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

21 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.


At the start of this morning’s Security Council meeting, the Secretary-General said that he was deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ghouta in Syria — 400,000 people live in hell on earth.  He appealed to all those involved for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta.  He also noted the need for medical evacuations of some 700 people, as well as the need to provide humanitarian assistance to the people in the region.  The Secretary-General also warned that this is a human tragedy unfolding before our eyes.  In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General also noted that eastern Ghouta is part of a de-escalation agreement reached in Astana.  The Secretary-General reminds all parties, particularly the guarantors of the Astana agreements, of their commitments in this regard.  The Secretary-General urges all stakeholders to ensure that basic principles of international humanitarian law are adhered to, including unhindered humanitarian access, unconditional medical evacuations, and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**United Nations Charter

As you will have seen in the meeting, the current and previous Secretaries‑General both spoke at today’s Security Council meeting on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.  The Secretary-General told the Security Council that the Charter’s Principles — non-use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-intervention, cooperation, self-determination and the sovereign equality of Member States — remain the foundation of international relations.  The values it proclaims — equal rights, non-discrimination, tolerance and good neighbourliness — remain guideposts for global harmony.  However, he added, the challenges we face have evolved, the drivers of conflict have become more complex, new threats have emerged, and the consequences of instability now flow far beyond their source.  The former Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, also spoke and said that the primary responsibilities vested in the Security Council to maintain international peace and security are needed now more than ever.  We put out the remarks of both the ninth and eighth Secretaries-General.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, is in the Central African Republic, where she met today with President Faustin Archange Touadéra.  Ms. Mueller underlined the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the need to step up efforts aimed at protecting people.  She also reiterated her commitment to continue to advocate for more funding for humanitarian activities in the country.  The Central African Republic’s 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan requires some $516 million to meet the needs of 1.9 million people.  Since 2014, funding for humanitarian programmes in the Central African Republic have been woefully underfunded.  Yesterday, Ms. Mueller was in Paoua, in the north of the country.  Clashes between armed groups since the beginning of December 2017 have prompted the displacement of some 65,000 people.  The internally displaced persons are living with host communities and have depleted the limited resources that were available in the town.  Ms. Mueller called on the international community to support the humanitarian response for Paoua.  She stressed that, while people need to go back to their villages of origin to restart their livelihoods, protection remains the main priority for the population.


Just a trip to announce:  The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will be heading to Brussels, Belgium, from 22 to 23 February to participate in a high-level conference on the G5 Sahel.  He will also be attending a side event on the G5’s compliance with human rights and will hold meetings with senior government officials on the side-line of this conference.


I also want to flag a new report on newborn mortality issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Global deaths of newborn babies remain alarmingly high, particularly among the world’s poorest countries, the report says.  Babies born in Japan, Iceland and Singapore have the best chance at survival, while newborns in Pakistan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds.  If every country brought its newborn mortality rate down to the high-income average by 2030, 16 million lives could be saved.


In Rome, an international conference on halting deforestation is taking place until tomorrow.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stressed that, in view of the challenges to meet the demands of a growing and more urbanized population, changing the way we manage lands, food production and forests is key to guaranteeing food security.  The International Conference on Working across Sectors to Halt Deforestation and Increase Forest Area — from Aspiration to Action is the first major technical conference on forests since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and of the first-ever United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests.

**United Nations Population Fund

A clarification: during yesterday’s briefing, and in response to a question about the immunity of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) staff in India, I stated the general UN principle about the immunity of its staff around the world.  However, on the particular case in India, I’d like to clarify that UNFPA India has already responded to the Ministry of External Affairs that the immunity of UN staff can be waived only by the UN Secretary-General.  UNFPA has also informed the Ministry that, although the claimant has never been employed by UNFPA, she is welcome to make her claim of misconduct to UNFPA’s Office of Audit and Investigation, which will investigate the matter.  The facilities for filing claims with the Office are publicly available on UNFPA’s website.

**Mother Language Day

Today is Mother Language Day.  The theme this year is “Linguistic Diversity and Multilingualism Count for Sustainable Development”.  The theme stresses that local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, and thus play a key role in promoting sustainable futures.  A few facts for you:  43 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered.  Every two weeks, one of the world’s languages disappears.  Today, at 5 p.m., in Conference Room 4, there will be an event to mark the Day, organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh.

**Honour Roll

Lots of thanks today to our friends in Bhutan, Micronesia, Montenegro and Romania, who have paid their regular dues in full, and we are most grateful.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I didn't even… I don't even have the numbers, so I'll have to take your word for it.

Question:  Okay.  I'm sorry.  I just… thanks a lot.  I… because I… yesterday, I'd received… after you'd said they hadn't cited immunity, UNFPA wrote back to the ministry… the foreign affairs ministry of India and said they're not waiving it.  The Secretary‑General has not waived it.  So, I just want to be… I guess I want to… one, it's unfortunate, because the complainant here has actually now filed criminal charges in India based on what you'd said about no immunity, but why is the Secretary‑General, given his statements about the importance of this issue…?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I'm not going to go into the details of the case.  What is important and, I think, to remember this case does not involve allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment.  It is for a different… it's a different issue, so it does not involve the issues that we discussed yesterday.

Correspondent:  Well… that's not what the complainant says.

Spokesman:  I'm saying… I will… and I will leave it at that.

Question:  I also wanted to ask you about Justin Forsyth.  It's emerged that then‑head of Save the Children left that organisation under the cloud of what he admitted to be inappropriate text messages, et cetera.  Somehow, he then became the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.  And so, what I'm wondering is, I've seen some accounts that UNICEF is now belatedly looking into it.  What… what… what review did UNICEF do in hiring Mr. Forsyth at the time?  And what now does António Guterres at the… the head of the system, intend to do about this public…?

Spokesman:  Obviously, I think, as UNICEF said very clearly, they were not aware of any of the complaints against Justin Forsyth at the time of his recruitment, and they continue… or they're continuing to work with him currently and his previous employer, Save the Children, to get a better understanding of the facts.  And what is… I would also like to make clear, from my colleagues at UNICEF, there've been no such complaints concerning Mr. Forsyth at UNICEF.

Question:  Given the centrality of the UN in the sort of aid world, does the UN believe that Save the Children should have made… should have said what the reason for leaving was, so that people don't just keep getting kicked down the line as appears to have happened…?

Spokesman:  I think, as… as a man… I'm not talking about this specific case, because I don't have the… I just want to state, as matter of principle, obviously, if people have been accused or have been reported of having committed these types of actions, it needs to be known.  I can't speak for Save the Children.  about what they knew at the time when Mr. Forsyth was recruited.  That's a question for them.  Go ahead.

Question:  You said yesterday that you were unaware of this killing of the university student and the subsequent calling in of opposition parties and sort of blaming them for what… and I guess I just wanted to know, there… there are many groups in… in [United Republic of] Tanzania they're saying things are getting increasingly repressive.  What is the UN's position on this?

Spokesman:  I don't have any language on Tanzania at this point.  Okay.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma, it's you.

For information media. Not an official record.