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

24 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.

**Peacekeeping

You will have heard today was the International Day of UN Peacekeepers.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at a wreath-laying ceremony honouring fallen peacekeepers.  He said that our mission for peace will never succeed without courageous people willing to put their lives on the line and that we owe them an enormous debt.  He added that peacekeepers continue to come under attack from armed groups, spoilers and increasingly by terrorists, but the closure of our operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia over the coming months reminds us that the contributions, investments and sacrifices of UN peacekeepers have contributed to the transformation of these countries from battlefields to peaceful States.

He then conferred the Dag Hammarskjöld medal in honour of those who lost their lives last year serving under the UN flag.  He said that UN peacekeeping is one of the international community’s most effective investments to support peace, security and prosperity, and has a positive impact on the lives of millions of people around the world.  There are risks when deploying peacekeepers to a crisis area, but he said inaction may carry even greater risks.  The Secretary-General added that peacekeeping is the most important element of UN branding and the most important aspect of the UN’s image.

**Mali

You will have seen that late yesterday, we issued a statement on the attack in Mali in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack on the MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] patrol that killed two Chadian peacekeepers.

**World Health Organization

Also yesterday, the Secretary-General congratulated the new Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for his election as the new head of WHO.

His leadership of WHO will be crucial to ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, he said in a tweet.

**Kyung-wha Kang

I have a statement on the departure of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Policy, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang:  the Secretary-General thanks Ms. Kyung-wha Kang for her many years of service to the United Nations system, where she is widely recognized for her advocacy of human rights, humanitarian principles, gender equality and women's empowerment.

Throughout her work for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and in the Secretary-General’s Transition Team and Executive Office, Ms. Kang has earned a reputation as a person of principle and a voice of the voiceless.

Ms. Kang has driven the development of the Secretary-General’s gender parity and prevention strategies with passion and expertise, while acting as a role model and mentor to a new generation of women in the UN system.  The Secretary-General wishes Ms. Kang every success as she rises to meet a new challenge in the service of her country.

**Italy

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be heading out of New York for Italy to attend the G-7 meeting.

On Saturday, he will participate in the outreach session of the summit, which is taking place in Taormina.  The focus of the discussion will be "Innovation and Sustainable Development in Africa."  He will leave Taormina Saturday afternoon.

**South Sudan

The Head of the Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan [UNMISS], David Shearer, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in the country.  He said that as rains have arrived in South Sudan, we are seeing the last push to position forces before roads become impassable.  While rains may bring a respite to large-scale military manoeuvres, they also greatly complicate the UN’s humanitarian response.

He welcomed the announcement by President [Salva] Kiir of a unilateral ceasefire and pledge to review the cases of political prisoners.  He added that while the National Dialogue launched on Monday could bring a welcome focus on reconciliation, for it to be credible, it will need the genuine participation of opposition constituencies.  Mr. Shearer also noted that a unified regional position on South Sudan remains critical and he called on the Council to unite on a common strategy to advance the political process.

Meanwhile, the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday visited Unity State in South Sudan and called on all parties to the conflict to cease violence and work together to ensure that food and other lifesaving support can reach people to end famine and severe hunger.  More details online.

**Cyprus

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, met today with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Nicosia.

He told reporters afterwards that both leaders seek to reconvene the Cyprus talks in Geneva, potentially in the near future, but he noted that there are still outstanding issues.

He said that shuttle diplomacy will continue to iron out those issues.

**Israel

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed serious concern today at the mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, as it entered its thirty-eighth day without resolution, and the health of hundreds of participating prisoners began to deteriorate significantly.

He added that he was especially alarmed by reports of punitive measures by the Israeli authorities against the hunger strikers, including restricted access to lawyers and the denial of family visits.  The right of detainees to access a lawyer is a fundamental protection in international human rights law that should never be curtailed.  More information in his statement online.

**Yemen

Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today that cholera is spreading at an unprecedented rate throughout Yemen.

In the past three weeks, health authorities have reported over 35,500 suspected cholera cases, a third of which are children, and 361 deaths in 19 of Yemen’s 22 governorates.

He called on Members States to provide financial and political support to help avert an additional and devastating blow to Yemen, where 17 million people are already food insecure, including 7 million people facing potential famine and 462,000 children in the grip of acute malnutrition.

The speed at which cholera is spreading among the population exceeds the capacity of the health system to respond, given its weakened state after more than two years of conflict, import restrictions and the lack of regular salary payments to health workers.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at a greater risk of dying as they face the “triple threat” of conflict, starvation and cholera.

Humanitarians are seeking over some $55 million to prevent and treat cholera at the national, governorate and community level over the next six months.  The UN and its partners thank the Government of Norway for an additional contribution of $1.2 million to this effort, on top of their pledge for the wider humanitarian response.

**Iraq

From Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a floating bridge has been put in place by the Iraqi Security Forces north of Mosul’s Old City area, re-connecting west and east Mosul, after military operations had largely severed bridges in the city.

