21 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.


Our humanitarian colleagues say that thousands of civilians are expected to flee from Iraq’s Telafar and surrounding communities during the Iraqi military operation, which began yesterday, as they try to retake the area from Da’esh.

Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande said that families have walked for up to 20 hours in extreme heat to escape Telafar, which is running out of food and water.

Up to 40,000 people have already left the district.  The UN and its partners do not know how many are still left in the area where there is fighting, but we are preparing for thousands more to flee in the coming days and weeks.

Ms. Grande stressed the importance of protecting civilians during conflict, calling on parties to avoid civilian casualties and ensure that people have the assistance they are entitled to under international humanitarian law.

The Iraqi Government is leading the humanitarian operation, with assistance from aid partners who are also providing life-saving assistance and helping families when they reach emergency camps.

As of yesterday, less than half of the $980 million requested for this year’s Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq had been received.

Our humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Ms. Grande stressed that aid workers cannot help the people who need help the most if additional financial support is not received.


From Syria, our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] said that, on Saturday, an inter-agency convoy delivered life-saving assistance to 84,000 people in the hard-to-reach towns of Talbiseh in Homs and Tlul Elhomor in Hama.

The last convoy reached that area in mid-June.

They also tell us they are also deeply concerned for the safety and protection up to 25,000 civilians inside Ar-Raqqa city, many of them women and children, who are trapped in crossfire.

Yesterday, air strikes reportedly hit a residential building in the Al-Badou neighbourhood, killing at least 40 people.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the city, but those remaining face severe restrictions of movement in and out of the city, which has dwindling food and water supplies.

Aid agencies continue to help the displaced and host communities by supplying food, medicine and other items.

The UN stresses again that all parties to the fighting are obligated to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, as well as the need for sustained and unhindered access to those who need help.

**Sierra Leone

Turning to Sierra Leone, the Deputy Secretary-General will sign a book of condolences for the victims of the mudslides at the Sierra Leone Mission this afternoon.

From the ground, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with the Government of Sierra Leone to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera in the wake of last week’s mudslides and flooding in Freetown.

Cholera kits are being distributed to areas at risk; health and community workers are being trained to recognize the signs of priority diseases, and the Organization is also sending additional cholera and emergency kits to the country.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues at the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic tell us that the situation in Bria is tense but has remained calm since Saturday, when the mission said it was taking measures to contain the outbreak of violence between presumed anti-Balaka fighters and the armed men from the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique’s Arab faction.

The UN mission’s military and police components have been conducting patrols throughout the city to prevent belligerents from moving inside Bria.  Peacekeepers are also protecting internally displaced persons, including 5,000 to 6,000 people, mainly women and children, who have sought refuge in a UN camp.


In Afghanistan, our colleagues there tell us that the UN mission has verified allegations that Taliban and local self-proclaimed Islamic State/Daesh fighters killed at least 36 people, including civilians, during an attack on 5 August in the Mirza Olang village of Sari Pul province.

The Head of the mission, Tadamichi Yamamoto, condemned the blatant targeting of civilians and said it was a clear violation of international law.  The mission’s findings were released as part of its human rights report, which is now available online.


You will have seen that over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned the terrorist attack in Turku, Finland, extending his condolences to the Government and people of Finland.

**Field Support

And a couple of travels by Senior officials to flag:  the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is in Tokyo where he will hold meetings with senior Government officials to discuss challenges related to peace operations and field support, as well as Japan’s contributions to UN peacekeeping.  He will also participate in a preparatory meeting hosted by the Japanese Government ahead of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference, which will be held in Vancouver, Canada, on 15 November.

**Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — Association of Southeast Asian Nations

As part of commemorations of World Humanitarian Day, in Singapore, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held its third dialogue on disaster management, which was attended by the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller.

Participants at the event reaffirmed the partnership between the UN and ASEAN in bolstering disaster management capabilities and resilience in the [region].

Just a programming note:  we will not be holding live noon briefings next week. We will be posting updates online, the Office will be staffed and obviously, if there is an emergency, we will be holding briefings but as of now, we do not plan [to do so] and live briefings will resume on Tuesday, right after Memorial Day.

Correspondent:  Labour Day.

