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

31 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.


This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict.  He called the suffering of children “a great source of global shame”.  He said that despite recent progress, there is still an alarming level of violations in many countries.  The scale and intensity of some of today’s crises require us to redouble our efforts and take innovative approaches.  The Secretary‑General also stressed the importance of pursuing accountability for these abhorrent crimes and violations of human rights and humanitarian law.  “If we leave the next generation traumatized, seething with grievances, we betray those we serve and we betray ourselves,” he added.  He said that his Special Representative on this issue, Virginia Gamba [de Potgieter], will work closely with parties to conflict to implement measures to protect children.  Ms. Gamba [de Potgieter] also addressed the Council.


I wanted to flag that Knut Ostby of Norway has been appointed as the ad interim Resident Coordinator in Myanmar.  He will also serve as the Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative from 1 November, tomorrow.  As you know, he succeeds Renata Lok‑Dessallien, who is taking on another [assignment] at UN Headquarters.  Mr. Ostby has extensive experience in development, human rights and humanitarian affairs in 17 countries, having served as a Resident Coordinator for more than 11 years, including in Timor Leste.  He has also served in Fiji and nine other Pacific countries, as well as in Iran.


A new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) finds that the national pledges made by countries in the Paris Agreement [on Climate Change] represent only one third of the action needed to meet climate targets and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  UNEP’s Emission Gaps Report warns that even full implementation of the current nationally determined contributions would result in a temperature increase of at least 3°C by 2100, missing the agreed under‑2°C goal of the Agreement.

The findings are in line with the Secretary‑General’s repeated calls to Member States and businesses to show greater determination to implement the Paris Agreement and with greater ambition.  He has also stressed that the clock is ticking and Governments must use the upcoming climate change conference in Bonn, the climate summit in Paris, and the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi as opportunities to boost action and coordination.  UNEP says Governments must urgently increase their climate action, and called on businesses to help close the gap by investing in clean technologies and other activities, which are outlined in the report.  The report is available on UNEP’s website.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) today condemned the airstrikes in a residential neighbourhood of Derna during the night of 30 October that caused civilian casualties.  According to information received by the Mission, at least 12 children and women were killed and 3 adults and 4 children were wounded.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that some medical supplies for Derna hospitals have reached the area last week.  More items, including food and fuel, are pre‑scheduled to enter, but permission is still pending.  The UN calls for immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access and for the lifting of restrictions on movement, especially for those needing medical treatment.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) deployed teams today in Goma to monitor the situation and establish the exact circumstances of the clashes that took place yesterday between Congolese security forces and protesters.  According to the Joint UN Office for Human Rights, 4 people were killed and 15 others injured, while at least 37 were arrested.  The UN Mission strongly condemns all forms of violence and calls for the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration, freedom of expression and freedom of association.


UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) said today it is assisting recently arrived Cameroonians seeking refuge and safety, together with the local authorities in south‑eastern Nigeria.  Thousands have fled to Nigeria following renewed violence in anglophone parts of Cameroon earlier this month.  More information on UNHCR’s website.


UNHCR also says it is deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck in the Bay of Bengal this morning in which at least four Rohingya refugees died when their boat capsized near the southern Bangladesh shore.  UNHCR and partners rushed to the scene to provide medical support, food, blankets and clothes to the survivors, who said that six families had fled Myanmar's northern Rakhine state before running into rough seas.  More than 20 injured people were rushed to hospitals and the others were taken to UNHCR's transit centre near the Kutupalong camp where they will receive further assistance and support.  Meanwhile, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it is worried about how the congestion and overcrowding in the makeshift settlements Rohingya refugees are living in in Cox’s Bazar could lead to dangerous sanitary situations.  IOM says the existing water facilities are not sufficient to cope with the hundreds of thousands of people living in the settlements.


On the eve of the World Hepatitis Summit in Brazil, the World Health Organization reports an increasing global momentum in the response to viral hepatitis.  A record 3 million people were able to obtain treatment for hepatitis C over the past two years, and 2.8 million [more] people embarked on lifelong treatment for hepatitis B in 2016.  Hosted by the Government of Brazil, the World Hepatitis Summit 2017 aims to encourage more countries to take decisive action to tackle hepatitis, which still causes some 1.3 million deaths every year and affects more than 325 million people worldwide.


Also on the medical beat, the World Health Organization released their Global TB Report 2017.  The report shows that global efforts to combat TB have saved an estimated 53 million lives since 2000, reducing TB mortality rate by 37 per cent.  However, despite these achievements, TB remained the top infectious killer in 2016.  It also remains the main cause of deaths related to antimicrobial resistance and the leading killer of people with HIV.


Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme tell us today that more than 250 experts and observers from all over the world gathered in Rome to review a record number of chemicals for inclusion in annexes of the two Conventions on the subject, notably the Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions.  Inclusion in the annexes of the Conventions means the chemicals become regulated under international law.  According to the latest FAO data, international pesticide sales are valued at up to $480 billion a year.  UNEP estimates that as many as 3 per cent of those working in agriculture worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning, with adolescents facing a higher risk.  More details online.


Finally, today is…?  What day is today?  Exactly.  And it’s also World Cities Day.  The theme is “Innovative Governance, Open Cities” and seeks to highlight the role of urbanization as a source of global development and social inclusion.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by the President of the Security Council for the month of November, Ambassador [Sebastiano] Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to these United Nations.  He will brief you, as tradition calls, on the programme of work for the month of November.  That’s at 1:30 p.m., in the afternoon.  Yes, sir.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask you about the… in mid‑November Russia will host a congress of national dialogue among Syrian parties, and Mr. de Mistura, he said, on principle, that he supports this.  But I want to ask you, will he attend?  If not, who will represent UN at this congress for national dialogue?  And, also, the Russian envoy for Syria said that Mr. de Mistura has some reservations.  Can you tell us… about the Congress.  Can you tell us about…?

Spokesman:  I'm not in a position yet to tell you whether or not Mr. de Mistura will attend, but I will try to get you some…

Question:  Any UN official…?

Spokesman:  …guidance.  I will try to get you some guidance.  Sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Is there any official reaction to the results of the Kenya presidential election that have been rejected by the opposition?

Spokesman:  We, obviously, continue to monitor the developments closely and urge all political parties and actors and supporters to exercise restraint, refrain from any acts of violence and uphold the Constitution.  It is critical that all concerned work towards preserving a peaceful environment in Kenya.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about Cameroon and Myanmar, the thing that you read out.  Actually, they're both things that you read out.  In Cameroon, now… now that the UN is acknowledging this… a… they say now actually up to… could go as high as 40,000 or higher… fleeing anglophone regions in Cameroon into Nigeria, you said it was somehow… this was like renewed violence.  I guess I'd ask you, the actual violence that people are flying… fleeing from, is it Government violence, or is it strikers' violence?  Because I'm reading a UN News Centre story that says there… somehow people are fleeing demonstrations and strikes.  Is there… is there a… is there some Government shooting from helicopters that's leading to this… and how does it relate to the visit that the Secretary‑General had?

Spokesman:  We're not… we're not in a position to… we're not in a position to say.  I think the information that UNHCR is getting is from the people who are fleeing, and they're fleeing the violence.  As, obviously, people would flee their homes only in drastic circumstances.

Question:  But I guess what I'm wondering is, how would this announcement… how it relates to the… to the… to the stop‑by visit that the Secretary‑General had with the President of Cameroon only on Saturday.  Was… when shooting at people?

Spokesman:  I think I gave you the readout I was able to give you on the meeting.  UNHCR makes its own announcements in its own time.  There's no coordination.

Question:  And, yesterday, you'd said… I'm sorry, but various people have asked me, what happened to this gift?  You said it was a regular gift in protocol, this golden statue that was handed by Paul Biya to António Guterres.  The US Government has rules on, like, what happens with gifts.  What are the rules at the UN?  Where is the statue now?  How much is it valued at?  And what will be…?

Spokesman:  I don't know how much it's valued at.  I think the… things are just stored.  There's… protocol gifts are usually just stored here in the UN basement.  I'll come… Matthew, I'll…

Correspondent:  It's also on Cameroon.  I just thought we'd close this one out…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let's close Cameroon.

Question:  Yeah, because it's also sort of related.  There's a… a major opposition figure in the northern part of the country, Aboubakar Siddiki, who was just, as you may have seen, as denounced by Amnesty International, sentenced to 25 years in jail for… his crime is contempt of President.  And I wondered, number one, I know you have… you always say, generally, we think people should be able to, I guess, have contempt of President, but I mean, was the Sec… people are just finding it strange that smiling, you know, gold statue‑receiving event with… with, two days later, somebody being sentenced to 25 years in jail for orally insulting the President.  Is that…

Spokesman:  As you say, we stand for freedom of expression, and people should be able to speak freely without fear, fear of reprisal.  It is standard protocol that the Secretary‑General poses for… he posed for a photo.  He was… the Secretary‑General was very happy to be received by President Biya.  There were a number of important issues on the agenda.  Our hosts offered a protocol gift, which was accepted.  And we'll leave it at that.  Yes, sir, in the back.  No… Yeah, sorry.  Prince…

Question:  Stéphane, tomorrow the GA will vote on new draft resolution on embargo against Cuba.  What is the SG’s position on this issue?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the… we're not going to comment on every vote the GA makes.  Yes.

