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

8 February 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.

Good afternoon.

**Children and Armed Conflict

Today we mark the twentieth anniversary of the children and armed conflict mandate and Maria Luiza Viotti, the Chef de Cabinet of the Secretary-General, delivered a message from him on this occasion, saying that this mandate has helped make a tangible difference to the lives of boys and girls in many countries.  

Thanks to the efforts of Governments, the UN and civil society partners, more than 100,000 children have been released from the ranks of State forces and armed groups.

However, the persistence and multiplication of conflicts continues to place children at grave risk, and the only way we can truly protect children is by preventing conflict.

We also need to urgently prioritize support to children who have been affected by armed conflict, and education, particularly in emergency settings, must be a key element of our response.

Those remarks, as well as the remarks delivered by Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative, are available to you online.

**Libya

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, briefed the Security Council this morning.  More than a year after the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement, Mr. Kobler said that while there was not nearly enough progress, some important gains were made.

However, he added that Libyans are not in a position to address the root causes of divisions.  2017 must therefore be a year of decisions on a range of issues, he said, including possible limited amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement; how to form a strong army and police force; and how best to utilize the revenues from oil and gas exports.

Mr. Kobler said he was very hopeful that with bold decisions and actions we would witness a political breakthrough that put Libya on the path of peace, prosperity and stability.

I do expect him to be at the stakeout shortly. We will monitor from here and I will let you know if I get the word.

**Somalia

As you know, the presidential elections are taking place in Somalia today.  For up-to-date information on the voting results and everything having to do with the election, our colleagues at the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) have been carrying the elections proceedings live throughout the day on their website and there is a lot of information on there if you are interested.

**Côte d'Ivoire

Our other colleagues from the UN mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) report that sporadic arms fire by disgruntled soldiers of the Ivorian Special Forces seeking bonus payments resumed in Adiaké today after a night of calm.  The soldiers’ concerns were reported to the Defence Ministry and the Government indicated that discussions are ongoing.

The situation in the western town of Olodio and the northern border town of Tengrela is reported calm after unrest yesterday.  The UN Mission continues to monitor the situation very closely.

**Yemen

Regarding Yemen, the UN and humanitarian partners today launched an international appeal for $2.1 billion to provide life-saving assistance to 12 million people in Yemen in 2017.  This is the largest consolidated humanitarian appeal ever launched for Yemen.

Launching the plan in Geneva was Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien. He said that, without international support, Yemenis may face the threat of famine in the course of 2017.  He urged donors to sustain and increase their support.

At present, some 18.8 million people — more than two thirds of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance.  An estimated 10.3 million people are acutely affected and need some form of immediate humanitarian assistance to save and sustain their lives.  Nearly 3.3 million people — including 2.1 million children — are acutely malnourished, while another 2 million people remain internally displaced.

Last year, UN agencies and partners assisted more than 5.6 million people with direct humanitarian aid.

**Syria

Also a humanitarian update on Syria: we are obviously deeply concerned about the situation in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where some 40,000 men, women and children remain subjected to violence, extreme cold, and lack of access to the basic essentials of life.  We have received unverified reports of a least two people in Madaya having died in recent days, one due to kidney failure and another who was shot by a sniper.

The UN is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the besieged areas of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah, and Kafraya, as soon as access is granted by the parties.  An UN inter-agency convoy to the Four Towns was last sent in on 28 November of last year.

Also, we call on the parties to facilitate access immediately, and also to allow people in urgent need of medical evacuation to receive the medical care they so desperately need.

We also continue to call for sustained, unhindered, unconditional access to all people in other besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria.

**Iraq

Humanitarian workers in Iraq remain deeply concerned for the estimated 750,000 to 800,000 civilians in west Mosul, which remains entirely under Da’esh control.

Conditions for civilians in that area are deteriorating, with remote assessments overseen by the UN indicating shortages of food, oil for heating and cooking, medical supplies, and the unavailability of dried milk for infants.

West Mosul has been cut off from its previous supply routes, including the highway from Mosul into Syria, since last November.  It has now been encircled by the military for 77 days.

**Afghanistan

The UN Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, has extended his sincere condolences to colleagues at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the families of those killed, following the killing of 6 staff members of the ICRC in Jawzjan province in Afghanistan.

Obviously, all the colleagues in Afghanistan, as we do here, share the grief of the ICRC.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, you will have seen yesterday that Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, expressed grave concern at the continued level of violence in several areas of South Sudan. He said that the risk that mass atrocities will be committed remains ever-present. He also noted that the peace process has yet to be accompanied by a complete cessation of hostilities, undermining the likelihood that the National Dialogue proposed by the Government will be seen as credible.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Tomorrow, we will have as our guest Ms. Aichatou Mindaoudou, the Special Representative and Head of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire.  She will be briefing you and she will brief the Security Council this afternoon, and she will be our guest tomorrow.

