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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

22 March 2017

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone

**Secretary-General's Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Amman, Jordan, on 27 March.  While in Jordan, he is expected to meet with King Abdullah II and other senior officials.  He will also visit the Zaatari refugee camp, which hosts close to 80,000 Syrian refugees.  The Secretary-General will then attend the Summit of the League of Arab States on 29 March at the Dead Sea, where he will meet with participating Heads of State and Government, as well as with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit.  We expect the Secretary-General back in the office on 3 April.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, said today that he is gravely concerned at continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law across Libya.  He calls on all parties to send a strong message that these are unacceptable and urges credible investigations to hold perpetrators accountable.  Mr. Kobler warned that continued fighting in residential areas continues to endanger the civilian population, in an environment already fraught with criminal and political kidnappings.  Credible, effective and accountable security institutions are urgently required to end the deteriorating security situation.  Mr. Kobler added that a framework exists to uphold human rights and the rule of law, and that what is required is the political will to implement it.


With the threat of famine looming, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in Somalia.  Nearly 257,000 people were internally displaced from November 2016 through February 2017, and some 4,300 Somalis have crossed the border into Ethiopia.  More than 13,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera are suspected, with more than 300 deaths from those illnesses reported since the beginning of the year.  The overall 2017 humanitarian appeal for Somalia of $864 million is so far only 31-per-cent funded.  That appeal is expected to be revised soon to take into account the increasing needs outlined in the famine prevention operational plan.


Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow today.  They had a constructive meeting ahead of the resumption of talks tomorrow in Geneva, as part of the Special Envoy's ongoing consultations with international stakeholders.


Our humanitarian colleagues in Iraq report that civilian displacement from western Mosul continues to rise rapidly.  Almost 10,000 people were displaced between 19 and 21 March.  At least 167,000 people have been displaced by fighting in western Mosul since military operations on this part of the city began in late February.  The number of people currently displaced by the fighting in Mosul is approaching 271,000.  There are reports that people are also crossing the Tigris River to flee from west into east Mosul.  More than 1,000 trauma cases have been received in trauma stabilization points near the west Mosul front lines since the military operations on western Mosul began.  More than 5,000 trauma cases have been referred to hospitals in surrounding areas for treatment since the start of fighting in Mosul last October.


Some 600 million children – or 1 in 4 children worldwide – will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040, according to a UNICEF report released today, which as you know is World Water Day.  The report, "Thirsting for a Future:  Water and children in a changing climate", looks at the threats to children's lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways climate change will intensify these risks in the coming years.

Thirty-six countries are currently facing extremely high levels of water stress, which occurs when demand for water far exceeds the renewable supply available.  Population growth, increased water consumption, and higher demand for water largely due to industrialization and urbanization are draining water resources worldwide, while conflicts in many parts of the world also threaten children's access to safe water.  The report is available online.


Still on the occasion of World Water Day, the UN in Haiti reiterates its commitment to support the country in improving access to clean water, which is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Some 42 per cent of Haitians still have a limited access to drinkable water and 72 per cent lack access to adequate sanitation.  There are more details in an information note from the UN country team in Haiti.

**United Nations Office for Project Services

I was asked yesterday about the support provided by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) for the Secretary-General's Executive Office.  At the request of the SG's transition team, UNOPS processed a short-term contract of one individual supporting operations and logistics.  We are not aware of the existence of any "Lusophone fund" or any other irregular funding sources outside the UN's approved budgets.  Since its establishment in 1995, UNOPS supported the UN Secretariat, including the Office of the Secretary-General, in the implementation of a host of projects and initiatives where UNOPS' operational competencies were deemed relevant.

**Honour Roll

Today we welcome Guyana and the United Arab Emirates to the Honour Roll, for having paid their dues in full.  Our Honour Roll now stands at 65 members.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, at 11:45 a.m. there will be a Security Council stakeout appearance by the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.  That's all my announcements.  Anything for me?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, on the escalating situation in Syria, which is, I mean, going up in flames, getting out of hand, which Israel is now involved in this action also and what the Syrian [inaudible] are saying it is now becoming part of the civil war.  What do you say?  What does the United Nations representatives over there say about this Israeli involvement in the Syrian conflict?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have first-hand confirmation about such involvement, but, of course, the Special Envoy has repeatedly called for a demilitarization of the conflict.  We want to make sure that outside parties limit their involvement in military operations in Syria to the extent possible.  And that, of course, is one of the things that the Special Envoy is pushing for as he starts his next round of talks tomorrow.

