22 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.

Good afternoon everyone.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:  The Secretary‑General is outraged by the continued killing and abduction of civilians by armed groups in the Beni area of North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He condemns Saturday's killing of at least 11 civilians, including one boy, as well as the injury and abduction of several more during an attack on the town of Mayongose on the outskirts of Beni.  The Secretary‑General is also deeply troubled by reports that on Friday, 19 October, two Congolese health workers helping to combat the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu were killed in Butembo when armed militia attacked the Congolese army unit to which they were attached.  The Secretary‑General calls on all armed groups to immediately cease attacks against civilians and ensure humanitarian access to populations in need.  He reiterates, in particular, his support to civilians in areas affected by Ebola and insecurity.  That statement is available in English and French in our office and online.

**Secretary‑General’s Travel

Tomorrow, the Secretary‑General will travel to Washington, D.C., to have meetings with US officials.  In the afternoon, he is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.  We expect him back in New York on Wednesday.

**Jamal Khashoggi

You will have seen that over the weekend, we issued a statement saying that the Secretary‑General was deeply troubled by the confirmation of the death of Jamal Khashoggi.  He extends his condolences to Mr. Khashoggi’s family and friends.  The Secretary‑General stresses the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.

**World Data Forum

The three‑day UN World Data Forum opened today in Dubai, bringing together over 1,500 people from national statistical offices, the private sector, international organizations and civil society groups.  They are aiming to find innovative solutions for better data on migration, health, gender and other areas of sustainable development.  Speaking at the event, the Deputy Secretary‑General said that, with accurate, representative, inclusive and disaggregated data, we can understand the challenges we face and identify the most appropriate solutions for sustainable development.  She noted that better data can also provide benefits in a range of other areas, including helping to save lives and livelihoods through disaster preparedness and early warning systems, as well as allowing women to learn about laws to protect them from discrimination.  The Deputy Secretary‑General stressed that we urgently need to bridge important gaps, pointing to how funding remains limited and to the need for political, technical and advocacy support in all areas.  Her full remarks are available online.


This morning, the Head of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Jeremiah Mamabolo, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference on the situation in Darfur.  He reported that the Mission has embarked in earnest on its reconfiguration and drawdown and is in the process of relocating its headquarters from El Fasher to Zalingei.  Mr. Mamabolo noted that the current security situation in Darfur remains relatively calm and peaceful, with the exception of pockets in the Jebel Marra area where armed conflict between Government and rebel forces continues.  However, UNAMID has recorded an increase in tensions between herders and farmers, mainly internally displaced people and returnees, over land and resources.  He also highlighted humanitarian challenges in accessing some Jebel Marra localities due to ongoing armed clashes and heavy rains and said it would be important for the Government of Sudan, UNAMID, the UN Country Team and the international community to seriously address human rights concerns.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that the Special Criminal Court of the Central African Republic held its inaugural session today in Bangui.  The event signalled the formal commencement of investigations by the Court, which is expected to play a leading role in ending a prevailing culture of impunity in the country for serious international crimes, in particular those committed against civilians.  The Special Criminal Court is a national court, with a number of international magistrates and court personnel embedded in the institution.  In accordance with its mandate, MINUSCA, with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners, have supported the Court’s operationalization.


Over the weekend, you will have seen that we issued a note to correspondents at the conclusion of the most recent visit by the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, to the country.  During her visit from 10 to 20 October, she met with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other Government and military leaders, as well as with representatives of ethnic armed organizations, local and religious leaders, and others.  The Envoy stressed that accountability and inclusive dialogue are the two pillars for national reconciliation, emphasizing the importance of credible fact‑finding.  She urged the Government to undertake a public campaign for zero tolerance for discrimination and expressed her appreciation for the authorities’ willingness to engage with her closely.  Also on Myanmar, the Resident Coordinator there, Knut Ostby, expressed his condolences today after a fire at an internally displaced persons camp in Rakhine — which killed six people and left 800 people without shelter.  Most of the victims were Rohingya who have been confined to camps since 2012.

