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

3 June 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.  I will start off with a statement on Sudan.  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the violence and reports of the excessive force used by security personnel on civilians, that have resulted in the deaths and injury of many.  He condemns the use of force to disperse the protestors at the sit-in site and he is alarmed by reports that security forces have opened fire inside medical facilities.  The Secretary-General reminds the Transitional Military Council of its responsibility for the safety and security of the citizens of Sudan.  He urges all parties to act with utmost restraint.  This includes responsibility for upholding the human rights of all citizens, including the right to freedom of assembly and of expression.  The Secretary-General also calls for the unimpeded access to deliver essential care at the sit-in site in Khartoum and in hospitals where the wounded are treated.  The Secretary-General urges the Sudanese authorities to facilitate an independent investigation into the deaths and to hold those responsible accountable.

The Secretary-General urges the parties to pursue peaceful dialogue and to stay the course in the negotiations over the transfer of power to a civilian-led transitional authority, as required by the African Union.  The United Nations is committed to working with the African Union in support of this process and stands ready to support the Sudanese stakeholders in their efforts to build lasting peace.  That statement should’ve been issued as we speak.


You will have seen that, over the weekend, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General to the International Donors Conference in Mozambique to help people of the country in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth.  The Secretary-General noted that the United Nations and its humanitarian partners were on the ground from the start of the crisis to support the Government’s efforts, as well as to provide food, water, shelter and medicine.  The Secretary-General reiterated his appeal to the generosity of the international community, stressing that these weather-related catastrophes warn us about the urgency of tackling climate change.  More than 700 people from Governments, international organizations and others took part in the two-day conference, which wrapped up with pledges and announcements totalling $1.2 billion.

**Women Deliver

The Secretary-General also sent a video message to the Women Deliver Conference taking place in Vancouver, Canada.  In the message to the participants he stressed that gender equality has been one of his top priorities and that the United Nations will continue to work to achieve gender parity not just at the senior level, but across the whole system.  He also reiterated that gender equality is essentially a question of power and encouraged participants to use their power to build a world where women and men have equal rights and opportunities.  That message is available.


Turning to Syria, just to say that the United Nations remains deeply alarmed by the ongoing hostilities in the de-escalation zone in north-western Syria, which have resulted in at least 160 civilian deaths, left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, and put 3 million people in the crossfire.  Shelling and air strikes, including the use of barrel bombs, continue in Idlib, in western Aleppo and in northern Hama.  Some 307,000 people were displaced between 1 April and 22 May, most of them are living outside camps and reception centres.  In Idlib alone, about 100 schools are now hosting displaced people.  The food security and livelihoods of millions of people across Hama, Idlib and Aleppo is at risk following the destruction of crops, farmland and other disruptions to farming.  The United Nations and humanitarian partners are responding within the de‑escalation area.  In May, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed ready‑to‑eat rations to 190,000 newly displaced people in the area.


Turning to Somalia, over the weekend, the acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), Raisedon Zenenga, strongly condemned the murder of a UN local security assistant as he was leaving his mosque in the city of Galkayo.  So far, no one has claimed responsibility for killing Mohamed Abdi Khayre.  The acting head of the Mission said that Mr. Khayre served the UN Department of Safety and Security with distinction and urged authorities to spare no effort to find those responsible for his death.


And just wanted to flag that from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) — they’ve reported to us that UN facilities were targeted in two separate indirect fire attacks this past weekend.  Explosions were heard near the airstrip at the UN camp in Timbuktu, with no reported casualties or damage.  The UN Mission dispatched a Quick Reaction Force in response.  This incident comes after three mortar rounds were directed at a UN peacekeeping camp in Tessalit in the Kidal Region on Saturday, also thankfully with no resulting casualties or damage.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our peacekeeping colleagues there tell us that, last week, United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) launched a new phase of an operation in the western part of the country to respond to attacks by the armed group known as the 3R.  That group carried out attacks late last month on two villages that resulted in 34 deaths, including a child, in violation of the peace agreement in the country.  Since then, the group has apologized for its role in the attacks.  A joint mission by the Government, the UN, the African Union, and the Economic Community of Central Africa States (ECCAS) met last week with the leader of 3R, who said he wants to cooperate with authorities in the investigation into the attacks.

