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

2 May 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.

**United Kingdom

The Secretary-General arrived in London a few hours ago, and as we speak, he is meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May.  After that, the Secretary-General will meet with the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon.  The Secretary-General will then go to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to meet Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. 

Later in the evening, the Secretary-General will speak at a round table on mental health organized by the Wellcome Trust, the World Health Organization and UNICEF. 

Tomorrow will be dedicated to meetings of the UN Chief Executives Board. 

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chose to use his speech at the opening of the Palestinian National Council to repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behaviour of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust. 

Mr. Mladenov affirmed that such statements are unacceptable, deeply disturbing and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East. 

He said that leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it.

**Libya

Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative for Libya, condemned the suicide attack earlier today on Libya’s electoral commission.

In a tweet, he said that “such a cowardly attack on this democratic edifice is a direct aggression against the Libyan people and their will to build a just and civil State, and against their hope of finding ways out of the transitions to establish peace and [stability] across Libya”.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, reports that the situation in Bangui is calm after violence yesterday in the capital, which included targeting civilians and places of worship. 

In a subsequent attack yesterday, two MINUSCA Military Staff Officers were wounded, including one seriously, after they were pelted with stones by a crowd.  The Joint Task Force for Bangui has been conducting patrols and reinforcing security throughout the capital.  MINUSCA has also taken a strong stance in other parts of the country, including along the Kaga Bandoro-Dekoa-Sibut axis.

MINUSCA condemns the attacks against civilians and places of worship and emphasizes that such attacks are contrary to national and international laws.  The Mission regrets, in particular, the loss of life of innocent civilians in several neighbourhoods of Bangui and calls on the population of the capital and the country to avoid any escalation of violence.

**Nigeria

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, condemned yesterday’s twin suicide attacks in the town of Mubi, Adamawa State, in north-east Nigeria, that left dozens of people dead and scores injured in one of the deadliest attacks the town has witnessed. 

Mubi is the second largest town in Adamawa and an operational centre for the delivery of aid in the northern parts of Adamawa and the southern parts of the adjacent Borno State. 

The humanitarian crisis in Nigeria's north-east that has spilled over into the Lake Chad region is one of the most severe in the world today with 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2018.

**Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemned the terrorist shootings at Tarmiya, north of Baghdad, in which a number of innocent civilians were killed and wounded. 

Mr. Kubiš said that terrorist sleeper cells continue to mount sporadic attacks, despite the defeat of their main military structures by Iraqi security forces.  They aim to undermine stability and break the morale of Iraqis who have begun to enjoy the benefits of peace.  He said that they will fail, as they have failed before.

The Special Representative also voiced concern at the news of a bomb attack on 1 May, targeting Iraqi police in the liberated city of Mosul and causing casualties.

**Syria

This morning, our humanitarian colleagues report that a hospital in Kafar Zita town in Syria’s Hama Governorate was hit by an airstrike killing one staff member and largely destroying the facility. 

Yesterday, the vicinity of a makeshift hospital in Ar-Rastan city in northern rural Homs Governorate was reportedly struck by an airstrike, rendering the makeshift hospital inoperable.

Also yesterday, airstrikes on the Da’esh-controlled Al-Qasr village in Al-Hasakeh Governorate reportedly resulted in the deaths of scores of people, including five children.  Al-Qasr village hosts a large number of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people from rural Deir Ezzour. 

The United Nations continues to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, to ensure the protection of civilians and put an end to the destruction of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure that are essential for the civilian population.

**Energy

In Lisbon, the Sustainable Energy for All Forum began today.  In a video message to the forum, the Secretary-General told participants that far more needs to be done to advance renewable and efficient energy across all sectors.  He added that “it is time to end the age of fossil fuels” and that technology is on our side.  He also invited attendees to develop bold new energy partnerships and bring them to the Climate Summit he’s organizing next year.

**Air Pollution

New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants.  Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by outdoor and household air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.

More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.

WHO works with many sectors, including transport and energy, urban planning and rural development, to support countries to tackle this problem.

