21 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the Security Council on the topic of human trafficking.  He told the Council that stopping human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labour and modern slavery is a collective responsibility.  These activities, he said, are being committed in the shadows and constitute serious abuses of human rights, and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He pointed to the recent news reports of African migrants being sold as “goods” in Libya.  The Secretary-General urged the Council to protect the human rights and dignity of migrant populations by bringing perpetrators to justice, increasing humanitarian aid and helping Libyan authorities to strengthen their capacity to protect vulnerable populations.  He added that there is also an urgent need to create more opportunities for regular migration and preventing situations that lead to human trafficking by addressing poverty and exclusion, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  His full remarks are available online.


The Secretary-General also spoke this morning at the High-level Conference for reconstruction and resilience of Caribbean Community — or CARICOM — countries affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.  He recalled that during his recent visits to Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, he saw a level of devastation that he had never witnessed before.  In these two countries alone, damage is estimated at $1.1 billion, and total economic losses at $400 million.  Countries in the Caribbean need support now to rebuild, and to take effective climate action, the Secretary-General said, with a new generation of infrastructure that is risk-informed, to underpin resilient economies, communities and livelihoods.

Financing these efforts is a key challenge, he noted, urging the international community to explore eligibility for concessional finance, reinsurance mechanisms and ways to leverage remittances.  Debt instruments should also be sensitive to the ability to pay, and have catastrophe clauses built in, he added.  The Secretary-General stressed that the meeting today must be about more than speeches and pledges.  It is an opportunity to forge a partnership for a better future, and to deepen a vision for recovery that puts people at its centre.


We have sad news from Mali.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said today that a Chadian peacekeeper who had been injured during an attack in Kidal region on 26 October died on Sunday.  He had been quickly evacuated to Dakar for medical treatment following the attack on his convoy but has died from his wounds.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, paid tribute to this peacekeeper who died in the service of peace.  We join him in extending our condolences to his family and to the Government of Chad.


Following the Iraq Federal Supreme Court’s Decision yesterday concerning the Kurdish independence referendum, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) urges the authorities of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to acknowledge and respect this ruling of the Federal Supreme Court and the Constitution.  UNAMI urges the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to start negotiations without delay, based on the Constitution, on all current issues between the two Governments.  The UN Mission reaffirms its opposition to the threat of use of force, inflammatory statements or confrontational actions, especially at this time, when the issue of the referendum has found its resolution, based on full respect for the Constitution.  And the Mission commends the pivotal role played in this respect by the Federal Supreme Court.  The full press release is online.


Ali al‑Za’tari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, is appalled by the two mortar shells hitting Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouses in Quneitra in southern Syria.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in repairing the warehouse and replenishing the destroyed aid to avoid any interruption of humanitarian activities in the area.  We also continue to be alarmed at the escalated violence in East Ghouta and Damascus which has resulted in dozens of civilian deaths and hundreds of injuries, many of them being women and children.  And today, the 2018 Syria Humanitarian Needs Overview was released, reflecting the humanitarian community’s shared understanding of the ongoing crisis inside Syria.  It includes the most pressing humanitarian needs and the estimated number of people who need assistance.  Close to seven years on, the scale, severity, and complexity of needs across Syria remain overwhelming.  Some 13.1 million women, children and men require humanitarian assistance, according to the overview.


As of today, 32 humanitarian flights into Yemen have been cancelled and the [Saudi]‑led coalition has not been responding to new UN Humanitarian Air Service flight requests.  As a result of the blockade, the Humanitarian Air Service is only able to operate flights to Aden.  Humanitarian staff have been unable to move in or out of Sana’a since the blockade went into effect.


A report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is calling on the Sudanese Government to pursue effective, transparent and durable policies to enable the 2.6 million people internally displaced by the conflict in Darfur to return home voluntarily or to reintegrate into host communities.  The report notes that despite a ceasefire between the Government and various armed opposition groups, violence against internally displaced people continues to be widespread and impunity for human rights violations persists.  It details the situation of IDPs from January 2014 to December 2016, a period marked by a Government military campaign that led to mass civilian displacement.  The report says there are reasonable grounds to believe that the military operations resulted in serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law.  The full report is online.


Dag Nylander, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General on the Border Controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, facilitated discussions between Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, and Jorge Arreaza, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, here in New York on 19 and 20 November.  The Foreign Ministers and their delegations explored options for a full agreement for the solution of the controversy.  They also reaffirmed their commitment to the Good Offices process and reiterated that their Governments will remain actively engaged with the Personal Representative.  We issued a note to correspondents on this just now.

