Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 September 2017
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
At 1 p.m., here in this room, Peter Thomson, the President of the seventy-first session of the General Assembly, will hold his last press conference as President of the General Assembly.
Just an update on Myanmar and Bangladesh, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of people who have fled the violence in Rakhine State to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in the past two weeks has reached 270,000.
While, at first, people were mostly arriving in Bangladesh by land, more people are now making the journey by boat.
The UN and its partners in Bangladesh have developed a plan to help up to 300,000 people by providing them with food, shelter, water, health care and other services until the end of the year.
At present, five UN agencies – the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN Migration Agency (IOM), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – are working and have teams in Cox's Bazar.
Yesterday, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock released $7 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to urgently help tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in Myanmar and seeking refuge in Bangladesh.
He said these funds will immediately allow our partners to provide additional shelter, food, critical health care and more to those who need our help so desperately, especially women and girls.
He also urgently called for unhindered access to help and protect all those in need.
Turning to this continent, this hemisphere, we have an update on the UN's relief efforts in countries affected by Hurricane Irma. Our colleagues from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have told us that the agency has made $300,000 dollars available to support assessments, coordination and recovery planning in countries affected by the hurricane.
UNDP has deployed crisis response experts to several Caribbean countries, including Jamaica and Haiti, and is working closely with national authorities in Turks and Caicos, Saint Marteen and the Bahamas to provide immediate and long-term recovery measures. UNDP is also collecting donations online at give.undp.org/Irma.
And our colleagues at UNICEF have also expressed concern that hundreds of thousands of children could be affected by the hurricane. According to the agency, early estimates suggest that 74,000 people, including some 20,000 children, have been already been affected. UNICEF says its immediate concern is providing drinking water and sanitation to affected communities, as well providing child protection services. In advance of the storm, UNICEF pre-positioned life-saving humanitarian supplies in Antigua, Barbuda and Barbados to ensure a rapid distribution of these goods to affected populations in coordination with local authorities.
And our colleagues at OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) are also talking to the Foreign Ministry in Mexico to see if they are in need, to provide any support following the large earthquake that took place early this morning off the Pacific coast and near Guatemala, as well.
**Sustainable Development Goals
Back here in New York, this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, addressed the General Assembly on the progress made on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during its seventy-first session.
The Deputy Secretary-General said that since their adoption two years ago, the SDGs have jumped from the General Assembly Hall to communities across the world, and are taking hold among policymakers and in global public awareness.
She praised the action taken by 65 Member States who voluntarily submitted national reviews this year, saying this provided an opportunity to share solutions, knowledge, and identify the challenges of implementing the agenda. However, she stressed that the pace of progress is insufficient to meet the 2030 deadline of the goals, and that Governments must act at a faster rate and a much larger scale.
She emphasized that the main challenge continues to be the persistence of poverty and said that tackling gender equality and the use of new technologies should be leveraged to tackle this issue.
**Lake Chad Basin
The new head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, will travel to Niger and Nigeria from 9 to 12 September. The purpose of his visit is to raise the profile of the Lake Chad Basin crisis, which is affecting some 17 million people.
In both countries, Mr. Lowcock will meet with communities impacted by the conflict, as well as national authorities, humanitarian partners and the diplomatic corps. He will seek to mobilize additional support for humanitarian operations, with a focus on averting the risk of famine and reaffirming the centrality of protection in humanitarian action.
In Mali, yesterday the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, visited the two peacekeepers who were wounded in the attack against a UN Mission (MINUSMA) convoy earlier this week. He thanked them for their service to the cause of peace and wished them a swift recovery. The two injured peacekeepers are out of immediate danger.
In the next few days, the UN Mission will pay tribute to the peacekeepers who were killed in the attack.
Yesterday, our colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) delivered life-saving humanitarian assistance, including food, medicine and water and sanitation equipment, for 7,000 people in the besieged towns of Foah and Kafraya in Syria's Idleb Governorate, as well as 2,000 people in besieged Yarmouk camp, an area of Damascus. The humanitarian assistance was provided by the United Nations, Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
Today is International Literacy Day. This year's theme is "Literacy in a Digital World".
