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

12 October 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.

All right.  Good afternoon and happy Friday, everyone.


The Secretary-General today visited Palu, on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island, where an earthquake and a tsunami struck two weeks ago.  In Balaroa, he saw the scale of the devastation generated by the liquefaction phenomenon which occurred during the earthquake.  He said it was impossible not to be heartbroken by what he had just witnessed.  The Secretary-General also visited people affected by the disasters at a nearby hospital, which had been partly destroyed two weeks ago.  He then met with displaced people who had either lost their home or were too afraid to go back to their home.  He spoke to families who had lost loved ones and to schoolchildren and their teacher in the camp in Jalan Balaikota.  The Secretary‑General said he had made the visit to express the UN’s full solidarity with the people of Sulawesi and of Indonesia.  He paid tribute to their resilience and said that their courage and spirit of solidarity were remarkable.

The Secretary-General also commended Indonesia’s response to the disasters and appealed to the international community to support reconstruction.  The Secretary-General visited Palu with the Vice-President of Indonesia, Muhammad Jusuf Kalla.  He also met there with the Head of the Indonesian National Disaster Management Authority and the Governor of Central Sulawesi.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will participate in the World Bank-International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings in Bali, where he will discuss sustainable development and climate change in various sessions.

**Malaysia/Death Penalty

Last night, we issued the following statement on the Malaysian Government’s decision to abolish the death penalty:  The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of the Malaysian Cabinet to seek abolition of the death penalty in the country.  This decision was taken as we commemorated the World Day against the Death Penalty on 10 October.  The Secretary-General commends this decision as a major step forward in a global movement towards the universal abolition of the death penalty.  The Secretary-General seizes this opportunity to call on all countries which still retain it to follow the encouraging example of Malaysia.


I had taken a few questions this morning about the Special Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov.  I can say that the UN Secretary-General fully supports the efforts of Special Coordinator Mladenov, who has been working tirelessly with all concerned parties, particularly with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel to change the dynamics in Gaza - to avoid escalation, to support intra-Palestinian reconciliation and to address all humanitarian issues.  The Secretary-General hopes that relieving the humanitarian pressure in Gaza will reduce the tensions that risk a devastating armed conflict in Gaza and create space for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to engage seriously with Egypt on reconciliation and the implementation of the 12 October 2017 Cairo Agreement.  However, any humanitarian response to Gaza’s problems can only be temporary and limited in scope.  What is needed is a political breakthrough that will restore intra-Palestinian unity under a single, legitimate national authority; a lifting of the closures in line with Security Council resolution 1860; and, ultimately, progress towards advancing a negotiated two-State solution based on relevant UN resolutions and previous agreements.


The United Nations is deeply concerned by the prevalence of explosive hazards, particularly improvised explosive devices (IEDs), that continue to kill and injure civilians in Syria.  The latest such incident was reported yesterday, when a child was reportedly killed and another injured when an IED exploded in Al‑Atareb city, 35 kilometres west of Aleppo city.  Some 8.2 million men, women, and children are living in communities reporting explosive hazards exposed to the threat of grave injuries and death on a daily basis, according to the 2018 Humanitarian Needs Overview.  The presence of explosive hazards is a lethal barrier to movement and delivery of humanitarian aid, and it endangers those who are seeking refuge from violence.  The United Nations continues to call for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with parties’ obligations under International Humanitarian Law.


Our humanitarian colleagues in Yemen report that conflict has escalated over the last 24 hours in areas south of Hodeidah City with reports of increased air strikes, shelling and clashes mainly in Ad Duryahimi and At Tuhayta districts.  The UN is working to confirm the impact of this escalation, including initial reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.  Since 1 June, more than 570,000 people have been displaced by fighting in Hodeidah Governorate.  The United Nations and partners have reached nearly all of these people with emergency response kits that include food rations, hygiene supplies and items to preserve dignity.  Additional assistance, including supplementary food, cash and shelter kits, are provided to the most vulnerable displaced people based on assessed needs.  Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 22.2 million people — or 75 per cent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance and protection.  This includes 8.4 million people who do not know how they will obtain their next meal.  The crisis is rapidly worsening due to escalating conflict and severe economic decline.


