2 November 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.


A few announcements:  on Monday, the Secretary‑General will be in Lisbon to participate in the Web Summit 2017, which brings together the leaders of key Internet companies with officials from different Governments.  You are aware of the attention the Secretary‑General has been devoting to the uses of the Internet.

His remarks to the Web Summit will be live‑streamed both on the Summit’s website and on the UN Web TV platform, I expect.

The Secretary‑General will be [back] in the office on Tuesday.


Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, and the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, Josette Sheeran, will depart New York for Port‑au‑Prince, Haiti, to meet with high‑level Government officials and key stakeholders, to visit communities that have been hardest hit by the cholera epidemic, as well as to visit Government flagship development initiatives.

After her visit to Haiti, Ms. Mohammed will travel to Washington, D.C.  While there, she will meet with high‑level Government officials and the senior leadership at the World Bank.  She will also speak at the Foreign Policy 2017 Diplomat of the Year dinner.

The Deputy Secretary‑General will be back in New York on 6 November.


This morning, the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, briefed the Security Council, and presented the stark reality the international community now faces, with major new crises causing massive displacement across virtually all regions.

He noted that the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is now approaching 66 million, up from 42 million in 2009.  This includes 17.2 million refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility, a 70 per cent increase in the last eight years.  He stressed that securing solutions for the millions of uprooted people, and avoiding a repeat of the massive outflows that have taken place over recent years, ultimately rests on political solutions.

Mr. Grandi urged the Council to support measures to address the causes of conflict.  He also spoke of the need to fight human trafficking, and sustain the protection of displaced people while solutions to conflict are pursued.

His remarks are available online, and we expect him to be at the stakeout with Vincenzo Amendola, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy.


Turning to Myanmar, a senior official from the UN Refugee Agency, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker [Peter] Türk, has wrapped up a visit to Myanmar.

In Naypyidaw, he met with Government officials, urging them to allow unrestricted humanitarian access to communities in need, and for the voluntary return of Rohingya refugees in safety and dignity.

Mr. Türk welcomed the Government’s renewed commitment to rapidly implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was chaired by former Secretary‑General Kofi Annan.


Also on Bangladesh — on a related note, rather — our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) say that the rate of Rohingya refugees entering Bangladesh from Myanmar has slowed in recent days, though there are reports that several thousand are believed to be waiting to cross into Bangladesh.

As of this past weekend, 607,000 refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar since 25 August — roughly equivalent to the entire urban population of Copenhagen [Denmark] — bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to well over 800,000 people.

Authorities and aid workers continue to race to prevent a public health crisis due to overcrowding, unclean water and poor sanitation in many camps through measures such as vaccination campaigns and the construction of emergency latrines.


From Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a joint US‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent‑International Committee of the Red Cross convoy delivered food, nutrition, health, education and other items for more than 92,000 people in Talbiseh (in Homs) and Tlul ElHomor (in Hama).  The last time these two locations were reached with assistance was in August.

We continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access for close to 3 million people in hard to reach and besieged areas, including the facilitation of medical evacuations in line with international humanitarian and international human rights law.


Our colleagues in the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office, in a report issued today, found that Da’esh [ISIL] perpetrated serious and systematic violations amounting to international crimes during the nine‑month military campaign to liberate Iraq’s Mosul.

The report is based on direct witness testimony, and documents mass civilian abductions, the use of thousands of people as human shields, the intentional shelling of homes and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians trying to leave Mosul.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights said that, during the course of the operation to retake Mosul, civilians were subjected to shocking human rights abuses and clear violations of humanitarian law.

The report calls on the international community, including the Security Council and the Human Rights Council, to take action to ensure that those responsible for international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are held accountable.


Our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in Afghanistan today said that 9,500 children die each year from diarrhoea.  This amounts to 26 diarrhoea-related deaths every day across the country.  UNICEF is calling on all districts in the country to adopt a community‑led sanitation approach, and for donors to support the movement to improve and save the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the country.

**Food Prices

Our monthly Food Price Index, for those of you who watch the Food Price Index:  global food prices dipped in October, with the decrease led by dairy products.  That’s according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Price Index.

The Dairy Price Index declined 4.2 per cent during the month, marking its first drop since May.  Vegetable oil, sugar and meat also declined, while cereal edged up a notch, led by higher rice prices.  FAO estimates point to a 1 per cent expansion in world cereal utilization in the coming year, with world cereal stocks on course to set a new record level by the close of the 2018 harvests.


Today is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General said that when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole also pay the price.  He also reiterated the UN’s commitment to help create the environment journalists need to perform their vital work, and said he’s mobilizing a network of focal points from throughout the UN system to propose specific steps to intensify our efforts to enhance the safety of journalists and media workers.

Over the past 11 years, more than 900 journalists have been killed for doing their jobs.  Only one in ten cases committed against media workers over the past decade has led to a conviction.  To mark the Day, there will be a panel discussion at 1 p.m. in Conference Room 8, organized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  You can also follow the Day on social media using the hashtags #EndImpunity and #JournoSafe.

**News App

I wanted to flag that our friends in the Department of Public Information’s (DPI) News and Media Division have recently launched an enhanced version of the UN News mobile application.

The new version of the app is available in the six official languages and includes features like access to the latest UN news, activities and events, as well as videos, photos and other multimedia products. It is of course free of charge and available on Apple and Android devices.

**Press Briefings

Lastly, Jane Connors, the first Victims’ Rights Advocate, who recently travelled with us to the Central African Republic, will be here tomorrow to take your questions and speak to you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there any update on the UN position regarding Sochi conference?

Spokesman:  No.  Unfortunately, nothing new to share with you.  We're obviously looking at the framework of the meeting, and as soon as we can give you something a little clearer, we will share that with you.

