Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

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

**Cuba

The Secretary-General is in Havana.  This morning, he addressed the thirty-seventh session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, otherwise known as ECLAC.

He praised ECLAC for consistently and courageously putting forward a development vision with equality as a driver of growth, and for focusing on equality that looks beyond income as a measure of well-being.

“Seventy years after its founding, ECLAC continues to be where it has always been: on the frontlines pushing for a fair globalization,” he said.

The Secretary-General praised the [region]’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and encouraged them to “keep building, pushing and fighting for a fair globalization that leaves no one behind.”

Yesterday, he met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.  He also laid a wreath at the Memorial of José Martí and toured the streets of Old Havana, where he had an opportunity to meet and talk to local residents.  He praised Cuba’s restoration efforts of that part of the city, calling it a gift from the Cuban people to the world.

And as we speak, the Secretary-General is meeting with the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raúl Castro.

The Secretary-General will be getting in a plane shortly, early this afternoon, and then heading back to New York where he will be this afternoon.

**Nigeria

You saw yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General strongly condemning the attack on 5 May 2018 in Gwaska village, in north-western Nigeria, which resulted in scores of casualties.

He expressed his continued concern over the persisting violence and urges all actors to work together to bring peace and stability to Nigeria.

**Syria

Yesterday, more than 1,300 people, the majority of them women and children, were reportedly evacuated from Yalda, Babilla and Beit Sahm towards the Euphrates Shield areas in Syria’s northern rural Aleppo Governorate.  In total, more than 8,000 people are reported to have been evacuated from these areas of southern Damascus since 4 May.

Also on Monday, hostilities between Government forces and Da’esh reportedly continued in Da’esh-held parts of Yarmouk camp near Damascus.  According to local sources, the Government allowed some civilians from Yarmouk, including the sick and wounded, to enter neighbouring Yalda.

The United Nations and its partners stand ready to deliver inter-agency humanitarian assistance to people in need in Yalda, Babilla and Beit Sahem, as well as to Yarmouk and neighbouring areas, as soon as conditions allow and access is granted. 

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, will be making an official visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from today through 11 May.

He will visit schools and nurseries to meet some of the mothers and young children that WFP is supporting.  During his visit, Beasley will have meetings with senior Government officials in Pyongyang. 

WFP aims to assist 650,000 women and children in the DPRK every month, providing nutritious, fortified cereals and biscuits that can address their nutritional needs.  Funding shortfalls have meant that rations have had to be reduced and even suspended in some areas.

**Myanmar

After decades of displacement, 93 refugees in Thailand have returned to south-eastern Myanmar with the support of UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) and its partners.

The returns mark further progress in the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Thailand to Myanmar.

The refugees departed yesterday from five refugee camps on the border and were received by Myanmar authorities in two reception centres.

Refugees in Thailand have been expressing interest in returning home in the hope that peace and stability will prevail in their places of origin in the south-eastern part of the country.

UNHCR expects returns to continue.  In south-eastern Myanmar, conditions allow for UNHCR to facilitate these voluntary returns.  In Rakhine State, however, the situation is not yet conducive for the return of Rohingya refugees.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In response to questions about media reports out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo regarding the investigation into the killing of two UN experts in March of last year, I want to make the following clarification:

Last week, the UN Mission in the country (MONUSCO) and the Follow On Mechanism supported an operation conducted by the Congolese authorities in Moyo Musuila in an attempt to gather relevant evidence.  This operation led to the recovery of two sets of remains.

We understand the Congolese authorities are currently conducting forensic analyses of these human remains and are attempting to establish their identities.

Only once these analyses are completed can there be a determination of the identity of the victims and the relevance to the ongoing investigation, if any.

**Guatemala

Also, we have been getting questions regarding the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) over the last few days.

The Secretary-General continues to support efforts to fight impunity in Guatemala and the important work of the Commission and its Commissioner, Ivan Velásquez.

The Commission is an independent body established through an agreement between Guatemala the United Nations.  It is funded through voluntary contributions from a number of Member States, where there has been consistent bipartisan support to CICIG’s activities to fight impunity.  We trust that Member States will continue to support the efforts of the Commission.

