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

**Ecuador-Colombia Border

Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement concerning security incidents on the border between Ecuador and Colombia:  The Secretary-General condemns the kidnapping and killing of three media workers, confirmed on 13 April, as well as the subsequent kidnapping of two other Ecuadorian nationals.  He expresses his condolences to the families of the victims, and his sympathy and solidarity to the Government and the people of Ecuador.  These acts highlight the threats posed by criminal groups operating on the border between Ecuador and Colombia.  In this regard, the Secretary-General welcomes the close cooperation between both countries to address this common threat.  The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ availability to support the two Governments in the areas deemed necessary.


Just a reminder that the Secretary-General is leaving this afternoon to Sweden for his annual retreat with the Security Council and a State visit to the country.  He will be back in New York on Monday afternoon.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Yesterday, at the ongoing Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at several high-level meetings on education, global health financing, climate action, carbon pricing and data for development.  The Deputy Secretary-General also held discussions with Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, focused on strengthening the current United Nations-World Bank collaboration on financing for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  They also discussed the ongoing reforms and areas for enhanced engagement at the regional and country level in support of Member States to accelerate and scale up efforts towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, climate action and humanitarian response.  While in Washington, D.C., the Deputy Secretary-General also met with Ambassador Kevin Edward Moley, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.  They discussed the ongoing reform efforts at the United Nations, as well as several other international issues facing the United Nations.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of civilians, including Palestine refugees, after more than a week of increased violence and intense fighting around Yarmouk in Syria.  We estimate that there were about 6,000 Palestine refugee civilians in Yarmouk and about 6,000 in the surrounding areas.  There are reports that large numbers of people have been displaced from Yarmouk Camp to the neighbouring area of Yalda.  There are also reports of civilian casualties.  UNRWA is ready to provide assistance to the population in the area if and when the security situation allows and access is granted.


The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, continues to follow with concern the situation along the Gaza fence.  This is the fourth consecutive Friday where we are witnessing Palestinian casualties.  He reiterates that Israeli security forces must calibrate the use of force and only employ lethal force as a last resort.  He also reiterates his call on Palestinians to avoid friction at the Gaza fence.


Knut Ostby, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, today said he was deeply concerned about reports of an escalation in armed conflict in several areas of Kachin State since 7 April.  He has been particularly alarmed about reports of civilian casualties and the plight of communities affected by the fighting in Tanai and Hpakant townships, while other areas have been gravely affected, as well.  Mr. Ostby appealed to all parties to the conflict to allow displaced people and other civilians who may remain in the areas of conflict to be permitted to move to a more secure location of their choice and to allow for humanitarian assistance to reach these populations as a matter of urgency.  He also appealed to all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected at all times and reminded them of their obligations under international humanitarian law.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that poor rains in 2017 have led to a significant drought affecting much of the Sahel region.  The lean season, normally spanning June to August, already started in March in some areas, leading to drastic losses in livestock.  This is causing a crisis beyond what is experienced in normal years for pastoralist and agropastoralist communities, in particular.  Mauritania and parts of Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad and Mali are the worst‑affected countries.  Overall, more than 10 million people will require emergency food assistance during the lean season, up from 7.1 million currently, if adequate assistance is not provided in time.  In addition, 1.6 million children under five are projected to be affected by severe acute malnutrition.  This is a 46 per cent increase from 2017 estimates.


Yesterday, the Security Council heard a final briefing on Liberia by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, Alexander Zouev.  He stressed that the conclusion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) marked a historic milestone and a remarkable demonstration of confidence that the country is moving steadfastly along the path of sustained peace.  He also highlighted the need to continue building on the legacy of the Mission to make sure the hard-won peace in the country will remain, free from the scourge of war.  The United Nations remains in the country to support the people and Government of Liberia, Mr. Zouev said, also paying homage to the 202 United Nations peacekeepers who lost their lives in the pursuit of peace in the country.


I want to flag that on Monday at 10 a.m. in the Security Council, there will be an open debate on youth, peace and security, under the presidency of Peru.  The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, will speak on the findings of the independent progress study on youth, peace and security that was mandated by Security Council resolution 2250 (2015).  The meeting will be streamed live on UN WebTV.

**Global Compact

I have an appointment:  The Secretary-General is pleased to confirm that Bola Adesola of Nigeria, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Standard Chartered Nigeria, and Paul Polman of the Netherlands, Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, will serve as the two Vice-Chairs of the Board of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.  Ms. Adesola and Mr. Polman succeed out-going United Nations Global Compact Board Vice-Chair, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.  The Secretary-General extends his great appreciation to Sir Mark for serving in the position for the past 10 years and shepherding the Global Compact into a new era.  Both Ms. Adesola and Mr. Polman have served on the Board of the United Nations Global Compact previously, and will bring a wealth of experience in the private sector, in the corporate sustainability space and specifically with the Global Compact itself.  More in a press release in my office.

