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

27 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 spoke at the ceremony today marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, and he said it would be a dangerous error to think that the Holocaust is simply the result of the insanity of a group of criminal Nazis.  On the contrary, he said, the Holocaust was a culmination of millennia of hatred and discrimination targeting the Jews — what we now call anti-Semitism.

History keeps moving forward, he added, but anti-Semitism keeps coming back.  Anti-Semitism is alive and kicking.  Irrationality and intolerance are back.  We see Holocaust denial, despite the facts.  There is also a new trend of Holocaust revisionism, with the rewriting of history and even the honouring of disgraced officials from those days.  And he warned that hate speech and anti-Semitic imagery are proliferating across the Internet and social media.

The Secretary-General said today we see anti-Semitism, along with racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance, triggered by populism.  He is extremely concerned at the discrimination faced by minorities, refugees and migrants across the world, and he added that he finds the stereotyping of Muslims deeply troubling.  A “new normal” of public discourse is taking hold, in which prejudice is given a free pass and the door is opened to even more extreme hatred.  His full remarks are online.

And you are all invited to meet the author of Someday You Will Understand, which will take place this afternoon, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the UN Bookshop as part of the UN’s Holocaust Week events.


Here this morning, the Security Council was briefed by the Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, who noted that the meeting was coming at an auspicious time following an extended and exhaustive parliamentary electoral process, just 12 days before the Presidential election.

Mr. Keating said an immediate priority was to ensure that the presidential vote took place on the agreed date, despite Al-Shabaab’s attempts to discredit and disrupt the election process, including carrying out a number of terrorist attacks this past week that left dozens dead.

He also stressed that it was essential that the last stage of the electoral process is conducted transparently and according to the agreed rules, which were designed to ensure free and fair elections.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that intermittent shelling could be heard this afternoon in Malakal in Upper Nile from the Ditang area towards the north of the town, close to the UN base.

This follows reports of heavy fighting on Wednesday between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and opposition forces in Ditang, Lelo, Artakong and Burkiny.

Yesterday, the UN Mission reported that Malakal town was deserted, with SPLA soldiers in the area reportedly on high alert.

The Mission reiterates its call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and fully implement the peace agreement.


I wanted to also flag a concern of our colleagues from the Food and Agriculture Organization following the mass die-off of a rare Mongolian antelope.

Some 900 Saiga antelopes — almost 10 per cent of the subspecies’ population — have been found dead in the western part of Mongolia.

Samples taken from carcasses indicate the animals were positive for the PPR, which in French is the Peste des Petits Ruminants, which is a highly fatal viral disease with plague-like impact on sheep and goats.

The FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health are leading a multinational effort to eradicate the disease by 2030.  More information online.

**Economic and Social Council

The two-day ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Youth Forum will start next Monday and will focus on the role of youth in poverty eradication and in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The annual event is a critical global platform where youth ministers and other Government leaders, youth delegates, representatives from civil society and youth-focused organizations can contribute to discussions on issues affecting young people, including youth employment and empowerment, gender equality and climate change.

The Forum will take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber and there will be a SDG Media Zone available in the Express Bar on the third floor of the GA building.  You are welcome to attend the talks by youth advocates taking place there.

More information on the Forum is available on the ECOSOC website, as well as a schedule.

**Honour Roll

And today, we are happy to announce that a further three countries have paid their dues in full:  Estonia, Finland and Switzerland.  We thank them heartily, which brings the total to?

Correspondent:  22.

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Joe.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  I assume if you played, you had a question.

Correspondent:  Well, I just like to play.

Spokesman:  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  All right.  Are you going to be putting out — maybe you have already — a readout of the meeting between the Secretary‑General and the new US Ambassador?

Spokesman:  No, we don’t traditionally put out readouts of Secretary‑General’s meeting with Permanent Representatives.  He accepted… he received her credentials this morning and then, as he usually does with new ambassadors, had an initial meeting.  They talked for about 20 minutes.  And I think the Secretary‑General is pleased to begin discussions with the new US Administration.

Question:  Could you… could you at least in… at a high level…

Spokesman:  At a high level.  I can’t do anything at a high level.

Question:  …give us a little bit of a summary of at least the issues that were talked about?

