27 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.

**Central African Republic

I want to start off, unfortunately, on a sad note.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports with sadness that a Mi-24 helicopter, with four Senegalese crew members on board, has crashed today while attempting an emergency landing due to bad weather near Bouar, located in the West of the Central African Republic.  Three peacekeepers died, while the fourth sustained severe injuries.  The helicopter was providing air support to an ongoing security operation by the UN Mission against an armed group in the Nana-Mambéré Prefecture.  The Secretary‑General, and all of us, extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeepers, as well as to the Government and people of Senegal.  Our thoughts are with our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission today.  And we do expect a more formal statement of the Secretary-General a bit later on.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the High-Level mid-term review of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action, also known as the Samoa Pathway.  He said that climate emergency represents the single biggest threat to the survival of small island States and called on the rest of the world to step up and invest in these communities so they can adapt and mitigate climate change’s impact.  The Secretary-General also addressed the opening ceremony of the forty-third annual meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77 and China.  He stressed that the group’s priorities are the United Nations’ priorities:  eradicating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS); winning the race against climate change and creating opportunities for young people; achieving gender equality and peace and human rights for all.  In a short while, the Secretary-General will be speaking at a high-level event on Sudan.  There, he is expected to say that the most striking element of the transition is that the drive for change has been led from the beginning by Sudanese men and women, especially young people from all sections of society.

In the afternoon, the Secretary-General will attend an unveiling ceremony called “Reaching for the Skies” with the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  And this morning, he also spoke at the opening of the Russian-Byelorussian exhibit in memory of former Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko.  The Secretary-General said that the world is unquestionably a safer place thanks to Andrey Gromyko and his diplomatic work.


Earlier this morning, we issued a statement on the elections in Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General urged all stakeholders to ensure that Afghan voters, women and men, are able to exercise their right to vote.  This is crucial as the country strives to consolidate a democratic and inclusive political system, he said.  The Secretary-General reiterated that any acts of violence against the electoral process are unacceptable, stressing that there is no place for violence, intimidation or fraud.  The Secretary-General called on all key actors to uphold their responsibility to support a peaceful, credible, transparent and inclusive elections.  He also reiterated the UN’s commitment to continuing to assist the people of Afghanistan.


And turning to Libya and refugees.  A group of 66 vulnerable refugees was evacuated from Libya to Rwanda yesterday evening on a flight chartered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  This was the first group of refugees to be moved under the Emergency Transit Mechanism, which was recently set up by the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR and the African Union.  The entire group had been granted asylum-seeker status, pending an assessment of their refugee claim by UNHCR.  Nearly a third of them were children, most of whom were accompanied and traveling without a family member or parent.  A second evacuation flight is expected in the coming weeks as UNHCR continues every effort to get vulnerable refugees in Libya out of harm’s way.


And turning to Niger, we have an update on the impact of heavy rainfall that has affected over 150,000 people in Niger since the beginning of the month.  According to authorities, 57 people have died as a result of severe flooding, a number that has not changed in the past weeks.  The three hardest‑hit regions are Zinder, Maradi and Agadez.  The UN and humanitarian organizations are supporting the Government-led response efforts by providing assistance in shelter and non‑food items, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene.


And turning to the Bahamas, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said it is significantly scaling up its support for survivors of Hurricane Dorian by managing shelters, providing essential household items to displaced families, supporting debris removal operations and providing information on the needs of the affected population.  The agency is also supporting the Government to monitor the missing persons list.  This support is possible thanks to the $1.9 million granted this week by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the US Agency for International Development.  According to the Government, there are still 600 people missing and tens of thousands of displaced who need help. 

**United Nations Children’s Fund

And our friends at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Islamic Development Bank today launched a fund that will open new opportunities for Muslim philanthropy to contribute to emergency response and development programmes.  It is estimated that the annual Zakat contributions alone may reach up to $600 billion, making this a significant potential source of sustainable funding to help achieve the SDGs.  More information available online.


And in response to queries on whether the UN has changed its position on China’s representation, in light of the reported participation of an individual from Taiwan at an event at the United Nations, I would like to formally state that:  The individual in question did not participate in an official UN meeting.  She was invited by a Member State to attend an event hosted by that Member State.  The UN Secretariat has no control over the guest list for meetings hosted by Member States.  The United Nations abides by General Assembly resolution 2758, adopted in 1971, which recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations.

