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

13 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.

All right, good afternoon.

**Security Council

This morning, the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council’s session on cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States.  The Secretary-General noted with deep concern this morning’s security incident in the Strait of Hormuz and strongly condemned any attack against civilian vessels.  “Facts must be established, and responsibilities clarified,” he said.  “If there is something the world cannot afford, it is a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”  With regards to the cooperation with regional organizations, he reiterated it has been one of his priorities from day one to prevent conflict and sustain peace, and our cooperation with the League of Arab States is pivotal, he said.  While acknowledging the challenges facing the region, the Secretary-General highlighted the potential “for action that will bring real change to the peoples of the Arab world and beyond”.  He also announced that the UN liaison office to the League of Arab States in Cairo will become operational this month and thanked the Government of Egypt for its support with this facility.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, tomorrow morning in his office and we will organize a brief press encounter afterwards in the Secretary-General’s conference room.


Turning to Syria, we remain alarmed by the extensive humanitarian impact of hostilities currently unfolding in the northwest Syria de-escalation zone, particularly in northern Hama and southern Idlib.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented incidents in which at least 231 civilians, including 69 women and 81 children, were killed and scores of civilians injured since the escalation of hostilities on 29 April.  More than 300,000 people have fled towards the border with Turkey.  Camps for the displaced are overcrowded, with many people forced to stay in open fields or under trees.  Reports of heavy fighting, air strikes and artillery shelling on several fronts in northern rural Hama Governorate continue despite the announcement of a ceasefire yesterday between parties to the conflict.  The United Nations urges all parties to the fighting to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed to between the Russian Federation and Turkey last September and reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality.


Turning to Mali, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon.  He told Member States that Sunday’s attack in central Mali was another reminder of the gravity of the situation and he highlighted steps taken since March to improve the protection of civilians, including an increase in the number of patrols and actions to promote reconciliation.  “The infernal cycle of violence must be stopped,” he said, as he emphasized the importance of fighting against impunity.  His remarks were shared with you yesterday.

Also on Mali, we shared a joint statement issued yesterday afternoon by Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; and Karen Smith, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect.  They condemned the attack on 9 June and called for immediate actions to de‑escalate the cycle of intercommunal, ethnic violence and retaliatory attacks that have been unfolding in central Mali.


And on Yemen, you will have seen that the head of UN Mission in Support of the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA), Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, provided a status update to the parties on the initial redeployment undertaken by Ansar Allah from the three Red Sea ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Isa.  That update was issued yesterday evening, or afternoon.  General Lollesgaard noted that, since 14 May, the Houthi military presence was not detected in the ports by regular verification patrols by the UN Mission.  He called on Ansar Allah to expeditiously complete the removal of all military manifestations, including trenches, as part of their commitment to the process.  He also reiterated that the initial redeployments from the ports were significant, not only as the first part of the broader redeployments in Hodeidah, but also as it transformed the ports into “civilian space” that facilitated the work of the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation, supported by the United Nations.  Noting the continued commitment of the parties to the Hodeidah Agreement, General Lollesgaard urges them to finalize the outstanding negotiations to allow full implementation of Phases 1 and 2.


And turning to Ebola, with cases of Ebola now confirmed in Uganda, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reconvening the Emergency Committee on the International Health Regulations.  That meeting will take place tomorrow in Geneva.  That meeting’s objective will be to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.  This will be the third meeting of the committee since the beginning of the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  As of this morning, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s most recent number of cases stands at 2,084, with 1,405 deaths.  And as of this morning, Ugandan authorities reported two deaths linked to Ebola.

**Climate Change

A couple of climate notes.  First of all, I want to say we welcome the announcement by Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global, which has decided to give the go-ahead for the largest fossil fuel divestment to date by dropping more than $13 billion of investment.

**Global Compact

The Global Compact Office said that a broad coalition of business, civil society and UN leaders continue to call to action for private companies to make their critical and necessary contribution to reducing greenhouse‑gas emissions to limit the worst impacts of climate change.  In the lead-up to the Secretary‑General’s Climate Action Summit in September, Chief Executive Officers are being challenged to set even more ambitious targets for their companies in line with the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has made the case for limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.  The call to action comes in the form of an open letter addressed to business leaders and signed by Lise Kingo, the Head of the Global Compact Office, with more than 20 leaders, including María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the President of the General Assembly; Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and SDG Advocate Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever.

**World Economic Forum

This afternoon, the Secretary-General and Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, will witness them signing a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership between the UN and the World Economic Forum, which outlines areas of cooperation to deepen engagement between the two institutions and to jointly accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


Two studies I want to flag:  One from the World Health Organization published in The Lancet that found no link between HIV infection risks and the contraceptive methods used by women.  The study was conducted in four African countries with a high HIV incidence — notably, [eSwatini], Kenya, South Africa and Zambia — and involved over 7,200 sexually active, HIV-negative women, who used three different reversible contraceptive methods.  The study found, however, that incidence of HIV infections among all of the women participants was high — an average of 3.8 per cent per year — indicating that HIV remains a significant personal risk and public health challenge for many women in these countries.


A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has found that Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal offer the best family-friendly policies among 31 of the world’s richest countries.  These policies include the duration of parental leave at full pay and childcare services for children between 0 and 6.  There’s a full press release available to you.


Today is the International Albinism Awareness Day.  This year’s theme is "Still Standing Strong" and is a call to recognize, celebrate and stand in solidarity with persons with albinism and to support their cause — from their accomplishments and positive practices to the promotion and protection of their human rights.  Persons with albinism have faced, and continue to face, stigma, discrimination, barriers in health and education, and invisibility in social and political arenas.  In solidarity, the campaign is asking people to use the hashtags #stillstrong, #AlbinismDay and #standupforhumanrights. Mr. Abbadi?  Sorry.  Your mic is not on.  I… there we go.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sorry.  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the attacks on the two oil tankers in the Gulf, but some reports speak about an accident.  Isn't it too early to issue any statement before the facts have been established?

