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

21 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.

**Moncef Kartas

Let me start off with a question you’ve all been, a number of you have been, asking concerning Moncef Kartas.  We have been informed that, earlier today, a Tunisian appeals court has reviewed the case against Mr. Kartas and has decided to release him.  We are very encouraged by this development.  We look forward to confirming his actual release from detention.  We are presently seeking further information from the Government, including with respect to the status of the legal proceedings against Mr. Kartas.


Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at the second Africa Dialogue Series.  He said the United Nations and the African Union are deepening their strategic partnership, including the recent unanimous adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on steps towards ending conflict in Africa.  However, the Secretary-General said that we face headwinds, pointing to the situations in places such as Libya, Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.  The Secretary-General commended African countries for their long record of keeping their borders, doors and hearts open to refugees and internally displaced people.  These remarks have been shared with you.  The Deputy Secretary-General will address the Africa Dialogue Series this afternoon at 3 p.m.


And this morning, the Secretary-General also briefed Member States on the progress of creating a twenty-first century UN development system to support countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda.  The Secretary-General said that, since we pivoted to a new era for the UN development system on 1 January, the UN is well advanced on a transformative journey.  He said that the Resident Coordination system has been reinvigorated, the Development Coordination Office is up and running, and we are moving ahead in establishing a new generation of UN country teams, among other developments.  The Secretary-General also noted that there [have] been significant efforts to bring the system together to make it more efficient.  He said:  “Our objective is clear.  It is not to seek savings simply for its own sake.  Our goal is to strengthen our response to the 2030 Agenda.  Every dollar saved is a dollar that can be reinvested in development activities.”  Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General will continue briefing Member States on the Secretary-General’s report to the Economic and Social Council and her report on the newly established Development Coordination Office.  Both reports are now on the Economic and Social Council website.


And back in the Security Council, Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative for Libya, told the Security Council that the country is on the verge of descending into a civil war which could lead to permanent divisions in Libya.  The damage already done will take years to mend, he said, and that’s only if the war ended now.  He added the conditions for migrants and refugees in Libya were already dire prior to the conflict.  These conditions have now gone from bad to worse.  Nearly 3,400 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centres exposed to, or in close proximity to, the current fighting.  The Special Representative noted that the security vacuum created [by] the withdrawal of many of General [Khalifa] Haftar’s troops from the south, coupled with the focus of the western forces on the defence of the capital, is already being exploited by Da’esh and Al-Qaida.  He requested that the Security Council members urge the silencing of the guns and that the warring parties engage with the UN Mission to ensure a full and comprehensive cessation of hostilities and a return to an inclusive UN-led political process.  Mr. Salamé, we’ve been informed, does intend to speak to you and take some questions for you at the Security Council stakeout later.

And just an update on the water issue we told you about yesterday, I can tell you that today we welcome the resumption of water supply from Tripoli’s main water distribution facility.  The shutdown at the Great Man-Made River Project since 19 May had already contributed to a decrease in water supply to Tripoli and other north-western cities and threatened to completely cut off supply to up to more than 2 million people.  This resumption in distribution does not resolve the ongoing water shortages in Tripoli, which are a key concern, particularly as [temperatures rise] in the summer months.  Due to the ongoing clashes in and around Tripoli, maintenance staff at the water facility were evacuated last month and required maintenance work is not taking place, which has reduced the water supply by 37 per cent since the start of the ongoing cycle of conflict.  Water supply to other parts of Libya serviced by the facility has been reduced by 25 per cent.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is in Amman, Jordan, today for consultations with the Jordanian Government.  He concluded a meeting earlier today with Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi.  He appreciates Jordan’s support for the UN efforts to facilitate a political process based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and also its hospitality for Syrian refugees.  Yesterday, Mr. Pedersen went to meet with Syrian refugees in the Mafraq and Zaatari camps in Jordan.  He listened to their life stories, speaking with women, men and children about their personal journey throughout this horrific conflict and their aspirations for a dignified future.  He recognizes and appreciates the tremendous efforts made by the UN refugee agency and other parts of the UN system, and the Jordanian Government for their continued support to the Syrian refugees there.

