18 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.

Good afternoon to all the courageous members of the press.

**Nelson Mandela Day

Today is Nelson Mandela International Day.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly in an informal meeting to observe the Day.  He said that Nelson Mandela continues to inspire the world through his example of courage and compassion, and his commitment to social justice and a culture of freedom and peace.  He added that the greatest tribute we can pay Nelson Mandela is not in words or in ceremonies, but actions that improve our world.  UN staff around the world are marking this day by volunteering in their communities.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, Sandra Honoré, will speak to you at the stakeout following her briefing to the Security Council, which is happening now.  In remarks to Council members, she said that a little less than three months before the closure of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the transition to a smaller peacekeeping Mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), Haiti has remained on the path of stabilization and democratic consolidation.

Looking ahead, for the country to make full use of the window of opportunity that emerged following the electoral process, additional measures will be needed to consolidate the security and stabilization gains of the past few years, create greater social and political cohesion and truly reinforce State institutions.  Ms. Honoré stressed that without a properly functioning justice system, the Haitian National Police cannot effectively deliver security for all Haitian citizens; and the domestic and international investments in the national police force will not develop to their full potential.  As MINUSTAH continues the implementation of its integrated drawdown plan until the Mission's closure on 15 October, the partnership of the international community with Haiti and continued and coordinated support of Haiti's reform agenda will be critical, she concluded.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will begin a trip to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  She will be joined by the Executive Director of UN-Women, Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, and the African Union Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop.  The trip, which is being carried out in conjunction with the African Union, seeks to raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in peace and security processes, and of ensuring that women’s voices are heard in all aspects of society.  The three officials will travel to Abuja, where they will meet with the acting President and hear from women leaders and young women who have been affected by conflict.

On Friday, the Deputy Secretary-General will attend the funeral of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the former Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  The Deputy Secretary-General will briefly be back in New York to attend a Member States’ retreat over the weekend and will then rejoin the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We will bring you more details on the Democratic Republic of the Congo visit next week.  This trip is the first part of a two-part mission focused on women's meaningful participation in peace, security and development.  A similar mission will cover two further countries later in the year.  The Deputy Secretary-General is expected to be back in New York on 28 July.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned today that recent violence in southern border areas of the Central African Republic is driving more people to flee, including into remote areas of the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, putting immense pressure on difficult-to-reach local communities close to the border.  Local authorities estimate that over 60,000 people have fled since May.  UNHCR continues to work to verify the numbers and is organizing to bring in relief aid.  However, moving help there quickly is difficult.  Roads are mud-filled and in places virtually impassable for normal transport, hence tractors and other specialized vehicles are needed.  Of the $55.3 million needed in funding for the Democratic Republic of the Congo-Central African Republic situation this year, only $2.8 million has so far been received.

**Central African Republic

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, today concluded his visit to the Central African Republic, before travelling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In Bangui, he called on the international community to sustain support to the Central African Republic to avert the risk of a repeat of the devastating large-scale crisis that gripped the country only four years ago.  Mr. O’Brien expressed extreme concern at the upsurge of violence in the country since the beginning of this year.  If we do not act now, he said, we will see increasing need and even greater vulnerability of already weakened people.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that months of renewed fighting in the Central African Republic have led to an increasing number of violent acts committed against children, including murders, abductions, rape and recruitment into armed groups.  The agency said that the true number of atrocities suffered by children over the past three months is almost certain to be much higher than officially reported figures because humanitarian access has been severely limited by insecurity.  There are more details on the websites of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UNICEF.

**Lake Chad Basin

Regarding the situation in the Lake Chad basin, I would like to flag an innovative radio education programme to support the 1.3 million children who have been displaced by the violence of the conflict with Boko Haram.  The radio education programmes supported by UNICEF, the European Union, the Governments of Cameroon and Niger, offer an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in crisis affected areas who are unable to go to schools in the Far North of Cameroon and in the Diffa region of Niger.  The 144 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy, life-saving and other child protection messages will be broadcast in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde and Hausa.  More on this information is available on UNICEF’s website.


Our humanitarian colleagues warned today that Congo is currently confronted with a humanitarian emergency in the Pool region.  The Government, the UN and 16 other humanitarian partners are calling for a $23.7 million financial support package to help 138,000 people in need.  The food security and nutrition analysis which was conducted in June revealed that more than half of families face great difficulties in accessing food and meeting their basic needs.  More details are available from our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is deeply concerned that, after recent fighting in Benghazi, people taken prisoner by members of the Libyan National Army may be at imminent risk of torture and even summary execution.  The human rights office says their concern is based on reports suggesting the involvement of the Special Forces, a unit aligned with the Libyan National Army, in torturing detainees and summarily executing at least 10 captured men.  It urges the Libyan National Army to ensure there is a full, impartial investigation into these allegations and calls on the group to suspend its field commander pending the conclusion of such an investigation.  The Office reiterates that the fight against terrorism cannot be used to justify summary executions or other grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.


