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

1 April 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.


The Secretary-General is on his way to Egypt from Tunisia, where he was over the weekend.  He spoke yesterday at the Arab League Summit and appealed for the unity of the Arab world as a fundamental condition for peace and prosperity in the region.  The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the recent progress in Libya towards convening the National Conference, adding:  “It is high time Libya achieves unified institutions and concludes transitional stages with general elections.”  Regarding Syria, he stressed that the resolution of the Syrian conflict must guarantee the unity and territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan.

This morning, he visited the Bardo Museum in Tunis, where he laid a wreath to honour the victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks.  He also met today with the President of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, Mohamed Ennaceur, and met with university students.  Speaking to the students about ongoing conflicts, especially in the Arab world, Guterres said the best way to prevent such conflicts from starting out was, not only investing in preventive diplomacy, but also investing in development, showing respect for human rights, having democratic institutions, and building societies that are based on tolerance.  He also had a meeting with the Tunisian President, Béji Caïd Essebsi, and they spoke to the press afterwards, and the Secretary-General thanked Tunisia for its generosity and solidarity with Libyan refugees.  And those remarks were issued.

During the visit, he also met with representatives of civil society who shared their views with him.  He praised the role that civil society had played in the consolidation of the democratic transition in Tunisia and praised their resilience and perseverance.  He also inaugurated the new UN House, known as La Maison Bleue, and met with the UN team there.  On Saturday, he met with the Libyan Quartet and held a joint press conference afterwards and his Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salame, who was also present.  And the Quartet brings together the UN, the African Union, the League of Arab States and the European Union.

**Population and Development

Back here, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the opening this morning of the fifty-second session of the Commission on Population and Development.  She said that, since the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, fewer persons are living in extreme poverty, the risk of maternal death has declined by more than 40 per cent, and primary education has expanded the horizons of millions of people.  But, she added, there are gaps in implementation, and many challenges remain.

She also warned that our efforts on some Sustainable Development Goals are not keeping pace with population growth.  When we look at targets on poverty in the least developed countries, or on child marriage, or on people living in urban slums, she said that while the percentage of affected persons may be declining, the total number is rising.  And my guests in a short while will speak to you about the current Commission on Population and Development will be Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, the Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and Chair of the fifty-second session; Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA); and John Wilmoth, the Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

**Cyclone Idai

Turning to Cyclone Idai, on Mozambique, our humanitarian colleagues say that the official death toll following the Tropical Cyclone rose to above 500 as of Saturday.  That’s according to Government figures.  More than 140,000 people are sheltering in 161 sites, including schools and community centres, across the areas of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia.  To ward off the waterborne diseases, 11 cholera treatment centres have been established — nine of which are operational — in Beira and other locations.  A cholera vaccination campaign will begin on this Wednesday, 3 April.  Some 258 cases have been reported in the last 24 hours.  There is also a high risk of the spread of vector-borne diseases, with 276 malaria cases also reported in the affected areas.

Tomorrow, the Economic and Social Council will convene a special meeting on the “Response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe” that starts at 10 a.m.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will address the meeting, as well as the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, and he will speak to the response.  The meeting will also discuss how to support a well-coordinated response, focusing on immediate humanitarian needs, as well as sustainable and risk-informed medium- and long-term recovery and reconstruction in the aftermath of the storm.

**Brunei Darussalam

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged today the Government of Brunei Darussalam to stop the entry into force of a new penal code which would enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments in breach of international human rights law, including death by stoning.  Her statement is available on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website.


And in Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports the continued intercommunal violence in the central part of the country, with multiple attacks occurring over the weekend in Bandiagara district in Mopti region.  The Mission says that unidentified armed assailants targeted villages 50 kilometres south-west of Bandiagara town on Saturday, leaving at least one person dead and another wounded.  Scores of houses and granaries were burnt and cattle [was looted].  On Sunday, an attack on Kassa, a village located near Bandiagara, resulted in three people killed and one wounded.  The peacekeeping mission has deployed a rapid reaction force of peacekeepers towards Bandiagara Cercle to support Malian armed forces to restore security and protect civilians, including air support to deter further attacks.  The UN Mission, on the ground, also increased patrols in Bankass and Koro Cercles in Mopti region in response to recent developments.  The Head of the Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, called on all parties to remain calm and refrain from further violence.  He reiterated the UN’s commitments to spare no effort to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.


