23 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.

Good afternoon.


I have a personnel appointment to announce.

The Secretary-General is appointing Jane Connors of Australia as the first Victims’ Rights Advocate for the United Nations.

As you will recall, in his report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach”, the Secretary-General pledged that the UN will put the rights and dignity of victims at the forefront of its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.

As Victims’ Rights Advocate, Ms. Connors will support an integrated, strategic response to victim assistance in coordination with UN system actors with responsibility for assisting victims.  She will work with Government institutions, civil society, and national and legal and human rights organizations to build networks of support and to help ensure that the full effect of local laws, including remedies for victims, are brought to bear. 

Ms. Connors brings to the position a long and multifaceted career in human rights advocacy as well as human rights and humanitarian assistance in the academic, UN, and civil society spheres.  She is currently International Advocacy Director, Law and Policy, for Amnesty International in Geneva.

More information on her career in my office.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, the UN peacekeeping Mission there reports that clashes took place today between fighters from the anti-Balaka and the FPRC in Ngoubi, close to Bria in Haute-Kotto Prefecture.

Meanwhile, the nearly 6,000 civilians who sought refuge at the UN Mission’s base in Bria over the weekend have returned to an internally displaced people site in the town, which is also being protected by peacekeepers.  Peacekeepers are also protecting the Bria church, where civilians are seeking shelter.  The Mission is engaging both sides in an attempt to mediate, while peacekeepers are continuing their patrols on the Ippy and Aigbando axes.

And still in the country, our humanitarian colleagues are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Zémio, in the Central African Republic.  They say it is likely to worsen with the arrival of heavily-armed Fulani people in the town on 21 August and reports of anti-Balaka fighters from Bangassou heading towards Zémio.


From Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that the encirclement of Derna, in the north-eastern part of the country, has been eased temporarily, following advocacy efforts from humanitarian partners.

Civilians are currently able to leave Derna more freely, to stock up on basic necessities, pursue studies outside of Derna, receive treatment for medical emergencies, and to go on pilgrimage to Mecca.  Essential supplies, including medicine, spare parts and materials for Derna’s desalination plant, as well as cooking gas, have been allowed into Derna for the past few days.

Nevertheless, although restrictions lightened, there are still complaints over bans on the entry of trucks carrying fuel, cooking gas and other goods.  There are also complaints over intimidation and one case of detention at a checkpoint.


The World Food Programme (WFP) says it is delivering emergency supplies to more than 200,000 people in north-west Bangladesh after massive floods inundated more than half of the country.

WFP says that many survivors have lost everything — their homes, their possessions and their crops — and it is worried about the impact of floods on longer-term food security.

Nearly 7 million people have been affected by the floods and more than 580,000 hectares of crop land have been destroyed.

More information on WFP’s website.


We wanted to flag a new publication from the Food and Agriculture Organization on small scale fisheries.

It offers more than 30 case studies ranging from Greenland to Zanzibar and addressing diverse issues including gender and sustainable resource use.

Two thirds of the fish that humans eat are caught by small-scale fishers, with technologies and practices that are usually well adapted to the ecological and social circumstances in which they operate.

Yet small-scale fisheries often struggle to compete due to regulatory frameworks that tend to ignore them or that are tailored to the concerns of large commercial fleets.

If you are interested in small fisheries, go to the FAO’s website.


We have been receiving questions from some journalists in Guatemala, regarding reports that President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, is planning to ask the Secretary-General for the removal of Commissioner Ivan Velasquez as Head of the International Commission against Impunity.

What I can say is that we have never received any complaint about the role of Commissioner Velasquez from the Government of Guatemala or from the country's justice sector institutions.

On the contrary, we recently hosted a donor meeting at UN Headquarters with the participation of the Foreign Minister, the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General as well the Minister of Interior.  They all praised the Commission's work.

