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

27 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

This morning, the Secretary‑General addressed the National Assembly of the Central African Republic.  He told the lawmakers that he wanted to pay his respects to the resilience and courage of the people of the Central African Republic as they surmount the many challenges facing their country. 

He strongly defended the role of the UN peacekeeping force, recalling the ultimate sacrifice of peacekeepers as they defended the civilian population.  He said that while peacekeepers cannot be everywhere and cannot alone bring peace back to the Central African Republic, their actions can assist in creating a space to build peace through dialogue.  He also underscored the impartiality of the peacekeepers who, he stressed, do not favour any ethnic or religious group.

The Secretary‑General told members of the National Assembly that no one is better placed than the Central Africans themselves to rebuild their country.  But he also once again called on the international community not to forget the Central African Republic and its people.  He noted the historical generosity of the Central Africans who, over the years, had opened their borders to refugees from neighbouring countries.  The Secretary‑General pledged that the United Nations would continue to accompany and support the people of the Central African Republic.

He then travelled to the PK5 area, a traditionally Muslim part of Bangui that has been the site of violence against the community.  He listened to the concerns of community leaders, including issues regarding safety and discrimination, as well as the lack of economic opportunities for young people.  He also heard from local Christian leaders who spoke of reconciliation. 

The Secretary‑General thanked all the participants for their messages of inclusivity.  He underscored his deep belief that so‑called religious conflicts are often the result of political manipulation and not religious differences.  He noted that for years, Christians and Muslims had coexisted peacefully in the Central African Republic. 

The Secretary‑General then held a roundtable with youth leaders.  He heard their plea for peace and a greater UN presence.  The Secretary‑General encouraged them to get more involved in the life of their country.  He also pledged that the UN Mission would be more open to discussion with youth groups. 

The Secretary‑General then held a separate session with a group of women leaders.  They shared their view of the situation in the country and expressed their frustration at the lack of women’s participation in the political reconciliation process.  The Secretary‑General listened intently to the views around the table and agreed that no credible peace process could ever succeed without active and equal participation of women’s groups.  He also pledged the UN would help them increase their participation in mediation efforts.

On his way to Paris, during a stopover in Yaoundé, the Secretary‑General is expected to meet with President Paul Biya of Cameroon.  The Secretary‑General plans to discuss a number of regional and national issues. 

**Senegal

The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, is in Dakar for the Steering Committee meeting of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel.  Later today, she will have a bilateral meeting with President Macky Sall of Senegal on political and development issues of the country and sub‑region.

Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary‑General will meet with the United Nations Country Team in Senegal to discuss the ongoing review of the United Nations Development System.  She will also receive a briefing on the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend initiative at the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) West and Central Africa Regional Office.  She will be back in New York over the weekend.

**Security Council

Today the Security Council is holding a meeting on Women, Peace and Security.  They heard earlier today from the Chef de Cabinet, speaking on behalf of the Secretary‑General, as well as from the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo‑Ngcuka.

**Syria

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the situation of at least 350,000 besieged civilians in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, an outrage.  He called on the parties to the Syrian conflict to allow badly needed food and medical supplies to get into the area. 

We issued a statement yesterday on the transmittal to the Security Council of advance copies of the seventh report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the Joint Investigative Mechanism concerning Syria, which the Council is to consider on 7 November.

The Secretary‑General reiterates his full confidence in the professionalism, impartiality and objectivity of the Mechanism and thanks the Leadership Panel and staff of the Mechanism for their hard work and dedication.  The full statement is online.

**Ghana/Togo

Our colleagues from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today that they are working with the authorities in Ghana to support over 500 recently arrived Togolese asylum‑seekers, fleeing the recent political unrest in their country.  The majority of them are being hosted by local families and some are in community centres.  A joint UNHCR/Ghana Refugee Board mission is currently on its way to remote areas to assess the situation.

Together with partners, UNHCR continues to monitor the situation and is working on a response plan in case of an increase of arrivals, including the prepositioning of relief items.  More information on UNHCR’s website.

**Ethiopia

The UN refugee agency welcomed today the launch of civil registration for refugees in Ethiopia.  Starting today, all refugees in the country will be able to register their vital life events, including birth, death, marriage and divorce, directly with national authorities.  This is an historic first and a ground‑breaking development for refugee protection in Ethiopia.  The country currently hosts more than 883,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

**Somalia

In Somalia, the UN migration agency (IOM) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are partnering with the Government to provide greater access to clean water for over 45,000 internally displaced people and host communities in the south‑western state of Baidoa affected by drought.  More information is available on the IOM’s website. 

**Iraq

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that civilians are continue to flee their homes due to clashes in Iraq’s Erbil, Ninewa and Dohuk governorates.  According to the UN migration agency, more than 175,000 people are currently displaced.  Hundreds of people who had only recently returned to their homes have been uprooted again by fighting.  Aid workers are watching the situation closely, including the possibility of further displacements due to clashes in other areas.  Humanitarians are also providing assistance where they have access, providing health care and distributing food, water, blankets and other items.

