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

30 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 Florencia Soto Nino, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General Democratic Republic of the Congo Trip

All right.  Good afternoon.  You will notice I’m not Stéphane.  In case you haven’t met me, I’m Florencia Soto Niño.  I’m on Stéphane’s team.  So, with that, let’s get started.  So, tomorrow, the Secretary-General is scheduled to arrive in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to begin a three-day visit.  As you know, assessing the response to the Ebola outbreak will be a main focus of the visit, especially in light of today’s announcement by the World Health Organization that we have reached the sad milestone of 3,000 cases, including over 2,000 deaths.  In addition to this, yesterday, Ugandan health officials confirmed a new case of Ebola in the country:  a nine-year old girl who had crossed over from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And tomorrow, the Secretary-General will spend the day in Goma, where meetings will focus on humanitarian issues and the implementation of the UN peacekeeping mission’s mandate to protect civilians, consolidate peace and stabilize the country.  On Sunday, he will go to Mangina, where the first case of Ebola was identified over a year ago.  The Secretary-General will visit an Ebola Treatment Centre there and he will meet with Ebola survivors and health workers.  On that day, he will also go to Beni, where he will express solidarity with victims of insecurity.  And he will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to honour fallen peacekeepers.  The Secretary-General will then fly to Kinshasa for meetings on Monday with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, other senior Government officials, members of the opposition and representatives from civil society organizations.


And today is a very special day as we observe the twentieth anniversary of the 1999 Popular Consultation in Timor-Leste which put the nation firmly on the path of independence.  In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General congratulated the people of Timor-Leste on this important date.  He highlighted the tremendous progress achieved by the country over the past two decades, building new institutions, developing its economy, holding four peaceful elections, and laying the foundations for reconciliation, democracy and stability.  The Secretary-General also wished Timor-Leste every success as it continues to consolidate these gains, foster democratic governance and promote sustainable development for its people.  In this endeavour, the Secretary-General affirmed the continued cooperation and support of the United Nations.

**International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances

And today is an International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that enforced disappearance can be misperceived as an issue of the past, but many cases remain unresolved and new ones continue to arise.  He stressed that the UN Committee and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances receive new cases daily, many in the context of the fight against organized crime and terrorism.  He also highlighted that these disappearances have a profound impact on the lives of those searching for the victims.  Uncertainty as to the whereabouts and fate of a friend, family member or loved one causes great psychological distress, he said in his message.  And he called on States to do more to prevent enforced disappearances and bring to justice those responsible.


And in response to questions we’ve been asked on the situation on Lebanon, I can say the following:  the Secretary-General remains deeply concerned over heightened tensions and he reiterates the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.  He urges all concerned to cease violations of resolution 1701 (2006) and exercise maximum restraint to prevent tensions and to maintain calm.  The UN continues to work with all concerned to defuse tensions.

**Under-Secretary-General Atul Khare

Another trip update, this time from the Under-Secretary-General Atul Khare.  He has concluded a successful 3-day visit to Moscow.  He held the 5th annual aviation talks between the UN and the Russian Federation's Federal Air Transport Agency, in conjunction with the biannual International Aviation and Space Salon.  And today, Mr. Khare had a bilateral meeting with His Excellency Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss issues related to operational support to the United Nations.  And during his visit, he also met Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin and the First Deputy Minister for Emergencies Alexander Chupriyan to discuss a range of issues encompassing Russian contributions to peace operations and opportunities for the development of strategic partnerships in logistics and emergency management.  A meeting was also held with the Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who hosted a procurement seminar for the UN delegation to brief representatives of Russian companies on how to do business with the United Nations.

