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

27 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.


This morning here in New York, the Secretary‑General spoke at the opening of the high‑level meeting to appraise the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and urged countries to increase their determination to combat this menace, which primarily affects vulnerable and marginalized people.  “Too often, human traffickers operate with impunity, and receive much less attention than drug traffickers,” he said. “This must change.  I have seen many drug lords in jail — and rightly so.  I have never seen a human trafficking lord in jail.”  He added that getting rid of this abominable practice will require greater international cooperation, stepping up efforts to raise awareness about the issue, addressing root causes like poverty and inequality, strengthening support networks for victims and ensuring that refugees and migrants — who are particularly vulnerable — have access to legal and safe migration channels.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning held a meeting on aviation security, during which it heard a briefing from Liu Fang, the Secretary‑General of the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO].  This afternoon at 3 p.m., the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will give his first briefing to the Security Council as Emergency Relief Coordinator, to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria.


On that subject, we continue to be deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 1 million people in Deir ez-Zor governorate as fighting, airstrikes and military operations are reportedly causing scores of civilian deaths and injuries.  Nearly 100,000 people in Deir ez-Zor have been displaced in the last month.  More than 50,000 people have fled in the last week, mainly to other locations in the governorate as well as to Al‑Hasakah governorate and to Raqqa.  Many have moved to locations difficult for humanitarians to reach, due to the presence of Da’esh and/or fighting.  The UN calls on parties to the conflict to facilitate the free, safe and voluntary movement of civilians.  The UN also reminds all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including facilitating access to those in need in a regular, sustained and impartial manner.

**Saudi Arabia

As you will have seen, last night, the Secretary‑General in a tweet welcomed Saudi Arabia's decision to lift the ban on women drivers.  He called it an important step in the right direction.


I wanted to give you an update on the situation of cholera in Yemen: our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of 25 September, two days ago, there were nearly 740,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen and more than 2,100 associated deaths recorded.  Children account for more than half of the cases.  Aid workers have set up 250 diarrhoea treatment centres, and the UN and its partners have trained 600 health workers.  Today, 27 tons of supplies to treat 300,000 people were airlifted into Yemen.


I was asked earlier by one of your colleagues about the Secretary‑General’s reaction to the mass execution of 42 prisoners that took place in Iraq earlier, a few days ago — I think that took place on Sunday.  I can tell you that the Secretary‑General believes that we cannot neglect the victims of the crimes committed by Da’esh and Al‑Qaida and other extremist groups.  There needs to be accountability for these crimes.  However, the Secretary‑General has consistently and firmly stood against the use of the death penalty.  And there was a similar statement issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights out of Geneva, as well.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Our colleagues from the Department of Field Support tell us that 10 new contributors have committed to provide contributions to the Trust Fund in Support of Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  The list of all contributors will be sent to you shortly.  With the most recent contributions, the total amount available to the Trust Fund from voluntary contributions will rise to approximately $1.5 million.  This includes $102,000 that has been made available from withheld payments to troop and police contributors as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  Projects to provide services for victims and to strengthen community‑based complaint reception networks will be implemented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo using the funds.  Other projects are being identified in the Central African Republic, Liberia and Haiti.


The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, spoke to reporters in Geneva today after visiting Bangladesh to see for himself the situation faced by Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar.  After visiting makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar, he said he was struck by the extent of the needs of the newly arrived refugees, who he said have absolutely nothing.  Mr. Grandi paid tribute to aid workers who are doing what he calls heroic work, but stressed that the needs are much greater than what can be actually offered at the moment.  Just to confirm that the Secretary‑General will brief on the situation in Myanmar in the Security Council tomorrow at 3 p.m. — that is at least scheduled from our end, but the presidency should confirm that to you.

**Sri Lanka

Also on the subject of the Rohingyas, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is alarmed by an incident yesterday when a shelter outside Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, housing Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, was attacked.  Thirty‑one refugees [had been] rescued by the Sri Lankan Navy earlier this year — these were the 31 that were in this shelter.  UNHCR is grateful to the Sri Lankan authorities for [their] support and protection of these refugees.  The agency is concerned for the safety and security of the shelter’s staff, who were providing assistance to the group.  UNHCR urges the public to continue protecting and empathizing with people fleeing persecution and violence.


