13 February 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.


The Secretary-General arrived in Kuwait a short while ago, where, tomorrow morning, he will speak at the opening session of the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq.  He has had a few bilateral meetings already today in Kuwait, including with Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State.  We will be issuing his remarks tomorrow once they are delivered.


Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York today for Stockholm, Sweden, to give a speech at the inauguration of “The First Agenda 2030 for Children:  End Violence Solutions Summit”, a high-level conference, which is convened by the Government of Sweden.  Tomorrow and Thursday, Ms. [Amina] Mohammed will attend an informal high-level meeting on the Funding Compact, as part of the consultations on the review of the UN development system.  The Deputy Secretary‑General will also have bilateral meetings with senior Swedish and foreign Government officials during her visit.  She will be back in New York on Thursday.


Back here in the Security Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, briefed the Council on the situation in Myanmar.  He said that, although large-scale acts of violence have subsided, concerns about threats and intimidation against the remaining Rohingya population persist, and humanitarian access in affected areas of Rakhine State continues to be severely curtailed.  Mr. Jenča also reiterated the importance of a voluntary, safe, dignified, as well as sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced people to their places of origin or choice.  He stressed that overall, addressing the root causes is fundamental to ensuring a durable, genuine solution to the crisis.  We have consistently said the problem is statelessness.  This must be addressed, he said.  Mr. Jenča also expressed concern that the fighting in the Kachin and northern Shan States has escalated in recent months, casting a shadow on peace negotiations and provoking a number of serious human rights and humanitarian concerns.  Finally, he reiterated the calls by the Secretary-General for the release of the two Reuters journalists in Myanmar and urged the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and information.  His remarks were made available to you, and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, also addressed the meeting.  He noted that some 688,000 Myanmar refugees had gone to Bangladesh in the past six months.

**Name Issue

Today, Mr. Matthew Nimetz, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, met jointly with His Excellency Nikos Kotzias, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, and His Excellency Nikola Dimitrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  They met at the UN Office in Vienna.  Following a constructive meeting as part of the efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the “name” issue, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs agreed to continue their efforts under the auspices of the United Nations.


In a statement we issued late last night, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had agreed with the United Nations on the modalities to transfer, by the end of March, $930 million in support of the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.  The two, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, have been clear that the funds are to be used on the basis of humanitarian need alone, without regard for other considerations.  An additional $70 million will be provided bilaterally by the two countries to support port rehabilitation and infrastructure in Yemen.  Mr. Lowcock thanked Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and expressed his hope that this generosity will encourage more donors to contribute to the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, including ahead of the international pledging conference on Yemen to be held in Geneva on 3 April.  And he renewed the call — the UN’s call — on all parties to cease hostilities and to engage meaningfully with the United Nations to achieve a lasting political settlement.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is deeply saddened by reports of four Congolese refugees who drowned as they were seeking safety in Uganda, after their boat capsized on Lake Albert.  Last week, over 22,000 Congolese crossed Lake Albert to Uganda, bringing the total number of arrivals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the country to about 34,000 since the beginning of the year alone.


Turning to Maldives, we continue to be very concerned about the unfolding situation.  We are getting more information about the recent events, including the reported house arrest of Safaath Ahmad, a Sustainable Development Goals youth leader.  We reiterate our calls for the lifting of the state of emergency and a dialogue to solve the current crisis.


A note from our colleagues in peacekeeping:  The Triangular Partnership Project for Enabling Capabilities for Peacekeeping, which was launched by the Department of Field Support in 2015, is set to expand.  If you ask, this project brings together troop-contributing countries interested in receiving training, Member States that can contribute to the training and the UN with a common goal to strengthen UN peacekeeping through professional training and equipment.  The planned expansion is made possible by the Government of Japan’s recent decision to contribute a further $40.9 million to the Department of Field Support to conduct engineering training in Asia and the surrounding regions and medical training in Africa.  Reconnaissance visits for the expansion will begin this week to identify appropriate locations for the training.  After participating in the training, the military engineers and medical personnel are expected to deploy to peacekeeping missions, where they will fill critical gaps in current UN engineering and medical capabilities.  The Triangular Partnership Project receives financial assistance from Japan and is also supported by Switzerland, Brazil and Kenya.


