27 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.

**Saudi Arabia

The Secretary-General is expected to meet at 5 p.m. today with Prince Mohamad bin Salman al Saud, Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Today’s meeting follows the generous pledge that Saudi Arabia made with the United Arab Emirates in January to provide $930 million to the Yemen Humanitarian Fund.  We expect to issue a note following today’s meeting with more details.


Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council this morning by video teleconference on the humanitarian situation in Syria, and he said that the last few months have been some of the worst yet for Syrian civilians.  Among other recent examples of the violence, he said that more than 1,700 people have been reportedly killed by airstrikes in eastern Ghouta in recent weeks.  Meanwhile, he said, tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced from Douma, Saqba, Hrasta and Kafr Batna, among other locations, in recent weeks.  Most of the collective shelters for the displaced do not have the facilities to accommodate such a large number of people.  The United Nations has mobilized a rapid response to provide evacuees staying at shelters with basic goods.  Mr. Lowcock said that the United Nations and its partners continue to seek access to Douma, saying that we are ready to provide aid to some 16,500 people if we get the access we need.


A statement we issued yesterday said that the Secretary-General was shocked at reports of remarks attributed to Myanmar Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.  He urges all leaders in Myanmar to take a unified stance against incitement to hatred and to promote communal harmony.  Such leadership is critically needed to advance institutional measures to combat discrimination and implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.  The Secretary-General reiterates the importance of addressing the root causes of the violence and the responsibility of the Government of Myanmar to provide security and assistance to those in need.  Meanwhile, it is critical that conditions are put in place to ensure that the Rohingya are able to return home voluntarily, in safety and in dignity.


In Ukraine, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, George Okoth-Obbo, today called on the Government to address the plight of conflict-affected persons and to secure their rights, including access to pensions and freedom of movement.  Mr. Okoth-Obbo just concluded a week-long visit to the country, where conflict has displaced some 1.5 million people over the past four years.  In a meeting with Ukrainian officials, Mr. Okoth-Obbo said UNHCR was concerned over the low recognition rate for asylum seekers and urged the authorities to facilitate access for UNHCR and its partners to asylum seekers in international transit zones at airports to provide legal assistance.


Today, UNHCR and the Council of Europe announced the launch of the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, a project that aims to assess refugees’ education level, work experience and language proficiency in absence of full documentation.  The qualifications passport can be used by public authorities, higher education institutions and employers to better assess refugees’ skills and help refugees access the job market or be admitted to further studies in the host country.  The “passport” is also valid in other European countries if refugees move to another country in the continent.  More information can be found on UNHCR’s website.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) held a pledging conference yesterday for their Contingency Fund for Emergencies.  This Fund was established in 2016 as a result of the lessons learned from the Ebola crisis in West Africa to provide WHO with flexible funds that can be disbursed rapidly to fill the gaps until other financing streams become available.  At the conference, donors have pledged an additional $15.3 million to support quick action by WHO to tackle disease outbreaks and humanitarian health crises in 2018.  In 2017, the Fund provided nearly $21 million for operations in 23 countries, with most allocations released within 24 hours.  Without it, the recent outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Marburg Virus Disease in Uganda and pneumonic plague in Madagascar could have spiralled out of control.  WHO is seeking to secure further donor commitments to achieve its funding targets of $50 million for 2018 and $100 million for the 2018-2019 biennium.  And that is it for me.  Do we have any questions, please? Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, the Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia is supposed to be visiting United Nations today around… in afternoon, so forth.  Will the Secretary‑General also be talking to him about the Saudi campaign… unabated Saudi campaign in Yemen to be somehow, I mean… allow… people should be allowed more… what do you call… medicine and so… so forth?  And also, will there be any conversation about reported Saudi Prince's disallowance of his mother to visit his father?

Spokesman:  I do expect we'll issue a Note to Correspondents following the meeting, which will include some details of the meeting.  So, we'll provide details at that point.

Question:  Okay.  So, what about… so you're not… you can't answer now…?

Spokesman:  Well, I… I'm not going to try to predict the future.  Obviously, there are certain key issues that one can expect — certainly Yemen — to come up.  But, in terms of detail, we'll have a note that will have some more later on.  Yes.  Yes, Mr. Sato?

