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’ll start off with a statement we issued not too long ago on the attack this morning in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Secretary-General condemns this morning’s attack by three assailants in the Old City of Jerusalem in which two Israeli Police officers were killed and another injured. This incident has the potential to ignite further violence. All must act responsibly to avoid escalation.
The thoughts and prayers of the Secretary-General are with the families of the victims, and he wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General welcomes the swift condemnation of this attack by Palestinian President [Mahmoud] Abbas and the assurances by Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem will be respected. The sanctity of religious sites should be respected as places for reflection, not violence.
I want to flag that at 3 p.m. in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, as well as the International Dialogue Centre, the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, and the World Council of Churches will launch the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes.
The meeting will be opened by the Secretary-General who will stress the importance of the voice, authority and example of religious leaders when it comes to preventing violence.
And my guest today will be the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, who will be here to give you some more details.
A couple of travels by senior officials to flag: from 19-21 July, Jeff Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will travel to Sri Lanka to follow up on his 2015 visit, take stock of progress in the country and engage national stakeholders on the peacebuilding process. During his visit, Mr. Feltman will meet with Government officials and the leadership of the Tamil National Alliance. He will also travel to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and meet with representatives of the diplomatic community, civil society and religious leadership.
And the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, will travel to the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 16 to 21 July.
Mr. O’Brien will meet with communities affected by the conflicts, national authorities, humanitarian partners and the diplomatic community to discuss ways to address issues of protection and humanitarian access and to advocate for increased funding to meet the needs of the people in the two countries. There will be more details in a media advisory from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] a bit later today.
**The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
At the invitation of the Government of Greece, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, is scheduled to meet with the Foreign Minister, Nikos Kotzias, in Brussels, on Monday — this Monday, 17 July.
The purpose of the meeting, which follows the visit of Mr. Nimetz to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia earlier in July, is to discuss the way forward in the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the "name" issue.
**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Here, the Heads of the Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support Departments, Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Atul Khare, held a meeting yesterday with over 60 Member States, including troop and police contributors, to follow up on progress on the Secretary-General's recommendations on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse that rely on the partnership between the Organization and Member States. This is part of our efforts to increase engagement with Member States on this issue.
During the meeting, they discussed investigation standards, measures for ensuring criminal accountability, guidance on implementing Security Council resolution 2272 and strengthening partnerships between the UN and Member States to ensure victims' access to justice.
Participants were also briefed on the progress in developing a voluntary compact between the UN and Member States, a proposal made by the Secretary-General to send a signal of joint commitment and mutual accountability to address the issue. The compact will be open to all Member States, and will be presented at the high-level meeting on sexual exploitation and abuse which will be held on the margins of this year’s General Assembly — I think that will take place on 18 September.
Member States were unanimous in their pledges to uphold the UN's zero tolerance policy. They welcomed the concrete measures taken by the Secretariat and highlighted the importance of a UN system-wide response. Yesterday’s meeting comes in the aftermath of last week's Chiefs of Defence Conference, where some 100 national defence chiefs, together with UN senior officials, collectively addressed a number of peacekeeping issues, including conduct and discipline.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in Colombia issued a statement urgently appealing for the solution to the situation of members of the FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] who remain in prison despite the Amnesty Law approved on 31 December of last year and decrees issued by the Government to expedite their release.
The Mission said that the detention of FARC-EP members more than six months since Congress passed the Amnesty Law and two weeks after the end of the individual laying down of arms undermines the process of reintegration and the consolidation of peace.
The Mission also stressed the insecurity of members of the FARC-EP outside the local zones, as shown by cases of threats and homicides against them and their families.
The Mission called for the institutions involved in the amnesty process to act speedily to resolve the situation.
Turning to Venezuela, our colleagues at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) say today that they are stepping up their response to the situation in Venezuela as asylum applications soar.
So far in 2017, over 52,000 people have applied for asylum, which is already two times more than the total number for last year.
