19 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.

**Secretary-General Travel

I’ll start off with a trip announcement.  The Secretary-General will be in Geneva this Friday for the closing session of the International Labour Conference.  This session also marks the 100th anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO), one of the oldest members of the UN family.  This Sunday, the Secretary-General will attend the World Conference of Youth Ministers in Lisbon, in Portugal, and he will be accompanied by his own Youth Envoy [Jayathma Wickramanaye].  Also, on Sunday, the Secretary-General expects to hold a press encounter, along with his Youth Envoy and the Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Costa, and he will be returning… back in New York on Monday.


In a short while, I will be joined by Ninette Kelley, the Director of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in New York.  She will be here to brief you on the launch of UNHCR’s Global Trends Report.  For his part, the Secretary-General notes that the findings of this report confirm once again that more and more people are forced to flee from conflict or persecution.  He reiterates that the solution to this crisis will not be humanitarian.  What we need is the will to work towards political solutions to solve the conflicts that are the source of this displacement.


Turning to Mali, our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mal (MINUSMA) report that, late on Monday, unidentified armed individuals attacked the villages of Yoro and Gangafani, in the Mopti region in central Mali, and that’s near the border with Burkina Faso.  Initial reports indicate that at least 38 people have been killed and many wounded.  The Malian defence and security forces were deployed to the area to secure the zone and investigate the attacks.  As the Secretary-General has stated repeatedly, the cycle of violence in the centre of Mali must end.  Perpetrators of acts of violence must be brought to justice and efforts to promote reconciliation between communities must be accelerated.

Under-Secretary-General for [Peacekeeping] Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix has arrived in Mali today for a joint high-level mission with Pedro Serrano, the European Union’s Deputy Secretary-General for Common Security and Defence Policy and Crisis Response of the European External Action Service.  They will be in Mali until 21 June to exchange with Malian authorities and other key stakeholders on ways to enhance support by the UN and the European Union to accelerate the implementation of the peace agreement and the restoration of State authority in northern and central Mali, as well as to strengthen the partnership between the two organizations in the country.  The delegation will meet with Government authorities at the highest level, signatory armed groups, political representatives, civil society, women’s groups and international partners.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Our friends at the World Food Programme (WFP) today thanked the Republic of Korea for a donation of 50,000 metric tons of rice and $4.5 million in cash for the humanitarian needs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  WFP estimates that at least 300,000 metric tons of food — valued at $275 million — is needed to help people most affected by significant crop losses over successive seasons.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council held an open meeting this morning on Sudan and South Sudan.  Council members heard a briefing by Fatou Bensouda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  In the afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council members will meet on Afghanistan, and will be briefed by the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in Kabul, Tadamichi Yamamoto.


And yesterday afternoon, you will have seen that Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the political and peacebuilding department, briefed Council members on Syria and drew attention to the effects of the fighting in Idlib.  Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told Council members that fighting in Idlib has not stopped despite the announcement of a truce on 12 June.

**Sexual Violence in Conflict

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.  This year, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict aims to draw attention on the importance of a “survivor-centred approach” to provide meaningful assistance to those affected.  “[Survivors] are mostly women and girls, but [also] men and boys, calling for our support to access life-saving health services, justice and reparation,” said the Secretary-General in a message.  The international day was marked this morning here in New York with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

**Ban Ki-moon

And I just wanted to flag a sad note and wanted to express that we all offer our condolences to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the passing of his mother.  Shin Hyun-soon passed away earlier this week at the age of 100.  Many of you who were here during the previous administration will remember how his own mother’s life, especially her difficult experience in war-torn Korea, shaped Ban Ki-moon’s work as Secretary-General on behalf of people caught up in conflict, as well as on the need to improve maternal health for women the world over.  On that note, Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In her report released this morning, the Special Rapporteur, Agnès Callamard, had a recommendation for the Secretary‑General, and I'm quoting, "initiate a follow‑up criminal investigation into the killing of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi to build up strong files on each of the alleged perpetrators and identify mechanisms for formal accountability, such as an ad hoc or a hybrid tribunal.  The Secretary‑General himself should be able to establish an international follow‑up criminal investigation without any trigger by a State.”  Will the Secretary‑General act on this recommendation?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Couple of things.  First of all, we received the report, like you, this morning.  We've been reading it and studying it, and I think the report contains many recommendations to different entities calling for different actions.  For his part, the Secretary‑General will give full consideration to the recommendations regarding the protection of journalists, which is an issue, as you know, he's been very vocal about.  As for the actual killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Secretary‑General believes that this was a horrendous crime that shocked people around the world.  Since the first reports surfaced, he has clearly condemned it and called for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation and accountability for those responsible with full respect [for] due process.  This remains his position.  The Secretary‑General, as we've been saying, does not have the power or the authority to launch criminal investigations without a mandate from a competent intergovernmental body.  Power and authority to do that lies with Member States.  If a full and effective criminal investigation is not conducted by Member States, the only way to effectively pursue an investigation, requiring the cooperation of relevant Member States, would be through a resolution of the Security Council, under the appropriate Charter provisions.  And all Member States should cooperate with those efforts.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yeah, I have a few follow‑ups on this very important story, which it was interesting that it was not in your summary of the main events in the UN today, because it's certainly the main thing in the headlines.  First, does the Secretary‑General agree with the overall finding of this report that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a premeditated execution carried out by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Spokesman:  The report was conducted by a Special Rapporteur, who, as you know, and we've said often, are independent of the Secretary‑General.  They're appointed by the Human Rights Council.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to agree or not agree with what the Special Rapporteur reports.  There are a couple of recommendations aimed at the Secretary‑General, as there are recommendations to the Security Council, to individual Member States.  And I think it's everyone's responsibility to study those recommendations, and they can speak for themselves, for the other people who are targeted with recommendations.  What is clear for the Secretary‑General, as he's been saying from the beginning, is that there needs to be a full and transparent investigation.  There needs to be accountability for the death of Mr. Khashoggi, for… as a sign for the protection of journalists, also for his family and for his friends, who deserve an answer.  As for the Secretary‑General's authority, I think we've stated, again, today, clearly, where the Secretary… you know, what the Secretary‑General believes his authority is in relation to that.

