28 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.

Good afternoon.

First of all, we welcome our visitors from South Africa, who are the winners of the South African Model UN competition.  So welcome and, more importantly, congratulations!

**Security Council

The Security Council, as you will have seen, just failed to pass a resolution concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The draft resolution had nine votes in favour, three against and three abstentions, and did not pass because of the negative votes of permanent members.  

Earlier, Council members held a session to wrap up its work during the past month under the presidency of the Ukraine.  As you know, starting 1 March, the presidency moves on to the United Kingdom.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General swore in Amina Mohammed, his new Deputy Secretary-General.  In welcoming Ms. Mohammed, the Secretary-General said that he was extremely happy and proud that she had accepted to serve with him.

She spoke just an hour ago to the press, saying that she will focus primarily on helping the Secretary-General to reposition sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations.  As he has stated, sustainable development is an end in itself; but it is also the best way to achieve universal peace.

Earlier, she addressed a session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), saying that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is not an option.  It is an imperative for a safe and secure future of prosperity, opportunity and human rights for all.  Her remarks are available upstairs, or rather in my office and online.


The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, is continuing his visit to Yemen.  Although he had received assurance of safe passage by all parties for all stages of the mission into Taizz city in Yemen, his convoy was denied passage at the final checkpoint before crossing the frontline coming from Ibb to Taizz city. 

After being denied access, the convoy returned to safer ground to continue negotiating access with authorities controlling the final checkpoint, but unfortunately the situation did not change; he was denied access.

Mr. O’Brien was extremely disappointed that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to a conflict, especially at a time when millions of Yemenis are severely food insecure and face the risk of famine.  He remains focused on his mission to advocate for the people affected in Yemen, to marshal the resources necessary to provide life-saving assistance and protection, and to remind the parties to the conflict of their responsibility to respect humanitarian and international [humanitarian] law, including the provision of timely, full and unimpeded humanitarian access.

And the Human Rights Office said today that it has received numerous reports of the recruitment of children in Yemen for use in the armed conflict, mostly by the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis.  There’s more information online from our Human Rights colleagues.


Form Iraq, we are able to report that the number of civilians displaced from western Mosul has risen sharply, as the military operation has entered more densely populated areas of the western part of the city.  Some 16,500 people have been displaced from western Mosul since the operations on the west began on 19 February — an increase of 12,700 people over the past two days.  

This number is expected to significantly increase, as reports of large numbers of civilians on the move today are being verified.

Families displaced from western Mosul are moving primarily south to Hamam al Alil, where security screening is undertaken, then further south to displacement camps and emergency sites.  Emergency assistance is being provided to families as they reach camps and emergency sites, and emergency packages of food, water, hygiene [items] and blankets are provided to them.

As space in displacement camps fills up, humanitarian partners and national authorities are racing to prepare space for new arrivals. Currently, space is available to some 85,000 people, and work is ongoing to expand shelter capacities.  Overall, almost 177,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since the start of the fighting in October.

**South Sudan

A week after famine was declared in parts of South Sudan, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Eugene Owusu, has appealed to all parties to ensure immediate, safe and unhindered access across the country.  He said that the famine that was declared last week represents only the most extreme tip of the iceberg of needs.

Mr. Owusu’s call follows a series of recent events which have hampered humanitarian operations and placed civilians at risk.

This past weekend, 28 humanitarian workers were forced to relocate from Mayendit County — one of the two counties hit by famine — due to insecurity. In Central Equatoria, aid workers were denied access last week to key locations [outside] of Lainya town, where tens of thousands of people in need have not been reached with aid in months.  In Jonglei, clashes have reached new locations in recent days, causing civilians to flee. During the chaos, humanitarian compounds were looted by armed combatants and community members.  More details online.


The UN Human Rights Office today said it was disappointed by the decision by Thailand’s military-appointed parliament not to enact a draft law criminalizing torture and disappearances, calling on the Government to reintroduce legislation to criminalize such deplorable acts.  More information online.


From our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund):  they say that refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route, according to a new report issued by our colleagues in UNICEF.

The report, entitled “A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route” provides an in-depth look at the extreme risks facing refugee and migrant children as they make the journey from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Italy.

Three quarters of the refugee and migrant children interviewed said they had experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults during their journey, while nearly half of the women and children interviewed reported experiencing sexual abuse during migration.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., there will be a press conference by a NGO (non-governmental organization) panel presenting the "2017 Annual Report: Putting Children’s Rights Up Front, a new policy note by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict.

We hope to have as guest tomorrow at noon Stephen O’Brien to speak via video conference, and he will be joined by Jamie McGoldrick, the Resident Coordinator in Yemen.

