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

20 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, everyone.

**International Day of Peace

Good morning.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Peace Bell Ceremony ahead of tomorrow’s International Day of Peace.  This year’s theme is “Climate Action for Peace.”

The Secretary-General said that peace is not just the absence of war.  It is about respect, tolerance, and thriving societies in which people live in harmony with each other and with the environment.

He said that competition for resources is creating tensions between peoples and countries and natural disasters are displacing millions. 

“Raising ambition and taking climate action is crucial if we are to live in peace and build a world of resilience and prosperity for all,” he said, adding that this is why he has convened the Climate Action Summit that will take place on Monday.  And on that note, the programme for the Summit is now available online, of the Climate Summit, including the speakers’ list, and it has been sent out to you by email as well.

The Secretary-General also spoke to students this morning and told them their leadership is essential so that his generation does the right thing.  “I count on you,” he added. 

And UN staff will also take part in their own way in the climate gathering at 1:15 p.m. in the Visitors’ Plaza, where they’ll reaffirm their support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to accelerate climate [action].

**GA74

Also, on a GA note, I have an update for you on the number of Heads of States and others who are expected to participate in the General Assembly that starts officially on Tuesday.  Today’s count has 91 Heads of State, six Vice Presidents, 45 Heads of Government, five Deputy Prime Ministers, 44 Ministers, two Chairs of Delegation, and three observers; that’s the same total as we had at the end of last week, which is 196.  The number of meetings requested has now climbed to 630.

**Exhibit

On a related note, starting at 7:30 p.m. this evening, if you look at the UN General Assembly and Secretariat buildings, you will see an immersive show, called “Voices for the Future: Antarctica While You Were Sleeping”, that lights up our buildings in advance of the Climate Action Summit.  The projections will last until 10 p.m.

This installation will spotlight large-scale projections covering the outside of the UN with images of a massive iceberg, setting the scene for the voices of six young advocates, including Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg, who are commenting on the nature of the climate crisis and what must be done to minimize the consequences of climate change.  It’s a rather spectacular show.  I encourage you to see it, and we thank our friends at the Permanent Mission of New Zealand who are sponsoring this light show.

And also just to flag that obviously our office will be open and staffed throughout the weekends, both Saturday and Sunday, given all the events that are going on.  We will not be briefing.  Also, because of all the other events going on at the beginning of next week, we will not have noon briefings next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday unless otherwise necessary.  Is that ok with you, Sherwin?  OK; we can file your complaint.  We will be distributing, as much as we can, advanced embargoed copies of the Secretary-General’s various speeches as they become available to us.

**Middle East

Back here, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation between Israel and Palestine, as required under resolution 2234.  Mr. Mladenov noted that the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continues unabated.  He asserted that such expansion must cease immediately and completely and he reiterated the Secretary-General’s concern over statements regarding the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the [northern] Dead Sea.  Sorry?  My apologies, thank you.  Thank you for paying attention most importantly.

Mr. Mladenov unequivocally condemned all attacks on Palestinians and Israeli civilians, including settler-related violence, and called on all sides to refrain from violence and to clearly and unequivocally condemn attacks as they occur.  All perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes, he said.  He added that, as we approach three years since the passing of the resolution, we can only lament the worsening situation on the ground.  His comments are available to you.

**Mali

On Mali, our colleagues from the peacekeeping mission there (MINUSMA) said they are concerned by a new wave of intercommunal violence affecting people in some of Timbuktu’s neighbourhoods. 

The mission is supporting the response by Malian security forces with coordinated actions involving the UN Police and peacekeepers.  They are also working with Malian authorities to ease the tensions.

The Mission calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and condemns all acts of violence.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN is alarmed by an increase in violence committed against civilians in the eastern provinces of Ituri and South Kivu. 

Dozens of villages have been burned and, as we have reported to you, at least 250,000 people have been displaced over the past few months.

In another worrisome development, the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) said there have been at least six night attacks against civilians in the past two weeks in Ituri’s Djugu territory.  Displaced people, including women and children, have been among those targeted. 

