4 December 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.


As you will have seen, early today we issued a note to correspondents announcing that the Secretary‑General will travel to Japan next week.

On Thursday, 14 December, he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as with members of Parliament and civil society.

The Secretary‑General will also address the Universal Health Coverage Forum, which is being co‑organized by the Government of Japan, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the International Health Partnership for UHC2030.

He will give a lecture at Sophia University on the theme, “Global challenges — the role of human security,” and meet with students.

The Secretary‑General will return to New York on the evening of Thursday, 14 December.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Meanwhile, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, will visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). From 5 to 8 December, Mr. Feltman will discuss with DPRK officials issues of mutual interest and concern.  He will also meet with the UN Country Team and members of the diplomatic corps in Pyongyang, as well as visit UN project sites.

While in the region, he will also visit China. In fact, he was in Beijing today, where he met with a number of senior officials.


The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, concluded a two‑day visit to Cairo, where she discussed development‑related issues with Egyptian senior Government officials.

During her visit, she met with the Environment Minister, the Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform, the Minister of Investment and International Cooperation and the Foreign Minister, as well as the Secretary‑General of the League of Arab States.

Discussions with Egyptian officials covered the Secretary‑General’s vision for reforms in the United Nations peace and security architecture, the UN management system and structures as well as the UN development system.  The meetings also reviewed the cooperation between the UN and Egypt on priority economic and development issues.


Turning to Yemen, we find the events in unfolding there to be deeply disturbing, with ground clashes and air strikes having dramatically escalated in Sana’a and surrounding governorates.  Initial reports indicating that around 100 people have been killed and hundreds more injured.

We’ve also taken note of the reported killing earlier today of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and several of his associates.

It is paramount that civilians are protected, that the wounded are afforded safe access to medical care, and that all sides facilitate life‑saving humanitarian access.

We remind all parties to the conflict that deliberate attacks against civilians and against civilian and medical infrastructure are clear violations of international humanitarian law and may constitute war crimes.

Our humanitarian colleagues are receiving desperate calls for help by trapped families, but are unable to reach those who have been injured. There have been reports of even ambulances coming under attack.

We renew our call on all warring parties for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Sana’a.  We cannot overemphasize that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict.  The United Nations stands ready to facilitate a negotiated political settlement that is inclusive, fair and sustainable.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, today called on the parties to the conflict to urgently enable a humanitarian pause tomorrow to allow civilians to leave their homes and seek assistance and protection and to facilitate the movement of aid workers to ensure the continuity of life‑saving programmes.

You will have also seen that yesterday, the Secretary‑General issued a statement in which he said this latest outbreak of violence could not have come at a worse time for the Yemeni people, who are already caught up in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

Also on a related note, the High Commissioner for Human Rights today announced the appointment of the members of a Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen established by the Human Rights Council, which he called an important step towards accountability and ending impunity for serious human rights violations committed by all sides.

**Central African Republic

We have sad news to report from the Central African Republic.  Our colleagues there report that one UN peacekeeper from Mauritania was killed this morning in Bria in an attack against a UN Police checkpoint at the entrance of a site for displaced people.  Two other peacekeepers, one from Mauritania and one from Zambia, were wounded in the attack by anti‑Balaka fighters.  The attack took place two hours after peacekeepers intervened to free two displaced persons who were held hostage by the anti‑Balaka forces in Bria.

This is the 14th peacekeeper killed in the line of duty in the Central African Republic in this year alone.

The Secretary‑General, of course, condemns this attack and offers his condolences to the people and Government of Mauritania as well as to our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA).  He wishes a swift recovery to the injured.  The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in the Central country added that the UN Mission will do all it can to make sure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

We do expect a more formal statement shortly.  And just to be clear, two other peacekeepers from Mauritania, were wounded and one from Zambia, so there was one [peacekeeper] from Mauritania who was killed and three other peacekeepers were injured.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues there continue to be concerned by the recent escalation in hostilities in eastern Ghouta and Damascus in Syria.  Yesterday, aerial bombardment on eastern Ghouta reportedly resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, including of women and children.  Two cancer patients have reportedly died due to lack of access to medicines and medical care in the besieged enclave.

Nearly 400,000 people live in besieged eastern Ghouta, which comprises 94 per cent of the total number of people besieged across Syria.  On 30 November, the United Nations called for the urgent medical evacuation of 500 medical cases, including 167 [children] from eastern Ghouta. 

