9 August 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.


I will start with a couple of humanitarian notes.  Firstly, from Syria, our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned about the safety and protection of the thousands of civilians inside Raqqa city, many of them women and children, who are caught in the crossfire of the ongoing conflict.  An estimated 10,000 to 25,000 people remain trapped in the city, although exact figures remain difficult to verify due to the situation on the ground.

The humanitarian community is assisting displaced people — and host communities — in at least 46 sites, camps or areas of high concentration of internally displaced people in the area, and they are reaching over 263,000 people with some form of assistance in July.  Humanitarian assistance includes various types of food assistance, including daily rations of bread, medicines and medical supplies, as well as nutrition assistance.

Access to Raqqa is not currently possible for the UN, due to the fighting on the ground.  We remind all military actors of their obligations to protect civilians and ensure humanitarian access, in line with international humanitarian law.


Our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) tell us that yesterday two powerful earthquakes struck China’s Sichuan and Xinjiang provinces.

More than one dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries have been reported, with tens of thousands of homes having been damaged.

The United Nations extends its condolences to the people and to the Government of China and we remain on standby to offer any assistance, if requested.

**Famine Appeal

As you will have seen this morning, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on the four famines in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.  As you know, more than 20 million people in those areas are experiencing famine or are at the risk of famine.

To date, we have received $2.5 billion — or 51 per cent — of the $4.9 billion we have appealed for urgently to provide life-saving assistance to people in those areas.  There’s a fact sheet available from OCHA with bigger and better breakdown on the numbers.


And from Libya, we are told that a shipment of medical supplies arrived today in Derna and further shipments are expected to arrive in the coming days.  Oxygen for hospitals also arrived in the city on 7 August.  These shipments were facilitated by the World Health Organization (WHO), together with partners.

Derna has seen shortages of basic supplies over the past week as a result of increased road closures due to the conflict in the area.  Restrictions on the movements of civilians have also been reported.  Medical supplies have been among the most critical shortages but a lack of fuel is now also impacting basic services, including water and electricity supplies.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

A team from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has just concluded a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conduct a strategic review of the peacekeeping mission in the country (MONUSCO).

The team, led by Assistant Secretary-General El Ghassim Wane, met with Government officials, members of the opposition, the national electoral commission, civil society, local communities and the diplomatic corps.  They travelled to several locations in the country, including Kananga, the capital of Kasai Central province, and Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

The strategic review was requested by the Security Council to examine “the continued relevance of all mandated tasks, priorities and related resources, as well as the necessity to adapt the Mission’s mandate to the specific needs of the post-elections phase”.  The outcome of the review, with recommendations for the UN Peacekeeping Mission’s reconfiguration, will be submitted to the Council by the end of September.


From Afghanistan, the Head of the UN mission in that country (UNAMA), Tadamichi Yamamoto, visited the province of Faryab yesterday and met with government officials and community leaders to hear their concerns on key issues.

He met with the Provincial Governor, Mohammad Homayoon Fawzi, representatives of the provincial council, as well as with women’s rights activists, youth leaders and representatives of the Jamiat and Junbish political parties.  In his meetings, he discussed pressing concerns such as peace, security, and support to conflict-displaced Afghans and reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to do everything in its power to assist the Government and people of Afghanistan in ensuring security, stability and prosperity.


As you are aware, yesterday the Deputy Secretary-General met with a delegation led by Professor Paul Ghogomu, Minister and Director of Cabinet of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Cameroon. They discussed the internal situation in the Republic of Cameroon, particularly in the Anglophone regions.

Amina Mohammed welcomed the efforts being undertaken by the Government to de-escalate tensions and highlighted the importance of further confidence-building measures, including ensuring that justice is given to all and that human rights are upheld and respected.  She noted that those responsible for the rule of law are to be held to a higher standard.

The Deputy Secretary-General also reiterated the willingness of the United Nations, through the good offices of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa and the United Nations country team, to support inclusive dialogue efforts to address the outstanding root causes of the tensions in the affected regions.  The full readout is online.


Our friends at the World Food Programme (WFP) today welcomed a $1 million contribution from the United States to support vulnerable refugees from Western Sahara in Algeria.  WFP will use the funds to provide staple food items as part of monthly food rations for thousands of refugee families.

For more than 40 years, Sahrawi refugees have been living under extremely harsh conditions in the Sahara Desert in south-western Algeria.  Hosted in five camps near Tindouf, refugees depend entirely on WFP as their primary source of food, as employment opportunities are limited.

