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

14 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.

Before I start, I want to make sure you know that Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the incoming President of the General Assembly, is here. And Brenden will brief after me.


Turning to Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh since 25 August has now reached 389,000.  In the last 24 hours alone, 10,000 people reportedly crossed into Bangladesh.  Combined with those who fled during the last round of violence in Rakhine State last October, it is estimated that some 40 per cent of the total Rohingya population living in Rakhine State have now fled into Bangladesh.

For its part, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] says it has trucks filled with emergency water, sanitation and hygiene supplies for thousands of Rohingya children heading to Cox’s Bazar, with a steady stream of supplies in the pipeline for the coming days and weeks.  It is estimated that 60 per cent of Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh are children.  The sheer number of refugees has overwhelmed pre-existing refugee camps, with new arrivals seeking shelter anywhere they can find space.  UNICEF says that there are acute shortages of everything, most critically shelter, food and clean water, and is also helping the Government of Bangladesh on improving water treatment plants.  UNICEF plans to massively scale up its emergency response to the growing number of Rohingya children in Bangladesh, and has appealed for more than $7 million to provide emergency support over the next four months.


Back here, this morning, the Security Council discussed the situation in Darfur.  The Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, said that the African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has started phase one of its reconfiguration.  Since June, UNAMID has closed four team sites in north and east Darfur, and seven more will be closed by the end of September.  After brief clashes in east and north Darfur in May and June, the region largely remained calm. However, Mr. Mamabolo noted that the clashes are in themselves a reminder of the need for the commitment of all parties to cease hostilities and take steps towards a permanent and lasting peace.

Mr. Mamabolo added that most of the insecurity currently experienced in Darfur can be attributed to tensions originating from the underlying causes of the conflict, exacerbated by the proliferation of arms in the hands of civilians and militia groups.  The Security Council also renewed the mandate of the UN Mission in Libya and adopted the resolution creating the UN Verification Mission in Colombia.

**South Sudan

The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in South Sudan, David Shearer, spoke to the press this morning in Juba.  He said that the number of people displaced in the country has risen to nearly 4 million during the first half of this year. That includes 1.9 million who have been internally displaced and 2 million who have fled to neighbouring countries.  The number of people in real need of aid has risen to 7.6 million, he said.

He noted the need for the national dialogue to be transparent and genuinely inclusive, and said it was as a positive step in the overall pursuit of peace, as well as an opportunity to inject new life into the 2015 peace agreement. However, Mr. Shearer added that for the national dialogue to enable free discussion and bring all parties together, a cessation of hostilities is required.  He also mentioned that 11,000 internally displaced people have left the UN’s protection of civilian sites around the country since the beginning of the year.  While that is good news, he said, the UN continues to shelter some 213,000 people.


Turning to Syria, we are deeply concerned for the safety and protection of up to 15,000 people, many of them women and children, still trapped inside Syria’s Raqqa City.  The humanitarian situation inside the city remains dire, with a majority of the remaining population reportedly facing deteriorating humanitarian, health, living and security conditions.  Since July, over 51,000 people in Raqqa have been displaced, including close to 30,000 in the month of August.

UN agencies, through their local partners, have continued to provide food and other key items, hygiene kits, nutrition, medical treatment and vaccinations for people in need in at least 58 areas where most of the internally displaced people are concentrated.  In the month of August alone, more than 333,000 people were reached with food assistance, while 252,000 children under 5 were vaccinated against polio in both Raqqa and Deir Ezzour governorates.

**Lake Chad Basin

You will have seen yesterday that Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin.  He said that thanks to coordination among impacted countries, we have witnessed encouraging progress in the fight against Boko Haram.  However, while the group’s combat capacity has diminished, Boko Haram has changed tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks.

**Land Degradation

I want to flag a partnership between the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and Google using high‑resolution satellite imagery to assess land degradation in small island developing States.  Cabo Verde was the first island state to conduct such an assessment, and the FAO is working with 30 other countries.  More information is on the FAO’s website.

**Central African Republic

A humanitarian update from our colleagues in the Central African Republic [CAR]: they tell us that the recent upsurge of violence in the country has caused a 50 per cent increase in the number of internally displaced people this year, bringing the total to close to 600,000 across the Central African Republic, mostly in the south-east.  Armed fighting is engulfing territories that had been relatively stable, including Basse—Kotto, Mbomou and Haut—Mbomou.  Over the past 12 months, 8 of CAR’s 16 provinces have been affected by violence and nearly 70 per cent of the territory lies in the hands of armed groups.  Fourteen out of the sixteen provinces host people in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  However, the Humanitarian Appeal requires $497 million but is only 30 per cent funded.

