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

5 March 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.

**Climate Change

At 1 p.m., the Secretary‑General will receive Michael R. Bloomberg in his conference room to announce a new assignment on Climate Change for the former Mayor of New York City.  There will be a photo‑op followed by a very brief Q and A session in the Secretary‑General’s conference room, and we will try to finish this up here in time for you to go up.


Also, at 3 p.m. today, the Secretary‑General, [along with] the President of the General Assembly, will provide a briefing to the Member States at an informal meeting of the General Assembly on peacebuilding and sustaining peace.  The Secretary‑General will inform the Member States that we have made progress on enhancing coherence in the UN system around peacebuilding and sustaining peace, but more remains to be done.  He will discuss how inclusive and sustainable development makes a critical contribution to conflict prevention; how gender considerations must remain front and centre in all our efforts to sustain peace; and how failure to make progress on financing peacebuilding will undermine other efforts to save lives, stabilize countries in crisis, alleviate suffering and protect the vulnerable.


Earlier today, a UN‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent‑International Committee of the Red Cross inter‑agency convoy entered Douma, in the besieged eastern Ghouta area, for the first time since 15 November 2017.  Teams are now delivering food for 27,500 people in need, along with health and nutrition supplies.  Many of the planned health supplies intended for Douma were not allowed to be loaded or to be replaced with other humanitarian items.  The items included trauma kits and other life‑saving supplies.  Consequently, 3 of the 46 trucks being sent to Douma today were close to empty. 

Fighting and air strikes continued in eastern Ghouta today during the deployment of the convoy, including in Douma city while the convoy was unloading.  At the same time, shelling from eastern Ghouta also reportedly hit Damascus.  The United Nations calls on all parties to facilitate unconditional, unimpeded, and sustained access to all people in need throughout the country, especially to eastern Ghouta and other besieged areas, and hard‑to‑reach areas, throughout Syria.


Turning to Nigeria, an assessment to Rann town in Borno State, north‑east Nigeria, is scheduled by humanitarian partners for this week.  This is in the wake of last Thursday’s attack on the town when three aid workers were killed.  At present, there is no aid worker presence in Rann, as the 52 aid workers who were there were evacuated last Friday.  Across north‑east Nigeria, there are approximately 3,000 aid workers operating in 26 locations, compared to only a few hundred in early 2016.  The operational capacity of humanitarian partners in the three most affected states (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) continues to expand with 73 national and international partners, including 31 international NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], 33 national NGOs and 9 UN agencies.


A couple of trips to flag:  the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, concluded an eight‑day visit to Iraq during which she heard first‑hand the heart‑wrenching accounts of survivors of Da’esh’s sexual violence.  She stressed the need to ensure that survivors of conflict‑related sexual violence are fully protected and that perpetrators of these horrendous crimes are brought to justice.


The Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, spoke at the Agency’s Board of Governors meeting today, and he told them that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran represents a significant gain for verification.  As of today, he said, Iran is implementing its nuclear‑related commitments.  It is essential that Iran continues to fully implement those commitments.  If the Agreement were to fail, Mr. Amano said, it would be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism.

**Honour Roll

And today, we say thank you our friends in Namibia, in Windhoek, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to 63.

**Press Briefings

One last programming note:  tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference sponsored by the Mission of Canada entitled, “A Credible Watchlist’s Recommendations for the Secretary‑General’s 2018 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict”.  Questions?  Mr. Lee?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you, there's a big conference in… in London today about abuse in the aid industry.  And, in connection with that, it's been disclosed that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], where António Guterres was obviously the chief, had, you know, definitely more than a dozen complaints.

Spokesman:  Yeah, we disclosed it, as part of the periodic reporting.  Okay.

Question:  Yeah, absolutely in exchange… right.  So, I guess my question is, as I'm sure you've seen the article, the coverage over there, they're saying that, you know, Angelina Jolie, for example, is, you know, surprised by this, intends to raise it to the agency.  But I wanted to know what the Secretary… I mean, maybe he'll answer it upstairs in his Bloomberg thing, but what is his response… what did he do at the time?  Given how… the focus that it is now and it's being presented as one of his major issues…

Spokesman:  The… at the time… this was an important issue already when he was High Commissioner.  He left about three years ago, if I'm not mistaken.  But I think the Secretary‑General himself said a few months ago he's fully aware that there are probably more cases involving civilians than uniformed personnel.  This is an issue that all of us in the system have a responsibility to deal with, which I think the Secretary‑General is leading the charge on this.  Every time anyone is placed in a situation of imbalance of power — in the vast majority, it's between men and women — they become high‑risk environments.  It's important that there is, on one hand, an education campaign, that people fully understand what is acceptable, what is not acceptable, and that, on the other hand, people are kept accountable through the various legal processes.  And also, the other issue which is important is the one of transparency, which the Secretary‑General is very much pushing the whole system on.  That's why we're doing these periodic briefings on issues of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Question:  So, just one quick follow‑up on transparency.  The… the ICSC, have they disclosed the number of harassment complaints and… and does the Secretary‑General… would he encourage them to?  Does he have jurisdiction…?