**Bangladesh/Myanmar

The UN refugee agency said today that it has relocated some 1,700 Rohingya refugees who recently arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar to a new camp in an effort to ease crowding in an existing site in Kutupalong.  Most of the refugees in this group were those who were stranded at the border for several days last week.  A total of 5,000 Rohingya refugees will be moved to the new site, called the Kutupalong Extension, which is part of a larger 3,000‑acre site designated by the Government of Bangladesh to host new arrivals.

The UN migration agency, or IOM, has been meeting with male and female community leaders in the original Kutupalong settlement on how best to address residents’ needs.  There is more on their website.

**Dominica

Our colleagues at the UN Development Programme tell us that around 60 Dominicans — most of them women — are beginning to assess building damages on the island.

This comprehensive building damage assessment is part of the Government of Dominica’s recovery strategy after category 5 Hurricane Maria decimated the Caribbean island nation. 

Under the leadership of experts in the field, women and men from different government agencies are putting in practice new skills acquired during a UNDP‑backed training with the civil society organization Engineers without Borders, using a tailored app and tablet provided by Microsoft. 

Some 30 teams of inspectors are expected to assess damages of up to 800 buildings per day for the next six to eight weeks. 

This will enable crucial information such as the level of damage, the types of material required, the volume of debris that will need to be managed, as well as the number of affected people by age, gender and other key information. 

**Measles

In 2016, an estimated 90,000 people died from measles — an 84 per cent drop compared to 550,000 deaths in 2000 — according to a new report published yesterday by leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund].  This marks the first time global measles deaths have fallen below 100,000 per year.

However, the world is still far from reaching regional measles elimination goals.  Far too many children — 20.8 million — are still missing their first measles vaccine dose.  More than half of these unvaccinated children live in six countries: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  More details online.

**Audiovisual Heritage

Today is the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.  This year’s theme is “Discover, remember and share,” and it seeks to highlight the importance of preserving audiovisual documents such as films, radio and television programmes that contain the primary records of the history of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.  More information is available on UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] website. 

**Press Conferences Today

After I am done, we will hear from Brenden Varma, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

And at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

And at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by Vitit Muntarbhorn, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

**Questions and Answers

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s it for me.  Yes, please?

Question:  On Catalonia in Spain, any reaction from the UN on what just happened today? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're trying to follow up on developments.  For now, the Secretary‑General encourages all concerned to seek solutions within the framework of the Spanish Constitution and through established political and legal channels.  Yes? 

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about, as I have the last three days in a row, about the Secretary‑General's stopover in Yaoundé.  I saw he was quoted by AFP [Agence France‑Presse].  Quote, we're going to be able to… we are going to be able to assess the recent evolution of the situation in the Anglophone community.  So some people are wondering how a four‑hour stopover in an airport and speaking with Paul Biya, who's actually the one accused of the killings and turning off the internet in the Anglophone areas, is going to make the Secretary‑General able to assess the evolution.  Is he going to speak to anyone else on the other side of it?  And also, why was it so… why was it so difficult to confirm this trip, and why did he do it in the way that he did? 

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is the one who confirms when he will go to certain places.  He did announce it yesterday, and after which, we made it very clear that that's where he was going.  Up until then, it wasn't officially confirmed.  He will go there, and we'll try to get some details from his meeting.  But, of course, this is not the only way that we've been assessing the situation.  There have been efforts by other officials, including his envoy, François Lonseny Fall, to deal with the situation, and we'll continue with those efforts. 

Question:  So it was said right after 1 October and all the killings that Mr. Fall was going to go.  Now it's 27 October.  Has Mr. Fall gone? 

Deputy Spokesman:  He will, I believe, be accompanying the Secretary‑General on this visit. 

Question:  And I wanted to ask about the CAR [Central African Republic] during the trip.  I'm sure you've seen the exposé of Muslims in Bangassou having to pay bribes to UN contractors to get safety that the UN peacekeepers were unable or unwilling to provide.  What's being done, and how was it that the UN was unaware that its own contractors were taking bribes to provide protection that the UN should have been doing?  What does the Secretary‑General, who was just there, think about this? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Mission itself issued a press release on 15 September about this issue.  They're aware of reports of this malpractice and are investigating.  In the press release, they made clear that the Mission, MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic], had issued warning letters to four transport companies, which required them to take concrete measures against non‑authorized transport of civilians and convoys escorted by peacekeepers.  For instance, MINUSCA is asking that contractors get their drivers to sign a code of conduct.  Meanwhile, MINUSCA itself regularly organizes convoys transporting civilians so as to be able to fulfill its protection of civilians mandate, but that's a separate issue from, of course, this problem with the truck drivers, which, like I said, the mission is investigating.

