19 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 morning — good afternoon, rather.  I just want to flag that this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will be answering questions on Twitter, a day after he answered your questions here, and he will be answering on the key topics to be discussed during the General Assembly that’s coming, including, of course, Climate Action and the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  As a reminder, as if you needed it, his handle is @antonioguterres.


Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Security Council on Syria today and said that, since the 30 August ceasefire in the Idlib area, reports indicate a decline in fighting compared to the period since late April, when the military escalations began.  She said that it is critical that the much-needed respite for civilians continues, unimpeded humanitarian access be facilitated to all civilians in need and the protected status of civilian infrastructure be respected.

Ms. Mueller said that the humanitarian situation remains alarming.  As an estimated 400,000 people fled their homes in north-west Syria from May to August of this year, including many people who have been displaced many times over.

She said that, following months of intensive fighting, the outlook in north-west Syria remains uncertain, while winter is coming.  Humanitarian organizations are already planning how to help people in need before temperatures drop and inclement weather arrives.  Ms. Mueller said that humanitarians estimate that an additional $68.4 million is required to address the expected winterization, shelter and other needs.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues in the Department of Peace Operations (DPO) have given us an update from the Central African Republic.  Violence in the town of Birao has now led to the displacement of over 14,000 people, who are being protected by UN peacekeepers in a camp next to the UN base and airstrip.

The UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) has put in place additional measures to protect civilians, to prevent new clashes, restore calm.  Peacekeepers are patrolling Birao and the town’s surrounding areas to prevent reinforcement of armed elements.  They also have strengthened security around the camp for displaced people. 

In addition to this, the Mission has held discussions with the Central African authorities on the deployment of national security forces, engagement with community leaders and reduce tensions.


And our acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, Zlatan Milisic, said he is deeply concerned about today’s attack in Zabul in the south of Afghanistan, which caused severe damage to a hospital. 

Reports indicate that 15 people have died and 80 are injured.  Among the casualties are patients, doctors and hospital staff.  The number of casualties is expected to increase. 

Among our humanitarian colleagues, the hospital suffered heavy structural damage and is now out of service. 

In a statement, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator expressed his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

The UN urges all parties to the conflict to respect and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure including health staff, patients and structures in compliance with international humanitarian law.

**Human Rights

And the UN Human Rights Office says more people are victims of intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN in 48 countries. 

The cases presented in the annual report of the Secretary-General on topic range from activists suffering detention and prison sentences, to acts of intimidation, such as filming participants in meetings without their consent, even on United Nations premises. 

The Secretary-General notes in the report that some people do not engage with the UN “out of fear for their safety or in contexts where human rights work is criminalized or publicly vilified”. 

As he presented the report in Geneva today, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, said that putting an end to reprisals should be a priority.  He called on Member States to ensure that brave human rights defenders are not cruelly targeted for cooperating with UN bodies.


And following an outbreak of polio announced today by the Government of the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) are supporting and helping the country to respond to it.

WHO urged that all children under the age of five be vaccinated, with UNICEF stressing that as long as one single child remains infected, children across the Philippines and even beyond are at risk of contracting polio.

The last known case of this type of poliovirus was recorded in the Philippines in 1993, and the country was declared polio-free in 2000.


From UNICEF, they are telling us that more women and children are surviving today than ever before.  That’s according to new child and maternal mortality estimates released today by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since 2000, child deaths have reduced by nearly half and maternal deaths by over one third, mostly due to improved access to affordable, quality health services, the report says. 

Still, new estimates reveal that 6.2 million children under 15 died in 2018, and over 290,000 women perished due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2017.  The full report is available online. 


And from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 41 countries continue to be in need of external assistance for food, with conflicts acting as the primary cause of high levels of food insecurity and adverse weather conditions. 

According to a report released by the FAO today, conditions on the countries on this list, which include 31 in Africa, remained unchanged over the last six months.

**Press Briefings

Press briefings today, 12:30 p.m., International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), on the launch of the new IFRC report.  Speakers include Francesco Rocca, IFRC President and Julie Arrighi, the Red Cross climate expert.

