28 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.


A trip to announce:  the Secretary‑General will be travelling to Bangladesh on July 1, in a joint visit with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank Group.  Their visit will highlight the generosity of Bangladesh in hosting the largest refugee influx of 2017 and the need of the international community to do more.  The visit also aims to lay the groundwork for further dialogue with the Government of Bangladesh on medium‑term planning for the refugee situation and to reiterate the UN and the World Bank’s support for finding comprehensive solutions to the situation of the Rohingya people.

In Dhaka, the Secretary‑General and the President of the World Bank Group will have bilateral meetings with Bangladeshi authorities, including with the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina.  On 2 July, they will travel to Cox’s Bazar to visit Rohingya refugee communities and humanitarian workers, and advocate for more donor support.

The Secretary‑General and the President of the World Bank Group will be accompanied by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, and the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Natalia Kanem.  They will review the situation of the newly arrived Rohingyas in Bangladesh, and assess progress towards a safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees, in line with international standards.  We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on 3 July.


The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the inaugural global High‑level Conference of Heads of Counter‑Terrorism Agencies of the UN Member States, telling them that the front line against terrorism is increasingly in cyberspace.  He said that terrorists are exploiting social media, encrypted communications and the dark web to spread propaganda, recruit new followers and coordinate attacks.  He said that recently, there has been a shift towards less sophisticated attacks against softer targets that are more difficult to detect and prevent.

As the threat from terrorism continues to evolve, the Secretary‑General said we must adapt and learn lessons from what works and what does not, and our response needs to be as agile and multifaceted as the threat.  He said this means starting at the grass roots, where families and local communities are at the front line of efforts to protect vulnerable people from succumbing to pernicious ideologies.  And he added that this means increasing our support to civil society organizations, who make a unique and invaluable contribution to tackling terrorism and preventing violent extremism.  His remarks are online.

**West and Central Africa

We issued a statement earlier today in which the Secretary‑General said he was deeply concerned about the increasing frequency, intensity, complexity and geographic scope of violent conflict between farmers and herders, as well as related banditry, extortion and cattle rustling, in several countries across West and Central Africa.  He condemns the resulting loss of life, property and livelihoods, as well as population displacement, which undermines the peaceful coexistence between communities in many of the affected countries.  It is also detrimental to regional stability.

The Secretary‑General stresses that all attacks targeting civilians violate international humanitarian law and urges all concerned Governments, regional organizations, civil society and other relevant actors to work together to find acceptable and lasting solutions to these conflicts — this, in full compliance with existing regional regulatory frameworks and international humanitarian and human rights law.  The Secretary‑General expresses the solidarity of the UN with the people and Governments of the affected countries.  He reiterates the readiness and commitment of the UN to support national and regional efforts to resolve disputes between farmers and herders.


The Secretary-General also welcomes — in a statement we issued earlier, issued a short while ago, in fact — the visit to Ethiopia two days ago by a high‑level delegation from Eritrea as a first concrete step in the process of normalizing relations between the two countries.  The Secretary‑General notes that diplomatic overtures to ease tensions and resolve the long‑standing dispute between the two countries will have a far‑reaching, positive impact on the whole region.  He once again reiterates our readiness to play a role in support of the two countries in the implementation of the boundary decision or in any other area they would deem useful for the United Nations to assist.


Turning to Syria:  as hostilities escalate in southern Syria, our humanitarian colleagues say that civilian deaths continue to be reported and up to 66,000 people have now been displaced.  Reportedly, the majority of the displaced fled from eastern Dara’a towards the Jordanian border, many of whom remain stranded in the desert area with little access to humanitarian help.  At least 13,000 have fled toward Quneitra Governorate and hundreds of others have reportedly fled to Government‑controlled areas in As‑Sweida Governorate.  The number of internally displaced people is expected to rise as hostilities continue.

At least 29 civilian deaths have been reported as a result of ground‑based strikes and air strikes in the last day, and 50 have been reported since 17 June.  While routes used by inter‑agency cross border convoys from Jordan remain open, planned convoys in the last two days were postponed due to ongoing hostilities and safety issues.  The UN is monitoring the situation closely and the convoy will proceed as soon as the security situation allows.  Aid to people in need continues to be delivered to newly displaced people from supplies that were pre‑positioned in anticipation of the emergency in the South and supplies delivered in the past week.  We are also alarmed by reports of two vehicle‑borne improvised explosions yesterday in Afrin city, which reportedly killed 11 people and wounded 23 others.  The explosions came hours after armed clashes reportedly took place in the same area.


Turning to the Security Council:  yesterday, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015), in terms of annex B as requested by the Security Council, concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran.

**South Sudan

This morning, Bintou Keita, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed Council members on South Sudan.  She said that the security situation on the ground remains of serious concern, with parties to the conflict in consistent breach of the cessation of hostilities agreement that they themselves pledged to honour.  She added that the continuation of fighting has had a direct impact on the humanitarian situation.  Hunger and malnutrition have reached record levels and 1.75 million people are on the brink of a catastrophe.

And you will have seen that yesterday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General commended the continued efforts of the High‑level Revitalization Forum led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to facilitate the peace process in South Sudan.


We also issued a statement on Libya, in which the Secretary‑General said he is concerned about the latest developments in the “Oil Crescent” region.

**African Union

Also yesterday afternoon, we issued a senior appointment:  Sahle‑Work Zewde of Ethiopia is named Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the UN Office to the African Union.  She will succeed Haile Menkerios of South Africa, to whom the Secretary‑General reiterates his deep gratitude and appreciation for his dedicated years of service to the organization.  The new Special Representative is the first woman appointed to this position.  Currently Director‑General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, she brings three decades of progressively responsible experience at the national, regional and international levels.