More than 4,300 cities in 108 countries are now included in WHO’s ambient air quality database, making this the world’s most comprehensive database on ambient air pollution.  More information is available online.

**Soil Pollution

A new report from our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that soil pollution poses a worrisome threat to agricultural productivity, food safety, and human health.

Industrialization, war, mining and the intensification of agriculture have all left a legacy of soil contamination across the planet, while the growth of cities has seen soil used as a sink for ever greater amounts of municipal waste, says the report, entitled “Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality”.

But even though agricultural intensification, industrial output, and urbanization continue at a rapid pace, no systematic assessment of the status of soil pollution at global level has ever been undertaken.  You can find it online.

**World Tuna Day

Today is World Tuna Day.  The day seeks to recognize the critical role of tuna to food security, economic opportunity, and the livelihoods of people around the world. 

Tuna species account for 20 per cent of the value of all marine capture fisheries and over 8 per cent of all globally traded seafood, and as a result, the fish are threatened by an overwhelming demand.  The UN has emphasized the importance of implementing the Convention on the Law of the Sea to ensure that tuna stocks are managed sustainably and we can continue to enjoy it.  And the public is also being encouraged to take the Clean Seas pledge to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean.  More information on this can be found on UNEP’s (United Nations Environment Programme) website.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita.  She will be here to brief on her recent visit to South Sudan and Ethiopia.

And tomorrow at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Joanna Wronecka, the Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of May.  She will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Benny?

Question:  On that Abbas speech, two things.  First of all, does the Secretary‑General join the condemnation… Mladenov condemnation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, of course, the Secretary‑General stands with the views of his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Question:  Is he expected to issue a separate statement on this, or this is it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can never predict what statements we get or don't get.  This is what we have for now, and like I said, the Secretary‑General joins with his Special Coordinator in his views.

Question:  And, secondly, in his speech, Abbas also said some… you know, denied, basically, that, first of all, European Jews are Jews and, secondly, that they have any attachment to the state of… of Palestine and Israel.  Does the Secretary‑General and Mladenov have anything about that to say?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we've always believed in the concept of a two‑State solution, in which Israel and Palestine live side by side in peace and security, and we believe that the peoples of those two States belong in those States.  Beyond that, I would refer you to the full statement from Mr. Mladenov, which is available online.

Question:  Jews of European descent included?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I've said.  Obviously, there's a place for the people of Israel and a place for the people of Palestine, and we want a solution where they live together side by side in peace and security.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  The Knesset has just passed by the first reading a new law defining Israel as a Jewish State.  Isn't that one step closer to becoming an apartheid State, knowing that 20 per cent of the population are not Jews, are Arabs?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to comment on legislation that is continuing to go through the legislative process.  We stay out of that until that is passed.  Obviously, when we talk about the situation within Israel, as well as in Palestine, we want both of those areas to recognize the rights of all of the people living there.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks.  In yesterday's readout of the phone call between the Secretary‑General and President Moon [Jae-in] of South Korea, it said the President asked for the UN's support in verifying the closure of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) nuclear test site and in transforming the DMZ (demilitarized zone) into a peace zone.  I'm wondering, first, on the verification of the test site closure, is that with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) exclusively, or would there be any other UN role in that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think it's too early in the process to determine how that will happen.  What I would refer you to is that, in response, what we said is that the Secretary‑General reiterated the full support of the United Nations to furthering the inter‑Korean dialogue and, in this regard, pledged that the United Nations stands ready to discuss possible forms of support.  And so that is the stage we are at, at this point.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  We learned from the discussion in the Information Committee that a proposal on a reform of DPI (Department of Public Information) will be submitted to the Secretary‑General later this month.  In addition to the various departments participating, who else is participating in the preparation of this report and, especially, is the private sector involved?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is something that is being handled by the Department of Public Information.  They are in dialogue, in fact, this week with the Committee of Information and have been, as you know, in regular dialogue about what reforms will take place.  And we'll see what they have to say as this process continues.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Something on that, and then I want to ask about Cyprus.  But, in that meeting, it's been presented that… that the department is being renamed the Department of Global Communications, and I just wanted to know, is… is this… the… the Secretary‑General, it seems like, first he renamed the USG (Under-Secretary-General) job.  Is that something he needs Member States' approval on?  And… and… or is it just a… sort of a two‑step renaming of the department?  And why is it being renamed?  Is that really a reform?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, some departments get renamed when they're… when the functions and the goals of the department shift.  In this case, it's… that move is happening in recognition of the changing role of the department.  But it's a process that's under way.  We'll have to see whether that's accomplished.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, there have been a number of reports saying the Secretary‑General has made Jane Holl Lute a sort of a temporary or interim envoy on Cyprus.  Can you address that?  I know, also, in her other role that she has for the UN… you know, she has a number of other… of outside… some business and board… corporate board service.  Has this been vetted?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this point, all I can really say on that is that there are currently no plans to appoint a Special Adviser of the Secretary‑General on Cyprus.  Upon the closing of the Conference on Cyprus last year, the Secretary-General encouraged all parties to reflect in order to determine whether the conditions would mature again for a meaningful process in the near future.  The UN is in contact with the parties to determine a way to seek the outcomes of their reflections and their views on the way forward.  Yes?