Question:  On the UN Environment Programme report, I mean, it's… obviously, shows that there is a gap in CO2 emissions reductions, and it's been published on the eve of the COP23 conference in Bonn.  So, what's the message of the Secretary‑General in this regard?

Spokesman:  The message from the Secretary‑General is clear, that countries need to show more ambition.  The private sector needs to show more ambition.  The message of the report is that the commitments made in Paris in and of themselves are not enough, and we all need to do more.  And this comes on the eve… on the day after the release by the World Meteorological Organization that showed carbon dioxide levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years.  I think all of this should serve as a wake‑up call.  Mr. Klein.

Question:  On the same subject, the [Paris Agreement on Climate Change] was reached by consensus almost two years ago, and the individual contributions or… or national commitments, many of them were submitted before that.  Why's it taken almost two years for the UN environmental organization to come to this conclusion after that agreement was… was hailed as such a breakthrough?  And did the agency at the time indicate any concerns that the targets in the national commitments were inadequate?

Spokesman:  I think, first of all, some of those questions need to be addressed to UNEP itself.  If I can read the report, if I understand the report correctly, it's not just looking at the gap of the… of the nationally determined contributions but also what has happened in terms of emissions since Paris.  Yes.  And then Benny.  Sorry.

Question:  Stéphane, Venezuela, the Peruvian Foreign Minister and the [Foreign Affairs] Minister of Canada were here yesterday to talk to the Secretary‑General, and they were asking him to get more involved in the crisis of Venezuela, specifically on the humanitarian side.  What is his response?  And is he considering any action?

Spokesman:  I think he heard the message from those… from those two.  The Secretary‑General, as you know, has been following the situation closely.  He's been very supportive of the efforts of the mediation by the Dominican Republic and others, and he will continue on that position.  Mr. Avni.

Question:  So, there was an incident a couple of days ago.  Israel destroyed a tunnel that was from Gaza to the Israeli territory.  Several questions about that.  First of all, the Palestinian Authority claims that Israel has used internationally forbidden substance in the destruction that, I think, all sides say that was in… you know, using a new technology.  Does the UN have any confirmation, refutation…?

Spokesman:  We don't… we don't have any forensics, firsthand evidence, so I can't speak to that one way or another.  We obviously expect all countries to abide by international… international law in terms of the use of different types of armaments and not use armaments that are banned.  I mean, we've seen, obviously, the media reports about the detonation of the… the destruction of the tunnel by the Israeli security forces.  We regret any loss of life, but the… our position with regard to Gaza tunnels is clear.  We condemn terror activity and the militant build‑up both above and below ground.  It's critical that this latest incident not lead to a further escalation which would disrupt the ongoing process to return the Palestinian Authority of National Unity to Gaza.  Our mission on the ground will continue to monitor and follow the situation.

Question:  Follow‑up.  So… so, few days before that, UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] discovered a tunnel under one of its schools.  Just to stop speculations before they even start, let's bring those up.  Was there any connection between those two tunnels because of the proximity…

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm not… I'm not in a position to say whether there was any connection with the two tunnels.  I'm not, at this moment, aware… knowledgeable about the exact location of those two tunnels.  What I do know is that UNRWA came out very clearly and very publicly denouncing the existence of such a tunnel under its school, which violates the inviolability of UN premises, and the neutrality of UN premises should not be used in any way as a source of violence.  And the tunnel, as far as I understand, the tunnel has been sealed, and the children have returned to school in the UNRWA… in the UNRWA school.

Question:  Since this is not first time, is there any way to be more proactive in preventing such occurrences?  I mean…

Spokesman:  Well, I think, by their very nature, it seems to me the base… base logic that I… at least I can comprehend, by very nature, those people who are building tunnels are not cor… are not making any public announcements.  So, obviously, whenever UN or UNRWA discovers any tunnels or gets… understands that there is some tunnel under its building, it will denounce it, and it will denounce it publicly.

Question:  One more question about this.  Egypt, as well, in the last few hours, destroyed a couple of tunnels on its side of the border.  Does it… is that the same… do you view that as the… in the same way as the Israeli [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Well, I think any… we stand… I haven't seen those specific reports.  So, I can't speak to it, but obviously, we stand against any use of tunnels by extremist groups and as a source… as I said, as a source of build‑up by militant groups, either above or below ground.  Evelyn.

