12 January 2017

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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Geneva, where he chaired and opened the Conference on Cyprus earlier today.  Speaking to the press, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the statesmanship, courage and determination of the leaders of the two communities.  He noted the progress that has been made, both in the past 20 months, as well as in recent days, but stressed that the work will continue.  The Secretary-General said that we are not looking for a quick fix, but rather a solid and sustainable solution.  The full press remarks should be available soon but they are already up on the webcast, should you want to take a look at them.


And here this morning, Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council on Darfur. He noted that there had been a significant decrease in armed conflict, particularly as a result of the Government’s military successes against the armed movements and the efforts of State Governments to curb inter-communal violence.  However, he also stressed that civilians remained exposed to significant sources of insecurity such as intercommunal conflict and criminality, including the activities of armed militias.  The situation had been exacerbated by the widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of rule of law and justice institutions.

Mr. Ladsous further noted that little tangible progress had been made in the Darfur peace process. He stressed the need for long-term comprehensive solutions to create the necessary conditions for the return and resettlement of the 2.6 million people who remain displaced and for the resolution of the underlying causes of conflict related to access to land, water and other natural resources.  And you will have seen that earlier this morning we issued an appointment which is jointly made by the Secretary-General and the Commission Chairperson of the African Union; and that was the appointment of Jeremiah Mamabolo of South Africa as Acting Joint Special Representative for Darfur and Head of the Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  His biography is available in our office.

**South Sudan

Today, on South Sudan, the Acting Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Moustapha Soumaré, met with the South Sudanese Minister for Cabinet Affairs, Martin Lumoro, and requested clarification on various press reports which cited senior Government officials stating that the Government had changed its position on the deployment of the Regional Protection Force.  The Minister confirmed to Mr. Soumaré that the Government’s position on the subject remained unchanged, and that, in line with the relevant Security Council resolutions, the Government would continue to facilitate the deployment of the regional force.


Our colleague Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, said today in Geneva that the cessation of hostilities in the country has been largely holding, with some exceptions.  However, he added, humanitarian access has yet to improve and he stressed the importance of steps to improve that access.  He said that the main area of concern is Wadi Barada, and the cutoff of water from there to about 5.5 million people.  Mr. de Mistura said that five villages in the Wadi Barada area had reached an agreement with the Government, which he welcomed; but other villages, including one which is the source of the water supply, have still not reached any such agreement.  He noted that water engineers are ready to repair the water supply lines once there is security to do so.  Mr. de Mistura said that the UN was supportive of planned talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, and said it is ready to contribute to a positive Astana meeting.


The Special Envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, just ended up… finished a three-day visit to Riyadh, where he met with Saudi and Yemeni officials.  He briefed the diplomatic corps on the latest developments in the Yemeni peace process and the steps towards a new Cessation of Hostilities.  During the visit, he also met with the Governor of the Central Bank in Yemen, Monasser al-Quaiti, to discuss the economic situation and the urgent measures which are necessary to avoid further economic deterioration.  The Special Envoy encouraged the adoption of measures which will allow the resumption of salary payments in all parts of Yemen as the liquidity crisis is overcome.  In the coming days, the Special Envoy will intensify his efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and will be traveling to Doha, Muscat, Amman, Aden and Sana'a in Yemen.  We will keep you up-to-date on his activities.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) wanted to flag a mass vaccination campaign to protect more than 4 million children against a measles outbreak in north-eastern Nigeria is planned to start tomorrow.  The two-week campaign will target all children aged from 6 months to 10 years in accessible areas of conflict-affected States Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.  High insecurity, difficult terrain and lack of functioning health facilities add to the enormous logistical challenges of assembling and training more than 4,000 vaccination teams and ensuring the vaccine is kept within cold chain conditions in a climate where the average daytime temperature is above 86°F.  More information on the [WHO] website.

**Food Prices

A regular food price update:  the prices of major food commodities declined for the fifth year in a row in 2016, some 1.5 per cent below their 2015 levels.  That’s according to the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and their regular Food Price Index.  2016 was marked by a steady decline in cereal prices, while the prices of tropical commodities such as sugar and palm oil rose, due in part to the El Niño phenomenon.  More details are available online, if you are interested in food prices.


