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

16 March 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.

Great.  Good afternoon.  We will be joined in a short while by Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq who will be here to brief you on the situation in Mosul.  In the meantime, I have a couple of announcements, one on a question we have been receiving a lot this morning which is on the blueprint of the US [United States] budget that was released this morning.

**United States

We have obviously just seen the blueprint of the 2018 budget released by the White House.  The budgetary process in the US is complex and lengthy and it needs to be completed.  The Secretary-General is grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the organization’s largest financial contributor.  The Secretary-General is totally committed to reforming the United Nations and ensuring that it is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.  However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts.  The Secretary-General stands ready to discuss with the United States and any other Member State how best we can create a more cost-effective organization to pursue our shared goals and values.

The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism, but believes that it requires more than military spending.  There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises.  The international community is facing enormous global challenges that can only be addressed by a strong and effective multilateral system, of which the United Nations remains the fundamental pillar.  That statement will be online shortly.

**Central African Republic

A couple of humanitarian updates: the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today warned that the humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic continues to deteriorate.  With the upsurge in violence and the spread of hot spots since September 2016, more than 100,000 newly displaced people have been registered.  This means that one in every five Central Africans is either displaced internally or a refugee in neighbouring countries.  Half of the population is now in need of humanitarian aid.

However, funding for humanitarian action has been on a downward trend since 2014.  Only 5 per cent of the $399.5 million needed for humanitarian assistance in 2017 have been received.  And this afternoon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, will brief the Security Council on the situation in the country.  [He later said that the schedule had changed, and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous would brief the Council.]

**Kenya

Today, in Nairobi, the UN family joined the Government of Kenya in launching a flash appeal of $166 million to address the devastating consequences of drought on pastoralist and agro-pastoralist communities in the north of Kenya.  Below-average rainfall in 2016 has caused severe dryness in the country’s arid and semi-arid counties, doubling the number of severely food insecure Kenyans to 2.6 million.  The flash appeal complements the Government’s ongoing nine-month response plan.

**Somalia

In Somalia, where the Secretary-General was just recently, the humanitarian situation there continues to be of concern to our humanitarian colleagues, with drought-related disease outbreaks on the rise.  More than 11,000 acute watery diarrhoea/cholera cases and 268 deaths have been reported since January.

Yesterday, the Government of Somalia launched its first-ever vaccination campaign, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), targeting more than 450,000 at-risk people.  So far, the $864 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia is only 21 per cent funded for 2017.  That appeal is expected to be revised soon in light of the increasing needs across the country.  Some 6.2 million people — more than half of the country’s population — are in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

**Yemen

We continue also to be concerned about the escalation of military operations between the Government of Yemen and Coalition forces and the Houthi/General People Congress combatants that has now reached Hudaydah governorate.  The continued fighting is resulting in the killing and displacement of civilians and is having a significant impact on the humanitarian situation.  Following the fight in and around Mokha, displacing 48,000 people, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a market in Khokha town, Khawkhah district, on 10 March, killed at least 15 civilians, including 3 children, and injured 8 others.  The UN reiterates that civilians and civilian property are protected under international humanitarian law.

Survey results released yesterday highlight that there are currently 17 million people who are food insecure, representing a 20 per cent increase since June of last year.  At present, ports of Yemen must remain open, including Hudaydah port, to allow for both commercial and humanitarian vessels to import much needed fuel and food to avert a famine.

**Syria

From Syria, the continued shelling, aerial bombardment and clashes in areas across Syria such as Aleppo, Hama, Dar'a, Rural Damascus and Ar-Raqqa are continuing to put civilians at risk and causing unnecessary deaths and suffering.  The UN reminds all parties to the conflict that targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is forbidden under international law.  Yesterday, you will have seen several explosions were reported throughout Damascus including a deadly attack on the Palais de Justice near Hamidiya market, resulting in dozens of deaths and more injuries.  You’ll have seen the statement from Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy, condemning the attack.

**South Sudan

The Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William Lacy Swing, today condemned an attack on a humanitarian convoy in South Sudan which took place on 14 March, which resulted in the death of two people and left three injured.  While a convoy was returning to Yirol East County, from a field mission, one of the vehicles was ambushed by unknown armed men — gunmen.  The assault took place in an area in dire need of assistance due to a cholera outbreak.  More information online.

**Iraq

You will hear more from Lise Grande, but our colleagues at UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] wanted to let us know that they were active in the Qayarra and Jadaa camps, helping to run a 24-hour delivery room and providing psycho-social support to victims of gender-based violence.

**Press Events

Later today, at 3 p.m. today, the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will be joined by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan for an announcement on antimicrobial resistance.  Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., in the context of the Commission on the Status of Women, there will be a press briefing on empowering indigenous women and girls.  That’s it.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, talking about the report that… yesterday, which you seemed to have summarily dismissed on the Pal… rights of Palestinians being denied by Israel.  Can you… did you… did the Secretary‑General find nothing of value in that report that he could applaud at all?

