Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
27 February 2018
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the Economic and Social Council and discussed the challenges facing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He told Council members that our world is facing a crisis of legitimacy, of confidence and of trust. The crisis, he said, is not abstract – it is rooted in the legitimate fears, anxieties and even anger of people. Despite improvements in living standards, he added, too many are being left behind in the different "Rust Belts" of our world. Women are still far less likely to participate in the labour market – and gender pay gaps remain a global concern. Youth unemployment is at alarming levels. And inequalities are rampant – stretching the fabric of societies to the breaking point and undermining the social compact. He said that we need to seize the potential of the fourth Industrial Revolution while safeguarding against its dangers. To rebuild trust, he said, we need to build a fair globalization, with the 2030 Agenda as our crucial contribution.
The meeting marks the beginning of formal consideration by Member States of the Secretary-General's proposals for the UN development system reform. The coming three days will provide an opportunity for Member States and the system to debate the seven key areas of transformation – and related proposals – of the Secretary-General's December report issued last December on the Development System reform. Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will also speak to the Economic and Social Council this afternoon on the reform of the Resident Coordinator system. At that meeting, she will also express her deepest condolences at the loss over the weekend of Una McCauley, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka. The Deputy Secretary-General also spoke this morning by video teleconference to the Commonwealth Parliamentarians' Forum. Ms. Mohammed said that globally, we have witnessed positive signs since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by Heads of State and Government in 2015, and she also underscored the key role that parliamentarians had to play at the national level in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Back in the Security Council, which has just gone into closed consultations, earlier today in an open meeting, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed spoke at the Council meeting in his final briefing as the Special Envoy for Yemen. He said that the parties have continued to practice "zero-sum politics" while disregarding the suffering of the Yemeni people caused by the conflict. He reiterated his call to all those in Aden to resolve their differences peacefully and constructively through dialogue and warned that all attacks on civilian areas were in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed detailed his work with the parties on a road map to end the conflict and said he would have wanted to announce that the parties had agreed to a peace proposal, but, unfortunately, one of the parties backed away at the last moment. He wishes his successor, Martin Griffiths, every success in his efforts. Only the Yemeni decision makers are able to stop the war and the bloodshed, he said.
John Ging, the Director of Operations and Advocacy for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, after three years of conflict, conditions in Yemen are catastrophic. In his briefing to Council members, he said that a record 22.2 million people need humanitarian assistance or protection – including 8.4 million people who are severely food insecure. About 400,000 children under 5 are also severely malnourished and they are 10 times likelier to die without treatment than their healthy peers. Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed has told us that he will speak to you at the stakeout following the end of closed consultations.
Following military operations on Sunday in East Ghouta in Syria, which had claimed the lives of 30 people, reports from our humanitarian partners and other reliable sources indicate that the fighting is continuing this morning and that shelling between East Ghouta and Damascus is ongoing in both directions. The UN is ready to move lifesaving convoys into East Ghouta, and to evacuate hundreds of casualties, as soon as security conditions permit. In the current situation, that is just not possible.
The United Nations humanitarian organizations and partners in Libya say they are deeply concerned about the situation faced by Tawergha men, women and children who are unable to return home and are currently living in makeshift-tented settlements in precarious conditions in Qararat al-Qataf and Hwara. Maria Ribeiro, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, said that hundreds of people, wanting to exercise their legitimate right to return have been stuck in open areas under difficult weather conditions and without access to basic services for over three weeks. She added that their voluntary, safe and dignified return should not be delayed any further and that Tawerghans should not be held hostage to the political crisis in the country. UN agencies and Libyan and other international partners have provided life-saving assistance including tents, hygiene items, winter clothing, food and water.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, today concluded the Lebanon leg of his wider Middle East tour to visit United Nations peacekeeping missions. During this particular leg, he visited the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). During his three days in Lebanon, Mr. Lacroix met with President Michel Aoun; Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri; General Joseph Aoun, Armed Forces Commander of Lebanon; and the Director General of General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim. And he saw first-hand UNIFIL's work alongside the Lebanese Armed Forces in maintaining calm and stability in the UNIFIL area of operations. Before leaving, Mr. Lacroix praised the continuous support and consideration received [from] the Government of Lebanon in implementing UNIFIL's mandate. A press release was issued with more. The next stop is Cyprus, where he will arrive tomorrow for a two-day visit to the island. Mr. Lacroix will meet with Government officials, local authorities and community representatives. During his visit, he will also meet with United Nations peacekeepers on the island, members of the diplomatic community, the Committee on Missing Persons and speak at an event to mark International Women's Day.
