6 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.


Starting off with a statement on Nicaragua:  The Secretary-General welcomes the 5 June declaration of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) “in support of the people of Nicaragua”, which calls on the Government and all members of society to engage constructively in dialogue to address the country’s challenges and to stop all forms of violence.  The Secretary-General is encouraged that the Government is working with OAS on electoral issues, as well as with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the establishment of a Group of International Independent Experts to investigate the recent violence and he expresses his solidarity with the people of Nicaragua.  The United Nations system stands ready to provide technical support to the dialogue mediated by the Nicaraguan Catholic Bishop Conference and to the initiatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  That statement is online — or should be.


I have another statement on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Myanmar and the United Nations.  The Secretary-General welcomes the Memorandum of Understanding reached by the Government of Myanmar, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the United Nations system’s support to creating conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable Rohingya refugee returns from Bangladesh, and their reintegration in Rakhine State.  As these conditions are not yet in place, he welcomes the agreement by the Government of Myanmar to take this first step to address the root causes of the conflict in Rakhine State.  The Secretary-General encourages Myanmar to take decisive steps to implement the agreement.  He also reiterates his call for an end to violence, accountability for perpetrators, redress for victims, humanitarian access to all [areas] in Rakhine State and the implementation of the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission.  That statement should also now be online and distributed electronically.


I have a series of appointments related to the UN Development Programme:  First, the Secretary-General is appointing Mr. Luis F. López-Calva of Mexico as Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and Caribbean.  He succeeds Jessica Faieta of Ecuador who has taken the post of Deputy Special Representative for Colombia and Deputy Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.

Ms. Ulrika Modéer of Sweden is appointed Director of Bureau for External Relations and Advocacy, succeeding Michael O'Neill of the United Kingdom.

Ms. Asako Okai of Japan is the new Director of UNDP’s Crisis Response Unit, in lieu of Izumi Nakamitsu, who as you know is now the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

And finally, the Secretary-General is also appointing Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa of Nigeria as Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa.  She succeeds Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal.

More details with all these bios are available online.  With these appointments, Achim Steiner’s senior leadership team has now reached parity between men and women, at 50-50.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that, since the start of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they have reached more than 300,000 people with life‑saving information about how to avoid contracting the deadly virus.  The ongoing campaign includes community workers making in-person home visits, outreach to particularly vulnerable people, such as taxi drivers, and the mobilization of community leaders, churches and mass media.  According to the latest figures, a total of 58 Ebola virus disease cases have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo:  37 confirmed cases, 14 probable cases and 7 suspected cases.  In all, 27 people have died.  The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that it is important to remain alert, as just one person with Ebola can provoke numerous new cases merely by attending a social event.

The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is supporting the establishment of an additional medical camp in Itipo, similar to the one already set up in Ibiko.  The Mission has dedicated two airplanes for Ebola support, with an additional plane providing cargo movement for supplies and people.  Since the start of the outbreak, the United Nations Mission has organized over 32 flights in support of the Ebola response, and has flown 141 tons of cargo for WHO, the Ministry of Health and others supporting the response to the outbreak.


Turning to Guatemala, as we told you yesterday, the United Nations country team in Guatemala is participating in an extensive needs assessment following the eruption of the El Fuego Volcano.  The humanitarian coordination team — which is of over 60 experts from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and national authorities, as we told you yesterday — had to halt their work near the affected areas due to an evacuation alert issued yesterday [following] new explosions of the Volcán de Fuego.  The pyroclastic material — which is, as you all know, is the fragments of rock erupted by the volcano — were directed towards the City of Escuintla, where the largest number of shelters are located and where the needs assessment would be focusing.  National authorities warn that conditions could be aggravated this afternoon due to the ongoing rain.


Turning to Libya, our humanitarian colleagues say they are concerned by a further escalation of violence in Derna, in eastern Libya.  Conflict has now moved into densely populated areas placing civilians trapped in the city at considerable risk.  There are also reports that civilians wishing to leave the city are unable to do so.  The United Nations calls for the protection of civilians under applicable international humanitarian and human rights law and urges the parties to the conflict to allow civilians who wish to leave to do so.  Derna’s only hospital is in an area of active conflict and has reportedly ceased operations.  Humanitarian needs in the city are rapidly increasing, with severe shortages of medicine and medical supplies, food, water, fuel and cooking gas reported.  While limited medical equipment entered Derna last week, this does not address the urgent needs.  Humanitarian workers are distributing urgently needed items to several hundred families which have managed to leave Derna.  However, all items pre-positioned to enter the area to respond to life-saving needs are pending approval by the Libyan National Army.  Calls by the Humanitarian Coordinator for a humanitarian pause to allow for the entry of humanitarian goods and for the safe passage of civilians remain unheeded.  The United Nations reiterates these calls.


From Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), welcomes the condemnations and expressions of concern by Kosovo’s leaders regarding recent ethnically motivated incidents.  Mr. Tanin said that "there is no place for intimidation in a democratic society.  The rule of law should apply to all."  He calls upon all relevant authorities to intensify their efforts to fight against impunity and bring perpetrators to justice, as a cornerstone of furthering dialogue and building trust between communities.


A couple of other announcements:  I want to flag a publication by our friends at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  Entitled Addressing Anti-Semitism through Education:  Guidelines for Policymakers, this publication is the first on the subject by a United Nations agency and was produced with experts from Europe, Central Asia and North America.  It examines the complex manifestations of anti-Semitic prejudice and discrimination and offers best practice recommendations to fight them through education.  UNESCO will organize a high-level debate on the subject within the framework of the General Assembly next September.  UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay stressed that the struggle against anti-Semitism cannot be undertaken by Jewish communities alone.  Fighting it means defending human rights and liberties, because racism and anti‑Semitism are one and the same in that they share hate of otherness, she said.


One of your colleagues who is not here, I think, as well as you Matthew, asked about the display near the cafeteria:  Our friends at the Library tell us This is a promotion for the Library Lecture series.  These are not advertisements of military products.  The pictures are a screenshot (icons) from the database.  Jane's Information Group is a British publishing company specializing in military, aerospace, defence, environment and transportation topics.  It’s a subscription‑based database, with regular publications.  The Library subscribes to it, among many others, following the expressed need of its users, including delegates, accredited media, United Nations Secretariat staff and United Nations agencies from the world over.  That said, the Library has removed some of the slides from the screen.

**Russian Language Day

Today is Russian Language Day, which falls on the birthday of Pushkin.  Here in New York, there will be a poetry recital at 1:15 p.m. in the Albano Building, which is on 46th Street, I think.  And at 6:30 p.m. there will be a music, poetry and play performance in the Trusteeship Council sponsored by the Russian Mission.  I have no doubt you are all invited to this Russian Language Day.  Mr. Abbadi, looks like you want to say something, or ask at least.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about Korea, North Korea.  The Korean war of 1950‑1953 was fought under UN flag, and the United States signed the Armistice Agreement of 1953 on behalf of the United Nations.  Now we have summit finally settled for 12 June, as you know, in Singapore.  Is the UN going to be present at the summit, and in what capacity?

Spokesman:  I am not aware of any UN presence at the summit.  We are obviously very supportive of this ongoing dialogue and the summit, which we hope will lead to the peaceful denuclearization of the peninsula.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Cyprus, Cameroon and retaliation, but I do, actually… and thanks for that answer from the Library, but, I'm sorry, I'm compelled to ask you a follow‑up question.  Having attended this lecture series, registered for it and just attended it, they said it was under Chatham House rules.  No problem.  Started live‑tweeting it without attribution, and I was asked to leave, actually required to leave, even though this was a… and… and… the… the topics being discussed, again without attribution, were things like oil blocks in southern Lebanon, things that were, at least to me, somewhat controversial to be… to be presented as a… as a high‑minded lecture series.  But… so, I wanted to know, given what you've said, you seem to believe this event was… was open, and… and it seemed to be.  Can these events held in the library exclude, as you put it, accredited media and on what basis…?

Spokesman:  Whoa, whoa.  Okay.  Nobody is excluding accredited media.

Correspondent:  I was told to leave the room.

Spokesman:  My understanding of Chatham House rules is exactly that.  And I would not be surprised if somebody who live‑tweets is…

Correspondent:  He said you can tweet it… you can quote it without attributing it.  Right.

Spokesman:  Matthew, they made a decision they made.  I don't find it surprising.  What is your next question?

Question:  Okay.  I did want to ask you about Cameroon.  I'd asked you two days ago, and you'd said that you'd check what the country team have held… heard back from the Government and also about the people now facing terrorism charges for… for following in a jail…?

Spokesman:  We're following these developments.  I'm not able to share with you what the country team heard back.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General received a letter from Akere Muna, a presidential candidate in the upcoming election, and what is the response?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that he has, but we will check.  Okay.  Yes, sir?

Question:  I asked you yesterday about the Tigris River being strained by Turkey and the dire requirements in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq as a result of that.

Spokesman:  No, I don't have information to share with you on that.  Yes, sir?  Sorry, yeah, go ahead.  Masood, and we'll… I didn't see your… Masood and then we'll come back to you, sir.  Go ahead, Masood.

Question:  Yeah, on this… the… when the Israeli Prime Minister met with the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, she expressed concern about the killings of the Palestinians at the border, and she also said that there is an uptick… uptick in the violence.  Can you share with us what is the uptick in the violence in Gaza?  Are they about more than 100 Palestinian killed since…?

