14 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.


Good afternoon.  On Yemen, our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, tell us that since the start of the blockade on 6 November, all humanitarian flights to Sana’a airport and all humanitarian and commercial vessel movements to Hudaydah and Saleef ports have remained blocked.  Without Sana’a airport and Hudaydah and Saleef seaports fully functioning and able to receive cargo, the dire humanitarian situation will deteriorate further.  7 million people are already on the brink of famine, and the blockade will only bring them closer to it, our humanitarian colleagues are warning.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today also said that it is alarmed at the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen following the closure of land, sea and air borders.  At a UNHCR‑supported centre in Sana’a for the internally displaced, hundreds more people are approaching the facility daily, saying they are no longer able to meet basic needs or afford medical care.  The border closures are hindering aid deliveries, as new stocks of UNHCR emergency assistance targeting nearly 280,000 internally displaced Yemenis have been halted.  Some UNHCR staff have also been affected, with some stranded outside the country and others lacking fuel for transport.


The Secretary‑General has now left Manila and is on his way to Bonn for the twenty-third Conference of [the] Parties, COP23, where he said he would appeal to all leaders to have a greater ambition in the fight against climate change.  CO2 emissions are again on the rise and the Paris Agreement is at risk, he tweeted, adding that we must all do better.  The Secretary‑General in Manila as you know had bilateral meetings with the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Cambodia, and he also had a meeting with the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  And in Manila earlier today, the Secretary‑General also participated in a luncheon of the East Asia Summit, hosted by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

**Climate Change

The UN Climate Conference in Bonn today is focusing on how to increase countries’ resilience to the impacts of climate change.  As part of the Action Day on Resilience, Germany pledged $125 million dollars for a global partnership that aims to provide insurance to 400 million poor and vulnerable people by 2020, and Norway announced that it is setting up a $400 million fund to invest in business models that combine investments in high productivity agriculture, smallholder inclusion and forest protection.  We had been asked a few times last week, following reports that the Syrian Arab Republic had submitted its instruments regarding the Paris Climate [Agreement].  We can now confirm indeed that the instrument of accession by Syria to the Paris Agreement on climate change has been accepted in deposit, effective yesterday, 13 November 2017.  The Paris Agreement will enter into force for Syria on 13 December of this year.


Also on Syria, although in a different context, as part of his preparation for the eighth round of intra‑Syrian talks, set to begin in Geneva on 28 November, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, had a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, and that meeting took place in Geneva.  In light of the significant statement made by the Russian and US Presidents on 11 November when they met in Viet Nam, the Special Envoy emphasized the importance of operationalizing the provisions of resolution 2254 (2015).  The Special Envoy intends to continue consultations with international interlocutors in the coming period ahead of the resumption of intra‑Syrian talks.  We remain concerned for the safety and protection of some 400,000 civilians in the besieged area of East Ghouta, as fighting continues to be reported in several areas despite the signing of a de‑escalation agreement in July.  Today, according to initial reports, airstrikes and artillery shelling on many cities and towns resulted in several civilian deaths and injuries.  All schools in East Ghouta will reportedly be closed tomorrow.


Turning to Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues says that the number of Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since 25 August has reached 618,000 people.  The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found that human trafficking and exploitation are rife among Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh.  This is according to interviews and focus groups that IOM conducted in Cox’s Bazar.  Exploitation has been reported by Rohingya refugees, not only among those who arrived since 25 August, but also among those who have lived in Bangladesh for years.  IOM says that desperate refugees are being recruited with false offers of paid work, and with almost no alternative source of income, they are willing to take whatever opportunities they are presented with, even if they are risky, dangerous ones that involve their children.  The agency is also concerned about forced and early marriages taking place among the Rohingya refugee population.

**South Sudan

And our colleague Alain Noudéhou, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, yesterday welcomed President Salva Kiir’s decree ordering the free, unimpeded, and unhindered movement of humanitarian organizations in the country.  Mr. Noudéhou said humanitarian workers hope the orders will have a positive impact in reducing the many constraints they face that delay or prevent the provision of urgently needed help and which too often place humanitarian personnel at risk.  He added that humanitarian workers look forward to seeing the order implemented on the ground swiftly and will continue to work with all concerned authorities to ensure a safe and secure operational environment that is conducive to the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to people in need.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted resolution 2384 (2017), which renews the Eritrea and Somalia sanctions regime for another 12 months.  The Council was then briefed by the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, in a separate meeting.  He said that the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is working to help the people pursue the benefits of cooperation and reconciliation, finding energy within the new Government, which is already taking steps to work in a multi‑ethnic partnership.  Mr. Tanin stressed that the Mission’s final objective remains clear: sustained peace and the opportunities it brings for individuals to fulfil their aspirations and potential.


