24 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.

**Sri Lanka

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to President [Maithripala] Sirisena of Sri Lanka to express, directly, the United Nations’ total solidarity with the people and Government of Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General also offered the support of the UN’s Office of Counter-Terrorism to the Government.

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General signed the condolence book at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka here in New York.

**Secretary-General Travels

And just as a reminder, the Secretary-General will depart New York later today to travel to Beijing, in China, to take part in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

On Friday, he will speak at the Forum’s opening ceremony.

And on Saturday, the Secretary-General 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, he is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping, as well as the Premier of the State Council [Li Keqiang] and also the Foreign Minister and State Councillor for Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, and other senior officials, as well as some leaders attending the Forum.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Saturday.


Turning to Libya, the United Nations welcomes the call made yesterday by the Presidents of the African Union (AU), the Troika – Egypt, Rwanda and South Africa – as well as the Chair of the AU high-level Committee on Libya – which is the President of the Republic of Congo – for an immediate ceasefire and the commitment expressed to intensify engagement towards a Libyan political solution facilitated by the United Nations.  The Secretary-General and his Special Representative Ghassan Salamé remain committed to continue their engagement with the African Union to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis.

We do remain concerned about the continued clashes in various areas in southern Tripoli and its impact on the humanitarian situation.  We’re continuing to work with partners, to respond to the humanitarian impact of the clashes.  The UN also continues to seek immediate humanitarian pauses to allow humanitarian access and allow civilians to depart from conflict areas.

And from Tripoli, our humanitarian colleagues on the ground say that efforts are under way to relocate hundreds of refugees and migrants from the Qasr Ben Ghashir detention centre, which is in an area directly impacted by the ongoing clashes.  This follows reports of violence at the centre yesterday, resulting in at least 12 people being injured, all of whom have since been transferred to medical facilities.  Eight hundred ninety migrants and refugees were located at the detention centre where violence broke out yesterday.

Overall, 3,600 refugees and migrants were thought to be trapped in detention centres close to the front lines.

And nearly 36,000 people have now fled conflict-affected areas in and around Tripoli, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  The majority are staying with families and other private arrangements, while more than 2,200 people have been accommodated in 16 collective shelters set up by local authorities.  An unconfirmed number of families remain stranded in conflict-affected areas.

Almost 23,000 people have received humanitarian assistance and services since the start of the current hostilities, despite considerable access and funding constraints.

**Security Council

And this afternoon, the Security Council will meet in an open session on the situation in the Middle East.

Council members will be briefed on the situation in Syria by Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

There will be also a briefing by Nujeen Mustafa – an amazing young woman who is an award-winning disability rights activist and refugee who fled Syria at the age of 16 without a wheelchair.

After the meeting, she will be joined by the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen of Germany, at the stakeout.  And we will obviously let you know when the two of them go out.

**International Security

The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is today attending the eighth annual Moscow Conference on International Security, organized by Russia’s Defence Ministry.

Conveying a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Lacroix said that conflict dynamics have changed in recent years, with a further proliferation of threats, including more complex conflicts with multiple adversaries, and an erosion of the global arms control regime.  He stressed the need for the international community to renew its commitment to a rules-based order and to multilateral approaches – no country or organization alone can address these challenges, he said.

The United Nations, Mr. Lacroix said, will continue supporting countries in their efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and will continue to pursue a surge in diplomacy for peace and a push for greater attention to conflict prevention.


And the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino; and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, arrived in Bangladesh today for a three-day visit to highlight the ongoing need to support the humanitarian needs of nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees, as well as people living in host communities.

They will meet today and tomorrow with senior Government officials in Dhaka, including the Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina and the Foreign Minister Abdul Momen, to explore how the international community can provide further support to Bangladesh as host to Rohingya refugees.

The three UN officials 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 shelters.

And we’ll have updates as they come in.

**Cyclone Kenneth

As Tropical Cyclone Kenneth is expected to head towards the Comoros today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has deployed a staff member to support the UN team on the ground.  As I mentioned yesterday, our OCHA colleagues have also been in touch with the Tanzanian authorities.

Tropical Cyclone Kenneth is expected to head over the northern tip of the Comoros today and continue to northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, making landfall in Mozambique’s Palma District tomorrow.

Our humanitarian colleagues say more than 747,000 people in Mozambique live within the Cyclone’s path.  And of course, no need to recall that Mozambique was already hit hard by Cyclone Idai.

Analysis from the UN Satellite Office, UNOSAT, shows that the entire population of the Comoros – that’s close to 759,000 people - is within the Cyclone Kenneth’s windspeed zones, with the Grand Comore island being the primary concern.


