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

2 July 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary‑General and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh today, where they saw first‑hand the conditions of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.  Speaking at a press encounter in Cox’s Bazar, the Secretary‑General said that it is impossible to visit the camps without being heartbroken over the suffering of the Rohingya people.  He said he had listened to terrible stories of massive violence — of killings, rape, torture, and houses or villages burnt. And he added that it is also terrible to see more than 900,000 people living in terrible circumstances.  The Secretary‑General said that the solidarity expressed by the international community has not been translated into sufficient support to the Rohingya people of Myanmar in Bangladesh, with the nearly $1 billion appeal only 26 per cent funded.  The Secretary‑General said he was extremely grateful to World Bank President Kim for mobilizing the World Bank and said he expected the World Bank to announce an extremely important contribution to the Rohingya refugees and to the local community.

During the day, the two toured what is now the world’s largest refugee camp, hearing first‑hand accounts of the violence these refugees had been subject to in Myanmar.  Some described, in vivid terms, a climate of fear, with military raids in their villages.  One man explained how women in his family were raped and killed while he was hiding in the forest.  Others outlined the continuing restrictions of freedom of movement and lack of access to services imposed on them by the Government of Myanmar.  The Secretary‑General and the World Bank Group President took particular care to spend time with women and girls who recounted stories of unspeakable violence against themselves and their families.

The Secretary‑General and President Kim arrived in Dhaka on Sunday.  On his arrival at the airport, the Secretary‑General said that this was going to be a visit of solidarity with the Rohingya refugees and with the people of Bangladesh, especially the local communities, who have shown such so much generosity towards the refugees.  Later in the morning on Sunday, the Secretary‑General and the World Bank Group President met with Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh.  The Secretary‑General and Dr. Kim assured the Prime Minister of closer collaboration between the two institutions under the leadership of the Government to address the complex Rohingya crisis.

**Western Sahara

This morning we issued a note from the Personal Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler.  After visits to Algiers, Nouakchott, Rabuni and Rabat, he paid a three‑day visit to Western Sahara from 28 June to 1 July, which included meetings in Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla.  In his meetings, Mr. Köhler stressed the importance of making progress towards a just, lasting and mutually agreeable political solution to the conflict which will provide for the self‑determination of the Sahrawi people. He underlined the need for a new spirit of realism and compromise. Such a solution, he stressed, would remove obstacles to more foreign direct investment and to the creation of growth and jobs in Western Sahara and the entire Maghreb region. The Personal Envoy was encouraged by the openness of all interlocutors to play a constructive role in the search for a solution to the conflict, including by building trust across the political divide.  The full note is online.


You will have seen the statement we issued yesterday on Mali, in which the Secretary‑General condemned the attack perpetrated against the international forces in Gao which left two civilians dead.  Fifteen civilians as well as some Barkhane personnel were wounded in the attack.  The Secretary‑General expresses his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims as well as to the Malian Government and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He also reiterates the determination of the United Nations to continue to support, together with international forces operating under relevant Security Council mandates, the tireless efforts of the Malian authorities and people towards the stabilization of their country.


Over the weekend, we received reports that intense air and ground‑based strikes continued in multiple areas in Syria’s Dara’a Governorate, resulting in the death and injury of civilians and the largest displacement in the area since the conflict began.  Our humanitarian colleagues say that an estimated 270,000 people have been displaced.  Estimates are subject to change as numbers continue to be verified and front lines shift.  A United Nations cross‑border convoy has been on standby at the Ramtha border crossing since 27 June and will proceed as soon as the security situation allows.

In response to the surge of internally displaced persons seeking protection at the Nasib/Jaber border crossing, as of 1 July and in coordination with Jordanian authorities, the United Nations is providing aid to the Jordanian side of the crossing, which is then transported by Syrian NGOs (non‑governmental organizations) to the Syrian side for distribution.  Aid includes food, water, hygiene and dignity kits, basic items and mobile medical assistance and equipment.  The United Nations and its humanitarian partners stand ready to respond to tens of thousands of displaced people at shelters and sites, through the most direct routes, as soon as access allows.


The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned yesterday’s attack in Jalalabad that killed at least 19 civilians, and expressed its concern about a recent spate of incidents in which civilians have been killed in attacks on schools and medical centres.  “The architects of this appalling crime must be brought to justice,” said Ingrid Hayden, the Secretary‑General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.  You can find the full statement on UNAMA’s website.


I was asked earlier about the elections in Mexico.  I can say the following:  The Secretary‑General congratulates the people of Mexico for the civic exercise of participation in the largest elections that the country has celebrated.  He expresses the readiness of the United Nations to work with the new Administration, continuing a long‑standing tradition of excellent cooperation between Mexico and the United Nations.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) today urged the Austrian Presidency of the European Union Council to unite European countries so they can deliver common policies that uphold the right to asylum.  UNCHR also released a series of recommendations which include establishing a fair distribution mechanism across the EU in support of countries receiving a disproportionate number of asylum claims and a regional approach to make disembarkation more predictable and manageable.  Meanwhile, the agency today named American actor, director and producer Ben Stiller its latest Goodwill Ambassador.  You can find more information about this online.

