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.
**West Africa and Sahel
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed ibn Chambas, briefed the Security Council this morning. He said that, despite laudable progress in democratic consolidation, the security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remains a cause for concern. Mr. Chambas said that terrorism and violent extremism have exacerbated traditional threats. These factors, combined with climate change, an increase in the population of young people and unemployment and unchecked urbanization constitute push factors underpinning the surge in irregular migration and human trafficking.
In the Sahel, Mr. Chambas warned that persistent instability in Mali is spilling over to Burkina Faso and Niger, with deadly attacks along the border. In the Lake Chad Basin, he said that despite the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force, recent attacks demonstrate that Boko Haram continues to pose a serious threat in the area. The mode and sophistication of these attacks have raised suspicions that Boko Haram militants may have acquired reinforcements. We do expect Mr. Chambas to speak to you at the stakeout after he is done with consultations, which began not too long ago.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, condemned the attacks perpetrated by armed groups against health structures in the country. This follows the deadly shooting of a baby at Zémio Hospital, in Haut-Mbomou prefecture, by members of the anti-balaka forces. The latest incidents have forced international non-governmental organizations that were the only providers of health care to suspend their activities and relocate their staff to a safer place. Humanitarian assistance was also suspended in Ouham Pendé prefecture, depriving 14,000 people of assistance.
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that it has begun to deploy the Cameroonian Contingent to the west of the country to replace troops from the Republic of Congo that are in the process of withdrawing. The Cameroonian troops are starting to take positions in the areas previously held by the Republic of Congo battalion, ensuring a smooth transition and the least impact on the mission's operational requirements and ability to handle its mandate.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that earlier today, a group of armed men forcibly entered the compound of an international non-governmental organization in Pibor in Jonglei and physically assaulted two security guards. The Mission was informed about the incident and dispatched a Quick Reaction Force to the compound and extracted 13 staff members to the UN base in Pibor. The armed men also reportedly looted items in the compound. Later this morning, the staff members were escorted back to the compound by UN peacekeepers to assess the damage following the incident. Some of the non-governmental organization staff will be relocated to Juba today.
Regarding the situation in Ethiopia, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that their funding — and food stocks — are quickly running out. Ethiopia is struggling with the effects of devastating back-to-back droughts. Some 7.8 million people need food assistance right now, and that number is expected to rise again in the coming months after another failed rainy season. The most immediate concern is the 1.7 million people in the Somali region who depend solely on WFP for food. With current resources, 700,000 people will be left without resources. The Government, WFP and other humanitarian agencies have been pulling out all the stops to keep people from going hungry, and for more than a year have managed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. But, today, the World Food Programme immediately needs $96 million to ensure assistance up until December.
Unexploded war ordnances continue to put people at risk of injury or death in Syria. Three students were reportedly killed by a land mine explosion in Al‑Salhiya village in southern rural Quamishli in Al-Hasakeh Governorate today. A day earlier, a landmine explosion in Kafr Bsien village in northern rural Aleppo reportedly killed two children. The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to allow clearance of explosive remnants of war and to safely conduct risk education activities and ensure the respect and safety for humanitarian staff conducting clearance activities. Fleeing civilians are further at risk, as areas they are moving toward are often known to be contaminated.
Meanwhile, today, in eastern Ghouta, airstrikes and shelling on the towns of Ain Tarma — just east of Damascus — and Hazzeh — also east of Damascus — allegedly killed and injured several people, according to reports received by our humanitarian colleagues.
Although the battle for Mosul is drawing to a close, the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) said today that it is concerned for the well-being of 650,000 children who have lived through the nightmare of violence in their city. The full statement from UNICEF-Iraq is available online.
Turning to Gaza, our humanitarian colleagues there report that the Gaza Power Plant had to shut down operations again yesterday after it ran out of fuel. Power in some areas of Gaza is now available for only two hours per day. The energy crisis, resulting primarily from a Palestinian dispute since April, adds to the vulnerability of the 2 million people who live in the Gaza strip. On 3 July, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched an appeal for $25 million to address the urgent needs to prevent the collapse of vital life‑saving, health, water, sanitation and municipal services. The UN humanitarian fund released another $360,000 on 6 July to contend with emergency power needs.
