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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.

**United States

The Secretary-General is writing today to Florida Governor Rick Scott and to Ambassador Nikki Haley, the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, to express his profound sadness at the horrific gun massacre that took place yesterday in Parkland, Florida.  It is wrenching to see so many young lives cut short — in a place where students should feel safe — as well as so many families torn apart, and yet another community thrown into shock, the Secretary-General wrote.  At this time of profound sorrow, we at the United Nations wish to say that our thoughts are with all those who have been touched by this tragedy, he added.

**Ruud Lubbers

And I have a statement on the passing of Ruud Lubbers: The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the death of Ruud Lubbers, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  The Secretary-General expresses his heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Lubbers and to the people of the Netherlands.


The Secretary-General, meanwhile, has just arrived in Munich, Germany, where, tomorrow, he will give a keynote speech during the opening ceremony of the Munich Security Conference.  He will also have a number of bilateral meetings.  We will have an update for you tomorrow.


The Deputy Secretary-General, meanwhile, spoke today at a private sector round table in Stockholm, Sweden, [during] a meeting called “Solutions Summit to End Violence Against Children”.  She said that companies in all sectors, and of all sizes, have a powerful impact on children.  As a starting point, she said, any company serious about addressing violence against children should adopt a “respect and support” approach, as prescribed by the Children’s Rights and Business Principles.  She added that companies that contribute to ending child labour — in all their business activities and [along all] their supply chains — will go a long way to rooting out the circumstances that enable violence against children to persist.  Her full remarks are online.  Amina Mohammed also met with Stefan Löfven, the Prime Minister of Sweden, among other senior officials.  And while in Stockholm, she also a chance to meet with her predecessor, Jan Eliasson.

**Humanitarian Affairs

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, will travel to the Central African Republic, Cameroon and Chad from 18 to 27 February.  As you know, the Central African Republic is on the brink of relapsing into a large-scale acute humanitarian crisis, with renewed violence forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.  In Cameroon, large-scale displacement, fuelled by the Boko Haram crisis in the north and the neighbouring Central African crisis, has compounded high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition.  Ms. Mueller’s visit will be conducted jointly with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, George Okoth-Obbo.  Finally, in Chad, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, also due to Boko Haram-related insecurity in the Lac region and violence in Sudan and the Central African Republic.  About one third of the population is food insecure, and 12 out of 23 regions in the country are in a nutritional emergency.  In the three countries, Ms. Mueller will meet with communities affected by the conflict, national authorities, humanitarian and development partners, as well as the diplomatic community.

**Middle East

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, yesterday held a joint meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav Mordechai.  He said in a statement today that he was encouraged by the trilateral meeting, in which all sides focused on the urgent need to finalize the reconstruction of physical damages from the 2014 Gaza conflict and on facilitating critical humanitarian solutions related to the electricity, water and health sectors.  All sides agreed on the need for a joint review of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism to improve its functionality, transparency and predictability.  The United Nations also presented proposals to revitalize Gaza’s economy and discussed the conditions required to ease movement and access, and support Palestinian development.


Our colleagues in Kabul at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today released their annual report documenting the impact of armed conflict on civilians.  According to the report, 10,453 civilians lost their lives or suffered injuries during 2017.  Out of these, 3,438 were deaths and 7,015 were injuries.  Although this figure represents a decrease of 9 per cent compared to 2016, the report highlights that the number one cause of casualties were suicide bombings and other attacks using improvised explosive devices.  This is followed by clashes between anti-Government and pro-Government forces.  The report urges parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and calls on anti-Government forces to stop deliberately targeting civilians and indiscriminately using improvised explosive devices.  More on the Mission’s website.

**Refugees and Migrants

The UNHCR, United Nations International Organization for Migration and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today warned that gaps in data covering refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and internally displaced populations are endangering the lives of millions of children on the move.  Their joint report: “A Call to Action:  Protecting Children on the Move Starts with Better Data”, says that, in 2016, an estimated 28 million children were living in forced displacement, but warns that the true figure is likely much higher, as there are alarming holes in the availability and reliability of data which enables understanding of how migration impacts children and their families.  In the absence of reliable data, the report says, the risks and vulnerabilities facing children on the move remain hidden and unaddressed.  The agencies called on Member States to make better data collection and analysis a key feature of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on [Refugees], which [are] currently being developed for adoption later this year.


The World Health Organization (WHO) issued today new recommendations to establish global care standards for healthy pregnant women and reduce unnecessary medical interventions.  Worldwide, an estimated 140 million births take place every year.  Most of these occur without complications for women and their babies.  Yet, for the past 20 years, practitioners have increased the use of interventions that were previously only used to avoid risks or treat complications, such as oxytocin infusion to speed up labour or caesarean sections.  Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General at WHO, stresses that the increasing medicalization of normal childbirth processes are undermining a woman’s own capability to give birth and negatively impacting her birth experience.


