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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.

In a few minutes, we will have Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, who will brief us via video conference on the latest humanitarian developments in Iraq, especially in Mosul. She is doing this from Erbil, in Northern Iraq, where she currently is.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Back here, in the Security Council, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, briefed the Security Council this morning, saying that the 31 December 2016 agreement contributed to defusing tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  However, he noted that major efforts would need to be made to ensure all parties follow and implement this agreement. Major political, financial, technical and logistical support to the DRC will also be needed for the elections to take place in December 2017, Mr. Ladsous warned.

Regarding the security situation in eastern parts of the country, Mr. Ladsous said that the activities of militia groups are on the rise in many parts of the country.  He also stressed that the spillover effects of instability in neighbouring countries, notably South Sudan and Burundi, are also felt in the DRC.  Therefore, long-term military engagement is required, combined with efforts by the national authorities on issues linked to the country's longer-term stabilization and to the extension of State authority, he said.  His full remarks are available.


And on Afghanistan, as you will have seen, yesterday, we condemned terrorist attacks near the Afghan Parliament in Kabul and the residence of the Provincial Governor of Kandahar that killed dozens of people.  The Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan and the Governor of Kandahar were also reported to be among the injured.  In a statement issued in the evening, the UN expressed its solidarity with the people and Governments of Afghanistan and the UAE and reiterated that indiscriminate attacks against civilians, including diplomatic envoys, are violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.


From Syria, the UN, directly or through partners, has provided life-saving assistance to the nearly 150,000 people from eastern Aleppo in Syria who have been displaced from or have returned to the area. More than 36,000 of them were evacuated to the western countryside of Aleppo and Idlib governorate and more than 111,000 people to different areas in Aleppo city, including more than 50,000 in formerly besieged neighbourhoods.  The UN and our national and international humanitarian partners continue efforts to scale up our response in Aleppo to do all we can to ensure that the people of Aleppo receive the aid they need.

Meanwhile, the UN remains very concerned about the situation in and around Wadi Barada, including the displacement of some 15,000 people from the area, as well as the water cut-offs in Damascus since 22 December 2016.  Some 5.5 million people in and around Damascus city continue to be deprived of running water as a result of hostilities in Wadi Barada.  Water authorities continue to implement an emergency plan to meet around 30 per cent of the daily needs of people, and the UN continues to support the water authorities with water-quality testing equipment and chemicals needed to undertake necessary quality tests.  In addition, pre-positioned medicines and kits are in place and trainers are being provided on cholera response and waterborne diseases.  The UN continues a public campaign to raise awareness on safe water practices and safe water sources to prevent diseases, which remains the main concern.


Our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] have said, in a press release issued yesterday, that one girl is confirmed dead and four others injured in two attacks yesterday morning near a school in the Nihm district outside the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.  UNICEF said that this is the latest example of how attacks on civilian areas continue to kill and injure children in Yemen. Instead of learning, children are witnessing death, war and destruction, UNICEF says.  Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, the UN has recorded the deaths of nearly 1,400 children.


Our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed their concern for thousands of migrants, asylum seekers and others enduring freezing winter conditions across Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.  With temperatures hovering below freezing across the continent, dozens of people, including some migrants, have died due to exposure.


I wanted to flag the travels of two Special Rapporteurs.  First, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, will be in Mexico next week, to discuss the measures taken in order to ensure that human rights activists perform their important work in a safe and enabling environment.  At the end of his mission, on Tuesday, 24 [January], he will have a press conference at the UN Office in Mexico City.


And Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, is currently on her fifth information-gathering visit to the country.  She began her visit on Monday, and that visit is expected until 20 January.

