13 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.


The Secretary-General arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday night.  Tomorrow, he will attend the opening of the high-level session of the Universal Health Care forum organized by the Government of Japan.  He’s expected to tell the audience, which will include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that universal healthcare is at the centre of our vision of a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future.  While in Tokyo, the Secretary-General will deliver a lecture on human security at Sophia University, where he will also have an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with students.  The Secretary-General will also hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe, to be followed by an official lunch hosted by Mr. Abe.  During his stay in Japan, the Secretary-General will have discussions with the Japan Civil Society Network on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and he will also meet with parliamentarians and other senior Japanese officials.  He’s expected to hold a press conference before departing to New York.  The Secretary-General will be at the office on Friday.

**Health Care

And on the occasion of this universal health care forum in Tokyo, our colleagues at the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new report today, showing that at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.  The report “Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report” also reveals that each year, large numbers of households are being pushed into poverty because they must pay for health care out of their own pockets.  Currently, 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member.  For almost 100 million people, these expenses are high enough to push them into extreme poverty, forcing them to survive on just $1.90 or less a day.

**Central Africa

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, told the Security Council this morning that the overall situation in the region remains marked by tense socio-political situations, economic difficulties and continued attacks and horrific abuses carried out by armed groups against civilian populations, including Boko Haram and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Regarding Cameroon, he stressed the need to redouble our prevention efforts to ensure that prevailing tensions do not deteriorate in the context of the 2018 elections, with the situation in English-speaking regions of the country of particular concern.  His briefing is available in our office.


In a briefing to the Security Council yesterday afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman outlined some key considerations involving the return of Rohingyas to Myanmar from Bangladesh.  He said that returns must be supported by reconciliation efforts, and the time frame must allow for this and other measures to ensure that return is sustainable.  Returns should be to the ‘original place of residence’ or to a safe, secure place near to their destination of choice, as envisaged by the arrangement reached between the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Mr. Feltman said that the reference to freedom of movement in the arrangement is positive, but the qualifier ‘in conformity with existing laws and regulations’ which are currently extremely restrictive, is a serious limitation.  He added that eligibility criteria for return must be applied in the broadest possible manner, and he underscored the important role that the UN, through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), can play in all aspects of a return operation.

**South Sudan

The humanitarian community in South Sudan launched today an appeal for $1.72 billion to provide critical and life-saving assistance in 2018 to 6 million people affected by conflict, displacement, hunger and a deteriorating economy.  Since the conflict in South Sudan began in December 2013, about 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including nearly 1.9 million people who have been internally displaced and more than 2 million people who have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries.  As the conflict continues, rates of hunger and malnutrition have risen, and food security partners report the risk of famine as significant for thousands of people in multiple areas, if early actions are not taken.  Also marking four years since the outbreak of South Sudan’s civil war, the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, appealed for urgent action by all sides to settle the conflict and put an end to the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis and Africa’s largest refugee crisis.  The world cannot continue to stand by as the people of South Sudan are terrorized by a senseless war, he said.


Our humanitarian colleagues continue to call for the urgent medical evacuation of some 500 people in besieged eastern Ghouta in Syria.  Yesterday, our health partners reported the death of a 29‑year‑old woman, who was suffering from cancer.  She is the fifteenth person identified for urgent medical evacuation in eastern Ghouta to die due to a reported lack of adequate medical care.  Her death comes one day after a 9‑year‑old girl reportedly died while waiting for evacuation.  Eastern Ghouta remains under siege, with nearly 400,000 children, women and men in need of life-saving assistance.  Civilians must be able to seek medical care.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to facilitate immediate medical evacuation of the sick and wounded in a safe, timely and systematic manner, everywhere in Syria.


The UN Migration Agency (IOM) has released a new study that shows that 90 per cent of displaced Iraqis are determined to return home.  This is similar to the long-term intentions recorded in 2016.  More than 1.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their places of origin so far in 2017.  In total, since the start of the crisis in 2014, IOM estimates that more than 2.8 million displaced Iraqis have returned, while more than 2.9 million people remain displaced.


Yesterday, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Honduras:  The Secretary-General is closely following developments in Honduras.  He is concerned about the incidents of violence following the 26 November election and trusts that the authorities will uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The Secretary-General calls upon the country’s political leaders, and particularly the presidential candidates, to exercise their leadership with responsibility in this crucial moment for the future of Honduras.  He encourages them to resolve their differences through dialogue within the mechanisms established by the Electoral Law.  The Secretary-General also calls on all Hondurans to exercise restraint and maintain the commendable civic spirit demonstrated with their participation in the elections.  The Secretary-General expresses appreciation for the efforts of international observers and others supporting the process.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warn today that three months after hurricanes Irma and Maria barrelled through the Caribbean, 350,000 children remain in need of support across the region.  In Dominica, over 35 per cent of children — particularly those living in shelters — are yet to be enrolled in education activities.  In Antigua & Barbuda, many children and families remain in shelters and are unable to return home.  Working in collaboration with Governments and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, UNICEF has been providing not only immediate humanitarian relief to the affected populations but also working to ensure longer term recovery and resilience.  More details on this are available online.

