24 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.

All right, good afternoon.


As you know, the Geneva talks on Syria are continuing today, and different delegations have scheduled to speak to the press in Geneva and that will be on the UN WebTV.  And I think one of our colleagues representing Mr. de Mistura will also be speaking shortly, if he hasn’t already started to speak.

Yesterday, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General in which he said he was encouraged… in which he said that after six years of bloodshed, he urged the Syrians who have accepted the invitation to be in Geneva to engage in good faith as the Special Envoy seeks to facilitate the process.  While acknowledging that progress will not be easy, the Secretary-General believes strongly that only a political solution can bring peace to Syria and that all those Syrians who have committed themselves to this goal should redouble their efforts for peace.

**Lake Chad Basin

And the Secretary-General welcomes donor pledges made today at the conclusion of the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin.  He stresses the need for sustained support to humanitarian, human rights, development and security needs in the region.  Fourteen donors pledged $458 million for 2017 and $214 million for 2018 and beyond were also announced.  The conference also resulted in an agreement to address longer-term development needs and seek durable solutions to the crisis.

At the close of the conference, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said that without our increased support, affected communities will face a life of hunger, disease, gender-based violence and continued displacement.  But, he said there is another future within grasp:  as the international community scales up support, we can stop a further descent into an ever-deepening crisis with unimaginable consequences for millions of people. He added that the UN and our partners are ready to mobilize to further scale up our life-saving response.


And earlier this week the Secretary-General sent a letter to all Member States asking them to inform him by 6 March if they intend to make a voluntary financial contribution to the implementation of the UN's New Approach to Cholera in Haiti.  As you are aware, under the new approach, the UN is intensifying support to the Haitian Government in building sound water, sanitation and health systems — the best long-term defence against cholera and other water-borne diseases — and also developing a support package to provide material assistance to support Haitians most directly affected by cholera.  In his letter, the Secretary-General says that the UN bears a moral responsibility for ensuring that the new approach is implemented.


And from Iraq, with military operations to retake western Mosul progressing, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that displacement has increased from front-line areas.  Yesterday, some 350 people arrived at a screening site in Hammam al Alil, some 30 kilometres south-east of Mosul, having left their homes in Abu Saif village and surrounding areas near Mosul city airport.  Displacement has also continued from eastern parts of the city, alongside return movements back into some east Mosul neighbourhoods, and to surrounding areas.  Almost 162,000 people are currently internally displaced as a result of fighting in Mosul which began in October.  Cumulatively, since the beginning of the fighting, more than 218,000 people have been displaced.

**Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator Stephen O’Brien will travel from Oslo, where he currently is, as you know, for the Conference, to Yemen, Somalia and Kenya between 26 February and 5 March.  In all three countries, Mr. O’Brien will meet people most affected by humanitarian crises, which are caused chiefly by conflict and drought.

Millions of people in Yemen and Somalia face the very real risk of famine over the coming six months if aid efforts are not rapidly scaled up.  In Yemen, over 7 million people are severely food insecure and 460,000 [children] are suffering severe acute malnutrition, while in Somalia, some 3 million people urgently need food assistance.  Kenya declared a drought emergency on 10 February, with at least 23 counties affected.  The number of food insecure people in Kenya has also more than doubled to 2.7 million in the past six months.  Mr. O’Brien will meet with stakeholders on the humanitarian crises in all three countries.  He plans to hold a press briefing in Aden on 27 [February], in Sana’a on 2 March, and in Mogadishu on 5 March.  A media advisory will be sent out by OCHA if you are interested.


Also on Yemen, OHCA tells us that the escalation of the conflict in the western coast has resulted in significant civilian casualties and large-scale displacement.  There are scores of dead bodies in the street, risking the spread of disease in Mukha town, and some 44,000 people have been recorded fleeing the conflict throughout the Taizz governorate.