The World Health Organization (WHO) presented its 2018 annual review of the Blueprint list of priority diseases today.  The Blueprint is a global strategy and preparedness plan that allows the rapid activation of research and development activities during epidemics.  Experts consider that given their potential to cause a public health emergency and the absence of efficacious drugs and/or vaccines, there is an urgent need for accelerated research and development for the following diseases:  Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever; Ebola virus and Marburg virus; Lassa fever; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; Nipah and henipaviral diseases; Rift Valley fever; Zika; and finally, disease X.  And if you are asking what disease X is, which I was asking myself:  disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.  The Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting research and development preparedness to such a possibility as Donald Rumsfeld says, it’s preparing for the unknown unknowns.  And what else do I have for you?

**World Radio Day

Today is World Radio Day.  The theme this year is “Radio and Sports” and highlights the values of fair play, teamwork and equality in sport, as well as the power of radio to combat racist and xenophobic stereotypes on and off the field.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that “in an era of dramatic advances in communications, radio retains its power to entertain, educate, inform and inspire”.  He added that this medium can also unite and empower communities and give a voice to the marginalized.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, the guest will be the Executive Director of UN-Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.  She will be here to brief on the main conclusions of the report entitled Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  I will take question X.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, in the telephone conversation, President [Donald] Trump speaking to his counterpart… Russian counterpart, said to Mr. [Vladimir] Putin that now is the time for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  In view of the fact that President [Mahmoud] Abbas opposed strongly US taking… leading the role in this issue, how does the Secretary‑General feel about this conundrum?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I don't… I wasn't listening had on the conversation, so I don't know what was said.  I think the Secretary‑General's remarks on the… what I was saying, the Secretary‑General's remarks on this issue have been clear, that there is no more time to waste in order to find a peaceful solution and to… which will lead us to creating… lead us to the two‑State solution.  This was his message very recently, and it will continue to be his message.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  As the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, has arrived in New York, the Syrian Government has said that it rejects his committee or his ability to draw up this committee, so he's not the man to draw up this constitutional committee, which seems to be the new part of his peace plan.  How much of a blow is the fact that one side now has rejected this proposal that came out of Sochi?

Spokesman:  I think… in fact, I don't think; I know Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will address this tomorrow in the Security Council, and he told me a few minutes ago that he will be delighted to do a stakeout and take those questions directly from you.

Correspondent:  A quick follow‑up:  We'd love to have him in the press briefing room if he has a bit more time.  He's only rarely here in New York.

Spokesman:  We will put that to him.  Philippe and then Matthew.

QuestionStéphane, sur la Birmanie, quand le Secrétaire général a prévu de nommer un envoyé spécial?  Parce que ça fait plusieurs semaines que ça dure… Et est-ce que ça sera au niveau envoyé spécial ou un niveau en-dessous?

SpokesmanCe sera au niveau qui est demandé par la résolution de l’Assemblée générale.  Les consultations continuent.  The question was about the appointment of a Myanmar… envoy from Myanmar, and we said that the appointment would be following the wording of the Security… the General Assembly resolution and that the consultations are continuing.  And once something pops up from the pipeline, we will announce it.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you again about this UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS]/Luiz Loures case, because, yesterday, it emerged or Code Blue stated — and I'd like you to confirm or deny that the claimant in that case wrote to the Secretary‑General in the midst of it to say… you know, alleging that Mr. [Michel]Sidibé had a conflict of interest, had actually offered to mediate an apology by Mr. Loures to the claimant to resolve the whole thing, which makes his ultimate decision‑making or appointing of the decision maker problematic from their view.  Given the importance of this issue… given what the Secretary‑General said at the stakeout about zero tolerance… did he receive the letter from the claimant?  Why didn't he…?  Okay.  First question.

Spokesman:  I don't know if he received the letter from the claimant.  This process was handled by UNAIDS.  UNAIDS is an agency which, for these types of issues, deals through the World Health Organization's Office of Internal Oversight.  As you know, UNAIDS is a joint project bringing together various parts of the UN system.  UNAIDS management had no role in the investigation, and the Executive Director specifically had no role in the issuance of the independent IOS [Office of Internal Oversight] report or in the decision‑making process in this case.  The complaint was handled by the rules and regulations that are in place and that govern UNAIDS.

