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5 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.

**General Assembly

As you saw today, the Secretary-General today congratulated María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés of Ecuador, who won the election in the General Assembly this morning to serve as the President of the forthcoming seventy-third session of the General Assembly.

The Secretary-General noted that the President-elect of the next General Assembly session will be the first woman to hold that post in more than a decade.  He said that the Assembly can and must do better than a record of four women in 73 years, and two in the past half century.  The Secretary-General asserted, “May today’s choice pave the way for accelerating the progress towards gender equality, within and beyond the United Nations.”

The Secretary-General added that the current session has been a productive one, underscored with last week’s milestone resolution on the reform and repositioning of the UN development system.  He said he looks forward to working with the President-elect when she takes up her duties in September.

And as you saw, the Secretary-General also participated in the annual bingo at the General Assembly and pulled out the name of the country that would sit in the pole position during the GA.  For next year, seventy-third session, that country will be Mali and then everyone will be listed alphabetically from there along the English alphabet.

**Development

Today in Brussels, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the European Development Days, which is focusing this year on women and girls in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Ms. Mohammed said that without equality and empowerment, “we will perpetuate today’s paradigm: trying to address all the world’s challenges with only half the world’s assets.”

She highlighted the Spotlight initiative, a partnership between the UN and the European Union, as an effort to change old attitudes and mindset which result in the discrimination against women.  The initiative is supporting Governments all over the world to prevent violence against women, provide services for survivors and reform the criminal justice system where needed.

We have a long way to go, she said, but we have a plan and we have the will.  Her remarks will be shared with you if they have not already been. 

**Yemen

Meanwhile, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, left Sana’a today.  He said on his departure that he had very productive meetings with senior leaders of Ansarallah and the General People’s Congress on his vision for the peace process, which he will discuss with the Security Council later this month here in New York.  He told media that he was encouraged by the reactions he received during this trip and during his meetings with the Government of Yemen and regional players over the last few weeks. 

Mr. Griffiths said that he has heard from many experts of their grave anxiety about an attack on Hodaidah and the significant and avoidable humanitarian consequences that that would ensue.  He is also concerned about the impact of such an attack on the political process.

He urged the Yemeni parties to create a conducive environment to restart the political process and de-escalate violence.

**Guatemala

From Guatemala, the Government there has requested a mission to assess the immediate humanitarian needs after the eruption of volcano Fuego two days ago, which as you may have seen impacted more than 1.7 million people.

A humanitarian coordination team — with 60 experts from several UN agencies, NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the National Disaster Risk Coordination Agency of Guatemala — is traveling today to visit 12 shelters and emergency operation centres.  They will also meet local authorities in areas close to the most impacted locations.

Due to the massive volcanic activity, access to some zones is still impossible, with ashes reaching 60 degrees Celsius, which also impedes helicopter flights for rescue and damage assessment.

Over 3,400 people have been evacuated and, according to the latest numbers, 69 people have lost their lives. 

**Tunisia

I just want to flag that UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) today said they were saddened and concerned by the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Tunisia.  Fifty-two people died and at least 60 are missing.  Sixty-eight survivors were rescued by the Tunisian Navy.

The boat was heading in the direction of the Italian coast when, two hours into the journey, it broke down and began to sink.  According to reports, two smugglers were arrested in connection with the incident.

UNHCR is counselling survivors and assessing their protection needs, while IOM is providing emergency assistance in collaboration with the Tunisian authorities and the Tunisian Red Crescent.

**World Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day.  The theme this year is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.  It invites us all to consider how we can make changes in our lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic on our planet.  Every year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that we all have a role to play in protecting our only home, but it can be difficult to know what to do or where to start.  That’s why World Environment Day has just one request: reject single-use plastic.  Refuse what you can’t re-use.  It sounds like a tweet.

You can find more information on the activities being held around the world on UNEP’s (United Nations Environment Programme) website.  And a reminder that the Green Fair is taking place today in the Visitors’ Plaza.  It’s a beautiful day, go by.

**Illegal Fishing

Today we also mark for the first time the International Day for the Fight against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.  This type of fishing is [estimated to affect one in every five fish caught], with an annual cost of up to $23 billion.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing also has negative impacts on livelihoods, fish stocks and the environment and may be connected to other illicit activities, such as trafficking of narcotics and weapons and labour abuses.  More information online.

**Economic and Social Council

Matthew, you had been asking I think a number of times about NGO regulations in ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council).

I just want to state for the record that the procedure for withdrawal of consultative status, as per para 56 of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, is the following:

A Member State has to make a complaint against an organization at the NGO Committee (while it does not need to be a member of the Committee nor a member of ECOSOC) through a letter addressed to the Chair of the NGO Committee.

The NGO Committee reviews the complaint and the NGO concerned is informed of the complaint in writing and is asked to present its response for consideration by the NGO [Committee].

In plain English, that means that it is Member States who decide who gets accredited to the NGO Committee, it is Member States who decide who does not get accredited to the NGO Committee, and the President of ECOSOC is not involved in any step of this procedure.

**Questions and Answers

Nizar?

