19 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.

Good afternoon, again.

**World Humanitarian Day

Just another note on World Humanitarian Day and obviously why this day was chosen:  as you know, in 2003, 22 of our colleagues were murdered when terrorists targeted the UN compound in Baghdad.  Today, we honour their memory as we recall their courage and dedication to improving the lives of the Iraqi people who had suffered so much.  We also think of our colleagues who survived the bombing.  Many of them quietly returned to work, serving here at Headquarters and in the field, further keeping alive the memory of our friends who never came back.  This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General laid a wreath at a memorial in the Visitors’ Lobby.  Speaking to theme of this year’s Day, she stressed how women’s presence makes UN efforts more effective, from addressing health epidemics to supervising support to victims of gender-based violence.  Thanks to their efforts, millions of people have found protection from conflict and had hope itself rekindled, the Deputy Secretary-General said.  Her remarks have been distributed.  In his message, the Secretary-General outlined their role in supporting civilians caught up in crisis and addressing disease outbreaks.  He calls on world leaders and parties to conflict everywhere to live up to their legal obligations to protect all humanitarians from harm.  His message was distributed over the weekend.


The Secretary-General will be back in the office late tomorrow afternoon.  He has a meeting scheduled late in the afternoon with the US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, who he will meet here.  And before you ask, on 18 September, we have a press conference scheduled by the Secretary-General in advance of the General Assembly.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The Secretary-General joins the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in expressing condolences to the family of former Director‑General Jacques Diouf who passed away last Saturday, at the age of 81.  Diouf began his first term at the helm of FAO in January 1994 and held the position until 2011.  Diouf’s efforts towards ending hunger and boosting food security and sustainable agriculture will continue to be remembered through the FAO Jacques Diouf Award.  The prize awarded recognizes the best contribution to global food security.


In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the horrific 17 August terrorist attack on a wedding ceremony in Kabul, claiming the lives of 63 people and injuring over 180.  The Secretary-General also expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and the Government and people of Afghanistan.  He wishes a swift recovery to those injured.


On Saturday, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General warmly congratulated the Sudanese people on the important signing ceremony of the documents on transitional civilian authority in the Republic of Sudan.  He applauded the role of the African Union and Ethiopia in having mediated the Sudanese-led talks.  The Secretary-General looks forward to engaging with and supporting the transitional [governing] institutions.  He reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to assist the transition process as it seeks to achieve the long-standing aspiration of the people of Sudan for democracy and peace.  The Secretary-General also underscored the importance of paving the way for Sudan’s socio-economic recovery and setting the country on a path of sustainable development benefiting Sudan’s [diverse] and vibrant society.  The UN stands ready to work with international partners and assist Sudan in this endeavour.


And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ebola has now spread to South Kivu, with cases confirmed in the village of Chowe Mwenga — that’s just south of Bukavu.  A woman, previously identified as a contact for 2 people who had contracted Ebola, travelled from Beni to South Kivu last week.  She and her 17-month‑old baby have now died from the disease and her 7-month-old baby is receiving treatment.  The World Health Organization reports that a rapid response team was sent to the village.  They quickly isolated and treated people with Ebola, traced contacts, began vaccinating and raising awareness about the disease.  In North Kivu and Ituri provinces, the outbreak transmission continues with an average of 81 new cases per week.  There are currently no confirmed cases of Ebola outside of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


And the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, just concluded a four-day visit to Brazil.  He appealed for increased international engagement, including by financial institutions and development actors, in the communities hosting Venezuelan refugees and migrants.  There are over 180,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Brazil.  An average of 500 arrive every day, most in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.


In Geneva, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is having its annual conference to strengthen global wildlife trade rules.  The Conference received 56 proposals to change the levels of protection for wildlife species.  Twenty of them are concerned with the growing appetite of the exotic pet trade for amphibians and reptiles.  Others pertain the debate over how best to manage the African elephant populations and what to do with the ivory produced by these animals.  Delegates at the conference will also decide whether musical instruments made of precious wood from trees regulated by the Convention should be exempted from controls.  Governments will evaluate each listing proposal and decide to adopt it by consensus or, if necessary, by vote.

**Sri Lanka

I’ve been asked by some of you about the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva to the position of Army Commander in Sri Lanka, and you will have seen on that issue the statement already issued by the High Commission for Human Rights.  For our part, we are concerned about the appointment.  The United Nations remains committed to the highest human rights standards for all personnel deployed as part of UN peace operations.  All Sri Lankan uniform personnel participating in UN peace operations undergo extensive human rights screening.  And that's it.  Monica will brief you when I'm… when you're done with me.  Yes, ma'am, Edie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the escalating situation in Idleb and the latest reports by Turkey that air strikes have targeted a Turkish army convoy inside Idleb?