**Press Briefings

After my briefing, you will hear from Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.  Then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by Theresia Degener, the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and Marzuki Darusman, Chair of the UN Fact‑finding Mission in Myanmar.  Then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.  And at 1:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  [The Spokesman later said that the briefings announced for Tuesday had been mentioned in error and would actually take place on Wednesday.]  That’s it for me.  Yes, please? Yes, you. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, I would like to know who asked for the meeting tomorrow between Pompeo and [António] Guterres?

Deputy Spokesman:  This was by mutual agreement while the Secretary‑General is on a visit to Washington.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  Mexico officials have said that they have asked the UN to assist in the processing of asylum requests by members of the caravan that originated in Central America.  Has any formal request to that effect been received by the…  you know, the Refugee Agency of the UN (UNHCR)?  And what would be the Secretary‑General's response to that request?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General has been in touch with different leaders over the weekend.  The thing he has been stressing is the need for the leaders to work with the International Organization for Migration, the IOM, and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.  He believes that this situation needs to be dealt with in line with international law and with full respect for countries' rights to manage their own borders.  The states in the region need to cooperate on resolving the situation.  But at this point, both IOM and UNHCR are dealing with different countries on the ground to assist in this matter.

Question:  Okay.  But Mexico has specifically asked for the UN's involvement in processing asylum requests within Mexico.  And the US, according to the Secretary of State, Pompeo, welcomes that suggestions.  So, is the…  other than the more general statement you made, what specific steps is the UN taking to help, for example, build shelters for those seeking asylum and to do the vetting to determine eligibility for asylum, etc.?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, both UNHCR and IOM are undertaking activities in Mexico.  The UNHCR has reinforced its capacity in Southern Mexico with the deployment of an emergency team drawn from across Mexico's operations.  The office now has 32 people on the ground in the border, Ciudad Hidalgo and Tapachula.  Numbers will increase in the coming days to address and ensure adequate protection of information on the asylum system to members of the caravan, as well as legal advice and humanitarian assistance to those who seek asylum.  UNHCR was present at Ciudad Hidalgo and at the border over the weekend.  UNHCR's partners provided information on the asylum system to a large number of the people from the caravan who crossed the border irregularly and gathered in a makeshift shelter and the Ciudad Hidalgo town square.  Meanwhile, IOM reports that large numbers of people are arriving in Mexico today and are likely to remain in the country for an extended period.  And, at this time, it is estimated that the caravan comprises some 7,233 persons, many of whom intend to continue the march north.  Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Could you tell us how the Secretary‑General plans to deal with this brewing dispute between the Cuban Mission and the United States Mission after Nikki Haley sent a letter to the SG last week, complaining about the disruptions of the "Jailed for What?" event.  Is the SG going to institute an investigation? How is he moving this process forward?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, having received this letter, we're studying it, and we'll evaluate what kind of response can be made.  You'll have seen what we said at the time of the incident, and we'll continue to evaluate whether any…  what further steps are needed.

