask you a couple of things.  As I'm sure you know, the Government Accountability Project in [Washington], D.C., had criticized this policy in December 2016, and I wanted to know, has… can you highlight any changes?  Basically, they were saying that, in the past, they… they are saying it's weakening, the current one, which says, if you allege a violation of a rule, you're protected.  And now you have to allege, according to them in December, substantial harm to the UN's reputation and that that harm will be… Has been resolved?

Spokesman:  I think what they… the criticism was aimed at a draft that they obtained.  I will leave it for them to speak.  I hope they and all concerned Member States will read through the policy.  And if they have any comments, we obviously would welcome them.  But, I think no… it's… it would be difficult to argue that this new policy weakens the whistle-blower protection system.  In fact, it strengthens it, and it keeps alive the broad parameters under which… under which staff members are able to file complaints with the Ethics Office.

Question:  What are António Guterres' views of what happened with Mr. [Anders] Kompass?  This was a high‑profile whistle-blower case known to many Member States and commented on newspapers all over the world.  Does he believe that… would this new protection… would this new policy have in any way protected Anders Kompass from being fired and thrown out of his office?

Spokesman:  I think it's… Mr. Kompass' case was examined thoroughly by the… by the independent panel.  I really don't have anything to… you know, I… it's… I don't think it would be… it would not be possible for me to hypothetically plug back in what he may have done or may not have done into a policy that's just been enacted.

Question:  And can you just… I'd asked you over the weekend, but can you somehow, in a succinct way, clarify what the Ethics Office said about the Women's March on Saturday?  They sent out an e-mail at 5 p.m.… 6 p.m. on Friday that saying participation in political events may be contrary to the UN Charter.  Was this meant to tell staff not to go?

Spokesman:  I think the message from the Ethics Office was meant as a reminder to international civil servants as to their code of conduct.  It was not meant to prevent participation in the march.  Edie?

Question:  Stéphane, does this new policy on whistle-blowers take effect immediately?  And is it retroactive in any way to people whose cases are still being considered…?

Spokesman:  I don't… yes, it takes effect immediately.  I don't believe it's retroactive at… but it does take effect immediately.  Yes, sir?  Go ahead.  Come on.  It's not your first time at this rodeo.

Question:  It's always like that.  Sorry.  Couple of questions.  Very short.  First of all, I know you commented on the… or gave an answer or offered an answer on the resolution in the American Congress, in US Congress, on the call from few congressmen, five or six congressmen, for calling out membership of the United States from the United Nations.  And I know we've heard that before, that rhetoric.  However, what is the position of the Secretary‑General having the new administration, Trump Administration, in Washington, D.C., on that issue?

Spokesman:  Well, I… you know, I'm not sure I understand the full scope of your question.  The Secretary‑General obviously looks forward to working with the new US Administration.  As we've always said, the US is an important partner to the United Nations, and we look forward to working with them on all sorts of issues, whether political or economic and obviously on UN reform issues.

Correspondent:  But, I, specifically… sorry that I didn't formulate it well.  There is a call from the US Congress by five… resolution drafted by five or six congressmen calling the United States to withdrew its membership from the United Nations.

Spokesman:  We're not going to comment on draft legislation that is floating around a legislative body.  Yeah, go ahead.  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Also, on Syria, what is actually the ambition of the United Nations, if I may put it like that… or the goal, rather, by Mr. Staffan de Mistura in Astana, recognizing that UN doesn't have a leading role there?  Is that… is his goal to return the negotiators back under the UN roof in Geneva as soon as possible or what else?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, that's exactly I think what he… if you look at his comments, it's exactly what he said.  He said he's… you know… what he hopes to get from this… talks in Astana is a consolidation of the cessation of hostilities, of the ceasefire, to enable greater access, obviously, to humanitarian aid.  And that would lead these… this consolidation would lead… it would be used for further genuine relaunching of political negotiation to address core issues of the conflict in Geneva.  I would encourage you to read his statement.

Question:  Yeah, just in few words, so how do UN see that negotiation in Astana, only as a… something…?

Spokesman:  I don't know how to use fewer words.  He sees the negotiations in Astana as consolidating the cessation of hostilities, and that would be a jumping‑off point to lead to genuine political negotiations in Geneva.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You said the United Nations Secretary‑General looks forward to working with the new Administration, but now the President Trump is starting meeting with the world leaders.  When is he… is any appointment set with the…?

