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

21 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**New Zealand Attack

First, an announcement on something that’s going to happen this afternoon.  As you know, the Secretary-General is now back in New York following his travel to Buenos Aires.

This afternoon, he intends to visit the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to sign the condolence book for those who died in last week’s massacre in Christchurch.

In his statement on that attack, the Secretary-General underscored the sanctity of mosques and all places of worship.

Accordingly, on Friday, just after noon, he will visit the Islamic Cultural Centre of New York at 96th Street here in Manhattan.

He intends to make some remarks to the press while he is there, and you are all invited to attend.


And I have a personnel appointment to tell you about.  Today, the Secretary-General is announcing Denise Brown of Canada as his new Deputy Special Representative for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), where she will also serve as UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

Ms. Brown succeeds Najat Rochdi of Morocco, who completed her assignment in February.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Ms. Rochdi’s leadership and dedicated commitment during her tenure to supporting recovery, peacebuilding and humanitarian efforts in the Central African Republic.

Ms. Brown brings to the position over two decades of professional experience and an extensive knowledge in humanitarian affairs and recovery programmes with a particular focus on contexts of complex emergencies.  She has been serving at World Food Programme (WFP) headquarters in Rome since 2017, and we have lots more on this appointment in our office.

**Western Sahara

Today, delegations from Morocco, the Frente POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania are meeting in Geneva for a second round table on Western Sahara, hosted by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler.

During the meeting, which will last until tomorrow, the delegations are expected to discuss elements of a solution in accordance with Security Council resolution 2440 (2018), to revisit regional issues and to explore trust-building measures.

The Personal Envoy hopes the meeting will also build on the positive dynamic achieved during the first round table, held last December in Geneva.

Mr. Köhler and the heads of the Moroccan and Frente POLISARIO delegations are expected to speak to the press at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday afternoon.  And his statement will be webcast.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the humanitarian community in Chad is requesting $474 million to respond to the needs of 2 million people amid high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, displacement and disease epidemics.

Some 4.3 million people in Chad are in need of humanitarian assistance.  There are also more than 650,000 internally displaced people in Chad, with continued displacements expected in the Lac region amid active conflict there.  In addition, the prospects of returns by refugees from the Central African Republic and Sudan also remain limited due to ongoing insecurity in their countries of origin.  Our humanitarian colleagues have more information.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Following their visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the last few days, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, are calling for urgent and sustained funding for the Government-led response to meet the needs of children, families and vulnerable communities, including people with disabilities.

Mr. Lowcock said that we can beat back the massive and protracted humanitarian crisis in the country, but we urgently need donors to provide further funding as needs continue to outpace resources.

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC requires $1.65 billion to provide 9 million people with life-saving assistance.


The UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) announced this morning the completion of the first exhumation of a Yazidi mass grave in Iraq’s Sinjar region, in the village of Kojo.

The Investigative Team reports that the victims’ remains and associated evidence have arrived safely at the Medico-Legal Directorate in Baghdad.  The UN Mission in Iraq has a press release with more details.


And our humanitarian colleagues report that according to the Indonesian Government, more than 100 people have died, an estimated 160 people are injured and almost 9,700 others are internally displaced following flash flooding in several districts.  Some 79 people are still missing.

The central and local governments, civil society and the private sector are providing assistance, with a joint search and rescue mission ongoing.

And severe infrastructural damage has also been recorded.

**International Days

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which this year is being held under the theme, “Mitigating and countering national populism and extreme supremacist ideology.”

In his message, the Secretary-General said this day is an occasion for all of us to renew our promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.  He highlighted the recent massacre at two mosques in New Zealand as the latest tragedy rooted in such poison.

The Secretary-General said we must all work harder to repair the fissures and polarization that are so prevalent in our societies today.  His full remarks are online.

Also today, we mark a number of other international days:  the International Day of Forests; the International Day of Nowruz; World Down Syndrome Day and World Poetry Day.


And today, the Department of Global Communications officially opens a new exhibit, called “From Africa to the New World:  Slavery in New York”.

