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

23 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.

**Security Council

Good afternoon.  The Security Council is holding an open debate today on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  The Secretary-General noted the progress made on the issue in the last two decades.  He said that a culture of protection has taken root in [the] Security Council and across the United Nations, pointing to examples, such as the protection of children in armed conflict and civilians from sexual violence in conflict and how the UN peace operations have protected and saved countless of lives.  Despite such advances, the Secretary-General said, grave human suffering is still being caused by armed conflicts and lack of compliance with international humanitarian law.  He said civilians continue to make up the vast majority of casualties in conflict, with more than 22,800 civilians dying or being injured in 2018 in just six countries:  Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.  The Secretary-General stressed the need for the Security Council to do more to enhance compliance with the laws of war.


Yesterday afternoon, the Council met on Somalia and heard from Raisedon Zenenga, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative.  He told Council members that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) began the new year facing a security crisis as a result of a mortar attack on the UN compound on New Year’s Day, as well as a political crisis due to the expulsion of the Special Representative, Nicholas Haysom.  Mr. Zenenga said that these two incidents on the same day severely disrupted the Mission’s engagement with the Government and its implementing mandate.  For her part, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, said that the humanitarian situation in Somalia remains among the most protracted crises in the world.  She expressed particular concern over the ongoing drought, the plight of internally displaced people, and the need to enhance the protection of civilians.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our colleagues in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) have condemned the attack that took place on Tuesday in Ooham‑Pende Prefecture.  As of today, more than 50 people are being reported to have been killed, and we expect a statement a bit later today.  A joint mission by the peacekeepers and the Central African Government and the African Union, as well as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), is expected to be deployed to the affected areas on 25 May to defuse tensions, assist victims and displaced persons and reassure communities.  The UN peacekeepers are undertaking robust patrols in and around the area while the Mission and the Government are also engaging on local-level dialogue to ease tensions and prevent a retaliatory response by anti-Balaka fighters.


As you may have seen from announcements made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations is stepping up its response to the Ebola epidemic, which is now in its tenth month in the country and has claimed more than 1,200 lives.  The Secretary-General has set up a strengthened coordination and support mechanism at the epidemic’s epicentre in Butemba, with the deputy head of the UN mission, David Gressly, having been appointed as the UN’s Emergency Ebola Response Coordinator.  Mr. Gressly noted that responders to Ebola are working in an environment of unprecedented complexity for a public health emergency, with insecurity and political protests having led to disruptions in the efforts to fight the disease.  Mr. Gressly will oversee the coordination of international support for the Ebola response and work to ensure that an enabling environment — particularly in terms of security and political issues — is in place to allow the Ebola response to be even more effective.  He will work closely with the World Health Organization (WHO), which will continue to lead all health operations and technical support activities with the Government.

**Western Sahara

As you may have seen, yesterday afternoon we issued a note on the Secretary‑General’s phone conversation that day with his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, who informed the Secretary-General of his decision to step down from his role for health reasons.  The Secretary-General deeply regretted the resignation, but said he fully understood the decision and extended his best wishes to Mr. Köhler.  The Secretary-General expressed his profound gratitude to Mr. Köhler for his steadfast and intensive efforts which laid the foundation for the new momentum in the political process on the question of Western Sahara.


Turning to Syria, we remain deeply alarmed by ongoing reports of air strikes, artillery shelling and clashes in and around the de-escalation zone in north-western Syria, resulting in over 100 deaths since late April, as well as repeated attacks on civilian infrastructure and an increased level of displacement.  Over the past 48 hours alone, dozens of casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure has been reported in Idlib and Hama Governorates, as well as in northern and north-eastern Aleppo.  Attacks are also reported in some Government-controlled areas.  Some 201,000 people are now reported to have been displaced due to violence between 1 and 16 May, bringing the total number of displaced people from northern Hama and southern Idlib since 1 April to 240,000 men, women and children.  The provision of shelter and emergency support remains challenging while the numbers of displaced people continue to rise.  Ready-to-eat rations have now been provided to more than 170,000 displaced people.  The UN continues to call on the parties to respect the obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed between Russia and Turkey in September 2018.


I want to flag that the Economic and Social Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group arrived in Haiti yesterday for an official visit that lasts through tomorrow.  The objective of the mission is to assess and make recommendations on Haiti’s long‑term economic development.  It will also explore the prospects for deepening the partnership between the Haitian Government and the international community in support of the country’s efforts on economic recovery and development.  During its visit, the Advisory Group will meet the President of Haiti and other officials, civil society members and representatives of the international donor community in Haiti.


