23 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.


Good afternoon.  As we announced to you earlier, the Secretary‑General will be in Geneva where, on Monday, he will speak at the opening of the thirty‑seventh session of the Human Rights Council, and he will also be addressing the Conference on Disarmament.  The Secretary‑General intends to have bilateral meetings with a number of officials attending those two events, and we’ll provide details to you on Monday.

**Senior Management Group

Here this morning, the Secretary‑General met with his senior management group.  This was the first meeting since the senior management group has achieved gender parity.  There are now 23 women and 21 men; by the end of the month there will be 24 women.  The Secretary‑General said at the meeting that while this is cause for celebration, it is just one part of the UN’s road map towards gender parity.  He emphasized the importance of continuing to work to fight sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment within the Organization, and achieve gender parity not just at the senior management level but across the board.  He said the aim is to achieve gender parity by 2021 at all levels.

**Deputy Secretary‑General

This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General spoke at the UN Association USA Global Engagement Summit, which is taking place in the General Assembly Hall.  Amina Mohammed told participants that the UN depends on the support of concerned global citizens who believe in the Organization and who can galvanize political commitment to our common cause.

“Your voice can be heard and amplified in boardrooms and the corridors of power, explaining not only how the UN is effective, but how it is reforming to do even better,” she said, and added that the UN is working to become more nimble, effective, flexible and efficient to help tackle the world’s challenges and help all Member States achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.


I have a statement on Ethiopia.  The United Nations takes note of the recent decision by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia [Hailemariam Desalegn] to resign, to “allow further political reforms to take place in the country aimed at widening democratic space”.  The Government of Ethiopia has expressed the intention to continue with the implementation of governance reforms and increase participation in the political process.

The United Nations welcomes the steps so far undertaken in that direction, including the release of detainees, and considers Ethiopia a valued partner in peace and security, development, humanitarian and human rights issues in the Horn of Africa and the African continent.  The United Nations will continue to support the Government and people of Ethiopia in implementing reforms that would enhance governance, stability and development.  The United Nations also takes note of the recent declaration of a state of emergency and stresses the importance of avoiding actions that would infringe on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens, the peace, security and stability of the country, or impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  That statement is available online.

**Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact

I also have a statement on the UN Global Counter‑Terrorism Coordination Compact.  Today the Secretary‑General signed the United Nations Global Counter‑Terrorism Coordination Compact, which establishes a set of guiding principles aimed at significantly improving the coordination and coherence of the United Nations system to support Member States on the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy.  The Coordination Compact is an agreement between 36 United Nations entities engaged in providing support to Member States on how to counter and prevent acts of terrorism and violent extremism.  It will be signed by the heads of these entities, as well as INTERPOL [International Criminal Police Organization] and the World Customs Organization, and as a symbol of their commitment to coordinating activities at Headquarters and in the field.  It also adopts a common framework for monitoring and evaluation which will help to show the impact of UN efforts in this area.  The principal aim of the UN Global Counter‑Terrorism Coordination Compact is to ensure that the United Nations system can have a better impact and provide stronger and more efficient counter‑terrorism capacity‑building to Member States.

**Department of Peacekeeping Operations

Also, I’ve been asked to share with you that the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, will be travelling to the Middle East from 24‑28 February, where he will be visiting the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)in Jerusalem and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).  Throughout his trip to the three UN missions, he will hold meetings with senior Government officials and key stakeholders to discuss UN peacekeeping challenges and opportunities in the region.  He will also meet with personnel to thank them for their work and contribution to peace and security in the region.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us today they remain deeply concerned by the fighting in eastern Ghouta.  Over the past four days, almost 400 people, including women and children, have reportedly been killed and over 1,000 have been injured by ground‑based [attacks and] air strikes.  This week, the UN and its partners reported a total of 24 attacks on hospitals and health facilities (16 hospitals and 8 health centres), depriving tens of thousands of people of basic health services.  At least two medical workers have also been killed.  In addition, private bakeries in Misraba, which normally provide some 40,000 bread bags daily, have reportedly been damaged by air strikes.  Bread is reportedly still available, but has increased 25‑fold in price.  Over the same time period, Damascus city has continued to be hit by mortars.  Our colleagues called for an immediate cessation of hostilities lasting for at least one month throughout Syria to enable the delivery of humanitarian aid and services, and evacuation of those critically sick or wounded.

