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

19 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Travel announcement:  The Secretary‑General will travel to Washington, DC later today, where on Friday he will meet with US President Donald Trump at the White House.  He will also attend a dinner hosted by the Kuwait‑American Foundation later this evening.  And the Secretary‑General will be back in the office tomorrow late afternoon.


We have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary‑General has appointed Sudhir Rajkumar of India as his Representative for the investment of the assets of the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund.  He will succeed Carol Boykin of the United States, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the United Nations.  Mr. Rajkumar brings to the position more than 28 years of broad‑based global investment experience, covering formulation and implementation of investment policies, and hands‑on experience with global bond markets, private equity and project finance transactions, and corporate finance and privatization advisory engagements.

He is currently the head of the global pension advisory programme at the World Bank Treasury.  He also currently serves as a member on the External Advisory Committee on Investments of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Investment Committee of the United Nations Office for Project Services and as Vice‑Chair of the Board of Directors of the International Centre for Pension Management.  His bio is upstairs.


Turning to Iraq, our mission on the ground there is concerned about reports regarding the destruction and looting of homes, business and political offices, as well as the forced displacement of predominantly Kurds, from disputed areas.  The UN has received allegations of armed groups burning some 150 homes in Tuz Khurmatu on 16 and 17 October, as well as allegations that houses which reportedly belonged to Kurdish families and officials of Kurdish political parties were destroyed by explosives.

The UN takes note of Prime Minister Haider al Abadi's acknowledgement of incidents caused by what he described as extremist elements from both sides and his decision to send the Iraqi army to restore order in the town, as well as the calls by the political and security leaderships of the country requesting federal and local security forces to ensure and act in full respect for law and order and protect civilians as well as political leaders.  The UN urges the Government of Iraq to take every action to halt any violations and ensure that all civilians are protected and that all perpetrators of acts of violence, intimidation and forced displacement of civilians be brought to justice.


Turning to Syria, yesterday we issued a statement on the situation in Raqqa, Syria, in which the Secretary‑General recalled the obligation of all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and abide by international humanitarian and human rights law.  He also urged the parties to facilitate humanitarian access in order to allow aid to reach those in need without delay.  The latest developments in Syria point once again to the urgent need to reinvigorate the political process.  The Secretary‑General has directed his Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, to intensify his efforts, in consultation with all concerned, to reconvene the next round of the intra‑Syrian talks on the basis of the Geneva communiqué and relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 2254 (2015).  Meanwhile, today, a UN‑Red Cross‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy entered hard to reach Dar al‑Kabira in rural Homs with aid for 33,500 people.  This is the third inter‑agency convoy to the Dar Kabirs [area].  The last time the area was reached with humanitarian assistance was in July 2017.


You will have seen also yesterday we issued a statement on Afghanistan in which the Secretary‑General condemned the attacks in Afghanistan’s Paktya and Ghazni provinces which left many dead and injured.  He extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, this morning peacekeepers arrived in Pombolo, in Basse‑Kotto prefecture, following information received yesterday on widespread violence in the town.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) had also immediately sent a helicopter to the area to do aerial reconnaissance.  The peacekeepers’ intent [was] to verify reports of violence that would have led to civilian casualties.  The UN Mission did not have any peacekeepers in that specific area before.


Turning to Madagascar, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that over the last five days, the number of cases of the plague has almost doubled.  As of 18 October, there were 1,032 cumulative cases, of which 67 per cent are pneumonic plague — which is more serious than the bubonic plague and highly challenging to control.  So far, 89 deaths have been recorded, including 13 deaths on 17 October, two days ago.  The country team has stepped up its efforts to overcome some of the challenges of this escalation by strengthening the system of identifying contacts, monitoring the number of patients at hospitals, transportation of samples and addressing the transmission risks of traditional burial practices.  The medical experts project that the situation will continue to deteriorate, with 1,000 cases per month expected if the response is not rapidly funded.  The joint operational response plan is asking for $9.5 million, and that is only 26 per cent funded.


Today, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has urged Australia to address the imminent humanitarian crisis for refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea.  The agency said it is profoundly troubled by the mounting risks of “offshore processing” arrangements, and for their extraordinary human toll, as Australia seeks to decrease its support [for] these facilities by the end of October.  Full statement online.


