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 will start with a statement on Afghanistan: The Secretary‑General is appalled and deeply saddened by the attack on the offices of the international NGO (non‑governmental organization) Save the Children which occurred in Jalalabad, which killed two people and wounded dozens, including children — that is according to initial reports we received. He expresses his deep sympathy to the families of the victims. Humanitarian organizations provide life‑saving assistance to the most vulnerable men, women and children in Afghanistan. Aid workers, and their premises and assets, should never be a target. The Secretary‑General reiterates that all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan are obliged under international law to protect humanitarian workers and civilians.
Back here, this morning, you will have seen, the Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, briefed Security Council members on the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the country. He said that since the peaceful transition of power almost one year ago, the new Government has been through a steep learning curve and has embraced reforms to bring job creation and conflict resolution. However, it still faces daunting challenges. The risk of famine still looms, and some 6.2 million people still need humanitarian assistance. On the security front, Mr. Keating said that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has been fundamental and has allowed space for political progress, but warned that the Mission cannot stay in the country indefinitely, and this will require the Government, the UN and other partners to help strengthen the Somali security sector. His statement is available online.
And I also want to flag that this afternoon, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, will brief the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan.
You will have seen that yesterday we issued a note in which the Secretary‑General announced his decision to establish the International Commission of Inquiry envisioned by the Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. He appointed Lena Sundh (Sweden), Vinod Boolell (Mauritius) and Simon Munzu (Cameroon) to serve as Commissioners and selected Ms. Sundh as Chair of the Commission. Established at the request of the signatory parties to the Agreement, the Commission of Inquiry will advance national reconciliation and support the Malian authorities’ efforts to fight against impunity. The Commissioners, who will serve in their personal capacities, will investigate serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Mali since January 2012 and submit a report to the Secretary‑General within one year.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they launched the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for the Central African (CAR) Republic: $515.6 million are needed for 2.5 million Central Africans who will need humanitarian assistance this year. Due to violence perpetrated by armed groups, more than one in four Central Africans is either internally displaced or a refugee. In one year, the number of internally displaced persons has increased by more than 70 per cent. Despite a relatively bleak humanitarian situation, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Najat Rochdi, called upon the international community to remain confident and optimistic for the end of the crisis in the CAR. She said that the resilience of the people, the commitment of the international community and that of humanitarian workers are key catalysts to implement the Humanitarian Response Plan simultaneously with the National Plan for Recovery and Peace Consolidation.
Assistant Secretary‑General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča has now completed a three‑day visit to Iraq, during which he met Iraqi leaders and other interlocutors in Baghdad and toured liberated Mosul. He praised Iraqis for triumphing over Daesh terrorists and urged them to seize the opportunity of peace and press ahead with efforts toward building a prosperous future for their country. In Baghdad, Mr. Jenča discussed the scheduled parliamentary elections and encouraged the Iraqi authorities to create a safe and conducive environment to ensure credible elections. He welcomed that the national elections would take place in accordance with the constitutional timeline, on  May 2018. He confirmed the continued strong commitment of the United Nations to support the Independent High Electoral Commission’s work to enhance the inclusiveness, transparency and acceptability of the elections. During his visit, Mr. Jenča discussed the prospects for a genuine national reconciliation process, and explored opportunities for ensuring the full inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups. We have more details in a press release, which is online.
Also, on the topic of migration, the International Labour Organization released a joint report with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which says that the perception that migrants cost more than they give back is widespread but does not rely on empirical evidence. The report examined the impact of migrants in countries like Argentina, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa and Thailand, among others, and found that migrants in most of the studied countries display higher labour force participation and employment rates than native‑born workers. However, the quality of jobs immigrants take remains a concern, as they often do not have decent working conditions.
Every year, the Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service Commission of the UN Staff Union releases numbers on fatalities. At least 71 United Nations and associated personnel — 53 peacekeepers and 18 civilians, including 2 police personnel and 15 contractors — were killed in malicious attacks in the line of duty during 2017. The casualties in 2017 are the highest number ever recorded by the committee. In the past five years, at least 310 United Nations personnel have died in deliberate attacks.
