18 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.

**General Assembly

The Secretary-General will speak at the opening of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly this afternoon.  He is expected to tell the Member States that we will have a busy session ahead of us.  He will say that we need action for peacekeeping, financing for the 2030 Agenda, empowerment for the world’s young people, urgent steps to end poverty and conflict, and much else.  The Secretary‑General will encourage the Ambassadors to tell their leaders to come to next week’s high-level week ready to be bold, ready to cooperate, and ready to forge solutions.  Earlier, he laid a wreath in memory of the late Secretary‑General Dag Hammarskjöld and those who perished with him 57 years ago.  He reinforced his personal commitment to the investigation into the conditions and circumstances relating to the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and other colleagues and crew.  The Secretary-General also renewed his strongest appeal for the cooperation of all Member States that may hold information and records that are relevant to the investigation.

Ahead of the plenary session of the seventy-third General Assembly, here are some facts and figures for the upcoming events.  In advance of the plenary session, 88 Heads of State and 45 Heads of Government have confirmed that they will attend this session, which is up from 77 Heads of State and 37 Heads of Government last year.  Regarding other events, as of today, the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management has received 342 requests for meetings during the high-level week.  Compared to the same time last year, 343 requests had been received.  As of today, the UN has received a total of 741 requests for bilateral meetings amongst Member States.  This number will increase during the next week.  Later in the week, the number of bilaterals for the Secretary-General will be announced.  The first Member State to be seated on the left at the front row of the General Assembly will be Mali, with the other Member States seated in alphabetical order after that.


A statement on Syria was issued, in which the Secretary-General said he welcomes the agreement reached on 17 September between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Vladimir Putin of Russia to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib region, which should avert a full-scale military operation and provide reprieve for millions of civilians.  The Secretary-General calls all the parties in Syria to cooperate with the implementation of the agreement and ensure safe and unimpeded humanitarian access in all areas through the most direct routes.  The Secretary-General stresses the need for swift action to address the root causes of the conflict and forge, at long last, a durable political solution in line with UN Security Council resolution 2254 (2016).  And that statement is available to you online.

Also on Syria, you will have seen there is an ongoing meeting in the Security Council during which Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council and expressed his hope that the agreement that was agreed to in Sochi is expeditiously implemented, with full respect for international humanitarian law; with sustained humanitarian access; with respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria; and with continued preference for dialogue over escalation in addressing a complex situation.  He added that, just as we are seeing crisis in Idlib averted, we are seeing worrying escalation elsewhere.  This week, he said, fresh airstrikes were reported in Damascus — that the Syrian Government attributes to Israel.  Israel has not commented, said Mr. de Mistura.  And overnight, the Special Envoy added, a Russian military aircraft was downed, killing 15 servicemen.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Council that, across much of the country the situation is now calmer than it was when he had last visited in January.  But, humanitarian needs remain substantial, he added, and the Government expressed concern to him about the underfunding of the UN’s humanitarian response plan last year.  Mr. Lowcock added that, to succeed in Idlib, demilitarization requires the agreement of all parties.  Short of such agreement, he said, it is foreseeable that force will be used to demilitarize, and thus civilians exposed to the very harm we are trying to avoid.  Mr. de Mistura and Mr. Lowcock will speak to you at the stakeout once the Council has wrapped up.


On the Philippines, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that Typhoon Mangkhut, which made landfall in the country on 15 September, has affected 893,000 people, including over 280,000 farmers.  Some 236,000 people were displaced — 70 per cent of whom are still in evacuation centres.  The typhoon has damaged to nearly 1,500 houses.  It is also estimated that 1.22 million hectares of rice and corn have been damaged, with losses estimated at $267 million.  The United Nations and partners are working closely with the Government to coordinate rapid assessment and response.  Major needs include food, health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Government’s relief efforts as needed.


On Nigeria, over the past two weeks, floods caused by heavy rains have affected at least 12 states in Nigeria, with areas located along the Niger and Benue Rivers at particular risk.  Yesterday, the Government of Nigeria declared a national disaster in four states — Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta.  The United Nations and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government-led rapid assessment and response, including through coordination, information management and reporting.


The Secretary-General yesterday welcomed the meeting between President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea that was held on 17 September in Jeddah under the auspices of His Majesty King Salman of Saudi Arabia.  In a statement, the Secretary-General expressed his hope that the encounter would initiate a process to settle all pending issues between the two countries and lead to greater peace, stability and development in the region.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) presented the findings on their 2018 Global TB Report a bit earlier today.