Regarding the aftermath of the earthquake in Mexico, our colleagues at the UN Development Programme [UNDP] tell us that they are supporting the government of the southern state of Oaxaca to create a recovery plan to rebuild earthquake‑impacted areas and kick‑start economic and social recovery.  This is an opportunity to lay the foundations for longer‑term recovery and build resilient communities.  Building back better is part of a long‑term strategy to boost skills among affected women and men, involve them in their communities’ recovery process, aiming to reduce inequalities and leave no one behind.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al Hussein, yesterday launched an unprecedented set of global standards to support the business community in tackling discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, [transgender] and intersex (LGBTI) people.  The High Commissioner said that social change requires the active involvement of all parts of society, pointing to the business community in particular.  He added that decisions that companies take can have a real and profound impact on human rights.


Today is World Tourism Day.  The theme [this year] is “Sustainable Tourism — a Tool for Development” and focuses on how sustainable tourism can contribute to the eradication of poverty, protection of the environment and improvement of quality of life, especially in developing countries.  The main celebrations for the Day are being held in Doha, in Qatar.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, our guest will be the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief you on his visit to Lake Chad, the Lake Chad Basin region, which included visits to Niger and Nigeria.  And after we are done here, Mr. [Brenden] Varma will brief on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly].  Sherwin?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéph, is there a reason why we haven't got a more substantive statement on the announcement by Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General, I think, expressed his sentiment in less than 140 characters yesterday afternoon.  He welcomed the decision.  He feels it's a step in the right direction.

Question:  Can I interrogate that statement a little further?

Spokesman:  Can you what?

Question:  Can I interrogate that a little, these 140 characters?

Spokesman:  You can interrogate the statement, yes.

Question:  What further action does the Secretary‑General believe Saudi Arabia should take so that they arrive at the destination that his tweet alludes to?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary believes that whether it's Saudi Arabia or any other country, it is important to continue a momentum to reach equality and to reach the goals that were laid out in the 2030 Agenda.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes.  On Yemen, you said, like, supplies of… food supply were airlifted over Yemen today.  Can you tell me which cities, if you have any information?

Spokesman:  I don't have the information at hand, but with some luck, somebody may bring it to me by the time we're done.

Question:  Can I have another question?

Spokesman:  You may have another question.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, you mentioned something that there are private diplomacy.  When the SG meets dignitaries, you said there are some thing you announce, some things remain private.  Is it secret… private diplomacy a secret or…?

Spokesman:  It's not about secret.  It's about trying to achieve a goal.  Sometimes you achieve that goal by speaking publicly, and sometimes you can achieve that goal by not speaking publicly and having conversations that are more confidential between two parties.  I think it's… those two tools are a bedrock of diplomacy.

Question:  On that, when the SG met with the Foreign Minister of North Korea, I… I read the statement… the readout, and, like, in private diplomacy, did he convey any message to the leader of North Korea, like private message or something?

Spokesman:  A, if he did and I mentioned it, it would no longer be private.  [Laughter]  B, I'm not aware that he did.  Abdelhamid, then Matthew.

Question:  There was a meeting yesterday in Tunisia, I think, led by the Sank… [Ghassan] Salamé on Libya.  So, can you do a readout if you have any further information?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, unfortunately, I don't have anything further to add.  We go straight to a Periscope question?

Question:  Yes, we are.  We will, actually.  Your comment yesterday about private diplomacy can… was about the readout on Cameroon.  So, I wanted to ask you, one of the lines in the readout was, the Secretary‑General appreciated Cameroon's hospitality toward the refugees.  As you may have seen, a study's been issued today by Human Rights Watch saying that Cameroon illegally repatriated 100,000 Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram.  So, what exactly was he appreciating?

Spokesman:  We… well, I think, as a general principle, Cameroon has hosted quite a large number of people fleeing Boko Haram.  The report by Human Rights Watch was, obviously, disturbing.  We're checking up on it, and we may have more to say on it later.

Question:  And, by the same token, there's now… major publications are documenting the militarization of the anglophone zone.  So I think there's more and more questions arise about this entirely positive readout for a country that's repatriating people and…

Spokesman:  I think we've made our concerns known about the situation in the anglophone areas.  We will continue to do that.  We expect Mr. Fall, [François] Louncény Fall, to go… to go next week to Cameroon.

