13 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


In Accra today, the Secretary-General spoke at the funeral of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, calling him an exceptional global leader who was also someone virtually anyone in the world could see themselves in.  Like few in our time, he said, Kofi Annan could bring people together, put them at ease, and unite them towards a common goal for our common humanity.   The Secretary-General said that Kofi Annan was courageous, speaking truth to power while subjecting himself to intense self-scrutiny.  And like his predecessor Dag Hammarskjöld, he had an almost mystical sense of the role of the United Nations as a force for good in a world of ills.  Secretary-General Guterres recalled his friendship with Kofi Annan and added, “Now that I occupy the office Kofi once held, I am continually inspired by his integrity, dynamism and dedication.”  As we face the headwinds of our troubled and turbulent times, the Secretary-General said, let us always be inspired by the legacy of Kofi Annan — and guided by the knowledge that he will continue speaking to us, urging us on towards the goals to which he dedicated his life and truly moved our world.  His full remarks are online.  The Secretary-General will meet with the President of Ghana and also with the UN country team before leaving the country today.


This morning, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Michael Keating, briefed the Security Council, his final briefing ahead of the end of his tour of duty next week.  Mr. Keating will be our guest at the Noon Briefing today; he will share some of the highlights of his time in Somalia.  If he’s not ready by the time we’re done here, we will break and then bring him back in once he’s ready to come.  Also addressing the Council on Somalia this morning was the Executive Director of UN‑Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who visited the country last month.  She noted that women have made progress in Somalia, including a jump in women's representation from 14 to almost 25 per cent in parliament, an agreement by the Federal Government on a sexual offences bill and the first-ever prosecution of female genital mutilation.  However, serious challenges remain — laws relating to gender are often ignored, female parliamentarians are often marginalized, and Al‑Shabaab courts continue to kill women violently.  Her full remarks are available online.

**South Sudan

Moving on to South Sudan, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in that country, David Shearer, welcomed yesterday’s signing in Addis Ababa of a revitalized peace agreement by all parties to the conflict.  In a statement, Mr. Shearer noted that while the signing of the peace agreement is a single step on the road to enduring peace, it is the one that lays the foundations for all that must follow.  He particularly acknowledged the efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Governments of Sudan and Ethiopia, who have championed negotiations over the past few months and shown true leadership in bringing the parties together to sign a new agreement.  Highlighting a continued lack of trust between the parties, Mr. Shearer stressed the need for the engagement of the UN and the international community in assisting genuine reconciliation and peacebuilding.  He added that a genuine commitment to peace and concrete actions to implement the agreement would encourage the people of South Sudan to move back to their homes to lead lives that are safe and self-reliant.  The full statement is available online.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will meet with senior officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States tomorrow in Geneva.  The Special Envoy will host a joint meeting with the seven delegations at the Palais des Nations.  Meanwhile, we continue to be concerned about the safety and protection of 3 million women, children and men in Idleb and surrounding areas, with intermittent artillery shelling continuing to be reported in southern rural Idlib, southern rural Aleppo and northern rural Hama.  Since the beginning of September, thousands of people have been displaced, following a recent escalation of hostilities in north-west Syria.  The UN urges all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to take constant care to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian personnel and assets.


Today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said the situation in Hodeidah has deteriorated dramatically over the past few days and that families are absolutely terrified by the bombardment, shelling and airstrikes.  “People are struggling to survive,” said Ms. Grande. More than 25 per cent of children are malnourished; 900,000 people in the governorate are desperate for food and 90,000 pregnant women are at enormous risk.  She added that parties to the conflict are obliged to do absolutely everything possible to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and ensure people have access to the aid they are entitled to and need to survive.


The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, will visit China from 14 to 21 September.  While in China, she will meet with Government officials, as well as representatives from NGOs, civil society and academia, to discuss China’s role in the global humanitarian system.  In Beijing, she will also give a speech on humanitarian action at the Institute of South-South Cooperation of Peking University.  From 18 to 19 September, Ms. Mueller will be among speakers at the 12th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin.  She will use this opportunity to raise awareness on innovation and data in the humanitarian sector and join other speakers in discussing China’s evolving role in global humanitarian affairs.


This morning, in Geneva, there was a high-level panel discussion to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The High Commissioner for Refugees, Michelle Bachelet, said that the “odious scourge” of genocide, as the Convention describes it, remains both a threat and a reality in the twenty-first century.  Seventy years on from the adoption of the Convention, she said that we must take stock of the gravity of recent acts, such as those perpetrated against the Rohingya and Yazidis, and we must do everything possible to hold those responsible to account.  Also speaking at the discussion was Adama Dieng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  He said that genocide is not an accident, nor is it inevitable. He said that it is our inaction or our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs that allows it to become a reality.  Mr. Dieng noted that 149 States have ratified or acceded to the Convention, appealing to the Member States that have not done so to prioritize its ratification by its seventieth anniversary on 9 December of this year.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

On Saturday, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will launch an online platform dedicated to European World Heritage sites and sustainable travel.  The platform features 34 selected World Heritage sites spread across 19 European Union countries, and it has been developed in collaboration with National Geographic.  The new platform seeks to encourage people to travel beyond the major tourist hubs, staying longer, and experiencing more of what the local region has to offer.  You can find more about it on UNESCO’s website.  That's it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yeah?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Secretary‑General told The Atlantic magazine that the United States is being reduced at the present moment, the power… the soft power of the United States is being reduced at the moment, and without the US, there's no way to solve problems in the world.  Is that criticism of the current leadership of the United States, or is that just major observations about… and what is the reason?  Why is it, all of a sudden, diminishing the power, the soft power?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to the full extent of his remarks that were printed in The Atlantic.  This is his analysis of the situation at hand.  Obviously, there are times when the influence of different nations either increases or recedes.  What's important is to make sure that, at those times, given the crucial nature of the relationship between the United States and the United Nations, that we continue our collaboration in such a way that the influence of the United Nations and the goals of the United States can be achieved.