Meanwhile, the UN remains deeply alarmed by ongoing reports of air strikes, artillery shelling and clashes in the de-escalation zones in north-western Syria.  These clashes resulted in at least 105 deaths since the latest escalation in late April, as well as repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure, including displacement [camps], schools and health facilities.  Since 28 April, a total of 23 attacks on healthcare have been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), including on 20 health facilities, some having been hit more than once.

**Oslo Conference

The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, is speaking at the opening of the first-ever international conference on Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises, and that will take place on 24 May in Oslo in Norway.  The event is organized by the Governments of Norway, Iraq, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).  The conference will bring together countries, NGOs, civil society organizations and influential individuals, such as the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Denis Mukwege, and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.  The conference seeks to mobilize stronger political commitment to prevent sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises, as well as mobilize additional financial resources through UN-coordinated response plans.

**World Health Assembly

In Geneva, the World Health Assembly got underway yesterday and will continue until next Tuesday.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said in a video message that we still live in a world where mental health is a taboo, and even when spoken of, too few of us have access to quality services or the necessary support.  She noted that mental health illness costs the world about $2.5 trillion every year.  During the Assembly, Queen Letizia of Spain will attend several meetings on issues relating to public health and the environment, and Queen Mathilde of Belgium will participate in meetings on mental health with a focus on young people and women.  Tomorrow, Algeria and Argentina are expected to be fully certified malaria-free at an event on the side-lines of the World Health Assembly.

**Burkina Faso

And from Burkina Faso, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that recurrent armed attacks in the Sahel and Centre-Nord regions of the country have forced people to flee their homes.  The number of people displaced has tripled to more than 170,000 since the beginning of the year.  Basic services such as health care and education have been severely affected by violence.  More than 1,000 schools remain closed, depriving more than 146,000 children of education.  In recent months, the UN and our partners have scaled up aid operations and responses, with more than 100,000 people having been reached with assistance.  However, only 35 per cent of the $100 million needed to assist some 900,000 people has been received so far.


A couple more notes.  One from our human rights colleagues.  One is they’ve released a report warning of the large number of attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala.  Thirty-nine killings and 884 attacks were recorded during 2017 and 2018.  More information online.


And from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), they say that, in Ukraine, that the number of attacks on schools in the eastern part of Ukraine have increased four-fold during the first four months of this year, compared to the same period last year.  Schools were attacked 12 times between January and April of this year, which UNICEF said is reminiscent of the violence that schoolchildren experienced in 2017, when there 40 such attacks.


And just to say that we are delighted to acknowledge a new Member State that has paid its payments in full, and that is North Macedonia, paying its budget dues to the 2019 budget, which takes us to?  What did you say?  That is pretty close.  Ninety-eight.  Do you have a question, or do you yield?  All right.  Ali will take your question.  You have to say it, not just think it.  Mr. Barada?  Sorry.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  We've been witnessing intensifying of drone and ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia by the Houthis, including targeting areas in the holiest Muslim place, like Mecca.  So, I wonder whether the Secretary‑General and the United Nations has anything to say, especially in light of the rising tension in the region and that Iran has been accused by even UN reports, the likelihood of these missiles and drones are provided by Iran to the Houthis.  So, what do you have to say about that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Overall, I think we have and will continue to express our concern at the escalating tensions in the region.  We have asked for all parties to show restraint, both in terms of actions and rhetoric.  We're very concerned about the reports of the drone attacks, notably on… some of them have been… and missile attacks which have reportedly been targeting infrastructure, which… civilian infrastructure, which is to be condemned.  I think all of this shows the need to reinvigorate the support for the work that Martin Griffiths is doing and is trying to do to bring about a political solution.

Question:  May I follow up?  Just… because there are those reports by the United Nations Sanctions Committees.  They speak clearly about the likelihood of… that those elements, the… I'm talking about the drones and the ballistic missiles are provided by Iran to the Houthis.  Are there any contacts between the United Nations, through the Secretary‑General or other UN officials, talking to the Iranians regarding these concerns?