The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maritime Task Force participated in a search-and-rescue operation at sea after receiving reports on Wednesday of a missing boat off the coast of Lebanon.  UNIFIL was informed that a small boat, allegedly heading towards Cyprus, was missing and it tasked its Maritime Force to locate the missing vessel.  Yesterday, UNIFIL’s flagship, BRS Liberal, found a small white boat northwest of Beirut with 32 passengers on board:  19 men, 6 women and 7 children.  The boat was out of fuel and the passengers had been without food and water for four days.  While waiting for the Lebanese Navy to arrive, UNIFIL naval peacekeepers distributed water and food and provided medical assistance.  After the Lebanese Navy arrived at the scene, the passengers arrived safely at Beirut’s port today, escorted by UNIFIL.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that, yesterday, it dismantled a base belonging to the armed group, Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, and confiscated a number of weapons and ammunition in a joint operation in Bambari, Ouaka Prefecture.  The same evening, a group of UPC fighters opened fire and threw grenades at MINUSCA peacekeepers who were responding to a report that the UPC was threatening civilians in the city.  No MINUSCA casualties were reported.  The Mission has increased patrols in Bambari to protect civilians.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, welcomed the release earlier today of 833 children by the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in north-east Nigeria.  The CJTF — a local group supporting security forces and protecting local communities in the northeast against Boko Haram — signed an action plan in September 2017, committing themselves to put measures in place to end and prevent child recruitment.  Today marks the first formal release of children from the group since then.  In her statement, Ms. Gamba expressed concern for boys and girls in the country’s north‑east who continue to be subjected to grave violations by Boko Haram, as well as for children detained by the authorities for their or their parents’ alleged association with armed groups.


The World Health Organization (WHO) reports progress in the response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province, but says a multitude of challenges, notably security in and around the city of Beni, have led to a recent increase in new cases.  The agency says 39 new confirmed cases were reported between 1 and 11 October, 32 of which are from Beni.  WHO warned that continuing insecurity severely affects both civilians and frontline workers, forcing the suspension of the response and raising the risk that the virus will continue to spread.  Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that one month after the beginning of the school year, 80 per cent of school-aged children have returned to school in Beni and Mabalako health zones, the two epicentres of the Ebola outbreak.  UNICEF has identified more than 1,500 schools in the areas affected by the epidemic.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on the Government of Australia to urgently address a collapsing health situation among refugees and asylum-seekers at off-shore facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.  UNHCR said that Australia must act now to prevent a further tragedy to people forcibly transferred under its so-called offshore processing policy.  It reiterates its call for refugees and asylum-seekers to be moved immediately to Australia, where they can receive adequate support and care.  More than one quarter of the approximately 1,420 people still held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru have been returned to Australia on medical grounds.  Since 2016, UNHCR has consistently and repeatedly warned of the severe, negative health impacts of offshore processing which are as acute as they are predictable.


I want to flag that tomorrow is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  The theme this year focuses on reducing economic losses in relation to global gross domestic product by 2030.  In his message, the Secretary-General draws attention to the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia and said that this disaster “showed yet again the urgency of resilience and risk-awareness.”  Disasters have a steep human and economic cost, he says, adding that keeping track of the economic losses is crucial for progress in crisis prevention.  You can find his full message online.


And tomorrow is also World Migratory Bird Day, which seeks to raise awareness about the importance of bird conservation.  In his message, the Secretary-General says that migratory birds are symbols of peace and of an interconnected planet and that their epic journeys inspire people of all ages, across the globe.  He added that the Day is an opportunity to celebrate the great natural wonder of bird migration, but also a reminder that those patterns and ecosystems worldwide are threatened by climate change.  The Secretary-General also urged Governments and people everywhere to take concerted conservation action that will help to ensure the birds’ survival and our own.

**Press Encounter Today

And after I’m done, you’ll hear from Monica Villela Grayley, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, and at 12:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz of Bolivia, will brief on Colombia, at the Security Council Stakeout.  Yes, Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  You read out a general statement of support for Mr. Mladenov's ongoing work in the Middle East as a special envoy, but it didn't respond specifically to the reports of the Palestinians' decision not to continue working with Mr. Mladenov.  So, I guess, number one, could you give us the Secretary‑General's reaction to that decision and what efforts he's making personally to try to get that decision reversed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, with respect, I've actually given exactly what the Secretary‑General's reaction is up front in what I just read.  But, to reiterate the basic point, what we made clear is that the Secretary‑General fully supports the efforts of its Special Coordinator, Mr. Mladenov, and, particularly, his efforts with the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Israel to change the dynamics in Gaza.

