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

10 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Happy Friday, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Istanbul a short while ago.  He’s about to have a meeting with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım of Turkey.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister will then have a press stakeout.  We will share that transcript as soon as possible.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Secretary-General will then fly to Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General is expected to meet with King Salman.  In Riyadh, the Secretary-General also expects to meet with the Crown Prince and Deputy Crown Prince, as well as senior officials.  We will flag other meetings as they are confirmed.

The Secretary-General will then travel to Dubai late Sunday evening.  We issued a note to correspondents last night detailing all the stops on his trip.

**Yemen

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is extremely worried by reports that suggest the targeting of civilians over the past two weeks in the south-western port of Al Mokha in Taizz Governorate in Yemen.  The intense fighting has made it impossible for the UN Human Rights Office field monitors to access the area and to verify the number of civilian casualties, but credible reports indicate that civilians were caught in an intolerable situation between warring parties giving them opposing instructions.

The High Commissioner said that there are real fears that the situation will repeat itself in the port of Hudaydah, to the north of Al Mokha, where air strikes are already intensifying.  The already catastrophic humanitarian situation in the country could spiral further downwards if Hudaydah port is seriously damaged.

The High Commissioner reminded the parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to take constant care to spare the civilian population.  Any intentional, direct attack against civilians or civilian objects is considered a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has mobilized assessment teams across displacement sites in Hudaydah, Ibb and the district of Maqbanah in Taizz, where recently-displaced people are being hosted, and began deliveries of emergency assistance, including basic relief items and emergency shelter.

And today, three UN agencies — the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) — have said that the number of food insecure people in Yemen has risen by 3 million in seven months, with an estimated 17.1 million people now struggling to feed themselves.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has issued a statement saying it is encouraged by the strong political will of President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other political leaders to hold timely, credible and transparent parliamentary elections.

UNAMA said it supports the Government’s efforts to build consensus and create an inclusive process, and emphasized the need for electoral management bodies to build trust and support across the entire political spectrum.

The Head of the Mission, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that “the momentum towards holding credible elections is now taking clear form.  The UN is looking to do all it can to support electoral reform and elections seen as fair by the Afghan people.”

**Somalia

You will have seen the statement issued last night in which the Secretary-General congratulated Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” on his election as Federal President of Somalia.  In that statement, the Secretary-General commended AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) and the Somali security forces for ensuring a secure environment during the poll.

He also stressed that the current humanitarian situation in the country created by the drought and the imperative of averting a famine should be at the top of the agenda.

Also, just to flag that in a short while, at 12:30, the Security Council will have an open meeting on the situation in Somalia.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) say they are extremely alarmed at the ongoing pace of displacement in South Sudan, where more than 1.5 million people have been forced to leave the country since conflict erupted in December 2013.  An additional 2.1 million people are displaced inside South Sudan.

UNHCR is appealing to all parties for an urgent peaceful resolution of the crisis, without which thousands continue to arrive in South Sudan’s neighbouring countries every day.

South Sudan is now Africa’s largest refugee crisis and the world’s third after Syria and Afghanistan — with less attention and chronic levels of underfunding.  More than 60 per cent of the refugees are children.  There are more details on UNHCR’s website.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The humanitarian community in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Congolese authorities today launched an appeal for $748 million to assist 6.7 million people in 2017.

This represents the first year of a new three-year action plan in the DRC, where civilians are affected by one of the world’s most acute and protracted humanitarian crises.

The 2017 appeal targets over 2.1 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 500,000 children less than 5 years old suffering from acute malnutrition, and hundreds of thousands threatened by diseases and epidemics.  

With worsening levels of conflict over the past year, humanitarian groups project that the needs are likely to increase even further in the coming months.

**Mali

And yesterday humanitarian partners also launched a Humanitarian Response Plan in Mali.  $293 million are needed to provide assistance to 1.4 million people.  The plan focuses on regions affected by conflict in northern and central parts of the country.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Mali, Mbaranga Gasarabwe, said that the prevailing insecurity in certain areas continues to limit people’s access to basic services.  Despite the progress made since the start of the crisis, women, men and children remain vulnerable, she said.  Without support, they will not be able to meet their basic needs and recover.

**Kenya

I also want to flag that the Government of Kenya has declared the current drought affecting more than 23 counties a national disaster.

A preliminary assessment indicates that the number of food insecure across Kenya has doubled from 1.3 million in August 2016 to 2.7 million — with a rainfall deficit of up to 75 per cent in north-western and coastal areas.

The United Nations stands ready to support the Government in its assistance to affected communities.

**Israel

We have received questions in recent days about violence that has affected Israeli civilians.

I can say that we unequivocally condemn those who inspired, implemented and celebrated the launching of several rockets by Da’esh militants from the Sinai at Israel on Wednesday, 8 February.  We welcome the continuing efforts by the security forces of Egypt to prevent parts of the Sinai from being used as a basis for violent extremism.

We are deeply concerned by the shooting and stabbing attack by a Palestinian assailant that wounded six Israeli civilians yesterday in Petah Tikva.  There can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit such acts.  Only the realization of a two-State solution can sustainably put an end to violence and bring peace and security to the peoples of Palestine and Israel.

