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

18 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

The Secretary-General is continuing his travel to Washington, D.C., and he just met over the past hour with the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton.  They spoke about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Yemen, Syria and the broader Middle East.

At 2:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will meet with President Donald Trump.

And just a reminder: tomorrow, the Secretary-General will deliver the commencement address at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

**Gaza

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, spoke at the Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the Occupied Palestinian Territory today.  He said that since the protests began on 30 March, 87 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli security forces in the context of the demonstrations, including 12 children; 29 others, including three children, were killed in other circumstances.  And more than 12,000 people have been injured, more than 3,500 of them by live ammunition.  He added that the figure of 60 people killed on Monday is the highest one-day death toll in Gaza since the 2014 hostilities.  Those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable, he said.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, commended Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to maintain the opening of Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, in both directions, throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

This is an important and encouraging step by Egypt, and Mr. Mladenov hopes that the security situation will allow for a more regular movement.

**Ebola

In Geneva, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, convened today the first meeting of WHO’s Emergency Committee regarding the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Committee did not declare this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).  In light of this advice, WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions.

The Committee said the response by the Government of the DRC, WHO and partners has been rapid and comprehensive, and interventions under way provide strong reason to believe that the outbreak can be brought under control.

However, the Committee stressed the risk of more rapid spread given that Ebola has now spread to an urban area, the city of Mbandaka, which is in proximity to the Congo river, with significant regional traffic across porous borders.

It also noted huge logistical challenges given the poor infrastructure and remote location of most cases currently reported.

Neighbouring countries should therefore strengthen preparedness and surveillance, and if the outbreak expands significantly, or if there is international spread, the Emergency Committee will be reconvened.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is alarmed at new displacement in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 7,000 Central African Republic refugees have arrived in under a week into a situation of little help and desperate need.

The speed of arrivals and the very limited humanitarian presence in the area mean that these people, mostly women and children, urgently need increased support.

Critically, UNHCR’s own capacity for an emergency response is severely stretched, with the DRC operation funded at 16 per cent of the needed level.

UNHCR commends the Democratic Republic of the Congo for keeping its borders open to refugees and is appealing for urgent support for these villages which, for many of them, now house more refugees than local Congolese people.

**Central African Republic

You will have seen the statement we issued yesterday on the Central African Republic, in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack by presumed anti-Balaka elements on a convoy escorted by UN peacekeepers in the south-east of the country.  The attack resulted in the killing of a peacekeeper from Mauritania and the wounding of eight others.

And today, the UN Mission (MINUSCA) reports that four peacekeepers seriously injured yesterday were evacuated to Entebbe, Uganda, today.

Meanwhile, the Mission reports that in Bambari, MINUSCA Force [peacekeepers] and Police are patrolling in the city together with the Central African internal security forces.  The Mission is engaged in discussions with local authorities, UPC representatives and anti-Balaka to address the security situation in the city.

**South Sudan

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Force) said today that more than 200 children were released by armed groups in South Sudan yesterday.  It was the third such ceremony this year and brings the total number of children released in 2018 to 806.  Additional releases are expected in the coming months that could result in more than 1,000 children being freed.

During the ceremony, the children were formally disarmed and provided with civilian clothes.  Medical screenings will now be carried out, and they will receive counselling and psychosocial support.  Once reunited, the children and their families will be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance to support their initial reintegration.  They will also receive vocational training aimed at improving household income and food security.  UNICEF and partners will also ensure that the released children have access to education services.

The 210 children released included three girls and largely came from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in Opposition, with eight having been associated with the National Salvation Front.

**Chad

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad, Stephen Tull, called for urgent funding to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable populations in eastern Chad, including Sudanese refugees, Chadian returnees who were previously refugees in Sudan, and local populations.

Eastern Chad is characterized by a food security and nutrition crisis as well as the protracted displacement of more than 330,000 refugees from Sudan in a context of extremely low development and limited access to basic social services.  More details on this are available with our humanitarian colleagues.

**Syria

The United Nations is concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in Yarmouk and Hajar Al-Aswad in southern Damascus, as well as elsewhere in Damascus, in light of the ongoing military campaign.

Hostilities between Government forces and Da’esh reportedly continued in the Da’esh-held parts of Yarmouk and Hajar Al-Aswad.  Thousands remain caught up in fighting that has resulted in civilian deaths, injuries, and displacement — with the majority of those affected being Palestinian refugees — and the destruction of essential civilian infrastructure.

Meanwhile, yesterday, shelling on residential areas in Damascus resulted in the deaths of two people and injuries to 22 others.  Since 13 April, about 130 projectiles have been shelled on residential areas in Damascus, resulting in 16 deaths and 160 injuries.

