26 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.

**General Assembly

Good afternoon, everyone.  Just to give you some update on some of the numbers we got in attendance of this week General Assembly.  As of yesterday, we had 81 Heads of State and 42 Heads of Government attending the proceedings, along with 6 Vice‑Presidents, 6 Deputy Prime Ministers, 53 ministers, 5 chairs of delegation and 3 observers — for a total of 196 attendees represented at this year’s briefing.  Up through yesterday, more than 8,000 delegation passes and more than 2,300 media passes were issued by our colleagues.  There were more than 28,000 passes issued for special events.  And as of 20 September, 630 meetings had been requested, roughly 119 of which would take place at the Head of State/Head of Government level.  The number does not include bilateral meetings between Member States.  We don’t have that number yet.  But just for your information, last year, we had over 1,676 bilats.

**Financing for Development

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development.  At the start of his remarks, he took a moment to pay tribute to former French President Jacques Chirac, who passed away this morning.  The Secretary-General said Mr. Chirac was “a great friend with whom I had the pleasure of working in the European Council for many years,” and he praised his pioneering commitment to the environment.  “France and the world are losing today a great statesman, defender of democracy and dialogue between peoples,” he said.  We do expect a fuller, a more official statement a bit later.

The Secretary-General said Financing for Development is “the test of our seriousness” about ramping up the efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and stressed that, without adequate funding, it will not be possible to deliver for people and planet.  He noted that almost one third of the world’s least developed countries are currently in high debt distress and that of particular concern are small island developing States — many of which are wrestling with the costs of climate change.  There are signs of progress, however, he pointed to the responsible banking principles adopted earlier this week, which commit the banking industry — worth $35 billion — to sustainable practices.  The Secretary-General also said that next month, he will convene 30 Chief Executive Officers from every region to launch the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, which collectively manages nearly $16 trillion, and he called on all countries to support efforts to align the international financial system behind the SDGs.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

The Secretary-General spoke today at a meeting marking the International Day of Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons — a cause which he says has been the United Nations’ highest disarmament priority from day one.  He said that the fears that not only progress in eliminating nuclear weapons come to a halt; it is going in reverse.  The Secretary-General worries that we are slipping back into bad habits that once again will hold the entire world hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation.  The Secretary-General is speaking right now at a ministerial meeting for the support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and he will emphasize in the meeting the role that UNRWA has played as a force for stability in the region.  He will thank the Member States for their generosity in helping them to overcome its financial crisis last year and urge continued support for UNRWA.  And he will also speak at the opening ceremony of a photo exhibit on the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.


This morning, the Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, spoke on behalf of the Secretary-General at a ministerial meeting on cooperation between China and Africa on matters before the Security Council.  She said that, over the past decade, the partnership between Africa and China to promote peace and security across the continent has grown rapidly in multiple ways through China’s engagement with Africa, Africa’s own initiatives and ever closer AU-UN cooperation, including with regional organizations.  Ms. Viotti noted that the growing partnership between China and African countries comes as African countries steadily reinforce their capacities across the peace continuum, from prevention to peacemaking to peacekeeping, underpinned by inclusive sustainable development.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that the 20,000 people are now displaced following violent clashes earlier this month in the north-eastern town of Birao.  The Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator, Denise Brown, called for increased mobilization to respond to the new emergency.  She said protecting those displaced by the violence continues to be our priority, adding it will be important to also address long‑term consequences of the violence.  The Mission has stepped up its presence in the city to prevent new attacks.  The situation in the country and the implementation of the peace agreement will be at the heart of discussions here this afternoon, during a high-level meeting featuring the President of the Central African Republic, the Secretary-General and the President of the African Union Commission.  We will share the Secretary-General’s remarks.

**Global Climate Action Award

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) today announced 15 winners of its 2019 UN Global Climate Action Award.  The winning projects range from an in-app programme that helped plant over 122 million trees, to a burger chain that uses renewable packaging label of its carbon dioxide emission for each burger and innovative technology that produces clean electricity from the ocean.  Winners hail from Singapore, Zambia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Dominica and Brazil, among other countries.  More information online.


