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

31 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.

**Development

As you will have seen, plans have changed.  The Secretary-General will be delivering his remarks at 3 p.m. on the General Assembly as they formally adopt his proposal to reform the UN development system but he will not be doing a stakeout so we will be doing the briefing.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General, who just returned from Mali a few minutes ago in fact, will stress that the reforms proposed will place sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations, and will help the Organization to better support countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and make a real difference in people’s lives.

**Appointment

And I have a senior personnel appointment today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Karim Asad Ahmad Khan of the United Kingdom as the Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team which was established by the Security Council.  The team will support the domestic efforts to hold ISIL (or Da’esh) accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by terrorist groups in Iraq.

Mr. Khan is the first Head of the Investigative Team. He is a barrister and Queen’s Counsel in the UK, with more than 25 years of professional experience as an international criminal law and human rights lawyer.  More information in my office.

**Libya

Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about the escalation of violence in Derna, in eastern Libya, where reported air raids and shelling, some in residential areas, as well as heavy ground clashes are impacting the civilian population following the prolonged encirclement of the city by the Libyan National Army.  Civilian deaths and injuries are reported.

The humanitarian situation continues to worsen, due to severe shortages of water, medical supplies and food impacting about 125,000 people.  Urgent humanitarian needs continue to get worse as humanitarian access is limited.  Civilians are reportedly prevented from leaving areas of the city where there is active fighting.  The United Nations again calls on parties to the conflict to allow civilians who wish to leave the city to do so.  The United Nations also calls on the parties to immediately enable safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, and to follow their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues are worried for the safety and protection of some 130,000 people who have been displaced from Syria’s Afrin district to Tal Refaat and surrounding areas following hostilities that began on 20 January. 

The United Nations continues to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced, including food, nutrition, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and protection services.

Despite continued restrictions on the movement of displaced people beyond the area where the displacement sites are, between 20 and 25 May, an estimated 3,000 people were reportedly able to return to Afrin district.  Nearly 200 people who attempted to return during this period, however — including the elderly, children and women — are reportedly stranded.  They have not been given access to their destination inside Afrin district nor allowed to return to the displacement sites.

The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, to ensure freedom of movement, and to allow for safe, sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to those in need.

**Middle East

Yesterday afternoon, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon by videoconference.  He told Council members that the previous two days had seen the most serious escalation since the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel and a warning to all how close to the brink of war we are every day.

He called on the international community to join him in unequivocally condemning the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the dangerous escalation in Gaza.

Mr. Mladenov welcomed the efforts of Egypt to ensure that calm prevails and reiterate his call on all sides to uphold all understandings and prevent the recurrence of any incidents that jeopardize the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike.  He said that it is imperative that this period of calm be preserved at all costs.  No one in Gaza can afford another war, he said.

Our colleagues from the International Labour Organization (ILO) have released a report that says the unemployment rate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is now the highest in the world, peaking at 27.4 per cent in 2017.  Women and youth are particularly affected, with almost half of women being unemployed.

**No Tobacco Day

Today is… none of you win.  Today is World No Tobacco Day.  This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has partnered with the World Heart Federation highlighting the link between tobacco and cardiovascular diseases, which are the world’s leading causes of death, responsible for 17.9 million deaths annually.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation will be here to brief you at 1:30 p.m. as President of the Security Council for the beautiful month of June, so that’s 1:30 p.m. on the Council’s programme.

**Peacekeeping

Tomorrow, we have quite a few activities related to International Peacekeepers Day which will be celebrated here at Headquarters.  The Secretary-General will mark that occasion at 9:30 in the morning by laying a wreath in honour of the fallen peacekeepers at the Peacekeepers’ Memorial Site, which is all the way up in the north part of the North Lawn.

He will then preside over an event, which begins at 10 a.m. at the ECOSOC Chamber, where the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal will be posthumously awarded to UN personnel who fell while serving under the UN flag last year.

And the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping and Field Support, Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Atul Khare, will be our noon briefing guests to brief you on the Day and highlight the work that our peacekeepers do around the world and have been doing so for the past 70 years.