And the then immediately after, at 1 p.m., David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in South Sudan and Head of the Peacekeeping Mission (UNMISS), will be here to brief you.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing by Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme UNEP), and Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  And they will be here to the latest Greening the Blue report, as well as efforts by the UN to become more sustainable.

Then at noon, I will be joined by David Nanopoulos, to give us our yearly briefing on Treaty events that will take place during the General Assembly week, and David is the Chief of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA). 

**Financial Contributions

And money — because it is all that counts — so far, over the last couple of days, we have received some very welcome payments to the regular budget.  These full payments come from Bolivia, Chad, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and the United Republic of Tanzania.  Our sincere thanks to all five, which brings the total up to?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  One hundred and twenty-five.  We'll give Richard Roth the first question, even though he didn't play. 

Correspondent:  Didn't pay?  I got money.

Spokesman:  No, I didn't say you didn't pay.  I said you didn't play.  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It's all work, no play for UNGA [United Nations General Assembly], please.  Thank you.  Number one question, we've been through these visa games before.  I know the Secretary‑General yesterday said that they're in touch.  The UN is in touch with the host country regarding the Iranians.  Do you have any new information as to the status of that?  The Iranian Foreign Minister blamed Mike Pompeo today for not wanting the Iranians to come.  Usually, it's a last‑minute drama.  What is the current state?  Who makes the contacts?  How high a level?  Whatever you can flesh out on this issue, if there is anything. 

Spokesman:  I don't have any new information to give you.  I think the Secretary‑General said he has been in touch with the host country authorities.  We have not heard of any new developments.  Our planning is continuing.  We, obviously, look forward to the highest level of delegations led at the most senior level, because we think it's very important for the General Assembly, but we have a few days to go.  So, if I have new updates, I will let you know.  Sir?

Question:  My name is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington, D.C., Do you know… can you confirm how many African Head of State have confirmed the attendance at the UN General Assembly and if the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, who wasn't here last year, is likely?

Spokesman:  I don't have a regional breakdown, but we can get one to you fairly quickly.

Question:  And last question, I know the UN doesn't really like talking about American citizen and journalist Matthew Lee of Inner City Press.  We understand that you refuse to accredit him this year again, and they didn't give him any reason.  Is that not a way of trying to suppress the freedom of the press and trying to retaliate because of his reporting against the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  I've used many words over the years to talk about Mr. Lee.  I think I've run out of them.  What I can tell you is that this Organization, as you can see by the full size of this room and the broad range of representation, that it's filled with reporters that are often very critical of the United Nations, and that's part of the way things work.  So, we are open.  We are open for business for journalists.  There are certain standards, as for any organization, to be accredited.  Those who meet those standards are welcome here in this room to ask a question about anything they want, and those who don't meet the standards don't meet the standards.  Speaking of standards of aggressively critical questions, yes, James?

Question:  On the subject of reporters, yesterday, the board of the New York Public Library decided to cancel an event that was being co‑hosted by the UN and the foundation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, amid protests over… the controversy over the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other issues, the war in Yemen, and so on.  From the point of view of the UN, is the event done and dusted?  Is that it?

Spokesman:  Look, there are discussions still going on about the event, so I think we're not… and you should check with the MiSK Foundation, as well, if they've come up with alternative plans.  But at this point, there are discussions going on.  That's all I can tell you.

Question:  And a quick follow‑up, despite all the controversy, Human Rights Watch, all the groups criticizing the UN for partnering with MBS's foundation, you guys are sticking with the partnership; you're sticking with the relationship.

Spokesman:  Look, the… first of all, I would need… the Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Youth, her job is to engage with youth organizations around the world.  We think she's doing a great job, and that's exactly what she's doing.  I'm not aware of any change in the partnership at this point.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Janvic Mateo from the Philippines, Philippine Star and a RAF [Reham Al Farra] Fellow.  Just a follow‑up on the polio outbreak in the Philippines, do we expect the matter to be discussed and the Secretary‑General to raise the issue on the high‑level dialogues on universal health care next week?

Spokesman:  I don't… I can't predict if it will be raised… I don't expect it to be raised in the Secretary‑General's statement.  Obviously, this is just breaking.  Our colleagues at World Health Organization and UNICEF are trying to handle the matter locally in supporting the Philippines authority.  I think this is yet another incident that underscores the need for children all over the world — in rich countries, in developing countries, in poor countries — to be vaccinated.  I think we cannot under… we need to underscore at every point the necessity and the importance of vaccines.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  [inaudible].  It's been about two months now.  Are we likely to see the UN increase pressure to ease the communication blockade in Kashmir?