Also from Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Administrator, Achim Steiner; and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, today jointly stressed to Member States that now more than ever it is critical to sustain international support for the neighbouring countries and communities hosting some 5.5 million Syrian refugees.  These UN leaders said they are “deeply shaken and distraught by the brutality and utter disregard for civilian lives” and urged for an immediate ceasefire, protection of civilians and unfettered humanitarian access to eastern Ghouta.  That is available online.


Also, I think I’d been asked for a humanitarian update on Yemen.  We’re being told that food and basic commodity prices are continuing to rise in the country, putting these essential items increasingly out of reach of the Yemeni people.  In January, average food prices rose to 55 per cent higher than prior to the escalation of conflict in 2015.  Before the coalition blockade in November and December of last year, food prices had already been about 30 per cent higher than prior to the escalation of the crisis.  Fuel prices are now more than double the pre‑crisis average, which has knock‑on effects in the prices of drinking water and other basic commodities.

And as clashes continue along the west coast of Yemen and in Taizz, more civilians are fleeing their homes.  Over the last several days, emergency assistance has been delivered to 8,800 IDPs [internally displaced persons] across the Governorates of Lahj and Aden, including 1,500 particularly vulnerable people in Aden.  The response is also continuing along the west coast where fighting remains active.  About 100,000 people have been newly displaced in Yemen since [December] 2017, mainly due to fighting along the west coast and in Taizz.


Turning to Cameroon, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, today travelled to Maroua in the far north region of Cameroon, to see first‑hand the impact of the deterioration of the security situation on the civilian population.  Ms. Mueller, who is on a four‑day mission to Cameroon, travelled to the Zamai site for internally displaced people and to Minawao refugee camp.  Since January, the Zamai site has seen its population increase to more than 1,000.

During her visit to Minawao camp, which hosts some 62,000 refugees from Nigeria who fled the violence from Boko Haram, she said that every day, 50 more people are coming to the refugee camp, in desperate need of health services, food and protection. She said that there are increased needs for humanitarian aid and life‑saving assistance and that the humanitarian community can step up if the financial resources are provided by the international donor community.

Large‑scale displacement fuelled by the Boko Haram crisis in the north and the neighbouring [crisis] in the Central African Republic are compounding high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in Cameroon.  This year the humanitarian community has requested $305 million to assist 1.3 million people in that country.


Miroslav Jenča, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, [yesterday] delivered to the Permanent Representative of Honduras the report of the exploratory mission that was deployed to Honduras by the UN Department of Political Affairs from 6 to 10 February 2018, at the request of the Government of Honduras.  Mr. Jenča conveyed the gratitude of the Secretariat to the Government, following its request for technical support from the UN for the implementation of a process to facilitate a future national dialogue.  He also thanked political parties and civil society organizations for their trust in the United Nations.  The mission, among other things, assessed conditions for a possible dialogue.  The mission’s report was presented with the aim of suggesting measures that would contribute to the promotion of the necessary political reforms within the framework of the Honduran Constitution, with respect for human rights and the rule of law.  The report also recommends a series of confidence‑building measures that could help establish the basis for a future dialogue.  The mission believes such measures can help reduce tensions and generate credibility in such a process.


Our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] said today that urgent efforts are needed to help more than 720,000 Rohingya refugee children who are threatened either by the approaching cyclone season in Bangladesh or by ongoing violence and denial of their basic rights in Myanmar.  In a report marking six months since the start of the latest exodus of Rohingya refugees into southern Bangladesh, UNICEF says floods caused by the forthcoming cyclone season are likely to engulf the fragile and [unsanitary] camps where most of the refugees are living, raising the likelihood of waterborne disease outbreaks and forcing clinics, learning centres and other facilities for children to close.


UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says it’s calling on the Government of Rwanda to ensure the safety and protection of refugees after clashes with police led to the deaths of at least five refugees.  UNHCR said that police used tear gas and fired shots at Congolese refugees from the Kiziba camp who were protesting outside of UNHCR’s office.


And I want to flag a statement issued today from our colleagues at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] in Geneva.  They said that the agency’s Deputy Executive Director, Luiz Loures, has informed the UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, that he will not seek the renewal of his position.  Mr. Loures will end his term at the end of March 2018.  Mr. Sidibé has accepted the decision and conveyed the same to the Secretary‑General.  He also thanked Mr. Loures for his 22 years of dedicated service to UNAIDS.

