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

16 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Syria

I have the following statement that was issued earlier today in the Secretary-General’s own voice: “I am deeply concerned by the desperation shown by the people fleeing in a massive exodus from Eastern Ghouta and Afrin.

“I profoundly regret that resolution 2401, concerning the cessation of hostilities throughout Syria, has not been implemented.  I urge all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law and guarantee the protection of civilians.  Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and in strict accordance with protection standards under international humanitarian and human rights law.  It is also imperative that all those displaced are allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it.  I call on the Security Council to stand united and take concrete steps to urgently end this tragedy.

“The United Nations and its partners are fully mobilized to bring immediate life-saving relief to all those in need.  I call on all parties to ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access in all areas.

“The reality on the ground across Syria demands swift action to protect civilians, alleviate suffering, prevent further instability, address the root causes of the conflict and forge, at long last, a durable political solution in line with resolution 2254.”

And again: those were the words of the Secretary-General.

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to the Security Council by video teleconference today and said that a ceasefire has been holding in Douma for the past six days, but fighting has continued in other parts of Eastern Ghouta.

Violence has also escalated across many other parts of Syria, he said, including Afrin, Foah, Kefraya and Idlib.  He emphasised that resolution 2401 should not be applied piecemeal.  The Special Envoy noted disturbing new reports of the use of chlorine as a weapon, while adding that we are not in a position to confirm these reports.  Mr. de Mistura said that the United Nations remains concerned about the situation of 3 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas across Syria.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York over the weekend for Geneva, to participate in the meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Board and the World Summit for Information Society Forum.  She will also hold consultations with UN entities on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On 21 March, she will proceed to Monrovia, Liberia, to participate in the event to celebrate the successful completion of the UN Mission in Liberia’s (UNMIL) mandate, as well as in the National Reconciliation Conference and the High-level Meeting on the national development agenda for 2018-2024.  She will also meet senior Government officials, development partners and the UN country team.

On 23 March, she will travel to Nigeria for consultations with senior Government officials and other stakeholders in Lagos and Abuja.

On 25 March, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Prague to attend an ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) preparatory meeting “Towards sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies through participation of all”.  She will also meet with Czech authorities and discuss a range of matters concerning implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On 27 March, the Deputy Secretary-General will proceed to Nouakchott, Mauritania, to attend the Strategic Consultative Meeting on the Sahel.

The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 29 March 2018.

**Myanmar-Bangladesh

The Joint Response Plan (JRP) for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis was launched this afternoon in Geneva by Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees; William Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration; and Mia Seppo, the UN Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh.

It is an appeal for $951 million to assist 1.3 million people including 884,000 Rohingya refugees and 336,000 host community members until the end of this year.

Urgent funding is required to meet life-saving and acute humanitarian needs of refugees, as well as affected host communities.  For example, over 16 million litres of safe water are needed per day for the Rohingya refugee population, and 12,200 metric tons of food are required per month to sustain the refugee population.

Food alone accounts for 25 per cent of the appeal.  The World Food Programme urgently needs $230 million for food assistance, livelihoods and engineering preparations for the monsoon season.

It also plans to expand its e-voucher programme to cover all existing refugees and the new influx by the end of 2018, depending on funding.

Needs highlighted in the Joint Response Plan also include 43 primary health centres and 144 health posts, as well as 5,000 classrooms and 100 nutrition treatment centres.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA, report that today in Bria, in Haute-Kotto prefecture, they conducted an operation and arrested local anti-Balaka leader Jean-Francis Diandi, known as “Ramazani”.  He is a prominent leader of an anti-Balaka group that positioned itself notably inside the internally displaced people camp in Bria.  He was arrested in response to an arrest warrant issued by the Central African authorities, accusing him of acts of criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, forcible confinement and torture.

The arrest prompted a crowd of approximately 500 people to throw stones at UN vehicles and into the UN mission premises, impacting some offices and parked UN vehicles; no injuries were reported and UN peacekeepers are securing the perimeter.  The situation has since calmed down.

**Chad

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is increasingly alarmed at the plight of thousands of Central African refugees who have fled to southern Chad since late last year.  This influx is the biggest since 2014 and is overwhelming the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond.

UNHCR’s office in Chad needs some $149 million this year to meet urgent needs, yet as of now has received just 2 per cent of this amount.

Food shortages and rising prices are posing a direct threat to the lives of the refugees and the host population, who are sharing with the new arrivals their meagre resources.  As severe floods have affected this season’s harvest, food reserves at family and community levels are almost exhausted.