Thanks to a long standing tradition of solidarity in Latin America, Venezuelan citizens in neighbouring countries can benefit from various forms of temporary residence. However, due to bureaucratic obstacles, long waiting periods and high application fees, many Venezuelans opt to remain in an irregular situation.
UNHCR is working with these countries to step up registration and profiling, reinforce reception capacities and provide basic humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers with specific needs.
Turning to Africa, our friends at the UN Mission in South Sudan [UNMISS] are exploring the option of re-establishing a peacekeeping base in Yei, approximately 150 km south of the capital, Juba.
The Head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, visited Yei yesterday to assess the requirements for a base in the city — in the town — that continues to experience violence and human rights abuses, including murder, rape, torture and looting. Political leaders and religious and community leaders and groups are urging the UN to provide protection for civilians who are unable to travel beyond the town itself because of ambushes and ongoing violence.
Mr. Shearer said there were conditions that needed to be met before a base could be established, including the cooperation of local authorities, a genuinely inclusive grassroots peace process and guaranteed access for peacekeepers to enable regular patrols to outlying areas.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
For the DRC, UNHCR says they are greatly alarmed over the violence and continued displacement of civilians from Kasaï, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The estimated number of displaced people in Kasaï now stands at more than 1.3 million people.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released an alert today over the third consecutive failed rainy season and worsening hunger in East Africa.
The most affected areas, which received less than half of their normal seasonal rainfall, are central and southern Somalia, south-eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, northern Tanzania and north-eastern and south-western Uganda.
The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in these five countries is currently estimated at 16 million, a 30 per cent increase since 2016.
A new study released today by UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] finds that G-20 countries have taken huge strides over the past year towards mobilizing public and private capital for climate action and sustainable development policies.
The study found that since June 2016, more measures related to green finance have been introduced by G-20 countries compared with any other one-year period since 2000. The trends and measures have resulted in increased flows of green finance, most notably in the issuance of green bonds.
In addition, the study found that global sustainably managed assets have increased by 25 per cent compared to 2014.
At 11 a.m. on Monday, there will be a press briefing on the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals Report (2017) with Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo and other senior officials from DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs].
Today, we thank our friends in Kabul, in Afghanistan, for having paid their dues in full, joining the Honour Roll, bringing it up to 113. Well, since you’re the only one who tried and since you’re close enough, you get the first question. It’s 113. See? If only the lottery were that easy.
***Questions and Answers
Question: I want to ask you a question about the case of the infant Charlie Gard?
Spokesman: The what? Sorry.
Question: The infant that is caught up in a dispute in the courts of England, this baby Charlie Gard, and the reason I'm bringing it up is not to ask you to comment on the case itself, of course, but it's taken on an international dimension, pitting views of whether the parents should have the final say in the life or death of the child or whether the child has distinct and separate rights that the Court or hospital can be the guardians of. I'm asking you because some have cited the UN Convention on the [Rights of the] Child as a basis in international law to justify, in effect, setting aside what the parents' wishes are and putting the decision in the judiciary and the hospitals. The Pope has spoken out in favour of the parents making the final decision, so I would like to know whether the Secretary‑General has any views on this, you know, in a generic sense in terms of when there is a potential conflict between parents…?
Spokesman: First of all, what I know about the case is what I've read about it and, obviously, I think we all hope the case is dealt with the utmost compassion. I'm not familiar enough off the top of my head with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. My understanding is there is a judicial process under way in the United Kingdom, so I have no comment. We can put you in touch with people who know more about the Convention than I do and can help you do some research, but beyond that, there's really nothing more I can say.
Question: Aside from the legal issues involved, potential legal issues involved, from a moral perspective, Pope Francis has spoken out on this, President [Donald] Trump has spoken out on this, so I'm just wondering whether kind of from a broader, moral, ethical perspective whether the Secretary‑General would have any views?
