30 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.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

As part of the Secretary‑General’s commitment to increase transparency on the reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse within the UN, I have an update on the period of 1 April‑30 June of this year.  Please note that not all the allegations have been fully verified and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.  During this period, the UN received 43 allegations involving UN personnel — 18 from peacekeeping and 25 from agencies, funds and programmes.  We also received 24 allegations involving non‑UN personnel working for implementing partners.  Three allegations pertain to non‑UN international forces authorized by a Security Council mandate.  The total number of allegations is therefore 70.  Twenty‑seven incidents allegedly took place in 2018; 9 in 2017; 5 in 2016; 10 in 2015; 2 in 2014; and the date is unknown for 17 allegations.

Of the 70 allegations, 18 are categorized as sexual abuse, 46 as sexual exploitation, 3 as other and 3 are of an unknown nature.  There are 84 victims:  46 women, 17 girls (under the age of 18), 12 females whose age is unknown, 1 boy (under the age of 18), and 5 males of an unknown age.  The gender of 3 victims is unknown.  Alleged perpetrators include 80 men, 4 women, and 4 individuals whose gender is unknown.  Of the 70 allegations, 3 have been substantiated through an investigation and 2 were not substantiated.  Thirty‑four allegations are at various stages of investigation; 24 are under preliminary assessment; 3 are under review and limited information has been provided by the reporting organization.  Four were closed under other circumstances.  Sixteen allegations have been referred to the Member State for action.

Meanwhile, we have continued our efforts to implement the Secretary‑General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.  With regard to ending impunity, in June we launched an electronic tool for screening UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, or who resigned or were separated during an investigation.


Marking the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, the Secretary‑General said in a message today that human trafficking is a vile crime that feeds on inequalities, instability and conflict.  He said that the United Nations is committed to advancing action to bring traffickers to justice while protecting and supporting their victims.  The Secretary‑General noted that, in their proposed Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted in December, Member States have also demonstrated resolve to prevent, combat and eradicate trafficking in persons in the context of international migration.

New data from the UN Migration Agency (IOM) shows that, while human trafficking is often viewed as an underground activity linked to irregular migration, this is not often the case.  In the past decade, nearly 80 per cent of journeys taken by victims trafficked internationally cross through official border points, such as airports and land border control points.  Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has found that nearly 30 per cent of identified victims of human trafficking are children.  In regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean, the proportion is over 60 per cent.


In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary‑General expressed his concern over persisting restrictions of civil liberties and democratic rights in the run‑up to today’s constitutional referendum in the Comoros.  He urged the Government, political parties and all other relevant stakeholders to do their utmost to respect the rule of law and human rights.  The Secretary‑General, echoing the recent decision of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government, calls on Comorian stakeholders to engage in a dialogue to ensure an inclusive consultation on constitutional reforms under the auspices of the African Union.


And we also put a statement out over the weekend concerning the elections in Mali.  […]  Oh, actually on Mali, while I’m mentioning that topic, our peacekeeping colleagues say that yesterday’s presidential election in Mali was conducted in most of the country in a peaceful manner and it is hoped that the vote tally will be held in a transparent manner leading to results acceptable by all.  However, a number of violent incidents and other difficulties prevented voting from taking place in 644 of 4,632 polling stations in the north and centre of the country, according to the Government.  In addition, our peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA, reports that yesterday afternoon, unidentified armed men launched 10 mortar shells against the MINUSMA camp in Aguelhok, Kidal Region.  No casualties or damage was reported.  A MINUSMA Quick Reaction Force and other security personnel already patrolling outside the city were dispatched to the area.


Panos Moumtzis, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, called once more in a statement for the safety and protection of local aid workers inside Syria.  He calls on all steps to be taken to increase the protection of aid workers and ensure the continuation of services in support of an effective sustainable humanitarian response to the people in need.  Syria is one of the most challenging and dangerous environments for humanitarians to operate in, in the world today.  Since the start of the crisis in Syria in March 2011, hundreds of humanitarian workers and service providers, including health workers, have been killed in the course of duty.  Meanwhile, on Saturday, a convoy of 452 people from the south‑west — more than half of them women and children — arrived in north‑western Syria, following a local agreement reached between the parties.  With this evacuation, the total number of people that have been evacuated from south‑west Syria to the north‑west rose to nearly 10,000 people.


Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, warned in a statement yesterday that recent air strikes in and around Hodeidah are putting innocent civilians at extreme risk.  In the last few days, she said, air strikes occurred near a reproductive health centre and public laboratory in Hodeidah and hit and damaged a sanitation facility in Zabid, as well as a water station, which supplies the majority of the water to Hodeidah City.

Ms. Grande added that, despite working under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, the United Nations and its partners have reached 80 per cent of the people displaced by fighting with some form of assistance.  But damage to sanitation, water and health facilities jeopardizes everything we are trying to do.  She warned that we could be one air strike away from an unstoppable cholera epidemic.  The UN and partners are requesting $3 billion through the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan to support millions of people in need across the country.  To date, $1.8 billion, 60 per cent of the resources required, has been received.


Yesterday, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Lombok in Indonesia, reportedly killing at least 14 people and injuring over 160.  The most severely impacted area was East Lombok district.  The United Nations expresses its deep condolences to the relatives of the victims and the Government of Indonesia and stands ready to support Government efforts in responding to this disaster.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in the past week in Myanmar, heavy monsoon rains have led to flooding across the country, reportedly killing at least 11 people and displacing nearly 100,000 others.  The Government of Myanmar has established 178 evacuation sites.  Local humanitarian and civil society organizations are supporting the Government‑led efforts.  The United Nations is liaising closely with the Government and humanitarian partners to provide assistance where needed.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden will be here to give an end‑of‑presidency briefing.  Are there any questions for me?  Yes, Edie?

***Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Could you give us an update on the request from the Government of Djibouti to the Secretary‑General for assistance in supporting in helping to resolve the border dispute with Eritrea?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Our office, the Department of Political Affairs is looking into the request, so we have received it.  There is no particular update to have on this just yet in terms of actions that we are taking, but we are looking to see how we can follow up.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know the Palestinian, the Palestinians were elected to be a chairman, to take a chairmanship at G77, one of the most powerful organizations of 134 Member States.  And Palestine is yet… has observer status, not even a regular membership, does the Secretary‑General have his opinion on that election?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously these elections are in the hands of the Member States, in this case of the roughly, I believe it’s 132 Member States who comprise the Group of 77.  And of course, it’s a very important venue for dealing with the concerns of the developing world and we look forward to working with the G77 and its leadership as we face the challenges over the coming year.

Question:  Just to set the record straight, I believe 133 plus China, isn’t that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  When you include China, the Group of 77 plus China is 133, yes.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A group of 28 non‑profit organizations have written to the Secretary‑General from Nicaragua requesting a few things.  One is a Security Council meeting, another is mediation, a special envoy to quell the violence in Nicaragua.  Has the Secretary‑General received it, and are there any thoughts about what the Secretary‑General might do?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  First of all, we are aware of their request.  Regarding meetings of the Security Council, as you know, those are in the hands of the members of the Security Council, so I believe, at least for the next few days, it will be up to Ambassador Skoog and the Swedish Presidency of the Council to determine whether anything is put on the schedule.  Regarding our efforts, there are discussions happening in the Secretariat concerning Nicaragua, including… involving the Permanent Mission of Nicaragua.  While discussions are under way, I won’t be able to provide much in the way of detail, but we will see after those have happened whether there is anything we can say about the role that we will be able… the role that we might play.

Question:  Wait, just as a follow‑up, any thoughts of a special envoy?  Any discussion about mediation?  And when you say the Secretariat having discussion, is that a particular agency?  Is it UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?  Is it anybody else?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m aware that the Chef de Cabinet will have some discussions later today and we will see whether there are any details we can have as a result later on.  There is nothing specific to say at this stage on any sort of UN involvement where we are discussing the matter and we are looking to see what we can do that can be of help.  And, of course, you have seen the statement that the Secretary‑General put out on Nicaragua recently, and I would refer you back to that.

Question:  Okay.  And just a specific on that Chef de Cabinet, where?

Deputy Spokesman:  Here in the Secretariat.

Question:  From here, by phone or in person?

Deputy Spokesman:  That is as much as I’ll say for right now.  She is discussing the matter.  Yes?

Question:  I asked Stéphane [Dujarric] on Friday about the election in Cambodia.  You had a very general statement that didn’t pronounce on the credibility of the election and Stéphane said we need to wait for the election.  The election has taken place and quite predictably Hun Sen was elected as the opposition was not allowed to take part.  What is the UN’s view?  Was that a free and fair election?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you will have seen the statement that the Secretary‑General put out on Friday about this and the language that we had on human rights.  Obviously, we are not an observer to the election.  We have no way of pronouncing ourselves on the validity of elections that we did not observe; but the concerns that we expressed on Friday still apply and I would refer you back over to what we said then.

Question:  Surely you don’t need observers on the ground to see that the main opposition wasn’t allowed to take part?

Deputy Spokesman:  Indeed.  And one of the main concerns we have was about the nature of the inclusivity of the process, and we believe with Cambodia, as with all elections, that elections need to be inclusive and need to take in the ability of all people to participate freely.  [He later added that the United Nations does not make a judgement on the credibility of the electoral process unless invited to do so by a Government and mandated by the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Secretary‑General last week emphasized that an inclusive and pluralistic political process remains essential for safeguarding the progress made by Cambodia in consolidating peace.  We believe fair competition and respect for human rights, including the right to elect one’s leaders, are essential to build solid democracies that develop in peace.  That is our hope for Cambodia.]  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With the Syrian army around the Yarmouk Basin in south‑west Syria, what does the United Nations expect ISIS [ISIL/Da’esh] people who are there, ISIS fighters who are trapped there to be dealt with if they flee to Jordan, Israel or they are captured by the Syrian army?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t want to speculate on what may happen in the next phase of the war.  Obviously, we have expressed what our humanitarian concerns are for the people who are trapped in the fighting and our hope that all civilians trapped in the fighting between the Syrian army and Da’esh can move to places of safety and we can provide them with aid, and we will continue to urge that that can happen.

Question:  We remember that in the past two years, the Jabhat al‑Nusrah and ISIS captured the Filipinos, the Filipino peacekeepers.  Is the United Nations pursuing justice from these same fighters that captured and took these peacekeepers as hostages?

Deputy Spokesman:  We hope that all efforts to deal with the threat posed by Da’esh will involve the solidarity of the international community and we have encouraged that throughout.  Of course, at this stage, we also have concerns, like I said, about civilians who can be affected by this fighting and we want first and foremost for them to be placed out of harm’s way.

Question:  But you are not pursuing justice for the peacekeepers?

Deputy Spokesman:  What we are pursuing is a solution where the international community works together to end the threat posed by Da’esh wherever they operate, be it Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere.  And, if that’s it, have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.