14 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.


Speaking at the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq today, the Secretary‑General launched the United Nations Recovery and Resilience Programme for Iraq, which he said is a two‑year programme designed to help the Iraqi Government fast‑track the social dimensions of reconstruction.  He added that it aims to make immediate and tangible improvements to people’s daily lives, rather than the long timelines associated with major infrastructure projects and economic reforms.  The Secretary‑General said that reconstruction and development programmes must go hand in hand with a strategy to prevent the recurrence of violent extremism and terrorism in Iraq.  This must include full respect for human rights, including political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.  He added that he was encouraged to see progress in the Baghdad‑Erbil dialogue, and the Secretary‑General hopes that meetings between the federal Government and Kurdistan Regional Government will continue and resolve outstanding issues.  The UN is seeking $482 million for the first year of the Recovery and Resilience Programme and an additional $568 million to help stabilize high‑risk areas.  Separately, partners are seeking $569 million to provide life‑saving assistance to 3.4 million highly vulnerable people across Iraq through the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, told the Security Council that since the Vienna and Sochi meetings, he has been consulting on the establishment of a constitutional committee for Syria.  His team is in touch with a wide array of Syrians and he also continues to pursue the convening of Syria talks dealing with all four baskets of issues concerning Syria.  He said he will proceed from New York to Munich, where he will consult with the Secretary‑General and other senior officials present at the Munich Security Conference.  Mr. de Mistura warned the Council that we have seen a string of dangerous and worrying escalations, including inside the de‑escalation zones, as well as increased military intervention from multiple sources.  He said that this is as dangerous and violent a moment as any that he has seen in his time as Special Envoy.  Mr. de Mistura intends to speak to you at the stakeout once his discussions with the Security Council have ended.  Meanwhile, today, a United Nations‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy entered Nashabieh in besieged eastern Ghouta to deliver food, health and nutrition items for 7,200 people in need.  This is the first inter‑agency convoy to cross conflict lines in 2018, and the first to a besieged area since November 2017.  The UN estimates that there are 11,765 people in the Nashabieh area and some 393,000 people living throughout besieged eastern Ghouta.  Since an escalation of hostilities in mid‑November, civilians have endured hundreds of shelling attacks and air strikes that have reportedly resulted in over 200 deaths and left more than 600 people injured.  Over the same period, dozens of mortar shells and rockets have fallen on Damascus neighbourhoods and suburbs, reportedly resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries.  The UN reminds all parties to the conflict in Syria of their responsibility to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to facilitate safe, unimpeded and sustainable access to all in need, particularly those in besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas, as required by international humanitarian law and international human rights law.


Aid agencies in Mali today launched the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for the country, which is seeking $263 million to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people.  The humanitarian situation in Mali has deteriorated, with insecurity spreading from the north to the central regions.  Some 4.1 million people require assistance in 2018 compared to 3.8 million people in 2017.  Food insecurity is a particular concern, with more than 1 in 5 Malians facing food insecurity this year.  Of these people, 795,000 require immediate assistance.  The number of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition has also increased by more than 10 per cent between 2017 and 2018.


In Johannesburg, the Secretary‑General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, spoke at the Eighth African Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.  She stressed that youth engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals is critical in the African continent, where many young people, and especially girls and women, continue to suffer severe disadvantages when it comes to health services and education.  She noted that despite recent progress, Africa still has the highest levels of teenage pregnancy in the world, many of which occur in the context of child marriage.  In the twenty‑first century, she said, we cannot allow for child marriage to happen.  And similarly, in the twenty‑first century, we cannot allow for children to give birth to children.  This is the last stop of her visit to the continent and she will be back in New York later this week.

**Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day.  Although it is not an international day, we wanted to bring to your attention two campaigns with this theme.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has launched its “Are you in a toxic relationship?” campaign, which asks consumers to “break up” with disposable plastic to help reduce marine litter.  And the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is promoting their “I don’t” campaign, which seeks to raise awareness that although Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a romantic time for couples, millions of children are coupled up before they are ready, often against their wills.  UNFPA calls on the world to prioritize ending child marriage.  More information on these campaigns is available on the agencies’ websites.

