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

31 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Afghanistan

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack this morning on a bus traveling along the Kandahar-Herat Highway in Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General reiterates that international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits indiscriminate attacks directed against civilians and appeals to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to uphold their obligations to protect civilians.

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Afghanistan.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

**Somalia

About the attack against the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) earlier this week, the Secretary-General condemns the deadly attack and expresses his deep condolences to the bereaved families and the Government of Burundi.  He wishes a swift recovery to the injured.

The Secretary-General pays homage to the AMISOM troops and their sacrifices in pursuit of peace in Somalia.  He reiterates the resolve of the United Nations to work with the African Union and AMISOM to support the people and Government of Somalia.

**Ebola

Tomorrow will mark one year since the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared an outbreak of Ebola in North Kivu Province.  And yesterday, in Goma, a miner working in the province of Ituri became the city’s second case of Ebola.  He reportedly died this morning.

In reaction to this new case, the Ebola Emergency Response Coordinator, David Gressly, and the World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General for Emergency Response, Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, said they are mobilizing all aspects of the response to stop the spread of Ebola in Goma.

Surveillance at all points of entry and points of control in the area are being stepped up.  They are also increasing community engagement, risk communications and active case finding.

In a joint statement to mark the one-year milestone, the Director General of the World Health Organization, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director, as well as the World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, added that “this latest case in such a dense population centre underscores the very real risk of a spike in disease transmission, perhaps beyond the country’s borders, and the very urgent need for a strengthened and global response and increased donor investment”.  Both statements are now online.

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., David Gressly and Dr. Fall will join us by VTC (video teleconference), to provide an update on the outbreak and to answer your questions.

**Yemen

On Yemen, preliminary reports from local health authorities in Qatabir District in Sa’ada Governorate in Yemen indicate that 14 people were killed, including four children, in an attack on Al Thabit market on Monday.  An additional 26 people, including 14 children, were reportedly wounded.  Several of the wounded are in critical condition.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Lise Grande, said that this is a terrible turn of events, following three months in which the number of reported civilian casualties in Sa’ada has been falling.  She said the latest deaths were a reversal of everything everyone has been working towards these last weeks and months.

Health partners are providing medical supplies to the facilities receiving the wounded, including trauma kits to treat up to 100 casualties.

International humanitarian law requires that all parties to the conflict take all feasible steps to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**UNAIDS

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, better known as UNAIDS, launched a new website to identify national laws and policies related to AIDS response.

Covering areas as diverse as a country’s ability to diagnose HIV among young babies, the existence of discriminating laws against transgender people or whether people are prosecuted for even carrying condoms, the Laws and Policies Analytics website aims to give a full overview of the country’s laws and policies regarding the HIV response.

It allows policy data to be viewed jointly with other information on the HIV epidemic and response.

Under the 2016 UN Declaration on HIV and AIDS, countries committed to accelerate the efforts to significantly increase the availability of high-quality data on HIV.

The website hosts data from over 140 countries that can be searched by country or region through an interactive map or on a specific topic.

**Press Briefing

Tomorrow at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Joanna Wronecka of Poland, the Permanent Representative of Poland, who will be speaking in her capacity as the President of the Security Council for the month of August.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Mr. Bays?

Question:  I’ve got a number of questions, but I’ll start off with two.

You started off with Afghanistan, so I’ll start off with Afghanistan.  On perhaps a more optimistic note, the US Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, tweeted earlier on, “I’m off to Doha with a stop in Islamabad.  In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours and conclude the agreement we’ve been working on.”  That’s the agreement between the US and the Taliban.  What is the Secretary-General’s view on the progress of these negotiations?  Clearly, there’s an Afghan… intra-Afghan element.  And what is the UN’s involvement?  Are there UN representatives in Doha for this, given that the UN has a big mission in Afghanistan and the UN Security Council provides the mandate for the US-led NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] force there?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We have been, on a regular basis, kept abreast by the US of the updates on the talks.  They’ve been keeping our colleagues in Kabul informed.  I don’t want to predict what will happen in these talks.  They’ve been going on for a long time, but obviously, we’ll wait… let’s wait and see what happens.  For our part, the UN has had regular contacts with the Taliban as well, and as I said, we’ll wait to see what happens in Doha.

