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

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

Good afternoon.

**Middle East

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General that we issued earlier this morning:

The Secretary-General took notice with disappointment and alarm of the decision by Israel to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Secretary-General has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security.  He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-State solution.

Settlement activities are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace.

**Iraq

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, after he visited the Hassan Sham camp in northern Iraq earlier today.  The camp is home to about 13,000 people from the Mosul area who had been forced to flee since the fight to recapture Daesh territory started last fall.

At the camp, the Secretary-General spoke to the press and appealed for greater support from the international community for people who had suffered, first from having lived under Daesh and now from being displaced.  “Our resources are limited compared to the tragedy these people have lived,” he told journalists.  The Secretary-General also appealed for more support for the reconciliation efforts at the community and national levels that will be needed once the liberation of Mosul has been completed.

Just before leaving Erbil for the camp, the Secretary-General met with a delegation of Yazidi elders who asked for support for their community.  The Secretary-General told them that he had personally raised many of their concerns during his meetings with the Prime Minister of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional President on Thursday.  He instructed the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) to remain in close contact with the community to ensure that there is sufficient support for those Yazidis who had escaped Daesh control, especially women and girls.  He also reiterated his call for accountability for crimes committed against the Yazidis and other communities.

**Syria

Yesterday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered food and emergency items to 6,000 people, comprising Syrians and Palestine refugees, in besieged Khan Elshih, Rural Damascus.  The last inter-agency convoy to the area was on 16 December 2016.

A UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy also delivered multisectoral assistance for 107,500 people in need in Rastan in Homs.  The last inter-agency convoy to the hard-to-reach area was on 12 February 2017.

The UN continues to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to close to 5 million Syrians in besieged and hard-to-reach locations throughout the country.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, continues to report tensions in and around Bakouma in Mbomou prefecture.  The Mission yesterday thwarted an attempt by a group of some 40 suspected Lord’s Resistance Army elements to stop a UN logistics convoy travelling to Rafai.  Peacekeepers fired warning shots, forcing the armed elements to flee.

MINUSCA also reports tensions between armed groups in Totoyo, some 65 kilometres west of Bouar, in Nana-Mambéré prefecture, which has caused civilians to flee to neighbouring villages.  The Mission is maintaining a presence in the area to monitor the situation and protect civilians.

Meanwhile, the Mission updates that the seven remaining anti-Balaka who were detained by peacekeepers during attacks in the Gobolo neighbourhood in Bria, Haute-Kotto prefecture, last week have been transferred to local authorities in Bangui.

**Venezuela

The High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed his grave concern over the ruling by Venezuela’s Supreme Court to take over the legislative powers of the National Assembly.

Urging the Supreme Court to reconsider its decisions, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed that the separation of powers is essential for democracy to function and that keeping open democratic spaces is essential to ensure that human rights are protected.

He also noted the regional engagement by the Organization of American States (OAS) on the situation in Venezuela, and urged all OAS member States to ensure that human rights concerns are taken into consideration during their deliberations.  You can read the High Commissioner’s full statement on the Human Rights Office’s website.

**Climate Change

The head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) today took note of recent announcements by the United States Administration regarding energy and the environment.

Patricia Espinosa said that it is important to note that the precise impact on global climate action linked with these announcements remains unclear at this juncture and perhaps will only become clear over time.

She said that she has made it clear from the outset that, following the change in the US Administration, the UNFCCC Secretariat works with all parties to advance climate action and take forward the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

She noted that the new US Administration is and remains a Party to the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement, and that UNFCCC looks forward to welcoming and working with its delegations to the sessions planned for 2017.

**Security Council

Right now, the Security Council is starting a formal meeting to vote on the mandate of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO.

Today is the last day of the UK Presidency of the Security Council, with the United States becoming Council President tomorrow.  And on Monday, at 3 p.m., Ambassador Nikki Haley of the United States will brief you in this room on the Security Council’s programme of work for April.

**Briefings

And also on Monday, at 11 a.m. there will be a press briefing organized by the New York office of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on Renewables Global Futures Report:  Great Debates towards 100% renewable energy.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Do we have any questions?  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In Yemen, there are reports that 9,000, at least, patients who perished as a result of lack of medicine and no access to travelling abroad, the blockade is killing many, and 50,000 are threatened with death if they don’t travel abroad.  Is there… Are there any arrangements for them to come?  Is there any breakthrough in the lifting of this blockade, especially on Sana’a airport?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are concerned about the ability of people to move freely throughout Yemen.  This is one of the problems with the conflict.  You’re aware that the Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, briefed the Security Council about the various problems in its consultations two days ago.  And we do hope that the sort of restrictions of movement will be lifted, but this is one of a series of problems regarding the conflict that need to be resolved.  What we’re trying to do is get a cessation of hostilities back into effect and resume the negotiations among the parties.