A senior personnel appointment:  the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Tania Patriota of Brazil as his Deputy Special Representative for Colombia and Deputy Head of the UN Mission in Colombia.  Ms. Patriota brings to this position more than 20 years of experience with the UN.  Over the past 13 years, Ms. Patriota has worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Brazil, Haiti, Colombia and Mongolia, as well as postings here at New York Headquarters.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Tomorrow I will be joined by Mohammed ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa [and Sahel], who will be delighted to brief you on the situation in the Gambia.  Masood-ji?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's very laudable that the Secretary‑General is taking so much interest in Cyprus to resolve the situation over there.  Now, there's the other Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan, which is going on forever, but there are no efforts being made by the Secretariat or the Secretary‑General or anybody else about resolving this issue.  Can you please tell us what… when were the latest contact between the Secretary‑General and the Indian Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  Well, as you well know, the… what day is it today?  The 12th.  The Secretary‑General has been in office for 12 days.  He has had a number of contacts with Government leaders around the world.  He's not been able yet to speak to every leader that he would like to speak to.  I think the fact that he's not had a phone conversation with the Prime Minister of India nor the Prime Minister of Pakistan, to my knowledge, in no way signifies a lack of interest in solving the issue around Kashmir nor many of the other issues that we see around the world.  So, I would ask you to give him a bit of time.  Thank you.  Sir?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Will the Secretary‑General stay more, even though you said that he is coming tomorrow back to New York, if the necessity of these talks on Cyprus, because, obviously, it does have some momentum.  And, also, when he says, repeating actually, that miracles are somehow not possible; is that becoming a mantra of his?

Spokesman:  You know, I think on… I would refer you back to what he said on Cyprus.  I think the Secretary‑General is trying to be realistic.  The discussions are meeting… the meeting is ongoing as we speak, so I'm sure there will be an update when the meeting breaks up.  I don't want to prejudge what the outcome will be.  I think the Secretary‑General, as you know, as he said from the beginning, is very invested in preventive diplomacy and negotiations.  And he will continue do so throughout his mandate.  Mr Lee?

Question:  He's coming back tomorrow?

Spokesman:  He will be here tomorrow for the hand‑over of the G77 to the Ecuadorian Presidency for the coming year.  Mr. Lee, then Mr. Avni.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I've seen… you'd said that… that… that Vijay Nambiar had stepped down at the end of December, the end of… his post ended, and… and… and the office was not funded.  But, I've seen he did an interview on 8 January with a… with a Bangladesh publication, Prothom Alo, where he… where he said he denied that there's genocide of Rohingya and Myanmar or he said that UNHCR had said that and then taken it back.  I wanted to, I guess, ask you, in what capacity… is he speaking for the UN in any way in saying that there's no genocide in the area?

Spokesman:  No, Mr. Nambiar is speaking in his personal capacity.

Question:  And I wanted to ask, another UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] question, one of the individuals indicted along with the Secretary… the former Secretary‑General's brother and nephew, a Malcolm Harris, and… and basic research finds that he has said publicly that he's done work with UNHCR and with the UN in a variety of capacities.  So, yesterday, you tried to say… even questions as to OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] were…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware…  I can… happy to look into it.  I'm not aware of this gentleman having done any work with the UN.  If you have a question for UNHCR, I would ask you to send it to UNHCR.

Question:  And I have a question directly for you.  The… the… the… the 24 September 2013 meeting between the Secretary‑General and the Amir of Qatar, in the indictment, that's the time frame exactly in which the nephew was saying, I can get my family to get Qatar to buy the building.  So, I wanted to know, I've looked at the readout.  It talks about Yemen.  It talks about Syria.  What records does the UN keep of those meetings simply to address… and did OIOS ever inquire, given the public reporting on this, whether this meeting involved in any way Landmark 72 in Viet Nam?

Spokesman:  A note is kept of the meeting, and that's the official record for any bilateral meetings.  As I said, on the indictment of the relatives of the former Secretary‑General, I have nothing to add to what I've said.

