30 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.  First of all, I would like to welcome 10 young Palestinian journalists who are here as part of the Training Programme for Palestinian Journalists.  They start their programme today, so… a good place to start.  You will be with us, I understand, until the beginning of December.  So, welcome, I hope to see you again.  After we are done here, Brenden Varma will brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.


This morning, the Secretary‑General briefed the Security Council on the Sahel.  He said that given the urgency of the situation in the region, there is a need for innovative actions in support of the G‑5 Sahel’s efforts on the security front, but also on development and governance.  Time is against us, he said, and we need to unite our efforts to address the root causes of instability in the region.  He warned that not acting could have severe consequences for the region and beyond.  The Secretary‑General said that the creation of the joint force demonstrates the will of G‑5 Sahel countries to cooperate and address the threat together.  We have the opportunity to support them and to reverse the course of events, he said.

The Secretary‑General asked the Council to be ambitious in its choice.  He said strong political [support for] the G‑5 Sahel, as well as material and operational support are critical.  However, he added that while security cooperation is essential, only a multidimensional response will put an end to instability in the region.  Together, he said, we need to strengthen our action on governance, development and resilience.  The French Foreign Minister Jean‑Yves Le Drian, who is presiding over the Security Council session, is expected to go to the stakeout around 1 p.m. to speak to you.


From Iraq, our colleagues at the UN [Assistance] Mission [for Iraq] (UNAMI) condemned today’s killing of a journalist in Kirkuk, as well as an assault on a journalist in Erbil yesterday.  The Mission also spoke out against the intimidation and violence against members of the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and political offices in the Kurdistan Region.  It said that it appreciates the appeal by the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Kurdistan Region Security Council for calm, as well as the Iraqi Government’s calls for de‑escalation and compliance with the law.  UNAMI also takes note of the Iraq federal authorities’ decision to ban some broadcasts in the Kurdistan Region, adding that, at times of crisis, a free media becomes even more essential to safeguard the public interest and protect democracy.  It also stresses that hate speech and incitement to violence based on religion, race or political affiliation have no place in a democracy.

The Mission has steadfastly called for de‑escalation between the federal Government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil.  You can read more on the Mission’s website.  From the humanitarian file, our colleagues on the ground tell us that civilians continue to flee clashes in Iraq’s Erbil, Ninewa and Dohuk governorates, with the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) saying that more than 182,000 people are currently displaced.  Aid workers are closely monitoring the situation after the Government of Iraq unilaterally declared a temporary suspension of military operations over the weekend.  Humanitarian workers continue to provide assistance wherever access allows and as needed.


Over the weekend, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, wrapped up a five‑day visit to Yemen, appealing for more funding and better humanitarian access to people in need, as well as for all parties to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians.  He heard stories of atrocious suffering from hundreds of Yemenis throughout his mission, noting that it was shocking to see the terrible impact of the man‑made conflict.

He also met with Government leaders, including the Prime Minister, in Aden, and those in positions of authority in Sana’a.  In his meetings, Mr. Lowcock discussed the need to pay salaries to civil servants; to get Sana’a’s airport reopened; to improve the operation of ports, especially Hodeidah; and serious concerns about the environment in which the UN and other aid workers operate.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator stressed that the end to the horrendous suffering in Yemen requires an end to the conflict, for which a political resolution to the crisis is needed.  More information online.  Mr. Lowcock is currently in Amman, in Jordan, and he will brief the Security Council on Syria this afternoon at 3 p.m., in an open meeting via video conference.


The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar and arrived in Bangladesh has reached 607,000.  More than half of these refugees are staying in the Kutupalong Expansion site, an area merging pre‑existing makeshift settlements and adjacent land allocated by the Government of Bangladesh.  Aid workers continue to provide food, shelter, water and health care, among other assistance.  Despite the substantial scaling up of the humanitarian response, enormous gaps remain, primarily due to the lack of land, the growing scale of needs, funding shortages and logistical constraints.  The revised appeal for this crisis is currently 31 per cent funded.  The pledging conference last week raised $360 million, and donors are urged to disburse these funds as soon as possible.


The UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) called over the weekend for full respect for the neutrality and inviolability of United Nations premises at all [times].  It warned that any activities or conduct that put beneficiaries and staff alike at risk, and undermine the ability of UNRWA staff to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in safety and security, must cease.  On 15 October, UNRWA discovered the existence of what appeared to be a tunnel underneath one of its schools in Gaza.  In accordance with its protocol, the Agency has taken the necessary measures immediately to render the school safe and has sealed the cavity underneath the premises.  The school resumed its operations on 25 October.


The Foreign Ministers of Guyana and Venezuela met in New York over the weekend to discuss the border controversy between their two countries.  The Personal Representative of the Secretary‑General, Dag Nylander, facilitated discussions.  The Foreign Ministers and their delegations exchanged views on issues related to the controversy with the aim of exploring options for a full agreement for its resolution.  They also reaffirmed their commitment to the Good Offices process.


A couple of reports to flag:  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) today warned that only a third of the nearly 3,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children currently in Greece are receiving proper care and shelter.  UNICEF said that 1,800 children are living in open sites, reception centres, or are stranded on the islands or in detention centres.  Some of these children have been living on the streets.  With the approaching winter, this is an added risk.

**Climate Change

Last, and very importantly, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today warned that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased at record speed last year and hit a level not seen in 800,000 years.  According to WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide reached 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, up from 400.00 ppm in 2015 because of a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event.  The report says that these rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to severe ecological and economic disruptions.  On that pleasant note, I will take your questions.  Rami?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  The bodies of 36 men were found in Al‑Abyar in Libya over the weekend.  I'm wondering if the SG has a comment.

Spokesman:  No, we're aware of these reports.  We've asked our mission on the ground to see if they can give us any more information.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I'd wanted to ask — I've been asking Farhan [Haq] last week, but now I'll ask you — about the visit of the Secretary‑General in Cameroon.  Thanks for the short readout.  It said it referred to the situation in the anglophone areas, and there's a lot of interest in knowing what more.  But there also… first, I was suspect of it, but it seems a photograph is on the web page of the Cameroon presidency of the Secretary‑General receiving kind of a gold statuette or some kind of an award.  And so I'm wondering, can you say anything about that?

Spokesman:  No, I think it was a… it was not an award of any kind, as far as I'm aware.  It was a traditional protocol gift so I…

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted… I'd asked and maybe… I understand you were busy and you were there, but Mr. [François Louncény] Fall, is he still in the country?  And how does he explain… there was an interview that he did that was put up on UN Radio in which he said in French that the… that there are, of course, some extremists trying to promote secessionism in the area.  And, obviously, the people that are there that think that they were somehow swindled by the decolonization of 1961, they don't think that the mere fact of calling for secession makes them an extremist, and it becomes dangerous because that's a word that's often interchanged with terrorism.

Spokesman:  I haven't listened to the full interview.  I don't think the Special Representative was painting everyone with that same brush.  Mr. Fall, as far as I understand, has now left Cameroon.  He was present with the Secretary‑General during the meeting with the President.

Question:  And, also, I asked Farhan, maybe it's more comfortable to say it now.  Between that… that… that meeting and Cameroon and today, where was the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  In New York.  He came back Saturday, as I did.  Yeah.  Sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Although we have witnessed during the General Assembly that the Secretary‑General completely painted himself opposite to the US President, Donald Trump, on the issue of North Korea, the diplomacy was to be given a priority.  And, in the meantime, last week, we also witnessed the US Secretary of Defense saying the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the goal, even for the United States.  I wonder whether… would Secretary‑General placed himself now after these comments, would he like to add something or to propose his own initiative?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General's position remains the same, which he has always, in the past few months, called for a de‑escalation of the current tensions, a return to diplomacy.  His position has not changed or evolved in that sense.