**Chinese Language Day

Today is Chinese Language Day.  There will be a series of events to mark the day organized by the Chinese Translation Service in association with the United Nations Chinese Book Club and the Chinese Language Programme.  These include a lecture on “Spirits Contained in Chinese Poetries”, by Bo Li at 1:30 p.m., and a panel discussion on China and the Sustainable Development Goals, at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 12, as well as a grand opening ceremony tonight at 7 p.m. by the Vienna Café.  You can find the full list of events online.


I was asked earlier about allegations against the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Janet Rogan.  First of all, I would like to emphasize that the United Nations country team and the Resident Coordinator will continue to be dedicated and impartial partners of the Zambian people.  One allegation has been that the Resident Coordinator has held back on the issuance of the so-called Conflict Structure Vulnerabilities report.  That document is a report of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, so the Resident Coordinator is not in a position to withhold it.  There were also allegations that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) contract consultants audited the voters’ roll.  These allegations were raised, and refuted, previously.  In fact, the consultants in question were hired by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, and not by UNDP.

**Press Briefings

Immediately following my briefing, Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here — as you can see, he is in the front row — along with Amena Yassine, the Senior Adviser to the President of the General Assembly.  Ms. Yassine will brief you on the forthcoming High-Level Meeting on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace, which will take place on 24 and 25 April here at United Nations Headquarters.  On Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing here by the NGO Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict to release their report entitled “Everyone and Everything is a Target:  The Impact on Children of Attacks on Healthcare and Denial of Humanitarian Access in South Sudan”.  This briefing is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom.  That is it for me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this… given the statement by the United Nations spokesperson on… for Palestinian Bedouins to be relocated in… in the… in… in West Bank, and also on the Palestinian children.  Has the Israeli Government responded at all to the… to the request by the United Nations, especially in case of… the Bedouins, Palestinian Bedouins to be relocated in West Bank?  And also the children incarcerated in Israeli gaols?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, regarding the question of the children, what I can tell you is that is, at the end of February 2018, 356 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners, including four administrative detainees.  Another five Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prison service facilities for being in Israel illegally.  And in addition, a small number of minors are held in IDF [Israeli Defense Force]-run facilities for short periods of time.  So, those are the figures that we have been able to obtain and we have been raising these concerns regularly and continue to do that.  As you know, our demand is for all minors to be charged promptly or otherwise released.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  The first Friday of this march, the Secretary-General issued a statement before and after.  And the second week, he issued a statement also after the… the fact that another 10 Palestinians were killed and 1,000 wounded.  Third week, he didn't issue anything.  And this week, now it's Mladenov who issued a statement expressing concern.  Two Palestinians already killed, with many injured.  I mean, the latest figure I had was 40.  Maybe by the time of this briefing, the number will mount.  Now, why only express concern when there are people demonstrating on their own land peacefully, and a sniper, who's fully equipped, targets someone… activist, and kill him.  Why you just express concern?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you're aware, we have asked, and continue to ask, for all of these incidents to be thoroughly investigated.  The sentiments that were expressed in the statements in the first weeks continue to apply.  And obviously, we will continue to be concerned, however many weeks this violence lasts.  We want to make sure that any use of force is a last resort, and we want the parties themselves to avoid any actions that prompt any further escalation on the ground, and we have asked both sides to do that.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  Farhan, I have a follow-up, and then a question on Yemen.  A follow-up.  You are talking about the fact that you issued… that the Secretary‑General issued two statements regard… and asking for investigation, but the Israelis refused, and the statements are talking about investigations by the Israelis themselves, and they are saying that they aren't… they don't want to do it.  So, my question is why are… the Secretary-General is not asking for international investigation for what's going on in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  These are actions by the Israeli Defense Forces and other security forces, so it's appropriate that Israel be the one to investigate them, and we'll continue with that call and we're pressing the case.  There obviously needs to be a thorough investigation into all such actions.  Otherwise, we'll never be able to break out of the cycle of violence and unrest until it's clear that the parties themselves can police the actions of the people on the ground.

Question:  But, we are talking about a party that under occupation.  This is one thing.  And the second… I mean, the Palestinians are under occupation.  So… and still, the Israelis are saying that they don't want to… they are refusing to investigate.  This is what Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu said.  And my question is why you are not calling for international investigation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, at this stage, the appropriate course of action is to make sure that the people who are responsible for the Israeli Defense Forces will monitor and police the work that they're doing to make sure that they work in as fair and as calibrated a fashion as possible.

