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

7 September 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 afternoon.  A couple of senior personnel appointments to announce:  The Secretary-General is appointing of Charlotte Petri Gornitzka of Sweden as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as the Deputy Executive Director for Partnerships at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Ms. Petri Gornitzka, who recently served as the Chair of Development Assistant Committee for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), brings to the position 20 years of experience in international development.  She has successfully built innovative partnerships with leaders of the civil society, national Governments and the private sector to deliver programme results and influence critical policy changes.

And the Secretary-General is announcing, also today, the appointment of Ingrid Hayden of Australia as his Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  With over 27 years of distinguished service with the United Nations, Ms. Hayden has served as the Acting Deputy Special Representative of UNAMA since January.  She has extensive working experience for the United Nations in the areas of peace and security, management, including in Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Timor‑Leste.


And this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Peacebuilding Commission meeting on “Leadership, Accountability and Capacities”.  He said that effective, responsive and accountable leadership — supported by the right capacities and resources — lies at the heart of his vision for sustaining peace.  He also noted the need to invest more — and much earlier — in prevention and peacebuilding.  He added that it’s important to work together to enhance the authority and capacities of United Nations leaders and their teams, particularly those who work in conflict areas, as they navigate a complex and politically sensitive environment, while operating with limited staff and resources.  The Secretary-General also called for an increase in contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund, which often plays a catalytic role in assisting countries seeking to build and sustain peace.  In addition, he highlighted the progress in allocating more resources to gender parity.  Last year, he said, the Peacebuilding Fund devoted 36 per cent of funds for projects supporting women’s peacebuilding work.  His full remarks are online.


And as you will have just seen, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council by videoconference on the situation in Idlib.  He said the situation there had all the ingredients of a perfect storm, with devastating humanitarian consequences.  He noted reports suggesting the increased deployment of Syrian Government and allied forces near the Idlib de-escalation zone.  The Special Envoy said the dangers are profound that any battle for Idlib would be horrific and bloody.  He said that efforts to combat terrorism do not supersede obligations under international law, and he urged all sides to find a formula to avert a tragedy in Idlib.  John Ging of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told the Council there are some 3 million people living in the Idlib de-escalation zone, which includes parts of Idlib, Aleppo, Latakia, and Hama governorates.  Of these, he said, 2.1 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 1.4 million people who are internally displaced.  He added that humanitarian aid is already being pre-positioned inside Idleb, including ready‑to-eat food rations sufficient for one week to cover as many as 850,000 people, both through cross-border operations via Turkey and from inside Syria.


On Myanmar, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) say they stand ready to commence assessment activities in 23 villages following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the two agencies and the Government of Myanmar three months ago.  These assessments would be a first step only, with the expectations that access will be expanded to allow for the large scale comprehensive assessments that continue to be needed.  The assessment in the initial list of villages are part of a broader work plan that has been under discussion with the authorities in Myanmar since July.  By commencing with needs assessments to identify and implement quick-impact projects, UNHCR and UNDP hope to jump start confidence building measures aimed at rebuilding trust and social cohesions with those communities that remain in Rakhine State.  Substantial progress however remains urgently needed in three key areas covered by the Memorandum of Understanding:  granting effective access in Rakhine State; ensuring freedom of movement for all communities; and addressing the root causes of the crisis, including a clear pathway to citizenship for those who are eligible.


Our colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs informed us that they marked the official closing today of its Nepal Liaison Office, that was established in 2011 following the closure of United Nations Mission in Nepal.  For the past two decades, the United Nations has accompanied the Nepali Government and Nepali leaders on the county’s pathway to peace, including the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Nepal’s homegrown and nationally owned peace process reached an important milestone following the adoption of an inclusive and democratic Constitution in 2015 and completion of three-tier elections in 2017.  The United Nations is committed to continue to work with Nepali political leaders and civil society on consolidating the peace agenda, including on broader human rights and development goals, towards a future of sustained peace and prosperity.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

And on 4 September, a few days ago, a joint United Nations and Government team conducted a joint assessment mission in North and South Hwanghae Provinces in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea following the late‑August heavy rains and flash floods in that area.  Needs [have been] identified in the sectors of food security, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, shelter and disaster risk reduction.  Currently, many areas remain inaccessible as bridges and roads have been destroyed.  The floods follow a period of high temperatures in July and August, which already affected crop production in the provinces considered to be the “food basket” of the country.  Some 40 per cent of the population is food insecure and undernourished in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


