21 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon. I will start off with a trip announcement.  The Secretary‑General will be departing New York on Friday, 23 August, for a three-country trip that will take him to France, Japan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  His first stop will be in France, where he will attend the G7 Summit in Biarritz.  At the Summit, the Secretary-General will participate in sessions on climate biodiversity and oceans, on fighting against inequalities and on the partnership with Africa and the Sahel.  He will also hold bilateral meetings with world leaders on the side-lines of the Summit.

The Secretary-General will travel then to Yokohama, in Japan, on the evening of Tuesday, 27 August, to participate in the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, otherwise known as TICAD.  That meeting is led by the Japanese Government and co-sponsored by the United Nations, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the African Union Commission, as well as the World Bank.  The Secretary-General will speak at the opening session; a special conference on peace and stability in the Horn of Africa and the neighbouring region; and a thematic session on climate change and disaster risk reduction.  While in Japan, he will meet with the country’s Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono, as well as with a number of heads of State and government attending TICAD.

Then, on Saturday, 31 August, the Secretary-General is scheduled to arrive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a three-day visit to take stock of and mobilize additional support for the response to the Ebola outbreak.  In the province of North Kivu, he is scheduled meet with Ebola survivors and health workers during a visit to an Ebola treatment centre.  While in the country’s east, the Secretary-General will also assess the implementation, by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the Intervention Brigade, of its mandate to protect civilians and support the authorities of the country to consolidate peace and stabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General will then go on to Kinshasa to meet with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, and other government officials, members of the opposition and representatives from civil society organizations.  We expect him to be back in New York on 3 September.

**International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of a photo exhibition to mark the second International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.  He reiterates that the “threat of terrorism and violent extremism is among our most complex challenges”, and paid tribute to the innocent victims of attacks around the world.  The Secretary-General said he was deeply moved by the courage and resilience of survivors of terrorist attacks that he met earlier in the year.  Their message was clear and simple, he said.  People and communities need to become closer to grow stronger and turn these harrowing experiences into powerful, positive forces for change.  He concluded his remarks by calling for more support for victims and survivors of terrorism, notably by finding innovative ways to support the victims’ rights to justice, reparations, healing and livelihoods.  The photo exhibit, titled Surviving Terrorism:  The Power of Resilience, is going to be on display in the Secretariat Lobby through the end of the month.


You will have seen that in a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General said that he is deeply troubled by the continued escalation in north-west Syria and the prospect of an offensive deeper into Idlib, which could trigger a new wave of human suffering possibly impacting more than 3 million people.  He strongly condemns continued attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including on health-care and educational facilities. He urges all parties to respect fully international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General reiterates his urgent call for the September 2018 Memorandum of Understanding on Idlib to be upheld.  He stresses the importance of advancing the UN-facilitated political process in Geneva, mandated by [Security Council] resolution 2254 (2015).

And to the point on Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, yesterday, three civilians were reportedly killed and 14 others wounded, including two children, in clashes in Idlib.  People continue to be displaced, with some 1,500 people living in northern Hama Governorate reportedly uprooted further northwards into Idlib Governorate yesterday.  And between 1 May and 18 August of this year, 576,000 movements by displaced people have been recorded in the north‑west of the country.  Many people have been displaced up to five times, with some having been forced to move as many as 10 times due to the ongoing fighting.


And I have an additional humanitarian update from Yemen.  The Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, said today that commitments made by donor countries at a pledging event in February for the crisis have failed to materialize, with several major programmes having been forced to close in recent week.  A staggering 22 life-saving programmes will close in the next two months unless funds are received.  The UN was forced to suspend most of Yemen’s vaccination campaigns in May, and the procurement of medicines has stopped and thousands of health workers are no longer receiving financial support.  Unless the funds promised at the February conference are received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from services which have been keeping them alive.  Some 19 million people will lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health.  Clean water programmes for 5 million people will shut at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.  “This is the largest humanitarian operation in the world addressing the worst humanitarian crisis,” Ms. Grande said.  “When we receive funding, [it makes] a huge difference.”

**Security Council

The Security Council held an open debate today, to be followed by consultations, on Somalia.  Briefing Council members for the first time since taking office, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, James Swan, noted the progress Somalia has made towards constitutional and security sector reform, among other priorities.  But, he said that the window to achieve further necessary progress is narrowing, with key benchmarks risking falling behind agreed deadlines.  Mr. Swan stressed the need for political consensus and compromise.  Also speaking at the open debate was Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who visited Somalia in July.  She noted that, as a direct outcome of her visit, the Government committed to working with the UN system to develop a new implementation plan for the joint communiqué, in the form of an Action Plan on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.


