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

22 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Syria

On Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are deeply disturbed by unconfirmed reports of a high number of civilians killed by airstrikes in Raqqa city over the last 24 hours.

Yesterday, unconfirmed reports indicated that over 30 people were reportedly killed in the Al-Sakhani neighbourhood, while eight internally displaced people from the same family were killed in a separate attack in another part of the city.

These attacks, if confirmed, are a shocking reminder that civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in many parts of Syria.

In recent days and weeks, scores of civilians have reportedly been killed and injured in Raqqa city due to airstrikes and shelling, and up to 25,000 people remain trapped in the city.

The UN condemns any attack that is directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

We urge all parties fighting in Raqqa and across Syria to take every possible measure to spare and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure as in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq, we are told that civilians continue to flee Iraq’s Telafar as military operations [continue] to retake the town, where up to 30,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting.

Humanitarian assistance is being provided at assembly points to the south and east of Telafar town, with more than 300 people having passed through these points yesterday and receiving assistance.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has received some 1,500 families at a transit centre south east of Mosul and is finalizing preparations to host up to 6,000 people at another camp.

UNHCR is also managing a camp in Nimrud which will be able to receive up to 22,000 people fleeing from Telafar.

The Agency said it fears that Iraqi civilians are likely to be used as human shields again and that attempts to flee could result in executions and shootings.  It calls on all parties to the conflict to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and to allow access to safety.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners are working with Iraqi health authorities to set up mobile medical clinics to provide lifesaving emergency and primary health-care services to those fleeing Telafar.

Also on Iraq, the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) today jointly urged the Iraqi Government to ensure that the thousands of women and girls who survived rape and other forms of sexual violence by Da’esh fighters receive care, protection and justice.

They also stressed that children born as a result of such violence do not face a life of discrimination and abuse.

The new joint report said that the Iraqi Government is obliged, under domestic law and international human rights law, to ensure that all victims have access to justice and reparation.

**Middle East

Back here, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East today.

He noted that the recent crisis in Jerusalem has once again highlighted the unsustainability of the current situation, as well as the need for a political horizon and a clear re-commitment by the international community and both parties to ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution.

Mr. Jenča also said that, in a few days' time, we will mark the third anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the latest round of hostilities between Hamas and Israel in Gaza in 2014.

He added that, since then, the overall humanitarian conditions in Gaza have worsened, with the punishing measures taken against Gaza by the Palestinian Authority since April that only add to the crippling humanitarian effect on the population because of Israel's closures.

Mr. Jenča called on Palestinian leaders to address the destructive consequences of these divisions.

His full statement is in our office.

**Nigeria

UNICEF said today it is extremely concerned about an appalling increase in the use of children, especially girls, as so-called “human bombs” in north-east Nigeria.  Since the beginning of 2017, 83 children have been used as human bombs, including 55 girls, most of them under 15 years old.  This is already four times more than for all of last year.

The Agency said that children used as human bombs were above all victims, and of course not perpetrators.

Boko Haram has sometimes, but not always, claimed responsibility for those attacks.  According to UNICEF, the use of children in such attacks has a further impact of creating suspicion and fear of children released, rescued, or escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram.

**Ethiopia

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us the situation in Ethiopia remains concerning, especially in the Somali region, where successive failed rains have exacerbated the already-critical food security situation.  Extraordinary measures are required to address the ongoing crisis. 

So far, the fifth round of food distributions has reached 330,000 of the targeted 3.3 million people in the Somali region.  The ongoing distributions are expected to be completed by mid-September.

More information online — and sorry, just to flag that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has just released $10 million to support these efforts but fundraising efforts continue for the remaining $6 million that are needed for the programme.

**Uzbekistan

The Human Rights Office today welcomed the news that former UN employee Erkin Musaev has been released by the Uzbek authorities, 11 years after he was arrested at Tashkent airport while travelling to a regional seminar.

Mr. Musaev, who was the country manager of a joint UNDP-European Union programme, was tried on three separate charges in 2006 and 2007 and received sentences of 15, 6 and 4 years respectively.

The current High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, raised Mr. Musaev’s case in a meeting with the President of Uzbekistan when he made the first-ever visit to Uzbekistan by a High Commissioner for Human Rights in May of this year.

**Slavery

I want to flag that tomorrow is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

The Day seeks to reflect on history in order to shed light on the fight against all forms of oppression and racism today.

In her message for the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said that ignorance is our enemy.  Everyone must know the scale of the crime of the slave trade, the millions of lives that were broken and the impact on the fate of continents up to this very day.  Everyone must be fully informed of the struggle that led to its abolition, so that together we can build societies that are fairer, and thus freer.

