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

3 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.

**Chief Executives Board

The Secretary-General is in London spending most of the day in retreat meetings with the executive heads of UN agencies, meeting as the Chief Executives Board (CEB). 

The lunchtime session was devoted to a discussion on sexual harassment.  Following the discussion, the Chief Executives Board members agreed that sexual harassment results from a culture of discrimination and privilege, based on unequal gender relations and power dynamics.  It has no place in the United Nations system.

They reiterated their firm commitment to uphold a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment; to strengthen victim-centred prevention and response efforts; and to foster a safe and inclusive working environment. 

Members of the Board are driving action in three key areas:

Reporting:  Providing mechanisms such as 24-hour helplines for staff to report harassment and access support; Establishing a system-wide database to avoid rehire of individuals who have perpetrated sexual harassment.

Two, investigation and decision-making:  Instituting fast track procedures to receive, process and address complaints; recruiting specialized investigators, including women; and three, outreach and support:  Enforcing mandatory training; providing guides for managers; harmonizing policies; Launching staff perception surveys to learn from experiences.

Working on changing the culture requires a continuing effort CEB leaders will continue to focus on.  They believe that the United Nations must be a place where staff are valued and empowered to speak up and where sexual harassment is never tolerated. 

**Central African Republic

Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the on the Central African Republic:  The Secretary-General condemns the violence that erupted in Bangui, Central African Republic, on 1 May, resulting in at least 22 people dead and over 100 injured.  Two MINUSCA (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic) staff were also injured in subsequent violence.

The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a prompt recovery to the wounded.

The Secretary-General calls for calm and urges the Central African Republic authorities to investigate these repeated attacks and quickly bring those responsible to justice.  The Secretary-General also expresses his continued concern over inflammatory rhetoric that seems to be prevalent.  He recalls that there is no justification for incitement to violence or hate speech.

The Secretary-General reaffirms his support to the Central African Republic and to MINUSCA’s role to protect civilians and stabilize the country.  He urges all actors to cease violence and work together to bring peace and stability to the country.

**Libya

Earlier yesterday, we had issued a statement on Libya, in which the Secretary-General condemned the terrorist attack on the High National Election Commission (HNEC) headquarters in Tripoli.  He extended his condolences to the families of the victims and sincere sympathy to the wounded.   The full statement is online.

**Syria

As a result of hostilities and military operations in Syria’s Afrin District, which began on 20 January, some 126,000 men, women and children remain displaced from Afrin to Tal Refaat, Nabul, Zahraa, Fafin and other areas.  In addition, an estimated 150,000 people remain in Afrin District, where access to people in need continues to be extremely limited.

The United Nations continues to provide humanitarian assistance, including food, nutrition, shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene, and protection services, to people displaced from Afrin District.

Several parties to the conflict continue to hinder displaced people’s movement, preventing them from seeking safety in their areas of choice or from returning to their areas of origin. 

The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, to ensure freedom of movement, and to allow for safe, sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to those in need.

**Somalia

We have an update from our humanitarian colleagues in Somalia.  During the past week, heavy rains have continued in the Juba and Shabelle river basins, exacerbating flooding in parts of south central Somalia.  Overall, 630,000 people have been affected by flash and river flooding, including some 215,000 people who have been displaced from their homes.  Humanitarian partners have stepped up their response to the flooding by providing life-saving assistance, including food, water, sanitation and hygiene, health, shelter and sandbags.  However, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that resources remain limited and are asking for $16 million dollars to avert a crisis.

**Food Prices

Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tell us today that their Food Price Index remained broadly steady in April, a tiny notch up from March and 2.7 per cent higher than in the same month of 2017.

Prices of cereals and dairy products continued their recent rising trend, while those of sugar continued their decline.

FAO also released its first forecasts for the 2018/2019 marketing season, predicting a decline in global cereal output and reserves, both of which have been at or near record highs.   More details are available on FAO’s website.