The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today appealed for more than $70 million to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to 900,000 children across Venezuela through the end of the year.  The agency said it is ramping up its work to help children and families who are struggling against food shortages, and limited access to essential services like healthcare, safe water and education.  This is part of the UN’s overall humanitarian response plan, which was announced earlier.  And when I’m finished, Monica will be here to brief on General Assembly issues.

And tomorrow, at 11 a.m., Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Member of the UN Fact‑Finding Mission on Myanmar, will be briefing you here in this room.  At 12:30 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Alison Smale, will be here to brief you on the sixty-eighth UN Civil Society Conference, which this year will take place in Salt Lake City, Utah, from 26 to 28 August.  Also participating will be the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Jackie Biskupski; the Chair of the Conference, Maruxa Cardama; the Chair of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee, Fannie Munlin; and a civil society youth representative.  The theme of the Conference this year is "Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and Communities".  It will be moderated by Maher Nasser.


Also, I’ve been asked about a reaction about the latest political developments in Sudan.  I can say that we warmly welcome the nominations by the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change for the Sovereign Council, as well as its subsequent formal formation and swearing in today.  We take note of the inclusion of two women in the Sovereign Council and strongly further encourage the inclusion of women in all transitional bodies in Sudan, including in, but not limited to, the Transitional Legislative Assembly.  We also understand that the Prime Minister designate, Abdalla Hamdok is set to arrive in Khartoum today to be sworn in.  We wish Mr. Hamdok all the best in leading the new Transitional Government and look forward to the speedy selection of his cabinet.  As the Secretary-General said in his statement after the signing ceremony this weekend, the UN looks forward to engaging with and supporting the transitional governing institutions. We also reiterate our commitment to assisting the transition process as it seeks to achieve the long-standing aspiration of the people of Sudan for democracy and peace.

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, extremely important, we say muchas gracias to our friends in Paraguay who have stepped up to the plate and paid their dues in full for 2019, bringing us to how many Member States?  112.   I'd hate to go backwards. Nice try, Edie.  All right.  Masood‑ji, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The United Nations human rights… what do you call… ambassador, Priyanka Chopra, has now been tweeting in favour of the Indian army which is oppressing the Kashmiri people and women and children.  Does she still maintain her status as the Goodwill Ambassador?

Spokesman:  She is, I would refer your question to UNICEF, as I think she's… as far as I know, she's a Goodwill… her, her association with the UN is through UNICEF.  So, I, I have no information on… for…

Correspondent:  The thing is… the reason is simply because the fact that the Secretary‑General has…

Spokesman:  I understand the reason for your question.  What I'm saying is you should ask UNICEF because that's who she's associated with.

Question:  On Kashmir, let me ask you a question on Kashmir, that will the Secretary‑General… because, given the statement that… that he gave in the… recently when he said the situation should be resolved in accordance with the United Nations Charter and resolution, in that case, will the Secretary‑General push India and Pakistan for some sort of talks?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is always a strong believer in dialogue.  Majeed and then Edie.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane, and happy birthday.

Spokesman:  It was yesterday, but I warmly accept your wishes.  Throughout the year, you can wish me a happy birthday…

Correspondent:  It looks like our easy question is making you younger every year.

Spokesman:  Flattery will get you everywhere.  Go ahead.

Question:  I know.  You know, “easy questions”.  Yesterday's meeting between Secretary Pompeo and Secretary‑General, other than broad range of issues, what was the focus of that meeting?  And was possible US cut of their contribution to the United Nations and the peacekeeping operation discussed?

Spokesman:  Look, they had a broad range of discussions as we've said.  They talked about a lot of the items on the US‑UN agenda, including the situation in the Middle East in the broadest sense of the word and all its dimensions, Afghanistan, Korean Peninsula, as well as in other… a number of African files.  The issue of US funding is part of that US‑UN agenda.  There are, as far as we know and we see in press reports, there are discussions going on within the Administration, and it's not for us to comment on those discussions.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Steph, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on several hundred Syrians who have been refugees in Turkey being picked up at work and taken to the border and sent back to Syria?  And this has been happening in the past month.

Spokesman:  This is an issue that UNHCR has been in the lead with, with the Turkish authorities, as far as I understand.  Our principled position remains that any return of refugees should be done on a voluntary basis, which is very important.  Yep.