Also, at 2 p.m., Ambassador Matthew Rycroft is going to present the Security Council programme for the month of March.  Khalas.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about… as you know, the Security Council meet… is meet… just had the votes for and against the Syria chemical weapons resolution, but before the vote, the Bolivian ambassador said that the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism] never… never certified the names that were in this draft, never provided, in fact, any names of entities or individuals to the drafters of resolution.  So, since the JIM is part of the Secretariat and staffed by it, I wanted to know, can you either say if that's true or find the answer to this…

Spokesman:  I can… we'll ask our colleagues. [He later shared the following information:  The JIM's reports to the Security Council did not include any names of individuals, it only referred to the finding by its Leadership Panel that Syrian Arab Armed Forces helicopters were used to drop barrel bombs in three cases (Talmenes, 21 April 2014; Qmenas and Sarmin, 16 March 2015).  The report also stated that the helicopter flights in the three cases originated from two Government-controlled airbases (Hama and Humaymin airbases) and made reference to the 253 and 255 squadrons both belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade and the 618 squadron based at these two airbases.]

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to also ask another question on Cyprus.  I know that you'd said that the Mousa Halal thing is being… is… that that's somehow being reviewed.  There's now a story… and maybe this is part of some… some coordinated campaign over there, but a story and a video of UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus] peacekeepers stealing a watch on the Turkish Cypriot side.  And they named the individuals and that the article says that there is a legal proceeding, which I assume has to be a UN… since they are UN peacekeepers.  Are you aware of this incident?

Spokesman:  Yeah, no, the Mission is very much aware of the report.  They've launched an investigation to look at the veracity of the allegations.  And, obviously, should this be found to be true, they will take prompt action against any personnel to have found [to have committed] wrongdoing.  We would expect UN personnel, whether it's Headquarters or in the field, to act with the highest level of standards and conduct.

Question:  But what do you think… I mean, it seems like there seems to be a spate of allegations currently about the Mission.  Do you think the Mission is… is either worse run than other missions or… Why is this all happening now?

Spokesman:  No. We have no… I have no doubt about the excellent administration of the mission.  As to whether or not it's an orchestrated campaign or why it's happening now, that's really not for me to analyse.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  I'm sorry if I missed this, Stéphane.  Stephen O'Brien, is he still in Yemen or he left or…?

Spokesman:  He's still in Yemen.

Question:  He tried to enter Taizz, but he couldn't…

Spokesman:  He was not able to… they went up to the final checkpoint.  They had gotten assurances.  They stayed some time to negotiate, but, unfortunately, they were not able to enter, which is extremely disappointing, because we know there are grave humanitarian needs in Taizz, and I know he very much wanted to go and be there himself.

Question:  And a follow‑up of what happened in Ghoutah.  You said yesterday…

Spokesman:  In… sorry?

Question:  Ghoutah, in Damascus, near Damascus, there were 400,000 lives besieged and in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  Any development from there…

Spokesman:  No, there's no update from what I said.

Question:  Where is Ali Al‑Za’tari now?  Can we get in contact with him through satellite?  If it's possible to arrange for…

Spokesman:  Sure, we can see what we can do.

Correspondent:  Thank you so much.

Spokesman:  Ann?

Question:  Ann Charles, Baltic Review.  Regarding the Secretary‑General's statement at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, did António Guterres say anything specific about Russian aggression in occupied Ukraine and human rights violations against the Crimean Tatar indigenous people in the country?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary‑General said is for everybody… is in black and white for everybody to read.  I think his speech was a very strong defence of the need to uphold human rights around the world, throughout the globe without any discrimination as to where they are applied.  Yeah?

Question:  Yes, sir.  I'm aware you usually don't comment on Security Council votes, yet I wonder what impact do you expect this vote to have on the ground as well as on the political process under way, which is… which already looks…

Spokesman:  Sure.   You're referring to the Syria vote.  Yeah.  As you know, the… I think, as a matter of principle, unity of the Security Council is a very important factor in us moving forward on political processes, and we've taken note of the vote, but I think we have repeatedly called or continue to repeatedly call for Security Council unity.  Yep?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, you know, yesterday, as you… you know, you put out these two kind of packaged‑together responses to questions received, one on Nagorno‑Karabakh and the other one on Georgia.  And I just wanted to know… I guess I wanted to… to… I've been asked… some diplomats were curious about it.  They… I guess they wanted to know, you know… are you willing to say, like… I'm sure the journalists who contacted you wanted the answer directly.  Were they provided them at the time, or how does it… some… some… some diplomats — that's why I'm asking you — surmised that this was sort of a way maybe to say something without saying it as a statement…

Spokesman:  Well, if we're asked, we share the answers.

Question:  Right.  But I guess… I mean, I have a number of questions pending with you that I haven't seen any answers to, so how do you decide what to answer?

Spokesman:  No, some questions, we're able to answer.  Some take longer and… you know… 

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, I was told today — and I wasn't sure if this was the case — that the Special Adviser is, in fact, no longer able to go to the country, has been… the UN… someone had been informed of that.  That's what others who work on the issue say, and I wanted to know what sort of… I've heard you before in other cases, for example, for Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, say he stands strongly behind it; this is all… is that the position as to this… to Mr. [Jamal] Benomar?  And is the Secretary‑General considering speaking to Burundi about what seems to be a… a systematic blocking of these… and everything else?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think you will… the Secretary‑General's report on Burundi will be out shortly as a public document.  I think that report will speak for itself as to the Secretary‑General's position.  And, of course, he fully backs Mr. Benomar in his current capacity.  Okay.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.