9 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.

**Nuclear Tests

During an event to mark the International Day against Nuclear Tests, the Secretary-General called upon all States to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, otherwise known as the CTBT.

In the twenty-first century, nuclear testing is simply not acceptable, he said.  It is not acceptable to destroy and contaminate the environment, or for local populations to suffer from radioactive fallout and other nuclear by-products.

The Secretary-General reminded Member States that, despite wide support, the Treaty has not yet entered into force.  It is not acceptable to prevent the treaty’s entry into force, he said, and to withhold a valuable restraint on the qualitative and quantitative proliferation of nuclear weapons and a practical step towards their total elimination. 

Let us join together to make the most of this occasion to renew our commitment to outlaw all nuclear tests, for all time in all places, the Secretary-General said.


In a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the exchange of prisoners and detainees that took place between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on 7 September and commended all those who brought this to fruition, including President [Volodymyr] Zelensky and President [Vladimir] Putin.  He hopes that this important humanitarian act could serve as a positive step towards strengthening confidence among all, enabling regular and constructive dialogue at all levels with a view to paving the way to an eventual settlement of the conflict in the eastern part of the country.

The Secretary-General urges all relevant parties to take further measures in this spirit, to ensure continued momentum in the ongoing peace efforts by the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and other actors, including by ensuring a durable ceasefire, easing humanitarian conditions along the contact line, and enabling progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.


The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is on her way back to New York after [speaking at] the opening plenary of the fourteenth Conference of Parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification, which took place today in New Delhi, India.

She told the delegates that the scientific data shows that the massive effort to fight desertification and land degradation is painfully overdue.  She added that a quarter of our greenhouse emissions comes from land degradation, while a million species face extinction, threatening ecosystems that provide everything we eat, drink and breathe.  The lives of half of the people on this planet are affected by desertification, land degradation and drought, she warned.

What’s worse, the Deputy Secretary-General said, is that the unhealthier our land becomes, the more dangerous the side effects will be.  The efforts to combat this problem will be massive, she added, but together we can get it done.

Speaking at a luncheon on climate change afterwards, she said that citizens around the world are demanding that we as leaders take bolder action to address the climate emergency.  Young women and men are imploring us to lead and deliver on our promises of a clean and just transition towards a greener future.  We cannot let them down, she said, and her remarks have been shared with you.


And just update for you on The Bahamas.  Our humanitarian colleagues said UN agencies conducted assessment missions in Abaco Islands over the weekend and will continue in the coming days.  Across Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, airports and seaports are increasingly becoming operational.  However, access to those impacted remains challenging, due to damaged roads and infrastructure.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said that 14,700 individual ready-to-eat meals have been delivered to the islands.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said that over the weekend, a plane carrying nearly 1.5 tons of lifesaving supplies arrived in Nassau.  The shipment includes over 400,000 water purification tablets, several 5,000-litre tanks for at least 2,000 people; and at least 1,000 jerry cans.  UNICEF said it was able to access Abaco on Friday and the team there said it witnessed widespread devastation and destruction.  Schools and hospitals are flattened; houses and roads have collapsed, with cars and boats hanging in trees.  UNICEF is urgently appealing for $4 million to scale up its humanitarian response.

Meanwhile, for its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a $3.5 million appeal to cover short-term health care and other needs.  The appeal includes $1.3 million to restore health-care delivery in affected areas, $500,000 for surveillance to detect and manage disease outbreaks, and $800,000 for safe access to water, emergency sanitation and control of diseases.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council is holding an open meeting today on peacekeeping and was briefed by Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

He said that peacekeeping is an essential multilateral tool for preventing conflict, reducing the risk of relapse and reaching sustainable peace, noting that the Secretary-General launched his Action for Peacekeeping initiative over a year and a half ago.

Mr. Lacroix said that political solutions, which are a prerequisite to sustainable peace, are at the centre of this agenda.

He pointed to the example of the Central African Republic, where the UN Mission there has taken advantage of its stronger political mandate and robust security posture of its peacekeepers to create an environment that led the Government and main armed groups to sign a peace accord in February.

Mr. Lacroix stressed that the UN remains fully committed to improving peacekeeping, but that the journey has just begun and cannot be taken alone.


We informed you yesterday on Yemen that the members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) for the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement held their sixth joint meeting on Saturday and Sunday, aboard a UN vessel in open waters off Hudaydah. 