**Guatemala

Over the past day, we’ve had questions about whether we have received a request to remove Commissioner Ivan Velásquez, who was appointed in 2013 to head the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

We are not aware of any request to remove Commissioner Velásquez.  At the President’s request, the Secretary-General agreed to an early extension of CICIG’s mandate until September 2019 in recognition of the Commissioner’s excellent work.

We strongly support CICIG and Commissioner Velásquez, who has shown great commitment to his work and the fight against impunity in Guatemala.  He is widely recognized for his professionalism as well as for his personal dedication to justice and human rights.

**Honour Roll

For the Honour Roll, today, the Bahamas, Kyrgyzstan and Mali have made full payments to the regular budget.  Our thanks go to all three nations.  The total number of countries on the Honour Roll now stands at 33.

**Press Conference

Later today, at 2:15 in this room, there will be the Signature of the Memorandum of Understanding between United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Royal Academy of Science International Trust.  The Memorandum will be signed by Her Royal Highness Princess Nisreen Bint Prince and Nikhil Seth, the Director of UNITAR.

**Questions and Answers

That is it for me.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I think, on behalf of probably all of us, I'd like to say publicly that we were dismayed to get the announcement of the Secretary‑General's travels on a major trip basically as he was about to fly off.  It isn't treating the media fairly or properly, and I know from talking to many of my colleagues this morning that we were really angry.  And I hope you will convey this to the people in the appropriate departments.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  And I do apologize.  We try, as we always do, to inform you as soon as we can, and even this was as fast as we could get it out.  I promise you that that was the fastest we could put the information out, because we were waiting for confirmations, really up until yesterday evening.  As we get better at handling travels with many, many stops — and this is, of course, a trip that has many different locations — we will try to get the confirmations out quicker and put them out quicker, but I do apologize for the inconvenience.  Trust me.  Even the people who were going on the trip were in suspense until the last moment.

Correspondent:  Same topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  I guess I just… on Wednesday, I'd asked Stéphane {Dujarric].  He'd said the reason was exactly what you just said, waiting for all the confirmations to come in, but, clearly, large portions of the trip you did know.  So I guess the question really is, why… for example, when John Kerry would travel around, they would add a stop during the trip, but why does the UN hes… decided to not release any portion of the trip until you know every single portion, meaning that on a Friday… excuse me… on a Thursday at 6:00, you say he's on his way to the airport?  Why don't you change that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's certainly one possibility, and this is how it's been handled at different trips over the years.  In this case, the idea was that, because of the nature of this trip and the way it was balancing different stops throughout the region, it made sense to put out all the information once you could confirm them all, and that confirmation came yesterday.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions.  First, since the Secretary‑General is visiting the region, I'm sure he will discuss Syria and Turkey and Yemen, I'm sure.  But is it appropriate for him to go and visit Gaza and the West Bank and Israel?  Because that is one of the most important volatile region in the world and especially those days.  Why he skipped that area?  That's my first question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's not a question of skipping an area.  There's only so many places that can be visited over the course of a span of days.  And, as you can see, his schedule is very full with a number of countries being visited, a number of world leaders that he has to meet.  Obviously, at some point, when it is practicable to do so, he would intend to visit the Israelis and the Palestinians.  But there was not any room for that on this particular trip.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is about the statement you just read, qualifying what the Palestinian did as terrorism, and you condemned that.  However, when the Secretary‑General issued a statement regarding a decision by the Knesset to grab Palestinian land, he was carefully using the word "strongly regret".  And, as you know, regret goes back to the speaker, not qualifying the action itself.  The action itself has not been condemned, has not been deplored.  The only thing, like his predecessor, the… Ban Ki‑moon used the word "concern", and he's using the word "regret".  With that magnif… I mean a tremendous impact that decision could… could have on the region, he used the word "strongly regret".  But with these little things, which is… I… again, I don't condone any kind of violence, but he used a stronger language.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  He uses the language that he believes is appropriate at the time.  Regarding the statement that you're referring to, I would urge you to look at the full statement, which is a very strong one.  And it makes very clear the need to avoid any actions that would derail the two‑State solution.  Here, both with this act today… that we were talking about today, yesterday's act, but also with the Knesset decision, our concern is any steps that would derail the steps forward towards peace.  We insist on the need by all parties to focus on a two‑State solution and make it real and obtainable.  Otherwise, if we go in the opposite direction, we could go past the point of no return where there would be a real chaos in people's lives.  And that is something we are trying to avoid.

Question:  So does the SG believe this Israeli decision, there is any room left for the two‑State solution?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'll just refer you back to what the statement itself says.  Obviously, he's made his concerns very clear about this.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  With… with what's happening near Hudaydah in Mokha, in that area, how is the… this inves… search and the mechanism for delivering food by the United Nations, how is it working?  Are there any deliveries to Hudaydah anymore?

Deputy Spokesman:  There have been, but, as the High Commissioner was commenting, the situation in the country could become worse if Hudaydah port is damaged.  Our worry is, because aid does continue to come through Hudaydah, if there's a real effect that hinders the flow of aid through Hudaydah, then our already‑difficult efforts at feeding and taking care of the people of Yemen will suffer a huge hit.