The Secretary-General heartily commends the work of Commissioner Velasquez and looks forward to continuing to support him carrying out his functions at the helm of the Commission.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, there was a report about North Korea violations of the sanctions and of shipments directed towards the Government of Syria chemical programmes.  Since Syria and North Korea, both of them, both of the States are under sanctions for various reasons, what's the new mechanism to enforce the sanctions in place?  And what does the Secretary‑General have to propose to the Security Council in terms of reforming the sanction mechanism in place for these two countries?

Spokesman:  A couple points to make.  One, as you will recall, the Secretary briefed the Council on the issues of sanctions and the use of sanctions recently, but that's more on the policy on how to use sanctions.

The sanctions regime is put in place by the Security Council.  It is a tool in, tool available to the Security Council.  It is important that every Member State abide by its responsibilities and in, in following and implementing the sanctions regime.

As for the specific case you mentioned, it's, from what I understand, a leaked document.  It's produced by, if it is, in fact, a real report, it's produced by the sanctions committee for the use by Security Council members.

But, as a matter of principle, it's important that Member States implement and abide by sanctions voted on by the Security Council.


Question:  Sure.

Spokesman:  Periscope question?

Question:  There… we'll see. There's quite a few of them… 

Spokesman:  [Inaudible]

Question:  …but I wanted to ask first about this airstrike in Yemen, reported airstrike that hit a hotel and killed either 35 or 40 people.  Does the… either the envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, or anyone in the UN system… can they confirm how many people were, were killed? And can you give now a readout of that meeting with the King Salman Centre?  We got a very rosy picture from, from the head of the Centre at the stakeout, but does the, does the Secretary‑General believe that the safeguards that were described at the stakeout are being taken by the Saudi-led Coalition?

Spokesman:  I think it's two, two different things.  First of all, on the, on the attack, we've seen the reports of, of the attack on the hotel just outside of Sana’a.  We've seen the reports that there's been numerous casualties, many people wounded.  We're not in a position to confirm it.  Our colleagues at the Human Rights Office are, I'm told, are investigating the incidents.

What is clear is that any attack on civilians is unacceptable.  And this is a message we've often repeated, and we will continue, we will continue to repeat.

I think, as I said, the King Salman Centre is a, a partner of the United Nations in, in humanitarian, in humanitarian work.  As far as the Coalition and the military side, I think we have made it clear, in repeated briefings to the Security Council, our concern that parties to the conflict are inflicting huge damage on civilian infrastructure and are just adding to the suffering of the, of the Yemeni people.

Question:  At their joint stakeout, the Permanent Representative of… of Saudi Arabia said that he's, he is fully in touch with the United Nations system about possible relisting on the Children and Armed Conflict.  So, I'm just wondering, one, did he attend… the Secretary‑General's meeting with the King Salman Centre, did the Permanent Representative attend?  And did this issue come up, or is it only being discussed with Ms. Gamba?

Spokesman:  I don't know if he attended.  It wouldn't be surprising to me that he did attend.  Often Permanent Representatives, as a matter of course, attend meetings with visiting delegations.

The Secretary‑General will make a decision on the Children and Armed Conflict report.  It will be a decision that he will feel is the right decision and that's regardless of the, of the pressures he may be receiving from both outside the house and inside the house.


Question:  Follow‑up on the airstrike.  On Monday, the Saudi Ambassador to the UN indicated that the Coalition is trying to use as much care as it can when it's executing these airstrikes, and there are some reports suggesting that they may have been trying to target Houthi rebels.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that the Saudi‑led Coalition is being careful enough, is using enough intelligence to carry out these airstrikes because, you know, there are civilians who were killed…

Spokesman:  We're not, we're not in a position to give, to comment on, on the… on how the Coalition operates for specific sorties.  And all we know and the reports that we've seen is that, we've gotten reports that many people have died, there've been many casualties.  We have been told on a number of occasions by, by the Coalition that they do their utmost to avoid, to avoid civilian casualties.

