6 November 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.

Good afternoon.  I have a note starting on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

**United Nations Relief and Works Agency

A short while ago, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, informed the Secretary-General that he was resigning, effective immediately.  The Secretary-General thanked Mr. Krähenbühl for his commitment and constant dedication to UNRWA and to Palestine refugees.  The Secretary-General reiterates his appreciation to UNRWA for their excellent work, which is essential to the well-being of Palestine refugees.  Christian Saunders was named Officer-in-Charge of UNRWA earlier today.  At this time, it is vital that Member States and other partners remain committed to the agency and the services it provides.  It is also critical for the international community to support the crucial work performed by the Agency in the areas of health, education, and humanitarian assistance, which is a source of stability in a volatile region.  This note will be emailed around shortly.


Turning to Venezuela, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, concluded his three-day visit to the country today.  Yesterday, he met with officials from the Government of Venezuela, including the Vice President, and members of the National Assembly.  He also met with UN and NGO humanitarian partners, in addition to members of the diplomatic community present in Caracas.  Mr. Lowcock also visited patients with a local hospital in Caracas that currently serves 1 million people.  The hospital has received funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for much-needed medical supplies.  We hope we have more for you on the visit once Mr. Lowcock is back.


And turning to Syria, unexploded ordnance continues to put civilians at risk of death and injury in Syria — an estimated 11.5 million people live in the areas affected by explosive hazard contamination.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that on 4 November, there were four incidents of improvised explosive devices or unexploded ordnance, injuring eight children.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to allow clearance of explosive remnants of war and to safely conduct risk-education activities and ensure the respect and safety for humanitarian staff conducting clearance activities.


Just a note regarding Haiti: The Economic and Social Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti issued an official statement today urging the international community to remain collectively engaged in support of the country.  The Group expressed its concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Haiti.  Copies of the statement are available in the back of the room or in my office.


And today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.  According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether high-value resources such as timber, diamonds, gold and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water.  Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse.  This day is a reminder that taking action on the environment is part of our conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding strategies, because there can be no durable peace if the natural resources that sustain livelihoods and ecosystems are destroyed.  And tomorrow after my briefing, there will be, sorry…


Just a note on Malawi, where the UN Resident Coordinator, Maria Jose Torres, said she is concerned by the violence that took place in Balaka on Monday, 4 November, between Christian and Muslim groups, with at least two people seriously injured.  She is particularly worried by reports that the violence started after two girls were prevented from attending school for wearing a hijab.  The Resident Coordinator called on all Malawians to respect each other’s religious beliefs and engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve differences, as well as on State authorities to ensure that all people of Malawi are able to exercise their beliefs and cultural practices free from persecution and discrimination.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow after my briefing, the spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Reem Abaza, will be here to talk to you.  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, a few questions about the announcement that you’ve just made about the Commissioner‑General of UNRWA, because it’s clearly an update on what we were told earlier on, that he was stepping aside.  Can you please update us, because I am confused, of where the process is now?  There was the initial ethics report, and then there was the report by the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], which I believe is completed and the Secretary‑General has.  So, the earlier UNRWA statements, he was resigning, said he was stepping aside until the completion of the process.  Please tell us what the rest of the process is.

Spokesman:  So, obviously, there was… the Note to Correspondents that we issued this morning reflected the situation as it was.  This latest development happened in the… a short while ago.  So, let me just… I’m not going to comment on the leaked ethics report, because that was a leaked ethics report.  Earlier, the SG had received the OIOS report relating to allegations against the Commissioner‑General.  I think it’s also important to reiterate that the preliminary findings of this OIOS report exclude fraud or misappropriation of operational funds by the Commissioner‑General.  There are, however… there were, however, managerial issues that need to be addressed.  Based on having received that report, the Secretary‑General had taken the decision, as Chief Administrative Officer, to place Mr. Krähenbühl on administrative leave, which is sometimes done in these cases.  Subsequently, in the last few hours, after we released the statement, Mr. Krähenbühl took the de… his own personal decision to submit his resignation letter to the Secretary‑General.

