11 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Good morning, one and all.  The Security Council held an open meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the morning.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, told the Council that the international security crisis regarding the DPRK’s military actions is inseparable from concerns about the human rights situation of ordinary people in the country.  The military tensions have deepened the extremely serious human rights violations endured by the DPRK’s 25 million people.  He expressed concerns over torture in prisons, as well as the more severe controls over freedom of movement and civil and political rights.

The High Commissioner also said that the people of the DPRK face severe violations of their economic, cultural and social rights, enduring chronic food insecurity.  Also speaking at the meeting was Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča.  Also on the DPRK, you will have seen over the weekend that we issued a note to correspondents about last week’s visit to the country by Jeffrey Feltman, Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs.  He met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk.

Mr. Feltman emphasized the need for the full implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions, saying that there can only be a diplomatic solution to the situation, achieved through a process of sincere dialogue.  Time is of the essence.  He also noted the urgent need to prevent miscalculations and open channels to reduce the risks of conflict, underlining that the international community, alarmed by escalating tensions, is committed to the achievement of a peaceful solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.  The full note is online.

**Peacekeeping Operations

The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, is in Moscow, Russia, on a two‑day trip.  During his visit, Mr. Lacroix will meet Government and security officials to update them on issues related to peacekeeping, as well as to thank Russia for its continued engagement and support to our operations.  He will then head to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) to attend the memorial ceremony that will take place in Goma on Thursday to honour the 14 peacekeepers from Tanzania who were killed in last week’s attack in Semuliki, in North Kivu.  Mr. Lacroix will also meet the wounded peacekeepers, as well as personnel of the UN Mission, to thank them for their service and dedication in the name of peace.  Mr. Lacroix will then travel on 15 December to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to personally convey to the people and Government of Tanzania the UN’s deep gratitude for the sacrifices of their men and women and their continuing contributions over the years in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], as well as to some of our most challenging missions, including in the Central African Republic, Darfur and Lebanon.


The Geneva talks with the Syrian parties continued today, with the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, meeting the Government delegation this morning and the Syrian National Congress delegation this afternoon.


The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, said today that, while the violence that engulfed Sana’a city over the last weeks has subsided, the suffering continues.  He stressed that famine still threatens millions and preventable diseases continually strike a weakened population.  The continuing blockade of ports is limiting supplies of fuel, food and medicines; dramatically increasing the number of vulnerable people who need help.  Mr. McGoldrick said that the priority for humanitarian organizations is to resume life‑saving operations.  He stressed that the lives of millions of people — including 8.4 million Yemenis who are a step away from famine — hinge on the ability of aid workers to continue their operations and to provide health, safe water, food, shelter and nutritional support.

He emphasized that the parties to the conflict are obliged to fully facilitate sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access, as required by international humanitarian law.  This includes ensuring the protection of humanitarian staff and facilities, facilitating visas and not interfering in the work of humanitarian organizations.  It also means lifting the restrictions on Red Sea ports and Sana’a airport.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that limited commercial imports have arrived in Yemen since the easing of the blockade.  Last month, commercial food imports dropped 22 per cent and commercial fuel dropped 44 per cent, compared to the month before.  Nearly 30 million Yemenis are dependent on food and fuel imports though Hodaidah and Saleef ports.


Today marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Algiers in which 17 UN staff members lost their lives.  In a message, the Secretary‑General said we hadn’t forgotten the victims and those who survived.  He said that the Organization is increasingly becoming a target across the world, even though it aims to support the most vulnerable populations.  He added that Algeria is an important partner of the UN in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism and expressed his solidarity to the people and Government of Algeria in their efforts to fight these scourges.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) today launched an urgent appeal calling for 1,300 resettlement places to be made available by the end of March 2018 for highly vulnerable refugees stranded in Libya.  Volker Türk, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, said that given the imminent humanitarian needs and the rapidly deteriorating conditions in detention centres in Libya, UNHCR is actively working to organize more life‑saving refugee evacuations to Niger.  A first group of 25 refugees of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese nationalities were evacuated from Libya to Niger last month.  There are more details on UNHCR’s website.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that a patrol was dispatched to Abier, Cuei-Cok and Abiriu, in the northwest of Lakes region, on Saturday following the attack by armed youth last week in which more than 60 people were killed and 70 injured.  The patrol assessed the security situation and used its presence to deter a possible escalation of the conflict.  It also worked to facilitate dialogue between the parties involved.  During the patrol, the UN Mission engaged with community leaders; interviewed witnesses and victims to gather facts about the attack; visited the wounded; and spoke with community members about the need to prevent retaliatory attacks.

