17 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Earlier today, in the context of the session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General met with women’s civil society groups this morning for a town-hall meeting, in which he exchanged ideas and views about issues affecting women and girls around the world.  During the discussion, the Secretary-General pointed out that, even though the existing protection instruments were important, the reality remains that we live in a male-dominated world and culture.  The central question was one of empowerment, he said, which had many dimensions.  It was essential to ensure that women were able to participate in all aspects of societies, including the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.  That event is being archived in the UN Webcast page.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is travelling today to Mali for a two-day trip.  He is expected to meet with Government officials, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) leadership and UN personnel.  He will then proceed to South Sudan on 19 March, where he will engage with the Government and the humanitarian and diplomatic community. He is expected to address the press in Juba on 21 March.  He is being accompanied by the Under-Secretary-General-designate for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, on both legs of the trip.

Yesterday, Mr. Ladsous briefed the Security Council on the Central African Republic.  He noted that much progress has been accomplished over the past year but that significant challenges remain. He reiterated the UN’s commitment to supporting the country, as recently demonstrated by the peacekeeping mission’s engagement in Bambari.

**South Sudan

The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, today warned that the situation in the country continues to deteriorate and that local and ethnic divisions have been exploited for political ends.  Addressing a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council on South Sudan, he said that the recent escalation of fighting in Equatoria and Upper Nile regions has led to a significant displacement of civilians.  Meanwhile, new armed groups are emerging, leaving the country deeply divided.

Mr. Shearer reiterated that humanitarian organisations and the UN Mission continue to be denied access despite enormous suffering.  He described as “alarming” the lack of response from South Sudanese leaders of all sides to the plight of their people.  The UN refugee agency meanwhile said today that 1.6 million people are now displaced from South Sudan into the surrounding region. The rate of displacement is alarming, representing an impossible burden on a region that is significantly poorer and which is fast running short of resources to cope.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also said today that it was appalled by the deaths of refugees after a boat carrying them across the Red Sea from Yemen to Sudan was reportedly attacked overnight on Thursday during hostilities off the governorate of Hudaydah.  Although details are still unconfirmed, it appears that a number of Somali refugees were among those killed or injured.  Meanwhile, the conflict in Yemen is continuing along the Taizz governorate’s western coast and has now moved into areas adjacent to southern Hudaydah governorate’s coastal districts.

As of 10 March, the fighting has resulted in the displacement of more than 48,000 people, who have largely sought shelter in more secure areas of Taizz and Hudaydah.  Humanitarian partners have so far provided direct, in-kind relief to nearly 120,000 people, including internally displaced people, host communities and residents of affected areas.  In addition, partners are supporting critical services through assistance to local water networks and health facilities, as well as offering protection.  Access to the most affected areas of Taizz remains challenging due to ongoing clashes and movement restrictions imposed by parties to the conflict.


From Iraq, in addition to what you heard yesterday in the extensive briefing by Lise Grande, our colleagues at the refugee agency are telling us that as displacement from Western Mosul continues unabated; they are opening two new camps and asking donors for additional funding to help protect and shelter those forced to flee.  Around 255,000 people have been displaced from Mosul and surrounding areas since October.  Last week saw the highest level of displacement yet, with 32,000 displaced between 12 and 15 March.  UNHCR needs $212 million to continue to provide urgent care.


One more note, but this one on Europe on refugees and migrants:  our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] say that, one year after the Balkan border closures and the [European Union]-Turkey statement, which were aimed at stopping mass migration flows, refugee and migrant children face greater risks of deportation, detention, exploitation and deprivation.  Instead of stemming the flow, UNICEF says more children and families are now taking matters into their own hands and embarking on even more dangerous and irregular routes with smugglers.

Meanwhile, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 10,000 asylum seekers have now been relocated from Greece to other European Union and associated States since the start of the EU relocation programme.  A record number of people were relocated from Italy and Greece in February, with more than 1,200 relocations to 13 different EU countries.


Lastly, in response to the situation in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), Mr. François Louncény Fall, carried out a number of visits to the country to discuss with the concerned parties the situation on the ground.  His office has also carried out a number of working-level visits.  Mr. Fall will continue efforts to engage with all relevant parties and to monitor the situation in close cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

We firmly believe that the grievances expressed by the Anglophone regions can only be addressed through an inclusive dialogue.  In that regard, we note that, on 15 March, the President of Cameroon appointed the president and 13 representatives to the National Commission for the promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, the body tasked to engage in dialogue with the Anglophone community of Cameroon.  The lady in red?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Stéphane, can you confirm that you… that the Secretariat or the Secretary‑General asked the ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for West Asia] to pull back their report regarding Palestine… and that describes Israel as an apartheid State?

