9 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.


Today marks the fifth day since the Saudi-led Coalition has imposed a complete blockade on Yemen.  Since Sunday, the Coalition has not facilitated any humanitarian movements into or out of Yemen carrying relief items and aid workers.

Our humanitarian colleagues say that they have heard of health facilities shutting down because they cannot cover the increased fuel costs, and water pumping stations have also been affected.

Yesterday afternoon, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations on the issue of the humanitarian situation in Yemen.  Speaking to reporters afterwards, he condemned what he called the outrageous missile attack on Riyadh over the weekend.

Mr. Lowcock cautioned that a potential famine in Yemen would be the largest the world has seen in decades, with millions of victims.  To avert such a famine, he said the recent measures introduced by the Coalition — mainly the closing of air, sea and land access to Yemen — must be lifted and that the following five steps must be taken:

1) The immediate resumption of the regular UN and other humanitarian partners’ air services to Sana’a and Aden;

2) A clear and immediate assurance that there will be no further disruption to these air services;

3) An immediate agreement to the prepositioning of the World Food Programme (WFP) vessel in the water off Aden, and assurances that there will be no further disruption to the functions that it supports;

4) The immediate resumption of humanitarian and commercial access to all the seaports of Yemen — especially for food, fuel medicines and other essential supplies; and

5) The scaling back of interference with, delays to or blockages of all vessels that have passed inspection by UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) so that they can proceed to port as rapidly as possible.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, the humanitarian community in Yemen also expressed its great alarm at the Coalition’s decision to close all Yemeni airports, seaports and land crossings.  They reiterated that humanitarian aid is not the solution to Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe, with only a peace process able to halt the horrendous suffering of millions of innocent civilians.


Turning to Syria, Jan Egeland, the Special Adviser to the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva following the latest meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force.  He said that he felt that we are now returning to some of the bleakest days of the conflict, with reports of attacks against civilians and displacement of civilians ranging from Idlib and Aleppo in the northwest through Raqqa and Deir Ezzour in the north and the east, and in areas like Damascus and Hama.

Mr. Egeland said that the worst situation is in eastern Ghouta, just near Damascus, where some 400,000 civilians are suffering in a dozen besieged towns and villages.  He said that UN convoys are the only lifeline, but those convoys were blocked again over the past week despite the best efforts by the humanitarian community to get aid in.  Mr. Egeland’s remarks are available online.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid access in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state remains extremely challenging, with the UN being granted almost no access by the Government.

The Red Cross Movement continues to provide assistance in the area, having reached tens of thousands of people with food and other services already.

However, the needs remain high, with the Red Cross Movement aiming to reach more than 180,000 people with assistance by the end of the year.  Further humanitarian access and assistance is urgently needed.

The Secretary-General has called for full and unfettered access for aid workers in Myanmar, including in Rakhine State, and we continue to encourage the Government to implement this call to ensure that all those in need receive assistance.

As a result of the overall limitations on access, the UN has not been able to conduct an independent comprehensive needs assessment in northern Rakhine.


Our colleagues at the UN Verification Mission in Colombia issued a press release with the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, highlighting the first month of monitoring of the ceasefire between the Government of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

At the regional and local levels, the UN Mission has established 33 verification [teams] which are now operational.

In several regions of Colombia, the humanitarian situation of the population has been positively impacted by the suspension of armed confrontation.  In others, serious challenges remain, such as the violence in Tumaco in October, in which several peasants were killed, and the murder of the governor and indigenous leader Aulio Isarama Forastero.

The UN Mission and the Episcopal Conference call upon the parties to undertake all possible efforts to avoid incidents that put communities at risk and to maintain their commitment to the work of the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.

**Climate Change

At the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, we are told that negotiations continue at a working level and more difficult issues will be tackled when ministers meet next week.

Starting tomorrow, the Conference will look at progress on climate action by themes, beginning with a look at energy, water and agriculture.

