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.
We’ll start with a statement on the new UN Office of Counter-Terrorism.
The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption today of the General Assembly resolution endorsing his proposal to establish a new United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism. The Secretary-General sincerely thanks the President of the General Assembly for facilitating this consensus resolution and Member States for their strong support for his initiative which constitutes a major reform of the UN counter-terrorism architecture.
The Secretary-General expects the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre within the new Office of Counter-Terrorism to play a central role in the provision of enhanced capacity-building assistance to Member States. The Secretary-General expresses appreciation to the role being played by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre Advisory Board in guiding its work, and the growing number of Member States who are contributing to it.
The Secretary-General considers counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism to be one of the highest priorities of the United Nations to address a growing threat to international peace and security. He therefore hopes that this reform of the UN Counter-Terrorism architecture will contribute to the UN's broader efforts to promote conflict prevention, sustainable peace and development. That statement is online.
From Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia, Michael Keating, today condemned in the strongest possible terms last night’s attack on the Pizza House restaurant and Posh Hotel in Mogadishu, which reportedly killed at least 19 people.
Mr. Keating said there was no justification for such an act of wanton bloodshed, which was clearly aimed at civilians who were breaking their Ramadan fast. He added that “the holy month of Ramadan is a time of peace and compassion, and the attackers have shown cynical contempt for this, and set back the prospect for a peaceful solution to Somalia's problems.”
The Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, today briefed the Security Council members about the Secretary-General’s report on options for authorization and support to African Union peace support operations.
She told the Council that we should move away from ad hoc arrangements. The report, she noted, presents proposals for institutionalized approaches to joint planning and mandating, financing and supporting African Union peace support operations.
She added that predictable approaches are required, as the United Nations–African Union partnership is, has been and will be the preferred modality of pursuing peace and security in Africa. Her remarks are available in my office.
From Colombia, the beginning of the second phase of the arms laydown process in that country, corresponding to an additional 30 per cent of arms, took place yesterday, June 13, in the zone for normalization with the participation of the UN Chief of Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault.
At the end of this second phase of the laying down of weapons process, the Mission has in its custody about 40 per cent of the approximately 7,000 individual weapons that were registered, monitored and verified by the Mission since 1 March of this year in the 26 Transitional Local Zones for Normalization and Transitory Points.
The UN Mission in Colombia encourages the parties to continue their commitment to comply with the 29 May road map and in particular with regard to the ceasefire and the laying down of weapons.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) say that a convoy it escorted came under fire yesterday from suspected anti-Balaka elements near Mobaye in Basse-Kotto prefecture, with one peacekeeper sustaining minor injuries.
Also in the area, presumed anti-Balaka elements destroyed a key bridge connected to the town and the airport. The Mission has increased patrols, specifically around settlements housing displaced people.
As part of its conflict prevention efforts at the local level, the Mission continues to facilitate talks between anti-Balaka leaders of Bossangoa and representatives of FPRC/Mouvement Patriotique pour la Centrafrique (MPC) in Ouham Prefecture, ahead of peace talks between the two groups.
The goal of the planned talks is for both parties to agree on the free and safe movement of people between the two communities, as well as to foster [social] cohesion and peaceful cohabitation in the area.
Our colleague, Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, said today that the man-made humanitarian crisis in the country is resulting in famine-like conditions and an unprecedented spread of cholera.
There are more than 140,000 suspected cases, half of them children, and nearly 1,000 associated deaths, all of which he said could have been prevented.
Mr. McGoldrick warned that humanity is losing to politics and called on the parties to the conflict to end tactics which inflict suffering on the Yemeni people and contribute to the collapse of critical services, such as the health sector. More than 1 million civil servants haven't been paid for nearly a year.
Since the beginning of the year, 2 million more people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, pushing the total past 20 million.
On average, 4 million people have received food assistance each month since the beginning of the year, but funding is running out. Unless donors provide fresh funds, the food pipeline is at risk of breaking in September and the prospects of famine will be a reality.