Spokesman:  Yes, we asked for the report to be taken down from the website.  I think, as we've said, clearly, in the last couple of days, the report… no one was… at Headquarters was consulted.  None of the relevant departments were consulted, and we asked for it to be taken down.  Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  As a follow‑up to the same question, so, in the beginning, the Secretary‑General distanced himself from the report.  It was not enough for the Americans.  They asked…

Spokesman:  It was not?  Excuse me?

Correspondent:  It was not enough for the United States.  They ask him to completely scrub the report.  So, he… he… he was subject to this pressure and, in fact, yielded to the pressure.  He took out the report…

Spokesman:  Are you telling me something, or you're asking me something?

Question:  My question is:  Do you confirm that Rima Khalaf, the Executive Secretary of ESCWA, had resigned as… at… she was asked to resign or as a protest she resigned?

Spokesman:  Leaving your commentary aside, I think Ms. Rima Khalaf just gave an extensive press conference in Beirut.  She has resigned.  The resignation was accepted and, you know…

Correspondent:  But, does that have to do with the report… That's my question.

Spokesman:  Let me finish.  Again, this is not about content.  This is about process.  The Secretary‑General cannot accept that an Under‑Secretary‑General or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorise the publication under UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself.  Due consultation and coordination within… among senior UN officials is essential for the UN to be managed effectively so that the Organization can properly pursue its goals.  Again, it's not about content.  As I said, I think, for the last two days, the Secretary‑General has been very clear in his advocacy for the rights of the Palestinian people.  From the start of his mandate, he's been advocating for a two‑State solution and against any unilateral moves that would undermine that goal.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  Why this position had not been taken from the very beginning?  I mean, the position of the Secretary‑General in the beginning was to distance himself.  This position had been… is developing now, to ask to remove the report altogether.  Why he didn't ask for the report to be removed from the very beginning?

Spokesman:  I think this… I think the Secretary‑General's position on the report, I hope, has been made clear.  Again, it's about those who work… senior officials who report to him, those who… Under‑Secretary‑Generals or others who report to him.  It's about following process.  There are many issues that different parts of the Secretariat deal with that impacts the whole Secretariat, and it's about consultation and it's about coordination.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on the same subject, just… just a question.  Was there immense pressure from the [Donald] Trump Administration to withdraw the support, and that's why the Secretary‑General succumbed to the pressure?

Spokesman:  This is not about pressure.  This is about the Secretary‑General having the authority to manage the Organization in a way that is done effectively and can deliver on its goals.  Mr. Lee?  And then Mr. Klein.

Question:  Same topic.  Earlier, there had been a job notice published for all of the heads of the regional commissions, except Ms. [Alicia] Bárcena in Latin America.  So, I wanted to know, what's the status of that?  Has… has… what would have been Rima Khalaf's final day…?

Spokesman:  31 March.

Question:  Okay.  Number two, so… and has… I notice it's no longer on the website.  Does this mean that, in fact, the applications are closed?  What's the process?  Do you think you'll have a new head of ESCWA before 31 March?

Spokesman:  I don't know if we'll have one before 31 March.  There's a Deputy Executive Director who is currently in charge.

Question:  Are the issues were… being discussed here, do you think they'll be a part of the selection process or just process?

Spokesman:  Do I what?

Question:  Do you think the issues that the… the substance of the report, the issues reflected in the substance of the report, are they going to be part of the selection process or just a pledge of allegiance to…?

Spokesman:  It's not about a pledge of allegiance.  It's about people working in an organization.  It's about people following a process of coordination and consultation.  That's what it is.  It is not, don't… you know, frame… I mean…  It's not about a pledge of allegiance.  The job interview will be a competency‑based interview, and we will get a great candidate.

Question:  So two things.  On this report, was it shown to DPA [Department of Political Affairs]?

Spokesman:  No, it was not.  It was not… no one at Headquarters was consulted or coordinated.

Question:  And does Headquarters have a veto right over reports of the regional commissions?  If it had been shown, what would happen…?

Spokesman:  It's not about veto.  It's about coordination and consultation.  Mr. Klein, and then we'll go to Mr. Barada.

Correspondent:  Same subject.

Spokesman:  Really?

