15 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.

**New Zealand

I will start off with a statement on the attacks that took place earlier today in New Zealand.

The Secretary-General is shocked and appalled at the terrorist attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  He extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of New Zealand.

The Secretary-General recalls the sanctity of mosques and all places of worship.  He calls on all people on this holy day for Muslims to show signs of solidarity with the bereaved Islamic community.

The Secretary-General reiterates the urgency of working better together globally to counter Islamophobia and eliminate intolerance and violent extremism in all its forms.

Earlier in the day, you will have seen that the Secretary-General also tweeted out that he was saddened and strongly condemned the attack [on people] as they prayed peacefully in mosques.

Today and every day, he said, we must stand united against anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of bigotry and [terror].


I also have a statement on Mozambique.

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life, destruction of property and displacement of people due to the heavy rains and flooding caused by Tropical Cyclone Idai.

The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and Government of Mozambique.

The United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Mozambique authorities and stands ready to work with them as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this natural disaster.

**Ethiopia Air Crash

As you will have seen, about an hour ago, the Secretary-General laid a wreath in honour of the UN staff who died in the Ethiopian [Airlines] crash on Sunday.

The Secretary-General said that the staff who died were a mirror of the United Nations and represented the best of the Organization.  He said they were doing their part in solidarity with all of us to build a better world, brick by brick, deed by deed, day in and day out.

I’d like to read the names of our fallen colleagues as we pay tribute to them [for] all that they did for the world during their lives.

The victims were:  Joanna Toole; Anne Feigl; Maygenet Worku Abebe; Marcelino Tayob; Shikha Garg; Victor Shing Ngai Tsang; Nadia Adam Abaker Ali; Jessica Hyba; Jackson Musoni; Susan Mohamed Abufarag; Graziella De Luis; Esmat Adelsattar Taha Orensa; Oliver Vick; Max Thabiso Edkins; Ekta Adhikari; Maria Pilar Buzzetti; Virginia Chimenti; Harina Hafitz; Zhen-Zhen Huang; Michael Eoghan Ryan; and Djordje Vdovic.

May they all rest in peace.

**Climate Change

And also last night, the Secretary-General tweeted out that he is inspired to see young people around the world march to show their leadership on climate change, and he stressed that we need to [heed] this call made by the world’s youth.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Executive Director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), Henrietta Fore, and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 17 to 21 March.

They will meet with Government officials and other stakeholders in the capital, Kinshasa, and travel to parts of North Kivu and Ituri provinces, to see the humanitarian situation and response, including to the Ebola epidemic.  They will meet with people affected by the crisis.

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan calls for $1.65 billion to provide 9 million people with life-saving aid.


At the donors’ conference in Brussels yesterday, donors pledged a record $7 billion to support millions of people in need of humanitarian aid in Syria, as well as for refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, said that having a clarified position on funding levels so early in the year gives us confidence that we will be able to sustain a very high level of programming throughout the year.  He said we hope to reach 11.7 million Syrians inside the country with food assistance and millions more with health and water services.

And I would add that the Secretary-General is also extremely pleased at the result of the pledges received and thanks all the donors.


I was asked earlier about the overnight firing of rockets from Gaza.

I can say that the Secretary-General deplores last night’s firing of rockets from Gaza towards Tel-Aviv in Israel.  The indiscriminate firing of rockets towards populated areas is totally unacceptable, and he calls on all concerned parties to continue their engagement with Egypt and the UN to avoid further escalation that jeopardizes the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, deepens the humanitarian and economic crisis in Gaza, and undermines current efforts to address the critical needs of the population.


I was also asked by some of you about the situation in Rakhine State in Myanmar.

What I can tell you is that the situation there is deeply concerning, with continued and spreading fighting between the Myanmar security forces and the Arakan Army.

We condemn attacks against security personnel and express our sympathy for the victims and their families.

The reported use of air strikes by the Tatmadaw are deeply concerning.  We call for restraint from any disproportionate response.

All sides to this conflict should ensure the protection of civilians, access to humanitarian assistance and critical services, and uphold their responsibilities under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law.

If the fighting continues, it will only complicate an already precarious situation in Rakhine State.

We call on all sides to exercise restraint and pursue a resolution of differences through dialogue.

**Honour Roll

Today, our Honour Roll is up to 73.  Can anyone guess who gave?

Correspondent:  Syria.

Spokesman:  Croatia.  And we thank our friends in Zagreb.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Before we move to our background briefing, yes, Erol?

Question:  Yeah, Stéphane, in regard of this terrible attack in New Zealand, we all know… those who understand the language actually and who saw the viral video, the apparent attacker was listening to Serbian national songs praising Radovan Karadžic.  And we also know that Anders Breivik, in Norway in 2011, was also inspired by this nationalistic ideology in 2011.  So, my question is, what does the Secretary‑General say about this nationalistic ideology that, obviously, it’s not put to the end?  We did have episode before in Bosnia a few days ago, as well.  What does he say about that when it’s used in these terrorist attacks?

