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

10 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Israel-Syria

I will start off with a statement:

The Secretary-General followed with utmost concern reports overnight of missile launches from Syria targeting Israeli positions and retaliatory strikes by the Israel Defense Forces, that followed earlier strikes in Syria on Tuesday, 8 May.  He notes with relief today’s partial normalization of the situation.

The United Nations Disengagement [Observer] Force (UNDOF) has maintained contact with the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and Israel Defense Forces, urging both parties to exercise maximum restraint and abide by their obligations under the Disengagement of Forces Agreement.

The Secretary-General urges for an immediate halt to all hostile acts and any provocative actions to avoid a new conflagration in the region already embroiled in terrible conflicts with immense suffering of civilians. 

The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations unwavering support to long term de-escalation efforts and stability in the Middle East.  The United Nations will continue to advance and support all efforts aimed at further de-escalation in the region.  In this context, the Secretary-General reiterates that the conflict in Syria should be brought to an end with a political solution through the Geneva intra-Syrian talks, as stipulated in resolution 2254 of the Security Council.

The Secretary-General calls on the Security Council to remain actively seized of the matter and shoulder its responsibilities under the Charter.  He stands ready to work closely with all its members in this regard.

**Cuba

Travel note: this afternoon, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York for Havana, Cuba, to attend the closing of the ongoing thirty-seventh session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, otherwise known as ECLAC.  She will also meet with senior Government officials and the United Nations Country Team.  She will be back in New York on 13 May.

**Compact

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General met with his senior leadership to acknowledge the signing of the 2018 senior manager compacts.  More streamlined and focused than in previous years, they capture and communicate key priorities and are the first set of compacts to be signed by the new leadership team.  This is part of his efforts to shift the management paradigm of the United Nations, in line with his pledge that the Secretariat would be transparent, responsible and accountable in its stewardship of the resources of the Organization and in delivering upon agreed mandates.

Performance compacts with senior managers are a vital component of the accountability culture of the UN and set the tone from the top for results.

For the first time, the Compacts are aligned with the UN System Leadership Framework to include characteristics for senior leaders that are essential to fulfilling the UN’s core mandates. 

The compacts include commitments to prevent, address and report allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and ensure rapid response to allegations of sexual harassment.  It includes a commitment to protecting whistleblowers. 

They also reflect the Secretary-General’s commitment to reaching gender parity and improving geographical diversity.

The compacts reflect the wide-ranging reform agenda.  The Secretary-General expects senior leadership to contribute to these efforts in a concrete and constructive manner, including by regularly engaging with staff, as the Organization undergoes an extensive process of change. 

Stressing the importance of a strong team spirit, the Secretary-General called on the leadership team to create a work environment that is civil, empowers staff, fosters creativity and innovation, enables better communication with staff, and respects the dignity of each person.

**Gender Parity

On the issue of gender parity, we are pleased to announce that for the first time in the history of the UN, there is now gender parity among those nominated to fill the position of UN Resident Coordinators — the UN’s team leaders on the ground around the globe. 

These latest appointments also increase the regional diversity of this group, showing that the goals of gender parity and regional diversity can be pursued in parallel.

This milestone builds on the achievement in gender parity among the UN Senior Management Team.  Taken together, that means that the UN’s top leadership both at Headquarters and the country-level is now 50-50 men and women.

The Secretary-General regards gender parity at all levels of the UN to be a priority, not only to improve the effectiveness of our work, but to end the power imbalances that contribute to sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse.

The Secretary-General will continue to press for fast progress on gender parity at all levels across the UN system.

**Darfur

This morning the Joint Special Representative and Head of the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Jeremiah Mamabolo, briefed the Security Council on the situation in Darfur and the work of the mission.  He told Council members that the general security situation in Darfur remains calm, except for sporadic clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army of Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW), Government forces and nomads in the Jebel Marra.

Mr. Mamabolo concluded that as UNAMID continues its reconfiguration and drawdown, the transition phase will be critical in creating the foundation for a durable peace.  He further encouraged efforts to mobilize financial resources to consolidate and sustain peace and stability in the region.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan today released a report detailing a pattern of attacks at election-related facilities ahead of the October 2018 elections.