**Electronic Waste

A new report released today by our colleagues from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the UN University says that electronic waste rose by eight per cent in just two years.  Meanwhile, only 20 per cent of this waste is being recycled.  The report shows that a staggering 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated in 2016 — up from 3.3 million metric tonnes in 2014.  This is equal in weight to almost nine Great Pyramids of Giza or 4,500 Eiffel Towers.  Experts foresee a further 17 per cent increase — to 52.2 million metric tonnes of e-waste by 2021 — the fastest growing part of the world's domestic waste stream.  The full report is available online.


And UNICEF is also announcing today that funding for its Vaccine Independence Initiative, a mechanism to help countries secure a sustainable supply of life-saving vaccines, has more than doubled in the past year, increasing from $15 million to $35 million.  Over 60 low-income countries currently benefit from Gavi [Vaccine Alliance] support to purchase life-saving vaccines.  As countries’ economies grow and transition away from Gavi support, the Vaccine Independence Initiative gives them access to short-term bridge “loans” so that they can purchase vaccines while waiting for the release of national budget funds.  Since 2016, the Vaccine Independence Initiative has helped provide an estimated 91 million doses to children in 23 countries faster than would have otherwise been possible.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education.  He is here to brief you on urgent funding needs for children trapped in humanitarian crises, as well as the results of the Education Cannot Wait Fund.  And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden, Chair of the Security Council Children and Armed Conflict Working Group.  He will brief you on his recent trip to Sudan and also on achievements made this year.  Before we get to our guest, are there any questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know, at the extraordinary summit meeting, Organization of Islamic [Cooperation] (OIC) yesterday in Istanbul, the Palestinian Authority said that they will no longer recognise the US role in the search for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  What are the implications of that decision in regard to the structure and role of the Quartet?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the United States remains one of the partners in the Quartet, and the Quartet will remain involved in the search for a solution, a two‑state solution, in the Middle East.  What our concern is is we want to make sure that the parties themselves are willing to hold talks with each other.  And, in line with that, the United Nations, both in its independent role and through the Quartet, will work to do what it can to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table for talks.  Yes?

Question:  You mentioned emergency evacuations being denied in Ghoutah, was it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Now, there's only one good hospital where you would evacuate these people to.  That is in Damascus or in that area.  So, is Damascus denying the evacuation?  If so, why not say so?  And if someone else is denying it, why not say?  Nobody can write a story on this.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've made clear our concerns that the Government authorities have been preventing travel.  As you know, eastern Ghoutah is in the suburbs of Damascus, and so some of the nearest hospitals are a short while away if we could get the access, and we have said that both on the ground in Syria and here in the past.

Question:  So, the access is being denied by Damascus?  I mean, by the Government.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, obviously, we've had problems with a number of parties, but, in this case, in the case of eastern Ghoutah, our main concern is to make sure that the Government allows us to have the access to bring people to the nearby hospitals.  Yes, in the back.  Are you done?  Okay, then you.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Cameroon.  I just… one just generally, can we get Mr. François Fall to have a stakeout or some kind of media availability?  He came out of the Council just now and ran by.  He didn't answer a question on Patrice… Patrice Nganang and… and… nor did he answer about… basically, his briefing seems to conclude with the death of security officers, which has taken place, but absolutely nothing on the death of civilians.  So, I wanted to know, can you give a little bit more flavour beyond the paragraph in his open briefing?  And will he make himself available at a stakeout or in some other way while he's in New York?  And, finally, I did… there's a photo of António Guterres with Paul Biya, I guess, on the steps of the Élysée Palace.  Do you have any readouts of any of his meetings at that One Planet Summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he did not have a meeting with President Biya, nor was one scheduled.  I believe he met with Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, to discuss climate change issues.  We don't have any extensive readouts because there wasn't a large number of meetings with Heads of State or Government.  And, regarding Mr. Fall, of course, it's his determination whether he wants to do a press availability, but we've raised that before.

Question:  I guess I wanted…  Can you then ask him whether he raised, in the… in the consultations anything to do with press freedom in Cameroon?  Because one of the participants in the… in the… in the… in the consultations said basically that he didn't.  It's not in his briefing.  And, obviously, there are not only… not just the one I've asked about, journalists detained, still restrictions on the Internet, and it's nowhere in his briefing.  So, is he… is there… is there something outside of the Security Council process that he's doing, or… or is he doing nothing on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he's in touch with the Member States bilaterally, as well as through the Council, but regarding the public record, we've provided the actual remarks that he delivered in the Security Council.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow‑up on Mr. Abbadi's question.  If I'm not mistaken… if I understood you correctly, you said it's up to the parties to choose who will be the peace broker, but it seems that the… one of the parties, at least, the Palestinians but also the 57 countries of the OIC, now rejects the US as a peace broker.  So, what do you think is the way forward now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, for us, the focus has been and continues to be on making sure that the parties engage in talks with each other.  The United Nations has offered its own role and expertise as a broker for peace in this process, and we've done this many times in the past, and we're willing to play our part to make sure that the parties can engage in talks with each other.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  On the… the OIC conference also… summit also announced that they will recognise Jerusalem East as the capital of Palestine.  Do you have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  You know where we stand on the question of Jerusalem as something that needs to be resolved through the final status negotiations.  Ibtisam, did you have a question or have you… okay.