**Indigenous Peoples

As you just heard from our colleagues in the previous briefing, today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and also the tenth anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In a joint statement, more than 40 UN system entities and other international organizations said that while indigenous peoples have made significant advancements in advocating for their rights, implementation of the Declaration is still being impeded by persisting vulnerability and exclusion, particularly among indigenous women, children, youth and persons with disabilities.  The group pledged to remain committed to continuing the partnerships with Member States and indigenous peoples’ organizations to accelerate progress in the implementation of the Declaration.


UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) announced today that they are co-organizing a concert which will focus on advancing climate action and innovative solutions to this global challenge.

The concert, called “Pathway to Paris”, will be held at Carnegie Hall here in New York City on 5 November, they day before the UN Climate Conference (COP23) opens in Bonn, Germany.

The concert will feature internationally recognized musicians and speakers, including Patti Smith, Bill McKibben, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Talib Kweli, Cat Power and Michael Stipe, among others.  More information on the UNDP website.


I have a senior personnel appointment to announce:  The Secretary-General has appointed Alison Smale of the United Kingdom as the next Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and head of the Department of Public Information.

She succeeds Cristina Gallach, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.  The Secretary-General also wishes to extend his appreciation to Maher Nasser, who has been serving as Acting Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications.

Ms. Smale has been the Chief of Bureau of The New York Times in Berlin since 2013, and the new Under-Secretary-General brings to the position almost 40 years of journalism experience gained in an international career that has included holding some of the most prestigious posts in the profession.  Appointed Executive Editor of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) Paris, in 2008, she is the first and only woman to have held that post, and she has also worked as a reporter for United Press International and The Associated Press.  We welcome her, we look forward to working with her and her bio is available in our office.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the Saudi security forces attacked Awamiyah and managed to go in and there’s a lot of brutality, videos showing on YouTube and other places.  United Nations has been silent all through for over three weeks about this.  Have you heard about what’s gone on there and what’s your position?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I’ve seen the reports.  We’re trying to gather a bit more information.  We may have more to say later.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Number one, would the Secretary‑General have any comments specifically on the escalating exchange of rhetoric yesterday between President [Donald] Trump and the North Korean leadership, you know, relating to and using terms like “fire and fury” and potential attack on Guam, etc.?  And, number two, I just wanted to follow up on my question from Monday, whether you had the opportunity to look into whether the UN Secretariat is still considering or has engaged the North Korean applicant into the junior professionals (JPO) programme?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of anyone having been engaged, and my understanding of the JPO programme is that the salary of the JPO is paid for by his or her Government.  On the issue of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, obviously, the Secretary‑General remains extremely concerned by the ongoing situation, and he’s troubled by the increase in confrontational rhetoric that we’ve seen.  The Security Council passed a resolution unanimously over the weekend, and we, obviously, reiterate our welcome to that commitment to a peaceful and diplomatic and political solution to the situation, as well as the importance the Council has placed on working to reduce tensions in the Korean Peninsula.  The Secretary‑General welcomes all initiatives that will help to de‑escalate tensions and would welcome… and welcomes a return to diplomacy.  Mr. Lee and then… sorry.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about… thanks for getting the readout of the Cameroon meeting.  I wanted to just ask a little bit more.  The… the… the individuals that attended from the Cameroon side, when they came down, they said that, for example, the imprisonment of UN… former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor Balla did not come up; it was not that type of meeting.  So, I wanted to ask you — I mean, I’ve read it several times, the readout — if it didn’t come up, if the imprisonment of a former UN legal adviser didn’t come up, can you explain why that would be?  Did it… did…  And just one other thing.

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  There’s also been a recent, non‑related to the Anglophone areas but to the country itself, this Amnesty report of torture in military bases related to the fight against… the Government says Boko Haram.  That seems like a pretty serious report from a highly credible organization, and it just… can you… if you don’t… can you find out whether that came and up and whether Mr. [Andrew] Gilmour or anyone on the human rights side of the organization attended this meeting?

Spokesman:  The Deputy Secretary‑General represented the organization in the meeting.  I think the readout we gave you was fairly extensive.  We have in the past and reiterate our concern of the continuing detention of Anglophone leaders, any and all Anglophone leaders. And I think the readout was very clear in the issues that were discussed.  We don’t go into detail, verbatim detail, as to what points were discussed, but I think the readout gives you a pretty strong readout of the issues that were raised and our concern at these issues.

