22 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.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

I wanted first to give you an update on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse in the UN system.  And this is in line with the Secretary‑General’s initiative on increasing transparency on these allegations.  From 1 October to 31 December 2017, we have received 40 allegations for all UN entities and implementing partners.  Not all allegations have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.

Out of the 40 allegations, 15 are reported from peacekeeping operations.  These 15 are not new allegations — they have all been uploaded on the Conduct and Discipline database as they have come in.  And that is a publicly available website.  The remaining 25 allegations are reported from agencies, funds and programmes, and include 8 allegations relating to implementing partners.

Of the 40 allegations, 13 are categorized as sexual abuse, 24 as sexual exploitation, and 3 are of an unknown nature.  The 40 allegations involve 54 victims — 30 are women, 16 are girls (under the age of 18), the ages of 8 others are unknown; 12 of the 40 allegations occurred in 2017, 7 in 2016, 3 in [2015] or prior, and the dates are unknown for 18 of them.

With regard to the status of the 40 allegations, 2 have been substantiated by an investigation; 3 are not substantiated; 15 are at various stages of investigation; 18 are under preliminary assessment; 2 are under review with limited information provided to the investigating entity.

With over 95,000 civilians and 90,000 uniformed personnel working for the United Nations around the world, sexual exploitation and abuse are not reflective of the conduct of the majority of the dedicated women and men who serve people around the world.  But every allegation involving our personnel undermines our values and principles and the sacrifice of those who serve with pride and professionalism in some of the most dangerous places in the world.  For this reason, combating this scourge, and helping and empowering those who have been scarred by these egregious acts, continue to be key priorities for the Secretary‑General in 2018.


Just a few minutes ago, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and he warned about the ongoing violence in eastern Ghouta.  He told the Council that eastern Ghouta is a predictable and preventable humanitarian disaster unfolding before our eyes, with 400,000 people having been besieged there for four years.  He said that at least 346 people have been killed and more than 900 wounded since the beginning of this month.  At the same time, humanitarian workers have faced greater difficulties in gaining access to people in need than in any other time since 2015.

Also on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, said ahead of today’s Security Council meeting that we urgently need a ceasefire in the country.  He reiterated that the humanitarian situation of the civilians in eastern Ghouta is appalling and therefore, we need a ceasefire that stops both the horrific bombardment of eastern Ghouta and the indiscriminate mortar shelling on Damascus.  He added that the ceasefire needs to be followed by immediate unhindered humanitarian access and a facilitated evacuation of medical cases out of eastern Ghouta.  The Special Envoy called upon the Astana guarantors to hold an urgent meeting to reinstall the de‑escalation.  UN humanitarian convoys are on standby and ready to deliver humanitarian aid and allow medical evacuations.


Today, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the entry into force of the country’s new penal code, calling it a milestone in its criminal justice reform.  The Mission said that with this development, Afghanistan has for the first time a criminal code that complies with international treaty obligations in criminal justice and incorporates modern best practices in criminology.  More information on the Mission’s website.

**Central African Republic

The Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, today wrapped up her visit to the Central African Republic.  She called on the international community to urgently support the life‑saving humanitarian response in the country where the number of internally displaced people has nearly doubled over the last year to reach 694,000.  Ms. Mueller said that the protection of people displaced by violence and insecurity will be central to the humanitarian response in 2018.  She also stressed the need to protect humanitarian workers.  The Central African Republic is among the most dangerous countries for aid workers to operate in.  In 2017, 14 humanitarian workers lost their lives, compared to [6 in] 2016.

**South Sudan

A new report from our colleagues in South Sudan says that genuine reconciliation and lasting peace will only be achieved in the country if people are free and safe to express their opinions regardless of their ethnic or political affiliations.  The report warns that undue restrictions on freedom of expression are having a “chilling effect” and “further shrinking the space for debate and dissent” in South Sudan, while hate speech continues to cause mistrust, fear and violence.

