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

5 September 2019

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.

**Bahamas

Starting off with a humanitarian update from the Bahamas, the World Food Programme (WFP) today said it is organizing an airlift from the UN hub in Panama of storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs to be established on the main islands.  It is also providing satellite equipment to ensure connectivity for emergency responders across the impacted islands.  The agency has also purchased eight tons of ready-to-eat meals and is arranging their transportation to the Bahamas so they can be distributed to the affected population.  Given the severity of the situation, WFP said a limited emergency operation of $5.4 million for three months to assist 39,000 people has now been set up.  And as you saw yesterday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General said he is deeply concerned for the tens of thousands of people impacted in Grand Bahamas and Abaco.  He also called on donors to provide funding for the humanitarian response and recovery efforts as soon as the requirements are known.  Also, yesterday, in Nassau, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, met with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis and announced that the UN Central Emergency Response Fund would provide an immediate $1 million for urgent life‑saving activities in the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama.

**Emergency Funding

Staying on the emergency funds, as we often mention in this briefing, in several countries, the delivery of assistance to people in need is seriously challenged by underfunding.  Today, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has released $75 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to support responses to eight underfunded emergencies.  The countries set to receive this assistance are:  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan, as well as Venezuela and the neighbouring region.  Mr. Lowcock said this will allow aid workers to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to more than 4 million of the world’s most vulnerable people affected by conflict, natural disasters and other crises.  But, he warned that, in total, there are 37 million people in need in the eight crises.  The funds released today will only cover a portion of the most urgent needs.  So far this year, the Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $200 million through its Underfunded Emergencies Window.  This is the most in the Fund’s history.  Mr. Lowcock urged donors to provide additional funding for the humanitarian response in each of these underfunded crises.

**Yemen

Staying on a humanitarian topic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a diphtheria vaccination campaign in Yemen targeting over 2.8 million children between 6 weeks and 15 years.  More than 200 people died due to diphtheria since 2017 and over 4,000 people had the disease.  More than 8,000 health workers, community health workers and community volunteers are participating in the vaccination campaign in eight cities, including Hodeidah, Al Jawf, Dhamar and Ibb.  Preliminary data indicates that over 1 million children have been vaccinated within the first five days of the campaign.

**World Health Organization

And related to vaccines, I wanted to flag something WHO said today:  They welcomed the commitments by Facebook to ensure that users find facts about vaccines across Instagram, Facebook Search, Groups, Pages and forums where people seek out information and advice.  Facebook will direct millions of its users to WHO’s accurate and reliable vaccine information in several languages.  The goal is to ensure that vital health messages reach people who need them the most and to reduce the spread of inaccuracies.  According to WHO, vaccine misinformation is a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases.

**Syria

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that favourable rains in Syria’s agricultural areas, coupled with improved overall security, have boosted harvests compared to last year.  However, food prices have been gradually increasing over the last 12 to 14 months, largely as a result of increased domestic fuel prices and a continuing depreciation of the Syrian Pound in the informal exchange markets.  WFP alerts that food security remains a serious challenge due to continued localized hostilities, new and protracted displacements, and the sustained erosion of communities’ resilience after almost nine years of conflict.

**Central African Republic

Today, just want to give you a short update from the Central African Republic.  Following clashes on Sunday, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is closely monitoring the situation in Birao, a town in the country’s north-east.  Peacekeepers have established checkpoints to prevent further reinforcements of armed groups and they are also continuing patrols in the town to protect civilians as well as the more than 3,000 people that have sought refuge in the UN peacekeeping camps.  A joint technical mission by the UN Mission and the Economic Community of Central African States travelled to Birao today to assess the situation.  Meanwhile, Mankeur Ndiaye, the Special Representative and the head of the UN Mission in the country, continued discussions with the African Union and regional groups, both guarantors of the peace agreement framework, as well as the Central African Government, to help prevent new clashes in the area.

**Deputy Secretary-General

I want to flag that the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the World Economic Forum in South Africa yesterday.  She said that the fourth Industrial Revolution has spread faster than any of its predecessors.  Our shared challenge, she said, is to further the good it can bring while better managing its potential to undermine development, harm peace and security and curtail the enjoyment of human rights.  Her speech has been released to you.

