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

17 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.

**Germany

Earlier today in Bonn, Germany, the Secretary-General took part in a G20 working session entitled “Making Peace in a Complex World”.  He travelled to Munich, where, shortly, he is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and they are expected to address the press together beforehand.  Tomorrow, he will attend the Munich Security Conference.  The Secretary-General will be back in the office in New York on Tuesday.

**Iraq

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on recent terrorist attacks in Iraq:  we condemn the terrorist attack in the south of Baghdad on 16 February for which ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], also known as Da’esh, has claimed responsibility. This week has seen a series of such atrocious crimes in the Iraqi capital.  We express our sincere condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of Iraq.  We convey our solidarity to the people of Iraq in resisting attempts to spread fear, intimidation and hatred.

The United Nations will continue to stand by the Government and people of Iraq in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism, notably by building trust and mutual understanding through peaceful and inclusive dialogue.  And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, also strongly condemned the car bomb attack that took place yesterday at the Bayaa district of Baghdad.  That statement is available online.

**Pakistan

Yesterday, we issued a statement condemning the terrorist attack on worshippers at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, in Sindh, Pakistan.  Da’esh has claimed responsibility for the attack.  We extend our condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan, and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.  We call for the perpetrators of this attack to be brought to justice swiftly.

**Gambia

We also issued the following statement relating to the Gambia:  On 10 February, the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Gambia to the United Nations delivered to the Secretary-General notification of the country’s rescission of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The Gambia had formally notified the Secretary-General of its withdrawal from the Rome Statute on 10 November 2016 — a decision which the Secretary-General deeply regretted.

Over the past two decades, the world has made decisive strides towards building a truly global system of international criminal justice, of which the ICC is its centrepiece.  The Gambia, like so many other African States, played a major role in the negotiations leading to the adoption of the Rome Statute and was among its first signatories.  The Secretary-General welcomes that The Gambia will remain a State Party to the International Criminal Court’s founding instrument, and remains confident that States Parties will continue to further strengthen the Court through a constructive dialogue.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has condemned yesterday’s killing of 12 civilians, including 8 children returning home from school, after their vehicle detonated a pressure-plate improvised explosive device on a main public road in Paktika province.  The blast also injured four other passengers, including three children.  Children are once again the main victims of these indiscriminate and illegal weapons, said Pernille Kardel, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.  More than 2,100 civilians have been killed and 2,500 others injured by pressure-plate IEDs in Afghanistan since 2009.

**Yemen

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, has put out a statement responding to the killing of six women and a girl and wounding of dozens of people as a result of an alleged airstrike, which hit a funeral in the Arhab district of Sana’a Governorate Wednesday afternoon.  He said that attacks on civilians are unjustifiable, regardless of the circumstances. Women and children in particular have been subjected to unspeakable suffering in this brutal conflict. This should stop immediately, he said.  The Special Envoy calls on all parties to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and respect the sanctity of civilian life.  He also urges all parties to ensure the unhindered movement of commercial and humanitarian supplies, without which millions of Yemenis are at risk of death and famine.  And we also have a statement from Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, on the attack.

**Nigeria

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is alarmed by the reported terrorist attacks on vulnerable displaced people in two locations in Maiduguri in north-eastern Nigeria that took place earlier today.  While the number of dead and injured among civilians is not yet clear, Boko Haram reportedly launched a major attack using guns and explosives targeting the Custom House site that hosts more than 9,000 internally displaced people and the Muna Garage Park area where displaced people have gathered to return to their homes. These are not the first attacks affecting the most vulnerable people in the area.  [The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] reminds all parties to the conflict in Nigeria to ensure the safety and security of all civilian populations as required under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

**South Sudan

At the end of a four-day visit to South Sudan, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, called for those committing atrocity crimes in the country to be held accountable.  He said he witnessed shocking devastation when he visited Malakal, as well as a clear pattern of systematic human rights violations and abuses suffered by the population.  Mr. Gilmour said numerous women talked about rape and gang rape.

In his meetings with the authorities in Juba, he raised concerns about the unspeakable human rights situation throughout the country.  He urged the authorities to combat the worrying rise of hate speech and to do more to protect human rights defenders. He also emphasized the severe restrictions on access that the UN peacekeeping mission faces when trying to protect civilians, provide humanitarian assistance and monitor the human rights situation. And he stressed his concern that elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had engaged in what could well amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said today that the Mission has reinforced its presence in Bambari with the arrival of additional forces, including a quick reaction unit and special forces. This allows the Mission to better protect the town and its population.  The UN Mission is currently the only legitimate authority mandated by the Government to control Bambari.

