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

30 November 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.

**Group of Twenty

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20.  Just a bit earlier, he spoke at a session entitled ‘Putting People First — Global economy, the future of work and women’s empowerment’.  He called on leaders to ensure that all their citizens enjoy the benefits of technological and scientific advances, global trade and economic integration, noting that those losing out from globalization are losing trust in governments and institutions.  He also emphasized that women’s empowerment and equality must be at the heart of every effort to address poverty and inequality.

This morning, on the margins of the Summit, the Secretary-General met with the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, along with the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.  They also held a joint press encounter, in which the Secretary-General thanked both for their countries’ continued support for the Paris Agreement and their leadership and willingness to work together to address climate change.  Those remarks are now online.

Last night, the Secretary-General met with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.  They discussed the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) and the importance of the completion of the Paris Agreement Work Programme, its transparency framework and climate finance.  The Secretary-General also thanked Mr. Modi for his commitment to increase India’s nationally determined contributions to the Paris Agreement.

And you saw, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters also yesterday afternoon.  We put out that transcript.

**South Africa

Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the African Youth Development Summit in Johannesburg today.  She said that today’s young people are a historic phenomenon — the largest cohort of young people that our world has ever seen.  There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world today, she said, with Africa as the youngest continent, where young women and men constitute more than 60 per cent of the total population.

The Deputy Secretary-General noted that in September this year, the Secretary-General launched the UN Youth Strategy:  Youth 2030.  She said that Youth 2030 will strengthen the UN’s ability to support young people — their participation in society, their ability to secure employment, the realization of their rights and their role as agents of peace in fragile contexts.

She also highlighted a campaign on education about menstruation, saying that lack of support for menstrual health can keep girls out of school and the workplace and out of leadership roles, with devastating consequences that can last lifetimes and across generations.  Educating both girls and boys about menstruation as a normal biological process is the first step towards addressing these issues, she said.  Her remarks have also been shared with you.


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, begins a two-day visit to Colombia next Monday in order to learn more about and express support for the efforts underway by the Colombian Government and society to consolidate peace.  An additional purpose of the visit is to familiarize herself with the work of the United Nations in support of peace, particularly of the Verification Mission in Colombia, which is overseen by her Department.

During her stay in the country, Ms. DiCarlo will meet with senior Government officials, representatives of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), civil society, the Catholic Church, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the Truth Commission, as well as representatives of the international community and the UN system.  She will also travel to one of the Territorial Areas for Training and Reintegration of former combatants.


At the end of a visit to Aden and Sana’a, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, urged the warring parties in Yemen to do “absolutely everything humanly possible” to prevent renewed fighting in the port city of Hodeidah.  Renewed fighting would plunge millions more Yemenis into an even deeper crisis and could contribute to what may turn out to be a massive famine, he said.

Mr. Gilmour also underlined the utter unacceptability of any party to a conflict to deliberately create massive humanitarian suffering as a tactic of war and urged the immediate removal of restrictions on delivery of emergency food and medical supplies.

Mr. Gilmour was deeply moved by the testimonies of the Mothers of the Detainees whom he met in Aden, and who recounted harrowingly the tragic tales of missing husbands, sons and brothers.  He requested the Government in Aden and the de facto authorities in Sana’a to end unlawful detention and to release all names of persons in their custody.  The Human Rights Office has more information online.

And as you will recall, Mark Lowcock, our humanitarian chief, is continuing his travels to Yemen, and we should have an update a bit later.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues continue to receive disturbing reports of airstrikes harming the civilian population in Syria’s Deir Ezzour Governorate.

Yesterday, airstrikes reportedly hit a field hospital in the area, killing and injuring scores of civilians, including women, children and medical staff.

Airstrikes also reportedly hit the prison of Al-Kashma village, near Deir Ezzour on 28 November, killing and injuring prisoners and civilians.

We remind all parties to this conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, including medical workers.

Targeting medical facilities and other civilian infrastructures is unacceptable and prohibited under international law.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that peacekeepers are conducting patrols in Batangafo in Ouham prefecture, where violence triggered displacements of civilians to a nearby peacekeeping temporary operating base and a Doctors without Borders Hospital.

The Mission has also reinforced its presence in the town to protect civilians after recent clashes between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka members.

And in Alindao in Lower Kotto prefecture, the Mission deployed additional peacekeepers today to protect civilians after recent violence and clashes between anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka members.  The situation is reported to be calm.


Yesterday I was asked about money and percentages.  I am happy to tell you that, as of yesterday, the amount received to the regular budget during 2018 represents 97.8 per cent of the amount assessed.

While we do give credit publicly to those Member [States] which have paid their budget dues in full, many others are paying in tranches of varying sizes.

