29 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, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.


The Security Council held an open meeting on Libya this morning.  Briefing Council members, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ghassan Salame, said that the armed conflict in the country shows no signs of abating, with the war around Tripoli having left nearly 1,100 people dead, including more than 100 civilians.

He noted that forces on both sides have failed to observe their obligations under international humanitarian law, pointing to the deadly air strike that hit the migrant detention centre in Tajoura earlier this month.  Mr. Salame said that, following UN-backed efforts to move the migrants to more secure locations, in recent days, authorities have moved more than 200 migrants back into the bombed facility in Tajoura.

He also stressed that the deaths of up to 150 migrants at sea last week again underlines the urgent need to address the root causes of the migrant issue.  He emphasized the need for migrant detention centres to be shuttered, urging the Council to call upon the authorities in Tripoli to free those held in these facilities.

The Special Representative put forward a three-part plan of action to end the conflict.  First, he called for a truce to be declared for Eid al-Adha; second, he called for a high-level meeting of concerned countries to end the hostilities and implement the arms embargo; and last, a meeting of leading and influential personalities from Libya to agree on a way forward.

Also on Libya, the Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim in Libya, Bérangère Böell-Yousfi, strongly condemned today what she called the disgraceful shelling of Al-Alamain school and Az Zawiyah Field Hospital, south of Tripoli.  Thousands of people have been deprived from access to basic services as a result.

The UN and humanitarian organizations continue to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and urge an end to the attacks on hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure and personnel.


I have a couple of announcements for you.  The Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Karla Gabriela Samayoa Recari of Guatemala as his Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia.

Ms. Samayoa Recari succeeds Jessica Faieta of Ecuador, to whom the Secretary-General extends his deep gratitude for her exemplary leadership and dedication.

Serving as Guatemala’s Ambassador to Italy and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Organizations based in Rome since 2018, Ms. Samayoa Recari brings to the position over 20 years of experience in diplomacy, including in United Nations contexts, where she focused on peace and security, humanitarian and management issues.

And I have another announcement for you.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Rosine Sori-Coulibaly of Burkina Faso as his new Special Representative for Guinea-Bissau and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau, or UNIOGBIS for short.

Ms. Sori-Coulibaly succeeds José Viegas Filho of Brazil, who completed his assignment on 18 May 2019.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Viegas Filho’s leadership of UNIOGBIS during his tenure.

Having recently served as Minister of Economy, Finance and Development in her home country, Ms. Sori-Coulibaly brings to this position more than 35 years of international and national experience in the field of sustainable and humanitarian development, political transition, poverty reduction, fiscal and budgetary reforms, gender equality and women’s empowerment.  And we have more on this online.


The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned yesterday’s attack on the political office of vice-presidential candidate, Amrullah Saleh, in Kabul.  According to international media, at least 20 people were killed.  On its Twitter account, UNAMA recalls that candidates are civilians and reiterates that violence has no place in Afghanistan’s presidential campaign.

In a statement issued today, UNAMA urges all stakeholders to work toward building trust and confidence in the election process, stressing the importance to provide the Afghan people with sufficient information and understanding to exercise an informed choice for their next president.

The Mission also recalls the particularly important role of the media in the elections process.

Registered voters are encouraged to participate in the elections, including women, to express their democratic will.

UNAMA reiterates its continued commitment and support for an Afghan‐led and Afghan‐owned election, and acknowledges the efforts made by electoral management bodies, the Government and other stakeholders to hold a timely, transparent and credible presidential election.


Yesterday evening, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the loss of life and destruction of property caused by landslides in the Guizou province of China.

The Secretary-General extended his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

With the heavy rains that contributed to the landslides still falling, the Secretary-General commends the search and rescue operations being conducted by the Government of China.  If needed, the United Nations stands ready to assist in these efforts.


UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Administrator Achim Steiner returned today from a five-day mission to Yemen, where he travelled to Aden, Sana’a, and Hudaydah.

In a statement, Mr. Steiner said that the magnitude of the devastation and human suffering that he witnessed first-hand is difficult to comprehend.  He added that the only viable solution for Yemen is peace.