Also in Afghanistan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, met this week with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior Government officials, calling for action against civilian casualties, torture, violence against women and boys, and to ensure justice for victims of human rights violations.  Mr. Gilmour also addressed a conference on “Accountability, Human Rights, Justice and Peace” organized by the Afghan Independent Human Rights [Commission].

**Gaza

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that today the Central Emergency Response Fund allocated $1.26 million for Gaza.

These funds are meant to strengthen the trauma pathway in Gaza to support the rapid procurement of essential medical supplies and their distribution to critical hospitals providing trauma care.

OCHA also published today an analytical bulletin covering the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.  There is more on that online.

**Yemen

You saw that yesterday we issued a statement on Yemen in which the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the recent and sharp escalation in the Yemen conflict, namely the Coalition airstrikes on 7 May that hit a Government building in the Tahrir district, a densely-populated area of Sana’a City, and the firing of ballistic missiles by the Houthis on 6 and 9 May toward targets in Saudi Arabia, including Riyadh. 

**Libya

Our colleagues at UNHCR tell us today that they evacuated 132 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers out of Tripoli and flew them to Niamey in Niger.  UNHCR says that refugees in detention in Libya are languishing in extreme conditions that threaten their life and well-being.

**Forest

The FAO today launched the first voluntary guidelines for forest concessions in the tropics to make concessions more transparent, accountable and inclusive — all for the benefit of some of the poorest and most isolated communities in the world.

Over 70 per cent of forests in the tropics used for harvesting timber and other forest products are State-owned or public; most of the public forests are managed through concessions that Governments give to private entities or local communities.

**Breastfeeding

UNICEF today released a new analysis on breastfeeding, calling for the narrowing of the “breastfeeding gaps” between rich and poor [worldwide].  Approximately 7.6 million babies each year are not breastfed, 1 in 5 babies in high-income countries, compared to just 1 in 25 in low- and-middle-income countries.

**Education

Lastly, tomorrow, I want to flag that at 12:20 p.m. the Secretary-General and his Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, will be receiving a petition signed by some 1.5 million young people calling for more investment in education.  The petition will be delivered by three youth activists from India, Kenya and Sierra Leone.  This will take place in the Secretary-General’s office, and you will be invited to attend for the photo-op.  And the SG and Mr. Brown will take a few questions.

Right after that, Mr. Brown will be down here and will be our guest at the noon briefing along with other officials from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, if I am not mistaken.

**Questions and Answers

Ms. Lederer.

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  As a follow‑up to the Secretary‑General's statement on the missile strikes, has the Secretary‑General spoken to any senior officials in Israel, Syria, or Iran?

And, as a second question, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the release of the three American prisoners from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the announcement of a date for talks between President Trump and Kim Jong‑un?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I have nothing to share with you on contacts with the Secretary‑General, but contacts have been had with various parties at various levels.

We, obviously, welcome the release of the three Americans who have been held against their will in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  We learned, like you, through a tweet about the… the announcement of a date, which I think is… and a location, which is a good… a good sign.  As you know, the Secretary‑General is very much supportive of this process and of any peaceful… any discussions that would lead to a peaceful denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the conflict or the clashes that happened last night between Syria and Israel, there were four fighters who violated Lebanese airspace during these clashes and fired rockets from over Lebanon, according to the Lebanese authorities and reports.  Does the Secretary‑General have any stand against that?

One more question is regarding the casualties.  Israel did not declare any casualties on their side, which could mean that they have no casualties whatsoever.  However, Syria has three and… does the Secretary‑General has any… any feelings about those who were victims of these clashes?

Spokesman:  Look, on the issue of Lebanese airspace, we don't have any operational details that we can… that we know of.  So, I can't certify what happened… 

Question:  You have…

Spokesman:  Let…

Question:  …UNIFIL…

Spokesman:  They have not reported anything… anything to us.

As a matter of principle and as the Secretary‑General has called for, we call on all to respect Lebanese sovereignty.

You know, we enter in this eighth year of the conflict in Syria.  We have seen almost daily civilians die from violence, whether from the air or from the ground or from lack of food or lack…  lack of water. All of that should hopefully reinvigorate the international community to support a peaceful and political solution to the conflict in Syria.

