9 April 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.


The Secretary-General is in China, where, as you know, he arrived on Saturday.  Yesterday, he met with President Xi Jinping.  The Secretary-General congratulated President Xi on his recent re-election and expressed appreciation for the President’s support to the work of the United Nations.  He said the United Nations continues to count on China’s leadership and commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda including through international cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.  The Secretary-General also commended China’s consistent and constructive advocacy for a diplomatic solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.  He underlined the commitment of the United Nations system to assist in supporting a process of sincere dialogue, leading to sustainable peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.  Yesterday, he also met with Yang Jiechi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, and Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited the China Peacekeeping Police Training Center.  He paid tribute to the more than 2,400 Chinese peacekeepers around the world and expressed his gratitude for China’s commitment to United Nations peacekeeping.  He said peacekeeping is the most noble mission in today’s world, with women and men ready to sacrifice everything to protect the most vulnerable.  He then left for Boao, in Hainan Province, to attend the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.  He is scheduled to make a statement during the Forum’s opening ceremony tomorrow.  And we will have sent that to you.


Back here, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at this morning’s opening of the fifty-first session of the Commission on Population and Development.  The theme of this year’s session is “Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration’.  Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, Ms. Mohammed said that our populations are linked as never before and cities are at the forefront of receiving, assisting and integrating migrants and refugees.  The migration of people to cities can enhance diversity and integration that can contribute to well-being and innovation she said, but warned that gaps in understanding are easily filled by myths and misconceptions.  She stressed the Commission’s work on obtaining better data is vital to inform global discussions on migration.  You can watch the sessions this week on the WebTV website and also follow through the hashtags #CPD51 and #UNPopulation.


At 3 p.m., this afternoon, we expect the Security Council to meet on Syria.  Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, and Thomas Markram of the Office for Disarmament Affairs are both expected to brief the Security Council.  Mr. de Mistura will do so via videoconference.  Earlier today, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, expressed his grave concern in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack on 7 April in Douma, in Syria.  The Fact-Finding Mission from OPCW is in the process of gathering further information from all available sources to establish whether chemical weapons were used.  The Mission will report its findings back to OPCW.

And you’ll have seen our statement from yesterday, in which the Secretary‑General expressed his concern about renewed and intensive violence in Douma in eastern Ghouta, following a period of relative calm.  The Secretary-General is particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons were used against civilian populations in Douma.  While the United Nations is not in a position to verify these reports, the Secretary-General notes that any use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, is abhorrent, and requires a thorough investigation.


Turning to Gaza, we remain deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza, particularly the reports of fatalities and injured civilians during last Friday’s demonstrations.  We condemn any action leading to the loss of civilian lives.  We reiterate our call on all sides to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and, in particular, any measures that could place civilians in harm's way.  The Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, remains in contact with pertinent interlocutors to have a full picture of events, including reported Palestinian attempts to bridge the fence and alleged improvised explosive device attempts throughout the weekend.  Mr. Mladenov was in Gaza today.  As the Secretary-General has pointed out, the current situation underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution.  Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, warned on Friday that Gaza’s health sector is struggling to deal with the mass influx of casualties.  An estimated $2 million is urgently needed in the short term for medicine, medical disposables, laboratory materials and other supplies.

**Central African Republic

Yesterday, in the Central African Republic, Government forces from the Central African Republic, as well as from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) launched a joint disarmament and arrest operation targeting the bases of criminal groups in the PK5 neighbourhood in Bangui.  The operation resulted in arrests and the seizure of arms, ammunition and drugs.  This joint operation will continue until the criminal groups of PK5 are dismantled.  The residents of PK5 have repeatedly called on MINUSCA to intervene and put an end to the activities of the neighbourhood’s criminal gangs.  These gangs are responsible for extensive abuses against the local population, including extorsion of merchants and attacking civilians, while blocking the return of State authorities.  Prior to the operation, these criminal groups were provided the opportunity to voluntarily disarm, which would have enabled some of their members to benefit from socioeconomic programmes, along with the wider community.  Unfortunately, the leaders of the groups refused this option, despite a mediation offered by community leaders.


Today, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, are in Darfur, in Sudan.  Upon arrival in Khartoum yesterday, they held discussions on the overall situation in Darfur and the implementation of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) mandate, including its ongoing reconfiguration.  They also held meetings with Government officials, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ibrahim Ghandour.  Tomorrow, after a visit to the Zam Zam camp for displaced persons, Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Chergui will travel to the Central African Republic.  They will also co-chair the first meeting of the International Support Group on the Central African Republic, aimed at encouraging the international community to re-engage in the peace process and to support the urgent humanitarian needs of millions in the country.  The joint visit is aimed at further strengthening the important partnership between the United Nations and the African Union.  More details in a note to correspondents, which was issued over the weekend.

**Sport and Crime

Back here, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, spoke at an event on “Crime Prevention and Sustainable Development through Sports”.  He stressed the importance of sport as a means of engaging with youth and as a path for prevention of violence and crime.  “Fair play, tolerance and team spirit” are just a few of the common principles of sport with the sustainable development agenda, he said, and he added that the United Nations is committed to working with young people around the world to build resilience, promote opportunities for them, and harness positive change.  You can watch this morning’s proceedings on the UN WebTV portal.

