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

21 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.

**Sri Lanka

Yesterday afternoon, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka:  The Secretary-General commends the Government of Sri Lanka for establishing the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a significant milestone for all Sri Lankans still searching for the truth about their missing loved ones.

The United Nations stands ready to support this process and the Secretary-General looks forward to the OMP becoming operational as soon as possible, starting with the appointment of the independent commissioners.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien today wrapped up his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

With 3.8 million people internally displaced, the DRC is today the African country most affected by internal displacement.

While the UN and NGOs have traditionally operated in the eastern part of the country, the past 12 months have seen a surge in needs in the central region of Kasai.

Mr. O’Brien has visited some of the communities most affected by the massive humanitarian crisis, including in Kasai, where a year of conflict has led to serious human rights abuses and displaced 1.4 million people.

The complex, multi-layered crisis is affecting half of the country’s 26 provinces, while the appeal for [$813] million that was launched earlier this year has so far received less than 25 per cent of funding.  A press release covering the visit will be released later today.

**Yemen

Earlier this week, we spoke from here about the aerial attack on the embattled Mawza district of Yemen’s Taizz governorate.

The UN Human Rights Office said today that it is believed that Tuesday’s airstrike by the Arab Coalition Forces destroyed a makeshift house, killing all three families believed to have been inside it at the time.  The attack is believed to have killed at least 18 civilians, including ten children and two women.

The Human Rights Office stresses that attacks targeting civilians or civilian objects or indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law.  It also reminds all parties to the conflict, including the Coalition, of their duty to ensure full respect for international humanitarian law and to respect their obligations under international human rights law.

The Office calls on the relevant authorities to carry out a comprehensive and impartial investigation into this incident.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that between 27 April and 19 July, there have been 368,207 suspected cholera cases and 1,828 deaths in Yemen, which is facing the world’s largest outbreak of the disease.

Every day, 5,000 Yemenis are falling ill with symptoms of acute watery diarrhoea or cholera.

WHO and its partners are working to help treat those affected and to reduce the further spread of cholera, including through scaling up access to clean water and sanitation, setting up treatment centres, training health workers, reinforcing surveillance and working with communities on prevention.

WHO stresses that the cholera outbreak is far from being under control, with the rainy season having begun and possibly increasing the pace of transmission.

WHO and its partners have provided more than 800,000 bags of IV fluids, among other supplies and medicines.  You can read more about this in the Geneva briefing notes.

**CARICOM

The ninth General Meeting of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and Associated Institutions and the United Nations system will close this afternoon.

The Secretary-General and CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque addressed the meeting during yesterday's opening session.  The Secretary-General expressed appreciation for CARICOM’s contributions to the United Nations for key issues such as climate change.

This year’s meeting is notable as, among other things, it marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the decision of the General Assembly to grant the Caribbean Community observer status at the United Nations.

**Pakistan

In Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today welcomed the launch of a programme to register undocumented Afghans living in the country, which are estimated to be around 600,000 to one million people.

The programme is the result of three years of consultations between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and UNHCR.  It will provide undocumented Afghans with citizen cards protecting them from arbitrary arrests, and extend the validity of registration cards to some 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees.

The programme will be carried out in all of Pakistan’s provinces by 16 August with the support of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR.

**AIDS

Regarding AIDS, the World Health Organization alerts countries to the increasing trend of resistance to HIV drugs detailed in a report based on national surveys conducted in several countries.

This growing threat could undermine global progress in treating and preventing HIV infection if early and effective action is not taken.

The WHO HIV drug resistance report 2017 shows that in 6 of the 11 countries surveyed in Africa, Asia and Latin America, over 10 per cent of people starting antiretroviral therapy had a strain of HIV that was resistant to some of the most widely used HIV medicines.

Once the threshold of 10 per cent has been reached, WHO recommends those countries urgently review their HIV treatment programmes.  The report is available online.

And that’s all I have got.  Do you have any questions for me?  Yes, Masood, yes.

