3 October 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 Debate

Let’s start with some math.  Just some final figures I want to share with you about the General Assembly plenary session.

For the General Debate, a total of 195 speakers participated, including the Holy See, the State of Palestine and the European Union.  Uzbekistan was the only country that did not speak.  Among the speakers — 82 Heads of State and 43 [Heads of Government].

There were 16 women speakers, which was 8.2 per cent only of all the speakers, and that is slightly lower than last year, when we had 19 women speakers or about 9.8 per cent.  To put matters into perspective, on the first day of the General Debate, we had two female Heads of State and one Head of Government, compared to 29 male Heads of State and five male Heads of Government.

The longest speech at the General Debate was 50 minutes [from Pakistan] and the shortest speech from the President of Rwanda, Mr. [Paul] Kagame.

We also had the Climate Action Summit and six other major meetings at the UN during the time of the General Debate.  In addition, from 23 through 30 September, 1,674 bilateral meetings were held at the UN.  And, as of 30 September, 566 other meetings, including those of regional groups [and] UN system entities, were held during the high‑level debate.  And, for our part, we issued 137 readouts from the Secretary‑General’s bilateral meetings.

**Climate Change

As you may have seen in an op‑ed published today in various media around the world, the Secretary‑General stressed that, while we have a long way to go, the climate movement has begun.  Young people, leaders in business, finance, governments and civil society are mobilizing and acting, as was seen in the lead-up to and during the Climate Action Summit last week.

The Secretary‑General highlighted some of the commitments made at the Summit, which include more than 70 countries committing to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as well as their intention to boost their national plans under the Paris Agreement by 2020.

He said that actions announced were all important but not sufficient and added that he will continue to encourage leaders to do much more and drive green [economic] solutions around the world.

**Diogo Freitas do Amaral

Also, in a statement issued today, the Secretary‑General expressed his deep sadness on the death of Professor Diogo Freitas do Amaral from Portugal, as he was a renowned jurist and scholar and a brilliant politician who wholly dedicated his life to public service.  He also served as President of the fiftieth session of the General Assembly.

In a statement, the Secretary‑General also sent his sincere condolences to his wife and all his family.


Turning to Iraq, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq met with a number of protesters in Baghdad last night and reiterated her call for calm, emphasizing the importance of a direct dialogue between the people on the street and Iraq’s leadership.

She said that the protesters’ demands for economic reforms, jobs, reliable public services, accountability, prudent and impartial governance are legitimate and longstanding.

The Special Representative urged the authorities to exercise maximum restraint in the handling of the protests and to give peaceful protesters space to freely speak their minds, in keeping with the law.

The situation is limiting humanitarian workers’ ability to operate and provide assistance outside of Baghdad.  An estimated 6.7 million people in the country require humanitarian assistance in 2019.


And we are continuing to follow very closely the situation in Haiti.

We continue to encourage all actors to refrain from violence, respect human rights, and allow the normal functioning of hospitals and emergency services, as well as the work of the humanitarians who are assisting the most vulnerable populations.


And from Mali, where, as you are aware, Malian soldiers were killed and wounded in attacks that took place at the beginning of the week.

The UN peacekeeping mission there (MINUSMA) provided support to the national authorities yesterday by transporting additional Malian troops to reinforce security in Boulekessi, the site of one of the attacks.

The Mission also helped with the medical evacuation of wounded Malian soldiers.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, the head of the Department of Peace Operations, is scheduled to arrive in Bangui tomorrow on a joint high‑level mission.  He will be joined by the African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui, and the European Union’s Director General of African Affairs, Koen Vervaeke.

They will hold meetings with authorities, civil society and others to assess the implementation of the peace agreement.  They are also scheduled to travel to Birao, where recent clashes there have led to the displacement of over 20,000 people.

This is the second high‑level joint mission to take place since the peace agreement was signed in February.

**Security Council

And back here, at the Security Council, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Huang Xia, said the region is taking positive steps towards stability that should be fully supported by the international community.

In his briefing to Council members, he stressed that reinforcing regional cooperation and development programmes will be essential to tackle the root causes of instability and to allow the population to benefit from the region’s resources.

He pointed out that some of the numerous challenges that need to be addressed, including the illicit exploitation of resources and activities of local and foreign armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, leading to forced displacements of thousands of people.

He added that, even if the military option remains crucial to address the threat of armed groups, complementary programmes must be put in place, with the support of the international community, to facilitate the voluntary disarmament, repatriation and reintegration of these groups in their country of origin, as well as impacted communities.  In addition, cross‑border projects to generate jobs for young people are needed.