The United Nations and its partners stand ready to deliver inter-agency humanitarian assistance to people in need in Yalda, Babilla and Beit Sahem, as well as to Yarmouk and neighbouring areas, as soon as conditions allow and access is granted.

**Guatemala

Our Human Rights colleagues say today they are concerned about what appears to be a deteriorating climate for the defence of human rights in Guatemala.

Over the past 10 days, three human rights defenders working with indigenous and peasants’ rights organizations were murdered.

The Human Rights Office calls on the authorities to promptly investigate these murders and other attacks and threats against human rights defenders, and to ensure that those found responsible are held accountable.

They also express concern about smear campaigns against independent journalists and media, judicial officials, civil society organizations, human rights defenders and other actors involved in the fight against past and present corruption and impunity.

**Health

After one year in office, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, will open the Seventy-First World Health Assembly next week in Geneva with an ambitious agenda for change that aims to save 29 million lives by 2023.

Ministers of Health and other delegates will meet to discuss a range of issues, including the thirteenth General Programme of Work, which is WHO’s 5-year strategic plan to help countries meet the health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This Programme of Work is the result of 12 months of intensive discussion with countries, experts and partners, and centres on the “triple billion” targets:  1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage; 1 billion more people better protected from health emergencies; 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.

Other topics that will be covered include WHO’s work in health emergencies, polio, physical activity, vaccines, the global snakebite burden and rheumatic heart disease.

**Bees

On Sunday we will mark the first World Bee Day, which seeks to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and the threats that they face.

Seventy-five per cent of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators.  Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity — a cornerstone of the Sustainable Development Goals.  But pesticides, monocropping practices and climate change threaten bee colonies.

**Questions and Answers

That is it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Two things.  Number one, for how long it is expected for the meeting between President Trump and the Secretary-General to last? I mean, it is going to be…  will it going to be a public part of it or only the…  the part, which is going to be among themselves?  Number two is, given that many people are now at the United Nations system and Member States are supporting the formation of the investigative commission for Gaza, I wonder if you can explain what is the concrete role of the Secretary-General?  And what he does intend to take regarding that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding your first question, we'll see how long the meeting is once it takes place.  But as far as I'm aware, there's no press encounter scheduled, although the White House would know for sure what the press availabilities are, and you can check with them on that.  Regarding your second question, of course we're watching to see what the Member States call for and we stand ready to carry out whatever it is that the Member States request regarding accountability in Gaza.

Question:  What is precisely the role of the Secretary-General there?  What are his intentions?  Leadership or what?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has issued his statements about this and his Special Coordinator, Mr. Mladenov, briefed the Security Council.  And the High Commissioner for Human Rights has just briefed the Human Rights Council in its consideration earlier today and we would refer you over to his speech.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, on the same topic about the Gaza inquiry.  Can the Secretary-General, given the fact there's international outcry and that Security Council seems not able to come to any consensus, it will be vetoed if at all by the Americans — so can the Secretary-General on his own order an investigative inquiry into the killings in Gaza?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, let's see what the Member States themselves agree to.  As you know, they've been discussing this matter earlier this week in Security Council, and now, today in the Human Rights Council, and we'll see what they have to say.  The Secretary-General is very clear about the need for a thorough and credible investigation and he will continue to push for that.

Question:  On the…  on…  on a similar topic, but another place…  on a similar topic, meaning the Rohingya, the killing of the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine and in Myanmar.  What is it that can be done for an inquiry into that, which is going on, the killings of the Rohingya Muslims?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, it remains to be determined what kind of investigation will take place regarding that.  We have again called for there to be accountability in that case and, as you know, the members of the Security Council visited just a little over a week ago and you'll have seen what they said at their briefing on Monday concerning the situation there.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Something on…  on sexual harassment, but I want to ask about the…  in terms of this D.C. trip.  Two things.  One I saw…  is there a list of the Congress people, Senators, and Representatives that the Secretary-General met with? I saw some tweeted photos from Stéphane [Dujarric]…  I guess Stéphane with Nancy Pelosi, a few others, but is there a list of who he met with?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we had mentioned yesterday, in terms of…  he had met with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Representative Kevin McCarthy in the morning, also with members of the Freedom Caucus, and then, in the afternoon, he had three meetings with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, with Senator Richard Shelby and with Senator Mitch McConnell.

Question:  And my other question about this…  if I understood you correctly you said in his meeting with Secretary Pompeo and Director Bolton he discussed Yemen, DPRK and Syria.  You know, there's…  you were just asked a lot of questions about Gaza and there's many calls upon him by the Security Council and by the Human Rights Council.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes.  What I said was they spoke about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Yemen, Syria and the broader Middle East.

