29 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.


Good morning.  I will start off with a statement on Syria.  The Secretary‑General is deeply concerned about the growing risks of a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of a full‑scale military operation in the Idlib Province of Syria.  The Secretary‑General once again reaffirms that any use of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable.  The Secretary‑General urgently appeals to the Government of Syria and all parties to exercise restraint and to prioritize the protection of civilians.  He calls on the Astana guarantors to step up the efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Idlib, the last remaining de‑escalation zone.

The Secretary‑General further calls on all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, to allow freedom of movement, to allow for the protection of civilian infrastructure, including medical and educational facilities, in accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian law.  That statement should now be available online.

**Syria Humanitarian

And on the humanitarian front, our humanitarian colleagues today reiterate their concern about the situation around Idlib and the potential catastrophic humanitarian consequences in case of a military operation.  Nearly 3 million people in the area are believed to be in Idlib’s de‑escalation zone, comprising parts of Idlib, western Aleppo, northern Hama and eastern Latakia Governorates.  This includes nearly 1.4 million internally displaced people and 2.1 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

As OCHA’s [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] John Ging said yesterday, the UN and our partners are continuing to respond to the needs in Idlib and across north‑west Syria through cross‑border assistance deliveries.  Nearly 680,000 people received food delivered by the UN from Turkey in July alone.  Aid organizations are prepositioning aid to prepare for a further deterioration of the situation in the area.  The UN continues to remind all parties to the fighting in Idlib and the north‑west of their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access and to ensure the protection of civilians.

Also on Syria, OCHA continues to be concerned about the welfare of civilians in eastern Deir ez‑Zor Governorate.  On Monday, 53 people were reportedly killed and 100 injured in air strikes on residential areas in Abu Kamal district.  Nearly 200,000 displaced people have returned to Deir ez‑Zor since November 2017.  Humanitarian aid is being provided in a number of locations, but fighting continues to impact civilians in the eastern part of the governorate in recent months, reportedly causing 20,000 people to flee to makeshift camps between July and early August.  We’ll have more updates as we get them.


In Iraq, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, has strongly condemned today’s deadly terrorist bombing in the Al‑Qaim area in western Anbar Province.  Mr. Kubiš said that, although Da’esh has been defeated on the battlefield, it continues to pose a threat to peace in Iraq, using cowardly and indiscriminate attacks against civilians to terrorize people in an attempt to destabilize a country recovering from conflict.  He added that today’s attack is a reminder to Iraqis that the struggle for peace is not yet over, stressing the key role of the resilience and unity of all Iraqis in thwarting the terrorists’ schemes and consolidating stability and achieving prosperity.

**Security Council

Back here this morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on mediation.  He told the Council that both war and mediating peace are becoming increasingly complex, noting that, since the beginning of his tenure, one of his key priorities has been a surge in the diplomacy of peace.

The Secretary‑General said that prevention includes investment in mediation, peacebuilding and sustainable development.  We must be bold and creative in bringing together the avenues and capacities that are available for mediation, he said.  He said that the UN has a number of mediation resources that are deployed in various ways, including the Secretary‑General’s special [envoys] and representatives, as well as good offices, and formal talks, often alongside envoys and mediators from regional organizations or Member States.


Yesterday, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, began a four‑day visit to Mali to raise awareness of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country and to find a way to enable increased and timely humanitarian response, including by addressing the significant funding gap.  Today, she is in the capital, Bamako, where she is meeting with governmental officials, humanitarian partners and others.

While in Mali, she will also meet with internally displaced people in one of the most affected communities in the central part of the country.  Currently, some 5.2 million people, or 1 in 4 Malians, are in need of humanitarian assistance, compared to 3.8 million in 2017 and 4.1 [million] in early 2018.  The level of need is higher than at any point since the beginning of the current crisis in 2012.  As of today, only 31 per cent of the $330 million that are needed by the end of 2018 for the Humanitarian Response Plan has been received, making Mali 1 of the 10 least‑funded humanitarian appeals globally.


A new report released today by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that 4 million refugee children do not attend school.  This is an increase of half a million of out‑of‑school refugee children in just one year.  The report shows that, despite the efforts of Governments, UNHCR and its partners, enrolment of refugee children in school is failing to keep pace with the growing refugee population.  Only 61 per cent of refugee children attend primary school, compared to 92 per cent of children globally.  More information online.


Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said urgent action is needed to address the [human rights] crisis in Nicaragua, where the level of persecution is such that many of those who participated in the protests that erupted in April, defended protesters’ rights or simply expressed dissenting views, have been forced to hide or leave the country.  There’s more information on the High Commissioner’s Office page.


