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.
This morning, as you may have seen, the Secretary-General presented his report, entitled “Making Migration Work for All”, to Member States. He emphasized that migration is a positive global phenomenon that powers economic growth, reduces inequalities and connects diverse societies. He noted that migrants make a major contribution to international development — both by their work and by sending remittances home — to their home countries, which last year added up to nearly $600 billion, or three times all development aid. However, he said, global migration remains poorly managed, as evidenced by the humanitarian crises affecting people on the move and in human rights violations suffered by those people. The Secretary-General said the report recognizes countries’ sovereignty as the basis for better managed migration, but also stresses the need for international cooperation to make progress on the challenges surrounding this issue. For her part, the Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, said that sound and smart policies on this topic must be based on facts, not assumptions or myths. She added that countries must consider all the people affected by migration, which includes not just migrants but also the families that depend on them.
Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a press briefing at the end of his first visit to Syria, that he saw first-hand the colossal toll of the brutal and sustained hostilities and heard harrowing stories from people caught up in the conflict. In Homs, he saw whole districts with row upon row of homes and businesses reduced to rubble. Mr. Lowcock said he is particularly concerned about the fate of the besieged people in East Ghouta and he is also deeply worried about civilians affected by the upsurge in violence in Idleb, and those trapped in horrendous conditions throughout the North East of Syria. He also had detailed and open discussions about the crisis and what more needs to be done to reduce humanitarian suffering with the Government, and he also met local authorities, the diplomatic community and humanitarian organizations. On the basis of these discussions, Mr. Lowcock is hoping soon to see a number of positive developments enabling the UN to sustain and improve the aid effort this year. Those included the finalization of the UN’s humanitarian response plan for 2018, which will require $3.5 billion from donors to meet the needs of more than 13 million people in all parts of Syria; further progress on evacuating people from East Ghouta; and convoys to the besieged areas.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, continued his visit to Libya today with a trip to eastern Libya, to Al Qubba, where, along with Special Representative Ghassam Salamé, he met with House of Representatives Speaker Agila Saleh. During that meeting, Mr. Feltman recalled the international consensus regarding the Libya Political Agreement as the sole framework for the political transition. Yesterday in Tripoli, Mr. Feltman met with Prime Minister [Fayez] Serraj, as well as with High State Council President [Abdulrahman] Swehli. He stressed the need to work constructively to create the necessary political, legal and operational conditions for the holding of elections and the completion of the transition as a result of an inclusive political process.
The Deputy Head of Mission of the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, Muin Shreim, concluded a five-day visit to Sana’a, during which he held meetings on the resumption of the Yemeni peace process with senior political figures from the Ansar Allah Movement, the General People’s Congress and other political and civil society leaders. Mr. Shreim was encouraged by the commitment and cooperation of his Yemeni interlocutors to the resumption of the peace process. He urged the parties to engage fully and in good faith with the Office of the Special Envoy to reach a Yemeni-led agreement to finally end the conflict. The Deputy Head of Mission also underscored that all parties must take concrete steps to build confidence between them. This includes ensuring the uninterrupted operation of Hodeidah Port, which is a critical artery for the shipment of humanitarian assistance and commercial goods, while refraining from actions that violate applicable UN Security Council resolutions.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today reiterated that Israeli settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace. He urged the Israeli authorities to cease and reverse such actions, including the decision to advance more than 1,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank. He said that settlement-related activities undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-State solution. They entrench a one-State reality that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of both peoples, said Mr. Mladenov.
**West Africa and Sahel
Back here, next door, in the Security Council chamber, Mohamed ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, briefed Council Members this morning, saying that, despite continuous progress, notably regarding democratic and peaceful political transitions, the security situation in the region remains a matter of grave concern, from Mali to Niger and Nigeria. He noted an uptick in the number of incidents related to Boko Haram attacks since September last year, with a five-fold increase in the use of children as suicide bombers in 2017 as opposed to the previous year.
In the Sahel, the Group of Five has made significant progress in the operationalisation of their Joint Force, Mr. Chambas added, stressing that stemming human trafficking must continue to be a top priority in 2018. The UN, he said, also continues to pioneer the “sustaining peace” approach in The Gambia and Burkina Faso to ensure lasting peace and the consolidation of these young democracies. After the successful democratic elections in Liberia, he said that further attention now needs to be paid to forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone and Guinea. He also stressed that continuing protests and the lack of consensus on the implementation of constitutional reforms in Togo could threaten the holding of legislative and local elections this year in the country.
