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

7 March 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


This morning, the Security Council is holding consultations on Syria.  Council members are receiving information from the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who is talking to them by video teleconference about the latest developments on the ground.  Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is also briefing.  A statement we issued last night expressed the Secretary-General’s concerns about continued reports of attacks throughout the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, which reportedly claimed the lives of more than 100 people on 5 March, as well as reports of shelling of the city of Damascus.  The Secretary-General commends the courage of all humanitarians working tirelessly to ensure that people in need throughout Syria receive life-saving humanitarian aid.  He calls on all parties to immediately allow safe and unimpeded access for further convoys to deliver critical supplies to hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need, in particular to complete the delivery to Douma, including medical and health supplies, planned for 8 March, in order to reach a total of 70,000 people, as previously agreed with the Syrian authorities.  The Secretary-General reminds all parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law and human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times and of the basic responsibility to ensure the necessary protection of all humanitarian organisations, personnel, facilities and other relief assets.

**Korean Peninsula

Yesterday we issued the following statement, concerning the Korean Peninsula:  the Secretary-General is encouraged by the advances made during the latest inter-Korean talks, particularly the agreement to hold a summit meeting soon, to further reduce military tensions, and to discuss denuclearization in future talks with all relevant parties.  He stresses the need to protect the momentum and seize the opportunities available to find a peaceful path forward.  The latest developments are further steps forward in laying the foundation for the resumption of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.  The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to further assist in this process with the Governments concerned.

**Papua New Guinea

Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about the 6.7 magnitude aftershock that struck Papua New Guinea’s highlands area last night, local time.  This follows last week’s earthquake, that potentially affected over 400,000 people, with over half of them requiring immediate assistance.  Preliminary assessments indicate that immediate needs include shelter, food, water and access to medical services.  A five-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team is on the ground now to support the Government-led response.


Yesterday in London, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and the Permanent Secretary of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Matthew Rycroft, co-chaired a high-level event on the humanitarian situation in Somalia.  The event brought together 31 Member States, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the country, to generate political and financial momentum for the 2018 humanitarian response, and to draw lessons from last year’s response.  Despite successful famine prevention efforts last year, the humanitarian situation in Somalia remains dire and the risk of famine persists.  Some 5.4 million people need assistance, of whom 2.7 million require urgent life-saving assistance.  Humanitarian partners need nearly $ 1.5 billion in 2018.  With additional commitments made yesterday at the event, Somalia’s partners have now committed some $350 million to the humanitarian response, with new pledges expected in the coming weeks.  Mr. Lowcock warned that unless substantial new resources are provided over the next few weeks, we face a real crisis in Somalia by the middle of the year.


An update from our colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), six months after two of the most powerful hurricanes recorded over the Atlantic wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, and with another hurricane season only four months away:  In several countries like Dominica, British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands, UNDP and national partners are injecting needed cash in the most affected communities, providing training and temporary employment opportunities to women and men to clear debris and enable long‑term recovery.  In Dominica, where 44 per cent of the buildings were severely damaged or totally destroyed, and in Barbuda, where 92 per cent of private structures were damaged, UNDP also worked with national counterparts to beef up the construction standards, supporting more resilient building code amendments.  There is more information on UNDP’s website.

**Refugee Girls

A report released today by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that for refugee girls, it is harder to find — and keep — a place in the classroom.  The report called “Her Turn” says that refugee girls at secondary level are only half as likely to enrol in school as their male peers, even though girls make up half of the school-age refugee population.  As they get older, refugee girls also face more marginalization and the gender gap in secondary schools grows wider.  UNHCR said the report is a wake‑up call for the international community to protect refugee girls and ensure they have access to education and added that this access also reduces vulnerability to exploitation, sexual and gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy and child marriage.  More information is available on UNHCR’s website.


