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

1 July 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Quite a bit of stuff for you and us today.  I have a trip announcement, first to flag the Secretary-General is on his way back to New York from Abu Dhabi; we’ll get back to that in a second.  The Secretary-General will be in Saint Lucia on 3 and 4 July, where he will be speaking at the opening of the fortieth regular meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  There, the Secretary-General will meet with Saint Lucia’s Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, as well as other Heads of State attending the meeting.  He will also meet the local population to see how they are tackling the challenges posed by climate change and extreme weather.  This is part of the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts, to advance the September Climate Action Summit, to highlight the impact of climate change and extreme weather on some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.  He will be back in New York on Thursday evening.

And then on 9 July, he will arrive in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is scheduled to speak at the opening session of the African Regional High-level Conference on Counter‑Terrorism and Prevention of Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism.  While in Nairobi, he will meet with the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, and participate in a town‑hall meeting with youth involved in programmes to prevent violent extremism.  The following day, the Secretary-General will go to Mozambique to take stock of the recovery efforts in the areas impacted by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which hit just a few weeks apart earlier this year.  According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), there is no historical record of two storms of such intensity ever striking Mozambique at the same season.  The Secretary-General will start his visit in the capital, Maputo, where he will meet with President Filipe Nyusi and other senior authorities.  On 12 July, in Beira, the Secretary-General will meet with survivors, local authorities, the UN country team and civil society organizations who have been supporting the cyclone recovery response.  On the ground, he will also visit a resettlement site for families displaced by the cyclone.

As I mentioned, he’s back… on his way back to New York where he will arrive in a few hours; he will be back in Headquarters.  He was in Abu Dhabi, where he took part yesterday in the Climate Summit Preparatory Meeting ahead of the September gathering.  The Secretary-General spoke in the opening of the Preparatory Meeting, stressing that climate disruption is happening now.  He called to people to seize the opportunity to take bold climate action.  The Secretary-General emphasized the need for a post-carbon economy, a resilient society and a climate‑smart development path that that can provide sustainable development for all in a healthy planet.  He added that the goal can only be achieved if we all pull together — Governments, businesses and civil societies.  Those remarks are online.

While in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, he also met with country senior officials and flew over the new Abu Dhabi solar plant, which is currently the world’s largest of its kind.  On Saturday, the Secretary-General continued his visit to Osaka, in Japan, where he attended the G20 Summit, he took part in trilateral climate change meeting with the Foreign Ministers of China and France.  Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General underlined the importance of ambition and mitigation, adaptation and finance.  He also met with the leaders of the United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Egypt and Turkey.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, continues to be in Abu Dhabi, where she spoke at the climate summit meeting.  She said today that, in our climate efforts, we will not succeed in transforming our economies and societies without the necessary finance.  She also said that he needs to emerge at the end of today with a clear idea of where we are on track, where there are gaps, and what actions we need to take away with us to address those gaps.  Her remarks have been distributed.

**Climate

On another climate note, today the International Labour Organization (ILO) said the increasing heat stress related to climate change is projected to lead to losses in global productivity equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in the year 2030.  In a new report, the ILO said these projections were based on a global temperature rise of 1.5°C by the end of this century.  The report warns this is a conservative estimate because it assumes that the global mean temperature rise will not exceed 1.5°C.  The sector expected to be worst impacted is agriculture, with 60 per cent of global working hours lost due to heat stress by 2030.  The construction sector will also be severely impacted, as well as refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism and some types of industrial work.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, this weekend, the United Nations has signed its first action plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in Syria.  This action plan signed with the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of armed opposition groups, is the result of months of engagement.  A dialogue was initiated following the listing by the Secretary-General of one of their members, the People’s Protection Unit (most commonly known as the YPG/YPJ).  Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, signed the action plan on behalf of the UN.  “It is an important day for the protection of children in Syria,” she said.  She added that the commitment marks the beginning of a process to ensure that no child is recruited and used by any entity operating under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces.  Through this action plan, the Syrian Democratic Forces has committed to ending and preventing the recruitment [of children]; identify and release boys and girls currently within its ranks; and to put in place preventative, protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment and use.

The Special Representative, Ms. Gamba, commended the crucial work of child protection partners on the ground, noting the situation in Syria remains one of the direst amongst the countries on her agenda, with appalling consequences for children.  In a statement that will be releasing now, she urges all parties to work towards a political solution to bring sustainable peace to the country.  This remains the best option to prevent grave violations against children, she said.

