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

26 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.

**Central African Republic

Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on the Central African Republic:  The Secretary‑General condemns the killing of two peacekeepers of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) on 25 July in Bangassou.  This incident brings to nine the number of peacekeepers killed in service in Bangassou since the beginning of the year.  The Secretary‑General offers his condolences and sympathy to the bereaved families and to the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco.  He urges the Central African authorities to swiftly investigate this and all previous killings without delay and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Secretary‑General is deeply concerned at the fighting in the south‑east of the Central African Republic, heightened inter‑ethnic tensions and efforts by spoilers to derail the stabilization process in the country.  If allowed to continue, the prevailing situation risks undermining the hard‑won gains achieved towards lasting peace.  The Secretary‑General calls on all parties to cease violence and to take action to avoid a further deterioration of the fragile security situation in the country.


Special Envoy Michel Kafando briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Burundi, including his recent visit to the country and to Tanzania.  He said that the authorities in Burundi and the opposition have diverging views on the political situation in the country, in a difficult socio‑economic context.  The security situation has improved since the beginning of the year, he added.  Mr. Kafando said it was imperative for the Government to agree to an inclusive dialogue with the opposition.  He called for collective action by African leaders, in solidarity with the United Nations, to support such a dialogue.  All our efforts must be directed to support regional ones, especially those of former President [Benjamin] Mkapa and the Government of Tanzania, he stressed.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, announced today the appointment of Bacre Ndiaye from Senegal, Luc Côté from Canada and Fatimata M’Baye from Mauritania as international experts on the situation in the Kasai regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The establishment of the international team of experts was mandated by a UN Human Rights Council resolution adopted last month.  High Commissioner Zeid will present an oral update on the situation in the Kasaïs to the Human Rights Council in March 2018, and a comprehensive report on the team’s findings will be presented in June.  More details are available on the Office of the High Commissioner’s website.


The heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have wrapped up a joint mission to Yemen, where they saw first‑hand the scale of the humanitarian crisis there.  They said that Yemen is facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak in the midst of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with vital infrastructure having been damaged or destroyed.

In the last three months, there have been 400,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 1,900 associated deaths, while the country is on the brink of famine.  More than 60 per cent of the population do not know where their next meal will come from.  Nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, making them more susceptible to cholera.  The officials said they visited a hospital where they met with children who could barely gather the strength to breathe.  In their meetings with Yemeni leaders in both Aden and Sana’a, they called on them to give humanitarian workers access to areas affected by fighting and urged them — more than anything — to find a peaceful political solution to the conflict.


Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, wrapped up a three‑day visit to Iraq, where she met with senior officials and ministers from the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as with members of the international and humanitarian communities, and Yazidi community representatives.  She also visited people who have been uprooted from their homes.  In Mosul, Ms. Mueller saw first‑hand the complete devastation of districts in the old city, saying that countless tragedies remain untold among the rubble.  She commended the achievements of the humanitarian operation in Iraq as well as the impressive national response, spotlighting the exceptional level of cooperation between national counterparts, UN agencies and front‑line non-governmental organizations.  You can read more in a press release online.


Yesterday, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, and the Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, visited the Palestine refugee camp of Ein el Hilweh.  They met with representatives and residents of the camp, including women and youth groups, and visited UNRWA installations and other areas in the Camp.  Ms. Kaag and Mr. Cordone underlined the need for calm and stability, allowing residents to go about their daily lives without fear of violence.  They welcomed the measures taken by the Palestinian joint security forces and the cooperation with the Lebanese military and security agencies to improve the security situation in the camp.  More than 57,000 Palestine refugees are registered by UNRWA as living in Ein el Hilweh.


The Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, that he has held a wide range of meetings following the Crans‑Montana conference earlier this month.  Last week in New York, he briefed the Security Council and met with the Secretary‑General, the guarantor Powers and other diplomats, while this week, he has held talks with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.  Mr. Eide said that following the Conference on Cyprus, the two sides are in a period of reflection.  He noted that he remains convinced that the best chance for a mutually agreed solution in Cyprus is through the established United Nations parameters.  You can read his full statement online.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has developed new guidelines aimed at helping countries develop strong National Forest Monitoring Systems.  To fulfil their pledges under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, countries are expected to collect more detailed forestry data, which enables them to adopt evidence‑based policies and practices.  This not only includes information on the size and growth or decline of their forests, but also key aspects of sustainable forest management, such as the role of forests in the conservation of biodiversity and forests' contribution to livelihoods and poverty reduction.  In 2010, only 45 countries worldwide were able to assess changes in forest area and characteristics through consecutive systematic national forest inventories, suggesting a serious gap in information. That is it for me.  I am ready for your questions.  Yes, Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I have other things but I just wanted… can you confirm that a German helicopter, one or more, have crashed in Mali, as was said here today and also seems to have been said by the mission, and what does the UN know about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, in terms of the details we have confirmed, we can confirm that an attack helicopter, the [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] (MINUSMA), with a crew of two personnel, crashed earlier this morning south of Tabankort in Gao region.  The mission has dispatched immediately a security and medical team on the site.

Question:  It was a German attack helicopter?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, we're still verifying details from the Mission including possible casualties, cause of the incident, and other details.  We'll try and get further details as the Mission goes.  Part of the problem is that the helicopter was monitoring confrontations on the ground, and so the crash site has had to be secured before the team could get access.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, Farhan, a video emerged on YouTube showing [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi's men… President Hadi's men torturing four prisoners of war in Taiz area.  That was about a week ago it was dated, and surprisingly we haven't heard anything from the Human Rights Council or from United Nations regarding that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, of course, we would need to make sure that all the parties investigate any reports of atrocities, including this one.  It's up to them at the first instance to do that, but, of course, we have called on all parties to abide by all international humanitarian and human rights laws, and that would also include the need to follow up and investigate such incidents thoroughly.

Question:  How about the reports about the torture in jails in Hadramawt area which are manned by United Arab Emirates special forces or special units?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, all the other forces, including coalition forces, also need to abide by international and humanitarian human rights laws.  Where there are allegations against them, those would need to be investigated by the responsible parties.  That it?  Yeah?

Question:  Couple more.  One is just on Cyprus, you may have… I wanted to know if there's any comment from either Mr. Eide or the Secretary‑General about moves by Cyprus to release the minutes of the five‑hour dinner in Crans‑Montana.  The President of Cyprus has said, because of Mr. Eide's representation of what took place, they're releasing them, and I wanted to know what the UN thinks about that.

Deputy Spokesman:  That remains hypothetical.  Obviously, from our part, we take the diplomatic process very seriously.  We intend to keep private the diplomatic correspondence and conversations that are meant to be conducted that way, and we trust that the parties will do the same.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding Syria, I was wondering if you could share with us any new developments or the status of humanitarian efforts there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there are a lot of different humanitarian efforts that have been going on.  We've provided sporadic updates.  The latest information we have, for example, we have been concerned about the closures of the Bab al‑Hawa border crossing.  We've received reports that that crossing is open again as of today, and that would be a step forward since that's been closed since 19 July during… due to insecurity in the Governorate of Idlib.  Yes, you?

Question:  Yes.  With the fighting going on in the mountains of Arsal in the east of Lebanon, is there any attempt by United Nations to see about the Syrian refugees there?  How is the fighting affecting them?  And how does United Nations view the defeat of Al-Nusra by the Lebanese forces, in this regard?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we believe that it's important for all the parties in the region to make sure that extremist groups do not advance their causes.  Having said that, we want to make sure that all the operations are conducted in a manner that is in conformity with international humanitarian and human rights law, and the operations in Arsal should be seen in that light.

Question:  Have you noticed any exodus by the refugees from that area and towards Syria?  There was some… some movement in the past, but recently after the fighting, has there been any unusual movement?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is keeping track of that.  It would have any concerns if there's the forced movement of people back into Syria without their will.  But, it's monitoring the situation, and we'll see where we go from there.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about the town hall meeting and then some things about the Ng Lap Seng case.  One is… and I just… maybe you can get the response now, or maybe the Secretary‑General will be making one later.  There was a detailed complaint about race discrimination in the UN, and person raised this case about… from Habitat of Joan Clos and the quote that was given about something… well, I won't get into the quote, but there was a detailed quote.  It was said for a long time that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] looking into it.  Since it was raised in this town hall meeting, it wasn't clear to me that the Secretary‑General was aware of the case.  Can you get his response?  He said that he's concerned about the issue, but whatever happened in that case, given that it has now been raised in that forum?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he is concerned about that issue.  As we have said in the past, this is something that is being looked into by the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and we’ll leave it at that.

