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. In just a few moments, we will have as our guest today Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. He will brief on his recently concluded visit to six West African countries. Before we get there, we will do our little part of the briefing.
The Secretary-General has just arrived in Nairobi over the past hour. While he is in Kenya, he will meet with President Uhuru Kenyatta and Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed, and he will also participate in a celebration of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.
At the end of a two-day visit to South Sudan, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, called for immediate and unhindered access to people in need of aid and for urgent funding for the humanitarian appeal. The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan is rapidly escalating, and hunger and malnutrition have reached new disturbing levels. Mr. O’Brien said this is only the beginning of the lean season and things could get much worse in the months ahead.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator called for urgent additional funding to scale up, sustain and expand lifesaving assistance and protection across South Sudan. He also called for the fighting to stop and for calm to prevail to reach people in dire need, and prevent further catastrophe. Aid workers continue to face multiple obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including active hostilities, access denials and bureaucratic impediments. Mr. O’Brien said: “We have a plan. We are already responding. We are ready to scale up. Now we need the access and the funds to save even more lives.”
Following his visit to South Sudan, Mr. O’Brien travelled to Somalia today to assess the impact of the severe drought which has left the country on the brink of famine. About 6.2 million people — about half of the population of Somalia — are in need of assistance. Nearly 3 million people are unable to meet their daily food requirements and need urgent life-saving assistance. Almost 950,000 children under the age of five will be acutely malnourished this year, with 185,000 of those children at risk of death without immediate medical treatment. Mr. O’Brien met with humanitarian partners, including donors, to discuss ways to scale up the response to save lives and avert a possible famine. He also called on authorities and all parties to step up efforts to facilitate increased humanitarian access to the drought-affected people, especially in hard-to-reach areas.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that yesterday afternoon two check points held by the Malian armed forces north of Timbuktu were attacked by armed groups. These groups oppose the installation of the Taoudenit interim authorities which was scheduled for today and represents a key step in the implementation of the peace agreement. The UN Mission condemns these actions, which constitute ceasefire violations and expose their perpetrators to sanctions. The Mission has immediately initiated dialogue to ease the tensions and asks the groups to withdraw immediately and unconditionally. The UN Mission has also deployed to protect the civilian population if needed.
**Central African Republic
Over the weekend, the UN peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic said that the threats of the coalition led by the FPRC [Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique] against the UN Mission’s personnel, humanitarian workers and civilian populations are unacceptable. The Mission warned the leaders of the coalition that they would be individually held accountable for such actions. The UN Mission also stresses that armed groups cannot hamper humanitarian access to vulnerable populations and calls on the FPRC not to hinder their work.
Regarding Iraq, civilian displacement out of western Mosul continued over the weekend. The number of people displaced from western Mosul alone since the military operation began on 19 February is approaching 46,000. The number of people currently displaced from east and west Mosul combined is 206,500. Emergency assistance, including ready-to-eat food, water and blankets, is being provided at mustering points and security screening sites, and families receive further assistance once they proceed to displacement areas.
Humanitarian partners continue to race to establish space in camps and emergency sites for those displaced. Currently space for almost 77,000 people is available, and work is ongoing to further expand and establish new sites. Public buildings are also being investigated as additional emergency shelter sites. Yesterday, humanitarian workers were able to distribute emergency assistance inside western Mosul for the first time. Some 200 families in a south-western neighbourhood received emergency packages of food rations, water, and hygiene supplies.
On Saturday, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, met with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, in Nicosia, following a meeting with the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, on Friday. Speaking to reporters following his meeting with Mr. Akıncı, the Special Adviser said it was very clear to him that both leaders are committed to making the process work. He said the coming weeks would be decisive for the fate of the process, and that this is a time of strategic leadership. You can read more about this online.
**International Atomic Energy Agency
Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today addressed its Board of Governors. On Iran, he said that the IAEA has been verifying and monitoring the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for more than a year. Mr. Amano said that he remains seriously concerned about the nuclear programme of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, adding that it is deeply regrettable that the country has shown no indication that it is willing to comply with the Security Council resolutions adopted in response to its two nuclear tests last year. You can read his full remarks on the IAEA’s website.
