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

3 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 Stephane Dujarric, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

** Guest Today

I will be joined by Jane Connors, the first-ever UN Victims’ Rights Advocate.


The Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed just arrived in Haiti for a visit to the country.  And she is joined by the Special Envoy Josette Sheeran as well as the new Special representative for MINUJUSTH [United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti] Susan Page.  As I mentioned yesterday, they will be meeting with high-level government officials and key stakeholders, visit communities that have been hardest hit by the cholera epidemic, and visit government flagship development initiatives.


Our humanitarian colleagues report from Syria that they are deeply concerned about the impact of ongoing fighting across the governorate of Deir ez-Zor [on] civilians.  Yesterday, airstrikes on Al Mayadeen City and its surroundings reportedly killed more than 25 people and injured many others, most of them women and children.  Since August of this year, fighting has reportedly driven out more than 350,000 people of their homes in Deir ez-Zor.  The city was last reached with humanitarian assistance on 30 October.  Since the reopening of a key road, the UN has been able to regularly send aid to the area.  The UN calls on parties to take all measures to protect civilians and to facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across the country.


From Bangladesh, we are told that some 4,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar… have crossed the border into Bangladesh in the last 48 hours.  The newly arrived refugees say that thousands more people are waiting on the coast of Myanmar to make the crossing.  UN agencies and their partners are providing food and other supplies, as well as transportation to transit centres, to these refugees.  For its part, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] is concerned that 7.5 per cent of children at the largest refugee camp in Bangladesh are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, double the rate seen among Rohingya child refugees earlier this year.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

As part of the Secretary-General’s initiative on increasing transparency in regard to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, I wanted to give you an update on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, which we will now try to do on a quarterly basis.  For the period of 1 July to 30 September, we have received 31 allegations.  Not all of them have been verified, and some are in the preliminary assessment phase.  Out of the 31 allegations, 12 are from peacekeeping operations and 19 from agencies, funds and programmes.  Ten are categorized as sexual abuse, 19 as sexual exploitation, and 2 are of an unknown nature.  12 of these allegations occurred in 2017, 2 in 2016, 6 in 2015 or prior, and the date[s] are unknown for 11 of them.  Thirty-eight male alleged perpetrators have been associated with these incidents.  Of the 36 victims, 72 per cent are women and 19 per cent are girls.  Fourteen investigations have been launched during this timeframe.

Meanwhile, we have continued our [efforts] to implement the Secretary-General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.  Victims’ Rights Advocates have been appointed at Headquarters and in four field missions.  As I mentioned, we will have Jane Connors with us shortly.  She has just returned from the Central African Republic where she travelled with the Secretary-General.  We are also piloting a Victims Assistance Protocol which sets the roles and responsibilities of those on the ground to ensure coordination to provide victims with immediate assistance.  And with the most recent voluntary contributions from Member States, the Trust Fund in support of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse will rise to $1.5 million.  The Secretary-General has also instructed the heads of all entities system-wide to provide action plans and risk analyses to commit the leadership to the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse and almost all have been received.

With regards to our efforts to end impunity, we are developing an electronic tool for screening UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, or who resigned or were dismissed during an investigation.  We have also launched mandatory training for all UN personnel prior to deployment.  This month we are piloting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a single and uniform ‘Incident Report Form’ to ensure assistance is provided immediately, appropriate investigative action is undertaken, and to improve data collection.  We also continue our efforts to engage with Member States.  So far, 58 Heads of State or Government have joined the Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership.  74 Member States have signed the Voluntary Compact and 18 more have formally indicated their intention to sign it.  I will share with you what I just read out if you need it and the information that I shared with you should now be up on a new UN website focusing on this issue.


Meanwhile, I wanted to flag that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today released a report that warns that discrimination, exclusion and persecution are stark realities for many of the world’s stateless minorities, and calls for immediate action to secure equal nationality rights for all.  The report states that more than 75 per cent of the world’s known stateless populations belong to minority groups and that if left unaddressed, their protracted marginalization can build resentment, increase fear and, in the most extreme cases, lead to instability, insecurity and displacement.  More on [the] UNHCR website.


The UN Human Rights Office said today it is concerned by what it calls an unfolding humanitarian emergency at Australia’s offshore processing center in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.  Refugees and asylum-seekers there are holding out after Australia’s decision to close the facility and pull its support staff.  More information online.