**Honour Roll

And lastly today, we say thank you to our very good friends in Ulaanbaatar, as Mongolia has joined the Honour Roll, bringing it up to 102.

**Questions and Answers

Yalla.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this briefing given by the UN Special… Mr. Mladenov about Gaza, in which he said Gaza is on the brink of a war, and now it… has this… the reason why I'm asking this question is that he said that Gaza is on the brink of war, particularly against Israel, which has overwhelming firepower, as against…

Spokesman:  But what is the question?

Question:  The question is, has the Secretary‑General talked to the Israeli authorities about bringing down the tension?  Has he talked with the authorities to…

Spokesman:  I think the contacts have been had at various level, and Mr. Mladenov and his team are deeply involved.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Has he talked… has he talked to the Prime Minister…?

Spokesman:  As I said, contacts have been had at various levels.

Question:  Can you give us any details?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  On Bangladesh, the situation is very alarming.  In the last 16 days, 125 people have been victims of extrajudicial killing by the law enforcement agency in the name of the drug control.  Many of them are innocent, according to local and international media report.  Ruling Prime Minister has said her drive will continue, the so‑called anti‑drug drive, but her special envoy and former military director, General [H.M.] Ershad, says…

Spokesman:  I… thank you for the facts.  What are… for the information.  What is the question?

Question:  My question is, how you are observing this horrific situation? Already 100… 125 people died within 16 days.

Spokesman:  Let… I don't have any language on Bangladesh right now, but let me get something in time for tomorrow.  Yes, sir.

Question:  This is a follow‑up, and I'm asking for a friend actually.  Is the Secretary‑General equipped to create or at least suggest ideas for creating a mechanism to protect Palestinians from Israeli aggression?

Spokesman:  We know that that language, I think, is in some of the draft resolutions that have been circulated.  As always, we will abide by Security Council resolutions, once they've been adopted.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  But… sorry.

Spokesman:  Your follow… sounded like you wanted to ask for another friend another question.

Question:  No, but some diplomats have said that what this… these proposals, since you mentioned them… that the problem with these proposals is they're very vague about this kind of protection mechanism, and they basically throw it to the… to… to… to the court of… of the Secretary‑General.  And that's why I'm asking whether the Secretary‑General can actually flesh out some kind of mechanism…

Spokesman:  You know, a lot of things get thrown at the Secretary‑General, some with details, some with less detail.  But let's wait till we are made to catch something, and then we will comment on it.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Ask you couple… some questions about South Sudan.  One is, in Ghana, they say that their investigation of the sexual exploitation allegations against the formed police unit from Ghana that was in Wau, South Sudan, has been completed.  They're just waiting for the UN.  So, I'm just wondering, does the UN have a statement on whether they've been found…

Spokesman:  Yeah, the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) has now completed its work on the… its investigation on the incidents, which, as you know, were about the Ghanaian formed police unit operating in Wau.  The report established that some individuals of the formed police unit were involved in transactional sex, [for] which the United Nations has a zero‑tolerance policy.  In line with existing rules, the report will now be shared with the Government of Ghana, which is also, as we all know, conducting its own investigation.  And they have pledged to us to take the necessary disciplinary and/or criminal action for substantiated acts.  The contingent of the 46 police officers was repatriated to Ghana on 30 May.  As you know, back in February, when these allegations came to light, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in South Sudan took quick action and removed the unit from Wau and confined them to barracks in Juba.  We will be, obviously, following up with the Ghanaian authorities on the accountability of those who are found responsible for these acts after due process.

Question:  First of all… thanks a lot.  I'm glad I asked.  What's… what's the protocol for announcing such results?  Were these going to be announced at some later date?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we often share these responses proactively.  It seems like there was a leak in the communications.  We haven't formally shared the report yet with the Ghanaians, but, obviously, actions were taken.  And, I mean, we have nothing to hide in this case.

Question:  So, how many of the 46 were found to have been involved in wrongdoing?

