22 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.


I’ll start off with a note on Syria:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that nearly two weeks after the start of the Turkish operations in the north‑eastern part of Syria, more than 176,000 people have been displaced.  That is including nearly 80,000 children.  Also, critical infrastructure has been damaged.  And apart from the Alouk water station, which we mentioned yesterday, power lines have been damaged and at least four medical facilities are reported to be affected.  The Alouk water station, which serves over 400,000 people in Al‑Hassakeh city and the surrounding displacement camps, has received temporary repairs and generators are now being used to supply safe water for the population in the area.  Imran Riza, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, visited the northeast, and upon his return to Damascus, said he is grateful that our appeals for humanitarian access were successful and that the teams were able to restore water and avert more serious humanitarian problems for residents in the area.


The World Food Programme (WFP) says it has reached families trapped in Yemen’s Durayhimi City with much‑needed humanitarian assistance.  This is only the second time in over a year that WFP has been able to reach the town, which lies about 20 km south of Hudaydah.  While most of the city’s residents have fled, some 200 civilians remain and are now highly vulnerable as fighting rages around them.  There are no functioning health facilities and shops are bare.  Finding enough to eat is a struggle.  Last week, WFP and sister UN agencies distributed a three‑month supply of food, as well as nutrition supplements, water, medicine, and hygiene kits.  More details online.


I was asked earlier today about Bolivia, and I can say that we are closely following the developments in Bolivia and are concerned about the reports of incidents of violence following the elections.  In this phase of the electoral process, we urge all political leaders and their followers to reduce tension, abstain from acts of violence and follow legal means for electoral dispute resolution.  We call on all Bolivians to exercise restraint and maintain the commendable civic spirit demonstrated by participating in these elections.

**Political Affairs

And the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, will travel to the South Caucasus region from 24 to 30 October in connection with the eighteenth Summit of the Non‑Aligned Movement and to pay working visits to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.  We have a note to correspondents going out shortly with more details.

**South Sudan

David Beasley, the Head of the World Food Programme (WFP), wrapped up a two‑day visit to Sudan today.  There, he met with leaders of the new Government, noting after his meeting with Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok that WFP is ready to support the Government and people during this historic moment.  Mr. Beasley also travelled to Kosti, where he saw three WFP‑contracted barges carrying humanitarian food aid, enough for 370,000 people for one month.  And the resumption of river transport down the Nile to South Sudan was made possible by collaboration between the two governments and a reconciliation by all parties that the transport of humanitarian assistance is vital to conflict-affected civilians in South Sudan.  More information online.


And, Mohamed ibn Chambas, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), reiterated the UN’s commitment to supporting the region.  In remarks delivered in Senegal, at the Ninth meeting of the Steering Committee of the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, Mr. Chambas said that the success of the UN’s intervention in the region relies on the partnerships we build along the way and as we coordinate our efforts, internally and externally.  The meeting’s objective was to review the current initiatives and also to explore ways to strengthen the implementation of the UN strategy to address the growing complexity of the situation in the Sahel.  UN agencies who were also at the meeting raised the many challenges facing humanitarian response, in particular constraints to humanitarian access and protection.  They also stressed the need to ensure that resources are mobilized in a timely manner to assist governments of the region to address the security and development challenges they face.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

And today, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says lack of funding threatens lifesaving humanitarian programmes for millions of children living in an area affected by conflict and disaster.  To date, UNICEF has received only about half of the $4 billion needed to meet the basic health, education, nutrition and protection needs of 41 million children in 59 countries.  Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said that while they continue to appeal for an end to conflicts and better readiness to emergencies, they need additional donor support to meet children’s most basic needs.  The emergencies with the largest funding gaps include Pakistan, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Venezuela.  Large‑scale emergencies in Syria and neighbouring countries, [including] Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bangladesh also remain significantly underfunded.

**Press Briefings

A couple of press briefings to flag for you.  At 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and that person is Javaid Rehman.  And at 2 p.m.  tomorrow, there will be a briefing by the Chair of the Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee.  And on that note, I turn it over to you.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about the deteriorating situation in Guinea, where there have been more than ten dead and others sentenced to various prison terms?

Spokesman:  Yes, we've expressed our concern about the situation, and I know our colleague, Mr. Chambas, the head of [UNOWAS], was in Guinea recently.  Sherwin?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I notice you didn't mention any new additions to the honours roll.  Could you just give us an update of where we are?

Spokesman:  No new funds given in full, besides the ones from the Seychelles that we announced yesterday.  We are continuing to work with Member States to ensure as many payments come in before the end of the year.

Question:  And just to clarify, the United States, what's the engagement like there?

Spokesman:  There have been positive discussions, and a number of Member States have given partial payments.

Question:  Has the United States paid partially?

Spokesman:  That's as much as I can say at this point.

Question:  But you just said partially, so can you clarify what you mean…?

