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

15 May 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.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

I’ll start off with a statement on the launch of a ballistic missile by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General condemns the launch of another ballistic missile by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  This action is in violation of Security Council resolutions and a threat to peace and security in the region.  The Secretary-General calls on the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to ensure full compliance with its international obligations and return to the path of denuclearization.  That statement should be online.

**Appointment

I have a personnel announcement to make:  The Secretary-General has appointed Ovais Sarmad of India as Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, at the Assistant Secretary-General level.  The appointment has been made after consultation with the Conference of Parties through its Bureau.  Mr. Sarmad will succeed Richard Kinley of Canada, to whom the Secretary-General and the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC are grateful for his dedicated service to UN climate change efforts over the past 20 years.  Mr. Sarmad currently serves as Chief of Staff to the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  We have more about him in a bio note in my office.

**China

Meanwhile, as you know, the Secretary-General spent the weekend in Beijing for the Belt and Road Initiative Forum on International Cooperation.  In his remarks to the forum, the Secretary-General said that, for the first time in human history, the world has at its disposal sufficient resources and advanced technologies to end extreme poverty, to reduce inequalities and to place the planet on a sustainable trajectory.  In order for countries along the Belt and Road to fully benefit from the potential of enhanced connectivity, it is crucial to strengthen the links between the initiative and the Sustainable Development Goals, he stressed.

As projects under the initiative unfold, the Secretary-General called on all to work together to uphold international environmental and social standards, and to ensure that the benefits reach beyond cities into rural areas.  With the initiative expected to generate vast investments in infrastructure, let us seize the moment to help countries make the transition to clean-energy and low-carbon pathways, he added, stressing that Chinese leadership on climate change will continue to be pivotal.  The Secretary-General added that China’s engagement as a central pillar of multilateralism is more necessary than ever today.

While in Beijing, he met with several members of the Chinese Government, including Premier Li Keqiang, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.  He also held a series of bilateral meetings with other leaders in attendance, including Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, Prime Minister [Jargaltulgyn] Erdenebat of Mongolia and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, as well as with the [Secretary-General of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party], Toshihiro Nikai.

He also met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar; they met, in fact, earlier today.  The Secretary-General and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi discussed the United Nations’ support to the democratic transition in Myanmar, the peace process and the way to a fair solution addressing the root causes of the current crisis in Rakhine State.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

This evening, the Deputy Secretary-General will leave New York for Ottawa, Canada.  She will participate tomorrow in the Global Adolescent Health Conference, as well as have meetings with the Minister for International Development and La Francophonie and other senior Canadian officials.  She will return to New York later tomorrow.

Over the weekend, she spoke at the Doha Forum, reminding participants that the deadline to fulfil the Agenda for Social Development is 2030, adding:  “That is not much time.  But, it is enough if we work hard and we work together, if we work with long-term objectives in mind, and if we all make sustainable development a priority.”  And she said that the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change is inextricably linked with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Indeed, the steps we take to mitigate and adapt to climate change will simultaneously advance the 2030 Agenda.  Her remarks are online.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and said that the meeting that starts in Geneva tomorrow will be a preparatory meeting.  He added that all the invited delegations will be present.  Mr. de Mistura said that the intention this time is to go a little bit more deeply and be more business-like. He said the meetings will be a little bit more interactive and proactive, and more frequent. Transcript of his full remarks has just been distributed.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues say that the city of Bangassou has been the scene of indiscriminate violence since 13 May, when an assault was launched by unidentified gunmen on the Tokoyo district, which is mainly inhabited by the Muslim population.  Within hours, intense violence forced more than 3,000 people to flee their homes.  At present, nearly 1,000 people are confined in the Mosque compound following threats of an imminent attack, about 1,500 people have sought refuge in the cathedral, while 500 others are in the town’s hospital.  An unknown number of people have crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Two humanitarian flights are scheduled to fly to Bangassou tomorrow from Bangui to deliver emergency relief items.

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has reinforced its presence in the town with peacekeepers and the deployment of an attack helicopter, as it continues to secure some of the strategic areas of Bangassou. Meanwhile, peacekeepers exchanged fire with anti-Balaka this afternoon, including around the mosque.