Question:  So, contrary to the earlier UNRWA statement, is the process now complete?

Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Krähenbühl has taken the decision to resign.

Question:  Are there ongoing inquiries?

Spokesman:  So… okay.  So, obviously, the OIOS report will continue to be examined and looked at, and I will leave it at that for the time being…

Question:  But there are no further… no other investigation taking place on…?

Spokesman:  I can’t comment on that.

Question:  And, finally, final question on this:  What is the procedure now for the appointment of a new Commissioner‑General?

Spokesman:  The regular procedure, which involves… if I’m not mistaken, also involves the Secretary‑General and the General Assembly, will take place in due course.  Again, this happened within the last 30 minutes.  So, it was important for me to update you on the latest.  Fathi and then Maggie.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Steph.  Just a follow‑up.  I didn’t understand your answer to James.  The initial report that came out this morning that says there was no misappropriating of funds or any misconduct, but it was managerial issues, does… the oversight department is going to carry further investigating these managerial issues?

Spokesman:  The report on Mr. Krähen… that looked at Mr. Krähenbühl was completed by OIOS and then handed in to the Secretary‑General’s Office.  It will continue to be looked at.  What we said in the earlier statement, because I think there had been some rumours out there, and we wanted to address them, that the OIOS report was not about fraud or misappropriation of operational funds.  It was looking at managerial issues that needed to be addressed.  Maggie, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Sorry.  I think I’m getting more confused as you explain it.  Okay, but, in the statement this morning, it repeatedly said preliminary results.  Which indicates that there’s more investigating to do.  Correct?  It’s not the final results, the final report.

Spokesman:  Right.  It’s the preliminary findings, and I don’t anticipate things changing in terms of this report.

Question:  So, the investigation will continue is what I’m trying to understand?  He’s not the only individual that was in question.

Spokesman:  No, there… the… well, that’s what I’m… we’re talking about Mr. Krähenbühl right now.  I’m not… I have nothing to add, and I’m not at liberty to talk about any other issues that may be going on.  This is… right now, we’re talking about Mr. Krähenbühl.  Abdelhamid, and then I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following on the same issue, first, what do you think of the timing?  I mean, the General Assembly is ready now to consider the mandate extension for three more years.  Would that hurt the easy passage of a new resolution to extend the mandate of UNRWA?  The second… that’s most important for me to have an answer from you to confirm or deny that the Secretary‑General, one year ago, had met with two pro‑Israeli officials in his office, and I have their names, according to an Israeli paper — it’s called Israel Hayom — and he said that he con… he asked his assistant to follow up with the discussion to find new ways and means to change the work of the UNRWA.  And David Bedein and Abraham Cooper had met with the Secretary‑General to find ways to get away with UNRWA and change it and make it part of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] office.  Do you deny or do you…?

Spokesman:  I have no… A, I don’t really understand what pro‑Israeli officials… what that term means.  Second of all, that’s, frankly, ridiculous that the Secretary‑General would try to change a mandate given by the General Assembly.  We know the history of UNRWA, which, in fact, predates the general… the creation of UNHCR.  UNRWA has its own separate mandate.  What we very much… what impact it will have on the mandate renewal, that’s an analysis that it’s not for me to make.  What I do very much hope, what the Secretary‑General very much hopes, is that Member States will keep the interest of the people that UNRWA serves first and foremost.  UNRWA, as you know, is present in a number of areas in the Middle East.  We believe that the services they provide in terms of health, in terms of education, social services are vital, not only for the people that receive them but also for the stability of the region as a whole.

Question:  So, just to be clear, this report of Israel Hayom, that means it is false; it is unfounded.  Why you…?

Spokesman:  I can’t speak for these two people I’ve never heard of.  I can tell you…

Correspondent:  No, I can tell you…  I think…

Spokesman:  What I’m telling you is what the Secretary‑General’s position is.  Ibtisam, yeah?

