17 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Yesterday evening, the Secretary-General held a press conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada.  In it, he said that it is absolutely essential to end the violence in Nicaragua immediately and revitalize the national dialogue there for a political solution.  He noted the recent human rights report on Nicaragua and affirmed the Government’s responsibility to protect its citizens — a principle that should not be forgotten at a time when we unfortunately have a death toll that is absolutely shocking.  The Secretary‑General also spoke at the inauguration of the commemorative week of the fortieth Anniversary of the Inter‑American Court of Human Rights.  He stressed the importance of the Court, saying that “there can be no development without peace, or peace without development.  And there can be no development or peace without respect for human rights.”  He said that despite the Court’s progress, human rights still face many challenges in the continent, as illustrated by widespread violence, corruption, poverty and discrimination.  He called on leaders to recognize the authority of the Court and renew their commitment to defend their citizens’ rights, in particular those of the most vulnerable populations, including women, indigenous peoples, youth and migrants and refugees.  His full remarks are available online.


Further on Nicaragua:  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says today that, three months after the violence started there, an estimated 280 people have died and 1,830 have been injured, in violence that has been overwhelmingly perpetrated by the State and by pro-Government armed elements.  Those killed include at least 19 police officers.  Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff on the ground report that a wide range of human rights violations are being committed, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions and denying people the right to freedom of expression.  There has been incitement to hatred and smear campaigns, including against human rights defenders.  UNHCR says that this appalling loss of life must stop — now.  It adds that it is imperative that the Nicaraguan State takes concrete steps as soon as possible to end the crisis and find a peaceful solution.

**Security Council

In closed consultations this morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, briefed the Security Council on the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).  She intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout following those consultations.  And this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting followed by closed consultations on West Africa.  Mohammad ibn Chambas, the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) will brief the Security Council and he also intends to speak to reporters afterwards.


As you will have seen in a note to correspondents we issued today, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, has wrapped up her first official visit to Bangladesh.  In the capital, Dhaka, she met with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and others, and also travelled to Cox’s Bazar where she visited refugee camps and heard of the atrocities committed in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.  In her meetings, the Special Envoy discussed the plight of the Rohingya refugees and expressed her appreciation to the Government and people of Bangladesh helping those seeking refuge from violence.  She said that the ongoing crisis requires a political solution that addresses the underlying issues.  More information on her visit is available on our website.  Also visiting Bangladesh is William Lacy Swing, the head of the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM).  He stressed that it is crucial for the world to remain focused on the crisis, warning that, as monsoon rains turned many hillsides to mud and with just one quarter of joint funding appeal for the entire response met so far, much of the progress made in recent months was at serious risk of collapsing.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that three United Nations peacekeepers were wounded today in an exchange of fire when they responded to an attack by anti-Balaka combatants on Pombolo village, in the south‑eastern Prefecture of Mbomou.  At least 1 civilian was killed and 20 others were injured.  The casualties of the armed combatants are currently being verified.  The assailants fled into nearby bushes, while local villagers sought protection outside the MINUSCA base, where the injured also received first aid.  Separately, the mission also reports that peacekeepers yesterday responded to an intrusion into the premises of an international non-governmental organization in Batangafo, in the north‑western Prefecture of Ouham.  The unidentified intruders shot and injured a local employee of the non-governmental organization.


Our human rights colleagues said today they are deeply concerned about a surge in violence perpetrated across communal lines in the Mopti region of central Mali.  In recent weeks, United Nations human rights staff have documented an alarming trend of civilians being driven from their homes, either after being directly targeted because of the community they belong to, or after deadly attacks on members of their community in neighbouring villages.  Since the beginning of the year, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has documented 99 incidents of intercommunal violence resulting in at least 289 civilian deaths.  Seventy-six of these incidents occurred in the Mopti region, 49 of them since 1 May.  There are more details online.


The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, will visit Uganda from 19 to 21 July.  Mr. Khare is expected to meet with President Yoweri Museveni and senior officials of the Government of Uganda.  He will also visit and meet with the leadership and personnel of the United Nations Regional Service Centre in Entebbe.  The Regional Service Centre provides a wide range of administrative, logistics and information and communications technology services to 13 missions in Africa, representing over 63 per cent of all United Nations peacekeeping and special political missions worldwide.

**Arab League

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, is in Geneva today for the fourteenth General Cooperation Meeting between the Secretariats of the United Nations and the League of Arab States.  He is co‑chairing the three-day meeting with Khaled al-Habbas, the Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General for International Political Affairs.  Representatives of more than 30 United Nations and Arab League funds, programmes and agencies will take part in the meeting to discuss international peace and stability and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, among other issues.  You can read more about this in a note to correspondents on our website.