Shelling has also been reported over the last days in several residential neighborhoods in Damascus resulting in several civilian deaths and injuries.

We continue to call for safe, independent and sustained access to all people in need, including the close to three million people who live in hard‑to‑reach and besieged areas.


Turning to Iraq, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representatives on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, and for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, have jointly urged Iraq to reconsider the draft amendments to a law on marriage, which they say are silent on the minimum age of consent to marriage and do not apply to all components of Iraqi society. 

Ms. Gamba and Ms. Patten strongly urge the Government to reconsider these amendments and reaffirmed their commitment to stand with both the Government and people of Iraq to ensure that the scourge of sexual violence is eliminated and that conflict‑affected children are protected.  The full statement is online.


In Mogadishu, the UN, African Union and the Somali Government today gathered at a conference to review the progress that has been made in the areas of security sector reform and counter‑terrorism since the London Conference in May this year.  That conference saw the adoption of a security pact and endorsement of a political agreement on a national security architecture for the country.

Our colleagues on the ground tell us that the review identified three priority areas for immediate action: the implementation of the approved security architecture; the development of a realistic transition plan to transfer responsibility from the AU [African Union] peacekeepers to Somali security forces, and continued international support to build the capacity of the country’s security forces and institutions.  More information online.


Today in Mexico, in Puerto Vallarta, the Preparatory Meeting for the Global Compact on Migration got underway.

At the opening of the Conference, the Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, stressed that migration demands a global response.  “The movement of people across borders is, by definition, an international reality,” she said.  “There is nothing in that to contradict a state’s sovereign right — subject to international and domestic law — to manage who enters and stays within its borders.”

She added that the success of the global compact will rest on maximum countries’ political and moral buy‑in and willingness to enhance cooperation at the regional and international levels.

**Environment Assembly

In Nairobi, the UN Environment Assembly kicked off today.  The event brings together governments, entrepreneurs and activists to share ideas and commit action to tackle pollution.

In his statement to the Assembly, the Secretary‑General said that we already have much of the knowledge and solutions to prevent, mitigate, and manage pollution.  However, we continue to pollute our environment.  He called this inexcusable, and stressed that beating pollution will help reduce poverty, improve health, create decent jobs, address climate change and protect life on earth and sea.  More information on the Assembly is available on UNEP’s (United Nations Environment Programme) website.

**Volunteer Day

Today is the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development.  This year’s theme is “Volunteers Act First.  Here.  Everywhere.” and it recognizes the contributions of volunteers as first responders in times of crisis.  Volunteers risk their lives every day to care for people affected by conflict, violence and humanitarian crises, driven by the desire to make a difference in the face of human suffering.

This year, the UN Volunteers programme is partnering with volunteer‑involving organizations worldwide like the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to help those in need.

And tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. you are invited to a panel discussion in Conference Room 7 on the International Day’s theme.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  A couple of questions.  First on Mr. Feltman's trip to North Korea.  You said that this was to discuss issues of mutual interest.  Could you be a little more specific?  And does he plan to meet Kim Jong Un, and is one of the issues under discussion a possible trip by the Secretary‑General to the DPRK?  And on a second issue, I… I heard what you said about the meeting on migration in Mexico.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the US decision to end its participation in the Global Compact on Migration?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me go start with DPRK.  The visit is a response to a long‑standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for policy dialogue with the UN.  We were able to confirm the visit last… on Thursday, 30 November.  It will be a wide‑ranging discussion.  I'm not going to go into any detail, but it is a wide‑ranging policy discussion.  There is… I will tell you the meetings that are currently confirmed for Mr. Feltman while he's in Pyongyang.  That includes the Foreign Minister, Ri Yong‑ho, the Vice Minister, Pak Myong Guk, and as I mentioned also meeting with diplomatic colleagues and UN officials.  If there are different meetings that take place, we will confirm it.  But at this point, the ones that I've outlined are the ones that that will take place. 

Question:  Talking about a possible meeting with the…

Spokesman:  As I said, I think, you know, obviously… we hope to have more afterwards.  I think Mr. Feltman will be pleased to be able to brief you himself on the visit after it happens. 

Question:  And on the Global Compact? 