Spokesman:  I don't have any updates to share with you, and the information that we share with you are from open sources.  So, I think it's… you can take a look at the reporting, but I have no new numbers to share with you.

Question:  And do you… and do you, Stéphane, also have something about uptick… uptick… I mean, updating on this violence in Yemen, on which even United States asked… what do you call… United Arab Emirates not to enter into the war zone and they didn't listen?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think, yesterday, we gave an account of what Martin Griffiths had said of his meeting in Yemen with the General People's Congress and the Houthis, as well as the contacts he's had with the Government of Yemen and others, and his position and as ours are of extreme concern about the risk of grave escalation of fighting around Hodeidah with the massive humanitarian… negative humanitarian impact that would have.  Nizar?

Question:  Yeah.  Again, why… why UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq] is not monitoring what's happening in Iraq with regard to the rivers…?

Spokesman:  I'm not saying they're not.  I'm just saying I don't have information.

Question:  Why… they should have issued something because it's one week now?  Another question is regarding the delineation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel and these oilfields.  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  I’m not… no, we… as I think our position has been that we hope that this would be solved through diplomatic channels, but I don't have an update.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… yesterday, I'd asked you about this retaliation case at UNHCR, which UNHCR settled for a woman who had said she was fired for urging a full investigation of the rape of a Sri Lankan refugee by a UN staff member.  And I wanted to know, since at least one media has linked it to… to… said this occurred on the watch of António Guterres, what is the Secretary‑General's knowledge of it and position on it?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to… to the joint statement that was issued by… by Ms. [Caroline] Hunt‑Matthes and UNHCR, and we have nothing to add to it.

Question:  Does he believe, as the head of the UN system, that a 15‑year period to… to resolve a whistle‑blower's claim of retaliation…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into the details of this case.  That was obviously negotiated between the parties of which the Secretary‑General in his current post had no impact on.  It is obvious that these issues need to be dealt quickly.  I think it is… with that in mind and with other things in mind that the Secretary‑General… one of the first things he did was to ask for a strengthening of the whistle‑blower policy, which was done fairly quickly, and his efforts to combat the issues of sexual harassment, to combat the issues of retaliation with systems that are open to staff, where staff can feel they can come through very quickly and directly.

Question:  I guess the reason that I'd asked you is, was he aware of this case during his 10 years at UNHCR, and how would he explain the failure to… to… to resolve the… resolve the case one way or another…?

Spokesman:  The system went through the way it did, and again, on this specific case, I would refer you to UNHCR.  Yes, sir.  Sorry.  I'd skipped you.

Question:  Violence is escalating in Derna, Libya, lately, and it was mentioned today.  I’m just curious to know, what are the procedures and measures taken by the United Nations to secure or to make sure that civilians are safe and their basic needs of food and medicine are met?  There's reports the only hospital in the city is not working, and some of the fighting groups are stopping the civilian from leaving to use them as human shields.  Is there any procedure taken by the UN to at least ensure the safety of civilians and their basic needs are met at this time?

Spokesman:  We're working very hard on this issue.  Obviously, the UN can't shoot its way through a checkpoint.  We have to rely on local authorities to create the conditions [under] which our humanitarian colleagues can do their work.  This is clearly not happening in Derna.  We have requests to the Libyan National Army to get humanitarian goods in.  We are helping with basic services those civilians who have managed to get out of Derna.  We have appealed to all the parties to implement a humanitarian pause, which would allow humanitarian goods to go in and civilians who wish to leave to leave.  Very unfortunately, those calls from the UN, from the humanitarian partners, have gone unheeded.  It is important in all these conflicts that armed groups, armies, security forces, put the humanitarian needs of people first and foremost.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Could you please repeat again the announcement as to when the Secretary‑General will give the press conference?

Spokesman:  If my memory serves me right, 25 June.  If my memory serves me wrong, I will be corrected.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  This is a follow‑up on Mr. Abbadi's earlier question.  Can you comment about how the UN would consider a final peace treaty being signed between the US and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] on behalf of the UN States that were involved in blowing up North Korea 50 years ago… 60 years ago?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm trying not to get into "would" questions.  As you know, the UN command that still operates on the Korean Peninsula has no active link with the United Nations.  It was created at a certain time in the Security Council when certain events were going on, and I think the record is open for all of you to analyse how the resolution got through and why it got through.  It's a very important history.  Our goal… all our goals should be to have peace on the Korean Peninsula.  Our immediate goal is for supporting the summit to find denuc… to help find a way for a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and bring peace to the people of the south and the north and also much-needed humanitarian help for the people in the north.

Correspondent:  A peace treaty would seem to be, you know, the bottom line, the most important thing…

Spokesman:  No, I understand that, but that's what I'm prepared to say at this point.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  On this… do you have any update on the… on this situation at the border, where United Nations has been appealing to United States not to separate the families from… parents from their children and so forth? Has there been any improvement at all?