**Television Day

Today is World Television Day, which seeks to highlight the impact that TV has on decision-making by bringing the world’s attention to conflicts and threats to peace and security, as well as other pressing economic and social issues.  To mark the Day, at 1:30 p.m.  in Conference Room 4, there will be a panel showcasing collaborations between the TV industry and international organizations.

**Press Briefings

Following my briefing, we will have Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, here to brief you.  And then, we expect Italian Under Secretary of State for Foreign Relations and International Cooperation, Vincenzo Amendola, along with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following their briefing to the Council.  Tomorrow, at 11 a.m.  in this room, Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of the UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] New York Office, will be here to brief you on the 2017 Report on the Least Developed Countries.  That's it.  Anything for me?  Yes, Sherwin?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, what is the Secretary‑General's reaction to the resignation of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe?  And what is his message to the people of Zimbabwe at this time?

Spokesman:  The message is actually a very simple one.  Obviously, we take note of the announcement of the resignation, but the Secretary‑General encourages all Zimbabweans to maintain calm and restraint.

Question:  If I could follow up, President Mugabe has been a regular feature at the United Nations for decades.  He was in power for 37 years.  Isn't there a broader message that the Secretary‑General… given previous statements from… from that podium in terms of term limits for… for presidents and prime ministers, is there not a broader message that speaks to the longevity of President Mugabe and whether that is good or bad?

Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to get into any abstract philosophical discussions.  Obviously, it's more your role to analyse what the impact of this will be.  From our standpoint, of course, this Secretary‑General and his predecessors have made clear that we expect all leaders to listen to their people.  That is a cornerstone of every form of government and needs to be followed in every continent and in every nation.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about… there was an indictment yesterday by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York that's very… I would say… call it UN related.  A company called China Energy Fund Committee was… as alleged, funnelled $500,000 bribes to Sam Kutesa, former President of the General Assembly.  The indictment describes the meetings taking place not… on this very floor, on the second floor, setting up these bribes.  And so I have a couple of questions.  One is… and these were… these… mentioned in the indictment is the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, who is… as you know, is a mediator on the Burundi file.  So, I wanted to know, number one, after this indictment, what is the UN's office of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] doing to look at the… the… the UN persons that may… that… implicated in it?  Two, is China Energy Fund Committee still affil… accredited by ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]?  And they seem to have a project with DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], a $5 million project with DESA.  And, three, what does this mean for… for the… Mr. [Michel] Kafando's and the Secretary‑General's view of the Museveni role in the Burundi mediation?

Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of Burundi mediation, obviously, he has a role separate and apart from the work of our envoy, Michel Kafando.  You just heard a briefing from Mr. Kafando yesterday about what his work is on that.  Regarding Mr. Kutesa, we don't have anything particular to say about his dealings as the Foreign Minister of Uganda.  Obviously, he has served as a General Assembly President, and we want to make sure that all officials of the UN, including the General Assembly President, abide strictly by norms avoiding corruption and bribery.  Obviously, how that is enforced is an issue for the specific Member States, so we would refer you, in this case, to the Member State of Uganda, which is responsible for Mr. Kutesa.  And regarding the CEFC that you just mentioned, yes, they have accreditation at ECOSOC.  We're checking with our colleagues in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs about the nature of their projects and what the status of that is.

Question:  There's a $5 million project that's online, which I guess… what I'm saying is, coming after the… the… the Ng Lap Seng/John Ashe case, it seems some sort of consonant with it.  Basically, you have a big NGO [non-governmental organization] using UN access to purchase a… if the allegations are true, a PGA [President of the General Assembly].  And so, I guess I'm wondering, from the UN side, beyond referring to the Ugandan mission or whatever else, are there any reflections, number one, on how this process… what due diligence did DESA do before… before linking up with this NGO that's clearly a subsidiary of a Chinese oil company that was paying bribes in Chad, as well?

Spokesman:  Well, the information about them paying bribes is something that's come out today.  The ECOSOC accreditation came out sometime prior to all of this.  So, that's a separate issue.  Regarding the sort of probity we expect from officials, including General Assembly presidents, of course, we know that they belong to Member States, but we want them to uphold the high standards.  This is something we made clear during John Ashe's time.  This is something we're making clear now.  And, of course, I believe my colleague Brenden will have more to say about the presidency of the General Assembly regarding this.  But, again, these are issues that the Member States themselves will need to take responsibility for.  These are officials of Member States.  These are not staff of the United Nations.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Farhan.  You mentioned that Sana'a airport remains closed and no access for it.  How about Hodaidah and Saleef?  Is there any breakthrough in this respect?  And what are you doing, if not… what are you doing with the members of the alliance, the Saudi‑led alliance, member… influential members like the United States, Britain and others?  Are they exercising any influence on Saudi Arabia to open these seaports?

