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7 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.

**Yemen

I’ll start with a note on Yemen.  Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, said that he is alarmed by the military escalations in Aden today, including reports of clashes in the vicinity of the Presidential Palace.  He is also deeply concerned by the recent rhetoric encouraging violence against Yemeni institutions.  Mr. Griffiths said that escalations of violence will contribute to instability and suffering in Aden and will deepen Yemen’s political and social divisions.  The Special Envoy calls on all parties involved to abandon violence and engage in dialogue to resolve differences.  He also urges all those with influence to de-escalate the situation and ensure the protection of civilians.

**Syria

Back here, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding and Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on detained and missing persons in Syria.  She said that, given the continued lack of access to places of detention and to detainees in Syria, the United Nations has no official statistics on those detained, abducted or missing.  But, she added that reports suggest that more than 100,000 people have so far been detained, abducted, disappeared or went missing, largely, but not only, by the Syrian Government.  Ms. DiCarlo said that the deaths in detention have continued to occur, many allegedly as a result of torture, neglect or inhumane conditions.  For the families of detainees, their tragedy is compounded by the difficulty of obtaining death certificates or their remains.  She added that the Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, has prioritized the case of detainees, abductees and the missing.  Meaningful action on this file would build confidence and move the political process forward, she said.

**West Bank

As you may have seen, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today noted that the Israeli authorities have approved over the past two days the advancement of some 2,400 housing units in settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank.  He said the expansion of settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law.  By advancing the effective annexation of the West Bank, he added, it undermines the chances for establishing a Palestinian State based on relevant UN resolutions, as part of a negotiated two-State solution.  It must cease immediately and completely, the Special Coordinator said.

**Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it is outraged by today’s Taliban attack in Kabul which has caused scores of civilian casualties.  According to reports, 14 people died and 145 were injured.  The Mission says that such indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in heavily populated civilian areas must stop.  The UN also expresses deep concern at the Taliban’s stated threat to target civilians participating in the 28 September presidential election process.  The UN urges the Taliban to respect and protect civilians and not to threaten them or carry out violence should they engage in their constitutional rights to participate in elections.

**Zimbabwe

Our humanitarian colleagues, the Government of Zimbabwe and aid organizations today launched a revised Humanitarian Response Plan seeking $331 million to help 3.7 million people through the end of April 2020 in Zimbabwe.  Zimbabwe is facing many humanitarian challenges stemming from climate change and economic shocks.  Food insecurity has worsened following the droughts of 2018 and 2019 and continuing macroeconomic challenges.  Some 5.5 million people in rural areas and 2.2 million people in urban areas of Zimbabwe are believed to be food insecure.  For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is stepping up its assistance by providing food aid and also building the capacity of chronically hungry communities to withstand climate shocks.

**Philippines

In the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, yesterday, the Government declared a national dengue epidemic.  There have now been more than 146,000 reported cases of dengue fever and 622 confirmed fatalities since the beginning of this year.  Children between the ages of 5 and 9 have been the most affected.  The Government is leading the response, assisted by the Philippines Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO).

**Singapore Convention

And some good news in terms of mediation:  The United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation has been opened for signature in Singapore, and we are informed that 46 States signed it today.  The Convention, which is known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation, was negotiated within the framework of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and adopted by the General Assembly.  The Convention focuses on increasing the enforceability of settlement agreements that arise out of mediation.

