10 October 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.  As you know, the Secretary-General is in Indonesia, and he arrived in Bali late yesterday.  Tomorrow morning, he is also scheduled to meet with the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo.  And then later he will take part in the Leaders’ Gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, otherwise known as ASEAN, and we’ll have his remarks to that meeting available for you once he’s delivered them.  And as we’ve been telling you, on [Friday] he will visit Palu Island, which was struck by an earthquake and a tsunami almost two weeks ago.

**Death Penalty

And in a statement issued on the World Day Against the Death Penalty, the Secretary-General said that he was deeply disturbed that, this year, the number of juvenile offenders have been executed after being sentenced to death, in violation of the relevant treaties.  Hundreds of others have been executed without being able to receive legal assistance during criminal proceedings which might have spared them from death penalty, due to being poor or women or from a minority group.  He added that, in some countries, people are sentenced to death in secret trials, without due process, increasing the potential for error or abuse, as is sometimes later demonstrated.  The Secretary-General commends the efforts of the great majority of Member States to end the practice of the death penalty, and he calls on those remaining to join that majority and put an end to the death penalty now.

**Disaster Risk Reduction

And in a report issued today by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, it says that global economic losses due to climate-related disasters have risen dramatically over the past 20 years.  In the period from 1998 to 2017, disasters related to climate led to $2.9 trillion in economic losses, of which climate‑related disasters accounted for $2.2 trillion — that’s 77 per cent of the total.  It is a 151 per cent increase from the previous 20-year period, in which climate related disasters accounted for $895 billion.  The greatest economic losses have been experienced by the United States ($944 billion), China ($492 billion), Japan ($376 billion) and India ($79.5 billion).  The report also evaluated the number of fatalities over the last 20 years, with climate‑related and geophysical disasters being responsible for the deaths of 1.3 million people and 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance.  More information on the webpage of the Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.


This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Colombia, Jean Arnault, briefed members of the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Verification Mission to the country.  He noted that, since the report was issued, the key mechanisms provided for the implementation of the Peace Agreement have resumed their work for the first time since the start of the new Government.  Regarding the political participation in the country, Mr. Arnault said that the current situation was positive, as eight People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) representatives were afforded seats in Congress and a collegial spirit is being displayed by all parties in spite of sharp political differences.  However, he stressed that economic reintegration remains a subject of serious concern as the vast majority of those in that process still have no clear economic prospects.  To succeed, the National Council on Reintegration will need to empower local authorities and to link up with the private sector, universities and other partners, he said.  He reiterated the UN’s commitment to continue supporting the reintegration process.


And in Haiti, our humanitarian colleagues say that according to new Government assessments, over 7,700 families are in need of assistance, particularly shelter, in the aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday.  Following a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Humanitarian country team, the UN has [been] authorized to travel to affected areas and support Haiti’s Civil Protection Committee as required and UN staff are now in the impacted area working alongside Government counterparts.  The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as well as the World Food Programme (WFP), are also supporting the authorities.  The Haitian Government has said that no request for additional international humanitarian assistance is planned or expected.


And civilians in Afghanistan continue to suffer high casualties, with the leading cause continuing to be the combined use of suicide and non-suicide improvised explosive devices by non-government fighters.  This is according to the latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, produced by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  Covering the period from 1 January to 30 September, the report documented nearly 3,000 deaths and more than 5,000 people being wounded.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that, as there can be no military solution to the fighting in the country, the UN renews its call for an immediate and peaceful settlement to the conflict to end the suffering of the Afghan people.


And the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, is on a 3-day mission to the Philippines.  Yesterday, she visited Marawi City in southern Mindanao, where she met with humanitarian and development partners to discuss the continuing humanitarian response following the 2017 Marawi conflict and the challenges facing the transition to recovery.  She called for more resources to address the continuing humanitarian needs of people displaced by the conflict in Marawi.  And today, she met with national Government emergency management leaders, the Humanitarian country team and donors, and she expressed her sympathies over the loss of life and devastation to communities following Typhoon Mangkhut, which affected more than 3 million people.  And she commended the Government for its preparedness efforts that saved many lives during the typhoon.

**Bosnia and Herzegovina

I had been asked earlier about the Bosnian elections, and I can say that we commend the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the peaceful conduct of general elections held on 7 October.  We encourage all political actors to engage in dialogue and forge agreement towards a swift establishment of the country’s legislative and executive bodies and implement necessary reforms in the interest of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The United Nations will continue to work with the elected authorities and other national stakeholders and relevant international actors in support of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sustainable development, long-term stability and reconciliation.

**Mental Health Day

And today is also Mental Health Day.  This year’s theme is “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World”.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that, for too long, mental health has been mostly an afterthought, despite its overwhelming impacts on communities and young people, everywhere.  He added that those struggling with mental health problems are still being marginalized and he called on countries to integrate mental health into broader social care systems.  If we change our attitude to mental health — we change the world, he said.


And I want to flag to you a concert, which you’re all invited to.  Next Monday, 15 October, at 7:30 p.m. in Carnegie Hall, you can hear a benefit concert with the UN Chamber Music Society of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council, on the occasion of the UN International Day of Rural Women.  The concert is presented by Village Health Works and will feature UN staff members as performers.  And I assume you all know how to get to Carnegie Hall.  Practise, practise, practise.  Excellent.  Mr. Roth?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  On a serious note, has the Secretary‑General spoken directly with Saudi Arabia regarding the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi?  I understand the Monday statement said the Secretary‑General has often raised this issue about disappearing journalists or violence against journalists.  Has he spoken directly with them?  And as reports seem to increase about the possibility of him being dismembered, murdered, what does the Secretary‑General have to say about this?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any direct contacts between the Secretary‑General and any Saudi officials.  As you know, the Secretary‑General was travelling most of the day yesterday, and he just arrived in Indonesia.  We remain extremely concerned about the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, and I think, as our human rights colleagues called for, is for the Turkish authorities and the Saudi authorities to cooperate on an investigation, and we look forward to having more information on this case.  Khalas.  Thank you.  I should have left quicker.  Go ahead, Richard.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General spoken with outgoing US Ambassador [Nikki] Haley, even though I know he's far away?

Spokesman:  Yes, he spoke to her upon landing yesterday in Asia, and they had a conversation, which was… which they had.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Has he been briefed on Khashoggi, now that he's on the ground?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General, I think… you know, as all of us, we are following these reports through the media.  The UN is not involved in the investigation.  We're following the issue very closely.

Question:  And on Indonesia, there was that story yesterday about expelling NGOs.  Is that…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I think the Indonesian Government has clarified its position.  It's really about ensuring that aid is fully coordinated through the right channels.  And, in case you ask, Richard, I think the Secretary‑General wished Ambassador Haley well.  Monica, all yours.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.