7 April 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.


On Sweden, I just want to say that we have obviously been following the events there.  We condemn the violent attack in Stockholm today.  Our sympathy goes to the families of the victims and all those affected and we wish all the injured a prompt recovery.  The United Nations stands in solidarity with the people and Government of Sweden.

We hope that those responsible for the attack will be swiftly brought to justice.


In a statement that was issued earlier today on Syria, the Secretary-General said that he continued to follow the situation in Syria closely and with grave concern.

He said he was abhorred by the chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, and the death and injury of many innocent civilians.  He stressed that he has long stated that there needs to be accountability for such crimes, in line with existing international norms and Security Council resolutions.

He says that he has been following reports of the air strikes against the Shayrat Airbase in Syria conducted by the United States.

Mindful of the risk of escalation, he appealed for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people.

These events underscore his belief that there is no other way to solve the conflict than through a political solution.  He called on the parties to urgently renew their commitment to making progress in the Geneva talks.

A political solution also remains essential for progress in the fight against terrorism.

The Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security.  The Secretary-General called on the Council to unite and exercise that responsibility.

For too long, international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity, the Secretary-General said.  This is a prerequisite to ending the unrelenting suffering of the people of Syria.

That statement is online and, as you know, the Security Council is currently holding an open meeting on Syria and Jeff Feltman the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs briefed Council members.


Today as you know is the commemoration of the International Day of Reflection of the Genocide in Rwanda.

The Secretary-General will speak at the commemoration taking place in the Trusteeship Council at 4 p.m.

He is expected to stress that the best way to honour the memory of those who were murdered is to ensure that such events never occur again, which is why the world must be ever alert to the warning signs of genocide, and act quickly and early to avert it.

The Secretary-General will reiterate that the United Nations is working hard to strengthen its capacities for preventive diplomacy, including through mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, you will have seen that the Secretary-General announced yesterday the appointment of Lieutenant General Frank Mushyo Kamanzi of Rwanda as Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

And on the ground, the Mission reports that its patrol has not yet been able to reach Pajok in Eastern Equatoria province to assess reports of fighting, between SPLA troops and the opposition.

UNMISS reiterates its calls on the Government to allow access to Pajok, as obligated under the existing Status of Forces Agreement, so it can fully implement its mandate.

As a consequence of the violence in the area, the UN refugee agency says that more refugees are fleeing for safety, who report witnessing their loved ones shot dead at close range, with many arrested or slaughtered, including children.

Many people are still hiding in the bush trying to find their way to Uganda.

Though Uganda’s approach in dealing with refugees is among the most progressive, chronic under funding continues to affect the UNHCR and Uganda’s activities.

The current appeal for $781.8 million is only 11 per cent funded.


Speaking of funding, our colleagues at the World Food Programme inform us that thanks to new donor contributions, they have been able to resume providing full food rations to refugees in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps starting on 1 April.

This comes after more than a year of ration cuts.

However, WFP stresses that the funding currently available for cash transfers — which make up 30 per cent of the refugees’ food assistance — will last only until May.  That is next month.

More details online.

I also wanted to flag that this morning, the Secretary-General met with David Beasley, the new Executive Director for WFP who is, I think, heading to WFP headquarters this evening.

**Deputy Secretary General Travel

Speaking of travelling, the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed departed New York for Marrakesh to participate in the 2017 Governance Weekend of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, where she is delivering the keynote address.

While in Morocco, she will also engage with representatives of the UN system.

She will be back in New York on Sunday.


The UN Human Rights Office today strongly condemned the execution of three men in Gaza that took place yesterday, despite appeals by the Office and by other international and Palestinian organizations for the sentences not to go ahead.

The Human Rights Office says that these executions were carried out in breach of Palestine’s obligations under international law, including stringent conditions on the use of the death penalty.


An update from the Ukraine:  in the two regions most affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, more than 200,000 children — or one in four — require urgent psychosocial support to overcome the trauma of living through more than three years of violence, according to a new statement by UNICEF.

