14 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 left Tokyo earlier today and is now on his way back to New York after a full day of meetings.  He spoke at the opening of the high‑level session of the Universal Health Care Forum organized by the Government of Japan, and he stressed that universal healthcare is just that — care and services for everyone.  This vision, he said, is at the centre of a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future. By investing in health, he explained, we build more inclusive and resilient societies.  Later, the Secretary‑General held a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  In speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary‑General said that Japan is a pillar of the international system and thanked the Government for the very strong support, in many fields, it gives to the UN.

Speaking about the situation in the Korean Peninsula, the Secretary‑General underscored the need for the full implementation of Security Council resolutions.  He called for unity of the Security Council on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to achieve the objective of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  While in Tokyo, the Secretary‑General also delivered a lecture to students at Sophia University.  He outlined the global challenges that the world faces today — from the nuclear threat to the mass movement of people to increased inequality, among others.  He then met with about forty students from Japanese universities linked with the UN’s Academic Impact programme.  And prior to leaving Tokyo, the Secretary‑General held a press conference during which he took another opportunity to thank Japan for being a pillar of the international system.


Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned by the increasing number of districts in Yemen that are at risk of sliding into famine as the situation rapidly deteriorates, aggravated by the protracted conflict, limited imports of critical commodities necessary for the basic survival of the Yemeni people, lack of salaries, and collapsing basic services, especially health, water and sanitation services.  A third of Yemen’s districts, where 10.4 million people live, are at heightened risk of famine.  This means that the people do not know where their next meal will come from, leaving them more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease.  Children who are malnourished are nine times more likely to die.

We also reiterate the call to the Saudi‑led Coalition to expedite the delivery of commercial food and fuel imports to Yemen’s Hodeidah and Saleef ports.  Since the start of the blockade, on 6 November, the Coalition has not cleared any commercial fuel imports to Hodeidah.  Since the easing of restrictions on 26 November, five commercial vessels carrying 116,000 metric tons of goods discharged at Hodeidah and Saleef, meeting a third of the food requirements for Yemen.  Six commercial vessels have cancelled their requests to enter Hodeidah or Saleef due to long wait times.


The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said that Iraq’s victory over the Da’esh terrorists provides an opportunity for the country to shed its painful past and confidently embark on the road to peace and development, and it urged Iraqis of all affiliations to seize the momentum and build on it to ensure a prosperous future for the younger generation.  The call came at a roundtable discussion in Najaf yesterday that brought together tribal, religious, academic, political party and civil society groups from the Najaf and Diwaniyah Governorates to gauge the opinion of Iraqis from all corners of the country.  There are more details in a UNAMI press release.


Our colleagues at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) tell us that over 800 Dominicans — nearly half of them women — have received training and are being temporarily employed as part of the National Employment Programme, following Hurricane Maria.  This programme is a UNDP‑backed strategy to place affected people at the centre of the recovery process.  National authorities, civil society organization Engineers without Borders and UNDP have also developed new, more earthquake and hurricane‑resilient housing standards.  In Antigua and Barbuda, a Building Damage Assessment indicated that all structures were damaged to some extent in Barbuda, especially roofs.  Twenty‑three per cent were completely destroyed.  The initiative was also supported by Microsoft, which has been providing apps and tablets to assess damages in the two Caribbean countries.  You can find more details on UNDP’s website.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) published new estimates on seasonal influenza today, along with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and global health partners.  They say that up to 650,000 people die of respiratory diseases linked to seasonal flu each year, which marks an increase on the previous global estimate dating from over 10 years ago.  The new figures are based on more recent data from a larger, more diverse group of countries, including lower middle‑income countries, and exclude deaths from non‑respiratory diseases.  Most deaths occur among people aged over 75 years, and in the world’s poorest regions.  Sub‑Saharan Africa accounts for the world’s greatest flu mortality risk, followed closely by the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.  Among children under five, nearly all deaths occur in developing countries.

**Honour Roll

For the Honour Roll, I am delighted to announce that Seychelles has paid its regular budget dues in full, making it the 144th Member State to join the Honour Roll.