Co‑authored by the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) and the UN Human Rights Office, the report identifies 60 verified incidents which violate the legitimate right to freedom of expression of 102 victims, including 17 women, in the period from July 2016 to December 2017.  Incidents include the killing of two people, the arbitrary arrest and detention of 58 others, 16 people dismissed from their jobs, the closure or suspension of three media houses, censorship of newspaper articles and the blocking of websites.


Our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] are calling for calm and restraint after worrying reports of a refugee protest turning violent in Rwanda’s Kiziba refugee camp.  The camp hosts over 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, around [77] per cent of whom are women and children.  Protesting refugees were reportedly angry about reduction in food assistance.  Humanitarian operations in Rwanda remain severely underfunded, forcing the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 10 per cent in November 2017 and by 25 per cent in [January] 2018.  To date, UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for $98.8 million to support refugees in Rwanda is only 2 per cent funded.


Speaking of the World Food Programme, our colleagues there said today they have provided vital food assistance to nearly 3,000 displaced people stranded in the harsh Libyan desert as they struggle to return to their hometown of Tawergha, in western Libya.  Many displaced Tawerghan families have been trying to go home, but in early February armed groups blocked returnees from entering the town, despite an agreement promising safe return.  Large numbers are now stranded in makeshift shelters in the desert, while others have found temporary refuge with host families in nearby areas.


I just want to echo a statement that our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] have just issued.  The statement reads that the Executive Director at UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, today accepted Justin Forsyth’s resignation from his position as Deputy Executive Director of the Organization.  Ms. Fore said that she is grateful to Mr. Forsyth for his work over the past two years to advocate for the most vulnerable children and help advance UNICEF’s mission to save children’s lives.  This mission is now more important than ever.  If you have any questions, please talk to UNICEF.

**Honour Roll

And today we say thank you to Equatorial Guinea and Serbia, both of which have paid in full their regular budget dues for this year.  The Honour Roll is now at 59.  Evelyn?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéph. On the first item that you read on…

Spokesman:  And I will add, we will give you a handout with all those numbers, because we realize it may have been hard to keep up.

Question:  Right, very good.  If not, I'll copy them for me.  How are the victims going to be held and the perpetrators punished?  Are there any details on that?  Because that's the question people would ask.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the Secretary‑General has made it a priority to ensure that those people who've come forward receive as much assistance as they can from various parts of the UN system.  Obviously, [holding] the perpetrators to account is critical, whether they be civilian staff, uniformed personnel, or police.  And there are different paths to that, but it's important that these cases be investigated.  And that's where we are on a number of these.

Question:  Same topic…?

Question:  Who investigates?

Spokesman:  Sorry?  Well, initially, the investigations are done by the agencies concerned, and if need be, they are referred to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to… in light of this Justin Forsyth announcement, you were asked… yesterday, you'd said ask Save the Children, but apparently… someone, at least, maybe Ms. Fore, took it in a different direction.  But I wanted to ask you about Frank La Rue.  I know that it was announced more than a month ago that, at UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], he was suspended and removed from his job.  And it was… and I've heard now from UNESCO and I… maybe… maybe it's wrong, and you can disabuse me, that he's still being paid, that he's… which I guess you could say, well, it's a suspension with pay but that actually he's near retirement and the goal is actually to simply never actually issue any findings at all.  And I wanted to know, what is the status of Mr. La Rue?

Spokesman:  I think that's a question for [UNESCO], which… well… it is a question for [UNESCO].  They're a specialized agency.  They have their processes.  I think the head of [UNESCO] Director General has been very forthcoming.  She's taken the steps that she needs to be, but I'm not qualified to speak of the intricacies of the investigative processes going on at UNESCO.

Question:  Right.  But I guess what I'm saying is, if you just use the podium here to say, you know, look at what the system is doing… and does António Guterres, as Secretary‑General, does he believe that people that are credibly enough charged with sexual harassment that they're suspended from their jobs, should they still be getting paid and riding into retirement with no findings?

