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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

24 July 2017

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


We may have a statement coming from the Secretary-General on Afghanistan.  Until then, what I can say is that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has condemned today's deadly suicide attack in Kabul, which occurred against the backdrop of intensified violence in the country.  This morning, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb against a bus carrying civil servants.  More than 20 people have been killed, with more than 40 others injured.  The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, which the Mission described as egregious, cowardly, and bereft of humanity.

Today's attack comes just one year after the 23 July 2016 attack in Dehmazang Square, which killed and injured hundreds of people exercising their right to the freedoms of assembly and expression.  As the Mission announced last week, suicide and complex attacks by anti-Government forces have been the leading cause of civilian casualties.

**Middle East

Over the weekend, the envoys of the Middle East Quartet – comprising the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United Nations and the United States – expressed concern about the violence in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.  Noting the particular sensitivities surrounding the holy sites in Jerusalem, and the need to ensure security, the Quartet envoys call on all to demonstrate maximum restraint, refrain from provocative actions and work towards de-escalating the situation.  The envoys welcome the assurances by the Prime Minister of Israel that the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem will be upheld and respected.  They encourage Israel and Jordan to work together to uphold the status quo, noting the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom as recognized in its peace treaty with Israel.

And you will recall that in statements issued late Friday, the Secretary-General urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to refrain from actions that could further escalate the situation and called on all political, religious and community leaders to help reduce tension.  The Secretary-General reiterates that the sanctity of religious sites should be respected as places for reflection, not violence.

**Central African Republic

You will have seen the statement we issued yesterday in which the Secretary-General condemned the killing by suspected anti-Balaka militias of a peacekeeper of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), in Bangassou, in the south-east of the country.  Three others were injured.  The Secretary-General offers his condolences to the bereaved family and to the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Secretary-General is appalled by attacks against UN peacekeepers and urges the Central African authorities to investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.  He is deeply concerned about the continued fighting in the south east of the country and calls on all parties to cease violence.  He reiterates his support for the efforts by the UN Mission to protect civilians and assist in the stabilization of the security situation in the Central African Republic.  And our humanitarian colleagues tell us that on Saturday, Fourteen humanitarian workers – from four international non-governmental organizations and two UN agencies – were relocated from Bangassou to Bangui.  Several thousand people have reportedly crossed the river to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, began a three-day visit today to Iraq, where she is expected to meet senior Iraqi and Kurdish officials in Baghdad and Erbil.  Her visit will focus on the current humanitarian crisis, ongoing relief efforts, and priorities for humanitarian delivery in Iraq following the military operation in Mosul.  It is estimated that 3.5 million people will be forced from their homes once military operations against Da'esh end later this year.  Across Iraq, more than 11 million people are in need of assistance.


Here in New York, the intergovernmental process to adopt a global compact for migration continues today with the fourth of six thematic sessions focusing on the contribution of migration to sustainable development.  Speaking at the opening session, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, highlighted the key contributions of migrants to their countries of origin, which include hundreds of billions of dollars in remittances – more than three times official development assistance (ODA) – and the transfer of ideas, skills and knowledge.

She also stressed the importance of basing migration policy on evidence rather than perception, saying that while the net benefits of migration outweigh its costs, the public perception is often the opposite.  Such public perceptions and attitudes negatively influence sound migration policy choices.  This must be reversed so that policy is evidence-based and not perception-driven.  Her remarks are available online.


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, today called on Australia to immediately end its harmful practice of offshore processing of refugees.  He said that Australia's policy of offshore processing in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, which denies access to asylum in Australia for refugees arriving by sea without a valid visa, has caused extensive, avoidable suffering for far too long.  Mr. Grandi said that, four years on, 2,000 people are still languishing in unacceptable circumstances, with families having been separated and many people having suffered physical and psychological harm.

He noted that at a time of record levels of displacement globally, it is crucial that all States offer protection to survivors of war and persecution, and not outsource their responsibilities to others.  Refugees, our fellow human beings, deserve as much, he stressed.  You can read more about this on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) website.  That's it for me.  Yes, Whitney?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  I saw the Quartet statement.  I am just wondering what the SG is personally doing to try to quell the violence in Jerusalem.  Has he reached out or spoken to the Israeli or Palestinian leaders or is he liaising only through [Nickolay] Mladenov?  Has he offered his good offices to either party?

