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.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
Good afternoon. Welcome to the warm-up act. We will try to be brief briefers and leave time for Mr. Varma before the Foreign Minister for the Russian Federation takes the stand. Starting off with a senior personnel appointment. The Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Renata Dwan of Ireland as Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, known as UNIDIR. The Secretary-General is grateful to Jarmo Sareva of Finland for his dedication and commitment in leading the Institute since 2015.
Ms. Dwan has a wealth of experience in peace and security issues within the United Nations, most recently as Chief of Policy and Best Practices in the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to Security Council members on the topic of building regional partnerships in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He said that countries in this region have made significant progress on sustainable development in recent decades, but stressed that they need to reach others if they are to achieve their full potential. The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the increased multilateral cooperation that he witnessed during his visit to the region last June, particularly regarding efforts to better manage water resources, energy, and increase trade.
However, he noted that security challenges remain, particularly in Afghanistan. He emphasized that the country’s fight against violent extremism, terrorism and transnational organized crime has implications for the entire region, and the world. He added that responding to these threats cannot be the responsibility of the Afghan Government alone, and reiterated the UN’s readiness to assist in promoting greater cooperation in the region.
As you will have seen, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Ivan Simonovic, expressed concern at the devastating impact of escalating hostilities in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib in Syria, especially on the civilian population.
The two Special Advisers said that all the parties to the Syrian conflict, as well as the international community, have a responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes. They urge all stakeholders, including the Security Council, to condemn this violence, and urge the parties to the conflict to ensure that the basic principles of humanitarian law are protected, in particular with regards to proportionality and distinction.
I’d been asked in recent days for an update on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, and I can tell you that we are talking to the Coalition on the importance of keeping all ports open for all cargo. All ports in Yemen should remain open in order to facilitate the rapid entry and distribution of humanitarian and commercial imports across the country.
Keeping those ports open is particularly important, as recent analysis by humanitarian partners indicates growing humanitarian needs among the population. In late 2016, humanitarian partners estimated that there were some 7 million Yemenis one step away from famine, but now, there are an estimated 8.4 million at risk of starvation.
The Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta H. Fore, just concluded a two-day visit to South Sudan, her first field visit since being appointed Executive Director. She said that she saw first-hand how four years of conflict have left children sick, hungry and on the brink of death and that the impact of the relentless violence has been devastating.
Last year, working with partners, UNICEF vaccinated nearly 1.8 million children against measles, treated more than 180,000 children against severe acute malnutrition, and helped 300,000 children access education.
But Ms. Fore said this is far from enough as the fighting shows no sign of abating and the humanitarian needs in the country are massive. She warned that an entire generation of young people are denied the opportunities they desperately need to contribute to building their society.
Lastly, we have addition to the honour roll — Latvia and Switzerland have paid their regular dues in full and we say thank you to them, which brings us up to 11. Yes, I’m going to answer my own questions today.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I want to ask you about the… the situation in Afrin. As you know, there are reports that the operation… Turkish operation to take over the city of Afrin, that has already begun. So what's the Secretary-General's…
Spokesman: No, we're obviously following the situation closely. We've seen the reports of shelling in Afrin. We reiterate our call on all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people. All parties must ensure protection of civilians at all times under any circumstances. We may have a further statement a bit later, and I think, as the Secretary-General said on his way into the Council this morning, he's very concerned at any situation where civilian lives are at risk.
Question: And is there any humanitarian preparation? Because the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] on the ground say 1 million people could be displaced.
Spokesman: Our humanitarian colleagues are very much aware of the situation. They have plans that are always in place, but obviously, once violence starts, it's extremely difficult for us to get in.
Question: You've made your statement clear on your position, but what is the UN actually doing? Is someone picking up the phone and speaking to the Turkish, to the Kurds, to try to avoid a war?
Spokesman: Discussions are being had at various levels.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you if… if it's… it's true, as some have reported, that Mr. Obasanjo is headed to Kenya. There's this stand-off between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, and it said that… that I guess… I don't know if he's…
Spokesman: It's true. The short answer is it's true. As you know, the political situation in Kenya is one we've been following closely, especially the ongoing preparation by the opposition, the National Super Alliance, for the swearing-in planned of in January. It's in that context that the Secretary-General asked the former president Obasanjo who, as you know, is a member of the Secretary-General's High-Level Mediation Panel, to visit Kenya. It's important that Kenyans continue to uphold the 2010 Constitution, and that the opposition carry their political activities within the confines of the law, and we would like to stress the importance for Kenyans to work together to strengthen governance, advance inclusive development, and uphold human rights and the rule of law.
Question: And I wanted to ask. There's some controversy there about… remember Roselyn Akombe, there was the whole situation where she… as a… as a UN staff member on leave, she called for a boycott of the elections. It said that she's actually received a promotion, I guess, over the possible opposition of the Kenyan Permanent Representative. Is it true that she's now the Director of Policy and Planning of DPA [Department of Political Affairs]? And UNICEF has made Uhuru Kenyatta, despite this controversy, a Global Champion for Youth. Are these in… in any way related?
Spokesman: No, not at all. Ms. Akombe I think has a new job. And as all staff, they go through a process to get that job.
Question: And could I just ask one thing… just a schedule, like… Yesterday, I was up for the photo op with the… the… the Foreign Minister of… of Kuwait, and… and it seemed like there was going to be an event after that. It actually seems to have involved Sergey Lavrov. And I wanted to know, why wasn't that on the Secretary-General's schedule?
Spokesman: It was a private dinner that the Secretary-General hosted.