He said that one of the main objectives behind his visit to Yemen was to explore how development initiatives can work with all Yemenis to lay the foundation for a future with viable alternatives to war and chaos.  You can find Mr. Steiner’s full statement on UNDP’s website.


Our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in north-west Syria, where some 3 million women, children and men remain caught in the crossfire.

Close to 500 civilians have been killed in the violence since 28 April, and more than 440,000  people have been displaced.

This weekend alone, at least 35 people, including three health workers, were reportedly killed in a succession of air strikes and shelling on densely populated urban areas in territory controlled by non-State armed groups.  Shelling also reportedly affected urban areas in Government-controlled zones.

In addition, extensive damage to residential areas and civilian infrastructure reportedly included seven schools, a health clinic, a market, and a bakery.  Thousands of people fled towards the Turkish border this weekend, as well.

The UN reminds all parties to the conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and of the principles of distinction and proportionality enshrined in international humanitarian law.


Our humanitarian colleagues also tell us that there have been three successive earthquakes in the remote northern Batanes area of the Philippines on Saturday.

As of today, nearly 3,000 people, the entire population of Itbayat island, have been displaced, eight people were killed and more than 60 people are reportedly injured.  Two hospitals in Itbayat have been damaged and are not functional.

The national Government is leading the response, assisted by the Philippine Red Cross and humanitarian partners.

**Côte d’Ivoire

Today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced an innovative partnership to construct a first-of-its-kind factory that will convert plastic waste collected in into modular plastic bricks.

The easy-to-assemble, durable, low-cost bricks will be used to build much-needed classrooms in the West African country.

According to UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, this factory will be at the cutting edge of smart, scalable solutions for some of the major educational challenges that Africa’s children and communities face.

Côte d’Ivoire needs 15,000 classrooms to meet the needs of children without a place to learn.  With this innovative partnership, 500 classrooms for more than 25,000 children will be built in the coming two years.

**Press Briefings

And after I’m done, you’ll hear from Monica Villela Grayley.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, will be here to brief on the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, which is scheduled for publication tomorrow morning.

That’s it for me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any renewed concern about the rising violence in Hong Kong?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve expressed our views on this in the past.  As you know, it’s clear that we want to make sure that the right to assemble peacefully is observed and upheld.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I know that you have seen Al Jazeera’s reporting of the ethics report…the internal ethics report at UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) which says there have been abuses of authority by leadership in UNRWA.  So my question is simple:  Does the Secretary‑General have full confidence in the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Pierre Krähenbühl?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ve heard the Secretary‑General express his views on Mr. Krähenbühl, but regarding the allegations you have been saying…  [cross talk]

Question:  I haven’t heard him express his views since this report has come out, so does he still have full confidence in him?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on this issue, the basic point is an investigation of the allegations contained in the report that you just mentioned is ongoing.  Until this investigation is completed, the Secretary‑General is not in a position to make any further comments on this matter.  As he has shown in the past, the Secretary‑General is committed to acting swiftly upon receiving the full report.

Question:  So he is not prepared to answer, “Yes” or “No,” whether he has confidence in his Commissioner-General at this stage?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Commissioner-General has, you know, has been doing excellent work; but we are saying that without prejudice to the result of this investigation.  Obviously, we are waiting to see what this has to say.

Question:  And is the Secretary‑General concerned about some of the allegations here?  Does he believe there is something rotten in UNRWA given that three of the senior officials in the UNRWA have departed in the last month?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, we won’t have any further comment until the investigation is completed, so I am not prepared at this point to make an evaluation on the claims that have been made.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, there are reports that Rohingya refugees are refusing to come back from Bangladesh to Myanmar after the diplomacy words, somehow according to the same reports.  Do you know the rea…does the United Nations know the reason?  Do they have any news on that, why they are refusing or what would you do to speed up the process?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there are really two points to make on this.  One is, as you know, the UN has a principled position against the concept of refoulement.  So, in other words, no one can be returned to a place without their will and without their consent.  So that always needs to be respected and would need to be respected in this case.  Beyond that, different parts of the UN, particularly the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme, have been working with the authorities in Myanmar to see what can be done to create the conducive conditions for the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar.  As you know, we’ve made it clear that those conditions are not in place at this point.