And you will have seen that, over the weekend we issued a statement on the Central African Republic, in which we said that the Secretary-General was outraged by the attacks perpetrated by suspected anti-Balaka against civilians and the UN Mission on 12 and 13 May in Bangassou.  These attacks led to an undetermined number of civilian casualties and the death of one Moroccan peacekeeper.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. [Matshidiso] Moeti, visited Kinshasa on Saturday to discuss with national authorities and partners ways to mount a rapid response to stop the ongoing Ebola outbreak.  The visit follows notification by the Government of an outbreak in the Likati health zone, in the northern part of the country which borders the Central African Republic.  As of Saturday, 11 suspected cases had been reported, including 3 deaths.

Dr. Moeti said that WHO has already mobilized technical experts to be deployed on the ground and is ready to provide the leadership and technical expertise required to mount a coordinated response.  The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network has been activated to provide additional support if required.  Reinforcement of epidemiological surveillance, contact tracing, case management, and community engagement are under way.  The full extent of the outbreak is not yet clear, but extensive investigation and risk assessments are being conducted.

**South Sudan

Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) today urged donors to step up support for desperate refugees fleeing South Sudan.  Humanitarian agencies are seeking $1.4 billion to provide life-saving aid to South Sudanese refugees in the six neighbouring countries until the end of 2017.  The South Sudanese refugee response plan so far remains only 14‑per‑cent funded.  South Sudan has now become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with more than 1.8 million refugees — including 1 million children — having sought safety in neighbouring countries.  The current rate of people fleeing South Sudan exceeds the humanitarian community’s already pessimistic estimates.  For example, the number of people fleeing to Sudan in March surpassed the expected figure for the entire year.

**Yemen

Our colleagues in Yemen inform us that an estimated 7.6 million people live in areas at high risk of cholera transmission.  Inadequate sanitation infrastructure, coupled with displacement, overcrowded shelters and settlements, increase the risk of person-to-person cholera transmission.  In response, the UN is supporting 33 diarrhoea treatment centres in Yemen, and 10 oral rehydration therapy centres have also opened.  The UN has established two emergency centres, in Aden and Sana’a, with rapid response teams to monitor and treat contaminated water sources.

**Afghanistan

The UN [Assistance] Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today is urging parties to take action as the number of child deaths from conflict has set a new high.  The Mission recorded 987 child casualties during the first four months of this year — 283 deaths and 704 injuries.  This is a 21‑per‑cent increase compared to the same period in 2016.  More information online.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that at least 1 in 4 children — or nearly 30 million children — lives in poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.  According to an analysis covering 11 countries in the region, these children are deprived of two or more of the most basic necessities, including basic education, decent housing and nutritious food.

**Families

And today is the International Day of Families.  This year’s observance focuses on the role of families and family-oriented policies in promoting education and overall well-being of their members.  The Day also aims to discuss the importance of the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity.

**World Meteorological Organization

And today our friends at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) launched their Year of Polar Prediction campaign which seeks to improve predictions of weather, climate and ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic.  According to WMO, the Arctic and parts of the Antarctic are heating twice as rapidly as the rest of the world, causing melting of glaciers, shrinking sea ice and snow cover.  Better forecasts of weather and sea-ice conditions will reduce future environmental risks and maximize the opportunities associated with rapid climate change in polar regions.  They also lead to improved forecasts in lower latitudes where most people live.  The campaign will take place from middle of this year to mid-2019 in order to cover an entire year in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

**Press Briefings

This afternoon, at 2:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here on the second Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].  Speakers will be Ambassador Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations and Co-chair of the Forum; along with Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State and Co-chair of the Forum; and Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft Philanthropy.  And that’s at 2:30 p.m. here.

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., here, there will be a briefing here by senior officials of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on the World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid-2017.  We have some embargoed materials on the numbers that we’re giving you.  Should be in my office.

**Sustainable Development Goals

This Wednesday, starting at 10 a.m., in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, the President of the General Assembly will host a high-level Sustainable Development Goal action event on innovation and connectivity.  It will feature the Deputy Secretary-General, as well, of course, as people from the Office of the President of the General Assembly, along with a number of CEOs and speakers from the world’s leading innovation companies, including Google, X Prize and Facebook.

