16 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and happy Martin Luther King’s Day to one and all.


In a joint statement issued today, the heads of the UN’s main humanitarian bodies appealed once more for immediate, unconditional, and safe access to reach the children and families who are still cut off from humanitarian aid across the country.

In Syria today, they said, there are 15 besieged areas where up to 700,000 people, including an estimated 300,000 children, still remain trapped.  Nearly 5 million people, including more than 2 million children, live in areas that are extremely difficult to reach with humanitarian assistance due to fighting, insecurity and restricted access.

In particular, children are at heightened risk of malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhoea, infectious diseases, and injury.  Many need support after being exposed to traumatic events, violence and other violations.

The humanitarian agency heads argued that we must not let 2017 repeat the tragedies of 2016 for Syria.

That statement was put out by Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, WHO Director General Margaret Chan and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Still on Syria: the UN is alarmed by the reports of an attack on the technical team that went to Wadi Barada to assess damages to water infrastructure at the Al-Fiji spring site.  On 14 January, a member of the reconciliation committee was reportedly killed at the assessment site.  Consequently, the assessment mission was suspended.

The technical team, comprising Syrian Arab Red Crescent and water authorities, remains on stand-by to enter the area again to complete their mission as soon as security conditions allow.

The UN team is in contact with the water authority and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and also stands ready to enter the area and provide additional support to ensure the swift repair of the water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the fighting in the Wadi Barada area has displaced an estimated 17,500 people since 22 December.  For over three weeks, 5.5 million people in Damascus and surrounding areas have been cut off from their main water source due to the fighting in Wadi Barada.

The UN continues to support the water authorities with the water quality testing equipment, consumables and chemicals needed to undertake necessary water quality tests.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure unrestricted and safe access for technical teams in order to restore the provision of water, which is essential to the well-being of the civilian population.


The United Nations welcomes the first anniversary of the achievement of “Implementation Day” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or JCPOA), which marked a significant milestone in the historic agreement reached by the E3/EU+3 and Iran on 14 July 2015 and endorsed by the Security Council in its resolution 2231 of 2015.

The agreement underscores the importance of diplomacy in ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme remains exclusively peaceful, while also promoting peace and security in the region.

The United Nations welcomes the reaffirmation by all sides of their strong commitment to the continued full and effective implementation of the JCPOA, including in the meeting of the Joint Commission held in Vienna on 10 January 2017, and encourages all Member States to support its implementation in its entirety.  It is of the utmost importance that the JCPOA works in the interest of all its participants, including by delivering tangible benefits to the Iranian people.

The United Nations shall continue to support the implementation of the JCPOA, in accordance with resolution 2231 (2015) and other relevant decisions of the Security Council.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today welcomed the signature of an agreement to renew the activity of the Israeli–Palestinian Joint Water Committee to improve the water infrastructure and supply in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

This, along with previous joint agreements on electricity, water, mail and 3G cellular coverage, is in line with the Middle East Quartet’s recommendations.

If fully implemented, Mr. Mladenov said, this agreement would be an important step towards preserving the two-State solution.  He encouraged further cooperation between the two sides, which is critical to the viability of a future Palestinian State.

And you’d asked earlier who would represent the United Nations at yesterday’s Paris Conference on the Middle East.  Mr. Mladenov attended on the Secretary-General’s behalf.

Also I was asked about an article that appeared in Al Monitor that purported to express the Secretary-General’s views on the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  I can say that the views contained in the article are pure speculation.

The Secretary-General’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian question will become more clear in the weeks and months ahead.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Maman Sidikou, kick-started a series of joint consultations to address the presence of elements of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) in eastern DRC.

They met last week with the Governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, and with ex-combatants accommodated in Munigi camp.

And following meetings with national authorities in Kinshasa, they agreed with the DRC Government to establish a joint technical committee tasked to develop some options for the relocation of the ex-combatants.  This committee is scheduled to have its first meeting on 18 January 2017.

**South Sudan

A new report published today by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Human Rights Office details the grave human rights violations and abuses as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Juba during and after the fighting that occurred between 8 and 12 July 2016.  Six months after the violence, there remains widespread impunity, as violations continue unabated.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed that in the absence of any semblance of justice and accountability for the violations perpetrated — including possible war crimes — such unbridled outbursts of violence could quickly escalate.  The report urges the South Sudanese Government to take action to break the cycle of violence and impunity and take steps to fully support the prompt establishment and operationalization of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan by the African Union.


