25 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Starting off with a senior personnel announcement:  I am delighted to announce that the Secretary‑General is announcing the appointment of Victor Kisob of Cameroon as Deputy Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat) — that is at the Assistant Secretary‑General level.  He succeeds Aisa Kirabo Kacyira of Rwanda.  The Secretary‑General is grateful for her dedicated service to the Organization.

Mr. Kisob brings to the position more than two decades of service in human resources management; spanning international affairs, policy, strategy, operations, knowledge management and partnerships, coupled with a comprehensive background in the field within the UN system, in Somalia, Israel, Palestine, Zambia and Ethiopia.  We have more on his career in my office.


Turning to Syria:  the United Nations in Syria condemns the attacks on civilians in different parts of the country, including the terrorist bombing in Sweida City today that resulted in scores of civilian deaths and injuries.  A statement issued by Ali Al‑Za’tari, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, reiterated the UN’s call for protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, sparing them the brunt of violence and conflict, wherever they are.

Also, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, is briefing the Security Council this morning via videoconference from Geneva — that is in closed consultations.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today he was greatly encouraged by the recommendation of the World Bank’s board to allocate $90 million, up from $55 million last year, in response to the alarming economic circumstances in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular in Gaza.

Yesterday, at the Security Council meeting, there was a lot of discussions on UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] and today, they have asked us to share the following information:  UNRWA said today that because emergency assistance is critically underfunded in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Agency has been forced to take mitigating measures.

As a result, in the West Bank, UNRWA will discontinue its Cash for Work activities effective 31 July 2018.  However, households assessed in the last two years as being abject poor will be transitioned to the Social Safety Net Programme, a core programme of the Agency, which UNRWA is determined to continue.  This will ensure that the most impoverished refugees inside camps continue to receive assistance and become eligible for other forms of support which are not available under Cash for Work.

The Bedouin community’s food assistance programme will continue operating until the end of 2018, with UNRWA and its partner the World Food Programme (WFP) actively working to secure funds for its continuation next year.  The Community Mental Health Programme will be discontinued after 31 August of this year.  UNRWA is currently coordinating options to continue working with select communities alongside UN agencies.  Finally, mobile health clinics will be discontinued, effective 31 October.  UNRWA is identifying possible partners for continued service, also to select communities.  As a result of all these measures, 154 staff members hired against the now‑depleted emergency funds will not have their contracts renewed after their contract have reached their expiry date.

UNRWA also today issued a statement condemning the killing of children and calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the death of a 14‑year‑old refugee student at UNRWA’s Basic Boys School student at a camp near Bethlehem – which took place [on 23 July] following a large‑scale incursion by the Israeli security forces into the camp.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are concerned with the raging wildfires in Greece, which have resulted in the deaths of at least 80 people and have injured many more.  The Secretary-General expresses his deep condolences to the relatives of the victims and the Greek Government and commends the national response by the Greek authorities.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Government and international efforts in responding to this disaster.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic

You saw that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement from the Secretary‑General expressing his sadness at the loss of life in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, following the break of the dam.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that many people are still missing, with up to 13,000 people believed to have been affected and some 4,000 people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance.  OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] is in contact with the UN Resident Coordinator’s office in Laos and is ready to assist if requested.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed deep alarm today at persistent reports of human rights violations and abuses in the English‑speaking north‑west and south‑west regions of Cameroon, as well as in the extreme north.  He said it was regrettable that the Government of Cameroon had failed to grant the Human Rights Office access to the north‑west and south‑west despite repeated requests.

The High Commissioner said that the heavy‑handed security response that the Government appears to have employed since October last year will only make matters worse for the women, children and men caught in the middle.  To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, he urged the Government to launch independent investigations into the reports of human rights violations by State security forces as well as abuses by armed elements.  And I will pause here to take your questions.  Yes, Michelle?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Yesterday, there seemed to be a little confusion about some French aid… humanitarian aid for Syria that was delivered by Russia and was supposed to be distributed or overseen by the UN.  Can you explain to us what exactly happened?  The UN said it wasn’t involved, and then it was involved?  What happened?

