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

20 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

As you saw, over the weekend, the Secretary-General finished a trip to the Pacific and issued a message as he wrapped up his visit.  He praised small islands for their determination to tackle the global climate emergency and their actions to increase their resilience and capacity to adapt.  However, he stressed that climate change cannot be stopped by small island countries alone.  It needs to be done with the rest of the world.  He said this requires political will to transform the energy, industry, agriculture and mobility sectors, and he reiterated his three messages for world leaders:  to tax pollution and not people; to stop subsidizing fossil fuels; and to stop building new coal plants by 2020.

In a tweet, he said after his visit he is now “more convinced than ever that the global climate emergency is the battle [of] our lives – a battle we can and must win”.

In his last stop in Vanuatu, the Secretary-General met with the President and Prime Minister and praised the country’s response to Cyclone Pam, as well as its ocean policy, which requires the removal of all single-use plastics.

**Peacekeepers Day

International Peacekeepers Day will take place on 29 May, but here in New York, we will honour that day this coming Friday, and a message from the Secretary-General [has] already been issued, saying that the day is intended to honour more than 1 million men and women who have served as United Nations peacekeepers since our first mission in 1948.

On that day, the Secretary-General says we must remember the more than 3,800 personnel who have paid the ultimate price, and we express our deepest gratitude to the 100,000 civilian, police and military peacekeepers deployed around the world today and to the countries that contribute these brave and dedicated women and men.

**Diagne Award

And on that note, the UN peacekeeping department has announced the awarding of the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage to the late Private Chancy Chitete of Malawi.  He will be given the award as part of International Day of Peacekeeping commemoration on this Friday, which I just mentioned.

Private Chitete was serving with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and lost his life in “Operation Usalama”, conducted by the UN peacekeepers in November 2018 against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) group, in order to stop attacks on local towns and prevent the disruption of the Ebola response.  Private Chitete’s actions saved the life of a fellow peacekeeper from Tanzania.

We expect the family of Private Chitete to be in New York to receive the award from the Secretary-General.

This is the first time that the award has been conferred ever since it was established in 2014 by the Security Council and awarded in 2016 to the family of the late Captain Diagne, who saved countless lives while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Rwanda.  The Medal is the highest and most prestigious recognition to be earned in the service of United Nations peacekeeping.

**Mali

Turning to Mali, our colleagues at the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reported today that six Chadian peacekeepers are recovering from their wounds after their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Tessalit over the weekend.

In separate statements, the Secretary-General and the Security Council condemned the attacks on Saturday against the UN Mission in Mali, which took place in Timbuktu and Tessalit.  The Secretary-General said he was deeply saddened at the death of a Nigerian peacekeeper who succumbed to his wounds following the armed attack in Timbuktu.

The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.  He calls on the Malian authorities to take swift action to identify the perpetrators of these attacks and promptly bring them to justice.

**Yemen

I know a number of you have been asking about the recent comments regarding Martin Griffiths and the rhetoric in Yemen, and I can tell you that we are following with great concern recent incidents and hardening rhetoric in Yemen over the past days.

Recalling the initial positive steps taken in the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement, we are encouraged by the firm commitment reiterated by President [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi and his Government to implement the Agreement.

We remind all parties of their commitments to take further steps to achieve full implementation, together with the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA), so as not to lose the momentum.

The Secretary-General urges the Yemeni parties to work with his Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to make further progress in the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement.  The Secretary-General notes that his Special Envoy is committed to working with the Yemenis to find a lasting and negotiated settlement to end the conflict and to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people.

And, also on Yemen, you will have seen that the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a press release a bit earlier today saying that its greatest challenge in Yemen does not come from the guns, that are yet to fall silent in this conflict – instead, it is the obstructive and uncooperative role of some of the Houthi leaders in areas under their control.

Earlier this month, after repeated obstructions, the World Food Programme wrote to the Houthi leadership again and confirmed that the agency has reluctantly reached the conclusion that, unless progress is made on previous agreements, it will have to implement a phased suspension of aid.

This phased suspension of WFP operations will be taken as a last resort and the agency will do everything within its powers to ensure that the weakest and most vulnerable – especially the children – do not suffer.

WFP still hopes that good sense will prevail and a suspension will not happen.  The ultimate responsibility for the welfare of their people lies with the Yemeni leadership.  That press release is online and has been made available to you.

**Syria

And on Syria, I can tell you that we continue to follow with great concern the continuing reports of air strikes in greater Idlib, most recently on 19 May, yesterday, when eight civilians, including two children, were reportedly killed and tens wounded in air strikes on the obstetric hospital in Kafr Nobol.

The UN continues to be extremely alarmed by the dangerous intensification of violence in the de-escalation area of north-western Syria and condemns attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Especially alarming are attacks that have damaged or destroyed medical facilities inside the de-escalation area.

We have all repeatedly called for the parties to respect International Humanitarian law and for the parties to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed between Russia and Turkey last September.