**Food Prices

And FAO says that global food prices declined in August, according to their latest Food Index.  Sharp falls in the prices of staple cereals and sugar were the main causes for the global prices decrease.  The FAO Food Price Index, which [tracks] monthly changes in the international prices of commonly traded food commodities, averaged 169.8 points in August, down 1.1 per cent from July, but still up 1.1 per cent from its August 2018 level.  The full report is online.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

If you bear with me, I have an update, a bit long, the quarterly update on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, and that’s for the second quarter of 2019, which concluded on 30 June.  Just note that not all the allegations reported have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.  For the second quarter of this year, the United Nations received 38 allegations involving UN personnel, including civilian and uniformed personnel from peacekeeping, as well as personnel of agency, funds and programmes.  Of these, 24 are allegations related to personnel of agencies, funds and programmes, and 14 are allegations related to civilian and uniformed personnel in peace operations.  Of the 38 allegations, there are 43 victims:  19 women and 10 girls, 1 man and 2 boys, 10 females of unknown age and 1 unknown victim who has not been identified.  Twelve of those allegations are categorized as sexual abuse, 19 as sexual exploitation, 2 are of an unknown nature and 10 have been categorized as “other”.

Of the 38, 1 has been substantiated through an investigation and 8 related to uniformed personnel have been referred to the Member States for further investigation; 2 allegations were not substantiated; 16 allegations are at various stages of investigation; 13 are under preliminary assessment to determine if there is sufficient information to investigate; 2 allegations are under review as limited information is provided; and 4 have been closed.  We also received 39 allegations involving non-UN personnel working for implementing partners.  These allegations involve 42 victims and 39 perpetrators.

Our efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse have continued to be strengthened.  To enhance transparency, from this quarter, we will publish monthly updates on the status of allegations previously reported since we began quarterly reporting in 2017.  We are also continuing our efforts to engage with Member States and encourage their Heads of State/Government to join the Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership on prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse in UN operations, which now stands at 82.  The Secretary-General also continues to encourage Member States to become signatories to the Voluntary Compact with him on the Commitment to Eliminate Sexual Exploitation and Abuse; 101 Member States have committed to that.  We’ll give you all of those figures after the briefing, if you’re interested.

**International Day of Charity

Today is the International Day of Charity.  This Day was established to recognize the role charity can play to alleviate humanitarian crises and human suffering within and among nations.  The Day also serves to recognize and honour the efforts of charitable organizations and individuals, including the work of Mother Teresa — 5 September is the day, she passed away on that day 22 years ago.  So, to honour her memory, and the work of all those involved in helping others, we encourage everyone to get involved or to donate, today and throughout the year.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing in this very room here to present the outcome of the sixty-eighth UN Civil Society Conference, which took place in Salt Lake City, [Utah], in the United States.  Speakers will include Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division in the Department of Global Communications; Maruxa Cardama, the Chair of the Conference; and Jackie Biskupski, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, and she will join by telephone.  Then at noon, I will be joined by Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, who will brief you by video link on the COP14 (fourteenth Conference of the Parties) desertification conference, which is taking place in New Delhi until 13 September.  I have spoken.  Edie, you speak.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions.  First, a follow‑up on the sexual exploitation and abuse figures.  Is it possible to get the countries that the alleged perpetrators came from?  And secondly, what happens to the 39 allegations regarding UN implementing partners?  And if you answer that, then I'll finish… I'll ask my next question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Those are the agencies… the implementing… the agencies involved are working with the implementing partners to investigate those.  These… since these tend to be civilians, obviously, when possible, those are referred, if confirmed, for prosecution, either in the country where the crime was committed or, depending on the legal framework, in the country where the person comes from.  But, the administrative responsibility to investigate, obviously, lies primarily with the implementing partner.  We have more figures to break down on those, so we'll share those.  They'll be available in my office.

Question:  Okay.  Secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the announcement by the Government of Iran that it plans to speed up its centrifuges and other nuclear activities?

Spokesman:  We've seen this latest announcement.  For the Secretary‑General, he continues to believe that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] was a very formidable diplomatic achievement that should be continued to be supported by all of the parties involved.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Going back to the update on sexual exploitation and abuse, the eight cases, I believe, you mentioned that have been verified, what is the status of the individuals allegedly involved in those cases?  Are they still performing their duties?

