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

24 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Bern, Switzerland, today, where he met with the Swiss Foreign Minister, Didier Burkhalter, with whom he discussed conflict prevention, as well as the situations in Syria and countries threatened by famine, among other topics.  They just concluded a joint press encounter that we are transcribing as we speak.

And later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will meet with the leadership of the External Relations Committees of both Chambers of the Swiss Parliament, and then he will then have a dinner with the President of the Swiss Confederation, Doris Leuthard.


As we announced last week, the Secretary-General will preside over the high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen tomorrow in Geneva — and he will be hosting that jointly with the Foreign Ministers of Switzerland and Sweden as co-chairs.

According to our colleagues at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Yemen is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with nearly 19 million people — or two thirds of the population — in need of aid.  Nearly half of these people require immediate assistance to save their lives or sustain their lives.

Yemen is also the largest food-security emergency in the world and on the brink of famine.  More than 17 million people are currently food insecure, including about 7 million people who are severely food insecure and face starvation.  More information online and in the press advisory that was issued by OCHA.


Turning to Syria, we wanted to say that we are deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 400,000 people in Raqqa.  In past weeks, civilians have been exposed to daily fighting and air strikes, which resulted in an escalating number of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as damage to civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, markets and water infrastructure.

Yesterday, air strikes on Atabaqa city reportedly killed eight people, including five children, and damaged two schools.  On 22 April, dozens of people were reportedly killed and injured in air strikes on an IDP [internally displaced persons] camp near Albardah village, 20 km west of Raqqa.

Some 39,000 newly displaced people fled to the Jib Al-Shaair makeshift camp in Ar-Raqqa governorate, where 4 out of 5 people are staying in the open air without appropriate shelter.  The UN has also received reports of the deaths of several children due to lack of medical care at the Jib Al-Shaair and Al-Karma camps and of critically injured people and sick children who are in need of urgent medical assistance.


From Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as the fighting continues in west Mosul, the number of people fleeing the area is surging.  Nearly 376,000 people have been displaced from west Mosul since the start of the military operation to retake western neighbourhoods started in February.  Yesterday alone, another 6,500 people were recorded as having arrived at the transit and screening point of Hamam al Alil, south of Mosul.  Despite very rapid displacement and pressures on the capacities of camps and emergency sites, space is currently available to accommodate a further 50,000 people.  More expansion work is ongoing in these camps.


From Afghanistan, a report released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN human rights office found that detainees in Afghanistan continue to face torture and ill-treatment in Government detention facilities.  The report is based on interviews with conflict-related detainees in 62 detention facilities and contains key recommendations to the Government.  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said it’s essential that there is proper monitoring of detention facilities and meaningful investigations to ensure that those accused of torture are held accountable.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, the Human Rights Director at the UN Mission there (UNMISS) said that the lack of accountability for crimes perpetrated during the conflict remains one of the country’s biggest challenges.  Eugene Nindorera was speaking yesterday at the end of a visit to Wau in the north-west of South Sudan, where violence earlier this month led to the death of at least 28 civilians and 19 Government soldiers.  He said that, as of Sunday, nobody was being detained in connection with this attack on civilians.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission said that, by Thursday last week, the protection of civilians site adjacent to the UN base in Wau had registered some 17,000 new arrivals — and those are mainly women and children.


More than 25 million children between 6 and 15 years old, or 22 per cent of children in that age group, are missing out on school in conflict zones across 22 countries — that is according to a UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] report issued today.

At the primary school level, South Sudan has the highest rate of out-of-school children with close to 72 per cent of children missing out on education, followed by Chad and Afghanistan.  The three countries also have the highest rate of girls who are out of school.  At the lower-secondary-school level, the highest rates are found in Niger, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.  More information on UNICEF’s website.

**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Our friends at UNCTAD and their partners reveal today in a report that a lack of trust is the main reason many internet users are not shopping online.  The survey shows that users are increasingly worried about their privacy.  The top sources of concern cited in the survey were cybercriminals, internet companies, and Governments.  UNCTAD said the resulting impact on trust is hindering further development of the digital economy.