And today marks the start of World Immunization Week, celebrated every year in the last week of April with the aim of promoting the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

In a tweet a short while ago, the Secretary-General welcomed the beginning of this year’s Week, saluting health workers everywhere and noting that vaccines save millions of lives every year and protect us all.

The theme this year is “Protected Together:  Vaccines Work!”  The campaign will celebrate vaccine heroes from around the world who help ensure we are all protected through the power of vaccines.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are still [nearly] 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children around the world today.

Vaccine awareness is particularly relevant today, given the global rise in measles cases; for example, WHO data shows that globally, reported cases rose by 300 per cent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period last year.


And today is also the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, which is what we do here every day.  The Secretary-General tweeted out that diplomats see first-hand how global solutions are essential to addressing global challenges.  He thanked them for their service and added that dialogue and international cooperation pave the way to peace and prosperity for everyone.

And the message was distributed to you yesterday.


Our colleagues in Afghanistan released a report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict covering the first quarter of this year.

The Mission said that, there has been a 23 per cent decrease in overall civilian casualties compared to the same time last year, but suffering continues at an appalling level and that all parties need to take urgent steps to prevent the escalation of harm to civilians.

It also found that civilians’ deaths attributed to pro-Government forces surpassed those attributed to the Taliban and Da’esh in the first quarter of 2019.

The report is available on the Mission’s website.

**Saudi Arabia

Moving to Saudi Arabia, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today strongly condemned the beheading of 37 men in spite of repeated appeals by the UN human rights system about the lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, allegations that confessions were obtained through torture, and the ages of some of those executed.

According to available information, at least three of those executed were minors at the time they were sentenced.

And the UN Human Rights Office says that most of the 37 belonged to the Shi’a Muslim minority, and some had also been involved in protests.  In several cases, various UN human rights experts had raised concerns, serious concerns, with the authorities.

Ms. Bachelet appealed to the authorities to halt the pending executions and to engage constructively with the UN Human Rights Office and independent experts on the many concerns related to the imposition of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.


And staying with Madame Bachelet, after a four-day visit to Silicon Valley, in California, [last] week, Ms. Bachelet has urged States to adopt a “smart mix of measures to regulate new technologies”, and announced plans to launch a major project to help technology companies incorporate international human rights principles into workable practices.

She said we cannot afford to underestimate the urgency of finding solutions to some of the unforeseen threats to human rights that are emerging as a result of technological advances.  She pointed to the role of social media in promoting hate speech, technologies giving Governments access to citizens’ data, and algorithms that have biases against women and minorities as examples of how new technology can threaten human rights.

During her visit, she engaged with top executives from Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, and spoke to students at Stanford and Berkeley Universities.

**Press Briefings Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 1:15 p.m., as a part of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, there will be a briefing here on conservation and human rights.  The speakers will discuss the challenges and good practices related to conservation of indigenous peoples’ lands and territories.

At 3 p.m., there will be a briefing by Jorge Arreaza, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.

**Correspondent News

And on a positive note – yes, sometimes we do have positive notes – I’m told that the UN press corps is expanding.  Your colleague and our friend, Marie Bourreau, gave birth earlier this week to a beautiful, picture-perfect baby girl named Josephine.  We welcome her to this wacky world of ours!

**Honour Roll

And lastly, we say thank you to a very important country, because it’s my boss’s country; Portugal joined the Honour Roll and paid its budget dues in full, making it…

Correspondent:  86.

Correspondent:  86.

Spokesman:  Wow.


I don’t know – you guys had coffee today.

**Questions and Answers

Masood, you were the first out of the gate.  Go ahead, if you have a question.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Iran, two questions.  Number one, if Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal signed with the other – what do you call it? – members of the Security Council and now that the US has imposed new sanctions, what is it that can be done to…  all the other countries can do to…  for Iran to all come this [inaudible], number one?  I mean…


Spokesman:  I don’t think that’s a question…

Question:  And then…

Spokesman:  …for the Secretary‑General to answer.  What is clear is that under the… the Secretary‑General has always expressed his support for the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and reports back as mandated, as does the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in its other mandates concerning Iran and the nuclear programme.

What is your other question?

Question:  Yeah, and what about the aid to be given to Iran on flood situation?  Do you have any update on the Iranian flood?

Spokesman:  No, we gave some details earlier this week, but I’ll see if I can get some more details.

Question:  And…

Spokesman:  I’ll…  I know you won the contest, but I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  What can you share with us on what happened on the meeting first thing in the morning today between the SG and the Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs?  What did they discuss?  What can you share with us about that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, it was a very cordial meeting, which took place at the request of the Foreign Minister of Venezuela.  For our part, I can tell you that the discussions focused on the humanitarian situation, and the Secretary‑General reiterated, of course, that his good offices remain available.