Question:  Did the Secretary‑General address this problem in any way during his four days in the country, because I didn't see it in UN News Centre or video that was produced.  Is he aware of it?  What does he think of it? 

Deputy Spokesman:  He's certainly aware of it, and he's aware of the efforts that the Mission is making to deal with this situation.  Yes?  Mario. 

Question:  Just a follow up on Catalonia.  Is there a concern in the UN about the consequences that what happened today in the Catalonian Parliament?  And is the Secretary in contact with any of the parties of the Spanish Government, or does he consider this just to be a purely internal affair? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General is following the developments in Spain closely.  At the same time, any discussions about the level and nature of allocations of power within Spain remain an internal matter of the state.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any further reaction to the U.S. Vice President's announcement that he'll be shifting funding from UN relief efforts to Christian aid groups? 

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  You'll have seen what we said yesterday about this.  We continue to make sure that our aid efforts on the ground, including in Iraq, which was part of this discussion, are on the basis of need.  And we try to serve all communities based on need.  And that does include, by the way, if you look at the sort of practices we've had, we have been providing aid to the minority religious communities in Iraq, including the Christians and Yazidis.  You'll have seen over the last years the announcements we've made about the efforts we make to make sure that those groups are supported.  But, again, we do it on the basis of those who are most in need.  Yes? 

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask… I've been asking you, I guess for three days as well, about Renner Onana. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, yes.  And it's a good thing that you're asking about that because I have something for you.  What I can say is that the individual is currently head of a regional office in the UN Mission, MINUSCA.  All matters relating to the individual accountability of those concerned were reviewed and addressed according to internal processes by the Office of Human Resources Management and Department of Field Support and the appropriate application of rules and policies.  Appropriate decisions were taken, the specifics of which remain confidential per standard practice in order to respect due process for all. 

Question:  Can you understand why people… the removal of Mr. [Andres] Kompass who actually made public the sexual abuse of children in CAR and the apparent promotion of an individual that withheld the information, at least according to the UN's own report on the matter, would seem contradictory?

Deputy Spokesman:  To correct the record of what you're saying, Mr. Kompass was reinstated, and there was, as you know, an inquiry that dealt specifically with his case, which we respected. 

Question:  And he came back and said he was totally disgusted with the system, given what it had done.  I think the disparate treatment between Mr. Kompass and Mr… I wanted to know, did Mr. Renner work for Fabrizio Hochschild?  I've been waiting four days for your answer.  I was doing…  It seems that he was promoted to become MINUSCA's Director of Political Affairs during the same time period that Mr. Hochschild was the DSRSG [Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in MINUSCA.  So I wanted to know, this now is obviously… this is why I'm wondering.  I was asking what was the connection?  Did the Secretary‑General interact with him?  Does he believe, given what he said about zero tolerance and transparency recently as to Mr. [David] Kaye's report, that… that… that the questions raised by just comparing the UN's report on sexual abuse and the promotion of this individual and his apparently close connection to a main advisor of the Secretary‑General would give rise to concern? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, like I said, there were measures taken in place.  I… as I just mentioned, in respect with due process, the steps remain confidential.  As for who Mr. Onana works for, he works for the mission, MINUSCA, and that's his job. 

Question:  The notice that you put out of the Secretary‑General's schedule said he'll be back in New York Monday.  I was wondering, as happens with leaders of organizations around the world, where will he be between Friday and Monday? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We will provide information as that comes along.  Like I said, we were able to confirm the stop in Cameroon.  If there's anything else, we will confirm it at that point. 

Question:  Will it be Lisbon, Portugal? 

Deputy Spokesman:  It may be.  But at this point, we're just trying to work out his itinerary.  When we're done with that, we can say. 

Question:  If he goes to Lisbon, Portugal, does he take UN security with him?  In which case, where do they stay, and what are the costs?  How are they borne? 

Deputy Spokesman:  However he does his stopovers, he does it at the least cost to the UN.  And a lot of times, what that means is traveling with a smaller delegation, and it also means traveling on commercial flights.  He does take specific steps, and he's been very conscientious over these months of making sure that he travels with as slim a delegation as he has. 

Question:  My question is just who's paying for his security if he goes to Lisbon?  And also I'm aware that he sent some people in advance to CAR.  They didn't travel with him, but they were actually part of the party.  So is there an attempt to bifurcate traveling trips so that some people are not considered to be traveling with him.  For example, the UN photographer, I'm aware, went days in advance.  Why was that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, sometimes advance teams go out when it's needed to do that.  For us, in terms of the Department of Public Information, there are many times when it's useful for us to send our media crews in advance to get different coverage for the sort of pieces and features that they do. 

Question:  Can we just get the cost?  It's a straight transparency question. 

Deputy Spokesman:  The costs of travel are calculated over the year and shared with the Member States, and that's how we do it.  All right.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.