**Press Briefings

After we are done here, there will be a press briefing here on Sustainable Energy Centres for small island developing States.  Speakers will include Li Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), along with him will be Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, as well as Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi, the Prime Minister of Samoa, with apologies for my mispronunciation, no doubt.  At 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by Abdalla Hamdok, the new Prime Minister of the Republic of Sudan.  At 3 p.m., Sergey Lavrov, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.  At 4 p.m., Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia.  And at 5 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Delcy Rodríguez, the Vice‑President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

**Financial Contribution

And lastly, we want to thank our friends in Lusaka, in Zambia, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, which brings us up to?  You have to answer the question.  No, no, you have to answer it… 127, all right.  It was the answer.  Please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General following the protests in Egypt?  Does he have a position on the way the authorities have been handling the protests?  We're looking at reports mentioning over 1,900 who have been detained.  And just to highlight one thing, one of those detainees, according to reports, is Mr. Khaled Dawoud.  He was a former colleague and he was a journalist at the UN.  So, do you have something to say about the situation?

Spokesman:  We are following these developments closely, and I would refer you to the statement put out by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today in which she expressed her serious concerns.  And Ms. Bachelet speaks on issues of human rights for the Secretariat.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, he gave a very passionate speech appealing to the United Nations to step in in the conflict in Kashmir before it's too late.  He said the two nuclear neighbours might be heading towards a confrontation which will go beyond the region.  So, is the Secretary‑General doing something other than just expressing concern?  I mean…

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Secretary‑General has raised his concerns both publicly and privately.  He'll be seeing the Prime Minister of Pakistan, I think, in the… very shortly.  And he, of course, remains very concerned about any potential escalation between Pakistan and India over the situation in Kashmir.  His message is very direct, that this issue needs to be dealt with through dialogue.  And the way, I think, I interpreted the message… I mean, I was watching part of the speech by the Prime Minister.  I think it's also a message to Member States.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  To say… to stay in the Islam… the Muslim world, is Secretary‑General have any comment and what is his position on the intents by Government on… of Turkey and Malaysia and some other to form new television channel to fight specifically Islamophobia?  And as a part of hate speech campaign… anti‑hate speech campaign, does he see… does he… complementary to his efforts or what?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen those particular reports, but, obviously, I think the Secretary‑General has been very strong on the needs of all Member States to do whatever they can to fight hate speech, including Islamophobia, anti‑Semitism, the hate speech against foreigners, against the other.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Going back to the conference on Monday on the climate change, the speech of Greta Thunberg has been debated a lot around the world.  And now there is something that somebody has been saying also that she… that she was prepared, staged; it was not… so, you know, that it was something.  This is what… this is what we've been reading in certain press.  I would like to ask you, is the… what does Secretary‑General think about that speech, if actually the tone the language was the… was the… the proper one for the event and if it actually helped the… you know, to really make the world aware of what… what the danger of climate change?

Spokesman:  We don't… we have no control over what Ms. Thunberg or any of the other [civil] society representatives said or how they said it.  We… the United Na… the climate meeting was really… was to offer a platform to both Member States, to civil society, to the private sector to talk seriously and to bring action on climate change.  I think… everyone speaks in their own voice.  Ms. Thunberg is an extremely passionate young woman, one of a number of youth leaders on climate change, which has helped focus global attention on what is an urgent problem.  And she has her voice, and she uses it.  We are not here… the United Nations Secretariat is not here to filter or analyse that voice.  We came to provide a platform to Member States, to the private sector and to civil society and especially to youth groups.  The representative of CNN.

Question:  Hi.  Think hard before you answer this, because you're on background here.  I have a few questions, but I'll scatter them during the briefing.  Does the UN high command… are they aware and did they help or facilitate a meeting between President [Hassan] Rouhani and US officials at the US Mission to the UN on Wednesday?  Whatever you can help us out on that question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'm not aware… first I've heard of the meeting, and so that's what I will leave it at.

Question:  Can I follow up…?  The Iranian President said yesterday he supported moving the UN to a "good country".  I know you're dying to respond to that one.

Spokesman:  I didn't hear a question mark there.

Correspondent:  I wasn't making a political point.

