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

12 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.


The Secretary-General has appointed Peter Thomson of Fiji as his Special Envoy for the Ocean.  The Envoy is to galvanize concerted efforts to follow up on the outcomes of the United Nations Ocean Conference in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, maintaining the momentum for action to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.  Mr. Thomson, welcome, you have the floor.  [Mr. Thomson speaks]

**Press Encounters

At 3:30 p.m. this afternoon, Miroslav Lajčák, President of the seventy‑second session of the General Assembly, will address you at the stakeout outside the General Assembly.  And a reminder that tomorrow, at noon, we will have the Secretary-General for the pre-General Assembly press conference right here in this room.

**Journalism Fellowship

I also want to welcome the 15 young journalists from the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship who are joining us today.  This year’s group started the programme yesterday and will be with us through the end of the month.  As you know, the Programme was named in honour of our colleagues, Reham al-Farra, who was 29 years old when he was killed in the bombing in Baghdad on 19 August [2003].

**Hurricane Irma

Turning to Hurricane Irma, regarding the aftermath of Irma, our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) are telling us today that an operational hub for the distribution of supplies is being established on Antigua.  WFP will be providing some 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits, enough to feed nearly 17,000 people for three days.  These are being airlifted by WFP from Haiti to Antigua and then they will also be distributed to nearby Saint Martin.  As you know, almost all the population of Barbuda has been evacuated to Antigua.

Life-saving assistance is being followed up by cash-based assistance for some 20,000 people in the Eastern Caribbean islands whose livelihoods have been ruined.  WFP is also launching an emergency operation for the Western Caribbean islands including Turks and Caicos territory which is serving as an operational hub for that region.  Some 10 metric tons of high-energy biscuits are being airlifted there to help 8,500 vulnerable people.

Also being transported by WFP to both the Eastern and Western Caribbean are crucial non-food items, including mobile storage units, tarpaulins, prefabs, generators and other logistics and telecommunications support equipment.  WFP has also offered to support the government of Cuba by providing food and logistical assistance where it is needed.  David Beasley the Executive Director of WFP is hoping to visit Cuba this week to see first-hand the damage done and to discuss with the government what further support may be given by the United Nations.


Turning to the other main humanitarian operation — that is regarding the Rohingyas:  our humanitarian colleagues say that an estimated 370,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since 25 August.  Many of the new refugees are staying in the makeshift settlements or with host communities who are generously sharing whatever they have.  The Government of Bangladesh has asked the UN to help establish a new camp to house the newly arrived refugees.

A flight chartered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) carrying emergency aid — such as shelter materials, sleeping mats and other supplies — for Rohingya refugees has landed in Bangladesh.  The cargo has been loaded onto trucks which will bring the supplies to the refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.  A second flight, donated by the United Arab Emirates, has also landed in Bangladesh, carrying some 2,000 family tents.  The supplies in both flights will help 25,000 refugees, and further flights are planned so that 120,000 people can be reached in total.

For its part, WFP is concerned about the health of women and children who are arriving in Bangladesh hungry and malnourished.  WFP has been providing food to some 70,000 people as they arrive in Cox’s Bazar and to nearly 60,000 people living in camps and makeshift settlements in the region.

Across the border in Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues continue to be concerned about reports of continuing violence, fires and displacement of tens of thousands of people in Rathedaung Township in Rakhine State.  Most aid activities on the part of UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations across northern Rakhine remain either suspended or severely interrupted, although some assistance is being delivered by the Government and through the Red Cross.  The UN and its partners continue to offer support to the Government to meet the needs of all affected communities and are liaising with authorities to resume humanitarian operations as soon as possible.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

You will have seen that, last night, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the Security Council’s adoption of a resolution in response to the sixth nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  He said that maintaining unity in the Security Council is crucial in tackling security challenges on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

The Secretary-General said this firm action by the Security Council sent a clear message that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must comply fully with its international obligations.  He urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to abide by the decisions of the Council and allow space for the resumption of dialogue, and calls upon all Member States to ensure the full implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.  The Secretary-General also said that he has taken note of the Security Council’s desire for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation, as well as its urging of further work to reduce tensions.  He reaffirmed his commitment to work with all parties to this end and to strengthen communication channels.


Turning to Ukraine, bucking the trend of the past three years of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the number of civilian casualties dropped in the month of August, but this was likely due to a ceasefire which began in June, but never fully took hold.  This is according to the latest report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, which recorded 26 conflict-related civilian deaths and 135 injuries between mid-May and mid-August of this year.