Our colleagues at the International Labour Organization (ILO) today released a report which warns about a looming global care crisis.  In 2015, 2.1 billion people were in need of care, including 1.9 billion children and 200 million older persons.  By 2030, this number is expected to reach 2.3 billion, driven by an additional 200 million older persons and children.  The report stresses that investment is needed to deal with this rising demand. Around 269 million new jobs could be created if investment in education, health and social work were doubled by 2030.


Our friends at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] report that they spent over half a billion dollars to deliver emergency, life‑saving supplies to children in urgent need of assistance in 2017.  This is the agency’s highest expenditure on supplies for humanitarian crises, as famine, droughts, conflict and malnutrition threatened the survival of millions, especially in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and north‑east Nigeria.


From the World Health Organization (WHO), a study shows that a new formulation of a drug to prevent excessive bleeding following childbirth could save thousands of women’s lives in low- and lower‑middle‑income countries.  Approximately 70,000 women die every year because of post‑partum haemorrhage — increasing the risk that their babies also die within one month.

**Press Briefings

After we are done here, and Brenden [Varma] will brief you, at 12:40 p.m., or about [that time], the President of the Security Council for the month of June, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation, will brief you for a wrap‑up briefing.

At 4 p.m., Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of the Counter‑Terrorism Executive Directorate, will brief you on the ongoing Counter‑Terrorism Conference.  That will take place at the Delegates’ Entrance, located on the first floor of the GA [General Assembly] Building.

At 5:45 p.m., Ayman H. Safadi, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Jordan, will brief at the Security Council stakeout, following his meeting with the Secretary‑General of the United Nations.

One more:  1:15 [p.m.] tomorrow, after the briefing, there will be Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, and Ambassador Sacha Sergio [Llorentty] Solíz, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations.  They will brief ahead of the Security Council meeting on Mine Action.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Is the SG going to discuss the… of course, he might discuss the situation in Dara’a with Mr. Safadi, the Foreign Minister of Jordan.  Is he going to ask him to open the borders for the refugees who are leaving their towns?

Spokesman:  I don’t want to prejudge the discussion.  Obviously, the situation in the Middle East will be discussed, and I think we’re all very thankful for the immense generosity and hospitality that Jordan has shown for lar… quite a number of years to Syrian refugees, but we’ll try to give you a bit more readout afterwards.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] vote to investigate attribution for certain chemical weapons attacks in Syria?  And has he been asked to provide any assistance from the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  No, we’ve taken note of the vote.  As you know, the OPCW is independent of the Secretariat.  We’re, obviously, taking a look at the decision, but I’m not aware of any contact as of now.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any comment on the possible SG trip to Nagasaki [Japan] during this summer?

Spokesman:  No, I saw the report.  As you know, we don’t have any official trip to announce.  But I think the Secretary‑General attaches great importance to the remembrance ceremonies of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Mr. Bays and then Matthew.

Question:  I’d like to ask Raed’s question another way.  Does the Secretary‑General back the call by the humanitarian adviser to the Special Envoy, Jan Egeland, who has, in the last few hours, said that Jordan must open the border?

Spokesman:  I think it’s very important that those fleeing conflict and those [needing] help be given that help.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I’d asked before about this… the situation in Lebanon, where they said openly that they were not going to process the visas of UNHCR staff until there was a plan.  They’ve now formalized that and said, until there is a plan announced by UNHCR to move refugees back to Syria, there’ll be no visa or residency permit renewals.  Has the Secretary‑General… given the… the… one, that this is sort of a something of a threat to the UN staff working there and on the issue of refugees, what does he think of this?  And what… what’s the UN system doing about this open…?

Spokesman:  Well, UNHCR is in the lead on this issue.  They are talking to the Lebanese authorities.  As a matter of principle, we believe that any return of refugees should be voluntary.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you also about a letter that was sent by the President of Somaliland to the Secretary‑General on 18 June, complaining about SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary‑General] [Michael] Keating, calling him biased and raising a number of issues about the conflicts that have been taking place between Somaliland and its neighbours.  Has he resp… has… one, will you confirm getting the letter?  And, two, has he responded…?  What does he make of this?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of the letter, but the Secretary‑General has full confidence in Mr. Keating and the way he goes about his work.  Yes, sir?

Question:  You said that all countries should allow refugees to go in.  Does that apply to Israel, where many of the… many of the refugees headed to the… towards the occupied Golan?

Spokesman:  Look, as I said, as a matter of principle, people who need help should be given help.  Mr.… go ahead, and then we’ll go to Brenden.

Question:  Let me ask you the same question in different angle.  So, so far, there is no specific schedule for SG trip to Japan during the… August.  But, last… last month, the SG released the… the first disarmament agenda for the first time.  So, how… how does SG see the impact on his trip if he’s… is going a trip to the [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  I salute your efforts.  It’s a lot of hypotheticals.  What I can tell you is that, obviously, what happened at Nagasaki and Hiroshima is the most powerful symbol possible of why we need a nuclear‑free world.

Question:  Can you confirm that two UN staff members have gone missing in Hodeidah?  I’ve heard that two WFP [World Food Programme]…

Spokesman:  No, I’m not able to.

Question:  The other question I wanted to ask you is, there’s a youth envoy.  There’s a person named Joel Davis who’s… it’s a little murky, but he seemed to be described as a liaison to the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence and Conflict, has now himself been charged with… with child sex… sex abuse.  And I wanted to know, can you… because it remains unclear what his status with the UN is…

Spokesman:  I can check.  I have not heard this.

Question:  Please.  Joel Davis, Washington Post.

Spokesman:  I will check.  Mr. Varma.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.