Spokesman:  I don't… you know, the… where the UN is hosted is an issue for Member States.  We… our main Headquarters is here, and we, obviously, value our relationship with our host city and our host country.  Let's give your neighbour a chance.

Question:  Thank you.  I just wanted to ask is… if… is Secretary‑General going to meet with North Korean delegation, and if so, when?

Spokesman:  I will have to check.  I didn't see anything on the schedule for today, but I will check and get back to you.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yeah.  There have been some press reports that the Secretary‑General was… well, there were various adjectives — angry, frustrated — with some Government leaders that he believed did not step up to make the commitments he was hoping for on climate change.  Obviously, the United States was… [Donald] Trump was mentioned as one possible target of his anger/frustration.  Could you… I know you're not going to necessarily use any characterizations or adjectives, but can you tell us the Secretary‑General… as honestly as you can, the Secretary‑General's conclusions as to whether the summit met his expectations and whether he was disappointed with any of the responses or lack of commitments by any Member States?

Spokesman:  I wouldn't use the term "disappointed".  The climate meeting was there to offer a platform to those who wanted to come forward and make pledges and make… and bring… and move the ball forward.  Right?  We saw it from a number of Member States.  We saw it from a number of local governments.  We saw it from the private sector, and we salute those gains.  Those are very important.  We hope that those countries that did not come forward during this meeting will, at some point in the next months or soon, will come forward and will participate in the discussions, in the debate, to help us tackle the climate emergency that we're currently in.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Madame.  One se… Ibtisam.  Yes, please?

Question:  A follow‑up on the UN issue and the permissions for some of the delegations.  So, what… I mean, according to the agreement between the UN and the US, they are supposed to guarantee the visa… the access for the diplomats to the UN.  But, as a matter of fact, there are Iranians, Russians and others who are not… who didn't get permission.  So, my question is, what is the UN doing to hold the US accountable to their commitment as a host country?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We have… so there is… our… the regulation of diplomats coming here is regulated through the Host Country Agreement.  The Agreement, as, I think, all Host Country Agreements with various UN Headquarters, has responsibilities and has duties and also has certain outs.  When there are issues involving visas for diplomats, we raise them with the host country, and we try to resolve them to the best of our ability.  But, at the end of the day, the issuance of visas is the responsibility of host countries.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just to follow up on Mr. Klein's questions, you know, honestly, just to ask you of the Secretary‑General opinion, is he now believe more than before then the whole countries… whole majority… the majority of the countries really answer to his appeal to come here with a plans rather than a good speeches?  I mean, listening or reading the speeches, I can, from the top of my mind, mention only a few, like New Zealand or Netherland or so, were really fighting those climate ch… or small island countries, what he saying?  They came with a plan or they…?

Spokesman:  Listen, I would refer you to the list that we issued of everything that was achieved, but, I mean, there was a pledge from Germany of achieving carbon neutrality earlier than had previously been announced, a pledge from the French Government not to sign trade treaties that did not involve clauses to combat climate change.  This was… this meeting was a point on a continuum.  Right?  It wasn't an end‑all and be‑all, and the Secretary‑General never saw it in that way.  He is pleased with the achievements of the Climate Summit, but it is clear that more needs to be done, but I think he is also… he has a much more optimistic outlook on the general… what I would call the general mobilization that we have seen in the last six months, which was pushed not in any small part by young people.  Right?  But… let… okay.  He is… where was I?  So, I think we've seen a general mobilization in the last six months, which has, frankly, increased his optimism about the ability, not only of national Governments, of local governments, of private sector, of civil society, to mobilize.  Every… a lot more needs to be done.  No one is arguing anything else.  A lot more needs to be done.  So, it's not a question of satisfied/dissatisfied.  Nobody's resting on their laurels after this climate meeting.  The next target for us is the COP [Conference of Parties] coming up in December in Chile.  Efforts will have to be continued, and they will have to be increased.

Question:  Sorry.  Just… just to finish with this, as my colleague Stefano Vaccara said long time ago, if he needs and sees that as dramatic as it is, why he's not doing that more dramatically and go and mobilize more people to…?

