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

17 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 in France

The Secretary‑General this morning addressed the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.  In his remarks, he stressed that the contribution of the European Union is absolutely essential for the United Nations, from support to peacekeeping to protecting human rights, solving conflicts, advancing Agenda 2030 and fighting climate change.  A strong and effective European Union is essential to a strong and effective United Nations, he said, laying out his priorities for reform to make the UN closer to the aspirations of the people the Organization is serving.  The Secretary‑General also stressed the need for Governments, local authorities, civil society and religious authorities to foster social cohesion, inclusivity and tolerance.

The Secretary‑General also gave a press conference with Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament during which he stressed the need for a united Europe to support the search for global solutions, as no issue today can be solved without global efforts.  Both events should be available on our webcast page and we’re working on the transcript to the press conference.  The Secretary‑General also took the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the different political groups of the European Parliament.

He is now heading off to Switzerland, just outside of Geneva, where he is meeting with his Special Representatives.  On his way to Strasbourg, as you heard yesterday, the Secretary‑General met with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron.  They discussed peace and security issues, as well as issues related to sustainable development and climate change.  The Secretary‑General said he looked forward to working with the French President on all pressing issues, noting France’s key role as a pillar of multilateralism.

**Free & Equal

Today, the Secretary‑General tweeted out in support of the #CultureOfLove campaign launched by our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  As you know, today is the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.  In a series of short videos, the campaign explores the role of culture and tradition in the lives of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and intersex people in different cities around the world.  The Secretary‑General said the campaign is an “important reminder that culture and tradition should bring us together, not drive us apart”.  More information on the Free & Equal website.

**Côte d’Ivoire

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary‑General welcomed the return of calm in Côte d’Ivoire following the unacceptable acts of violence committed by soldiers of the Forces Armées de Côte d’Ivoire over the past few days.  He commends the Government of Côte d’Ivoire for its efforts to address the unrest and restore security.  The Secretary‑General expressed the United Nations’ continued support to the Government of Côte d’Ivoire in its efforts to sustain the hard‑won gains of peace and stability in the country, including with the assistance of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and other international actors.

**Somalia

Back here in New York, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Somalia, Raisedon Zenenga, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that the scaled up response by humanitarian agencies has averted a famine in the country so far, but the crisis is unlikely to abate any time soon and the need for assistance is increasing faster than the pace of response.  He stressed the need for donor contributions, as only $669 million has been pledged for the ongoing humanitarian efforts, leaving a gap of $832 million in the [Humanitarian Response] Plan.

Mr. Zenenga added that the security situation continues to be precarious, especially for women and children, as drought conditions are forcing them to migrate and sexual violence in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps is also on the rise, he noted.  He added that the federal Government and federal member state leaders have taken important first steps, giving the country a unique opportunity to build a functional state by signing the National Security Architecture Agreement, making it possible for international partners to support Somalia’s security sector in a coherent way.  Still, he stressed that Somali institutions still suffer from severe capacity shortfalls that will need to be addressed if long‑term progress is to be made.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our colleagues there report that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports clashes between members of the anti‑Balaka and the FPRC [Front populaire pour la renaissance de Centrafrique] group in the town of Bria yesterday.  Initial reports suggest 5 civilians are dead and more than 25 injured.  Several homes were also burnt resulting in civilians seeking refuge at a camp for displaced persons, as well as at another location near the UN Mission’s compound.  UN peacekeepers are deployed in key areas of the town and are conducting robust patrols.  The UN Mission also continues to engage with leaders of both armed groups to prevent a further escalation of violence.

Meanwhile, Bangassou is calm today, with civilians moving in parts of the town.  The Mission continues to conduct patrols, including in strategic places, such as the airport.  Peacekeepers are also protecting the cathedral, where displaced civilians are seeking shelter.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that over 5,000 displaced people have been registered at the cathedral.

Clashes have reportedly forced a large number of people from the nearby Nzacko town to flee into the bush.  Two-thousand, seven-hundred and fifty people also crossed the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A humanitarian cargo with food and water purification tablets is scheduled to arrive in Bangassou, while 10 tons of food, shelter and non‑food items are expected to arrive by tomorrow.  And also in Alindao, according to [non-governmental organization] sources, the number of displaced persons has risen to 14,000.  A food rations distribution is scheduled to take place in the coming days.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that today and tomorrow the Health Minister and the Representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the country are undertaking a first assessment in Nambwa, in the Likati zone, which is the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak declared on 12 May.  Ten experts, including representatives of WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are participating in this assessment.  With the deployment of two mobile labs of the National Institute for Biomedical Research in Nambwa to facilitate the rapid field diagnosis and the arrival of several experts, WHO and its partners are implementing a coordinated and rapid response mechanism.

