21 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.


The Secretary‑General today announced the appointment of Joyce Msuya of Tanzania as Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  She will succeed Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his dedicated service and leadership during his tenure.  Ms. Msuya has since 2017 served as Adviser to the World Bank Vice‑President, East Asia and Pacific Region.  She brings to the position more than 20 years of extensive experience in the field of international development, spanning corporate, strategy, operations, knowledge management and partnerships, with diverse assignments in Africa, Latin America and Asia.  Her bio is available in my office.


Turning to Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are supporting the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in preparing to vaccinate high‑risk populations against Ebola.  Health workers operating in affected areas are being vaccinated today and community outreach has started to prepare for the ring vaccination.  The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in the DRC, Kim Bolduc, was in Mbandaka today along with the Minister of Health to witness the launching of the vaccination programme.

More than 7,500 doses of the vaccine have been deployed to conduct vaccination in the north‑western Equator Province where 46 suspected, probable and confirmed Ebola cases and 26 deaths have been reported (as of May 18).  Most of the cases are in Bikoro, a remote rural town, while four confirmed cases are in Mbandaka, the provincial capital with a population of over 1 million people.

The World Health Organization has sent special vaccine carriers, which can keep their contents in sub‑zero temperatures for up to a week, and has set up freezers to store the vaccines in Mbandaka and Bikoro.  The Organization is also deploying both Congolese and Guinean experts to build the capacities of local health workers.  WHO and its partners need $26 million for the Ebola Response in the DRC over the next three months.  And the UN Mission in the country, MONUSCO, is also operating flights between Mbandaka and Bikoro, setting up a logistics base in Mbandaka airport and supporting the establishment of the emergency operation centre, with IT [information technology] and communications support.


Back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He told members of the Council that National Conference meetings have spanned the country without a single security incident.  Some points of consensus have begun to crystalize, he said, including a yearning for a united and sovereign nation and a belief that, to achieve this, the State must be more decentralized; an urgent need for a fairer distribution of public resources; a strong desire for unified State institutions; and a call for elections which can unite the country.

Mr. Salamé said this is why the advancement of the political process is so vital.  At the core of the public mood is a strong desire for renewal of the political scene, the assertion of local power, and a return to a more normal life with more regular institutions.  But he said that while elections must be held as soon as possible, the proper conditions must be in place.  A new round of voter registration, prior commitment to accept the results, appropriate funds and strong security arrangements are also needed.  Mr. Salamé called for support from Council members, noting that when Libya hears conflicting messages, it only adds to the division and gives an opportunity to those seeking to derail the process.


Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that between 15 and 19 May, more than 4,400 of some 44,000 displaced people in collective sites in rural Damascus reportedly returned to eastern Ghouta.  They had been displaced since March when the military operations resulted in mass displacement.  The humanitarian situation inside eastern Ghouta remains dire.  Most of those in the area rely on humanitarian assistance for their basic needs.  The area visited by the United Nations on 14 May showed widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure.  Shelter interventions and other non‑food humanitarian assistance are urgently needed to support returnees and those who did not leave eastern Ghouta.  The UN is providing support through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent but stands ready to deliver humanitarian assistance to eastern Ghouta as soon as access is granted to it by the Syrian authorities.

Also, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says that the Yarmouk camp in Damascus lies today in ruins, with hardly a single building that has not been destroyed or damaged.  The fighting has been particularly intense in the last month or more.  Almost all the Palestine refugees who were there have now fled.  This just points to the need for UNRWA’s emergency appeal for Syria to be fully funded.


Yesterday, the Head of the African Union‑UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Jeremiah Mamabolo, concluded a two‑day visit to oversee [progress] on the establishment of the Mission’s temporary operating base in Golo, in Jebel Marra.  More information online.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that Tropical Cyclone Sagar made landfall in Somalia and Djibouti this weekend resulting in rainfall and dangerous flash flooding.  They estimate that tens of thousands of people have been impacted, and at least 16 deaths have been reported.  In Somalia, the UN and its partners are working with the Government to assist affected communities to provide food, water, sanitation supplies, and shelter, as well as other things. However, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] said that Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan remains significantly underfunded, and this may affect their capacity to deliver aid. In Mogadishu today, the UN and the Government launched an $80 million appeal to help people affected by the floods.  This is part of the broader $1.5 million appeal made earlier this year.  And in Djibouti, flooding caused by the cyclone has affected some 30,000 people, largely in Djibouti City and Balbala.


