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

31 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.

Good afternoon.  We will start off with a statement on the events in Afghanistan earlier today.

**Afghanistan

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack in the city's diplomatic district in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.  The Secretary-General expressed his abhorrence at this act and underlined the need to reinforce the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and can never be justified.  Those responsible for today’s attack must be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathy to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He reaffirms the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and the Government of Afghanistan.

There is also a statement available from the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which was issued earlier.

**Russia

The Secretary-General will leave New York this evening to participate in the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Upon arrival in Saint Petersburg on Thursday, tomorrow, he will make opening remarks at the Forum.

He is also scheduled to meet with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, and also possibly with other leaders attending this Forum.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Saturday.

**General Assembly

Earlier today, as you will have seen, the Secretary-General congratulated Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák on his election as the President of the General Assembly’s seventy-second session.

**Climate Change

As you may have seen yesterday, the Secretary-General gave a speech at the New York University Stern School of Business on mobilizing the world on climate action.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General called on world leaders to get on board the sustainability train or get left behind, and said it is “absolutely essential that the world implements the Paris Agreement and that we fulfil that duty with increased ambition.”

He added that if any Government doubts the global will and the need for this accord, that is a reason for all others to unite and stay the course.  His remarks were put out and are also archived on the webcast, including the Q&A.

**Central African Republic

At the end of his mission to the Central African Republic, Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that while much progress has been made in the country, there are still deep tensions and some fear a sudden relapse.  He said this is a time for leadership, strengthened partnerships, and a coordinated approach that puts Central Africans' “Human Rights Up Front”. He added that warning signs are flashing and must not be ignored. Armed groups coalesce into confusing alliances and continue their atrocious attacks against civilians.

He warned that the deep frustration and exasperation of the population over the slow progress in arresting those responsible for crimes and in restoring State authority have become serious risk factors.

Meanwhile, our colleagues at the Mission [MINUSCA] report that seven peacekeepers were wounded yesterday, when suspected anti-Balaka fighters ambushed a patrol north of Mobaye in Basse-Kotto prefecture.  One peacekeeper is seriously wounded, but in a stable condition.  The Mission condemns the attack and reiterates its determination to implement its mandate around the country, including the protection of civilians.

The Mission also reports that the situation in Haute-Kotto prefecture remains tense with reports of clashes between anti-Balaka and fighters allied to the FPRC (Popular Front for the Central African Renaissance).  That took place yesterday north of Bria.

**Syria

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien briefed the Security Council on Syria yesterday afternoon, and he told Council members that the agreement reached in Astana simply has to succeed.  We owe it to the 2.6 million people that we estimate to be in the four de-escalation areas covered by the agreement.  Mr. O’Brien said that the United Nations stands ready to sit with all parties involved to make it a workable agreement.

He added that we need to see a change in access to the increasingly dire situation in the north-eastern part of the country.  Rather than restrictions, he asserted, we need an opening of space to respond.  His remarks are available online.

And yesterday, over 200,000 students, including those from Idleb and Raqqa, sat for secondary education national exams in Syria.  UN agencies are providing relief supplies such as mattresses, blankets, food, transportation, hygiene kits and prep classes.

The UN welcomes facilitating students’ movement to sit for national exams, and reiterates that freedom of movement is a basic human right and must be ensured for all civilians, wherever they are, by all parties to the conflict.

**Yemen

From Yemen, in the past 72 hours, the number of suspected cases of cholera in Yemen has risen by 10,000 to a total of more than 65,000 — that is according to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).

In just one month, more than 500 people have died, including over 100 children.  UNICEF cautions that these numbers are only for verified cases and that the actual figures are expected to be much higher.

To respond to the outbreak, UNICEF has sent in three planes carrying more than 40 tonnes of supplies, including medicine and IV fluids to treat more than 50,000 people, but needs continue to grow.

Together with its partners, UNICEF is working around the clock by supporting oral rehydration centres and diarrhoea treatment centres, as well as by providing chlorinated drinking water and disinfecting wells and water reservoirs.

