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

29 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.

Secretary-General’s Travels

As we said yesterday, the Secretary‑General will be getting on a plane later today where he will be travelling, making his way to Bangladesh.  He will be in Dhaka on Sunday and in Cox’s Bazar on Monday and back in New York late Tuesday evening.  As we mentioned yesterday, this is a joint trip with the President of the World Bank, Jim Kim, and they will also be accompanied by the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Executive Director of UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund].

Trip Announcement

And to round out, to continue on our travel section, the Deputy Secretary‑General will travel this weekend to participate in the thirty‑first African Union Summit that’s taking place in Nouakchott in Mauritania on 1‑2 July.  The Deputy Secretary-General will then travel to South Sudan, Chad and Niger, starting 3 July, in a joint visit with the African Union and the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström.  Their visit will highlight women’s participation in peace, security and development in the three countries, with an additional focus on climate security and the Sahel.

In South Sudan on 3‑4 July, the Deputy Secretary‑General will have bilateral meetings with the authorities in Juba.  She will visit a protection of civilians site, a hospital that treats victims of gender‑based violence, and community resilience programmes.  She will hold meetings with women’s leaders, religious leaders and civil society groups, among others.  In Chad, on 5‑6 July, she will have meetings with authorities in N’Djamena.  She will also travel to a project site to meet with communities adapting to climate change and meet with religious, youth and women’s groups.  In Niger, on 7‑8 July, Amina Mohammed will have bilateral meetings with authorities in Niamey.  She will also meet with leaders of women’s groups and visit a women’s health centre in Niamey.

The AU’s [African Union] Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, Bineta Diop, will join the Deputy Secretary‑General in all three countries and Margot Wallström will join in Chad and Niger.  The Deputy Secretary‑General is expected back in New York on 9 July.  She will brief the Security Council on the topic of women, peace and security in the Sahel the following day and that will fall under the presidency of Sweden.

Haiti/Panama

Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, is headed to Haiti and Panama from 3 to 5 July.  In Haiti, Mr. Lowcock is expected to meet with Government officials, humanitarian partners, and people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.  He will call for increased international support for the Government‑led emergency preparedness efforts for sudden onset disasters, as well as the ongoing response to food insecurity and cholera.  In Panama, Mr. Lowcock plans to meet with the Government and regional development and humanitarian partners, and reiterate the support for regional preparedness efforts for sudden onset disasters, as well as principled humanitarian support where required.

Syria

And you will have seen earlier today the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today called on all sides to the conflict in Syria to end the escalating violence in Dara’a Governorate, abide by their obligations under international law, and avoid a repetition of the bloodshed and suffering seen earlier this year in eastern Ghouta.

Yemen

And on Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues say that fighting and shelling have reportedly decreased in Hodeidah Governorate, but air strikes continue to be reported, especially in southern districts.  Families continue to be forced to leave their homes and the Governorate.  Displacement is affecting the capacity of institutions to provide basic social services due to the absence of staff.  In Hodeidah City, they report, most shops and commercial activities remain closed.  Approximately 42,000 people have now received emergency assistance.  Some 18,000 emergency kits have been pre‑positioned in Hodeidah containing enough food rations for a family for a week, basic hygiene requirements and other essential items.  Partners continue to pre‑position additional supplies.  About 76,000 metric tons of wheat grain have been pre‑positioned, sufficient for 988,000 households for one month.

Democratic Republic of the Congo - Central African Republic

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic reports that the anti‑Balaka commander Wekanam Crépin, also known as “Pépin” and also known as “Pino Pino”, and more than 30 associated people were extradited yesterday from the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa, to Bangui.  The group includes women and juveniles, although it is not yet clear whether they were combatants.  Crépin was arrested by the armed forces of the DRC on 15 May after crossing the border from the CAR into the DRC, along with 33 members of his group.  He is suspected of involvement in the attack that led to the deaths of five UN peacekeepers in Yongofongo in the Central African Republic on 8 May 2017, as well as of attacks against civilians in and around Bangassou, in the south‑east part of the country.  The UN mission coordinated the extradition in conjunction with the authorities of the Central African Republic, and with the support of the Government of the DRC and the UN peacekeeping mission in that country.

