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

8 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.

**Syria

Good afternoon.  I will start with a statement on Syria and then we’ll move on to budget and money.

The Secretary-General is following with great concern recent statements regarding north-eastern Syria, in particular the risk to civilians from any potential military actions.  He calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint.

The Secretary-General emphasizes that civilians and civilian infrastructure need to be protected at all times and that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need must be guaranteed in order to [allow the] United Nations and its humanitarian partners to carry out their critical work in northern Syria.

The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.  The only sustainable solution is a UN-facilitated political process pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

**Budget

I have a statement update for you on the regular budget.

The Secretary-General has written to Member States about the worst cash crisis facing the United Nations in nearly a decade.  The Organization runs the risk of depleting its liquidity reserves by the end of the month and defaulting on payments to staff and vendors.  Stressing the Charter obligation of Member States, the Secretary-General thanked the Member States who have paid their regular budget assessments in full, which is now up to 129, and urged those who have not paid to do so urgently and in full.  This is the only way to avoid a default that could risk disrupting operations globally.  The Secretary-General further asked Governments to address the underlying reasons for the crisis and agree on measures to put the United Nations on sound financial footing.

By the end of September, Member States had paid only 70 per cent of the total assessment for the regular budget, compared with 78 per cent at the same time last year.  The Secretariat had put in place multiple measures since the beginning of the year to align expenditures with cash inflows.  These included adjusting hiring and other non-post expenses based on expected cash availability.  Had it not contained expenditures globally from the beginning of the year, the cash shortfall in October could have reached $600 million and the Organization would not have had the liquidity to support the opening of the General Assembly debate and the high-level meetings last month.  To date, we have averted major disruption in our operations.

These measures are no longer enough.  The Secretariat could face a default on salaries and payments for goods and services by the end of November unless more Member States pay their budget dues in full.  The Secretary-General has, therefore, requested additional steps to be taken immediately, including further reduction in official travel; postponing spending on goods and services; and discontinuing events scheduled outside official meeting hours at Headquarters duty stations.  In addition, conferences and meetings may have to be postponed or services be adjusted.  The Secretary-General is reviewing further options.

The Secretary-General noted that this is a recurrent problem that severely hampers the Secretariat’s ability to fulfil its obligations to the people we serve.  We are now driven to prioritize our work on the basis of the availability of cash, thus undermining the implementation of mandates decided by intergovernmental bodies.  The Secretary-General, therefore, looks to Member States to resolve the structural issues that underlie this annual crisis without further delay.

The Secretary-General has also kept the staff informed of these developments.

**Budget Contributions

And the latest Member State to have paid up in full is Syria, which brings us up to that number, 129.

At this time, Member States have paid $1.99 billion towards the 2019 regular budget assessment.  The outstanding amount for 2019 for regular budget is about $1.3 billion.

**Fifth Committee

Also on a similar note, of course, the Secretary-General spoke to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly today, and not only on the budget crisis but also the statement was meant to introduce the proposed programme budget for 2020 – the first one to cover an annual, rather than a two-year, period.

The Secretary-General said that the move from a biennial to an annual programme budget is a huge step forward to more realistic budgeting and a greater focus on results.  And he added that it will improve the accuracy of our resource estimates and enable us to adapt more quickly to change in mandates.

He said that for the first time, the budget document includes the Plan Outline, which highlights the policy orientation of the UN, the longer-term objectives and strategy, and future challenges.

The Secretary-General told the Member States that, to do our work and achieve our planned results, we require $2.8 billion, which represents no growth in real terms compared to 2019, despite additional initiatives and newly mandated activities.  The proposal calls for a net decrease of 96 posts.  His full remarks are online and all of the budget documents are also online available to you.

**Mali

Back here in the Security Council this morning, Mahamet Saleh Annadif, the head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), welcomed the launch of an inclusive national dialogue, and called on all Malians to take part in the initiative to ensure a “massive and inclusive participation”.

[The Special Representative] also pointed out that, despite a challenging situation, marked by recurrent deadly attacks - including in the past few days - there were fewer civilians killed or injured by violence in the last three months.

However, he added that the humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate.  There are currently over 170,000 people displaced in the Centre region, the highest number since 2015.

These people face extremely difficult conditions, due in part to difficulties of access for humanitarian workers and lack of adequate funding.

The Special Representative said it is essential to re-establish State authority in this region to reduce violence and to ensure better access to services.

