Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
15 August 2017
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We want to flag that we expect the Secretary-General to have a stakeout tomorrow to touch upon a number of issues. We will let you know if that's confirmed for tomorrow or Thursday, but we're looking at tomorrow, probably around noon briefing time if not earlier, but we will keep you posted.
Today in Mali, following yesterday's attack, the Head of the UN Mission (MINUSCA), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, along with the Malian Prime Minister and Government officials, visited the UN camp in Timbuktu this morning and met with the wounded. The two peacekeepers who were seriously injured are receiving treatment. Our colleagues from the UN Mission tell us that the situation in Timbuktu is calm but tense, with the presence of a large number of Malian security and defence forces.
You will have seen the statement we issued yesterday in which the Secretary-General condemned the [attacks] against the camps of the UN Mission in Mali in Douenza and Timbuktu. A UN peacekeeper, a Malian soldier and a member of the Malian gendarmerie were killed, as were six Malian contractors. A number of other people were also wounded.
Back here, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El-Ghassim Wane, briefed the Security Council this morning on the activities of the G5 Sahel Joint Force. He said that the cross-border dimension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region, as well as the serious challenges posed by transnational organized crime and its links with terrorism, continue to pose a serious threat to stability, prosperity and growth in the Sahel.
Mr. Wane noted that the G5 Sahel Joint Force presents a unique opportunity to address regional challenges through a regional approach. But a number of challenges remain, including in relation to funding, force generation, training and equipment, among others. Mr. Wane said the opportunity the Force presents will only be seized if, in addition to tackling these challenges, the causes of instability in Mali and the region are addressed simultaneously. This requires going beyond military action, he said, to tackle governance problems, poverty, unemployment and climate change. He added that a political strategy should guide the Joint Force's activities.
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that the situation in Pagak area, in Upper Nile, continues to be volatile. Local sources have informed the Mission of clashes yesterday between opposition forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) on the outskirts of the town. The UN Mission is trying to gather more details of the attack. It reiterates its calls for an end to the hostilities and for all sides to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians from violence.
And the UN Country team in Sierra Leone and our humanitarian partners are conducting a needs assessment mission following the massive mudslides. They have mobilized and are supporting national authorities in rescue operations, helping evacuate residents, providing medical assistance to the injured, registering survivors, and providing food rations, water and dignity kits to those affected. Contingency plans are being put in place to mitigate any potential outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.
And on a related note, our colleagues from International Organization for Migration (IOM) say that following the floods, the agency immediately released $150,000 in emergency, first-response aid relief. IOM's Director General, William Lacy Swing, said IOM is ready to work with Sierra Leone's Government in any capacity it can to respond to the terrible event.
And you will have seen the statement by the Secretary-General last night in which he said he was saddened by the deaths and devastation caused by the mudslide and flooding in the town of Regent, Sierra Leone, and throughout Freetown.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, today commended the peaceful voting in the presidential election in Kenya, but he urged Kenya's political leaders to take the responsible path and exercise their leadership to avoid violence. He said Kenya is at a critical juncture and political leaders must do their utmost to calm a volatile political climate. His statement is online.
UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) and its partners have begun relocating over 33,000 Congolese refugees from over-crowded reception centres in northern Angola to a newly established settlement in Lóvua – some 100 km further inland from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Angolan Government has allocated about 33 square kilometres of land to set up Lóvua settlement to improve the living conditions of refugees. All refugees will receive a plot of land to build shelters and grow food to supplement their food rations. Angola and UNHCR and its partners are ready to provide protection and assistance for up to 50,000 Congolese refugees by the end of this year.
The IOM tells us that over the past three days, they have found more survivors, as well as the remains of more victims, from last week's tragic incidents in which some 280 migrants were forced to jump from two boats off the coast of Yemen by smugglers.
Of the 280 people forced into the sea, 226 people survived, 42 are confirmed dead and 12 are still missing. Fifty-four people are presumed dead.
Many of the survivors have been too weak to continue their journey, and the IOM has been assisting them with medical support, food and water. Others have left the IOM's care and are making their way to Yemen's borders with the Gulf countries, a journey which takes a week or more, depending on the route.
The agency says it will continue to patrol Yemen's beaches to provide aid to migrants in distress and search for those people who are still missing.
You will have seen that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement in which we announced that the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, had officially asked to be released from his role to run in elections in Norway.
And I have a senior personnel appointment to announce. Following consultations with the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, and with her concurrence, the Secretary-General has re-appointed David M. Malone of Canada as Rector of the United Nations University (UNU).
Dr Malone is completing a first mandate of five years as Rector of UNU, having ably served in this role since March 2013. He is the sixth Rector of the United Nations University.
