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

31 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Central African Republic

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in the Central African Republic today, where he met with President Faustin Touadéra, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and engaged with the President of the National Assembly, the religious platform, representatives of civil society, and the diplomatic corps.  He said the political dialogue must be strengthened and it is necessary to prioritize the implementation of the ceasefire that was agreed upon in Rome on 20 June.

Upon arrival in Bangui yesterday, he noted that the gains made in recent years are at risk and that we must redouble our efforts to ensure that Central Africans return to the path of peace and prosperity and stability.  Mr. Lacroix also met with the staff of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and paid tribute to the three peacekeepers killed during attacks by alleged anti-Balaka fighters in Bangassou last week.  Mr. Lacroix is expected to leave the Central African Republic today and proceed on to South Sudan, and we will update you as his travels go on.

**Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, today expressed his deepest condolences following the deaths of Ugandan soldiers serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in an ambush by Al-Shabaab militants in the Lower Shabelle region yesterday.  Mr. Keating paid tribute to AMISOM troops who have made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of a more peaceful and prosperous future for Somalia, reaffirming the UN’s solidarity with the people and Government of Uganda as they mourn the loss of their compatriots.  The full statement is online.

**Afghanistan

From Kabul, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned today’s suicide attack against the embassy of Iraq in the Afghan capital.  The attack was reportedly five hours long, with two Afghan civilian employees inside the embassy killed.  The Mission said that this is yet another attack that appears to have targeted the international community, but in which Afghan civilians bore the brunt of the violence.  Diplomatic missions are protected under international humanitarian law, and attacks directed at them are serious violations that may amount to war crimes.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned for the safety and protection of thousands of civilians trapped inside Raqqa city in Syria as the fighting and military operations in the area continue.  The health conditions in Raqqa are reportedly rapidly deteriorating, with people at risk of epidemic diseases such as cholera and hepatitis.  An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people have been trapped inside the city without access to clean and safe drinking water for 48 days.  There is also a serious lack of medicine and medical facilities.  Some people trapped in the city who do not have access to water from the Euphrates River have resorted to extracting water from ground wells, which has not been tested and may be contaminated.

Yesterday, a UN/Syria Arab Red Crescent (SARC) inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered assistance for 7,200 people in the besieged town of Nashabiyeh in east Ghouta, in Rural Damascus.  The convoy provided food, non-food items and education assistance.  This is the first inter-agency convoy to the besieged town.  And on Saturday, another convoy delivered humanitarian assistance to 33,000 people in hard-to-reach Al Derkhabia and Zakia towns also in Rural Damascus.

**Nigeria

Turning to Nigeria, the UN has allocated $10.5 million to help thousands of people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance in the north-eastern part of the country.  The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria’s north-east and the Lake Chad region is one of the most severe in the world today, with 8.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in the three worst-affected Nigerian States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.  The $10.5 million allocation by the new fund — the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund — will support 15 projects that prioritize life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable, and also expand the humanitarian assistance provided by the UN and partners in hard-to-reach and newly accessible areas.

**Venezuela

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it regretted that at least 10 people died in Venezuela over the weekend, amid demonstrations over the Constituent Assembly elections. The human rights office calls for the investigations into the deaths to be prompt, effective and independent, and urges the Government to cooperate fully with such investigations.  The Office also expressed concern that the Venezuelan authorities continue to violate the right of peaceful assembly by violently dispersing demonstrators.  The UN human rights office calls on the authorities to cease the use of excessive force to repress demonstrations, and to ensure the right of peaceful assembly is respected, and it calls on all parties to refrain from the use of violence.

**Liberia

I want to flag that the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, will be in Liberia from 1 August to 3 August.  He will seek to mobilize support for the establishment of a UN human rights office in the country following the forthcoming closure of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in March of next year.  During his visit, he will meet with Government and civil society representatives to discuss key human rights issues facing Liberia.  With the forthcoming presidential and legislative elections scheduled for 10 October of this year, Mr. Gilmour will also reiterate the call by the UN in Liberia for everyone to work towards peaceful and transparent elections.

