29 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.

**Peacekeepers’ Day

Today is UN Peacekeepers' Day and as you know the Secretary-General said he would be spending it in Mali and he arrived just a few hours ago in Bamako to spend this Day with troops and personnel of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  Upon arrival, the Secretary-General was greeted by the Malian President Ibrahim Keita and other officials.  He then participated in a ceremony to pay tribute to our fallen colleagues and he is now with United Nations personnel.  The Secretary-General said he was honoured to be spending Peacekeeper’s Day with the brave men and women serving our mission in Mali, our operation had the highest casualties last year.  At their own personal risk, they save lives serving the cause of peace.  And we will be issuing his remarks at the ceremony later today.  Meanwhile at Headquarters, we will celebrate Peacekeepers’ Day on Friday, 1 June.  A number of events are planned on that day.  You will find a list in the week ahead and we will provide more details closer to the date.


In the Security Council this morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed Security Council members on the humanitarian situation in Syria.  He said the United Nations continues to run one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations there, providing food, water, shelter and health services to hundreds of thousands of people every day.  However, he said that there are still more than 2 million people in hard-to-reach areas such as rural Homs, Douma and southern Damascus and Mr. Lowcock asked Council Members for their support to ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained access to reach those who are in greatest need of help.  Mr. Lowcock also said that over the past two months, the United Nations and its partners have been providing assistance in areas hosting people displaced from eastern Ghouta, but noted that this assistance must now extend into eastern Ghouta itself, as people there begin to try to rebuild their lives.  The UN has only been given access one time to this area, Mr. Lowcock said, and called on the Syrian Government to facilitate access.  He noted said the security situation remains precarious in other areas, including in Afrin, Raqqa, Idlib and in the Yarmouk camp in rural Damascus, posing challenges for humanitarian assistance.  His full statement is online.


And this afternoon there will be an open meeting on Ukraine.  The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, and the Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, will brief Council Members.


In Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is concerned about the situation of civilians in the city of Derna amid escalating violence, and calls for their protection.  At least one person was killed and seven people, including two children, were reportedly injured yesterday.  The city’s desalination plant has also been shut down over concerns for staff safety.  As a result, the entire city is now without water supply, and an estimated 125,000 people are relying solely on the water they have stored in their tanks.  Severe shortages of medical supplies have been reported at the city’s only operating hospital.  Food shortages have also been reported.  There are periodic closures of checkpoints, restricting people’s freedom of movement and preventing civilians from leaving areas of conflict.  Humanitarian access to Derna remains severely limited.  No humanitarian supplies have been delivered since mid-March, despite urgent needs, including in the health sector.  The humanitarian community calls on all parties to enable immediate, safe and unfettered humanitarian access to Derna to enable the delivery of life-saving supplies.


A report released today by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the United Nations human rights office there finds that Afghan women’s access to justice remains severely inadequate, even though a law was passed in 2009 to eliminate violence against them.  The report is online.


Yesterday, the humanitarian community in Cameroon launched an emergency response plan to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs in the south-west and north-west regions of the country.  The plan, which is seeking $15 million to deliver life-saving assistance and prevent further hardship for the affected population, is targeting 160,000 internally displaced people for an initial period of three months.  The response will require a flexible approach to quickly adapt to an unpredictable context and rapidly evolving displacement patterns.  The crisis in the south-west and north-west regions is taking place against a backdrop of several other humanitarian emergencies that are affecting 3.3 million people across the country.


In Nigeria, our colleagues from the World Health Organization (WHO) say they have deployed 39 staff members with plans under way for an additional 15 personnel, to rapidly contain a confirmed outbreak of cholera in Mubi North and South local government areas in Adamawa State.  As of 26 May, 434 suspected cases, amongst which 13 deaths, have been reported in the affected areas and the report is online.


A report released today by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank found that poverty among refugees who received cash assistance in Turkey has fallen by half in a little over a year.  Families receiving cash assistance through the European Union-funded Emergency Social Safety Net are less likely to sell their possessions, skimp on medical expenses or take their children out of school, the report says.  Data also indicates that families are eating better, with more fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products.  The programme helps some 1.3 million refugees and the European Union has so far channelled $1.2 billion to fund it.  More information on WFP’s website.


A tea update from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  They released a report today that says global tea consumption and production will keep rising over the next decade.  The report says tea consumption is growing in emerging economies, particularly in China and India, driven by a combination of higher incomes and the diversification of tea products which includes herbal teas, fruit fusions and gourmet teas.  The report notes that the growing demand for tea will create new rural income opportunities and improve food security in tea‑producing countries.  More information on the FAO’s website.

**Press Conferences Today

Right after I’m done here, there will be a briefing by Brendan Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, and his guest will be Pita Taufatofua, the Olympic athlete from Tonga who made a memorable entrance at the opening ceremonies in both the most recent Summer and Winter Olympics.  He will talk about his participation in the President of the General Assembly’s Youth Dialogue tomorrow, as well as his work with youth in the Pacific.  Then, at 5 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the Permanent Representative of Georgia to United Nations, Ambassador Kaha Imnadze, and that is on recent announcements by the Syrian Government.  That’s it from me.  Richard Roth, I think, yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Nice to be back.  Stéphane, I realize things are in the shadows, but what can you tell us about any or if UN involvement with the visit of the high‑ranking North Korean official?  Has the UN been approached to use the premises for a meeting with Secretary of State Pompeo and North Korean guests, and what is the Secretary‑General's comment on the fact that talks have sped up towards the prospect of a summit meeting?

