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

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

In Cairo today, the Secretary-General has met with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.  Following his meeting with the foreign minister, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters and said that he has always believed that Egypt, due to its history, its culture and its geopolitical position, is a central player in this region and an absolutely essential contributor for the solution of the problems of the region.  He also spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian question, asserting that there is no Plan B to a two-State solution and that everything must be done to preserve that possibility.

Asked about the situation of Syrian refugees, he said that the countries of the region — including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt — have not had enough support from the international community in general, and from Europe in particular.  He said that refugee protection is not only the responsibility of neighbouring countries, but of all the international community, and he added that it would be important to substantially increase the number of refugees that are resettled into Europe and other parts of the world in order to show effective solidarity with the countries of first asylum.  The Secretary-General just spoke at Cairo University on the power and potential of youth to face global challenges, and we’ll put out that transcript later today.  And he met the Emir of Qatar in Doha earlier today.


Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General recalling the work being done to reform the Secretariat Peace and Security strategy, functioning and architecture, including the work of the internal review team led by Tamrat Samuel.  While that work proceeds, the Secretary-General has decided that the mandate of senior officials working in the Peace and Security pillar should be maintained for another one year.  Accordingly, the mandates of Jeffrey Feltman as Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco as Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support and Atul Khare as Under-Secretary-General for Field Support will be extended for one year, until 1 April 2018.

Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, informed the Secretary-General that he would be unavailable for an extension at the end of his current contract on 31 March 2017.  The Secretary-General has appointed Jean-Pierre Lacroix as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, for one year, beginning 1 April 2017.  His bio is available in our office.

**Central African Republic

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in the Central African Republic.  He said that, while the visible recovery of Bangui is a hopeful sign for the future, the stark contrast with the level of violence and lack of tangible progress and peace dividends in the provinces is a source of concern.  He added that the humanitarian situation continues to worsen due to the upsurge of violence in the regions and is further compounded by the lack of funding and a withdrawal of aid partners.

Nevertheless, almost three years after the creation of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA for short, Mr. Ladsous noted that despite numerous challenges, the country is moving forward.  Constitutional order has returned and State authority is being progressively restored.  However, he warned that progress should not stop there and that we must learn lessons from the past.  He stressed that, too often, the attention of the international community disappears after a crisis, increasing the risks of a relapse into conflict.


Our colleagues from the UN [Support] Mission in Libya say they are following with concern reports on the formation of parallel military forces under the name of “National Guard” and their deployment in Tripoli and surrounding areas.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, reiterated his full support to the Libyan Political Agreement and its institutions and warned Libyan groups against seeking to achieve political gains by force.  He said that attempts to create parallel bodies and obstruct the implementation of the Agreement will generate further disorder and insecurity.  He further called for a united Libyan army, operating under civilian control and with a clear chain of command, that provides security for all Libyans.


A mission led by colleagues from the Department of Political Affairs and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) arrived in the Gambia yesterday to assess the situation with regard to peace and security and analyse the new Government’s priorities going forward.  It will also assess governance and institutional capacities in the country, map support by international stakeholders engaging in peacebuilding, and identify areas of enhanced UN support to national authorities and civil society organizations.  The mission met today with President [Adama] Barrow, after meeting with the Vice-President, the foreign minister, the country team working in the Gambia and representatives of the diplomatic community in the country.


Our humanitarian colleagues in Syria inform us that an estimated 1.8 million people in Aleppo remain cut off from their main water source for more than one month now due to a technical failure at the Al Khafse water station.  Local water authorities continue with efforts to access and repair the water infrastructure and were able to visit Al Khafse on Monday.  However, as of yesterday, the water supply has been cut off.  Residents currently receive a limited water supply through other distribution networks.  The water authorities are operating wells servicing almost 1 million people while the UN is providing fuel, water trucking, and distributing water purification materials, installing tanks and rehabilitating additional wells in the city.

The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict in Syria to ensure technical teams have unrestricted and safe access to water infrastructure in order to swiftly restore the provision of water to the civilian population.  The UN also reminds all parties to the conflict of their responsibility to safeguard civilians and civilian infrastructure, as required by international humanitarian law and human rights law.

