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

23 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 spoke this morning at the high-level debate of the General Assembly marking the fifteenth Anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  He stressed that corruption affects developed and developing countries alike, with complicity knowing no borders.  Those who can least afford corruption suffer the most, he added.  Corruption fuels conflict, undermines recovery, and breeds frustration.  In efforts to root out and eradicate corruption at all levels and restore trust where it has been lost, the role of the United Nations is crucial, the Secretary-General said.  Noting that, since its adoption, the Convention against Corruption has achieved near-global acceptance, with 184 parties, the Secretary-General stressed that we will not achieve a lasting impact without the full engagement and support of the business and financial communities.  We also need civil society, a free press, and young people to continue bringing to light corrupt practices and holding individuals, businesses and Governments to account.


This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the special meeting “Towards sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies through participation of all”.  She told participants that achieving the 2030 Agenda will greatly depend on the involvement of not just Governments, but also of local authorities, civil society, indigenous people, scientists and businesses alike.  This is an agenda that “needs to be achieved with the people,” she stressed, adding that as intolerance, marginalization and xenophobia grow in some countries, we must redouble our efforts to engage and listen to the full spectrum of views in society.  We cannot exclude people, especially the most vulnerable among us, from taking part in processes that impact their daily lives, she concluded.  The outcome of today’s meeting will feed into the high-level political forum expected to take place in July.


Just a reminder:  the Secretary-General will take off to Switzerland this afternoon where he will speak to students at the University of Geneva tomorrow.  The Secretary-General intends to focus on his disarmament agenda in his remarks to the students.  From Geneva, he will travel on to Mont Pèlerin, where he will participate in a retreat bringing together all of his Special Representatives.

**Middle East

Back here, Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference this morning, and he discussed how the violence on 14 May was a reminder of how easily violence in Gaza flares up.  He said that we must act urgently to avoid another war, to alleviate the suffering of people and to empower the Palestinian Government to take up its responsibilities in Gaza.  He welcomed the move by Egypt to maintain the opening of Rafah Crossing throughout the holy month of Ramadan.  This is an important step and the Special Coordinator hopes that the security situation will allow for more regular movement through the crossing.  He also acknowledged Israel’s efforts to ensure the delivery of goods to Gaza, despite the serious damage done at the Kerem Shalom crossing by protesters in recent weeks.  He looks forward to further measures that will enable an increase in the entry of goods and stimulate economic activity.  He added that turning the Gaza tap on and off is not a sustainable strategy.  We must break this cycle or risk more lethal consequences.  Ultimately, he said, the success of any initiative in Gaza is linked to a credible political horizon that unites all Palestinians.


Our humanitarian colleagues in Syria tell us that since 15 May, more than 7,000 people at sites for displaced people in rural Damascus have returned to eastern Ghouta, following two months of displacement.  The United Nations is providing humanitarian aid through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to those who remained or who have returned to eastern Ghouta, but we have not been able to access eastern Ghouta to undertake its own deliveries.  The last United Nations humanitarian delivery was on 15 March, when assistance was provided to Douma.  The United Nations continues to call on all parties, and those with influence over them, to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.  It is also imperative that all displaced be allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows, and that freedom of movement of civilians be ensured by all parties active on the ground.


Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that, on 21 May of this year, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) received reports of a confrontation between Rapid Support Forces personnel and internally displaced people in the Khamsa Dagaig internally displaced persons camp in Zalingei, in Central Darfur, resulting in one death and injuries amongst the displaced people.  This triggered demonstrations, which led to further injuries and arrests of internally displaced people.  UNAMID evacuated United Nations and non-governmental organizations personnel to its camp, stepped up its patrols and maintains a regular presence in and around the camp.  Yesterday, a verification mission comprised of UNAMID and humanitarian personnel reported that the situation has calmed down and humanitarian workers have returned.  UNAMID continues to engage with the relevant authorities and to monitor the situation.


I also want to flag that today in Geneva, World Health Assembly delegates agreed on a new strategic plan for the next five years.  The World Health Organization’s (WHO) thirteenth General Programme of Work is designed to help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — with a particular focus on Sustainable Development Goal 3: ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages by 2030.  It sets three targets:  to ensure that, by 2023, 1 billion more people benefit from universal health coverage; 1 billion more people are better protected from health emergencies; and 1 billion more enjoy better health and well-being.  WHO estimates that achieving this “triple billion” target could save 29 million lives.

**Obstetric Fistula

Today is the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.  An estimated 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region and Latin America and the Caribbean are living with obstetric fistula, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop worldwide each year.  However, this injury is almost entirely preventable, and this Day seeks to raise awareness of the importance of timely access to obstetric care for all women around the world.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Muhannad Hadi, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Regional Director for the [Mideast], North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe.  Mr. Hadi oversees some of WFP’s most difficult operations:  Yemen, Syria and the regional effort to assist Syrian refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.