And a note from Colombia:  The United Nations Verification Mission has informed us that in recent weeks, six leaders of the four Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration and one new regrouping point in the south-eastern region of the country decided to leave these Areas and abandon their responsibilities to approximately 1,500 ex-combatants residing there.  Our colleagues in the Mission are closely monitoring this situation and have confirmed that, despite the departure of these leaders, the ex-combatants and their families continue to live, study and work there, and remain committed to the reintegration process.  The Mission stressed renewed Government support for productive reintegration is needed now more than ever, and it called upon the National Reincorporation Council and its working groups to resume with their efforts to implement productive projects with a community-based approach.  It added that in these south-eastern Areas, former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) members and their families have developed more than 40 productive projects, which are fundamental to the effective reintegration of these individuals.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, our colleagues in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) strongly condemn the killing of a number of internally displaced people in Bria, Haute-Kotto Prefecture, by alleged members of the ex‑Séléka Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de Centrafrique.  The Peacekeeping Police are investigating reports that people from the PK3 camp for internally displaced people were abducted Thursday outside the camp and reportedly killed.  The Mission received information about the bodies and sent a patrol, who found the deceased people on the Ippy axis.  The Mission has increased the security around the PK3 IDP camp to protect the population.  The Mission urges all armed groups to stop violence against civilians and end current tensions in Bria.  It reiterates that the perpetrators of these attacks against civilians must be arrested and brought to justice.

**South Sudan

And the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, just wrapped up a four-day visit to South Sudan.  She said that grave violations against children in the country remain at unacceptably high levels, with close to 1,400 children verified as having been directly affected in 2017 and thousands more bearing the brunt of the conflict.  Ms. Gamba called on all parties committing grave violations against children to take immediate concrete actions to end the devastating number of violations and prevent them from reoccurring.  More information in a press release.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) welcomed Qatar’s decision to end exit visa requirements for most of its migrant workers.  The Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, said in a tweet that this is a “positive step towards decent work” and added that the agency is committed to working with the Qatari Government as it pursues further reforms.  The Secretary‑General adds his welcome to the voice of ILO on this development.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that over 45 countries renewed their commitment to globally eradicate, by 2030, the Peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a highly contagious and devastating disease responsible for the death of millions of sheep and goats each year.  At a global conference organized by FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health in Brussels, participants stressed that PPR directly threatens the livelihoods of the poorest people in their countries, noting that the disease causes more than $2.1 billion in economic losses every year.

**Press Briefings

I want to flag that, on Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be an embargoed briefing here by the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Professor Petteri Taalas, in conjunction with the 3 p.m. event at which the Secretary-General will deliver a major address on climate change on the North Lawn.  If it rains, it will take place in the Delegates’ Dining Room.  The Secretary-General will outline the danger, highlight solutions, and emphasize the need for greater ambition and stronger leadership in addressing what he has called “the defining threat of our time”.  We look forward to seeing you there.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  The first one is about Syria.  We saw Secretary-General's statement about Idlib.  Has the Secretary-General made any, himself, any contacts with the relevant parties, any discussions about the imminent military operation there?

Spokesman:  You know, he has been discussing the issue, notably with… during his monthly lunch with Security Council, and of course, Mr. de Mistura has himself been in contact with all the relevant parties.

Question:  Second question is about the developments in Iraq in… in the oil‑rich city of Basra.  There have been mass protests, Government buildings being burned.  Recent… just a few hours ago, the Iranian consulate has been burned by mobs.  Several protesters got killed.  Any comments about the… the development in Basra?

Spokesman:  Yes, of course.  You know, we've been watching this closely, as has the Mission there, Mr. [Ján] Kubiš.  We very much regret the tragic loss of life during the demonstrations that took place in Basra and some other places in Iraq.  We offer condolences to the families of the dead and wish a speedy recovery to those injured.  We call on the Iraqi authorities to respect the right of freedom of expression and allow people to participate in peaceful demonstrations, free of threats, intimidation, or arbitrary detention.  And it's also important that all political actors cooperate in establishing an inclusive government that will urgently address the people's demands for tangible reforms that would improve the daily lives of all Iraqis.  And, as I said, Mr. Kubiš is very much following the matter.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Several members of Security Council said that if a major military offensive… the result of a major military offensive in Idlib resulted in many casual… civilian casualties, this could construe a war crime.  Does the Secretary‑General share same view?

Spokesman:  I'm not going into hypotheticals, in terms… but we have seen violence and tragedy against the people of Syria for eight years and more now that have been crimes that could constitute war crimes that we've seen during this period.  The Secretary-General's message, Mr. de Mistura's message, John Ging's message, everyone's message from our end is that any military attack could create a catastrophic humanitarian situation, and I think Mr. Ging was very clear in those remarks.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, the North Korean Mission put out a statement saying that they requested that the Secretary-General circulate the Panmunjom Declaration as an official document of the UN.  Has that been done?  Is there a problem with doing that?

Spokesman:  I will check.  Usually, there… the Member States routinely write to the Secretary-General in his role as kind of… Secretariat role to circulate documents to the General Assembly, Security Council.  That is usually done.  I'll… let me check on that particular request.  Richard and then we'll… good afternoon, Richard.

