30 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

On Thursday morning, the Secretary-General received the 2019 Charlemagne Prize in Aachen, Germany.  In his remarks, he said that as a committed European and Secretary-General of the United Nations, this prize is especially meaningful for him and that, through him, tribute is being paid to the commitment, service and sacrifice of the women and men of the United Nations.

He referred to the European Union and the United Nations as two of the greatest projects of our times.  He told the participants in the ceremony that he never felt so clearly the need for a strong and united Europe, adding that the failure of Europe would inevitably be the failure of multilateralism and the failure of a world in which the rule of law can prevail.

The Secretary-General also encouraged Europeans and their leaders to maintain the values enshrined in the UN Charter of fundamental human rights and in the European Convention on Human Rights.  Europe, he said, cannot be premised on “us” vs “them”, adding that “scapegoating migrants and closing our doors to asylum seekers does not protect but shame this heritage”.  The Secretary-General reminded the audience that the 1951 Refugee Convention was initially adopted to protect millions of displaced Europeans in the post-war period.

While thanking the authorities of Aachen for awarding him the prize, the Secretary-General said that he would do his best to defend passionately the values of pluralism, tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect to build a world of peace, justice and human dignity.

Prior to receiving the prize, the Secretary-General and the other dignitaries attended a pontifical mass in the Aachen Cathedral.  Immediately following the prize ceremony, the Secretary-General attended an open-air festival, during which he thanked the people of Aachen and honoured the city’s role as the cradle of Europe.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Monday. 

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

I have an update on the most recent reported allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse.  This is for the first quarter of 2019, which concluded on 31 March.  Please note that not all the allegations reported have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.

For the first quarter of this year, the United Nations received 37 allegations involving UN personnel, including civilian and uniformed personnel from peacekeeping as well as personnel of agencies, funds and programmes.

Of the 37 allegations related to UN personnel, there are 49 victims: 28 women and 11 girls, one boy, seven females of unknown age, one unknown adult and one unknown child.

Sixteen of these allegations are categorized as sexual abuse, 27 as sexual exploitation, four are of an unknown nature, and two have been categorized as “other”, of which one was closed.

Of these 37 allegations, one has been substantiated through an investigation and has been referred to the Member State; four allegations were not substantiated; 26 allegations are at various stages of investigation; and six allegations are under preliminary assessment to determine if there is sufficient information to investigate.

We also received 33 allegations involving non-UN personnel working as implementing partners.  These allegations involve 37 victims and 38 perpetrators.

Meanwhile, our efforts to implement the Secretary-General’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse continue to be strengthened.  In March, the 2018 Secretary-General’s special measures for protection from sexual exploitation report was released, which contains updates to the information provided in the previous reports, including on prioritizing the rights and dignity of victims, ending impunity, engaging with Member States, civil society and external partners and improving strategic communication for education and transparency.

[This week the office of the Special Coordinator engaged with the Secretary-General’s Civil Society Advisory Board and a number of UN Entities to strengthen the United Nations system’s approach to implementing the Secretary-General’s strategy, while the office of the Victims’ Rights Advocate is hosting an Expert Workshop on Victims' Rights, to which the Board is in attendance.]

We are also continuing our efforts to engage with Member States and encourage their Heads of State and Government to join the Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership, on prevention of and response to sexual exploitation and abuse in UN operations, which now stands at 74 members.  The Secretary-General also continues to encourage Member States to become signatories to the Voluntary Compact with the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Commitment to Eliminate Sexual Exploitation and Abuse; 101 Member States have committed to this to date.


And you have a rare treat because I have no fewer than five personnel announcements to tell you about.

Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Tatiana Valovaya of the Russian Federation as Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva.  She will succeed Michael Møller of Denmark, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.

James Swan of the United States has been appointed Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).  He will succeed Nicholas Haysom of South Africa, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for his dedicated service in UNSOM and Somalia at a challenging time.

Gilles Michaud of Canada will take over as Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security.  He will succeed Peter Drennan of Australia, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.

Najat Maalla M’jid of Morocco will take over as Special Representative on Violence against Children at the level of Assistant Secretary-General.  She will succeed Marta Santos Pais of Portugal, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for her leadership and dedicated commitment during her tenure as the first Special Representative on Violence against Children.

And last, but not least, Anita Bhatia of India will become the Assistant Secretary-General for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN-Women for short.

Full details are in their bios which are being emailed and posted as I speak, so your email boxes will be very full.

And for the record, I would like to remind you that, yesterday afternoon, we announced the appointment of Major General Shivaram Kharel of Nepal as the acting Head of Mission and Force Commander of the UN Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF.

This follows the sudden death of Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri of Ghana on 19 April.  The Secretary-General remembers and honours the late Major General Vib-Sanziri for his dedicated leadership of UNDOF and service in the United Nations.


The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan today strongly condemned yesterday’s attacks on humanitarian offices and the looting of aid supplies in the Kalma camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in South Darfur.

Kalma is one of Darfur’s largest camps and is hosting some 128,000 people.

Gwi-Yeop Son, the Humanitarian Coordinator, called on authorities to swiftly investigate these attacks.

In the past month, there have been at least two similar attacks at IDP camps in Darfur.

Ms. Son stressed that attacks against aid workers violate international humanitarian law and jeopardize their ability to provide life-saving support to people in need.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that, amid the clashes in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, 149 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers were safely evacuated today to Rome.

The evacuees — nearly half of whom are children — are from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia, and many need medical treatment and are malnourished.

These people were moved from a UNHCR facility after surviving for months in dire conditions in detentions centres in Tripoli.

Today’s evacuation comes after 62 refugees from Syria, Sudan and Somalia were evacuated from Tripoli to UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Centre in Timisoara, Romania, before traveling onwards to Norway.

