31 October 2018

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

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and happy Halloween, everyone.


As we speak, the Secretary-General is at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan at the invitation of Rabbi Arthur Schneier to attend an event entitled “United Against Hate:  Inter-Religious Leadership in Solidarity with Pittsburgh”.  Also in attendance are Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and many other religious and local political leaders.

The Secretary-General just delivered remarks.  He expressed his solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and the world over, as well as the people of the United States.  Anti-Semitism, he said, is the oldest form of hatred and discrimination in the history of the world.  He told the audience that we must not only stand-up and combat anti-Semitism, but we must also be firm against the new rise of neo-Nazi ideas which we are seeing taking hold in many parts of the western world.  He said there is not only a rise in anti-Semitism but also in persecution and attacks on other religious groups, as well as refugees and migrants.  Diversity, the Secretary-General said, is richness and not a threat; but to make diversity work, we need investment in education and social cohesion.

The Secretary-General also took time to praise the work of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which had been singled out by the killer in Pittsburgh.  HIAS, [António] Guterres said, is a fantastic organization that stands for everything that is good in society.  Later this afternoon, there will be a photo op in the Secretary-General’s office for his meeting with Mark Hetfield, the CEO of HIAS.  The Secretary-General was keen to invite Mr. Hetfield to personally express his solidarity with the organization.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

On Thursday, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Seattle to meet with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and its Co-Chairs to discuss global health and the UN reforms.


The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomes the recent calls for the immediate resumption of the political process and measures to reach a cessation of hostilities in Yemen.  The Special Envoy will continue to work with all parties to agree on tangible steps to spare all Yemenis the disastrous consequences of further conflict and to urgently address the political, security and humanitarian crisis in Yemen.  He urges all concerned parties to seize this opportunity to engage constructively with the current efforts to swiftly resume political consultations to agree on a framework for political negotiations and confidence-building measures — in particular, enhancing the capacities of the Central Bank of Yemen, the exchange of prisoners and the re-opening of Sana’a airport.  The Special Envoy is encouraged by the positive engagement of the Government of Yemen and Ansarullah and will continue to work with all concerned parties in the region to reach an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict in Yemen.

**Sri Lanka

Meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena today, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka conveyed that the Secretary-General is following the developments in the country very closely and with concern.  As per his statement of 28 October, the Secretary-General calls on the Government to respect the democratic values, uphold the rule of law and ensure the safety and security of all Sri Lankans.  He urges the parties to address the situation in a peaceful manner.  Noting Sri Lanka’s stated commitment to human rights, justice, and reconciliation, the United Nations stands ready to continue our cooperation and support in this regard.


The Security Council held an open meeting on Ukraine yesterday afternoon.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said that there has been little progress in talks to end the fighting, with the conflict in Ukraine now in its fifth year.  She stressed that the Minsk Agreements form the only agreed framework for a negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine and that the UN urges all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the spirit and letter of them.  Ms. DiCarlo said that it is time for renewed and constructive action by all concerned to overcome the apparent impasse in diplomatic negotiations.  Also briefing the Council was Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who said that millions of men, women and children continue to face dire humanitarian consequences in Europe’s forgotten armed conflict.  She underscored that these impacts are deepening as the situation becomes more protracted, noting that more than 3,000 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the start of the conflict.  Ms. Mueller said that more than 3.5 million people will need humanitarian assistance next year, but that funding has steadily declined over the years.


Today is World Cities Day.  This year’s theme is Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that how our cities develop will have significant implications for realizing the future we want.  He warned that rapid urbanization can strain local capacities, contributing to increased risk from natural and human made disasters.  But hazards do not need to become disasters.  The answer is to build resilience, he said, to storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, pandemics and economic crises.  This year, the main celebrations are being hosted by the city of Liverpool in the UK, and back here there will be a special event at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 11 on Inclusive and Resilient Cities for Sustainable Families organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  In addition, the Department also launched a report which says that three in five cities worldwide with at least half a million inhabitants are at high risk of a natural disaster.  You can find that online.


