10 October 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.

**Death Penalty

Good morning, the Secretary-General spoke at an event to mark the World Day against the Death Penalty and said that this barbaric practice has no place in the twenty‑first century, and called on countries who continue to use it to stop executions.

He praised the progress that has been made so far, with some 170 countries having either abolished or stopped using the death penalty.  However, he also warned that in many countries, governments conceal executions and enforce an elaborate system of secrecy to hide who is on death row and why, and he said that this lack of transparency shows a lack of respect for the human rights of those sentenced to death and their families.  Full and accurate data is vital to policymakers and the general public, and is fundamental to the debate around the death penalty and its impacts. 

The UN Human Rights Office also released a statement to mark the Day and that’s available online.


This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, briefed the Security Council and stressed that the parties to the conflict are pursuing a futile and cruel military conflict while the country’s people are suffering from an entirely man-made catastrophe.  The Special Envoy said that there are no winners on the battlefield, and the losers are the Yemeni people who are suffering as a result of the war. 

For his part, John Ging, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA], pointed to three main challenges: the lack of humanitarian access; the impact of salary interruptions for civil servants and critical services; and continued risks to commercial access to the country.  Mr. Ging said the $2.3 billion Humanitarian Response Plan is 55 per cent funded.

Their full remarks are available in our office, and we understand both Mr. Ging and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout shortly.


Regarding Syria, we continue to be alarmed over the impact of ongoing fighting and airstrikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Deir ez‑Zor Governorate in Syria.  Between 1 and 8 October, some 95,000 men, women and children were reportedly displaced to 60 locations within the Governorate, as well as the nearby Governorates of Al-Hasakeh, Ar-Raqqa and Aleppo due to fighting.  Fifteen thousand residents in the city of Al-Mayadeen and surrounding areas are reportedly without access to health services following a string of reported airstrikes on the city which have rendered all hospitals and medical points in the city inoperable.  

Meanwhile more than six years of hostilities have left less than half of Syria’s health facilities fully operational, contributing to thousands of avoidable deaths from injury or illness. 


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 11,000 Rohingyas crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar yesterday.  Exact figures are not available due to restrictions to access in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, but we still estimate that 519,000 Rohingya refugees have now fled to Bangladesh since 25 August.  The UN refugee agency [UNHCR] says that many of yesterday’s new arrivals came from the Buthidaung area in northern Rakhine.  Some of these people said they had fled torching and killings, while others said they left in fear of violence.  The new arrivals are now in camps and settlements, where UNHCR has trucked in plastic sheets and jerry cans. 

As we mentioned to you yesterday, the World Health Organization [WHO], together with UNICEF and the Bangladeshi Government, are leading the second largest oral cholera vaccination campaign ever, which kicked off today in Cox’s Bazar.  Two hundred mobile teams will deliver 900,000 doses of the vaccine.


From Dominica, our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration [IOM] are continuing to deliver supplies to those affected by Hurricane Maria.  The agency is currently helping to distribute items like solar lights, water purification supplies, and kitchen and hygiene kits.  It is also supporting the Government in efforts to provide shelter, which has become an urgent need, with an estimated 23 per cent of houses gone and 39 per cent of houses having sustained severe damage, causing thousands of Dominicans to routinely sleep in shelters or with host families while returning to their own homes during the day to salvage their belongings and clear debris. 


FAO [the Food and Agriculture Organization] and its partners today launched a $53 million initiative that will help African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to halt unsustainable wildlife hunting, while strengthening people’s livelihoods and food security.

**Mental Health Day

Today is also World Mental Health Day, which seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.  This year, the Day is focusing on mental health in the workplace.  According to the World Health Organization, a negative working environment may lead to physical and mental health problems, harmful use of substances, absenteeism and lost productivity.  However, employers and managers who put in place initiatives to promote mental health and to support employees who have mental disorders see gains not only in the health of their employees but also in their productivity at work.  More information online.


Yesterday, I think it was you Matthew who asked about the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Foreign Minister of the Philippines.  I can confirm to you that the Secretary-General met Alan Peter Cayetano on 29 September and discussed the importance of preventing violent extremism in South‑East Asia and globally.

The Secretary-General thanked the Philippines as ASEAN Chair for their efforts to strengthen the ASEAN‑UN relationship.  They also discussed the regional response to the crisis in Rakhine and other issues of mutual concern.

**Questions and Answers

Khalas.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you mentioned, the Secretary‑General spoke about death penalty and executions, and he denounced the executions and the lack of transparency and secrecy surrounding them.  At the same time, he says today first just four countries are responsible for 87 per cent of all recorded executions.  And he doesn't name those countries.  Can you do that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  According to our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, those four countries are China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.  Those are the four.  And those are based on figures that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has harvested from various sources. 