I have to run a correction section today, a couple of items I need to correct for the record. One, I want to clarify that the report on the most underreported humanitarian crises in 2017 which I mentioned a couple of days ago as a report co‑sponsored between CARE and UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is in fact not co‑sponsored by UNHCR, it is solely a report of CARE. So I just want to specify: this was not a UN report.
Also on Syria, I want to clarify something I said yesterday considering the security situation and cross‑border shipments. On 20 January, the UN took the decision to place its cross‑border shipments from Turkey temporarily on hold because of the security situation. However, the border crossings do remain open. I also want to add that the information we have been putting out about the situation in Afrin [Syria] is obtained from the best reports our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) are able to receive from local sources — including reports on the humanitarian situation provided by our local partners. We do not have UN staff in Afrin. This is consistent with how we report on areas across Syria, where the conflict limits our ability to collect first‑hand information.
A couple of items to flag for you: tomorrow, in Conference Room 4 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., DPI (Department of Public Information) will host a briefing for NGOs entitled “Diversity and Lessons to be Learned for Human Understanding” in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. NGO experts working to promote Holocaust education and diversity will explain how we can learn from the past to prevent genocide in the future.
Tomorrow my guest at the briefing will be Farid Zarif, the Special Representative for Liberia and Head of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). He will brief you by video link from Liberia.
And last, but not least, we thank our friends in Oslo, in Norway, who have paid their dues in full for this year, bringing us up to? Fourteen. I'll ask myself a question. Madame?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the UN plan to play any role on the international partnership against the impunity for the use of chemical weapons, which was declared in France yesterday? And any comment or reaction to the Russian proposal again for the establishment of a new mechanism to investigate the chemical weapons use in Syria?
Spokesman: No, I can't comment on the draft resolution. The details, it’s obviously for the Security Council members to do that. We, of course, as a matter of principle, would very much like to see accountability for those who were accused of using chemical weapons wherever that may be. I'm not aware of any UN participation in the Paris meeting yesterday, but I will double‑check. Sir, and then I'll come back to you.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Following up on my question from yesterday, today, President General [Abdel Fattah Al] Sisi officially became the only candidate running for the Egyptian presidential election after all other potential candidates either being held… arrested or dropping out of the race. Do you have any concerns about the situation in Egypt and the fact of democracy over there?
Spokesman: Sorry, I was waiting for you to finish your sentence. You know, on the issue… I think, yesterday, you raised the issue of retired General Sami Hafez [Anan]. While we do not have independent verification, we're concerned about reports that we've seen about the arrest of General Sami Hafez [Anan], who had expressed interest in contesting the upcoming presidential elections. We urge the authorities in Egypt to ensure that the election campaign is conducted in a credible, inclusive, peaceful and participatory manner, in full compliance with the existing law. Mr. Lee and then Edie. Sorry.
Question: Sure. I want to ask you something about… about the UN and sexual harassment, but just one follow‑up on this… this Russian UNIMI proposal. Ambassador [Vassily] Nebenzia said yesterday at the stakeout after the meeting that this idea was raised to the Secretary‑General by Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov last week, and I believe it was at the… the dinner that you called a private dinner. Can you… I guess I… it makes… again, because it now… this… of the various meet‑and‑greets that he had that day, this seems to have been the most newsworthy. I wanted to ask you again, why… why was… is just the inclusion of food makes a meeting private? Or what was the difference between his disclosed meetings with the foreign ministers of various Central Asian countries and this meeting that wasn't disclosed at which this important possible mission was said?
Question: Food? What’s the policy?
Spokesman: I'm not… I'm sorry. I don't… the difference between the two… between the various meetings was food. The… they discussed and have been discussing, either over the phone or in person, a variety of issues, including, obviously, the situation in Syria.
Question: But when… but when you don't disclose a meeting with a Foreign Minister held on the thirty‑eighth floor, is at the request of the country? Is it… how… it just… it seems important to know…
Spokesman: I think it's… I understand. It's a scheduling issue. What was your other question?