Question:  Is it finished?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, it's ongoing.

Question:  The other thing is about the pen… and there were other things… but the Pension Fund, since it's coming right up, there's a meeting in Vienna of the Pension Fund board.  And the complaint was made that at least two staff representatives are not being seated by the CEO of the Pension Fund, who said he will not seat anyone that's actually a staff member of the Pension Fund, even though that's not currently the rule.  So, the Secretary‑General was asked to, you know, act on that so people aren't disenfranchised, and he seemed to say he doesn't know if he has the power or not.  Could you find out if he does act on that or if he doesn't have the power, why he doesn't have the power?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't speak for the CEO of the Pension Fund.  The Secretary‑General has a representative on the Pension Fund, and that is Carolyn Boykin, and she will take forward any concerns that we have.

Question:  And can you confirm that that post is actually now being put up under a vacancy announcement, as seems to have been said today?

Deputy Spokesman:  That post is being advertised, but at present, Ms. Boykin remains on the post.  Yes, you?

Question:  A follow-up on the German plane that crashed in Mali.  Do you have any details on what time the crash happened today?  And you said that they were monitoring confrontations on the ground.  Do you have any details of what… what they were?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, their regular work is to monitor different confrontations as they arise.  So there was some problems in Tabankort.  And like I said, there had to be a let-up in some of that fighting in order to give us access to the crash site.

Question:  Can you describe how is the situation in Hodeidah, the seaport?  Is it functioning as usual, or is there any hampering of the shipments?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we continue to have our concerns about Hodeidah and the situation there.  As you know, there have been some tensions in that area.  And we have called for that port to remain open, given its importance.  At this point, it remains functional, but our concerns remain.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, it’s now… things are definitely coming to an end in the trial.  But, things that come up that are not going to be addressed by a verdict one way or another are for… are… I wanted to ask you about them.  One is, introduced yesterday as part of one of the summations was basically Francis Lorenzo getting what I believe to be a current UN staff member.  Meena Sur, to work on Ng Lap Seng's presentation for this conference center that's now obviously been, you know, discredited and is the subject of the trial.  But, what I wanted to know is, given that the person… she may have worked for Mr. [Ian] Botnaru.  I don’t think she worked for the Office of South‑South Cooperation.  Can you find in what capacity was this work for the Ng Lap Seng conference center done by UN staff?  And two, what was ever done… I didn't see it mentioned in the audit.  I haven't seen anything about that.  Was the UN aware of that, until this was presented, and if they weren't, what are they going to do, because it's right there in black and white?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I've said in the past, I don't have any details to share about this case as the trial is ongoing.  All the details will come out in the course of the trial process, and we're cooperating with authorities on that.

Question:  Right.  But, I guess what I'm saying is that… I think you know this… that the only thing the jury is going to decide is whether Ng Lap Seng is guilty of six counts of bribery or not.  That's the only thing they're deciding.  They're not deciding about Meena Sur, Yiping Zao, any of that.  So, I guess what I'm asking is:  What does the UN, which says it wants to reform itself and close these loopholes, going to do about extraneous facts that come out that will not be acted on by the jury or the prosecution, given the UN's immunity?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have followed up as information came out last year, and we'll continue to follow up if there's any further relevant information.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  On Aleppo, well, Aleppo has been retaken for some time now.  How is the rebuilding or reconstruction?  Is there any return of inhabitants to the areas which were badly affected by the conflict?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're hoping that we can facilitate a greater amount of returns as the situation there returns more gradually to normalcy.  Obviously, the fighting ended only very recently, so it may be early to… for people to return.  But, as security is restored to the area, we're hopeful that that will happen.  But, it will take a longer-term perspective before we can get a reconstruction and rebuilding of the area.

Question:  Do you have people in Aleppo itself monitoring what's happening there?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have a humanitarian presence there and in the region.

Question:  Is there any aid being distributed at this time?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We've given periodic updates of our aid throughout Syria, including to Aleppo.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.