Correspondent:  Follow‑up question.  So, what do you think that… what the SG can do more in dealing with Yemen?  The situation is dire and United Nations appointed Special Representative, but still… the political situation is not moving.

Spokesman:  Yes.  You'll have seen the statement we issued yesterday about Yemen.  And among the things we pointed out, we did discuss the work of the Special Envoy on Yemen, Martin Griffiths.  He was in Riyadh, where he met with President Hadi and some other officials.  And he is in these coming days in Sana'a, and he'll have talks with officials there.  So, he is reaching out, and we'll see what progress he can make.  But, we have always supported the idea of bringing the parties to a negotiated solution, and… and we'll continue with that, and he will continue with his efforts.  First Matthew, and then we'll go back to you.  Yes, Matthew?

Correspondent:  Sure.  Something else, but on Yemen, I wanted to ask if the part… if you can find… either know or find out whether Mr. Griffiths met with Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former Saleh.  There's a lot of talk about having him be removed from the sanctions list.  And although I understand that would be up to the Security Council, I'm wondering if, in his visit to Sana’a, he met with the son of Saleh.

Spokesman:  His visit to Sana’a is continuing.  We'll provide more details about that once it's concluded.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you about… yesterday, I'd asked you on… about this DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] aid conference for… for 13 April, and I… I mean, you seem to say that they've… that the DRC authorities haven't indicated in any way that they're not going.  And I'd seen before then and after then a quote by a Mr. Makila of the Government saying that they're not going.  And even today, at the stakeout, Ambassador Pierce of… of the UK said that he… at the DRC luncheon yesterday, it seems that even the Secretary‑General wasn't saying necessarily that they're going.  So, is there some… do you want to amplify or say a little bit more on that?  What is the UN's understanding of the DRC going?

Spokesman:  Again, as I pointed out yesterday, although we're aware of the press reports, authorities continue to work closely with us on planning the important event.  They have not signalled in any official correspondence that they would decline to participate.

Question:  But, have you seen Mr. Makila's quote that they're not going?

Spokesman:  Like I said, I've seen all the quotes.  And yet, at the same time, when it comes to our working‑level contacts, authorities continue to work with us, and there has been no official correspondence concerning the… saying that they would decline to participate.  Masood, and then… and then you can go in the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane [sic].  I wanted to find out, do you have any information about Kim Jong‑un's visit to China… secret visit to China?  Do you have any information about him at all?

Spokesman:  We're aware of the media reports, but we have no official… we have no first‑hand information about any of that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yeah, I have a question about Kosovo.  Do you have any explanation what is going on there?  Serbia president was last week in Washington, D.C.  He came here.  Then he went to Brussels, and then he went back home, and something happened yesterday.  Can you tell us something about it?

Spokesman:  We're… we're aware of the reports of recent incidents.  Obviously, the UN [Interim Administration] Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) would want for there to be calm, and… and they would call for restraint by all sides in the events on the ground.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About Syria, do you know… do you have any update about the situation in Tal Refaat and in Afrin?  And how many humanitarian convoys in… in… have been allowed to reach those areas, both Afrin and Tal Refaat?

Spokesman:  I believe we mentioned this in yesterday's briefing, so I'd just refer you to that.  But, we were providing some assistance in Tal Refaat, and so I'd refer you back to what I said.

Question:  And I just heard Mr. Lowcock talk about the Syr… the Turkish Government allowed… just informed the UN that they will allow the convoys to go through the Syrian border.  Does that mean, in the past two months, no humanitarian convoy has been allowed into Afrin through the Turkish border?

Spokesman:  No, we've had two convoys, and we've mentioned our activities in Afrin at the time.  As you know, wherever we go, there are sometimes difficulties dealing with getting the allowances we need from the various authorities.  And so, I would just refer you to what Mr. Lowcock said at the briefing just now, and that's the latest information on that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Again, just to fol… just to follow up the… the… that Kosovo question.  It seems like the… the issue is that the Kosovars have… police have arrested the ser… Marko Duric, and this led to big protest.  And I'm wondering, beyond just calling for restraint, does the UN or UNMIK or whatever have any view on the legitimacy of that arrest?  That seems to be the underlying issue of the protests.

Spokesman:  Well, the… that's a decision by the local legal authorities.  We'll have to look into the matter and see how that was arrived at.