If you are looking for something to do to kick off the Memorial Day weekend, this Friday, at 7 p.m., our colleagues at the United Nations Chamber Music Society will have a concert at the All Saints Episcopal Church, where you will be able to enjoy an hour of music.  And this is in partnership with a new initiative at Yale Music School that promotes music by composers from diverse backgrounds.

**Honour Roll

We have reached almost the magical century mark in our honour roll.  The Lao People's Democratic Republic has become the ninety-ninth Member to pay its dues in full.  If you'll allow me a small cricket reference, it… we will go to the Anglo‑Saxon in honour of cricket, James.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  About the Palestinians signing up to three different international organizations and the effect that is likely to have in… because of the US congressional acts that are in place from 1990 and 1994 on their funding, I know that UNIDO [United Nations Industrial Development Organization] is not US‑funded, but how worried are you about the funding of UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development]?  And can I ask you about the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], because it seems to be a bit of a grey area?  It appears on your UN system map as a related organization.  The act says "affiliated".  Does the UN believe the OPCW is affiliated to the UN?

Spokesman:  The OPCW is part of… is an independent treaty‑based body affiliated with the United Nations.  Whether it's UNCTAD, UNIDO or OPCW, all of these three entities have their own governing bodies, which are separate from the Secretary‑General and the Secretariat.  They all have their own procedures for accession.  For the Secretary‑General's part, his position remains that the focus should be on getting the parties back to the table for a negotiated outcome to lead to a two‑State solution.  I'm not going to predict what the United States or other Member States may or may not do in terms of the developments that we are seeing today.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General, though, worried about the prospect that there could be defunding?

Spokesman:  Again, I think our focus remains on the peace process, and I'm not going to speculate.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  On that topic — and then I want to ask you about anti‑corruption day but — I think in… and tell me if I'm wrong that… that the… the… the Secretary‑General, in one of his meetings with executives in Montreaux had actually… I've seen the agenda.  The agenda included this line:  "How to thrive without US/Western funding, learn from the appearance of UNIDO and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] in this regard."  And so, I'm just wondering, it seems like the UN has some contingency plans.  Can you… can you, one, confirm that there has been such a discussion, and two, is UNIDO… in his view, is UNIDO thriving given that many countries have withdrawn…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to confirm the agenda of that meeting.  And second, I think you'd have to ask UNIDO.  As I said, these are specialized agencies who are responsible for their own funding.  We… obviously, as a matter of principle, we want to see an active and engaged United States and active and engaged Member States in the multilateral system.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about this… the Convention against Corruption.  I did notice in his speech that he called for… for… for free press in civil society, exposing wrongdoing, and… and so the UN's role is essential and so lead by example.  So, I want to ask you again — I'm sorry to do this, but there's a current case in the Southern District of New York of Patrick Ho and China Energy Fund Committee, where it was just described in… in… when he was held over in jail, Patrick Ho, that there… this corrupted many individuals in the UN and the institution itself.  This was said in the courtroom.  So, given that, can you explain why the Secretary‑General, in the spirit of leading by example, hasn't even held… even an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit of how deeply this ran and why China Energy Fund Committee remains… I know you're going to say it's Member States but…?

Spokesman:  Well, that happens to be a fact.  That happens to be a fact.  As I've said, we have fully cooperated with the federal authorities on this case.

Question:  Is that leading by example?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes.

Correspondent:  That's enough?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About Syria, as you might so… saw those reports… news reports about ethnic‑based forced displacement, violence still continues in Afrin.  Why you haven't heard for a while from the UN and OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] about the humanitarian situation in Afrin?

Spokesman:  We'll see what update we can get.  Obv… at last I was briefed, we were not present right in the centre of Afrin.  We have reported on the displacements that the fighting has caused.  We want to see a halt to the fighting and the displacement wherever it takes place in Syria.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is on Libya.  I got the draft of the agreement that President [Emmanuel] Macron of France is trying to reach between Prime Minister [Fayaz al] Sarraj and General [Khalifa] Haftar at the conference in Paris on 29 May, an agreement that actually would overcome the… the role of the UN Envoy, [Ghassan] Salamé, and the international community.  Do you have any comment on that?  And has the SG had any contact with President Macron on the matter?

Spokesman:  Contacts have been had at various levels with the French authorities, but I have no comment on the draft.  Linda and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is in regard to Myanmar.  Amnesty International issued a report that a militant group associated with Rohingya… with the Rohingya massacred, I guess, about nearly 100 Buddhists and Hindus last year.  And I guess my question is — I know this is an issue that's just come up — has the Secretary‑General made a statement about this or reacted to it?