**Press Briefings

For press conferences, right after I am done, you will hear from Brenden Varma, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.  Today, at 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations and Chair of the UN Security Council Children and Armed Conflict Working Group, will brief reporters on his recent trip to Sudan as well as on the achievements made this year.  Tomorrow, at 3 p.m. there will be a press conference by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Taro Kono.  That is it for me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, I have a quick question about the target analysis about the missiles that were fired at Saudi Arabia.  Could you give me an update?  And, also, when do you expect the final findings to be released?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, as you know, every six months, provides a report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015), which includes some details on various aspects of activities concerning Iran.  And, as part of that, the current report does have its analysis of the weapons… the missiles that were fired towards Saudi Arabia emanating from Yemen.  It… the paragraph in the report, which you'll be able to read, I think, hopefully later today; it will be out as a document either later today or tomorrow, does say that there's no conclusive evidence about the provenance of those missiles, but you can read the report for yourself.

Question:  But when will you have conclusive evidence?

Deputy Spokesman:  That depends on the work of the experts.  But I would leave it at the language in the report, which, like I said, should be out as a document probably later today.

Question:  But is there a deadline?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's periodic updates on the work of the panel, but the experts will continue to look into this issue.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Farhan, do you have a readout on Jeff Feltman's visit with the North Korean ambassador this morning?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Obviously, we continue to engage with the officials of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  Mr. Feltman did, in fact, speak to reporters a couple of days ago about his meetings while he was in Pyongyang.  And, tomorrow, the Secretary‑General will also participate and speak about the issue of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the Security Council meeting that will be held concerning non‑proliferation.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Yes, sir.  You spoke about the Secretary‑General talking about implementation while he was in Japan, and I'm wondering what his or Under‑Secretary Feltman's opinion is about doing a… an assessment.  Like, the Special Rapporteur… the recommendation for an assessment on the impact of the human rights situation seem to fall on deaf ears, but whenever they reauthorize the panel of experts, they cite a report in 2006 for sanctions recommendations.  And, in that report, it says that there should be a periodic review to evaluate both the political impact and the humanitarian impact of the sanctions regime.  The Security Council resolutions are either improving implementation or expanding the sanctions.  Does the Secretary‑General think that it might be time to evaluate the effectiveness of the sanctions and the impact?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of sanctions and their humanitarian impact, there was some discussion of that earlier this week when you had the Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenca, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, brief the Security Council on human rights and humanitarian and other issues.  So I'll just leave it at what they said at… in that Security Council open meeting.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Can I just follow up?  As a contrast, in the Security Council resolutions, with regard to peacekeeping missions over the past year, they include a… a… one item that says that the security… the Secretary‑General should be conducting a rigorous evidence‑based assessment to develop recommendations on how to optimally configure the mech ‑ I'm paraphrasing ‑ how to optimally configure the mechanism's activities.  Does he… does the Secretary‑General or the Secretariat not feel that it might be, perhaps, prudent to include something like that with regard to sanctions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've been analysing the situation with regard to sanctions.  And, like I said, I would just refer you to the briefings that went to the Security Council earlier this week on that same topic.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Some other things, but I wanted to ask you about Burundi.  I tried yesterday, and it has to do with the… the… now Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa, after the end of the most recent round in Arusha, has been quoted that the EAC [East African Community] process has failed.  And, in Burundi itself, Pierre Nkurunziza has launched a process to the… basically campaigning for these constitutional changes that would allow him to stay in power up till 2034.  So, I'm… I don't know if Mr. [Michel] Kafando… I was looking around to see if he said anything.  Does the UN have any response to the Mediator saying that the process has failed and the President basically seeking to further extend his term in office?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, what I can say is that the East African Community convened a session of the Inter‑Burundian Dialogue in Arusha from 28 November to 8 December.  The Facilitator, former President Mkapa, was supported by the Joint Technical Working Group, comprising the East African Community, the African Union, and the UN.  At the end of the session, the parties submitted reports to the Facilitator, Mr. Mkapa, who will present them to the Mediator in the coming days.  The Facilitator plans to hold another session in January.  We reiterate that genuine, inclusive dialogue is the only sustainable solution to the political crisis and call on all parties to commit without preconditions.  Special Envoy Michel Kafando is currently in Bujumbura meeting with stakeholders, and he will travel to Tanzania in the coming days to discuss the situation with the Facilitator.

