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

4 June 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.

**Guatemala

Good afternoon.  I have a statement on Guatemala: The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life and significant damage caused by the El Fuego volcano, which erupted yesterday in Guatemala.

He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Guatemala.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The United Nations stands in solidarity with Guatemala and is ready to support the national rescue and relief efforts.

**Tuberculosis

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the interactive civil society hearing on tuberculosis, where he stressed that to end TB, we must address the social drivers of the disease, namely poverty, inequality and increasing rates of migration.

He also emphasized the need to strengthen health systems, ensure universal health coverage and address anti-microbial resistance.  His full remarks are in my office.

**Technology

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is in Gebze, Turkey, where she attended the inauguration of the Technology Bank, which seeks to improve the use of scientific and technological solutions in the world’s poorest countries.

“The creation of the Technology Bank shows the global community’s commitment to ensure that all countries can deploy the most advanced tools to achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Ms. Mohammed said in a tweet.

The inauguration of the technology bank also means that target 17.8. of the SDGs has been reached.  The target aims to fully operationalize the Technology Bank and Science, Technology and Innovation capacity-building mechanism for Least Developed Countries by 2017.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that a Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed and seven others wounded yesterday in the village of Dilapoko in Mambere-Kadei Prefecture.  This happened when a UN Force patrol countered an ambush by presumed armed Siriri fighters.

Of the seven wounded peacekeepers, one is in critical condition and is receiving medical attention at the mission’s military hospital in Bangui, along with three wounded, whose condition is considered serious.  The remaining three wounded peacekeepers are being treated in Berberati.  We should have a statement on this later today.

**Afghanistan

Also the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today condemned the attack today that killed and injured religious scholars gathered in Kabul, who were there to promote peace in Afghanistan.  Such attacks must not deter our collective resolve for a peaceful future for all Afghans, said the Mission.

Also on Afghanistan, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) released a study that found that nearly half of children in Afghanistan between 7 and 17 years old are missing out on school.  That’s 3.7 million children.

The study says that girls account for 60 per cent of the out-of-school population, and in the worse-affected provinces, up to 85 per cent of girls are not going to school.

Children are being driven away from the classroom by the ongoing conflict, discrimination against girls, displacement and child marriage, the study notes.  More information is available on UNICEF’s website.

**Yemen

The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is currently in Sana’a to discuss plans for the resumption of talks to end the conflict.  He intends to present his framework for negotiations at the next Security Council briefing on 18 June.

In parallel, the Special Envoy is discussing with the parties the steps they could take to de-escalate tensions, including near Hodeidah.

**Libya

On Libya, our humanitarian colleagues said today they are concerned by reports that clashes have now reached Derna city, in eastern Libya.

Clashes and shelling had already forced people from outlying areas into Derna city, with up to 1,300 households reportedly displaced as of 30 May.  On that date, the formal entry and exit point located at Karsa, west of Derna, restored restricted opening hours, reportedly allowing some families to leave the city.  However, the Libyan National Army reportedly continues to impose a ban on the entry of essential goods, including food items and fuel.

Access to food has become a challenge in most areas of Derna, with widespread shortages of vegetables, fruit, milk, flour and other staples reported.  While electricity was restored on the next day on 31 May after repairs to the city’s main power plant, water remains largely cut off.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned over reported civilian casualties in northern Syria as a result of indiscriminate attacks by armed opposition groups. 

At least 24 civilians have been killed and scores more injured in indiscriminate attacks reported in the past weeks in the Idleb and Hama governorates.  This includes a spate of car bombs in Dana town in Idleb and Idleb City in the last week of May that reportedly killed seven people and left over 50 injured.

Today, four people were reportedly killed and others were injured when mortars reportedly hit the Al-Neil Street neighbourhood in Aleppo.

The UN continues to condemn attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure and the ongoing violence in populated areas that has led to continuing civilian suffering.  We call on all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access, as required under international humanitarian law.

**Gaza

From Gaza, United Nations officials and agencies expressed their outrage over the weekend following the killing on Friday in Gaza of Razan An Najjar, a 21-year-old woman volunteering as a first responder, while carrying out her humanitarian duties with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.  Three other people in her team were also injured.

Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said that health-care workers must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury.  He said that the killing of a clearly-identified medical staffer by security forces during a demonstration was particularly reprehensible.

**Jordan

From Jordan, I had been asked about the recent protests in that country, and I can say that the United Nations supports Jordanians’ right to peaceful protest and echoes His Majesty King Abdullah II’s calls for a peaceful and inclusive national dialogue regarding the country’s economic reform agenda.