**Peace Day

A couple of things I want to flag for next week and tomorrow: tomorrow the International Day of Peace will be celebrated here.  This year’s theme is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” and it honours the spirit of the UN’s TOGETHER campaign.  At 9 a.m., as per tradition, the Secretary‑General will ring the Japanese Peace Bell.  The President of the General Assembly and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall will also be there.  The Secretary‑General will then deliver remarks at the annual student conference, which will be held in Conference Room 4.  He will be joined by Jane Goodall and his Youth Envoy.

**Technology Bank

A new entity of the UN will be established next week as an organ of the General Assembly, dedicated to Least Developed Countries: the Technology Bank for LDCs.  The Technology Bank is expected to broaden the application of science, technology and innovation in the world’s poorest countries; helping to secure intellectual property rights, improve related policies, facilitate the transfer of technologies and hasten the integration of LDCs into the global knowledge-based economy.

The creation of the Technology Bank marks the first Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target to be achieved, Goal 17.8.  Its achievement responds directly to the 2030 Agenda’s [principle] of leaving no one behind.  There will be a ceremony on 22 [September] with the UN and the Government of Turkey, which will sign a Host Country Agreement as Turkey has taken the lead and has been generous in its financial support as host of the Bank.

**Press Encounters

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by the UNDP to discuss the “Pathway to Paris” Concert for Climate Action, which will take place at Carnegie Hall on 5 [November 2017].  The briefing will be here at 11 o’clock, the Concert is at Carnegie Hall on 5.  And then at noon, I will be joined by Santiago Villalpando, Chief of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs.  He will be here to brief you on the Annual Treaty Event.

**United Nations Tour Guides

As you know, Fashion Week finished in New York yesterday, but we have our own Fashion Week event.  In the spirit of New York Fashion Week, our colleagues at the Visitors Services are happy to announce that they have received newly-designed uniforms for the UN tour guides from Elie Tahari.  Don’t just believe me, but I will bring in the tour guides.  Today, we have Sabrina and Dooree wearing the new outfits, which include a uniquely-designed scarf and tie with the UN emblem.

Uniforms are a historic part of the UN Guided Tours, dating back to the 1950s when tour guides were provided with summer and winter outfits.  Those had a somewhat “military look” with tailored suits.  Over the past 60 years, such prominent designers as Christian Dior, Harvè Benard, legendary costume designer Edith Head as well as Benetton have designed looks for the guides.  A media launch will be held later this evening at 6 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby if you are interested, and we have a media kit available.  Well, thank you for bringing a little style and fashion into our otherwise gloomy briefing.  And we'll see you guys at 6. Thank you.  All right.  Back to business.  Mr. Avni?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  First…

Spokesman:  I can… don't ask me what I'm wearing.

Question:  And did Elie… Elie Tahari design yours?  And how much, by the way, did Elie Tahari get paid for this?

Spokesman:  No, this was a, this was an in‑kind donation.

Question:  In light of what the Secretary‑Gen…

Spokesman:  As they've always been.

Question:  Sorry.  In light of the Secretary‑General's… what he said yesterday about Burma or actually what he asked, which was, what do you call it, is he satisfied with just elements to the press from the Security Council, which he actually called to act?  Is that enough?  Is that anything?

Spokesman:  I think it's clearly a step forward to have the Council express its positions, deep concern, at the situation.  There needs to be a focus, obviously, as he said, on the halt of the, of military and security operations. Underlying issues need to be dealt with in Rakhine State, and what we urgently, urgently need is an international mobilisation of support for the tens of thousands of, of very vulnerable people who we have seen streaming into Bangladesh, often already arriving in very poor condition.  The UN's humanitarian machine is mobilizing, but we are obviously in desperate need of funding and support.

Question:  What should the US role be in, in the whole situation?  Should it be, should the US lead this effort in the Secretary‑General's view?

Spokesman:  It's not for, it's not for me to, for us to designate a role for any Member State.  I think what's important, on this issue as others, is to have unity of the Council and unity of purpose in protecting these very vulnerable people.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I guess… some other questions, but I'd like to also follow up on, on yesterday's press conference.  I wanted to ask you about… I asked him and I… you know, obviously he's got a lot of things on his plate, but about this Code Blue report that was put out, and so I wanted to… now that you've had a little more time to look at it, they seem to say that, in many of the 14 cases that they're publicize, that they… were leaked to them, in many cases, the victim was never interviewed at all, that only 4 of the 14 cases even show up in the Conduct and Discipline Unit website.  I mean, it's a pretty damning…

Spokesman:  No, I…

Question:  Is it a representative sample, or is this something that the UN is taking steps to address?