And on the margins of the Conference, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report stressing that more progress is needed towards assessing climate adaptation policies around the world.

The Adaptation Gap report looks at ways in which countries measure their progress on adaptation and resilience, and explores options on how to translate this into globally comparable metrics that are needed to track progress towards the Paris Agreement goal on adaptation.  The report is online.


A quick update from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization):  they tell us that while food commodity prices have been generally stable, the cost of importing food is set to rise in 2017 by 6 per cent from the previous year — that’s according to their outlook published today.

The higher import bill — the second highest tally on record — comes at a time when inventories are robust, harvest forecasts are strong and food commodity markets remain well supplied.  But it is of particular concern for Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and countries classified by the FAO as Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCS).  More information online.

**Press Briefings

A couple of notes going forward:  After I brief, after we are done here, Brenden [Varma] will brief you on behalf of the PGA (President of the General Assembly).

And then I will be joined by Najat Rochdi, the Deputy Special Representative for the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  She will brief you on the humanitarian situation there, as she is the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Mission.

Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will be back from the Chief Executives Board retreat, and at 2 p.m., we expect him to speak at an Informal Meeting of the GA on his Reform Proposal on the Peace and Security Pillar.  There is a document out on that, if you want more information.

Tomorrow morning at 8:45 a.m., the Secretary-General will do a press stakeout outside the Security Council on upcoming travels and other issues.

**Honour Roll

And today, we thank our friends in Belarus and Morocco for their payments in full bringing us up to 142 fully-paid Member States.

**Questions and Answers

Question time.  Madame?

Question:  Thanks.  I have two questions.  On Yemen, so the Secretary‑General talked to Mr [Adel] al‑Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister.  Can you confirm that he got a… he was promised that he will… that the blockade will be lifted in… very soon or could you say more on the offer?

Spokesman:  No, I can't say… he did speak.  I cannot tell you more.  What… I… we can only speak for the now, and now the humanitarian aid is not coming in, either by land, by sea, or by road.  And, as we've said, the possible ramifications are almost too tragic to think about.  We're already seeing some impact on the closures, and no doubt, as every day passes by, we'll see more and more impact.

Question:  A follow‑up.  I mean, the Saudi‑led Coalition blockade is possible only with the help also of other countries.  Why is the Secretary‑General not more clear or criticizing Member States who are delivering weapons to Saudi Arabia?  And it has been, like, records highlight that… the weapons sale from England, America and other countries to the Saudis.  They are Security Council members.

Spokesman:  No, right.  I fully understand the thrust of your question.  I think the Secretary‑General has been clear that all those who have an influence on the parties need to bring that influence to bear in order for the blockade to be lifted.

Question:  He is not saying more about that.  I mean, he is… he kept saying that they should have more… say something and put more pressure, but that's all that we hear from him.  And he's…

Spokesman:  I think the message is pretty clear.  Carole, then Sato.

Question:  I want to ask if the Secretary‑General was satisfied with the statement or the press elements from the Security Council yesterday on Yemen.

Spokesman:  I think we will be satisfied when the… we see the blockade being lifted.  Sato?

Question:  Yes.  The humanitarian situation is very dire in Yemen, as you put it.  And, yesterday, Security Council announced a press element.  So, could you elaborate a little bit about UN diplomacy toward the Saudi Arabia Coalition and the Yemen Government is working on or after… especially after yesterday's Security Council?

Spokesman:  Look, there have been contacts at many levels over the last 72 hours in order to get this blockade lifted.  Our efforts, our phone calls, have clearly not done the trick, as the blockade continues at this time.  Mr.  Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I guess, just on this Yemen call, while it was good that… that Under‑Secretary‑General Lowcock mentioned the call, why didn't… like, I… didn't you provide sort of a… a… list of such calls or readout of such calls?  I know this was done in the past and it's not like… If it's not working not having them be secret calls, maybe a regular reading out… can you explain why you don't read out calls anymore?

Spokesman:  I think some calls we give readouts of, and others we don't.

