21 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

All right.  As you know, the Secretary-General was in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to take part in the annual meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  In remarks he delivered at the [International Monetary] and Financial Committee, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of fiscal policy and financing to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  At the Small States Forum, the Secretary-General noted that the survival of many small countries, and particularly island states, depends on finding innovative and effective solutions to challenges that threaten their very existence.  He also spoke at a meeting of the Finance Ministers Coalition on Climate Finance and he told its 44 members that, as Finance Ministers, they can turn the tide and move the markets to address the climate emergency.  The Secretary-General’s remarks were shared with you.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General is in Ethiopia, on the first day of a joint UN-African Union solidarity mission on women, peace and security in the Horn of Africa.  Speaking to the African Union Peace and Security Council, Ms. Mohammed called on the countries of the Horn of Africa to create space [so] that women can lead the change.  She added that the region must be encouraged to invest in and benefit from the contributions of more than half its population if we want to see durable progress.  Earlier in the day, the Deputy Secretary-General also took part in the launch of the Ethiopian Chapter of the African Women Leaders Network.  She also spoke at an event linked to the Blue Heart Campaign, an initiative by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to fight human trafficking and its impact on society.  And tomorrow, she will be in Djibouti for the day.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, while the announced ceasefire in the north-east of the country has resulted in an overall reduction of hostilities, fighting continues to impact civilians in some areas.  Close to 180,000 people have now been displaced since Turkey’s military operation started on 9 October — about 80,000 of those people are children.  Despite security and access challenges, the UN and humanitarian partners are scaling up their life-saving assistance with efforts to provide essential services such as health and water.  Deliveries of food are estimated to have reached about 580,000 people in Raqqa and Hasakeh Governorates in this month alone.

After being impacted by bombardments some 10 days ago, the Allouk water station is again providing more than 400,000 people with water in Hasakeh Governorate.  Two missions to the water [station] were conducted to facilitate the necessary repairs.  The UN continues to reiterate the need for all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with international humanitarian law.  The UN further calls on all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded access to everyone in need.


From Chile, the UN country team has expressed its deep concern at the serious acts of violence that occurred in Santiago over the weekend.  The team said it laments in particular the high number of people, including minors, and members of law enforcement who were injured during these incidents, as well as the damage and substantial material losses that were caused.  Regarding the state of emergency decreed by the Government, the United Nations system recalls that its provisions must be applied in strict compliance with the rule of law and international human rights standards to which Chile has adhered.  The United Nations also calls on all sectors of Chilean society to reduce tensions, reject all acts of violence and seek peaceful solutions to this challenge facing the country.

**South Sudan

As you know, the Security Council members are in South Sudan.  The delegation has just wrapped up a visit to the country to support the peace process there, which is at a critical stage three weeks ahead of when a transitional Government is due to be formed.  The delegation met with President Salva Kiir; the leader of the opposition, Riek Machar; and other signatories to the peace agreement, as well as women’s groups and various civil society representatives.


And a new survey shows that close to 2,000 irregular migrants who made the journey from Africa to Europe found that over 90 per cent would do it again.  This is from a report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) entitled “Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe”.  The report is meant to paint a clearer picture of why irregular migrants move from Africa to Europe.  The report finds that getting a job was not the only motivation to move and that not all irregular migrants were “poor” in Africa or had lower education levels.  Over half of those interviewed were employed or in school at the time of their departure, with the majority of those working earning competitive wages.  The report calls for more opportunities and choices in Africa while enhancing opportunities to move from “ungoverned” to “governed” migration, in line with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  More information online.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., you will be briefed here by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that person is Javaid Rehman.


And today, we are delighted to announce that we’re now up to 132 fully paid‑up Member States for the budget and we thank our friends in Victoria, which is the capital of which country?  Victoria, which is the capital of which country?  Victoria.  Seychelles. All right.  Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Lebanese people have been taking to the streets for the fifth day today, and I wonder whether the demonstrators… the peaceful demonstrators merit any recognition by the United Nations' Secretary‑General and whether the Secretary‑General has anything to say to…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We're, obviously, following the situation there very closely.  As you know, we have a coordinator… a Special Coordinator on the ground.  We're continuing to work with both the Government and international partners to help address the pressing challenges in Lebanon, including, as you could understand, the economic situation.  We're also… I think it's important to note that the protests, while, I think, you know, we've seen, I think, growing in size, the number of people in the street have remained largely peaceful.  And we continue to urge all parties to refrain from any activities that could lead to increased tensions or violence.