UNICEF’s Representative in Yemen, Dr. [Meritxell] Relaño, warned that the situation in Yemen is teetering on the verge of disaster, and that the biggest victims of this man-made tragedy are Yemen’s most vulnerable people — its children.

**Palestine

Our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) have issued its 2016 report for the Occupied Palestinian Territory today (OPT), which underscores that occupation policies and practices remain the key cause of humanitarian needs there.  The internal Palestinian political divide is also a serious contributing factor, the report adds.

The new report observes that, in 2016, Palestinian fatalities from conflict-related violence in the OPT and Israel declined by 37 per cent compared with 2015, while the decline in Israeli fatalities was 48 per cent.  Palestinian injuries declined by about 80 per cent compared with 2015, with the vast majority recorded in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  The full report is online.

**Bangladesh

Our colleagues at UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] say that they are working with authorities and partners on the ground in Bangladesh to deliver emergency supplies to the many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in the wake of Cyclone Mora.

UNHCR had pre-positioned staff prior to the cyclone and had prepared schools and community facilities so that people who needed to be evacuated could be sheltered.

Most of the refugees’ homes have been damaged or destroyed, and many of them have lost their food rations, fuel as well as cooking pots.

UNHCR is providing plastic sheeting for shelter, while the World Food Programme [WFP] is distributing high-energy biscuits.  More on UNHCR’s website.

**Cambodia

In response to questions we’ve received offline on Cambodia, I can tell you that the UN in Cambodia is not involved in organizing or observing the 2017 communal elections.  The National Election Committee of Cambodia is fully in charge of this process.  We encourage the authorities to ensure that the elections are credible, inclusive, peaceful and free from intimidation, with wide participation of Cambodian voters.

**Press Briefings

A couple of things to flag: at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference to preview the Ocean Conference, which will take place here at Headquarters next week from 5 to 9 June.  Speakers will include Ambassador Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, and Ambassador Marlene Moses, Permanent Representative of Nauru to the UN and Chair of Pacific Small Island Developing States.

Tomorrow, right after the briefing, at 12:30 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, will be joined by the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, to brief you ahead of the Ocean Conference as well.

And then 1 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Sacha Llorentty, the Permanent Representative of Bolivia and President of the Security Council for the month of June.  He will brief you on the programme of work as tomorrow is — I was about to say tomorrow is May Day but tomorrow is June Day, so start of a new presidency.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi, welcome back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. In his speech to the New York University, the Secretary‑General said about climate change that it is direct threat to itself and a multiplier of many other threats from poverty to displacement to conflict.  It is dangerous and accelerating.  Point of clarification:  Does he think that climate change is a threat to international peace and security?

Spokesman:  I think it is clear that the issue of climate change poses a national security risk for many countries, I think as many have decided and have declared.  If you're trying to get me to say whether he would bring it to the attention of the Security Council under Article 99, I don't think I'll comment, but I think his vision of climate change as the overarching challenge and threat that we face today, I think, was pretty clear from his speech.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  James Reinl with Al Jazeera.  A question on Haitians who have been living in the US since the earthquake of 2010.  Does the UN believe that conditions on the ground in Haiti are now secure enough for the safe return of about 60,000 Haitians who have settled in the US under temporary protective status, which may come to end in a few months' time?

Spokesman:  I don't think it's for us to declare that one way or another.  What is clear is that the rights of refugees or… and people who are being protected need to be respected.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I think, last Friday, two Americans were stabbed to death defending a Muslim woman or two, in fact, who were harassed by a hater.  Is there any position of the Secretary‑General on this or any statement or any recognition of this… of this incident?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out and will continue to speak out against hate crime, and I think the sacrifice of those two individuals needs to be recognized and honoured, as well as the sacrifice of the third man who was seriously injured.  Marie and then Matthew.

Question:  Follow-up on the climate change in French, if possible.  Une des options possibles pour l’administration Trump serait de se retirer de la Convention cadre des Nations Unies pour le climat.  Est-ce que des contacts ont déjà été pris entre l’administration Trump et les Nations Unies sur le sujet, et quelles seraient les conséquences pour l’ensemble des traités onusiens qui ont été négociés via cette convention?