Humanitarians have scaled up the response in Taizz, Al Hudaydah, Lahj and Aden governorates to provide assistance to the displaced, including shelter, food and other items.  Mobile health teams have also been deployed to supply medicines and treat trauma cases.  We are obviously gravely concerned about the protection concerns that persist due to the military offensive by both land and air. We call on all parties to provide unhindered humanitarian access in the conflict areas to be able to respond to civilians fleeing the fighting.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that uniformed soldiers attempted to abduct a number of internally displaced people near a UN Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu [on Wednesday evening].  Soldiers were seen beating and harassing 11 internally displaced people at a nearby farm.  UN peacekeepers intervened and rescued seven women and four men.  In other related incidents that same evening, peacekeepers also prevented the harassment of other people who were returning to the site.  The head of the [UN Mission], David Shearer, has praised the robust response of members of the Mongolian Battalion who rescued these people.  Bentiu is the UN's largest Protection of Civilians site in South Sudan, with 120,000 people living there.


From Mali, the first mixed patrol, comprised of the three signatory parties to the peace agreement — the Government, the Coordination of Movements of Azawad and the Platform — was conducted in Gao region, in northern Mali, yesterday.  This is a significant step in the implementation of the agreement that follows the deadly terrorist attack of 18 January against the camp of the Operational Coordination Mechanism in Gao, where dozens of members of the signatory parties were killed or injured.

As provided by the peace agreement, these mixed patrols are a key interim security measure aiming at building confidence and curtailing insecurity in northern Mali pending the full restoration of State authority.  Signatory parties should now move forward on the establishment of interim authorities as agreed to in the 10 February high level meeting of the Comité de Suivi de l’Accord.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And our colleagues in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) issued a joint communiqué with the leaders of the Church… of the Catholic Church in the country, in which they express their concern at recent attacks against Catholic facilities.  These violent acts must cease immediately and all political parties should condemn them with determination to counter any attempt to weaken the global political agreement signed on the last day of 2016.  The full communiqué is on the website.


And the UN Mission and the Country Team in Colombia welcome the installation of the National Security Guarantees Commission yesterday in the city of Popayán, in the south-western department of Cauca.  The UN highlights the Commission’s openness to invite the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to its sessions, as well as representatives of political parties and other specialized national and international organizations.  The Commission is headed by President Juan Manuel Santos.  Its mandate includes the design and monitoring of public and criminal policy aimed at the dismantling of any organization or conduct that threatens the implementation of the peace agreement.  More information on the Mission’s website.

**Honour Roll

And today, we thank our friends in Reykjavik who have paid their dues in full.  Mr. Klein, somebody's paying attention.  If you have a question, you may ask; otherwise you may yield.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I do have a question.  Last December, OCHA put out an appeal, I think it was a collective humanitarian appeal, for approximately $22 billion, I believe, for 2017.  So, first of all, I would like to know how much of that has been fulfilled, either in pledges or receipt of actual funds.  Secondly, we heard an appeal a few days ago, the Secretary‑General and his team, for moneys to urgently alleviate the famine in the four countries.  Is that in addition to the $22 billion?  And the Haiti fund that you just mentioned, is that in addition to the $22 billion?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, the, it’s, and the Haiti fund, I think, should be seen as somewhat separate from our regular humanitarian appeal.  It is a humanitarian issue which needs to be addressed.  On the, on the December appeal, I can try to get some numbers from OCHA to see where they've, where they are on the numbers.  The appeal that was launched by the Secretary‑General and the head of UNDP, OCHA, WFP and others is obviously in addition to… I'm awake, you can turn off the alarm… is obviously above and beyond what we'd ask.  But, as you saw, we've already gotten some pledges in… now you can press the snooze button.  We've now gotten some pledges in Oslo which obviously cover part of what we talked about earlier this week which does cover northeast Nigeria.

Question:  If there… if this is an urgent matter, which, obviously, it is, to alleviate the famine, and there's any moneys that have been actually received in the… for the larger appeal, why isn't that money being mainly directed to cover the situation and then maybe make up to…?