Question:  Right.  But, you understand that the allegation…?

Spokesman:  I understand what you're saying.

Question:  Right.  And I'm saying, what's the purpose of OIOS if they don't investigate things like this as to…

Spokesman:  I understand what you're saying, and I'm saying what I'm saying.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Just a quick one.  Will the Secretary‑General attend the Paris meeting, or does anybody from his office… or who will represent the [inaudible] at the Paris meeting…?

Spokesman:  The representation of the Paris meeting from the UN side has not yet been determined, but there will be a representative of the UN at the meeting.

Question:  Not the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  No, I said it has not yet been decided.

Correspondent:  So, it could be the Secretary‑General.

Spokesman:  It has not yet been decided, but there will be somebody sitting behind a plaque that says "United Nations".

Question:  I see.  And is there any… any thinking about follow‑up at the UN for the Paris meeting?

Spokesman:  I think that's… we are not the hosts, the conveners or the organizers of the conference.  I think that is a question best raised to the French mission.  Mr. Nizar and then Oleg.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, what we heard about Mosul and western Mosul in particular shows that the 750,000 in western Mosul suffered a great deal because of lack of food and supplies.  Does the United Nations feel that there should be unfettered access to these areas for aid?

Spokesman:  As a matter of principle, the UN always feels there should be unfettered access for aid, for humanitarian aid.  But, we've seen it in the case of Iraq.  We've seen it in the case of other places.  The problem is that there is no unfettered access for aid, which is a tragedy for those who need aid.  I mean, that's a basic principle of how we want to see people being able to access humanitarian aid, the depoliticization of aid.  Aid should not be held up for any reason.  I think… I don't have much to add to what Ms. [Lise] Grande gave… she gave you a very extensive and exhaustive briefing yesterday on the situation.  I don't have any more details than what she's added but as a matter of principle, of course.

Question:  But, the Government does not obstruct…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think she gave you a pretty extensive briefing.  So, I'm just answering on the question of principle.  Oleg, then Mr. Abbadi and then…

Question:  Yeah.  I have a couple of follow‑ups to questions by my colleagues.  First, on the Paris conference, is the Secretary‑General concerned that one of the parties of the conflict, the Israeli side, seems not… they're not going to take part in the conference as they did not last time.  Does he think that this could somehow… well, it will affect the outcomes.

Spokesman:  Well, I… you know, we don't want at this point to speculate on the outcome of the conference.  As I said, the UN, which is not organizing the conference but has been supportive, will be represented, and I think we have to see what the outcome will be.

Question:  And, on Syria, do you have any details on the agreement on Wadi Barada, what's happening there?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, not more than what we've been sharing.  We're not parties to those negotiations.  I think the sticking point is that the… there's still no agreement around the ceasefire where the source of the water is.  As soon as that happens and we feel it's safe, we have people who are there ready to help to put the water back online.

Question:  So, the situation is, the UN is going to do the job of repairing.  It's not the Syrian technicians…?

Spokesman:  We're there in support of… obviously, the Syrians have technicians.  We also have people who are ready to help and support the Syrian water technicians in the best way we can.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Australia and Timor‑Leste have a maritime border dispute in the region where mineral resources are abundant, and it's estimated to be $40 billion.  On 9 January, they have decided to embark on peaceful negotiations to resolve the conflict.  Does the Secretary‑General encourage these efforts, and does he see in that an example of preventive diplomacy?

Spokesman:  I don't have any details to that… to what is going on, on that end, so let me get an update.  But, obviously, again, as a matter of principle, I think any effort by two parties to peacefully negotiate an outcome to a difference they may have, we would welcome.  Evelyn?

Question:  The Government of Sudan at the Darfur meeting said that UNAMID was in too many places in Darfur, some of them very peaceful, and for the billion dollars a year that was spent, they should cut down the number of staff…?

Spokesman:  The staffing is an issue… is a mandate issue.  Obviously, I think with the problem in Darfur is our lack of access to a number of areas.  Yes, in the back.