On Afghanistan, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today released a survey which says that opium cultivation in the country reached a record high last year.  In 2017, an estimated 328,000 hectares of opium were cultivated, up 63 per cent compared with 201,000 hectares in 2016.  The agency warned that this record opium production creates multiple challenges for Afghanistan, its neighbours and the many other countries of [transit] or destination for Afghan opiates.  It fuels instability, insurgency and increases funding to terrorist groups.  The report is online.  Over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General condemned the attack that has been taking place in Jalalabad.  We also issued statements on the plane crash in Cuba and the situation in Western Sahara.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow, after the daily briefing, there will be a press conference organized by Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN, entitled “Cops and Clergy Working Together to Fight Trafficking”.  Speakers will be Vincent Cardinal Nichols of Westminster, President of the Santa Marta Group; UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland; and Argentine Federal Police General Commissioner, Nestor Roncaglia.

**Honour Roll

Today we say thank you to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Vanuatu and Viet Nam for having paid their budget dues in full, which brings us up to 98, since none of you are paying attention.  Was it something I said, Yassin?  It's nice to have you for a few seconds.  [Laughter] All right.  I'm sure there's a better show someplace else.  Let's go.  Yes, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the elections in Venezuela and the response that other countries in the region are giving to those?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The Secretary‑General has taken note of the results of the presidential elections in Venezuela.  Obviously, beyond the current political juncture, the Secretary‑General remains concerned about the current situation in Venezuela as major challenges continue to severely affect the welfare and livelihoods of its people.  He calls on political actors to address these challenges urgently, within the framework of respect for the rule of law and human rights.  As far as comments and recognition made by Member States about the election, the recognition of the results of an election is a prerogative of Member States.  We will not comment on positions taken by individual Member States in this case.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about another election that took place last… late last week in Burundi, this constitutional referendum.  They've just announced the results.  They said that only 3 per cent of people abstained, 74 per cent in favour 19 against, which would put Pierre Nkurunziza able to stay in power till 2034.  And people that abstained were threatened with arrest or worse.  So, I wanted to know, what is the UN's statement on the election… referendum?

Spokesman:  You know, the… we did not have… obviously, we were not participating in the elections, in the observing or in the running of the elections.  I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said in his last report on Burundi, in which he said there was no alternative to dialogue but… and, as he said, it is Burundi's sovereign right to amend its Constitution.  But I will leave it at that.

Question:  Wait. I just… I'm just trying to compare it to your previous answer on Venezuela.  Did the UN have observers there?

Spokesman:  In Venezuela?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  Okay.  So…

Spokesman:  And I would refer you… the Secretary‑General's report on Burundi, I think, his last report, was fairly clear‑eyed and direct about his observations and his recommendations for Burundi.  So I would refer you to that.

Question:  It's a sovereign right, but does the Secretary‑General believe that the… the constitutional amendments now os… ostensibly passed violate the spirit or letter of the Arusha Agreements?

Spokesman:  Again, I would refer you to the report and, again, the Secretary‑General's point that there's no alternative to dialogue, especially the ongoing regional dialogue.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Do you, by any chance, have figures on the… that… those 98 countries, what percentage of the anticipated payments do they comprise?  Because we know the EU [European Union] is 35 or 40 per cent of the total, the US is 25…

Spokesman:  That's a good question.  I'll find out.  We'll go back and look at what the percentage has been paid.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  The Palestinian Authority has announced that it's planning to join three new UN entities.  They haven't told us publicly which ones yet.  Have they told the UN privately which ones?  And how concerned are you about the impact then on US funding for those agencies or entities?

Spokesman:  It's a lot of hypotheticals.  I think the United States has made its position clear.  We have not been informed, as far as I'm aware, of what plans the Palestinian Authority has.  As you know, membership in specialized agencies is the purview of the ruling bodies of each of those agencies.  So it's a process in which the Secretary‑General has no direct authority, influence or any other way.  His… the Secretary‑General's overall position, which remains, is that the best way to solve the ongoing conflict is for direct talks between the parties.  Mr. Lee, let's go back.