The Mission is urging all parties to avoid further violent confrontation and to work together to find an urgent political solution.  The visit by the UN Mission resulted in the removal and opening of roadblocks by armed youth to allow motorists, traders and humanitarian vehicles to travel from Rumbek to Wau and other areas.  Another UN patrol to the area is expected to take place later this week.  The Mission will continue to engage with local authorities, the Government and communities on the way forward and to promote the need for an immediate peace dialogue.


Turning to Somalia, a report released today by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) warns that armed conflict continues to have a heavy toll on civilians, displacing millions of people and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need.  The report says that from 1 January 2016 to 14 October of this year, the UN has documented 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries.  Sixty per cent of these casualties are attributed to Al Shabaab militants and 13 per cent to clan militias.  The report also notes that conflict has disproportionately affected children, exposing them to grave violations during military operations, including killing, maiming and arrest and detention by Somali security forces.  In addition, reports of recruitment of children increased sharply.  The full report is available online.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that diphtheria is rapidly spreading in camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, where Rohingya refugees have settled.  As of today, some 550 suspected cases and nine fatalities had been reported.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with the Ministry of Health to respond to the uptick in cases.  A vaccine campaign will begin tomorrow, with more than 900,000 doses of vaccine expected to arrive in Cox’s Bazar in the next few days.  The Rohingya refugee population is extremely vulnerable to disease outbreaks due to low vaccination coverage in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions in refugee sites in Bangladesh.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today released its annual State of the World’s Children report, which this year focuses on how digital technology is affecting children’s lives.  Despite children’s massive online presence — one in three internet users worldwide is a child — too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content, the report says.  It also argues that governments and businesses have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind.  The report also explores the benefits that digital technology can offer disadvantaged children, including providing access to information, building new skills and giving them a platform to communicate their views.  The report is available on UNICEF’s website.

**World Economy

And if you were here for the briefing before this one, you know that the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects report was launched today.  According to the report, the world economy has reached its highest growth since 2011.  The full report is available online, and you can also find online the briefing that preceded this one.


Today is International Mountain Day This year’s theme is “Mountains under pressure: climate, hunger, migration” and highlights the challenges that mountain communities face due to climate change and land degradation.  And today at the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) Headquarters in Rome, countries and civil society organizations that are members of the Mountain Partnership pledged to strengthen the resilience of mountain communities and environments to help them adapt to climate change.  More information on this meeting is available on FAO’s website.  That's it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Seana?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi.  I have to ask about Mr. Feltman's return.  Is he back today? And what is his schedule in terms of meeting with the SG? And do you provide us a readout? And when will he be available to the press to talk about his recent trip to North Korea? Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  He does intend to brief the Security Council and the members of the press on his recent trip.  And as soon as we get details on when those particular briefings have happened, we'll share them with you.  I do expect that he'll meet up with the Secretary‑General sometime over the course of today, and hopefully, after that, we'll get some details on when he can meet with you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have any statement regarding the injuries which are happening in the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the heavy… heavy‑handed retaliation by the Israelis on the protesters?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the latest reports of injuries.  As you know, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council on Friday, and he made clear our concerns and our hopes that all sides would respond to the latest developments with restraint and calm.  We are worried about any chances for escalation on the ground, and we will continue with that appeal.

Question:  But have you seen the footage of children being arrested and treated very badly, harshly?

Deputy Spokesman:  We… like I said, we want all sides to respond with restraint and calm.  That includes the security forces, and we certainly hope that all the due process rights of those who are protesting will be respected.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Actually, I… you'd said something about if you were here for the preceding briefing.  I was.  So I want to begin with that.  I want to make sure I get an answer to this.  It was listed that the Under‑Secretary‑General, Mr.  Liu [Zhenmin], would be here.  He… he ended up leaving after… after his remarks, but I would like to get an answer, either from him or from the Secretariat, on what the reasoning was to… on 21 November go forward with the million dollars from the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) after the indictment of Patrick Ho, who is the principal here at the UN of the group, and since then to announce that… that… that… that operations with CEFC are suspended.  What was the difference on 21 November from when the announcement was made to suspend it, given that the million dollars was used after the indictment? That's my question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Once they had received further information, they decided to suspend the relationship with the China Energy Fund Committee.  At the time of the awards, that information was not in place, and they were still gathering details.