And the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today expressed its continuing deep concerns about the high number of civilian casualties in the country.  In a statement issued earlier today, Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, the Head of the Mission, said that “the disregard for civilian life exhibited by parties to the conflict in recent days, especially in indiscriminate attacks, is appalling.”  On 17 September, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 30 civilians and injured 51.  Two days later, 25 were killed and 93 injured in a Taliban-claimed attack in Zabul.  The UN urges parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians and condemns all acts of indiscriminate attacks.


And our humanitarian colleagues say that a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck Mirpur on Tuesday — that’s near eastern Pakistan.  At least 38 people have reportedly died, more than 700 have been injured, according to authorities, with more than 450 houses having been damaged.  The Government of Pakistan has not requested international assistance, and the UN and humanitarian organizations in the country are monitoring the situation closely and available to provide support.


And from the Bahamas, three weeks after Hurricane Dorian, our humanitarian colleagues tell us the Government is shifting efforts to recovery.  The UN and its partners continue to support the Government-led response efforts, including in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable and the displaced.  As of Wednesday, the UN and humanitarian organizations had supported the Government in delivering over 350,000 meals, 135,000 litres of water, health services, debris removal, waste management, temporary housing and other items.


And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, signed an agreement here in New York with the Government of Sudan to open several offices in the country.  Ms. Bachelet said that, with this milestone pact, her office is poised to accompany Sudan through an important moment in its history and to offer its support to make the transition a success for the human rights of all the people of the country.  More on this agreement on the website.

**Press Briefings

And at 1:20 p.m. here, there will be a briefing here by Ayman H. Safadi, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  For a complete list of the briefings, refer to the Media Alert.

**Cassandra Waldon

And just on a sad note, I want to extend our condolences to the family of our colleague Cassandra Waldon, the Director of Communications at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), who passed away this week.  She was a delightful and dedicated colleague and we were sad to learn of her passing.

**Questions and Answers 

Question:  Stéphane, I have two questions.  The first question is regarding the statement that was issued by France, Germany and the United Kingdom regarding the responsibility… in which they claim that Iran is responsible for the Aramco attacks, or somehow carry responsibility.  Your comments on that and could you also let us know more about the investigation in this regard?

Spokesman:  Sure.  As you know, the Secretary‑General sent two investigators under his own mandate.  My understanding is they have returned.  I don't have an update further than that.  There is a mandated reporting line to the Security Council for later in the year.  But we may have something earlier than that, but at this point, I don't have anything I can share with you.

Question:  What do you mean later in the year?  That you don't or most probably are expecting that the results will be like in a month or…?

Spokesman:  No.  There is a mandated reporting line under… I think it's resolution 2231 (2015), if I'm not mistaken, to report back, I think in December.  That's the periodic reporting.  Whether or not there is an interim report, is something that we can share earlier, I will let you know as soon I as I know.

Question:  Have you like any comments on the fact that they issued the statement before there were any official results?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary‑General for his part has condemned the attack very clearly and has expressed his concern that any miscalculation could lead to a greater conflagration in the Gulf today.  He is very concerned about the tensions.  This is something he has raised with his interlocutors during the bilaterals.  Member States have, as always, the right to express themselves as they do.  They may have information that we do not have access to.  It's not for me to say whether or not it's right or wrong that they made such a statement.  Let's go over to our visiting professor and then we will go to Joe.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, sir.  I have a very quick question.  As UNRWA is increasingly becoming under a great deal of pressure in terms of raising funds and so on, there are also charges of corruption and so on.  I want… I want you to share with us if there is anything, what is the UN, what is the Secretariat or the Secretary‑General is doing about ensuring that UNRWA will continue to get the funds needed?  And second, do you believe that there has been some sort of a, you know, maybe an unintended effort to undermine UNRWA by these charges that have been levelled against them?

Spokesman:  I think there are two separate things.  First of all, for the Secretary‑General, UNRWA does incredible work and it is a force of good and stability in the region.  Children throughout its area of operations are depending on UNRWA for strong and quality education, access to health care, et cetera.  He will continue to push for full funding for UNRWA as it goes about its work.  As you know, there is an investigation going on.  The Secretary‑General will act when he gets the conclusions of that investigation.  As you also know, following the departure of the Deputy Commissioner General, he sent Christian Saunders to be the new deputy and Mr. Saunders is there and working.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  As a follow‑up, number one, was the Secretary‑General planning to discuss the current status of the internal investigation of the alleged UNRWA corruption at the ministerial meeting that you referenced in your remarks?

