3 September 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.


I will start off with a statement on Guatemala.  The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), whose mandate comes to an end today, made a decisive contribution to strengthen the rule of law as well as investigation and prosecution capacities in Guatemala over its last 12 years of existence and operation.  The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to CICIG staff for their professionalism and commitment to assist in the cause of justice.  He also trusts that efforts to fight impunity will continue and expresses the UN’s readiness to continue cooperating with Guatemala in strengthening the rule of law.  The Secretary-General expects that the rights of those involved in the fight against impunity in Guatemala will be protected.  And that statement will be made available to you in Spanish, as well.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General should be back in New York in a few minutes, after he spent Labour Day weekend in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a three-day visit.  Yesterday, in Kinshasa, he called on the international community to be united in its support to the Congolese people and authorities.  And he said that he noticed winds of hope blowing in the country and stressed in his meeting with President Tshisekedi that he believes that the Congo was living a historic moment.  In Kinshasa, he also met with parliamentarians, representatives of the opposition and civil society.  He said his visit was one of solidarity, especially on the security front, and that the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) would strive to improve its capacities in support of the Congolese Army against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) to better counter the national and international threat represented by this armed group in and around the area of Beni.  On Sunday, he had visited Beni, where he paid tribute to the peacekeepers killed in the fight against the ADF, before travelling to the nearby town of Mangina, where the Ebola epidemic started some 13 months ago.  There, he visited the Ebola Treatment Centre along with the Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus].

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is travelling today to Cape Town, South Africa, to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa.   Then on 5 September, she will proceed to Rwanda, to speak at the fourteenth annual Gorilla Naming Ceremony, “Kwita Izina”, which brings together several key players from the world of nature conservation.  On 7 September, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Delhi, India, to attend the fourteenth Conference of Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and meet with senior officials.  Next week, on 11 September, she will travel to Rome, Italy, to represent the Secretary‑General at the joint meeting of the governing bodies of Rome-based UN agencies.  Ms. Mohammed will return to New York following that trip.


Turning to the Bahamas, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they’ve predeployed teams to Nassau as part of the Government-led assessment teams.  They will deploy to Abaco and Grand Bahama as soon as possible.  The main needs would include water, food, shelter and early recovery assistance.  The teams will support the Government of the Bahamas in assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian over the next three days and in prioritizing needs.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is also deploying staff to the island and liaising with the Government and donor partners.  The IOM’s Dominica Head of Office, Jan-Willem Wegdam, is expected to arrive there later today.  At this stage, the World Food Programme (WFP) has four specialized staff on the ground who can support in the areas of food security, emergency telecommunications, as well logistics.  There is also a drone specialist, as drones can be very useful for assessments, as was the case in Mozambique.  And you will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General said he was deeply saddened by the terrible devastation caused by the Hurricane in the Bahamas.  He expressed his solidarity with the people and the Government of the Bahamas and said the UN will continue supporting the ongoing relief efforts.


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that the situation is calm in its area of operation and that UN troops remain deployed on the ground and along the Blue Line.  The Force Commander of UNIFIL, Major-General Stefano del Col, remains fully engaged with the parties to ensure that stability is maintained along the Blue Line.  You will recall that on Sunday, UNIFIL was informed by the Israeli Defence Forces that an anti-tank missile had been fired from the vicinity of Marun Ar Ras, in southern Lebanon, at an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] vehicle in the Avivim area, south of the Blue Line.  In response, the IDF conducted artillery fire directed at the general area from where the missile attack had originated.  We made it clear in a note on Sunday that the Secretary-General was seriously concerned about the incidents across the Blue Line.  And he calls for maximum restraint and urges all concerned to cease all activities that violate resolution 1701 (2006) and endanger the cessation of hostilities.  Major-General Del Col added that this was a serious incident in violation of the resolution and clearly directed at undermining stability in the area.


And on Sunday, our teams in Yemen reported that air strikes hit a former community college compound on the northern outskirts of Dhamar City.  According to sources on the ground, as many as 170 prisoners were being held in a detention facility in the compound.  The Yemen Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed that 52 detainees were among the dead.  Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, called the incident a tragedy and said that the human cost of this war is unbearable.  He expressed his hope that the Coalition will launch an enquiry into this incident.  Accountability needs to prevail, he said.  Meanwhile, Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Yemen, said that the scale of the casualties was staggering.  And he added that we send our deepest condolences to families that are grieving for their loved ones.


And the UN Special Representative in Afghanistan and the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Tadamichi Yamamoto, called for an end to the violence.  In a statement issued earlier this morning, he said that violence across Afghanistan underscores the urgency of ending the conflict through a negotiated settlement.  The suffering of the Afghan people must end, he added.  He also expressed his condolences to the families and friends of the victims, all civilians, who once again suffered indescribable loss in violence.  The Taliban-claimed attack yesterday in Kabul caused more than 100 civilian casualties, most of them wounded, according to initial findings.  You can also find the full statement online.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic.  Our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported on clashes on Sunday between elements of two armed groups in the town of Birao in the country’s north-east.  That’s in the Vakaga Prefecture.  Six members of the armed groups and one civilian were killed.  In anticipation of retaliatory attacks, the Mission conducted patrols and erected checkpoints in the town.  UN peacekeepers also extracted civilians and secured an area in front of the UN compound, where approximately 2,000 people sought shelter after the clashes.  The African Union, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and MINUSCA issued a joint communiqué yesterday, calling for the cessation of violence, which they branded as a violation of the peace agreement framework.

