15 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.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council via video teleconference in its meeting this morning that yesterday was a day of tragedy for the people of Gaza.  He said that there is no justification for the killing, and there is no excuse.  He called on all to join him in condemning in the strongest possible terms the actions that have led to the loss of so many lives in Gaza.  He said that, according to various reports, at least 60 people were killed yesterday, including at least six children, while more than 1,300 people were reportedly injured by live ammunition and rubber bullets.  You will recall that, in a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General said that Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire.  Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations.  With tensions high and more demonstrations expected in the coming days, the Secretary-General said that it is imperative that everyone show the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life, including ensuring that all civilians and particularly children are not put in harm’s way.  The ongoing violence underscores the urgent need for a political solution.  The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no viable alternative to the two-State solution, with Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace, each with its capital in Jerusalem.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is currently in Brussels, where he arrived a few hours ago.  He just met with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.  From there, he went on to meet with Didier Reynders, Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium.  Later this evening, the Secretary-General will be hosted by Belgium’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel, for a working dinner.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General was in Vienna, where he delivered remarks at the R20 Austrian World Summit.  The summit brings together international leaders from politics, business and investment worlds, civil society, academia and start-ups to work together and show leadership on implementing the Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Secretary-General told the gathered leaders that of all the challenges he is faced with every day, few loom so large as climate change.  If we fail to meet this challenge, he added, all other challenges will just become greater and threaten to swallow us.  Acknowledging the Summit’s focus on subnational and local efforts, the Secretary-General underscored the need for financing to reach the people and places that need it most.  He said that mobilizing and equipping local governments with the capacity and financing to accelerate climate action is necessary if we are to bend the emissions curve.  On the side lines of the meeting, the Secretary-General had two separate bilateral meetings, with the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, and with the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, expressed concern today about a possible upsurge in violence in Burundi during the run-up to Thursday’s controversial constitutional referendum.  A recent deadly attack on a village left 26 civilians dead, and even as there are differing accounts of whom the attackers may have been, the High Commissioner said that in this febrile atmosphere, it was a very dangerous development.  Burundi is awash with rumours, political negotiations are deadlocked, and tensions are rising sharply in the wake of this attack, he said.  The High Commissioner took note of the authorities’ announcement that they are launching an investigation and urged them to ensure it is transparent and credible.  Everyone will suffer if Burundi explodes into violence during or after the referendum, he said, urging the Government to live up to its responsibilities.


The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is making good progress towards the production of a framework for negotiations, as promised in his briefing to the United Nations Security Council in April.  He plans to put that framework to the Security Council in the first half of June, and he looks forward to a formal relaunch of peace negotiations afterwards.  Mr. Griffiths is grateful for the continuing unhindered and prompt access he continues to enjoy with all the parties.  He wishes to correct any impression that the postponement of his visit to Sana’a has in any way impeded his access to Ansar Allah leaders to better understand their own perspectives on his framework for negotiations.  The Special Envoy continues to ask the parties to take urgent measures to de-escalate.  There is a press release out with more details.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Astana today, saying that he and his technical team had participated in a useful ninth meeting in Astana with some concrete discussions on de-escalation.  He said that the issue of Syrian territorial integrity and national unity was clearly stressed by everyone.  He added that the United Nations participated very actively in a working group where the Guarantors had constructive engagement on the issues of detainees, abductees and missing people.  Meanwhile, yesterday, an inter-agency United Nations/Syria Arab Red Crescentmission visited the towns of Saqba and Kafar Batna, in eastern Ghouta.  This was the first United Nations access to eastern Ghouta since it delivered assistance to Duma on 15 March.  During the visit, the mission visited medical facilities, schools and a local market.  They observed the destruction of infrastructure, with over half of Saqba damaged or destroyed.  Six schools in Saqba are functioning, and interventions are ongoing to rehabilitate additional educational facilities.  The United Nations continues to call on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today released its second anti-corruption report, which takes stock of the progress made to fight corruption in the country and provides recommendations to move forward.  The Head of the Mission, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that while Afghanistan has made significant and notable progress in fighting corruption, new reform strategies and laws have yet to be fully applied to bring tangible benefits to the daily lives of Afghans.  “It has become clear that all Afghan institutions, along with all segments of society, must now engage in fighting corruption to rebuild integrity, accountability and transparency in the country, with a long-term agenda,” said Mr. Yamamoto.  The full report is available on the Mission’s website.

