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

16 May 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.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is continuing his trip to the Pacific.  He is in Fiji today, where he met with the country’s President and met with the Prime Minister.  He later spoke to the press jointly with the Prime Minister and said he had no doubt that climate change is the battle of his life.  He stressed we must recognize that this battle has not been won yet and we need a much stronger political will to be able to be able to rescue our planet.  He thanked the people and the Governments of the Pacific for the extraordinary example they are providing to all of us.  The Secretary-General also addressed the Parliament of Fiji today.  He told members of the Parliament [that he saluted their] strong traditions of community and social responsibility and [that] their symbiotic relationship with their surroundings make them natural global leaders on climate and the environment.

The Secretary-General also stressed that Governments have a responsibility to lead by example, to condemn hatred and intolerance, and to invest in inclusivity and diversity, and he also emphasized the need to tackle the root causes of discrimination and violations of human rights, including poverty, inequality and injustice.  He also thanked Fiji for its contributions to peacekeeping, and for being the first parliament in the world to undertake the Sustainable Development Goals self-assessment.

Later in the day, he laid a wreath for the Pacific Region Fallen Peacekeepers at the National War Memorial in Fiji.  In the afternoon, he went for an excursion on a boat powered by solar energy.  Afterwards, he visited the University of the South Pacific, where he met with young people and women’s groups who are taking climate action.  The Secretary-General heard about their work and told them:  “The world needs your generation to keep my generation accountable.”  He assured them that the UN is committed to keep listening to their voices and to opening pathways for meaningful participation in decisions that affect them.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be spending the day in Tuvalu to meet community leaders and to see again for himself the impact of climate change.

**Sahel

This morning, Assistant Secretary-General Bintou Keita briefed the Security Council on the Group of Five for the Sahel joint force.  She said the UN continues to provide operational and logistical support to the joint force and reiterated the Secretary-General’s call to lift the geographical restrictions on the support provided [to] the force by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, provided there is no additional cost to the Mission and transport of water and fuel is ensured by third parties.  The Assistant Secretary-General thanked donors for their support for the force and stressed that we have a shared responsibility for the Sahel and we must each deliver our part of a promise to help provide much-needed relief and empowerment to the populations across the Sahel [who] need it most.  Her remarks were made available to you.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

This evening, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., to deliver the commencement address at George Mason University’s 2019 Graduation Ceremony.  That will take place tomorrow in Fairfax in northern Virginia.

**Libya

I want to flag that, from Libya, our humanitarian colleagues report that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas of the Libyan capital continues to cause civilian casualties.  At least six civilians were killed, and five others were injured in an apparent airstrike in Qasr bin Ghashir on Tuesday.  Reports of further civilian casualties resulting from shelling yesterday evening are still being verified.  Humanitarians continue to remind parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm.  They call on all parties to refrain from using explosive weapons — including by aerial bombing or shelling — in populated areas, given their likely indiscriminate effect.

**Low Birth-Weight

And lastly, researchers from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have contributed to a new report which found that nearly 1 in 7 babies are born with a low birth-weight, or under 5.5 pounds.  Nearly three quarters of these babies were born in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but the problem remains substantial in developed countries.  More than 80 per cent of the world’s 2.5 million newborns who die every year are low birth-weight because they are either born preterm or [are] small for their gestational [age].  Low birth-weight babies who survive have a greater risk of stunting, as well as developmental and physical ill‑health later in life.  The full report is online.  And I think that is it from me, and I’m happy to take some of your questions, should you have any.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  A follow‑up on the statement that you read yesterday.  There has been a response to your statement on Moncef Kartas by Tunisia which a Tunisian spokesman says he does not have immunity; he entered Tunisia with his Tunisian passport and allegations are not within the framework of his work at the United Nations.  Do you have a response to that?

Spokesman:  Our response today is the one we had yesterday.  We hold on to our position that he is covered by the immunity and privileges afforded to him as an expert on mission and we call the Tunisians to release him.

Question:  And a follow‑up question:  The UN General Assembly in the next month will come up with the election for the new Security Council members.  Does the Secretary‑General feel that a country that is holding an UN expert from one of the panel of experts that reports to the Security Council is a fitting country to be on the UN Security Council?

Spokesman:  The process through which Member States are elected to the Security Council is through a vote of their peers, or members of the General Assembly.  It is up to those Member States to make that judgement.  It is not an election which the Secretary‑General is involved in.  Masood and then Mario.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this explosive situation developing in the Middle East where Saudi Arabia and some of the big countries are calling for the United States to have surgical attacks in Iran and this wants to be so‑called… they claim that those attacks are carried out by the Iranians.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesman:  I think I reacted pretty extensively yesterday.  I think we are very concerned about the volatility of the situation.  We call on everyone to exercise maximum restraint, prevent any escalation of and heightening of tensions.  The issue… the situation, as you put it, is already fairly volatile and we are concerned by the rhetoric that we have been hearing.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General… has he had any conversation with the leaders in the region, who are being especially… who are going…?

Spokesman:  Contacts are being had at various levels.  Mario?

Question:  Does the SG have any comments on the situation of the Venezuela Embassy in Washington, D.C.?  The ambassador of Venezuela yesterday said there has been a violation of the Vienna Conventions; today, there seems to have been a police raid with US agents coming inside.

Spokesman:  We hope that the situation is resolved peacefully, bilaterally between the United States and Venezuela.  Yep, let's stay in the region and then you guys can switch.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, reporters came out about exploration meetings that were happening in Norway between the Government of Venezuela… some representatives, as well as the opposition.  Nothing has officially been confirmed.  However, the reports are as strong sign that the Norwegian Government will be facilitating these talks.  What the United Nations knows about it?

