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

14 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Muscat earlier today from Abu Dhabi.

While in Oman he met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Fahad Mahmoud Al Said, and then had a separate meeting with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs.

Afterwards, in brief remarks to the press, the Secretary-General recognized Oman’s role as a mediator.  Speaking of the Yemeni conflict, the Secretary-General said that he wanted to serve and support the efforts of all those who want peace to be re-established in Yemen for people to be able to overcome the present tragedy.

The Secretary-General will be traveling to Doha, Qatar, where he is expected to meet with the country’s senior leadership.  Later on Wednesday, the Secretary-General will be going to Cairo where he is expected to meet with President [Abdel Fattah al] Sisi, Foreign Minister [Sameh] Shoukry and the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit.  The Secretary-General is also expected to deliver a lecture at Cairo University.

On Thursday, he will travel to Bonn for the G-20 Foreign Minister’s summit.

**Guinea-Bissau

The Security Council heard a briefing this morning from Modibo Ibrahim Touré, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Guinea-Bissau.

Mr. Touré said that the political impasse persisted in the country, with a worsening institutional crisis that will require a more sustained and well-coordinated approach to address the structural causes of instability.

Despite the political crisis, the economic performance of Guinea-Bissau has been remarkable, he added.  He called on the UN and financial institutions to continue to coordinate their efforts, in the absence of a fully functioning Government.  His full remarks are in my office.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Our colleagues at the Human Rights Office expressed their concern today at troubling reports that soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed at least 101 people during clashes in Kasai Central province with members of a local militia.

The reported high number of deaths, if confirmed, would suggest excessive and disproportionate use of force by the soldiers in their response to violence from members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC is seeking to verify the exact number of victims and offers its support to the authorities to investigate.

Increased efforts to find durable solutions to conflicts with customary chiefs are also needed.

**Central African Republic

We have an update from our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  The UN mission is monitoring the situation in and around Bambari where tensions continue.  Approximately 300 people carried out a peaceful demonstration outside the UN base requesting continued protection of civilians and an end to hostilities between the opposing armed groups of FPRC {Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique) and UPC (Mouvement pour l’Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique).

In Bria, some 200 people demonstrated in front of the UN base denouncing the UN airstrike against an FPRC column over the weekend.  Demonstrators dispersed after a peaceful resolution. 

The UN mission has reaffirmed its impartiality in the hostilities between the armed groups and reiterated its core mandate to protect civilians and reduce the presence of armed groups. 

**Syria

In a statement issued yesterday, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Ali Al-Za’tari, called on all parties to grant immediate access to the besieged “Four Towns” of Zabadani, Foah, Kefraya and Madaya, where 60,000 civilians are trapped in a cycle of daily violence and deprivation.

The UN and partners have not been able to provide aid through their inter-agency convoys since 28 November, despite repeated attempts to get access to the towns.

Mr. Al-Za’tari said a humanitarian catastrophe looms if the principle of free access to people in need is not implemented immediately.  The UN and humanitarian partners stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the Four Towns as soon as an agreement on safe and unimpeded access with all the parties is reached.

Meanwhile, we are very concerned about an increase in fighting in and around Daraa City over the past few days, which has resulted in the displacement of over 9,000 men, women and children so far.

Many of the displaced have moved to farms and villages south-east of Daraa city.  Additional people are likely to be displaced in the coming days if fighting continues, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says.

**Iraq

Concerning Iraq, a number of security incidents in newly accessible areas of eastern Mosul city have led to a temporary reduction of humanitarian activities. This includes incidents involving Da’esh’s use of drones, which lightly injured several aid workers, and a suicide attack on a restaurant in eastern Mosul city’s Zuhoor neighbourhood.

Significant shortages of drinking water remain one of the primary humanitarian concerns in eastern Mosul city.  Humanitarian partners are trucking an average of 2,300 cubic metres of water per day to 30 neighbourhoods — nearly half of eastern Mosul city.  However, this remains only a stop-gap measure until the water network is fully operational.  The Al Sahroon water treatment plant, which services eastern Mosul, has recently been reactivated and has begun providing 70,000 residents in surrounding neighbourhoods with piped water.

In western Mosul city, which remains entirely under Da’esh control, remote assessment indicates that some parts of the city receive safe drinking water for several hours every few days through the public network, but residents in southern and western areas of west Mosul city have no access to the public network, and are potentially using unsafe drinking water.  Concern continues for the estimated 750,000 civilians who remain in western Mosul.