**Human Rights

The UN human rights office today launched its most ambitious appeal yet, calling for more than $250 million to help it stand up for human rights for all people, everywhere.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights said that our world has entered a period of profound uncertainty.  He noted that in numerous countries, xenophobia and calls for racial and religious discrimination have entered mainstream discourse and every day, seemingly, are more widespread and more deeply rooted.  You can read more about this on the UN human rights office’s website.


The World Food Programme (WFP) today said that it will continue to help 220,000 people in conflict-affected areas in eastern Ukraine throughout 2017.  Nearly three years after the start of the conflict, the security situation remains tense, with more than 3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.  WFP has provided emergency food assistance to people in eastern Ukraine since late 2014, with nearly 850,000 of the most vulnerable people having received food from the agency.  WFP urgently needs more than $30 million to provide much-needed food assistance in eastern Ukraine until the end of this December.


Our colleagues at the International Labour Organization (ILO) have released a new report on teleworking that explores how the expanding use of digital technologies is rapidly transforming the traditional model of work.  The report “Working anytime, anywhere:  The effects on the world of work” pulls together research carried about by both ILO and Eurofound in 15 different countries.  It looks into how teleworking can be beneficial, as well as detrimental for both employees and employers.  The full report can be found on ILO’s website.

**International Fund for Agricultural Development

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, the former Prime Minister of Togo, has been appointed as the sixth President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, or IFAD.  Since 2013, Mr. Houngbo has served as Deputy Director-General of the International Labour Organization, where he has been responsible for external programmes and partnerships.  IFAD has more information.

**Honour Roll

I am happy to report that in the past couple of days, three more Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full.  Our thanks go to Malta, the Marshall Islands and Thailand, whose contributions take the total on the Honour Roll to 37.  And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Masood-ji?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Given now that the United States is indicating that it will no longer call for a two‑State solution in Middle East, where does that leave United States… the United Nations?  What is the position that you and the Secretary‑General are going to take on this, when the main arbiter is backing out?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I… first of all, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about US policy until we hear more clearly what the US policy on this would be.  I know that there have been some reports in the media, but we would need further clarity from the Government on this.  On the Secretary‑General, I just told you what his views are.  In fact, he said it in his remarks to the press in Cairo just today.  Once again, he said there's no plan B to the two‑State solution.  So, that is what we focus on, and he believes everything must be done to preserve that possibility.

Question:  So, basically, what's happening is that there's going to be some sort of a confrontation between United States and United Nations about this position?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think that that's at all inevitable.  Like I said, we need to have clarity on what the policy is.  But, as you know, most of the key players involved in this process have been pushing forward a two‑State solution, including the United States, and we… from our end, we'll continue to do all we can to preserve that.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Yemen.  There are reports in Yemen of what's… what's being described as a double‑tap airstrike by the… by Saudi jets in the Arhab district of Sana'a, in which one airstrike was dropped and then another one on top of first responders.  One, I wanted to know, what is the ability of the UN system in the country to… to verify or… or not this attack?  And also, how does it relate… can you say a little bit more about what the Secretary‑General said when he was in Saudi Arabia?  I read what was e-mailed out, and it seemed to be mostly praising Saudi Arabia's role in the region.  Did he express some concern about these continued airstrikes?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has conveyed his concerns about the violence in Yemen, and he has been discussing this broadly throughout his trip to the region with a variety of interlocutors.

Question:  Right, but if this just happened after his trip to Oman and after he said he's fully supporting the envoy despite this letter from the people that… many… that are in control of Sana’a, I guess, do you have any response… to… to… to… were any commitments made to him to… to… to not do double-strike airstrikes on the capital of Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't characterize any commitments made during the talks that we've had.  We certainly have made our concerns known, and along those lines, what we are trying to do is focus, with the parties in the region and outside of it, to make sure that there can be a return to a cessation of hostilities and a return to talks among the Yemeni parties.  This is what Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is continuing to work on with the support of the Secretary‑General, and we hope that the talks that he's had in recent days can help further that cause.  Yes, Rosalyn?

