Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

11 September 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 Myanmar and Bangladesh: our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State is putting all civilians at risk, with tens of thousands of people having been uprooted from their homes in the area.

The Government has said that all 3,500 Muslims living in three camps in the Rathedaung township have left the site and are now believed to be heading to the Bangladesh border.

Humanitarian activities in Rakhine have either been suspended or severely interrupted, resulting in 170,000 people not receiving the food they usually receive and 15,000 people not receiving their primary health care.

As of yesterday, 313,000 people — mostly women and children — who left Rakhine since 25 August have arrived in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.  There is no indication that the pace of these arrivals is slowing.

The UN and its partners are helping the Government and the local community respond to the situation by providing food, shelter, health care and water, among other means of support.

The UN and the Government are also urgently looking at solutions to allocate land to accommodate the new arrivals.

The scale and speed of the influx of people from Myanmar has overwhelmed capacity on the ground and additional resources are needed.  Aid agencies have prepared a preliminary response plan of $77 million to deliver urgent, life-saving assistance to over 300,000 new arrivals.

**Hurricane Irma

Turning to Hurricane Irma, our colleagues at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) report that their Offices in the Caribbean have joined forces in a Regional Recovery Strategy for Irma-affected countries.

This includes debris and waste removal, immediate short-term employment for affected women and men and community infrastructure rehabilitation — in support of and upon request from national authorities in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, which also cover several other island States.

The temporary training and employment for affected women and men aims to quickly inject cash in affected communities, tools, equipment, technical capacity of professionals such as engineers and architects.

The strategy also entails training and support to community-based micro and small businesses to help resume economic activities.

A dozen UNDP crisis recovery experts have been deployed to the region and are immediately available to provide assistance.

And our humanitarian colleagues from the Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams in the region have been deployed to the Turks and Caicos, as well as in Antigua and Barbuda.

In Cuba, where massive flooding is reported, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is coordinating the purchase of 3 million chlorine tablets to support water purification efforts.


You will have seen that yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he was saddened by the loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake that struck the provinces of Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco in Mexico.


Back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia, Jean Arnault, briefed the Security Council this morning, two weeks before the new Verification Mission starts its activities.

He noted that the recent formal transformation of the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army) into a political party was the culmination of the ceasefire in the country.

Mr. Arnault briefed the Council on the preparations for the Verification Mission — deployment, staffing needs and logistics.

He also stressed that the temporary ceasefire agreement reached between the Government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) provides that the UN would assist with the verification of commitments made.  Further discussions starting this week should lead to recommendations to the Council in the very near future, he said.  His remarks are available in the office.

This afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled a meeting on the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) at 6 p.m.


Turning to Niger, I want to flag the statement by our new Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, at the conclusion of a three-day visit to Niger.

He commended the Government for tackling the country’s complex humanitarian crisis, including leading the provision of life-saving aid to 400,000 people in the Diffa region, where half the people require humanitarian assistance and Boko Haram attacks remain a grave threat.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cholera epidemic is reaching alarming proportions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, affecting 20 of the country’s 26 provinces, and major cities, including Kinshasa.

An average 1,500 cases per week have been reported since the end of July 2017.

To date, there are more than 24,000 suspected cases with 528 deaths, according to Government sources.


Our colleagues and friends at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today released a report saying that the number of migrant deaths over the past three years is likely to be much higher as many deaths are not recorded.

Since 2014, more than 23,000 migrant deaths and disappearances have been recorded globally by the IOM.  However, many families have spent years not knowing whether their loved one is alive or dead as so few bodies of missing migrants are ever identified.

The report examines the challenge of collecting data on missing migrants and what could be done to improve this.

A second part to the report will be released in November analysing the data that is currently available.  More information on the IOM website.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., Miroslav Lajèák, President of the seventy-second General Assembly, will address you at the General Assembly Stakeout.

And of course today, the Secretary-General will be speaking this afternoon at the closing session of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly.

**Honour Roll

And today we say thank you to Zimbabwe for paying its budget dues in full, making it the…?

Correspondent:  127.

Spokesman:  You overshot it, but at least you shot it.  So, if you have a question… it's 126.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay. Thank you.  Actually, this is just a question about a high‑level meeting that I noticed was scheduled for the Delegates' Lounge this afternoon.  Do you know what the subject is and, secondly, whether there's access by the media to it?

Spokesman:  What's the meeting?

Question:  It just said, lounge is closed for a high‑level… for a high‑level meeting.

Spokesman:  The Delegates' Lounge?  I don't know; I don't keep tabs on the use of the bar, but we can try to find out.