Spokesman: As I said, we just hope this case is dealt with the utmost compassion. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, I have questions about Syria. The first one is the Secretary‑General of the UN expressed support for the Russia‑US ceasefire, and especially in southwestern part of Syria. Is Secretary‑General aware of the… there have been… is he aware of the details of this agreement? Have the US or Russia shared the details with the Secretary‑General or the Special Envoy?
Spokesman: I think the Special Envoy has been in touch with the parties.
Question: Okay. And my second question is the Special Envoy announced that the Kurds in Syria should not be ignored in drafting a new constitution for Syria; as we know, there were two technical talks on that in Geneva. Do you know if that means he will invite them for the next rounds of the technical support for the Constitution?
Spokesman: I think the Special Envoy put it best, said the Kurds could not be ignored and I think those questions, especially as the talks are going on, are best handled by him. Mr.Lee?
Question: Thanks a lot. I have two questions that may or may not be related. One has to do with the vote taken in the General Assembly yesterday on the, quote, new approach to cholera, and I just want to understand your understanding of it. I've seen a story, the headline is UN approves use of unspent fund on Haiti's cholera epidemic, and says that the General Assembly voted to transfer unused funds, but it seems like the resolution, all it says is that they welcome the intention of the Secretary‑General to inform States of their ability. So, what's the status on actually getting any funds, and is it true that this is transferring funds or is this just welcoming his intention to inform States that they could transfer funds?
Spokesman: I think the… we obviously welcome… we were happy with the outcome of yesterday's unanimous adoption of the resolution, supporting the Secretary‑General's suggestion to voluntarily hand over the remaining funds from the budget of the soon-to-be-closed mission. Contributors to the peacekeeping budget will notify us within 60 days whether they are willing to shift their share to the unspent money of the Cholera Fund. We hope that this will create a momentum to support the new approach, focused on eliminating cholera from Haiti and increasing support for the most affected communities. As of now, the total contribution of funds is about $2.67 million, so, obviously, we hope that this is increased.
Question: Is there any threshold at which the Track 2b that was enunciated by Ban Ki-moon would, in fact, be implemented, that is, individual reparations for families who've lost their breadwinner, housing, schooling? Is there any intention to do that and is there some level at which that would be done?
Spokesman: I think we will take one step at a time.
Question: The other possibly related question, I saw in the schedule of the Deputy Secretary‑General at 5 today she is meeting with this Ami Desai of the Clinton Foundation, and I wanted to know if you could either know now or tell me after what is the topic? Is Haiti a topic? Is there another topic?
Spokesman: I don't know. I'll try to figure out… I will try to let you know. [He later said that the meeting is part of the ongoing effort to engage and mobilize support from different development partners and stakeholders for the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda.] Excuse me, I'm trying to work something out here. Just bear with me two seconds. Live television, nothing quite like it. Edie?
Question: As a follow‑up on what you just read, does that mean that since the Secretary‑General announced that he was trying to get countries to transfer this $40.5 million, no country has come forward?
Spokesman: I think we had some expressions of interest. There is 60 days. They will notify us within the next 60 days of what funds they are willing to make available to us, so there was a bit of a momentum and we hope it grows.
Question: Is it possible to get a list of the countries that those funds…
Spokesman: I mean, as they are confirmed, as we get the money in the bank, so to speak, we will confirm it.
Question: Well, does it include all of the troop-contributing countries?
Spokesman: I think, again, some countries expressed in this meeting some willingness. I think it's always best to count those chickens once they are well hatched. Masood?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, thank you. I thought I would give the first question because of the war, no, I'm joking.
Spokesman: When you win the lottery you can get the first question. Go ahead.
Question: Okay, thank you. I was going to ask two questions about the situation. Do you have any update on the situation in Mosul, the humanitarian conditions in Mosul, as well as Yemen? They are getting bad to worse, but there is nothing, no incident, per se, in Mosul but it is being ignored, so can we talk about humanitarian aid and what is the United Nations doing?