**Burkina Faso

And now we have an update on Burkina Faso, where armed attacks and insecurity continue to affect parts of the country’s north and east, driving forced displacement and increasing the number of people in need of assistance and protection.  An average of 30,000 people have been displaced every month since the start of the year.  Right now, more than 270,000 internally displaced people are living in host communities or displacement sites.  Access to food, livelihoods and basic services is becoming increasingly difficult for both displaced and host communities.  And during July, there was a nearly 35 per cent surge in the number of health facilities closed due to insecurity, depriving over 625,000 people of access to basic health care.  Over 2,000 schools have been forced to shut down, depriving over 330,000 children of education.  The Government-led relief efforts, with support from the UN and humanitarian organizations, are underway to improve food, water, health services and protection of affected civilians.  And the revised Humanitarian Response Plan, released in August, is calling for $187 million to provide urgent assistance to nearly 1.3 million people, including 800,000 affected by violence and insecurity, but it is only 30 per cent funded so far.


And now, turning to Nigeria.  According to authorities, at least 14 people have been killed and over 25,000 directly affected by severe flooding triggered by torrential rainfalls in northeast Nigeria’s state of Adamawa.  Emergency management authorities at the national level are being engaged and partners are mobilizing.  The UN and humanitarian organizations are supporting the Government‑led response with assessing the needs and expediting the delivery of urgently needed assistance.  The priority needs for the affected populations include food; non-food items; water, sanitation and hygiene; as well as health services to mitigate the risk of water-borne diseases, including cholera.  And the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria seeks nearly $848 million, targeting 6.2 million people for assistance, but is only 39 per cent funded so far.


And now turning to a statement by the Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Eduardo Stein.  He said that that the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela has now reached 4.3 million people and is growing by the day.  He said there is no end in sight to this massive population movement and that despite strained budgets, social tensions and overwhelmed institutions, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean continue to make efforts to give protection and assistance and to promote the social and economic inclusion of Venezuelans in the country.  And he called on the international community to keep supporting these countries.

**Refugee Children Out of School

And a report from Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said that more than half of the 7.1 million refugee children worldwide are out of school.  The report, titled “Stepping Up:  Refugee Education in Crisis”, shows that only 63 per cent of refugee children go to primary school, compared to 91 per cent globally.  Around the world, 84 per cent of adolescents get a secondary education, while only 24 per cent of refugees get the opportunity.  “We are failing refugees by not giving them the opportunity to build the skills and knowledge they need to invest in their futures,” said Filippo Grandi, the head of UNHCR.  The agency says steep decline in refugee enrolment between primary and secondary school is the direct result of lack of funding for refugee education.  UNHCR is calling on Governments, the private sector, educational organizations and donors to give their financial backing to a new initiative aimed at kick-starting secondary education for refugees.  This report is available online.

**Financial Contribution

I have a few housekeeping notes.  This has been a good week in the Accounts Department.  We’ve had a fresh full payment, taking us to 115.  And we say thanks to our friends from Jordan.

**Labour Day

Please be aware that the UN will be closed on Monday for the Labour Day Holiday here, so we won’t be seeing you until Tuesday.

**Media Accreditation

And also, please note that the deadline to apply for media accreditation to cover the high-level week of the General Assembly is on Monday, 2 September.

**Press Briefing

And right after we are done with questions, we will have a briefing here by Dmitry Polyanskiy, the first Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and he will brief you on the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War.  Any questions?  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you very much.  Was hoping that you could provide an update on the situation in Aden?  And also, the Yemeni Government sent a letter yesterday to the Secretary‑General and to the Security Council.  Hoping you can give some reaction on that from the SG.

Associate Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the situation in Aden, as Stéphane had said yesterday, the situation in Aden remains extremely tense and of great concern, and there's a pressing need to find a political solution for the overall situation there.  The Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, is in touch with all the relevant parties to call for calm restraint and commitment to the Saudi‑led mediation efforts that are happening there.  The UN does not have any direct involvement in those mediation efforts.  However, there are outcomes important for resolving the situation in Aden and for the UN‑led peace process.  As for the letter, I am not aware of it so, I'll get back to you on that.  Mary?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  I wanted to ask, Greta Thunberg is here today.  She just participated in the protests.  I heard that she's going to speak with the Secretary‑General today.  Is that true, or is there anything… information you can give on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  So, she's definitely not speaking with him today, because he's on his way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; however, they've met in the past a couple times, and she has been invited to take part in the Climate Action Summit and also in the Youth Summit, so those will be happening 21‑23 September.  So, she has been invited to participate, and it's up to her.  Mm‑hmm, over here.