Today is the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula, which is one of the most serious and tragic injuries that can occur to women during childbirth.  An estimated 2 million women in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Arab region, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean are living with this injury, and some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases develop worldwide each year.  The Day raises awareness of the prevention and treatment of obstetric fistula to ensure maternal health worldwide.

**Press Briefings

And I want to flag as a reminder that tomorrow we will be marking International Peacekeepers’ Day.  The Secretary-General will be speaking at a ceremony and he will also deliver the Captain Diagne Award to the family of a fallen peacekeeper from Malawi and we will also have the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, here at the briefing at noon sharp to speak about peacekeeping.  Mr. Bays?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Two questions for you.  First one, the Netherlands is today using the Security Council meeting to call for a new international tribunal to investigate the crimes of ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Da’esh] in Syria and Iraq because those two countries are not signatories to the ICC [International Criminal Court].  They're making that call to the Security Council.  I wonder if the Secretary‑General supports that proposal.

Spokesman:  You know, I think this is obviously something the Security Council will debate.  For his part, the Secretary‑General would encourage all Member States to find a way to ensure that there is no impunity for these types of crimes.  Second question…?

Question:  And my second question was a follow‑up on something I asked Farhan [Haq] a little bit back, which is about access to this building and to other UN premises and people who don't have Member States passports, their access.  I've requested:  What was the policy?  What was the General Assembly resolution?  And what was the UN basing this access to this building?  And Farhan said he would get back to us.  The question is simply… I understand only Member States can vote here, but surely, all the citizens of the world, whether they are stateless or from non‑Member States, should have access to the UN.

Spokesman:  My understanding is that, as a general rule, people need identification from a Member State of the United Nations to access.  This is in terms of visitors.  Obviously, if people who do not have that sort of identification need to enter for specific meetings of the Security Council or General Assembly, arrangements are made.

Question:  But my understanding is that the UN seems to have changed on various occasions the criteria for that.  For example, non‑Member States who had passports, the US visa in it was previously acknowledged as identification from a Member State.  Apparently, that's no longer the case.  Could we please get some clarity on this policy, perhaps see the policy on what it is based?

Spokesman:  Farhan's coming in with something.  So, either I said something completely wrong, which he's contradicting me live, which is probably the case…

Correspondent:  Now that you mention it.

Spokesman:  Oh, in fact, he's confirmed what I said, just to add that, obviously, an ID… an identification from an observer State would also be…

Question:  But, what counts as an identification?  Apparently, you accepted visas into this country, a Member State which is a US document in a passport.

Spokesman:  I will try to look at the historical record.  Madame?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, the election results for… in India are out, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party has got an overwhelming majority.  He will be the Prime Minister again for five years.  Any message from the Secretary‑General?  Will the SG be speaking to Prime Minister Modi?

Spokesman:  I don't know if there's any conversation scheduled.  My understanding, in terms of the procedure, there's still a number of steps until it's official and he is renamed Prime Minister.  But, obviously, I think, like all of us, we look… we've seen the results.  And if things should go forward as they appear to be, we, obviously, very much look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi.  I think the Secretary‑General and him have an especially strong relationship when it comes to issues around climate change.

Question:  Thank you.  Yes, Stéphane, follow‑up on this question on Modi's victory in India.  There are Kashmiri leaders in Kashmir who also won the election in Kashmir.  They're calling for Mr. Modi to soften his stand and hold talks with Pakistan on Kashmir, especially on human rights violations and everything else that is taking place there.  So, what does the Secretary‑General have to say about this?  Will you be calling upon the Indian…?

Spokesman:  On Kashmir, our position remains unchanged to what we've stated in the past.  And obviously, we may have more to say… you know, we may have a more official statement once it becomes official.

Question:  When he has… my question is, when he has the talk with the Prime… Prime Minister…?

Spokesman:  I think our position on Kashmir remains the same, and I don't want to predict anything.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot side also announced drillings at eight sites of the… of Cyprus within two years, and there was also an announcement by Turkey, and there were concerns raised by the UN on the… on these drillings.  And I was wondering, how concerned are you in terms of an increase in tension?  And do you think that would have an impact on Ms. [Jane Holl] Lute's consultations with the… with the sites?

Spokesman:  Let me… honestly, I had not seen those reports.  Let me look into it, and I will get you some language on that.  Evelyn and then Pam.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  The Libyan Commander [Khalifa] Haftar visited President [Emmanuel] Macron in Paris yesterday, I believe, and refused to commit to a ceasefire.  Any reaction from the [Special Representative of the Secretary‑General]?