Spokesman:  No, no, that's as much as I can… I understand.  That's as much as I can tell you at this point.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a follow‑up on Bolivia.  The European Union and the OAS [Organization of American States] have made calls to the electoral authority in Bolivia to guarantee the transparency of the process, especially because there's been questioning on whatever happened with the count of the results.  So, I wonder whether or not the SG has any comment or message especially to these electoral entities, especially since the result of the election is heavily questioned right now.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we've seen the statements… the preliminary statements that were published by the electoral authority, as well as the statements issued by the various observer missions.  From the UN part, we were not involved in the electoral process in Bolivia, so we're not able to comment on the specificity of those issues.  But, as a general rule, whenever there are elections, I think, it is very important that any concerns with electoral results be addressed through established constitutional means.  Señora?

Question:  Thank you.  Because right now the situation is heavily polarised in Bolivia, would the United Nations and the field office might be in contact with the Government of President Evo Morales, or would the parties that are protesting?  We know that some other people have vandalised some of the statues, and they were fighting between supporters and one candidate and the other.  Will the United Nations will be willing to get involved?

Spokesman:  You know, first of all, we've been… we've seen the violence, and we're concerned about the acts of violence.  And I think any act… people should refrain from acts of violence.  What is also… you know, the Government of Mr.  Morales is the counterpart to the UN system.  I'm sure our colleagues on the ground are in touch with their own counterparts within the Government.  The UN always stands ready to help should various parties request that help.  That's a matter of principle.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Lebanon's Prime Minister is seeking international support for economic reforms.  Has… have any of the UN agencies been contacted?  And what… what's the Secretary‑General's view on this?

Spokesman:  I can't speak to the parts of the UN system that deal with financial issues, which is IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank.  We in the person of Ján Kubiš, the Secretary‑General's representative in Lebanon, continues to work with the Government as well as with international partners to try to address some of the pressing issues, including the economic situation.  Mr. Kubiš has met with the Prime Minister as well as other… and I know other international representatives has.  He's also met with the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, and so those contacts are continuing.  Betul and then…

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Do you have an update on the UN investigation into the allegations of chemical weapons used in Syria following Turkey's operation?  And, also, the German Defence Minister suggested an internationally controlled security zone in Syria, and what do you have to say on that?

Spokesman:  Look, on the chemical weapons investigation, that's a question to be asked of our colleagues at the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in The Hague.  They would be the ones handling it.  You know, we've seen these reports.  I… we haven't seen the details.  Obviously, whether it's security zones, safe zones, there are all sorts of issues that need [to be] taken into consideration.  For… from the UN's part, historically, if you have a safe zone, you need to have… you have to make sure it does not impact people's ability to move; it doesn't impact the ability of people to seek asylum and that refugees, as a matter of principle, should only go back in a way that is safe, voluntary, and in dignity.  But those are just basic principles that we've had.  Linda, then Nabil.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Going back to the money issue, there are… I guess there are about 60 countries that have not paid yet.  I was just wondering, is this the highest number of countries that have paid so late?

Spokesman:  It's a very good question, and I knew that… I… we have to check… because there are two issues.  There's, obviously, the number of countries, and there's the countries themselves, because not every country pays the same share.  So, you could have a situation where a high number of countries have paid in full, but the countries that have not paid are some of the biggest… haven't paid in full are some of the biggest donors.  I need to… we'll try to get you that ratio soon after the briefing.  And, yes, go ahead.

Question:  Just to follow up quickly, and I know this is probably not realistic, but has there been any talk of perhaps charging late fees to countries?  You know, like you have on a credit card?

Spokesman:  I don't… maybe you can hire a collection agency.  That would be something… you know, collecting, that would be something for the Member States themselves to decide.  What… you know, one of the structural issues, obviously, is the UN… the Secretariat is not allowed to borrow money.  So, unlike, you know, governments themselves, we are not… we do not have access to the international market where we could borrow some money.  Carla, and then we'll go to the back.  Yeah, sorry.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General said anything about the… the… what appears now to be the global rioting against austerity measures from Chile to Lebanon to… Joe said he came back from Barcelona, and it just blew up the next day.

Spokesman:  Who came back from Barcelona?

Correspondent:  My colleague here.

Spokesman:  Oh.  Now we know some of the root causes, yes.

Correspondent:  And I know that the Secretary… sorry about that.  I know that the Secretary‑General is always for peaceful resolution of disputes, but if the living standards of people are so deteriorated because of these austerity measures, which are usually increasing in quality, people erupt.

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean… He… the Secretary‑General, I think, in some off‑the‑cuff comments he made over the weekend at the IMF/World Bank meeting, noted some of the pressures some austerity measures have created.  You know, there is… we are seeing demonstrations in different places.  Some of them have been sparked by different things, but there are some commonalities, notably, people feeling that they're under extreme financial pressure, the issue of inequality, and a lot of other structural issues that governments… and, clearly, governments need to listen to their people and address their needs.  Nabil?

Question:  Yeah.  Back to Lebanon, please.  So, what's the main message Mr. Kubiš is delivering in his meetings with the Lebanese officials?