Spokesman:  We're in touch with the various Member States who may have influence, trying to see what we can do to get the seaports opened.  So far, neither Hodaidah nor Al Saleef has been open for the sort of activity that we need.  This is now the 16th day of this closure.  It's a very serious crisis.  You're aware of the points that the Secretary‑General has been making, and those remain.  We need to get those ports opened.  We need to get aid in.  Otherwise, there's going to be a major humanitarian catastrophe.

Question:  Are they aware that this can result in genocide in Yemen?  We're talking about millions of people are risking losing their lives as a result of this blockade.

Spokesman:  We've warned that as many as 7 million people will not get the food that they otherwise need.  That's a huge amount, and it's a major crisis.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  This is, again, on the speech that the Secretary‑General did yesterday on human trafficking and today on the Security Council.  He… he… he said, practically, in his statement that countries should improve the legal… I mean go to the… to the reason why these… these people found in this terrible situation.  And it looked like the Secretary‑General say that the State have to increase all opportunity for legal migration.  And because today he also said that those victims of trafficking should not be considered criminals, should not be detained.  Now, especially in the case of Libya but also other cases, does it mean that any agreement that any country does in this moment with a country like Libya to stop the migrants, the traffickers, and put it in these kind of camps or in these lagers is… is what the Secretary‑General is criticise… criticizing now?  Once, he answered me a question, what he said that was now respecting international law to do agreements with country that cannot respect human… human rights to detain… you know, to… to have them in that territory and to hold them.

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General made clear, also in his remarks to you yesterday, his priorities regarding the situation of African migrants in Libya.  And, in particular, he said that the horrifying reports we'd had of slavery conditions among these African migrants in Libya showed the need to address migration flows in a comprehensive and humane manner, and he specified that we need to have development cooperation aiming at addressing root causes, a meaningful increase of all the opportunities for legal migration, and enhanced cooperation cracking down on smugglers and traffickers and protecting the rights of their victims.  And so those are the priorities he's spelling out in this particular case.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, on Yemen, you mentioned that the Secretary‑General was in contact with various countries.  Does he have a view on what the Security Council has or has not been doing on Yemen?  Does he think that they should be playing a more active role?

Spokesman:  He believes that all parties, including the countries with clout in the region and with influence over the main parties as well as, of course, all the members of the Security Council, should be able to play a crucial role at this time.  Remember, we're talking about the lives of millions of people.  There's a cholera crisis on the ground, as well as the prospect of starvation of a significant number of people if we don't get aid in time.  So, we want all of them to play their role and get… and do what they can to get these ports opened.  We have the food, including through the World Food Programme (WFP), ready and available to go to people.  It just needs to get in.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Today… excuse me.  Today marks twenty-first anniversary of Dayton peace accords, so a long time since Bosnia war was finished.  Does the Secretary‑General has to say anything on this occasion?  And what are his thinking on the region?  Because he's very much preoccupied with the other places.

Spokesman:  Certainly, the Dayton Accords and the way that they were followed is a sign of how even some of the worst fighting can be put to rest and you can have a lasting solution.  Obviously, there are still many concerns that remain in the region, but the adherence to the Dayton principles has allowed for a level of peace and a level of recovery and reconstruction in Bosnia, in Croatia, in all the various parts of the Former Yugoslavia.  And, for our part, we've assisted in the effort to try and ensure that the region can rebuild, and we've also, of course, through the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, assisted with efforts at accountability.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Do you have anything to say regarding the Sochi… Sochi summit, which took place today, about Syria and the outcome of that?  Also, about Albu Kamal and what happened there with regard to the ISIS fighters who managed to flee and whose corridors were opened for them to flee, what the United Nations is going to do about that?

Spokesman:  Well, of course, we continue to call on all Member States to stay united in the fight against Da’esh in all of its permutations.  Regarding the Sochi talks, of course, we're aware that the talks happened today.  Our focus right now is on the resumption of Geneva talks on Syria, and that is, as you know, on schedule for 28 November.  The Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has been travelling, including in the region, trying to build up support.  And we're hopeful that any of the other efforts, including the ones at Sochi, will help feed in to contribute to a positive outcome of the Geneva process.

Question:  How does the resignation of many of the Syrian opposition in Riyadh impact… will impact the outcome of the Geneva or the… Geneva process itself?

