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

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

**Algeria

Earlier this morning we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Algeria:

The Secretary-General notes the announcement by the Algerian Constitutional Council of the results of the 4 May 2017 elections to the People's National Assembly.  He congratulates the people and Government of Algeria for the peaceful conduct of the elections.  The Secretary-General would welcome any further steps the Government and all stakeholders can take to continue to strengthen the democratic process.

The Secretary-General deployed a panel of electoral experts to the country from 28 April to 7 May 2017, at the invitation of the Government.

**Gender Initiative

In Brussels today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, met with European Union Commissioner, Neven Mimica, and afterward, they said in a joint statement that they had a fruitful meeting to discuss how to take the gender equality and women's empowerment agenda further.  They added that the meeting had taken place with a view to jointly developing a global EU-UN Gender Initiative with a focus on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

They said that the EU and the UN will bring our comparative advantages together, including those of various UN agencies, with the expertise and capacity of both the EU and the UN to deliver on this urgent priority.  This joined-up action will visibly demonstrate our joint resolve in promoting women's rights and empowerment, while motivating others to join us in this important endeavour.

The Gender Initiative is expected to be officially launched soon, upon its finalization.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

On Sunday, the Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York for Washington, D.C.  On Monday, she will be the Keynote Speaker at the 2017 Commencement Ceremony of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on the same day.

**South Sudan

The Human Rights Division of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Human Rights Office today issued a new report on the findings of an in-depth investigation into human rights violations and abuses committed in and around Yei town, in Central Equatoria, between July 2016 and January 2017.

The report documents violations and abuses against civilians by both sides of the conflict, based on ethnicity and/or their presumed support for the other side.  This includes 114 killings by pro-Government forces.  The extent of the abuses by armed opposition groups remains unclear due to a lack of access to areas where these groups are active.

The report finds that these violations and abuses may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and that they warrant further investigation.  It exposes cases of indiscriminate shelling of civilians; targeted killings; looting and burning of civilian property and cases of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls.

**Libya

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, today strongly condemned the unprovoked attack on the Brak al-Shati airbase in southern Libya yesterday.

Mr. Kobler said he was outraged by reports of significant numbers of fatalities, including civilians, and by reports that summary executions may have taken place.

He stressed that this vicious attack must not lead to further conflict and reiterated that there is no military solution to Libya's problems.  He called upon all parties to condemn this attack and to not allow it to undermine intense efforts to find peaceful political solutions.

**Iraq

The largest displacement from Mosul in a single day since operations began last 17 October was recorded yesterday (18 May).  According to Iraqi authorities, more than 16,000 people from western Mosul transited through the screening site at Hammam al Alil — the main screening site for civilians displaced from west Mosul — between 16:00 on 17 May and 16:00 on 18 May.  This brings the cumulative number of people displaced from west Mosul alone to nearly 550,000 since the start of the military operations on 19 February of this year.

People are fleeing under very difficult circumstances, which are exacerbated by rising temperatures.  Many are food insecure and have not had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months.

Humanitarian workers continue to respond to these extremely fast outflows of people, but the pace and scale of displacement is stretching response capacities.

**Gaza

Robert Piper, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, urged all parties to come together to reverse the current trajectory towards another major humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In a statement, he further warned that the energy situation in Gaza may deteriorate further and could deepen the existing crisis.

He said we are reaching the end of the fifth week since the shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant, in which a chronic crisis has become acute, with an impact on the supply of safe drinking water, on the treatment and management of sewage, on the availability of health services, and much more.

**Cyprus

Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, met with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, after meeting with the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, earlier in the day.

After his meetings, Mr. Eide said that the Secretary-General has confirmed that the UN is ready to convene a new conference, but only when the leaders jointly see that as appropriate.

Mr. Eide said that both sides are ready to move into a final phase, but there are still some outstanding issues to be settled.

**Somalia

Our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) report that some 30,600 Somali refugees who were in Yemen have now returned to their home country due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation and ongoing conflict in Yemen.

UNHCR said that an increasing number of Somali refugees are approaching the agency for assistance to support their return, citing safety and security concerns and limited access to services in Yemen.

This year, UNHCR has assisted some 10,000 Somali refugees who have made the choice to return.  The assistance includes documentation, travel and transportation and financial support in Yemen to facilitate the journey, as well as assistance upon arrival in Somalia.

The agency said it will also continue to provide support to the more than 250,000 refugees who remain in Yemen.

**Mediterranean Sea

Our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) inform us that nearly 3,000 migrants were rescued yesterday, after trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Europe.

The IOM said several ships were involved in more than a dozen rescue operations.  While the total number of casualties is not yet known, the remains of six people have recently been found on the Libyan coast.

IOM said the Mediterranean region now accounts for two thirds of total accidental migrant deaths this year.

**World Health Organization

And I just want to flag that the World Health Organization (WHO) today released new figures on attacks on health care.  The data show that attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances continue with alarming frequency.

In 2016, there were 302 such attacks across 20 countries.  88 attacks were reported in the first quarter of 2017 alone.  These attacks have direct consequences for health service delivery, depriving people of often urgently needed care.

