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.
Good afternoon. Let’s try to get this done. The Secretary‑General will leave New York for a visit to Saudi Arabia. He will leave this evening. In Saudi Arabia, he is expected to address the Arab League Summit and is also expected to meet with His Majesty King Salman [Bin Abdulaziz Al‑Saud] and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He will also hold bilateral meetings with Arab leaders on the sidelines of the Summit. In Riyadh, he will attend the sixteenth meeting of the United Nations Counter‑Terrorism Centre Advisory Board, where he will deliver remarks at the opening session of the meeting. The Secretary‑General will be accompanied by Vladimir Voronkov, Under‑Secretary‑General of the UN Counter‑Terrorism Office. I expect the Secretary‑General to be back in New York on 18 April.
Just a bit earlier, speaking in today’s open meeting of the Security Council on threats to international peace and security, the Secretary‑General said that the Middle East region is facing a true Gordian knot — different fault lines crossing each other and creating a highly volatile situation with risks of escalation, fragmentation and division as far as the eye can see, with profound regional and global ramifications. He said he was outraged by the continued reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and reiterated his strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances. The Secretary‑General said that the fact‑finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities. He noted that the Syrian Government has requested it and committed to facilitate it. The first team of the OPCW is already in Syria. A second is expected today or tomorrow. The Secretary‑General said that, in his recent letter to the Security Council, he appealed to the Security Council to fulfil its duties and not to give up on efforts to agree upon a dedicated, impartial, objective and independent mechanism for attributing responsibility with regard to the use of chemical weapons. He stands ready to support such efforts. He also spoke about the Israeli‑Palestinian situation and the conflict in Yemen. His remarks are online.
Nickolay Mladenov, meanwhile, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today condemned an arson attack and desecration of a mosque in the occupied West Bank village of Aqraba near Nablus. He said that the incident must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Such attacks have the potential to further inflame an already volatile situation.
This afternoon at 2:55 p.m., the Secretary‑General will speak at the General Assembly on the occasion of the Commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The Secretary‑General will call on Member States to unite in renewing our collective resolve to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again. He will also say that, as the Rwandan people have shown, reconciliation is possible, even after a tragedy of such monumental proportions. And you’ll be able to watch that online as well.
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, yesterday spoke at a memorial for Winnie Mandela held in the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem in upper Manhattan. She said that Winnie’s connection with Harlem showed that community mobilization was not just about what happened in Soweto — it was about every community, everywhere. “It was not just a struggle to wage in the corridors of power — but through people power at the grassroots,” Ms. Mohammed said. She added that Winnie Mandela was the daughter of Africa who embodied the proverb, “when you strike a woman, you strike a rock”. You can find her full speech online.
An update on the travels of the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix: he arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier today, where, together with the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, he presented a briefing on their joint visit to Sudan and the Central African Republic to the AU’s Peace and Security Council. Mr. Lacroix is scheduled to have further meetings with the African Union Commission to discuss various areas of the AU‑UN partnership on peace and security in Africa.
And the Deputy Assistant Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping, Bintou Keita, will visit South Sudan from 15 to 19 April. She will discuss with the UN Mission in the country (UNMISS) and the Government of South Sudan the implementation of Security Council resolution 2406 (2018), adopted last month, as well as recommendations made by the “Dos Santos Cruz report” on improving the security of UN peacekeepers. She will also discuss with the national authorities UN support to the peace process, as well as [how] we can jointly address the catastrophic scale of sexual violence against women and girls currently prevalent in the country. She will then travel to Ethiopia, where she will attend the TANA high‑level forum on Security in Africa and the second high‑level Women Leaders Forum for Africa’s Transformation in Addis Ababa.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that donors in Geneva today pledged $528 million to support the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The announcements were made at a humanitarian conference in [Geneva] co‑chaired by the United Nations, the European Union and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, said that the Government of the DRC is providing leadership on the crisis response, while the UN is supporting the Government in playing that key role for its people.