Spokesman:  It’s an initial meeting.  There will be plenty of other opportunities for the two of them to talk.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Edie.  Yeah.

Question:  Follow‑up.  [laughter]  In her remarks, the new US Ambassador spoke about a new approach by the Trump Administration and what it hopes to achieve at the UN in… including beefing up, improving what’s right, trying to fix what’s wrong, and eliminate obsolete and other things.  Is there any reaction to that… those… that approach from the United Nations?  And was UN reform touched on during…

Spokesman:  I can’t tell you what was touched upon or not and what was in the initial meeting.  I think the US has always been an important partner of the United Nations in terms of UN reform.  The Secretary‑General has laid out his reform agenda.  As I said, this is… they will have… we’re happy to have a Permanent Representative here representing the new Administration.  There will be plenty of opportunities for them to talk over the coming weeks, months, and longer.  US is a critical partner to the United Nations, and as I said, we look forward to working with the new Permanent Representative.  Sir?

Question:  I have to try again.  [laughter]  Did the Secretary‑General express his concern regarding the intentions… probably intentions of the new US Administration to… to curb its participation at the UN, number one?  Number two, did the issue of gender parity came to…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I’m not able to share any more about the meeting, and I will be happy to answer more questions on it using the same words I’ve already used, perhaps in a different permutation, but I have nothing else to add.

Question:  But, Stéphane, did they?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Luke?

Question:  I have a question about the Holocaust remembrance speech by the SG, which seemed to go beyond the language used by past SGs, specifically in Mr. [António] Guterres saying he wants to strengthen the human rights machinery of the UN, and then he’ll be on the front line of, you know, preventing anti‑Semitism.  To what extent was this language chosen, given that the US seems to be auditing the UN, sort of looking for anti‑Semitism, wherever…?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I think the way to understand the Secretary‑General’s remarks on anti‑Semitism is to look at his own personal path, and he referred to it clearly in his speech about his work as Prime Minister of Portugal, trying to eradicate the mistakes of Portugal in the sixteenth century, as he put it.  That’s where it comes from.  I think that’s where the commitment to anti‑Semitism comes from.  Yes, Farnaz?

Question:  Going back to the US Ambassador, can you tell us what… how… what kind of an impact do you think it would have on the UN and its various programmes if the new Administration does sign the Executive Order, defunding?  And, second, given Ambassador [Nikki] Haley’s remarks this morning, in the opinion of the UN, does the US have that kind of clout to come in and reform and change the UN and do away with programmes that it thinks is unnecessary?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not come down the pike in terms of executive decisions.  The US contribution to the UN in financial terms is clear.  The numbers are transparent, and anyone can read them.  I think there’s not… nothing surprising in a permanent representative coming in and expressing his or her country’s viewpoint.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  On, I guess, reform and transparency, I wanted to ask you what… I did… I received an e-mail from you, but I need to ask a more very specific question.  I’ve been told and I’m… and I’ve asked Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman and now I’m asking you, that his contract was extended from March through June so that his UN pension can vest.  And I wanted to know, just… you said something like it’s early days, but just, did that occur?  And was Katrin Hett from his office, placed in the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General, moved from P4 to P5?  I’m told by people in DPA (Department of Political Affairs), essentially, to kind of keep an eye on things.  But the most important thing I want to know is… and I’m asking not to be personal, but because it is public money.  That’s why I expected a yes‑or‑no answer… a yes‑or‑no answer.

Spokesman:  I think two things.  As I said, we’re in a period of transition.  The Secretary‑General is looking at his senior leadership.  He’s taking decisions that will need… that will ensure the continuing smooth transition that is already ongoing.  That’s for Mr. Feltman.  I have… I don’t have the exact dates of his contract.  We’re in a period of transition.  As for… as for the other person you mentioned, you know, I… you’re free to ask.  I find it somewhat despicable that people use you or others to drag people’s names through the mud and insinuate things.  The… we’re in a transition period.  The Secretary‑General’s Office is in the midst of changes.  New staff’s coming in.  All rules are being observed and… all rules and regulations are being observed.  And I’ll leave it at that.

