29 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.

**United States

Alright happy Monday.  Good afternoon.  As you will have seen this morning, members of the Security Council stood for a moment of silence, in remembrance of the victims of the Saturday shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Over the weekend, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General strongly condemning the attack and adding that the shooting in Pittsburgh is a painful reminder of continuing anti-Semitism.  Jews across the world continue to be attacked for no other reason than their identity.  Anti-Semitism is a menace to democratic values and peace and should have no place in the twenty-first century.  The Secretary-General calls for a united front — bringing together authorities at all levels, civil society, religious and community leaders and the public at large — to roll back the forces of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred, bigotry, discrimination and xenophobia gaining strength in many parts of the world.

**Sri Lanka

And also over the weekend we issued a statement in fact yesterday, in which the Secretary-General said he is following the latest developments in Sri Lanka with great concern.  He calls on the Government to respect democratic values and constitutional provisions and the process, uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety and security of all Sri Lankans.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to exercise restraint and address the unfolding situation in a peaceful manner.


And we have an update on the attack that took place over the weekend against the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) that involved an improvised explosive device and small arms fire in the Mopti Region.  The Mission reports that five Togolese peacekeepers were wounded and were evacuated to UN medical facilities in Sévaré, where they have been treated for injuries.  In a statement over the weekend, the Secretary-General condemned this attack as well as the one against the camp in Ber — which resulted in 2 peacekeepers from Burkina Faso being killed and 11 others being wounded.  The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting UN peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law and that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice.  The full statement is online.


In Uppsala, Sweden, today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the third General Assembly of the ACT Alliance, which is a coalition of 150 church and church-related organizations.  She told the group that faith organizations and their leaders have long played a critical role in addressing the needs of those left behind.  She said the continued support and activism of faith-based organizations will be essential as we forge ahead in our quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for all people.  When we speak of “putting people first,” she said, we must especially consider how the promise of the SDGs can be made real for marginalized people.  For, as the Bible says, we should “love our neighbour as ourself”.  Her remarks are online, and the Deputy Secretary-General is expected back in New York later today.


Meanwhile back here, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed the Security Council on Syria this morning, and said that we have seen a glimmer of hope in the weeks of relative calm since the agreement on Idlib was reached.  He added that it is very important for millions of people in Idlib that this remains the case.  He noted that over the first seven months of the year, an average of almost 5.5 million people were reached with life-saving assistance each month.  In September, nearly 2.5 million people [were] reached with food aid from Damascus.  Mr. Lowcock said a humanitarian convoy had been planned on Saturday for Rukban, which has not received assistance since January, but reports of insecurity along the route forced the UN and its partners to postpone the convoy.  Mr. Lowcock warned that the dire humanitarian situation in Rukban cannot be allowed to continue and that the UN is ready and willing to proceed with the convoy immediately.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator called on the Security Council to support the renewal for another year of resolution 2165, in particular to sustain cross-border aid essential to support and protect more than three million people in Idlib.  His remarks are available online.

**Lake Chad

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are concerned about the resurgence of insecurity in the Lac region in the west of Chad.  The situation has forced some aid agencies to suspend operations leaving tens of thousands of people without food and health services.  Efforts are under way to resume operations and ensure the safe delivery of aid to the most vulnerable people.  In the Lac region, Boko Haram activities have led to internal displacement of 124,000 people and the arrival of 11,000 Nigerian [refugees].  Food insecurity and malnutrition have worsened over the past months.  Some 187,000 people face severe food insecurity while severe and global acute malnutrition levels have surpassed emergency thresholds.

**World Health Organization

And lastly, as you may have seen, the World Health Organization (WHO) today released a report that says that 93 per cent of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day.  According to the report, that says 1.8 billion children breathe air that is so polluted it puts their health and development at serious risk, while many of them die.  WHO estimates that in 2016, 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air.  Air pollution also impacts neuro-development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer.  Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases later in life.  And that is it from me, but I am happy to answer any queries you may have.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As a follow‑up on the Secretary‑General's statement on Sri Lanka, is the UN doing anything on the ground to follow up with its concerns about the political developments there?

Spokesman:  Yes.  The Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka met with the Speaker of Parliament, stressing the Secretary‑General's message for the need to respect democratic values and constitutional provisions and process, uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety and security of all Sri Lankans.  If there's anything else, I will let you know.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The caravan continues its movement towards the southern border of the United States.  Five hundred people just joined the caravan from El Salvador.  So, we have a second group that are moving up.  Is any concerns by the United Nations of the recent announcement of mobilization of at least 5,000 military men to the southern border by the United States Government to try to protect the border, in terms of the possibilities of getting the asylum?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I think our concerns are at various levels, obviously, first and foremost, a humanitarian concern for the safety and well‑being of this group of people who are travelling, a lot of them, obviously, currently in Mexico.  I think, as we've said, our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] are on the ground trying to bring some humanitarian support.  It is clear that countries have a sovereign right to defend their own borders and to put in the policies they feel they need to at their own borders.  That's a sovereign right that is clear to all.  I think this case, as so many other cases of people on the move, just goes to illustrate yet again the need for the Global Compact on Migration, on how countries of origin, countries of destination and countries of transit can best deal with people who are on the move.  People will be on the move always.  They have been since we were able to move.  It's about managing that movement that respects the rights of refugees, that respects the dignity of migrants, and that respects the sovereign right of each Member State of the United Nations to control their borders.  Mr. Klein, might you have a follow‑up?

