Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

18 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.

**Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General stressed that solidarity with migrants has never been more urgent.  He said that evidence overwhelmingly shows that migrants generate economic, social and cultural benefits for societies everywhere and yet hostility towards them is growing around the world.  He called for international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are most widely distributed and that migrants’ human rights are protected.

Today at 2 p.m., the Secretary‑General will be taking part in a panel discussion at UNICEF House, which you are welcome to attend.  And my guests today at the briefing will include Béla Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Béla will be discussing the International Migration Report 2017, which the Department produced, and also here will be Leonard Doyle, the Head of Communications for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed members of the Security Council today in an open meeting — that’s part of the regular, the periodic briefing on the situation in the Middle East, as well as the briefing on the follow‑up to resolution 2334 (2016), passed just about a year ago.  He said that he is particularly concerned as to the future of our collective efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  The Secretary‑General, he recalled, has been clear that ending the occupation and realizing the two‑state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, is the only way to achieve such a vision.  Today, however, he warned, there is a growing risk that the parties may revert to unilateral actions.  His full statement is online and I believe the Council went into closed consultations.


Our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tell us that a patrol — a UN patrol — hit a suspected improvised explosive device in Kidal city this morning.  One peacekeeper was slightly wounded.  In response to the attack, the Mission deployed a Quick Reaction Force and an explosive ordnance disposal team to secure and clear the incident site and to recover a vehicle that was damaged.  This follows four separate attacks against peacekeeping personnel and premises in Kidal on Friday, all of which were repelled by peacekeepers.  One peacekeeper was severely wounded.  Two UN Mission staff and two civilians were slightly wounded, as well, and they were immediately given medical attention.  In a statement over the weekend, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, strongly condemned the attacks on peacekeepers that also put civilians at risk, adding that the Mission would continue to repel all attacks in a similar robust manner.


The Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, today deplored Saturday’s deadly ambush on a convoy carrying humanitarian food supplies for people impacted by conflict.  He also expressed grave concern over the limitations that attacks of this nature may have on the delivery of life‑saving supplies to people in need in north‑east Nigeria.  Four civilians are reported to have been killed in the ambush that took place on the road between Dikwa and Gamboru, in Borno State.  Aid items destined to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people have also been destroyed.


The Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Pernille Dahler Kardel, met separately this morning with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.  She said she also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri last week.  Ms. Kardel, who arrived in Lebanon last week, discussed with Lebanon’s top leaders the key issues that are on the agenda between Lebanon and the UN.  She underscored the UN’s continued support for Lebanon on crucial issues related to peace and security, stability and socioeconomic development.


Humanitarian organizations working in Yemen released a joint statement yesterday on allegations of corruption and bias in the provision of relief assistance, in which they condemned in the strongest terms allegations put forward by the parties to the conflict in Yemen without proper substantiation.  The humanitarian partners in Yemen emphasized that they maintain their neutrality and do not take sides with any of the parties to the conflict.  Meanwhile, clashes and air strikes are reportedly continuing in southern Hodeidah Governorate, about 100 km south of Hodeidah.  Renewed clashes along the south‑west coast have reportedly caused significant civilian displacement, although comprehensive displacement estimates are not yet available.  That's it.  I will stop there and take some questions, and then we'll have Brenden [Varma], and then we'll go to our guests.  Mr. Lee.  Why not?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I'm… And I'm… you've just spoke about Yemen, and I… I may have missed it.  This airstrike in Ma'rib, did you address that?

Spokesman:  No.  We're aware of the… we're very much aware of the reports, and we continue to call on the parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international law not to target civilians or civilian infrastructure, among other items.

Question:  Sure.  I guess just to follow… it seems it's a pretty well‑sourced report, and it seems these were women on the way to a… to a wedding…?

Spokesman:  I mean, we've seen… as I said, you know… I've seen the reports.  We're just not in a position to confirm them.  I mean, the reports as they stand are fairly horrific by any standard…

Question:  What I meant to ask was this… in… in creating that list under Children and Armed Conflict, it seemed that the Secretary‑General concluded or said that the Saudi‑led Coalition had taken steps to… to avoid these things.  And so I'm wondering whether an incident like this calls into… is it… is it… is it an aberration?  What were those steps that they took?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the steps they had briefed us upon is better command and control and more detailed information as to where… I guess, better targeting.  I mean, I… you know, they've told us they've taken steps.  I mean, obviously, those are for the military side of the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia.  All of these events, as events around the world, are obviously… continue to be checked and rechecked by our staff and would be then put into the relevant reports.

Okay.  And I do have a statement on the attacks over the weekend in Pakistan:  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the attack on a Methodist church in Quetta in Pakistan.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes speedy recovery to those injured.  He calls for the perpetrators of the attack to be brought to justice.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  On Honduras, the Organization of American States (OAS) have asked for the elections… presidential elections to be held again because of the many irregularities.  Does the Secretary‑General share these concerns, or what is his opinion on the elections?  And I have another question afterwards.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we've been, obviously, following the developments over the last few weeks in Honduras very closely, especially in the wake of the elections.  As far as the Secretary‑General is concerned, he reiterates his call for leadership with responsibility in this crucial moment and for a solution to differences within the mechanisms established by the Electoral Law.  He again urges calm and restraint.  He's aware of the questions raised by the preliminary electoral observation reports of the Organization of American States and the European Union and of the pronouncements of the Secretary General of the OAS.  Yes, ma'am, and then Walter.  Yes, you.  Yep?

