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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.


The Secretary‑General is now on his way to Washington.  Earlier in the day, he was in Brussels, where he started his day with a working breakfast with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice‑President of the Commission.  The two had wide‑ranging discussions touching on a number of issues of common interest, including the broader situation in the Middle East and institutional cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union.

The Secretary-General then met with the EU Commissioners for a working lunch.  Afterwards, he had a separate bilateral meeting with Commission President Jean‑Claude Juncker.  In remarks to the press after his meeting with Mr. Juncker, the Secretary‑General appealed for the European Union to make its voice more heard in international relations as a central pillar of today’s world.  He said that the UN supports the efforts being made by the European Union to rescue the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and its activities to move the world forward on sustainable development and climate action, among other things.  That transcript is available online.


Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council via videoconference this morning and warned that the recent reports of fighting in that country involving Israel and Iran were signs of a worrying escalation to a situation not seen in the region since 1973.  He reminded Council members of the Secretary‑General’s appeal for agreement on an accountability mechanism to deal with allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.  Mr. de Mistura warned that if the situation in Idlib becomes similar to what we have seen in eastern Ghouta, it could be six times worse, affecting more than 2 million people.  He told the Council that the discussions held among guarantor States in Astana this week included efforts to avoid a worst‑case scenario in Idlib.

Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that attacks on health facilities in Syria have continued at an unprecedented rate in 2018.  A reported attack on the central hospital in Idlib Governorate this past weekend is the ninety‑second attack on health‑care facilities recorded this year.  Reported deaths due to attacks on health‑care facilities have already surpassed the total number of deaths recorded in all of 2017.  Across Syria, the 92 reported attacks on health‑care facilities in 2018 have resulted in 89 deaths and 135 injuries.  In 2017 there were a total of 112 reported attacks, resulting in 73 deaths and 149 injuries.

The fact‑finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed in a report that chlorine was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in Saraqib, in Syria’s Idlib Governorate.  The conclusions are based, among other things, on the presence of two cylinders, which were determined as previously containing chlorine; witness testimony; environmental samples that demonstrated the unusual presence of chlorine in the local environment; and the number of patients at medical facilities shortly after the incident who showed signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine and other toxic chemicals.  Ahmet Üzumcü, the OPCW Director General, strongly condemned the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances.  Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention.


UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and its partners have delivered two truck‑loads of urgently needed medical supplies to the Gaza Strip — enough to meet the needs of an estimated 70,000 people.  The drugs and medical equipment include antibiotics, saline solution and syringes for the treatment of injuries.  Since 30 March 2018, over 1,000 children have been injured in violence in the Gaza Strip.  Many of these injuries are severe and potentially life‑altering, including some resulting in amputations.  Children should be protected, and not targeted, used in violence or put in risky situations.  As tensions rise across Palestine, UNICEF calls on all actors to put in place specific measures to keep children out of harm’s way and avoid child casualties.

**Central African Republic

Peacekeepers from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) are monitoring the situation in Bambari, in Ouaka Prefecture, following an exchange of fire yesterday between UPC [Union pour la paix en Centrafrique] combatants and members of a joint patrol of UN formed police unit and internal security forces.  This clash was followed by a second exchange, when the UN mission’s encampment in Bambari was targeted with small arms fire.  The UN Mission reports that some 300 civilians sought refuge with peacekeepers, while around 200, mainly women and children, fled to Evéché as a result of the clashes.  At least nine  people were killed and the headquarters of some international non‑governmental organizations were looted.  All UN staff have been accounted for and UN peacekeepers have increased patrolling.  The Mission also notes that 37 prisoners reportedly escaped from the Bambari prison last night.

**South Sudan

Humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock concluded his two‑day mission to South Sudan today where he met with Government officials, members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army‑in Opposition (SPLA‑IO), humanitarian agencies and partners.  He also met with many people affected by the crisis in Juba, Yei Town and Mundu, who all called for peace as the only solution to the humanitarian situation.  In his meetings with authorities, Mr. Lowcock called for rapid, safe, unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need.  Aid agencies in South Sudan are subject to harassment, extortion, looting, kidnappings, killings, predatory fees and levies and other blockages across the country — perpetrated by all parties to the conflict.  Some 7 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection in South Sudan in 2018. Over a third of the country's citizens have been displaced, including nearly 2.5 million as refugees.


On Tuesday, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, joined the country’s President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, in calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities between "Somaliland" and Puntland forces following recent fighting in the Tukaraq area of the Sool region.  Mr. Keating encouraged the authorities of "Somaliland" and Puntland to urgently seek a peaceful solution to their differences.  Mr. Keating also briefed Council members yesterday afternoon and stressed that more resources are needed to address the root causes of fragility, chronic poverty and low human development affecting Somalis.  He also emphasized the role that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) continues to play in protecting population centres, main supply routes and Somalia's overall political progress.  You can find his remarks online.


In Tajikistan, the UN Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, today called for free and open space for civil society.  He stressed that human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others must be allowed to carry out their crucial work unhindered by intimidation, unnecessary administrative inspections and the fear of prosecution.  Mr. Gilmour also offered technical support from the UN Human Rights Office to set up a national preventive mechanism and to end torture.  During his two‑day visit, Mr. Gilmour met with civil society representatives and afterwards called for effective measures to combat widespread discrimination against women, youth, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] community.  More on his visit can be found on the Human Rights website.


A new report launched today by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the world’s poorest countries can gain $350 billion by 2030 by scaling up investments in preventing and treating chronic diseases, like heart disease and cancer.  The report states that for every dollar invested in scaling up actions to address noncommunicable diseases in low- and lower middle‑income countries, there will be a return to society of at least seven dollars in increased employment, productivity and longer life.  Among the most cost‑effective interventions are increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol, reducing salt intake through the reformulation of food products, administering drug therapy and counselling for people who have had a heart attack or stroke, vaccinating girls aged 9 to 13 against human papillomavirus and screening women aged 30 to 49 for cervical cancer.  You can find the report online.


