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

26 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.


It will surprise you to know that I have a senior personnel announcement about an Envoy — Special Envoy on Myanmar.  The Secretary-General is appointing Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland as his new Special Envoy on Myanmar.  She brings over 25 years of experience in diplomacy having served in various high‑level Government positions in the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.  Until her appointment, she was the Ambassador of Switzerland to the Federal Republic of Germany, a post she has held since 2015.  From 2009 to 2015, she served as Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand and led efforts to mediate between the two sides in the violence that erupted in Thailand in 2010.  More details in her biography in my office.

Keeping on the subject of Myanmar, an update from our humanitarian colleagues on Myanmar, as the Security Council, as you know, is now on his way to the country.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation in Rakhine State remains extremely concerning.  There are continued reports of departures from northern Rakhine, and some reports of threats and extortion against Muslim communities.  Bulldozing of burned or abandoned villages remains evident, and the movement restrictions placed on Rohingya communities remain in place, including for those trapped in camps for the last six years in central Rakhine.  There is a population of around 500,000 Rohingya still living in Rakhine who face continued discrimination and marginalization.  Severe restrictions on their freedom of movement persist, grossly restricting their access to health care, education and livelihoods.  Therefore, our humanitarian colleagues stress that refugees from Bangladesh cannot be expected to safely, voluntarily and sustainably return.  The United Nations stands ready to work with the Government of Myanmar in implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.

**Middle East

Back here, the Security Council heard a briefing by Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  He told Council members that in the highly charged and dangerous environment in the Middle East, whether in Syria, Yemen or Gaza, one word becomes critical — de-escalation.  Everyone in the Middle East needs to step back from the brink, said Mr. Mladenov.  He said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues with no prospect of a political resolution and Gaza is about to explode.  Gaza, Mr. Mladenov warned, is coming apart as we speak under the pressure of an explosive combination of negative humanitarian, security and political factors.  If another conflict between Hamas and Israel were to erupt, he said, this would have devastating consequences for all the Palestinians living in Gaza.  He said that, since 30 March, during the “March for Peace” demonstrations, 35 Palestinians have been killed and large numbers have been injured by Israeli security forces.  No Israeli casualties were reported.  Mr. Mladenov also discussed the financial problems in the area and said that the situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is particularly worrying.  Even with the welcome pledges of some $100 million last month in Rome, the recent $50 million pledged by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates respectively, and the $10million contribution just announced by Japan, operations are funded only into the summer.  His full remarks are in my office.


Also on Gaza, the Humanitarian Fund for the Occupied Palestinian Territory announced the release of $2.2 million to address urgent humanitarian needs resulting from the massive rise in Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip.  Through this grant, the Humanitarian Fund will support health and protection actors in Gaza, through providing funds for urgently needed drugs, medical disposables and laboratory items for frontline medical and in-hospital care, as well as enabling the deployment of specialized emergency medical teams required for complex surgeries, among other critical needs.  Humanitarian partners require another $3 million immediately to respond to needs emerging since 30 March.


Turning to Syria, the international community gathered at the second Brussels conference yesterday and confirmed $4.4 billion in funding to support life-saving humanitarian aid, as well as resilience and development activities to millions of affected people in Syria and the region this year.  “The pledges announced today are a good start,” said the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock.  “In an ideal world, we would have liked to raise even more money and we do expect to receive additional funding this year.  The money that donors generously provide makes a real difference to the lives of Syrians caught up in this horrible crisis.”  The international community also confirmed $3.4 billion in funding for humanitarian, resilience and development activities in 2019 and 2020 for the Syria response.


Just to dive a little deeper, I wanted to give you an update about Yarmouk.  UNRWA is again warning of the catastrophic consequences of the severe escalation of fighting affecting the Palestine refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus, as well as surrounding areas.  The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Pierre Krähenbühl, says that he is deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of civilians, including Palestine refugees, after more than a week of dramatically increased violence.  The current hostilities have caused deaths and injuries and have displaced around 5,000 people from Yarmouk into the neighbouring area of Yalda, of which 3,500 are Palestine refugees.  There are also an unconfirmed number of civilians stranded in Yarmouk, who are in dire need of safe passage from the camp.  Those families who managed to take refuge in Yalda have been forced to sleep in the streets or in makeshift shelters.  UNRWA repeats its urgent appeal to all parties involved in the fighting to exercise maximum restraint to ensure that civilians are spared from the violence, and that measures are taken to prevent unnecessary damage to civilian infrastructure.  It calls for the immediate granting of safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the camp and surrounding areas and for the evacuation of the injured, the sick and the elderly.  International humanitarian law must be respected at all times.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, wrapped up a visit to Ethiopia today.  In remarks to the press, he said he was encouraged by his second visit.  The High Commissioner said that in all his meetings – in the Oromia region and in Addis Ababa – he heard clear expressions of optimism and hope that the new Government would deliver on the heartening and inspiring speeches made during its first three weeks in office.  More information online.


Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that floods have displaced over 211,000 people across Kenya and reportedly killed 72 people.  About 50,000 people are stranded in villages in Moyale, near the border with Ethiopia, after a road linking them to the border town was cut off by floods.  So far, more than 10,000 households have been assisted with shelter material and other critical items from United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as national authorities.