The conference was attended by 54 countries, in addition to numerous regional organizations, UN agencies and non‑governmental organizations. Announcements were made by 22 Member States and organizations for humanitarian action in 2018. The UN and its partners require $1.68 billion to provide life‑saving and protection assistance to 10.5 million people in the DRC this year. The UN is working in close partnership with the Government of the DRC, and discussing a follow‑up event to today’s conference at a time and a place convenient to the Government.
On a related note, I have a personnel announcement to make. Today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Lieutenant General Elias Rodrigues Martins Filho of Brazil as Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO. He succeeds Lieutenant General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi of South Africa, and the Secretary‑General is grateful for his dedicated leadership as head of the MONUSCO military component. Lieutenant General Martins Filho has had a distinguished military career with the Brazilian Armed Forces spanning more than 35 years. His bio is in my office.
I also want to flag that today the Secretary‑General's Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, is in Mexico City, attending a seminar to take action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Mexican Government. On Monday, she will be travelling to London to deliver the keynote address at the Commonwealth Youth Forum, and on Thursday, she will be in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, where she’ll take part in the closing of the European Youth Conference. We will be sharing more details on her travels throughout the week.
**Financing for Development
A report to note, the 2018 report of the Inter‑Agency Task Force on Financing for Development was released today, and it finds that most types of development financing flows increased in 2017. However, the report, which contains a detailed analysis of the financing challenges related to implementing the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, warns that risks could derail development progress.
After Brenden [Varma] is done, Panos Moumtzis, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, will be here to brief you on the situation in Syria. On Monday, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here on indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources. Speakers will include the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. And, then at 3:00 p.m., there will be a briefing by Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for the Crimes Committed in Syria, along with Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein. They will brief you ahead of the first informal debate on the IIIM, which takes place on 17 April.
Finally, we say, “big up”, we say thank you to our friends in Kingston, as Jamaica has paid its regular budget dues in full. This brings the Honour Roll to 78. Khalas. Mr. Bryant?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéph, we heard the Secretary‑General warn of the dangers of escalation today, saying the Cold War was back with a vengeance. Are we to take from that that he is opposed to US‑led air strikes?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General will respond if and when air strikes happen. The Secretary‑General's message to all parties involved is don't do anything that may lead the situation to spiral even more out of control.
Question: Has he taken a view on the… the legality of possible air strikes?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General will have an opinion once something happens and we will see exactly what happens, but we're not going to comment on the hypothetical. Yassin?
Correspondent: After what happened in Syria by Douma and old Ghouta, still, you know, they send in food and medicine. I heard the stocks, they have nothing. People are dying. I'm watching news in the morning. It's no food, no nothing.
Spokesman: We've had difficulties, as you know, getting humanitarian aid in. The continued fighting, the insecurity is making it even more challenging for our humanitarian colleagues and the brave Syrian partners that work with them to go where the people are needed most. There are still people that have not been able to access humanitarian aid, and I think, as the Secretary‑General said, I mean, in the end, all that we do here is we have to keep in mind first and foremost how to stop the suffering of the Syrian people.
Question: What do you think? It's better, going to be next week?
Spokesman: As you said, you know, the situation changes almost hour by hour on the ground. As soon as we are able to get aid in, we will. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted… I wanted to ask you again about this situation in the Central African Republic, where 17 bodies were put in front of the UN base. You had said yesterday you hadn't seen Mr. Victor [sic] Monteiro's quote, but I want to ask you now. There's a published report saying that 21 people were killed, quote, including women and children, and there's a quote from the UN saying that those killed had been somehow manipulated. Is that a reference also to women and children? And again, you had said that they're going to investigate and I tried to find yesterday during the AOB [any other business] whether there's any provision and… for payment of compensation, if, in fact, UN forces killed women and children inadvertently in Bangui…
Spokesman: First of all, there is a SOFA [status‑of‑forces agreement], a standard SOFA with procedures inside. Second of all, as we said yesterday, we're going to launch an internal investigation to see what happens. What Mr. Lacroix said is that, in his view, the armed individuals who fired on UN forces during the operation were manipulated by criminal gangs. I don't think anyone has ever said that women and children were…
Question: Is the UN aware of women or children being killed?