Correspondent:  I was wondering if the UN is involved in the work of the Russians and the Turkish, which have been discussing sanctions if the sides in Syria violate ceasefire and if the UN supports the sanctions idea.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The issue of sanctions is obviously one for the Security Council to decide.  We are supportive of the Astana process and the discussions that are being had, and we're waiting to see again what… if our representation would be there.  But, on the issue of sanctions, it's up to the Council.  Masood?

Question:  Yes.  I was going to ask you a question about Yemen also.  Yemen, the talks between the Secretary‑General's representative and the Saudi Government, which were held yesterday, I mean, has… is that right or not, the Secretary‑General's representative and Mr. Cheikh?  He was there in Saudi Arabia…

Spokesman:  Yes, Ismail.  Yes, that's what I announced, yes.

Question:  Yeah.  And he had talks with the Saudis.  What were the outcomes of the talks?  Are they just that, have they assured, have the Saudis assured that they will not be…?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the outcome is one that needs to come from various places.  We're not going to give details of the specific talks.  The envoy is embarking on another round of discussions in the region.  As I said, he'll be going to Doha to Amman, to Amman, to Aden and obviously to… and to Aden and Sana’a.  He is trying to herd the parties back to the table.  He's trying to get them all to agree to a cessation of hostilities for the sake of the people of Yemen, who have been suffering for too long.

Question:  Did… in his talks with Saudis, did he get any assurances that the Saudis will not, in the meanwhile…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I… we're not in a position to share the details of the talks.  Mr. Lee?  Sorry.

Question:  Yes, just a follow‑up on that.  I asked several of the ambassadors in front of the Security Council today when the Yemen meeting is going to be, and it was kind of like pulling teeth.  But, there's reporting in the region that Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has said that it will be 25 January.  Are you aware of that?  Is that the day…

Spokesman:  At the Security Council?  No, I have not seen that date.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask about Gambia.  The Nigerian Parliament has voted to offer asylum or "safe haven" to Yahya Jammeh.  And I wanted to know, given that this would seem to involve not extraditing at least to Gambia for possible crimes against humanity or other crimes, what does the UN think of such an offer?

Spokesman:  I'll let Mr. Chambas answer that tomorrow.  Derrick?

Question:  Do you guys expect to be invited to the Astana talks?

Spokesman:  We are expecting some contacts from the hosts.  I think we'll see.  My assumption, which is not something I should do, would be yes.  Obviously, it's a matter, as I said yesterday, of receiving an official invitation.  And we have been, whether it's in discussions from the Special Envoy or from the Secretary‑General himself with the Turkish Foreign Minister not too long ago, very supportive of the process.

Question:  And, in the interim, Mr. de Mistura is… what is he doing for the February talks?

Spokesman:  Well, he… obviously, we… it is clear that the Astana talks will impact the February talks.  He's continuing his consultations.  I think today he met with the humanitarian group.  So those discussions are ongoing.

Question:  Follow up?  When the Secretary‑General met the new Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, did they talk about this conference?  We did have a short readout but still… did anybody mention the invitation?

Spokesman:  I'm sure it came up.  The invitation, we will let you know as soon as… almost as soon as we know, I will let you know.  Nizar?

Question:  Yep.  On Eastern Aleppo, there was… there was some footage today about children going back to school, but they complained no electricity, no heating, and very cold weather there.  How is the United Nations helping rehabilitation of the infrastructure in Aleppo?

Spokesman:  We have teams in Aleppo in the places we're able to access.  The focus right now has been on the humanitarian… on basic services, basic food we can get to them.  But, I'll try to get you a bit more detail on what we're doing specifically linked to the schools.  Oleg and then Mr. Abbadi and then Dulcie.

Question:  Stéphane, any reaction to what's happening in Venezuela?  There seem to be very serious disagreements between President, Parliament and…

Spokesman:  No, not… I don't have any guidance on that today.  Mr. Abbadi and then Dulcie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Will the Quartet be represented in the Paris peace conference, and who will represent the Quartet?

Spokesman:  I can only speak for a quarter of the Quartet, which would be the UN.  We will be represented.  As soon as I know at what level, I will share that with you.  Dulcie?