**Honour Roll

And today we say thank you to our friends in Swaziland for paying their dues in full and bringing us up to?  Ninety-eight.  Who said 98?  Mr Klein. Happy Monday.  You win.  Do you have a question? Otherwise, you can yield.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there really such a thing as happy Monday?  All right.  Anyway…

Spokesman:  We're always happy here.

Question:  Two questions, fairly quick. The first one is, represent… were representatives of the Kurd community invited to the Syrian… intra‑Syrian talks in… in Geneva?  And if not, did they seek an invitation?  And secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the… what appears to be a worldwide hacking that occurred starting Friday and using malware and so forth, and what the UN can do to assist, if anything, in remedying the situation?

Spokesman:  Sure.  On your first part, I don't have the exact list of the participants.  We can check with Mr. de Mistura's office, but I know Mr. de Mistura's always thought to have the broadest possible representation of… at the talks.  On the second one, no particular comment.  We have not heard of any hits to our own IT systems.  Obviously, the issue of cybersecurity is one of growing concern around the world, both as… in terms of criminal activity or potential cyberwarfare, and I think it's one of these frontier issues, which the international community needs to focus on.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph. I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any confirmation or comment on a report from the United States accusing the Syrian Government of killing thousands of prisoners and burning their dead bodies in large crematorium outside Damascus?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular report, but I think, on a number of occasions, the briefing… the Secretariat's briefing to the Security Council have focused on the issue of detainees and the lack of information that we have on detainees.  Jordan?

Question:  Thank you. I have a question on Western Sahara, the latest renewal of the mission.  The resolution asked the SG [Secretary-General] to… within a month, to submit a report about resumption of talks, peace talks.  Where… where… what happened to the efforts of the SG on… on this regard?  Second, what is going on with Mr. Christopher Ross, if there is any replacement…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I don't… the last update I had is that we had not gotten approval from… the formality on a name to replace Mr. Ross.  We're still awaiting clearance.  You know, the Secretary‑General is determined to relaunch the negotiating process, I think, with a new dynamic and a new spirit, and he will report to the Security Council as requested.  Rosiland?

Question:  I wanted to go back to the reports of mass killings and then bodies being burned in Syria.  Is this the sort of situation that ramps up the secur… the Secretary‑General's concern?  Is there something more that he can do, given that the new Geneva process is about to begin, to try to get to some sort of political resolution so that there can be accountability for what does seem to be an egregious crime against humanity?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General and his team have always been focused on Geneva and the political process.  I mean, our position has been clear that the only solution is a political solution.  Over these last more than five years… six years almost, we have repeatedly received reports of atrocities being committed.  The issue of accountability is a critical one.  As you know, there is a… the General Assembly voted to put forward an accountability mechanism.  We're currently recruiting to… people to staff that mechanism, but I think all these reports of suffering and atrocities should redouble the focus and the effort of those who… Syrian parties sitting around the table to come to an agreement.

Question:  Is there… is there a concern that, in light of previous Security Council efforts to try to condemn Syria's behaviour during the Civil War, that this body might once again be seen as somehow impotent in trying to hold the Syrian Government accountable?

Spokesman:  I think the body has been voted on by the legislative body of the United Nations, which is the most representative of the organisation.  Matthew, and then we'll go to the back.

Correspondent:  That report was released by the State Department today, earlier today.

Spokesman:  Oh, thank you.  No, I'm not all-seeing and all-reading.

Question:  Okay.  So, I wanted to ask you about the Central African Republic.  I heard the readout that you gave, and thanks.  There are reports that… that something of a withdrawal of the militiamen from Bans… Bangassou has been negotiated by a cardinal, but what I wanted to ask you specifically about is it says that they've agreed to withdraw on the condition that the UN troops stop firing and that the President comes in person to negotiate.  And it goes on to say the UN has been accused of taking sides.  Is the UN… are you aware of… of… of a UN being one part of an agreement to get this withdrawal?  And what do you say to the allegation that the UN has taken sides there or that its firing may have, in fact, inflamed things?

Spokesman:  I don't believe the UN has… the UN activities have inflamed.  As you know, the UN convoy was attacked.  Peacekeepers were killed.  There was fighting in the town.  Civilians are the first one to have suffered.  The United Nations is there in support of the Government of the Central African Republic.  We have put in a lot of effort to protect civilians to push back when necessary against various armed groups.  There are a number of… we understand another… incidents being reported in locations around Bangassou, which have caused more population movements.  The town itself, as far as we know, remains under the control of armed groups and is inaccessible, including the airstrip, and humanitarian access has been severely curtailed.  Our focus right now is on getting, as we had said earlier, humanitarian aid in.

