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

1 February 2018

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.

**Syria

Starting off with Syria, just an update from our humanitarian colleagues: yesterday, the UN resumed its cross-border deliveries from Bab al-Hawa border crossing point in Turkey into Idleb Governorate in Syria.  A total of 25 trucks with food and medical supplies were involved.  This was the first delivery following the UN decision on 20 January to temporarily halt deliveries due to security concerns.  An additional 15 trucks delivered assistance on 1 February.  Security remains a concern for us at the border.  Due to the security situation, the UN is maintaining its temporary suspension of deliveries through Bab al-Salam, the second border crossing point in Turkey authorized under UN Security Council resolution 2165 (2014).  Mitigation measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of UN staff at Bab al-Hawa, including the use of armoured vehicles and restrictions on staff authorized into the area.

**Mali

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that despite the signature of the Peace Agreement in Mali, the human rights situation remains of concern.  A joint report published today, based on monitoring and analysis conducted during the interim period of the Peace Agreement, finds that more than 600 cases of human rights violations and abuses were committed between January 2016 and June 2017.  More than 800 other incidents involving unidentified armed individuals and placing the lives of civilians at risk also occurred during the same time.  In total, these acts of violence impacted more than 2,700 victims, including 441 people who were killed.  That report should be online.

**South Sudan

As we told you yesterday, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, today jointly launched funding appeals to provide support for people from South Sudan who have fled to neighbouring countries and to address the growing humanitarian needs inside the country.  The requirements for the appeals are $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively.  Conflict and insecurity have forcibly displaced one in three South Sudanese either within the country or across its borders.

**Youth

The President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Marie Chatardova, the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic, has issued today a Presidential Statement on the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The President called on Ministers of Youth to actively prioritize youth and to collaborate with young people to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Agenda [Agenda for Sustainable Development].  The full statement is available online.

**Agriculture

Our friends at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tell us that the current season 2017/2018 should end with a record global cereal output.  The latest forecast has been raised by 13.5 million tons since December, with coarse grains driving the bulk of the increase due largely to higher maize output expected in China, Mexico and the European Union.  Meanwhile, FAO's Food Price Index was nearly unchanged in January from the previous month and almost 3 per cent below its level from a year ago.

**Press Briefings

As a reminder, the Permanent Representative of the State of Kuwait, Ambassador Mansour Alotaibi, will be here at 3 p.m. to brief you in his capacity as President of the Security Council for the month of February.

**Honour Roll

Today we say thank you to our friends in Belgium, Estonia, Qatar and the Russian Federation as they have all paid their regular budget dues in full.  [The Honour Roll] which now stands at… [thirty-six].  Matthew, you're doing your math.  Go ahead.  The rules are the rules.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Be sure to ask you a question.  So, I wanted… So, I had something else, but it's now… you had said two days ago, on the issue of these… this refoulement from Nigeria to Cameroon, to wait for UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to speak.  And they have spoken, and they've said that the law has been broken by Nigeria, sending back, they say, 47; some people involved say it's 51.  But, what I wanted… so, I wanted to know, at the Secretariat level, given its involvement and its call for dialogue in Cameroon, and number two, specifically, given that the Deputy Secretary‑General was in Abuja when the abductions took place, according to you, has spoken to the Government about it, has been quoted in a speech she gave in South Africa as calling Mr. [Muhammadu] Buhari her President, what is her statement on Nigeria's refoulement of at least 47 and maybe 51?

Spokesman:  I think we'll refer you to UNHCR.  UNHCR is in the lead on the issue of refugees and asylum‑seekers and refoulement.  They have spoken.  We fully back what UNHCR has said.

Question:  But, how does it impact this… I mean, obviously…?

Spokesman:  We continue to engage with the Cameroonian authorities, and our offers of helping them work out some of the issues in the Anglophone areas continues to stand.  I will come back to you.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Associated Press reported today from Myanmar… from Bangladesh that there were at least five mass graves discovered in one village in Rakhine State where Rohingya Muslims lived.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the finding of mass graves and the implications for possible genocide?

Spokesman:  We've seen the reports.  I think, reading through the reports of possible mass graves is extremely troubling.  We're very concerned about these reports.  And I think this type of information coming forward from Rakhine State just underscores the need for the UN to have access to Rakhine State, to have open access for both humanitarian… for existing human rights mechanisms, as well as for humanitarian actors, for the media.  We do not have the access that we would like to have, and it's very important for us to have access to verify these reports.  I think our colleagues in the UN team in Myanmar remain prepared to provide necessary assistance towards implementing the long‑term solutions to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State.  Michelle?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Steph.  A follow‑up from that, same topic, Myanmar.  Today, the two Reuters journalists were denied bail.  Does the Secretary‑General have a response to that?  And how does he feel about their continued detainment?

