Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

17 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.

Good afternoon.


An update from our humanitarian colleagues in Iraq who tell us that nearly half a million people have been forced from their homes since the start of military operations to retake Mosul [began] six months ago, with Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, calling the sheer volume of civilians still leaving the city ‘staggering’.

She said that the worst-case scenario is that up to 1 million people may flee Mosul.

Aid partners are working around the clock to expand emergency camps to shelter hundreds of thousands more people who may flee in the coming weeks and days.

The UN estimates that, currently, as many as 500,000 people remain in Da’esh-controlled parts of western Mosul, including 400,000 people in the old city.

Ms. Grande stressed that although nearly 2 million people have received life-saving assistance and families are being reached with aid, Mosul has pushed humanitarian agencies to their operational limits.  More information online.


You will have seen the statement we issued over the weekend on Syria, in which we condemned that attack in Rasheedin in west Aleppo on 5,000 evacuees traveling from the towns of Foah and Kefraya to Government-controlled areas.

We called on the parties to ensure the safety and security of those waiting to be evacuated, and also stressed that those responsible for the attack must be brought to justice.

For his part, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said that he was horrified by the reports of the killings of scores of people in this attack.

He said that the perpetrators of such a monstrous and cowardly attack displayed a shameless disregard for human life, stressing that international humanitarian law is very clear:  warring parties must protect civilians and distinguish between military and civilian targets.

**Western Sahara

An update on an issue that you have been asking in the past on Western Sahara: our peacekeeping colleagues are telling us today that over the weekend, 12 of the 17 staff members from MINURSO, who previously had not been allowed to return, arrived in Laayoune, with one additional staff member expected to return during the course of the day.

Administrative procedures are being completed for the return, reassignment or retirement of the remaining four staff members.

**South Sudan

Over the weekend, the acting Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan, Moustapha Soumaré, urged warring parties in the country to show restraint in the face of an escalation of violence and to remember their responsibility to protect civilians.

The Mission says it is concerned over reports of clashes between government and opposition forces in various locations around the country.  It is monitoring the situation in Raga in Western Bahr El Ghazal after receiving reports of clashes leading to civilian displacements.  The situation remains calm but tense in Wau as peacekeepers patrol the town with a focus on protecting civilians.

The Mission is also closely monitoring the situation in Wunkur in Unity State, where a UN patrol over the weekend reported a large number of government soldiers and heavy weapons and the absence of civilian activity.

Meanwhile, the patrol to Pajok in Eastern Equatoria returned to the Mission’s base in Torit over the weekend.  However, despite assurances from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Government authorities, the patrol was limited to certain areas of Pajok.  The Mission intends to deploy another patrol tomorrow to visit areas outside of Pajok, where displaced civilians reportedly are.

Also on South Sudan, the World Food Programme has condemned the killing last week of three workers contracted by the agency’s office in Wau as they tried to make their way to a WFP warehouse, where they worked.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Eugene Owusu, has called for an urgent investigation to identify those who are responsible and bring them to justice.


And also on WFP:  our colleagues from WFP in Somalia reported security incidents in Mogadishu yesterday.

In the morning, an explosion occurred 100 metres behind a moving WFP convoy.  The occupants of the vehicles, which included WFP staff and a visiting journalist, are all safe, although two private security guards escorting the team were wounded.

The convoy was returning from KM 13, an area on the outskirts of Mogadishu where WFP is providing life-saving emergency food and nutritional assistance to people impacted by the drought.


The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency, Pierre Krähenbühl, met with the Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, Rami Hamdallah, in Ramallah today.

They discussed the rights and critical needs of Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  The Commissioner-General updated the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Aleppo, Syria, and the situation of Palestine refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

They also conferred on the issue of the curriculum being taught in UNRWA schools in light of recent public misrepresentations of the matter.  Mr. Krähenbühl clarified that, in conformity with its practice since the 1950s based on an agreement between UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], UNRWA teaches host-country curricula in its schools.  This includes the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum and the Commissioner-General clarified that UNRWA has no intention of changing this practice.

More details on UNRWA’s website.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

You will have seen that, late on Thursday, the Secretary-General shared his choices for the positions of Executive Secretaries of a number of regional commissions.