**Press Briefing

And tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., after myself and Monica [Grayley] are done, there will be a briefing here by Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.  He will be addressing you.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Yesterday, there was a report about UN investigation on some of the agencies in Yemen, and they have uncovered that there were indications or… for the lack of proof that as… was confiscated from them in the WHO office at one part, and some of the employees at the WHO office have tipped the militia and confiscated the proofs.  Another worrying story that a UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] official was providing UN vehicles to transport one of the Houthi leaders in order to evade monitoring by the Coalition.  My question is, how far… how deep is these corruption charges?  And it's only… is it only affecting the WHO or other agencies operating in Yemen?  Number two, why would UNESCO… a representative be involved in such… providing security for Houthis and why UNESCO is… at the first place, is in Yemen in a humanitarian operation in a war zone?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I saw the report, yeah.  Well, you know, I'm not… first of all, that's a question I think you'd have to address UNESCO.  On the WHO bit, I know they're fully seized of it.  They have an internal investigation going on.  I think WHO, like all of us in the Secretariat, have absolutely zero tolerance for any sort of corruption, and it is being fully investigated.  Obviously, I think, all our humanitarian colleagues in Yemen operate in very challenging circumstances, but I know the case is being fully investigated.

Question:  Follow‑up, please.  Would the Secretary‑General consider conducting a full audit for all the agencies operating in Yemen?

Spokesman:  There is an internal audit being conducted through WHO.  The country team is also fully seized.  There's a process that needs to play out, and I don't want to get ahead of ourselves.

Question:  Other than WHO, my question is, the… all the UN operations in Yemen, is there any intention by the Secretary‑General to conduct a full audit of the funds, where they are going and where they are coming from? 

Spokesman:  The UN operations… humanitarian operations in Yemen have a number of compliance procedures in place.  They are under constant scrutiny.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  So, does the Secretary‑General have any comments on the letter sent by the Iranian ambassador, [Majid Takht] Ravanchi, regarding the United States' sanctions on Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif?  And has the Secretary‑General replied, or what does he plan to do?

Spokesman:  The letter is being circulated to the Security Council at the request of the drafters.  The Secretary‑General's position, I think, has been very clear, and he expressed it himself on 1 August… is that he calls on all parties to avoid any actions that would escalate an already very tense situation.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, my question is, with the 70,000 people dead and hundreds of people blinded in Kashmir by the Indian security forces and now it has become like a trigger point for any flashpoint for any nuclear war between India and Pakistan, why is the Secretary‑General so reluctant to take on this issue of India and Pakistan, which is really becoming bad to worse at this point in time?

Spokesman:  Look, there is no reluctance on the part of the Secretary‑General.  We are very well aware and following the situation with a lot of concern.  Contacts are being had at various levels, and we urge all of the parties involved to exercise maximum restraint.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Is he… why doesn't he engage the leaders of India and Pakistan to some sort of a… because they refuse to talk to each other?

Spokesman:  I understand.  I'll refer you to my… the last answer I just gave you.  Yes, sir?

Question:  We asked you the same yesterday, Steph, about the letter sent by the Pakistani Foreign Minister to the Secretary… you said you cannot confirm…?

Spokesman:  No, the letter was received.  It was received.  It will be circulated as a document of the Security Council, as requested, and we're obviously studying very closely the content of the letter.

Question:  The second question, is… what India is doing now isn't a violation of international law?  Isn't a violation of Security Council resolution?  Which I can numerate many of them; in 1965, there were three, at least, resolutions regarding Kashmir and to maintain the status quo.  Isn't that a real flagrant violation of international law?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment any further at this point on the situation.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In Italy, there is a process of passing a law on 1 million euro now of fines for rescue boats in the Mediterranean.  There has been a reaction by the way of the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] in condemning this, but I would like… I would like to know if the Secretary‑General has something to add or what the UNHCR say.

Spokesman:  We're… UNHCR is the United Nations' voice on issues of refugees, and they speak for the UN system.  And we have absolutely nothing to add to what they've said on this.

Question:  Can I have a second question on another subject?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Price is the same.

Question:  President [Donald] Trump is going to Dayton and El Paso for… try to comfort the people after… after the massacre that we… we all saw this weekend.  Again, the Secretary‑General on this has been very… Secretary‑General, on this topic of hate speech, because it's been now discussion if those were motivated by hate speech done by leaders, he had a conference here, talked a lot.  So, does maybe… does the Secretary‑General has some advice, something for the President of the United States on how to handle this situation when there is… you know, how to use words and phrases to make sure the people are not inspired in… in acting violence?

