18 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.

**World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day.

Just a few moments ago, the Secretary-General spoke at an event here at Headquarters to mark the Day where he stressed that every civilian has a right to safety and protection, and we must do everything we can to deliver on this right.

He added that we cannot fail the millions of people caught in conflict, struggling to find food, water, and safe shelter; who have been driven from their homes with little hope of return; whose schools have been bombed; and who await life-saving medical care.  These people are not a target, he said.

He also recorded a video message for the Day which is available online.


The Security Council held an open meeting on Yemen this morning.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said he was grieved that, in the past two years, despite his and his team’s best efforts, he has been unable to report any significant improvement in the deplorable, avoidable and completely man-made catastrophe that is ravaging Yemen.

On the contrary, he said, the Yemeni people's suffering has relentlessly intensified.  Today, millions of people in Yemen are facing a triple tragedy: the spectre of famine, the world's largest ever single-year cholera outbreak, and the daily deprivation and injustice of a brutal conflict that the world is allowing to drag on and on.

Mr. O’Brien called for the opening of all ports — land, sea and air — to civilian traffic to allow in aid, as well as for parties to the conflict to respect international human and human rights law.

He also stressed the need for civil servants to be paid to prevent the collapse of institutions and for accountability to be strengthened.

For his part, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the Security Council via videolink that Yemen today continues to traverse a critical and agonizing period as civilians pay a terrible price of an unending power struggle, adding that those who survive the fighting face death by famine or disease as the economic situation continues to deteriorate and the humanitarian conditions worsen.

The Envoy noted that military clashes continue and that reported attacks on ships imperil the delivery of much needed humanitarian and commercial supplies.

In his recent meetings with senior Yemeni officials and regional leaders, he said that there is still consensus on the need to reach a political solution and to support the UN-sponsored peace process under the Secretary-General’s auspices.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports clashes between anti-Balaka and Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique-Arab Faction on Wednesday in Bria.

Peacekeepers provided protection to over 2,000 civilians who had congregated at MINUSCA premises and to the nearby camp for internally displaced people. MINUSCA continues its patrols in the town, which remains tense today.

Peacekeepers also intervened and deterred further fighting yesterday in Zémio between Fulani and alleged anti-Balaka-affiliated groups.

MINUSCA continues its robust patrolling throughout the town.


We issued a statement yesterday condemning the terrorist attacks in Spain, and extending the Secretary-General’s heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of those killed and to the Government and people of Spain.  The United Nations stands in solidarity with the Government of Spain in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva yesterday and said that his office is planning for the next round of official talks to take place in Geneva just before the General Assembly session in September.  That period, he added, should be considered as preparations for what he believes will be a very significant October and November.

Mr. de Mistura said that we have already seen a reduction of violence in Syria, even with agreements still to be concluded regarding de-escalation of fighting there.  He noted progress this week on humanitarian access, with a convoy of 50 trucks led by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Ali Al-Za'tari, reaching Douma and providing aid to some 35,000 people.

**Sierra Leone

Regarding Sierra Leone, the UN Disaster and Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) mission following the deadly mudslides last week has started to deploy, in support of the response efforts carried out under the leadership of the Government.

For its part, UNICEF is providing emergency sanitation and safe drinking water, distributing infection prevention materials such as face masks, gloves and body bags, as well as medicines and tents.

It is also working with the Ministry of Education and Science to ensure that the schools, particularly those currently used to accommodate the affected people, will be ready for the beginning of the school year.

And the World Health Organization is working with health workers on basic infection prevention control measures, supporting decontamination of the mortuary at the local hospitals, and ensuring the safe disposal of any personal protection equipment.


The World Food Programme (WFP), in partnership with the Directorate of Health Services in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, has formally launched a programme to prevent stunting in the Kurram Agency of those areas.

Stunting occurs when a child’s growth and development is impaired from poor nutrition.  In the Kurram Agency, stunting rates stand at 57.6 per cent, which is alarmingly high and well above the global average.

WFP will work with the Office of Research Innovation and Commercialization (ORIC) in Kurram to deliver locally produced specialized nutritious food for children aged between 6 and 24 months, along with pregnant women and nursing mothers, through an extensive network of community-based female health workers and health facilities.  In addition, children aged 24-59 months will receive micronutrient supplements.  More than 75,000 children and women will benefit from the programme.

WFP has more details online.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it from me.  Do we have any questions?  No questions?  There you go.

Question:  I wanted to ask you now again about the… the elections in Yemen, excuse me, in Kenya.  I'm going to ask about Yemen as well.  In Kenya, now the EU has called for the making public of the local results.  There seems to be more and more question about the way they were conveyed, and a lot of international actors that don't have as big a presence in Nairobi as the UN does have called for this type of data to be produced.  I wanted to know what is the UN's… he's already… the Secretary-General's already, you know, congratulated and apparently, called the results final, President Kenyatta, but what is the UN's… does the UN join these calls for the release of those data, or what's their position?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our position has been that any complaints need to be worked out through the established system.  Apparently, there are signs from the various parties that that is what's going on and we will monitor that process as it continues.

Question:  And I wanted to ask.  I became aware yesterday that… that… and I would like you to confirm that the DPA position currently held by Tayé-Brook Zerihoun has been offered to a Monica Juma, who is a Kenyan Government official in the Foreign Ministry, and I would like to know… apparently, the position was given to her, and she was given six months to take it or not so that this process would take place.