**Lebanon

We’ve been asked about recent remarks attributed to President Michel Aoun of Lebanon concerning Hizbullah’s weapons.

I’d like to recall that Security Council resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701 clearly call for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.  Previous reports by the Secretary-General have said that militias should be disarmed and that the maintenance of arms by Hizbullah and other groups outside the control of the State restricts Lebanon’s ability to exercise its full sovereignty and authority over its territory.

We consider continued adherence to all relevant resolutions to be of vital importance to Lebanon’s stability.  We encourage Lebanon to seize the current political momentum to resume discussions on a National Defense Strategy as part of a Lebanese-led and Lebanese-owned process.

**Guatemala

You will recall that last week that we reiterated our support to Ivan Velásquez, the Head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

Today, our Human Rights colleagues echoed that support from Geneva, expressing their concern at ongoing misinformation and smear campaigns which have intensified over the last week, especially on social media.

They described the Commission as a crucial ally in the promotion of human rights in Guatemala.

**Oceans

I just wanted to flag that tomorrow the President of the General Assembly will convene a two-day preparatory meeting in Conference Room 4 ahead of the Ocean Conference in June.

The Preparatory Meeting will allow a broad range of stakeholders to prepare and build momentum for the Conference, including through discussions on the “Call for Action” — one of the key outcomes of the Conference. 

At the meeting, Member States will also launch the process for registering voluntary commitments to conserve and sustainably use our oceans, seas and marine resources. 

A media advisory is available in our office with more information on the meeting as well as the Ocean Conference.

**United Nations Personnel

And I would also like to flag today a press release from our colleagues at the Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service of the UN Staff Union.

They say that at least 32 UN personnel were killed in deliberate attacks in 2016, mostly peacekeepers but also two security guards, one civilian staff member and one contractor.

For the third year in a row, in 2016, the greatest loss of life was recorded in Mali, where at least 23 personnel were killed.

In the past five years, almost 240 United Nations personnel have died in deliberate attacks.  More details about our fallen colleagues are available in the press release.

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?   Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I wondered whether MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) had any updates on fighting in Congo.  There was a human rights report that over 100 people were killed in clashes, and there've also been a story about killing of some opposition people outside of Kinshasa.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think I told you yesterday about the fighting in Kasais, where, when one of the red lines was crossed by one of the armed groups, which is to say the… I believe it was one of the armed groups in Kasai… I don't have the name… wait.  I do actually have it here — the Kamuina Nsapu militia — that there was fighting there that involved the Congolese armed forces.  Today, we have some further details from the Human Rights Office, where they are troubled by reports that the armed forces of the DRC may have killed more than 100 people.  And they've made clear that they're seeking to verify the exact number of victims and are offering their support to the authorities to investigate.  Yes?

Question:  Today is the sixth anniversary of the uprising in Bahrain.  The civil movement has not so far achieved anything, and many of its members… many of the leaders of Bahrain are in jail.  Some of them have already been killed by the State, by persecutions, executions openly.  Do you have any statement on Bahrain today?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  There's nothing new for us to say about Bahrain.  Earlier this month, we've expressed our concerns about restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression in Bahrain.  And we have encouraged and continue to encourage the Government to undertake meaningful and confidence‑building measures, including a genuine national dialogue, so as to help ensure peace, stability, and prosperity for all Bahrainis.

Correspondent:  I have a question on Bahrain, just to follow up.

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid.  Sure, sure.  Okay.  Fine.  

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General mean… when he skipped Bahrain, is that a hidden message that he has some displeasure with the Bahraini authority?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not at all.  There's… as I've said before, there's only so many countries you can visit over the span of a week.  There are many countries that he will get to later.  The countries he's visiting now are the ones he's able to fit in over this particular course.  But, like I said, right now, there's time available for him to be in Qatar.  He'll go from here to Cairo and then from there to Germany.  Other stops and other countries will be visited next time he can visit the region.  Matthew?  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  Oh, great.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to… just… since you were… you were say… you were… the UN is calling on the… the Congolese authorities to look into the civilian casualties they may have caused; I'm wondering if now, a day later, if… if you have anything on the reported killing of three civilians by MINUSCA in CAR outside of Bambari.  What is… what procedure is in place for the UN to know how many people were killed?  And it's… you described it as a crossing of the red line.  But how many people… how many non‑combatants were killed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've heard the update I gave you about the situation there.  The UN mission has reaffirmed its impartiality in the hostilities.  And, again, its core mandate is to protect civilians.  The worry in this case was that if… once the red line was crossed, that fighting would be brought to the civilians of Bambari, which has happened before, mind you.  And it needed to be stopped at this stage.  Beyond this, we are looking into our actions over… of the past few days to see whether there are any further details.

