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

16 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.  I have quite a few words for you today.

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Secretary-General of these United Nations will speak at the closing of the seventy-third General Assembly, which you’ve just heard from the PGA [President of the General Assembly] about.

He will commend the work of the outgoing General Assembly President, calling her a champion for multilateralism and making the United Nations relevant for all.

The Secretary-General will point to the adoption of the General Assembly’s seventy-third session of two Global Compacts, one on Migration and one on refugees, as examples of what can be achieved through international cooperation.  His remarks have been shared with you under embargo.


Turning to the Security Council, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Council by VTC [video teleconference] today from Geneva.  He said we have no time to waste before moving forward with purpose and resolve towards the political solution to end the conflict in Yemen.

In particular, he warned that the attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia over the weekend has consequences well beyond the region.  At a minimum, he said, this kind of action carries the risks of dragging Yemen into a regional conflagration and makes the chances of a regional conflict that much higher.

You will have seen that the Secretary-General for himself condemned Saturday’s attack on the Aramco oil facilities and called upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint, prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions and comply at all times with international humanitarian law.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock also spoke to Council members and said that we have seen numerous incidents since last month in which innocent civilians have been killed and injured.  He said there is a persistent pattern of attacks on Yemen which kill and injure civilians and damage civilian infrastructure and he once again urges accountability for violations.

Mr. Lowcock added that the operating environment for aid agencies has perhaps never been worse than it is now.  Almost 90 per cent of the incidents are due to bureaucratic blockages, he said, noting in particular the restrictions imposed by Ansar Allah.


And on Saturday, Antonio Guterres visited some of the areas most impacted by Hurricane Dorian in Abaco and Grand Bahama Islands.

The Secretary-General was able to survey the damage by air and he also walked through the area known as the Mudd, a poor neighbourhood where many Haitian migrants lived.

He said he was horrified by the level of destruction.  “I've never seen such a level of systematic devastation.  Hurricane Dorian has been classified as category five.  I think it is category hell,” he said.

He added that while we have always had many hurricanes, they are now more intense, more frequent, and more powered by climate change.

He stressed that the international community should learn two things from this disaster:  First, we need to stop climate change.  Second, countries like the Bahamas do not contribute to climate change but are already experiencing its impacts deserve support to fully respond to the humanitarian emergency and also recover and build resilience.

During his visit to the Bahamas, he met with Prime Minister [Hubert] Minnis and discussed the progress of relief efforts, and he said the UN remains committed to keep supporting the government going forward.

He also visited an evacuation centre, where he listened to hurricane victims, and later on from various international organizations that are helping to coordinate the recovery.


Turning to Syria, we remain gravely concerned over violations in the north-west of Syria, despite a ceasefire announced on 30 August.

Nine people, including two women and three children, were reportedly killed in Idlib Governorate since Friday.  Several civilian facilities were also reportedly damaged due to airstrikes and shelling.

The two-week suspension of hostilities has given some respite to civilians who have suffered immensely under intense hostilities during the recent months in which nearly 1,100 people have lost their lives and numerous populated areas were left in ruins, with entire towns largely erased. 

The UN reminds all parties to the conflict, and those who have influence over them, of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times. 


Turning to Lebanon, the Pre-Trial Judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Daniel Fransen, today lifted the confidentiality of his decision confirming the indictment against Salim Jamil Ayyash, relating to three attacks committed in 2004 and 2005.

The confirmation of this indictment marks the opening of a new case before the Special Tribunal.

An arrest warrant was issued against Mr. Ayyash, who is charged, among other counts, with committing terrorist attacks and intentional homicide and attempted homicide.

The indictment and arrest warrant were transmitted to the Lebanese authorities.  They have the obligation to search for, arrest and transfer the accused to the Special Tribunal’s custody.

**Central African Republic

Turning to a couple of African files.  First on the Central African Republic.

This weekend, there were new clashes in the town of Birao, in the Central African Republic.  The UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) reports that 38 combatants from 2 armed groups died, and others were injured.  There were reportedly no civilian casualties.

Today, the situation remains calm, but tensions persist in the city.  The Mission continues to patrol the streets in and around the town to protect civilians.