The Mission stressed that the UPC [Mouvement pour l’Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique] and the FPRC [Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique] represent a threat for civilian populations and that UN peacekeepers will respond in case of violence.  However, discussions are ongoing and a UN civilian-military delegation will soon meet with the leader of one of the armed groups.  The UN Mission stresses that Bambari must be free of armed groups in the coming days.  And the UN Mission today also welcomed the nomination of Toussaint Muntazini Mukimapa as Special Prosecutor to the CAR’s Special Criminal Court.  More details are online.

**Liberia

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) handed over the partial skeletal remains of 27 people to the Government of Liberia today.  The remains had been kept by UNMIL at the request of the Government of Liberia since they were recovered from seven different locations in 2004 during a joint operation conducted by the UN Police and Liberia National Police.  An investigation found that the remains may be related to possible extrajudicial killings carried out in Liberia by armed groups in or before 2003.

**Somalia

As a devastating drought grips Somalia, our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the World Food Programme (WFP) are warning that only a massive and immediate increase of humanitarian assistance can help the country avoid falling into another catastrophe.  Drought conditions have now spread throughout Somalia, threatening an already fragile population battered by decades of conflict. Almost half of the country’s population — some 6.2 million people — are either severely food insecure or in need of livelihood support.  It is expected that 944,000 children will be acutely malnourished this year.  UNICEF and WFP together still require more than $450 million to provide urgent assistance required in the coming months.  More details can be found in their joint press release.

**Ukraine

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year, about 1 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance — nearly double the number of this time last year — according to UNICEF.  The increase — an additional 420,000 girls and boys — is due to the continued fighting and the steady deterioration of life in eastern Ukraine.  Some 1.7 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict, and many families have lost their incomes, social benefits and access to health care, while the price of living has sharply risen.  Giovanna Barberis, the UNICEF Representative in Ukraine, warns that this is an invisible emergency — a crisis most of the world has forgotten.

**Honour Roll

And today I would like to thank the Republic of Korea and the Solomon Islands, which have both paid in full to the regular budget.  There are now 41 Member States on the Honour Roll.  And that is it for me. Are there any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask, given the UN's involvement in the process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the negotiation that led to an agreement to have an election, it's now been said by the Minister of Budget of the country that, because of the cost of the election, the deal may be off, and they may not have an election this year at all.  And I'm wondering, is there any response by, I guess, DPA [Department of Political Affairs], the UN system, to… to everything being thrown into doubt?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly hope that the timetable will be kept.  You will have seen that, just a day ago, there was a joint statement issued by the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the Organisation of la Francophonie, urging all of the parties, including the Government, to proceed ahead with the implementation, in particular, of the 31 December 2016 agreement, and we want to hold all parties to that.

Question:  Is there any response to this… to this, citing this large numbers?  Are… is either the UN going to help raise that funds, or do they think that the estimate is too high?  Because they're saying, given that… given that number, they're not… they may well not have the election.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'll be in touch with the various parties, but you'll have seen the demand by all four groups that they continue with the implementation of this agreement and all the relevant timetables.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Turning back to the attack in Pakistan, as you may have seen, there have been complaints from the Pakistani officials to their neighbours in Afghanistan and to a US military commander that, in their view, Afghanistan isn't doing enough to prevent militants from taking sanctuary there and launching attacks.  Are you concerned about the sort of deteriorating situation or increasing tensions there and whether it might spiral into hostilities?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have repeatedly tried to get the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together on dealing with the problems that both countries face.  This is a challenge that has crossed borders in terms of the presence of different terrorist entities, and we have tried to make sure that the countries can cooperate in their efforts to deal with their mutual threat.  And, as you know, we also have our mission in Afghanistan, which tries to support the Government in its efforts to face threats posed by groups like the Taliban, Al‑Qaida, and others, such as Da’esh, which, as you know, has claimed credibility… claimed credit for this particular attack.  Yes?

Question:  Syria, perhaps a little bit of Yemen.  There are reports circulating that the United States has been using ukranium… uranium‑depleted armaments bombs, particularly in Syria.  I wonder if anyone in the UN, either the war crimes investigators or the people simply collecting information, have come across any of this.  And is there any information that such depleted uranium weapons are being supplied by the Americans to the Saudis in the Coalition for use in Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding Syria, we don't have any confirmation on the ground of any of these sorts of reports.  Obviously, it would be a matter of concern, but we would need to have some further information on that.  And, of course, regarding Yemen, regard… whether it's depleted uranium or not, we've already made clear our concerns about arming the parties in this.  We want to make sure that the armament of the respective parties in Yemen is halted so that we can move towards another cessation of hostilities and a resolution of the conflict.