Spokesman:  No, I would refer you to the statement made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on that issue just…

Question:  And he has made a statement?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  No, we don't have any… obviously, the United Nations is not… does not have any monitors on the border.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  I… you'd said you would be corrected, so I think it's 26 June, not to be…?

Spokesman:  There you go.

Question:  All right.  Just so we don't miss these answers that we're craving from the Secretary‑General.  I wanted to ask you, I'd asked you about Cyprus yesterday.  I wanted to sharpen the question.  Now, the President of Cyprus has said that he's hoping that, after the Turkish elections of 24 June, a Special Envoy of the United Nations' Secretary‑General can explore.  So, I just… I guess I just want… it seems to be an open secret that… that… is it the fact that… that the delay in… in naming even this interim envoy is based on the… on…?

Spokesman:  Look, two things are critical in the naming of an envoy:  The Envoy and the timing.  And when we feel the time is right on both, we will move ahead.

Question:  And just… maybe relatedly or not, I noticed in yesterday's public schedule of the Secretary‑General, he had a meeting at 2:30 p.m. with Jean‑Marie Guéhenno, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Crisis Group.  First, I wanted to know, is it true that he's still there because it seems like he's not…?

Spokesman:  No, I think it was a mistake.  He's no longer… it was a mistake on our part.  He's no longer the president.

Question:  And can you… is it possible to give some without getting even a full readout of what the topic was?  Did… did the Secretary‑General request to meet with him?  Is he thinking of deploying him in some fashion?

Spokesman:  No, I haven't had a chance to talk to the Secretary‑General about that meeting.  Nizar and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  How does the United Nations view the agreement between Turkey and the United States regarding Manbij and the change of control of the city there?  And how is that helpful to the… to any… to the process…?

Spokesman:  I don't have any particular comment on the situation there.  We, obviously, remain concerned about the overall humanitarian situation in Syria and including in the north, but I have no other particular comment.

Question:  How about the… the… yesterday, Amnesty International accused the alliance, the western alliance of crimes against the population in northern…?

Spokesman:  No, we've seen the report.  I think it's very important that deaths of all civilians be fully investigated and that people be held accountable.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On my earlier questions still, President Moon [Jae-in] of South Afri… South Korea has already asked the Secretary‑General officially to provide assistance in case there is a peace agreement…?

Spokesman:  And the Secretary‑General has always said that we are… we will do whatever we are asked to do in support of whatever comes out of the summits… the various summits… various discussions.  I'm just not going to hypothetical.  What is a fact is that the Secretary‑General's good offices, his help is and will remain available.  And there are, obviously, specialized UN agencies, especially when it comes to the issue of denuclearization, which could be of assistance.

Question:  The next question is not hypothetical.  Would the Secretary‑General like to see the UN represented at the summit in Singapore?

Spokesman:  No, the summit is a bilateral summit between the United States and the DPRK, and we will be as helpful as possible in support of these… this event.  Yes, sir?

Question:  You were talking about poetry and so forth?

Spokesman:  It's what we do every day here, Masood, poetry, beautiful words.

Question:  The president of the… newly elected president of the General Assembly is a poet also, and she's an excellent poet.  Has… can we hear from her any of her…?

Spokesman:  That's a question for my friend… my colleague, Mr. [Brenden] Varma.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  This is another one about the schedule.  I see that he's meeting… the Secretary‑General's meeting with the Arab troika today.  Is that… can… first, even in advance, is that at their request?

Spokesman:  At their request, at their request.

Question:  And will you be… will he be giving a readout of what he's been asked to do…?

Spokesman:  We'll see what we can share.

Question:  Okay.  And the other one… and I wanted to thank you yesterday for… for… for answers that… the answer on ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council].  And I've had a little time to look at it and compare to an answer that came from the Czech mission.  And… so, I'd wanted to ask you, as I'd asked you in writing, just to understand how it… what… what the purpose of the response is or how it works?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it was… you know, it's something we probably… I should have answered you quite a while ago, because you've raised the issue of NGO accreditation through the ECOSOC process.

Question:  But, I wanted to… this is the follow‑up question that I'd asked you in writing, so I'll ask you now, just maybe to… what's the response to the idea that, as you know, in a… in… in… in the Ng Lap Seng case, an audit was done, and it descr… it discovered various forms of funding that South‑South News had given that were not known yet.  So, in this case, by having no audit [done], the range of support by this CEFC, China Energy Fund Committee, is not known.  It's reported in Serbia that the same group funded previous PGA [President of the General Assembly] Vuk Jeremić, for example.  So, what… wouldn't it make sense for the UN to, at least for its own purposes, understand what took place in that case and wouldn't that then make the decision of Member States to either exclude it or take some further action? What's the purpose of not having an audit?

Spokesman:  We're always welcome to look into things further.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.