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

24 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.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In her briefing to the Security Council this morning, Leila Zerrougui, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), highlighted progress in the political situation, notably the President’s efforts to enact reforms and improve collaboration with neighbouring countries.  But, she also pointed out the “labourious” negotiations for the formation of a new Government and called on all parties to resolve their differences.  Ms. Zerrougui reminded members of the Council that the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still facing simultaneous emergencies.  She expressed her concern with the current security situation in Ituri, where, she says, spoilers are seeking to play on ethnic tensions to instigate inter-community violence.  She also pointed out the intolerable toll caused by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacks on civilians.

In addition to massive displacements, the Special Representative mentioned a measles outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 people since the beginning of the year.  On Ebola, she underlined that the challenges faced by responders go well beyond the disease itself.  Factors complicating the response include the activities of armed groups, including the ADF and Mai-Mai, along with continuing high levels of distrust by communities.  “This confluence of factors has resulted in a deadly environment for the people working to counter Ebola,” the Special Representative told Council members.  MONUSCO is leading a united UN approach to respond to the Ebola outbreak, and among other things, provides support to Congolese troops to secure the affected areas.  And the World Health Organization (WHO) said there are no new Ebola cases in Goma and outside the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s borders.  This afternoon, the Council will hear a briefing by Mohammed ibn Chambas on developments in West Africa and the Sahel.

**South Sudan

Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has deployed an urgent peacekeeping patrol following reports of clashes in Lobonok in Central Equatoria State.  The patrol aims to assess the impact of the violence on civilians, who may have been displaced, and will remain in the area for several days to help deter any further fighting.  The Mission is concerned about the fighting and is urging all parties to put down their weapons.  The Mission is also calling on all parties to work together to prevent an escalation in tensions and to fully implement the peace agreement signed last September.  The Mission says that political violence has declined significantly across South Sudan since the signing of the peace agreement, with the exception of Central Equatoria.

**Liberia

The United Nations and Liberia yesterday signed a new partnership agreement, with the country formally transitioning from hosting a peacekeeping mission to providing its own peacekeepers to other UN missions.  The Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, Atul Khare, said that Liberia’s path to peace demonstrates the clear positive impact of UN peacekeeping on a country that moved from conflict to stability, which today is a key partner in assisting other countries in need.  Liberia hosted a peacekeeping mission from 2003 to 2018, and currently has more than 100 peacekeepers serving with the UN missions in Mali and South Sudan.  I’d like to add that the United Nations pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of Liberian peacekeeper Ousmane Ansu Sherif, who lost his life in an attack on a UN Mission camp in Mali’s Timbuktu in May 2017.

**Afghanistan

Today, the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund released $19.5 million to assist 500,000 people in need of emergency food and other critical support.  “Conflict continues unabated in Afghanistan with devastating consequences for the population,” said Toby Lanzer, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the country.  He added that the additional funding comes at a critical time because aid agencies are running out of funds to continue their work.  The funds will enable non-governmental organizations and UN agencies to provide education for 41,000 children, integrated with protection, water, sanitation and hygiene services.  The funds will also provide shelter and core relief items for nearly 98,000 people; food and agriculture support; therapeutic foods to treat severe acute malnutrition in children; and services that help nearly 92,000 survivors of gender-based violence.  This year, there are 6.3 million people in need across Afghanistan.  The Humanitarian Response Plan is seeking $612 million, but it is only 27 per cent funded.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that departures from Syria’s Al Hol camp continue to gradually take place.  Yesterday, on 23 July, some 120 people left the camp en route to their place of origin in Aleppo Governorate.  The UN welcomes their return and reiterates that all returns must remain voluntary, informed and in line with minimum protection standards and international humanitarian law.  As of today, the camp’s population is around 70,000, including some 10,000 third-country nationals, with an overwhelming majority of them children.  The UN continues to call on States of origin of third-country nationals in Al Hol to fulfil their responsibility to their citizens and find solutions for them in line with human rights standards.  The UN calls for unhindered humanitarian access to all people in need based on the principle of humanity, including safe and continuous access and delivery of assistance to all areas of camps, regardless of their profile, including foreigners in highly securitized areas.  Family members of alleged Da’esh fighters are to be treated humanely in accordance with international law and ensured due process, procedural safeguards and judicial guarantees.

