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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

7 August 2017

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


Over the weekend, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, expressed his deep concern over reports of airstrikes on civilians in the Sa'ada Governorate, with attacks on a house and private car in two separate districts having killed at least 12 people, including women and children.  He said that these new incidents, which are being investigated by the UN human rights office, are an example of the brutality with which the conflict is being conducted, adding that all parties to the conflict continue to show a disregard for the protection of civilians and the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants in the conduct of hostilities.  Mr. McGoldrick once again urged all parties to the conflict and those with influence and who support them to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian law and protection of the safety of civilians. 

Also on Yemen, I want to give you an update on the situation regarding the UN's ability to access fuel needed for its humanitarian operations in the country.  I think you remember our colleague, Auke Lootsma, briefed you last week; some of his comments may have been misunderstood and perhaps taken out of context.  Since then, the ongoing dialogue between our colleagues on the ground and relevant authorities was able to clear some of the misunderstandings and resulted in assurances that the fuel will be moving this week from Aden to Sana'a.  We ask authorities for a mechanism to help ensure regular delivery of aviation fuel for UN operations.  All of the components of the UN in Yemen will continue to work with all the parties so as to bring some relief to the people of Yemen as they face an unspeakable humanitarian crisis.  It is important that the international community not lose sight of the plight of the millions of vulnerable Yemeni men, women and children. Their well-being remains of utmost importance.


Turning to Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that preparations to help those in need are under way for the anticipated military campaign to retake the Da'esh-held town of Telafar, some 60 kilometres west of Mosul.  The population of the town was estimated at around 250,000, but the number of people has fallen significantly over the course of the conflict. Some 10,000 people are believed to remain trapped in the city, with another 50,000 living in surrounding areas.

Aid workers are preparing to provide water, hygiene and sanitation assistance, ready-to-eat meals, and emergency medical care.  Supplies such as food, health kits and shelter materials have been prepositioned, with 50,000 people anticipated to be uprooted in the coming week.  Also in an Iraq-related note, the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing of two Iraqi journalists whose bodies were found south of Mosul on 30 July.


And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, visited Tripoli over the weekend.  He was in Al-Qubbah and Al-Bayda.  Speaking to the press after his meetings, he said that there is a window of opportunity in Libya now and that, while he had no illusions regarding the difficulties and challenges ahead, he was optimistic that Libya could emerge from this crisis.  However, he warned that [time] was very important and that every day without a political agreement had negative security, economic and social consequences for all Libyans.

Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, yesterday expressed concern over reports of severe shortages of basic necessities, including life-saving medical supplies, due to the conflict in Derna.  She urged all parties to consider the safety and well-being of civilians as a top priority and to allow for the safe delivery of humanitarian supplies.  Humanitarian workers are monitoring the situation closely, and are preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance to the city to meet the most acute gaps.


From Mali, our colleagues from the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said that since fighting resumed between the Plateforme and the Coordination des Mouvements de l'Azawad last June in the Kidal region, it has received allegations of grave human rights violations.  Out of 67 allegations, the Mission has been able to confirm 34, including forced disappearances, kidnappings and theft, among others.  In Anéfis, the Mission saw individual and mass graves.  It is determined to continue its investigation.  The Mission also reiterates its call for a cessation of hostilities.  More information on the UN Mission's website.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Marie-Pierre Poirier, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said today that the world must not turn a blind eye to the dire situation of children and families in the Grand Kasai region.  Over the past 12 months, more than 1.4 million people – including 850,000 children – have been forced from their homes, and their lives turned upside down by wide-spread acts of violent, extreme violence.  Ms. Poirier said many children have been recruited by armed forces, drugged and caught in the violence.  UNICEF is reaching more than 150,000 people impacted by the crisis with nutrition, health, education, water and sanitation, direct cash grants and child protection interventions.  However, Ms. Poirier warned that unless this violence stops, their best work will never be enough.


I also wanted to flag that, in Colombia, in a press statement issued yesterday, the UN Mission in Colombia confirmed that a team composed of observers from the UN Mission, members of the Colombian National Police and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) involved in an operation to extract a FARC-EP arms cache was ambushed in a rural area of the Department of Cauca.  A member of the Colombian National Police unit that provides security for such operations was shot and wounded.  There was no harm to UN observers.  The Mission praised the work of the Colombian security forces in support of the arms cache operations and expressed its hope for the speedy recovery of the wounded member of the National Police.