Turning to our Honour Roll, I just want to set the record straight. Yesterday, I had reported that 62 Member States had paid their regular budget dues in full, which was true at the time. Since then, one Member State decided to switch its monies to a different account. So, the Honour Roll now stands at 61. This is your cue to ask questions. Madame?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. A UN report says that North Korea provided the Syrian Government with materials to make chemical weapons. When is this report… it was published in The New York Times, according to an unreleased report. When is this report going to be released? And do you have a comment on that? Thank you
Spokesman: No, my understanding – I've just seen the press reports – is that this is a report that goes to a panel of… a Sanctions Committee panel of experts. We do not have the report. I don't know about its publication date, if any. I think the overarching message is that all Member States have a duty and a responsibility to abide by the sanctions that are in place. Masood-ji?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, on this situation in Syria in which the Secretary-General has called hell on earth, this temporary ceasefire that Russia is observing, apparently, the… some of the factions are not abiding by it. Is there any way that the Secretary-General or the United Nations can prevail upon these entities to extend the ceasefire longer and stop, what do you call, warring, especially with each other?
Spokesman: Well, you know, there comes a point, I think, where we run out of words. We have been calling for the guns to be silent since the beginning of this conflict. As the Secretary-General said, I think what is going on in East Ghouta is the equivalent of hell on earth. We have seen… we are seeing Security Council resolutions completely ignored, a resolution that has called for a 30-day halt to the fighting. We have seen various other calls for more limited ceasefires being completely ignored. I think all those who have their fingers on the trigger, all those who have influence over the parties, need to look at the suffering and the continuous suffering of the Syrian people and especially those people in East Ghouta and ensure that the fighting stops so we can get aid into the country.
Question: In your… in your initial assessment, is Russia, what do you call, observing at least lull… temporary lull that has been…?
Spokesman: Our assessment is that the fighting is continuing, and I think that is clear. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you indicated, fighting is continuing in Syria. The Russian Federation and the Syrian Government and other parties are continuing the fighting despite the fact that the Secretary-General called for an immediate ceasefire. Does he think that a limited ceasefire is compatible with his call?
Spokesman: Look, I think I addressed that yesterday. What we would like to see… what the Secretary-General would like to see is the implementation of the Security Council resolution, which calls for a 30-day ceasefire. We've seen the other propositions for shorter ceasefires. As I said yesterday, we would… any lull in the fighting is welcome. Any window in… through which we can deliver humanitarian aid is obviously welcome. The point is, the fighting is continuing, and the point is the Security Council resolution that calls for a 30-day ceasefire, which we want to see implemented, is being ignored. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask about Cambodia and the UN staff work stoppages. In Cambodia over the weekend, there was a… a… a purported election held for the Senate in which all 58 seats were claimed by Hun Sen's party. And I wanted to know, since many observers of it have said this is part of increasing… they've already outlawed the opposition party. This is a run-up to even more elections. Does the UN, which has had sometimes, sometimes relatedly, things to say about it, have any view about it? And do they intend to continue… at least the US today announced that they're going to suspend military aid to the country because of this antidemocratic turn, and they say that funding the military there supports these antidemocratic turns. Does the UN intend to continue to increase its use of peacekeepers from Cameroon – excuse me – from Cambodia, given this development?
Spokesman: The… as you know, the election is not one we were involved in. We have expressed our concern at the continuing shrinking political space that we're seeing in Cambodia. I don't have the exact numbers of peacekeepers that Cambodia is supplying to the UN, but, as you know, all peacekeepers go through a screening to ensure that none of them have been involved in any human rights violations.
