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

17 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 States

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General began a series of meetings with American legislators on Capitol Hill, starting with a breakfast meeting with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  He then met with the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy.  He is meeting the members of the Freedom Caucus now.

Later this afternoon, he expects to continue his legislative meetings, including with House Minority Leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi; Senator Richard Shelby, Chair of the Appropriations Committee; and Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader.

The Secretary-General briefed the members of Congress on ongoing UN reform initiatives, both ones that he’s working on with Member States and others that fall under his own authority, including the gender parity initiative.  He thanked them for the continuing support of the US, notably on assessed contributions.  They also discussed a wide range of issues.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet with President Donald Trump and other senior Administration officials.

Tomorrow morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York for Washington, D.C., to join the Secretary-General for part of his programme.  That evening, she will proceed to London to give a keynote address at the 2018 Oxford Africa Conference at the University of Oxford.

The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York over the weekend.

**Switzerland

The Secretary-General will travel next week to Switzerland, where he will speak to students at the University of Geneva on Thursday.  The Secretary-General intends to focus on his disarmament agenda in his remarks to the students.

From Geneva, he will travel to Mont Pèlerin, where he will participate in a retreat bringing together all the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General.

**Gaza

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jamie McGoldrick, today called for urgent support to meet the humanitarian needs of the victims of violence in Gaza, saying that the situation in Gaza is devastating and the crisis is far from over.

The humanitarian response in Gaza focuses on providing immediate life-saving health care, mental health support and protection monitoring, but is undermined by severe shortages of medicines and supplies, difficulties in accessing medical care outside Gaza, and a serious funding gap.

Despite the damage inflicted on the Kerem Shalom Crossing, that crossing point has been partially reopened, with 15 truckloads of medical supplies entering Gaza on Sunday and Tuesday.  Two truckloads carrying 76,000 litres of fuel for health facilities and water and sanitation treatment sites were also brought into Gaza by the United Nations yesterday, with arrangements in progress for another 76,000 litres.

Health partners indicate that $1.2 million is needed immediately for drugs and disposables, and a further $3.9 million is needed to cover medical supply needs and emergency medical technicians.  An additional $19.5 million is required to cover medium-term health-care needs until August.

**Central African Republic

A peacekeeper from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has been killed, and eight other injured, this morning, in the southern part of the country.  The contingent from Mauritania was escorting a convoy to the town of Alindao when it was attacked by presumed members of the anti-Balaka.

We expect a statement from the Secretary-General on this later today.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today it is concerned as one Ebola case was confirmed in an urban area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  This new case has been confirmed in Wangata, one of the three health zones of Mbandaka, a city of nearly 1.2 million people in Equateur Province.

Until now, all the confirmed Ebola cases were reported from Bikoro health zone, a hard to reach area nearly 150 km from Mbandaka.

WHO is deploying around 30 experts to conduct surveillance in the city and is working with the Ministry of Health and partners to engage with communities on prevention, treatment and the reporting of new cases.

WHO is also working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other partners to strengthen the capacity of health facilities to treat Ebola patients in special isolation wards.

As of 15 May, a total of 44 cases have been reported: 3 confirmed, 20 probable, and 21 suspected.

In response to questions, I can inform you that our mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reports that the two missing peacekeepers were freed yesterday.  They are safe and sound and have been transferred today to their base in Kalemie.

**South Sudan

Our colleagues from the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said today that up to 150 peacekeepers are being rapidly redeployed to the Unity region to boost the Mission’s efforts to protect civilians.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the country, David Shearer, said that what they are witnessing on the ground is the deliberate killing of civilians, as well as the sexual violation and abduction of women and children.  Homes and livelihoods are being systematically destroyed in a way that prevents families from returning to their homes and being able to support themselves.

The peacekeepers’ deployment will enable troops to patrol deeper to reach remote villages where the worst atrocities are taking place to create a protective presence and deter further fighting.  It will also support the reinforcement of the Mission’s base at Leer, where many civilians are seeking sanctuary.

Thousands of civilians are fleeing the intense fighting as armed forces make their way down from Koch towards Leer.  At least 30 villages or settlements have been attacked.  A site next to the UN base at Leer previously held approximately 500 internally displaced people, but the surge in violent clashes has increased numbers to about 2,000.  Almost 70 per cent of those seeking shelter are children.  There are more details online.

**West Africa

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, is today travelling to Senegal, before visiting Mali and Niger.

More than 5 million people in six countries of the Sahel region — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal — could go hungry this year.

WFP urgently requires $165 million to meet the needs of people during the lean season.

**Iraq

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, called today on the Independent High Electoral Commission to immediately and fully investigate all the complaints concerning the electoral process.

He said that the Commission has to act expeditiously in order to seriously address all complaints including, as necessary, the conduct of partial manual recount in selected locations, notably in Kirkuk.  It is important that these are undertaken in full transparency, witnessed by stakeholders, to strengthen the confidence in the process.  He added that the UN is ready to provide assistance, if requested.