Spokesman:  Well, for us, what we want to do is to make sure that all of those who show up in Geneva come there ready to negotiate.  So, whoever appears from the side of the opposition, as from the Government, should be ready to participate.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up…?

Spokesman:  Sorry… no, sorry.  There are so many other questions…

Correspondent:  Others have been given similar…

Spokesman:  No, you've had several in a row.  Yes.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Turning to another part of the world, regarding Ukraine, I was wondering if there's been any movement in terms of the political process and what the status of humanitarian conditions are.  I mean, have they improved, status quo, that kind of thing?

Spokesman:  Well, as you're aware… you're aware of the Minsk Process, and we continue to be engaged in that and encourage it to make progress.  Yes.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I wanted to ask about Western Sahara, because the new envoy is coming to the Security Council tomorrow.  Will he be addressing the press at some point?  And, also, could you confirm that, during his tour in the region, he did not go to Laayoune to the headquarters of MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara]?

Spokesman:  I don't believe that that was in his stops.  He will give a briefing to the Council, and we'll make an inquiry whether Mr. [Horst] Köhler will come to the stakeout afterwards.  We'll check.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about some new sexual abuse and exploitation, I guess, allegations.  Many of them seem to be against the Tanzanian battalion in MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], but there's one that's listed against a civilian international, and it's listed as child rape, and it says UN pending.  And I wanted to, I guess, get some more information.  Number one, is that all the information… in the spirit of disclosure, is that all the information that the UN can give on a… on a case of alleged child rape by a… by a civilian staff member?  Two, can you say, if you won't say the nationality of the staff member, whether it's a fund, programme or agency or just some further identifiers?  And, if not, when will this information be made available?

Spokesman:  Hold on.  I think I have something on this.  But it may not be here.  One second.  Yeah.  What I can say on this is the following:  We're extremely concerned by this allegation of the rape of a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by an international civilian staff member working with the UN Mission there, MONUSCO, which was publicly reported on the Conduct and Discipline Unit website on Friday.  The allegation was reported by the mother of the victim to the mission's Conduct and Discipline Team earlier this month.  The event itself is reported to have occurred in 2016.  We understand that this matter was reported to the local courts in July 2017 and they are aware of the allegation.  The allegation was assessed by the Head of Mission and determined that sufficient evidence exists to warrant an investigation.  Consequently, the matter was referred to the Office of Internal Oversight Services for appropriate action and to UN Headquarters with recommendation that the staff member be placed on administrative leave without pay pending investigations and the disciplinary process, if any.  The alleged minor victim has been referred to UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] for medical and psychosocial support.  The Mission will continue to monitor her well‑being and maintain appropriate contact to ensure that her needs are met by the service provider as necessary.

Question:  Thanks.  Has the… has the official Jane Connors, the victims' advocate, taken any action in this case?

Spokesman:  The actions that we have to report on are the ones that I've just mentioned.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, going back to… this change of leadership of the opposition of… of Syria, how does it impact the overall negotiations?  If these leaders keep changing all the time and the influence of countries like Saudi Arabia and other countries on choosing the… who represents the Syrians or not, how will that influence the… the work of Mr. de Mistura?  Does it help him, or does it adversely affect him?

Spokesman:  We don't have a comment to make on how the opposition chooses to decide its leadership.  That's an issue for them.  So please ask them.  What we want to make sure is that all of those who come to the talks come ready to talk and negotiate with each other.

Question:  But do you feel that they are… that the… they are elected in a good manner, in a proper manner, I mean [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  That's really not a question for us.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask a question about Cameroon.  There's a… in the… the south-west region, a video emerged basically of authorities ordering people out of their cars and to walk on their knees, very much to humiliate them, etc.  And so, people… one, they've wondered, like, what's the status of the UN's call for dialogue since they don't see this as dialogue?  And, number two, they've seen that the Swiss ambassador has said publicly that he visited the area and is very concerned.  So, the question, I guess, I had is whether François Fall, in his various visits… has he actually gone to those regions of the country?  Does he have an intention to go?  Has he requested to go but been rebuffed?  How can it be that the ambassador of a country based in Yaoundé has more… has greater access than the UN… UNOCA [United Nations Office in Central Africa] representative?

Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Fall works out his itinerary with the authorities as he can.  Whenever we have further travel for him… by him to announce, we will.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I just wanted to come back to Zimbabwe, whether or not the Secretary‑General had a view on how this resignation unfolded, the… the… the role of the region.  Were there any concerns about how it happened?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything further beyond what I've said.  As you're aware, in the past days, we made clear the Secretary‑General's support for regional efforts to assist in resolving the situation, particularly through the Southern African Development Community.  And with that, come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.