In a statement issued today, the RCC members reaffirmed their commitment to the Hudaydah Agreement and previous understandings, and they activated the Ceasefire Enhancement and De-escalation Mechanism that was agreed upon at the last RCC meeting held in July.  On this basis, a Joint Operations Centre is being established and activated in the UN Mission in Hudaydah’s (UNMKHA) facility.  The Centre includes Liaison and Coordination Officers from both parties, in addition to UN Liaison and Coordination Officers.

The Joint Operations Centre will work on de-escalation and address incidents that occur in the field by maintaining direct communications with field liaison officers deployed on the fronts of Hudaydah governorate.  The full press release has been shared with you.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) welcomed the visit by Riek Machar, the Chairman of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army-in-Opposition.  He arrived in Juba this morning to meet with President Salva Kiir.

David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, said that this visit is a welcome step in the peace process as the deadline of the extended pre-transition period approaches.

He voiced hope that the meeting will be the first of many between the leaders to build confidence and trust to establish a revitalized Government of National Unity on 12 November.

**Human Rights Council

Earlier today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said climate change represents a threat to human rights of a scope we have never seen. 

During remarks delivered at the opening of the forty-second session of the [Human Rights] Council, the High Commissioner said the economies of all nations; the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every State; and the rights of all people will be impacted.

There is still time to act, she added, but the window of opportunity for action may be closing.  Her full remarks have been shared with you.


I urge you, if you haven’t had a chance to go visit the UNICEF installation up in the North Lawn.  It shows the devastating scale of child deaths in conflict zones in 2018.  It was unveiled this weekend.  The display features 3,758 backpacks in rows reminiscent of a graveyard, each one representing the loss of a young life to conflict.

According to UNICEF, the installation, which will run through 10 September, is a message to world leaders as children in many parts of the world are returning back to school and just days ahead of the annual General Assembly.

Once the installation is taken down, the backpacks will continue their journey to support children’s education.

More than 12,000 children were killed or maimed in conflict zones last year, the agency said.  This is the highest number since the UN started monitoring and reporting grave violations.


Today we would like to thank our friends in Belarus for their payment to the regular budget, which brings us to how many?  It's Monday.

Correspondent:  One hundred and seventeen.

Spokesman:  Did you cheat, or did you pay attention?

Correspondent:  I paid attention.

Spokesman:  Oh, excellent.  Well, you get the first question then.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yeah, if you have one or you may yield.

Correspondent:  [inaudible] I'll give you one.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Clearly, one of the most important conflicts in the world is the one in Afghanistan.  The Security Council will be discussing UNAMA, the UN Mission there, in 24 hours' time.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction, though, to the fact that there were secret talks planned by the US Government with the Taliban at Camp David and that those now have been called off by President [Donald] Trump?  Does he fear that a window of opportunity is now closed?

Spokesman:  Look, the talks had been… the talks between the US and the Taliban had been going on fairly openly, and as we've said here, we've been kept updated and abreast of the developments.  Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative, will brief the Council tomorrow, and I think we'll have more on that.  We've taken note of the decision by the US Government to halt, at least for the time being, the talks with the Taliban.  From the Secretary‑General's standpoint, we believe that the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is through an inclusive process of negotiations, and we stand ready to help at the request of the parties.

Question:  Quick follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Is Mr. Yamamoto here or is he…

Spokesman:  I am told he is actually in person here and not by video conference.

Correspondent:  Great.

Spokesman:  And we'll try to get him to stop by and speak.

Correspondent:  Stakeout?

Spokesman:  We will do our best — without a promise.  Yes, Ms. Lederer?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A follow‑up on the announcement about the Redeployment Coordination Committee meeting.  The statement makes no mention of any further agreement among the parties on the further redeployment in line with the first phase of the agreement.  Was there any agreement on… on that key issue?

Spokesman:  I think the press release reflects what was decided upon at the meeting.  Right?  So, if it was decided upon and agreed to at the meeting, it's in the press release.  We will… I'll leave the analysis to you.  I think it is, however… it is an important step forward in establishing direct lines of communications between the parties and the… and, obviously, our UN colleagues on the ground, so it is definitely a step forward.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.

Spokesman:  Let's…

Question:  Because, honestly, I've been reading… read the statement several times.  It's written in a very… well, full of jargon.  I thought, ever since the agreement in Sweden, that you were coordinating what was going on on the ground, so what is this new coordination centre, and how is it different from what you were doing before?