In total, there are some 632,000 people under UNHCR’s care in Chad, in great need for international support.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency are working with partner organizations in western Uganda to support a growing number of people, most of them women and children, fleeing horrific inter-ethnic violence and sexual abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

More than 57,000 refugees have been displaced by the violence in eastern DRC since the beginning of this year.  An overwhelming majority are women and children.

In the space of just three days, between 10 and 13 March, more than 4,000 people crossed into Uganda from the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu.

UNHCR fears thousands more could arrive in Uganda if the security situation inside the DRC does not immediately improve.

The refugee response funding appeal for Uganda of nearly $180 million remains poorly funded, severely restricting capacities of humanitarian organizations to deliver vital aid and assistance. 

**Pakistan

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned the 14 March attack at a police checkpoint near a mosque in the outskirts of Lahore in Pakistan.

The United Nations supports the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to fight terrorism with full respect for international human rights norms and obligations.

**Yemen

The World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and national health authorities have completed a large-scale vaccination campaign to control the spread of diphtheria in Yemen.

The campaign targeted nearly 2.7 million children aged 6 weeks to 15 years in 11 governorates.  It focused on locations reporting suspected cases of diphtheria and areas at high risk of spread of the infectious respiratory disease.  More than 6,000 health workers were mobilized during the campaign, including for community engagement and the administration of the vaccine.

The rapid spread of diphtheria in Yemen highlights major gaps in routine vaccination coverage in recent years and signifies a collapsing health system.  Only 50 per cent of all health facilities in Yemen are partially or fully functioning.

**Brazil

Our Human Rights colleagues condemned the murder in Brazil of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco and her driver.

Ms. Franco was a well-known human rights defender who campaigned against police violence and for the rights of women and people of African descent, particularly of those living in poor areas.

Our colleagues call for an investigation to be carried out as soon as possible, and stress that it must be thorough, transparent and independent if it is to be seen as credible.  Strenuous efforts must be made to identify those responsible and bring them before the courts. 

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Do you have any questions?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask.  Last night, on… on like a day delay or something, the North Korea panel of experts… sanctions experts' report went online.  It has a lot of things in it, but something I had asked about before I wanted to now ask you.  The panel report says that WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, should have contacted the committee to ensure the processing of patent application by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) relating to the production of a substance banned by the council was consistent with provisions of that resolution.  Panel recommends that WIPO inform the committee of future patent applications by DPRK, etc.  And I know it had come up before and it was said, like, you know… WIPO had said publicly it did nothing wrong.  Clearly, the panel feels that it should have informed it.  And I would just like to know, whether from the… from the… whether through the Chief Executives Board (CEB) or in some other fashion, what does the Secretary-General think of a UN agency itself running afoul of the recommendations of the Sanctions Committee?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've seen what the recommendations of the Sanctions Committee is.  They want WIPO to inform them in the future of any such transactions, and we trust that WIPO will abide by the recommendations of the Sanctions Committee.

Question:  And they say… but they also say, "should have".  They didn't say it was okay before but do it in the future.  They're saying this was a… this was an error, and I guess I'm just wondering, since it went around and around several times, when's the last time they met with Mr. [Francis] Gurry?

Deputy Spokesman:  We will leave it for WIPO to make any response to the findings of the panel, but in any case, the recommendation is for better sharing of information in the future, and we trust that WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, along with all UN bodies, will share information with panels as needed.  Did you have a question?  If not, then okay…

Question:  Today, for east Ghouta in Syria, they evacuated like 4,000 people and they're still, you know… they fire up over there and the killing the other people, so what's going on with that and what happened with the UN about that?  Do you have any information about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I said at the start of the briefing, there was a statement that the Secretary-General has issued this morning expressing his concerns about the exodus of people from eastern Ghouta, as well as from Afrin.  And Staffan de Mistura also spoke to the Security Council about the situation.  In terms of numbers, by the way, we're aware that an estimated 12,000 to 16,000 people have left eastern Ghouta in the past days.  The majority of those leaving are from the Hamouriyeh area, but they also include some medical cases from Douma.  The actual number of people who have exited eastern Ghouta is not known, given the amount of people leaving.  From our side, the UN today is visiting three of the collective shelters in the Damascus area where people who have left eastern Ghouta have arrived at, and we're delivering emergency items, including food, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene kits, as well as other assistance.  Joe?