Mr. Kubiš also called on all political actors to uphold the peace and to remain committed to resolving any electoral disputes through the established legal channels.

**Bangladesh

Our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) say today that more than 60 Rohingya babies are born in Bangladesh refugee camps every day.

That’s more than 16,000 babies in the nine months since a spike in violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, forced thousands of families to flee their homes across the border, with widespread reports of rape and sexual violence.

Women and children who are survivors of sexual violence are among the most vulnerable and marginalized, as they may not come forward due to the risk of stigmatisation and additional persecution.

Working with partners, UNICEF is providing antenatal and post-natal care to mothers and their babies.  It mobilized some 250 community volunteers to make sure that a growing number of women visit the health-care facilities before and after giving birth.

It is also advocating for proper, legal birth registration for newborns, concerned that without this, babies will have trouble accessing the vital basic services to which they are entitled.

**Telecommunication Day

Today is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which seeks to raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies can bring to societies and economies.  This year’s theme is “Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All” and focuses on the potential of Artificial Intelligence to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that emerging technologies have the potential to empower people and transform how we transmit knowledge, and he encouraged countries to work together to ensure these technologies serve the global good and all humanity.

**Homophobia

Today is also the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which seeks to raise awareness of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

In a statement, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said that despite progress in many countries, LGBTI people still face high levels of violence and inequalities in public and in private, including in family settings and in the workplace, mainly because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

UNDP and other agencies like the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Human Rights Office and the International Migration Agency (IOM) are working with the LGBTI community, Governments and other organizations to facilitate policy dialogues and promote evidence- and rights-based laws, policies and practices for LGBTI people in 53 countries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.  More information on the Day is available online.

**Honour Roll

I am very pleased to welcome Guinea to the Honour Roll.  Having paid its regular budget dues in full, it becomes the 95th member.  Thank you, Conakry.

**Questions and Answers

Brenden Varma, the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly, will speak after me, and you will have Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, at the Security Council stakeout in a few minutes.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, I wonder if the Secretary-General has any comment on a high-level Hamas official's admission that at least 50 of those killed last Monday in the Gaza flare-up were, in fact, members of Hamas.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, as you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for all these killings to be investigated thoroughly.  We believe that there needs to be a full investigation, and we'll await the results of that investigation.

Question:  This is an admission by Hamas.  This is not an assertion by the Israelis or anyone else.  This is a high-level Hamas official who said this, which would…  which would belie the conventional wisdom and narrative that many of those killed were innocent civilians, so I'm wondering if this alters the Secretary-General's previous perspective on this.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, our statements on this stand and our…  and we continue to contend that there needs to be a full and thorough investigation.  Yes, Ben?

Question:  Hi.  Do you have any comment on the violent anti-Government protests in Kazeroon in south Iran, where at least two protesters have reportedly been killed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the comment that we have on this for now is that we want to make sure that the rights of team to assemble and to protest peacefully are respected by all, including the security forces, and we would hold them to that.

Question:  And you’re aware of what’s going on there?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the reports.  We would, of course, need…  we don't have first-hand information on it.  Yes?

Question:  On this…  I was going to go in a different order, but on this right to…  to…  to assemble and protest.  Yesterday, I had asked you about this video in Cameroon of a person being tortured and you said it couldn't be authenticated, but a general statement.  Since the army has identified who the person in the…  depicted in the video is, it seems…  I guess I'm wondering has…  has Mr. [François Louncény] Fall not issued any comment on it?  And the second one is, now in…  in the run-up to the supposed…  the National Day on 20 May, which many people don't see as the National Day, there's an order from the Governor of Northwest region telling people to leave their towns because the army is coming in and I'm just…  I guess that's why I'm asking a follow-up to yesterday's question.  Is there anyone in the UN system observing now the…  the ordering of people out of their towns, and how does that impact the right to protest that you've just described?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our envoy François Louncény Fall is the person seized of this matter.  If he has any specific comment, I'll let you know about that.  Right now, what I can say about that is, as I had mentioned yesterday, we would be concerned about any use of force against people engaged in exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest.

Question:  Right, but just one more…  And again, I'm saying because there's a press release by the…  by the military of Cameroon, identifying who the person depicted in the…  in the video is, so what happens next?  Does DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) ask Cameroon which unit did it?  What's your investigation of it?  What happens once an army is actually…

Deputy Spokesman:  As I believe I explained to you yesterday, when we receive people from peacekeeping contingents, we vet them thoroughly to make sure that the individuals and their units are not linked to any violations of human rights; and that would be the case with troops coming in from Cameroon.  Betul?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I asked it before, and you referred me to the UN Sanctions Committee, but the report is also saying that the Secretariat sent a letter to Israel on the issue of Turkey allegedly selling electronics to Iran?  Can you confirm if the UN Secretariat sent this letter to Israel?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a confirmation on this.  I believe this is a matter that is dealt with by the relevant Security Council sanctions committee, so I would suggest that you get in touch with them.  I'll check whether the Secretariat has sent anything…

Correspondent:  No, I'm just wondering if you can confirm that a letter has been sent. 

