17 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.

All right, good afternoon.


The Secretary‑General spoke this morning at the Africa Dialogue 2018 on the partnership between the African Union and the United Nations.  He said that Africa today is driving its own agenda, with countries growing more prosperous and regions becoming more integrated.  The Secretary‑General said that the historic agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea is creating opportunities to consolidate peace across the Horn of Africa.  He stressed that the UN believes in African leadership to solve African problems, and that the Organization is fully committed to working closely with the African Union in solidarity [and] respect to seize the vast potential of today’s opportunities.  The Secretary‑General pointed to the two agreements signed in the past 18 months — the Framework on Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063, and the UN‑AU Framework on Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security ‑ as the foundations of our renewed cooperation.  Both of these are based on ensuring women’s leadership and gender [equality] in all areas, he said, pointing to a very important moment with the creation of the new Government of Ethiopia, which enjoys full gender parity.  The Secretary‑General’s remarks are available online.


As you saw, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the Security Council today that the Government of Syria has invited him to Damascus next week.  This is a follow‑up to the meeting with the Secretary‑General during the General Assembly.  Mr. de Mistura said he plans to engage them on the work that has been done on the Constitutional Committee and also intends, before the end of the month, to invite the Astana guarantors for consultations in Geneva.  He expressed the hope to be in a position to issue invitations to convene the constitutional committee, hopefully during the month of November.  The Special Envoy said that the UN has done all it can to find a way to convene a credible and balanced constitutional committee.  He added that the UN is ready to do more and in an accelerated way during the forthcoming month, taking advantage of the Idlib window of opportunity, but he added he would not convene a committee that is not credible or balanced.  Mr. de Mistura, as you saw, also informed Council members that he intends to step down from his post as Special Envoy by the end of next month, after serving for four years and four months on the job.  Mr. de Mistura intends to talk to you at the stakeout after the briefing here is done and after the meeting is completed.

On the subject of Mr. de Mistura’s departure, the Secretary‑General will be initiating consultations immediately to find a successor to his Special Envoy, with a view of submitting a name to the Security Council.  Of course, the Secretary‑General deeply appreciates the work that Mr. de Mistura has done during his time as the Special Envoy.  Throughout his tenure, Mr. de Mistura has kept the interest of the Syrian people first and foremost in his mind and the values of the UN have underpinned every decision he has taken.  And also yesterday, I was asked about the transit of humanitarian goods between Jordan and Syria.  For now, the UN humanitarian deliveries are not taking place from Jordan into Syria.  Since the change in control in southern Syria, deliveries through the UN Security Council-authorized cross‑border mechanism have not been possible.


And we issued this morning a statement on the Comoros, in which the Secretary‑General expressed his concern over reports of heightened tensions on the island of Anjouan and calls for all concerned to exercise calm and utmost restraint in the interest of peace and stability in the Comoros.  The Secretary‑General exhorts all Comorian political actors to return to the Inter‑Comorian dialogue which began under the facilitation of the African Union High Representative, Ramtane Lamamra, and urges the Government, political parties and civil society organizations to implement the confidence‑building measures agreed to, in support of an inclusive dialogue process.

**United Nations Population Fund

And today, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual State of World Population report, entitled “The Power of Choice:  Reproductive Rights and the Demographic Transition.”  The report shows that the global trend towards smaller families is a reflection of people making reproductive choices to have as few or as many children as they want, when they want.  It also shows that the power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children can bolster economic and social development.


Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), urged European leaders to address this year’s record rate of drownings in the Mediterranean Sea.  Their appeal comes ahead of this week’s meeting of European Union Heads of States and Government to discuss the issue.  The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the Director General of the IOM, António Vitorino, today warned that the political discourse concerning refugees and migrants has become dangerously toxic in some countries, even at a time when arrivals to Europe are declining.  This narrative is stoking unnecessary fears, they said.  They also called on leaders to focus on the implementation of the Valetta Political Declaration and Plan of Action, which seeks to address the root causes of displacement.


Yesterday, I was asked about Guatemala not renewing visas for some staff members of the Commission against Impunity (CICIG).  The Secretary‑General expresses his concern upon learning of the decision of the Foreign Ministry of Guatemala not to renew the visas of the staff members of the Commission.  The Agreement establishing the Commission calls on the Government of Guatemala to provide the Commission with all assistance necessary for the discharge of its functions and activities.  Some of those affected by this decision have an important role in fighting impunity.  We are in touch with the Guatemalan authorities to discuss the situation.


Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  This year’s theme is “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity”.  And in just a little bit, at 12:45 p.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby, the Secretary‑General will take part in the commemoration of the Day, where he will highlight the progress made since the Day was first observed 25 years ago.  Since then, 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty.  However, many still are left behind.  The Secretary‑General will also call on governments to implement policies that promote inclusive growth and respect for human rights.

**Honour Roll

And on our Honour Roll, we say thank you to Oman, who has paid their budget dues in full, which brings us up to 145.

**Press Encounters

After I’m done, you will hear from Monica [Grayley].  Then at 1:15 p.m., Idriss Jazairy, the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, will brief you.  And then, we expect the Ambassadors of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the UK to brief at the Security Council stakeout, following the consultations on Syria.  Tomorrow, our guest will be Bience Gawanas, the Special Adviser on Africa, who will brief you on the Africa Dialogue Series; and at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Special Envoy to Syria, Mr. de Mistura, as you announced, is leaving.  This is the third departure after Kofi Annan, [Lakhdar Brahimi] and now de Mistura.  What makes them leave, the difficulty of the task or personal needs?

