5 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.


The Secretary‑General will travel to Paris, France, next week to attend the One Planet Summit, that will take place on Tuesday, 12 December, on the two‑year anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement.  The Summit is being hosted by the French Government, the UN and the World Bank, and seeks to accelerate climate action and implementation of the Agreement by finding innovative ways to mobilize public and private finance and investment.  The Secretary‑General will leave Paris Tuesday evening and will be in Tokyo as we previously announced on Wednesday afternoon.  And he will back in the office on Thursday afternoon.


The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, will be in Washington, D.C., tomorrow.  He will speak at the US Institute for Peace and will participate in a panel discussion on the importance of UN Peacekeeping and its reform.  The event will begin at 10 a.m. and we understand it will be webcast on the Institute for Peace events page.


Back here, the Security Council held consultations this morning on Yemen, where the members were briefed by the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock.  The Special Envoy warned the Council of alarming levels of violence which are having a devastating impact on the civilian population.  He called on the parties to show restraint and to abstain from provocative actions.  The killing of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and others are an adverse development, which he said would constitute a considerable change to the political dynamics in Yemen.  The Special Envoy emphasized that the need for a negotiated settlement is more acute than ever, reiterating that only an inclusive peace process can bring a peaceful, viable and sustainable solution to the people of Yemen.

For his part, Mr. Lowock told the Council that the humanitarian situation remains severe, with millions of Yemenis now on the cusp of the largest famine in modern times.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that nearly 8.5 million people are on the brink of starvation, up from under 7 million earlier in June.  Despite calls made yesterday for a humanitarian ceasefire to take place today, our colleagues on the ground report that airstrikes have continued while ground fighting and shelling have been reduced.  Two coalition airstrikes struck close to the UN compound in Sana’a yesterday, both strikes were less than 1,000 meters from the compound.  The UN again stresses that attacks directed against UN and humanitarian premises and against civilian infrastructure are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.

And just an update on aid deliveries:  the World Food Programme (WFP) has 136,000 metric tons of food supplies in Yemen and there has been a limited resumption in commercial food imports, and that is obviously not enough.  There are seven commercial vessels carrying half a month’s supply of Yemen’s food requirements just off the coast of Yemen, awaiting Coalition permission to enter Hodaidah and Saleef ports.  There are also seven commercial vessels carrying desperately needed fuel en route to Yemen.  Humanitarian flights, including UN and Red Cross, resumed to Sana’a this morning.  We expect another NGO flight tomorrow.


In Geneva, the eighth round of intra‑Syrian talks are resuming this afternoon with a meeting between Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy, and the delegation of the Syrian National Council.  Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned for the well‑being and protection of civilians in Raqqa city and surrounding areas where 34,000 people have reportedly returned.  There continue to be reports of explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices resulting in casualties daily.  On 1 and 2 December, 11 people were reportedly killed and many injured by landmines.  Raqqa city reportedly also urgently requires food, water and other assistance.  We are concerned about the possibility of disease spreading due to unburied bodies.  But humanitarian partners remain unable to access the city until the clearing of mines and other unexploded ordnance is completed.

**Central African Republic

And an update from the Central African Republic:  our colleagues there tell us that clashes intensified in the past week in the east and centre of the country, forcing over 15,000 people to flee.  In Bria, tensions remain high and humanitarian assistance was suspended due to threats to humanitarian workers in the area.  Thirty‑two protection incidents were registered in the past week alone.  A succession of clashes that started on 23 November in Pendé, in Ouham-Pendé prefecture, and in 11 other villages in the area displaced some 5,000 people around Paoua town.  A humanitarian assessment mission found that most of the houses have been looted and that health facilities need support.  The registration of internally displaced people started on 3 December and assistance will be delivered in Paoua town.

Recent clashes in Dembia town and in Mbomou prefecture, also resulted in 75 per cent of houses being burnt and over 10,000 people forcibly displaced toward Rafaï town.  And an upsurge of violence was also recorded in Ippy, in Ouaka prefecture, forcing the population to seek refuge in Bambari, 111 kilometres from Ippy.  And you will have seen the statement we issued yesterday in which the Secretary‑General condemned the killing of a Mauritanian peacekeeper and the wounding of three others in Bria in eastern Central African Republic.

