17 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.


I will start off with a statement on Guinea-Bissau:  The Secretary-General welcomes the appointment of Aristides Gomes as Prime Minister of Guinea-Bissau on 16 April.  Mr. Gomes’ appointment was made on the basis of consensus arrived at by the key national political stakeholders.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the announcement that the country’s legislative elections will take place on 18 November.  The announcement provides a clear mandate for the urgent preparations for these elections.  These developments followed an Extraordinary Session of the Authority of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Guinea-Bissau, which was held in Lomé, Togo on 14 April.  The Secretary-General commends the role played by the President of the ECOWAS Authority, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo and the ECOWAS Mediator for Guinea‑Bissau, President Alpha Condé of Guinea.

The Secretary-General is also encouraged by the spirit of compromise and leadership demonstrated by President Jose Mario Vaz, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde and the Party for Social Renewal.  He urges all parties to promptly take crucial steps, including the formation of an inclusive Government, reopening of the National Assembly and implementation of the remaining provisions of the Conakry Agreement.  The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment to continue to work closely with the African Union, ECOWAS, European Union and the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries in supporting peacebuilding and consolidation in Guinea-Bissau.

**Saudi Arabia

The Secretary-General has been in Riyadh today — where he remains today — where he spoke at the opening of the sixteenth meeting of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre Advisory Board.  He stressed the need to focus on prevention by addressing the underlying conditions that lure young men and women to terrorism and violent extremism.  “No one is born a terrorist,” he said, but added that unresolved conflicts and socioeconomic marginalization play a significant role in transforming grievances into destructive action.  He said the Centre should adapt to the changing needs of Member States and expand and diversify donor support if it is to succeed.  The Secretary-General also told members of the Board that in June he will convene a United Nations high-level conference of heads of counter-terrorism agencies of Member States to strengthen cooperation through new partnerships.  His remarks are online.  He also met today with His Majesty King Salman and had lunch with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.  He also met with the Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Adel al-Jubeir.  And they just finished a joint press conference after.  We are busy — colleagues are busy transcribing that.


Meanwhile, back here, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy dealing with Yemen, briefed the Security Council this morning on his recent talks with the parties.  In what he said was a preliminary report, Mr. Griffiths said that there is good news and bad news — the good news being that a political solution to end the war and halt the fighting is available; the bad news being that the war has, if anything, become louder and more pressing these last few weeks.  He said he was encouraged by his meetings with President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and with the Ansar Allah leadership and their constructive attitudes.  Mr. Griffiths emphasised that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the Yemeni conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.  Regarding the negative developments, he noted unconfirmed reports that movements of forces in Yemen are on the increase and that the prospect of intensive military operations in Hodeidah may be soon forthcoming.  The Emergent Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also briefed the Council, saying that humanitarian agencies have scaled up their work in Yemen.  Last year, he said, more than 7 million people were receiving monthly food assistance by December 2017.  Yet, Yemen remains the world's worst humanitarian crisis.  He said that three quarters of the population, more than 22 million people, urgently require some form of humanitarian help, including 8.4 million people who struggle to find their next meal.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) say that the shortfall in the agency’s budget, which covers UNRWA core services such as health and education, has been reduced from $243 million in January to $173 million after the successful Rome conference.  The shortfall for the life-saving emergency assistance in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been reduced to $97.6 million, while the shortfall for the Syria crisis has been reduced to $165.5 million.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us they have launched a joint military and police fact‑finding investigation into the events of 8-11 April, that took place in Bangui in relation to Operation Sukula and its aftermath.  The Force Provost Marshall-Military Police will take the lead in the investigation with support from the UNPOL-Criminal Investigation Section.  The fact-finding [investigation] is in accordance with internal investigation procedures and is expected to be completed on 30 April.  Upon completion of the investigation, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General shall make a determination on the required follow-up action, which may include convening of a Board of Inquiry and/or referral for further investigation.


