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

23 October 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.

**Central African Republic

As the Secretary‑General told you last week, he will be leaving for the Central African Republic this afternoon.  He will arrive in Bangui tomorrow, on United Nations Day.  During his visit, he will meet with Government officials, civil society, political parties, and the diplomatic corps.  He will also address the National Assembly.  He will leave Bangui on Friday, 27 October.

**Myanmar‑Bangladesh

As you know, there was a high‑level pledging conference in Geneva today to mobilize resources for the Rohingya refugee crisis response plan, which requires $434 million.  The conference was co‑chaired by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  It was co‑hosted by the European Union and Kuwait.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said in remarks that we are facing a massive refugee crisis demanding a comprehensive response.

He also stressed that this is not an isolated crisis, but rather it is the latest round in a decades‑long cycle of persecution, violence and displacement, with serious violations continuing in Rakhine.  He said that aid workers continue to face severe access restrictions, crippling their ability to assess needs and to provide assistance.  At the end of the conference, Mr. Lowcock said he was very encouraged by the roughly $340 million in pledges made.  The number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh has reached 603,000, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar to well over 800,000.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Maman Sidikou, urges the Congolese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release members of two opposition parties arrested yesterday in Lubumbashi.  The UN Mission is deeply concerned by ongoing acts of intimidation against opposition members.  Two incidents involving the use of firearms have also recently been reported in Kinshasa.  The Mission further deplores the restrictions on freedom of movement which have been imposed on Kyungu wa Kumwanza, the national president of the opposition political party Union nationale des fédéralistes du Congo, who has been under de facto house arrest for several months.  You can find the press release issued by the Mission on its website.

**Kenya

We put out a statement yesterday from the Secretary‑General and from the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, concerning the forthcoming presidential election in Kenya.  In that statement, the Secretary‑General and the AU [African Union] Commission Chairperson called on all stakeholders to cooperate with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, as the constitutionally‑mandated body to conduct the election.  And they urged all political parties and their supporters to create conditions for a peaceful election and refrain from any act of violence and stressed the need for the Kenyan security services to exercise restraint, use minimal force in performing their duties and respect the freedom and political liberties of all Kenyans.  The full statement is online.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency have warned that with no imminent resolution to the crisis in South Sudan, and based on the current arrival trends, around half a million South Sudanese could become refugees in the coming year in neighbouring countries.  More than 2 million people have already fled the country, and an additional two million are internally displaced.  The majority of displaced people are women and children.  Despite the scale of the crisis, the South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan remains severely underfunded.  Requesting $1.4 billion to support over 2 million refugees in 2017, the appeal is only 25 per cent funded.

**Yemen

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will begin a five‑day visit to Yemen tomorrow to see first‑hand the traumatic impact the conflict has had on the country’s people and to seek ways to strengthen the collective response to their urgent humanitarian needs.  He will meet key officials in Aden and Sana’a to discuss how to strengthen the aid operation and expand the humanitarian space to save and protect civilian lives.  Mr. Lowcock will also meet Yemenis in Sana’a, Aden and Hudaydah to hear how their lives have been disrupted by the devastating conflict.  Yemen faces a triple tragedy combining the threat of famine, the world’s worst cholera outbreak and a brutal manmade conflict.  An estimated 17 million Yemenis, who make up 60 per cent of the country’s population, are food insecure.  The total of suspected cholera cases has exceeded 860,000, with over 2,100 associated deaths.

**Iraq

According to the UN migration agency, some 136,000 people remain displaced in northern Iraq following recent military operations.  Aid workers continue to help those in need, visiting camps and villages to provide health care and distributing emergency supplies — including water, blankets, hygiene items and household kits — to the displaced people.  In a statement over the weekend, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said that the situation remains volatile, and many people are returning to their homes only to flee for a second or third time when hostilities erupt again.  She said that she remains extremely concerned by reports of violence, looting and destruction, stressing that everything has to be done by authorities on all sides to ensure the safety of families caught up in recent events.

We are very concerned about the increase in the number of displaced persons.  We appeal to the Federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take coordinated steps to prevent and avoid further clashes, escalation and breakdown of law and order.  We call on the parties to jointly manage the situation and resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution of Iraq.  Also on Iraq, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping to protect livestock owned by hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq’s Mosul area, which was recently retaken from Da’esh.  The new campaign includes vaccinating 1 million sheep, goats, cattle and buffalo, as well as providing feed for animals.  More information on the new campaign on FAO’s website.