Question:  Has he clarified that… how much… I mean, how much damage has the Israeli action done?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we don't have any first-hand information on that.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Following up on Staffan de Mistura's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, are there any additional details on the talks?  And do you have any kind of an outline of how tomorrow's meetings are going to be handled?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the parties will start to arrive tomorrow, and we'll leave it to our colleagues in Geneva to inform you of any press appearances that they make.  Mr. de Mistura will first travel to Ankara tomorrow, so he will actually be there.  And then, I believe, following that visit, he will also then go to the talks.  That should be on Friday.

Question:  So… so, basically, tomorrow is the arrivals, and the talks themselves are not starting until when?

Deputy Spokesman:  Technically, they start tomorrow, but they start with the arrival of the parties.  Mr. de Mistura will bring the parties together when he is there, and that should be, hopefully, on Friday.  Yes, Luke?

Question:  Earlier this morning, the US Secretary of State spoke to members of the anti-Islamic State coalition in Washington, D.C., and said the US is going to pursue creating zones of stability within Syria to help refugees get home.  I know Filippo Grandi had said last month he didn't think this was a wise plan; conditions didn't exist for that.  Is that a view shared by the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first, we'll need to see exactly what this proposal for zones entails.  So, we'll need to know what the details are of this.  As you know, the Secretary-General, when he was asked about a similar… this idea about a month ago, had pointed out that there have been many different experiences in terms of trying to create safe zones in different parts of the world.  And it's crucial to see what the details are in terms of how this is to be enforced, for whom it is intended, and so forth, so we'll need that.

Question:  Has the UN been contacted by the coalition or the US regarding this plan?  It would seem you would be in charge of maybe a substantial part of that.  Have you been in touch?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're trying to get further details from them through our contacts…

Question:  So as yet, that's a no?

Deputy Spokesman:  As yet, there's nothing concrete to give you on that.  Rosiland?

Question:  Sure.  Going back to Geneva, will the four platforms or four tracks all be dealt with starting on Friday?  And what is the expectation from the Secretary-General on how long all of the parties should be engaged in these discussions before this round of Geneva is declared over?

Deputy Spokesman:  First, we're going to give the parties time to go through the process.  We'll leave the duration of this phase of the process in the hands of the Special Envoy.  And regarding the four baskets into which the issues fall, Mr. de Mistura has made clear that he does intend to make progress on all of them.  How that goes about, we'll clarify as the process unfolds.  Yeah.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  As you know, there was a meeting of the Secretary-General and the President of Cyprus this morning.  And the President of Cyprus, on his way out, spoke at some length.  And I'm wondering… first, I just… I guess… I'd ask because since, in the past, it was done.  Do you have any summary of issues that were raised?  Also, is there any plan for a meeting with the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, the Secretary-General met today with Nicos Anastasiades, the President of the Republic of Cyprus and Greek Cypriot leader.  They discussed the state of play in the negotiations, in particular the latest developments which have led to the current impasse.  The Secretary-General noted the serious efforts that are currently under way to overcome the impasse in the near future.  He expressed his hope that the talks will resume as soon as possible.  He also hoped that, once they resume, both sides would expedite their deliberations, building on the progress that they have achieved during the past 22 months in order to move the process forward in a decisive manner towards the conclusion of a comprehensive settlement.  The Secretary-General reiterated the readiness and commitment of the United Nations to continue supporting and facilitating the Cypriot-owned and leader-led process.  And regarding your other question, we'll inform you of any further meetings with… on Cyprus whenever those are confirmed.

Question:  On UNFICYP [United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus], I wanted to ask… it's been said from here that there… I guess UNFICYP or people here at Headquarters are looking at two issues:  one, the Chief Financial Officer becoming a Cypriot citizen, seemingly in violation of the status of for… status of mission agreement; and also the… the… the filmed stealing of watches by UNFICYP personnel.  Particularly, on the latter, where it seems like it's on video, what's actually been done since this video emerged?

Deputy Spokesman:  You've heard what we've had to say about both of those questions.  I don't have anything further to say at this point.  Once there's an update, we'll provide it.

Question:  Is there a timeline?

Deputy Spokesman:  Once we're done with the process, we'll let you know.  And if that's it… okay.  Oh, sorry.  There you go.  There's a new question.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Last week, the… there was a report about South Sudan that the famine was partly due to the… you know, the fighting, the conflict.  I was just wondering, regarding this new UN… UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] report that one in four children will have limited water, you mentioned conflict, but do you know if there's any analysis about how… how much the conflict contributes to this condition?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, there's some of that information, in fact, in the UNICEF report.  So, please have a look at the report.  But, it does provide analysis in terms of what the various factors are that limit the access of people in… particularly of children to water.  Yes, Rosiland?