Spokesman:  On the Global Compact, you know, obviously, it's a decision that we regret, but I think there's still plenty of time for US engagement on this issue.  But the decision should not disrupt what we see as a clear, unanimous outcome of the New York Declaration for such a Global Compact, which, I should remind you, will be non‑legally binding and grounded in international cooperation and respectful of national interests.  From where we stand, the positive story of migration is clear.  It needs to be better told.  Equally, the challenges it throws up need to be tackled with more determination and greater international cooperation.  We obviously look forward to the outcome of the discussions of… in Mexico and the start of the more formal discussions in February.  Yes?

Question:  On the Migration Compact, you said this is a regrettable decision.  Is it one you had any warning about and, if so, what was the case the SG made to the United States to dissuade them from this? 

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that it's one we had any warning about. Nabil?  Ali, sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Yemen, was the UN able to independently verify the killing of the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and what do you make of this turn of events in Yemen?  Especially the killing of Saleh, if confirmed.  And I have another question.  Can you confirm that the International Support Group for Lebanon is going to meet this week in Paris and who is going to represent the United Nations? 

Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me take the last one first.  The International Support Group will be meeting in Paris.  The Deputy Secretary‑General will be representing the UN and speaking on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  On the events that took place in Sana'a today: No, we have no independent confirmation.  We've seen the press reports.  We've seen the photos that are circulating.  We've seen the statements from the GPC (General People’s Congress) itself.  But we have no independent confirmation.  We take it that it's happened, but it's not something we're able to confirm.  It obviously adds an extreme level of complexity to already a very difficult political situation.  It… we have seen extremely worrying rise of violence in Sana'a, as I've mentioned over the last few days.  This only adds another layer of suffering to the people of Yemen, especially right now those in Sana'a.  As we said, civilian infrastructure is being targeted, ambulances are being attacked.  The Secretary‑General's Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is currently in Riyadh.  He’d been on a scheduled trip to Riyadh, meeting with Saudi officials.  We expect him to be back tomorrow, and he will be briefing the Security Council in an open session tomorrow via video conference, and I'm sure he will have more to say on the political implications of what has happened.  Nizar?

Question:  On the same subject, can you confirm that all UN personnel and relief agencies are safe in Yemen, because there were some reports that some of them were denied the right to travel.

Spokesman:  Well, we're not able to… we've not had any flights in and out of Sana'a over the last few days.  The airspace has not been open to UN humanitarian flights.  I cannot give you, at this point, a confirmation that everyone is safe and sound.  I mean, it's an active zone of military action that we're seeing in Sana'a. 

Question:  About the inspection and verification, can you confirm that, that team has travelled to Riyadh from the United Nations to discuss with the authorities future relief efforts? 

Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to confirm that.  Maggie?

Question:  Stéphane, Mr. Feltman's trip, when was the last time a UN official at his level or higher went there?  Seems like it's been an awful long time.

Spokesman:  It's a very valid question.  I don't… off the top of my head, I don't remember a… on the political front, that sort of level visit.  We can check with other USGs [Under‑Secretaries‑General].  It's a question. Yes, ma'am? 

Question:  Stéphane, are you concerned regarding the fact that Mister… the news reports about Mr. [Jared] Kushner, that he is… he led a foundation funding illegal Israeli settlements? 

Spokesman:  Sorry, that Mister…?  Kushner, sorry?

Question:  Kushner. Led a foundation that… funding illegal Israeli settlements? 

Spokesman:  I have not seen that particular report, so I can't comment on it.  Mr. Lee?

Question: Sure.  I wanted to ask you… I think Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe went with Mr. Kim Wonsoo.

Spokesman:  You have a better history…

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Deputy Secretary‑General.  You had said she was on this trip to Egypt, and so I'm wondering if you now have readouts of what took place there, particularly in the conflicting accounts of possible presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik.  Who did she meet with, and what was accomplished? 

Spokesman:  I think I did read out a note on it just now.

Question:  Alright.  Okay.  Well then let me ask you something else.  You said that she's going to be in Paris on Friday, so I wanted to know, one, is she coming back and then going?  The reason I ask is that now there's been a decision in the convention for the trade in endangered species and the case of the rosewood.  I had the impression from what you'd said it was resolved there.  Nigeria had responded.  All the questions were answered.  But in fact, they've ruled that the case continues, and they said that countries should not rely on Nigerian certification… I can read you the decision, if you want.

Spokesman:  I have no doubt on the decision.  Yes, she's coming back here.  She'll be back in the office.  She should be back in the… excuse me… in the office tomorrow.  What I do know is that there's an ongoing dialogue between CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] and the Nigerian authorities.  As to the Deputy Secretary‑General's role, I think I've answered the questions, what I feel is rather exhaustively and clearly to the best of my ability.

