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.


Good afternoon.  As we announced to you last week, the Secretary-General is in Lisbon.  This morning he received the José Aparecido de Oliveira Prize from the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries.  And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will take part in the 2018 Web Summit, where he will speak at the opening ceremony on the theme, “Nurturing a digital future that is safe and beneficial for all”.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General will stress the importance of twenty‑first-century solutions to solve twenty-first-century challenges; the United Nations, he is expected to say, can serve as a platform for discussion on the development of policies and normative frameworks to address these challenges.  He will also urge inventors and programmers to be closely attuned to the social, economic and political consequences of their work to ensure technology benefits for all.  And his remarks will be webcast on the platform of the Web Summit and then archived on our platform, as well.  And the Secretary-General will return to New York tomorrow.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

As you know we’ve been giving you regular updates on cases of sexual exploitation and abuse in the UN system in line with the Secretary-General’s initiative on increasing transparency on these allegations.  And today, I have an update for you on the latest quarterly report, which covers 1 July to 30 September 2018.  Please note that not all the allegations have been fully verified and many are still in the preliminary assessment phase.  During this period, the UN received 39 allegations involving UN personnel – 6 for peacekeeping and 33 from agencies, funds and programmes.  We also received 25 allegations involving non-UN personnel working as implementing partners.  There are no allegations pertaining to non-UN international forces authorized by the Security Council.  The total allegations reported for the period is 64.  Thirty incidents allegedly took place in 2018; 7 in 2017; 2 in 2016; 6 in 2015 or before and the date is unknown for 19 of the allegations reported.

From the 64 allegations, there are 77 victims:  42 of whom are women, 24 are girls under the age of 18, 2 are men and 1 is a boy under the age of 18.  The age of eight of the victims is unknown.  The categorization of the allegations against these 77 victims is 16 as sexual abuse, 55 as sexual exploitation, four [4] are unknown.  Two of them are categorized as “others” as they were unsubstantiated following investigation.  The alleged perpetrators are:  66 are men, 1 is a woman, and there are 2 individuals whose gender are unknown.  Of the 39 allegations related to UN personnel, 1 was not substantiated, 22 are at various stages of investigation, 16 are under preliminary assessment to determine whether there is sufficient information to investigate.  Of the 25 allegations relating to implementing partners, 2 have been substantiated through an investigation and the perpetrators were dismissed by the implementing partner.  One allegation was not substantiated, 14 are at various stages of investigation, 7 under preliminary assessment and 1 allegation was closed at the request of the victim.

The efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse continue to be strengthened.  You’ll remember that on 27 September 2018, the Secretary-General issued a Collective Statement of the Members of his Circle of Leadership in which they reaffirmed their continued personal commitment as global leaders to support efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse across the UN system.  As of today, that Statement has been endorsed by 49 Heads of State and Government and 22 Heads of UN entities and 72 global leaders have joined the Circle of Leadership.  And also, 100 Members [States] are to this date signatories to the voluntary compact with the UN to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse.  During this quarter, the electronic tool called “Clear Check”, used for screening UN staff dismissed as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, or who resigned or were separated during an investigation, is on its way to be fully utilized system-wide.  And printouts of what I just read will be available in my office in case you were not able to follow with all the numbers.


Turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that conflict has escalated significantly around Hodeidah City over the weekend, including increased clashes and air strikes as well as artillery shelling.  Affected areas are primarily on the southern and eastern outskirts of Hodeidah.  Escalating conflict has also been reported in Sa’ada and Al Bayda Governorates.  Humanitarian agencies have not observed large-scale displacement from Hodeidah over the last few days, with a few dozen families having reportedly been displaced.  Conflict has mostly remained on the outskirts of town, but large-scale displacement could quickly occur if the fighting moves deeper into the city.

Since 1 June, more than 570,000 people have been displaced by conflict across Hodeidah Governorate; the UN and its humanitarian partners have reached nearly all these people with emergency relief packages.  Hodeidah’s port remains operational, and Yemen depends on imports for 90 percent of its staple food and nearly all food and fuel.  Most imports enter through Hodeidah or Saleef ports.  And yesterday we issued a note mentioning Martin Griffiths consultative meetings with a group of independent Yemeni figures, who represent a wide spectrum of the society, to discuss the current situation in Yemen, and his endeavours to resume the political process.  More than 30 per cent of the people taking part in this meeting were women.  And you’ll have seen the note to correspondents.