What we see continuing in the conflict in Yemen is that the parties to the conflict are inflicting a huge toll on the Yemeni people.  I mean, as we've said over and over again, the, the conflict, the suffering in, of the people of Yemen is due to a man‑made crisis. And our efforts to find a political solution will continue.

Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Very quickly, would it be appropriate for the Secretary‑General to urge the Coalition to exercise more restraint when planning and executing these airstrikes?

Spokesman:  I think this is, this is a message we have put forward to, to all the parties that they must avoid, at all costs, any civilian casualties or any attacks on civilian infrastructure.  We have seen the health infrastructure in Yemen being, being destroyed and badly damaged.

Since you're wearing a seersucker, Mr. Abbadi, you should have had the first question.

Question:  Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane.  As you indicated, on the Central African Republic, the UN Mission is trying to keep peace there, and there are concerns about the humanitarian situation.  But Mr. O'Brien, the humanitarian man, went beyond that and said there are indications, early signs, of genocides in the country.  At this stage, because of that, is the Secretary‑General prepared to do anything?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the, the Secretary‑General, through his envoys and through his own work, has put in a lot of effort in trying to bring peace to the Central African Republic.  The, the peacekeeping mission there is doing its utmost to create the space for the Government to reassert its authority, to create the space for humanitarian workers to be able to do their work.  I think we have been anything but silent on the ongoing crisis in the Central African Republic.

Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I was wondering if you have any comment on the US cutting military and economic aid to Egypt over human rights concerns.

Spokesman:  No, I do, I do not.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Wanted to ask, on, on this appointment of, of Jane Connors, first, one, I wanted to understand whether the, the scope of this victims' advocate, would it, would it include, for example, the people, you know, allegedly… I mean, the people that died but allegedly due to the UN's introduction of cholera into Haiti and other types of UN victims or only sexual abuse by peacekeepers?  And then I have…

Spokesman:  It is not, it is focused on sexual exploitation and abuse.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask, I've seen and, and reported on this new case that's been found in MINUSCA of a, of a Cameroonian soldier… it's listed as child rape, these are the words.  And so I'm just wondering, it says, you know, all the right thing… you know, it says payment suspended, TCC pending, UN pending.  But, given that there were previous allegations against the Cameroonian contingent in CAR, I'm going over the website as best as I can and I don't see any… there are no outcomes.  I know that this is a new development to actually list allegations, but can we find out, just using the Cameroonian del… contingent as an example, whatever happened? What…

Spokesman:  We'll see what we can get, but as I said, you know, part of our efforts is increasing the transparency and, as you can and anybody can, go on the, on the website, the CDU website, and get regular updates as to, to the cases.

Question:  But if… I thought it was, I thought that the issue for now was TCC was supposed to act in the first instance and, if they didn't, the UN did.  Here, this one is listed as TCC pending and UN pending.  Can you explain, like, what, what triggers a double investigation and at what point can you UN act itself…?

Spokesman:  I’d have to look into the details…

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  … of the case.


Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Following up on Yemen, given that it's such a tragic humanitarian disaster, I was wondering, what is the status of UN and UN agency participation there?  And, also, how significant has been, has the reaction or the funding of an international appeal been?

Spokesman:  The, we continue to be challenged on the funding side.  I'll give you the exact figures right after the, the briefing.  Our humanitarian colleagues operate under very difficult circumstances in‑country.  The issue of access continues to be a, a huge one because of the ongoing fighting and because, obviously, of the destruction of, of civilian infrastructure.  The issue of access to airports and ports is not as easy as we'd like it to be.  So, that's where we are.  And, in the meantime, the Yemeni people continue to suffer.


Question:  Yes.  This morning, I had expected to cover the event, “Travel, Tourism and Transformation:  A Celebration of Sustainable Tourism.” It was sponsored by Suriname and Guyana, but it was cancelled.  Do you know why this event did not take place?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the sponsorship by the Permanent Mission of Suriname was withdrawn, and the events, the event was then cancelled.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Rosalind.