**Libya

On Libya, I can tell you that our humanitarian colleagues say they are deeply concerned over the reported cut-off of the water supply to Tripoli.

Yesterday, an armed group stormed Tripoli’s main water distribution station and has reportedly closed the water valves supplying Tripoli and other cities in the north-west of the country, including Gharyan and Al Zawayih, potentially affecting some 2 million people and their access to water.

Some districts in Tripoli are already experiencing low water pressure and it is expected that the full impact will be felt in the coming two days unless the valves are re-opened.

Water supply into Tripoli had already been impacted prior to yesterday, as maintenance staff at the facility were evacuated for security reasons due to the ongoing fighting.

Humanitarian partners are working to support the affected areas of Tripoli with water trucking and water purification assistance.

Meanwhile, the civilian displacement as a result of the clashes in and around Tripoli continues to surge, with more than 78,000 people now having had to flee their homes.

**Somalia

From Somalia, the United Nations and our humanitarian partners today launched a Drought Response Plan seeking $710 million for assistance for 4.5 million drought-affected people in the most severely affected areas of the country between now and the end of December.

Many areas are experiencing critical water shortages, widespread crop failure, and diminished livestock conditions following two consecutive failing rainy seasons.

As a result, the number of people [facing] emergency levels of food insecurity or worse is expected to reach 2.2 million by July if aid is not scaled up.  This is more than 40 per cent higher than January [this] year.

**Afghanistan

From Afghanistan, a new report issued by the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has found that continued focus and efforts are needed to advance the country’s anti-corruption reforms.

The new report, the third of its kind, describes how corruption continues to affect all aspects of life in Afghanistan, eroding public trust and confidence in government institutions and hindering efforts to bring lasting peace and prosperity to the country.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tadamichi Yamamoto, stressed that corruption puts at risk prospects for peace, as a negotiated settlement for Afghanistan’s future must be based on integrity and justice.  The report is available.

**Myanmar

I want to flag that Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, began a five-day visit to Myanmar today.  This is the first visit by the head of UNHCR to Myanmar since August 2017.

Mr. Grandi is scheduled to spend the first two days in Rakhine State, where he will meet with communities in Sittwe and the northern townships, as well as meeting with state and district officials.

Later in the week, he is scheduled to meet senior Myanmar Government officials in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.

**World Bee Day

And if there’s a certain buzz in the air today, it is because it is… what day is it today?  [Correspondent says, “World Bee Day!”]  Exactly!  It is a day where we honour the bee [World Bee Day].

This morning the Deputy Secretary-General spoke in celebration of bees.

Bees are amongst the hardest working creatures on the planet, Amina Mohammed said, much like the UN peacekeeping and humanitarian staff in the field.

With annual global food production that depends on pollination being worth half a trillion dollars, “bees are clearly crucial for our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ”.

But pesticides and climate change are threatening bees.  Decline and disappearance of bees would have drastic consequences on ecosystems and human well-being, and urgent efforts are needed to protect them.

And, here at Headquarters, we are doing our bit to protect the bees.  You can feel free to visit our beehives, which are at the northern end of the [UN] garden.  But be careful!  […]

**Book

A couple of things to flag:  At 1 p.m. today, in the UN Bookshop, psychologist, Harvard professor and best-selling author Steven Pinker will discuss his book Enlightenment Now.

In his book, Mr. Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and the prophesies of doom, which play to our psychological biases.  Instead, he suggests following the data.  Mr. Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise worldwide.  That’s a good thing.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

A couple of press briefings to flag tomorrow.

At 10:15 a.m., there will be a briefing in this very room by the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Ambassador Kim Song will brief on the seizure of the DPRK cargo ship.

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press briefing on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects mid-year update.  Speakers will include Elliot Harris, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist of DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], and Dawn Holland, Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch, also of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

**Questions and Answers

I am here to take your questions.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Has the United Nations been invited to this conference where the economic part of the US peace plan for the Mideast is going to be unveiled in Bahrain in late June?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware, but I will doublecheck and give you a permanent answer right after the briefing.  James and then Frank.

Question:  Quoting back your words to you from last week, “rhetoric can be misinterpreted and can lead to catastrophic actions with regard to the tension between the US and Iran”.  Clearly, your words were not being listened to in the White House.  The President of the United States tweeting, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”  What does the UN make of a permanent member and a nuclear‑armed member threatening the existence of another member?

Spokesman:  I would quote my own words back to you, is that we are concerned about the rising rhetoric.  We’re concerned about the… we saw the rocket… the… an attack… a rocket attack or rocket launch towards… that seemed to be aimed towards the US Embassy in Iraq and Baghdad that is also of concern.  And we would ask all parties to lower the rhetoric and lower the threshold of action, as well.

Question:  Follow‑up.  What contacts have senior UN officials – the Secretary‑General, Under‑Secretary‑General [Rosemary] DiCarlo – had with senior US officials about what the current US policy is towards Iran?  Because there seems to be some confusion what… you know, policy of maximum pressure or policy of maximum confusion.  Have you been given an idea of what they are aiming…?

