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

14 June 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.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Brussels, Belgium, today where he will be participating in the European Development Days — that will be tomorrow.  Upon arrival, he met with Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council — he mentioned the need for stronger international cooperation in the face of emerging challenges related to terrorism.  He also appreciated the efforts of the European Union to manage the large movements of migrants and refugees to Europe, including through the expansion of legal pathways.  The Secretary-General then met refugees and volunteers working at a soup kitchen in Brussels.

He later met with Martin Shultz, the President of the European Parliament, with whom he also discussed large movements of refugees and migrants, development cooperation and the prevention of violent extremism.  Following a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, and a number of EU Commissioners, the Secretary-General gave a joint press conference with President Juncker.  In his remarks, he said that the challenges that the EU and the international community face today require strong partnerships.

Reiterating his solidarity with the Government and people of Belgium after the 22 March terrorist attacks in the country, the Secretary-General stressed that leaders and communities have to be steadfast in opposing xenophobia, discrimination and violence.  He also said that he remained deeply distressed at the high number of deaths in the Mediterranean and that we must work together to address the root causes of displacement and to ensure better protection.  Finally, he commended EU member States for taking steps to align their national development plan with the 2030 Agenda and urged the European Union to work to accelerate the process for the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.  The press transcript should be available fairly shortly.

**Security Council

And Modibo Touré, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau, briefed the [Security] Council today on the work of the UN office in that country.  Mr. Touré said that the appointment of the new Prime Minister triggered a political stand-off, whereby members of the dismissed Cabinet led by Carlos Correia had refused to leave the Government Palace.  However, he said, the situation was resolved on 9 June, when the remaining members of the dismissed Cabinet and their supporters peacefully vacated the Government Palace, ending a 14-day stalemate.  He said that the peaceful resolution of this stand-off may have helped avert a potentially serious crisis, but further challenges loom ahead.  This afternoon, we expect the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, to brief the Security Council in consultations on Darfur.


And on Yemen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, convened a meeting in Kuwait with the heads of delegations yesterday.  The discussions focused on security and military issues, including the need to establish military and security committees to oversee any agreed upon security arrangements.  He also welcomed the release of 130 detainees by Ansar Allah in Ibb, and urged the parties to release as many detainees as possible as soon as possible.  He reiterated his strong condemnation of all unlawful arrests or detentions, as well as the bombing of houses.


And the Secretary-General has transmitted the latest progress report of the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism to the Security Council.  The Secretary-General commends the Mechanism for conducting its work in a professional, independent and impartial manner.  The Secretary-General appreciates the support provided by the OPCW and the Office for Disarmament Affairs to the Mechanism, as well as the financial and other assistance provided by the Member States [to the Mechanism].  Full cooperation from the Syrian Government, and all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, remains essential in the discharge of the Mechanism’s mandate.


And UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that more than 14,000 Iraqis have been displaced from their homes and registered in camps following a renewed offensive by the Iraqi Security Forces against Da’esh south-east of Mosul since late March of this year.  There are no safe routes for internally displaced people escaping the violence and families use secondary routes, mostly at night, crossing dangerous terrain.  There are reports that some IDPs are trapped, severely injured or killed in minefields on their way to safety.  An eventual assault on Mosul could result in a massive displacement, upwards of 600,000 people.  According to UNHCR, they and other humanitarian agencies have been drawing up contingency plans to respond.

In addition, there has been an influx of around 6,700 Iraqis who have entered Syria’s north-eastern Hassakeh Governorate, using local smuggling networks, since April.  They included families who have managed to escape Mosul and those who have left surrounding areas, anticipating more fighting.  The journey is hazardous, with families often travelling at night.  UNHCR teams and partners in Syria are identifying new arrivals, and carrying out regular needs assessments to coordinate assistance.  They include some 5,400 people who arrived in the past few months and are staying at the newly reactivated Al-Hol camp in Syria.  More details in the notes from the UNHCR press briefing.


And the Secretary-General today welcomed delegates to the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In remarks delivered on his behalf by his Chef de Cabinet, Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General said the convention is one of the most widely ratified international treaties, with 164 ratifications to date.  He commended the delegates for their work, and said there is still much more to be done to fully implement the [Convention] and make rights a reality for the more than 1 billion persons with disabilities around the world.  That statement is online.