Mr. Avni.

Question:  There's a Security Council ban on Iranian export of arms.  Does the fact that Iranian fighters and arms were involved in this exchange enter into this?

Spokesman:  Look, the… all Member States should be respectful of Security Council resolutions.  What we need to see in Syria is not more arms, more military, more violence.  What we need to see is a political solution.  And all the parties involved, whether present on the ground or having…  having influence on those who are on the ground, should work with the United Nations in support of the Geneva process.

Question:  Specifically, however, there's a Security Council resolution that actually follows…

Spokesman:  I'm not denying that.  And I said all Member States need to…

Question:  But not all Member States have a ban on exporting arms.  Syria…  Iran does. 

Spokesman:  I'm waiting for an intonation of a question.  As I said… 

Question:  I mean, I'm asking…

Spokesman:  As I said… sorry.  No, as I said, Benny…

Question:  …is that a specific case… 

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General calls on all Member States to respect the relevant Security Council resolutions and sanctions. 

Mr. Lee.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I'll bet that you've seen 23 prominent activists on sexual harassment have asked that Mr. Michel Sidibé be removed of his powers at UNAIDS, and they describe having met…  tried to meet with him, receiving what they've considered by this Erasmus Morah, who's the head of UNAIDS in Nigeria, as sort of what they considered an offensive request to a f… as a fair lady to protect Michel. 

And I'm just wondering, you've said a number of times from this podium that the Secretary‑General fully supports Michel Sidibé and what he's done at UNAIDS.  Is this…  does this remain the case?  Does he support what these 23 activists are describing as essentially a sexist campaign to… to rally around Michel Sidibé and… and what's his response given all that you've said about…

Spokesman:  Look, civil society can and should express themselves freely in whatever positions they want to, whatever they want to do.  Like, I'm sure there are people who… I mean, we've seen people calling for civil society activists on different sides of this issue concerning Mr. Sidibé. 

What the Secretary‑General feels is that Michel Sidibé has done a very good job at UNAIDS, especially, in fact, on issues of gender, and he fully supports him.

Question:  And I wanted to ask about the compacts.  You just said… I was struck when you said that these compacts are new and a new transparency.  I heard you say that word.  I think… since you were the Spokesperson for Ban Ki‑moon as well, these ceremonies were always open press in the past.  And so I'm wondering, how is it consistent with the idea of a… of a new transparency in the compacts that this was closed press…

Spokesman:  There was a family photo.  The signatures of the compacts were, in fact, done by… each senior official did it on their own time.  This was the first time the Secretary‑General met with them after it had all been done and finalized.

Question:  And on… 

Spokesman:  And I'm… go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  So… 

Spokesman:  What…

Question:  …you don't see it as inconsistent that it used to be open and now it's closed. 

Spokesman:  Your next question, sir. 

Question:  Okay.  The next question has to do with also financial disclosure.  In looking at the financial disclosure provided in… link at the bottom of the Secretary‑General's page, it seems like there's a number of USGs that are not on the list, one being Alison Smale of DPI, one being Mr. Lacroix of DPKO. 

And I'm just wondering, in the past, if people weren't going to disclose, they would say… there would be a piece of paper… you'd click it, and it would say "I'm not disclosing".  That was then changed to just their names are not on the list.

How is one to know… does this mean that these two individuals have chosen not to make even basic financial disclosure or for some reason…

Spokesman:  I'll check it.  I can't speak to it off the top of my head. 

Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this explosive situation in the Middle East and the Secretary‑General's concern about it, but is he going to… my question is, is he going to undertake a trip to Middle East, given this… the… the situation as it exists, visit Israel and Tehran, what have you?  Is that on his agenda, or is he awaiting a signal from the Security Council?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has been engaged with various parties on this issue.  The fact that he's… he will travel to any region of conflict when he feels it is the right time to do it.  He is not going to do it just for show.  But he's very concerned about the risk for escalation and broadening of the conflict, and, as I said, we've been having contacts with various parties at various levels.

Question:  What is the right time?  Stéphane, what will be the right time?