**Fifth Committee

The Secretary‑General spoke to the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee yesterday afternoon, and he told the principal budgetary body of the UN that reform is not an end in itself.  The purpose of reform is simple and clear:  to best position the United Nations to do the work that Member States ask us to do.  He noted that over the past seven months, he and his team have conducted extensive consultations and outreach with Member States.  And he outlined four key areas where he intends to make concrete change:  first, empowering the leadership of the Organization to better deliver on the mandates entrusted to us by Member States; second, becoming more transparent and better able to demonstrate the link between resources and programme delivery, with a stronger risk management framework; third, to enable effective and timely action, managers must have the authority — under clear conditions — to exercise decisions closer to the point of delivery; fourth, reorganizing management structures at Headquarters to provide better support to managers and ensure accountability.


In Greece, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said that in collaboration with Médecins du Monde, it has been able to provide 1,200 migrants and refugees with primary health care services over a two‑month period through its mobile medical units programme.  The programme, which is funded by the European Union, has allowed medical teams to conduct over 3,400 primary health care consultations — an average of almost 80 daily — since it began in September.


In Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, today in a statement delivered in a special session of the Human Rights Council on the current situation in Myanmar, condemned what he called the widespread, systematic and shockingly brutal attacks against Rohingyas.


More than four decades into the HIV epidemic, four in five children living with HIV in West and Central Africa are still not receiving life‑saving antiretroviral therapy.  That is according to a joint report from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which also shows that AIDS‑related deaths among adolescents aged 15‑19 are on the rise.  The report is available publicly.

**World Soil Day

Today is a new day.  It’s World Soil Day.  Where we all come from and where we will all return one day.  This year’s theme is "Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground."  To mark the Day, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched a global map showing the amount of carbon stocks in the soil.  As a major carbon storage system, soils are essential for sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation.  The Global Soil Organic Carbon Map shows natural areas with high carbon storage that require its conservation, as well as those regions where there is the possibility for further carbon sequestration.  I guess I'm done.  Yes, Michelle?

***Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, you are; thank you, Stéphane.  A couple of questions.  First of all, on North Korea, do you have any kind of update on Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman's visit and did he have the blessing of the members of the six‑party talks and the P5 before he went?  Did he inform them?  And on Israel, it's now emerged that President [Donald] Trump has told the Palestinians and the Jordanians that he plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem.  Does the UN have any response to that and has he notified the UN of his decision to do this?

Spokesman:  All right, I will take these questions in the order of delivery.  On Jeff Feltman's visit I don't anticipate any updates on his visit until it's concluded.  We do know he has arrived safely and he is now in Pyongyang.  But otherwise I don't expect any readouts or any updates and if there are changes in his programme that we are made aware of I will share those with you.  I think all key Member States, the situation in… on the Korean peninsula were informed and briefed of the visit.  On your last question, on Jerusalem, I mean, like you we have seen the press reports.  I'm not aware of any direct communication between the US and the Secretariat on this particular issue here in New York.  We obviously await to see an official announcement, but as a matter of principal the Secretary‑General has said that he has consistently warned against any unilateral action that would have the potential to undermine the two‑state solution, and we've always regarded Jerusalem as a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions.

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  Several countries have reached out to President Trump about his impending decision announcement.  Has the SG thought about calling him about it?

Spokesman:  I will leave my answer where it is.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  As a follow‑up, the SG, when he gave the inaugural speech, he spoke about preventative diplomacy to be his guidance for his term.  This is a case in question now.  I mean, announcing Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Missouri or moving the Embassy will trigger clashes, some kind of a crisis, maybe it will escalate to something more.  Why the SG does not do the preventative diplomacy, issue a strong statement and call the American President?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position on this very issue has been made clear, both publicly and privately.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Okay, Louise Arbour gave a speech in Mexico I think in the last day or so at the taking stock conference on the global compact of migration, and she used… she referred to the phrase “illegal immigration” or “illegal immigrants” as being poisonous, toxic, et cetera.  Does the Secretary‑General agree with her characterisation of the phrase “illegal immigration”?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the particular speech or phrase that she has used, but the Secretary‑General has said in the past and believes that the demonization of refugees and migrants is not helpful in any way, that we need to have a clear debate, we need to have… to ensure that the positive story of migration is better told and that the challenges that come with global migration are dealt with, with international coordination, respecting the sovereignty of Member States.

Question:  But consistent with the principal of sovereignty of the Member States, if a country regards a migrant, I'm not talking about refugees now, I'm talking about a migrant, who has literally entered the country illegally, not in accordance with the laws of that country, would the Secretary‑General consider it dehumanizing to simply refer to the illegal status of such a migrant?

Spokesman:  As I said, I haven't seen the exact speech Ms. Arbour gave.

Question:  How would he feel about that?

