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

18 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.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Just to let you know that the Secretary‑General’s report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” is out today as a document.  It should be up if it is not already up already on the UN documents website.  As you know, this is the annual update, looking back at 2018, on our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, in line with the Secretary‑General’s strategy on this.

Just to give you a quick update on progress made:  in 2018, the Clear Check tool was launched to ensure that perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse are not rehired in any part of the United Nations; 29 UN entities are now participating in this.  We also developed the Incident Reporting Form, which is designed to minimize the number of times a victim or witness is interviewed and standardize the complaint intake process across the UN system.  There is also a centralized tool to track victims’ assistance that is being rolled out in all peace operations.  And we have a protocol on implementing partners which includes strong provisions on victims’ rights.

These are just a few examples of the long-term effort which, as you know, we continue to work on to fight this scourge of sexual exploitation and abuse.

**Secretary-General’s Statements

You saw that, yesterday, we issued two separate statements by the Secretary‑General in which he expressed his sadness at the loss of life, destruction of property and displacement of people by Tropical Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe and by flash floods, landslides and an earthquake in Indonesia.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims of both tragedies and to the people and Governments of Zimbabwe and Indonesia.  Both statements are available online.

On Cyclone Idai, our humanitarian colleagues report that, in Mozambique, widespread damage is reported in Beira city, with at least 48 people reportedly killed.  In Malawi, it has affected more than 183,000 people, while 9,600 people in Zimbabwe have been impacted due to flooding and landslides.  The UN and our humanitarian partners are supporting the Government‑led relief efforts in the respective countries.

Further on the disaster in Indonesia, we are told that heavy rains in Papua since 16 March have resulted in at least 79 deaths, with dozens more missing or injured.  The Government is leading relief efforts, with assistance from the National Red Cross and other national NGOs [non‑governmental organizations].  In West Nusa Tenggara Province, two earthquakes yesterday triggered landslides, killing 3 people and injuring nearly 200 others.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Leila Zerrougui, is here in New York, where she briefed the Security Council this morning.  She said that the electoral process in the country was a decisive step towards the consolidation of rule of law and democracy.  She said the new President had, during his first public intervention, also said he wanted to work towards this consolidation and followed these statements of intentions by concrete acts, such as the release of political prisoners.

Ms. Zerrougui said that, despite these opportunities to achieve lasting peace and security in the country today, she remained concerned about several developments in the eastern DRC.  She highlighted the situation in North and South Kivu, where she said structural violence was profoundly entrenched.  North Kivu’s Grand Nord region is also where the second‑largest Ebola outbreak in history is ongoing.  She encouraged the Council to continue to support the consolidation of what has been achieved in the country in recent months and to support the DRC in addressing the threats to peace and security which remain.  And Ms. Zerrougui has told us that she will take your questions at the stakeout at the end of consultations.

Also on the DRC, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and the UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, as well as the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, started a joint mission there to show international solidarity with the Congolese people and demonstrate the willingness of humanitarian actors to work jointly with the Government [to respond] to the dire humanitarian needs.

The delegation met earlier today with the new Congolese President, Félix [Tshilombo] Tshisekedi, and highlighted the visible progress made in various areas.  They also met with the ministries of cooperation, humanitarian action and health.

**Mali

And on Mali, the UN Mission there (MINUSMA) reports that, yesterday, unidentified assailants attacked a Malian armed forces camp in Dioura in north‑west Mopti town in the centre of the country.  The assailants caused numerous casualties and burned down the camp before fleeing.  The Mission organized the medical evacuation of the injured soldiers.

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, condemned the terrorist attack in the strongest terms and offered his heartfelt condolences to the Government of Mali, to the people of Mali and to the families and relatives of the soldiers who lost their lives.  He also reiterated the UN Mission’s support to the Malian Government and to the Malian people in their quest for peace and stability.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is visiting Damascus, where he has held constructive discussions with the Foreign Minister, Walid al‑Moualem, in the framework of the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  Mr. Pedersen indicated that the work is progressing and that he looks forward to further discussions.

