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

20 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.

**Kofi Annan

Good morning.  Sorry for the delay.  I will start off by reading off the statement the Secretary‑General issued over the weekend, following the death of Kofi Annan:

Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good.  It is with profound sadness that I learned of his passing.  In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations.  He rose through the ranks to lead the Organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination.  Like so many, I was proud to call Kofi Annan a good friend and mentor.  I was deeply honoured by his trust in selecting me to serve as High Commissioner for Refugees under his leadership.  He remained someone I could always turn to for counsel and wisdom — and I know I was not alone.  He provided people everywhere with a space for dialogue, a place for problem‑solving and a path to a better world.  In these turbulent and trying times, he never stopped working to give life to the values of the United Nations Charter.  His legacy will remain a true inspiration for us all.  My heartfelt condolences to Nane Annan, their beloved family and all who mourn the loss of this proud son of Africa who became a global champion for peace and humanity.

And, in a tweet, also over the weekend, the Deputy Secretary‑General said Kofi Annan was an African and global icon who lived a life deeply committed to serving humanity.

In terms of events to honour the former Secretary‑General that we expect here, at this point on Wednesday morning we expect Secretary‑General António Guterres to lay a wreath in honour of Mr. Annan at a ceremony that will take place near the meditation room in the Visitors’ Lobby of the General Assembly Building.  Mr. Guterres, who is expected to be accompanied by the Permanent Representative of Ghana, will also be delivering remarks and sign the condolence book.  The condolence book we expect to be in front of the meditation room from 3 p.m. onwards this afternoon through the end of the week, though that may change.  Delegates, staff and media will be invited to the ceremony on Wednesday as soon as the exact details are worked out.  The UN flag, as you have seen, has been at half‑mast since yesterday and will continue to be half‑mast through Tuesday as they will be at all UN duty stations throughout the world.  Condolence books will also be open in duty stations.  And I think Brenden will update you on General Assembly ceremonies and the Security Council will also be planning something this week.  Timing and detail should be worked out shortly.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, as the Government of Syria has regained most of the south‑west in the country in recent weeks, thousands of displaced families returned to their areas of origin in Dara’a and Quneitra Governorates.  As of 16 August, the number of displaced people has dropped to around 57,000 in those two governorates, but the need for humanitarian assistance and protection services continues to be high.

According to our partners on the ground, people’s mobility is sometimes hindered by lack of documentation, ongoing security processes for some people, or simply by unaffordable transport costs.  The United Nations and its partners continue to provide life‑saving humanitarian assistance and services across the south‑west to tens of thousands of people in need.  However, more sustained access and necessary Government approvals for quality access and service deliveries are required.

**Afghanistan

Today the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the announcement by the Afghan Government of a conditional ceasefire for tomorrow’s observance of Eid and calls on the parties to the conflict to seize this opportunity to put an end to violence.

“It is important to seize all opportunities for a negotiated end to the conflict so that all Afghans can enjoy the life of peace they so desperately want and need,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in that country.  The Mission also reiterated its readiness to play any role requested by the parties to the conflict to achieve a negotiated peace.

**Middle East Report

As requested, the Secretary‑General submitted his report to the General Assembly on the protection of the Palestinian civilian population — and that was out as a document Friday evening.  In the report, which is a public document, the Secretary‑General said that, after more than 50 years of Israeli military occupation, Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip, remain particularly vulnerable to violence, intimidation, loss of property and income, and various violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  He said that the United Nations will continue to employ means to protect Palestinian civilians under these challenging circumstances.

**Gaza

The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, today called on donors to immediately provide funding for emergency fuel to prevent emergency services in the Gaza Strip from shutting down.  Mr. McGoldrick said that we have run out of funds and are delivering the final supplies in the next few days.  Without funds to enable ongoing deliveries, service providers will be forced to suspend or heavily reduce operations from early next month with potentially grave consequences.  To ensure that a minimum level of essential services can continue throughout the end of the year, $4.5 million is required.

**Mali

A quick update on Mali.  The UN peacekeeping Mission there (MINUSMA) reports that Mali’s constitutional court today confirmed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s re‑election following this month’s run‑off election.  The UN Mission there will continue to work with the people and Government of Mali towards sustained peace and enduring security throughout the country.

**World Humanitarian Day

Yesterday, as you know, was World Humanitarian Day.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary‑General called on global leaders to do everything in their power to protect people caught up in conflict.  Civilians in conflict zones continue to be killed and maimed, deliberately or in indiscriminate attacks, he said.  Last year, the United Nations recorded the deaths or injuries of more than 26,000 civilians in attacks in just six countries:  Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

The Secretary-General also paid tribute to the humanitarian workers who help those affected by humanitarian crisis.  Since 2003, more than 4,000 aid workers have been killed, injured, detained or kidnapped.  That is an average of 300 a year.  His full statement is online.  And you can join the #NotATarget campaign at worldhumanitarianday.org.  And as you know August 19 was chosen in honour of the attack of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, which took place 15 years ago Sunday.