Question:  Has the new Secretary‑General been in touch, have any communication with the Ambassador‑designate for the US, Nikki Haley?

Spokesman:  No, he has not.  I don't believe anyone has.  And, frankly, I think it would not be proper for us to have any sort of senior-level contact until someone is actually confirmed into that post.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about… about… I guess some proposals of… of António Guterres.  Is it the… this idea of a DPAP, instead of being a DPA, being a Department of Political Affairs, and you know, prevented… prevention activities.  Is this… is this a done deal in his mind?  Is that what he's going?  And is the rule of law office going to be combined with the elections office currently headed by Craig Jenness?

Spokesman:  I think you're asking questions at a level of granularity which I'm not able to answer.  What I know, what the Secretary‑General has asked for and what both departments, DPA… well, DPA, DFS [Department of Field Support] and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], are working on is co‑locating physically offices in units that deal with the same countries and the same areas.  And that's what we're working on.

Question:  Is DFS going to be eliminated and put back under DPKO…?

Spokesman:  As I said, this is where our focus is on and those are the instructions he gave.

Question:  And just something very specific.  You'd said a lot of the contracts run out in March.  And I wanted to know, I've heard that some USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] are lobbying to stay on until June.  So, just to know… Like I'd asked you yesterday about Mr. [Martin] Kobler.  You said you'd look into it.  Does it run out in March or is it June?  Mr. Ladsous, is it June…?

Spokesman:  As for Mr. Kobler, I don't have any update.  I think what you will see is… what we expect to see for most of the senior posts, including USGs, is vacancy announcements.  And I think that will give you an indication of when posts become vacant.

Question:  And just finally, on the Jeff Sachs question, it's been about a week.  Is it permissible for a UN official to…?

Spokesman:  I owe you an answer on that.  I don't have anything.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  On this… the Syrian water crisis, who turned off the water?  The opposition said the Government did, and the Government says the opposition did.

Spokesman:  It's not… I think the terminology "turn off the water" is probably not the right image to have.  What we understand is that the water sources were either… and could be both sabotaged and hit by air.  We don't have any information as to who did what.  What we do know is that 5.5 million people do not have access to water, which is obviously a crisis in no uncertain terms.

Question:  Sabotaged by air, did you say?

Spokesman:  I said both.  We've had reports of sabotage and air.  Masood, then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  About this Security Council reforms, will the PGA [President of the General Assembly] have any briefing for the correspondents on the negotiations that are going on between the Member States?

Spokesman:  That sounds like a question for my friend Dan Thomas in the PGA's office.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  How many meetings has the Executive Committee held since its establishment, and what are the themes that it discussed?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's plan is to have weekly meetings of the Executive Committee, and it will discuss both issues that are on the front burner and issues that are on the back burner.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  Why is the United Nations distancing itself from the negotiations to re‑establish or to repair the water supply for Damascus?  Since five towns have already made arrangements with the Government, and they say that only Al‑Nusrah is against… or standing against any such arrangement.

Spokesman:  I think this is not… I think it's the… it's not that we're distancing ourselves.  It's the fact we're just not involved in the negotiations that would lead to… local negotiations that would lead to cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire in the area.  As soon as those come through, especially in the heart of Wadi Barada where we need to be, we will be there to help the Syrian people with the water issue.

Question:  At the beginning of this crisis, Al‑Nusrah… one of their operatives said openly he was… one of the leaders said that we cut off the supply of water as a response for what happened in Aleppo.  And he used… that was public.  Why the United Nations is refraining from mentioning this by any…?

Spokesman:  Well, it's not about me mentioning what somebody else said.  I think you and I have had this discussion in the past.  It's about our denunciation in any conflict of using water as a tool of war.

Question:  Why would the Government hit a water supply that caters for Damascus?

Spokesman:  Nizar, I don't know what else to say to you.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Straight logistics.  Yesterday, you'd said that you'd provide the… if you can, can you send me or give me the e-mail address of the Ban Ki‑moon's new Spokesman for the questions of OIOS and Colliers…

Spokesman:  Yes, I have the phone number.  I'm happy to do that.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.