Question:  The meeting with [Mauricio] Macri… for example with the President of Argentina, they gave an extensive readout afterwards.  Was it accurate?

Spokesman:  I'm not able to speak to that.

Question:  I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, as I'm sure you've seen, the ICC (International Criminal Court) judges have voted to open an inquiry into events between 2015 and '17 until recently.  I know it… one, I mean, I guess, given that the… the… the Secretary‑General has an envoy and is involved in it, do you have any comment on it?  And I'd sort of expect you to actually read it out.  I've seen you bef… in the past, although the ICC is a separate entity, you know, say…

Spokesman:  The… as you say, the ICC is a separate entity.  What is important for us is that we welcome any steps that will bring some accountability for the crimes done against civilians.

Question:  Has… has the Secretary‑General or Mr. [Michel] Kafando seen the statements by the… the… I don't know which Nyamitwe it was, but they… calling this the last… last stance for the… for the West and really denouncing the… the… the decision to open an investigation.

Spokesman:  It's… the decision was the ICC's and I say… and, as I said, we welcome any steps that would help us bring closer to accountability.  Go ahead.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask, I'm sure you've also seen this BBC story about the mission in CAR (Central African Republic).  Maybe… you know, I don't know if the next speaker will be able to address it, but it seems that, in 2015, there were some… some UPC rebels that actually attacked and injured a UN peacekeeper, which is often said to be a war crime, that were released without any punishment at all back to the rebel group.  And… and how does this… does the Secretary‑General believe that such a move would, in fact, put other peacekeepers at risk because it's no longer…

Spokesman:  We are looking into the basis of the story.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  There are consistent claims that Saudi Arabia is either detaining or restricting the actions of the leaders of two other Member States, President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi of Yemen and Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri of Lebanon.  They are only claims.  What is the UN doing to try and find out what the status is of those two leaders?

Spokesman:  We have no way of independently verifying the status or whereabouts of these two — one is a Head of State and the other one, Head of Government.  So we have no way of independently verifying these accounts one way or another.  Evelyn?

Question:  The word "condemned" — and rightfully so — has been used against the missile that was fired from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, but we haven't heard the word "condemned" when it comes to Saudi Arabia's actions of cutting off the vital supplies, the access, and…

Spokesman:  I think we've used a lot of words, "catastrophe".  We've called for it to stop.  So I'm not… I think we've been pretty clear and determined in our stand against what is currently happening to the Yemeni people.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Well, nobody can be for it.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Anything about meeting between Secretary‑General and the Turkish Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  It was done at the request of the Turkish Prime Minister.  If we have something afterwards, I will let you know.

Question:  Will there be a readout about it?

Spokesman:  We'll let you… we'll see.

Question:  And I have a question about Iraq.  As you know, the crisis is… still continues between the Kurds and the Iraqi Government.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to make a statement or anything about it?  Since the beginning of the crisis, we haven't heard about…

Spokesman:  I think we've spoken about it from here.

Question:  I'm talking about the Secretary‑General himself.

Spokesman:  Mr. [Jan] Kubiš has been, obviously, following it.  And, as we've said, we have a standing offer to help facilitate the dialogue between the Federal Government and the Regional Government in Kurdistan.  Yep?

Question:  This Arria formula meeting on Venezuela that the Council is planning, do you expect anyone from the Secretariat to brief?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  I will try to find out.  I'm not aware.  Herman and, sorry, then Sato.

Question:  The Cameroon authority has issued an arrest warrant for 15 leaders of the Anglophone separatist party.  Any reaction from UN?

Spokesman:  Not… not at this time, not more than what I said yesterday.  Sato?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about Human Rights Council in Geneva.  Recently, Nikki Haley made a speech:  US will withdraw from the Human Rights Council if the so‑called blacklist is published.  Do you have any comment on the US Nikki Haley's argument?

Spokesman:  No, I think that would be best addressed to the High Commissioner's office.