Question:  Yeah.  Favourite subject today.  First of all, maybe you said it and I didn't hear it, but has the report, in fact, been taken down from the website?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.  As far… I mean, it's all for all to check.  As far as I know, it's no longer on the website.

Question:  Secondly, is there going to be a request for review by the Secretary‑General or his senior management and… and possibly directions for revisions or anything like that?  In other words, will… if this is a process issue, is it going to be subject to further review, consultation, and possibly…?

Spokesman:  I don't know what the final state of the report would be.  What I know is that it is current… it is no longer on the website.

Question:  Okay.  And third, still related, I know you've many times from this podium and the Secretary‑General has talked about the two‑State solution, support for a two-State solution, and independent Palestine.  So, taking account of the fact that Arabs living in Israel are citizens and have actually rights and are in the Knesset and so forth, would it be consistent with the two‑State solution for Jews to be transferred from an independent Palestinian State as the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] ambassador to the United States suggested just a few years ago?

Spokesman:  Look, a lot of things have been said about the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.  A lot of things have been suggested as solutions.  For the Secretary‑General, he continues to believe strongly in a two‑State solution and for the need for both parties to negotiate directly and agree on a common approach and a common solution.

Correspondent:  Well, this is… this is a quote.

Spokesman:  No, I… you can read me, you know, quotes from diplomats from around the world over the last 2, 3, 4, 50 or 60 years.  My answer will be the same.  I'm not going to prejudge the end of the process.

Question:  But, conceptually…  Can I just… can I just ask… please let me ask the question…?

Spokesman:  I'm not very good at conceptual things.  But, you can read it.  I'll give you the courtesy of listening.

Question:  Okay.  Specifically… all right.  I will read it.  "I'm not saying to transfer every Jew.  I'm saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian State."  Again, this was the PLO ambassador to the United States.  "When asked if any Jew is inside the borders of the Palestine will have to leave, he said, ‘Absolutely.  I think this is a very necessary step before we can allow two States to somehow develop the separate national identities’."  Is that inconsistent…?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to…

Question:  Is that inconsistent with the Secretary‑General's con… idea of a two‑State solution?  That's all I'm asking.

Spokesman:  What is consistent is that the Secretary‑General believes in a two‑State solution that needs to be negotiated directly by both parties and agree on a common approach.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is it Rima Khalaf's mistake that the commission issued this report?  And second, this report was sent by mass e-mail to everybody yesterday from here, from the UN Headquarters, not from ESCWA.  Who was behind that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  No, no, I'm not doubting the veracity of what you're telling me.  I'm just saying I'm not aware of that e-mail that…

Question:  No, I mean, should… should also the person who sent this e-mail from DPI [Department of Public Information], MDC [Media Documents Centre], UN be… resign or…?

Spokesman:  I think you're comparing apples and kiwis here.  We're talking about the process of consultation for the drafting and the report before it's out.  As I've said many… quite a few times already in the last 15 minutes, we don't believe a process of consultation and coordination was followed.  The report has been removed from the website.  It was still present yesterday.  Yep?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Yesterday, US warplanes strike almost near Aleppo, and more than 50 people killed.  And US says they are belong to Al-Qaida, but the locals says that they are… these people are belong to another Jamaat that removes themselves from the extremism.  And do you have any information on that?  And what do you think… what's Secretary‑General thinks about the striking the mosque?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We, as… have no way of confirming… of independently verifying what exactly happened.  We've seen the reports, the tragic reports, of people who were killed when the mosque was bombed.  Clearly, we stand against any deliberate or any attacks on places of worship.  We have no way of knowing who was responsible.  I think what's important is that all actors in the Syrian conflict observe the requirements under international law regarding the protection of civilians in situations of armed conflict and during counter‑terrorism situations.  Madame?

Correspondent:  Somehow… if… somehow you're contradicting yourself here.  You are saying that you don't have… that you are taking down the report because of the procedure that UN officials didn't follow.  Does the… and it's not about the content of the report.  So… but, you said yesterday or the day before that you distanced yourself… I mean the Secretary‑General…

Spokesman:  We distanced… we said… it doesn't reflect the position of the Secretary‑General, and we don't believe the right procedures and consultations were followed.  I think what is important here is the process, basic process, that should have been followed.

Question:  So, are you going to ask for a second report or redo or…?

