17 March 2016

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.


I will start off with a statement on the suicide attacks that took place in Maiduguri in Borno State in Nigeria yesterday.

The Secretary-General condemns the double suicide attacks on 16 March in Maiduguri in Borno State by suspected Boko Haram elements, which left 20 people dead and many injured.

He extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Secretary-General also reiterates his support, the UN’s support, to the Nigerian Government in its fight against terrorism, which should be grounded in international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.

**Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, as you may know, the Secretariat will brief the Security Council in closed consultations this afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Departments of both Field Support (DFS) and Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) are continuing planning for a number of possible contingencies due to what was announced yesterday by the Moroccan authorities.

In addition, the Permanent Mission of Morocco transmitted to the Secretariat a list of 84 international civilian members of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), as well as the African Union, “who should leave the Kingdom of Morocco within three days”.

As we’ve said, all of these measures would seriously impede the functioning of MINURSO and negatively impact on its ability to deliver its mandate granted to it by the Security Council.

**Lehman College

The Secretary-General just spoke at Lehman College, just a bit north of us in the Bronx — that was this morning, not long ago.  As you may not have known, but for five months in 1946, years before the United Nations moved to Headquarters right here, the Lehman College campus was the UN’s home.  It was where diplomats and staff came together to help the world recover in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

The Secretary-General spoke to the diverse student body at Lehman, saying that many of the students may have a special window of understanding into the plight of those escaping from insecurity, inequality and injustice, and the bigotry they often face.  He noted that we all have seen the heartbreaking images of people perishing at sea during perilous escapes from conflict, and we have heard the stories of those left stranded in the desert by ruthless human traffickers.  The Secretary-General’s remarks will be made available a little later this afternoon.


Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, strongly condemned the assassination of a prominent civil society activist, Abdul Basit Abu-Dahab, which took place yesterday in Derna.  He expressed his deep sympathy and sincere condolences to his family.  The full statement is available online.


From Iraq, humanitarian workers are rushing to provide emergency assistance to an estimated 35,000 people who have been newly displaced in hard-to-reach areas west of Ramadi, in western Iraq.

Lise Grande, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said that thousands of people who have been trapped in Heet for months — that is the name of the town — and are trying to reach safety.  The UN doesn’t have full access, and we are very worried that some of the families who are escaping are in areas very close to the front lines.

Just as point of reference, the UN and its partners have requested $861 million for 2016 to provide emergency relief to 7.3 million vulnerable Iraqis.  As of today, only 9 per cent, that’s about $75 million, has been received


Inter-agency convoys to the Four Towns [in Syria] — Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kefraya — are on the move today.  Water, sanitation and hygiene items, health, nutrition and basic household items are planned to be delivered to about 60,000 people.

Yesterday, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy to the hard-to-reach area of Bloudan and surrounding areas in rural Damascus delivered food, health supplies, nutrition and other items to about 20,000 beneficiaries.

While recent convoys to besieged and hard-to-reach areas are welcome, much more is needed.

The United Nations continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded access to the 4.6 million Syrians who remain in hard-to-reach and besieged areas across their country.


And you will have seen in a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General condemns the Tuesday airstrikes that hit al-Khamees market in Mastaba district in the Hajjah province of Yemen, which he said was one of the deadliest such incidents since the start of the conflict.  The full statement is online.

Meanwhile, aid agencies report that fighting has spread within Taizz City and to other districts of the governorate over the past few days.  Conflict lines remain fluid with some areas, which were formerly under the control of armed groups, seeing some opening up of humanitarian access.

For the past eight months, humanitarian access to the 175,000 people living in this enclave has been extremely challenging due to severe Houthi-imposed [restrictions].

The Governor of Aden has appealed to humanitarian organizations to assist civilians in the enclave, now that some access is possible.

Humanitarian partners are responding to the crisis and deploying additional staff to Ibb, from where the operation, both in Taizz city as well as the rest of the governorate, is being coordinated.


Earlier today, the Security Council held an open meeting on Liberia, in which members heard from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to that country, Farid Zarif.  He said that with less than four months remaining, the Government of Liberia has intensified its efforts to implement the transition plan by which it is to assume full responsibility for security by 30 June of this year.

Also, the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, also spoke to the Council, saying that Liberian women have earned global fame for helping to bring an end to the civil war, convincing rebels to lay down arms, and consolidating peace in a country that has avoided a relapse to conflict since the conflict ended about thirteen years ago.  Now, she said, they are also known for the extraordinary role they played in halting, reversing and eliminating the Ebola epidemic.  Those remarks are available.


On the subject of Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) joins the Government of Sierra Leone today in marking the end of the recent flare-up of Ebola in the country.