Of the $2.1 billion required for the Yemen response plan, it is only 29 per cent funded.
The members of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi today gave their second oral briefing to the Human Rights Council. Members said that their initial fears concerning the scope and gravity of human rights violations and abuses in the country since April 2015 have been confirmed.
Since the beginning of its investigations, the Commission has collected more than 470 testimonies of human rights violations allegedly committed in Burundi since April 2015. These include extrajudicial killings, acts of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detention as well as enforced disappearances. More information is available online.
Yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, briefed Member States on the UN’s two-track approach to help the people of Haiti as they deal with the outbreak of cholera there. She said that Secretary-General António Guterres is strongly committed to taking forward the new approach. However, he needs the full support of the Membership in order to do so. UN action requires Member State action. She said that we cannot fail the people of Haiti at this critical moment and we cannot leave Haiti behind. Her speech was released yesterday.
Our colleagues in the United Nations country team in Bangladesh say they remain concerned about the loss of lives, livelihoods, and damage to homes and infrastructure in the country’s south-east following mudslides that killed more than 150 people.
These mudslides are said to among the deadliest in the country’s recent history, and are attributed in part to environmental degradation caused by unregulated deforestation and a growing population.
UN agencies are working with authorities to assess the impacts of and respond to the latest disaster.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) issued its latest report card measuring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for children in high-income countries.
It found that while most of these countries have seen drops in rates of child mortality, adolescent suicide, teenage births and drunkenness, they are still far from delivering the vision held out by the SDGs.
Income inequality is growing, the mental health of adolescents is getting worse, and child obesity is on the rise.
According to our friends at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, the US and the UK have been ranked as the world’s most innovative countries in the world, according to their 2017 Global Innovation Index, which was released today.
Key findings this year show the rise of India as an emerging innovation centre in Asia, as well as countries like Kenya and Viet Nam outpacing their peers.
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This year’s theme is “Understanding and Ending Financial Abuse of Older People: A Human Rights Issue”
The theme underscores that older people have the right to a life of dignity in old age, free of all forms of abuse, including financial and material exploitation, which could lead to poverty, hunger, homelessness, and even premature mortality.
To mark the Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study which says that around 1 in 6 older people experience some form of abuse — this can be physical, psychological, financial or simply neglect. WHO said the figure is higher than previously estimated and is predicted to rise as the world’s population ages.
I want to flag that today at 1 p.m. in the UN Bookshop, Dan Plesch, the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, will be discussing his latest book, Human Rights after Hitler: the Lost History of Prosecuting Axis War Crimes, and he’ll have the discussion with the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour.
The book examines the work of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, which helped prosecute Axis war criminals in Europe and East Asia before and after the trials at Nuremberg and Tokyo.
Tomorrow we’ll be joined by John Ging, Director of the Operational Division at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). He will brief you on his recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, two questions. With the adoption of the GA resolution on counter‑terrorism, can we expect the Secretary‑General sometime very soon to be announcing a new UN Under‑Secretary‑General for counter‑terrorism? And, secondly, Israel's UN Mission put out a statement this morning accusing the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Africa [Asia] (ESCWA) of putting out another anti‑Israeli report, this one accusing Israel's security forces of using disproportionate force against Palestinians and, in some cases, of extrajudicial executions. And they are calling for the UN to withdraw this report. Is the UN going to take any action on that?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any action being planned on the report. And I assume you mean the Economic Commission for Western Asia.
Correspondent: I meant Western Asia…
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah, it's okay. It's all right. Yes, no, I'm not aware of any decision to be taken on that particular report. On the… on your first question, yes, we can now… the adoption by the General Assembly opens the door for the naming of head of the new counter‑terrorism architecture. My years of experience here have given me the advice not to qualify the time frame for that appointment, but I know it is under way. Sara, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you. On Turkey, does the SG have a comment on the arrest and illegal imprisonment of United Nations Judge Aydin Sefa Akay?
