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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.


In an earlier statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General had welcomed the news that the crisis in the Old City of Jerusalem has been defused, in line with the status quo at the holy sites before 14 July. He hopes that the dialogue will continue and contribute to creating an atmosphere of trust amongst the communities. The Secretary-General will remain engaged with all stakeholders to this effect.


Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller briefed the Security Council on the latest humanitarian developments in Syria by video teleconference from Amman.  She was speaking on behalf of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien.  She told the Council that, while we continue to see a reduction of violence in some areas since the 4 May Memorandum on de‑escalation, and particularly in Dar’a Governorate in the last weeks, the humanitarian and protection situation remains extremely difficult for civilians in many parts of the country.  She noted the resumption of military operations in the besieged area of eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus and Jobar neighbourhood in Damascus city.

She said that the United Nations and partners are responding to those who have been displaced and is ready to provide support in Raqqa city, as soon as access and security conditions allow.  The health situation, particularly the low availability of trauma-care services, is a major concern, in view of the intense fighting and shifting front lines.  She added that we continue to engage with relevant parties on the ground to ensure that medical care is available to those who need it, but a lot more needs to be done.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator’s remarks are available in our office.

Earlier, the Security Council passed a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until 31 January of next year.  The Council welcomed the progress that has been made in the leader-led progress since 2014 and encouraged the sides and all participants involved to sustain their commitment to a settlement under UN auspices.


On Mali, you will have seen the statement from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, that we issued yesterday.  Mr. Lacroix said he is deeply saddened by the news of a helicopter crash yesterday near Tabankort, in Gao region in northern Mali.  The crash claimed the lives of two German peacekeepers.  The helicopter was conducting surveillance over Tabankort in the aftermath of violent clashes between the signatory armed groups, Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad and Plateforme, which erupted on 11 July.  We join Mr. Lacroix in conveying our profound sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims and in expressing our condolences to the Government of Germany, and to the personnel of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, founder and leader of Nduma Defense of Congo has surrendered yesterday to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO.  He has been transferred to Goma.  Sheka is wanted since 2011 under a national warrant for crimes against humanity, including for mass rapes.  Sheka presented himself to MONUSCO in full awareness of the fact that he is wanted by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to stand trial for alleged crimes.

MONUSCO is committed to supporting the relevant judicial authorities in pursuing criminal prosecutions for all human rights violations, in accordance with the rule of law.  MONUSCO has a standing agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo Government to ensure that all persons in the Mission’s care who are handed over to the national authorities are treated in accordance with all relevant human rights standards.

**Economic and Social Council

The Economic and Social Council elected its new bureau for 2017-2018 at its Organizational Session today.  The new President of the Economic and Social Council is Ambassador Marie Chatardová of the Czech Republic.  The other bureau members are Ambassador Mahmadamin Mahmadaminov of Tajikistan; Ambassador Inga Rhonda King of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and Ambassador Marc Pecsteen of Belgium; and the forthcoming member of the Bureau from the Region of Africa.  That is it for me.  Are there any questions?

***Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you, you read out the hopes on Cyprus.  I wanted to know if the UN has any response to the Turkish Cypriot leader saying that some heretofore closed towns will be opened up to returning, in one case, Maronites and most people are saying this is a first step to opening up Varosha, the closed southern part of Famagusta.  Does this… given the UN’s role in the talks and given this move, is it something that was raised to Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide?  What does the UN think of the reopening?  What does it think of the three villages and what would it say to the reopening of Varosha?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, in past years, there have been UN plans that involved the reopening of Varosha.  There has been no agreement on those in the past.  Obviously, if the parties are willing to consider new confidence‑building measures, that will be welcome, but we have to see what they are willing to do.

Question:  What if it were reopened under Turkish Cypriot authority and the Greek Cypriot side did not, as seems to be the case, agree to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t want to engage in hypotheticals.  The basic point is we would welcome any confidence‑building measures that are mutually agreed among the sides.  Yes, Benny?

Correspondent:  The SG just issued a statement commenting at the end of the…

Deputy Spokesman:  I know where you are going with that.

Question:  The situation is confusing, but it seems a new statement is warranted?

Deputy Spokesman:  Depending upon what the developments are we may see something further, but at this stage we are aware of the latest reports that there has been some… there have been some clashes at Al‑Aqsa compound.  We are trying to get some further details.  Obviously, we want, in line with what we have been saying both earlier today and yesterday, we want all the parties to exercise restraint and for there to be a de-escalation of the situation.  We welcomed the steps towards restoring the status quo as of 14 July and we wanted to see progress on that level.  And like we said in the statement, the Secretary‑General will remain engaged with all stakeholders to this effect.

Question:  Why is the Secretary-General trying to issue statements in real time like this, you know, like, because there were a couple of cases in the last few days that they issued one statement and then issued another that kind of retracted the last, or not retracted but…

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  No, it wasn’t a retraction.

Question:  Not a retraction, I’m sorry, but there was like a change on the ground that forced… or like he issued a statement about the three Palestinians who were killed and then he had to issue a statement about the three Israelis that were killed immediately after.  I mean, is it twice to be in real time is the question?  Or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Would you rather we never issue statements?