Early assessment of progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) confirms an alarming lack of data in 64 countries, as well as insufficient progress for another 37 countries where the data can be tracked.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report, entitled “Progress for Children in the SDG Era”, is the first thematic report assessing performance toward achieving the SDG global targets that concern children and young people.  The report warns that 520 million children live in countries which completely lack data on at least two thirds of child-related indicators, or lack sufficient data to assess their progress — rendering those children effectively “uncounted”.  Where sufficient data is available, the scale of the challenge posed by the SDG targets remains daunting.  The report warns that 650 million children live in countries where at least two thirds of the SDGs are out of reach without accelerated progress.  You can find it online.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

This morning, we announced the Secretary-General’s appointment of Ãsa Regnér of Sweden as a Deputy Executive Director in UN-Women.  She succeeds Lakshmi Puri of India who served in this role during the past eight years, and to whom the Secretary-General and the Executive Director for UN-Women are grateful for her commitment and dedicated service.  Ms. Regnér has most recently been Minister for Children, the Elderly and Gender Equality of Sweden.  She has extensive experience in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment, having held various leadership positions in government, non-governmental organizations and the UN.  And we have more on this in our office.


Tomorrow, the Under-Secretary-General of Global Communications, Alison Smale, will open the Remember Slavery Say It Loud exhibit in the Visitors Lobby at 1:15 p.m.  The exhibit features 10 male and 11 female architects of African descent, who have gained recognition in this profession and influenced the way public spaces are presented and used.  Ms. Smale will be joined by Pascale Sablan, architect and curator of the exhibit, and Elizabeth Kennedy and Danei Cesario, both architects and exhibitors.  For the complete calendar of events visit: http://rememberslavery.un.org.

**Facebook Live

And I want to flag that in a few minutes, at 12:15 p.m., the Secretary-General will be taking part in a Facebook Live conversation to mark International Women’s Day.  His Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, will also be participating, as well as Mónica Ramírez, President of the National Farmworker Women's Alliance.  The event will be streamed from the UN-Women’s Facebook page and if you can’t watch it live, the archived video will be available on the page later today.  After I’m done, you will also hear from Brenden Varma.  Before we get to him, are there any questions for me? Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I had asked yesterday about the phone call between the SG and the Greek Prime Minister.  Would you be able to share any more details from that phone call?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Stéphane provided some details, but, yes, he did talk with Prime Minister Tsipras, and he discussed a number of issues, including, as I believe he mentioned, the name issue.

Question:  Any more details?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he encourages progress through discussions but nothing further to what you… what you received yesterday.  Ben?

Question:  Yes.  On the Syrian humanitarian front, has there been any thought given to using aid drops?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have used aid drops as a last resort.  There… it really varies on terrain, and it's not the most efficient way of doing it.  In heavily urbanised areas, airdrops are not recommended.  And, for us, what we want to do whenever we provide aid is to get it in such a way that it can be distributed to the people who need it.  We tried doing that on Monday, as you know, but we had different problems when shelling resumed.  Of the… of the trucks that we had in place, 14 of them only partially… delivered… were only partially offloaded, and so we need to try to go back.  And we do intend, as I mentioned in the statement that we put out, we do intend to go back tomorrow, Thursday, to see whether we can complete the aid distribution in Douma.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  So, you mentioned Ms. Smale, and she will… her event at 1:30 p.m.  Will she also attend an event at 11 a.m. that will also be attended by the Israeli Prime Minister?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't… I don't believe she's in attendance for that event.  We're aware that there is an exhibit in the Visitor's Lobby.  Is that for me to read?  Okay.  All right.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to actually… some other things, but I'd wanted to ask, you know, your office put out a… a… two statements about Ghoutah yesterday, and there was a revised version.  I just wanted to under… to understand, the second version put in "reportedly” 100 killed.  The first didn't have that.  Was that just an oversight, or did a Member State complain?  What led to the revised version?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there were no complaints.  Whenever we act on the basis of reports that are not our first‑hand reports, we try to stick that in.  And so that's what we tried to do.

Question:  So it just went out without that word…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, they stuck that in just after transmission.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Sorry if I missed this, but, in the past 24 hours, there has been a lot of military developments that… in Afrin in Syria.  The Turks… the Turkish‑backed forces right now are getting closer to the centre of the city… or the city itself.  Do you have any updates… humanitarian updates about what's going on in Afrin?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have a humanitarian update on Afrin for today.  We have made known our concerns.  As I believe we said just a couple of days ago, some 5,000 people have been able to leave the Afrin area, but we're still concerned about the possibility that not all of those who want to leave the area have been able to get past the local authorities.