The United Nations, through its country office in Amman, is ready to support the newly appointed Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, and in this context, including supporting the inclusion of women, youth, and civil society organizations in a national dialogue process.  The UN reiterates its support for Jordan’s ongoing efforts to implement economic and social reforms, and appreciates its strategic role as a pillar of stability in a volatile region and safe haven for millions of refugees.

**Mali

You will have seen that over the weekend we issued a statement on Mali, in which we said the Secretary-General was following with concern developments in the country and the violent clashes sparked by the holding of demonstrations by opposition parties in Bamako.

The Secretary-General called for calm and restraint by all parties, and urged political actors and civil society to favour dialogue to maintain an environment conducive to the holding of credible and transparent elections.

**Health

In Portugal, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the country’s Prime Minister, António Costa, today launched a global action plan on physical activity.  The plan shows how countries can reduce physical inactivity in adults and adolescents by 15 per cent by the year 2030.

Worldwide, one in five adults, and four out of five adolescents (11-17 years), do not do enough physical activity.  However, regular physical activity is key to preventing and treating noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast and colon cancer.

**Bicycle Day

Speaking of physical activity, I want to flag that yesterday, the UN celebrated World Bicycle Day for the first time.  Bicycling is a way to foster sustainable development as it promotes mental and physical health, prevents disease, and cuts carbon emissions and takes stress out.

On that note, I’d like to mention an initiative that encourages all of us to be more sustainable.  The Be the Change Week, organized by the Department of Public Information, started today here at Headquarters.  This initiative is a 5-day sustainability challenge for UN staff to live more in line with the SDGs.  Each day, participants will be presented with tips on leading a healthy lifestyle and there will also be events here, including the Green Fair tomorrow and the shoreline clean-up on World Oceans Day.  More information online.

**Children

Today is the International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression.  The purpose of the day is to acknowledge the pain suffered by children throughout the world who are the victims of physical, mental and emotional abuse.

**Environment

Lastly, ahead of tomorrow which is… besides being Tuesday, it’s World Environment Day, you may have seen on twitter that the Secretary-General is participating in the #BeatPlasticPollution challenge, in which users pledge to replace single-use plastics with reusable alternatives.  On Twitter, the Secretary-General pledged to abolish the use of plastic bottles in his office, and he did that starting today, so we’ve removed all plastic bottles from conference rooms upstairs and we’ve removed them here a while ago.  We hope that you remove them from your offices.

**Questions and Answers

Yalla.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  I just wanted to find out… ask you, why has the Secretary‑General been so quiet on the killing of the Palestinian nurse who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces?  Even the Israelis say they're going to… going to investigate it.

Spokesman:  I think we…

Question:  The… the calls that it should be investigated, but there are some international investigation commission, because they do not trust ultimately what Israel will come up with… so why is the Secretary‑General…

Spokesman:  First of all, as… if you just heard, the United Nations is far from silent on this issue.  The heads of UN agencies that operate in the occupied Palestinian territory issued a statement, which I just referred to.  We obviously welcome the news that there would be an investigation.  We look forward to seeing the results of it, but I think the UN has been anything but quiet on the issue.

Question:  Always it was such an egregious crime, but even the Israelis recognized it and that to — what do you call…

Spokesman:  What is… Masood, what is the question?

Question:  My question is, why is the Secretary‑General… I mean, even the statement given by…

Spokesman:  I just answered your question.  The people who represent the Secretary‑General on the ground have spoken out and forcefully on the issue.  And he, of course, shares their concern.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir.

Question:  Why not Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov say something?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov did say something over the weekend.

Question:  I saw that what he wrote in his Twitter.  That is not enough.  His thoughts and his prayers only.

Spokesman:  No, I think…

Question:  When he spoke in the Security Council, he said, please join me to unequivocally condemn the Palestinians.  That what he said, the Palestinian military, of course, Hamas.  Why he doesn't use the same language…?

Spokesman:  I think anyone who looks at the track record of Mr. Mladenov in condemning the killings of civilians, I think, is unquestionable.  He has… he shares the sentiments expressed by his colleagues, and I think the tweet also was very clear in calling out… calling on Israel to calibrate its forces.

Question:  Can you explain what does he mean by calibrate?  That they use force but to measure it well?  Is that what he means?

Spokesman:  As any… you know, as a matter of… use of force should be proportional, and I think him and the UN team have been very clear on the issue.  Matthew?

Question:  I wanted… I wanted to ask about the… the statement about Mali over the weekend.  There's some dispute about… I mean, you say he's following it closely.  So, I wanted to know, is it the UN's understanding that the authorities used on… quote, only teargas or live fire?  And the second question is, it seems a lot of the protests are about IBK (Ibrahim Babacar Keita) — I'll just say it that way — running again.  And I know that he announced that he was going to run literally just less than 24 hours before the Secretary‑General arrived.  So, I wanted to know two things.  One, is it viewed as proper?  Was there any kind of… I don't want to say coordination, but, obviously, if you were a leader seeking a controversial additional term, it would be nice to announce it right before the… the… the arrival of the Secretary‑General.  Was… was… does he have any thoughts on the timing of that announcement?  And what type of force is being used by the authorities since he's cutting it so closely?

