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

23 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.

**Middle East

Good afternoon, everyone.  Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, told the Security Council this morning that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be locked in a dangerous paralysis that is fueling extremism and exacerbating tensions in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She warned that there is a growing risk of more unilateral actions and the loss of hope that peace can be achieved through negotiations.

Ms.  DiCarlo noted the demolition of housing in Sur Bahir by Israeli authorities yesterday, resulting in the displacement of 24 Palestinians, including 14 children, while the livelihoods of some 300 people were affected.  As Deputy Special Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick stated yesterday, Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law and contributes to the [risk] of forcible transfer facing many Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Ms. DiCarlo briefed the Security Council on Gaza, saying that the UN continues to work closely with Egypt to mediate and de-escalate tensions there.  While our joint efforts are beginning to bear fruit, she said that she remains deeply concerned by the humanitarian, economic and political situation there.  The shortage of medicines, equipment and personnel continue to impede the ability of health providers to meet the needs of patients, including those severely injured during the weekly protests at the perimeter fence.

And the EU6 will speak about the Middle East at the Security Council stakeout at around 12:30 p.m.

**Yukiya Amano

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that he was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. 

Through his stewardship of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director-General Amano worked tirelessly to ensure that nuclear energy is used only for peaceful purposes.  In leading the IAEA in such an exemplary fashion, he advanced human well-being through efforts spanning medicine, agriculture and other vital areas.

Mr. Amano confronted serious global challenges, including those related to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with equanimity and determination.  Our world, the Secretary-General said, is so much better for it.  The full statement is online.

**Cyprus

The Under-Secretary General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is travelling today to Cyprus.  He will be there until 26 July to meet with the leaders of the two communities on the island, as well as civil society and community representatives.

Mr. Lacroix will meet with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus, Elizabeth Spehar, and personnel of the UN peacekeeping mission (UNFICYP).  He will also visit key locations where the UN mission is deployed along the buffer zone.

**Libya

Following discussions with European States in Paris, yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, and the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, welcomed the consensus on the need for action on Libya and the Mediterranean.

Violence in Tripoli in the past few weeks has made the situation more desperate than ever, and the need for action is critical, they said.

The heads of UNHCR and IOM stressed the importance of ending the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants in Libya.  They added that no one should be returned to detention centres in Libya after being intercepted or rescued at sea. 

Mr. Grandi and Mr. Vitorino also acknowledged the renewed commitment from States to prevent loss of life on the Mediterranean Sea.  They called for a European Union State search and rescue operation, adding that the status quo, where search and rescue operations are often left to NGOs or commercial vessels, cannot continue. 

Finally, they urged States to work with their agencies to get the most vulnerable refugees in Libya out of danger; and welcomed the expressions of support in this regard that they heard in Paris.  More information is available online.

**Syria

The Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, Mark Cutts, expressed concern on the mounting civilian casualties in the Idlib area, after one of the deadliest attacks on civilian areas in the past three months took place yesterday.  In the attack, at least 66 civilians were killed and over 100 women, children and men were wounded in scores of airstrikes and shelling incidents in multiple locations across the north-west. 

The worst attack was an airstrike on a popular public market in Ma’arat al-Nu’man, which left at least 39 dead, including eight women and five children.  Many more were injured, some seriously, and the casualty count is expected to rise further in the coming days. 

Since the end of April, the UN has documented over 400 civilian deaths in total.

The UN reminds all parties to the conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligation to protect civilians and the principles of distinction and proportionality enshrined in International Humanitarian Law.  The UN calls for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld. 

The UN also calls for attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure to come to an end and for areas to be made accessible for humanitarian assistance.

**Nigeria

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the crisis in north-east Nigeria, now in its tenth year, is showing no signs of abating.

More than 7 million people are in need of life-saving assistance, including nearly 3 million people who are food insecure.

Some 1.8 million people are internally displaced, and this number is rising due to the continued violent clashes between non-State armed groups and Nigerian security forces.

Despite the insecurity, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have reached more than 2 million people with aid.

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria seeks $848 million to help 6.2 million people, but it is only 33 per cent funded.

Beyond Nigeria, the Boko Haram insurgency is also affecting Cameroon, Chad and Niger, with nearly 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance across the Lake Chad region. 

This year, the humanitarian community is seeking $1.3 billion for the Lake Chad region, but the appeal is only 20 per cent funded so far.

**Bangladesh

The World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the Government of Bangladesh to help more than 275,000 people affected by flooding in the country’s north-west.

An innovative project, which uses weather forecasts to trigger early actions such as cash transfers, is being used for the first time.

Some 5,000 households, or 25,000 of the most vulnerable people, have received money through mobile transfers as part of the project.

The Government of Bangladesh says that more than 2 million people have been affected in nearly one third of Bangladesh’s 64 districts.  WFP is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to assist further.

**Global Compact

Our colleagues at the UN Global Compact today announced that 28 companies with a combined market cap of $1.3 trillion dollars have committed to step up their climate action ahead of the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in September.