The Day is observed on the anniversary of the 1791 insurrection of enslaved men and women in the western part of what is the island of Santo Domingo, which led to the creation and independence of what is now Haiti.

And on that note, I will stop and take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Klein.

Question:  Yes. Does the Secretary‑General or would the Secretary‑General have any comment on President Trump's speech last night in which he outlined a somewhat more aggressive strategy, both militarily and also diplomatically, in Afghanistan and, and Pakistan?

And will there be any consideration of lending the good, providing the good offices of the Secretary‑General or any delegate to participate or help facilitate on the diplomatic side with Pakistan in terms of ending sanctuaries for terrorists?

Spokesman:  On, on the President's speech, I think, for, for the Secretary‑General, I think our, what we want to stress is our hope that the international community will help come together and help Afghanistan find a political solution that will bring peace to the country.  And that's also obviously through the support and efforts of the UN, of the UN Mission there.

On, on the second part of your question, I mean, as a matter of principle, Secretary‑General's good offices are always available to any two parties who, who ask.  But that's, that's just a, that's a statement of, of principle.  Our focus is on finding a political solution to the current crisis in Afghanistan and help the Afghan, the Afghan people who have suffered so much for decades.

Whitney.

Question:  Stéph, Iran said today that it can resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the US pulls out of the nuclear deal.  How concerned is the Secretary‑General that this deal could fall apart?

Spokesman:  For the Secretary‑General, the so‑called Iran nuclear deal is one of the most important diplomatic achievements in our search for, for peace and stability.  And I think it's, everyone involved needs to do its utmost to protect and support that agreement.

Matthew.

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you about, in South Sudan, it's said that the Government is not letting UN planes use the, the Juba airport due to a disagreement about the UN's role in running the airport.  Is that the case, and… and is it in any way hindering the deployment of the new forces, the…

Spokesman:  My, my understanding is that that issue has been, has been resolved, the issue of the, the issue of the airport.  The mission's flights resumed yesterday after having been temporarily grounded due to the non‑issuance of security clearances.

Question:  And so it's, it's resolved, meaning that the UN has no role in running the airport.

Spokesman:  Well, it's resolved in the sense that the UN, the UN is receiving the, the flight clearances.  We, obviously, apply for flight clearances to the South Sudanese authorities as we would do, it's, we don't control the airspace.  It's a sovereign State.  We, like anyone else, need to get flight clearances.  So whatever issue that existed has now been resolved.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you on… yesterday, I'd asked you about this crackdown in Togo, and I wanted to know whether… you said, you know, you were looking for something or the UN was monitoring.

Spokesman:  No, I…

Question:  How many people do you think were killed in it?

And are there any… there've been… some people have called for people to flee to Ghana and other nearby questions.

Spokesman:  I don't, I wish I had something for you, but I don't have anything on Togo for you today.

Yes, sir.

Question:  The report's out that the Human Rights Council is planning on publishing a blacklist of companies doing business in Israeli settlements.  I just wondered if the Secretary‑General thinks it's, if he agrees with that, if he thinks it's productive to publish blacklists of companies.

Spokesman:  My understanding of that issue, the list is still being, is under, is still being reviewed.  It's an issue for, for Member States to deal with at this point.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about Libya.  There've been… it's been some days now that the former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is said to be held hostage, taken hostage.  Since it's a, he's a person that the UN was dealing with, I wanted to know if the UN, if the Mission, Mr. Salamé or others, are aware of it and what's being done about it.

Spokesman:  I'll check with the Mission.  Okay.

Question:  I have another…

Spokesman:  Sure, one more.

Question:  Well… all right. I was going to ask you about killer robots, but I want to ask you about this instead.  There's a, there's an event this week in the General Assembly, and it's… some of the sponsors are those who attended the Macau event sponsored and paid for by Ng Lap Seng in August 2015 just before he was indicted and arrested.  So, I wanted to know — maybe you can find this out today — it's said that it's going to be webcast.

Spokesman:  What's the event?  I don't, what's the event?

Question:  The event has to do with sustainable tourism.  It's funded by… it's sponsored by a… by a… yes, Chinese NGO and two Member States, both of whom went to Macau.  So, I just… my question to you is, you've said the things have…

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  …radically cleaned up…

Spokesman:  As I said, I would…

Question:  What's the UN's role in the event…

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  What's the UN's role in the event?  Who's paying for the… okay.

Spokesman:  I need… drop me off a piece of paper with information about the event and I will…

Correspondent:  I'm going to give you the email as well, the one about… 

Spokesman:  Perfect.

Question:  …Yiping Zhu and the one that you said you hadn't seen.

Spokesman:  Okay, thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.