Question:  I guess my… my… you can use the word “despicable” if you want.  What I wanted to know about the Mr. Feltman thing is, if… and you can easily ask… I guess he contacted you when I e-mailed him, but if, in fact, his contract was extended and if you know that he was appointed by the previous administration and you know that the new administration came in and said… I guess they believe they deserve a USG (Under-Secretary-General) post, what was the thinking behind extending and is it related… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  The only thing that matters is to have as smooth of a transition continue, as we’ve had.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  But you understand, other organizations actually transition.

Question:  Back to Ambassador Haley, in general, how do you describe the meeting with the Secretary‑General?  How… how… did it go on?  And, second, was there any agreement or at least the date raised the possibility of Secretary‑General meeting with President [Donald] Trump anytime soon?

Spokesman:  I really have nothing more to share about… with you about the meeting.  It was an initial meeting.  It was 20 minutes.  It was getting to know you.  It was the first time they’ve obviously met.  It’s the beginning of a long relationship between the Secretary‑General and the new Permanent Representative of the United States.  There will be a lot of discussions.  You know, when and where the Secretary‑General meets the new US President, obviously, as soon as we have something to announce, it will happen.  But as I said, from our side, the Secretary‑General was very pleased to meet the new Permanent Representative.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  The question on Gambia, actually, can you… can you please clarify?  You said that UN is beefing up its presence and its office in the country for further assistance to the new Administration.  And what exactly this help of UN will be?  Will be Mr. [Mohammed Ibn] Chambas the new adviser of the President?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, Mr. Chambas, I think, remains in the Gambia working with the President and meeting others.  I know he has seconded a political… I think a transition expert to work with the new President.  As I said, my colleagues at UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and others are working on plans on beefing up the country office in the Gambia.  I think the UN system is committed to assisting the new Gambian authorities in ensuring that the transition… yet another transition goes smoothly.  And, as soon as I can squeeze some hard numbers out of my colleagues from across the street, I will share that with you.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  In light of the proposal that’s been floated in the US in the Trump Administration about the possibility of an import tax, has the Secretary‑General — and I’ll just make it more general — raised with anyone, including this morning, his concerns about the possibility of trade wars breaking out?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not… I have no information to be able to comment on that question.  Edie and then Mr. Lee.

Question:  Russia is saying that the next round of Syria peace talks in Geneva’s being postponed until late February.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  No.  The office of Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura is continuing to work on preparations for new a new round of talks in February.  As you know, he’ll be coming to New York next week to consult with the Secretary‑General and the Security Council.  And I think we can expect him to announce further details after those rounds of consultations.

Question:  The date was supposed to be 8 February.  Is… is it… can we at least say that it’s influx or it isn’t set in stone?

Spokesman:  You may interpret my words in whatever way you want, but I will stick to what I said.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  One, I… I just actually… I guess it’s a follow‑up on that, and then I wanted to ask more about this transition or despicable transition.  I’d wanted… or whatever you were referring to as despicable.  I wanted to ask, there was a quote in a number of articles today of a Spokesperson for Staffan de Mistura, Yara Sharif, and she says, “‘There’s no confirmation that the February talks are postponed,’ said Yara Sharif, a Spokesman for de Mistura.  ‘We are going to be sure when the Special Envoy’s back from talks next week with UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon.’”  And I wanted to know, did she say the Secretary‑General is still Ban Ki‑moon, or did the various publications running the sentence say it?

Spokesman:  I have no clue.

Correspondent:  Okay.  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Either she made a mistake or wherever you’re quoting from made a mistake.

Question:  It’s on the theme… this is on the theme of transition, because I wanted to know, as you may know, Nikki Haley, in written responses to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, talked about working early… in early days on WFP (World Food Programme) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).  And, although yesterday you’d said that there’s a well‑established procedure as to UNFP… UNDP, I wanted to know, what is the procedure for this administration of the UN, in terms of replacing the heads of WFP and UNICEF?  It… are you saying that it’s… it’s open to all countries as… as I guess it’s stated, but it seems… my understanding… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  There are stated rules.  And those will be followed.

Question:  Then why is it that some countries have controlled these posts five and… four and five times in a row?  And, if so…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  That’s not a question… that’s not a question I’m able to answer.

Question:  It is a question…

Spokesman:  It’s not a question… I’m not saying it’s not a question.  I’m saying it’s a question I’m not able to answer.

Question:  Have you seen letters of resignation from Ertharin Cousins or Anthony Lake?

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of.  Good day.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.