**Press Freedom

Today is World Press Freedom Day.  The theme this year is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law”, and it highlights the importance of an enabling legal environment for press freedom, and gives special attention to the role of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and the prosecution of crimes against journalists.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that “promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth” and added that the service that journalists and media workers provide to the public is invaluable.

He also called on Governments to protect journalists and ensure that those who commit crimes against them are prosecuted.  His full message is available online.

And our colleagues at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) have partnered with 40 news organizations to launch a campaign that encourages readers to look beyond their usual newspaper and to actively engage with alternative news sources.  The campaign’s message is: “Read more.  Listen more.  Understand more.  It all starts with a free press”, and it was featured at the global celebration of the day in Accra, Ghana.

**Press Briefings

After I am done, we will have Brenden Varma. 

And this afternoon 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

And that's it for me.  Do we have any questions?  Yes, Farnaz?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  I'll start with World Press Freedom Day.  Today, I was supposed to be on a panel about journalism and fake news hosted by the UN Alliance for Civilization.  And they cancelled the event because they demanded that the panellists drop all references to press oppression in countries like Turkey and delete a video where journalists from those countries were talking about the pressures that they face.  After they cancelled our panel last minute, they issued a false press statement saying the reason that they cancelled it was because it conflicted with the SG's speech today.  I want to know what the SG thinks about that, given his message about the importance of freedom of press.  What does he think that, in New York, at UN Headquarters, an organization that has the name of the UN in its title is involved in censorship and cancelling and silencing the voices of journalists?  What he thinks and what kind of principles do they have to abide by if they carry the name of the UN in their title?  Thank you. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, in terms of a point of principle, we stand for freedom of the press.  We certainly believe that press should not be censored and, indeed, no one who speaks at the UN should be censored for their views.   When I found out about the cancellation of this panel yesterday evening, I did check with the Alliance of Civilizations.  The answer that they gave me for the cancellation is the same one that they've given you, that they said that it was because of competing events.  I have since showed them…

Question:  …You're aware that that is false.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware of the contradictory information, which I've showed to them, and I showed them the information that suggested that it was done not for the reason that they've given me but because of the pressures put on them by Member States or possibly by one Member State.  They've said that they've gotten… that they'll get back to me on this.  I'm still waiting for a reply.  I think I would encourage all of you also to talk to the Alliance of Civilizations and ask them for further explanation, but I'm certainly asking them for further explanation because…

Question:  Is this acceptable by the SG for it to happen at UN Headquarters on World Free… Press Freedom Day as he's giving this statement? I mean, I've worked in all sorts of countries.  I'm quite honestly shocked to… to have a panel cancelled at the UN.  I mean, you expect it in other countries but not here.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think it's an acceptable thing to do it, in any effort to silence the press.  That would certainly be unacceptable.  Like I said, we're still trying to get the facts.  I'm awaiting an explanation from the Alliance of Civilization, and I'll share it with you if I get that.  But I would also urge you to also ask them, because I think that this is something that deserves further questioning.

Question:  Same topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  You?

Question:  Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News.  A couple of follow‑up questions to that.  If this is not an effort to silence the press on Press Freedom Day, will the Security Council release the video that was… that was referenced earlier that may have been silenced?  And another follow‑up question to the other panel, which was a 19… co‑sponsored in part by a 19‑member group of friends.  Some of the Member States for that panel cannot, in any measure, be called friends of a free press.  One of them is Bulgaria, ranked 111th in the Press Freedom Index; Brazil, 102nd; Jordan, 132nd; Lebanon, 100th place.  What is the UN doing to assure that, in essence, when it comes to press freedom, the foxes aren't guarding the hen houses at events dedicated to press freedom? 