The UN warns that lack of power could have catastrophic consequences on the provision of basic services to Gaza’s residents. The UN calls upon all the parties to put the welfare of Gaza’s people first and foremost and to take the necessary measures to avoid further suffering. Also from the region, I was just given a press statement issued by the Quartet Envoys who met in Jerusalem, and I will read it to you: On 13 July, the Envoys expressed serious concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and discussed current efforts to resolve the crisis. The Envoys from the Russian Federation, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations agreed to meet again and to continue their regular engagement with Israelis and Palestinians, and key regional stakeholders. That statement will be distributed to you.
Here in New York, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced the winners of the Switch Africa Green-Seed Awards, which recognize innovative and environmentally friendly start-ups in developing countries. Fifteen African start-ups received this award and they include initiatives like a banana-stem bags factory in Kenya, a project to build lasting school benches from plastic waste in Burkina Faso, and an initiative to improve the livelihoods for coffee farmers while protecting mountain gorillas in Uganda. The winners will receive business and financial advice, help with marketing and publicity, and introductions to funding bodies, policy makers and other avenues of support. If you are interested, go to UNEP’s website — and UNDP’s website, I assume.
**Information and Communication Technologies
More than 20 heads of UN agencies are sharing their perspectives on how and why information and communication technologies (ICTs) are critical to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in a new report released today by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). For his part, the Secretary-General said “the impact and implications of the digital revolution are becoming more evident with each passing hour. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the great potential of global connectivity to spur human progress.” The report [presents] evidence of how UN agencies are adopting and adapting ICTs to maximize their impact and help communities and people in need. The report is available online.
**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Our colleagues from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are launching a project to assess the levels of achievement — in terms of access, quality and openness — of the Internet in individual countries, as well as the kind of online environment citizens encounter in their country. Part of the project includes an online consultation targeting governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academics, as well as individuals. Face-to-face consultations are also being organized by UNESCO in various regions. More information on UNESCO’s website.
Yesterday on the side-lines of the High-Level Political Forum, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, highlighted the link between migrants and the achievement of the 2030 Development Agenda. She said that migrants not only contribute to their host and home countries’ economies, but also with ideas, skills, knowledge and entrepreneurship, and this should be taken into account to help shape the conversation around migration.
After you are done with me, we will have John Ging, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Director of Operations, who is just back from Eritrea and wants to share his thoughts with you. At 1 p.m., today, there will be a press conference, Tarcila Rivera Zea of Peru, an indigenous expert, and Joan Carling of the Philippines, along with Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim of Chad, who will be here to brief you on the progress of indigenous peoples under the 2030 development agenda.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., in this room, there will be a press briefing by Mohammed Marzooq, the Iraqi Charge' d'affaires, on the situation in Iraq. And then at noon, I will be joined by Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, who will be here to brief you on the “Launch of the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes”. That event will be opened by the Secretary-General at 3 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.
Lastly, a programming note: We hoped to have Lise Grande here on Friday to speak to you in person, but she will, in fact, be here on Monday — we hope — in person to speak to you. Any questions? Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. What… what is the Secretary-General's reaction to the death of Liu Xiaobo in China in a hospital there?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn that Mr. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel [Peace] Prize laureate, had passed away. He extends his condolences to his family and to his friends, and I think you will have seen also that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also issued a statement on the same issue. Masood then Matthew… let Masood follow up, and then he can…
Question: Stéphane, on the… I'm going to ask… instead of the follow-up, she can ask…?
Spokesman: Let's just… everybody gets a chance. I'm not leaving until everybody's had a chance to ask a question or a follow-up, so don't worry.
Question: Okay. On this continued Israel blockade of Gaza, which has resulted in abysmal living conditions in… over there, has anybody from the United Nations spoken to somebody in the Israeli Government to ease the blockade at least, you know? I mean, they say they’ll do it… do it, but it's only for one hour… two hours, it's not working, so is there going to be a concerted effort?
Spokesman: First off, I would refer you back to the statement from the Quartet Envoys I have just read out. As we've also said, we've not been shy about talking about the very difficult humanitarian situation for 2 million residents of Gaza on the power issue, as I've just said and as Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has said also in a number of interviews released today, it is an issue he believes that is really between the Palestinians, between the leadership in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, and he's calling on them to resolve their differences in order to alleviate the further suffering of the people of Gaza. Carole?