Question:  But on Jane Holl Lute, nothing?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's what I have for now.  I’ve got no further thing to announce.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With regard to Syria, there are… hundreds of rebels and their families from Eastern Ghouta are reportedly been directed by the Turkish‑backed forces to settle in Afrin.  They're being housed in homes left empty by Kurdish civilians who fled Turkey's military operation in Afrin, while those who have been displaced from Afrin are prevented from returning to Afrin.  Obviously, these are from reports on the ground, even AFP photos of buses, people being shuttled into Afrin, while Kurdish refugees are being prevented to go back to the city.  This is, obviously, an effort to change a demography of that area, and it's a form of ethnic cleansing.  Do you have any information and comments about this and why Mr. [Mark] Lowcock has not been reported about this ongoing effort to change the demography of Afrin?

Deputy Spokesman:  We report on different circumstances throughout Syria as we get information.  I don't have anything specific about Afrin to say, but, obviously, throughout the country, there have been cases of the movements… mass movements of people.  Regarding those, I want to say that the United Nations 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.  Yes?

Question:  And Farhan, just one follow‑up.  What about the voluntary… you spoke about voluntary movement.  This is forced return and forced displacement of civilian for political purpose.  Don't you think…

Deputy Spokesman:  We believe that people should only be moved when they are voluntarily doing so.  The populations should not be forced to move from any areas.

Correspondent:  Same on that… 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Edie first and then you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  And if you answered the first, my apologies.  I walked in two minutes late.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the attack on the Libyan Election Commission today?

Deputy Spokesman:  I didn't have anything from the Secretary‑General to say, but, at the start, I did mention that Ghassan Salamé had condemned the attack, saying "Such a cowardly attack on this democratic edifice is a direct aggression against the Libyan people and their will to build a just and civil State and against their hope of finding ways out of the transitions to establish peace and stability across Libya."  Yeah.

Question:  And my second question was, I did not see anything in the Secretary‑General's statement on the talks between the… his conversation with the President of South Korea.  Is there any possibility or talk of the Secretary‑General appointing a Special Envoy to the Koreas, specifically to deal with the issues raised by these meetings?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't have anything specific to announce in terms of an envoy.  If we have an announcement to make, you'll know it at that time.  But, as you can see from the readout that we put out, we did say that the Secretary‑General pledged that the United Nations stands ready to discuss possible forms of support.  So, we'll have to see what forms those take.  Ben?  Oh, oh, sorry.  No, Nizar first and then Ben.

Question:  Yeah, last week, I asked about the anomalies or the discrepancies in the registration of the Libyans for elections.  A leaked document from the Accord Government, the Libyan National Accord Government, showed that hundreds of thousands of duplicates of names are in the national numbers, and I haven't got an answer about that.  And how would that affect… I mean, the… the… probably those attackers today, they targeted the elections place.  Maybe because of that.