Question:  Actually, a quick follow‑up on that, but I have another question.  The quick follow‑up is, since some of the members of the caravan have applied for and, I believe, have been accepted for asylum in Mexico, others, however, have refused and insist on going on to the United States.  So, I guess my first question here is, isn't… isn't there an obligation on the part of the asylum seekers to apply for asylum in the first country in transit that offers them that in a cor… in a relatively safe environment, or do they get to choose where they want to seek asylum?  So, that's the follow‑up question.

Spokesman:  And your other question?

Question:  Yeah.  The other question is, on the election in Brazil, President‑elect [Jair] Bolsonaro, who I'm probably mispronouncing, is the Secretary‑General planning, if he hasn't already, to extend congratulations, a call to him?  And does he have any concern about the… some of the extreme populist statements that he has made, including homophobic remarks, sexist remarks, talk… talk about in the past his installing the military into the cabinet, call for even a coup, etc.?  Does he have any concern in that populist…

Spokesman:  Sure.  Obviously, the standard procedures will be followed in terms of [when] new Heads of States come on board.  The Secretary‑General has taken note of the results of the elections in Brazil.  He commends the authorities of Brazil for the orderly holding of the legislative, regional and presidential elections.  The Secretary‑General congratulates the Brazilian people for the democratic spirit shown in their participation, and he underlines the importance of Brazil's contributions to the Organization and looks forward to continuing our collaboration.  The new President, I think, will take office, if I'm not mistaken, on 1 January.  And we look forward to continuing the very important relationship that the United Nations has with Brazil.  Brazil has a critical role to play on many of the files that are up on the agenda of the United Nations.  On your first question, there are rights that refugees have, and, in terms of the refugee policy and legal framework, I would refer your questions to UNHCR.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yes.  In under two weeks' time, a number of world leaders have announced that they're going to Paris for the commemoration of the Armistice, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and then the opening of the Paris Peace Forum.  Will the Secretary‑General be attending?

Spokesman:  We do not have an official announcement to make at this time, but I hope to be able to make one soon, which will hopefully answer your question.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the killing of journalist [Jamal] Khashoggi, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the killing threatens regional stability.  Is the Secretary‑General of the same view?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, I think the Secretary‑General spoke out extremely clearly on the global issue of the targeting and killing of journalists in the message we issued on Friday.  I don't think he could be any clearer and underscored the fact that the vast, vast majority of targeted killings of journalists goes unpunished.  It goes on with full impunity.  This is something of great concern to him.  In terms of this case, the Secretary‑General would like to see the two countries most involved in this conduct an investigation.  We would like to see the results of those investigations, and it's clear that the relation… the diplomatic relationships between Turkey and Saudi Arabia are very important to the stability of the region.  Evelyn and then Masood.

Question:  Just to follow up what Joe Klein said, is the Secretary‑General worried at all about the Brazilian election?  Or the answer's no.  Right?

Spokesman:  I'm always happy for people to ask and answer the questions at the same time.  It makes my job easier.  Maybe we can try it on Halloween.  All of you can take your turn.  The point being is that there was an election.  The election is over.  The people of Brazil have participated in a very vibrant democratic exercise.  The Secretary‑General will look forward to continuing the cooperation he's had with Brazil when the new President takes office on 1 January.  Masood then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the killing of the Palestinians, five Palestinians over the weekend and three Palestinians killed today in Israeli air raid?  Does he have anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  Yes.  The Secretary‑General deplores the deaths of three Palestinian children last night as a result of an Israeli air strike near Gaza.  The targeting of children or exposing them to risks leading to violence is utterly unacceptable.  His thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.  He appeals to all to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties, in particular, any measures that could place children in harm's way.  And you will have seen that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov also over… tweeted out his sympathies to the families of the three Palestinian children, and he said, "Such tragedies must be avoided at all costs."  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I'm moving a little bit to another continent, to Europe, and…?

Spokesman:  Every continent counts.

Question:  I was just wondering if you could give us a status report on conditions in Ukraine in regard to the conflict, status of humanitarian situation…?

Spokesman:  Let me… I will do that for you tomorrow… I mean or later today.  I just don't have an update with me today.  Okay.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Could you specify which countries the children come from?

Spokesman:  I think we could refer you back to the… I'll pull up the numbers from the WHO, the World Health Organization.  But, obviously, I think this report is important because it also… it ties the issues that are… that we talk about in terms of climate change, in terms of emissions to health.  The two are intrinsically interrelated, and we see how negatively they can impact children.  Madame, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.