**Democratic People's Republic of Korea

As you will have seen, over the weekend, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, condemning the country's recent ballistic missile launches.  The Council reaffirmed its previous decisions that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea shall not conduct any further launches using ballistic missile technology, nuclear tests or any other provocation.  Additional sanctions were also imposed on exports of coal, iron and iron ore, as well as seafood.

Noting findings by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that well over half of the people in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea suffer from major insecurities in food and medical care, the Council also voiced its regret of the country's massive diversion of its scarce resources toward its development of nuclear weapons and a number of expensive ballistic missile programmes.

**Paris Agreement

You will have seen that late on Friday we issued a note to correspondents confirming we had received a notification from the delegation of the United States expressing the US's intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change as soon as it is eligible to do so.  The communication says the US intends to exercise its right to withdraw, unless it identifies suitable terms for reengagement.  For his part, the Secretary-General reiterated he welcomes any effort from the US to reengage in the Agreement and said it's crucial that it remains a leader on climate and sustainable issues.  The text of the communication will be circulated by the Secretary-General this week in English and French.


A couple of questions that have been raised to me late yesterday and over the weekend:  On the Kenyan elections, as in all elections, we urge the leadership of the various political parties to respect the outcome of the elections and to use the existing legal channels to address any grievances.  We also call for impartial and human-rights-compliant conduct of the police and security forces as a cornerstone of peaceful elections, and you know that balloting will go on tomorrow.


I was also asked about the decision by Carla del Ponte to resign from the Syria Commission of Inquiry.  The Secretary-General notes with regret her decision to resign from the Syria Commission of Inquiry.  He is grateful for her service and her contribution to the important work of the Commission as a tireless advocate for the cause of accountability throughout her career.  As the international community continues to search for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, the Secretary-General reiterates the importance of accountability for crimes against civilians during the conflict.  In that regard, he supports the continued work of the Commission as an important and integral part of the accountability process.

**Honour Roll

And lastly, we welcome Eritrea to the Honour Roll, and they become the 120th country that has gone to the Honour Roll.  That's it.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So, what's the fate of the independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arabic Republic after the resignation?

Spokesman:  My understanding is the commission will continue its work.  The Secretary-General continues to support its work, but the questions as to replacement of Ms. del Ponte and the mechanics should be addressed in Geneva to the Human Rights Council or to the last… to the remaining commissioners, Karen AbuZayd and Mr. [Paolo Sergio] Pinheiro.

Question:  My other question is on… in fact, on Lebanon.  You announced that there are some kind of contingency plans for… in anticipation of re… an… an assault to retake Telafar in Iraq.  And, at the same time, there are almost the same preparations at the border, at the eastern side of Lebanon, to retake some rural areas.  Are there any plans… contingency plans for those areas?

Spokesman:  I will check with our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  Rosiland, then Matthew.

Question:  I wanted to follow up on the del Ponte resignation.  Her criticism is that the Security Council is not willing to refer these cases inside Syria to the ICJ [sic] and that she says that the process has fallen victim to politics, not to the interest of achieving justice for the Syrian people.  Does the Secretary-General agree with Ms. del Ponte's assessment?  Does he have any out-of-the-box ideas on how to speed up the process of accountability even as the civil war continues?

Spokesman:  The… a couple of things.  The process of accountability is a critical one.  It is an important one.  It is one that takes time.  Information needs to be gathered in a way that will stand up in where… wherever and whatever circumstances people will have to face justice.  It's something that we can understand is deeply frustrating to the victims, first and foremost.  There is also the Syria accountability mechanism that was voted on by the General Assembly.  The person that was named to head that mechanism starts her work there officially tomorrow, so they will start to work.  It is no secret to anyone that the deadlock in the Security Council, I think, has been a source of frustration, not only for the Secretary-General, but for others inside the UN.  There's no getting around the Security Council, and I think we have repeatedly called for greater unity of purpose from Security Council members on the issue of Syria.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  Thanks a lot.  Two questions to begin: South Sudan and Cameroon.  South Sudan, I just wanted to know whether… whether UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], the Mission, either will confirm the retaking of Pagak and the largely new air part of the country and the idea that thousands of people have fled and that aid workers have been forced out.  What's… given that the Mission is in the country and there was supposed to be a ceasefire…?

