17 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.

**Noon Briefing Guests

Alright.  In a short while, I will be joined by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; along with John Wilmoth, the Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Patrick Gerland, the Chief of the Population Estimates and Projections Section of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  They will all be here to brief you on the “World Population Prospects 2019:  Highlights”.


I have a statement on the situation in Nigeria:  The Secretary-General strongly condemns the triple suicide attacks on 16 June in Konduga village, Borno State, north-eastern Nigeria.  The Secretary-General expresses his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Nigeria.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He hopes those responsible for these attacks will be swiftly brought to justice.  The Secretary‑General reiterates the solidarity of the United Nations with the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism.  He also renews the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support regional counter-terrorism efforts.


You will have seen that over the weekend we also issued a statement in which the Secretary-General condemned the recent attacks in Kenya’s Wajir County.  He also spoke out against the killing of at least eight people in a car‑bomb explosion in Mogadishu in Somalia.  These attacks were claimed by Al-Shabaab.  The Secretary-General expressed his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and to the [Governments] and people of Kenya and Somalia.  He also expressed the solidarity of the United Nations with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia in their efforts to fight terrorism and violent extremism.

**Law of the Sea

Back here this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the meeting to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  He said that a well-defined body of international law establishing the rights and duties of States in relation to seas and oceans is essential at a time when oceans are under unprecedented pressure.  The Secretary-General encouraged countries who haven’t yet done so to ratify the Convention, and also appealed to all States Parties to approach the task of the Convention’s full implementation with renewed commitment and vigour:  “Let us be the generation that reverses the cycle of continuous decline in our oceans and ensures their conservation and sustainable use, for the benefit of current and future generations.”


In the Security Council at the same time, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council by videoconference from Amman this morning and said that, in Hodeidah, the parties have in general sustained the reduction in violence across the governorate for six full months since the agreement entered into force last December.  This has continued, he said, despite the delays in the implementation of the agreement due to a number of challenges and the frustrations associated with those challenges.  He added that the Redeployment Coordination Committee members from both parties have continued to engage constructively with General Michael Lollesgaard on the plans for the first and second phases of the redeployments during the past months.

The Special Envoy expressed concerns about the recent escalation of fighting in Yemen, as well as the recent drone attacks in Abha airport.  He said that, in the context of wider regional tensions, the risks to the political process have never looked more stark.  Mr. Griffiths called for steps to be taken to de‑escalate tensions for the benefit of the Yemeni people and the regional security.  Also briefing was Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and he told Security Council Members that events in Yemen in recent years have recurred, like a time loop.  The situation on the ground, he noted, has changed only marginally since 2016.  But, as a result of the fighting, 24 million people need aid, with 10 million people needing food to survive.  Also briefing was David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission on the ground are concerned by reports of violence in the Province of Ituri (Djugu territory) that has resulted in the killings of dozens of people.  Looting, burning of villages and forced displacements have also been reported.  To support Congolese efforts to address the deteriorating security situation, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has reinforced its presence in the area with the deployment of three temporary military bases in the Djugu and Mahagi territories.  MONUSCO has also deployed teams in the field to assess the situation and is engaging communities and the authorities to help prevent more attacks and to stabilize the situation.


On Sudan, our colleague Gwi-Yeop Son, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, said today that she is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and is alarmed by reports of intercommunal violence in parts of Darfur, including the recent clashes in Deleij in Central Darfur, that left 17 people dead and destroyed 100 homes.  Ms. Son stressed the importance of an unhindered, principled and timely humanitarian response across Sudan.  She called on the authorities to facilitate the timely clearance of the importation and distribution of aid supplies, including in medicine, as well as to ensure that aid workers can enter Sudan and travel internally.  She said that half a million people in Khartoum and Darfur are at risk of being affected if medical supplies are not imported in a timely manner, with another quarter of a million mothers at risk of not being provided maternity services.  The Humanitarian Coordinator also emphasized the need to respect international human rights law, including the protection of health facilities, health professionals and other aid workers.  And as a reminder, the United Nations and our humanitarian partners provide assistance to 4.4 million people in need across Sudan.


