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

20 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.

**Russian Federation

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Moscow, where, as we speak, he is meeting with President Vladimir Putin.  We will be sharing more details of the meeting later on.  Earlier today, he had an audience with His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russians, with whom he discussed social inequality and the need to help the poorest, among other topics discussed.  He also attended the World Cup match between Portugal and Morocco.  And I think you know the result of that.  Tomorrow, he will meet Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the morning and he will also meet with the heads of the United Nations agencies present in Russia to commemorate 70 years of United Nations presence in the country.  In the afternoon, tomorrow, he’ll be giving remarks at the Valdai club in Moscow.


Turning to Yemen:  Over the last week, our humanitarian partners have provided emergency assistance to nearly 5,600 people fleeing the fighting in Hodeidah.  They are rapidly responding to the needs of newly displaced people in Hodeidah and surrounding governorates.  It is imperative that humanitarian personnel are provided rapid, safe and unfettered access to respond to the needs as they evolve as a result of the fighting and for people to get access to the assistance that they so need.  If fighting reaches more urban areas, civilians will be at greater risk, including from the spread of disease, including cholera.  We remind the parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to facilitate rapid access and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  And our Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, has ended his stay in Jeddah.  His negotiations with the parties are ongoing.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about reports of an escalation of violence in Dara’a Governorate in southern Syria, which is endangering civilians and causing hundreds of families to become displaced.  Hostilities have reportedly resulted in some restrictions on movement, as well as reports of further displacement in northern Dara'a Governorate to rural Quneitra.  The United Nations again calls on all the parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, to allow freedom of movement, and to protect civilian infrastructure, as required by international humanitarian and human rights law.


Today is World Refugee Day, as you know.  On this occasion, the Secretary‑General, in a message, says that we must all think about what more we can we do to help.  The answer begins with unity and solidarity.  The Secretary‑General says he is deeply concerned to see more and more situations where refugees are not receiving the protection they need and to which they are also entitled.  The Secretary-General recalls that this year, a Global Compact on Refugees will be presented to the United Nations General Assembly.  It offers a way forward and recognizes the contributions that refugees make to the societies that are hosting them.  The story of refugees is one of resilience, perseverance and courage.  Ours must be of solidarity, compassion and action, he says.

And our colleagues at Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tell us that, today, mayors from more than 50 cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Los Angeles, Manchester, Mexico City, New York, São Paulo and Sydney, are calling jointly for more local authorities and municipalities to join them in welcoming and including refugees in their communities.  The Cities #WithRefugees initiative highlights the increasingly important role cities have taken on in accommodating refugees around the world.  More information online, as well as a message from the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.


Also linked to today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNHCR launched a new handbook to help restore forests in displacement-affected areas, where heavy reliance on woodfuel puts forests and woodlands in jeopardy.  In Uganda’s Bidibidi settlement, for example, one of the world’s largest refugee‑hosting areas, annual woodfuel consumption mounted to an estimated 300,000 tonnes in 2017.  If left unmanaged, woodfuel supply in the area will only last up to three more years at this rate of consumption, and come at a high cost — the full depletion of the forest.  More information on the interweb.  Questions?  Yes, sir.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Adam Klasfeld from Courthouse News.  As you know, yesterday, the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, and Nikki Haley called the Human Rights Council a protector of human rights abuses and a cesspool for political… of political bias, which, in response, the Secretary‑General, through you, said that the UN would have preferred the United States stayed.  I'm wondering if you have anything stronger in defence of the Human Rights Council from attacks by a country engaged in what the chief of that Council called unconscionable rights abuses?

Spokesman:  I think what is important to note is that the Human Rights Council and the other parts of the UN's human rights architecture, including special rapporteurs, the Universal Periodic Review, play a critical role in protecting and promoting human rights across the world.  And the Secretary‑General's wish is that all Member States engage actively in this human rights architecture.  Now, the actions of the Human Rights Council are up to Member States.  It is a legislative body of the United Nations, and it is up to Member States to conduct that business.

Question:  Kind of follow‑up to that.  I'm sorry.  Just quick follow‑up.  Many observers are noting that this action took place a day after the Human Rights chief called the US immigration policy and the detention and separation of thousands of children from their parents as unconscionable and Government‑sanctioned abuse.  Are you aware whether the Administration has made any outreach to the Secretary‑General complaining about that statement?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any complaint of the statement of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Michelle and then Carole.

Question:  On the opposite side of that, has the Secretary‑General reached out to Nikki Haley or anyone else in the Administration to discuss the policy?

Spokesman:  Ambassador Haley spoke to the Secretary‑General yesterday afternoon to give him a heads up that the announcement would be coming, and I think the Secretary‑General made privately the points that I made publicly.

Question:  And did they also discuss, though, the US border policy?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of anything beyond what I've just said.  Carole?

Question:  Yeah, so Stéphane, how concerned is the Secretary‑General about the US retreat from the United Nations?  This is the latest of a string of budget cuts, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal.  I mean, are you looking at a wrecking ball coming at the UN?