Question:  Well, that's a question we get on a number of fronts when it comes to questions of human rights in general.  As you know, we encourage all States to improve their human rights records.  And yet the UN is a Member State body.  Member States sit on all of the UN's principal organs, whether it's the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or otherwise.  And the effort we make is to make sure that all of them are looked at, their records are examined, and that they improve their records.  We encourage them, of course, to be parts of groups of friends that help push for and encourage press freedom.  So, to that extent, we want them to be part of that process.   Regarding the concerns about this video, I don't speak for the Security Council.  I wouldn't be able to make sure that… what they could do, but you can take that matter up with them.  Yes?

Question:  As another follow‑up, Farhan, does the… just in a broader, generic issue, does the Secretary‑General support or, in any way, condone the use of pressure by UN Member States to prevent the media from doing its job of trying to shine a light on what is happening in the world?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no, he does not.  The media should be free to go about its work.  It's a crucial part of strengthening all societies to make sure that there is a free and independent media that can go about its work, and we hope that they will be able to do that free of hindrance.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Two questions.  One is just a… can you state… apparently, if you… if you reached out to Nihal Saad, as I did and she didn't answer me, what is the relationship between the UN Secretariat or the UN system and the UN Alliance of Civilizations?  And my second question is, as to the UN itself, given all that you've just said, I've asked in this room that the free… the Food and Agriculture Organization has filed criminal defamation charges against a publication called Italian Insider, and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has done the same in… in Geneva.  So, I wanted to know, if it's true that the Secretary‑General doesn't think that Member States should try to silence media, how is it that he's accepted UN funds programme… funds and programmes and specialized agencies trying to silence and actually bankrupt publications for publishing on alleged corruption in UN agencies?

Deputy Spokesman:  We would be opposed to efforts to silence those.  What you're referring to is legal matters.  Obviously, different officials, agencies, have their own legal rights, and they're free to protect their own legal rights in courts of law.  That's a separate matter.  We would be opposed to efforts to silence or discourage media from speaking out.

Question:  But isn't the way that some States silence journalists…

Deputy Spokesman:  Hold on.  You had… hold on.   You had an earlier question.  I believe Nihal Saad is travelling, so I don't know whether she'll be able to provide an answer today, but I am trying to get an answer from her and her team.  The Alliance of Civilizations, as you know, is an independent initiative, but it has a relationship with the United Nations.  You know, it's an initiative fostered some years back, initially under the guidance of the Member States of Spain and Turkey.  But there is a Secretariat that they have that includes UN and so, they are part of the UN family.

Question:  I just wanted to understand this idea that somehow its legal attempts to silence media are different than other attempts.  I mean, for example, in… in Turkey, they are bringing criminal charges against journalists.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sorry.  Wait.  You're calling it an attempt to silence media.  Like I said, if people believe that coverage has been unfair or has been damaging to them, they have the same legal rights that public citizens have or that Governments have.   They can pursue that.  What we're against… and there's a distinction, and we want to make sure that they stay on the right side of that distinction and do not try to use or abuse their legal rights in such a way that prohibits press from speaking out.

Question:  So, does he stand behind what WIPO and FAO have done?  Sounds like he does.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I'm… no, I wouldn't have a comment on that.  I don't have comments on their own individual legal procedures.  You'd have to talk to them about that.  I'm just saying that there's a distinction between establishing your own legal rights and trying to silence the press.  We would be against the latter.  Yes…?

Question:  But you contacted…

Deputy Spokesman:  Please stop talking over me.

Question:  I'm… because you keep trying to turn away, and I'm asking you a follow‑up question, which is you contacted AOC.  Have you contacted FAO…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, and I've answered your question.  and you talk over me while I'm providing those answers.

Correspondent:  I know because you keep trying to point somewhere else, so I just want to make sure I can have a follow‑up… 

Question:  [inaudible] Sorry.  If the Alliance of Civilizations is part of the UN family, if they’re part of the UN family, what kind of repercussions would they face for what they did today?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we need the details on what they did today.  If there's no reasonable or good explanation for what happened, obviously, we'd want to make sure that they don't do these sorts of things, but I can't speculate.  Right now, we're at the stage of trying to get a clear explanation, and I think they owe us that and they owe you that.