Question:  No, I just want to follow up, because I'm sure the DRC army said they did what they did for a reason.  So I'm not contesting your reason for shooting.  I'm just saying, doesn't the UN have a mechanism to, in fact, discover and disclose civilians that it killed?  And what is that mechanism?  And what is the deadline to state what happened?  Not why it happened.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's not a question of deadline.  We'll need to get further details, and the mission is trying to get further details about what happened, including any potential casualties, such as civilian casualties.  Yes?

Question:  The Russians have announced that Staffan de Mistura will be visiting Moscow on Thursday, the 16th.  Are you able to confirm the Special Envoy's trip?  Why is he going?  What is he expected to achieve during that visit?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to confirm that from here just yet.  Mr. de Mistura's own spokesperson will confirm it, hopefully, at some point.  And then we can do that from here.  In terms of why he visits places, he has visited any number of capitals over the years trying to coordinate efforts as we proceed for the next round of talks.  As you know, the next round of intra‑Syrian talks, the parties are to arrive in Geneva by 20 February, and the talks will formally begin on the 23rd.  So all of that happens in the span of the next week.  Prior to that, he's going to try to do as much as he can to bring governments together in support of this process.  Yes, you in the back.

Question:  Yes, sir.  [inaudible].  Last week, the Secretary-General issued a very strong statement… Oh, I'm sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Please use the microphone.

Question:  I'm so sorry.  Yes.  I'm sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  That's better.

Question:  Last week, the Secretary‑General issued a strongly worded statement condemning female genital mutilation.  I'm just wondering, has he a position on male genital mutilation?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not something on which we have any real comment, no.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I'm going to go back to another issue, which you've been asked about it yesterday.  I want you to confirm or deny that the Secretary‑General has called during the weekend Tzipi Livni and spoke with her and offered her a job.  Yes or no, did he call her?  Did he speak with her?  Did he offer her the job?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that there's no job offer for Ms. Livni.  We made that clear over the weekend.

Question:  But he called her.  I'm asking if he called her.

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding communications, I don't have a list of all of the communications that the Secretary‑General has made…

Question:  No, because the Israeli press are speaking widely, extensively, about this offer and Haaretz… 

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that question of a job offer, this is something we denied over the weekend itself.  I don't have anything further to add than that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  A couple things on… on… I guess, on arrest warrants.  One, I've seen in the… in the job vacancy notice for DPI (Department of Public Information), Under‑Secretary‑General DPI, but presumably it applies to others, the statement that individuals nominated by Member States or seeking to serve will be required to complete a self‑attestation stating they have not committed, been convicted of, nor prosecuted for any criminal offence.  And then it goes on and talks about international human rights law.  So what I wanted to know is, is this saying that if somebody's subject… has been prosecuted and is subject to an arrest warrant that they're… that they are precluded from being an Under‑Secretary‑General of the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  It says what it says.  I'm not going to add any further interpretation to what the language itself says.

Question:  Right, but it says… so… so it says you have to attest that you have not been.  So this pretty much implies that, if you can't attest that you have… are not… have not been prosecuted for that, you cannot apply.  That's why I'm asking… it seems…

Deputy Spokesman:  The language says what it says.

Question:  Okay.  So then that answers the previous question.  The other thing I wanted to ask about was on the Burundi talks is, you'd said yesterday that the UN is doing everything possible to make sure they're inclusive and that there shouldn't be preconditions.  And I wanted to get your response now.  The ruling party, CNDD‑FDD, has said, quote, we are not going to sit with people who are under arrest warrants.  So this means that the peop… that… that exactly what you were saying yesterday you're opposed to will take place in these talks.  And I wanted to know, will Mr. [Jamal] Benomar nonetheless attend?  Will there still be UN funds to support a process in which large parts of the opposition are not allowed to participate?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll check with Mr. Benomar what his intentions are on that.  Yes, Nizar and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Yeah.  You read a reply to President Aoun about the disarming of militias and et cetera and implementation of 1701.  Why in this statement there is no mention about continued occupation, continued overflight of Shebaa Farms, of Kfar Chouba Hills and also of north of Gaza?  Why did he… did the Secretary‑General leave that out in his statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  These are all topics that we address in our periodic reports on Lebanon.  In this case, we're referring to this one facet of the issue.

