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12 June 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**UNRWA

I have the following statement on the Statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA):

The Secretary-General is concerned about recent public criticism of UNRWA and the integrity of its operations.  He wishes to express his support for UNRWA and his admiration for the role it plays in delivering essential services and protecting the rights of millions of Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

UNRWA is mandated by the General Assembly whose members have repeatedly acknowledged the Agency’s unique contribution to peace and security in that region.  UNRWA operates in the front lines of difficult conflict situations and provides education for half a million refugee girls and boys, teaching them human rights and tolerance.  Its education and relief activities contribute critically to stability in the region.

The Secretary-General calls on all Member States to continue their support to the Agency in order for UNRWA to be in a position to fulfil impartially and efficiently its essential role and to implement its humanitarian mandate to serve Palestinian refugees until a just and durable solution to their situation is found.

**Central Asia

The Secretary-General should shortly arrive in Turkmenistan for a high-level dialogue on implementing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia.  Earlier today, he was in Tajikistan, where he overflew the Pamir Mountains on his way to Lake Sarez.  The Secretary-General said he was shocked by the effects of climate change he witnessed — in which 30 per cent of Tajikistan’s glaciers have melted — and reiterated his calls for climate action.  There is no time to lose, he stressed.

This weekend, you will have seen that he was on Saturday in Uzbekistan, where he met with President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and visited the Aral Sea area.  Visiting the Aral Sea and seeing what was the fourth largest inland sea in the world almost dead has caused a tremendous shock, he said, calling it probably the biggest ecological catastrophe of our time. He asked to use the Aral Sea as a symbol of how humanity can destroy the planet and to make it a lesson for us all to be able to mobilize the whole international community to implement the Paris Agreement in order to make sure that tragedies like it will not be repeated.

And yesterday, he was in Kyrgyzstan, where he participated with President Almazbek Atambaev in a high-level forum on “Taza Koom”, a project on public service supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), dedicated to bringing the Sustainable Development Goals to all the citizens of Kyrgyzstan.  He said that public service is a critical component for achieving the SDGs.  But we need to pioneer new approaches, work differently, take risks and innovate through training in new skills, building the capacities of the public sector, and seizing the potential of technological innovations.  In Kyrgyzstan, the Secretary-General also travelled to Osh to commemorate the June 2010 events and meet with civil society representatives.

**Central African Republic

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He said that the intensity of recent attacks, the fact that they are premeditated and that they target ethnic minorities reminds us of the darkest moments of the crisis in the country.  The new troubling component is the systematic aggression against peacekeepers.

Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said that the Central African Republic is on a path to incremental peace that will be achieved if we stay the course.  However, he said, this will not be enough.  He noted that we are now in a critical phase and that the UN Mission (MINUSCA) must continue to consolidate progress towards peace.  Mr. Onanga-Anyanga called for the Central Africans to unite around common objectives.

And the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, also briefed on the new human rights Mapping Report in the CAR.  He stressed the need to send an unequivocal message to the perpetrators of violations that they will be held accountable.

We have their remarks in our office, and Mr. Onanga-Anyanga will be the guest at tomorrow’s briefing.

**Mali

From Mali, further to what we said on Friday on the attack against peacekeepers in Kidal, the UN Mission (MINUSMA) reports that a peacekeeper who had been missing after the attack was found dead on Saturday.  This brings to four the number of peacekeepers who have been killed in this attack.  The eight injured peacekeepers have been treated at the UN hospital in Kidal and are in stable condition.

We join the Mission in extending our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Guinea.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, on Saturday, 10 June, air strikes and artillery shelling on Syria’s Raqqa city reportedly killed 41 people and injured dozens more.

Heavy fighting has reportedly led to massive displacement in and around the city, with more than 100,000 men, women and children displaced in the month of May alone.  Since fighting resumed in November last year, some 80,000 children have been internally displaced and are now living in temporary shelters and camps.

The UN remains concerned about their protection, particularly in Mabruka camp.  We remind all parties to the fighting of their obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today welcomed Under-Secretary-General Ján Kubiš to Kabul, where he will be completing a strategic review of the Mission and its work over the next two days.

Mr. Kubiš, who is a former head of UNAMA, was in Kabul for one week last month conducting meetings with national and international stakeholders.  In his current visit, he will follow up with those stakeholders, in particular President Ashraf Ghani.

The strategic review will be submitted to the Security Council early next month.

**Refugees

In Geneva, the UN Refugee Chief, Filippo Grandi, today called for a massive increase in places available for refugees in third countries.

At the opening of UNHCR’s (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) annual resettlement consultations, he urged Governments to deliver places for refugees in line with commitments made in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants last September, stressing that global resettlement needs outweigh the places made available by Governments by a factor of 13 to 1.

