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

14 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.

**League of Arab States

As some of you just saw, the Secretary-General met just now with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  In a press encounter following that meeting, the Secretary-General underscored the strong relationship between the United Nations and the League of Arab States, which he said has recently taken a quantum leap, notably with the opening of a UN liaison office in Cairo to the League of Arab States.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations also reiterated his message from yesterday that the truth needs to be established regarding the incident in the Gulf of Oman and that the last thing the region needs today is another confrontation.  We’re working on the transcript and I think UNTV is or will be shortly playing the video.


An Ebola update for all of you: In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations Emergency Committee met today to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international public health emergency.  We expect their recommendations to be issued in a few minutes.  For those who want more details, a virtual press conference organized by WHO is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. our time.  You can call in from the US, and if you want the number, come to my office.  WHO also said they would broadcast the press conference live from their Twitter account @WHO.  In addition to this, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] has arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He spent the day in Kinshasa and met authorities and UN colleagues and he will be there for a few more days in the region.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council met this morning on Darfur.  Briefing Council member was the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.  He noted that the drastic changes in the 30-year-old system of governance of Sudan has so far had a moderate impact on the situation in Darfur.  But, he cautioned that the uncertainty of the outcome of the negotiations in Khartoum may have repercussions beyond the capital and may also lead to an escalation of violence.  He noted that, with the mission’s final exit in mind, the focus will be on revitalizing the peace process, including through an updated United Nations-African Union strategy on the Darfur peace process, as well as strengthening Sudan’s rule of law institutions and supporting long-term stabilization.  Also at the Council was Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights.  In his remarks, he stressed that any transition road map should include measures that will bolster confidence in law enforcement, as well as a belief that there will be some accountability for excessive use of force and serious human rights violations.

And at 3 p.m., the Council will meet on Burundi.  We expect that the briefers include the Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, as well as the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smaїl Chergui, and Ambassador Jürg Lauber of Switzerland, who chairs the Burundi configuration of the Peacebuilding Commission.


Also on Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that aid operations have been hampered since 3 June by the nationwide disruption of internet services and unreliable telephone networks.  Humanitarian partners have reported increased difficulties in accessing cash for their operations during the general strike, and this has caused a delay in delivering some services.  The World Health Organization and its partners continue to provide medical supplies and are helping to transport medical staff and materials.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is coordinating on how to respond to gender-based violence and sexual harassment and continues to support maternity hospitals in Khartoum.  For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is pre-positioning food for 740,000 people in inaccessible areas during the rainy season.  Aid partners have also been helping people affected by flooding in Tawilla in North Darfur, with WFP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) having provided emergency food and other supplies.  Some 2,500 people have lost their homes and hundreds of latrines have been damaged by flooding.  The UN and our partners are requesting $1.2 billion for the humanitarian response for Sudan for 2019, but as of today, the plan is only 22 per cent funded.

**South Sudan

And in South Sudan, the United Nations and the country’s Government today warned that nearly 7 million people will face acute levels of food insecurity or worse by the end of July due to high food prices and the late start of the rainy season.  This is according to an update by the Government, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).  More than 20,000 people will likely face a catastrophic… lack of access to food, and that’s the highest level of food insecurity.  The peace agreements must be implemented effectively, with political stability imperative to allow for urgent and scaled-up humanitarian aid to protect livelihoods and boost agricultural production.


And turning to Libya, the Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, led a joint UN mission to Ghat Municipality in the south-west of Libya to survey the impact of the floods on the local community and determine what assistance is still needed.  Heavy flooding in south-western Libya since late May has displaced over 4,000 people and affected more than 20,000.  There is a press release on his visit.  Meanwhile, as fighting continues in and around Tripoli, 167 civilian casualties have been confirmed, including 42 deaths.  These figures only include those cases that could individually be verified to date, and so that must be considered a minimum number.  Some 94,000 people have now been displaced as a result of the latest round of hostilities.  Humanitarian workers remain deeply concerned for the safety and well‑being of some 3,700 refugees and migrants in detention centres that are already exposed to, or are located close to, active fighting.  Many of the detention centres lack sufficient food, water and sanitation for the people being held there.

**International Days

I want to flag three international days that are coming up this weekend.  Tomorrow is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.  This issue is becoming more relevant as the number of people aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 900 million in 2015 to about 2 billion in 2050.  And Sunday is the International Day of Family Remittances.  The day recognizes the contributions of over 200 million migrants to improve the lives of their 800 million family members back home and to create a future of hope for their children.  Today is World Blood Donor Day.  Celebrated under the slogan “Safe blood for all”, the day serves to thank voluntary, unpaid blood donors for their life-saving gifts of blood, and to raise awareness about the universal need for safe blood in the delivery of health care.  The World Health Organization encourages more people all over the world to become blood donors and to donate blood regularly.  A good cause, indeed.

