22 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.

**Trip Announcement

Good afternoon.  I’ll start off with a trip announcement.  The Secretary‑General will depart New York on Wednesday, 24 April, to travel to Beijing in China, to take part in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.  On the morning of Friday, 26 April, he will deliver remarks at the Forum’s opening ceremony.  The following day, on 27 April, he will deliver remarks and participate in a Leader’s Round Table on “Promoting green and sustainable development to implement the 2030 Agenda”.  While in Beijing, the Secretary‑General is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping, the Premier of the State Council, Li Keqiang, and State Councillor and Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, and other senior officials, as well as with leaders also attending the Forum.  The Secretary‑General will travel and return to New York late on Saturday.

**Earth Day

And today is Mother Earth Day.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General urged people to take climate action in every way they can, not just on Earth Day but every day.  He also linked to a video which stresses that we only have one Earth and we need to protect it.  This year’s theme [is] “Education and Climate Change”, and this morning there was an interactive dialogue to discuss the theme, and that was attended by the President of the General Assembly as you heard.


On Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, is continuing his efforts to advocate de-escalation in Libya.  Earlier today, he met with Tunisian Foreign Minister Khamis Jhinaoui in Tunis, with whom he discussed developments related to the clashes in southern Tripoli.  Both asserted that the UN-facilitated political process is the ideal and only way to solve the Libyan crisis.  And you will hear a lot more about the humanitarian situation in Libya from Maria do Valle Ribeiro, who will be our guest today, and she’ll speaking to us via video conference from Tripoli; she is, as you know, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Tripoli.


Turning to Mali, the Secretary-General joins the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali in condemning, in the strongest terms, the attack perpetrated yesterday against Malian armed forces in Guiré, in Koulikoro region, approximately 360 kilometres from Bamako.  Eleven Malian soldiers and 15 assailants died as a result of the fighting, which also saw several Malian soldiers wounded.  The Secretary-General conveys his condolences to the Government of Mali and the families of the deceased and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.  On Saturday, the Secretary-General also condemned an improvised explosive device attack against a UN peacekeeping convoy in the Mopti region of Mali.  A peacekeeper from Egypt was killed and four were wounded.  He reaffirmed that such acts will not diminish the resolve of the UN to continue to support the people and Government of Mali in their quest for peace and stability.

**Russian Federation

And the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will represent the Secretary-General at the eighth Moscow Conference on International Security, which is taking place from 23‑25 April.  Mr. Lacroix will speak at the opening of the conference, which traditionally brings together Government representatives, heads of international organizations and non‑governmental experts, among others.  He will also participate in a plenary session on peacekeeping, in which he will highlight our efforts to enhance UN peacekeeping.  Mr. Lacroix is also expected to hold meetings with Russian officials, including with the Deputy Foreign and Defence Ministers, to thank them for Russia’s support and contributions to peacekeeping and to update them on issues related to peacekeeping.


The top UN officials for refugees, migration and humanitarian affairs will jointly visit Bangladesh this week from Wednesday to Friday to highlight the ongoing need to support the humanitarian needs of nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees, as well as people living in host communities.  The three officials are the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino; and the UN Under‑Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock.  In the capital, Dhaka, they will hold talks with senior Government officials, including the Prime Minister [Sheikh Hasina] and Foreign Minister [Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen], to explore ways the international community can provide further support to Bangladesh as hosts to the Rohingya.  They will then travel to Cox’s Bazar to meet with refugees, assess preparations under way ahead of the monsoon season and visit projects, including those involving food distribution and shelter.  They will also meet refugees who are working as volunteers and observe a joint Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Government of Bangladesh registration exercise, which is designed to provide identity cards to all refugees, ensuring their access to aid services and protection as well as establishing their right of return to Myanmar.


In Iran, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, one month after the heavy rains and devastating flooding that affected the country, an estimated 78 people have died.  Overall, 10 million people have been affected by the floods; 2 million are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.  In addition, 366,000 people have been displaced.  The UN has been working closely with the Government and the Iranian Red Crescent to assess the situation and respond to the needs of the affected population.  It has also provided emergency health supplies and emergency shelter kits and household items, and vaccine carriers and cold boxes have just arrived and will be distributed in the coming days.  The UN is preparing an operational plan targeting [nearly] 116,000 people in the worst‑hit provinces.  The United Nations offers its condolences to the Government and people of Iran for the loss of life due to the floods.