Question:  Can I follow that up?  Have you spoken… has the SG spoken with the new American ambassador about this… this particular concern, about American arming of the Coalition in Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any particular comment on that.  He has been in touch with the ambassador, but I don't have any details to share of their conversations.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Many African countries have expressed particular concerns about the International Criminal Court, which has essentially triggered a withdrawal of some of them or a proposal to withdraw from the court.  Has the UN made any attempt to address the concerns articulated by those African countries, such as South Africa and Kenya, for instance, who are concerned about the impartiality of the International Criminal Court?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we have made clear that we believe that the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute should be able to resolve any problems in terms of complaints about the work of the court.  We believe that it's legitimate to raise such issues, but it should be done through the institutional mechanism, which is to say the Assembly of States Parties, which can help reshape work as needed.  Beyond that, as I just mentioned right now when we were talking about the Gambia, the Secretary‑General remains confident that State Parties will continue to further strengthen the court through a constructive dialogue.

Question:  May I follow up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Is it possible for these countries to address these issues through those mechanisms that you just suggested without involvement of the Security Council?  Because, I think, ultimately, the Security Council has overall responsibility or control over the International Criminal Court.  Isn't that the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not the case.  I would advise you to look at the Rome Statute.  There is a number of ways in which cases can be addressed.  The Security Council is one avenue, but there's other avenues through the statute.  But, ultimately, the primary body that can deal with reforming the way the court works is the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you again about these… these Arusha talks.  Now, not only is the Government of Burundi not going, but there's a letter, at least that's online, from the embassy of Burundi in Tanzania asking the Government to arrest anyone that's been indicted by… by the Burundian Government.  So, I wanted to know… I know that you'd said that the UN is trying various things, but now that an actual formal request has been made, what can the UN… does Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa… does that… was that a commitment that he made on behalf of the Government of Tanzania not to arrest anyone?  Or have, in fact, people been invited to a place where they can be arrested?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I told you what our efforts were on that, and that it did not involve carrying out any of the arrest warrants.  And beyond that, as I think I said yesterday, we do regret the decision by Burundi to decline attendance of the consultations that are being held in Arusha.

Question:  But, I guess my question is that people are worried because they don't understand if Mr. Mkapa saying… does he have the ability to commit that people are not going to be arrested, given that they… he convened them there and now there's a request that they be arrested?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I've already described what our approach is on this.  I don't speak for President Mkapa, so you'd have to address that question to him.

Question:  Right, but what would the UN say to opponents for future talks? Because, obviously, this is an attempt by the Burundian Government to make future talks impossible given the threat of arrest.

Deputy Spokesman:  That's your interpretation.  What I'm suggesting is that what we're trying to do is make sure that any talks are as inclusive as they possibly can be, and we'll continue to press for that.

Question:  But, who would go to talks if they can be arrested?  I guess I'm just saying… you're saying it's an interpretation, but it seems pretty self‑defeating to go to be arrested.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, which is why we are not… we're against that particular proposition, but we are continuing to push for, like I said, as inclusive a format for any talks as possible.  Yes?

Question:  Concerning Syria, apparently, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has written to the Secretary‑General to express concerns or condemnation of Turkish actions in the town of al‑Bab.  And I wonder whether there was any response to that.

Deputy Spokesman:  We've received the letter, and that will be studied and responded to accordingly.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want… I guess I just wanted to… to… to understand something.  There's a headline… and maybe it's the headline that's wrong, but it basically says that the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, has set a deadline to end the Boko Haram insurgency of August 2018.  And I'm just wondering, is there some… does the UN have an estimate of how long it will take for them to be militarily defeated, or is that… what does it mean?  Is it the UN is using that as a date to plan humanitarian aid around?  What is exactly the UN's view of… of… is it acceptable to go on that long?  I just wanted to…

 

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, I don't write or explain headlines for newspapers.