Also happening today at the Council:  meetings related to Libya, Sudan and South Sudan.


On Somalia, a two‑day UN‑backed forum wrapped up in Mogadishu yesterday, with participants agreeing on the way to address remaining challenges together.

International partners of the Somalia Partnership Forum recognized Somalia’s achievements and commended the country’s leadership for progress made in implementing reforms such as improved public financial management and delivering of social services.

The Forum agreed on a framework to tackle challenges such as generating [economic] growth, fighting Al‑Shabaab and responding to the humanitarian crisis.


And staying in the Horn of Africa, as we mentioned earlier this week, Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy [Emergency] Relief Coordinator, is visiting Djibouti to draw attention to the effects of climate change and its humanitarian impact in the country and the region.

Ms. Mueller underlined that, to address the needs of the most vulnerable people in Djibouti, humanitarian aid must be sustained but also complemented by development initiatives to tackle the root causes of suffering, including finding durable solutions for refugees and migrants.

Countries like Djibouti also suffer the most from climate change, while contributing to it the least, and sustainable initiatives to relieve climate shocks must be implemented.


In a new report issued on the impact of conflict on children in Afghanistan, the Secretary‑General said he is deeply disturbed by the scale, severity and recurrence of grave violations endured by boys and girls.

Between 2015 and the end of 2018, more than 12,000 children have been verified killed or maimed in Afghanistan.

The recruitment of children, mostly by armed groups, including the Taliban and Da’esh, continued to be documented, as were over 800 attacks on schools and hospitals.

**Food Price Index

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today that global food prices were steady this month.

The latest FAO Food Price Index averaged 170 points, virtually unchanged from August and 3.3 per cent higher than in the same month in 2018.  FAO said lower sugar prices were offset by increased quotations for vegetable oils and meat.


And lastly, I wanted to flag out of Nigeria that 23 boys and two girls were released today from Nigerian Army administrative custody after being cleared of suspected ties with armed groups.  This is according to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).

Since 2016, a total of 2,499 people including 1,627 children have been cleared of association with non‑state armed groups.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I start with Iraq.  You mentioned the meeting of Ms. Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert with the protesters yesterday, and she called for immediate de‑escalation.  Since then — it’s been nearly 24 hours — the protests are growing.  The Government… or security forces’ response has been harsher, and more than 20 people got killed, an estimated 600 wounded.  Don’t you think it’s time for the Secretary‑General himself to interfere, given the situation in Iraq, how fragile it is?

Spokesman:  Two things.  On the political side, he has a Special Representative in Baghdad, and she is representing him in his actions, and she is engaged with, obviously, the protesters but also the authorities.  We very much regret the loss of life that we have seen over the past few days during the protests in Iraq.  We’ve also seen an announcement by the Prime Minister that he’s opened up an investigation, which we welcome.  I think it’s very important for the protesters and the Government to have a dialogue, a clear dialogue, that would, hopefully, lead to some de‑escalation.  As a matter of principle, as we’ve said, in fact, yesterday, we call for the respect of the right of people to assemble freely and peacefully.  And, as a matter of principle, we also believe that further violence and excessive use of force must be avoided.

Question:  And my second question is on Syria, Constitutional Committee.  It’s becoming clear, based on information that my network is getting, that few members, two or three, are Kurds.  Given Secretary‑General’s emphasis of diversity, why the UN, since Mr. Geir Pedersen seems to have 50 people as members, did not include more Kurdish members?  I’m not talking about, you know, those are seen as affiliated with PKK (Kurdistan People’s Party) or Turkey’s objecting to just Kurdish members into the committee.  Why he hasn’t included them?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Pedersen has tried and has put together a committee that is the most representative as possible to ensure that all voices were heard, but I will let him speak on the details of the committee.

Question:  But the details… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I know… I think those questions should really be addressed to him.  Edie, then James.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  There’s been an appeal earlier today from senior Afghan Taliban leaders and Pakistan officials for the resumption of US‑Taliban talks.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the need to resume these talks?

Spokesman:  We would believe that… I think a resumption of the dialogue would, hopefully, help the situation.  James?

Question:  Yeah, follow‑up to Majeed’s question about Iraq.  It was clear from the statement that you read that the Special Representative has had interaction, recent interaction, with the protesters.  What interaction has she… has she had with any Government officials?  Because you didn’t detail that.  Is she seeking meetings with the Prime Minister and are they being granted…? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I’ll have to check at what level the interaction has had, but she is in… she and her team are in constant touch with the Government, as well.  Mr. Avni, I believe.