Also on Syria, we remain very concerned about the conditions in Rukban in south-eastern Syria along the border with Jordan, where some 26,000 displaced people are living in dire conditions, with limited or no access to healthcare, basic food and other humanitarian assistance.  The UN is doing everything it can to provide humanitarian assistance and is currently awaiting approval for access to Rukban from the Government of Syria.  Meanwhile, nearly 15,600 people have left Rukban since March, or nearly 40 per cent of the estimated total population who had been there at that time.  People leaving Rukban are taken to temporary collective shelters in Homs for a 24-hour stay, where they receive basic assistance, including shelter, blankets, mattresses, solar lamps, sleeping mats, food parcels, nutrition supplies before proceeding to their areas of choice, mostly towards southern and eastern Homs.  The UN continues to advocate and call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to Rukban, as well as to all those in need throughout Syria.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is appalled by a Taliban‑claimed attack in a civilian area in Kabul.  Initial findings indicate dozens of civilian casualties.  In its Twitter account, UNAMA stated that the UN is deeply saddened by credible reports of many injured children in nearby schools and demands the end to indiscriminate blasts in civilian parts of the country.  Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Mission, reiterated the UN’s efforts related to the upcoming presidential elections and the work to create an initial peace framework in the country.  Both processes are top priorities for the UN, he said.

**Korean Peninsula

And we issued a statement as you may have seen yesterday, in which the Secretary-General welcomes the meeting in involving the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea and the United States, particularly the announcement that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States will resume working level dialogue.  The Secretary-General fully supports the efforts by the parties to establish new relations towards sustainable peace, security and completely verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

**Refugees

Two more things I want to flag.  One, more than 1.4 million refugees residing in over 60 refugee‑hosting countries will be in need of resettlement next year.  This is according to data presented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) at an annual resettlement forum in Geneva.  According to the report, titled “Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2020”, those most at risk and in need of resettlement include Syrian refugees (40 per cent); South Sudanese refugees (14 per cent of the total) and refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11 per cent of the total).

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning, this been the first of the month, agreed on its programme of work of July and the Council President for this month, Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra of Peru will be here at 3 p.m. to chat with you.  And over the weekend, the members of the Security Council visit the city of Kuwait and for the first time the Republic of Iraq in a mission called by the State of Kuwait and the US.  And there’s a statement that came out.

**Sri Lanka

Lastly, I’ve been asked about the Secretary-General phone call last week with the President of Sri Lanka.  And I can say regarding that call the Secretary‑General’s position, both in public and in private, against the imposition of the death penalty is the same.  He continues to urge all Member States to abide by the moratorium on capital punishment and progressive abolition of the death penalty.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  Two questions.  First, what is the Secretary‑General's reaction to Iran's announcement that it has exceeded the limit for low‑enriched uranium under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]?  And as part of that, has he had discussions with anyone in the Iranian Government?  And a second question:  Did… you read off a list of leaders that the Secretary‑General met.  Did he have any contact at all with President [Donald] Trump?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is very much aware of the reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran may have surpassed its JCPOA limits on its low‑enriched uranium stockpile.  He is concerned by such reports.  If verified, such action by the Islamic Republic of Iran would not help preserve the Plan nor secure the tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people.  It is essential that this issue, like other issues related to the implementation of the Plan, be addressed through the mechanism established by the JCPOA.  He encourages the Islamic Republic of Iran to continue implementing all its nuclear‑related commitments under the JCPOA, as the participants continue to seek ways to overcome the considerable challenges the country faces.  As I've said previously — and this continues to be the fact — that various contacts are had at different levels with Iranian authorities.  The Secretary‑General, as he told me, had a conversation with President Trump as a pull‑aside during one of the events during the G20.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  You're saying reports.  The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has verified this a couple of hours ago.

Spokesman:  Okay.  No, I have no… I'm not doubting what the IAEA said.  I mean, we're concerned by the situation as it is.

Question:  Stéphane, about the agreement between Syrian Democratic Forces and the United Nations, the Action Plan, does this give legitimacy by the United Nations to Kurdish SDF?

Spokesman:  No, the actions of the Special Representative [for] Children and Armed Conflict does not imply any legitimacy… political legitimacy for any armed group that she engages in, whether it's the SDF or other armed groups that she's engaged in in the past.  Her focus, her mandate is on children and protecting children, getting them out of harm's way, getting them out of conflict.  That is her focused work.  Her interaction in no way implies any legitimacy to or any claim that any group may have.

Question:  And has the US been involved in setting up this agreement between the UN and…?