Question:  Did Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura receive an invitation, at least?

Spokesman:  He's… I don't know if he's formally received an invitation, but I know he and his team are very much aware of the proposal.

Question:  But no decision about attending this conference yet?

Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  I see.  Thanks.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Refugees in Greece went on hunger strike, demanding reunification with their families in Germany.  Do you have anything to say on that?

Spokesman:  I know our colleagues at UNHCR and I think at UNICEF have expressed their concern about the situation of some of the refugees in the detention centre.  I know Greece, like many countries… European countries bordering the Mediterranean, have shown solidarity towards these refugees who have made extremely dangerous crossings, but it's important that they be treated within their rights and with the respect and dignity they deserve.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Haiti.  I had seen the Secretary‑General's piece in the Miami Herald, but I'm assuming you've seen the Guardian piece which reports that… first, just as a question, is it correct, as the Guardian reports, that… that none of the permanent five members of the Security Council have agreed to the $40 million leave‑behind of funds from the mission to deal with the cholera that the UN brought to Haiti?  And is it true, as the Guardian reports, that the UN Haiti Cholera [Response] Multi‑Partner… Multi‑Partner Trust Fund, which gathered $2 million, quote, "now lies almost emptied"?  What's… how much is in there?  How much has been raised and how does this square with what he said?

Spokesman:  I think what was clear, and what we've said in terms of funding the initiatives, we encourage and we ask Governments to give whatever balances there were towards the appeal, leftover money from the peacekeeping mission.  As far as I understand it, there was no formal agreement to just move over the remnants of what was left in the mission budget to the new appeal.  You know, since… if you look back to 2010, I think the international community has spent almost $680 million on… to combat the spread of cholera in Haiti.  As we've announced from here, the Secretary‑General's new approach is… builds on our recognition to improve our response and obviously, the reflection and the regret, as well as the moral responsibility, on our continued commitment to the elimination of [cholera in] Haiti.  As for the exact number… the exact cash number in the Multi‑Partner Trust Fund, we can get you that figure.  We obviously would like to see it funded at a greater rate.  I think part of the Deputy Secretary‑General's trip is to obviously… for her to see first‑hand what has been going on and to bring attention to the issue.

Question:  Please, if you can… however you would choose to figure out that number.  But also I mean, since… you've… you've spoken for both previous Secretary‑General and this one.  What would you say to an analysis that says, in a way, six years of denial of responsibility results in a situation where the Member States now being asked for money don't feel the urgency they might have felt earlier in the process?  Do you think… do you see any connection between that?  What explains…?

Spokesman:  I think that's a question to ask Member States.  I think… you know, we've recognized I think what went… we've recognized that things did not go well, to put it mildly, in Haiti, our need to do better.  We're sort of asking for a second chance, I think, to prove our worth.  I think the Secretary‑General laid out a pretty detailed plan in terms of a two‑track approach, and our long‑term commitment to the people of Haiti, and to bring some solace to those communities that were the hardest hit, and as, just as important, I think, on the first track to ensure that Haiti has the health system, the sanitation system to ensure that this… that an outbreak like we've seen in the past cannot occur again.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  I want to ask about the UN response to the bubonic plague and the pneumonic diseases that are spreading in Madagascar, Indian Ocean, Seychelles, and is expected to make landfall somehow in Africa… the east of Africa.  Is the situation under control?

Spokesman:  I'm not able to characterize whether or not the situation is under control or not.  This is an issue that we've been talking about for some, some time.  Obviously, I think the spread of such a deadly disease, especially in a country that already has a pretty fragile health system, is of great concern.  The UN team on the ground is mobilized and, if I'm not mistaken, we've launched a financial appeal to help stem the flow, but it is something that we're watching, especially our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) are watching extremely closely.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  A couple of things.  On Kenya, the… the… I was told last week by… I guess by Farhan [Haq], that Roselyn Akombe is on leave until the end of the year and I had asked whether Ambassador [Macharia] Kamau had somehow démarched the Secretary‑General about [Ms. Akombe’s] role on the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) and things that she said.  I'm asking you now because I see an interview in the [Daily] Nation of Kenya quoting Roselyn Akombe as, "'Yes, I'm back at my old job, but I am prevented from talking to the press.  This was contained in the new contract I signed recently,' she said via phone."  Maybe they talked to the wrong Roselyn Akombe but… or maybe talking to the wrong spokesman, but did she get her job back?  I mean…

Spokesman:  It's… that would be… I can't vouch for the veracity of the quotes, but that's not the information I have, but I will be happy to look at what the [Daily] Nation says.

Question:  Sure.  And because it's Journalism Day and I know this is…

Spokesman:  Every day is Journalism Day here.  Every noon is Journalism Day.

Question:  All right.  I had asked you yesterday about Cameroon locking up journalists, but I actually want to ask you something a little closer to home, and if you bear with me, I wanted to ask you because it bears on… if you want to read something out…

Spokesman:  No, no, go ahead.  It's my lunch menu.

Question:  It's… one if it's appropriate and what the 38th floor role is and the thing I'm asking about is a statement made by Cameroon's Permanent Representative to me at the Security Council stakeout, in a public area, saying, on 38, "Who asked you to be up there?  I'm going to make a call to make sure Matthew is not up there anymore.  You ask nasty questions."  So my question to you is, if a Member State, in this case a Member State that is subject to questions, nasty or not, were to call the 38th floor and say, I want a particular media to not be up there, why are [they] up there — what would be the response from the 38th floor?  I ask because I've gotten an accreditation threat for being up there.  That's why it’s strange…

Spokesman:  Well, I think you're mixing… you know, if an event is open to the press, to the wider press, then everybody is welcome.  We are not… journalists here have to do their job.  There are obviously restrictions placed, depending on the event, but I guess the answer would be no.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.