**Child Mortality

An estimated 6.3 million children under the age of 15 died in 2017, mostly of preventable causes, according to new mortality estimates released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Division and the World Bank Group.  Globally, in 2017, half of all deaths under five years of age took place in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 30 per cent in Southern Asia.  The report notes note that while the world has made remarkable progress to save children since 1990, millions are still dying because of who they are and where they are born, a reality that can be changed with simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines.

**Journalism Fellows

As every new General Assembly season starts, there is also a season for young journalists from the Reham al-Farra (RAF) Memorial Journalism Fellowship.  The Fellowship, which is organized by the Department of Public Information, is a unique opportunity for young journalists from developing countries and countries with economies in transition to cover the United Nations.  The programme is named for Reham al-Farra, a 29-year-old Jordanian public information officer who was one of our colleagues who was killed during the terrorist attack that targeted the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003.  They will be joined by four other young journalists — Dag Hammarskjöld Fellows.  The Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists, which is not affiliated with the United Nations, but run by United Nations correspondents here, is dedicated to the advancement of a fuller understanding of the deliberations of the United Nations and is there to support and promote the profession of journalism in the developing countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

**Press Briefings

And as I mentioned, as you know, Lise Kingo, the CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact will be here after we're done.  She will share highlights of the 2018 UN Global Compact Progress Report and the upcoming UN Global Compact Leaders Summit.  And tomorrow at the Noon Briefing, we will have as our guest Santiago Villalpando for the annual briefing on the treaties that will be signed during the General Assembly.  Santiago is the head of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs, and he will be joined by Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  They will brief you on the Treaty Event and the appeal for universal ratification of the Genocide Convention.  Khalas.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any comments on Prime Minister Imran Khan's speech that he plans to give Pakistani citizenship to the Pakistan‑born Afghan… children of Afghan refugees who have been there since 1979?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we have to see details of the proposal, but I think it would be a welcome choice given to Afghan refugees who have been far from home and give them the option to be resettled and absorbed in a country, sometimes for these children the only country they've actually known.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Guatemala, the Government has written to the SG asking for a new head for the Commission of Inquiry.  Will the UN follow that request, or are you going to keep supporting Mr. [Ivan] Velásquez in his role?

Spokesman:  I expect a bit more formal statement a bit later.  But, obviously, we have… I can confirm we've received the letter, and we are studying it carefully.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Although Kosovo is not Member State of the United Nations given the fact that it's on the agenda of the Security Council every three months and the General Assembly, knowing that Kosovo officials are here already in New York, will the Secretary‑General meet with President of Kosovo, Prime Minister of Kosovo, or talk about the new round of negotiation here?

Spokesman:  I don't have the details of the Secretary‑General's bilaterals as of yet, but I will check for you.

Question:  Also, if I may, since we have that discussion last week, you ex… you actually explained, quoting the UN… highest UN officials, saying that the situation in Idlib… Idlib was described as the perfect storm.  Now using that metaphoric language, how would you describe or the Secretary‑General would describe the recent agreement between President Putin and Erdogan in Sochi?   Is that hope for…?

Spokesman:  You may have missed it, but I read out a statement from the Secretary‑General at the top of the briefing.

Question:  I actually… I actually… I didn't [inaudible] I wanted to say, using that metaphoric language, would you explain it now hopeful, prospective, beginning of the end or what?

Spokesman:  Look, I think if anything that the last 7 and a half years of the conflict in Syria has taught us is to be realistic and take things one day at a time.  The Secretary‑General welcomes the agreement as did, of course, his Special Envoy.  The next step is, obviously, on the cooperation needed to implement the agreement and keeping at the centre of all of this the safety and well‑being of civilians in Idleb.  Abdel…?

Question:  And the SG supports Astana process?

Spokesman:  Yes, and the sec… he said that himself a few days ago.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you first confirm there is a Security Council meeting next Tuesday, to be chaired by President [Donald] Trump on the Middle East or any other subject?  I'm not…

Spokesman:  The confirmation of Security Council meetings is best left to the Member State that actually presides those meetings, so I would encourage you to check with the US.

Question:  Okay.  My second question, I repeat the same question again and again.  Israeli court decided to go ahead with the demolition of the village of al‑Khan al‑Ahmar, which will disconnect the northern part of West Bank and the southern part.  And there was a very strong statement from European Union.  However, the UN, so far, did not say anything except some few remarks?

