17 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, today expressed his deep concern over the continuing obstruction to the timely provision of aid to people in need by the parties to the conflict.

He said that, for months, humanitarian partners have experienced delays by authorities in Sana’a to facilitate the entry of aid workers into Yemen; interference in the delivery of aid and the choice of implementing partners; and hijacking of aid vehicles.

Mr. McGoldrick also noted that there have been increased incidents where aid was diverted from the intended beneficiaries in areas under the control of the Sana’a authorities.

He also said that, as basic social services in Yemen are near collapse, there is mounting pressure on aid agencies to expand the humanitarian response.

But he stressed that ensuring unhindered humanitarian access is essential to save the lives of those who depend on assistance, particularly as Yemen is facing an unprecedented cholera crisis and more than 7 million people are at risk of famine.

Mr. McGoldrick urged all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to facilitate the safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance in areas under their control.  You can read his full statement online.

The UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, said today that the cholera outbreak in Yemen is putting some 1.1 million malnourished pregnant women in the country at risk.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are especially vulnerable to malnutrition, making them more prone to contracting cholera, which in turn gives them a higher risk of developing dangerous or even fatal complications.  You can read more about this on UNFPA’s website.

**Central African Republic

The humanitarian community and the Government of the Central African Republic have jointly launched the revised 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan today, seeking $497 million to respond to humanitarian needs across the country.

The number of people needing humanitarian assistance now reaches 2.4 million, as a result of the upsurge of violence that has been affecting several parts of the country since January.

The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has increased to 600,000, a figure last reached in January 2013, at the height of the crisis.

Hotspots have multiplied during this period and regions which used to be peaceful have sunk into violence.

In cities like Zémio and Kaga Bandoro, humanitarian assistance is delayed and activities have been limited to strictly lifesaving ones, due to limited access and insecurity.

The humanitarian situation around Bangassou continues to deteriorate while in Bria, it remains very tense, with the Muslim community threatening to march toward the PK3 IDPs site to confront the anti-Balaka elements following the killing of one of their members.

This has created a wave of panic in the population and movements between the city centre and the PK3 site have been suspended.


I have a few updates from our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR):

First, Filippo Grandi paid his first official visit as High Commissioner to Sudan this week, at a time when refugees continue to flee the brutal conflict in South Sudan.

He called on the international community to recognize Sudan’s long-standing tradition of hosting refugees and asked for more support for the country.

He stressed that South Sudanese refugees are able to benefit from the Government’s extension of certain freedoms, including to work and move, and also receive generous support from host communities.

Sudan has hosted over 416,000 South Sudanese refugees since 2013, including some 170,000 new arrivals in 2017, making it one of the largest refugee-receiving countries in the region.

Sudan also continues to host refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Chad and other countries.

**South Sudan

Meanwhile, UNHCR is today reiterating its call to the international community for urgent additional support for the South Sudan refugee situation in Uganda in particular, where the number of refugees from South Sudan has now reached 1 million.

Over the past 12 months, an average of 1,800 South Sudanese have been arriving in Uganda every day, with more than 85 per cent being women and children.

For Uganda, $674 million is needed for South Sudanese refugees this year, but so far only a fifth of this amount has been received.

The funding shortfall is now significantly impacting the abilities to deliver life-saving aid and key basic services.  In June, the World Food Programme (WFP) was forced to cut food rations for refugees.

**United Republic of Tanzania

Finally, in a joint statement following a High-level Dialogue last week, UNHCR and the Government of [the United Republic of] Tanzania called for the continued protection of refugees and asylum seekers while supporting host communities.

They also agreed on the importance of re-doubling efforts to seek solutions, such as finalizing the naturalization process for the remaining Burundi refugees from 1972, assisting refugees who wish to voluntarily return to their countries of origin and advocating for resettlement to third countries.  You can find more details on this on UNHCR’s website.


Today, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a shortlist of regional finalists for its Young Champions of the Earth prize — a global competition to identify, support and celebrate outstanding individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 with big ideas to protect the environment.

Thirty regional finalists were selected for having the most innovative, scalable and potentially impactful ideas, and the public is encouraged to go to UNEP’s website to view and rate each of the finalists’ proposals and vote for their favourite.  Informed by public opinion, a global jury will select six Young Champions in early September.

**World Humanitarian Day

I want to flag that tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m., the Secretary-General will speak at an event held at the UN Visitors’ Lobby to mark World Humanitarian Day, which is on Saturday.

To mark the Day, our humanitarian colleagues have launched the #NotATarget online campaign to reaffirm that civilians caught in conflict are not a target and demand that world leaders do everything in their power to protect civilians in conflict.  The campaign follows on the UN Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians, which was launched earlier this year.  More information is available online.