Spokesman:  It's not so much of a reaction as our position remains unchanged from what Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé said when he was here in the Council, is a need for the fighting to stop, right, and a need for this advance to stop.  I think Mr. Salamé was very clear in his message to General Haftar, and that message remains the same.  Pam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As you know, the [inaudible]…  UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], in coordination with UN‑Women and other agencies and non-profits, has published an extensive report on gender bias in artificial intelligence and ways to better gender parity for education of children.  Does the Secretary‑General… do your offices support that conclusion?

Spokesman:  I think we've read some of the reporting.  This is an issue that the Secretary‑General himself has raised, the imbalance, in terms of gender representation in parts of the technology industry.  And I think the issues raised by UNESCO and by UN‑Women are very important issues that the industry should take on board.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  I have a question about…

Spokesman:  Your microphone… I hear you loud and clear.  You've got great voice, but people watching can't hear you.

Question:  I have a question about Libya as it relates to the oil.  In The Financial Times this week, there was an article that there may be a possibility that Mr. Haftar will try to sell oil.  Given there's a UN resolution against this, what would the UN do, given that France, the United States are backers of Mr. Haftar?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I don't want to engage in speculation.  What is clear, there are UN sanctions… Security [Council] sanctions in place, which need to be respected.  What is also clear is that Libya has tremendous natural resources, which should be put for the use of the Libyan people.  It's the shared wealth of the Libyan people.  It should not be used to fuel more fighting, which only leads to more suffering of the Libyan people.  And again, this is… as if we needed more reasons, this is even one more reason why all Libyan leaders should support the Libyan‑led and UN‑supported political process.  Evelyn, it looks like you wanted to ask a second question.

Question:  Yes.  Is there any update on Sudan?  The talks have stopped, and there's no date for resuming them.

Spokesman:  No, I don't have any updates for you.  Okay.  Ah, Masood‑ji.  Why not?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you very much.  I get these updates from Farhan on Gaza, and he says that the crossings have been generally open, but they are restrictive.  And that is the latest that he said to me about the… about, I think, three days ago, he sent me update, Farhan.  Thank you very much for that.  So, do you have any other update…?

Spokesman:  No, my… the update I would give you is to read what Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov said yesterday, where he went into the humanitarian situation in Gaza in rather great detail in his presentation to the Security Council.  Madame Betul?

Question:  One more.  Thank you, Stéph.  On UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], yesterday, at the Security Council, the US Special Envoy for international negotiations called for dismantling of the agency, and I was wondering if you have a reaction to that.

Spokesman:  It's not so much a reaction as restating what the Secretary‑General's position is that he is a strong believer in the stabilizing role of UNRWA that it has in the region where it operates, the critical work it does in terms of education, in terms of health, in terms of supporting the Palestinians it is mandated to support.  The mandate of UNRWA is given by the General Assembly, but we have great admiration for the work that UNRWA does, and we very much hope that the Member States will support it, not just in words, but also financially.  But this is, as I said, not so much a reaction but just a restating of what our position has constantly been.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Let me ask you about Chagos Archipelago.  Yesterday, General Assembly resolution called upon the United Nations and all its specialized agencies to recognize that the Chagos Archipelago forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius as rapidly as possible.  So, can you tell me whether UN must or is going to take any action to recognize it?

Spokesman:  Sure.  What I can tell you is… I mean, first of all, the issue of recognition is one of Member States.  The Secretary‑General has taken note of the adoption yesterday by the General Assembly of the resolution regarding the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Chagos.  He… the Secretary‑General also takes note of the request for him to submit a report for the seventy-fourth session of the General Assembly on the implementation of the resolution, including any actions taken by the United Kingdom and any other Member States.  And the Secretary‑General looks forward to working with all parties towards the implementation of the resolution in a spirit of cooperation and dialogue.  Let's see how many last questions we can take.  Three, four? Let's go.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  You mentioned that the SG has such support and respect for UNRWA.  Yesterday, Ambassador Danny Danon issued a statement saying that the UNRWA is… “the organisation's schools have been transformed into terror and incitement infrastructures, with textbooks distributed on the ground denying Israel's existence, and underground tunnels dug by Hamas”.  Any comment, please?

Spokesman:  I stand what I just said a few minutes ago, and I think UNRWA has addressed these types of claims in the past and shown that, in fact, its curriculum does very good work.  And we have, in the past, been very critical of groups that espouse violence, using or taking over premises that belong to UNRWA against its will.  Thank you very much.  Monica [Grayley], all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.