**World Bank Group

Just to flag a couple of things from over the weekend.  As you will recall, the Secretary-General was in Washington for the spring meetings.  On Saturday morning, he spoke at the opening plenary of the 35th meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee.  In the afternoon, he addressed a high-level meeting on famine and fragility.

He also signed a partnership framework with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, which focuses on building resilience for the most vulnerable people by reducing poverty, promoting shared prosperity, enhancing food security and sustaining peace in crisis-affected situations.  We distributed that agreement and more information is online.

**World Jewish Congress

Last night before leaving for Switzerland, the Secretary-General delivered remarks at the opening dinner of the 15th Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress.

He said that, while we would have hoped that the horrors and the shock of the Holocaust would put an end to antisemitism, unfortunately it is not the case, and antisemitism is alive and well.  In a world with a multiplication of forms of populism, xenophobia and hatred, he said antisemitism has gained an intensity that is unacceptable and that we need to fight with strong determination.  He said that as Secretary-General he would be on the frontline in the struggle against antisemitism to make sure it is condemned and eradicated.

He added that a modern form of antisemitism is the denial of the right of the State of Israel to exist, noting that Israel has an undeniable right to exist and to live in peace and security with its neighbours.  And he reiterated his support for the two-State solution.

**Message to Staff

In a letter sent to staff on Friday, the Secretary-General thanked them for their commitment and hard work and provided an update on the status of the ongoing management reform initiative.

The Secretary-General said he is requesting that all managers give considerable thought to how their programmes are being carried out and whether these mandates can be done better and with less cost.  He encourages all staff to be a full part of this effort and share their cost-savings ideas with their managers.  Similarly, he counts on the support of all staff for efforts to be more prudent in expenditure, more responsive to mandates originating from legislative bodies and more effective in the delivery of programmes. He said that he is determined to work with all staff to ensure that we deliver results with efficiency and effectiveness, and that he is committed to ensuring that the voices of UN staff are heard.

**Michael Williams

A sad note.  We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Williams yesterday in the United Kingdom.  Some of you may recall, Lord Williams served as UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon until his retirement in 2011.  He had also previously served as Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and as the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Situation in the Middle East.  And he had been a Director in the Department of Political Affairs and also served in missions in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia.

Michael’s strong and enduring commitment to the peace, security and stability of Lebanon and the wider Middle East will always be remembered.  Many of us worked closely with him and remember his kindness, warmth and generosity.  And we extend our condolences to his wife and children.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and that is pegged to the Permanent Indigenous Peoples Forum.

Closer to that, today at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here on the tenth anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Speakers will include the Chair of the Permanent Forum from Mali, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare from Guatemala and Chief Willie Littlechild, Grand Chief for Treaty No. 6 from Canada.  The Permanent Forum meetings are going on at the GA [General Assembly] as we speak.

John Ging was supposed to join us today, but he will now brief us at some point in the coming days.

**Honour Roll

And lastly, we thank Ankara, which just paid its regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to 88.  Edie Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wonder whether you got any better readout from the Secretary‑General’s meeting with the President and National Security Adviser, particularly on the issue of US funding to the United Nations.  Did the Secretary‑General come out of those meetings feeling any better about prospects for US funding?

Spokesman:  I think the funding and the budgetary process of the US is still ongoing.  As we know, there are negotiations and discussions going on in the Congress according to the constitutional issues in this country.  I spoke briefly to the Secretary‑General on Friday afternoon.  He was very pleased with his meeting, very pleased with the discussion… brief discussion he had with President [Donald] Trump.  And, as I said, he very much looks forward to seeing him again in the near future.  Yeah, go ahead.  I’ll come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Thank you.  My question is on Cyprus.  There were some media reports in the Greek media saying that the Greek Foreign Minister sent a letter to the Secretary‑General accusing the Special Adviser of lobbying for the Turkish side instead of acting like a UN mediator.  Would you confirm that the Secretary‑General received a letter by… sent by the Greek Foreign Minister, and what was the response?