Question:  Can I ask you about that belief?  Where does it come from?  Is it on a legal basis?  Agnès Callamard, the Special Rapporteur, is an eminent legal expert.  The Secretary‑General is not a lawyer.  There are other lawyers who agree with her; he has the power to do this.  What is he basing this on?

Spokesman:  No one doubts Madame Callamard's credentials.  This is from our… this is the Secretariat's position.  This is the Secretary‑General's position.

Question:  Based on what, on legal advice?  Can we see the legal advice if there is legal advice?

Spokesman:  No.  As you know, whether, in any institution, advice between a Secretary… a person's lawyer and that person is not going to be shared.  This is our position based on the Charter.

Question:  Well, can I just come back to you?  Because there is a relevant UN General Assembly resolution 43/5:  "The Secretary‑General should, where appropriate, consider making full use of fact‑finding capabilities, including, with the consent of the host State, sending a representative or fact‑finding missions to areas where a dispute or a situation exists."  And if you go on the UN Library website, you will find a list of all the international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions and who mandated them.  You'll find on there, going back to 1993, the SG has set up international commissions of inquiries seven times.  Only three of those, it seems to me, looking at the list, were at the request of a Member State.

Spokesman:  We are talking about a criminal investigation.  I think I've answered that question.  Yes, Joe?

Correspondent:  Yes.  On another subject, one other item that I didn't hear you mention was the meeting between the Secretary‑General and the Foreign Minister of Mexico this morning.  The Foreign Minister had a stakeout in which he said he asked the Secretary‑General to appoint a Special Envoy to assist in the coordination of an implementation of a plan to help economically the Central American countries that are the source of many of the migrants making their way towards the United States.  In fact, the Foreign Minister announced that, starting tomorrow, there will be some investment and meetings with the El Salvador authorities for a jobs programme.  But, he said that he specifically asked for the appointment of a Special Envoy to coordinate UN assistance on the ground.

Spokesman:  So the… If I may try to answer what I think you're asking, the Secretary‑General did meet with the Foreign Minister this morning.  Obviously, a lot of the discussion focussed on what is currently going on in Mexico.  I expect to have a fuller statement likely tomorrow on the… on a lot of those issues.  But, obviously, already, today, and for quite some time now, the UN system has been very involved in supporting Mexico as a large number of refugees and migrants cross its territories, whether it's UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] working with Mexico on… helping them uphold the rights of migrants and migrant children and dealing with support to children; UNHCR is very much present also in Mexico, as are other UN entities.  But, we will have to wait till tomorrow to get a fuller statement on a number of the issues that the Foreign Minister raised.

Question:  If I may, this was targeted specifically on trying to rally international support for investment in the economies of these Central American countries and to support the growth of jobs and so forth.  And the request for… at least according to Mexico's Foreign Minister, was specifically to enlist the UN's help in that regard… so was he recept… was the Secretary‑General receptive to the idea of a Special Envoy?

Spokesman:  No, no I… I'm begging your indulgence to be patient by 24 hours.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this ongoing situation in the Gulf, the tensions still continue to simmer between… what do you call… United States and the… Iran and all the Arab States.  Is the Secretary‑General going to get involved in this actively to… what do you call… bring this situation to a closure?  Because it seems, if it is going to go off the end, there's going to be a war.  And it is matter of international peace and security.

Spokesman:  I think no one is doubting that.  I would refer you to what already the Secretary‑General said yesterday in the press encounter on the ongoing tensions in the Gulf, and I can tell you that contacts are being had at various levels.  Yes, Fathi and then Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I hear you, you're speaking to the Secretary‑General cannot really take an action without any mandate from an inter‑governmental body with regard to the Khashoggi murder or the Security Council in this regard.  Does the Secretary‑General, at any point, plan to invoke Article 99 and bring it to the Security Council, asking for their mandate?  Secretary‑General have an authority on that, but we have not seen any indication other than his sorrow and wishes and concern about the safety of journalists…?

