8 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.

**Chief Executives Board

Today and tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be leading the semi‑annual meeting of the UN system’s Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), which brings together under his leadership the Executive Heads of 31 UN system organizations.  In keeping with the Secretary-General’s vision for a UN system that is coherent, agile and strategic, the Board is meeting in retreat mode for over two days to allow for candid and forward-looking discussions in three distinct areas:

Focusing on the state of the world and multilateralism, the CEB members will deliberate on salient trends, emerging opportunities and challenges in current world affairs and their impact on the UN system.  Secondly, they will also discuss frontier issues and challenges emanating from global mega‑trends and technological advancements in four distinct areas — artificial intelligence; cyberspace; biotechnology; and impact of technological applications on peace and security — with a view [to identify] specific entry points for UN engagement and to determine focus areas where the UN system can add value.

The Secretary-General's vision is to bring governments, the private sector, the scientific community, international organisations as well as civil society together “to make sure that the power of science, the power of technology and the power of innovation are a power for good to make a better world and for the benefit of us all.”  Finally, the Secretary-General will present the Board with his proposals for UN reform in the areas of management, peace and security, and the repositioning of the UN development system.


Focusing on Yemen, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, is scheduled to speak at the Security Council consultations this afternoon on the humanitarian situation in that country — that is at 3 p.m.  He does plan to be available to you at the stakeout afterward.  Meanwhile, we of course continue to be extremely worried about the situation in the country, where seven million people already face possible famine.  We can only imagine what will happen if the ports and entry points are not opened to both humanitarian and commercial traffic.


From Ukraine, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in that country, Neal Walker, today said he is deeply concerned about the impact of stepped-up clashes in eastern Ukraine near water, electricity and gas infrastructure as winter begins.  He warned that any disruption of essential services could have grave consequences for millions of Ukrainians, who may need to flee their homes in search of heat and shelter.  Mr. Walker reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligation to respect civilian infrastructure and to protect civilians, stressing that any intentional disruption of access to quality water supply or critical heating systems is a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

**Climate Change

At the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, negotiations have started and have been focusing on the operating manual that will guide implementation of the Paris Agreement and the way the dialogue will take place at next year’s Conference in Poland that will look at progress.  In terms of commitments, the host country, Germany, announced a $58 million pledge for the Adaptation Fund, which supports vulnerable communities in developing countries so they can adapt to climate change.  The Fund aims to mobilize $80 million [this] year.


I wanted to give you an update on the movements of our Special Envoy for Burundi, Michel Kafando:  he did visit Bujumbura last week, where he met with Government officials, the Ombudsman, the Archbishops of Bujumbura and Gitega and the diplomatic corps in the country.  He discussed the East African Community‑led inter‑Burundi dialogue, the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation, as well as proposed constitutional amendments recently endorsed by the Council of Ministers.  Mr. Kafando also travelled to Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, and consulted with the Facilitator of the Inter‑Burundi Dialogue, Benjamin Mkapa, on the way forward.  And last month, he had also met in Brussels with exiled opposition leaders.  He is expected to be here on 20 November to brief the Security Council.


I also want to flag an innovative debt swap initiative between the Russian Federation and Mozambique that has unlocked a commitment of $40 million.  These funds will be used by the World Food Programme (WFP) to support Mozambique to provide school meals for 150,000 children over the next five years.  This debt swap is the largest in WFP’s history.  In addition to providing debt relief for Mozambique, it will free up new resources for development and support expansion of the National School Feeding Programme.  Despite Mozambique achieving its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of hungry people in the country, nearly a quarter of its people face chronic food insecurity or malnourishment.


The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing of a media worker during an armed attack on the offices of Shamshad Television in Kabul that took place on Tuesday.  Ms. Bokova also extended her sympathy and support to the staff of Shamshad Television, who resumed broadcasting quickly after the attack.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) are recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals.  The new WHO recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.  In some countries, approximately 80 per cent of total consumption of antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Government of Ecuador presented today a new handbook to improve the safety of workers in the banana farming sector.  More information on FAO’s website.

**South Sudan

A note we should have flagged last week: Jan Beagle, Under-Secretary-General for Management, visited South Sudan last week, in order to hear directly from managers and staff serving in the field how Headquarters can better support UN field missions to deliver on their complex mandates in challenging environments.  Ms. Beagle engaged directly in dialogue with management and staff at all levels, including in town hall gatherings, with a focus on field-oriented policies and systems in the context of the Secretary-General’s reform strategy which aims for a nimbler, more responsive and accountable organisation.