**Honour Roll

Lastly, I will say dank u well to our friends in The Hague because the Netherlands has paid its full payment to the UN’s regular budget.  The payment to the Honour Roll is now 60.  And just as a note that at the end of February 2017, 49 [Member] States had paid in full and we’ve reached 60 with a few days left in February, so there’s still time to make the February cut‑off.  Madame, since you were first in the room.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  On Syria, since, as you know, the Security Council postponed the voting… this is the second time today and they are going to probably vote in two hours.  Which message do you have to the Security Council?   And then, in case they vote to adopt the resolution, can you say more about to which extent your people on the ground are ready to start delivering humanitarian aid, etc.?

Spokesman:  Our humanitarian colleagues are always ready to go, ready to roll.  What we need, obviously, is cessation of hostilities.  We need the areas to be safe for them to deliver aid, and then we need to ensure that there are no roadblocks, whether physical or administrative, for us to deliver aid.  I think the message from the Secretary‑General, as he said himself in the chamber a couple of days ago, is that he very much supports this effort to see a cessation of hostilities and very much hopes that the resolution will indeed pass.  Masood‑ji.

Question:  Thanks.  Stéphane, has any agreement been reached between the Bangladesh Government and the United Nations on the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees, which is becoming difficult…?

Spokesman:  It's not, you know, it's not an issue of an agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Bangladesh.  It's an issue of ensuring that refugees, these human beings, can go home freely, willingly, to a place that is safe and to the place that they called home.

Question:  And who is it who's going to determine that this place is safe and safer for…

Spokesman:  UNHCR, you know, clearly said recently that it is not… it is not safe, but it is also up… people need to make their own… their own determination.  No one should be forced to be repatriated.

Correspondent:  I realize that, but those people are unable to make that decision themselves.

Spokesman:  What is clear… what is clear now is that the conditions are not right for people to go home.  Mr Lee.

Question:  Sure.  Okay.  I wanted to ask you… I had asked you before Ursula Mueller's trip, whether the… the situation in the anglophone zones of Cameroon would come up, and I just want to say I saw… I guess she tweeted a picture of herself with the Foreign Minister of Cameroon yesterday, saying… congratulating the Cameroon Government, entirely positive.  And I just wanted to know… you seemed… you seemed to indicate that the overall humanitarian situation would arise.  Given even… even on the issue of refugees, given that there were 47 people sent back seemingly illegally, refouled from Nigeria, is this… is she unaware of that in giving these congratulations?

Spokesman:  Her mission focused on the Lake Chad Basin, on the situation in the Lake Chad Basin which, as you know, has led to mass… to a humanitarian situation that's impacted at least 10 million people.  She discussed a wide range of humanitarian concerns with the government of Cameroon, including the Boko Haram crisis in the far north, the situation of refugees from the CAR [Central African Republic] in the east, and the growing food insecurity across the country, as well as the situation in the Anglophone regions.  Sir.

Question:  Stéphane, thank you, Stéphane.  On Syria.  In Ghouta, there are like 500,000 people live there and is no food, no medicine, and no medical and all that.  So what's the UN plan to do that for that right away?

Spokesman:  I think from what we've been saying here in this very briefing, what the Secretary‑General said, we've continued to call for a halt to the suffering of the people of Syria, especially right now, the people in eastern… in eastern Ghouta, which the Secretary‑General has described as “hell on Earth.”  We very much hope that through the discussions ongoing in the Security Council, we will have at least a temporary cessation of hostilities.  We're waiting to see what the conclave agrees to.  As I mentioned to your colleague, as soon as the conditions are right, we are ready to move in with humanitarian aid.  Masood‑ji.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on the situation in Gaza, which the United Nations representative just… just now in… in Jerusalem said the situation is so bad that it can explode at any time, and in Gaza.  And that… my question is simply this:  has the United Nations, or anybody, had any discussions with the Israeli authorities, or the Egyptian authorities, to let the aid in?

Spokesman:  This is a constant message we pass on to all the parties, to the Israelis, to the Egyptians, and I think publicly and privately, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has just done it very publicly.

Correspondent:  But the thing is what is… what is… what you are saying, yes that is there, but it seems that they are not listening, and it's unrelenting.  The situation is bad.

Spokesman:  I don't disagree with that.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you on the… on the… Luiz Loures, which I had asked you about yesterday, is stepping down, does the Secretary‑General or Ms. [Jan] Beagle who worked with him while at UNAIDS, view this as related to the seemingly exonerated charges of sexual harassment against him?  And what… what comment do they have?  People see this… I mean there… there was foresight, there's a variety of things, Mr. [Frank] La Rue… where does this stand in the… in the continuum and what's the status of, for example, the Secretary‑General said he would have a hotline by mid‑month, the staff survey…?