Spokesman:  All the, you know, I think the way to look at it is that if you are a civilian in one of these countries where there is an urgent humanitarian appeal, it is urgent.  All these, all these crises are urgent.  We have in the past used the Central Emergency Response Fund to kind of kick start some of these… some of these appeals.  There are urgent needs… urgent needs around the world that all need to be, all need to be met.  Yes, Nizar.  Sorry.  I was looking at Masood but calling you.  So, we'll have Masood.  We'll follow my eyes instead of what I say.  Masood, and then Nizar.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this rising hate crime wave in the United States, in which yesterday Indians were killed in Kansas City, and there was an attack… not attack, rather, harassment of passengers from another… I mean from Pakistan by one of the passengers to be thrown out of the, they were called “bomb makers” and so on and so forth.  These rising hate crimes, which it was evident after 11 Spetember 2001, and now it's happening again.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, if you have listened to what he said in the last few months, has spoken out forcefully against, against xenophobia, against Islamophobia, against anti-Semitism.  We are seeing, throughout the world, an increase in these crimes, and I think he has denounced them and denounced them clearly.  Nizar.

Question:  Footage coming from the Mosul area, those who were attempting to flee to Kurdish‑controlled Peshmerga areas are being beaten, are being harassed, prevented from seeking refuge anywhere.  Does the United Nations have anything, do you have any observers to monitor the safe well-being of these refugees?

Spokesman:  Well, we have, we have humanitarian staff in different places.  I haven't seen those particular reports, reports that you mention.  Obviously, we're not close to the fighting in western Mosul.  We understand through information we're getting inside of the acute needs that exist inside of western Mosul.  We obviously will call for any civilians that are fleeing the fighting to be treated with the utmost respect and not have to face any sort of violence.

Correspondent:  Those videos were broadcast on main networks, and I believe that many people should have seen…

Spokesman:  I'm not doubting the veracity of what you're telling me, I'm just saying I have not seen those particular reports.  But, the safe passage of civilians out of the fighting areas has always been something that's been of concern to us.  I think when Lise Grande was speaking to you about the operations in eastern Mosul, I think she had, she had mentioned these issues, and it's obviously something that we're watching.

Question:  Just to flesh out Masood's question, the sort of anti‑immigrant sentiment that we're seeing around the world — xenophobia, there was an anti‑immigrant March in Pretoria today, foreigners’ stores were looted in South Africa, homes attacked.  And it's about economic development or a lack thereof in different parts of the world.  How do we broadly address this?  It's one thing to denounce, but these are deep‑seated issues that can't just be turned around overnight.

Spokesman:  No, it's, I think political leaders bear a certain amount of responsibility.  It is about the need to avoid scapegoating certain groups, whether they're migrants, refugees and people of certain religions.  It's about Governments, civil society, international organizations working, working to foster inclusion, solidarity as the best remedy to fight xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Question:  And if I may, being here in the United States and in South Africa, this notion of criminality that is being imported into countries with migrants.  How do we deal with, how do we address that element that some people use to justify their behaviour?

Spokesman:  I think it's something we've seen, not just in South Africa and the United States, we've seen it, we've seen it around the world at a time where we've never seen so many people on the move, the scapegoating of migrants and refugees.  And as I said, we need to, civil society leaders, governments, everyone needs to work together to foster, to foster societies of inclusion where people are welcomed and they're not scapegoated.  Mr. Lee.  Then Carla.

Question:  Okay.  I had some other things, but I wanted to ask you after your honour roll of dues, I wanted to ask you to confirm that six countries have now lost the right to vote in the General Assembly, including Libya, Sudan, Venezuela, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Cabo Verde, and whether there are any moves afoot either to get some of the countries' votes restored or whether Mr. Kobler has spoken to the Government of Libya in terms of… what's the…?

Spokesman:  I will… somebody from my office will bring in the sheet, but I think there are six countries.  So, by the time the briefing ends, I will have the update.

Question:  And I guess since people are asking for your opinion… what's your opinion?

Spokesman:  That's why I'm here.

Question:  Do you see… do you see a trend?  I mean, given that both Venezuela and Libya have, you know, carbon resources.  What can you say about this list?  What do you interpret it?  Do you think that countries actually have… you're always… you have this honour roll.  Is this a dishonour roll?  What… what, please?

