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 Nations Personnel
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a memorial service to honour United Nations personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty between July 2016 and the end of last year — that is 140 colleagues from 42 different countries.
The Secretary-General said that, despite all our efforts to ensure the safety and security of our personnel, the United Nations has become a target of those who oppose our commitment to peace. But the sad fact is that people do lose their lives while serving the United Nations, he said, and it is our duty to honour their service and sacrifice.
The Secretary-General said that all around the world, the blue flag of the United Nations represents the hopes of some of the world’s most vulnerable people for peace, security and an opportunity for a better future. Those people depend on the women and men who dedicate themselves to serving the United Nations. “It grieves me that anyone should perish doing this essential work. And it angers me that there is so little accountability for attacks on us”.
The Secretary-General went on to say he was committed to calling for attackers to be held to account and to improving safety for UN staff and personnel.
This morning, at the same event, he also said he was deeply saddened to learn last night of the sudden passing of Ambassador Bernard Tanoh-Boutchoué, the Permanent Representative of Côte d’Ivoire.
He said he had a clear recollection of his conversation with him during the presentation of his credentials last September. The Secretary-General had expressed his satisfaction at seeing Côte d’Ivoire prepare itself for a Security Council mandate with renewed confidence, in light of the auspicious developments made by the country in restoring peace, stability and development.
He added that Ambassador Tanoh-Boutchoué was well liked and respected and will be missed by all of us. He offered heartfelt condolences to his family and colleagues, as well as to the Government and people of Côte d’Ivoire.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Yesterday evening, the Deputy Secretary-General departed New York for Washington to participate in the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund.
Amina Mohammed will speak at meetings related to advancing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a focus on international economic development, data, climate action, sustainable finance, gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as education and global health.
Back here, the Security Council heard a briefing this morning by Jean Arnault, Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia. Mr. Arnault said that the recent arrest of one of the leaders of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) movement on drug trafficking charges has reverberated in a country that remains divided around the peace process.
He stressed the need for a sustained drive to put the reintegration of former combatants on a more solid basis before the end of the Government's mandate.
Throughout the implementation phase of the Peace Agreement, circumstances have occasionally tested the commitment of the two parties to stay the course. They have stayed the course however, Mr. Arnault said.
**Central African Republic
Meanwhile, from the Central African Republic, the UN Mission in that country (MINUSCA) today expressed concern over inflammatory rhetoric coming from some armed groups, political figures and media, which could exacerbate tensions in the country. The Mission is calling for calm and restraint. It is particularly concerned about attempts to revive disputes between the anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka groups.
The UN Mission denounces the attempts to manipulate Operation Sukula, which was launched jointly with the Government to restore order and eliminate criminal groups in the PK5 neighbourhood of Bangui.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the CAR, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, called for the disagreements to be solved through dialogue.
From South Sudan, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, wrapped up her visit to the country today. Speaking to the press at the UN Tomping Base in Juba, she reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict and urged all South Sudanese stakeholders to engage genuinely and constructively in finding a political solution to this crisis.
Ms. Keita added that she was particularly appalled by the violence the conflict has brought against women and girls. She said South Sudan is facing an emergency related to sexual violence and what we need from the Government, the UN and its partners is an emergency response.
Turning to Syria, the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, said it is deeply concerned for the safety and security of civilians in the Palestine Refugee Camp in Yarmouk, Syria, and surrounding areas. All parties to the conflict should exercise maximum restraint to ensure that civilians are spared, and should take measures to prevent unnecessary damage to civilian infrastructure.
UNRWA calls on all sides to allow civilians wishing to leave the areas of conflict to do so in safety and security. Medical cases should be allowed to be evacuated. It calls for safe access to distribute life-saving assistance, including food and [medicine], to all civilians trapped inside Yarmouk and the neighbouring areas.
UNRWA estimates that there are up to 12,000 Palestine refugees in Yarmouk and the surrounding areas of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem. In the last few weeks, both checkpoints into Yarmouk camp have been closed for the majority of the time, cutting the last lifelines for those who remain trapped in the area.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, congratulated Kurdistan Region political parties and blocs for signing the Electoral Charter of Honour on Wednesday in Erbil.
Kubiš said that the credibility of the democratic process lies in the integrity of the electoral process. Thus, an effective Charter of Honour is essential to conducting the elections in a free, fair, impartial, transparent and credible manner. The UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has a press release with more details.