Question:  How about on the… on the… sorry.  On the access of food, is there any progress on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we want civilians to be able to receive humanitarian assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible.  One of the things we’re strongly urging is that all ports should remain open to receive commercial and humanitarian inputs into Yemen.  And, of course, we continue with our own efforts to deliver and distribute aid as possible.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, on this Israeli Government’s decision to allow settlements in the West Bank in contravention of the international law, has the Secretary‑General has any conversation with the Israeli Government at all since he came?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General is flying right now, but you’ve seen the statement we issued earlier this morning, and those are the sentiments he’s expressed and he will take forward in his conversations as we proceed.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you on the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo)… I’d asked you this in writing, but I didn’t get an answer.  Is it… I wanted to… there’s an AP story datelined “Beni” about the Democratic Republic of the Congo that says that a third person, the interpreter, Betu Tshintela, was found with the two panel of expert members.  Maybe this story was erroneous, but I just wanted to know from you, what’s the UN’s understanding of Mr. Betu Tshintela’s status?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re aware of the reports, but regarding the interpreter, ultimately, it’s not our place to be able to confirm these reports.  That’s for the Congolese authorities, who are also investigating into the matter, so you’d need to ask them.

Question:  Has the UN actually been to the site?  Who found the bodies, and has the UN been to the site where the bodies were found?

Deputy Spokesman:  The bodies were found by Congolese and MONUSCO members.

Question:  So does the UN not know how many bodies were found?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re not the ones who are doing the examinations of the various remains.  Ultimately, for that, you’d need to ask the Congolese authorities.  Yes?

Question:  On Syria, what’s the position of Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura at the present?  I understand that his mandate is due to expire.  Is there any extension on that respect?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s been at least an extension allowing him to continue with the work that he’s doing right now, insofar as Mr. de Mistura does continue to serve as Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General at the pleasure of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  But there’s no deadline for him?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  If there’s any change, we’ll let you know.  But right now, he is doing the work particularly of the Geneva talks with the full confidence and support of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  I have another question on Bahrain.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, then let him go, and then you can go and so forth.  We can… there’s not that many people, so we can ping‑pong back and forth.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… I’d sent you a number of questions about Cameroon.  Now I have those and something else.  First of all, I wanted to know, what’s the… what is the status of having a resident coordinator in the country, given that the internet has been turned off to two regions in the country for 76 days?

Deputy Spokesman:  Right now, there is an officer-in-charge.  There’s no new full‑time resident coordinator, but there’s an officer-in-charge there.

Question:  Can you say who that is or which agency it is?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe it’s the officer for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) right now.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to know… this is something… maybe you’ll know this.  Given that the internet has been turned off to millions of people for 76 days, I noticed that the Government says that it’s going to be depositing a ratification of something called a UN convention on the use of electronic communications in international contracts.  And I wanted to know, will the Secretariat… do they have any role in… in… in reviewing the sort of legitimacy of ratifications or… or… what would you say about a country that’s turned off the internet to its own population depositing a ratification to an electronic communications convention at that time?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are separate issues.  Regarding treaties, all treaties are looked at to see whether the instruments… whether the treaties are properly filed as they’re being deposited.  But regarding the question of the internet, that’s really a question, ultimately, of freedom of expression.  And of course, we have any concern… we have a great amount of concern about efforts to restrict freedom of expression throughout a country.

Question:  But do you know if… when the previous Resident Coordinator, Najat Rochdi, was there, which was since 2013, are you aware… I’ve been trying to find this out.  Are you aware of anything she said publicly or, I guess, privately — I’m asking you — on this topic while she was representing the UN in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m sure that she’s gone about work as resident coordinators do.  You can always check with the office on the ground about any statements she’s made.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Farhan, on this… on the situation in Syria, yesterday, that… the United Nations announced that there are now over 5 million refugees.  And it appealed to the international community to give refuge to as many people as they can, especially besides the neighbours of the… has anybody responded to the United Nations’ appeal at all?  Are there any good signs…?

Deputy Spokesman:  You mean in the past day?  No.  But I would draw your attention to what Filippo Grandi said yesterday in his capacity as High Commissioner for Refugees, where he talked about not just the need for more States to chip in in terms of the responsibility of dealing with the refugees, but for States to honour the existing pledges that have been made to them.  Yes?

Question:  In Bahrain, in the last few weeks, there have been extrajudicial killings by the police, by the security force, especially against protesters.  I haven’t heard any statements from Human Rights Council or from the United Nations here about that.  How do you view this… these killings?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the recent developments in Bahrain, I’ll just point out that, in recent weeks, we’ve been expressing concerns about restrictions on fundamental freedoms, such as the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression in Bahrain.  And we 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.