Spokesman:  I think we've… we're continuing through our team on the ground to follow the developments in the case of these two journalists extremely closely, the periodic hearings that are taking place.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has expressed his concern at the erosion of the press freedom in Myanmar, and he has called for the international community to do whatever it can to secure the release of the journalists and to ensure press freedom in the country.  Masood?

Correspondent:  Yes, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this UN report from Human Rights Council about Israel, that report was reportedly shelved, but then it was released, but also downplayed the Israeli offences in the occupied territories and the selling of goods and under the…

Spokesman:  What is… Masood, what is the question?

Question:  The question is this.  What is it that the… where does the Secretary‑General stand on this report?  Does he own this report, or does he say that it is somebody else's report?

Spokesman:  Well, the facts are the facts, Masood.  The report was requested by the Human Rights Council.  It was requested that the High Commissioner for Human Rights produce this report.  It is a mandate given to the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He has taken that mandate, and he's fulfilled that mandate.  He's reported back to the Human Rights Council.  I think the press release they put out yesterday and the report is fairly detailed.  So, any questions on the report should be addressed to our human rights colleagues in Geneva.

Question:  So, you're… so, when the ambassador of the United States, Ms. Nikki Haley… what do you call… basically is decrying the report… release of the report, what do… and she says that that report should not have been released and so is the Israeli ambassador saying.  So, is the Secretary‑General not taking a stand, one way or another?

Spokesman:  Masood, there is… Masood, it's not about taking a stand.  It's about fulfilling mandates.  There are different legislative bodies in this organisation that give mandates to the Secretariat or to appropriate places in the Secretariat.  The Human Rights Council gave… passed a resolution and requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce that report.  He did so.  There are a lot of mandates given by very different legislative bodies, and the Secretariat does its best to fulfil those mandates.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  Can you tell us a bit about the meeting of the Secretary‑General today with Guatemala's Foreign Minister? Are they going to discuss the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala?  There's been some reports on concerns the Guatemalan Government has regarding this commission.

Spokesman:  I'll be happy to talk to you about the meeting after the meeting has taken place.  It was at the request of the Permanent Mission of Guatemala.  I think it would be safe to assume that the Commission will be an item on the agenda, and we hope to have a readout after the meeting.  Carole, and then we'll go second row.  Share your microphone, Nizar.

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted to ask about the Secretary‑General's visit to South Korea.  Will there be an opportunity for him to engage in any kind of diplomacy surrounding North Korea?  Does he have any meetings planned with the North Koreans?  And I understand that Jeff Feltman and the USG [Under-Secretary‑General] for disarmament is going with him… are going with him.  Will they have any meetings with the North Koreans?

Spokesman:  Just to be clear, the delegation will be Mr. Feltman… will be the Under‑Secretary‑General for Disarmament and the Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, as well as yours truly.  The Secretary‑General will… there are two parts to the visit.  There's an official visit to the Republic of Korea.  He will meet with the President.  He will meet with the Foreign Minister.  He will also have a courtesy call with his predecessor, and he will attend the opening ceremonies in PyeongChang.  There are a number of bilaterals that will probably take place there, but I don't want to… I've no… we have no firm bilaterals to share as of yet.  So, let's just see what happens.  Nizar, you can… Sorry, yeah?

Question:  Just to understand, there might be meetings?

Spokesman:  There will be bilaterals there with other delegations.

Correspondent:  I'm specifically asking about the North Koreans…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I know what you're specifically asking.  I'm specifically not answering.  I'm specifically not predicting what meetings will be had.  So, there will be meetings.  There will be bilateral meetings.  Once we know what those bilateral meetings are, have taken place, we will share that with you.  But, I want to avoid but I want to avoid speculation.  Yes, ma’am?

Correspondent:  Well, you're creating speculation.  You're saying there might be.

Spokesman:  No, no, I'm saying there will be, as often in these events, that there are… where there are other foreign leaders and delegations, the Secretary‑General will have bilateral meetings.  Once we have those set, we'll be able to share with you.  But, there are a lot of… you know, there are hundreds of… dozens and dozens of countries that will be represented at the Olympics, if not more.

Question:  I have two questions about Lebanon and Yemen.  One about Lebanon, have you received any communications from the Lebanese Government regarding the emerging dispute about oil blocks between Israel and Lebanon?

Spokesman:  And your second question?

Question:  About the massacres today in Amran by the Saudi coalition and the limitation of the Hodeidah opening to one month, as well.  Have you boosted the Joint Verification and…?