**Central African Republic

Our humanitarian colleagues are warning that the situation in the Central African Republic has been deteriorating for several months in the interior of the country, with outbreaks of violence also reported in the capital, Bangui, in the past month.  According to health workers, the outbreak of violence in Bangui has left 61 people dead and 330 wounded.  An estimated 10,000 people have been displaced within the city due to insecurity.  The displacement has an adverse effect on access to already scarce resources, such as drinking water.  Parents are also reluctant to send their children to school due to fear of further violent attacks.  Humanitarian needs in the country have increased with 2.5 million people in need this year compared to 2.2 million in early 2017.


Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that, without urgent humanitarian assistance, more than 30,000 people forced to flee an upsurge in violence in the Central African Republic to seek refuge in Chad face hunger and destitution.  WFP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), working with the Chadian Government’s refugee commission, have provided initial assistance including food, shelter, essential non-food items and medical care but the relief effort has been hampered by a lack of funds.  WFP needs $10 million to provide continued food and nutrition assistance to the refugees and members of host communities during the next six months.  The current influx of mostly women and children brings to 100,000 the number of Central African refugees living in Chad.


Stop attacks on children:  the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, made this call in a statement today, saying that from the Central African Republic to South Sudan, and from Syria to Afghanistan, attacks on children in conflict have continued unabated during the first four months of the year.  With little remorse and even less accountability, parties to conflict continue to blatantly disregard one of the most basic rules in war:  the protection of children.  Ms. Fore denounced indiscriminate attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, abductions, child recruitment, besiegement, abuse in detention and denial of humanitarian assistance.  She stressed that despite funding shortfalls, UNICEF is resolutely committed to serving the most vulnerable.  Her full statement is online.

**Honour Roll

And today we thank our friends in Indonesia, as that Member State has paid its regular budget dues in full.  This payment takes the Honour Roll to 94.


Today is the International Day of Families.  The theme this year is “Families and inclusive societies” and explores the role of families and family policies in advancing Sustainable Development Goal 16 in terms of promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.  And today at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 6, there will be a panel discussion on the Day’s theme organized by the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

**Press Conferences

At 11 a.m., tomorrow, in S-237, which is this room, there will be a press briefing by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to present the latest urban population estimates and projections: “2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects”.  Speakers will be John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in DESA and François Pelletier, Chief, Population Estimates and Projections Section, also at the Population Division.  And sometime after this briefing, as the Security Council meeting wraps up, the Permanent Representatives of France, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy and Germany will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout.

**Palestine Concert

And last, I want to remind you that today at 6:30 p.m. the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will hold a Commemorative Concert on the seventieth anniversary of Al-Nakba in the United Nations General Assembly Hall.  That is it for me.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is:  Why is Secretary‑General, after the killing of 58 Palestinians and now today, when they were burying their dead, one Palestinian came under Israeli fire, why is Secretary‑General so muted and why is he not wanting more forcefully to talk to Israeli to stop this violence?  This thing is going to go out of control and he knows it.  So, why is he so muted and why is he so scared of Israel?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  While you are certainly entitled to your opinion, I would disagree with the idea it has been muted.  The Secretary‑General spoke several times over the course of yesterday about the violence and I would refer you to his remarks.  He put out a statement.  He tweeted on social media.  And today his envoy, Mr. Mladenov, spoke at great length.  As I said at the start, he called on everyone to condemn in the strongest possible terms the actions that have led to the loss of so many lives in Gaza.  And we have called, as you know, for the Israeli forces to exercise maximum restraint and for Hamas and the leaders of the demonstration to exercise their responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations.

Question:  And what I'm saying is it seems that Rupert Colville, the human rights person, has a better… called for more of investigation, which the United States has of course vetoed the statement, but the thing is, is the Secretary‑General again going to insist on investigation, which he has been calling for but it's still not going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has called, as he has since the start of this violence, for all such killings to be investigated thoroughly and we continue to make that call.  Hold on.  Sia?