The Mission says that more than 2,800 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured in the conflict overall.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is concerned that there is no means for victims to seek reparation and compensation, especially for those who have been injured and the families of those who have been killed.  The full report is online.


And as part of his mission to the Lake Chad Basin, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, arrived in Nigeria yesterday.  The purpose of his visit there is to stress the commitment of the UN and humanitarian partners to supporting the people of Nigeria in tackling the significant humanitarian challenges facing the country.


And an update on Yemen:  last month alone, the World Food Programme reached 7 million people with food assistance, the largest number of people in a single month this year.  Since January, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reached 4 million people through its work on rehabilitating public water systems and nearly 5 million children under the age of 5 have been vaccinated against polio.  Aid workers are aiming to reach 12 million people this year.  The $2.3 billion Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan is still only 42 per cent funded.

**Migrant/Refugee Children

UNHCR today released a report that says that more than 3.5 million refugee children did not have the chance to attend school in the last academic year.  This figure includes some 1.5 million children missing out on primary school and 2 million adolescents who are not in secondary school.  The report entitled “Left Behind:  Refugee Education in Crisis”, found that globally, 91 per cent of children attend primary school but for refugees, that figure is far lower at only 61 per cent — and in low-income countries it is less than 50 per cent.

On that note, we will have Gordon Brown, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Education brief you, I think, next week.  A new report by our colleagues from UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that up to three quarters of children and youth face abuse, exploitation and trafficking on Mediterranean migration routes.  The report is also online.

**Honour Roll

And lastly, we want to thank our friends in Zambia who have become the 127th Member State of these United Nations to pay their budget dues in full.  Michelle.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Just on Myanmar, last week, the SG [Secretary-General] said there was a risk of… or the country is facing a risk of ethnic cleansing.  Yesterday, the Commissioner for Human Rights said it is textbook ethnic cleansing.  Does the SG agree with this?  And does he believe that there's a risk of genocide happening in Myanmar?  And what action… has he spoken with Aung San Suu Kyi since his last phone call last Wednesday?

Spokesman:  No, he has not spoken to Aung San Suu Kyi since the last phone call on Wednesday.  I think the Secretary‑General laid out very… in very clear terms his concern at the ongoing situation in, in Myanmar, including the risks of ethnic cleansing, but I'm sure he will have more to say on this for you tomorrow.  Yeah, and then…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What's the UN position on the Kurdistan referendum of 25 September?

Spokesman:  We have absolutely no… no involvement in the organization, planning of the… of the referendum.  And I think we've, we've made that clear, and the Mission has made that clear very publicly.  Evelyn.

Question:  The follow… follow‑up on Myanmar, Burma.  Is the SG plan to do any more lobbying among Security Council members, perhaps speak at a meeting they may or may not have?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, I think, has made his position clear in the letter he wrote to the Security Council.  I'm sure, if I'm not mistaken, he's having lunch with the Security Council members today.  And I think we, we've seen also the, through the press, the requests for discussion in the Council on the issue by a number of… of Member States.  Matthew.

Question:  Do you know if it's an open or closed session?

Spokesman:  I don't know.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Darfur, but just on Myanmar, I wanted to know, can you say, who is the Resident Coordinator of the UN system now?  I've looked at the page, and it just said "Office of the Resident Coordinator". Is Ms. Lok‑Dessallien still the Resident Coordinator?  Is there another one?

Spokesman:  I'll have to double-check.  We'll get back to you on that today.

Question:  Okay.  And… and… and, on, on Darfur, what I wanted to ask you, with the Mission downsizing, I wanted to know, the allegation… there are allegations that the team sites that have been closed have been turned over to Government militias, some of whom have been connected with the very allegations of genocide for which the Government… the… Omar Al-Bashir was indicted or supposed to go to the ICC [International Criminal Court].  So, I wanted to know, what is UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] doing to ensure that the camps and sites and equip… things that they're leaving behind in Darfur don't, in fact, go to the very forces that brought the peacekeeping mission there in the first place?

Spokesman:  I will check, I haven't received anything from UNAMID today.  Yes, sir.

Question:  [Inaudible] from Quartz.  The numbers that you put out in terms of the humanitarian aid that's reaching Myanmar, you said about 120,000 in total? That's half of the number of people who've, who've left Myanmar since 25 August.  Is there other plans to ramp up…?