Spokesman:  We'll obviously, you know, engage directly and in due course.  When we have a meeting date or something to let you know, we will do so.  We, obviously, look forward to the arrival of a Permanent Representative of the United States here.

Question:  But, secondly, does the UN feel that it has been thrown off‑balance by the policies and pronouncements and antics of President Donald Trump?

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm… a new US Administration was sworn in.  A new President was sworn in on Friday.  I think we have to wait and see and engage directly to see what these new policies are.  But, as I said, it's important for us to engage with the United States, and it's important for the United States to engage with the United Nations.  Yeah?

Question:  Has he sent his congratulations?

Spokesman:  Not at… I'm sure one will be sent.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  That was actually my question.  I know they had an introductory phone call, but have they had any communication…

Spokesman:  Not since then, but I will check.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes, still a follow‑up on this.  A question I think you can answer.  Not to tell me what the Secretary‑General didn't like of his inaugural speech, but at least, what does Secretary‑General liked… what did he like about his speech?  Is there something he really liked?

Spokesman:  I don't think it's for… the Secretary‑General is not going to comment on the speech.  I will… know you will come at me in different ways on this question, and I will… I'm not debating… that's not the question that I'm debating.

Question:  No, okay.  Let's formulate this way.  American first.  America first.  Okay?  How does the Secretary‑General see this statement?

Spokesman:  I think it's not about interpreting or seeing what's said in the speech.  It's about having a deep engagement with the incoming Administration, with a new Permanent Representative, with a new Secretary of State to see how we can work on the US‑UN relationship.

Question:  Can I have another question on another subject?  There was a bomb that exploded in Tripoli a couple of days ago.  In a… it was in a car.  There were two people in the car.  And the bomb explode… and this bomb exploded.  This car exploded.  And the question is, does the United Nations knows who were these people in the car, if these people were victims of the explosion or if they were…?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  And as I said, for many other situations, we do not have, at least in Libya, the forensic ability… capability to investigate these things.  I'll ask the mission, but I doubt we can get you an answer on that.  Nizar and then…

Question:  Yeah.  On Yemen, there's been fighting for over 24 hours now in the coastal area between Hodeidah and Al‑Mokha close to Bab el‑Mandeb.  Obviously, the bombardment coming from the sea and air does not discriminate between civilians and non‑civilians and combatants.  Where are… where is the United Nations standing about that?  Also what are the recent endeavours by Mr. [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed to facilitate the cessation of…?

Spokesman:  He is in Sana’a.  He recently left Sana’a for discussions with people there.  He's continuing his efforts.  What we would like to see is a stop in the violence.  That's pretty simple.  [He later issued a press release on Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s visit to Sana’a.]  Edie?

Question:  But, how about… I mean, the targeting of civilians here…?

Spokesman:  We've always stood as matter of principle against targeting of civilian or civilian infrastructure.

Question:  Is his previous initiatives still on the table or is he…?

Spokesman:  I think he is continuing his discussions to try to bring about a political solution.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Going back to the Astana talks, I think some of us were surprised to learn from the Russian Foreign Minister that Mr. de Mistura was going to be negotiate… actually mediating the proximity talks with both the rebel's side and the Government.  Was this a surprise to the United Nations, or was this something the Secretary‑General knew about?  Because, as you might remember, initially, it was Mr. de Mistura's deputy who was actually going to the talks.  And then, suddenly, the Secretary‑General put out a statement saying that he was sending Mr. de Mistura.

Spokesman:  I think Mr. de Mistura is fully aware of what he was… where he was going.  And, obviously, we're waiting to get… the talks are still going on or… so we'll wait to get a fuller readout from him and his team as to exactly what his activities were.

Question:  When you say that he was fully aware of where he was going, that's fine.  We knew he was going to Astana.  Were we full… was he fully aware of what he was going to be doing there?