Question:  Second question is on the situation of the bombing of the hospitals in Idlib.  A demarche after the Security Council meeting by two thirds of the Security Council, 10 ambassadors, very clearly saying to the Secretary-General that deconfliction is not working.  There needs to be an inquiry into why it’s not working, and as the deconfliction mechanism is US-owned, they believe he has the mandate and the legal power to set up an inquiry.  Is he going to do so?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the issue of the continuing attacks, disruption of health facilities, is one that Mr. [Mark] Lowcock has raised very, very forcefully and directly in Security Council, both open and in a public meeting.  We have indeed received a request along the lines you outlined.  The Secretary-General is taking this request very seriously and has asked for thorough legal analysis on how to address it.  Sir?

Question:  On Syria, again.  Is Mr. [Geir] Pedersen going to Astana or somebody else is going to…

Spokesman:  The UN will be represented in Astana.  I don’t know exactly who, but it will be represented.

Question:  And is there going to be an announcement on the Constitutional Committee?

Spokesman:  We’ll have to wait and see.  Maggie?

Question:  Welcome back, Steph.  Could you just… on the Yemen… on the 14 killed Monday in the market attack, could… did you specify… I’m not sure I heard you say whether it was an air strike or… or some sort of a ground attack?

Spokesman:  It was an attack, we’re currently working to gather more information to clarify the circumstances around the attack, so…

Correspondent:  So, you don’t know if it was the coalition or the Houthis…

Spokesman:  I don’t have… we don’t have… we don’t know the exact nature of the attack.  We’re trying to… we do know the results of the attack.

Question:  But you don’t know if it was an air strike or a car bomb?

Spokesman:  We’re trying to gather more information.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Sorry.  North Korea, they have fired some more short-range ballistic missiles, according to the South Korean military.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to that?

Spokesman:  We’re very much aware of the reports that… for the second time in a week, the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has launched ballistic missiles.  I think for the Secretary-General, this is just another reminder of the importance of restarting talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  Edie, then Masood.

Question:  I was also going to ask about the DPRK launches, but as a follow-up, does the Secretary-General have any plans to contact the North Koreans about these launches, which do violate Security Council sanctions?

Spokesman:  Nothing to report on at this point.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Welcome back again.  I just want to ask you, has the Secretary-General taken note of the ceasefire violation in the occupied area of India and Pakistan that are happening and have been protested by both sides?  So, has the Secretary-General taken note of that?

Spokesman:  We’ve seen the press reports.  I don’t have any specific language on that for you stayed.  Now…

Question:  They’re not press reports.  Has he… has he taken note of it?

Spokesman:  As I said, we’ve seen the press reports.  I don’t have any specific language on that for you at this point.

Question:  Okay.  Now, another thing.  The other day, I asked Farhan [Haq] about the Israeli… what do you… claiming that they killed the Palestinians just for the sake of it, and that Israeli newspaper Taslem [phonetic] carried that report, and said that Israeli soldiers have said that sometimes, we just kill the protesters just for the sake of it.  Can you please comment on that?

Spokesman:  If Farhan has spoken, I have nothing to add to what he said.  Majeed and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane and welcome back.  Today, there’s a meeting in Bahrain about the UK proposal to create a naval force to… to have… to protect their freedom of navigation in the Gulf.  What is the Secretary-General’s position about this particular proposal?

Spokesman:  We have no… we’re not represented at this meeting.  We’ll have to see what comes out.  The issue of freedom of navigation is one that, in principle, we’ve always supported, but obviously, we have no specific comment on the meetings.  We’re not there and I don’t think it’s concluded as of yet.

Question:  And about Syria.  There seems to be the talks between Turkey and US to create a safe zone that has been going nowhere, and there’s threats of use of military force by Turkey.  Any comments about that?

Spokesman:  I think what we need to see, what the Syrian civilians who are caught in the crossfire, need to see, is a de-escalation of the violence and a stop to the violence that they’re suffering from.  Evelyn?  [inaudible]  Okay.  Great.  Yes, sir.  And then I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Dujarric.  Alan Bulkaty with RIA Novosti, following up the question about the DPRK.  Does the Secretary-General qualify the recent launches like a violation of Security Council regulations?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think that’s for the Council to decide on, and I’ve said what I’ve had to say on it.  Yes, sir?