Question:  A follow‑up on Libya.  You talked about violence that broke out in one of the camps, the refugee camps.  Do you have information on this regard and how this started or is it just…

Spokesman:  As I recall, the camp was attacked by armed men, I mean armed people.  I’m not sure they were all men but people with guns.  And they attacked some of the people that were in the camp and a number of people were injured.  But I have no details to who the people were, who the assailants were.

Question:  And another follow‑up on Saudi Arabia.  You read a statement of Ms.…  the representative of the Human Rights Council.  Does the Secretary‑General share her opinions?  Does he also condemn the execution of 37 Saudi citizens by the State?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s position against the death penalty is very clear, has been stated, and remains completely unchanged.  And he has no reason to question the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mr. Abbadi, welcome back.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Nice to see you.

Question:  Stéphane, the UN is being quoted as asking questions about citizenship while conducting census.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  The…  excuse me?

Question:  The UN is asking questions while conducting census, questions about citizenship.

Spokesman:  The UN?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Where?

Question:  Worldwide, in general.

Spokesman:  I’m not a…  I’m not aware…  I mean, I’m happy to look into the reports you’re seeing, but I’m not aware.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On today’s development in Eastern Ukraine, we have the order issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin about issuing passports in Eastern Ukraine, simplifying this procedure for the local residents in the occupied areas.

First of all, how does Secretary‑General qualify this step?  And what is his reaction to this step?

Spokesman:  We’ve just seen press reports.  At this point, our position on Ukraine remains unchanged.  And, as you know, it’s guided by the relevant General Assembly resolutions on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Question:  Can I…  sorry.  Can I follow up?  Because it’s not the press news at the moment.  It’s an official statement by the Russian authority.  It’s published on the official website.  And Minsk process, which you referred to, is already undermined by this step already right now.  So, is there any more defined language on what happened…

Spokesman:  I may have some more for you this afternoon, but that’s all I have right now.


Question:  Just to perhaps provide a little clarity on Mr Abbadi’s question.  It’s a New York Times piece concerning a debate in the United States about citizenship questions on a census.  A justice on the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, is quoted as saying in oral arguments, “The United Nations recommends that countries ask a citizenship question on the census.”  Curious if that’s something you’re aware of…


Spokesman:  I’m not as learned as the Justice of the Supreme Court.  I don’t know.  I mean, I can’t answer or comment on it because I don’t know.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Venezuela, Stéphane, should the accountability wait for a political solution in Venezuela?

Spokesman:  I’m not sure I understand your question.

Question:  I’m sorry?

Spokesman:  I’m not sure I understand your question.

Question:  Okay.  If the accountability in Venezuela should wait for a political solution as well and I mean on…


Spokesman:  As matter of principle, accountability is accountability, and it doesn’t…  accountability is what it is.  It should not be held hostage to anything, but that’s just a general principle.

Question:  And to follow up that question, have you any…  have you made any call on… from the Venezuela’s Government to call perpetrators to bring to justice?

Spokesman:  Look, anyone who commits crimes needs to be held accountable.  Again, that’s a general position.

Question:  And this call is about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela because his people is still dying every day…


Spokesman:  We have been reporting often on the very serious humanitarian situation in Venezuela.  Our colleagues in the country are working with… with the Government in trying to scale up the UN presence, which has already been scaled up, as we’ve said.  And we are, of course, supporting what is going… the agreement that was reached between the Government of Venezuela and the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this Iran again, this Iranian Foreign Minister is meeting with the Secretary‑General.  Will he be talking about the flood relief or anything like that…?

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  …or will you be having…


Spokesman:  I will see if I can get you a readout.  The meeting was taking place at the request of the Foreign Minister of Iran, and the Secretary‑General will be happy to listen to the Foreign Minister on whatever issues he wishes to raise.

Question:  Will he be raising this issue about the sanctions and stuff like that?

Spokesman:  We’ll have to see what the Foreign Minister…  I only speak for one person; at least I try.


Question:  Thank you.  What about the SG himself?  Does he see this meeting an opportunity to raise certain issues on Iran or…


Spokesman:  There are a lot of issues, possible issues, on the agenda.  But, again, we always look to having fruitful discussions with Foreign Minister Zarif.

Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  While on Iran, as you know, the US said it will impose sanctions on countries importing oil from Iran, and Iran declared that, in case it is prevented from exporting its oil through the Hormuz Strait, it will close that strait.  These are ingredients of rising tensions.

What can the Secretary‑General do in the framework of preventive diplomacy to attenuate the tension?

Spokesman:  These are issues that are always in discussion, and we have a strong belief in the need to keep free access to the seas.

Thank you.  I would leave you with Monica, but I think she already briefed you so…

For information media. Not an official record.