Question:  Well, can you ask her for a comment on the decision?  The decision clearly implies…

Spokesman:  I'm not sure that is what it implies, and I think questions having to do with the management of forests in Nigeria rest with the Government of Nigeria.

Question:  The questions are about 4,000 certificates that she signed and whether they violated international environmental law.

Spokesman:  We've answered those questions. Erol?

Question:  Last week we raised that question, but anyhow, does the Secretary‑General would like to see the leader of North Korea?  Does he have that plan, that ambition actually, to put it like that, given the gravity of the situation?  And what about him and other high officials like Deputy Secretary‑General who are traveling the world, but as we raised that last week, they didn't go, for example, to Myanmar or Yemen or even planning on the highest level to go and open that deal with North Korea?  And also, it's my understanding that it's going to be open discussion on the closing of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia] this week.  Does the Secretary‑General have representation, since he's coming back on the 14th?  And what he does have to say on the closing of the ICTY? 

Spokesman:  I think we'll have a bit more to say on the closing of the ICTY a bit later.  On the issue of mediation in the DPRK, I think the Secretary‑General has said it himself best.  He said his good offices are always available should all the parties involved request it.  He's said that over and over again.  That remains his position.  I think no one here is interested in grand theatrical gesture.  We're interested in substance, and that's the direction in which we're moving. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General has managed his time well.  He has traveled to a number of hot spots, including Central African Republic and Somalia and Uganda.  There have been a number of senior UN humanitarian officials who have gone to Yemen, who have gone to visit the Rohingyas in Bangladesh.  I think the Secretary‑General is using his time as judiciously as possible.  Yes, sir?

Question:  On Syria, they closed chemical weapons last week, I guess for good.  What's the result of that inspection in Syria?  Chemical? 

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the mandate of the Joint [Investigative] Mechanism (JIM) came to an end due to the decisions taken in the Security Council.  We continue to feel that the JIM did very good work and very important work in terms of accountability.  Yes, ma'am? 

Question:  Back to the USG's trip.  Will he be in Pyongyang for the entire time he's in DPRK?  And you said it was… I'm paraphrasing here… it was a response to the long‑standing request for policy discussion.  When was that invitation actually extended, and by policy dialogue, is that in reference to Security Council sanctions?  Could you be a little bit more specific there? 

Spokesman:  No, I will not be more… with all due respect, I will not be more specific on policy dialogue.  I think it covers a wide array of issues.  My understanding is that the invitation was originally extended to Mr. Feltman on the sidelines of the General Assembly back in September but only confirmed… we were able to confirm it only on 30 November of [last] month.  My understanding is that he will remain in the Pyongyang area.  You know, when he visits UN projects, we'll try to get more detail whether or not they're outside of Pyongyang or if there's air travel involved.  But I will try to get those details.  Olga?  Let's go to people who haven't asked yet. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up on the brief visit of the SG to Japan.  Will he visit DPRK with Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe, especially given the fact that he's visiting Japan after USG visits…

Spokesman:  There are no plans for the Secretary‑General to visit DPRK. 

Question:  No, not asking about the visit.  I'm asking if SG will raise the issue of DPRK… [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  I have no doubt that regional issues will come up in the discussions with Prime Minister Abe.  I would be surprised if they didn't.  Maggie and then Luke.

Question:  Thank you.  Following up to what Ariana just asked.  Is there any possibility Mr. Feltman might go to the North Korean side of the DMZ [demilitarized zone], because we always see everyone going to the South Korean side?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware that he will.  I think… this is really a policy discussions, meeting with diplomats and UN staff and focused on Pyongyang.  Yes, right behind you? 

Question:  Yes, sir.  Following up on the JIM response that you had.  I believe you said… paraphrasing… that it was important for accountability.  But the JIM was an investigative mechanism and accountability would require further action by the international community, of course.  So will the Secretary‑General be recommending that accountability actually happen now, in light of the findings of the JIM? 

Spokesman:  There's a number of mechanisms already in place, whether through the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, to look at the issue of accountability.  And I think what the JIM found will be an important part of that.  Nizar then Matthew. 

Question:  Going back to Yemen: You mentioned last week that three vessels managed to get to Saleef and Hodeidah.  Are there any vessels waiting to be allowed into…

Spokesman:  I have, unfortunately, no maritime update to share with you today, but I hope to get one.