**Pakistan

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that food security has improved for people who have returned to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan since 2014.  In 2014, 44 per cent of people were defined as food insecure, or not having access or not being able to afford enough food.  This year, only 24 per cent are in the same situation.  WFP says the reasons behind this include fewer natural disaster and illnesses among people and livestock, as well as access to better housing, improved water and sanitation, and increased security.  More on WFP’s website.

**Telecommunications

I wanted to flag a report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which says that 80 per cent of young people in more than 100 countries — or 830 million people — are online, with China leading the surge in broadband access.  People between the ages of 15 and 24 are driving the rise in Internet adoption, with up to 320 million young people using the web in China and India alone.  More than one third of Internet users in the least developed countries are young people, compared to 13 per cent in developed countries.  The report also found that mobile broadband subscriptions have grown more than 20 per cent annually in the last five years and are expected to reach 4.3 billion by the end of this year.

**Racial Discrimination

In Geneva, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination began its ninety-third session today.  It will wrap up at the end of August.  More online.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, my guest at the briefing will be United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Yemen Country Director, Auke Lootsma, who will brief by video link on the situation in Yemen.  And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Ambassador Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta, the Permanent Representative of Egypt and President of the Security Council of these United Nations for the month of August.  This pause enables you to ask questions if you have any.  Yes, ma'am?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I got a… a response from your office about a question I asked at the last sec… last Spokesperson's meeting about the earplugs that are in the… earphones that are up in the General Assembly, and what I was told was that they're removing… they've removed all the earphones from the 4th Floor, and people have to bring their own now.  It just… has that been made known to people?  Because I had gone to something there and had no…

Spokesman:  I will make sure it is being known to people.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  I had one other piece to that.  And the other is it was impossible to even hear what was coming from the stage area, you know, the General Assembly up there, so you couldn't… you had no access to earphones, and you couldn’t…

Spokesman:  I'm sure… we will make sure people know to bring their own earbuds and earphones.

Correspondent:  But, in the past, you could at least hear what was happening.  Now it's just all changed.

Spokesman:  I understand.  I can check.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Some other things, but I guess I wanted to know, do anything on the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  There have been major protests there today.  This was the day people were supposed to be registered to vote for the election.  There have been arrests and the use of tear gas in Kinshasa, Bukavu, Goma.  Given that the UN has a billion‑dollar peacekeeping mission there, do they have some statement on it?

Spokesman:  I have not gotten anything from the mission on that today.

Question:  Also on Central African Republic, you'd given… you said that Mr. Lacroix was there.  This morning, there was a meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission downstairs.  And one of the things that was said by the chair of the Peacebuilding Configuration is that there's some request in the country that the Moroccan contingent decamp.  They're viewed as biased, given that it's seen as a religious conflict in the country.  And I just wanted to know, do… is it the UN's understanding that… are the Moroccan peacekeepers being targeted in Bangassou, or is it just happened that that's where they're deployed?  And do you have some statement from the UN, I guess, you know, disagreeing either that it's a religious conflict in the country or that peacekeepers should… that there should be some selection of deployments based on what the parties are…?

Spokesman:  Well, it's clear that… to everyone that there have been religious tensions in the Central African Republic.  To say otherwise, I think, would be a denial of the facts on the ground, and we've decried these religious conflicts.  UN peacekeepers are there to defend… to protect the civil… to protect the population, to implement the mandate given to it by the Security Council, regardless of their personal religion or religious beliefs.  As for the potential deployment or redeployment of certain units, I'm not going to go into details.

Question:  But, just, I mean, to understand peacekeeping… I know that, in South Sudan, they've tried to choose kind of carefully which contingents are deployed based on the… the… the views of the party of which countries have different policies.  So, in the case of the Central African Republic, has any attempt been made… I know there are Cambodian peacekeeper.  There's a variety… Mongolians, Sri Lankans…?

Spokesman:  You know, the nature of the conflict in the Central African Republic is such that we try to… we deploy the units as we best see fit.  Oleg?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  On the situation in Raqqa, I believe that a number of the UN officials were… when we're talking about the Mosul operation, they were praising how things were done over there, the humanitarian concept of the operation implemented by the Iraqi authorities.  When you look at what's happening in Raqqa, since you were giving some assessments of how things were done in Mosul, could you please say how the things are being handled in Raqqa, and are you… are you trying to contact the forces on the ground and the Coalition which are leading in the operation?