Spokesman:  We're, I don't believe it's a representative sample.  We're, obviously, taking steps to, to address any allegations that come to light, whether through us or through the media or through, through NGOs [non-governmental organizations].  You know, in line with the Secretary‑General's stated zero‑tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, our colleagues at the UN Mission in the Central African Republic are reviewing and will transparently report on the allegations that we saw in the, in the AIDS‑Free World, AIDS‑Free World, issues of unreported cases of sexual exploitation.  The Mission stresses that the report focuses on cases in 2015 and 2016.  The Mission is ascertaining whether these cases have been addressed in compliance with provisions set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the TCCs [troop-contributing countries].  We look into each and every case that is reported to us and follow in our established investigative protocols.  Sometimes there is not enough evidence to pursue an investigation.  If more evidence is presented in the future, the case is reopened.  We are committed to transparency on all cases.  Every single credible allegation that is reported to us is made public on our website.  And we're, obviously, looking into the allegations made, brought to light by Code Blue.

Question:  Sure.  Just, just one follow‑up on it, because I mean, I understand that, but they… what struck, jumped out to me is they seemed to say in these 14 cases, in 8 of them, the victim or alleged victim wasn't even interviewed at all.  So, it's sort of… how can the UN and…

Spokesman:  Obviously, we're look… listen, I, I understand your question.  I don't have the details of each specific case.  Obviously, this has come to light, and as I said, our Mission is looking into it.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Couple of things.  Has the SG spoken with Aung San Suu Kyi since yesterday?

Spokesman:  He has not.

Question:  Is he planning to meet… on another issue, North Korea, is he planning to meet with the North Korean Foreign Minister next week?

Spokesman:  We will hopefully have more information by tomorrow on all the bilaterals.  The schedule is still being worked on.  So, as much as we can, we'll share with you, probably tomorrow.

Question:  And why is he meeting with Angelina Jolie this afternoon?

Spokesman:  She requested, she requested the meeting.  As you know, the Secretary‑General, when he was then High Commissioner, brought her into UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  He values her work.  We can expect them to discuss global refugee crises, humanitarian crises, whether it's in Syria or in Myanmar and Bangladesh and other places.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane. When the Secretary‑General began his new term, he declared that preventive diplomacy will be his number one priority.  Yesterday, he did not mention that word.  Is preventive diplomacy still the number one priority?

Spokesman:  You know, he may not have mentioned the, those two words.  I think he did highlight the putting together of extremely high‑profile men and women from around the world who he will call on as needed in mediation efforts, which is definitely, I think, as anybody would describe it, part of a preventive diplomatic effort when needed. So, I think it remains very high on his agenda.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes.  Still about yesterday press conference.  Actually, I was very interested on Mr. Abbadi’s question they had yesterday for the Secretary-General about the power of the Secretary‑General and the way he can exercise those power, and his answer was, yes, always within the Charter, within the Charter, whatever I can do but within the Charter.  But there is an aspect that yesterday was not talk at all during the press conference, that he's the moral stature, moral power, moral authority of that, of the Secretary‑General and what this can exercise, a part of the, or any Charter or any law.  Means is this Secretary‑General going to exercise that moral stature, moral power, that's really needed, and he's making recognized more… more…? I mean, we know that he's very clever, very skilled, inside the building.

Spokesman:  But what, Stefano, what, what's the question?

Question:  The question is… the question is simple.  When we go, let’s say on a campus, university campus, here in this country or any other country, and we going to say the name, António Guterres, is young people going to, right away recognize his name and know what he's doing more than was happening with… with the Secretary‑General of… of last year, Ban Ki‑moon?

Spokesman:  A, I will not engage in a compare‑and‑contrast exercise.

Question:  Well, but let me…

Spokesman:  B, I think… you're, you're asking to assess the term of the Secretary-General when we're still in the first nine months.  I think I would urge you to look at what he said publicly, even in his first nine months.  He has spoken out on issues on, on climate, on issues of refugees, on issues of, of tolerance, on human rights and human dignity in ways that, I think, would, would fit a description that you may put together of using a bully pulpit.  I will urge you to listen to his speech on, on Tuesday.  It's up to you to make the analysis and the assessment, but my sense, anybody who thinks that António Guterres will shy away from speaking out of, on any issue, I think, would be, would be wrong, on issues that are all included in the Charter, whether they deal on human rights, on human dignity, on all these issues.  So, you'll assess, but I would encourage you to listen.  Yes, in the back?

