12 March 2019

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.  A couple of travel notes.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

A reminder that the Secretary-General will be heading out to Washington tonight, where he will have bilateral meetings with members of the US Administration, as well as members of the US Congress, and this is part of his regular engagement with US officials and US authorities.

Tomorrow in Washington, the day will be focused on the Administration, with a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  The Secretary-General will also meet with US National Security Adviser John Bolton.

On Thursday, he will be spending most of the day on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress.

And he will be back in New York on Thursday.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Tonight, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart for Nairobi in Kenya to participate, on behalf of the Secretary-General, in the Fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) and the One Planet event, which forms part of the build-up to the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in 2019.

The Deputy Secretary-General will also meet with Government officials, as well as UN officials in Nairobi.

Then, on 16 March, she will head up to London to engage with academia on insecurity and prosperity at the 8th African Development Forum organized by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the high-level event on “Women in Power”.  He said he was here to listen to the voices of women leaders who are helping to shift power in today’s world and reiterated the UN’s determination to achieve gender parity and push back against resistance to changes within the Organization.  “We need to push back against the pushback,” the Secretary-General said.

The Secretary-General also stressed that gender parity is key to advance peace and security, promote human rights, and ensure development for all.

He thanked the women leaders at the event for their leadership, for setting an example, and for powering the change the world needs.

And today, at 1:15 p.m.  in Conference Room 4, the Secretary-General will be having a town hall meeting with members of civil society on the margins of the meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Also related to that, at 12:30 p.m. here, there will be a briefing here on the High-Level Event on “Women in Power”, and that will be organized by the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, along with the President of Croatia; the President of the Republic of Estonia; the President of Trinidad and Tobago; and the Prime Minister of Iceland.

**Security Council

The Security Council today is holding an open meeting on cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union.

Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is expected to speak to you at 1:15 p.m. at the Security Council stakeout.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office there found that 535 people were killed and 111 injured in Yumbi territory, due to intercommunal attacks carried out between 16 and 18 December of last year.

The number of casualties is likely to be higher, as the bodies of some who died are believed to have been thrown into the Congo River.  It was also not possible to confirm the number of persons still missing, with an estimated 19,000 people displaced by the violence.

The report adds that the attacks were executed with the support of customary chiefs and may amount to crimes against humanity.

The investigation also found that the attacks followed strikingly similar patterns and were characterized by extreme violence and speed.

The report also stresses that the violence was facilitated by the absence of State action to prevent it and warns of the risk of renewed violence.

The head of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, called for urgent action to restore the authority of the State in Yumbi territory and to create conditions for the safe and voluntary return of those who have been displaced, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stressed the importance of justice and accountability to establish the facts and hold those responsible to account.


Turning to Syria, we are extremely concerned for safety and protection of civilians that may still be trapped in the last Da’esh-held enclave of Al Baghouz in Southern rural Deir Ezzour Governorate in Syria.

Following an offensive yesterday on Al Baghouz, there are reports of at least 50 civilians killed and dozens injured by air strikes, most of those injured are children and women.  The attacks are reported to have taken place while civilians were attempting to flee the area.

The UN reiterates its call on all parties to this conflict and those with influence over them to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.


And turning to Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues there say that scores of civilians have reportedly been killed by strikes on houses in Kushar District in Hajjah Governorate in Yemen in the past few days.  Medical sources report that 22 people were killed, including 12 children and 10 women.

The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, condemned these deaths and injuries unequivocally and shared deep condolences with the families of the victims.

Hajjah is one of the provinces most affected by the crisis in Yemen.  More than a million people are hungry and thousands of new cholera cases are being reported across the governorate.

Conflict in Hajjah has increased sharply over the last six months, which has increased the number of displaced people from 203,000 to about 420,000 today.


I also wanted to flag a measles outbreak in the Philippines, where cases of the disease continue to surge after that country’s Department of Health has declared a major measles outbreak on 6 February.

The Government is conducting a mass immunization campaign, reaching so far 54 per cent of its target to vaccinate all children between the ages 6 and 59 months.

More than 18,000 suspected cases of measles and at least 280 deaths have been reported since the beginning of the year, a 380 per cent increase compared to 2018.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to provide financial, technical and logistical support for the response, including the vaccination campaign, and UNICEF is also helping to procure vaccines.

And a reminder to vaccinate all of your children.


And a report released today by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that more than half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health care and just 29 per cent have comprehensive social security coverage.

The report examined the implementation of social protection policies in 100 countries and found that only 68 per cent of people of retirement age receive some form of pension, and in many low-income countries, this drops to 20 per cent.  In addition, fewer than 60 per cent of countries surveyed had benefits to ensure income security for children.


Also today in Nairobi, at the UN Environment Assembly, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched its Global Resources Outlook report which examines trends in natural resources based on our consumption patterns.

