Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
11 August 2017
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. We just got a note with good news from our colleagues in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Further to advocacy by the Mission and by UN partners on the ground, nine child combatants were handed over to MINUSMA in Kidal this morning. The Mission is organizing their transportation to Gao and making arrangements for their care by child protection officials pending reunification with their families.
From South Sudan, our colleagues from the Peacekeeping Department tell us that the situation in Pagak is extremely worrying, with reports of fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the opposition forces. The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) calls for an end to the hostilities and for all sides to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians from violence. The Mission reiterates that peace in South Sudan will only be achieved through a political solution, and not through military means.
The Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, returned to Amman yesterday after a three-day visit to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. While in the Saudi capital, he met with the Yemeni President, President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and Vice-President Ali Mohsen, as well as with the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdelatif al-Zayyani, and other prominent political and diplomatic figures. The talks focused on a proposal for Hodeidah port as a first step towards a comprehensive peace process, in addition to the resumption of salary payments and the reopening of Sana'a International Airport. The Envoy has reiterated his call for the urgent and immediate need to reopen the airport as soon as possible, saying it would be crucial to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.
And from Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that there have been reported sporadic clashes in Mosul's Old City, which remains inaccessible to aid workers and where some civilians are thought to remain trapped in their homes. Since the end of the military operations in Mosul last month, some 4,500 trauma patients have been taken through the so-called humanitarian pathways to receive care at field clinics and hospitals. In the [towns] of Telafar and Ba'aj, west of Mosul, humanitarian preparations continue ahead of anticipated military operations. Temporary housing is being prepared, stocks are being prepositioned and medical preparations are under way to handle any casualties. Since the end of April, nearly 50,000 people have fled these towns and their surrounding areas.
Regarding Gaza, our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is deeply concerned about the steady deterioration in the humanitarian conditions and the protection of human rights in Gaza. At the height of summer, with soaring temperatures, electricity provision has not risen above six hours per day since the beginning of the current crisis in April, and it has often been under four hours. OHCHR warns that this has a grave impact on the provision of essential health, water and sanitation services. Power outages threaten the life and well-being of vulnerable groups, particularly those needing urgent medical care.
The Office says that the State of Palestine and the authorities in Gaza and Israel, are not meeting their obligations to promote and protect the rights of the residents of Gaza. It urges those authorities to uphold the human rights of the population in Gaza. And OHCHR also calls on the international community to respond to the UN's urgent appeal for humanitarian aid, to honour pledges made to support reconstruction and development of Gaza, and to work with the parties to bring a resolution to the current crisis.
The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has released a report on migrants passing through its transit centres in West Africa. The report reveals that there is wide-spread misinformation about what awaits migrants on their journeys and in countries of temporary residence, particularly in Libya. More than 60 per cent of migrants who resided in Libya or Algeria reported that they have been subject to abusive treatment, physical violence, and/or threats. Sixty-eight per cent of migrants said that after experiencing these harsh conditions, they had no intention of going on with their journey. The report also highlights the lack of economic opportunities in West and Central Africa, which is cited by migrants as the main reason for leaving their homes.
With the conflict in Ukraine entering its fourth year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that nearly 1.6 million Ukrainians are internally displaced and struggle to find safety, adequate housing and access to employment. UNHCR says it is concerned for the safety and security of nearly 800,000 people living near the Line of Contact in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. The agency also is concerned about the difficulties for civilian movement crossing the dividing line in the east, resulting in limited access to basic services such as drinking water and medical care. More information about this on UNHCR's website.
Back here in New York, the Summer Youth Assembly kicked off this morning to mark International Youth Day, which is, in fact, tomorrow. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said empowered young men and women can play a critical role in preventing conflicts and ensuring sustainable peace. And in Iraq, our new Youth Envoy is currently holding dialogue with youth, as well as meeting with UN officials. This year, the Day is dedicated to celebrating young people's contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice and sustainable peace. This is the Youth Envoy's first official trip. You can follow the conversation on the Day with the hashtags #YouthDay and #Youth4Peace.