Spokesman:  Look, I think, on Kashmir, the Secretary‑General… as the Secretary‑General said and has said previously, he remains engaged.  I think he will also use the opportunity of discussions during the General Assembly to raise it.  He's also underscored the need for dialogue as the only way to resolve the issue and, as part of the solution for the current crisis in Kashmir, to make sure that human rights aspects are very much dealt with, as well.

Question:  I may be ignorant of all the activities going on.  Maybe it came up at the yesterday press conference.  I'm not sure.  Has the Secretary‑General of the UN told specific countries not to speak at the Climate Summit because they have not been able to come up with concrete proposals, or they are major polluters, but he's allowing other countries who are major polluters to speak? What is the…

Spokesman:  It's not about blocking people to speak.  It's about telling countries that you will have a platform if you come with bold plans and bold ideas.  And it is a bit of a revolution in the sense of how UN meetings are organized, and I think it just underscores how seriously the Secretary‑General takes this issue and how much he feels that Governments need to be reinvigorated in their action to combat climate change.

Question:  Can you confirm people have been told so far no, not good enough?

Spokesman:  I mean, not… you… I think, when we're ready to release the list, you'll see the countries that are speaking, and you'll see the countries that are showing real leadership on the issue.  Sir?  Yep.

Question:  Me?  From Xinhua News Agency.  Yesterday, Mr. Secretary said… Secretary‑General said he has three grandchildren.  I just wonder, is it grandsons or granddaughters?  Are they in any way involved in climate action?

Spokesman:  That's a good question.  I've never been invited to a Guterres family reception.  I don't know… frankly, I don't know their age off the top of my head, but I do think they're fairly young.  But what I will say is… what I do know is that, as he's told me, now that I actually put my brain on, that he has noticed how impassioned they are about climate, and it's about the young telling the old to get on it.

Question:  Do they have to get credentials to get in the building?

Spokesman:  I don't think… you will not be seeing them during the General Assembly.  Ben, let's go for… come on, Ben.

Question:  Two quick questions.  Number one, regarding the Laventure case, on Haiti cholera, it's being sent to the Supreme Court for their consideration.  Why does the UN continue to shield itself behind immunity in this case when… when they've taken responsibility for the 10,000‑plus deaths and thousands of injuries from…

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what we've… our previous statements on that issue. 

Question:  Just a follow‑up on the Matthew Lee question.  You said that certain standards are required for journalism.  As I understand it, Matthew now is a card‑carrying member of the SDNY, Southern District of New York court.  What's the difference between that and the UN?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into individual cases, and the standards do not have to do with what people write.  It has to do with standards that apply to everybody that's in this building, and that's… it's about behavioral standards, and I think he knows full well.  Yalla.


Spokesman:  Not khalas just yet, soon enough.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on Matthew Lee.  He's… he's a… as I said, he's a journalist and an American citizen.  He's… he has a new card now, and he feels that he's been discriminated against.  I saw the reply that the UN gave him when he applied.

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, I appreciate you… sorry.  Let me finish.  Let me allow you to finish.  I'm sorry.

Question:  If I could complete the question.  If I can finish my question.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  The UN said he was banned last year, so he's not going to get accreditation this year.  So, is there a valid reason for you to ban a journalist from attending the UN General Assembly?  Who defines the standard?  Is it you?  Is it…

Spokesman:  I will not go into his particular case.  I think he's in touch with our colleagues who do the accreditation.  What is clear is that every journalist that comes into here agrees to a code of conduct, of behaviour, which all of you signed on to, which is elaborated between the UN and the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).  Mr. Bays?

Question:  New pictures have been released by the US Navy and confirmed by the US Navy to be valid.  What is the Secretary‑General's view on the possibility of extraterrestrial life?

Spokesman:  I'm not sure we have any more room for flags in the UN so…  That is a very valid question, though, James.  Thank you.  We'll let the IC… our colleagues come in.

For information media. Not an official record.