I also want to flag today two new reports by the World Health Organization on environmental risks. These reports find that more than one in four deaths of children under 5 years of age are attributable to unhealthy environments. Every year, environmental risks — such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation and inadequate hygiene — take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years of age. You can find both reports on the World Health Organization’s website.
The Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has adopted a new aircraft [carbon dioxide] emissions standard which will reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate. This represents the world’s first global design certification standard governing carbon dioxide emissions for any industry sector. There is a press release available with more details on the ICAO website.
And today, for the Honour Roll, we thank Tunisia for its full payment to the UN’s regular budget. This takes the total on the Honour Roll to 51.
Like I said, after this briefing, we will have Jeffrey Feltman. And then tomorrow, the UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri, will be our guest at noon. She will brief the press on the eve of International Women’s Day on the theme of this year’s celebration: “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”, with discussions ranging from the gender pay gap to unpaid care work; the challenges for women in the informal economy and the opportunities created by the new technologies. That’s it for me. Yes. Michelle?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the new Executive Order just signed by President Trump, which bans visas for… from nationals from six countries and suspends the worldwide refugee programme for 120 days? Does he have any comment on that? And did he try and talk to Nikki Haley or Rex Tillerson or Donald Trump about this prior to the signing today?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, right now, at this stage, as you noticed, this Executive Order has just come out in the past few minutes really, so it's something that we're going to study, and we'll examine it first before I comment on it at any great length. Of course, you're aware of the statement that the Secretary‑General issued when the precursor Executive Order came out. At the same time, I believe our colleagues at the UN refugee agency in particular, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], are also examining this, and they stand ready to engage constructively with US authorities to help ensure that the US can remain a leader at protecting refugees. Yes?
Question: This is kind of… I just wanted to know whether you have a comment yet on the… the missile firings by the Democratic Republic of… People's Republic of Korea. And also, just as another factual question, Morocco and other media are reporting that Christopher Ross is resigning as envoy on the Western Sahara question. So, I just wanted to get your statement on whether that is, in fact, the case or Mr. [António] Guterres' understanding.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, to take your first question first, we deplore the continued violation of Security Council resolutions by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, including the most recent launches of ballistic missiles. The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] leadership should refrain from further provocations and return to full compliance with its international obligations. And if we have any further reaction or statement later in the afternoon, of course, we'll share that with you as it happens, but we're evaluating the situation as of right now. Regarding your second question, as with all senior officials at the UN, Christopher Ross serves at the pleasure of the Secretary‑General, and he continues to serve in that post right now. So, I would not be able to confirm the reports you've cited.
Question: Does he have a contract that expires on 31 March? And if so, has he asked to be extended or… or told him, as he said Mr [Hervé] Ladsous had told him, that he chose not to continue?
Deputy Spokesman: Of course, different officials sometimes can be in dialogue with the Secretary‑General about when they want and choose to leave. Like I said, Mr. Ross serves at the pleasure of the Secretary‑General, and he continues at his post. If there's any change in that, we'll let you know when that happens. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. In the last 24 hours, there were some certain developments in the occupied Palestinian territories. First, the Israeli military decided to demolish all homes, a school and a mosque in Khan al‑Ahmar, which is next to Ma'ale Adumim, in order to open the road… to open the space for a new Israeli settlement. That's one thing. Second, Israeli military also decided to confiscate 2,000 dunams in a triangle of villages in the occupied West Bank, one called Jab'a spelled J‑a‑b‑a‑a. The second called Burqa, B‑u‑r‑q‑a. And the third is Mikhmas, M‑i‑k‑h‑m‑a‑s. Among those three villages, they will lose 2,000 dunams. That is, in fact, planted with all olive trees. Now, my question, why Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has one ear and one eye. Only he condemns acts when it's coming from the Gaza Strip, when they fire a rocket towards Israel, he always comes immediately to condemn that attack. But, with these developments, he is nowhere to be found. Why?