Spokesman:  As I said, the Secretary‑General is deeply engaged in this issue.  The fact that he's… he may not be travelling to the issue does not mean… to the area, does not mean that he's not engaged. 

Luke.

Question:  Two questions on UNDOF.  The first, you said the Observer Force is monitoring the situation.  Are you aware of any live fire landed within the deployment area of UNDOF, or is this sort of going over their heads literally?

Spokesman:  Let me see what more operational details I can get for them.  I'm not aware of anything that would have landed directly in their area of operation.

Question:  And another UNDOF question, sort of on protocol.  The IDF says they were attacking positions at the Quds Force, Iranian troops in Syria.  But UNDOF is, of course, there to monitor the Israeli‑Syrian ceasefire.  If UNDOF determines a non‑Syrian State force is responsible for an attack, do they tell the Syrian Government about that or…

Spokesman:  They will report as they see it.  The main interlocutors of UNDOF are on one side the Syrian Arab armed forces and on the other side the IDF. 

Yes, ma'am. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Kazakh Foreign Ministry announced that the next round of Syria talks would be held in Astana on the 14 May.  I was just wondering if the Special Envoy for Syria would attend this round of talks.

Spokesman:  I should know fairly soon at what level the representation is.  But that's the Astana process, it's not… which is supportive of the Geneva Syria talks, but they're separate… separate things.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Carla.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the Secretary‑General made any comment about the most recent meeting between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong‑un in Dalian?

And, as a follow‑up, what impact does he think the US withdrawal from the Iranian… the JCPOA will have upon the negotiations between Trump…

Spokesman:  On your second question, that's really… that's the work of journalists and analysts to comment on.  On your first question, as I said, the Secretary‑General is… has been very supportive of the process that we have seen in the last few weeks of more talks, whether it's between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea, China and the DPRK, and then we hope to see, as it was announced, the United States and the DPRK, all of this leading to what we would like to see, which is a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Sorry.  Nabil.

Question:  So, Stéphane, so your information based on the statement that you just read on the escalation in Syria, rockets were launched first from Syria and then Israel attacked these position… locations in Syria, or what's your information on this?

Spokesman:  The information is what I said in the… in the statement. 

Nizar.

Question:  Yeah.  You mentioned that Israeli positions were attacked.  Were they in the occupied Syrian Golan, or were they in Is… in 1948 Israel?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what I've just said.

Question:  But…

Spokesman:  I don't… if I had more details, I would share them with you. 

Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I want… in this round, I'd like to ask about Darfur and Al Sharpton.  On Darfur… and you'll see why.  On Darfur, yesterday, in the Council, the Force Commander of UNAMID, Mr. Ngondi, said, pretty clearly, that the Government has been blocking freedom of movement of the force and… and violating the SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement].  So I just wondered, I hadn't really heard that before, and I'm wondering, is this something… what's the UN doing about that?  And, in particular, given that Marta Ruedas accepted this Two Niles award from Omar al‑Bashir not long ago, is this something that she raised to him?  Is it inconsistent to be taking an award, totally outside of the ICC [International Criminal Court] process, from a Government that's actually blocking the freedom of movement of a peacekeeping mission?

Spokesman:  Okay.  On Ms. Ruedas, we've said what we've had to say. 

On the issue of restricting movement of… freedom of movement, I think the quoted remarks of the Force Commander are part of his reflection in the context of aspects that shape the operational environment of UNAMID.  The General in his remarks clearly pointed out that the UNAMID enjoys a cordial relationship with the Government of Sudan, though there have been instances where UNAMID has been denied the freedom of movement in its verification activities, which is… which we've reported in the past, notwithstanding these restrictions which are being reported in… through, as I mentioned, through Security Council reports. 

The working relationship between UNAMID and the Government has been improving recently, which has also been highlighted in the same reports and acknowledged during various interactions with the mission and the UN leadership with the Government of Sudan.

Al Sharpton.

Question:  Okay.  Al Sharpton.  Yesterday, there was a photo op at 3:30.  I tried to go.  I wasn't allowed to go.  Another photographer did go up, but I did learn that, while it was listed that Martin Luther King III would be there, I didn't learn, except by standing in the lobby at the end of the meeting, that Al Sharpton was also at the meeting. 

