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.
The Secretary-General delivered a video message to the Brussels Conference on Syria today and said that in this eighth year of war, the scale of humanitarian needs in Syria remains staggering. More than 13 million people are living in desperate conditions, exposed to relentless violence and persistent violations of international law.
He said that, at the recent Security Council retreat a few days ago in Sweden, he sensed a strong commitment to humanitarian access and to overcoming the obstacles to the delivery of aid to all Syrians. And he appealed for the remarkable generosity shown by humanitarian donors last year to be sustained and, indeed, if possible, increased.
Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that he expected pledging by donors to reach $4.4 billion [for] 2018 by the end of today — the second day of the Brussels Conference.
Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Security Council on Syria this morning. She once more expressed concern that medical items have been removed from UN aid convoys by the Syrian Government. She gave an overall picture of the humanitarian situation throughout the country. Her remarks are available to you.
Also today, the fact-finding mission team of the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] said they carried out a visit to a second location in Douma. The team members also collected samples at this site. These samples will be brought back, together with other samples, to the OPCW laboratory in Rijswik, in the Netherlands. They will be split and then dispatched for analysis by the OPCW approved laboratories.
The Secretary-General will speak at 3 p.m. at the Security Council meeting on peacebuilding and sustaining peace.
As he made clear in his remarks to the General Assembly yesterday, we need the strong support of both the Security Council and the General Assembly to build and sustain peace across the continuum, from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and then long-term development.
He will underscore that the central message of his report on peacebuilding and sustaining peace is that we need to enhance the coherence of international efforts in support of national Governments and their people.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are deeply concerned by the escalation of the conflict in Kachin State in Myanmar.
Thousands of civilians have been reportedly displaced by renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army, while many others are trapped in conflict-affected areas, unable to flee. There are grave protection concerns for these communities as a result.
A United Nations assessment team met with displaced civilians in one area, Namti, on Monday — that is earlier this week — and identified high levels of immediate need — notably food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation.
The local authorities and humanitarian partners are now moving to respond but access for the UN and international humanitarian partners to civilian populations in need continues to be extremely limited in Kachin, notably in non-Government controlled areas.
The UN calls on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Humanitarians must be able to access and provide assistance to those in need, the parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilians should be able to safely and voluntarily return to their homes as soon as the conditions allow.
Today is World Malaria Day, and on this occasion, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] recalls that every two minutes, a child dies of malaria.
Although preventable and treatable, malaria remains, in many regions of the world, a major public health problem. Ninety-one countries currently experience ongoing malaria transmission and in 2016 alone, 216 million new cases were reported, and approximately 445,000 people died of the disease — most of them children.
Progress on global malaria control is slipping, with cases on the increase. Four out of five malaria deaths occur in one of 15 countries, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa, with more than one in three deaths taking place in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo only.
On the positive side, six countries have been certified as having eliminated malaria in the last decade, meaning they have achieved at least three consecutive years with no local cases: those are Morocco, Turkmenistan, Armenia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Kyrgyzstan.
Today, following my briefing, Brenden Varma will be here to brief you on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly].
At 3:30 p.m., here in this room, there will be a briefing by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza.
Then at 5 p.m., Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be at the Security Council Stakeout, following the High-Level Meeting on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) support to the G5 Sahel [Joint] Force.
**Questions and Answers
And I will end here and take your questions. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Is the Secretary‑General formulating any… I guess one of the ambassadors used the term this morning a "creative solution" or alternative on setting up an attribution mechanism of chemical weapons use in Syria? He was quoted as saying that he would use his good offices to assist. Could you elaborate on what's being considered?
Spokesman: No, I'm not at liberty to elaborate on anything at this point. Obviously, the Secretary‑General is very keen to see a mechanism that would attribute responsibility if chemical weapons were shown to be used. Discussions are continuing with Security Council members, but I will leave it at that for the time being. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Yeah, I wanted to ask you, you may have seen them, but, if not, I'd like to ask you about them. There are published reports that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is seeking to create an offer position to Mr. Jehangir Khan, a current UN official, in the same way that Bernardino León moved from being the UN envoy in Libya to working for the diplomatic one. It's said that they're seeking a counter‑terrorism post for him. It's also said that Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed recently visited the UAE and sought a UAE‑funded position. I don't know… can you distinguish… one, would it be against UN rules for a current UN official to be seeking a job…
Spokesman: First of all, on Mr. Jehangir Kahn, as far as I understand, those reports are false. Second…
Question: Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.