Spokesman:  You know, we did not see the video.  The Secretary‑General, I know, did not see the video…

Correspondent:  It’s there…

Spokesman:  I’m not doubting you.  I would never doubt you.  You know, I’m not, from here, going to analyse the motivation of this person.  We’ll leave that to investigators in New Zealand.  What… for the Secretary‑General, this is yet another demonstration of the violent bigotry and hate that we have seen tarnish every part of this world, and it needs to stop.  Edie and then… sorry.  I… just need time to get the cutaway.  Right?  [laughter]  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Going back to the Ethiopian airline crash, is the number 21 for UN staff now firm?  And is there any indication of how many partners from civil society and the humanitarian world perished as well?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Sure.  No, unfortunately… I mean, the… let me just put it this way.  Twenty‑one is the number that we have of people who were on the plane under contract from the United Nations.  Right?  So, anybody who was either staff or was a contract worker with a short‑term contract whose travel was paid for by the United Nations and who was travelling on official business or a UN staff who may have been on leave.  So, that’s the 21.  We fully recognize and share the pain of all our partners.  We know a number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) had staff on board, people who had either worked for the United Nations; there were former officials, former ambassadors.  There were NGO workers who may have been working for implementing partners of the UN.  You know, it was the kind of flight where, I think, anyone who works in the UN community writ large would walk on and see a familiar face.  Right?  And so, we share the pain of all the other organizations who lost staff in that.

Question:  Just as a slight housekeeping matter, I went down to try and attend the wreath‑laying.  And the whole area to get in there was totally blocked.  Usually, there’s a way for the media to get to…

Spokesman:  No, there should have been.  I’m sorry if that was…

Question:  There was… there was not, and I was not the only member of the media who did not get there.

Spokesman:  No, then I apologize, because we would have wanted you to be there to observe and also to share.  Sherwin?

Question:  We’ll take that apology under review.  [laughter]  Steph, given the Secretary‑General’s longstanding support for the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), what does he say about attempts by Washington to impede the working of the Court through the threats of punitive measures, including visa bans and possible sanctions against prosecutors and judges of the Court?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve seen what the Secretary of State said this morning.  We’re taking a look at the implication.  We… what I… you know, we’ve noted that… I think the Secretary of State underscored the existing Host Country Agreement and the need to respect that.  But, obviously, we’ll take a further look.  As you know, the ICC is not itself a UN body of which the Secretary‑General has any authority, but he has, over a number of times, expressed his support for international law.

Question:  Does the SG believe that any judge sitting on the ICC should be sanctioned by any country?

Spokesman:  I’m… I’ve had to say what I’ve had to say on that.  Thank you.  Yes, Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, on the New Zealand shooting, one of the troubling elements to this is that the shooter had written on one of his weapons, “Here’s your migration compact.”  I was just wondering, in the sort of press briefings with the Secretary‑General whether this was brought to his attention and…

Spokesman:  Look, he’s seen the press reports, and we know the attacks that there had been on social media and the misinformation that had been on social media before the migration meeting in Marrakesh.  All right?  And we did a lot through our partners to try to correct that misinformation.  But, again, I can’t, from here, get into the head of the person who committed this horrendous attack, and we will leave that to investigators in New Zealand.  Yes, sir?

Question:  This morning, the US Secretary of State said that the way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight but by giving the Saudi‑led Coalition the support needed to defeat Iranian‑backed rebels and ensure just peace.  It’s striking that Mr. [Michael] Pompeo said that in the same week that he met both the Secretary‑General and the UN Special Envoy.  Is that the message that the Secretary‑General had hoped to convey to Mr. Pompeo?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve had a very positive engagement with the United States on the Yemen peace talks.  They have been very supportive of the work of Martin Griffiths and our attempt to get a political solution, and this was reiterated during the Secretary‑General’s meeting with Mr. Pompeo and I’m sure reiterated during his sole meeting with Mr. Griffiths.

Question:  But, by advocating for the prolonging of the war and the bombardment of Yemen, is it the Secretary‑General’s position that the US position is prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s position has always been for everyone… for all the parties involved and for all the people who have influence over the parties to push… to support the political dialogue.  Yes, and then we’ll go…

Question:  I have a question on the… again, on the Ethiopian airline.  I know one of our colleagues, he was acting head of Darfur Mission of UNAMID (Joint United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur) … his name is Bashua Abiodun.  He was also killed in the plane.  My question… this is my comment.  My question is, was the UN part of the investigation taking place in Ethiopia, about the downing, the reason why…

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of any involvement by us.  We… obviously, we’ll keep a close eye on the investigation, but I’m not aware of any direct involvement by the UN in the investigation.