Spokesman:  The work of the… excuse me.  The action plan assigned by the Special Representative is the fruit of the engagement between the United Nations and the SDF and the implementation relies solely on the signatories of the plan.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Any reaction from the Secretary‑General on the death of Captain Rafael Acosta?  Was accused of… to plan a supposed coup against the Government of Maduro, detained on Friday.  Over the weekend, he died under the custody of the Venezuelan authorities.  Therefore, the talks that were planned for this week in Barbados between the opposition and the Government of Venezuela had been cancelled for the third meeting.  Is there any concern that this could delay…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is deeply concerned by the reports surrounding Captain Rafael Acosta's death while in custody.  He calls on the Venezuelan authorities to promptly undertake an independent investigation and bring anyone responsible for Captain Acosta's death to justice.  It bears reminding that the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), as noted by Madame [Michelle] Bachelet herself during her visit to Venezuela earlier… last month in June, is ready to assist in ensuring that the human rights of all Venezuelans are fully respected, including through a presence in Caracas, which will be able to advise and work with State institutions, civil society and, of course, the UN system.  Betul?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Steph.  A follow‑up on the SDF.  I was wondering if you could tell us how many child soldiers the SDF have been… has been recruiting.

Spokesman:  I don't have those numbers with me, but I would refer you to the reports that she's issued, but we can try to get you those numbers afterwards.  Erol, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Steph, we heard before the report of Secretary‑General's Special Envoy on Myanmar, Ms. Christine Schraner Burgener, if I'm pronouncing her name right.  The picture is still green.  My question is actually why the Secretary‑General, on his way to Abu Dhabi, being in the region, didn't visit the… one of the most hot‑spot areas and where the Rohingya crisis is ongoing and still ongoing?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, the Secretary‑General, as you know, has visited and met with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.  He went there last year.  He… as you know, the Secretary‑General has visited with Rohingya refugees.  He has gone there, met with them in Cox's Bazar.  He and many other voices in the UN system have advocated for them, had advocated for an improvement in the situation in Rakhine State, and he will continue to do so.  His Special Envoy will continue to do so.  But, visits have to be planned and have to be useful.  So, we don't have… at this point, I don't have any travel to Myanmar.  But, the fact that he didn't go because he flew near Myanmar should in no way be interpreted as a lack of interest on his part in this issue.

Question:  Just one more follow‑up on the region, as well.  He met President Trump on [the] side, you said.  Did they discuss the possibility of meeting, President Trump with the North Korea leader?  And also, regarding The New York Times' reports today, apparently, North Korea is not going to denuclearization but, rather, freezing of their programmes.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say on that?  Because you mentioned…

Spokesman:  No, I mean, those… I read the article.  I have no way to know what is going on inside… to verify what's being said in that article.  The Secretary‑General, as he said in the statement, would like to see a dialogue… welcomes the renewal of a dialogue that would lead to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, and they spoke about a wide range of issues.  Yes, sir, and…?

Question:  Hong Kongers are celebrating the twenty-second anniversary of Hong Kong's return… handover to China by storming the legislative building and demanding the end to a proposed extradition bill.  More recently, they've listed a broad swath of demands that include the release of protesters and universal suffrage.  Is the Secretary‑General following this situation?  Does he have any views on the extradition bill in particular?

Spokesman:  No, we don't have any specific views on the extradition bill, which is being discussed.  But, obviously, the Secretary‑General's been following the events in… that have been taking place in Hong Kong.  I think we all have here.  He reiterates the importance of respect for the right to peaceful protests and freedom of assembly and expression, as well as a commitment by all sides to dialogue, non‑violence and restraint.  Nabil, and then we'll go to Stefano.  Did you have a question?  Okay.

Question:  I have two questions.  On Iran, so, does the Secretary‑General call on Iran to cut back its enrichment activities?  I mean, what's… what's the message from the statement that you read, please?  And I also have another question on…

Spokesman:  Yes.  The Secretary‑General's basic message is for all the parties to fully respect their engagements in the JCPOA.  Your second question?

Question:  Human Rights Watch said in a report last week that the Syrian Government controls how the humanitarian aid is distributed in Syria and… and it favours some areas and maybe punishes some other areas.  The report is online.  Do you have any information on this?   Can you confirm this report or information? And what's your comment on it?

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, we've seen the Human Rights Watch report.  We, obviously, have seen the recommendations they make to us.  I think any independent scrutiny of the humanitarian system and how it operates in Syria is to be welcomed.  The way we operate in Syria, as in the way we operate around the world, is based on the basic principles of… humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality, neutrality and humanity.  Impartiality in humanitarian terms means that we provide life‑saving and life‑sustaining assistance to civilians based on their needs without consideration of where they are, which side of the conflict they're on, what their nationalities may be, what their sympathies may be, what their social status may be, their gender, their age, their religious belief, anything beyond what people actually need.  The response in Syria, both in terms of programming from Damascus — and, you know, we also operate cross‑border operations — is based on needs assessment, independent needs assessments.  The fundamental notion of independence and impartiality guides our work and is non‑negotiable, whether it's in Syria or elsewhere.  Through this principled response, we and our partners reach about 6.1 million people in need every month across all of Syria, meaning both in terms of Government‑controlled and non‑Government‑controlled areas.  Of this response, 85 per cent of those reached are in acute needs… or state of acute needs.  In addition to the large‑scale humanitarian response, we also speak out forcefully and often on behalf of Syrian people who do not have a voice.  We call on protection of civilians caught in this terrible conflict, as well as humanitarian access to them.  We call on all parties, including the Government of Syria, to abide by international humanitarian and international human rights law, and this advocacy takes place at all levels.

