9 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Before you ask, I do expect a statement on Korea, hopefully before the end of this briefing.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

He said that despite significant progress in the preparation for elections, the implementation of the 31 December 2016 political agreement remains only partial.  Political brinkmanship and a refusal to compromise will only result in further delays and deepening of the political crisis, he warned, not only fuelling political tensions but also compounding an already fragile security situation.

Mr.  Lacroix stressed that in recent months, armed groups in eastern DRC have launched repeated attacks on positions of the Congolese Army, with a severe impact on the civilian population.

He also briefed the Council on his recent visit to Semuliki, where an attack by suspected members of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers of the UN's Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC.

He also detailed ongoing efforts to increase the mobility and flexibility of the Force and the Mission's police and civilian components.  Specifically, preparations are under way for the deployment of a third Rapidly Deployable Battalion (RDB), which will operate next month, he said.  His full remarks are available.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that about 83,000 people have been impacted by Tropical Cyclone Ava, with some 29 dead and 22 missing.  The cyclone damaged 17 health centres and affected 141 schools.  It also cut off road access to some south-eastern and south-western parts of the country. 

Humanitarian partners are supporting the Government in the provision of sanitation, water and medical supplies, as well as camp management.  OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is assisting in coordination and data collection.

I also want to flag that the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], is currently in Madagascar, where he is meeting with plague survivors and affected families, Government officials and representatives of UN agencies and other partners.  As you know, a recent nationwide outbreak of pneumonic and bubonic plague caused more than 200 deaths over four months in Madagascar.


Our humanitarian colleagues in Syria report that, while fighting and clashes in eastern Ghouta have increased substantially since November, there has been a further escalation in airstrikes and ground-based strikes since 31 December.  Reports received from the ground indicate a rise in airstrikes across a number of towns in the besieged enclave, including Harasta, Arbeen, Modira, Mesraba, Hamourya, and Duma.  Ground-based strikes were also increasingly reported across Eastern Ghouta.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees in Lebanon are more vulnerable than ever, with more than half now living in extreme poverty and over three quarters living below the poverty line — that is according to a new survey by the UN refugee agency [UNHCR], UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the World Food Programme [WFP].  The annual Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees reveals that 58 per cent of households are now living in extreme poverty — on less than $2.87 a day — per person per day.  This is some 5 per cent more than a year ago.  And 76 per cent of refugee households are now living below the overall poverty line, which is less than $3.84 per day.


Also from UNHCR, they tell us they are appealing to the Government of Israel to halt its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa.  This is after some 80 cases were identified in which people relocated by Israel risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys to Europe via Libya.


In response to a question asked yesterday, I can say that we condemn the armed attack in the Casamance region of Senegal that took place on 6 January.  We convey our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Senegal.  We welcome President Macky Sall's call for lasting peace in Casamance, and take note of the Government's ongoing investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.  We also welcome the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance’s appeal for a peaceful solution in the area.

**Western Sahara

Regarding Western Sahara, I was asked about a letter yesterday and I can confirm that the Secretary-General did indeed send a letter to the Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario, Ibrahim Ghali, in which he stressed it was crucial to ensure that tensions do not erupt anew in the Guerguerat area.

No action should be taken that may constitute a change to the status quo of the Buffer Strip, the Secretary-General insisted, reiterating his strong commitment to relaunch the political process and urging both parties to continue to support the efforts of his Personal Envoy, Horst Kohler.

**United Nations Truce Supervision Organization

And I was also asked a question about the budget and I stand somewhat corrected:  the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) is indeed a peacekeeping mission, but it is not paid out of the peacekeeping budget.  It is paid out of the regular budget, since its creation predates the creation of a peacekeeping budget.

**Questions and Answers

James Bays?

Question:  New year, old question.  As we get closer to the planned Sochi gathering on Syria, what is the UN's position?  Will the UN be attending?  And does the UN believe this is a useful meeting?

Spokesman:  I don't have any information on attendance.  I think what we strongly feel is that all the… all efforts that are done outside of the Geneva process should be done… should be seen in support of the Geneva process.

Question:  And do you believe this is in support of the Geneva process?

Spokesman:  I will use the same words I just used two seconds ago.

Question:  Because your Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, seems to believe that it is beneficial…

Spokesman:  I think I…

Question:  I'm told by a source he was involved in a phone call to try and get the support of the Saudi Foreign Minister, a joint phone call that he staged with the Foreign Minister of Russia.  So, he clearly is…

Spokesman:  No, no, I don't… you know, and I think there is no… the Secretary‑General and the Special Envoy are completely on the same wavelength.  We want to see all of these meetings to be supportive of the Geneva process.  Madame and then sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  It's just been announced that President [Donald] Trump is going to Davos.  Is the Secretary‑General going to be going to Davos?

Spokesman:  It is not unlikely.  We expect an official announcement in the next few days.  Yep, and then… sorry.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Hi.  Yesterday, one of the protesters in Iran passed away while he was under arrest in the prison.  How's the conversation between the UN and Iranian Government going on since the…

Spokesman:  Well, I think the… you know, the Secretary‑General, I think, in his… in the statement that was released and what Farhan [Haq] said, made his position clear on the right of people to protest freely, and it's important that people be afforded the right protections and be treated fairly.  I'm not familiar with the specific case that you mention, but I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General's already said.

