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

16 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.

**High-Level Political Forum

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) Ministerial Segment.

He said that development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive, and warned that rising inequality hinders long-term growth.

The Secretary-General said that for development to be fully inclusive, countries must dramatically scale up public and private investments for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); take global climate action in a manner that reduces inequality by creating jobs and safeguarding the environment; step up the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration; and strengthen their commitments to justice, tolerance, gender equality and human rights.

He said the people of the world do not want half measures or empty promises.  They are demanding transformative change that is fair and sustainable.  He called on countries to use the UN meeting in September to ratchet up ambition and highlight the imperative of inclusion.

And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, where he will stress the need to continue working for access to sexual and reproductive health, as well as gender equality.

**Floods

You will have seen the statement issued yesterday evening in which the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the loss of life, displacement of people and destruction of property due to the heavy monsoonal rains and associated flooding across South and South-East Asia, most notably in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.

He extended his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims, to the Governments and people of the affected countries, adding that the United Nations stands ready to work with the authorities in the affected countries as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this ongoing monsoon season.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in Bangladesh, more than 270,000 people have been affected by rain and landslides, with 14 people reportedly having been killed.  The UN and humanitarian agencies are standing by to provide support if required.

In India, more than 1 million people have been affected and 11 killed, with more than 16,000 people having been evacuated.  UNICEF has been coordinating with State authorities and local partners to provide technical assistance.

Meanwhile, in central and eastern Nepal, more than 60 people have been killed and some 80,000 displaced.  Local authorities and humanitarian agencies have been delivering relief items and medical assistance.

**Abyei

The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei, or UNISFA, reports that two UN peacekeepers on duty were attacked by a group of unknown men at the Amiet Common Market in Abyei yesterday.  One peacekeeper from Ethiopia died from gunshot injuries, while the other sustained wounds.

The mission reports that at least five people, including two women and a child, were also killed during the attack. 

The injured peacekeeper was immediately evacuated for medical treatment.  UNISFA troops have deployed in search for the perpetrators.

The Mission is continuing to monitor developments, and we can expect a statement from the Secretary-General on this incident.

**Ukraine

The Security Council held an open meeting on Ukraine this morning.

In her briefing to Council members, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo said that the new language law in Ukraine raises concerns, even as many controversial points were addressed in its final version.

She noted that the UN human rights office has recommended that the Ukrainian Government should, without delay, elaborate a law on the realization of the rights of national minorities.

Ms. DiCarlo welcomed President Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s statement that a thorough analysis of the law will be conducted.

On the situation in the east, she said that we have seen signs in recent weeks that, with sufficient political will in the Trilateral Contact Group, concrete steps are possible to improve the security and humanitarian situation along the contact line.

But Ms. DiCarlo noted with regret the persistent failure to reach agreement on a ceasefire, once again echoing the call of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for all concerned to work constructively to reach agreement on this quickly.

And just to let you know that the E6 Ambassadors are scheduled to come to the stakeout shortly on this matter.

**Yemen

Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, met with Saudi Vice Minister of Defence Khalid bin Salman yesterday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  He later tweeted that they had discussed how to keep Yemen out of the regional tensions, how to make progress in the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, and Saudi Arabia’s support to the peace process.

Also yesterday, he met in Riyadh with President [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi of Yemen.  The Special Envoy said after the meeting that he was grateful for the Yemeni Government's commitment to the Stockholm Agreement and the President’s personal support to finding a political solution to the conflict in Yemen.

**Syria

The United Nations remains deeply concerned over the safety and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure following continued reports of hostilities in north-west Syria over the last days, including airstrikes, shelling and the alleged use of barrel bombs.

Since 12 July, hostilities in the Idlib de-escalation zone reportedly resulted in over 30 civilian deaths, including women and children.

The hostilities are also reported to have resulted in attacks on civilian infrastructure, some of which have cut off access to clean water for thousands of people.

The United Nations continues to urge all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to exercise restraint.

**Ebola

I have a few updates related to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

As we mentioned yesterday, a case of Ebola has been confirmed in Goma, the capital of North Kivu.  Our colleagues from the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed this morning that the person’s travel history is known and his contacts are being identified and followed up.  Vaccination of his high-risk contacts has also started.

Goma has been preparing for this possibility.  An Ebola Treatment Centre, run by the Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières, has been operational in Goma since February, and the infected person is now receiving care there.

More than 3,000 health workers have been vaccinated in Goma.  Health centres have received intensive training and equipment to improve infection prevention and control.

Goma, as you know, is located at the border with Rwanda, and prevention efforts have been stepped up in that country as well.

In response to this new development, the World Health Organization is convening the fourth meeting of the Emergency Committee on Ebola to determine if the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  The meeting will take place tomorrow, in Geneva, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Geneva time, and that meeting will be followed by a Virtual Press Briefing. 

Also on Ebola, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reports today that the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is infecting more children than previous outbreaks, and it calls for an increased focus on boys and girls in the response.

As of 7 July, about a third of all infections were among children, with 750 cases.  In previous Ebola outbreaks, the proportion of child infections was about 20 per cent.

Young children have been hit especially hard, with 40 per cent of the 750 children infected below the age of 5.

**UNAIDS

UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) warns today that the pace of progress to reduce new HIV infections, to increase access to treatment and end AIDS-related deaths is slowing down.  A new report shows a mixed picture.  Some countries are making impressive gains while others are experiencing rises in new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths.