UNICEF’s Representative in the Ukraine, Giovanna Barberis, said the world has forgotten about this invisible crisis in eastern Ukraine, but hundreds of thousands of children are paying a heavy price, one that could last a lifetime without adequate support.

She appealed for urgent funds.


Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) say that displacement from west Mosul continues, with more than 9,000 people were recorded as displaced from west Mosul yesterday.

This brings the number of people displaced from west Mosul to over 264,000 since the start of the operations in that particular area on 19 February.

An estimated 334,000 people are currently displaced in total as a result of the fighting in both east and west Mosul.


Also from our humanitarian colleagues, they are launching today in Lima a Flash Appeal to request just under $40 million to assist 400,000 people impacted by recent flooding in Peru.

More details from OCHA.


UNDP launched yesterday a report that says that the social and economic cost of the recent spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean will total up to $18 billion between 2015 and 2017.

More information on UNDP’s website.


Today is World Health Day.  The World Health Organization is leading a one-year campaign on depression, the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

According to latest estimates, 300 million people are now living with depression.

The overall goal of the campaign is that more people with depression, everywhere around the world, both seek and get help.

More information on WHO’s website.


We are almost done here.

In response to questions regarding the situation in the Maldives, what we can say is that we are closely monitoring the situation in the country and urge the national authorities to uphold necessary conditions for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, in line with the country’s Constitution.

We reiterate our call for all political stakeholders to find common solutions through inclusive dialogue.


I want to flag an event that will take place on Monday, at 3:15 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council: the Secretary-General will at that time designate his first Messenger of Peace which will be Malala Yousafzai.  She is as you know global advocate for girls' education and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.

She and the Secretary-General will have a public conversation in the Trusteeship Council on girls’ empowerment and girls’ education.  She will be at that time officially designated as a Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education.

That event will be open to you and will be webcast and Facebooked and everything else.

**Honour Roll

And today, we say thank you to our friends in Trinidad and Tobago who have paid their budget dues in full, which brings us up to?

Correspondent:  70‑something.

Spokesman:  See, I should know before I…



**Questions and Answers

All right, Linda.  Go ahead.

Question:  I just have a quick question about the SG's statement.

Spokesman:  Uh‑hmm.

Question:  I don't know if I missed it, but did he either express support for the strike or any opposition to it?  I mean, I heard him… I mean, I saw that he express… he was… expressed concern about a fear of escalation…

Spokesman:  I think the focus of the Secretary‑General's statement is one reminding the parties on the need for a political solution, recalling the appalling nature of what we saw in terms of the chemical, what looks like chemical weapons attacks and expressing, I think, his fear of escalation, of escalation of violence, and I think a clear appeal to, to the Security Council to exercise its responsibility and to unite in search for peace and security.


Question:  Thank you, sir.  Stéphane, talking about the Secretary‑General… follow‑up on question.  I mean, when the United States attacked Iraq in 2003, the Secretary‑General at that time said, without the authorization of the Security Council, it was illegal. 

So, does the Secretary‑General think that this attack that the United States, I mean, did on Syria, killing about seven people, I guess, so far, is it legal or illegal?

Spokesman:  I think, while looking back at historical reference is always interesting, I think everything needs, we do need to look at the events themselves.  We are not in a, we are not going to get into the debate of, on international law at this point in this room.

Question:  But… but without the authorization of Security… I mean, given the fact…

Spokesman:  You… I think you… 

Question:  …horrible crime that Syria committed or the motive, without the authorization of Security Council, is that legal or illegal?

Spokesman:  I think I've just answered the question.  We're not going to get into the debate of legal or illegality and international law at this point in this room.  Yeah, and then Luke.

Question:  On the same topic.  Does he see it in violation of any Security Council resolutions that were taking on Syria or UN General Assembly resolutions?  And was he… did he have… did he know about that act before it happened?  Or how he know…

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary‑General was not informed.  I think, like many of us, he learned of it by getting an alert on his phone, most likely, or an e-mail from his Spokesman even.

