8 March 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, and I would like to welcome the students from Laval University that are visiting today.  Welcome to you all.


The Secretary-General was in Nairobi today.  Earlier this morning, he met with President Uhuru Kenyatta.  In speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General expressed his solidarity with the Kenyan people in dealing with the drought that has hit the country.  He added that he had deep gratitude for Kenya’s commitment to multilateralism and also the Government’s commitment to peacekeeping and peace-enforcing, including its role in the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM.

Noting that today is also International Women’s Day, the Secretary-General recalled that, as High Commissioner for Refugees, he had met women who suffered the worst possible abuse.  He said that the only way to make their protection effective is to give full priority to the empowerment of women.  His full remarks are online.  The Secretary-General then joined the First Lady of Kenya at the official Government commemoration of International Women’s Day.  He told the hundreds of assembled women leaders that every effort had to be made to finally defeat male-dominated culture if we are to be able to achieve gender equality.

The Secretary-General also had the opportunity to visit a number of field projects in the Mathare slums, including a women’s empowerment programme run by UN-Habitat as part of its slum upgrading initiative and a UN-Women project designed to encourage the political participation of women. He was able to listen to a group of women who had decided to run for office, often against great odds.  The Secretary-General then visited the UN Headquarters at Gigiri, where he addressed the staff and, a short while ago, held a press conference.  The transcript of that press conference will come out a bit later.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Last night, Council members issued a press statement in which they strongly condemned the most recent ballistic missile launches conducted by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] on 5 March.  This afternoon at 3 p.m., the Council will hold consultations to hear from the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

**Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed the Human Rights Council, beginning his remarks by commemorating International Women’s Day and celebrating the courage and strength of women’s movements around the world.  Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein highlighted human rights issues in dozens of countries in his speech, including the United States, Myanmar, Venezuela, Turkey, and Burundi.  On the plight of migrants, he said that many ordinary people in Europe have welcomed and supported them, but that political leaders increasingly demonstrate a chilling indifference to their fate.  He added that he is particularly disturbed by lurid public narratives which appear deliberately aimed at stirring up public fear and panic, by depicting these vulnerable people as criminal invading hordes.

On South Sudan, the High Commissioner deplored the violence and destruction in the country, where famine is spreading.  He also stressed the need to establish adequate accountability for crimes, including killings, rape, sexual violence, extortion and disappearances.  And on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Zeid urged the Human Rights Council to set up a Commission of Inquiry in light of recurrent reports of grave violations and the recent discovery of three more mass graves.  You can read his full remarks online.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned today's complex attack on Kabul's Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital.  Attackers reportedly disguised as medical doctors detonated a suicide vehicle-borne explosive device at the entrance gate to the hospital, after which several attackers armed with AK-47s, grenades and suicide vests entered the facility.  The armed attackers proceeded to target patients and medical workers before Afghan security forces ended the assault.

Pernille Kardel, the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that this cowardly attack reflects a fundamental rejection of the most basic principles of humanity.  UNAMA stresses that attacks on hospitals and the murder or intentional injury of persons taking no active part in hostilities — including sick and wounded members of the armed forces and its medical staff — are violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.  UNAMA urges all parties to the conflict to respect and protect all medical workers, clinics and hospitals in compliance with international humanitarian law.


Displacement due to ongoing fighting in western Mosul continues to rise rapidly.  Some 53,500 people have been displaced from western Mosul since the renewed military operations there began on 19 February.  This is an increase of approximately 3,500 people overnight.  This figure is expected to continue to rise in the coming days.  Reports are being verified of the arrival of another 13,000 people at a security screening site in Hamam al Alil, south of Mosul.

Since military operations in Mosul began in mid-October, more than 4,600 people have been referred from front line areas to Erbil’s two main hospitals to be treated for trauma injuries.  Since hostilities resumed on 19 February, more than 600 people have been treated at trauma stabilization points close to the city for conflict-related injuries.  A further 15 people have been referred from eastern Mosul city to hospitals in nearby Erbil for the treatment of skin burns, blistering and respiratory issues — which are symptoms consistent with exposure to a blistering chemical agent.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, yesterday condemned the military escalation in Libya’s Oil Crescent region which jeopardizes the political process and risks igniting wider conflict.  Mr. Kobler stressed that the immediate priority is to de-escalate tensions, prevent further loss of life and ensure that Libya’s national infrastructure and natural resources are under the control of the legitimate authorities.  He added that this unacceptable violence demonstrates once again the need for all parties to engage seriously in the political process in the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement.


On Mali, you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday, jointly with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the European Union.  The four organizations commended the parties to the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali for the effective launch of the interim authorities in Kidal, Ménaka and Gao.  They encourage the parties to complete this process and urge them to overcome the difficulties that are impeding the establishment of the interim authorities in the Taoudéni and Timbuktu regions.  The organizations also welcomed the successful conduct by the parties of the first mixed patrol in Gao on 23 February, within the framework of the Operational Coordination Mechanism, and called on the parties to extend these patrols in Kidal and Timbuktu without delay.  There are more details online.

