9 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.  I have the following statement attributable to the spokesman for the Secretary-General on the attack in Halle, Germany.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack that took place today on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, in which at least two people were reportedly killed.  He regards this as yet another tragic demonstration of anti-Semitism — perpetrated on the holy day of Yom Kippur — which needs to be fought with the utmost determination.  The Secretary-General sends his deep condolences to the families of the victims, the Government and people of Germany.  He wishes a swift recovery to those who were wounded in the attack.  In this context, the Secretary-General recalls the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites and calls for all Governments to support that plan.  Houses of worship around the world must be safe havens for reflection and peace, not sites of bloodshed and terror.


As we told you last week, the Secretary-General is traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark, this evening.  Building on the momentum generated by last month’s Climate Action Summit, he 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 Summit in September.  The Secretary-General will deliver the keynote address at the C40 plenary session on Friday on the theme “The future we want is inclusive — and climate action must lift everyone up”.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will participate in a working lunch with the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish Parliament and will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

This morning at the Security Council, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, highlighted positive dynamics that could lead the country towards stability and durable peace.  She pointed out regional dynamics and diplomatic initiatives and the formation of a new Government, with an ambitious programme to improve governance and promote economic development.   However, the Special Representative added, seizing these opportunities is not without risks, and must also translate into relief for the many Congolese who live in a state of insecurity, economic exclusion and dependency on humanitarian aid.  Among the current challenges that need to be addressed is the recent escalation of intercommunal and armed group violence that has led to significant population displacements in Ituri, North and South Kivu.  Ms. Zerrougui said the expression of support by the country’s partners to find common security responses to the situation in the East is timely and encouraging.  Regarding Ebola, the Special Representative said she is encouraged by the reduction of new cases in the past month.  But the battle is far from won, she warned.


The Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub el Hillo, has condemned continued attacks on civilians in Libya and called for respect of international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.  Attacks against medical facilities and health workers have been a growing phenomenon in the Libya conflict.  So far this year, there have been 57 attacks on health‑care facilities, resulting in the death of 13 health‑care workers and injury of 47 others.  The Humanitarian Coordinator has urged international parties with influence in Libya to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and to do everything possible to protect civilians, especially children.  The people of Libya deserve to live in peace and have a better future.


A special report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) examines the impact on civilians of United States’ air strikes on alleged drug-processing facilities on 5 May in Afghanistan’s Bakwa District and verifies 39 casualties following that operation.  Those casualties included 14 children and 1 woman, from multiple air strikes on more than 60 sites that the United States Forces‑Afghanistan identified as drug-production facilities.  Moreover, the UN is working to verify credible reports of at least 37 additional civilian casualties, the majority of whom were women and children.  The report concludes that drug facilities and associated workers may not be lawfully made the target of attack and should be protected.

**World Health Organization

A new study led by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that more than one third of women in four lower-income countries experienced mistreatment during childbirth in health facilities.  The study was carried out in Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria, and it found that 42 per cent of women who participated experienced physical or verbal abuse, stigma or discrimination.  In addition, 14 per cent experienced physical abuse.  There were also high rates of non‑consensual caesarean sections, episiotomies and vaginal examinations.  Younger, less-educated women were found to be the most at risk of mistreatment.  In the study, WHO provides guidelines to hold health systems accountable and give training to health‑care providers to ensure that women are treated with compassion and dignity.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will now be able to receive, hold and disburse donations of cryptocurrencies ether and bitcoin, through its newly established UNICEF Cryptocurrency Fund.  In a first for United Nations organizations, UNICEF will use cryptocurrencies to fund open‑source technology benefitting children and young people around the world.  And there are more details from UNICEF.


In answer to a question we’ve been asked about a potential tripartite meeting on the issue of Cyprus to be hosted by the Secretary-General, all I can say is that no date or location has been confirmed.  We are still considering a date and place for the meeting.