Question:  I wanted to go back to the Israeli‑Palestinian question.  If, in fact, the US does confirm that it is looking at something other than trying to prol… prosecute the two‑State solution, what does this mean for the future of the Quartet?  How does this change what the UN and other countries in the Quartet have been trying to achieve for the better part of 30 day… 30 years?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's a speculative question based on what happens if the current policy changes.  We're not, I think, at that point yet.  Let's cross that bridge when we come to it.  We'll see what we do and evaluate the situation if there's a change.  But, right now, the UN, like its partners in the Quartet, continues to press for a two‑State solution.  And the Quartet partners have all been backing up those efforts for the past years, and we expect all of the partners to continue to do so.

Question:  Would there be any possible violation of existing UN resolutions about the Israeli‑Palestinian situation if another outcome were to be pursued?  Have officials in this building taken a look at that issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  I… again, I don't want to speculate on what happens if our current approach changes.  Right now, we do have an approach.  The Secretary‑General made clear again today that there is not a plan B to that approach, and so we will proceed ahead with it.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Farhan, I just… I followed Herve Ladsous' presentation on Central African Republic, and he came… he talked about this incident with the MINUSCA attack helicopters.  Now, do we have a death toll?  I mean, he says there were about three… a column of 300 fighters, that they destroyed four pickups.  How many people died in this?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do not have a death toll yet from our colleagues on the ground.  Once we have that, we can let you know.

Correspondent:  It's been a few days.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  And they're trying… but it's difficult to determine in terms of the fog of that particular conflict, but we're trying to get precise details about what that… what happened there.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  On this situation… ongoing situation between India and Pakistan where they keep on fighting at the border; people are being killed, but you… you had said and I think Stéphane [Dujarric] had said, when the time will come, the Secretary‑General will call the Prime Minister of India and talk to him about it.  When will that time come?  Is that time here or no?  What's the story?

Deputy Spokesman:  Once we have something new to tell you about this, we will.  But, our existing policy remains as it is.  Once we have something further to say, I'll let you know.

Correspondent:  So, but, in the meanwhile, people are being killed.  I mean, not only within the occupied territory of Kashmir, but also at the border.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the situation and of the problems and you're aware of what our position has been on this issue.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, also on Central African Republic, some… I guess, more than a week ago, I'd asked Stéphane about this memo that came out or that was leaked and published about the dumping by MINUSCA in a dump in Bangui, where their own memo says that malaria spread in the surrounding neighbourhood.  And he seemed to indicate that there were plans afoot to either improve that dump site or open a new one.  I'm wondering, given the seriousness of malaria and the need to get along with the community, have any… has there been any progress since he made that statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  No.  As he pointed out at the time, the Mission was looking into two possible medium‑term responses on waste management:  either to improve conditions at the site, which is called Kolongo, or for the mission to construct its own waste management yard in Bangui.  So, that's what they're working to follow up on.

Question:  Right, but medium-term, like, how long… it seems like… at least from the memo, it seems like a pretty serious thing.  People have protested.  The police have put them down.  I guess malaria may or may not be the world's worst disease, but what does "medium-term" mean in terms of the UN not dumping its site in this… dumping its waste in this site?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, it's… basically what it's doing is it's exploring solutions regarding the proper functionality of the Kolongo site.  They're working right now on a feasibility study, and that will decide how the mission will proceed.  Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Also on CAR [Central African Republic].  When in Syria there's an airstrike and there are civilians killed, the UN picks up this information… these reports pretty fast.  What's the problem with CAR?  Don't you have, like, trustworthy partners on the ground who would… the same as in Syria, would provide you with information on Syrian death?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we're trying to get the information as quickly as we can.  It has been just a few days, but we're trying to get that.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to ask you about Mosul.  Yesterday, you indicated that the security situation was having a potential impact on humanitarian deliveries.  And, today, Lise Grande announced that there's a suspension.  Can you estimate how long the suspension might take?  Have the Iraqi military troops given any idea how quickly they can secure the situation so that residents of Mosul can continue to receive any aid?  And I mean in Eastern Mosul not Western Mosul.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Yeah, on Eastern Mosul, what I can say is that UN Missions to Eastern Mosul City are temporarily suspended pending the outcome of a new security risk assessment, which was undertaken yesterday.  All aid operations have not been suspended, and many partners continue to deliver humanitarian programmes and assistance.  For example, the trucking of more than 2,300 cubic metres of water per day has continued to over 30 neighbourhoods in Eastern Mosul City, despite UN missions being put on hold.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Just one follow‑up on CAR.  I guess is… it… can you say what… I mean, it's described as a UN attack helicopter.  Are this… is there a particular contingent that's in charge of the attack helicopters there?  Do you at least know who on the UN side did this firing?  And some specifics of the type of, I guess, armaments that are used, because there's an article saying that it kills scores, which may be overstating it.  Deutsche Welle said three civilians killed.  So what exactly is the UN firing from these helicopters?  And who's doing the firing?

