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

28 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.  The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA, said today in a press release that the Ministerial Meeting that was held yesterday raised a remarkable $122 million for the agency.  Kuwait, the European Union, Germany, Norway, France, Belgium and Ireland announced additional funding commitments.  The meeting represented a crucial step in the efforts to overcome the Agency’s remaining shortfall of $186 Million and sustain UNRWA’s operations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  The agency’s Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, thanked Member States for their extraordinary support and said the meeting was a moment of commitment and solidarity with Palestine refugees.  He said the results of the New York meeting added to the support received from other partners this year, representing a very significant achievement.  A press release is available, and a reminder that the Secretary-General also attended that meeting.

**Pacific Islands

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the meeting of Pacific Islands Forum Leaders.  He noted the Pacific Islands are on the front line of climate change, which he sees as an absolute priority, adding that the region’s voices and experiences are pivotal.  The Secretary-General recognized that the Pacific region is vulnerable to disasters, commending recent government-led responses to such tragedies.  With several countries moving closer to meeting the graduation criteria from the category of Least Developed Countries, he stressed that the UN system is committed to ensuring that these countries continue to have the support to continue a sustained path to development and prosperity.  You can find the Secretary-General’s full remarks online.


And last night, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s sadness to learn of the loss of life in flooding caused by heavy seasonal rains in Nigeria.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Nigeria.  That statement is online.


And our humanitarian colleagues in Syria tell us that the military campaigns against Da’esh in the north-eastern rural Deir ez-Zor area of the country has resulted in the displacement of 30,000 people since June.  The situation of internally displaced people in makeshift camps is reportedly dire, with lack of access to healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene, and other services.  Displaced people are reportedly in poor health and need urgent medical care.  Some children and women are reportedly suffering from Dyspnea, difficult or laboured breathing, due to dust and heat.  The UN continues to provide assistance to those in need.  And this Wednesday, the UN dispatched food, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance, sufficient for 5,000 people who are internally displaced in the area.  Additionally, on 25 September, a mobile clinic provided health services to the Gharanij area.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke on behalf of the Secretary-General at the third High-level Meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, which is responsible for some 70 per cent of deaths globally.  The Deputy Secretary-General noted that with an increasingly globalized world, longer life expectancy, a rapidly changing climate and an increasing level of urbanization, the world is witnessing shifts that are increasing the burden of non-communicable diseases.  Also yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at a High-level Dialogue on Africa’s Health and Finance, where she expressed her pride in the tremendous improvements in health across the African continent, but also noted the progress has been slow and uneven.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is gravely concerned for the safety of tens of thousands of civilians in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with attacks by armed groups on the rise in Beni, North Kivu Province, and further north, in Ituri Province.  In August alone, some 13,000 people fled their homes in Beni; an attack in the area by the ADF-NALU [Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda] last weekend killed more than 20 people, most of them civilians.

**South Sudan

In a new report released today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) say relentless conflict and insecurity throughout South Sudan’s annual lean season has pushed 6.1 million people ‑ nearly 60 per cent of the population ‑ in extreme hunger.  The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report found that large-scale humanitarian assistance in many areas of the country was the only factor that prevented an even more devastating outcome.  The three agencies called for a sustainable peace across South Sudan, and unhindered, safe access to all areas where people need life-saving assistance.  The full report is available online.

**Climate Change

And last night, the UN climate change secretariat announced 15 recipients of the 2018 UN “Momentum for Change” climate action award.  They will be recognized at the Climate Conference in Poland in December.  The winners include:  the creators of a mobile app that promotes the fight against food waste, a football club in the United Kingdom promoting sustainable behaviour, and an initiative in Sri Lanka to preserve the mangrove forests.  You can find the full list of winners on UNFCCC’s website.

**International Days

Today is the International Day for Universal Access to Information, which calls for ensuring public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms.  It also encourages countries to adopt legislation and develop policies for multilingualism and cultural diversity in cyberspace and ensuring that women and men with disabilities are integrated.  Today is also World Rabies Day, which seeks to raise awareness about rabies prevention and to highlight the progress in defeating this horrid disease.

**Press Briefings

At 12:30 p.m. ‑ just in terms of stakeouts, so shortly ‑  there will be a press encounter at the GA [General Assembly] Stakeout following this morning’s High-level Meeting on the Transition from Peacekeeping to Peacebuilding and Development in Darfur.  The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smaїl Chergui, and Eldirdiri Mohamed Ahmed, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sudan, are expected to be present.  Also today, at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad.  At 3:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.  8:15 p.m., the Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, H.E. Mr. Mustafa Akıncı, will be at the General Assembly stakeout on the third floor.  On Monday, at 3 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, will be here for a press conference to brief you on the High-Level Week and discuss her priorities for the 73rd session of the General Assembly.  Halas.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Two questions.  First, does the UN have any… I'm phrasing this wrong.  There was a serious earthquake and tsunami in the Indonesian part of Sulawesi.  Has the UN been asked for any assistance?  Has it offered?