 

Question:  It's a quote from the [inaudible].  "The fire in the north-east should be out in the next 18 months."  On what basis does the UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria make a military prediction?  That's the quote.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not necessarily a military prediction.  It's a case of someone trying to give an estimate of when a problem could be resolved by.  I don't have anything further to characterize his comments.  Those were made to media source and he… I will leave it to him to explain further what he meant by that.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Going back to the question of Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, you said that it… that it's been called an invisible emergency.  I was just wondering, what kind access does the UN have?  And, secondly, what's the level of the appeal, you know, for humanitarian aid?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have the Ukraine number here.  Wait.  Let me just see whether it's… no.  I'll have to get that number for you later.  [He later added that the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan requires $214 million to assist 2.6 million people.  In total, 3.8 million people affected by the conflict are in need humanitarian assistance.]  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I guess it's the day of… or the tenth anniversary of this Convention on enforced disappearances.  So, I'd wanted… I'd asked you, I think, on Monday about this… these case of two South Sudanese officials who have disappeared in Kenya.  You said you're aware of the reports and I guess I'm… two things.  One, I'm wondering, has… who in the UN system is… is… is engaging with the Kenyan Government or the South Sudan Government about that?  Why hasn't the Resident Coordinator in Kenya… I mean the Nigeria one is speaking about when Boko Haram will be done.  Has anything been said by the UN in‑country about these people that have been disappeared presumably by the Government and returned to South Sudan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I believe that there are Special Rapporteurs dealing with this particular situation.  There's… one of our human rights instruments deals with the question of disappearances.  And so they're looking into this matter, and we'll try to get information from them first and foremost.  And then other parts of the system can work on that as needed.

Question:  Sure.  And then can I… there's a… there's a high‑profile case in France of a… of a 22‑year‑old person that was arrested on video and has said to have been raped or sodomized during the arrest.  His name is Theo.  And there have been riots in France for several days on it.  And I'm just… I'm certain… has anything been… I've checked at least everything that's been sent out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I haven't seen anything.  Is the UN aware of this case?  And what do they think of… of both police treatment of people in France and of how the protests are being dealt with?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding protests, of course, we want to make sure that the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly are upheld.  Beyond that, this is a case that, ultimately, the judicial system would need to look into, and we'll have to see where they go with that.  Hold on.  Yes?

 Question:  Yes.  In the context of the tenth anniversary of the Convention on enforcing involuntary disappearances, what is the UN's position with regards to countries that refuse to cooperate with the UN working group?  And I'm asking this in particular about… with regards to the Government of Guyana, which received a letter from the UN working group with regards to a young man who disappeared 17 years ago and is presumed murdered.  And the UN working group concluded that the young man has been murdered and asked the Guyana Government to clarify the status of this young man, and the Guyana Government has refused to cooperate.  Does the UN have a position in terms of Member States who refuse to recognize and acknowledge the competency of its… its… of its organs?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly intend for all Member States to uphold and follow up on the recommendations by the various instruments of the UN, including the system of Special Rapporteurs.  If they don't do that, then the Human Rights Council is part of the system that tries to follow up with the individual Member States, including through mechanisms like the universal periodic review.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted… yesterday, I'd asked you about the event in the Delegates Dining Room about an airline.  And thanks for… for… I did see DPI [Department of Public Information] put out a press release describing it, but I'd asked you for the actual cooperation agreement.  They did announce there is a cooperation agreement.  And it seems like, if it's the UN and… if, as described, it only involves painting a sign on one aircraft and… and broadcasting things on, is there some reason that the agreement itself can't be provided?  Because you also sent me something saying that DPI has many such partnerships with other airlines.  Can… is there a list?  It just seemed like… and did all of them get an event that large, or is that limited to P5 countries?  Or how did that work?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe all of them get the same basic treatment and similar agreements.  I don't believe that the agreements are public documents, but I've shared with you the information that DPI provided on that.

Question:  But, why wouldn't they be a public document?  If it's the Department of Public Information reaching an agreement with a for‑profit company that it's praising, doesn't the public have a right to know on what basis they're wrapping themselves in blue…?

 

Deputy Spokesman:  And there was a full event on that and a press release, so there's a lot of information about that.  I'd advise you to follow up with my DPI colleagues, whose names, I believe, are on the press release, for any further details.   Have a great weekend, everyone.  Oh, wait, one more.

Question:  Sorry.  One more.  The AP has been reporting today that there is a proposal circulating within the Trump Administration to do a large‑scale mobilization of the National Guard to round up people in the country illegally and presumably deport them or initiate proceedings to deport them.  I wondered whether the UN has any thoughts on this.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, this is a report that we don't see having been implemented.  We would make our concerns known if and when there is an actual policy to respond to.  Have a great weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.