Spokesman: Yes. We're aware of the conviction of Judge Akay, who, as you know, is a judge in the International Residual Mechanism for the Criminal Tribunals and a national of Turkey, by a criminal court in… first instance, in Ankara. The Secretary‑General welcomes Judge Akay's provisional release following the decision. The Secretariat will continue to engage with the relevant authorities with respect of the issue around Mr. Akay's immunity, though we have not yet received a copy of the judgment. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about the presentation yesterday about the new approach to the UN's role in cholera in Haiti. Two things. One… I saw… I saw David Nabarro there. I wanted to ask you, I know that he ran for WHO. Is he back as a UN official? Amina Mohammed said that the Secretary‑General will soon be naming a high‑level envoy. Maybe you won't give a time frame, but is there… what's the process, I guess, as I haven't seen it advertised…?
Spokesman: No, the Secretary‑General, I think, is considering a number of people, and he will appoint the person he best sees fit. As you know, not every high‑level position is posted on the Secretary‑General's website. Some he chooses to do that with. Others, he does not. But he's obviously consulting with Member States and trying to find the best possible person. I do… and, hopefully, we'll have that announcement sooner rather than later.
Question: And… and Mr. Nabarro, did he just return to his Special Envoy… what's his post?
Spokesman: I believe he's returned to a post that he had. I'm not aware of the exact details.
Question: Okay. And just one last final thing on returns. It was said when… when the Secretary‑General took off on his trip that he would be back in New York the Monday of… the morning of Thursday, 15 June. So I'm looking… that announcement is still what qualifies as his daily schedule. Where is he? Is he here…?
Spokesman: Yes, he’s landed. He landed very early this morning, and I hope for his sake that he's resting at home, but he's in New York. Rosalind and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Sure. Follow‑up on… on Haiti. The DSG's comments yesterday raised some concerns with some NGOs. They're concerned that the UN may be backing away from the victim assistance in the form of direct compensation and, instead, establishing community development projects. Is that accurate? Is the UN, as these critics are suggesting, breaking its word with those who were infected with cholera during the peacekeeping…?
Spokesman: No, the UN is not breaking its word. I think we are following exactly the new approach that was laid out. The Track 2, if I'm not mistaken, talks about initially looking at community‑based approaches, and there's been no change in our approach. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have a few questions. First, on Saif al‑Islam, since he was released from prison, the UN did not issue any statement. I know ICC [International Criminal Court] is asking for his arrest, but why the UN itself did not issue any statement on the breach of justice?
Spokesman: I don't have any specific thing to say right at this point on that release.
Question: Okay. The second question, what would be the relations between the Centre on… of Counter‑Terrorism headed by Jehangir Khan and the new Office of the Under‑Secretary‑General? Would it incorporate the Centre?
Spokesman: Yes, it will be subsumed into…
Question: So it will be… It will become now balanced through the…
Spokesman: Yes. The whole point is to bring coherence in all the different entities and coordination that deal with counter‑terrorism. Ben?
Question: Yeah. Last week, the Saudis and three other countries sanctioned several people and institutions. One institution was the Qatar Charity. Just wondering, do you have an update on that given that the Qatar Charity has many dealings with the UN, different UN agencies?
Spokesman: You know, I think… we addressed this issue. We… as a matter of principle and a matter of rule, the sanctions lists that the UN abides by are the ones that are produced by the UN, various intergovernmental bodies of the UN. Our colleagues at OCHA have worked with the specific Qatari organization in coordinating and delivering aid in various places, I believe, including in Syria and in Iraq. We do not fund them, and we do not receive funds from them, but they are a… they've been a partner in implementing a number of projects.
Question: [inaudible] then as a partner?
Spokesman: That… I've heard of no change in our relationship with them.
Question: And has the… have the Saudis or the other countries that put them on the list, have they contacted the Secretary‑General, giving reasons why?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of anything besides what's been said publicly. Matthew?