Spokesman:  Look, it's… he doesn't have any specific advice to the President of the United States.  I think the Secretary‑General has made his point very clear in the statement that we issued earlier this week right after the attacks, notably the one in El Paso, calling on everyone to avoid any hate speech, any divisive rhetoric, any rhetoric that underscores racism, xenophobia, the hate of others.  And as you said, the Secretary‑General has been very open and forthcoming on his condemnation of hate speech as something that goes to the… that is really an assault to the core of our values of tolerance, and he will continue to speak out.  Mr. Roth?

Correspondent:  A question and a recommendation.  The question…

Spokesman:  Recommendation, please, first.

Question:  No.  I'll make it second.  When you speak to the Secretary‑General… and we know the UN has certainly been through a lot over the last few decades, but you have North Korea missiles, Venezuela, Pakistan‑India, lot of other flashpoints, is he hiding under his desk every morning and saying, oh, my God, now what?  How would you describe… since you are pretty much the face of the UN most of the year, how would you describe the state of the world right now?

Spokesman:  I think he said it before.  The world is in a mess.  He said it before under slightly different circumstances.  I don't think the circumstances have gotten any better, and I think he would tell you the same.

Question:  The recommendation, as a former television person, producer there, I'm a little surprised you're wearing a very hot outfit, white on TV, kind of flairs, not the greatest, but maybe the relaxing from France has carried over?

Spokesman:  Richard, if I could only fit in your blue jacket, I would wear it.  It may be hot on TV, but it keeps me cool.  All right.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Venezuela, as you know, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, he was here.  He circulated a letter to the UN Secretary‑General and the Security Council.  What's the next step to prevent a full‑fledged war down there?  Seems like the situation is slowly edging towards a military confrontation with possibly Cuba or Russia involved.

Spokesman:  You know, it's clear that there is no military solution to what is going on in Venezuela.  The Secretary‑General has been very supportive of the various talks that have been going on, notably, I think, the ones that took place… the efforts that were being hosted [by] Norway.  Our focus is also on the humanitarian situation and keeping the well‑being of the Venezuelan people first and foremost in our actions.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Ghassan Salamé, the Special Envoy to Libya, called for a truce during the Eid al‑Adha.  And he had a three‑point plan, which he explained during his speech to the Security Council on 29 July.  Any progress to that plan?  Any breakthrough through… about…?

Spokesman:  I have no updates, and as we have seen, tragically, the violence is continuing, notably claiming about 40… more than 40 lives just a few days ago.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Back to Venezuela.  I know yesterday that the ambassadors spoke a lot about… well, in the two letters, he asked directly that the Secretary‑General calls for an investigation on one of the permanent members of the Security Council.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that or about what's going to be next as far as…?

Spokesman:  No.  Yeah, we've been receiving a lot of letters the last few days.

Correspondent:  I'll bet.

Spokesman:  On the Venezuelan letter, as I said, again, it will be circulated.  We'll be studying it.  You know, for us, right now, our focus is on ensuring that the humanitarian aid that the people of Venezuela get is received and also on continuing to encourage Member States and the international community to support those countries in the region that are hosting a very large number of Venezuelan migrants and Venezuelan refugees.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About North Korea, that this is not very new, but recently Special Rapporteur Mr. [Tomas Ojea] Quintana released and announced North Korea's human rights violation situation:  public executions are still witnessed; North Koreans escaped arrest in China should not be repatriated; families of political prisoners have no information on their whereabouts.  And we today, the… witnessed the… at the Security Council about the detained in Syria.  There is terrible situation in Syria and also in North Korea.  What's the view of the Secretary… what's the Secretary‑General's view on the human rights violation in North Korea?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I would refer you to the report the Secretary‑General just sent the General Assembly, outlining his grave concern at the human rights situation and I think giving a fairly detailed look at the state of those human rights in the country, and that report was shared with the General Assembly the last few days.  Thank you.  Monica, étoiÉ tu, Monica.  At least you're not wearing white.

For information media. Not an official record.