16 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.

**Sustainable Development

This morning, the Secretary-General held the inaugural meeting of the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, which was launched today.  Some of you may have been here a little earlier for briefing by the Alliance co-chairs and the UN’s Chief Economist, Elliot Harris.  The Alliance is made up of 30 globally prominent Chief Executive Officers and other leaders in the world of business and finance and will work with the Secretary-General on scaling up long-term financing and investment from the private sector towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  At the official launch, which took place just a few minutes ago, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the Alliance’s work can take concrete actions to increase the supply of resources available for investment in sustainable development, channelling capital to countries and sectors where it is most needed.  The potential is enormous, she said and added that the demand for sustainable investment is growing.

**Tribute to Diogo Freitas do Amaral

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., in the General Assembly Hall, the Secretary‑General will deliver remarks during the tribute to the memory of Diogo Freitas do Amaral, the President of the fiftieth session of the United Nations General Assembly.  Mr. Freitas do Amaral passed away last week.  He also served in numerous positions in the Portuguese Parliament and Government, including as Deputy to the Assembly of the Republic, Minister for Foreign Affairs on two occasions, Minister for National Defence and Deputy Prime Minister.


The Secretary-General has asked his Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, to represent him at the Ceremony of Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, that will take place on 22 October.


On Syria, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, met in Damascus with Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Muallem today, and in comments to the press afterwards, he said that they had discussed the situation in north-eastern Syria.  Mr. Pedersen repeated the Secretary-General’s strong appeal that we should end the fighting immediately, that there should be a cessation of hostilities while we are extremely alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of the crisis.  He said that he and the Deputy Prime Minister had also discussed the launching of the Constitutional Committee and had detailed discussions on how to move forward with the launch of the committee by the end of this month, which remains unscheduled.  Mr. Pedersen will continue to have discussions with the co-chairs from the Government list and the co-chair from the opposition.

And on the ground, in the north-east, despite very difficult challenges, the UN and our humanitarian partners continue to deliver aid and provide basic services to people in need where access allows throughout the northeast of the country.  United Nations staff remain in the north-east part of Syria.  Emergency food rations for 83,000 newly displaced people, hygiene kits and drinking water have been provided as a priority and efforts continue to keep pipelines open to ensure the continuation of assistance.  A polio vaccination campaign is also being conducted in camps.  The environment has been made more complex as areas change control after agreements and military advancements.  Due to changes on the ground and ongoing insecurity, some non-governmental organization partners have had to transfer international staff who were operating in the north-east out of the area, others have had to temporarily suspend operations.

The 1.8 million people in need in the northeast have been supported through a complex system that combines humanitarian aid deliveries from within Syria, and with cross-border operations from Iraq delivering aid and providing basic services.  Humanitarian workers are committed to stay and deliver — as much as possible — for people in need, minimizing service disruptions.  The UN continues to reiterate that this requires safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need.  The UN also reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.


Yesterday, in Lebanon, firefighters from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) joined the Lebanese Civil Defence and the Lebanese Armed Forces in putting out raging fire in the Mazraat El Dahr village, about 15 kilometres north-east of Saida.  UNIFIL firefighters from Austria, supported by Tanzanian Military Police personnel, joined the Lebanese emergency services with fire trucks and water tankers, following requests from the Lebanese authorities.  Indian and Indonesian peacekeepers from UNIFIL Hospital in Naqoura also provided a standby ambulance and medical service.  UNIFIL sent the emergency assistance because of the damage that the inferno can cause on local communities.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has released its most recent human rights report.  In September, 173 civilians were victims of abuse and human rights violations, an increase compared to last month.  Armed groups were responsible for over 90 per cent of violations.  The Mission says that it is continuing its advocacy and sensitization on human rights and the implementation of the peace agreement with armed groups, the Government and the general public.

We also have an update on the situation in Birao, the town located in the country’s north-east hit by violence last month.  The Mission announced a new joint mission this week, with representatives of the Government, African Union, Economic Community of Central African States and the UN, to help bring back calm and stability to the city.  In another development, 14 ex-combatants from an armed group involved in the September clashes were handed over to judicial authorities.  Others, who did not face prosecution, were relocated to another city.

**World Food Day

Today is World Food Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General highlights this observance as a global call for zero hunger, for a world where nutritious food is available and affordable for everyone, everywhere.  However, more than 820 million people do not have enough to eat and climate emergency is an increasing threat to food security, he said.  This year's World Food Day theme day is "Our actions are our future.  Healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger world."  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its partners believe that affordable solutions to reduce all forms of malnutrition exist, but they require global commitments of actions.