Spokesman:  I think our humanitarian colleagues are trying to coordinate as best as they can with the various fighting forces on the ground.  The… in terms of the environment in which humanitarians operate in Iraq and Syria, I don't think they're comparable.  So, it's… they're two different situations.  There's a much greater fragmentation of fighting forces in Syria, some of which we know are affiliated with terror groups.  So, it makes the humanitarian work that much more complex.  That being said, it is the responsibility of all of those who are involved in the fighting to ensure… to respect the humanitarian needs of the people.

Question:  And a couple of weeks ago, you were talking about some sort of ground route that was reopened to Raqqa.  Were there any deliveries…?

Spokesman:  I will check.  I will check.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Welcome back from the vacation.  I just want to find out two… two questions.

Spokesman:  It's already gone, the vacation feeling.  The vacation feeling is already gone.  Go ahead.  Sorry.

Question:  Two questions, one about this proposals on… made on the Middle East peace process by the Chinese ambassador this morning.  Does… does the Secretary‑General have any opinion about that, or has… does he know about this peace proposal by the Chinese?  Is it… is it such a comprehensive proposal?  Is it workable?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment on what the Chinese… Permanent Representative of China said.  I was preparing for the briefing.  So, I didn't have a chance to listen closely enough.  Obviously, we'll see what he has to say.  The Secretary‑General's own position on the Middle East peace process is clear and has been outlined over and over again in repeated briefings to the Security Council.  Mr. Shaw.  I'll come back to you.

Question:  The Secretary‑General met with Ivanka Trump on Friday.  I know there's been no release from the Secretary‑General's Office.  But, I just wondered if, at any point, funding the plan from the Trump Administration to cut its funding to the UN was mentioned in any way by Secretary‑General [António] Guterres?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, Ms. Trump is a senior adviser to the President, so I would not be surprised if there were discussions focussed on the US‑UN relations.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There were reports this morning that the Russian President is expelling 755 American diplomats and in response to the US sanctions and expulsion of Russian.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment upon that?   And also, you may have answered this last week.  I wasn't here…

Spokesman:  I… and neither was I, so I probably didn't.

Question:  Oh, you didn't.  Okay.  Is there any comment upon the… the US issuance of a travel ban prohibiting American citizens from going to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?

Spokesman:  I don't have any specific comment on the DPRK issue.  As far as the US‑Russia issues concerning diplomats, we've obviously taken… following it closely, but at this point, it is a bilateral issue.  Matthew, and then I'll come back to you, Masood.

Question:  Sure.  I asked twice last week about a request publicly reported by Catalonia to the UN to accredit an observer for its 1 October referendum.  And it seems… I… I've now come… both times, it was said the UN won't confirm it.  And since Spain has bragged that the UN wouldn't confirm it, I'm wondering, now that you're back, can you ask? It's a pretty high‑profile request.  It's something that Spain doesn't want the UN to confirm receipt.  I'm just asking to confirm if it was received and if the UN won't… will not grant the request.  It's Carter Center.  It's a major…

Spokesman:  No, I… I understand.  If it hasn't been confirmed, I can check, but it hasn't been confirmed.  As matter of principle, we deal on elections with requests from national Governments, from Member States.  That's a matter of principle.  On the issue of the letter you mentioned, I will check.

Question:  My understanding is it's a request to kind of accredit or in some way work with an observer.  And I think that that's something that the UN does sort of have a group of observers around the world it works with.  So, the request by the Carter Center is…?

Spokesman:  As I said, I haven't… I'm not aware of the letter.  I haven't seen it.

Correspondent:  Okay.  I have something else but if you'd…

Spokesman:  No, I'd like to take your question now.