The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that, while the fight for Iraq’s Mosul has ended, there has been extensive damage to homes and essential infrastructure, leaving thousands of families with nothing to return to and in continued need of emergency food assistance.  WFP said that it will continue to provide food assistance for all families displaced by the Mosul crisis until they can safely return home and rebuild their lives.  This month, the agency will provide food assistance to nearly 850,000 displaced people living in camps.  WFP also stands ready to support up to 200,000 more people who may be displaced from the remaining Da’esh-held areas, where the conflict is expected to continue.


UNHCR today said it’s appealing for $421.2 million to help provide alternatives to refugees undertaking dangerous journeys to Europe.  The funds would be used to deal with complex population movements involving shifting routes, and UNHCR is proposing interventions in the countries of origin and transit in sub-Saharan Africa, in North Africa, and in the destination countries in Europe.  Services would include raising awareness of the risks of irregular migration, supporting law enforcement mechanisms addressing human trafficking, and ensuring humanitarian assistance to those rescued at sea, among others.  More information is available on the UNHCR website.


Also concerning refugees arriving in Europe, our colleagues from UNICEF said that Italy’s proposed code of conduct for non-governmental organizations carrying out search and rescue missions could put many lives at risk, especially those of children.  The code would limit the movement and operations of non-governmental organization rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean, and inadvertently prevent lifesaving work to save children from drowning.  UNICEF praised Italy’s efforts to save refugees and migrants but warned that restrictions on sea rescues is not a solution and called on the European Union and international community to step up their efforts to help Italy.

**Honour Roll

For the Honour Roll, we are pleased to announce two new members to the 2017 Honour Roll, as they have paid their regular budget dues in full.  Sincere thanks go to Burkina Faso and Lithuania.  That makes it 115 Member States.

**Press Briefings

We are rescheduling a press conference:  the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) press briefing that was scheduled for today at 11 a.m. has been rescheduled to tomorrow at 11 a.m., due to the earlier incident.

Tomorrow, my guests will be Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, Under Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and Masud bin Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh and Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group.  They will be here to brief you on the launch of the Office’s flagship report entitled "Financing the Sustainable Development Goals and the Istanbul Programme of Action in the Least Developed Countries".  And that is it for me.  Any questions?  Yes, you first.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Venezuela just had a plebiscite on Sunday.  The United Nations, through the Secretary‑General, has been very outspoken about the position of the UN to try to protect the rights of the Venezuelans.  And now we have the constitutional process — that will be 30 July.  What is the position of the UN of that process, especially when countries in the international community, including the United States, the European Union, have been very forceful in the fact that they want that constitutional change to be stopped, so they are trying to get extensions if that were to happen?  What's the UN's position on everything that is happening right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I just want to flag a couple of the points that the Secretary‑General made in the statement we issued on Friday, 14 July.  As the Secretary‑General made clear, a national dialogue is urgently needed in Venezuela between the Government and the opposition to achieve two major objectives:  the eradication of violence and abuses in fanaticism, and the preservation of an agreed constitutional path.  He added that there will not be a solution if it is imposed.  The way out is through an agreement, elections, and respect for fundamental rights and constitutional powers.  And you'll have seen the full statement, which is online.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Farhan.  The tension is rising, of course, along the Al Aqsa Mosque with… the Israelis are cracking down on the Palestinians, and they've installed this connecting gates for prayers there.  People have not been able to enter the mosque for several… including the clerics.  How does the Secretary‑General view the presence of security all the time in the mosque and the prevention of worshipers to go into the mosque freely?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, we have repeatedly said it's important to preserve the status quo in all of the various holy sites of Jerusalem so that all worshippers can participate freely.  Beyond that, we have no comment at this stage.

Question:  Sorry.  Does it mean, preserving the status quo, that military are present with weapons all the time among prayers?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I had to say.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  Farhan, can you please state on the record what caused the evacuation of the building?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, certainly.  Earlier today, there was a fire alarm that went off in one of the fan rooms in the second basement.  So, we had to evacuate as a precaution in case of a potential fire.  But, the alarm was checked; there was no fire.  It was a problem potentially with the alarms.  Normally, there are around 2,000 or so people in the Headquarters in the mornings, and there was an evacuation that happened.  But, it was very clear to us early on that there was no threat to the population, and so, within about half an hour, they were allowed back into the building.