Over the weekend, the UN Force Commander, General Balla Keita, met with the mayor of Birao, to assess security measures and developments.  The Mission also continues to engage at the political level with regional groups and the Central African Government to find a durable solution.

As a reminder, violence in Birao has forced over 13,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the month.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our UN peacekeeping colleagues said today they are reinforcing their capacity to protect civilians, following a new wave of violence in South Kivu Province.

In the past few days, villages in the Minembwe region have been attacked by militias, resulting in the loss of lives and population displacements.

The peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) has deployed attack helicopters to support the national armed forces.  They have also intensified patrols and set up a temporary base in the region.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this new wave of violence has directly impacted 34,000 displaced people.  In addition, hundreds of people have been gathered near the UN bases in the area to receive assistance and protection.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the peacekeeping mission, Leila Zerrougui, has called upon all parties to the conflict to put an end to the violence.


And, nearly 1 million people, including 160,000 children under five, in northern Mozambique are facing food shortages and a nutrition crisis.  According to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), conditions are expected to worsen over the coming months.

The dire situation is a direct result of the devastation wrought by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which struck earlier this year.

UNICEF stressed the number of children under five facing “crisis” levels of food insecurity and is expected to rise to 200,000 in storm-affected areas by February of next year.

Around 38,000 children could become severely malnourished and at risk of death in the same period.

**Child Immigration Detention

And today, the UN Network on Migration reiterated its call to end the detention of children for immigration purposes in every region of the world.

They said detaining children in this context — whether they are traveling alone or with their families — has been recognized as a child rights violation.  They added that studies have consistently shown that detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that have a profound impact on children’s health and long-term development.

**United Nations Environmental Programme

I wanted to flag a hockey game for you.  Because it’s not hot enough.  The New York Islanders are partnering with United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to host a segment of The Last Game, a series of hockey games designed to raise awareness on the impact of climate change.

The game will take place tomorrow, at 3 p.m., prior to the Islanders preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers.  I assume that’s in Brooklyn.

The Secretary-General and His Holiness the Pope are the honorary captains of The Last Game.  They will not be on the ice, in case there was a question.  They are the honorary captains of The Last Game, which is a series of hockey games that will take place in and over 30 countries that are threatened by climate change.

The game will be followed by a meet-and-greet with various distinguished guests, as well as an educational session where guests can speak to scientists, local citizens and national leaders to discuss the challenges of climate change.

**Ozone Layer

Also having to do with climate.  Today is the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.  The theme celebrates more than three decades of international cooperation to protect the ozone layer and the climate under the Montreal Protocol.

In his message, the Secretary-General said that as we prepare for the Climate Action Summit next week, we should remember that the Montreal Protocol is both an inspirational example of how humanity is capable of cooperating to address a global challenge and a key instrument to tackling today’s climate crisis.

A healthy ozone layer and climate are essential to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), he said.

**Press Briefings

A couple things I want to flag to you.  First, as soon as we’re done here, Lise Kingo, the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, will brief you on the 2019 Global Compact Progress Report and the forthcoming Global Compact Leaders Week.

Then at 1 p.m., Ambassador [Vassily] Nebenzia will be here to brief you on Syria.

Tomorrow, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will be joined by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Action, to brief you on the all the High-Level meetings that are taking place next week.

Mr. de Alba will focus on the Climate Action Summit, while Ms. Mohammed will talk not just about climate but also on the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, the High-Level Meeting on Universal Healthcare, the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, and the Small Island Developing States meeting.

And as a reminder that the Secretary-General himself will brief you on Wednesday, in this very room, also at noon.

Unless there is breaking news tomorrow, we will let Ms. Mohammed speak and not have a noon briefing.


Lastly, a correction and apology I need to issue.  We were made aware over the weekend that the UN Gift Management website incorrectly attributed the historical atrocities at Guernica, depicted in the tapestry by Pablo Picasso, which you’ve all seen, incorrectly attributed the atrocities to the Republic of Spain.  We know full well that the Republicans were the victims, not the perpetrators.

As a result, the website has been placed under maintenance in order to make the necessary correction and to enable a full review of the website contents.

We regret the error and extend our apologies to the people and Government of Spain.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays?