Correspondent: But there's a photograph of him.
Spokesman: Yes, Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There have been big demonstrations today in Bangladesh by Rohingya refugees protesting against plans to repatriate them back into Myanmar. Does the United Nations feel that the situations are peaceful enough for them to be repatriated to Myanmar?
Spokesman: It is up for people to choose to go home. No one should choose for them. Any repatriation of Rohingyas back to Myanmar needs to be voluntary; they need to be able to go to the homes from which they came; and I think they need to feel that the situation is safe enough.
Question: Yes, on Myanmar. A group of alleged leaders in Bangladesh put out a… a list of demands, including citizenship and accountability and so forth. Has that list reached the United Nations?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that particular list. I mean, I think the Secretary-General has made his opinion on what is needed very clear.
Question: A number of journalists have been arrested covering protests in Khartoum and Sudan by the Sudanese authorities, including journalists from Reuters and the… and the AFP. Do you have any information about that, any comment?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that. I haven't seen those particular reports. We'll follow them up. We obviously have clearly pushed for the rights of journalists to do their job and to do their job in peace, free from intimidation.
Question: Stéphane, I want to ask you if you know if Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl is coming to the UN Headquarters to meet the SG, and ,if possible, that we can meet.
Spokesman: I don't know, but I will check. I haven't seen anything on his schedule.
Question: So there's a report now that the US [United States] is withholding another portion of the UNRWA budget. Did you get any information about that?
Spokesman: No, I've seen the report. We know the funding challenges to UNRWA are great. The agency is working on alternative sources of funding. They're working on launching a campaign to reach new donors in order to continue to be able to provide the basic and critical services they provide to their clients throughout the Middle East.
Question: So the US… because they said that… the spokeswoman for the State Department said they are withholding it. They didn't contact you? They didn't announce it to UNRWA?
Spokesman: They may have contacted UNRWA and you can check with them. I'm just not aware.
[inaudible]. Your microphone, though. Even the president needs a microphone.
Question: Thank… thank you, [inaudible].
Does the Secretary-General have any plans of taking part in the Kuwait reconstruction conference for Iraq between the 12th and the 14th of Feb.?
Spokesman: No, the Secretary-General will not be able to go there in person. He's extremely supportive of the process, extremely grateful to the emir of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti Government for hosting a conference again on this issue, but the UN will be represented and I'll get you at what level.
Question: Stéphane, follow-up on The Guardian story about the sexual abuse and rape. It's been more than 24 hours since that report was published. Any follow-up about that? Will the Secretary-General himself take any action specifically about those 15 cases that has been reported?
Spokesman: You know, I think as I've said yesterday very clearly, this is an issue that the Secretary-General takes very seriously. I think we are all pained by women who've suffered harassment, by people who suffered harassment, especially if they feel they have suffered in silence and the Organization hasn't been able to help them in the way they should be helped. He has tasked his senior managers, which is being led by the Chef de Cabinet and Ms. Jan Beagle, the head of management, to come up with stronger measures in order to handle these complaints.
The UN is no different than any other organization. We know we have cases of sexual harassment. They are probably underreported, unfortunately. And we have, and will continue to ensure, that all staff know exactly what avenues they have available for them to file complaints.
The Secretary-General has zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour, and he has made sure that all his senior managers and all staff are aware.
Question: Sure. I… I heard the Secretary-General when he said today that he's worried… of course, he's worried about any situation where people could die, so I wanted to… I wanted to ask you again about the situation in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon. There are now reports that military gunship helicopters have fired at farmers, saying that they are fighters, and there's a whole town that was burned down. 6,000 people have fled across the border into Nigeria, so what exactly is the UN doing in that situation?
Spokesman: Well, you know, we're following the situation, and our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have said today that the number of people fleeing the English-speaking areas of Cameroon into Nigeria is growing, and they're increasingly concerned about the plight of women and children among them. We obviously share that concern. Women and children are about 80 per cent of the 10,000 refugees so far registered in the eastern part of Nigeria, and this situation we're continuing to follow.
Question: And one other thing. WFP [World Food Programme] has found in an audit that… that they're not correctly protecting the personal data of the people whose data they take in order to provide aid to, that basically, it's all in a centralized database and it doesn't follow basic kind of safeguards. I wanted to know: Is there a UN systemwide as… as these… I know that there's biometrics. There's all kinds of data being collected.
Spokesman: I'll check on this WFP report.
Nizar, and then we'll let Brenden speak.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Mr. Dieng spoke about the situation in Ghouta. However, the massacres which are being perpetrated in Yemen are much larger than what's happening in Syria and the… the whole situation is a catastrophe, an international one. Why has Mr. Dieng so far been silent about what's happening in Yemen?
Spokesman: I don't think anyone has been silent about what's going on in Yemen. We have spoken out repeatedly from this podium. The Secretary-General has spoken out. Our humanitarian colleagues have repeatedly spoken out. The Special Envoy continues his work on the political track. He's in Riyadh today. He met with President Hadi and Saudi officials. We expect him to be back in a month.
This is a situation of unacceptable human, civilian suffering, and we continue to not only shine a light on it; we continue to try to provide humanitarian support to the millions of people in need in a context that's extremely challenging, and we're continuing to push on the political tract.
Question: But this blockade has been going on for three years and the Yemenis are in the millions suffering, and they are… isn't that kind of genocide, this collective punishment of a whole nation?
Spokesman: This is human suffering on an unacceptable scale, and we will continue to speak out about it.
And I will leave you now in the hands of Mr. Varma.