Question:  That's the statement?

Spokesman:  That's what I have to say.

Question:  There's no official statement from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Are you… please use your mic, your microphone.

Question:  Is this the statement… official statement…?

Spokesman:  You've asked me what the… Ali asked me what the Secretary‑General's position is, and that's what I can tell you that it is.

Correspondent:  But, since five days, nothing has been reported.  Nothing… it was… you didn't have any official statement.  Usually you have official statement.

Spokesman:  Well, we have… sometimes we have official statements.  Sometimes we don't.

Correspondent:  This is big protest.

Spokesman:  We have… I think the situation is continuing to evolve.  At some point, we may have a more official statement, but I know our Special Coordinator, Mr. [Ján] Kubiš, is following the situation closely.  He's in touch with Government officials.  I've been in touch with him, as well, and he's kept me up to date.

Question:  But, there is no reaction from the international community on this…?  That's why… everybody's… everybody's, like, wondering why…?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the… I can only… I can't speak for the international… Sylviane, I can't speak for the international community as a whole.  I can only speak for the Secretary‑General.  Mr. Klein?  Yes, go ahead, Ali.

Question:  Just the Under‑Secretary‑General, Rosemary DiCarlo, was in Lebanon, and I wonder whether she discussed with the Lebanese leadership the economic and the financial situation in the country and whether the United Nations is willing and ready to extend any kind of support for Lebanon in this regard.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there are a few things in there.  Obviously, the economic situation was being discussed as it is one of the pressing challenges that's facing the country.  For the… the Secretary‑General is not in a position to extend whatever financial facilities.  That would be up to [the] World Bank, IMF or other international donors.  We are in touch with both the international… the traditional international partners that Lebanon has and other parts of the UN system and are ready to assist in any way we can.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yeah.  When you were discussing the report on "irregular" migration, you said that… I believe, in summarizing the report, that poverty and jobs were not the only reason for movement of many of these irregular migrants.  But, you didn't tell us the primary reason.  If it's refugee status, that would be covered under the Refugee Convention and the separate compact, so… I know you're going to tell me to read it, but… but could you?

Spokesman:  A, I would encourage all of us to read the report.  But, part of the other issues are issues of governance.  Right?  And that's also a reason why people leave.  Now, obviously, some people are refugees.  Some people are migrants.  Refugees have certain rights afforded to them under the International Convention on Refugees.  I think the UNDP study is a very interesting one in terms of looking in detail as to the profile of the people who are irregular migrants and what motivates them.  Obviously, I think building healthier societies, societies in which the people's needs are met and people are listened to is one way of limiting the flow of irregular migration.  But I would encourage you to read the report.  Nabil, and then we'll go…

Question:  Yeah, back to Lebanon, Stéphane, some of the demonstrations or maybe main demonstrations are taking place in UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] area in southern Lebanon and some major cities in the south.  Did UNIFIL take any measures or any…?

Spokesman:  No, I… as far as I'm aware, the… UNIFIL's activities have not been impacted by the demonstrations.

Question:  Also… also, in some cities, including in the south, armed groups are attacking demonstrations, and we see many videos online and social media about that.  Do you have any message about these incidents in particular?

Spokesman:  I mean, we've seen the reports of some arms, but I think it's important to note that the vast, vast majority of people who have been demonstrating have been unarmed and non-violent.  People have a right wherever they are to demonstrate peacefully, and it's important that that right be respected, and we would call on any participants to refrain from violence and, obviously, refrain from bringing weapons to a demonstration.

Question:  So, are you calling the authorities to do anything about these armed groups or…?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the authorities have to deal with unauthorized armed groups, as in any situation.  Mario?

Question:  Stéphane, on Chile, does the SG have any comment on the protests, the violence and the response that the Government has been giving?

Spokesman:  Look, the SG is, obviously, following the developments over the weekend very closely.  He fully backs the statement that was made by the country team on behalf of the UN system, calling on everyone to reduce tensions, to reject violence, and to seek peaceful solutions to the current challenges that are facing Chile.

Question:  Just to follow up, do you see any link between this protest and the protests that have been taking place in other countries, in the region in Ecuador, but also beyond in other capitals?

