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.
I have an announcement, a personnel announcement, to share with you.
Following consultations with the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Secretary-General has written to the President of the General Assembly requesting the General Assembly to confirm Achim Steiner of Germany as the new Administrator of UNDP for a term of four years.
Mr. Steiner’s career includes assignments with governmental and non-governmental, as well as international, organizations in different parts of the world, including as Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme and Director-General of the UN Office in Nairobi.
This afternoon, the Secretary-General will address the Security Council at 3 p.m. on a meeting entitled Maintenance of international peace and security: human rights and the prevention of armed conflict.
The Secretary-General will stress that our world is facing unprecedented peace and security challenges that result from a lack of prevention and from insufficient implementation of human rights obligations. The consequences for people and States, and indeed for humanity, are being felt by tens of millions and by entire regions. Ensuring improved action on human rights is a critical part of meeting this challenge.
The Secretary-General will be joined by the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, at a summit they will convene tomorrow — the first UN-AU annual conference.
The two recently appointed leaders will look into how to strengthen the partnership between the two organizations to face common challenges and opportunities on the continent, on issues of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. They will also sign the Joint UN-AU Framework for an Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security.
The Secretary-General and the Chairperson will be speaking to you at 1 p.m. at the stakeout outside of the Trusteeship Council. And we have just been advised that the Chairperson will have a further longer press conference by himself — joined by others from the AU — at 3:45 p.m. in this room. So there is a stakeout with the Secretary-General at 1 o’clock outside of the Trusteeship Council, then a press conference by the AU at 3:45 p.m. in this very room.
On Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that food and water shortages continue in western Mosul, which has been cut off from its main supply route since November 2016, and remains largely inaccessible to aid workers.
Given the chronic shortages of clean water, many people are drinking untreated water. Humanitarian workers are concerned over an increased number of displaced children who are fleeing western Mosul with diarrhoea. These shortages have likely been exacerbated by Da’esh’s recent attacks on the Badush water treatment plant, western Mosul’s largest functioning water treatment plant. Nearly 130,000 people in west Mosul have received food aid to date. Approximately 500,000 people live in Da’esh-controlled areas in west Mosul.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tell us that today that a UN military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device or a mine about 30 km south of Tessalit, in the Kidal region. Two peacekeepers and one civilian were gravely wounded.
Also this morning, the Malian armed forces and the National Guard were attacked by unidentified armed men in the Gourma Rharous area, 120 km east of Timbuktu. The UN Mission deployed attack helicopters in support of the Malian armed forces and is facilitating the evacuation of the wounded.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, condemned these attacks and expressed concern over the continuing insecurity in the north and centre of the country. He reiterated the need for all parties to intensify their efforts to make progress on the peace process.
Late yesterday in Mogadishu, the UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and other international partners welcomed a series of decisions taken by the Somali Federal Government and the Federal Member States after two days of consultations in Mogadishu. The consultations included topics like national security, drought response and the fight against corruption.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, welcomed in particular the agreement reached on the key points of Somali national security architecture and added that this agreement marks a major milestone for Somalia and is a cornerstone for the federal state-building process.
Our colleagues at the International Organization on Migration (IOM) report that nearly 9,000 migrants were rescued over the past long weekend by individual NGOs and by the international flotilla in the Mediterranean. The rescued migrants were mostly Africans, but there was also a large number of people from Bangladesh.
There have been 900 migrant deaths at sea so far in 2017, 90 per cent of them on the Libya-Italy stretch, and as many as 20,000 migrants are estimated to be in detention in unofficial detention centres, according to IOM. The UN refugee agency repeated its calls on the EU [European Union] and Governments to help save lives.
On a related issue, today and tomorrow in Conference Room 1, right here, IOM is holding a meeting with the theme “Strengthening International Cooperation on and Governance of Migration towards the Adoption of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2018”. Organized by the International Organization for Migration, this is part of the preparatory process of the Global Compact on Migration. At 1 p.m., William Lacy Swing, the IOM Director-General, will be having a Q&A session in Conference Room 1 which you are welcome to attend.
I did want to flag that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed deep alarm at an apparent widespread pattern of rallies in several provinces across Burundi where young men from the [Imbonerakure militia — the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party] repeatedly chant a call to impregnate or kill opponents. Mr. Zeid said the organized nature of the marches, coupled with reports of ongoing serious human rights violations, lay bare the campaign of terror that is being waged in Burundi.
In a short while, I will be joined by OCHA's [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] Director of Operations, John Ging, along with Manuel Fontaine, Director of the Office of Emergency Operations for UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch of UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund]. They will be here to brief you on their recent mission to South Sudan and Somalia.
Tomorrow at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, on efforts to provide every refugee and displaced child with an education through a new model for education finance.
