16 August 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.


Earlier today, we issued the following statement on the attack on an education centre in Kabul:

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the suicide attack yesterday on an education centre in Kabul.  According to reports, many of the victims at the co‑educational facility were students under the age of 18.  Those responsible for this heinous attack must be held accountable.  The targeting of civilians, in particular children, is unacceptable.  The Secretary‑General conveys his deepest sympathies to the Government of Afghanistan and condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a swift recovery to the injured.

Last night, we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General conveyed his condolences to the families who have suffered from the recent Taliban attacks in Ghazni:

The Secretary‑General stresses the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of talks between the parties to the conflict to negotiate a sustainable peace.  The targeting of civilians and of civilian facilities are clear violations of international humanitarian law.  The warring parties must do everything feasible to ensure that no civilians are further killed or injured by the fighting and must allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance so that it can reach Ghazni.  The Secretary‑General once again stresses that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and urgently calls for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the interest of building a more stable and prosperous future for all Afghans.


In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary‑General welcomed the Israeli decision to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing to its full operating capacity and to expand the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza.  He is encouraged to see that those concerned have responded to calls to avoid the devastating impact of yet another conflict on the civilian population in and around Gaza.  The Secretary‑General calls on all parties to support the efforts of UN Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov and Egypt to avoid an escalation and address all humanitarian issues in Gaza and the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza.

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Pierre Krähenbühl, today announced in Amman that the school‑year for 526,000 Palestine refugee girls and boys will open on time in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  Mr. Krähenbühl also underlined the ongoing severe risks facing the Agency, saying that UNRWA is by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods.  Since January 2018, he said, UNRWA has mobilized $238 million of additional funding, which is very encouraging.  However, the Agency currently only has funding to run its services until the end of September, and it needs a further $217 million to ensure that the schools can be run until the end of the year.

Mr. Krähenbühl confirmed that UNRWA will take ongoing robust measures to safeguard the financial situation of the Agency, focusing on reform initiatives and the identification of efficiencies.  He reaffirmed the Agency’s deep commitment to preserving the dignity of Palestine refugees, its services and its important mandate.


The United Nations is concerned about the safety and protection of civilians in Syria’s rural Deir Ezzour Governorate, where fighting in Hajin and Dashisha has reportedly displaced more than 20,000 people since July.  Internally displaced people have reportedly settled in makeshift camps in the Governorate and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

While humanitarian organizations are able to access some displacement camps, other camps have yet to receive humanitarian assistance.  About 10 international non‑governmental organizations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are providing assistance, including food, hygiene, health, cash, early recovery and protection services, in the different areas hosting displaced people.  The UN continues to call on all parties to ensure safe access for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.


In Mali, the UN Mission there, MINUSMA, reports that the provisional results of the run‑off of the 2018 presidential election were published by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization this morning.  The incumbent, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, came first with 67.17% while his main challenger, Soumaïla Cissé, obtained 32.83%.  Voter turnout stands at 34.54%.  Pursuant to the law, the final results will be published by 20 August by the Constitutional Court.

The international community stands with Malians across the political spectrum who are working together to advance democracy, build prosperity, and strengthen governance and security in their country.  The UN Mission in Mali will continue to work with the elected Government of Mali for lasting peace and security throughout the country.  I also want to flag that yesterday the Secretary‑General spoke by phone with both Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Soumaïla Cissé.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo - Ebola

And I just wanted to flag the work of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, regarding the Ebola outbreak in the North Kivu province.  Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that the UN Mission is providing logistical support to the Ministry of Health and its partners in order to facilitate operations on the ground.

In Beni, an emergency operations centre is being established in MONUSCO facilities to host the personnel from the Ministry of Health and other partners leading the response.  The Mission has also provided containers to the World Health Organization (WHO) for use as storage.  Over the past week, the Mission has flown 30 experts dispatched by WHO to Goma and Beni, as well as seven tons of cargo, including medical personal protective equipment from the capital, Kinshasa, to Beni.  MONUSCO has also moved three ambulances from Kinshasa to Goma by air, and onward by road to Beni.  In addition, the MONUSCO Force is ensuring security for humanitarian workers deployed in the affected areas.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said he was concerned by the recent decision by the Republika Srpska National Assembly to revoke its endorsement of the 2004 Srebrenica Commission report.

Mr. Dieng said that the rejection of the Commission’s findings is a step backwards for Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It undermines the rule of law and national and international efforts to achieve justice for victims of crimes committed against people of all ethnicities during the 1992‑1995 Bosnian war.  In addition, he said that, given the timing of this decision, it is likely to exacerbate tensions ahead of the 7 October elections and damage prospects for long‑term stability and reconciliation.  Mr. Dieng’s full statement is online and in our office.

**Central America

According to a UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] report released today, children in Central America who have been deported from Mexico and the United States are at great risk of violence, stigma and deprivation, worsening the root causes of irregular migration in the region.  The report shows that dangerous journeys and deportations intensify poverty, extreme violence and lack of opportunity as it’s common that children who are sent back to their countries of origin have no home to return to, end up deep in debt or are targeted by gangs.  Being returned to impossible situations makes it more likely that they will migrate again, the agency said.