From Mali, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is alarmed at a spike in intercommunal violence in central Mali which, over the past weeks, has driven some 3,000 people into neighbouring Burkina Faso.  Dozens of people have been killed in clashes between the Dogon and Peul communities since February, with homes and other property having been destroyed, mainly in the Koro area of central Mali’s Mopti region.  With extremist and intercommunal violence on the rise, UNHCR now fears more displacement and increased humanitarian needs.  The new displacement adds to the challenges faced by the people of the region.  Food insecurity is high due to a lack of rain, affecting crops.  Health facilities are equally overstretched, with gaps in medicines and staff.


UNHCR also wanted to tell us today that Chile has become the latest State to accede to the international conventions on statelessness.  UNHCR welcomes the country’s commitment to promote the fundamental right to nationality.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, we will have Brenden Varma who will brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.  And then, I will be joined by Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  She will be here to brief you on her recent trip to Myanmar.

**Honour Roll

And today, we say gracias to our friends in Guatemala City who have paid their budget dues in full, which bring us up to… which brings us up to?  Well… you got the closest, so it's 80.  All right.  Okay.  You said 80?  Well, then, if you have a question, you go ahead.  Well, you can come back to it.  You yield.  Yes.  Go ahead…

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Yes.  For past couple of weeks, there were…

Spokesman:  You yielded.

Question:  I did?

Spokesman:  You have to move quickly here.  Either you claim your prize or you lose it.  Go ahead.

Question:  For past few weeks, Iran has been accused of selling arms or giving arms to Yemen… Yemenis, and international communities are very upset, and UN is calling on arms to be stopped.  But, since I remember, international community were providing arms to almost everybody.  How come now Iran is… UN is objecting on Iran, but UN will never object on US giving arms to South America, Russia gives arms to Afghanistan and Britain gives…?

Spokesman:  Okay.  There… If I try to understand your question, there are certain places where there are weapons and arms embargoes.  We expect all Member States to respect those arms embargoes.  There is, as we know, a legal international arms market, and it's important that those weapons be used in a way that respects international law.  Mr. Klein and then… and then… go ahead.  Go ahead, Joe.

Question:  Yeah.  Will there be a readout… readouts of the Secretary‑General's meetings with the… the Saudi King and Crown Prince?  That's the first question.  And, second, has he brought up or does he intend to bring up, in addition to the other factors that might cause terrorism, the extremist jihadist ideology in Saudi Arabia that even President [Abdulfattah al] Sisi has criticized in the past, at least religious extremism?

Spokesman:  I would refer you… on the issue of countering terrorism, I would refer you to his remarks that he delivered today.  The Secretary‑General, as I mentioned, did meet with His Majesty King Salman.  The Secretary‑General and the King discussed a number of issues of mutual concern, including the Middle East peace process.  In that connection, he thanked the King for the Kingdom's contribution to support UNRWA.  He also thanked him for his contributions to Yemen's Humanitarian Response Plan.  The Secretary‑General also thanked Saudi Arabia for its financial and political support for the UN counter‑terrorism efforts and for hosting of the conference.  I think what they also… what the Secretary‑General and the Saudi leadership discussed is the way forward on political solutions to a number of crises in the broader region, which include Yemen, which include Syria, which include Libya.  And I think they both… they also… the Secretary‑General also, along with the Saudis, reaffirmed their strong belief and support for a two‑State solution.

Question:  Could I just follow up on… on that question?  On my question anyway.  And your answer.  Did the subject of children… children in conflict and Saudi Arabia's efforts to improve that situation come up and… and the blockade and the Saudi‑led Coalition's bombing?

Spokesman:  They discussed… Yemen was very much part of the discussions.  The Secretary‑General's call on all parties in the conflict to avoid civilian casualties, to avoid targeting civilian infrastructure, to more broadly respect international humanitarian, human rights law stands and is one that he often repeats.  Evelyn, you now have the floor, and then we'll go to you, Matthew.  Go ahead, yes?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.  One question on Yemen.  What I don't understand is Iraq, right… justifiably so, is criticized for sending missiles into Saudi Arabia.  But, the Coalition is not mentioned by name for stopping imports at… and exports at…

Spokesman:  I think we have… both politically and our humanitarian colleagues have been loud and clear in calling out all of those who have stood in the way of ensuring greater humanitarian access and who have perpetuated the military aspect of this conflict.