In Paris, our colleagues at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) are holding a two-day conference on the Day's theme, which has brought together more than 200 stakeholders from around the world to discuss and examine how digital technology can help close the literacy gap. This is particularly important considering that 750 million illiterate people around the world, 63 per cent of whom are women, still lack basic reading and writing skills.
More information on UNESCO's website.
I'd like to wish a happy UN Staff Day to all our colleagues around the world.
In remarks to staff this morning, the Secretary-General said that this is a day to recognize the remarkable staff who bring the United Nations to life around the world and around the clock. And he started the day by remembering the more than 30 UN military and civilian personnel who have died in deliberate, malicious attacks so far this year.
The Secretary-General recalled the heroism of staff members that he has encountered over the years, including in places like eastern Chad and Yemen, where the staff of the UN refugee agency stayed on in conditions of severe risk in order to protect the people under their care.
Every single day, the Secretary-General said, there are heroic gestures by UN staff that many people are probably not aware of. He added that UN staff give him hope – for the future of our world, and for the betterment of our Organization.
We have a number of Staff Day events around the building today, including a jazz concert at the 3rd floor Express Bar, which I'm sure those of you who are here in this room who our staff like can also enjoy.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. I was wondering if you could give us updates on the Secretary-General's contacts, actions, discussions on both the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) nuclear issue and on the Myanmar crisis.
Spokesman: On Myanmar, he's had a number of contacts this past week, including with Aung San Suu Kyi. He… they spoke by phone on Wednesday. During the call, the Secretary-General reiterated the concerns that he has about the situation in Rakhine State, the humanitarian situation, and reiterated, basically, the message he had given you publicly, directly to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. And I have nothing on DPRK that I can share with you at this time. Nizar? [Laughter] I'm sorry. I even meant… No, I meant Masood. There we go. Thank you. Just one letter off. Sorry.
Question: I just wanted to ask you about Myanmar in particular and… did anybody from the United Nations or SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) go to Myanmar to correct Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's perception that this is an "iceberg of fake news" that is being distributed worldwide, this refugee crisis? Has anybody made an effort to do that? And number one, to tell her that yes, in fact, 276,000 people have now migrated to Bangladesh.
Spokesman: Masood, I don't know if you just heard what I just said, but the Secretary-General just spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, reiterated his concern, and, basically, the same message that he had given publicly to you all on Tuesday, he reiterated to her. I think we have been speaking loud and clear and giving facts as we see them on the ground, both in Cox's Bazar and also concerning the situation on the ground in Rakhine State.
Question: So… so another thing about this Al Jazeera… that the Israeli prime minister has banned Al Jazeera from asking him any questions or talking about this political movement in… in Israel itself. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of that situation. Last I heard, there had been… no, I am not aware that statement.
Question: He made that statement yesterday.
Spokesman: I'm just saying I'm not aware of the situation. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes, just going back to the remarks that the Secretary-General made this morning for UN Staff Day; you paraphrased one of the sentences, and I just want to read it specifically, because you sort of softened it a little bit here. Every single… it says, "Every single day, there are heroic gestures of UN staff that many, those that criticize the UN, are probably not aware of, because if they were, they wouldn't say some of the things that we sometimes listen to." So my question is: Number one, can you give examples of some of the things that the Secretary-General might have had in mind, that they wouldn't have said if they had listened and… and were aware of these heroic gestures? And number two, does the Secretary-General have anyone specifically in mind, such as, for example, President [Donald] Trump? And third, is he… is he essentially saying that it is not possible at the same time to have admiration for those at the UN and on peacekeeping staff that put their lives on the line and at the same time criticize the UN bureaucracy?
