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

22 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.

**Violence against Women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.  This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at an event here at Headquarters to mark the Day.  He said that every woman and every girl has the right to a life free of violence, yet this right is violated every day for millions of women.  He pointed to the recent emergence of reports detailing sexual harassment in the workplace from many organizations and institutions worldwide as evidence of how pervasive sexual violence against women is.  Violence against women is fundamentally about power, he said, and it will only end with gender equality and the full empowerment of women.  He added that the UN is committed to addressing violence against women in all its forms and called on the international community to further its collective action to end violence against women and girls — for good.  His remarks are available online.  And just after I am done, in a short while, I will be joined by Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  She will be here to talk to you about her recent trip to Bangladesh, including Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar.

**Côte d’Ivoire

I have a trip to announce: The Secretary‑General will travel to Côte d’Ivoire to attend the fifth African Union‑European Union summit in Abidjan on 29 November.  The theme of the summit is “Investing in the youth for a sustainable future”.  The Secretary‑General will deliver remarks during the opening ceremony.  He will also meet with President Alassane Ouattara, as well as other participating Heads of State and Government.  We expect the Secretary‑General back in the office in the afternoon of 30 November.


The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, is in Brussels, Belgium, today on a two‑day visit.  He is meeting with senior Government officials, as well as officials from the European Union and the African Union and key stakeholders.  He will discuss ways to further strengthen the partnership with the European Union and the UN‑AU‑EU triangular cooperation, including at a European Parliament High‑level conference that focusses on a renewed partnership with Africa.  Mr. Lacroix will also co‑chair the UN‑EU Steering Committee on Crisis Management tomorrow.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia today convicted Ratko Mladiæ on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced him to life imprisonment.  Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor for the Tribunal, said that today’s judgment is a milestone in the Tribunal’s history and international criminal justice.  He noted that Ratko Mladiæ was one of the first persons indicted by his Office, and the last to be convicted.  Mr. Brammertz said that this judgment vindicates the Security Council’s vision twenty‑four years ago: to secure peace through justice, by holding accountable the most senior leaders responsible for the crimes.  His full statement is online, as is one from Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.


Ján Kubiš, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council this morning and congratulated Iraq’s Government and people on their historic victory against Da’esh and its so‑called caliphate, which he called a victory on behalf of the world community.  Regarding the situation in the Kurdistan region, Mr. Kubiš said that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government need to be resolved through their constructive partnership dialogue, leading to sustainable solutions on the basis of the Constitution that will also guarantee the full constitutional rights of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and its people.  He also provided an update on the UN’s humanitarian work in Iraq, noting that humanitarian partners have reached more than six million Iraqis during this year, including two million affected by military operations in Mosul.  Each month, he said, we are reaching nearly one million civilians with the assistance they need to survive.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters as he attended the conference taking place in Riyadh and he expressed his belief that the meeting will assist the UN‑led negotiations in Geneva for a political solution in Syria, based on resolution 2254 (2015).  He told opposition leaders that a strong, unified team would be a creative partner in Geneva, and he stressed the need for a team that can explore more than one way to arrive at the goals we need to reach.  His remarks are available online.


Yesterday afternoon, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on Nigeria: The Secretary‑General condemns the suicide attacks on 21 November in Adamawa State, Nigeria, which resulted in scores of casualties.  The Secretary‑General extends his condolences to the bereaved families and to the Government and people of Nigeria for the loss of life.  He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.  He calls for those responsible for these heinous acts to be swiftly brought to justice.  The Secretary‑General reiterates the solidarity of the United Nations with the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism.  He also renews the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support regional counter‑terrorism initiatives.


Following the High‑level Conference yesterday to address the urgent needs of Caribbean islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, over $1.3 billion were mobilized in pledges and over $1 billion in loans and debt relief.  Nearly 400 high‑level representatives from governments, multilateral and civil society organizations and the private sector were gathered here with the Secretaries‑General of the United Nations and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to help countries to “build back better”.  The principal economic sectors of tourism and agriculture have been significantly affected, and recovery costs surpass $5 billion, according to the latest needs estimates.  In some cases, the impact is 3.5 times the countries’ gross domestic product (GDP), for example in the British Virgin Islands.  We have a press release with more information available in our office.


