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

10 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.

Good afternoon.

**Sustainable Development

This morning, the Secretary-General received this year’s Global Sustainable Development Report from the co-chairs of the Independent Group of Scientists.  The report, entitled “The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development”.  The two co-chairs, Mr. [Shantanu] Mukherjee, Chief of the Integrated Policy and Analysis Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Mr. [Peter] Messerli, the Director of the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern in Switzerland, will be my guests tomorrow and will brief you in more detail on the report.

And this afternoon at 3:15 p.m., the Secretary-General will address the high-level dialogue on “Reaffirming the Commitment to Multilateralism through Strengthening of the International System and Institutions on the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations.”  His remarks will be streamed live on the UN Web TV.

**Security Council

This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the country.

In his remarks, Mr. Yamamoto stressed that the escalation of violence in the past few weeks has shown the urgency for finding a political settlement to the long Afghan conflict.  He also highlighted that it can only be resolved by direct and inclusive talks between the Afghan people.  It is imperative therefore that the direct talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban commence as soon as possible, he added.

Also, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, told the Council that the drug production, trafficking and transnational organized crime situation in Afghanistan remains complex.

The persistent challenges posed by illicit drugs, economic and financial crime, corruption, money laundering and the financing of terrorism continue to undermine the stability of the country, he said.  Both remarks are online.

Later in the afternoon, the Council will hold a meeting on the situation in Guinea-Bissau.


From Ethiopia, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, has wrapped up a two-day visit to that country, calling for additional funding to support the Government-led response to the displacement crisis and other humanitarian needs.

Mr. Lowcock said that Ethiopia has had to cope with persistent and multi-faceted humanitarian problems, including drought, flooding, disease outbreaks, and inter-ethnic violence that has forced millions of people to flee their homes.

He was joined in his mission by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary.

The three reaffirmed their commitment to help the Government ensure that all displaced people are able to return home voluntarily in a safe and sustainable way, or integrate into new settlement areas, including accessing housing, land, livelihood, and opportunities and schools.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 8 million people in Ethiopia need food, shelter, medicine or other emergency assistance.  The Ethiopian Humanitarian appeal plan calls for $1.3 billion but is only 51 per cent funded.


And also on the humanitarian front.  In the Bahamas, the Government has registered approximately 4,800 evacuees in Nassau.  1,600 of these evacuees are in shelters and receiving assistance.  The official death toll remains at 43, although the number of casualties is expected to increase as many people remain missing.

The UN and humanitarian organizations continue to conduct missions on Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama to assess needs in support of national authorities, while delivering assistance to various locations.  As the situation remains fluid, regular assessments are required.  And for now, our humanitarian colleagues say water, sanitation, health and food are priority needs, as well as debris clearance on roads to increase access to the impacted areas.

**Libya Refugees

And we have an update on refugees in Libya.  Today, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the African Union and the Government of Rwanda have agreed to set up a mechanism to help evacuate some of them out of the country.

The Government of Rwanda will receive and provide protection to refugees and asylum-seekers currently held in detention centres in Libya.

The first to be evacuated are scheduled to be a group of 500 people mostly from the Horn of Africa.  This group will include children and youth at risk.  Evacuation flights are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

According to estimates, there are about 4,700 refugees held in dire conditions inside detention centres in Libya.

After their arrival in Rwanda, the UN refugee agency will continue to look for longer term solutions for the evacuees.

As part of the agreement, the African Union will provide assistance with evacuations, strategic political support with training and coordination, and help to mobilize resources.  UNHCR will provide protection services and necessary humanitarian assistance, including food, water, accommodation, education and health care.

The agency urges the international community to contribute resources to help implement the agreement.

**Press Briefings

At 2:45 p.m., this afternoon, the three African members of the Security Council, which are (Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and South Africa)?  All three of them will speak to reporters, to you that is, at the stakeout on the situation in Sudan.


Today we thank our friends in El Salvador for paying their budget dues in full, which brings us up to the beautiful number of 118!

Correspondent:  118!