**Food Insecurity

And today, our humanitarian colleagues have expressed concerns about food insecurity in Sudan and Somalia.  In Sudan, some 6.3 million people — or 14 per cent of the country’s population — are experiencing crisis or worse levels of food insecurity, the highest on record since the introduction of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification in Sudan in 2007.  And in Somalia, late and erratic rains this year, coupled with low river levels, have led to the poorest cereal harvest since 2011 — up to 70 per cent below average.  Without humanitarian assistance, up to 2.1 million people across Somalia face severe hunger through the end of the year.  In both countries, Humanitarian Response Plans remain underfunded.  In Somalia, a billion-dollar appeal is only 45 per cent funded, and in Sudan, a $1.1 billion appeal is only 31 per cent funded.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Senior personnel announcement:  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management, Movses Abelian of Armenia (who is also a national of Georgia), to the post of Coordinator for Multilingualism.  In his role, Mr. Abelian is responsible for coordinating the overall implementation of multilingualism Secretariat-wide.  Multilingualism is one of the Secretary-General’s priorities, as a core value of the Organization.

**Press Briefings

This afternoon at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here in this room by Ambassador [Vassily] Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, who will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for September.  And tomorrow at 12:45 p.m., there will be a briefing by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the launch of the Digital Economy Report 2019.  The speaker will be Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of UNCTAD’s New York Office.

**Financial Contribution

And finally, we say thank you to our friends in Zimbabwe, in Harare — I'm not looking at you — who have paid their dues in full, bringing us the total of fully paid‑up members to?  You're all so pathetic.  Yeah.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  No, I'm just looking in your general region, not you particularly.  And the final number, so you can play tomorrow in the Powerball, is 1‑1‑6, otherwise known as 116.  Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On South Africa, Steph, I don't know if you've seen the reports of xenophobia and violence that have broken out in a number of cities targeting in particular foreigners.  This is not a new issue for South Africa.  Is there a greater role that the UN can play in assisting authorities to grapple and deal with this?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We've, obviously, seen the reports, and I think the… we strongly condemn the acts of violence that have been reported in different provinces in South Africa, including attacks against foreigners and the destruction of their property.  I think the Secretary‑General has also very much noted President [Cyril] Ramaphosa's unequivocal condemnation of that violence, as well as his call for strengthened accountability in line with democratic values enshrined in South Africa's Constitution.  The Secretary‑General urges all political leaders to clearly and openly reject the use of violence.

Question:  Just a broader point.  There have been a number of reports in Europe of black soccer players playing in the UEFA league in the English Premiership being targeted by online racist abuse.  Is there a role for the United Nations?  I know he's launched… the Secretary‑General has launched his UN Plan of Action and the high‑level panel on digital cooperation.  Is this a specific focus of that and how to deal with the attacks on sports players?

Spokesman:  Yes.  The Secretary‑General has, as you say, launched his campaign against hate speech.  I think the issue that we've seen in Europe is, unfortunately, not new.  I think any sort of racist taunt, racist harassment are to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.  We are aware that FIFA, the governing body, has… is very much seized of the matter and is working to address the issue.  And we're always open to working with them on strengthening those projects.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you there.  Is this working?  Could you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can hear you, yep.

Question:  Great, Steph.  There's been a degree of criticism of the United Nations over the weekend, including from Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch and others, about an event that the UN Youth Envoy is hosting on 23 September with the MiSK Foundation.  That's the private arm of Saudi Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman].  And the event is only a few days before the first anniversary of the death of Jamal Khashoggi… criticism being why is the UN getting… partnering with the Saudi royal at this particular point?  I've asked the UN Envoy, the Youth Envoy, about this, but to you guys, to the Secretary‑General and his Spokesperson, were you consulted about hosting this event?  And did the SG give his approval for it?

Spokesman:  This is part of the Youth Envoy's work plan.  As for the issue of Mr. Khashoggi, I would refer you to the very strong statements the Secretary‑General has made calling for accountability in his killing.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the statement on Lebanon, first, Israel has been violating the sovereignty of Lebanon day‑in, day‑out.  There are, almost every week, a letter submitted by the Permanent Representative for Lebanon about the Israeli violation of the Blue Line.  Then everything goes fine, but when the other side started something, then there will be a statement.  The second, with this statement, also, it failed to mention that it started with Israel, killed two members of Hizbullah, and Hizbullah responded to that.  So, the statement started from the minute that Hizbullah…?

Spokesman:  What… I'm appreciative of the narrative, but what is the question?