According to data collected by the UN, close to 200 civilians have been killed in Ituri since June.  Gang rape and other forms of sexual violence have been largely reported, as well.

The Mission is actively supporting the provincial authorities to restore calm and calls on all community leaders to support these efforts.

Humanitarian agencies are also mobilized to address the needs of the people. 

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC seeks $1.65 billion to target 9 million people in need of assistance and protection, but it is only 30 per cent funded.

**South Africa

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that it is deeply concerned about the recurring violence against foreign nationals — including refugees and asylum-seekers — in South Africa.

The agency is working closely with the Government, other UN agencies and other partners to ensure the safety of refugees by deploying additional staff; emergency shelter and other supplies; psychosocial care; and legal assistance.

UNHCR calls on all State authorities to take every possible measure to ensure people’s safety and welfare and no effort should be spared to quell the violence and enforce rule of law.  It also stressed that those responsible for committing criminal acts must be held to account in court.

**Venezuela

In Venezuela, our colleagues at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) tell us they are providing more than 300,000 children with back-to-school kits to help keep them in school.  The deteriorating situation on the ground has [so far] left an estimated 1 million children out of school. 

Over the coming 12 months, UNICEF, in tandem with national partners, plans to reach a total of 1.2 million children in public and subsidized schools across Venezuela with various educational supplies. 

Each back-to-school kit contains a school bag holding essential learning supplies including a notebook, pencils and coloring pencils.  UNICEF is also working to expand educational services to ensure inclusive access and quality learning for all Venezuelan children, and to prevent dropouts.

**Migrants

Our colleagues in the Office of Migration (IOM) say so far this year, over 63,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea.  That’s according to new data compiled by the agency.

They note that almost 30,000, or almost half of the yearly total number of people have arrived in the past nine weeks.

About four out of five migrants or refugees enter Europe through Greece or Spain, with others arriving mostly in Italy, Malta or Cyprus. 

In related news, IOM condemned yesterday’s death of a Sudanese migrant in Libya.  The man was shot hours after having been returned to shore by the Libyan Coast Guard. 

**Yemen

The World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that in August, it reached a record 12.4 million food-insecure people in Yemen with food assistance, which is the highest number they’ve reached so far in the country. 

WFP says it needs $600 million to ensure uninterrupted food assistance for the next six months, until February 2020.  Without more funding, WFP says it will have no choice but to reduce food rations to families, starting in October.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, I will be joined by David Nanopoulos, the Chief of the Treaty Section in the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA).  He will brief you on the annual Treaty Event that always take place during the General Assembly.  This year’s Treaty Event is devoted to the promotion of the 17 SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] through the multilateral treaty framework.

**Budget

And lastly today, we thank our friends in Praia for a full payment to the 2019 budget.  Taking us to a total of 126 countries.  [inaudible]  What?  I just said 126, that’s not the question.  The question is:  Praia is the capital of which Member State?  I have all day.  That would be Cabo Verde.  Alright.  Go ahead, Sherwin.  Go ahead, yes. 

**Questions and Answers 

Question:  Steph, thanks so much.  The Cuban Mission to the United Nations is calling the expulsion of two of its diplomats a violation of the UN Headquarters Agreement.  Have they reached out to the United Nations, and what say you about this move by the United States, just ahead of the GA?

Spokesman:  Yes, bear with me two seconds.  I knew it was Cabo Verde.  Sorry, it's a serious matter.  Yes.  We have seen the announcement by the US Government of its decision to request two members of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the UN to leave the country and the position of travel restrictions on all members of the Mission.  I can confirm to you that the US Mission to the UN informed the Secretariat today of that decision and of the fact that they had taken this decision under Section 13B of the UN-US Headquarters Agreement.  Given the sensitivity of the issue, we will not comment further at this stage, other than confirm that we are closely following the matter.  I would add that the Headquarters Agreement is a public document.  We have copies of it, if you want to consult that particular section.

Question:  So no point in a follow‑up, then?

Spokesman:  Exactly.  Yes.

Question:  One of the main questions is, of course, this is an investigation that is done by the United States and… 

Spokesman:  Sorry; what are referring to?