Spokesman:  Look, on that, I have nothing more to say than what I've said yesterday on contacts.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Follow‑up on Ali's question.  Why don't we have statements from the SG on such attacks on the holy side of Mecca, which was intercepted over… at this holy month of the year, which is the Hajj, where Muslims go for pilgrim to Mecca?  I cannot help but compare it to a rocket from Gaza into Israel, and statements are made same day or next day.  Why don't we have a statement from the Secretary‑General condemning the Houthis' actions in targeting the holiest of sites?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think I… maybe I should have been clearer, but I think I just said that these reports are very concerning, that the targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, including holy sites, is to be condemned.  James?

Question:  I have two questions on two separate subjects.  Let's pick up on a related subject to the one we've just been talking about.  The Secretary‑General, I believe, along with the President of the Security Council, has received a letter from the Ambassador from Iran and putting forward, he says, a proposal to try and defuse the current tension.  He's suggesting using a resolution from more than 30 years ago, Security Council resolution 598 (1987), which he says the Secretary‑General could operationalize.  What do you make of that proposal?  Does that… does the Secretary‑General believe that's a feasible idea?  Is it one he will investigate?  And my second question is on Libya.  We've heard the very clear assessment of the Secretary‑General's Special Representative now.  What does the Secretary‑General think the Security Council need to do now?

Spokesman:  I think, as in many of these cases of conflict… and I'll… speaking to Libya, to your second question, I think as in many cases of conflict, the most important thing that we can get from the Security Council, at minimum, is unity — unity in message and unity in message to all parties to do whatever they can to stop the conflict and to think of the civilians.  On your…

Question:  Do they need a ceasefire?

Spokesman:  It is up to the Security Council to see how they want to word it, but what I… what is important for us is the unity of the Council in the message to the parties to find a way to stop this conflict.  Your second question, the letter has been received.  It is being studied, and it will be circulated as requested to members of the Security Council.  Michelle, then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Another question on another letter.  The North Koreans wrote to the Secretary‑General last week.  The North Korean ambassador was, again, here this… here this morning to further that campaign for the US to release their ship.  In the letter, they asked the SG to take urgent measures over this issue.  What urgent measures does the SG plan to take?

Spokesman:  Again, we've received the letter.  We're taking a look at it.  The issue of sanctions, the implementation of the sanctions, the interpretation of sanctions is really a matter for the Security Council to decide and to discuss.  Mr. Abbadi, you've been very patient, as always.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As a result of… as a part of the peace plan for the Middle East, President [Donald] Trump has proposed an economic summit or an economic meeting in Bahrain next month.  Has the UN received an invitation, and will you be…?

Spokesman:  We checked a short while ago.  As far as we are aware, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, who is obviously the lead in this… in the UN's handling of this file, has not received an invitation.  We've seen the press reports.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, just quick check up.  It's not a sexy topic, though, but you mentioned…

Spokesman:  I will… we… I'm not going to go there.  Try and fight my urge to be a smart aleck.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I said… exactly.  It's not that kind of topic.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Too sexy for this briefing, yeah.

Question:  All right.  I'm sorry that I used that word.  All right.  Okay.  Let me put it this way:  You mentioned WHO and… in Geneva.  Did they actually adopted the new classification of the disease that was long waited?

Spokesman:  For Ebola?  What are you talk… which…?

Question:  For all diseases.  It's… WHO should adopt new classification of diseases.

Spokesman:  I'm not… listen, I'm not aware.  We can check, or we can give you the contacts for WHO, but the Assembly is ongoing.  So, I'm not aware of any major decisions that were already taken.

Correspondent:  I told you it's not that kind of topic.

Spokesman:  Ah, you never know.  All right.  Thank you… one more go at it?

Question:  Yes.  Why is there… sorry.  Why is there delay… why is there delay in appointing Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria after the last one left in December [2018]?  And the situation is getting worse and worse, one of the worst disasters, and we don't have a humanitarian… no Humanitarian Coordinator appointed yet on the five months.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there's obviously acting coordinator… Humanitarian Resident Coordinator.  The discussions are still going on.  That being said, it is not stopping the work of the UN's humanitarian team on the ground.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.