Question:  Yeah, but, with all due respect, that doesn't really address this specific action.  And, if that's the extent of the Secretary‑General's public comment right now, could you tell us if he's con… if he's planning to undertake any personal intervention with the Palestinians to see if that decision of the Palestinians not to continue cooperating with Mr. Mladenov can be reversed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, you'd have to check with the Palestinians about what precisely their decisions are.  As far as I'm aware, there are mixed signals coming from different officials.  I'm not aware of any formal non-cooperation with Mr.  Mladenov, but where we stand with him is as I've just expressed.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following on same question of Joe and your comment, the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] mem… executive member committee said that Mr. Mladenov had exceeded his mandate and he is trying to arrange an agreement between Israel and Hamas, which interferes with national security of the Palestinian and its unity.  So… and they declared that he's persona non grata.  So, is that, what the SG still stands with Mladenov and force the Palestinian to deal with him, or how it going to… how it going to work when… in a case such like this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I just mentioned, Mr. Mladenov does work with the Palestinian Authority as well as the other parties on the ground, and he continues to do so, as I just mentioned to your colleague.  There are some mixed signals from their side about any decision on their part.  From our part, we have encouraged Mr. Mladenov's efforts, particularly, to deal with the situation in Gaza.  And, as I just pointed out, we have… he has been working to relieve the humanitarian pressure on Gaza, but what the Secretary‑General believes is that we need a political breakthrough that will restore intra‑Palestinian unity under a single legitimate national authority.

Question:  But he's been involved in this long‑term truce agreement between Hamas and Israel.  Do you deny that?  I mean, is the SG aware of this effort on… on the part of Mr. Mladenov?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov's efforts are designed, ultimately, to make sure that the Palestinian people, whether in the West Bank, in Gaza or in East Jerusalem, can live peacefully and, ultimately, live at peace with the people of Israel.  He's been working conscientiously and consistently over the years with the various authorities on the ground, including the Palestinian Authority, the Government of Israel, the Government of Egypt, and the authorities in Gaza, and he continues to do that.  Yes?

Question:  Just a clarification.  On these 32 passengers in the boat, where did they come from?  Where are they… where were they going?  Who are they?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's something, ultimately, now they're in the care of the Lebanese authorities.  It's for the Lebanese authorities to determine exactly how they came to be lost at sea.  But our role was involved in finding them and helping bring them to the Lebanese Navy and back to safety.

Question:  And I… I… I don't know if you can answer this, but it's… I'm confused of the Palestinian reasons for not wanting Mr. Mladenov to continue.

Deputy Spokesman:  That would be a question for them, not for me.

Correspondent:  Okay, I figured you’d say that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, please?

Question:  A follow‑up question on Mr. Mladenov.  I appreciate there are mixed signals coming from Ramallah and what the position is, but, if the position is that they are refusing… the Palestinian Authority as a whole are refusing to deal with him, that would, would it not, make his position completely untenable?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't want to speculate depend… but… because as we're all aware, there are different things that have been said by different people.  We'll need to see what is the reality of the situation on the ground and evaluate based on that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Did you receive a written notification from the Palestinians?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have not received… we have not received anything formal about this.  At this stage.  Yes?

Question:  In Turkey for Jamal Khashoggi, the reporter… I mean, you know, the journalist, the US got involved with this.  Did they inform you with what's going on with this? Do you have the latest about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our position on Mr. Khashoggi remains what Stéphane [Dujarric] has articulated to you over the last several days.  We hope that the various authorities on the ground will be able to investigate what has happened to him, and we have expressed our concerns about the situation and about… and, more generally, about the treatment of journalists.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  Continuing on that topic, since Stéphane yesterday said there had been contacts with senior officials and the Saudis here in New York, since that time, has there been any further additional contacts?  And I have a follow‑up.

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing further to report as of today.

Question:  The Secretary‑General travelling in Asia, when asked:  "Will you be contacting Saudi Arabian Crown Prince MBS?", he said:  "We have had some contact already."  Has the UN contact expanded past New York directly to Riyadh?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to go beyond what the Secretary‑General said.  He did point out, and as Stéphane had also said, that we've had some contacts, and that is where we stand with it for now.  Yes, Ben?

Question:  Yeah.  More human rights abusers have been elected onto the Human Rights Council.  Does the Secretary‑General think it's time for reform?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, on this question, it's really a question of who the Member States themselves vote on.  As you know, the decisions on who sits in these bodies are made by the Member States themselves, and that is their sovereign right.  We have urged that all of those who are sitting on the Human Rights Council are themselves willing to have their own human rights records looked at.  As you know, there's a system of Universal Periodic Review, and, so, they go through an evaluation process, and we want them to go through it honestly and to improve their own situations.  But, beyond that, of course, I will leave you in the hands of my colleague, the General Assembly Spokeswoman. 

Question:  Can I just follow up? Is he not disappointed by likes of Cameroon, Eritrea, Bangladesh and others being voted on today?  Isn't that disappointing, such countries with such poor human rights records?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ultimately, we don't evaluate or second‑guess the decisions made by Member States.  They're the ones who choose to run people for these seats, and they are the people who vote… they are the governments who vote for them.  The ultimate responsibility is in their hands.  And, with that, Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.