Question: Just following up on Edie's question. Yesterday, I asked if the UN had a view on whether or not he should have been allowed to travel abroad for treatment, and… and there was not really an answer to that question. And now, a lot of the concerns are focused on his wife, and I'm wondering if the UN shares those concerns and whether you think… well, whether you have any concerns about the welfare of his wife?
Spokesman: I don't have anything further to say at this point. Just that we are obviously saddened by his death and extend our condolences to his family. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to ask you… I want to ask you about the… in the Ng Lap Seng trial, there has been a UN witness, and I… I think you should be able to answer this, in the sense that it was said in open court that a partial waiver was given, that Mr. Simon Hannaford of UNDP could only testify about rules and regulations of the UN, but not about what the UN actually did in this case. So, I wanted to know what was the rationale for the UN basically not opening itself up to questions on… on its role and I wanted to ask you this, in particular. Mr. Hannaford testified that gambling is an excluded business that should not do business with UNDP or its entities, like the South-South office. Given that Mr. Ng Lap Seng was a casino owner, as soon as you do a Google search, I wanted to know who has been held accountable in UNDP for accepting the grant that the Office of South-South Cooperation took for the conference in Macau and the money was spent, it's a UN question, it’s not about innocence or guilt…?
Spokesman: I understand. I'm not going to comment on the case as it's ongoing. I think it is clear that there was a wholesale change of leadership at the South-South office and a change of staff and a reorientation of the work of the office. And any further questions you should address to them or to UNDP.
Question: But if that were true, then why…?
Spokesman: Well, it is true, it's not were true. It’s true.
Question: Why haven't they held a press conference?
Spokesman: If I'm not mistaken, I think you've also had face-to-face time with the head of the UN… of the South… okay, but I'm saying you had claimed before that you hadn't been able to speak to him, so you have.
Question: In 1B… so now, I'm asking you. If they're so new and they're so transparent, who within UNDP or the UN system was held accountable…?
Spokesman: I think you should address those questions to them.
Question: How? I asked today…
Spokesman: You've met them, and I think you know where to find them and you know how to use a phone. Masood?
Question: Again, I'm going to say about this question in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, the situation is becoming bad to worse. Is the Secretary-General going to pay any attention to what is going to… what is happening over there? Because the people are suffering, and we are just waiting for some sort of big tragedy to occur for the Secretary-General to take attention.
Spokesman: I think in terms of paying attention, I think the Secretary-General answered in his own words that question during the press conference. And obviously, you know, we reiterate the need for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure, thanks. I have some new questions, but I've… it seems important to actually nail down some old ones. For example, you told me to write to the Sudan country team about their statement on sanctions, and I did, and I CC‑ed you and as you can probably tell, they didn't answer so I'm asking you. You've said…
Spokesman: Matthew, I cannot hold your hand as you conduct your form of journalism.
Correspondent: I'm not asking you to hold my hand. I'm saying you said it would be answered elsewhere and it isn't.
Spokesman: I'm just saying… I'm saying you get in touch with them and call them, pick up the phone…
Question: Is it acceptable to the Secretary-General that a UN country team issues a statement welcoming in advance the action by a Member State Government, and then never answers the question about whether it did it or not?
Spokesman: I think you should try to speak to them.
Question: Here’s a question you said you would answer. Mr. [Ghassan] Salameh, the Libya envoy: when does he begin and where is he based?
Spokesman: We expect him to be here in New York to see the Secretary‑General before the end of the month. He will begin soon after.
Question: Of the town-hall meeting, I had asked you and you said and you didn't know the topic of it. I've seen a letter since that it's about the Development Pillar. But, I wanted to ask you this: Several Member States have wondered whether before the retreat on 22 July of the Secretary-General with Member States about reform, whether any document will be made available? Will it?
Spokesman: I think that's a question Member States can ask directly to the Secretary. Thank you.
Question: But, isn't reform a matter of public… what about…?
Spokesman: I'm saying they can… if they have concerns, they can address them directly to the Secretary-General. Thank you.