**Maternal Health

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that more than 5 million families across Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean spend over 40 per cent of their non-food household expenses on maternal health services every year.  Nearly two thirds of these households, or around 3 million, are in Asia while approximately 1.9 million are in Africa.  According to UNICEF’s latest analysis, the costs of prenatal care and delivery services can deter pregnant women from seeking medical attention, endangering the lives of mothers and their babies.  This particularly affects poor mothers in developing countries.  UNICEF says that, despite progress, over 800 women still die every day from pregnancy‑related complications and 7,000 babies die in the first month of life.  More information online.

**Bicycle Day

Today is a very important day.  Today is… exactly.  It is World Bicycle Day; not only do you get in good shape, you get nice legs.  The bicycle is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation.  It also conveys a positive message to foster sustainable consumption and production, and has a positive impact on the climate.  The Day seeks to encourage Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national and subnational development policies.

**Press Briefings

After I’m done here at 1 p.m.  there will be a briefing by the Foreign Ministers of Canada, Peru and Chile on the situation in Venezuela.  As you know, they are here to partake in Venezuela-related meetings.  And then at 3 p.m., Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi, the Permanent Representative of Kuwait and President of the Security Council for the month of June, will be here to brief you on the programme of work.  Tomorrow, at 1 p.m., there will be a press briefing organized by our colleagues from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), with Matthias Schmale, Director of UNRWA’s Operations in Gaza, and Gwyn Lewis, the Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, [who] will be here to brief you on all the work that UNRWA does.  Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, it's… some follow‑ups on the important statement that you read on Sudan.  The Sudan Military Council issued a statement in which it said its operation was to “cleanse some sites and arrest outlaws and criminals”.  And yet, most of the reports we've seen, these are innocent protesters.  So, what does the UN and the Secretary‑General make of that statement?  And what information is the UN itself able to gather on the ground in Khartoum…?  What level of staff do you have there?  And you have appointed a point man, Mr. [Nicholas] Haysom, who, I believe, was in New York at the end of last week.  Can you tell us where he is and what he's doing?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Mr. Haysom, I believe, remains… is in New York.  I will double‑check on that.  His role is to represent the Secretary‑General in our efforts to support the African Union's efforts in helping with the transition in Sudan.  As you know, we have quite a large UN presence in Sudan, including Khartoum, and obviously, in Darfur as part of the joint mission with the African Union.  As far as I'm aware, all our staff are safe and sound and accounted for.  I'm not going to read within the tea leaves of that statement, which I hear for the first time.  What is clear to us is that there was use of excessive force by the security forces on civilians.  People have died.  People were injured.  It is a basic human right for people to be able to demonstrate freely and peacefully, and that right needs to be respected.

Question:  Could I follow up just with a request rather than a question?  Could Mr. Haysom be made available to the press corps so he can speak to us?

Spokesman:  I will pass that request along.  Sidi rais.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Just to follow up on James' question, [inaudible] called by the Secretary‑General on the Sudanese Council… Military Council, to transfer to civilian authority, the African Union first put three months' period in their demands to the… does the Secretary‑General have a time frame in mind when he put that statement out, or is it open?

Spokesman:  No, I think the Secretary‑General, as we say in the statement, we are working with and in support of the African Union's efforts.

Question:  Follow‑up to that question?

Spokesman:  One second.  I think he still has a follow‑up to his own question.  He sound… or he looks dissatisfied with my answer.  I can never tell.  Okay.  Thank you.  Go ahead.

Question:  I mean, beside the statement, did the Secretary‑General do anything?  Did he take any action?  Did he call anyone?  Did he try to get something from the field, talk to anyone who has some information…?

Spokesman:  I mean, we have people… our… contacts are being had at various levels.  As I said, Mr. Haysom is our point person on this issue.  Mr. Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, top leadership of the Sudan's Military Council visited Egypt and the Saudi Arabia, and this massacre happened.  What is Secretary‑General's view on why the situation has escalated to this point?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to analyse the traffic pat… the travel pattern of the current leadership in Sudan.  The analysis is best left up to you.  What is clear, obviously… and this — this is an obvious fact — is that the dialogue that had been going on between the Transitional Military Council and the representatives of civil society and the protesters have not borne fruit.  It is important that the parties pursue a meaningful dialogue and that everything be done to avoid further loss of life and violence.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Two questions.  First of all, the discussions that are going on now at UN Headquarters regarding Venezuela… the Foreign Minister level… has the Secretary‑General been asked, either himself or a designee, to participate in those discussions and, if so…?

