19 July 2018

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.


As of today, the entire population of the besieged Syrian towns of Foah and Kafraya has reportedly been evacuated following a local agreement between parties to the conflict.  The two towns had been besieged by non‑State armed groups since October 2015.  The United Nations last provided humanitarian assistance to the besieged areas in September 2017.

An estimated 6,900 people were reportedly escorted by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to the Al‑Eiss crossing in southern rural Aleppo Governorate.  In addition, 17 medical cases, accompanied by 21 family members, were brought to hospitals in Aleppo City.

The United Nations was not party to the negotiated agreement or its implementation, but stands ready to provide all people in need with humanitarian assistance wherever they are.  The United Nations underlines that any evacuation of civilians should be safe, voluntary, well‑informed and to a place of their own choosing.  All people displaced through such agreements must retain the right of return as soon as the situation allows.

Also today, a United Nations‑Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency convoy delivered food, nutrition, health, education, water and other humanitarian supplies for 19,500 people in need to Beit Jann and surrounding areas, in south‑west of the rural Damascus Governorate.  This is the first humanitarian convoy to reach the formerly besieged area since 2013.  In addition, the team conducted a needs assessment during the delivery.


The World Health Organization (WHO) announced recently that 38 per cent of health facilities in Iraq supported by nine health cluster partners are at risk of closure by the end of July 2018, due to funding shortages, affecting more than 900,000 people.  Health partners urgently require $54 million under the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan to ensure continuation of health services in conflict‑affected and newly accessible areas.  Meanwhile, the Iraq humanitarian fund has completed the allocation of some $34 million to support NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], UN agencies and Red Cross/Red Crescent partners providing crucial humanitarian assistance in Iraq.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General will travel to the United Kingdom from 22 to 25 July to participate at the first Global Disability Summit and to engage in high‑level meetings on reforms of the United Nations development system.  She will return to New York on Wednesday, 25 July.

**El Salvador

In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary‑General welcomed the decision by political parties in El Salvador to establish a negotiating framework to reach medium- and long‑term agreements for the benefit of the country.  He congratulated the members of civil society, constituted in a UN‑facilitated group in support of political dialogue, who have helped bring into being the commitment of political parties.  The Secretary‑General hopes that the political parties will now join their efforts in translating their commitment into concrete agreements that will benefit all Salvadorans.

**Mediterranean Sea

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today welcomed recent actions taken by several European countries to collectively end a standoff on the Mediterranean, where some 450 refugees and migrants had been stranded at sea amid a battle over disembarkation.  Since Saturday, the Governments of France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain and Portugal have agreed to land the ships and share the processing, including any potential asylum claims, of these people.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that this sets a positive example of how, by working together, countries can uphold sea rescue and manage borders while simultaneously meeting international asylum obligations.  However, he cautioned, solutions that go beyond piecemeal or “ship‑by‑ship” arrangements are needed.  You can read more on UNHCR’s website.


The Economic and Social Council is holding a high‑level policy dialogue with international financial and trade institutions today, focusing on trends in the global economy and international trade in the context of sustainable development.  Representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs offered their projections for economic growth, international trade and other trends and challenges.  And in the afternoon, a thematic discussion on “Leveraging new technologies for the Sustainable Development Goals” will take place.

**Honour Roll

For the Honour Roll, I am delighted to welcome Lithuania to the Honour Roll!  Our friends in Vilnius have paid their regular budget dues in full, making Lithuania the 111th Member State to do so.

**Press Briefings

This evening, at around 6:30 p.m., there will be stakeout by the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden, along with the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council, Ambassador Sebade Toba of Togo, at the Security Council stakeout.  They will brief in their capacity as Co‑Chairs of the twelfth annual Joint Consultative Meeting between the members of the Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council, following the conclusion of the meeting.  And that is it for me.  Yes, Mario?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  The SG is meeting today with the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua.  What is his message?  What’s the… the… what he’s going to tell him?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would just refer you to what we had mentioned a few days ago.  When the Secretary‑General was in Costa Rica, he made some remarks about where he feels the path forward on Nicaragua should be in a press conference he held with the President of Costa Rica.  Specifically, he calls for a halt to the violence and conditions for a political dialogue.  And he maintains his views on that.

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  Does he support the resolution that was passed yesterday at the Organization of American States (OAS) regarding that political process and…?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s really a process for the Organization of American States, and that’s separate from our processes.  Our priorities, like I said, are a halt to all the fighting and a return to dialogue by the political parties.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, today, again, Israel killed one Palestinian, and several were wounded in Gaza.  Again, and the rights… I mean, these disturbances still going on since the blockade of the crossing by the Israelis.  Do you have any idea as to what the Israelis are going to do?  Are they going to ease up on the crossing and allow some shipments at all into Gaza, or are the killing will continue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ll have seen that both Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the area, have come out with statements in the last few days about our concerns about this.  We do want to see Gaza opened up again.  Mr. Mladenov, as you know, urged the Palestinian side to avoid all provocations, including the flying of incendiary kites, and he urged restraint by the Israeli authorities on the ground.  And Mr. McGoldrick called again for the need for regular humanitarian traffic to proceed to the area.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Israeli Knesset has passed a nation‑state law which stipulates that Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people and that they have an exclusive right to national self‑determination in it.  The law also removes Arabic as an official language in Israel.  What is the UN Secretary‑General’s reaction to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, what we’re doing is we’re studying the legislation that was passed.  When we have any response to share, I’ll let you know.

Question:  Okay.  The… kind of similar issue.  The… do you have any comment or information regarding six members of a Palestinian delegation that was meant to come present their voluntary national review at the HLPF [High‑Level Political Forum] on Sustainable Development?  They were supposed to present on Tuesday, but they were refused visas by the host nation.  Has the Palestinian Mission reached out to you about it?  And does the SG have a comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we’re aware of this latest incident, but as far as I’m aware, as you know, that there is a Host Country Committee that deals with disputes involving access to the United Nations and any problems dealing with the host country on that.  As of now, the Host Country Committee has not been approached or formally informed of this, so they haven’t acted on this.  But it’s normally their role to deal with this situation.  Of course, we would hope that all of those who are here to attend UN meetings would have the ability to do so.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have another follow‑up on Nicaragua.  The Secretary‑General on the last briefing he held said that the UN is working closely with the OAS.  If this is the case, then wouldn’t be this meeting that he’s going to have with Chancellor [Denis Ronaldo] Moncada a good opportunity for him to support the resolution approved yesterday by the OAS and, most of all, an additional opportunity for the UN to strengthen its… its position on Nicaragua right now?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he certainly does expect to talk about the need to deal with this recent violence when he meets with the Foreign Minister this afternoon, and so he will discuss that.  And we do expect that all of the recent developments will be discussed by the two of them.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.