The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, wrapped up a two‑day visit in Colombia where she met Government and civil society representatives, members of the Catholic Church and UN partners.  She said that the implementation of the child protection measures included in the Colombian Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC‑EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army] is encouraging and that lessons can be drawn from that process.  Ms. Gamba added that the reintegration of former combatants, especially ex‑child soldiers, should be everyone’s priority, as it allows released children to become active members of their community, while promoting a culture of peace.  She also stressed that children used and abused in and for armed conflict should be treated as victims and that detention and juvenile courts should only be used as a last resort.  More information is available in a press release issued by her office.


UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] today called on European authorities to pay greater attention to the needs of refugee children, many of whom are living in deep distress.  The call came after the reported suicide of an 11‑year‑old Afghan boy in a refugee facility in Austria.  In a statement, UNICEF said it is crucial that these children receive the right quality of care at the right time to detect early warning signals of trouble, access to mental health services and the support of guardians or foster families.  If such measures are not put in place as a matter of urgency, the long‑term impact on children’s lives and their societies can be incalculable, the agency said. 


I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary‑General today announced the appointment of Pernille Dahler Kardel of Denmark as Acting United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  Ms. Kardel succeeds Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands, who concluded her assignment on 26 October 2017.  The Secretary‑General is thankful for Ms. Kaag’s dedication and leadership of the UN Special Coordinator’s Office.  Ms. Kardel brings 25 years of experience in diplomacy, political affairs, international cooperation and economic development, spanning several continents.  Most recently, Ms. Kardel served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) since 2016.

**Press Briefings

After I am done, we will have Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And as I pointed out, I will also be joined after that by Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  Also, this is the last briefing before the Thanksgiving holiday.  The UN will be closed tomorrow and we will not brief on Friday.  The briefings will resume next Monday.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Has the UN been formally informed by Saudi Arabia of their decision to reopen Hudaydah port and Sana'a Airport? And what's your response to that?  And then I have a second question on Zimbabwe. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, just within the past hour or so, we've received information from our Saudi counterparts indicating that they're willing to open up, over the next day, the ports of Hudaydah and Al Saleef, as well as the airport at Sana'a.  We're monitoring these developments, and we're trying to see whether that actually takes place on the ground.  Of course, if that were to happen, that would be a very welcome and critically important development.  We've made clear the tremendous amount of needs on the ground.  We're ready to help if the ports are open.  So we'll keep tracking this and see where we go from there.

Question:  And just a second… second question on Zimbabwe.  Has the SG spoken with the former President, [Robert] Mugabe, or the incoming President?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he hasn't spoken with either.  Yes?

Question:  Now, I want to know first who communicated this news to you.  That's my first question.  You said "our counterpart".  Who's your counterpart?

Deputy Spokesman:  Some of the officials in the Saudi Government made these indications to our senior humanitarian and political officials… [Inaudible]

Correspondent:  It's not the Permanent Representative.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're trying to follow up with them on this right now.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the UN have any comment on the Syria meeting in Sochi between the Russian, Iranian and Turkish leaders?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  There's nothing in particular to say.  Our focus remains on the meetings that will begin in Geneva on 28 November.  We hope that all of the other processes that are underway will help contribute to a successful round of talks in Geneva.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, on the issue of Children and Armed Conflicts, does the SG have any reaction to the exclusion on the American list of Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan for the list of offenders in the use of child soldiers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the list of child… of countries that employ child soldiers, as you know, we put that out when the report came out.  I believe the reasoning behind that list was clear.  [Inaudible]