**Honour Roll

We welcome two more Member States to the Honour Roll — Azerbaijan and the Netherlands. Thank you to both of those countries. We now stand at 30.

**Questions and Answers

I will answer my own questions.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Edie.  

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the Afghan elections, is the Secretary‑General concerned at the reports of major issues of fraud and corruption in the electoral process?

Spokesman:  I… you mean Somali?

Question:  In Somalia.

Spokesman:  Yeah, sorry.  Okay.  Yes, I mean, I think any incidence of corruption in an electoral process is of concern to us.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about… about Myanmar again.  As a… as a… I think you may have seen, two UN officials, but not giving their names, have gone… have said that up to 1,000 people have been killed, Rohingya.  These are the head… described as the heads of two… were working for two separate UN agencies in Bangladesh.  So I wanted to know, can… does the UN actually have a figure?  And if that is the figure, why doesn't the UN come forward in a more formal way with it?  And, again, what does the Sec… what does the Secretary‑General… given that the Council has yet to take it up, does he think… what number would trigger Article 99 and some kind of action?  

Spokesman:  You know, I don't want to get into how many people need to be killed.  I think the UN has been extremely forthright in reporting what we know.  You saw the reports with the horrific information contained in the report put out by the High Commissioner for Human Rights interviewing people who had… who were in, I think, Cox's Bazar, who had fled Myanmar.  I think anyone who reads it and the detail that are contained in it can only be horrified by the situation.  You know, I can't comment on blind quotes.  People speak.  I think whenever we have information, we've shared it, whether it was on what the UN saw when the humanitarian coordinator went to Rakhine State, and we're as transparent as we possibly can be.

Question:  Right.  So the… I mean, I don't mean… it's not to get them… this is not… there's not… this is not an attempt by the UN to sort of off‑the‑record chide the Government with this 1,000 figure.  This is an unauthorised…

Spokesman:  I don't… again, I don't know who spoke, why they spoke, and so on.  I think the UN has been very clear and transparent in putting forward information that we have on the state of affairs in that area.  Yes, ma'am?  That would be you.

Question:  On the Israeli settlement bill, which was released yesterday, it said it would have far‑reaching legal consequences.  Could you please elaborate on these legal consequences?  What sort of consequences would that be?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think the statement, as far as I see, speaks for itself.  I think we obviously… the Secretary‑General expressed his deep regret at the passage of the bill.  And I really don't have anything to add besides what's in the statement.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Stéphane, can you update us on Cyprus, what the Secretary‑General is doing on that and what's his… what are his thoughts on possibilities for… for settlement or progress on that track and whether or not you have any travel to announce in connection with that.

Spokesman:  No, no travel to announce just yet.  On Cyprus, the process continues to be led by the Special Envoy, who is bringing the parties together at various levels, together with the aim of returning to Geneva.  But I have nothing more to report, but, obviously, this is something that the Secretary‑General is paying close attention to.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  There is another report out… article out that Special Envoy [Staffan] de Mistura may leave his post after intra‑Syrian talks in Geneva.  Will you have to say anything about that?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I think we've seen these reports pop up and down.  I think Mr de Mistura is focussed on the next round of talks, which he hopes to call for towards the end of this month.  And, obviously, the Secretary‑General fully supports his work.

Question:  And the follow‑up on that, on Secretary‑General in… in… if he's ready to be more engaged in resolving Syrian crisis.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, whether it's the Syrian crisis, the Yemen crisis, or others where we have Special Envoys, the Secretary‑General will bring added value to these processes when he can.  He's obviously fully engaged, being regularly briefed by the Special Envoys, making phone calls, and engaging in diplomacy when he… when the time is right.  But I… he is extremely engaged in these processes.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  The… the… de Mistura had said that the invitations would go out on the 8th, today.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Do you know if that has happened or is about to happen?

Spokesman:  No, I… they will be coming out not on the 8th, but they will be coming out in the coming days.  Okay.  And I would add, Edie, if you don't mind, I would just add on Somalia, from our colleagues in the field, that the electoral process has been subject to serious allegations of fraud and corruption, some of them clearly substantiated.  This was mentioned by the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) when he briefed in the Council earlier… last month.  The UN has urged the ad hoc electoral bodies in charge of implementing the electoral process to sanction those parties who have engaged in such malpractices.  But we also need to look at the progress this process represents.  More than 14,000 delegates were involved in the electoral process, and this has resulted in a Parliament that has renewed at more than 50 per cent, with an upper house for the first time, and with 25 per cent of women.   Yep?  Sorry.  Gentleman first, then you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Follow‑up on Syria.  Mr. de Mistura has given an ultimatum to the Syrian opposition to form their… or to give their names by the 8th.  Have you received those names?