Question:  Hi.  [Inaudible] a few weeks ago, [António] Guterres proposed several internal change at the UN.  Could you please make some comments about the progress in the process of reforms?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The process of reform of the United Nations is not an easy one.  The proposals on management reform, on the peace and security pillar, on the development system reform are continuing.  There are very deep and detailed consultations with Member States, often led by the Secretary‑General himself.  We do hope to have more a public update, at least on the development system report, in the next few days to share with you.  But the work is continuing, and we very much continue to hope and hope we will receive the full support of the Member States for these efforts.  Ma'am?

Question:  Hi.  Eve from Al Arabiya.  So, we saw the Secretary‑General's report on the implementation of 2231 (2015).  Does the Secretary‑General believe that there's clear evidence of Iran's involvement in supplying the Houthis with weapons?

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, I know there was some exchanges last week with the Spokesman characterizing the conclusions of the report to 2231.  I just want to make it clear that we do not wish to characterize the conclusions and information contained in the report in any way.  The information and the Secretary‑General's words in the report are clear, and the conclusions speak for themselves.  Walter?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This morning, a new Government was sworn in in Austria.  It includes the right‑wing Freedom Party.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?

Spokesman:  You know, we obviously… we're aware of these latest developments and the formation of the government.  Austria is obviously a very important partner to the United Nations, and I hope to have a bit more to say on this shortly.  Evelyn.  Sorry.  I thought you had raised your hand but… Sorry, Linda, or one of you.  Whoever's holding the mic, so since Linda is holding the mic, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I just wanted to ask a question about the migration report that said that there are about 260 million people living in countries other than their birth, that of their birth, and that it's… there's been a 50 per cent rise since 2000.  I just have a question about policy… UN policy towards migration.  I mean, within those numbers, are they… does that include legal immigration, you know, where there are patterns and people follow that, or does it include sort of everyone, migrants who decide that they want to leave their countries, go wherever they go, and then have the right to stay in the country…?

Spokesman:  I think it's a very interesting and detailed questions, and I will let our guest, Béla Hovy, from Department of Economic and Social Affairs, answer that question, because [he] is much more learned in this process than I ever will be.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I… this is… it may be a different kind of UN reform or changes, but I'd wanted to ask you, I've become aware that… that… that… you know, throughout the building, there's various changes to called like flex… flex space or hot desking.  So I learned of… protocol… the protocol office, which is here on this floor, is being moved down to 3B, and I'm told that it's going to cost $500,000 to essentially rip out the… the configuration that was put in just under the Capital Master Plan.  So, I'm wondering, I mean, I know that there are competing mandates on the Secretary‑General, but how can you justify the… the… the… the… a recently renovated space being torn down at… at pretty substantial cost when the… when the UN is also saying it shouldn't face budget cuts?

Spokesman:  I don't know the exact cost.  The whole point of shared space is to make much more efficient use of the space that we have in this building, which enables us to stop renting and paying tenants outside of the UN Headquarters.  So, we're freeing up a space that we're paying rent on.  So, obviously, there are some costs involved in the creation of that space, but in the long term, it will be a cost saving.

Question:  But in the case of protocol, like, are there prot… are there offices of protocol that are based in the Albano or in other buildings?  And… and… and was it considered sort of, basically for the next three months at least, you're going to have diplomats going down to 3B to get whatever information they need and…

Spokesman:  I think anytime an organization is being reformed or a space is being refurbished, it involves some inconvenience.  The whole point is about better use and more efficient use of the space that we have and cutting down on costs of rental properties.

Question:  But was any of this known at the time that the Capital Master Plan built up these spaces that they would, in fact, be torn out at greater costs within two years or three years?

Spokesman:  That I cannot answer.  Yes, sir.  And then… sorry, then we'll go to you, Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you again.  On Mexico, Congress just approved a national security law that could further endanger human rights, according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other experts of the UN in Geneva.  Does the Secretary‑General has… have any comments, or is he concerned about this decision?

Spokesman:  I can't speak to that, because I haven't seen those reports.  So, right now I would leave you with what the High Commissioner says and what other experts have said.  If I have something from the Secretariat, I will share it with you.  Walter, I know you… I have some more information for you, which is that the Secretary‑General congratulates the Austrian government led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.  As Austria is a long‑standing partner of the United Nations, the Secretary‑General trusts that the new government will continue to strengthen the bonds of international cooperation, uphold shared ideals, and play a leading role in the promotion of peace and security and to promote human rights, foster greater equality and minority rights.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Yemen, [inaudible] months ago [inaudible] investigate, quote, mishaps, tragedies that their air force had inflicted and that these would be publicized.  Has the UN ever seen any of these or…

Spokesman:  I will check if we've gotten any updates.

Correspondent:  And the SG gave a very nice comment on his reform on Friday night.

Spokesman:  Alright, I will leave you with Brenden for a brief briefing, and then we will go get our guests.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.