Spokesman:  Those are your words, clearly not mine.  I will give you mine.  The United Nations… the United States plays a critical role in the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General would want to see a United States that is involved and engaged throughout the UN system.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes, on the same subject, the Secretary‑General, on repeated occasions, has talked about the need for reform at the UN.  So, I'm wondering, in light of the criticism of the Human Rights Council by Nikki Haley and Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo and the Secretary‑General's own acknowledgment in the past about anti‑Israel bias, for example, does the Secretary‑General at least have any ideas, subject to the final decision of the Member States, of course, but ideas or recommendations for reforming the Human Rights Council?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General, as you said, has already spoken on that topic and especially on the focus on Israel.  The Human Rights Council is the product already of a very serious reform that took place a few years ago.  The criticism that we're hearing is in the substance of the discussions and the resolutions voted, and that is an issue for Member States.  The human rights architecture as a whole in the UN is a very important one, and it is… the human rights is a pillar of the work of the United Nations, and we would want to see Member States engaged fully and fairly in that issue.

Correspondent:  Well, in addition to the substance of the resolutions, the criticisms have been directed at the fact that there are no serious criteria for membership related to the human rights records of the countries involved.  We can cite a number of the members with human rights…

Spokesman:  That is an issue for Member States.  You know, one of the very important parts…

Correspondent:  Well, the question is whether the Secretary… Secretary‑General has any views and recommendations to address some of the procedural issues.

Spokesman:  That is an issue for Member States.  One of the very important parts of that UN human rights architecture I speak about is the Universal Periodic Review, which brings under scrutiny the human rights records of all Member States.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes.  On… today is Refugees Day, so the question is, is… is the UN and the Secretary‑General, in… in particular, monitoring with attention how migrants, they are stopped in the Mediterranean, also situation happening here in the border with the United States, how the recognition, if you want, when the migrants is… is applying as a refugee status, a political status, if… how the steps… are the UN…?

Spokesman:  Look, that's… it's a question of concern for us all over the world.  It is one in which UNHCR is in the lead and they are actively, obviously, following those issues.  It is up to all Member States who have signed on to the Refugee Convention to apply that Convention fairly and in full recognition of the rights of people asking for asylum.

Question:  And just… and the question was finishing like this.  I asked this before.  Migrants, somebody that starts is journeying as a migrant, but, then, during the trip, received abuse, is on the circumstances that put in danger his life.  Does the UN consider it… this person a refugee?

Spokesman:  Each case has to be examined.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, a follow‑up on the withdrawal of the US from Human Rights Council.  Will the Secretary‑General express or say more in addition to the two sentences you sent out yesterday?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we… I'm sure you'll be able to ask him when you see him at the press conference.  But, I've… I think I've expressed his position.  Mr. Lee?

Correspondent:  Sure.  Couple of different…

Question:  Have you announced that?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Next week.  We've announced it.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Oh, oh, oh.  Okay.  Go ahead.

Question:  Sure.  Couple of human rights questions.  One is, in Mali, it's been reported and acknowledged by the Defence Minister that there are mass graves of civilians killed by the Malian military.  So, I wanted to know, given that the UN peacekeeping mission there often patrols together and works with the Malian military, number one, is the UN aware… I mean, I'm assuming if they were aware…?

Spokesman:  Yes, we're aware of the situation, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) set up a human rights investigation team, which has been looking into these events since 16 June.  And it will be dispatched in the field soon, if it has not already done so.  And the Mission takes note of the communication by the Malian Ministry of Defence, referring to the alleged involvement of military personnel in those deaths and the launch of a judicial investigation, and the mission stands ready to assist.

Question:  Does this change in any way the cooperation of MINUSMA with units or individuals [inaudible] the military?

Spokesman:  Obviously, an investigation is ongoing.

Correspondent:  And the other one is…

Spokesman:  Masood.  I'll come back you to.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just want to find out on this… under the treaty that [Donald] Trump Administration is withdrawing from, is the Iran deal.  In… in United Nations' opinion, is Iran abiding by the… still abiding by what the… what was negotiated between all parties?

Spokesman:  I think the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has spoken on that, and the Secretary‑General is reporting under the accord.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  There's been an announcement today that Eritrea's President is sending a delegation to Ethiopia for peace talks.  This would be the first delegation since the border war in 1998.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this announcement?

Spokesman:  Yes, we… I mean, we've seen the press report.  We've seen the news.  It's obviously a welcomed development.  I think we saw earlier in the month the first opening by the Ethiopian Government to Eritrea on this issue.  We, obviously, stand ready to play a role in anything that would come forward in assisting the parties.  As you know, the UN has a long history through a peacekeeping mission and the border commission in the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  But, obviously, we'll see what happens, but we clearly welcome this development.  Adam and then Carole.

Question:  Yesterday, as well, the Secretary‑General said that Gaza was on the brink of war.  Any elaboration on the Secretary‑General's statements about that, number one?  And, number two, also, the timing of the deterioration of the conditions in Gaza and US withdrawal yesterday, any connection you're aware of?