Spokesman:  No, I’ll check.  I haven’t seen the letter, but we have full confidence in Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide and the fact that he is very much doing his work as a UN… as a Special Adviser and doing a very good job.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Some other ones.  I want to follow up on the Washington or the Secretary‑General.  He… I saw that he did an interview with Bloomberg television, and he said that… that, for example, climate change didn’t come up.  So I just wanted to ask you, what… it seemed like he didn’t have any aversion to doing a kind of a readout in that interview.  So can you give… what did come up and what didn’t come up?

Spokesman:  I can’t go any further than what I’ve said to you and what the Secretary‑General said publicly.

Question:  And al… I guess, on one of the topics, he said that Syria did come up.  So just, as a matter of transparency, I wanted to ask, have you… I’m sure you’ve seen the stories that say that the Secretary‑General wired a congratulatory cable to President [Bashar al-]Assad of Syria.  Is that true?  And, if so, did… what… is the text thus far quoted by… by Sana’a accurate and complete?  And will you release the letter?

Spokesman:  There was… it was not a letter… personalized letter that was signed.  As a matter of practice that has been going on for decades in this Organization, there is a message that goes out to every Member State on the occasion of their National Day.  It is the same message that goes out… so, in 2017, there’s a message that will go out… the same message will go out to every Member State.  There’s no reason why we can’t release the text of this generic letter.  It goes out through our protocol service to the Permanent Mission.  As I said, it’s not a signed letter.  It’s a generic message.  And I think it is about peace and, I think, you know, there… no one would disagree that, after more than six years of conflict, I think the Syrian people deserve peace.

Question:  So they’re not tailored in any way?  It’s not the complete…?

Spokesman:  They’re not tailored.  No, it’s a gen… as I said, I’ll release…  We’ll send out… it’s a generic letter.  It goes out the same to everybody.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this Yemen, which has been termed as one of the worst humanitarian or the hunger crisis in the world at this time, can the Secretary‑General… I’m just asking, will the Secretary‑General at any point in time ask these rich coalition partners who are involved in attacking — what do you call — Yemen because of their differences with the present new regime, Houthis and so forth, will they ask them to pay for these… the humanitarian crisis that has been created as a consequence of their actions?

Spokesman:  Well, I think you should look at the… we can give you a breakdown of who is given to the UN… to the Yemen… to the UN humanitarian appeal.  We would obviously expect every Member State that can to participate in as much as possible.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you.  As you might have seen, Stéphane, Morocco and Cuba have signed on Friday in New York an agreement re‑establishing their ties, which were cut since, I think, 1980.  What…? Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?  And, secondly, do you think that this move could contribute in… in improving ties between maybe Latin America and Africa, where Morocco is one of the major players?

Spokesman:  I hadn’t seen the report.  I’m not going to speculate what the impact will be.  But, obviously, as a matter of principle, we would like to see Member States have diplomatic relations.  So the more countries sign and recognize and have diplomatic relations, the happier we are.  Linda and then…

Question:  Thank… thank you, Steph.  Following up on the Secretary‑General’s visit with President Trump, you mentioned at the end that the Pres… the SG looks forward to seeing Trump in the near future.  I was wondering if that means that… you know, like a general sense of, “oh, yes, I hope to meet him again in the future”, or was it a more specific mention between the two men that they claim to be…

Spokesman:  No, there was a… the President invited the Secretary‑General to come back to Washington in the near future.  So, I mean, we’re interpreting the words in their literal meanings.  Okay.  Herman and then Matthew.

Question:  The DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] National Authority released a video today regarding two UN experts who has been killed recently.  Did you watch the video?  Could you confirm if it’s related to those experts?

Spokesman:  We believe that the video that was shown relating to the death of our two colleagues is authentic.  I can’t… I won’t tell you that we’re not disappointed.  We’re disappointed that the video was shown publicly.  I think it does… it doesn’t… it does harm, I think, to the ongoing investigation.  And one can only imagine how traumatic it is to the families of the victims.