Two reports to flag.  A new UN report released today found that 7,000 newborns die every day, despite a steady decrease in under‑5 mortality.  This is a joint report done by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  The report reveals that although the number of children dying before the age of 5 is at a new low — 5.6 million in 2016, compared to 9.9 million in 2000 — the proportion of under‑5 deaths in the newborn period has increased from 41 per cent to 46 per cent during the same period.  Most of the deaths occur in South Asia and sub‑Saharan Africa.  The three main causes are pneumonia, diarrhoea and labour complications.  More information online.

**UN Casualties

The Secretary‑General released his almost annual report today to the General Assembly on UN casualties.  Despite the increasingly complex security environment and a rise in direct attacks on the United Nations, the number of casualties among UN civilian personnel has fallen to the lowest levels in the last five years, according to the report that was released to General Assembly today.

The report analyses global security and security incidents involving UN personnel and premises in 2016 and the first half of 2017.  Direct attacks against UN premises rose to 56 in 2016, compared to 35 in 2015, making 2016 the worst year on record for these attacks.  A total of 28 United Nations personnel lost their lives in 2016 and the first half of 2017 in acts of violence and safety‑related incidents.  You can find the full report online.  This is not including peacekeepers who have died in the line of duty.  [He later added that 31 peacekeepers have died in 2017 in hostile incidents, while 34 peacekeepers died in 2016 in hostile incidents.]

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Jose Brillantes, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.  Then at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing by Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.  They will be here to brief you as part of the annual cavalcade of Special Rapporteurs.  Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  On the Secretary‑General's meeting with President Trump, can you tell us who requested the meeting and what you expect to be on the agenda?  Are we right in assuming that, certainly, UN reform and US payments to the UN budget will likely be raised?

Spokesman:  I don't think it would surprise you if I would tell you that issues of mutual concern will be discussed.  I have no doubt that UN reform will be discussed.  As far as to go into the granularity of whether or not payments will be discussed, I don't know.  And we'll see what we can tell you after the meeting takes place.  I don't know if you recall, when the President… when the Secretary‑General dropped by the Oval Office a few months ago after a meeting with [General H.R.] McMaster, it was agreed that the two of them will meet.  So, this is something that has been in the offing for quite some time.  And, as you can imagine, scheduling these things is no easy task.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I've got something else but just… maybe related to that, I wanted to just ask you whether you could confirm that various UN agencies, after the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] withdrawal by the US, have held a… kind of a conference call to either plan to get them back in or to… how that agency and possibly other agencies would deal with withdrawal by the US.

Spokesman:  No, that's the first I've heard of it.  I'm not aware of that at all.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you about… two things.  One is very fast, just a yes or no.  You'd said previously you received many questions for some time about a North Korean or DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Junior Professional Officer, and most recently, Farhan [Haq] said he couldn't confirm it.  I wanted to ask you about a name.  Is a Mr. Jim… Kim Joo‑sung employed by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) electoral unit?  And is he, in fact, the son of a Workers Party official?

Spokesman:  I don't have an exact name.  That is my understanding where this Junior Professional is currently working.  And I have no clue as to his… I don't know the name, and I wouldn't even be able to talk about his ancestors.

Question:  Okay.  All right.  And the other thing, this is about Roselyn Akombe.  There's a lot of questions now in Kenya.  She had quit, as you may… as I'm sure you know, the Electoral Commission in Kenya.  She said the elections won't be credible, and she's returned to New York.  So the questions are, including from there, has she now resumed her work for DPA?

Spokesman:  No.  As far as I know, she continues on special leave without pay.

Question:  Does the UN, given that she obviously has been a respected member of DPA and that she said publicly on BBC that the election on 26 October will not be… cannot be credible, does the UN share that assessment?

Spokesman:  Her assessment is hers and hers alone.  Yep, in the back.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you please tell us how many peacekeeping soldiers there are in the Central African Republic and how many more the Secretary‑General asked the Security Council to send?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General referred to that in his briefing yesterday.  He's requested about a 900 increase.  I should be able to tell you how many there are right now, but I can't off the top of my head.  But, I think the message from the Secretary‑General was, I think, very clear.  It's not really about numbers.  It's really about capacity and the types of soldiers.  But I would refer you to his report.  Linda, and then we'll go to the front.