Spokesman:  The timing was solely… for the question… any question about timing should really be referred to the Government of the President of Mali.  We had, obviously, nothing to do with the timing.  Leaders are free to time their announcement whenever they wish.  As always and as a matter of principle and as I've just said, there is a right to demonstrate peacefully.  And the forces of law and order need to use proportional force if there is any violence.

Question:  Can I ask also about… all right.  The… the… it seemed to me that the Secretary‑General said on… on Friday that he will be in Moscow on 20 June for the Portugal‑Morocco game, and he called it an official visit.  Can you give us some more… when does it begin? When does it end?

Spokesman:  No, it begin around the time of the game, and we'll have a bit more of an official announcement for an official visit closer to official time. 

Question:  Are there any other stops on the trail?

Spokesman:  There'll be… everything will be announced in due course.  Okay.  You've been very patient.

Question:  Good afternoon.  My name is Deepak Arora.

Spokesman:  Your microphone.  You have to press the… There you go.

Question:  Good afternoon.  My name is Deepak Arora with the Tribune Online.  A couple of days ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had asked the UN Human Rights expert to go to hell, and he warned UN against interference… domestic interference in his country.  Now, Diego García‑Sayán, Special UN Representative on the Independence of Judges and…

Spokesman:  The Special Rapporteur, yes.

Question:  Yes, languages and, on Friday, had said… had criticized the dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.  Can I have the comments of the Secretary‑General on this harsh language?

Spokesman:  Special Rapporteurs are a very important and critical part of the human… UN's human rights architecture.  They are appointed by the Human Rights Council.  They do not report to the Secretary‑General, and they're appointed as independent experts.  So, they are free to do their work within the framework of their mandate.  So, it's not up to the Secretary‑General to comment on what the Special Rapporteur said.  We believe that every Member State should respect the work of the Special Rapporteurs and should participate in the important work of the UN human rights architecture.  And, as a matter of principle, I think the Secretary‑General is always for civility as opposed to incivility.  Sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The new Interior Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, he… he… that he's in charge of… the mi… migration crisis.  Is… he declared that the ONG [NGO, non-governmental organization], the… the organization that try to save people on the channel of Sicily and the Mediterranean, well, yesterday, he said practically that they are the equivalent of trafficker.  They trafficking people to help the… he called them deputy… deputy traffic…

Spokesman:  So, what is the question, Stefano?

Question:  So, the question… of course, the question is, what the Secretary‑General thinks about the ONG [NGO] that helping to rescue the migrants?  And, also, in… in his declaration, the Interior Minister say also the problem is going to be resolved… has to be resolved in keeping those migrants in the… in the country… let me just finish…

Spokesman:  Yeah, but I'd like to hear the question.  I've seen what has been said…

Question:  The question is, because the… there was the Secretary‑General in this room about a year now… a year ago, little bit more than a year ago, that he declare that he's now… the country does not respect international law if he ask to another country that cannot hold those migrants or refugee if he has to hold them.

Spokesman:  So, a couple of points I'd like to make.  The work of NGOs in saving and protecting lives of refugees and of migrants who make very dangerous crossings in the Mediterranean trying to… in many other parts of the world, is very important.  It's very important to the safety of these people.  And it's a work that we… the UN system works a lot with these NGOs.  There is a bigger issue here at play, and it's how do we deal with this mass movement of people that we are seeing?  The greatest mass movement of people we're seeing since the Second World War.  And that's exactly the point of the work that's being done even this week, if I'm not mistaken, in New York on the Global Migration Compact, where countries of origin, countries of destination, countries of transit need to come up with a framework which places, really, the safety and the dignity of human beings at its heart, while always respecting the sovereignty of Member States.  And we would encourage all countries to actively participate in this dialogue.  Masood?

Question:  Stéphane, two questions.  Number one, was this about… can you… do you have any update about Yemen and… applied to Yemenis?  Obviously, over the weekend, there was some report that there was some killings in the… around the port area of Aden and so forth?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I gave you the update that I had on Yemen, which is basically that Martin Griffiths is in country, trying to… especially focusing quite a bit on the situation around Hodeidah.  We have been, on a regular basis here, highlighting the disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen, due to the ongoing fighting and the grave risks of escalation of that situation or deterioration of that situation if the fighting around Hodeidah intensifies, and we will continue to do that.

