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

14 August 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.

**Burkina Faso

Good afternoon, everyone.  I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General pertaining to the terrorist attack in Burkina Faso:

The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack perpetrated on 13 August in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the Government and people of Burkina Faso and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

The Secretary-General stresses that there can be no justification for such acts of indiscriminate violence.  He reiterates the support of the United Nations to Burkina Faso in its fight against violent extremism and terrorism.  He also reaffirms the Organization’s commitment to the countries of the G5 Sahel as they scale up efforts to tackle multiple security challenges in order to promote peace and development in the subregion.

**Mali

Our colleagues from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said today that their camps in Douentza, in the Mopti region, were attacked by non-identified gunmen this morning.  One Malian soldier and one UN peacekeeper were killed in the attack.  Another peacekeeper was slightly injured.

The UN Mission condemns this attack.  We join our colleagues in offering our condolences to the families of the victims and to their Governments.

**Kenya

We issued a statement over the weekend in which the Secretary-General congratulated the people of Kenya for their peaceful participation in the presidential elections.

The Secretary-General took note of the results of the presidential election in Kenya, and of the announcement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta as President-elect.  He calls on those political leaders disputing the elections results to address election-related disputes through the relevant constitutionally mandated institutions.

The Secretary-General calls on the political leaders to send clear messages to their supporters urging them to refrain from violence.  The Secretary-General also stresses the importance of dialogue to defuse tensions.

The United Nations, in close collaboration with the African Union and other multilateral and bilateral partners, is fully engaged with Kenya’s political leadership and relevant stakeholders to facilitate the successful conclusion of the electoral process.

**Yemen

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, wrapped up a visit to Tehran yesterday, where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the Deputy for Arab and African Affairs, Hussein Jaber.

In his meetings, the Envoy discussed in length the Hodeidah proposal, as an opening to the comprehensive agreement and the need to avoid the further worsening of the humanitarian situation.

He said that Iran’s support to the UN’s efforts remains strong, adding that there is a common understanding that only a political solution can bring an end to the war and the Hodeidah proposal could be the opening towards a comprehensive political agreement.

The Envoy is currently in the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

The Special Envoy thanked the country for its cooperation and for efforts to help reach a political agreement.

He will also be meeting with Yemeni and regional politicians in order to rebuild trust between the parties and work on confidence-building measures, including the reopening of Sana'a International Airport and the payment of salaries, that will help improve the humanitarian situation and alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.

Also on Yemen, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that the total number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen has reached the half million mark, with nearly 2,000 people having died since the outbreak began earlier this year.

Although the spread of cholera has slowed significantly, the disease is still spreading quickly in some areas, with some 5,000 people being infected every day.

WHO says that Yemen's cholera epidemic, the largest in the world, has spread rapidly due to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation conditions and disruptions to the water supply across the country.

In addition, a collapsing health system is struggling to cope.  There is a severe shortage of medicine and supplies, while 30,000 critical health workers have not been paid salaries in nearly a year.

WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that Yemen’s health workers are operating in impossible conditions.  He added that thousands of people are sick, but there are not enough hospitals, not enough medicines, and not enough clean water.

WHO and its partners are working around the clock to set up cholera treatment clinics, rehabilitate health facilities, deliver medical supplies, and support the national health response effort.

Dr. Tedros stressed that, to save lives in Yemen today, we must support the health system, urging Yemeni authorities — and all those who can play a role — to find a political solution to this conflict that has already caused so much suffering.  The people of Yemen cannot bear it much longer, he said.  They need peace to rebuild their lives and their country.

**Syria

UN agencies are deeply concerned about the security and protection of the nearly 50,000 people — mainly women and children — who remain stranded at Syria’s southern border with Jordan in an area known as the berm.  Air strikes have been reported in the area in the last few days, and the area is reported to be increasingly unsafe.  Some people are reportedly attempting to leave the area, risking further danger and deprivation in an inhospitable desert location.

The situation for those who remain is worsened by the scarcity of services available in the area, especially food and health care.  Some families in one part of the berm, Hadalat, where there are an estimated 4,000 people living, are reportedly living solely on flour and water.