**Resident Coordinators

Our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office tell us that Governments have confirmed the new UN Resident Coordinators in four countries — Argentina, Paraguay, Peru and Mongolia — following their appointment by the Secretary-General.  Roberto Valent of Italy will be the Resident Coordinator in Argentina; Mario Samaja, also of Italy, will serve in Paraguay; Igor Garafulic of Chile will serve in Peru; and Tapan Mishra of India will serve in Mongolia.  As the representatives of the Secretary-General, Resident Coordinators will boost development coordination and coherence among UN agencies, funds and programmes to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  We are also proud to announce that we remain with full gender parity among the 129 Resident Coordinators globally.  The full bios of the four new Resident Coordinators are available in our office.

**Innovation

And lastly, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and its partners today released the Global Innovation Index 2019, which ranks 129 economies based on indicators like research and development investments, international patent and trademark applications, and high-tech exports, among others.  Switzerland tops the index as the most innovative country, followed by Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  The Index also said that, despite signs of slowing economic growth, innovation continues to blossom, particularly in Asia, but warns that this could change due to pressure from trade disruptions and protectionism.  You can find the full report online. And that’s from me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A couple of questions, Farhan.  First, on Libya.  There have been calls for all of the detention centres holding migrants and potential refugees to be closed and the people moved.  Has there been any action on that by the United Nations?  And is there any update on what the Secretary-General might be doing to help resolve the crisis in the Gulf?  And as a third question, you… you mentioned paying tribute to a peacekeeper in Mali who died in 2017.  Why?  Why is this happening today?  Not that every peacekeeper who dies doesn't deserve tribute.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well on that last, that was just in the context of mentioning Liberia's contributions, going from a country that had received assistance from UN peacekeepers to a country that is now providing support to peacekeeping and just noting that one of the Liberians who have been assisting UN peacekeeping actually gave his life to the UN cause in recent years.  Regarding the Gulf, what I can say about this is that the Secretary-General takes note of the various initiatives considered regarding the situation in the Gulf region.  He sincerely hopes that all concerned Member States will exercise maximum restraint during this time of heightened tensions and the Secretary-General reiterates the need to respect the rights and duties relating to navigation through the Strait of Hormuz and its adjacent waters in accordance with international law.  And going backwards to your first question on Libya, as far as we're aware, there remain people in the Tajoura centre.  We've already, as you know, raised our concerns about the situation there, particularly since the attack that struck the Tajoura centre a few weeks ago, and we hope that all steps will be taken to ensure the safety and dignity of all those who had been detained.

Question:  A follow-up on the Gulf.  Has the Secretary-General himself been in contact with any of the key players?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has had a range of contacts, but I'm not going to specify those at this stage, but he, as well as his senior officials, have been involved with a range of officials trying to see what can be done to make sure that all parties de-escalate tensions.  Yes?

Question:  The Secretary-General recently has spoken out very strongly against hate speech in general terms, so one assumes he would want to condemn specific incidents.  Let me raise this one with you.  Comments by Egypt's Minister for Immigration and Expatriates, Nabila Makram.  She told an audience: "We won't stand for a single word against our country from abroad.  Anyone who speaks out against our country from abroad, what happens to him?  He will be sliced up." She then runs her finger across her throat in the video recording.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction to language like that coming from a Minister of a Member State?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, without… the Secretary-General made clear that he's not trying to talk about any one individual here or there, because he wants to make sure that all officials abide by the need to avoid hate speech, but, of course, we stand against any incitement to violence.  And, of course, everywhere in the world, people should be able to exercise their freedom of expression regardless of which country and which topic is at hand.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do the Resident Coordinators, with their new functions, report directly to the office of the Secretary-General, or do they do it through UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?

Deputy Spokesman:  They go through the system of the UN's development system, and we do have, as I pointed out, a Development Coordination Office and they report through that.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  I have guests with me, and I want… I've been telling them how transparent the UN is, and you can ask a question here and always get a detailed answer.  Did the Secretary-General, no matter where he is, watch the testimony of Robert Mueller?  And what is his reaction?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I believe the Secretary-General has a number of meetings today, so I doubt he has had any time to watch the television, so we'll all read about it later in the day.  Come on up, Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.