Mr. Abbadi, I will give you a question if you can tell me how many countries we have on the honour roll. We added Oman today.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: One hundred and eleven.
Spokesman: You're off by ten, but I'll still give you the question.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I would like to ask you, what is the status of the report of the expert on the death of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld? Is the Secretary-General happy with this content? And where can we get a copy?
Spokesman: Yes, the report from the eminent person is in translation, and it should be making its way out as a General Assembly document very soon. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the attacks in… the attacks in Mali, is there any indication yet from MINUSMA of who was responsible for the attacks, both in Douentza and in Timbuktu?
Spokesman: No, not at this point, not anything we've received from our colleagues on the ground. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the Cyprus issue, will Mr. Eide be replaced? And we know that the talks collapsed. What is the UN's role going to be from now on? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, as you know, the parties are, right now, in what we would call a period of reflection. The Office of the Special Adviser remains. It will be headed by the Deputy Special Adviser, Elizabeth Spehar, who also serves as the [head] of UNFICYP (United Nations Force in Cyprus). And, in due course, the Secretary-General will make a decision on the way forward. Mr. Lee?
Question: Some other questions, but on the same topic, the President of Cyprus said he's going to be seeking, during the General Assembly week, to… to see if there's a UN role going forward. And his main quote that he gave was that he believes that Turkey is pursuing a settlement not within UN parameters and "this is something that the Secretary-General must take into account." And he said that the next envoy, if there is one, should be from Europe. I'm just… in terms of your response, is there any UN role during the upcoming General Assembly week to try to get it back on track? And does the Secretary-General take note… or take into account, as the President of Cyprus has said, various statements by Turkey since it fell apart?
Spokesman: I think, on terms of the next envoy, what the office will look like, the Secretary-General will make his decision in due course. As a matter of principle, whenever an envoy is named, it's obviously… there's consultation with the parties. We're never going to put forward a name or person that one or more of the parties don't accept. That's a matter of principle. As I said to your colleague, for… from our point of view, the parties are now in a period of reflection. The Secretary-General was clear in his comments in Crans-Montana that he remains available should the parties come to him. I'm sure that Cyprus will be one of the many issues that will be discussed in the Secretary-General's various bilaterals that he will have during the General Assembly.
Question: Speaking of consultation, the position of a Personal Envoy on Western Sahara, now it's been… well, you know how long it's been.
Spokesman: I do know how long it's been.
Question: Can you give some idea of… is the problem consultations? Is the problem with… with widely reported Mr. [Horst] Köhler and sort of this… the… the… the… the size of the office, the location of the office? What is the problem?
Spokesman: You know, a lot of things happen below the water line. When the personal envoy is ready to emerge from above the water line, we will make the announcement, and all will be clear.
Question: Has any work been done on that… because you were saying on Cyprus there'll still be work done even in the absence… even during reflection. What work has been done on the…
Spokesman: Well, obviously, DPA (Department of Political Affairs) continues to follow the situation in the Western Sahara. Rosiland?
Question: A group of NGOs has sent a letter to the SG complaining about the security situation in Central African Republic, and they're calling on the Secretary-General to do more to protect them to get MINUSMA to do more… MINUSCA (United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic), excuse me… to improve the security situation or else they fear they will be forced to leave and create an even bigger humanitarian situation… Has he seen the letter?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the letter. I think we have flagged a very complicated and difficult and violent security situation in the Central African Republic from here often. Our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission and the peacekeepers have paid for their lives in trying to protect civilians, in trying to create humanitarian space for humanitarians, including NGOs, to do the work. The partnership that we have with NGOs on the ground is a critical one. We couldn't do our work without them, and I'm sure we do whatever we can to make sure they're able to deliver the life-saving assistance they need to deliver. Yes, ma'am, and then Olga.
Question: Yeah. I don't think we've met face to face before. I'm Helen from DPA.
Spokesman: Helen from DPA. Nice to meet you.
Question: Nice to meet you.
Question: So I… I did send an email to your office about this about an hour ago. It was probably a bit too short notice for you to have looked at.
Spokesman: If I can answer it, I will. If not, I won't.
Question: Okay. So, it's about these reports that I've seen of Houthi rebels in Sana'a and arresting 12 people, including UN employees and journalists…
Spokesman: Yes, we're… we've… in fact, we did see your email and the issue. We're checking with our colleagues, both here with security and the office of the Special Envoy and others, to see if we have any update, but I had no information… I checked just before coming in. [He later said that no UN personnel have been arrested in Yemen.]
Correspondent: Okay. Thanks.
Spokesman: Olga. Welcome back.