Spokesman:  We've been seeing the world over protests recently.  All of them have, obviously, very specific national sources, so to speak, but a lot of them show people's frustration with a system, show people's frustration with inequality and with needs that are not met.  Abdelhamid, and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It looks like none of the developments in the occupied Palestinian territories made it to the Noon Briefing, although there were major developments.  For example, Sunday morning, 500 settlers and fanatics invaded the Al Aqsa Mosque and prayed in the inside, and 700 acres were confiscated from the village of Qaryout, and 70 people were wounded in the March of Return in Gaza on Friday.  So, these developments, unless we ask questions, there [is] no mention of the development in Palestine, but there are so many officials there.  None of them reported these things to make it to the Noon Briefing?

Spokesman:  On the issue of the Al Aqsa Mosque, our position is very clear and remains the same, that nothing should be done to challenge the status quo.  On the other issues, I will check… see what reporting has come in.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Do you have any more details in Syria — what a reduction of hostilities meant and so forth?

Spokesman:  A reduction of hostilities mean the… the reduction of the violence means, from what we've been able to observe, our partners have been able to observe, there's been less violence since the halt of the fire… the ceasefire has been put in place.  That being said, people continue to be on the move.

Question:  Where do they live… where do they live?

Spokesman:  Well, they're either going into relatives' homes or makeshift settlements.  Ben, and then back to Joe.

Question:  Yeah.  we just heard about killer robots.  Is the SG worried about the proliferation of killer robots?  What's his position?

Spokesman:  I mean, he has spoken out very forcefully on the risks of automated weapon system, the lack of regulation.  So, this is something he has been very vocal and very concerned about.

Question:  Does he support a treaty?

Spokesman:  That's… he would support a solution that would address the problem.  Obviously, the treaty issue is up to the Member States.  Celia?

Question:  Thank you.  It's a follow‑up on Chile.  Is any involvement of the United Nations… a local office, as you guys did with Ecuador with the situation? We understand that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has made a call to respect the rights of protesters.  However, we have seen also violence in the capital of Chile.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, the High Commissioner for Human Rights did issue statement, so I don't need to add to that.  At this point, the involvement is with the country team.  They are, I have no doubt, in touch with the Government, and I think they've made their position known very publicly, and I have no doubt, privately.

Question:  A quick follow‑up.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about what is happening in Latin America within the last three, four weeks? We have seen a rise on protests, vandalism and situations in the different countries in the area.  Is he concerned that there's something else happening or…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think Mario just asked kind of a similar question.  I think each has… the roots of these demonstrations are often specific to each country.  But, not only in Latin America, throughout the world, we are seeing demonstrations that are a demonstration of many people's frustration at the system, the lack of equality of chances, the inequality that we see of… in terms of wealth.  These are things that we're seeing throughout the world.  Joe and then Edie and then Alan.

Question:  I just want to follow up actually on the killer robot question, because I do know and recall when the Secretary‑General has spoken out strongly about his concern about the misuse of artificial intelligence, particularly in this context, but I guess I don't understand that, given the fact that the Secretary‑General has, for example, with climate change, repeatedly called for much stronger, bold actions by Member States, as he did at the summit recently, why wouldn't he, given his concern about potential for misuse of AI, for killer robots, get behind the kinds of proposals that we've been hearing for some kind of a more binding agreement, treaty, whatever you want to call it, among the Member States, to get ahead of this potential threat?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think if a treaty could be agreed to, that is great.  What… the Secretary‑General has outlined his concern, I think, very clearly and hopes for Member States to find a solution.

Question:  But, wouldn't it help for him to use his moral authority to propel this forward?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think he has.  I would refer you to what he's said on these issues in the past and will continue to speak about it.  Edie and then Alan.

Question:  Can you tell us where Geir Pedersen is?  Is he work… I know that the Constitutional Committee is meeting next week, but this week, is he trying to do anything regarding Turkey, Syria?

Spokesman:  I think they're all… Geir and his team are very much focussed on the Constitutional Committee and making sure that nothing will derail the meeting that is scheduled for Geneva.  His physical whereabouts, I can check.  I believe he's in Geneva, but I will double‑check.  Alan, and then we'll go home.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Iranian Foreign Ministry states that they've sent to the UN and to the Security Council some explanation, some detailed information, about the attack against Iranian tanker Sabiti, which took place on…

Spokesman:  You mean have they sent a letter?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Let me check.  I didn't see it as of this morning, but it doesn't… just because I haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.  [He later confirmed that a letter had been received on 14 October.]  Okay.  Thank you.  See you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.