Spokesman:  Well, each left for different reasons.  Mr.  Annan, I think, laid it out very clearly in an Op‑Ed the day… the time of his leaving.  Mr. Brahimi did… laid out his decisions very clearly, as well.  And Mr. de Mistura said it very directly; it was for personal reasons.  I think four… more than four years in this post is a long time for anyone.  And, obviously, it's not as long for the people of Syria, who have continued to suffer for almost eight years.  But I can't stress enough the appreciation that the Secretary‑General feels towards the work that Mr. de Mistura has done.

Correspondent:  But Mr. Annan stayed only five months, five, six months.

Spokesman:  Yep.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Yeah, Stéphane, about on Yemen, as you know, last Monday, there was this horrific attack on the buses and so forth.  I mean, it… what I'm… my question is, all these incidents keep multiplying, multiplying, and there's a promise of investigation.  And nothing is ever revealed.  Is there any investigation, worthwhile, which has come to any conclusion about the killings that are going on in Yemen?  And we know it is being done by the Saudi Coalition.  Is there an investigation…?

Spokesman:  We have condemned and expressed our concerns at these horrific incidents.  I think the Secretary‑General has laid out his point of view directly in his reports to the Security Council, as well as through the report on Children and Armed Conflict, and our focus continues to be both on finding a political solution and on alleviating the humanitarian suffering of the Yemeni people.  Yes, sir?

Question:  What… and when…  I mean, [inaudible] that is… that is happening, but what is not happening is determination made by any of the independent organizations as to who is doing this or at least naming and shaming them for doing this.

Spokesman:  As I said, I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General has said in the past.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Could you please comment on the controversy over the participation of two senior UN officials in an event last night that was backed by Saudi Arabia, in the light of the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi?

Spokesman:  I don’t know what event you're referring to?

Question:  Sure.  The… the two individuals were Marie Roudil, head of the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] office in New York, and Robert Skinner, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, an event called the Arab Art and Education Initiative at the Asia Society of…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think my understanding is that the event was sponsored by the Asia Society.  On the case of Mr. Khashoggi, we'll reiterate, the Secretary‑General continues to be… is following this very closely, is very concerned about the lack of information.  He looks forward to some clarity being made as to what has happened.

Question:  So, the participation of two UN officials in an event that is… as part of a festival that is funded and backed by Saudi Arabia was sanctioned even though it's a sensitive time.

Spokesman:  My understanding is that this was an event being held at the Asia Society.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does Secretary‑General have any comment on possible consultation on Myanmar's human rights violation at Security Council?

Spokesman:  Obviously, this is up for the Security Council members to decide what they want to put on the agenda, how they want to discuss it.  As you'll recall now, I think over a year ago, the Secretary‑General had written what is almost an unprecedented letter to the Security Council, expressing his concern about what was going on in Myanmar and encouraging them to discuss the situation.  It has been discussed in the past.  And the… but the Secretary‑General will let… it's up to the members of the Security Council to decide on what topics they want to broach.  And, obviously, we always remain available to brief as requested.  Linda, and then we'll go…

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Apropos of Mr. de Mistura, I know there have been rumours the last few months that he was interested in perhaps leaving.  And I was just wondering, I know you can't give me direct information, but about how long… how far into the process of finding a successor… I know you mentioned that the SG was initiating the process, but, traditionally, about how far in advance will a successor, do you think, be mentioned?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, obviously, ideally, we would not want to see any gap in leadership in the Office of the Special Envoy.  So, we are working hard in initiating consultations with Member States, with a view of putting it to the Security Council.  It's hard to predict what the… how long the process will take, because, obviously, it's not just up to us; it's also up to the reaction we get from Member States.  But the Secretary‑General is very keen on getting that process done as quickly as possible to ensure that there is no gap and, if there is, unfortunately, a gap, that it be as short as possible for such an important and critical office, especially as Mr. de Mistura said, he is really focusing on the Constitutional Committee and getting the parties back… the Astana parties back to Geneva.  Sorry.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about yesterday's very strong protest by Cuban diplomats in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) chamber.  I have two questions.  Number one is, after the event, there have been any kind of communication from US Mission to UN Secretariat, like, complaint or consultation or request?  And number two is, what is the SG's stance about yesterday's strong protest in the chamber?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the holding… the rules for holding public meetings in the UN are public.  They have to be consistent with the purposes and principles of the UN.  They have to be non‑commercial in nature, and that meeting was clearly non‑commercial in nature, as the US Permanent Mission certified.  The sponsoring Mission is also… must certify that the case… that the meeting is within the purposes and principles of the UN.  The sponsoring Mission, in any meeting, is responsible for the content and conduct of the meeting.  I mean, we saw what happened, you know… and I will leave it at that.  Mr. Abbadi, then Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General planning to attend the investment initiative conference in Saudi Arabia?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware that he was invited, nor does he have any plan to attend.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  I know you've been responding on Mr. Adnan… Mr. Jamal Khashoggi's killing over there in… in… in Istanbul.  The Turkish authorities have just said that they have tape… tape‑recording of his killing, and they know it can be determined that who killed him.  Now, is… will that tape be maintained and used at the United Nations investigation at all, if…

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of a UN investigation into the case.  I mean, we're reading press reports like you are, but I'm not… there's no UN investigation under way in this case.  Monica, it is up to you now to save the day.

For information media. Not an official record.