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

5 January 2018

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.

**Yemen

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said today that, although there has been progress in the past month in opening Yemen’s critical Red Sea ports to commercial fuel and food shipments, as well as the resumption of humanitarian shipments and flights, he remains deeply concerned by the deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

Accordingly, he has approved today the largest-ever allocation by the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) — $50 million — to rapidly bolster the response.

At the same time, he said, there must be reduction both in fighting on the ground and airstrikes, which have greatly intensified in recent weeks.  Second, we need all ports to remain open without interruption.  And third, we need faster and more generous donor financing.

Mr. Lowcock stressed that the Yemeni people need an end to the conflict so that they can begin to rebuild their lives.  For this to happen, the parties to the conflict must cease hostilities and engage meaningfully with the UN to achieve a lasting political settlement.

**Syria

We continue to receive disturbing reports of ongoing fighting and airstrikes affecting the civilian population in north-west Syria.

On 3 January, airstrikes reportedly struck Tal Al-Tuqan village in Idleb’s southern countryside, killing five people.  Also on Wednesday, airstrikes reportedly killed five people in Ma’arrat An Nu’man town, and rendered the Maternity and Pediatric Hospital out of service.  This was the third time in less than a week that the hospital had been damaged by an airstrike.

Such actions cause unnecessary suffering to civilians already living in dire humanitarian need.  We would like to remind all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, as required by international humanitarian law and human rights law.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today they are registering and helping thousands of new arrivals in Chad, mostly women and children fleeing a recent flare-up in violence in the north-west of the Central African Republic.

More than 5,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in southern Chad since late December, escaping clashes between armed groups in the town of Paoua.  The town also has an additional 20,000 people displaced internally.

The influx is the largest movement of refugees from the Central African Republic, exceeding the total number for 2017, when about 2,000 people fled into Chad.  Many are reporting widespread human rights abuses committed by members of armed groups in villages along the CAR-Chad border.  There are more details on UNHCR’s website.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

From Geneva, the Human Rights Office says it is deeply alarmed at the actions of the security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during the recent protests in Kinshasa and a number of other cities.

Human rights colleagues on the ground were denied access to morgues, hospitals and detention centres, and so were unable to fully conduct their human rights monitoring work.

They call on the authorities to ensure that the security forces do not resort to excessive force when policing demonstrations, and that protests are handled in line with international standards.

The Government should ensure that everyone, including political opponents, journalists and civil society representatives, is able to fully exercise their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, opinion, and expression.  There should also be credible and independent investigations into alleged use of excessive force, and those responsible for human rights violations should be brought to justice.

**Egypt

Our colleagues from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also said today they are deeply shocked that 20 people are reported to have been executed in Egypt since last week.  The Office calls on the Egyptian authorities to reconsider the use of death penalty cases in accordance with their international human rights obligations and to take all necessary measures to ensure that violations of due process and fair trial are not repeated.  More details online.

**Bangladesh

A new study from our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) shows that although more than 90 percent of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have received emergency food assistance, a major concern is limited access to a well-diversified and balanced diet.

The Rohingya Emergency Vulnerability Assessment (REVA) was carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP) and Food Security Sector partners in November and December 2017.  WFP will scale up its e-voucher programmes in 2018 to reach new arrivals in Cox’s Bazar.

Currently, some 90,000 people are enrolled in WFP’s e-voucher programmes, under which they receive a monthly amount on a pre-paid debit card which can be used in allocated shops to buy 19 different foods, including rice, lentils, fresh vegetables, chilis, eggs and dry fish.  WFP is providing food and food vouchers to more than 700,000 refugees.

**Afghanistan

Today, UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, condemned the terror attack on a Shiite cultural centre in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on 28 December that claimed at least 40 lives, and left more than 80 civilians injured.  Ms. Azoulay stressed that freedom of expression and journalists’ essential role in upholding it must be protected from terror.

**Questions and Answers

That's all I have.  Are there any questions?  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Kofi Annan's advisory commission on Rakhine State specifically advised the Myanmar Government that policies based on legal restriction are counterproductive.  They undermine the trust in Government and give the impression that Myanmar's authorities have something to hide.  Would the Secretary-General agree that the arrest of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar directly conflicts with those recommendations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I already commented yesterday about the condition of the Reuters journalists.  As you know, we want to make sure that all journalists are free to go about their work and we have been following up on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  Sorry just… could you… could you update on anything that is being done on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think it's helpful at this stage to provide too much in the way of specifics, but certainly, we do want the authorities to release the journalists.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, got some other things, but I actually have a different kind of press freedom question.  I wanted to ask you.  In [the United Republic of] Tanzania, the Government has fined a number of TV stations for simply reporting on a report by the legal Human Rights Centre about irregularities in an election and human rights abuses, and I'm wondering.  I know it's one of the countries where the UN has a, you know, a country team, et cetera.  Is the UN aware of that?  Do they have any comment on the open fining of stations simply for… for reporting on human rights issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything in particular on this, but we'll ask with our country team about that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi? I'm sorry.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you.  First, will there be any other statement regarding the execution of 20 Egyptians by any other UN agency, other than the Human Rights Commission?  And the second question, regarding the little Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, who was dragged from her home and she was arrested.  She's 16 years old.  Has been any statement regarding Ahed Tamimi or any other statement by [Nickolay] Mladenov or any other UN agency?

