19 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.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

I’m pleased to inform you that tomorrow at noon, in this room, the Secretary-General will give a press conference in which he will discuss, among other things, the key meetings that he will convene over the coming days as the seventy-third plenary session of the General Assembly gets under way.  As always, the Secretary-General’s briefing will replace the Spokesman’s noon briefing.

**South Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan, David Shearer, spoke to reporters in the capital, Juba, today.  He noted that, a week ago, the leaders of South Sudan came together to sign a fresh commitment to peace, but that there have been clashes in the Equatorian region as well as the shooting and wounding of a Nepalese peacekeeper in the town of Yei.  Mr. Shearer stressed the need for all parties to adhere to last week’s agreement and commit to its full implementation.  He said that a key ingredient missing between the parties is trust but welcomed news that President Salva Kiir had been in contact with Riek Machar over the agreement’s implementation.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of today, more than 1 million people remain affected by Typhoon Mangkhut, which made landfall in the Philippines on 15 September.  Some 148,000 people are still in evacuation centres or living with host families.  The typhoon damaged nearly 6,500 houses, with more than 500 houses destroyed.  Some 4 million students are reportedly affected, with classes remaining suspended in over 10,800 schools, according to education authorities.  The United Nations and our partners are working closely with the Government to coordinate rapid assessment and response.  Major needs include food, healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene and shelter. The World Food Programme (WFP) is transporting 1,000 metric tons of food for 166,000 families.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Government’s relief efforts as needed.


Just a few minutes ago, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced the appointment of Eduardo Stein as a Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region.  In a statement, the two agencies said that Mr. Stein brings vast professional experience, political leverage and deep knowledge of the region, which will be fundamental to support national government efforts to deal with the protection and solutions needs of an increasing number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.  Mr. Stein will be working closely and reporting directly to both the UNHCR High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, and the IOM Director General, William Lacy Swing.  He will work to promote dialogue and consensus necessary for the humanitarian response, including access to territory, refugee protection, legal stay arrangements and the identification of solutions for Venezuelan refugees and migrants.


A new report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today says that 1 in 3 children and young people between 5 and 17 years old living in countries affected by conflict or disaster — that’s about 104 million children – are not in school. This figure accounts for more than a third of the global out-of-school population.  The report notes that 1 in 5 young people living in these countries have never entered any school, and 2 in 5 have never completed primary school.  The report calls for more investment in quality education where children and young people can learn in a safe environment in countries affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises.  You can find the report online.


The World Health Organization (WHO) today published its first investment case describing how the agency and its partners can help to save up to 30 million lives and add up to 4 per cent of economic growth in low- and middle-income countries by 2023.  According to WHO, achieving these results would require an investment of $14.1 billion from 2019 to 2023, representing a 14 per cent increase in WHO’s base budget over the previous five-year period.  The investment case also highlights new mechanisms to measure success, ensuring a strict model of accountability, and sets ambitious targets for savings and efficiencies.  More information can be found on WHO’s website.

**Press Briefings

In a short while, I will be joined by Santiago Villalpando, Chief of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs, and Adama Dieng, Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  They will brief on the forthcoming Treaty Event and the appeal for universal ratification of the Genocide Convention.  Tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a briefing here by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on the launch of the new 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index.  Speakers will include UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and others.  And of course, as I said before, at noon, we will have in this room the Secretary-General, giving his press conference. Any questions for me?  Yes, Sherwin?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  What can you say about the decision regarding the unveiling of the [Nelson] Mandela statue on Monday?  There seems to have been a great deal of controversy as to where the statue was going to be located in the building.  The South Africans, I understand, were told one thing, and there was a change made to accommodate a big canvas by the Mexican Mission, and it's created a great deal of unhappiness.  How are these decisions taken?  And why is there appearing to be such indecision around where the statue is going to be placed?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, these decisions are taken in consultations normally with all of the various bodies within the UN that deal with displays.  That includes the Department of Public Information (DPI) and the buildings and grounds offices, and so, the idea is to find the best place for a display.  And, hopefully, we can work with Member States to make sure that all of them will ultimately be satisfied.

Question:  Would you be able to follow up and just get sort of the substance as to how this decision was taken?  Because, literally, the Mission to the South Africans were told one thing.  And then, without their knowledge, the Mexican canvas, I understand, was then unveiled without them being told that this was the position… you know, initially the position of the South Africa… of the statue, which is now subsequently going to be moved to the Visitor's Centre.  But there has been a lot of controversy and mixed messaging as to how this was going to unfold.  So perhaps if you could…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, and we would apologize to any of the missions for any misunderstandings, but what we try to do is accommodate all of the missions and find the best possible space.  Obviously, what we want to do is pay respect to Nelson Mandela and to all those who have benefitted from his legacy.  Yes, please?

