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

17 July 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.

**Sustainable Development Goals

This morning, the Secretary-General presented the findings of the progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  You just received a briefing on that within the past hour.  The Secretary-General stressed that problems today are more global and this means there is no way any country can solve them by itself, and we need global answers.  He added that Agenda 2030 is an agenda aiming at a fair globalization that can help create conditions for people to trust again not only in political systems, but also in multilateral forms of governance and in international organizations like the UN.

The Secretary-General said that, to achieve the SDGs, the United Nations will also need to change.  He pointed to the 38 ideas he put forward earlier this month as a path to enhance the UN system’s effectiveness, leadership and accountability.  Some of these changes include having more cohesive teams on the ground by strengthening the role and accountability of Resident Coordinators and UN country teams, improving guidance and oversight by Member States over system-wide results and improving gender parity in the Organization.  The report is available online.


Earlier today, we issued the following statement on the third anniversary of the MH17 tragedy:  On the third anniversary of the MH17 tragedy, the Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the families of the victims.  The Secretary-General takes note of recent developments related to investigation efforts and calls upon all States to cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability in line with UN Security Council resolution 2166 (2014).


In a statement issued on Friday evening, the Secretary-General said that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was a major achievement in the area of nuclear non-proliferation.  He expressed confidence that the JCPOA is the best way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and realize the great aspiration of the Iranian people.  Two years on, the Secretary-General said, he is encouraged by the continued implementation of the Plan.  He commends the Islamic Republic of Iran for implementing its nuclear-related commitments, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  He also welcomes the recent recommitment by the JCPOA participants, in Vienna, on 25 April, to the full and effective implementation of the Plan.  The full statement is online.


The Security Council is meeting on Iraq today.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Kubiš, noted how the operation to liberate Mosul was marked by an exceptional effort to save and protect civilians.  Da’esh, on the other hand, he said, showed absolute disregard for human lives and for civilization.  Mr. Kubiš cautioned that the historic liberation of Mosul should not conceal the fact that the road ahead is extremely challenging, with several territories still under Da’esh control.  He stressed that Da’esh’s ultimate defeat can only be secured by addressing the grievances, needs and aspirations of the Iraqi people.  And the Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, will be my guest here today and she will speak to you by video teleconference more about the situation in Mosul.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will begin a visit to Sudan, South Sudan and Abyei tonight which will include visits to our three peacekeeping operations in the region:  African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), United Nations Interim Security for Abyei (UNISFA) and United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  In Sudan, Mr. Lacroix will meet with Government officials, UNAMID personnel and country team representatives to discuss the reconfiguration of the UN mission in Darfur.  In addition to El Fasher, he is expected to visit Golo, Central Darfur, where UNAMID will be establishing a new team site.

Mr. Lacroix will then proceed to Abyei where he will meet UN personnel and community representatives to discuss the status of the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission and the situation in Abyei.  He will then head to Juba, South Sudan, where he will advocate for a country-wide cessation of hostilities, the importance of an inclusive political solution towards ending the current conflict and greater cooperation with the UN Mission and humanitarian actors.  Mr. Lacroix is also expected to visit Malakal and Bentiu, where UNMISS is protecting over 145,000 civilians in protection-of-civilians sites.

**Central African Republic

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, arrived in the Central African Republic yesterday.  His visit takes place as the country faces a worrying upsurge of violence resulting in forced displacements and a 40 per cent increase of internally displaced people since September 2016, as well as a staggering rise in humanitarian need.  Mr. O’Brien will meet with the people affected by recent violence.  He was in Bangassou today.

During the visit, he is scheduled to meet with local and national authorities as well as humanitarian workers and partners to discuss the increase in humanitarian needs and how principled and effective humanitarian assistance can be delivered in such a volatile environment.  Mr. O’Brien recalled that the Central African Republic is going through an acute protection crisis that requires attention and support from the international community to build on recent gains, reduce violence and pave the way for recovery and development.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today released its midyear report saying that extreme harm to civilians continues as suicide attacks have worsened in the country.  A total of 1,662 civilian deaths were confirmed between 1 January and 30 June — an increase of 2 per cent on the same period last year.  The report highlights that 40 per cent of all civilian casualties during this period were killed or wounded by anti-government forces using improvised explosive devices, such as suicide bombs and pressure-plate devices.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said the human cost of this terrible conflict in Afghanistan — loss of life, destruction and immense suffering — is far too high.  He added that the continued use of indiscriminate, disproportionate and illegal improvised explosive devices is particularly appalling and must immediately stop.