**Honour Roll

And the Honour Roll has climbed to 50 members, with payments from Croatia and Slovenia.  Our thanks go to both those Member States.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Phumzile Mlambo‑Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN‑Women (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women).  She will be here to brief you on the main conclusions of the flagship report entitled “Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

And before that happens, you will also hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Before we get to Brenden, are there any questions for me?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I want to ask about the reconstruction conference in Kuwait.  Secretary‑General was very supportive for this process, and the UN was a sponsor, but the Iraqi Government, before this conference, issued a list of projects, reconstruction… specifically reconstruction pro… project throughout Iraq.  None of this project was in Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is part of Iraq.  How… and… and there are some accu… accusations in Baghdad by parties, political parties, that the selection of those reconstruction process, basically the money that will be collected at that conference, is… is used based on… on more sectarian and political lines, with political motivation.  What is… is… are you concerned about this… this facts and accusations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN's Recovery and Resilience Programme is intended for all of Iraq, and we want to make sure that all the parts of Iraq that have been affected by conflict will receive reconstruction funds.  Regarding the situation between… involving Kurdistan and… the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Government, as I just mentioned, the Secretary‑General was encouraged to see the recent progress in the Baghdad‑Erbil dialogue, and he does hope that meetings between the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government will continue and that they will resolve outstanding issues.

Question:  One follow‑up on that.  Farhan, if you explain to me, this money that… outside of that initiative by Secretary‑General, the money that will be collected at that… at that conference, will the UN help the Iraqi Government how to spend it?  How… is there any mechanism…?

Deputy Spokesman:  The UN will work with the Government of Iraq in terms of devising programmes for reconstruction.  As you know, the UN agencies on the ground already are in touch with the federal and local authorities in terms of humanitarian and rehabilitation projects, and we'll continue to do that.  Yes, Erol?  By the way, while we're on the subject, we're trying to get all the desks fixed.  Our media accreditation colleagues have pointed out the need to get those, so we're trying to get it all working.

Question:  Excellent.  Thank you, Farhan.  Just to check… you told me that the Secretary‑General is regularly briefed on the issue of changing the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  When was the last time that SG met Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz and where?

Deputy Spokesman:  He's always briefed on the work that Mr. Nimetz does, so it's not a question of direct meetings with him.  But, you know, he does meet with him sporadically.  But, as you know, we put out a note about Mr. Nimetz's work even just yesterday, and the Secretary‑General continues to be apprised of his work.

Question:  To ask a… just a journalistic question, I mean, did he meet him at all?  Or, if I missed something, sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  On this latest trip, no.  The Secretary‑General is in Kuwait.  So he did not meet Mr. Nimetz, who's working right now out of Vienna, but he continues to be apprised of his work and they continue to be in discussion.

Question:  I mean, did he meet him and how many times since he became Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't know how many times, but they're in touch, including through their offices and on the phone even when they don't particularly meet face to face.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you, Farhan.  On this situation in Yemen, there is a… I mean, there was supposed to be the talk… peace talks about to happen.  Can you say anything… update on that?  And whether the Saudis have been persuaded to allow the medical and… and aid in to the Houthis, who are surrounded by the Saudi‑led Coalition?

Deputy Spokesman:  We continue to be in touch with the Coalition to try and get more access to Yemen.  There has been some access, and we have been able to get some aid in, but more needs to be done.  And we continue to call for a halt to all fighting and greater humanitarian access.  Yes?

Question:  What's the latest on the Rohingya crisis?  Because the Rohingya crisis, which is going [from] bad to worse and there's no re… no relenting in the situation over there in… in Myanmar.  Can you tell us about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you may know, the members of the Security Council discussed the situation just recently. You know, we continue through our UN team to follow the situation of the Rohingya, and we remain prepared to provide necessary assistance towards implementing long‑term solutions to the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine State.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about Egypt and Burundi and then some other things.  In Egypt, the… the former head of the anti‑corruption unit, Hisham Genena, has now been arrested, putting a… joining a long list of possible presidential candidates or their advisers arrested by the [Abdel Fattah Al] Sisi Government.  What does the UN think, going into this?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say on that is we continue to note with concern reports from Egypt regarding the limited political space in the country, including a number of recent arrests and detentions.  We will continue to engage with the authorities on these issues.