Question:  But after the Secretary‑General announced that he's denouncing all these activities, was there any more connection, or is it hush‑hush?

Spokesman:  We're obviously, both from here and from Tehran, following the situation very closely.

Question:  Yes.  The NGO Monitor has just issued a report claiming that UNICEF is teaming with various NGOs [non-governmental organizations], at least one of which has some alleged terrorist connections, to place Israel's defence force on the kind of blacklist of… for grave violations against Children and Conflict.  Do you have any comment on that report?

Spokesman:  I think UNICEF… I would ask you to refer that question to UNICEF, but I think they've made their position clear.  I think they've denied the report.  They work with NGOs, both Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, which are fully vetted.  The listing process is a consultative process, which the Secretary… you know, which goes through the Office of the Secretary‑General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  And I think, as you will have seen from the Secretary‑General's last report, it is entirely fact‑based.

Question:  Have… have they placed that denial in the public record?  Because I looked at the website, and I didn't see it…

Spokesman:  You should contact them, but I know they've been speaking to the press.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, and the first one is about North Korea.  We know we're waiting… what is the sense of the United Nations in terms of the… the talks to sit down after two years, at least, of facing face to face on the border and the agreement of sending a delegation to the Olympics, a very important event in the area.  And the second one is, what is the United Nations position of the ceasefire announced by the ELN [National Liberation Army] that it will start in Colombia tonight and especially if you see the United Nations getting more involved on that process that they had done… their process that the Security Council to get involved in the first part with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and now the ELN is the next group that might be… they are already started the talks, if you have any comment on that.

Spokesman:  Sure.  On the Korean talks, as I said, we do expect a more official statement, but, obviously, I think we… it's safe to say that we welcome the progress that has been made.  And I think there have been other efforts that have contributed to reducing the tensions.  But, as I said, I do expect something a little bit more.  [He later issued the following statement:  The Secretary-General welcomes the progress made during the high-level inter-Korean talks on 9 January, particularly the agreement to work to ease military tensions, hold military-to-military talks, and reopen the inter-Korean military hotline.  The re-establishment and strengthening of such channels is critical to lowering the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding and to reduce tensions in the region.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the decision of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to send a delegation to the Olympic Winter Games.  As the United Nations General Assembly has recognized, the holding of the Olympic Games can foster an atmosphere of peace, tolerance and understanding among nations.  This is particularly relevant on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.   The Secretary-General seizes this opportunity to acknowledge other efforts that have contributed to reducing tensions.  He hopes such engagement and efforts will contribute to the resumption of sincere dialogue leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.]  On Colombia, I will get back to you.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank… thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, this is a question about year old which I've been asking again and again and a follow‑up on this children and armed conflict.  How many Palestinian children in Israeli jails?  The last figure that was given to us was as far back as last year, exactly in January.

Spokesman:  As I said, I don't have… Masood, I don't have any update on that question.

Question:  When is it that you can get that figure? It's been a long time.

Spokesman:  When I have an update, I will be the first one to share it with you.  Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About Iraq, last week, Secretary‑General sent a letter to the Kurdish Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, for… to… according to the Prime Minister's website, to urge Iraqis, Baghdad and Erbil, to engage in dialogue.  This is not the first call from the Secretary‑General or his envoy.  [inaudible] Security Council to urge Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional government to engage in dialogue, but Baghdad still refused to engage in dialogue.  Any… do you expect any new effort by the envoy or Secretary‑General…

Spokesman:  This is a constant effort.  There is a constant effort on that front by the Secretary‑General's Special Representative and by our team in Iraq.

Question:  Another development in Iraq.  So, according to UNHCR, there are forced… IDPs [internally displaced people] on the refugees inside Iraq are being forced from especially the provinces of Anbar and other in Iraq, thousands of them to return to their areas.  This has been condemned by Prime Minister's office and the United Nations [Assistance Mission in Iraq], UNAMI.  This is a very general concern.  Can you tell me any… what's the Secretary‑General's position on this?

Spokesman:  Well, we obviously share the concerns expressed by UNAMI and UNHCR, that no one should be forced to return.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  It's been reported, obviously, that North Korea will be attending the Olympics.  I was wondering, has the Secretary‑General been invited and if he would consider attending. 

Spokesman:  Yes, he would consider… again, we would hope to have an announcement soon-ish on that as well.  Okay.  Thank you.  Why not?  Let's go.

Question:  Since… it's the last one.

Spokesman:  It's never the last one.

Question:  Since Secretary‑General [António] Guterres is about cutting cost and be efficient, this is story we've been following it for quite some times.  Lot of New Yorkers goes to bed hungry, and lot of food here at United Nations thrown out every day.  I was wondering why nobody connect these two together.

Spokesman:  Well, we can check with our… I mean, the issue of food waste… global food waste is one we have often highlighted from here.  We can check with our catering company to see…

Question:  I… I have, but the problem with UN is they're scared of getting sued.

Spokesman:  No, I… what I'm saying to you is that the food services here is not provided directly by the United Nations but through an outside company, and we will check with them.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.