Question:  This morning at the Security Council?

Spokesman:  No, I'm saying it has been repeatedly done.  Matthew?

Correspondent:  Both OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and Mr. Griffiths, neither of them called out the Coalition by name.

Spokesman:  I think, if you look back to the statements that have been made since the start of the conflict, you will see we have called out when they all needed to be called out.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I'm… I'm hoping that you have an answer on Burundi.  Yesterday, you said you would check about this disappearing statement.  But, I want to be sure to ask you something on Cyprus, just to understand better.  There's a story in the Cyprus Mail that says, "Rosemary DiCarlo has the most likely chance of becoming the next personal envoy of UN Secretary‑General António Guterres in Cyprus"… or “on Cyprus”, I guess that would be.  And I just wanted to know, is it even possible that one could be Under‑Secretary‑General of Political Affairs and also a… an envoy on a specific topic?  And when does she begin?

Spokesman:  As you know, we announce new appointments when we're ready to announce them so that there's… wherever we are in the world, there's a wonderful game of speculating what the Secretary‑General will do until there's an announcement.  As… in theory, anything is possible.  But, obviously, we're not in a position to talk about an announcement.

Question:  But isn't it a job that takes…?

Spokesman:  There was a discussion yesterday with the two… in Cyprus where the two leaders had a frank and open exchange of views during their two‑hour tête‑à‑tête discussion, which was facilitated by the UN.  This was the first time the two leaders met since the conclusion of the Conference on Cyprus in Crans‑Montana in July of last year.  Both sides have made it clear that the meeting did not mark the resumption of the negotiations.  But, obviously, as we've always said, the Secretary‑General's good offices remain at the disposal of both parties.

Question:  And when does Rosemary DiCarlo start?

Spokesman:  1 May, I believe.  Linda, and then we'll go…

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I just wanted to ask you about the Swedish retreat this weekend.  In general, does… the Security Council meeting in New York…?  Yeah, I'm sorry.

Spokesman:  The Security Council, hosted by Sweden.  Not a Swedish retreat per se.  But, I'm sure it will be full of Swedish flavours.

Question:  I hope so, I hope so.  But, in general, though, the usual retreat, is it not usually in New York or the United States…?

Spokesman:  It is.  It is usually at Greentree.  In fact, we will have, tomorrow, a briefing by the Swedish Permanent Mission, who will go into more details on the retreat.  We'll also have an official announcement of the Secretary‑General's travels.  You know, obviously, I think the link… there's a deep link between Dag Hammarskjöld and the Security Council, but I think I will let my Swedish colleagues explain that much better than I tomorrow.

Question:  Can I just ask… does that mean that Sweden are underwriting the…?

Spokesman:  They're supporting it.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What does the Secretary‑General think of today's warning by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that protectionism will slow down global economic growth next year and this year?

Spokesman:  I haven't had a chance to speak to him directly about that, but I… if you'll recall, during his statement in China in the Boao Forum, I think he stood very much for… he said the answer to the challenges that globalization may present is not protectionism and isolationism.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this Secretary‑General's meeting with the Saudi King and on that… the… how much Secretary‑General is satisfied with assurances given, if at all, by the Saudis not be… funding the groups in the… in Syria, which are… also primary responsibility for situation that exists in Syria and similarly in Yemen and that… how much…?

Spokesman:  Look, as I said, they had a discussion on the political way forward in many of the crises that the broader region faces.

Correspondent:  And in Yemen, I mean, I'm talking about Yemen.

Spokesman:  I said… that includes Yemen.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, thank you.  Please, before I proceed to my question, can I clarify what Matthew said?  You said that, after last night and dinner in Cyprus, you have nothing to announce at the right moment and as regards possibility of an appointment for the…?

Spokesman:  That's correct.

Question:  Correct.  Okay.  The thing is that, given that there is a problem here, okay, before you said… let me say it, that… that you're expecting countries to respect international rules, et cetera.  Here we're trying to find solution, but there are violations by Turkey on a daily basis, and how a solution can be found when one country does not respect the rights of another country?

