12 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General travelled to Beira, in the north of Mozambique, today to take stock of the recovery efforts in the areas impacted by the cyclones.

He visited the 25 June school in the Munhava neighbourhood, where he was able to see first-hand the damage caused to classrooms, many of which remain operational but without a roof.  He also saw hurricane-proof classrooms, built with support from UN-Habitat, which survived the storms intact.  He encouraged the students to continue with their studies and pledged that their classrooms would be rebuilt, and he later tweeted, “It breaks my heart to see children get an education in a classroom with no roof.”

The Secretary-General then visited the Mandruzi resettlement centre, where he met with the residents and participated in a focus group with women leaders.  The resettlement area was set up by the Government as a durable solution in the cyclones’ aftermath.  It currently houses about 375 families who are each given a plot of land.  The Secretary-General told the residents that he was visiting so that he could gather support from all over the world to ensure that they get the help they need to rebuild their lives.  He asked about their needs and said that more permanent help in health, education and energy was on its way.

Prior to returning to Maputo, the Secretary-General spoke to the press at a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse.  He noted the courage and the resilience of the people of Mozambique as they rebuild their lives in the face of so much loss of life and so much destruction.  The UN will not leave, he pledged, adding that we need much more support from the international community.

The Secretary-General said that although Mozambique doesn’t contribute much to climate change, the country is on the front lines in suffering the effects of climate change.  Referring to his recent travels, he said that, whether in Tuvalu, Dominica or Mozambique, the people who are the most vulnerable to the changing climate are the least responsible for global warming.  He once more urged countries to commit themselves to make sure that we will not have an increase of temperature higher than 1.5°C degrees at the end of the century.  For that to happen, there will be a need for a strong political will to take bold action.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Monday evening.


In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned ongoing airstrikes impacting civilians in north-west Syria, including those on medical facilities and medical workers.

Civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, must be protected.  Parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Perpetrators of serious violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.

The Secretary-General reiterates his urgent call for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld.


The Human Rights Office said today that it is deeply alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty on 30 people by the Specialised First Instance Criminal Court of the de facto authorities in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital.  The 30 men — most of whom are academics, students and politicians affiliated with the Islah party that has been critical of the Houthis — were sentenced to death on Tuesday.

The UN human rights office has received credible information suggesting that many of those convicted were subjected to arbitrary or unlawful detention, as well as torture and other ill-treatment in custody.

It understands that the convictions and sentences will be appealed and the human rights office calls on the Appellate Court to take heed of the serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, and of violations of the fair trial and due process rights of the convicted people.  And you are aware that the UN opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in Somalia, some 5.4 million people are estimated to be food insecure through the end of 2019.  Nearly half of these people are facing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity and are urgently in need of assistance and interventions.  Some 1.2 million children are believed to be malnourished this year.

Prolonged drought, armed conflict, displacement and a spike in evictions of internally displaced people are again pushing Somalia towards a major humanitarian emergency.

The Government of Somalia, with support from the UN and humanitarian organizations, are implementing a $686 million Drought Impact Response Plan to help 4.5 million Somalis between now and the end of the year.


On Monday, in Geneva, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO’s (World Health Organization) Director-General, and Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, are convening a high-level event on preparedness and response to the Ebola outbreak.

The event will provide an opportunity for the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN, civil society, donors and other partners to assess the status of the outbreak, the response, and to discuss actions needed over the next six months.

This will be an opportunity for the international community to re-affirm its commitment to reach zero new Ebola cases; and to support the response politically and financially.

In total, the World Health Organization says there have been 2,451 people infected by Ebola.  Close to 1,650 of them have died.

The event will be livestreamed on UNTV and a media stakeout is scheduled after the event.


We mentioned a few days ago that Virginia Gamba, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, is in Mali this week.

While in Bamako, she launched her new campaign, called “ACT to Protect Children Affected by Conflict”, with members of the Malian Government, representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the diplomatic community.

In Mali, ACT to Protect will work to strengthen advocacy and action to improve the protection of children.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN migration agency (IOM) are jointly appealing to the European Union and African Union to prevent another tragedy such as the one on 3 July where more than 50 refugees and migrants were killed in an airstrike on the Tajoura Detention Centre east of the Libyan capital Tripoli.  The agencies underscore that the protection of human lives must be the overriding priority.

As a priority, the two agencies ask that the 5,600 refugees and migrants who are currently being held in centres across Libya be freed and their protection guaranteed or that they be evacuated to other countries.

UNHCR and IOM also stress that the detention of those who disembark in Libya after being rescued at sea has to stop, noting that practical alternatives — such as living in the community or in open centres — exist.  You can read their full statement online.


There have been unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic since the beginning of June, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

Over 100 intense and long-lived wildfires were recorded in the Arctic Circle.  In Alaska and Siberia, some were large enough to cover almost 100,000 football pitches.

Unusually hot and dry conditions have contributed to the spread of wildfires.  Alaska has had its second hottest June and hit a record high of 32°C, or 90°F, a week ago.  In parts of Siberia, the average June temperature was almost 10°C higher than the long-term average.

WMO says that the northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet as a whole.  That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burn.

Wildfires also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing further to global warming.  In June alone, the Arctic fires emitted 50 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  To give you an idea, this is equivalent to Sweden’s annual CO2 emissions.

In view of the risks, WMO has initiated a Vegetation Fire and Smoke Pollution Warning and Advisory System to harmonize fire forecasting across the globe and to provide a better picture of related impacts and hazards.