Migrants

Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) released their proposal to the European Union for a regional arrangement to ensure the predictable disembarkation and processing of people rescued at sea.  The proposal stresses that disembarkation should be a shared responsibility across the Mediterranean Basin, with due respect for the safety and dignity of all people on the move.  It also notes the need to address the drivers of forced displacement and irregular migration.  More information on their respective websites.

Press Encounters Today

After we are done and you are done with Brenden [Varma], [at] 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Agnès Marcaillou, who heads up the UN Mine Action Service, and Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, the Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the UN.  And they will be briefing you ahead of the Security Council briefing on mine action.

2 p.m.: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN‑Women [United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women], will be here along with Achim Steiner, UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Administrator, to brief on the ongoing Counter‑Terrorism Conference.  This will take place at the Delegates’ Entrance stakeout of the General Assembly Building.

Press Conference Monday

2 p.m. on Monday, after the noon briefing, there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Olof Skoog, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations, who assumes the presidency of the Security Council for the month of July.  He will be here to brief on the programme of work for the month of July.

Tropics

Today is what day?  What international day is today?  Today is the International Day of the Tropics.  As you know, the Tropics are the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn — we learn things here in this briefing room! — and host approximately 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and much of its language and cultural diversity.  The Day of [the Tropics] celebrates this diversity while highlighting the challenges in the region such as climate change, deforestation and urbanization.

Asteroids

Two more days, and tomorrow is one of my favourite days of the year.  Tomorrow is International Asteroid Day, which raises awareness about impact hazard of asteroids and informs the public about the crisis communication actions to be taken at the global level in case of a credible near‑Earth object threat.  Don’t laugh — when the sky falls, you’ll be coming here.

Members of Parliament

And tomorrow is also the first time we mark the International Day of Parliamentarism.  I also learned a new word today!  This Day celebrates the ways in which parliamentary systems of government improve the day‑to‑day lives of people the world over.  It is also an opportunity for parliaments to take stock, identify challenges, and ways to address them effectively.

Honour Roll

And the money is starting to trickle back in.  After not being able to report some good news for a while, we have now reached 105, as our friends in Honduras have paid their budget dues in full.  And we are now at 105.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the SG’s visit to Myanmar, I was wondering why the SG’s Special Envoy for Myanmar is not attending the trip?

Spokesman:  He’s going to Bangladesh.  Did I say…?

Correspondent:  But he’s visiting… sorry, he’s visiting the Rohingya refugees.

Spokesman:  He’s visiting Bangladesh.  The the focus of the visit is on the refugees, the need to increase the support, financial support for the refugees, the need to help Bangladesh, help Bangladesh support this very large refugee population, so it’s really one looking at humanitarian and development issues.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Is there any updates on the humanitarian situation and situation in general in Dara’a?  And during the meeting yesterday between the Jordanian Foreign Minister with the SG, did the SG ask the Foreign Minister about opening the borders for the refugees, and especially that Mr. [Ayman] Safadi made it clear that he, he called the UN and all other countries to focus on providing the… the help to these displacement people in Syria, not anywhere else.

Spokesman:  First of all, I think we all need to recognize the amazing generosity that Jordan and the Jordanian people have been providing to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have sought refuge, and they are not just in camps but they’ve been hosted in communities.  And the Jordanian people have really opened their hearts and their doors to them, and I think we appreciate those extraordinary efforts.  As a matter of principle, civilians who are fleeing violence should always be afforded protection.  We, the UN system, our humanitarian partners, will provide help to them wherever they are and UNHCR and other, other humanitarian partners had pre‑positioned, had pre‑positioned supplies.  There are some cross‑border convoys going in.  Obviously, the answer to all this is a halt to the fighting, and the Secretary‑General’s, the Secretary‑General has been very much, he’s been on the phone quite a bit with various interlocutors.  His aim is to avoid a bloody battle in, in the area, which would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.  And it’s important that everyone who has influence over the parties, who has, who is directly involved, regroup and focus on the political solution.