**Honour Roll

I want to talk a little bit about money.  And I want to say “thank you very much” to the nine countries that have already paid their regular budget dues in full.  And I would also like to acknowledge the 17 others who have made partial payments as of this eleventh day of 2017.  The nine fully paid-up Members are Angola, Armenia, Benin, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Liberia, Senegal, South Sudan and Ukraine.  That’s how many?  All right.  Very good.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I want to ask you about the indictments that were unsealed yesterday about… about Ban Ki‑moon's brother and nephew, Dennis Bahn.  I'm asking because I asked here in this room in May 2015 about this same transaction.  Now that the indictments come out, it quotes from e-mails from Ban Ki‑moon's nephew, in which he says that he was using the reputation of his family and the access of his family to the… to the leader of Country 1, which is Qatar, the Amir of Qatar, in order to sell the building.  So, I wanted to know, given that it wasn't answered at the time, what is the response… because I know that you're going to try to say, well, he's left so there's no answer.  But, I want to know from your office and from the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) of the UN, given that this… some of this was public knowledge in May and that it's now formalized in an unsealed indictment, what is the UN system going to do?  And what do you personally… did you actually ask the Secretary‑General at the time about his knowledge of his nephew using his name to sell the building in Viet Nam?

Spokesman:  Look, I know and the [former] Secretary‑General, Ban Ki‑moon, had told me at the time that he had absolutely no knowledge of his nephew's activities or whereabouts and so forth.  The indictment that was unsealed yesterday is not one that concerns the United Nations, and I have no comment on it.

Question:  I totally… wait.  It's a follow‑up question.  I'm sorry.  You said he had no knowledge where he was, but at the time period…?

Spokesman:  No, I said he had no knowledge of his activities.

Question:  Well, one of his activities was being employed by Colliers International, which was then and is now a landlord of the United Nations on 45th Street.  So, one, how is that acceptable?   And two, just state… when is the last time that Ban… when you asked him then, when you said he had no knowledge of his activities, that he was trying to sell a building in Viet Nam?  That he was e-mailing that he had Ban Ki‑moon's support? 

Spokesman:  I think the statement that I just said speaks for itself.  If you have any further questions on the previous Secretary‑General, I will provide you with the name of the person who's currently speaking on his behalf, which is not me.

Question:  And what about Colliers?  This land… now that it appears in the indictment…

Spokesman:  As I said, we have absolutely no comment on it.

Correspondent:  Right.  It's a UN contractor.

Spokesman:  But… you've said something.  I've said something.  We'll leave it at that.  Thank you.  Okay.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, what can you tell us about the SG's conversations about South Sudan?  He's apparently made phone calls to President [Yoweri] Museveni and to Sudanese leaders.  What… can you tell us about that?

Spokesman:  You know, the Secretary‑General has been… is very concerned about the current situation in South Sudan:  the risks that we've seen for more violence, the continuing humanitarian… deterioration of the humanitarian situation in many parts of the country.  I think they are roles to play for regional organizations and regional leaders in trying to defuse the crisis.  And that's the focus of the conversations he's having.

Question:  Can you… can you confirm that he… who he's spoken to?  I understand it's President Museveni and Sudan.  Would it have been President [Omar al-]Bashir?

Spokesman:  I know that he has spoken to President Museveni, but I have no other calls to confirm to you.  Majeed?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has UN been formally invited by Russia and Turkey for Astana talks?

Spokesman:  No, we've checked just… in fact, Farhan [Haq] just checked a few minutes ago with the Office of the Special Envoy.  We've yet to receive… we've not received any formal invitation to the Astana talks, which, again, I would say it is a process that we very much support.

Question:  And, Stéphane, is Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura still not going?  Is that the dec-…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think I said we haven't received an invitation.  So, obviously, we don't… as a general rule, we don't show up to meetings without… uninvited.  It's just not very polite.  So, we will wait and see if an invitation comes through and at what level the representation will be.  Fathi?

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Majeed's question.  Who's issuing the invitations for the Astana meeting?  Is it the Kazakh Government?  Is it the Russians?

Spokesman:  I think that's a question for… you know, our understanding is that obviously the Russians and the Turkish Government are very much in the lead.  They're host… being hosted in Kazakhstan.  We'll have to see… to get an invitation, then we'll tell you who sent it to us. 

Question:  Can I follow up?

Spokesman:  Yes, Carole and then Nizar.

Question:  What do you make of that?  I mean… just waiting?