Over the weekend, we issued a statement on the start of the ninth year of the Syria conflict, in which the Secretary‑General issued four urgent appeals to all parties:

First, he urged all sides to maintain their commitments and uphold the ceasefire arrangements in Idlib.  Second, he said that, where any form of military operation by any actor is contemplated, planned or executed, [international humanitarian law needs to be fully respected and human rights protected].  Third, he emphasized that sustained humanitarian access remains critical, with 11.7 million people in need of protection and assistance.  Fourth, he said that strengthened international support is urgently required if the parties to the conflict are to seriously move towards finding a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians.

**Gaza

Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, strongly condemned the campaign of arrests and violence used by Hamas security forces against protesters, including women and children, in Gaza over the past days.  He was particularly alarmed by the brutal beating of journalists and staff from the Independent Commission for Human Rights and the raiding of homes.  Mr. Mladenov said yesterday that the long‑suffering people of Gaza were protesting the dire economic situation and demanded an improvement in the quality of life in the Gaza Strip, and it is their right to protest without fear of reprisal.  His statement is online.

**Africa Climate Week

And the Africa Climate Week kicked off today in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, with policymakers, the private sector and other stakeholders meeting to share best practices, success stories and learning points to advance national climate [action] plans.  Hosted by the Government of Ghana and co‑organized by a number of UN and international partners, the event aims to support the implementation of countries’ efforts to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Africa Climate Week, which runs until 22 March, is the first of three Regional Climate Weeks in the build‑up to the UN climate conference, COP 25 (the twenty‑fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which is scheduled to take place in Chile this December.  More information online.

**Press Briefings

And I take your questions and we hear from Monica [Grayley], and at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Polyanskiy, in this very room.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  The President of Mozambique has said that the death toll from the cyclone could reach 1,000, and the Red Cross has said 90 per cent of the port of Beira has been destroyed.  What specifically is the United Nations doing to deal with the impact?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We’re working with the Government, as this is a Government‑led process, but I will try to get you some granularity, which you rightly deserve to have.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  We saw your statement on Friday about the attacks in New Zealand.  Has the SG spoken with Prime Minister [Jacinda] Ardern over the weekend?  And this attack has sort of sparked a debate about who’s to blame and the rhetoric that’s being espoused by people around the world.  Does the SG have any thoughts on what can be done about this?

Spokesman:  Look… I don’t think he was able to connect with the Prime Minister over the weekend, but let me… I’ll double‑check.  The issue of… first of all, I think the person to blame is the person that pulled the trigger, is the first person responsible for this heinous, heinous act.  The Secretary‑General has been troubled and has expressed his trouble publicly at the rising level of hate speech, which has… can and could have an impact on the violence that we have seen.  This is one of the reasons he has tasked [Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide] Adama Dieng to put together a proposal on how to look and how to deal with hate speech, but this is something that he has… you know, the issue of the demonizing of the other, of putting blame on the other — the foreigner, the immigrant, someone who doesn’t look like you — is something that has concerned him and continues to trouble him greatly.

Question:  Follow‑up?

SpokesmanSeñora?  I’ll come back to you in two seconds.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  The New York Times published a report over the weekend about the usage of Cuban doctors in Venezuela to pressure patients and use medicines as a tool of political pressure to vote for [Nicolás] Maduro.  Is that something, reports like this… the Cuban Government has denied it.  The Government of Venezuela has not responded, but they said that this is an organized and specifically not just one doctor but several doctors have claimed that that’s something they have done, even going door to door to tell patients and to influence elderly patients to make sure that they vote for Maduro if they want their medicine to continue and even using oxygen as one of the tools.  Is any concerns by the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  We’ve seen the report.  We, obviously, have no detailed information one way or another on the veracity of it.  As a matter of principle, it is clear that medical aid, humanitarian aid should be free of any political or any other kind of pressure.  Erol?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow‑up quick on Michelle’s question and point, of course.  In this particular case in New Zealand, the killer, who is, obviously, to be blamed, first and foremost, but he used as an inspiration particular person.  Actually, on his arms, there were inscribing names of the Serbian nationalist and the Government of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria and Romania, actually, if I’m not wrong, they are now seeing the route that he was routing… actually travelling to this country a year ago.  So, why Secretary‑General, in this particular case, is somehow, through you, hesitating to name and shame?

