25 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

First, to let you know we all note with sadness the passing of President Essebsi of Tunisia.  I do expect that we will have a statement by the Secretary-General shortly.


And, in a statement on Somalia we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the deadly terrorist attacks that took place in Mogadishu yesterday directed against the offices of the Benadir Regional Administration and in the surroundings of Villa Somalia.

The Secretary-General extended his deep condolences to the victims’ families and loved ones.  He reiterated the full support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Federal Government of Somalia.

The United Nations remains committed to supporting the people of Somalia in the pursuit of peace, stability and development.


I’ve been asked about the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Bureau of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People yesterday, and whether the issue of the demolitions in Sur Bahir was raised.

I can confirm that the issue was raised by members of the Bureau of the Committee.  The Secretary-General reconfirmed his strong support for the recent statements made by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, as well as by the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, and other senior UN officials in the region.

These statements expressed sadness at the Israeli authorities’ destruction of homes in the Palestinian community of Sur Bahir and noted that Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council heard an update by Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel. 

He welcomed progress in the consolidation of democracy in the region, notably through recent elections in Nigeria, Senegal and Mauritania, but also pointed out that human rights continue to be challenged in several countries.

Mr. Chambas told Council Members that since the beginning of the year, the region has witnessed an even more visible and significant rise in attacks directly related to violent extremism.  In the entire Sahel, violence and insecurity have sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has left 5.1 million people from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali in need of assistance.

He noted the rapid deterioration of the security situation in Burkina Faso, and also highlighted how attacks by Boko Haram splinter groups in the Lake Chad Basin continue to threaten the peace and stability of the region.

**Horn of Africa

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, two years after the prolonged drought of 2016 and 2017, poor rainfall between March and mid-May of this year across swathes of the Horn of Africa is leading to increased food insecurity.

As of today, nearly 13 million people are severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, with that number expected to climb to 14 million by next month.

Nearly 800,000 children are severely malnourished and nearly 700,000 pregnant and lactating women are acutely malnourished in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Many of the areas affected by drought have also been affected by internal violence and conflict.

**South Asia

More than 25 million people have been affected by flooding due to the torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Myanmar, with more than half a million people displaced, our humanitarian colleagues tell us.

At least 600 people have reportedly been killed in monsoon-related incidents.

In Bangladesh, it is estimated that more than 4 million people have been affected, and the UN is helping to assess needs to determine the necessary response and is also supporting the Government in the areas of water and sanitation, as well as health.

In Myanmar, waters in some areas have receded, allowing some of those who had been uprooted to return home, but over 40,000 people remain displaced.

The Governments in all four countries are leading the response with support from the UN, aid agencies and the private sector.

**Economic and Social Council

Ambassador Mona Juul of Norway was elected today as the 75th President of the UN Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC.

Ambassador Juul said that she will make the whole ecosystem of ECOSOC as relevant and efficient as possible.  She will reach out to the wider UN family to ensure that ECOSOC plays its part in the implementation of UN reform.

Ambassador Juul said she will strive to advance the financing for development agenda through the work of the whole system.  Her aim is to also hold an inclusive, fact-based and action-oriented 2020 High-Level Political Forum. 


And last, I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has appointed Fayaz King of Zimbabwe as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as the Deputy Executive Director, Field Results and Innovation, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  He will succeed Shanelle Hall of the United States, to whom the Secretary-General and UNICEF are grateful for her dedicated service.

Mr. King recently served as the Chief Operating Officer at Econet Wireless, where he was influential in digitally transforming the telecommunications company.  He served on the Boards of Liquid Telecom Zimbabwe, Econet Burundi and Econet Lesotho, bringing to the position over 30 years of experience in innovation, business development, organizational and digital transformation.

And that’s it for me.  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, a lot of news to get your reaction to today.  I'll start with two. 

First, the firing of ballistic missiles by North Korea.  One of them that apparently went 690 kilometres and was a new type of missile.  What is the Secretary-General's response to what appears to be a clear breach of… of the Security Council's resolutions?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, the Secretary-General is concerned by the launches of ballistic missiles by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  He calls for the swift resumption of working-level talks between the US and the DPRK as agreed during the leaders meeting in the Demilitarized Zone in June.