Question:  Do you mean that the whole issue… the relief effort now has stalled?

Spokesman:  No, I just mean I have no update to share with you.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about Cameroon and then about the China Energy Fund Committee.  On Cameroon, Friday you said that the UN is still looking exactly at what the president, Paul Biya, said.  What he said is that… basically a crackdown in the Anglophone areas.  Since that briefing, an order issue telling people to relocate, telling civilians with no relation to the standoff that they will be viewed as secessionists and/or terrorists.  This issue, this order is public, and it's online.  Also, a journalist has faced death threats for having testified at a Human Rights Council thing in Geneva about minorities.  So what I wanted to know is have you now, after this time, looked exactly at what was said, and what is the UN's comment on the president's escalation… his comments…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the order you referred to myself.  What is clear is that we continue to urge all parties that have grievances to address those through legal and peaceful dialogue and we stand ready to help on that.  Obviously, it is important that journalists or anyone, as a matter of principle, journalists or anyone who speaks to the Human Rights Council be able to do so free of any intimidation. 

Question:  Is it legitimate under international law to order civilians out of an area, saying you'll be viewed as a collaborator if you do not leave? 

Spokesman:  I will take a look.  I have not seen the specific order. 

Question:  And I wanted to ask about Patrick Ho, if I could. 

Spokesman:  Why not?

Question:  Okay.  So on Friday in federal court, he was held over.  Bail was denied based on the seriousness of the charges.  Since then, you've… there's been some back and forth on why there's no audit.  But it appears that he was put onto something called the UN High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport, was a member of that.  I've seen an interview he did in the building with UN Radio about presenting a report, that report, I believe, in October 2016 to Ban Ki‑moon.  So it seems like he had much greater UN penetration even than Ng Lap Seng did, which triggered an audit.  So I'm wondering, has the UN, whether audit or not, can it say how many times, for example, one issue that came up in the bail hearing was how many times he was in the US in 2017.  So have you… has the UN determined the extent of this now‑indicted briber's contact inside the UN, and was he, in fact, on an UN High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport? 

Spokesman:  I will check on that.  If I have more to share, I will.  Luke?

Question:  Switching gears to Central America.  I'm curious if you could detail any engagement the SG has had on the situation in Honduras over the last eight days.  I haven’t seen anything.  And further to that, does he have any reaction to the protest‑related violence that's erupted in the past few days? 

Spokesman:  Yes.  On Honduras, I can tell you that the Secretary‑General is following closely the developments in Honduras.  He's concerned about the violent incidents that took place in recent days following the 26 November elections, and he appeals for calm and restraint.  The Secretary‑General is aware that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has concluded the special accounting.  The Secretary‑General hopes that there will be progress in the ongoing consultations between the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the main political parties, including the opposition Alianza parties, regarding the best way to address the latter's allegations of irregularities in the electoral process and, of course, within the constitutional framework and through institutional channels. 

Question:  Has he been in touch with either the incumbent president or the opposition leader? 

Spokesman:  I don't believe the Secretary‑General himself has been in touch with any of the parties, but obviously we're aware of the situation and the contacts that have taken place.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes.  After two months and a half of the conference here at the headquarters about UN reform, how is it going on that issue?  Also because after those last position of United States, I mean, there is not collaborating, if we can say it like that, with certain… we just saw in that Global Compact on immigration.  I mean, is the Secretary‑General still optimistic about this reform with the back of the United States or thinks that things cooled down? 

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General would tell you he's neither optimistic nor pessimistic.  He's realistic.  The discussions are ongoing.  He regularly meets with groups of ambassadors, PRs (permanent representatives) and others to discuss UN reform.  These are big projects, and I think the Member States want to hear from him.  They want to be able to question him.  He's making himself available continuously — to regional groups, committees, all sorts of various groupings of Member States.  It's an ongoing process.  Obviously, decisions will have to be taken by Member States.  On the issue of the US, I think you may be mixing up, I think, two issues.  One is a decision not to participate in a specific engagement, but the other one, if you look back to September, the presence of the US President alongside the Secretary‑General and more than 100 Member States at an event focused on UN reform, on management reform.  So we continue to be engaged with the United States and other Member States on this particular issue.  Thank you.  I'll turn you over to Brendan [Varma].

For information media. Not an official record.