Spokesman: I think, as I said, the investigation is going on. We are aware that citizens were killed.
Correspondent: And I guess my question is you… when you reference a… a status‑of‑forces agreement or SOFA, one existed in Haiti and, as you probably know, many people there felt that it left them with no compensation for their deaths. So are you saying that, under this standard SOFA, if it's found that the UN negligently killed civilians, they will pay money?
Spokesman: What I'm saying is under standard SOFA there are compensation…
Correspondent: I know, but do you see why that's… given what happened in Haiti, that’s not an answer at all?
Spokesman: I know exactly what the Haiti situation is, and I'm answering your question about the Central African Republic. Signore?
Correspondent: Thank you very much. The Secretary‑General said the cold war is back and he's keeping saying this, the resemblance, but there is another factor that is… is… that is very worrying. The nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers, the last time we got very close was in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War and exactly happened in the Middle East, the Russia, United States, went very close to a nuclear confrontation. Now, there is… that time the White House was… was in the full Watergate spin, and…
Spokesman: But what is the question?
Question: The question is: is the Secretary‑General worried that is not only the cold war, but is also political situation here in United States that makes decision difficult to take?
Spokesman: Stefano, you're a good journalist and an analyst, and I will leave the analysis to you. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Sure. So I had asked you first in writing, and then yesterday here in the briefing, about this audit of UNSOS [United Nations Support Office in Somalia] and its rations cost overrun of $53.1 million. So I wanted to know… I… I would have hoped you would send an answer, but if you have one, if you can say it now, I would like to hear it.
Spokesman: I thought I had an answer, but I don't, but we'll get one to you.
Correspondent: I had also asked you sometime before about this… this is I think you will know about, the global supply delivery mechanism or GSDM, and the proposal by the Secretary‑General to move jobs out of New York and elsewhere to four cities. I mean, it's now an official document, the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], and I guess I wanted… what I'm hearing from people in the process is that the consultant's recommendation of cities, in fact, were not the ones that the Secretary‑General has proposed to a ACABQ, that there were some changes, for example, to include Mexico City, that… that an individual from Kuala Lumpur, from… from Malaysia UNDP was involved, a Mr. John Kidd, and somehow Kuala Lumpur showed up…
Spokesman: You know, I think there's a process. The report will go to the Fifth Committee.
Question: My question is whether the underlying consultant's report that was paid for with public money will be released, as I understand ACABQ has asked they should get it, but I’m saying since it's the public's money…
Spokesman: I have no information it to share with you on this at this point. Yes, go ahead.
Correspondent: And you said, I asked you, it’s not just sharing, in your previous answer you had said, “Don't worry. Staff have a right to move.” That was my understanding of your answer, when I said the effect of this proposal, just as to the United States…
Spokesman: I think I said… the thrust of my answer is that there are procedures in place.
Correspondent: But my question to you, and maybe you'll answer it or not, is that G staff have no right to move, even if they wanted to move to Mexico City and keep their jobs, they are unable, as G staff, to do so.
Spokesman: I will try to get some granular guidance.
Correspondent: On ECLAC [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean], as well, because I see an amendment on moving ECLAC to Mexico. It’s public money.
Spokesman: I'm not debating the fact that it's public money.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Today, more Palestinians shot at and wounded by the end of the day, probably a number of Palestinians will be killed. The SG in his statement today also called for independent, transparent investigation mechanism of what happened in Gaza. Can you explain it a little bit more? What does he mean by “independent”? That it should be done outside the framework of Israeli army, international? What does he mean by “independent and transparent”?
Spokesman: I think in general, in these calls when there are national investigations to be done, as a matter of principle, they should be done outside the framework of the organization that is being investigated.