Correspondent:  2:00.

Spokesman:  2:00.  Excellent.  [He later said that no event had been scheduled for 2:00 pm today.]   Yes, sir, Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the situation in Myanmar, High Commissioner Zeid had a very strong statement, calling it a typical example of ethnic cleansing.  Does the Secretary‑General endorse that view?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General expressed his views, I think, very clearly and strongly when he spoke to you on Wednesday.  And I would expect him to address this situation in Myanmar in clear terms during his press conference on Wednesday.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Just, first, on Colombia, the Colombian Ambassador had said basically it's in the Secretary‑General's hands what… how to support the ELN (National Liberation Army) deal.  And the President of the Council just said basically the same thing, that the Council has said they're waiting.  So, when you said discussions, there are these discussions between Mr. Arnault, ELN, and Colombia or with Member States, or how does it work?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Arnault is having discussions along with Member States.  When we have something more, I will share it with you.

Question:  But with ELN? I…

Spokesman:  That's all I can tell you.

Question:  Everyone's… okay.  And I wanted to ask you, you'd said… since… you know, that Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas did go to Togo, and the protests have continued and have been broken up repeatedly at night.  He… I don't know if UNOWA, the West Africa office, has put out a statement, but Mr. Chambas apparently called a wire service and said that he supports a proposed bill by the Government that would… that might limit it… make… in… institute a two‑term term limit, but that would involve the current President remaining in power until 2030.  And I just…

Spokesman:  We… I saw the… I think it was a Reuters piece.  I saw it as well.  We're trying to check the quote.  So, I can't…

Question:  Can you actually confirm it?

Spokesman:  That's what we're desperately trying to do.  I would also refer you to a statement, I think, he made… he issued on Friday in which he made some comments on the discussions ongoing in the Cabinet on that particular law.

Question:  But just even… even as you check the veracity of the quotes, can you say what António Guterres' view… does he think that the UN should be in the business of… of… of giving a blessing to a… to a President whose family has already been in power for 50 years…?

Spokesman:  I think that would imply… I think I would first have to check the quotes before I would ask for the Secretary‑General's position on what may or may not have been said.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  An Egyptian law… lawyer, Ahmed… I'm sorry, Ibrahim Ahmed Metwaly, he… he disappear.  He was… he was going to Geneva from Cairo to participate in a human rights conference.  And this lawyer, he's… he represent also the family of Giulio Regeni, the Italian who disappears… disappeared last year.  So, do you know about this?  Apparently, he's been arrested but no one knows…

Spokesman:  I'll check.  I'll check with our human rights colleague if we have any information on this.  Carla?

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General or anybody else here have any comment on the head of NATO's remarks about North Korea, which were really very, very provocative remarks?  And is NATO now a global military?

Spokesman:  Well, I think NATO is… is what it is.  I would refer you to them.  I think the Secretary‑General's own position on the seriousness of the crisis in North Korea was outlined very clearly last week in his deep concern, and I think he underscored that, for him, it's the biggest issue that we're facing as we move into the General Assembly.  Nizar?

Question:  I wondered if you had made a statement regarding the death of 18 Egyptian soldiers today.  Did you issue a statement about that?

Spokesman:  We do not have any statement.  We, obviously, send our condolences to the Government and people of Egypt on this attack.

Question:  With Deir Ezzour retaken by the Syrian army, are there any negotiations to resolve the situation in Idlib, which is, of course, hosting more than a million refugees?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we're directly involved in any discussions.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  As a follow‑up, Stéphane, to my question last week about the Shamasneh family, and you promised to get in touch with [Nickolay] Mladenov's office, did you…?

Spokesman:  I think we… I don't have an answer with me.  If we have something, they'll bring it in.

Question:  Okay.  My second question, there is a cemetery near the holy mosque of Al Aqsa, and the Israeli bulldozers today destroyed part of it, which contains some of the corpse of famous companion of the prophet.  It's called the cemetery of the… of the martyrs.  So, there was destruction of this historic cemetery today, started today.  Is there any, also…  Are you aware of that…?

Spokesman:  I will check on those reports.  Yes, ma'am… yes, sir.

Question:  Stéphane, General Zahreddine, he's a general in the Syrian army, made a statement today saying… advising, under brackets, all the refugees, not Syrian refugees, not to come back to Syria.  What's your position on such statement?