Spokesman:  No, I mean… your second part's really a question for the US Administration on timing and so on.  You know, we are… I think… any observer, and as Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov said yesterday, I think we're in a period of high risk in terms of Gaza.  A number of… we are pushing for a number of issues including greater humanitarian aid, political… the return of the full control of Gaza under the political… the authority of the Palestinian Authority, working with various high‑level groups in terms of increased humanitarian aid and, of course, dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Carole and then Masood.

Question:  Stéphane, on Yemen, so, where is Martin Griffiths?

Spokesman:  My understanding is he left… he's most likely in Amman, but we'll double check.  [He later said that Mr. Griffiths had travelled to Oslo to participate in the Oslo Forum.]

Question:  Okay.  And can I ask… you mentioned the call for rapid unfettered access for aid.  Again, is the fighting or the air strikes threatening the mil… the humanitarian operations, access to warehouses?  Has the road from Sana'a to Hodeidah been closed?

Spokesman:  Yes.  The continuing fighting makes it more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.  It also increases the need for humanitarian aid, because you have people fleeing their homes.  I think there were some 5,000 families that we… that have moved over the last week.  That complicates the situation.  As far as I know, the har… the point of Hodeidah is still operational.  As I mentioned, WFP [World Food Programme] had been offloading ships taking advantage of the fact that it remains operational.  Any fighting will make… it makes our work… humanitarian work more difficult, and I think our great concern is for… is if and when the fighting spreads to more urban areas with the risks that imposes.  Masood, then Matthew.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane, about this… maybe you have already answered this question, about the Yemeni children, that they need essential drugs, which they're not getting, especially life‑saving drugs, which they're not getting.  This is the latest report.  Do you have anything… anything on that?

Spokesman:  Not specifically, but just to say the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains horrendous for civilians, including children.  Matthew?

Question:  But, do you have anything…?

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

Question:  Sure.  I'd wanted to ask, the Security Council's meeting about, obviously, Sudan and the ICC [International Criminal Court], so I wanted… in listening to Fatou Bensouda express frustration at States' failure to act on the indictment against [Omer al‑]Bashir, I just wanted to ask you… again, it wasn't clear to me what the answer finally was in terms of Marta Ruedas, who was at that time the Resident Coordinator in Sudan, taking this Two Niles Award from President Bashir.  How is this consistent with the express policy of min… absolutely minimal contacts?  Was it somehow required? How did the Secretariat decide that this was a good interaction with the indictee?

Spokesman:  I didn't say it was a good interaction.  I think I answered on 4 May, and that answer has not changed.

Question:  You know, could… Mr.… could I get a little bit more of a readout on the Special Envoy Griffiths' trips to see the Houthis and to see the Saudis in terms of has he got any progress on a Hodeidah deal and the UN taking on the port?  What's… were those meetings positive?  And secondly, on the wider peace deal, were those meetings positive?

Spokesman:  We're in the middle of an extremely critical period.  Mr. Griffiths is having contacts in Sana’a with the Houthis and others in Jeddah with the Coalition, with the Yemeni Government.  I think, from our point of view, we're going to let him do these discussions as discreetly as possible as anything is ever discreet, and I think, when he's ready to emerge with some sense of where we're going, he is, but I don't want to pre-empt anything he may want to announce.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  My question is still related to the Human Rights Council.  It is reported that Russia is applying for the membership of the Human Rights Council.  Is that true?  Have you received Russia's application?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of it, and I think that would be a question that would have to be asked of the… my Human Rights Council colleagues in Geneva.  I can put you in touch with them.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, just to follow up on this Rohingya Muslim crisis.  Has the repatriation process been discussed?  Is it in process or no?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, when we have something to announce on the repatriation, we will do so.  Our position remains the same, that people will need to choose for themselves when… if and when they want to return to… in a way that is safe, dignified, and of course, and most importantly, voluntary.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  On sexual harassment in the UN system, I'm sure you've seen there's something… a group called the UN Feminist Network of staff.  They've raised some concerns that the Secretary‑General's CEB [Chief Executives Board] task force is not sufficiently considering victims, and they've specifically asked him to hold a town‑hall meeting where people can share their experience.  And I know that in Vienna this came up.  It was a little unclear… it was in a town‑hall meeting where he was asked to permit it.  What's his response to the UN Feminist Network and their…

Spokesman:  Look, I know our colleagues in the Department of Management have been in touch with them.  It's very important for us to hear all voices, and we will continue to listen.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, it may seem strange, but at the Portugal‑Morocco game, it was also reported that Sepp Blatter, former FIFA… somewhat disgraced head of FIFA, was present at the game as a… as a guest of President Putin.  And I wanted to know, do you know whether António Guterres met Sepp Blatter?  Where did he… you know…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't know, and I don't speak to FIFA.  Thank you.  Brenden, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.