**Press Briefings

On that same subject — [tomorrow] at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing on the ninth Session of the Conference of the States Parties [to the Convention on the Rights] of People with Disabilities.  And that will be here in this room at 12:30 p.m.


Our humanitarian colleagues today have warned that at least 1.5 million people are in need of assistance in Mozambique due to El Niño-induced drought.  An estimated 95,000 of them are children who are acutely malnourished.  Nearly 460,000 farmers have been affected by drought and failed harvest.  In the southern region of the country, almost all planted crops for the main season have been lost due to drought.  UN agencies and their partners issued a 12-month response plan, but have only received $13 million out of the $203 million needed.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office today welcomed the significant and extremely courageous steps taken by the Guatemalan authorities in the fight against corruption and impunity over the last few weeks.  Last Saturday, three former ministers were arrested and detained for their alleged involvement in money-laundering and unlawful association.  Two other former ministers are also the subject of arrest warrants on similar charges.

The Office hopes that the country's remarkable efforts to overcome corruption and impunity, including the reforms to the justice system currently being promoted, will set an example for other States.  The Office of Human Rights’ representation in Guatemala will continue to support the ongoing efforts towards reinforcing the independence of the justice system and the rule of law in the country.

**Latin America and Caribbean

Also on Latin America, one in three Latin Americans who left poverty since 2003 — that is 25 to 30 million women and men — risk sliding back into poverty, but a new generation of public policies in line with the Sustainable Development Goals can boost resilience and prevent setbacks.  That’s according to UNDP’s Regional Human Development Report, which was launched in Panama today.

This at-risk group is part of an even larger set of people:  220 million people — almost two in every five in the region — are “vulnerable”, according to the report.  Although they are not officially classified as poor they have been unable to rise to the middle class.  The report recommends social protection, care systems, especially for children and the elderly, labour skills and closing historic gender, racial and ethnic gaps.  More information on UNDP’s webpage.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

Two other reports to flag:  UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] today published a report on the plight of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Europe through Italy.  The agency said the children generally rely on human smugglers, often under a system of “pay as you go”, which opens them to exploitation, including sexual exploitation and other abuse.  The agency said, more than 7,000 made the journey in the first five months of the year, twice as many as last year.  The report, called Danger Every Step of the Way, is on UNICEF’s website.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, issued a new report on fisheries in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa, small, fast-growing wild fish could be crucial allies in the race to end hunger in some of the world's most chronically poor and underfed regions.  Water is an ephemeral resource in Africa's dryland regions, with water bodies forming and disappearing in a relatively short period of time.  Despite this, fish — some of which weigh as little as a few grams at maturity — can survive and thrive in these environments, making the continent's dryland fisheries highly productive and resilient.


And lastly, just wanted to flag that WHO [World Health Organization] convened its third meeting of the Emergency Committee on Zika and observed increase in neurological disorders and neonatal malformations.  At the meeting, the Committee will consider whether the Zika virus and related complications still constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, review the implementation and impact of earlier recommendations made by the Committee, and determine if new recommendations are needed.  A virtual press briefing on the outcome of the meeting is expected to take place at 8 p.m. Geneva time — that’s 2 p.m. here.  More information if you are interested on the website of the World Health Organization.  That's it.  Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the… Bahrain closed three societies.  One of them is Wefaq, as you know, and this is after one day of appeals by UNHCR and others… sorry, Human Rights Council and others about it.  What… is there any position here?

Spokesman:  We just… I just saw the reports as we were coming in.  Obviously, it's something we're taking a look at.  It's of concern.  I think as we expressed concern yesterday on the re-arrest of Nabil Rajab, and I think, to that end, the Secretary‑General reiterates his position on the right of people to peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in Bahrain and beyond.  Carole and then Matthew.