Spokesman:  Listen, I don't know what more you want the Secretary‑General to do.  He has… you know, if you don't think he's raised his voice on climate, then, with all due respect, I'm not sure you've been listening, because he has been very strong, very vocal, whether in speeches here, whether in interviews, whether in going to the South Pacific, right, to Tuvalu, to meeting the people there, who are literally losing their homes because the water is rising, to going to the Bahamas to see people impacted by increasingly strong hurricanes.  He has been raising his voice.  He's been mentioning this in almost all of his meetings.  He brought together on Monday world leaders, civil society leaders, business leaders.  He spent a lot of time with assets managers, with bankers.  We got things moving from them.  No one would ever say that we're… hey, we're satisfied.  No, we're not.  Right?  We need to keep going, and he will keep going.  Let's hear from people we haven't heard from yet.

Question:  Thank you.  I understand yesterday that the Secretary‑General met with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa for… and I just wanted you to describe to me that meeting.  And also, it seems that a lot of African countries and coun… or countries from… developing countries were speaking to empty… an empty hall, as most of these time slots were in the late afternoon into the night.  Can you explain if that was deliberate?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, the way it works is that Member States sign up on the speakers list.  They negotiate amongst themselves on the list.  The Secretariat, obviously, the General Assembly works with them.  We are, so to speak, the stage managers.  We can't force delegations to sit in their seats.  I think what happens is that some of the smaller delegations also have a lot of bilateral meetings.  They may not be able to have people in the seats.  What matters, I think, and the most important thing is that every Member State who wishes to speak has a leader that can speak to the… at the podium and in a televised speech, in a speech that is then put in the record for all to see.  The issue of the calendar is one that we… and who is in the audience is not one that we control.  In terms of the meeting with President Mnangagwa, the Secretary‑General said he welcomed the Government's efforts to roll out and implement the SDGs in the country.  He also stressed the importance of pursuing inclusive policies and reforms that would deepen democratic and accountable governance, respect human rights, promote reconciliation and equitable economic recovery, and the Secretary‑General reiterated the United Nations' continued support to both the Government and the people of Zimbabwe in those efforts.  Yes, Madame?

Correspondent:  Hi.  Thank you.  Nicole Gaouette with CNN.  I'm a colleague of the esteemed Richard Roth.

Spokesman:  That is enough to put on one's calling card.  Nice to see you, Nicole.

Question:  Thank you.  I wanted to ask about a comment the Secretary‑General made this morning at a reception, a Russian reception.  He finished his remarks by saying that, when he saw some diplomatic moves, he was under the impression that there were some countries that preferred 10 years of war to 1 day of negotiations.  I'm wondering to whom and what he was referring.  And just to follow up on the question about visas, you said that the host country has a responsibility… it's their responsibility to issue them, but they are under some legal obligations…?

Spokesman:  Right.  There is a host country treaty, and I can share it with you.  It's a public document, and it lays out the responsibility of the host country.  Also… I mean, it's… I'm not going to do legal analysis from here, but I would encourage you to look at it, and we can go through it together.

Question:  I'm more interested in whether the UN raised concerns with the US about…?

Spokesman:  Yes, every time there is a visa issue and we are officially notified by the Member State whose delegation did not receive visas or there was an issue, we also then raise it with the host country.

Question:  Okay.  And to my first question?

Spokesman:  To your first question, I think it's a reference to the Secretary‑General's, perhaps, general frustration at some of the ongoing conflicts that we have seen and the need for all Member States to invest more deeply in diplomacy and in preventive diplomacy.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Again, I have a few short questions so if… just bear with me?

Spokesman:  I always do.

Question:  First, if you can tell us the total amount of pledged in the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] meeting yesterday…?

Spokesman:  I failed in that.  I was supposed to have something today and I… [He later said that UNRWA reported that ss a result of the generous contributions announced on 26 September, UNRWA’s budget shortfall has been reduced to $89 million.  UNRWA is still following up with donors to verify some of the pledged funding.]

Question:  And the second question.  If you can share with us what happened in the meeting on Libya yesterday.  The SG and his Special Envoy, Ghassan Salamé, I think, were in the meeting.  And we were prevented from going there; we couldn't go.  So, if you can share with us about what happened, what is the outcome of that meeting?  And the third, there is a document just came out from the UN special… the Secretary‑General's Special Envoy on religious intolerance.  I think his name is Ahmed Rashid, if I'm not mistaken.  And I looked through his document, which is, I think, nine pages, and I thought he would talk about religious intolerance in general, but the whole document, from A to Z, it was about anti‑Semitism.  As much as I support every word in the document, I mean, anti‑Semitism is a crime, but, also, his title is really just intolerance.  So, he should also talk about…?