Spokesman:  I mean, we are very much aware of what is going on and very much supportive of this process.

Question:  Would the UN eventually could be part of this?

Spokesman:  I don't want to predict what can happen in what we know is a complicated situation, but what is clear is that the Secretary‑General's good offices… the United Nations’ good offices remain very, very much available.  Evelyn and then… sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In… since your statement on Sudan there has been shooting.  Can you give an update on what's happening there?

Spokesman:  Yes.  No, we've seen the pictures, we've seen the reports of the violence.  I think it's important that the authorities prioritize dialogue in order to settle the differences that may exist and that any form of violence should be avoided that can could undermine the safety and security of all citizens, as well as the stability of the country.  And it's important that people’s rights to demonstrate peacefully be fully respected.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just to clarify that, before… that you mentioned the Secretary‑General in Pacific area.  He… is he saying this is the fight of his life, this is becoming a priority, climate?

Spokesman:  It has been a priority of his for quite some time.

Question:  This is his absolute priority of all the issues, or what?

Spokesman:  You know, it's… you know, the ranking of issues is always a difficult thing.  There are issues that need to be settled now, others that are more long‑term or medium‑term.  It is clear that, for the Secretary‑General, climate change is an overarching issue of his mandate, one that he pushes far and wide and one that he is very vocal on, one that he is showing leadership on, and one more importantly that he is asking political leaders around the world to also show leadership on and to come to his summit in September with real commitments.

Question:  And when he informs the people from the region that they are natural leaders, what role they would play in the summit in September?

Spokesman:  I think as people who are on the front lines of the impact of climate change and the impact — not that we are going to see in 5, 10, 20 years, but the impact today of rising sea levels, of seawater getting into the soil, making the land, you know, non‑arable… these people have a lot of leadership to show not only in adaptation and mitigation but also in showing the world that the impact of climate change is real and it's happening now.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good afternoon.  My first question is on West Africa and the Security Council hit on the same for us this morning, and my question is regarding the MINUSMA, the UN has described it as the most dangerous peacekeeping Mission in the world, and they have been demanding… it has been renewed.  Is there any plans for the Secretary‑General to make it less dangerous, in terms of working with some of the other African nations like the African Union or probably additional police forces for the region?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, you know, the danger comes from those who are standing against the peace process, right?  Armed groups, terrorist groups who operate in the region.  What we have done for our part with the peacekeeping mission is done our best to upgrade, to work with Member States to upgrade the equipment that a lot of the troops are using.  The Chadian contingent has really been the contingent that has been the hardest hit.  We have improved the equipment that they have, how they operate with better support, so we are trying to mitigate the risks, but there needs to be a political solution and which the United Nations through the mission is very much supportive of the Government and all the parties that are involved in the peace negotiations on that end.  Majeed, welcome back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I want to talk about the situation in the Gulf, the tension between the US and Iran and I heard you, what you said yesterday about the Secretary‑General is concerned, but this is a risk of a major war.  This is an imminent risk.  Why the Secretary‑General has not [been] more involved in this particular tension, especially when there is no direct channel of communication between Iran and the United States now?

Spokesman:  I don't know that there is… I mean, it's… on the direct communication, I will leave that to you.  This is a situation that he is following very closely, even though he is, as you know, he is in the… far away, in the Pacific, dealing with another extremely important issue.  Contacts have been had.  We are following the situation.  Our message, and the Secretary‑General's general message, is one of restraint, both in terms of actions and in terms of rhetoric.  These are situations where actions and rhetoric can be misinterpreted and can lead to catastrophic actions.  It's very, very important that we see restraint both in terms of the rhetoric and in terms of the action.

Question:  But, you know, it's a fact that Iran and US they say there is no direct channel of communication.  In this case my question is:  Why the Secretary‑General has not been involved?  He seems to be the only person that… that could have that role as a global figure between these two Powers, especially now there is complete mistrust between both sides.

Spokesman:  Listen, as a matter of principle, as we say, the Secretary‑General's good offices always remain available should all the parties involved want it; but through the contacts that we have, we remain very much involved and are following the situation very closely.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The fighting is escalating in Syria again and we haven't seen any comment from your end in the past.

Spokesman:  No.  We've asked for and we are expecting an update on Syria, but we remain concerned and troubled by the increase in fighting that we have seen over the last days and weeks, but I'm waiting for a more granular update for you.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  It's been almost six months since the Government of Somalia made Nicholas Haysom persona non grata; he now has another job.  Appointments in the UN system don't normally take that long.  You have an interim Special Representative.  Does the Secretary‑General plan to fill that job permanently or is he punishing the Government of Somalia [by] not putting anyone in there?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not in the business of punishing Governments.  As soon as I will have an update, I will share with you.  Mario?

Question:  Just to follow‑up on the embassy, does the UN consider what has happened in the US law enforcement entering the premises of the Venezuela Embassy a breach of the Vienna Conventions?

Spokesman:  I'm not in a position to comment at this point.  We will see if we can get some language, but I won't comment at this point.  Señora?

Question:  Um, the other meeting that maybe could take place soon will be the Contact Group, as well as the Lima Group.  Is the United Nations going to be monitoring or maybe sending somebody to be, not part of the group but…?

Spokesman:  I mean, as we said, we are very supportive of all these different regional initiatives; but I'm not aware of us having anybody present on the ground.  I know the Secretary‑General will not be attending, but I will double check with my colleagues.  Thanks to all.  Monica, welcome back.

For information media. Not an official record.