Question:  Stéphane, yesterday, the Yemen ambassador said there had been an invitation to UN officials to go meet with the Coalition… the Saudi‑led Coalition fighting in Yemen to discuss… following the controversy over the Children and Armed Conflicts list.  Can you update us on what meetings are planned to sort of resolve that dispute and whether that involves travel?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The letter has, indeed, been received.  We're studying it.  We obviously remain interested in what information the Saudi‑led Coalition could provide us.  But, there have been no… as far as I know, no senior‑level face‑to‑face meetings on the issue in the last few days.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Just… one thing that… some people have said that the online version of the… of the report still has Saudi in the annex.  What's the procedure for actually dropping?

Spokesman:  That is being worked on.  We just have to update… I think the report… the list itself has to be updated, so that should be done shortly.

Question:  Okay.  Yesterday, I'd asked you about this conflict on the border of Eritrea and Ethiopia, and you'd said the 2000… first, I wanted to know… when you say that we've… we have contacted both sides, can you give a little more detail?  Is it DPA [Department of Political Affairs]?  And number two, the… the… the… going back and looking at it, this boundary commission that ruled on what the border should be seemed to have stopped work in 2007.  Ban Ki‑moon made a statement in 2008.  Has the UN… has anything been done further on actually enforcing that judgment?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any further updates.  Contacts are had at various levels.  I'm not going to go into the details.  What I will tell you is that the Secretary‑General has a meeting scheduled with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia tomorrow in Brussels.  It was prescheduled prior to this current crisis.  But, obviously, it will be brought up during the meeting, and we will… it will be reflected in the readout of the meeting.  Mr. Abbadi, then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The prestigious British magazine The Economist strongly criticized the Secretary‑General's performance during his two mandates.  It cites as example his lack of depth, his pronouncement on the conflict in Sahara, and his little influence on international events.  It calls for strong… the election of a strong Secretary‑General.  Does the Secretary‑General refute this criticism?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, of course, we do.  I think the article was published a few weeks ago.  If you'll have noted, there was a letter signed by yours truly to The Economist, which they kindly published.  I think the article missed the mark.  I think, if anyone takes a look at the Secretary‑General's record and his influence on the development issues, on the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], on getting the world to agree to the Paris climate agreement, to name just a few, I think would refute the article.  Abdelhamid and then… sorry, and then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Since last Thursday, after two Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in Tel Aviv, there was a wave of collective punishment to the point that the Human Rights Commissioner expressed his concern.  Now, the town of Yatta, spelled Y‑a‑t‑t‑a, where the two gunmen came from, had been under complete siege.  Roads had been blocked.  Houses had been broken into.  And many other forms of violence.  You can just read about what's going on in Yatta.  However, the Secretary‑General and his envoy have been silent about what's going with the collective punishment.  So, why is that?  That is one question.

Spokesman:  I think the… this issue was also brought up, addressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  I think we would… of course, Israel has a duty and a responsibility to protect its citizens.  We would very much hope any measure it takes in response to this latest terror attack would be proportionate and also take into consideration, obviously, the impact on the civilian population.  You had a second question?

Question:  My second question, Stéphane, during the UN’s 70 years of history, had it been… had there been any precedent that a country known for its being in violation of international law had been rewarded to be… to be heading a committee that in charge of international law?  Did it ever happen?

Spokesman:  You know, you're asking me a historical question, which I can't answer, and I don't really know what exactly you're referring to.  So, if you want to give me a little bit more detail…

Question:  I mean, Israel was elected yesterday to head the Sixth Committee, which is the legal committee.  Why…?

Spokesman:  I think the election of… this is an intergovernmental body.  The election of Member States to lead different bodies, to participate in different bodies, whether it's the Sixth Committee, the Fifth Committee, the Fourth Committee, the Human Rights Council, who gets elected to the Human Rights Council is a decision of Member States.  This Organization works along the way where Member States elect each other, select each other through a voting process, whether it's to elect the President for the General Assembly or whether it's to elect the chair of the Sixth Committee or the chair of the Human Rights Council.  So, I think I will leave it to others to do the analysis of each country's record when elected to… whether it's the Fifth Committee or the Human Rights Council.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to comment on it.  It's up to the Member States themselves.  It's a decision they make.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Would you be able to give us an update on the status of the conflict in Ukraine, perhaps in terms of actual fighting, as well as humanitarian conditions?