Spokesman:  I get to ask the first question.  Mr. Bays, you were almost ready with the right answer, so go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Let's start, then, with election campaign in Israel as the backdrop, but Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu saying that he is going to annex settlements in parts of the West Bank and other strategic areas, he says, in the West Bank.  What is the Secretary‑General's view of this?  What is his view of it in relation to Security Council resolutions on this issue?  And does he think this will be a contribution to peace efforts or detrimental to them?

Spokesman:  Okay.  We've seen the statement made by the Prime Minister.  The Secretary‑General's position has always been clear and consistent:  Unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process.  Our position today is unchanged and is reflected in relevant UN resolutions.  Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect.  I think such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two‑State solution.  And we do expect a more formal statement a bit later on this afternoon.  Take the pen out of your mouth.  Turn on the microphone and ask your question.

Question:  Sir, yes, sir.  Thanks, Stéphane.  This morning, a petition was launched criticizing the United Nations.  It's over this event that your Youth Envoy of the SG is co‑hosting with the MiSK Foundation, which is the private foundation of Saudi Crown Prince MBS (Mohammed bin Salman).  They say the… or the petition says that the UN shouldn't really be getting involved with MBS, particularly as it comes so close to the first anniversary of the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  What do you say to the people who signed that petition?

Spokesman:  I'll take a look at the petition.  I haven't seen it.  Let me take a look, and I will get back to you.

Question:  Sure.  Can I do a couple more questions on that?  What do you say in principle about the partnership?  Obviously, it's been controversial.  It's been criticized by Human Rights Watch.  It's been criticized by Freedom Forward.  It's been criticised by CIVICUS.  I've asked you this question a few times before.  You've kind of always dodged the question, but how about just a frank explanation?  Why is the UN involved in this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think this programme of work signed with the… by the Youth Envoy dates from a number of years ago.  On the separate issue of Mr. Khashoggi, I think the Secretary‑General, as I've said before, has always been very clear on his position on the need to find the culprits and people to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Question:  And how much money are you getting from the MiSK Foundation?

Spokesman:  I'd have to check.

Question:  Sure.  One last question.  Two of the key speakers have pulled out.  Can you confirm this?

Spokesman:  No.  Mr. Klein and then Edie.

Question:  Yes.  Does the Secretary‑General support calls, including by, apparently, one prominent international human rights organization, for schools not to punish or try to prevent students from going on strike, I believe 20 September or 27 September, in support of protests to urge speedier action on climate change?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General, I think, is not only supportive of the enthusiasm that we have seen from young people all over the world, we've been in awe of the energy and the creativity youth groups all over the world have shown when it comes to pushing those in power and those who are a bit older to actually get on board in dealing with climate change and he continues…

Question:  But… I'm sorry.

Spokesman:  No, I… let's hold on, on the "buts".  He continues to support their enthusiasm.  The Secretary‑General also thinks that getting an education is critically important.

Question:  Okay.  But… I won't use the word "but". However…

Spokesman:  However.  Comma.  Yeah.

Question:  Comma.  How do you reconcile the two?  I mean, I understand he supports the enthusiasm…

Spokesman:  I think it's up to each… sorry.  I'll let you speak. 

Question:  But there are some organizations — and one in particular I'm not going to name at this point, because they don't want to be identified until tomorrow — but… that are literally urging schools not to take any action to prevent these walkouts and strikes, so where does the Secretary‑General… I mean, does he support those kinds of displays of enthusiasm by youth…?

Spokesman:  I think I've answered your question to the best of my ability in showing support for the enthusiasm of these young people, which should be an example to us all.  A lot of those decisions of what you referred to will have to be taken on a case‑by‑case basis, and individuals will have to take their own decisions.  Ms. Lederer?

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the latest North Korean launch of projectiles?  And, since we've all just heard about former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton being fired by President [Donald] Trump, I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on that.

Spokesman:  It's not for us to comment on the decision taken by the President.  I can tell you that the Secretary‑General has always had very good relations with Ambassador Bolton.  When he was High Commissioner for Refugees, they saw each other a number of times and, most recently, during his tenure as National Security Adviser and the Sec… and António Guterres' tenure as the Secretary‑General.  They had a number of meetings, which were always very pleasant and very productive. 