Spokesman:  Well, I beg to differ, but there was a very direct and, I think, very clear statement from Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, who represents the Secretary‑General.  Yes, sir?

Question:  My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in D.C.  You talked about some Head of State and Government who have been confirmed.  How many of them have confirmed that they will attend from Africa?  And do you… can you tell us if the President of Nigeria, Cameroon and the Sudanese leaders will be there?

Spokesman:  We have… I'm sorry.  Go ahead.  I can do that right afterwards.  I'll show you the list we have.  Yeah?

Question:  And lastly — I don't know — is the UN ready to say something about the situation in Cameroon, where thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced?

Spokesman:  We're, obviously, following that situation very closely.  We've been concerned about it for some time.  I think the Secretary‑General and his envoys have called for a political… an inclusive political dialogue to take place.  Yes, sir?

Question:  My name is Solomon Siruanja.  I work with MBSTV.  I'm one of the fellows.  Just two questions.  One, is the Secretary‑General concerned about the fighting in Yei County in South Sudan between Riek Machar's soldiers and Dr. Salva Kiir just after signing the peace deal?  Just one.  And then, two, I just wanted to get a comment about the Secretary‑General's thoughts on the situation in Uganda where the opposition has been prosecuted and journalists beaten and one of the opposition heads tortured?

Spokesman:  We have spoken previously on the situation in Uganda, and our comments already stated stand.  On Yei County, yes, we are concerned.  As you may have seen, there was also a shooting towards a peacekeeper who was wounded.  I think it's very important that the leaders lead by example and ensure that all those on the ground implement and respect the peace agreement for the sake of the people of South Sudan, who, I think, all would agree have suffered enough.

Question:  Sir, maybe for the record, please, can you tell… recall about the Secretary‑General's comment on Uganda, just for the record for me?

Spokesman:  I think this is something we have followed closely.  It is important that people have the right to demonstrate peacefully, that they demonstrate peacefully, and that a space be accorded to them.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Are the murders of the UN experts Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp going to be addressed in any way during the weeks of the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  There have been regular reporting by the Secretary‑General's… the man the Secretary‑General, Mr. [Robert] Petit, has appointed to lead the investigation.  It may come up in some of the bilaterals.  I think we have to wait for those bilaterals to take place.  It is important that the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conduct full investigation and find those who are responsible for the killing of our two colleagues, who were doing the work of the Security Council, who were, I think, personally dedicated to their work, that the truth be found, that those responsible be brought to justice.  There's been a follow‑up mechanism that was cleared by the Security Council the Secretary‑General's implemented, trying to help the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] authorities, but it is their responsibility to lead that investigation.  [The questions will] go back to Nigeria, and then we'll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you.  One of the aid workers abducted by Boko Haram in March was killed last night, and that followed after several months of threats by Boko Haram that they are going to be killed if the Government did not accede to their demands.  Is there any effort that the UN is making to ensure the release of the remaining two workers?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the safety of all the humanitarian workers is high on our agenda in Nigeria.  For reasons you may want… you would understand, we're not going to speak publicly as to what may or may not be going on, on that front.  We extend our condolences and our solidarity to our colleagues at the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) whose colleague was killed by Boko Haram.  Yes, Jordan?

Question:  Thank you.  Your statement yesterday about what the SG… ee had spoken to the leadership of Saudi Arabia on… on UNRWA, the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East].  And then I'm sure he spoke about financing.  Did he get any reply that if they were willing to support?  This is one.  The second, some countries trying to organise a summit or a meeting during the GA on UNRWA financing.  Is the SG going to attend?  Is he going to appeal to countries during…?

Spokesman:  I think the conversations… the issue of UNRWA came up in the conversations with the King of Saudi Arabia.  As always, it is important with all pledges in the end to what money is produced or where our colleagues in UNRWA are counting the money as it comes in.  They still face a very important shortfall.  As you know, the Commissioner‑General opened up the schools, but without the money to go through the school year.  So, it is desperate that we need those… we desperately need the funds required.  I will check if there is an UNRWA event.  The Secretary‑General, as you know, has participated in pledging conferences both in New York and in Rome and on various occasions, just like in Saudi Arabia, has raised the issue directly with Heads of States and has also spent quite a time on the phone speaking to various leaders.

