24 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Central African Republic

The Secretary-General has just landed in Bangui, in the Central African Republic.  He will be at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic’s (MINUSCA) base shortly to lay a wreath for fallen peacekeepers.  He will then celebrate UN Day with UN staff.  And on the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues say that insecurity and access constraints continue to prevent the transferring of goods and humanitarian aid to respond to the needs of 18,000 besieged people in Pombolo, where widespread violence led to civilian deaths last week.  An additional 3,000 displaced people in the village of Dimbi also remain inaccessible.  Humanitarian workers are making every effort to send a convoy with assistance this week.

**United Nations Day

Like I said, today is United Nations Day, which marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter.  In his message, the Secretary‑General said that our world faces many grave challenges, but we have the tools to overcome them.  “The world’s problems transcend borders. We have to transcend our differences to transform our future.  When we achieve human rights and human dignity for all people — they will build a peaceful, sustainable and just world.  On United Nations Day, let us, ‘We the Peoples’, make this vision a reality,” he said.  Here at UN Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at a commemoration ceremony and thanked staff for their commitment.  She told the audience that she is hopeful because despite obstacles and limitations, the men and women of the UN get up each and every day to inch our world closer to peace and justice and dignity for all.


Also on the occasion of UN Day, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq expressed his confidence that the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, just as they banded together to defeat Da’esh, can work to overcome their differences through dialogue.  Ján Kubiš said that recent developments have sadly triggered confrontation, adding another layer of insecurity, fragmentation and difficulties, bringing about new waves of displacements, mostly of Kurds.  He noted that the United Nations is closely monitoring the situation while providing humanitarian aid to those in need and raising issues of violations of human rights as warranted, guided by the principle of impartiality and with the interests of the people of Iraq, including in the Kurdistan Region, at heart.  The Special Representative offered the good offices of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to facilitate discussions if asked by both sides.  You can read more on this online.


The Security Council failed to pass a resolution concerning the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism dealing with Syria, owing to a veto from the Russian Federation.  The draft resolution had 11 votes in favour, two votes against and two abstentions.  The Council is to hold consultations on Lebanon following the meeting that just ended.

Our humanitarian colleagues in Syria are concerned for the safety and protection of civilians at risk of death and injury from unexploded ordnance reportedly planted throughout Raqqa city’s neighbourhoods.  While the clearing of unexploded ordnance operation is ongoing, nine people were reportedly killed during the weekend while trying to return to their homes.  Humanitarian workers have been unable to access the city until the clearing of mines and other unexploded ordnance is completed.  The UN calls on all parties to take all measures to protect civilians and to facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across the country.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN refugee agency is increasingly concerned by escalating displacement in several key regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Since 2015, the number of people displaced internally has more than doubled and now stands at 3.9 million — some 428,000 of these having been displaced in the past three months alone.  With widespread militia activities, and unrest and violence fuelled by ethnic and political conflict affecting many areas, the risk of further displacement is high, while the challenges of getting aid to people in need are growing fast.

In all, there are also more than 620,000 refugees from the DRC in more than eleven African countries.  At the same time, the number of refugees from neighbouring countries seeking refuge inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo has grown by a third since early 2016 and now stands at 526,000 people.  More details on UNHCR’s website.


The UN migration agency and the UN refugee agency have helped some 134 Somali refugees return from Yemen to their home country.  The IOM [International Organization for Migration] said that these Somalis came to Yemen searching for a better life and found themselves caught up in conflict and often subjected to abuse by smugglers.  Among the group returning home are families who had been living in Khares refugee camp, and others who had been living in the city of Aden.  Prior to departure, IOM doctors ensured that all were fit for travel and UNHCR provided them with a cash package to assist their reintegration once they arrive home.  More information is available on the IOM website.


IOM has distributed thousands of hygiene kits to Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh.  The kits include soap, toothbrushes, water containers, and other items, and were funded by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  IOM says that these supplies ensure that Rohingya families, particularly women and children, can meet their personal care and hygiene needs in the makeshift settlements in which they live.


Yesterday afternoon, we received a copy of Nicaragua’s instrument of accession to the Paris Agreement on climate change.  We welcome Nicaragua’s accession to the Paris Agreement, making it the 169th country to join the historic agreement to address climate change.  By joining the Agreement, Nicaragua has reinforced the universality of the Agreement and the overwhelming desire by countries to address climate change.


Besides UN Day, today is World Polio Day.  In 1988, when the World Health Organization (WHO) became part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, polio paralysed 10 children for life every 15 minutes, in nearly every country in the world.  In 2017, so far, 12 cases of polio have been reported in just two countries.  Today, only three endemic countries remain, which have never stopped polio — Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.  Even within these countries, the virus is cornered into fewer districts than ever before.  More on the fight against the disease can be found on WHO’s website.

