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.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the [General Assembly] high-level meeting on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. He said that in a world in which many countries are experiencing violent conflict, “we need greater unity and courage — to ease the fears of the people we serve; to set the world on track to a better future; and to lay the foundations of sustainable peace and development.”
Above all, he said, sustainable, inclusive development is the world’s best preventive tool against violent conflict and instability. He called on Member States to continue to implement the 2030 Agenda.
He also stressed that sustaining peace will only be realized through national ownership that considers the needs of the most marginalized, including women, young people, minorities and people with disabilities. The Secretary-General welcomed the new report presented yesterday by his Special Envoy on Youth [Jayathma Wickramanayake], saying that “it is beyond time to recognize the major contribution young people can make to peace and security. I hope you will support my reforms in this area, aiming at putting young people in charge and taking full advantage of their knowledge, ideas and initiatives.”
In Brussels, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, spoke at the Conference on Syria, and he warned the participants that, as the number of people in urgent need of assistance continues to grow, the United Nations has exhausted its resources to respond.
Within the resources the United Nations can plausibly expect to mobilize this year, he said, we cannot meet even all the urgent needs. Our focus is now to ensure that the 5.6 million people who are assessed as being in acute need inside Syria are made the priority.
The United Nations and its partners are looking for $3.51 billion to provide life-saving assistance and [protection] for 13.1 million people inside Syria. So far, the Humanitarian Response Plan for 2018 is only 23 per cent funded.
The Security Council is holding closed consultations today to hear briefings on Sudan, South Sudan and the UN peacekeeping force in Abyei [UNISFA].
Council members are hearing updates from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, as well as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Nicholas Fink Haysom.
Turning to Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that unusually early seasonal rains across Somalia have resulted in flash flooding in some areas in the south and central part of the country, causing displacement, and worsening conditions in overcrowded settlements for internally displaced people.
The flash floods have affected approximately 60,000 people so far, but if the water continues to rise, up to half a million people could be impacted. Humanitarian partners, in collaboration with the Government, are stepping up efforts to mitigate the impact of flooding. Medical supplies have been prepositioned to address potential disease outbreaks, and stocks of hygiene and sanitation supplies are ready for deployment in Banadir and Somaliland.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Insecurity and population displacement have left nearly one million people severely food insecure in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Tanganyika Province. That includes more than 350,000 people who are in the emergency phase of food insecurity.
Meanwhile, some 667 public primary schools have been destroyed — or  per cent of the 1,633 schools in the province — depriving over 66,000 children of access to education.
Humanitarian workers have mobilized to provide immediate assistance to those in need in Tanganyika, and in neighbouring Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami provinces, reaching more than half a million people with life-saving assistance since October 2017. However, humanitarian access has at times been hindered by insecurity and administrative impediments.
And our friends at UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, today launched an action plan to expand employment opportunities for refugees so they can integrate in their host communities from the very start and contribute to the local economy.
The plan identifies areas that are key to ensure the successful labour market integration of refugees, such as matching of refugees’ skills with employers’ needs, the need for legal certainty on the length of stay of refugee workers and helping employers navigate the administrative procedures dealing with refugee employment.
A couple of things I want to flag. In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon on Yemen, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the airstrikes on a wedding party in Hajjah and on civilian vehicles in Taizz, where at least 50 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed and scores of others injured.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General noted the resignation of Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia. He welcomed the peaceful nature of the unfolding events and encourages all relevant actors to continue to exercise restraint and prioritize dialogue.
At this important time for Armenia, the Secretary-General calls for the continued respect of the rule of law and human rights, as well as for the maintenance of peace and stability in Armenia and the wider region.
