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

4 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.

**Demonstrations

I have a statement to share with you on the number of demonstrations that we have seen around the world:

The Secretary‑General has been following closely the recent waves of street demonstrations that have been taking place in several countries around the world.  He is deeply concerned that some of these protests have led to violence and, regretfully, in some instances have resulted in the loss of life and serious injuries.  The Secretary‑General restates that freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected.  Upholding these rights is one of the bedrocks of our society and is crucial for advancing democracy, development and peace.  The Secretary‑General reiterates his call for security forces to act at all times with maximum restraint and to respond to any acts of violence in conformity with relevant international human rights standards on the use of force by law enforcement officials.  He also calls on protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from violence.  As he stated in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the Secretary‑General urges all States to safeguard civic space and to uphold human rights to help deliver on sustainable development and peace.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert, welcomed last night’s address by Prime Minister Adil Abd Al‑Mahdi, which emphasized the need for unity, dialogue and action.  The Special Representative said that there is an opportunity to move forward and that the interests of the country must be prioritized above all else.  She said that dialogue must pave the way to understanding, reconciliation and progress.

Meanwhile, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today called on the Iraqi Government to allow for people to freely exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  The Office said that the use of force should be exceptional, and assemblies should ordinarily be managed without resort to force.  Any use of force must comply with applicable international human rights norms and standards, including the principles of necessity and proportionality, OHCHR said.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

A number of trip announcements for you:

The Secretary‑General will depart New York on the evening of Wednesday, 9 October, to head to Copenhagen in Denmark.  Building on the momentum generated by last month’s Climate Action Summit, the Secretary‑General will take part in the C40 World Mayors Summit to show his support for the tremendous efforts undertaken by cities, more than 100 of which committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the UN Climate [Action] Summit in September.  In Copenhagen, he will urge cities to continue enhancing resilience to climate change and accelerating the transition to a green economy.

The Secretary‑General will deliver the keynote address at the C40 plenary session on Friday, 11 October, on the theme, “The future we want is inclusive ‑ and climate action must lift everyone up.”  While in the Danish capital, he will participate in a working lunch with the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish Parliament, on Thursday, 10 October.  He will also hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and they will jointly visit a UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warehouse where they will pack kits of humanitarian supplies.

The Secretary‑General will visit UN City, an environmentally sustainable facility, where he will take part in the official opening of the UN Refugee Agency‑World Bank Joint Data Centre on Forced Displacement.  This project aims to allow for decisions affecting refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers and others to be made in a more timely and evidence‑based manner.

On Friday, the Secretary-General will have an audience with Her Majesty the Queen of Denmark.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And tonight, the Deputy Secretary‑General will go to Geneva to attend and deliver remarks at the seventeenth annual session of UNHCR’s [United Nations Refugee Agency] Executive Committee, as well participate in the high‑level segment on statelessness.  She will also meet UN officials while there, and she will be back in New York on 7 October.

**Political and Peacebuilding Affairs

Meanwhile, the head of the Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, will visit the Middle East from 5 to 11 October to discuss with key counterparts and partners current efforts by UN Missions, agencies, funds and programmes in the region.  From 5 to 8 [October], she will meet with Government officials and civil society organizations in Israel and Palestine and visit the Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in Jerusalem.

On the 8th, Ms. DiCarlo will go to Amman, Jordan, where she will meet with Jordanian and UN officials, and she will be in Lebanon from 9‑11 [October] for talks with Government officials and civil society organizations, including women’s groups.  During her three‑day visit, she will also meet with the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, the UN country team, and she will also visit the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] troops in southern Lebanon.

**Humanitarian Affairs

Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, will visit three European countries:  Sweden, the Netherlands and France.  Between Monday and Wednesday next week, he will meet with Government officials in each of the countries to discuss issues related to humanitarian action.  On Tuesday, in Amsterdam, he will also deliver a keynote address at the International Conference on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Crisis Situations.  I will be here and I’m not travelling, don’t worry.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In other news, our colleagues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are marking an important milestone today.  The 1,000th person to survive Ebola after receiving treatment has returned home.  In a joint statement, David Gressly, who heads the emergency relief operation for Ebola; the World Health Organization (WHO); the World Food Programme (WFP); and UNICEF as well as Save the Children commended the strong leadership of the Democratic Republic of the Congo health authorities and the tireless efforts of thousands of local health workers and partners.

New treatments have improved survival rates of people infected with Ebola.  According to a recent study, over 90 per cent of people who receive treatment early enough during their illness can be saved.  Vaccination has also protected over 225,000 people.