Turning to Syria, we have an update on the Rukban camp, which has been… the aid deliveries to Rukban camp, which have been going on now for three days as food, water, sanitation and hygiene materials, nutrition supplies and health materials and other emergency items have been provided throughout now throughout the camp.  A humanitarian team has also begun a vaccination campaign to protect thousands of children from polio, measles and other deadly diseases, and has undertaken a rapid needs assessment of the humanitarian situation inside the camp.  While this long-needed delivery is an important achievement, without a sustainable solution to the plight of those in the camp, the situation of civilians stranded in the harshest desert conditions will only further deteriorate.  You’ll recall that in a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the initial delivery of humanitarian aid at Rukban.  While recognizing that the long-needed delivery of aid is an important achievement, the overall humanitarian access to this informal desert camp remains wholly inadequate.  And a short while ago, Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.


And turning to Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues there report an upsurge in insecurity and conflict has triggered a fresh wave of displacement in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia’s South West State.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-led Protection and Return Monitoring Network, more than 34,000 people have fled the area since the beginning of August, joining thousands who fled earlier this year or before, due to conflict, drought and floods.  A majority of those displaced are women and children.  The UN and our partners have boosted the delivery of assistance and the provision of services to impacted communities.  Overall, some 2.6 million people remain displaced in Somalia.


And from Baghdad, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemned what he calls the “cowardly” deadly bombings [Sunday] that targeted residential areas of Baghdad and also Sadr City.  He urged the authorities to be extra vigilant to uncover the culprits and thwart further attacks.  Mr. Kubiš said that these crimes, acts, aim to break the spirit of the Iraqis, in particular Baghdadis who have started to enjoy the fruits of peace, and derail their country’s steady progress towards stability.  He added that the unity of people and decisive efforts of the security forces remain certain to foil the terrorists’ designs.

**Zero Hunger

The World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it has entered into a strategic partnership with global e-commerce company Alibaba to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 — a world with zero hunger.  The partnership will see Alibaba provide its technology to support the digital transformation of WFP’s operations; particularly, Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba, will collaborate with WFP to develop a digital “World Hunger Map” to monitor the status of global hunger and help enhance the efficiency of operations.

**Ozone Layer

And some good news from our friends at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  They tell us that the latest Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion shows a healing ozone layer with the potential for global warming reduction and further climate action.  The review, which happens every four years, shows that the ozone layer in parts of the stratosphere has recovered at a rate of 1‑3 percent per decade since 2000.  At projected rates, the Northern Hemisphere layer will heal completely by 2030, followed by the Southern Hemisphere around the year 2050.  UNEP said this shows that actions taken under the Montreal Protocol have led to long-term recovery of the ozone, and also shows why the Kigali Amendment, which calls for slashing of the use of climate-warming gases in refrigerators, air conditioners and related products, can cut the projected production and consumption of these gases by more than 80 per cent.

**Tsunami Awareness Day

And today is World Tsunami [Awareness] Day.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General said that tsunamis cannot be averted, but they can be predicted so people can escape.  And in his message he said the Day is an opportunity to emphasize the importance of disaster prevention and preparedness, including early warning, public education, science to better understand and to predict tsunamis, and the development that takes account of risk in seismic zones and exposed coastal areas.  Several events to mark the Day:  At Headquarters at 1 p.m. in Conference Room 11, there will be a high-level event opened by the President of the General Assembly; at 3:30 p.m. there will be a Youth Dialogue; and at 6:30 p.m. there will be a reception where the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is expected to speak.

**UN Police Week

And today is also the thirteenth UN Police Week; the conference kicks off here at Headquarters.  Twelve Heads of Police components in UN peacekeeping operations and special political missions will discuss strategic police priorities, including the implementation of the joint declaration on the Action for Peacekeeping [initiative].  The police chiefs will also brief the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Security Council.  A photo exhibit highlighting the work of the UN Police in the field will be inaugurated tomorrow in the Qatari lounge on the east side.  And in addition, the annual UN Female Police Officer of the Year Award will be presented to an officer who has distinguished herself in more than one area of policing in a peace operation.  And a stakeout is planned tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. following the Police briefing to the Security Council.  More details are available on the website of our peacekeeping colleagues.