Spokesman:  Yes.  We remain concerned about the latest developments in the north‑west of Syria.  We are aware of the reports of a Turkish military convoy that is en route to a Turkish observation post in Morek in southern Idleb was struck by aircraft fire earlier today.  Turkey's Defence Ministry has indicated that this has resulted in multiple casualties.  These reports are of grave concern to us and remind us that violence in Idleb is not just a humanitarian issue; it also poses a significant risk to regional security.  The United Nations reiterates the call for an urgent de‑escalation of the situation in the northwest part of Syria and for all parties to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed by Russia and Turkey in 2018.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  With regard to the Secretary‑General statement on Sudan and he said that the United Nations remains… stands ready provide all the support it needs for a transitional government.  Can you elaborate exactly what kind of support can the transitional government in Sudan expect from the United Nations?

Spokesman:  First of all, it's up to the transitional…  we'll have to see what they require of us.  Right?  We have a very large country presence in Sudan.  We have, obviously, the Joint Mission in Darfur, but also a country team that is very active.  We will stand ready to help the transitional authorities with whatever they need in terms of mobilising support, in terms of capacity development to help to make sure that the transitional authorities get on the, on the right start and also to ensure that everyone's voice is heard.  But, we're there and standing by to help in any way that we possibly can.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Yes, also on the Secretary‑General's statement on Sudan, what was missing was any reference to accountability.  And I mention that because the signer on behalf of the military was Mohamed Hamdan, who was reportedly involved in the atrocities in Darfur years ago and also in the killing of civilian protesters on 3 June.  And the military is reportedly insisting that Bashir not be turned over to the ICC.  He's being tried in a national court for corruption, but not for the crimes that the ICC has indicted him on.  So, could you explain why there was no reference to the issue of accountability?  And will that be one of the things that the UN will try to work with the transitional government to achieve?

Spokesman:  Look, Sudan is a… in a delicate transitional phase, for lack of a better word.  We are there to make sure that this phase goes well and that the interests of the Sudanese people are kept at the centre.  We will be guided by the Prime Minister in what…  in any way we can, we can support them.  The statement in no way takes away from our previous statements on the need for every country, every Member State, to respect the rulings of the International Criminal Court and for accountability to be had.  Maggie and then…?

Question:  Also on Sudan, so, now that some sort of agreement's been reached, how will this affect Mr. Haysom's role?  Will he, I mean, because he's supposed to be facilitating with the AU.  I mean, will this…?

Spokesman:  I mean, he will continue to work on the Sudan file…

Question:  Will he be part of the transition process?

Spokesman:  Well, he… the UN is not part of the transition process.  We are there to help the transition process…

Question:  But, would he head that up for you?

Spokesman:  Mr. Haysom will be there.  Also the head of the, our Resident Coordinator who heads up the UN system.  Yep.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Which are the priority topics and issues that Secretary‑General plans to bring up at tomorrow's meeting with the Secretary of State Pompeo?  Are there special, like, issues that he plans to bring up at this…?

Spokesman:  The meeting was done at the request of the Department of State.  We will listen.  We are, obviously, very… we are always very happy to be able to have a direct dialogue with the Secretary of State.  He's here also to attend the Security Council meeting.  There are a lot of issues on the joint US‑UN agenda, and I'm sure we'll go down the list as much as possible, and we hope to share a readout with you afterwards.  Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Stéphane, on Syria, do you have any update about the Board of Inquiry?

Spokesman:  No, sir, no.

Question:  And when…  when do you expect the work of the inquiry to start?

Spokesman:  I am…  one of the things I've learned in my few years here is try best not to predict as to when things will start or when they will end so…  we hope… but… slight humour aside, obviously, the work on the… on finding the names and the terms of reference is going at a clip.  So, we hope to have something soon.

Question:  Stéphane, about…  related to this, one of the main question, obviously, is whether the U… the coordinate that the UN shared with the Syrian Government has been used to attack the rebels.  Is this going to be the main goal of the inquiry?

Spokesman:  I think…  I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said at the time.  In terms of the goals of the inquiry, we set them out broadly in the SG statement, and the terms of reference, I think, will provide more detail.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, yeah.  On Yemen, there have been quite large protests in the south of the country.  Movement for secession, which it seems to be gaining traction as a result of the recent military changeover in Aden.  From the SG's point of view, does this shake up Martin Griffiths' job and the peace process moving forward?

Spokesman:  Does it shake up…?

Question:  Does it change the priorities?  Does the southern question have to go higher up the agenda?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to go into details from here.  Does it make things easier for Mr. Griffiths?  Probably not.  Does it change his main priority of getting a political solution to the current situation in Yemen?  That remains his priority.  Thank you.  Monica, your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.