Question:  Sure.  Council's meeting is on Libya, but the… Mr. Salamé is br… doing it by video, so I guess I'm going… I want to ask you whether you're aware of reports that the residents of Derna, various organizations in Derna, had reached out to Mr. Salamé as they're, according to them, being besieged and attacked by General [Khalifa] Haftar and that the response was that he would not speak with them.  Seemed in… incongruous so I wanted to give you a chance to…

Spokesman:  I have not seen those reports.  We can… I'm happy to check.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, on UNEP, you made the announcement about the deputy, but there are whistleblowers within UNEP or, as I think Mr. [Erik] Solheim calls it, UN Environment, say there have been a number of irregularities, including the… the fast‑tracking of Mr. Solheim's son for an internship in UNEP, his travel on… on the public funds to… on a trip to China, and a failure to… to reimburse various parts of travel.  And I wanted to know, is the Secretary‑General aware of any irregularities within UN Environment…?

Spokesman:  Any questions related to any purported OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation should be raised with them.  What I can tell you, on this so‑called fast‑tracking of an internship, is that the story is false.  What is important to know is that Mr. Solheim's son, who is under the age of 18, took five day… undertook five days of work‑experience placement in the UN Environment Programme as part of his regular school curricular activities.  This is not an internship; it's a work placement, which is open to any… the child of any staff member in any part of the UN.  It's part of a general encouragement so that families understand what their parents are doing, and it is very separate from official internship programmes.  So, Mr. Solheim, from all appearances, was taking advantage of a programme that's open to all staff members, including himself.

Question:  I guess just one follow‑up — and thanks a lot for that — I mean, are you aware that… that national Kenyan staff in UNEP were generally outraged by it and also believe that Mr. Solheim is seeking to move either, in… in full or in part, the agency out of Kenya?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any plans to move the agency out of Kenya.  As you know, the Secretary‑General, through a number of [inaudible] in fact, is investing in Kenya.  But what is important to know is, I think, that the reporting… I'm just trying to add some factual backing to reporting.  Okay.  Thank you; Nizar.

Question:  Yeah.  For the past few days, the service… the EZTV service and the cable to the media has been interrupted regularly.  It has become the norm that it is interrupted.  Today, for example, it took more than four hours to fix it.  Given that this service…

Spokesman:  I'm aware that there've been issues, and our colleagues in DPI [Department of Public Information] and the broadcast services have been trying to fix it, but I will ask them to look at it again.

Question:  Well, given that this service has been part of the master… master capital plan or… which was done only few years ago and costs billions of dollars, how satisfied are you with what you've got?

Spokesman:  Look, there are… this, like all new buildings, it's a highly wired and technical buildings.  There are issues often with technology, and we're trying to fix it.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Do we now know who went to Washington and who met who?  I… I see in the picture Nikki Haley was there, Pomp… with the President, [Mike] Pompeo, and… and Amina Mohammed.  Who else went with the UN, and who else was there with the… were you there?  And who else was…?

Spokesman:  I was there.  The Secretary‑General, in his meeting with the President, was accompanied by the Deputy Secretary‑General, and he had some staffers with him.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  Sure. I'm… I guess…

Question:  Sorry.  What's… any staffers you can mention or what?

Spokesman:  No.  Thank you.

Question:  Okay.  I just… since we're into… into… into EZTV, I did want to ask you this.  Before you left, there'd been this issue of trying to… to prohibit people from going… to covering the… the photo ops.  And that… at least part of it seemed to be resolved, but by the Friday, when the Finnish Foreign Minister went, I went up and was told, “You cannot Periscope there”, even though… livestream it, even though UNTV is filming…

Spokesman:  We don't do live broadcasts from the thirty‑eighth floor, so we were asking you not to Periscope.

Question:  Why… but what's… what's the reason… and I'm asking for this… I'll ask you in context.  Let me ask you a question.  There was a… there was a speech given at NYU [New York University] Abu Dhabi over the weekend.  There's a reason for this.  I'm going to ask as a free speech thing.  John Kerry gave a commencement speech.  And AP [Associated Press] has said that it was wrong for… for NYU Abu Dhabi to tell them that they could not livestream it even though NYU UAE [United Arab Emirates] was filming it.  What's the reason…?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't… I have no link with Mr. Kerry, with Mr.… Abu Dhabi or NYU.  Every organization makes its own rules, and I'm… we're asking you not to live… livestream or Periscope from upstairs… Mr. Varma.

Question:  Does that mean there will be no editing of the UNTV videos?

Spokesman:  There is no editing of the UNTV.

For information media. Not an official record.