Question:  Thank you.  One of the major foundation for this room, for this building, for this organization is human rights.  But, lately, when I say lately in the past maybe 10 years, human rights have been taking the back seat when it comes to United Nations.  Is United Nation becoming irrelevant when it comes to human rights?  Is human rights itself becoming irrelevant or all above?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I don't believe that's the case.  The UN continues to press for human rights.  As you know we have a very strong human rights entity, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the work of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the previous Secretary‑General and this one have pushed the “Human Rights Up Front” initiative, which tries to centralize a lot of focus on human rights issues throughout the system, and so we are doing as much as we can.  For us, the key question is:  Will the Governments of the world pay as much attention to human rights as they do to political or economic considerations?  We are pushing them to do so; but, ultimately, that push also needs to also come from the people, from the media, from all quarters so that all Governments take the question of human rights seriously.

Question:  You just mentioned if the Governments pay attention, but if nobody holds them accountable for the situation, nobody will say, okay, that 60 people who died yesterday, oh, tough luck; it was a mistake?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the United Nations tries to do as much as it can from our perspective to push Governments on human rights concerns.  But it needs to come from a variety of quarters.  Ultimately, pressure needs to come from the people and from all the institutions that represent the peoples of the world, as well as from the United Nations.  That's how it's most effective.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, there have been various calls in the Council for transparent and independent investigation of killings in Gaza.  You were saying that the Secretary‑General, you know, is calling for such an investigation; but as many have pointed out, he has the power to set up such an investigation.  Can you explain his reasoning, at least thus far, in not doing so?  And also, there had been a request that he provide a report on the implementation of the resolution in December 2016 on settlements, and is he aware of that and when will he do that?  Those are two separate questions, investigation and implementation.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, regarding the question of investigations, we made clear repeatedly now that we want there to be credible investigations.  Ultimately, what we are doing at this stage is pressing for the authorities, the authorities responsible, in other words, in Israel, in Gaza and elsewhere to mount credible independent investigations.  We will have to evaluate whether that happens and whether the results are satisfactory.

Question:  When you say elsewhere, what do you mean — when you are calling on an investigation by Israel, Gaza and elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesman:  And also the Palestinian Authority, which is present also, as you know, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Question:  But, what is his reasoning not doing it himself, I guess, is what I'm saying?  There are many Council members that have said that he has it within his power to do it.  Is there some legal reason?  Is it a political judgment?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you're aware of the process by which UN investigative bodies get mandates, and that is something that we would need to be appraised of if that were a consideration down the line.  But, at this stage, our focus is seeing what the authorities themselves can do.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I sympathize with you.  You are on the hot seat today definitely.  But, given the gravity of the situation, I must follow‑up on Masood's question and say why Secretary‑General is afraid to depart the common narrative on the situation, because it’s the situation is not common.  You said he speaks strongly, but why is he not speaking more strongly?  And what is his position on this, to be very clear, on this investigation or commission?  For example, Netherlands just a few minutes ago mentioned and called for, and others… and also others are saying we are reaching the situation of the point of no return, so the situation is getting worse.

Deputy Spokesman:  That is a warning that the Secretary‑General and his officials, including Mr. Mladenov, have also been making.  We can differ about the relative strength of what the Secretary‑General has been saying.  He, as you know, balances the strong calls on leaders to avoid the violence, which he has been doing now regularly for several months, with also his efforts to see whether diplomacy can bring the parties back to the table.  Ultimately, what is needed is for the violence to be halted and for the parties to engage in negotiations with each other.  That is the only route out of the sort of madness and cycle of violence that we have seen, and this is something that Secretary‑General has long believed and has repeatedly articulated.  And regarding the questions of a commission, obviously, you've heard from different Member States, and we are also monitoring what the Member States say about this, but we will follow what sort of support they have for the various proposals.

Question:  When you say… just to follow up, please… when you say he is voicing his concern, his call, his appeal to leaders, does he still have to proceed with that kind of common call to all parties or the party who use excessive force this time, and it's obviously this time?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you have seen what he said.  You have seen what Mr. Mladenov said.  I mean, for example, one of the things that he made clear is that Israel has responsibility to calibrate its use of force, to not use lethal force except as a last resort under imminent threat of death or serious injury.  It must protect its borders from infiltration and terrorism, but it must do so proportionately and investigate in an independent and transparent manner every incident that has led to a loss of human life.  Hold on.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In the same statements he made on events in Gaza, the Secretary‑General also underscored the need for political solution.  The reports, as you know, indicate that President [Donald] Trump would be submitting a peace plan in the next few weeks.  Has the Secretary‑General been consulted on any aspects of this peace plan?