In addition to its military use, the bridge will be used to facilitate the transportation of displaced civilians.

The number of civilians displaced is expected to surge once military operations begin in the densely populated Old City, where some 200,000 people are reportedly still living under Da’esh control.  Protecting these civilians is a key concern for aid agencies.

A large number of civilians continue to flee Mosul, with nearly 8,000 people recorded as newly displaced from western Mosul just yesterday.

The Iraqi authorities report that nearly 743,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since the start of the military operations in October 2016.

Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance in this extremely fast-moving emergency.  Since October, they have distributed food, water and other items to 2.8 million people in Mosul and surrounding areas.

**UNICEF

UNICEF has issued a new report today saying that conflict is threatening the lives of more than 24 million children in Yemen, Syria, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Libya and Sudan.

They say that children are having difficulties accessing essential health care, water and sanitation services and nutritious food.  More information online.

**Financing for Development

Yesterday evening countries taking part in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Forum on Financing for Development follow-up agreed on a series of measures to accelerate the implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda to finance and support the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

The new measures include:  stepping up efforts to invest in women and girls, supporting infrastructure to make cities more resilient, facilitating market access for least developed countries and sharing experiences on how to finance social protection systems, among others.

These will help guide deliberations of this year’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which will take place in July.

**Food

Just two more notes: to mark the Holy Month of Ramadan this year, ShareTheMeal, the official app of the World Food Programme (WFP), is launching two simultaneous fundraising campaigns — one to help prevent famine in Yemen and another supporting Syrian refugee children and Lebanese children in Lebanon.

With the app, users can share vital food and nutrition with hungry communities around the world by simply tapping on their smartphone and donating some money.  For the first time this year, a function gives users the power to choose where they send their donation.

**UNMOGIP

Lastly, I was asked this morning offline by a number of people on press reports that said that an UNMOGIP [United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan] vehicle was targeted by the Indian Army along the Line of Control near the Khanjar sector.  I can say to you that this afternoon in Bhimber District, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, UNMOGIP military observers accompanied by Pakistani army escorts heard gunshots in their vicinity.  There is no evidence that the UNMOGIP military observers were targeted by the gunfire.  No UN military observer was injured.

**Questions and Answers

Khalas.  Masood‑ji?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  As… as the last statement that you read… read out, it shows that the hostilities between India and Pakistan on the border in its way continue to expand.  And the Secretary‑General was promised again… time and again that he will look into this problem between India and Pakistan and, particularly, in reference to Kashmir, where many human rights — what do you call — violations are recorded and… when will the Secretary‑General get around to this particular question?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, as we've said to you, we're obviously concerned at the situation in Kashmir, and it's an issue that the Secretary‑General is following closely.  Rosiland?

Question:  I wanted to ask about the Trump Administration's budget proposal for the UN and related agencies.  General contributions would be cut by about $400 million for fiscal year '18.  The peacekeeping budget, in particular, would be cut by 90 per cent.  Other international organizations and programmes would get no funding from the United States.  Granted, as Mr. [Atul] Khare noted that this is early days, that Congress has to negotiate the budget, what contingencies is the Secretariat making in case more of the money that the Administration wants to cut is actually cut in the final budget?  What is the message to UN staff and affiliates about the potential for a big loss of funding from the US?

Spokesman:  I think we're… as Mr. Khare said, we're obviously studying the budget, going through some of the numbers. You know, I think, from where we stand, I think looking at the budget, as it's proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world.  The budgetary process in the US is what it is.  It is going through a legislative process.  So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.  I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we're obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor.  You know, I don't want to get into contingency plans.  Obviously, everybody's following very closely.  And I think the Secretary‑General has been… I mean, even before this budget came out, has been very vocal on, first of all, the need to reform and is engaged on… is committed and will continue to work on reform ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it's meant to deliver.  I mean, already, I think, since he's come into office, he's been very conscious of cost cutting, asking people to limit travel, asking Mr. Khare to do a review of how we use our air assets, which are a big, big part of the peacekeeping budget.  So we'll see what the situation unfolds.  But we will need resources to deliver on our mandates.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, Rohit Vyas, TV Asia.  Follow‑up to that.  So, in the meantime, are there any plans to ask all departments across board in the United Nations to start conserving money for the future should something… should the US budget…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has already asked all departments — and this has been for a few months now — to ensure… see where… how they can spend the money more wisely.  I mean, this is an effort we can always be making, and it's an effort that he expects staff to make.  Matthew and then Benny.

Question:  Sure. I have a budget question as well, but I wanted to ask you the question that I'd asked; maybe you'll take a stab at it.  If a single country, France, has controlled peacekeeping more than 20 years in a row, five heads of department in a row… I tried to ask Mr. {Jean-Pierre] Lacroix what the benefit of it was, as you heard, I'm sure you heard; you seemed to be back there.  But Mr. Khare seemed to say he's not… he doesn't see him as French, which is fine.  But I guess I wanted to know… you speak for the Secretary‑General.  What was the process for selecting a new head of peacekeeping?  And I'm sure there is a benefit of having France head it.  What is that benefit?  And does it outweigh the downside, which some people have articulated?