Spokesman:  It's not a matter of interpretation.  Member States pay or… or… or not pay for whatever reason, and there is a procedure for them to… for the… if I'm not mistaken, for the General Assembly to give them the right to vote even if they don't pay for certain economic reasons.  That's a decision for the Member States.  I can't interpret the reasoning.

Question:  What's the process for countries in which the UN has a mission?  For example, Sudan and Libya and Somalia have been given the right to vote.  Is there a process for the resident representative or the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] to speak to the Government and say, you know, let's make a deal or what's happening?

Spokesman:  It's not up for, to us to make, to negotiate.  The assessed contributions are the assessed contributions.  If Member States are not able to pay, they are, there are articles in the Charter.  The countries that we are, that we're talking the about, as you said, is Cabo Verde, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Vanuatu and Venezuela.  There was a resolution that passed in 2016 that allows the Comoros, Guinea‑Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Somalia to vote in the General Assembly until the end of the seventy-fifth session, and that's a resolution and a decision of the Member States.  It's not one that involves the Secretariat.

Question:  Sure.  And just one other thing because I see it as related.  There have been these two announcements recently by the Secretary‑General of new posts and new offices.  One is the SRSG on Migration.  The other one is the new Under‑Secretary‑General on Counterterrorism.  And I guess I just… I've sort of asked, you said he's going to ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions] on both of them.  What does he think that the impact on the UN's budget of these two new initiatives will be?  Does he think that the budget that he's, that he is constructing piece by piece with these proposals is going to be larger than the previous year or smaller?

Spokesman:  I think the budget, as you know, for the next biennium is in the process of being elaborated.  It goes… it goes to the General Assembly at the end of this year.  We have not made any official announcements.  There are discussions, obviously, with the ACABQ.  The Secretary‑General, I think, is extremely conscious of the value that the UN needs to bring, right, and spending money, and spending money wisely.  So, I would encourage you to wait a little bit and see how the structure looks after we're done with the process and what the new budget looks like and where the resources are allocated.

Question:  Can you just, this is the last one on this.  Can you just, is there a way, maybe, of not standing from the podium, but today to give kind of a ballpark figure of the cost of the two initiatives that he's announced?  What he's thinking of?  The range?

Spokesman:  Once, once all the process is completed, we may be able to do that.  Carla.

Question:  Thank you.  This is, I think, a follow-up on Sherwin's question.  I think he addressed the economic basis of a lot of the, the terribly antisocial or very dangerous trends.  What is being done to address the growing inequality globally, when The Daily News has a photograph of 8 billionaires who earn more than half the planet?  What is being done, because addressing the symptoms rather than the cause would not seem to resolve the problem.

Spokesman:  I think it's a pretty broad and dissertation‑worthy question you've posed.  I think for the UN system, you look at the Sustainable Development Goals, which I think cover a broad variety of issues on how to lift people out of poverty and how to build, build a world in which everyone has opportunities and how we best fight inequality.  Yes, sir?

Question:  President Trump has categorized the media as the enemy of the nation.  What does the United Nations think about such a statement which may jeopardize the lives of some journalists?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to interpret what has been, what has been said.  What is clear is that the United Nations and the Secretary‑General's stance is as a defender of the need for a free and active, active press in any society.  Go ahead.  And then Joe.

Question:  I wanted to know whether you can give a readout of the meeting the Secretary‑General had yesterday with CPJ and Reporters Sans Frontières.  Specifically, one, sort of I guess… has… either did the topic arise or does he have any thoughts on, just given what you've just said, there actually being due process rights for journalists within the UN?

Spokesman:  I think, I think there is, there was no discussion of due process rights for journalists within the UN, but I think there is due process rights for journalists.  I'm saying I think there is due process rights for journalists.

Question:  Is a hearing supposed to be given before somebody is actually thrown out?

