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

7 February 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.

**Middle East

I will start off with a statement on the passing of the "Regularisation bill" in the Knesset in Israel.

The Secretary-General deeply regrets the adoption of the so called "Regularisation bill" on 6 February by the Knesset.  This bill is in contravention of international law and will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel.  It reportedly provides immunity to settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank that were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

The Secretary-General insists on the need to avoid any actions that would derail the two-State solution.  All core issues should be resolved between the parties through direct negotiations on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and mutual agreements.  The United Nations stands ready to support this process.


As you will have seen, there was an explosion earlier today in Kabul outside of the Supreme Court.  Our colleagues at the Mission there have expressed their concern about the mounting death toll and say that many of the casualties are women, although they are still working to verify the number of those injured or killed.

For our part, we condemn today’s suicide attack in Kabul and express our condolences to the families of the victims and convey our solidarity to the Government and people of Afghanistan.

Indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including employees of the judicial institutions, are violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and cannot be justified.  Those behind today’s bombing and other such despicable acts must face justice.


Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that, following a decrease in hostilities since the Iraqi Security Forces retook eastern Mosul, the rate of civilian displacement has slowed and the humanitarian situation in the eastern neighbourhoods is improving.  That is happening despite an increase in indirect fire from mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance to civilians displaced from Mosul, as well as inside the eastern neighbourhoods of the city, where access allows.  Assistance includes distribution of more than 280,000 emergency kits of “ready to eat” food, basic water and hygiene supplies in and around Mosul.  More than 30,000 of these kits have been distributed in the eastern part of the city.  Assistance inside Mosul also includes the daily trucking of 2,300 cubic meters of safe drinking water, giving public access to safe drinking water to 28 Mosul neighbourhoods.

Humanitarian partners are working closely with the Government to prepare for possible scenarios once the military operation on western part of Mosul begins.  Additional camps and emergency sites are being prepared to shelter people fleeing when military operations recommence.

**Security Council

Jeff Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council earlier this morning on the Secretary-General’s fourth report on the threat posed by ISIL (or Da’esh) to international peace and security.

That report stresses that Da’esh is on the defensive militarily in several regions.  But although its income and the territory under its control are shrinking, it still appears to have sufficient funds to continue fighting, including through extortion and the exploitation of hydrocarbons.  And Mr. Feltman added that Da’esh is adapting in several ways to military pressure — resorting to increasingly covert communication and recruitment methods, including by using the “dark web”, encryption and messenger apps.


The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said in a statement that he was shocked and alarmed by the accounts of serious human rights violations being committed against Muslim Rohingya in northern Rakhine State by Myanmar’s security forces, as set out in a recent report put out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Special Adviser welcomed the Government’s commitment to investigate the matter immediately. But he added that he is concerned that the Government Commission, which had unhindered access to the location of the incidents, found nothing to substantiate the claims.  He said that the existing Commission is not a credible option to undertake the new investigation. He urges that any investigation be conducted by a truly independent and impartial body that includes international observers.


The Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, said today she is gravely concerned about the situation of migrants in Libya, adding that in the course of their journey, women and girls but also men and boys face grave human rights violations, including conflict-related sexual violence, committed by parties to the Libyan conflict, as well as smugglers, traffickers and other criminal groups.  They also face risks and incidents of sexual violence when being held in official and unofficial detention centres for irregular migrants. Ms. Bangura also expressed concern about the systematic use of sexual violence by groups affiliated [to] Da’esh in Libya.

And just to note for tomorrow: the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, will brief the Security Council and I am sure he will be delighted to meet you at the stakeout following that briefing.


Our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) today launched a major campaign to spread awareness about the dangers of crossing the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea from Africa to Yemen.

More than 117,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Yemen in 2016.  Many were lured by smugglers to take the perilous boat journey across the high seas in search of protection or better livelihood.  UNHCR is alarmed that so many people are heading to a country where the conflict is worsening, displacement is growing, and arrivals face a very uncertain future.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, we have an update from our peacekeeping colleagues in the Mission there on the situation in Kajo Keji, in Central Equatoria.  As we reported a few days ago, civilians have been fleeing the town due to insecurity, following clashes between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Opposition groups.  It was a major priority for the UN Mission to urgently access the location to assess the security situation and provide force protection to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  UN peacekeepers reportedly arrived on Sunday from Juba after being held up at road blocks on three consecutive days.

The peacekeepers patrolled at the airport and market areas and reported the presence of a handful of civilians.  The head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, said he was pleased the peacekeepers had reached Kajo Keji and thanked them for their persistence.  He expressed his hope that this was a sign that, in the future, UN peacekeeping troops would be granted the access they are entitled to under the UN’s Status of Forces Agreement with the Government of South Sudan.  A civilian team from the UN Mission, including human rights, civil affairs, gender and relief and protection experts also arrived in Kajo Keji this morning to conduct an assessment of the [situation on the ground].