SpokesmanJe crois qu’on veut éviter toute spéculation. Nous avons vu les différentes informations, différentes fuites qui sont venues ce matin. Il n’y a eu aucune communication officielle de la part des Etats-Unis vers les Nations Unies à ce sujet.  S’il y en a, on vous tiendra au courant, et je crois que le Secrétaire général a été très clair dans son discours hier du besoin, de l’importance pour tous les pays de soutenir l’action contre le changement climatique.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Cyprus. I'm sure you've seen the President of Cyprus has said that Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide was out of line in speaking about hydrocarbons as exploration as a risk, and then mostly I wanted to ask you about this quote by the… the… by the spokes, Aleem Siddique, saying that Mr. Eide has no pl… no current plans to return to the island.  So I just wanted to know, where do things stand from the Secretary‑General's point of view on this… this thing that was thought to be coming to a conclusion?  And also just about Mr. Eide, is he "when actually employed?"  When he says he's not going back, is he still working on the case?  Where does he work [inaudible] work?

Spokesman:  Mr. Eide continues in his role.  I'm not going to comment on whatever comments were made on the hydrocarbons.

Question:  Is he a full‑time envoy?

Spokesman:  Yeah, he is, as far as I know.  If he's not, I'll correct… the record will be corrected, but I believe he is.  [He later added that Mr. Eide is on a “when actually employed” contract.]

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  What's the SG's position on the Egyptian airstrikes that targeted Derna in retaliation for the Coptic bus attack?  The UN‑recognized Presidency Council called it an infringement on their sovereignty and denounced it.

Spokesman:  I don't have any comment on that.  I will try to get you something.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General is supposed to announce the reforms of the UN next month, in a day or a few weeks.  When will he be doing that?  And when will he be coming to this room to give a general press conference?

Spokesman:  We can try to find a time.  I believe, at some time in June, he'll be announcing a first vision focus, especially on the development… reform of the development system.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, you mentioned a statement about the 41 Syrian refugees trapped on the Moroccan‑Algerian border.  Is there any contact the SG had done with the parties to find a humanitarian solution to those refugees…?

Spokesman:  We're leaving that up to the UNHCR, which is clearly in the lead and is talking to the people they need to talk to.  But, obviously, we would like… the Secretary‑General would like to see this situation resolved as quickly as possible.  If there's a need for him, we'll be guided by UNHCR as to what is the best way possible.

Question:  Another question.  Recently, the news agency of Qatar had been hacked in a very disruptive manner that created some tension between Qatar and many neighbouring States.  Any thoughts on that?

Spokesman:  Not particularly.  Matthew, and then we'll…

Question:  Sure.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about a video that's emerged in Myanmar of Government soldiers kicking a person on the ground.  It's something that they say took place in Shan State.  So I wanted to… and the Government of Aung San Suu Kyi said they have no time to explain it.  They're too busy, whatever else they're doing.  So I wanted to know, has the UN system taken note of it?  Now that three panelists have been named for the Human Rights Council's supposed visit to check in on the Rohingya, is it… is this something… did the Secretary‑General get any commitment from Aung San Suu Kyi?  Did he raise this issue in particular given that it's now… there are now individuals, including Radhika Coomaraswamy, who are supposed to go and the Government has said they can't go?

Spokesman:  We think it's important that Myanmar cooperate with the human rights mechanism.  As for the video, we'll take a look at it.  I don't know if maybe our colleagues on ground have said something.  I haven't seen it.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Since you just announced the visit of Secretary‑General to Saint Petersburg and his meetings with leaders of Russia, is there anything Secretary‑General is about to raise during the talks and any agenda of the meeting you can announce right now?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the… Russia is, by its virtue of its place within the United Nations, a critical partner of the UN on peace and security issues, notably on what's going on in Syria, on issues of development, on issues of climate change, so I'm sure it will be a broad and wide‑ranging discussion.  Mr. Roth?