And I’ve been asked in the past about the filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and I can tell you that the Secretary‑General remains concerned about the health of Oleh Sentsov, who has now been on hunger strike for more than 100 days and is reportedly in critical condition.  The issue has been part of the Secretary‑General’s conversations with Russian authorities.

**Day against Nuclear Tests

Today is the International Day [against] Nuclear Tests.  In his message, the Secretary‑General said that the history of nuclear testing is one of suffering, with the victims of more than 2,000 nuclear tests often being some of the most vulnerable communities around of the world.  He stressed that the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty has an essential role within the nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation regime.  It fosters international peace and security and we should make every effort to bring it into force.

**Honour Roll

Today our Honour Roll stands at 125, with which Member State having paid?  We’re going to switch things around now.  You have 1/165 chance of being right.  It was Belarus.  There you go.  All right.  Mr. Roth?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I don’t even know how to put this into a question, because there is no answer, and it’s not your fault or the Spokesman’s fault but…

Spokesman:  But you’ll ask, you’ll make your statement anyway?  Yeah.

Question:  Yeah, and I would say I’m spurred on by your opening statement.  Why can’t the Secretary‑General say that to the media today at the stakeout when there’s no pressure, schedule‑wise?  You have a crisis in Idlib, chemical weapons.  I’m going to go file my report by Western Union to the West Side.  I mean, does the Secretary‑General know it’s not 1957?  He’s the leading diplomat.  This is the media capital of the world, whether it’s this or Myanmar and other issues.  And has he scheduled a press conference before the General Assembly, FYI?

Spokesman:  Yes, a press conference is scheduled on Thursday, the 20th of September, and the Secretary‑General will be in [this] room.  And I’ve heard the first part of your statement.  Mr. Klein.

Question:  Yeah.  This is a… two questions related to the status of Matthew Lee.  The first is whether any consideration is being given to at least giving him temporary access to the UN Headquarters during the General Assembly week and, secondly, just if you would respond to his repeated claims that he was not accorded due process before being banned from the, from the premises.

Spokesman:  The process through which accreditation is given and withdrawal is clear, it’s written publicly in the media guidelines.  You all agree to the process when you accept your accreditation, which accreditation to any institution is a privilege.  Everybody has a right to, to report and to say whatever they, they wish.  But the accreditation process is such.  It’s very clear.  You, Joe Klein, and everybody else in this room agree to the accreditation process when you accepted your accreditation, and that process was followed.  I’m not aware of, for your first part, I’m not aware of any effort to do so.  Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You said, I think, last Monday that Martin Griffiths sent out the invitation to the parties.  Who were invited?  And if there is any response, did he receive any positive answers?

Spokesman:  The… I’ll have to, listen, I should know off the top of my head, but I think the… I don’t want to freelance on this, but I will give you, I’ll give you an answer right after the briefing.  Yes.

Question:  Hi.  Ma Jianguo from China’s Xinhua News Agency.  In a statement, SG said there is a growing potential of humanitarian crisis for the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, because last time when there was a controversy over the [inaudible] saying that it’s false or fake news, and is UN sending a kind fact‑finding mission to that area this time also?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, you know what happened to the fact‑finding mission that was approved and then not renewed by, by the, I mean, the mechanism that the, that Mr. [Edmond] Mulet led, which was approved and then no longer approved by the Security Council, that remains the same.  What the, you know, the Secretary‑General is issuing a reminder, as if a reminder should be needed, to remind people that the use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable.

Question:  It seemed that there is a source seemed that maybe somewhere or some, some of the parties is going to use chemical weapons.  Where’s the source?

Spokesman:  I, we’re not stating any source, I’m not referring to, to any source.  I’m just reaffirming a basic bedrock principle.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.

Correspondent:  One more question.

Spokesman:  One more.  Why not?  Exactly.  It’s…

Question:  I read in the Moroccan press that Mr. [Horst] Köhler had submitted his periodic report on Western Sahara.  Can you share with us any findings in that…?

Spokesman:  No, but I will, I will check.  Yep.  Yeah.

Question:  Has there been any recent direct communication between the Secretary‑General and Pope Francis, at least in part, on the subject of alleged sexual abuse in both institutions, the UN and… and the church?  And maybe you should try and share best practices of zero tolerance going forward.

Spokesman:  There’s been no direct communication between the Secretary‑General and, and the Pope on this issue.  There has been a conversation with all Member States and, and Observer States by the Secretariat on the issue of, of sexual abuse.

Question:  On the spread of cholera in Yemen, do you have any update whether it has been contained or any…?

Spokesman:  No, we will ask our…

Question:  … progress on…

Spokesman:  We will ask our OCHA colleagues for an update for tomorrow.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.