The… I think, you know, taking as a, taken as a, as a whole, in terms of the last six years of the Syrian conflict, it's clear that, for too long, international law has been, has been ignored.  The Secretary‑General again appeals to the, to the Security Council to unite and fulfil the responsibility that is assigned to it.


Question:  Can I continue on the same vein, but from a different angle?

Spokesman:  You can try.

Question:  There's an argument we're hearing a lot in the international law world that seems to be building through the years that perhaps the Charter shouldn't be read so literally, that, in light of all these procedural hurdles that are preventing collective action on the Security Council, that maybe something can be technically illegal, but, in practice, legitimate in a way.  Is that an argument that the SG understands, do you think?

Spokesman:  It's, you know, it, I don't know if we're going to have the same debate about the UN Charter as some people have about the Constitution of the host country.  It's a fascinating panel discussion for which we need to get a lot of lawyers.

The Secretary‑General, I think, is well acquainted, well acquainted with the Charter and the responsibilities that it assigns to various parts of this Organization.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Something on that topic, and then I have some other questions, but Staffan de Mistura has this quote where he says he's fully and operationally focused on the situation.  Can you unpack that a little bit?  Like, does it, was he informed of this?  Was he… has he had a dialogue with either the United States or anyone else…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware… 

Question:  What does it mean to be operationally focused?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware, I'm not aware that he was, that he was informed.  I don't believe anybody in the UN was informed.  But I, as I said, I'm just not aware that he was informed. 

Obviously, I think the events of the last few days are likely to have an impact on, on his efforts.  And so, I think, like all of us, with the Secretary‑General or his envoy, we are focused and refocused on trying to get the, make sure the political process and the Geneva talks stay on, on track.  And, you know, the Secretary‑General's belief that there is no other option but a political option remains, and he's asking everybody to recommit to the Geneva talks.

Question:  I have some other… I mean, I don't want to… if anyone else wants to go on this topic… 

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  No, ask your other question.  Ask your other question.

Question:  It's actually something that I'd asked in your absence.  I'd asked about this widely seen video from Burundi in which the militia of the ruling party says that they're going to impregnate the women of their opposition.  So, many people see this as, as actually kind of an echo of what happened in Rwanda in 1994.  And, since it's that day, I'm sort of wondering, what is the UN's response to this very troubling video of a militia marching and talking about impregnating opposition women?

Spokesman:  I think this kind of, that kind of rhetoric, those kinds of messages are deeply disturbing to anyone, and we would hope that the Government takes the necessary measures to, to ensure that we don't hear this kind of rhetoric.


Question:  Jonathan Sanders from iCastNews.

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  With, in reflecting on what you said that the SG voiced that, for too long, the norms of international law have been ignored in Syria, which sounds very much like what Mr. Putin said on the [inaudible] site, he said, the blow of the United States is a narushenie, is a violation of the norms of international law. 

Is there, in the SG's opinion, any Security Council authorization that makes this not a violation, or is this in the spirit…

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  …of what the Council says?

Spokesman:  This is what the Secretary‑General says is, if you look back over the last years of the Syria conflict, whether it's the forced movement of people, the besieging of communities, what we've all seen, starvation, whether it's medical supplies being taken out of aid convoys, whether it's the medic… the use of barrel bombs, whether it's the use of chemical weapons, whether it's the use of civilians basically as human shields, that's an affront to humanity.  That's an affront to international law and humanitarian law. 

As I said to you earlier, questions from your colleagues, we're not going to get into a debate here on the legality or not legality of, of the, of the airstrikes.  That's just not a debate we're going to get into today.

Luke, and then Masood.