**Honour Roll

For the honour roll:  more payments arrived today to the regular budget, and we thank the Governments of Bulgaria, Samoa and San Marino for taking the Honour Roll to a total of 56.

**Guests Tomorrow

For press briefings, tomorrow, at noon, we will have Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Chef de Cabinet, as well as Lisa Buttenheim, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support, Nancee Bright from the office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Christian Saunders, Director of the Office of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Management.  They will be here to present to you the Secretary-General’s report on sexual exploitation and abuse. Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With regard to North Korea, is the Secretary‑General contemplating doing any actions of preventive diplomacy or even doing sort of discreet diplomacy, trying to defuse the situation before it's reached to a point of no return?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, by definition, the most discreet diplomacy is the one that is not actually broadcast by the Spokesperson.

Correspondent:  Discreet and then you brief us later on. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  If things are happening discreetly, I will probably know it after you know it.  Regarding his views, of course, you'll have seen the Secretary‑General's own statement on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the sentiments he has.  Certainly, he and the UN are willing to play a helpful role as required by the various parties.

Correspondent:  I'm… I'm fully aware of his views and the United Nations' views and the Security Council's views and the Member States' views.  I'm speaking more of an action‑oriented diplomacy from the Secretary‑General.

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, there's nothing which I would have to report to you right now.  Yes, you and then you.

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  I… we all remember, when the previous Secretary‑General, first day he was in the office, he said his absolute priority was Sudan at that time.  So far, we didn't hear what is the absolute or priority for this Secretary‑General?  Not in general but in particular.

Deputy Spokesman:  In particular, the thing he stressed most from the outset of his entry into office was the need to build up our facilities for prevention, and so that is what he's concentrating on.  And he's been focusing on prevention, as you know, in various different ways, not just in terms of conflict prevention but prevention of different humanitarian crises, which is the basis of the push he's made to deal with the humanitarian conditions in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria and, of course, is the basis of the field visit he made to Somalia just over the past day.

Correspondent:  With all due respect, it sounds exactly like mostly in general.

Deputy Spokesman:  With all due respect, I disagree.  Joe?  Oh, oh.  Sorry.  And then you.  Yeah, he also had a follow‑up, and then you.

Question:  Yeah, what I wanted to ask you is, on North Korea, the… the President of the Security Council, [Matthew] Rycroft, when he came out, he had… I guess these were elements of the press or some agreed statement.  He referred to a role for the Secretary‑General.  So, I wanted to know, can you state or find out whether Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman in… did this come from the Security Council's mind, or did, in fact, DPA [Department of Political Affairs] in its briefing to the Council propose a role for… for Mr. [António] Guterres?  And secondarily, also on North Korea, it's reported that the UN had two Malaysian staff in the country at the time that this order not to leave the country for Malaysians was issued.  Says that our… "our staff were sent to North Korea to attend a course related to the World Food Programme (WFP)".  One, is it… what kind of a course is it?  Does WFP hold courses in North Korea?  And what's the status of the UN getting that?  And can you say a little bit more?  It seems somehow strange that the UN would be sending non‑North Korea‑based staff in North Korea to take a course.  Was it related to North Korean food problems, or what was the course?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the latter question, as you know, our staff are international civil servants.  So, it's not a question of what nationalities, precisely.  In any case, host Governments are responsible for the safety and security of all persons within their jurisdiction.  They're also responsible under relevant legal instruments, including the UN Charter, for the safety and protection of United Nations personnel in their territory.  And we expect that all UN personnel assigned to work in UN‑mandated operations in the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will be able to conduct their work without impediment and will be able to travel to and from the country as required.  Regarding responsibilities, there are UN staff, as you know, in the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  They have work to do, and they have the right to go about their work and to travel freely as they are so required.

Question:  But, it's been reported that the UN is facilitating their immediate departure from the country, given the order by the North Korean Government that Malaysians not leave.  You're saying that they're staying?  I'm just wondering from what you said.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not saying that they're staying.  I'm saying that they have the same freedom to travel to and from the country as required.

Question:  Right, but are you facilitating their removal?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't comment any further on what we're doing about this.  We're dealing with the authorities as appropriate.  Oh, and regarding your first question, Jeffrey Feltman did brief the Security Council in closed consultations.  Since they're closed consultations, we wouldn't have any details to provide of that briefing.  Yes, Joe and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  All right.  Last Sunday, Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas met with a family of a terrorist and also with a terrorist himself who had stabbed several civilians.  He was recently released from Israeli prison.  And he… and President Abbas, more or less, praised, you know, their activities.  I'd like to know whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on that.  Does he… would he think that that would detract or contribute or have no effect on trying to reach a peaceful two‑State solution?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have no particular comment on this latest issue.  What we would say is that we have repeatedly called on the parties and particularly the leadership of the parties to refrain from any rhetoric that would complicate the search for a peaceful solution.