The UN and the humanitarian community remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of tens of thousands of men, women and children trapped in Raqqa City in Syria.  Heavy fighting continues to affect civilians, causing thousands to displace and scores of deaths and injuries.  Conditions inside the city are reported to be extremely dire, with limited access to food, water and basic services for the 30,000 to 50,000 people who remain trapped in the city.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered assistance to 89,000 men, women and children in the hard-to-reach areas of Al-Houla, in rural Homs, and Harbinafseh, in rural Hama.  Select medical equipment and medicines were not allowed to be loaded or reduced in quantity.  The area was last reached on 13 April.  The UN continues to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across the country, particularly the more than 4.5 million men, women and children in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.


The UN and the Government of Somalia have launched a programme to train over 350 judicial officers to assist in the rebuilding of the country’s justice sector.  The programme will cover priority areas, including court management and leadership; civil and criminal trial procedures; general principles of the Somali criminal law; and rights of the accused and the victims.  The judicial officers will also learn procedures and guidance for criminal investigations; legal and administrative procedures; ethics, and practical legal skills.  More details are available on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) website.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that 1 in 10 infants worldwide did not receive any vaccinations in 2016.  This means that these infants missed the first dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis‑containing vaccine, putting them at serious risk of these potentially fatal diseases.  Additionally, an estimated 6.6 million infants who did receive their first dose did not complete the full series.

Since 2010, the percentage of children who received their full course of routine immunizations has stalled at 86 per cent, with no significant changes in any countries or regions during the past year.  This falls short of the global immunization coverage target of 90 per cent.  A press release with more details is available online.

**Press Briefings

Like I said, we should have Lise Grande after me; and tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing here by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on parliamentary action to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.  Are there any questions for me?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the situation in Gulf, which is ongoing and becoming more and more incendiary, I mean, between the charges that the UAE [United Arab Emirates] hacked… I mean, the… the website of Qatar and so on, so forth, Qatar, UAE denying it, then Qatar saying no, they did it, and that's why the crisis proceeded  as it did.  Unless you… did you make any statement about this earlier?  Or, if not, can you tell us what the Secretary‑General is going to do about this crisis which, if not averted, can engulf the Gulf region in a big war?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, you're aware of the Secretary‑General's own efforts and his own discussions.  He has been very keen to encourage, in particular, regional efforts and, particularly, the efforts of… by the Government of Kuwait.  We continue to do that.  And we don't have any particular response to the latest media reports, although we are certainly aware of them.

Question:  Also, is the Secretary‑General paying attention to the crisis today and… in Pakistan and India, cross‑border fighting?  Soldiers are being killed, and the situation over there in the occupied territories and the LoC [line of control] area of India and Pakistan is getting bad to worse.  Secretary‑General is not going to do anything about… say anything about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you're aware of what we've said.  The Secretary‑General himself mentioned this topic at his last press conference, as you know.  I don't have anything to add to what Stéphane [Dujarric] said on this last week, but our position from there still holds.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Sure.  Ask a couple of things on envoys.  One, I just wanted to know, the… the… the Houthi side in Yemen has said that they have… I guess they've been informed that Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will… is to be replaced.  So, I just wanted to get your comment on… on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, at this point, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed remains on the job.  You're aware that he briefed the Security Council recently on his work, and he's continuing with it.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you also, on the Cyprus envoy, there's a… over the weekend, the President of Cyprus spoke about why he believes the talks fell apart.  But, he said that the… that… essentially that… that Espen Barth Eide, you know, was… was going more on hopes than on reality and… and brought in the Secretary‑General in a way that he wasn't prepared, into the talks — the Secretary‑General, I mean.  And so, you may have seen those comments.  He also said that they're going to go forward with the gas exploration, which is something I've asked Stéphane about twice.  What is the UN's position on that, something that Turkey has opposed?  And I'm assuming that you disagree, but what's your response to the President of Cyprus's review of the UN's performance in the talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, concerning the issue of gas exploration, we're monitoring developments closely.  It's not generally for the Secretary‑General or for the UN Secretariat to interpret the rights of Member States under the treaties to which they are party or under general international law.  We trust that the relevant countries would avoid raising unnecessary tensions around the issue of exploration of hydrocarbons and seek a solution to their differences through dialogue.  And regarding the media comments, yes, we're certainly aware of the comments made in the media regarding Mr. Eide.  The Secretary‑General supports Mr. Eide's work.  He believes he has been doing a good job of trying to bring the parties closer together.  Ultimately, for any peace agreement to move forward, the parties themselves have to be willing to move.  And, ultimately, that is what's needed to happen.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  This is about a statement that was released by the UNICEF today concerning the new regulation, new code, that they tie… Italy had about how [a non-governmental organization] had to operate in rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.  What happened is Italy's trying to stop trafficking in… you know, trafficking in the Mediterranean, but the UNICEF is concerned and acknowledge… you know, acknowledge how many people Italy save but, at the same time, is concerned because this new code, UNICEF says, can prevent non-governmental organizations to actually be able to really save lives, especially the life of children.  So, any reaction by the Secretary‑General about this new code that Italy is… is implementing?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we'll just let what UNICEF has put out speak for itself, and you're aware of, of course, what they've said.  Yes, Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  You just put sanctions over Syria and scientists and military officials.  Will you have anything to say about that? I mean, especially given that last couple of weeks there were a lot of meetings and developmental efforts to resolve Syrian crisis.  Maybe these measures now will affect the diplomatic process?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're certainly hopeful that the diplomatic process will continue on the course that has been going on.  You'll have seen what Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy, said on Friday.  It's a good sign that the talks were able to continue, although, as you know, there was no particular breakthrough or resolution of issues there.  But we want to keep the process going.  Beyond that, of course, the decisions by regional groups are theirs to explain.  We don't have any particular comment on them.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  On this meeting between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the French President on Sunday, which they talked about resuming the peace talk; at least the French asked the Israelis to begin the talks.  What is the Secretary‑General's position? Why is Israel hesitant to start these talks despite the fact that the Palestinians have said that they are ready?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't speak for either of the parties.  What we're trying to do is get them to resume their talks, and that is what our hope is.  But the parties speak for themselves.  Yes?  Yes, please, Adam.