**Press Briefings

As I mentioned, Brenden [Varma] will brief you after I am done here, and later this afternoon, following the Council’s consultations on Somalia, Ambassador [Sebastiano] Cardi will also brief you.  Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., in the [Economic and Social Council], there will be an event entitled “From Desperation to Inspiration: The Seventieth Anniversary of the Anne Frank Diary”.  The event is co‑organized by the Department of Public Information (DPI), the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, and Facing History and Ourselves, New York, in support of the Together Initiative.  Speakers will include Alison Smale, the Under-Secretary-General for DPI; Lise Gregoire-Van-Haaren, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands, and Kimberly Mann, the Head of the Education Outreach Section for DPI.  Tomorrow our guest will be Najat Rochdi, the Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) and Humanitarian Coordinator for the country.

I also want to flag that we are hoping that the Secretary-General will do a stakeout on Friday, in the morning, outside the Security Council, in advance of his upcoming travels.

**Honour Roll

And today, we say thank you to the Syrian Arab Republic which has paid its regular budget dues in full, becoming the…?  One hundred and forty, Joe.  You got the question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  All right.  Yeah, this morning, the ICC [International Criminal Court] prosecutor, in focusing on Libya, laid out a… a number of continuing atrocities in Libya.  She said the situation was dire.  And I'm wondering, given the Secretary‑General's statement at his press conference here in September that he saw Libya as an area where he thought mediation and preventive diplomacy could work… he was somewhat optimistic about it… does he still hold to that view?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think the two are not mutually exclusive.  I think it is a fact that we have seen the civilian population in Libya continue to suffer.  We have seen atrocities.  We talk about them regularly from this podium.  It is also a fact that there is movement on the political end and that, I think, through the increased work of the Special Representative, we have seen some movement.  So, I don't see the contradiction in the two.  Mr. Bays and then Madame.

Question:  Question on Yemen.  You've described the humanitarian situation there as catastrophic.  What is the UN currently doing?  What contacts have there been with Saudi Arabia to try and lift the blockade?  And is Saudi Arabia telling you why it's not allowing humanitarian assistance in?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure we've gotten an answer to that question, and that's, obviously, a question for the Saudis and the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia to answer.  Yes, we're continuing to have contacts at some of the highest levels and at different levels, but, obviously, the blockade is continuing.  Every day it continues, the suffering increases.  I think I talked yesterday about the fear of increased prices.  We have in‑country about 91,000 metric tonnes of food, which is being used to feed the most vulnerable.  But, as you know, the needs in Yemen are great, and that can only last so long.

Question:  You said the highest levels.  Has the Secretary‑General had contacts with…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has also had contacts, and I will leave it…

Question:  With the Foreign Minister?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that.  Carole?

Question:  Along the same lines, has the Secretary‑General, perhaps, reached out to the Security Council, who will be meeting this afternoon, to try to get them to weigh in?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, obviously, that will be part of Mr. Lowcock's discussion.  He represents the Secretary‑General, and he will be briefing on the humanitarian situation, I think, going into great detail as to what is going on and the risks… the increased risks that the Yemeni people face. Mr. Lee…?

Question:  Can I just follow up?  Would the Secretary‑General like to hear the Security Council on this?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General would like to see those who have influence on the parties use that influence to help us ease the humanitarian situation and lift the blockade.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I have some country‑specific things, but I'd wanted to ask, now that you've announced this Chief Executive Boards… Board meeting, it wasn't on his schedule, and maybe there's some… is it entirely internal?  Are there any attendees of this CEB meeting who are not UN system officials?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it's solely internal.  It's taking place at Greentree.  It's in retreat format.

Question:  Sure.  I guess I'm just trying to understand, because I also look this morning at the Deputy Secretary‑General's schedule, and it said… you know, it said all appointments internal.

Spokesman:  She's there, as well, yeah.

Correspondent:  Okay.  But… all right…

Spokesman:  I mean it's internal…

Question:  I guess I'm just trying to figure out, like, are we going to get a copy of these reforms?  I mean, I heard what you read…

Spokesman:  Well, the reforms, I think the Secretary‑General has been briefing Member States in public formats.  He's been talking about it in interviews and press… I mean, so…

Question:  There's no written document…

Spokesman:  A lot has been shared and will continue to be shared.  Your next question?

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask, you'd mentioned now this readout of Mr. Kafando's trip in Burundi, and so I wanted to know because I've seen article… I mean articles there in quoting, you know, various mainstream opposition parties saying he didn't meet with him at all and saying it was sort of… I'll give you… one of the quotes is… is disappointed that the UN Special Envoy did not meet the representative political parties concerned with the inter… inter‑Burundian dialogue…?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I've shared with you what I was able to share, and as I said, he did meet with opposition leaders in Belgium.  I will come back to you.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I was wondering if you have anything on the Turkish Prime Minister's meeting with the Secretary‑General tomorrow, any information?