On Sudan, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Marta Ruedas, as well as the UN–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), have both welcomed the easing of sanctions imposed by the United States against the Republic of Sudan.

Ms. Ruedas noted that this decision is recognition of steps taken by the Government of Sudan during recent months in a number of important areas.  She congratulated the Government and the people of Sudan on the implementation of these steps, which include key decisions that will facilitate humanitarian actors’ efforts to deliver aid to those in need.

And the Acting Joint Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator, Jeremiah N. Mamabolo, called on all Sudanese stakeholders to take advantage of this window of opportunity to reflect on peace and reconciliation.

**El Salvador

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca delivered a message from the Secretary-General for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Salvadoran Peace Accords today.

That message stressed that the Salvadoran peacemaking and peacebuilding experience left a lasting impression on the United Nations, with the UN Observer Mission in El Salvador teaching us that peacebuilding must place human rights at the centre of all our work.

In May of last year, the Government of El Salvador sought the Secretary-General’s good offices to facilitate dialogue among Salvadorans and reach agreements on key challenges facing the country.

Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Benito Andión of Mexico as his Special Envoy to facilitate dialogue in El Salvador.  We have a full bio available in our office.

**Data Forum

The first UN World Data Forum officially opened today in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Forum has drawn more than 1,200 participants from governments, national statistics offices, the private sector, civil society and the scientific and academic communities.

The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said that he expects the Forum to serve as a launching pad where diverse data producers and users can get behind the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data.

He also expects partnerships to be created or strengthened, as well as a growing consensus on issues such as data privacy.

**Press Briefing

For press encounters, at 11 a.m. tomorrow there will be a press briefing on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2017 report.  Speakers will include Lenni Montiel, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.

That is it for me. Do we have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The European Union's Foreign Policy Chief, Federica Mogherini, said today that the EU is hoping to hold a conference on the rebuilding of Syria in April in tandem with the United Nations.  Can you confirm that this is in the works and that the UN will be a co-sponsor?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not at this stage.  The, there is some planning going on, but we don't have a formal announcement to make on this.  Once, once we have something, I'll let you know.

Yes.  Then you.

Question:  Sure.  I have some other stuff, but just on the announcement by the Sudan Resident Coordinator, you may have seen that, on Saturday, the Sudanese Congress Party and other opposition figures were banned from travelling out of the country to Paris.  And I just wonder, how does this relate to this announcement of… of welcoming?  Is the UN concerned that… that… that Sudan continues to block opposition figures from travelling out of the country?  How does it relate also to freedom of the press where there have been a number of newspapers with their full circulation seized?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, those are distinct issues.  Obviously, the fact that we have seen some improvements on the humanitarian side doesn't preclude the fact that we still have concerns about human rights in Sudan, and those concerns continue, including involving the treatment of political parties and of the press.  And we do continue to call on the Sudanese Government and the authorities to respect freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and other basic rights.

Question:  I guess I'm just saying, I've seen Ms. Ruedas' full statement and none of those issues were mentioned in it, and I just… sort of seems like isn't it like the UN looking at all of these issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, it is.  She's giving credit in, on one aspect, and so that statement is directed to one particular aspect of the issue, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other aspects that we continue to be concerned about, and our, our human rights concerns remain and are on the record.


Question:  Farhan, two questions.  First of all, sources say today's your fiftieth birthday.  True?  Can you confirm?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I can.  I'm 50.

Correspondent:  Happy birthday.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, thank you.

Question:  And, secondly, on the Secretary‑General's meeting with the Chinese President this week, can you give us a little more detail on this and what the reasoning is behind, behind him doing it in Geneva and, you know, just a little more detail?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, Xi Jinping will be in Geneva.  This is a fairly important trip by the Chinese President.  As far as I'm aware, this is the first time in quite some time that you've had a, so senior a Chinese official visit our Geneva offices.  And so we're very encouraged by that. 

The Secretary‑General will want to see him to talk about a range of issues of mutual concern.  As you know, China is a very important part of the UN system, and, among other things, as you know, it's one of the five permanent members of the United Nations [Security Council], and, and so this is a good opportunity for the Secretary‑General to talk to the leaders of one of those key States. 