Question:  Just in the terms of denuclearization, what is his position?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General is for denuclearization… is… of course, stands for denuclearization.  Olga?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There are reports… there is a report that Kurdish leader [Masoud] Barzani would leave after 1 November.  In this situation, do you think how it will affect the current situation on the ground and who will UN communicate to?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the UN… obviously, on the national level, the UN communicates primarily with the national level in Baghdad, with Prime Minister [Haider Al] Abadi.  We'll continue to do that.  We'll, of course, have contacts with the Kurdistan Regional Government, and I think we have to wait to see who holds the office.  We will continue to be in dialogue with the leadership in place in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you a couple questions about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  One is, there's a report of a UN peacekeeper being killed allegedly by another UN peacekeeper.  And I wanted to know… I didn't… if you can confirm that.  And, also, there've been at least one civilian killed in Goma in protests against the continued holdover presidency of Joseph Kabila [Kabange].  Is that something that MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] is operating on?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, I think they're monitoring the situation.  I don't have any details as to exactly on the demonstration that took place in Goma.  We are aware of the tragic incident that took place in the living quarters of a MONUSCO base in Sake in North Kivu, I think, on 27 October, in which one UN peacekeeper was found dead and another injured.  The wounded peacekeeper has been transferred to Kampala for further medical care.  The Mission is conducting an investigation currently.

Question:  And is this… what's the… I hate to say it, but if it does turn out to be the… the… the… you know, I guess, manslaughter or murder of one peacekeeper by another, is that… does immunity still apply?  Is it a matter of military justice in South Africa?  How does it work?

Spokesman:  I think it's a matter of the contingent taking the right… taking the decision, investigating it and, obviously, if there's foul play, for the person to face justice.  Okay?

Question:  Can I…?

Spokesman:  One second.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask, like, the results of the election rerun in Kenya are today and which has been boycotted by the opposition and in [inaudible] constituents, the elections were not held because it was too insecure and unsafe.  This is obvious a grave election [inaudible].  Does the UN recognize the Government of Mr. [Uhuru] Kenyatta and the Government…?

Spokesman:  Look, it's not for the UN to recognize or not recognize the Government.  We're not in the business of doing that, especially with elections that we did not organize.  Obviously, we're all following the situation extremely closely.  We remain in contact with African Union colleagues, as well.  I think what's important is that now there is… that there is an open dialogue between the political actors and Kenya, and we would not want to see any rise in tension or any violence on the streets.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  Two more questions.  One… one light and one heavy.  So, do you want to choose the order?

Spokesman:  I'll take the heavy.

Question:  Heavy first?  Okay.  At least I… I mean, there was… there was a… in the Third Committee late last week, there was… during the presentation of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, in the Q&A afterwards, or the interactive session afterwards, the Ambassador of… of Burundi, Albert Shingiro, said… said the presumed genocide in Rwanda, and then some other stuff that was entirely, I guess, within the realm of acceptable [inaudible].  But many people said this is basically genocide denial taking place in Conference Room 1 of the UN.  And I wondered is it something that the Secretary‑General or the DPI [Department of Public Information] office in charge of commemorating the Rwandan genocide… it's on UNTV.  You can find it.  I'll send you the spot site to it.  What is the… what is the reaction of the UN to this statement in Conference Room 1?

Spokesman:  Our… I haven't seen the particular remarks.  As a matter of principle, we do not question the genocide that took place in Rwanda, and we will continue to commemorate and we will continue to commemorate it appropriately.

Question:  Because Mr. Shingiro, one of his sort of profile pictures is him and the Secretary‑General.  That's one of the reasons…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean it's… most of the ambass… people choose whatever profile picture they want on their Twitter feed, and… and I think every ambassador has had his picture taken with the Secretary‑General.  In no way does it imply that the Secretary‑General supports every utterance of every ambassador in these United Nations.

Question:  That's not the light one.  The light one has to do with the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace.  Which I was looking up this weekend because of the Yu Darvish‑Yuli Gurriel thing.  But it seem… it tweeted that it went out of business in April, but its website continues in the present tense.  And, in September, it tweeted a promotion for a for‑profit company, a leader in international sports marketing.  So is it… does this UN office continue…?

Spokesman:  No, it no longer exists.  And I'd have to see why… who controls… continues to control the Twitter account.  No longer exists.  There is now… there is a relationship between the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee that is being managed through the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You already mentioned that there would be a briefing on Syria on the humanitarian situation in the afternoon, but we saw some media reports and pictures of starving children from eastern Ghouta over the weekend.  Do you have any updates on that?  And, apparently, some aid has reached into the town today.

Spokesman:  I'd seen the reports of aid reaching.  I don't have anything here.  Hopefully, Mr. Lowcock will have more when he briefs you openly.  Thank you, all.  We will go to my friend, Mr. Brenden Varma, and colleague.

For information media. Not an official record.