Today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, visited the Gaza Strip and called for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation there, following intensified movement restrictions.  These were reportedly applied in reaction to fires caused by incendiary kites from Gaza.  Particularly worrying is the impact that shortfalls in fuel will have on the provision of critical health, water and sanitation services in Gaza, which depend on donor-funded emergency fuel to power back-up generators to deliver essential services.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People is implementing various employment generation interventions in Gaza to mitigate the impact of the harsh socioeconomic conditions.  First, UNDP will create more than 2,500 immediate and short-term job opportunities over a 12-month period, directly benefiting nearly 3,000 people, with the aim of ensuring that 40 per cent of job placements are women.  Second, a rapid employment scheme was also recently launched, covering approximately 1,500 young men and women, including persons with disabilities, who benefit from short to medium term employment opportunities.  UNDP has a press release with more details.


Our humanitarian colleagues report that hostilities in south‑western Syria continue to take a heavy toll on the civilian population, with airstrikes reported on towns in Quneitra Govenorate.  Today, airstrikes on Ain Teineh in rural Quneitra reportedly hit a school used as shelter for internally displaced persons, killing at least 10 women and children and injuring many others.  The situation remains extremely precarious for people displaced by recent hostilities.  We estimate that some 160,000 people are currently located in Quneitra Governorate, part of up to 234,500 people who are displaced throughout southern Syria.  The United Nations continues to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**High-Level Political Forum

The focus of the High-Level Political Forum today is centred on the presentation of Voluntary National Reviews, with parallel sessions held this morning.  The Voluntary National Review Lab also continued to conduct sessions, providing an informal platform for reflection by Member States, major groups and other stakeholders to take stock of the experience thus far with the Reviews, with the aim to further improve the process at the High-Level Political Forum.  During the three days of the ministerial segment that is currently underway, 46 countries are presenting their Voluntary National Reviews to demonstrate how they are implementing the 2030 Agenda nationally.  It is encouraging that, globally, two thirds of all countries have undertaken this kind of review, or will do so in the coming year.  And after I’m done, we’ll hear from Brenden Varma.  Are there any questions for me before that?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this Israel human rights violation…

Deputy Spokesman:  Talk into the microphone, please.

Question:  Sorry.  On this human rights violation in Gaza, where even now Israel has stopped any traffic between or exchange of goods at all between… I mean, any… any population in the… in the… the Palestinian population, even the Israeli people are saying it's like shooting a dead man and… Israeli blockade is like shooting.  So, my question simply is this.  Has any… I mean, besides the fact you just mentioned… mentioned something, has anybody talked to Israel about these… about unblocking these Gaza crossings?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes.  In fact, we mentioned yesterday that Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, has called upon all sides to end the standoff in Gaza.  He appealed on the Palestinians in Gaza to avoid provocations, including the flying of incendiary kites, and he appealed to Israel also to use maximum re… to use restraint in dealing with those provocations.  At the same time, he's been working with the various parties, including the Palestinian Authority, local officials in Gaza, and the Government of Israel, trying to do what can be done to unblock access to Gaza.  It's essential that Gaza be re‑opened and that humanitarian conditions in Gaza improve.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My first question is about Iraq, the recent protests that turned into turmoil and strict security measures by the Government.  Even social media has been cut off in some areas reportedly.  What is the reaction of the Secretary‑General about the situation there?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  We are aware of the demonstrations in Iraq, and we regret the tragic loss of life and injuries that have occurred.  We call on the Iraqi authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without threats, intimidations or arbitrary detentions.  We also call on all political actors to cooperate constructively in finalizing the ongoing electoral recount process, with a view to the swift establishment of a new government that will address the people's legitimate aspirations for tangible reforms that improve the daily lives of all Iraqis.

Question:  And, Farhan, one more question.  I don't know if I missed this, but do you have any comments about the [Donald] Trump‑[Vladimir] Putin Summit recently?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're evaluating.  Obviously, we welcome meetings between leaders that can help to encourage good bilateral relations, but at the same time, we would need to study what the tangible results of this were.  Yes?

Question:  That… I was going to ask what the Secretary‑General's reaction was to the meeting, which, of course, has implications for multilateral diplomacy as well as the United Nations.

Deputy Spokesman:  I mean, we don't have specific comments on any range of bilateral meetings.  Obviously, leaders meet with each other all the time, and we encourage the process by which they do that.  Obviously, our hope is that any such bilateral meetings are used to improve cooperation among nations.