On China, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that heavy rains and flooding across eight provinces in the south and centre of the country have affected more than 6 million people in the past week.  As of 16 June, at least 88 people have been killed and 388,000 people have been evacuated.  The UN offers its condolences to the Government and people of China for this loss of life.

**Venezuela Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it has sent extra teams over the weekend to the border between Peru and Ecuador to support the authorities dealing with an unprecedented number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants entering Peru.  On Friday, over 8,000 Venezuelans crossed the border at the Peruvian city of Tumbes, the largest number ever recorded on a single day.  The total number of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Peru is now estimated at 800,000.  UNHCR said it is providing humanitarian and health assistance on the ground, as well as information and legal support to refugees and migrants on both sides of the border.  UNHCR also repeated its call on the international community to step up its support to countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, that have received the vast majority of the four million refugees and migrants from Venezuela.


Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.  This year’s theme is “Let’s Grow the Future Together”.  In his message, the Secretary-General said desertification, land degradation and drought are major threats affecting millions of people worldwide, particularly women and children.  He stressed that protecting and restoring land can reduce forced migration, improve food security and spur economic growth.  It can also help address the global climate emergency.  The Day’s main celebration are being hosted in Turkey.  This year is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention.

**Press Encounter

Lastly, tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press encounter with the Secretary-General, along with the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, outside the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  They will speak to you following the informal briefing on the “United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech”, that opens at 11 a.m.  Since the Secretary-General will speak, the man who speaks for the Secretary-General will not, so we will not have a briefing tomorrow from our office.  Questions?  Michelle and then James.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph.  I've actually got three questions on three different topics, if that's okay.

Spokesman:  Well, let's hear the questions.  Then we'll decide if it's okay.

Question:  First out, breaking news, the former Egyptian President, [Mohammed] Morsi, has died in court.  Does the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  I… let me get back to you on that.  I had not seen it.

Question:  On Myanmar, I believe the Secretary‑General's received or about to release this report from Gert Rosenthal, who he appointed to carry out this.  It doesn't paint a very good picture of the UN.  What's the Secretary‑General's response to that?

Spokesman:  What is your third question?

Question:  Third question is the Counter‑Terrorism chief, [Vladimir] Voronkov, has been in China.  He visited Xinjiang over the weekend.  Does the Sec… did he have the blessing of the Security Council… uh, Security Council… Secretary‑General to undertake this trip and to visit Xinjiang?  And is there a readout of his visit?

Spokesman:  I will point you to the statement that Mr. Voronkov issued, I think, on Saturday or Sunday on the visit.  On the Rosenthal report, yes, the Secretary‑General had, as you know, requested Mr. Rosenthal to produce this review, and that was following the adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution and the General Assembly of a resolution.  The review is not directed at any particular individual or agency, but, rather, on how the UN as an institution works on the ground and possible lessons learned [for] the future.  The Secretary‑General has received the report.  It was transmitted to the President of the General Assembly for distribution to Member States.  I believe that will or is about to happen.  For our part, we will… as soon as it's confirmed it has gone to Member States, we will put it up on our website, as well — the full report, including its recommendations, its conclusions, its observations.  The Secretary‑General has accepted all of the report's recommendations and is committed to implementing them, so as to improve the performance of the UN system.  The review is valuable for the Resident Coordinator and the UN country team in Myanmar, but also very much… also other countries where the UN operates in similar challenging conditions.  The Secretary‑General notes the report's assessment [is] in line with his own efforts to put a greater emphasis on prevention and also to improve the performance and accountability of the UN presence at the country level by creating new generations of UN country teams and more adapted structures at the Headquarters level.  The report has also been shared with senior leaders in the UN system, and the Secretary‑General will be following up with those leaders to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.  I think, as you say, the report paints a number of systemic issues with the way the UN system operated.  The Secretary‑General is very grateful to Mr. Rosenthal for producing a candid, forthright and very useful report, and it will be used… as I said, its conclusions and observations have been fully accepted by the Secretary‑General, and he will work very closely with the senior leadership to make sure they're implemented.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  Where's this Voronkov statement?  It's not in my email.

Spokesman:  It was issued by his office.  I mean, we can forward it…

Question:  Did they email it to anyone?