***Questions and Answers 

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, on this situation in Yemen, which is basically all a man-made crisis and at this point in time it's absolutely turning into a devastating tragedy of unimaginable proportions.  Does the United Nations Secretary‑General or any United Nations body has, besides of course helping the Yemenis to mitigate this crisis, has the Secretary‑General thought about instituting crimes against humanity against the coalition, which led this country into this crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, what the Secretary‑General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been stressing is the need for accountability on all human rights violations and believe it needs to be carried out initially by all the parties to make sure that international humanitarian and human rights law is respected, but if there needs to be any further follow‑up, we will consider that.  Yes, Jehan first.

Question:  All right, so talking about, asking about Jerusalem, we are hearing now that at least three people have been killed in clashes surrounding the latest developments around al‑Aqsa Mosque, do you have anything to add since yesterday?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are certainly concerned about the reported violence and we are trying to get the latest figures from our colleagues on the ground.  You will have seen what Nickolay Mladenov has said and the need by all sides to avoid escalating tensions and to avoid any steps that lead to further violence.  Mr. Mladenov has appreciated the stated commitment by the Israeli Prime Minister to preserve the status quo at the holy sites and we hope that that will be honored.

Question:  So I just have just a small follow‑up, because I haven't heard the issue now is regarding the metal detectors and obviously I understand the metal detectors were put in response to previous violence, and what is your position regarding these measures that could be interpreted as changing the status quo?  And do you consider the metal detectors a change in the status quo?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, what is important is for all of the people at the holy sites, including all the worshippers at the holy sites, to feel that their religious liberties are being respected.  Obviously, this is a complex issue.  We do understand legitimate security concerns but, on the other hand, it is important that the status quo at the sites be retained.  So, this is part of a discussion and we certainly hope that the various parties on the ground will treat each other's concern with sensitivity as they resolve this issue.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Whenever an occupation soldier is killed in the West Bank or in the al‑Aqsa Mosque, the Secretary‑General is quick to condemn the killing and considers or labels it as a terrorist attack, whereas a child today, a seven‑year‑old, was killed by a settler sniper in the vicinity of the mosque and, of course, we did not hear any condemnation or even unless we asked, this wouldn't have been mentioned in this briefing.  Why is this double standard in dealing with the Palestinian blood and the Israeli blood?

Deputy Spokesman:  Either side accuses us of this, depending upon our concerns for one side or the other.  We are concerned about all of the violence against all of the people and we deplore any violence that harms anyone, including this child.  What we need to do, though, is to study the situation and see what is the most helpful step forward.  And for some issues like this, issues of great sensitivity, it's hard to tell right away what is the best response to an immediate action.  Obviously, we want all sides to avoid any steps that could lead to further violence, that could lead to further tensions.  How they will deal with each other is a complex issue, but Mr. Mladenov and his colleagues on the ground are studying it.  You would have seen he did issue a statement on this yesterday and if there are follow‑up statements that need to be issued we will take that in due consideration.

Question:  Follow‑up.

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on, yes, the question.  Yes, Mustafa?

Question:  So are you condemning the killing today?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously we are very concerned about the death of anyone.  We need to find out more details about what has happened, but the death of anyone, including the very young and people who are simply gathered to worship, is deplorable.  Yes?

Question:  Just to follow up: al‑Aqsa Mosque has been subject to many attacks since occupation, once it was burnt altogether, incinerated by settlers, and when every now and then, the settlers attack the worshippers, the security, the Israeli security also attack worshippers and this is systematic.  Shouldn’t the Secretary‑General call for something, a protection to this area if he wants the status quo to remain as it is?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, at the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem there is a role for Israel, there is a role played by Jordan.  We, of course, respect the work that the parties have done to try to make sure that the holy sites are preserved and that people have access to them and we hope that the status quo, as the parties such as the Israelis and the Jordanians are handling the situation, can be maintained.

Question:  One last questions. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on; there are a number of questions on the same topic.  You and then Edie.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General consider what is happening today and in the last few days as a threat towards international peace and security, since this is a very sensitive area which can incinerate the whole region?

Deputy Spokesman:  We want the parties to be able to deal with this and to de-escalate the situation, so that there is no threat to anyone there.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you tell us why the Secretary‑General cancelled his meeting with Venezuela's Foreign Minister today?

Deputy Spokesman:  Unfortunately, the Secretary‑General had to cancel all of his appointments for today because of a family matter that rose up, so he is not in the office today.  He will return and be back in the office as of Monday.

Question:  Is the Venezuelan Foreign Minister going to see anyone else?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, he will see the Chef de Cabinet in the Secretary‑General's absence.  Yes?