Question: Thanks. Steph, I asked about Iran yesterday, and we'll stick to the point… to the topic now. The President of the country announced that Iran may quit the nuclear deal if there would be new sanctions from the US. And the question is if Secretary-General can do something to… to avoid such development.
Spokesman: Well, I think, for… you know, we've seen lots of… we've seen these reports. We've seen lots of statements made from over the last… recent past on the deal. I mean, for the Secretary-General, I think he considers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to be one of the utmost diplomatic achievements in our collective search for peace and security. And we need to do whatever we can to preserve it. Mr. Lee, then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Sure. Also on Yemen, yesterday I'd asked Farhan [Haq] about… there's a… groups have said that they delivered 37,000 signatures to the Secretary-General's Office yesterday. I guess he wasn't back yet, but they say that it was delivered, concerning the killing of children in Yemen. I wanted to know… he said he would check, but have… has he?
Spokesman: I haven't seen it, but I'll… we can check.
Question: And… and… and perhaps relatedly, I see, on Amina Mohammed's schedule for today, a meeting – it's already taken place – with Virginia Gamba. When is that report going to come out? And can you… can you now, as it gets closer, hopefully, respond to the idea that it will be frozen, that no new parties will be listed or…
Spokesman: No, I'm not going to… I think… I fully understand the high level of interest in this report. I think everybody will have to judge the report and its annexes once it comes out. My understanding is that it will be on the Council's schedule for either late September or early October. But I think that's… it's up… we're waiting to hear from the Council when they actually want the report.
Question: Okay. And also on… on her schedule, I see a… a… a visit by Merck, the company Merck. Given developments here in the United States, I just wonder, can you… can you… can we get a readout, the Deputy Secretary-General meeting with Merck? When was the meeting scheduled and what does…
Spokesman: I'll see what I can get you. But, obviously, the private sector, including pharmaceutical companies, play a big role in our efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Mr. Abbadi and then Oleg.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. What are the two or three priorities that the Secretary-General sees being tackled by the new assem… assembly session?
Spokesman: Well, I think I will let the Secretary-General speak for himself. But it is clear that we have pressing issues of peace and security, whether it's on the Korean Peninsula, whether it's in various peacekeeping missions where the UN operates. And we have long-term challenges, climate change being… not being the least of them. Oleg?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Any reaction to this exchange on possible… possible trade wars between China and the US?
Spokesman: No. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to… to… you know, you'd read out, I guess, the High Commissioner for Human Rights' statement on Kenya. I wanted to ask specifically, because I saw… the… the… there've now been more than one NGO shut down at this period of time in which they could be filing petitions. And there's many more… there are doubts whether… whether substantive or not, about how the results were transmitted. So, beyond this Kenya National Human Rights Commission, something called Africog [phonetic] has also been suddenly deregistered by the… by the authorities. That would be the winning candidate or the said to be winning candidate. So, I just wanted to know, what… the country team there, what do they think of the closing down of the NGOs in the country during…
Spokesman: I don't have enough information on these particular NGOs. You can contact the country team directly. I know you're been in contact with them. What is clear for us is that there are constitutional means that need to be respected as part of the election for any appeals and, obviously, echo the High Commissioner's call for restraint and for peaceful… for supporting the right of people to demonstrate peacefully but a call for calm and restraint.
Question: And on… on the… the Secretary-General's Syria envoy, I wanted to ask you, maybe… can you confirm that he's setting up technical talks with HNC (High Negotiations Committee), Cairo and Moscow in Geneva from 22 August through 27?
Spokesman: No, but we can check, but it's the… it's exactly the kind of work that the high… the envoy's supposed to do, which is talk to various parties. We can check. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you. Has a date been set for the Secretary-General's general press conference in September?
Spokesman: Yes! And I announced it, and I confirmed it, 13 September. Madame?
Question: Any updates on the reopening of the Sana'a airport after the visit of [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed…?
Spokesman: No, ma'am. Those discussions are continuing.
Question: Is it still the same situation as you mentioned last week on Friday, that you didn't receive any official…
Spokesman: I haven't seen… I can see if anything's been received. I can't… there's no updates from my end, but we can ask various people. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in… the Burundian refugees that are in Tanzania, there's a lot… there… they actually tried to protest UNHCR because they say that food has been cut off, and, essentially, they're being pushed back to Burundi despite their fearing… their… their fear. So, again, given António Guterres… his past history, given that he has a Special Envoy on it, is there any comment from the Secretariat on what seems to be the refoulement of or [inaudible] refoulement…
Spokesman: I don't… I would ask you to check with UNHCR as to what the actual situation is. I would highly doubt that UNHCR is involved in any active or passive refoulement. Thank you.
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