Spokesman:  I think… first of all, I'm not assuming the assumptions that you have about whether or not he's riding into retirement.  I don't know. That's a question to address to [UNESCO].  What is important is that every allegation of sexual harassment be investigated.  Whether or not during the investigations people are put on leave with pay or without pay depends on the case and is, obviously, a decision to be taken by the agency concerned.

Question:  Is the Luiz Loures case going to be re‑examined given the issues that are raise… been raised by people…?

Spokesman:  Which is the Luiz…?

Correspondent:  Luiz Loures in UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS].  He was cleared with the alleged involvement of the Executive Director, Mr. [Michel] Sidibé, as both a witness in the case and as the decision‑maker…

Spokesman:  I think I've talked about this case.  The investigation happened.  Mr. Sidibé recused himself.  If there's anything more to announce from that and… I will do so.  Let me…

Question:  Maldives?

Spokesman:  Let's you and I take a break for a second.

Question:  Regarding Maldives, yesterday, there was a statement that the President of Maldives, [Abdulla] Yameen [Abdul Gayoom], had refused UN mediation.  Today, one of his ministers, [Mohamed] Shainee, said that… or tweeted that he hadn't refused, that he welcomed the UN intervention and that the President had, in fact, asked for UN to be involved in talks with opposition.  So, is it a fact that you received any requests from the Maldivian President for involvement?

Spokesman:  I can only speak for ourselves, for the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, we are all following the situation in Maldives with concern.  The Secretary‑General, in a conversation with the President, offered UN mediation, but the President conveyed that mediation was not wanted at this stage.  So, that's… as I said, I can only speak for half of the phone call, and I can only speak for our half.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Yes.  Stéphane, two questions.  One is about this Iran nuclear deal, which, according to all United Nations… I mean monitors and so forth, is going well as far as Iran is concerned.  It's abiding by its… the treaty.  However, Iran has expressed dissatisfaction on the part of its other principals who are not abiding by it and are hindering its transactions in the international arena.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think the sit… the Secretary‑General's position on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action] has been very… made very clear.  He believes that this is a landmark and critical diplomatic achievement over the last years and that all the parties to it should do whatever they can to preserve it.  The UN has a certain responsibility, which… through the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the Secretary‑General's reporting, which we do as mandated, but, as you know, we were not a party itself to the agreement.  But we think that all the parties who were should do whatever they can to preserve it and uphold their responsibilities within the agreement.

Question:  Yes.  And, also, do you have any update on Syria's Ghouta situation where people are being killed right and left…

Spokesman:  Mr. Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, just gave an extensive briefing to the Security Council, and we'll circulate the text.  I'll come back to you.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Actually… one follow‑up on the Maldives, because it's a very specific statement by this Mohamed Shainee, the Minister for Fisheries and Agriculture.  He says, you know, the President himself has made the request for assistance.  And this is the part I want to ask you about.  He says, the opposition keeps blocking.  So, you say you can only read out your portion of these calls.  Has the Secretary‑General spoken with anyone in the opposition?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that the Secretary‑General has spoken to anyone in the opposition.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you quickly about a thing in North Korea.  I've learned yesterday and published the documents of a waiver sought by the UN system.  The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr.…

Spokesman:  Sure.  Mishra.

Correspondent:  Tapan Mishra.

Spokesman:  Tapan Mishra, yeah.

