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

16 May 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 arrived in Paris from Beijing a few hours ago. He is scheduled to meet with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, very shortly and then the Secretary-General will be on his way to Strasbourg, where he is to address the plenary session of the European Parliament tomorrow morning and give a joint press conference with its President, Antonio Tajani.  Those two events will be on the European Union Parliament's webcast site and we will also be able to archive them for your viewing pleasure a little later.

Before leaving China, the Secretary-General delivered remarks at a round‑table session of the Belt and Road Forum, in which he stressed the importance of recognizing the crucial link between sustainable development and sustaining peace.  While poverty, extreme inequality or the denial of basic human rights may not necessarily directly cause civil war or terrorism, he said, they all contribute to a sense of social injustice and greatly increase the risk of instability and violence.  His remarks are online.

**Central African Republic

An update from the Central African Republic, the Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, today met with leaders of political parties in Bangui, to discuss the ongoing attacks against civilians, mainly the Muslim community, as well as UN personnel and premises.  Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said that these deliberate attacks in Bangassou, with heavy weaponry, seem to be well planned, as the perpetrators made access very difficult by destroying bridges and blocking all accessible roads to town.  The Mission also briefed political leaders about ongoing efforts to put an end to the violence and to stabilize the situation in the town, including by reinforcing its presence by deploying additional troops to neutralize attackers, protect civilians and facilitate critical humanitarian support to the population.

Yesterday, peacekeepers conducted searches and clashed with anti-Balaka fighters in parts of the town.  In parallel, the Mission escorted some 250 civilians seeking protection in a mosque to the cathedral, which is being protected by UN peacekeepers.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, according to preliminary estimates, 25,000 people out of the 35,000 inhabitants of Bangassou will need humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, clashes that also erupted in Bria (Haute Kotto) yesterday caused the displacement of around 1,000 [people] near the UN Mission’s base, while over 500 have sought refuge at an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] compound.  In Alindao (Basse Kotto) up to 8,500 people have been displaced by clashes.  Unverified figures indicate that up to 100 people may have been killed.  OCHA plans to lead an inter-agency assessment mission there.

Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, today expressed grave alarm over the expanding attacks by armed groups against the civilian population in several parts of the Central African Republic, as well as attacks against UN peacekeepers.  The High Commissioner warned that violence and rising tensions are spreading to areas that had previously been spared the kind of terrifying violence seen in some other parts of the country.

**Mali

From Mali, our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) report that their camp in Timbuktu was targeted in a mortar attack yesterday.  According to preliminary reports, four peacekeepers and three members of the Malian armed forces were injured.  Eight shells were reportedly fired in the direction of the airport, close to the UN camp.  The UN Mission condemns the attack and denounces the increasing violence in regions of Northern Mali.  The Mission also calls on all signatories of the peace agreement to increase their efforts towards the implementation of the agreement, which is the only way to achieve stability in the country.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, continued his visit to Mali.  Earlier today, he was in Timbuktu with the head of the Mission, Mahamat Annadif.  They visited the Liberian contingent at the site of the attack on 3 May in which one of their comrades was killed and nine others were wounded.  Mr. Lacroix paid tribute to the fallen peacekeeper and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.  He also conveyed his solidarity when he met with civilian and uniformed staff and thanked them for their dedication and sacrifices in very difficult conditions.  In Bamako, Mr. Lacroix met with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and hand-delivered a letter from the Secretary-General, encouraging further progress on the agreement, as well as expressing support for the G5 regional initiative.

**Security Council

Back here, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said the situation remains generally stable in Kosovo, but the necessary level of trust between Pristina and Belgrade has been further eroded by irresponsible and inflammatory statements.  He also noted that the decision to call for early parliamentary elections in June was a significant development, adding that election provides opportunities for the renewal of political will and direction, as well as for greater diversity in leadership and representation.  His full remarks are online.  This afternoon, the Council will meet on its recent mission to Colombia, and that will be followed by consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other matters.

**Syria

On Syria, I wanted to give you an update on the humanitarian situation around Raqqa, and I can tell you that the United Nations and our partners are continuing the large-scale humanitarian response to those affected by fighting and military operations in Raqqa.  Since March, UN agencies through their local partners have continued to provide humanitarian assistance to almost 300,000 people, including tens of thousands in camps for internally displaced people.  Assistance is basically food and non-food items, such as hygiene kits, nutrition and medical treatment, and vaccinations.  The humanitarian community is continuing to update its operational plans and is ready to address humanitarian needs that may arise as a result of the ongoing military operations against Da’esh.

The UN calls for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to those affected by the fighting in Raqqa, and more broadly, to the 4.5 million who are still in hard to reach areas across Syria.  Meanwhile, the UN continues to receive disturbing reports of continued fighting and military operations endangering the lives of civilians in Deir ez-Zor Governorate.  Yesterday, airstrikes on Abu Kamal City in rural Deir ez-Zor allegedly killed dozens of people, including women and children.