It will be displayed until 8 April in observance of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The exhibit looks at the impact that the transatlantic slave trade had on persons of African descent, both free and enslaved, in New York City during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The opening will take place at 1:15 p.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby.  Remarks will be delivered by Alison Smale, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications; Fatima Kyari Mohammed, the Permanent Observer for the African Union to the United Nations; Michael Frazier, historian for the African Burial Ground National Monument; and Dominique Jean-Louis, historian at the New York Historical Society, which produced the exhibit.

And you’re all invited to attend.

**Honour Roll

And lastly, today we thank Iraq, which has paid its regular budget dues in full, and this payment takes the Honour Roll to 74.

**Questions and Answers

Are there any questions for me before we get to Monica Grayley?  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Now that the Secretary‑General, obviously, is following the… what’s going on after the tragedy in New Zealand, and he mentioned that in his speech; however, I think it’s… one thing is missing since New Zealand adopted that… very fast, that law banning assault weapons that were used in killing those innocent people in New Zealand.  Does the Secretary‑General would like to address even that issue, since there are tools that are used by the extremists as he often mentioned in his speeches?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that’s a decision taken by a national Government, and, obviously, it’s the right of different national Governments to see what the appropriate laws for each society is.  The Secretary‑General does intend to speak to you more about the need to make sure that the sanctity of all places of worship of all faiths are respected, and I believe he’ll have more to say to you about this if you see what he has to say at the Islamic Cultural Center at 96th Street tomorrow.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane [Dujarric].  Stéphane, yesterday, a [Donald] Trump Administration official… oh, sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s okay.  We look alike.  [laughter]

Question:  Farhan.  Yesterday, a Trump Administration official said that he was still concerned about the tensions between India and Pakistan, which really came up to almost wartime.  So, does the Secretary‑General intend, in the near future, to talk to India and Pakistan about the simmering tensions which the Trump Administration has been talking about?  So, can you… or is it just that the threat has dissipated?  What is the assessment of the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you saw what we had to say about the recent tensions in the region, and I would refer you back to the statement that was issued at that point.  It’s clear that we believe that it’s imperative for both nations to do what they can to de‑escalate tensions, and we would like to see them resolve their differences through dialogue, if possible.  And, as you know, the UN is willing to play a helpful role as need be if the parties so request.

Question:  But what… that is not happening.  Is there any efforts being… to bring the two countries together, two… two leaders of the two adversaries together?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, our good offices for these and for other situations always remain available if both of the parties are willing to have that.  If not, of course, we will let our own messages [be] known to the leaders, as we’ve done in this case.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Earlier today, the Chief of Staff of the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, was detained.  And, currently, his whereabouts are unknown.  This incident has renewed the concern of a possible new crackdown against the opposition in Venezuela, and it has also given the impression that the voice of the SG, who has called consistently for political dialogue in Venezuela, is not being heard.  So, any reaction to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Well, what I can say is we’ve learned with concern of reports of the detention of Juan Guaidó’s Chief of Staff.  We renew our call on all actors in Venezuela to undertake immediate steps to lower tensions and refrain from any action that could lead to further escalation.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up, Farhan.  So, the Venezuelan opposition is actually calling the attention of international community following these arrests, saying and suggesting that this is pretty much a test to their allies and even the UN and its voice for a political dialogue.  So, would it be appropriate for a Member State to engage in such a behaviour?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, the UN system as a whole has been making clear its concerns about the situation as it’s unfolded.  On this latest development, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has closely been following the situation, and she has expressed her concern about this detention.  And, yesterday, High Commissioner Bachelet expressed deep concern about the shrinking of the democratic space in Venezuela.  And she has called on the Venezuelan authorities to take steps to demonstrate the real commitment to addressing the many human rights issues in the country, including arbitrary detentions.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following up on Venezuela, yesterday, the OAS (Organization of American States) had a report presented by an ex‑member of the military from Venezuela, which alleged training by Cuban operatives who are operating inside Venezuela and that they have been trained to torture and mistreat detainees, especially those that come from the political background.  On the context of everything that has boiled up, how is that possibility of a dialogue really a possibility in itself for Venezuela?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regardless of the different reports of… that are of concern to us from a human rights perspective, we still believe that a dialogue is crucial in order to help the parties step back from the brink of a heightened escalation.  No one wants to see the society fall apart in any way, and it’s crucial, therefore, that the leaders engage in dialogue with each other.  And we have called, of course, on all parties, including the security forces, to take steps to de‑escalate the situation, and we’re continuing with that call.  Yes, please, Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  We have been seeing reports of deaths coming out of Al‑Hol camp in Syria.  I was wondering if you have an update, and does the UN have access to the camp?