Deputy Spokesman:  On your first question, I'll obviously… in addition to what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said, we would reiterate the Secretary-General's point that he rejects the application of the death penalty in all circumstances.  Regarding your other question, no.  We haven't made any comment on this.  Obviously, we're concerned about any legal procedures that involve children and we want to make sure that the rights of children and due process are respected to the utmost.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  I know that Secretary-General gave a statement a couple of days ago in regard of the Iran uprising, but since then, the reports more than 1,000 people have been arrested.  Is he in contact with the Iranians in regard of the prisoners?

Deputy Spokesman:  I know that we've been in touch with the Iranians.  Most recently, the Chef de Cabinet was in contact over the past couple of days with the Permanent Representative here.  Beyond that, I do believe that if the Security Council has a meeting later today concerning the situations in Iran, that the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, will… stands ready to brief the Security Council about the recent developments there.

Question:  Can you share any of those contacts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I just mentioned one.  And then beyond that, if Mr. Zerihoun has any further details, if there's an open meeting we can share what he says at that point.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Regarding Syria, does the UN have any way of identifying the parties that shell or target in any way the civilian and health facilities in the country? And if yes, can you give us a breakdown of who shells what?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have the presence on the ground that we can provide any authoritative confirmation.  As I pointed out just now, some of the damage is done by airstrikes, and as you're aware, there’s only a small number of parties who are capable of mounting airstrikes, but at the same time, like I said, we don't have the sort of first-hand presence to identify definitively who's responsible.  Yes.  You, and then Abdelhamid again.

Question:  Sure.  I guess you just said the… the chief of staff, the Chef de Cabinet had met with the Iranian Permanent Representative.  I wanted to… I wanted to know… it seems that yesterday afternoon, Russian Ambassador [Vasily] Nebenzya went up to 38 and just… just for the purposes of transparency of… of… of that floor, did he meet with the Chef de Cabinet or with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, if we're able to specify different meetings with different people, we can, but as you know, we don't have a list of every meeting with every single official who's on the 38th floor.

Question:  Right, but I've… I've noticed that the Secretary-General's public schedule for the last three days has said "all appointments internal".

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and they have been internal.  As I think I pointed out to you, at the start of the year, what he's doing is meeting with different groups of senior UN officials and dealing with the issues that we're going to face in the coming months.

Question:  So since you have disclosed the meeting of the Iranian Permanent Representative with the Chef de Cabinet, did they seek to meet with the Secretary-General, or did they only seek to meet the Chef de Cabinet?  And this is I guess a request.  Could the Chef de Cabinet have a schedule, if she's the one actually doing the diplomatic meetings?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  We put out, as you know, for the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General their list of public events, and that's what we'll continue to do.  If there are certain exceptional circumstances where we can provide additional information, like what I just did, then we'll do that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Can you confirm that Jeffrey Feltman will brief the meeting of the Security Council at 3?  And…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, no.  As I just pointed out to your colleague Sia Pak, this is going to be a briefing by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun. 

Question:  And how about if you can confirm there is another meeting… closed meeting at 2:30 called by the Russian Federation?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can confirm is that right now, it's scheduled that at 2:30, there will be consultations concerning the Middle East, to be followed on the schedule by, at 3 p.m., by a formal meeting on the same topic.  Did you have your hand up?  No.  Okay.  Adjusting glasses sometimes looks like you raising your hand.  Yes?

Question:  Sure I wanted to ask you.  The… the… the Foreign Minister of South Sudan has publicly complained that UNISFA, the UN mission in Abyei, didn't allow him on a flight with a… with the deceased South Sudanese Ambassador, Kuol Alor Kuol, who used to be the… the Ambassador of South Sudan to the UN in Geneva, to be buried in Abyei.  And so he found… or at least the Government of South Sudan found it strange.  And I wanted to know what is the UN's reasoning for denying a Foreign Minister, you know… he was going to be on the flight to bury this Ambassador in Abyei?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware that there was any such denial, but I'll check with [UNISFA].

Question:  Question on Haiti.  There's a… an appeal has been filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals of one of the remaining cases about the UN introducing cholera into Haiti, and their argument is that, in various UN resolutions, the use of the word "liability" has… the UN has acknowledged liability of peacekeeping forces, and so they are saying "liability" means actually paying money, actually having a legal obligation to pay, rather than a voluntary trust fund that may or may not.  So I wanted to know.  Number one, is there a response to that argument?  And number two, can you provide, even as to the voluntary trust fund, can you provide some update on… on how much is in it, and when Ms. [Josette] Sheeran will have a press conference, given that she did visit… it was said initially that she would have one after she visited Haiti, and I believe that she did, and we're now in 2018.

Deputy Spokesman:  We're in touch with her office to see when she'd be available to do that.  Regarding the contributions of funds, you can look at the website easily, and that's got the information, but there's nothing new to say about where we stand legally on the position of Haiti.  We've articulated that before.

Question:  So… so António Guterres's position is… is absolutely the same, that there is no binding liability of any kind?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, you've heard what the Secretary-General has had to say on this and I will leave it at that.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.