Question:  And could I… I wanted to ask… I know that President [Yoweri] Museveni has some role in that process, so I just wanted to take this opportunity to ask you, there's a report in Uganda that the President, Museveni, has asked… he's calling for a… an investigation of the… the… the material in the indictment of Patrick Ho and Cheikh Gadio regarding Mr. [Sam] Kutesa. It's $500,000 bribe paid in connection with him being PGA [President of the General Assembly].  So, I just wanted to know… maybe you won't comment on that, but is there any update on the UN itself doing, at a minimum, an audit, if… if less than investigation, of the way in which that… that… the material in there, which is… is… the UN is throughout it, and… and, you know, you'd said that DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], just based on, I guess, reading the indictment, suspended. What… is there any move toward having an audit, or is the Global Compact, for example, conducting any inquiry into the source of the funds to the NG… to the NGO from its member China Energy Fund Committee?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as Stéphane [Dujarric], I believe, mentioned some days ago, the UN is continuing to look into the matter.  If there is anything further to say about an audit, we'll mention it at that point.  But we do continue to review what further action is needed from our side.

Question:  Is it OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] looking at it or OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?  When you say the UN, which… who's looking at it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, once we have something further to announce on that, I will.  But we are continuing to explore the matter.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I had a question about Central African Republic.  The Security Council is in the process of approving a Russian donation of weapons to the FACA, the national army, and I'm wondering if the Secretariat has a view on this supply of weapons.  And, also, I understand that MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] will play a role in ensuring the safety, the safe storage of these weapons that are supposed to begin arriving on Monday.  Do you have anything on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we're awaiting any action by the Security Council on this matter.  So we'll remain seized of the matter and continue to follow up depending upon what the Council members decide.  Yes?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to… I'd asked you yesterday about whether Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall would answer questions, and many… given… after his briefing yesterday, many people, in looking at the paragraph on Cameroon, in particular, have many questions about it.  He referred to… to clashes between radicals.  And so people want to know, in the same way that he called secessionists extremists, what he meant by radicals.  I guess I'm just wondering, is he still in New York?  I know he was here Monday through Wednesday.  And is there some way to get him to clarify why… for example, the refugee flows into Nigeria are not mentioned in his report and sort of what he's actually doing on this issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it's certainly his call whether he wants to come to the press.  He chose not to do that yesterday, but he did have an open briefing, and we provided the contents of he said.  Hold on.  Hold on.  Yeah?

Question:  Farhan, given the Secretary‑General's recent report about Iran, has the Secretary‑General's view about the nuclear deal changed?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not in the least.  As his reports made clear and as the Secretary‑General has made clear in his other comments, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a diplomatic achievement whose accomplishments need to be preserved.

Question:  But the ballistic violation of transfer of weapon, especially the ballistic programme, that's a concern for…

Deputy Spokesman:  What… in terms of concerns we have, we want to make sure that all parties, Iran and the other parties, all abide by their commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  Yes?

Question:  So I'd wanted… also, one of the sections of Mr. Fall's briefing was about the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and after his briefing, so it's not addressed in it, the US has announced new sanctions against two members of the LRA, particularly in… in connection with the Central African Republic.  So, this seemed to make it seem that there… there… it's not mentioned, and he basically… it seems… this is a major part of his mandate, but it's confined to one paragraph of his briefing.  That's, I guess, why I'm, again, asking you.  Is there some way for him to respond to the issues unaddressed or that arose after yesterday's presentation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I said, we'll reach out and see whether he wants to or intends to speak to the press.  Ultimately, that's his decision.  Yeah, one more.

Question:  On Tanzania… yeah, on… there's been… obviously, with Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix in Tanzania, there's been a request by the Government there for an investigation of the death of their 15 peacekeepers.  And I wanted to know… you know, there's been some… some reporting by people that… in looking at it in terms of the slowness of the response from Beni and elsewhere and the communications breakdown. I guess I'm wondering, beyond just investigating, are you closer to saying it definitely was the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces]?  And has there been anything found out, why it took as long as it did for the reinforcements to arrive?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is a matter that we're looking into.  Regarding the question of the Allied Democratic Forces, you heard what Mr. Lacroix had to say about that.  But we'll continue to look into the matter, and if we have anything further to announce, we'll make that at that point.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.