7 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.


The Secretary‑General will be travelling to Canada on Saturday, 9 June, to attend the Summit of the G7 in Charlevoix, in Quebec.  He will participate in an outreach session — and that session is entitled “Healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas, coasts and communities” — along with leaders of the G7, several other countries and international organizations.  He will also hold a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, on the sidelines of the meeting, as well as other Heads of State and Government also present at the G7.  The Secretary‑General will be back in New York that day, he will be back here on the evening of the [9th].


I have a senior personnel appointment:  the Secretary-General has announced the appointment of Shireen L. Dodson of the United States as the new United Nations Ombudsman.  She will succeed Johnston Barkat, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.  The Secretary‑General also wishes to extend his appreciation to James A. Lee, who is currently serving as the Acting United Nations Ombudsman.  Ms. Dodson brings to the position over 30 years of diverse leadership experience in business, government and non‑profit organizations.  She is currently Ombudsman of the United States State Department, a position she assumed in 2010.


The Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, today visited Mogadishu in Somalia, where she held a series of meetings with senior Government officials to reiterate the UN’s support to the people and federal Government of Somalia.  She was accompanied by the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for that country, Michael Keating.  Ms. DiCarlo said that Somalia is at a critical juncture and stressed that the unity of Somalis is essential to advance federalism, reduce violence, defeat extremism, tackle the humanitarian challenges and deliver real benefits to the population.  Also today, the UN and partners, including the African Union and the European Union, welcomed the outcomes of this week’s National Security Council meeting held in Baidoa, the capital of the South West State in Somalia.  During the meeting, the federal Government, federal member states, Benadir region, and various ministries reached key agreements on the transition plan, revenue sharing, and the electoral model for the 2020 elections.

**Central African Republic

Our humanitarian colleagues in the Central African Republic tell us that amid renewed fighting, at least nine humanitarian compounds have been looted since May in the Central African Republic’s second‑largest city of Bambari, prompting many NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] to temporarily suspend or curtail assistance to an already struggling civilian population.  Bambari has more than 37,000 internally displaced people living in nine sites.  They rely on humanitarian support for health care and nutritional support for children suffering from acute or severe malnutrition, food rations, and psychosocial support for survivors of gender‑based violence.  The resurgence of violence in Bambari comes at a time when the humanitarian community is making every [effort] to raise the [level] of funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan.  In the first half of 2018, only $85.5 million — or 17 per cent — of the $515.6 million urgently required to help 1.9 million people in need has been received.


From Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan today welcomed the announcement made by the Government for a temporary ceasefire with the Taliban.  “The United Nations commends the stated preparedness of Afghan authorities to initiate, in good faith, any steps toward a formal peace process” — that was a statement from the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative, Tadamichi Yamamoto.  The ceasefire follows the Afghan Government’s call for unconditional peace talks with the Taliban at the Kabul Process II conference in the Afghan capital in February.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, just concluded consultations on the Syrian political process — those discussions took place in Istanbul, earlier today.  While there, he met with Turkish authorities, as well as officials from the Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian Opposition Coalition.  The Special Envoy is planning to continue regional consultations in the coming days.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], a couple of updates on Ebola:  distributions of World Food Programme (WFP) rations have begun in the DRC’s Ebola‑hit Equateur Province.  This is part of an effort to support those directly affected by the latest outbreak of the deadly virus and limit risky population movements.  Families of Ebola patients discharged from treatment centres, and of those who have had contact with them or suspected victims, are receiving up to three months’ supplies of cereals and beans.  A projected 1,000 people are to be immediately assisted.


And also on Ebola, the World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the nine countries that border the Democratic Republic of the Congo to scale up their national emergency preparedness and response capacities.  These countries are Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.  The World Health Organization’s recommendations are meant to ensure that these countries are operationally ready to prevent the importation of cases, implement risk mitigation, detection and response measures for Ebola.


Our colleagues at the UN Migration Agency (IOM) are assisting survivors from a boat capsizing off the coast of Yemen.  At least 100 Ethiopian migrants were crammed onto a boat that left from Somalia on Tuesday and was headed to the Gulf countries when it got hit with high waves.  IOM says that 46 people drowned and 16 remain missing.  IOM is providing medical assistance, health, food and psychosocial support to the survivors.