Question:  Cuba, I'll do a follow‑up.

Spokesman:  We all need that, yeah.

Question:  But we have heard a little about what it actually happened, but could this become an issue during the meeting that we will have next week in the United Nations?  We understand that the Foreign Minister of Cuba is the one that is going to be addressing the GA assembly.  He has reacted and he is very, very forceful about it, the Mission has made in a statement.  Would these become an issue?  Because it's always been a question, the role of the United States as the host country, when it comes to not just giving the, you know, visas and all this; but could this be a concern for the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, the US, the United States is one of a number of countries that is host to UN headquarters, so there are standard procedures in place and treaties and agreements in place with all the other headquarters, duty stations.  This is not the first time it has happened.  There is a procedure.  And, obviously, if there are issues that Member States themselves want to raise, that can be done through the Host Country Committee as part of the General Assembly.  Obviously, what impact that will have on Cuba's presence with the UN, that is a question for the Cuban Mission.  Yes, sir.  Yes.

Question:  Hi Steph.  The meeting for Turkey and Iran and Russia.  About Idlib, did they inform the UN about what is going on?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I think the Secretary‑General spoke about it during the press conference.  Obviously, there was progress on the issue of the constitutional committee, which we are pleased with, and we hope that will be finalized very shortly; but we were briefed.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A couple of questions or maybe a few more.  Do you have anything on the SG's meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister today?  And also, anything on Mr. [Geir] Pedersen's UN Special Envoy for Syria?  He is upcoming to Damascus on Monday.  And President [Donald] Trump is hosting also an event on the religious freedom on the same day as the climate summit.  Will the SG attend there?  And one more question:  Do you have any concerns that the climate summit would be overshadowed?

Spokesman:  Okay, let's take them in the order that I remember them.  The Secretary‑General did meet with the Turkish Foreign Minister this morning.  Three broad issues came up:  Syria, Cyprus, and the Alliance of Civilizations, which we are thankful for the Turkish Government's support of. 

On Syria, I think they discussed the situation — what we hope will be soon the completion of the constitutional committee, and what the Secretary‑General has already told you.  Mr. Pedersen, obviously, will go, from what we understand, will be going to… for consultations in Damascus, that is an important step in that process.  We will see what comes out of that, but we hope that will be positive news. 

On Cyprus, I think the Secretary‑General reiterated the points he really made to you publicly, is that he will have meetings during the General Assembly, during which the Cyprus issue will come up.  His goal, his ambition for the Secretary‑General is to help create the conditions that could lead to the resumption of talks; and he is also looking forward to meeting all the concerned parties.

Yes, sorry, the other one — yes, the Secretary‑General will speak at the meeting organized by the United States on religious freedom on Monday.  No; you know, I'm not concerned or see it as an effort to overshadow the climate summit.  I mean, you have all covered General Assemblies in the past.  You know that during the General Assembly there are often many important meetings going on at the same time.  This is what we do during this week.  We obviously… we've accommodated and glad to accommodate the United States in this request.  At the same time the… we very much look forward to the climate meeting.  The Secretary‑General will open it.  And, as mentioned, you have now the speakers' list and you will see that it's quite of an impressive show of climate leadership.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Simon Ateba from Today News Africa, Washington, D.C.  Cameroon seems to be in a real mess now.  The President has been in power for 40 years and the Anglophone crisis has left so many people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced to Nigeria.  President Paul Biya of Cameroon is going to be here at this UN General Assembly.  Is there anything the UN is doing to put pressure on him to bring lasting peace to his country?  First question.  Last question: Nigeria is also in a real mess with a lot of political activists in detention.  We have journalists in jail, we have politicians in jail, and President [Muhammadu] Buhari is coming to the General Assembly.  Is there anything the UN is doing?

Spokesman:  I mean, on Nigeria, the Secretary‑General will obviously have a readout, will have a conversation with… looks forward to having a meeting with President Buhari; a number of issues will be discussed. 