Question: But, I guess… I'd wanted to ask you directly about this… this… does the UN disagree with the connection made in today's US announcement that providing, essentially, money to a military… total… regardless of the individual human rights records of the soldiers is, in fact, supporting…?
Spokesman: I don't think using peacekeepers is equivalent to funding a military. Your next question?
Question: Don't they… doesn't the Government keep some of the funds?
Spokesman: Your next question?
Question: Okay. The next question was, yesterday, you'd said you were… you had not seen the "list of grievances of this work stoppage in Geneva". There was also one in Addis and a protest in Bangkok, and the staff union here is getting on board. So, the… the… it's a pretty straightforward list of grievances, and I wanted to know what either yours or, even more importantly, the Secretary-General's response to it, which is to suspend the… the sort of deference and implementation of ICSC, International Civil Service Commission, rulings since 2016 and to "reform the ICSC in terms of…"?
Spokesman: I think reforming… the issue of reforming the ICSC is one that is not in the Secretary-General's hands. I think people have grievances. They're expressing themselves, and there are procedures through which they can continue to express themselves.
Question: Right, but does he believe that they should continue to implement…?
Spokesman: I think I've answered that question. Mr. Avni?
Question: Speaking of the suffering of the people of Syria, there's a report today that, according to the expert report… panel on North Korea, there was a smuggling of chemical weapons to Syria. So, first of all, would you comment on this at all?
Spokesman: Mr. Avni, I would encourage you to listen to my answer to the question that your colleague asked three and a half minutes ago. But, I will repeat my answer to her, which I gave her, which I can share with you, which is – excuse me, it's a serious topic – which is that the Secretary-General… there's an expectation that all countries will abide by Security Council sanctions regimes wherever they are. The last thing that we need in Syria are more weapons, and God forbid, more chemical weapons. But, again, this not a report that I've seen. From what I understand, it is a report for a panel of experts or Sanctions Committee, but it is not one that we have seen.
Question: Can we revisit, in this case, the… the compliance by that Syrian acc… what's the word… access to the Chemical Weapons Convention? Does that negate the whole negotiation that proceeded in…?
Spokesman: I'm not sure I understand your question, but I think…
Question: Remember when Syria acc… accepted the chemical convention as part of this whole deal to…?
Spokesman: I think there was a process through which there was the rendering of stockpiles of chemical weapons. Since then, we have seen other cases and probable cases of use. The OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] has an investigative mechanism through the convention. Unfortunately, the Security Council did not renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which will lead to a lack of accountability if and when chemical weapons are used again.
Question: Yeah, one more question. I hope nobody asked it before this time. I'm a little senile. There's a European Union decision today to not… to not… the… an agreement with Morocco on fishing does not include, according to this decision, the Western Sahara. Any comment…?
Spokesman: No, no particular comment on that. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. I would like to ask if the UN is aware of the abduction of over 110 school girls in Dapchi in Nigeria?
Spokesman: Yes, we're aware, I mean not only do we obviously condemn the abduction of these school girls, it's another horrific incident where young women… where girls are targeted by terror groups. And we very much hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice, and just as importantly, that the girls will be found and returned to safety. I think the fact that these young women were abducted in an educational setting, that they were abducted in a school where they should have been safe, where they should feel safe, just adds to the horror of the story. Yes, sir?
Question: About Syria, East Ghouta, both of them don't stop to break the agreement. What the [Secretary-]General going to say about that? How they going to stop that? Both of them, they break the agreement.
Spokesman: I think I've spoken on that. We… the Secretary-General, I think, could not have been clearer in his call on the parties to stop the fighting, to hal… to stop the use of weapons, to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. The Secretary-General does not control the guns. The Secretary-General does not control the bombs or the planes. Those parties who do need to silence them.
Question: Any penalty, going to get if they don't stop like that… penalty of the agreement if you don't stop the killing?
