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

12 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.

**United States-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

I will start off by reading the statement we issued earlier today on the Summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the US:  the Secretary‑General welcomes the holding of the Summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United States as an important milestone in the advancement of sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  As the Secretary‑General noted in letters to both leaders before the Summit, the road ahead requires cooperation, compromise and a common cause.  Implementing today’s and previous agreements reached, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions, will require patience and support from the global community.  The Secretary‑General urges all concerned parties to seize this momentous opportunity and reiterates his readiness to fully support the ongoing [process].

And also earlier today, there was a statement from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mr. [Yukiya] Amano, who also pledged IAEA’s support if called upon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

A travel to announce:  this Sunday, the Secretary‑General will leave for a trip to Finland, Norway and the Russian Federation.  In Helsinki, the Secretary‑General will be attending the second meeting of his High‑level Advisory Board on Mediation.  He will also attend the Kultaranta talks, an annual debate on foreign and security policy organized by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.  The theme of the talks this year is the future of the international system.

He will then go on to Norway, where he will speak at the Oslo Forum, which is a retreat for international conflict mediators and high‑level decision‑makers — that meeting is co‑hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.  While in the Norwegian capital, the Secretary‑General will also meet with his Majesty King Harald V and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon, who is also a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Goodwill Ambassador focusing on ending poverty.  The Secretary‑General will also be hosted [by] and meet with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the Foreign Minister of Norway.

And finally, he will go to Moscow, where he is scheduled to meet with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  He will also have an audience with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia — he is the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The Secretary‑General will deliver remarks at the Moscow‑based think tank, the Valdai Discussion Club.  He will also participate in a ceremony commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the UN presence in Russia.  And as he has already said, he will also be attending the Portugal vs. Morocco game, which is part of the first round of games of the World Cup, which as you know is being held in Russia this year.  We expect the Secretary‑General to be back in New York on 22 June.


Earlier this morning, [the Secretary-General] addressed the eleventh session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In his remarks, the Secretary‑General stressed that this Convention, with 177 ratifications since its adoption in 2006, is an historical commitment which reaffirms that people with disabilities are entitled to exactly the same rights as everyone else, and that societies must be organized so that all people, including those with disabilities, can exercise their rights [freely].  But signing and ratifying the Convention is not enough:  implementation is essential, he said, not as an act of charity but as a recognition of rights and a practical necessity, if we are to build healthy, sustainable societies to the benefit of everyone.  The Secretary‑General also recalled that he had initiated a comprehensive review of the UN’s work in this area, in order to make sure that the Organization is leading by example.  Those remarks have been shared with you.


A bit later, he spoke at the General Assembly at a meeting reviewing the progress against HIV/AIDS, [and said] that on all continents, key populations at higher risk of infection continue to be left further and further behind.  He stressed the need to empower young people to protect themselves from HIV.  This [includes] providing a full range of sexual and reproductive health services and rights, harm reduction for people who use drugs and access to antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV.  Prevention is the key to breaking the cycle of HIV transmission, he said.  At this pivotal moment, we must renew our focus and shared commitment to a world free of AIDS.  The pandemic is not over, but it can be, and we must all do our part, he said.


An update from Bangladesh, where the first heavy rains of the year swept through Rohingya refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar district — this happened over the weekend, marking the start of the monsoon season.  Our colleagues at the UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] tell us that this is an early test for refugees and humanitarian agencies working to support the Government of Bangladesh on the response efforts.

Torrential rains and winds up to 70 kilometres per hour caused at least 89 reported incidents, including 37 landslide incidents, causing several injuries and one confirmed fatality — that of a child.  Nearly 2,500 refugee families, some 11,000 people in all, were impacted by these rains.  According to damage assessments, more than 1,000 shelters have been damaged as well as 10 water points, 167 latrines, a health facility and one food distribution site.  The rains have also flooded the main road through the Kutupalong settlement, temporarily blocking vehicle access to other parts of the site.

While relocations and aid distributions continue, UNHCR is prepositioning more emergency supplies, including 10,000 tents, 190,000 tarpaulins, as well as 2 million water purification tablets, ready for use when needed.  UNHCR also has five hospital tents and emergency health kits stored in permanent warehouses in Cox’s Bazar.