On Cameroon, you know, we look forward to these discussions.  The Secretary‑General has expressed his concern about the situation in the Anglophone areas.  We have pushed for dialogue.  We also know that the High Commissioner for Human Rights especially went to Cameroon and we fully support the work that she is doing, and we also have quite a big humanitarian presence there.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, is there any update on the visa for President [Hassan] Rouhani and his… 

Spokesman:  I only know what I've seen in the press, which I understand that they were granted.  We have not been involved at this point.

Question:  Okay.  On the 26th, there is a ministerial meeting for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees].  Would the SG be attending this meeting, and would he speak?

Spokesman:  Yes.  The Secretary‑General will speak.  I mean, the Secretary‑General has been a tremendous advocate for UNRWA, for the work that UNRWA does every day in the various areas in which it operates.  He is a strong believer that UNRWA is a force for stability in a region that is perhaps not as stable as we would like it to be to — for a slight understatement.

Question:  And Pierre Krahenbuhl, the Commissioner General?

Spokesman:  I don't know, but I know the Secretary‑General will be there to represent the United Nations and to show his personal commitment to UNRWA and his call for Member States to support UNRWA's work with the financial resources that it needs to make sure that clinics stay open and that children can go to school and learn.  Señora?

Question:  I'm sorry, Stéphane, but I have to follow‑up. 

Spokesman:  Don't be sorry, that is what I do.

Question:  The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Cuban Mission say that expulsion of two diplomats and the greater restriction on movement of the rest are aimed at provoking a diplomatic escalation, leading to the closure of the bilateral embassies, further tightening the blockade and creating tensions between the two countries.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?  Could you tell me?

Spokesman:  Look, I think this is an issue we are obviously following very closely.  We've been informed by the United States.  I will have to check if our colleagues in the Secretariat, in the Legal Affairs office, have also been in touch with the Cuban Mission.  We are always open to meeting.  There are rules that govern the hosting of the United Nations in the United States, as there are rules that govern the hosting of the United Nations in Geneva and Nairobi and Vienna.  There are treaties that need to be observed.  If there are issues, those can also… should… can be brought up through the Host Country Committee of the General Assembly.  Sir, and then…

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéph.  Let's go into West Africa.  Over the weekend, the Organization of West African States, ECOWAS, they pledged 1 billion dollars to fight terrorism in the West African Region.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction to this and will he use the… any MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] troops to work jointly with ECOWAS for this problem?

Spokesman:  Well, we obviously support the effort of ECOWAS and we welcome this pledge.  The Secretary‑General has been calling for greater support to those states, notably the so‑called G5 Sahel states that are fighting various extremist groups.  He believes that those forces should receive predictable funding and support, which is very, very important.  The UN will work in Mali, where it has troops with the local authorities, but it is important to state that the mandate of the UN peacekeepers is not a counter‑terrorism operation.  They have a very specific mandate.  They have, however, borne the brunt of some of the violence.  I mean, the civilians have borne the brunt, but they have been hit hard; our peacekeeping colleagues have been hit very hard.  As you know, I think that mission has the highest rate of fatalities from the hands of extremist groups of any peacekeeping mission.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Also regarding the expulsion of the Cuban diplomats, you told us the US was in communication with the UN on this matter.  Did the US communicate to the UN specifically which actions the diplomats took, which the US considered violations, or just the section of the US-UN agreement?

Spokesman:  I'm just aware of what I've been told, that it was focused on the… on the section that I think is Section 13B.  If other things were discussed, it could be or could not be.  I'm just not aware.  Yes, one question, then we will go to our guest.

Question:  You talked about the violence in South Africa against refugees.  Would you by any chance know from which countries the refugees are coming from?

Spokesman:  We can try to get a breakdown.  We know that there are refugees from a number of countries including, I think, Zimbabwe; but we can put you in touch with our colleagues at the UN refugee agency.  Great.  Yes, one last question and then…

Question:  Yes, regarding climate change is a big issue now and we also know that President Trump doesn't believe in climate change.  Is there… how far can the UN go without a US [inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear on this.  I think we have been engaged in the US with the business community, with various states.  And I think we are… we've seen… we will continue to stay engaged with US authorities at various levels on this.  Great.  I will get our guest.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.