Question:  Okay on Yemen, or a second round?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and then can we go to Edie, and then I'll go back to you.  Yes?

Question:  Two questions, Farhan.  First, is there any update on the UN security team in Syria, in Damascus, about when they might be going to Douma?  And secondly, an… the… an… the Al-Qaida affiliate in Mali has taken responsibility for an attack in northern Mali last week that killed a UN peacekeeper and wounded seven French soldiers.  Does the United Nations have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have any particular comment in terms of being able to verify that claim.  Obviously, that claim in and of itself is another sign of the threat posed by Al-Qaida and another example of why nations around the world need to take the threat posed by Al-Qaida seriously.  Regarding your previous question, I don't have any update to share about the fact-finding mission in Douma at this point.  If we have any updates we'll provide those as we get them.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, first about the… the retreat, the Security Council retreat in Sweden.  Can you… can you say who the Secretary‑General is taking? I know he's taking Ms. [Izumi] Nakamitsu, but what are the other USGs [Under-Secretaries-General] that… that are going to the event?  And are issues like Myanmar among those that the Secretary-General intends to raise?

Deputy Spokesman:  There will be a number of issues on peace and security that are of common interest to the Secretary-General and the Security Council that will be raised, but we're not going to specify them at this stage.

Question:  But, how about who's going?  Shouldn't you specify that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he has different members of senior officials of his team.  Again, this is not something that I'm going to specify at this stage.  Some of the key envoys that are involved will be there, but we'll provide more of those details at a later point, I imagine.

Question:  And I saw his letter in March about the retreat to the Council, said it was going to be about coordination or cooperation with regional organisations.  Has that… is that still the name of it, or has this changed at this request or at the request of the Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's some broad themes that will be taken up, but, like I said, there will also be different issues of peace and security that are of common concern, as there are in other past retreats.

Question:  And just on… Sweden has said they're paying the cost of all Security Council members for the trip, but they said that the Secretariat is bearing its own cost.  Did they offer to?  How much does…?

Deputy Spokesman:  You have to ask the Swedes.  Yes, Carla and then Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I had asked this question of Stéphane [Dujarric].  He said he would get back to me, but I haven't heard anything yet.  Does the United Nations or the Secretary-General have anything to say about the fact that the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis will be cutting its funding to North Korea as of June?

Deputy Spokesman:  The question of the Global Fund… as you know, sometimes, they've put out requests to have adequate funding to carry out its work.  Beyond that, you would need to contact them.  Masood?

Question:  Stéphane, I wanted… Farhan, I wanted to ask you about this situation in Yemen.  The reason is that… has the United Nations gone to the Saudis and the Coalition to give… I mean, I know they have come, given some funds.  Are the funds coming in for the Yemenis?  And what is the latest update on the situation in Yemen, especially insofar as children are concerned?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've been providing periodic updates.  The funding has been coming in, but it's… as you know, we expressed our appreciation, particularly to the contributions made by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which has helped for the funding of a lot of our humanitarian work, so we've provided those figures and those are also available on the website.  Regarding the situation of children, as you know, the work of the Report on Children and Armed Conflict is ongoing and sometime over the course of the summer, you'll be able to see the latest report for yourself.  Ibtisam?

Question:  To which extent are you able to provide humanitarian help all over Yemen?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are getting some access, but as you know, that can always be improved, and we've pushed for more there.  As you're aware, our humanitarian coordinator on the ground, Lise Grande, is trying to make sure that aid can go fairly to all of the communities in all parts of Yemen, and we're continuing with that effort.

Question:  Just a follow-up, because, about a month or two months ago, there was always a problem with the areas controlled by the coalition and that you… mainly but not only, and you were not able to enter to some of these areas, and ports were closed, et cetera.  So, what's happening there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we continue to be in touch with all the local authorities on the ground to make sure that we can have access to the various ports, and so we're continuing to work with that.  The… as you may have recalled from the comments that the Secretary-General made a few weeks ago, the situation on the ground, we're trying to improve it.  It certainly is a help that we have the funding we need for the humanitarian efforts, but now, we also have the access issues that we need to have resolved.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  Talking about Syria and Idlib.  So, everybody, they're moving to Idlib.  Do you have the latest, what's going on over there right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a report on Idlib for today.  We've been getting periodic humanitarian reports on that, but next time we do, we'll try to mention that at the briefing.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask again about this incident in which 17 corpses were put in front of the UN's base in Bangui in the Central African Republic.  I asked yesterday, and Stéphane said, you know, the investigation is ongoing, nothing is known.  But now, I see that SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]… the SRSG has given an interview, basically saying that it was all self-defence, no fault on the UN peacekeepers, and I'm wondering how… he did it with Deutsche Welle… how that's consistent with… with the UN actually doing an investigation to find out how these people were killed?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think we will wait for the results of the investigation before we make any particular evaluation.  I don't want to construe anything that he says in an interview as being prejudicial of the ongoing investigation.