Question:  With regard to… further on the statement that you issued over the weekend on the attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, can you tell me… tell me, since then, what the Secretary‑General has been doing?  Who has he been speaking to?  What diplomacy has he himself been engaging in?

Spokesman:  There have been contacts had at various levels over the weekend, and they will continue during the week and, obviously, during the General Assembly week.  Ms. Led…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Let Edie go first.

Correspondent:  Of course.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any response to President [Donald] Trump's tweet that the US is locked and ready to respond once those responsible for the attacks are identified, verified?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said and his call to all the parties involved to exercise maximum restraint.  Yeah?

Question:  Again, follow‑up on what James and Edith have asked, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran is responsible for the attack that took price on the Saudi Aramco.  Does the Secretary‑General started any sort of connections or communication with the Iranian Government to try to verify these accusations…?

Spokesman:  We have no mandate nor any forensic capacity to establish who may have been responsible.  Monsieur?  The microphone, please.  I can hear you, but the millions of people watching also want to hear you.  [inaudible] Yeah.  It will work.  Press the button.  There we go.

Question:  Sorry for that.  Today, if I'm not miscorrected, was the last day for the Secretary‑General to report back on the investigation regarding the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.  Is there a chance that we will have this report before the end of the day?  And when do you think, otherwise, the Secretary‑General will fulfil the request made by the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  The requests have been fulfilled.  The report is in the proverbial pipeline in terms of translations and editing.  We expect it to emerge hopefully out of this pipeline sooner rather than later, but it was filed on time.  But as… this is a period of a huge number of reports having to go to the General Assembly, so whatever delay is just due to the overwhelming number of reports rather than to any statement.  Apostolos?

Question:  Stéphane, on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu told CNN Turk that they are making preparations to re‑open Famagusta, the fenced area of Varosha.  A couple days earlier than that, Çavusoglu visited the fenced area, and he announced plans to open a Turkish consulate.  Both actions violate Security Council resolutions 554 Varosha and 541 for non-recognition… calling null and void the creation of a State there.  So, last Tuesday, you made the statement on behalf of the Secretary‑General expressing concern on plans by [Benjamin] Netanyahu to annex West… Jordan Valley, whatever.  Do you have… does the Secretary‑General having a reaction on this violation of Security Council resolutions…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, I will [leave] the compare‑and‑contrast of different files to you.  We will take each issue separately.  The issue that you mention on… regarding Cyprus is, obviously, important and sensitive in the context of Cyprus.  We're monitoring the situation closely and continuously.  The UN is and will continue to be guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions.  The UN has not received any formal information on plans to open Varosha.  And, as you mentioned, we also recall that resolution 550 states — and I quote — “that it considers the attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible.”  Any UN involvement in the planning and implementation of potential measures related to Varosha would be guided by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. 

Question:  A clarification.  You mean you have not been informed by the Government of Turkey?  This is what you mean?

Spokesman:  We have not received any formal information on these plans.

Question:  By the Government of Turkey?

Spokesman:  By whomever, we have not received any formal information.  Madame, and then Monsieur.

Question:  Stéphane, on Idlib, three things.  Could you please tell us, what is the update on the humanitarian situation there and, also, how many people you have exactly on the ground or approximately?  And, also, according to the observation of your team on the ground, how do you… could you elaborate on the operations that's going on by the… there by the Syrian and the Russian…

Spokesman:  I mean, on Idlib, I think I addressed that in the beginning, is that we're continue… you know, we're concerned at the ongoing fighting.  There was a ceasefire announced on 30 August.  It seems to have been repeated violations.  Civilians were killed over the weekend.  The ongoing fighting makes it all that much more challenging for anyone, whether it's the UN or its partners or anyone, to get to the civilians that are in need of humanitarian help.  So, our immediate concern is to see a halt to the fighting.  As for the exact numbers, I will try to get you something.

Question:  And do you attribute the violation of the ceasefire to a specific party there in Idlib or…?

