14 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Annual Report

Good afternoon.  Today, we launch the Annual Report of the Secretary‑General on the Work of the Organization.  This year’s report highlights the importance of multilateralism as the only path to address global challenges and shows the progress made over the last year in maintaining peace and security, protecting human rights, and promoting sustainable development.

The report also underlines the importance of building partnerships with Member States, regional and international organizations and civil society to “find solutions to global problems that no nation alone can resolve”.  This is the beautiful, glossy annual report.  [Shows report.]  It’s also online in the UN News Centre, and you should be able to download it online as well or find it in the UN Bookstore.


In a statement issued earlier today, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Panos Moumtzis, condemned the horrific attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure in north‑west Syria, which reportedly killed at least 116 civilians, many of them women and children, in Idlib and Aleppo Governorates over the weekend.

Mr. Moumtzis warned that a military operation in Idlib and surrounding areas similar to what was seen in other parts of Syria will not only endanger many of the more than 3 million civilians in this densely populated area but will also severely impact humanitarian partners’ ability to deliver lifesaving assistance.  He added that it is imperative for all parties to the conflict and those with influence over them to come to a genuine and inclusive agreement to settle the conflict in Syria in a peaceful manner, to prevent the further suffering of the Syrian people.  Civilians should not and must not be a target.


The heads of the UN’s Food Agencies — that’s the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) — will visit Niger starting tomorrow.  They will be there to highlight the regional efforts to address the critical food and nutrition security situation in the Sahel.  They will also underscore the joint efforts aimed at addressing poverty, underdevelopment and the impacts of extreme weather events and migration — factors that have all contributed to the region’s critical humanitarian and security situation.  As the Sahel’s lean season that runs from June to August nears its close, the latest estimates show that nearly 6 million people will have been severely food insecure in this period.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that as of June 2018, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans, out of the 32.8 million people who live there, have fled the country — mainly to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.  People cite lack of food as their main reason for fleeing, with reportedly 1.3 million people suffering from malnourishment.  There are also severe shortages of basic medicines and medical supplies, which have led to a sharp deterioration of the quality of hospitals.  Our colleagues said that there are more than 100,000 HIV/AIDS patients at risk due to lack of access to necessary medication, and that the formerly eradicated diseases of measles, malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria are present and on the rise.  The UN and humanitarian partners also said that needs among the migrant population include assistance with legal status, documentation, shelter, access to health care and other basic services.


The Food and Agriculture Organization today warned that Fall Armyworm could threaten the livelihoods of millions of small‑scale farmers in Asia, as this invasive pest is highly likely to spread further from India.  South‑East Asia and south China are most at risk, the agency said.  Fall Armyworm was recently detected in India, and it’s the first time that it’s been found in Asia.  This insect can fly over long distances and can cause severe damages to crops like maize, rice, vegetables and cotton.  FAO has offered its expertise to farmers and Governments in Asia so they can quickly make decisions on how to best manage the pest.  More information on FAO’s website.


On Mali, you saw that we issued a statement last night in which the Secretary‑General congratulated the people and Government of Mali for the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed during the second round of the presidential elections that took place on Sunday.  The Secretary‑General also appeals to all parties to remain calm through the conclusion of the electoral process, and to continue to address any grievances in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the country.  He calls on all political leaders to continue to promote a peaceful atmosphere and avoid incendiary rhetoric.  The full statement is on our website.

**Caspian Sea

Also yesterday, we issued a statement in the evening in which the Secretary‑General welcomed the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea by Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.

**Honour Roll

And today, our Honour Roll has added three new members.  Thanks to payments from Botswana, Egypt and Tajikistan, which brings us up to?

Correspondent:  One hundred and eighteen.

Spokesman:  One hundred and twenty‑one.  All right.  I get to ask the first question.  Okay, Maggie, go ahead, and then Edie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is having these first rounds of talks in September in Geneva on Yemen.  Can you talk a little bit about the Secretary‑General’s hopes, expectations for this?  I mean, I understand it’s a first round, but the situation is very urgent, especially in light of the killings of children and such in Yemen.  So, could you talk about hopes and expectations?

Spokesman:  I don’t think we would want to prognosticate on the outcome.  This is… Mr. Griffiths’ efforts, I think, have shown that he can at least schedule a meeting and bring these people to the table.  What we want to see is a stop to the fighting.  What we want to see is a stop to the humanitarian suffering.  What we want to see is a halt to civilian casualties, which continue in what is a man‑made humanitarian crisis.

Question:  Are you… can I follow up?  Are you any more optimistic standing here today than you were a few months ago, perhaps, that we can get to that sort of conclusion?

Spokesman:  You know, I think, to quote the Secretary‑General, who quotes Jean Monnet, I’m neither pessimistic or optimistic.  I’m just trying to be realistic.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Following up on Syria, it appears that this new offensive is now aimed at the last major rebel‑held area in Syria, which is, as you said, very densely populated.  Has the Secretary‑General spoken to either senior Russian or Syrian officials to try to ensure the protection of this vast number of civilians in the area?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Secretary‑General did have a conversation recently with Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov, which Syria was a big part of that discussion.  This message of protecting civilians is one that he has conveyed both publicly and privately to all the parties.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today some report said UN issued calculation of the next year’s UN budget; that is that China will be second‑largest contributor.  Can you confirm it?

