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

30 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary‑General will leave for London tomorrow to attend the annual meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board (CEB).  This is one of the semi‑annual meetings that brings together, under the chairmanship of the Secretary‑General, the executive heads of 31 agencies and specialized UN organizations.  This meeting, which will be hosted by the International Maritime Organization, will focus on the socioeconomic implications of the fourth Industrial Revolution on the implementation of the SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Agenda, as well as fostering innovation within the United Nations system.  The Secretary‑General will deliver a strong message to the Board on the need to improve the UN system’s approach to preventing and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace.  During his visit, the Secretary‑General will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and other UK senior officials.  The Secretary‑General will be back in New York on Friday night.

And two weeks from now, on 14 May, the Secretary‑General will be in Vienna, Austria, for consultations with the Austrian Government, including President Alexander Van der Bellen, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Karin Kneissl, Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.  Later that afternoon, the Secretary‑General will visit the Vienna International Centre, where he will address the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.  He will also hold a town hall meeting with United Nations staff working in Vienna.

On Thursday, 15 May, the Secretary‑General will deliver a keynote address during the R20 Austrian World Summit, an annual event on sustainable development organized by Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California.  During his remarks, he will reiterate his call for global action to confront climate change.  The Secretary‑General is also expected to have bilateral meetings with other senior leaders on the sidelines of the summit.  From Vienna, he will travel on to Brussels for discussions with European Union (EU) institutions.  In Brussels, the Secretary‑General is expected to meet with EU Council President Donald Tusk; EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker,; High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, Federica Mogherini; as well as other EU officials.  The Secretary‑General will also meet with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, on 16 May. He is expected to leave Belgium on that day.

**Security Council

The Security Council, as you know, is on a mission traveling to Asia.  They have visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh over the weekend.  This morning they met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, in Dhaka.  Following that meeting, the Security Council delegation flew to Naypyidaw, where it met with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and with General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander‑in‑Chief of the Armed Forces.  The Council Mission also met with civil society, parliamentarians and Government representatives in the capital of Myanmar.  Tomorrow, the Security Council will fly to Rakhine State, where the delegation is expected to meet with the local government and civil society.  They will visit northern Rakhine State and then have a press conference upon returning to Naypyidaw.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemned the attacks carried out today in a Kabul neighbourhood heavily populated by civilians.  Initial reports indicated that at least 14 civilians were killed and 30 were injured in two attacks, with the second attack timed 30 minutes later to target journalists arriving on the scene and emergency personnel seeking to provide aid to [victims of] the first attack.

“These attacks caused untold human suffering to Afghan families,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tadamichi Yamamoto, and he expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims.  The Secretary‑General also clearly condemns these attacks.  And I expect to have a formal statement from him shortly.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, welcomed the convening of the Palestinian National Council, which met today in Ramallah for the first time in two decades.  He said that this is a critical time for Palestinians, and the leadership has a responsibility to end divisions and the deteriorating economic, humanitarian and social situation in Gaza.  Mr. Mladenov noted that unity is essential to furthering the Palestinian national aspirations for statehood and sovereignty.  He added that that is why the Government of national consensus should be enabled to take up its responsibilities in Gaza and bring immediate relief and change to the population.  No one should stand in their way, he said in the statement.

**Syria

From Syria, our humanitarian colleagues are concerned for the safety and protection of tens of thousands of people as fighting continues to be reported in several areas of northern rural Homs Governorate.  Fighting has already resulted in reports of death and injury, as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure.  Yesterday, local sources reported that strikes rendered two hospitals inoperable in Al‑Zaafaraniyah and Ar‑Rastan.  Shelling from the area of northern rural Homs on Homs city also has reportedly killed and injured several people.  The United Nations calls on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Somalia

Over the weekend, in Somalia, the UN Mission there (UNSOM) condemned the suicide bombing in the city of Gaalkacyo, which reportedly killed Government security officers and civilians.  The Head of the UN Mission in Somalia, Michael Keating, said, “The people and authorities in Gaalkacyo are courageously finding a way forward; they should not be derailed by this assault on their chances of a peaceful future.”