**International Organization for Migration

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) reports that over 200 migrants drowned over the past three days in the Mediterranean Sea.  On Friday, 103 people died in a shipwreck north of Tripoli, which was caused by smugglers taking migrants to sea in unsafe vessels.  And on Sunday, 100 people were reported missing after a small rubber boat capsized off Al Khums, east of Tripoli.  IOM staff is providing food and health services to the survivors.  So far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard has returned some 10,000 people to shore from small vessels.

**Honour Roll

And today, I am delighted to welcome Bolivia and Chile to the Honour Roll.  Their full payments to the regular budget take that total to 107.  Muchas gracias, Bolivia y Chile!

**Sustainable Development

I want to flag that next Monday, more than 2,000 government, business and civil society leaders will participate in the high‑level political forum on sustainable development.  The theme this year is “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”.  The Forum will go on until 18 July and you can find the full programme online.

**Press Briefings

This afternoon at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Olof Skoog, the Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of July.  He will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month, which they agreed to just now.  That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, I was trying to cover the Fifth Committee over the weekend.  It was a little difficult, but I've seen articles saying that the budget has been approved and that the reforms are approved.  And so I wanted to — I wanted to know if you — if that's true or if, in fact, neither one is approved.  And I've heard from people — now that I'm back in the building — down in the Fifth Committee that the Secretariat hasn't sent anyone down to say that there's a problem with the peacekeeping budget having expired on 30 June as it seems to have done, can you… can you… has the money, in fact, been approved?  And, if not, what is the Secretariat going to do about it, and what is the impact on actual peacekeepers?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say is the Fifth Committee has reached an agreement on the overall level of peacekeeping operations budgets and allocations for each mission.  Details of each budget were being considered yesterday, and the final budget figures for each mission will still be confirmed by the Secretariat.  The General Assembly will adopt the budgets as soon as the Fifth Committee has reached agreement on the remaining agenda following the closing of the current session.  So we do expect the payments to be processed.

Question:  I guess — okay.  So how long would it take that the payments wouldn't be processed?  And I guess my question is:  I've heard from some people in the Africa Group that — I guess if they haven't had a vote, how do you use this word that these numbers have been approved?  Approved in what context?  Approved in any public meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  By the Committee.  And, like I said, we're waiting for the General Assembly States to agree.

Question:  Can the Committee approve things in meetings that are not public and are not on UN TV?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's a question to ask the Fifth Committee.

Question:  But you just said it was approved, and I'm just saying that there was no public meeting.

Deputy Spokesman:  This is the information we have from our General Assembly colleagues.

Question:  And just one final question.  I was told that the reason that this peacekeeping budget has gone over the line is because the Secretariat said don't approve peacekeeping unless you also approve GSDM [global service delivery models] and these reform proposals.  So some people said it seems kind of to put peacekeepers at risk in exchange for another desired outcome of the Secretary‑General.  What would you say to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I would say is that the discussions were going on over the weekend, and, like I said, they had to come to an agreement.

Question:  On reform?

Deputy Spokesman:  On the peacekeeping budgets.  Yes?

Question:  So we saw that statement from… about Mr. Horst Köhler and his visit to Western Sahara, and I wonder whether he has any plans for… to return to negotiations for the parties?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he's had his various talks.  At this stage, there's nothing to announce, but he will evaluate following his discussions.  He was, as we pointed out in the note, pleased by the constructive attitude amongst his various interlocutors.  Yes?  Joe.

Question:  Did the subject of human rights… alleged human rights violations in Bangladesh come up during the Secretary‑General's discussions with the Bangladesh leadership?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General speaks about human rights in all of the countries that he visits with all his interlocutors.  I don't have anything specific to share on that, though.  Yes?

Question:  Follow‑up question on that.  With the meeting with the Prime Minister, did he also discuss… I mean, I know his focus is on the humanitarian situation and the Rohingya, but there's another crisis in Bangladesh, which is the political crisis and big question marks about democracy and rule of law ahead of elections.  Did he express his concern to the Prime Minister?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have a full readout of his discussions with the Prime Minister.  Most of the discussions was about the support that we're providing for the Rohingya.  I'll check with Stéphane [Dujarric] whether there's anything further to share.   Yes?

Question:  Sure.  On the… on the… the coverage from Bangladesh has Sheikh Hasina saying, once again, that it is her intention to build an island further away on which to relocate Rohingya.  I was wondering, does… what's the Secretary‑General's view of that sort of relocation of Rohingya further away from the border?

Deputy Spokesman:  He commented on that in the press encounter that he just had.  We've shared that transcript with you, so I just refer you to what he said there.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], the Virunga and another park that are both World Heritage Sites, the Government has just announced that they will be opening them up for oil drilling.  I wanted to know what is the impact?  What's the effect of something being a UN or UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] World Heritage Site, and also does the UN have any view of opening up these, you know, environmental treasures to oil drilling?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously we're aware of the rights of, the sovereign rights of Governments to their territory.  At the same time, of course, we have concerns about World Heritage Sites.  I would refer you to UNESCO for their response.  They'll have to evaluate the situation following this report.

Question:  Did the Secretary‑General get a letter from Cyprus, his Permanent Representative in Cyprus, about alleged violations of its airspace by Turkey, and, if so, what is his response?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of that, but I'll check.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.