Spokesman:  You know, we're not in charge of monitoring the ceasefire, but what we do know is that the civilians are incurring the wrath of the fact that the ceasefire is still… is not being respected.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, in Tunisia, there was free, fair, transparent, nonviolent, organized, civilized elections.  Normally, the SG issues statement in these cases.  Was there any statement?  Was there any…

Spokesman:  Well, there's no statement as of yet.  The… we're, obviously, waiting for the preliminary results to be officialized.  We hope to say a bit more.  But we, obviously, salute the people of Tunisia and the Government of Tunisia for holding these elections in what appears to be a very peaceful and normal atmosphere, as one would say.  Sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Before I put the question, let me say that I hope UN bodies also associate with cricket as much as with hockey.  So, my question…

Spokesman:  I'll tell you… I'll promise, if you get me to understand cricket, I will speak about cricket.  How about that?

Question:  My question is, do you have any comments on the arrests today of a senior‑most Indian Kashmir leader, Sheikh [Farooq] Abdullah.  He's 81 years old.  He's a member of Indian parliament.  Supposed to be pro‑India, and he was arrested today and… along with so many others, and the curfew and the lockdown continues.  Any comments?

Spokesman:  Look, we have continued to express our concern at the situation in Kashmir and hope… you know, given that the only solution would be a political one and also that any solution needs to be addressed with the full inclusion of human rights.

Question:  [inaudible] arrest of the…

Spokesman:  It's… I have no… I mean, I've responded to the best of my ability to that question.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  You talked about the food security situation in Mozambique following Cyclone Idai in your briefing, but also Zimbabwe was the second country after Mozambique to be greatly affected by Cyclone Idai.  Do you have any numbers to… on the food security situation?

Spokesman:  I don't have any off the top of my head, but I can… we can try to get some for you.  We will do that.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On weekend’s attacks in Saudi energy supply, you've been talking about the conflict, larger repercussions that it will take, but the… the attack also took out almost 5 per cent of global energy supply, of oil supply.  How threatening you think is that for the global energy stability and security?

Spokesman:  Look, obviously, it's of concern for the security of the region.  I'm really not in a position to talk about the oil markets.  I think others have.  I just don't have the information on the oil markets that I could make any serious or smart comment on.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Good afternoon.  I'm Carla Bridglal from the Trinidad Newsday.  I'm one of the Dag fellows.  Given the situation… the Secretary‑General's experience in the Bahamas and him saying that it was hurricane hell, has he given any sort of indication on how the UN will engage and help small island developing states like the Bahamas to have a greater voice in climate change resolutions and policies?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think this is one of the things that the Secretary‑General has been pushing is ensuring that those, in a sense, who have done the least to contribute to climate change are helped through… and suffer the most are helped through resilience packages, adaptation packages.  There is a meeting of, if I'm not mistaken, the Samoa pathway, which the Secretary‑General will strongly support.  So, this is one of the messages that he has been giving to all Member States.  Mario?

Question:  Thank you.  On the issue of the Guernica, can you give us a bit more detail as to who writes these descriptions and how long had it been up on the website and…

Spokesman:  We think it may have been up on the website for two to three years.  I think the website was redone after the Capital Master Plan.  It's, obviously, a horrendous mistake when you take into context the… what actually happened in Guernica.  We very much apologise for it.  It… but there was… it was a mistake, and it… but it had no… it was not one that was done with any maliciousness or any ulterior motive.  It was just a mistake, and we've apologised.

Question:  And were you made aware of the mistake by the Spanish Mission or by press reports…?

Spokesman:  We were made aware by our colleagues… Spanish‑language colleagues from the Department of Global Communication (DGC) who had seen press reports and some social media traffic.  And we did… we have been in touch with the Spanish Mission and apologized to them as well.

Question:  I will come back to the question of the… who was informed… that the United… the Secretary‑General was not informed.  On 26 June, the Secretary‑General sent a letter to President [Nikos] Anastasiades that was put in the Cypriot press, replying to him about Varosha and saying that he’s going to do according to the Security Council resolution.  So, by whom the United Nations were not officially informed about plans to open Varosha?

Spokesman:  You know, I think…

Question:  I mean…

Spokesman:  I understand your question, but I think we’re getting into [Eugene] Ionesco absurdism here.  If we have not been informed, I cannot tell you who we have not been informed by.  That’s my… I’m trying my best Cartesian logic here. 

On that note, I will leave you with Lise Kingo and the Global Compact, and good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.