Spokesman:  I do not.  I will check.  I didn't see it on the schedule but it… that could be me having read the schedule for tomorrow a little too quickly, but I will come back to you on that.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Last week, the [United Nations General Assembly] voted on the blockade and the Cuba blockade.  It's an annual vote.  Today, the US is announcing new sanctions on Cuba.  Does that violate that… that resolution?  Is… is… does the UN have anything on that?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not… I will not render a legal judgment.  Obviously, I think we… that the UN welcomed the opening of diplomatic relations… when they occurred between the US and Cuba, but beyond that, I don't have anything to add.

Question:  …any information the UN has or doesn't have on that mysterious sonic attack?

Spokesman:  We clearly have no information on the sonic thing beyond what I've read in the press.  Stefano?

Question:  [Inaudible] do you know whether the Secretary‑General has an opinion on 280 characters on Twitter?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I do.  I… personally, I think we were fine with 140.  Stefano?  I mean, giving… yeah, giving more words to the UN is always… the ability to speak longer is always dangerous.  I'm in the 140 camp.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The situation in Lebanon with the crisis in the Government after the resignation of Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri, is the Secretary‑General worried that also the circumstances of this resignation coming when he was in Saudi Arabia?  Some are even suspecting that he was now… he's will of… is the Secretary‑General worried that what's happening… what's been happening in Yemen is going to happen in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  I think… you know, we're… I'm not going to speculate on what may or may not happen.  I think, as the SG says, the more you talk about things that may happen, you increase their chances of happening.  So, I'll leave the speculation to you.  We have expressed our concern about the current political situation in Lebanon, and, obviously, we're waiting to get a little bit more clarity.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have anything to say about the rising tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Spokesman:  I think, in general terms, we have called for a de‑escalation of both actions and rhetoric in the region, and we continue to do that.  Majeed?

Question:  I have a follow-up on that, then a question about Iraq.  Yesterday, the US accused Iran of supplying Houthi rebels with that missile attack on Riyadh and called for the UN to hold… to hold Iran accountable for violating Security Council resolution.  Do you have any comments about that?  And my second question is about Iraq.  We haven't heard any update about the UN reported violations in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in the province of Kirkuk and in the other areas.  There has been only two updates by the humanitarian office, not so many, as you know.  Things are going very fast.

Spokesman:  No, we'll try to get some more information out of Iraq on our… on the humanitarian situation.  On the… your first question, I think I tried to answer that yesterday, I think, but that's a question maybe best left to Security Council presidency.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General think that… that Houthi rebels and other rebels in Yemen should not receive more external assistance?

Spokesman:  I think what we would like to see is open and unfettered humanitarian access.  What we would like to see is serious progress on the political track.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, do you have an update on the WFP talks with Myanmar on aid?  There was some…?

Spokesman:  No, I've not been told that there's been any… there's no progress that I'm able to report.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  About the situation in Eastern Ukraine, statement of Neal Walker, what exactly is United Nations on this point planning to do with this situation?  And on which point now are resolving possibility of peacekeepers of UN on eastern territories of Ukraine?

Spokesman:  Obviously, on the question of peacekeepers, that's a whole other question that is one left to the Security Council and the mandate.  It's not one that we're discussing.  Mr. Walker is focusing on the humanitarian situation, expressing his very real concern about the increased fighting that we've seen, especially fighting that may impact negatively people's access to water, access to heating.  We continue, through our humanitarian arm, to try to deliver aid where we can, but we would like to see the fighting stop to have better access to those people in need.  Go ahead.

Question:  As the Secretary‑General will be heading next week to Bonn, what's his… what's his expectation from this big conference?

Spokesman:  Well, the message will be more commitment, will be accelerated commitments, that, if things stay as they are, we will not meet the required targets.  It's about getting, not only national governments, but the business sector and civil society to work together to increase those commitments and to increase action, practical action, to help us reach the necessary targets.  Round two.  Mr. Klein, then Mr. Lee.

Correspondent:  Okay.  First of all, you're talking about, just as a follow‑up to that, the targets being…

Spokesman:  The lowering of the temperature.

Question:  …increase in temperature?

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

Question:  Okay.  Is he going to reinforce a message that was delivered in the UN report, I bel… a week or so ago, that, even if the commitments are met…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, definitely.  He's going to… he will be going to Bonn armed with the knowledge of the report that both the WMO [World Meteorological Organization] put out, as well as…

Question:  That even if the commitments are met, it's not enough.

Spokesman:  Exactly.  That's what he’s trying to express.