You know, we have in the past and continue to express our concern about the continued launches by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) of various ballistic missiles.  The Secretary‑General very much hopes that there will be a swift resumption of the working‑level talks between the US and the DPRK, as agreed by the two leaders in June, as well as a resumption of the inter‑Korean dialogue.  Let's go to the back.

Question:  Yeah.  I want to go back to the deal with Rwanda.  Who made the deal with the UN refugee agency to repatriate…

Spokesman:  It's a trilateral decis… agreement between the UN refugee agency, the African Union, and the Republic of Rwanda.

Question:  And is there a cash injection to the UN refugee agency for this action?

Spokesman:  Well, I think obviously… what we're trying to get is some funding for the operation.  I mean, you can get more details from UNHCR.  I think what's critically important is that… as we've seen in the past weeks and months is the situation for refugees and migrants is clearly untenable in Libya with the breakdown of… that we've seen insecurity in Tripoli, the attacks targeted or not — I don't know — of migrant and refugee centres.  It's not a safe place.  These are people who really have no one looking out for them, and so I think with this we hope to get a number of them out to safer places.

Question:  But who instigated it?

Spokesman:  We'd have to check.  I mean, it's an ongoing discussion between those three entities.  Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, on Israel, on Palestine, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov and his comment on killing of two Palestinians in Gaza by Israeli forces, he… ar… the army not to use any… the Israeli army not to use any… to use force only as the last resort.  So, my question to you is, do you condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli army?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Mladenov's tweet speaks for itself and speaks for the Secretary‑General.  We've been very clear on condemning the killings of civilians.

Question:  I have another question on Mr. Mladenov tweet regarding Mr. [Jason] Greenblatt.  So, after the resignation of Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Mladenov described him as a thoughtful engagement of commitment to peace.  So, Mr. Greenblatt was pretty much involved in the process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  So, can you comment on such a tweet or such a comment from Mr. Mladenov, given the fact…

Spokesman:  I'm not going to do running commentary on a senior official's Twitter feed but what…

Question:  That's a comment, that’s a statement.

Spokesman:  But having said that, I will say something.  Mr. Mladenov, I'm sure, was coming from a point of having… you know, he's dealt with Mr. Greenblatt, and he was expressing some sentiments regarding his dealings with Mr. Greenblatt and Mr. Greenblatt's involvement in the plan that is coming from the Trump Administration.  The Secretary… the UN's and Mr. Mladenov's position on the moving of the embassy was of… from US from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was made at the time and remains unchanged.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, you know, there is a report by the Secretary‑General on peace and security in Afghanistan.  And, in the same neighbourhood, there is a rising tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which has been under the UN resolutions.  Does Secretary‑General plan to do something about it or… does he plan… because both the prime ministers will be here at the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly).  So, does he plan anything to mediate on the sidelines of the UNGA?

Spokesman:  You know, the position… our position on mediation has, as a matter of principle, has always remained the same.  The Secretary‑General has had contacts both with the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India.  He saw the Prime Minister of India at the sidelines of the G7 not long ago.  He had spoken to the Foreign Minister of Pakistan.  Yesterday, at her request, he met with the Permanent Representative of Pakistan in his office.  His message to all of them has been the same, both publicly and privately, that he remains very concerned about any potential escalation between India and Pakistan over the situation.  He appeals to both sides to deal with the issue through dialogue.  And, as was said by the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently, the situation in Kashmir can only be solved with the full respect of human rights.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  And my question on Ukraine, which is not surprising, I guess, for you.  So, you've been making a statement on Sunday, which we really welcome, very good statement about the prisoners’ exchange and the peace process in Ukraine, and you've made some statement yesterday, which is also very good.  There was also development on Sunday when Russia held local elections throughout Russia and also in Crimea.  Taking into account that Crimea is considered an occupied territory by GA resolutions, by other documents, I wonder what's the view of the Secretary‑General on this?  And especially taking into account that this peace process that you've been talking about and that you said the Secretary‑General will be pushing the sides, how does he view this event?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I… so, our statement on the peace process, as we said yesterday, remains unchanged.  We do not have a mandate to comment on the elections that took place, so we generally do not comment without a mandate.  But with regards to the situation in Crimea specifically, our position… the Secretary‑General's position is consistent and in line with the relevant General Assembly resolutions, notably on the "Territorial integrity of the Ukraine," which was passed in the sixty-eighth session and, more recently, during the seventy-third session, on the "Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine", which… the name of the resolution, in which the Assembly reaffirmed the territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders.

