17 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.


Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council by videoconference this morning, and said that there are signs of hope for the people of Yemen, but these are fragile and in need of our diligent care and attention.  He said that, in the south, the situation remains volatile, with a tenuous calm in Aden.  But, it is worth noting that there has been no large-scale fighting in areas of dispute.  This can be taken as testimony to the restraint shown by those on the ground and their leaderships, he said.  Mr. Griffiths welcomed the initiative by Ansar Allah to suspend all drones and ballistic missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the reduction of violence that followed the announcement.  Among other measures, the Special Envoy welcomed the release of 290 detainees by Ansar Allah and said he was also grateful to the Government of Yemen for allowing fuel ships into Hudaydah.

Earlier, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that humanitarian workers are reaching more than 12 million people across Yemen every month, and yet, he said, it often feels like the more we achieve, the more complicated the problem becomes.  He said that the situation regarding violence was a little better in October, but he added that all parties must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures.  He also said humanitarian access remains extremely challenging — particularly in the north.  Agencies there must still navigate more than 100 different restrictions imposed by Ansar Allah authorities, Mr. Lowcock said, in addition to frequent harassment and attempts at interference.  In the afternoon, the Security Council will discuss the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).


We continue to be gravely concerned about the situation in north-east Syria, where fighting has placed civilians at risk.  While exact numbers cannot be confirmed, since 9 October, at least 160,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the violence from areas around Tell Abiad and Ras al-Ain.  Most of the displaced are staying with relatives or host communities.  Close to 20,000 people fled internally displaced persons camps in the area of hostilities to camps in safer locations further south, while around 5,000 people moved to collective shelters.  Approximately 1,000 people fled to Iraq.  Despite the challenging situation, the UN and humanitarian organizations continue to deliver aid and provide basic services to people in need where access allows.  United Nations staff remain in north-east Syria.  Fighting and ongoing insecurity has seen some non-governmental organization partners transfer international staff, who were operating in the north-east, out of the area, and others have had to temporarily suspend operations.

As the Secretary-General stated earlier, any action must ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected at all times, and that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need will be guaranteed, including through the cross-border modality, in order to allow the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out its critical work in northern Syria.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

This weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart to the Horn of Africa on a joint United Nations-African Union Solidarity Mission on Women, Peace and Security and Development.  This is the third such visit with the African Union.  During the joint visit, the delegation will visit a number of countries in the region and meet with Heads of State and Government, senior Government officials, women leaders, displaced and migrant women, UN staff and civil society leaders.  Discussions will focus on the shared United Nations‑African Union priorities of women’s participation in efforts to advance peace, security and sustainable development in the region.

Following the joint mission, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Sudan with senior UN officials.  She will visit Khartoum and Darfur, including the UN Mission in El Fasher.  While in Sudan, the Deputy Secretary-General will meet with the President, Prime Minister, ministers and senior Government officials, civil society and women leaders.  Discussions will focus on the United Nations collaboration with Sudan, in particular on economic development, and will also highlight the importance of women’s leadership.  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 29 October.


Figures released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) show record-high levels of civilian casualties in the third quarter of 2019.  Overall, in the first nine months of 2019, UNAMA documented 8,239 civilian casualties — that’s 2,563 people killed and 5,676 injured.  And in the latest quarter, UNAMA documented an unprecedented number of civilian casualties, registering an increase by 42 per cent in comparison to the same period in 2018.  Moreover, in July, UNAMA documented the highest number of civilian casualties ever recorded in a single month.  The UN reiterates its call for all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm and strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, at all times.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that at least two people were killed and dozens more people injured yesterday when a 6.3‑magnitude earthquake struck parts of Mindanao in the Philippines.  People living in coastal areas fled their villages after the earthquake in fear of potential tsunamis and returned home today.  Government agencies are conducting rapid assessments and providing temporary shelters and psychosocial support to affected families.  This is the fourth earthquake which has caused deaths or injuries to have struck the Philippines this year.

**Resident Coordinators

The Secretary-General has appointed two new UN Resident Coordinators for Côte d'Ivoire and Zimbabwe, following confirmations by the respective Governments.  Philippe Poinsot of France will serve as Resident Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire and Maria do Valle Ribeiro of Ireland will serve in Zimbabwe.  As Resident Coordinators, they will boost development coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  We continue to have full gender parity among all of our Resident Coordinators, covering 162 countries and territories.