Spokesman: …On Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, he no longer works with the United Nations, so I have no way to verify what his whereabouts are. And I know that he discharged his role as Special Envoy with complete impartiality and only keeping the interests of the United Nations at the centre of his work.
Question: Is… are there any kind of… what they're… what's called anti‑revolving-door provisions? Meaning, would the Secretary‑General view it as… as a… as normal and fine if a recent UN official went to work… and I… went… and I'm not… it's not… you could say it's hypothetical, but since it happened in the case of… of Bernardino León, what are… what are the current rules and best practices for UN officials when they leave a UN post?
Spokesman: I think everyone expects people to use their best judgment. Evelyn?
Question: In Ghouta, for example, where there are airstrikes, which can only be done by Damascus and no one else has an air force that's willing to strike civilians, is the object there to starve people so they… for surrender, at which point they move into the crowded camps…?
Spokesman: You know, I'm not a… we are not a party to the civil war. I think you need to ask those who have the armaments and who are dropping the bombs and are pulling the trigger what their goal is. Our goal is to see an end to the violence, and our goal is to make sure that all Syrians have access to humanitarian aid, that we help them rebuild their country. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Steph. French President and US President are now discussing in Washington some possible changes in the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. I wonder if UN thinks UN can be part of… UN is ready to work on the new nuclear deal if it happens.
Spokesman: Well, a couple of points to make. I think, as the Secretary‑General has said repeatedly, he believes that the JCPOA is a positive and major diplomatic achievement and should be maintained. And, as you know, the JCPOA was also endorsed by the Security Council, I think, in resolution 2231. That being said, the Secretary‑General of the UN is not a… the Secretary‑General is not a party to the… signatory of the agreement. But the Secretary‑General's position has been clear from the beginning. He believes it's a very important agreement and that it should be maintained.
Question: Just a follow‑up, but do you see any areas that this deal can be added and changed?
Spokesman: I think we can build on… we must build on the important achievements to preserve the non‑proliferation regime, which is a cornerstone of our global security, and we also believe that the JCPOA contributes to regional peace and security.
Question: Merci, Stéphane. On Myanmar, there is no Special Envoy yet appointed by Secretary‑General. Is it normal?
Spokesman: Well, A, that's a statement of fact. What is normal and not normal, I have stopped commenting on. That being said, I do expect an announcement in the coming days or shortly on the envoy.
Spokesman: I will only risk my tattered reputation to a certain point. Mr. Abbadi and then Edie.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. During the current debate on peacebuilding, the Secretary‑General and the President of the General Assembly and numerous delegates have emphasised the concept of prevention. How does one explain that only meagre resources, a little bit over $1 million, are devoted to preventive diplomacy?
Spokesman: Well, I would explain it… I think that's a question to… perhaps to those who allocate the budget. The Secretary‑General has repeatedly and has called for greater resources and greater emphasis to be put on prevention. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. The OPCW announced not long ago that a second team has gone into Douma. Is the UN security team that did the assessment… are they still there? Do they go…
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we continue to support them logistically, including through security, which is also the responsibility of the Syrian Government and others who are in the region, but the UN continues to provide whatever support… logistical support we can to the OPCW.
Question: Is… is there… have you… has the UN gotten any indication at all of when we might see some results from…
Spokesman: No, I think that's… that's a question to be asked in The Hague. Mr. … oh, Ben. Sorry. Then we'll go back to you.
Question: Yeah, just two quick questions. You mentioned there was… unless I missed it. Was there any readout from the meeting with Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif? And then you just mentioned JCPOA being… creating regional stability. What do you mean by that? There's not much stability in the Middle East right now. I don't see where JCPOA has led to that.
Spokesman: Well, I think, you know, one, you could always imagine what things would be without it. That's… You know, it's… you know, stability can always be improved, and it could be… there could be less of it.
Question: But you're saying it's… things are stable.