Question:  Yes.  Further, on the… on the climate environment report, is there any hint of the lack of US participation, because the Earth is really flat, of how much this is costing the programme?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure I adhere to your flat Earth policy, but what is clear and what we've said in the past is that I think there is… there are commitments from the private sector in the United States, from regional and subregional governments, that we feel there is strong engagement from those… those part… those in the United States to combat climate change.  The report is not focused on the US.  The report is a global… is a global look and all countries and all sectors of society need to make a… make more… you know, make a greater… show… need to show greater determination in combatting climate change.

Question:  Sorry, Stéph.  Maybe I didn't phrase it right, but is the lack of mon… is… is there an accounting of how much they're expecting from the United States since they're talking about the lack of funds?

Spokesman:  No, no one's talking about a lack of funds.  Okay.  Matthew.

Question:  I want to ask you about Myanmar and a couple of other things.  But on this… on the meeting that the Secretary‑General had with Foreign Ministers of Canada and Peru, before that, at 4:30, he met with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela.  And I wanted… it wasn't on his schedule.  I was glad to capture it on Periscope, because UNTV says they either don't have or won't give the video of it.  When was that meeting scheduled?  Why wasn't it put on his schedule?

Spokesman:  It was scheduled later… it was scheduled later in the day, so we put it up.  The Secretary‑General met with the Foreign Minister.  I think he listened and took note of the Foreign Minister's assessment regarding the latest developments in Venezuela.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Well, it's… it's a readout.  Thanks for the readout.

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on Myanmar, you said that this… the… the… the resident coordinator in Myanmar is interim.  So I wanted… since he wasn't already there, like, some people had… including Yanghee Lee, had said that probably an existing UN staffer in the country would just become interim.  What does it mean to say he's interim?  Did… was his identity… was his identity as interim Resident Coordinator approved by the government?  Is there a set period of time before he becomes permanent?

Spokesman:  There's a… there's a… it's not uncommon that, in situations where we need to appoint somebody in the interim, we do so.  So, I don't think… nothing should be read into that.  It's the Secretary… you know, it's our decision.  The team needed a leader, and we brought in somebody with, I think, very… a lot of strong, a lot of strong experience.

Question:  But does the Government approve him?  That's what I'm saying.  They have to give him a visa.

Spokesman:  It's obviously… in any country, the UN is not able to appoint or even send in people without Government approval.  As you know, obviously, people need visas.  An interim Resident Coordinator doesn't go through the official agrément process of letters of credentials or whatever, but it's an obvious thing that, in any country where we send UN staff, there has to be no objection from Government, because the Government can in any way object by not giving a visa.

Question:  Right, but can you see why it's… in the circumstance where the allegation by some, including on leaked documents, was that… was that Ms. Lok‑Dessallien was too close… saying things that the Government wanted to hear… is he sort of in a tryout period?  What's the process?  I think it's important to note what's the process for him…

Spokesman:  Well, there's an internal recruitment process.  And as… as with any… any Resident Coordinator, there's a recruitment process.  And at the end of that process, there are consultations with the Government, and the Government has to give agrément.

Question:  Now I finally understand what I wanted to ask you.  Did they ask… has the UN asked for agrément for this individual?  Has he been selected by the UN but not by the Government, or the UN has made no selection internally of who they…

Spokesman:  No, as I said, it's an ongoing recruitment process.  So, he's there in an interim manner.  As far as I know, there is no official agrément needed for an interim Resident Coordinator.  If that is not the case, I will be struck down.

Question:  And Ms. Lok‑Dessallien, you said that she has a… she's come… given… again, given the controversy, with all due respect to her, what is… given the controversy, what is her position at UNHQ [United Nations Headquarters]?  Does it have anything to do with Myanmar?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  She's coming back to… she's coming back to headquarters.  I don't know the details of her new position.  Ms. Leopold.

Question:  Hi.  Is there any update on what kind of access the UN has or doesn't have in Rakhine State?

Spokesman:  No positive update.

Question:  And, on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], yesterday, you'd said… you… you… you didn't have the details of the… on what happened in Goma.  There are now people saying at least four civilians were killed and, since then, five…

Spokesman:  I think I said that.

Question:  Did you?

Spokesman:  I think I… yes…

Question:  Did you add…?

Spokesman:  No, I read it out just now.

Question:  Oh, okay.  All right, great.  Hold on one sec.  What about Beni?

Spokesman:  What?

Correspondent:  One day ahead.

Spokesman:  What?

Question:  Tomorrow's news today.  It's already happened but… there have been five people arrested on the same grounds, members of LUCHA [Lutte Pour Le Changement], protesting Joseph Kabila [Kabange] in Beni.  And so I'm just wondering, what does MONUSCO think…?

Spokesman:  If I have something, I will share it with you.

For information media. Not an official record.