I have the following personnel announcement to make.  The Secretary‑General is announcing today the appointment of Nóirín O'Sullivan of Ireland as the Assistant Secretary-General for Safety and Security.  Ms. O’Sullivan succeeds Fadzai Gwaradzimba of Zimbabwe, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.  As deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Ms. O’Sullivan will be responsible for the day-to-day overall management of the Department and supporting the Under-Secretary-General in the overall leadership and management of the Department.  Ms. O’Sullivan has over 36 years of experience in the international law enforcement and security environment, and most recently held the position of Garda Commissioner of An Garda Síochána in Ireland.  We have more in a bio note in my office.

And I just have another announcement:  The Secretary-General announced today the appointment of Geir O. Pedersen of Norway as his Special Envoy for Syria.  The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to reiterate his deepest gratitude to Staffan de Mistura of Italy for his concerted efforts and contributions to the search for peace in Syria.  Mr. Pedersen brings to this position decades of political and diplomatic experience, having served both in government and United Nations capacities, most recently as Norway’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China and as Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations.  Mr. Pedersen served the United Nations in various roles, including as Special Coordinator for Lebanon and as Personal Representative of the Secretary‑General for Southern Lebanon.  He also worked as Director of the Asia and Pacific Division in the Department of Political Affairs.

 **Press Briefings

After I am done, you will hear from Monica Grayley.  And then tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu, Permanent Representative of China and President of the Security Council for the month of November.  He will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.  Then at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.  That's it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I have one… two… one follow‑up and one question.  Will Ms. O'Sullivan be the first woman to hold that high a position in the Department of Safety and Security?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  In fact, her predecessor was a woman, Fadzai Gwaradzimba of Zimbabwe.  So, she is in part of a tradition now.

Question:  Okay.  I wonder whether the Secretary‑General would still like to see an independent investigation into the apparent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, especially given the latest announcement by the Turkish prosecutor today that he was killed as part of a premeditated killing, and his body was dismembered before being disposed of.  He was… that he was strangled and that the Turkish prosecutor's meeting with the Saudi prosecutor had produced no concrete results.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are aware of the latest developments.  The Secretary‑General's calls still hold.  You're aware he was hopeful for an investigation that will be prompt, thorough and transparent, and we still hold to those guidelines.  And, meanwhile, you will have seen that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also made a statement urging an independent investigation yesterday.  And of course, I'd refer you to her full statement.  Yes?

Question:  A follow‑up or connected question.  There has been a statement made by seven UN human rights experts on this issue.  I'll read one very short bit:  "Most recently, states in the international community, including the United Nations, have failed to address the enforced disappearance and murder of the Saudi journalist.  The only way forward is to establish an independent, transparent, credible investigation into his murder, one authorised by and reporting to the United Nations."  So, they are claiming the UN has failed by not setting up such an investigation.  Does the Secretary‑General still believe that he cannot do that on his own?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've explained the sort of mandate we feel is needed for an effective investigation to be undertaken by the United Nations, and our position on that still holds.

Question:  But does he have the power to set this up on his own?  I've been consulting legal experts who believe he does.  I… I spoke to the former US representative ambassador‑at‑large for war crimes issues in the [Barack] Obama Administration.  He says the SG definitely has this power.  Has the Secretary‑General approached the Office of Legal Affairs to see whether he has this power?  And is the only reason he's not doing it is he wants some political cover for what will be a controversial decision?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have, of course, received advice, including from our legal office.  But, regarding that, it's clear and if you've noted the precedents from the past, the effective commissions of inquiry that have been set up by the Secretary‑General have, if you look at the historical record, involved a mandate by a group of Member States.