WHO stresses that the rapid containment of the flare-up is a real-time demonstration of the increased capacity at the national, district and community level to respond to Ebola outbreaks and other health emergencies.  More information on WHO’s website.


Also on the health rubric:  new data released by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (WHO/Europe) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control ahead of World TB Day (which is 24 March) shows that an estimated 340,000 Europeans had TB in 2014, corresponding to a rate of 37 cases per 100,000 people.

While the European region has met the MDG (Millennium Development Goals) target to reverse the incidence of tuberculosis by 2015, the high rates of the disease among the vulnerable populations and the increased number of multi-drug resistant TB cases continue to be a challenge to the elimination of TB in that region.


In the corrections rubric, I just wanted to correct on the record something about the readout that we issued yesterday on the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

The first version of the readout which was issued was issued by mistake, as it was only a draft.  The earlier draft did not properly reflect the discussions between the Prime Minister and the Secretary General.

We apologize for any confusion that may have caused.

**Press Conferences

Before I answer your questions, I want to flag tomorrow at 11 a.m., a briefing here by the Permanent Representative of São Tome and Principe, Ambassador — I think he is the Deputy Permanent Representative of Sao Tome and Principe — Ambassador Angelo Toriello on the International Day of Happiness, which will be commemorated on 20 March with the theme “Happiness and Well-being for People and the Planet in a Sustainable Future.”

We also expect Sandra Honoré, the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) for the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to speak at the Security Council stakeout following her briefing to the Council.

**Honour Roll

And excuse me:  I want to say thank you to our friends in Indonesia and Uzbekistan for paying up their budget dues in full, bringing it up to 52.

**Questions and Answers

Carmen… do you cede your question to Edie?  Okay.  There you go.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A few follow‑up questions on the Western Sahara:  Who's going to be briefing for the Secretariat and how many of these 84 people are from the UN, how many from the AU?  And how high up the ladder do these requests go?  Is it any of the deputies or…

Spokesman:  It goes… I just looked at a list before walking in here.  I think it includes three members of the African Union.  If I'm wrong, I will be corrected before the end of the briefing.  It goes… you know, it goes fairly high up into the political echelon of the Mission.  But it's not a matter of really high up it goes.  It really cuts across the board.  It also includes… I mean, they're all international staff, but it includes drivers, flight safety people.  It includes air‑conditioning technicians, HVAC technicians, which, when you're dealing with a mission in the location that it is, that's a critical role, communications experts.  So it really hits… it hits the Mission across the board.

Question:  And on who's briefing?

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry, Jeff Feltman is briefing, but he will, of course, be accompanied by senior members from both DPKO and DFS.  Masood?

Question:  Stéphane, thank you.  The US Secretary of State… the US Secretary of State this morning said that ISIS was, in fact, they've determined, committing genocide in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere.  Does the Secretary‑General share the opinion of the…

Spokesman:  You know, I think if you've heard what both the Secretary‑General has said, other senior UN officials, including his Special Adviser on the prevention of a genocide, they have talked and we have repeatedly talked here about the grave human rights violations, the grave violations of international humanitarian law as done by ISIS, also that these violations point to the risk of genocide.  As we've said here before at the UN, the word… the… there is a legal implication to genocide.  And only a court with a jurisdiction to prosecute genocide can make a legal determination that genocide has been committed following a full investigation.  Now, in the case of Iraq, you know, at the moment, genocide is not criminalized in Iraq, and charges of genocide cannot be… so charges of genocide cannot be investigated by the domestic court.  The… Iraq is also not a State party to the ICC (International Criminal Court), but could request that the court assume ad hoc jurisdiction.  So, obviously, an option would be for the International Criminal Court to investigate the case.  In addition, obviously, the Secretary‑General reiterates his call for accountability for the horrific crimes that we have seen being committed by ISIS, Da’esh, and other extremist groups and calls for the vulnerable… for all the vulnerable people to be protected.

Question:  Stéphane?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Since, as you mentioned, Iraq is not party of the International Criminal Court and there… domestically, there's not ability to have such a trial, what is the United Nations recommendation in this case should be done to have a trial and recognition…?

Spokesman:  I think, as I said, one option would be for Iraq to cede jurisdiction to the ICC on an ad hoc… to assume ad hoc jurisdiction.  It is clear that we need to find… there needs to be accountability for those who have committed crimes and justice for the victims.

Question:  And about… I want to ask also about Syria.  The Kurdish parties in Syria announced a federal region in the northern area of Syria, the areas that's controlled by the Kurds.  What does the SG think about this development?

Spokesman:  I think, as both Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura and his Deputy have said in the past, it is up to the Syrian people to decide on the future of their country.  It's not for us at this point to characterize the proposals made.

Question:  But… can I have follow on that?  This is a major development during the talks in Geneva.