Question:  How about, in [United Republic of] Tanzania, the… the national Chairman of the main opposition party has been arrested by the Government.  And I know that, in the past, maybe it was you or Stéphane — I can't remember — has had some statements on Tanzania.  Does… what does the UN think of this locking up the main opposition figure?

Spokesman:  I believe we've… yes, I think we have expressed our concerns about this some time back.  I would just refer you…

Correspondent:  I think this arrest is pretty new, not to…

Spokesman:  Yes, but we've… but we had a wider concern about the situation that we expressed at the time, which I'm trying to find here.  Oh, yes.  We are following closely developments in Tanzania, and we would call on the authorities there to respect freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.  Yes, please, Seana?

Question:  I know you can't comment on Kim Jong‑un's whereabouts, but if it turns out that he had met with the Chinese authorities, is there any kind of comment you can give to us, given the larger picture?

Spokesman:  We… again, we don't have any first‑hand information about any such meeting.  If… if we were to get that, we would have a reaction, but at this point… at this stage, all we have on this is media reports, so there's nothing really to rack to at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, I wanted to… yesterday, I'd asked you whether the Deputy Secretary‑General had raised these refouled or sent‑back Cameroonians.  And you'd said that she raised it generally.  Then I saw the Note to Correspondents that came out afterwards, and I have to ask you something about it.  When she met with President Buhari, the line says:  "They also called for respect of the guarantees of fair and humane treatment of those recently arrested and deported to Cameroon."  And I guess it's strange to some, because even UNHCR has said that this refoulement was illegal.  So, does the "they"… it means that President Buhari sent them back, including UNHCR refugees, but is now calling for them to be treated fairly where he sent them back?

Spokesman:  To… to read the entire passage, the basic point is, as we said about the situation in Cameroon and the status of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Deputy Secretary‑General agreed on the need to respect international obligations on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.  They also called for the respect of the rights of those recently arrested and deported to Cameroon.

Question:  So, I guess I… I just… I'm sorry, because it's… it's… it's… many people don't understand this.  If you're saying that they agreed on international obligations, the international obligation is not to have sent them back, but that's exactly what he did.  So, is he saying… is the President of Nigeria saying that this was wrong, and going forward, he won't do it?  What's he saying?

Spokesman:  I don't speak for the President of Nigeria…

Correspondent:  I know, but you said "they".  It's kind of a joint statement.

Spokesman:  I did point out that they agreed on the need, like I said, to respect international obligations on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Question:  But, you say you don't speak for him, but the statement… the UN statement says "they called for the respect of the guarantee of fair and humane treatment", with the "they" referring to President Buhari.  Is he calling for Cameroon to treat fairly those he sent back in violation of international law?

Spokesman:  Beyond this note that was agreed upon, I would not have anything to say about the President of Nigeria's statements or his actions.  You'd have to ask the Government of Nigeria.  One more question, and then I'm going to read something.  Okay.  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  I just want to know, Farhan, do… does the United Nations have anything to say about these two Indian journalists rammed by an SUV on which the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, has issued a statement saying… condemning it?  Do you have anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we… we, of course, are concerned about anything that would suggest the harassment or violence against journalists, anywhere in the world and… and would do so in this case.  Now, I have the following note to read right now.  The Secretary‑General is pleased to confirm that, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 72/252, he has reappointed Mohamed Chande Othman, former Chief Justice of [the United Republic of] Tanzania, to continue his work in relation to the investigation into the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him.  It is recalled that the Secretary‑General has previously appointed Chief Justice Othman as Eminent Person pursuant to General Assembly resolution 71/260, and the Secretary‑General transmitted the Eminent Person's report to the General Assembly in September 2017, which was document A/71/1042.  That report concluded, among other things, that it remains plausible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash.  The Secretary‑General urges Member States to actively assist the Eminent Person in the performance of his mandate.  In this respect, and as provided for in General Assembly resolution 72/252, the Secretary‑General calls on Member States that may hold information relevant to the Dag Hammarskjöld investigation to appoint an independent and high‑ranking official to conduct a dedicated internal review of their intelligence, security and defence archives to determine whether relevant information exists.  The Secretary‑General renews his commitment to this matter in the strongest terms as he [firmly believes] that he owes it to his illustrious and distinguished predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, and to the other members of the party accompanying him and to their families, to pursue the full truth of this matter.  And with that, let me clear the floor for Brenden.  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.