Spokesman:  I believe they emailed it through the usual procedures, but we will…

Question:  It's not in my email.  Also, did he have the backing of the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  The Under‑Secretary‑General is part of the Secretary‑General's team.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  My question was, again, about President Morsi of Egypt… Egyptian State Television…

Spokesman:  Yeah, so I mean, I honestly did not… we obviously, if it's confirmed that he's passed away, extend our condolences to his family and to his loved ones, but that's as far as I'll go without knowing anything more.

Question:  And, as the question had already been asked, another one in terms of the Voronkov trip, what's the Secretary‑General's reaction to the stinging criticism from the State Department?

Spokesman:  We have, I think, said what we've had to say on the trip taken by Mr. Voronkov.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, Iran announced that it will exceed the enrichment… uranium enrichment level that was set out in the nuclear deal.  Any reaction from Secretary‑General about this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I think, to reiterate the Secretary‑General's principled position is that he has always said and will continue to say that the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] represents a major achievement in nuclear non‑proliferation and diplomacy.  The agreement has contributed to regional and international peace and security.  He is aware of the statements that we've seen by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.  The Secretary‑General encourages Iran to implement its nuclear‑related commitments and calls on all participants to fully abide by their respective commitments, as well as on other Member States to support the Plan's implementation.  The Secretary‑General urges all parties to refrain from any steps that may lead to further escalation of the tensions in the region.

Question:  A follow‑up on that.  When Iran start breaching the agreement and the resolution 2231 (2015), still Secretary‑General urges the other parties of the agreement to refrain from have these economic sanctions snap back again?  Because that's according to the resolution should happen.

Spokesman:  We're not going to predict what's going to happen.  The JCPOA, the resolution has mechanisms that are in place.  It's up to the Security Council to act on that resolution.  For us, we still believe in the importance of the JCPOA.  We also believe that the parties involved should not do anything that would escalate further the already… the already high tensions in the region.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  I have a question on the next Tuesday pledge con… UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] pledge conference… UNRWA has a pledge conference next Tuesday.  And then I have a question on that.  Is there, like, invitation went to countries to participate or it's open for everybody, and do you have a list of countries that agree to participate?  And also, can you confirm that the SG will take part?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General will take part.  As you know, he has been a strong and vocal supporter of UNRWA and encourages Member States to contribute to UNRWA, as he has done in previous donors' conferences, both in New York and in Rome.  We will try to get you the list of the participants.  Obviously, these… as in any donors' conference, the more the merrier.  So, I'm… no doubt invitations were sent to all Member States.  We're still a week away, so I'm not sure we still… we have already all of the RSVPs, but we'll get you the information we can.  [UNRWA later said that all Member States are welcome to attend but do not have to confirm participation.]  Okay.  Sir, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  The director of the World Food Programme complained in the Council today about the way the Houthis are giving or maybe not giving permissions to the operations of the Programme in their territories.  Do you share his position, his frustration?  Do you have a message to the Houthis on this regard?

Spokesman:  Mr. Beasley is responsible for the implementation of his programmes, the World Food Programme.  He has strong messages to ensure that the food gets to those who need to get it, and we fully back his efforts.  There are different… everyone has a different voice and a different role to play in the UN's efforts on Yemen, whether it's Mr. Beasley, Henrietta Fore, Martin Griffiths, General [Michael] Lollesgaard.  They all represent the many facets of the UN system, and I think Mr. Beasley is doing what he should be doing.  Thank you.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Does the SG have any comment on or expect… expectations for the upcoming State visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?

Spokesman:  We believe, as a matter of principle, that any opportunity for dialogue between the DPRK and other Member States, especially regional Powers, is an important dialogue to be had, which we would hope would lead to positive outcomes.  Thank… yeah, go ahead.

Question:  On the statement by Voronkov's office on his visit to China, it says that he went to Ürümqi and met… the capital of Xinjiang, and met with local authorities, but it doesn't say who he met with in Xinjiang?

Spokesman:  I have nothing else to add to what Mr. Vor… you can ask Mr. Voronkov's office, but we have nothing to add to that information.  I will ask our guests to come, please, and then we'll go to Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.