Question:  It’s a bit of history, but did the Secretary-General happen to see the article in The Atlantic about Ronald Reagan, who was the governor of California at the time, talking about African delegations to Richard Nixon, in which he said, “to see those, those monkeys from those African countries.  Damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware here’s seen that report.

Question:  Maybe his… he’s talking about hate speech recently.  He could make a comment on that?

Spokesman:  As you said… it’s history.  I haven’t seen that… he has not read that article.  Yes?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General received a letter that’s been sent to him, I believe, and also to the President of the Security Council and all the Security Council members from Russia, with new proposals for security in the Gulf, suggesting all regional and international players come together, a new security concept, active and efficient steps at international and regional level are needed to normalize and further improve the situation?  And what does he make of those proposals?

Spokesman:  I will check.  I’m not aware that the letter has been received, but I will check for you.  [He later said that no letter has been received so far.]

Question:  And another question on a different subject.  The US… new US Ambassador to the United Nations may well be named in the coming hours, Ambassador Kelly Craft, her nomination is going to the Senate floor.  Members of the committee who examined her, the minority members say, I quote, “her lack of relevant experience, failure to carry out the most basic duties, and the questions surrounding her adherence to the highest standards regarding potential conflicts of interest raise serious doubts about her suitability for this position”.  Given the concerns, is the Secretary-General concerned that a new ambassador with one of the most important jobs, a P5 ambassador, could… could have so many question marks about her?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to delve into the legislative debates going on in any Member State through the… the process which an ambassador is named.  We look forward to having a permanent Representative from the United States and the Secretary-General looks forward to working with that person in a very constructive way.  Seriously?  [laughs]

Question:  Sorry.  We had Mrs. [Virginia] Gamba yesterday talking about the Children in Armed Conflict Report, which the Security Council will discuss tomorrow.  She mentioned that it’s ultimately the Secretary-General who signs off on this report, because it’s issued in his name.  Given the history with this report, has he faced any extra pressure from any Member States regarding the annex blacklisting some Government forces?

Spokesman:  The report is his report.  The… including the annex, based on his decision.  As always… I mean… let me leave it at that.  It’s just my first day back; I don’t want to get in trouble too quickly.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Hello, nice to meet you.  I wanted to bring back the statement on Syria.  I know yesterday in the Security Council, there was a mention of how the majority of the reports that were received about the attacks that are being placed on the medical facilities are questionable.  Is the Security Council… does the Secretary-General have any statements to this as to whether or not this is true?  And I know that Lowcock is very… he’s been reiterating that everybody can see the truth, that everybody can see what’s happening there, so we’re questioning now who or how, but can you tell us how we can… what the Secretary-General can suggest, as far as stopping or de-escalating the situation?

Spokesman:  Well, a couple of things.  First of all, the Secretary-General fully stands by what Mr. Lowcock and other senior UN officials have presented to the Security Council.  They represent the Secretariat’s position, so there’s no… I would not comment on what Mr. Lowcock said.  He speaks better than me on these issues and very forcefully, and I think his statements are very clear on the need to stop these attacks and these destruction of health facilities.  On… you know, going forward, we have and we’ll continue to do whatever we can to try to bring the parties together, to try to stop what we’re seeing going on.  And obviously… the security… a number of Security Council members have sent a letter to the Secretary-General.  As I said, he’s taking this very seriously and has asked for thorough legal analysis.  Benny?

Question:  On the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) issue.  Since today, the Netherlands joined Switzerland in suspending financial support for UNRWA.  Maybe it’s time for the UN to be a little… I don’t know, the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) to hasten its investigation that has gone on for a few months, if I understand it correctly?  And the Secretary-General to say something more definitive, one way or the other?

Spokesman:  Listen, we’ve seen the reports of the statements regarding UNRWA from the Dutch Government.  I think as Farhan said, there is an investigation ongoing.  It’s very important that that process be respected, and I have nothing to add to what Farhan’s already said.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I do not have a date to share with you.  Thank you.

Question:  But… but since the… the… the agency has already been under constraint… financial constraints because of the US leaving, and now two major supporters, as well, aren’t we getting to a crisis moment here?

Spokesman:  I will see you tomorrow.  Thank you.  Monica?

Question:  Away from the microphone…

Spokesman:  We’re never away from the microphone.

Question:  Are we expecting to hear from the SG soon?

SpokesmanSperiamo bene, as I like to say.

For information media. Not an official record.