On Libya, I wanted to flag a very powerful statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, on the conditions in which migrants are being held in detention facilities in Libya.  That statement is online.

**Israel/Central African Republic

Yesterday, we sent out a note to correspondents on a letter of assist that was signed by the Under‑Secretary‑General for Field Support, Atul Khare and the Government of Israel yesterday to extend a technology pilot project designed to improve security in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Since 2015, Israel has contributed both static and mobile observation systems to MINUSCA.  These capacities have proven highly successful in increasing situational awareness and preventing outbreaks of violence, including during the Pope’s visit, the elections in Bangui and many other events associated with potential security threats.  Following a detailed evaluation process, the mission has approved the Government of Israel’s proposal to expand its existing observation system, which will include measures to fully integrate technological solutions into the mission's day‑to‑day operations.


Today is World Diabetes Day.  This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) is highlighting women’s right to a healthy future.  According to WHO, there are some 422 million people living with diabetes.  205 million of them are women, with more than half in the Western Pacific and South‑East Asia regions of the world.  WHO is promoting affordable and equitable access for all women with diabetes or at risk of diabetes to the essential medicines and technologies, self‑management education and information they require to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes and strengthen their capacity to prevent type 2 diabetes.  Khalas.  Madame?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, any new init… initiatives for the release or for… to help Saad Hariri's return to Lebanon?

Spokesman:  No, we… as we've said, we have no independent information on Mr. Hariri.  We've remained very concerned at the situation and, obviously, his absence from Lebanon.  And we would like to see clarity as soon as possible.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  You said there was no food going to Sana’a and Yemen and the Red Sea ports.  Has the Saudis opened up the ports for Aden?

Spokesman:  No, we understand that there may be some traffic going in and out of Aden, but the point, I think, we've made here, our colleagues in Geneva has made, is that the port of Aden is in no way sufficient to make up for the closure of Hudaydah and Saleef ports.  They don't have the capacity, both in terms of ships; they don't also have the milling capacity to process the wheat that is going in.  And, obviously, you know, one has to understand that ports are… work on… operate through reservation system, and so there already are ships that are scheduled to dock.  And the point that we're making and making strongly in different places is that we need those ports, Saleef and Hudaydah, to be open.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  On the same issue, do you find it reasonable that the… the Coalition and Saudi Arabia are asking for additional inspect and search protocols in order to secure that the humanitarian aids are not used to smuggle arms to… to Yemen through Hudaydah and Sana’a?  And are you in… in touch with the Coalition and Saudi Arabia in order to address their concerns?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think, as my colleague Jamie McGoldrick, the res… the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, said, I think, earlier today, I think we're willing to have conversations about the inspections, but what we need now is for those ports to reopen and for Sana’a Airport to be open.  They should not be contingent on further discussions.  There is a humanitarian crisis that the people of Yemen are facing, catastrophic crisis, as Mr. McGoldrick has said, as Mr. [Mark] Lowcock has said, as we have said from here.  And that needs to be addressed urgently.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  You mentioned Sana'a Airport.  There have been fresh reports that, not only is Sana'a Airport still closed, but there's now been another air raid on Sana'a Airport, putting it out of service.

Spokesman:  We, obviously, saw those reports.  We're very concerned about the attacks on… the airstrikes on Sana’a Airport.  What my colleagues are telling me, from having visited the airport early today, is that the runway is not damaged.  The taxiway, the ramp and the terminal were not hit, and they're in good condition.  Humanitarian flights could still come in and out using visual approach.  We just now need… we need the guarantees from the Coalition that the airport can be used.  Yes?  One second.  Yes, ma'am.  You've been very patient.

Question:  Shizo from Nippon Television.  Could you tell us a little bit about letters submitted by DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] yesterday regarding the joint military exercise by the United States and South Korea and what is the reaction… Secretary‑General's reaction to that letter? Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, we've… the letter has been received, and it is about or will be circulated to all members of the Security Council as requested by the DPRK.  So, it is… we've shared it with the Council as requested.  Yes, sir?

Question:  In view of that Sana'a Airport is not a military site, there are no airplanes or fighters taking off from there or attacking Saudi Arabia, do you condemn such an attack, given that the radars were hit and they are essential in… or instrumental for the landing of any aid to the… to Sana'a?