Spokesman: No, not at all. I think you may be taking his words too literally. I think what the Secretary-General was saying is that every day, in many parts of the world, UN staff put their lives at risk. We see the toll on peacekeepers. We see the amazing work that our humanitarian colleagues, our humanitarian colleagues do day in and day out in some of the most dangerous places in the world. I mean, I've had the privilege of meeting many of them in my… as I've travelled with the Secretary-General. And it's true, they do heroic work. And it's… they don't do it because they want people to talk about it; they do it because it needs to be done. And I think it's just a sentiment of saying they… the work that these people do often goes too unrecognized. I think no one is saying, no one is implying, that the situation… the Organization was… is above reproach or is above criticism. It was a message to staff from the heart. It was a message of appreciation to staff. We, of course, expect staff to follow the highest standards, professional standards, and if we fail, we expect to be criticized. So I think that's… and, of course, he's not taking… he does not have in mind President Trump, or… in his remarks. In fact, we look… I know President Trump will be here a day before the official opening of the General Debate for the reform event. The Secretary-General looks… very much looks forward to participating in that event and to speaking… to addressing the event that's being organized by the United States. And he's… the Secretary-General I think looks… to stay on that topic, looks very positively to the reform… the efforts by the United States, and many other Member States, to help support his reform agenda. Yes, sir?
Question: I wanted… because I heard that line as well and I wanted to ask. I mean, even… some… some serving the UN's cause that have fallen include, for example, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán. So I wanted to know… and there's criticism, whether he calls it from critics or not, saying that maybe the UN itself could have done better, should learn from that in terms of how to protect its experts in the field. So I wanted to know, factually, with the upcoming week coming up, when does the Secretary-General expect to actually make a decision about a follow-on mechanism that's been much discussed? Is he going to use, I guess, that week to… to get more support for it?
Spokesman: No one more than the Secretary-General wants to see justice for our two fallen colleagues. I think he has expressed it directly. He's met with the families. The responsibility, the primary responsibility to find those responsible, lies with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There's a discussion going on, on how to best create a follow-on mechanism, and that will be addressed as soon as possible. I think the Secretary-General, through the Board of Inquiry, we made very clear what could have been done differently, what could have been done better. And, of course, there are lessons to be learned from that horrendous… the horrendous murder.
Question: Two things. Was it ever determined… I read that report, was it ever determined whether these security management system regulations did apply at the time to experts or apply now? That was one thing…
Spokesman: Well, I think that was one of the issues that is very much a lesson learned on how to better integrate the experts into that situation.
Question: And can you see why, if it's possible that the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] Government or its affiliates or affiliated militia may have played some role in the crime, why there are people…
Spokesman: No one is debating that. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I'll start my questions with a question on Libya. Today, Ghassan Salamé gave a statement speaking to the students at Benghazi University, and he said the UN will be deploying 250 UN staff, or UN guards in Tripoli. So I was expecting a statement on this regard from you, but nothing has been said. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: No, this is something we've talked about in the past. We will be, over the coming weeks, deploying a number of guards. These will not be UN peacekeepers. They are not blue helmeted. This is not a deployment of peacekeepers. And I think there was some misunderstanding in some of the reporting earlier today. These are guards to help the civilian staff of the mission go about their work.
Question: My second question. Israeli authorities evicted the family of Shamasneh. Shamasneh, that is S-H-A-M-A-S-N-E-H, Shamasneh, from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah, adjacent neighbourhood of Jerusalem, where they had been living in this house for the last 53 years. All, almost, European missions there issued a statement rejecting this. However, I want to ask you directly. Why Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov did not say anything on this particular incident on 5 September?
Spokesman: I will check with his Office to see if anything has been said.
Question: Yeah, I… we need an answer from Mr. Mladenov. Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Bays?
Question: A follow-up on what you just said about the UN reform at this meeting on Monday. Could you perhaps give us an insight into the Secretary-General's thinking? I mean, we've heard things during his election campaign, and there's some things he's already done, but the sort of things he's thinking about? And does this involve major structural reforms, Security Council reforms?
Spokesman: Sorry, and…?
Question: Security Council.
Spokesman: Well, I think security Council reform is a reform that is firmly in the hands of the Member States. We know the challenges, we know the issues, we know it's under discussion. I think what the Secretary-General wants to see is a UN that is more efficient, that is more fit for purpose, that is better coordinated, and that is also given better tools through which it can achieve those goals, and part of that is on reform of management, reform of human resources on the rules that are given to us by the Member States on how we do human resources. We need to move on to the twenty-first century. And that's why he is very supportive of the various efforts and discussions that are going to be held by Member States to help him achieve this reform. The reform is… the Secretary-General will drive some of the reform, but much of the reform also needs to be driven by the Member States, and we need the permission of Member States. Nizar?