**Press Briefings

On press briefings, of course after you are done with me you will hear from Monica [Grayley], on behalf of the PGA (President of the General Assembly).

On Monday at 11:00 a.m. there will be a press briefing on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  The speakers will include Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management Martha Helena Lopez; the Chief Information Technology Officer, Ms. Atefeh Riazi, and the actor Daryl “Chill” Mitchell of the TV series NCIS:  New Orleans.

And at 12:30 pm, after you hear from both Monica and myself, the President of the Security Council for the month of December, Amb. Léon Adom of Côte d’Ivoire, will be here to gladly brief you on the programme of work.  Monday… he will brief you on Monday.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  James?

Question:  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has said she believes that given there is no progress so far with the Saudi investigation or the Turkish investigation, it's now time for the UN to set up its own investigation into the death of Jamal Khashoggi and she said she's asked the Secretary-General to look at the best methods.  Is the Secretary-General now going to set up an investigation?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General's position remains unchanged.  I think he addressed it to you on [Wednesday] during his press stakeout.  He wants to know the truth.  Our position remains that we do need a legal mandate from a legislative body and, of course, he also requests… or at least a request from a Member State.  That has not come.

Question:  And just to be clear, those conditions and requirements you've made, those two requirements, those are legal conditions? Or are they just things that the Secretary-General thinks… thinks he needs as political cover in case the Saudis object?

Spokesman:  Sometimes, I think at the UN, it's hard to separate the two.  It's the Secretary-General's positions and it remains.

Question:  The reason I'm asking… the reason I'm asking is you'll remember 2016, the previous Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the Children in Armed Conflict blacklist, he put the Saudi-led coalition on the list.  The Saudis then threatened to pull out humanitarian funding, so he took them off the list.  Is the Secretary-General worried about Saudi threats?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary-General would like to see the truth, and he would expect every Member State to continue to cooperate with this organisation and every Member State to continue to honour the pledges it's made with this organisation.

Question:  And he'll keep human rights concerns like this completely separate from political ones?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General… there are three pillars to the UN's work:  development, human rights, and peace and security, and all three are treated equally.  Madame.  Hold on.  I'll get back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow-up on James' question.  If you could clarify a little bit more:  Does the UN need an official request for this legislative body to… to be set up, to launch an investigation? What does the UN need for the legislative body?

Spokesman:  We would need… I think as we've said before, we would need a mandate from a legislative body.

Question:  Is that the only way for the UN to…

Spokesman:  That's what I'm telling you now.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  On further meetings of the Secretary-General in Buenos Aires, does he intend to meet with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia?  And who else is on the agenda for his meeting?

Spokesman:  That meeting is I think still to be confirmed.  I think the Secretary-General addressed that very clearly on [Wednesday] and also, I think yesterday in the press conference.  Off the top of my head, I know the meeting is obviously confirmed is with the President of Argentina, Mr. [Mauricio] Macri.  There will be other bilaterals, but, as always, these summits are in a state of flux when they start.  As the meetings happen, we will be issuing readouts.  Yeah, and then we'll go…

Question:  And is a meeting with the President of Russia, [Vladimir] Putin…?

Spokesman:  As I said, when things are… as things go, we'll confirm them.

Question:  The reason is the… Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura expressed his frustration about Astana.  Will the SG…

Spokesman:  If you go back to what Mr. de Mistura said yesterday, he didn't express frustration about Astana per se, because he was very thankful.

Correspondent:  Well, the latest meeting.  Sorry.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Soon enough you'll be able to take my place.  I may pay you to take my place.  [Laughter]  He did not express frustration with Astana per se.  He was very thankful for the progress that had been made on Idlib and de-escalation.  What he expressed his frustration on is the side meeting, where he saw no progress on the issue of the constitutional committee.

Question:  It's been ten months he's been trying to… about the Constitutional committee.  Will the SG himself have a role to December, the deadline to…

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General will involve himself as necessary when things need to be pushed, but he has… I mean, since he's come into office, often raised Syria directly with world leaders in an effort to back the efforts of his special envoy.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I was going to ask about the Secretary-General's schedule, but you already answered it, so if you allow me, you… you said that the UN cannot undertake the investigation into Khashoggi killing, unless there is an authorization from a legislative body.  Would the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva be considered a legislative body that can issue such a mandate?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm violating my own rules here by not talking about hypotheticals and I fear that everything I say can and will be used against me.

Correspondent:  No, no.  My question is about the UN Human Rights Council.

Spokesman:  Let me answer you.  I think if you look, the Human Rights Council has put forth over the years a number of boards of inquiries or investigations, so I think that should answer your question.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you.  Two questions and one follow-up thereafter.  So what's impeding the… an official announcement for the Yemen talks thus far, although we hear reports that it is happening on the 4th and 5th in Sweden?  Also on the Western Sahara talks, there have been some initiatives from both Morocco, calling for a meeting with Algeria, and Algeria from the other… on the other hand, called for a meeting for the Arab Maghreb Union.  What's the UN position from those initiatives each?