**Honour Roll

And we are pleased to announce that Costa Rica has now made its full payment to the Honour Roll, which leaves how many countries having not paid?  Forty-six is the answer.  All right.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the US sanctions against Iran taking effect today, any comment from Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  We have no particular comment at this point on the unilateral sanctions.  What is important for… I mean, the Secretary‑General's own position on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and the importance of the JCPOA is unchanged.

Question:  And has the Secretary‑General been in touch with any… with US or Iran with regard to this?  And there has been a letter from the Iranian representative at the UN to the Secretary‑General to…

Spokesman:  I'll check on the letter.  I'm not aware of any contacts between the Secretary‑General and the US, beyond a meeting he had with Mr. [Michael] Pompeo a few days ago.

Question:  Sorry, about the letter…?

Spokesman:  And the letter, I'll check on the letter.

Question:  I wanted to follow up also on the letter.  The Iranian ambassador is asking the Secretary‑General… saying that the UN should take action to hold the US to account for these unilateral sanctions.  Is this something that the Secretary‑General might follow up on?

Spokesman:  We will take a look at the letter and respond accordingly.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Secretary of State Pompeo is supposed to be in New York the latter part of this week.  Are there any plans for the Secretary‑General or any other UN officials to meet with him while he's in New York?

Spokesman:  I have not seen Mr. Pompeo on the Secretary‑General's schedule, but we'll check for Friday's… you know, they met very recently.  Ms.  Margaret?

Question:  Steph, the… the lawyer for Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, her lawyer arrived in the Netherlands today, and he said that UN staff in Pakistan forced him to fly out, to leave, and he didn't want to leave without her.  But do you have anything on this?  Did the UN staff have any role…?

Spokesman:  No, but we will check with the country office to look at the veracity of those reports.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  First, as you may have known the China International Import Expo kicked off in Shanghai last night, which is the first one of its kind focusing on their import.  So, what significance do you think this Expo have in terms of promoting what world trade and multilateralism?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I don't have any particular comment on the Expo.  Obviously, the Secretary‑General is a big proponent of international trade and the regulation of trade through existing multilateral frameworks.  Yes, sir?  Yeah, sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  My second question is, China is working as the Presidency of the Security Council this month, and China's UN Mission is going to invite China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe to give a performance the Lincoln Center tomorrow [morning].  So, could you also make a comment on this?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I haven't… I don't have any information on this event, but I do know that the Secretary‑General attaches great importance to ensure the rights of disabled people everywhere.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Last week, there was the report in The Guardian regarding the Saudi and UAE [United Arab Emirates] contribution to the humanitarian work in… in Yemen.  Part of the report… I know that you have spoken that… you have said that there are visibility plans.  Part of the report stipulated that the Saudis requested 48 different steps, including feature articles in The New York Times and The Guardian.  I could not find any com… document to compare with other countries that contributed to the humanitarian effort about their visibility requirements.  Will the Secretary‑General or the humanitarian colleagues will release this document, visibility plan…?

Spokesman:  The… every donor to any United Nations' appeal… you know, there's always a discussion about visibility.  There's always requirements related to visibility and visibility plans.  All visibility material are consistent with humanitarian principles of neutrality and partiality and independence.  I think what is important is that none of the money given came… and we would not accept money that is given with specific requirements on how it is used in terms of humanitarian aid.  Much to my regret, I am not and I don't think anybody in the UN has a position of power to dictate what The New York Times or The Guardian covers.  So, that is up to news organizations to cover whatever they want to cover.  It’s slightly ironic [inaudible]…?

Question:  Is there any comparison that we can compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges, for example, specifically about Yemen, because the US and UK are major contributors, as well, although they don't have any…?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the analysis I leave up to you.  There is… who gives to what humanitarian appeals, what Member States does is all public information, and you're all welcome to look at it.

Question:  How about the visibility plan?

Spokesman:  And you're welcome to look at it.  The point is that there are no strings attached in terms of how the money can be used in terms of delivering humanitarian aid.  Margaret and then, sorry, we'll go to Luke.

Question:  Staying on Yemen, Steph, any news from Mr. [Martin] Griffiths? Any update and any date yet for his potential talks?

