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

22 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.

**Syria

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council on the latest diplomatic efforts concerning that country, and he said that he was glad to receive reports of a significant drop in violence, including in aerial bombardment, in most areas following the agreement reached in Astana.  However, despite the nationwide ceasefire announced last December, and the de-escalation zones now created to deepen the effort, he said that we have received reports of ongoing hostilities, and even bombardment, between the Government and armed opposition groups in a few areas, such as Hama, Homs, and Damascus.

Regarding the latest talks in Geneva, Mr. de Mistura said that there is still a great deal of work to do.  He said his team has now prepared the ground for a real negotiation, which he hopes will be possible before too long.  For the first time, he said, he has received the consent of all parties to engage at an expert level.  He said he was also pleased that all parties were receptive to the UN convening a seventh round of talks, which is intended to take place sometime in June.

This afternoon, the Security Council will meet on Iraq.  And tomorrow, we expect there may be consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK], at which we expect the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, to brief.

**Libya

On Libya, as you will have seen over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned about the military escalation at the Brak al-Shati air base in the south of the country and calls on all parties to exercise restraint and restore calm.  He is particularly disturbed by the high number of fatalities as well as reports of summary executions of civilians, which, if confirmed, may constitute war crimes.  The continued insecurity in Libya is a reminder that there is no military solution. The Secretary-General therefore urges all key Libyan stakeholders to re-commit to the political dialogue and engage constructively towards that goal.

The Secretary-General appreciates the efforts of a number of regional and neighbouring countries for their contributions aimed at strengthening the dialogue between key stakeholders in support of the overall UN-led process.

**World Health Assembly

The seventieth session of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, opened today in Geneva.

Attended by delegations from all Member States, the Health Assembly determines organizational policies and approves the proposed programme budget.

This year, as you know, Member States will also elect a new Director-General — we expect that election to take place tomorrow.

**UNHCR

Our friends at UNHCR, in partnership with Google, today launched a powerful new website that aims to dispel myths and misconceptions about the Syrian refugee crisis.

The website called “Searching for Syria” (www.searchingforsyria.org) combines UNHCR data and Google Search trends, to provide answers to the five most common questions that people around the world are asking about the crisis.  The answers are delivered through rich multimedia content such as refugee profiles, short editorial passages and videos.

The website is available in English, French, German and Spanish, with an Arabic version coming soon.

**Biodiversity

Today is… besides Monday… it is the International Day of Biological Diversity.  This year’s theme is “Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism” and was chosen to coincide with the observance of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

The Day seeks to highlight how sustainable tourism can have a positive impact on protected areas, habitat restoration, wildlife populations, local community engagement, and resource mobilization.  It also puts a spotlight on the choices that we as tourists can make every time we travel to protect the biodiversity of the places we visit.  More information online.

**Press Briefings

As soon as we are done here, there will be a 12:30 p.m. press conference here on the launch of the 2017 “Progress and Prospects” report of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development.  Speakers will be Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Shari Spiegel of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs [DESA].

And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here on the adoption of intergovernmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations of the 2017 Economic and Social Council Forum on Financing for Development follow-up.

**Climate Change

I wanted to bring to your attention an event that will take place a week from tomorrow: on Tuesday, 30 May, the Secretary-General will deliver an address on "Climate Action: Mobilizing the World" at New York University Stern School of Business.  The Secretary-General's formal remarks will be followed by a conversation with young people, the business community, civil society and others on how to address the crucial challenge of climate change and seize the opportunities for climate action.

We will be sending out invitations to you a little later today.

**Questions and Answers

I will stop here.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good morning.  Yesterday, many countries gathered together in… in Saudi Arabia, which they are in the list of human rights abuse by the UN, and President [Donald] Trump spoke to them.  And not even… he never mentioned human rights.  He start selling guns to them.  I was wondering if Secretary‑General has any comment about that meeting…? 

Spokesman:  We're looking and reading the speech that the President delivered in Saudi Arabia with interest.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes, you mentioned the World Health Organization, and as you're probably aware, there's been an article reporting on excesses in travel budgets… or criticisms of received excesses in travel budgets for WHO employees, I think in excess of $200 million a year.  I realize that… that WHO has its own separate governance structure, but the UN Secretariat has also received criticism along the same score about many exceptions that have been made to rules and procedures on travel, lodging, air, et cetera.  I'm wondering what efforts are being undertaken by the Secretary‑General and his… his staff to rein in travel expenses, enforce the rules that are in place, etc.

Spokesman:  I think, as you'll recall, since he's come into office, António Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat, over which he has authority, on limiting the amount of travel to necessary travel only.  He's also… has asked DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and Department of Field [Support] to look at how we use our air assets in our peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.  I think the Secretary‑General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he's asked his managers to look at that.  As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.

Question:  But, for example, is there any effort being made to cut down on the number of conferences and in‑person attendance at those conferences as opposed to using Skype, et cetera…

Spokesman:  I think that's obviously… they're two things…

Question:  I just had a related question to that, because there's been reports, again, of criticism of monies being budgeted for this year and next year for, for example, the migration summit or migration conference, both on the travel and on use of consultants as opposed to in‑house staff.  So, if you could comment on that.