And last night we also issued a third statement, on Nicaragua, in which the Secretary-General said he is concerned about the casualties in recent protests in Nicaragua and called for restraint on all sides. He called on the Government of Nicaragua to ensure the protection of human rights of all citizens, particularly the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Lastly, I wanted to flag — we had seen a couple of reports, notably on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s reporting quoting an unnamed UN official regarding Canada’s contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA). As you know, in March, Canada announced plans to deploy two Chinook transport helicopters and four Griffon attack helicopters to the UN mission in Mali in August. The UN is grateful for Canada's contribution, which will play a valuable role in the continued efforts to bring peace and stability to Mali. Discussions are ongoing with Canada with regard to the timeline and the modalities of deployment.
And in connection with the GA high-level meeting on peacebuilding and sustaining peace, we expect the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, to brief you at about 12:30 — very soon — at the GA Stakeout. That will be followed by the President of the General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, who is expected at 1 p.m.
And today, Sri Lanka has paid its dues in full, bringing us up to 85. And now I'm happy to take some questions.
Correspondent: You didn't ask us.
Spokesman: Sometimes I ask. Sometimes I reserve to ask the first question myself.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I… I'm sorry. I wanted to ask you about… what I'd asked you about yesterday, which was the… was listed on the UN's website as child rape in South Sudan. And I've seen a press release by UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] put out early this morning… well, I don't know… again, there's a time difference, I'm sure, but early morning here, saying as follows: That… that it is alleged that one of the teenaged girls had been touched inappropriately by a member of the Nepalese contingent in exchange for money. There was no allegation made of rape. First, I wanted to make sure, is this the same incident that we're… that… that… And is it not rape if it's an underage person?
Spokesman: Yes. So, let me bring some clarity to this. Upon receipt of the allegations, the Mission in South Sudan immediately dispatched its Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Immediate Response Team to preserve evidence ahead of the national investigation that we expect from the Nepalese. We are informed that the Nepalese Government has appointed a national investigative team within the timeframe required… requested by the Secretariat. So, the dispatch is done in advance of the dispatch of the Nepalese team. The allegations were initially reported on the UN website for Conduct in UN Field Missions as including an allegation of rape, as this had been the interpretation made based on the information available at the time of posting. The nature of the sexual activity has now been clarified and, therefore, the matter is being recategorized as sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, pending further information that may arise through the investigation. I mean, as you know, we… any information on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are reported as quickly as possible as part of the Secretary‑General's transparency initiatives. And, in the case of peacekeeping operation… peace operations, it's done on the website for Conduct in UN Field Missions, and information on new allegations is posted on the basis of information that is available at the time. And, obviously, as these are ongoing investigations, there may be updates to what's posted on the website.
Question: Sure. I guess I just… I just wanted to understood. In many places in the United States, for example, this… this… the payment of money for inappropriate touching of an underage person would be characterised that way. How… what does the UN call that?
Spokesman: These… the information that we have now is that this involves sexual assault and attempted sexual assault.
Question: So, not being too graphic, is it: if it's not penetration, it's not rape?
Spokesman: It's the information that we have at this time. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this… on the statement that the Secretary‑General has issued on Yemen and… did… has the United Nations been in touch with the Saudi Coalition? And, also, has there been any assessment of the children being killed over there? How many children were killed, especially in that private party? Do you have any such figures available right now?
Spokesman: Our concern about the death of civilians, the attack on civilian infrastructure, has been made clear and repeatedly so to all the parties involved, including the Coalition. We have reminded, time and time again, the parties of their obligations to their obligations under international humanitarian law concerning the protection of civilians. We are not on the ground on this particular… at this particular place. We are going on what… the information that has been reported to us by our partners. Abdelhamid?
Question: After the Saudis got the big arms approved from the [Donald] Trump Administration. It seems that they have increased the — what do you call — attacks inside Yemen, in particular. I…
Spokesman: I leave it to you to do the analysis. I'm reporting on our opinion and on the facts as we have them. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, regarding this conference in Geneva for fundraising for Syria, are the…
Spokesman: In Brussels.
Question: In Brussels. I'm sorry.
Spokesman: It's okay.
