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

20 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.

**South Sudan

The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El Ghassim Wane, briefed the Security Council on South Sudan this morning.  He said that the peace process faces numerous challenges that must be overcome if we are to make the most of the opportunity created by the deployment of the regional protection force and put the country back on track to peace and stability.  He warned that the security environment remains extremely volatile and stressed that South Sudan needs an effective and credible ceasefire.  He added that every effort should be made to ensure that the National Dialogue is inclusive, transparent, takes place in a free and secure environment, and is supported by a broad political consensus.

Mr. Wane also underlined the need for the international community to send strong messages to the South Sudanese leadership of all sides that the status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable.  A change in behaviour is long overdue, he said, and the pursuit of political objectives through violence should not be allowed to continue.  And yesterday, a delegation from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and Government officials visited Kolmerek village, in the Jonglei region, after a violent attack last weekend.  They condemned the attack and called for calm.  The Mission is supporting peace efforts in the aftermath of the violence and has sent peacekeepers to the area.  There are more details on the UN Mission’s website.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that he is deeply concerned by the recent surge in tensions and violence around the holy esplanade in the Old City of Jerusalem.  He welcomes the commitment of Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites, and Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas’s firm condemnation of the violence, specifically the deadly attack on two Israeli policemen on 14 July.  He hopes that these affirmations will contribute to resolving the concerns of all parties and put an end to the provocative rhetoric that has added to the escalation over the past week.  Mr. Mladenov calls on all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation and on moderate voices to speak up against those who try to fuel tensions.


The Secretary-General's Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, wrapped up a visit to Cairo today, where he met with Egyptian, Yemeni and regional leaders.  The Special Envoy met the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and the Permanent Representatives to the Arab League, urging Arab countries to support Yemen to overcome its current crisis.  He also met with Egypt’s Foreign Minister and thanked the country for its assistance to Yemenis, including the large number of prominent Yemeni political figures it is hosting.

The Special Envoy held talks with the Foreign Minister of Kuwait, stressing the importance of Arab unity to confront the crisis in Yemen, regional challenges and the problem of terrorism.  He also met with Yemeni politicians living in Cairo, as well as with Yemeni youth activists and civil society, whose support in achieving progress in the peace process is exceptional.  We have more details on his visit in our office.


The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is in Moscow where he attended the third annual aviation talks on 18 and 19 July.  The parties discussed the Secretary-General's initiative to enhance the cost-effectiveness of the UN’s aviation assets.  They agreed that the close cooperation of the Russian Federation and other Member States in providing new technologies and other cost‑effective solutions to the UN is a critical aspect of this overall effort.  The UN expressed appreciation for the Russian Federation’s strong commitment to the Organization’s aviation and to ensuring that UN air operators uphold aviation standards and international requirements.  The UN and the Russian Federation agreed to continue holding regular annual meetings, with the next one to take place in New York in 2018.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Prolonged dry weather has severely damaged crop production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea this year, threatening the food security of a large part of the population.  This is according to a new update by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Commission.  Rainfall in the main cereal-producing areas has been below the level it was in 2001, when production dropped to unprecedented levels.  Vincent Martin, FAO’s representative in China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that immediate interventions are needed to help farmers, as well as increasing food imports.  You can read more about this online.


The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has released a new report showing that for the first time the scales have tipped:  more than half of all people living with HIV now have access to treatment and AIDS-related deaths have almost been cut in half since 2005.  Provided that scale-up continues, this progress puts the world on track to reach the global target of 30 million people on treatment by 2020.  However, the report also shows that, globally, new HIV infections are declining, but not at the pace needed to meet global targets.  The region showing the most progress is eastern and southern Africa: since 2010, AIDS-related deaths there have declined by 42 per cent.  Eastern Europe and central Asia is the only region in the world where new infections and AIDS-related deaths are both rising.


Our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) today released a report that highlights the huge costs that are linked to poor humanitarian access, instability and inefficient food systems.  WFP has seen its costs spike by more than 140 per cent over the past seven years, from $2.2 billion in 2009 to $5.3 billion in 2015.  East and Central Africa and the Middle East and North Africa account for a staggering 70 per cent of WFP expenditure.  The report is available online.