Question:  What about the access… the humanitarian access?  Has any UN‑affiliated organization got access to Afrin, the city itself?

Deputy Spokesman:  We had had periodic, periodic access earlier, but, in recent days, as you know, with the fighting, we've had some access problems.  We are still trying to get access so that we can continue to provide aid.  Yes, please.

Question:  Two follow‑up questions on Syria.  The first one is on Afrin.  I was wondering who the UN refers to by the local authorities.  And also, yesterday, the UN Geneva office released a report, and the report reveals a lot of human rights violations by all parties in the country.  And they say they may amount to war crimes.  Does the Secretary‑General have a comment on that report?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he certainly wants all Member States to consider the reports that are prepared on this topic very seriously.  And obviously, in this case, this is for the members of the Human Rights Council to evaluate, and we'll leave the matter in their hands.  Regarding the situation with the local authorities, we've tried to deal with all of the various authorities on the ground to see whether we can make sure that, both, that there's sufficient access and that those who want to flee can do so.  But, like I said, there've been some sporadic problems in terms of that.  And you'll have seen from the reports made by different officials, including our Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, that we've talked about this in the past.

Question:  A follow-up please?  The local authorities I meant.  Who do you report to by the local authorities?  Are they the Kurdish fighters in Afrin?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, those… those are among them.  Yes.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in South Sudan, there's a lot of interest in a study that's come out saying that the… the Nile Petroleum Corporation is being used essentially by pro‑Salva Kiir forces to fund… fund the war, fund pro‑Government militias.  And I wanted to know whether… whether the mission there or any of the var… other various UN bodies in the country have… have a view or have noticed this report and intend to look at it given that it would seem to explain some of the… the… the killing and armament that's been going on.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're, we're certainly aware of the report.  I'll check and see whether the mission has anything in particular to say about it, but this is, as you know, an independent report.  It's not ours.

Question:  Sure.  And I want to ask about another report but also how it relates to the UN.  The ICAN, the Nobel Prize‑winning group on nuclear weapons, has put out a list of companies that are… that they say are profiting from the nuclear weapons manufacturing industry.  So, I guess it made me wonder, in connection with the oil company question that… that Stéphane responded to yesterday, whether the UN Global Compact views… how it views funding and profiting from nuclear weapons production.  These are, like, major American banks — Citi, Chase, Goldman Sachs, State Street.  And… and, given that the Secretary‑General… I know that, when he was in Europe, he said, this is going to be a big drive for nuclear disarmament.  Does he think this should be a criterion?  Do you think that companies should have to come up with some kind of plan to divest?

Deputy Spokesman:  The criteria for the Global Compact and what it is intended to achieve are very clear on their website, and so I would just refer you to what they, themselves, state as both their mandate and the criteria for inclusion.  So that's about that.  Of course, we do encourage all companies to act in as socially responsible way as possible, and we hope that they will do so in questions of disarmament, as well.

Correspondent:  Right.  Okay.  I mean, I guess I'm just wondering if he has a view since this is an issue that he says is important to him and he seems to have some input into those criteria.  They're not voted by Member States.  They're a UN Secretariat…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, well, it's clear what the criteria are, but the Secretary‑General has made it clear that he wants all parties, including big business, to behave with a… an attitude of social responsibility, and that includes when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

Question:  And I want to ask you, this is… it's smaller, and it involves a… a… the former gender adviser of the UN, Rachel Mayanja.  There's a report out of a… Worcester, Massachusetts, that she's the owner of a building with massive violations.  And it's… many people there said it's somehow inconsistent with… with the ethos of the United Nations.  Does she have any UN role?  And does the Secretary‑General have any guidance to former ASGs [Assistant Secretaries-General], how they should run rental property if they own them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, we're aware of these reports.  Rachel Mayanja does not have any role with the United Nations anymore.  She's a former employee.  So, we have no oversight over her.  Of course, we hope that, even when they leave UN service, all of our staff abide by the principles of the United Nations.  All right, Brenden.  Come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.