Question:  Just a little, little, small follow‑up.  In the view of the UN Charter, does the Secretary‑General thinks that these elections are kind of violating this UN Charter?

Spokesman:  No, as I said, we don't have a comment because we don't have a mandate to comment on these elections.  The Secretary‑General's view is very clear, and it is in line with the General Assembly resolution that talks about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Linda and then Mr. Bays.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I was wondering what the latest developments, so to speak, are regarding the French initiative to hold talks in regard to helping to resolve the Ukrainian‑Russian crisis.  Is there any kind of UN involvement expected?  And would you have any response to… it seems that President Trump has just offered to join in that attempt.

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those comments by the President, so I won't comment.  We've seen the reports of the… possible meeting of the Normandy format involving France, Russia, Ukraine and Germany.  We very much hope that those will take place, that they will be productive, and we remain supportive of that process, as well as the Minsk Agreements and the var… and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) mandates on Ukraine.  Mr. Bays, then Mr. Klein. 

Question:  Security Council meeting today on Afghanistan, you said you were going to try and seek a stakeout with SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) Yamamoto.  What is the news on that?

Spokesman:  That is… the fact that I tried is the truth.  The fact that I failed is also the truth.

Question:  Why did you fail? Why did he…

Spokesman:  I don't know.  He said they would not be able to speak…

Question:  Just a follow‑up because this is a…  No, this is sort of a continuous issue.  Some UN officials visit this building very rarely.  He's one of them, yet it's an absolutely pivotal time for Afghanistan, very high violence.  The Taliban peace talks called off and elections just in weeks.  He hasn't done a stakeout here for 14 months.  Surely, in his job, he has an obligation not just to make statements but to take questions from us, the representatives of the public.

Spokesman:  I will… I hear you, and I will pass that on.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Just want to go… I just want to go back to Kashmir for a moment.  You said that the Secretary‑General's had private and… discussions with representatives of both sides and has made public statements, but would he contemplate, if accepted by both sides, getting more actively involved in mediation, or what he would call preventive diplomacy, sort of on the scale that he tried to do with Cyprus?  I mean, would he… and the opportunity coming during GA week to, perhaps, try to bring the sides together under his auspices, his personal auspices, to see if he can lower the tensions. 

Spokesman:  I think we've addressed that issue in the past, and our position has remained unchanged.  Madame, and then all the way in the back.

Question:  On Yemen, I am… I didn't really understand the statement yesterday also after the email we got from you.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  So, could you…

Spokesman:  You're asking me to literally do the impossible.

Question:  Exactly.  And also give us more, if possible, where things stand in… regarding the Hudaydah agree… or…

Spokesman:  I will try to reinterpret the UN English into… I don't want to say the Queen's English, because I would not dare.  But, first of all, as a clarification, the coordination centre is on the boat, I think, as we clarified yesterday.  The big movement yesterday was to have in one place representatives of both sides and the UN in a way where they could address issues that come up in real time and that is… for us, that is very much a step forward.

Question:  Yes.  Just a follow‑up to my colleague's question and that is again back to South Asia.  Does UNSG plan to reduce the tensions and make some kind of effort of making both the Prime Minister meet on the sideline of the UNGA in September?

Spokesman:  I really…  I have nothing to add to what I've already said on the situation in Kashmir.

Question:  What about Pakistan's Ambassador meeting the…

Spokesman:  That… I addressed that outcome in your first question.  Thank you, all.  Monica, all yours.  See you mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.