Question:  But, I guess just… I just want to…I want to… and maybe… maybe you can ask them or something, because I… it's a BBC report, and it says that the UN… that part of the deal to get them to withdraw is for the UN to agree to stop firing.  Generally, would the UN agree to that…?  And are you a party…?

Spokesman:  Whatever tactical actions local peacekeeper commanders are taking on the ground, I'm not going to comment on or second‑guess from here.  I think you can ask them if you want.  When we get an update from them, we will share it with you.  Herman?

Question:  Thank you.  In Côte d'Ivoire, armed groups again are speaking out through the guns.  Can you please give us more detail about who they are, exactly what they want?  And does… this may affect the country seeking for the non-permanent position at the Security Council?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say the last part of your question?

Question:  This may affect the country seeking for non-permanent seat at the Security Council…?

Spokesman:  That's… the election process through which countries are elected to non-permanent seats is one in which the Secretary‑General doesn't have a vote. So, what impact it will have, I think, you need to ask the [193] Member States that will be voting.  We're obviously extremely concerned of the continuing reports of violence.  We understand there are groups of disgruntled soldiers from the armed forces demanding compensation from the Government.  I think it's clear that violence is not a way to obtain satisfaction of their demands, and we condemn the violence that we have seen.  We urge the soldiers to immediately lay down their arms, resume their service and stop any attacks, especially against civilians.  Their constitutional duty is to protect civilians first and foremost. And those responsible for acts of violence against the population shall be held accountable in accordance with the law.  Marie?

Question:  Stéphane, une question en français si c’est possible?  Le Docteur Denis Mukwege, en RDC [République Démocratique du Congo], conteste la MONUSCO qui assure continuer à assurer sa sécurité.  Est-ce que vous avez une clarification sur la position de la MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo]?  Est-ce que, oui ou non, l’ONU assure la sécurité du Docteur Mukwege?

Spokesman: Nous continuons, d’après les informations qui m’ont été données par la mission, nous continuons à escorter les mouvements en dehors de la clinique et à l’intérieur de la province du Sud-Kivu, et notamment pendant ses déplacements vers des pays voisins.  Le 1 mai, la mission l’a escorté jusqu’à la frontière du Rwanda, donc nous continuons à le protéger pendant ses mouvements à l’intérieur de la région et vers des frontières.  La protection permanente de l’hôpital du Docteur Mukwege est la responsabilité de la Police nationale congolaise.

Question:  [Inaudible] est-ce que ce n’est pas contestable le fait que ce soit la Police nationale congolaise qui assure sa sécurité dans l’enceinte de l’hôpital étant donné ses relations conflictuelles avec les autorités [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Nous sommes bien au courant de la situation. La MONUSCO a un mandat de protection des civils.  Elle exerce ce mandat le mieux possible, dans la limite de ses moyens.  Mr. Barada and then your neighbor?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  On Syria, de‑escalation zones, the UN offered support for the idea and even to provide some expertise.  How… is there any contact between the UN and the grantors and other parties on this regard?  And the other question I have, there was a signing of an agreement between Qatar and the UN.  I think they're going to provide $40 million to OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  How this money is going to be spent?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the money given by Qatar to OCHA is, as you say, $40 million over a period of four years.  And that money will be used for OCHA's coordination efforts.  On your first question, I would ask you to ask the Syria team.  I think, as the talks get underway, I don't want to get into any of the details of the negotiations in Syria from here.  Yep.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  I have a question on Bangladesh.  From the very beginning, UN is urging for a free, fair and credible election in Bangladesh.  And preceding Secretary‑General, Mr. Ban Ki‑moon, tried a lot… did a lot, assigned Assistant Secretary‑General [Oscar] Fernandez-Taranco for the credible and inclusive election.  So, what is the current Secretary‑General position as next election is approaching to hold a free, fair and inclusive election in Bangladesh?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything specific for you on Bangladesh, but obviously, the situation… the principal position of the UN remains that we always call for free, fair and credible elections.  Jordan?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question about the US President trip to Middle East.  He's meeting the Palestinian and Israeli leaders.  Does the UN attach any importance on this meeting to solve the Palestinian issue?  Also, I have another question.  He's going first to Saudi Arabia, and then the Saudis are inviting many leaders from the Arab and Islamic world.  Is the UN invited or anybody will be represented at that meeting?  And are you… can the UN reach out to the Saudis to attend?  Because it's going to be attended by many leaders.