Spokesman:  The ICSC?

Correspondent:  Yeah, the International Civil Service Commission.

Spokesman:  He does not have jurisdiction over them, but he would encourage any entity within the UN system to be fully transparent.  Seana?

Question:  How does the SG weigh in on the High‑level Meeting that's taking place or due to take place between the South Korean envoys to the President and Kim Jong Un?  And, secondly, if you could elaborate, what does the SG believe should be the conditions of the start of any negotiations, given the… the US and Japan want to see kind of a credible promise and action towards denuclearization…

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is not… is, first of all, encouraged, I think, by the trip today to Pyongyang, the direct talks that are taking place.  We have to see what the outcome is, obviously.  The focus needs to remain on the denuclearization… the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  It is not up to the Secretary‑General to put requirements on whatever talks there will be, but discussions need to be had, and that's been his consistent message over the last few weeks.  Nizar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In Jandaris… Jandaris, a town in northern Syria, there was a major massacre today by an aerial air strike.  Do you have anything about it?  Also, I asked in the past about that massacre which took place in Deir ez-Zor area, where about 30 people were obliterated totally by an air strike.  I have not…

Spokesman:  As soon as we have information on any incidents, we will try to share it with you.

Correspondent:  What… what… that has been more than a week now…

Spokesman:  I can only go by the information given to me.

Spokesman:  On the aid… on the aid to Douma, how do you guarantee that this aid will not land in the hands of the armed groups?

Spokesman:  Our humanitarian colleagues on the ground have well‑oiled procedures.  They work with local partners or local Syrian partners.  I have to say, the vast majority of the risks taken by humanitarian workers are taken by national and by Syrian humanitarian workers where… whether working for the UN or for the Red… the Red Crescent and other organizations.  And I think we can never salute their bravery enough.  As I said, we work with local partners to ensure that aid is delivered to those people in need.

Question:  In the case of eastern Aleppo, after the liberation of eastern Aleppo, they found huge quantities of aid which was hoarded… hoarded by the… by the Reb… by the armed groups…

Spokesman:  Anyone who uses aid as a tool of war is violating international norms.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just as a follow‑up to Seana's question, are there any actions the Secretary‑General is willing and able to take with any of the parties involved…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, as he said, remains at the disposal of the parties for his good offices, and so that's a standard position.  I think the trip that he under… that he dispatched Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman on to North Korea, to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] in December was a very useful trip.  The Secretary‑General is willing to play what any… whatever role is asked of him to get to the goal that we want to reach.  Betul, you had a question which you're not asking, but which I will answer.  This is how good we are here.  You don't even need to ask.  I know you'd asked on Afrin, and what I can tell you that there's now been just over 5,000 people who have exited Afrin, but we understand that the local authorities are still blocking anyone from exiting the district.  Mr. Lee, and then we'll go… yes, you may.  You may actually ask a question.

Question:  That was the question indeed.  Did the UN contact the local authorities to find out why they are being blocked to civilians?

Spokesman:  I don't believe we have any direct contact with the local authorities.  It is critical that people be able to move freely and to leave any area they wish to.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask something about South Sudan.  Over the weekend, there was reporting in the pro‑Government press there that a UN vehicle was found with weapons in it.  And opposition, Joseph Bagosora, has said it's not true, has asked for an investigation, said it's part of a cam… you know, campaign by the Government to… to vilify and delegitimize the opposition.  I wanted to know, since it was a UN vehicle, is the UN… are they investigating?  And what can you say about…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the case.  You should… I'm not denying that there's a picture of anything.  I'm just saying I personally am not aware of the case.  You may want to reach out to the Mission directly.

Question:  Would it… would… I mean, would the Secretary‑General be consider… be concerned if a host Government of a major peacekeeping mission is saying that UN vehicles are…?

Spokesman:  As I'm saying, I'm not aware of it.  I don't want to speculate.  I think if… you can follow up that question directly with the Mission.

Question:  And you'd said, on Western Sahara, that you were trying to get something from Mr. [Horst] Köhler.  There was reportedly a mes… a meeting between him and the Moroccan side in Lisbon.  Is that the case?  And what is…?

Spokesman:  That's my understanding. I'm trying to get some more details.  Thank you.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma is now up.  Sorry.  I would go now.

For information media. Not an official record.