Deputy Spokesman:  To… which camp did you say?

Question:  Al‑Hol…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Yes, I mean, we’ve been providing updates about the situation at the Al‑Hol camp.  And, as we’ve been pointing out, the numbers of people going to the camp have been growing.  We’re basically deeply concerned about the welfare of tens of thousands of people at Al‑Hol camp, and with the ongoing offensive in the nearby areas, civilians, the vast majority of them women and young children, continue to arrive daily at the site.  As of just a few days ago, earlier this week, we had already recorded something like 70,000 displaced people in the camp with several thousand more on the way.  At this stage, humanitarian organizations are planning for potential new arrivals, as much as 10,000.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yeah, on Syria, where do things currently stand on the plans or proposal to set up a Constitutional Committee?  Can you just update us on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. [Geir] Pedersen has been working on that.  As you know, just a few days ago, he met in Damascus with Walid al Muallem, the Foreign Minister, and he’s continuing his talks, including with members of the Syria Negotiations Committee.  So, he’s working to see what can be done to get agreement on the Constitutional Committee.  Beyond that, I don’t have any details to provide at this stage, but his efforts are ongoing.  Erol?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, a bit more on tomorrow’s protocol of Mr. Secretary‑General to that Friday prayer.  First, it’s… actually, he’s going to be there before the Friday prayer?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, before.

Question:  And for how long?

Deputy Spokesman:  He should get there around 12:15 or so.

Question:  12:15.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, like a quarter past 12.  And he should be there for about half an hour, in which case… at which time he’ll visit the Islamic Cultural Center.  And, like I said, he’ll make remarks.  There’s an outdoor area where press can gather, and so you can hear him and hear his remarks and make a few questions.

Question:  And why did he choose to visit that Islamic Cultural Center?  For example, why didn’t he address the Muslims who are praying here at the United Nations every Friday?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in this case, he thought it was important to show the need for respect for mosques at this time when you’ve had these horrific attacks on two mosques just last Friday during those Friday prayers.  Yes?

Question:  But why that Islamic Cultural Center?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s one of the important mosques in this area.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  What time exactly will the Secretary‑General be going to the New Zealand Mission to sign the condolence book?  And I also have a Yemen question.

Deputy Spokesman:  It will be a little after 4 today.

Question:  Okay.  And, on Yemen, the Houthi spokesmen have said that the Houthis will never give up Hudaydah.  And this seems to at least partially go against the agreement that was reached in Stockholm and what Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is trying to do, and I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comment.

Deputy Spokesman:  Not on this.  Ultimately, what we are trying to judge the parties by is by what they do on the ground.  We have gotten, as Mr. Griffiths pointed out a few days ago, some additional agreement by both parties concerning how the withdrawals at Hudaydah need to be operationalized.  And what we’re trying to do now is see when the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) can meet next, so we can get this endorsed.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Just information on the Yazidis.  Who’s conducting this?  Is it the Government of Iraq?  Who’s conducting the investigation?  And are any of them still captive aside from mass graves?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this… there’s a UN investigative team there that promotes accountability, but the remains that they collected and the evidence they collected has now gone to the medical legal directorate in Baghdad, where the Iraqi authorities will examine them.  But we do have a team that was set up, called UNITAD for short, that is dealing with the question of accountability for atrocities committed against Yazidis and other groups in Iraq.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, there are a couple events about Down Syndrome awareness inside the United Nations.  Does Secretary‑General have any message to that International Day?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, of course.  We’re very supportive of all efforts to continue with the research into Down Syndrome and trisomy 21 and to make sure that those who have that condition are treated with the utmost respect and care for their dignity.  And so, we support this day when it comes around.  And, yes, there are a number of events in this building today to mark that.  Like I said, we have several different International Days happening concurrently, and that’s one of them today.

All right.  Have a good afternoon.  Monica, your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.