**Indigenous Issues

And this morning, the eighteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues got under way.  This year’s session is focused on the generation, transmission and protection of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.  An Indigenous Media Zone has also opened at the UNCA Room on the 3rd Floor to provide a space for indigenous community media to cover the Permanent Forum sessions.  And at 1:15 p.m., as you heard, there will be a briefing here with Anne Nuorgam, the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.


And today we join our colleagues at the UN climate change secretariat in welcoming the financial contributions made by Bloomberg Philanthropies of $5.5 million to support its work on global climate action.  The funding strengthens the Secretariat’s capacity to support developing countries; undertake outreach to promote climate action, as well as to address institutional needs in areas, such as information technology and communications.  Bloomberg Philanthropies’ contribution complements the support provided by national governments and other partners.

**Sri Lanka

And you will have seen, on the terrorist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka yesterday, on Easter Sunday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General expressed his outrage at the attacks which took place on a sacred day for Christians around the world.  He recalled the sanctity of all places of worship, adding that he hoped that the perpetrators will be swiftly brought to justice.  The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims, the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  The Secretary-General reiterated the support and solidarity of the UN with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka in this difficult moment for their country.

**United Nations Disengagement Observer Force

And also over the weekend, the Secretary-General spoke to Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana, to personally extend his condolences on the sudden passing of Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana, who was the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force, otherwise known as UNDOF, which operates in the Golan.  General Francis Vib-Sanziri, who died unexpectedly on Friday, will be remembered for his exemplary career and leadership at the service of United Nations Peacekeeping, having served in five different UN missions.  We join the Secretary-General in extending our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones and to the Government and the Armed Forces of Ghana, as well as to his colleagues in UNDOF.


And over the weekend in the Democratic Republic of Congo, you will have seen attacks on health centres in North Kivu Province.  Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) report that Dr. Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, an epidemiologist deployed by WHO, was killed in an attack on Butembo University Hospital on Friday.  Two other people were injured in the attack.  The Secretary‑General condemned the attack and expressed his solidarity with the people and Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and reiterated the determination of the UN to continue its work in support of the Congolese authorities to bring the Ebola outbreak to an end.  Dr. Tedros, the head of WHO, said that the attack is a tragic reminder of the risk health workers take every day to protect the lives and the health of others.

**Vannina Maestracci

And today is our colleague Vannina Maestracci’s last day in the Spokesman’s office, and sadly, also her last day at the United Nations as she embarks on a new adventure — a new, non-UN adventure — in Montreal.  Speaking for myself, Martin Nesirky and Michelle Montas, I can easily say that, for the past 10 years, Vannina has been a pillar and a source of energy for my office.  For my part, she has managed to keep me focused and on track, which is no easy feat.  We will all miss her friendship, enthusiasm, passion, and most of all, her sense of humour.  Her new colleagues in Canada will be lucky to have her.  On that bittersw… are you applauding her departure or… okay.  Thank you.  I know.  What?  Monsieur.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Hi, Stéph…

Spokesman:  No, you're…

Question:  No?

Spokesman:  You're a sir.  Your colleague behind you is a monsieur.  Yeah.

Question:  Stephane, can you tell us if Salamé is going to the African Union Summit tomorrow in Egypt?  And is… you told us that he's in Tunisia right now.

Spokesman:  Yes.  He was in Tunisia.

Question:  So, he's going to Libya after?

Spokesman:  I will find out.  Maybe our guest will let, shed some light on that, but we'll find out.  Yep.

Question:  Just trying to get an understanding of the SG's position given the tacit endorsement we saw from the White House of the Field Marshal Haftar in Libya.  Does that undercut the legitimacy of the UN‑backed Government in Tripoli? Where is the UN on this right now, the SG?

Spokesman:  The UN‑recognized Government in Tripoli continues to be recognized by the United Nations.  The Secretary‑General's determination and his Special Envoy's determination to try to bring an end to this current crisis and this current conflict remains unstopped.  They will continue to do whatever they can.  We continue to appeal for all those who are using weapons, especially heavy weapons, to stop, to ensure, at least, at a minimum, a humanitarian pause so we can… people can get the help they need.

Question:  May I follow‑up before Michelle comes in?  Essentially, he's saying, the White House is saying that Haftar plays a significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya's oil resources.  Is that something the SG acknowledges, as well?  I mean, what… how does the SG view General Haftar?