Question:  Hey, Stéphane. So, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the United States testing the cruise missile after it pulls out of the INF Treaty?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General would call on all Member States to redouble their efforts on disarmament issues.  James?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  You had a really worrying statement about Yemen, and the lack of funding means you're going to have to pull some really important services there.  Is it right to say that the vast majority of this money that was pledged earlier this year that has not been paid comes from the UAE and Saudi Arabia?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  The… I would… you know, I just got the note before I came in, and I didn't have a chance to look at the numbers, but the pledges, the money received and not received, is up on OCHA's website.  I can help you look for them.  So, I don't have those numbers ahead of me, in front of me because I just got the note.  Señor?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and happy birthday, as well.  And two questions about the region in South America.  One is the crisis is happening now in Brazil with the deforestation is increasing and a really high level.  And the other question is about Venezuela, as well, and what is the Secretary‑General reaction on the exodus of Venezuelans increasing and Colombia is requesting and saying the aid to help all these refugees is really low and still need more help from the international community?

Spokesman:  We have been advocating for much greater support for all the countries that neighbour Venezuela and that have been generously hosting refugees, including Colombia and Brazil and a number of other countries.  This is reflected in the humanitarian appeals that we have made.  Right?  The High Commissioner for Refugees himself was in Brazil and in the region not long ago, strengthening that appeal.  I think what those… those countries are showing a great amount of generosity, and I would also underscore the decision taken by the Colombian Government to grant citizenship to a large number of children born of refugees in their country.  But, they need the support of the international community, and that means financial support.  On the issue of the Amazon forest, the issue of deforestation is one of great concern to us.  The, as we all know, forests… large forests around the world play a critical part in our efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to stay on the topic of refugees.  As you know, it was scheduled tomorrow that Myanmar's Government approved to send back nearly 3,500 refugees from Bangladesh back into Myanmar.  And as you said, the Secretary‑General says that this should be on a voluntary basis, of course.  But it's just been proven just this month, in fact, that the international Fact‑Finding Mission found that, you know, Myanmar's military mat… like, lacks pretty much accountability, in that the businesses, like… there are businesses that are invested in helping… like, helping with the violation of these human rights, so it's clearly not safe for these people to go back on a voluntary…?

Spokesman:  Sure, listen, we've seen and very much taken note of the work done by the Fact‑Finding Mission, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council.  As you say, the position of the Secretary‑General on the Rohingya, as is with all refugees, that any return should be voluntary and sustainable and in safety and in dignity to their place of origin and choice.  We will work with all the parties involved towards that goal, right?  In November, I think there were already issues and questions, discussions, regarding the repatriation process.  What we said then remains valid now, is that it's important for refugees to have the full information they need to make a, to be able to make that decision. If they're going to go back voluntarily, they need to have access to information in order to make an informed decision.  They are the ones themselves who will decide whether or not they go back.

Question:  Does he… and I know there is a survey that's been done with a few refugees so far…?

Spokesman:  Right, and so… UNHCR is working with the concerned Governments to help create conditions conducive for return, to assess the… whether or not these people are actually going back voluntarily and if they decide to return.  The responsibility to enable… to ensure the conditions for return is with the Government of Myanmar.  We remain committed to supporting the Government of Myanmar's efforts to create such conditions under the term of the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding, which had been signed, as you may recall, between the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP.  So, I… from what I gather, our UNHCR colleagues are interviewing people to assess whether or not they're going back voluntarily.  But, the voluntarily nature of repatriation is really a bedrock of our position and for them also to have access to and the information by which they can make those decisions.  Masood‑ji?

Question:  Stéphane, first of all, congratulations on the birthday again.  I just wanted to ask you about Yemen.  In Yemen, is… there's this fear that the way the Saudis and the cohorts are going that Yemen might be divided in east and west or partitioned.  Is that the fair ration… or is it just being expressed because, in fact, there is a report that there's a move about to divide Yemen into two parts…?

Spokesman:  Masood, I would encourage you to read or watch what Mr. Griffiths said yesterday, and he spoke eloquently to that point.  I have nothing to add.  In fact, I know today he is off to… he is in Sana’a to meet with officials there and then will return back to Jordan.  So, he is continuing his work in order to get the political agreement, in order to strengthen the Hodeidah Agreement, and that will continue to be his mantra.  Monica Grayley, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.