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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is arriving this evening in Addis Ababa. He will participate in the African Union summit over the weekend, as we had mentioned earlier. We will provide his remarks as we get them.
The Special Meeting on Syria has continued at the UN headquarters in Vienna today. Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, continues to meet separately with each delegation. As a reminder, the special meeting is a part of the UN-facilitated Geneva political process. The meeting is being held in Vienna this time for logistical reasons.
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča visited Lebanon yesterday and today. He met with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri, Minister of the Interior Nouhad Machnouk and Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Joseph Aoun, among others.
Mr. Jenča welcomed ongoing preparations for the parliamentary elections, scheduled for 6 May. He stressed the importance of conducting credible and inclusive elections, with stronger participation of women in the political decision-making process. He confirmed the continued commitment of the United Nations to support the work of Lebanese authorities in voter education, elections management and women’s empowerment. We have more details in a note to correspondents.
Our colleagues from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) today strongly condemned the horrendous attack against a bus travelling from Burkina Faso that took place close to the town of Boni yesterday. The detonation of an explosive device left more than 20 people dead, including women and children.
The UN mission also condemned recent attacks against the Malian defence and security forces.
We join the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, in offering our condolences to the families of the victims and to the Governments of Mali and Burkina Faso. Mr. Annadif also stressed the importance of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
Our humanitarian colleagues launched yesterday Cameroon’s 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seeking $304.5 million.
Some 3.3 million people are in need of emergency assistance in the regions of Adamaoua, East, North and Far North, representing a 14 per cent increase compared to last year.
The humanitarian crisis in Cameroon is characterized by the impact of three crises: growing insecurity in the Lake Chad Basin region, the conflict in the Central African Republic, and a significant increase in food insecurity, malnutrition and epidemics.
IOM, the International Organization for Migration, and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, are outraged and saddened at the drownings of at least 30 refugees and migrants off the coast of Aden, Yemen, earlier this week.
Survivors of the incident have reported to UN and partner staff that an over-crowded boat packed with at least 152 Somalis and Ethiopians departed 23 January from the Al Buraiqa coast in Aden in a boat headed across the Gulf of Aden towards Djibouti. The vessel is believed to have been operated by unscrupulous smugglers who were attempting to take refugees and migrants to Djibouti, while also trying to extort more money from these refugees and migrants. The boat capsized amid reports of gunfire being used against the passengers.
Our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) warn today that a growing number of children in Venezuela are suffering from malnutrition because of the protracted economic crisis affecting the country. While precise figures are unavailable because of very limited official health or nutrition data, there are clear signs that the crisis is limiting children’s access to quality health services, medicines and food.
UNICEF says that the Government has implemented measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis on children’s nutrition, but that more needs to be done to reverse the worrisome decline in children’s nutritional well-being. It reiterates its readiness to strengthen support for the Government and civil society.
I also want to flag that this week the Governments of Brazil and Nigeria launched mass immunization campaigns to protect people against yellow fever.
With support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, an estimated 23.8 million people in Brazil, and 25 million people in Nigeria, are expected to be vaccinated. The virus is endemic in tropical areas of Africa and Central and South America.
Since the launch of the Yellow Fever Initiative in 2006, significant progress in combating the disease has been made, especially in West Africa, and more than 105 million people have been vaccinated in mass campaigns. More details on both campaigns are available on WHO’s website.
This Sunday will be World Leprosy Day, focusing this year on the target of zero cases of leprosy-related disabilities in children. Early detection is key to achieving this target, alongside scaling up interventions to prevent leprosy transmission.
Despite being eliminated globally as a public health problem in 2000, leprosy continues to mar the lives of individuals and affect families and communities. In 2015, leprosy had affected an additional 212,000 people globally, 60 per cent of whom were in India. The other high-burden countries were Brazil and Indonesia. Among new cases, 8.9 per cent were children and 6.7 per cent presented with visible deformities.
The World Health Organization stresses that though present numbers are a fraction of what had been reported a decade earlier, they are still unacceptable, as an effective treatment for leprosy — multidrug therapy — has been available since the 1980s and could fully cure the disease.
News just in — no fewer than seven Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full. We thank Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Finland, Georgia, Liechtenstein, Nepal and Singapore. The Honour Roll now stands at 23.
Following my briefing, Brenden Varma will be here to brief you.
And immediately after, I will be joined by Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth. She will brief you ahead of the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Youth Forum, which will take place here at Headquarters from 30 to 31 January.
**Questions and Answers
Do we have any questions before we turn to Brenden? Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, I'm wondering based on whatever progress was achieved at the Vienna talks, whether the Secretary-General thinks that Staffan de Mistura should go to Sochi.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are evaluating the situation as of the end of the talks. The talks are still going on in Vienna as we speak, so they're not quite done yet. Once they've happened, Mr. de Mistura will evaluate what the situation is and evaluate what our… and we can then evaluate from there what our presence in Sochi may or may not be. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. About Iraq. Well, finally, some good news from Iraq. The Iraqi Prime Minister held the first meeting since the Kurdish referendum with the Kurdish Prime Minister and the past week, they had two meetings. This is a major breakthrough. What's your comment… what is the SG's position about this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, we've always encouraged dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil and the Secretary-General's special envoy, Ján Kubiš, has been reaching out to the authorities respectively in the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government trying to get them to work with each other, so we welcome any signs towards dialogue and we'll continue to follow up and stay in touch with the respective Governments.