Spokesman:  We're awaiting an update.  We'd asked, and we're awaiting and update from the Mission.

Question:  Okay.  I'm awaiting an update, I think, from you about Cameroon.  You'd said that you would have something on Monday on this visit.  And I'm asking because Paul Biya Government has also sent similar trios to Brussels, where they were met with protests, to South Africa, where they didn't meet opponents.  So, here at the UN, who are they going to meet with?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that they will meet with the Deputy Secretary-General.

Question:  Do you know what day?

Spokesman:  No.  We can find out.

Question:  Will it be on her schedule?  And is there some way to either get a readout or…?

Spokesman:  We'll see what… it will be… I mean, there's no… well…  Clearly, if I'm saying it, if I'm confirming it publicly, it will be on her schedule.  And we'll see what comes out of the meeting.

Question:  Can it be a photo op, as well?

Spokesman:  We'll see what comes out.  Yep?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Over the weekend, the… Israel's communications minister announced that he'd be taking steps to close Al Jazeera's offices in Israel.  I'm wondering if the Secretary-General has any reaction to that and its implications or potential implications for press freedom in the country and in the region?

Spokesman:  We are, obviously, aware.  We're following the situation closely, both from here and our colleagues on the ground.  My reading of the situation [is] that there are a number of steps that are being taken.  There may have been political statements, so I'm not going to comment any further on it but just to say that our position of principle is, obviously, in favour of freedom of expression and freedom of the press and their ability to work and report.  Yes, sir, and then Mr. Klein, then Edie.

Question:  Thanks.  The US Secretary of State said today Washington, D.C., was open to direct talks with North Korea with some pretty serious conditions.  I'm curious if the SG [Secretary-General] would see direct talks as a positive development and if you'd lend any help to that effort.

Spokesman:  Yeah, as a matter of principle, we would, obviously, support direct talks between any parties.  I think we're… we've seen different messages come out of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]… of the meetings in Manila.  I think the resolution that was passed sends a clear message to the DPRK from the Security Council.  The Secretary-General… for him, it's important that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] abide by the resolution and allow for space for resumption of dialogue.  And he calls… the Secretary-General also calls on all Member States to support and implement the resolution.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  With respect to the resolution, I believe one of the elements is to prohibit Member States from admitting any… any more North Korean workers into their countries in order to prevent remittances going back to North Korea and adding to their hard currency reserves.  I'm wondering if you could confirm whether the Secretariat, the UN Secretariat, will abide by that.  And I have in mind, I think, something you've been asked about previously by… by Matthew and… and maybe others regarding this Junior Professionals programme and the placing of one or more North Korean staffers into the [inadible].  Is that… is that going to continue?  And, if so, how can it be reconciled with the spirit of the resolution that was just passed?

Spokesman:  You know, I think we are fully aware of the Security Council resolutions.  I'm not sure we can create a link between the two, but let me see what else I can find out before I answer any further.

Correspondent:  Well, I mean, I just… the logical link being…

Spokesman:  No, I understand what you're trying to say.  I just will not say anything more at this point.  I think, for the Secretary-General, I think it's also important to note that the resolution and the Security Council reiterate their commitment to a peaceful and diplomatic and political situation.  And he… I think, to go back to Luke's question, he obviously reaffirms his commitment to do whatever he can to help defuse the situation.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Steph, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the latest developments in Venezuela?  Prospect of new opposition protests, the new constituent assembly, making…

Spokesman:  No, I've taken… I don't have anything at this time.  I hope to have something a bit later today.  [He later said that the Secretary-General is closely following recent developments in Venezuela.  In this critical moment for the future of the country, he urges all Venezuelans to make all possible efforts to lower tensions and engage in political negotiations.]  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  Just I… a clarification whether you made any announcement about the SG visit to the Middle East and…

Spokesman:  I did not.  You did not miss anything.

Question:  And is there anything that you can tell us about this visit?