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  Going back to the visit with President Trump, I was wondering, the Secretary‑General will be in Washington, D.C., on Friday.  You said he'll be coming home late afternoon.  So, is he meeting President Trump in the morning?  Is he having lunch with him?  And who else will he be meeting…?

Spokesman:  I don't believe a meal will be provided.  My understanding is that it's late morning.  The White House will release the exact schedule, I think, tonight.  But, it's… late morning is my understanding is when the meeting will take place but I…

Question:  Will he meet with…?  I'm sorry.

Spokesman:  Maybe beverages will be supplied.

Question:  Or he can bring them.  But, will he be meeting with anyone else in Congress or…?

Spokesman:  No, we'll… no, there are no meetings that I'm aware of on Capitol Hill.  And I think who else… we'll obviously have to see who else is in the meeting from the US side.  Yes, and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Hello, Stéphane.  In Raqqa, they still have 300 ISIS over there.  Between US and Russia, did they make any decision what they going to do with this, with these people?

Spokesman:  I think it's a question to ask the US and the Russians.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Still on the meeting between the Secretary‑General and President Trump, who is accompanying the Secretary‑General to Washington, D.C.?

Spokesman:  I don't have the exact list with me.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you to… a… a… I tried to ask yesterday — and again, it's an ongoing process — about Cameroon.  The… an opposition now outside of the anglophone regions in Douala had been permitted to have a protest, specifically about what they called genocide in… in north‑west and south‑west regions.  The permits have been pulled, and the protest is going ahead, and it's widely assumed this will result in yet more bloodshed. So, the question again arises, what is Mr. [François Louncény] Fall doing?  Is… is… where does it stand?

Spokesman:  First of all, I think the Secretary‑General did not hear your question on Cameroon yesterday, because he mentioned that to me.  So, I just want to make that clear.  On Cameroon, what I can tell you is that we, obviously, continue to follow the situation in both the south‑west and north‑west regions extremely closely.  We welcome the recent high‑level missions under the auspices of Prime Minister [Philémon] Yang to the regions and his engagement with the anglophone communities as a step forward in creating the framework for an inclusive dialogue to find a durable solution to the crisis.  However, we do remain very concerned about the allegations of human rights violations and arbitrary arrests, especially following the 1 October unrest.  We hope the investigation announced by the authorities will enable [them] to provide answers to questions raised about the number of casualties and the number of detainees and the release of those detained.  We call on the Cameroonian authorities to grant access to the UN to the north‑west and south‑west regions.  Our colleagues on the ground recently met with the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to explore possible areas of UN assistance.  Mr. François Louncény Fall, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Central Africa, remains in contact with the authorities, including about a possible visit to the country.

Correspondent:  Thanks.  I'll digest that and I'm sure…

Spokesman:  And you'll reserve the right to come back.

Correspondent:  I had a question on Western Sahara, if you're going to issue a statement about a meeting between his Majesty the King of Morocco and the Special Envoy, which I believe they met yesterday…

Spokesman:  No, we hope maybe to have a bit more of a… as a wrap‑up of the mission, but let's wait for the mission to finish.  Yep.  Edie?

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  On the Secretary‑General's attendance at this dinner tonight by the Kuwait‑America Foundation, is he getting an award?  Is he going to be the keynote speaker?

Spokesman:  No, I think he will be… excuse me.  He will be delivering some remarks at the dinner, but I don't believe… he's not receiving any award.  Mr. Abbadi.  We'll give Matthew a little bit more time to digest.  Okay. Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, in the context of the Africa Week, the Deputy Secretary‑General referred to the African Agenda 2063 and put an emphasis on the regional integration.  What is the UN's role in the regional integration in Africa?

Spokesman:  I think what the Deputy Secretary‑General and the Secretary‑General both said is what they want to see is an increased partnership, an elevated partnership between the African Union and the UN and a better meshing, for lack of a better word, of the AU's forward‑leaning agenda, as well as the UN's own 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development].  Mr. Lee, and then we'll go to…

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I'm actually… I meant to digest until tomorrow, see what the effects, what the public thinks of this statement.  I wanted to ask actually on this Western Sahara thing.  One of the media accounts of the… Mr. [Horst] Köhler's meeting with the king said that a David Schwake was there as his Special Adviser.  And I wanted to know…

Spokesman:  As whose Special Adviser?