Spokesman:  I think… A, I'm not arguing that point.  But I think the fact that it is made in the middle of the talks, I think, we will leave… as the talks are ongoing, there are discussions being had.  There are talks… proximity talks going.  We do not want to characterize what has been announced today.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks.  As a follow‑up on that, you don't want to characterize, but do you think it will have any implications on the process?  Because both the Syrian Government was quite not happy about this and another regional actor, Turkey, which is very important to the Kurd issue, also they were not happy.

Spokesman:  You know, I applaud you for effort, but I think even characterizing the importance of whether this may or may not have on the talks would be commenting on the offer… on the decision itself.

Question:  Right.  On the different issue, on the Western Sahara, you received this list of four… 84 individuals, right?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Does this mean you're going to go ahead and just pull them out or you're going to do something, try to talk on this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, it is…  This decision, obviously, has an impact on the Secretariat's ability to implement the mandates given to it by the Security Council.  This is a unilateral action, which, I think, is in clear contradiction of Morocco's obligations, international obligations, specifically under the Status of Mission Agreement.  But it is also a challenge to the Security Council.  The mandate of MINURSO was not created by the Secretary‑General.  The mandate of MINURSO was given to it by the Security Council.  The Security Council is the one that creates peacekeeping missions.  What we're seeing is unprecedented.  There have been issues in the past with countries that either host missions or have de facto authority over an area where missions are implemented, where the missions have… had to be drawn down.  I think we can go back to the examples of UNMEE, between Eritrea and Ethiopia, MINURCAT in Chad, but whatever decisions were taken were done in a much more consensual manner and done over a period of six months.  Trying to evacuate these people in three days is not only a logistical challenge but, obviously, it goes to the heart of the Secretary‑General's and the Mission's ability to fulfil its mandate.  If you, all of a sudden, you take away in a mission in a territory, in an area that is as challenging as MINURSO, in the desert, when you take… when you're asked to remove drivers, air‑conditioning technicians, communications people, and not to mention political advisers to the Mission, it becomes virtually impossible for the Mission, over a sustained period of time, to fulfil its mandate.

Question:  Do you mean that you were giving three… you were given three days to withdraw and you were trying to…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  That is a request we've had… we have had discussions both in… at the local level, and there are discussions going on here, but I think Mr. Feltman's briefing to the Security Council will be critical, because we are also fully informing the Security Council of the implications of what has happened to a mission that in itself has created.  So we look forward to hearing from Council members.  Emoke, yes?

Question:  Can I follow up?  I'm just looking at the facts and figures of MINURSO, and it says that there is a total of 84 international civilian personnel.  So does this mean that they're asking the UN to pull all of it…? [cross talk]


Spokesman:  No, maybe those numbers may not be completely up to date.  It is a very large section of the international personnel.  And, as I said, again, it hits… it is… MINURSO is not a… there isn't a lot of fat there, not that there is in any other missions, but it… again, it operates in a very challenging atmosphere.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  This is about a meeting going on today, so ask question that maybe I think you're going to answer.  [laughter]  Yeah he's…

Spokesman:  Are you wagering money on it?

Question:  No, no, because in this case, the UN already had cleared… it's about so‑called immigrant crisis in Europe.  In these hours, Europe is trying to decide what to propose to… definitely propose to Turkey.  Tomorrow there is the meeting with the Prime Minister of Turkey.  Today, a European court said that practically it is legal for a European country, the European Union, to expel refugee if it does on another country they consider it safe.

Spokesman:  What?

Question:  Safe, safe country.  So if the European Union, Turkey get this deal, what they, European, will be able to return the refugee from Greece, let's say, to Turkey, and we all know for an exchange of money.  How… what it will be the definite position of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  You know, I have not seen the ruling of the court.  So I'm not going to comment on it.  There… countries have clear obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention.  The Secretary‑General and other senior UN officials have expressed their concern about any deal, quote‑unquote, deal that would not fully respect the rights of refugees and not respect the human rights and the dignity of migrants.  So, obviously, we'll take a look at the ruling, but I think the Secretary‑General's and his… a number of his colleagues' position is unchanged.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General, under the Charter, is allowed to suggest things to the Security Council that he deems to be violations of international peace and freedom.  My question is about… that North Korea has asked that the Security Council take up the large‑scale manoeuvres that the US and South Korea are currently conducting, and they've asked this in the past, and they have even said that they wouldn't have another atomic test if there were a peace treaty and if these manoeuvres stopped.  In the past, the Security Council has not deemed to discuss this and to answer their request, to either answer it or to have a meeting.  Is the Secretary‑General willing to bring some question about this to the Security Council?  He has the right to do this…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I don't think… If your question is, does the Secretary‑General have… is there a plan for the Secretary‑General to invoke Article 99 about this, no, not that I'm aware of.  I think the Secretary‑General has made his concern very well known about the situation on the Korean Peninsula and, again, has called for the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) to refrain from any further tests or any other further provocative action.