Question:  How you doing?  Can you tell us, lately about Syria, what's going on in Syria right now?  And the war and you know.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yesterday, Mr. Pedersen and Mr. Lowcock gave very comprehensive briefings to the Security Council on Syria.  So, I would refer you to their statements.  Of course, they highlighted that the scale of violence and instability is extremely alarming, and they emphasised that the solution to the situation needs to be a political one and one that benefits all of the Syrian people.  And that's all I have to say on that.  Over there, in the back.

Question:  Yeah, sure.  Thanks so much.  There's an event that the UN's Youth Envoy is hosting next month.  It's a co‑host between the Youth Envoy's office and the MiSK Foundation.  Now, that's the cultural arm… private foundation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.  That event is taken just a few days before the first anniversary of the death of Jamal Khashoggi.  There seems to be a lot of criticism about the United Nations for doing this tie‑up, saying that it is buoying the PR image of the Prince at a time… in a way that the UN shouldn't be getting involved in this kind of thing.  Your comment, please?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  We have heard of this meeting, and I would ask you to direct your question directly to the Office of the Youth Envoy, who are organizing it.  Over here.

Question:  Thank you.  The Syrian Government and the Russian forces in Syria declared a ceasefire on 31 August.  Do you have any reaction to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, we welcome any steps towards a ceasefire, and that's pretty much all we can say on that for now.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  You just gave a… some data on Venezuela, the number of refugees and migrants.  Can you… do you have any data, or how many are the migrants?  How many are the refugees?  And how… the distinction how was made?

Associate Spokesperson:  Correct.  I think this is a question that you should address directly to UNHCR and IOM.  Of course, they're trying as fast as they can to determine the status of each of these people, and I think that the main message of Mr. Stein was that now the scale of the people that are leaving the country is quite alarming, but I would think that those two agencies would be better suited to answer the distinction between those two.  Over there.  Carla.

Question:  Thank you.  What are the UN's comments on these fires that are raging in the Amazon? There was a very large article in The [New York] Times yesterday about the fact that fires are actually spreading and both Poles are heating up.  Seems to be pretty alarming.  And any comment about the… the controversy between Bolsonaro and President Macron of France on the Brazilian President's handling of this?

Associate Spokesperson:  Correct.  We have no comment on your second part of the question, but on the first part, I think Stéphane has spoken about this and the SG recently spoke about this at the TICAD conference in Japan.  You know, he said that the international community needs to be strongly mobilised to support the Amazon countries.  There are many that have been affected by these fires.  Until now, he has said that we have not done enough, and we need to do more.  But, it's not just the Amazon that's being affected.  We've seen fires in the Arctic.  We've seen fires in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other areas in Africa.  So, we need to mobilize resources to protect what are essentially the green lungs of the planet.  Our country teams are supporting the Governments in this respect in Latin America.  Stéphane mentioned yesterday that we had been in touch with the Government of Bolivia.  And of course, we will keep supporting all the countries that are affected by it, but I don't think we've been shy of saying that this is something we should all be concerned about and something that countries must do more to resolve.

Question:  In the [presidential statement] issued by the Security Council yesterday and in many of the statements, there were condemnations of the Houthis targeting Saudi civilians in Saudi Arabia.  However, I haven't seen any report that there were any civil… Saudi civilians killed by Houthis whereas the Saudi‑led Coalition systematically and regularly kill civilians in Yemen every day, almost every day.  Why is this condemnation for something that really doesn't show on your reports… on the UN reports?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think I've said what I had to say on Yemen, and I think the envoy has, several times, called for restraint from all parties.  And, of course, our first and foremost concern is for civilians regardless of nationality.  Any other questions? Okay.  If not, then we'll welcome the Russian Deputy PR.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.