**Child Marriage

Our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] say today that at current rates of reduction, it will take over 100 years to end child marriage in West and Central Africa.  The new projections, released during a high‑level meeting on ending child marriage in Dakar this week, aim to bring the spotlight on the region of the world where girls face the highest risk of marrying in childhood.  While the prevalence of child marriage in West and Central Africa has declined over the past two decades, progress has been uneven, and still 4 in 10 women are married before the age of 18 and, of these, 1 in 3 before the age of 15.  West and Central Africa includes 6 of the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world: those are Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.  More information is available on UNICEF’s website.

**Press Briefings

After this briefing, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  At 2 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  And tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a press briefing by Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.  And that's it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes.  Luke?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks.  The NGO [non-governmental organization] Save the Children has ended its search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean for refugees.  They are complaining about interference from the Italian authorities and other safety concerns, while the Italians say the NGOs are a magnet for smugglers.  Where does the UN land on… on that?

Spokesman:  Well, we've been asking all the parties, including those with boats in the waters in the Mediterranean, to do what they can to make sure that refugees are treated safely and that their dignity is respected.  Regarding the question of smuggling, you'll have seen what we have said.  We have tried to make sure that all nations take efforts against human traffickers and other sorts of smugglers.  At the same time, we want to make sure that the societies from which the refugees are coming can themselves be improved so that there are fewer push factors compelling people to place their lives in jeopardy.  But, if they are out on the sea in the Mediterranean, we want their safety and their security to be taken care of, first and foremost.

Question:  So, is the reduction of… of rescue boats from NGOs a negative development if it removes a safety net?

Spokesman:  We believe that all parties have a role to play in protecting and defending the lives of those who are at sea.  And we want governments and NGOs to work together in that regard.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, a question… a couple of questions on the AU‑UN statement regarding Kenya's election.  You talk about… the statement talks about the UN and the AU's commitment to assist Kenya in ensuring a credible and transparent process.  What… what… what is the UN doing? What has the UN committed to the process to date?

Spokesman:  We have been trying to work with the authorities, including, as you can see in our… in the call that we made over the weekend, to try to make sure that the various political parties, the security forces, and all involved in the elections do their utmost to make sure that a free and fair election can be held and that it can be held peacefully.

Question:  The statement also appears to be giving a sort of a tacit endorsement to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that is very much at the heart of whether this election is going to be credible or not, given statements made by the commissioner that has fled to New York, the three weeks' leave that the CEO has taken.  Are you tacitly saying that the IEBC is a credible institution in its current form and is fit to run this election?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, just to repeat, what we want is for everyone to cooperate with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.  Remember, as we said in the statement, that this is the constitutionally mandated body to conduct the election, and it's in that context that we want its work to be supported.

Question:  Same topic?  Sure.  I wanted to ask you.  This, again, goes back to Ms. [Roselyn] Akombe, because, since Friday, there's been an article in the Nation in Kenya in which Raila Odinga is… is quoted as saying he was in, quote, constant contact with… with Ms. Akombe, you know, speaks about death threats.  But, in any case, it really calls into question the… the… the… it would seem important since she is… at least was and presumably still has a post at the UN, to have some kind of disclosure of what… how this took place.  I asked on Friday whether the Kenyan ambassador, Mr. [Macharia] Kamau, demarched António Guterres for the entire situation around Ms. Akombe.  He said he wasn't aware of a meeting.  So now, three days later, can you confirm that?  Because people upstairs, that's what they say.

Spokesman:  I have no meeting to confirm, as I pointed out the last time you asked this.  Regarding Ms. Akombe, she is on leave and will continue to be on leave through to the end of this year.

Question:  My question is this.  Okay.  That's helpful.  But my… there's a staff rule that says that staff shouldn't engage in politics.  And I understand that it's said that she got a waiver in order to go initially to work at the [IEBC], but is that… is that a carte blanche? Is it something that needs to be sort of updated? Because you could… in… in… in principle, working for IEBC could not be a violation, but once it became as political as it did, was there any second review by the Ethics Office of whether this was putting the UN in an… in an unfortunate and… and… position in Kenya?

Spokesman:  I'm aware that the staff member in question did work with the Ethics Office and keep them informed as she was taking her special leave.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Has the United Nations been invited to observe the meeting of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party in China? And who represents the UN?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we have an invitation, but I'll check.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  You told us on Friday that Secretary‑General would meet today, on Monday, with Special Envoy [Staffan] de Mistura.  Do you have any update?  Did they meet?

Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, they haven't met so far.  I believe he's going to try to get this meeting done before he travels.  Mr. de Mistura will also be here this week to brief the Security Council on Thursday.  Yes?

Question:  Four‑hundred people get killed in Kurd… from Kurd in Kirkuk by the Iraqi soldiers.  So the UN get involved with that and what's going on over there?

