25 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.


As the Secretary-General told you last week, he is leaving New York tonight for Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where he is scheduled to attend the African Union summit. 

On Saturday, he will meet with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and hold a number of other bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government.  He will also participate in a high-level event entitled “Renewed Partnership to end hunger in Africa by 2025 — Five years later”, and he will deliver remarks at the meeting of the Peace and Security Council.

On Sunday morning, he will hold more bilateral meetings before attending the Opening Ceremony of the thirtieth Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, where he will deliver a statement.  He is also scheduled to hold a press conference at the African Union Headquarters on Sunday afternoon before making his way back to the city of New York and he will be back in the office on Tuesday — landing back in New York on Monday.

Also in Addis Ababa will be the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Achim Steiner.  They will be in Addis from 27 to 29 January to highlight the immense challenge of persistent food insecurity and the new approach to addressing it.

While Ethiopia has made remarkable strides in development and addressing food insecurity over the past three decades, its susceptibility to drought has resulted in recurring food insecurity. 

Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Steiner will meet with senior Government officials, humanitarian and development partners, travel to field locations to meet with people who have been affected by drought and assess programmes that link the humanitarian response with resilience and recovery.


You will have seen that the two-day Special Meeting on Syria got off — started off — at the UN headquarters in Vienna earlier today.  Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, met separately with each delegation today.  As a reminder, this is part of the Geneva process while being held in Vienna, due to logistical reasons.

When he invited the Syrian Government and Syrian Negotiation Commission last week, Mr. de Mistura said that he expected that delegations would come to Vienna prepared for substantive engagement with him and his team, with a specific focus on the constitutional basket of the agenda towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254.

Yesterday, Mr. de Mistura met Austria's Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, and Foreign Minister, Karin Kneissl, and afterwards he told reporters that the Special Meeting in Vienna was taking place at a very critical moment.

**Middle East

Back here, next door, there is an ongoing meeting at the Security Council, which is the periodic briefing from the Secretariat on the situation in the Middle East.

Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, just told the Security Council via VTC that this year will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Oslo Accords.  He said that, while its daring vision for peace remains to be fulfilled, now is not the time to give up.  He warned that the alternative is not a better deal, but a worsening reality of occupation and humiliation.

Mr. Mladenov said that while the current negative environment and dynamics may have been exacerbated by rhetoric and recent events, they are not new.  The lack of political will to take meaningful action to restore confidence and resume negotiations, and the [propensity] to take unilateral decisions have been there for years.  Our choice is clear, he said:  We either take urgent concrete steps to reverse this perilous course or risk another conflict and humanitarian disaster.

The Special Coordinator expressed his deep concern over funding of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] this year, saying that the US pledge of $60 million represents a significant reduction of its traditional contribution.  That, he said, will also increase the anxieties for the community of 5.3 million Palestine refugees who have already suffered the longest protracted refugee crisis.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan:  yesterday, the Council met on South Sudan.  The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, was joined by the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller.  They briefed Council members on the situation in the country.  Their statements are available online.


Today, from Libya, the Humanitarian Coordinator for that country, Maria Ribeiro, launched the 2018 Libya Humanitarian Response Plan to support the humanitarian needs of 940,000 people living in the country.  The Plan seeks $313 million in donor funding to implement 71 projects by 21 humanitarian organizations, including national and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and UN agencies.

These projects aim to extend protection to civilians, to ensure access to basic services for internally displaced people, returnees, and the most vulnerable Libyans, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.  The funds will also help to strengthen families’ capacity to cope with the continued pressures of a life of instability, fragmentation and economic decline.

And also on Libya, you will have seen the statement we issued yesterday in which the Secretary-General condemned the double bombing in the Al-Salmani in Benghazi and deplored the loss of civilian life, including children.  The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wished the injured swift recovery.  He also was alarmed by reports of summary executions being carried out in Benghazi in retaliation for the attack.

**Name Issue

Just to note that at the invitation of the Governments of the Hellenic Republic and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, will travel to Athens and Skopje from 29 January to 1 February 2018.  The visit is part of UN efforts to assist the sides in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue.

**Global Compact

After checking with the Global Compact — I think you, Matthew, had asked me once or twice — about the status of the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), we can inform you that the Global Compact has decided to suspend CEFC’s participation in the Global Compact, with immediate effect.

**Press Briefings

As a reminder, I will be joined by Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia and Head of the Mission (UNMIL).  He will join us up on that screen.