Mr. Annadif’s remarks, as well as the new Report on the situation in Mali from the Secretary-General, is available to you.

**Haiti

Turning to Haiti:  As we mentioned a few days ago, unrest in the country has created serious challenges for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable.

Our colleagues in the country report that a relatively calm weekend provided opportunities for several organizations to resume their operations.

The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) began the delivery of diesel and oxygen to 29 hospitals affected by the crisis.  The World Health Organization (WHO) delivered medicine to hospitals in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and on Sunday, for the first time in three weeks, the World Food Programme (WFP) was able to deliver food to 14 schools that are still functioning.

Our colleagues in Haiti continue to encourage all actors to allow for the normal functioning of hospitals, emergency services and schools, as well as the work of humanitarians, who are trying to assist the most vulnerable.

**The Gambia

And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is in the Gambia for a three-day mission.

He will meet with President Adama Barrow, officials of the Gambian government, political parties, civil society and UN colleagues.

In Banjul today, Mr. Ibn Chambas will also co-chair, with Vice-President Isatou Touray, the tenth edition of the Open Day on Gender, Women, Youth, Peace and Security.

**Sudan

Yesterday, UNICEF chartered a plane carrying 1.6 million doses of oral cholera vaccines to Sudan.

The vaccines arrived in the country at a critical time as cholera cases continue to be reported.

According to the Federal Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the outbreak on 8 September, eight deaths were reported in the Blue Nile and Sennar states.

Timely procurement and urgent delivery of vaccines is a top priority for UNICEF to prevent cholera from spreading further in Sudan.

The agency and its partners are working to strengthen water treatment systems, distribute water purification products for stagnant water and provide technical support.

**Dag Hammarskjöld

And as you will have seen yesterday, the Secretary-General officially transmitted to the General Assembly the report of the Eminent Person, Mohammed Chande Othman, on the way forward in the search for the truth relating to the conditions and circumstances resulting in the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, our former Secretary-General and members of the party accompanying him.

The Secretary-General noted that Judge Othman has received new information about possible causes of the crash and that advancements have been made in the body of relevant knowledge.

The Secretary-General is pleased that the Eminent Person concluded that Member States’ engagement has, on the whole, been excellent.  While much progress has been made, he considers that it is equally clear that the work will need to continue with renewed urgency, with a view to establishing the truth of the tragic event.  Our full statement and the report are available.

**Vision

Lastly, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its first world report on vision.

According to it, globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness, of whom at least 1 billion have a vision impairment that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed.

The report, launched ahead of World Sight Day on 10 October, also found that ageing populations, changing lifestyles and limited access to eye care are among the main drivers of the rising number of people living with vision impairment.

**Questions and Answers

Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Syria, is Secretary‑General or any UN officials in contact directly with the Turkish authorities to request them to refrain from any military action in that part of Syria?  And my follow‑up question is about whether the UN has any contingency plans in the humanitarian issues, should any military action take place?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sure.  On the first part of your question, contacts are being had at various levels, and I think our message is also extremely public and transparent.  On the humanitarian part, I think Mr. [Panos] Moumtzis, the humanitarian coordinator for the area, gave a pretty extensive briefing yesterday.  They are planning for the worst, as humanitarians tend to do and as they need to do.  We are, of course, not present in all the areas in the north-west of Syria.  We work with our traditional… with partners, local partners, and we also very much rely on the cross‑border delivery of aid, so we need to make sure that that cross‑border ability would continue.

Question:  Follow‑up?  Is there any specific call on the… for the Turkish authorities regarding this situation?

Spokesman:  There is no military solution to the current crisis in Syria.  Our call is to all the parties involved.  Yes, Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Of the 30 per cent of money that’s still owed, who owes the most, and how much do they owe?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we have been giving you publicly the list of countries that have paid, which, by mere deduction, would give you a list of those countries that have not paid.  And their assessments is public record, so we can give you… see if we can give you a bit more information.  Yes, James, and then Evelyn.  [cross talk]

Question:  A follow‑up to Michelle’s question there.  So, there are 63 that haven’t paid.  Clearly, they have different amounts they’re supposed to pay.  Could you give us a list of the top five and, on top of that, the countries that are in arrears of other payments to the United Nations, in particular, the peacekeeping budget, because there is one country that’s way above all the others, and it’s the United States.  And it does seem that your honour roll that you do is the wrong way around.  Surely, you’ve got a big problem here, and you need to name the people responsible for it.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, you know by… I think, by naming those who… by rewarding those who are paying in full on time or even a bit later, we’re trying to do some positive incentive.  There’s 193 Member States; 129 have paid up in full.  The balance has not.  We fully realize that some countries work on different budget cycles and traditionally pay later in the year.  What we are seeing as the trend this year is that more and more countries are paying much later in the year, which has aggravated the cash crisis.