Spokesman:  Yes, the hotline… the hotline should be ready to go fairly soon.  As soon as we're able to announce it, we will, as well as the… as well as the survey.  The Secretary‑General, I think again today, talked about the importance of gender parity and of the growing presence of women in positions of power in this Organization having parity throughout the system as one important way to create a climate that combats sexual harassment.  He has asked his colleagues in the chief executive boards and the task force that's been formed to really do a quantum leap on how we deal with issues of sexual harassment.  We need to create an atmosphere where A., these things don't happen and B., and if they do happen, that people feel free to come forward, to speak up and to be protected and staff, all staff, deserve to have a safe working environment.  The UNAIDS, I would refer you to UNAIDS.  The investigation was done.  The result was what it was.  Mr. Loures made that decision and it's not for me to analyse the motivation of his decision.

Question:  Are the members of the task force public?  Can you provide a list of the sexual harassment…?

Spokesman:  It's the… it's the… it's a task force that is made up of representatives of all the CEB [Chief Executive Board] members, which Ms. Beagle is heading on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  And it involves… it has to… it has to involve all the UN… all the UN agencies that are represented in the Chief Executive Board.

Correspondent:  Okay, and the other thing I wanted to ask since this protection for… for speaking out.  I've just seen the response by the Chief of Staff of the Secretary‑General to the retaliation complaint of Emma Reilly at the Office of High Commissioner [for Human Rights] and the reason I'm asking is it seems to be… it says that no… no protective measures will be taken because she was transferred to Mauritania, but she's actually been evacuated medically because of the retaliation.  And it seems… they say that her letters to the Secretary‑General, following her letter to the Guardian, and the letters of the Government Accountability Project remain unanswered by the Secretary‑General, even unacknowledged.  So there doesn't… there seem to be some questions about whether staff are actually…

Spokesman:  I cannot speak to individual cases, and I haven't… I'm not privy to private correspondence.

Correspondent:  Right, but the Chief of Staff's response is now public — to David Kaye, he complained about the retaliation.

Spokesman:  I have not seen it so I try not to speak of things I have not seen.  Sometimes, I do, but I try not to.  Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Two questions on Palestine.  Any comment on the American decision to move the embassy earlier on… I mean, they announced today that they are going to move it this May to Jerusalem.

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said when the decision was originally announced and his position… his position on unilateral measures stands and is unchanged.

Question:  The second part is also about Palestine.  There was a young man who was taken yesterday into custody by the Israeli military.  He was arrested, and he died.  According to Palestinian NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] or local NGOs, he was beaten to death by the Israeli army.  The Israelis denounce it, so do you have any comments or are you aware of that?

Spokesman:  We would… I mean, I've seen the reports and we would hope that this case is fully investigated.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Follow‑up, but are you… from your side, are you trying to track this to…?

Spokesman:  I will check with our… with our office there.

Question:  On one of the things, and I understand the… the UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] thing, I'm only asking about this because… because of what your answer was, that they were not citing immunity in India.  A criminal complaint has been now filed, so I wanted to know, given that, is the UN going to seek to… to now use its immunity to… to… as a response to that?

Spokesman:  All… all these cases will need to be studied and a decision will be made.  Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  On this situation in Yemen, which you just spoke about earlier… about on your briefing.  Besides the humanitarian aspect of the aid, are the medical supplies, which are badly needed by the Yemeni people, especially for the children, are they going?

Spokesman:  Not enough aid is going in, is the bottom line.

Question:  I wanted to ask.  I sent you these in writing, but I wanted to ask you, I guess, not having gotten any answers.  Is the UN aware of Benjamin Mkapa seeking to leave his position as Burundi mediator?

Spokesman:  We've seen reports.  I don't have anything on that.

Question:  And the other was… was just factual questions about the transfer of hard currency into… into DPRK, North Korea.  What's… the letter that… that we obtained and published is about one quarter, but is there a way to know what the volume… the dollar… the euro or dollar volume for the year 2017 is?  And has the UN conducted any audit of its activities, because there's no country plan that's… at least one that's public?

Spokesman:  I will see what we can… what we can get.  I will leave you in Brenden [Varma]’s good hands.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.