Question:  Yeah, sorry.  The US and European countries, many countries, they have decided to not use their fleet, Boeing 737 MAX 8 or 9, and there is a United Nations’ body, I think international aviation, is also part of this kind of investigation about the possibility that they ban it all…

Spokesman:  No, this was a… I don’t think there’s been any request for involvement into ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).  We can check with them.  The decisions to ground the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 were taken by national civil aviation authorities, which is the proper way to handle it.  And, as far as I know, the United Nations does not operate in its humanitarian or peacekeeping fleet any of those planes.  Evelyn and then Masood.

Question:  Thanks.  Back to the commemoration, the wreath‑laying ceremony.  I, too, then ran upstairs after I couldn’t get in.  He did not read the names.  Am I correct?  You read them.

Spokesman:  I just read the names.

Question:  Right.  How do you exactly describe the place where he was laying the wreath?

Spokesman:  At the memorial… it’s the Memorial Corner.  It’s where the Dag Hammarskjöld plaque; it’s where the bust of Count [Folke] Bernadotte is.  It’s by the memorial… it’s by Meditation Chapel.

Question:  Yeah, okay.  And I read somewhere ‑‑ and I can’t remember where ‑‑ that there was a problem with the new Myanmar… or the UN was going to have a new representative in Myanmar?  Is that my imagination or did I see something like that?

Spokesman:  No, it was… not to quote… to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, your imagination is not playing tricks on you.  There is, indeed… we’ve been told by our colleagues in Myanmar that there is a recruitment of a long‑term Resident Coordinator for the country that’s currently under way.  This is one of 27 Resident Coordinator positions’ recruitment.  The result of the hiring process will be announced, obviously, in due course.  As you know, the Resident Coordinator, Knut Ostby, in Myanmar is… in fact was appointed and was sent there as an acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.  We’re very happy with the job that he’s doing.  He’s had close relationships and productive relationships with the Government counterparts since his arrival, and he will continue to support Myanmar in its complex and challenging transition in cooperation with national and international partners until further notice.

Question:  And one more comment on housekeeping.  During this very busy 10,000 women participating in the CSW (Commission on the Status of Women), I think there couldn’t have been more reports released by other agencies and Secretariats of the United Nations this week and last.  It’s some kind of a disrespect to the CSW.  I’m not sure how that happens, but it… it… there were more reports this week and end of the last week than there were for the whole month.

Spokesman:  Coordination saves lives.  What can I tell you?  And it’s not always done.  [laughter]  Masood?

Question:  Yeah, couple questions.  Yes.  Stéphane, on this killing in New Zealand, one of the things that this white supremacist killer said that he was inspired by Mr. Donald Trump’s advocacy for white supremacy.  Do you have any reaction to that?  And that… his statement that he…

Spokesman:  No, again, I don’t know what this person was thinking.  I’ve not read his manifesto.  I’ve not read his rant.  What we do know is that he has left 49, if not more, people dead who were peacefully worshipping in a house of God and you can only condemn this in the harshest possible terms.

Question:  I mean, basically, what he’s saying he’s taking inspiration from other people…

Spokesman:  No, no, I know, Masood.  Okay.  Carole?

Question:  Now, I wanted to ask you, the other question was about Gaza.  I mean, the reason I’m asking, are the crossings… Gaza crossings, which have been on and off usually blocked…

Spokesman:  I need to get an update on the status of the crossings.

Question:  Yeah, so what is… what is…

Spokesman:  I need to get an update for you.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, would you mind flipping to “W” in your binder for Western Sahara to tell us if there’s… [laughter]

Spokesman:  I don’t even need to flip to the “W” page.

Question:  Oh!  [laughter]  To tell us the dates…

Spokesman:  We’ve seen all the reports.  As soon as… I mean, this is… it’s like so many of the different mediations we’re involved in.  There are different reports.  Different people say different things.  We will wait for our Personal Envoy to line up all his proverbial ducks and get an announcement out.  Erol, and then we’ll go to the back, and then we’ll go to the background briefing.

Question:  Steph, since we are the end of this very busy week of women, I would say, any update why… or will the Secretary‑General include, in his report on sexual violence on women, the suffering of the Balkan women from Kosovo and other places?

Spokesman:  I think that’s… we’ll wait… I don’t know where the status of the report is.  I’ll…

Question:  I asked you that before…

Spokesman:  I should check.  Yes?

Question:  I had a question on Gaza.  Today’s newspaper, Israeli newspaper, stated that the Government of Israel found out that the missile fired by mistake was not actually; yet Israel attacked Gaza in reaction.  And you did some note by the SG about the firing of rockets into Tel Aviv, but you did not say anything about what the SG is saying about the massive reaction by Israel into this.

Spokesman:  I don’t have any… we, obviously, have no information as to how these launches happened.  We do know that they did happen.  All right.  Thank you, all.

We will switch off the cameras, and we will put Jane Holl Lute on the phone.

For information media. Not an official record.