Deputy Spokesman: That's not fair. If you look at the statements we've issued, we've issued a considerable amount of statements about our concerns — please don't talk over me — about our concerns on settlement activity and other steps that could potentially endanger a two‑State solution. So, we have said that in the past, as has Mr. Mladenov. Regarding these latest developments, I'll check with the Special Coordinator's office to see whether there's any reaction they'll have about these latest developments. But, certainly, these are the sort of things that we tend to report to the Security Council and the sort of things once, in particular, there's a trend of confiscation of land or of settlement activity that we issue further comments on. Yes. Yes, Dulcie in the back.
Question: Hi. So have you had any indications from UN-Women on the visa ban and its effects on the CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] next week, or are people pulling out or are people… participants from these countries unable to come? What… what have you heard? Thanks.
Deputy Spokesman: I have not heard anything from UN-Women about this. This is, as you know, a policy that was just announced over the past hour, so it will need to be studied and evaluated. You will have, as our guest tomorrow, Lakshmi Puri from UN-Women, so she can talk to you about the events that happen. But, as of right now, it seems to be on track.
Correspondent: But, I mean, the immigration ban started in January, so there… must have had some effect since then.
Deputy Spokesman: No, that legislation was suspended while it was being challenged in the courts. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura's responsibilities, is he staying till March or has his responsibilities… mandate has been extended?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have anything particular to say about his mandate other than that he is continuing with his work right now. You'll have seen, of course, that he was concentrating on his… on the Geneva talks among the Syrian parties last week, and he is continuing with those efforts right now. He will be in New York in the coming days and will also brief the Security Council on his activities. So, his work is going on.
Question: I have a second question on the [resolution] 1701 (2006). Do you know when the report will be come out this month?
Deputy Spokesman: It… I believe it's on the Security Council's calendar. It should be coming out sometime this month. But, you can check the calendar of the Security Council…
Question: Do you know if… do you know if Sigrid Kaag will be coming to brief the Council?
Deputy Spokesman: She normally does. We'll check once… it depends on the schedule of Council events, but we'll see once that is set whether she will attend. Yes?
Question: Farhan, just to get back to the immigration ban, you referenced the Secretary‑General's previous remarks when the… the first Executive Order was signed, and at that point, I think he had urged the President to change course, to reverse the action. Can we… can we assume that it's still his… his position on this second one?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the concerns he expressed at the time remain valid right now. Of course, we'll need to look at the details of this Executive Order and see how this is being carried out. But, throughout… you know, we have made it clear that… particularly on the issue of refugees, that there continues to be a great need for refugee protection. And the US resettlement programme for refugees has historically been one of the most important in the world for the protection of refugees. And so that's something to bear in mind as we look in… look at this latest legislation… at this latest order, sorry. Yes?
Question: Sorry. In Mali, some armed group are taking over Timbuktu, preventing the national authority to withstand the administration in the region. Does MINUSMA is aware of it? And what is the UN is doing to pre‑…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. What I said about this earlier is that the… there is actually a press release from the UN Mission in Mali, from MINUSMA, where the UN Mission condemns these actions, which constitute ceasefire violations and expose their perpetrators to sanctions. And the Mission has immediately initiated dialogue to ease the tensions, and it asked the groups to withdraw immediately and unconditionally. Yes?
Question: Sure. Wanted… I'd asked Stéphane [Dujarric] last week about the situation in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon, north-west and south-west province, and it… you know, the internet has been turned off there for 50 days. Lawyers have been arrested. Eight journalists have been detained. So, I wanted to know, he said he was… that the UN was following it and that he would try to get something. Do you have something? And, also, what does it mean to say the UN is following it? And what does it think about how people in those two regions are being treated?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we monitor these situations, including through our desks, but with Cameroon, as with other countries, we are concerned about any detentions of journalists. We want to make sure that there is respect for freedom of expression and for the rights of the media. And along that… those lines, we need to make sure that due process is followed in all of these cases.