An update on Guatemala, where our colleagues from the humanitarian coordination team have assessed the needs in shelters near the south‑centre city of Escuintla, the most affected area by the massive eruption of El Fuego.  The team is assisting the Government in the humanitarian response providing psychosocial support, hygiene kits, mattresses and blankets, among other provisions.


Answers to a couple of questions I was asked offline, one on the Ukraine and the Secretary‑General’s response to the PRST [Presidential Statement] adopted yesterday:  I can say that the Secretary‑General welcomes yesterday’s Presidential Statement of the Security Council on the situation in eastern Ukraine.  He fully shares the concern expressed by the Security Council about the deterioration of the security situation in eastern Ukraine and the need to do more to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population.  This need is all the more important and urgent, as highlighted by the recent shelling of Donetsk Filter Station, which has been rendered temporarily inoperative.

The Secretary‑General reiterates the determination of the UN to continue with all the efforts to address the deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine and urges greater humanitarian access and support to the Humanitarian Response Plan 2018, which remains severely underfunded.  The Secretary‑General also joins the Security Council’s call to all parties to [re]commit to the peace process and to do their utmost to achieve progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.


I was also asked earlier about Ethiopia’s stated decision to implement the Algiers Peace Agreement.  I can say that the Secretary‑General was pleased to hear the statement by the Executive Committee of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front indicating Ethiopia’s decision to implement the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the two countries in 2000 and the subsequent decisions by the Eritrea‑Ethiopia Boundary Commission on the border between the two countries.  We reiterate the UN’s readiness to play a role in taking the decision forward, including by assisting the parties in the implementation of the border ruling, as envisaged in the peace agreement.  We look forward to receiving additional information on the way forward.

**Food Prices

Our monthly food price index report:  global agricultural food commodity prices rose in May, with dairy prices jumping significantly.  That’s according to the FAO’s [Food and Agriculture Organization] Price Index, which is up 1.2 per cent from April.  The increase built on a recent trend featuring rising price quotations of major cereals and dairy products, and weak ones for sugar and vegetable oils.  The FAO has increased its forecast for the world cereal production in 2018.  More information online.


Our friends at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund) today launched a new parenting site as part of their “Super Dads” campaign recognizing fathers’ role in their children’s early development.  The online site will bring together fathers from across the world to share their parenting tips, their struggles, their needs and their successes.  UNICEF is calling for more support for fathers globally, including for policies that give parents the time and resources needed to spend quality time with their children.  As Father’s Day is celebrated across nearly 90 countries this month, UNICEF renews its call to break down cultural and financial barriers preventing fathers from spending quality time with young children.

**Honour Roll

And today, we have reached the temperature of 103, as Nauru has joined our Honour Roll, having paid its dues in full.  And I will stop there.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask about the water crisis in Iraq.  The… Turkey started holding back water on the… on the Tigris River, causing further water shortage in Iraq as… nearly 70 per cent of Iraq's need of water is coming from Tigris and Euphrates, those two rivers, which are coming from Turkey.  What's the UN's position about this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We're very much aware of the communications between the Governments of Turkey and Iraq regarding the new Ilısu Dam that Turkey is building on the Tigris River.  The UN office in Iraq hopes that the Governments of Iraq and Turkey can resolve the matter through dialogue.  Mr. Roth?

Correspondent:  The 103 temperature reading is sometimes what it's like in our offices here in the summer, but moving on…

Spokesman:  Take your tie off, Richard.  You'll feel more comfortable.

Question:  I don't want to embarrass anyone.  The UN envoy in Yemen or for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is making the rounds, we know.  He's coming to the [Security] Council mid‑month.  Can you comment on a Reuters report that he has a so‑called peace plan which includes the Houthis giving up heavy ballistic missiles in return for an end of the Saudi bombing campaign with a transitional government agreement?  Anything on the paper… on the table like this that you… I know it would be difficult for you to confirm in toto.  Can you give us an outline of something?