Spokesman: I don't think we are ignoring the situation in Mosul. We have been talking about it since the operation started in October. We are providing support in terms of housing and food to hundreds of thousands of people who have been evacuated. Our country team is working very closely with the Government of Iraq in order to help restore basic services, especially focused on water and electricity. And, as I mentioned, we are trying to pin down Lise Grande to come talk to you next week.
Question: What about Yemen? Are there any talks with the Saudi Government?
Spokesman: On the political track on Yemen, I have nothing to add. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry, I need to have the microphone on.
Question: What would be the UN position in the possibility of a Turkish incursion into the north-west of Aleppo, in particular the Kurdish district of Afrin, is there any UN role to deescalate that?
Spokesman: I think our focus is on the political talks now going on in Geneva on ensuring the lowering of the violence, and I will leave it at that. I'm not going to comment on hypotheticals. Go ahead, yeah.
Question: Iraq pushed out and Mosul has been liberated. What sort of position does the UN take with the Iraqi leaders to make sure that Iraq will not go back to the stage it was before and the situation that led to the raise of ISIL?
Spokesman: I think the UN is there to help the Government of Iraq rebuild Government institutions, institutions in which… that can serve the people in the areas that have been liberated, so people feel they can come back and live both in terms of structure, in terms of respect for human rights and respect for Iraq's diversity. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Yeah, back to Haiti and the Cholera Fund, of that $40 million, what is the US share, because they have said that they're not going to give up their share of that remaining balance? Thanks.
Spokesman: Well, we have not had donations from the US, from the peacekeeping account on Haiti. We can give you the breakdown of who has given what and I can get those numbers.
Question: So they have balance outstanding, they have no share in the balance outstanding?
Spokesman: No, I'm not talking about the balance. What I'm saying is that… hold on a second. Bear with me two seconds here. Take back. What I'm saying to you is the money we've received is $2.67 million, right. Our goal is to get $400 million. Member States have up to 60 days to advise us if they will transfer the money from Haiti, from what's left over in the Haiti account to the Haiti Cholera Fund.
Question: But that's $40 million and the US has said it's not going to give up its share.
Spokesman: No, I know what the US has said and you know what the US… percentage of US of the peacekeeping budget. I can only talk about the money that has been received. Erol?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. We haven't heard for a while on the issue on Macedonian name, and I would say all of a sudden we have Mr. Nimetz going to see Greek Foreign Minister in Brussels. Is there anything in sight, like a compromise or breaking through? And what was, when was the last time or did the Mr. Nimetz have an opportunity to fully brief the new Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is briefed on the issue. Obviously, the name issue has been going on for quite some time. I'm not going to get into a predicting what may or may not happen. The fact is he is having a series of meetings.
Question: Are these different now somehow, because I was in the region and I've heard talks that there are readiness for compromise, especially on the side of Macedonia, so what do you know?
Spokesman: I'm not going to speculate. It's always good when people are talking, but I'm not going to speculate. Rami?
Question: Thanks, Steph. The Lebanese Army has been conducting military operations in refugee camps to root out Syrian militants. This has led to some refugees, well, not some, many refugees going from Lebanon back into Syria. Also four Syrian men died in Lebanese Army custody; the Lebanese Army confirmed this but said that they died of chronic illness and some photos said to be of the men seem to show evidence of torture. Do you have any position on this and any human rights concerns?
Spokesman: Obviously, we would want to see every one's due process respected, everyone's legal rights respected, and whenever there are any suspicious deaths, they need to be fully investigated. What is also important is that in any situation, refugees cannot and should not be forced to return home. They need to be able to return voluntarily. Adam, yes?
Question: You mentioned Venezuela in the increase in people applying for asylum. Is the Secretary‑General concerned by the Human Rights Council's lack of action on this issue? There has been almost silence, there has been no resolutions; is he concerned by that?
Spokesman: I think the Human Rights Council is master of its own work. I would refer you to a statement recently released by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has talked and expressed his concern for the situation in Venezuela. Luke?