Question:  Okay.  So that covers that, as well.  But, for example, the Rohingya in Myanmar and the US role in that, I guess I'm just trying to figure out what…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there were…  the discussions weren't limited to these topics, but these were the main topics of discussion.

Question:  Okay.  Could…  on…  on sexual harassment, I wanted to ask you this.  I had asked you yesterday about the case at UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) in India and since then there's been a development that I was not aware of at the time.  The case of Prashanti Tiwari and what she said and Diego Palacios, who's the UN official, and since your answer yesterday, it's reported that the UNFPA office in India says that the probe is over and the findings are awaited, and so the complainant had been told that she would be told and finds…  and is pretty surprised by that, given how little she's been spoken to.  So I wanted to know, one, is it true?  Is it your understanding that the probe is over?  Two, is the probe only by UNFPA or by OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services)?  And two, how is this a kind of victim-centred approach if the victim reads about it in a newspaper?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, as I had mentioned yesterday, the matter is in the hands of the UN Population Fund.  We'll await and inform you of any information that we get from them about this, but the matter is in their hands and it will be up to them to inform you about what stage they are at in this.

Question:  Is there some minimum standard for what victim-centred means?  I'm asking because the Secretary-General has made a big deal about this saying how he's talking to all of his heads of agencies so here's an agency that announced to a newspaper that the probe is over.  Is this consistent with his approach?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, my UNFPA colleagues have assured me they were looking into this and they've been doing this for some time now.  Yes?

Question:  On Ebola in the Congo.  How…  how is it being treated right now? And who is treating it?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is something where the World Health Organization has helped to bring in the vaccines, but they're also… the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the local partners on the ground are trying to deal with this.  As I mentioned, I think as you were entering, they determined that this was not a public health emergency of international concern, but they may revisit this further, depending on other developments.  Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah, so was Nikki Haley present at the meeting with Pompeo and Bolton?  And in the discussions on the broader Middle East, did they discuss the possible investigation into the Gaza murders?

Deputy Spokesman:  The readout I provided for you is what I've got.

Question:  So you don't…  you don't know if Nikki Haley was there, but Stéphane Dujarric doesn't know?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't believe Nikki Haley was at that meeting.  She may be at the subsequent meeting.  Now…  yes.  Masood and Nizar.

Correspondent:  But you didn't answer my question about whether they discussed the Gaza investigation.

Deputy Spokesman:  I did.  I said the readout I've given you is what I have.  That's the detail I have.  Yes?

Question:  On this investigation…  Gaza investigation, which is…  which is being stalled, obviously, and not being ordered.  Do you have exact figures of how many Palestinians were killed?  Was it 58 or 61?

Deputy Spokesman:  I gave at the start of this briefing the figures that were provided by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said that there were 60 people killed on Monday and that since the protests began on 30 March, there were 87 Palestinians killed by security forces and 29 others killed in other circumstances.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  The figures here are totally different from what the Palestinians say, more than 111 have been killed since they started in March.

Deputy Spokesman:  These are the figures accumulated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  We have another subject, too.  Since its inception, the EZTV has not been working properly.  And yesterday, we could not cover Trusteeship event all totally because of that.  Today since 8:00, I mean the…  the service is totally cut.  We have zero service.

Deputy Spokesman:  And we have relayed your complaints over to our colleagues working with television.  There are some problems with EZTV where there are some glitches.  They are working on this.  It causes a problem for some people's computers more than for others, but they are trying to resolve these.

Question:  What do you mean by "some computers" because I have both Apple and PC?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can show you the exchange afterwards, but they are working.  You know, it has to do with configuration, with LAN configuration, but they are trying to work with this.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, apparently there is again an opening of the refugee crisis in western Balkans.  The roads…  refugee roads in Western Balkans apparently again opened.  And also some reports are saying that more than 100 people are entering Bosnia now, and there were some incidents in Bosnia today and yesterday, where part of Government didn't…  didn't treat it well, the refugees that are entering and that are already there.  Now, I know you have said that…  and Secretary-General addressed that very many times, but would you like to address it again, in general probably, about the refugee?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, the basic point is that given the hardships that refugees suffer as they have to make their way across the places that they're travelling, we want all Governments to appreciate and respect the rights and dignity of all refugees and we encourage them all to do so.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have to say anything special for Bosnia, because many Bosnians were refugees, as well?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly hope that in Bosnia, as elsewhere, the authorities will respect the rights of those who have been forced to flee.  This is something that, in recent memory, many Bosnians have themselves had to face and so we hope that they will remember and sympathize with those who are facing those hardships today.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Cameroon and then something on what was called yesterday at least "UN corruption".  On Cameroon, the US Ambassador in Yaoundé in a statement two days before this national day, which is set for…  for Sunday, said, quote, "On the side of the Government there have been targeted killings, detentions without access to legal support and burning and looting of villages."  He did also say that separatists have murdered gendarmes and kidnapped Government officials, but I wanted to know is it…  given the UN's been working on this, I haven't heard this kind of language from either Mr. [François Louncény] Fall or from this podium.  Is it…  does the UN acknowledge that, in this region where they continue to offer their good offices, that there have been targeted killings by the Government and looking at and burning of villages?  And what guidance do they give?  Because on…  on…  on 20 May, basically, there's now a requirement that people that don't wish to participate in this celebration participate or face…  it's unclear what they'll face, but what would you say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the reports, we are aware of the reports of looting, of burning, and we want to make sure that all the parties on the ground and in particular the security forces respect human rights and international norms.