Spokesman:  I would not agree with the term… use of the term "ultimatum".  As I said, the invitations will go out in the coming days.  I think, irrespective of the actual day that the invitations will be issued, Mr. de Mistura continues to work with the aim of convening the interests Syrian negotiations on 20 February.

Question:  Does that mean you haven't received any names by the opposition…?

Spokesman:  No, it doesn't mean that.  It means that the invitations will go out in the coming days.  I think we all know that these processes are rather complex, demand a lot of discussion, consultations with various people.  So Mr. de Mistura and his team are continuing on that track, and when they're ready, the invitations will go out.  Yep?

Question:  In the perspective of United Nations, how do you think about US President [Donald] Trump's Muslim ban or travel ban?  What's United Nations position on this issue?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think the… I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said about it a few days ago in his press briefing, and I'll give you that text.  But that has not changed.  Edie and…

Question:  Just as a follow‑up on the Syria talks, is Mr. de Mistura, himself or his deputy, actually engaging with the various opposition groups to sort of help them try and reach agreement?

Spokesman:  They're engaged with all the people they need to be engaged with, and when they reach a position of… situation or position of comfort, the invitations will be sent out.  Yep, and then Matthew.  Sorry.

Question:  Back to Cyprus.  The Special Envoy was in Turkey, and he held a meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister.  Do you have any updates on that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, unfortunately, I do not.  But we'll try to get something from them.   Matthew and then Carole.

Question:  I'll take you up on this forthrightness idea.  First on… just to follow up on Mr. de Mistura, at least two countries' diplomats have said that he's putting his hat in the running to run for UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), and I wanted to know, can you… can you state what the…

Spokesman:  No.  Sorry.  You're right.  I owe you the right to finish your question, and then I'll answer it.

Question:  Sure.  What is the process?  Can you describe the process by which… you'd said earlier that it's between the Secretary‑General and the Executive Board of UNDP, but who… how do candidates put themselves forward, to the Secretary‑General or to Member States?

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  There's a process that's been used a number of times.  I can give you the… I can try to find out the exact details.  But on specific candidacies, I don't know because I don't know who applies or when, and I do know that Mr. de Mistura's full attention is on the Syria talks.  Carole Landry?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to come back to the panel that was announced on sexual abuse in peacekeeping, where the Secretary‑General wanted game‑changing ideas.  Now, can you update us on that?  When… when… is there something… a report of some kind, or when is that going to the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  It should go not in the too… in the not‑too‑distant future.  I know Ms. [Jane Holl] Lute and her panellists are hard at work in putting the report together.  We'll try to give you a little bit of heads-up when we think it will come out of the pipeline as an official report.  Matthew?

Question:  Okay.  Great.  Forthrightness, the lightning round.  One, I wanted to know, can you give a… a, either now or maybe later today, status of Burundi's actual cooperation with the UN system?  It was said in Geneva today that there's a need for more land because there are more people being chased out.  So the question… I guess my question to you is, we haven't heard for a while.  Have the visas been given to the Special Envoy's office?  Have… has there been any…

Spokesman:  I have no update on progress on those issues.

Question:  Okay.  Also, there's a report from Kurdistan that the Secretary‑General has written to President [Massoud] Barzani, praising the work of the Peshmerga.  Is this accurate?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that this refers to the Secretary‑General responding to a letter that had been sent while he was still Secretary‑General‑designate and it was a thank‑you letter.  But I don't have any other details…

Question:  Were the quotes [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  I don't… yeah, I have no way to verify the quotes, but I think it was just an exchange… an exchange of letters having… responding… the Secretary‑General at the time, I think, designate responding to a letter of congratulations.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask you about Yemen.  There's a report that the acting Resident Coordinator of the UN in Sana’a has gotten a letter from the… from the… you know, the government in that part of the country, the Supreme Political Council.  It's a letter to Secretary‑General [António] Guterres.  It talks about the role of the UN in… or… or possible or desired role in distributing salaries in the north.  There's been this big dispute about how people… civil servants get paid.  Does the UN actually have a role in…

Spokesman:  My understanding is that part of that will be done under the auspices of the World Bank.  I don't know if that specific area, but I think this is part of a World Bank project.

Question:  Okay.  And the last one is about travel.  Yesterday, you'd said you couldn't confirm these reports of him being in Turkey.  Now it's reported from Dubai that he'll be there next Tuesday.  And I guess I just wanted to ask you, I've heard for a long time that the UN never talks about travel in advance.  As I'm sure you know, other world leaders do say where they're going in March or April.  What's the logic behind not saying…

Spokesman:  I think the… because the… we've all seen… I mean, like you, we've all seen the reports of sightings that the Secretary‑General will be going here, there, and everywhere.  Once everything is lined up on our end, we will announce it.  Reason nothing's been announced is that nothing's been… the whole package has not yet been confirmed and lined up.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.