Yesterday afternoon, you saw that the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council on Darfur. He stressed that following the military victory against the rebel movements, the Government of Sudan is firmly consolidating its control and State authority across Darfur, except for pockets in the Jebel Marra area.
Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) appealed today to donors after they were forced to reduce food rations and cash assistance for more than 100,000 refugees in Rwanda. Funding shortages forced WFP to trim assistance to 90 per cent in November and December 2017, and the funding situation is now so bad that from January, WFP reduced the ration sizes even further — to 75 per cent. Only refugees identified as particularly vulnerable, such as children under five, school children, pregnant and nursing mothers as well as people living with HIV and TB under treatment still receive a full ration.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued their monthly Food Price Index today, showing a decline in global food prices in December 2017, led by sharp decreases for vegetable oils and dairy products. Despite the late-year slide, the Food Price Index in 2017 is up 8.2 per cent from 2016, reaching the highest annual average since 2014. More details are available online.
First honour roll today: good news on the budget front — seven Member States have already paid their full regular budget dues for 2018. They are Armenia, Benin, Hungary, Liberia, Poland, South Sudan and Ukraine. We thank them for being the first ones and we hope to get more. So, the honour roll is at what now? Seven. There you go. Somebody's paying attention. Sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, a Syrian refugee, father of four, set himself on fire outside the office of the United Nations in Tripoli, Lebanon, protesting the fact that he couldn't get any help from the UNHCR for four months, according to what his wife mentioned. Do you have any comment on why UNHCR was unable to provide him with the help he requested? And do you think, in light of this incident, is the UNHCR going to review some of its policies?
Spokesman: Look, I don't… first of all, I would say I think we're all heart-broken by that event, and it shows the desperation of this man and what he had to endure and what his family had to endure. I don't have the details of his particular case. I do know that our colleagues at UNHCR and other organizations serving refugees throughout the world do their utmost to serve the population in the best way they can with the funding that we have. And, as you know, speaking in general terms — again, I don't know about his case, but we are… our humanitarian appeals are underfunded. The needs have never been greater. We are very grateful for the donations that we've received, which have never been greater. But, you see, like in Rwanda, where, because of unpredictable funding, we have to cut rations. And we've seen it before in dealing with Libya and Syrian refugees where, because of lack of funding, we've not been able to fulfil the rations. So, I would encourage you to talk to UNHCR about the particular case, but, obviously, I think we all send our symp… we wish him a recovery and send our sympathies to his family. Joe and then Pam?
Question: Yes. If it's determined or decided by the [Donald] Trump Administration to reimpose sanctions on Iran's Central Bank — and that is being actively discussed — on the grounds separate and apart from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], on the grounds that the bank is being used to finance the development of missiles, Iran’s terrorism campaign, et cetera, Hizbullah, what is the UN's position in terms of whether it would be viewed by the UN as a violation of the JCPOA?
Spokesman: I try to stay away from the speculation business. So, let's see what is announced. I think, as a matter of principle, we have said and… from here, the Secretary‑General has said, that we think the JCPOA, the Iran agreement, is a very important diplomatic achievement of last few years, and everything should be done to try to support that.
Question: Well, let me ask… let me reframe the question then, if I may?
Spokesman: You may, Counsellor.
Question: Thank you. And I'll try to do it in a more general sense, which is, does… does the UN acknowledge or… that there may be several grounds for imposing even unilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime independent and apart from any alleged JCPOA violations, including Iran's Central Bank? Be… be… given the fact that Iran itself, it claims that its missile… missile launches are outside of JCPOA, would it be permissible, in the UN's view, for sanctions to then be im… reimposed because of those missile launches?
Spokesman: Again, I would argue: speculative. I will say a few things. One, the Secretary‑General, as mandated, reports to the Security Council on a regular basis on the agreement. Whatever basis countries use to impose unilateral sanctions is their own basis. So, I will leave it at that. Pam?
Question: Thank you, Steph. There was a meeting with the Secretary‑General with Ambassador [Nikki] Haley and General [H.R.] McMaster. Any comments you can make? Any sense… you had said it was about Afghanistan, a range of global issues. Any sense of the takeaway? And if there is a trip of the Security Council, is there anything you would say about the importance of the UN in Afghanistan?