Deputy Spokesman:  …But I do believe this is something being handled not by the Secretariat, but by the UN Sanctions Committee.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I apologize for arriving late.  And also if I ask a question you already answered.  So my first question:  Did you announce there is a two-day conference on Palestine located here at the Headquarters?  Was it announced by the noon briefing…  at the noon briefing?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've announced earlier in the week the events having to do with Al-Nakba and it was in our “week ahead” overview over the previous week.

Question:  I saw the list of the week ahead and it was not there, and I sent you an e-mail that it's not included.  Why it was not included?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe it was included over the course of the weekend.  I think we had…  sometimes, our week ahead documents get updated, and I believe we added it over the weekend.

Question:  Okay.  My second question:  Did the Secretary-General issue a statement on the seventieth anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, his message was, in fact, read out earlier today by the Deputy Secretary-General, and that should be available online now.

Question:  And the last question…  sorry for that.  He issued a statement on the first day of the massacre in Gaza, at the early day, when there was about probably 18 or 20 people killed, and he used the term "highly alarmed."  That's all he used.  But when he realised that the massacre was far more than killing just 18, killing 61, including six children, and…  and wounding a thousand, why he didn't issue a second statement to reflect that…  the magnitude of the massacre?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the statement came out, as you pointed out, as quickly as we could put that.  In the subsequent period, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council and in his briefing, if you look at what he said, he did say that he urged all to condemn in the strongest terms the events that led to the loss of life in Gaza.  Yes, Ben?

Question:  Just a quick question.  Last night, Fox News reported on a video purportedly to show UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) students being pushed and encouraged to be part of the riots, and there's interviews with them and there's…  they're giving various statements saying that they are, you know…  right of return and attacking the Zionists and so on and so forth.  Have you looked into this?  Have you spoken to UNRWA about this?  Is there anything you can offer?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we've checked with our colleagues in the UN Relief and Works Agency about this.  What they informed us, by the way, is that the class, the school term for the students, had actually ended on Monday, as was scheduled to happen.  So, in fact, the schools are now closed.  They're looking into this, but it's clear that at this stage, the UNRWA schools are actually not open for business.  This is the end of the term having been reached.

Question:  Since the protests have been going on for two months or so, this is a wider question; is this going on in UNRWA schools?

Deputy Spokesman:  UNRWA, as an agency, makes sure that its curricula are strictly observed, and it does not preach any sort of antagonism or hatred as part of its curriculum.  I don't know about the actions of individual teachers.  I believe that the UN Relief and Works Agency is looking into this matter now.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you.  Earlier this year, I asked a lot of…  a number of questions about UNFPA in India and the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against a Diego Palacios there and there's just been a large press conference of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in India, both saying that the…  asking that the Secretary-General remove immunity from Mr. Diego Palacios and also tying it into the situation at UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) with Michel Sidibé, but I wanted to know an update from you.  They seem to say at this press conference that Mr. Palacios hasn't really even been interviewed, that there's not…  that the UN hasn't acted in any way on…  on this detailed allegation of sexual harassment.  Are you aware of what UNFPA has done, if the Secretary-General is aware of and may act on this request that immunity be removed, particularly given the inaction by the UNFPA?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware at this stage, it remains in the hands of the UN Population Fund, and they're the ones who are looking into this, and we'll leave it in their hands.

Question:  And I also…  I just want to give you this maybe…  I wanted to know.  Recently, there was a…  a…  an abrupt resignation of a Deputy Director General of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in…  in…  in Geneva, Tero Varjoranta, and I just wanted to know…  we've been hearing various reasons for it, and since the Secretary-General was just in Vienna, is he aware of any quote "#MeToo issues” at IAEA, and if so, what did he do while he's there?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't really have any comment to share on this.  As far as I'm aware, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that he had stepped down for personal reasons, and so that is the information we have on that.  Yes?

Question:  When I come back to the issue of forming an independent, transparent panel or committee to investigate what happened in Gaza, the SG called for that since 30 March, and it has been repeatedly said again and again by the special envoy in Palestine, Mr. Mladenov, and many members of the Security Council, and so far, Israel is shunning everybody's call for an independent, transparent, credible investigation.  So what should be done?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we will continue with our call, and as you are aware, a number of Member States have also been pushing this and we will continue until we get some results on that.

Question:  Would the Secretary-General support forming a panel or a committee from the Human Rights Council, which they might be meeting later today?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'll see what the Member States come up with in their discussions at the various UN bodies.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.