Question:  Okay.  Excellent.  Very good.  Maybe you'll be more… maybe you can expand upon this.  It was said last week, as you know, Ng Lap Seng was found guilty in one day on six charges of bribery, foreign corrupt practices act, money-laundering.  And I just want… I really want to understand this.  I've been looking at the idea that the UN will be… is… considers itself a victim of the case and will be requesting restitution as a victim.  And I wanted to understand.  It was said by Farhan [Haq], and I didn't have a chance to ask him about… is this just OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] trying to… in the same way as Haiti cholera, cover itself by saying we're a victim, we bear no responsibility, or is it literally António Guterres' position that the UN should be paid for a process in which its own DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management] gave a document to the guy?  There are still people here that worked on the proposal… I want to understand…

Spokesman:  I think the overall point is that the UN was used for what it appears for criminal activity by the gentleman who was found guilty.

Question:  Right, but what about the office South‑South Cooperation?  Is there any guilt on the side of the UN side? Mr. Yiping Zhu that left immediately upon the indictment, is… was he victimized?  Did he not understand what he was doing?

Spokesman:  Mr. Yiping Zhu is no longer a staff member of this organization.

Question:  Right, but doesn't an organization have some responsibility for what its people do?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does… on this situation in occupied Kashmir, there was a statement made by the Indian Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, about Kashmir in which she said that the trade talks between the Indian‑occupied Kashmir and the so‑called Azad Kashmir between India and Pakistan should remain open and should not be blocked.  And it's like a… and not… even not be allowed… that India vis‑à‑vis should not be allowed to cage the Kashmiri people.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report.  I'm happy to take a look at it.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Yes.  Okay.  I raised the question of the Security Council resolution 2334 (2016).  Has the provision that the Secretary‑General will monitor whether the provisions of that Security Council resolution…

Spokesman:  That's the Iran…?

Question:  No, that's Palestine.  Palestine.  It was passed in December 2016.

Spokesman:  Palestine.  Sorry.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  sorry.  Yeah, no, I know… I'm not good with numbers.

Question:  And the provision is that the security… Secretary‑General will monitor the implementation and will report on the implementation of the aspects of that by the… by the parties.  There was complaint in the Security Council that the… that there are reports, but it's not looking at the implementation.  I'm wondering if the Secretary‑General has paid attention to those complaints, and if he's…?

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General pays attention to what is said in the Security Council, and I think we have been providing verbal reports back to Member States.  But, we're, obviously, always happy to listen to feedback.

Question:  But the parties… the Member States were saying that the reports do not look at those provisions and see… make some determination are they being implemented or not.

Spokesman:  We're reporting to the best of our ability.

Question:  So… so, it's not that you're taking that under consideration?

Spokesman:  Well, I said… as I said, we always listen to what the Member States have to say.  It's a Periscope question?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible.]  No, it's not a Periscope question.

Spokesman:  It's not a Periscope question?  It's a question on Periscope.  It's like double jeopardy?  Excellent.  Do I get more money for answering that one?

Correspondent:  Let's see.  Let's see.  Let's see.  It's actually a very simple question, and it's one that's meant with all due respect.  Can you say where… where the Secretary‑General is?  It says that he's not in the office.  And I don't… when I say by "all due respect", it's that leaders all over the world say where they are…?

Spokesman:  He's on leave in Europe.

Question:  Okay.  Is he in the Dalmatian Coast?

Spokesman:  He's on leave in Europe.

Correspondent:  Right.  I’m just saying, the reason…

Spokesman:  I haven't… I don't have an ankle bracelet on him.  All I know is I wished him well…

Question:  How long will he be away?

Spokesman:  He will be on leave for two weeks.  All right?

Question:  And, during this time… again, I think it's a fair question.  What is his engagement with… if a crisis takes place in one of the various countries that have been brought up in this briefing or before?  What's his level of eng-… of communication with yourself…?

Spokesman:  I think, unfortunately for him, it remains constant.  Okay?

Question:  Is there a pool… is there any media there?  Is there any media pool…?

Spokesman:  No, there is no… we don't take media pools on people's vacation.

Correspondent:  Right.  The US does.

Spokesman:  I know the US… we don't… we also don't have a UN one.  We don't have the same resources.  I think the Secretary‑General is entitled to two weeks of rest while remaining… unfortunately for him, no doubt, in constant touch with this office.

Question:  In the future, will you announce it in… in… in… announce it as a matter of course?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.