Spokesman:  Nothing that I’m able to share with you, but I know contacts have been had at various levels.  Yes, ma’am.  Oh, sorry, Frank and then we’ll go…

Question:  I wanted to ask you, could you tell us about the contents of the letter that Ambassador Kim Song from North Korea sent to the Secretary‑General last week, what he was asking and what the Secretary‑General plans to do?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I can confirm that we received the letter.  The letter, in fact, has been distributed and circulated as requested as a document of the Security Council.  We are, obviously, studying the letter as… and, you know, it relates to the issue of sanctions on the DPRK and actions taken in the implementation of those sanctions.  But the questions relating to possible sanctions evasion and Member States’ implementation of Security Council resolutions are a matter for Member States to address.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Hi.  Cali with Inter Press Service.  I just wanted to ask you if there are any updates on the UN’s response to the United Nations’ – sorry – United States’ attempts at occupying the Venezuelan embassy in Washington.

Spokesman:  No, nothing to what we’ve already said.  Masood and…

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this visit by the… to the… Myanmar by UN and United Nations representative, has the Myanmar Government accepted her, and is she… is it willing to give it any… full…

Spokesman:  Well, we’re talking about a “he”.  We’re talking about Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees.  Obviously, senior UN… any UN official, especially senior UN officials, do not go into a country without the agreement of that country.  So, the Myanmar officials have clearly approved the visit.  He will be going to Rakhine State, and he will be meeting with the senior leadership in Myanmar at the end of his visit when he goes to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.  So, this is done, obviously, in full cooperation with the Government of Myanmar.

Question:  Yeah, but, in the past, that’s not been the case.  That’s the reason why I asked.

Spokesman:  Well, in the past, there’ve not been visits.  This is clearly… the green light was given by the Government and UN… the high… the head of UNHCR will be going.  Signore Grandi… signore.  Not Grandi, but…

CorrespondentGrazie, Stephano.

Spokesman:  Same nationality.

Correspondent:  GrazieNon posse parlare Italiano?  [laughter]

SpokesmanProvi, provi.  No, It’s okay.  Let’s stick to English.

Question:  Well, there is this polemic still going on between the Italian Interior Minister [Matteo] Salvini and the United Nations.  The United Nations – about the new law that Salvini want to introduce – say that doesn’t respect human rights, and Salvini replied, the UN should think about… more about Venezuela.  And it’s still going on.  They… the UN thinks that the Italian Government doesn’t treat the [non-governmental organization] in a way that, you know, human rights are respected.  So, I would like to know, especially because the Secretary‑General is an expert on… on refugees and so on, what is the clear… his position on this?  Is the Italian Government respects or not human rights, at this moment?

Spokesman:  Look, I think the issue is between one of the Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations human rights mechanism, which, as you know, operates independently from the Secretariat and from the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Special Rapporteurs play a very critical and important role within the human rights architecture of the UN, but, obviously, they are independent.  I’m not going to get into the weeds of the law… the proposed law.  What the Secretary‑General’s message to every world leader is consistent, is that international law, how it relates to the protection of refugees, should be respected and has been signed onto by all the signatories of the Refugee Convention and that refugees and migrants need to be treated with dignity and respect of human rights and with solidarity.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up, because it looks… when the UN put pressure on Italian Government, it actually works, because, within 24 hours after the UN put pressure, in the law there was that… that there was going to be a fine of €5,000 for each migrant that were rescued on the sea.  The Italian Government was going to put on the captain of the ship €5,000.  This is… it is an incredible act.  This is… practically, you save human being, and you pay a fine.  This has been withdrawn in 24 hours after the UN pressure.  So, I go back with the question:  Is the UN doing enough pressure or… and especially from the Secretary‑General?  Because it looks like that sometime it works, apart of the rhetoric.

Question:  Look, the… I can only speak for the Secretary‑General.  I think the Secretary‑General’s position and the messages he sends to world leaders on refugees, on migrants, is clear and unequivocal.  And that is a message he sends around the world.  Every country has its own internal debates and different policies.  Our position and the Secretary‑General’s position, which, frankly, is the same in public and private, has remained unchanged.  Masood, why not?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Stéphane, on this occupied Gaza, West Bank, do you have any updates on whether the crossings have been somehow being… and… and… I mean, by Israel and by…  Any update?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  It’s a valid question.  I will see if we have any updates, but we do not have an update.  [He later said the Gaza crossings are currently open.]  Edie?

Question:  A follow‑up to James’ question.  The Iraqis put out a statement today, expressing serious concern that they could get caught in the middle of a conflict between the United States and Iran.  I know you addressed the issue of rhetoric, but I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comment on the implications for the rest of the region.

Spokesman:  I think this is something we’ve addressed.  I… the… it is a very volatile region.  Any developments, whether they are actions on the ground or whether they are rhetoric, can always be misinterpreted and can only heighten the risk of a volatile region becoming even more volatile.

Thank you.  Monica.  Pencils down.  It’s up to you now.

For information media. Not an official record.