Spokesman:  Nothing since the release of the human rights monitoring report, you know, which I guess was done about ten days ago.  I will ask my colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to give us a humanitarian update, to get you some new facts and figures.  But, I think, as we've been flagging here on a regular basis, because of this man‑made crisis, there are severe humanitarian needs in many parts of Ukraine.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Follow‑up to Carole's question:  In this letter sent inviting the UN to meet with the Coalition, did they specify any kind of date and at what level they wanted to meet to discuss the report?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of.  Let me rephrase that.  Not that I recall.  Edie?

Question:  Just as a follow‑up on that, weren't you initially expecting members of the Saudi Coalition to come to New York rather than to have UN officials go there?

Spokesman:  As I said, we're studying the letter, and that… your… the second part would be our preference.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I have some questions on… on Burundi.  First, there's a… a report of a… a soldier that was throwing a grenade into a crowd.  It exploded, killed him and others.  And I wanted to know, I guess, you know, both on this, on the sort of ongoing violence, on 230 students now expelled from school for drawing on the President's picture and on the human trafficking thing that I asked you about yesterday that's actually… I mean, there've been… there's a Bloomberg story about it.  There's various public reports about the allegations and pictures of people in the airport.  What is the UN… is the Burundi team or Secretariat doing?

Spokesman:  You know, the… our team remains on the ground.  We're trying to work towards a political solution to the current crisis.  I don't have anything else with any more detail to give you.

Correspondent:  I mean, I think… I think UNICEF put out a statement some weeks ago about students… I think it was referring to the same…

Spokesman:  No, no, we've expressed our concern about different parts of the current situation in Burundi, including limits on freedom of the press and limits on freedom of expression.

Question:  Just one thing.  Who in the UN system deals with human trafficking?  I know it's something the UN is against.  If, in a country where there is a human rights team on the ground, there are photographs of… of dozens of girls in the airport…

Spokesman:  I think it goes around human rights, UNHCR, and other parts and UNICEF, as well.  Okay.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, it's been reported that Secretary‑General will meet Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown… Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.  Can you update us about that or highlight whether…?

Spokesman:  It has, indeed, been reported, but I have nothing to confirm.  We are not aware of any request officially to the UN.  As you know, the… I saw pictures of the Crown Prince in Washington, D.C.  The Secretary‑General is not here in New York, and he's gone for about… he comes back, I think, next Sunday evening.  So, I… all I know is what you know, which is what we both read in the press.

Question:  But, does it… that means there's no meeting scheduled?

Spokesman:  As far as we are concerned, we have not received any request for meetings, and I know of no meeting scheduled, as of 12:31 p.m. today.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Mr. Abbadi asked about The Economist, the renowned publication.  I want to ask about Ottawa Citizen, which is maybe lesser known, but the piece that I'm asking about is written by Allan Rock, who is a former ambassador here and also UN official.  And it's about… he said the UN must fix its culture of cover‑ups around peacekeeping.  Talks about both Haiti cholera, rapes and the need to protect whistle-blowers.  So, I'm wondering, this is a… you know, he's a person that worked here.  He's, obviously, a person that the UN respected enough to send to Sri Lanka in some capacity.  Are you going to write to the Ottawa Citizen or do you have any response to this…?

Spokesman:  I have not read the piece, so let me read it, and then I can respond.

Question:  And somewhat related, just to get it out of the way, there's been a… in the Senate defence… oh, no.  Well, in a bill… passing through both Houses of Congress, there's a proposal in the House to require, basically on the whistle-blower action, to say that… that… that those who don't act in compliance with, you know, Ethics Office rulings or ethic principles should be terminated at the UN and also to require disclosure of… of… of… in summary fashion of information filed with the Ethics Office to know the… the… the scope of retaliation with the UN.  Do you oppose that?

Spokesman:  I think the ethics architecture at the UN is quite strong.  I think, as with anything, it could always be improved, and we're always happy to be in a dialogue with Member States on how to improve the mechanism.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You indicated on earlier occasion that you arranged for the Secretary‑General to come to this room to give a general press conference, and you said you will do it before the beginning of the summer.  We are now one week before the beginning of the summer.  Have you made the arrangement?