A senior personnel announcement for today, the Secretary-General is confirming the appointment of Michèle Coninsx of Belgium as Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, otherwise known as CTED, at the Assistant Secretary-General level, following the concurrence of the Security Council. She succeeds Jean-Paul Laborde of France, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization. She currently serves as President of Eurojust, the Judicial Cooperation Unit of the European Union. She is also the Chair of Eurojust's Counter Terrorism Team and of the Task Force on the Future of Eurojust. More information on her bio upstairs.
And I do want to confirm the press conference at 12:30 p.m. on Monday by the Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea, Ambassador [Anatolio Ndong] Mba. Why don't I take a question?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. All this week, and again today, we've seen continuing escalating rhetoric on… from North Korea and from US President Donald Trump. Do you have any further comment from the Secretary-General on this? Is he planning to say something directly on camera to try and defuse this situation? Is there a role for the UN?
Spokesman: You know, the road map for the role of the UN is the Security Council resolution, which the Secretary-General has welcomed. As we have said, we continue to be concerned by the ongoing and escalating rhetoric we have been hearing, and I think this is clearly a time for all the parties to focus on how to de-escalate and lower the tensions. Mr. Lee and then…
Question: I want to ask you about the… you know, I guess, raid of the UN humanitarian compound in Maiduguri. What's the Government said for its reasonings for it, given the recent trip there by the Deputy Secretary-General? Have there been any high-level communications to say why was it raided? And was anything taken when they left?
Spokesman: Yes. Yes, we can confirm there was a raid, and I think you saw the statement by the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria. We obviously protested to the authorities. There have been contacts, we understand, from the Government. This was a mistake. It was a raid that should not have happened. They will be saying something publicly shortly, and we will leave it at that. We're not… I'm not aware of anything having been taken. I think, from what the Humanitarian Commissioner said, I think they were in the compound for all about three hours.
Question: It sounds like… so one account saying that there was a stand-off from very early… for a number of hours. Were there communications made at that time?
Spokesman: No, there were communications on the ground. The Deputy Secretary-General spoke to Nigerian authorities this morning, and as I said, the authorities have said there was… it was… obviously, it was a raid that should not have happened, and they have respect for UN premises. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Steph, I want to come back to Michelle's original question. Is the Secretary-General directly speaking to the United States or to North Korea about the increasing rhetoric that's become quite belligerent in the last 72 hours? And keeping in mind your comment about the role of the UN, it could be argued that the Secretary-General does have a moral obligation to speak out more forcefully in order to try to cool tensions.
Spokesman: Well, I think… I have no contacts that I'm able to share with you at this point. I think the Secretary-General has spoken out through this podium about his concern about the level of the rhetoric, the escalation of the rhetoric and the need to focus on how to de-escalate the tensions.
Question: I have a follow-up. Is it… is it the Secretary-General's assessment that the rhetoric coming both from Washington, D.C., and Pyongyang can't realistically be backed up by military action in a hurry, and this is thus a reason why he has not spoken out publicly before now?
Spokesman: You know, I won't engage in any analysis. I think when you're dealing with a situation as tense as the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the focus should be on diplomacy, on how to de-escalate the tensions. It is clear that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] has obligations that it needs to meet under the Security Council resolution. I think the Secretary-General has condemned clearly the various launches of missiles and other things out of the DPRK. But, the focus for us needs to be on diplomacy and de-escalation. Yes?
Question: Just a quick follow-up. Just a quick follow-up. We've heard from a lot of other world leaders in the past couple of days, including today the German chancellor. Does the Secretary-General not feel that the UN voice is worth being heard?
Spokesman: I think the voice has been heard. We issued… we've been issuing statements on this over the past week. Iftikhar?
Question: Yes. Following up the same question. You have been emphasising de-escalation of tensions, but somebody has to step in and to make the parties talk to each other. That is not happening. That's why we are looking at the Secretary-General to do this.
Spokesman: I appreciate your comment. Al Jazeera, part two?
Question: Yes, different topic. Do you have any response to the Saudi coalition asking the UN to take over operations at the Sana'a Airport?