Question: Sure. Some other things, but just on… on Qatar, they've announced that they're pulling out of their role on the border between Djibouti and Eritrea, where they've had… which is something the UN has worked on in the past. And I… they… it seems pretty clearly tied to this standoff with the other Gulf countries. Do you have any comment on that? Do you anticipate Qatar pulling back from the role it's played in Darfur? Is there any interplay between the… the… their… their… these diplomatic initiatives and, in the case of Djibouti and Eritrea, the actual imposition of troops between two belligerents?
Spokesman: No specific comment on the issue between Ethiopia and Eritrea. I mean, I think, as we've said, the Secretary‑General has been following this closely. He's been in touch with various parties, including the Deputy Prime Minister of Kuwait, and is very much supportive of Kuwait's diplomatic efforts. I think it's important that the subregion regains its unity. The disunity we're seeing, it serves the purpose… serves no one. Go ahead.
Question: Djibouti. I just want… I wanted to just be clear. I'm asking about Eritrea.
Spokesman: Eritrea. I'm sorry. I misspoke. Yeah.
Question: And the other thing is, I've seen an email from Michael Møller to the staff in Geneva, basically telling them, don't do a work stoppage. But the question… the sentence in it I wanted to ask you rather than Mr. Møller about is, it says, based on guidance from UNHQ [United Nations Headquarters], staff are reminded that actions, such as work stoppage or other collective action, may be considered as unauthorized absence in line with staff regulations and rules. And the staff union says they're fully within their rights under their own Article 16, which was approved by the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) to do a work stoppage and that they… so I wanted to know, what would you say… one, what is the UNHQ or the Secretary‑General's position on the rights of workers for collective action? And do you have any… I guess, do you have any comment to… to… to…
Spokesman: No, I haven't seen… Mr. Møller didn't copy me on the email, so I haven't…
Question: I sent it to you.
Spokesman: Well, I don't work in Geneva, unfortunately. You know, we're obviously… I think our colleagues in Geneva are taking very seriously the actions proposed by the staff union, and we'd encourage people to follow the staff rules and regulations. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to Yemen, you mentioned how the big… the famine, which is so serious and it's affecting about 20 million people, which is a very high proportion of the population. You also mentioned that only 29 per cent of the appeal is funded. I was wondering who the major donors are. I mean, are members of the coalition and neighbours, Gulf States, etc., contributing, you know, their fair share?
Spokesman: I believe… listen, what amounts to a fair share is a judgment that we'll let others make. What is important is that the humanitarian appeal be funded at a much higher percentage. We can ask our colleagues at OCHA to give us the breakdown of who contributed to the appeal. But, you know, we've had… I think whether… what I've said from here, with the guests we've brought on, I think we cannot underscore enough the criticality of the humanitarian situation in Yemen, which is, as everybody said, a man‑made disaster and happening in front of cameras and for everyone to see. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you again. Following the adoption of a resolution of the GA raising the status of Palestine from an observer organization to an observer State, there was an agreement signed between the UN and the PA while during a visit by former Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon to Ramallah. This agreement says that the UN must deal with Palestine as the State of Palestine in every dealing. Now, is the UN in violation of that agreement when they pull out the word the State of Palestine from this vacancy announcement, about the… about the…
Spokesman: Are you talking about UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services)?
Spokesman: Well, I think you're mixing oranges and olives here. It's clear that the status of Jerusalem is a final status issue that needs to be negotiated between the parties. I do not think that it has anything to do with the status of the State of Palestine as an observer in this Organization. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you again about the… the Al Rif region of Morocco, because, since I last asked, sentences have been imposed on a number of the protesters, a year and a half to 25 people, six months to five people. And French President [Emmanuel] Macron was in Rabat and said that King Mohammed VI — I don't know if that's translated right — would… stood ready to assuage the… the… the… the issues of Al Rif. So I'm just wondering, if it's now viewed as international in that way, does the UN have no guidance at all? What do you… what about year‑and‑a‑half sentences to peaceful protestors? Is that something that the…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the details of the particular case. As I said, when we have something to say, we shall. Thank you.