According to UNHCR, close to 1.2 million refugees need resettling globally, but only 93,200 places in resettlement countries are expected to be available this year — 43 per cent fewer than in 2016.  For refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is especially acute — with just 18,000 available places for more than half a million refugees.

**Famine

The World Food Programme (WFP) today issued an urgent call for $1 billion to help 20 million people at risk of starvation in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

These funds, which would cover the next six months, must come now, as delays would result in needless suffering.

WFP says three of the four countries facing famine are entering the so-called hunger season, the annual period when food from the last harvest runs out and the death rate among children spikes.

WFP also stressed that any blocking of aid by any group translates into the suffering and death of the innocent, adding that using food as a weapon of war is unacceptable.

**Polio

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have welcomed pledges by countries and health partners for $1.2 billion to eradicate polio.

Thirty years ago, polio paralysed more than 350,000 children a year in more than 125 countries, but thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Governments, health workers and donors and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, the virus has now been eliminated in all but three countries; those are Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

There have only been five cases to date so far this year.

UNICEF’s Executive Director, Anthony Lake, said that we are, together, truly on the verge of eradicating polio from the planet — but only if we work relentlessly to reach the children we have not yet reached.

For her part, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said that eradicating the virus will be a perpetual gift to coming generations.

**Child Labour

Today is the World Day against Child Labour.  This year’s theme spotlights the need to prevent child labour during conflicts and disasters.

Around the world, 100 million children and young people are affected by disasters each year and 230 million live in areas affected by armed conflict.

To mark the Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has published a guide aimed at development professionals, policymakers and civil society groups working on agriculture, food security and nutrition programming, which includes practical steps to ensure that programmes contribute to safe employment and training opportunities for youth, and that activities intended to support vulnerable families do not have the unintended consequence of encouraging child labour.  More information is available on the FAO website.

**Honour Roll

And today, I would like to thank Rwanda for its full payment to this year’s regular budget.  The total on the Honour Roll now stands at 105.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m. there will be a press briefing entitled “Including persons with disabilities to Expand Disability Rights”.  Speakers will include Permanent Representative of Bulgaria, Georgi Panayotov; Chair of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Committee, Theresia Degener; and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar.

Also, tomorrow, our guest at noon as I mentioned, will be Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, and he is the head of the UN Mission there, MINUSCA.

**Questions and Answers

That is it for me. Are there any questions?  Going once.  Going twice.  Gone.  Oh, there’s one for you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you. I want to ask about that extended report of the Panel of Experts on Libya, which has 310 pages.  When it’s going to be debated or discussed in the Security Council and there will be like the extent… extending the mandate for the Panel of Experts?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s really a question for the Security Council President.  I believe that Libya is slotted later this month on their monthly calendar, if you look at their website, but please check with the Permanent Representative of Bolivia, who presides over the Council this month.  And if that is that, have a very good… oh.  One more.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, could I please ask you first about the ongoing diplomatic crisis in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and other countries?  The chair of Qatar Airways is asking for UN intervention, particularly IOCA [ICAO], to get involved in the situation, because his allegation is that the blockade is a violation of a convention which some of the GCC member countries have signed, and it’s having a direct impact, obviously, on the free movement of aviation in the region.  What is the Secretariat’s view of the blockade from that perspective?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of whether this comports with civil aviation regulations, that’s really a decision to be taken by the Member States of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the ICAO, as you’ve mentioned.  So, we’ll leave that matter in their hands.  You’ve seen the statement we issued late last week on this.  Our concerns remain the same, and the Secretary‑General and his senior officials are in touch regularly to see what can be done to help restore the relations that had been in place prior to this crisis.

Question:  A follow‑up.  Are you able to outline with whom the Secretary‑General and his aides have been in contact?  Is there any anticipation of some sort of meeting under UN auspices to try to mediate the crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don’t have anything to announce on that.  And regarding the meetings at this stage, I’ll just leave it at a more general sense.  He has been in touch with people, as have other UN officials, but we’re not going to specify the nature of those conversations.  Yes?

Question:  Remember last week, the Secretary‑General issued a statement saying that he’s willing to mediate if called by all parties. Was there any reaction from the parties for his call?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t speak for the parties, so you’ll have to check on them on their reaction. There’s nothing from our standpoint… [inaudible]

Question:  No, I mean if there’s… if the SG’s office received any communication.

Deputy Spokesman:  Further to what we said last week, there’s nothing new to say about that particular development.

