22 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.

**Security Council

This morning, the Secretary‑General spoke to Security Council Members at the debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, where he stressed that the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent conflicts and to end them.  He reiterated that conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding are, and will remain, the highest priorities for the whole United Nations system.

The Secretary‑General noted that although the global situation is bleak, with many regions suffering from displacement, food insecurity and human rights violations due to conflict, there are some reasons for hope.  This includes the growing recognition by many Governments that respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law contributes to reducing conflict and countering terrorism.  He called on Member States to develop national policies to protect civilians in conflict and to ensure accountability for serious violations against them.  Avoiding civilian casualties and providing unhindered access to humanitarian assistance are essential to avoid a cycle of instability and resentment, and to make lasting peace and reconciliation possible, he added.  His full remarks are online.

**Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today issued a stark warning that the world, including Europe, is backsliding on human rights.  Speaking at an event in Vienna marking the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights, the High Commissioner said human rights are sorely under pressure around the world.  His remarks are available online.


In a report published today, the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) say that violence in Libya continues to have a devastating impact on health care in the country, with hospitals and other medical facilities bombed, shelled and looted; medical personnel targeted, attacked and even taken hostage or arbitrarily detained; and patients at times denied prompt life‑saving care and attacked while getting treatment.

Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Libya, said these attacks are major violations of international law and a tragic disregard of our common humanity.  All too often, there is no respect for the sick and no sanctity for those who provide care.  This must end, he said.  Between 1 May 2017 and 1 May 2018, the United Nations recorded 36 attacks on medical facilities, personnel or patients, although the actual number is likely to be significantly higher.


Today, in Syria, a convoy of an estimated 400 people from Yarmouk arrived in Madiq Castle in Syria’s northern Hama Governorate following a local agreement reached between the parties.  The UN was not a party to these evacuation agreements.  The UN continues to call on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.  It is imperative that all those displaced are allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it.


Just an update on the ongoing situation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh:  the latest reporting indicates that more than 7,000 people were affected by storms or landslides in the week of 7‑14 May alone.  This, at the start of the monsoon season.  The monsoons typically deposit 2.5 meters of rain on Cox’s Bazar, resulting in significant flooding.  As a result, 150,000‑200,000 refugees and 883 community facilities are at risk from flooding and landslides during the monsoon season, including 25,000 refugees at critical risk.  UN Agencies have ramped up preparedness activities to mitigate the effects of the rains on refugees.

We recognize that Bangladesh has been dealing with monsoons annually, and has developed some experience in these matters.  However, the situation present in the refugee camps is unique in scope and volume, and the international humanitarian community is working to support and protect the refugee communities most at risk.  More flat land on the mainland, to temporarily relocate the refugees to, would be appreciated.  The lack of sufficient safe space for at‑risk refugees, and the lack of safe shelters, limits our risk mitigation possibilities.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the overall security situation in eastern Ukraine has deteriorated since the beginning of May.  Hostilities, with the use of mortars and heavy artillery, were reported near some 26 settlements on both sides of the “contact line” in the last 24 hours only.  Shelling has interrupted local gas and electricity supply systems in at least three settlements along the “contact line”, affecting more than 10,000 households.

The operation of the Donetsk Filter Station remains suspended, which puts at risk the water supply for 345,000 people.  The filter station has been attacked on eight occasions this year.  The area of Avdiivka in Donetsk Province, with over 16,000 people, is already depleting its backup water reservoirs.  Humanitarian partners have today started water delivery to the city.  It is essential that all parties to the conflict respect civilian infrastructure and protect civilian workers.  Any targeting of that infrastructure, and the intentional disruption of access to water is a violation of international humanitarian law.

**Central America

Our friends at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] say they are seeing a significant increase in the number of people fleeing violence and persecution in the Northern part of Central America.  More than 294,000 asylum seekers and refugees from the North of Central America were registered globally as of the end of 2017, an increase of 58 per cent from a year earlier.  This is sixteen times more people than at the end of 2011.  The vast majority of those fleeing are seeking refugee protection either to the north in Belize, Mexico and the US, or — and increasingly — to the south in Costa Rica and Panama.


I was asked before the briefing about the situation in the Comoros.  The Secretary‑General is closely following and monitoring developments in the Comoros over the last few months, particularly since the holding of the national dialogue process of the “assises nationales” in February 2018, and the recent announcement by President Azali Assoumani of the implementation of the constitutional reform as part of the recommendations of these “assises nationales”.  The Secretary‑General urges the Government, political parties and all political actors as well as civil society to do their utmost to respect the rule of law, [human] rights and individual freedoms and to work for the preservation of peace and stability in the country, to allow for development and progress for Comoros.


Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity.  This year’s theme celebrates the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General stressed that the rich variety of life on Earth is essential for the welfare and prosperity of people today and for generations to come.  He added that while we know the many benefits of biodiversity, its loss continues around the world, and he called on Governments, businesses and people everywhere to protect the nature that sustains us.

**Press Briefings

Couple of events I want to flag today:  right after the briefing, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations will host a conference entitled “Cops and Clergy Working together:  the Work of the Santa Marta Group in the Fight against Human Trafficking Worldwide”.  Speakers will include 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.


At 1:15 p.m. this afternoon, an interesting event in the Trusteeship Chamber, called “Women and the Origins of the United Nations - a Southern Legacy”, organized by the Permanent Mission of Brazil.  The Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Viotti, will be speaking at the event, where she’ll highlight the role of women from the South in drafting the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the current work of the Organization to achieve gender parity.  It will feature a number of researchers who have looked at the unrecognized role of women in drafting the Charter of these United Nations.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, regarding the plight [off mic, inaudible], the Secretary‑General has appointed a Special Envoy, a Swiss diplomat.  Whatever happened to that… has she become operational?  Is she doing something?