Question:  Well, two things.  Number one, they say that he appointed his Deputy Executive Director, ad interim, Mr. Joel Rehnstrom, to be the decision maker and that this individual relied on Mr. Sidibé to either get or not get the final job.  So, they don't think that that's really a recusal.  And I guess my other question is, maybe you can say it in retrospect.  Given how important this issue has become, given what his stakeout said, if it's a UN system and a claimant writes to the Secretary‑General and says, I believe the process is broken out here, does he… did he acknowledge… I think I [inaudible] find out.  Can you find out?

Spokesman:  As I said, let's find out what the… you know, if we've received the letter.  As… as we said, our colleagues at UNAIDS have told us specifically that the Executive Director had no role to play in the issuance of the report or in the decision‑making or the process.  And I don't particularly agree with Code Blue's logic.

Question:  One last thing in terms of the claimant letter, because it seems like it's… that's a yes‑or‑no question, but I've heard complaints from others who've tried on a variety of issues to… to… to reach and at least feel that they reached the Secretary‑General.  And I know that, under Ban Ki‑moon, there was such a process, and letters were acknowledged.  How would you say, from this podium, to… to people, for example, a claimant like this, how are they supposed to know that their… their… their pleas weren’t lost in the mail?

Spokesman:  I would hope that every letter is answered or at least acknowledged.  I will check on the specific letter.

Correspondent:  That doesn't seem to be the case currently.

Spokesman:  I mean, you're… it's asymmetrical warfare here.  You're talking to me about letters that I don't… I have no knowledge of.  Let me find out if that specific letter was acknowledged.  Nizar and then we'll go to the back maybe.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The… the Syrian army have found large quantities of weapons in the previously ISIS‑controlled areas like Deir ez-Zour and in… near Aleppo in the re… Aleppo, countryside of Aleppo, large quantities of Israeli‑made weapons.  Well, from the Golan, we know that many Al‑Nusra Front go and are hospitalized in Israel, as well as other groups.  How about this support to ISIS in areas as far as Deir ez-Zour?

Spokesman:  I have no way to judge the veracity of what you imply in your question.  As you know, we don't have weapons inspectors in Syria.  What we do know is that, unfortunately, one thing that Syria has too much of are weapons — bombs, guns, military action.  What we need is more humanitarian access, more humanitarian supplies, more humanitarian support, and what we need is for the parties directing involved and those are… who have an influence on the parties to bring that influence to bear to find a political solution that will finally bring peace after years of war to the people of Syria and stability to the region.

Correspondent:  You have… you have a mission in Syria, and you have you… your men on the ground and these…

Spokesman:  As I said, we have no way… I have no way to verify the veracity of what you claim.  Evelyn?

Question:  Another question on Syria…?

Spokesman:  No, I'll come back to you.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Turning to South Africa, is there any UN reaction to the recall by the ANC, African National Congress, of President [Jacob] Zuma?  And he played a role in various General Assembly high‑level panels over the last nine years.

Spokesman:  No.  We're obviously watching the situation closely, but it… the events seem to be unfolding according to the processes… the legal processes in place.  But, we have… I have no specific comment on what's going on at this point.

Question:  Can you clarify something you said earlier?

Spokesman:  Probably not, but I can try.  No, go ahead.  Sorry.

Question:  On the possible envoy for Myanmar, you said it depends on a GA resolution and consultations.  What does that mean…?

Spokesman:  No… there was a General Assembly resolution requesting the Secretary‑General to appoint such a person.  We've taken note of the resolution.  The consultations are ongoing.  As to the naming of that person and when we're ready to announce, we will.  Madame?

Question:  Kosovo is asking when to finish the Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK?  And what is when saying?

Spokesman:  The Mission in Kosovo operates under a mandate of the Security Council.  As long as that mandate continues, we will operate the mission there.  Yasou?

Question:  Stéphane, I'm sure you know what happened on Friday in the Mediterranean Sea.  Once again, Turkey show its ugly side and stopped the drilling by the Italian company ENI in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus.  As you know, it's an illegal act.  I wanted to know how the Secretary‑General reacted and if Mr. [António] Guterres called Mr. [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any con… direct contacts — in fact, I don't think there were any — between the Secretary‑General and the President of Turkey.  Let me… I will have to get back to you on the specific reaction to this event.