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Rosalind?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I’m sure you’ve seen the reports now about the draft Children and [Armed] Conflict report, in which the Saudi‑led Coalition is being accused of continuing to kill and injure children in the Yemeni civil war.  Given that the draft report is not yet out, but given the fact that there has been ongoing consultation between the UN and the Saudi Government and with other Governments, is it appropriate to allow a country to bargain or threaten its way off a blacklist regarding protection of children when this has been established by Security Council resolution that countries that don’t abide by international treaties and… and Conventions of war regarding civilians, isn’t… isn’t this unseemly to have something like this happening?  I know it happened last year.  Should a country be able to argue its way off a blacklist?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, without relitigating what happened last year, part of the point is that the process this year is still under way.  It’s a little bit premature to judge what the report is going to say and what will be in the annex, because that process is still happening.  The draft report, in fact, that had been leaked to the press was not one that was seen by the Secretary‑General.  And, as you know, these are reports of the Secretary‑General.  So, ultimately, he has to see the contents.  He goes over it himself.  He makes his decisions and the list, of course, the annex is part of the content that he decides on.  That process is going on.  The Secretary‑General, I believe, this week, has received a draft and will be looking at it.  He, I think, will see Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, tomorrow, and they’ll discuss it.  But this process is going to go on further.  I wouldn’t expect the report to be completed and handed over to Member States until about a month or so from now, and we’ll let you know when it is.  But, ultimately, we want you to be able to judge us by the contents of the final report.  At that point, it will be clear which countries are written up, which countries are included, and how we evaluate their actions.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  May I have a quick follow‑up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  Is the ongoing consultation process between the UN and Member States designed to prevent people from arguing their way off the list?  Does this consultation presuppose that placement on the list or non‑placement on the list will be done based on the facts of each country’s behaviour in the past year and not because of some other agreement that might have been reached during this consultative process?

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point of the list, the report, and the entire process that we go through is that we want effective tools to make Member States and non‑member parties improve their records regarding how children are treated in different conflict situations.  When we engage in dialogue with Member States, consequently, part of what we’re trying to do is to show what is needed for each party to improve its own records.  If they can take concrete steps that can help ensure that children themselves will be protected, that actually helps fulfil the purpose of the task that we’re trying to do.  How they do that is up to each Member State in terms of what we feel and they feel are needed in order to improve their records.  But, yes, that’s part… a standard part of the process.  And we try to do that with a range of States and parties, because, ultimately, we don’t simply want to come out with a report.  We want to have a report that pushes the people who are mentioned in the right direction, which is in the direction of actually improving their records.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Farhan, as a follow‑up to that — and then I had a question on something different — I noted that, last year, the report came out in June.  It’s already August, so why is this being delayed so dramatically now until into September?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there’s basically two reasons.  One is that there’s been a new Special Representative, Virginia Gamba, who came into the office and wanted to be able to have a fresh start and look at all of the information with a new eye.  And, secondly, part of the process that we’re trying to do, especially given the way that different parties feel that they hadn’t received adequate information in the past, is to let different parties know what are the concerns that we have and what needs to be addressed and see whether they can actually make some progress towards addressing them.  Yes.  And you had another question?

Question:  I did have another question on something different.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Sorry.

Question:  On Congo and the letter that the Secretary‑General sent to the Security Council, he talked about establishing some kind of a follow‑up mechanism.  Today, the United States and Sweden, who are directly involved, and quite a number of other countries called on the Secretary‑General to establish a full investigation under his jurisdiction.  Can you tell us whether the Secretary‑General is going to do this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’re certainly aware that… that the Board of Inquiry report has been completed.  The Secretary‑General, as you just mentioned, did transmit a summary of that report to the members of the Security Council ahead of their consideration today of the latest report of the Group of Experts.  In his letter to the Council conveying the summary, the Secretary‑General said he intends to establish a follow‑on mechanism to ensure further determination of the facts relevant to the killings.  As you’re aware, the Secretary‑General spoke a bit about this in his stakeout to the press yesterday, and he made clear that it’s his intention to do everything he can so that those who are responsible for the deaths of Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp are punished.  He’s ready to explore with all concerned parties the practical follow‑up that can ensure accountability.  And, following consultations with the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) authorities, which included a meeting, by the way, with the Foreign Minister of the DRC yesterday and with members of the Security Council, the Secretary‑General will present proposals in that regard.  And by the way, the Executive Summary of the report should be available to you in the coming days.

Question:  Obviously, having gotten a copy of the Executive Summary, read his letter and listened to what he said, it… it doesn’t answer my question.  My question is that there is significant pressure from the parties most concerned, who are the countries of the two murdered UN experts plus a number of other groups, calling for the Secretary‑General to undertake a full independent investigation.  And when do you think we might have an answer on whether he is prepared to do that?

