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.
The Secretary‑General spoke at the meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People earlier today. He told Committee members that, although he would like to see a Palestinian State and an Israeli State, both with a capital in Jerusalem, we must face today’s difficult reality. He said that decades of convergence and global consensus could be eroding, making effective concerted action more difficult to achieve, at a time when it is more important than ever.
The Secretary‑General warned that the ongoing settlement construction and expansion is a major obstacle to peace and it must be halted and reversed. He added that violence and incitement continue to fuel a climate of fear and mistrust.
He added that he was extremely concerned that the latest shortfall in UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) funding will gravely impair the agency’s ability to deliver on its mandate and to preserve critical services such as education and health care for Palestine Refugees. He reiterated that there is no Plan B. A two‑State solution is the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and secure a sustainable solution to the conflict. His remarks are available online.
**Republic of Korea
And as a reminder: the Secretary‑General will travel to the Republic of Korea; he will leave tomorrow. In the Republic of Korea, he is expected to meet with President Moon Jae‑in, as well as Foreign Minister Kang Kyung‑wha. He will also attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. He will be back in New York on Saturday.
Izumi Nakamitsu, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Disarmament Affairs, told the Security Council in a briefing this morning that the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact‑finding mission continues to look into all allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the majority of which involve the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine, in areas not under the control of the Government. The fact‑finding mission expects to submit a report on these allegations very soon.
In addition, she said, another fact‑finding mission team has been looking into allegations of the use of chemical weapons brought to the attention of OPCW by the Government of Syria. At the time of the Council’s last briefing, a team was in Damascus, at the invitation of the Government, to look into several of these allegations. She said that, should the teams conclude that there has been the use, or likely use, of chemical weapons in any of these alleged incidents, our obligation to enact a meaningful response will be further intensified. Ms. Nakamitsu expressed the hope that such a response will favour unity and not impunity.
I had received a bit earlier today a question about a gift that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, received in Vienna a few weeks back from Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari. I can confirm that, as per applicable UN rules and regulation, the replica of the old peace treaty offered by Ambassador Ja’afari to Mr. de Mistura on 25 January in Vienna was registered as soon as the team came back from Vienna — it was registered in the UN Office at Geneva gift registry under the number 442. It was handed over to relevant colleagues in the Property Management office of the UN Office at Geneva. The Ethics Office was also duly informed.
Our humanitarian colleagues say that escalating conflict in Taizz and Hodeidah in Yemen since December 2017 has displaced nearly 47,000 people to Aden and other Governorates in the south. The situation in Aden is reported as calm, with schools, ports and airports operating as normal. Humanitarian activities are also resuming. Although food, fuel and medical imports are flowing again through all ports, the blockade in the weeks leading up to 20 December  has had a severe impact on Yemeni families and businesses. Food prices during the blockade rose 47 per cent above average, compared to before the conflict escalated in March 2015.
Civilian returns to Iraq’s newly accessible areas continue to increase since the conclusion of major [counter‑Daesh military] operations late last year. Across the country, 3.2 million previously displaced people have returned to their home areas. In January, this number surpassed the number of people displaced in Iraq — which is currently 2.6 million people — for the first time since the start of the crisis in December 2013. Returns have primarily been to Anbar, Ninewa and Salah al‑Din Governorates, which account for 82 per cent of the total returns, and 86 per cent of the remaining internally displaced people.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
From the Congo, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kim Bolduc, concluded her first mission to the Kasai region and Tanganyika Province. She witnessed first‑hand the humanitarian needs in these two areas that are among the most affected by internal displacement in the country. She stressed the need for authorities to ensure that organizations are able to work in accordance with humanitarian principles. She also called for greater collaboration between Congolese authorities and humanitarians.
The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for the country, which was launched in January, is seeking $1.68 billion to help 10.5 million people. That is double the amount requested in 2017.
In the Gambia, the Secretary‑General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, spoke at the International Forum on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She said this harmful practice deprives women of their human rights and derails millions of girls from achieving their full potential. She also called on all stakeholders for the effective implementation of the [end of] FGM laws and praised the youth‑led movement in the Gambia to end this practice.
[She said:] “Wherever I go, I have learned, one can always count on young people to stand up for what is right, to fight against injustice and to push us all to create a world that is better and more equal for all.”