Spokesman:  Well, I think what he… first of all, he calls for clear establishment of the facts, and he noted, in this quote, "deep concern this morning's security incident in the Strait of Hormuz” and “strongly condemns any attack on civilian ships”.  So, he's not concluding that it is an attack.  He's, obviously, stating his concern.  This is an area that is highly volatile where we have seen incidents in the past, and I think his message is for all parties in the region and beyond to do whatever they can to avoid any confrontation in that area.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Hello, Stéphane.  About Iran, the Prime Minister of Shinzo… Japan, Shinzo Abe, visited Iran and met with the leadership of Iran.  And according to him, Iran's leadership reiterated Iran's unchanging commitment to the nuclear deal, at the same time, showed no intention of having dialogue with US Government.  What did the Secretary‑General see the result of Japan's Prime Minister's visit to Iran?  And also, what will he expect next to happen after this visit?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, it's not for us to assess the visit of the Prime Minister.  We, obviously, think the visit was very important.  Anything that helps in terms of dialogue with Iran and the greater international community is a positive step.  So, in that sense, the visit was a very important one, but in term… we're not in the business of assessing or analysing the results.  The Secretary‑General, for his part, has been and continues to be supportive of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and urges all parties concerned to do whatever they can to salvage it.  Yep?

Question:  Is the United Nations planning to investigate this incident in the Gulf today?  Is there any possibility to investigate for UN?  If so, is… will you look into if that might have been a false flag attack to spark a conflict?

Spokesman:  We have no mandate, as far as I know, to investigate such an attack.  It is up, obviously, to the parties concerned, the ships' owners.  Obviously, they will be able to determine initially pretty quickly if this was an accident or not an accident.  But, we… the Secretary… in terms of the Secretary‑General, he has no mandate to investigate such an incident.  Señora?

Question:  Stéphane, yesterday, I asked Farhan [Haq] about a meeting that was taking place today in Sweden between members of the Lima Group, as well as the International Contact Group to address the situation in Venezuela, and as far as I understand, was hosted or called by the Norway… Norwegian Government as part of their mediation efforts.  No members of the opposition, as well as the Venezuelan Government were present, but was the United Nations involved in any way or has been notified of these efforts to try to bring the parties together to establish the same language in terms of the negotiations?

Spokesman:  We're aware of these… of the efforts.  We're very supportive at any effort that tries to bring the parties together and try to open up a dialogue that would lead to a political solution to the current situation.  We are not participants in that meeting.  I think the Secretary‑General's always said that his good offices are available and that he supports the various initiatives that we've seen around in trying to bring people together to the table for sustained dialogue.  Luke?  And then sir.

Correspondent:  Thanks.  On Ebola, it sounds like the meeting tomorrow at the WHO will go a ways to answering this question, but public panic…

Spokesman:  Ask nonetheless.

Question:  I was going to say… they're going to take a logical approach to deciding how serious this is, but public panic is often illogical.  How does the… you know, to what degree does the SG feel that the global public needs to be very worried about what we're seeing in Central Africa right now?

Spokesman:  First of all, we don't want to say or add anything that would increase… that would lead to more panic.  Right?  I think it needs… it is… one needs to be as rational as possible and fact‑based as possible.  This is a very… the Ebola outbreak, the current one, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is one that the United Nations system as a whole has taken very seriously.  WHO is in the lead in terms of dealing with the medical outbreak.  They've received very good support from the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC.  As you recall, the Secretary‑General also appointed David Gressly to oversee kind of operationally the whole UN response to it, which goes beyond the medical, because we're dealing with an area where there is high insecurity, where there's often mistrust of authority, whether it's national Governments or the United Nations.  So, our work with the community, with community leaders is critical in trying to get information and the right kind of information to the population.  So, we will leave the medical labelling to the medical experts.  For his part, the Secretary‑General has really mobilized the UN system in supporting WHO's medical response and working as deeply as we can with the local community, because they hold the key to the success on dealing with this outbreak.  Sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Question on Sudan.  The US Department of State appointed a special envoy to Sudan, Donald Booth.  He's on the ground as we speak in Sudan, liaising with the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Tibor Nagy.  So, the question is, has the UN Secretary‑General dispatched a UN rep to meet with these two experienced diplomats to find a mutual solution to this?

Spokesman:  What we have… the Secretary‑General has asked Nicholas Haysom to represent him on the Sudan file.  Our focus is on working with the African Union, on supporting the African Union.  We, obviously, welcome the appointment of a Special Envoy by the State Department.  I think the United States has a very critical role to play in Sudan, and the international community as a whole needs to be united in pushing for a transition to civilian rule.  I would also add that we're continuing to be concerned by the situation on the ground.  We continue to call for an end to the use of force and for rapid restarting of that political dialogue.  I think also the visit by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was very welcome and something we fully welcome and support.  It's a good sign that the parties have also agreed to resume talks and that the recent strike that we've seen was called off.  The Security Council spoke out unanimously, so I think the appointment of a US envoy in… seen with that is all… is a good sign in terms of the unity of the international community and the unity of message of the international community.  There's still a lot of people who are detained, and we call for their immediate release and also for the restoration of the Internet.  Our basic message is one of support for the African Union and one for a call to the international community to work together cohesively in trying to solve this current situation.  Monica Grayley, silence has fallen on this room, which means it's up to you to revive them.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.