15 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.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

This morning, as you will have seen, the Secretary‑General spoke to the Security Council on the situation in the Korean Peninsula.  He told the Council it’s time to re‑establish and strengthen communication channels, including inter‑Korean and military‑to‑military channels, and stressed that this is critical to lower the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding and reduce tensions in the region.  He said that unity in the Security Council is key to achieve denuclearization and to create spaces for diplomatic initiatives to do this in a peaceful manner.  The Secretary‑General reiterated the availability of his good offices and the support of the UN to facilitate communication among all parties.  The Secretary‑General also highlighted the humanitarian situation in the DPRK and called on Member States to step up their assistance, noting that only 30 per cent of the funds needed to cover humanitarian needs have been provided.


Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Special Envoy for Yemen, wrapped up a three‑day visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he said he had productive and constructive meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, and senior officials to discuss the conflict in Yemen, including the humanitarian situation and the best way to advance a political solution.  The Special Envoy also met with a number of senior leaders of the General People's Congress to offer his sincere condolences on the death of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and [to discuss] the best way to put an end to the conflict in Yemen.  He added that what is happening in Sana'a is unacceptable and said that we need to put an end to the targeting of GPC leaders, activists and their families.


You will have seen that yesterday, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to the press in Geneva last night after the completion of the eighth round of the intra‑Syrian talks.  He told reporters that real negotiations ultimately did not take place between the parties, and called this last round of talks “a golden opportunity missed”.  The Special Envoy said that he did not see that the Syrian Government was really looking to find a way to have a dialogue and negotiate in this round, and added that he had seen signs that the opposition delegation was trying to negotiate.  Mr. de Mistura said that he will be travelling to New York this weekend to brief the Security Council next week.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that it is deeply shocked and appalled at the mass execution on Thursday of 38 men at a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya, in Iraq, which once again raises huge concerns about the use of the death penalty in that country.  Meanwhile, UN human rights officers visited the area of Tuz Khurmatu on 7 December and again on 14 December to investigate reports of the burning of homes and looting of businesses.  They spoke to residents of Tuz Khurmatu in Kirkuk and Erbil who had fled the violence and saw for themselves in Tuz Khurmatu that 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged.

The Human Rights Office urges the end of all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population.  It calls on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights [abuses] are brought to justice.  Our humanitarian colleagues add that on 13 and 14 December, some 3,000 people are reported to have fled villages located on the east side of Hanjir mountain in Tuz Khurmatu district, Salah al‑Din Governorate, as a result of insecurity and mortar fire in the area.


Our colleagues at the Humanitarian Affairs office tell us that for the seventh day in a row, the daily availability of power supply has dropped to no more than four hours in most areas of the Gaza Strip.  This shortage is caused by faulty lines and lack of fuel for the Gaza Power Plant, which critically affects services in health, water and sanitation, and exacerbates the suffering of the 2 million people in Gaza.  Last week, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator released $2.2 million from the Occupied Palestinian Territory’s Humanitarian Fund to cover urgent needs in emergency energy backup, medical supplies and food assistance.  No significant change in the humanitarian situation has been noted since the Palestinian reconciliation accord signed in October, which the Secretary‑General had hoped would lead to alleviating the humanitarian crisis.

**South Sudan

As South Sudan enters its fifth year of fighting, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that the country is in the throes of a tragedy for children that affects more than half the child population.  The Agency’s report, Childhood under Attack, shows that almost three million children are severely food insecure.  UNICEF warned that new funding is essential to provide critical assistance to children and women.  In 2018, UNICEF requires $183 million, and is currently facing a 77 per cent funding gap in that programme.


Our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) say they are increasingly worried about the deterioration of the overall protection environment in which Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh.  They will start on Sunday to distribute the first of almost 200,000 items of clothing to help recently‑arrived people prepare for cooler temperatures in the weeks and months ahead.  Children, who are 55 per cent of the Rohingya refugee population, are particularly vulnerable.  An estimated 10 per cent of all refugees are also either disabled, have serious medical conditions or older persons at risk.  UNHCR has been working to bolster the quality of shelters in the camps by supplying higher quality materials as well as expanding technical support for construction and drainage.  At present, a steady but smaller number of refugees continue to cross from Myanmar, some 100 a day.  As you know, an estimated 650,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since August of this year.


A couple more notes from UNHCR:  Last night, UNHCR evacuated 74 vulnerable refugees, the vast majority of whom are children and women, from Libya to Niger.  With the support of UNHCR’s partners in Niger, these refugees will be accommodated in guesthouses in Niamey.  In the Central African Republic, voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees from a camp in Bambari has started, with more than 230 refugees who have arrived in Sudan since the returns began on Tuesday.  Sixty‑six UNHCR-chartered flights are scheduled to bring some 1,500 refugees home to Sudan by the end of the year.

**El Salvador

The Human Rights Office also issued a statement calling for a moratorium on the application of Article 133 of El Salvador’s Penal Code, regarding prison terms of two to eight years for those who procure or carry out abortions.