**Rolf Knutsson

Just some sad news to relay: We got word earlier today that Rolf Knuttson, a long-time official of the United Nations from Sweden whom many of you knew, died in Geneva earlier this week.

Mr. Knutsson worked for the UN system in an amazingly large number of positions from 1969 just until a few years ago.  Most of you remember him as the Executive Secretary of the UN Compensation Commission.  He was also the Deputy Chef de Cabinet under Kofi Annan, and held a number of positions in Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations, and worked in the field, from Lebanon to Jerusalem to Honduras to Western Sahara.

We extend our sympathies to his family and friends.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you very much.  I just came from UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) briefing, and the International… Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, for human rights, and Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, they have referred Myanmar to the ICC (International Criminal Court).  And they also have mentioned that Aung San Suu Kyi is the part of the problem.  Do you have any comment on that, sir?

Spokesman:  What… sorry, and the question being if I have any comment on what he said?  Well, I was not at the briefing, so I don’t know exactly what he said.  What I can tell you is that we have made our concerns known through various channels about the situation in Rakhine State.  We have encouraged the Government to implement the conclusions and recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission.  We’re continuing to work with the Government to try to improve the situation.  We’re continuing to work with the Government to try to gain access to all the parts of Rakhine State we would like both on the humanitarian human rights aspects to gain access to.  And we are continuing to work, obviously, very deeply with our… with Bangladesh and national authorities there to support the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rakhine State who have sought refuge in Myanmar… in Bangladesh, excuse me.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Your microphone.

Question:  That… you know the… a lot of women and children there, especially the pregnant women and children there, they need a lot of assistance that’s… in that urgency, what the UN is doing…?

Spokesman:  We are providing… through our humanitarian partners, our humanitarian agencies, we are providing a wide range of support to the refugees in Bangladesh.  The humanitarian appeal is… as many of our appeals are, is unfortunately underfunded.  We’re also very much concerned about the upcoming monsoon season and the devastating impact that could have on the refugee camps with, obviously, the rise of… possible rise of waterborne diseases.  So, I know our humanitarian partners with the Bangladeshi authorities are working to build camps that are safer and resistant to approaching monsoon rains.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  It’s actually a follow‑up question, and then I have another one.

Spokesman:  I have no doubt.

Question:  Okay.  The follow‑up question is, at least as of the end of January of this year, it was reported that there were two peace… UN peacekeepers assigned from Myanmar.  So, I’d like to know whether that is still the case, whether there are any peacekeepers still on… on duty from Myanmar.  And, if so, how does that square with the UN’s peacekeeping human rights diligence policy?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, let me check the number what the number of, if any, Myanmar uniformed personnel is in peacekeeping missions, and personnel that are assigned to peacekeeping missions go through a vetting process.  Your second question?

Question:  Well, but… but, related to that, given… given the documented pattern of human rights abuses…

Spokesman:  No, I understand; that was my answer.  What is your…

Question:  But wouldn’t that be… you said vetting.  It’s… it’s…

Spokesman:  I said let’s see if there are any… I said first let’s see if… what they are, and then I stated to you our principle.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Okay.  Maybe I missed this, but, in the Secretary‑General’s meetings with Cuban officials, did he raise specifically any of the alleged human rights violations by the Cuban Government that are continuing to this day?

Spokesman:  They had… in his meeting with the new President of Cuba, they had a wide‑ranging discussion, which focused on… among others, on Agenda 2030, the SDGs, climate change, South‑South Cooperation, Cuba’s role in the Colombian peacekeeping process, human rights and human development.

Question:  Human rights in what context, Cuban’s… Cuba’s own alleged violations?

Spokesman:  Human rights dealing with bilateral issues, so obviously human rights in Cuba, as human development was raised; all sorts of issues were raised.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, in… in Libya, General [Khalifa] Haftar has said that he’s beginning a ground offensive against Derna, and I wanted to know… there is an envoy there.  What does he believe…?

Spokesman:  We believe that energy should be focused on supporting a political process.