These companies collectively represent over 1 million employees from 17 sectors and more than 16 countries and include Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co, Vodafone and Hewlett Packard, among others.

The companies have committed themselves to more ambitious climate targets aligned with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050.  You can find the full list of companies online.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) Executive Director, ad interim, Gunilla Carlsson.  She will brief on the UNAIDS Global AIDS Update and the report on Implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.  And after that we will hear from Monica Villela Grayley. 

Are there any questions for me first?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, some questions following the meeting that is still ongoing on the Middle East.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that the UN Security Council's resolutions are binding international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's a clear point of principle that Security Council resolutions count as binding international law.

Question:  So does he believe that the resolutions passed by the Security Council on Israel‑Palestine are binding on all the parties and are pretty clear?

Deputy Spokesman:  I know where you're trying to lead with that, but the basic point is that we have always called on all Member States to abide by all Security Council resolutions, and we do so in this circumstance, as well as others.  We are aware of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian peace processes and the challenges that have arisen from it over the decades; but at the same time, yes, we do still call on all countries to respect the resolutions of Council.

Question: So, does the Secretary‑General agree with the US Special Representative Jason Greenblatt, who says the resolutions are a tricky subject that could be discussed for years, or instead with the German Ambassador, who suggests the US is treating those binding resolutions as an a la carte menu?

Deputy Spokesman: I'm not going to get into the war of words between different individuals on this.  It's clear that the Council's resolutions need to be respected.  Enforcement of the resolutions is, as you know, up to the members of the Security Council themselves.  Yes, please, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  In her earlier remarks, Rosemary DiCarlo said that the UN condemn all attacks on civilians, both Israelis and Palestinians.  Does that include the settlers?  Are the settlers who live on the land they confiscated, carry guns and protected by the Israeli Army, are they considered civilians?  Clear cut, I want an answer, "Yes" or "No."  Are they settlers or just completely, 100 per cent civilian, or not?

Deputy Spokesman: She has made it clear that we regard all attacks on people who are not armed, who are not carrying arms as acts that are deplorable and need to be avoided.

Question:  But the settlements are illegal.  Those who live in the settlements are living in land they don't belong to.  It's not theirs.  They took it by force.  Are they civilians?

Deputy Spokesman:  You're well aware of where the UN stands on the settlements and we are against the principle of the settlements.  At the same time, unarmed people are civilians and they should not be attacked.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday in a meeting with President [Donald] Trump with the Pakistani Prime Minister, President Trump said he is willing to be a mediator between Pakistan and India on Kashmir, which India immediately said, no.  But given the fact that it is still an international issue, which is about… does the Secretary‑General believe there is a time that he can go and mediate between nations because Kashmiris are still suffering from the occupation of the Indian troops, so where does the Secretary‑General stand now?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, our good offices are always available, as the Secretary‑General himself has made clear.  Ultimately, what is needed for any such effort to be successful is that both parties need to be willing to reach out to the UN or to any other party for any such mediation.

Question: The thing is the good offices are being offered by the Secretary‑General, one side says yes, other side says no, and said we will discuss it bilateral… so where does the United Nations at any point in time, one of the parties which is unwilling to talk could bring it to the table, also?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's a simple fact that the successful operation of any mediation effort requires the willing participation of both sides.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, you read Secretary‑General expressed concern and asked for restraint with regard to seizure of vessels in the Persian Gulf.  The UK Foreign Minister proposed in the Parliament the creating of a maritime, a maritime force to… for the safety of the, especially Strait of Hormuz.  Where does Secretary‑General stand on this and has he been in touch with any of the parties, UK, Iran, with regard to the seizure of the vessels recently?

Deputy Spokesman:  The UN has been in touch with the parties at various levels.  On this.  I'll just repeat what we have said, that the Secretary‑General wants all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions that could escalate the situation.

Question:  On the question of the maritime force?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware that these discussions are ongoing, but ultimately the important thing is for all nations to take steps to de-escalate tensions.  Yes?

Question:  I'm going to ask you two Palestinian‑Israeli‑related questions and the Secretary‑General's position.  The first is:  Does the Secretary‑General have a position, if so, what it would be, regarding the Palestinian Authority's criminalization of the voluntary sale by a Palestinian to an Israeli Jew of dwellings in Jerusalem, so that is the first question?  The second question is:  Does the Secretary‑General have the position, if so, what would it be, regarding the Palestinian Authority's decision to continue paying terrorists' families, who are imprisoned terrorists, suspected terrorists themselves, stipends at the expense of the welfare of the Palestinian people?

Deputy Spokesman: On that I would just refer you to the briefings, including the one by Ms. DiCarlo today, in terms of where we stand on what we feel is appropriate actions.

Question:  She did not… I listened to it and she did not answer that, so I'm asking whether the Secretary‑General has an explicit opinion on the appropriateness of making those payments to alleged terrorists and their surviving families at the expense of the welfare of the Palestinian people.  She did not answer that question. 