The UN is ready to continue supporting the Jordanian authorities, despite limited resources, for the protection of the affected Syrians who have been forced to leave their homes.  UN agencies in Jordan are ready to immediately provide protection and additional life-saving assistance as needed.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to take the necessary steps to prevent further harm to the frightened and highly vulnerable individuals stranded at the border.

**Somalia

In Somalia, the Government and the UN held an event in Mogadishu to celebrate that the country has been polio-free for three years.

In 2013, Somalia was at the epicentre of a polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa which paralyzed 200 children. Since then, the country worked with the UN to ramp up its vaccination programme to stop the spread of the disease.  At the event, the World Health Organization applauded Somalia’s efforts to ward off the highly infectious virus while urging continued caution and vigilance.

The three-year polio-free milestone comes amidst the worst outbreak of measles the country has seen in years, as well as an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera, which began in January.  WHO said that polio systems and networks are being used to tackle these outbreaks and reach as many children as possible.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that 7.7 million people face acute hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — a 30 per cent increase over the past year.  This means that more than one in ten people living in rural areas suffer from acute hunger.  Hunger is on the rise due to escalating and prolonged conflict and displacement in central and eastern DRC, mainly in the Kasaï and Tanganyika regions.

In conflict-ridden areas, over 1.5 million people are facing “emergency” levels of food insecurity, which means people are forced to sell everything they have and skip or reduce their meals.  FAO and WFP are calling for an urgent increase in the provision of food to combat malnutrition as well as seeds and tools so that farmers can plant again and regain their livelihoods.

And our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tell us that cholera cases continue to spread in Tanganyika, with 76 cases reported between 31 July and 6 August.  The number of cases is also on the rise in South Kivu since the last week of June, with 14 cases and 1 death reported in Bukavu between 17 and 23 July.

**Press Briefings

And for press briefings, at 12:30 p.m., right here in this room, there will be a press conference by the Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea, Anatolio Ndong Mba.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  First, on this attack in Mopti in Mali, are there any details on who was responsible and whether the attacker or attackers got away or were killed?

Deputy Spokesman:  As of now, the people responsible for the attack in Mopti remain unidentified.  So, we do not have further details.  We… as far as I'm aware, we have not captured any of the people who were responsible.

Question:  Okay.  My second question is, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the white supremacist rally and the protest that followed in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, of course, you know where the UN stands.  We are against all racism and bigotry.  We believe that there must be no place in our societies for the violent racism, anti‑Semitism, xenophobia and discrimination that we have seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, in recent days.  Obviously, we condemn any of the violence that affected civilians, and we express our condolences to the family and loved ones of the victims and wish a speedy recovery to all those who were injured.  Yes?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you about the Kenya election.  You know, you'd said… there were these two different statements, one about provisional results, then final results, but, in the country, one, what is… how many people does the UN believe have been killed in post‑election violence?  What's the UN's reaction to Raila Odinga asking for the UN to play some role in looking into fraud he says he's going to announce tomorrow, Tuesday?   And there's a group called the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which has been deregistered just before filing a petition concerning the election.  So, I… do you… does the UN believe that the… the… the current legal structures, especially if you have petitioners deregistered moments before filing, is… is a credible one?  What does the UN, given its presence in Nairobi, think about the… the… the deaths and this deregistration?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, we're concerned about any violence.  As I just mentioned, what we've been doing, including through the Secretary‑General, is calling on all political leaders to send clear messages to their supporters urging them to refrain from violence, and that's a key part of this process.  You're aware of our concerns in other previous elections, presidential elections in Kenya, and those concerns continue to apply.  Regarding Mr. Odinga's request, obviously, we'll wait to see what he has to say tomorrow and monitor that, but I would point out, as I just said, that the Secretary‑General called on political leaders disputing the election results to address election‑related disputes through the relevant constitutionally mandated institutions, and that is where we stand on that.

Question:  Right.  And I wanted to ask you, on… on… on Yemen, I understand that some a 37,000‑signature petition regarding the… the… the country was somehow delivered to the Secretary‑General's Office.  And I wanted to know… one, if you can just, maybe now or after the briefing, confirm it was received, and also, just, in connection with that, I did want to ask where the Secretary‑General is.  It was said he'd be back on, I guess, the 11th. Now it's the 14th.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  He'll be back tomorrow.  He's travelling back today to New York, and he'll be back in the offices tomorrow.