Globally, last year, around 1.7 million people became infected with HIV.  This represents a 16 per cent decline since 2010, driven mostly by steady progress across most of eastern and southern Africa.  However, there is still a long way to go in eastern and southern Africa.  There have also been worrying increases in new HIV infections in eastern Europe and central Asia, by 29 per cent, in the Middle East and North Africa, by 10 per cent, and in Latin America, by 7 per cent.

The report shows that, for the first time, the global resources available for the AIDS response declined significantly by nearly $1 billion.  UNAIDS urges all partners to step up action and invest in the response, including by fully funding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

**Press Briefings

Immediately following my briefing, Monica Villela Grayley will brief you.

And, then at 12:30 p.m., Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), will be here to speak to you about the new Red Cross guidelines to help cities prepare for heatwaves.

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions? Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, just before you started briefing, there was a new statement on Libya that was released, a joint statement by France, Italy, the UK, the US, Egypt and the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and it expresses their deep concern about the ongoing fighting in Tripoli.  It goes on to say they fully support the leadership of the Special Representative Ghassan Salamé but says the UN mediation needs to be "reenergized." Can you tell us what the UN is doing to try to reenergize its mediation in Libya?

Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Salamé has been continuing with his contacts, including with both the Government and with the LNA (Libyan National Army), and so he is trying to bring the parties together, get a halt to the fighting, and as you know, this is something the Secretary-General has been pushing for as well.  But he does plan to continue to reach out and he is hopeful and appreciative of any support by the international community that can help prod the parties back to the table.

Question:  And a quick follow-up.  What is the UN plan for Libya?  Is it still the plan of trying to have a national conference in Ghadames and then have an election?  Is that still the… the… the direction?

Spokesman:  Obviously, in his discussions with the parties, Mr. Salamé will continue to make adjustments to reflect the points that are being raised.  I don't have a brand-new approach to relate to you, but as you know, he will continue to keep the Security Council abreast of the various developments.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, yesterday in the afternoon, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reacted to the [Donald] Trump Administration policy for asylum, and I'm sure that you've been asked about this.  Is any position that maybe the Secretary-General has, now that this report says that it could endanger the well-being of many people that are trying to get to the United States, or that are in the Central American countries looking for refuge?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General supports fully the work that is being done by the UN refugee agency and also by the International Migration Agency (IOM), and he welcomes what they've been saying on this.  As you know, he has made a clear point that the safety and the dignity and the rights of those who are moving across borders needs to be respected at all times and beyond that, of course, we'll continue to follow what UNHCR is doing to ensure that that is being done.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, on this Human Rights Council report on India when they… about the human rights abuses in the Indian-occupied Kashmir, and that there are some sort of a… a… some sort of a… what do you call, some sort of contact with the people over there.  The thing is that India has not allowed that to happen.  Do you see any progress over there?

Spokesman:  Well, certainly, you should keep in touch with our human rights colleagues about what kind of access they have.  Obviously, we want all Member States to provide our human rights mechanisms with the access they need to go about their work.

Question:  And the other… the other thing I wanted to ask you was that, when I asked you yesterday that you did not… you said you didn't know.  This report that BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has said that it will devise a plan to, what do you call, have Hindu, what do you call, settlements in the Muslim areas of Kashmir.  That's a report by… what do you call, the news agency Al Jazeera.  It's a report by Al Jazeera, that is that.  Do you have anything… any comments at all, or?

Spokesman:  Well, we don't comment on the statements by different political parties.  We would have to see what the actual policies would be.

Correspondent:  But when it actually happens is when you…

Spokesman:  I'm not going to speculate what might happen.  Yes.  Yes, please, Celia?

Question:  Thank you.  I am asking on Venezuela.  The organisation RFK Human Rights released a video from 22 and 23 February.  During the time, they were… humanitarian aid was trying to be forced into Venezuela and the video shows evidence of violent acts against indigenous communities, especially Pemones, which are some of the Venezuelan indigenous, they live there.  They are right now presenting… they're trying to make known these videos, as well as some of the testimonies, from the indigenous communities there about the abuse by the Government of Nicolás Maduro.  Is any reaction to this… I… I don't know, probably you haven't seen the video, but is any reaction of this type of accounts of what happened during that day, in terms of abuses by security forces against some of the indigenous that live in the border between Brazil and Venezuela?

Spokesman:  Regarding that, obviously, we would need to have further information about these particular allegations but the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has made clear her own concerns about the actions of, among others, the security forces.  As you know, she visited the country last month and then reported back to the Human Rights Council on it.  And as you know, her office is ready to assist in ensuring that the human rights of all Venezuelans are fully protected, including through a presence at Caracas, which would be able to advise and work with State institutions, civil society and the UN system, so we are calling for support for that sort of presence that can help ensure that human rights are respected in the country.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes.  Yesterday, I believe you said that you expected a meeting to be held between the Secretary-General and Iran's Foreign Minister.  Has that actually now been scheduled for a specific time?  And if so, will we get a readout?

Spokesman:  It's tentatively scheduled for Thursday afternoon and we'll try to get whatever details we can after that meeting.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, on this question that I asked you about on Yemen.  The… the infighting between the Saudis and the UAE on the situation in Yemen and that is creating to further bloodletting in… in Yemen.  Blame is being hurled at Houthis and so forth.  So do you have any definitive thing about Yemen that this… where is this all coming from?  And are they eventually going to be ready to sign on to the so-called Stockholm Agreement?

Spokesman:  Regarding that, we don't have any first-hand information about those particular movements that you were mentioning, but obviously, we are encouraging any steps by any of the parties towards de-escalation of the conflict.  You heard what I said at the start of the briefing about the efforts that Martin Griffiths has been making, and we would continue to urge restraint from all parties, as well as urge all of the groups, including the regional players, to de-escalate. 

Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.