Spokesman:  I think what… for the Secretary‑General, I think you'll recall, after the closure of the Crans‑Montana meeting, he encouraged all parties to reflect in order to determine whether conditions should mature again for a meaningful process in the future.  The Secretary‑General's good offices are always available, and it is… as in any issue that is a political issue that is unresolved, we need to find will within both parties to move forward.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, you noticed that, on the first Friday… 30 March, the Secretary‑General issued a statement before the march and… in Gaza and one after it.  And, in the second march, he also issued a statement after.  But, the third march, last Friday, I don't recall he issued any statement.  So, does that mean the UN is tolerating these attacks on Palestinian civilians?

Spokesman:  The message from the United Nations to all the parties involved is one for restraint, one to respect people's rights to demonstrate peacefully, to ensure the protection, especially of children, in demonstrations and to ensure that minors and children are not put in harm's way.  Yeah?

Question:  Can I just… there is also 26 journalists in Israeli jails that… they had never been mentioned in any statement or monthly report.  Why is that?  Twenty-six journalists.

Spokesman:  I will ch… I don't have a specific answer for you.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  On Yemen, this morning, Mr. Griffiths said that he will be presenting the Security Council with a plan to relaunch the talks within… in two months.  He described the situation as being serious and the war, as he said in his words, are… is louder than ever before.  Can you speak to some of the elements or the details that made the basis for this announcement?

Spokesman:  No, I think… obviously, Mr. Griffiths will… when he's ready to share the plan will.  As you know, he's really picked up on the work already done by his predecessor.  He's had a series of consultations, and when they're ready to emerge with a plan, they will.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], you referred us to them, but I'm still wondering if you have anything to share with us.

Spokesman:  No.  I think anything of substance on the OPCW mission will come from them, as to when they're on location, what they're doing.  The UN is there to support them in any way we can, and we continue to do so.

Question:  Would you be able to confirm whether the team has arrived in Douma?

Spokesman:  No, that's up to them to do.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about the fact that the Global Fund to treat AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis is cutting funding on North Korea in June?  And, according to doctors at Harvard Medical School and elsewhere…

Spokesman:  I will… I have not… I was not aware of that.  I will check and get back to you.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Just one follow‑up, I mean, on UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS].  I'd asked you yesterday about the various calls, including one letter that's said to be to the Secretary‑General.  Is he going to respond to those letters?  You'd said he encouraged… he appreciates dialogue and hearing from people.

Spokesman:  As a matter of course, the Secretary‑General's a polite person.  When he gets a letter, he either acknowledges or responds.

Question:  That's not always the case but… I wanted to ask you about… on the same topic of sexual harassment and abuse, it's said that the… the Australian Government, the… the International Development Minister has said that Australia, specifically as a country, has sought assurances from the UN regarding sexual exploitation in… in Syria, Central African Republic and other places.

Spokesman:  In Syria?  Yeah?

Question:  Yes.  Is that… is that… is that the case?  And I'd asked you previously about this group called MOPAN, which is a… an acronym I won't unpack, but it was chaired by Norway, that it'd asked… you'd said that there are reports on these things, but is the Secretar… on… on the way in which the Secretariat has dealt with sexual harassment cases, are… is there a dialogue going on with particular Member States…?

Spokesman:  Well, there's a dialogue going on with all Member States, because there's no way to fight sexual harassment and sexual abuse without being in partnership with Member States.  So there is a constant dialogue going on.

Question:  Sure.  But has there… I guess what I'm saying is, are there… has there been provision of information beyond that which you referred to in public reports…?

Spokesman:  We respond to Member States as requested.  Yes, and that will be the last question.

Question:  Oh, thank you.  Okay.  Is there any reason why UN doesn't want to get involved when comes to the arms sales country to country?  Because Iran doesn't have a factory.  It buys the arm from somewhere else.  Why UN doesn't want to get involved?

Spokesman:  There is a great effort in the UN for disarmament of all weapons, but there are also… there is also a legal arms trade, and the UN has a mandate where it has a mandate.  Mr.  Varma, it's yours.

Question:  Does this mean you don't have an answer on Burundi?  I just want to…

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  We'll be right back with our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.