Deputy Spokesman:  He… of course, we continue with our own work with the parties, including through Mr. Mladenov.  The Secretary-General has not spoken directly with either of the leaders, but you're aware of the sentiments expressed and the statements we issued on this on Friday.  Mr. Mladenov, by the way, is here and he will be conferring with the Secretary-General today, and I believe Mr. Mladenov will brief the Security Council for one of the scheduled briefings on the Middle East tomorrow.  Yes, Jehan?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you please tell us the latest position on the Qatar-Gulf crisis and more specifically on the speech that that the Emir of Qatar gave last Friday?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  On that what I can say is the Secretary-General welcomes the call for dialogue by the Emir of Qatar.  Together with the forward-looking six principles announced earlier by the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, these statements show the readiness of the parties to resolve differences through compromise.  The Secretary-General encourages the parties to enter into dialogue in that spirit and seek mutually acceptable solutions.  He also commends Kuwait for its mediation efforts and hopes that it would be able to pursue these efforts further based on the positive signals by the parties.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to know, there are these on Libya, these talks in France I guess tomorrow between [Fayez] al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar summoned by France and I wanted to know, does the UN, with its mission there and its political mission there have any role in that?  And what does the UN think of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, what I can tell you is that the incoming special representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, will officially assume his functions on 26 July, which is two days from now, while he is here, actually, in New York.  However, Mr. Salamé has been invited to attend the consultation organized under the auspices of the French Presidency tomorrow, 25 July, as an observer in his capacity as the incoming SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for Libya and Mr. Salamé is grateful to President [Emmanuel] Macron for the invitation.  Yes?

Question:  Will he participate?  I mean, I understand you are using the word observer.  Is he literally observing, or is he…?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is talking with people.  In fact, today, Mr. Salamé met with Prime Minister Serraj and Foreign Minister [Taha] Siala to listen to their position, and he also met with General Khalifa Haftar.  And Mr. Salamé looks forward to consulting and engaging with all Libyans in the coming days and weeks.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There were phone talks between the leaders of the Normandy quartet over the weekend, and one of the things that was discussed and pointed out by the Ukrainian President [Petro] Poroshenko was, in his opinion, the necessity of deploying peacekeeping operation in Donbass.  He has been talking for a while about that, and I just wanted to know what is the UN position… the Secretariat position, concerning the possibility of deploying such a mission?  Is there any work behind the scenes being done in preparing such a mission?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you're aware, what we support is the efforts of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).  And so, we are paying attention to those efforts and where they will lead.  At this stage, we are not doing the other sort of planning.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, but since one of the parties of the conflict is consistently calling for some sort of UN presence in the conflict area…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of course, we are trying to see what the parties will both agree to and that is in the context of the efforts by the various groups that I've just mentioned.  If there is agreement on a way forward, of course, the UN is willing to contribute and to positively contribute to that, but we will have to see where we go.  Yes, in the back?  Ben?

Question:  Just more on the Kabul suicide attack this morning, is there any more information coming out?  I mean, what is the UN doing on the ground, seeing the situation is getting much worse for civilians?  Can you tell us a bit more about what is going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN Mission has been consulting with the Government and you will have seen the work that we have done also to analyse the sort of dangers that have been posed, particularly by the attacks by anti-Government elements.  I do also expect a statement from the Secretary-General on this, which we should have shortly; but we are trying to extend as much help as we can to the Government of Afghanistan as it deals with this problem.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Jeffrey Feltman's visit to Sri Lanka, it seems like it's over and there have been quotes there from the foreign ministry "some erroneous remarks by [Ben] Emmerson, which would be the remarks about torture by the Government, were raised with Feltman and the matter sorted out".  What is DPA [Department of Political Affairs]… how did the DPA sort out the documented allegation of torture by Special Rapporteur Emerson, and what is Mr. Feltman either his kind of statement on the trip or can he come here and do a press conference?  What do you have on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  In fact, I just got a statement on this.  What I can say is that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited Sri Lanka from 19 to 21 July.  He met with President [Maithrepala] Sirisena, Prime Minister [Ranil] Wickremesinghe, other political leaders, senior Government officials, as well as civil society groups and relevant diplomatic community.  He also visited Trincomalee in the Eastern Province.  During his stay, Mr. Feltman emphasized the importance that the practice of impunity for crimes would end.  He encouraged Sri Lanka to be a model of a post-conflict country with harmonious relations among communities.  The Under-Secretary-General was in Sri Lanka on the week that President Sirisena signed the official gazette for the Office of Missing Persons.  Noting that every community has missing persons, he called for a selection process to produce independent, credible and competent commissioners, and a budget.  So, as you can see from this, he is speaking out on human rights and that is where we stand, without referring particularly to Mr. Emmerson's own comments.  Any other questions?  Then it's you and you can… actually, why don't you go and then you?

Question:  Thank you.  According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the food crisis in north-eastern Nigeria is going to deteriorate between now and the end of August, is there any action from the UN to prevent that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have raised attention, as you know, including at the level of the Secretary-General, to the food crisis there.  We have been trying to get humanitarian contributions to Nigeria.  As you know there are four countries, Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, where we have tried to get more assistance to areas in need so that there is no food crisis, and we will continue with that.