Deputy Spokesman:  The details we have on this incident that we have shared are as Mr. Ladsous put it in the open meeting of the Council this morning.  If there's anything further to share, I'll let you know.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask about in… in… in Burundi, so I have a new question and I also… I guess I want to reiterate.  It seemed like yesterday you were saying you would check with Mr. [Jamal] Benomar what the UN's position is on the banning of several opponents from the talks.  But, also, there's a… today, there's an order of Pierre Nkurunziza's cabinet saying that they're taking up amendments to the Constitution, which some people there see as kind of a unilateral move even while the talks are taking place that may well cement in the ability to run for yet another term.  So, what is the UN's position on amendments to the Constitution at this time of the talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would have to study the issue and see what is the precise nature of the amendments being proposed.  Regarding Jamal Benomar, he is in Arusha right now.  We do… he does expect to participate in what he thinks will be probably consultations.  I don't think that it's going to be at the level of talks between parties at this stage.  And we're trying to get further details from them as it proceeds.  [He later added that Special Adviser Benomar is in Arusha at the invitation of the Facilitator, former President Benjamin Mkapa, to support his efforts.  The Facilitator has invited both the Government and opposition, and offered assurances to those members of the opposition who are on a Burundian Government arrest warrant list that they will not face arrest or extradition while in Tanzania.]  Yes?

Question:  Astana, whom from the UN is in Astana for these consultations?  And are they simply there as observers, or are they actually engaged in some of the pre‑Geneva discussions that has been… have been talked about?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, the start of the Astana talks has actually been delayed.  So, right now, it's… we'll be able to talk more about UN participation once the talks begin actually there.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about the… the… that announcement yesterday afternoon, just a couple of questions.  One is, you know, since it was said… first, just… just a kind of a yes‑or‑no.  Was… was the US, the US Mission, the current Administration consulted on this extension of Mr. Feltman at [Department of Political Affairs], at this USG [Under-Secretary-General] position?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to talk at any length about consultations.  As with most decision‑making at the UN, there's consultations among various parties.

Question:  Okay.  I also wanted to ask there… because of the way it was phrased about… that Mr. Ladsous informed the Secretary‑General that he couldn't accept an extension, it implies that an extension was offered.  And I wanted to know, I remember under the Secretary… under Ban Ki‑moon, to use that word, there was a five‑year rule, the idea being that an official should only be in a single position for five years, which Mr. Ladsous is hitting.  So, is it true that António Guterres is not going to uphold the five‑year rule and made an offer to Mr. Ladsous to continue past five years?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think it's clear from the statement itself that this was an exceptional set of circumstances where a number of people would be extended.

Question:  No, no, I'm saying Mr Ladsous not… he was offered… oh.  Okay.  All right.

Deputy Spokesman:  I mean… yes, and the same thing would apply, for example, to Mr. Feltman.  But, this is an extension while the architecture of the peace and security setup here at the UN is being looked at.