**Noon Briefing Guests

On Monday, the guests will be Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; she will be joined by John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Patrick Gerland, Chief of the Population Estimates and Projections Section in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  They will brief on the World Population Prospects 2019.  Mr. Bays, what are we talking about?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I'd like to just ask you to take stock of where we are after we heard the Secretary‑General talk about the incident in the Gulf.  Let me check that I entirely understand his position.  To summarize, I think he thinks there should be an international inquiry, but he doesn't believe he has the power to set it up.  He thinks there should be high‑level mediation, but he doesn't think he is empowered to mediate himself.  Is that his position?

Spokesman:  No.  I think you've taken a different… I would have a different analysis.  What the Secretary‑General said is that, I think, we have been in touch with various parties, as always.  In fact, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs met… had a bilateral meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister in Bishkek on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Council that was taking place.  The Secretary‑General believes there should be an investigation, that the truth needs to be established, that there is a clear need for the truth to be established.  He was very clear on his mandate about an international investigation, and he said it, and this is something he's repeated a number of times.  And his good offices remain available.  As a matter of principle and as a matter of practice, good offices are available when the different parties request them.  That has not stopped the Secretary‑General or his staff from being in contact with many countries concerned and passing on the message of the need to avoid anything that would escalate the situation further.

Question:  Well, can you tell me where in the Charter are the limits on his good offices?  Where are the limits in the Charter to stop him setting up his own investigation?  I can't find them.

Spokesman:  There… it's there… he does not have the author… he needs… any Secretary‑General needs a legislative… a UN legislative body to set up an investigation.  That has been the practice for as long as I've been here.

Question:  Well, does he not need to carve out a more powerful role?  And is he not, in effect, shirking his responsibility at a time of global crisis, he should be leading the diplomacy, and he's finding excuses not to?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think he's shirking… I don't think he's shirking his responsibility at all.  I think he delivered a very strong message in the Security Council yesterday.  And the Secretary‑General has… is passing on messages, has been clear, both in public and in private, about what needs to be done.  Yes, sir?

Question:  I was wondering if you could tell us about the Under‑Secretary‑General for Counter‑Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, visiting China, perhaps, like, his itinerary.  Will he visit Xinjiang Region?  Is he there to discuss Xinjiang Autonomous Region?  Is he travelling with staff, or is it just him?  What's the purpose of his trip?  And is he the highest-level UN official to visit China…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me try to answer and use my words to answer as much of you… as you said.  We can, indeed, confirm that the Under‑Secretary‑General Vladimir Voronkov, who is, as you know, the head of the UN's counter‑terrorism office, is on an official trip to China at the invitation of the Chinese Government.  The People's Republic of China was the only P5 country… permanent member… that he had not yet visited since he assumed office as the head of the Office of Counter‑Terrorism.  The UN Office of Counter‑Terrorism that he leads is mandated by the General Assembly and provides support to Member States and the UN system in implementing the UN Global Counter‑Terrorism Strategy, which is composed of four pillars, including measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.  My understanding is, at the end of the visit, there will be some sort of a press release from his office, but I don't have the information, nor am I in a position to confirm his itinerary.

Question:  So, is this a regularly scheduled meeting, or was he invited apropos of something?

Spokesman:  He was invited by the Chinese Government.  As I said, he plans to issue a press release at the end of his visit at some point over the weekend.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Steph, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet will be visiting Venezuela next week.  What is the… the… the reaction from the Secretary‑General on this visit in terms of the main goals that they hope to achieve with her visit?  She has hold back of accepting this invitation that has been open for more… almost a year.  And during the press statement, it says that she will actually meet with the President of the National Constituent Assembly, which has deemed illegal…

Spokesman:  Sorry, you're talking about the High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Question:  Yes.  During the press release that they… was issued in Geneva, they explained she will meet with members of the National Assembly, which will include the President, which is Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly.  However, she also will meet with the members of the Constituent National Assembly, which has very… is very controversial, because it has been…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm aware.  Yeah.

Question:  And so… and she will meet with the president of that one.  Is there any concerns about what the message could be?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is very supportive of the High Commissioner's visit.  He's very pleased that the details have been worked out to her satisfaction, so she can have as broad of a conversation as possible with as many actors — political actors, NGOs, civil societies, victims of human rights [abuses] — that she can.  I mean, the point… the important point for the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to be able to speak to as many people as possible, and she will do that.  And my understanding is that she will have a press conference, I think, on 21 June, at the end of the visit.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just a quick follow‑up on the visit of High Commissioner Bachelet, whose travel shows that she's at least willing to engage in some sort of level on the current Venezuelan crisis, but what about the SG?  Could this visit lead towards a much broader action by the SG to try to solve and maybe mediate on the dialogues that we understand he's not participating in a lot?

