26 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations is in Beijing today, where he spoke earlier at the opening ceremony of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.  In his remarks, he said that this is a time of uncertainty and unease, but that the choices we make now are essential to put us on a low-carbon growth path that is sustainable and inclusive and will build resilience.  The Secretary-General said that the world will benefit from a Belt and Road Initiative that accelerates efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and stressed that the world needs to take profit of the Initiative to help close the significant financing gaps for achieving the SDGs.  He said that United Nations country teams will work to support the Member States in capacity and governments building and achieving harmonious and sustainable integration of Belt and Road projects in their own economies and societies in accordance with national development plans anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  He said that he also sees the Initiative as an important space where green principles can be reflected in green action, adding that fully expanding our policy options for green and sustainable development and backed by green financing instruments must become the new norm.

In the Chinese capital, the Secretary-General also met with President Xi Jinping.  He expressed his appreciation for China’s support for the UN’s work, including through its contributions to peacekeeping, South-South cooperation, UN reform and leadership on climate change.  He also congratulated President Xi on the upcoming seventieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China this year, noting that 2019 marks 40 years of the UN’s presence in the country.  The Secretary-General and the President also discussed the Belt and Road Initiative’s potential to bolster development and reduce poverty in line with the 2030 Agenda.   Tomorrow, he will participate in Leaders’ Round‑Table Sessions and will deliver the keynote speech at a session on the topic of promoting green and sustainable development to implement the 2030 Agenda.  And also, on the side-lines of the Summit, of the Conference, the Secretary-General met with President Nyusi of Mozambique.  The Secretary-General expressed his solidarity with the people and Government in the wake of Cyclone Idai and the more recent Cyclone Kenneth.  The Secretary-General pledged the United Nations’ support for relief efforts.

**Cyclone Kenneth

On that note, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement today that he is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction caused by Cyclone Kenneth, which first hit the Comoros two days ago and made landfall last night in northern Mozambique.  The disaster comes six weeks after Cyclone Idai devastated central Mozambique, killing more than 600 people and causing widespread devastation.  As we said, Cyclone Kenneth marks the first time two cyclones have made landfall in Mozambique during the same season.  Malawi and Zimbabwe are also expected to experience heavy rains and flooding caused by the weather system.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is helping to coordinate the Government-led response and manage information, while joint World Food Programme (WFP) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) teams are pre-positioned to support the response.  Emergency stocks have also been positioned in the Comoros; the UN is supporting Government-led assessments.  And our humanitarian colleagues plan to have a guest at the briefing on Monday, from Mozambique, who will give you an update on the response to the cyclone.


Turning to Libya, the UN is gravely concerned about the continued reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas in Tripoli.  The United Nations reminds the parties of the need to protect civilians and to grant immediate and unconditional access for humanitarian partners.  Our colleagues say that the humanitarian situation in Tripoli continues to deteriorate with heavy fighting ongoing, including in populated areas.  Last night, rockets and mortar shells were reportedly fired on residential neighbourhoods in the city.  Nearly 39,000 people have now been displaced, that’s according to the UN migration agency.  Verification of civilian casualties is ongoing.  Civilians in conflict-affected areas are experiencing electricity cuts and water shortages as a result of damaged infrastructure, while access to essential items such as food, medicine and fuel is being severely hampered.  Humanitarian partners evacuated 655 refugees and migrants from the Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre, where violence injured a dozen people on Tuesday.  More than 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in seven facilities around Tripoli.


And on the Syrian political front, the Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, was in Astana today and yesterday for the meeting organized by Iran, Russia and Turkey and hosted by Kazakhstan, in an effort to support progress that could contribute to the political process in Geneva as per Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  Mr. Pedersen was accompanied by a technical delegation from the UN.  And next Tuesday, Mr. Pedersen will be here to brief the Security Council in person and we’ve also asked him to brief you in person before you ask.  Thank me when he says yes.

**Rohingya Refugees

Turning to Bangladesh, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, the Director General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, today highlighted the urgent need to sustain the support for Rohingya refugees.  At the end of their visit to Bangladesh, the three officials called on the international community to continue supporting the critical needs of 1.2 million people, mostly Rohingya refugees, but also the generous host communities, in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh.  During their visit, they went to see the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar and met with various refugee groups.  They also stressed the importance of expanding opportunities for these refugees to learn and get skills training, as most refugees have access to limited schooling or are missing out on education altogether.  More information is online.