Turning to Iraq, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, issued a statement late yesterday calling upon Iraq’s election management bodies expeditiously to investigate and adjudicate all complaints of electoral fraud and violations, in a fully transparent way that promotes the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of all its results, in line with the laws and Constitution of Iraq.  He called upon all political bodies and their supporters to uphold the peace and to remain committed to resolving any electoral disputes through legal channels.  And he also urged the Iraqi Government, the security forces and the electoral management bodies to take all appropriate steps to secure electoral materials, in particular in light of the recent fire incident affecting some of the electoral commission’s warehouses.


Concerning Syria, the Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, held consultations in Cairo and today had substantive and useful discussions with President [Abdel Fattah] Al Sisi of Egypt.  The Special Envoy underscored the important contribution that Egypt can make in support of the UN‑facilitated political process on Syria.  The Special Envoy will return to Geneva tomorrow.

Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in southern Hassakeh Governorate following a recent intensification of hostilities.  Since the beginning of the month, 44 civilians have reportedly been killed in the governorate as a result of fighting and military operations against Da’esh.  The United Nations calls on all parties to spare civilians, and to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need, particularly those in hard‑to‑reach areas and besieged areas, as required by international humanitarian law and human rights law.


The UN Refugee Agency today underscored the importance of working closely with Lebanon to find safe, dignified and sustainable solutions for Syrian refugees.  In all countries, the agency says, it respects the rights of refugees to decide freely and for themselves on returning home.  And similarly, it does not discourage returns that are based on individual, free and informed decisions.  UNHCR is very concerned at Friday’s announcement by the Foreign Minister of Lebanon on freezing the issuance of residence permits to international staff of UNHCR in Lebanon.  This directly impacts UNHCR’s ability to effectively carry out critical protection and solutions work in Lebanon.  UNHCR hopes the decision of the Foreign Ministry will be reversed without delay.


Our colleagues at the UN Migration Agency (IOM) welcomed today the decision by Spain to offer a safe harbour to over 600 migrants — including scores of children and seven pregnant women — who have been waiting aboard a rescue vessel since Sunday.  The Director General of IOM, Bill Swing, said he was glad that Spain has stepped forward to defuse this crisis, but he said he feared a major tragedy if States start refusing to accept rescued migrants as was threatened.  He added that keeping the rescued people at sea is not going to dissuade other migrants from crossing to Europe and they, too, will need to be rescued sooner or later.


IOM also said today — warned today — that Ukraine is the largest displacement crisis in Europe since the Balkan wars.  Speaking after her visit to Kyiv and to conflict areas in Eastern Ukraine, IOM’s Regional Director said that with thousands dead and 1.5 million displaced, it is scandalous that this conflict remains largely forgotten.

**Child Labour

Today is the World Day against Child Labour.  This year’s theme is “Generation Safe and Healthy”, and it focuses on improving the safety and health of young workers and on ending child labour.  About 73 million children are in hazardous work.  These children are toiling in mines and fields, factories and homes, exposed to pesticides and other toxic substances — they carry heavy loads and work long hours.

And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also warned today that after years of steady decline, child labour in agriculture has started to rise again in recent years, driven in part by an increase in conflicts and climate‑induced disasters.  The agency said this not only threatens the well‑being of millions of children, but also undermines efforts to end global hunger and poverty.

**Human Rights

I’d been asked a number of times by a number of you offsite about the process for selecting the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I can confirm that the UN Secretariat has sent out letters to the Permanent Missions to request nominations for this position.  The letter was also shared with major human rights NGOs [non‑governmental organizations].  And this will be in addition to the Secretary‑General’s own search.  As you are aware, the High Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary‑General and approved by the General Assembly for a four‑year term.  In order to ensure a wide pool of candidates for this position, the Secretariat would welcome any nominations to supplement the Secretary‑General’s own search.  The nomination of women candidates is strongly encouraged.  I will take questions.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Two questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any plans to follow up on his offer of assistance of the United Nations and its agencies to the leaders…?

Spokesman:  Sure… sorry.  Okay.  I can… sorry.  I didn't mean to interrupt you.  No, we do expect to be in contact with US authorities in the coming days.  Obviously, I think the… you know, the summit ended just a few hours ago.  People are flying to various destinations.  But we do expect contacts to be had in the coming days.

Question:  And my second question was, there are reports that an attack on Hodeidah might be imminent.  Is there any update from Mr. [Martin] Griffiths on… on what's happening there?

Spokesman:  No.  I don't have… Mr. Griffiths is now back in Amman.  He remains in contact with the parties, but I have no direct information as to the actual situation on the ground as of now.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  We have been seeing some reports of air strikes and clashes in Idlib.  I was wondering if the UN has any presence and if you have an update on the humanitarian situation.  And also, my second question is on Myanmar.  The Special Envoy for Myanmar would be travelling today, if I'm not mistaken…?