**Financial Contribution

And on finances, Mozambique has stepped up to the plate.  We thank our friends in Maputo for paying regular budget dues in full.  This takes us to the round number of 130.  And with that, I will open the floor for questions.  Do we have any?  Yes, Mr. Sato?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is about UN regular budget.  Yesterday, the US president tweeted about the UN budget; not only US but all the Member States should pay.  What is the Secretary‑General's response to that?  And does Sec… does UN have any response from the US Mission, why US Government in terms of the shortfall of the budget?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding your first question, certainly, the Secretary‑General agrees with the statement.  This is not a question of any one Member State.  This is a collective responsibility of the 193 Member States of the Organization.  As I just pointed out, 130 of the Member States have paid for this year in full.  That's a little over two thirds, and we're very thankful and grateful for that.  And similarly, more than two thirds of the budget is paid.  But, of course, we're now in October, and we've stated at length yesterday the consequences of lacking the funds that we currently do not have.  So, all of the remainder must be paid, and we do take this as a collective responsibility, and we're hoping that the Member States will live up to that.  Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I'm surprised that, in your first statement or any statements, there is nothing from the Secretary‑General about the Turkish operation in Syria.  This just opened a big front in the Syrian civil war.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you're aware, we issued a statement on this very topic just yesterday, but I do have something further to say for…

Correspondent:  They started…

Deputy Spokesman:  If you let me, I do have something further to say for today.  The Secretary‑General is very concerned by the recent developments in north‑east Syria.  Any military operation must fully respect the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.  Civilians and civilian infrastructure should be protected in accordance with international law.  The Secretary‑General believes that there's no military solution to the Syrian conflict.  He reiterates that only an inclusive and credible political process pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) can bring a long‑term solution to the conflict in Syria.  As the Security Council reaffirmed yesterday in its presidential statement, any solution must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?  I want to first ask about any humanitarian update you have so far from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], Syria.  And also, there's no condemnation, you know.  This area… this area that's… right now, Turkey is bombing as we speak, it was stable, according to mostly United Nations reports.  I'm talking about the city of Qamishli.  I'm talking about Kobane.  I know this area.  All of it was… just like two… three hours ago was stable and now being bombarded unilaterally by one party of the conflict.  Why no condemnation for starting a war in an area when there was no war?  By the Secretary‑General, I mean.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you're aware, we expressed our views on this matter even a day before the current activities.  And I've said what I have said in response to what's happened so far this morning.  And we are, as you know, continuing to evaluate the situation.  Regarding the humanitarian situation, what I can say is that our colleagues on the humanitarian side have shown, over the past, their ability to scale up in times of crisis on multiple occasions.  We've seen this in Aleppo.  We've seen this in the south of Syria and the hostilities in Idlib.  And we can be prepared if we have the humanitarian access that we need to scale up in response to this current situation.  The UN does not have an alternative form of delivery that could replicate the timeliness or reach of its cross‑border activities, particularly as access to northwestern Syria for humanitarian partners registered in Damascus is restricted.  It remains, therefore, critical to fully preserve all possible avenues for humanitarian access.  Yes, James?

Question:  Yes.  Can I focus on your refrain, "there is no military solution in Syria"?  Because you've been saying it for eight and a half years, and all the while, we've seen the Syrian Government, the Iranians, the Russians, the Turks pursuing a military operation and completely reshaping the map politically and militarily in Syria.  So, is that phrase not tired?  And secondly, on that phrase, if there is no military solution and that's the firm view of the Secretary‑General, is the clear inference to that that he's not in favour of a new military operation in Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've made clear our opinions about all of the military operations, including the ones you've been mentioning.  The fact that we have to say it over and over again does not mean that the phrase is tired.  It means that the Governments and the forces in the region are well overdue in listening to what is the only logical approach.  There is a diplomatic solution that we have been pursuing.  As you know, our envoy, Geir Pedersen, has made progress which he's trying to build on regarding the work of the Constitutional Committee.  You yourself have pointed out that there have been many military operations over the past eight years, and yet, as you see, the crisis goes on, which proves our point.  None of these operations have solved the crisis.  None of them can solve the crisis.  We've been proven correct on this time and again.  People have believed that particular offensives could win the conflict for one side or another.  None of that has happened, and it will not be able to happen.  The parties need to come together.  They need to resolve their differences diplomatically.  The Special Envoy's working on this, and we will continue to try to push that.  Talal?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  In your answer to Majeed, when he asked you if there's condemnation for this attack that took place a few hours ago, you said that you spoke about this yesterday and you had a statement yesterday.  But, yesterday, there was no attack, and shouldn't your statement now be updated to condemn after the attack has been… has taken place?  And on the humanitarian level, we can tell you, with all sincerity, our people on the ground are reporting about the massive displacement in Kobane.  People are moving out of the bombing, and I hope, actually, you're right that your humanitarian response team is ready to deal with such a huge movement of people.