Question:  Had they not read the indictment that had come out the day before and that had been asked about in this briefing the day before?

Deputy Spokesman:  The indictment had only come out the day before.  As you know, the awards ceremony had been scheduled well in advance of when the indictment was announced, and so they were accumulating information as that happened.

Question:  Sure, but it seems like a number of high officials cancelled their engagement with… with… with the event.  I mean, the Secretary‑General, the Deputy Secretary‑General, and, to some degree, the PGA [President of the General Assembly], it seems like, cancelled their engagement.  So the indictment could be read.  Is it that DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] read it later, or is there no coordination between these various entities?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think the Department of Economic and Social Affairs has been clear about the fact that they had to vouch for the accuracy and the credibility of the process by which they went about granting the awards.  The awards had been announced, and this had been scheduled, like I said, in advance of the indictments.  Yes?

Question:  Tomorrow, there is a… there is a summit in Paris, the One Planet Summit.  It's about climate… climate change.  What's the level of representation of the UN there? And what's the expectations from the summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  As we announced last week, the Secretary‑General is attending the summit.  He will speak there.  He will be departing after today's events that he's participating in, including an event to commemorate Human Rights Day, and we'll put out his remarks once he delivers them in Paris.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you… does the UN have any comment on Dr. David Von Hippel, of the California Institute of Security and Sustainability, who said that implementation of the sanctions against the DPRK, specifically the oil embargo, will lead to a catastrophic humani… humanitarian consequence and will trigger a famine?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you're aware, the members of the Security Council are seized of the question of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  They met on it and discussed the situation just today, and they'll have further discussions, I expect, later this week when Mr. Feltman meets with them.  So, it's… we'll leave it in their hands to discuss all the relevant aspects, including the humanitarian situation.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  On this… in the lead‑up to this One Planet Summit in Paris, the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, has said that he's… he's received invitations to speak there or meet there with President [Emmanuel] Macron and António Guterres.  That's what he said.  So, I… what I wanted to know is, if… if… if that's true, what… I've asked you last week and Stéphane [Dujarric] about the… for example, the case of Patrice… Patrice Nganang, who's now… it's become a pretty… pretty well‑covered case with human rights groups saying, how could this writer and professor who is reporting on the Anglophone areas be detained by the Government?  What would be… is it… can you confirm that António Guterres has asked to meet with Paul Biya?  And, if so, would this issue or the Anglophone issue generally be on the agenda?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as with… as is normally the case, when the Secretary‑General travels, if he holds meetings with other world leaders, we'll try to get the readouts of them.  Stéphane [Dujarric] is there with the Secretary‑General, and we'll be in touch with him to make sure that any of these meetings happen, and we'll try to provide details.

Question:  Has the UN… on that… on that issue that I asked you about last week, it was said… one… one media report that came out based on your answer said that the UN said it was concerned but neither confirmed that it was aware of or doing anything about the case.  So, I wanted to ask you, is it… I assume you're aware of it, but has the UN… I know Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall is in the building today.  Has anyone in the UN system reached out to the Government to ask about the status of this professor who visited to look into the Anglophone issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm checking with our colleagues in Political Affairs about what response we have.  Once we have something to say, I'll let you know.

Question:  Could I ask one more?  I just… this is a procedure… I guess it's a procedural one, but it was said… you said it last week that the Secretary‑General will not, this year, have an end‑of‑the‑year press conference.  And I know you'd said it would be early next year.  It seems like it's been kind a tradition.  Is there some… is there a reason that this… this can't take place?  Because I saw that he did, on Friday, interviews with… with a national contingent of media.  He did Fareed Zakaria.  So, is it a lack of time or… or a… what's the basis of not holding the press conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it's simply the case that the Secretary‑General likes to have briefings for the press when he has something to say.  In this case, he wants to do something at the start of the year so he can talk about what his plans are for 2018.  And so that's what we're aiming for, for something around mid‑January.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.