Spokesman:  Yes, she's there.  If I'm not mistaken, she's there today.

Question:  And do you have an update on the visit…?

Spokesman:  No, this is her first day.  I think the first day was part of being spent on Yangon or Naypyidaw.  We're trying to get some details as to what field visits she may be able do.  Carole?  Sorry and Idlib, no updates on Syria besides what I've already mentioned.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, on North Korea, is the Secretary‑General concerned or disappointed that the joint statement makes no mention of verifiable denuclearization, which is a point he made in his statement at the stakeout ahead of the summit?

Spokesman:  No, I think… for the Secretary‑General, as I said, he very much welcomed the holding of the summit, which he feels is an important milestone.  What the Secretary‑General would like to ultimately see has not changed, which is a peaceful and complete verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  So, his position has not changed, and I think… you know, obviously, it's early days, but I think he was… he very much welcomed and was pleased that the summit took place.

Question:  Follow‑up on that?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane, but how important is verification in order to reach that goal that the Secretary‑General have, that ultimate goal?

Spokesman:  You know, I think, if the Secretary‑General would be here, he would say, “nerves of steel”.  This is the beginning of a process.  The United Nations is there, will be there to help along the parties inasmuch as they wish.  And, obviously, we need to see exact… get more… a bit more details.  Yeah?

Question:  Just this morning on George… with George Stephanopoulos, President [Donald] Trump said, of Kim Jong Un, his country does love him.  His people… you can see the fervour.  They have great fervour.  Does the United Nations have any concern about the signal that rhetoric like this signals for human rights in North Korea?  And is this sort of language just the kind of necessary part of a peace process?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not going to play the role of commentator for what is being said in interviews.  I think the United Nations’ stance on the situation of human rights in the DPRK has been clear and is unchanged.

Question:  In… but in terms of forgetting about rhetoric in interviews, what about in policy, that in the statement there was no mention of that?

Spokesman:  I will leave the analysis to the analysts.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You mentioned that the UN is there to help and support the talks.  In what ways can the UN do that?  What concrete steps can the UN help…?

Spokesman:  I would say whether it's the IAEA, the CTBTO [Comprehensive Nuclear Test‑Ban Treaty Organization], we have different parts, technical parts, of the UN, which can play a role towards a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  Olga?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Just to clarify about the long visit of Secretary‑General.  So he leaves for Finland on Sunday?  So what day will he be where?

Spokesman:  He will be Monday in Finland, Tuesday in Norway, and then Wednesday and… he arrives in Moscow, if I'm not mistaken, Wednesday afternoon, and then he leaves… he's there about two nights.  One of my colleagues will bring me a note with more details as I stop trying to improvise.  Yes, you've been very patient.

Question:  Hi.  Also, about the Trump‑Kim summit, President Trump said after the meeting that he hopes China would participate in the signing process of a peace treaty.  He said China has been very helpful.  So, I would like to know that if the Secretary‑General has any comment about China's role that bring the two leaders together closer for talks?

Spokesman:  Look, we're not privy to whatever discussions may have taken place before, but it's clear that China has a very important part to play in the situation in the Korean Peninsula and has played a very positive role.  Mr. Abbadi and then Nabil.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the statement you read out on the summit, the Secretary‑General's statement, I have two questions.  One, he refers to two letters sent to the two leaders.  Have these letters been made public and why not, if not?

Spokesman:  No, they were sent around 11 May.  They were private letters.  They were not made public.  Sometimes in diplomacy, we do things above the water line, sometimes under the water line, but I think the gist of the letter is clear in the statement, which the Secretary‑General said the road ahead requires cooperation, compromise and a common cause.  The Secretary‑General has been very supportive of these diplomatic initiatives, whether it was the first summit between the leaders of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea or now the meeting between the Secretary… between the US President and the leader of the DPRK.  The letter were words of encouragements, just as he himself said publicly yesterday.

Question:  And my second question about the same statement, he refers to the denuclearization, and he used word “complete” and “verifiable”, but he left out the third adjective which is commonly used with respect to the process, which is “irreversible”.  Why?

Spokesman:  I think no one would want to see a denuclearization which is then reversed.  Nabil?

Question:  Yes.  Yes.  On Lebanon, you read the statement on Lebanese Foreign Minister’s position.  So, has the SG replied to the Lebanese Foreign Minister letter?  I think he sent the letter on this matter to the SG.  And, if not, what's the SG's message to the Lebanese Government on that?  And I have another question.

