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

17 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


This morning, as you may have seen, the Secretary-General laid a wreath in a ceremony commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad, which took place on 19 August 2003.

He said that this was the first mass terror attack on the United Nations and that, before and since that day, United Nations staff have been targeted by those who would like to weaken us and make us afraid to do our jobs.

He added that the best tribute was to continue our work; to go to dangerous places with the aim of making them safer; to stand with those who are suffering, and to bring them the relief they need.

Later, the Secretary-General opened the “Surviving Terrorism: Victims’ Voices” Multimedia Exhibition.  This is part of the commemoration of the first International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism — which actually falls on 21 August.

The Secretary-General said that the victims of terrorism are some of the most important voices we have in countering this global menace.

“Supporting victims and their families is a moral imperative, based on promoting, protecting and respecting their human rights.  To support victims in a meaningful way is to prove that we care — and to negate the terrorist narrative.”

The full text of both of those remarks have been made available to you.


As you may have seen, on Yemen, our colleagues in Geneva this morning announced that the Office of the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, had issued invitations to the Geneva Consultations to both the Government of Yemen and to Ansarullah.

And that is scheduled for September 6.


On Afghanistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that an estimated 200-250 civilian casualties have been reported following recent fighting in Ghazni.

It adds that parts of the water system are reportedly functioning again but additional generator power is needed to ensure distribution.  The immediate restoration of electricity is a top priority to ensure that the water supply flows.

In support of Government efforts, humanitarian partners remain on standby to scale up activities once safe and secure access is ensured both for aid workers and people in need.

Initial priorities include extraction of war wounded and the management of mortal remains, provision of emergency health services, food and water.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo/Ebola

Just a quick update on the number Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says that as of yesterday — 16 August — there have been 78 cases, of which 51 are confirmed and 27 are probable.  Forty-four people have died in this latest outbreak.

WHO adds that more cases are expected, and it is not clear whether all the transmission chains have been identified — mainly because some of the zones being off limits to responders due to security concerns in the DRC.

Two treatment centres are however now open, one in Mangina and another in Beni.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo/Humanitarian

And also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that that the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated sharply in recent months.

Some 13 million people require humanitarian assistance and protection across the country, an increase of more than 50 per cent from 2017.

Around 4.5 million people are internally displaced, while food insecurity has reached record levels, with 7.7 million people across the country — or 11 per cent of the population — who are severely food insecure.

The country-wide Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018, which requires $1.67 billion to respond to the needs of 10.5 million people, is only 22 per cent funded.


The heads of the UN Food Agencies — that’s the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) — today pledged to increase support for regional efforts addressing the critical food and nutrition security situation in the Sahel.

They made the commitment as they wrapped up a four-day visit to Niger where they visited several projects in which the 3 agencies collaborate with the Government and other partners to provide people with new opportunities to feed their families and build livelihoods that are more resilient to extreme weather events and other shocks.

The press release is online.


Our humanitarian colleagues as well as the country team in India have been following the recent floods very closely.

The United Nations is of course saddened by the loss of life, destruction and displacement caused by floods in India.

Our humanitarian friends tell us that it has been reported that this is the worst flooding in Kerala in 100 years, with some 80 dams having overflowed, more than 300 lives lost and some 200,000 people sheltering in relief camps.


And I want to give you an update on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.

After four years of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, 4.4 million people are affected by the crisis, of whom 3.4 million require humanitarian assistance and protection.

These vulnerable people include about 1.5 million internally displaced people who are in need of food, medicine, shelter, water, education and protection services.

While finding durable solutions is urgently required for the internally displaced people and their host communities, the United Nations and its partners are supporting the Government of Ukraine in implementing an action plan.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

I have a personnel appointment to announce today.  The Secretary-General is appointing Mirjana Spoljaric Egger of Switzerland as Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States at the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Ms. Spoljaric Egger currently serves as Head of the UN and International Organisations Division of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

We welcome her and there’s a bio note available in my office.

**Honour Roll

And today, we welcome Eswatini to the Honour Roll.  With their full payment to the regular budget, this brings our number up to…? 122.  Very good.

**Next Week

Before I give you the floor, just a reminder that we will not have a briefing on Monday.  On Tuesday none of us will be here, I hope, as it’s an official UN holiday.  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we will be here but we will not brief — at least on camera.  We will be available to you.  And starting Monday in a week, we will return to the podium with pleasure.