Question:  Hi.  Just a two‑fold question:  One, is there any more info about the Clinton Foundation meeting on Friday with the Deputy Secretary‑General?  And also, are there any other meetings from people in the office with people from the Clinton Foundation, any coming up that you're aware of?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of other meetings.  Regarding the Deputy Secretary‑General's meeting, broadly speaking, it concerned our development agenda and just discussions on that.  And that's about as much detail as I have on it.  Yes?

Question:  I have a question, because I saw… I mean, obviously, I'd asked you on Friday on this.  This idea that it was about resource mobilization.  I think I just… one, I was curious just a sort of yes or no, whether the issue of Haiti, where I know the UN is trying to mobilize resources, and the Clinton Foundation has its own history there, whether that came up in the meeting.  And, two, what exactly it means.  Is it a matter of res… mobilizing resources from the Clinton Foundation for the agenda?  Or I just want a little bit more.

Deputy Spokesman:  It's just a discussion of how to get more resources mobilized for… in order to fund the development agenda.  I don't have anything in particular on Haiti from the Mission.

Question:  Okay.  If possible I wanted to… in South Sudan, where, obviously, the US… the UN has its mission, it said that the head of the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation has been arrested for failing to broadcast live Salva Kiir's speech on Independence Day.  I was looking to see whether the UN had any response to that.  Does it?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, I mean, the basic point, as we stand for freedom of expression, we're aware of the latest reports.  And we don't want there to be any action to impede the work of the media.

Question:  And another… also, obviously, there's a mission in Western Sahara, and there's going to be a… I guess it's scheduled for tomorrow… a ruling by a court in Rabat on this long-standing Gdeim Izik case of… that took place in Western Sahara.  And there's allegations basically that the convictions are based on torture.  So, I wanted to know, has the UN itself or the mission or… or Headquarters had any view on… on… on… on this trial and the… the possible use of torture, you know, produced evidence in the conviction of these individuals?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't believe we've pronounced ourselves on this particular proceeding, but I can check.  Yes?

Question:  On this situation in Qatar, again in the Gulf, the Saudi Coalition of these four countries have been calling upon Qatar government to get rid of the Al Jazeera, the television network.  What I'm asking you, what is the Secretary‑General's position… I know that for the freedom of information, Secretary‑General has a certain position.  In this particular case, it's been forced upon by a powerful nation called Saudi Arabia plus Egypt and other countries.  What is the Secretary‑General's position on this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the discussions going on in the region.  Our point of principle, as with the question I just answered on South Sudan, is that we want to make sure that the freedom of the media and freedom of expression is respected.

Question:  But, this constant urging that Al Jazeera, which is supposed to be one of the better television or… or media network… that should be immediately stopped because it does not conform to the Saudis’, what do you call, ideas?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on that, like I said, our point of principle is that we favour the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media.  And I'll come back in a second.  We'll get Lise Grande.  I don't believe she's ready just yet, but in about 12:30 p.m., she should be there.  One second.

For information media. Not an official record.