Question:  It says the Government… welcomes the steps taken by the Government, and given that most… people… at least, you know, from… from what it seems from here, many people in the Anglophone areas don’t… don’t see those steps and see their leaders still imprisoned.  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I think we have seen some steps in the right direction and as… I would refer you back to the readout.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah.  Is the SG going to Middle East this month, and then…  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  We have seen various representatives announce the Secretary‑General’s trip.  When we have something to confirm and to announce, we shall do it from this podium.  Madame, I skipped you, and I apologize.

Question:  Not a problem.  Apology accepted.  Returning to North Korea, has the Secretary‑General or the Deputy Secretary‑General reached out to the United States or to North Korea or to both to express personally their concerns about the rhetoric and to try to find a way to get everyone to basically calm down and try to resolve what seems to be a growing national security problem, global security problem, in a diplomatic fashion?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any contacts that I’m able to share with you at this point.  I think the Security Council resolution, the unanimous resolution, offers a road map to de‑escalation.  We would encourage all to abide by the resolution and focus on ways to de‑escalate the tensions.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just now, you mentioned two powerful earthquakes struck two areas in China.  And would you please make a comment on the Chinese Government’s response to these disasters, please?

Spokesman:  Well, what I said is that we are obviously in standby should the Chinese Government require or request any international assistance.  At this point, it seems that the Chinese Government authorities have been doing it themselves.  They have lots of experience in that domain, in search and rescue.  But, obviously, if we were to… if they are requesting any additional assistance to the major resources they have, we would be ready to help.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you again about… about the ongoing situation in the Rif region of Morocco.  There’s now a… one of the… the… one of the people injured during the… the crackdown with gas… with teargas has… has died, and there are many people saying that this is a bad development; this is something that it’s still calling for that… that the situation continues to get worse.  So, I’m just wondering, this being the seventeenth time that I’ve asked you about this, is DPA (Department of Political Affairs) considering… looking at that?  I’ve seen…

Spokesman:  I think the various parts of the United Nations are keeping an eye on the situation.  When we have something to say, we shall.

Question:  Were you able to get a… to… you’d said yesterday you were going to check whether Mr. … Mr. Ghassan Salamé said what was attributed to him in ANSA, about praising the Italian navy.  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I haven’t been able to verify those quotes yet.

Question:  And Pagak?

Spokesman:  And what?  Sorry?

Question:  Pagak, in South Sudan, I’d asked you whether UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan)… what they believe… what they think about this takeover of the town by Salva… you know, the Government forces.

Spokesman:  I think we… the Mission tells us that they’ve received reports from multiple sources that Pagak came under the control of Government troops on Sunday.  Fighting over the past several weeks has reportedly forced thousands of civilians to flee into Ethiopia.  There is no information on casualties that we’ve received, but the Mission continues to try to gather more information.  Nizar?

Question:  On Yemen, is there any improvement with regard to combatting the cholera outbreak?  Also, is there any improvement in the delivery of aid, special medical aid, to Sana’a after the release of fuel to them?

Spokesman:  We have not gotten an up… specific update on the issue of fuel, but we expected the issue to become unblocked this week; we’ll ask.  Overall, the picture remains grim and is continuing to be… to get grimmer, unfortunately, for the people of Yemen who are on the front lines and caught in this conflict.

Question:  How about Hudaydah?  Is there any improvement in the shipping and delivery of the commercial… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I have no update on Hudaydah.  I don’t have an update on Hudaydah at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  This is actually just a… I just wanted to know in advance, the Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea said, you know, haven’t we been informed of some press conference he’s intending to have on 14 August about the prosecution of the vice president’s son of the longtime President in Paris for corruption. And I wanted to just know… I know you do a week ahead on Fridays… Are you aware of that?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yeah, we do a week ahead.  I can check… I don’t know.  I can check. We, obviously… we… if it’s been registered with us, you’ll be informed on Friday, but we can just check now and see if it’s…

Correspondent:  Maybe… just going forward, if you want to have running list, it would be nice.

Spokesman:  Anything to be nice.  Have a great day.

Question:  One… one last question.  Recently, there were…

Spokesman:  You’ve never said it would be the last question, so I’ll hold you to it.

Question:  Okay.  In Yemen, there are graphic images of slaughter of prisoners by the [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government forces.  Also, they even buried people alive, and they are boasting about this.  How do you view that… such…

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen that video, but I’ll look to the reports.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.