Question:  What about this Yemen petition?  Are you aware?

Deputy Spokesman:  And I'll check and see whether we've received that.  Yes, Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah, just a little clarification on the Mali attack.  So… because some local site is reporting that the attack was on MINUSMA in Douentza.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  But you said Mopti?

Deputy Spokesman:  Douentza is in Mopti.

Question:  Okay.  Okay.  And then…

Deputy Spokesman:  Mopti is the region.  The larger region.

Question:  Okay.  So, it does say that two soldiers, peacekeepers, were injured, but you're now saying one is dead?

Deputy Spokesman:  One is dead.

Question:  And what nationality is he?

Deputy Spokesman:  We will first wait for the Government and family members to be informed before we share the nationality.

Question:  Also, it… this local publication, Salehene [phonetic], said there's an attack on MINUSMA in Timbuktu, as well?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes. That happened more recently.  We're getting some details on that right now, as we speak.  The initial reports suggest that armed men launched an attack against MINUSMA's headquarters in Timbuktu City this afternoon, so about the same time as this is happening now.  MINUSMA dispatched a quick reaction force as well as attack helicopters to the scene.  Sporadic gunfire is still ongoing, and we'll try to provide an update once we have more information.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  I'm following up on a couple of questions I had just sent Stéphane [Dujarric] last week in an email I think you were cc'd on.  Again, this concerns the status of the applicant who is at least being proposed by North Korea for this Junior Professional Officers (JPO) Programme.  I have two questions.  One, Stéphane has said and he confirmed this in an email that the country of origin of the national who takes this position pays the salary.  And I… I asked, where is that written down?  Because I sent a link that inferred the opposite but…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, I think you misread the sentence.  The sentence applied to other P2 staff, not to junior professionals.

Question:  But let me just…

Deputy Spokesman:  We checked.

Question: No, no, no… let me just respond to that…

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  Please let me finish so I can be clear on this, and then you can go back to your question.

Question:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  We checked with the Department of Management, and they made clear that people in the Junior Professionals Programme are paid for by the respective Member States.

Question:  Is that written down?  Is there… because… because it's nowhere that I could find… except for that one excerpt that you're saying is not directly on point, is that policy written down? So, number one… I'd like to… I'd like to have a more declarative statement with a source. Secondly…

Deputy Spokesman:  Joe, wait, wait.

Question:  Can I just finish the question?

Deputy Spokesman:  Can we resolve the first one before we go to the second one?  Joe, the sentence you emailed us, if you look at the first sentence, it actually says the JPOs are paid for by their Member State.  Subsequent sentences talk…

Question:  No, it does not.  I'm sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll look… Stéphane showed me the email…

Question:  Show me again… 

Deputy Spokesman:  …and I'll show it back to you.

Question:  It just says what the salary level is, and then it says in that context the member… that the UN pays that.  I… if… you can show me.  Maybe I didn't read the entire thing but…

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think you read it quite carefully, but I'll show it back to you.

Question:  Show me the context.  But, secondly… if it says that expressly, then I apologize.  Second… but related to that, what is the status of that application?  Because there's other issues related to whether… some concern has been raised by other Member States, like Japan, as to whether someone from North Korea who's served in their Government previously should be in the Department of… of Political Affairs, with access to information on sanctions and so forth.  So, I'd like to know if you can get back, if you don't know it now, what the status of that application is?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, we haven't received any confirmation that anyone's been hired from that country.

Question:  But what about application?

Deputy Spokesman:  We would know if someone gets hired from there.  No one has been so far.  Yeah, Ibtisam?

Question:  Farhan, any comment on news reports that Mr. Tony Blair was paid by the United Arab Emirates while he was the Quartet envoy?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, his status as the Quartet envoy did not make him a UN official.  We don't have any particular information on his work, on his arrangements as a Quartet envoy.  He was not paid for by the UN, certainly.

Question:  Yeah, but must… I mean, don't you see that there is a contradiction or there's a problem… problem on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… yeah.  I wouldn't be able to confirm what the arrangements are.  I believe the… his foundation has any details about what his terms of employment were.