Question: Okay. The question has to do with not about policy the… the rights of staff to speak but about the UN's actual action on… on cases of harassment. There's a… there's this document that's circulated to staff about disciplinary actions taken, and I… I saw it yesterday, and I was pretty surprised, because under the rubric of abuse of authority, harassment and discrimination, it says, for example, a staff member performed a sexual act at the workplace in the presence of… of employees. Mitigating factors included the staff member's long service in mission settings. And in most… in many of these cases, people are… are… even if they're relieved from service, they're paid compensation. So, I wanted to know, number one, is there… have… have… the things that are being said now, how seriously the Secretary‑General takes… takes such allegations, these were from 2017, and so it seems like there are cases of… there's another case if you want to… harassed an individual…
Spokesman: I can't comment on the specific cases you mentioned…
Question: Right. It's not a leak. This is an official disciplinary document.
Spokesman: I'm not saying… I'm not going to comment on specific cases, because I don't have the information in front of me. There are administrative rules and procedures and an internal justice system here, and we are an organization of rules. Those rules are followed. What is important is that everyone understands that there is an environment in which they should feel comfortable and empowered to come forward and report cases of harassment or abuse of power without any fear of retribution. That's the Secretary‑General's focus, to ensure that people feel free to come up. We are fully aware, like any other organization, that these issues are probably underreported, because people do not feel comfortable in coming forward.
Question: But in… beyond just coming forward, it seems important what the UN actually does. So there are unwanted advances… mitigating circumstances, payola to the person…
Spokesman: The case… you know, there… you're using. You're throwing around terms. I mean, obviously each case is looked at. I'm not going to go into the details of each case. Ms. Lederer. Yes, you?
Question: Yeah. Stéph, on the Secretary‑General's appearances at Davos [World Economic Forum], do you have… do you have any more details…?
Spokesman: I do, because he's not going. [Laughter]
Question: Is he snowed in?
Question: What happened?
Spokesman: There was a scheduling issue, and in the end, he decided not to go. So he's here. And we will be probably announcing further travel very shortly.
Question: So, is anybody senior… well, I know that… we know the President of the General Assembly is…
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, a number of heads of agencies are there, various… I think… a number of heads of agencies and other senior UN officials are there. We can try to find you the list. Yep, Nizar?
Question: On the humanitarian situation in Yemen, is there any update and… because the reports coming from Yemen talk about high number of… people dying from lack of medicine and still starvation is…
Spokesman: We continue to report regularly on the situation in Yemen. We did so, I believe, yesterday on the renewed humanitarian appeal and the need for increased funding and consistent funding for our humanitarian operations there.
Question: How… how about the recent pledges which were… were they paid, I mean, by Saudi Arabia, $1 billion…
Spokesman: We can… I think we did receive quite a large chunk of Saudi money, and we can look… the funding for all the humanitarian appeals is up on the public website, and you can check as well. Mr. Klein, you look like you have a question.
Question: Yeah. Can you… can you indicate whether there were… was any year during Ban Ki‑moon's term that he did not attend Davos? And, secondly, given the opportunity for bilaterals, in some cases Heads of State, at Davos, could you… could you elaborate on the scheduling conflict that would have been more important than that…?
Spokesman: It's interesting, because, I think, often we get criticized for going to Davos, and we get criticized for not going to Davos. And, again, as the Secretary‑General mentioned in his press conference, he said he would be going to the African Union. He will leave… he leaves tomorrow. It will be a great opportunity for him to have a number of bilateral meetings with African Heads of States. The partnership of, you know, of respect and deep cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union is extremely important to the Secretary‑General. He'll be there for about almost two and a half days, have a number of bilaterals. On Sunday, he will deliver remarks at the full session of the African Union. He will have a bilateral session with the Chairman of the African Union on Saturday. So, that's the focus. I think the Secretary‑General has ample opportunities throughout the year to have bilaterals with the highlight being the hundred… more than 100 bilateral meetings he has during the General Assembly. You know, Davos is… is sometimes a little complicated place to do business. It's an important place for us to be, and that's why the United Nations is represented. It's an important opportunity for us to interact with the private sector. But scheduling decisions and all sorts of decisions are made. I can find out if… I can look back to see if the previous Secretaries‑General have sometimes missed Davos.