The report says that the extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food make up about half of the global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss.  By 2010, changes in the way that we use land had already caused a loss of global species of approximately 11 per cent.

UNEP said that unless we urgently rethink the way we use resources, we are at risk of doubling our greenhouse gas emissions by 2060.  This would entail a combination of extending the life cycles of products, intelligent product design and the standardization of reusing, recycling and remanufacturing products.

**Press Briefings

And in addition to the press conference I told you about at 12:30 p.m. here, tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ukraine, in the context of the CSW, and that will be with Natalia Mokriak and Olga Oprysko of the Azov Sailors Women Platform.

**Honour Roll

And today we thank Mongolia, which has paid its budget dues in full, which brings us to how many?

Correspondent:  71.

Spokesman:  Bravo.  Do you have a question or do you yield?  [applause]  Yes, exactly.  Okay.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General, as you mentioned, will be tomorrow in Washington, and just yesterday, Mike Pompeo made some announcements about Venezuela.  Will it be part of their agenda to talk about… specifically about the situation in Venezuela and possibly how the United Nations could assist?  And then the second part of the question, Federica Mogherini just spoke at the Security Council, and she said that one of the main things that they’re trying to do is to have an international contact group with Latin American countries and European countries after the meeting in Uruguay.  Will the United Nations eventually be part of the contact group or collaborate in the process of this group that she’s now mentioning and also trying to get elections and try to avoid any sort of intervention…?  Thank you.  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Sure.  Okay.  Let me try to up unpack all of your questions.  The Secretary‑General and the Secretary of State will discuss all host of issues that are of mutual concern.  We do expect a readout afterwards, and there may be even some sort of a media spray before the meeting.  You know, on the contact group, we haven’t… I haven’t seen all the details, but I think the Secretary-General was clear in the past that, while he supports the various groups and international meetings that have taken place, the United Nations will not participate… has not participated to date in any of them.  And that’s really to keep his ability to offer his good offices, but he’s very much… you know, he supports everyone’s… all of these efforts are trying to bring some sort of calm to the situation.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Arguably, the Colombian peace process has been a major case of success for the United Nations.  The current Colombian Government has taken steps showing that it does not agree with the overall result and that it intends to modify what is being agreed, especially on the transitional justice framework that is seen by some in the country as a door or a gateway for impunity of those who committed terrible crimes.  Does this concern at all the SG?  What is the vision on this issue in particular?

Spokesman:  Sure.  First of all, the Secretary‑General will be meeting the Foreign Minister of Colombia at the Minister’s request later today.  And the Secretary‑General has, on a number of occasions, stressed repeatedly the importance of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and of respect for its independence and autonomy, as has the Security Council.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  There’s a report out today, the SG’s report to the General Assembly.  It’s the budget for the Hudaydah mission.  Shows an expansion of the deployment there.  It includes 20… what it calls 20 government-provided personnel.  Can you clarify what this is?  It’s 20 individuals who are being provided by the [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government to the UN to work as part of the UN Mission in Hudaydah?

Spokesman:  It’s an extremely valid and good question.  I, unfortunately, have not studied the budget document with the level of detail that you have.  Let me take a look at it and try to answer it in a way that is actually correct.  Yes, Nabil and then Masood.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Do you have more details about the SG’s visit to D.C., time, schedule or who he’s planning to meet there and any other details?

Spokesman:  As I said, tomorrow will be focused on the Administration.  He’ll be meeting with the National Security Adviser, with John Bolton.  He will be meeting with Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State.  On Thursday, there’ll be various meetings in Congress with representatives of both parties.  The Secretary‑General, as have others, has regularly gone to Washington to meet not only with people in the Administration but also officials on Capitol Hill.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  We’ll see what I can share with you.  Okay.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this UN human rights expert who said there should be an end to purgatory of international inaction facing the Rohingya — what do you call? — refugees, do you have any reaction to that as to what he really meant by that, inaction…

Spokesman:  I’m not a good interpreter of people’s thinking, especially when I don’t speak for them.  So, I think you should refer your question to the Special Rapporteur.  Obviously, I think the Secretary‑General and his representatives on the ground have repeatedly expressed their concern at the situation in Rakhine State, the ongoing violence, and also the plight of the more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have been hosted generously for Bangladesh and the need for full engagement with the Government of Myanmar to try to create the right conditions in Rakhine State to… so we can have a voluntary return of people who may want to go home.

Question:  Basically, he’s talking about inaction on the part of the international community.  Does the Secretary‑General agree with that assessment?

Spokesman:  Again, I’m not going to comment on what the Special Rapporteur says.  She’s free… she… her mandate is clear, and she is supposed to say what she thinks.  We say what we think.

Great.  Thank you.  And there is… a reminder, there’s a press conference at 12:30.

For information media. Not an official record.