Question:  What I'm thinking of more specifically is that, in the United States, those three countries have not been listed on the Child Soldier Prevention Act by the State Department.  Has the SG had a reaction to that?  Had words with Mr. [Rex] Tillerson about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's not our list.  That's United States' list.  We have our own list, and you can see where… what our positioning is on that.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the border controversy between Venezuela and Guyana… and thanks for the readout yesterday.  According to this readout, this… both sides, they agreed to continue negotiations and discussions.  Does this mean that this issue will not be transferred to the ICJ [International Court of Justice]?  As I remember Ban Ki‑moon, the previous SG, promised to do if they do not reach an agreement within a year.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, of course, it's a matter for the Member States involved, whether they are going to bring their case before the International Court of Justice.  So, it would be for them to determine what their course of action is.  Right now, we're working with the parties, as we pointed out from Mr. [Dag] Nylander's efforts, and those efforts continue.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, and a follow‑up.  According to a statement, which was put up by your office in December last year, there was a point that the Secretary‑General himself will transfer the case to ICJ if the… both sides will not tell him not to do that.  Did they… did they…

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, there's nothing to say about that process.  The process of working with the Governments of Guyana and Venezuela is continuing, and we'll see where we go with that.  Yes, please? Yes, you.

Question:  Do UN have any statement about the situation in Ukraine —is it working? Yes — about situation in Ukraine now?  Because yesterday was urgent meeting of military cabinet with President [Petro] Poroshenko, and the issue is that Ukrainian borders was crossed by new Russian military forces.  In fact, there is… military convoy was crossing in the area of Krosnadar region of Luhansk, and the video is opened by journalists who are with this convoy, military convoy.  And in Luhansk today is a lot of unknown military.  By officials of Ukraine, it is statement of… that those military are… was crossed by… from the Russia… from the Russian border site.  And now it's really high increasing of military people in Donetsk region… or Donetsk/Luhansk region now.  Do UN has any statement about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have no first‑hand verification of these reports and no other comment on that.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Thank you.  Did the Saudis explain why the delay… I mean 24 hours since the demand from them was for prompt or immediate opening of the…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, within the next 24 hours.  It may happen sooner than that.  [Inaudible]

Question:  It could be… I have another question.  Do you have any statement regarding the return of Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri to Beirut and his… rescinding on his decision to resign from…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the overall political situation of… from the Secretary‑General's perspective, it's important to preserve the unity and stability of Lebanon and to avoid any situation that could aggravate tensions in the wider region.  So, that's our key principles as this proceeds.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  Follow‑up on Yemen and then something on China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC).  In Yemen, I just wanted to… there are people saying that there was another airstrike, in this case involving the World Health Organization (WHO) aid convoy in the Sawa area of Taizz province.  Are you aware… is that… can you confirm that? Have you…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we didn't receive any information of an attack on the World Health Organization, no.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you, yesterday… I mean, I'd asked you yesterday about this indictment, which is pretty damning in the sense of… of talking about this China Energy Fund Committee UN, you know, partner in a sense being a bribery conduit to former President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa.  And I noticed that yesterday there was a… there was, on the Secretary‑General's schedule, a photo op with the winners of the UN Energy Award at 5.45 (p.m.) that got cancelled.  I wanted to know, is that the same Energy Award that's funded by the China Energy Fund Committee?  And, if so, did the Sec… did the Deputy Secretary‑General go forward and speak at their event at 1 p.m. that was on her schedule?  Was the money given out and was it… is… if it's their money, is it wise to be giving it out if, in fact, they've just been a large part of an indictment and the money perhaps should be — I don't know — returned, redirected? Can you answer that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the grant… well, first of all, regarding the event, yeah, no, there wasn't any photo op.  And I don't believe that there were any remarks by either the Secretary‑General or the Deputy Secretary‑General.  Regarding this grant, the complaint against Dr. Patrick Ho as an individual is unrelated to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Energy Grant, which is managed according to UN financial regulations, subject to a rigorous and transparent selection process.  Since 2015, the grant has been well recognized, supporting sustainable development on the ground.  As an ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]‑accredited Non-Governmental Organisation, the China Energy Fund Committee, CEFC, has worked with the UN Secretariat, including DESA, on sustainable development issues, including through funding the UN DESA Energy Grant.  The grant aims to recognize leadership and innovation in sustainable energy.  The United Nations manages the selection process and awards a grant of 1 million US dollars to fund the capacity-building project in sustainable energy proposed by the winner.