Spokesman:  I think any and all reports of human rights violations are extremely concerning.  Civilians, whatever their religion, their confession, their ethnicity should be able to live in peace without fear of being assaulted or killed or burnt out of their homes by extremist groups.  We have always pushed for greater access in Rakhine State and including for our human rights monitors.  Evelyn and then Stefano.

Question:  In a follow‑up to Linda's question:  is there any analysis of which Rohingya group and when and where and so forth from the UN…?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the report that has just come out.  I have not seen anything from our end.

Question:  From Amnesty, you mean?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Secondly, fistula, how can… how is that… how can that be reduced or stopped without UNFPA, given the money and the staff…?

Spokesman:  Well, UNFPA is… obviously is funded.  We know the issues relating to funding from the United States, but we've always encouraged other donors to fully fund UNFPA.  The fight against fistula is not only a medical one, but it is one of ostracizing women who suffer from it, so it is also a social fight in that sense.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes.  I know this question has been asked before, but now we are a few hours away from prob… few days away from a new Italian Government coming in.  And the problem with the Italian… of this Government is the idea to expel about 5… half a million of migrants, illegal migrants.  Now, also relating to Libya and Libya's stability and all this, is the Secretary‑General worried about the situation if the Italian Government change policy, especially also with the waves of migrants coming from Libya?

Spokesman:  We're not going to… you know, I think, like a lot of people, we're watching to see what happens in Italy.  There are internal discussions going on about forming a new Government.  So, I'm not going to speculate about what the policies of any Government that's not in power, not in charge, so that's one thing.  There's a question of principle, which applies to every country, which the Secretary‑General has often repeated, that refugees have certain rights.  Countries have obligations towards them, that migrants need to be treated with respect, with dignity.  And his message has been to encourage every country to participate actively in the discussions on the global compact on… on… on migration, so we come to some general understanding and agreement between countries of origin, countries of transit, and countries of destination, while always respecting the sovereignty of every Member State.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you… okay.  The… the… the… there was a lot of celebration when Saudi Arabia said that they were going to allow women to drive, but recently, a number of the activists that actually brought that policy change about have been arrested and charged with “suspicious contact with foreign parties and security and against the security and stability of the State”.  So, I wondered, given the things the Secretary‑General has said about the need for gender equality, et cetera, what does he… what does he make of these arrests?

Spokesman:  What is important, as a matter of principle, is that civil society be given the space and freedom to operate.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  I have a question on [the Former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia.  Do we have now a deal between Macedonia and Greece on name dispute… country name… people's name… how… are we going to call them and the language?

Spokesman:  Those discussions are ongoing.  And, as you know, Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz has been at this for quite some time, so I think, when a deal is struck and agreed upon, we will have an announcement.  But, I have nothing to announce at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, on… on… it's both about IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], but also generally about the UN system and accountability for sexual harassment charges.  I'd asked… I guess, while you were away, I'd asked Farhan [Haq] about whether he was aware of… of… of whistle‑blowers in the IAEA saying that the Deputy Director‑General, Mr. Tero Varjoranta, who recently left.  He'd been in charge of JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and the Department of Safeguards, that the… that the reason that he left was an Office of Internal Oversight investigation of sexual harassment.  And I'm asking you, because the victims themselves and the whistle‑blowers are saying he's left with a full pension.  He left with… with Farhan saying that it was for personal reasons.  And so, I guess I want to know, does the Secretary‑General believe… this comes up in the Luiz Loures case at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] and… and… and Frank La Rue at UNESCO.  Is… is this enough?  Is… is… can… can these… can problems such as this be… be sort of ran… run out till the end of pension?  And it's said in IAEA that Director General [Yukiya] Amano knew of this, didn't order any investigation, and there was only investigation because the whistle‑blowers contacted the [Office of Internal Oversight] there directly and that they're very troubled by that.

Spokesman:  The… you know, a lot of these questions have to be addressed to the IAEA.  They're responsible, and they have their own administrative structures.  I think the message from the Secretary‑General to all the heads of agency was… when he met them at CEB [Chief Executives Board], was on the importance of combating sexual harassment, on creating environments in which victims could come forward, and on strengthening the investigative practises.  Thank you.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes.  Stéphane, The New York Times quoted an independent research that shows Iran could potentially… in a hidden side, is developing ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile], long‑range missile.  I just wanted to know, exactly what is the Secretary‑General's position about Iran developing long‑range missiles?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to comment on what independent experts say.  There are Security Council resolutions.  There's a JCP… and there are others that need to be respected.  The Secretary‑General's position is broadly for disarmament and not more armament.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.