Spokesman:  In toto?  [Laughter]  I'll do…

Correspondent:  We're not in Kansas, though, so pl… this is New York; you can be honest.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry.  No, we've seen the report.  We're not going to comment on the veracity of a document that may or may not have been leaked.  Mr. Griffiths has been making the rounds in Yemen and in the region in preparation for his presentation to the Security Council next week, I think on the 18th or the 19th.  And I think, at that time, he will be ready to share the sit… where he thinks… where he feels the situation is, but he is making great efforts in trying to get the parties to reach a political agreement to put an end to this conflict in Yemen, which has caused suffering for so many people in the country.  Oleg and then Matthew.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Staying on Yemen, I believe the meeting on Yemen is going to be in a week so… in the Council.  And I'm sure you've seen the reports from MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders] that they're pulling staff out of Yemen.  I believe it's like more than 70 people.  And they say it will have a crippling effect on the operations in… in Yemen.  What is the UN right now doing in light of a possible offensive…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any changes in our staffing on the ground.  As always, you know, our colleagues that operate in Yemen do so under very difficult circumstances.  The security is analysed on day to day, but I'm not aware of any changes.  But, obviously, any loss of humanitarian staff creates even greater challenges to the ones that already exist.

Question:  Taking into account the scale of the operation MSF is doing in Yemen, is the UN prepared to somehow substitute what they're doing…?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I don't have the operational details of what MSF is doing in Yemen, but I don't think we're in a position to take over the work that our partners are doing on the ground.  You know, the vast majority of the work… of humanitarian work done in Yemen is done, in fact, by Yemeni nationals.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'd like to ask about this memorandum of agree… understanding the UN has reached with the Government of Myanmar.  I was wondering if there is a timeline for this agreement to be implemented for the safe, dignified and voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No.  There is no… I'm not aware of any timeline.  I think, as we said yesterday, the conditions don't exist as of… for that return don't exist as of yet.  You know, the agreement was negotiated between… with UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency], UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and the Government of Myanmar.  Our colleagues in Myanmar are continuing to engage communities in designing the activities implemented under the agreement and provide independent information to refugees about the conditions on the ground in order to inform their return decision.  Basically, the decision to return belongs to the individual.  No one should be or can be forced to return.  It's about us working with the Government of Myanmar to ensure that the conditions for safe and dignified and voluntary return exists, but the assessment of those conditions at the end will have to be made by individuals.  Yes, sir, and then Matthew and then… yeah.

QuestionBonjour, Monsieur, Stéphane.  This is Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online.  There have been reports of a mysterious illness striking American diplomats in Guangzhou in southern China, and there have also been reports of Canadian and US diplomats experiencing similar sonic attacks in… in Cuba.  So, what has been the response of the Secretary‑General on this?  And has he directed WHO to work on this mysterious…?

Spokesman:  No, I… like you, I've seen the press… excuse me.  Like you, I've seen the press reports.  It is not something that we're involved in in any way.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask a follow‑up on Yemen and then something on UNHCR or the Secretary‑General, said otherwise.  The… the… in terms of Yemen, just in terms of Martin Griffiths and his plan, it seems like the… the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has called on the Saudi‑led coalition to investigate the… a bomb that fell right next to its facility in Sana’a on 5 June.  And I'm just wondering, one, does the UN… is… is Mr. Griffiths or whoever here in the Secretariat is looking at this, are they satisfied with the way in which the Saudi‑led coalition has… has investigated and acted on its… the falling of those bombs?  And what's the status of the children and armed conflict report, which would, you know, seem to… I know last year they were upgraded in terms of their… their attempts to… to minimize civilian casualties.  And it looks like NRC is saying these steps are not having any impact.

Spokesman:  Well, the report should be out soon.  The report will be looking at the year of 2017.  Right?  But it will be sent to the Council probably not… next couple weeks, not too long from now.  We have been continuously concerned with the civilian death toll, the attacks on civilians, the attack on civilian infrastructure.  And we have repeatedly called on the coalition and other parties to fully investigate those incidents.  Your next question?

Question:  Sure.  Yesterday, you'd said, in terms of this settlement of retaliation claims by Ms. [Caroline] Hunt‑Matthes, you directed me to read their joint statement.  So I read it, but I also note that… and this is why I'm coming back to you with this.  She's barred from speaking beyond this joint statement as a condition of her settlement.  And I'm wondering, first, does the Secretary‑General think, on issues having to do with alleged retaliation for wanting to investigate rape, is it appropriate to put a gag order on a UN person?  And, also, she did somehow manage… and I'm not sure it's… it's published, so here's her quote beyond what they did jointly.  She said, the UN justice system needs to be placed entirely outside the purview of the UN, which cannot be at the same time party and judge.  So, that seems to be something on which the Secretary‑General should have a response… it's about the system as a whole.