Spokesman:  Look, the… first of all, what is important is that people have the right to make the decision when to go home.  Refugees should not be pushed back into going back to places that they… that are not safe.  It is for them to make those decisions.  Syria is, obviously, a country that is still… that's seeing pockets of fighting, of deep fighting, of insecurity, and I think people have to make up their own minds and to make sure that, when they go home or when they go back to Syria, there are the facilities and support that is needed.

Question:  Yes, but… but now we not talking about the refugees' point of view.  It's about, like, an official statement from an official general in the Syrian regime army who's threatening the refugees about coming back.

Spokesman:  Well, I don't think anyone should be threatened.  I can only sp… I'm not… I haven't seen the particular statement.  What I'm saying is that what's important is to, first and foremost, keep in mind the needs and the wishes of the refugees.  On the Shamasneh family, Abdelhamid, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) issued a statement on 6 September on the eviction of the family.  And I'm told that UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process) will also reflect the case in the upcoming briefing to the Security Council.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask about Kenya and Cameroon, but on Kenya, two things.  One, overall, President [Uhuru] Kenyatta now with the… it's unclear when the runoff will take place, but he said if Raila Odinga wins the runoff, he can just be impeached.  He's assured his supporters that it wouldn't have any impact.  And so I know that the Secretary‑General's sort of initial and revised statement both encouraged all sides to follow the legal procedure.  Do you view that as basically saying, if I lose the election, I'll just… my party will just take out the winner?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to start commenting on campaign rhetoric.  As a matter of principle, political campaigns should be held in an atmosphere of dialogue and without threats.  I think countries, whether it's Kenya and others, have constitutional mechanisms, legal mechanisms, and those should be followed.

Question:  And then the second one, and it's related actually to the Cameroon one, it has to do with sort of UN staff.  I know I've asked you before about Roselyn Akombe.  And the reason I want to ask you is that there's now a… you know, you can find it in published reports — a request that she not continue to serve on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for a lack of partiality.  And I'm not saying she is or she isn't, but I guess I'm just wondering, what is the UN's thinking in… in allowing relatively high‑level DPA (Department of Political Affairs) staff to go out and function in a… in a… in a political function?  And at what point does it become… does… people are starting to wonder, is it… is this… is she operating for the UN there?  Is there any way to say…

Spokesman:  No, she's not operating for the UN.  She's on special leave without pay, operating in her own capacity.  I'm… you know, I've seen… like you, I've read press reports regarding the issues regarding the Electoral Commission.  Those issues need to be resolved within Kenya and within the legal framework.

Question:  But is there a point at which a UN staff member on leave that… that… it's almost inevitable that people perceive them as part of the UN…  Are there any kind of guidance on what they should or shouldn't do…?

Spokesman:  She, no doubt, submitted a request to go on special leave, and that request was accepted.  And it's clear that she's not doing her… she's doing her work in her personal capacity.  Abdelhamid, then Nizar.

Question:  In his message to the Security Council last week, the Secretary‑General stopped short from calling for a meeting on Myanmar.  Now, almost a week later, the situation is getting worse, and things are deteriorating. Is the SG considering now officially requesting the Security Council to uphold its responsibilities and hold a meeting?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General made his point clear in the letter he sent to the Security Council, and as I said, I think I would expect him to have more to say on Myanmar when he speaks to you on Wednesday.  It's not a good career move to steal my boss' thunder.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just a couple of quick questions on next Monday's high‑level meeting on reform.  One, do we know what time that's going to be?  And, number two, what does the Secretary‑General hope to get from the meeting? 

Spokesman:  On the time, I'll check. The Secretary‑General is delighted in the… excuse me.  The Secretary‑General is delighted at the… his part… participating in the meeting.  I think it's clear that we need the support of the United States and other Member States who are interested in reform.  For the Secretary‑General to help push the reform agenda through, the Member States are critical and key to this reform process, and it's… for the Secretary‑General, it's a very important meeting in which he can participate and ensure that the Member States are… and him are on the same wavelength in terms of achieving reform to get a United Nations that is more fit for purpose and more nimble and more effective than it is today.

Question:  Lebanon has sent a letter to the SG and Security Council President, two identical letters, complaining about the Israeli violations, especially recently, about the city of Saida, breaking sound barrier there.  Is there any response to these letters?