Also from WHO: The Emergency Committee unanimously agreed that the risk of international spread of poliovirus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  Experts stressed the potential risk of further spread through population movement, whether for family, social or cultural reasons, or in the context of populations displaced by insecurity, returning refugees, or nomadic populations.  International coordination continues to be needed to address these risks, particularly between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria and its Lake Chad neighbours, as well as countries bordering Syria.


Yesterday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Guinea‑Bissau, Modibo Ibrahim Touré, briefed the Security Council on the rapidly evolving political situation in the country.  His remarks are available in my office.

**Press Briefings

After Mr. [Brenden] Varma briefs, we will be joined by my colleague, Mita Hosali, the Deputy Director of the News and Media Division, who will be here to help you explore the new UN News website, which is online.  Ms.  Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  As a follow‑up to the Secretary‑General's statement about the mass shooting in Florida, what is the Secretary‑General's position on the possession of guns, rifles and assault weapons by civilians?

Spokesman:  Look, the Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, which is a politically binding framework, which has been discussed since 2001, is scheduled to be reviewed this year, outlines actions for States to take at the national, regional and global levels to combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms.  It also states… it reads that States agree to undertake various measures to combat… excuse me… combat the trade, but it does not… the UN framework does not address the legal trade in small arms, which needs to be dealt with at the national level.  I'll come right back to you.  Yes, Sherwin?

Question:  Steph, change in leadership in South Africa with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa today.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction?

Spokesman:  We, obviously, took note of the resignation of President [Jacob] Zuma and the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the fifth President of South Africa.  The Secretary‑General congratulates the people of South Africa and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party for ensuring a smooth transition, which, I think, testifies to the vigorous democratic culture in the country.  And we will, of course, continue to work closely with the new President on many priorities, particularly on peace and security issues in Africa.

Question:  Sure.  Two… two follow‑ups now.  One is, on… on… I heard what you said on… on… on weapons.  I'd asked Farhan [Haq] yesterday about this display that's still taking place down in the 1B basement, and it involves… I hadn't actually, when I asked him, seen the video shown by the Pindad Indonesian arms manufacturer, but it shows exactly the type of high‑speed automatic weapons used in Parkland, Florida.  And I'm just wondering… I understand that he said it's entirely up to Member States.  I find it hard to believe that, if a Member State were to show, for example, child pornography or any number… there must be some standards.  And I'm wondering if anyone in the Secretariat went down and looked at the… at the ads for tanks, rocket launchers and high‑speed AR‑15‑style automatic weapons currently in 1B…?

Spokesman:  Let me try to gather a bit more information on that.

Question:  Okay.  The other one actually has to do with… with… with South Africa, but only indirectly.  I just wanted to ask you, yesterday, there was a press conference by the head of UN-Women.  And among other questions, I asked her about an interview that she'd given in which she kind of… she described her past working under Thabo Mbeki, talked about the ANC.  So, I just… kind of as a soft… I don't want to say it's a softball, but I asked, what are the… you know, what are the rules out applicable to an international civil servant speaking about the politics in their country?  Some of the audio was lost in the thing, but she definitely said there's no playbook for this.  And I wonder, isn't there a playbook?  Isn't there… what would you say in terms of… what was the… what's the Secretary‑General's view on how his officials should comment on the politics in their country?

Spokesman:  Listen, I didn't hear exactly what she said.  I think, if she was commenting on her past and the Executive Director has a very prominent past in the politics and in her country and the struggle that the country went through, I see no reason why she shouldn't be able to talk about it.  I think a lot of senior officials bring with themselves, bring historical… have a background, a historical background, and they should… whether they talk about it or not is their own choice.  Obviously, I think UN officials should… you know, unless part of their mandate, need to be careful, I think, commenting on active political situations.  But, obviously, as part of their mandate, they often have a responsibility to do so.  I say this as a matter of principle.  I didn't hear exactly what she said.

Question:  Sure.  You can easily find the interview.  It wasn't said here.  It was in the midst of political turbulence in South Africa and definitely… so I guess I'm just wish… I'm wondering, like, how’s she…?

Spokesman:  I'm sure I will. Okay.  I think I tried to answer, and if there's an issue, I'm sure the Secretary‑General will take it up directly with them.

Question:  Stéphane, yesterday, the… Mr. Mladenov briefed the Security Council regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  Do you have anything on that?  It was, I think, a closed meeting.