Question:  The question, this is a fair statement when they fail to mention the real reason…?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the regular reports of the Secretary‑General on the work of UNIFIL, on resolution 1701 (2006), in which he routinely and regularly reports all violations, whether they come from the north or whether they come from the south.  UNIFIL's role is to report back, and they're doing just that.  I think General Del Col is playing a critical role in ensuring that the situation does not get out of control.  He has been, from what we understand, working the phones both with his… the IDF and the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] to ensure that the situation does not degenerate.

Question:  Would it be more balanced statement if he mentioned the attack that killed two members of Hizbullah?

Spokesman:  I think the… UNIFIL reports on the activities in its area of operations.  Maggie?

Question:  Steph, has the SG received a letter from El Salvador asking him to set up a commission on anti‑corruption?

Spokesman:  Yes, we've received a letter from the Government of El Salvador requesting support for the establishment of an anti‑corruption commission.  The request will be examined thoroughly.  As the Secretary‑General has consistently stressed, corruption is a scourge that affects countries throughout the world, hampering development and preventing the provision of quality services.  The UN stands ready to support Member States in their effort to fight corruption.  Señor?

QuestionGracias.  And on Guatemala, with the end of the CICIG, is the SG concerned about the future of the fight against corruption in the country and the judiciary system there, and are there any talks with the authorities there to continue cooperation in some way?

Spokesman:  Look, that would be a decision by the Government.  I mean, as you remember… recall, the Commission itself was first set up at the request of the Guatemalan authorities.  We hope that all the efforts to fight impunity, to fight corruption, will continue in Guatemala, and we stand ready to help the Guatemalan authorities in any way we can, including in strengthening the rule of law.  James and then Evelyn.

Question:  A request for an update.  The Secretary‑General announced his Board of Inquiry on Idlib a month ago, over a month ago.  Can you give us some idea of the timeline, who is heading this inquiry, what the terms of reference are?

Spokesman:  Very valid question.  The wheels are turning.  As soon as we're able to… or churning.  As soon as we're able to announce something, we will.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on Guatemala, how would the UN know, if they're not there and they're not supervising anything, whether impunity would… the fight for impunity would get to…?

Spokesman:  We have a country office, which has, obviously, a separate mandate.  The Commission had a very specific mandate.  For reasons that we all know, that mandate has now come to an end.  We stand ready to continue to help the Government of Guatemala on this.

Question:  And secondly, the Taliban has just claimed a lot of lives in Kabul.  Does the Secretary‑General have any view of the withdrawal of American troops, whether this would…?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we have been kept updated by the US Special Envoy on the state of the discussions.  Those discussions are ongoing.  We, obviously, join the Special Representative in condemning, in strongest possible terms, the attack that took place in Kabul.  Mr. Klein, welcome back.

Question:  Thank you.  Congresswoman… US Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar has declared that the United Nations should get more directly involved in the migration crisis at the US‑Mexican border, and my question is whether she has… or anyone from her office has communicated to the Secretariat, Secretary‑General himself or anyone else at the Secretariat, requests for the UN to get more directly involved?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of any contacts between the Congresswoman's office and the Secretariat.  You may want to check… I mean, I will check on my end, but you may also want to check with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] or… and/or the Organization for Migration, as well as UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which has a presence.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  Back to Guatemala and the Commission, with the end of the mandate today, are there staffers there who are leaving, or did they all already have to go?

Spokesman:  That's a very good question.  I will check on the logistics of that.  Go ahead, fadel.

Question:  Yes, in Yemen, in a place called Dhamar, there was a prison that was attacked by the Coalition.  It says that about 100 people were killed in that jail.  Are you aware of it?  Was there any statement on that?

Spokesman:  I just read it out about ten minutes ago at start of the briefing.  You may… there was a joint statement by… yeah, I think you were walking back in.  There was a joint statement by Lise Grande and Martin Griffiths and… condemning, in words that we are now at a loss.  Go ahead, yeah.

Question:  You also said that the Secretary‑General was urging the Coalition to conduct an investigation into the incident.  Can the… can Mr. Griffiths' office do something?  I mean, this whole idea of potential perpetrators investigating themselves seems a bit dodgy.

Spokesman:  We don't have… Mr. Griffiths' office does not have a mandate to conduct such investigations…

Question:  But aren't there human rights monitors in Yemen attached to the UN, OHCHR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] or something?

Spokesman:  I don't… let me check on that.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just wanted to ask about an update on the Amazon fires.  I know Brazilian Government issued a ban on burning, but just 48 hours after that, there was an increase and like 2,000 new more fires within the Amazon.  Does the Secretary‑General have any…?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update for you that since last weekend.  I know our teams in Bolivia and other country offices are working with Governments as requested, but I'll try to get you a bit more detail.  Allen?

Question:  Thank you.  According to the official reports, the US conducted an air strike in Idlib zone on 31 August.  According to Russian side’s statement, it undermines the ceasefire regime, which was settled there also at this… this period.  Does the Secretary‑General have any opinion on this occasion…?

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I didn't get an update from Idlib today, but I will check.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  Hasta mañana.


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For information media. Not an official record.