Deputy Spokesman:  And we want to ensure the credibility of the elections process.  As you've heard, Mr. Salamé came out against this attack on the Electoral Commission.  Regarding the claims that you brought up last week, we have been checking but have no verification…

Question:  But if the National Accord Government, in an internal memo, said that there is hundreds of thousands of names who are getting paid, not only getting registered…

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we've been checking with our colleagues.  We have no verification of what you said…

Correspondent:  I have another question regarding Syria.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and we'll come back to that.  Ben?

Question:  What has the Secretary‑General or his envoy, Horst Köhler, have to say about the cutting of ties by Morocco against Iran?  And is he getting fed up about the continual intransigence of the Iranian regime in the Middle East and Africa?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have no comment on these latest developments.  Mr. Köhler is continuing to go about his work and continues to deal with the various parties involved in the Western Sahara dispute.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, maybe this question… you've been asked earlier about the Rohingya refugees.  I mean, there have been talks between the Government, the United Nations Security Council delegation, and, in Myanmar, the United Nations representative.  Of all these talks, have they ever been focused on… besides the nationality of the Rohingyas, they want citizenship, which they have been denied forever.  Have they come to some sort of a conclusion at all on this subject?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, Masood‑ji, the Security Council sent a delegation to Myanmar, and they've met with different officials.  They'll… they're going to be back now at the end of the week here in New York, and we'll have to see whether they have come out with any results from their talks.  But they did meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, with the head of the army, and with other key officials.  And we'll see what kind of assurances they've received from the authorities. 

Question:  Given all that… that's the reason I'm asking.  Given all that, were there any things discussed or that you can talk about that was discussed between the Myanmar authorities and the United Nations officials on granting the citizenship at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't speak for the Security Council, but they will be back, and they will report on what they have seen upon their return.  Hold on.  You and then you.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I'd asked about allegations of sexual harassment at WFP (World Food Programme) in Fiji, and now further reporting there has named a name of the alleged perpetrator, Anthony Freeman.  And it's quoted UN staff there is saying that a UN‑only investigation will not be sufficient, that there needs to be at least some partnership with an outside group, which seems to be the same thing being called for at UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) and other UN organizations.  I wanted to know, one, will you confirm that this is the individual, Anthony Freeman, that he's been suspended?  And, number two, what does António Guterres think of the increasing calls, including by highly respected NGOs (non-governmental organizations), that the UN needs outside supervision of its investigations given the history of cover‑ups?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, I would dispute the idea that there's been a history of cover‑ups.  Secondly…

Question:  Luiz Loures?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, that case has been re‑opened.  Secondly, the Secretary‑General is meeting with the Chief Executives Board over the coming two days in London and does expect to try to find ways to have a basic standard for how the system deals with questions of sexual harassment, and we're trying to move forward on that.  Thirdly, on the World Food Programme, yes, I believe an individual has been suspended over… while this investigation proceeds, and I will leave further questions in the hands of the World Food Programme.

Question:  I just want to ask one… because I… because when you say… I mean, maybe cover‑up is… maybe there's a different word for it.  The reopening of the investigation at UNAIDS, is it because it's acknowledged that a previous charge against Mr. Loures was inappropriately investigated?