I also want to flag the recent report on the global tobacco epidemic from the World Health Organization (WHO).  It finds that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas.  About 4.7 billion people — 63 per cent of the world’s population — are now covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, while only 15 per cent of the world’s population were covered in 2007.  However, the tobacco industry continues to hamper Government efforts to fully implement life- and cost-saving interventions.  The report is available online.


Tomorrow, at 10 a.m., in the General Assembly Hall, the Department of Public Information will host the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum for the 60 winners of its fourth annual essay contest.  These students will give presentations in the six official UN languages on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  They come from 27 countries and 57 universities around the world.  The event will be webcast in all official languages.

**Honour Roll

Today, we thank our friends in Cyprus, as they have paid their regular budget dues in full.  This payment takes the Honour Roll to a total of… 116.  You’re absolutely right.  Whitney, you get the first question, should you so want it.  Oh, Jehan.  Sorry.  Got confused.  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you more about the Gulf Crisis.  You know, we haven't talked about the report that came out, that UAE [United Arab Emirates] may have prompted the hacking that led to the Gulf Crisis.  Do you have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're aware of the media reports.  Regardless of the conditions that provoked the situation, what we want is to see a resolution, and we've been supportive of the various regional efforts that are being made.  There are some signs that different initiatives might be making progress, and we hope that that would be the case, but we'll continue with our own efforts to support and encourage any of the efforts involved in bringing the various Gulf Cooperation Council countries back together.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you.  Amnesty International has put out a report alleging in great detail torture in Cameroon of… in connection with the fight against Boko Haram, but saying… naming the places where it took place, saying that some of the… some of these bases are also used by international US  and French troops, so I wanted to know what's the response?  I've noticed that there is now a new Resident Coordinator, Allegra Maria Del Pilar Baiocchi.  Is there any response from the UN country team to… to this torture that's been taking place, whether from Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas or anyone else in the UN system?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're concerned about any allegations of human rights abuses and certainly, we hope that this particular report will be followed up by the authorities in Cameroon.

Question:  The authorities have responded today by saying that Amnesty International is working for Boko Haram and that the report is… they are not going to follow up on it, so I just wanted… I'm asking you because Mr. Chambas at the… at the stakeout recently when asked about the… the 97 Nigerians allegedly killed in the Bakassi Peninsula, said it was time to focus on bigger-ticket items, meaning the fight against Boko Haram.  So, is the UN actually in this fight against Boko Haram, taking note like… this is a detailed report of torture of suspects.  There's a journalist actually who's been sentenced to 10 years for reporting on the fight, Mr. Ahmed Abba.  So, I'm… I'm asking for a little bit… something less than generic in this.

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, any fight against terrorist entities, whether it's Boko Haram or anyone else, has to be accompanied hand in hand with respect for human rights.  We have made that very clear over and over again, that if basic human rights are not observed in a fight against terror entities and terrorism, the entire battle could be lost.  Part of what you're trying to do is make sure that the population themselves feel respected by the authorities under which they live.  And so it's our point of principle that human rights need to be respected throughout… by whatever authorities are conducting counterinsurgency or anti‑terror operations.  Yeah.  Yes, you?

Question:  Okay.  Farhan, you know the Security Council's meeting on Lebanon… resolution 1701 (2006) this afternoon, and as I'm sure you know, Israel has complained that the UN is essentially turning a blind eye to Hizbullah activity on the border of Lebanon and Israel.  Has… how does the Secretary-General respond to that?  Is there any evidence of violations taking place there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've been in contact with our colleagues in the [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] (UNIFIL), and they make very clear that they continue, in their area of operations, to conduct about 400 patrols each day.  They have not seen any sign of rearmament or armament of the factions in their area of operations, but they are… they do follow up on reports as they get them and they try to conduct patrols throughout that region.

Question:  So, point of clarification:  The main concern seems to be some outposts where Israel is being observed.  Would that, in your view, be a violation of [resolution 1701 (2006)], if such outposts occurred?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would just refer you back to the Secretary-General's report, and of course, Sigrid Kaag will also brief the Security Council in the afternoon.  You'll see how we describe the situation.  At this stage, you know, there's no major problems with the parties to report from… you know, from the basic reports, but, you know, she'll provide more details in the afternoon.  Yeah?