Question:  Mr. Safadi said that the UN should provide the aid and help to these people in Syria.  Can you, like, under this circumstance…?

Spokesman:  Yes, we are, there are cross‑border convoys going in and we are reaching, we will help people wherever they are, and we are reaching them in some of those, some of those areas.  Let’s just stick to Al‑Jazeera.

Question:  Because it’s sort of a follow‑up question on a related subject.  Does the Secretary‑General believe he and Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura were tricked, used, with regard to de‑escalation zones, in that those de‑escalation zones were simply used by the Syrian Government and the Syrian army as a way of concentrating their military efforts on one area, not to overextend themselves and then move to the next area?

Spokesman:  Look.  This conflict has been going on for eight years now.  I don’t think, we’re not in the business of being offended by what one of the parties… we are, as humanitarians, offended by the suffering of the Syrian people that has been going on for too long.  We are continuing to work with the parties to push for a political settlement.  Mr. de Mistura continues to be hard, hard at work.  As I said, the, an increase in fighting in, that part of Syria, continued fighting would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.  Masood, and then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you.  On this… Yemen, which you just talked about.  How… Mr. Martin Griffiths has said that there seems to be some sort of an agreement that this… Saudis will not attack Hodeidah and Aden right now, but would that, how long will that truce last?  And does the Secretary… do you have any information as to how long will, when will this be finalized that this…?

Spokesman:  Well, his discussions… his discussions are going on.  He was in, he was in Oman, where he was, where he met with the chief negotiator for Ansar Allah.  He is trying to do his best to avoid an attack on Hodeidah, on Hodeidah City, which, like I said for the previous issue, would also have catastrophic humanitarian consequences in an area which has already suffered greatly.  His aim is to, and he has continued to try, and I think he feels successfully narrowing down with the parties what needs to be agreed in order to avoid this final push‑off, final, doing what he can to avoid an attack on, on Hodeidah, and as he said, he would like to see the parties back at the table within the next weeks.

Question:  So has there been an agreement by the Saudi coalition that they will not…?

Spokesman:  I think when there is an agreement, we will announce such an agreement.

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about… on the issue of sexual harassment in the UN, seemingly ineffective investigation mechanisms about Jina Moore’s story in the New York Times where… basically, there’s three things about it I want to ask you about.  One seems to say that… that when… here in Headquarters, when a person went to complain on behalf of a victim, they were told that they would have to tell everything that they knew, and that their identity, as well as the victim’s, would be turned over to… to the alleged perpetrator.  I also wanted to ask you about a comment… a part of the article where it says that it was said that a supervisor saying they “liked having loose women with sexy clothes in the office” wasn’t considered harassment.  This is a direct quote from the article, so I’m not… and the other one I guess… you know, it has to do with… with inconsistency between UNFPA and World Food Programme (WFP) in terms of even the standard of proof they apply to complaints, so what… what is the…?

Spokesman:  Listen, I think… I can’t… I have no doubt of the veracity of, of the quotes in the story.  I’m not going to try to, I have no reason to doubt that and I can’t comment on these, on these cases.  Obviously, those kinds of comments as you made are unacceptable in this workplace or any other workplace.  You know, at the urging of the Secretary‑General over the last few months, I think OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] has clearly upgraded the way it handles sexual harassment investigations and puts a priority on them.  It is in the process of hiring a whole batch of investigators that will be specialized in sexual harassment cases.  Overwhelmingly we hope that this new group of investigators will be women investigators.  The aim of their, their approach is really a victim‑centred approach to conduct the interviews in a way that is mindful of the issue that is being talked about and obviously, considered cultural and community‑based, based issues.  I think we’ve, overall, there is now a much better system to handle these complaints.  There is a, there is a hotline that is fully functioning.  We are in the process of populating a system‑wide database of people who have been let go for sexual harassment reasons or who have left, who have left the Organization prior to the conclusion of an investigation and that will enable the system to do better reference checks to make sure people don’t get let go, and leave one part of the UN system to be hired, to be hired by another.