Spokesman:  We have, obviously, condemn and we will continue to condemn any attacks that take place on civilian infrastructure.  As I said, the airport is usable.  Visual… the pilots will have to use visual approaches, but it is usable.  We now need the assurance from the Coalition that the airport will be reopened.

Question:  So, you… you condemn the attack on Sana’a…?

Spokesman:  I think I've just answered your question.  Mr. Lee and then Mr. Avni?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you… I have other things, but I want to ask you about this rosewood situation.  I'd asked you yesterday.  You'd said that everything is answered in the statement…

Spokesman:  You know this press conference is being broadcast live.  I feel bad for your wrist that you have to hold up the Periscope.

Correspondent:  It's fine.  It's fine.  There have been times where you've run off the podium.  So I want… okay.  I don't think you'll do it.  It's too early in the proceedings.

Spokesman:  I have to answer Benny's question first and then I can run off.

Question:  Okay.  So, my question is as follows:  She… and it's not answered by the Secretary‑General's statement.  The allegation in the report, and it's documented by a guy holding up a sheet of paper that has bill of lading numbers on it, is that, at the time that Amina Mohammed signed thousands of certificates in January 2017, that this wood was already in China, that the state… that the… that the… the certificates were backdated, which is, under CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna], a major problem.  So, I wanted to know… she says that there's no evidence of that, but the evidence is in the report, and I'm directing you to figure 33…

Spokesman:  I've read the report.

Question:  Okay.  So what is her response to that? And how could the Secretary‑General say “I back her up entirely” in advance of the CITES meeting that's coming up in late November? Given that the CITES is part of the UN system, will he defer to them? If they find wrongdoing, will he take action?

Spokesman:  I think the statement that we issued is pretty comprehensive.  The… Ms. Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary‑General, said the signing of 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.

Question:  Is it permissible to sign certificates when the wood is already in China?

Spokesman:  You're making that assumption.  I think she's answered… she's… she's answered the question.

Question:  That's why I think she should do a press conference on it.  It's a major… given that you talk about the environmental SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals], here are many people who think that the answer is insufficient

Spokesman:  She's answered the question.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Before I get to my question, just to follow up, is it possible to get the DSG [Deputy Secretary‑General] to address us?

Spokesman:  We can see when she's… she's currently travelling.  What's your question?

Question:  Okay.  So, the… you mentioned before the Russian‑US agreement on Syria, on southern Syria.  You said you noted it, or did you endorse it, or what's the deal there?

Spokesman:  We've noted it.

Question:  Noted.  But there already seems to be a discrepancy between what the US is saying the deal is and what the Russians are saying the deal is.  The US is saying that the deal is to remove all foreign forces from Syria… includes removing all foreign forces from Syria, while the Russian is saying that Iranian and Hezbollah… the presence is legitimate and it… that they cannot… they will not remove those forces from Syria.  So, is the U… does the UN have any role in…?

Spokesman:  Perhaps that's why we've said that we've noted the agreement.  You know, our… for us, the statement confirms the importance of the de‑escalation… the need for de‑escalation of violence in Syria, the need for humanitarian aid to flow unhindered and unimpeded throughout the country.  It also… from our standpoint, the statement provides the impetus for the political way forward laid out by the UN to address the conflict and really lays out the pathway for the full implementation of resolution 2254 [2015].  Mr. de Mistura's had follow‑on talks with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Gennady Gatilov, and obviously, our discussions with various parties will continue.  We will let the two parties who jointly agree to the statement carry [out] their understanding.

Question:  Are any of those goals you mentioned possible if foreign for… forces remain in Syria, especially since the Syrian neighbours are saying that they will not abide by Iranian or…

Spokesman:  I think what we're focussing on is having a successful round for the next intra‑Syrian dialogue.  Majeed?

Question:  Stéphane, about JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism], the effort to extend the mandate of JIM, what does the Secretary‑General think about this? And is he satisfied with the work of JIM so far?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General very much supports the work that Mr. [Edmond] Mulet and his team have… has done, and he finds that the work of the JIM is an extremely important work in accountability when it comes to the use of chemical weapons.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In his statement to the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations)‑UN Summit in Manila yesterday, the Secretary‑General covered many global issues, including globalization, climate change, terrorism, human rights, peace and conflict but not one word about preventive diplomacy, which, on his calendar, is the priority of all the priorities.  How do you explain that?