Deputy Spokesman:  First, we’ll have to see how the dialogue with the various parties goes.  Like I said, he did meet with the DRC Foreign Minister, Léonard She Okitundu, yesterday, and he’s continuing the dialogue now.  And we, through our other officials, are continuing dialogue with the various members of the Security Council now.  We’ll see what sort of mechanism can be created.  We believe that there is progress towards the idea of some form of follow‑on mechanism, and we’ll try to spell out what the particulars of that will be as these discussions proceed.

Question:  Same topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Actually, why don’t… you’ve had your hand up for a while.  Then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding this Cyprus issue, during the Crans‑Montana negotiations, the General Secretary seemed to realize that the normal country such as Cyprus, an equal member of the United Nations and the European Union, cannot operate under its invader’s troops and guarantees.  Could he confirm that this right is clear, and will it be adopted by the Secretary‑General and the United Nations in the case of a new round of negotiations in order to come to solution?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Thanks.  I don’t have anything particularly new to say about Cyprus.  You’ll have seen what the Secretary‑General and the outgoing envoy, Espen Barth Eide, have said.  If there is any new round of talks, we’ll make our position’s clear at that point.  But where we stand is basically where we left off with what they said at that time.

Question:  Yeah, but I’m sorry.  I want a follow‑up question.  Would the United Nation accept the… a normal country — it’s something that was mentioned many times, a normal country — to have a solution under troops and guarantors?  That’s the question.  No matter whether it’s Mr. Eide or anyone else, would the United Nations accept such a scenario?

Deputy Spokesman:  The future of Cyprus will be dependent on negotiations between the parties.  How an arrangement is made ultimately has to be decided by the parties, and we’re not going to say anything prejudicial to the process as the parties go to talks.  At this stage, as you know, we are in a period of reflection and a period of cooling off.  After that, we certainly hope and expect the parties will come back ready to talk to each other.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I didn’t… follow‑up on DRC, but I actually have a follow‑up on… on Cyprus now first.  I wanted to ask you, Inner City Press is… it was leaked to Inner City Press a document called Leaders Meeting 4.7.2017, which is Mr. Eide… purports to be and I’d like you to… Mr. Eide conveying what he… he understood from… from António Guterres, including by text message, that, on troops, Mr. Guterres wanted to… a reduction to the level of those under the old Treaty of Alliance, the levels of 1960, and any number of other issues.  And since this document… I guess I’d like you to… given the importance of the issue, is that… is that his position? And now that Mr. Eide’s no longer in the position, is this his document?  Is this the final position of the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, I don’t have any comment on… on leaked documents.  Second of all, like I just told your colleague, ultimately, the positions in a diplomatic process are ones that will be evolved through discussions with the parties themselves. I wouldn’t have any comment on what the state of play may have been four or five months ago.  Diplomatic processes evolve over time.

Question:  Sure.  On DRC, what I wanted… this is… it’s not… it’s obviously not leaked since everybody has it and you say you’re putting it out, the summary of the DRC… [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it is leaked because you have it already.  We are putting it out in a few days.

Question:  So, I want to ask you about paragraph 24 just because it is everywhere.  And it says that… it seems like one… the one sort of self‑criticism that the report makes is that, quote, groups… members of the Group of Experts do not believe that the UN Security Management Systems regulations pertain to them.  And since… it was unclear from the report.  Do they actually pertain to them?  Did they… in March 2017, did these Security Management Systems regulations apply to them?  And, if they did, whose job was it to tell them if they didn’t understand that?  Was it DSS?  Was it DPA?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and we’re looking at how the system works to make sure that, throughout the system, all the offices are able to inform UN employees of what the appropriate security rules are.  Part of what we need to do is make sure that people like the experts are aware of how the security norms apply so that everyone has security policies.  Beyond that, I’ll… I would just stick to what the report has said.

Question:  Can Mr. [Gregory] Starr do a press conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Starr?  Mr. Starr is… was there just for this exercise.  He’s not an employee of the United Nations and we don’t have the authority to do that.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Libyan Coast Guard has recently expanded its search‑and‑rescue area for migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean, and they’ve been threatening NGO ships, yesterday a Spanish one, also recently Italians, Germans.  MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers) has left.  Save the Children has left.  Has the UN approached the Libyan Government about this?  And I know there’s a switch in the SRSGs (Special Representatives of the Secretary-General) right now, but has OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) talked to them?  Has the SRSG talked to them?  What’s your position on this intimidation of NGOs trying to help refugees and migrants?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’ll check and see what our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is doing about this, but beyond that, of course, we do have concerns to make sure that all non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) and all humanitarian workers are able to go about their work without fear and without hindrance.  And so, we want to make sure that the authorities — and, as you know, in Libya there’s a variety of different authorities on the ground and in the waters — that they’re able to allow for regular NGO activity and humanitarian access.  Yes, Rosalind?