Spokesman:  We have no particular insight on the mindset of the killer.  All right?  We will leave that to the investigators.  The Secretary‑General has been and has publicly, very vocally, expressed his concern about the rate… the rise of hate speech, the risk that poses, and we’re seeing it these days very clearly.  And he is also… you know, it is also clear that, I think if you look at many of these incidents, of these terrorist attacks, they have been fuelled by warped ideologies on all sides of the spectrum.  But, as I said, we’re not involved in the investigation.  So, I have no insight other than what I read in the press.  Yeah, and then we’ll…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today marked the fifth anniversary of illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.  NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], EU [European Union] and many other countries already made public statements condemning the Russian Federation for occupying part of the Ukrainian territory.  In this regard, I would like to ask you if there… if the Secretary‑General is going to publicly denounce Crimea’s illegal annexation in its fifth anniversary and come up with any kind of statements?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s position on Ukraine has been unchanged, which is he’s guided by the relevant General Assembly resolutions on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.  He’s always been a strong supporter of the efforts of various groups — the Normandy Four, Trilateral Contact Group and OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] — in trying to resolve the issue.  Yeah.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I have two questions.  First, on Venezuela, yesterday, fighting broke between Nicolás Maduro supporters and figures who go with the opposition.  And it happened in front of a hospital as the Commission sent by High Commissioner [for Human Rights] Michelle Bachelet was going to assess the situation there.  In the past, the SG has been consistent on calling for dialogue and for alleviating tensions.  However, what’s brewing on the streets does not reflect that call.  So, what’s the view of the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General continues and various people in this building continue to have contacts with various parties.  I think the incidents that we see only reinforces the need for a political dialogue and for the need for leaders, both inside Venezuela and outside Venezuela, to do whatever they can to lower the tensions.

Question:  And the other one is on Colombia.  It’s on a development that is going on today, and it’s around the debate on the Special Jurisdiction for Peace.  So, after the current Colombian Government expressed its objections to six of the paragraphs, supporters of the transitional justice mechanism, they have voiced their support, and the division has grown so much that are… the people are even taking it to the streets today protesting for this mechanism to be protected.  So, this issue seems to be creating a lot more tension in Colombia.  So, is there any…?

Spokesman:  You know, the Secretary‑General has expressed his feeling of the importance of the Special Jurisdiction.  He said so directly in the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Colombia and, obviously, feels that people should have the right to demonstrate peacefully.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Human rights and lawyer activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, in Iran, she’s been recently condemned and a combined 38 years in prison and also 148 lashes.  Now, did any organization that tried to public opinion know about this — like, for example, one is Amnesty International — contacted the Secretary‑General to have support or help in… in resolve this issue?  This is a lawyer that usually defend human rights activist, and she’s now in the… in a very, very dangerous situation in prison in Iran.

Spokesman:  We’ve had contacts with Iranian authorities on a number of human rights‑related cases.  Thank you.  Monica…?

Question:  Can you be more specific on this specific case?

Spokesman:  No.  Monica.  Oh, sorry, Edie.  Then we’ll go.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Chinese Government published a report today saying that, since 2014, it has arrested 13,000 people in Xinjiang whom it called terrorists and said that they had curbed religious extremism.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this?

Spokesman:  We are trying to get a copy of the white paper and to take a look at it and study it.  Thank you.  Oh, yeah?

Question:  Always the last one.  Okay.  The question is about the Human Rights Commission is in Venezuela.  When the report will be available?  And my question is, the places where this Commission visit Venezuela, it was selected by the Commission itself or by… the invitation was been the Nicolás Maduro Government?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the mission is ongoing.  The team was scheduled and, if not, has already met with Government officials, representative of National Assembly, civil society, organizations, victims of human rights violations.  They’ll be… they were supposed to go to Caracas and other cities.  The Mission will end, as far as I understand it, around 22 March.  And I’m sure they have visited the places they wanted to go to.  Thank you.  And I’m not aware of them reporting… I’m not aware of any official report, but you should check with our human rights colleagues.

Question:  When I ask which places they’re visiting, it’s because there are many reports about saying that Nicolás Maduro sent comm… his [inaudible] Government to fix hospitals in exactly where the human rights were planning to visit.  But, of course…

Spokesman:  It’s a question you need to address to our human rights colleagues in Geneva.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.