This is a, a top priority of the Secretary‑General and as he’s often said, he also sees it as a power issue, as a gender, gender power issue, and that’s why he’s already achieved more than 50 per cent gender balance in the, in the senior management group, in the, in the RCs [Resident Coordinator].  I think this is something that is very, very close to, to the heart of the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, part of the work of the CEB [Chief Executives Board] that was done a couple of months ago is the, the harmonization of policies across the system, to make sure that things are, are dealt with, inasmuch as they can, in the same manner.  Obviously, a lot of the organizations have different governing bodies, different structures and different rules, but this is a… the issue of sexual harassment is one that all of the leaders of the UN system are fully seized of.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  When you say, when you say harmonization, what is the standard of proof?  Is it beyond a… is it… beyond a reasonable doubt, or is it clear and convincing evidence?  It seems to like…

Spokesman:  I think… it’s obviously one of the issues that, that they’re trying to, to look at.

Question:  And on OIOS, I had asked you earlier in the week, and you had said, you know, you don’t keep track of people’s leave, which is a fine answer, except that Heidi Mendoza is the USG [Under‑Secretary‑General], so I, I felt like, I thought if the USG goes on leave for any length of time, there’s an officer in charge and I’m asking because there are other issues that are in front of OIOS in which there’s been no action, so is she… is there an officer‑in‑charge or not?

Spokesman:  There’s always… there’s always an officer‑in‑charge.

Question:  Who is the officer‑in‑charge?

Spokesman:  I don’t know who the officer‑in‑charge, but there’s already somebody in charge, and right now, I’m in charge.  Mr. James.

Question:  There is a new EU [European Union] migration deal which some NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], for example MSF [Médecins sans Frontières], say is going to lead to more people dying at sea.  Does the UN have a comment?

Spokesman:  You know, I think, as I mentioned, the… our colleagues at the International Organization of Migration (IOM), at UNHCR, have looked at what was agreed to.  They have, they have submitted quite a long list of suggestions to the European Union on how to manage the flow, on ensuring that the, the responsibility for disembarkation of migrants from the Mediterranean be shared across the Mediterranean basin and, most importantly, that the safety and the dignity of people who are on the move be respected at all times.  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Okay.  So you mentioned that you think Jordan’s role in so far hosting over 1 million Syrian refugees, but do you not think that giving the proximity of Jordan that, despite what it’s already being done, there’s still a… they still have a responsibility towards assisting refugees that have now reached its borders and are currently stuck there?  I mean, yes, we understand that Jordan has done, has carried a giant burden so far, but does this exclude it from now its current responsibility towards these refugees?

Spokesman:  Geography plays a role, but it would really be unfair to say that, you know, that Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey have the greatest, have the greatest responsibility.  The responsibility to take care of the humanitarian situation in Syria is a global responsibility, and I think if you look at the three countries that have, that I have mentioned, whether it’s Turkey, whether it’s Lebanon, whether it’s Jordan and there are others, have really carried, have gone, have carried, have shouldered their responsibilities in ways that really should put others to shame sometimes.  And so we are fully mindful of what Jordan has already, has already done and, as I said, people on the move need protection.  We will, we will provide humanitarian help to people wherever they are.

Question:  Stéphane, do you have any, on immigration, too, but in this country, do you have any comments regarding the way the US Government is treating undocumented immigrants?  And also the new plans to build camps on military bases or land?  And whether somebody from your office is following up on these issues?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re all, I think, following, we’re all following these… sorry.  We are all following these issues extremely, extremely closely.  The Secretary‑General has a number of principled positions which have remained unchanged.  He’s expressed those publicly.  Obviously, the need to keep families together.  Ever since his time as High Commissioner for Refugees, I think he has advocated for a strong push and prosecution of those who smuggle human beings, of those who traffic in human beings, but he has also stood firm and spoken out loudly against the criminalization of irregular migrants and that continues to be his position.  Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is a follow‑up on the Secretary‑General’s visit to Bangladesh and Cox’s Bazar, in that will he, I mean, specifically, will he be talking with the Rohingya refugees?  Will he be talking about them being repatriated to…?