**International Days

Today is the International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day and also World Intellectual Property Day.  The theme for this last one is “Powering change:  Women in innovation and creativity”, and it celebrates the ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our common future.  And finally, today is the International Girls in Information and Communication Technology Day and events are being organized around the world to inspire girls and young women to consider careers in the information and communication technology sector.  More details on these events can be found on the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) website.


And I wanted to flag that tomorrow morning, at 9:30 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, the Department of Public Information will host the annual Global Student Videoconference entitled “Remember Slavery: Triumphs and Struggles for Freedom and Equality”.  The keynote speaker will be Christian Crouch, Associate Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Bard College, and students from Mexico and Tanzania will join remotely.  Voilà.  Iftikhar, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Number one, is this Special Envoy‑designate for Myanmar… when does she take over?  Number two, is she still active in the foreign service of Switzerland, or is she retired?

Spokesman:  She was still active.  She's now working for the United Nations.  It's a full‑time position, but I can get you the date of the start… her start date, but she will be coming on board full time.

Question:  She will come to New York…?

Spokesman:  She will start by coming to New York.  When she's here, we'll let you know.  Matthew?

Question:  Just the same topic.  I wanted to… just, when the name began circulating yesterday, there was a pretty widely reported case, while she was the Ambassador of Switzerland to Germany, in which she was brought in to answer questions about Swiss buying on a German investigation of… of tax evasion, essentially trying to… to block the… the… the leaked tax evader list.  And I wanted to know, is that something that the UN vetted in… in making the selection?  And what can you also say about Myanmar's… the process of getting Myanmar to… to… to agree to this?  But, I wanted to ask about the vetting…

Spokesman:  She was, obviously, vetted, and she is now coming on board.  On your second question, the authorities in Myanmar were consulted, as others in the region were.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  And do you have… on Yei, it's said that, in South Sudan, 10 aid workers have gone missing.  What's… what's the status?  And are… how many of the 10 are, in fact, UN staff?

Spokesman:  I'm aware of the case.  And, as it is currently ongoing, I'd rather not speak more about it.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Yeah.  What's your comment on the historical summit between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea?  How does it affect the nuclear issue, as well as the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, we have to see what comes out of the summit, but the Secretary‑General has been extremely supportive of the efforts that are leading up to this historic summit between the leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.  We think that dialogue and these summit meetings are an important step towards the peaceful denuclearization of Korea and the resolving of other issues, as well.  But, obviously, we're waiting to see what comes out.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  First, do you think that Mr. Mladenov will be meeting with the press at the stakeout?

Spokesman:  We can ask.  I didn't know… I don't know if he will be, but we can ask.

Question:  The second, I noticed that he did not mention the word "condemned" whatsoever in his speech, although he mentioned 35 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were wounded, but he avoided that magic word, to condemn killing civilians.

Spokesman:  I think we have spoken out clearly every time against the loss of civilian life.

Question:  What… okay.  One more question.  Can you confirm that tomorrow morning there will be a vote on the draft resolution on Western Sahara?

Spokesman:  I am not able to, because I speak not for the Council.  Iftikhar.  Sorry and then we'll…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Taliban announced yesterday that they are beginning the spring offensive.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, obviously, I think, through the UN presence in Afghanistan, we are doing whatever we can for a peaceful reconciliation, to bring peace and development to the country.  We need to see less fighting and more dialogue.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  Is there any statement on the situation in Nicaragua?  An update on…?

Spokesman:  Not an update.  I think we've mentioned it previously, obviously, expressing our concern at some of the violence, at the loss of life, and also recalling the rights of people to demonstrate freely and peacefully.  Matthew and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you again about this… the… the… the case of the Nepali contingent in… in… in South Sudan and the… what was initially called a child rape, then called attempted sexual assault.  There's now a headline.  "Nepal Army Denies S. Sudan Rape".  Have they completed an investigation?  What's… I guess… and I tried… yesterday, you'd said that the nomenclature and how these things are defined.

Spokesman:  No, I owe you that.  There's no… no, the investigation has not been finished.  In fact, it has… it started, as far as I know, yesterday.  The troop‑contributing [country] has designated national [investigation] officers, and they're presently embedded within the military contingent.  They'll be conducting the investigation.  And we have requested a full investigation be conducted by Nepal by the expected timeframe of 90 days.

Question:  Okay.  So… and that's the same… that also holds true on Ghana, on the Ghanaian contingent in Wau?  Because I'd asked…

Spokesman:  Yes, we're… as far as I understand it, the… I'll see if I have anything on Wau, but I'll answer Abdelhamid in the meantime.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  Fadi al‑Batsh, a young Palestinian of 35 years old.  He's a scholar.  He's a scientist [and] was serving as a professor at Kuala Lumpur, and he was assassinated a few days ago, and not one word I heard from any UN official.  Why?

Spokesman:  I have no… we have no information on this gentleman's death beyond what was… about what was reported in… beyond what was reported in the press.  I have no idea of what… no way of knowing what exactly happened.  Obviously, any loss of life is regrettable, but I have… we have no role or investigative powers into the case surrounding this person.  I don't have with me an update on Ghana, but I understand the investigation is ongoing.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In Mr. Mladenov's speech today to the Security Council, he said that Hamas… specifically said that Hamas must keep protesters away from the Gaza fence.  And I was just wondering if… you know, it's a very specific statement, and I was wondering if the Secretary‑General feels that way or has made a similar statement.

Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov speaks on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  He represents him.  Okay.  Thank you.  Mr. Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.