Spokesman:  Well, the main message is really to see how the international community can help Lebanon, to reiterate that the UN stands ready to do so, and that the stability of Lebanon is, obviously, clear… very important for the region.

Question:  And a follow‑up.  Obviously, the Government has not met the demands of the people in the streets in Lebanon.  Did Mr. Kubiš or does the SG have anything to say about that?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, I… you know, we've seen that the Government has issued some… ruled on some changes, and we've seen the demonstrations are continuing.  You know, one of the things that Mr. Kubiš has said to Mr. Berri and to other political leaders he's met is the importance of listening to the Lebanese people and their legitimate demands and their demands for change.  And, so, it's an issue of governments really throughout the world listening to their people.  You want to go… go ahead.  Let's… one last.

Question:  One more.  Ethiopia and Egypt, we see that the tension between the two countries is rising.  Is the SG doing anything to address the tension between those countries…?

Spokesman:  Let me check on Egypt and Ethiopia.  I don't have anything… Iftikhar, you've been very patient.  You've all been very patient.

Question:  In your intro, you spoke about the funding cuts, which are affecting the humanitarian programmes of UNICEF.  Is that the reason why UNICEF has not undertaken any humanitarian work in Indian‑controlled Kashmir, where… which has been under lockdown for three months now?

Spokesman:  No, what UNICEF has flagged is the underfunding gap of its programmes in Pakistan.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  My question regards the African Union.  Last Friday, the African Union abruptly terminated the appointment of Arikana Chihombori‑Quao as its ambassador for the United States.  This caused an uproar in the African Diaspora.  Many African leaders, such Jerry Rawlings, a former president of Ghana, they're calling for the African Union to reinstate her.  And, meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary‑General is in Ethiopia, the capital Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union.  Is she or the Secretary‑General going to address this situation?

Spokesman:  No, that's an iss… I mean, who the African Union chooses to have represent itself, whether it's at the United Nations or the United States, is an issue for them, and it's not one for us to get involved.  Madame?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just coming back, very quickly, to the budget, the comptroller explained us last week that some countries that paid their usual contribution but not the augmentation of their contribution, such as China for 130 millions or Korea, dozens of millions.  Has the UN been in touch with these countries as well?

Spokesman:  We've been… no, listen we've been in touch with every country, I think, that has not yet paid, and those who have paid, we've been in touch with them to thank them.  What Chandra [Ramanathan] was referring to is, I think, the fact… he was trying to explain some of the issues that have been raised.  One of the problems was, some countries have… had had their assessment increased, but by the time that went into place, the budget… their own national budgets had not taken that into account.  So, you know, countries are explaining to us different reasons for a late payment.  We are, obviously, listening and trying to work with them.

Question:  [Inaudible] sorry.  Yes.  But I… I have a follow‑up to my question, is… does the UNICEF have a programme of humanitarian work in Indian‑controlled Kashmir?

Spokesman:  It's a good question.  I think that's a question you need to reach out to UNICEF here.  I'm sure they'll be happy to answer.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  Steph, the ceasefire in Syria/Turkey region is going to end today at 10 p.m. local time.  Is any concerns of the rise of tensions again?  We understand that the Government of [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan says that, if the Kurdish don't move, they will continue their offensive.  And the other part is, is the United Nations worried about the Da’esh fighters who are still under the custody of the Kurds and the possibility of the Kurds not being able to continue… 

Spokesman:  Of course, I think that's a concern for the international community as a whole.  And the… sorry.  Your first question — listen, we've seen statements from various quarters.  I think what is important for us and the focus for us is that there is no resumption of the fighting, right, because we can only imagine the toll that will take on civilian population which — I mean, we run out of words.  To say they’ve suffered enough sounds empty but — civilian population which has not stopped from moving, from being displaced from one place to another.  We talk about these numbers, 160, 170,000, 175,000.  It's 175,000 stories.  Right?  It's 175,000 human beings, who some of them have been displaced with their families once, twice, three times with this same region, so we can only imagine what a resurgence of the fighting would do.

Question:  Just to clarify, are you asking for the ceasefire to be maintained?

Spokesman:  We would like… we would not want to see a resumption of the fighting.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes.  First of all, for the record, I returned from Barcelona the day before the riots.

Spokesman:  I try… Joe, I think you're smarter than… you're a smart man.  I'm sure you left things behind.

Question:  Be that as it may, just on the comment you made about the UN not being able to go into the financial markets to borrow money, has the Secretary‑General proposed a change in that policy at least to obtain bridge financing on a short‑term basis?  And, if so, what would be… what would be necessary to make that change?

Spokesman:  It would be… that change would have to come from the Member States.  It's, obviously… this is a discussion that has been had with Member States for quite some years, but that would demand a decision by Member States.

Question:  A follow‑up on Syria, Steph.  I know you guys are not officially monitoring the ceasefire on the ground.  Part of the agreement was the full withdrawal of the SDF from that area.  Do you have any confirmation of the withdrawal?

Spokesman:  No, we do not.  No.  Okay.  Thank you.  See you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.