Spokesman:  They are phys… you will have, in one physical location, representatives of the two parties and the UN in one location, which, as far as I understand…

Question:  [inaudible].

Spokesman:  Exactly.

Question:  Are they on the ship?

Spokesman:  It is… no, on the ground.  I mean, the meeting took place on the ship.  I will double‑check.  My understanding is that the UN offices are actually on land and not on the ship, but I will double‑check for you whether we're in the water or on land.  [He later said that the facilities are on the ship.]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Something's been achieved.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just wanted to have a follow‑up on the US‑Taliban talks.  Is the UN concerned about any sort of escalation of violence after the collapse of the talks?

Spokesman:  We've seen… it's hard to predict.  We've already seen, in the last two weeks, three weeks, a huge surge in civilian deaths toll, in attacks, which we have condemned clearly.  We, obviously, do hope that this will not lead to more violence, but I think the violence that we've seen in the last week or ten days has been atrocious enough.  Yes, ma'am, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just wanted to ask, it was stated that, by 2021, the UN body plans on completing a searchable database to crack down on illicit trade among countries facing sanctions, particularly North Korea and Iran.  It's supposed to be accessible by 170 member countries, but just today at the peacekeeping debate, the President of the… the current President of the Security Council said that… warned against the UN collecting data in intelligence.  And I was wondering if you had any comment about that or any statement as to how…

Spokesman:  Let me check on that particular subject, because I try not to ad lib, but I'm really not confident enough to ad lib on that, so I will check. 

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes, Jessica, go ahead. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Will Kelly Knight Craft be presenting her credentials to the SG on Thursday?

Spokesman:  It's my understanding, but I think you need to get that confirmation first from the US Mission, but we do expect her this week to present her credentials.

Question:  On Thursday, most likely, or…

Spokesman:  That's my understanding from the calendar, but we can double‑check.

Question:  And, secondly, do you know if Greta Thunberg will actually address world leaders during the GA or one of the climate days?

Spokesman:  She will be here.  She has been invited to speak during the climate summit.  The exact modalities of exactly how she will address, I think, is still being worked out, but an invitation has been extended to her.

Question:  So that would be on a Saturday. 

Spokesman:  That would be…

Question:  Or on the…

Spokesman:  Well, there's… 

Question:  No, on the… 

Spokesman:  That would be more likely be on the Monday.

Correspondent:  Yeah, Monday.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Pam?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] today verified that Iran has new centrifuges, and Iran itself said that on Saturday it now used an array of advanced centrifuges prohibited by the 2015 deal.  Are you worried about the unravelling of the nuclear deal?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we've continued and will continue to express our support for the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], for the important diplomatic achievement that it is.  And we continue to encourage all of the parties to support it.  We're, obviously, concerned by the latest announcement by Iran of… that it was planning to reduce its compliance with the JCPOA.  And, obviously, the IAEA has an important role and function in reporting on the JCPOA.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Have you been… is there any reaction to the direct onslaught of the Brazilian President on Michelle Bachelet, her comments on climate, and he is saying he… he thinks… he thinks [Augusto] Pinochet was just terrific, noting that the Pinochet Government had locked her and her family up and tortured her.  I wonder, is anyone going to defend her?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has immense admiration for Madame Bachelet for her work as Human Rights High Commissioner, for the courage she has shown throughout her life in fighting for human rights, both professionally and personally, and what she has endured, and the Secretary‑General stands in total solidarity with her.  Yep?

Question:  Yeah.  Just on your statement, on a bit of good news over the weekend, with regard to Russia and Ukraine, what does the Secretary‑General think should happen next in terms of this moment of opportunity, and does he consider that, perhaps, he'll use his own good offices to expand on the deal that was done on prisoners…?

Spokesman:  Obviously, in… he will, throughout his bilaterals in the General Assembly, the relevant ones, push the parties to exploit, in the best possible term, this… the moment that we've seen.  We have a number of mechanisms available, notably the Normandy format, Minsk, OSCE.  All of those should be used to push in the right direction and not let this… the moment that we saw of exchange of prisoners go to waste.  Monica… hold on.  Evelyn and then Monica.

Question:  The Russian ambassador, as President of the Council this week, on the peacekeeping session today, warned the United Nations not to expand mandates into social issues, such as human rights.  Is there any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Well, the Security Council is the master of its fate in establishing the mandates that are given to us. 

Monica, your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.