We have a sad note from our colleagues at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), who are mourning the death of Esmond Bradley Martin, a renowned ivory trade researcher, who was killed in Kenya on Sunday, according to multiple media reports. Mr. Bradley [Martin] was once a former UN Special Envoy on rhino conservation, and he worked for decades researching the markets for wildlife products across Africa and Asia. His research informed many of the decisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global agreement that regulates trade in wildlife products.
You saw that over the weekend, we issued a joint statement from the Secretary‑General and the African Union Commission head, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on Guinea‑Bissau. They expressed concern at the protracted political crisis in Guinea‑Bissau. That statement is online.
Today we found a survey, a report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) that caught our eye. The survey released today — the joint survey by the International Labour Organization and the University of Nebraska‑Lincoln — reveals marked differences in the opinions of European male and female economists when it comes to policy.
The survey was administered in 18 European countries and showed that female economists are less likely than their male counterparts to favour market solutions over government interventions and more likely to favour environmental protection policies. For example, women economists are more likely than men to disagree with the notion that stronger employment protection results in weaker economic growth, and more likely to agree that the European Union should continue its ban on the planting of genetically modified crops.
The ILO said the results demonstrate the need to include both women and men in economic policy debates and development. More information online.
Today, our thanks go to Ireland, which has paid its regular budget dues in full for 2018. As they say in Gaelic: Go raibh míle maith agaibh. Which means thank you, I hope. That’s what I was told, which brings us up to 38. Matthew, go ahead. I knew you had the number.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I held back. You didn’t ask so I didn’t… I wanted to… to… I’m going to ask you about that gift registry, but I wanted to ask you first to, I guess, try to close out the meeting that the Secretary‑General had with ICC (International Criminal Court)‑indicted Omar al‑Bashir. You said that he complied with all the rules. Since you last said that and since he didn’t answer on… on Friday, I’ve come to understand that the notice given to the ICC was after the fact and that, in fact, a notice was given to them prior, last year, for Amina J. Mohammed when she might have met… met Bashir, saying that it might happen, so they told it as they should have, as they… under the guidelines, in advance. So, I’m wondering, how can you explain this? Since it’s said that he met with Bashir about South Sudan because he wanted to meet with all countries, it seems pretty clear that, at least as presented, he planned it in advance. So, why didn’t he tell the ICC in advance?
Spokesman: I think the ICC was notified of the meeting, and I’m going to leave it at that.
Question: Have you read the guidelines? I mean, I read them out to you. It says in advance.
Spokesman: I’ve… I understand what you’ve read, and I’m answering your questions to the best of my ability.
Question: So, I guess my question is, the guidelines also say that there should be a letter to the I… to the ICC prosecutor and to the head of the state assembly… Assembly of States Parties, stating not only that the meeting is taking place but the reasons and the necessity for the meeting. Can you release that letter?
Question: Why not?
Spokesman: Because it’s a letter from the Legal Counsel to the Secretary‑General and will not be released. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. In your announcements of the trip to South Korea by the Secretary‑General and the meetings he will have there, there doesn’t seem to be any meeting with the North Korean… with the North Korean official who will be heading the… the delegation of the North, and it seems that this is the speaker of the… of the Parliament. Why is there no meeting with this…?
Spokesman: No… The meetings… the trip has two parts. One is an official… I mean, it is an official visit to the Republic of Korea, so there are official meetings with the President and the Foreign Minister, as we do in most cases, so those meetings are set. While the Secretary‑General is in Pyeongchang at the opening of the Games, he will likely have a number of bilaterals. There are a number of senior Heads of States or heads of delegations. That schedule has yet to be worked out. I think we’ll come to know those bilaterals probably as they happen or as they get fixed.
Question: Is there a… an official request by the Secretary‑General or by the North Koreans for bilateral meetings…?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of such an official request.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. You just mentioned about UNRWA’s difficulty in funding after the US took away the… withdraw some of the funding. Do you have any data and the knowledge about how many countries in the… what amount of money are lacking in funding UNRWA after the US de… withdrew some of the funding?