Question:  There's…  there's reference to damage having been caused and who's going to bear the cost of this damage.  What was damaged in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber?  And what are the costs going to run into?  Who…  who…  are you footing the bill for that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware at this stage of any particular damages for which there are costs.  If that changes, I will let you know.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you.  On Saturday, President [Donald] Trump announced that the US is going to withdraw from INF [Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty with Russia.  Do you have any comments on that? Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  What I can say on this is that the Secretary‑General is aware of the United States' comments regarding the INF Treaty, and he still hopes that the two countries will engage to solve the disagreements.  You'll recall that, in a speech at the University of Geneva this past May, the Secretary‑General appealed to the Russian Federation and the United States to resolve their dispute over the Intermediate‑Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; to extend the new START Treaty on strategic offensive arms, which is due to expire in just three years; and to take new steps towards reducing nuclear stockpiles.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, on this issue of…  I mean everybody's been talking about Mr. Jamal Khashoggi and his horrendous…  horrendous death at the hands of the Saudis, but what about the…  the…  the children in Yemen who…  I mean, at least 18,000 children have been killed, between civilians and [inaudible].  Has there been any talks between the Saudis and the United Nations authorities to — what do you call? — elevate the suffering of the children?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, there have been, and you'll have seen, if you looked at the report by Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative dealing with Children and Armed Conflict, that her office is in regular contact with the Saudi authorities, and we've been trying to find ways to deal with the protection of children in the Yemen conflict, including through the actions taken by the Saudi‑led Coalition.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  This question needs a bit of setup, so bear with me.  The New York Times ran an article a couple days ago which revealed, among other things, that US Western intelligence tipped Twitter off to the fact that Saudi intelligence had begun grooming one of their employees to spy on user accounts.  This same employee was then fired by Twitter in December 2015 and ended up becoming the Executive Director of Saudi Arabia's MiSK Foundation.  That foundation recently signed a strategic partnership with the UN to, quote, support young people around the world.  Is the SG aware of this reporting by The New York Times, and will he be reviewing the partnership with MiSK based on the revelations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we are aware of this information, which came out over the past weekend, yes.  Regarding the actions taken by the MiSK Foundation, we'll have to see what further steps happen, but, as you know, this is just something we were only recently informed about through the media.  And, so, we'll have to evaluate depending upon what further information we receive from that group.

Question:  What options are on the table?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't want to get ahead of ourselves.  First, we'll have to see what the group itself explains.  Yes?

Question:  On this Rohingya refugees that you just mentioned earlier that there was…  there has been some…  in touch with the UN officials and Aung San Suu Kyi and the other big top officials of the Myanmar Government.  Now, has there been any progress in…  first in repatriating them, or has there been agreement in repatriation or…  and, also…  sorry…  and, also, about — what about their nationality?  Has there been any conversation about the nationality of the Rohingya refugees?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would refer you to the full Note to Correspondents we put out over the weekend for the further details about Ms. Schraner Burgener’s meetings with officials in Myanmar.  But the basic point is that our bodies on the ground, including the UN Refugee Agency, do not believe the conditions on the ground are conducive for the wide‑scale return of the Rohingya to Rakhine State.  And, ultimately, we need to have conditions improve.  But there have been some steps taken, which we've been apprising you of as they come by, but there's considerably more work that needs to be done before we feel that that return can be accomplished.

Correspondent:  But there’s no talks about…  regarding the nationalities of these who are literally without any country, country‑less Rohingya refugees.

Deputy Spokesman:  This is an issue that we've taken up at various levels, including, as you've seen from his own remarks, from the Secretary‑General himself, and we'll continue to press that.  Yes, Dulcie?

Question:  Who else is the Secretary‑General meeting with in Washington?  Will there be a readout of his meetings with the…  whoever he's meeting with in Washington, including his meeting with Pompeo? And how long is that meeting scheduled to last?  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, some of the meetings still have to be confirmed.  So, I don't have any other meetings to confirm for you just yet.  We'll try to get details on them tomorrow, once we have confirmation that they've taken place.  Yes, please?

Question:  But you didn't answer my question about the readouts.  Will there be readouts of his meetings with Pompeo?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I just said we'd try to get you details of those meetings once they've been confirmed.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a follow‑up on the migrant caravan, and over the weekend, there were some incidents where Mexican security officers were trying to block the caravan from moving on; and also, over the last couple of hours, we have heard renewed calls by the US Government trying to block or calling for this caravan to be blocked.  So, what's the view of the Secretary‑General on these efforts to block the movement of the caravan and the constant threats from the US to even close their border when they reach here?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, as I just said earlier, obviously, we believe that there needs to be full respect for countries' rights to manage their own borders.  At the same time, this situation needs to be dealt with in line with international law, and the states in the region need to cooperate on resolving the situation.  And those are our ground lines for dealing with this matter.  Yes?