Question:  But does he have the power to do it, Farhan?  Whether the precedence of the past had a… had a report… he… he was… it was referred to him.  Does he… does he believe he has a power under the Charter to do this himself?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm telling you what our position is, which is that, in order for there to be any effective UN investigation, those have required mandates by groups of Member States.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Today Austria announced that it will withdraw, also following the steps of the United States and Hungary, from the Global Compact on Refugees agreed last July.  Any comment from the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  We do regret this decision.  At the same time, I'd like to point out that the agreed text of the Global Compact represents the end result of a lengthy 18‑month process of consultations and negotiations among Member States, and that's been supported by a broad array of different parties, including from civil society.  Although this has been a decision taken by this particular Government, the broad number of governments have continued to support the process, including the vast majority of the UN's Member States.  And we look forward to interacting with them in Morocco on 10 and 11 December, at the meeting where we expect to adopt formally the Global Compact for Migration, and we hope and trust that we'll continue to have the widespread support of Member States during this process.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has demanded that the Saudis end the military operations in Yemen and proceed with peace talks.  My question, was there any pre‑negotiations or information to the Secretary‑General before this announcement?  And, two, what will be the role of the UN in this coming period should the Saudis adhere to Secretary Pompeo's demand?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'm not sure whether you were here when I first read this, but, at the start, I mentioned that the Special Envoy for Yemen, Mr. Griffiths, welcomed the calls for the immediate resumption of the political process.  And he talked about the steps that he is going to take.  There's a press release from his office with more details if you need it.

Question:  What about the Secretary‑General? Was the Secretary‑General in consultation with Secretary Pompeo?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe we also made clear that the Secretary‑General, among the topics that he discussed with Secretary Pompeo last week when he was in Washington, included Yemen.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  On this Yemen thing, I mean, you have Martin Griffiths saying and the statement you just issued and so forth, what I'm saying is, asking you, we keep on making… similar statements on Yemen are being made, but there is no headway.  Nothing that's… has been done to persuade the Saudis to end the Coalition to stop this.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, not to dispute your account… I know this has been a very long‑running war, and obviously, we believe it has gone on far too long.  But, at the same time, the Special Envoy made clear today that he is encouraged by the positive engagement of both of the Government of Yemen and of Ansarullah to the process that he has put out, and he's working with them to reach an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict.  And he has been working with other parties, including the Saudis, and hopes to gather them for talks formally fairly soon.

Question:  Yeah, I mean, Farhan, at some point in time, is it going to be a firm stand… I mean, timeline given to the Saudis to somehow come up with some sort of a solution to the… not keep on killing the Yemenis all the time, and children in particular?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are trying to prevail upon all parties.  And, as you'll have seen from the recent days' comments by other officials, including US officials, other parties are also involved in the process to make sure that all parties halt fighting and come to talks.  Yes, please? Oh, oh, sorry.  Iftikhar first.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The UN human rights experts have been calling for the… for clemency to a Pakistani Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for clemen… for blasphemy.  Today, the Supreme Court of Pakistan set aside her death sentence and ordered her immediate release.  But this has been… there has been adverse reaction among the religious parties and right‑wing groups who are demonstrating in Pakistan.  Any comments on this situation in Pakistan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, among other things, of course, you're well aware of our opposition to the death penalty.  So, we would welcome this latest development by the courts.  But, beyond that, I would leave the matter in the hands of the court system.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the question of the killing of the Saudi journalist raised by my colleagues, there is a precedent, at least in one aspect, and that is that, in the case of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, the Secretary‑General has called for… on States who have the information to turn it in for the investigation of the case.  Would the Secretary‑General do the same with regard to the Saudi journalist?  Would he call on the state who hold… might hold information to turn it to the investigators?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't want to prejudge any role we may have down the line, but I would like to point out, since you brought up the case of Dag Hammarskjöld, that this was another question where, in fact, we do have mandate from a Member State body, namely, the General Assembly, to proceed.  Yes?