Question:  So, just to follow up, so do you mean that the UN knows or monitor how the humanitarian aid is con… or…?

Spokesman:  The UN's… the humanitarian aid that we provide is monitored.  Evelyn and then Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is there any update on the mess and protests in Sudan?  Is the UN monitoring them or…?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Obviously, we've seen what is going on in Khartoum.  We're following those events very closely.  It's very important that there be accountability for the loss of life that we've seen over the last day, any loss of life by protesters or civilians, including those, as I mentioned, from yesterday.  We continue to call for restraint by all sides and urgent resumption of the political talks towards the establishment of a civilian‑led transitional Government as soon as possible.  Stefano and then in the back.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have the two question, if you want first one and then later the second one.

Spokesman:  Always start with… it's always best to start with the first question.  And then move on to the second.

Correspondent:  No, I mean I'm not going to have to do it now…

Spokesman:  You could start with the second…

Correspondent:  If there is time for the second one.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  If there is time for the second one.  The Mediterranean migrant issue, the captain of the ship Sea‑Watch 3 has been arrested this weekend in Italy after she forced the block and the funnel arrived to the Port of Lampedusa with those migrants that she had rescued two weeks before.  So, she… you know, now there is this division.  There are people that say she actually did what she had to do to respect international law.  The Italian Government and Italian law say, no, she just broke the law; she's been arrested.  So, for the UN, in this case, this ONG [non-governmental organization]… this captain on this ship, did she respect international law in… practically make sure that those migrants will be delivered to the secure port or she broke Italian law?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I'm not going to sit here and tell you what law she respected or broke, because I don't have the details of the particular case.  I'm aware of it, but I don't have the details.  It's an ongoing…

Correspondent:  Well, but this…

Spokesman:  Let… let… per favore.  There's an ongoing legal process.  UNHCR, as the voice for refugees in the UN, has said they're concerned by the recent decree from the Government regarding NGO vessels.  Sea rescue is a long‑standing humanitarian imperative.  It's also an obligation under international law.  No vessel or shipmaster should be at the risk of fine coming to the aid of boats in distress where loss of life be imminent.  That's a question… that's an issue of principle.  Again, I'm not commenting on the particulars of this case.  Your second question, sir?

Question:  Second question is about… about the G20.  Secretary‑General was there.  Is he satisfied with the way international media covered him in particular?  I mean, does he think that his message there went through the media or is unsatisfied?

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm not going to hear and judge your… all of your work, as much as I would love to judge all of your work all the time.  We make an effort, and I think the Secretary‑General's message on climate is one that he repeats publicly, he repeats privately wherever he goes.  We hope that he's given space.  Other events often take precedent, but I think, as my own personal analysis, I think there is an ongoing, I think, good pickup of his message on climate because people understand the urgency of it.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Not yet.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Japan officially withdrew from IWC [International Whaling Committee] yesterday, Sunday.  And resumed commercial whaling today.  May I have Secretary‑General's comment on it, please?

Spokesman:  No, I don't anything for you on that right now.  But, I may a bit later.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have, like, a more generalized view on extradition laws, you know, any kind of principles that he likes to see upheld in extradition laws?

Spokesman:  I'll be honest with you; I haven't had a discussion… a detailed conversation with him about extradition laws.  As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General would want to see human rights respected, the principles of the Charter respected, the principles of the international… the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respected.  Erol?

Question:  Just a short one.  For how long did the Secretary‑General talk to US president?  And did they tackle the issue of climate change?

Spokesman:  I don't have the timing of the conversation, and I know, from what the Secretary‑General told me, they spoke about a number of issues.  On that note… one more question.

Question:  Thank you.  As you know, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe last week restored all the rights of Russian delegation.  Meanwhile, head of upper house of Russian Parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, stated forward she urged to adopt a UN kind of resolution forbidding imposing any sanctions against [parliamentarians].  Is there such a draft resolution already in UN?  And does such a resolution has any chances to be adopted?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  It's a lot of hypotheticals.  I don't… a lot of stuff happens.  Member States talk about resolutions without telling us, which is their right in this house and their responsibility.  So, I don't know the answer to your question.  Obviously, you'd have to see what kind of resolution there is in order to see what kind of resolution there is.  Enjoy your day.  I will enjoy mine now.

For information media. Not an official record.