An Ebola treatment centre will be installed within the next 48 or 72 hours by Doctors Without Borders to isolate and treat people affected by the disease and limit the risk of spreading the virus.  A total of 21 suspected cases with 3 deaths were recorded as of yesterday.  The over 400 people who came in contact with the suspected cases are spread across four health areas — Azande, Nambwa, Ngayi and Muna — and are being monitored with the help of community relays to ensure that they do not develop the disease.

**Uganda

In Uganda, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that the scale of the refugee crisis in the country is extraordinary, with an average of daily arrivals of over 2,000 people.  The country now hosts the largest refugee population in Africa — over 1.2 million people, with 74 per cent of refugees being hosted by Uganda being from South Sudan.  The number of refugees that WFP assists has more than doubled in the last year, and the agency’s operation is under considerable strain to meet their full food needs.  WFP has a shortfall of $60 million from May through October of this year.

**Syria

We are concerned by reports of flooding in the western part of Raqqa City in Syria, following the collapse of a sand barrier.  The flooding has resulted in an estimated 120 families fleeing their homes towards the western countryside of Raqqa.  While the UN does not have access to the city, the flooding compounds an already extremely difficult humanitarian situation for people in the city under the control of Da’esh.  Overall, an estimated 400,000 people in Raqqa are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection as military operations in populated areas there continue.  The UN, through local partners, continues to deliver assistance to those in need in areas of Raqqa that are accessible and where security conditions permit.

Meanwhile, some 2,400 people were reportedly evacuated from the Wa’er neighborhood in Homs City to Idleb Governorate [yesterday].  This brings the total number of evacuees from the Wa’er to over 17,000 people since the Al Wa’er agreement was signed in mid‑March.  An estimated 35,000 people remain in Al Wa’er and further evacuations are expected.

**Iraq

Next door in Iraq, we continue to be concerned for the safety and well‑being of civilians remaining in Western Mosul in those areas that are still under the control of Da’esh.  Humanitarians estimate that 275,000 people remain in the areas still under Da’esh territorial control inside the city.  The high protection risks to people in the conflict zone and those trying to leave it are reflected in rising casualty rates.  From the start of the operations around Mosul in October 2016 until 9 May 2017, 12,300 people have been transferred to hospitals for trauma injuries, these figures reflect only those who were able to access assistance — and so those figures should be considered a minimum.

**Deputy Secretary-General

I wanted to also flag that the Deputy Secretary‑General spoke this morning at the Sustainable Development Goal Action Event on Innovation and Connectivity, and we’ll have the transcript of her remarks available shortly.

**Jordan

And also on the subject of innovation, today our colleagues at the solar plant in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, making this the first camp to be powered by renewable energy.  The solar plant allows the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide electricity to the 20,000 Azraq camp residents for free, and each of the families in the camp can now connect a fridge, a TV, a fan, have light inside the shelter and charge their phones, which is critical for refugees to keep in contact with their relatives abroad.  The solar plant will also result in immediate savings of $1.5 million per year and it will reduce CO2 emissions by 2,370 tons per year.

**Turkey

I wanted to flag another innovative programme, this time in Tukey, where the number of refugees receiving monthly cash assistance through an innovative relief programme has now reached 500,000 and continues to rise.  The EU‑funded Emergency Social Safety Net supports the most vulnerable refugee families in Turkey with a debit card to cover basic needs such as food, rent, medicine and clothes.  The cards can be used in shops, like any debit card, or they can be used to withdraw cash from an automated teller machine. The programme is a partnership among the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, the World Food Programme, the Turkish Red Cross Society and the Turkish Government.

**Gaza

Yesterday, I was asked offline about the death of a fisherman off the coast of Gaza.  I can say that we are deeply concerned over the incident off the coast of Gaza, in which fisherman Mohammad Bakr was shot and killed by Israeli naval forces.  We express our sincere condolences to the family of the victim.  The circumstances of the fisherman's death must be investigated.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I know you were talking about CAR [Central African Republic] and Bangassou being calm today, but I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any comment on the Red Cross discovery of 115 bodies in the town?