Spokesman:  We hope that the visit will be an important step in helping the Venezuelan people find an answer to the crisis in which they find themselves.  I think things need to be taken one step at a time.  I don't want to pre‑judge the outcome of the visit.  But, we, obviously, will be following the visit very closely.  And, as I said, it's a step… the fact that the details of the travels were able to be worked out in a way that she felt was sufficient enough to have a broad enough dialogue, I think, is a very, very important step forward.  Masood and then…?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question on the Gulf, which is teetering on another Gulf war, which will, again, destroy the region.  The… I know the Secretary‑General has met with the Arab League ambassador and everything, but is… to… in order… I mean, why doesn't the Secretary‑General take… undertake trips to the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran and so forth?  Because this is becoming serious.  I mean, we may be sitting over here and not talking about it…?

Spokesman:  I think no one, Masood… with due respect, no one is underestimating the seriousness of the matter, that… the Secretary‑General, first and foremost.  I think he was very clear in the statement he made a short while ago, very clear in the statement that he made yesterday.  He is not interested in trips for the sake of travel.  He is interested in helping to move the process forward and trying to lower tensions, and that's what he's doing.

Question:  Is… Russia has suggested that tanker attacks should not be used as to pressure Iran, basically suggesting that these so‑called tanker attacks are… what do you call… staged.  So, what is the… where is the truth…?

Spokesman:  I think we need… the truth needs to be had in terms of who is responsible for that incident.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up to that question.  Has the United States shared with the United Nations any evidence of Iran's culpability in the attacks and as… as the US alleges?  And… that's what I'm asking.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General told some of your colleagues a short while ago that he had… what he had seen from the video that was released is what he'd seen in the media, but that he had not been briefed in particular by the US authorities on the content of the video.  Yes, Mr. Sato?

Question:  A follow-up about tensions in the Gulf.  So, the end of this month, G20 summit will be held in Osaka, Japan.  So far, there is no specific agenda coming up, but the… is Secretary‑General expect the… the venue of the G20 be some… the… activate some dialogue about the… how to expert… expert… how to alleviate the tension in Gulf and also be a mediator?

Spokesman:  I think we've got a little while to go before the G20.  The Secretary‑General's message to the G20 summit itself will be focused on climate, on the need for inclusive growth, on the need to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  That being said, any summit — and especially a G20, being hosted by Japan — is also a very important opportunity for various bilateral discussions on issues that may or may not pertain to the 20… to the summit itself.  So, we will see what bilateral meetings take place at that time.  Dama?

Question:  Thanks.  This week, we had information about meetings between the Government of the United States and the Guatemalan Government and the possibility of a document being signed before the President, Jimmy Morales, leaves office.  Over the weekend is the first round of elections.  But, it will make Guatemala a third country… a third secure country, which is basically the Hondurans and Salvadorans trying to come to the United States will have to stay in Guatemala and won't be able to claim asylum in the United States.  This type of practices and agreements with countries like Guatemala, which is the main country of migrants coming to the United States, does that worry about the possibility of instability in the region in terms of forcing countries in Central America to take on all these refugees without the conditions, or will the United Nations will be able… or has been notified or been asked to try to help Guatemala in pretty much taking all the refugees in the… the… the Northern Triangle?

Spokesman:  Nothing has been signed as far as I know, so I'm not going to comment on a hypothetical document that we have not seen.  What is clear is that, for the Secretary‑General — and this has been his position since the beginning — is that migrants, refugees need to be respected.  There's certain international body of law, especially on refugees, that needs to be respected.  And that migration needs to be managed, and that's what the Global Compact for Migration is about.  Migration is a thing that will always exist, that exists, and that needs to be managed so we treat people with dignity.  Also on Venezuela, I think… I just wanted to bring some clarity to the question that was raised yesterday about the UN's attendance in meetings in Sweden, and I can tell you that the UN attended the meetings in Sweden at the invitation of Sweden so as to be informed about the ongoing Norwegian process and to exchange information about the current efforts to promote a peaceful and negotiated solution for Venezuela.  Yes, sir, and then we'll start our weekend.

Question:  Deepak Arora.  On this UN agent’s visit to China, as you mentioned about SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization], terrorism issue was raised by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, strongly and by several of the leaders.  So, how do you see that moving forward?  Because China can play a role to bring stability in the region as far as terrorism is concerned.

Spokesman:  I'm not… my understanding is that the trip that Mr. Voronkov is doing is really focussed on China.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.