**Honour Roll

Lastly, we thank our friends in Bridgetown, in Barbados, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, which brings us up to the beautiful number of 75.  Khalas.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Deepak Arora with the Tribune Online.  Secretary‑General's visit to China and he has offered his assistance for a successful dialogue for the Korean Peninsula, and I'm asking this question…

Spokesman:  Successful what?

Question:  Dialogue, for peace in Korean Peninsula.  Now, I'm asking this question in the light, of course, they're having… the two Presidents are having the meeting at the special zone between North and South Korea.  Now, the world is looking forward to a meeting between President Kim [Jong Un] and President [Donald] Trump.  Now, did the Secretary‑General offer or was there any reaction from Chinese about the place hosting it, either in Geneva or UN Headquarters in New York?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any specific offer that we've made to host any discussions.  Obviously, we welcome the ongoing dialogue, the expected… between… not only between the north… between the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and the Republic of Korea, but also the expected meeting between the President of the United States and the leader of the DPRK.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding that meeting between the Secretary‑General and President Xi Jinping, the President… Chinese President said that global governance needs to be improved.  And in answer, the Secretary‑General said, multilateral institutions need to be strengthened.  What does he mean precisely, the Secretary‑General, that…?

Spokesman:  I think we can always… the organs of the United Nations, the institutions of the United Nations can be strengthened, one, by ensuring that all its Member States recommit themselves to working through multilateral institutions.  And I think there is always a need, and, as you know, the Secretary‑General is pushing on his end for reform to make these institutions more effective.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General understand the desire of China to play a larger role in the Bretton Woods Institutions, namely, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank, as well?

Spokesman:  I think it's not for the Secretary‑General to speak for the Chinese Government.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Regarding the planned investigation of the alleged chemical attack in Syria, could you provide any more details on timetable and kind of the modalities of this investigation?  Are there going to be ongoing talks with the Syrian Government, perhaps through the UN's own facilities, for access?

Spokesman:  Just to be clear, what we have is an existing mechanism, which is led by the OPCW, not by the Secretariat.  So, it's led out of The Hague by the Organisation for the Prohibition of the use of Chemical Weapons, and its fact‑finding mechanism, which has been in place for some time, which is there to establish the facts as to whether or not chemical weapons were used.  That's in the hands of the OPCW.  There was, up until a short while ago, another mechanism, which was the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which is… was there to further investigate and assign responsibility.  The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism was not renewed, so we are left right now, in terms of international institutions, with the fact‑finding mission.

Question:  But, in the past, isn't it true that the UN has tried to facilitate on‑site access and kind of the modalities for the investigators to go in…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think right now it's in the hands of the OPCW.  Obviously, if the UN in Syria can be helpful in any way, we will do so.  Masood then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this conflicting… what do you call… demand for a Security Council meeting, one was by the Russians and one was by the Western group led by UK and US and other countries.  Now, can you tell us about this attack that the Russians claimed on… by the Israelis in… in this raid on this… one of the Syrian base, is that going to be part of the whole Security Council meeting?  Is it your understanding?

Spokesman:  I think… first of all, from our point of view, we have no independent information as to… on the attack on the Syrian base, just to make that clear.  Second, you… I think… that's a question for the Council Presidency.  I mean, I… like you, we read in the press the conflicting requests for meetings.  What we have been told by our colleagues in the Security Council affairs is that there will be a meeting at 3 p.m. on the situation in Syria.  We will be providing a briefing on our end, which will focus, obviously, on the need for… the continuing need to protect civilians, the fact… underscoring the fact that, regardless of who is to blame for the violence, the civilians [are] continuing to pay a price, underscoring the fact that, again, that we need… as if we needed to say it again, but we will say it again, that there is no other solution but a political solution to this current crisis.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Friday, a young Palestinian journalist… his name is Yasser Murtaja.  He's 30 years old.  He was… he has the vest clearly marked "press", yet he was shot and killed.  And I'm waiting to hear any statement, which normally the U… especially UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] issues statements condemning targeting journalists.  Is there any position on that?

Spokesman:  Look, as a matter of principle, we, of course, stand against the targeting of journalists.  We have condemned those targeted attacks against journalists over and over again, as have our colleagues at UNESCO.  And we've condemned any action that has led to the loss of civilian life.  Okay.  I was trying to escape, but I guess, Mr. Klein, you may go at it again.

Question:  Yeah.  I want to go back to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.  Have there been any reports from any UN personnel on the ground that would confirm or… or lead to believe that there was such an attack that involved chlorine gas?  I mean… or is… or is the UN itself just as much in the dark as the rest of us in relying on… you know, on the media?

Spokesman:  We're not in a position at this point to independently verify the allegations, but, obviously, any allegation of continued use of chemical weapons is extremely, extremely troubling.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah.  So, in order words, you're not able to verify also the Israeli attack of…?

Spokesman:  I just… I think I just said that.  I… we have no way of verifying at this point.  We're not on‑site at these military bases.  And obviously, we have no way of verifying who may be responsible for these attacks.  If they… go ahead, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  At the Beijing meeting, has the Secretary‑General raised the question of South China Sea dispute?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware if that specific issue came up, but we can check.  Mr. Brenden Varma, it is your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.