Question:  And do you know what time that is?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe it's the same time it was scheduled for the Secretary‑General and so it should be happening, I believe, right now.

Question:  Farhan, the appeal for 308 million for reproductive health services and programs and gender‑based violence in Sierra, Iraq, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen and only received 23 per cent of what is needed.  Do you have any comments about the shortfall or/and funding and do you think is it related to the US funding cuts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, there is any number of countries who sometimes have problems trying to contribute to our appeals.  We have spoken out about the problems when there is a perception of donor fatigue; but, as you know, there is a huge number of UN appeals, some of them get funded reasonably well, others do not, but these are the numbers.  In all these cases, these are the numbers that are our essential needs and we try to push, to make sure that they will be fully funded.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Going back to what is happening in Jerusalem, a while ago there was a request for international production force from the Palestinians, there was some sort of a discussion on that; and do you think what is happening now, it is a sign that there should be some protection force over there?  And also does the Secretary‑General think there is a need for more diplomatic intervention, since the issue does not resolve by itself, it's getting worse by every day?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of an international protection force, that is really a question for the members of the Security Council.  Any such force would need to have a Security Council mandate and it’s for them to consider.  Regarding the issue of diplomacy, the Secretary‑General and the UN have been, as you know, at the forefront of efforts to try to have diplomatic solutions to the problems that the region faces.  As you know, there is a group, the Quartet, which ties together the US, the Russian Federation, the European Union, and the United Nations, and the Quartet has continued with its own efforts to try to see what can be done to help the situation.  At the end of the day, as the Secretary‑General and others have stressed, what is important is for the parties themselves to be willing to talk to each other.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  A number of things, but just on the Secretary‑General, does this mean that the reform retreat, the location of which you wouldn't disclose, is itself also cancelled or postponed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  And will you say when it will be redone?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's postponed until Thursday, until next Thursday.

Question:  Okay, thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask first on what you said, the statement on Sri Lanka and I asked you a couple days ago about Ben Emmerson's findings of continued mass torture in the country and I didn't really hear much of a response.  What is the relationship between this statement, praising the Government for a forward going action and what was just found as to actual torture and what is the relationship of this statement to Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman's visit to the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Part of the point is that Mr. Feltman does intend to follow up and make sure that we can get the Government of Sri Lanka to move forward on issues, including issues of human rights concern.  This was a major rights concern, the issue of missing persons, and we have been pressing on this for about a year and a half, so the establishment of this office is a welcome step forward.  It's not the only step forward.  As Mr. Emmerson points out, there are concerns on the ground but not enough progress has been made on human rights, and so these are some of the issues that Mr. Feltman will be talking about with the leaders while he is there.

Question:  What is this, I guess maybe relatedly and to move it along, I'm sure you have seen the published reports that when Mr. Jenca, Miroslav Jenca, went to Myanmar he was, quote, snubbed, unable to meet with any high officials.  Do you deny that?  Who did he meet with there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Jenca, actually the report was inaccurate in a number of ways — Mr. Jenca told us, in fact, he was there as you know for the Panglong conference and as part of that, in the evening at the dinner to the Panglong conference, he did, in fact, meet with Aung San Suu Kyi somewhat briefly, but he also had longer meetings with several other minister-level officials, so the idea they didn't meet with him is simply not true.

Question:  Okay.  And yesterday I asked you about the then taking place protest in al‑Hussein in the Rif region of Morocco and you said you would look into it and see if there has been a statement.  Since then, it has been reported all over the world that the Government used tear gas and a man in a coma and I'm wondering, did you check and what is the UN's statement on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we asked our colleagues in the Department for Political Affairs (DPA).  If there is any response I'll share it with you.  Please, Nizar and the Masood, Nizar first and then you.

Question:  Along with the Yemen attack on Taizz, the wedding in Sana’a was attacked more than a year ago and hundreds of people perished in that attack and hundreds and many hundreds injured.  What kind of investigation has been done so far in order for these people, who really suffered a lot and many dead as a result?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have asked the authorities themselves to investigate any of the atrocities that have been occurring, including that one.

Question:  I have not heard of any real team going and investigating that; authorities — which authorities do you mean?