Question: The attack against Syria yesterday, or the day before. According to many Israeli sources, it's the 100th since the Syrian Crisis started. Why the United Nations seems to be uninterested in that, about such a matter which could jeopardize peace and security in the region?
Spokesman: I wouldn't say we're not interested. We're very much interested and focused on the continuing violence and the continuing military operations that go on in Syria. Our focus and our interest lies in finding a sustainable political solution. It's exactly what Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura said a few days ago. I was asked if we had any information on reports of this attack. We have no first-hand information to be able to report. If we had first-hand information to report on something, we will. But I'm not going to speculate… I'm not here to analyze and speculate.
Question: But you have a mission, the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) mission, which is very close to the area, and the attack was carried out, according to many reports, from Lebanese airspace.
Spokesman: As I said, if we have things to report, we shall report them.
Question: Another question about Hodeida. Have the cranes been installed so far after what Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien said last month?
Spokesman: No, not that I'm aware.
Question: Is there any movement in that direction?
Spokesman: Those discussions are continuing. Mr. Roth?
Question: We've heard the call for UN reform it seems every decade, every meeting. Is there anything specific that Mr. [António] Guterres, who I know is holding a press conference, but… that wants changed? What went wrong with these other Administrations that's left the UN… and I have procedural questions after that. Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, I think it's… a previous Secretary-General may have said this, or maybe somebody else said it, but reform is not a one-night stand; it's an ongoing process. Organizations, such as the UN, need to continually reform, need to adapt to the world in which they operate. I think we need a… the Secretary-General is focused on many things. One is to improve the peace and security architecture of the Organization; the development system reform to have better coherence and coordination in terms of how we do development; how the UN is represented in the field; how we would better use and coordinate the use of funds that are given to us; the rules and regulations through which we can hire people and create posts, which I think, as he has said, if somebody wanted to hamper the UN, they would have… willfully, they would have created the rules that we have now. We need rules that are better and more nimble that allow us to operate in a twenty-first century world.
Question: Thank you for reminding me of her name, Reform. I remember that night. [Laughter] Is the 10 a.m. Monday for the reform meeting? I missed that. And what time is Mr. Guterres to speak?
Spokesman: You can call her and ask. Yes, ma'am. No, no. That's not Masood. You're not "ma'am." No, not you. Go ahead, Carla.
Question: At the Secretary-General's stakeout, I believe it was last week, Carole asked him a very important question. She didn't get an answer. And Carole, I recall her asking that since the foreign minister of the DPRK will be here during the general debate, is the Secretary-General planning to have any kind of discussions with him? And will arrangements be made for those political and diplomatic negotiations to occur? Because they're calling for that in the Security Council.
Spokesman: I think the… we will have… probably by the middle of next week, we'll have a clearer picture of all of the Secretary-General's scheduled bilateral meetings. And as far as political discussions, the UN is always the place that can host whatever discussions need to be had. Masood, your turn.
Question: Thank you. [inaudible] …that there's a pending war between India, China, and Pakistan. He warned that… It is all over the United Nations… I mean, the press, international press, carrying it. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: No, I don't. I haven't seen the remarks myself, so I'm not going to comment. I agree with you. Joe, and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Yes. At his press encounter earlier this week, the Secretary-General emphasized the need for continued unity on the Security Council in dealing with the North Korean issue. And it appears that there may be some emerging differences on the issue of increasing, strengthening the sanctions. So I'm wondering whether, if that proves to be the case, what does the Secretary-General suggest? Does he believe more sanctions are in order, or that the unity of the Security Council is the most overriding principle and to find a common denominator?
Spokesman: I think those of us, and I will include you in that description, who have watched the Security Council over the years, know there are a lot of public statements as discussions get closer to wrapping up. We will see what the Council does, obviously, by vote, whether or not there's unity or not, that will be made clear. I think the Secretary-General has… his point remains that to be effective on what is clearly an overriding threat that we see today, we need to have Security Council unity. And that really goes for all the crises that we face today. If you look back at… over the years, over on the situation in Syria, when we've had unity of the Council, the Council has been able to be effective. Abdelhamid, then Nizar, then Matthew.
Question: I want to ask a question, and I hope my information is wrong. What is the status of the Report on Children in Armed Conflict? I'm not aware what happened to that.