Spokesman:  No.  I checked with my colleagues a few minutes ago.  We have not been asked to participate in those discussions.

Question:  Okay.  All right.  And my other question involves Mauritania.  Several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have put out a… an appeal for the next President of Mauritania to sign on to a manifesto including taking effective action against slavery that is still going on in Mauritania and discrimination against minority groups.  Has the Secretary‑General… is it something, though, that the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the particular statement, but it is… yeah, I mean, it goes without saying that we stand firmly against modern‑day slavery.  Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, on Sudan, too, in your statement, you said that the UN is ready to take… or to support the efforts of the African Union.  Could you elaborate exactly which role do you see there?  And is… was anybody in contact with the representatives of the civil society in Sudan?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sure.  Contacts have been had at various levels with all the… with the parties in Sudan.  The African Union is the regional organization, obviously, taking the lead in helping Sudan transition to a civilian rule.  Our efforts are in support of the African Union's own political work in that regard.  Señor?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  It seems that the meetings on Norway to solve the crisis… the situation in Venezuela is another fail in trying to find a solution to this crisis.  What's the Secretary‑General's reaction to this?

Spokesman:  Well, we would hope that there continues to be some engagement between the parties, some serious engagement in the process.  For us, serious negotiations are the only way to achieve a peaceful solution to the pressing challenges that Venezuela currently faces.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yeah.  Today is the last day of Ramadan.  There were thousands of people in the Al‑Aqsa Mosque.  The Israeli army evicted them by force to allow 400 settlers to tour the mosque.  Are you aware of this incident, and is there any opinion on that?

Spokesman:  I'm personally not aware, but I will look into it.  Let's… Mr. James and then…

Question:  Yes, another question on Sudan and then one other issue.  On Sudan, given the seriousness of the situation as outlined in the Secretary‑General's statement, does… and the fact there's a US peacekeeping mission in the country, more than one, does the Secretary‑General feel it will be appropriate for the Security Council now to meet on this issue?

Spokesman:  I think that's a question you will need to ask the President of the Security Council.  I think it is clear that the current situation… the incidents that we are seeing in Khartoum are of the utmost importance.

Question:  The other question was some follow‑up to what Farhan [Haq] was telling us at the end of the last week, which is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has not, so far, received an invitation to the Israel‑Palestine economic conference in Bahrain.  Is that still the situation?

Spokesman:  Yes, I have no updates on that.

Question:  And if that is still the situation, given the UN's important and historic role in the Middle East peace process, member of the Quartet, does the Secretary‑General feel this is a snub?

Spokesman:  No, what we're… we're doing some double assumptions here.  So, there's been no change in the status.  Obviously, once something changes, we can express an opinion on whatever that change is.  Sir… madame?  I'm sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  To follow up, the purpose of the Bahrain conference is to abolish UNRWA, and is… there's no reaction here?

Spokesman:  Well, that's… I will let you… it's not to me to interpret what the purpose of the conference is.

Correspondent:  Well, no, that has been said… I mean, Mr. [Jason] Greenblatt was here and said that… yeah.

Spokesman:  So, our support for UNRWA and the critical work that they do in the region could not be clearer.

Question:  While I have the mic, any reaction to the conflict… the US conflict with Mexico, the new tariffs and the… and is there any reaction from UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], anyone looking at the border situation?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, on the border issue, I think UNHCR has spoken, and UNICEF has, as well, but I have nothing for you on the trade part.

Question:  We are expecting, Stéph, the report of CAAC, Children and Armed Conflict, this month.  Do you have a time for its public release?

Spokesman:  Someone must have a time for its public release.  It's usually a little later, but I will double‑check for you.  [He later said the report is expected in July.]  You're very welcome.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  May I have Secretary‑General's comment on 30 years anniversary of Tiananmen case, please?

Spokesman:  No, I have no particular comment on that.  Okay.  Thank you very much.  See you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.