Deputy Spokesman:  The authorities on the ground, that it's their ultimate responsibility to investigate any atrocities or violations of international humanitarian human rights law.

Question:  You mean they did not come up with any results of what happened to them?

Deputy Spokesman:  You would have to ask them.  Thank you.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  On this Middle East and Israeli situation, the Middle East Quartet has done nothing, except to, what do you call it, second guess other situations as it is, and is it ever going to take an initiative to bring the parties to talk, because it has not succeeded in doing anything so far, and its existence as it is is very tenuous.  Do you think it should exist?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Quartet does exist and has been in existence for some time.  And it's useful in bringing together different parties which in earlier years had sometimes been at a crossroads with each other in terms of how to deal with this situation.  This is a platform which helps them to unite and forge common positions and, contrary to what you said, they have had many different statements that express their own common positions on the way forward.  Success and failure, in this case, it's a long time coming.  As you know, in recent years, the biggest problem has been bringing the parties together, but the Quartet is part of that effort.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you first in Burundi, the Reporters Sans Frontieres put out a statement today about the reporter Jean Bigirimana, who went missing a year ago.  It's a very high-profile case in the country; I'm just wondering, given that now there is a new envoy, has the UN followed up in any way on the disappearance of Owacu’s main correspondent, allegedly in Government hands?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, our human rights mechanisms have expressed their own concerns about the treatment of this and other cases of harassment of journalists and of the media and our concerns remain.

Question:  And I wanted to ask today in the Ng Lap Seng case downtown, the bookkeeper of South‑South News presented on the screen a number of Excel spreadsheets of payments; and I want to do this delicately, would the UN be concerned if the now part of the evidence in the case, payment records of South‑South News showed current, recent and in some cases revolving UN staff and consultants on the payroll?  Would that be of concern and if so who in the UN is actually tracking this case?  Because that's not the purpose of the case, the Government is not going to make a finding one way or another, but these evidences are going in, so who is actually tracking the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are UN people on different days who are testifying in the case and they are monitoring this.  I don't have anything further to say about the case at this stage as it's ongoing.

Question:  There was one guy who testified and he was there for two hours and he claimed immunity as to himself.  I guess I'm asking you would it be of concern, so just rather than who is monitoring the case, would this be of concern to the UN, is the UN, has it closed the books on its own responsibilities and links to the case after those audits or are they, in fact, monitoring what is coming out in the case?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are, in fact, monitoring what is coming out on the case.  Yes?

Question:  On Yemen, when Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed presented his recent report on this situation there, he condemned the attack on the United Arab Emirates vessel near Bab al-Mandab and opposite Maha, and he had not mentioned whether that vessel was civilian or military.  Have you established whether it's civilian or military?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you back to the statement issued by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed that states what his position is on this.  If there are any further details, he will share those with the Security Council.

Question:  Right now I mean we should have… I asked that question that same day, and it's more than two weeks now, they should have established by now whether it is civilian or…

Deputy Spokesman:  If there is any further information for him to share, he will share with Council.  Hold on, yes. Hold on, Masood.

Question:  On this, Stéphane?

Deputy Spokesman:  You know, it's still Farhan.

Question:  Farhan, I'm so sorry. 

Deputy Spokesman:  No problem.

Question:  Continuing on Yemen, has the Secretary‑General or any of the high official of the United Nation had any talks with the Saudi’s coalition to fund the immense cost of cholera epidemic which is now devastating the country, absolutely destroying the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are reaching out to all nations, but also including the nations in the region to make sure that our cholera efforts are funded.

Question:  But this is a country, these are the coalition voices which launched the attack unprovoked.  They should be held responsible for what the situation that they have created.  So has the Secretary‑General, I mean, in the past, the Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, let Saudi Arabia off the hook by not including it on the list of the nations performing these human rights violations in this region; what is he going to do now to, what do you call, bring Saudi Arabia and these countries to account for?

Deputy Spokesman:  When it comes to our appeals we want all nations to contribute.  Certainly, countries in the region and their own efforts to contribute to the cholera appeal would be appreciated.  Yes?

Question:  And Save the Children Organization has called for Mr. [António] Guterres to put Saudi Arabia on list of shame again, which was unlisted from last year.  Is he going to respond positively to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the list and the report, those are still being worked on by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  We expect the report to come out sometime around September.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.