Spokesman:  I think he was fully aware of the possibilities that may have arisen.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I'm sure you've seen the story that the police in North Darfur arrested UN peacekeepers with weapons in their luggage.  And I'm just wonder… one, I'm wondering, did they have immunity in terms of their arrest?  And, two, what can you say about the policy of the UN in terms of people carrying weapons in their luggage on planes?  And I also wanted to ask you if you have any update on the Iraq loss by the UN of 25 weapons, Glocks and small arms…

Spokesman:  No, on your second part, I do not have an update.  We're very much aware of the situation in Sudan.  A number of additional firearms and ammunitions were found in the luggage of a formed police unit from UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] that was scheduled to depart Sudan shortly during the airport screening process on Thursday in El Fasher.  They found weapons which were not part of the contingent‑owned equipment and have been… the weapons have been retained by the Sudanese authorities.  UNAMID has immediately launched an investigation.  The press reports alleging that the Sudanese authorities detained the [formed police unit] personnel are false.  They have not departed Darfur and remain in the mission's base in El Fasher.  And, obviously, I think the mission is concerned at the situation and investigating it itself.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you, since… you said that the… the email about the Women's March was just a reminder of UN policy.  So, I wanted… rather than go back into that, I wanted to ask you about a case that's arisen in DPA [Department of Political Affairs].  And it's a case of P5 staff member Roselyn Kwamboka Akombe has apparently been put… given leave to put on a… the Kenyan Electoral Commission.  But, she's also been quoted as saying she'll use her 15 years of UN experience to persuade diplomatic missions in the country to… to not get involved in the Kenyan policy.  So, people in DPA… and it looked… just objectively, this seems to be a violation of the policy.  This seems to be a use of one's UN status to be involved in the politics of a country.  Can you… can you get an answer on how this is acceptable?

Spokesman:  No, she has been granted special leave without pay to serve in the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.  She'll provide technical electoral support to the Commission in preparation for the 2017 elections and support efforts to prevent post‑electoral violence in Kenya.  The activity was approved in accordance with staff regulations… the proper staff regulations and staff rules.

Question:  But, how can it be problematic for a staff member on a Saturday to go on a… the Women's March and this is… she's made… she actually has relatives involved in the political frame…?

Spokesman:  You know, I… I don't… you probably know more about this staff member's personal history.  The fact is she was asked for… she asked for special leave without pay.  It was granted.  It was obviously looked at and authorized.  And the… as I've said just a few minutes ago, the message from the Ethics Office was just a reminder of people's obligations as international civil servants.  It was not meant to deter people from attending the march.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Stéphane, on this Middle East peace process, which is now, again, suddenly in the focus because of United States decision or impending decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and the Palestinians are rather dismayed at this possibility.  Does the Secretary‑General have any opinion on this?  And what is it that the Secretary‑General has spoken with the Israelis about the Middle East peace process to be brought forward?

Spokesman:  For the Secretary‑General, it's very clear that there is no Plan B for a two‑state solution.  There's a need for both parties to engage in bona fide and sustainable negotiations to reach the goal of a two‑state solution.  In this regard, unilateral measures that can be an obstacle to the two‑state solution are of great… grave concern to the Secretary‑General.  And I will leave it at that.  Yes, Linda.

Question:  So has he had any conversations…?

Spokesman:  No phone calls.  As we've said on other issues, he's only been in office for a few weeks.  He's had to deal with some urgent crises and has been making calls on those.  But, he will… obviously, the issue of the Middle East peace process is one of great importance to him.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on the question about the two‑State solution that the Secretary‑General obviously is endorsing, I was wondering, when he says two‑State solution, does he mean a Jewish state and a Palestinian State?

Spokesman:  He means Israel and Palestine living side by side.

Question:  But is that… but does that refer to a Jewish State?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that.  Yes, Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  And this is… I also tried to ask you this over the weekend.  You may not comment on the first part.  There's a second part.  First, do you have any comment at all by the request of US authorities for the extradition of Ban Ki‑moon's brother and nephew?

Spokesman:  No.  No.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is this… and you'll see why… at least I think it's UN related.  A former Saenuri lawmaker, sort of a proxy for Ban Ki‑moon, Park Min‑sik, appeared in a press conference today with a diary… what he said was a diary of Ban Ki‑moon and using it to say that some of the allegations that you yourself denied were not true because the contemporaneous diary said that he did not receive… he did not meet with the businessman.  This has to do with a bag of cash, Sisa Journal.  Since you wrote to Sisa Journal and told them they were false, I wanted to know, does this diary keep… one, have you seen the diary since you denied it?  And, two, did this diary keep and continue during his tenure of Secretary‑General, given the other issues that exist around the nephew, possible sale of…?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure I understand your question.

Question:  Were you ever aware of a diary kept by Ban Ki‑moon that's never been shown in public…?

Spokesman:  I am aware… I was aware of the Secretary‑General's schedule, and I will not add to what I've already said on this issue.  And I will go get our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.