Question: Question on the famine in Africa and Yemen. I know the UN is always looking to raise more money, so are some aid groups now, but it's hardly a secret that one of the consensus on the ground in some of these countries this is not accidental, this is… famine is perhaps being perpetuated as a political tool of some sort. Two questions. Is that a view the UN shares, and, if so, what's the message to donors who feel like aid groups are susceptible to being played here, if you will?
Spokesman: I think what is clear is that the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is not an act of God; it's an act of man. The humanitarian situation as it currently stands is an act of man. Yemen was already a very fragile country, but we've seen an explosion of cholera cases, other cases of water‑borne diseases, extreme hunger, we've seen attacks on civilian infrastructure, on health infrastructure. The Secretary‑General, his envoys have repeatedly called on this to stop. I think in any situation, in an ongoing conflict, people may raise issues. From our point of view, the Yemeni people need help and we can't stand on the sideline. The current appeal for Yemen is about 34 per cent funded only and we hope that donors will respond generously.
Question: Can I just follow up?
Question: You answered about Yemen. Would you apply some of the same strong language to any political factors that play in the famine in Somalia and South Sudan, as well?
Spokesman: I think in Somalia there is a layering of drought which is making the situation worse, but it's clear that the ongoing fight with extremists, with al‑Shabaab, is making humanitarian access extremely difficult. But in Yemen, you do have a central Government that was recently elected that the UN is working with which is making grade strides in trying to extend its authority and to build accountable institutions, so the two aren't exactly the same. In South Sudan, I think the suffering of the people in South Sudan is also clearly man-made and we've called out the political leaders for putting their own interests ahead of those of their own people. Mr.Lee?
Question: Sure. Ask you about a whistleblower case and the new rule of the Secretary‑General. There is an Emma Riley is a whistleblower at the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights and her case was filed exactly a year ago, or one day short of it, 15 July 2016, but there is still no decision. At least it seems like there is a deadline for action on requests for protection, so I guess my question is does this new policy, is it being applied retroactively back? What is the status of whistleblowers that pre-existed coming into the policy, and how can you explain someone who alleged that her superior, you know, took benefits from Morocco, turned names over to China, et cetera?
Spokesman: I don't know the particulars of her case and I will check on your question about the policy.
Question: Okay. Thanks a lot. I'm not asking you to hold my hand as you said yesterday, but I do want to ask you again about Mr. [Ghassan] Salameh, because from yesterday you said that he is going to be… he is going come by the end of the month then he is going to begin shortly thereafter but he is already making calls and he is already described as the envoy. So how are people who deal with the UN know, is he getting paid? Does he have immunity?
Spokesman: I think he officially starts early August. The man is a professional. He is not going to sit on the sidelines and I think there is nothing wrong or unethical or in any way of him starting to get to work.
Question: No, I guess I just wanted to, no, I'm sorry, because it's not a question of unethical, it's just a question of if he is already the UN envoy; for example, can he spend UN funds? Most companies don't let somebody start up without actually signing a contract.
Spokesman: He is the de facto envoy and he has started. He is in charge.
Question: My last question is this: Since yesterday you seemed to say that since the head of the office of South‑South Cooperation had one time been in 1B and I happened to go to the meeting and speak to him, that this is the answer on the Ng Lap Seng case.
Spokesman: I'm not saying it's the answer, Matthew. I was answering the fact that you repeatedly said you were not getting any contacts with them. So that was my answer.
Question: It was only because I went to a hearing, all right, but my question is this, about the Secretariat, who was held accountable for the GA document that was modified by the Department of General Services and Conference Management [sic] to include the name of the Sun Kiang Ip Foundation and within DPI [Department of Public Information] for the events held in the lobby, and the sponsorship of the [inaudible] award?
Spokesman: I think… for DPI I think the audit was clear that there was… it was an issue of judgment. I don't think there was any malfeasance in any way. On the document, I don't know.