This is the only existing consolidation of global data on individual attacks on health care in emergency contexts.  You can find more details online.

**Mercury

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed new ratifications to the Minamata Convention on Mercury which will make it possible for the Convention to enter into force on 16 August of this year.

The EU and seven of its member States have now ratified the Convention which commits Governments to take specific measures to control man-made mercury pollution.

The Secretary-General said the Minamata Convention “demonstrates a global commitment to protecting human health and the environment” and calls the ratifications an example of how “problems that affect us all can also bring us together for the common good.”  There’s more information on the UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] website.

**Press Briefings

And today at 2:30 p.m., here in this room, there will be a press conference sponsored by the Office of the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations on “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth”.

Then on Monday at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development.  Speakers will be Wu Hongbo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Shari Spiegel of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs [DESA].

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Hi.  This is [indiscernible name] from Tokyo Broadcasting System.  You haven’t mentioned about the… reportedly this DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] sanction committee was cyberattacked, and some reports are linking that to DPRK.  Do you have any confirmation or any comments about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the panel is an independent Group of Experts, so it's not for me to confirm data for them.  I'm not able to do that.  What I can say is that the UN is in touch with the Group of Experts to make sure that their internet security arrangements are strong.  Yes. Yes, yes, you.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, AFP reported that a Moroccan diplomat who was taking part at the United Nations C24 meeting at Saint Grenadines and… Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was specifically aggressed by a fellow Algerian diplomat.  Do you have a comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware that there was a disturbance at that meeting of the Committee of 24.  We hope that the relevant people are able to work out any of the problems that occurred, and we're certainly hopeful that future meetings of the Committee of 24 will pass by peacefully.

Question:  Yeah, but what do the UN regulations provide for in such a… in such aggressions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we can't comment on actions taken by individual members of Member States.  Obviously, we are there to make sure that all of the proceedings go by peacefully.  That, unfortunately, is not what happened in this particular case.

Question:  Does the UN provide any kind of… how to pro… protection to diplomats during these meetings, which are UN meetings?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there's security at the meetings.  Apparently, this is an incident that was resolved fairly quickly.  It didn't involve any security.  It wasn't any long altercation or anything.  It was a disturbance among people, which seems to have been resolved since then.

Question:  One last follow‑up, if I may.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  Just, is there something that UN will do now in response to this incident?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, at this point, the incident has been resolved, and we certainly hope that all future meetings will be conducted with the appropriate decorum.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, does the Secretary‑General have an update or a readout from Staffan de Mistura on this week's negotiations in Geneva?  And does he feel confident that another round of negotiations can take place in the next couple of months given that Ramadan starts at the end of next week?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. de Mistura already made clear that he was trying to get as much accomplished as possible before Ramadan begins.  Regarding what's progress he's made, I believe the Special Envoy will be speaking to the press in Geneva this afternoon, Geneva time.  So, hopefully, in the coming hours, we'll get a bit more of an update from him on how things stand.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, yesterday, I'd asked about a memorandum in the Department of Safety and Security (DSS) alleging, among other things, that a report… safety report regarding Irina Bokova had been, quote, buried, and this is an allegation by the staff union within DSS.  They also… so my question is, I still… rather than getting a substantive answer to the issues raised in the memo, which is that Peter Drennan, for personal, political reasons buried the memo.  I saw the note to correspondents that talked about leaks are unsafe.  I want to… first of all, I want to know how does…

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not all that it said.  It said that the information… that memo that we put out, the note mentioned that UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and its security had been fully informed, and, indeed, that was the appropriate thing to do, since they are the people who are her security.

Question:  Since… maybe you've seen the memo, because now I've published the entire memo.  And what the memo states is that this is the staff union of DSS saying, for example, that a Board of Inquiry report about the death of UN staff in Garoowe, Somalia, was never made public, and they've requested that it be made public.  And they've made similar requests about other documents, and they say that DSS is putting staff at risk by keeping these reports secret.  So, the question was never whether they told Bokova.  Right in the memo, it says the staff union acknowledges that Bokova herself was told.  What they're saying is that these documents, by being kept secret for, they say, personal, political reasons, put staff at risk.  And that is what I'm asking a substantive response on, not a statement against… against leaks.

Deputy Spokesman:  The substantive… no, no, we gave… that wasn't a statement against leaks.  Again…

Question:  It said leaks.

Deputy Spokesman:  There was a sentence at the end which mentioned the problem of leaking security data, the effect it may have on our security.  Beyond that, the larger part of that note, as you know, because you'll have seen the full note, and it's not very long, was about how the information was shared.  And the point was that the Department of Safety and Security shared the information with Irina Bokova's security, which is to say UNESCO security.  And that was the appropriate course of action.  So that is a substantive response, and it is a denial of the idea that the report was buried.  Olga?

Question:  What's the response on the Garoowe, Somalia, Board of Inquiry not being, quote, buried?  And, two, can. Mr. Drennan do a press conference?  I don't believe he's done one since he's been the head of DSS.  Others have, like, in the past.  Can he do one?