Spokesman:  No, it’s the first I’ve heard of it.  Let me check, and I will get back to you.  Go ahead?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any comments on the US decision to suspend the treaty with Russia on Open Skies, which allowed mutual military survey flights?  Do you think it can affect badly the international security?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, no particular comment at this time, but I’ll try to get something.  Yep?

Question:  Stéphane, thank you, and good to see you here again.  My… I have two questions.  The first one is about the Turkey‑US tensions.  Your colleague, Farhan [Haq], last week said it’s a bilateral matter, but this could have potential impact on your work, with regard especially to the Syrian refugees.  Do… does the Secretary‑General have any comment about these tensions?

Spokesman:  I think Farhan did answer the question.  Obviously, these bilateral issues can have impact beyond those two countries.  We hope they do not.  We hope that these issues are resolved through dialogue and are resolved.  I think it’s very… both the United States and Turkey are two very important countries that play an important role in the region, and we would not want to see these tensions have an impact beyond those two countries.

Question:  And my second question is about Syria.  Russian military said Tuesday that its forces in Syria will help UN peacekeepers fully restore patrols along the frontier between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights.  As you know, since 2014, I believe, the UN forces are not there.  Has there been any discussions about this?

Spokesman:  I think we’ve seen a return… we’ve seen a progressive return of some of the UN forces to their positions at UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force].

Question:  And will they increase their presence anytime soon?

Spokesman:  I think as the conditions on the ground permit, we would like to see our presence increase.  Mr. Abbadi and then Carole.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You announced the release of the report on Secretary‑General on…

Spokesman:  Yes, I sure did.  I did.

Question:  On the work of the Organization, where he promotes multilateralism.  Is the Secretary‑General convinced that it will be met with wide support?

Spokesman:  Well, that surely is his hope.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Stéphane, two weeks ago, the Secretary‑General sent a letter saying he was extremely concerned by the… the Organization’s finances.  And I’m wondering if you have an update especially since some States have come forward with paying their dues.  Is the situation still dire?

Spokesman:  The situation is… and we have, as I said, three new Member States who have paid in full.  We’re up to 121.  The overall cash flow situation, I think, is one that remains of concern, but I will try to get you some hard numbers.  Yeah?

Question:  Can I ask a separate question on whether the Secretary‑General is still planning to travel to the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]?

Spokesman:  There’s no travel to the DRC scheduled as far as I’ve been made aware.  Ronda and then…

Question:  Yeah.  Sorry.  The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] sent around a response to the Secretary‑General when he was in Japan saying something about characterizing the sec… the DPRK in a way that… that seemed to sort of take a side in the dispute and to… to raise sort of the char… character of the DPRK rather than trying to settle the… the situation.  And I guess what I wonder is, is the… we’ve seen some real step forward in what’s happening in the Korean Peninsula situation, but the Security Council is now holding fast to sanctions and isn’t particularly supporting there to be a way of supporting there to be a broadening of what’s happening.  And I’m wondering what the Secretary‑General feels about what’s going on and if he’s… sees himself as recognizing that there’s a… there’s a dispute in hand which has to do with… with the DPRK… there’s still a state of war, so I’m wondering, is there something he…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think the Secretary‑General is very clear on his position on what needs to be done and what he would like to see, and that position has remained the same and is unchanged.  He fully understands the complexity of the crisis, and he fully understands the challenges ahead, but his position itself has not changed.

Question:  But there’s a question of the armistice rather than the end of the war and there’s a feud over the end of the war.

Spokesman:  Those are issues that will have to be decided by all the parties in… involved.  The UN… you know, the UN Command as it’s known has its roots in history, which goes beyond and before my own presence, but it is one that has… currently has no links either formally or informally with the United Nations, and the Secretary‑General has no role to play in it.  Carla and then Maggie.

Question:  Thank you.  Since the shortfall in funding the UN has been announced, Senator Ed Markey has called for a reduction in the trillions of dollars being invested in nuclear weapons, and I wonder whether the Secretary‑General sees any hope in… one Trident missile could fund the entire United Nations.  Is there any coordination between the members of the US Government who are in favour of reducing the funding to the military and transferring the money to the UN?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of any discussion.  I don’t believe there’s been any discussion between those people and the Secretary‑General.  Maggie?

Question:  Steph, on the Venezuela numbers, 2.3 million seems a really growing refugee crisis.  Is there any sort of pledging conference planned or larger — I don’t know — involvement by the UN?  I mean, because it’s growing…

Spokesman:  To your question, I will check with our humanitarian colleagues.

Question:  And so, currently, are Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, these countries, hosting them on their own, or is UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] helping support them?

Spokesman:  UNHCR and others are giving what help they can.  Obviously, as with a lot of crises we see around the world, we see neighbouring countries showing great generosity.  And we would hope that other countries who are able to would also help and support those countries which are hosting these refugees.  Yes, sir, and then…

Question:  Has there been any call to the UN…?

Spokesman:  I will check… I will check on the pledging… on the money issue.  Yes, sir?

Question:  On the human rights situation in the case and the arrest of human rights activist, in the case of Samar Badawi, over two weeks ago, the UN statement showed concern but stopped short of asking for the release of Samar Badawi and other activists.  Where does the UN stand clearly on that matter?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to what was said at the time.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.