Question:  I just wanted to follow up on Linda's question about the funding appeal.  Given that there has been renewed focus on the situation in Yemen in recent days, has there been, can you say in general terms, any uptick in national contributions or non-profit contributions to the humanitarian crisis?

Spokesman:  We can get those details.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen, it now stands at $2.3 billion, the needs.  We can, maybe during the briefing, my colleagues will bring us the updated figures.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I had some other things, but I wanted to… I was going to ask that, but I wanted to now, I guess, ask a follow‑up.  I asked you about the event yesterday, and I emailed you right after the briefing… 

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …questions about… how the UN had vetted the, the listed as the NGO's sponsor World Development Foundation and its affiliated for‑profit World Financial Group holdings.  You never have answered that.  But I'm wondering… I under… I guess by… Suriname… I've seen the Ambassador of Suriname down by Conference Room 4, and they've offered to have an interview with them.  So, there's more going on here.

I guess, my question is, do you feel that the UN sufficient, had sufficiently vetted this event that was, was to have taken place today that they said would be webcast, et cetera?  What do you believe… you're not going to answer why they withdrew their… what happened? Have, has any vetting of NGO/for‑profit entities having events inside the UN… the allegation wasn't that they were charging money, it was that they were giving money to gain access. What vetting took place?

Spokesman:  There are procedures in place, and all these events are, are looked at.  The event, Suriname withdrew the sponsorship, and, obviously, an event cannot be sponsored by an NGO.  And, therefore, the event, the room reservation was withdrawn.

Question:  But what about Guyana?  They were also listed as a sponsor…

Spokesman:  They had already, they had withdrawn some time ago was my understanding.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Back on Yemen again, one more.  The Special Envoy, I believe his contract's up in a couple of weeks.  Is it going to be… is that right?  And is it going to be renewed?  Or is there any more information on that?

Spokesman:  He, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed continues as the Special Envoy with the full confidence of the Secretary‑General.

Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is a follow‑up to my own question about the Central African Republic.  It is a fact that Mr. O'Brien has warned against early signs of genocide in the Central African Republic.  Wouldn't the Secretary‑General want to avoid the situation whereby the ex‑Secretary‑General Kofi Annan was criticized for not acting in the face of genocide in Rwanda and do something?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, through the, the peacekeeping mission, through the big UN presence in, in the Central African Republic, is doing its utmost to put a stop to the violence.  So, I think we are, we are there, and we are engaged on a daily basis.

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I just… I want to ask about killer robots, which I was going to do yesterday, but I want to just say that the NGO sponsor of that event asked Inner City Press to take down its article written about it and offered an interview with the Ambassador of Suriname.  So, there's more going on here, I think, than you're letting on, like…

Spokesman:  Well, that's between and you them.

Question:  I know, but why was the event…

Spokesman:  That's, I can…

Spokesman:  I can only speak to the facts as I know them.

Question:  All right.  Here's the killer robot one.  As you may have seen, Elon Musk and other high‑profile, high‑tech people have written an open letter to the UN saying that the, what's called killer robots, automated killing machines for the use in war, should be prohibited in some way by the UN.  Does the Secretary‑General have any view on the appropriateness of killer robots?

Spokesman:  I think it would be easy to say that killer robots are not appropriate, but I think, on, on a broader point, and I think our head of disarmament made that point in a recent speech, is that it's clear that the regulatory framework that exists, the global regulatory framework on weapons, has not caught up with the technology as it exists today.  And it's a discussion that needs to be had at an international, within a multilateral setting.

Question:  And, just finally, there was a, there was a swearing in of three officials this morning, including an Under‑Secretary‑General of DESA.  And, previously, those type of events have been open for… have been photo ops for non‑UN photo press.  Today, it wasn't.  What changed between July 11th when an identical…

Spokesman:  If you are in need of photos, we can provide them free of charge.

Question:  But what happened? Are we going… 

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  …backwards in terms of access?

Spokesman:  We're always going forward.

For information media. Not an official record.