**Questions and Answers

Ms. Lederer.

Question:  A couple of follow-ups, and then a question.  Can you remind us what severely food insecure means?  And also has the UN been asked for help in India in the Kerala floods?  And my question was, does the Secretary-General have any reaction to today's election by parliament in Pakistan of Imran Khan?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'll try to unpack those questions.  As I was reading the “severely food insecure,” I was trying to remember the different scale.  There is an exact scale and I will get that to you as soon as possible. 

On India, we have not received any direct request from the Government for aid.  As you know, India has quite a well-operated machinery to deal with natural disasters but of course our country team — I was in touch with our Resident Coordinator today — they're following closely and they're in touch with partners on the ground. 

Your other question about Pakistan.  Obviously, we've, we've taken note of it.  I think we congratulate him on his election by the parliament as the new Prime Minister.  And the Secretary-General and the UN system looks forward to working with Mr. Khan in his new capacity as Prime Minister of Pakistan. 

Yes, ma'am.

Question:  Stéphane, on Yemen.  Are there more invitations that will be put out? And in particular… 

Spokesman:  Gentlemen, please.  I…

Question:  …might Iran be invited?

Spokesman:  Those are — those are the invitations I can report at this time.  If there are more coming, I will let you know. 

Masood, Iftikhar, I ask you to speak when I give you the floor, with all due respect, because otherwise I can't hear what people are asking me.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, Russian Foreign Minister published a statement concerning the protest note, which was sent to United States about the diplomatic…  diplomatic [inaudible], and it was also mentioned that the same message was sent to Secretary-General, hoping for his attention to this matter.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesman:  I checked with our mail receipt service.  I have yet to hear back from them.  As soon as we have received it I will let you know — but I can't confirm that we've received it as of yet. 

Yes, sir.

Question:  I have two questions on Venezuela.  First on the refugee crisis.  First, starting tomorrow, the authorities of Ecuador will require Venezuelan citizens to show their passports for them to allow the Venezuelan people to flow into their territory.  And I remember a couple of days ago when we were talking actually with Farhan about how for the SG it's very important for neighbouring countries to keep an open mind and, you know, open doors to Venezuelans flowing there, so I wonder what the view, what's the view of the Secretary-General on the fact that authorities locally seem to be taking additional steps maybe to curtail, at some point, the influx of Venezuelan migrants?  And the second question has to do with the growing consensus on the need for international commission to investigate what happened on 4 August.  The US earlier today, you know, supported this idea, so I wonder if the UN has been reached on this at any level, and if the SG will support this idea.

Spokesman:  I have no particular comment at this point on the second part of your question.  On the first part, we haven't seen the details of the new policy.  Countries, as a matter of principle, have a right and a responsibility to control their borders.  Also, those seeking refuge have a right under international law to certain things.  People who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing hunger, have a right to refuge, and we hope that people's rights and refugees' rights are upheld throughout the world.

Question:  A follow-up quickly.  What if this kind of idea creates some sort of a fallout in the region and other nations take, you know, steps that are similar?

Spokesman:  I don't want to comment on what may happen.  What I do know is that, as I said, those who are fleeing hunger, those who are fleeing violence have certain rights and those rights should be respected. 


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Since there is [inaudible] update on briefing, I would like to know whether…  does the Secretary-General have any comment on this Gaza crossing today?  Like ten Palestinians were injured in clashes with the Israelis today, and…  and for instance…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those reports, but I will look into it.

Question:  And also about the killing of one pregnant Palestinian woman.  Was a statement given on that?

Spokesman:  I'll look.  I haven't seen that particular report.  I'll look at it.  Yassein and then Ben.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  They have an agreement between Russia and America to get out, you know, militia of Iran.  Do the UN have anything about that, from Syria?

Spokesman:  No.  No particular comment.  Ben?

Question:  Yeah, do you have an update on the UNRWA figures of the non…  non-payers, the pledges?

Spokesman:  No, we're still trying to get some updates from UNRWA.  We saw that the Commissioner-General, I think, took the very important and courageous step of reopening the schools.  I think that will add pressure so to speak for donors to come up with the money that has been pledged and new moneys.  The Secretary-General has also reached out to and will be reaching out to certain parties to help the Commissioner-General get that money.  It is important that those young people who have a right to access UNRWA schools not be left in the streets and have access to education and can continue their education.