**Tunisia

And an update on Tunisia, where I can tell you that we are closely following the ongoing electoral process in the country.  The UN commends Tunisia for the successful holding of the first round of Presidential elections on 15 September and calls for peaceful and transparent elections to be held for the Parliament on 6 October and the second round of the Presidential contest on 13 October.

The UN urges all concerned to ensure a level playing field for all candidates, including equality of chances in full respect for Tunisian law and the prerogatives of the judicial branch.  We remind the authorities and candidates of their responsibility in ensuring peaceful elections and resolving any complaints through the constitutional process.

**Yemen

Our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 90,000 people have been affected by floods caused by heavy rains and thunderstorms in Yemen since 27 September.  Most of the affected people — 70 per cent — are in Hajjah Governorate.  Humanitarian agencies have stepped in to provide initial assistance.  Residential areas, sites for displaced people, farms and water reservoirs have been damaged.  Humanitarian agencies are undertaking more detailed assessments.

**Concert for Climate Action

I wanted to add a musical note.  The UN Chamber Music Society will hold a concert for climate action on Tuesday, 8 October, at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.  During the concert… sorry, we have details of the concert, which is always great music from our colleagues, available in my office.

**Budget Dues

And lastly, we are now up to 128 [fully paid up Member States] thanks to Cameroon, which has paid its dues to the regular budget.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  On the announcement that you made from the Secretary‑General on protests, could you tell us what specific countries the Secretary‑General was referring to?

Spokesman:  Look, we have seen over the last months demonstrations in various parts of the world, whether in Ecuador, in Hong Kong, in South Africa, in Egypt.  You know, and I’m just saying these off the top of my head in terms of what’s been in the news, and they aren’t the only ones.  I think by… they’re not the only ones by far.  But I think the Secretary‑General is concerned, as he said it in his General Assembly speech, one, on the shrinking civic space and, also, I think it bears reminding, as we have been doing here, of an important principle of the right for people to assemble peacefully, to demonstrate peacefully, and for the use of proportionality by law enforcement officers.  James?

Question:  So, you’ve said that the general statement by the Secretary‑General among the places it applies is Hong Kong.  Let me ask you a couple of questions about Hong Kong, if I can.  The decision by the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, to invoke colonial‑era emergency powers and ban face masks, does the UN believe that is an appropriate measure?  What is your reaction to the fact that, in the last few minutes, we have news that a 14‑year‑old boy has been shot in the thigh — again, live ammunition being used?  Are the Hong Kong police acting in a heavy‑handed manner?  And my last question, what is the UN’s involvement?  What do you have on the ground?  Do you have anyone there who is observing from the Human Rights Office or anyone?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware of… sorry.

Question:  And what interaction has there been by any UN official with the Chinese about their conduct?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of us having any presence in Hong Kong.  I haven’t seen the reports that you mention on the demonstrators, but I think, again, I would refer you to our principled position on the use of force.  And I have no specific comment on the law enacted by Carrie Lam.

Question:  And so, what about the interaction between anyone, Secretary‑General, Under‑Secretary‑General DiCarlo, any other UN official who has been in touch with the Chinese to pass on your message about restraint and…?

Spokesman:  I think, message… discussions have been had at various levels, and our message is… our message publicly to all Member States is exactly what I’ve read out.  There is no secret message being passed to one specific Member State.  This is our general principled message.  Masood, and then Carla and then Alan and… go ahead.

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Follow‑up on the protests.  The Secretary‑General has said that he supports the right to people to protest peacefully and all that.  What about the Kashmiris?  Eight million Kashmiris who are incarcerated and who are not allowed to even come out of their houses, for food… even for food, collecting food, partial lifting of it.  So, what about them?  What does the Secretary‑General say about the…?

Spokesman:  Our message on Kashmir has not changed as the situation on the ground has not changed, so I would refer you to what we’ve already said, expressing our concern, encouraging dialogue, and saying that the situation in Kashmir, if it’s going to be solved politically, needs to have human rights at its centre.  Our position is unchanged on this.

Question:  But, sir, it’s too much…

Spokesman:  I understand your question.  I’m just saying our position is unchanged.  Carla.  I’m sorry.  Then I’ll come back to you.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.  Please use the microphone, Iftikhar.

Question:  Sir, the UN and humanitarian agencies have an excellent record of providing relief to people under distress.  Why haven’t they gone into Kashmir to provide medicine, other relief items and visit prisoners?