Spokesman:  We have been checking.  I'm so far not aware of any specific requests to use the premises.  We have heard of reports of the North Korean official coming to New York.  If I find out anything I will let you know.  You know, obviously, the Secretary‑General is pleased that the summit seems to be now back on track.  I think, as he said in Geneva at the end of last week when asked about the situation regarding the summit: nerves of steel; and I think that's what we all need.  Yes, sir.

Question:  On… there was a major declaration today on Libya, in Paris.  Do you have any comment on that?  And, also…

Spokesman:  I should have some comments, but I haven't received anything yet.

Question:  And, also, a Palestine… Israel major escalation in Gaza, so do you have anything to say on that?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Mr. Mladenov earlier today I think issued a statement condemning the barrage of mortar attacks from Gaza onto Israel and he has called for restraint on all sides during this particularly tense situation.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Sure.  Just to follow‑up on Libya, I mean, I see a picture of Mr. Salamé there behind Mr. Macron, so just I wanted to know in what context did the UN participate in the announcement made in France and also was Mr. Salamé at this SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] meeting in Mont Pèlerin.  Which… did all SRSGs…?

Spokesman:  Yes.  As far as I know I think all SRSGs were there.  Mr. Salamé was there to represent the UN.  As I said, I would have expected to have something to share with you, but I don't as of yet.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, because I saw on the Secretary‑General's, you know, his public schedule it listed Geneva, it listed Mont Pèlerin, it listed Mali.  It didn't list Portugal.  Was he in Portugal?

Spokesman:  Yes.  He was in Portugal yesterday.  I thought it had been announced on Friday, but obviously it had not, but he was in Portugal on Monday to participate in the Council of State meeting.

Question:  So that was an official UN trip?

Spokesman:  Yes.  It was official.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you one thing.  There has been a development in the Patrick Ho China Energy Fund Committee case where it's reported extensively in Serbia that yet another former President of the General Assembly, in this case Vuk Jeremić, had received some $9 million from China Energy Fund Committee.  So, I wanted to ask you each time this comes up you say, you know, does it… now that this, in this current case pending in the southern district two separate PGA/former PGAs have appeared to be… have received funds from this group.  Is it time for an audit, or not?

Spokesman:  A few things.  As you know, Presidents of the General Assembly are not staff members.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General would expect the highest level of ethical behaviour from people fulfilling that post.  I think any questions and accusations regarding past Presidents of the General Assembly should go to them.  We have been cooperating fully with the Southern District of New York in the conduct of that case.

Question:  Well, just one follow‑up because the question for the UN is given that especially you have spoken for both of them, Ban Ki-moon ordered an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] audit of the Ng Lap Seng case totally outside, I think, it seems to me of the US court process.  That was one PGA [President of the General Assembly].  This case involves two PGAs, as well as DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] and untold, unknown the scope of…?

Spokesman:  I understand.  What I'm telling you is we have cooperated fully with the… ee've cooperated fully.  Thank you.  Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the humanitarian situation this Syria, you said that Mr. Lowcock said there are hundreds of thousands of Syrians receiving aid, but there is still about 2 million in hard‑to‑reach areas.  I was just wondering if those people in hard to reach areas are primarily… if it's primarily the Syrian Government that is preventing access or… and also, you know, is ISIS or other terrorist groups and insurgents?

Spokesman:  Part of it has to do with fighting.  Part of it has to do with multiple armed actors in the area.  And part of it has to do with us not getting the official permissions that we need from the Syrian Government.

Question:  Is there a sense of what the portion is or just generally?

Spokesman: No, I can't.  I don't have that kind of granularity that I can share with you.  Yep.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, it's reported that the coalition, the Saudi‑led coalition in Yemen, is within very short distance of the Hodeidah Port and I know that in the past when they have been moving in on it, the UN had said don't do it, it would be a catastrophe for aid and hunger in the country.  What does the UN say about it now?  Are they coordinating?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We are extremely concerned about the situation around Hodeidah.  Our colleagues in the area have already started to take precautionary measures in terms of wrapping up assistance and redefining contingency plans in case there is further escalation.  Food, non-food items, water, sanitation, hygiene, cash assistance have already been delivered to displaced families in various areas.  Obviously increased fighting would unleash even more internally displaced people.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you a follow‑up on your Cameroon north-west and south-west announcement.  Just before the weekend, so Thursday or Friday, there were several dozen people killed in some villages called Menka and Santa.  The pictures were… are all over the Internet, including bodies being rolled into a mass grave.  I'm just wondering what is the relation between this?  Does the country team, are they unaware of these reported…?

Spokesman:  I think they are aware of these reports.  It's not areas to which they have access to.  Obviously, the continuing violence in the situation in those areas has created more displaced people.  I will get our guest who sounds like he is already having a good time, so hold on two seconds.

For information media. Not an official record.