Spokesman:  No, there is.  I think our humanitarian colleagues, I think, last week said they were planning for, they had kind of done emergency for planning for about 300,000.  That number has now definitely crossed that line.  We are urgently appealing for more funds.  And as, I think… as I've just said, they are, whether it's UNHCR, WFP and other agencies, are trying to get as much… as much aid into the country as quickly as possible.  Obviously, from what we've… what we've read out, we haven't been able to… to reach all the people that we need to… to reach.  The added challenge is that a lot of people are crossing the border, going to makeshift settlements, or otherwise living outside of more organised structures, which could make it easier to reach… for us to reach them.

Question:  And just a, just a quick follow‑up.  Are you… are you disappointed that major regional players, including in India, in particular, have not… have actually sort of made their stand about this Rohingya crisis very clear and actually not come out and supported when their support could have been quite crucial?

Spokesman:  I think we are, we have made very clear our concern at the ongoing tragedy of the Rohingyas, people who have been forced to leave their homes.  I mean, I think the… the reports we're getting, the pictures all of us are seeing are heart-breaking to say the least.  I think the entire international community should support the ongoing humanitarian efforts, regardless of… of politics.  These are people in need.  These are very vulnerable people who have crossed… crossed the border, who've, as we said, are hungry and are malnourished and deserve to be helped.  On UNAMID, my trusted staff has actually given me some answers here.  UNAMID said this weekend that it is concerned about the recent allegations of improper handover of team sites in North Darfur as part of its mandated reconfiguration.  In line with its mandate, the mission is reducing the number of military police and civilian personnel and has earmarked 11 team sites for closure across Darfur.  Four team sites have been closed to date, and seven are yet to be closed.  Closed team sites have been handed over to the Government of Sudan or appropriate private parties as per lease agreements signed by the Mission.

Question:  Right, but what… if they're concerned about it, are they concerned that the Government gave it to this militia…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think that would encompass the concern.  Yep.

Question:  Thank you.  On DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], you must have heard the statements by the DPRK Ambassador to Geneva, who threatened that his country will “inflict the greatest pain” to the United States.  Are you concerned that yesterday's sanctions will make the situation spiral out of control?  And second, did the SG speak to anybody in DPRK about this, or did he do anything to help reduce tensions?

Spokesman:  He has been having a number of discussions.  I'm not in a position to… to reveal any more contacts as of now.  I think what the… what is crucial is for unity of the Security Council, and we saw that.  And I think that sends a strength, a strong message.  The Secretary‑General is dedicated to finding a political and a peaceful outcome to this situation, and he has made it very clear publicly and privately that his good offices remain available.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In north Iraq, in the Kurdistan area, the local government is planning a referendum on 23 September to declare the area an independent country.  The Iraqi central Government is very concerned.  The parliament is opposing this.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about possible breakup of the country?

Spokesman:  I think, in addition to what I said to your colleagues just a few minutes ago on… on this, obviously, the Mission is there supporting the national authorities in Iraq.  And I think the, the national unity of Iraq is something that is extremely important to the stability of the region.  Rosiland.

Question:  I just wanted to find out if there's an update on the release of the Children and Armed Conflict report.  Is it still coming at the end of this month?  Is it going to slide back into October?  What's your best read of the situation?

Spokesman:  My best guestimate is I think it will likely go to the Council towards the end of this month, "likely" being the operative word.  Ms. Lederer.

Question:  Housekeeping question on when are… when are we going to get some of the details on the Secretary‑General's bilateral meetings during the GA [General Assembly], the events that he will be going to…?

Spokesman:  We should be getting that to you today, as much as I can, at least, especially on the events.  Yeah.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], the position that was opened by the untimely death of its previous holder.  I've heard that, that there's a shortlist, that there's some… some countries have actually started saying that they're on the shortlist, like the Dominican Republic.  I heard that Kate Gilmore was brought in at the last moment as a shortlist.  Can you confirm that there's video interviews taking place, that the post is intended to be filled before the high‑level week, and who… I had heard that Amina Mohammed was sort of running the show, but that the Secretary‑General has gotten involved.  Is that the case?  And what's the process?

Spokesman:  The process is ongoing.  There is a hiring process ongoing.  Ultimately, it's the Secretary‑General's decision.

Question:  How many coun… how many… if you won't say who's on the shortlist…

Spokesman:  I won't say how many… I won't say how many are on the… I don't know, because I don't know.  The hiring process for these positions is done by the Secretary‑General.  Once someone is appointed, we will be glad to announce it here.

Question:  And the interviews are today?  Can you…?

Spokesman:  I cannot confirm that because I don't know.  Okay?  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.