Spokesman:  It is important that people respect the laws of the land.  Masood‑ji, then Mr. Abbadi and Mr. Lee and then Olga.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions.  One question is about North Korea.  Until the Secretary‑General Kofi Annan, the United [inaudible] had a permanent sort of ambassador for North Korea to continue to negotiate with them on‑and‑off all the time, but that position was eliminated in 2000 I think when Secretary‑General Kofi Annan left.  Has the Secretary‑General… did the new Secretary‑General go and see the viability of such a post… creating such a post?

Spokesman:  I think right now we are focusing on the outcome of Mr. Feltman's visit.

Question:  Okay, on this, Zeid, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, said that, in fact, that there was ethnic cleansing taking place on Rohingya in Myanmar, and he said, and what I can say, and he said that he would suggest that Rohingya should not be repatriated until such time that some sort of agreement is reached with the parties concerned, especially the Myanmar.  What does the Secretary‑General say about this and where do you think… why do you think that the… he has warned about this?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has been upfront and extremely vocal about the suffering of the Rohingya, the suffering they underwent while living in Myanmar and their plight, their current plight now.  I think everyone in the UN system agrees on the fact that no one should be repatriated against their will, that refugees should go home to their place where they came from and in an atmosphere that is free and that respects their rights.

Question:  At this point in time, the situation as deemed by Zeid bin Hussein, it's so dangerous, it's not wise for Rohingya to go back; is that…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think I have answered your question.  People should go back, people or refugees should go back to their homes when they feel it is safe and nobody should be forced to move.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you indicated, the situation, the level of violence in Yemen is alarming.  What preventative measure has the Secretariat taken to ensure the safety of the staff?

Spokesman:  Safety of our staff is extremely high on our mind and obviously the posture or postures evaluated on a daily basis.  We've had flights in and out of Yemen today, which has enabled some movement of staff; but the UN has not evacuated and we are remaining there in support of the people of Yemen.  Mr. Lee then Madame Olga.

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Two questions as well.  Kenya, which I was trying to ask you yesterday, and something on China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) on, yes, on Kenya I wanted to ask, a critic of President Kenyatta David Ndii, I won't try to pronounce it, but he was arrested and have been arrested and charged with incitement to violence for organising an upcoming event, 12 December by Raila Odinga and his NASA (National Super Alliance) coalition which continues to, you know, they boycotted the election, so my question is:  Does the UN, which is obviously has a pretty big presence in Kenya and had things to say about the election, what does it think of the arrest…?

Spokesman:  I'm not familiar with that particular case.  You may want to reach out to the right colleagues, Nasser Ega Musa and the UN country team.  Your second question?

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask you, you said that following this indictment of Patrick Ho, the China Energy Fund Committee is no longer working with DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], but I wanted to know, are they still in the Global Compact, because they are still listed and whether Mr. Ho, that is a Secretariat body, right?

Spokesman:  The Global Compact, we can check with them.  They have their own procedures, but we will check with them, as you are free to check with them, as well.

Question:  Right, but I think, it just seemed to me they were both part of the Secretariat or are they autonomous?

Spokesman:  First of all, I think it's the… there is the NGO and then there is the company and we will get in touch with our Global Compact colleagues.

Question:  Who do you think, whose $2 million do you think is alleged in the indictment for the bribe?

Spokesman:  I have no clue.  I don't have a badge and I'm not an investigator.  I don't know.  I don't have that ability.

Question:  Okay.  Is there going to be an audit?  Can you find out?  The other question is I asked you yesterday about him, Mr. Patrick Ho, being in jail, being on the UN High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport and he seems to still be pictured there, so it seems…

Spokesman:  My understanding is that high level board is now no longer, had a three‑year shelf life and that shelf life is now expired, so it's no longer an active body.  He was named to it in 2014 as a person who is the senior official from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region who had experience in transport.

Question:  But I think even at that time, he was no longer the foreign secretary, he was leading his China Energy Fund?

Spokesman:  As I said, he was appointed, obviously, it was before anyone had any inkling of what would happen, since none of us had a crystal ball.

Question:  Sure, sure, absolutely, but now that it has happened, I guess I'm just wondering why given these various links, who in the UN decides, is it OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] on his own or António Guterres or OLA [Office of Legal Affairs], who decides when something gives rise to a need for an audit?

Spokesman:  When there is something to announce, I will let you know.  Evelyn Leopold, Olga, sorry, I will come back to you.  No, go ahead.  Olga yields.