Question:  It may not be May Day, but 1 June is important; it's the day CNN went on the air.  You can send your cards and letters to an address I'll give out later.

Spokesman:  You looked so much younger back then.  [laughter]

Question:  The Secretary‑General's speech and Q&A was quite open and forthcoming.  He hasn't held a press conference formally since he took office.  So, I ask you just some follow‑up questions.  Did he get the speech cleared or looked at by the US Mission?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  What did he mean, if you can interpret, when he said, you know, elections can be lost and, of course, it's important, legacies will be made or lost by withdrawal, in effect, from climate change.  Was he talking about any particular country or elected leaders?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General comes to this job with a long history as a political leader.  He himself has won elections and has lost elections.  And I think it was a general reflection on the political process and political processes that exist in any democracy.

Question:  If the decision by the [Donald] Trump Administration comes down today, will you or his team, before he leaves for the airport, if that's possible, make him available on camera with a comment?

Spokesman:  Let's have… let's have… let's see what happens first.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Stéphane, you announced that an important conference on the oceans will begin 5 June to… through 9 June.  What is DPI [Department of Public Information] doing to promote this conference?

Spokesman:  Quite a bit.  I think they're… you'll find out a bit more I think at 1:00 and also tomorrow when there's a press conference on this very issue that's organized by the Department of Public Information.  Mr. Lee, then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Sure.  Actually, just a follow‑up on Rick… on Richard's question. At… in the Q&A, there was a kind of a short question by a guy… a person from Citigroup and [António] Guterres… the Secretary‑General said, that's great.  I wasn't clear… I want to be… like, was he praising the… just the idea that corporations should somehow become part of the… of the… of… of the Paris accord?  What… are you… apparently, you were there.  It seems like…

Spokesman:  I was there in person.

Question:  Okay, so what was he praising…?

Spokesman:  I think what he was referring to was the fact that the business community is taking… and the example that this gentleman gave and, you know, he had no more detail than what the gentleman told him, that the private sector is taking an active part in joining the fight to combat and to mitigate the impact of climate change and that the business sector, just like civil society, just like individuals, just like Governments, all have a role to play.  This is not something that is to be left to States alone if we're going to succeed.  That's exactly what he was doing.  He wasn't giving a seal of approval to whatever specific programme was mentioned. This gentleman said, we're doing this, and the SG says, “That's great.”  We think the business… we know the business sector should be involved.

Question:  Can I ask… okay.  I guess… I don't know… related or not, a question about the UN Global Compact, which is the UN's entity for…

Spokesman:  I know.

Question:  Okay.  So the UN Global Compact has a provision where if NGOs or civil society complain against a corporation, they set up a talk, because that's the one thing that seems to be required of corporations is to actually engage with their critics.  So there's a company called [inaudible], which is under fire for exploitation of natural resources in Western Sahara.  And a group commented, and the Global Compact set up a dialogue between them and then cancelled it, saying that there had been leaks, and if there are leaks, no discussions.  And I just wanted to know, the group itself is unclear who is leaking.  They think the Global Compact did.  But is that… does… has the Secretary‑General… since he's come in, has he looked at this mechanism of the UN having a body that raises corporations?  And is it enough to say…

Spokesman:  The Global… first of all, we have to look in the specific case. The Global Compact has, throughout years, removed companies that have not lived up to its ideals.  I will look into the specific case you mention.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you again, Stéphane.  A prominent Palestinian writer — his name is Ahmed Qatamesh Q‑a‑t‑a‑m‑e‑s‑h, Qatamesh — he had been arrested without any charges since 15 May.  And I waited until Amnesty International issued a statement in his defence, and I'm raising his issue why he doesn't show on the radar of the Special Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or the SG's office.  That is one question.  And the second, tomorrow, I mean, the Palestine Mission is marking the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 war, and they're showing number of short films about the occupation tomorrow.  I also expected these activities to be announced by the Spokesperson.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We trad… I'll look into the event.  I wasn't aware.  And I'll look into the case that you mentioned.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.