Question:  Going back to your comments about the situation in Somalia, people now moving into Ethiopia and, in particular, only about a third of the funding for the crisis in Somalia being raised, can you outline what efforts have been undertaken to make this appeal individually to governments around the world, what the response has been, and how the Secretariat might alter its appeal in the weeks going forward?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  We have had contacts with member Governments.  As I pointed out, so far, we've gotten 31 per cent of the funding… of the appeal.  So, we're continuing our efforts to reach out to different member governments.  You're aware of the efforts we've made.  And, as you know, the Secretary-General himself visited Somalia to raise attention to the humanitarian needs there.  And that was after he had spoken to you about the four different countries, that is to say Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria, where there have been different concerns about potential famine.  So, we still have those concerns, and we're continuing to communicate with member Governments in order to get all the various appeals funded.

Question:  Are you able to characterize the reaction or the response from Member States about whether they can contribute, why they can't contribute?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've had, as you know, regular problems about donors who feel that they're being overextended.  It is the case that there are a very large number of humanitarian crises for which we need funding, but we are pleading with them to fund each and every one of them, because, ultimately, as we've made clear, if we don't have the support that we need, people will go hungry, and many people could die in any of the various areas that we've pointed out.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  I want to ask about CAR [Central African Republic], Cameroon, and the 38th Floor, what you said earlier.  On the Central African Republic, it's… the French prosecutors have now asked for all charges to be dropped against the Serval peacekeepers that were, you know, named in this UN report that Mr. [Anders] Kompass gave to the French authorities.  Given the UN's collection of evidence and knowledge of the case, does the UN think it's appropriate that no one be charged and that the case be dropped in its entirety?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not our decision.  Obviously, that's a decision for the judicial system in France.  And what we're hoping for is that all of the people involved in this process go about this responsibly and prosecute any potential crimes that are found.  But, ultimately, that's their decision.  It's not our role to second-guess national judiciaries.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask you a Cameroon question.  I'd asked you yesterday about this lawyer that's been summoned in, and there's growing outrage about that.  But, actually, he's the lawyer for a person that used to be a UN legal adviser in UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] named Felix Agbor Balla.  He's a lawyer that worked for the UN and now has been detained for months.  Several US Congresspeople have, in fact, raised the issue.  And I'm just wondering, one, particularly in the case of… of a former UN staff locked up seemingly without any type of due process, charges… locked up only for advocacy, is there any UN role in these cases in actually looking into this individual case of a… of a former UN legal adviser now under detention in Yaoundé?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would certainly expect that due process is followed.  We want to make sure that… especially that human rights defenders are not being prosecuted unfairly and those would be key concerns.

Correspondent:  Right.  Okay.  And just, if you don't mind, if there's any other ones, I'm… okay.  I just wanted to be… and thanks for, I mean, the answer on UNOPS.  I wanted to, I guess, ask it a little bit broader, because my understanding is that there's a proposal to the Fifth Committee to approve a number of new positions on the 38th Floor.  But, until they rule… so I guess I wanted to know, rather than piss and… you know, pick and… pick and, you know, choose and see if you say that… I heard Lusophone; you said no Lusophone.  I heard UNOPS; you said, yes, one UNOPS.  Can I ask you generally about UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?  And two, could you just provide a list of the people that have been hired on [the 38th Floor] to work on political matters and whether, in fact, they have posts currently in the UN budget, and if they don't, how they're being paid?  You could even do it without the names, but there's a lot of questions that people have about people hired where there's no underlying posts to be filled.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, the bottom line is that, as I made clear just now, all of this… all the questions of posts are that they go through the normal budgetary process.  And so, whatever posts we have for the 38th Floor will be posts that we get approved from the budgetary system.

Question:  But, I guess my… my question is, until May and these posts are approved, are you saying that there's nobody that's working on [the 38th Floor] for which a post has yet to be approved by the Fifth Committee?  That's the question that I'm asking.

Deputy Spokesman:  Whatever the posts are, those are posts for which we're seeking budgetary funds from the 38th… from the budgetary committees.

Question:  But, if you haven't received the approval yet, how do you pay them?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are ways to pay people up until you get the funding, but we're going to go through the normal budgetary process as we do through the previous Secretaries-General, as well.

Question:  Can you just put out a fact sheet on that?  I guess what I'm wondering is, it does seem if there's… if people are being paid and it's yet to be approved, there's obviously some lack…

Deputy Spokesman:  The facts are all information that are provided to the budgetary committees.  They have that, and it's their information.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Farhan, I wanted to ask about, on Friday, the Security Council will be hearing the report on Israeli settlements following the adoption of the resolution in December 2016.  Now, I understand that Nickolay Mladenov is going to be giving an oral report.  It's not going to be a written report.  Can you tell us why that is?  Is it not an indication that the issue is… is… is… is not given… being given all the attention that it would in a written report?

Deputy Spokesman:  Oral reports and written reports are equivalent in terms of the amount of information they provide.  I wouldn't characterize one as being less official or less serious than the other.  And this will be an oral report by the Special Coordinator.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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