Question: [inaudible] from Quartz.  On Myanmar, you… the message that came out of the Security Council yesterday, you described it as a good first step. Is there concern that, by the time the second step and the third step and the fourth step come around, it may be too late and that the Myanmar military would have pretty much cleared out the Rohingya from northern Rakhine?

Spokesman:  Listen, it's not for me to judge what the Security Coun… what may or may not, may not happen.  I think we're, there is no way to look at the situation, whether what's going on in Rakhine State, what's going on in the area around Cox's Bazar, and not think that this is a matter of urgency.  The Secretary‑General was clear in his call to, to the authorities at Myanmar, which he has made publicly, which he has made privately, and to the need for the international community to mobilize immediately to help the refugees, the men and the women and the children.  I mean, the percentage of children is astounding, all these people that need to be helped now.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have a count of the meetings of the bilaterals of the Secretary‑General during the… next week and maybe a count of… a breakdown of those meetings with…?

Spokesman:  As I said, we'll hopefully have something to you by tomorrow.  Yeah, Ibtisam?

Question:  On Myanmar, too, what did the Secretary—General… he didn't talk yesterday about whether his feelings or symbolic the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi not coming next week and what is, what is she saying to him when he said that he was in more than one time in contact with her in phone calls, but he didn't elaborate on that.

Spokesman:  You know, I think what the Secretary‑General said publicly is the basic thrust of what he's been telling her privately.  It's up to each and every leader of the 193 Member States to decide whether he or she comes to the General Assembly.  We, obviously, would like to see the highest possible representation from every country, but it's their sovereign, it's their sovereign decision.  Yep?  Sorry, yeah.

Question:  But is he disappoint… I mean, does he see this as a step backwards, or how does he see it?

Spokesman:  I don't think… no, I don’t, I think the focus for us will remain on what's going on on the ground.

Question:  On the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], according to some civil society organization, DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] civil society organization, there are two Indian generals involved into gold mining deal.

Spokesman:  Two?

Correspondent:  Two general, the army general.  Involving in the…

Spokesman:  Congolese generals?

Question:  No, no, no, no, from India.

Spokesman:  I don't… I haven't seen those reports.  If you share them with me, we'll look into it.  Okay, Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Just on Myanmar, I'd asked you about the Resident Coordinator, and thanks for sending an email, but it's still Ms. Lok‑Dessallien.  I just wanted to know, because I went back.  In June, it was said that she was being rotated out and that the position was being advertised.  Did that actually… did the advertising take place? Where does it stand?

Spokesman:  When the rotation takes place, we'll let you know.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, there was a… there… two things.  There's a report of a raid on, by armed men on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights there and also the abduction of an opposition leader, Mr. Habarugira.  So, I haven't seen anything, I guess, from the UN side, like…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the reports of the kidnapping, the abduction. We'll ask.

We are aware that the UN Human Rights Office was broken into in the middle of the night, I think two, two nights ago.  We spoke to our colleagues in Geneva.  They're looking into the matter, whether it was a burglary or whether it was something else.

Question:  Is Mr. Kafando going to be in New York for this General Assembly week?

Spokesman:  I think he may be.  We'll check.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to… well, South Sudan and then something on access.  South Sudan, I… I… Mr. Shearer did mention this, but there's a place in Upper Nile State called Aburoc, which has been… they've had to evacuate aid workers.  It's under attack.  But people there say that there was, in fact, there was an UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] presence in the town from April until June and then it was pulled out.  Is there some… so, they're left wondering what…

Spokesman:  I can check. You can also check with the Mission.  It's not something that's been reported to me here.  Last question.

Question:  All right.  And the other one just… it's interrelated questions on access.  I wanted to ask you why it is that, during the General Assembly week, passes to, to travel in the 1B area of the Conference Building are limited only to resident correspondents?  We were… supposedly, this was attributable to the UN security.  They didn't come to the background briefing.  Can you find that out?  And, also, separately, why would pooling of both the, the UN reform event and of the Secretary‑General's state luncheon, isn't… why wasn't this publicized, the opportunity to do that, to either UN‑based media or any…

Spokesman:  I think those issues you need to raise directly with our colleagues in DPI [Department of Public Information].

Question:  I've written to… is Ms. Smale…

Spokesman:  I know, but I think you should… you should…

Question:  …is she on the job?

Spokesman:  She's definitely on the job…

Correspondent:  I've written to her.

Spokesman:  …and you have free access without a pass needed.

Correspondent:  Well, they said that it's not…

Spokesman:  You can talk to Tal.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.