**Venezuela Refugees

Also on the subject of refugees, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today says it is deeply concerned about the fate of at least 21 Venezuelans missing after their boat sank yesterday on the way to Trinidad and Tobago.  The boat was carrying at least 25 people.  The Trinidad and Tobago authorities said four people have been rescued in a joint effort with their Venezuelan counterparts.  At least 21 people, among them women and children, are still unaccounted for while the rescue efforts are continuing.  More than three million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, mostly to neighbouring countries, including the islands in the southern part of the Caribbean.


Our colleagues at the UN migration agency report that authorities in Aden, in Yemen, have — since Sunday — rounded up and arbitrarily detained more than 2,000 irregular migrants, predominantly Ethiopian nationals.  IOM says it is deeply concerned about the conditions in which these migrants, including at least 400 children, are being held.  The organization is engaging with the authorities to ensure access to them, and is coordinating the humanitarian community’s response, focusing on critical needs such as basic health care, food, water and sanitation.  We are urging local authorities to work with the humanitarian community to find safer alternatives to detention, and to ensure a full spectrum of protection services are available to those detained.


Flagging from Mali, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is warning that the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region of Mopti, which has seen so much recent violence, is increasingly impacting the most vulnerable children.  UNICEF is particularly concerned about the increase in school closures.  Nearly one third of all schools in the Mopti region are now closed due to insecurity, compromising the right to education to over 157,000 children.  UNICEF has also been working with the Government of Mali and other humanitarian actors to support children, including advocating for school reopening wherever conditions allow, which has led to the recent reopening of 150 schools in other parts of the country.

**Security Council

Just to flag that as you will have seen yesterday afternoon, the Under‑Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, briefed the Security Council on the latest developments in Ukraine.  Ms. DiCarlo commended the Ukrainian people on the peaceful conduct of the recent elections, adding that the UN is committed to continuing to work with Ukraine and the people of Ukraine to support the provision of humanitarian assistance, the promotion and safeguarding of human rights, and the country’s reform process.  Ms. Ursula Mueller also noted that 3.5 million people are still in need humanitarian assistance and protection, and she stressed the importance of redoubling efforts to provide them with all the necessary support.


I have been asked a number of times about an update on humanitarian operations in Venezuela.  And I can tell you that from January to April, UNICEF distributed over 2,000 kits for child and maternal health to 9 health centres and hospitals.  Over 7,400 children have received nutritional support in 8 states.  Twenty-five communities and 10 schools are now being supported by critical WASH activities, which has to do with water and sanitation, 84 safe birth kits have been distributed to health centres and hospitals, and over 12,000 people with HIV have received treatment.  46,000 meal rations have been distributed for people in transit and more than 1,500 Family Kits have been distributed for people in transit.  Mr. Bays.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Following up on my question yesterday about the Uyghurs and their situation and the human rights abuses against them, the Secretary‑General has been in Beijing.  What has he been saying in public and private about this issue?  And what does he make of the very strong criticism of Human Rights Watch, that he's not addressing this issue in public; and in fact, many other human rights situations in public.  The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says:  "His excessively quiet diplomacy is selling short his position and the promise of the United Nations."  Your reaction?

Spokesman:  Where should we start?  Let's start with China.  As I mentioned, the Secretary‑General is discussing all relevant issues with the Chinese leadership.  The visit is ongoing, and discussions are ongoing.  I should have a bit more for you on Monday.  I think this Secretary‑General has been anything but quiet on his defence of human rights globally.  I would refer you to a number of speeches he's delivered at the Human Rights Council, in the way, also, that he has really mainstreamed the role of human rights in all of the UN's work, from explicitly telling all the Resident Coordinators of the UN, that represent the UN in every country, that they do have a human rights mandate.  The [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] participates and is an active voice in the senior‑most leadership, the Executive Committee, that meets every week to ensure that human rights is taken into account in every discussion.  The Secretary‑General, I think, has been extremely vocal on a number of human rights issues, which Mr. Roth even acknowledges, whether it's on Guatemala, on the defence of journalists, on the Rohingyas, on the issue of children in armed conflict, on the issue of gender and gender parity, and speaking out against violence against women, which is a fundamental human right, his words against hate speech, one of the few leaders that verbalized the great risk of the rise of Nazi ideology.  I think he has been he has been outspoken across the spectrum.  Now, obviously, I think everyone in the human rights community — and that includes the Secretary‑General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN human rights system, all the mechanisms as a whole, the NGO community — everyone has a role to play.  People have different roles.  The Secretary‑General will raise issues in private and will raise issues in public.  But, frankly, what he says privately, I think matches, very much, what he says publicly.

