Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

9 August 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.

**Human Rights

Good afternoon, everyone.  We announced yesterday afternoon that the Secretary-General, following consultations with the Chairs of the regional groups of Member States, has informed the General Assembly of his intention to appoint Michelle Bachelet of Chile as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ms.  Bachelet most recently served as President of Chile, and you will recall that she was appointed in 2010 as the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women.  The nomination now goes to the General Assembly for its consideration, and I trust my colleague Brendan Varma will have more to say about that.

**Japan

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, after having participated in the seventy-third Nagasaki Peace Ceremony in Japan, becoming the first United Nations Secretary-General to do so.

In his remarks, he said that, sadly, 73 years on, fears of nuclear war are still with us.  Millions of people live in a shadow cast by the dread of unthinkable carnage. 

The Secretary-General said that the total elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.  He said that we must let Nagasaki and Hiroshima remind us to put peace first every day; to work on conflict prevention and resolution, reconciliation and dialogue, and to tackle the roots of conflict and violence.  The Secretary-General’s full remarks are online and in our office.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.  And he visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb before speaking to the press.

The Secretary-General told reporters that he was deeply humbled and deeply impressed by the hibakusha, or the survivors of the atomic bombs.  He expressed his admiration for the people of Nagasaki for their enormous resilience to build a vibrant community that is the city of today. 

**Gaza

In a statement, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said that he was deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by the multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel.

He noted that the collective efforts of the international community have prevented the situation in Gaza from exploding until now.  If the current escalation is not contained immediately, he warned, the situation can rapidly deteriorate, with devastating consequences for all people.

Mr. Mladenov added that we will continue working hard to ensure that Gaza steps back from the brink, that all humanitarian issues are addressed and that Egyptian-led efforts to achieve intra-Palestinian reconciliation succeed.

**Burundi

This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Burundi, Michel Kafando, briefed the Security Council.

He said that the promulgation of the new Constitution and the announcement by the President of Burundi that he would end his mandate in 2020 were key elements in the efforts to resolve the crisis in the country.  He called on the Government and political groups to seize this opportunity to create a new environment that would consolidate national unity and peace.

Mr. Kafando also noted that the security situation remained calm and that Burundian refugees continued to return voluntarily to their country.  He added that many high-level delegations and international organizations had visited the country — showing, he said, the willingness of Burundi to improve its relations with the international community.

The Security Council is now holding consultations on the situation in Burundi.

**Syria

Today, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are delivering food, non-food items, and water and sanitation hygiene supplies for 35,000 women, children and men in need of assistance in Arbin and Zamalka in East Ghouta.

Humanitarian conditions in East Ghouta remain dire, with severe damage to civilian infrastructure and insufficient services for the estimated 200,000 people living in the area.

While East Ghouta was last reached with an inter-agency convoy on 2 July, sustained access to the area, where needs are reportedly high, continues to prove a challenge.

The United Nations urges all parties to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need.

**Zimbabwe

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, says it is gravely concerned about reports of the forced return of a Zimbabwean asylum-seeker by Zambia to his country of origin.

A senior Zimbabwean politician expressed the intention to seek asylum in Zambia at the border yesterday.  It is reported that the authorities handed him over to his country of origin today despite a court order to the contrary.

Refoulement, or forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin, is a serious violation of international refugee law.  UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently.

**Thailand

Today, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) welcomed Thailand’s decision to grant citizenship to three of the boys and their football coach who were recently rescued from a cave in Chiang Rai.  The agency said that by granting them citizenship, Thailand has provided them with a formal identity that will pave the way for them to achieve their aspirations and to participate as full members of society.

UNHCR said several million people are known to be stateless worldwide and can find themselves without access to basic rights and services, and many times cannot work or contribute to the societies in which they live.  It added that the act by the Thai Government is an example of how a State can quickly aid people to resolve this issue, and urged all countries hosting stateless populations to help eradicate this “entirely avoidable blight on humanity”.

**Maldives

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča started his visit in Male today to discuss the preparations for the presidential elections taking place in Maldives on 23 September.  He underlined to all interlocutors the utmost priority of ensuring peaceful, fair and transparent elections.