Also in Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues on the ground tell us that some 430,000 people have been affected by flooding, including nearly 175,000 people who have been displaced, as heavy rains continue in flood‑prone areas across large swaths of the southern and central parts of the country.  The rains have resulted in the flooding of the Juba and Shabelle Rivers.  Internally displaced people remain the most vulnerable to the impact of the flooding, with many camps located in low‑lying areas.  Humanitarian partners on the ground have prioritized water, sanitation, hygiene, [health,] shelter and food response in their interventions.  Yesterday, the country’s Prime Minister appealed to the international community for urgent humanitarian assistance to help avert a humanitarian crisis.  Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan, requiring $1.5 billion, is only 19 per cent funded.

**South Sudan

We are happy to report from South Sudan that 10 aid workers who were detained while on an assessment mission near Yei, Central Equatoria, have been freed.  They had been held by an armed group since 25 April.  The humanitarian workers, all South Sudanese nationals, included one from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, two from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], one from the South Sudanese Development Organisation, two from the NGO [non‑governmental organization] ACROSS, three from Plan International, and one from Action Africa Help.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Alain Noudehou, expressed concern at a deteriorating environment for humanitarian workers across the country.  Last week, a humanitarian worker was killed while returning to check on a health clinic that had been looted in Leer county.  This most recent death brings to 100 the number of aid workers killed since the conflict in South Sudan started in December 2013.

**Atomic Energy

Our friends at the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] have helped remove 27 disused highly radioactive sources from five South American countries, the largest such project it ever facilitated.  The material, mainly used for medical purposes such as treating cancer and sterilizing instruments, was transported to Germany and the US for recycling.  Canada, where some of the sources were manufactured, funded the project upon requests for IAEA support from Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.  While nuclear safety and security are national responsibilities, the IAEA helps Member States upon request to meet these responsibilities through training, technical advice, peer reviews and other services.

**Climate Change

And I wanted to flag that today in Bonn, [Germany,] Governments kicked off the next round of UN climate change negotiations to further develop the guidelines for implementing the Paris climate change agreement.  The guidelines allow the agreement to become operational and the final decisions on them are to be taken at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP24), which will be held in Poland at the end of this year.  Also today, the UN climate change agency (UNFCCC) released a report which details practical ways of adapting to climate change impacts such as increased flooding or intensifying storms in human settlements, from megacities to villages.  The report aims to share good practices and lessons learned to date and will be taken forward during this week’s negotiations, and you can find it on the [UNFCCC] site.

**Honour Roll

Today our Honour Roll has moved up to 87.  If anyone can guess which two countries have given money, you can have the first question.  All right.  It’s Tuvalu and Spain.  There you go.  Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wonder if you… the United Nations have been involved in any of the agreements reached in Syria regarding Yarmouk, al‑Hajar al‑Aswad, Foah and Kefraya.

Spokesman:  We have not been part of these agreements.  We are aware of reports an agreement was reached to evacuate the fighters from Yarmouk to Idleb in exchange for the evacuation of the entire population of Foah and Kefraya.  Today, the first batch of evacuees was meant to depart, but it's unclear as of now from us if the buses have actually moved.  The UN calls on all parties to fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law and to guarantee the protection of civilians.  Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and in strict accordance with protection standards under international law.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  You'd said that… I guess, at the Chief Executives Board in London, and the Secretary‑General will be speaking about the issue of, I guess, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.  So, I wanted to ask you a couple of things.  One, as I'm sure you've seen, at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS], one of the… the complainants against Luiz Loures has been suspended from heading the Ethiopia office of UNAIDS and told not to go back into the office.  Many people see it as exactly the retaliation that was promised in Mr. [Michel] Sidibé’s speech to staff, saying that he will investigate all accusers.  What does António Guterres think of this suspension?

Spokesman:  We're aware of the issue.  Our understanding is that this is completely unrelated, but questions should be directed at UNAIDS.