Spokesman:  We're not going to parse or analyse the statement that came out of the White House.  The Secretary‑General's position, I think, as he himself stated publicly, remains unchanged.  Michelle, and then…?

Question:  Just a follow‑up to that.  Has the Secretary‑General spoken to Secretary Pompeo or anyone else in D.C. to get a better understanding of, as Sherwin said, this sort of change in US position on Libya?

Spokesman:  There's been no contact that I'm aware at the Secretary‑General's level.  There may have been contacts at other levels.  Yes?

Question:  Another one on Libya.  As you know, the ICC [International Criminal Court] is investigating one of Haftar's commanders for earlier allegations of war crimes near Benghazi.  In the last few days, new social media videos have appeared, which seem to show pretty appalling acts taking place.  Does the UN believe that there have been fresh human rights abuses and war crimes?  And is the UN monitoring some of this information?

Spokesman:  I think the Special Envoy, Mr. Salamé, said, in recent days, that they are monitoring human right violations.  And he did say, if I'm not mistaken, that there possibly have been war crimes committed.

Question:  Is there a reaction from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  I think I've… he has no reason to, not to back what his Special Envoy's been saying.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Secretary of State Pompeo's announcement this morning that the remaining waivers related to purchases of oil from Iran will expire and not be extended as of early May and the retaliation that was threatened by Iran, including possibly the closing of the Straits of Hormuz?

Spokesman:  We've just seen the statement.  I have no particular comment on the… on the unilateral decision made by the United States.  As a matter of principle, we stand for the freedom of navigation in the seas.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Happy Earth Day.  Does the Secretary‑General, since he issued that very dramatic appeal on the… approaching to the date where the repair work would not be possible on the climate change, consider [addressing] this issue on that dramatic tone… with that dramatic tone from the Security Council and start to treat it as a matter of peace and security?  Since he also mentioned that some of the wars are maybe a result of…

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has used and will continue to use every opportunity to speak in the most dramatic terms, whatever the forum, on issues relating to climate change.

Question:  When he talks very often to the world leaders, does he share that dramatic tone with them?  And how often he address…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, he… this is something that comes up regularly with all of his interlocutors.  There is a dramatic tone in what he says, but he, it is also clear that there are solutions, from policy changes needed from Governments from the private sector and that there is still, there is time to act, though that window is slowly and quickly diminishing.

Question:  Last one.  Just what does he think about the new Green Deal that is developing somehow at the United States Congress, for the baby steps but still?

Spokesman:  No, he's not going to comment on proposed legislation.  I mean, his support for a green economy and climate‑friendly policies has been clear.  Arthur?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  A question on Yemen.  We're a week on since Martin Griffiths last briefed the Council.  It seemed a very upbeat briefing, however, a statement issued on behalf of the Council two days later outlining its grave concern regarding the activities or non‑activities of both parties around… in and around Hodeidah.  We seem to be in a pattern of repeated stalemate on this one.  Just, why was there that inconsistency when it appeared Mr. Griffiths said a breakthrough was upon us and we'd soon be looking into the last phases of phase two and then we basically seem to backtrack?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure Mr. Griffiths has been particularly upbeat.  I think he and everyone else who is briefed on behalf of the UN on Yemen has been realistic.  We go in and continue to work with our eyes wide open and continue to repeat the same message to the parties.

Question:  If I could just follow up then.  If I downgrade that from upbeat, because, in fairness, you're correct; he did have many caveats in there.  Not, again, uncommon.  However, his message was pretty clear, and I don't think that's in doubt.  If that is the case, what is this Council gravely concerned about?

Spokesman:  What is what Council?

Question:  What is the Council gravely concerned about specifically following that statement and regarding that the two parties lack [inaudible] data?

Spokesman:  Look, I think… I can't… I'm left… I have to interpret the words of my boss.  I'm not going to interpret the words of the Council.  I think everyone has a duty to continue to put pressure on the parties to move the Hodeidah process forward and to move the political process forward, so we can, in the immediate, address the pressing humanitarian needs we've all been talking about here.  Perhaps we can get our… Erol, one last and then we'll get our guest on the line.

Question:  Sure.  Just… does the Secretary‑General has anything to say for the first presidential election in Northern Macedonia since the country changed its name, yesterday?

Spokesman:  If I'm not mistaken, the results of the elections are inconclusive for the time being, so we have no comment right now.

For information media. Not an official record.