**World Development Information Day

Today is also World Development Information Day.  The Day highlights the potential of information and communication technologies to provide new solutions to development challenges, foster economic growth, and help eradicate poverty and promote social inclusion.  More information is available online.

**Press Briefings

After I am done, we will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And tomorrow at 10:15 a.m., there will be a briefing here by David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.  And immediately after, at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing by Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  And then at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights.  That's it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you mentioned, the Secretary‑General issued the message on UN Day.  This message is contained in less than one page and does not mention at all the staff, which is not the traditional way of doing things.  Is it because the Secretary‑General is away or some other reason?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General is also going to make remarks shortly to staff in the Central African Republic, and that is part of the commemoration of UN Day, and we'll distribute those to you.  So, beyond that, he and the Deputy Secretary‑General are both speaking at events, and so those are a part of the commemoration of the day.  Yes?

Question:  Sure. I want to ask about the Secretary‑General's trip, both about CAR and something about Cameroon.  I wanted to know, in looking back at the… the 111‑page report on sexual abuse in… in the CAR that was found, there was a… one… one sort of untied‑up string was a… was a staff member named Renner Onana, who was an aide to Babacar Gaye.  And, at that time, it was said… it was unclear whether discipline was applied or what happened.  Is the… is… maybe… I don't know if you'll know, but if you can find out if the person is at the mission, and can we find out what, in particular, while he's there, the Secretary‑General is… who he's being briefed by and… and… and whether he meets with victims of sexual abuse, the things that he talked about at the stakeout.  But Mr. Renner Onana, if you don't have it now, if there's a way to know whatever happened with that case.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that case was opened.  I don't have an update on where that case stands, but I can check.

Question:  Okay.  And thanks.  And just I… I learned yesterday… and maybe you'll confirm it or deny and it that… and it may just be a stopover, but some… some were saying that the Secretary‑General, on 27 October, will be in Cameroon for two hours in the evening on an Air France flight that goes from Bangui to Yaoundé and then to Paris and that the President, Paul Biya, might meet him at the airport.  Can you… I didn't see it on the… the… the schedule, but there are various… different sides of the issue speaking about it.  And I wanted to know if you could confirm that and also if the UN has done anything regarding the case of Nasako Besingi, who is a high‑profile environmental and Anglophone activist who's been jailed since 25 September, and various groups have now spoken out, and I'm wondering, has the UN done anything to… to have this entirely nonviolent activist released?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's several questions.  On the last of those, we have been raising our concerns about all detained activists, and we'll continue to do so.  Regarding the Secretary‑General's travel plans, there's no other trip to announce at this point.  If we have any further announcements down the line, we'll let you know.  But for now, he will be in the Central African Republic through 27 October.  And… was there anything else?

Question:  It seems… the Government of Cameroon seems to understand that he's flying on a flight that goes from Bangui to Yaoundé, but betw… and between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., he'll be in the airport in Yaoundé, and the President, Paul Biya, may meet with him there.  That's why I'm asking you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, whenever the Secretary‑General is flying, there are sometimes different stopovers, but there's nothing to announce at present.  If we have anything, we'll let you know at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I remember a few probably months ago, we ask for an explanation of the relations between IOM and UNHCR.  We still don't know.  It was announced that IOM now is part of the UN, but is it integration or coordination?  How are the relation is being settled out between both?  Is it part of the UN system?  Does the Secretary‑General have the power to appoint the head of IOM, or how… how it's going to be the relation, especially between IOM and UNHCR?  Can we also repeat that we need to speak to a senior officer of IOM here in the briefing room?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly.  And, if we get senior IOM officials here in New York, we'll try to provide them to you.  In the meantime, IOM continues in the same status and doing the same work that it did before.  It is now part of the United Nations system and has been since last year.  Of course, IOM deals more broadly with the situation of migrants and case of migration in general, whereas UNHCR, as you know, has a mandate specifically to deal with those who are refugees.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, about Iraq, UNHCR and the humanitarian coordination office in Iraq, they both mentioned in their statement that the displacement of more than 100,000 people from Kirkuk area and the conflict areas between KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Baghdad is… has been pre‑emptive.  It's been a choice.  But today, Amnesty International says satellite images, videos, photos, dozens of testimony collected by Amnesty International show that civilian were forced to flee and while at least 11 civilians killed by indiscriminate attacks in one town, which is Tuz Khurmatu.  I just wonder why the UN issued… UNHCR issued a statement indicating that people left by choice?  I mean, I know people left by choice, some of them, but not all of them.

Deputy Spokesman:  There are many different reasons why people can be leaving.  Some have… clearly, have been leaving in advance of the fear of attacks, and that's what UNHCR was drawing attention to at the time.  We have been worried about the possibility of clashes.  And you'll have seen, I think, the statement that was issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq today, which indicates our concerns about that.