**Economic and Social Council

This morning, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) of ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) conducted a review of progress towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on climate action, including the link to the Climate Action Summit.  This thematic review session evaluated progress and challenges in empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs).  Climate change and the risks associated with it have put additional pressures on households and Government resources.

This afternoon, the Forum will conduct a review of progress toward SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions.

**Press Briefings

And after my briefing now, you’ll hear from Monica Villela Grayley, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

And then at 12:30, just after her, you’ll have a press briefing Press Briefing by UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS), where the speaker will be Justice Edwin Cameron, a Judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa.  He will speak on the subject of stigma, discrimination and decriminalization and its link to SDG 16.

Then, at 4:00, in this room, there will be a press briefing by Ambassador Samuel Moncada, the Permanent Representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the United Nations.

On Monday, at 12:30 pm, there will be a press briefing by the President of the General Assembly, and she will be accompanied by Helen Clark and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN-Women.  And at 1 p.m., the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva; IFAD [International Fund for Agricultural Development] President Gilbert Houngbo; and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley will hold a press conference to launch the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report for 2019.

So that’s it for the days ahead.

And one last thing before we go to the questions, I want to say hopefully a brief farewell to Luke Vargas, who I believe is having his last press briefing with us.  We will miss you, and as a reward, you do get a question, if you want to ask one!

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks Farhan.  I'm sure you've seen a number of countries are expressing concern about freedom of navigation around the Persian Gulf and there are reportedly and plans for a US-led coalition to escort ships through the Strait of Hormuz.  Does the Secretary-General feel like that is a good way to uphold freedom of navigation, period?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General's call has been very clear and very simple.  He has called on all States to ensure that freedom of navigation is upheld everywhere, including in the Strait of Hormuz.  In this particular case, in the Gulf Region as a whole, he's tried to make sure that all countries pursue de-escalation and avoid any steps that can further raise tensions.  He's made it very clear that the last thing the region needs is another sort of confrontation so that is the approach that we're adopting and we're hopeful that all countries will abide by the basic laws governing the freedom of navigation.

Question:  But there is a confidence that's important right between all countries upholding freedom of country and several countries choosing to do it on their own, is there not?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not disagreeing with you.  What I'm saying is that our emphasis is basically on making sure that the countries in the region de-escalate tensions and make sure that vessels can move freely, as they have done in the past.  And if that is it for me, Monica… oh, wait one more.  Yes.  Two more.

The questions only come after, like, a pause.  Okay, yeah.  All right.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Look, it's been more than a month since the incident in Kosovo with two UN employees arrested and it was announced that there will be an investigation; so, I wonder if there are any results of this investigation by now or how long the investigation will be going, when we can be able to get the results?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there are no results to report as of yet.  Once the investigation is complete, we'll… we'll let you know what the results are.  As you know, in this particular case, we made clear the need to uphold the rights of our staff and they were released from detention, but we are continuing to follow up.

Question:  Sorry.  Another unclear point for me is that I saw in some news that UN property was also seized in this incident.  Is it true or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the incident was resolved once the detained staff had been released.  As you know, we then had to focus on their health conditions, as well, but there was no issue having to do with property of which we're aware.  Yes, Jordan?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Surely, there are three questions, not one. 

One on Gaza.  Yesterday, a boy was shot dead by Israeli forces.  Today, 10 years old boy was shot, actually was critically wounded and this might escalate the situation, which they consider barely calm.  What… what do you think about the situation?

Also the Special Envoy for Yemen was in Washington, D.C.  Are you going to issue a readout, or only the one issued by the State Department of the US?

The third one:  I was not here the beginning of the week.  I'm not sure if someone asked you or not, but there are unrest in Israel between the Ethiopian community and the Israeli Government, if you have… which they call for… for equal rights.  What do you think about that also?  Three things.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Well on your first question, of course we're concerned about any of the violence in the region.  We have repeatedly made clear our concerns of any potential escalation in Gaza and we want all sides to avoid any actions that could worsen the situation there.  And, of course, when we are dealing with the situation that involves the death of youth, we want to make sure that all those are promptly investigated by the authorities. 

Regarding your second question, that was about Martin Griffiths?  Yes, as we mentioned, he did meet with the Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, and that's part of his efforts to continue moving ahead with the peace efforts that he's been engaged in on Yemen.  That's about it, as far as a readout. 

Regarding your third question, of course, we believe that all migrants, wherever they are, need to be treated with respect for their rights and their dignity and that would apply in this case.  Yes?

Question:  Good afternoon.  Question regarding the Secretary-General's trip to Nairobi this week.  Speaking in Nairobi, he addressed the increasing violence… terror violence in West Africa, and he said the deteriorating situation we’ve seen here and increasing risks in West Africa are deeply concerning.  And he said in light of these developments there is an urgent need for international… for the international community to support Member States in this region.  What exactly does he mean by that, bring in the UN or bring in a NATO-type situation, because the situation has gotten out of hand in that region there.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, he was talking about, as he has been in the past, about the need for support for the Governments of the region.  And that takes many forms, including financial and political support, but in this particular case, I would also just refer you to the full transcript of the remarks which are fairly straightforward.  Yes?

Question:  Alan Bulkaty with RIA Novosti.  According to Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, there is a possibility of participating over the head of the North Korean, Kim Jong-Un, in the events of General Assembly.  Does Secretary-General… is… is he aware about some… some kind of that information?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the reports.  Obviously, when it comes to the General Assembly, all Heads of Government and Heads of State are welcome to attend.  We'll have to see closer to the events of September who is actually going to be participating. 

And with that, good afternoon, everyone.  And Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.