Spokesman:  No, I… this is a meeting, from what I understand, organized by the United States and Saudi Arabia.  We have no… we're not in… I'm not aware that we're invited, and it's their meeting to have.  We, of course, attach importance to any meeting of a US President with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.  I think the… it is clear to everybody the critical role the United States has in the Middle East peace process, but we'll have to wait and see what happens.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about these reports.  Now that… I think I'd asked you before, now that the… the… the Ugandans, and I guess, the US have wound down their search for Joseph Kony, one, is it formalized that the UN is not going it alone?  And two, do you have any response to reports of a… of a… a… a trail of sexual abuse caused by the U… particularly the Ugandans searching Joseph Kony?  There's reports citing UN reports of… of 30 victims of abuse and somehow 44 women and girls impregnated by the peacekeepers.  What's the UN…?

Spokesman:  There are… obviously, the article is very… raises a lot of concerns.  We'll take a look and try to track down which UN reports there are.

Question:  This thing was also reported a couple months ago.  I think it was asked about in here.  I wanted to ask, in Yemen, now that the Government or the authorities in charge of Sana'a have declared an emergency.  They say there's 115 deaths by cholera.  What is… what is the UN's role in helping to respond to it?  And have you yet gotten anything back on the reports of expired medicines delivered by WHO…?

Spokesman:  No, not on the medicines.  I mean, as I think I said just a few minutes ago, the UN's role is… through WHO, is to support the Government of… support the Government of Yemen through the establishment of rehydration centres, diarrhoea centres, helping with medicines in every way and every way we… we can.

Question:  But, I guess that's one of the reasons I'm asking.  It's been about… almost 10 days.  Is there… do they have no response on… on…?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry. I was answering you on the outbreak of cholera… I'll check… no, no, I'll check…

Question:  If you're saying count on WHO…?

Spokesman:  No, I think… that was an isolated incident.  I don't think it impacts WHO's work.  And in fact, Jordan, I stand corrected, and thank God people in my office are paying attention to what I say.  Irina Bokova will be representing the UN in Riyadh.  There you go.  See?  I'm… whatever.  I'm not going to say what I think.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Friday, I asked you about update of any humanitarian implication of the Raqqa operation in Syria.  Did you get any information about that?

Spokesman:  No, nothing today.  [In a reply following the briefing, the Spokesman said that the UN is deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 400,000 men, women and children in Raqqa.  In recent months, civilians have been exposed to daily fighting and airstrikes which resulted in an escalating number of civilian deaths and injuries as well as damage to civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, markets and water infrastructure.  The humanitarian situation in Raqqa remains particularly dire and the majority of the population is reportedly facing critical problems in meeting their immediate needs. There are reports of increased shortages of food and medical supplies in Raqqa City.]  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah.  I have… this is the last question for… so… on Yemen, Mr. [Ismail] Ould Cheikh [Ahmed] was hoping that… to convene new talks between the parties before Ramadan, which is starting actually in 10 days.  Any update?  And the second question, also he said he will invite the Houthis to come to Amman, Jordan, to discuss some issues, if there's any update on both…?

Spokesman:  His… no, nothing that much to say except that Mr. Ismail continues his consultations of the various parties, a new tour he started last week.  Again, with all these kinds of negotiations, I think when he's ready to emerge and say that there is a date and a process, he will. But, we have to give him the time to do his work.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  In hearing UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], I've been meaning to ask you this.  There's a controversy in Cameroon where a school… a test is being administered today in the areas that didn't have internet for 94 days and the schools were closed.  And a lot of people are saying the test… it's basically to destroy the Anglophone education system, and people are taking a test at gunpoint.  And many people there said UNESCO said nothing.  I don't know whose role it is.  Is it [Francois] Loncény Fall?  Is there anyone in the UN system that's looking at what's taking place there…?

Spokesman:  I'll take a look that report.  Okay. Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.