Spokesman:  No, not more than he… the fact that he highlighted the dire humanitarian situation, which, obviously, has been made more, I think, stressful with the funding crisis… UNRWA's [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] funding crisis, which, so far, as far as we understand, has not cut back any services and is striving not to.  But, as we know, the humanitarian crisis is also linked to issues having to do… internal issues having to do with the reconciliation between various Palestinian factions and of course… and also issues related to closures.  Yeah, behind you.

Question:  I have a question about special court in Kosovo… for Kosovo.  The… I'm going to read in German.  Sorry.  David Schwendiman, the prosecutor of the special chamber, had said that he's going to retire soon.  And what's the… what… what… what's your statement about special war court for Kosovo?  Why it was this necessary, and why wasn't such crimes be part of the tribunal… I mean from the court of former…?

Spokesman:  I think I know where you're going with the question.  I will be very frank with you.  I'm not equipped off the top of my head to discuss this issue, but I will check, and we will get back to you with a comment.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Two peacekeeping questions.  One is, there are these reports of fighting between the Congolese army and the Rwandan army in North Kivu.  And I just… I haven't seen the UN… seems like it would… if that's taking place, it would be a pretty serious thing.

Spokesman:  Well, we'll check into it.  I don't have anything here.

Question:  There's also… there's been a letter sent by… by a number of Tamil Sri Lankan groups to Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix about the… the impending… I guess, some type of a commander in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], Mr. [Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara] Hewage.  And they've documented to him — he's supposed to deploy on Sunday — that, in fact, he was present during 2008 in Kilinochchi, 2009 in PTK.  These were, you know, highly controversial military actions.  So, their complaint is that, in the past, Office of Human Rights of the UN would vet people, and now that doesn't appear to be the case anymore just by…  Have you seen that letter?

Spokesman:  We've… DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has, indeed, received the letter you mentioned.  They are looking into the case of the gentleman that you mentioned with… who's scheduled be deployed to Lebanon.  As a matter of policy, we're committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.  In accordance with existing policy, the UN should neither select nor deploy for service any individual who has been involved in violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.  In reviewing the background of personnel to be deployed, we consider available information from within and outside of the UN system, thus, will review carefully the information that has been provided to us.  Member States that provide UN personnel to peacekeeping operations also have the responsibility to certify that the personnel they nominate have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or have been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from any UN operation.  In cases where we have concerns regarding the human rights record of specific troop-contributing countries, we put in place additional measures to ensure that the personnel deployed is in line with the UN human rights screening policy.

Correspondent:  Thanks.  Just one follow‑up, because I remember Mr. Lacroix specifically commented on this when he did his press conference.  Seems like these… these… these groups are saying that, in the past, the UN review these in Geneva, and now they're relying on Sri Lanka's own human rights commission, and they say the last people were deployed…

Spokesman:  I think from what I understood of what I just said, we review both what the Government tells us and external and internal sources.

Question:  And did you ever find out if the… if the letter from the claimant in UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] was, in fact, received by the 38th Floor?

Spokesman:  Yes, the letter has been received by the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, as we've said here, issues of harassment are taken seriously.  The Secretary‑General, as you know, has taken a number of steps to ensure that there is a strength in capacity to prevent and respond to allegations of sexual harassment and to support and protect victims.  In terms of the letter, I can confirm we've received it.  As you know, it's the policy of the UN, as provided by the General Assembly resolutions concerning the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and by staff regulations, to maintain confidentiality and not to publicly discuss individual cases or complaints of, or investigations into, misconduct.  Therefore, we're not in a position to comment further on the details of the case, but, as I said, the letter has been received.

Question:  And one last thing.  You said this Ms.… I may have missed it, but Ms. Mueller's… this trip that you mentioned Cameroon, you said the Boko Haram area, Central African Republic.  Is she not going to the south to… to the Anglophone areas where there is displacement; there's been refoulement…?

Spokesman:  As we get more details on the trip, I will let you know.  Linda Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question regarding Syria.  Yesterday, we know that Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council that the situation in Syria is at its most dangerous and worrying that it's ever been since he's been there for four years.  I was just wondering what the, you know, Secretary‑General, you know, thinks about that and if there's any chance that he may try to get involved with it at some… you know, in some way with someone in the near future?

Spokesman:  Right now, our… Mr. de Mistura is very much in the lead, and the Secretary‑General is supporting him in any way he can.  You had a question?

Question:  Thank you.  The UN team in Nigeria visited the north-central part of the country, Benin State, earlier this week, just as the crisis caused by the herders.  So, I want to know, based on their assessment, is the UN in any way intervening in that crisis?

Spokesman:  I will check what the outcome of their visit was.  We'll try to get you something later today.  All right.  I will ask Brenden to come up, and then please stay for Mita's presentation.

For information media. Not an official record.