Spokesman:  I think we'll leave it at this for now.  Abdelhamid and then Masood and then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you.  The first report about Injustice in the Arab World under pressure was withdrawn.  The nomination of Salam Fayyad for the position of Special Envoy to Libya under pressure was withdrawn.  And now the report about the apartheid that Israel is exercising over the Palestinian under pressure was also withdrawn.  Doesn't that compromise the credibility of the Office of the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  I don't agree with the lines that you're using to connect these dots.  The previous report that you mentioned, the first one, was a report authored by independent experts.  It was published under their own name, and the report went out.  The nomination of Salam Fayyad to be the head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) was a suggestion by the Secretary‑General.  As you know, the process for nominating heads of political or peacekeeping missions that are under the authority of the Security Council calls for the Security Council to approve the nomination.  The reason it was withdrawn or it was not approved, it lies with the Security Council.  It does not lie at the feet of the Secretary‑General.  Mr. Lee?  And then Masood.

Question:  I want Yemen and Cameroon.  On Yemen, this attack on what are thought… you know, thought to… people say they had UN travel documents, that these were certified UN refugees being moved from Yemen to Sudan, given that the attack was by Apache helicopters and there's only a certain number of parties using them, is the US… is the UN calling for an investigation to find out who did it?  And do you consider it a war crime to sink a boat of refugees?

Spokesman:  Clearly, we stand firmly against the sinking of… the hitting of civilians.  I mean, my understanding is that these were Somalis who had been… sought refuge in Yemen.  Yemen has been… the people of Yemen have been extremely generous to Somali refugees.  They receive, mostly on prima facie evidence, refugee papers.  I don't think they were travel papers per se, but they were papers certifying that they are refugees, and there needs to be accountability for this crime.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you, on Cameroon.  Thanks… thanks for the statement.  Inevitably, there's at least one… I wanted to ask a follow‑up.  You said that Mr. Loncény Fall had spoken to all relevant parties.  And I wanted to know if this included France.  And I say it… I ask it just because the Permanent Representative just now on camera said that he'd never heard of the issue of the internet being cut off for 60 days.

Spokesman:  Well, I can’t answer that…

Question:  So, I know you can't answer that… is there a way… can you ask… can you, because I don't get answers from… ask DPA or Mr. Loncény Fall's office whether they spoke to [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I don’t… the way I read it is that he spoke to people in Cameroon.  So, if I can find out more, I…

Question:  Did he call for the internet to be, in fact, turned back on?

Spokesman:  I think it's obviously important that people have access to the internet.  Sorry… yes, go ahead and then you, Masood.

Question:  Hi there.  Nina from i24.  Quick question.  A few weeks ago, there were reports that Tzipi Livni had been offered a very significant role at the United Nations.  Any more developments on that?

Spokesman:  None.

Question:  Can I ask a quick question on North Korea?  Would you have any reaction to Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson's comments that the US might consider a military intervention with North Korea?

Spokesman:  Not particularly to those comments.  I think what's important is for the international community to restart a dialogue regarding the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], and obviously, for the Dem… for the DPRK to fulfil all its obligations under Security Council resolutions.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  That you'd have to ask Ambassador [Matthew] Rycroft.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  I just wanted to ask — maybe this question has already been asked — about this killing of the refugees off the Yemeni coast.

Spokesman:  Masood, with all due respect, I just answered Matthew literally two seconds ago.

Question:  I know.  Yes.  What I was going to say, in the same vein as the… how much of a pressure was applied to the United Nations that has succumbed so… so quickly and withdrew the report?  Because when… in the past, in case of Ban Ki‑moon, there was so many pressures, he never withdrew… of course, he… I think he killed one report.  That's about it.  So, how much pressure was there?

Spokesman:  It's not about applying pressure.  For the Secretary‑General, it's very clear.  It's about his ability to manage this organisation in the best way possible.  It's about the importance of senior officials who are dealing with a matter that implicates other parts of the system, that they consult and they coordinate.  That all… that's what it's about.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted… the… the… the… there was a meeting this morning between the Secretary‑General and the Foreign Minister of Armenia.  And I'm wondering, in advance, whether there will be a readout on that and whether you were able to get a readout of the Bahrain meeting given that the other…?

Spokesman:  No, I should… you know, that's my failure.  I don't have anything on Bahrain.

Question:  And do you have anything on Cyprus?  There are various stories out there about… that the President of Cyprus will be in New York for a business meeting and had sought to meet the Secretary‑General.  Will that meeting take place?  And, if not, why not?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  We can… we'll check probably closer to the date and we're able to confirm.

Question:  And the DPRK letter, remember this one?  The idea… they came… they had a press conference saying that they wrote a…

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on the DPRK letter.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.