Question:  My second question.  The US has announced it's going to resume capital punishment after two decades.  What is the Secretary-General's response?  And just to be clear, we know what his view on capital punishment and what the GA (General Assembly) has said on capital punishment.  I want his response to the fact that a leading nation of the UN, a P5 member, is doing this.

Deputy Spokesman:  The basic point is a point of principle.  That is, the Secretary-General is against the imposition of capital punishment anywhere in the world and he would be so in this case.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I was wondering if you have a readout or… or… or have anything to say regarding the meeting between the SG and the Turkish Cypriot leader.  The office of the Turkish Supreme Leader put out a statement yesterday, and is there anything from the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any particular readout to give.  Obviously, this is a key issue for the Secretary-General, and he discusses Cyprus with all of the communities and all of the involved parties, and so he would do so in this case.  If I have any further details, I'll let you know.

Question:  Follow-up.  Is there any briefer today at the Security Council regarding the situation in Cyprus?

Deputy Spokesman:  They already received a briefing by Elizabeth Spehar earlier this month.  I believe this is a discussion concerning the extension of the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Force, UNFICYP.  Maggie?

Question:  Farhan, on that Somalia attack you mentioned at the top.  Today, the Shabaab's military spokesperson said that James Swan, the UN Special Envoy for Somalia, was the intended target of… of that bombing.  Do you have any information on that?  What… what's your reaction?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't have any have particular information connecting the bombing to Mr. Swan.  As you're aware, there's a considerable amount of violence in Mogadishu, and we've expressed our concerns about that over the years, and Mr. Swan had been present at that site, but that had been some time prior to the attack, so we don't have any particular information connecting it to the targeting of our envoy.

Question:  Have you spoken to Mr. Swan?  Is he safe?  And will there be any additional security measures for him in light of this threat against him, this public threat?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General intends to write both to Mr. Swan and also to the UN staff in Mogadishu, so we will be conveying a message to them, of our solidarity with their work and of our concern for their safety.  Edie?

Question:  Will you take precautions to protect them better?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Whenever there are any sorts of incidents, we review all security measures and we will take the necessary measures.  Yes?

Question:  As a follow-up to that first, is the… how concerned is the Secretary-General at al-Shabaab actually saying that they… that they targeted the United Nations envoy? Is he angered, outraged?

Deputy Spokesman:  Any threats, against any UN personnel anywhere in the world, are a matter of grave concern for the Secretary-General.  We want to make sure that all of our personnel everywhere are protected and are able to go about their work free of any hindrance and free of any threats.  At the same time, like I said, I… we don't have any specific information that would connect this attack to Mr. Swan.

Question:  And as the second question, the Libyan… the Libyans have said that another some 150 migrants are believed to have drowned off the coast of Libya.  They picked up about 150 others.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this continuing problem?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We're very worried about the continuing problem having to do with the safety of people on the high seas, and we've made clear the need for all the countries in the region to work to ensure, first and foremost, that the lives of those people who have placed themselves at such great risk are protected.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  Do you… does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this report by the Israeli television and radio that Israeli Army knew that it was unnecessarily killing the Gaza protesters in real time?  Do you have any reaction to this… thing?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  These reports are being studied by our relevant personnel here at the UN, and we'll see what the contents are.

Question:  But what is happening is outrageous.  Secretary-General has nothing to say about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do and… and as you know, we had a very detailed briefing about the situation among the Israelis and Palestinians, including in Gaza, just two days ago, so we have been discussing this.