Question:  A further question on the Khashoggi case.  And right now, you have a situation where Saudi Arabia has identified a number of subjects.  Turkey has legal jurisdiction.  It was the scene of the crime.  Does the Secretary‑General support the extradition of the suspects to Turkey?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, first, we need to see what the results of these invest…  the investigation will be, but we encourage all parties to cooperate and make sure that a credible investigation can be carried out.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  I want to drill down a little bit more into this migration issue.  Mexico, as we discussed earlier, has offered as a third, quote, safe country for asylum, to process these asylum requests in Mexico.  Do you agree that that is itself consistent with international law?  That's the first question.  And, secondly, the reports over the weekend are that many of these migrants have just evaded that process.  They didn't want to wait to be individually evaluated for refugee status, and they stormed through and…  into Mexico.  So, to…  what does the Secretary‑General think is appropriate in terms of handling a large group of people who have end‑run the process consistent with international law to assess their refugee status?  Does he think that they should have a choice as to where they apply for refugee status?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we'd need confirmation of what exactly is happening on the ground.  Like I said, the IOM and UNHCR are available and working with local authorities.  And we…  our expectation is that the countries in the region and the people on the ground should work with and through IOM and UNHCR so that we can get their needs dealt with in a manner that respects their basic rights and their dignity.

Question:  But, again, I'm trying to get a little bit more granular here.  They've already been, reportedly, and I think you even confirmed, the opportunity to apply for asylum in Mexico.  So, if they choose not to do that and actually act unlawfully in Mexico to evade this…  this process and continue on in Mexico, does the Secretary‑General think that blocking the US border and not allowing further entry by these migrants to seek the destination of their choice is…  is this a permissible response under international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our hope and our expectation is that people will work with the bodies that we have on the ground to deal with this, and we want everyone to work through established channels.

Question:  But what if they don't?  What if they don't?  I'm trying to get you…

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not going to speculate on what‑ifs.  What we're trying to do is have a situation…  a system put in place where the nations and the people cooperate on a system that can work for them all.  Yes.  Yeah?

Question:  Do you have anything on the abduction of Palestinian governor by the Israeli authorities last…  last two, three days ago?  He came from Jerusalem, the governor of Jerusalem?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of what you're describing, but if I have the details of your…  

Question:  Adnan Gheith is his name.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that this is something that was resolved sometime last week.  Yes?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Any response from the Secretary‑General on the election results in Cameroon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  What I can say about that is that the Secretary‑General takes note of today's official announcement of final results by the Constitutional Council.  All electoral disputes should be handled through established legal channels.  He also reiterates his encouragement to all stakeholders to prioritise dialogue as the surest path to social cohesion and national unity.  Yes?

Question:  Follow‑up.  So, are we saying that he's not congratulating Paul Biya for winning the election again for the seventh time?

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said exactly what I've said.  Yes?

Question:  CNN has a story out that the International Drug Policy Consortium, NGO group, has a report saying the UN's drug strategy of the past ten years has been a failure.  The war‑on‑drugs approach has had a bad impact…  scant effect on global supply while having negative effects on health, human rights, security and development.  The article — they may not have been able to reach anyone — said the UN has no comment.  Does the UN have a comment here, or are you going to say go to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC)…  please, hopefully not…

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm sure you already know which of those two things I'm going to tell you.

Question:  It's…  it's…  it is 6 p.m. in Europe.  Go ahead. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, there have been significant successes and failures in dealing with the problem of drug trafficking, and we've made that clear over the many remarks we've made about the drug problem each year.  The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is the foremost agency in the United Nations that deals with this issue.  They continue to deal with the problem.  It's clear from UNODC's work that they don't see the efforts as a failure so much as they see it as something…  a task which is incomplete.  And, ultimately, what they are trying to do and what we will continue to press nations to do is have all countries work together to deal with this problem.  And, with that, Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.