7 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.

A couple of updates for you.

**Secretary-General in Russian Federation

First, the Secretary-General is in Saint Petersburg, as we mentioned.  He spoke at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, and he said that the Forum embodies a twenty-first-century truth:  global challenges require global solutions.  No country, no organization, can do it alone, he said; we need political leaders, the business world, scientists, scholars, philanthropists and civil society to join hands in addressing threats and pursuing common opportunities.  He told the Forum’s participants that we need a global economy that works for all and creates opportunities for all, adding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development points that way.  He underscored that we must address the global climate emergency, that we are in a race against time, he warned, and we are losing the race; yet, [as] global warming speeds up, political will is slowing down.  The Secretary-General, just a short while ago, had a bilateral meeting with President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, and he also met the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov.  We’ll try to get you readouts of those meetings, and the Secretary-General is returning back to New York over the weekend.


Turning to Sudan, I want to stress that our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they and their partners continue to provide aid in Sudan, where more than 100 people are reported to have died and 800 others have been injured in violent clashes in Khartoum and other provinces.  Most of the casualties were in Khartoum after a violent raid by security personnel on 3 June.  [The Secretary-General] has urged the Sudanese authorities to facilitate an independent investigation into the deaths and hold those responsible accountable.  There have also been reports of looting in some areas, and on 3 and 5 June, intercommunal clashes were reported in East Darfur, leaving more than 50 people injured.  In the coming weeks, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners will send a mobile team to provide reproductive health services to respond to gender-based violence in Khartoum.

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today it is gravely concerned about the impact of the violence on people in need, as well as on health workers and medical facilities, noting that these actions violate international human rights law.  Health‑care workers appear to have been targeted for helping the injured, with reports of rapes [of] female health workers, destruction of mobile health clinics to treat protestors, and looting of medical equipment.  The full statement is online.  I would add that WHO and its partners have been providing emergency kits, medicines and supplies to seven hospitals in Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman.  WHO says it plans to import 3,000 more surgical kits to cover all of Sudan and is supporting ambulance services and the transportation of medical staff and supplies.


Yesterday, you will have seen that Najat Rochdi, the Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, issued a press release saying that 3 million people in Idlib need protection.  She warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if the violence does not cease, adding that the attacks and fighting are also impacting civilians in Government-held areas.


Turning to Libya, devastating floods that have swept through Ghat in south‑western Libya have affected now 20,000 people [and] left them in need of humanitarian assistance, said the acting Humanitarian Coordinator, Abdel Rahman Ghandour, in a statement issued today.  Over 2,500 people have been severely impacted and some 500 people were rescued, and 4 people, including 3 children, have reportedly died.  The UN and our partners are providing clean water, food, medicines and essential emergency items to affected populations.


I want to flag also that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that an estimated 115 million boys and men around the world were married as children.  In its first in-depth analysis of child grooms, UNICEF found that 23 million boys were married before the age of 15.  According to the data, the Central African Republic has the highest prevalence of child marriage among males, followed by Nicaragua and Madagascar.  The new estimates bring the total number of child brides and child grooms to 765 million worldwide.  Girls remain disproportionately affected, with 1 in 5 young women aged 20 to 24 years old married before their eighteenth birthday, compared to 1 in 30 for men.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today that the number of Venezuelans who have fled their country is now over 4 million.  Worldwide, only Syrian refugees, at 5.6 million, surpass Venezuelans as the largest population displaced from their country.  Eduardo Stein, the joint UNHCR-IOM Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, said this figure highlights the urgent need to support host communities in receiving countries, adding that Latin American and Caribbean countries cannot be expected to continue their support without international help.  A humanitarian Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan was also launched last December, targeting 2.2 million Venezuelans and 580,000 people in host communities in 16 countries.  However, the plan is only 21 per cent funded.  Meanwhile, UNICEF tells us it has delivered 55 tons of health supplies since the beginning of the year.  These supplies have been distributed in 25 hospitals, including antibiotics, malaria treatment and midwifery kits, and those are in Venezuela.