Question:  And also, just, I guess, in terms of the… the extent of this problem within the UN system, over the weekend, it emerged and I'm wondering if you can… will confirm and have… if he has anything to say on it, that there are sexual harassment complaints about… in Fiji on… at UN World Food Programme (WFP).  And have the staff been suspended?  And does the Secretary‑General believe that, in such cases, staff should be suspended?  And what's the timeline for an investigation?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that WFP's fully aware and is starting the procedures.  I think WFP, under the leadership of the new Executive Director, has been extremely forward‑leaning on these issues.  They will handle them according to procedures.  I'm not going to get into detail, because I'm not aware of the details in the investigation.

Question:  But is there a UN‑wide policy under António Guterres of suspending… suspending pending investigation…?

Spokesman:  I think each case… I think cases vary.  One of the things that we're looking at the CEB is, obviously, some harmonization and understanding across the system.  But, obviously, each… especially when it comes to specialized agencies have their own governing body and their own rules and regulations.  Ms. Lederer?

Question:  Also on the same issue, the UN is re‑opening its investigation into the sexual assault and harassment investigation into Luiz Loures, the deputy executor… director of UNAIDS, who, apparently, his last day is today.  Do… does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this?

Spokesman:  Sure; we welcome the decision by UNAIDS to re‑open the investigation into these allegations and to suspend the decisions to close the case until the outcome of the broader investigation.  The UNAIDS Executive Director remains recused from this case, and no UNAIDS officials will be involved in the case going forward.  The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General has agreed to serve as the decision‑maker in this case.  I think the Secretary‑General is very appreciative of the head of… the decision by the World Health Organization Director General to serve in that capacity.  The complainant has called for an investigation to be conducted by an external and independent investigation entity outside of the UN.  The General Assembly has mandated OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] to have operational independence to conduct the investigation.  The UN office… OIOS has been requested by the World Health Organization to conduct the re‑opened investigation, and they've agreed to do so.  And, obviously, as the process is ongoing, we won't have any further comment.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the United Nations team, besides… does she give any assurances for repatriation?  And, also, the number one thing is, did… were there any discussions taken… taken place at all about nationalities of these…?

Spokesman:  The meeting took place… the meeting is between Aung San Suu Kyi and the members of the Security Council, so we're just providing you some updates on the logistics and who they're meeting.  It's up to those… it's up to the Security Council to speak for itself as to the nature of those discussions.

Correspondent:  But what you're saying there was no discussion held at all about…

Spokesman:  As I just said, it's up to members of the Security Council to provide you with the substance of those discussions.

Question:  On this… on this killing of the seven or eight or nine journalists, does the United Nations have any update on that as to what really happened?  What can… it can do to rescue whatever else is over there?

Spokesman:  Sir, which case are you speaking about?  What case are you speaking about, Masood?

Correspondent:  The one that happened today, the killings…

Spokesman:  Yes okay.  In Afghanistan… I just need to be clear what you're referring to.  Listen, the… this attack happened today.  It's, obviously… the local authorities will need to investigate.  I think what it does show, it highlights yet again the dangers facing journalists who are trying to cover the stories like Afghanistan.  It highlights the danger of the essential work that media professionals are doing every day in the front lines in some of the worst and most dangerous places on Earth.

Question:  But has United Nations been able to verify the… in fact, it was ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] which attacked and killed…?

Spokesman:  Masood, I just said it is up to the national authorities to investigate.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, I asked last week about this national registration in Libya and effect or the potential effect on that regarding the validity of the elections, the forthcoming elections.

Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything for you on that.  I should have had, but I don't.  Matthew?

Question:  Just… just one more on UNAIDS, and then I have some other stuff, but I'm sure you've seen that… that Ms. [Cristina] Brostrom, the… the alleged victim in the Luiz Loures case has written to say that she entirely rejects the re‑opening and has no confidence in it.  I'm just wondering, is there a UN response?  She's also said…

Spokesman:  Well, I think… go ahead.

Question:  No, no.  She's said that a toothless UN investigation could impact her ability to pursue the case outside of the system, so she act… is actively requesting that this not take place and views it as a cover‑up.  What's your response?