Spokesman:  Sure, sure.  I just want to bring some clarity to it.  First of all, we welcome the recent French‑Russia initiative to deliver humanitarian aid to eastern Ghouta and we stand ready to provide all necessary support to ensure this important humanitarian operation is a success.  We continue to work closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other local partners to ensure that life‑saving aid reaches as many Syrians as possible in eastern Ghouta and in the south‑west of Syria and many other locations.  We are fully supportive of these efforts by France and Russia to deliver aid.  We do not have a supervisory role in the distribution of aid, which is carried out by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with the participation of the UN.  And OCHA stands ready to provide whatever support is needed to ensure this important humanitarian effort is a success.

Question:  So the UN isn’t supervising it?

Spokesman:  No, but we are… we do not have a supervisory role in the distribution of aid, but we are involved in the actual physical distribution.

Question:  Oh, okay.  Right.  But is that in partnership with…?

Spokesman:  In partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Question:  Okay.  Well, can you explain the confusion then, yesterday?

Spokesman:  Communications issues, as it often happens.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  You read the UNRWA announcement on the cuts in services.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on these cuts?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think… our concern is, obviously, with the lack of funding at UNRWA, and we would like to see much broader support… financial support for UNRWA.  The Secretary‑General has always believed that UNRWA plays a stabilizing role in the region.  I think UNRWA and its leadership is managing the situation as best it can.  And, you know, this is not just a problem with UNRWA.  We’ve seen it with other humanitarian emergencies.  When the… you know, when the money runs out, hard decisions have to be made.  When the money runs out, the money runs out, and that means aid stops from being distributed, mental health support… all these programmes that are often critical to populations in need, whether they are in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, whether they are with refugees in Lebanon, where we’ve seen, where in the past World Food Programme has had to cut aid, or in humanitarian emergencies across Africa, which are all… almost all very much underfunded.  At some point, decisions have to be made and that’s what UNRWA is being forced to do right now.

Correspondent:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  So the… the UNRWA statement, Stéph, talks about the $300 million.  We know what they’re referring to in that statement, to the United States cutting back.  Your statement now talks about much broader support.  Are you therefore agreeing with the US Ambassador as… as she spoke in the Council yesterday and she named countries that perhaps weren’t doing as much as they could?

Spokesman:  It’s not about… first of all, I’m not in the business of agreeing or disagreeing with Ambassadors.

Question:  What does “broader support” mean?

Spokesman:  I think any humanitarian appeal should have broad support from all Member States, and we recognize and we appreciate the generosity of those who have given, and we would like the membership as a whole to contribute what they can to all of our humanitarian appeals.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Yes.  As to the downed Sukhoi… Syrian Sukhoi last… yesterday.  Does UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] have any information as to where exactly it was downed?  Whether it was on the Israeli side, as the Israelis say, or the Syrian side?

Spokesman:  No, the information they have is where… what they were able to report with their own eyes, which is where the debris fell.  And I think I went through that yesterday.  The IDF [Israeli Defense Force] told UNDOF that they had fired on the jet, as it was two kilometres inside of the Israeli‑occupied Golan and the Syrian security forces… armed forces told UNDOF that, in fact, the jet was within the Syrian airspace, over… within Syria, when it was downed, so we have those two accounts.  Obviously, if we have any more information from UNDOF, we will…

Correspondent:  And my lying eyes have nothing to do with it?

Spokesman:  No, I was waiting for you to refer to your own eyes.

Question:  No, but a follow‑up on this.  Where exactly is UNDOF stationed right now?  Is it back to full deployment on both sides of the border?