We'll also try to provide a readout of that meeting once it has taken place, but, as we pointed out, the Secretary‑General will see him, and then from there will go on to Davos for, for the World Economic Forum.

Question:  But is there any particular item on their agenda?  And is… also, in The Week Ahead, there was some mention of some event that they were going to be doing together.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I believe we had mentioned some of this on Friday.  We, we have some of the details in our Friday briefing, but beyond that, any further details, we'll have as the meeting transpires.


Question:  Farhan, on these talks on the South Sudanese rebels in the DRC, how many are there now?  And has any country stepped up and agreed to take some in?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have the numbers with me, but I believe that we can get those for you from… from the, the officials we have in the DRC.  At this stage, what we're trying to do is just have dialogue going on between, as we just pointed out, the officials in North Kivu and also with the SPLA in Opposition forces.  We're trying to maintain the sort of peace that we have in that area and see whether that continues.  But I don't have any confirmation of anyone else, of any other countries stepping in to take these particular individuals.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, the… the… these Burundian talks facilitated by Mr. Mkapa, I'd asked this in December, I guess, in writing to you, but the… one of the… one of his team members that's being deported by the UN is a person that’s listed in the November 2009 DRC sanctions report as being a supporter of CNDD‑FDD, and there's actually some allegations that he was involved in helping to arm them.

So I'm just wondering, what is the relationship between the UN's support of these talks and what many are calling a lack of inclusiveness and the inclusion of people that are… are, you know, listed in UN sanctions reports?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the sanctions are, remain in place, and it's a matter for the Security Council and its relevant sanctions committees to make sure that those sanctions are implemented.  We at the UN, of course, respect those sanctions.  That's a separate issue from the need for mediation.  Of course, we need to make sure that all mediation efforts, including those under former President Mkapa, are supported, and we're continuing to do so with our officials in the region.

Question:  But have you seen the response by large parts of the Burundian opposition that this… the most recent round is the least… the most one‑sided yet and it's virtually… I mean, they're not really included.  What's the UN's role in these talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're certainly aware of the objections by the various sides.  We're trying to make sure that, as the process continues, it can be as inclusive as possible.  And we'll continue, including through Jamal Benomar's office, to try to reach out to all the various parties.

Yes, please.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Farhan.  Again, happy birthday.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.

Question:  After last week's arrest and release of a Prime… former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, in France on Serbian arrest warrants through Interpol, then blackmailing of France to extradite him to Serbia, we witnessed the… these last two days another nationalist incident from Serbia, they send so‑called Russian train to Kosovo, and then Kosovo sent police to the border to stop the train.  Thank god everything ended peacefully, though President of Serbia threatened to… to… to send the army there.

What's Secretary‑General stand on this?  Can he do something, because actions like this do undermine the reconciliation and… I'm sorry, the… the dialogue in Brussels that is being facilitated from EU and supported and backed from UN.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN, of course, supports the EU‑backed dialogue and efforts of dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, and we'll continue to do so.  And we stand against any kind of actions, including rhetoric, that would undermine that dialogue.  We want to make sure that the parties continue to be in touch with each other and avoid such steps.


Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  And happy birthday also.


Deputy Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  In… on Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, the OCHA coordinator, announced today that the conflict has reached 10,000 deaths and 40,000 others wounded.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this number, which is significantly higher than previous estimates?

And, secondly, on Yemen, the UN envoy [Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed] is in Aden today.  And, according to Yemeni officials, he's presenting a new peace plan to President Hadi.  Is this something that you could confirm, or are there any details?

Deputy Spokesman:  On your second point, yes, I can confirm that the Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is in Aden today.  He is scheduled to meet with President Hadi, and he will try to present him with the latest peace proposals.  Obviously, it's nothing that I can give details of.  This is something that he's been developing in dialogue with the various parties, and that dialogue will continue. 

And we'll continue to try to provide periodic details of his travels as they proceed, but right now, I don't have any particular press release or, or information about the Aden visit, although, yes, I can confirm it has begun, and he is there.

Regarding the figures by Mr. McGoldrick, of course, we stand by what our Humanitarian Coordinator is saying, and this once more underscores the need to resolve the situation in Yemen without any further delay.  There's been a huge humanitarian cost, which we have been mentioning periodically.