Question:  Just quickly, I'm curious why Mr. Feltman and not the SG was at the meeting.  Was that a request by the U.S., or was that just…

Spokesman:  No, I mean, they asked for, they asked for a briefer.  I think Mr. Feltman is, is the designated official to brief on what was basically an update of what we knew on Syria.  Mr. de Mistura will brief next week.  The Secretary‑General himself had made his position known before the start of the meeting through his statement.  So, I wouldn't read anything into that. 


Question:  Yeah.  One, is the United Nations or OPCW investigating the attack earlier, and will it come out with any findings?

Spokesman:  The OPCW Fact Finding Mission is currently working on trying to gather facts and analysing, analysing information they can get from the Khan Shaykhun.  As you know, there are two relevant Security Council resolutions, I think 2235 and 2319, which have to deal with the Joint Investigative Mechanism, where the OPCW Fact Finding Mission once, which kicks in once the OPCW determines or has determined that toxic chemicals have been used in Syria.  So, it's a multi-step process.  But right now, the OPCW is very much seized on the matter, and their Fact Finding Mission is at work.

Question:  About this thing that you announced earlier, Malala Yousafzai, is it on Monday?

Spokesman:  I, from what I heard myself say, it is on Monday at 3:15 in the Trusteeship Council.

Question:  And this conversation between…

Spokesman:  It's also on Monday.

Question:  …the Secretary‑General…

Spokesman:  Same place, same time.  Yep.  Go ahead in the back.

Question:  Yes.  [indiscernible name] from The Jewish Press.  We've seen for many years the condemnation on Israel in terms of human rights from the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Does the Secretary‑General see, foresee any kind of condemnation from the same Council due to what happened in Gaza with the execution of those three individuals?  And it was stated that they were collaborators with Israel, and so they were executed merely for that.  Does the Secretary‑General see the kind of…

Spokesman:  The, I would refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, which was a clear condemnation of, a condemnation of the execution of these three Palestinians, which violates international, international law.  Whether or not the Human Rights Council will take up the issue, that's obviously a question for them to decide.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I guess, about, this is about the… the UN system and freedom of the press.  The FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, is pursuing a criminal case against a publication called Italian Insider in Rome for, essentially, they… the publication says for just covering… covering them in corruption within FAO.  I wanted to know, is there any UN policy, obviously, they're free to write a letter to the editor or whatever else, but they're affirmatively actually trying to shut the publication down.  Is that consistent with the free press principles that the UN system says it espouses?

Spokesman:  The UN is here to defend the free press, as we do, as we do here.  I'm not aware of the FAO case.  I would, I would encourage you to reach out to what is a specialized agency.

Question:  I guess, but, yeah, the Head of it is obviously very comfortable with what he's doing.  I'm asking you, I guess, as the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General… 

Spokesman:  I don't know enough about, I don't know enough about the case.

Question:  Okay.  Maybe… all right.  And I also wanted to ask you, in the, the, what's now called the Ng Lap Seng case and used to be the John Ashe case, there's been a request for an extension.  The reason I'm asking you about it is the letter from the… the lawyers for Ng Lap Seng cite a… a new trove of information that's been given to them, partially, and part of this involves documents of South‑South News and also John Ashe e-mails. 

And, since both of these may concern the very topics that the UN conducted its audit into, I wanted to know… I hear this line generally you're going to, like, wait till the end of the case or you're going to monitor the case, but are, is the UN system, whether OLA or, ever going to take a look at these documents to see what it, as it reflects to the need for UN reform or who did what here?

Spokesman:  I think, obviously, we will, we'll see what happens at the end, and if we need to take, if it needs to impact the investigations that have already done, we'll take a look at it.  And we are, as a duty, cooperating with the relevant judicial authorities.

Question:  Sure.  And did you, I'm sorry to follow up on this, but yesterday, I'd asked you about the financial disclosure things, and you said, I wasn't clear from what you said.  Like, I'd asked you…

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I don't know if the rules have changed.  We can check.  Yeah, I'll check.

Correspondent:  I'd just like a response.  He forgot to put it or maybe…

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'll check.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.