Spokesman:  The Joint Verification Mechanism is working as hard at it as it can.  I'm not aware of the one‑month limitation.  I think we've been updating you as we get information, we've been updating you on the number of ships that are going in… that are in Hodeidah.  I think there's quite a large number of ships that are in there now being offloaded.  There are more waiting offshore at the anchorage area.  And, as soon as one is clear, they will come in and rotate.  The cranes that have… that are in the port are being pulled… put to full use.  On the…

Question:  On that, the Saudis say that the opening of the Hodeidah is limited to one month starting 23 January…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular report.  Now…

Correspondent:  It was a letter sent to the Secretary‑General.

Spokesman:  What I'm saying… I'm not all seeing and all knowing, as you probably know by now.  As… we're taking it one day at a time.  We're very pleased that the port is opened and that the cranes are operating.  On the issue between Lebanon and Israel, we've noted the rise in rhetoric between Israel and Lebanon on the issue of maritime borders in the past few days.  We encourage both countries to continue efforts to address the delimitation of their respective maritime exclusion zones… exclusive zones and the exploration of their natural resources in a manner that does not give rise to tensions, rather, and builds confidence through dividends of cooperation.  We support the right of both Lebanon and Israel to exploit their maritime resources in accordance with the international Law of the Sea.  We're encouraging everybody to use diplomatic means to address these issues.

Question:  Did you receive any correspondence from the Lebanese Government regarding this issue?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware at this very point.  I'll come back you to, my friend.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions about Syria:  one humanitarian and the other one political.  I want to start with the political.  Maybe I missed this.  Did the SG issue any statement about the new commission, [the Staffan] de Mistura‑led commission, to draft a Constitution for Syria?  And the second… or… or any comments you can have about this.  And the second question is about your announcement that… about the resumption of delivery to Idleb.  Did these truck… these aids went to Afrin refugees or to Afrin itself?

Spokesman:  I'm not a… my understanding is that they were destined for Idleb Governorate and not for Afrin.  We're… as long as the fighting is continuing, it's very difficult for us to have the humanitarian access that we would like to have.  As for Mr.  de Mistura, he spoke at length, I think, to you a couple of days ago.  He's, of course… will now be working based on the contributions of Sochi and consulting widely, including with other Syrians, on the delicate task that was given to him to ensure balanced and effective representation of the constitutional committee in line with [resolution] 2254 (2015).  I mean, I think we are seeing the process… we saw the Sochi endorse the key principles of the future in Syria, as well as the Geneva‑led UN process… the UN‑led Geneva process.

Question:  And what does Secretary‑General think about this new process and given the fact that…?

Spokesman:  I don't think it's a new process.  I think the contributions that we saw of Sochi was to reiterate…

Correspondent:  It's a new commission.

Spokesman:  …but it is a new commission, but it is… it continues to be part of the Geneva… of the UN‑led process in Geneva.  Mr. de Mistura will now be consulting widely to build the commission that he's been asked to do.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, can you confirm there was a meeting last Thursday between the SG and the Palestinian Ambassador [Riyad] Mansour and they discussed the idea of holding an international conference to… to salvage the budget crisis of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I don't… there very well may have been a meeting.  I'm not… I can't remember past yesterday.  What is clear is that our colleagues at UNRWA are very much focussed on trying to organize some sort of a meeting bringing contributors and Member States together to ensure that the funding for UNRWA continues.  What we're seeing is a lot of countries, which we are grateful for, fast‑tracking promises already made.  I think there's only one country — I think that's the State of Kuwait — that has pledged new money.  So, it is very critical that Member States and contributors to UNRWA meet to see how we can make up the shortfall for the funding.

Question:  My second question, yesterday, in a small village called Deir Nidham in the West Bank, a young boy of 17 — his name is Musab Firas Tamimi — was shot at very close range, shot dead by the Israeli army.  Why there is no statement?  Why Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov did not issue anything?  I mean, there is an outrage in the region because it was cold‑blood murder, as they called it, not my words.  And when one Israeli was killed, immediately, he didn't waste time to issue a statement.

Spokesman:  No, I think… first of all, I haven't seen that particular report.  It is clear that any act of violence, anything that in… that leads to death needs to be investigated fully by the authorities.  You know, if you look at the periodic statements to the Security Council by Mr. Mladenov, it is clear that there is equal anguish for the loss of civilian lives on all sides.  Carole, then Matthew, then Masood.

Question:  Just wondering if you have an update on the Matthew Nimetz visit to Athens and Skopje?

Spokesman:  No, it's a valid question, and I should try to get an update for you.  Not that there… yeah, go ahead.  Whatever.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Just wanted to see if you had a little more there.  I wanted to ask you, one, about a… there was a report of a UN airplane barely missing a FedEx plane off Jerusalem.  I don't know if you've seen this story, but it seems pretty serious.  It was described as a UN plane flying from Tel Aviv to Sharm el‑Sheikh, and it almost ran into a FedEx plane.  It's reported in Jerusalem online, so it seemed… I wanted to ask you what… who was on…?