Question:  Can I have one more?

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  On a different subject, in Washington tonight, Senate is expected to vote… rather to proceed with the export of the United State sales of the arms to Saudi Arabia, that there are some reports actually that some part of nuclear technology could be set, but what does the Secretary‑General have to say on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not going to make any comment on a domestic legislative process that is under way.  We’ve made our concerns known overall about some of the situations that involve the country in question.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About what happened on Friday and, you know, that there was also the statement from [António] Guterres and the Office of the UN, about what is happening with the migrants’ situation in the Mediterranean.  From what I understand, they called… the UN called for return‑to‑sea rescues, okay?  And I want you to clarify this, I would like you to clarify this in a better way.  I mean what does it mean, exactly?  They want, you want that European’s country to go back to what they had before there was, like, they were providing ships in the Mediterranean, patrolling the Mediterranean and go direct them to rescue the migrants and then bring them to safe port, so not back to Libya; is this exactly what you asked?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I would refer you back to what, in particular, UNHCR said last Friday.  But from us, the standpoint is clear, that all of the countries in the region need to focus first and foremost on the need to protect the lives of those who are on the high seas.  And you will have seen the suggestions they made at the time.  And, again, as I mentioned just this morning, Mr. Salame also stressed the need to address the root cause of the migrant issues and the need for migrant detention centres to be shuttered.

Question:  I have a follow‑up.  And I also heard that the Security Council, for example, the Russian ambassador, they remind all of us what Filippo Grandi had to say to the Security Council that those camps where the migrants were brought back by the Libyans are practically like Nazi lager.  I mean, these are not real camps but are torture places.  Now, the question here is:  Should it… would it be better, all these, also your call for go back to rescue so they can bring them in safe port, to declare that those people are not anymore migrants but actually refugees?  Because if they come from Libya, that is a country at war, and if they risk their life every day, those migrants there, maybe they arrive as migrants, but at that point they are such in danger, right?  So why UN keep calling those people, most of them, migrants and not refugees?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there is a procedure by which people can claim the right to asylum as refugees, and we process those once those claims are made.  So, this is a procedural question, whether someone has asked for refugee status or not, and has been granted it or not.  But we deal with all of them.  But, in all honesty, from our standpoint, when it comes to protecting their lives and respecting their basic rights, it doesn’t matter whether they are called migrants or refugees.  The point is they need to be put in a place where they are safe, and their rights are respected.  That is not what has been happening.

Question:  I understand that.  I’m just saying I understand that the lives should be saved, that doesn’t matter if it’s a migrant or a refugee.  I agree.  Unfortunately, there are countries at the moment that they have been advantage in pushing back, I mean, bringing back these people to Libya just or other countries, they are not safe, just because they say, oh, those are migrants and not refugees.  If they were a refugee, they would not be able to do it; is that correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, I mean, the way people are determined, whether they have status as migrants or as refugees, is through a process that has to do with whether they claim the right to asylum as refugees and how that is processed and followed up.  But, without prejudice to that issue, we have made clear our belief that all these people need to be moved to more secure locations, particularly, as you will have seen, we have said that locations like Tajoura are not a safe place to place any such people.  Yes?

Question:  It’s a question about today’s Security Council meeting on Libya.  Mr. Salame said that UNSMIL (United Nations Mission in Libya) has “reduced its footprint, but I decided the mission should not leave Libya”.  Could you give us some more information on what the staffing is?  How many people have now left Libya and are operating from neighbouring countries?  How many people are still in Libya?  And while I accept the bravery of those working for UNSMIL, and including the Special Representative working from Tripoli, can you tell us whether this is now just skeleton staff and a token presence?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as he made clear, there is a presence, and it includes a significant presence there.  Although, for security reasons, I might have to be a little bit vague about the numbers, I will try to see what we can do about the… I’ll see what we can say about the numbers that we have there.

Question:  If you could give us the percentage reduction, for example, we can gauge it without any security.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  I’ll see if that is possible.  [He later said around 90 international staff are in Libya.]  Monica, come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.