Question:  Can I ask you about Libya?  I wanted… just on this… there's a… video has emerged of a… of an NGO [non-governmental organization] ship, the Mission Lifeline, being boarded and fired on by the Libyan Coast Guard as they… after they rescued people seeking to flee.  So, a lot of people are saying it's pretty surprising that the UN hasn't said anything about visual documentation on armed…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the report.  I will look into it.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, was the airlift to Yemen via Sana’a or via Aden?

Spokesman:  In the maybe 95 seconds that have elapsed between your colleague's question and your question, I have not gotten the update.

Question:  Another thing, there was a proposal by [the] Huthis that they would stop firing missiles into Saudi Arabia in return for stopping of area bombardment against Yemen.  How does the Secretary‑General react to such a proposal?

Spokesman:  I think what we would like to see is a halt to all the military actions from every side in Yemen.  We'd like to see a return to the table.  We'd like to see a political agreement.  In the meantime, we would like to see unhindered humanitarian access, whether it's by plane or by boat.

Question:  But, given there is a rebuttal by the Yemenis to any contact with Mr. Cheikh… [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed, how are the mediations or any role by United Nations can be carried out?

Spokesman:  I think the… Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been speaking to various parties on different sides.  Luke and then we'll go…

Question:  What does he… is he speaking…

Spokesman:  I think I've answered my question… your question.  I've answered my question.  I hope I've answered yours, as well.  Go ahead, Luke.

Question:  Thanks.  There's a new refugee resettlement plan being proposed by the EU [European Union] Commission.  My specific question is, does the SG think it's positive that direct resettlement from third countries is now being talked about, as opposed to just moving people around who are already within the European Union?

Spokesman:  I think where… the plan was just announced where we're looking into the details.  I hope to have a bit more on it for you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions.  First, the tension because of the Kurdish independence referendum is rising among the… between the neighbouring countries and the [Kurdistan] Regional Government, do you have anything new to say about that?  And, also, we're seeing airstrikes in Idlib and Aleppo in Syria, and do you have anything on that, as well?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  You know, we've… we're well aware of the rising tensions that we're seeing in Iraq as a result of the referendum and as a result of the vote.  We would like to see all the various parties do what they can to dial down that tension.  Mr. Abbadi?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Oh, sorry.  On Syria and Idlib, let me… on the airstrikes, no, I do not have anything that I haven't already said.  Sorry.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You referred to a meeting at the beginning at the high level.  Every meeting in the UN is practically described as a high‑level meeting.  If this is to underline the importance of the meeting, it's actually diminishing it, because there is a… an inflationary trend in using “high‑level meeting”.  Even those meetings are not always at high level.  Shouldn't the UN look at this matter?

Spokesman:  You know, there is a… there is, I think, not only system‑wide but all over the place, I think there is an inflation of the use of words.  Fewer words… I don't know.  “Yes” is the short answer, Mr. Abbadi.  Now I've run out of words to answer your question.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Well, I read a news item that…?

Spokesman:  You're going to bring it down, I know.  Yeah.

Question:  In the news, something says that there will be a special meeting of the Security Council on 2 November to commemorate the Balfour Declaration.  Can you confirm that?  Is there any news that confirm that this…?

Spokesman:  No, I think you would have to reach out to the… to the Presidency that will be in…

Correspondent:  In November.

Spokesman:  … in November.  I know France is in October.  My alphabetical knowledge is limited.  So, somebody could figure out who's in November.  Oui?

QuestionEst-ce que vous avez un accès humanitaire en Birmanie ?  Il y a des journalistes qui ont été emmenés dans des villages.

SpokesmanNon.  Je sais qu’il y a – qu’il y aura un voyage organisé par le Gouvernement probablement demain vers Rakhine.  C’est une … c’est un premier pas.  Il y aura des chefs d’agences qui vont y participer mais nous espérons surtout que c’est, je dirais, un premier pas [vers] un accès beaucoup plus libre et large dans la zone.  What I was saying is that tomorrow there will… a number of heads of UN agencies in Myanmar will participate in a Government‑sponsored trip to northern Rakhine State.  As you know, we have always underscored and stressed our concern about the limited humanitarian access in that area, so we welcome this invitation as a first step.  And we do hope that it will lead to much broader and wider humanitarian access.  Yes, Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you something about UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan].  I'd hoped to ask Mr. [David] Shearer yesterday but was unable to.  What is the UN's understanding of who killed American journalist Christopher Allen a month ago in South Sudan?  It's said that he was targeted by the Government as he was embedded and covering rebel forces.  What follow‑up has there been by the UN system in the mission in the country given…?