Spokesman: We think it's an important… we think the JCPOA is an important part of stabilizing the region. The… obviously, I think it comes as no surprise that the discussions with the foreign… Foreign Minister Zarif did include discussions on the JCPOA. The Secretary‑General reiterated what I've just said, which is his support for the agreement, and the Secretary‑General also stressed the importance of resuming the Syria and Yemen political processes in his discussion with Foreign Minister Zarif. Linda, and then we'll go to second helpings.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Following up on Ben's question regarding the JCPOA, we know you've said that the Secretary‑General supports it, believes it could… it's better to have it than not. But with the United States and possibly Brits, French, or European nations believing that perhaps the sunset clause should be eliminated and that there should be an actual ban on Iran's development of ballistic missiles that could be used for nuclear weapons, is this something that he would be happy with if it did occur? Is it something that he would be hap… I mean, perhaps when these negotiations begin, if they do, that he would encourage them, or does he believe there are no loopholes?
Spokesman: You know, there are a lot of discussions going on, Linda, and I think we will… I will avoid speculating what will be or won't be. I think what we're focusing on is how the Secretary‑General… his position on the JCPOA as it exists now. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I… I'd asked a couple days ago if you had anything on Madagascar, so I wanted to ask you again. There've now been five days of protests. The protesters are saying that the former President Marc Ravalomanana cannot… is being barred from running, and some protesters have been killed. And I'm just wondering, given your previous involvement…
Spokesman: No, we're obviously concerned at the… at some of the violence that we've seen. And, again, I may have something more on that a bit later. [He later added that the Secretary-General is aware of reports of loss of life and many injured during recent demonstrations in Madagascar. He extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. He calls for calm and urges the political actors to engage in dialogue to avoid the repeat of the crises of the past. The achievements that have been made in recent years to restore the rule of law and respect for human rights must be preserved for the benefit of all the people of Madagascar.]
Question: Also, in Tanzania, there are protests scheduled for the 26th except that they've been outlawed by the Government, and several people have been arrested. I'd asked you about this before. Does D… does the UN or its Department of Political Affairs (DPA)… is it on… is this on their radar at all? Because I… you've yet to say anything…
Spokesman: Just about everything's on our radar. We're, obviously, watching the situation. And we strongly believe, as a matter of principle, in the right of people to demonstrate freely and peacefully. And I did want to… I think you'd raised yesterday this issue of media access to UN Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in South Sudan, and I just want to reiterate, which I… the fact that the Mission there supports the right of all journalists to freely and fairly report on UN activities in South Sudan. Journalists, including national reporters, are able to visit the Protection of Civilian camps, interview internally displaced people, camp leaders and UN personnel. I think there was last… in this past week, journalists, both local and international, visited the Protection of Civilian sites in Juba and Bentiu.
Question: Can I ask just a follow‑up on South Sudan?
Question: I just… and I wanted to ask you just as… as straightforwardly as possible. What is the… I mean, in the UN's mind, given that this what was initially classified as child rape in South Sudan was downgraded to attempted sexual assault, what's the… in terms of a child, what… what's… when…
Spokesman: I think there's a nomenclature that we use, which I will share with you. The assessment was made… initial assessment was made, and then new information came to light, and a different assessment was made. But I will share with you the nomenclature when I'm able to. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Back to the JCPOA and the Security Council resolution that endorsed it, in the Security Council resolution that you referred to, there's at least a call upon Iran to cease the testing, development, production, procurement of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Iran has been, as you know, testing such missiles. Did that subject specifically come up during the Secretary‑General's meeting with the Foreign Minister Zarif…?
Spokesman: I've shared with you the readout as I'm able to share it with you.
Question: But the only reason I'm asking is you stressed, on the positive side, the Secretary‑General's embrace, if you will, of the JCPOA. But the Security Council resolution endorsing it contains a provision that no one can contest that Iran has not been in compliance with.
Spokesman: No one is contesting it, and I don't anything that I've said can be interpreted as contesting or going against it. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, I'm sure you've seen… you may even be quoted in, but I want to ask you a bit more about The Guardian's piece about the Pension Fund and… and what they say is in… investment in dirty profits. They list Shell, given its record in Ogoniland and Nigeria, HSBC money laundering from Mexican drug cartels. What are the standards that the UN Pension Fund applies to its investments?
Spokesman: They are standards set by the General Assembly. Okay, Mr. Varma, all yours. Thank you.