Question:  And speaking of limited political space, in Burundi, there's… the Government has used the national radio to say that those campaigning against the upcoming constitutional referendum that would allow [President] Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power into the 2030s are subject to arrest.  And some students have even been arrested in schools for… for campaigning against the referendum while the Government campaigns for it.  I wanted to know… I know that the… there's still… there's, you know… Mr. [Michel] Kafando… is the UN… what do they think of that closing of political space?  And was you or Stéphane [Dujarric] able to get an answer from the Deputy Secretary‑General whether she met with the UNFPA on… on 8 February and whether the issue of funding Pierre Nkurunziza's wife's radio station was addressed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the issue of funding of the radio station, I have given you the response from the UN Population Fund, and so that's what they have had to say about all of their various projects involving radio in Africa.  Regarding the situation in Burundi, we are concerned about any efforts to close political space, and we continue to call for an inclusive and participatory process.  And we would be concerned about any restrictions on the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Question:  All right.  I… I mean… my only thought is I just… it seems like this is the type of radio station that they worked with.  So, I'm just wondering, it seems like… was this addressed or just did the meeting take place between the Deputy Secretary‑General and UNFPA?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe, as UNFPA made clear, they were working with a number of radio stations, as they do in a number of countries in terms of providing aid for radio broadcasts throughout the region.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes. Can you give us a breakout of the travel expenditures in 2017 and so far this year of the Secretary‑General, the Deputy Secretary‑General, and those that accompanied them and also a comparison with the expenditures during a comparable period of time by their predecessors?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, those will be collated, and they will be turned over to the General Assembly.  As you know, we provide to the General Assembly the information about the relevant travel by the Secretary‑General and the Deputy Secretary‑General, and so that will be available as a document once they get that.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, as you know, there is a call… regarding Kosovo, since the Secretary‑General is following that issue with his regular reports, there is a repeated call for… from Kosovo side for UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) to finish its mission.  And I wonder how… what is the latest view of the Secretary‑General to that issue.  And, also, there is a call from Kosovo side for United States to be involved directly in the negotiation dialogue process between Belgrade and Pristina.  So I wonder what the Secretary‑General… what is the view of Secretary‑General either… also to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the need for a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, we've always encouraged that, and we continue to encourage any such efforts, including those that are facilitated by the UN Mission in Kosovo.  Regarding the work of the UN Mission, UNMIK, as you know, its mandate is granted to it by the Security Council, and it would be up to the members of the Security Council to make any changes in that mandate.

Question:  But just to follow up on that, I… I asked specifically, what is the view of Secretary‑General of the calls for United States to be involved in the negotiation process that is going on and under the auspices of European Union?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, we want all of the key countries, including those with influence in the region, to play a part in encouraging dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you on… on travel — maybe I misunderstood — I think that there is a document out, A/72/716, that says the UN, through Umoja, spent $391 million on travel overall for the year, but it doesn't break out the Secretary‑General or the Deputy Secretary‑General.  It says that they're authorized to fly first class with eligible family members.  So, I wanted to ask you, one, does that first class… does that cover no matter how short the trip?  And, number two, what are the range of eligible family members?  I don't see that in… in the report.  But is it possible to actually get a breakout for each of these two high… these two top officials, rather than the lump sum number?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the numbers, including the numbers in that report, the vast majority of trips mentioned in the report are undertaken at economy class, with only 13 per cent for the period under review being business class trips.  Regarding the travel of family members, eligible family are travel… in the designated standard of accommodation on appointment, separation, home leave and family visits.  Regarding the Secretary‑General and the Deputy Secretary‑General, spouses may travel with the Secretary‑General or the Deputy Secretary‑General in the designated standard of accommodation on some official travel when they attend with the Secretary‑General or Deputy on official functions.  So it's just on that.

Question:  Right.  But the first class thing, this covers all… any and all travel by the two officials.

Deputy Spokesman:  First class… yeah, because of security considerations just for those officials.  For other officials, by the way, it's… the majority of these travels are not about first class, but for long travels, they would be business class for everyone outside of the Secretary‑General and the Deputy, who have, as you know, special security considerations.