Question:  Have you looked at that video, the video that I was asking about?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, and as far as I'm aware, I believe our colleagues on the ground are aware that the Government has pledged to investigate and we certainly hope that they will investigate this sort of brutality thoroughly.  And regarding people's non-participation, of course, one of the basic freedoms is the freedom of expression.  You can choose to participate or not participate in demonstrations, and that's a basic right that must be respected.  Yes, Dulcie?

Question:  Yeah, so who was part of the Secretary-General's entourage to Washington from the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Steph's there.  I don't know who else participated in the discussions, but, like I said, the Secretary-General met jointly with John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.  That was at about 11:00.

Question:  But…  but who else from the UN, besides Stéphane Dujarric, who went with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  There were a couple of senior officials.  We don't necessarily point out the full delegation.  Yeah?

Question:  Yes, just to clarify, the General…  if the General Assembly wants an investigation on Gaza, ask the SG to do it, is that…  because the Security Council certainly is not going to agree on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  If we get a request from the Member States, we will comply with whatever the request is.

Question:  It could be in the GA (General Assembly) too, yeah?

Deputy Spokesman:  Bodies of Member States make requests to us and we comply with all of those that we get.  Yes?

Question:  Sure I wanted…  UN corruption, and then UN reform, in fairness.  In…  Yesterday, there was a court hearing down in the Southern District of New York where Patrick Ho was applying once again…  of the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) was applying again for bail, and I'm asking you this…  He was denied, but I'm asking you this, because in the court hearing, both from the bench and from the prosecution, it was said repeatedly…  it was said, these were two direct quotes.  One quote was that he's charged with "corrupting the UN", and second quote is "many people at the UN were involved".  So it made me wonder, and I looked around the courtroom, whether the UN, since this case, is…  is being described in that way, including from…  from the bench, whether the UN is…  is already following this case?  I'm aware that there has yet…  at least my understanding is there's no audit yet.  Is OLA (Office of Legal Affairs)…  do they have somebody there?  Are they ringing up fees, would be one way to put it, but what's your…  what do you…  what's your response to these statements in court?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're monitoring this case and, as you know, we've been cooperating with the US legal authorities concerning this overall case.

Question:  In this case…  in this case…  I know that in the previous case documents were provided and $302,000 were paid as legal fees back to the UN.  In the case of Patrick Ho and CEFC, have documents been provided to the prosecution?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're cooperating as needed with the authorities.

Question:  And the UN reform one is…  I just…  maybe you'll want to clear this up, but in Uganda it's reported with some…  with some disturbing over there that the…  the Global Service Delivery Mechanism reform would result in the loss of 290 jobs in the Entebbe centre and 205 of whom are Ugandan nationals, and so this is all over press there.  And I've also seen it described that 58 jobs from Geneva would be moved to Budapest.  Are these the real numbers? And…  and when is the time where the Secretary-General will actually publicly say the impact of this proposed reform?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is still something that's under discussion, so I don't think we can treat anything as final.  As we've made clear, we will continue with the use of Entebbe as a regional base for many of our functions.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, I'm sorry.  Maybe you spoke about it earlier, about this meeting that the Secretary-General has had with Secretary Pompeo.  What I'm asking about Yemen…  on the Yemen that…  one of the topics that came up was Yemen.  Can you please update about…  is there any update on Yemen at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I believe earlier this week I had let you know that Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy, is moving ahead.  He does expect to brief the Security Council in early June about his progress on Yemen and he hopes at that time to present a framework for peace efforts in Yemen, so we'll have to see where we go with that.  Have a good day, everyone.

Question:  Do you have anything on Burundi…  on Burundi and the referendum that was held yesterday?  Do you have any…  there was…  the referendum was held yesterday.  Fifteen people, it's said, were killed in connection with, you know…  in the run-up to it.  Is there a UN statement on…  on…  on that event?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, we're aware that the polls took place yesterday.  There's no international or regional observers accredited to observe the referendum in Burundi, but we did see the reports that the situation there was calm.  Have a good weekend, all.

For information media. Not an official record.