Question:  My other question… my actual question relates to President [Donald] Trump's statement during his joint news conference in… in South Korea urging the North Koreans to come to the table, make a deal and so forth.  He also indicated that there'd been some progress in diplomatic movement.  So, I'm wondering whether you can comment on whether the UN, at any level, has any… has had any part in that reported diplomatic movement.  And also whether the Secretary‑General would have any overall comment on President Trump's more diplomatic approach to the problem?

Spokesman:  Obviously, as a matter of course, the UN stands for diplomatic approaches and supports those.  I'm not able to share with you any information on whatever diplomatic talks may be taking place.

Question:  Is that… is that because you don't know our you just can't… you're not at liberty to say?

Spokesman:  I think it's exactly what I've said.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, there's a very detailed story in the Associated Press about torture in Sri Lanka.  They've interviewed 50 individuals who were applying for asylum who give detailed accounts of being tortured under the current, not past, Government of Sri Lanka and saying that the military itself was involved.  So, I'm wondering, one, if there's any reaction given the UN's involvement in the situation in Sri Lanka but also, given that the UN is increasingly using Sri Lankan troops in UN peacekeeping, what… what do you… when… when detailed allegations like this come forward, what does the UN do to ensure that the very people who may have been engaged in torture…

Spokesman:  As a matter of course, there is screening done in partnership with DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and DFS [Department of Field Support] on ensuring that none of the troops that are committed to UN peacekeeping have any human rights abuses, allegations or issues hanging over their head.  So, that's a screening process.

Question:  Do they self‑certify?  Or, given that these are new allegations published today… 50 people were interviewed…

Spokesman:  I'm sure that our… my colleagues upstairs are taking these things into account.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, on Cameroon, I know that there was a call by… by François [Lounceny] Fall and, I guess, the Secretary‑General for dialogue with the “Anglophone regions”.  It's reported in the press in Yaoundé that they've now… the Government has sought international arrest warrants for 15 Anglophone leaders, and I'm wondering if that… if that would be viewed as consistent with this call for dialogue and, if not, if the UN has anything to say about it.

Spokesman:  I don't have any information on those arrest warrants.  We, obviously, continue to call for calm and reiterate the availability of the UN to support the search for a lasting solution in the Anglophone provinces.  And we call on the… also on the authorities to ensure maximum restraint by security forces.  Evelyn and then Linda.

Question:  Yes.  I think the Anglophones did some shooting today.  What I wanted to ask was, are we going to get a text at all on Yemen from the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] representative to the Council, or is he only going to talk?

Spokesman:  He's speaking in closed consultations, so he will brief you afterwards.

Question:  But we don't get his notes?

Spokesman:  No, if it's on closed consultations, he will not.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is regarding Syria.  I was wondering if you could give us an update in terms of whether or not there's been any movements or progress, etc., regarding the political track.

Spokesman:  None to share, unfortunately.  Sir.  No, Mr. Avni… sir… Sir Benny.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Lord.  So, by cooperating or cosponsoring — I don't know exactly what — with the Anne Frank Center, does the UN endorse the more controversial statement that came out of the centre that, according to critics, have little to do with its namesake?

Spokesman:  That what has little to do… that this particular centre?

Correspondent:  That particular…

Spokesman:  I'm not… I don't have deep enough knowledge to answer this question off the top of my head.  So, I will…

Correspondent:  We'll talk later.

Spokesman:  We'll talk later.  Okay.  Mr. Lee.  And then we'll go to Mr. Varma.

Question:  Okay.  Two investigation questions.  One, I just want to ask you again whether you'll, I guess, confirm or deny that… that the Secretary‑General's requested an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] inquiry into the circumstances of the… of the leave without pay of Roselyn Akombe…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.

Question:  …several people on 38 have said… is it…?

Spokesman:  You… the people on the 38th floor you talk to don't talk to me, so I'm not aware.

Question:  I guess, as matter of practice, given… given that this is the only way that UN staff can know what they can or cannot do, can you…?

Spokesman:  No, no, if I become aware of things I can share with you, I can share, but I'm just not aware at all of this.  Okay?

Question:  And the other one has to do with a court martial in Nigeria, and the reason I'm asking you is that it involves the theft of funds that were meant for the relocation of a UN hospital in MINUSMA.  Two or more senior Nigerian military officials have been accused of, you know, taking $1.4 million that was meant for this MINUSMA hospital.  But I'm just wondering… it would seem the UN would have an interest in this case given that the hospital was supposed to be…

Spokesman:  I'll check.  We'll check with DPKO.  Yes, ma'am.  Then we'll go to Brenden.

Question:  Okay.  Do you have an update on number of dead in Syria?  What's your last count?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  I can check what the last count is.  Mr. Varma, you're up.

For information media. Not an official record.