Correspondent:  No, I’m asking, wondering out loud.

Deputy Spokesman:  Part of the calculation that diplomats need to make is when it is the most useful time to speak out.  Whenever there is worry that there could be a deterioration of the situation on the ground, we actually believe that it’s more important to state what is needed to encourage positive developments, and that’s what we have been trying to do.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  Okay.  All right, so, yeah, what do you have to say about the fact that some measures were rolled back in Jerusalem and yet the unrest still remains in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, so, yes, what can be done now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have asked for the dialogue to continue.  We want an atmosphere of trust among the communities to be rebuilt and that remains one of our priorities.  Obviously, it’s a good sign that the parties have been willing to deal with each other, to take the positive steps that have been taken in terms of returning to the situation that we had on the ground before the middle of July.  We want all communities to work towards building trust with each other, to exercise restraint and to take positive actions to deescalate the situation.  Yes, Sherwin, your hand was up.  Okay, Ben.

Question:  Yeah, just on the statement from last night, you named the Israelis in asking them to demonstrate restraint, but there was no naming… specific naming of the Palestinians.  Why were the Palestinians left out of this statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have issued many statements in the last few days, and if you look at all of our statements put together, we call on all the sides to exercise restraint and to deescalate the situation.  What…?

Question:  But, is it all sides involved in this situation, is it just… are you blaming Israel or are you blaming both sides?  I mean, your statement just seemed a bit odd.

Deputy Spokesman:  The statement was not there to lay blame.  It’s there to express our concerns and to encourage progress towards resolving the situation.  We are happy with the steps that were taken in the hours since then.  Yes?

Question:  On a related issue, specifically about the status quo, the status quo was broken when, you know, the security situation on the ground changed after three policemen were shot dead and weapons were found in the compound.  So, by saying you want to return to the status quo, you basically are requesting that no security measures will be taken to address that situation?

Question:  That’s not the case.  That’s not the case.  We made it clear that we want the parties to confer on appropriate security arrangements.  The way it’s been handled in the past and the way we want to see it handled this time, as well, is for the Israeli authorities and the authorities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to work with each other.  And there are some positive and encouraging signals about that, and we are hopeful that that will help to restore the sense of trust that we feel is crucial.

Question:  Yet, you keep talking about the status quo as if that is something that is, well, static.  The problem with the status quo is that it was… that new problems came that need to tweak the status quo in a way that more security will be guaranteed for all, so it lends itself, in other words, to say: Don’t do metal detectors, don’t do cameras, don’t do anything that would be interpreted as breaking the status quo.  What can be done?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, as I’ve pointed out, the bottom line for us is that security measures are agreed to by the relevant parties.  We want, in particular, for Israel and Jordan to continue with the historic role that they have played in dealing with each other on this matter.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow‑up, exactly who are the relevant parties?  Are you saying it’s only Israel and Jordan, because even if they were to reach an agreement, let’s say on some use of cameras or other nonobtrusive surveillance technology, you have other parties involved, the Palestinian Authority, I believe President [Mahmoud] Abbas is still…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I agree with you on that.

Question:  Let me just finish the point. President Abbas still, as far as I know, has not rescinded his decision to cutoff coordinating with Israel on security matters even after Israel took the step of removing the metal detectors and you also have the religious council, the Waqf Council, I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it right, and that still rejects whatever Israel has done and has called for a continued boycott, prayers in the streets, so who are the parties?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I’m sorry; I don’t believe that’s the case.  I believe that that call was rescinded

Correspondent:  Actually unless that changed in the last 12 to 14 hours, that is the case.

Deputy Spokesman:  That was changed within the last few hours, yes.

Question:  Can you cite a specific statement by the Council… the Waqf Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don’t speak for the Waqf.  I speak for the Secretary‑General of the UN.  But, there have been positive movements both by the religious community leaders and by the Government of Israel, and we have been encouraging that.

Question:  And how do you explain the clashes you just referenced?  I mean, the point is, you talk about the relevant parties, but you seem to dance around the role that’s the imams in and around Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority figures, Hamas and so forth, that are continuing to incite unrest, so could you please clarify?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we want all of the relevant parties to play a helpful role; and that includes the Palestinians, that includes the Israelis, that includes Jordan, that includes the Waqf, which, as far as we are aware, have allowed for worshippers to enter into the compound, which is what has been happening in the past hours.  There has been some violence, which according to the latest reports has to do with this crowd surge into the mosque.  We are hopeful it will be resolved, that matters will be resolved peacefully, that all parties will show restraint and the situation will be deescalated.  Yes, you had one.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about Myanmar, given what has taken place there, today the replacement without really any explanation of Ms. [Indira] Jaising by Mr. [Marzuki] Darusman the top… the three‑person panel that the Government is not allowing in.  Apparently, it’s because she said the situation of the Rohingya is deplorable and said it might be a genocide.  And I wanted to know, is that… in the UN system generally, which of those two words makes somebody perceive to be biased that they have to be removed from a panel and has the Secretary‑General taken any moves since the last time this was asked to you to ensure that this three‑person panel, whoever chairs it, can actually get in and assess the situation of the Rohingya?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the question of access, of course we encourage all Member States to work with the Human Rights Council and with the bodies that the Human Rights Council sends, and we will continue to do so.  Regarding the decision on replacement, I will leave it to my colleagues in Geneva to explain how the Human Rights Council comes about its decision.  That is a Member State decision that I would not be able to describe from here.