Question:  But, equally, you addressed them in your regular reports, the same thing, the… the arms of…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and you can go to the regular reports for the full picture.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  I have two questions.  Back to the same issue, is the offer for Mr [Salam] Fayyad still standing, or it's dead completely, gone… on the table… it's not on the table anymore?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think I'll just refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said yesterday.  If you look at his press comments in Dubai, it's quite clear.

Question:  Okay.  The second, yesterday, the Israeli President, [Reuven] Rivlin, he said that we should annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians full citizenship.  Any comment on that?  Have you read the statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  We stand in support of the two‑State solution.  We do not believe in any unilateral acts that would endanger or call into doubt the two‑State solution.  There are certain things which need to be set aside for final status negotiations, and we want the parties to go back to negotiations in good faith.  Edie and then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There are talks going on in Cairo between the head of Libya's UN‑brokered Government, Mr. [Fayyaz al] Sarraj, and General [Khalifa] Haftar.  Is the UN being represented at that meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we have any representation there, but I'll check whether someone from the mission is present for those talks.   [He later said the United Nations was not represented at the Cairo meeting.]  Yes, you.

Question:  Yes, sir.  Last year, the United Nations working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances wrote the Government of Guyana, asking the Government to reopen a case involving the ex‑President of Guyana, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, involving an enforced disappearance, which is a crime against humanity under international law.  I'm aware that the current Guyana Government has not responded to that letter issued by the working group.  Is there a mechanism at the UN in which you can follow up with the current Guyana Government to find out what steps are being taken to clarify that case — that's the… the work that the working group used — to find out exactly what happened to this young man who was kidnapped and presumed murdered by the previous Government of Guyana?

Deputy Spokesman: We do have a number of human rights mechanisms in the UN system, so they can look upon this.  Ultimately, it's the call of the various mechanisms, including the ones that deal, for example, with the question of enforced disappearances and other such topics to follow up on specific cases.  And so we leave it to them to handle.  Yes?

Question:  Good afternoon.  Over the weekend, there were reports of Boko Haram attacks in north-east Nigeria where villages were burned and soldiers also killed.  So I want to know, are there any way the recent attacks is impeding the operations of UN and their other partners in delivering humanitarian services?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, any violence on the ground makes it more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.  We do continue to try to provide humanitarian aid, including in Nigeria.  And there will be efforts to also evaluate what the situation is.  I believe, in the coming days, the Security Council itself does intend to visit Nigeria and see for itself the humanitarian situation and evaluate it first-hand.  Yes, Rosalyn, and then Melissa.

Question:  Farhan, I didn't know whether this had actually been buttoned up, but will there be any UN representatives at the talks in Astana?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, I don't have any confirmation.  I believe we will have a UN presence at the Astana talks.  I'm not sure who is heading the UN delegation there, though.  Melissa?

Question:  Hi.  I realize this may not be your purview, but I have to ask.  I'm sure you've seen the reports of the possible assassination of the North Korean leader's half‑brother at the airport in Malaysia.  And I'm wondering if you've heard this, if you're following this.  Have you received any information from Malaysian authorities or anyone else?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have heard the reports.  We do not have a confirmation of what has happened.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about Sri Lanka, and I'll say why.  There's a report out by the International Truth and Justice Project run by Yasmin Sooka, who was one of the named panellists.  And they've basically said that there's a Sri Lankan body called the National Authority for Victim and Witness Protection, and they've named a member of the body, put on by the Government, who's named in a UN report as having been accused of torture by a Special Rapporteur on Torture.  And the reason I'm asking is the UN is apparently providing financial support to this National Authority for Victim and Witness Protection.  There's a… a… they've… they've hired a management consultant.  And I wanted to know, is the UN, given its previous role in Sri Lanka, aware that it's financially supporting a body that has, in fact, torturers on it?  And, if so, what happens to the financial support?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'd have to check and see what sort of financial support is being provided.  I'm not aware of what support is given to this group and whether that would need to be conditioned on any particular set of circumstances.  Yes?