Question:  And, also, I wanted to ask you, on Cyprus, I’d asked you before — or maybe it was Farhan [Haq] — to confirm that Jane Holl Lute was named as interim envoy; it seems to be the case.

Spokesman:  No.  That’s not the case.

Question:  There is no interim… there’s no one reaching out…?

Spokesman:  I have no announcement to share with you.

Question:  The… the… the Foreign Minister of Cyprus has… has thanked the Secretary‑General for naming an interim official.  So who is that interim official?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any announcement for you at this point.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  That’s kind of un-transparent.

Spokesman:  It’s not un-transparent.  When we’re ready to announce something, we’re ready to announce.  People from… in 193 Member States often announce things for us.  When we are ready to announce it, we will announce it.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  I just want to follow up really quickly on the issues that were discussed on the meeting among… between the Secretary‑General and the new Cuban President, specifically on the new set of talks between the ELN (National Liberation Army) and the Colombian Government.  Can you describe to us a little bit what was discussed on this topic, in particular?

Spokesman:  I don’t have much more to share with you except for, I think, showing appreciation for Cuba’s role in supporting the Colombian peace process.  Sorry, and then we’ll go to you. 

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have a reaction yet to President [Donald] Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know our cautious approach, we will wait to hear from the person in question, that is the President of the United States, and then we will have a reaction.  Our understanding is it’s slated for 2:00.  I’ve seen all sorts of reporting the last 10, 15 minutes that phone calls were made and so forth, but we will wait for an official announcement, and then we will have a comment.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Do you have more details about the meeting of [António] Guterres with Raúl Castro, his impression, the topic of the discussion…?

Spokesman:  No, not yet.  I think it’s ongoing right now.  So, my colleagues with him just told me the meeting was ongoing.  So, once it’s over, we hope to have something to share with you.  Madame?  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  As for the US planning to withdraw the Iran nuclear deal, what’s your view on it?

Spokesman:  Well, as I said, we will wait to see what the official announcement is from the US President.  We’ll be watching, like you, at 2:00.  We have made, in the past, our position in support of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) known, and it’s very clear.  But we’ll wait, obviously, to react to see what actually happens.  Yoshita?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I’m sorry, Stéphane.  This is about the… sorry.

Spokesman:  I’ve been called a lot of worse names.

Question:  No, I’m sorry.

Spokesman:  That’s okay.  It’s an honour to be called Farhan.  Go ahead.

Question:  Sorry, Stéphane.  This is regarding the abduction of seven Indian engineers in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province.  Does the mission there have any information on this?  What is the SG’s…

Spokesman:  No, we… I have not seen any particular information.  We, obviously, call for their speedy and safe release.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I have some other things, but since you… this… you seem to have… you… when you have something to announce, you’ll announce it.  I’m going to ask you again about can you announce the receipt of a letter from the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria that they say was sent to the Secretary‑General, complaining about human rights abuses by [Muhammadu] Buhari?

Spokesman:  No, I have not had a confirmation of that.  I do know, on the other hand, that the letter from the President of Uganda was received, and it is in the process of being replied to today.

Question:  And, also, the meeting that Marta Ruedas, UN official, had with Omar al‑Bashir, and there’s a picture of her receiving an award, you’d said you have nothing on that, but I guess what I’m asking you is, now, after more than a week, how did receiving an award from an ICC‑indicted individual comply with the minimum contacts…?

Spokesman:  We are aware of Marta Ruedas had a contact with President Omar al‑Bashir prior to leaving her post in Sudan.  The United Nations has informed the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the President of the Assembly of States Parties that such a contact occurred.  UN officials are committed to adhering to the Guidance on contacts with persons who are subject to arrest warrants or summonses issued by the International Criminal Court, according to which representatives of the Organization make every effort to limit contact with such persons in what is strictly required for the performance of essential United Nations‑mandated activities.

Question:  So was receipt of the Two Niles award from Bashir deemed to be strictly necessary?

Spokesman:  I will leave it to what I’ve just said.