Question:  A follow‑up on UNRWA.  So, could you tell us more regarding how did you… how did he resign?  Like, did he call the Secretary‑General?  How things happened and more about the reasons, whether he gave also re… beside the… the… what you read, why is he resigning, whether he feels…

Spokesman:  I can’t… it’s not for me to go into… to speak for him and go into the details.  He sent a letter to the Secretary‑General late this morning.

Question:  Okay.  I have a follow‑up on the same country but a different subject or maybe related.  Do you have any comments regarding the Supreme Court… Israeli Supreme Court decision to… on 5 November to uphold the Israeli Government Authority to deport Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch?

Spokesman:  Look, I haven’t seen the details of the ruling.  As a matter of principle, we very much support the work that human-rights organizations do throughout the world.

Question:  Yeah, no, but you are familiar with the case.  This is not new.

Spokesman:  That’s… I understand, but that’s what I will say at this point.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you.  It’s another UNRWA question.  Does the resignation of Krähenbühl and the questions of transparency and accountability that it ra… that it has raised about the way that UNRWA operates, combined with concerns raised by major countries, the United States and other donors to UNRWA, does all of this add together so that, in the SG’s opinion, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how the agency operates and re‑evaluate?

Spokesman:  Look, a couple of things.  I think, when we announced Mr. Saunders’ dispatch to UNRWA in August, I believe, it was around 1 August, he was sent with a task of implementing a management plan to strengthen the agency, particularly in the areas of oversight and accountability.  That is ongoing.  The agency is going through a process of putting out measures to strengthen its work in the face of financial difficulties.  I know if you contact UNRWA, they will be happy to give you much more detail of the kind of management strengthening that they have put in… that they are putting in place.  Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I understand that yesterday there was a meeting with the… organised by the Chef of the Cabinet with the donors… representatives from the donors’ countries to UNRWA.  Can you shed some lights on what was the message from the Secretariat to those countries…?

Spokesman:  It’s not… I mean, it’s not mysterious.  The Chef de Cabinet briefed the UNRWA donors’ group on basically what we then put in the Note to Correspondents for you today, that we had received the report.  The Secretary‑General had asked for Mr. Krähenbühl to be put on administrative leave.  I mean, it’s basically… the talking points are basically the Note to Correspondents.  It was a courtesy to inform those Member States who provide the backbone of the funding to UNRWA to make sure that they understood exactly what was going on or they could report back to their capitals.

Question:  [Inaudible] to the point to where there were countries that suspended the support to UNRWA upon the investigation.  Is there any special message to these countries…?

Spokesman:  Well, we very much hope that they will resume their funding to the organization and that those who are continuing to fund the organization will, in fact, continue to do so.

Question:  And one more… last thing on… is the report going to be… on the investigation going to be made public for us?

Spokesman:  Not at this point, as far as I’m aware.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  I’d like to shift gears and go into Mali, where more people have been killed.  Fifty‑four Malian soldiers were killed over the weekend, one French soldier killed.  September, 40 Malian soldiers were also killed.  This is like 100 folks being killed in one month.  This is unprecedented.  So, my question is, what can the UN do immediately, politically and diplomatically, to finally bring peace and stability to Mali?

Spokesman:  Okay.  The efforts of the Secretary‑General to support Mali and its people is reflected through the work of the peacekeeping mission.  It is also reflected through the broader development work we’re doing in the Sahel to try to prevent these situations that we’re seeing.  And, obviously, there’s a huge role to play for the part of the international community to support those countries in the Sahel and also to support the G5 force, which has been in the forefront of fighting terrorism in the region.  James, and then Abdelhamid and then…

Question:  Yes, a few more questions on the UNRWA situation.  You have said you are not prepared to talk about the ethics report from July because it was leaked.  You are not releasing the OIOS report that the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  At this point.  As far as I know, at this point, yeah.

Question:  But do you not have a duty, because of transparency and accountability and the serious allegations, not just against Mr. Krähenbühl but against the former Deputy Commissioner‑General, Sandra Mitchell; the Chief of Staff, Hakam Shahwan; and the senior adviser, Maria Mohammedi, who still remains in post, to my knowledge, to at least give us a summary of which allegations were proven against these people?