Spokesman:  The aim of the visit is for him to speak to those people, to those men, women, and children who have fled Myanmar for all the reasons that we know.  Some of them have been in Bangladesh for a number of years.  Others have arrived over the last year.  They have suffered tremendously, especially, especially women.  We’ve all seen and know about the reports of rape and assault.  He will be visiting UNFPA‑led centres that are dealing with victims and survivors of gender‑based violence.  He will be, he will not be so much talking to them as he will be listening to them and listening to their stories, listening to their plight, listening to their suggestions.  When and if they return is up to them.  Return has to be voluntary.  It has to be safe and it has to be dignified.

Question:  So… [inaudible] safe passage that they need to get back to their place in Myanmar.  Has he had any assurances from the Myanmar Government?

Spokesman:  We, I don’t think, it is not the UNHCR’s position or anybody else’s position that, I think the time is not ripe for them.  The conditions on the ground are not just yet ripe for them to return.  Mr. Lee, and then James.

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask you about Burundi, the AU, and something about the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).  There was a meeting between the Secretary‑General and the official of the East Africa Commission (EAC), after which they gave a readout, he didn’t, but their readout says he praised them for their work on Burundi, and also said he would be, he would be participating in the AU summit in Mauritania.  As to Burundi, I wanted to know…

Spokesman:  That who would be participating?

Correspondent:  The Secretary‑General.  I’m reading…

Spokesman:  The Deputy Secretary-General is representing the Secretary‑General, as I just said.

Question:  No, I understand that.  Maybe they misunderstood what he said, but my question is, is it the case that he commended the EAC for its work on Burundi, given that in the same week in, in the Human Rights Council, the panel that studies Burundi said there’s been, you know, massive abuse of rights and killings?  Is he, is he comfortable with their role?

Spokesman:  I don’t think there’s been massive abuse of rights and killing by the East African Community.

Question:  No, no.  By Burundi.  Does he feel that their work on Burundi has been successful, given the killings…?

Spokesman:  I think, I don’t think anybody is, is satisfied with the situation in Burundi.  We continue to work very closely in the discussions that are being led by the EAC and we continue to support their work.

Question:  And Mr. [Horst] Köhler going to the AU?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  It’s a good question.  I saw the press report, but I have not received a call from him.

Correspondent:  I have a Human Rights Commissioner question.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  I wanted to ask you.  There was a Q and A by Kate Gilmore, the Deputy High Commissioner of Human Rights, today in Geneva, and an issue arose in which… several whistle‑blowers raised the fact that they have evidence, they say, that the spokesperson for, for Prince Zeid, Rupert Colville, has, from, on his UN computer during UN time, said that the whistle‑blowers are the worst people he’s ever known, used a profanity.  And so they wanted to know, since it’s, it’s their understanding that this was then said in a personal capacity by the spokesman, not as a UN statement, whether the UN will, in fact, waive immunity so that they can take some kind of a legal action?  They’re very troubled that the spokesperson…

Spokesman:  I… I didn’t see the Q and A.  What I do know is that Mr. Colville does an outstanding, an outstanding job in promoting and defending human rights.

Question:  Would you say it’s consistent with the whistle‑blower protections…?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to, I’m not going to talk about things that I don’t know, most of the time.

Question:  Human rights‑related question, again.  Iraq and the Iraqi Prime Minister has ordered the execution of hundreds of suspects that may be members of ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant].

Spokesman:  It’s, it’s obviously something that’s of grave concern to us.  We have had dialogue with the, with the Iraqi authorities on the use of the death penalty, which is obviously something that we stand firmly against.  Masood.

Question:  Stéphane, do you have anything to say about this Gaza, teenager in Gaza shot dead by the Israeli authorities today?  Do you have any…?

Spokesman:  I didn’t see that particular report.

Question:  Any reaction?

Spokesman:  I didn’t see that particular report.  Mr. Varma, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.