Deputy Spokesman:  We want to make sure that things are handled right, and, in this case, I will just rely on what Stéphane [Dujarric] read out earlier this week.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura's meetings in Washington and in New York before going to Brussels, can you shed some light about what they discussed in Washington about Syria process or anything about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I mentioned, Mr. de Mistura met in Washington earlier this week with the Secretary of Defense, with the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and with the National Security Adviser.  Then, yesterday, he met with the Secretary‑General and other senior UN officials here in New York to provide them an update.  He's trying to move ahead, as he can, with the Syria issue, and he'll continue with those discussions.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Just about Foah… Foah and Kafraya evacuees, do you have any update about where they have settled, what kind of assistance has been rendered to them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We're aware of an agreement reached between the Government of Syria and Hayyat Tahrir Al‑Sham, which reportedly resulted in five medical cases, along with 18 accompanying family members, being evacuated from the besieged towns of Foah and Kafraya in Idleb Governorate.  Additionally, 42 people from Eshtabraq village were reportedly evacuated in exchange for 141 individuals evacuated from Yarmouk in Rural Damascus.  The United Nations continues to raise concern for the protection of thousands of civilians in besieged Foah, Kafraya and Yarmouk, including Palestinian refugees, and reiterates that the sick and wounded have the right to medical treatment without conditions.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I was wondering if there is any update regarding the OPCW's (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) determination if chemical weapons were used in Douma?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the… as you know, they went to the sites and sent the results back for lab testing.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will provide further details once they have results.  Hold on.  Benny, then… then Abdelhamid, then Matthew.  Okay, Benny, first.

Question:  Maybe I missed it yesterday, but does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the discovery of a… a trove of documents sent to Iran in a secret location?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the basic point is the Secretary‑General continues to insist on the importance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a diplomatic achievement that needs to be built on and complied with.  Beyond that, if you'll have noticed the International Atomic Energy Agency came out with a press release yesterday concerning their own assessment of the situation, and I'd refer you to what the IAEA has said.

Question:  Does the SG think that the IAEA should look into those findings?

Deputy Spokesman:  We support the work that the IAEA has been doing, and I would refer you to what they have said on this matter.  What was the order?  You and then you.

Question:  Okay.  I mean, I think it was the other way around actually, but okay.  I want to ask about Burundi and Sri Lanka very quickly.  In Burundi, the… the campaign for the referendum on the constitutional amendments has begun, and it's been announced that parties that… that recommend abstention will face jail terms.  So, I wanted to know whether the UN, just generally, feels that there is a right to abstain in an election.  And also what… what Mr. [Michel] Kafando or the various UN people… what do they think?  Do they think that these amendments are… run counter to the Arusha agreements that many have said, or what are they doing as it now moves to end game there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he… Mr. Kafando and the other parties have been dealing with the Burundian parties, and we'll leave to them for… for them to make the comments as appropriate.  From our standpoint, we want to make sure that there is a free and fair electoral process where people can vote without intimidation.

Question:  Or abstain?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, of course, you can choose to vote or not, depending upon your choice.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan, again.  On Sunday, three more Palestinians were killed by Israeli force… Defense Forces, and that brings the number to 50 since the beginning of the marches for return that started on 30 March.  Fifty people killed, including children and two journalists, and more than 4,000 wounded.  And the… no statement issued by the UN, any UN official, used the word "condemned" when it comes to civilian killed from the Palestinian side.  However, if one Israeli civilian killed, the word "condemn" will always be used.  And I can give you and can cite so many examples.

Deputy Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, with due respect, I understand the point you're trying to make, but if we can get to the question part that you want to ask.

Question:  Yeah, why there is no statement condemning, even no mentioning of the three Palestinian killed on Sunday.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are opposed to all of the violence that happens in Israel and Palestine.  We have been calling repeatedly for all sides to take actions to avoid the sort of violence that we've been seeing, and we'll continue to do so.  And, as you know, Mr. Mladenov and others continue to report on all such cases.  The precise… the precise wording that they use is…

Question:  That is… I'm asking about the word "condemn", why it's not used.

Deputy Spokesman:  Excuse me.  Excuse me, please.  The precise wording they use is their choice as diplomats, but they try to make sure that all killings are looked at seriously by all parties, and we stand against all of the violence in its entirety.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  These discussions on the reforms of the Security Council, especially the veto and the regional representation, have been resumed for the nième time.  It has taken more than quarter century for these discussions, and they have not concluded.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, this is one of those many cases that remain in the hands of the Member States, but we want to make sure that they are able to go about their work for the benefit of the greater legitimacy of the UN's bodies. 

And with that, let me get to our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.