Question:  Does he agree with the former Secretary of State John Kerry who said that most of the world is waiting out the presidency of Donald Trump?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't think we'd have any comment on what Mr. Kerry has said.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan. Is the Secretary‑General meeting with any other Heads of States besides the President of… of Ghana?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not in this trip.  Like I said, he'll meet with the president.  He'll meet with the country team.  Then he'll be leaving the country.  We'll have some travel by him in the coming days to announce to you — probably by tomorrow.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Yes. Again, on the… in the speech [a] few days ago Michelle Bachelet did the inauguration of her term has Commissioner of Human Rights; there's been reactions.  Also, we saw also from the US Ambassadors, but I want to consider again on Italy, because in Italy, the reaction has been really strong.  Not only the Interior Minister but also the Foreign Minister reacted, and they say the Italian Foreign Minister released a statement calling Bachelet's remarks inappropriate, ungrounded, and unfair.  So, specific question to the Secretary‑General:  Does he think that in the last years… I'm just saying in the last few months, two, three months, Italy has respected human rights when it has to do with migrants and refugee or not? Just that.

Deputy Spokesman:  The concerns raised by Michelle Bachelet are the ones that are within her mandate as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Secretary‑General certainly respects and supports her work as she goes about her mandate.  That's all I would have to say on this for now.

Question:  So, just to make sure if I understood, so, he respects and supports a statement means that he agrees with this statement… with her statement?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I said he respects and supports the work done by the High Commissioner as she fulfils her mandate.  That's her point.  She has the right to express the views that she has as High Commissioner as she goes about her mandate.

Question:  And I'm finishing here.  Can… then will we have to ask specifically to him to know [what] he thinks?  Maybe next week?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the human rights concerns at the system are dealt with by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  That's her prerogative, and we do not interfere with that in any way.

Question:  You mean that the Secretary‑General doesn't speak or doesn't… you know, is not concerned about human rights because…?

Deputy Spokesman:  No. He's clearly concerned about human rights.  But it is her right to speak out on human rights concerns as she sees fit and we support and respect her ability to do so.

Question:  Just to say, yesterday, we met, we journalists, on the UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) room, we had the pleasure to meet the new president of the General Assembly, Mrs. Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés.  And she did a little speech but was all concentrated… all focussed, I will say the most, on human rights of the attention she wants to give to human rights.  So, I think that it's one of the major problems of the United Nations; the Secretary‑General, of course, is concerned.  That's…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes. And we have also made our own concerns known, particularly about things such as the treatment of migrants.  But, like I said, the views that she's expressed, she's entitled to do, and those are hers.

And, with that, I believe I will have an announcement to read:  Just to let you know that we do have an appointment, the Secretary‑General today announced the appointment of Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana of Indonesia as Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  She will succeed Shamshad Akhtar of Pakistan, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.  The Secretary‑General is also appreciative to Mr. Hongjoo Hahm, who will continue to serve as Acting Executive Secretary until Ms. Alisjahbana assumes her position.  Ms. Alisjahbana is currently Professor of Economics at the University Padjadjaran in Bandung, Indonesia, a position she assumed in 2005.  And we will have a bio for you in our office.

Question:  Since you're talking about nomination, the Secretary‑General very recently has nominated a new Commissioner of Human Rights.  Shortly after the nomination, yesterday, Ambassador [Nikki] Haley criticized Bachelet in no uncertain terms.  Is that… are you concerned that the US is criticizing a nominee that the pres… that the Secretary‑General favoured so highly so soon after her assuming office?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as your colleague just showed a few minutes ago, it's clear that whoever occupies the position of High Commissioner for Human Rights will get criticism from different Member States at different times.  That's to be expected.  And, frankly, over the years, we have had to deal with this for anyone who has been the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Secretary‑General continues to have full confidence in Michelle Bachelet.  She is someone whose excellent record over the years, including at the UN, has demonstrated her abilities to deal with these sorts of issues.  And, of course, we'll continue to support her as her work proceeds.

Question:  But, that soon after the nomination, before she even managed to do anything?  I mean, is that… is that… is that anti-the United States, which is not like any other country… 190…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Clearly, the fact that some people are criticizing her is a sign that she's, in fact, already managed to do something.

Question:  Or… and, directly on the criticism, one of the issues that were criticized was that she failed to criticize violators such as Cuba and… and which she has visited in the past but yet was quick to criticize United States and Israel.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think making that assertion after she's made one major speech so far is a little premature.  Let's see what she says as she deals with all the problems she will have to face and all the issues that come across her desk as her work proceeds.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.  We'll come back with the High Commissioner… with the Special Representative once he's ready.  Thanks.

For information media. Not an official record.