Question:  Coming… coming back to the statement from the Special Envoy for Yemen, we have the words that you've given us and read again today from Martin Griffiths.  We also have the transcript of what the Secretary of Defence of the US, [James] Mattis, said.  And Mattis seems to give us a few more details.  So, if I can ask you about those.  He says that the talks will take place in Sweden.  Can you confirm whether Sweden is offering itself as a venue?  He says the talks will take place within 30 days.  Is that your preferred timeline?  And, if he says that he thinks that it will take place, the Special Envoy talks about positive engagement.  Can you tell us, for the two key parties, the Saudi Coalition and the Houthis, whether you actually have a yes to talks from either party at this stage?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think it's still early to say whether we have a definitive yes.  I think, as Mr. Griffiths has made clear, we are working with the parties, and we are hopeful of the indications we've received, both from the Government and its supporters and Ansarullah and its supporters, that we can proceed ahead.  Mr. Griffiths is hoping to be able to announce a round of talks as soon as he can, but we're not at that stage just yet.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a question on the embargo resolution against Cuba that is being debated right now at the General Assembly.  Just to have a reminder on background, can you please walk us through which has been the position from the Secretary‑General on the blockade against Cuba, and what has he considered historically about the blockade, and if there's anything… a reaction to the reports that the vote this year might be delayed by the amendments proposed by the United States?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I wouldn't be able to comment on the logistics of this, which is something ultimately that's in the hands of the Member States of the General Assembly.  Regarding our position, obviously, we want General Assembly resolutions to be respected, and this has been a resolution passed by large majorities in the General Assembly for many years now.  So, that's where we stand.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Geir Pedersen's appointment, when actually is he going to start work? Is he going to begin an overlap at all with Staffan de Mistura?

Deputy Spokesman:  We hope that he will be able to begin his work as soon as he can once Mr de Mistura's left his post.  As Mr. de Mistura indicated to you, he expects to leave by the end of November.  So, we're hoping that the transition can happen around that time.  Did you have your hand up?  No.  Okay.  Then… then Abdelhamid.

Question:  There are many states who are taking higher position vis‑à‑vis the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, for example, calling for disarming the Saudis.  Germany took the lead and maybe Canada and France.  Why the Secretary did not issue a statement calling for the halt… halting of the shipment of weapons to the Coalition until this issue is solved?  I mean, his… the policy of the UN is to call for disarmament.  This is an opportunity for him to issue a statement also putting his weight, moral weight, behind disarmament issue.

Deputy Spokesman:  You'll have seen what we've said about Yemen, and we're following the process in order to bring both parties to the table.  And this is… remains in the hands of Mr. Griffiths, and this is an issue that is separate and apart from our handling of Mr. Khashoggi's case.  Yes?

Question:  It's a follow‑up question on Ambassador Geir Pedersen and his mission.  Firstly, will he continue to be based in Geneva?  Will he inherit the same team?  And is it the same plan, or does he have the ability to look at a new plan?  And, also, if you could perhaps… many of us know ambass… Pedersen, but given the difficulty of this job and that he's the fourth Special Envoy and they've included a former Secretary‑General, why did the Secretary‑General, on this occasion, decide to entrust him with this job?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think many of you know him very well and know exactly what his qualifications are.  This is someone who is well versed in the politics of the region.  He has been very adept at dealing with Member States and their demands in different capacities, whether as an ambassador, as a UN Secretariat official, or as one of our senior officials on the ground in the Middle East.  And we believe he can do a good job here.  Obviously, this has been an extremely frustrating war, for reasons that are well beyond the capabilities of even our most experienced diplomats, but we are hopeful that the time has come to finally turn a corner and end this war.  Regarding how he will conduct his office, I will leave it to him to answer that once he takes up his job.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The UN is, no doubt, aware of the incarceration of prominent Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been in jail since August for refusing to reveal the source of his story.  The CPJ, the Committee for Protection of Journalists, the Reporters Without Borders, and other national and international organisations have called for his release.  Would the Secretary‑General join in that call?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say on this is, obviously, we would like the authorities in this case to respect the rights of journalists, including, in particular, the rights of journalists to go about their regular work without harassment.  And with that, Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.