**Terrorism Victims

And tomorrow will be the first International Day of Remembrance of, and Tribute to, the Victims of Terrorism.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General said the Day is a reminder to stop and listen to the victims and survivors of terrorism, to raise up their voices and recognize the impact of terrorism on their lives.  Caring for victims and survivors and amplifying their voices helps to challenge the narrative of hatred and division that terrorism aims to spread, adds the Secretary‑General.  His full message is online.  I will now take your questions.  Yes, Sherwin.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéph, just to start, on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, we wanted to pass on our condolences to yourself and to your colleagues in this building.  We are only too aware of how Kofi Annan was much respected, certainly within the walls here at UN Headquarters and at missions and campuses around the world.  He was well liked by the international press corps.  He was part of the fabric of the United Nations for a very long time, right until the end of his life.  And so we share in your sorrow today.  I wonder if you might be able to share some personal anecdotes.  I know you had a long relationship with him.  You considered him a colleague and a friend.  What can you say from a personal perspective?

Spokesman:  I think I’m one of thousands or hundreds of current and former staff members whose professional lives were touched and deeply impacted by Kofi Annan.  And I think, as I said, I’m one of many people in this building today who remember him fondly.  Yes?

Question:  Stéph, other than what you mentioned about what’s going to be happening here, do you have any of the funeral information from the family?

Spokesman:  No, I think that is still being worked out.  Obviously, the family and I think that will come out from the family and the [Kofi Annan] Foundation in Geneva, but we checked just a few minutes ago.  There are still a number of issues that will be worked out, but the family or the Foundation will announce the funeral arrangements.  Richard.

Question:  As one of the few here in the room that was here when Kofi Annan started…

Spokesman:  Microphone, Richard.  There’s… for these press briefings, we use a microphone.

Question:  Was it a policy?  Was there a lot of consultations between the Secretary‑General and Fred Eckhard and those in the media about being very open and being very accommodating compared to past administrations, perhaps, where we were in the mid‑1990s?  Why was he always willing to stop at every stakeout in the entrance?  Was it a plan?  This was even before he was Secretary‑General.  What was it that made him so open?  Was it wanting to help, or was it to improve his lot?  What was it?

Spokesman:  Look, I was fortunate to come on that team that had been created by Fred Eckhard, and I think he — Fred and the previous Secretary—General had set the tone and the policy, and I was fortunate enough to inherit it.  Yes, we can move on.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you.  I have two questions on Venezuela.  After we spoke on Friday, Peru joined Ecuador on the decision of requesting passports to Venezuelans to be able to enter the country.  Over the weekend, we had an incident on Brazil.  So, situation seems to be deteriorating a lot more now.  So, first, what’s the SG view on, you know, the fact that there are some countries that seem to be, you know, giving their backs to Venezuelans despite of different calls by the UN asking neighbouring countries to have an open mind and actually receiving them.

And that also brings me to my second question, which is things as they are right now means that Colombia’s pretty much the main nation taking on the burden on these Venezuelans.  So right now, has Colombia reached out to the UN again maybe to create another or additional strategy to better provide for these Venezuelans?  The US is sending a hospital boat to Colombia.  So, has the Colombian Government reached out to you, or is there any discussion right now…?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that they’ve reached out to the Secretary‑General.  They may very well be in communications with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and IOM [International Organization for Migration].  I think it is important that those who flee violence, those who flee for their lives be accorded their… their rights and be treated with dignity.  We also understand that as often when you have an immediate influx of people, it creates tensions with the host communities.  It’s important that the needs of the host communities also be taken care of, and I know that’s always in the forefront of any work done by UN humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR and IOM.  But there are laws, international laws and conventions, regarding refugees, and it’s important that those be respected throughout the world.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  And do you have any update on Syria, Stéphane, about the situation in Idlib, what’s going on with the peace talks?  Is there any coming meeting?  Is there any plan for reconstruction as the Russians now are calling for other countries to come in for reconstruction?  Is this situation conducive now to start the reconstruction in Syria?

Spokesman:  I think our focus right now continues to be on political solutions.  I don’t really have an update for you on the issue of reconstruction.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  Saudi Arabia has executed a [inaudible] woman today by beheading.  Do you have any comment regarding that human rights violation?

Spokesman:  As a matter of principle, we stand against the use of the death penalty.  Ben.

Question:  On the Matthew Lee’s expulsion, in layman’s terms, what exactly… why exactly was he kicked out by the UN?