Spokesman: The report is scheduled to go to the Security Council, I think, late September or early October.
Question: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesman: That was a nice question.
Question: On this, the devastation of the islands in the Caribbean and other areas, isn't… what's the UNHCR doing about [inaudible] refugees or people who are… their lives being ruined, shouldn't there be any concerted effort in trying to accommodate them, to host them?
Spokesman: Nizar, I did allude to that in the beginning. This is not… we're not talking about a refugee situation. This is not a UNHCR type of situation, as far as I can tell. First of all, the Caribbean system that manages disasters is a very effective system. We are there, and UNDP and others are there, to help them in terms of coordination. Our colleagues at OCHA are on the ground. We're there to help the national authorities. I think we… the… there's immediate help needed in terms of clearing out debris, and, obviously, bringing life-saving resources, whether it's drinking water, shelter and those sorts. So the relevant UN agencies are in discussion with the national authorities, and we will do whatever we can to help. Mr. Lee?
Question: I'm going to ask you about Togo and Sri Lanka. But first, since the answers you've given on reform, I wanted to ask about a different part of reform. One, just specifically. I had asked you, I think, I don't know if it was yesterday or the day before, if you've looked into what the rules are for the… the UN security people that that went with John Ashe to Macau and that… that will presumably keep doing that, whether given what was found…
Spokesman: Keep doing what?
Question: I mean, will be offering close protection to future PGAs (Presidents of the General Assembly). If crime is witnessed by the UN, and this… and I'm… as I go through those exhibits, it's pretty clear that the first trip, there was nothing hidden about it. I'm… I'm not blaming the guard. I guess what I'm asking you is what are the rules? What is the protocol for someone assigned by… from UN DSS (Department of Safety and Security) to accompany a UN official if they witness what's, as it turns out, a crime?
Spokesman: Staff rules are applicable to everyone, and I will leave it at that.
Question: And I mean, I've asked… and then during the time you've suspended briefings I never got a written answer on this. How the… it was an event by something called the World Organisation of Competitiveness and Governance, and it was a group that was co-founded by Carlos Garcia, shown in the Ng Lap Seng case to have been involved in money laundering. What type of vetting has taken place? Has… has anyone within either OLA (Office of Legal Affairs) or ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) looked at it…
Spokesman: I'll look at the event. I didn't see your e-mail. I got overwhelmed. Yes?
Question: All right. On Togo. You had said yesterday that Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas was there, and since even you said that, there's been the use of tear gas, people stayed out all over night. It's being widely described as a kind of possible either endgame for the Administration there or… has he reached out to the people that… the actual opponents in the street? Or what's he doing while he's there?
Spokesman: I think he is… as I said, he continues to be there talking to all the Togolese stakeholders, as we said, civil society, diplomatic corps, the presidents, and his message is the same to all, which is a call for calm, encouraging dialogue to resolve outstanding issues and advocate for the acceleration of the country's reform agenda.
Spokesman: And on Sri Lanka, again, maybe you may have been overwhelmed by the question, but there's a former general, Jagath, who's been charged with war crimes. He fled back to Sri Lanka from Brazil. Since he got back to Sri Lanka, he said that then-UN official Radhika Coomaraswamy told… quote, "told me that there is nothing against you in terms of war crimes." So I understand that she's no longer a UN official, but given that he is explicitly saying that she said it as a UN official, does the UN have anything to… is it… was the case that…
Spokesman: Well, I mean, it's not… I don't know anything about the veracity of the quote, but it's… these sorts of charges are put forward by judicial bodies.
Question: And does that charge have any impact on the continued use and deployment of Sri Lankan…
Spokesman: I think as we said, all Sri Lanka troops go through unit vetting and individual vetting. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, on this DPRK, there is another report which came in I think yesterday or today that DPRK is about to launch another missile towards the United States. And it is in addition to the…
Spokesman: Yes, what is the question? What is the question?
Question: The question is: What is it that the Secretary-General or the international community can do?
Spokesman: I would… we're not… I'm not going to speak about what may or may not happen. I think the Secretary-General's position on the DPRK could not have been made clearer by him directly at the stakeout. Thank you.
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