[The Spokesman later clarified that, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan accounted for 87 per cent of the known executions in 2017.  The Office does not have the exact figures for China due to lack of transparency, but believes that the number of executions in the country was high.]

Yes, sir. 

Question:  Stéph, the Parliament of Catalonia is meeting today following the referendum, and one of the options on the table is a unilateral declaration of independence.  Does the Secretary‑General have any message to the Catalonian leaders?

Spokesman:  No, not beyond what we have said.  We'll obviously see what the, what is said at the Parliament.  As the Secretary‑General has said, we, we trust that the democratic institutions of Spain will find a solution.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's regarding the report of the Secretary‑General, of his mission and good offices in Cyprus.  There was no reference to the Turkish refusal to withdraw their troops and guarantees preventing a solution.  Why is that?

Spokesman:  Well, I think playing a blame game serves, serves no purpose.  The Secretary‑General was expected to provide as comprehensive as possible report to the Security Council.  He also has a responsibility to preserve the confidentiality of the process, especially the discussions held and the proposals tabled by the parties.  He has encouraged the parties not to, encouraged the sides and all involved not to engage in a blame game, and the report reflects this approach, and the level of details therein is exactly what is pertinent for such a report.

Question:  Stéph, I'm not sure if you've seen…

Spokesman:  Sherwin.

Question:  …reports…thank you.  I'm not sure you've seen reports that Kenya's Raila Odinga, the opposition leader's withdrawn from the rerun of the election later this month, citing a lack of electoral reforms.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned by this development?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, we've just, we're following the situation, which is currently unfolding on, on the ground.  We're remaining in contact with the African Union and other stakeholders.  From our point of view, we want to stress the importance of dialogue among all the political actors in Kenya, and it is also critical that all political stakeholders send a clear message of peace and restraint to their supporters.

Joe, and then we'll go…

Question:  Yes.  In his statement on the death penalty that you referenced, the Secretary‑General said, quote, we are concerned by the trend of reversing long-standing moratoria on the death penalty in cases related to terrorism. 

So, first of all, does that…does that mean that he would rule out the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, even with a convicted terrorist with blood on his, on his hands?

And, secondly, how would he apply that standard to, let's say, a drone strike on a known terrorist that kills that terrorist? And, of course, that is done without any trial.  So, how would he…does he…

Spokesman:  We stand…

Question: …reconcile the two?

Spokesman:  We stand against the death penalty.  The Secretary‑General stands against the death penalty, full stop.

Question:  How would he apply that to…to the other situation which results in death…

Spokesman:  Well, the…

Question:  …by drone attack?

Spokesman:  …other thing… I think the UN has expressed its concern about extrajudicial killings.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.

Spokesman:  Then Linda.  Sorry.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask about, about Cambodia and then about Cameroon.  I'd asked you last week on Cambodia about this, the move to decertify and disband the opposition par… main opposition party, National Rescue Party.  Various other international actors have denounced it.  I'm wondering, given the UN's role in Cambodia, what is the UN's position on it?

Spokesman:  I think, as we've said, we have, we are concerned and we continue to be concerned about the, what you could call the narrowing of the democratic space in Cambodia for political parties, for media and others.  It's important that any, in any place where there's a preparation for elections, there is an environment that's free of intimidation and that is encouraging to political discourse.

Question:  Okay.  And thanks.  And on, on Cameroon, yesterday, when you'd said that… that… that people hadn't known that… people at least in Cameroon hadn't known that this working‑level team of Mr. Fall had been there, so I wanted to… there's some confusion about where did they go?  Were they there during the killings of 1 October and since? And… and this… when you say that it's just a matter of finding the dates, there's now a… a major protester commemoration of the people that have been killed to date set for the 14th.  Is he… is he… I guess what I'm wondering is, I see on the, on the website of UNOCA that they say they're playing a good offices role.  How is that? What role are they playing currently? And do they intend to try to go before this what… what may be…

Spokesman:  I think they'll try to go as soon as…

Question:  …a repeat?

Spokesman:  They'll try to go as soon as they possibly can.

Question:  But…

Spokesman:  I don't have any details on what the previous mission did or saw.

Linda and then Jordan, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  This is regarding Myanmar.  You mentioned that there's a, you know, the exodus is continuing.  And I was just wondering if the UN has any information in terms of the level of violence occurring at this point between Government and, I gather, the Rohingyas. 

And, secondly, is there any information if there's any fighting going on between the Government and Rohingya militants?

Spokesman:  You know, part of the issue that we've had is the lack of access for humanitarian workers in northern Rakhine State and the lack of access for human rights colleagues.  So, we don't have, at this point, first-hand information on the actual situation of conflict, of fighting. 

What we are hearing and seeing are, is what those people who are crossing the border are telling, telling UN colleagues and what we've seen they've told UN, human rights organisations.  But we have no first-hand, confirmable information on the first part of your question.