Question:  But, someone from your office said… we were told it was a fire earlier, so how do you explain the discrepancy?  Did someone initially say there was a fire?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it was a fire alarm that went off.  There was an alert that went in the building about the threat of fire.  There was… like I said, it has been checked.  There was no fire in the second basement area, but an alarm did go off in one of the fan rooms.  There are many fan rooms.  Basically, there are a lot of the huge fans that are there to keep different machines from overheating.  The threat is that, if one of the alarms goes off in a fan room, there's a chance that there could be a serious fire situation.  There was no serious fire situation, although we did have to make the evacuation as a precautionary move.

Question:  And was the New York City Fire Department called? And did they come in?  Who came in?  What was the size…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, the Fire Department of New York came.  They helped… we investigated… our security investigated and found that the rooms were okay in terms of any fire conditions, and so an all‑clear was sounded.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just if you have any readout from the meeting between the Secretary‑General yesterday with Iran Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif?  That's one.  Second, do you have any statement regarding the announcement in Tripoli about the political roadmap for Libya?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, to take your second question first, on Libya, what we can say about that is, as you're aware, we have a new Special Representative coming in for Libya, Ghassan Salameh, who I believe will be here in the building sometime next week.  Upon taking up his functions, he will review the road map that his predecessor has developed with the view to facilitating its implementation in close consultation with Libya's stakeholders and partners.  So, that is what his priority is at this stage.  Regarding the meeting with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran, no, we don't have a readout of that.  It's part of the Secretary‑General's regular consultations with Member States in that region.

Question:  How… how long was the… has the meeting lasted?  And can you say anything about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Beyond saying that it's part of his regular consultations with different foreign ministers in the region, no, there's nothing else to say about that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, the Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson recent… has visited… concluded a visit to Sri Lanka, and he issued a report where he said that torture is wide-spread today, not in the past, but today, and that the reforms that were called for by the Human Rights Council have not… that… that progress on them have… has “ground to a halt”.  So, I wanted to know two things.  One is, with Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman going there, is he going to raise this issue of ongoing torture?  And, number two, the UN is still continuing, it seems… I've heard to… to… and I've seen pictures of, to recruit Sri Lankan troops to serve in [the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission] in Mali (MINUSMA).  Given this new finding by the UN that the security forces in Sri Lanka are engaged in torture, what particular safeguards are in place to make sure that those involved in the abuse aren't, in fact, just shipped to Mali to continue it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, wherever we recruit soldiers from, in every country, we try to vet the peacekeeping troops… the incoming peacekeeping troops, to make sure that they're not involved in any problems like that in their home country.  And, of course, we would do that sort of vetting for Sri Lankan troops as we would for any other country.  Regarding Mr. Feltman's travel, of course, we'll try to provide details on that once it's happened.

Question:  So, will… for example, will the [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] get… this report just came out today, and the recruitment has already taken place.  There's… there’s… the Resident Coordinator has been meeting with the military.  The military has been bragging about it.  I guess what I want to know is, in light of this new UN founding released today, will this be information be incorporated before people get off the plane in Mali to begin serving the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  If there's new relevant information of… regarding the peacekeeping troops that they're dealing with, then our Department of Field Support would look into that.  Yes, Farnaz?

Question:  Thank you.  I wanted to ask if there are any UN mediation efforts for the crisis in Qatar, whether the Secretary‑General has contacted any officials on both sides or anyone else at the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Different UN officials of various… at various levels have contacted various parties.  There's not a lot of detail I can provide on that, but we've tried to play a helpful role.  But, what… part of what we're doing is we're encouraging different regional and other mediation efforts.  As you know, there are efforts by different countries, and we hope that they will bear fruit, and we will try to support them as we can.  Yes?

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General himself made any calls?

Deputy Spokesman:  None that I can disclose.  We’ll leave it at that.  Yes?

Question:  On Yemen, yesterday, there was a major attack on… against a market in Sa’ada in the south.  Many people perished in that attack, and then the paramedics, when they tried to come and help the injured, those alive… the alive people remaining, they were also attacked by Saudi‑led Coalition fighters.  What… what is the position on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point is no health workers in any area should be attacked.  If people are in the process of providing humanitarian or other help, they should not be interfered with by any of the parties.

Question:  Yeah, going back to the situation in Jerusalem, of course, the tension is very high, and there are mutual threats.  Israel says that this situation is permanent.  And, if you're talking about going back to the status quo ante, they are saying, no, the changes will remain forever.  That means this is final.  Are we expecting any position from the United Nations on these arrangements?  Also, where else in the world do you find armed soldiers inside a worship place?