Question:  To follow up on the question before about migrants, I'm a bit confused.  Isn't it inhumane to bar all migrants, whether legal or not, or to mistreat them or to sort of give a blanket answer on it, regardless…?

Spokesman:  What is inhumane is that we live in a world where there is no global strategy, global vision on how to deal with more than 60 million people who are forcibly on the move.  They are either fleeing conflict, they are seeking a better life, they are fleeing the impact of climate change, they are putting their lives at risk to cross the Sahara, pay money to smugglers, trying to cross the Mediterranean.  There needs to be a system in place where countries of origin, countries of transit, countries of destination all agree on how to manage this.  People will continuously move.  People have been moving since we were given the gift of walking and this will continue, and it just needs to be better managed through international cooperation in a way that respects the sovereignty of Member States.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  World Food Programme announced it would stop the food aid in the Ukraine in the next couple of months because of the lack of funds.  If you are aware of that, can the UN do anything to prevent such development or call for pledges or dollars?

Spokesman:  Well, we, you know, we recently launched a global humanitarian appeal, record appeal.  The appeals have been over the last year funded at… donors have been very generous and the money that we received is a record amount of money.  Unfortunately, the needs are also a record amount of money and the gap between the money needed and the money received is widening.  As you know, the humanitarian system of the UN works on an as‑needed basis.  We've seen the World Food Programme and others having to cut food rations in different parts of the world when there is no funding.  We are continuously appealing for donors to continue to be generous.  Fathi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to UN reform, there are some sources, and I don't want to say rumours, but there are some sources that indicate there is resistance among the rank and file in the organisation when it comes to the area of reorganizing the Secretariat and cost savings.  What is the validity of these allegations?  And, if so, where does the management stand with regard to cost saving proposals?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm not in a position to validate rumours running around corridors.  We are all human.  Any one of us who worked in an organization — I'm sure most of you worked for large media organizations — have been reorganised and reformed many times over.  It's always a bit traumatic, but the Secretary‑General has worked very closely with all the staff unions and staff representations throughout the UN system, town hall meetings have been organised, and I think there is a very big effort to try to ensure that staff is on board and understands that it's really about building a United Nations that is more efficient, that is more fit for purpose, in which, as the Secretary‑General outlined in his speech, Member States give us more responsibility in exchange for greater accountability, so we are able to better deliver on the mandates that are given to us by those very Member States.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding the celebration of the Paris agreement, now that the US is no longer a member of that agreement, although the process to… for the US to withdraw completely will take up to four years, but today, can you tell us how the withdrawal of the US impacts the implementation of that agreement, and, second, can you somehow quantify that?

Spokesman:  No.  It's, you know, when you are talking about climate change, you are talking about things that are over a long period of time.  I'm not in a position to quantify it.  The Secretary‑General obviously expressed his regret and disappointment when the decision was announced.  What is important is that there continues to be global momentum and that in the United States, I think, we have seen the business community, governments at the state level, at the local level extremely engaged in the process, extremely committed to the process.  One of the Secretary‑General's special envoy is Michael Bloomberg; he is the former Mayor of New York and has been very closely working with regional and local authorities to ensure that the momentum continues.  Oleg, then we will start round two.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  One quick question on Yemen:  How many staff members exactly does the UN have on the ground?

Spokesman:  Internationals?

Correspondent:  Both.

Spokesman:  I don't have the national number.  I can get that to you.  The international number is about 150, more or less.  Adam?

Question:  Just back on Jerusalem, I mean, can you give us a sense of leading up to this announcement, if there has been any kind of internal talks within the UN fearing this and if now if there’s fear that this will completely kill any chance at a peace process?

Spokesman:  I really don't want to speculate until we have heard what the announcement says, but I think it would be very logical to say that this has been a topic of discussion in many parts of the Secretariat.  Round two; Michelle?

Question:  Just back on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], you said yesterday that this visit stems from an invitation in September on the side‑lines of the GA [General Assembly].  Has DPRK given any signal to the UN that they may be open to talks on their ballistic missile and nuclear programme?  And also, second question on Venezuela, we have just… the ambassador has just tweeted that he will be stepping aside at the request of the President.  Has the Venezuelan Government notified the UN of this change?