Sorry, Jordan.  Yeah, and then…

Question:  On the same subject, on Rohingya, you've said your colleague's statement that there are 519,000 people fled Rakhine area.  They all went to Bangladesh, or they went to another area? This is one.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  And, second, you said also there is another state next to Rakhine — I forget the name you mentioned — that also they fled either because they fear for their life or because, but also, they went to Bangladesh or not?

The third one, also on Rakhine, you said that Mr. Guterres met with the Prime Minister of Philippines, and they discuss, among other things, Rakhine.  What, what Philippines has to do with Rakhine?  What can they assist and help in such…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me take your questions backwards.  Obviously, the ongoing crisis we're seeing in Rakhine State has a regional implication.  The Philippines, the Foreign Minister was also here in, as a representative of the chair of ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a, is a member.  So that's, that's one. 

The numbers that we have of, that I've been giving are Rohingya refugees who are, fled into Bangladesh.  Right? So others may have gone to other places, but the numbers that I have are Bangladesh. 

They had come from, the place that's, I said they come from was Buthidaung, which is an area in Rakhine State.  It's part of, it's not another state.  Okay? I think I've answered three. 

Yes, in the back.

Question:  Yeah, this current visa escalation between Turkey and US, how does this affect UNHCR's operation in Turkey and…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any impact on UNHCR's operations in Turkey from the ongoing tensions that we're seeing between the United States and Turkey. 

Matthew, and then I've been told the French ambassador, Security Council President, will be shortly [at the stakeout].

Matthew and then Evelyn.  Sorry.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks for the, this readout on the Philippines.  I guess I could ask whether extrajudicial killings came up.  It seems like it's a pretty big issue between the UN system and the Philippines. 

But, really, there was a meeting yesterday, maybe we can get these related readouts rolling, with the finance minister of Bangladesh held upstairs.  And I was hoping that there would be… can you… do you have, similarly, a readout of that meeting?  I noticed that UN electoral expert was there.  I wasn't really sure why.

Spokesman:  During the meeting — it was a finance minister — they discussed the Rohingya issue, and the Secretary‑General praised Bangladesh for hosting the refugees, and he expressed his solidarity with the country.

Question:  And one other readout? Could I just… there was a meeting… maybe you can get it or get it later today.  There was a meeting listed on his schedule with representatives of NGOs, and it didn't say on what topic but I wanted to…

Spokesman:  Yeah, it was, it was NGOs on the, to discuss the situation in Central African Republic.  I think, for the Secretary‑General, the involvement of NGOs in the Central African Republic is a very important one, and he thanked them for, for their efforts.  They discussed the complex situation, the humanitarian situation, and the upcoming renewal of the peacekeeping mission.

Question:  And do you have any view… the vice chairman of the NGO committee has, was detained by police for, for sexual harassment or groping.  And some people have said this, this is sort of a bad black eye for the UN system, that this is the individual… is it Secretary, Second Secretary of the Sudanese mission that's letting NGOs in or not.  Does the Secretary‑General, given what he's said about gender equity, etc., have any view on this…?

Spokesman:  A couple things to, to make clear.  The role of the NGO, the NGO chair is elected by, by Member States.  It's up to those Member States who make up the committee to make a decision based on what happened. 

We clearly stand firmly against any sort of, of harassment or of illegal or bad behaviour.  This is now an issue between the United States and the Government, the Government of Sudan. 

I think, as a matter of practice, we would expect anyone who has the privilege of immunity to obey the rules and the regulations and the laws and the customs of the country in which they work.  And I do want to make it clear that this person is not a UN employee or UN staffer as it's been said in some of the press coverage.

Evelyn, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Human Rights Watch has a report saying that Rwanda is illegally detaining and torturing civilians.  Is there any, is anyone looking into it?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that, but I will look, look into it.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I meant to ask you…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Correspondent:  …diplomat so…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Thank you.  Mr Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask what happened to the report on the death of Dag Hammarskjold?  How much…

Spokesman:  I think it is, it will be out as a public document probably in the, I was told by the end of October.  It's going through the translation process. 

And I'm told Ismail [Ould Cheikh Ahmed] and John Ging will be at the stakeout briefly, but, Matthew, always a pleasure to take one last question.

Question:  Okay.  Thanks a lot.  I'd asked… I mean, in… last Friday, the representative of India in the Sixth Committee asked for some information from the Secretariat specifically on what you were just talking about, immunity, saying… asking for data of total number of registered cases of serious misconduct conducted by UN personnel and whether the UN waived immunity or didn't.  I tried to ask Brenden yesterday, but I didn't hear back from him.

Spokesman:  I'll check. 

Question:  Is the Secretariat going to provide the information?

Spokesman:  I'll check with…

Question:  And could you provide it publicly?

Spokesman:  I will check.

Thank you.  Good day.

For information media. Not an official record.