Spokesman:  We have work that needs to be done.  We have mandates that need to be implemented.  That needs to be done in the way that uses the public monies as wisely as possible.  I think one of the directives the Secretary‑General gave was, in fact, on… you know, on cutting down on travel unless absolutely necessary and the increased use of video conference.  That being said, there's also a calendar of intergovernmental conferences that are organized at the behest of the Member States.  They take place in different places around the world.  But I think the Secretary‑General, more than anybody in the Secretariat, is fully aware of the need to try to rein in costs as much as possible.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Something else, I want to ask about the announcement of Ms. Kang [Kyung-wha], but since you read out this statement on Libya, what… who does the Secretary‑General believe committed the executions in the air base?  Some people are saying it is… including Human Rights Watch, are saying that it was the… the forces aligned with the UN‑recognized Government.  So I'm just wondering, is there a reason that the statement doesn't distinguish, like, who did what?  And does it change the recognition or the view?

Spokesman:  No.  The statement reflects what we know and what we know at the time of the statement.

Question:  Okay.  But that was…

Spokesman:  Your second question?

Question:  Okay.  I did… I wanted to ask you… and, obviously, there… there… there are many people congratulating Ms.… Ms. Kyung‑wha Kang. I just wanted to know how to relates to… it seems like… she was asked, and she said that she's got the appointment because based on knowledge she's gained while at the UN and… and, et cetera. This was… she was questioned at JFK Airport by South Korean media.  And so the question has arisen.  There's a staff… I just want to know what the provisions are.  There's staff regulations and rules that say whatever knowledge you gain while working for the UN, you cannot deploy at a Government.  So, given that she used this very word, I just wanted to know, how does it work at the UN to ensure… I know that Ms. [Susana] Malcorra, there was something similar, but just… is there guidance from the Secretariat to say what can and cannot be used when you go immediately from the Secretariat to a Government?

Spokesman:  I think… first of all, I think I would add my congratulations to her.  Second of all, I have no doubt that Ms. Kang will live up to the highest ethical standards as it pertains to the issues you raise.  Third, I think there is a difference between experience and knowledge.  And I think the way the rules are written, it's about using specific knowledge of issue… of things as opposed to experience one gains over one's professional life.  Mr. Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  We've just known the USG, Mr. Feltman, will make a brief at tomorrow's Security Council consultation.  Will Sec… how will Secretary‑General to expect this brief's impact on tomorrow's consultation?

Spokesman:  I think we'll have to wait and see what the impact is.  What is clear is that, for us, the DPRK is openly defying Security Council resolutions with its accelerated ballistic missile testing activities.  These actions threaten regional and international security. We call on the DPRK to further… to stop further testing and allow space to explore the resumption of meaningful dialogue.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I feel compelled, as always, to ask this question about North Korea, which is, at this point, is there any talk or any developments in terms of the SG getting involved, directly or even somewhat directly?

Spokesman:  None that I can share.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the Secretary‑General commented on the elections in Iran, which from all accounts seem to be fair and well‑participated? Has he sent a letter to the… to President [Hasan] Rouhani?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, I think, congratulates the people and the Government of Iran on the successful conduct of the presidential elections and President Rouhani on his re‑election.  He looks forward to continued cooperation with the President and his Government on issues of common interest.  Yep?

Question:  On my question, you said UN is looking at it with interest.  Could you put more lights on if?  Could you comment more?

Spokesman:  That's as much light as I have in my pocket right now.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I just wanted to… to… to ask… to something on Friday across the street at IPI and the Force Commander of MINUSMA [United Nations Stabilization Mission] in Mali, ask something that I've asked you here in this room about the sharing of technology between different contingents and the complaint that, for example, Chadians have… don't have night‑vision goggles and other security equipment that the European delegate… contingents had.  And he said that's just how it is; every country comes with their own equipment, and he didn't provide any provision for trying to share it and kind of equalize the degree of risk covered.  So can you clarify? What is DPKO's position on different delegations from different‑incomed and resourced countries coming to serve in Mali and who faces the risk of being blown up by…

Spokesman:  Obviously, I'm not going to contradict what the Force Commander may have said.  But, as you know, the troop-contributing… the units come with their own equipment.  We, obviously… also sometimes we have to provide the equipment.  But it is clear that the safety and security of our troops is something that is shared… that concern is shared by the mission as a whole, and any mission as a whole will try to protect all of the troop-contributing countries as much as possible.

Question:  I'm sure the concern is shared.  What I'm wondering is whether the night‑vision goggles and other equipment are, in fact, shared.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the work that one contingent may do to provide for the security of the rest of the mission is obviously of common interest.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  There were reports that Syrian Homs is liberated from ISIS as of yesterday.  Do you have any information on the situation in the city?

Spokesman:  No, not anything beyond what Mr. de Mistura said.  Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask, on the… on the Board of Inquiry (BOI) report into the death of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, can you confirm that it's… it's due 31 July and will go to Mr. [Peter] Drennan?  Can you say whether the Board of Inquiry report into Garoowe, Somalia, which took place before that has, in fact, been concluded and if it will be made public?  And I want to ask again what I asked Farhan [Haq] on Friday, whether Mr. Drennan, given issues that have arisen about his own staff representative saying that reports have been buried, whether he can do some kind of a press conference.

Spokesman:  I don't have anything for you on Mr. Drennan on the second part of your question.  On the first part, the particular BOI on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] will be done by the end of July.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Just a point of information.  Will you be announcing the results of the election to the post of WHO Director‑General…?

Spokesman:  It's not up to us to announce.  It will be announced by the World Health Assembly.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  If we have the information, we’ll share it with you.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.