Our colleagues at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have signed an agreement with Colombia to tackle the country’s coca cultivation and help farmers embrace alternative development.  Under the agreement, UNODC and Colombia will start a $315 million project to monitor the country’s policy to reduce illicit crops and to strengthen rural development, as part of the country’s ongoing peacebuilding efforts.


I also want to flag that the Director-General of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Irina Bokova, today called for an investigation into the killing of television cameraman Arkan Sharifi in the Iraqi city of Daquq in Kirkuk Governorate on 30 October.  She also deplored the killing of another television journalist, Qays al-Qadi, in Eastern Ghouta, in Syria, on 29 October.  Ms. Bokova reminds all parties of their obligation to ensure the safety of journalists in conflict situations, in keeping with the Geneva Conventions.


Our colleagues at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) tell us that several insurance regulators from around the world have committed to develop best practices to ensure that insurers consider climate-related risks in their underwriting and reserving.  The commitments were made at the UNEP-convened Sustainable Insurance Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

**Tsunami Day

Today is, besides Friday, World Tsunami Awareness Day.  For the second year in a row, the Day will align with the theme for International Day for Disaster Reduction.  It will focus on Target B of the Sendai Framework, which aims at reducing the number of affected people globally by disasters.  More information online.


I wanted to say that I stand corrected on the status of Ms. Akombe within the United Nations.  Ms. Akombe returned to the UN earlier this week.  She had been on special leave without pay after being nominated by the Kenyan government to serve on the country’s electoral commission.  Following the end of that assignment late last month, Ms. Akombe requested to curtail the period of her special leave and resume her work for the Organization.  Regarding a supposed stipulation in her contract prohibiting her from speaking to the media, there is of course no such contract and no such stipulation in any UN contract.  According to the longstanding media guidelines for UN personnel, staff may speak to the media on their area of expertise and to provide factual information.  I was just not informed of that development.

**Honour Roll

Today we say thank you to our friends in Mauritania, for having paid their budget dues in full for 2017, which brings up? I even forgot… 138.  Mr. Lee and then Carole.

***Questions and Answers

Question:  I have other stuff, but on this Roselyn Akombe thing, I guess, I wanted… since I’d asked yesterday, so apparently, they did… it seems like the Nation did speak to her because that is how, that’s how it became public, and they did directly quote her as saying that she signed a new contract and that she’s not allowed to speak to the press about the Kenya elections.  I want to know did she, in fact, sign a new contract?  Will you confirm, given the fact that it appears clear that the Kenyan Ambassador demarched and said there was something wrong with the special leave without pay that was granted to go and work on an election and then call for the boycott of the election.  What has the Secretary‑General learned from this?  Does he have any response to what the Kenyan Ambassador has raised, and why would she say it’s in the contract if it's not?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I wasn't present when she gave the interview.  What I can tell you is the fact that there is, no UN contracts do not have gag rules or staff contracts do not have gag rules that prevent people speaking to the press.  There are media rules in place, people are encouraged to speak to the press in their areas of responsibility.  That is a fact and that stands.  Her special leave without pay was granted through the usual channels, and each case is examined on its merits.

Question:  Given that during the special leave without pay, she said boycott the elections, is there… I guess, that is why I'm asking you because it seems like it's unclear to others what they can do either when on leave or not, like is there an inquiry into that?  Is that a closed matter, is that something…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any inquiry.  Ms. Landry.

Question:  Stéphane, on the [sexual exploitation and abuse], what you just read, the 12 allegations for peacekeeping missions, can you tell us which missions?

Spokesman:  No, there are 12 allegations that were received from across the system, so, in fact, some of them come from agencies and programmes and some of them come from peacekeeping missions.

Question:  You said 12 peacekeeping, 19…?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry, I do apologize, you are right.

Question:  You said 31 in all?

Spokesman:  Yes.  From the peacekeeping missions, they are United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), and from the agencies, it's the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, UNICEF… and UNICEF.  I'll give you all the break down.

Question:  Thank you, the breakdown.  And also, what is an electronic tool to screen UN staff?

Spokesman:  It's basically a way for us to have a better idea across the UN system that if someone was dismissed during an investigation on an SEA or was found to have, was found to have been engaged in these matters, their name is flagged and that person is not rehired by one part of the system after having been let go from another part of the system.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  It's an important monitoring tool.  I mean, it's, obviously we live in an electronic age.  It's not going to be in a paper format that is going to go away, so it's going to be, yeah.