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the Palestinian Authority themselves have dealt with questions about where the money is going.  But we have talked in the past about what the responsible activities of the Palestinian Authority are, yes.

Question:  I had the first question about the sale, voluntary sale, by a Palestinian to an Israeli Jew of a dwelling in Jerusalem, the criminalization of that by the Palestinian Authority, what is the Secretary‑General's opinion on that?

Deputy Spokesman: I'm not going to get into different authorities' legal systems.  Ultimately those are issues to be worked out by the legal authorities with respect for due process.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes.  Again, back to the destruction of homes in Sur Bahir and leaving so many civilians homeless and uprooted from their homes and some of them became refugees for a second time, as it has been said in the briefing, so such an incident with that magnitude — doesn't it really merit a statement from the Secretary‑General himself, rather than from his associates in the field?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary‑General fully supports the statement that was issued in the region.

Question:  Why he didn't himself issue a statement to show, just to give some weight to this incident?

Deputy Spokesman:  As he himself made clear, he fully supports that statement, that should give it some weight, yes.

Question:  The Secretary‑General has repeatedly said that he would like to see steps to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf and we are not really clear what he is proposing with regard to that.  So, there is a new development and I would like to see whether he believes this is an escalation or a de-escalation.  Is the proposal by the UK to have other of its allies come together and sort out some sort of military force in the Gulf, possibly to escort ships, does the Secretary‑General see that as a step which will escalate or de-escalate tensions?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think at this stage it's better to see how this discussion proceeds and whether it is, in fact, something that either gives rise to further tensions or not.  I can't predict at this point what that will do.  We do know that the situation a few weeks ago was certainly a calmer one, and that is what we are trying to return to.  How we get from here to there, we will leave it to the nations to resolve.  But we are hopeful that all the countries in the region and elsewhere are aware of what their responsibilities are and the need to keep freedom of navigation protected in the Strait of Hormuz and throughout.

Question: And given this proposal for this force, does the Secretary‑General believe such a proposal requires some sort of UN mandate, for example, from the Security Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, I don't want to get into this at this stage while it's still something that is being discussed by different Governments.  Let's see what the content of those discussions yields.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Secretary‑General is always opposed to the use of violence and we see the use of violence, resort to violence in Hong Kong.  Does he have any reaction to these events, and does he have any plans or ideas on how to resolve the issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything new to say about the situation there.  You've heard what we've said in past weeks on this.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two different questions.  One is about climate change.  Today United Nation issued the Clean Air Initiative in preparation for the climate summit this… during this General Assembly.  Why now such an initiative issued by UN?  And the second question is different; it's about Mozambique, hit by the heavy cyclones this March and April.  And, one of the UN officer, according to the local paper, UN officer is very much concerned about the prevailing of the terrorism after the affected area, especially the human trafficking and to hire the children to soldiers — how serious does the Secretary‑General see the situation after the cyclones hit in Mozambique?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Well, for your second question, you're referring to something that an official from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was discussing.  And, obviously, this shows the need to be able to rebuild the lives of the Mozambicans whose lives were shattered by the two cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, that you need to have a reconstruction not just of buildings but of the sort of economic livelihood that could keep people away from illicit activities.  And that will be an important step as we move forward and one of the reasons why we need, as the Secretary‑General made clear in his recent visit, continued international support, including financial support, for the people of Mozambique.  And regarding the Clean Air Initiative, as you will see, there will be a number of initiatives being proposed including as we head towards the climate summit, and we are hoping Member States will come to support all of them.  We only will have time for a couple more questions before we get to our guest.  Yes?

Question: Change the subject to Cyprus.  In the upcoming discussions that you referenced in your briefing, is it anticipated that Mr. Lacroix will bring up the subject of the Turkish exploration off the coast of Cyprus for oil and gas reserves?  And, secondly, will he bring up the subject of the influx over the years of settlers from Turkey into Northern Cyprus and the legality of such settlements?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, I'm not going to speak out in advance of the meetings he's having.  He will have meetings with various parties while he is in Cyprus.  And, of course, as I mentioned, he will meet with the head of the mission there, Elizabeth Spehar, and discuss a wide range of issues.  We can give more details about those meetings after they have happened.  Yes?

Question: I asked you a question a few days ago about the child who was shot in the head in Kafr Qaddum.  And his name is Abdul Rahman Shteiwi.  He is ten years old.  He was shot violently in the head.  You said you would come back to me with a certain language, yes?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Office of the Special Coordinator is looking into this.  When we have something to say on it, I'll let you know.  [He later said that The Special Coordinator is deeply alarmed by the shooting of 9-year-old Abdul Rahman Shteiwi during clashes between Palestinians and ISF in the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum on 12 July.  He calls for a swift, transparent and thorough investigation.  Children’s lives and rights must come ahead of any other consideration.  Children must be protected from all forms of violence.]  And, with that, let me get to our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.