I just wanted to make some remarks on a story that has been making its rounds today here in New York in connection with someone who was arrested in connection with a series of bank robberies in the midtown neighbourhood. I want to clarify a few facts about this case.
Contrary to what was reported, the suspect is not an employee of the United Nations, nor is he an accredited journalist to the United Nations, nor was he arrested at the United Nations as some had reported. The suspect, named Abdullahi Shuaibu, was up until 2012, he was a resident correspondent here at the UN representing the News Agency of Nigeria. That was up until 2012. He did work very briefly for the UN for two months in the fall of 2013, but has never worked for the United Nations since then.
I’ve finished the crime beat. Yes, Mr. Lee?
**Questions and Answers
Question: No, no, I just… just to be factual, because…
Spokesman: We like facts.
Question: Yeah, yeah. I've seen your office…
Spokesman: True facts.
Question: I've seen your office quoted on this, and so I wanted to ask you, the individual, since you're saying that he, you know, he worked for these two months in late 2013…
Question: …he appears in Voices of Darfur, the UNAMID magazine, as an author in May of 2012…
Spokesman: That's correct.
Question: Right, so…
Spokesman: So two months in 2012, as well, in the spring of 2012.
Question: And also in February 2013, which is not the months you're talking about.
Spokesman: That's not what I have as information.
Question: So there's a publication called UNAMID…
Spokesman: I'm telling you the facts as I know them.
Spokesman: The point is that he has not had…
Question: …Malha: Homeland of the Midobs, 9 February 2013.
Spokesman: He has not had any contracts with the United Nations since 2013.
Question: Right, but why would you… I guess… on what basis were you saying these two months? That's what I'm saying, when it's pretty obvious just from a…
Spokesman: That's the basis on the information that I have.
Question: From UNAMID?
Spokesman: The point is that it was reported today that he was arrested at the UN and that he worked for the UN. Both of those things are not true. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. Just a follow‑up again. Could you tell us the circumstances of his termination of his brief employment?
Spokesman: It was a temporary contract. His last contract was a temporary contract in Meetings Coverage. We take people on often for one, two or three months in the fall. And he served for two months, and that was it.
Question: And could you also tell us the circumstances? You say he was a resident correspondent with media accreditation, no longer accredited.
Question: Could you tell us the circumstances under which…?
Spokesman: I think the…
Question: …that change occurred?
Spokesman: If memory serves me right, his agency, I think he switched jobs. I mean, he was no longer sponsored by the News Agency of Nigeria. So, if you're asking was his credential removed for any action, no, not that I'm aware of. I think it was just an issue of him, of his employers switching correspondents, as I recall, if I can recall anything back to 2012. Nizar and then Masood.
Question: Yeah, one question regarding the prisoners in Palestine. While they are under hunger strike, the United Nations would not hear any statement about them, although it's a very mass hunger strike by the prisoners.
Spokesman: No, we're obviously, we are obviously aware of the… hold on a second, because I do have language here. We're obviously aware of the situation, following the developments closely, and we… we've noted also the clashes that have taken place in the… in the occupied West Bank in support of the prisoners, and we call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint.
Question: The authorities have penalized Mr. Barghouti by putting him in solitary confinement after he published or he leaked a message to the New York Times. Do you have any position on that as well?
Spokesman: That's all I have for the time being. As I said, we're very much… we're following and our team on the ground is following the situation closely. If I have anything more, I will add.
Question: On the exchange of prisoners in Foah, Kefraya, Zab… Madaya and Zabadani, the… I saw the statement by the Secretary‑General regarding what happened in… near Aleppo in Rasheedin. But, since then, 300 of Foah and Kefraya inhabitants are missing. Also, more than 300 between killed and injured. Is… What was the role of the United Nations there? Did they observe, did they report anything about what happened exactly?
Spokesman: No, the UN, we've had these exchanges in the past. The UN is not a party to the agreement, the exchange between the four… the four towns. We, obviously, stand ready to help those who've arrived and need humanitarians, but the actual exchange is not one that is organized by us.
Question: Follow‑up on that. The United Nations was there when the agreement of east Aleppo happened. And, of course, they were observing. Why wasn't there… near them when this explosion happened?
Spokesman: As I said, we were not involved in this exchange.
Question: You were not involved… even…?
Spokesman: No, I… Nizar, that's… I've answered your question, I think. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I'd just like to know, why is the Secretary‑General so reluctant to use his bully pulpit to at least talk some sense into the United States and North Korea, which are now headed towards a confrontation, a nuclear confrontation, to say the least? And he is not… the United Nations seems to be totally hands off. They used to have a representative over there as a… a special representative for North Korea to handle the [inaudible], so there's no longer nobody there. Why is Secretary‑General so reluctant?