Spokesman:  After Labour Day, too.  We were thinking of taking a year off, but we’re going to start off Labour Day.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Foreign Ministry put out a statement over the weekend calling the Secretary‑General’s remarks about the escalation of tensions ignorant and saying that it’s ridiculous for the UN Secretary‑General to talk about taking a fair stand in resolving the issue of the Korean Peninsula while he cannot say a word to the United States, which is actually driving the situation.  I wondered whether the Secretary‑General has any response to the Foreign Ministry’s statement.

Spokesman:  No particular response.  I think the Secretary‑General in his remarks was quite clear in his position and that remains his position.


Question:  Yeah.  Saudi Arabia said today that they have spent $8.7 billion in aid to Yemen.  If the case is so, why is Yemen at the brink of famine and the cholera is spreading there?  How much of that money was distributed to the people in aid through the United Nations and how much…


Spokesman:  I can check on the exact numbers of how… how much of that money was worked through the United Nations.  Obviously, I think we have a very solid relationship with the King Salman Humanitarian Centre.

Why is there still suffering in, in Yemen?  Because the conflict is ongoing in Yemen.  The Yemeni people are suffering because of a man‑made crisis.  It’s as simple as that.

I think both Stephen O’Brien and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed were much more eloquent than I can be in portraying the situation in Yemen, the ongoing humanitarian disaster that people are facing, and the need for a political solution.  The need, the need remains.

Question:  How come… how come the Governments which are closest to Saudi Arabia are the worst hit in famine and in cholera?

Spokesman:  It’s not an analysis that I can, that I can comment on from here.  What we do, what we do know is that, because of the ongoing conflict, we are not getting the access that, the humanitarian access that we need.  Because of the ongoing conflict, the health infrastructure of parts, large parts of Yemen have been destroyed.  And because of the ongoing conflict, health workers, civil servants and especially health workers, have not been paid.

The conflict needs to stop.  The parties need to come to a political, political agreement.  The, the Special Envoy was clear in saying that, in his discussions in the region, he found consensus on, on the need for support for a UN‑led political process. Obviously, the parties need to come to an agreement so the Yemeni people can stop suffering.

Yes, sir.  I’ll come back to you, Nizar.  Matthew.

Correspondent:  Sure.

Spokesman:  Yes, and then.  Go ahead.

Question:  Togo and then Kenya.  Togo, as you may have seen, there’ve been major protests against the now 50‑year rule of the same family, and several protesters were killed.  The Government says two, the opposition says seven.  I’m wondering, you know, you have an office on West Africa.  What is the UN… are they following this?  Do they intend to…

Spokesman:  We are following it.  I don’t have any language on Togo right now, but we’ll see what we can get.

Question:  And I wanted to ask, on Kenya and the election, it seems like more and more questions are being raised about the, the validity of the results that were announced.  And there’ve been at least two UN things I wanted to ask you about.  One is that the former Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai, was detained at the airport when he sought to leave the country, and also Roselyn Akombe, as, as you know… I guess I wanted to… there’s been a lot of coverage there about when does she intend… she took a leave of absence to work on that commission.  She left the country saying she was coming to New York for meetings.  Did she meet anyone in the UN?  When’s her expected time to return to UN service…

Spokesman:  We’ve given you some updates on her status in January, if I, if I…

Correspondent:  Right…

Spokesman:  …if I recall.  I’m not aware of any, of any updates, and I’m not aware of any meetings she may, she may have had here.

Question:  And does the UN have, I guess… you know, it’s a Special Rapporteur, which I understand is an independent UN position, but what do you say about a…

Spokesman:  I’ll check.

Question:  …human rights defender being detained?

Spokesman:  I’ll check on that situation.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Syria sent a letter to SG expressing their concern about the increase in civilian casualties.  Has the SG received the letter, and what’s the response?

Spokesman:  I believe, I’ll check.  I believe it’s a letter that is to be, that requests the Secretary‑General to circulate to the Security Council, which we will do so as a, as a matter of course.

I think the, the concern over the continuing suffering of civilians throughout Syria is one that the Secretary‑General continues to have.


Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Just a follow‑up to Edie’s question, also on DPRK.  Do you follow the joint exercises by US and South Korea in the region, especially after DPRK announced threaten… is going to be consequences?

Spokesman:  Do we follow, I mean, we’re aware of the, we’re aware of the… that the exercises are taking place. I have no particular comment on these, on these exercises.

Yes, Carla.

Question:  [inaudible] at the stakeout.  I believe it was on Wednesday.  The Secretary‑General began by saying that 4 million Koreans were killed in the last war, and when 1718 was adopted, in the right of reply, North Korean Ambassador Pak stated that they would not need a single nuclear weapon if they were not being threatened by the United States and with nuclear weapons because the US had nuclear weapons stationed.