Spokesman:  I believe… my understanding, and you’ll have to check with UNICEF, but I think UNICEF does have a presence there.  Carla, and then Alan.

Question:  As you know, last Friday, the Vice‑President of – I think it was last Friday — Venezuela, Delcy Rodríguez, had a press conference, and a number of us asked questions — I did, as well — and it was brought to my attention that the English translation of the conference, a lot of which was in Spanish, was entirely in English with the exception of my own question, which asked in English and was only available in Spanish on the English translation.  So, my question is, is this really incompetence, or is this a de facto form of censorship?  Because I…

Spokesman:  Carla, I’m hearing your words.  I really don’t understand the question.  The interpreter…

Question:  Well, the question…

Spokesman:  Our interpreters here do an excellent job.

Question:  Right.  Well, then why…?

Spokesman:  So, when people speak Spanish, they interpret it into English.  If it’s a Spanish‑language press conference, your question asked in English is interpreted into Spanish.  There’s also a floor… you could also listen to the floor where you can listen in both languages.

Correspondent:  Well, I suggest, then, you look at the English version of that press conference, all of which is in English, except for my own question, which was asked in English, which was only available in Spanish.

Spokesman:  I will look into it, but I don’t really understand.  Alan?

Correspondent:  I don’t either.

Spokesman:  Well, makes two of us.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Yesterday, Russian DPR [Deputy Permanent Representative] informed about some new developments regarding the visas issues.  So, according to that, some part of Russian delegates which were going… who were going to participate in the work of First Committee didn’t receive visas from the US.  And, yesterday, you’ve said that the UN is in contact with Host Country on the visas problem.  So, I just wanted to ask you whether… is there any updates?  I mean, how… how those negotiations are going now and are there any changes…?

Spokesman:  No, as we said yesterday, we have been officially notified by the Russian Federation.  We are actively engaging with them, as well as with the Host Country authorities.  And I do know that the issue was discussed in the Host Country Committee, as well.

Question:  Just to follow up, Russian DPR proposed to move the sessions of the First Committee in 2020 somewhere but not… not them to host in US, maybe to Vienna or Geneva.  What’s the stance of the SG on this?

Spokesman:  Look, the Member States are… can decide where to hold a meeting.  It is not for the Secretariat to decide.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask… I know during the General Assembly, the Colombian President presented evidence that said that [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro [Moros] was harbouring Colombian rebels.  And it was just found out a couple of days ago that the intelligence chief for Colombia, Oswaldo Peña, he just resigned, saying that they found out information that the evidence was faulty and actually was created within Colombia.  Does the Secretary‑General have a statement for that?  And on top of that, like, with the follow‑up from the issue on the visas, we know that Maduro’s banned from entering the US, so he didn’t attend the General Assembly.  I was wondering, does the UN have any comments as far as, even if he’s banned from US territory, the UN is neutral and, because the US is the Host Country, is it possible for them to ban him?

Spokesman:  Okay.  So, on your first question, the Secretary‑General was, indeed, given this report by the Colombian authorities.  As to the content of the report and so on, that’s a question deliver… you should ask the Colombian Permanent Mission.  On your second part, I’m not aware that Mr. Maduro was denied a visa to come into the United States for the General Assembly.  Now, there… as a matter of principle, we know there are sanctions by the US on certain people and… but there is also the responsibility of the Host Country to issue visas for people to attend UN meetings.  We know… as I told… as Alan asked, there are some… there have been some challenges this past General Assembly, but that’s a separate thing.  So, I’m not sure I can really answer your question in the way you’d like me to answer it.  Sato‑san?

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, you mentioned the Secretary‑General released the opinion editorial regarding climate change.  It seemed to me he used relatively stronger words than his usual.  So, was there any reaction or response from the inside or outside of United Nations?

Spokesman:  I’m not… hopefully, people appreciated the editorial.  I’m not aware of any letters of complaints, but you may want to check the relevant media.  The Secretary‑General used strong language because he believes very strongly in this issue, and I think he strongly believes that what we saw, those who spoke up during the Climate [Action] Summit showed leadership on this issue.  And this is about encouraging others, whether it’s in national Governments, subnational governments or private sector, to also show courage and show leadership.  Yes, Masood, and then we’ll go.

Question:  Yes, sir.  Sir, on this latest Pales… Israelis firing into the Pales… Palestinians in Gaza in which one Palestinian was killed and several other wounded, do you have any…?

Spokesman:  No, I will check.  I do not have an update on that.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.