Question:  But the one country… but one country continues to never pay what it’s supposed to pay, the United States.  What is the Secretary‑General’s message to the White House and Capitol Hill on this?

Spokesman:  Listen, the Secretary‑General’s message to all countries is that they have an obligation under the Charter to pay their dues to the United Nations, and all should do it.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Just a follow‑up again…

Spokesman:  I’m sorry, Iftikhar.  I will come… I will not leave without taking your question.

Question:  Do you have the number of what the United States owes to the regular and to the peacekeeping?

Spokesman:  The regular… both those numbers are publicly available.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You may have seen yesterday’s New York Times detailed dispatch about the grave humanitarian situation in curfew-bound Indian‑controlled Kashmir, where people are dying because they are unable to get help.  How is the United Nations going… what is the United Nations doing to help those people in distress?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re obviously concerned and continue to be concerned about the situation in Kashmir.  My understanding is that some of our humanitarian… our UN agency colleagues in India are able to operate there, but I will need to get you an exact… a bit more information on that.  Mario?

Question:  Thank you.  On Ecuador, I know you answered some questions yesterday, but following the events of the past few hours with violent protests in the capital and the Government being forced to move their seat to a different city, is there any message from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re obviously following the situation very closely.  As we’ve said in other circumstances, it’s very… it’s critical that anywhere in the world people be allowed to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, to peaceful demonstration and that all security forces need to use restraint and proportionality when dealing with these issues.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Good afternoon.  Question on the UN peacekeeping situation in Mali.  The Secretary‑General said yesterday in response to the Chad UN peacekeeper killed that some of these attacks actually may constitute war crimes under international law.  So, the question is, has he communicated with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, regarding the situation?  And another question is, who exactly would the ICC investigate or hold accountable for these war crimes?

Spokesman:  Well, those who we would think are responsible.  I’d have to check on the contacts.  Yeah… and then… yeah.

Question:  It’s about Egypt.  As you know, Egypt declared the failure of negotiation with Ethiopia about Renaissance Dam and seeks mediation from United States.  At this moment, what is the role that United Nations have to play in this issue and if there is any contacts with United Nations and any of the two countries?

Spokesman:  I’d have to check on that.  I’m not up to speed, but I will check and get you an answer.  Michelle?

Question:  Sorry to harp on the money, but you mentioned that various countries have different fiscal years.  The US fiscal year has just finished at the end of September.  Do they traditionally pay after that, or do they normally pay before?

Spokesman:  Traditionally, there are different times later in the year where the payments are made.

Question:  Are you… I guess what I’m trying to say is, given that their fiscal year has finished, are you particularly concerned that they may not pay?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re concerned that those countries who have not paid have not paid, including some large contributors.  We continue to work with Member States to try to address the situation.

Question:  And last one, did the Secretary‑General raise this at all with President [Donald] Trump when they met?

Spokesman:  I don’t know if it was raised directly with the President, but, obviously, contacts are being had through the traditional channels and the Permanent Mission.  Thank you… but I will take one more question.

Question:  Thank you.  Sorry.  I wanted to find out, like, if the situation… you know, my question is on the money issue.  If the situation doesn’t improve, you know, developing countries depend a lot of… on support from the United Nations.  How much of an impact would this have on the programmes which are running, critical programmes, in developing countries in Africa and the like?

Spokesman:  You know, there are different things, because some of these programmes are run by agencies’ funds and programmes who run on their own budgets, but it will have an impact on the work of the organization throughout, because we’re… instead of focusing on our priorities, we’re just focusing on where… on how basically… how to… prioritizing where the money is and on the cash.  This is… it’s not good for the UN and for those people we are here to help.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Again, staying on the money issue, I know you mentioned the programmes and funds, etc., but I was wondering, even anecdotally, if you have a sense that the voluntary contributions to the various agencies has decreased.

Spokesman:  No, I… honestly, I don’t have a sense.  We would have to do some digging with the agencies.

Thank you.  Have a good day.

For information media. Not an official record.