Spokesman:  I think the point we made and that I made yesterday is that the report that was published by ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for West Asia] does not reflect the views of the Secretary‑General.  It was published without prior consultations with Headquarters.  I think the views of the Secretary‑General on the situation on the ground are well known and reported often, and in fact, monthly to the Security Council.

Question:  So, also let me ask you this question about this United States going to cut funding of… so on, so forth.  Why is it taking such a long time for the Secretary‑General of the United Nations to establish contacts with the [Donald] Trump Administration to discuss all these issues?  Although we have assured him that we are willing to…?

Spokesman:  I disagree with the premise of your question, as the Secretary‑General has met multiple times with the representative of the US Government, Ambassador Nikki Haley, and is in close contact with her on reform issues, on all sorts of issues.  So, I think the lines of communications are open and well used.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As a follow‑up to the same question, does the UN have the right to pick and choose where or when a definition… a political definition had be… is applied?  For example, the UN has reached a definition of who is a refugee, what is genocide, what is the crime of aggression, and what is apartheid.  Does the UN have a right to choose when the same symptoms of a phenomenon are applied in two different regions?  Why it calls one apartheid and the other is not apartheid?  Can you give me concrete evidence that what Israel is doing towards the Palestinian people is not apartheid?

Spokesman:  What I'm telling you is that the report that was published was not cleared through… was given no preliminary advance notice to Headquarters and doesn't reflect the views of the Secretary‑General.  The Secretary‑General's views on the current conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, as I said, have been told over and over again.  Every month, we hear the Secretary‑General's views in a briefing to the Security Council, usually through his Special Coordinator.  And if the views change, we will be the first ones to know.  Nizar?

Correspondent:  Yeah, the previous report which was “Injustice in the Arab World” also was taken out from the ESCWA, although it was presented to the United Nations and the Secretary‑General had a look at it, but it looks like, after the listing of Saudi Arabia from the children and armed conflict report and that list, the United Nations looks more amenable to pressure.  And some scholars may find it better to publish before the United Nations because United Nations is selective in its publishing.

Spokesman:  That report was the work of independent experts, and it was published under their own steam.

Question:  Why not under the United Nations?

Spokesman:  I think we've gone through this issue when the report was issued.  The… you know, if there's one thing that we do quite often here is issue reports.  There are a lot of reports that come out, a lot of reports that come out in the Secretary‑General's names.  You can find his… we are not in a… we're not an organization where the Secretary‑General's opinion are unclear.  If you look at all the reports that are issued in his name, whether to the Security Council or the General Assembly, they're there.  And they're written by the United Nations and with the Secretary‑General's name on it, and he stands by them.  If independent experts wish to publish, they publish under their own steam.

Correspondent:  But, United Nations is widely accused these days of being eclectic about what to publish and what not to publish.

Spokesman:  The United Nations is widely accused, and I think it's been widely accused for decades, and we will deal with those accusations.  Yes, sir?

Question:  You're accused of more than being eclectic but… so I wanted to ask you about Myanmar.  There's a new report out by the Rakhine commission by… under Kofi Annan.  I don't know if the Secretariat has… has… has a view on it.  And also, the UK [United Kingdom] Ambassador asked him about it, and he said that there's actually a Security Council session on Myanmar tomorrow.  I wanted to know if the Secretariat is briefing?  Who’s doing it?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Jeff Feltman will brief tomorrow on Myanmar.  We're obviously aware of the… of the report.  I know the Secretary‑General spoke to his… not to his immediate, but one of his predecessors, to Kofi Annan recently about the report.  We hope that the recommendations are an opportunity for the Government and the people of Rakhine State to work together on concrete measures to improve the lives of the communities in the state.  And we will continue to encourage Governments to allow full humanitarian access in northern Rakhine State and follow on its promises to establish an independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations.

Question:  Okay.  I also wanted to ask you about… in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], the two internationals and four… I think it's four nationals or can you… do you know how many… how many Congolese…

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it's two internationals and [four] Congolese.

Question:  Okay.  What I wanted to ask is about a quote by… by Lambert Mende, a Spokesman for the Government.  He said: "It is not normal for people to come here and start moving around like this, Mr. Mende said Tuesday.  If the Government had been informed of the activities of these officials, perhaps they would have had an escort for their safety.  He said he would raise the issue with the United Nations."  Has the DRC raised it?  But, also, was the DRC Government informed of the movement…?

Spokesman:  I think… I will let my colleagues on the ground answer the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as to the details.  I think our focus now is on our continued search for two colleagues and the [four] Congolese that were travelling with them, and we continue that search.  And I'll leave it at that.

Question:  But, to quote… finally, on this same topic, there's a… there's a… elected representatives from Kansas have been quoted saying… where Mr. Michael Sharp comes from, have been quoted as saying that they are calling on both the State Department, and in particular, the UN to do more.  So…?

Spokesman:  I think we… we completely understand the anxiety of the families, of the people involved, and the people that are close to them.  I can assure you that the UN is doing everything it can, has deployed assets on the ground, and we continue to look for them.   Mr. Bryant?