Correspondent:  It just appeared in the Israeli news.  I am not talking about any other international… is there…

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware; the latest reports will need to be studied, just as all their predecessors are.  Yes, Maria?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  So today, Russian vessel was seized by Ukrainian authorities.  I wonder if Ukraine provided any information to the United Nations about the incident?  And if Secretary-General has any comments on that?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we're aware of the media reports.  One thing is that we cannot independently verify the circumstances surrounding this development.  As you know, we have previously expressed concern over past incidents near the Crimean Peninsula by the Kerch Strait involving Ukrainian and Russian vessels and stressed the need to avoid any escalation.  We reiterate the need to refrain from any ratcheting up of actions or rhetoric and to fully respect the rights and obligations of all concerned parties under relevant international instruments, based on the diplomatic and legal means available and in accordance with the UN Charter.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, before I ask a new question, I'm going to give you one more chance, because I asked you very specifically about the US's leadership on human rights and its decision on the death penalty.  I'm not… this is not a personal go, because I know you're getting orders from upstairs, but really, what is the relevance of this briefing?  Why are we sitting here if we ask you specific questions and you come back and answer so many times with weak generalities?  So what is your view on the US, which has such an important role in the UN system, deciding to reintroduce the death penalty?

Deputy Spokesman:  On a question like the death penalty, it's not a case of any one country being a leader about this.  All the countries that have it, all the countries that continue to impose the death penalty on the population are flying in the face of what the UN believes is the principled position to end this sort of penalty, for once and for all.  This is an issue that has been very dear to the Secretary-General's heart, and he's made it very clear that, as a person, he believes that the death penalty shouldn't be carried out anywhere.  That's why we have it as a consistent point of view.

Question:  New question.  We've talked, you've answered about Ukraine and Russia.  There are reports that another vessel has been taken in the Gulf, a Maltese-registered vessel.  Is it the time for the Secretary-General to get involved in this issue of maritime security that seems to be coming to the fore right now and take a lead and… and say something very publicly on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've made clear that the Secretary-General believes that everywhere, that freedom of navigation needs to be upheld, and we've said so in many different circumstances.  The Secretary-General and his senior officials are reaching out to make sure that that message gets across.

Question:  And one more…

Deputy Spokesman:  And before you continue.  I have the following statement of the Secretary-General on the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia, and this is in the Secretary-General's voice.  He says, "I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia, a pivotal figure in the history of Tunisia and the country's independence.  In recent years, he was instrumental in successfully steering the country through its historic and peaceful transition to democracy.

"President Essebsi will be remembered for his bold determination to uphold democratic rule in Tunisia and to respect and promote the rights of its citizens including a strong advocacy for women's rights and equality.  President Essebsi was a Tunisian pioneer, an Arab, an African trailblazer, and a global leader."

And again, this is in the Secretary-General's voice.  He says, "I convey the deepest condolences of the United Nations to the family of President Essebsi and to the people and Government of Tunisia."


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is in regard to the North Korea launch.  I was just wondering… my first question is, can you just clarify or just state again what the Secretary-General's view in general is of the President [Donald] Trump/Kim [Jong Un] talks?  I know you just called… you said that he was concerned about the launch, and that he hoped there would be a swift resumption, but in general, how important does he see these talks in the contexts of resolving the crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  He's made it clear that he views those meetings as a hopeful development, and he's hoped that that will lead to progress towards the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and he continues to monitor the developments since then.  Yes?

Question:  You read a statement on an issue that's been going on for the last couple of days, the beginning of the briefing from the humanitarian coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in which he said he had sadness and it was not compatible with international law.  It seems all week, in all the statements coming from every arm of the UN, you've been avoiding an outright condemnation of the destruction of these homes.  Does the Secretary-General condemn the destruction of these homes?

Deputy Spokesman:  The words we have are the words that I've used, and I've used them repeatedly for a reason.  This is an organization that uses words with care and precision, and that is what we will stick with.

Question:  So you don't want to send a strong message?

Deputy Spokesman:  We believe that this is a strong message.  Opinions can differ about the quality of these words, but certainly, the Governments who are watching this issue should have no doubt that we feel strongly about this, and we have expressed it repeatedly and at all levels, including the level of the Secretary-General.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, on this Rohingya refugee crisis.  Do you know how massive the crisis is now?  And does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the images that are being now released about how massive this, what do you call, Rohingya crisis has become?  Do you have any reaction to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've made very clear over the past year the scale of the crisis and the need for the right conditions to be set on the ground so that the Rohingya can return home to Myanmar, and we continue to abide by that.  And we continue to work, including through the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme(UNDP), and others, to work with the Government of Myanmar to make sure that we can bring the Rohingya refugees back. 

And with that, Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.