Question:  Yes.  Can you comment on what plans, if any, the Secretary-General has to specifically offer his good offices in connection with the planned summit between Kim Jong-Un and President [Donald] Trump, given the fact that, for example, Sweden has hosted the North Korean Foreign Minister?  And would he be open to offering UN facilities, whether in Geneva or some other location, to host that summit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we would have to see what the parties themselves would want.  Obviously, we are ready to play whatever role we can play to be helpful in this process, as we've made clear through our recent statements, but beyond that, it's ultimately up to the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to determine what they want from us.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I ask you how about an update in Yemen? No news?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding Yemen, what the update I provided was about the completion of a diphtheria campaign that was organized by the UN Children's Fund and the World Health Organization, and so that's what happened.  And you'll have seen that yesterday, we provided an update from the International Organization for Migration, as well.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, some more questions, so I wanted to ask you.  There was a vote taken yesterday by UN staff in Geneva, and… and more than 89 per cent of them voted to go on strike, and they also… there was a letter that was sent to the Secretary-General by… I want to make sure I get this right.  By Public Services International, saying that… that… that basically complaining that the threat sent by Mr. [Michael] Møller was contrary to international… you know, labour law.  And… and I'm just wondering, one, has he received this letter?  Two, what does he say… to… to that high level of… of staff voting to strike, and there's some plan for a march on Monday here in New York, I'm sure you've gotten that e-mail.  So what… I guess it seems like this is getting… it's not a 50/50 issue.  It seems like a large percentage of the staff feel this is a problem.  What is the Secretary-General doing to address it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there's no prohibition against strikes, but Mr. Møller, I believe, was reminding the staff of the relevant regulations that we have as international civil servants.  And beyond that, we'll have to see how this plays out.  I do believe that the management of the United Nations continues to be in dialogue with staff, and we'll try to see what we can do to address their concerns.

Question:  I guess I just… I'm now looking more closely at the letter.  It says, "It is frankly astonishing to see the UN so clearly undermine the fundamental rights which the labour movement fought for a century to achieve.  With this in mind, we implore you to publicly affirm the right of UN workers to take part in industrial action."  Does the Secretary-General believe that UN staff have a right to take part in industrial action?

Deputy Spokesman:  We believe that the right to strike is part of customary international law.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The president of the Philippines proposed charges of terrorism against the special rapporteur on indigenous rights, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, among other activists in the Philippines.  Does the Secretary-General have… has any comment on… on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, you'll have seen that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, spoke out on behalf of this particular person, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.  We are concerned about any attacks anywhere against human rights defenders as they go about their work.  Yes?

Question:  Also in the Philippines, I wanted to… I think I had asked you about the announcement by President [Rodrigo] Duterte about withdrawing from the ICC (International Criminal Court).  Now, they at least say that they have given official notice.  Has such a letter been received?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not a letter, but what I can say is that the permanent representative of the Philippines met with the Chef de Cabinet yesterday evening and handed over to her a note verbale, informing the Secretary-General of the decision of the Philippines to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any report related from Ghassan Salamé for Libya?  What's going on with Libya right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  He continues his work, and he continues to deal with the various parties on the ground in Libya.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Question:  I want to ask if I could… the… the… since it's so rare, I got asked today.  The President of… of Cameroon, Paul Biya, held his… a Cabinet meeting for the first time since 2015, second one in the last six years, and one of the quotes coming out of it is to congratulate his defence and security forces for their… to drastically curb the atrocities perpetrated by criminal groups in the far north, north-west, and south-west regions.  And "the far north" seems to be a reference to Boko Haram, but "north-west" and "south-west" is… are the Anglophone regions, where there's a dispute about whether that part of the country is… actually is part of Cameroon.  So I wanted to know, given what's been said by François Fall and others about dialogue, if they took note of the speech, if they have any thought on it.  And I had also… and also on the issue that you had been talking about, about investigating leaks, I wanted to ask a very specific question.  If an internal UN memo concerning Cameroon, not submitted by the Government of Cameroon, but simply the UN's own analysis on why it might make sense to not speak out or to speak out, were to be leaked, is that the type of leak that would be investigated, since you said that it's done at the behest of or in order to protect Member States' ability to give information to the UN, if I understood you correctly?

Deputy Spokesman:  And part of what I said is that those are decisions to be taken ultimately by the managers who deal with the various files.  I wouldn't answer on any particular hypothetical circumstance.

Question:  But is there any guidance… I know… Is there any guidance from the top of… are there cases where, from the top, the UN would say this is not an appropriate thing to investigate because it chills whistle-blowers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, you're aware of what the whistle-blower protections are, and all managers are aware of those.  Regarding your question on Cameroon and the behaviour of the security forces, we've also made clear our concerns about any excessive use of force, and we want to make sure both that security forces, wherever they're deployed, avoid excessive use of force, abide by international human rights norms, and in this particular case, of course, we want to make sure that nothing is done to forestall any efforts at dialogue.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Khalas.

Deputy SpokesmanKhalas.

For information media. Not an official record.