Question: Is he still planning, however, to attend at least the opening of the Winter Olympics in…
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General himself briefed you on his travel…
Question: But that hasn't changed.
Spokesman: That has not changed. And I'm sure that will also be an opportunity for further bilaterals. We will grab every opportunity for bilaterals that we can. Mr. Avni, then Mr. Oleg.
Correspondent: Hey, so, I saw on Twitter that [Pierre] Krahenbuhl was in Japan.
Spokesman: If Twitter says, it must be true. I don't know. [Laughter] I don't know. We'll check.
Question: Who was that?
Spokesman: The head of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).
Question: And… and the question is, does… is there any new pledges from Japan and other big players for UNRWA to replace the US missing funds?
Spokesman: If he is, indeed, in Japan, I'm sure the aim of that is to secure Japanese funding for UNRWA. Japan has been a generous donor in the past, far and wide, if I'm not mistaken. But we'll try to get you updates as they come in terms of the funding.
Question: Is it possible to fill in the gap that is left behind in… after the US semi‑withdrawal?
Spokesman: There is money to be had, to put it simply. The question is to ensure that UNRWA can secure pledges, can secure funding. We've seen a number of countries fast‑track money that had been scheduled to be paid later in the year to ensure that the operations do not see any halt. So, they're hard at work on this. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Afrin and deliveries of aid, have there been any contacts between the UN and the Turkish sides to possibly export… explore possibilities to get those track… trucks running? And, also, are there any alternatives on delivery of aid, maybe airdrops, considering the large amount of people in this area…?
Spokesman: There are contacts going on at the working level always on the delivery of aid. To be clear, the Turkish authorities have told us the border is open. Due to the fighting, we have taken the decision not to send the trucks across the border at this point. Airdrops in what is an active conflict zone that includes air con… you know, air… military air assets, I think, is something that is extremely challenging and probably not advised at this point. We had done airdrops, if you remember, in Deir Ezzor. That was very complex, very costly, and that was because there were sieges, and the road option was not available. But, obviously, our humanitarian colleagues are constantly looking at what options they have in order to deliver food and other aid to those who need it.
Question: Quick follow‑up. Was the UN informed by Turkish officials before they started the offensive? And was there any planning done before that? I mean, was the decision to…
Spokesman: I'm… my level, I'm not aware. Doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I'm just not aware. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. I want to follow up on my questions on Monday about the attacks in north central Nigeria by armed herdsmen, which has killed over 100 people since 1 January. Do you have any response?
Spokesman: No, I hope to get something to you very quickly. Unfortunately, I thought I would have something for you today, but I don't. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Another Nigeria question. You may have seen that Mr. [Olusegun] Obasanjo, who I know is at least a part‑time mediator for the Secretary‑General, has issued an open letter calling on President [Muhammadu] Buhari not to run for re‑election and to retire. And I just… I'm assuming that's not as a UN official, but what I want to know is…
Spokesman: That would be a correct assumption.
Question: Exactly. But my question is, how is one… not in this… in cases going forward, given that he was sent to Kenya, but it wasn't announced from here and he… people sort of intuited from there, is it a better practice to say when he's going on a UN mission or not say…?
Spokesman: You know, I think, obviously, to state again, those reports have nothing to do with the UN. He's not a part‑time mediator. He's, like all the other members of the committee, of the group, he is… they are as‑needed mediators. So, they get called on per case. You know, obviously, we would like to be as transparent as possible, and there may be a number of other missions that we would like to advance… announce in advance. Sometimes, it's best to try to do things discreetly so as not to raise pressure or expectations, but… and, while we may want to do that, others may announce things for us. So, it's on a case‑by‑case basis.
Question: And… and thanks. And you mentioned the private sector, and I wanted to know… I think it was nine days ago, the Secretary‑General said he would look into whether China Energy Fund Committee…
Spokesman: Yes, I’m in contact with the Global Compact. If I have something, I will share it with you. Thank you, all.