Spokesman:  I will check with you.  I think it was observation post 54, if I recall, but I will check whether they are fully back to everywhere they were before this crisis started.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Follow‑up on… on UNRWA, too.  Why didn’t we see actually more action on that from the side of the Secretary‑General regarding the funding, except for issuing some… some statements, like trying to put more pressure on countries to fund… having a press conference with… to talk only about it, etc.?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General doesn’t have a check‑book, right?  There are 193 check‑books.  He has regularly, privately and publicly, encouraged Member States to give and to support UNRWA.  He participated in two UNRWA fundraising conferences.  One was in New York, the other one was in Rome.  He went to Rome, where he stood side by side with [UNRWA Commissioner‑General] Pierre Krähenbühl to encourage Member States, in the strongest possible terms, to give money and to give generously, so I think he has been doing his utmost to, as you say, put pressure on Member States, but at the end of the day, the check book is not in his jacket pocket.  Nizar?

Correspondent:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  First of all, thank you for the… your endeavours regarding EZTV.  It’s working better today.  I have a question…

Spokesman:  I take all the credit.  I told you I was soldering those cables overnight, so… [Laughter].  No, I do want to thank our colleagues at OICT [Office of Information and Communications Technology] and OCSS [Office of Central Support Services], who I know have been trying to focus on it.

Question:  Thank you.  My question is regarding Syria and the return of refugees from Lebanon.  Is the United Nations in any way helping those refugees to return?

Spokesman:  I will check with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  I do not believe they are, but that’s a question really for UNHCR.

Question:  Well, staying on Syria.  Today, there was a major attack by ISIS.  Some of those who attacked Suwayda area and massacred dozens of civilians came from an area called Tanf, where there is a US base there, and this is what the locals are saying and the reporters on the ground revealed that.  Did the United Nations spot any movement from that area and do you have any statement…?

Spokesman:  We don’t have the monitoring capacity to confirm or deny the reports that you’re talking about.

Question:  As for the Red Sea area, where there is… obviously, a Saudi vessel has been hit today.  Since you have UNVIM [United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism] on the ground there and they are investigating and watching all the cargo going in and out, was this vessel a military or a civilian one?

Spokesman:  I don’t… I will… UNVIM is there to monitor cargo.  It is not there to monitor security incidents, but if I have any information I will share it with you.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Since this was Bab‑el‑Mandeb, which is a place where a lot of the world commerce goes through, is there… does the Secretary‑General feel there’s a danger to freedom of navigation in that [area] as a result of the Yemen wars?

Spokesman:  The Yemen crisis is not making things simple, obviously, for those who are trying to… who apply those orders.  The Secretary‑General has always highlighted the regional risk of the continued fighting in Yemen.  Michelle?

Question:  Stéph.  Sorry this seems to be just breaking now, so you may not be aware.  The South Sudanese Government and the main opposition group led by Riek Machar have signed or initialled peace deal.

Spokesman:  As I have often said, this is asymmetric warfare, I don’t know.  Not that I don’t trust you and I… but I… let me verify on my end.

Question:  If you have a comment later on.  And just related to that.  On DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], has the SG attempted to speak to President [Joseph] Kabila since his trip?

Spokesman:  He has not, and we have not received a phone call, either.  Yes?

Question:  On Iraq.  Any comments?  And to which extent is the mission there following what’s going on, on the ground?  Demonstrations, arrests, and etc.?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean… I know they are following this situation very closely, as well as movements on all sides.

Question:  Yeah, but do you have any statements?

Spokesman:  Nothing more at this time.

Correspondent:  But this has been going since at least 10 days, and people were arrested.  Sometimes Internet, social media was cut.

Spokesman:  I think it’s important that people’s rights to demonstrate freely and peacefully be respected, and I’m sure the mission is monitoring closely, as we say.  Nizar, and then Benny.

Question:  Well, Saudi Arabia is digging some kind of… separating Qatar from the rest of the Arab peninsula by sea, and this is, of course, an ecological issue, not only political.  How does the United Nations view such change of ecology?

Spokesman:  I mean, I’ve seen those press reports.  I’m not… I’ve not been… I’m not aware that any work has actually started.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Any update on the status of Matthew?

Spokesman:  Nope.  When there is, he will know and you will know.  On that note, au revoir.

For information media. Not an official record.