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

28 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 Travels

The Secretary-General is in Yokohama, in Japan, today, where he took part earlier today this morning in the opening of the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, otherwise known as TICAD.

He said he sees Africa as a dynamic continent of opportunities where winds of hope are blowing ever stronger.

The Secretary-General noted that TICAD has played a critical role in focusing international dialogue on Africa, built on the twin principles of African ownership and international partnership.

He also met with the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe.  They discussed Japan’s cooperation with Africa, especially TICAD, which the Secretary-General said was a very important milestone for the continent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Secretary-General also underlined the importance of Japan’s contribution to climate change.

The Secretary-General also met on the side-lines with President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General said he expressed his total solidarity with the countries and people of the Sahel, adding that the world cannot afford to lose the battle against terrorism in the region.  He underscored that we need a stronger partnership to defeat terrorism and for sustainable and inclusive development.

The Secretary-General will wrap up his visit to Japan tomorrow before heading onwards to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Greta Thunberg in New York

And as many of you have heard, the youth climate activist Greta Thunberg is arriving this afternoon in New York, as we are told by her people.  And she is scheduled to attend the Secretary-General’s climate summit, I think as you heard yesterday from Luis Alfonso.

The UN will be there to welcome her with a flotilla of 17 sailboats.  Each boat will be branded with a sustainable development goal.  We welcome Ms. Thunberg and wish her a pleasant stay after a long journey across the seas.

**Syria - Situation Update in North-West

I have a couple of humanitarian updates.  One from Syria.  The UN remains gravely concerned by the recent escalation of hostilities in the north-west of Syria.  Ongoing clashes, shelling and air strikes, including the use of barrel bombs, continue unabated in Idleb, in western Aleppo and northern Hama provinces.  Schools, hospitals, and other critical civilian infrastructure have been damaged and humanitarian operations have been hindered as a result.

Satellite imagery shows entire towns and villages have been razed to the ground, while dozens of communities have been emptied.

Since the start of the hostilities in April, over 550 civilians have been killed, over 400,000 people have been displaced from northern Hama and southern Idleb governorates.  Many of them have been displaced multiple times, as we have been telling you.

Almost half of the displaced people are living outside camps and reception centres, and they are living in open-air areas or under trees.

On Monday, 15 civilians, including three women and three children, were reportedly killed in air strikes on seven communities in Idleb governorate.  On the same day, two schools, a bakery and a hospital were damaged in Kafr Nobel.

Three quarters of the nearly 3 million people being impacted by the violence are women and children.  Reports indicate that humanitarian needs are deepening, in particular with regards to shelter, food and non-food items.

The United Nations continues to call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians in the conduct of military operations, to strictly follow international humanitarian law’s principles of distinction and proportionality.

**Cameroon

And from Cameroon, I can express our concern about the reports of significant numbers of people leaving the south-west and north-west regions, also known as the Anglophone regions.  And these movements are in anticipation of the lockdown called for by non-State armed groups operating in the area.

The humanitarian situation in the two regions continues to deteriorate with 1.3 million people – that is a third of the local population – now in need of humanitarian assistance.  The conflict there has displaced over 500,000 people.

Armed fighting and insecurity continue to be the main impediments to the provision of assistance and a barrier for those in need to reach areas where they can receive aid.

Eight out of Cameroon’s ten regions are being impacted by various humanitarian crises, with around 4.3 million people in need of emergency assistance.  That is a 30 per cent increase from last year.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Cameroon seeks $299 million to assist 2.3 million people this year but is only 22 per cent funded so far, making it one of the most underfunded humanitarian appeals globally.

**OCHA ASG in Central African Republic

And to stay on to humanitarian topic.  Ursula Mueller, tomorrow will head off to the Central African Republic.  The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator will be there until 4 September to see first-hand the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

This will be her second mission in the country.

During her visit, Ms. Mueller is scheduled to meet with the people in need of assistance, senior government officials, humanitarian partners and donors.

She will discuss ways to increase support and access for the ongoing humanitarian response.  She will also advocate for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

In addition to Bangui, she is planning to see the towns of Bria, Alindao and Bangassou.

In the Central African Republic, nearly two thirds of the population – or almost 3 million people, need humanitarian assistance or protection.  More than half of those in need are children.

This year, the humanitarian appeal called for $431 million to meet the needs of the most impacted, and that appeal is 46 per cent funded.

**Peace Operations

The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, arrived in Helsinki, in Finland, today to attend an informal EU defence ministers meeting.

During his two days in Finland, he will update on developments related to UN Peacekeeping and brief on the implementation of the Action for the Peacekeeping agenda.  The Meeting is an opportunity to forward the UN-EU partnership on peace and security matters.

On the side-lines of the ministerial meeting, he will also have bilateral meetings with several ministers and heads of delegations.  USG Lacroix’s visit to Finland will also include bilateral discussions with senior Finnish officials, including the foreign and defence ministers, the commander of the Finnish defence forces.  And he is also expected to meet with former President of Finland and former senior UN official Martti Ahtisaari.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council was briefed by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission in Iraq.