For the record, he selected Vera Songwe of Cameroon for the Economic Commission on Africa (ECA); Olga Algayerova of Slovakia for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); and Mohamed Ali Alhakim of Iraq as Head of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, known as ESCWA.

The Secretary-General has asked Shamhad Akhtar of Pakistan to continue in her role as Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The Secretary-General is grateful to the outgoing senior leaders who have served with distinction and true commitment to the ideals of the UN.

We will continue to make announcements in the coming weeks on other senior positions.

**Sustainable Development Goals Financing Lab

I want to flag a couple of things for tomorrow:  in the Trusteeship Council, the President of the General Assembly will convene a High-Level Sustainable Development Goals Financing Lab to highlight the importance of sustainable financing to achieve the universal set of Goals.

The one-day event will focus on how to drive the transformation to align financial markets with sustainable development, as well as showcase concrete ways in which Member States can approach the financing of different SDGs.

More information on the PGA’s website.

**Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, my guests will be OCHA’s Director of Operations John Ging, along with Manuel Fontaine, Director of the Office of Emergency Operations for UNICEF, and Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch of UNFPA.  They will be here to brief you on their recent visits to South Sudan and Somalia.

**Honour Roll

Today, we now have 85 members on the Honour Roll as we thank Andorra and Dominica for their payments.

**Maria Zoupaniotis

Lastly, I wanted to say a few words about a friend and colleague who, as you may know, passed away on Thursday after a battle with lung cancer.

For almost 30 years, Maria Zoupaniotis was the press counsellor at the Mission of the Republic of Cyprus.  I think, if we kept track of these things, she would have been the dean of the spokespeople at the Missions.

Over the years, I had the privilege of working with her preparing quite a few Cyprus talks, whether in Geneva, Buergenstock, Greentree or right here in the Secretariat.  Maria was a true professional and someone who passionately loved her country and always a pleasure to work with.

In fact, no one could deliver a demarche quite like Maria.  Whenever we sometime strayed from the green vocabulary on the Cyprus issue, we often had a message to call her back at the Mission.  She would make her point with tact, precision and good manners.

Maria will be remembered and missed in these halls.

All of us here … and I think you will join us in sending our deepest sympathies and most sincere condolences to her husband, and your colleague, Apostolos.

Details of the funeral arrangements are in my office.  I think there is visitation today, tomorrow at a funeral home.

**Questions and Answers

On that note, I’ll take your questions.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What’s the reaction from the Secretary‑General after the failed launch missile in North Korea and the tension, the increased tension between the United States and the… Pyongyang at this moment?  It’s an effort maybe from the United Nations to try to find a diplomatic way before it goes into other options as the United States have said, all the options are on the table.

Spokesman:  Well, we, we’re obviously deeply concerned about the rising tensions that we’ve seen in the Korean Peninsula.  We call on all to redouble their diplomatic efforts.  I think the latest launch that we saw over the weekend from the DPRK was troubling.  We call on the DPRK to take all the steps necessary to de‑escalate the situation and return to a dialogue on denuclearization.

All Security Council resolutions must be formally, must be fully implemented, and we note that the Security Council has consistently stated its commitment to a peaceful, diplomatic, and political situation, solution, excuse me.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following up on this, the UN used to have a Special Representative for North Korea.  Does the Sec… in view of the critical situation, does the Secretary‑General intends to appoint one to…

Spokesman:  Not, not that I’m aware of at this, at this point.  The post has been un, unfilled for quite some years.  But I’m not aware of any plans to appoint someone, which should not mean that we’re not watching the situation very carefully.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Some other things, but I guess, on that, on that topic, I think it was in March 13th, last time the Mission of DPRK held a press conference in here, they said that they’d written to the Secretary‑General, among other things, asking him to have some international con… forum of legal experts on the issue of sanctions and non‑proliferation.  So I just wanted to know, you’d said at that time you were unaware of the letter.  Have you checked?  Has the letter, in fact, been…


Spokesman:  I have nothing more to share with you on the letter.

Question:  What do you mean?  Is there a letter?

Spokesman:  I have no more information to share with you than what I’ve said, which was not much to start with.