Question:  Staying on the environment, of course, which is very important, Turkey has chosen the beginning of the summer to sever the Tigris River, causing an environmental disaster in Iraq in Mosul, where people are still struggling to catch up with their lives.  And so the river is destroyed.  It's drained.  The fish in the river is dying in millions and…

Spokesman:  What is the question, Nizar?

Question:  The question is here, what is the position of the United Nations regarding such a catastrophe?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't have any specific information on what you referred to.  What I do know is that, as a matter of principle, it is important that water resources be shared and managed well and that… and I will try to find out a bit more about what you're referring to.

Question:  Well, this has been going on for a few days now.

Spokesman:  No, I don't doubt what you're saying.  I'm just answering the best way I can.  Yes, sir?

Question:  I thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions.  One, can you please tell me whether the Secretary‑General of the United Nations was able to talk to the family of the nurse killed by the Pal… by the Israeli… was he…

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware that any contact was had, but, as I said, both… since the start of the incidents on the Gaza border, the Secretary‑General has spoken out, and his team has also spoken out.  What is your next question?

Question:  On this… yes, sir.  On this Yemen thing that you just talked about, I… in… in — what do you call — further… furthering the point, did… was the discussion also centred around how much money will be… the UNHCR will be getting to — what do you call — fund the… especially the activities of the life‑saving people… I mean, over there?

Spokesman:  No, I don't… the discussions that Mr. Griffiths has focuses on the political aspects.  Obviously, our colleagues on the humanitarian field are always… you know, our appeals are chronically underfunded.  But the focus is really on the political… right now, Mr. Griffiths' focus is on trying to avoid the worst, is on trying to find a political situation which, obviously, is the critical way of solving the humanitarian crisis.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  One of the television screens next to the first floor café was displaying information on Jane’s Defence Industry Solutions by IHS Markit.  So, there were two images on that screen.  The first image was essentially a flyer stating that the Director for Country Risk of that organization would be speaking at the UN Library tomorrow, and the second image was essentially an advertisement or a billboard displaying small icons, including icons for naval aviation, military ground vehicles.  The website of the Jane’s Defence Industry Solutions also says that it helps identify and capture profitable opportunities in a shifting global defence environment.  So, my question is, given the United Nations' work on disarmament, is it appropriate for the UN to allow a defence industry solutions firm to display what looks like an advertisement inside the building?

Spokesman:  Let me look close to the screens as I go downstairs, and I'll try to answer and find… to your question.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  I… I can't resist.  I have some other things, but I do… in light of… in light of…

Spokesman:  When have you ever resisted?

Question:  In light of the tank and other military equipment that was advertised in the 1B area of the UN, this was late… said to be about… only about a Member State, I guess I… I just wonder, in this case, these days there are the signs up saying that the UN is not in any way endorsing any Member State thing.  This is… would you acknowledge… even before you look into this, are the ads that are next to the… next to the café that talk about these library meetings with publications, these are endorsements.  I mean, these are…

Spokesman:  I'm not going to acknowledge anything until I see it.

Question:  All right, but when you do see it… can we watch you see it?

Spokesman:  When I see it, I'll tell you.

Question:  All right.  I have another question, and it has to do with… I'm sure you've seen or know of the story of UNHCR, after a lengthy period of time, now just this week settling retaliation charges by a woman who was in charge of investigating rape cases at UNHCR, Ms. Caroline Hunt‑Matthes.  And it's described… it's… it's a… it's described both as… as a problem for the UN system in how long it took to resolve her claim of retaliation, and it's also linked by at least one of the media's reporting on it, not Inner City Press, with the Secretary… the current Secretary‑General, António Guterres, in his tenure at UNHCR.  So, I'm wondering, does the Secretary‑General think that 15 years is too long?  Is…

Spokesman:  I have not been briefed on the case, so I will look into it, and I will comment on it.  But I honestly have not been briefed on it. 

Question:  Okay.  Did you get an answer on the programme budget implications (PBI)?

Spokesman:  The programme budget, from what I understand, I think Farhan [Haq] answered the question as best as he could and best as we all could on Friday.  The discussions with the… about programme budget implications were done with the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly, and we're continuing to do as they request.

Question:  Just to clarify, my question was the resolution as passed, and I guess… I mean, as accepted by the Secretariat, says that the PBI will be done before the end of the seventy-second session and maybe it was just a confusion between the two.  It seemed to have been said from this podium by your colleague that this will be in the seventy-third session to the Fifth Committee.  So the question…

Spokesman:  Which colleague?

Question:  Brenden [Varma], not to put him in a hot… I guess my question was just to you… 

Spokesman:  Don't try to get between Brenden and I.  No, it's okay.  No, I’m saying we will follow the instructions.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yeah.  Given the turmoil in Jordan as it is, is there any contingency plan for the refugees, the Syrian refugees in Zaatari and other camps in Jordan?

Spokesman:  You know, we're… I think I talked yesterday about Jordan, what was going on.  We're obviously… the country team will work actively with the Government of the new Prime Minister.  The work in the refugee camps continue.

Question:  No hampering of any…

Spokesman:  I've been… I've not been told of any operations that have been hampered because of that.  Thank you.  Brenden, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.