Question:  With the bombardment getting… is… spreading all over the place, including in densely populated areas, like Al‑Mokha and Hudaydah, isn't there some kind of war crime being committed against the civilians there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'll just refer you back to what the High Commissioner Zeid has said.  He talked about the targeting of civilians, and he made it very clear that these could be considered as war crimes.

Question:  How about the Secretary‑General?  Does he have an opinion on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We also, of course, oppose any targeting of civilians and of civilian facilities.  And, of course, we urge all parties to abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, there's a pretty widely publicized letter from the… the… those in control in Sana'a and in the north to António Guterres saying that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed should not be extended and should be relieved of his duties.  And I wanted to know, it's online, but have you… have you… is he aware of that letter?  And is it something that… not… not necessarily the… the… the non‑extension of… of the envoy, but this… this issue and the issues that are being raised of a sense of… of… of bias and of kind of Saudi control over the mediation, is it something he's going to… to… to… to bring up on his trip to Saudi Arabia, and is he going to meet with those actually in control on the ground in Yemen or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we… as I mentioned, he will meet with the King, the Crown Prince, and Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia on Sunday.  Regarding the criticisms, we're, of course, aware of… the different envoys at different peace processes from time to time get criticized.  And one of the most common bits of criticism is the one side or another accusing them of being biased towards the other side.  We stress the impartiality of the work of all of our envoys, and the Secretary‑General does support the work of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Question:  Has he gotten this letter?  I mean, are you aware of this letter?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the letter.  Yes?

Question:  And speaking about the Special Representative, what was the reasoning behind Martin Kobler's end of mandate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, different mandates end.  I don't really have any comment about Martin Kobler right now.  He's… he continues as of right now to serve as the Special Representative for Libya.  If there's a change, we'll make the announcement accordingly.  Yes?

Question:  Right.  But I mean, the… the… and I know… I understand your policy, I guess.  Can you at least… there's a silence procedure.  Right?  Because the letter dated 8 February is out, and it says that António Guterres, following the usual consultations, is… is proposing Salam Fayyad as the new… I mean, people have seen the letter.  So I guess what I'm wondering is, what were these consultations?  Did he speak to the US Mission?  Did he speak to people in control in Benghazi?  Can you give some sense… I guess there's already some questioning of this, and I'm wondering, what consultations?  Is it only with the Security Council or with others?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's a normal process of consultations that occurs when envoys are selected, and part of that policy for envoys that report to the Security Council involves informing the Security Council.  That's the only real detail I'd be able to share at this stage.  Yes?

Question:  Can you confirm that the former Prime Minister of Palestine, Salam Fayyad, is considered for the job of a Special Envoy to Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is basically what your colleague was just asking, but at this stage, I have no confirmation to make.

Question:  Another question about Ahmad Alhendawi, the Special Envoy, and you… if you know, he left his post.  Would he be replaced?  Would that post remain in the formation of the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any change to make about that.  If there is any new appointment to make, we'll announce it as it comes.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  This is also about a letter.  I guess there were a lot of letters over this snowstorm period, but there's a letter directed to António Guterres by the Government Accountability Project specifically concerning this whistle-blower issue and saying [Anders] Kompass, Miranda… Miranda Brown, and… and Emma Reilly in asking that he be suspended and investigated.  So I wanted to know, did he receive this letter before he set off on his trip?  And can you respond to… Ms. Reilly has… has… without speaking to the press, has told Inner City Press that she's been ordered not to speak, which is contrary to what Stéphane had said, that employees… or she… she quotes… they've quoted to her some rule about… I'll give it just to… not to misrepresent what she said very quickly.  She said she's been told the following:  that… that staff members should not use the media to further their own interests, to air their grievance, or to reveal unauthorized information.  She feels it's unfair because they put out a press release saying that her charges are unsubstantiated.  So, in sum, is… has he received the letter?  And what's the process to consider the request by this group?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I don't have a confirmation about a receipt of a letter.  What I can say is we're aware of these issues.  A lot of these are processes that are being handled by different bodies.  The question regarding Ms. Reilly is being… is something that has been looked at and is being looked at by the Ethics Office.  Regarding what she may have said to you or not, I think that that's something you'll need to take up with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  They are dealing with that issue.  I believe that they were simply responding not to her but to reporting that came out in media.  So they… so that is something… they were not trying to take up anything involving a dispute with her so much as responding to reports that had come out in different published accounts.

Question:  Can I just… and thanks.  I just wanted… my understanding is that the Ethics Office is actually not handling this.  They've recused themselves because they say that she… one of her charges is against them, so it's been assigned to somebody from UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and basically, the process has started all over.  Is that… can you confirm that at least that it's back to square one?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware that… well, not back to square one.  I believe that the process is continuing.  I don't have any further details to engage on that.  Have a good weekend.

Question:  How about this powder… power outage?  Could you just say… do you have anything in sort of a… what happened?

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, oh, there's a… part of the building has lost power and is on emergency power.  That should be restored soon.  Have a good weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.