Spokesman:  I don't know if the letter's been replied to.  I think the Secretary‑General is… has been very clear on the issue of refugee rights, that any return needs to be voluntary.  He backs UNHCR, and I think the Secretary‑General, like we all do, recognizes the immense generosity of the people and Government of Lebanon in having hosted so many refugees for so long.  And we… I think we can never honour enough that generosity, but there are certain issues in terms of refugee rights and principles that the Secretary‑General feels very strongly about.

Question:  And, on Hodeidah port and city, there are reports say that the UN moved or evacuated the international presence or personnel from Hodeidah.  Can you confirm that?  Do you have any numbers and…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, the UN temporarily reconfigured its presence in Hodeidah.  Humanitarian footprints… as I've said here quite often, the footprint shifts on… based on operational requirements and other considerations, including, obviously, security.  Dozens of UN staff currently remain in Hodeidah.  Critical operations continue, and, obviously, we have made a decision to stay and deliver.

Question:  So, do you have any number and who are the people that you…?

Spokesman:  The reconfiguration that I've just talked about includes temporarily reducing overall staff numbers and temporarily relocating international staff.  This also sometimes happens during the Eid period.  Currently, there is slightly… there are about 41 national UN staff remaining in Hodeidah.  And, again, I think this underscores the fact that most of the… the vast majority of the humanitarian work done in these crises countries, whether it's in Yemen or in Syria is, in fact, done by nationals.  Carole?

Question:  [Inaudible] I have… defective microphone.  I have two follow‑up questions.  You said on North Korea that you expected a meeting with the US…

Spokesman:  No, I didn't say I expected a meeting.  I expected contacts to be had.

Question:  Okay.  So there's nothing set up?  There's no…?

Spokesman:  No.  No, I mean, it could be contacts at various levels.  I… but I didn't say meeting.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to clarify that.  And can you tell us a bit what the Secretary‑General might be discussing with President [Vladimir] Putin when they meet?

Spokesman:  There's a host of issues.  As a permanent member of the Security Council, I think there are quite a lot of issues on the agenda.  We can expect them to discuss Syria, to discuss UN reform, and just… there's a full complement of peace and security issues that need to be… that should be discussed and that may very well be discussed.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In the joint declaration issued in Singapore, the declaration refers to the promotion of peace and security, not only in the Peninsula but also in the whole world.  How important role is the UN going to play in the process?

Spokesman:  Well, as the Secretary‑General said, we stand ready to assist the parties at implementing and moving the process forward.  Yep?

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  It's… you know, it's this… the ink is barely dry in what was signed.  Obviously, we'll have contacts to get more details.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Regarding the assistance of the UN to the summit or the process that will come afterwards, was the UN formally requested to assist in… and, if yes, in what…?

Spokesman:  No, as I said, we… the reaction from the Secretary‑General… I mean, you heard him yesterday.  You heard the head of the IAEA today and again the Secretary‑General's statement.  We stand ready to assist, and obviously contacts will be had to see how and when we could assist.

Question:  Different question?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  In what capacity will Mr. [António] Guterres be attending the Morocco‑Portugal game?  And what country will he be supporting?

Spokesman:  He will be attending as a guest of the host, the Russian President.  As to where his heart will beat, I will let you guess.  [Laughter]  Or for whom his heart will beat.

Question:  Well, I'm guessing, because he's the UN General… so I can guess.

Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General is interested in is fair play and ensure that everybody has a good time, just like we do here at the briefing.  Yes, ma'am?  Yeah.  Sorry.

Question:  Okay.  On Hodeidah, I'm just not clear where… where things stand.  You said that Martin Griffiths has gone back to Amman, so presumably the period of intense negotiations is over.  And what… what was the outcome?

Spokesman:  Listen… you know, Mr. Griffiths is able to use the phone and email and other ways to communicate with the parties.  We remain in touch.  As you know, the Yemeni Foreign Minister was here talking to the Secretary‑General yesterday.  We are trying to do whatever we can to avoid a bloody battle for Hodeidah, which would have devastating humanitarian consequences.  We would like to see all the parties redouble their efforts and recommit to a political solution for Yemen and to stop the suffering of the Yemeni people, which has gone for much too long and continues every day.  Thank you.  Oh, sorry.  On… sorry.  Stay here. On the trip, the Secretary‑General will be in Finland on the 18th, Norway on the 19th, and basically in Russia on the 20th and the 21st.

For information media. Not an official record.