Spokesman:  I don’t make… I’m not over-interpreting it.  I think we just… as far as I know, I just saw the dates of the talks officially being reported today.  So I'm not interpreting it one way or another.   Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, the attack on the school in Nihm, close to Sana’a, it's not the first, of course, against the school.  That school has been there for tens of years.  The… UNICEF condemned that or criticized it.  What is the position of the Secretary‑General regarding that?

Spokesman:  Of course, we condemn any attack, especially where civilians are… civilians are killed and especially when children are killed.  I think we have spoken from this podium over and over again on the issue of the indiscriminate attacks that have hit civilians in Yemen, the attack on civilian infrastructure.  From what I gather, there was a hit on a petrol station, which it was next to the school.  We've spoken to our Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen.  We're trying to get a bit more information.  But, it goes without question that we condemn this incident, as any incident where children… especially where children are hit.

Question:  Where will that lead us with the review of the list of shame for the countries?

Spokesman:  No… I have no update to bring you on that.  Obviously, as you know, the report of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict will come out a bit later this year.  The next report will cover the activities… everything that took place in 2016, and then in 2018, we'll have the reports on what happened in 2017.

Question:  Will there be any changes in the four months of the list?

Spokesman:  We will have… I think you'll have to wait and see.  Yes, ma'am.  And welcome.

Question:  Oh, thank you, Steph.  Going back to your comments about the situation in Wadi Barada, there were reports on Reuters and other news agencies earlier today, indicating that there might have been some sort of agreement between at least local government officials and rebel fighters on efforts to rebuild the water sanitation system there.  Is there independent confirmation in this building…?

Spokesman:  No, we've seen these reports of… you know, of a deal on cessation of hostilities.  Our colleagues on the ground are following up to see what exactly was agreed.  We're not… we were not party to the discussions between the various groups and entities that were negotiating.  As I said, we're on standby to help repair and to send teams to help repair the water source.  Any continuing shutdown of this water source is obviously… can have tremendous humanitarian impact, not only people’s lack of access to water, but lack of access to fresh water and the risk of waterborne diseases, not to mention the price gouging that we've also seen.

Question:  And a quick follow‑up.  If this does come to pass, would this building be in a position to get confirmation from the Syrian Government that a return to air assaults that might possibly destroy the repaired work would not take place?

Spokesman:  We would want… as a matter of rule, we want to see a stop to all air assaults on civilian areas and civilian infrastructures, any assault, whether it's an air, whether… we've seen reports of sabotage of the water source.  Using water as a tool of war is in violation of international law and is inhumane.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I have other questions, but I just… I just want to understand your answer, because since part of the questions raised by the indictment have to do not with Ban Ki‑moon but with OIOS and did it act and Colliers International, which is still a UN contractor, I wanted to know, are you referring me to Lee Do‑woon to answer those questions or are you going to answer them?

Spokesman:  I'm telling you I have no comment on the indictment.  And if you wish to pursue a line of questioning as to the activities of the former Secretary‑General, I would refer you to the gentleman you just mentioned.

Question:  You'd said that you'd look into Mr. Jeffrey Sachs, a UN official, saying that he would work on Ban Ki‑moon's campaign.  Is that a question for you or Mr Lee Do‑woon?

Spokesman:  I will get back to you on that.

Question:  Okay.  On Gambia, I wanted to ask, the President, Yahya Jammeh, said that no one can take him out of power or should take him out of power until the Supreme Court rules, which will be in May.  What does… does the UN think… what do you think of that?

Spokesman:  We are very much supporting the efforts of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States].  I understand the mission by the Nigerian President, who's leading a number of ECOWAS leaders, will take place later this week.  Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas himself will brief the Security Council.  We want to see a peaceful transition that answers the hopes and aspirations of the people of the Gambia.

Question:  And I wanted to ask about the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] of Libya.  There's several Security Council members have said there's now a… a… a… I guess a competition or race or… or… to… to… for the next… the next SRSG, including a candidate, Mr. Kaye of the UK, and that there are other candidates.  Can you just confirm that his term expires in March?  And can you say what the process is for select… since it will be the first one done under António Guterres… What is the process?