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of.  As always, we stand ready to help and our humanitarian colleagues are trying to get some more information.  As soon as we have an update, we'll share that with you.

Question:  And… and also does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the announcement by Burundi that it was suspending all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for several months?

Spokesman:  We're obviously taking a look at that decision and its implication.  What I can tell you, sorry, because I had something on Indonesia, is that we are in contact with Indonesian authorities and stand ready to provide support as required.  The United Nations, of course, expresses its solidarity with the Government and people of Indonesia at this challenging time.  Joe?

Question:  Yeah, two questions.  First of all, do you have at least an approximation of the percentage of pledges to UNRWA, what percentage of that money has actually been contributed?

Spokesman:  Well, the pledges were just announced yesterday.  So, the actual, the…

Correspondent:  No, I mean, I understand that.  I'm not talking about that.  Over the… over the year, there have been previous pledging conferences.

Spokesman:  I'll get you the exact numbers, but obviously, a pretty good number has now been turned into cash, but I will get you those numbers.

Question:  Okay.  And my second question is Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu yesterday in his address said that Israeli intelligence had identified a second… what they called a second secret atomic warehouse in Tehran.  He gave very specific locations and asked for immediate inspection, but the Secretary-General, since he has supported the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and he has relied on the certification by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] of Iranian compliance, would he think it would be useful to have… to have an immediate inspection, ask the IAEA to do that?

Spokesman:  That's a question for the IAEA to answer.

Correspondent:  Well, but with all due respect, if you're relying on an assertion of compliance, and Iran has said…

Spokesman:  I think there's…  Joe, I think there's separate things here. The IAEA is doing what it has been tasked to do under the JCPOA and that's… it's been doing that.  The request was for the IAEA to investigate, as requested by the Prime Minister of Israel.  The question you're asking me is for the IAEA to answer.

Question:  But would the Secretary-General back that?  I mean, is he just the… does he think it's a wise thing to do?

Spokesman:  As I say, it would be for the IAEA to initially answer.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you. The President of the 72nd session, Ambassador [Miroslav] Lajcák… Foreign Minister Lajcák and the President of the 73rd session, Ms. Espinosa, and other delegates in the general debate have called for making the UN "pertinent to the people”. Does the Secretary-General have any specific suggestions on how to do that?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it depends with… I think the United Nations can always become more effective, more pertinent, and that's the Secretary-General's vision, to ensure that we have an organization that is fit for purpose and that delivers on the needs of people.  I think what we do see currently is, throughout the world, the UN delivering on humanitarian, on development, and on political issues to those people who need it.  Sir?

Question:  My name is Simon Ateba from "Today News Africa."  I have two quick, short questions.  President [Donald] Trump said the UN Human Rights Council is a "joke", that the UN is a "joke" and that you guys have lost any credibility.  My first question is, are they not right?  Is President Trump not right when you dine and wine with dictators around the world in Africa, in Cameroon, for instance, having Paul Biya, who has been in power for 36 years, and embracing him and bringing him here — are they not right, that the UN when it comes to human rights, they are totally failed?  That's the first question.  The second question, you talked about access to information today, that we're celebrating it.  Recently, you banned Matthew Lee from Inner City Press and he was questioning you about Cameroon, the UN Secretary-General, the… the… he might have had a different method. Who decides what is right and who decides…

Spokesman:  The question about… sorry, I'll let you finish first.

Question:  Yeah. Who decides, is it not… I mean, who gives you the power to ban people because they are challenging you, because they are questioning you?  Did you ban Matthew Lee because he was questioning you about Cameroon, where a dictator has been in power for 36 years? And you banned a journalist who's asking you questions about him? Is that right? Does it make sense to you?

Spokesman:  First of all, we've answered the question about Mr. Lee repeatedly, and we've also answered Mr. Lee's questions repeatedly.  But, can I just… I'll let you finish if you can let me finish.  We've also answered his questions repeatedly for the last 12 years, and we continue to answer the questions that he e-mails in.  His accreditation was revoked purely for having repeatedly violated the rules… the accreditation rules, which are transparent, and which you all agree to abide by, which are frankly… most of them are self-policing, and it had nothing to do whatsoever with the content of his writings or the questions that he's asking.