Question:  Yes.  To use a little… some say little‑known, but, in any case, not a prominent Russian bank as a correspondent bank to send €4 million into North Korea in December.  And I wanted to know, first of all, how is the bank… there's a document that's… that's part of the request that shows that the Russian bank acknowledges that an unauthorized person even negotiated the correspondent bank relationship.  How does the UN system choose which correspondent bank to use?  And is this comment… is this… it seemed like they presented this as an emergency for third‑quarter disbursements of 4 million euros into North Korea…

Spokesman:  Listen, I don't know the details of the agreement.  What I do know is that the UN operates, has humanitarian presence and has a presence in Pyongyang.  We abide… the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], as you know, is under very strict sanctions from the Security Council, which include issues of the banking sector.  We do need to get money to pay staff and to run our programmes.  I think it's only normal that we go through the Sanctions Committee to get the waivers.  We don't want to be… obviously, the Secretariat doesn't want to be in violation of Security Council resolutions.  To say that dealing with the banking sector in terms of banks that are willing to do business legitimately in the DPRK is challenging would probably be an understatement.  But whatever rules there are, I have no doubt that they were followed.

Question:  So, simple question, is this… is this put out… is there a procurement for this?  I'm asking you because there's some questions about how the bank was selected even from… their own documents acknowledge some irregularities.  So how… can you look?

Spokesman:  As I said, I don't have further details.  I can look into it, but I know we're working in a very challenging environment in trying to follow the rules and regulations to the "T".  Yes, sir, and then we'll go…

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Maldives.  Can you please tell me when the phone call between the Secretary‑General and the President took place?  And, B, just for the record, there was no formal request from the President of Maldives for UN participation?

Spokesman:  As I said, I… if I recall, the phone call took place Friday last.  Okay? I can only share with you what I'm able to share with you, which is what I've… what I've read already a number of times, that the Secretary‑General offered the United Nations mediation, but the President conveyed that mediation was not wanted at this stage.  Okay.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I know it's a domestic matter, but, still, does the Secretary‑General has any thoughts on the growing student movement within the United States for end of gun violence?

Spokesman:  Look, I think anyone who has watched these young people over the last few days advocate for their position cannot help but be moved by the power and the engagement and the passion of youth.  Sir?  That would be you, yes, Masood‑ji.

Question:  I just wanted to… is there an update that you have latest on Yemen?  Because it's the same situation; children are dying; no aid is coming…

Spokesman:  I have no… I mean, we've… you know, we brief regularly on humanitarian updates on Yemen, which are always, I would say, tragic.  But I haven't had anything in the last few days.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you again about Tanzania and then about Guinea.  But in… you'd said yesterday that you had no language.  Do you… is that looking down…

Spokesman:  I do have something…

Correspondent:  Ah, language emerges.

Spokesman:  Language has emerged on Tanzania.  And I can tell you that we're following closely developments in Tanzania, including the sad news of recent deaths of a local leader in Chadema, the main Tanzania opposition party, and of a university student who was travelling in a bus nearby a march by members of Chadema as they were being dispersed by the police.  First, we would like to express our condolences to the families of the deceased and call on authorities to respect freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly.

Question:  Okay. No, thanks a lot.  I wanted to also… there's… maybe I misheard him.  I think I've heard the Secretary‑General say that Guinea is… was one of the successes of the UN system, and I'm not saying that it isn't, but I did want to ask, there's a Government minister of sports, Mr. Bantama Sow, who's been on video urging party… majority party members to seek revenge and essentially kill opponents.  And I'm just wondering, is either of the… the UN envoy…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report.  Let me see what I can find out.  Masood, and then we'll leave it to Brenden [Varma].

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  I've asked this question earlier about the situation in Egypt where the journalists are being arrested, and Mr. [Abdel Fattah Al] Sisi seems to be incarcerating all his opposition closely, and he wants to win this election by arresting his so‑called civil society.  Do you have anything to say about the arrests…?

Spokesman:  I think you've asked this question in the past, and I've answered it, and our position is unchanged.

Question:  What about the journalists?

Spokesman:  As I said, we've referred… I've answered that question to you, and you can refer to the language I used, which is the same and…

Question:  Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.  Just… I remembered this one.  Was there a meeting yesterday evening of the Secretary‑General and the Permanent Representative of Iran?  There was a tweeted photograph, and I went up there for the Côte d'Ivoire one, and the timing was different.  Are you aware of that?

Spokesman:  Let me see… not off the top of my head.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.