Question:  I also note that the Secretary‑General is going to be meeting Friday with the US Secretary of State.  Do you have any details on the agenda, what might be discussed, who asked for the meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Mr. [Michael] Pompeo was going to be in New York, so we tried to arrange a meeting for that.  Yes, I do believe that the Secretary‑General and Secretary Pompeo will meet on Friday.  We'll try to get details and possibly a readout of that meeting, but as you're aware, there are many issues of mutual concern [on] which the Secretary‑General talks with the US officials.  Yes?  Actually, in the back, please.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I… I'm not sure, but I hear that you said there is some job opening in Gaza by UNDP, how it’s some 200 or 2,000.  If this is what you said, then is the money from the UN, or there's some donation from some countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is the money that comes from the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, which is a programme of the United Nations Development Programme.  And so, they are providing job employment activities in Gaza.  There's actually a detailed UNDP press release with some more information on that, if you're interested.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, a Spanish rescue group called Proactive Open Arms posted pictures on… you can see on the internet of a wreckage on the Mediterranean where there is a woman dead, with her toddler on a wreckage, and then they rescue another woman that was found still alive.  And they say that the Libyan… a Libyan military ship practically didn't help these people, somehow, someway rescued some, but left this… this behind because they apparently didn't want to… didn't want to be rescued by the Libyans.  So, the question is… because this is all over the internet, the body of a young child.  Just yesterday, on the Security Council, the Special Envoy, [Ghassan] Salamé, talking about the situation in Libya, expressive of a way the situation that Libya is still the situation is so unstable that the country, as the Secretary‑General already say many times, is not in a condition to actually keep migrants or even rescue them.  So, I repeat it again.  What the UN can do to convince or show to certain country that still believe that Libya can take care of… of people and instead these people are dying practically?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General and his Special Representative, Mr. Salamé, have made very clear that they do not believe the conditions on Libya are conducive to host these migrants.  We want to make sure that other nations can handle the challenges posed by having so many migrants on the high seas.  And, again, our priorities are to make sure that their lives will be protected and that their basic dignity and rights are protected as they seek asylum or try to find some place to stay that is safe for them and their families.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the meeting between the [Secretary‑General] and Secretary Pompeo, I might have forgotten these numbers, but I was just wondering, how many times have the two men met?

Deputy Spokesman:  Since Michael Pompeo became the Secretary of State, this would be their second meeting.  They've met in other capacities before that, because, as you know, he was… before that, he was CIA [United States Central Intelligence Agency] director.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  About this meeting of Special Envoy going to meet with the Rohingya refugees, can you tell me whether there was… there's any chance at all of a breakthrough in repatriation of these refugees to back to… what do you call… Myanmar, as being said over and over again, but, so far, the conditions are not there or… for their return.  Do you have any…

Deputy Spokesman:  The conditions are still not there for the return of the Rohingya.  There have been some steps forward, including the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between UN agencies on the one side and the Government of Myanmar on the other.  But, ultimately, we need more progress on creating the conducive conditions for the return of the Rohingya refugees.  And we are pressing for that, and we'll continue to work for that.  Yes?

Question:  Excuse me.  I was also going to ask that.  What are the conducive conditions for return?  And secondly, on Syria, who's bombing the most — Syria and Russia or our… who's to blame for these casualties?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are not able to determine first‑hand the responsibility for the attacks in Syria.  We've asked for all such attacks to be halted.  Obviously, there needs to be accountability pursued once that happens.  But, first, we need the violence to stop.  As for Myanmar, there's a number of steps that need to happen, including reconciliation and the creation of safe conditions on the ground in Rakhine State that would allow for the Rohingya who have fled to return.  But, we are pressing with that, and this is something that the envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has also pursued in her visits to Bangladesh and Myanmar both.  Yes?  Hold on.  You had something? Just one second.  Yes.

Question:  Why were there so many complaints about the deal, do you know, among some of the Rohingya groups?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, there are areas of agreement and of disagreement between the UN on one side and the Government of Myanmar.  We're working to resolve those.  As you'll have seen, the Secretary‑General addressed these questions recently, and I would just refer you to what he said.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, on Libya, yesterday, the head of UN Mission there, in his speech to the Security Council, said that there is a small… this is what he used, small amount of people actually preventing the speedy recovery of every aspect in the Libyan people life.  Did he share with the Secretariat those names who are responsible for the misery of the Libyan people, beside the list we have on sanctions? Did… like, did he share with just… he said just this statement because statement is really, like, scary.  There are… few people are preventing the success of elections, recovery, everything.

Deputy Spokesman:  He's been sharing the information as needed with the Security Council, and we're waiting to see how the Security Council will respond to the information provided by Mr. Salamé.  Come on up, Brenden.  What? Yeah.

Question:  Okay, yeah.  Are you going to share… if… if a list is… is listed, will you provide a us a copy?

Deputy Spokesman:  All of the public information that he provides, we are sharing with you, and we've shared his remarks from yesterday.  Beyond that, it's a question of ongoing discussion between the envoy on the one hand and the Security Council.

For information media. Not an official record.