Spokesman:  Matthew, I'm not going to talk about your case.  Mr. Klein.  Sorry, Rhonda.  I think you've been afforded due process.

Question:  Was there an appeal right?

Spokesman:  Matthew, it's not your living room.  We can discuss your case later.  Joe, and then Rhonda.

Question:  Actually, I'm going to follow up on Matthew's previous question regarding the budget.  I understand you can't give us projected figures right now, but is there a contemplation of planning around numbers of staff, for example, in this new counterterrorism…?

Spokesman:  I think for…

Question:  And Saudi Arabia, who just contributed to counterterrorism efforts at the UN, are they being folded into this?  Did that come up for discussion?

Spokesman:  I think if you look at the Secretary‑General's remarks, it's about creating a more coherent structure.  There are different parts of the UN that deal with counterterrorism, different parts of the Secretariat.  It's about ensuring greater coordination and greater efficiency of the efforts that we have.  This would include the counterterrorism centre to which Saudi Arabia and other countries, and other countries contribute.

Question:  But… but… net… net… is there going to be an augmentation of staff, or is it just shuffling and reorganizing?

Spokesman:  I don't have the exact numbers.  We're not looking to greatly expand the number of staff.  Rhonda.

Question:  Yes.  With regard to journalists, is the Secretary‑General not going to have monthly, you know, monthly sessions?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General will gladly speak to the press when he has something to announce and something to say.

Question:  But, but we have questions whether he has something to say?

Spokesman:  No, I understand.

Correspondent:  And there was a tradition, a monthly press conference.

Spokesman:  Well, not for a while.

Question:  And one that was in this room?

Spokesman:  Not for a while.

Question:  A similar room so that we could…?

Spokesman:  I understand, and we'll try obviously, I understand your need, and we'll try to get the Secretary‑General out as often as possible.  But, I don't think we want to be bound by a calendar.

Question:  Can you just…?

Spokesman:  No, no, trust me.  This has been a topic of discussion.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I think I gave you the answer, I think I’m trying to elaborate the answer.  Nizar.  Okay, go ahead.

Correspondent:  Sure, I'd love to have your definition of due process, but I wanted to ask you just on this, I noticed the Secretary‑General, when asked about Iraq and Gaza, said this is not our topic today.  So, I guess I wanted to say there should be a point where, for example, we can ask him about UN spending and management.

Spokesman:  I already said.

Question:  But, he's…?

Spokesman:  He did say it wasn’t on topic, but he did answer the question.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Can I ask you about VX gas?  VX gas is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Treaty as a weapon of mass destruction.  Is there a plan [inaudible] of VX gas being used as an individual weapon?  In other words, I'm asking both a general question…

Spokesman:  If it's… if it's prohibited, it's prohibited.

Question:  If it's prohibited, it doesn't have to be…?

Spokesman:  We've seen the… we've seen the reports.  Obviously, I think they're rather disturbing.  For a more detailed question, I would ask you to ask the OPCW which would handle these things.  Mr. Lee, and then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you, there's an article in Burundi quoting that the Spokesman of the Army, Mr. Baratuza, who has previously been repatriated by the UN for abuses.  And he's saying that the UN is providing training to the Burundian troops in [Central African Republic] to use surveillance drones.  And he said, he said it's a secret whether they use them in Burundi.  So, I wanted to know, what safeguards are in place?  If the UN had enough concerns about the Burundians to be repatriating people, including the spokesman and including Mr. Budigi, is it wise for the UN in [Central African Republic] to be training the Burundian army surveillance…

Spokesman:  I don't, I don't know if what he said actually happened.

Question:  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Mr. O'Brien yesterday in the briefing mentioned the killings of the civilians in Al‑Bab, near Aleppo, 300 of them.  Of course, now the Turkish forces have entered Al‑Bab and controlled it totally.  So, do you have any observers there to monitor human rights abuses in that area?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we have anybody on the ground there.

Question:  And how do you establish if the civilians are protected or not protected after the invasion?

Spokesman:  Obviously, it would be the responsibility of those who control the city to ensure that the rights of civilians are protected.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.