She explained that due to continued underfunding Iraq’s post-conflict humanitarian programming is being hindered.

Vital health-care services are being suspended, schools shuttered, and food cycles interrupted, she told members of the Council.

On the political situation, she underlined the significant progress made on the Government formation, at the federal and regional levels.

Her remarks were made available to you.

**World Health Organization

And today, our friends at the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN-Water sounded the alarm for an urgent increase in investment in strong drinking-water and sanitation systems.

The call came as the international water sector meets this week in Stockholm for its annual conference during the World Water Week.

It is triggered by a new report published by WHO on behalf of UN-Water that reveals that weak government systems and a lack of human resources and funds are jeopardizing the delivery of water and sanitation in the world’s poorest countries.  It is also undermining efforts to ensure health for all.

 **Senior Personnel Appointment

And a senior personnel announcement to share with you.  The Secretary-General is appointing Adam Abdelmoula of Sudan - also a national of the US - as his Deputy Special Representative for Somalia.  He will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.

He succeeds George Conway of Canada who was the Acting Deputy Special Representative since this last April, and to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedication and service in Somalia and to the Somali people.

Mr. Abdelmoula is currently the Director of the UN Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Divisions in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

**Financial Contributions

And today, we say thank you to our friends in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who have paid their dues in full to the regular budget, which brings us to how many?

Correspondent:  113.

Spokesman:  Masood.  Who knew that you paid attention?

[laughter]

But if you have a question, you may now ask.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You have just mentioned several crises, humanitarian situation and Kashmir, where today there are some prominent people protested and hundreds of people were injured in occupied Kashmir today.  Has the Secretary‑General…  does he have anything to say about this situation, which is going to develop into a very bizarre humanitarian crisis the way things are standing?

Spokesman:  Listen, as I’ve mentioned, the Secretary‑General has been…  and his whole team have been following this very closely.  Yest…  not only the political situation but the situation related to reports of restrictions and detentions on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

His…

Question:  Sorry…

Spokesman:  Let me just…  I’m a little slow.

Question:  Sorry.

Spokesman:  Let me just…  I’m just catching my breath here.  For him, it is important that the leadership of both India and Pakistan exercise restraint, take steps to defuse tension.

As you know, he met with the Prime Minister of India.  He was also on the phone with Foreign Minister Qureshi of Pakistan over the weekend.  So, he is following this and delivering his message, as I said, both privately and publicly.

Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As you might have read, forces loyal to Yemen’s Government have retaken Aden.  I wonder if you could give us an update on Martin Griffiths’ activities and whether the Secretary‑General has any reaction to the latest events.

Spokesman:  No, we’ve seen these reports.  Any reports of increased fighting causes great concern on our end.  Mr. Griffiths continues to be in touch with all the relevant parties in Yemen.  I think what the people of Yemen deserve is not an increase in fighting, an increase in tensions within various groups but a recommitment to the political process.

Correspondent:  You answered my question.

Spokesman:  I love that.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Yes.  My question is on Yemen, but the flotilla, you said 17 boats; the UN sent 17 boats...

Spokesman:  That’s here.  That’s in New York, not in Yemen.

Question:  In New York.

Spokesman:  Yes, sorry.

Question:  Are these…

[laughter]

Spokesman:  Let’s not…

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Let’s not get confused.

Question:  So, are these run on fossil fuel or what kind of boats?

Spokesman:  They’re sailboats, with sails.

Question:  Sailboats.

Spokesman:  Sailboats.

Question:  Nice.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  On Yemen, the Coalition formed a ceasefire committee, I think, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in Yemen.  Is Mr. Griffiths coordinating or taking part of any of these meetings or efforts on ceasefire in Saudi Arabia…

Spokesman:  I’ll have to check on that.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Alan.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Today, Ukrainian court ruled on to release Mr. Kirill Vyshinsky, a journalist, immediately released him from the jail where he spent over 400 days in Ukraine.  So, in this regard, does the Secretary‑General has any opinion on the criminal prosecution of Mr. Vyshinsky?  Does he find this case unjustified?

Spokesman:  Let me look.  I don’t have anything…  I mean, I’m not familiar enough with the case off the top of my head, but let me see what we can…  yes, ma’am, and then we’ll…

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I follow up on the climate activist Greta Thunberg.  Is she going to be at the UN ahead of the climate summit to attend some of the meetings here?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of all…  her…  I’m not aware of any her…  of all her movements.  We have a contact for her…  people who manage her media appearances.  I’m happy to give them to you.  She may well be doing other things.  I mean, we still have a while until the climate activities get under way, but we’ll put you in touch with them.

Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is anyone speaking to anyone on the air strikes in Syria?  Because hand‑wringing without naming and shaming and since everyone knows the Syrian Government and its allies have the planes, isn’t it time for a high‑level statement on this rather than “we think it’s terrible”?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, our appeal has always been to those who have their hands…  their figurative hands on the trigger, those who have an influence over those people to spare civilians, to spare civilian infrastructure, whether it’s our…  our colleague Mr. Pedersen, who will be briefing the Council tomorrow and will also be speaking to you guys afterwards, or our humanitarian colleagues or our colleagues on the ground.  The messages are being passed.