Question:  And could I follow up on the statement that the SG supports the work of UNRWA?  There have been now multiple instances of Hamas taking advantage of areas operated by UNRWA in order to carry out its work.  Does the Secretary‑General share, in this case, Israel’s concerns that UNRWA is being exploited for the use of an organisation that is opposed to Israel’s existence?  And what can the Secretary‑General and the General Assembly do to try to address these concerns?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, you’re aware that the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, did discuss last week this tunnel that it had discovered underneath two of its schools in Gaza.  UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels in the strongest possible terms.  It’s unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way.  The construction and presence of tunnels under UN premises are incompatible with the respect of privileges and immunities owed to the United Nations under applicable international law, which provides that UN premises shall be inviolable. The sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times.  And UNRWA has taken action to seal the tunnels, and we are making sure that there can be no recurrence of this sort of violation.

Question:  Is there any way to shore up UNRWA’s resources, in order to help it better protect its facilities and so that things such as the tunnel under the schools doesn’t happen again?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, UNRWA’s taking the steps it can take to make sure that this doesn’t happen. But, ultimately, what needs to happen for that is that the parties on the ground all have to respect UNRWA’s neutrality.  They cannot and must not violate it.  Yes?

Question:  Well, on the same topic, UNRWA has been using textbooks that do not recognize the principle of a two‑State solution. There’s just a map of Palestine from river to sea. The excuse or the rationale is that that is what the host, quote, country or host state, which I guess is Hamas‑controlled Gaza, is demanding. Why hasn’t the Secretary‑General at least reflected concern about UNRWA’s participation in an educational programme for children that undermines the very principle of a two‑State solution that he and, of course, the UN in general have espoused consistently?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the relationship between UNRWA and its host is an issue that’s complex, and we’d leave… let you deal with our UNRWA colleagues about that.  What they try to do in the places where they operate is to encourage the instruction of tolerance, and they do try to teach messages of tolerance in all the curricula in the countries where they operate.

Question:  But you know that… I’m sure you know that that has not actually happened in the schools in Gaza, and I understand you say that UNRWA might be the first place to go for a response. Their response was to give in to the demands of Hamas on this.  Why didn’t… why can’t the Secretary‑General, in his support… overall support for UNRWA, at least urge that… if you talk about UNRWA’s neutrality, that it will not in any way participate in the undermining of the two‑State solution principle?

Deputy Spokesman:  As the Secretary‑General pointed out in the statement I’ve just read, UNRWA does, in fact, try to provide education for half a million refugees, teaching them human rights and tolerance.  We push for that wherever it operates and will continue to do so.  There are complex issues involved in terms of dealing with your educational partners.  But like I said, the specific… For the specifics of that, I would leave that in the hands of my colleagues in UNRWA.  [inaudible]

Question:  I have to follow up on that, because at least the Palestinian Authority, rhetorically at least, supports the two‑State solution.  And it presumably speaks for, quote, the State of Palestine.  So, even though Gaza is technic… is territorially under the control of Hamas, Hamas is not the recognized Government of the Palestinian Authority.  And, therefore, isn’t… isn’t the fact that these textbooks which contradict the principle of the two‑State solution do not recognize Is… Israel in any respect contrary not only to the UN’s stated principle but also to the, quote, host State?  And I don’t understand why you’re… you’re pushing this off just to UNRWA. This goes to a… a core principle enunciated by the Secretary‑General himself, a two‑state solution, which UNRWA is participating in undermining.

Deputy Spokesman:  UNRWA is not participating in undermining it.

Question:  Yes, it is if it has textbooks that…

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, it tries to work with the educational authorities on the ground.  It’s a complex endeavour in terms of working with teachers and educational authorities in the places where it operates.  But UNRWA tries, wherever it operates, to encourage messages that uphold the goals of the UN, including those of human rights and of tolerance.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks.  Sorry to skip back and forth between our two main topics today, but going back to Qatar, most of the focus I’ve heard coming from the UN the past seven, eight days has been on the political side, whether or not there will be some sort of political mediation, but I’m curious; on the humanitarian side, we’ve seen some countries bringing in food. Is the UN receiving any information about the humanitarian situation, or is the view now that this is not dire enough for the UN to be appealing to other countries to help? They should just be handled on sort of a voluntary basis?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is nothing on which we’ve directly involved ourselves at this point.  If that changes, we can certainly let you know.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] The humanitarian situation in Yemen is getting worse.  Do you have any update on it, or any call from the international community…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, today, we have received information from our humanitarian colleagues about the continued rise in the number of suspected cholera cases in Yemen.  Over the weekend, the number rose by a quarter to almost 125,000 persons and led to 923 cholera‑associated deaths.  And we’ve been appealing for increased funding for water, sanitation, and hygiene programmes in order to deal with the situation.  Nearly 3.5 million people across Yemen have been reached with assistance to disinfect water, rehabilitation of water supply systems, and hygiene kits.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.