Question:  But, in this context, I want to get specific again beyond the generalities.  Would the Secretary‑General think that such visits and, for lack of a better term, glorification of… of… of these acts of violence against Israeli civilians, would that fall into what he would call unhelpful, inflammatory rhetoric?

Deputy Spokesman:  It varies from incident to incident, and it depends on the details of the incident.  Obviously, you're characterizing it one way.  Other people may characterize it differently.  What we're saying is that we want to avoid anything that could be construed as rhetoric that encourages violence.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  I want to respond to what I have heard because the narration is completely different.

Deputy Spokesman:  If you're going to respond to each other, please respond to each other, not here at the briefing.

Question:  Yeah, definitely.  I will talk to Joe about it.  No problem.  But, I have two questions, one about Christopher Ross and where is he now?  Did he leave the region?  Did he submit his resignation?  Was he asked to leave?  And if you have any update on the whereabouts of Mr. Ross.  My second question, if there is an activity here at the United Nations sponsored by a mission, how… how do journalists who want to be accredited to this event should go to MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] or to that mission in particular?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think normally it… in terms of getting invitations, it is the case that they need to go to the sponsors of the events.

Correspondent:  I'm talking about accreditation…

Deputy Spokesman:  You could also be in touch with MALU for any help or assistance in that.

Question:  No, it says here members of the media who wish to register should do so by replying to this e-mail and the e-mail of the mission, not the e-mail of MALU.  So, is that a precedent?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, no.

Question:  How could a mission take over the functions of MALU?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  There are many events for which different Member States are the sponsor of the event, and you have to go through the Member State.  That happens at various different functions in the building.  That's not a precedent.

Question:  What about…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, and about Christopher Ross, he… as of right now, he continues to serve as the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Western Sahara.  If there's any change in that, we'll let you know.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On Haiti, a couple of weeks ago, the SG [Secretary-General] sent letters to Member State asking for a contribution to the new strategy against cholera.  Any update on this?  I think yesterday was the deadline.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, and there's nothing… in terms of replies, we haven't received a large number of replies.  I believe we've received two responses to the letter.  There's nothing in terms of new funds or anything to report at this stage.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Sure.  I'd like to ask about… sorry.  I'd asked you yesterday about this… the temporary protection area near the UN base in Leer in South Sudan.  And I'm wondering, you seemed to say it was included in the reports, but I still don't see it.  But, I have another question, which has to do with the base…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, actually on that, before you go ahead, I got this just now.  Let me just see.  And it says… yes, the Temporary Operating Base in Leer was established in November 2015, following a resurgence in violence in the area.  In consultation with humanitarian partners who withdrew due to insecurity, destruction and the looting of their premises and vital supplies, the temporary base was established to mitigate against the deteriorating situation in South and Central Unity.  Leer has a Temporary Protected Area, which is protected by UNMISS [United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan].  It not a full‑fledged protection site, as it is not equipped with camp managers or full humanitarian services, neither of which are present in Leer.  UNMISS forces have been providing medical services — they have delivered 48 babies — and water to the displaced population.  The Leer Temporary Protection Area is not represented in the Protection of Civilians Site Update because there are no official figures for the population, as our humanitarian partners have not conducted biometric registration nor a reliable head count.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks for that.  I wanted to ask you about the base in Juba.  I'm told that there… that… that… well, South Sudan is conducting a… a secondary school test.  They began Monday.  And they were supposed to conduct them for the students and youths living in the camp inside the camp.  But, at the last minute, the Government said, no, you have to come outside of the camp to do it.  And several hundred children are not going out of the camp because they feel unsafe with the Government and its national security service overseeing their test.  What I'm wondering is, what is the role of the UN in there?  I'm told that UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] runs the schools.  Does the UN have any comment on the Government, at the last minute, switching and requiring people under the UN's protection to come out of the camp, their fears, and why haven't they taken this up with the Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'll see whether UNICEF has anything to say with that… about that, but you can also check with our UNICEF colleagues.

Question:  Also UNMISS.  I mean, it's an UNMISS Protection of Civilians camp.  So, if the Government is ordering people to leave UN protection camps, isn't that of concern to UNMISS or to even higher up in the building?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'd have to see whether that's what they're doing.  I'm just going by your report on that.  All right.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

Question:  Anything on Cameroon?  [Francois] Louncény Fall, the idea of what it… was accomplished during his two trips?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, we're trying to follow up with UN office in Central Africa to figure out what he's saying.  [He later added that Mr. Fall and members of his team have conducted a series of visits to Cameroon to assess the situation in the Anglophone regions.  Mr. Fall will continue to engage with the national authorities and monitor the situation in these regions, and in the first instance, bring any concerns to the authorities so that they may be addressed.]  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.