Question: And Syria? Any… any updates about Afrin? Any recent updates, other than the one we had yesterday?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there's nothing more to say about our humanitarian concerns. As you know, we continue to be concerned about the humanitarian situation in Afrin as we've been reporting throughout the week. Because of security considerations, some of our convoys have not been able to move, and that remains the case as of today, but we'll continue to try to reach out and to help as much… people as much as we can once the conditions allow. Yes?
Question: Mr. de Mistura today is not happy, as far as what's going on. Has he informed you what's going on? Do you have any idea why he's not happy?
Deputy Spokesman: I wouldn't characterize his mood one way or the other. Going into the talks, he said that he would be cautiously optimistic about what could be achieved, and we'll have to see what his evaluation is once the proceedings today have concluded, but they're still going on as we speak. Yes, please?
Question: Farhan, on Venezuela. In this… the early elections that have been called, some countries are saying they won't recognise the results of these presidential elections. What is the position of the Secretary-General?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yeah. We're aware of what the various parties, including the Government and the opposition, have been saying about the early elections. Meanwhile, we continue to support the regional efforts, particularly those led by the Dominican Republic, and we hope that the Government and the opposition will be able to reach a much-needed agreement. As you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed concern with unilateral measures that may distance Venezuela from a path conducive to agreed political solutions to its challenges, and we do believe that there's still avenues for the Government and the opposition to reach compromise on critical issues.
Question: Follow-up. When you talk about unilateral actions, do you consider these early elections one of those?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think I've said what I can say. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to know. There's some reports of an attack on an UN compound in… in… in Mogadishu and the death of a… of a I guess international staff member from Uganda. Can you… are you aware of that? Can you confirm it?
Deputy Spokesman: No, we don't have confirmation. We'll try to see whether there's anything to those reports.
Question: And I also wanted to ask you about Mediator [Olusegun] Obasanjo's trip to Kenya. There's now reports in the press there, basically, with both the Government or the Jubilee Party and NASA (National Super Alliance) denying that they had any meeting with him, so I wanted to know did he really… did he go? And… and… and who did he meet with? And… and also is there any comment on the NASA Coalition announcing what they call "the authentic results of the August election" saying that Raila Odinga won?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, it was in the context of the decisions by the National Super Alliance that the Secretary-General asked former President Obasanjo 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. 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.
Deputy Spokesman: But did he meet with any representative of the NASA Coalition while he was there?
Question: I believe he reached out with a range of interlocutors as part of his work, and he'll continue to keep with his various contacts. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Congo's president, Joseph Kabila, had a rare press conference today, and in that press conference, he criticized the UN's response to… UN Peacekeeping Mission's [MONUSCO’s] response to attacks both in the Kasais and in eastern Congo, including the attack that killed the 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers. He said, and I quote, "Despite our many calls to the UN Mission against these terrorists, there was late reaction." I wondered if the UN has a response.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. The United Nations itself reviews the work of its peacekeepers whenever we think that there have been any problems, including problems in our response, and as you're aware, we have been looking into the various situations, and there are two different inquiries that we have that are finalizing their work concerning the actions of UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Once those inquiries are completed, we'll try to share with you details, but we ourselves are working to improve our performance where we, as in other countries, are always in dialogue with our host countries when we have our peacekeeping missions, and we try to do the best we can to improve the performance of our peacekeepers. And like I said, beyond that, I'll… we'll keep you posted as we get further information about the inquiries. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Two questions about Iraq. Next month, there will be an International Reconstruction Conference in Kuwait. Who will represent the United Nations? And the second question is Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs had a visit to Iraq, three days. He went to Baghdad, Mosul, but he didn't go to Erbil. Why is that? As you know, the Kurdistan Region is… is having an estimated 2 million IDPs [internally displaced people]. Why he didn't go to Erbil?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you'll have seen we put out two different press releases about Mr. Jenča's trip to Iraq, and so he had a number of initiatives that he was trying to achieve there. As you know, other officials, including Mr. Kubiš, have frequently visited the Kurdistan region. Our humanitarian coordinator, Lise Grande, has been at work there very considerably.
Question: But why he didn't go there?
Deputy Spokesman: But… regarding Mr. Jenča's visit, he had a number of things he was trying to achieve and we informed you of his various stops and meetings. It was a full schedule, and now, as I just mentioned, he's continued onwards to Lebanon.
Question: And about Kuwait? Who's going to represent?
Deputy Spokesman: The UN will be represented at a very high level and we'll try to provide further details closer to the event. Yes?
