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

5 August 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.

**United States

Good afternoon.  I will start off with a statement on the attacks that occurred in the United States.  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in El Paso, Texas, on 3 August.  He also expresses his shock and outrage over the mass shooting only hours later that took place in Dayton, Ohio.  The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and expresses his solidarity with the peoples and Governments of the United States and of Mexico, from where a number of those killed and injured in the El Paso attack hailed.  The Secretary-General stresses the need for all to work together to counter violence rooted in hatred, racism, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination.  That statement should now be online.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, we continue to observe the fragile situation in the north‑west part Syria.  We are aware of the Syrian Government’s announcement this morning on resumption of military operations in north‑west and continue call on all parties to conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times.  Reports indicate that some civilians started to return to homes in their areas of origin in southern Idlib, where infrastructure and many residential areas were destroyed or heavily damaged.  The return of civilians raises concerns over the impact of unexploded ordnance, the lack or absence of basic services, including water, and the ability of humanitarian workers to access the population.

**Myanmar

The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar launched its report in Geneva today.  The full report and a press release summarizing its findings are online.  And that fact-finding mission was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

**Venezuela

You will have seen that on Friday evening we issued a statement on Venezuela.  The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on 2 August that representatives of the main political actors in Venezuela are continuing the negotiations initiated in Oslo.  The Secretary‑General reiterated his strong support for the Norwegian facilitation initiative.  He added that a negotiated agreement is urgently needed to reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  The Secretary-General encouraged the main political actors of Venezuela, and their representatives in the negotiations, to remain fully committed to these efforts, for the benefit of the people of Venezuela.

**Appointments

I have a senior personnel announcement.  The Secretary-General today has appointed Jan Beagle of New Zealand as Special Adviser on System-wide Implementation of the Chief Executive Board (CEB) decisions.  As part of his ongoing efforts to ensure system-wide coherence, the Secretary-General has decided to enhance the focus on system-wide implementation of those decisions, strategies and policies that are adopted by the Chief Executive Board.  The Special Adviser will advise the Secretary-General, the Deputy-Secretary-General, the Chef de Cabinet and other senior managers in the system on ways to leverage system-wide agreements and accelerate implementation at global, regional and country levels.  Ms. Beagle, whom you know well, has over four decades of distinguished service to the United Nations, most recently as Under-Secretary-General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance.  Ms. Lederer and then Mr. Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  I have several questions.  The first one, which you alluded to, I will ask.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on India's decision to revoke Kashmir's special status and the Pakistanis saying that this is a violation of Security Council resolutions calling for a UN‑organized plebiscite?

Spokesman:  Sure.  First of all, I can tell you that we are following with concern the tense situation in the region.  We're also aware of reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, and we urge all parties to exercise restraint.  I would add, as I've already said to some you by email, that, over the past few days, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, otherwise known as UNMOGIP, has observed and reported an increase in military activity along the line of control.

Question:  And secondly, as a follow‑up on your statement about the shootings in the United States, the President of the United States just denounced white supremacy, hatred, et cetera, and called on the US Justice Department to impose the death penalty in cases of hate crimes and mass shootings.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the Secretary‑General's position on the issue of hate crime has always been very clear.  Not long ago, he said:  "We need to treat hate speech as we treat every malicious act, by condemning it, refusing to amplify it, countering it with the truth and encouraging the perpetrators to change their behaviour."  This is an issue on which he has spoken out often.  As you know, not too long ago, he released a strategy and Plan of Action on hate speech that seeks to address the root causes of hate speech and making a response more effective.

Question:  And thirdly, there was an agreement announced between the opposition and the military in Sudan on governing the country over the next three years.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that agreement?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We very much welcome this agreement, which was reached between the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council.  It was initialled yesterday.  The United Nations congratulates the role played by the African Union and Ethiopia in mediating the Sudanese‑led talks.  Moving forward, we encourage all stakeholders to ensure the timely, inclusive and transparent implementation of the agreement, notably and most immediately on the appointment of the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and of course, other key officials.  We remain committed to assisting this transition process and to supporting the Sudanese people in their efforts to achieve their long‑standing aspiration for democracy and peace.  The Special Adviser of the Secretary‑General, Nicholas Haysom, arrived in Khartoum and is now engaging with key actors on how the UN can best assist this process.  Iftikhar.  You've been patient.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up to the question on Kashmir.  Kashmir, as you know, is on the agenda of the UN Security Council.  It is regarded as a disputed territory, and by revoking the special status of Kashmir, the Indian Government has created a new regional crisis.  Does the Secretary‑General intends to play a role in resolving this crisis?