And I was asked yesterday about the reports of a crematorium in Syria.  We cannot independently verify information about the presence of a crematorium in Sednaya prison.  The Syrian Government has systematically rejected repeated requests to access detention centres and prisons.  However, various UN entities have regularly documented and reported on human rights violations in Syria, including torture in the context of detention.  We are extremely concerned that thousands of civilians continue to be held in Government-run detention facilities and have grounds to believe that they are systematically subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including torture and sexual violence.

**Yemen

And our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report from Yemen that that fighting continues in Taizz and has displaced nearly 50,000 people since the beginning of the year.  This is in addition to the 3 million people who have already been uprooted since the start of the conflict, of whom 2 million are still displaced and 1 million have returned home to precarious conditions.  The agency was able to access Mokha, one of the worst impacted areas in Taizz, three times last year, most recently last week it was able to distribute aid for 6,200 people, in addition to the nearly 70,000 already reached since the start of the year.

In Hudaydah, the UNHCR field teams saw a huge spike in humanitarian needs, with displaced people living on the streets.  The Agency is leading efforts to respond to additional needs in anticipation of intensified hostilities in the area.  Also on Yemen, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tell us that as of today, the number of suspected cholera cases has exceeded 14,000 with 186 associated deaths.  The UN and its partners are delivering supplies to 33 diarrhoea treatment centres and health facilities across the country.  OCHA will fast track funds to help contain the cholera outbreak.

**Mexico

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova today has urged an investigation into the murder of Mexican journalist Javier Arturo Valdez Cárdenas.  Valdez was the founder and editor of the weekly Riodoce in the State of Sinaloa, Mexico, and had received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award for his reporting on crime and drug trafficking.

Ms. Bokova said Valdez’ death is a reminder of the dangerous conditions in which many journalists exercise their profession and that attacks on them undermine the fundamental human right of freedom of expression.  Meanwhile, in Mexico, the head of the UN human rights office in that country, Jan Jarab, said the security situation for journalists and rights defenders in Mexico this year has become “a nightmare with no end in sight” with at least six journalists and three activists killed in the first quarter of this year.  More information online.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Our colleagues at UNCHR report that over the weekend that some 500 people were rescued in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Libya.  However, around 20 men, women and children are missing and feared dead.  This was over the weekend.  With this latest incident, it is estimated that more than 1,350 people are now missing or dead in the Mediterranean Sea.

**Honour Roll

Lastly we say thank you to Iraq for its full contribution to the UN’s regular budget. Baghdad’s payment takes the Honour Roll to…?  [Ninety-nine.]  Matthew, you win today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  All right.  All right.  All right.  Once again, I have something… because I want to ask you something.  I have a couple questions about North Korea.  One is, I'm sure you've seen the Fox story about WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] doing a patent application for North Korea for the production of sodium cyanide, which is banned to be trans… to be brought into the country.  And I know before you'd said… it wasn't clear to me if the Secretary‑General had communicated with WIPO about their use of criminal defamation against journalists.  But, is this something that concerns him?  And I also… I also want to ask you about the UN Federal Credit Union (UNFCU) openly soliciting deposits from… from the Mission of North Korea, as well as the employees of the Mission despite having previously settled sanctions charges for just… for such activity on another sanctioned country.  Do you think that this is consistent with this whole idea of tightening up…?

Spokesman:  I don't speak for the Credit Union.  They're an independent body.  I would agree… I would urge you to question them.  On the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and the Fox News report, obviously, I think what's contained in the report is disturbing and demands looking into.  The Panel of Experts… the Security Council Panel of Experts, as you know, is an independent team reporting to the Council.  And they have the prerogative to look into all alleged violations of DPRK sanctions and report to the Council accordingly.   I think, as noted in the article, the Panel's coordinator said the Panel will look into the issue.  And I think we'll need… the Panel will do its work and report back.  And if… we will obviously look more directly into the issue, as well from our end.

Question:  Given that there have been previous allegation… previous allegations and reported retaliation at WIPO concerning North… activities with North Korea, do you think it's something… do you or the Secretary‑General think it's something that the CEB [Chief Executives Board] or some kind of system-wide… does it need to be reiterated to the UN agencies that these sanctions are reported?

Spokesman:  I think the need… the absolute need to respect the sanctions regime, both whether it's from Member States or within the UN, I think, is clear and should be clear to everyone.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, on the cyberattacks, is the UN's own IT team doing any kind of investigation to try and figure out where this came from?

Spokesman:  We're focusing… I think our colleagues in OICT [Office for Information and Communication Technology] are focusing in keeping our system safe.  So far, so good, as far as I know.  We don't have a mandate or the capacity to try to investigate.  So, obviously, the focus is on ensuring that the UN systems are safe and functioning.  Rosiland and then Masood.

Question:  I wanted to go back to the story about WIPO and [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Is it necessary to go back and amend Security Council resolutions to specifically direct UN agencies to make certain that they, too, are in compliance with sanctions requirements?  And, separately, is it possible to prevent North Korea from accessing WIPO, since it is a signatory to the treaty that established this regime under which it was trying to get permission to make sodium cyanide?