Question:  [Inaudible] money, emergency money, like to give UNRWA, because the commissioner keep saying, if we don't get, for example, handed a million dollars by the end of the year, we might go close the schools or something like.  This is a UN agency.  It's not a Jordanian, Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian agency.  It's United Nations agency.  The financing of it is… should be somehow… I know the voluntary responsibility for the Member State, but does the UN have money, like, in case if we come to, just…?

Spokesman:  You know, there is…  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Does the UN have, like, money, like, stop talking commissioner and we have money; don't worry about… the school are, like… in many camps in Jordan and in Palestinian territories, they are afraid that they will lose their school because too many statement issued by everybody about there is a fear we might close the school.  Does the UN have money?

Spokesman:  Of course… I mean, we fully realize the dangers of running out of money.  The vast majority of the UN's humanitarian work is based on voluntary contribution, almost pay as you go.  And you know, we talk about this repeatedly.  Our humanitarian repeals are chronically… most of them are chronically underfunded.  The UN does not sit on a stash of money that it can just dole out.  I mean, the money comes from Member States, and then it goes out.  There is a central emergency fund which we… the Secretary‑General sometimes uses to kickstart emergencies, but even that would not cover the needs of UNRWA.  What is important is that Member States that have made pledges translate those pledges into actual contributions and that those who have yet to contribute to UNRWA do so.  Madame?

Question:  Yeah.  My name is [inaudible] from Télam News Agency in Argentina.  Is the Secretary‑General going to discuss with Latin American leaders next week the situation of Venezuela and refugees in neighbouring countries?

Spokesman:  I expect that the regional implication of the movement of people we have seen from Venezuela into other Latin American countries will come up in a number of discussions.  Yes, sir?  I need you to press… no, there's a button on your microphone.

Question:  [Inaudible] from The National newspaper, part of the RAF Fellowship.  I wanted to ask, is there any update on the situation in Yemen following the Houthis' no‑show in Geneva talks earlier this month?

Spokesman:  The update is that Martin Griffiths, the envoy, is in Sana’a, I believe, today, then making his way to Riyadh.  He was in Sana’a to speak with the Houthi leadership, then going to Riyadh.  The talks ended, as we know.  Mr. Griffiths is not giving up and will continue his round of diplomatic talks to try to bring the parties to the table.  Almost every day here, we highlight the horrific situation of the civilian population in Yemen, which keeps suffering every day through a man‑made disaster where civilian infrastructures were hit; civilians were targeted.  The health system in Yemen has taken a huge hit.  We have our challenges in getting humanitarian aid in.  The only solution is a political one — for all the parties to meet with Mr. Griffiths around the same table.  Yes, Madame?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible], a journalist from Yemen, and I'm also one of the Reham al-Farra fellows.

Spokesman:  Welcome.

Question:  Thank you.  Following up on Yemen, as well, since there is a halt and a negotiation process, is there any pledging conferences that are supposed to happen during these… the UN General Assembly…?

Spokesman:  There will be meetings… I will check, but I believe there will be some meetings on Yemen during the General Assembly.  The negotiation process didn't… in terms of what happened in Geneva, did not go the way we wanted, but the work of Mr. Griffiths, his… the Secretary‑General’s envoy, has not stopped and will not stop.  Yes ma'am?

Question:  Hi.  I'm Noelia from Nicaragua.  The Secretary‑General has encouraged Nicaraguan actors to retake the national dialogue.  But, the Government has stated recently, through different interviews that the President [Daniel] Ortega has given, that it failed, and they won't retake it.  So, what are the thoughts of the Secretary‑General about it?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position is unchanged.  I know he has discussed this issue directly with the leadership in Nicaragua.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  I'm Altaf.  I'm part of the RAF Fellowship.  I came from Afghanistan.  Well, the Afghanistan situation is getting worse day by day by the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan.  So, the UN keeps saying that only the political dialogue is the solution with the Taliban people.  So, do you confirm that UN is in contact with the Taliban or the Taliban is in contact with the United Nations?  And when will that political dialogue eventually happen to end this war?

Spokesman:  You know, I wish I could tell you when the dialogue will happen.  I would refer you to Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto's pretty comprehensive briefing to the Security Council yesterday.  Sylviane, and then we'll leave it to Lise Kingo.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is there any side event during the General Assembly on the side… side conference?

Spokesman:  We will… we're working on putting together all the list of side events.  We should have something… be able to share with you, probably tomorrow or Thursday if not.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.