Mr. Jenča met with President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, as well as Government ministers.  He was encouraged by the Government’s commitment to ensure credible elections and further discussed ways and additional efforts to build a level playing field for fair electoral competition.

He also exchanged views with the Joint Opposition presidential candidate, Ibrahim Solih, and his running mate, Faisal Naseem, emphasizing the critical role of the opposition in the democratic political process.

With the Elections Commission Chair, he exchanged views on maintaining the Commission’s impartiality, the voter registry, unimpeded space for campaigning, equal access to media, complaint resolution and both domestic and foreign observation.

Mr. Jenča stressed that genuine and inclusive political parties’ dialogue was the only conducive way to build a peaceful, prosperous and stable democracy.  He will meet with civil society and diplomatic representatives tomorrow.

**Honour Roll

And while we’re on the subject, we give our thanks today to Maldives, which has paid its regular budget dues in full.  This payment takes the Honour Roll total to 115.

**Indigenous Peoples

Today is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.  This year’s theme is “Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement”.

In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that indigenous peoples have a profound spiritual connection to their lands and resources.  However, many have been forced to migrate due to climate change, violence and conflict, and have been displaced by authorities without their consent.

He calls on Member States to protect the rights and identities of indigenous peoples and to adopt later this year the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration which seeks to protect the rights of vulnerable migrant groups.  His full message is online.

And at 1:00, there will be a press conference on this topic by Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Prasert Trakansuphakon of Thailand and Amy Juan from the United States of America.

**Questions and Answers

Any questions before we go to Brenden?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, on this… two… two… two situations, one is in Gaza that the United Nations already talked about, supplies… fuel supplies, especially, being denied, and slow strangulation of the Gaza population is going on.  Similarly, in Yemen, the Saudi Coalition strikes are also doing a similar job that the children are dying without any emergency help.  Do you have any comment on these two situations?

Deputy Spokesman:  I just gave a comment just a few minutes ago about what Nickolay Mladenov said about the situation in Gaza, and you will recall that, yesterday, we alerted you to the very low situation of fuel reserves, with only a few days of fuel reserves in place.  So, we have that.  Beyond that, regarding Yemen, we may have a statement later this afternoon concerning the recent violence there.

Question:  I… I know that you did make a statement on… on Gaza the other day… yesterday.

Deputy Spokesman:  And also today.  You may… it might have been before you came into this room, though.  I can show you after.

Question:  Yeah.  I understand that.  What I'm saying is, has it been taken up? Has there been a reaction from the Israeli authorities?

Deputy Spokesman:  You'd have to ask the Israeli authorities that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, there was a very disturbing report about an execution by crucification [sic], and I repeat crucification, in Saudi Arabia.  The Secretary‑General is conspicuously silent on the provocation.  I just checked the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it states in Article 5, very clearly, unambiguously, about the inhumane and degrading torture and execution.  What does the Secretary‑General have to say about this violation yet of human rights on a Member State, member in the Human Rights Council, which is really… hosts some of the worst violators of human rights in the world?  What does the Secretary‑General have to say, and why he's so silent?  And what is the price of impunity from throwing the Declaration of Human Rights, throwing the UN Charter and yet getting the benefits of all the membership that this organization has to offer?  And there is, at the same time, if any country from the renegade countries like Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, took such action, the whole organization would be standing on one voice, condemning and sending committees to investigate, et cetera.  What… what is this… why is the silence from the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, we've spoken about human rights in many countries, including the human rights record of Saudi Arabia.  Regarding countries…