Spokesman:  The system of the administration of justice in the UN was reformed a few years ago.  Its judges are independent.  The Secretary‑General has no say in how the judges do their work.  The administration represents itself in front of the tribunals, and staff do, too.  And sometimes rulings go against the administration.  Sometimes they go for the administration.

Question:  What about this gag order issue?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the case, of which I'm not aware.  Evelyn and then Linda, I think you had a question, and then back to Oleg.

Question:  Yeah.  Amnesty International had an item today on raids into villages in Mozambique by Al‑Shabaab, probably not related to Somalia.  I just wondered if… and… and people… villagers killed quite frequently… I wonder if you had a report on that.

Spokesman:  Yeah, we've… I've seen the Amnesty International report.  It's something that's very much on our radar and something that we're very much concerned about this violence.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Regarding the Syrian political process, you mentioned that the UN envoy is in Istanbul… was in Istanbul to meet with Syrian opposition leaders and that there would be other meetings in the region.  I was just wondering if you can share with us where else the meetings will be taking place and with whom…?

Spokesman:  You know, as soon as we get updates from him, we'll share them with you, but he regularly travels around the region, but I'll see if I can get a bit more detail.  Oleg and then Rich… and then we'll come back.

Question:  On Syria, with this announcement on the consultations by the Special Envoy, does this mean we're coming closer to resumption of negotiations?

Spokesman:  Look, I think… we've been at this for quite some time.  It's a process, I think, that's frustratingly slow, not least for the people of Syria.  We're taking it step by step.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  On Ukraine, given this lack of fund, there's… this was discussed a lot in the Council meetings elsewhere.  The UN has a practise of convening donor pledging conferences.  Maybe this could be the case in… in the case of Ukraine…?

Spokesman:  Let me see… that's a good… it's a good, valid point.  Richard?

Correspondent:  It's summer, but this question symbolically has some weight to it, though it doesn't compare to some of the other topics, and people say the UN is behind the times.  I can't remember how long it's been, but when thousands walk into the UN lobby, the clock on the wall is an hour behind or completely off.  And maybe we discussed this months ago.  I can't remember, and maybe it's officially broken but…

Spokesman:  Which clock?

Correspondent:  The… on the wall.

Spokesman:  In the Visitors’ Lobby?

Correspondent:  Near the elevators.  No, in the Secretariat lobby.

Spokesman:  Okay. Let me see what the… if I can move the clock even further back.  [Laughter]

Correspondent:  Time stands still here, but not that badly.

Spokesman:  Yes, I know.  At least, hopefully, the year's right.  Evelyn, then Matthew.

Question:  On Ethiopia‑Eritrea, the UN… is there a peacekeeping force envisioned?  Any details?  Because the UN has seen this movie before.

Spokesman:  No, the UN was present in Ethiopia‑Eritrea for a long time.  The mission closed.

Question:  I remember.

Spokesman:  We're also involved in the Border Commission.  As I said, we're willing to help the parties as much as possible.  Matthew, then Linda.

Question:  Is there anything planned of how your helping?

Spokesman:  No.  As I said, we're looking forward to hearing more details.  Go ahead, Matthew.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you this.  It has to do with Cameroon.  It's reported that… and it's reported… it's identified Samuel Eto’o, the football player, as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and it's said that he will be touring with Government officials [in] the Anglophone areas trying to encourage people to either go back to school or stop protesting, and so there's a lot of pushback against him.  And I wanted to know, one, when's the last time Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall was in the area?  Maybe you have it or could find it out… I want to compare.

Spokesman:  No, I mean there's nothing more than what is publicly known.

Question:  Is this number… would… would Samuel Eto’o’s trip, if it takes place — he's in Yaoundé — would it be as a UN Goodwill Ambassador?  And, if so, what would you say to the…?

Spokesman:  I have to check what his status is and who he actually worked for.

Correspondent:  Well, people are saying that he's said nothing about this crisis the whole time…

Spokesman:  No, no, I'm not debating you. I just have to see what… the details.

Correspondent:  Can you… okay.  I'd appreciate an answer on that.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay. Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I believe there was a meeting last evening between the Secretary‑General and various Arab and other ambassadors.  And I was wondering if you could share some information.

Spokesman:  No, there was no readout.  It was on the broad Middle East situation but nothing to share.

Question:  What about the meeting with the Africa group today?  Is that… is that about budget issues?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Is it about personnel?

Spokesman:  I'll try to get some details.  Thank you.  Brenden [Varma], all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.