Spokesman: We've seen the reports, I think as I've just said, through Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed's contact. We've been in contact with the Government of Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition, to advocate the reopening of Yemen's airspace and of the airspace obviously around the airport, especially for humanitarian flights. What is clear for us is that the parties to the conflict have the responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians and their access to humanitarian relief, including through the use of airspace and airport. In the meantime, we encourage the Government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition to, at the very least, agree to allow people with treatable illnesses to receive abroad the treatment they otherwise would not be able to receive in Yemen. Allowing humanitarian cases to travel outside of Yemen can save lives of civilians. Dulcie?
Question: Yeah, can you talk about the… the new global communications title for DPI [Department of Public Information]? How is it… is it going to be envisioned, because it's a little unclear who's doing what?
Spokesman: What's unclear about who's doing what? What?
Question: Well, why… why is it called "Global Communications"? Is it still going to be called DPI?
Spokesman: It's the Under Secretary-General for Global Communications, who is the head of the Department of Public Information.
Question: So the title is new?
Spokesman: The title is new, it reflects, I think, a… what will be a more modern look at the Department and how the UN communicates with the global public.
Question: So, what… what is envisioned in terms of that role that's new?
Spokesman: I think I've just said: It's to ensure that the UN communicates with the global public in a way that is relevant, and that is modern, and that reflects the technological advances that we've seen in the past few years. Mr. Lee?
Question: One follow-up just on DPI. I had asked you a couple of times about this, the issue of the… the… the running of photographs taken by UN Photos by wire services, without even crediting the UN. What steps have been taken? Are… have any credits been changed?
Spokesman: I understand that all the right credits.
Correspondent: I still see one of Ban Ki-moon in Le Bourget…
Spokesman: Okay, I'm saying with the major agencies we deal with, I think everything has been straightened out, and whatever miscommunication has been straightened out. As I said, it's been… what has been the case for years is that a number of small outfits or websites will sometimes use the photos without credit, and we chase after them every time we hear about them.
Correspondent: Well, I… I asked you about one in particular that says "Mark Garten/AFP" and it's a picture of Ban Ki-moon at Le Bourget and it's still up, so…
Spokesman: I'm just saying… so all these things are chased after and there are a lot of them and we chase them. The rules are clear, is that the UN distributes its photo products free of charge, and agencies, individuals, groups, whatever, are not allowed to resell them.
Question: And on North Korea, has… or DPRK, has the Secretary-General spoken with his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, on this?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that he has or that he has not. Yes, sir?
Question: Can you please clarify what's the situation in Sana'a Airport now? Is it under UN control? Or are you preparing to… to run the airport or to monitor the… the airport?
Spokesman: No… I mean, I don't know if you… I just kind of answered those questions. It is not under UN control. Let me speak. I appreciate all this participation, but do let me speak. What is clear is that there are parties involved in this conflict. They have the responsibility to ensure that the lives of civilians are protected, and that includes allowing planes to come in and out through various airspace; to allow, especially for humanitarian flights, whether it's people who need treatment outside, or allowing humanitarian goods to come in. We're… obviously, we've seen the reports of the Saudi and the Coalition… excuse me, the Coalition proposal. We're going to keep having discussions, but the primary responsibility for the opening of the airport, the opening of the airspace, lies with the parties.
Question: So you didn't receive any official letter or announcement or communications?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.
Question: And is it clear to you, according to this report that you mentioned… what are they offering, exactly? Or what does this mean, politically and practically speaking?
Spokesman: As I said, we've seen the press reports. If we get more information, we'll obviously look at it. But, again, to stress the point, the primary responsibility of these things lies with the parties. Yes, ma'am?
Question: I'll stay with Yemen, Shabwah Governorate in particular. Two days now of migrants being shoved off boats by smugglers. One, because they don't want to be arrested by the Yemeni Coast Guard, and two, because they've gotten their money, they're just going to get more passengers and get the money. Given that Yemen is in a state of war, legally, what can happen should any of these smugglers be detained? Would they be tried by Yemeni officials?
