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

28 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Today in Vienna, the Secretary-General joined former Governor of California and R20 President Arnold Schwarzenegger at the formal opening of the annual R20 Conference, which brings together leaders at the subnational level — the private sector and civil society — to support Governments in developing and financing low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure projects in the fields of renewable energy, energy-efficient lighting and waste optimization.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General underscored the importance of the work done below the national level, saying that climate action at the sub-national level is key to addressing the climate crisis.  The Secretary-General said that we need a post‑carbon economy, a climate-smart development pathway that can provide inclusive prosperity for all on a healthy planet.  This is doable, he added, provided that there is political will.  The Secretary-General pointed to the absurdity of the ongoing subsidies of fossil fuel.  What we are doing, he said, is that we are using taxpayers’ money to boost hurricanes, to spread droughts, to melt glaciers, to bleach corals — in other words, to destroy the world.

On the side-lines of conference, the Secretary-General met with Dr. Gunther Thallinger from the German insurance group Allianz, whom he thanked for supporting the UN's climate finance efforts.  Prior to leaving Austria, the Secretary-General sat down and interviewed Mr. Schwarzenegger for his Instagram account.  The Secretary-General is now on his way to Aachen, Germany, to take part in the ceremonies around the awarding of the Charlemagne Prize.  And you will have seen that we shared the Secretary-General’s remarks yesterday at the fortieth anniversary celebrations of the Vienna International Centre, which is home to a number of UN agencies.  The Secretary-General also met with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and spoke to the media afterwards, and those press remarks are out, as well.


The Security Council this morning received a briefing on Syria from Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who told Council members that an estimated 3 million people in Idlib are caught up in the crossfire of recent fighting.  She said that, despite the announcement of a temporary ceasefire on 17 May, fighting in Idlib has continued, and she described repeated attacks in recent weeks on health facilities in north-western Syria.  Ms. Mueller said that, so far in May, more than 170,000 ready-to-eat meals have been handed out to those who fled the latest violence, with shelter being provided for 25,000 newly displaced people.  She warned that further military operations will overwhelm our ability to respond.  She asserted that all parties are obliged to abide by international humanitarian law, and sparing hospitals and schools is a legal obligation — not an option.  Ms. Mueller also drew attention to the situation around Rukban, saying that the United Nations now has access to the more than 13,000 people who have left Rukban and is providing humanitarian assistance to them.  But, access is still needed for the population inside Rukban and a third humanitarian convoy is needed to go to the area.


The Under-Secretary General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Operational Support, Atul Khare, are in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, to attend the fifth International Partnership for Technology in Peacekeeping Symposium.  They will both speak at the opening of the four-day meeting whose theme is “Predict, Prevent, Protect”.  The conference, hosted by the UN Department of Operational Support in cooperation with the Kazakh Government, brings together representatives from Governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to discuss peacekeeping issues.  Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Khare will also hold meetings with Kazakh officials and will also meet a contingent from Kazakhstan that has just returned from their deployment with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A new UN human rights report has found that people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are trapped in a vicious cycle of deprivation and corruption.  The report is based on more than 200 first-hand accounts by escapees.  It says that the country’s public distribution system has been broken for two decades, forcing people to try to eke out a living in a legally precarious parallel economy, putting them at risk of arbitrary arrest, detention and extortion.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that the rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe State officials.  She stressed the need to tackle what she called the country’s profound human rights problems.  Only then, Ms. Bachelet said, can the endemic system of corruption which pervades all aspects of life be effectively dismantled.  The full report is online.


Our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 82,000 people have fled their homes due to conflict and deteriorating conditions in affected areas in and around the Libyan capital, Tripoli.  We estimate that over 100,000 people remain in immediate front‑line areas, with over 400,000 more in areas directly impacted by clashes within one kilometre of the front, where conditions are deteriorating.  Some 146 civilian casualties, including 40 deaths, have been verified.  Water shortages and electricity cuts are increasingly hitting conflict-affected neighbourhoods.  A 37 per cent reduction in water supply to Tripoli from the “Man‑Made River Project” network remains of concern as temperatures rise.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said that a recent spike in clashes in north-western Nigeria has forced some 20,000 people to flee to neighbouring Niger since April.  UNHCR is working closely with authorities in Niger to provide basic assistance and register these people.  The latest surge in violence is not linked to Boko Haram, but rather to clashes between different ethnic groups, with those fleeing reporting extreme violence, such as machete attacks and sexual violence.  UNHCR says that Niger continues to be a leading example in the region for providing safety to refugees who have fled conflict and persecution.  It has kept its borders open despite fighting in several regions bordering Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso.


Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that the number attacks on schools in Afghanistan tripled from 68 to 192 between the years 2017 and 2018.  This marks the first time the number has increased since 2015.  UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that the senseless attacks on schools; the killing abduction of teachers; and threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children.  Due to the conflict in Afghanistan, more than 1,000 schools closed by the end of last year, leaving half a million children out of school.


Also on education, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, took part in the third International Conference on Safe Schools in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, yesterday.  He said that, in the last five years, there have been more than 14,000 attacks on schools in 34 countries.  In Yemen, Mr. Lowcock said, some 2,000 schools are inoperable, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children who are not in school face a higher risk of being recruited by armed groups, being kidnapped, being enslaved and facing child marriage.  His full remarks are online.


Our human rights colleagues in Geneva today condemned the rise in anti‑Semitic incidents taking place in Europe and in the United States.  Such events, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said, unfortunately are not isolated, with acts of physical violence against Jews having increased in a number of countries — especially Germany, France and the United States — in recent years.  The Office urges all Governments to redouble their efforts to combat racism and related intolerance in all its forms.


On Friday, too late for our briefing, we made a senior personnel announcement.  The Secretary-General appointed Lt. Gen. Shailesh Tinaikar of India as his new Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS for short.


Today, we say a big thank you to Andorra and Guinea for their payments to the regular budget.  The total number of Member States who have contributed is now 100.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Action Summit.  And of course, we will also have with us Monica Villela Grayley, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Before we get to those parts, are there any questions for me?  Yes, Sylviane?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, there are delineating of the… delineation of the border is under final stage, according to Foreign Minister of Lebanon.  How much the UN is involved in that matter?  Are we heading to more peaceful agreement or peace treaty between Lebanon and Israel?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, borders between States, including maritime borders, are agreed to by States themselves.  The UN doesn't determine them.  As you know, we've tried to play a helpful role in the region, including through the work of the Maritime Task Force, but, of course, we would welcome any progress by the respective countries towards delineating their borders.  Yes, please?

Question:  Good afternoon.  I'd like to go to West Africa, regarding the continued violence in West Africa.  Over the weekend, there were four people killed at a Catholic church Sunday in Burkina Faso.  And the prosecutor of the ICC [International Criminal Court], Fatou Bensouda, said these may be falling in the jurisdiction of war crimes, and the UN SG [Secretary-General] also stated that these may be war crimes, these terror attacks against innocent civilians.  So, the question is, has the UN SC… UN SG make any overtures to Fatou Bensouda prosecuting those responsible for the heinous crimes?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General of the United Nations has no role in referring prosecutions to the International Criminal Court, which is an independent body.  Basically, the independent [International] Criminal Court, the prosecutor, Ms. Bensouda, can deal with cases having to do with countries that under the Rome Statute of the Court, or she can have cases referred to by the members of the Security Council.  But, those are the ways those situations come to her.  But, the Secretary‑General has made his views known on the importance of avoiding attacks on religious sites, including in Burkina Faso.  Yes, please?

Question:  Hi.  Would you have a comment on the situation in Kosovo, and is there concern about the police operation in the north of Kosovo and Serbian troops moving apparently towards Kosovo?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, our Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, has actually commented on this.  The UN Mission in Kosovo said that it's concerned by developments in northern Kosovo today, including the detention of two UN staff members who were carrying out their duties by the Kosovo police.  Both staff members were subsequently transferred to a hospital for the treatment of their injuries.  One of those staff members has been released, and the Mission is establishing the precise circumstances, in close coordination with all international agencies on the ground.  Our Special Representative there, Zahir Tanin, has called for the UN staff member to be released immediately.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes, follow‑up on that.  Do you have any updates on the condition of Russian national who was detained there?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are… the Russian staff member has been released and is being looked at right now.  Beyond that, what I can say is that Mr. Tanin, the Special Representative, made clear, that, if any harm were done to the staff members, that would have its own diplomatic repercussions.

Question:  There was… sorry.  There was information that he's in hospital right now.  Can you confirm that?

Deputy Spokesman:  All I can say at this stage is that he's being examined following his release.  Yes, please, you?  Yes.  Thanks.

Question:  I have a question about Colombia.  There are hundreds of human right defenders and community leaders being killed, and thousands are faced with death threats by armed groups, especially in rural regions.  How does the UN react to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Our human rights office has raised concerns about the different attacks that have taken place in such regions in Colombia.  And we continue to follow up on those.  Obviously, we want all of the parties in Colombia to abide by the agreements that have brought down the level of violence in the country, and we're certainly hoping that it will continue to decrease.  Yes, please?

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up to Kosovo.  Do we know the nationality of the second person from the UN being detained there?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is… that is a national staff member.  It's a Kosovar staff member.  And if that's it… hold on, I believe we'll check whether the guest is ready.  Otherwise, if not, we can go first with Monica.  Hold on one second.

For information media. Not an official record.