Question:  Of Mr. Köhler.  So, I wanted to know how this hap… I had asked before about sort of how this office of… of Mr. Köhler was staffed up.  Did he bring in his existing, you know, people that worked for him in Germany…?

Spokesman:  I don't know if he… there was a recruitment process to staff him along the normal UN lines.  I don't know exactly who he travelled with, but the fact that he may have travelled with a special assistant or an adviser, I think, is normal procedure for someone engaged in that type of mission.

Correspondent:  No, no, sure.  Really it wasn't…

Spokesman:  No, no.  And I think we've said that there was a recruitment process for his team.

Question:  I ask because he's… he was… previously was a political counsellor in Germany's [Washington, D.C.] embassy.  Very… I mean, he's… so I just… I guess I'm… if there's some way to learn the size of his team and how…?

Spokesman:  Let's see what we can…

Question:  Okay.  And finally, just about Haiti, I wanted to ask, there'd been this… this… I'd asked Ms. [Sandra] Honoré [Braithwaite] in her final stakeout about what the number is in terms of funds raised for the… the two‑tier new approach to cholera in Haiti.  Some people are saying that the officials in Haiti didn't attend the launch of MINUJUSTH [United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti].  I don't know if that's true or not.

Spokesman:  I don't know.

Question:  What is the… is it pos… she said that the number existed.  She didn't have it with her.  But, I haven't seen the number.  Is it possible to get that number…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we can find you the… the number's a public number.  It should be on the website, so we can find you the number.

Question:  There was a statement issued last night by two officials of the UN, one of them Adama [Dieng] about genocide and the other for…

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Mr. Dieng and Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović.

Question:  Yeah.  They mentioned the phrase “genocide” and “war crime”.  They asking to put the… those responsible for the killing of Rohingya into… into some kind of a court proceeding.  Is the UN also associating [itself] with their finding and report?

Spokesman:  They have very specific mandates, and it's their… it is within their prerogative and their responsibility to speak out.  I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear in outlining what has happened in Myanmar, especially in northern Rakhine State.  And, obviously, there will need to be accountability for what has happened.

Question:  I have to follow up, if you'll allow me.  The statement issued by… by you on [Jeffrey] Feltman visit to… to Myanmar or Burma, when you mentioned 25 August, always you said that… you know, there was attack against some kind of police station.  Where the reports come from Geneva, many agency, UN agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, they said the “alleged attack”.  They used “alleged attack”, but the report… the statement you issued last… last… two days ago, it's like it's for a fact that there was actually an attack.  If the UN does not have any… anyone on the ground, why do you assume that what the Myanmar officials stated was… was accurate?

Spokesman:  I think this is based on information we have, and we stand by our statement.

Question:  If you don't mind, this is just in the interest of digesting, the state… the way that it was phrased in terms of Mr. Fall, before you'd said he's definitely going.  They've approved it.  It's just a matter of finding the date.  And in this, you have the more extensive statement, said his dial… he continues to be in touch with them, including about a possible visit.  So is it no longer a certainty that he's going to visit?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think yesterday, with any visit by UN official, there needs to be agreement by the host country.  We don't… we knock before we come in, it's… once they've given the final green light, then he will go.  Okay. Thank… oh, Mr. Abbadi, and then we'll go.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two short questions.  One, when would the Secretary‑General plan to give his general press conference here?  And, second, what happened to the report on the incident that occurred to Dag Hammarskjöld?

Spokesman:  The Dag Hammarskjöld report, I think, is scheduled to be out in six languages at some point next week, I think Thursday or Friday.  The… I have… I'm not aware of any set date for a press conference by the Secretary‑General.  He has made a point of trying to be as available… increasingly available in doing stakeouts.  He's keen to do them, and he does them.  And I think, when we have a press conference, we will announce it.  But he's keen to do interaction with the media when he actually has something to say or to announce.  Thank you.  Oh, and sorry.  I have numbers on the CAR [Central African Republic] to look… to show that we're not completely useless.  I mean here, not there.  CAR authorization is 12,870 uniformed personnel, including 10,750 military personnel, which includes 480 military observers and military staff officers; 2,080 police personnel, including 400 individual police officers; and 108 corrections officers.  And I can give that to you in writing, as well.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.