Spokesman:  Yes, she is operational.  I think she… If I'm not mistaken, she's meeting the Secretary‑General today.  Her focus is, obviously, on the situation in Myanmar and not so much on the humanitarian situation of the Rohingyas in Bangladesh, but, obviously, the future of the Rohingya refugees is part and parcel of the long‑term situation in Myanmar.  Mr. Lee?  Yalla.

Question:  I'm just wondering, how quickly do you expect her to travel to the region and to Myanmar?

Spokesman:  I think fairly quickly.  I think after today's meeting, we'll have a better idea of what her travel plans are.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in… in what was called the John Ashe case, a… a Ch… businessman, Mr. Chau Chak Wing has been identified as Co‑conspirator 3 in… that was in the indictment.  And it's caused quite a furore in Australia, but I guess my question is, given that the UN did, in that case, unlike the Patrick Ho case, conduct an audit, did the UN know the identity of Co‑conspirator 3?  And what does it show you now, given… given Mr. Chau Chak Wang's other… Wing's other… other roles?  What does it mean for the UN that he, according to intelligence sources and now, as stated in the Australian Parliament, paid a $200,000 bribe to a then‑sitting President of the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  I think we've commented on the case, and we have cooperated fully with the Federal host authorities here on the conclusion of the case.

Question:  But it doesn't… so this doesn't change the ca… the idea that this is a sitting… this is a person that's actually tied directly to the Chinese Communist Party?

Spokesman:  I've said… this is what I've had to say.

Correspondent:  It doesn't change…

Spokesman:  This is what I've had to say.  Thank you.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I wanted to raise a housekeeping issue.  When I left my office on Friday afternoon, the air conditioner in my office was turned off.  When I arrived on Monday morning, it was going full blast.  My office was freezing.  And when I went to turn it off, the dial was gone.  So, it was almost impossible to turn it off.  I sent a note to Tal [Mekel] and found out that this was a new UN policy and that the dials on air conditioners in offices had all been taken off.  I would like someone to explain this policy, because it seems totally ridiculous, especially since the UN wasted money in my case by having the air conditioning going full blast when I myself had it turned off for several days last week.

Spokesman:  I will look into it.  I think it has to do with trying to manage the temperature in the building, but I will look into it.  Mr. Abbadi, and then we'll come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking about the policies of Iran, said that that country could join the League of Nations.  How do you interpret that?

Spokesman:  The job of interpreting what people say is yours and not mine.

Correspondent:  I thought you always defended the idea that ideas matter.

Spokesman:  I do.  I'm just saying it's not my job to interpret what the Secretary of State said.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Alicia Bárcena and Sri Lanka, but I have a policy question actually since you're… apparently, today you're taking them.

Spokesman:  Policy question, policy…

Question:  I wanted to ask, having… having gone up yesterday to the… to this six‑in‑a‑row credential room ceremonies, I… I followed your instruction and didn't Periscope, but it's left me wondering, again, given that others that came actually did shoot video, what… the reason for the policy… and the reason I'm asking you this is that you might think that these are just, you know, credentials and shaking hands, but many things were said.  For example — and I want to ask you substantively about this — the new Kenyan ambassador said at the end of his… presenting his letter, he thanked the Secretary‑General for his ser… he called it the service… global service development model, very much thanking him for basically UN jobs in… increasing in Nairobi, which I don't think has been approved by the General Assembly.  But so, in any case, these events upstairs actually do have a news value.  Maybe you don't see them, but I see them, and so I'd like to… to… to livestream them…

Spokesman:  I'm not denying it.  We just… I know what you would like to do.  We're just…

Question:  … and so I'd like to know why they don't…

Spokesman:  We do not do live broadcasts from the thirty‑eighth floor.  That's just…

Question:  You never do them?  Do you inform members of delegations that they can't use Facebook Live…?

Spokesman:  We do not do live broadcasts from the thirty‑eighth floor.

Question:  By "you", but you mean the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  I'm just… that's as many words as I can use on this.

Correspondent:  I saw others doing it, and so it seems to me, like, as a matter of policy…

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Are you able to give us any more details about the content of SG's speech he's supposed to give on Thursday in Geneva on disarmament?

Spokesman:  We will try to share some advanced copies of the speech with you probably by tomorrow evening.  Okay.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary‑General think that killing civilians in armed conflict is a moral issue?

Spokesman:  Of course, it's a moral issue.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Okay.  Great.  I wanted to ask you, on… on… on Sri Lanka, on these… those who were deployed without being vetted, it was said, I think it was last week, that somehow an additional tier of… of vetting is going to be done by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.  They've said — this is a direct quote by the Chairperson — that they don't know what the UN means by an additional tier since there was… had been no vetting whatsoever to begin with, and so they're… it's unclear to them…

Spokesman:  Let me look into it.

Question:  Okay.  And the other one has to… I'm sure you've seen this that Alicia Bárcena, the head of ECLAC [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean], has been named by… by Mexican presidential candidate and front‑runner [Andrés Manuel] López Obrador.  He said publicly that he would name her to be Mexico's ambassador to the UN.  So, I'm just wondering, what are… what's the policy of… of a sitting UN… I mean, it's not her fault that he said that, but I'm just wondering is there some procedure at the UN when a country or a… a front‑runner in an election says:  you'll be my person at the UN?

Spokesman:  Look, I can't comment… I don't know what the President said, but we expect all senior UN officials to apply the high standard of ethics.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  One more policy… policy question?

Spokesman:  We'll save it for tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.