Spokesman:  I think the issue of preventive diplomacy was very much implied in the text.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Back to the JIM, the Security Council is currently among the members discussing the renewal of the JIM.  What is at stake here if they are not able to renew the mandate of the JIM?

Spokesman:  Listen, I will leave the predictions to journalists and analysts.  As we've said, the work of the JIM is extremely important when it comes to the issue of accountability, when it comes to sending a message about the use of chemical weapons, the unacceptable use of chemical weapons.  We very much hope that the Security Council will come to an agreement so that the JIM can continue with its important work.  Mr. Iftikhar? I'll come back to you, Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about the deadlock race for the International Court of Justice.  I don't know whether it concerns you or Brenden [Varma], but may I ask, when is the balloting going to be resumed and if there are any… any move to have a compromise candidate because of the deadlock?

Spokesman:  Well, I… these issues are firmly in the hands of Member States.  They will have to keep voting and negotiate their way out of the deadlock.  As to when the next balloting we'll have, maybe Brenden knows.  Mr. Lee, then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in the… in the Third Committee today, one of the country‑specific resolutions, the one on Myanmar that the Secretary‑General himself referred to in his stakeout before he left, was not voted on, and it's because a programme budget implication document was not ready.  And I guess some people are wondering, given that it was known that this was the day and that the resolution or at least what they think is the cause of the [programme budget implication], why wasn't it ready? If the Secretary‑General was putting so much weight on… on this resolution…

Spokesman:  I don't know why it wasn't ready.

Question:  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  I don't know.  If I find out, I will let you know.

Correspondent:  I mean it is… it's a Secretariat function to prepare those documents.

Spokesman:  I fully understand.  There's certain knowns that I'm not… that I don't know.

Question:  And I wanted to also ask you, there's now… and this is not a leak.  This is a… a… became public yesterday, OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit of the pension fund, and among other findings that it makes that were not… that were rejected by the pension fund management of Sergio Arvizú, is one that says that… that, after they put in IPAS, which cut a lot… cost a lot of money in the… you know, independent pension, extendibility… IPAS, they put it in, and they said because it's not reliable, pension fund staff manually calculated and verified items with resulting impact on efficiency, meaning the people that didn't actually get paid.  And so I'm wondering, they actually seem to reject this recommendation.  What is the… is… is the Secretary‑General following this?  Because it seems like a lot of money was spent on a system that's not working.

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General is following this.  But this is also an issue for the pension board to take up.  Nizar?

Question:  You said that the Secretary‑General is very happy with the work of JIM and Mr. Mulet's report.  Now, there are serious reservations by the Russian, the Syrian Government, officials and military, accusations, very harsh accusations about the integrity of the mission and how they conducted their work.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that these consider… these allegations should be reconsidered and that Mr. Mulet should look into them carefully?

Spokesman:  Look, any part of the UN can always… could always do better.  The overall message from the Secretary‑General is that he supports the very important work of the JIM.

Question:  But the Russian report and the…?

Spokesman:  I understand.  We've seen… you know, this… ultimately, it will be a decision for the Security Council to make.  The JIM works under a mandate of the Security Council.  It will be their decision.  The Secretary‑General's position is one of support towards the work of the JIM and its important tasks.

Question:  But did Mr. [António] Guterres discuss this with… with Mr. Mulet after what has been alleged?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been kept fully abreast of all the issues regarding the JIM.  Evelyn?

Question:  Back to Syria.  The… the bombing was near Aleppo.  More than 60 people were killed in a market, and it was… it came… planes flew overhead and started hitting anything that moved.  Do you know if they were Syrian or Russian planes?

Spokesman:  We have no way of knowing who was responsible for these dreadful attacks on civilians.

Question:  Also, on the JIM, it seems to be there's a trend from the last report from Russia, because it's obvious that the Syrian Government is fingered in each of the reports, whether the reports are airtight or not.  Has the Secretary‑General at all spoken to the Russian Federation about… I mean, even Foreign Minister Lavrov, before we had the latest report, spent quite a bit of time at his press conference condemning the JIM.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been in touch with various part… and… Secretary‑General and his staff have been in touch with various parties on this.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In answer to my question why the Secretary‑General didn't mention preventive diplomacy, you said that it's implied.  Why such an important priority question be only implied?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General gives many remarks all over the world.  The fact that it may not have been explicitly mentioned in one speech, I think, does not take away from its importance.  I will move.

For information media. Not an official record.