**International Days

Today is World Food Safety Day.  The theme is “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business” and invites people to find out more about how food is produced, stored, handled and consumed.  And tomorrow is World Oceans Day, the theme being “Gender and the Ocean”. It seeks to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities such as marine scientific research, fisheries, labour at sea, migration by sea and human trafficking, as well as policymaking and management.

**Digital Cooperation

I want to flag that, on Monday, the Secretary-General will be receiving the report of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation which he convened last year.  The Panel’s co-chairs, Melinda Gates and Jack Ma, will deliver the report at 10 a.m.  in the Secretary-General’s office and there will be a photo op there; and at 10:45 a.m., they will be having an online conversation with the Secretary‑General that will be visible on our webcast, as well as our social media platforms.  And at noon, three of the members of the panel — Nikolai Astrup, the Minister for Digitalization of Norway; Vint Cerf, the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google; and Nanjira Sambuli, the Senior [Policy] Manager of the World Wide Web Foundation — will be here to answer your questions.


I wanted to say thank you to our friends in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic for paying their budget dues in full, bringing us up to 104 out of 193. Questions?  James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General planning to send his Under‑Secretary‑General, Rosemary DiCarlo, to the Middle East to speak to the Government of Yemen?  And what would this say, having a senior UN official having to go to mediate with the Government of Yemen simply to get them to talk to the Special Envoy of Yemen? Does it mean that Mr. [Martin] Griffiths' mission is becoming untenable?

Spokesman:  I don't think Mr. Griffiths' mission is becoming untenable, but I have no official travel to confirm to you at this point.  Yes, Masood, and then Evelyn.  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on the situation in Palestine… occupied… Israeli‑occupied territory, Palestinian President has said that the American peace plan should go… can go to hell.  He's totally rejected, if there was any such plan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any position on this?  And… because Israeli continues its expansion activity…

Spokesman:  I would refer our position on the plan that we have not yet seen, I would refer to you to what Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov said in his last briefing to the Security Council.  Evelyn?

Correspondent:  Yes.  The figure on Venezuelan refugees…

Spokesman:  And migrants, yes.

Question:  …migrants, since when?  What's the date that they…?

Spokesman:  Since… that's a good question.  A bit more than a year ago… I'll get you the exact date.

Question:  Could you please?

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am.  [He later told her that from 646,134 at the end of 2015, the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela had skyrocketed to 3,929,560 by mid-2019, according to data from national immigration authorities and other sources.  In just seven months since November 2018, the number of refugees and migrants increased by 1 million.]

Question:  And… and then who is smashing the health centres in Sudan?  Is it the Government?  Is it…?

Spokesman:  It's not the protesters.

Correspondent:  Yeah, because… does… WHO has to speak to somebody.  They can't just say:  "Stop it."

Spokesman:  The Government is ultimately responsible for the safety of its own citizens, and I think we were very clear in condemning the violence.  I will get you a date.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  On the situation in the occupied Indian Kashmir, the situation… the humanitarian situation continues to grow worse.  Does the Secretary‑General has any opinion?  Will he ever be talking to the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers?

Spokesman:  Nothing changed… has changed in our position on this.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yeah.  Just a follow‑up on the Middle East peace process.  Ask the question again.  Has the Special Envoy, Mr. Mladenov, received any invitation to the economic conference in Bahrain? One assumes, I mean, you would know by now.  UNSCO [United Nations Special Coordinator’s Office] is a big office.  He has lots of people.  He has lots of contacts with the US.  I'm sure he can ask:  "Am I getting an invitation?"  And what is the UN's position on that conference?  Whether you have an invitation or not, are you planning to attend?

Spokesman:  I think we should have a bit more clarity by next week as to the UN representation…

Question:  You have received an invitation?

Spokesman:  I will… we should have a bit more clarity by next week as to the UN representation.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.