Question:  Would you call for their Head to resign over this?  Because this is really a disgrace.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think it's premature to talk about anything about that until we're clear about why they did what they did.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  I need to ask you how is update in Yemen from Martin Griffiths?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Griffiths is continuing with his efforts, and he is continuing with discussions.  I don't have any specific update on meetings that he's had.  As you're aware, he did brief the Security Council on his work about a week or so ago, and he's following up on that.  Yes, Mushfiq?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Farhan.  On International Press Freedom Day, as you mentioned, that this year’s theme is media and the justice and the rule of law.  In particular, I'm asking about Bangladesh.  The Bangladeshis far away from this thing, and the media is very much controlled by the ruling authority.  Last recently, according to Reporters Without Borders, its position is 146 and last… and last position in… even in South Asia.   And the rule of law, you know, the country’s chief justice, forced to leave the country, and the rule of law, you’re aware that the main opposition leader in prison where… with the fabricated verdict, and Government banned one of the main opposition leader, his speech, Mr. Rahman in the Bangladesh media.  Rather, Government is producing his private conversation in there with… using their Government missions like Inter-Services Intelligence agency.   So, with this position, what exactly Secretary‑General is doing to rescue Bangladesh from this darkness?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything new to say about this.  As you're aware, we've made clear, including through the Secretary‑General, our hope that all political actors in Bangladesh will work together in a conducive environment for holding peaceful elections later in the course of this year.  Obviously, in Bangladesh, as elsewhere, we want to make sure that the press can go about their work freely and without hindrance, and we would have concerns about any efforts to impinge on their rights.  Yes?

Question:  A follow‑up question on the… I know you said earlier you don't want to speculate on the potential consequences if, after looking at this, you determine that this was an attempt to muzzle the press.  My question is, without speculating on this, what has happened in the past when you have found someone… have… have you ever disciplined the… called for the resignation of a Head of an organization for muzzling the press at the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of examples of… in which it was determined that there was an effort to… specifically to muzzle a press event at the United Nations.  You know, obviously, we'll have to study what happened and see what can be done about that.  But, like I said, we're still at the stage of waiting for a clear explanation.  Like I said, I received an explanation, but I've seen other contradictory information, and so I want to be clear on what they did and why they did it.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask a follow‑up on Yemen as well.  But this is what I was trying to ask you is, while… while, you know, glad that you reached out to Nihal Saad since others are unable to reach her, I wanted to know what the difference is… has your office, in fact, reached out to FAO to ask why they've brought criminal defamation charges against the Italian Insider?  Because you seem to say, well, they're free to do that.  And to many, it seems that's a pretty serious thing.  Have you asked for an explanation from them?  I have and haven't gotten one, but I'm wondering whether you've made the same effort.

Deputy Spokesman:  We've been in touch with our counterparts at the various places.  Obviously, like I said, they have their own legal processes and legal rights.  So, you should be in touch with each of them for their decisions.

Question:  Can I ask you on… on Yemen, and it's a specific question, the UAE (United Nations Arab Emirates) has deployed some 100 soldiers to Socotra Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  And the residents there — it's part of Yemen.  It's not part of the UAE — have been protesting it.  And I'm wondering whether it's something that Mr. Martin Griffiths is aware of and whether he thinks it's a… complies with… even with international law or is a useful step to have the UAE making a military deployment on Yemen Socotra Island.

Deputy Spokesman:  We haven't made any comment on this.  I'll see whether there's any particular position that Mr. Griffiths is taking.  But his work, as you know, is focused primarily on making sure that the parties to the Yemen peace process get back to the table.   All right, Brenden.

Question:  Actually, do you have anything on Sudan?  because you'd said that the UN is checking why Ms. Marta Ruedas, the Resident Coordinator, took an award from… from Omar al‑Bashir.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we're checking that.   All right.  Come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.