Question:  This crucification…

Deputy Spokesman:  Please don't talk over me.  Please don't talk over me while I'm giving an answer.  When it comes to countries in the Human Rights Council, as you know, there is a system called universal periodic review, which ensures that all countries have their records looked at, including the countries that sit on the Human Rights Council.  And we aspire for that to be a thoroughgoing review of every country's deficiencies and the work that they need to do.  Regarding the death penalty, in particular, as you know, the Secretary‑General is against the application of the death penalty, and we aspire to the gradual reduction and removal of capital punishment in the countries where it currently exists.  But, yes, we stand against activities like that.  And, of course, when it comes to the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as you just read, we call on all countries to abide by all of the articles.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the detention of Zimbabwe's opposition leader, one of them, after he was denied asylum in Zambia?  And, secondly, the earthquake toll in Indonesia has now topped 300.  I know the Secretary‑General offered UN assistance.  Is the UN actually providing any?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we stand ready to provide assistance as requested.  I'll see whether we've been requested by the Government of Indonesia to provide any specific assistance there.  [He later added that the Government has not formally requested the UN to provide assistance, and we do not expect this to be forthcoming, as the scale of the emergency is within the national capacity to respond.]

Regarding Zimbabwe, as I've pointed out earlier, UNHCR is… is concerned about the report that this particular politician, Mr. [Tendai] Biti, was refouled from Zambia to Zimbabwe.  And, of course, we would be concerned about if there was any mistreatment by him following that.  [He later added:  We are concerned about reports of Mr. Biti’s forced return to Zimbabwe.  We share the concerns expressed by the UNHCR statement, in which it stresses that refoulement or forcibly returning asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law.  We call on Zambia to investigate this reported incident.  At the same time, we urge the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that Mr. Biti’s human rights as a citizen of Zimbabwe to freely express his views as well as to an effective remedy and the due process of law is fully respected.]

Question:  Well, I mean, he is reportedly detained.  So, is the UN going to be doing anything to perhaps try and see him or at least address this?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll monitor the situation to see what has happened to him since his refoulement.  But, as you know, we've already raised concerns regarding the fact that he appears to have been refouled by the authorities in Zambia.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two days ago, a lawmaker from Venezuela, Juan Requesens, 29‑year‑old from the Andean area, was detained by the Government of Venezuela.  Since he has not been able to have access to lawyers, his family are saying that they're not able to see him yet.  The Government of Venezuela right now is accusing him of the alleged attack against the life of President Nicolás Maduro.  However, the authorities have not shown any proof.  Is there any reaction from the United Nations in terms of the possible violations of due process, in terms of detention without proof or without a legal case and due process, in terms of that, specifically, with the background information that we have in terms of Venezuela and the accusations of violations of human rights?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly hope that due process is followed up in all of the actions following the incidents that took place over the weekend.  And, of course, you'll have seen what we said about the weekend incidents.  But we want to make sure that due process is followed and that people's rights are respected.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Now, with over 50 children killed today in Sa’ada in Yemen and, of course, this… these news… this news is very old now, more than eight hours old, the United Nations is still reluctant to issue a statement regarding that.  Does the Secretary‑General regret omitting Saudi Arabia or Saudi‑led Coalition from being on the list of shame on Children and Armed Conflict?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not sure whether you've looked at the list, but look at the list.  Look at the report and the list of…

Question:  The report mentions Saudi Arabia, but it's not on the list of shame, is it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Look at the list for yourself.  I could show you after.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Yeah, Farhan.  Iran's Ambassador yesterday made a statement that Trump's imposition of sanctions on Iran are a violation of United Nations Security Council resolution as well as international law.  Does… do you believe… does the Secretary‑General believe that, in fact, that they are a violation of Security Council resolution?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's up to the members of the Security Council themselves to determine if the resolutions have been violated, and so we would put that question in their hands.  Regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Secretary‑General has made very clear his support for it and his continued support for its implementation and for adherence to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, the US Administration announced the imposition of new sanctions against Russia because of its alleged use of chemical weapons in the British Salisbury.  And my question is, did the UN request for experts to access to Russian facilities related to chemical weapons?

Deputy Spokesman:  The issue between the… Russia and the United States is really an issue between the two of them.  Regarding the Salisbury incident, you'll have seen what we said a few months ago, and we have nothing new to say about that.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  Farhan, do you have any comments on this crucification of a man in Myanmar?  Instead of death penalty, they just crucified him publicly.  Is that something that you have any comments on?

Deputy Spokesman:  In Myanmar? No, I believe you're talking about Saudi Arabia.  Your colleague just asked that.  Your colleague just asked that, so just… I'd answered that just a few seconds ago.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.