WFP (World Food Programme) tells us that a groundbreaking study of the impact of child undernutrition on Mali’s economy has launched in Mali.  The latest in a series known as the Cost of Hunger in Africa (COHA) surveys, it will examine the effects of child undernutrition on health, education and national productivity in the country.


I want to flag that you are all invited to attend a discussion on Educational Strategies for the Prevention of Violent Extremism — that is Thursday, not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow — at 3 p.m.  

The event is part of the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ “Media and Information Literacy” and the UN Academic Impact’s “Unlearning Intolerance” programmes.   More information on their websites.

**Honour Roll

Today we say Danke to our friends in Vienna who have paid their budget dues in full bringing us up to?

Correspondent:  Twenty-eight.

Spokesman:  Mr. Klein, if you have a question, you may exercise that right.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  In the statement you read at the outset concerning the Knesset's action with regard to the settlements on private Palestinian land, is there any reason for the absence of a reference to the Israeli Government's enforcement of a judicial decision to require the evacuation of illegal settlements, number one…?

Spokesman:  I think we would want…

Question:  Well… and, number two, is there a reason why there was no reference to the fact that, while the Knesset passed this legislation, it's still going to be subject to independent judicial review and many are forecasting that that law will be held unconstitutional?

Spokesman:  Obviously, we will look at the process as it moves forward.  We felt it was important to express our opinion now.  We've discussed the issue of the… I think the Amona settlement and obviously welcome the fact that the Government did what it did.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may.

Question:  Stéphane, would you please explain to us why the Secretary‑General is trying to avoid any condemnation for what he is himself saying that is against the international law, is in clear… why he is not explicitly condemning this?  And is he trying to just… to avoid being cursed by the Israelis or what?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not looking… I think the Secretary‑General understands the pressures that one gets in this job, from whichever quarter.  I don't read it as a statement welcoming the decision by the Knesset, so you may interpret it in different ways.  Edie?

Question:  Stéphane, there was an airstrike today on the rebel‑held city of Idlib in Syria that killed at least 15 people.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  We're obviously keeping an eye on the situation.  We deplore the loss of civilian life there as we have in… in other parts of Syria as the conflict rages, and I think, as we see continuing civilian deaths, it should just redoubles everybody's determination to reach a political agreement.  Mr. Lee and then Rosalyn.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Myanmar.  There was that statement yesterday by Adama Dieng saying that the… the existing commission there is not sufficient to do the investigation, and that commission has since rejected both… both… both reports.  So I guess I wanted to know, one, if there's a response.  But, two, this morning, one Security Council member said this… Rohingya issue should be taken up by the Council.  Another said he wasn't sure.  And I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General himself… this would seem to be a kind of an Article 99.  Does he believe that, given the split in the Council — there's at least one member that doesn't want any outcome on anything to do with Myanmar — that he should raise it to the Council?

Spokesman:  We would very much hope that the Council agrees on its agenda.  They have heard briefings on Myanmar in the past from the Special Envoy, and we obviously stand ready to brief them should they request so.

Question:  I guess what I'm say… the last time that a briefing was held, there was an agreement in advance that there would be no outcome.  I think… and so I'm just… I'm wondering…

Spokesman:  If they request such a briefing, we would be happy to supply one.  Rosalyn?

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesman:  You may, Carole.  And then we'll go…

Question:  I'm just wondering again, based on the statement, this idea that there should be a truly independent and impartial investigation, so… with international observers.  Is the suggestion that the UN will want to set up something there…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think it's a suggestion, [or] it's a call for an immediate UN investigation.  It's the call for the… it's a call on the Government to organize an impartial investigation.  Rosalyn?

Question:  I wanted to go back to the regularization vote.  First, given the Secretary‑General's concerns, is he expected to speak with the Prime Minister, Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu?  And, as a follow‑up, does he believe that the Security Council should also take a wait‑and‑see attitude as the legal process and Israel works its way through?

Spokesman:  The Security Council, as you know, is master of its own work.  I'm not aware of any calls scheduled between the Prime Minister and the Secretary‑General.  However, our representative on the ground, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, I think, has been in touch with officials in Israel.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Could you confirm the Secretary‑General's visit to Turkey?  If yes, when?  And who will the Secretary‑General will meet and what is on his agenda?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Short answer is no.  I cannot confirm.  We may have some announcements on travel in the days ahead.  Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any reaction from the Secretary‑General on the latest report, Amnesty International reports organized murder of detainees in Syrian prison.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General was horrified about what was in the report as he was by the contents of the recent report outlining the suffering of the Rohingyas that was done by the High Commissioner for Human Rights office.  We have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the grave violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria, including in detention centres and Government‑run prisons.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Recently, you announced that the Secretary‑General would visit the Middle East and meet the Palestinians and the Israelis.  With this decision of Israeli Knesset legalizing the theft of Palestinian land, would it hasten his visit and expedite it?