Question:  But what is your position regarding at least three killings of young people who were unarmed in protests?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly hope and expect that all such deaths will be properly investigated.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, as I’d also asked you in writing, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, ECA, was supposed to have a meeting at… a CAR (Central African Republic) meeting that the Deputy Secretary‑General said she’s closely following with African finance ministers.  And it was cancelled because Morocco, a new member of the African Union, said the Polisario, which is a member of the African Union, shouldn’t participate.  And so the meeting concerning finances in Africa was cancelled.  I wanted to know, do you have any comment on whether the… the… the… the move… I guess the diplomatic move by Morocco is helpful to economic development and discussion of this CAR meeting that the DSG was… said… delivered a sentence to and said she was closely following?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, ultimately, it’s up to the Economic Commission for Africa to comment on the scheduling and any rescheduling of its programme.  We wouldn’t comment on its own programme of work.

Question:  Okay.  There’s another… I’m sure you’ve seen this story where Rima Khalaf, apparently, in a 16 March e-mail to the chief… Chef de Cabinet, you know, made the point that her report on a… you know, Israel and Palestine was… you know, had been widely available, had been presented to Member States in December and should have come as no surprise.  So, since it was presented here that the Secretary‑General had no idea that it was going to be released and, once it was, took action based on… on… on it being published without his knowledge, how do you respond to that?  Is… is this reported e-mail of 16 March… did it not take place?  And if it did take place, how is it consistent with the way that you’ve portrayed the Secretary‑General’s response to the report?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I think we stand by what we’ve been saying in recent weeks about this.  You’ve heard what Stéphane [Dujarric] had to say, and we continue to stand by that.  The Executive Secretary was in New York and could have actually brought this up directly.

Question:  But if… what’s the date on which the Secretary… either the Secretary‑General or his Chief of Staff was… were aware of the report and the use of the word “apartheid”?

Deputy Spokesman:  We became aware of this the days that we started commenting on it.  You’ve heard what we said at the time, just a couple of weeks back, and we stand by that.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, on Mosul, obviously, there are tens of thousands of civilians who are at risk from these continuing operations.  And, of course, ISIS is using the people as human shields.  Does the United Nations believe that there should be a different approach to the plight of the civilians?  Should there be any alternative to just combatting in these narrow and very highly risky areas?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we’ve expressed our concerns about civilian casualties in Mosul.  I’d refer you to the Secretary‑General’s own comments while he’s been in Iraq but also to the statement put out yesterday, I believe, by the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the use of people as human shields in Mosul.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Great.  Two, I guess, officer‑in‑charge questions.  One is… it has to do with Yemen.  It was… I believe that Leila Zerrougui… this may be her last day…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, it is.

Question:  Okay.  So what I wanted to know is, who is going to be running the office of Children and Armed Conflict as this report that may or may not re‑include Saudi Arabia in it is prepared?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretariat of the office is continuing.  There is an officer-in-charge while we await an appointment, which should be forthcoming.

Question:  And also… and thank… you’d said… I believe it’s also the Under‑Secretary‑General DPI’s (Department of Public Information) final day.  Who is the officer-in-charge going forward?

Deputy Spokesman:  The officer-in-charge of DPI will be Maher Nasser.

Question:  Okay.  And, finally, I know that… I think Benny asked you about the Ng Lap Seng case.  There’s been reports that the co-defendant, Jeffrey Yin, is in plea negotiations and he’s asked for the… here’s the thing I wanted to ask you, and it goes back to the… to the… to the audit that was put out by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) about the case.  In that audit, which is a UN OIOS audit, it was identified that in DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management), there was an official who had modified for technical reasons the document for John Ashe and for Ng Lap Seng to put in the name of a company.  It was called modified for technical reasons, and it’s one of the main allegations in the case of… of corruption at the UN, that basically in… for… in exchange for payments of bribes, a document was changed.  So I wanted to know, can you now state, whatever happened to the official… what was done to… to make public who the official was?  And was there any accountability in the UN system for that individual?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe while this case is going on, we’ve been cooperating with authorities, but I don’t think we have any particular comment on the particulars of the case at this stage.  Possibly later on as it proceeds, but right now, we’re, as you know, providing all the necessary information to the authorities in New York.  Yes?

Question:  How does the United Nations believe that those ISIS commanders or high‑ranking officers should be treated when they are captured, to be tried by Iraq or by international tribunals?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re aware what the relevant rulings, including the Geneva Conventions, are.  And we expect them to be upheld.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.