Tomorrow I will be joined, my guest will be [Jayathma Wickramanayake] the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.  She will be here to brief you ahead of the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Youth Forum.  I think that will be her first briefing here since being appointed.

**Honour Roll

And we want to thank you to our friends in Iceland and Kyrgyzstan.  Since I speak neither Icelandic or Kyrgyz, I will just say thank you.  They have paid their regular budget dues in full, which brings us up to?

Correspondent:  Twenty-one?

Spokesman:  Did somebody say 18?

Correspondent:  Fifteen?

Spokesman:  Okay.  Then I'll take a…

Correspondent:  Eighteen.

Spokesman:  I can see how you got through high school on your exams.  All right.  But I will reward your chutzpah with a question… with an answer if you have a question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, please.  Thanks, Steph.  You may have seen yesterday that Governor Bill Richardson resigned from the Advisory Panel on Myanmar.  Does the UN have a response to this?  And how concerned is the Secretary‑General by his account of Aung San Suu Kyi's anger at some of… at him raising the issue of the tain… detained Reuters reporters?

Spokesman:  Couple of things.  We take note of the decision of Bill Richardson, and we take note of his statement and his reasoning for resigning, his stated reason for resigning.  I'm not going to get into the details of his conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi.  On the issue of the Reuters journalists and on the broader issue of freedom of the press, the UN promotes press freedom and independence of media, and the Secretary‑General has clearly said where we stand on the arrest of those two journalists, and I know our country team is also following the situation rather closely.  On the question of the Advisory Board, we've also seen the press release that was issued by the Advisory Board shortly after Mr. Richardson's departure.  That highlights the expectations to undertake the constructive and positive work to help bring peace, reconciliation and economic progress for all communities in Rakhine State.  The Rakhine State Advisory Commission's recommendations are essential to addressing the security, human rights, developments, and humanitarian crises going on in Rakhine State.  And we will continue to urge the Government to implement them in line with international principles.  The United Nations remains prepared to provide necessary assistance towards finding a long‑term solution to the crisis in the interests of all communities in Rakhine State.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Mr. Mladenov had said in his remarks that… he called for, quote, returning the strip, the Gaza Strip, to the full control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, closed quote.  Can you comment on whether returning full control would include dispos… disposing or transferring all the weaponry and military hardware, rockets, et cetera, in the hands of Hamas to either to the Palestinian Authority or… or actually disarming the militias?

Spokesman:  I think what full control means is exactly that, full control of administrative and security and, as the authority in place to have control over the security apparatus and all of the equipment that comes with that.

Question:  Well, security could… could be defined narrowly or broadly.  It could be defined as the police, that sort of thing…

Spokesman:  Well, I think there is a sole…  As in any…

Question:  Is it all military… let me ask, is it all… would it include all military weaponry, including rockets, being transferred from Hamas control to the Palestinian Authority control?

Spokesman:  What would be important… what I mean by full control is that the Palestinian Authority have the sole authority in terms of exercising security and related issues.  So, Abdelhamid, then Matthew, sorry, then George.

Question:  Thank you.  I have a number of questions.  In his briefing, Mr.  Mladenov failed to mention that the incursions in Jenin when Israeli killed a young Palestinian of 22 years old that they recognize he was the wrong person.  So, that detail was not mentioned, that even the Israelis recognize that they killed the wrong person, according to their own classification of who's right and who's wrong to kill.  But they said it's wrong.  It was the wrong person.  I expected Mr. Mladenov to mention that important piece of information.

Spokesman:  The question being?

Question:  Addressed to him.  I wish that this message can reach him.  My second question is about the Rohingya.  If the resignation of Mr. Richardson would add some more weight on the… or more even obligation on the Secretary‑General to appoint a Special Envoy on Myanmar, taking into account that the Government of Myanmar tried to curtail or to turn around the UN and appoint its own panel of advisers outside the UN premises, and it is now somehow falling apart.

Spokesman:  I will answer your question on Myanmar, but I would appreciate for the briefing purposes that we stick to questions, and I'm not here to pass on messages to others.  The Secretary‑General is fully aware of the mandate given to him by the General Assembly to appoint a new represent… an envoy, and that is being looked at, and that will be done in due time.  The Advisory Board is not a UN entity.  It was created in the aftermath of the [Kofi] Annan Commission, which came up with a set of recommendations.  Our stated position is that the commission's conclusions and recommendations need to be implemented, and the UN, whether it's the Secretary‑General directly or the UN system, remains available to provide the necessary assistance, and we support the implementation of those things.  So, it's not… I don't think it's an either/or process.  The Advisory Board was created as a result of the commission.  We support their work, and we support the implementation of those conclusions. 