Deputy Spokesman:  It remains to be seen whether what happens next is of a scale beyond what we can achieve.  Ultimately, as in past operations, like the ones I just mentioned in Aleppo and Idlib, we will need to scale up our activities, and we will need support of the Member States in order to do so.  And, fundamentally, we will need humanitarian access so we can get to the people most in need.  Regarding your questions about the wording that we're using, of course, we respect the opinions of the media in terms of your evaluations and analysis of what is happening on the ground.  This is a diplomatic organization, and the words we use are the words that we use.

Question:  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I have to follow up, Majeed.  We are not assessing a situation.  A fact took place.  It is an attack that for all our eyes to see and is being covered live in Middle Eastern television networks, including ours.  It's taking place now.  Didn't take place yesterday when you issued your statement.  Things has changed dramatically on the ground.  Shouldn't you revise your statement to condemn this heinous attack on Syria and sovereign land?

Deputy Spokesman:  You heard what I said just now, in which I responded at length to Majeed's question.  Those are the words that we are using at this point.

Question:  One more follow‑up on this, Farhan.  Thank you.  I just want to make sure I heard the statement right.  Is the Secretary‑General directly asking Turkey to stop this operation and also to make sure that the displaced civilians are safe?  Because, right now, people are running away from the Kobane, from Qamishli, and they don't know where to go.  There are reports that thousands of them… they can't even stay at their homes tonight because of the bombardment.  So, we are talking about hundreds of thousands.  Qamishli is a big city.  Kobane is a big city.  And so… this is a two‑part question.  Does the Secretary‑General ask Turkey to stop?  And the second is about the humanitarian situation.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you've heard what I've had to say.  To reiterate, any military operation must fully respect the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.

Question:  So it's okay…?

Deputy Spokesman:  We made clear that civilians and civilian infrastructure should be protected in accordance with international law.  And again, the Secretary‑General believes that there's no military solution to the Syrian conflict, and we reiterate the need for an inclusive and credible political process pursuant to resolution 2254 (2015).

Question:  So… so, if the operation is with the… with the frame of humanitarian laws, it's okay to continue.  That's what it means.  Right?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not what I've said.  Again, I would just refer… leave you with my exact words.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Turkish Foreign Minister has said that Turkey had informed the Secretary‑General and the President of the UN Security Council about the start of the military operation.  Can you confirm the letter?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can't confirm the letter, but certainly, the Secretary‑General is aware.  Yes?

Question:  Going back to the budget issue, it's not your first day at this podium, nor is it Steph's [Dujarric] yesterday's first day, and nor has the Secretary‑General… he's been in the UN system for a while.  Aren't you aware that every year the US is paying in November, which is in a few weeks, as opposed to the UN calendar?  And therefore, don't you think that waving a red cape in front of President [Donald] Trump, who is not… to say the least, not very eager to pay international bodies and to be perceived as sucker, in his views… in his words, isn't that counterproductive from the UN's point of view?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we're not pointing to any nation, as I made clear just now to Mr. Sato.  This is a problem that we face year after year; it's true, but the Secretary‑General has also made the point — and he has made this each year that he's been Secretary‑General — that, every year, we get less of the money that we need until much later in the cycle.  As we pointed out yesterday, by the end of September last year, 78 per cent of our total assessment for the regular budget had been paid by Member States.  This year, the comparable figure is 70 per cent.  That additional level of shortfall means that we have to scramble even harder to make sure that the basic functions of the United Nations can continue, and that is a problem that will continue the later and later we get the money.  We're certainly aware that different Member States, including the one you mentioned, have different budgetary cycles, but we need to function all year round, and it's not a question of any one Member State.  We need to make sure that we have enough support so that we have the funds we need to work all year, not just that, suddenly, by the end of the year, we're functional again.