Spokesman: I don't think it's a matter of being reluctant. It's a matter of acting and… and doing things where they will have… they will have an impact and using public or private diplomacy as he sees fit. The Secretary‑General will be here on Friday for the… a week from Friday for the Security Council meeting on the DPRK, and he will brief the Council at that time.
Question: But Stéphane, the thing is, the situation, as you know…
Spokesman: I think we all know what the situation is.
Question: As we all know…
Spokesman: It is one…
Question: The thing about it…
Spokesman: …that is of… that is of concern…
Question: But the thing is…
Spokesman: …that is one of concern to us. Abdelhamid and then Carole.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In fact, Nizar took part of my question. But, again, you just read a very short sentence regarding the clashes between the Palestinian and the Israeli occupation authorities. However, these clashes came as a direct result of the strike of 1,500 prisoners. Would there be a statement supporting the demands of the prisoners, which is very simple? It's talking about putting public phones in the prison cells and allowing relatives to visit them and also deals with the detention. There are 500 detained without any trial. Would the Secretary‑General or his Special Envoy say something about these demands also?
Spokesman: I think his Special Envoy and his team are following the situation, as a matter of principle, wherever it may be. We always call for prisoners to be treated in a humane way, for their rights to be respected. In the past, we have called for either release or trial of people being held under administrative detention, and that remains our position. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, I just wanted to know if the Secretary‑General has scheduled a meeting with Rex Tillerson when he's in town…
Spokesman: Well, he'll be, as I said, the Secretary‑General will be briefing the Security Council that the Secretary of State will be presiding. As for the exact timing of a meeting, we'll figure that out, but they'll both… my sense is that they will have a bilateral when they're here. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the developments in Turkey, this referendum that took place, the opposition already voiced its concern with the way it was conducted and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] also, as well. What does the Secretary‑General think about that? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, as you know, we were not an observer to these… to the referendum, nor did we… were we involved in any way. I think, as a matter of principle, in any electoral process, a voting process in this case, it's important that, pending announcements of official results, that the relevant authorities ensure that any complaints or appeals are processed in accordance with the established procedures. Mr. Lee?
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask, you read out what Prince Zeid had said about Burundi. And I know I'd asked you before, and so I wanted to know, given that the… there is actually a Special Adviser on conflict prevention and a team on the ground and money being spent, what exactly is the Secretariat doing about this… this… the pattern that Prince Zeid has now said? And I know you don't like to say who he calls, the Secretary‑General, unlike in previous years, but is there any thought of actually reaching out to Pierre Nkurunziza from the top, given these…?
Spokesman: I think the…
Question: …rape chants?
Spokesman: As I said, we've been very worried about the rhetoric that we've heard recently about attacks on civil society and so forth. Our… our team on the ground is in contact with relevant parties and we would like to see the situation move in the right way.
Question: And I want… if I just could…
Spokesman: One more.
Question: Yeah. I wanted to ask you on Yemen, James Mattis is in Riyadh, and he said, this is a quote, “Our aim for this crisis”, meaning Yemen, “is to be handled by a team of negotiators under the aegis of the United Nations.” So I'm wondering, is there any communications between the administration…? There is a… there is a… at least not a team, but there's the… Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. What's he been doing? And is this call by Mattis understood by the UN to be for something different than what Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been doing?
Spokesman: No, I don't understand it as something being different. Nizar?
Question: Revisiting these missing 300 people in Syria, I mean, what I understand is that some of them have already went to Turkey. Why is the United Nations not involved in any way in trying to at least locate where they are? These are children, women…
Spokesman: We've always been worried about the fate of missing civilians, and I think our partners at the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] are the ones that usually handle these issues. And I think every day we talk about Syria underscores the need for renewed political momentum and support for the Geneva talks.
Question: Follow‑up on that. This incident is a very serious one, because hundreds of people were killed and perished as a result of that. Why isn't an investigation asked here? Who was responsible for that? Because, obviously, there were parties… there were States who were guarantors of this exchange and it went bad. Also, there was another incident…
Spokesman: We would like… we would like to see… to see light shed on the incident, and I would refer you back to what the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today in Geneva on the issue.
Spokesman: One last one.
Question: [inaudible] On Syria…
Question: In Hatlah last week, there was an attack which resulted in a chemical slaughter. Hundreds of people perished near Deir ez‑Zor, and nobody asked for investigation. Why is this area…?
Spokesman: I think the… anyone who may be a victim of… of a chemical attack deserves justice. And our colleagues at the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] have the mandate to investigate any alleged use of chemical weapons. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Stéph. On this meeting tomorrow between the African Union and the UN, other than signing this framework agreement, what else is expected, newsworthy, out of… out of this session? [laughter]
Spokesman: My… you know, over the years, I realise my definition of newsworthy and your definition of newsworthy may not ever meet. [laughter] I think this should be seen as the first step of a growing partnership, a partnership of equals between the UN and the African Union. This was the message the Secretary‑General delivered in… in Addis when he was there at the beginning of his term, and this is a continuing effort. We are involved with the African Union on so many issues, whether on… on peace and security or on long‑term development issues. And this is about building a… building a new and solid partnership with them.