There are a few budgetary updates for you, I think I was asked about some of peacekeeping cost saving measures taken outside of the UN Headquarters.  In Geneva, temporary press officers are not being recruited.  The regular press officers and editors will ensure that coverage is provided to meetings of the Human Rights Treaty Bodies until the end of the year — those staff are voluntarily giving up taking annual leave during the bodies’ sessions.  Recruitment of temporary audio-visual staff will be discontinued, with the result that TV coverage of mandated meetings will be restricted.  The Photo coverage will no longer be ensured, as the UN in Geneva only hires contract photographers.  Staff will not pursue procurement activities and non-obligated travels will be cancelled.  Just like in New York, meetings and events will not take place after 6 p.m. or on weekends; energy‑saving measures will be put in place throughout the building and elevators services and others will be cut back.  And Nairobi, any purchase of any new equipment will be suspended; individual contractors will not be hired, and staff have suspended any Outreach activities outside of Nairobi.  And our colleagues in Vienna are also undertaking cost-saving measures.


Lastly, on a musical note, our very talented colleagues in the UN Chamber Music Society are organizing a concert for the Bahamas, and that will take place in All Saints Episcopal Church, on Sunday, at 7 p.m. and there will be more information in my office.  Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question… two questions, in fact, but one of them is regarding the escalators here.  The journalists are badly affected by this measure, and we wonder why we… why stopping them, you wouldn't allow the journalists and other people to use the escalators as… as regular stairs.  This is one question.  The other question is why we haven't plausible reason for why the Secretary‑General hasn't condemned the Turkish attack on Syria.  We see that the Secretary‑General is invited to Turkey by the end of this month to attend the sixth Istanbul Mediation Conference, and he is the keynote speaker.  Isn't that… might be interpreted as a consent from the Secretary‑General to what's happening by Turkey in Syria?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Taking your questions backwards, I have nothing official to confirm on any possible travel to Turkey at this point.  Obviously, nothing the Secretary‑General has said or done should be interpreted as any consent.  And thirdly, on the escalators, it's a measure that, obviously, impacts everyone, everybody who works on this floor, whether journalists or staff.  My understanding is that non‑running escalators are… it's unsafe to use them, but I will check.  It's a very valid point.

Correspondent:  And I follow up on… because I have the… this conference and the Secretary‑General is confirmed to attend and to be the keynote speaker.

Spokesman:  I have no doubt… I don't doubt the veracity of your information.  As always when the Secretaries‑General travel, there may be announcements by organizers and so forth.  There… no travel is official until there's an official announcement from our part.  Mr. Klein, then Mr. Abbadi, and then Evelyn.

Question:  Yeah.  I apologize if I missed this, but do you have an update on the numbers of displacements?  I think yesterday you said it was 160,000…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have any update.  I've not been given any update on the numbers.

Question:  Okay.  And secondly, from the UN personnel and partners that are on the ground in north‑east Syria, have they reported from their observations an increase or decrease or about the same level of violence from the Turkish invasion or incursion…?

Spokesman:  As compared to?

Question:  Well, just compared to yesterday, day before yesterday, last week.

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we had a report from the human rights office last week.  We'll check if there are any more numbers.  For our humanitarian colleagues, the big challenge is, obviously, when front lines change, when areas get under control of different military, of different armed groups, it's about renegotiating access, and that has had an impact and delay.  Mr. Abbadi, then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General wants an immediate ceasefire in the north‑east of Syria, but what does he think of the President's… [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's argument that he first has to get rid of terrorist organization on his borders?

Spokesman:  We're not going to react to this and that statement.  For the Secretary‑General, it's clear that there is no political… there is no military solution to this conflict.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Have you got any information on what the Security Council might do in its attempt to put the… on Syria to put the toothpaste back in the tube?  And secondly, since you mentioned WFP, is there any update on the investigation of alleged abuse there?

Spokesman:  What investigation?

Correspondent:  Well, there have been accusations by the UN and others of top… of abuse by some of the top officials.

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware.

Correspondent:  I think you spoke about it… The US is investigating two senior officials over allegation of sexual abuse.  That was earlier in the year.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I have nothing new on that.  On the Security Council, I mean, it's a question to ask the ambassadors.  For our part, we're providing briefings today under other matters by Mr. [Mark] Lowcock and Mr. [Khaled] Khiari on both the humanitarian and political front.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.