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I'm interested in aviation issues so I will look.

Question:  Yeah, it seems… okay.  And more… it… here's… in other media, the Italian Insider, noted Rome‑based publication, facing criminal charges by the FAO director, has reported the clearing of Mr. Luiz Loures from sexual harassment charges.  Some people say it's kind of fast, and so I wanted to ask you, can you describe the process?  I mean, it's all… being… being due process and being cleared is great… is it true?

Spokesman:  No, I think… You should address… I don't know if it's true.  You should address that question to the agency concerned.  Obviously, we want to see every case fully and thoroughly investigated.

Question:  UNSOS [United Nations Support Office in Somalia], there's a Fox report that the UN mission in Somalia is irresponsibly dealing with sewage and other matters, putting people at risk, and particularly, given what the UN is widely thought to have done in Haiti in terms of cholera, what is the UN's response to this damning audit of its practises?

Spokesman:  You know, this was, of course, a UN and UN‑requested audit of our own operations, so I think it's important for us to have on a periodic basis.  As you know, UN peacekeeping op… you know, UN operations often work in very complex and difficult environments, such as in Somalia, where infrastructure is minimal and where active combat is taking place.  We've recognized this problem, and we're taking steps to improve both performance and risk management across the board.  In 2017, our colleagues in the Department of Field Service began implementing a six‑year global strategy to achieve a vision for "maximum efficiency in the use of natural resources and minimum risk to people, societies and ecosystems".  Before the end of 2018, each peacekeeping operation will begin to report a "score" to Member States on its performance in this area, including an indication of any risks and steps that are being taken to address it.  Progress is being made, and we're fully committed to ensuring full visibility of risk, as well as design, procurement, installation and managing of fully effective systems.  The mission itself identified an unacceptable level of risk through the Headquarters‑led global baselining exercise on wastewater management, and DFS [Department of Field Support] has been working closely with the Somalia Office leadership to prioritise interim risk mitigation.  In June of last year, concurrent with the conclusion of the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report, the senior leadership of both the Somalia Mission and DFS jointly agreed on a plan to mitigate risks relating to water… wastewater management, and key staff have been appointed to address the problem, and installation of the wastewater treatment plant in the final site is anticipated in April 2018.

Question:  Given what happened… just… just… and thanks for the detail, but, I mean, given what… what happened in Haiti and the expression of regret by Ban Ki‑moon, were any steps taken to… system-wide to make sure that they didn't [inaudible] sludge put next to a market…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, obviously, system-wide processes have been taking place for quite some time to try to ensure that the management of wastewater is done in the best way possible.  As we said, they operate in very complex environments.  They… I think a key part of management wastewater is to ensure that there are regular audits.  If there are things that are point outed out, they try to fix them.  Nizar?

Question:  It's regarding again the dispute between possible or potential dispute between Israel and Lebanon.  What can the United Nations do in order to pre‑empt any possible conflict in that very sensitive area?

Spokesman:  I think our key message is that there… solutions need to be found under the auspices of international law of the sea, that countries have a right to access their natural resources, and we encourage them to discuss these issues in a diplomatic setting and to avoid anything that may raise tensions.  Evelyn and then Masood.  Sorry.

Question:  Is there any update today on who controls Aden… Aden, in the… sorry… in Yemen?

Spokesman:  No, we're not in a position to explicit say who… which authorities control which area.  What we do know is that the suffering of the Yemeni people is continuing.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is a question which I don't know which part of the United Nations body or Secretary‑General on his high moral ground is able to answer it.  This… the rape in India and Pakistan, in India, a 5‑month‑old girl was raped, and in Pakistan, these cases been going on, which has just destroyed the nation.  I mean, it's in absolute disarray.  So, can… can this… when I asked this question last, at that time, Mr. Ban Ki‑moon was the Secretary‑General.  This time, Mr. António Guterres.  So, what is it that the United Nations has an advice for these two countries on this continued… this is not… it's a cycle, a vicious cycle.

Spokesman:  First of all, I think these two cases you referred to are heart‑breaking.  What is clear is that no country on this planet is immune from the scourge of violence against women, violence against girls.  We see it in all country, north, south, east and west.  Through various programmes, through UN‑Women, UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and others, the UN is working with national Governments to try to synth… to try to get messages through to communities to respecting girls, to respecting women.  It's about equal rights.  It's about access to health.  It's about access to education.  It's about empowerment of women.  Through a number of its development programmes, the UN is trying to face the issue.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.