Spokesman:  The focus, it's not for him to discuss the status.  I mean, there is an investigation going on.  He will get the results of it and he will act.  He has…

Question:  But, certain… I'm sorry, certain countries, as you know, have already indicated they are going to suspend their donations, so they are related?

Spokesman:  Right, the Secretary‑General's message is that UNRWA's work continues.  UNRWA's funding, like funding for all UN agencies, is under very close, you know, review by auditors and it's all very public and transparent.  We very much hope that Member States will continue funding UNRWA.  And when the Secretary‑General gets the results of the investigations, he will act.

Question:  But, secondly though, why didn't the Secretary‑General accept the UNRWA’s own internal ethics organization's recommendation that the alleged perpetrators, including the Commissioner General, they recommended their removal, or at least why didn't he suspend them temporarily pending the outcome of the investigation?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General acted in the best interests of UNRWA and that the work it does.  Yes, sir.  I'm happy to hear from you, but our viewers… no, no, our viewers need to hear from you, so you need to use the microphone.  It's not the State Department.  You need to do more work here.

Question:  I just wanted to ask you if you still have confidence in the Commissioner General?

Spokesman:  Yes.  He continues to serve as Commissioner General.

Question:  And you expect him to continue to serve?

Spokesman:  I'm not in the speculation business.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Mason from SBS Australia.  The Secretary‑General spoke very passionately about the need for increased global action on climate change.  Our Prime Minister skipped the emergency climate summit and at yesterday's Assembly meeting, he said that Australia is doing its bit to tackle climate change.  In reality, our emissions are increasing.  We have the highest emissions per capita in the developed world.  And if you added on all of our fossil fuel exports, we would be the fifth biggest emitter in the world.  Did Australia miss an opportunity at the summit?  And given that we are the largest voice in the Pacific, have we also let down our small island neighbours who have called on Australia to be a stronger voice when it comes to cutting emissions?

Spokesman:  Look, I think there is a lot of analysis to be done, which I would leave to the journalists.  What the Secretary‑General did with this climate summit, which was not an end into itself, but really a point on a road traveling forward, we hope an accelerating point towards the next COP [Conference of Parties] meeting.  Member States came, civil society came, local Governments came, youth came.  I mean, we all heard Ms. [Greta] Thunberg's very passionate speech.  And I think the results were positive.  There were a lot of commitments that came.  And I think the Secretary‑General's message was, if you are going to come to this meeting and you're going to speak, come with commitments.  Right?  He didn't want people to speak for just the sake of speaking.  So, I think Member States were free to either seek to speak and bring a commitment, or not.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You indicated that, as far as the total elimination of nuclear weapons is concerned, the Secretary‑General indicated that the world is going in reverse.  Did he make any concrete suggestions?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry, I'm just reading something which I need to read out.  Anyway, can you repeat the question again?

Question:  The question is:  The Secretary‑General said that regarding the total elimination of nuclear weapons, the world is going in reverse.  Did he make any concrete suggestions?

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General… I think, two things.  One, last year laid out an agenda for disarmament; but I think more importantly we are now in a situation where it is the responsibility of those Member States that hold nuclear weapons to ensure that the backward slide does not continue.  He will continue… for his part, the Secretary‑General will continue to find and create platforms in which these Member States can come together for discussion.  But, it is a matter of Member States coming together, and he will continue to encourage them to do so. 

On the [resolution 2231 (2015)] investigation which I mentioned, I was just told that, as I said, the representatives of the Yemen Panel of Experts and the UN's own 2231 team travelled at the same time to Riyadh to examine the weapons launched at the Aramco facilities.  They have now returned from Riyadh and are in the process of examining the information gathered in line with their respective mandates.  They will provide their findings to the Security Council as appropriate, in due course and as required under their respective mandates.  If you use the microphone, I will speak to you.

Question:  I can do that.  Do you have any… do you have the numbers regarding the UNRWA donor meeting, how much they need?

Spokesman:  We will get… I think we will have a clearer picture right after the… after the event, which is going on now.

Question:  Are you disappointed that the United States is not speaking at this donor conference?

Spokesman:  Member States are free to come.  I think the United States expressed… in the last year or so expressed its position on UNRWA.  The United States had historically been a strong supporter and strong funder of UNRWA, but I think their position and their policies is not a secret.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.