Question: Are the Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp are included will be any money assigned to the Yarmouk Refugee Camp through UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency]?
Spokesman: Yeah, and it would be, and that disbursement is done through UNRWA, and we're talking about all human beings who are living in Syria.
Question: And do you have any update on the situation in Yarmouk Refugee Camp…?
Spokesman: No, I do not. We'll ask our UNRWA colleagues…
Question: Yeah, and my second question, do… you are familiar with this human right report issued by the State Department of the US. They dropped the word "occupied territories". The word "occupied" is not mentioned in this report. They talk about…
Spokesman: Yes, I've seen it, yes. What is the question?
Question: Any… any view of the Secretary‑General on this change of policy…?
Spokesman: We have a nomenclature that we use. We have words that we use. We'll continue to use those. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: But did you make them avail… known to the US?
Spokesman: I think the US is very well aware of the situation. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Both the Secretary‑General as well as the President of the General Assembly seemed to have found a new word to describe "peace", namely, "sustainable peace". Besides being more condensed, what is the advantage of using that as compared to what we have in the Charter already, "maintenance and preservation of international peace and security"?
Spokesman: I think the word "sustained"… the expression "sustainable peace", I think, underscores the point that the Secretary‑General is making, which is, obviously, peace is the lack of… the absence of conflict and the absence of war, but to secure that peace and the efforts to secure that peace are directly tied to our efforts towards sustainable development. Yes, sir, in the back and then…
Spokesman: No, one second. Yeah, Go ahead. Your… your… you have to press the button.
Question: [inaudible] concerning Sahara.
Spokesman: I think that's a question for Council members. The Secretary‑General has handed in his report, and, obviously, Council members are discussing it… continue to discuss it. Mr. Lee and then… sorry. Then we'll go…
Spokesman: Your microphone as well. Your… there we go.
Question: Okay. The follow‑up on that question, then, regarding the definition of "sustainable peace", then what would be the role model of sustainable peace?
Spokesman: What would be the what?
Question: Role model. Any country, any… I mean, I know myself, but I would like to see your view or Secretary‑General view on that.
Spokesman: You know, I don't know if I would identify role model of sustainable peace. We would like to see sustainable peace the world over. What is your other question? That's it? Excellent. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have some more on South Sudan, but I wanted to ask just a follow‑up on Western Sahara. You'd said that… there's a draft that Inner City Press published it, and the draft, which I know you're not going to respond to, but there's a reason I'm asking you this. One of the paragraphs in the draft, 2 ter, quote, “expresses concern regarding Polisario Front's announcement of the planned relocation of administrative functions to Bir Lehlou”. And I wanted to ask you whether… given that… that, you know, MINURSO [United Nations Mission in Western Sahara] is there, are you aware… has there been a… a… a… an announced planned relocation? What's your position on that?
Spokesman: I think the…
Question: I'm not asking about the draft. I'm asking about the facts.
Spokesman: No, I think the… whoever… whatever parties decides to change… relocate whatever they would want to relocate is up to them to announce.
Question: Right, but they… don't they… so, you're not aware of them telling MINURSO…
Spokesman: I'm saying it's up to them to announce. What is your other question?
Question: Okay. I wanted to… actually, you were… you were saying that, in South Sudan, you know, in the interest… there's transparency, and I… and the speed of all these things. So, I wanted to ask you whether there the… the… the… the national media authority has said that national reporters, not international reporters, national reporters are banned from going into… to… from covering the PoC (Protection of Civilians) sites, which is apparently where this… the incident that I was asking about, but it goes beyond that. They said only international reporters are allowed in, and they characterize that as only for fundraising purposes. Is that… is there a distinction made by UNMISS between the two?
Spokesman: No, for us, reporters are reporters. I think there is… the mission has expressed its concern about new rules that are being imposed on journalists for the… and how they report in South Sudan. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democracy. As South Sudan heads into a critical time in the peace process, it's important now more than ever that the voices of all people [are heard] so that a genuine inclusive and durable peace can be achieved, if not sustained. UNMISS is encouraging the Government to create an environment that will enable media to freely and… report on the political, humanitarian and security situation in the country.