Question:  Very quick follow‑up.  When, then, did he last speak out about the situation regarding the Uyghurs publicly?  And does he make a different calculation on speaking out on human rights issues that involve human rights abuses by permanent members?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think there is that calculation.  His goal is to promote human rights.  He will do it differently at different times, but the goal and the way he achieves that goal will remain the same.  Edie?

Question:  As a follow‑up to James, before I ask my question, can we find out whether the Secretary‑General did raise the Uyghur issue with the Secretary… with the President of China?

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean… I'm sorry.  We'll get a bit more on… on Monday.  I've been in touch with the Secretary‑General, but we'll have a bit more once the visit is finished.

Question:  I was just going to ask, on Libya, whether Mr. Salamé is having any success in his international talks with trying to get supporters of both sides to put pressure on them for a ceasefire.

Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Salamé is continuing his talks.  As we said, he was in Rome.  He's currently in Paris where he met with French officials.  He's continuing his international consultations on the ground.  UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Libya] remains in touch with all the parties to try to reach a cessation of hostilities or at least a humanitarian pause.  Unfortunately, we know…we've been very transparent about reporting what's going on on the ground.  I mean, there was overnight shelling of residential areas overnight, which is completely unacceptable by any measure.  Mr. Salamé and his staff will continue in their work and in contact with the parties themselves and, as you rightly said, with those who have an influence over the parties themselves.  Carole, then Masood.

Question:  In Rome, Ghassan Salamé said that he was working to get a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan.  Is he… is that still the objective?  And is he closer to that?

Question:  Is he getting closer?

Spokesman:  No, we haven't… Ramadan has not yet started.  Thank you, Yassein.  We still have one week, apparently.  He said what he said.  We're working towards a cessation of hostilities.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, one glaring example of the Secretary‑General's silence on human rights abuses has been consistently Kashmir, what is happening in Kashmir and India‑occupied Kashmir.  And why is it that, all said and done, Secretary‑General may have somehow broached this subject or that subject.  When it comes to Kashmir, he's absolutely quiet.  Is it the pressure…?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said on the issue when the High Commissioner's report came out.

Correspondent:  Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein gave a statement and wanted access to India‑occupied, and he was denied that access.  At that point in time…

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said at the time.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Did the Secretary‑General raise the issue of OHCHR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] sending inspectors to Xinjiang in any of his meetings with Chinese officials?  And as the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General, do you agree with Kenneth Roth's assertion that he has not said a word about Xinjiang in public?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, I think, answered a question on Xinjiang in this very room during a press conference.  And as I just said, we will have more on the Secretary‑General's discussions as the meetings are still going on.  He still has a full day in China.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  President Trump is reportedly likely to pull out of the Arms Trade Treaty.  I know you will not comment on things that haven't happened yet, but perhaps you could give us the Secretary‑General's view on the Arms Trade Treaty and its importance.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is as strong a believer as anyone in the need for continued and sustained action on disarmament.  He has launched a number of initiatives, and he has spoken out very clearly in favour of the various UN's arms control and treaties and treaties having to do with nuclear non-proliferation.

Question:  Can I follow up?  I just want to clarify whether or not you've received any indication from the US Administration…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  All I've seen is what's in the press, and I believe the President of the United States is speaking as we speak.  Thank you.  Oh, Linda.  Monica will allow a question from Linda.  Please.

Question:  Anyway, Stéph, I have a question, a passport issue.  I know there's been concern…

Spokesman:  I have a French one…

Question:  Can I apply for one?

Spokesman:  I don't know if I can help you.

Correspondent:  Very good, Linda.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to throw you off…

Correspondent:  In any case, you know, we know there's been concern about the passport issue in terms of Russia saying it would expedite some passports for people in eastern Europe…

Spokesman:  Oh, in Ukraine.

Correspondent:  Yes, I'm sorry.  Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine.

Spokesman:  You buried the lead there.  Yeah.

Question:  My question is, do you know if the SG has ever made a statement, another statement, about a country's policy regarding issuing passports?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware.  I think I made some comments yesterday, and then Ms. DiCarlo, I think, mentioned in her statement yesterday.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.