Spokesman:  I think… on your second question, as you know, WIPO is an independent agency with its own governing body.  So, I think that is a question that needs to be addressed to them.  As I told Matthew, there is… it goes without saying that Security Council resolutions need to be respected by Member States and UN entities.  We have seen, obviously, in certain cases, the Council has made room for the UN to continue to operate in certain places.  Whether or not the Council resolutions need to be amended, that's really for the Council to decide.  Masood‑ji?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  On this so‑called Islamic summit being called for by Saudi Arabia in… when [United States] President [Donald] Trump visits Riyadh… and United Nations representative is going to be there also.  Will the United Nations be able to engage Saudi Arabia in asking it to help it reduce these crises in Yemen, in Syria?  And wherever the Muslim world is… is basically creating these crises, will Saudi Arabia be able to… I mean will the United Nations be able to engage Saudi Arabia in such a…?

Spokesman:  I think the UN is engaging Saudi Arabia.  I mean, as you will recall, the Secretary‑General… one of his early trips abroad was to the region.  He met with the King, with the Deputy Crown Prince, with the Crown Prince.  Saudi Arabia is a key player to engage, and we are engaging with them.  Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was there to discuss Yemen not too long ago.  So, I don't think there's any question of us not engaging with Saudi Arabia.

Question:  So… so does the Secretary‑General think that that… Mr. Trump's visit over there will be beneficial to somehow… to mitigate these crises at all?

Spokesman:  It's not for me to comment.  But, obviously, as a matter of principle, we're all for diplomacy, dialogue and bilateral visits.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Ask you about… about Burundi.  There's two things have happened.  One, the intra‑Burundian dialogue is over with a move to now amend the Constitution.  Some people say it would allow now for a fourth term for Pierre Nkurunziza.  And also, a group of the opposition members have written to… to Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa very upset that he's asked them to sign a legal waiver to go to the next round of talks, which would basically, they think, allow them to be arrested on what they call trumped‑up arrest charges by Nkurunziza, the same issue that took place in Tanzania.  So, I wanted to know, do you… either does the Secretary‑General's Office have a comment on this or his new part‑time envoy, Mr. [Michel] Kafando…?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on Burundi today.  Masood?

Question:  Yes.  On… on the Secretary‑General and… because he had said that he will try and bring about major reforms in the United Nations within the first three months of his taking office, obviously, that is a promise that all the politicians, all the international leaders make.  Now, in that case, what I'm asking is, what about the Secretary‑General tackling the crisis like the India‑Pakistan dispute, which is festering, the India‑Pakistan dispute, which has been going on forever.  And in contemporary days, 10 or 12 people have been killed whether soldiers or the… or the population.  And, similarly, I mean, what is happening in Yemen is absolutely outrageous, and nobody's able to do anything about it.  How can the…?

Spokesman:  Masood… Masood, with all due respect, I think just about every day from this podium, we highlight the unacceptable suffering of the Yemeni people.  The Secretary‑General's envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, continues his work to try to bring the parties to the table.  For the suffering to stop, those involved in the conflict, those who have their fingers on the trigger need to stop.  I think, from our end, no one is trying to hide or shy away from putting a spotlight on what is going on in Yemen.  Every day I talk about it.

Question:  No, but what about India and Pakistan?  When is the Secretary‑General… why is he so reluctant to talk about India and Pakistan, the festering dispute, where they have nuclear…?

Spokesman:  I don't think it's a matter of reluctance.  As I said, he's obviously watching the situation very closely and reiterates his need for the parties to find a peaceful engagement through… peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue.

Question:  But, he does… I'm sure he knows that these two countries almost came to sort of a nuclear standoff…?

Spokesman:  I think… Masood, the Secretary‑General is a student of history.  He knows what has happened.  Ben?

Question:  Does the SG see it as a positive step that there are reports of interesting greater coordination between the Gulf States and Israel in countering Iran, especially in Syria and Yemen?

Spokesman:  That's not something we're going to comment on.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure.  This one should be right in your wheelhouse.  I just want…

Spokesman:  You don't know what's in my wheelhouse.

Question:  Okay.  Let's see.  Yesterday, when the press statement came out condemning the missile launch by the… by the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there seemed to be a big gap between it being announced to some or by some Security Council members and by your office.  So, I just… rather than… gotcha, I just want to know, does your office have monthly meetings with incoming Presidents of the Council…?

Spokesman:  Indeed.

Question:  …and, if so, is it possible to let… have them let you know when something's under silence so there's not a…?

Spokesman:  They do… no, they… the Council is master of its own work.  The way it functions is that, once a Council statement has been approved, we can only put it out once we receive it from the Security Council Affairs Division.  That's the procedure, to make sure that there's… as little goes wrong as possible, and that's the procedure we followed.  Whatever is announced by Member States on Twitter or Facebook or whatever is beyond my control.

Question:  But, is there a way… so what was the gap between… between Uruguay sending it to… to… to Security Council Affairs and your office sending it to the journalists here?

Spokesman:  I don't know what the gap was.

Question:  Can you [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  What I… we try to work as quickly as possible.  What I do know is, as soon as we get it from Security Council Affairs, we share it.  Thank you.

Question:  Was that in your wheelhouse?

Spokesman:  That's in my wheelhouse.  You were right.   Thank you, all.

For information media. Not an official record.