Question:  Yes.  Correct.  On North Korea, I don’t know if you had any statement about yesterday’s tests.  Also, the juxtaposition between that testing, which is an apparent violation of a Security Council resolution, and talks about resumption of talks between North Korea and the US, do you welcome that?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, I would be happy to give you a copy of yesterday’s transcript, because I did address that in those very terms.  We talked about the… and condemned the launch of the missile, which was a violation of Security Council resolutions, and we very much hope that there’s a fruitful resumption of the US‑[Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] dialogue to lead to nuclear… denuclearisation and a peaceful settlement of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Correspondent:  Sorry I missed it.

Spokesman:  Not as sorry as I am.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  A follow‑up on Iraq.  Why is it that we actually don’t hear much from your office regarding this subject given the fact that there is a very corrupt Government, governments?  And it’s not the first wave of demonstrations.  There is a lot of violence going on against civilians and… yeah.

Spokesman:  I think you did hear from us today.  You heard from us yesterday.  The Special Representative reports back regularly to the Security Council, and I think we’ve expressed our concerns about the situation.

Question:  Yeah, but your statement does not actually reflect much the reality on the ground.  As a matter of fact, people were killed, and there is… in your statement, the one you read, there’s nothing about that, and there’s no call for investigation.  And, also, is there somebody who’s verified these numbers from the UN on the ground, since you have an office there?

Spokesman:  I will check our ability, capacity, to verify the number of people who were killed.  We saw that the Prime Minister announced that there would be an investigation, which we welcome.  It’s clear that there… whenever there is loss of life that there need… these things need to be investigated; that people should be held to account.  People have a right to demonstrate freely and peacefully to express their grievances with any government, right, and there should not be any excessive use of force.  And we very much regret that there was loss of life during these demonstrations.

Question:  Another question… another question about Israel and Palestine.  So, Samir Arbid is 44‑years‑old Palestinian who was, last week, detained and arrested by Israeli occupation forces and then, later, admitted to Jerusalem Hospital, suffering from severe injuries, including broken ribs and kidney failure.  When he was admitted to… when he was arrested, he was, according to his family and local reports, healthy.  Any comments?

Spokesman:  I’m not familiar with that individual case, but, in his report… and I will check.  In his reporting, regular reporting to the Security Council, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has expressed his concern about excessive use of force.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Yesterday, you mentioned that the Secretariat received the official letter from Russian side regarding the problem of visas which were not released given to the… some members of Russian Delegation during the high‑level week of G8.  Are there any updates on this matter?  I mean, which steps were already being taken?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re very much concerned by the matter of the visa issues, which was brought to attention by the Russian Federation.  The matter… the issue was discussed by the General Assembly’s Committee on Relations with the Host Country yesterday.  For our part, we will continue to discuss the matter with the Host Country authorities as well as the Russian Mission.  Richard and then Stefano.

Question:  Based on comments in Washington today, I thought I would get ahead of this trend.  Has President [Donald] Trump asked the United Nations or any affiliated international bodies to investigate Joe Biden or any Democratic candidates? [laughter]

Spokesman:  As much as I see the size of that bait, I will not bite.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Euronews is publishing in four parts…

Spokesman:  Who?

Question:  Euronews.

Spokesman:  Euronews, yes.

Question:  Yes.  … is publishing in four parts an investigation report… investigative report on… on UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) in Libya.  And reading those reports, it looks very, very… I mean, we know that the situation is dramatic there, but looks like there is a lot of, lot of problems with the way UNHCR is conducting their operation there.  They’ve been… in the report, they said that they talked directly with migrants and refugees and… and also whistle‑blower, I mean, people working for UNHCR or been working for UNHCR, telling them all the problems with corruptions and not only with that.  Did you… I mean, are you following this…?

Spokesman:  I’ll be… for once, I’ll be completely honest with you.  I have not seen that report…  [cross talk]

Question:  Yeah, it’s just coming out in a series.

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen it, so I can’t comment on it.  [cross talk]

Question:  So, can we expect a reaction after…

Spokesman:  I think you should first ask UNHCR, but I will take a look at what’s on Euronews.  Mr. Roth?

Question:  And, finally, speaking of a global disaster, your opinion on an issue close to your heart, the Mets have fired Mickey Callaway.

Correspondent:  Exactly.  My question too.

Spokesman:  I’m not sure I would have done the same thing, but that’s speaking in my own personal capacity.

For information media. Not an official record.