Spokesman:  Some individuals.  I don't have any more detail, but as you know, the unit was treated as a whole.

Question:  Sure.  The other one I wanted to ask you about is… is… I asked you before about Radio Miraya and the Government saying that they needed to register, and I think it was said here that it was resolved, but it doesn't seem to have been resolved.  In fact, it seems like one of the Radio Miraya journalists has been arrested by the Government, Martin Sani, for covering a Government event.

Spokesman:  We understand that the journalist was detained and then released.

Question:  But is this… is… are you saying again that it's solved or is it going to…

Spokesman:  We continue… we're continuing to broadcast.

Question:  Right.  But can you attend and cover Government events?

Spokesman:  I mean, obviously, the Government is doing what it's doing, but we're continuing to broadcast.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  On this situation in Yemen, do you have any update?  And do you know about how many people have been killed since then?  And has the Saudi Arabian, I mean, responded to Secretary‑General plea for a ceasefire?

Spokesman:  You know, we are continuing to follow the situation, especially around Hudaydah.  We've been told by our humanitarian colleagues who are giving us updates that armed clashes backed by airstrikes are continuing along the Hudaydah coastline.  As of yesterday, the conflict incidents were being reported at Durayhimi and Al Tuhayat districts.  Since 12 May, an estimated 750 households have fled military operations, mostly into neighbouring areas.  People living in these areas appear to be mainly to relocate within the same districts before returning to their villages once the violence has subsided.  Humanitarian partners in Aden and Hudaydah hubs have ramped up assistance to accessible areas along the West Coast.  And, obviously, we're updating our contingency plans on a daily basis.  The continuing reports of fighting are, obviously, extremely concerning to… and would only add to an already disastrous humanitarian situation in the area.

Question:  Okay, sir.  About this Rohingya tragedy and most of the refugees from… from Burma or Rohingya area are still in… living in Bangladesh and Cox's Bazar and so forth.  Do you have any update as to when will they be ready… when will they… can they be repatriated?  When will they be ready to be repatriated?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, the choice to return belongs to the individual.  People need to be able to return home in a way that's dignified, that respects their rights and they should be able to return to their homes.  Discussions are ongoing to kind of create a framework between various UN agencies and the two Governments at hand, but I have nothing to announce at this point. Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  On Bangladesh again, as you know, the main opposition leader is in prison and… she got the bail but, unfortunately, Government did not release her.  Rather, they filed three new cases.  Now her health condition is very alarming.  Her party's Secretary‑General said she's staying in an isolated room with shortage of electricity and provided low quality of food.  So her party Secretary‑General told in a press conference her health conditions.  So what… how Secretary‑General is looking on these issues?

Spokesman:  We're, obviously… we've expressed our concern at the situation in the past, and I will try to get you an update for tomorrow.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure. Maybe I'm hoping you have another "if asked" on this one.  It has to do with the… the Austrian peacekeepers in the Golan Heights in 2012 when the… the Syrian police were ambushed and killed.  It seems like it's… they're now reporting in Austria that the Austrian Defence Ministry knew… there's a letter dated 9 October 2012, in which they were informed of it, but this letter seems to refer to some kind of a conflict between the UN Command and the Austrian peacekeepers.  So, I wanted to ask you again about the UN's role.  What did they know at the time?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, I think when he was in Vienna, expressed full confidence in the ability of the Austrians to investigate this.  My understanding, as far as I recall, we would do our own Board of Inquiry after the Austrian investigation is done.  The incidents were reported to the Security Council at the time, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you about this thing this afternoon, the… the development system reform.  In talking to some… some people on the… I guess the Fifth Committee, they said that it's… it's strange, and maybe they're… maybe they're wrong, but I wanted to ask you, that there's no Program Budget Implication, PBI, filed in connection with this pretty major proposal.  Like, even for the envoy on Myanmar, there had to be a PBI.  That's why it got… So why is it… how can it be something this big doesn't have a price tag?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think everything was negotiated with the Fifth Committee, and I think they got all the documents they needed.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.