Spokesman:  I don't think it will happen before the beginning of the summer.  I don't recall promising beginning of the summer.  But, as I said, we will try to get the Secretary‑General out to meet you on a more regular basis.  Evelyn?

Question:  Is there an update on aid delivery in Syria?  Russia has a story that it delivered 18 tons to Deir Ezzour in Eastern Syria.  Did… I think that was, you know…

Spokesman:  I've seen those reports.  I think there's a little bit of confusion because what, in fact, this refers to are two airdrops conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP), one on… on Monday with about 17… about 18… 18 metric tons that took place over Deir Ezzour.  It contained WFP food and UNICEF high‑energy biscuits.  There was another drop today, similar aid, and that was 17… 17 metric tons.  Those are… it's a WFP operation, and as they have in the past, they use a Russian‑chartered… I think these are… they're Ilyushins that do the airdrops.  So, I think that's where the confusion comes up.  Yes, you… go ahead, Olga.

Question:  Just to clarify, so you said it was the WFP operation, so when Russians announce that they delivered the humanitarian aid to Deir Ezzour, they delivered the WFP humanitarian aid.

Spokesman:  If I read the English translation of the TASS report, I think what the Russian Government said was that a Russian plane had delivered the aids, which, in fact, is a fact and is true, but it is a Russian plane chartered by the World Food Programme.  And that's… the World Food Programme usually uses Russian planes… Russian‑chartered planes, civilian planes, to conduct its airdrops, whether it's in Syria and I think in other places, as well.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the Secretary‑General, would you have an estimate in terms of what percentage of time he travels and what percentage of time he's actually in the building?

Spokesman:  I'm not very good at math, I'm embarrassed to say.  I think one could look… I mean, all his official travel is online and one could add up the days of official travel and do some sort of formulation, look at the… comparing those days, how many days there are in every year and come up with a percentage.  But, it is not one that I have in my head.  Mr. Lee, then Edie.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… one just… I'd asked you about this open letter in The Lancet to the Secretary‑General about cholera in Haiti and taking responsibility.  You said you hadn't seen it.  Are you now aware of it or not yet?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm aware of it.  I think on the legal stance, things have not changed.  And, as you know, I think the UN, as the letter says, has spent… is working with the Haitian authorities through the country team and trying to improve the sanitation system, improve the water system.  And the efforts that we have are, unfortunately, underfunded.

Question:  And also, I wanted to ask… this is sort of… obviously, the shootings in Orlando, the… the shooter, or Omar Mateen, was an employee of this G4S, which is a security or private military contractor.  And it's come up before in this room, because somehow it's a member of the Global Compact, even though there are many controversies surrounding its actions.  It was said… The Wall Street Journal quoted one of his co‑workers as saying he had anger issues and was very unstable.  I'm just wondering if there are any… what's the procedure for the UN Global Compact, number one, allowing in a company that's basically a mercenary or private military contractor, but, two, when it becomes clear that they're providing automatic weapons to somebody who is described as having…?

Question:  Okay.  I think we're jumping to conclusions here.  First of all, I know our colleagues at Global Compact are as saddened and heart‑broken as we are all about what happened in Florida.  Whenever concerns are raised about a company, such as the one you mentioned, contacts are had, and they are having… there are being… they are monitoring the investigation at this point, and they will monitor and decide whether or not appropriate action should be taken with G4S' place in the Global Compact.

Question:  And is there any… just relatedly, on the Global Compact, are there any Ng Lap Seng‑affiliated or funded companies that remain… at one time, the World Harmony Foundation was in…?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware of, but that's a question you need to ask them.  Edie?

Question:  Yesterday, the Yemeni ambassador also said that he… his Government had no prior contact about the findings of the report on Children and Armed Conflict in Yemen.  I know that you previously have said that both the Yemen Government and the Saudi Government were informed.  Do you…

Spokesman:  I still say what I said, which is that both the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia and the Permanent Mission of Yemen had delivered to them the excerpts of the report that pertains to the conflict in Yemen, to the permanent mission I think in early March.  Thank you, all.  Have a great day.

For information media. Not an official record.