Deputy Spokesman:  Beyond your editorializing, the point is, whenever we have concerns about the holy sites in Jerusalem, we've raised them, and we'll continue to do so.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  I just wanted to know, do you have any statement from the Secretary‑General on the new Italian code of conduct?  Is there any formal statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you heard… at the start, I had mentioned what UNICEF has been saying, and so I just read out that note from UNICEF and their concerns, the bottom line being that their concerns that the proposed code of conduct for non-governmental organizations could put many lives at risk, especially those of children.  And there's a press release from UNICEF with further details.  Yes?

Question:  I am [inaudible].  I ask question, how long time to this… meet no… have open in Sana’a for supplies?

Deputy Spokesman:  I didn't quite get your question.  What's your question?

Question:  Yeah.  I… how to this time, no opening in Yemen for supplies?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] of the Sana’a airport.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we're trying to see and make sure that the parties are able to provide access to all the key areas of Yemen, including Sana’a, and that is what we're working towards, including through the efforts of our envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Correspondent:  Long time.

Deputy Spokesman:  Huh?

Correspondent:  Long time, no open corridor.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the many frustrations, and you've seen the frustrations expressed by our Special Envoy.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks lot.  I want to ask about Burundi, Western Sahara, and the Ng Lap Seng case.  Burundian refugees in Tanzania in this camp called Naduda were visited by, I guess, members of [Benjamin] Mkapa's team, mediator's team, and some ambassadors to Burundi from Tanzania and Kenya.  But, there wasn't… I wanted to know… first of all, there was… many of the refugees have raised questions that they were basically being encouraged to return to the country, which they see as unsafe.  Was there any involvement by Michel Kafando and the… as a UN mediator?  Is he aware of this trip?  And what does the Secretary‑General, with his interest in refugees… does he believe this is a propitious time to tell Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries to return?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, our position on all refugees is that they can only return to countries when they feel the conditions are safe to allow them to do so.  As you know, we abide by the idea that all countries should observe the principle of non‑refoulement, and that's where we stand on that.  I'm not aware of any role that Mr. Kafando had in this.

Question:  And also, the… the… the… on Western Sahara, I think the Frente Polisario sent a communication to [the Department of Political Affairs] and [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) about they've captured, they say, 19 people coming over the berm from Morocco and put them in… there's photographs.  It's been… it's in El País.  And I'm just wondering, given the… the… the… what happened in Guerguerat, is the UN… what's the UN comment on it?  Will you confirm that you've received the communication?  And what does the UN intend to do about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll check whether we've received any communication from them.

Correspondent:  And, yesterday, down in court in the Ng Lap Seng/John Ashe case, it emerged the… a number of things came out, but, as to the UN, that in some… that South‑South News, which was Ng Lap Seng… it's been documented in the case, entirely funded by him, was working to reach an agreement.  An email was put on the screen, working to reach an agreement with not only the office of South‑South Cooperation, but UNTV to put their material in.  And so, I wanted to know, given what's been revealed in the case about… about South‑South News connection to a bribery scheme, will you… I mean, maybe you'll answer it from the podium or if you could, I would just ask you, not just as to the Office of South‑South Cooperation, but, as to UNTV, a division of the Department of Public Information, to determine whether such an agreement was ever reached and what their statement is about this South‑South News material still in UNTV archives.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I don't have any comment on the ongoing trial, and I wouldn't have that as that proceeds.  Regarding South‑South News, last year, it ceased to have its accreditation as a media outlet at the UN, and there's no arrangements with South‑South News, which is not accredited.

Question:  Right, right.  But, my question is, if you go today to UNT… just plug in the name, you'll find this material that went in.  The question is, given the way in which this bribery scheme penetrated the UN, what steps have been taken?  And it's sort of surprise… like, was an agreement ever reached… it's a simple yes‑or‑no question.  Was an agreement ever reached during the time frame — has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Ng Lap Seng — between South‑South News and the Department of Public Information?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, I don't have any comment on the information that comes out in the trial.  What I can say, clearly, there is no agreement with South‑South News, which is not accredited as a media outlet at the UN.

Question:  Right, but that's not the question.  The question is:  was there an agreement?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's where we stand with them now.  And, as for details in the trial, that will come out as part of the trial process.

Question:  Right, but that's not… that's not what the trial is about… whether he's exonerated or not, it's not going to determine… the UN has cited immunity, and so… that's why I'm asking you just a factual question.

Deputy Spokesman:  That the information we have.  You know, if you're asking me about South‑South News' status, that's what it is.  It does not have accreditation, and it does not have a contract with UNTV.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.