Spokesman:  Yes, we're aware of that Red Cross report.  I just spoke to our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] before coming out here.  They're checking up on it, and I think we should have some updated figures.  And I think we do expect an increase in the figures of casualties as a result of the ongoing fighting.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to do something else, but wanted to ask you about Yemen.  Same thing, casualty figures.  The… the… it said that a Saudi‑led coalition air strike near Taiz killed 23 people.  And its so‑called loyalist, meaning [Amb Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi‑side people, said the number is 20.  Does the UN have any… is there any comment on this?

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I'll check and see what we can get.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you about, as it comes to, I guess, a hot conclusion, this race for the World Health Organization top post.  The reason I'm asking you is that there have emerged e‑mails… partially redacted e‑mails, basically showing that the involvement of not only WHO staff, but UN staff in some of the campaigning for the various candidates.  And I wanted to know, in advance, as this goes on, is there…  I asked you about Jeffrey Sachs before, and you seemed to indicate… is it… is it improper for UN staff at any level to be part of the campaign for one of the three finalists, and if so, what's being done?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those e‑mails, so I can't comment on those particular e‑mails.  But, obviously, UN staff need to remain neutral when Member States governing bodies are electing leaders for an agency.

Question:  And Mr. [David] Nabarro has been on leave for how long?

Spokesman:  I could give you the exact timeline.

Question:  Regarding Venezuela, the Security Council is going to be taking up the matter in a closed consultations shortly.  Before this morning's Security Council briefing, the British ambassador said that, in light of the concerns of trying to prevent conflict from breaking out, that Venezuela might actually be a case where preventive work is required.  Has the Secretary‑General considered using his good offices to try to help mediate the political crisis in Venezuela?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has been following the situation in Venezuela very closely.  Obviously, it's a source of concern, not only because of the political situation, but also due to the difficult economic and social situation we're seeing.  He has been on the phone, bringing together different mediators.  You know, they're official mediators, former Presidents and the Holy See.  I think his objective has been to facilitate a process which will bring a solution to the political crisis and a solution for the social and economic challenges the Venezuelan people have been facing.  In the transcript that we are putting out of his press conference in Strasbourg, he was asked about Venezuela, so I will also refer you to that, which… but it's basically what I just said.

Question:  Is it possible that we might see some sort of intervention beyond facilitating conversations from the SG?

Spokesman:  I think we need to take things one step at a time.  I think, as a matter of principle, and as oft‑stated principle, the good offices of the UN are always available.  But, both parties, sides, whatever the situation is, have to welcome it, or there needs to be some sort of a mandate given by UN body.  That's a matter of fact and principle.

Question:  One more.  Are you able to confirm whether the Secretary‑General has spoken to President [Nicolas] Maduro or to leaders of the opposition, or is it too soon to have those conversations?

Spokesman:  I will not get into that.  I'm not able to confirm any of that at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  This idea of… I don't know if you've seen… there are people saying that António Guterres' strategy of being Secretary‑General is to sort of downplay the peacemaking powers of it and engage in quiet diplomacy.  And I guess the reason I'm asking you is just objectively speaking, compared to the previous administration, there are many fewer readouts, there's less… there's less being said.  Maybe it's to the good.  But, does he believe that… that this approach is bearing fruit, and if so, what fruit can you point to?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is a believer in the need for discreet contacts to be had in order to resolve crisis.  And I think it's something I… well, I think we've all observed since he's come into office.  And I think it's an important tool and not the only tool, but it's an important tool in the tools available to the world's top diplomat.

Question:  I want to ask this very specifically because I've asked you this a couple of times.  I keep hearing from people at various high floors that, in fact, the UN is concerned about Cameroon and not just the Internet, but what seems to be a case of preventive diplomacy.  So, I wanted to ask you, is there anything actually being done?  Am I missing some secret work that the UN…?

Spokesman:  I think if… well, if it's secret, it's secret.  Mr. [Francois Lonceny] Fall has been following and is the point person for the UN on this issue.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Are there efforts under way to set up a one‑on‑one substantive meeting between the Secretary‑General and President [Donald] Trump, in a reasonable…?

Spokesman:  They were…

Correspondent:  I know they met.  Very briefly.

Spokesman:  Right, they met, and it was a…  There was a joint commitment to meet again, and so we are looking forward to that commitment bearing fruit.

Question:  But, I think the… if I recall correctly, the verbiage at the time was that they were hoping to meet again in the near future.  How do we define the near future?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into the near future definition, but I think we still live in the near future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.