Deputy Spokesman:  We will evaluate the plan once we see it.  I'm not aware of the details of any such plan.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  One hundred per cent.  I agree with you that both sides have to come and start negotiating, but in order for both sides to negotiate, there has to be a stick, has to be a carrot.  What are the sticks and where are the carrots in this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  That is something that ultimately the UN and the various concerned nations of the world need to work together to achieve.  Different countries, different regional groups have sway with different parties and we need to bring them back to the table.  We are trying on our side to do that and we will see what our colleagues can also do.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, on this thing about when the Member States were so tied up with the Security Council, when they say something, it's been vetoed and they're unable to move ahead at all, is the Secretary‑General going to propose anything that he believes is in the interest of… because of it's a threat to international peace and security, is he going to propose any new measures to be adopted to make sure that this thing doesn't explode, which it is about to, with the situation in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've seen what we have been telling the various parties, and we are continuing with that approach.  Let's see where we can go with that.  If other steps are needed, we can approach it at that point.  Moshfiq?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Farhan.  On Bangladesh, you are urging for peaceful, free and credible election for a long time from this podium and the Secretary‑General is willing to see.  But, I'm wondering what is the best possible way to hold a free, fair, credible election in Bangladesh?  Because just yesterday, the one major mayoral election of Khulna ended with widespread irregularities and shows of muscle by the ruling Government authorities, later today… so the polls were marred by the irregularities, including ballot‑stuffing, driving out of the agents of the Bangladesh National Party, and obstructing reporters to enter the polling station, as the Administration went silent and sometimes deaf.  How to get [inaudible] on these irregularities, so what is your observation on these issues?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you pointed out, we continue to call for the need for all parties and all authorities to respect the need for free and fair elections in Bangladesh and will continue to do that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Just on today's topic in the Council, the White House has put out a, I guess, a preview of the Secretary‑General's meeting with President Trump on Friday and said, listing two countries, not the Middle East, Palestine or Israel, but listing Syria and North Korea as topics of mutual concern.  Does the Secretary‑General… also reform an efficiency, but does the Secretary‑General intend to raise this topic during his meeting Friday?  Because it seems from the listing that maybe the administration doesn't view the UN as… its role as useful on this topic as it does, apparently, on Syria and North Korea?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we will bring up a range of topics of mutual concern.  We will provide those details following the meeting on Friday.

Question:  Is it your understanding if there will be a Q‑and‑A session of the President and António Guterres?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that at this stage, but if there is one, we will provide the details.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and I'm sorry if it's obviously reported that the 13 Beninois peacekeepers were taken hostage or taken and that 11 have been returned.  Is there any update?  Have the two been found and what can you say about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We can confirm that two peacekeepers are missing since last Friday.  They were on a part of a MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] convoy from Kongolo town to Kalemie town in Tanganyika Province.  MONUSCO teams are mobilized and deployed on the ground, searching for the two peacekeepers.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted… At yesterday's town‑hall meeting in Vienna, one of the questions from the floor was from a self‑described victim of sexual harassment within the UN system, and she asked Secretary‑General whether he supported the idea of a "me too" club, I guess, within the UN in Vienna.  He didn't seem to say yes.  He seemed to say, well, if I understand it better.  She said, do you support it, and they just moved on.  Can you say now does the Secretary‑General support the idea?  She was apparently rejected by the UN in Vienna to set up this, such a club.  Does he support that idea, and will he follow up with the staff member who asked him this explicitly in the town‑hall meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we are trying to get input from all staff about what needs to happen in order to deal more effectively with sexual harassment, including through a survey of staff, and so we will try to evaluate what staff broadly say and see what steps need to be taken.

Question:  Okay.  He also seemed to say that, I don't know if that the assessed contributions, that the reform of the development system had passed through silence procedure; it still has not been voted on, but he seemed to say that it's passed, but without the Resident Coordinator system being funded through assessed contributions.  What is his plan, given that it seems like that he thinks that now it's going to be approved by the General Assembly, hasn’t passed through, what is the plan to actually fund these resident coordinators?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we will see what the final results are once the Member States agree on it.  We hope in the coming days we will be able to provide some details about what the development reform is about.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You said in your opening remarks that according to your report by Yamamoto that corruption has come down in Afghanistan.  You know that corruption is an invisible phenomenon.  How do they determine that corruption has come down?

Deputy Spokesman:  I just refer you to the full text of the report and it’s got details about the methodology there.  Have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.