Spokesman: I have no comment on a potential trip by the Security Council. On the meeting, it was a… what we would call here tour d’horizon of just a whole number of issues that are of mutual interest [for the] Secretary‑General and the US, and there are quite a lot of them. The United Nations, I think, plays a very important role in Afghanistan in terms of reconstruction, in terms of development, in terms of helping with political stability, and it represents the will and the wish of the international community to ensure that Afghanistan is a strong and stable country where human rights and where women's rights are respected.
Question: Just one little follow‑up on that. The… the US National Security Adviser had briefed the UN Security Council on Afghanistan. Did that topic come up with the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: Again, I have nothing further to say on that. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Myanmar and Cameroon, Nigeria. In Myanmar, you may have seen that the… the commander‑in‑chief of the military has basically admitted that… that these bodies that were found in something called Indin were, in fact, killed by the army and… and Buddhist villagers, he described it as. So, it's a rare admission. So, I wanted to know, one, what's the UN's reaction to it? And, two, if… what steps the Secretary‑General has taken on the GA's [General Assembly], you know, mandate, I guess, to have…?
Spokesman: On the… when we have something to announce on the envoy, we will. We've heard and understood the instructions in the General Assembly. I think what is important is that those individuals who are responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts be brought to justice.
Correspondent: And could I ask you… I'd asked you on Monday about this abduction of nine southern Cameroon leaders in Abuja. So, it's… they were taken out of a hotel, you know, by armed men. So, I'm wondering… I was wondering even in Chamb… I was wanting to see if Mr. Chambas, who I know covers Nigeria… what's the UN system… you said that you're aware of it and trying to monitor it.
Spokesman: We have not seen any confirmation or not… we have… we're still looking at the situation, but we've not seen any official or been made aware of any official confirmation since the incident's happened.
Correspondent: Well, The Guardian has a quote from a Nigerian official saying they did take them into… into custody, and there's a big concern that they'll be extradited to Cameroon but my question…
Spokesman: That's… that's… yeah. Go ahead. I…
Question: Since I've seen that Amina Mohammed's schedule says that she's in Abuja for the entire week, meeting with Government officials, it seems… I guess I'm asking you, did she… has she asked them if they're responsible? It's a disappearance.
Spokesman: I have nothing else to add. Stefano and then…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About the report presented, making migration work for all, is there a plan for a wall that the US Admin… the Trump Administration explaining to expand the wall between United States and Mexico, how he's seen in this approach that the UN want to push on Global Compact on migration? I mean, he's in line with that about, you know, an orderly legal immigration, or he's going against this, actually… he is not complying with that? Then I have an add on this. Usually, you know, many organizations, non-profit organizations, want to rate how States, countries, performing on certain issues. Just mentioning, I don't know, press freedom. They have a kind of… they even do beautiful maps with colours that tell you what country is doing well or what not. Would it be a good idea that the United Nations, especially the Secretary‑General, start on this topic on migration, start to do a map with colours about what countries are doing their job and what doesn't?
Spokesman: Look, I love maps. I love big, beautiful, colourful maps as much as the next person. I do find them very useful. The efforts of Ms. Arbour and the migration compact is to bring countries together. There's no mandate to rank countries or to issue an index. There's no mandate to do that. The focus is, as it was clearly said by the Secretary‑General, by Ms. Arbour, is to bring the countries of origin, the countries of destination, and the transit countries together to build and increase safe legal pathways to migration. I think the Secretary‑General was very clear on that. On the issue of the wall, again, it's speculation. I read the press like you do. There's a big debate in this country. The messages, again, from the Secretary‑General, from Ms. Arbour, was one that international cooperation is not about infringing on national sovereignty. And I think Ms. Arbour was very clear when she talked about borders and the responsibilities of States and the rights of States to secure their borders, and she said it's about the security of the State; it's about the security of the people in those States, and it's also about human security of those people who are trying… who are crossing. The point that, I think, we're all trying to make is that international cooperation can lead to better and safer legal pathways to migration. There is an economic argument to be made, and the Secretary‑General elaborated on that, and I would urge you to read his speech. So, that's where we're going on there. I'll come back… Dulcie?