Spokesman:  I don't… I do have short‑term memory problems, but I don't recall announcing a visit.

Question:  Maybe he answered… he said he would be visiting.  Some… it was said some…

Spokesman:  I don't… I mean, we have no travel to confirm or announce in terms of Israel or Palestine.

Question:  He didn't mention anything about he's planning to visit the region?

Spokesman:  Again, as… you know, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General would like to visit a host of a number of places around the world.  We're just six days… or seven days now into his second month.  We'll get there.  But I have no travel to announce.  Yes?  And then we'll go to Olga.

Question:  Back to Amnesty report, so I see that the SG has a position on this report, but does he call for any kind of action, or is he willing to take any action on this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, we… the report itself goes along the lines of what the Independent [International] Commission of Inquiry in Syria found.  There's also an accountability mechanism that is being set up.  I think what is important is that there needs to be accountability for all the victims in this conflict.  Mr. Lee?  Oh, Sorry.  Olga had been very patient.  Let me finish round one.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement earlier saying that, after Eastern Aleppo was freed from terrorist fighters, there were lots of medical supplies found in the city, and Spokesperson criticized UN for not making this information public.  Will you have to say anything about that?

Spokesman:  You know, I think this issue came up recently, and I think Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien, in his public briefing to the Council, referred to it.  So I would refer you back to what he's already said.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in… in… in Côte d'Ivoire, there are reports of kind of… either a second round of mutiny-ing or firing by soldiers in a place called Adiaké.  And I wanted to know, does the mission there… can they confirm that?  Do they have any… what's the status, I guess, of the mission there?  I've seen some, I guess… on background talk by DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) about speeding up the closing of missions or trying to save money.  Can you…

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think the mission is going through its drawdown…

Question:  They're two separate questions.

Spokesman:  I haven't received any update from our presence on the ground, but we can ask.

Question:  And I have another peace… I guess, peacekeeping question.  You talked about South Sudan, and I just… I wanted to ask you, are aware of a… of an order among the UN Humanitarian Air Service to basically try to… to… to discourage Kenyan nationals from going to any IO‑controlled territory because of the capture of IO officials in Kenya?  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, you should contact WFP who… which runs the Humanitarian Air Service.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Back to Amnesty… Amnesty's report on Syria; does the Secretary‑General support the motion by Qatar and Liechtenstein to just… to bring accountability to the grave violations of human rights in Syria?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, there is a General Assembly resolution we've acted upon.  And, of course, we support calls for accountability for all the victims of the conflict in Syria.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I have a couple of, I guess, transparency questions.  One is, I've seen the Secretary‑General quoted that he is… he's formed, quote, committees to deal with thorny issues, such as the protection of whistle-blowers and sexual exploitation and abuse.  Can you say who's on those committees, particularly in the case of whistle-blowers?  Are there whistle-blowers on the…

Spokesman:  On the whistle-blower, I think he was referring to the fact that, I think, just two weeks after or three weeks after he took office, there was an agreement between the staff and the management, and a new whistle-blower policy was issued.  And he was also referring to the task force being led by Jane Holl Lute on sexual exploitation and abuse.

Question:  Okay.  And the other one is, I saw in his schedule yesterday, he met with the ACT group, Accountability Coherence and Transparency, and particularly given the third noun in their name, can you give a readout?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything to share on the transparency… meeting with the transparency group. All right.  Yes, Linda Fasulo.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You've mentioned that the Secretary‑General said he's horrified, obviously, with conditions in Syria and in Myanmar.  But I was wondering, given that the UN has declared that there's geno… genocide is being committed against the Yezidis, I was wondering if you had any information in terms of any updates of what's going on there and, perhaps, the Secretary‑General's latest statements about it.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I'll ask our colleagues in Iraq about updates on the Yazidis.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Just to nitpick, you used the word…

Spokesman:  Really?  Benny?

Question:  You used the word "ISIL," which was used by the last US Administration, I think, alone in the world.  Everybody else used "ISIS" or "Da’esh."  This US Administration decided to go back to "ISIS"…

Spokesman:  No, I think, if I'm…

Question:  Are you sticking with "ISIL"?

Spokesman:  Thank you, Benny.  If I'm not mistaken, I think it partly was a reference to the Security Council resolution, and, of course, we've been… I use both words.  I use "Da’esh" as well.  So I think you can nitpick, but I think there's nothing to pick or nit about.

Question:  No, just wondering if you're planning to stick with "ISIL."

Spokesman:  I think I was referring to the language used in the Security Council resolution.  Thank you, all.

For information media. Not an official record.