Spokesman:  Let me try to take all three questions because I've failed on all three.  UNRWA, I should have had something.  I don't.  Libya, I should have had something.  I don't.  And I hate to admit it.  I will check on the exact title of this person.  I think I know all of the Special Representatives, Special Envoys, but I will have to check on that last one, but thank you for bringing it to my attention.  Sir?

Question:  Thanks again, Stéphane.  If I may go back to Egypt, since you said that Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet speaks for the gen… Secretary‑General on the issue related to the demonstrations in Egypt, could you please read for us her statement or at least summarize the main issues that she raised in her statement?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think she… from what I saw this morning, she expressed concern about the situation and the demonstrations taking place.

Question:  Can you say more than that?

Spokesman:  No, I'd refer you to her statement.  Stefano and then Ms. Gaouette's colleague.

Question:  One is a follow‑up… one is a follow‑up on my question and another colleague's about climate change.  I think what we… what we trying to say here is not that the Secretary‑General didn't address or didn't also use the right words expressed in his speeches.  He's covered in magazines and everything.  The various visits, everything.  He really concerned about the issue.  What we think he still is short when he doesn't point… well, doesn't accuse… you know, 16‑year‑old teenager have to do that job in pointing to the country that are not doing their job, use a language that is stronger, because if the UN is telling us that the world is going to end if there is no action, then the action should be asked, we think, with harsher language.  That's what it was, I think, what we were trying to ask…?

Spokesman:  I appreciate the clarification.  I think what is important is that to move the climate change issue forward, we need to hear different voices, right, and different people have different responsibilities.  Different people speak to different audiences, and I think that's exactly what happened at the climate summit.

Question:  Okay.  And then I have a question on… on another topic.  It's going to be in few days the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.  Happened I talk recently with… just yesterday with Khashoggi fiancée that was waiting outside [for] him.  He never… unfortunately, was waiting long time before she realized that he died.  She was satisfied with… so far with the way the UN… the investigation UN did, but she's not satisfied with it yet.  She thinks that it's not [inaudible] we didn't arrive to… to… to pointing to who is guilty here of his murder.  So, my question is, is the Secretary‑General thinks that… does the Secretary‑General think that still is needed a last step to understand who did this…?

Spokesman:  I think I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General has always said, which he feels very strongly that there needs to be a full accounting for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.  Mr. Roth, and then your colleague behind you, and then we'll leave… we have another press conference.

Question:  You've been in the media.  You're a senior UN official, and you ride a bicycle.  Maybe you can handle this question.  Taking a look at the big picture, how did developments in Washington, D.C. — impeachment, whistle‑blower terms — affect here at the building, perhaps, coverage of UNGA [United Nations General Assembly], the messages getting out, or how, if you've had access to the Secretary‑General after dozens of talks he's had with world leaders, how did this issue… these issues affect, perhaps, diplomacy and ongoing work on problems in the world with a instability of sorts mushrooming in Washington, D.C.?

Spokesman:  You looking for some media analysis from me?

Correspondent:  Whatever slot you can help us out on.

Spokesman:  Okay.  What I will say is that the business of the world continues here.  Very serious issues continue to be debated from Central African Republic to Yemen to Libya to climate change to the Sustainable Development Goals.  The meetings, the bilaterals, are continuing.  The people who are suffering in the world need us to come up with solutions, and the discussions on those are continuing this week and will continue onwards.  Yes, sir, and then we'll leave it; we'll go.

Question:  Hi.  I have a question about the same thing, the Pakistan issue and the Kashmir issue.  So, was China will be playing a role in between that?  Because China…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Say again?

Question:  What China will be playing a role between Kashmir and Pakistan issue?  Because China borders lies on Kashmiri border, as well.  And how the CPEC will be… CPEC… the corridor… how it's going to be planting a role as in the occupied Kashmir is just 80 kilometres from there, so how you, United Nations, will playing its part?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the… I'm not sure I understand your question.  I mean, it seems like that's a question best asked of the Chinese authorities in terms of how they plan to deal with the issue.  Otherwise, I think I've answered the questions on Kashmir.  Thank you, all, and you have another briefing.

For information media. Not an official record.