Spokesman:  We will do our utmost to share as much information as we can but also need to balance that out with due process of ongoing processes.  We will do our utmost to keep you and also, especially, those Member States who support… who fund UNRWA.  But, at this point, this is what I can share with you, but…

Question:  One other point of clarification, if I may.  You said that no misappropriation or fraud was involved.  Some of the allegations involved travel and the class of travel.  I mean, would that be covered under misappropriation and fraud or not?

Spokesman:  What I said — and I will reread what I said — exclude fraud or misappropriation of operational funds by the Commissioner‑General.

Question:  [Inaudible] you that what the definition of… if travel, someone was bumped up to business because they had a very favourable relationship with the Commissioner‑General, would that amount to misappropriation or fraud, in your view?

Spokesman:  I cannot go into further detail at this point.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  First, can you tell us more about Saunders, if you have anything from… do you have his CV in your office?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we released his CV.  I mean, we can share it with you in… on a note on 1 August when we announced his appointment.  He’s had and continues to have a long and distinguished career in the UN, notably serving the Department of Management, running the plant here.  But if I recall properly… he’s British, and if I recall properly, he’s not only married with three children, he also started his career at UNRWA.

Question:  Thank you.  And my other question, do you have any knowledge of this report of Israel Hayom?  Had it come to your knowledge, this report?

Spokesman:  I have not seen the report, but from what you tell me of it, I am dismissing it.  Señora, and then signore and then señor.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  Just… Colombia has registered a high increased number of killings of indigenous leaders over the past few months; however, in the past month, we have seen at least two massacres and the most recent on Saturday… Sunday.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the killings of these social leaders that are located in places where the peace process supposed to have replaced…?

Spokesman:  I think I addressed that yesterday.  We’re, obviously, always concerned about what is often seemed to be extrajudicial killings and violence, and it is important that the Government fully investigate these cases and bring those responsible to justice.  Stefano, and then we’ll go back to Maggie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Italy and Libya had the… just renew an agreement on the… on try to manage the migrants and the trafficking of human beings in the Mediterranean.  Italy also declared… Italian Government declared also that it needs to do some changes in this agreement before they renew it.  Does the Secretary‑General has some advices for the Italians or the Libyans to renew this agreement in the way that human rights are more respected?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any details of the agreement.  As a basic principle, we always believe that the rights of migrants and refugees need to be respected, and the right of asylum needs to be respected, but I need to go look into the…

Correspondent:  No, but the agreement is the same.  That was signed three years ago.

Spokesman:  I have… Stefano, you know more about this than I do, so I need to educate myself if I can.  Ms. Besheer?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  No relation to the new Kentucky guy.  Okay.  So…

Spokesman:  A lot of people have that name.

Question:  It’s my brother’s first name, too.  To be very clear, the investigation into Mr. Krähenbühl is now completely over because he has resigned?

Spokesman:  OIOS’s job was completed.  Right?  They submitted a report to the Secretary‑General.  That report will be looked at and will be studied.  Obviously, the fact that Mr. Krähenbühl has resigned impacts whatever decisions the Secretary‑General has to… will have made.  But the content of the report will be studied and will be studied very carefully.

Question:  But the… so… okay.  Because there was no fraud and whatever, that’s… the UN is done with it, but then there were these managerial issues to be addressed.  There’s some, sounds like, personal appropriate relationship issues to be addressed…?

Spokesman:  Well, whatever other issue…

Question:  …but that’s a moot point because he’s not here anymore?

Spokesman:  Listen.  I’ll say this, I have not seen… I’m not privy to the report, but whatever the content of the report that could be used… you know, that… will be, obviously, studied and studied to make sure that there are lessons learned.  Señor?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, my question, at this point, is relating… I've been asking about the fire in the rainforests of the Amazon.  Despite this crisis and the loggers, with the deforestation in the area, plus the killing of the indigenous who are leaders trying to protect the Amazons, what is the measures the UN can do or what can do to UN to protect the Amazons to be completely deforested…?

Spokesman:  I know a number of our country officers in the Amazon region were working with national governments to see what they can do to help.  I need to get a bit more detail for you.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.