What is the, what is the status of that second highest position in DPA currently, and why wasn't it advertised?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this, at this point, as you know, Mr. Zerihoun has the post.  When there's another appointment to be made, we'll announce that, but we have not made another announcement.

Question:  But why wouldn't a position of that height be, be advertised for people to apply?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have processes that, that apply to all of the various high positions.  I believe we have competitive processes, including interview processes, for, for all of the senior position, and we'll make the announcement when it happens.  I wouldn't have any confirmation of how this process was carried about, but, and at this stage, like I said, I don't have an announcement for Mr. Zerihoun, even for any departure.  Once we have that announcement, we'll, we'll make that. 

Yes, Ben and then Oleg.

Question:  Thank you. 

A group of three UN experts have said that racism and xenophobia is growing in the United States.  I've put questions to the experts, not yet heard back, so I'm wondering, do we know what are they basing their evidence just on Charlottesville?  Where are they getting their evidence of this growth?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on, I'll wait for the noise to subside.  Thank you. 

I don't speak for the experts, but they base, the rapporteurs and independent human rights experts who report to the Human Rights Council, base their work on a variety of information sources, whether that includes interviews with various people, field research, or working with different NGOs, but for the specifics of these particular experts, you would need to get in touch with them or with our colleagues in Geneva who might be able to help you out.

Yes, Oleg.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.

What is the status of the SPLA in Opposition members that are currently hiding in eastern DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]?  I'm sure you heard yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister of DRC called for the UN either to repatriate them or find a third country for them to stay.  How is this issue being solved?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN through the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, is working to see what solution, what long-term solution, can be made for the people who fled across the border from South Sudan into the DRC.  At this stage, what we're trying to do is ensure that there's an outcome where their, their basic rights will also be, be respected, but also that the population of the area will not feel particularly burdened by, by any activities of, of armed people.


Question:  Is repatriation one of the options being considered?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe, in the regular reports to, that MONUSCO provides to the Security Council, they'll have updates on what's being done to handle this.  Right now, this is still something that's just under discussion.


Question:  I'd like to ask you again about the… the Rif Region of, in Morocco.  There's a controversy now between Reporters Without Borders and the Government's Ministry of Culture, where Reporters Without Borders has reported on number of cases of reporters that were locked up and sentenced for covering the unrest in Al Hoceima and elsewhere in the Rif, and the Government says bloggers aren't journalists and, and they, they totally reject it.

So I'm wondering, given the statements by the UN in favour of freedom of the press, do you have a view, number one, on whether reporters have been restricted in their ability to cover this unrest in the Rif region?  Number two, whether online citizen journalists are journalists subject to the protections of Article 19 and otherwise? 

And just, what's your view… there's also, apparently, another protester has been killed.  Mr. al-Haddad died from his injuries of the tear gas crackdown by the Government, so those are my questions.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would be concerned about any restrictions that would impede the freedom of the press, and, also, regarding what you just said, the freedom of people to enjoy their right to peaceful assembly, so we'd have concerns about that, but we'll also have to see what our human rights colleagues have to say about the situation for, for journalists more generally there.

Question:  But there's still no… comment from, from DPA about the ongoing situation there and, including the press freedom situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  If there were, we would share it with you.

Correspondent:  I guess there isn't.

Deputy Spokesman:  One more?

Question:  Sure, I have one more. 

And again, I… as these exhibits from the Ng Lap Seng trial continue to come in, I wanted to ask you this kind of… I was surprised to see it, because it wasn't, at least the days that I went, presented in the trial.

There are documents that show that the office, UN Office of South-South Cooperation, wrote a letter supporting the conference centre in Macau, specifically after South-South News covered a Ban Ki-moon trip.  I think they were the only media to cover it, and afterwards, they were congratulated by the Office of South-South Cooperation, and a letter was produced by Mr. Yiping Zhou supporting the conference centre.

So I wanted… from the document, it appears that the UN system as a whole, whether the Secretary-General knew or not, essentially rewarded positive coverage of this Ban Ki-moon trip with a letter for a conference centre that's now been totally discredited and was not built because it was based on bribery.  And I wanted to know, what is the UN's position on this?  What is… I know Mr. Yiping Zhou has left, but what was the connection between the South-South News travelling with and covering Ban Ki-moon's trip and this letter that was given to the, the Sun Kian Ip Foundation to build a conference centre in Macau?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'm not aware of any connection.

Regarding concerns about South-South News, we've explained to you at the time what our concerns had been about South-South News and its activities.  They are no longer accredited, and the Office of South-South Cooperation, as you know, had undergone different reforms under its new leadership, and I believe they've been in touch with you about that.

Question:  Sure.

Well, my question really at this point goes to the Secretariat, if you see what I'm saying, because the… the activity of South-South News that UNDP's [United Nations Development Programme] Office of South-South Cooperation was rewarding with this letter was coverage of the Secretary-General's trip.  So was this done with no knowledge by the Secretariat… by the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman:  We, we don't, we don't "reward" coverage of trips by Secretaries-General.  I mean, there are many trips.  Many, many outlets cover them.

Deputy Spokesman:  If they were all getting rewarded for them, that would be lots and lots of rewards to hand out.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.