Question:  As is the custom of the UN and media, there are… it's always two events or three events, if you're lucky, at the same time.  Monday, there's Venezuela's meeting and climate.  I don't suppose a request to push the Secretary‑General's remarks to another time would be adhered to?  And on Venezuela, can you give us the latest views from upstairs on where we stand as this meeting nears?

Spokesman:  On Venezuela?  The Secretary-General's position on Venezuela remains the same.  Our humanitarian colleagues are working with countries in the region to try to deal with the outflow of Venezuelans that we have seen.  And his call for… you know, for an inclusive political dialogue in Venezuela stands, as well.  Yep.

Question:  Do you have a response to the latest statements by the Guatemalan Government?  Basically, they've said that the UN is trying to dictate how the country must be ruled through the [International] Commission against Impunity [in Guatemala] (CICIG)?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the Secretary-General… I saw those comments made.  Before those comments were made, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that he supports the work of the Commission that is based on an agreement between Guatemala and the United Nations that was signed some years ago, and that position remains.

Question:  Just a follow-up, if I can.  The Government is saying that the… the UN should negotiate with them how to finish the work of this Commission, which they don't support any more.  Are there… are there conversations going on?

Spokesman:  The UN is always open to receiving messages and listening to Member States.

Question:  Stéphane, I… I do have a question of Kosovo, but I do have a follow‑up on Syria, as well.  Mr. de Mistura described the situation in Idlib as "perfect storm".  I mean, why "perfect storm”?  Storm is storm.  It's always tragic.  Why not "tragic storm"?  Is he anticipating that, like in a movie, Idlib will sink or…?

Spokesman:  Well, we have… I mean, the… "perfect storm" is an expression.

Question:  Why not "tragic storm"?

Spokesman:  The point is whether it's a tragic storm or a perfect storm… the point is that it's a storm, and millions of civilians are at risk of great, great pain and great violence.

Question:  Okay.  On Kosovo, I do have to ask you again.  Where does the Secretary-General stands now with these dialogues that supposed to go on between Belgrade and Pristina?  However today, the newest news that we have out of Brussels that the Serbian delegation withdrew and went out of the dialogue.  I know he's in support, but does he have to say anything in relation?

Spokesman:  I'll have to check on those latest reports.  I mean, we had always pushed for Belgrade and Pristina to continue to engage in the dialogue constructively and to make progress during this meeting.  The UN's… you know, in terms of respect to Kosovo, the UN maintains its status of neutrality, in line with the relevant Security Council resolutions, and we're obviously following the meetings in Brussels, which are being led by the European Union.

Question:  Quick follow-up.  Many people are very concerned with the news, and even intentions pronounced by the leaders from Pristina and Belgrade that they are ready for the new tailoring of the borders in the region.  Some even are saying that it's opening of Pandora’s Box for Bosnia and other countries like Macedonia.  What does the Secretary-General say about that?

Spokesman:  There are processes in place, and I think Member States should support… work together to respect those processes.

Question:  Is he concerned?

Spokesman:  I'll leave it at that.  Yes, sir.  Yassein?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Follow-up to Syria.  Today, they have a meeting between, you know, Russia and Iran and Turkey.  Do you have any brief about that?  Do you have any comments?  What's going on?

Spokesman:  No.  The UN was not represented at the meeting, and Mr. de Mistura was clear that he looks forward to getting a full debrief of the discussions that took place between the three leaders.  We saw the press encounters.  I think we… it was good to hear that there would be more dialogue taking place.  Masood and then…

Question:  Yes, thank you, Stéphane.  On… on the Rohingya thing, that the… Myanmar Government has rejected the findings of the United Nations investigative team, and now is also saying they will not… I mean it does not accept the purview of the International Criminal Court.  Where did the… what is… what is the way forward over there in Rohingya… in order to get Rohingyas back?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean I think it's what we outlined is, first of all, first steps is creation of confidence-building measures for the Rohingya populations that remain in Rakhine State, to ensure full access to the relevant UN agencies and at the end of the day, it will be those Rohingya refugees that will have to make the determination, free from pressure, to go back, voluntarily, in dignity.

Question:  Can I ask… so the Rohingyas' fate will be hanging in the balance?  There's no resolution in the near future?

Spokesman:  I'm not saying there's no resolution in the near future.  We're working towards a resolution.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Follow-up question, follow on… Serbian-Kosovo dialogue.  The President of Serbia is maybe coming last… next week to US.  and he's going to be here, and the Kosovo President [sic] may be, too.  Last year, there was something between them when they were here in New York, and I'm asking the question:  Is going to be the same last year?  Is UN involved in the talking between Serbian and…?

Spokesman:  I'll… let me check.  I'm not aware that we're hosting any meeting, but I will check.  Mr. Roth, and then Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

Question:  If there was a leak, and they have… there have been leaks, does the Secretary-General favour lie-detecting his top cabinet staff members?

Spokesman:  I don't think I'll be hooked up just yet.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.