**Press Briefings

After we are done with Brenden [Varma], we can expect the US Secretary of State to speak at the stakeout probably in the next 10 to 15 minutes, probably a little earlier.  Keep an eye on the monitor.  He is then to be followed, as we are told by the Foreign Minister of Ukraine.  Then at 3 p.m., in this room, there will be a briefing by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, Taro Kono, who presided over the Security Council’s meeting this morning.  On Monday, it is International Migrants Day, and I will be joined by Bela Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, sir.  It's nice when it's crowded to get to the first question.  [Laughs] Stéphane, two questions, actually.  What would be the… we've heard the Secretary‑General, he was clear and very strong speaking in favour of the issue of the Rohingya in Myanmar.  What would be his next step or recommendation or so, to whom?  To Security Council, or some other actors?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, different parts… the components of the international community have different part to play.  Obviously, it's important for the authorities in Myanmar to grant us access to… for humanitarian workers and human rights workers in northern Rakhine, to see a halt to the military activities.  We would also like to ensure that the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, as well as their hosting communities, are fully supported by the international community and, as always, the unity of Security Council is obviously vital.

Question:  Just… just one short follow‑up.  Does the Secretary‑General still think the situation is "catastrophic" there?  His words.

Spokesman:  I think for the Secretary‑General the situation has not changed.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  I'm sorry if… if in your readout, I may have missed it, but was… the talks in Geneva in Syria.  What was the Secretary-General's view?  Many people describe them as… as failed, essentially.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think the Special Envoy gave a pretty bleak readout.  He represents the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General would have liked to see a better and more positive outcome, as would have Mr. de Mistura and I think all those involved on our side.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to… I saw… the Secretary‑General, to his credit, spoke out about the two Reuters journalists blocked up in Myanmar.  One, I wanted to know on that whether he's… you know, what he's… what he's… beyond… beyond the comments in the press conference if… what the UN system has done to secure their release?  And I also wanted to ask you again about… about the journalist clocked up in Cameroon for 10 days now, Patrice Nganang, who was, you know… basically had investigated the Anglophone areas and was picked up from the airport in Douala, is in jail, charged with insulting or threatening the president.  Has the UN done anything on that?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update on the case in Cameroon.  It's obvious that we believe that all journalists should be able to practise their trade freely and free from harassment.  And on the Reuters issue, I don't have any inputs from UNICEF, and I think the Secretary‑General spoke out.  If I have more to share, I will.  Why not?

Question:  Thank you.  Household question.  When the Secretary‑General is going to hold a full‑stage seated press conference in this room?

Spokesman:  It will be… off the top of my head, I think the second or third week of January.  There's a date set.  It will be on the same day that he presents… that he speaks to the General Assembly.  I don't know if Brenden knows that date.  When he presents his outlook for the year, and then he will come here and sit down with you and for some time to answer your questions.  As soon as we have… I have the date on my desk.  I just don't have it in my head.

Question:  Will as many journalists as possible be granted the possibility to ask the questions?

Spokesman:  In the set time, we will, as always, try to get as many journalists in as possible.

Correspondent:  Since Erol's asked, I did want to… you said, I think one time just as you were leaving the podium, that there's been some adjustments.  That may have been about opening events on the 38th Floor or not, but it seems like you represented Ban Ki‑moon, as well.  It seems like…

Spokesman:  I did.

Question:  He always… he always did an end of the year one, and I understand… I guess my question is, I've heard it said that… that António Guterres doesn't want to do one until he has something to announce, but at the same time, like he did Fareed Zakaria, he does different things, so is there some… what's the distinction?

Spokesman:  Listen, I think, if I recall correctly, there were some years when Ban Ki‑moon did one in January as opposed to December.  Oh, see?  Key information is brought to me on a napkin.  16 January is the day of the Secretary‑General's press conference.  You know, I think the calendar also had something to do with it, and we want to do a forward‑looking press briefing.

Question:  Same… same kind of topic.  Will his remarks… I believe he's going to make some remarks this evening.  Will they be released?

Spokesman:  I don't know if they'll be released.  I don't see why they shouldn't be.  Okay.

Question:  Back to Burundi.  Sure.  In your absence, the… another series of talks failed, it seems, in Arusha, but there's now a situation in which many people… there's a high‑profile activist in the country, Nestor Nibitanga, who was picked up from his home 21 November and he's still in detention, and I'm just wondering… it seems like that the UN is not in the driver's seat in terms of stopping a third, fourth, sixth term, but is there some… is there… is it… what's the status of the country team there, and are they concerned about this arrest?

Spokesman:  I can… we can check with the country team.  I haven't gotten an… an update for you.  What I do know is that Mr. [Michel] Kafando is currently in Bujumbura, and then he'll be travelling to Tanzania in the coming days to discuss the situation with Mr. [Benjamin] Mkapa.

Question:  And on the… just China… China Energy Fund.  Now that you're back, I just wanted to… we've had some sort of tantalizing, "when there's something to say, something will be said." It seems like even some of the countries named in the indictment are starting their own investigations.  Is there a process at work, or is it just…

Spokesman:  As I said, I will give you my "tantalizing" answer, which is when I have something to say, I shall say it.  Thank you.  Mr. Varma, the audience is yours.

For information media. Not an official record.