Question:  Just another quick question.  Updates on the Inner City Press investigation seems to be over a month now.  Have you spoken to Inner City Press?  Where are we?

Spokesman:  As soon as a decision is taken Mr. Lee will be informed, and I'm sure the rest of you will be, as well. 


Question:  Thank you Stéphane.  With World Humanitarian Days approaching, it's on Sunday, I wanted to ask, can you get us some numbers about the number of deaths and victims of humanitarian workers?

Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  Can you get us that?

Spokesman:  I will do that.  Yes.  Go ahead.

Question:  Stéphane, Nicaragua has been in turmoil for a couple of months and yesterday, we have information that a mission from the OAS was sent to Nicaragua and President Ortega didn't allow them to come into the country.  And there has also been an outcry to make sure the Government provides information and documents about the deaths and people that have been disappeared.  There is missing in the country since the protests started in April of 2018.  Just any reaction from the United Nations, in terms of these type of missions being allowed to go inside the country?  I understand that it's a sovereign country and they have that possibility.  However, Ortega has mentioned they would like to include the United Nations within the negotiations in terms to try to get to a solution in his country.  Does the United Nations have receive any request?

Spokesman:  We have not received any request.  The Secretary-General had expressed earlier, I think when he was in Costa Rica, the need to revitalise the national dialogue, for all the parties to come together in a spirit of reconciliation.  We, as a matter of principle, always remain available, should all the parties involved require and ask for the Secretary-General's participation. 

Yes.  You had a question.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  I have a question on the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which allowed Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to exercise his full political rights as a candidate in October elections in Brazil.  And I was curious if you have any information about that, of why did the UN decide this way?

Spokesman:  The…  There was a request from the UN’s Human Rights Committee, which is a body made up of independent experts that is based in Geneva.  It is outside the purview or the authority of the Secretary-General, so we can give you the information and I'll share that, what I have with you. 

Yeah, Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow-up to Edie's question on Imran Khan.  Since the formal ceremony is taking place tomorrow, will the United Nations be represented at the ceremony…  swearing-in ceremony?

Spokesman:  I will check — often in these cases, the Resident Coordinator attends if they are invited.  It would be at that level, but I will double check. 

Dulcie, I think you had your hand up.

Question:  Thanks.  So have…  have there been any developments in the Secretary-General…

Spokesman:  Masood, I…  please.  I can't hear Dulcie.  Go ahead.

Question:  Are there any developments in the Secretary-General's call for an independent investigation in the attack on the school bus of children in Yemen?

Spokesman:  We understand that there will — we would hope to see an independent investigation, but I have no update to give that I'm aware of to share with you right now. 


Question:  Stéphane, on Cyprus.  Has Jane Holl Lute reported to the Secretary-General on her visit to…  with parties in the Cyprus talks?

Spokesman:  I think she is continuing and she will, at some point, continue consultations with other parties involved.  I'm not aware there's been a formal report back to the Secretary-General at this point.  Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.  Has there been any progress on the situation, on this agreement?

Spokesman:  The conditions on the ground are still not conducive to a safe, voluntary repatriation.  Frank?

Question:  Just a housekeeping question or two.  First of all, what is the reason for the three-day pause in…  in briefings?

Spokesman:  We traditionally, we usually pause either the second-to-last or last week in August.  It's a decades-old tradition, and since next week is fairly light as we have a holiday, we decided to do it next week, but we'll be in the office.  If you have any questions, we remain available.

Question:  Have you heard anything further about what they're doing with the visiting press, whether they're going to bury them in the third basement or they're…

Spokesman:  No, I think the Correspondents Association was informed that the plan, as of now, is to build, put a tent outside to house the hundreds and hundreds of your colleagues that will be visiting during the General Assembly. 

On that note, I will add for all of you to remind your colleagues who are not accredited that I think 5 September if I'm not mistaken is the cut-off date for accreditations for the General Assembly.  I would encourage all of you to make sure that everyone in your home office who plans to come is fully accredited so you can come and enjoy the show. 

On that note, I wish you all a good weekend.  Halas.

For information media. Not an official record.