Question:  Okay.  Can I ask you about downsizing?  There’s an administrative instruction put out by Jan Beagle.  Inner City Press has obtained and published it, and it seems to be saying that people will be put on six months’ special leave without pay.  It seems to be a major initiative by the Guterres Administration to reduce the staff size.  And I guess I wanted to know, since it’s… at least as I’ve obtained it, it’s called a draft.

Spokesman:  I… you’ve…

Question:  What’s the plan?

Spokesman:  You’ve obtained it.  I have not.  So, let me obtain it, read it, and respond.

Question:  And I’m sure you’ve seen The Guardian article about Jan Beagle having been herself subject to harassment complaint at UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) before she was promoted by Guterres.  I’ve seen that you’re quoted that she was vetted.  Does that mean that, despite other now second‑guess… second‑guessing or second runs at investigations at UNAIDS that was somehow a more…

Spokesman:  First of all, Ms. Beagle’s work as Under‑Secretary‑General for Management is extremely appreciated by the Secretary‑General.  She’s doing a very difficult job and a very good job.  She was fully vetted when she was hired.  She’s done a great job at UNAIDS and has been recognized as a leader in transforming organizations and ensuring that organizations are more inclusive and more representative.  I’m not aware of any plan to re‑open the investigation that you refer to, and I will leave it at that. 

Question:  Okay.  How about Madagascar? Let’s keep on moving…

Spokesman:  I got nothing on Madagascar.

Question:  What about North Korea?

Spokesman:  No, I got nothing on North Korea…

Question:  You got something, I’m sure…

Spokesman:  I got nothing.

Question:  What about the meeting in Dalian between President Xi [Jinping] and Kim Jong‑un and any possible UN role in… if it is Singapore in June…?  Do you have anything on that, any feelings, any…

Spokesman:  We will wait for… I have a lot of the feelings, but we will wait for official pronouncements before expressing our feelings.  Khalas… oh, Linda.  Last question, and then we’ll go. 

Correspondent:  Thank you, Steph.

Spokesman:  Linda and Joe.  All right.  Go ahead.  But go ahead, Linda.

Question:  I was just wondering, I know you don’t like to talk in advance of a decision.  However…

Spokesman:  That’s why, I like to keep my job.  That’s why I don’t do it.  Yes.

Question:  Oh, okay.  That explains it.  In any case, we know next week that the US is planning to move the Embassy to Jerusalem, and I was wondering how involved the SG has been in terms of contacting or speaking with the US regarding this.

Spokesman:  You know, the Secretary‑General was very clear in his position when the decision was announced.  His… and I think he has spoken out on a number of occasions against what he sees are unilateral moves that would impact the peace process.  His opinion… he stated his opinion, and that opinion is unchanged.  I’m not aware of any contacts that we’ve had regarding the move by the United States and the decision.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah.  Actually, I want to get a clarification on that and then my other question.

Spokesman:  Indeed, you do.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Would it be the Secretary‑General’s position, then, when you use the term “unilateral”, that a country does not have the sovereign right to decide for itself where to locate its embassy?

Spokesman:  No, that’s not what he… I would refer you… the Secretary‑General respects and understands the sovereign rights of Member States.  I would refer you to his very clear position that he expressed in… back whenever the announcement was made.

Question:  Okay.  And I want to go back to my earlier question on Myanmar just for point of clarification, if I may. 

Spokesman:  Always. 

Question:  Thank you.  You mentioned vetting, and what I want to understand is a distinction here.  Is the policy relating to the human rights diligence examination of peacekeeping forces an individual… looking at the individuals assigned, as to whether those individuals have committed human rights violations, or are there… could there be some cases where a country’s entire military force, not necessarily all of the individuals but many under the command of… military command of the… of the Government, could be excluded if it is determined that, as a matter of policy and enforcement, the military has violated human rights?

Spokesman:  We’re talking here in matters of principle.  I’m not referring to any country.  Individuals are vetted.  Units are vetted, and decisions are taken according to the results of those investigations.

Question:  Is there a result on the Sri Lanka investigation?

Spokesman:  Would you like a question?  No, and not that I have to share with you.  Thank you.

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