Spokesman:  The letter was circulated, I believe, to the Security Council as it was requested.  UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) will report… the UN will report in due time on the violations it's observed.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask, in Cameroon and something called UN Open University, but I'd asked you two times last week about a UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) staffer who said that the Anglophone movement in Cameroon is terrorist and should be repressed.  And UNHCR did write over the weekend and say that the post was taken down.  But I've asked them a few questions, and, in fact, I want to ask you, because it's not just a UNHCR question.  What is the policy of the UN and its agencies on… on staff members identifying themselves as UN staff on social media?  And is it… is there a consistent policy across agencies?  Because I know I've seen UNRWA, like, issue press statements about misplaced tweets or whatever…

Spokesman:  Staff members, whether professionally or personally, should exercise common sense and should understand that, if they are staff members, their actions would be… could be interpreted as being the official position of the UN.  So, it's a matter of using common sense.  And, for questions on the exact post, I would talk to UNHCR.

Question:  That is a system-wide policy.

Spokesman:  That is a basic, hopefully idiot‑proof policy.

Question:  Because people in Cameroon, they're pretty upset about it.  They don't think that just saying, I'm taking it down is like… is sufficient… and they've seen other answers by other agencies kind clarifying why…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think… If you have questions related to UNHCR, you should ask them.

Correspondent:  I have.

Spokesman:  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  On Yemen, obviously, [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government, which is still a disputed Government by many partners in Yemen, has leased Socotra Island, a big island, to United Arab Emirates for 25 years.  Do you believe that this is… this kind of action, leasing an island for 25 years, is a wise thing or legal thing, given the discord in Yemen?

Spokesman:  I have no…  I can't comment on the legality of an issue.  Joe?  Sorry, then Iftikhar.

Question:  Yeah.  I believe you said last week that you or your office was going to follow up regarding a question on Jeffrey Sachs and the comment he made about President [Donald] Trump, calling him a sociopath, and there've been other instances of his personal criticism of… of President Trump and a question of whether he prominently enough made it clear that he was expressing only his personal opinion and not on behalf of the UN.  Is there going to be any follow‑up to make sure that he follows the…

Spokesman:  It's clear that he's not expressing the UN's… the Secretary‑General's opinion.

Question:  Well, you say it's clear because…

Spokesman:  It's clear because I say it.

Question:  I understand that, but is it clear to readers of what Jeffrey Sachs says or listens…

Spokesman:  Well, hopefully, that's your… you know…  

Question:  If he… if he… if he doesn't expressly disassociate himself and say, as many do… you know, when someone from the Government is giving a speech, they always say this is my personal opinion, not an official position of X agency. I don't know that he says that.

Spokesman:  Well, I think… and, speaking as a matter of principle, and, hopefully, this could be common sense, you're talking about people who are a dollar a year, who are not full‑time UN envoys.  So, I think… unless they clearly state that they are speaking as a UN envoy, it should not be considered speaking as a UN envoy.

Question:  Usually it's the converse.  I mean…

Spokesman:  Excuse me.  Well, I… no, what I'm saying is people who are a dollar a year are temporary envoys, I think, that would seem to me like a logical policy to put forward, which I will suggest.

Question:  Except that… except that it's not necessarily widely known what his salary is.  So…

Spokesman:  It's a dollar a year.

Question:  I… I know you're saying that here.  But if somebody's hearing him or reading about him…

Spokesman:  But I think, unless he clearly… we can go around in circles here, Joe.  I think, unless he clearly says he is speaking in his role as a UN adviser, then what he says should not be considered to be UN policy.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This issue as raised by my colleague Abdelhamid quite some time ago, it's about access to DC-2 building.  They don't recognize UN passes, and they [inaudible] people who [inaudible] want to see had to come down and escort you in [inaudible].  But we could not access the [inaudible].

Spokesman:  You have to… I'm sorry for that.  You should probably deal with our MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit) office colleagues.  There's also a bank here in this building.  Carla?

Question:  Has the United Nations ever officially acknowledged that Security Council Resolution 678 against Iraq and 1973 against Libya had disastrous consequences?

Spokesman:  I'd like to say it was before I was born, but it's not, but I'm not going to get into the historical record.  I think that's been written.  Madame?

Question:  There's no official comment?

Spokesman:  It's a research question.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you. Is there any meeting during the general debate on the refugees, specifically on Lebanon, please?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware off the top of my head.  I do expect to have by this afternoon — I've been promised — a list of high‑level events for you.  Evelyn?

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Hit the button.  Thank you, Steph.  I wanted to tell you we have three of the [Dag] Hammarskjöld fellows here.

Spokesman:  Welcome.

Question:  Ray from Zimbabwe, Mercy from Nigeria and Zeinab from Sudan.

Spokesman:  Great.  Welcome to all of you.

Question:  And the fourth, the Afghani, is delayed because a cousin of his was killed and shot.

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  Okay.  Thank you.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.