Spokesman:  Okay.  On Yemen, I think the Secretary-General's been clear that we are trying to do whatever we can and we're working hard, especially his envoy, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, in trying to ensure that the talks can begin before the end of the year.  We're hearing a lot of reports about when the talks would start.  I would encourage you to wait for us to actually announce, either myself or Mr. Griffiths' team.  So there are no dates to announce as of yet, but just as a logistical support, we've been informed that the foreign ministry in Sweden is helping journalists with accreditation and other logistical arrangements so people can be pre-registered with the understanding that there is no official date set yet, but we're working hard to do that.  But I think expectations need to be realistic.  And you had asked me something else?

Correspondent:  On Algeria and the Arab Maghreb Union…

Spokesman:  I think… I answered that earlier and I would refer you to my earlier statement.  James?

Question:  Sorry to come back to the same subject, but I do need some clarification, because you have said today that you require a mandate from a legislative body.  You in the past have referred us to the Benazir Bhutto inquiry, and there seems to me to be a difference.  In one case, the Secretary-General decided to set up an inquiry and informed the Security Council, a legislative body.  Is it that?  Or is it that the Secretary-General will not do this until he's told to do it by a legislative body?  It seems unclear.

Spokesman:  It's unclear because nothing has yet happened, okay?  In the case… I fully understand, and the Secretary-General and the people around him want to have the truth elaborated in this egregious case.  Now that I've answered your question, I've lost my train of thought.  In the Benazir Bhutto case, there was a request from Pakistan.  The Secretary-General then consulted with Security Council.  There was an exchange of letters, which clearly showed the Security Council report… support.  We are talking hypotheticals here, so we have not yet received a request from any country and we have not received a mandate from a legislative body.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you.  I'm here with another issue because we are almost one week… we are nine days away from the global pact of the conference… for the Global Pact of Migration in Marrakech, and my question is specifically about the Secretary-General's position on so many countries not intending to adopt it.  And first of all, is he going to be there?  And what is the message before… before that happens, thinking about his history as a High Commissioner for the Refugees?

Spokesman:  We've not yet announced the trip, but I think we'll have to wait for the official announcement, but it will be no surprise to see the Secretary‑General in Marrakech.  I think what is regrettable, as we've seen, is a number of countries walking away from what was agreed already here in New York when the pact was adopted.  I think it bears reminding again and again, that this is not a binding legal instrument.  This is non-binding.  This is guidance for countries on how to manage migration.  As Louise Arbour said herself, migration isn't a bad thing or a good thing; it's a thing.  And it's something that's not going away.  It's something that is essential to the world that we live in, whether it's countries that need labour, whether it's countries that rely on remittances.  What matters is for countries to manage this internationally.  This is one of a number of problems that countries cannot manage alone.  You need to talk to those people on the other side of the border.  You need to be able to manage the flow of people.

Question:  And is he thinking about taking another position or preparing to take action against these countries or preparing any…

Spokesman:  It's not for him to take actions against the countries.  It's not for the Secretary-General.  It's about bringing countries together; it's not about taking them apart.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  A follow-up on that as well, Steph.  Since that is a UN conference, can you tell us how many countries have pulled out so far and how many countries will be attending? And another question on Afghanistan, and do you have anything about the USA strike, which apparently killed 23 civilians?

Spokesman:  No, I would refer you to what our colleagues at the UN Mission in Kabul have already said, and obviously, we would just underscore the need for the protection of civilians in any security operations.  I have to get the exact numbers for you, but I think as Ms. Arbour said, things remain a little unclear because some countries have not told us they weren't coming, others have said they would not sign when there is nothing to sign anyway.  So we'll try to get some updates before the end of the day for you.  Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about the Yemen hold-up.  You're right that the Secretary-General didn't mention any date for the peace talk in Sweden, but yesterday, he… in Buenos Aires encounter to the media, he talked about the same thing.  So can you clarify the… on the same occasion, the Secretary‑General, did he talk about the reason why he can't set the meeting? There are some obstacles that still need… What's the obstacle?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into any further detail, but I think if you look back to some of the issues that did not allow the talks in Geneva to progress, those issues need to be solved.  This is a very complex meeting to put together with the various parties, and I think until everything is lined up, we will not be announcing an official start.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, about Syria.  US has announced it was setting up new observation posts, military observation posts, along Syria-Turkey border.  Do you have any comments about that?

Spokesman:  No.  Thank you.  Happy Friday.  And we will see you next week.  And Monica, you're up.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.