So, I think it’s reasonable to question this, the Secretary‑General saying that the US‑ROK exercises are defensive, because the country which is really being threatened is North Korea. And Curtis LeMay even came out and said, you know, we killed 20 per cent of the population.

So, it seems that the, the objection by that press statement, which we also received of the DPRK, is valid, that both sides, well, certainly…

Spokesman:  So what is the question, ma’am?

Question:  The question is, it doesn’t seem fair to say that the US‑ROK exercises are defensive because the North has weapons when the North only developed weapons because they…

Spokesman:  Carla, Carla…

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  …as much as I try to listen, with all due respect, I don’t hear a question there.  I think, the Secretary‑General spoke, and he stands by what he said.


Question:  Did Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed fill in any financial disclosure when he entered, assumed his position?

Spokesman:  Of course he did.

Question:  He did?  Okay.  Did he… is he under scrutiny at the moment for conflict of interest in making business in the Gulf region?

Spokesman:  I’m, I’m not aware of, of any issue concerning Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s…

Question:  Are you sure?

Spokesman:  …financial… I’m sure of what I’m saying, yes.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about…

Spokesman:  I try to say, when I’m not sure, I try to, unless I specify I’m not sure, I usually am sure.  But I am sure.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about the meeting the Secretary‑General had with the President of the Italian Red, Red Cross.  I know that he rarely… the Secretary‑General doesn’t really issue a lot of readouts, but the Italian Red Cross side did, in fact, quoting, direct quoting, “I want to express my total solidarity and my great admiration for the work the Italian Red Cross.”  With these words, the Secretary‑General began his talk in the Glass House.  This was sent out.

So, I guess what I want to know is, it’s something that I’ve tried to ask them, but I want to ask you. This issue of the Government of Italy, not the Italian Red Cross, but the actual Government of Italy cooperating with, working with, the Libyan Coast Guard and the Libyan Navy, many refugee and migration advocates are saying this is a very bad thing, that, in fact, people are being… it’s refoulement.  And there’s some allegations that Italy is actually paying, I don’t want to say per head, but there’s some kind of payment.

So, I wanted to know, what, first, is there a readout of the meeting?  And, even if there’s not, what is the secondary, Secretary‑General’s position on Italy’s actual work with this, this Libyan Coast Guard operation?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of a readout.  I would not be surprised if the Secretary‑General congratulated the, the Italian Red Cross, I think, both from his experience as High Commissioner for Refugees and what he’s seen and what he knows of their work, they are and have been doing for a long time incredible work in bringing a human touch to the, to the suffering and, of men, women and children who are, who’ve made that perilous crossing.

As for the other issue, you’ve asked for it.  I’ve answered you, and our position has not changed.

Yes, Nizar.

Question:  Do you have any statement regarding the ongoing operations by the Lebanese army against ISIS in the eastern mountains of Lebanon?

Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Okay.  As a longtime UN communications professional, I want to get your point of view on this.

Spokesman:  Rarely have I been called a professional.

Question:  All right.  That was the build-up.  You’ve been buttered up.  Here it is.

The… in the Ng Lap Seng trial, one of the exhibits that was used that’s since been released and published, has Mr. Yiping Zhu, who I understand has left the system, writing to Francis Lorenzo, saying “great coverage of the Secretary‑General’s visit” — this was a visit to Honduras and El Salvador in 2015 — “we should do more for the SG and other heads of UN organs, especially for our UNDP administrator Helen Clark.  Please find my letter of support.”  And attached to that was a letter of support for the Macau Convention Centre.

So, just on its face, it looks like a quid pro quo.  Thank you for positive coverage by South‑South News of the trip, and here’s a support for a now highly dubious discredited convention centre.  Is… are you comfortable with this, with this…

Spokesman:  Listen, I haven’t seen the letter.  What is clear is that Mr. Yiping Zhu no longer worked for this organisation, and Mr. Lorenzo never has.

Question:  Right, but he was the representative.  He was the…


Spokesman:  I just…

Question:  …envoy of the Secretary‑General.


Spokesman:  I’m saying he’s no longer…

Question:  So, can you say whether Ban Ki‑moon had any…

Spokesman:  No.  Ban Ki‑moon had no knowledge of any of this, those activities.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.