UNHCR is grateful to States which have come forward with evacuation places, but stresses that detainees are arriving at a faster pace than people are departing.

Also on Libya, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that six health workers have been killed and seven injured in the fighting in Tripoli, with two clearly marked ambulances having been hit by shelling on Tuesday and Wednesday.


I am happy to announce that Haiti and Timor-Leste have paid their 2019 budget dues.  This takes the total of fully paid up Member States to 102.

**Questions and Answers

Are there any questions for me before we turn to Monica?  Yes, Maggie?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On Ambassador Swan, can you tell us when he's going to start his new posting in Somalia?  And can you also confirm that the Secretary‑General was particularly interested in finding an envoy from one of the P5 countries to protect them from another repeat of the PNG (persona non grata) status that Mr. [Nicholas Fink] Haysom experienced?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've made clear our views on the question of whether Mr. Haysom could be granted the status of persona non grata, and we've made clear our stance against that.  At the same time, of course, we needed someone who would be on the ground and able to do the job, and we're very grateful to have Mr. Swan.  We'll try to bring him into the field of operations as soon as possible.  And as for the selection process, the process was simply designed to determine who was the best possible candidate.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  I read the speech that the Secretary‑General just delivered in Europe and… especially the part on… on the migrants and refugees.  I see that he also looks for the support of the Pope.  He mentioned the Pope and his role in practically saying the same thing that they've been saying, that the respect of the human rights has to be always assured.  Now, is the Secretary‑General worried that, in certain country — just mentioned Italy, but not only Italy — in the last European elections, actually who got most of the votes are politicians that are completely on the opposite side.  They've been criticizing the Pope, too, on kind of spreading the message that… you know, that the policy should be different on… about welcoming those migrants.  So, my question… specific question is this:  Did the Secretary‑General, in delivering that speech, was supporting the Pope and whoever in Europe in this moment try to change the policy of certain Government towards the migrants and refugees?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, just to repeat, the entire point of what the Secretary‑General said today on migrants was to veer different groups, whether politicians, Governments or others in Europe and even outside of Europe, to avoid the scapegoating of people on the basis of their status as migrants or refugees.  He made very clear that we want to avoid an "us vs. them" approach.  And to repeat what he said:  "Scapegoating migrants and closing our doors to asylum‑seekers does not protect but shame this heritage".  So, regarding that, the Secretary‑General and the Pope have very similar views, that they both continue to speak out on behalf of the basic rights and dignity of all peoples, including those who have had to leave their homes and travel to other countries.

Question:  So, just a quick follow‑up.  So, you… I can write that his speech was a support of the call of the Pope to change policy in Europe towards migrants?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, their two approaches are the same on this.  They both stand for the basic human rights and dignity of all people, including those of migrants and refugees.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Farhan.  Narendra Modi has taken the oath as the Prime Minister of India now for the second term.  What's the message of the Secretary‑General now that the formal swearing and ceremony has happened?  Will the SG be sending any message to him?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, of course, we will look forward to working with the Government as it has now taken office.  India is, as you know, a very valuable partner of the United Nations.  And the Secretary‑General has worked very closely with the Prime Minister, including, as you've seen, with his work on the issue of climate change.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Sorry to bring this up so late, but when the Secretary‑General was in Vienna not long ago and… did he run into the… he was there the same day when the Government fell, when the alt‑right was screaming against migrants, when, you know, the… the… did he run into any of this?  Did he say anything about it?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe we mentioned that he did meet with the President, Alexander van der Bellen, and he discussed issues concerning Austria with him.

Question:  That's different… Yeah, well, the President is not part of this group.

Deputy Spokesman:  That's as much as I have to say on that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Is the United Nations invited to attend the Manama meeting concerning financing of the Middle East?  And who will represent the Organization at the meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, I'm not aware that we will have anyone present.  Our office… our Special Coordinator, Mr. Nickolay Mladenov, did receive an invitation, but we were considering it.  I don't believe he is attending, however.  Maria?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  So, I didn't see much updates on the situation with the envoy, United Nations envoy in Kosovo.  Do you have any information about the investigation, if actually the investigation is going on?  Because I know this on the… from the words of Russian diplomat.  And, also, there is very concerning information about the health of this Russian diplomat.  Will there be any legal actions because of this?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say is that the two staff members involved in that incident, one of whom, as you pointed out, was Russian, and one of whom is from Kosovo, sustained injuries and had to be hospitalised.  The details regarding the incident are still being clarified.  At this stage, based on a full assessment by medical experts at North Mitrovica Hospital and the UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo) medical team, it's imperative that our staff member be transferred… our international staff member be transferred to a facility that can offer specialist treatment in line with the injuries that he sustained.  Regarding the possibility of a further response, what I can say is that the Special Representative, Zahir Tanin, has called for Kosovo to respect the immunity of all UN staff members in Kosovo and he has further urged all parties to abide by the principles of the rule of law and dignity for all to life, liberty, and to help restore calm and security in the area.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Good afternoon.  I have a question… thank you.  Here we go.  I have a question on Internet censorship in Africa.  Several authoritarian Governments in Africa are using Internet shutdowns as a tool of oppression.  Since the beginning of the year, six African countries have turned off access to the Internet with the cooperation of foreign mobile operators, including France Orange.  Both the UN and the African Union have passed resolutions condemning Internet shutdowns as a violation of human rights.  So, the question is, has the security… Secretary‑General addressed this issue with some of the African nations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we clearly want all nations, whether in Africa or elsewhere, to make sure that the free flow of information can proceed, and that includes through the Internet.  We would be concerned about any efforts to cut off the flow of information. 

And with that, have a good afternoon.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.