Question: What about the turning off of the internet for up… for, in this case, 50 days? I guess my question is, I know that the Council was recently there, and there's some back‑and‑forth about whether this issue arose. But does DPA [Department of Political Affairs] provide any briefings in advance to the Council in terms of the countries that are about to visit, or is it entirely up… not up to but… it's obviously up to, but does DPA provide any… did they brief the Council, let's say, on this issue of the Anglophone areas of Cameroon prior to the current trip?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware whether they briefed specifically about the Anglophone areas of Cameroon. They have provided information that's relevant prior to the trip, but that trip is going on right now, and we do expect that the Security Council members will be back, I believe, by Wednesday, and then they can talk about their own trip. Yes?
Question: Is the search for a replacement of Mr. Martin Kobler going… still going on? And did the SG [Secretary-General] have… finalize a short list for the Security Council to consider?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there's nothing further to say in terms of any particular names, but, yes, the search is still going on. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to know… I know that… that Mr. O'Brien was in South Sudan. There's now… there's a document that's being circulated online that the Government is now charging NGOs a $10,000 business license fee. This is… obviously comes in the wake of the drought determination. Does the… does OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] or the UN have any response to the Government basically charge… increasing its fees on groups trying to address the drought?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I just said a few seconds ago about this, Mr. O'Brien has spoken to the press following his visit. One of the points he made is that aid workers continue to face multiple obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including active hostilities, access denials, and bureaucratic impediments. And the basic point is, as he said, we need the access and the funds to save even more lives.
Question: Right, so this includes this $10,000 fee?
Deputy Spokesman: It includes all bureaucratic impediments, yes.
Question: Could I ask a question on Nepal?
Deputy Spokesman: Sure. And then let's go to our guest.
Correspondent: Because I know the UN used to be…
Deputy Spokesman: Okay… oh, wait. First you.
Correspondent: No, no, please.
Deputy Spokesman: Why don't you do it and then him?
Question: This is a follow‑up actually to a question that Stéphane got last week concerning whether now that the statement put out by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on cybersecurity. It's been out there now for several days. Is there now any reaction or comment at the UN on… on China's set of principles in that statement on cybersecurity?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, you're aware what our basic concerns are about freedom of expression on the whole, but there's nothing specific to say about this policy.
Question: Well, this didn't deal so much with freedom of expression. It was just a set of general principles concerning areas for international cooperation as well as a reaffirmation of national sovereignty and so forth around cybersecurity. There's no reaction to that… to that statement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we encourage the overall principle of greater international cooperation in the case of cybersecurity, and so anything that moves that along would be a helpful step. In terms of the details, we'd need to explore that. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask… I know that the UN used to have a mission in Nepal, but there's been kind of increasing problems in the Madhesi and Tharu communities there, including now today people killed by security forces. And it seems to be politically there are groups trying to mobilize… meet with the Government. So, I just wondered, is there some… since the Secretary‑General talks about, you know, preventative diplomacy, is the UN actually looking at this… this… this growing problem in Nepal? And does it have any idea of trying to somehow get involved as well as commenting on the killing of unarmed individuals by the security forces?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, we want to make sure that any excessive use of force will be investigated. Beyond that, we're monitoring the situation. If there's anything further down the line, we'll let you know at that point.
Question: And just… and this is kind of a stranger… a smaller question, but there… there's… an Indian film production company has said that its film… a forthcoming film called Half Girlfriend was the first Indian film filmed in the UN and it just… they have a picture of themselves filming in the GA [General Assembly] and say they were screened at 5 a.m. So, I just… my question to is you more… what's the process if… if… if… if… if film companies from different countries want to film in the GA, is there some open process? Are there some rules that how… what gets approved and what doesn't get approved?
Deputy Spokesman: There are rules in terms of what gets approved and doesn't get approved, and that is something that goes through the Department of Public Information. And you can check with our DPI colleagues on that.
Question: Are there rule… are the rules public?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, you can check with our DPI colleagues, but there's a process by which they review any requests to film inside the building. Okay. Let's go to our guest.