Question: But I… no, I… we may be kind of talking about two different things. I'm talking about the Government there criticising UNMISS for restricting journalists, saying that national reporters…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of those restrictions, but if they exist, I will check. Yes. Let's… let's let Madame speak. Olga and then Evelyn. We'll come… sure, I'll come back to you.
Question: Thanks, Steph. The Security Council meeting tomorrow on Syria, I just want to ask you, what do you expect? After Special Envoy [Staffan] de Mistura joins the Security Council in Sweden, what do you expect the Council to discuss tomorrow and if Special Envoy de Mistura will be here in New York tomorrow?
Spokesman: Let me check what's exactly on the agenda, and I'll get right back to you. [He told the reporter later that Mr. de Mistura is not expected in New York.] Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Right. In Tanganyika Province that you mentioned before, why are schools destroyed? Who's destroying them and for what reason? I hadn't heard that before that the schools were… And, secondly, the usual question is, have you any updates on the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in… in Douma?
Spokesman: Well, the destruction of the schools is due to a number of factors, including the increase in insecurity in the region. On Douma, the… you'd have to ask OPCW. Masood?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. On this issue of… has the Secretary‑General had any conversations with the Indian Government? Because today, the… there were again clashes in held Kashmir in which five people were killed. Has the Secretary‑General has had any talk with the Indian Government to…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any, Masood. Yes, sir? Your microphone again, please, sorry, so I can hear you.
Question: [inaudible] commission to be [inaudible]?
Spokesman: Is there a what?
Question: A counter commission to be sent to buffer zone…?
Spokesman: The Mission conducts its patrols of unarmed observers, as it is mandated to all the areas they're able to access. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Just one… yesterday, I think it was… I saw it just after the noon briefing, but that… that there had been a statement on Armenia. I just want to understand sort of how it came out, so then I went to your office and asked. They said there wasn't a statement…
Spokesman: No, there was no statement.
Question: Then they said there was an answer given…
Spokesman: There was no statement at the time you asked. There was a question that was asked by one of your colleagues. It was not a statement. We gave him an answer. And then, later in the day, an official statement was released, and we shared that with everybody.
Question: Did you give the answer… was it in a f… in typed‑up paper form? Because it was tweeted as a photograph of what looked just like a statement.
Spokesman: It was given… when a journalist asks us a question outside of the briefing room, we share it with that journalist. Right?
Correspondent: When you choose to answer.
Spokesman: When we're able to answer. Okay? If there is a statement, we will share it broadly. If there is… if someone raises a question in this briefing and then we answer later, we share it with everybody.
Question: Then how do you decide? Sometimes you come in here you say, in response to questions from your colleagues, I have the following to say… When do you do it?
Spokesman: It's the beauty of the authority that's invested in me.
Question: Okay. All right.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: I want to ask you one last thing. It's the authority on all things António Guterres, if I can.
Spokesman: You may.
Question: Okay. As you may have seen, there's a sexual harassment #MeToo issue at UNHCR, and it goes back into the past in such a way that it actually intersects with António Guterres' time there. It has to do with Craig Sanders, current Deputy Director of UNHCR, and it has to do with allegations, now widely reported in the UK and in at least two publications, that he told a colleague not to report, when he was serving in Darfur for UNHCR, sexual abuse allegations because he didn't want there to be food‑for‑sex scandal on his watch. That's the quote. And so this reverberated around apparently within UNHCR for some time after that while António Guterres was the head of UNHCR. So you may not know, what was his…
Spokesman: Look, I'm not aware of the case. I think these questions are up to UNHCR to answer. I think what I do know is that, while he was head of UNHCR, the Sec… the then High Commissioner made a priority to combat issues of sexual harassment. Thank you.