Question:  Well, he did admit recently in the news report in an interview that part of the payment was going also to the Quartet, which he didn't admit at the beginning.  Now he's admitting this.

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, that would have been useful to have known at the time.  As you know, he's not the envoy for the Quartet and has no status with the UN.

Question:  Follow‑up on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  Olga's been waiting.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just the question is if Secretary‑General is aware and has any comment on the decision of the Parliament of Iran to allocate the more than $500 million on its — sorry — missile programme?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the media reports and are studying them.  By the way, Dulcie, regarding your questions, we are now… in addition to what we had before about the attack in Mopti, what can I say… what I can also add is that two of the gunmen were killed as UN peacekeepers fired back.  So, as I earlier read, they're unidentified, but two of them have been killed.  Yes?

Question:  I'm sorry to belabour this, but I'm going to read you the excerpt that I sent you, and you tell me how this can be interpreted as otherwise.  It says, "JPO salaries correspond with those of entry level UN professional staff P1 to P2.  The annual net base salary range for entry level professions P1 to P3 is approximately from 37,000 to US 80,000.  Salaries, grants and allowances paid by the United Nations are normally exempt from income tax." Where does it say that the JPO salary…?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there was a different passage as well that also mentioned that it was the Member States who pay this.  I'll look at the emails, because it was in an email exchange between you and Stéphane, and I'll send that back with you.

Correspondent:  I’d appreciate that.  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I just wanted to follow up on that.  I mean, I guess my question is, you were saying, like, it would have… by you saying it would have been useful to know that at the time, does the UN get conflict‑of‑interest disclosure forms from its envoys, including the Quartet envoy?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Quartet envoy, as you know, had a special status where he represented the US, the UN, the European Union, and the Russian Federation.  He was not under the purview of any one of those four groups, and so we didn't have the same level of information about those arrangements for him as we would for envoys who are under the employment of the Secretary‑General.

Question:  But what level did you have?  Was there any form filed with the UN about his outside finances?

Deputy Spokesman:  He did not file financial disclosure forms.  Yes?

Question:  Are you aware of any payment to Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed from Saudi Arabia in money or in kind?  Were there services or hotels or anything from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any such thing.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Going back to the same subject, you said you were not aware or you were… you didn't have the… did you ask or… to look into these… if there's a conflict of interest… interest?

Deputy Spokesman:  We trust that all envoys abide by the norms and the rules of the United Nations.  Tony Blair's status was not as a UN envoy.  He had different status where he was, in effect, partly representing the UN but also partly representing the three other parties of the Quartet.  None of us had direct control over his arrangements.

Question:  Did you ask for control or to see… I mean, I'm aware that he was also the envoy of other and… others and but did you ask to look for… to see if there's a conflict of interest?  Because it should be also in your interest that…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes. I'm aware of the points you're saying, but you're aware as well that, throughout his time, he was not employed by the UN, and there was a limit to our authority over him as a result.  Yes?

Question:  Sure. I guess it's related to these two.  Bernardino León, when he was the envoy on Libya, he was a full‑time UN employee.  And I guess my question is — and it relates to what Nizar asked — what's the UN's final kind of conclusion on whether it was appropriate for him to negotiate a job with the UAE Diplomatic Academy while he was the UN's envoy on Libya?  And if anything's learned from that, would it be appropriate for a current envoy, for example, the one on Yemen… are there any limits on… on… on seeking outside employment, particularly either in countries or funded by countries that are party to the conflict that he's mediating?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are limits, and certainly we want our envoys to avoid conflicts in terms of dealings with the parties with whom they are negotiating.  Regarding Mr. León, we made our concerns known at the time.  I don't have anything to add to what we said then.

Question:  Can I ask about India?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  I want to ask… India had announced that it intends to… to deport Rohingyas from Myanmar regardless of whether they're registered as UN refugees or not.  It's a pretty high‑profile announcement, and I'm wondering, given António Guterres's interest in this issue, what's his statement on it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, we have our concerns about the treatment of refugees.  Once refugees are registered, they are not to be returned back to countries where they fear persecution.  You're aware of our principles of non‑refoulement, and that's what applies in this case.

Question:  And who will convey that to India given that they've said at the level of a minister that this is exactly what they intend to do?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe the first point of contact will be through UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.