Question: Yeah. As a matter of form, is the UN required to record its meetings… the Secretary‑General's meetings, with public officials like H.R. McMaster?
Spokesman: What… record in what way?
Correspondent: Record the conversation, for freedom of information, documentation. Yeah.
Spokesman: Audio recordings? No. We don't… as far as I'm aware, there are no audio recordings of the Secretary‑General's meet… bilateral meetings.
Question: So, there's no record, then, of what was said?
Spokesman: It's a meeting behind closed doors, and there is no… you know, obviously, I'm sure each side takes notes, and those go into the archives. And we give you the readouts that we're able to give you of those meetings. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any statement from the Secretary‑General or Mr. Mladenov about the killing of two teenaged Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank yesterday?
Spokesman: I did not see those particular reports, but I will look into it. And then Evelyn. Sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Couple of days ago, I asked about one of the protesters in Iran got killed while he was prison, and since then, the number rise to five. I was wondering if there's any desirable number that UN can pull up the sleeve and do something about it?
Spokesman: Desirable numbers in terms of what… I don't understand.
Correspondent: Of the prisoners who are in custody…
Spokesman: I think it's important that the right to peaceful assembly be respected, the right to peaceful protest be respected, and that if there are any deaths within… in custody that the national authorities investigate them fully and bring those who may be responsible for those deaths to account.
Question: Sorry. But if the… the… the Government doesn't do that, isn't it part of the UN that say, okay, what's going on?
Spokesman: I think I've made our concerns known. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. To follow up on… on Joe's question, are any… I mean, the UN already… the US already has unilateral sanctions against Iran for a pile of reasons dating back to who knows, to the 1979 capture of the embassy. But, are any new sanctions against Iran at this point, regardless of the reason, a violation of the agreements made on the JCPOA?
Spokesman: I'm just not going to speculate on what may or may not happen tomorrow. I think there… we understand there is a deadline in terms of the US's own national position. Let's see what happens. And, once something happens, we can actually try to comment on it. Mr. Abbadi. Sorry, did you have a follow up? I don't want to cut you off too early.
Question: The Secretary‑General's speech on migration, he deviated a lot from the text. Are you going to put out a new one?
Spokesman: I think we put out an as‑delivered version, and we're transcribing his closing remarks. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On migration, still, the Secretary‑General and Ms. Arbour, Louise Arbour, see a link between obviously national security and migration. Do they see any link at all between migration and international security?
Spokesman: I would say so, and I think it's implied in the text. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. The question on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and… I mean the negotiations between DPRK and South Korea we've seen earlier this week. After the talks, has anyone contacted UN and asked for SG involvement for the further process?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware.
Correspondent: And you promised to say later if SG's going to Olympic Games.
Spokesman: I did promise. I think we will let the Secretary‑General announce his travel next week. Just a reminder there is a press conference… he will be holding a press conference.
Question: So, do you see any chance… or at least PGA [President of the General Assembly] is going to Olympic Games. Do you see any opportunity or chance of UN to be involved in next talks?
Spokesman: I think let's take things one step at a time. Nada?
Question: Stéphane, the Secretary‑General's views on migration are, I would argue, clearly at odds with the Trump Administration. I wonder if the Secretary‑General has spoken to the US since they quit negotiations in December 2017. Has there been any kind of dialogue back and forth?
Spokesman: You know, I think the… first of all, I would stress that the door remains open. The process will continue, and we very much hope that the US will… would participate at some point in these discussions. It's a global problem, and I think the US is a very important player in these discussions, and I think our views are clearly known to them. Pam, then Matthew, and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Steph. The UN Special Envoy for road safety, Jean Todt, was here yesterday and met with someone in the SG's office or with the SG. What do you expect and when do you expect the next report? And what's the progress? And what… is there a readout…
Spokesman: Yeah, he met with the Secretary‑General. I can check on when the next report is. Obviously, I think road safety is a very important matter that, in fact, I think can be a point of unity for a number of countries as it impacts in different ways, countries in the global north and in the global south. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask you a couple of EU questions. You'll see why and one on Haiti. So, you can… the EU is an election observer in Kenya, and yesterday, they released a report pretty much damning of the process. And I guess, what I wanted to ask you about is they were supposed to launch it in Nairobi. They were basically told you can't come. The Government there has… has rejected the… the observers' finding. Some people think that they should have said it earlier but… I guess what I'm wondering is, since the UN is there with a big presence, if they won't comment on the elections themsel… I mean in Nairobi… if they have no view of the fairness of the elections as they were ultimately held, do they think that their host country of UNON should be open to… to the actual election observers that there were coming and releasing their report in a normal way, or do you think…?