Question:  One follow-up on this and then another question.  So, these observation posts that are, according to Israel, are Hizbullah, and according to UNIFIL are a green… green eco-, pro-earth kind of organization, you maintain that this is the story?  This is… this is like a tree-planting operation?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that we've checked with UNIFIL, and they have said that they have not seen… observed any signs of violations in this particular case.  You know, they are conducting their patrols, they do not see a sign of a violation there.

Question:  Okay.  Just another question on the… on the topic you raised before, and that is the Temple Mount.  You said that… you called on everybody for calm and to not exacerbate the situation, words to that effect.  But, the issue there right now, as far as I understand it, is metal detectors, just like we have in the entrance to this hallowed building.  Israel wants to install them after it found some weapons being smuggled into the compound.  Does the UN have any opinion on whether that will exacerbate the situation as the Palestinians say, or whether it will actually increase the security as the Israelis are saying?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would leave it at what Mr. Mladenov said in a statement as he made clear.  He appreciated the Israeli Prime Minister's commitment to uphold and respect the status quo of the holy sites.  We believe it's important that the status quo that we've had in place be maintained at all holy sites so that worshipers can freely have access to them.

Question:  So, do… so do metal detectors violate the status quo?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said as much as I'm going to say on that.  Yes, Anna?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two main questions.  One is about human rights violations in Turkey.  It's been reported that the sixth person has been detained, just being a human rights observer, German citizen.  Before that, the Amnesty International local head was detained in Turkey and these people are being held in jails, and the judiciary is dealing with them as they please and even German foreign minister spoke against it and said these kinds of actions have to have their response from the international community, while the Turkish Government rebuffs it by saying that you cannot interfere with our judiciary.  What is the UN's take on this?  Like, can any other country's judiciary detain other citizens or even their own citizens and behave like this without being accountable for their actions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've had our concerns about the recent treatment, particularly of human rights activists in Turkey.  One of the points the UN human rights office made last week was that it had received reports of the detention of eight Turkish and two international human rights defenders and experts.  And the concern that the human rights office has is that anti-terror legislation is being abused to oppress individuals trying to exercise peacefully their civil and political rights.  And the office also makes clear that it has grave concerns about all arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Turkey and it urges the Turkish Government to ensure that they can carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear.

Question:  And my second question, if you'll let me.  It's about ostracising of Qatar.  Ambassador Alya al-Thani mentioned here at the UN that it's enough to wear, for example, an FC Barcelona T-shirt or Paris Saint-Germain, and just taking into consideration these clubs’ financial ties to Qatar, these people can be targeted for wearing these T-shirts.  That's a ridiculous point to which it got.  And what is the UN's attitude towards all these ultimatums that are being given to Qatar by the neighbouring Arab States, and especially the pressure to close Al Jazeera and not let free speech to… to be substantial?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding your Al Jazeera colleagues, we've made clear in the past the need to respect freedom of the press and of the media and that continues to be our point of principle on that.  Regarding the situation overall, what we're hopeful for again is that the regional efforts to mediate among the nations will bear fruit, and we've been encouraging those efforts.  Yes, Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I just want to ask if you are aware and have any comments on media reports that the US President decided to end the CIA programme to train moderate Syrian opposition?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We're aware of the reports, but we don't have any particular comment on this.  On Syria, as you know, our focus remains on the efforts… the diplomatic efforts by the Special Envoy, Mr. Staffan de Mistura.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  In the ongoing protests in the Rif Region of Morocco, there's a large protest today by which the Government has responded to by blocking roads, trying to block entry by sea, slowing down the Internet.  And so, I just wanted to know… I know this has come up and at one point, Stéphane [Dujarric] said that there may be something coming down.  Given that, in fact, the protests are growing and the oppression and the number of people locked up has grown, has the Department of Public… excuse me, Political Affairs or the Secretariat taken any note of this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, we take note of this and I'll check with them about any response.