Spokesman: What we’ve been told by UNRWA – and we checked again just before the briefing — [is] that a number of countries have fast‑tracked monies that were meant to be delivered this year. You know, sometimes, for various budgetary reasons, countries give their allotment to UN agencies in tranches in different parts of the year. So a number of countries have said: we’re going to fast‑track so you’ll get the money quicker than you would have. Right? But that’s not new money. So, it’s really kind of a temporary fill of a hole. There still needs to be new money. Right now, only… as far as I know, only the State of Kuwait has pledged new money. I know our colleagues at UNRWA are hard at work trying to organize a ministerial meeting to bring potential donors together. But, you know, UN agencies don’t operate with reserves, so I think they’re trying to meet their immediate needs, but when you take money that was supposed to be spent later and you spend it now, you’re not solving the problem. You’re just really putting on a very temporary band‑aid. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Alternate things around. I wanted to ask you, in… in… Kenya, there was a court order saying to reopen the TV stations that were closed down during Raila Odinga’s self‑inauguration. And not all… two have opened, but Citizen TV has not opened. People have been tear gassed as they protest for opening it. And I’m wondering, what does the UN think about this, the Government not only closing a TV station but not obeying a court order to reopen it?
Spokesman: Look, I think it’s important that there be a climate in which journalists can operate freely. I think, as we said earlier, it’s important that all Kenyan political actors work together to uphold the Constitution and work together to strengthen governance and uphold human rights and the rule of law.
Question: Okay. Speaking of courts, Patrick Ho, who is the head of the China Energy Fund Committee, is arguing again for bail today. And the US, in opposing it, put it in writing that they’ve executed a search warrant at China Energy Fund Committee, the NGO’s (non‑governmental organization) offices in Virginia. It seems the China Energy Fund Committee is still in special consultative status with ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) even as its offices are being raided and… and its head is in jail. What are the procedures for… for…?
Spokesman: As far as I’m aware… you know, the consultative status of ECOSOC, as opposed to the DPI (Department of Public Information) status, is one that is managed by the Member States. There is a committee of ECOSOC that is made up of Member States. They give… they grant or deny consultative status to various NGOs. I think we’ll have to look… you can contact ECOSOC to see what the exact rules are, but my assumption would be that, if Member States grant, only Member States can take away.
Question: Right, but is there any… I guess, given… I’ve seen there’s… I go to the NGO committee. There’s many people trying to get in. What’s the provision for, like, if there’s a court order… what if an organization…?
Spokesman: Right. I think you have to contact the chair of the NGO committee.
Question: And can I ask you on Maldives?
Spokesman: Sure, go ahead.
Question: Sure. You put out a statement out on Maldives, but again, it’s one of these situations where it seems like President Abdulla Yameen [Abdul Gayoom] has not complied with releasing the opponents. In fact, he’s issued a state of emergency. I’m wondering, is there… is DPI… is DPA (Department of Political Affairs) actually involved, or is it just… is it issuing statements from New York, or is it trying to speak with him and engage and…?
Spokesman: I think we’re very concerned with the ongoing developments in the Maldives, including what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours. We’re following it very closely. And I would… you know, the Secretary‑General would, again, call on the Government to respect the court ruling and for restraint to be exercised. And we… I do expect a more formal statement on this shortly. Mr. Ucciardo?
Question: Yeah, hi, Stéphane. I just want to draw your attention to a press item that occurred over the weekend about the US’… Mr. [Donald] Trump’s nominee for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Ken Isaacs, who is found to have made statements on social media calling Muslims inherently violent. And I would like to know if we can get a reaction from you or the Secretary‑General about that.
Spokesman: The selection of the Director General of the International Organization for Migration is a decision that does not involve the member… does not involve the Secretary‑General. It’s only done by the… the assembly… the governing body of the International Organization for Migration.
Question: Right, but do you have some reaction to… to… this nomination?
Spokesman: I don’t know the veracity of those statements. I mean, I think this came out in… within the context of a potential nominee put forward by one Member State. As I said, this is not a process that involves the Secretary‑General. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks. You since… the item that you read at the top about the gift from Ja’afari to… from Ambassador Ja’afari to Mr. … to Mr. de Mistura, I wasn’t aware, I guess, that there is… is this gift registry public? And I wanted to know because I’ve asked in the past about this golden statue that the Secretary‑General himself received from Paul Biya of Cameroon, and it was all kind of murky. Is there a similar number…?
Spokesman: I think there’s a gift registry here at the UN. Let me look into it.
Correspondent: And was that put into… also, on Cameroon… I won’t get into the Ethics Office part of it, but as you… one, I wanted to make sure that there’s no statement on the 47 people refouled back and also if there’s any statement on… over the weekend, there’ve been increased clashes, killing civilians…
Spokesman: On the refoulement, we’ve made… we’ve pointed you to the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) statement with which, as a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General agrees with. Thank you. And I’ll leave you in Brenden [Varma]’s hands.