Question:  Since you brought up the situation in Central African Republic, given that armed groups control about 70 per cent of the country outside of Bangui, what can the UN do to try to deal specifically with these groups to try to get them to engage in the political process, to engage in political reconciliation, to stop attacking UN peacekeepers and aid workers and to look out for the best interests of the Central African people rather than trying to hold onto some small part of the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN has been working at different levels, at the regional level and even at the local level, with different leaders, trying to make sure that the efforts by different spoiler groups, whether ex‑Seleka, anti‑Balaka or otherwise, does not derail the peace efforts that we’ve made in the country and the stabilization efforts we’ve made in the country over the past years.  And we’re going to continue with that work, you know, both through our political efforts, through the work done by the UN Mission, MINUSCA, to try to stabilize the situation in the areas where they operate.  But also, of course, the national authorities will have to play their part to making sure that, ultimately, the country can be brought under a single leadership that all parties can feel represented in.

Question:  But there has been concern that the central Government lacks considerable capacity and, by extension, doesn’t have the amount of credibility where one armed group or another would be willing to actually give up part of its power, part of its control, in order to engage in some sort of reconciliation effort. What is the UN doing specifically to help shore up the credibility of the central Government?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, yes.  You’re right that that’s a problem, not just of this Government but of many Governments in conflict situations.  And, throughout those cases, what we try to do is work with the host Government and… and see what can be done to bring more areas under the control of Government authorities.  Ultimately, we need to make sure that the forces of the spoilers are either brought in from having their concerns addressed or are aware that there will be accountability for trying to continue to foment violence, continue to create hostility in different areas and create a situation that’s dangerous for the population in those areas.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Kenya and then about the Ng Lap Seng case. As you know, in… as you… as you may know in Kenya, the… the former or future DPA (Department of Political Affairs) employee Roselyn Akombe, who has given a leave of absence to work on the Electoral Commission there, attempted to leave the country and was detained at the airport. It’s now said that she’s come to New York for meetings.  So, I wanted to know two things.  Number one, is she having any meeting with the UN, since you said she’s coming to New York on official business?  Number two, when she was given this leave of absence — it’s become quite controversial.  As you know, the commission is getting sued for being not less than impartial — was there any… did the Ethics Office look at this… at this granting of a… of a leave of absence?  What… what’s her current status with the UN?  And, also, it’s come up because she appealed to the US embassy there.  For purposes of UN, is she from Kenya or from the United States?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t have any comment on her nationality.  I don’t comment on the nationality of staff members. But… [inaudible]

Question:  Given that the person was detained and… okay.

Deputy Spokesman:  But I am aware that she was on a leave of absence.  At some point, I believe, fairly soon, it will be expiring and then she will return to her duties in the Department of Political Affairs.

Question:  So she has no contacts in the UN during this week?  Because it’s a big story in Kenya that she’s come to New York and she says she coming to New York for work related to the election.  So, I guess my question to you is, does this New York visit have any UN connection?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t comment on her work until she’s re-joined the United Nations.  She’s not… at the time that she’s on leave, she is a separate individual.  Ms. Akombe, at some point, will re-join the Department of Political Affairs, and then she’ll be a UN staffer.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, now that the… the… the Ng Lap Seng verdict has been rendered, Inner City Press has been obtaining the exhibits.  And I wanted to ask you, because, even going back and looking at the audit, several things were not solved.  Number one, there’s now… there’s a… specific emails involving current DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management) employee Meena Sur to Francis Lorenzo regarding the insertion of the name Sun Kiang Ip Group into a GA (General Assembly) document, which is… you know, that’s referenced in the audit.  Many people say Mr. [Ion] Botnaru retired.  That’s why nothing was ever done.  I guess what I want to know is, what… what’s been done?  Is there some explanation, again, of a current UN official having worked on the insertion of this Chi… this company name into a GA document improperly?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the general issue, without getting into the cases of specific individuals, the fact is the Department of Management has followed up on the various conclusions brought in by these reports and has made sure that all actions are properly undertaken.

Question:  There’s another email, which is the Global Compact responded to… to Francis Lorenzo actually but about… about Sun Kiang Ip Group joining the Global Compact.  And it said, “We’ll get back to you after review of one or two weeks.”  So, I wanted to know, in terms of the Global Compact, given that Sun Kiang Ip Group is involved in casinos and other businesses, what review on the front end… I know it’s often said, once you join the Global Compact, the only thing that’s required is the filing of reports, not anything substantive.  But what review is done if, in fact, a casino business itself already involves controversy at the time can join?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe the Global Compact on its own website tells you exactly what its priorities are and what it asks of incoming members, so I would just refer you to that.

Question:  So how do they join?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, just look at the website. It shows you what it expects from incoming members.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.