And, when he came down, he said that something is in the works with the UN, but it's too early to confirm it.  So, I want… one, I also have to say I don't understand the logic of John… my colleague John, the photographer, going up and me being disallowed.  But, two, if you're going to pick and choose who can go to photo ops, can you provide an updated media alert if, in fact, someone like Al Sharpton did attend or someone of the prominence of Al Sharpton did attend the meeting…

Spokesman:  I have to tell…

Question:  …and do you have a readout…

Spokesman:  I will be fully transparent and let you know that I had no idea Al Sharpton was going to attend.

Question:  So, why can't you just let people go to the photo ops to find for themselves…

Spokesman:  We've had… we've had this colourful debate yesterday.

Correspondent:  I don't… I'm totally…

Spokesman:  Luke.

Question:  Thanks.  The Saudi Foreign Minister was quoted yesterday in AFP as saying the Kingdom might pursue nuclear weapons if Iran does the same.  Any response to this?

Spokesman:  Again, we don't comment on hypotheticals, but the Secretary-General's position on the need for nuclear… to halt nuclear proliferation, I think, has been pretty clear in the past. 

Nizar.

Question:  Yeah.  Yesterday… I mean after… after the abrogation of the… or withdrawal of the US from the JCPOA, Mr. Bolton threatened that further action could be taken if Iran does not come to negotiations.  What is the United Nations position on that?

Spokesman:  Again, we're trying to limit our comments to what has actually happened.  I think the Secretary‑General's position encouraging the parties to continue to support the JCPOA has been made clear numerous times.

Question:  One more thing.  It's about… how serious is the nuclear threat from any Israeli conflict given that Israel has nuclear arsenal?

Spokesman:  Look, you have information in your question that I do not… that…

Question:  No… nobody…

Spokesman:  Let me answer… let me answer the question.  You have information in your question that I do not have.

Question:  No…

Spokesman:  As I said to Luke, the Secretary‑General's position on the need for… to halt nuclear proliferation throughout the world has been made clear over and over again.  The Secretary‑General is concerned of a possible escalation of the… of the conflicts that we're seeing in the region.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization] and CICIG [International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala].  It's… some have complained… a number of States have complained that, at WIPO, Mr. Gurry has given a $2,000 bonus to virtually all employees, which I'm sure is a nice thing, but I wanted… I'd asked you a couple of days ago about this plan to downsize here at Headquarters, including six months… a leave without pay for some if they don't find another post.  So, how… how do you square the two?  And does the Secretary‑General think it was a good move by WIPO…

Spokesman:  They're two… two… two… 

Question:  …to pay $2,000… 

Spokesman:  …two separate things.  I think the document you refer to was a draft that was circulated within… with the Staff Council Coordination Committee.  It is not finalized.  It is not pegged to any specific downsizing.  It is just to lay out… to lay out policy.  But, as I said, it's a complete draft, and it was not circulated by Ms. Beagle.

On your second question, I think the… we've been very clear that WIPO did not consult the Secretary‑General, or did not inform the Secretary‑General.  He was not aware of this.  They have no need to consult him because, in fact, the Secretary‑General has no authority over WIPO, which is… has its own… has its own governing body that sits in Geneva.

Thank you.

Question:  On CICIG.

Spokesman:  Yes, CICIG.  Go ahead.

Question:  I wanted to ask you, I know you routinely say that the Secretary‑General supports it… 

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  …and… and…  I wanted to ask you, there's at least three senators and one representative in Washington that are…  have written to put a hold on $6 million to be paid to CICIG, and their reason for it is what they say is a lack of due process, that instances have come up where Mr. Velásquez has essentially bullied defendants in one case, they say, on behalf of a Russian bank. 

And so I'm wondering, when you… when you issue these expressions of support, is it something that… that the Secretary‑General has actually looked at these cases and said…

Spokesman:  CICIG operates under established rules through an agreement between the UN and the Government of Guatemala.  There are all sorts of built‑in mechanisms.  CICIG has received broad support from Member States, and we hope that continues.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.