Spokesman:  Heads of departments, like any UN staff member, are here as international civil servants.  They are here to serve the Organization and not serve their own country, and that applies to everyone who serves, whether in a position of responsibility… of greater responsibility or of lesser responsibility.  The process for appointing heads of departments at the UN has been what it is for a long time and the Secretary‑General has, I think, chosen the person he feels could best provide the leadership for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).

Question:  Did he consider… I mean, I'm aware that it's happened and it's happened five times in a row, but given that he's self‑described as a reformer, when he came in, did he consider shaking things up, i.e. not leaving DPA [Department of Political Affairs] with the US, OCHA with the UK, and can you just confirm that he asked for [inaudible] candidates?

Spokesman:   I think the reform…  No, I'm not going to confirm it, because it's the Secretary‑General's prerogative to appoint heads of departments as he sees fit.  Some jobs are advertised.  Some are not advertised.  It's the prerogative of the Office of the Secretary‑General.  So I don't know what else to say.

Question:  But shouldn't the process be… I guess my… if he's a reformer, shouldn't the process be transparent…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's results on reform should be judged at the end of his term, and I think we've already seen that he has changed things on how we operate here.

Question:  And on the budget, could I just… it's a factual question.  You've listed today at 3 presenting his pro… proposed programme budget for the biennium 2018‑19 to ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions]. One, is it open?  Two, can we see the budget?  And if… three, if not, why not?

Spokesman:  The process remains the same.  This is a budget that has start… that was elaborated before the sec… this Secretary‑General came into office.  As you know… as you may not know, but it's kind of a long process.  This is the first step.  It will go to the ACABQ and then go to the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee deliberations are often open, and then I think we'll get a clearer picture then.  Benny?

Question:  Yeah.  Following up on your discussion yesterday on rights… human rights for all sexual orientations, today the Supreme Court in Taipei became the first in Asia to declare… to approve gay weddings, gay marriages.  Does the Secretary‑General commend the Government of Taiwan for being… becoming the first one to do so?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General believes that everyone should enjoy the same rights in any country, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Question:  And following up on our geography lessons yesterday, where is Taipei, what country?

Spokesman:  As you know, the United Nations follows a one China policy, but we'll… I look forward to tomorrow's question on geography.  Rosiland?

Question:  The White House said that at the end of President [Donald] Trump's meeting with Pope Francis that Mr. Trump announced $300 million to deal with famine in the countries which the Secretary‑General has highlighted in the past — Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and north-eastern Nigeria.  Is that a direct pledge to the United Nations?  Has the US communicated that as such?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that, but I will… obviously, if that is the case, that is very welcome news.  But I need to confirm it on our end.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Correspondent:  It was announced on Al Jazeera… [inaudible].

Spokesman:  I have… I don't doubt the veracity of Al Jazeera's facts.  I just have to confirm it myself.  Matthew and… go ahead.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, today in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Amnesty International had scheduled a press conference about three teenager students sentenced to ten‑year prison sentences for joking in text messages about Boko Haram.  So, I wanted to know, they… basically, this was closed down. The press conference was disallowed.  Many human rights groups have said it's an outrage. And I noticed yesterday evening, the Deputy Secretary‑General and the Chef de Cabinet were both at the National Day of Cameroon on 73rd Street in New York.  So, I wanted to know, what does the UN think of… of this country that just recently celebrated its National Day with these two officials shutting out Amnesty International, sentencing students to ten‑year prison sentences…

Spokesman:  I'll look into the case.  I have not…

Question:  Did you ever look into the testing thing?  I'd asked you about administering a test…

Spokesman:  Yes, I think… we were given some guidance by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], and I will share that with as soon as I find it.  Yep? [He later said that the United Nations Office in Central Africa, UNOCA, has informed that there have been reports of abstentions from the examinations in the north-west and south-west regions of the country.  We are not aware of any reports of these tests being taken at gunpoint.  Nonetheless it is of concern that these examinations were held, despite school closures and the internet blackout for over three months, which disrupted normal activities.  However that is an issue for the relevant national authorities to respond to.  UNOCA, in close cooperation with the Acting Resident Coordinator, is monitoring the situation in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon and will continue to liaise with the authorities to promote a peaceful resolution to the grievances of the Anglophone population.]

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  International Day of Peacekeepers is ahead of us, and I am from Bangladesh, as you know, and my country is the number one troop-contributing country for the peacekeeping, and their contribution and effort is reported by the world; they are doing very hard work.  But, within the country, Bangladesh… this law enforcement agency, Bangladesh Government using to eliminate the political opponent.  So, how does Secretary‑General observing these issues in Bangladesh, though they are very much active around the globe and they are doing very good work.  But within the country, the Government is using very wrongly, so what is the observation?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything for you on Bangladesh.  Let me check and get back to you.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.