Question:  On another topic.  What are the SG's expectations of the 30 September referendum on the name issue in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?  Do you have anything on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yeah.  What I can say on that is that the Secretary‑General remains convinced that the resolution of the longstanding dispute between Athens and Skopje will have a positive impact in Europe and beyond.  The Secretary‑General encourages all citizens of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to recognize this historic opportunity and support the Prespa Agreement.  Yes, please?

Question:  Will President [Donald] Trump address the UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] this year?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the President of the United States is scheduled to speak and that, I believe, will happen under the current programme on… next Tuesday.

Question:  So, you confirm for sure he will be here?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's… ultimately, it's for the United States Government and not for me to confirm anything because schedules can always change.  We do have a programme for the week of General Assembly briefings that's available in our office, and you can see who is slated to speak on which day.  Yes, please?

Question:  Is Mr. Stein going to meet officials in Venezuela, or is he just going to go to neighbouring countries and meet with the refugee population?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is early days yet. We only just made the announcement over the last few minutes.  So, he will go on board and see what the best course is for approaching his goals.  Certainly, we expect him to meet with any authorities who are relevant for the course of his work. Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, the Secretary‑General is scheduled to receive a US Senator.  What is the subject under discussion?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, he meets with different officials about the work of the United Nations.  And, of course, it's important for us to reach out to different officials in the United States system of government because of the close relationship with the United States.  That's as much as it's about.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have any update information about Mr. [Martin] Griffiths' visit to Sana’a to meet with the Houthis and so he can restart the peace talks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Basically, the idea is that, by now, he should be travelling from Sana’a onward to Riyadh, where he expects to be in Riyadh for two days.  And then, from there, he will go on to New York, here, so that he can brief officials on his recent talks.  But, as he made clear, after the talks in Geneva, he was going to travel to a number of places where he first travelled to Muscat and then to Sana'a and now to Riyadh to meet with different officials involved with Yemen, including the officials of Ansarullah, Saudi officials, and officials of the Yemeni Government, and try to see where we can go further with the process that was initiated.

Question:  Just another question.  In his budget, [the] Trump Administration is requesting cutting funds from UNICEF, WHO, UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS], UNDP and other few UN agencies.  Any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've heard us say this before, but I'll repeat it again.  We believe strongly in the work of all of the United Nations' bodies and agencies.  We encourage the United States as a long‑term contributor and all other Member States to support the work of the agencies so that they can go about their mandated tasks.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is… one question is about this… maybe you have answered this question earlier.  It's about this proposed Security Council meeting during President Trump's visit on Iran, which the American ambassador had openly said that it's going to be held… Mr. Trump will preside over that meeting.  It's about… and now the Trump Administration is saying, no way, we did not say that.  So, where do we stand as far as that is concerned? Do you have any idea?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, because the Security Council President for this month is the United States, I would refer you to the US Mission.  They are the ones who are in charge of the programme of work for the Council for this month, and they can let you know how the schedule is going to proceed and which meetings will or will not be held.

Question:  No, my question is if the president's people are themselves denying that, in fact, that such a meeting was ever considered, and that raises a big question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, I'd refer you to the US Mission.  I believe they've been making comments on this, and they are in charge of the programme.  Yes?

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General scheduled or has he been asked to speak at this Security Council meeting on Wednesday?

Deputy Spokesman:  First, we'll have to see how the programme works out, and then depending on how that happens, we'll be able to see whether he will attend or not.

Question:  Hi.  Julie Pineda from Caracas, Venezuela.  I was wondering if President Nicolás Maduro's comments as he yesterday had said that there were several attempts to kill him and that… well, he was thinking in terms of visiting the General Assembly next week.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we… you can see from the programme, like I said, that we have out on our desks what the roster of speakers is for next week as of right now.  Of course, that roster of speakers can always change.  And, certainly, it would be up to the Permanent Mission of Venezuela to keep everyone informed about who is going to attend on behalf of the Government of Venezuela.  And, with that, let me get to our guest… oh, one more?  Yes.

Question:  Yeah, Farhan, I just wanted to point out one thing to you, that yesterday, whoever came with the Under‑Secretary‑General, I have… I have never seen him; most of my colleagues have never seen him.  Who was this gentleman?  Nor did he introduce himself, that "I am so‑and‑so”, "and I'm going to be"… I mean… just introduce yourself.  Let us know who you are, that we are asking you…

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay. I think he probably assumed that most of you knew him.  He's well known to many of your colleagues.  That was Jose Luis Diaz, who handles the task of Spokesman for the Department of Political Affairs.

Correspondent:  I'm not saying anything other than that; he should have introduced himself.  That's all.

Deputy Spokesman:  I have now introduced him for you, and now I will introduce our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.