Question:  But this is about provocative action of the… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I understand.  I think there were two parts of your question.  I answered… [cross talk]

Question:  So he's not… [cross talk]  So you're saying he's not willing to take that part up.  He's only willing to…

Spokesman:  I'm just saying he has no plans that I'm aware of to invoke Article 99.

Question:  Could this be brought up to him?  Is he aware of the request of the DPRK? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General is very aware of the issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula.  Carla?

Question:  Well, again, to bring up Lakhdar Brahimi saying that the UN, in many parts of the world, is not perceived as being objective and is perceived as being a party to disputes, and in this case, to deny North…

Spokesman:  Which case?

Question:  The case Ronda just brought up.  North Korea's request for a Security Council meeting.  There have been innumerable Security Council meetings that are slandering North Korea based upon testimony which has subsequently been retracted as false, and to deny North Korea the right to…

Spokesman:  Carla, I would love for you to find a question mark, because I'm not sure where the question's going.  [cross talk]

Question:  The question mark is, isn't this… isn't this proof of Lakhdar Brahimi's statement that the UN is impartial?

Spokesman:  That sounds to me like a question for a doctorate paper but not one that I will address here.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I… it's an interesting discussion, but it's not one I'm going to entertain here.  Masood.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Is it on?  Ms. Lola Castro, she's the UN… United Nations World Food Programme's… am I right?

Spokesman:  No, go ahead.  I'm just trying to understand.

Question:  … World Food Programme's representative in Pakistan, says that there's $50 million shortfall in funding for…

Spokesman:  You need to put the microphone closer… yeah, sorry, go ahead.  $50 million shortfall…

Question:  $50 million shortfall for funding for the… to take care of refugees and those fleeing from Afghanistan, into Pakistan…

Spokesman:  I understand.

Question:  She said shortfall is attributed to donor fatigue.

Spokesman:  What is the question, Masood?

Question:  The question is this.  She's asked the Secretary‑General and the international community to somehow fund this WFP's shortfall of 50 million.

Spokesman:  Well, I'm not sure she's asked the Secretary‑General to fund it.  He's not really sitting on funds beyond the Central Emergency [Response] Fund.  What is clear is that our humanitarian appeals across the board are chronically underfunded.  We're fully cognizant of the fact that we've never needed more humanitarian aid today than ever.  I mean, the financial need is huge.  Just talk about Iraq.  I think it’s 9 per cent funded.  They are all underfunded.  We would appeal to the international community to fund them.  One of the issues, obviously, that will be discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit is how to address this chronic underfunding and also how to address the underlying causes that create these humanitarian crises.

Question:  In that case, does the Secretary‑General again appeal intense…

Spokesman:  I don't… you know, I don't… I think the keys on my keyboard that spell out the world… word "appeal" are well worn.  We have appealed repeatedly, repeatedly.  We continue to do so for money.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  I wanted to know what happens next with Morocco.  Will you negotiate… get the personnel back in or…

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, we're…

Question:  If you can't, are you going to close it down… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We're having discussions, but I think… as I said earlier, the briefing with the Security Council is critical, because it is a mission they've created.  It is a mission that they… the Security Council has collective responsibility for.  We'll bring them the facts.  We're trying to make contingency plans.  At some point, obviously, it becomes extremely difficult if not un… unsustainable to continue operating a mission like that for a sustained amount of time with the cuts that we're giving.  You know, we also mentioned yesterday the $3 million cut that Morocco is… has declared for the support it brings to the Mission.  We rely on the western part of the area, west of the berm.  We rely on Morocco for, you know, what we call grey water, which is everyday use water.  We supply our drinking water.  Those $3 million also helps with food and lodging.  We're very anxious to hear from the Security Council and to hear their support for a mission, as I said, that they have also created.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Also on Western Sahara.  This is a yes‑or‑no question.  Are there any preparations… [laughter]


Spokesman:  I'll be the judge of that. [laughter]  Yeah?

Question:  Are there any preparations going on on the actual withdrawal of these 84 people?

Spokesman:  There are contingency… let me make it slightly yes‑or‑no answer.  Yes, there are contingency plans being drawn up.

Question:  And on the Kurds issue.  Do you think that this situation that created with the exclusion of their talks… from the talks and their announcement of the… this federal state or whatever, could have been evaded, exactly, by including them in the talks, and does it mean that there is no… not enough inclusion in those discussions?

Spokesman:  It's a very good question.  Thank you.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.