Question:  I guess I’m just wondering, they put out a press release and they just said that Darusman is in.  They did not even mention the person taken out.  And when you say Member States, was there a vote taken in terms of the UN system in terms of transparency, why did it happen?

Deputy Spokesman:  Please follow up with my colleagues in Geneva.  They can explain the actions of the Human Rights Council.  Yes?

Question:  There is a new report out today that draws pretty strong link between gang violence and the Central American triangle and the movement of children to the United States, the migration.  It sort of undermines the notion that these are just economic migrants.  And I’m curious if this migration topic has come up in recent meetings between the SG and members of the US Administration, and more broadly what the UN’s thinking is on this migration crisis in Central America and what is being done about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you are aware, we have a representative, Louise Arbour, who has been talking about this.  In fact, she spoke on migration issues just a few days ago in a speech we have made available, and I’d just refer you to what she has been saying.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you I guess about Catalonia, Cameroon and the Ng Lap Seng case.  In Catalonia, it’s reported that, and I guess if you can confirm receipt that the Catalonia and its entity called Diplocat has submitted a request to the UN electoral assistance division for observation in their referendum that they want to have, and basically Spain has bragged that the UN has not even confirmed receipt to avoid any attempt at manipulation.  So, it strikes me, it was submitted by the Carter Center, can you find out whether, in fact, it was received and if it’s not going to be… to be reviewed favourably, can you state why not?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think I have some language on our general rules about this that I can share with you afterwards.

Question:  How about the actual receipt?  Because Spain seems to acknowledge it was submitted and are very proud and brag that the UN won’t even confirm receipt.  Does the UN generally confirm at least receipt of letters from a place like the Carter Center or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this office confirms receipt of letters to the Secretary‑General.  I’m not aware of letters that just go to different parts of the system.

Question:  Okay, and I also wanted to ask you, I guess I can boil this down.  There are two things about Cameroon.  One, there is a report of electoral — speaking of electoral assistance — of somebody from [Francois Lounceny] Fall’s office, Francis Najita, and some others that seem to be from the EU going on an electoral trip there.  So, given the expressed concern by DPA [Department of Political Affairs] about particularly the situation in the Anglophone areas, is it true that the UN is assisting in the upcoming election of a country that has had the same President for more than 30 years; and if so, what is the UN’s role?  What do they think about the electoral system in Cameroon?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t believe we have an electoral role with Cameroon, but I will check what DPA says, what the Department of Political Affairs says about it.

Question:  And apparently there is a delegation meeting with Adama Dieng today and I’d like to know, I guess I’m asking you to get a readout of the meeting from the UN side, from the adviser on the prevention of genocide?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Dieng doesn’t normally provide readouts of all his various meetings.  And if he has something to say I will let you know, but otherwise I would not promise a readout of those meetings, because he meets with a variety of groups just to gain information on the various situations at hand.

Correspondent:  And finally, just on the Ng Lap Seng case, you received this from DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management], so I wanted to ask you, and I appreciate the executive officer, who I don’t think is a spokesperson, was willing to answer some questions but I now want to ask you about what he did answer.  What he answered is that, even now, two years or more after the indictment of John Ashe as President of the General Assembly for allegedly using the office to further a business scheme, it seems that DGACM of the Secretariat will do anything that an Office of the PGA [President of the General Assembly] said.  He said, if they request an email address you can receive the email.  He said…

Deputy Spokesman:  I received the email.  That is not what he said.  I would just… you had the language of the email.  Just look directly at what he said.

Question:  I’m asking you because I said to him Mr. Francis Lorenzo was never listed as a special adviser on the webpage of the PGA.  He was a full‑time Deputy Permanent Representative of a country.  So, does DGACM check these two facts and he said, no.  He said we do what the PGA asks, so I wanted to know:  is that appropriate after two years?

Deputy Spokesman:  If the President of the General Assembly asks for things like office space or desks or computers, they facilitate that.  That was his explanation to you.

Question:  What if he asks for change to a UN document that took place under Ian Botnaru to add in the name of a company, is that still the practice at the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are unrelated issues.

Correspondent:  Right, but I’m asking you.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, those are unrelated issues.  He is talking about having appropriate office facilities upon request from the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  Was it appropriate for DGACM to add the name of the Sun Kiang Ip Foundation to that resolution from an UN perspective?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re aware of the problems that were disclosed at the time and I don’t have anything to add to what we said at the time.

Question:  And who was held responsible for adding the name of the company?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have nothing to add to what we said at the time.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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