Spokesman:  Well, I think my response is in what I just read, which is — and I'll read it again — that the complainant called for an investigation to be conducted by an external independent investigation entity outside of the UN.  The General Assembly, as you know, has mandated OIOS to have operational independence to conduct investigations.  OIOS has been requested to conduct it and re‑open the investigation by WHO.  They've agreed to do so.  I think we are all hoping that… we all want to see what comes out of this re‑opened investigation.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about… a video emerged over the weekend from Cameroon showing or depicting soldiers burning people's homes in the Anglophone areas, and what… what a lot of people focused on is that one of them, at least, is wearing a blue helmet.  I don't think it means the UN is doing it, but I do wonder, what are the rules?  I wanted to ask you, what are the rules if people have served in UN peacekeeping missions… have you seen the video?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular video, so I can't comment on the particular helmet, whether it was just blue or a UN helmet.  We have seen, in different parts of the world, various security forces and army… we've seen reports of them using equipment that they own, which had been painted white or blue and reused domestically.  It is a responsibility to ensure that no equipment that has UN markings is ever used in any domestic operation.  But, again, I'm not… that's a matter… that's an issue of principle.  I haven't… I can't comment on that specific report.

Question:  Have you seen the UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) video from 2012, where the Austrian UN peacekeepers appear to be laughing as… as Syrian…?

Spokesman:  No, no, we've seen… we've very much seen this video, which is rather disturbing.  At that time, on 29 September 2012, UNDOF reported that it saw nine Syrian security personnel killed by 13 armed elements during an ambush inside the area of separation, in the vicinity of a UN position on Hermon South in the Mount Hermon area.  The Security Council was duly informed of the incident.  It was also publicly reported in the Secretary‑General's report of November 2012 on UNDOF's activity.  I understand an investigation is being carried out by the Austrian authorities.  We're looking forward to that… to the results of that investigation.  We will fully cooperate and are actively following up on this issue with the Austrian authorities.  Nizar and then Masood.

Question:  Yeah.  On Yemen, after the assassination of Saleh al‑Sammad, has Mr. [Martin] Griffiths made any contacts with the Sana’a authorities there?

Spokesman:  He's in touch with all the parties.  I'll try to get you an update on his contacts.  Masood?

Question:  Yes. Thank you.  Stéphane, two questions.  Number one, that… on this… attacks by the American‑supported guerrillas against the sir… Bashar al‑Assad’s force and killing, do you have any idea how many people they killed in Syria today that was reported?

Spokesman:  I've seen press reports.  I have no operational knowledge or I have… I've just seen press reports, so I have no particular comment, except to say that we, obviously… as always, we would like to see an end to the violence.

Question:  Also, on the… Iran's nuclear programme, which is so far going according to what… the agreement, but it is being said by Iran that, if it is forced, it will abandon the agreement and then do what it want.  What is the UN…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into a hypothetical.  I think the Secretary‑General has said directly and through what we've said here last week and stressed the importance of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action] as a major diplomatic achievement.  But I'm not going to comment nor predict on what may happen.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you, on… on cholera in Haiti, I've been asking for some time for… for [Special Envoy for Haiti] Josette Sheeran to come and answer questions but… I see that she has answered some but not all.  What I wanted to know is, do you have the number of what percentage has been… has been raised of what was at least sought or promised?  And also, whether any of that at all has been or will be devoted to individual…?

Spokesman:  I hope to have to an update for you tomorrow on that.

Question:  And one other question.  In Sudan, apparently, just before she left to become the Resident Coordinator in Iraq, Marta Ruedas accepted from Omar al‑Bashir something called the Order of the Two Niles.  And she's quoted as saying this is quite an honour.  And so, given that he's indicted by the ICC [International Criminal Court] and given that the UN is supposed to minimize all contacts…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any of that from…

Correspondent:  There's a photograph.  There's quotes.

Spokesman:  I'm not saying it doesn't exist.  I'm just saying I'm not aware.  Thank you.

Question:  Would that violate the no‑contacts policy?  If it did…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware… I'm not familiar…

Correspondent:  Maybe tomorrow or once you've seen it…

Spokesman:  There's always hope tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.