Question:  And did you get… I… I tried to ask yesterday as you left.  I had asked you two days ago I think, whether… whether you had confirmed receipt by [the Department of Political Affairs] and [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] of a communication by Frente Polisario about this… these arrests now reported in three countries' media of people coming over the berm into Western Sahara, where you have a peacekeeping mission.  Have you received that?  And what's the…?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of this.  The thing about that is that the [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] (MINURSO), does not have any sort of civilian law enforcement role.  We don't have any mandate to have access to these individuals, and they have not had access to them.

Question:  Okay.  And do you… and I wanted to ask you one other thing.  Yesterday, in the ongoing Ng Lap Seng trial, I know that you… you're not… you won't comment obviously on guilt or innocence.  But, shown on the screen and handed to the jurors was a business card of Francis Lorenzo saying "Special Adviser to the President of The General Assembly" with a UN email address “@un.org”.  And so, since I was never aware… he was the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic throughout the whole period; he was the head of South-South News.  I wanted to know how does one get… how… how are “un.org” email addresses given out?  Is it appropriate that a sitting, currently serving diplomat would have one?  And what are… this is… this is a purely UN question, in which, found among the possessions of Ng Lap Seng at the time he was arrested, was this business card of Francis Lorenzo with a UN email address.  So, even… either… answer how you can, but I would like you to confirm that… I know that it's past, maybe it's been cancelled, did Mr. Francis Lorenzo, who's pled guilty to bribery, have a un.org email address?  And if so, what's the explanation for it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I wouldn't have any comment to make about his business cards or what's on them.  That's really up to him as an individual.  Regarding the question of email addresses, different advisers to UN bodies have “un.org” addresses.  That's the general point.  I wouldn't be able to specifically determine how… you know, what his email address was, whether he had one in the past.

Question:  I mean, the UN [Office of the President of the General Assembly] can give it… there could be “NgLapSeng@un.org” and you would have no concerns with that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's a bizarre hypothetical.

Question:  Why?

Deputy Spokesman:  There was no UN role for Ng Lap Seng.

Correspondent:  He's pled guilty.  The other guy said he's innocent.

Deputy Spokesman:  He had no UN employment.  That’s been clear through the start.

Question:  But neither did Francis Lorenzo.  That's why I'm asking you.  He had… can you… can you ask… look in your records whether there was a “francislorenzo@un.org” email address?

Deputy Spokesman:  The records of the President of the General Assembly are not our records in the Secretariat.  You would have to ask the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  That's their business, and I believe that that's one of the facts that will come up in the courts.

Question:  But doesn't IT keep track of who has a un.org email address, so that this type of thing, in court, doesn't come up?

Deputy Spokesman:  All of these matters are matters being dealt with by the court and we'll let them handle that.  Yes, Anna?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Farhan.  I had two more questions.  One is about Thailand.  A human-trafficking ring was discovered very recently, and it was very high-profile because military men and famous businessmen were involved in that.  Mass graves, horrible sights, you know, lots of innocent lives lost.  Is the UN monitoring this situation?  Is there a mechanism of accountability and preventability of these kinds of crimes, especially on such a high level?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there are several offices that deal with the question of human trafficking in different ways.  Those include the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), [the United Nations Children’s Fund] (UNICEF), because of the trafficking issues of the trafficking of children, and you also have also the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, and so they look at different aspects of the situation.

Question:  But, no specific group was organized just for this Thailand case, right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not specifically for this case, but all of them would be apprised of this, yes.

Correspondent:  And the second question is on the situation in Yemen.  We know this conflict that is taking innocent lives every minute.  So, the UN usually publishes a list of shame in August, like a list of countries who especially are, you know, at fault of terrible crimes, especially like children dead or maimed or civilians, and so on and so forth.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Your colleague asked about this yesterday, when the report is coming out.  I expect it to be in early September.

Question:  Yes, my question would be an addendum to that.  After this report comes out, is there some kind of mechanism of accountability?  Are there any sanctions, any measures, anything that the UN puts on these people… on these countries on this list of shame to… to… you know, account for their actions?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Office of the Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict follows up with all Member States to make sure that there's an ongoing dialogue, so that, in order for them to get off that list, they need to take certain actions, and then that is part of the process that we have.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.