Question:  Sure.  And I wanted to ask you, I'm sure you've seen the comments by Mr. [Andrew] MacLeod, a former UN official of the Emergency… Emergency Office Centre [sic], who said that he's given a dossier to Priti Patel of… then of the UK Government, saying that up to 60,000 people — it's a very high number — may have been raped by UN staff and… I guess my question is, the number… it seemed extremely high, but is the UN aware of this dossier?  Ms. Patel says that she raised it within the UK Government but was rebuffed.  What's your response to… to… to Mr. MacLeod?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there are a number of erroneous claims that were made by Mr. MacLeod.  In particular, the article that he had written suggested that the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations provides immunity in respect of sexual abuse.  That's incorrect.  There is no immunity for sexual abuse.  We refer cases involving allegations of sexual abuse to the State of nationality of those accused, and we follow up regularly.  And that's always been the case.  Regarding the numbers, you would have to ask him how he arrives at his numbers.  As far as I'm aware, from what we were able to discern, that's not based on a study about the UN, but it's a study based on the idea that 3 per cent of all adult males can… you know, can be guilty of harassment, which is… which would make it a larger problem for the… than just the UN. It would be a large worldwide problem.  And you have to see whether that study that he's referring to is accurate or not.

Question:  In terms of the immunity, is it some… I mean, in 2015, in the Central African Republic, it seems that UN staff… there was some problem with them participating in investigations, basically. I don't know if you would call that immunity or not, but they did not immediately come forward. Is that… do you dispute that? Do you think that the UN in 2015 did not assert or… or bounce off immunity at all in that case?

Deputy Spokesman:  When we are faced with criminal charges involving sexual exploitation and abuse, we waive immunity. That is our policy, and that’s our consistent policy.  Yes?

Question:  Is there any update on the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) controversy?  The reporting indicates it's even worse than earlier stated and that employees or the staff are asked to vouch for the alleged molester.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think Stéphane and I have described what information we have received from UNAIDS.  Beyond that, you'd need to check with UNAIDS themselves on this.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the death of Ruud Lubbers, the longest‑serving Netherlands Prime Minister, who was also the head of the [Office of the] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and was forced to step down in a sexual harassment scandal?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is the first I've heard of his death.  I was not aware of it going into the briefing, so I don't have any official reaction.  Obviously, we would express our condolences to his family.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted… on the UNAIDS, yesterday, Stéphane was asked whether it's true…

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, wait.  Wait.  Sorry.  Sorry.  Iftikhar has had his hand up for a while.  I'm sorry.  I forgot about you.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know, there was a big conference held half… regional military commanders held in Afghanistan… in Kabul yesterday.  How does the UN look at this conference, and was there any UN involvement in that conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of whether we had any involvement, but we'll check with our mission on that.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I'd wanted to know, on… on… on the UNAIDS/Luiz Loures case, yesterday, I'd asked Stéphane whether it's true, as reported, that the claimant wrote to the Secretary‑General asking him to take over decision‑making in the case, and Stéphane said he would at least check on that.  Did… was that letter received?  And what was the Secretary‑General's response?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are checking on that, but we don't have anything to say on that right now.

Question:  One more…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  It's a little bit… I wanted to ask you this.  Down in… because it may be gone by tomorrow.  Down in the 1B basement of UN, on the… I guess it's some kind of hallway between the GA (General Assembly) and the Vienna Café area, there's a display of armaments, of arm sales.  It's an Indonesian weapons company called Pindad, and they have ads for tanks and machine guns.  They have two peacekeepers now covered by a sheet, at least overnight.  But I was wondering… I mean, maybe it's up to Member States what they do, but given that… that some of these are purely offensive weap… purely, you know, attacking weapons — they're not defensive weapons — like tanks that the UN, I don't think, buys.  What is… who approved that?  And what's the purpose of… of marketing weapons inside the United Nations building?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as always, regarding exhibits that are sponsored by Member States, you would have to ask… check with the Member States about the exhibit.  That's the responsibility of the Member State.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.