Spokesman: They need to be tried by the national authorities. People need to pay for these horrendous crimes. And you know, what is often being overlooked is the generosity of the Yemeni people themselves, who have been receiving refugees from Somali and other ports, who have often been granted refugee status. I mean, Yemen, which is a country that is struggling in ways I don't need to describe to you, have often welcomed refugees and migrants with open arms. And here, you have one of the countries that is suffering the most almost leading by example. Yes, sir?
Question: Ismail Ould Cheikh was in Saudi Arabia yesterday, and he met Yemeni officials and Saudi officials. Did he get any details about Sana'a Airport?
Spokesman: This was part of the discussions. There's nothing more for me to share with you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about this case involving Hamdan Timraz, on which you've… you've… you've… you've been quoted, saying that privileges and immunities apply, and due process, et cetera. Has the UN been asked to… to… to waive immunity? Is the UN aware of… of any other UN DSS [Department of Safety and Security] staff that are under investigation?
Spokesman: No. We've seen the reports of possibly through, I think, Fox News for a second staff member. We're not aware of… as far as I know and people I've checked with here, we're not aware of a second person. And the first person, as I understand it, has been released. The UN, in any context, is willing to cooperate with the national authorities, but we need… certain procedures need to be respected.
Question: Right, but, I guess, the specifics is… is… is… is it your understanding that he will actually… there was a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] official that did actually… was incarcerated. Is… from your quote… I'm trying to figure out, when you say privileges and immunity, is it not… is it being waived? Is it consideration of waiving being done?
Spokesman: There's been no request that I'm aware of.
Question: Could he be put on trial if it's not waived?
Spokesman: UN staff have certain privileges and immunities, whether it's functional or complete, and each case is studied; so these are matters of principal. I'm not going to go into the details of this case. As I said, the procedures need to be followed. Yes, go ahead. I don't have anything else to tell you.
Question: Again, on Yemen. I'm reading the news here that says that the Coalition asked the UN to be in control of the airport. Are you ready in principle… is it UN ready to control the airport? And would you consider this option? And procedurally, does this need any resolution from the Security Council?
Spokesman: I feel like I'm circling around this airport here. We've seen the press reports. What is clear to us is that the primary responsibility for the airport, for the airspace to ensure humanitarian flights in and out, lies with the parties. That's where the focus is. That's where the responsibilities are. That's what we've been advocating, and that's what should happen.
Question: So, just to be absolutely clear, the UN will not take control of Sana'a Airport?
Spokesman: I'm… I hear your question. My answer is that the responsibility lies with the parties.
Correspondent: But, the control… I mean… sorry, again.
Spokesman: That's okay. We can keep… hopefully, we'll come in for a landing at some point, right?
Question: This is an international airport, and the Government does not control Sana'a. So, who would be in charge? Who's the authority that can run the airport?
Spokesman: There's a legitimate Government of Yemen. There's also… there are rules and resolutions for use of airspace. We understand this is a conflict zone, but all the parties should put the interest of the civilians, the Yemeni civilians first and foremost. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure, okay. I guess with Zambia means… this means the UN has had no role in the reported talks between President [Edgar] Lungu and…?
Spokesman: I'm not aware from here about that.
Question: Okay. And Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé, I've asked you… maybe you have something because I think that there is… I had asked you whether the quotes attributed to him in ANSA praising the Italian Navy's work with the Libyan Coast Guard represents the position of the Secretary-General. And now, particularly in respect to… Oxfam has been critical of exactly this operation. So, my question is: What is… what is the Secretary-General's position and is that position what Mr. Salamé said?
Spokesman: I think the quotes by Mr. Salamé were misinterpreted. I think… I've seen what he said in the English translation, and I don't think there is any contradiction with the position of the UN. We can share with you the English translation that we have, but I think it's… there may have been translations through various languages, but I don't see any contradiction.
Question: Just to be… to put… if he's praising Italy… working with the Italian Coast Guard, what exactly is that work, other than stopping ships that are trying to…?
Spokesman: I said I would refer you to the quotes as they are in English. Thank you.
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