Question:  Can I… I guess my follow‑up would be, in the case of Ng Lap Seng, he was the one indicted.  It was not Sun Kiang Ip Foundation, but the UN immediately returned the money.  And what I'm wondering is, since Mr. Ho was the founder and Chairman and there are pictures of him with the previous head of DESA, he's the man; are you sure… is… is there somehow a new UN policy on keeping the money of groups named in an indictment, which wasn't the case during the Ng Lap Seng/Sun Kiang Ip Foundation situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll look at the information as it proceeds.  This is the information from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs regarding the grant.  Like I said, they supervise that grant and sub… and place it through a rigorous and transparent selection process.

Question:  Is it… no, I'm not disputing how the winner is selected.  I'm saying, if the money is, in fact, tainted or came from a bribery group but… I guess my question is, why was the photo op cancelled? Can you say?  Because it was sent out that it was going to take place.  Then it was cancelled, and the Deputy Secretary‑General never cancelled her… her appearance…

Deputy Spokesman:  Schedules change at the UN all time.  That's a regular event and is probably happening to events today.  Yeah?

Question:  There is a news item on the wires that says that France is calling for a Security Council meeting to discuss the situation of migrants in Libya.  Can you confirm that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that's really a question for the President of the Security Council to confirm.  [Inaudible] Obviously, if there's agreement among Member States to have such a meeting, then the Council President will inform you accordingly.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Two questions on… on… on North Korea and then something on Western Sahara.  On North Korea, obviously, there was this defector who… who crossed the border.  He was shot at.  There's talks of… of… of… of… you know, things being taken out of his stomach.  But there are all these articles saying that the UN Command says that this is a violation of the armistice.  And I just wanted… if you can explain, because there's a lot of misunderstanding out there, what is the relationship between the UN Command and the UN and why is it called UN if it's not?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think we need to get into the history of this.  The people who formed this body, the United Nations Command, which is not a United Nations body; it's not a United Nations peacekeeping mission, did it in the 1950s on the basis of Security Council resolutions at that time.  It's a US‑commanded operation that is outside of the United Nations and has been since the 1950s.

Question:  Okay.  All right.  I'm just… I wonder whether it makes sense for the UN to sort of, like… is there like a disclaimer put out…

Deputy Spokesman:  We've said this over and over again over the past half century plus.

Question:  The other country has to do with the… the… the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Junior Professional Officer.  My question is, now that… now that the US has listed the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism, I wanted to know, one, if you can provide any more information on… on… on where the D… the DPRK JPO is working.  And, two, are there JPOs from other… of the… the handful of state sponsors of terrors designated by the US working in the UN? And, if so, in what department?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that's really more a question for the United States.  We don't follow up on what the United States' designations are.  We have our own guidings and our own rulings.  Regarding the Junior Professional Officers, we have already provided, I think, information about the single person from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Question:  And just to confirm, it's in DPA's [Department of Political Affairs] electoral unit.  Correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's what we've said, yes.  All right.  Brenden…

Question:  Can I ask you on Western Sahara?  Western Sahara.  Since it's on the Council's agenda, I'd like to ask you a question.

Deputy Spokesman:  What is the question?

Correspondent:  Okay.  There's two questions.  One, yesterday, you'd said…

Deputy Spokesman:  This is not just going to be me and you doing questions.  As at some point, we have a guest who's waiting.

Question:  Okay.  All right, then, I asked now twice your… the Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, to confirm why a journalist from Western Sahara was twice denied entry into the building, access even as a non‑resident correspondent.  He committed both times to go and check whether this was under the policy of you have to be a Member State of the General Assembly, but no answer's been given.  Since it's happening today and the person is excluded, can you finally answer the question?

Deputy Spokesman:  We did check with the Department of Public Information, who informed us that the decision was taken in accordance with their guidelines.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.