Question:  [inaudible] Are they looking…?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, there’s an ongoing investigation, and the DRC authorities have the obligation to conduct a thorough and impartial criminal investigation.  The video is evidence in the crime.  We don’t think it should have been released.  We don’t think it should have been shown.  We have… at this point, we have no way… I mean, the investigation is ongoing.  So I can’t tell you we… if… we don’t know who committed these crimes.  Matthew?

Question:  Once again, I’m sorry to follow up on that before something else is, you were asked on Friday about the video from Egypt of the army apparently executing people captured in the Sinai, and I’m wondering, have you had… in the time since Friday, does the UN have any more reaction to the video?  And did you feel the same thing, that it shouldn’t have been released, given that it shows the death of individuals?  And is what is shown a crime?

Spokesman:  We have… I have no further information on that video.  As a matter of principle, as I think that videos showing killings of people should be handled delicately.  I think what we’re talking about here is the death of two staff members in the Congo who were on work for this Organization, mandated by the Security Council, and we very much hope that the investigation will be carried out thoroughly.  And when I have something else to tell you on Egypt, I will share it with you.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, I’d asked you on Friday about the proposal, which is now by… to name Michel Kafando as an envoy to Burundi.  You said you had no comment.  Since then, the Ambassador of Burundi has told me that the Government supports the proposal.  It seems like it’s clearly a proposal.  But what I wanted to ask you and I’d like you… maybe… if not from this podium, before it’s finalized, is it, in fact, when actually employed, a part‑time position that’s being proposed?  And, if so, can you explain what I’m told that DPA [Department of Political Affairs], when it informed Council members of the proposal, didn’t mention that it’s part time?  So I think it’s important to know, what is the proposal?

Spokesman:  I will try to find out more information.  I have nothing from here.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  From… on this Afghanistan attack, which they… I mean, able to kill more people than mother of all bombs were able to do, 140 people, has the United Nations done any… any… do you have any update on what is exactly happening at this point in time?  I mean…

Spokesman:  It was a tragic and horrendous attack on Afghan National Army soldiers.  We have no investigation into the issue.  We were not there.  All we see is the tragedy that this attack sowed on these soldiers.

Question:  Has the Afghan Government asked the United Nations…?

Spokesman:  Not… not that I’m aware, but you could check with the Mission, with the UN Mission there.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you the… the… I did find the… the… what the head of UNOCA [United Nations Office in Central Africa], Mr. [Francois] Loncény Fall, said about the turning on of the internet in Cameroon.  Some people found it strange that it ends with this urging to avoid using the internet to incite hatred or violence, which is exactly the reason that the Government gave for turning it off for 94 days.  And the Government seems to have even included… according to the Perm[anent] Rep[resentative] here, to include any call for secession, even nonviolent referendum for secession to be a call for violence and… and… and…

Spokesman:  I think we’re taking things one step at a time.  I think we’re encouraged that the internet was restored.

Question:  And I also want to ask you about Jeffrey Sachs again.  I’m sorry to do it, but I saw over the weekend that you said, you know, you haven’t seen the quotes or you’ve now seen the quotes, but I wanted to ask you, is it appropriate for a UN official, even in the position that you’ve said, to render public endorsements in contested elections in the UN system?   There’s a candidate for the World Tourism Organization, candidate Dho of South Korea, and there’s an online report that Jeffrey Sachs issued an open letter saying this is the right person.  So can that be done…?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  You could check with his office if that’s, in fact, the case…

Question:  No, but I’m asking you what the UN rules about UN Special Adviser…

Spokesman:  We expect any UN staff member or Special Adviser to exercise judgment.  I’m not… I have no way of verifying what you’re saying to me is true.  We can look into it.  So I’m not commenting on this particular case.

Question:  Right, but would it be a failure of judgment to…?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to… I’m telling you what our principle position is, and I’ll try to find out what actually was said, if anything.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.