Question:  Can I ask you something else?  You know, Mr. Guterres issue statements every day for this, more or less… problems [of] the world.  It's amazing that he never issues any statement concerning Turkey.  And I'm not… I don't understand.  Mr. Erdoğan threatened today Cyprus with war.  Can… can you ask the Secretary‑General at least if he worry about this, if he think about this?

Spokesman:  As I said, let me… I think… the Secretary‑General issues statements on many various issues, and let me get back to you on this specific case.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General will be meeting the Amir of Kuwait on Wednesday regarding the reconstruction of Iraq.  Would he be raising also the question of an embargo of Qatar?

Spokesman:  I think, let's… the meetings will be focused on the Iraq reconstruction.  If anything else is raised and I'm able to share it with you, I will share it with you.  Nizar and then Matthew.

Question:  Yeah.  It has been reported that the Syrian Red Crescent has delivered aid to Afrin.  Why the United Nations unable to reach Afrin and deliver aid there?

Spokesman:  We are… I have… we deliver aid to places where we're able to reach.  Obviously, where there is continued military action, it makes it a challenge.  But, as soon as it is safe and as soon as we're able to get all the permissions we need from all the various parties, we deliver aid to those in need.  But, because of the continuing violence, we're not able to reach all those who deserve to be reached.

Question:  But, in this case, I mean, don't you coordinate with the Syrian Red Crescent?

Spokesman:  Our work is done in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and other humanitarian organisations.  Nizar… Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in… in… in Liberia, I mean, we had the briefing.  It seemed… you know, the staff… national staff that worked there have been protesting, saying that they have been shorted by a total of $39 million over the life of the Mission.  Several of them say that they got… when they raised the issue of… of unpaid wages, they were summarily dismissed.  I'm just wondering, how does this… with the UN Mission, whatever its status is — seems like it's pulling out — how… what are the… where do these people take their claims if, as they say and show documents, they were underpaid…?

Spokesman:  Let me find out from our colleagues what the… the mechanism.  I'm sure there's some sort of residual mechanism, but let me find out on this particular case.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, I tried yesterday to ask the Deputy Secretary‑General as she came out of the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] meeting, and it was about this situation of UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] still saying, I guess, there's nothing wrong with… with — it's World Radio Day — with giving its equipment to the… Pierre Nkurunziza's wife's radio station.  But, she seemed to say that there… she hadn't met… even met with Ms. [Natalia] Kanem of the UNFPA, when it was on her schedule [8 February], so I'm still… I'm wanting to get to the bottom of whether… many people in Burundi feel this was probably a mistake.  They, in fact, are now posting photographs of that… the UNFPA Burundi representative taking selfies with Denise Nkurunziza, very close with the Government.  So, they're wondering, like, how does this get resolved up the chain?  Maybe you can't take the equipment back, but I'd… one, I'd like… I'd most like to know whether the Deputy Secretary‑General raised it with UNFPA in her new position as kind of the head of the development system, but also, it does seem important to know whether a meeting that was on the schedule took place or not.  She said there was no meeting, and I was unable, given how I was restricted, to pursue it and find out…?

Spokesman:  Let me find out if the meeting took place, and I think Farhan [Haq] addressed the issue with you two days ago, and if we have anything more from UNFPA, we will…

Question:  He sent a statement saying that they work with a lot of radio stations, which nobody disputes, but why would you work with a leader that you're criticizing in reports…?

Spokesman:  Right.  I will see if there's anything else.  Okay.  Thank you.  I'll leave you with Brenden [Varma]… oh, except for Linda.  I will take a question from Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question regarding North Korea.  We know that yesterday the mission released a statement largely condemning UN sanctions, and again, calling for an international forum to assess whether these sanctions are, indeed, legal.  I was wondering… also, last month, North Korea asked the Secretary‑General to make some statements reflecting its… the positive contributions that North Korea's made to… what it calls positive contributions towards Seoul.  I was just wondering, has there been any direct communication between North Korea and the SG in terms of putting, you know, pressure on the SG to make some statements?

Spokesman:  During the Olympic Games, the Secretary‑General met with… you know, sat at dinner next to… in a social occasion for the Olympics next to the head of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] delegation.  I'm not aware, and in fact, I don't think any pressure was put on the Secretary‑General during that contact.  Thank you.  Brenden, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.