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee’s accreditation was — as a correspondent here — was revoked due to repeated incidents having to do with behaviour, with violation — violating the rules that all of you sign on to and accept when you receive your accreditation, rules that are, by far, self‑policing.  We trust journalists to respect the rules.  The rules are clear, and they’re transparent.  You all respect them.  There were really just a number of incidents including incidents in which people in this building, whether they be diplomats, staff, journalists, felt harassed, and his behaviour was not in line with accepted regulations.  The removal of his accreditation had nothing to do with the content of his writing.  This room is full of people who have reported critically, toughly, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, on the United Nations.  And we continue to work with all of you who report on the UN in a straight and open manner regardless of what you write.  Yes, Michelle, and then we’ll go…

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  The two Reuters reporters in Myanmar who have been in jail for the past eight months, a verdict is due to be handed down in their case on Monday.  Could you just remind me, please, of how the Secretary‑General feels about this case and how important a free press is in places like Myanmar?

Spokesman:  Look, a free press is important anywhere — everywhere, in every corner of the world.  As you know, we have been following this case very closely.  Our UN country team colleagues have been following this case very closely, and we will be watching the verdict.  And I think the work of the press, whether it’s in Myanmar and other places, in terms of uncovering atrocities has been very important.  Yeah.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  I want to join with my UNCA President by expressing my deep condolences to Kofi Annan.  It is a great loss.  My question on Bangladesh, the right groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, there are call for… to stop the crackdown to the protesters.  As you know, these road safety protests going on in Bangladesh.  But Government is arresting students, and they are using section 57 of the ICTX to control the social media.  And, as you are aware, one of the now international leading journalists, Shahidul Alam, is in jail, just here appeared in Al Jazeera on what’s going on in Bangladesh he described.  So, what is your observation on these issues as Government is arresting and fighting case and his appearance is going on in Bangladesh?

Spokesman:  I think there have been a number of issues recently in Bangladesh, notably a crackdown on demonstrators, and I would refer you to what our colleague who heads the UN office in Bangladesh has said in her statement, I think, on August 6th, and we stand by that statement.  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first one is actually the same as I had on Friday.  I asked about a letter sent from Russian Foreign Minister to Secretary‑General on diplomatic property in US.  So maybe you have any updates.  As I saw some reports telling that UN refused that [inaudible] or something after the briefing, and I felt like it’s a bit incorrect.

And the second one is about this matter with reconstruction of Syria.  You told that UN wants to focus now on political process.  Does it mean that it’s really forbidden to United Nations organizations to help to full reconstruction of Syria?

Spokesman:  No, I saw the question and I think you and a number of other Russian colleagues had sent about this reported, quote‑unquote, secret directive.  As always, when there’s a secret directive, it takes me a while to try to find if actually there is a secret directive.  But I expect to have an update — we’ve asked for some guidance, and I expect to have an update a bit later on this afternoon.  And I… nothing new on the letter.  Richard and then Ben.

Question:  You may not want to hear my last question.  I’ll buffer it with two other quickies.  Is there any compromise you see going forward on the Matthew Lee situation next year?  Is he capable of changing the behaviour you object to?  Number two, do you have an issue with President Trump not responding to the passing of Kofi Annan though Ambassador Haley and Secretary Pompeo did?  And, three, I know you tweeted out pictures of Mr. Annan with your children.  You spent so many years with him, difficult moments, 9/11, the Iraq war.  Is there any special moment of him at work with you that you will remember here at this moment?

Spokesman:  As I said, you know… I think, to me, those pictures say it all.  On your, on your second question, no, there were two very nice statements from senior officials in the US Government, and we very much appreciate those statements.  On your first question, I don’t think that’s a question to be addressed to me.  Ben.

Question:  Just back on Matthew Lee, was he given a chance to respond before the actual decision was made?  And what were those allegations of harassment?

Spokesman:  The regulations, the DPI [Department of Public Information] regulations concerning the rules for accreditation are clear.  You, Ben and everybody else in this room by clicking “accept”, you accept them, and the rules are clear — it’s that the UN retains the right to remove the accreditation.  The process of how that’s done is all clear, and it’s there. The allegations include recording people without their consent, being found in the garage ramp late at night, using abusive and derogatory language towards people.  I think it’s pretty clear.  And, frankly, I think anyone who looks at his own Periscopes should come to the same conclusion.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Regarding the report that the SG has submitted to the GA [General Assembly] about the protection of Palestinians, there are four different proposals.  Three of those are… they fall within the jurisdiction of the SG himself.  The fourth needs a clear answer from the Security Council.  Is he planning to implement the first three proposals that fall within his power?

Spokesman:  I think it’s a report to the General Assembly.  We expect the General Assembly to take up that report.  Mr. Varma, up to you.

For information media. Not an official record.