Correspondent:  He said it was all self-defence.  That's pretty much a quote.

Deputy Spokesman:  That is something that we will see whether it's determined as a result of the investigation.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you.  In Burundi, I'm asking this… there was a question outstanding about a statement that seemed to have been issued by the African Union and the UN together about the breaking off of dialogue by Pierre Nkurunziza.  Today, he's… he's named as his new foreign minister a former leader of the Imbonerakure youth militia called Ezéchiel Nibigira, and I wanted to happen people see this as very much, in the run-up to the referendum, basically a statement that… there have been people beaten to death who didn't vote or didn't register to vote.  What is the UN doing as… as this… militia that the UN has criticized is now running the foreign ministry of Burundi?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think from our perspective, our concerns are to make sure that there is a climate in which people will feel safe and free of intimidation and violence so they can participate freely in the elections.  As you know, our Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, issued her own concerns about the climate in Burundi in the run-up to the elections, and I would refer you to her comments about that and so those concerns remain.  Yes, Abdelhamid, and then you.  Abdelhamid first.  Then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Again, recently in Israeli court passed a verdict allowing settlers to go into Al-Aqsa Mosque and do their religious chanting.  Without observing this, without the United Nations criticising such a verdict, the next step will be dividing Al-Aqsa Mosque or allowing the settlers to take over, at least if not fully, partially.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to speculate what may happen in the future.  The point is that in the present, we want to make sure that the existing status quo is preserved in all of the places of worship in Jerusalem.  We believe that Jerusalem's status as a place where all faiths can worship freely needs to be maintained.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, two questions.  One is about this… threats being given in Pakistan to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's writer, and she wrote a report on human rights situation in Pakistan, and she has been getting threats.  And similarly, threats are being given in India to a reporter… to a reporter who wrote about a certain situation in Kashmir.  Can you please comment upon that?  Have you had any reaction?  Have you seen that report?

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point in both of these cases is that we stand against any threats or intimidation against either the media or human rights defenders.  They need to be free to go about their work without harassment.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about Myanmar.  There's… not in Rakhine State, but the Kachin minority has put out a call saying that, basically in… in… in light of the increased fighting, there are about 2,000 people that are… have fled their villages and are without any health care or anything, and I'm wondering, what… what… is the UN aware of this?  And what are they doing about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I just read out at the top of the briefing a note by Knut Ostby.  I don't know if you heard what he said about his concerns about the Kachin State, but I would refer you back to that.  In addition to that, our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 160,000 people are currently targeted for humanitarian assistance in Kachin and Shan States, including around 107,000 internally displaced people who have been displaced by the continuing violence.  Many people in those areas have been displaced multiple times in a continued cycle of violence, and access to many of those in need, and particularly those in non-Government-controlled areas remains extremely limited.  The escalation and fighting since earlier this month is deeply concerning.  It's the responsibility of all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected at all times and reports of fighting close to civilian areas, including villages and existing camps for the displaced, are unacceptable.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask… also in Myanmar, in the case of the two journalists… Reuters journalists that were locked up, there's been a development in which a… a police officer has testified that he was part of a plot to… essentially to set them up, that he was threatened with arrest himself if he didn't get Wa Lone.  And so, my question is, is the UN following this and what do they think of this new development?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we are following and are aware of this.  As you know, we have called for all media to be treated fairly in Myanmar and the Secretary‑General in particular has called for the release of these journalists.

Question:  One more on press freedom.  I just wanted… I've been wanting to ask you this this week.  [The United Republic of] Tanzania has announced that, going forward, they've enacted a new law on electronic communications that to establish a blog in Tanzania, you must pay the Government $930, and that if the blog is found to be annoying to Government officials, people can be fined $2,200.  I guess my question is… there is a country team there.  What do they think of a law that… that… that places these type of high costs and restrictions on the freedom of expression?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, different countries have different press regulations.  This would be a case where it would be up to our human rights counterparts in Geneva to study what the existing regulations are and to determine whether they're fair or not.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.