Spokesman:  No, because I haven't announced anything.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, recent reports speak about more attacks against Syrian civilians in Northern Syria with… with use of white phosphorus, as this has been repeated.  What is the position of the…?

Spokesman:  I've seen the press reports.  Obviously, any… if attacks using white phosphorus were to have occurred, they were to be condemned, but I will see from my colleagues on the ground if we have any more information.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted… on your… the thing… what you said about Kenya, I wanted to ask you specifically about this… these reported abductions and deportations of consultants working for Raila Odinga by the [Uhuru] Kenyatta Government.  Is the UN system aware of them?  What do they think of the idea that people working on the campaign of one of the… of… of this candidate could be thrown out of the country?

Spokesman:  I think, in general terms, for this election, the respect for freedom of association, opinion and expression are critical elements to have an electoral process that has integrity.  We'll continue to monitor the respect for civic and media space throughout the elections.

Question:  So you're… this is a bad thing.  Am I…?

Spokesman:  I said, I think, in general and in general terms, we need to have a space for civic engagement, for civil society and for the media.  Check your call and come back to us.  Yes, Nizar?

Correspondent:  Earlier, you explained about the refuelling in Sana'a airport and they are… that they are resuming supply of fuel…

Spokesman:  Yeah, we expect the fuel to resume.

Question:  This lapse of time, I mean, for many days now, they haven't been able to do that.  How many lives or people who have been affected by such a delay in…?

Spokesman:  I can't put a number on it.  But, obviously, you know, this is just one issue that we've had to deal with.  We've had critical challenges of humanitarian access throughout the conflict areas in Yemen, regardless of who's controlling what part.  And as we've said, we have seen wanton disregard by the various warring parties for the well-being of civilians.

Question:  You talk… you talk about wanton disregard, but here, I mean, the… the attacks are from the air.  And it's known that the Coalition is carrying out these attacks, especially the one in Sa'ada with so many victims, obliteration of all areas, sometimes on markets.  Does the Secretary-General call for an investigation into such crimes?

Spokesman:  All attacks on civilians need to be investigated.  Luke?

Question:  On Yemen also, I've looked at the WHO [World Health Organization] funding status.  Looks like the appeal has gone from 15 per cent fulfilled in June to 75 per cent now, which is a big jump.  Does the UN see that as a positive development that this is getting the attention it needs? And would you attribute anything to that increase?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, the more humanitarian appeals are funded, the better it is for the people of Yemen, for the beneficiaries.  I think, for the WHO, you need to contact them on the exact numbers and what they would attribute it to.  Our overall humanitarian response plan for Yemen has now received more than $900 million, or 44 per cent of the $2.1 billion we need.  And so far this year, the numbers I've been given is that our humanitarian partners have reached 5.9 million people with humanitarian or protection assistance; an average of 4 million people every month are receiving continuous food assistance.  Matthew, and then Nizar.

Question:  Sure.  Sorry for the phone sound.  Big Periscope day down at the courthouse.  And that's actually what I want to ask you about.  In the… in the course of a hearing on Mr. Ng Lap Seng, convicted for UN-related briberies, continued house arrest rather than jail, it emerged there have been many more than I think… certainly the judge, definitely the prosecution knew visitors to his apartment during this time.  And I wanted to know, can you say whether during the time of the trial and specifically since the convictions one week… one… 10 days ago, have there been UN… UN individuals, to your knowledge… can you check, I guess, with OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] whether they have, in fact, visited this… there was… there's apparently been a masseuse there four… 4 to 10 hours a day…?

Spokesman:  Well, I can tell you that we don't employ masseuses.  Or masseuse, masseuse or masseuses.

Correspondent:  Sure.  They also call…

Spokesman:  We're not in the business of monitoring who goes into people's homes, whether they work for the UN or not.  So, I… there's no way for me to answer your question.

Correspondent:  I'm asking about the… about contacts between UN people and Mr. Ng Lap Seng since the…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any contacts.

Question:  In Saudi Arabia, for many weeks now, the attacks continue unabated against Al-Awamiyah and other places in Qatif.  Has the United Nations been able to access the area or just have any position on what's happening there? So, whole areas have been destroyed in that time.

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we've been able to access.  Thank you.

Question:  And do you intend… do you intend…?

Spokesman:  I'll see what we have.  Thank you.

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