Spokesman:  Well, as you may have heard, I just pointed out our concerns and our call on the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to take coordinated steps to prevent and avoid further clashes, escalation and breakdown of law and order.  Yes.  Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah, from the readout of António Guterres' meeting with Donald Trump on Friday, it referred to discussions on the Rohingya as well as UN reform.  I mean, the… you know, there were virtually no details.  Is this meeting on the record? And is there going to be a change in policy on the Rohingya after… based on these discussions? Thanks.

Spokesman:  The topic of Myanmar was one of the topics mentioned in the readout.  That's all I really have to say about their discussions.  It was… as you can see, there was also a camera spray of the event when the Secretary‑General was in the White House.  And you can see from that that it was a friendly and productive atmosphere.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, there's reports that… that several opposition people from Burundi from the… the Popular Forces of Burundi, or FPB, were extradited or abducted from Tanzania back into Burundi.  And given both Tanzania's role as… role, in some sense, in… in the mediation and the UN's role in this… on fulfilled mediation, does the UN know about this abduction or extradition? Can it confirm it? And if it doesn't, is it trying to confirm it? And how might it impact the process in Burundi?

Spokesman:  Well, we would need further details, but we are asking and will try to get further information on this.  [He later added that if the events are confirmed, we call on the concerned authorities to ensure that due process is followed and the rights of those individuals are respected.  We also stress the need for transparency in this matter.]  Yes?

Question:  Is there any update from Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman on… on Myanmar? Any possibility of them ever returning home, or is the UN going to feed them in these dreadful camps forever?

Spokesman:  Well, you saw the press release we put out following the conclusion of his visit.  He has also, I believe, informed the different members of the Security Council concerning aspects of his visit.  So he's been sharing his experiences.  Regarding where we stand, you're aware of what our concerns are, and we're continuing to work with the authorities to make sure that the various points that the Secretary‑General has been outlining can be upheld.  Yes?

Question:  Who's doing that?

Spokesman:  Well, we're doing that at all levels.  You've seen that the Secretary‑General has taken up the issue, and Mr. Feltman, most recently, visited the country, met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the Tatmadaw.  And, like I said, on Friday, he briefed some of members of the Security Council about that visit.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry.  I'm going to ask about Cameroon, but I just wanted to know, when you say some of the members, is it… did he brief all 15 members, or, if not, how was it decided which members?

Spokesman:  I believe it was all 15, but it was an informal briefing.  It wasn't a briefing inside the Security Council.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks.  I wanted to ask, on Cameroon, there had been, as I'd asked, I believe, on Friday, a protest for the treatment of… not the treatment, the crisis in the north‑west and south‑west regions planned for Douala.  It was… it was outlawed.  It still, to some degree, went forward.  People were arrested.  Teargas was deployed.  Meanwhile, I had noticed that the head of the country team, the Resident Coordinator, Allegra Baiocchi, has a photograph marching in Yaoundé for UN Day.   So, I wanted to know, first of all, what does the UN think of the banning of an opposition protest about a situation that's killed hundreds of people? And what's its… what is the country team doing? Why is it praising this UN Day march in the capital without a single — at least public that I can find — comment about the banning of an opposition march in the commercial capital of the country?

Spokesman:  Well, regarding the treatment of the protest, we want to make sure that everyone's right to freedom of expression and to freedom of peaceful assembly is respected, and that needs to happen in Cameroon as elsewhere.  Regarding UN Day, I mean, it's… there's nothing particularly wrong or bizarre about different country teams celebrating UN Day.  That's standard across the UN system.

Question:  And did the Secretary‑General have any view or involvement in the… the on‑again and now off‑again appointment of Robert Mugabe as the goodwill ambassador of the World Health Organization (WHO)?  Did he think that was an appropriate move? And did he ever… did he call Tedros [Ghebreyesus]… you know, the director of WHO? What does he think of it?

Spokesman:  Regarding that, no, the Secretary‑General had no role in this, but you'll have seen Dr. Tedros' remarks rescinding the appointment.  And anything further should be directed to the World Health Organization.

Question:  I have one more and I'll just… if I… I'm going to try to do this as… have this work.  I just want to get an answer from you.  If it's… and I'm asking for a reason.  If it's permissible to use… to broadcast, including via live broadcast, Periscope at photo ops on the 38th Floor, how does one prevent capturing the audio of UN officials who may speak during the photo op? And I ask because I received a threat to my accreditation for just that.  And so I need know what the rule is.  I went to MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit].  They weren't there.  Mr. [Maher Nasser] blocks me on Twitter.  So, now I want to know, how is it possible to threaten the accreditation of a media for… like I'm broadcasting here.  If somebody said something behind me, is it a violation that requires review of accreditation? How does it work?

Spokesman:  Matthew, your issues with media accreditation need to be resolved with them, not with us.  Brenden, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.