Spokesman: There are Security Council resolutions that need to be respected. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. The Foreign Minister of Venezuela said that he asked the… the Secretary-General to send observers to oversee the presidential elections in Venezuela. Do you… first, do you confirm this information? And if you do, what was your response, if you have one?
Spokesman: Yes. Hold on. I need to get to the… we're… yes, we have received the request from the authorities in Venezuela. The request is being examined. As you know, UN electoral observation requires a mandate from the Security Council or the General Assembly. And if we have more… when we have more to share, I will do that with you. Professor Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In his statement to the ECOSOC this morning, the Secretary-General called for global… fair globalization… for fair globalization. What does he mean by that?
Spokesman: I think what he means is that the system as it is now has led to great improvements in people's lives, has [led] to the creation of wealth, but the spread… the good of globalization has been unequal. We see a very small number of people hold the majority of the wealth. We have seen pockets within countries where… that have not benefitted from this increased globalization, and these are things that need to be addressed through various mechanisms that are at the disposal of Member States. Matthew, and then we'll go to Masood.
Question: Sure. On this… on what you just said of no comment on the EU Court of Justice decision that the… that the waters off Western Sahara don't… can't be agreed to by Morocco. I wanted… could you… when you said you have no comment on it, is there some way to seek whether this… the personal representative, Mr. Horst Köhler…?
Spokesman: I have no particular comment on it. As soon… if and when we do have a comment, I will share that comment.
Question: And relatedly, what I wanted to ask is, I've heard that Mr.… unlike his predecessors or… Mr. Köhler doesn't… there's no New York presence of that man… of that office or mandate. It's all in Germany. Is that… is that the case? Is there some way… how would one go about seeking a comment from this Special Envoy and… and… can you have any update on his work?
Spokesman: Through us or through DPA [Department of Political Affairs]. Yes, I'm waiting for an update, because I think there are some meetings going on. Masood-ji?
Question: Thank you, sir. I apologize if this has been asked earlier. I just…
Spokesman: This is going to be the preamble to every question now. Yeah.
Question: I just… about this test of the UN employees in Geneva, there's… they have struck, I mean, for two or three hours while the Secretary-General was still there, I assume. That's the story. What is the… and the… that the standard of living in Geneva is too high; they can't afford it. Has that been addressed? Has that issue been addressed?
Spokesman: Yes, the question was asked, though not the specific question. There is a calculation for a different… the cost of living for different UN duty stations. That is elaborated, if I'm not mistaken, through the International Civil Service Commission. Mr. Lee?
Question: Okay. May… I hope this question has been asked. In [United Republic of] Tanzania, an opposition parliamentarian, Mr. [Joseph] Mbilinyi, has been sentenced to… for five months in prison for defaming President [John] Magufuli. And I know that you'd said back on 22 February that the UN is calling for freedom of expression. Do you view the jailing of parliamentarians for being critical of the President as consistent with that?
Spokesman: I don't have the details of that particular case, but, clearly, people should have the freedom to express themselves in speaking about anything, including their political leaders.
Question: And just very quickly, do you have anything more on Maldives? The opposition there has now said that they've hired something of a lobbyist, a former UN Special Rapporteur, to try to get the attention of the Secretariat in terms of mediating the… the…the…
Spokesman: Well, I mean the… nobody needs to hire anybody. The Secretary-General is paying attention to the situation in Maldives. As we've said in the past, the Secretary-General spoke to the President, offered mediation, and it was… the message was that it was not accepted at that time.
Question: So, if you got a letter from Ben Emmerson, former… I say it literally…
Spokesman: No, I'm happy for people to find employment. What I'm saying is that the United Nations and the Secretary-General is paying close attention to what's going on. Thank you.
Correspondent: And, [Benjamin] Mkapa, could you finally… I just wanted to ask you…
Spokesman: As far as I know, he did not resign.
Question: He did in brief. So, do you… but that's…?
Spokesman: That's… as far as I understand it, he had expressed the possibility that he would. But, as far as I know, he did not. Okay. Thank you all.
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