Deputy Spokesman:  We can ask if he'd be interested. Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Actually, I would like to follow up on Matthew's question here.  The first is a very basic one.  Simply, can you confirm the authenticity of… actually, I think there were several memos that were published relating to this threat report, bearing the names of Kenneth Rosario and Timothy Kennedy, and I think by Mr. Drennan himself.  So that's… that's number one.  And, secondly, I did read a statement that your office put out.  It wasn't clear whether the full report in its entirety, as opposed to summaries or excerpts, were submitted to Ms. Bokova or when that was done in relation to the date that it was prepared.  And, if so, what… can you… I understand you can't get into any detail about specific security measures, but, overall, what was her response?  I mean, did she request any beefing up of security for her and the staff?  I mean, just in a general sense, can you tell us?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can't tell you about her response.  You can check with UNESCO what her response to this would be.  What I can say is what was in the note, and you'll have seen that DSS did the actions that it thought was appropriate in terms of its sharing of information with the security at UNESCO.

Question:  But, again, I… asking number… number one, are you prepared to confirm the authenticity of those memos?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I'm not.  And, as…

Question:  Are denying… are you denying the authenticity?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  What we denied was the substance of the information that was in the question asked.  In other words, what we're denying is that there was any attempt to bury the information about threats or potential threats to Irina Bokova.

Question:  But doesn't that go to, in part, the time interval between when the report was finalized and if and when, in its entirety, it went to Ms. Bokova and other appropriate people?  I mean, that's what we're trying to get as a timeline here.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We're confident that the appropriate people were informed in such a way that any potential threats were dealt with.  Yes, Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Ask, please, has UN been provided with any information about the Coalition forces airstriking Syria and if there is any casualties.

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, yes.  Yes, we are aware of media reports that the anti‑Da’esh coalition struck a convoy of the Syrian Army and pro‑Government militias in southern Syria.  We're not in a position to independently confirm these reports.  It's imperative to avoid an escalation of the conflict, and, therefore, we appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people.  There's no military solution to the conflict.  We expect the parties to engage constructively in the Geneva talks that are under way at present.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Farhan, thanks.  Maybe you have seen it.  The Ukrainian authorities blocked access to dozens of Russian websites, among them social media networks, news websites, even mail providers… e-mail providers.  Have you seen this news, and what is your reaction to this?  Do you think this is, like, limiting right of freedom of speech on the internet?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the latest accounts of this particular action, and our point of principle on this, as you know, is that we support freedom of expression, and we are opposed to any efforts to have any major steps to constrain freedom of expression and freedom of communication.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you, I guess, maybe… the… the… previously asked you about a ship that was headed to New Zealand that was stopped in South Africa under the theme that exploitation of natural resources in Western Sahara, where the UN has a mission, is contrary to recent lower… court decisions. There's now been a ship stopped in Panama that was on the way taking, similarly, phosphate from Western Sahara to Canada.  And I wanted to know… I mean, I don't know if Mr. [Christopher] Ross is still the envoy.  Is there any comment from DPA [Department of Political Affairs] on, even despite recent court rulings, the continued export without consent and contrary to UN OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] legal decision of the natural resource of Western Sahara?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you're aware of this issue, the position we've taken, including in our reports on Western Sahara, and our position on the exploitation of the natural resource of Western Sahara as expressed in the report still stands.  Regarding Christopher Ross, I don't have any announcement to make of any replacement at this stage.  If and when there is one, we'll let you know.

Question:  Is he still on the case, though? I saw him in the building recently last week.  Is he still… could you describe him as the envoy or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  He continues to be the envoy until we decide otherwise.

[The Spokesman later issued the following correction:  As of 30 April, Christopher Ross no longer serves as the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.]

Correspondent:  Okay.  Can I ask one more?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  I wanted to ask and this kind of… it’s something that was raised by the staff unions as well.  It has to do with the pension, the UN staff pension committee.  There were people that were elected and the pension board with this huge staff pension is set to meet in July, but they haven’t actually ceded or given any right to attend of the newly elected staff pension fund committee.  So they’re saying that 18,000 people that voted and… and some 70,000 people that they represent won’t be represented at and they wanted to know why it is that they haven’t… that these UN pension fund has not ceded the staff union prior to this meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the pension fund is a separate body.  We can check with them what their intentions are in terms of how they’re proceeding with this.

Question:  Isn’t the Secretary‑General kind of liaison over…?

Deputy Spokesman:  There is a representative.  So we have representation there, but… but we are not the deciders of the pension fund’s actions.  So… but we can check with the representative, Ms. Boykin, Carolyn Boykin, where we stand on this.  Have a… oh, yes.  One more.

Question:  One more. Do you any update on the funding appeal to counteract famine in the four countries that the SG highlighted earlier this year?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s been some progress.  We have a website where the numbers are updated, so you can just go there, and you’ll find the latest figures.

Correspondent:  Okay. Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Have a good one.

For information media. Not an official record.