Turning to Syria, heavy rains have affected tens of thousands of civilians, including many internally displaced people.  It has also affected crops across northern Syria over the past two days.  [Some] 14 IDP camps in Idleb Governorate were impacted by flooding, affecting 40,000 people, blocking roads and leading to the suspension of schools in some instances.  Aleppo Governorate, which also hosts a significant number of displaced people, was also affected, with tents destroyed in several camps.  A hospital in rural Aleppo was also shut down due to the flooding.  Some 40 villages were also reportedly flooded in Qamishli city in Al‑Hassakeh Governorate.  The UN has distributed 150 ready-to-eat rations and 1,000 food rations to affected people sheltered in schools in the town of Tel Hamis and deployed heavy machinery to the town to channel water and build sand barriers.  Several houses collapsed and crops were reportedly damaged.  Should rain continue, there are concerns of dams overflowing.


And just flagging something from Friday, 45 countries announced new pledges at the peacekeeping ministerial meeting on Friday afternoon.  They pledged to generate specialized capabilities, including rapidly deployable units, training and capacity-building support, and to accelerate the full implementation of the women, peace and security agenda.  The note to correspondents was issued.

**World Autism Day

Tomorrow, we will mark here World Autism Day and we will hold an event to commemorate the Day with the theme “Assistive Technologies, Active Participation.” Access to such technologies is a key prerequisite to autistic people exercising their fundamental rights and freedom.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General said that we need to “deliver [on] the promise in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development [and] that we leave no one behind.  This means removing remaining barriers, especially access to affordable technologies so that people with autism can participate fully and reach their full potential.”  We have more details on the events in my office.

**Press Encounter

At 2:30 p.m., there will be a joint press encounter with Heiko Maas, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, at the Security Council stakeout.  As you know, the second half of the joint presidencies of Germany and France started today, with Germany being in the chair.

**Honour Roll

Today, we say thank you to Gabon and Kazakhstan for their contributions and joining the Honour Roll, which brings us up to?  Oh, you're all pathetic.  Eighty.  Oh, 79.  Sorry.  I'm pathetic.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Steph, a question following up on something that was raised on Friday, I believe.  Did the Secretary‑General discuss the arrest of a member of the UN Panel of Experts for Libya, Moncef Kartas, when he was in Tunisia?  And if so, has Mr. Kartas been released?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to share with you of the discussions that may have taken place.  And, as far as I am aware, he has not been released.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Saturday, Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI of Morocco issued a call for Jerusalem to preserve it as a shared heritage for humankind and as a symbol of coexistence.  This call, I believe, was transmitted to the Secretary‑General.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this…?

Spokesman:  Yes, we've received the official communication, and this goes along the lines of what the Secretary‑General has been saying for quite a long time, that Jerusalem has a sacred character for Jews, for Christians and Muslims and that it needs to be preserved.  Yep?

Question:  On the same topic, I mean, on the… on the Pope's visit to Morocco, I mean, how symbolic is it, from the SG's point of view, to visit… the visit to a Muslim country where he called for coexistence between religions and also, he pleaded for the migrants' rights?

Spokesman:  I think the visit by His Holiness was extremely important and extremely symbolic.  Anything that can bring greater understanding and tolerance between religions is to be welcomed, and the issue of migrants and the protection of migrants and the respect of migrants' dignity is something that is very close to the Secretary‑General's heart.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, on Venezuela, the Government has announced electricity rationing, and I wanted to also follow up on the internal report that paints a… quite a bleak picture of the situation in Venezuela and spells out what the humanitarian needs are.  So, has anything happened with the Secretary‑General in his discussions with the parties to try to advance humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  The draft report, which I think was widely leaked last week, is exactly that.  It's a draft.  It remains a work in progress.  I think what is clear for us and what has always been clear is that there is a substantial humanitarian need in Venezuela, and we're continuing… our country team is continuing to work on that assessment and trying to help the people of Venezuela have their needs met in that sense.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  If I heard you correctly, I think you said that the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  Welcome back.