Question:  To follow up, you omitted another factor in this is… and that is that every year the UN budget grows, and cuts are rare.  So, if there is shortage of funds, shouldn't there be deeper cuts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, the Secretary‑General, if you look at his remarks to the Fifth Committee yesterday, he proposed a budget that has no real growth.  We can't account for things like inflation, but certainly, there's no growth in terms of, you know, the real dollar value of what we provide.  And he also said in his… in that set of remarks that there would actually be cuts to posts as a result of our efforts to maintain a no‑growth budget, so please look at his full comments.

Question:  But one more thing.  I mean, part of the problem, as far as the US is concerned, is that new… fairly new thing, which is capping all budgets at 25 per cent, which includes peacekeeping.  So, as the UN… as the US cuts its contribution to peacekeeping, shouldn't peacekeeping be a little more, you know, like… there are cuts to be made in peacekeeping, according to a lot of observers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, the budget of peacekeeping missions follows as a result of the mandates given to them by the members of the Security Council.  As a result of that, it's the Member States through the General Assembly and its bodies, notably the Fifth Committee, who approve all these budgets.  Once they've approved those budgets, they have to give us the money to fulfil those.  We're not the ones setting the budget of the UN.  The Member States do that.  If they ask us to do these functions and they give a level of money for us to fulfil those functions, then they need to provide the money that they've said that they'll give us.  Yes…?  Yes, Maggie.

Correspondent:  To be continued.

Question:  Farhan, Under‑Secretary‑General [Rosemary] DiCarlo is in Beirut today.  Any chance she'll go to Ankara?  And any updates on any phone calls the SG has had or any senior UN officials on the Syria developments?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Obviously, we're in touch with officials at various levels.  And as you're just pointing out right now, Ms. DiCarlo is in the region herself.  I don't have any changes to her travel plans to announce.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Still on the situation in north-east Syria, there are indications that some states aware of the situation and concerned about it are preparing to have the Council meet and study the situation.  Are aware of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's always a possibility, but I can't announce that.  That would be a matter for the President of the Security Council to announce if they're having anything.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that the start of the military operation might now postpone the launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee?

Deputy Spokesman:  We certainly intend to go full speed ahead with the launch of the Constitutional Committee, and we're continuing with that process.  Mr.  [Geir] Pedersen is going about his work, and we certainly hope and expect that this process will continue.  Alan?  You had a question?

Question:  Sorry.  Thank you, Farhan.  Just to follow up Betul's question.  You've said that the Secretary‑General is aware of starting the military operation of Turkey, but I just wanted to ask you to clarify whether he was informed before the start of the operation, at the moment of the start of the operation or after the start of the operation?  Could you clarify, please?

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't be able to provide the exact timeline.  He certainly was aware this morning of the start of operations.  Yes, please?

Question:  Amid reports about targeting civilians and Turkish military attack on Syria and there is concerns of genocide, a kind of genocide or ethnic cleansing.  Is there any urgent actions that you can take to stop this assault?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, I've mentioned that any operations should follow both the Charter and international humanitarian law, and I would reiterate that point.  Yes, please?

Question:  You talked about a fund from UNICEF in terms of cryptocurrencies, but there are a lot of countries which still have legislation which is not supportive of cryptocurrencies.  How is this going… fund going to work in that regard?

Deputy Spokesman:  Initially, it's… I believe UNICEF has been saying that it will work in four different countries where the UNICEF committees have support for this.  So, those countries will be France, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.  And then we'll see whether it expands from there.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.