**Cuts at Duty Stations

As promised yesterday, our colleagues in Vienna have reported on their efforts to cut costs.  Like other duty stations, official travel will be limited; purchases of goods and services will be postponed; and energy-saving measures to reduce utility bills will be implemented.  Amongst other cuts, there will be no interpretation or documentation services for non-calendar meetings; summary records will be delayed and done only when internal capacity permits; and word‑limit mandates will be strictly enforced with respect to all parliamentary documentation.  There will be no orders of office supplies, goods, services, furniture and IT equipment, and outgoing mail services will be reduced.  And security services will not be provided for any meetings or events outside of normal working hours, unless such services are covered by extrabudgetary resources.


Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has condemned the killing of Haitian journalist, Néhémie Joseph, which took place on 10 October.  She urged authorities to spare no effort to investigate this crime and ensure that all those involved are brought to trial.

**Universal Postal Union

In a drop-by with US President Donald Trump, held in the White House on 15 October, the Director‑General of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), Bishar Hussein, displayed the letter revoking the United States’ decision to withdraw from the UPU.  Speaking afterwards, Mr. Hussein thanked President Trump and said that he is convinced that the maintenance of the worldwide postal system is a victory for everyone on this planet.


This year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is marked by a call to “act together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty”.  The theme was chosen to coincide with the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In his message for the day, the Secretary‑General reminded us that children are more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty than adults.  They will also live with the devastating consequences of climate change if we fail to raise ambition now.  Access to quality social services must be a priority, said the Secretary-General.  Yet, today, almost two thirds of children lack social‑protection coverage.  The Secretary-General called on all of us to recommit to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 1 and a fair globalization that works for all children, their families and communities.

**Senior Appointment

Today, the Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the General Assembly to approve Fatoumata Ndiaye of Senegal as Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services for a five-year non-renewable term.  She will succeed Heidi Mendoza of the Philippines, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedicated service to the Organization.  Ms. Ndiaye brings to the position more than 24 years of knowledge, hands-on experience and inter-agency work in the areas of audit, investigations and evaluation, coupled with overseeing and coordinating human resources, finance, budget, information technology and administrative services and operations.  We will have her bio online.

**Press Briefings

Like I said, immediately following my briefing, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Reem Abaza, will be here to brief you.  And then tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston.  That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, can you confirm that the United States have paid $150 million to the organization?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that there are a number of partial payments that we are getting over these days.  I'm not going to confirm any of the contributing countries or amounts just yet while we get them.  But, we are getting some money in, and at this stage, our expectation is we will be able now to meet our payroll for the month of November, and we'll see where we go from there.  Yes, please?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Today, they have a meeting, Mike Pence and [Michael] Pompeo, in Turkey.  Do you have any result of that what happened right now to stop the fire and killing any people in Turkey and Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe this is a meeting that's just taken place in recent hours, and it's too soon to tell what the results of that will be.  You are aware of the call that we have made, and the Secretary‑General is certainly encouraging a halt to the idea that any military victory can be achieved on the ground.  You'll have seen the statements that the Secretary‑General has put out, and he continues to be in touch with relevant parties to see what kind of a helpful role we can pursue.

Question:  The Secretary‑General, did he have any trip to Turkey and his agenda when he come back to see what's going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any announcement to make right now on any travel.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I was wondering if you have any comment on the situation in Spain following the sentencing of Catalan secessionist leaders in the Supreme Court and the protests of the past few days that have turned violent in some cases.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have any specific comment on that.  As you know, just about two weeks ago, we issued a statement about the rights of people everywhere to peaceful protest, and that remains our position across the board.  Yes, please?

Question:  Good afternoon.  Thanks, Farhan.  Can you confirm that the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga, met with, Wednesday, Tibor Nagy, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs at the Department of State, and what did they discuss?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll have to check and see what Mr. Onanga‑Anyanga's travels were, and we'll check on that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General met with Iran and Russia regarding sanctions and the delays in the adoption of the programme of work in the First and the Fifth Committees?  And also, does he have any comment on Russia's proposal to hold the next meetings in Geneva or Vienna?

Deputy Spokesman:  We, including our legal colleagues, have been in touch with all of the relevant States about the issue of visas.  The legal counsel spoke at the Host Country Committee meeting about this issue just two days ago.  And of course, we're supportive of efforts to make sure that host countries abide by all of their obligations, as such.  Regarding any movement of the First Committee or other committees, that matter is entirely in the hands of the Member States.  And with that… oh, one more?  Sure.

Question:  United Nations Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide expressed his concern over the current situation in north‑east Syria.  Do you have any plan for conducting the investigation in killing the civilians in Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not something on which we have a mandate to pursue, but I would just refer you to the full statement by the Special Advisers on the prevention of genocide and on the responsibility to protect, so there's a full press release that they have on that.  And with that, come on up, Reem.

For information media. Not an official record.