Question: Is… is the conference…?
Spokesman: I find that news.
Question: Is the conference open or closed?
Spokesman: I think it will be closed, but let me find out. Maybe some of the remarks will be open. Linda, you've been patient.
Question: Thank you, Stéph.
Correspondent: She's always patient.
Spokesman: She is always patient. [laughter] Most of you are always patient.
Question: Thank you. I try not to be but… [laughter] In any case, following up on Masood's question about North Korea and the SG, I was wondering, since the UN is in the rare position that North Korea is a Member in good standing of the United Nations, attends meetings, committee sessions, etcetera, you mentioned that the SG has not been actively involved with dealing with the North Korean crisis. But I was wondering if any of his special reps or UN… other UN officials are in contact, maybe informally, with members of the North Korean Mission.
Spokesman: That's not a question I can answer. Obviously, our colleagues in the relevant departments here are in touch with various missions all the time on different issues. We do have a humanitarian presence in the DPRK, and they continue to do their work. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you again, Stéphane. The President of the Security Council, Ambassador [Nikki] Haley [of the United States], distributed a concept paper regarding the meeting on the Middle East on the 20th. If these ideas circulated and her concept paper would be followed, it is a change of mandate of the Security Council regarding the question of Palestine. There is a mandate to give briefing on the situation in the occupied territories monthly. The way she's suggesting that, it would change that. Does any Member State have the right to change any mandate that had been authorized, legalized, approved by the Security Council?
Spokesman: The Security Council members can have the discussions they want to have. They're the master of their own discussions. I'm not going to… I'm not going to get into it. I mean, she's the President of the Security Council. They will put things up for debate, discussion. They will take decisions. The Secretariat will brief as requested, and I expect Mr. [Nikolay] Mladenov to speak, to be present for the next briefing on the Middle East. Masood?
Question: Thank you, sir. Stéphane, on this incarceration of Palestinian children in Israeli jails, I had asked this question earlier that there was a figure which was given out in January that was like 319, without any charges, the detention of the children. Has the United Nations… has any… have had any talks with the Israeli Government as to release them?
Spokesman: I don't have access to the same figures you have. These are issues that are regularly brought up to the authorities. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I'd asked you before about some comments by Jeffrey Sachs, the UN Special Adviser on the SDGs, and you said you hadn't seen them. I don't know if you have yet, but I want to ask you about an article that was published last night, yesterday evening, by Jeffrey Sachs entitled How Trump Could Make the US a Climate Pariah over Paris Pact. Given that it's directly within the scope of his mandate, is this a statement as a UN official? You said the other ones weren't so…
Spokesman: No, his…
Question: It's on climate change. It's on the SD…
Spokesman: It's not, as far as I know, it is not a statement made in his… in… in his capacity as a UN envoy.
Question: You said at the time that you hadn't seen the other… the other comments. Have you taken any time to actually take a look at them?
Spokesman: I'm aware of his comments. Yes? And then Joe, and then we'll go to our guests.
Question: Stéphane, I just want to get back to the bank robbery suspect who briefly worked for the UN in 2013.
Question: So who did he work for? I mean which…?
Spokesman: His last…
Question: …which department?
Spokesman: His last posting was in Meetings Coverage here.
Question: So is that DPI?
Spokesman: Yeah. And, as I said, we employ… we employ a lot of people on a temporary… on a temporary basis.
Question: So he was reporting on UN meetings for DPI?
Question: What about UNAMID?
Spokesman: Yeah. Joe?
Question: Just to get in on Jeffrey Sachs and, more general, policy. If someone working for the UN writes an article, gives a speech, not in his or her official capacity at the UN, is there a rule at the UN that the article or speech should have a disclaimer?
Spokesman: Mr. Sachs doesn't work for the UN in the sense that he's a salaried employee. He's a Special Adviser on a dollar a year.
Question: Well, but, but he's still… when he speaks, as he… as he did actually at a Delegates’ Dining Room luncheon last week, about issues within his mandate, he is presumably speaking for and on behalf of the United Nations with his title...
Spokesman: We expect… we expect all of our envoys to use good sense. And on that…
Question: Isn't there… isn't there… but shouldn't there or isn't there a rule, which I've seen in Government officials who give a speech saying this only represents his or her personal views, not that of the Government, isn't there something like that at the UN?
Spokesman: Not, hopefully, good sense is better than a rule.
I'll be back.