Question: But… but he knows and everyone knows that never, ever Israel ended up with a conclusive condemnation or guilty party when it comes…
Spokesman: Again, I’ll leave the analysis to you. His answer, his call remains the same. On UNSOS, the Support Office for Somalia, I can tell you that the UN Board of Auditors looked into the matter in the fall of 2017, acknowledged that the cost overruns were due to the air delivery of rations. The air deliveries were necessitated by the deteriorating road conditions and a surge in attacks by Al‑Shabaab, by using improvised explosive devices on supply routes. As the costs increase, the UN Office reprioritized its own aviation plans to take more responsibility for the delivery of rations, and the Mission discontinued its contract for air delivery of rations in October of 2016.
Question: Can I continue…?
Spokesman: Hold on. No, I was answering a question he had asked before you came in. Everybody will get their piece of me.
Question: Sure. I just want to say like, ‘cause, the actual audit says that UNSOS should have checked with Headquarters and didn't, and I've also seen a photo… is there a new head of UNSOS? And is this individual who recently met with the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: There is a head that we announced…
Question: Okay… is she aware… is she still in New York?
Spokesman: I don't believe she is in New York. Abdelhamid, would you like to ask a question?
Correspondent: So we… we are facing a case of paralysis. The Security Council is being prevented from doing anything because of the US position. The SG keeps repeating the same call of independent, transparent investigation. Nothing happened. And the Palestinians continue to lose new ones, and thousands of people being wounded now. The number of people killed…
Spokesman: Abdelhamid, I appreciate your statement, but what is the question?
Question: What could be done? I mean, just the Palestinians to be victims, that's all? Anything to be done?
Spokesman: That's not at all what the Secretary‑General is saying… is that every Member State has responsibilities. They need to honour those responsibilities. We have repeatedly, over and over again, expressed our concern and condemned the loss of life of innocent people, and the Secretary‑General referred it in his speech. We continue to work with the parties in trying to ensure that things remain peaceful. We've delivered direct messages to the parties in advance of these demonstrations. We will continue to do so, and the Secretary‑General has been clear that there is no other solution than a two‑State solution. And again, the United Nations stands ready to help facilitate those discussions with the parties. Yassin, and then Matthew, and then Masood. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Talking about, you know, Yemen. Do you have any update about Yemen?
Spokesman: I do not have an update today on Yemen. I'll see what we can get. Masood, and then Matthew. Yes, go ahead, Masood.
Question: Stéphane, I'm going to ask a question, which I asked earlier, about Pakistan, the rape of an 8‑year‑old girl in Indian… in India, what do you call, occupied Kashmir, which has inflamed religious tensions and creating horrible problems over there at this point in time. What is the Secretary‑General… is he going to be talking about that today?
Spokesman: I think we've seen the media reports of this horrific case, of the abuse and the murder of a young girl. We very much hope that the authorities will bring the perpetrators to justice so they can be held accountable for the murder of this young girl. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about… there was a meeting yesterday listed on the Deputy Secretary‑General's schedule at 3:00 with a Tonye Cole, maybe I'm not saying the first name, of the Sahara Group, which is a Nigerian oil company… energy company, to be diplomatic, and I guess I'm wondering, what was the purpose of that meeting?
Spokesman: I'll try to find out. [He later said that the Deputy Secretary‑General discussed with Mr. Cole his proactive engagement with the UN on the SDGs, particularly through his role as a member of the Private Sector Advisory Group in the SDG Fund, and the initiatives he is leading in Nigeria and across the African continent.]
Correspondent: And the other one is today there's a meeting of the Secretary‑General, looking forward to it, at 5:15 with the President of the Parliament of the Mediterranean, but I had noticed that, it may same strange to you, given what happened before with no UNTV for the swearing‑in ceremonies, there's no provision listed, at least that I saw, by UNTV to put out video of it afterwards, so I guess I just want to encourage that the same error…
Spokesman: It will be a photo‑op still, but we'll make sure to share the photo. Mr. Varma.