Spokesman: I don't have the details… I don't know the details of what was accepted or what was refused, but you can check with our colleagues in… in Nairobi. And, as you know, we were not observers in these elections. Your next question, sir.
Question: Give it a go, yeah. The other one, it had to do with… I'd asked you about this… and I guess on Tuesday, apparently, you confirmed that the Secretary‑General did write a letter to the Frente Polisario, and you said it was entirely… or… or at least the part that you read out was on back Guerguerat. They obv… the Frente Polisario said it had to do with natural resources, as well. And, in the interim, the EU Court of Justice Advocate General has issued a… a ruling yesterday that the EU Morocco Fisheries Agreement is illegal for a variety of grounds, including the… you know, that it violates international law. So, is it… can you… I guess there's… there… there's some… some people in Morocco… Moroccan state media said that there was no letter; now there is a letter. Can you say, were the… was the concept of natural resources, now highlighted once again by the EU Court of Justice, part of this letter or not? And would you just release the letter to prevent this kind of…?
Spokesman: No, I won't… the letter was a private letter. I just wanted to confirm that it had been sent, and I'll leave it at that.
Question: So, really, it's not… so… Does the Secretary‑General or Mr. Köhler have any comment on this EU decision… in terms of natural resources…?
Spokesman: Not this a point. Obviously, we're focusing on Mr. Köhler and his ability to do his work. Go ahead. While you're here.
Question: I… I don't know. You might have something on this. The intercept had a long-detailed story about how MINUJUSTH, the new mission in Haiti, actually participated in the planning of a… of a… of an attack or military action in November 2017 that resulted in the killing of civilian… Haitian civilians on a school campus. And I'm just wondering, given that it's a new mission, was many… all the things that the Secretary‑General and others said about this new approach, they… basically, it seems like the mission is saying, you know, yes, we participated, then we stepped back, and the Haitian police then did these killings. No one's been held accountable. Is there any… what does the UN think about this, that no one has been held accountable? And would they participate with these same Haitian National Police units in the future given that they killed civilians inside a school just after the UN was with them?
Spokesman: What I can confirm is the that Haitian National Police did undertake this operation on 13 November 2017 in Grand Ravine, in… near… outside of… in the metropolitan area of Port‑au‑Prince. The UN police, MINUJUSTH, supported the Haitian police in the planning stage and provided an operational perimeter support. The report… the reported incident involving the civilian deaths occurred after the conclusion of the operation where two Haitian Police officers were killed. An investigation conducted by the Haitian National Police indicated that the reported civilian deaths were part of a unilateral action conducted by some Haitian National Police officers after the conclusion of the operation, who had proceeded without advising the hierarchy and without authorization. The Haitian National Police also identified the police officers responsible for the killing of the… of the eight confirmed victims. And, obviously, we do expect that these people be held to account.
Question: Is MINUJUSTH still operating with the same units? Would they do the same coordination now that they did then?
Spokesman: I'm not going to… I'm not going to get into operational details, but it clearly, from… to put it in plain terms, it seems to have been rogue elements. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, in answer to a question about the conflict in Korea and the meeting of the two parties, you mentioned that several parties contributed to the outcome.
Spokesman: The… the… the… yes, Korea, yes, sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Including through the presence of Under‑Secretary‑General Jeffrey Feltman. Was it the UN… for sake of transparency, was it the UN that suggested that the occasion of Winter Olympic be seized upon for the parties to meet? And do you consider this a successful preventive diplomacy case?
Spokesman: Look, I think… no one is… would like to claim full credit for the positive meeting that happened. We're not going to do that. And I think Mr. Feltman's visit did play a role in creating a… an atmosphere that led to… to… to the discussions. As far as whether… I'm… I'm not able to comment on your… on your second part. We're glad that the talks took… took place, and we're glad that the… the North Koreans will be present at the Olympics.
Spokesman: No, no, I heard the question and I'm not… I have nothing to share on that. Thank you.