Spokesman:  On your second question, I mean, I checked with our protocol colleagues literally an hour and a half ago.  Nothing had been official; no letter had been received.  I'm sure what you say is true and the ambassador announced it himself that there will be an official missive coming from the Permanent Mission to make this official in the sense of the paperwork.  On your second question, this is a broad policy dialogue with the DPRK.  I think we have to wait and see what comes out and I will try to avoid any speculation.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes, back on Jerusalem, it's a two‑part question:  First of all, isn't it true that there have been a number of UN resolutions already stating the status of East Jerusalem is the capitol of the future Palestinian state, so there has been some prejudgement on the so‑called final status issue?  So that is the first question.  But, secondly, the issue of West Jerusalem being recognised as a capital of Israel, apparently Russia did that in a statement its foreign ministry issued last April, and so I'm wondering whether at that time there was any response by anyone within the United Nations or leading up to the Secretary‑General?  So if President Trump does this, and I know it's still hypothetical, he would not be the first, representing the first Member State…

Spokesman:  What is the question?

Question:  I just asked a question.  Given the fact that Russia has already set the precedent of stating its recognition of West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, was there any response at the UN at that time?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware we were…  I had seen that statement.  I'm not aware if I had ever been asked about this in here by any of you.  On the… on Jerusalem, as I said, we will wait to see what the announcement is.  The Secretary‑General's position is what I've just outlined.  We are very much aware that there have been numerous resolutions and numerous legislative bodies throughout the UN system regarding Jerusalem.  I can only speak for one person, and that is the Secretary‑General, and I think I have outlined his position.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Back to the same issue.  Why wait until the statement by the President Trump is issued?  Why not issue a statement in advance to put his moral weight to prevent such a violation?

Spokesman:  I think I've… by answering the question to the best of my ability, I think I've outlined very clearly what the Secretary‑General's position is.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this question on Israel, the continued incarceration of Palestinian children, and I know we keep on not considering it at all as a major situation.  When… has the Secretary‑General given an update, as to when he…?

Spokesman:  I've never characterised the incarceration of children anywhere in the way you have characterised it.  As I said repeatedly, when I have an update to share with you, I will share it with you.  I really have no more words on this.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Point of clarification regarding Under‑Secretary‑General Feltman's visit to North Korea.  Obviously, he is carrying the instructions of the Secretary‑General, but which mandate is the Secretary‑General himself carrying regarding that visit; is it from the Security Council or is it under Article 99?

Spokesman:  I think neither.  The Secretary‑General does not need a mandate to send his political affairs officer to engage in a policy dialogue with a member state.  This is not… this is the only way we have characterised this visit.  It's a policy dialogue with a Member State.  Mr. Feltman, Mr. Lacroix, all of his senior officials often travel to various Member States to engage on policy and this is what it is.  Yes?

Question:  Stéphane, with regard to the Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is there any possibility to have it through a video conference for a briefing?  Because today he gave his briefing to the Security Council.

Spokesman:  I would like to see that.  We will raise the question.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Morocco and then something on the budget, the budget presentation yesterday.  I wanted to ask you, on Morocco, the… in the situation, in the unrest throughout this year in the Rif region, who many people describe as a leader, imprisoned, Nasser Zefzafi, was taken to court and essentially passed out and he had been on a hunger strike, and so many people are saying that this is another reflection of this ongoing thing, and Amnesty put out a report last week saying that journalists were arrested covering it are still in jail.  Does the UN or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or anyone have… are they following this?

Spokesman:  We follow all of these situations, but I don’t have any specific language on that for you for today.  Your second question?

Question:  Okay, second question was the idea of getting, quote, buy‑in from staff or the management reform was not a rumour, it was raised by many Member States in the meeting yesterday of the Fifth Committee so it left me wondering two things.  One, there were many questions raised but at least in the open session were not answered, what is the format and timing for the Secretary‑General to answer Member States' questions that were raised then?  And, number two, I saw Alicia Barcena in the seats behind the Secretary‑General and I wanted to know I thought was she there as the head of ECLAC [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]?

Spokesman:  She is there and I think she is partially working on some of the management reform for the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Is she still the head of ECLAC?

Spokesman:  Definitely.  But she has capacity to also help as well.  Based on her previous experience, not only as Chef de Cabinet but as head of the Department of Management, I think she is a very good resource for the Secretary‑General.

Correspondent:  I guess I'm just wondering because I didn't see…

Spokesman:  I don't know.  I don't have… no, it's an internal assistance, the Secretary‑General has asked.  I don't have her travel schedule.  On, what else?  Oh, the Secretary‑General I think spent about three hours in the Fifth Committee yesterday.  He answered quite a few questions afterwards and as it's always done in these legislative processes when the question is not… when the speaker is not able to answer a question right away, it's answered in writing and then reflected in the record.  I will leave you with Brendan [Varma].  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.