Spokesman:  No, for the Secretary‑General, what I've said is, for him, the only… if Member States… if a full and effective criminal investigation is not conducted by Member States, for him, the only way institutionally to pursue such a criminal investigation, requiring the cooperation of all the relevant Member States, would be through a resolution of the Security Council based on the relevant Charter provisions.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General intends to ask the Security Council for this mandate?

Spokesman:  The Security Council, I think, is the master of its domain, and Council members will make up their minds.

Correspondent:  And the Charter enables the Secretary‑General through Article 99 to ask for this mandate…

Spokesman:  I'm fully aware of what the Charter says, and this is all I have to say for now.  Caro, Stefano.

Question:  Grazie mille.  A follow‑up on James and the others on Khashoggi.  Does the… after this report, does the Secretary‑General think that the investigation that the Saudi authority are doing in Saudi Arabia and they have… they arrested, I think, 22 people or something, do… does he think that this issue still go on after this report?  Because a criminal investigation, this doesn't look like…

Spokesman:  That's up to the Saudi Government.  What the Secretary‑General would like to see and what he has said is for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation.

Question:  Okay.  Then I have my question.  Two days ago, in Washington, the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, after a meeting with the Secretary of State, when he was asked about the criticism by the UN at… about Italy's policy on migrants, he… instead to answer on the criticism that the UN had, he started to say, and I quote, “Actually, the UN is not really transparent.  We are investigating on how the UN spent billions… millions of dollars…” actually, euros; he say euros… “and we investigating what happened with our contributions, and we heard… we think that a lot it gets wasted in buffet” ‑‑ he used this word "buffet"; I guess Trump's party use "buffet"… “and privileges”.  So, does the Secretary‑General has a reaction to this?  Because yesterday, he talk about hate speech.  This is not a hate speech, but it's an unpleasant speech that probably doesn't have… doesn't help the UN…

Spokesman:  I mean, I think there's quite a gulf between hate speech and unpleasant speech.  Unpleasant speech I deal with every day.  And happily so.  And I'm not characterizing what the Prime Minister said.  No, what I would say is that we work very closely with Italy.  Italy is a very important partner of the United Nations.  We very much appreciate all the contributions made by the Italian Government, by the Italian taxpayer.  We look forward to continuing that cooperation.  And as for the UN's accounts, they are fully audited and transparent for all to see.  Majeed?

Question:  Stéphane, my question is about yesterday Mark Lowcock's statement about targeting hospitals in Idlib.  He said:  "A number of partners have drawn the conclusion that hospital bombing are a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people."  A number of partners.  What about United Nations?  Does the United Nations think that targeting hospitals is a deliberate tactic aimed at terrorizing people?

Spokesman:  Mr. Lowcock speaks for the United Nations, so I have nothing to add to what he's already said.

Question:  But, just to clarify that point.  What…?

Spokesman:  I know, but I'm sure he parsed his words carefully, and I have nothing to add to what he said.

Question:  Do you think hospitals are being targeted?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what Mr. Lowcock said.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Good afternoon.  I'd like to shift gears and go to West Africa, Mali, MINUSMA.  The mandate is up at the end of the month.  It's expected to be renewed, but it's worth noting that this is the third largest UN peacekeeping mission, 15,000 military police, annual budget of $1 billion, and the violence continues.  Forty… 95 were killed last week, and 40 were killed yesterday in Mali.  So, the question is, in terms of cost‑benefit analysis, how does the Secretary‑General justify this costly, deadly mission?

Spokesman:  Well, we justify it by… it’s clear to all of us that if the Mission wasn't there, the situation in Mali would be far worse.  It is the responsibility of all the political actors, the signatories, the armed groups that signed on to the peace accord to ensure that all of these things are put in motion.  The peacekeeping Mission is there to help the people of Mali, to help provide… create a political space, and it is important that those who remain on the outside and continue to perpetrate violence put their weapons down.  And also, there is a need for the international community to help Mali address all the underlying issues, whether it's poverty, whether it's issues of climate change, of gender issues, to address those problems that are some of the root causes of that violence.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Also on Mali, any idea who's doing this dreadful… who's doing the killing?  Are they jihadists?  Are they pastoral men who want farming land?

Spokesman:  The armed violence is done by different groups.  I… this is an investigation that needs to be done by the Malian authorities.  Masood, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Thank you.  Yeah, Stéphane, on this investigation and… what do you call… ongoing investigation into this MH17 crash of Malaysian Airlines, which is now… trial is going to take place in Netherlands, what is the position of the security… Secretary‑General on this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Bear with me two seconds as I look into my magical book here.  We have taken note of the latest findings of the Joint Investigation Team, made up of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.  The Secretary‑General appreciates the important work of the Joint Investigation Team and recalls Security Council resolution 2166 (2014), which demanded that all States cooperate fully with the established… to establish accountability.  Establishing the truth about this event is an important fact of achieving justice for the victims and their families.

Question:  Is the finding… how are they going to be involved… enforced?  The trial is taking place in Netherlands.  How are they going to be enforced?  Of two Russians and…?

Spokesman:  We hope that all Member States cooperate with this work and the Security Council resolution.  Ms. Kelley, your time has come.

For information media. Not an official record.