Spokesman:  We should… we can… you can check with the mission, or we can check with the mission.  But I don't…

Question:  Is he still in town?  How long was Mr. Shearer in town?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  On Idlib, I think you'd asked me on Idlib, I can say that the UN is deeply alarmed by reports of increased fighting and airstrikes in north‑western and central Syria resulting in the death and injury of scores of civilians and damage to critical civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and IDP [internally displaced persons] collective centres.  Over the past days, airstrikes on populated areas in Idlib were reported daily.  Today, airstrikes in Batebo town in northern rural Idlib reportedly hit a school, destroying it completely.  The besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya were also reportedly shelled today.  On 26 September — that means yesterday — shelling on people trying to flee the Wadi al‑Zaib area in rural Hama reportedly caused the deaths of 80 people and injured many more.  On the 25th alone, airstrikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of 27 people and injured 58 others in the governorate.  Fighting attacks in Deir Ezzour, Aleppo, Ar‑Raqqa, and east Ghouta in rural Damascus are… also continue to be reported to us.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Three questions.  First one has to do with the Global Compact.  Until now, the Global Compact has not charged companies for joining.  Some people have said it's kind of a blue‑washing, that some companies joined; like Ng Lap Seng's firm joined.  I wanted to know whether you can confirm or deny that there's a consideration to now charge $10,000 fee for companies to join the Global Compact.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware, but you can contact the Global Compact and ask them.

Question:  Okay.  Then I want to ask you about UNAMID [African Union‑United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  Then you can say… you're going to say call UNAMID, but there's a big complaint by the refugees that have… in… or internally displaced people in the Kalma camp where they say that UNAMID has issued a statement after several of them were shot, unarmed, saying… calling for all sides to exercise restraint and talking about clashes when Mr. [Omar al-] Bashir visited the camp.  Are you aware of that criticism?  And what would you…

Spokesman:  I'm not personally aware, but it does not mean that others are not.  And so we'll try to find out.

Question:  Okay.  And, finally, I wanted to ask you, there's been a request by Mr. Ng Lap Seng for a new trial in his case.  And, in the filing that he made yesterday, he actually cites… and I wanted to ask… get your response to a specific comment in his filing.  He says that… jumping into it, “all of these actions resulted from pressure that [Francis] Lorenzo and [John] Ashe exerted on Yiping Zhu of the [United Nations] Office of South‑South Cooperation in exchange for bribes.”  And that's just a straight statement, summary of the case.  And so I wanted to know, I know that you've said he's not with the UN, but, given how it's now portrayed in the case as… as… as… as a fait accompli, shown definitively, what accountability has there been in the UN system?  Is Mr. Yiping Zhu still receiving his pension?  What attempts were made by the UN to hold him accountable?

Spokesman:  First of all, he no longer works here.  Anyone… the UN has cooperated fully and actively with all the host country authorities on this trial.  No UN staff member that I'm aware has been charged with a crime.  We continue and we will continue to cooperate with the authorities as requested.

Question:  Does the UN believe that the… the… the activities of Mr. Zhu described in the case were appropriate for UN staff member?  And, secondarily…

Spokesman:  I have no way of verifying the veracity of what you've just read to me.

Question:  Has OLA [Office of Legal Affairs], which stated that they were going to seek to be reimbursed for their role in the case, have they taken any steps in that regard since the verdict in July?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of it.  Okay.  Thank you Mr. Varma… I'm sorry.  Did you have a question?  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Yes, I have a question about Papua concerns in Indonesia.

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  I don't know who you are.  If you could just identify yourself.  Yes?

Question:  I'm [inaudible] from Jakarta Post.  I'm visiting here for the GA.  And we've received word that there is a petition by Papuan separatists that have allegedly been submitted to the Office of the Secretary‑General.  So, I'd just like confirmation on whether the office or you can confirm on that.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I will … give me your card, and I will check as soon as we're done.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.