The World Food Programme (WFP) and its Goodwill Ambassador, Tunisian actress Hend Sabry, today launched an innovative digital fundraising campaign for Ramadan.  Through ShareTheMeal, WFP’s fundraising app, smartphone users can help families in need in Syria and Yemen by sharing their iftar and donating to help those in need.  As little as $15 covers the basic food needs of a hungry child for an entire month, bringing vital support to some of the most vulnerable families in the world.  The Table feature on the ShareTheMeal app enables monthly givers to follow their donation and see exactly how it is helping families in need.  Members are virtually connected with the people they are supporting through personalized updates and exclusive stories, as well as finding out what food different families have bought using their donations.

**Press Briefings

After I am done here, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  At 1:00 p.m. in this room, you will hear from Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Head of the PLO Department of Culture and Information.  She will brief you.  Tomorrow, at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press briefing here by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs to launch the World Economic and Situation Report as of mid‑2018.  And then [at 12:15 p.m.], Andrzej Duda, President of Poland, will address the press at the Security Council Stakeout.  Yes, Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the apparent snag in the scheduled summit meeting between President [Donald] Trump and Kim Jong Un?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, actually, as it so happens, he held a press encounter, as I just pointed out, while he was in Brussels, and he was asked about that.  And the Secretary‑General said that it is his hope that common sense prevails, and he expressed the hope that the summit that had been planned will go ahead as planned.  And so that's where we stand.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Yes.  Just on that, I mean, I wasn't that… obviously at that press encounter, but does he believe, it seems like the snags are based on a couple of things, one having to do with this Max Thunder military exercise, and that's the basis on which North Korea said the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] cancelled the meeting with South Korea and more recently they focused on some comments by the new [United States] National Security Advisor analogizing North Korea to Libya.  So, I'm just wondering, particularly as to the military exercises, does he think this is the right time?  Does he think there should be some meeting halfway or is he just hoping that it works out?

Deputy Spokesman:  We believe that the parties involved know what their concerns are.  And, like the Secretary‑General said, he believes that common sense will prevail.  He does regret that the inter‑Korean meeting was cancelled, but he hopes the discussion will resume.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you about videos, there are obviously a lot of videos but this one seems to be confirmed, its authenticity by the Government of torture in Cameroon, the Cameroonian Army stepping on a man's head and beating the bottom of his feet, so I'm wondering, it's a pretty widely… in Cameroon, it is seen by many, many people, and given that Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall was attempting to, I guess, provide good offices between the anglophone areas and the capitol, maybe you've heard from him, does he have any comment on this video that seems to be… put an end to any belief of dialogue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we continue to hold out the hope that there will be dialogue among the parties.  Mr. Fall has, as you know, in past months reached out to the various participants, trying to see what he can do in that regard.  We have no way of verifying the authenticity of this video.  But we would be disturbed by any signs of torture and, of course, we would urge all parties, including the security forces, to refrain from such acts.

Question:  The ministry… thanks a lot.  The Ministry of Defence put out a press release about the video, and I just wanted to know, in cases where an army is at least initially depicted, unless it's somehow debunked, as being engaged in torture, what does DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] do to ensure either that it's not using the same units who did it, the same individuals who did it?  And separately, I notice there has been a long, outstanding issue raised to DPKO about Sri Lankans that were sent unvetted by the Government to Lebanon and another commander that was sent to one of the missions in Africa.  Does DPKO have an answer on that yet?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, actually.  Well, first of all, on the general principle, what we do is that our peacekeeping departments, that is to say the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and of Field Support, are engaged in making sure that all individuals and all units that are engaged in peacekeeping operations are fully vetted, and so we go through those.  Now, regarding the question of the Sri Lankans, as of the past week, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was conducting an additional tier of vetting for 49 Sri Lankan officers who have been already deployed to the UN Mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL.  The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is undertaking their vetting and the vetting of the remaining 101 military personnel of the unit who are scheduled to be deployed.  We are working together with the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the screening arrangements with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka comply with UN policy.  Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka.  Is that it?  Okay, one more.  Sorry.  Wait, you had it.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I just want to follow up briefly on Syria and ask about will the Secretary‑General take additional steps or maybe approach again to the Security Council towards reconciliation on the mechanism or on the use of chemical arms, especially after the report today by OPCW?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has urged the members of the Council to agree on an accountability mechanism.  And as you may have noticed from what Staffan de Mistura said in his briefing just about an hour ago, he made that call.  He reminded them of that call just in the presentation he has made, so we continue with that.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask… one, is there any… has there been any, I guess, update or good news in the case of the missing peacekeepers in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], the two Benin peacekeepers?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  The status for those peacekeepers is exactly as we mentioned them yesterday.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you, in Madagascar, seeing, you know, there was a sort of a readout at the end of Mr. [Abdoulaye] Bathily's mission there and there are also articles from reputable sources saying the opposition, quote, snubbed him, didn't believe in his presentations.  Is there some… does he feel it was a successful trip?  And, two, now that it's over and he was “when actually employed”, how much has it cost the UN, this mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we calculate the costs of the use for Mr. Bathily as we need to use some over the course of a period of time, so if we need to use them again, we will continue to do that.  There is no calculation to be made immediately.  And regarding Mr. Bathily's efforts, I would just refer to the information we put out there.

Question:  But is he paid at the level of an Under‑Secretary‑General?  I know it's when actually employed and that is why I'm asking you, he was not an UN person?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has a “when actually employed” contract and we will deal with his salary as the figures come up.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.