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thanks.  Do you have any update on the humanitarian help and on Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  For today… let's see.  One second.  No.  I mean, I… as… the last thing we have is the basic briefing information that you had on Yemen earlier, where Mr. [Mark] Lowcock had made clear our concerns about the level, the lower level, of access that we've had to the ports.  We want to continue to be using the ports to the fullest, and that includes Hodeidah and Al Saleef, as well as the airport in Sana'a.  But, at the end of last week, I think we had made clear that there were several ships that had been allowed to berth at the Hodeidah and Saleef ports, but we want to have a greater amount of traffic.  So, we're still trying to expand the amount of deliveries.

Question:  So, just a follow‑up to understand… so you still don't have fully access?  And are you in contact with… somebody from the Coalition to try to… I mean, are you still getting… they are still refusing to give you a full access to deliver humanitarian aid?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're working with the Coalition authorities to get more access.  It has begun and we're getting some access, so there are ships coming in.  And there have been ships that have been able to offload their cargoes.  But, at the same time, we want a greater pace of deliveries so that roughly 7 million hungry people can have their needs tended to.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, actually, is the National Memory Day for the Nanjing massacre victims in 1937.  Around 300,000 people had been killed by their Japanese invaders on 13 December.  So, would you like to make a comment on this?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any particular comment to make on this.  Obviously, we mourn all those who have died in past wars and conflicts.  As you know, the Secretary‑General is himself in Japan, and he will be making remarks over the course of his trip while he's there.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about China Energy Fund Committee, Burundi, and the budget.  On China Energy Fund Committee, you'd said on Monday that DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] had gone forward on 21 November with the million dollars because they hadn't… they hadn't yet read closely.  At least I took that to…

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not what I said.

Question:  They had not yet digested the indictment.  What changed then?  We'll go back to that.

Deputy Spokesman:  What I said is that the invitation and the event had been organised well before the indictment.

Question:  But, I said, why then after… thereafter they decided to suspend their business with this company that's in the indictment for bribery?  So I said, what changed in terms of the UN's knowledge of the company between 21 November and the date at which DESA stopped doing business with them?

Deputy Spokesman:  They reviewed their dealings with the organisation, and they came to that decision.

Question:  Okay.  So if they… if DESA reached that conclusion, I'm wondering why the UN Global Compact, which one would actually think has a higher standard and since it's a… the vehicle for companies to espouse human rights and anti‑corruption, why the cen… the 100 per cent funder of the NGO and the beneficiary of the alleged bribing scheme is still a member of the UN Global Compact.  Can you explain what standards are being applied by the Global Compact?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that is a matter for them to review.  If they come to a decision to make a change, they'll make that change.

Question:  But how… and how… is it just the director?  Who makes the determination?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, the Global Compact reviews all this.  It has its own Secretariat.

Question:  Okay.  And the other thing is, I'm sure you've seen there's stories and… and I'm sure you're aware that, in the Budget Committee, proposals have been made for more substantial cuts than… than the Secretary‑General has proposed.  He's proposed 200 million.  There's a proposal for 2… an additional $250 million in cuts.  And I wanted to ask you about… part of it, I've heard from a Budget Committee official, is the regional commissions to face… as well as special political commissions, DPI [Department of Public Information].  And I wanted to know, number one, are there contingency plans to implement it?  Do you have any response to this desire for cuts?  And Ms. [Alicia] Bárcena, who I know is the head of a regional commission, is this… I'd asked Stéphane [Dujarric], I think, what… she was, you know, sitting behind the Secretary‑General in the presentation to the Budget Committee.  Is this her role?  What's the… what is the response to the… the desire to cut these regional commissions?  Can you justify their current budget?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding this, this is a matter that's up for discussions among the Member States, and we'll let the Member States discuss amongst themselves how to proceed forward with a budget.  And so, the matter is in their hands, and we're not going to comment while they're dealing with it.  Yes, one more question, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Yeah, back to Jerusalem.  And in regard… in light of the past days' developments and today's, does… did the Secretary‑General or does he intend to make any contact with the parties?  And, second, does he intend to make any concrete steps in order to revive the peace process, the negotiations process, other than calling on the parties to resume negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you heard what Mr. Mladenov, Nickolay Mladenov, said in his briefing to the Council last Friday.  That's where our… where we stand for now.  If there's any new initiatives down the line, we'll let you know at that point.  But the sort of state of play that we've had has been expressed both in the statements by the Secretary‑General and by Mr. Mladenov.  And with that, let us go to Gordon Brown.

For information media. Not an official record.