Question:  A follow‑up.  Do you… do you condemn the… do you condemn the blockade that… on Yemen by the Saudi‑led Coalition?

Spokesman:  Of course.  I mean, if you look at all the words that have been used, yes.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I guess just one follow‑up on Herman's question.  I think what you said yesterday is that you were unaware of these arrest warrants.  So, have there been any steps taken to become aware of them?

Spokesman:  As I said, I have nothing else to add.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you about… I've asked you in the past about dollar‑a‑year… of UN officials, but this is something I had not seen it.  In the blue book, there's the listing as a UN Assistant Secretary‑General (ASG) of a Mohamed Béavogui of Guinea.  He's called unique Assistant Secretary‑General, Africa risk capacity, Johannesburg.  And when you…

Spokesman:  Which blue book?

Question:  You know, the protocol book, the book…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  There's a list of UN officials, and there's… there's USGs (Under-Secretaries-General) and ASGs at headquarters…

Spokesman:  I've never heard of this person…

Question:  I'd never heard of him either, but he's listed…

Spokesman:  Because neither of us have heard of him doesn't mean he doesn't exist, so let's…

Question:  But the Africa risk capacity is a AU body.  So I just… maybe there's some agreement that he would… could become a UN ASG.

Spokesman:  I will check.

Question:  All right.  Maybe you’ll… the other one, there's an audit, there's an OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) audit that Inner City Press has published of the pension fund, and it's pretty critical of its deals with an unnamed accountancy firm, which I believe to be PCW (sic).  And it says that… that, you know, only 25 per cent of the work that was done was actually bid out, and the rest of it was done by people at $475 an hour.  But the thing that really jumped out at me was there was $1.8 million of spending that was entirely unaccounted for, not… not approved.  Although it was paid out, it was not pursuant to any contract.  So, I'm wondering… I know that there's a decision coming up for the Secretary‑General as to the pension, the CEO.  He's gotten communications from… from the board, from the staff unions.  Is he aware of this… this $1.8 million issue… and how does it relate to it?

Spokesman:  I don't know if he's particularly aware of the audit.  I wasn't aware of the audit but it doesn't mean… clearly it doesn't mean he wasn't aware.  And, obviously, the decisions of the hiring… when hiring decisions come, everything will be taken into consideration.  I will go get our guest… oh, no, first, Brenden… sorry.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible] that one side.  Do you have any comment on the Foreign Policy report today alleging that the Deputy Secretary‑General was involved in a timber smuggling operation between Nigeria and China?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I will say the following.  First of all, just to be clear that the Secretary‑General is… was informed by the Deputy Secretary‑General about the reports, and he reiterates his full support and confidence in her.  She, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, of course, categorically rejects any allegations of fraud.  The Deputy Secretary‑General welcomes the effort to shine more light onto the issue of illegal rosewood logging and exportation that she fought hard to address during her tenure in the Nigerian Government.  In… she says that her actions as Nigerian Environment Minister were intended to deal with the serious issue of illegal wood exportation.  As a result, she instituted a ban and set up a high‑level panel to find policy solutions to the crisis of deforestation in Nigeria.  Ms. Mohammed says the legal signing of export permits for rosewood was delayed due to her insistence that stringent due process was followed.  She said she signed the export certificates requested before the ban only after due process was followed and better security watermarked certificates became available.  Thank you.

Question:  I have one related question?

Spokesman:  Very quick.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  I was interested in this.  Obviously, it's a very detailed report in Foreign Policy.  And, as… as you know or you or Farhan [Haq] had said, she just recently received the Diplomat of the Year Award from Foreign Policy down in D.C.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Is there any… was she aware of this story in… being in preparation when she accepted the award?  Was the award… how long was the sort of… often, to receive the award, you have to be present.  How long were the discussions?

Spokesman:  I think some of those questions should be addressed to Foreign Policy.  She was fully aware that the story was going to come out when she received the award.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.