Question:  I mean, what do you mean banning him for life? What does it mean?

Spokesman:  That's not an expression that anyone from here has ever used, and I think I've answered your question on Mr. Lee.  The United Nations is an organisation of 193 Member States.  It is very important that during the General Assembly, as many Heads of State and Heads of Government convene here ‑ I think this year we'll get the final number, but we had I think 120 or 122 Heads of State or Government who have all signed on to the Charter, who have all signed on to the ideals of the Charter ‑ for the Secretary-General, it's very important that the United Nations remains and has its convening power, that he is able to dialogue with all Heads of State and Heads of Government, which doesn't mean that he will not, either him or his High Commissioner for Human Rights or any other senior UN official will call out, express concern about certain violations of universal human rights.  Stefano?

Question:  Yes, I want to go back to Tuesday and the speeches given by Secretary-General [António] Guterres and President Trump.  I mean, many concentrate on who… who was laughing at what, but reality is that in years, maybe ever, we saw two speeches so opposite.  President Trump's speech was saying exactly totally the contrary than what Secretary-General Guterres had just said.  What was, if you can tell us the reaction… what is the reaction of the Secretary-General to what President Trump said against multilateralism, anything that had to do with the collaboration of nation states, that… from what I understood, nations now have to think just to themselves?

Spokesman:  When the Secretary-General spoke, and he spoke right after the PGA, the President of the General Assembly, he spoke to outline his beliefs, his policies.  He was not speaking out against one, two, three, or four, five or six different Member States.  He was outlining the policies and the positions that frankly, most of them he's had for a long, long time, and that's his responsibility and that's exactly what he did.

Correspondent:  Maybe my question was not formulated well. I'm not criticizing Secretary-General's speech…

Spokesman:  I'm not taking it as a criticism.

Correspondent:  No, what I'm saying is after… unfortunately it wasn't the other way around, like first spoke Trump, and then… and then Secretary-General.  The point is…

Spokesman:  No, no, no.  The Secretary-General spoke first.

Correspondent:  I understand.  Unfortunately, I say it wasn't the way around.

Spokesman:  Maybe not so, unfortunately.

Question:  No, because maybe President [sic] Guterres could have said something.  The point is President Trump, the president of the country that was the pillar of the formation of the United Nations ‑ without the United States, the United Nations would not be created, we would not have it ‑ he did a speech, in the history of this institution, 70 years, well, it was totally the contrary than what Secretary-General said and I want… my question is… there is a reaction on this speech by the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  I will leave… the Secretary-General is not in a job of reacting or commenting on every speech that was given.  The compare-and-contrast exercise is for you to do.  The Secretary-General laid out his vision, his position, and there's really nothing surprising in what he… in the fact that he laid out those positions.  Carla?

Question:  Last night, President [Nicolás] Maduro met with the Secretary‑General.  It was my understanding that this was regarding a military build-up in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil, which was threatening to Venezuela.  Could you give us some information about that meeting and… and what is the reaction to…

Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General and President Maduro discussed is the situation in Venezuela and in the region.  Yes, ma'am?

Correspondent:  Well, I have a follow-up question.  Also, there were multiple meetings on tuberculosis.  Was anything… was any comment made, either at the meetings or by the United Nations, about the Global Fund to Combat Malaria, AIDS and Tuberculosis cutting funding to North Korea?

Spokesman:  I… the meeting was open, so, I mean, I didn't monitor the meeting, but I'm sure it's archived on the webcast. You can see what was said.  Yes?

Question:  Has the UN any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  I think we've already spoken about our humanitarian commitment to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  I have a question; I’m from the Balkans.  The General Secretary met the Prime Minister of Serbia, and she's back home and then according to the media, the General Secretary said to her that Kosovo is not a country, even a state.  I would like to know what is the meaning of General Secretary? What is Kosovo?

Spokesman:  The status of Kosovo is outlined in the relevant Security Council resolutions, which is our guidance.  We put out a readout of the meeting and for us, we stand by that readout.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just a follow-up on what [Stefano] was asking earlier.  How is it that the UN can be expected to act efficiently, when perhaps the two most important men or persons in the UN think completely differently, as was stated with the narrative of the Secretary-General and President Donald Trump?

Spokesman:  The United Nations is made up of 193 Member States.  For his part, the Secretary-General, I think, has a very constructive relationship with the US Government.  The US cooperates with the UN on a number of critical issues, and he, in fact, has, I would say, a very warm personal relationship with the President of the United States. Obviously, different countries have different positions and it is their right to implement their policies and to push for those policies.  Thank you.  We will see you Monday.

For information media. Not an official record.