Question:  And about the increasing fight, as I'm… I mean, we are… in the last 24 hours, there are renewed fight in new areas near the… what's called the Green Line, which is 1991 Security Council resolution that had a no‑fly zone in the area 36, and the fight now extended to that area, which is very close to the Kurdistan region borders, inside Kurdistan region borders.  Any new statement from the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would just refer you to the statement that was issued just in the past hours by the UN Mission in Iraq, which, among other things, says that we intend to raise issues of violations of human rights as warranted, guided by the principle of impartiality and with the interests of the people of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, at heart.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, the delegates, while addressing the Fourth Committee and while commending the work of the DPI [Department of Public Information] for the dissemination of information abroad, noticed that there was some degree of imbalance in the use of official languages.  And they called for proper recruitment to correct the situation.  Will that be done?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We continue to be in dialogue with the Member States on this issue, but we are trying to expand our language facilities, and we are listening to what the recommendations are and intend to follow them.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  This is also… I guess it follows up… or it's related, in my mind, at least, to this IOM question of association between the UN and other entities.  This… the… the… the reportings continued on… on what they're calling Ocampo leaks.  And Inner City Press has obtained some of the documents and published them, and they involve leaks of documents that were sent to the Secretary‑General or Vijay Nambiar at that time, 2011, that were… were sent, seemingly inappropriately, to Mr. [Luis Moreno] Ocampo at the time he was at the ICC (International Criminal Court).  And I wanted to know, number one, I'd asked before — I believe it was you and not Stéphane [Dujarric] — whether there is a… a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the ICC.  It's been requested several times by the Member States of the ICC.  There's a formal document reiterating the request that an MoU be… and I don't know.  So could… is it possible to know if there is an MoU?  And, number two, is the UN and OIOS monitoring the documents, some of which are published and some of which are not but some of which have now been published, as relates to the UN itself?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, I know that you're aware of the fact that the International Criminal Court has its own oversight body, and that conducts oversight… the internal oversight of the International Criminal Court.  So, you'd need to deal with them on that.  I don't have anything to say about any other investigative work by the Office of Internal Oversight Services.

Question:  Sure, but is it… I guess I'm just saying… because it… when they say reiterates its request, it must have been made before.  There is… was an MoU ever formed between OIOS and the International Criminal Court?  It's just a kind of a… I think they could just say if they have… maybe it never was and there's a reason that it wasn't, but if there was, it seems like it should be public. I mean, that… that it exists.  Whether the document would be public, I don't know, but if there's an agreement… because it's so often said that the ICC has no links to the UN. I just want to know whether this MoU was ever concluded.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't believe it was, but I can check.  [He later said that there is a UN-ICC relationship agreement and several Memoranda of Understanding and other legal instruments to implement it.]  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, again, about Iraq, the conflict is expanding and the… it's a major challenge, as you know, for the Iraqi Government and Kurdistan Regional Government, everybody in Iraq.  But we still… I'll ask you same question that I asked you last week, why the Secretary‑General still hasn't said a word in a statement or by himself about this major issue.  Doesn't he think this is serious enough for him to speak up about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has spoken out on the Kurdish issue, and we've had statements that were issued by the Deputy Spokesman about this.  Today, the statement was issued, like I said, just within the past couple of hours, by Mr. Kubiš and the UN Mission in Iraq, and he is speaking on the ground for the Secretary‑General.  Have… okay.  One more.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  Thanks.  It will be really fast.  One is, thanks for the statement… for the response on the Burundi‑Tanzania situation.  I just wanted to know, since there's a lot of interest there, whether people were… in fact, were extradited legally or abducted or… or whether it's true or not… is the UN taking any steps to… to… you'd said that, if confirmed, it would be troubling, to actually confirm or deny this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the point is, as I mentioned, we're aware of the concerns over the circumstances of these arrests that were reported on Saturday and extradition, and we're seeking further details.  If the events are confirmed, we call on the concerned authorities to ensure that due process is followed and the rights of those individuals are respected.  We also stress the need for transparency in this matter.

Question:  And one other thing before too many days go by, there was a… I know he's a Special Rapporteur, so it's not part of the… it's not, you know, part of the UN as such, but Pablo de Greiff, the… on transitional justice, spent a two‑week visit to Sri Lanka.  And, since the UN Secretariat and DPA (Department of Political Affairs) have worked on it, basically said the… the… the commitments to transitional justice and accountability have not… have yet to be concluded with and that it's going to lead to political problems.  So, I wondered, does the UN Secretariat see an ongoing… a need to follow up, given that… I know Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman's visited twice; the Secretary‑General… previous Secretary‑General visited.  What's the response to this finding that… what was… things that were committed to have not, in fact, taken place and… and the underlying need for… for preventative… prevention of conflict remain?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't comment, as you pointed out, on the work of Special Rapporteurs. But, beyond that, we have made our concerns known about the need… the regular need for follow‑up by the Sri Lankan authorities to make sure that there is accountability, and we'll continue to do that.  All right.  Have a good day.  Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.