Spokesman:  You know, as I said, we're very concerned about the rise of tensions.  As for the Secretary‑General's role, he has often expressed his position on that, and his position remains the same.  Majeed?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  About the Board of Inquiry to investigate north‑west… on Syria, when will the board be established?  And do you have any further details on it?

Spokesman:  I don't have a timeline for it.  Obviously, we're working on this expeditiously.  The first step is to identify members of the board, people who… notably the person who could lead the work of the board, and also work on the terms of reference.  I think the Secretary‑General acted swiftly in announcing this Board of Inquiry.  And obviously, the work now also is following up and being followed up on operationalizing that announcement.

Question:  And Russian… Russia seems to be not on board or… with this announcement of the investigation in north-west Syria.  Have you been in touch with the Russians and… and Syrian Government's response to this…?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, the Secretary‑General and his senior staff were in touch with representatives of the Russian Federation, as well as the Syrian Government, whose role in this Board of Inquiry will be very important in terms of cooperation…

Question:  Will they cooperate?

Spokesman:  There's been a dialogue.  This is a step‑by‑step process.  Obviously, the next step is the announcement of the name of the people who will lead the board, the terms of reference, and how they will go about their work.

Question:  Have they said, yes, we will cooperate?

Spokesman:  As I said, this is a step‑by‑step process.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  While on the same subject of the hate speech, this is a historical sort of observation.  I'm sure you're familiar with the newly released audiotapes of then‑Governor Ronald Reagan making disparaging racial remarks about African UN diplomats to Richard Nixon.  And the relevance of that is today that the current President has uttered similar racial insults about African countries.  So, has the Secretary‑General has a comment on this?  Or…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position on denouncing hate speech in all its forms has been clear for day one and is unchanged.  Ms. Lederer and then…

Question:  On a completely different issue on INF [Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces] Treaty, President [Vladimir] Putin today has called for urgent arms control talks to prevent a chaotic arms race and said that Russia will not deploy intermediate‑range missiles unless the United States does.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, it's… you know, I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said during his stakeout and in the statement.  He would like to see those nuclear Powers engaged in serious talks on disarmament.  And I think he expressed his deep concern at the lapsing of the INF, and he believes those who have nuclear weapons should engage in discussion and lead to a reduction, if not an elimination, of those weapons.   Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the proposal of Russian Federation about the concept of collective security in Persian Gulf, is the Secretary‑General familiar with this initiative?  And what is his comment on that?

Spokesman:  The letter was… there was a letter received by the Secretary‑General from the Russian Federation.  The letter is being studied, and I think it is being circulated, as was requested.

Correspondent:  You were almost there.

Spokesman:  I know.  I can feel it.  I can feel lunch.  Yeah?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I'll only ask one.  You mentioned Syria at the top.  And you said that the UN was monitoring what was happening in Syria, but do you have… do you call on anybody to do anything?  I mean, do you have any comment on the decision to resume bombing the Syrian Government made?

Spokesman:  You know, we're obviously concerned about that announcement.  We keep calling and we have called and continue to call for a cessation of hostilities for a focus on the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.  So, our position on that is unchanged.

Correspondent:  One more [inaudible].

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  I'm not that hungry.

Question:  About the safe zones discussion in Syria, Turkey seems to suggest that they will do the same thing that they did in Afrin, bringing in… basically directing the refugees they have, the Syrian refugees, back to those areas they would control and not allowing the… and basically kicking out the original population from that area, which is reportedly seen as an attempt to change a demographic of those areas.  I wanted to ask, is it legal, based on international and humanitarian law, to use the return of refugees as a weapon, to change demography…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into an academic discussion on hypotheticals.

Correspondent:  It's not hypo… it happened in Afrin.

Spokesman:  I'm… you asked me what may happen.  Refugees have rights, according to international law.  Those laws need to be… those rights need to be respected.  And the well‑being of the Syrian people should be first and foremost in the minds of everyone.  Thank you.  Were you saying goodbye or one more question, Alan?  Okay.  Go ahead.

Question:  It's a follow‑up of the India‑Pakistan relationship.  The Pakistani side stated that they are going to make an apply to International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding this incident… regarding their decision of revoke… revoking of the status of Jammu and Kashmir.  Do you have any information if International Court of Justice already received such an apply?

Spokesman:  No, I do not, and we would not have that information, but we can put you in touch with the ICJ.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.