An update from Ukraine: our humanitarian colleagues tell us that yesterday the Donetsk Water Filter Station in Ukraine stopped its operations after five of its employees were shot and injured on 17 April. The station’s operations will likely remain suspended until guarantees for the safety of its personnel from parties to the conflict are received. This is not the first incident at the Donetsk Filter Station. On 14 March, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Neal Walker, condemned similar attacks on the station’s workers on four separate occasions.
The suspension of the station’s operations impacts water supply to some 345,000 people in Donetsk province, on both sides of the “contact line”, with immediate consequences for the smaller settlements, unable to benefit from alternative water sources.
Tomorrow, at 3 p.m., Mr. Walker will brief Member States in New York on the humanitarian situation and response and recovery efforts. The meeting will be webcast for all of you to follow.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the [FIFA] have launched a campaign to get this year’s World Cup ticket holders to offset the carbon emissions resulting from their attendance of the tournament.
All ticket holders will be invited to sign up on FIFA.com and take part in the campaign, regardless of where they live. For each ticket holder signing up, FIFA will offset 2.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, which is the average emission per ticket holder traveling from abroad.
When signing up for the campaign, fans will enter a prize draw to win two tickets for the final match. More information on UNFCCC’s website.
Answering a couple of questions that were raised by various people in this room on Western Sahara: First, I can say that neither Bir Lahlou nor Tifariti fall within the buffer strip.
Second, regarding meetings with Frente Polisario: since the arrival, in late December 2017, of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Colin Stewart, MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) has preferred to adhere with the longstanding practice of holding such meetings in Rabouni, Algeria. The Mission and Mr. Stewart remain in close contact with the Polisario Coordinator and have met informally outside of the Mission area.
And finally, MINURSO reported to the Security Council that on 16 March, in the vicinity of the Tifariti Team Site, MINURSO Military Observers on duty were stopped by armed Frente Polisario members, with shots fired in the air.
After a short discussion, the Observers were allowed to resume their patrol. The local Frente Polisario commander subsequently condemned the unauthorized action of the soldiers involved and indicated that disciplinary action would be taken.
A story that caught our eye of two UN agencies you would not think would work together — or at least I wouldn’t think, which is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — announced today that they have successfully tested a nuclear technique to suppress mosquitoes carrying diseases.
The Sterile Insect Technique, consists of using radiation to sterilize male mosquitoes, which are then released from drones to mate with wild females. As these do not produce any offspring, the insect population declines over time.
Testing of the system was carried out in Brazil last month, and the Government is planning to start using this technique starting in January of next year.
Tomorrow following my briefing, Brenden Varma, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here along with Amena Yassine, the Senior Adviser to the President of the General Assembly. And Brenden will tell you a little more about that when he briefs.
Tomorrow we say thank you to two countries, Ethiopia and Portugal, who have paid their dues in full — we thank them both…
Spokesman: Somebody's paying attention! Do you have a question, or do you yield?
Question: No, I do have a…
Spokesman: You never yield. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I do have a question. Do you have any update on the reported shootings at the UN security team in Douma? And are they still there and trying to help arrange for the… the… the observers, international and chemical team to come…
Spokesman: No, yesterday, we gave you the information about what had happened. As far as I know, the discussions are still going on with all our colleagues in Damascus and all other interested parties to ensure that the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) team can go in. We are working hard to have them go in as safely as possible and as quickly as possible.
Question: Is the UN security team, though, still in Douma?
Spokesman: No, they went back to Damascus after they'd done the recce. Yeah?
Question: Steph, as a follow‑up. Obviously, time is passing, and you said yesterday that not only security arrangements in Douma have to be improved but that the assessment team has to go in again. Are they… these talks going on with the Syrian Government, with the Russians? And is… is there any indication of when the UN assessment team might get back to Douma again?
Spokesman: No. What I can tell you is that the discussions are going on with all the people we need to talk to on the ground to ensure the safety of our staff and the safety of the OPCW. Again, we're working to ensure that the OPCW team gets there as quickly as possible.
Question: Can I just follow up to clarify Edie's question? Is there another reconnaissance mission planned?
Spokesman: Things are being taken one step at a time. I think you could understand that, due to the volatility of the situation, the dangers involved, we don't want to telegraph what will happen, but the discussions and planning is ongoing. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, there's… there's a kind of a lack of clarity of the health and whereabouts of General [Khalifa] Haftar in Libya. People… he sort of disappeared. Some diplomats have said he's had a serious heart attack and may not function. So, I'm wondering, since the UN does have an envoy, Ghassan Salamé, is he aware where General Haftar is? When's the last time he spoke to him?