Question:  Okay.  So I wanted to ask you, there’s this… I guess I just wanted to… there’ve been growing coverage of Lebanon seeking to shut down refugee camps around its Rayak Air Force Base and the prospect of thousands of Syrian refugees having to return home.  And I’m just wondering, whether it’s Sigrid Kaag or whoever is dealing with this for the UN, what’s… what is the status?  Do they oppose that?  Do they think it should not be done?  And what steps are being taken?

Spokesman:  Well, any change in how refugees are being, being housed needs to be done extremely carefully, and I’ll see what our colleagues at UNHCR are doing.


Question:  Stéphane, I have a question on… convoy attack.  What kind of information do you have about circumstances and who’s responsible for this attack and how this can affect the deal to allocation or the future deal about that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Which convoy, Somalia or Syria?

Question:  No, Syria, Syria.

Spokesman:  Oh, Syria.  Sorry, sorry, sorry, because we talked about a, we had talked about a convoy.  No, we don’t have full information on the attack.  Obviously, as, as we’ve stated in the past, the UN is not involved in these exchanges between the Four Towns, though we have been, we’ve been closely supporting the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as, as they provide help to those who arrive.

You know, we’ve, we have no particular information on who may have done, committed, this, this heinous act.  And we very much hope that these, we will see what appears, stop to see what appears to be the deliberate targeting of civilians.


Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, particularly because the UN has this, has its mission in Mali, there’s news there that up to 47 radio stations face closure by, by the Government.  They… many of them are in the interior of the country.  They have temporary licenses but not permanent licenses, and they’ve been told if they don’t that they face closure.  Does the UN Mission there…

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  … or any other aspect of the UN…


Spokesman:  I don’t, I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  Also, on Cameroon, where you said on Thursday that the Louncény Fall… I found his full quote where he said that he trusts that the internet will be gradually or progressively introduced to the rest of the country.  I guess I, many people that were left wondering, is it acceptable to only have it be in institutions?  What’s the expectation of the UN in terms of the timing?

And also, since then, the Catholic clergy have received these, these threats of massive fines.  They’ve distributed on Easter to their congregants, basically for taking part in a nonviolent protest of the treatment of Anglophones, they face closure.

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what Mr Louncény Fall said.  I echoed what he said.  Obviously, we would like to see a return of the internet as soon as possible, and that’s the discussions he’s been having with the Government.

Question:  Did he attempt to talk to Paul Biya?  This is a… because as you… as you may know, Jeune Afrique and other publications have said that António Guterres sought to Paul, to speak to Paul Biya and was unable to, and I’m just wondering [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  I’m not aware, I’m not aware of the level of, whether or not Mr. Louncény Fall attempted to speak to Paul Biya.  He spoke to the highest authorities he was able to speak to.  You’re free to contact his office for more details.

Question:  I’m asking you about the 38th floor.  Did anyone on the 38th floor, whether Secretary‑General or Deputy Secretary‑General…


Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into details of people attempting to call one person or another.


Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  What’s happening with the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism] after the appointment of Ms. Gamba…?

Spokesman:  Ms. Gamba will be staying as head of the JIM for the next few weeks, and a replacement will be found for her.  But she’s, she remains at the head of the JIM for the next few weeks.

Question:  There were already some claims in the last couple of days by the Syrian authorities that the International Coalition convened an air strike.  Apparently, they hit some chemical warehouse or something like that.  Were the UN or any of the missions over there, did they, were they able to substantiate these allegations?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware, but you may also want to check with the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons].


Question:  On the regional commissions, I guess, I just wanted… I did see that Thursday after‑hours announcement, but what I wondered is that there seem to be… there are five commissions, if I’m correct.  And you made announcements about three… three have new leaders.  One… there was, the person was asked to stay on.  What about the ECLAC in Latin America?  Why was there no…

Spokesman:  Ms Bárcena, as far as I know, is, continues to head it.

Question:  Is there… so the Ban Ki‑moon sort of five‑year‑rule idea is no longer applicable.


Spokesman:  That’s not what I said.

Question:  No, but I’m wondering…

Spokesman:  No, that’s not what I said.  The Secretary‑General will make the changes he feels are necessary in due time.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.