Spokesman:  Well, it depends.  There are various stages of investigation, so I will… I don't have the details of the… the granular details of the individual cases.  There's a lot more information that we can share with you.

Question:  Okay.  And there are at least two aspects of this.  One is the increased transparency, which the Secretary‑General has attempted to institute with these periodic reports, but the other is more preventive actions… training by the troop‑contributing countries, etc?  These cases continue every quarter.  Is the Secretary‑General satisfied as to the progress, in his eyes, of the training and preventive programmes?

Spokesman:  No one can be satisfied by the fact that, in the quarter we just reported, there were 38 possible cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.  That's clear.  Right?  One is too many, to state the completely obvious.  The numbers from the same quarter last year was 43, so we're down from last year.  We continue to push and to continue to push hard with Member States on better training for their uniform personnel.  We continue to encourage and do better training and awareness… education awareness for the civilian staff, whether it's in peacekeeping, peace operations or the agencies, funds and programmes.  And we continue to work very thoroughly with the victims.  As the Secretary‑General said, the response for us is also a victim‑centred approach.  There are victim advocates in most of the peace operations currently.  We work with community groups.  The UN is not the only organization that has to face the issue of sexual abuse.  It is a global phenomenon.  We, under the leadership of the Secretary‑General, are working diligently and extremely hard on all facets of this to bring the numbers down — ideally to zero.

Question:  Just to quickly follow up, and maybe you'll provide this data after the briefing, but has it appeared in terms of a pattern of particular countries that are the source of more of the problem, more of the alleged perpetrators than others?  And if so, what action is being taken to remediate in those cases, including, if necessary, to suspend civilian… civilians and military personnel from those countries to the UN peacekeeping and other efforts?

Spokesman:  It’s separate things.  First, we work… we have… as you have seen in the past, we have sometimes sent back whole contingents from various peacekeeping missions when we've seen repeated cases and lack of leadership.  I think all you need to do is read the newspaper, see what's going on in the world, and realize the issue of humans abusing vulnerable people cuts across religion, cuts across ethnic lines, cuts across nationalities.  No one… there is not one nationality that is more inclined to commit these horrendous crimes.  It is something that we see in every country, and I think to try to look at whether or not some nationalities do it more than other, I think, is the wrong track, because we all see it in all our societies, unfortunately.  Maggie, then Michelle.

Question:  Continuing with [sexual exploitation and abuse], usually you give us a number of paternity cases.  Have there been any…?

Spokesman:  That's a good question.  I'll have to check on the paternity cases.

Question:  One follow‑up to what you told Joe about better training for their personnel.  Is that something that the UN… like, kind of a course, for lack of a better word, that the UN would give to incoming peacekeepers and staff, because it has to be at your standards?

Spokesman:  This is something that we work with troop‑contributing countries to ensure that the best possible training takes place upstream, and we obviously work with the troop‑contributing countries, as you said, to globally accepted standards.  But, there is also a whole other facet of civilian workers.  Right?  So, there's a constant education — re‑education, for lack of a better word — in these missions and in these humanitarian operations so people understand what is acceptable and what is, more importantly, not acceptable, even if it's obvious to most of us.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  North Korea has written a letter to the United Nations asking it to cut the number of international staff it has posted in the country by the end of the year and has specified figures for that.  Do you have any response to that?  And also, the North Korean Foreign Minister, who's come to New York for the past three years for the UN General Assembly, is not coming this year.  Given the sort of stalled talks with the US and the escalation in missile launches, how does the Secretary‑General view his decision not to come to New York?

Spokesman:  On your first question, we have, indeed, received a letter from DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] authorities.  We're in dialogue with the Government at this point.  On the issue of cutting international aid staff in DPRK, I think it bears restating that the UN and international NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] reached over 2 million people with humanitarian aid in 2018, including food security, nutrition and health projects.  Current UN operations already have a light footprint on the ground, and continued capacity at current levels is vital for ensuring continued UN support for critical food security, water, nutrition programming, as well as mobilizing resources.  We were informed by… in the switch in the lead of… in terms of the person who will represent the DPRK in the official meetings at the UN.  It's their sovereign decision.  The Secretary‑General obviously looks forward to a dialogue with the representative coming from Pyongyang.  James?