Question:  My other question about Libya.  The statement issued by UNS… UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Libya], it says, we call on the UN to arrest Mahmoud Werfalli… Werfalli was accused of committing war crimes.  I mean, how can the UN ask the UN?  They did not address the question to the…

Spokesman:  I'll take a… I may have read the statement too quickly.  Let me read it again and I'll come back to you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot for the… the… I guess the answer on the suspension of CEFC, China Energy.  I wanted to ask you about another suspension in a… on a different topic.  The… the World Food Programme's (WFP) country director in Afghanistan, Mick Lorentzen, has… has… WFP has said has been suspended for… while an investigation of sexual harassment is under way.  And given that Mr.  Lorentzen, not long ago, actually, served in the UN Secretariat's Department of Safety and Security (DSS), some are now wondering, is there going to be some kind of review of whether he ruled on, in that capacity, complaints involving abuse or harassment?  And a related question is in the same… Luiz Loures — I'm asking this because these are viewed as UN system allegations — at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] is under investigation, has not been suspended.  Given that Jan Beagle was, at the same time, now here at Department of Management and writing to The Guardian, saying that, you know, the issue's being taken seriously, I'm not asking you to pass a message to you, but I'm asking you a question… her.  I'm asking a question whether she was aware in her time there and if she has any… given how close she was to this individual serving alongside as deputy, you know, UNAIDS directors, if she has any particular comment on it.

Spokesman:  No, her comment would be that any accusations of harassment need to be investigated and investigated fully and that the victims need to be heard.  UNAIDS is… from what I understand, is going through a process.  They go through their own investigative process.  They are administered… or they come under the rules of the World Health Organization (WHO), which is, as you know, a specialized agency.  That process is playing itself out.  What is clear is that we want to see every one of these cases thoroughly investigated.  We've seen the WFP… we've seen the WFP statement that they've put out, and as I said, anyone who feels they have been harassed or been the victim of abuse of power has at their disposal a number of internal tools through which they can go through.  We are going to push out very soon an internal communications campaign to ensure that staff are fully aware of their rights, the avenues they have through which to lodge complaints.  Again, it's about changing the culture, ensuring that people feel that they will be protected if they come forward, if they have to report specific cases of abuse, of harassment.  You know, different UN agencies have different rules.  As you know, specialized agencies, funds and… you know, it's a complicated system of rules.  The Secretary‑General has tasked a group within the Chief Executives Board (CEB) to look across the board how these things are dealt with to see how we can harmonize the rules and ensure… again, the end result is to ensure a workplace that is free from harassment, free from this kind of behaviour and that… you know, you get to that by ensuring that the rules are followed, that people know how to complain, but also by increasing the gender parity and increasing the number of women in leadership roles, which the Secretary‑General is in full swing in terms of putting into effect. 

Question:  Thanks.  I… I… I wanted to ask you one thing about external communication in this.  The… the… The Guardian appropriately credits this publication called Italian Insider for being first to report Mick Lorentzen's… the allegation and the suspension.  The reason I'm asking you this is that, as I've asked you previously, the head of FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] has brought about criminal complaints against that… that media organization, which reports in great detail on FAO and WFP.  And so I'm wondering… you said generally that the Secretary‑General doesn't think that's a good idea but… and I tried to figure out whether he's going to use the CEB.  Given that… that this is now a… a… a media outlet that was the first to report on a… on a topic that the UN is saying is so serious, is it a good idea that another part of the UN system is actually trying to shut them down and criminalize…

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what I've already said on that.  George?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You mentioned connection with Mr. Mladenov's report, and I haven't… I haven't read it in full yet.  The words "occupation" and "humiliation", are… are those words from the actual report? And, if so, I can…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I would encourage you to look at report.  The report says that basically… I mean, it was a public statement that he made, that the lack of progress on the peace process increases the suffering on both sides, increases the insecurity, and that we need… the international community as a whole has a responsibility to encourage the parties to get back to talking.

Question:  Okay.  Is there a significance to the fact that he does not mention the countervailing repeated terror… acts of terrorism committed against Israel…

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to read the report in full, because I think he talks very… in detail about security issues as well and acts of terrorism.