Question:  Steph, you've obviously been very careful to calibrate this statement, but I wonder whether you can flesh out what the “adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer term reform efforts” actually looks like.  And the statement overall seems like a very stat… a very robust defence of the UN and the UN system.  How would you characterize it?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, my job is to read.  Your job is to characterize.  I don't want to get paid a second salary to characterize it. The… it is a statement of principles that the Secretary‑General believes.  I think the point about abrupt funding cuts is… in any reform process, if you're forced to make quick cuts, as opposed to things that are planned or phased in and thought through, you hamper the long‑term prospects of effective reform.   Yes, you had a question.  Go ahead.  Yes, ma'am.  No.  You're not "yes, ma'am".  We're still on the first round.

Question:  Hi, Mainichi newspaper.  Hi.  I just… could you elaborate a little bit more of the implication of the US slashing the fund to the… the UN contribution?  Because there is a report before the auditing and reducing US funding international organization, this including… this suggested that if the international organization funded to the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], the United States will make sure they will not fund them.  Like, do you… do you aware of these…

Spokesman:  Well, I'm aware… I think it's separate things.  We're aware of certain laws in this country putting clauses on UN funding, and some of these things have existed for quite some time.   As I said, the US is the largest contributor to the United Nations.  Its contributions are transparent, whether it's the voluntary or assessed contributions, which, as we said in the statement, we greatly appreciate.  I think anyone can look at the impact, the potential impact.  But, again, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves.  As I said, this is the beginning of a process.  I think we felt it was important to state out certain principles and certain positions that the Secretary‑General has at this point.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  When you say that the report doesn't reflect the views of the Secretary‑General, what do you mean exactly?  I mean, are you talking about the two‑State solution?  And facts on the ground, you have occupation, and you have people… Palestinians were not allowed to take some streets, some entries to go some places, and Israelis only allowed to do it.  So, what's in these facts doesn't reflect the view… the point of view of the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  This is not a report that the Secretariat was able to see before it was released.  So, it doesn't reflect the views of the Secretary‑General.  I think the Secretary‑General, if you look at what he said in the past, he's always insisted on the need to avoid any actions that would derail the two‑State solution.  All core issues should be resolved between all parties through direct negotiations on the basis of the relevant Security Council agreements.  We have always called for freedom of movement.  There are always calls of principles that we've made, and those positions are clear.

Correspondent:  Not only freedom of movement.  It's occupation.  I mean, in your own…

Spokesman:  I think you look… I think the… again, I would refer you… if you're looking for what the Secretary‑General believes and thinks, I would look back to his previous statements to the Security Council.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  If I'm not mistaken, I mean, the budgetary kind of blueprint already outlines — I know it has to go through Congress first — that peacekeeping would have a reduction, down to 25 per cent from the current 28 per cent.  Can you outline a little bit more about the concern to peacekeeping given just two years ago the UN had a major summit on peacekeeping, encouraged others to contribute and how this kind of leading by example could, you know… are you concerned about that and how it could affect other Member States deciding…?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, again, we're… I don't want to elaborate too much.  The US funding to various parts of the UN is clear and transparent.  I think anyone can assess what would happen if there was a major… an abrupt decrease in funding.   Peacekeeping is a fundamental part of the work the United Nations does in order to prevent the spread of conflict, in order to prevent conflict as is investment in conflict prevention, in preventive diplomacy, in sustainable development, in human rights.  Those are all very important parts of the work that we do.  Abdelhamid, then Matthew, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  First, I want to ask you if you have any precedent similar to this case where the SG has distanced itself from a report that doesn't deal with Israel, in a different topic?  Just give me one example when the US distanced itself from a report that has nothing to do with Israel.  That's one.

Spokesman:  I'm sure I can… okay.

Question:  The second question, in the West Bank, there are two groups of people living there, the settlers and the indigenous and native Palestinians.  There are two sets of law apply to those two people.  The civil Israeli law applies to the settlers, and military law applies to the Palestinians.  If that is not apartheid, then what is apartheid?

Spokesman:  I will leave that analysis to others.  The point is that there is a procedure for reports, and I've no doubt we can find you an example or two of the sec… of a Secretary‑General having distanced himself.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Cameroon and Bahrain.  In Cameroon, an opposition… actually, a member of the National Assembly, Joseph Wirba, who's advocating for federalism from… represents the north-west region, has gone missing, and a journalist who reported on it is in prison in Yaoundé.  And I'm wondering, I know there's a… is there yet a Resident Coordinator assigned to the country?  Is there anyone within the UN system following this 60 days without internet in a region of the country?

Spokesman:  I'll check what the status… I'll check if I get anything on it.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you, on Bahrain, I know that the… the Secretary‑General met with the foreign minister yesterday.  The Bahrain news agency put out an extensive multiparagraph glowing readout that it was just a great offer by Bahrain.  So, I wanted to ask you directly — I didn't see a readout, maybe I missed it — did human rights issues, such as the imprisonment of people and the failure to engage with… with opposition parties, was it raised by the Secretary‑General in this meeting?  And… and why was no readout put out if the other side is putting out that their readout…?

Spokesman:  I don't have a readout.  I'll see if I can get one.

For information media. Not an official record.