Question:  The US Special Representative leading the US peace plan between Israelis and Palestinians, Jason Greenblatt, has announced that he's leaving his post.  He's been leading these efforts for two and a half years and the US have been basically leading the diplomacy and letting everyone else watch, yet there's been constant delay.  Is the Secretary‑General frustrated that there has been no progress and continued delay?  And does he think it's time for other actors to get… including the UN, to take control of the diplomacy?

Spokesman:  Look, I think I'll… that question is really partly an analysis question, which I will leave… that music usually puts me to sleep, so I'll try to stay awake.  It's my bedtime music.  As I said, that question, I think, is a lot about analysis.  I will leave that to you.  I think the Secretary‑General, directly or through his Special Coordinator, if you look at the remarks they have made, have repeatedly expressed their frustration, for lack of a better word, at the lack of progress, of dialogue between the two parties, and that is really the critical part for us of the peace process is direct dialogue and substantiated dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.  The US has always had a leadership role in the Middle East peace process.  We will continue to work with the US Government on this issue directly, through the Quartet, as well, and we look forward to continue to engage with the US.  Let's go this way a little bit.  And then we'll…

Correspondent:  Thank you.  I just wonder if you have any update on when Kelly Craft enters her new position as the UN ambassador.

Spokesman:  That's a question for the US Permanent Mission to the UN, but I don't have any details, but I… we understand it will be well before the start of the General Assembly, and we look forward very much to working with her during that time.  Linda, and then we'll go to Mr. Evansky.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have two questions.  One's going back to the sexual exploitation.  Just briefly… I know you'll be providing details, but I was wondering, traditionally, the victims are women and chil… girls.  I was wondering if there are any cases of men and boys being…?

Spokesman:  Yes, there were a couple of… I mean, from what I read out, there were a number of victims that were men and boys, as well.  And that… that, in a sense, is unfortunately for various reasons, but a lot of the stigma that exists around it is often underreported in cases of abuse.  Ben, and then we'll go… Evelyn, then we'll go to Nabil.

Correspondent:  Yes.  Just quoting a report from Sara Carter regarding Melissa Fleming…

Spokesman:  From who? Sorry?

Correspondent:  Saraacarter.com.  There's a report regarding…

Spokesman:  I don't know Sara Carter but I believe you…

Question:  …Melissa Fleming.  I'm just going to quote the report.  "It's never a crime to seek asylum in another country even if one enters a country regularly."  What… does the SG stand behind that view?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General as High Commissioner for Refugees is a strong… as former High Commissioner for Refugees is a strong believer in defending people's rights to asylum.

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, Melissa worked for a long time with the SG, and I'm sure there is… they share the views on the need to defend the right to asylum.  Evelyn, and then Nabil.

Question:  Yes.  Some of us this morning attended an UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]‑bashing session in the… in… in the UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] room.  And that, of course, brings the question of what's the state of the investigation into financial irregularities, trysts and so forth?

Spokesman:  That investigation is currently ongoing.  Nabil?

Question:  President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan of Turkey talked today about maybe opening… or the possibility of opening the gates for refugees to leave the country, most likely to the… to Europe, or relocating refugees, Syrian refugees, back to Syria.  Is this coordinated with the UN?  And what's your position on it?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but I do know there are conversations, as far as I know, being had between the relevant UN humanitarian agencies and the Turkish authorities on the status of Syrian refugees in Turkey.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is that high‑level tension is increasing on… between Colombia and Venezuela.  And yesterday, Nicolás Maduro called for a heavy missile defence on the border against Colombia and allegations that Colombia is in a plot to invade, to attack, the country.  And in all these, we know that Venezuela is running in a heavy… in a high humanitarian crisis.  And how come a Government in this crisis like that where more than 4 million civilians has been fleeing the country, he's investing in all these military defence and heavy tension creating in the region, which is basically…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I'm not saying the question's not valid…

Question:  What's the… okay.  What's the Secretary‑General position… what's the Secretary‑General position and comment?

Spokesman:  …but it should be addressed to the authorities in Caracas.  Khalas.  Your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.