Spokesman: Mr. Salamé spoke to… hold on a second. I know he spoke to… I think last week he spoke to General Haftar. I'll have to get you the exact date. And, as for the whereabouts, I mean, I think that's up for those… those… Mr. Haftar and his people to talk about. Yep?
Question: Thank you. Regarding the stopping of MINURSO elements and members and the firing of shots by Polisario elements last… on March… mid‑March, can you speak to what kind of disciplinary measures should be imposed in this case?
Spokesman: I think that's up to the Frente Polisario. It's not for us to say. I mean, the… just to be clear, the weapons were not fired by the UN observers, who were unarmed. Yeah, I just want to make sure that's clear. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Actually a different kind of firing. I wanted to know, what's the status of the UN's inquiry into the… in Central African Republic, the incidents that led to the 17 corpses being laid in front… in front of the base?
Spokesman: It's on… I mean, the whole… there's an internal investigation going on around all of the events that took… that surround the operation that was done jointly by the Government and the UN into PK5.
Question: And I wanted to ask, in your… in your, I guess, readout or sort of curtain‑raiser of the Deputy Secretary‑General's trip to Washington, is it the case that she's also meeting with the US [United States] acting Secretary of International Organizations, Kevin Moley?
Spokesman: I don't know. We could find out.
Question: They list… they say that she is. That's why I'm asking.
Spokesman: I'm not doubting the veracity of their announcement. I just don't have her list of appointments. It would be… I would not be surprised.
Question: And I wanted to know, The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, has written an editorial very much saying that UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) is… I could read you the quotes.
Spokesman: No, I've seen it.
Question: They're pretty damning. Do you have a canned response? Can you uncork it?
Spokesman: I try to improvise as much as I can.
Question: Okay. Is there one? I mean… I can read…
Spokesman: No, our response is the same. I think we… the Secretary‑General supports the work of Mr. [Michel] Sidibé, [and] recognizes the efforts he's done to put gender parity at the forefront of the work of UNAIDS.
Question: No, what they're critical of is his role in…
Spokesman: And Mr. Salamé spoke to General Haftar last Friday.
Question: Okay. I guess… what I want to ask about Mr. Sibidé [sic] — and then I'll… I have other ones, but I know there are others that want to ask — is there… people are not just talking about the gender equality record under Mr. Sibidé. They're talking about his covering up and not responding to a complaint made in 2015 about Luiz Loures being a sexual predator. There's a…
Spokesman: I think the case of Mr. Loures has been investigated. And, if we have an update, I will share that with you. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, just getting back to Western Sahara. Is the Secretary‑General planning any kind of diplomacy… sorry.
Spokesman: Do you want to answer that? That's fine.
Question: No. On his… I mean, any diplomacy stepping in personally on this issue? His predecessor had a… quite a stormy experience with that.
Spokesman: Well aware. The Secretary‑General, you know, obviously, has been briefed in detail by his personal envoy. We understand there are discussions going on in the Council in terms of mandate renewal, and we'll have to wait and see what comes out of that.
Question: On… you said on Friday, Mr. Salamé spoke to General Haftar. Was it by the phone? And if yes…
Spokesman: Yes. It was by phone, yes.
Question: Was it international call or local?
Spokesman: It was by phone, you know. And now anybody can call anyone… we can make an international call from you to me here, and it's still here. So, let's not… as I said, it's up to Mr. Haftar and his people to talk about his condition and his location.
Question: Okay. A lightning round. There was a press conference here at 11 a.m. on indigenous human rights. And one of the issues that came up is whether… well, actually, in Kenya, it seems that forest dwellers have written to the Resident Coordinator protesting a REDD+ done by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). And, according to them, they never got a response at all, but I'm wondering…
Spokesman: You should address that…
Question: It's a little difficult.
Spokesman: You should address… I don't think it's that difficult to pick up the phone and call. There's a big public information team in Nairobi, and you have a phone and they have a number, and you can place an international call. Your next question?
Question: But, I guess, is the Secretary‑General comfortable with the resident coordinators that don't respond on the very issues that are being celebrated here for two weeks…
Spokesman: I don't know if they have not responded. I'm saying you should call them.
Question: The other one has to do with… it's a strange one. The… the… the envoy to Somalia, Michael Keating, it's not… I'm sure it's a perfectly fine project. He's… he's written a book, and some people in Somalia are saying things have been so tense over there; they don't know how he found the time. And I'm just wondering, what are the sort of… did he get permission from… from… from Headquarters to write it? Is there any kind of review by Headquarters of what an SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General), while acting as an SRSG, writes in a book…?
Spokesman: I'm sure Mr. Keating got all the necessary permissions. All right. Mr. Varma, you have the permission to brief.