Question:  Okay.  Hold on.  I have another question.  You mentioned the scheduled con… press conference, the Secretary‑General, Sunday evening from Addis.  May I assume that's something of which we will receive a full transcript in the normal course of events?

Spokesman:  If my fingers will do the typing fast enough, we will ensure that you get a transcript as quickly as possible.  And, also, we're… just so you're aware, we're trying to schedule a stakeout by the Secretary‑General at some point next week to give you… he's… for him to talk about a few things and take some questions.  Mr. Ben?

Question:  Do you have an update on where things stand between the Israeli Government and yourselves over the UNTSO [United Nations Truce Supervision Organization] headquarters and the reports of illegal building there?

Spokesman:  No.  No change that I'm able to report to you, sir.

Question:  What about accusations that you're hiding behind diplomatic immunity to find a solution…?

Spokesman:  I think those are… would be wrong accusations.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I'm going to ask you about Kiswahili and then Cameroon.

Spokesman:  I love Kiswahili.

Question:  Kiswahili, there was, as you may… in the… in the 2 a.m.  Christmas Eve budget resolution, there was a paragraph that said that… that… that… remained in.  There was some contention about it, and I think the Secretariat tried to have it removed, but Member States wanted it in.  And it said, request the Secretary‑General to ensure the two posts from Kiswahili radio unit and two posts from the Portuguese radio unit are deployed for the purposes originally approved.  And having reported at the time, the Member States were concerned that… that these resources had been shifted to non‑Kiswahili or Portuguese social media.  And I learned… I learned from… from whistleblowers, those affected, who believe they can now speak to the press freely, as you've said from this podium, that, in fact, the posts have not been returned and that the approach of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who I've also written to before you say that, has not… sorry.  Have not…

Spokesman:  I always find it easier when you guys do the work for me.

Question:  Sure.  They've been very dismissive of… of this General Assembly resolution.  And, in fact, I've heard that the Facebook page of… of the Kiswahili — they get very specific about it — has declined in… in… in followers from 2… 255,000 to 90,000.  So, the feeling is that this is a disrespect for a… a… the language of a region that the Secretary‑General is about to visit.  And I wonder if you can get an answer of whether this has been complied with and why people from that unit are being let go 1 February.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I can't speak to a specific case of people being let go.  I don't know if that's true or not true.  I'm not going to start talking about people's employment without knowing more.  What I do know is that we have full respect for the General Assembly resolution, for the budget that was passed.  And, of course, it is the responsibility of the Secretariat to implement those resolutions.  So, that's not a… that's just a statement of fact.  The work that the Kiswahili unit does, that other language units does, whether it's Portuguese or any of the six languages, is extremely important in our efforts to do… to communicate in as many languages as possible.  Whether it's communicating through radio, through web, through social media, that is a very important… it goes at the heart of how we try to work and how we try to communicate.  And we have to be able to communicate in not only different languages but through many different media, whether so‑called traditional or so‑called new media.  And the Department of Public Information will continue to do that with, of course, the respect of the… that they have to follow in terms of the General Assembly resolutions.

Question:  I guess my… I mean, the… that's a direct quote from the resolution.  It says, ensure that they are put… done as originally approved.  So, clearly there was a feeling that it wasn't taking place.  Since then… What's the status?  I guess I…

Spokesman:  I feel I've answered the question.  I feel I've answered that question.  Okay.  Thank you.

Question:  Cameroon?

Spokesman:  Cameroon, yes, of course.

Question:  Thanks.  I appreciate it.  There's… there's… the UN — I think you actually read some of this out — of… of… has been coming out with statistics of people that have fled Cameroon and Nigeria because of…

Spokesman:  Yeah, UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] has.

Question:  …because of the crackdown.  Now local groups… aid groups in Nigeria said that, in fact, the number is three times what the UN's reported.  It's 43,000, not what the UN reported.  And they're saying that the UN is incorrectly only counting those who come through, like, on roads or on buses…

Spokesman:  I mean, I… we'll check with our UNHCR colleagues.  They can obviously only count where they are, and I think they try to be as many places as possible, but we'll go back to UNHCR…

Question:  What is the UN actually doing to try to… I'm wondering, like, Mr. {Francois Lounceny} Fall, has he gone… has he spoken to Paul Biya?  Has anyone done anything on the underlying conflict?

Spokesman:  Our contacts are continuing, and our efforts are continuing.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.