Sixty‑eight thousand, four hundred and nine children were detained in Mexico between 2016 and April 2018 — 91 per cent of whom were deported to Central America.  UNICEF urged Governments to work together in implementing solutions shown to help alleviate the root causes of irregular and forced migration and safeguard the well‑being of refugee and migrant children along the journey.

The report also outlines a series of recommendations to keep refugee and migrant children safe and reduce the factors that push families and children to leave their homes in search of safety or a more hopeful future via irregular and dangerous migration routes.  The full report is on UNICEF’s website.

**World Humanitarian Day

As part of our commemoration of World Humanitarian Day, which falls this year on Sunday, the Secretary‑General will lay a wreath tomorrow morning in observance of the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad.  We will also have a moment of silence for our fallen staff.  There will also be a ceremony tomorrow in Geneva, which will include family members of staff who died in the attacks in Baghdad and Algiers.  That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Nizar.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have an update about any breakthrough in the Yemeni negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s no — there’s no particular breakthrough to cite at this point.  We continue with our efforts.  As you know, the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, has been in dialogue with the parties.  And we do expect that in the coming days, he and his team will be prepared to send out the invitations for the parties to attend the talks in Geneva next month.

Question:  Staying on the same subject, the authorities in Sana’a declared that the truce in the western coast is over, and hostilities will resume there after one month of kind of cessation of hostilities.  Is there any comment about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we again call upon all sides to avoid any further confrontation, any further provocations.  What we are trying to do is have a permanent halt to the fighting and a return of the parties to the table, which as I just mentioned we are trying do next month in Geneva.  So we would call upon all parties and all those in contact with the parties to the conflict to avoid any further escalation.

Question:  Do you have any statement regarding the fire brigade, which is outside the United Nations and entered in the premises?  Do you have any clarifications about what’s happening?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, what I can tell you is that the Fire Department of New York is presently on the premises of the UN.  This is because of a malfunctioning apparatus that was being used by window washers on the East River side of the UN Headquarters building.  There’s no injuries, and we expect the matter to be resolved shortly.

Question:  What is it that is malfunctioning?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s the apparatus — as you know, when window washers go outside to wash the windows, they have a certain apparatus that helps them lower them and raise them across floors.  And one of those is malfunctioning right now.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  For CGTN, Nairobi Bureau.  Médecins Sans Frontières is getting increasingly worried about a number of reports that they are getting about torture and rapes and mistreatment of migrants in Libya.  And we know that the United Nations has made great effort to remove migrants from Libya and get them back to their home countries to stop from having to cross the Mediterranean.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this anxiety from Médecins Sans Frontières about the increase in torture, rape and proddings with metal…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our basic concern, as you’re aware, is that we believe that the conditions in Libya are not such that migrants can be safely placed there.  And so we have called upon all of the countries in the region, the countries dealing with the Mediterranean Sea, to do their utmost so that migrants and refugees can be held safely in places outside of Libya.  And so we’ve been working with them, particularly through our colleagues in the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration, IOM.  And we are trying to make sure that the countries who deal with the Mediterranean Sea can cooperate so that the safety and the dignity of these migrants will be respected and that they can be kept in safe conditions.

Question:  Just briefly, does the UN think that the effort has failed then?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We believe that the effort is ongoing.  Obviously, more needs to be done and we’re working with the Governments to make sure that more is done.  There has been progress with countries trying to cooperate to place some refugees and migrants out of harm’s way and we certainly appreciate the efforts that have already been undertaken, but we’re trying to get more done.  Yes.

Question:  What’s the report on migrant children?  And could you step a little closer to the mic?  One misses every other word.

Deputy Spokesman:  I can, I can lower this if that makes it better but…

Correspondent:  That’s very good.

Deputy Spokesman:  But the report is a report that the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, released today.  This is focusing particularly on migrant children in Central America who have been deported either from Mexico or the US.

Question:  And, secondly, on the Srebrenica statement, why should anyone care?  What’s the significance?  Is Belgrade involved?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we told you in the press release from Adama Dieng what the significance is.  We want to make sure that the rule of law is upheld and we do not want tensions to be exacerbated ahead of the 7th of October elections.  At the same time, one of the points is that we also want the basic truth and the basic facts of the matter to be upheld.  Two international courts, as you’re aware — the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia — have determined that the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica constitute a genocide.  And we want all authorities, all Governments, to respect that.  Yes, please.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I am wondering about yesterday question about the letter of two US Senators, [Marco] Rubio and [Chris] Coons, to the Secretary‑General about the killing of Russian journalists in Central African Republic, if you maybe remember.  They send a letter to the Secretary‑General.  So, did he receive the letter?  And what is going to be further with it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, regarding that, yes, we will try to respond to the letter in due course.  As you’re aware, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, has been working to help with this investigation.  And we hope that we will be able, working alongside the local authorities, to get to the bottom of what’s happened to these journalists.  And of course you’ve seen what we’ve said in the past about this.  And, with that have a good weekend, and welcome back.

For information media. Not an official record.