Question: Getting back to peacekeeping, Farhan. I was just getting back to this special investigation on CAR. The note that was put out said that a number of gaps were identified in terms of the TCCs (troop-contributing countries) and the… the… in terms of training and their understanding of protection of civilians. Can we have more detail about what exactly those gaps were?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'll certainly try to provide more details as we can get them. Basically, the investigation has made several recommendations for corrective measures to be taken by troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries. And peacekeeping is engaging with the troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries constructively to ensure that these measures are implemented. If they are not in accordance with this practice on performance peacekeeping, we'll decide at the appropriate time on any further action to be taken. Yes, Frank?
Question: Farhan, a question about… we were talking about the Russian Ambassador a few days ago, when he was supposedly tabling a resolution on Syria and during the conversation, he said he was looking to the Secretary-General to help them with terms of reference with their new draft resolution. Has the Secretary-General been in touch with the Russian delegation? Has he even looked at their new draft proposal on Syria? Are they considering it at all?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't really have any comment on draft proposals as they work way among the Member States. As you know, all of these draft proposals are to be considered by the members of the Security Council, so we'll refrain from comment while they discuss them.
Question: But… but he specifically mentioned the Secretary-General. He was seeking… seeking… so has there been any communication between that delegation and… and the SG's office?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General communicates with all of the various Member States, but beyond that, we wouldn't share any specific comments, like I said, while these proposals work its way through the Member States. Yes?
Question: Sure, just first something on… on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. There's a meeting today, maybe still going on, in Conference Room 7, that's called an open briefing of this, but when I went to try to attend it, I was not in. I did call MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] and somehow, it's still not in, so I'm wondering what is… it doesn't say "closed", it says "open". How does it work?
Deputy Spokesman: It is, in fact, closed. I checked and the Chair of the committee decided to close the meeting, and so in accordance with that, the meeting is closed.
Question: Okay, after the journal was published?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, presumably since then.
Question: Do you know why?
Deputy Spokesman: But that, you would have to ask the Chair of the committee.
Question: And I wanted to ask you about an event that took place in the delegates' entrance last night, sponsored by the Serbian Mission. It was about a… a concentration camp and it's reported that Croatia wrote directly to António Guterres to try to get it cancelled, given the presentation, and I wanted to know, what can you say about that, I guess? There seems to be a lot of controversy about it, and I did notice… note some staff of the… I guess, the Holocaust Unit of DPI [Department of Public Information] present. What was the relationship between the UN and the event? And do you have any comment on the… the event?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't have any comment on the event. As you know, different Member States can use the building to hold different events, and that is their right.
Question: But maybe it's related, because I guess I want to understand this. There's… there's a separate story about an Israeli singer, Benayoun, who had sought to… yeah, who had sought to come. There was a lot of controversy. Somebody wrote to António Guterres to say, "Don't have him." Alison Smale wrote back and said, "He's not invited." Turns out he is coming, but the event that he'll be at, which is sponsored by the Israeli Mission, is not on the UN's schedule of Holocaust events, it says. So what's the relation… I guess what I'm meaning is, even if these events have nothing to do with the UN, including the ones that have been held elsewhere in the GA Lobby, who decides which… which events get listed on the… on the list of UN Holocaust week events and which are not? Is that a political decision? Who decides that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the United Nations itself, including its Department of Public Information, has a programme of Holocaust events, and those are listed as such. Of course, Member States are free to organize their own events, but many of them will not be on the UN programme. Those are events organized by Member States.
Question: DPI reviews the events in advance and says this one will be listed on our programme, and this one won't?
Deputy Spokesman: DPI has an office that deals with the remembrance of the Holocaust and they deal specifically with that.
Question: So they decided that the Serbian one was too controversial? Or how did it work?
Deputy Spokesman: No, the Serbian one is organized by Member States. Meetings organized by Member States are separate. You know, there are meetings that are part of the Holocaust commemoration that's organised by DPI, and then there are other ones that are organized by Member States.
Question: But there's a sign down in the GA that lists the week's events, and some of them are sponsored by missions. Do you see what I mean? It's not like there are UN events and mission events.
Deputy Spokesman: Those would have been agreed to beforehand. All right, Brenden, come on up. Oh, one more, and then… He's raring to go.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I just had a quick question in terms of an update regarding the Ukraine. I was just wondering if there's been… been any new information and also about the status of UN involvement there.
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, we continue to be involved and we continue to support the efforts of the Minsk group, but there's no particular new initiatives to talk about at this stage. Come on up, Brenden.
Correspondent: I had a quick housekeeping question.
Deputy Spokesman: We can't keep him waiting forever. All right. What is it?
Question: This is a question I asked of Stéphane (Dujarric) and it had to do with the webcast service here and the problem with it… sketchy webcast service sometimes, because they… they… they put the Secretary-General up, you don't see his face, you hear his audio. And we have not gotten answers on this kind of thing.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I had followed up with your question with the Department of Public Information. They are saying it's a problem that had to do with the Internet access at that particular time, so it's something that they're taking up with the Internet service provider.
Deputy Spokesman: All right. Come on up.