Question:  Well, thank you.  I've been travelling.  I believe you said that the Secretary‑General had indicated about Syria and its territorial integrity that that would include, in his words, occupied Golan Heights.  Does that mean that the Secretary‑General is basically siding with Syria in saying that the Golan Heights should be returned to Syria even though, before the 1967 war, Syria had used the Heights' strategic position afforded by the Golan Heights to shoot and target Israeli civilian communities below and to divert water from Israel… or try to divert water from Israel…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position on the Golan Heights is unchanged, and it is enshrined and reflected in relevant Security Council resolutions.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yeah, to follow up on Carole's question, is the UN delivering any aid to Venezuela, which badly needs it, some of the stocked aid on the… that the Americans have supplied?  Or…

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we are… as we do in every country, we work with the Government, and in Venezuela, we work with all stakeholders.  There is a programme already underway in Venezuela focussing on health and nutrition, mostly with PAHO [Pan American Health Organization], if I'm not mistaken, and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund].  Those programmes are ongoing.  What we are looking at in terms of the needs assessment is how to scale up those programmes.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Okay.  On Venezuela, as well, in… officially Venezuela is a country in a humanitarian crisis.  And according to the UN, the UN estimates there will be 5.3 million refugees and immigrants at the end of 2019, and plus almost half million of Venezuelans die because of the humanitarian crisis among children, women and men.  So, could this… these stats could be prevented in… because Nicolás Maduro, he was being all the time denying about these humanitarian crises.  So, now is officially a country on humanitarian crisis?

Spokesman:  You know, I will leave the compare‑and‑contrast and the analysis to you.  What we're focussing on is on the current situation in Venezuela in trying to meet the needs of the Venezuelan people and address the substantial humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people.  Yes, sir, and then we'll go to Nabil.  Sorry.

Question:  Okay.  And thank you, Steph.  With regard to the Secretary‑General visit to Egypt today and tomorrow, following the Arab summit, what's the Secretary‑General agenda for this visit?  Does it include any mention for the imprisoned journalists that they have there without any concrete legal case, just pending investigation, that can last for couple of years, as the case with several of our colleagues there?  What is his agenda exactly?

Spokesman:  The focus of the trip, I think, is two‑fold.  One is, obviously, meeting with Syr… with — excuse me — meeting with Egyptian officials, including President [Abdelfattah al] Sisi, the foreign… Foreign Minister [Sameh] Shoukry, and other relevant partners.  Obviously, Egypt has a critical role to play in what is going on in North Africa and notably in Libya and other parts of the Arab world.  And as you know, Egypt also chairs… President Sisi chairs the African Union, and so I'm sure there will be a number of issues raised on that, as well.  The Secretary‑General's principled positions on freedom of the press, on the need for a greater civil society space remain the same and unchanged, and he vocalizes those regularly, I think, as he did during his remarks in Tunis.  And then another big part of the visit will be the visit to the Al‑Azhar Mosque and to meet with the leadership there, also, going back to the answer I was giving to your colleague on the need for religious dialogue, for religious tolerance, and the need to fight bigotry and hatred.  And those would be, I think, some of the key points of Secretary‑General's remarks that he will deliver there.  Nabil?

Question:  Stéphane, I have two questions.  Do you have any comment on the Turkish local elections?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  No.  On Algeria, did the Secretary‑General discuss the situation in Algeria during his visit to Tunisia, or he only addressed it in his remarks…?

Spokesman:  I think he… if you go back and look at the Secretary‑General's remarks to the Arab League, he clearly mentioned the situation in Algeria, and I would refer you back to those.

Question:  And did he use the term "transition" in Algeria?  Because I'm reading this word "transition" in many media reports…

Spokesman:  I would refer… we put out the speech, so best for you to read it with your own eyes and make your own interpretation.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes.  Hi.  You said that about Venezuela and about UNICEF, they're going to brought… they're going to bring some, like, kind of programmes under humanitarian aids.  So, what exact needs are we talking about here and…?

Spokesman:  What I've… what we've been saying is that there already are… been programmes going on in Venezuela.  The UN has been involved… present in Venezuela for a long time, working with the Government to address a number of needs, including in the health and nutrition sphere, and our colleagues can give you more details.  What is ongoing is a needs assessment to look at the exact humanitarian needs and how the UN can best move forward.  Okay.  Yes, sir, and then we'll go to our guests.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General going to raise the issue of Moustafa Kassem, an American citizen, who was rounded up with hundreds of others in 2013 in Egypt, in Cairo, and convicted in a trial in 2018, who's now serving a 15‑year sentence that some have considered a little bit excessive, because the trial was not considered properly done.  So, is that case…?

Spokesman: I will check.  I'm not personally aware of that case, but I will check.  All right.  Thank you.  I will go get our guests.  Don't go away.

For information media. Not an official record.