I mean, I think what the Secretary‑General’s position, whether it’s a private position or public position, is absolutely no secret, and we continue to reiterate it, but, like in many conflicts, we’re not the ones who control the weapons.

Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this Gaza…  situation in Gaza where yesterday, I think, like four people were…  four Palestinian were killed by the Israeli forces and about the crossing, the strangulation of the population in Gaza, has that been eased?

Spokesman:  I would refer to you back to what Mr. Mladenov said.  I think he briefed at length on the situation in Gaza, and that would be the latest information.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, my question is about the eco‑crisis in Brazil.  Two months ago, the UN reports as the modern immediate wildlife and plants will disappear because of human activity.  So, my question on this regard is, what is the UN doing at this point on efforts to…  for humanitarian support and…  and as well for coordinations and help?

And by the time, when the President Bolsonaro, he rejects the aid for…  to face this crisis, every minute, more than 10 or 20 metres of wildlife, it was burning.  So, will be any sanctions?  Or what is the point of this with the Secretary‑General…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I don’t…  I don’t disagree with you on the critical issues that we’re dealing with in the Amazon fires, which touch not only Brazil, but, as you know, the Amazon goes beyond the borders of Brazil.

I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in the statements that he made when he referred to the Amazon forest as a whole as a…  as a global public good, so to speak, in different terms, but that was his…  and the global responsibility that we all have to try to save…  to try to save this forest.

The UN has been in touch with a number of countries on this, and we very much hope that the international community mobilizes in full force to help the countries in the region.

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  I’m sorry.  But what’s the UN…  is the UN directly involved on the efforts to help with this crisis and how it’s helping?

Spokesman:  Look, the UN in itself does not have firefighting equipment.  We are there to support the countries impacted, to mobilize inter…  resources, international resources, so they can face…  face the fighting of the fire.

Ali.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  How would you describe the situation along the border between Lebanon and Israel after the attacks and the threats?  And how vital is also now, especially, the role of UNIFIL to maintain stability?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve always been…  obviously, clearly, supportive of the role…  in underscoring the role that UNIFIL plays in terms of maintaining calm along the Blue Line.  Given what we’ve seen the last few days, I think it’s very important to ensure security and stability along the Blue Line.  UNIFIL is working with the parties to ensure that.

UNIFIL peacekeepers, along with soldiers from the LAF are maintaining sort of a continual operational presence along the Blue Line, and the…  the head of UNIFIL, Major‑General Stefano Del Col, has been in touch…  continuous touch with the parties on both sides of the Blue Line in order to help sort of…  I mean, prevent any possible misunderstanding of what is going on, appealing for lowering of…  for…  calling for restraint and also making sure that the parties are reminded that UNIFIL is also there as a coordination mechanism.  We’ve seen in the past where UNIFIL has hosted meetings between the LAF and the IDF, and I think that coordination mechanism that UNIFIL can have is one that is very important that the parties should always take…  take use of, make use of.

Question:  And just a follow‑up, despite the rising tension, we’ve seen in the past few days, including today, the intensification of Israeli overflights of drones and other aircrafts in the skies of Lebanon.  What would you…  how would you describe that and what would you…

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve always…  you know, I would refer you to the SG’s latest report.  We’ve always reported…  UNIFIL’s always reported what it sees in terms of overflights and has stated and has often stated in the past a serious concern of…  that these overflights remain a serious concern to us.

Yes, Madame.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Syria.  The Kurdish YPG has reportedly withdrawn from some borders in the north-east of the country.  Do you have any words or any update on that?

Spokesman:  No, I saw the press reports.  We’re…  I have no independent confirmation from our end, but we’ve just seen the press reports.

Yep.  Go ahead, and then we’ll…

Question:  Yes.  I like…  my last question ‑‑ I’m sorry ‑‑ about the eco‑crisis in Brazil is that do you consider that that crisis can be a crime against humanity be…  knowing that the 20 per cent of the oxygen comes from the Amazon region?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speculate on that.  The focus should be on trying to put out the fires in terms of the…  with the understanding of the critical and massive role the Amazon ecosystem plays in the well‑being of our planet.

Yep, and then we’ll let Monica speak.

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Cameroon.  You touched on some issues in Cameroon, the dire humanitarian crisis, the Anglophone crisis.  So, having said that, does the Secretary‑General have any plans to meet with President Paul Biya or issue a stronger statement regarding the political prisoners, like the European Union has called for the release of all political prisoners?

Spokesman:  I think we’ve expressed our concern about how some of the prisoners have been treated, expressed our concerns about the reports of torture, and that position…  that position stands.

I don’t know if President Biya will be here during the General Assembly, but, obviously, the Secretary‑General, if he had the opportunity, would welcome that.

Monica, étoi.

For information media. Not an official record.