Spokesman:  No, I can't…  I don't know what the status of his contract is.  If… I'll find out, and I will let you know.  Nizar?

Question:  You mentioned about Wadi Barada and the deprivation of water, of fresh water to the capital.  Who's more affected here, the towns of Wadi Barada or Damascus, which is under the control of the State… more affected?

Spokesman:  The people who are being impacted are people, are families of people trying to get water.  Who is being more impacted, I don't know.  What I do know is that 5.5 million people do not have access to fresh water.  And, frankly, what their… where they live, what their political leanings are or… is really of no consequence.  We need… the parties need to do what they need to do to help us restore the water source to these more than 5 million people.

Correspondent:  But, implicitly, you said that using water as a way of fighting or as a weapon is inhumane and is immoral.  Of course, this…

Spokesman:  I don't think I said it implicitly.  I think I said it explicitly.

Question:  Yeah, but here you are accusing someone.

Spokesman:  No, we have no forensic capacity to tell who… where this damage comes from.  We have seen reports of aerial bombardments.  We've seen reports of sabotage at the water source.  Our focus, the focus of my colleagues on the ground in Syria, our humanitarian focus is getting the water back on line.

Question:  Does your sources confirm that Al‑Nusrah is in Wadi Barada or not?

Spokesman:  That I cannot answer.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, the Palestinians have been writing letters about the new Administration's plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.  What is the US position on embassy presences?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those letters.  Obviously, I think that and other questions is really part of a negotiation having to do with the whole of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict as a whole.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Can I follow up?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General raised this with… is he discussing this, any concerns?

Spokesman:  You know, I haven't… I really… I don't… on this particular issue, I have nothing else to say.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, on South Sudan, the… the Foreign Ministry Spokesman, [inaudible], has said today that the Government is no longer interested in the 4,000‑person additional peacekeepers.  And since this was so much discussed and they had said they agreed to it, what is the re… the response of the UN system or the Secretary‑General?  I have a follow‑up to this announcement by South Sudan.

Spokesman:  We've seen those reports in the press.  Our colleagues on the ground are engaging with the Transitional Government to get a bit of clarity on the issue.  Obviously, as you know as well as I do, the Security Council authorized the deployment of the Protection Force because of the critical need to protect civilians.  It's not… the Regional Protection Force needs to materialize and will continue to work with the Government of National Unity on this issue.

Question:  Has there been any progress in deploying the 226 police that the Security Council also mandated for Burundi to Burundi?  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  No.  None that I can report.  Go ahead.  Last one.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you, yesterday, you put out a statement saying "Statement from United Nations on Afghanistan”, and so, in opening it up, I was wondering, like, is it from the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat? 

Spokesman:  It's from my office, speaking on behalf of the Secretariat.

Question:  Is this a new… I guess, can you say… since we've, for several years, gotten statements on… from your… the Spokesman on behalf of the Secretary‑General, what… just explain what's behind it?

Spokesman:  If you haven't seen it, then it is clearly new.  Majeed?

Question:  Right.  But why is it being done?

Spokesman:  It's just a different way of us expressing our position.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, I want to ask you something about Mosul, I want the Secretariat position about a statement that's troubling, by…

Spokesman:  Well, why don't you wait and ask Lise when she comes online.

Question:  Does she represent the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  She works for the Secretariat.  Nizar, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  This situation in Aleppo looks like it's heating up again.  Today, there was a shelling by Grad rockets against Western Aleppo.  You have observers on the ground.  What do they tell us about what's happening?

Spokesman:  Unfortunately, I don't have an update from Aleppo today.

Question:  Can I just ask you about this exchange?  Just very briefly because it's… many people say that the public misunderstands, when people say the UN, the difference between the Security Council and the Secretariat.  So, for example, if they judge the Security Council, they want to cut money…

Spokesman:  No, I understand…

Question:  So, doesn't this create a greater danger…?

Spokesman:  It's attributable to me as Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

For information media. Not an official record.