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Happy birthday.  And quick clarification.  Did the UN receive a formal invitation to attend the Astana talks supposed to be held on 23 January?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not, not so far.  We do expect at some point that we may have a role, but we're awaiting to see what that will be.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about, in Bahrain, there was these execution of three people.  Some people… large… human rights activists have said they were probably tortured.  Anyway, their execution has set off unrest, including the setting ablaze of city hall.  And I'm just wondering, what is the UN… does the UN… is there any response from the UN, both either to the executions or to the unrest that's followed?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you're aware, we have our, our long‑stated concerns about capital punishment, and we would restate them here.  You're well aware that we do oppose the continued institution of capital punishment, and, and those concerns apply in this case as well.

Regarding demonstrations, of course, we hope that any demonstrations against this would be peaceful, but certainly, we hope that the authorities will allow for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Yes, Sherwin.

Question:  Happy birthday, and here's to the next five decades.

On what's going on in Gambia and, and this notion of a standby force in Senegal that is on standby to oust the President by force is required, does the UN have a position on such action, which would, without Security Council approval, appear quite unprecedented in many aspects?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any comment about, about any such force, which the, the implementation of which is, at this stage, hypothetical.  Right now, what we're still hoping for is that, that the process in Gambia will continue to allow for the inauguration as, as detailed in the Constitution, on 19 January of the President‑elect, Adama Barrow.  We have been working with the various parties, including the Economic Community of West African States, to push for that resolution, and we hope that that is what will happen next.


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about, I guess, Cyprus, and then also UN reform.  I'm sure you've seen the coverage of the… the Cyprus talks.  A number of the stories said that the… the Greek Foreign Minister and the Secretary‑General didn't get along and that, here's a quote from one of the stories.  "Guterres was so irritated that he… he has refused to sit in the same room as the Greek Foreign Minister in the foreseeable future."

There are at least three different articles in three separate media saying this.  So I'm just wondering, how would you characterise the… the… the participation of the Greek Foreign Minister and the Secretary‑General's view going forward on his participation?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I mean, that, that's not, that's not accurate.  What, what I would say is the Secretary‑General has been dealing and will continue to deal with all the various sides regarding this. 

You will have seen what the Secretary‑General said last week, and I would just refer you back to the text of what he said.  We continue to hope that there will be an agreement.  Obviously, we want to make sure that this is a lasting and sustainable agreement, and we will work in good faith with all the various sides.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you about this memo, the terms of reference for new/revised office of executive Secretary‑General post in units that talks about… basically, it involves the creation of a couple of new ASG spots.  It says that it will be, all of this is for six months and to be reviewed and has this organogram on the back. 

What I'm wondering is… if… is… is… are these… is it accurate to assess that this involves new ASG posts, i.e., more spending?  How does it relate to the Fifth Committee?  And it was said here last week that the way to keep track of when people's contracts runs out is to look at vacancy announcements. 

So I wanted to ask you, will, for example, the Under‑Secretary‑General positions in DPA and DPKO, will there be a vacancy announcement, or is this something that will be done without any kind of public notice?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have anything to add to what Stéphane said about that, which is exactly to look at the vacancy announcements.  As you monitor those, that will become clear.

Regarding any additional expenses, if there are additional expenses that need to be made, we would inform the Member States and, particularly, the Fifth Committee about that.  At this stage, we're in the early days of this process, and there's no concrete requests to make for additional spots.

Question:  But, like, Assistant Secretary‑General for strategic coordination and senior adviser on policy, these are spots that are already in the budget?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are some that, that will be in the budget.  There are some that will be part of extra budgetary processes.  If there is a need for further budgetary allocations, we'll inform the Member States accordingly.

Question:  And, finally, there were some members of the transition team that I've never seen it announced that they've become UN officials, but in going to 38 for photo ops and other… they're there.  So I'm just wondering, is there some way we can get a chart of like who's actually working up there, particularly the people that were on the transition but haven't been subject to any kind of press release since then in terms of what their position is?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, until the end of January, they're formally regarded as part of the transition team.  Once January has ended, the transition period is over, and they will either have new positions or will go back to other jobs.  But right now, their formal titles really has to do with their status as part of the transition team.  That process is ongoing through this month.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.