Question:  Sure.  But does… I guess… these are… I'll jump these together.  You may think they're obsessive, but they have to do with transparency.  Does Mr. Guterres still believe in the five‑year rule?  Will he be meeting with USGs to have them sign compacts?  And will those differ in any way from under Ban Ki‑moon?  And, finally, will financial disclosure, public financial disclosure… right now it's still stuck at 2015.  Will these be made?  And will he himself be making it sometime soon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding policies, we'll let you know of any policy changes as they occur.  That’s for him to consider and look at.  Regarding financial disclosures, we'll try to update the site as soon as we get the updated information.

Question:  Right.  And just final… okay.  I wanted to hear from you this… the Under‑Secretary‑General for counter‑terrorism — many people are speaking about the position — is it something that needs, like the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] on migration, any kind of approval by ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], or is it fully funded and ready to go?  What's the status of USG counter‑terrorism?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would actually have to see where we are with that right now.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I don't know if I… if you commented about this or I missed it.  Sorry about that.  But, I want to know your comments about recent Human Rights Watch report about the use of chemical weapon in the final stage of the Aleppo operation.  Do you have any comments about… about the findings?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're certainly concerned about the information presented in the report.  Regarding our own work on this, as you know, there is a Joint Investigative Mechanism, the JIM, which reports periodically to the Security Council.  I believe their next report to the Council is due sometime towards the end of this week or the start of next week.  But, we are continuing to update in terms of the information that the Joint Investigative Mechanism has at its own disposal.

Question:  May I follow up on that?  Farhan, is… the Human Rights Watch says they don't… they don't have their own team on the ground to gather those information that rely on other NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and other sources.  Can you tell me if one of those sources and NGOs or UN partners or humanitarian partners on the ground, are they allowed to provide information of where they can find all the victims or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not for me to disclose the source of information for Human Rights Watch.

Question:  Are they allowed?  My point is UN partners or UN humanitarian.

Deputy Spokesman:  The United Nations, in this case, in the form of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, shares its information with the Security Council in the form of periodic reports.  Yes?Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can I just clarify?  You said that beginning of the talks in Astana has been postponed.  Based on what information you're saying that?  Looks like delegations are there already.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I believe we're waiting for what the start date is.  I'd seen these reports that the start date had been moved.  We'll see when it begins.  If it begins in the next couple of days, then we can provide details at that point about the UN participation there.  Yes.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I'd just like to clarify.  I have a general question about appointments… high‑level appointments.  I mean, in general, we know that many countries, especially the big ones, would like to have their people in key positions, whether it's China having pushed for peacekeeping, et cetera.  So, my question is, in general, high‑level appointments like USGs and ASGs [Assistant Secretaries-General], are they cleared with their Governments?  In other words, do their Governments have to give their approval to the appointments of these people?

Deputy Spokesman:  When we need to make a senior‑level appointment, we do consult with the Government to which those individuals are nationals.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, Kurdish leader in Syria just announced from the Syrian democratic forces, which is alliance that include the Kurdish YPG, they just announced that, if the Turkish forces continue pushing towards Raqqah, they will fight them basically, which is unprecedented.  They said, we will fight any Turkish advancement and… military advancement in Syria in the name of ISIS.  I don't know if you have any reactions about that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's a more hypothetical circumstance.  We'll have to see how this unfolds.  Of course, we want all the various parties dealing with Da’esh in Raqqah to work together, and that is our hope.  Regarding Raqqah in general, one thing I do want to point out is that we're monitoring the situation in the north-central governorate of Raqqah with great concern for the safety and security of over 400,000 people in need, and our humanitarian partners are responding to people in need, including providing winter assistance for 50,000 people, food assistance for over 8,000 people, and distribution of mine-risk education materials, especially targeting children.  Yes?

Question:  Okay.  Thanks.  I just… I just wanted… because I noticed there were all these announcements yesterday about Under‑Secretaries‑General.  I mean, the department… I guess, is… I guess his initial focus was on peace and security, but, like, the Department of Management, is there any kind of time frame to sort… to… to… given the importance of he said… he spoke about reform, et cetera.  What's the status of… of that post?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say on that is that the Secretary‑General yesterday initiated the recruitment and selection process for the Under‑Secretary‑General for management.

Correspondent:  Open… open source.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.