Spokesman:  No, no dates.  Over the weekend, he consulted with representatives of Yemeni societies.  He's continuing to make his push.  As the Secretary‑General said, I think, on Friday, we have an opportunity, but we're also at a crossroads with a major, major risk of famine and even more humanitarian suffering.  Luke?

Question:  Thanks.  Forgive me for not being totally aware about the process through which you're reading… or the plan behind reading out the sexual abuse claim notifications, but two questions.  I mean, are these going to be periodic?  Quarterly?

Spokesman:  Yeah, they… no… They're a quarterly report, and we've been doing it, I think, for about a year and a half if not two now.  Yeah.  That's okay.  And they're all… we can give you more… Vannina [Maestracci] in my office has information on… and you can look at the past ones, as well.

Question:  Maybe… I'm sure looking through them will answer this question, but perhaps you can elaborate.  Do they evolve throughout time, or are they just, this is what has been alleged during a period of time, or do you get into more detail as time passes?

Spokesman:  No, they're looking at the allegations received during that specific quarter.  Some of the allegations can date back a year or two or three years.  Some of them are even undated.  They are an update about what has happened during the last quarter, looking at peacekeeping, looking at humanitarian agencies, and looking at implementing partners, and looking at non‑UN forces deployed under Security Council mandates.  It's part of the Secretary‑General's multi‑pronged approach to dealing with SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse), and one of that definitely is the issue of transparency.

Question:  Are there other mechanisms that the public and us journalists can use to find out more granular information about…

Spokesman:  I mean, if you have more questions on specific cases, we can share those with you.  Also, you know, the cases in terms of peacekeeping are updated as they come in on the Conduct and Discipline website.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, is the Secretary‑General concerned by some of the anti‑immigrant, some would say, xenophobic language that we've heard in the campaign for the US midterm election?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's concerned about the rise of harsh language we have seen all over the world, and I would refer you to the speech he made at the synagogue… the Park East Synagogue last week at a ceremony organized in remembrance of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  This is an issue the Secretary‑General's been talking about before, and he has been concerned about the rise of hate speech that we see in the North and the South and the East and the West.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up on that.  The Secretary‑General has also repeatedly said that the borders and the sovereignty of… of a nation to protect its borders should be honoured, and the rhetoric, to the extent it focuses on illegal immigration, trying to enter a country contrary to its laws not through the established processes, he makes that distinction, right, between criticizing illegal immigration versus immigration generally.  Do you want me to repeat that?

Spokesman:  I don't know if it will help me answer.  Couple of things.  What the Secretary‑General is a proponent of is a global pact for migration, finding a way to manage the movements of people.  And I feel I repeat myself here quite often, but people will move.  And the Global Compact for Migration is there to give guidance and to help countries manage it together, because it is not something that one country alone can manage.  You have countries of origin, countries of transit, countries of destination.  It is not an international treaty.  It is not binding.  It is a cooperative document that states clearly the full respect of States and duty of States to manage their borders.  For years now, couple years, and the Secretary‑General has been… I would say António Guterres has been speaking about this as Secretary‑General and also as High Commissioner for Human Rights, is raising his voice in concern of the demonizing of the other, the demonizing of migrants and of refugees.  Everyone needs to be treated with dignity, with respect, and, obviously, there are laws that need to be abided by.  Luke?

Question:  One final end and then it's…?

Spokesman:  Is that your right to decide which is the final question?  Go ahead. 

Correspondent:  Anyone else can… can…

Spokesman:  No, no, I'll be happy to take it.  Go ahead.

Question:  Just on these publicity campaigns that might accompany a donation to a UN agency, you drew a line, saying that the UN will not accept any dictates about how money is used in the field.  But let's say a publicity campaign would be more expensive for a UN agency to run and would thus diminish the share of funding that goes to humanitarian purposes…

Spokesman:  It's not public… you know, these are not publicity campaigns.  It's about visibility.

Question:  It sounds like a rider.  Right?

Spokesman:  It's about logo visibility.  It's not something… you know, obviously, donors are free to do their own “publicity campaign” to highlight what they've done.  When it comes to us, it's not about publicity; it's about visibility and these issues are dealt with in a way that doesn't harm the impartiality of aid.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.