Question:  Do you have a specific deadline to get the funding for that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, this is something that we and the various agencies of the UN system have been pursuing and will continue to pursue until the material conditions on the ground improve.  And, as I promised earlier, I have the following statement attributable to the Deputy Spokesman to the Secretary-General on Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns the horrifying bomb attack in Kabul today, responsibility for which was claimed by the Taliban.  The deliberate targeting of civilians constitutes a grave violation of human rights and international humanitarian law and may constitute a war crime.  The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.  He reaffirms the solidarity of the United Nation and the people and Government of Afghanistan.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about this, you said… well, two things about it.  Last week you said when I asked you why it was that in the Ng Lap Seng case, Francis Lorenzo who has plead guilty to the UN bribery had an UN email address and you said to ask the Office of the President of the General Assembly, so I did.  They cannot obviously answer it because it was two presidents ago.  But, they did say that the DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management], ICT [information and communication technology] focal point is the one that gives out UN email addresses, so I want to reiterate… they can't answer it so it seems like unless the DGACM have a separate spokesperson, can you get an answer from them if Mr. Francis Lorenzo had a UN email address?  And if so, why he did, given that he is not listed among the team, there is still a web page online showing that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding the why, that would be a question for the previous president of the General Assembly.  It's not a decision that was taken by us and it's not something I can speak to.  Regarding… you will have a question after this.  I also have the following statement attributable to the Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General on Pakistan.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, today and calls for those responsible to be brought to justice.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes full recovery to those injured.  He supports the efforts of the Government of Pakistan to fight terrorism and violent extremism, with full respect for international human rights norms and obligations.  Yeah?

Question:  Okay, because you say, John Ashe, may he rest in peace, has expired, but does DGACM, if the PGA [President of the General Assembly] today, after the scandal, after the indictments, were to ask… just provides names, would they automatically hand out these email addresses, or is there some standards within the Secretariat as to how to respond to such requests?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, if someone is hired on as an adviser, you know, in the UN, they are entitled to a UN email address, so they would process that.  I believe that someone has to vouch for the credentials of who are the staff who have entitlement to a UN email address.

Question:  But, who does the vouching, the PGA's office or the Secretariat?  Because he was never pictured on that, essentially an unlisted…

Deputy Spokesman:  That would have to be a decision taken by the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  There is no reform of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not something that I can speak to.  I don't speak for the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  The other question is this, in testifying in the case is Frances Fuller, who was the personal assistant to John Ashe – paid UN staff – attended a conference in Macau and other trips in Macau.  And I wanted to know I asked you about her before because after John Ashe left, she worked for Catherine Pollard and then for ex-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  So, I wanted to know, one, does she still work in the system?  And two, what… did the UN's lawyers Mr. Gitlin or others speak with her before she testified?  And she claimed she didn't remember any of these trips to Macau and yet there were photographs of them, so I wanted to get I guess get your response to a person who stayed on post-Mr. Ashe, testifying in the case and saying I don't remember anything, I have no recollection, et cetera?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll check to see whether she is with the UN still.  Yeah?

Question:  Yes, going back to the situation in Jerusalem and also the terrorist attack, killing three members of a Jewish family celebrating the Sabbath, I want to ask a couple questions.  First of all, would the Secretary-General consider it to be a change in the status quo if weapons are smuggled into the Temple Mount, particularly Al-Aqsa Mosque?  Wouldn't that be considered a change in the status quo?

Deputy Spokesman:  We want to make sure that there are no changes to the status quo.  Ultimately a lot of the arrangements are handled by the authorities on the ground themselves, and in particular there is collaboration between the Israeli authorities and the authorities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and we want to make sure that that cooperation in maintaining the status quo continues.

Question:  I'm trying to get at the definition of a change in the status quo, because the metal detectors and now the installation of cameras is a response, isn't it, to the smuggling… to the smuggling of guns used in the killing of the police officers on 14 July right outside the Temple Mount?

Deputy Spokesman:  Joe, for us, the bottom line is any of the changes… material on the ground, would have to be something that is acceptable to all of the parties responsible for security.  They have to agree with each other on that.

Question:  Well, the smuggling laws would not be acceptable to any of the parties.  Let's say the UN is a member of the Quartet, would the smuggling of arms into Al-Aqsa Mosque be considered acceptable or a change in the status quo by the United Nations as a member of the Quartet?

Deputy Spokesman:  Of course that is not acceptable, and I would refer you to our statement a week ago when that happened.

Question:  All right.  Well, you're referring to the killing, I'm talking about the practice of smuggling arms into that holy site.  And the related question is does the Secretary-General have an opinion on the continued payment by the Palestinian Authority, which appears to be the case to the terrorist or the terrorist family, you know, involved in the killing of the three members of the Jewish family last Friday?  I'm focusing on the issue of a continued payment while a terrorist is in captivity, Israel detention, which has been the practice of the Palestinian Authority?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe Mr. Mladenov has spoken out on this issue of payments before and he will be briefing the Security Council tomorrow, and I would refer you over to that.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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