Question:  On… on Afghanistan, which you had given an update earlier, on Afghanistan, there have been attacks going on between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Afghan militants and forces attacking inside Pakistan.  Have you had any updates from the United Nations on this?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you again.  Every killing of any civilian should be condemned across the board.  I agree with you.  I want… I want to ask, if possible, to compare between the language Mladenov used on 8 January, when a… when a settler was killed and when this nurse had been murdered.  Look at the language how he used there with condemning with the strongest terms…

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, what is… what is the question?

Question:  Why he doesn't use the same yardstick, why he doesn't use the same…  Why there are two different measures when a Palestinian is murdered…?

Spokesman:  There are no different measures when human beings… when civilians are killed.  Yes, sir?  Your microphone, please.

Question:  Sorry.  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is Deepak Arora again.  I'm happy to see that tomorrow, 5 June, Environment Day, is not another ceremonial day, and you have agreed to remove plastic bottles from this building, you know.  Now, the other day… last month, actually, I had gone to graduation ceremony of Parsons design school at the stadium which was US Open, and 1,600 students were graduating.  I was happy to learn that each gown was made from 900 plastic bottles, compared with 1,600, a beautiful measure.

Spokesman:  I appreciate the sartorial news, but what is the question?

Question:  The question is that would you suggest some measure from UN, so that this sustainable development, you know, ideas…

Spokesman:  I think we're… you know, the building, as it was renovated, consumes a lot less energy than it did before.  We're always looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint, either as an individual or as an organization.  Mr.  Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask about Cyprus, Cameroon and this programme budget implication issue.  On Cyprus, the… the President of the Security Council, Ambassador [Vassily] Nebenzia, said on Friday, when I asked him about Cyprus, that he didn't think that this even interim envoy would move forward until some political events took place, which I took to mean elections in Turkey.  And I wanted to ask you point‑blank, I guess, because there was… basically, Jane Holl Lute was welcomed by one side, and then you said, we have nothing to announce.  Can you just give us sort of a sense of what's led to the…

Spokesman:  It's… you know, its a case of people speculating without any official announcement from our part.  We… you know, we will announce what we need to announce when we feel the situation is ready.  And I'm not… you know, Cyprus, as most of the issues we deal with, are delicate and complex.  And I'm not going to try to look into the future, say when… if and when we're going to announce it.

Question:  What about a quick look into the past, not on speculation, but just to understand how things work?  It's my understanding that… that the Secretary‑General tried to send Mr.  [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno to Cyprus as an envoy, and he was rejected on the grounds that he's an EU [European Union] member.  And I wanted to know, is it true… does the UN accept that one of the parties of interest in the Cyprus matter now determines that… that EU members can't be envoys?

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm not going to get into whatever discussions may be had, but it's an obvious answer that the UN will not propose an envoy or a mediator or a negotiator between parties if both parties don't agree to that person.  But on Mr. Guéhenno, I have no specific comment.

Question:  I mean, is there a situation in which a party could announce a… a… a systematic banning of all… of a certain category from a continent or…

Spokesman:  Every case is looked at.

Question:  All right.  I wanted to ask you, on Cameroon, the… the… the… you'd said last week — and thanks for the statement — that the country team was asking about things in Menka and… and arrests.  You… I looked at it.  I thought I'd missed it.  I think you just said, we take note of the sentencing for 15 years.  Today, there's five more people being put up to sentencing, including a woman that's… her crime… her alleged crime was filming in a prison.  And I wanted to know, is… is… do… are… in taking note of these sentences, does that mean you're… you're… there's something wrong with sentencing someone to jail for filming?  And, number two, is… has there been any response by the Government to these [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  I'll check with our team.  I don't have anything else.

Question:  And the final thing on PBI (programme budget implications) — thanks a lot — I want… I just wanted to get to the bottom of this.  I tried to ask the Secretary‑General.  It didn't, obviously, work.  So, I'm going to ask you.  The resolution as adopted by the General Assembly says that the Secretary‑General should present an implementation plan including on the op… operatization of its funding arrangements before the end of seventy-second session.  And then, when I asked yesterday your colleague, Mr. [Brenden] Varma, it seemed like this has been kicked to the seventy-third.  So, I wanted to know, what is… when is the plan…?

Spokesman:  Let me… it's something I should know, which I don't, so I will try to find out.  Masood, and then we'll go to Mr. Varma.

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, just want to know, is the United Nations… is the United Nations in the loop on President [Donald] Trump's on‑again/off‑again — what do you — call meeting with…

Spokesman:  The summit is one that is not being organized or hosted or negotiated by the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General is aware of what's going on.  Mr. Varma, I will leave the hot desk to you.

For information media. Not an official record.