Question:  During his visit to Saudi Arabia, did the Secretary‑General raise the issue of humanitarian matters in Yemen?  Also, the infighting conflict between the Emirates… between Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in Aden, which has claimed many lives so far.  In the last… past few days, there has been intense fighting between groups loyal to Saudi Arabia, others loyal to United Arab Emirates, and many people perished as a result of that.  Did he raise these issues with the authorities there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… what I can say is that he has exchanged views with officials on the ground concerning the situation in Yemen, yes.

Question:  But did he reach any… any… anything with them regarding, for example, the investigation… the… the delivery of food, the blockade on Hudaydah and other seaports?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't be able to provide any particular details about his discussions on Yemen.  But, yes, he has brought up Yemen with his interlocutors.  Yes?

Question:  Transparency questions.  One is, the Secretary‑General, I think it was 1 February, at the stakeout, he said that for this SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) position on migration, he had to go to ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) first.  And so I've now heard that, in fact, there's some presentation made on Friday to ACABQ.  Can you give some broad outlines?  Is it just a single post?  Is it an office with staff?  What… what… what does it consist of?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, it does have to do with the question that you asked, which was about a post on migration.  But at this stage, we're in a dialogue.  We don't have anything formal to announce at this point.  Once we do, we'll make an announcement.

Question:  And the other one I wanted… I just wanted to… because I may have misunderstood.  Yesterday, I asked you… and I understand that, when you hear the word "Ban Ki‑moon," you're tempted to say "get over it." 

Deputy Spokesman:  Indeed I am.

Question:  But I wanted to ask you, the question was and remains… it remains, number one, is any UN system funds being used for his visit to headquarters?  And, number two, since yesterday your "get over it" comment, I learned that Mr. Kim Won‑soo, who I understand is still a UN official, has been speaking to the media about Mr. Ban's possible job offer from a university in Massachusetts.  And so I wanted to ask you, in what capacity is Mr. Kim Won‑soo speaking for Ban Ki‑moon?  And how is it consistent with your position here of "get over it" while there are, in fact, cases in the Southern District and other issues that remain unresolved?

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew, your inability to get over it speaks for itself.

Question:  There are cases… I'm going to ask you…

 

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew.

Question:  So the nephew case.  I'm just saying, it's un… because it's a question about UN money.

Deputy Spokesman:  I understand… I understand…

Question:  You defended him for ten years to say "get over it"…

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew, I've known you for a decade, so I know your fundamentally obsessive nature, but here's the point.  Ban Ki‑moon is not the Secretary‑General of the United Nations.  I do not speak for him.  I do not represent him.  When he travels, he travels as a private individual.  He has to do so on his own budget as a private individual.  He is not a UN official.

Question:  That wasn't my question.  My question was, he said as he left South Korea that he was going to the UN to speak to UN staff.  That's why I think you said "get over it" a little too quickly, because my question is not who paid for his flight.  My question is, in what capacity did he enter UNON [United Nations Office in] Nairobi?  Did he speak to UN staff as he said that he would?  Does Mr. Kim Won‑soo still speak for him on the UN dime?

Deputy Spokesman:  He can speak to the UN office in Nairobi as much as he wants as a former Secretary‑General of the United Nations.  That is within his rights.

Question:  It's not… I'm not saying it's not within his rights.  I'm saying, don't you answer for UN… the use of UN funds rather than say "get over it"?  Aren't you speaking for the UN?  So Kim Won‑soo, when does his contract expire?

Deputy Spokesman:  His contract… we'll let you know once his time is done.  He is the head of the Office for Disarmament Affairs.  He is also capable of speaking about the topics that he wants to talk about.  The job that he does here is about Disarmament Affairs and is not about Ban Ki‑moon.

Question:  So he's off the clock when he speaks for Ban Ki‑moon?  I'm asking you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Matthew. Matthew, words fail me, your inability to get around things.

Question:  You know there are two corruption cases.  Right?  So it's going to be an ongoing… I just want to put you on notice; there are going to be questions that are going to arise, and saying "get over it" is not cutting it.

Deputy Spokesman:  If there are things about cases that are ongoing, that's fine.  If you want a daily update about what Ban Ki‑moon is doing, ask someone else.  It's not my job.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.