Question:  Basically keeping the name?

Spokesman:  We are flagging names in a way that, I don't think, across the UN system, we had not been flagging in a way we should have been.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has there been any progress in UN efforts to persuade Myanmar Government to take back all these refugees in Bangladesh because so much has happened, Security Council meetings, missions, what has been the outcome?

Spokesman:  I think the situation, the situation on the ground speaks for itself.  We have not had the access, humanitarian access, we need and we want to for northern Rakhine State, and people cannot be forced to go home.  If people go home, they need to go home with their rights guaranteed, they need to go home freely, and they need to go home to the homes that they had and not be placed in any other places.  So, the short answer is, no, there has not been any progress.  Yeah.

Question:  Yesterday, Filippo Grandi mentioned that the WFP [World Food Programme] was talking to Myanmar about humanitarian access, so based on what you read can we assume that…

Spokesman:  I have not been given any updates that we have been successful in humanitarian access.  Yes, Mr. Lee and then…

Question:  I wanted to ask you about, well, first, it's reported that Mohammed ibn Chambas went to Nigeria and there is a quote I wanted to ask you about in which he is reported to have said that Mr. Guterres, hang on a second…  Sorry, I got distracted by Ms. Akombe.  If you want to call somebody else, do, because I want to ask you… please.

Spokesman:  All right.

Question:  Yes, on Monday the COP23 in Bonn will officially start and we know the Secretary‑General will be there on 15 November, I believe, so what's the UN's expectation in general from this important conference and what’s the message of the Secretary‑General to this conference would be?

Spokesman:  I think the message of the Secretary‑General is that we need to do more, that the commitments made in Paris were not enough, that we need to see reinvigorated commitments from Governments, we need the full throttle support and participation of the private sector of civil society.  I mean, I think the reports that have been issued in the last week, whether it's the UNEP report, the WMO report, shows that we need to do more if we are going to stem, stem the continuing warming temperatures.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any decision about UN attending Sochi or Mr. De Mistura?

Spokesman:  No.  I will tell, as soon as someone tells me, I will tell you.

Question:  Why is this hesitant by the UN to support this process?

Spokesman:  You know, we are a careful lot.  It's not, I'm not just focusing on Sochi.  Obviously, we have to see what the situation is then we will make our decision.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Stéph, on the 31 allegations between 1 July and 30 September, is this an increase or a decrease from the same period in 2016?

Spokesman:  Well, the comparable, I don't have those comparable figures because we are really, it's something we started, I think, as of 1 January, this kind of monitoring.  We can see what figures we had, but this is part of our ongoing efforts of improving our monitoring and reporting.  Obviously, we are seeing, we are seeing allegations that date back a few years because, I think, there is probably a sense that people feel freer to come forward and safer to come forward with allegations.

Question:  As a follow‑up, considering that a significant number of these allegations are from this year, what is the Secretary‑General's response to, particularly, these latest allegations?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is obviously disappointed and saddened that these actions continue.  To get to the, in order to stem these things, it's about better training, it's about better awareness, and it's about better partnerships with the troop contributors and that is something he has been very much focusing on.  And I'm sure Jane can talk to you more about that as well.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Great.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you, it was said Mr. Mohammed ibn Chambas was in Nigeria and he is quoted as saying that the Secretary‑General is gratified by the quelling of recent agitations by some secessionist groups.  This is a quote in the Nigerian press.  So, what I wanted to know is, I’d asked you before, in Togo, there was some dispute about whether he said that the President can continue or that the UN thinks that’s okay to continue to do [until] 2030, but I guess what I'm wondering is, since this statement seems to be similar to what François Fall, and I’d asked you actually in writing to explain his quote to UN Radio that secessionists are extremists, is this somehow a Guterres doctrine?  Is there a consistency in the approach of these two?

Spokesman:  I can't speak to the voracity of the quote, but I would not label this a Guterres doctrine.

Question:  Okay, but then I guess what I'm wondering is that, the François Fall one, I'm telling you he said it to UN Radio, he said that those advocating secession are extremists.

Spokesman:  I think and I answered that.  I answered that.

Correspondent:  You said you had not heard.

Spokesman:  No.  I think I answered that yesterday.  I'm going to go get our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.