23 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.  In a statement today, the Secretary‑General said that worldwide, the number of internally displaced persons has continued to grow in recent years, with more than 41 million uprooted by the end of 2018 as a result of armed conflict and violence.  Millions more become internally displaced every year due to natural disasters.  He added that internally displaced persons are among the most vulnerable and face a variety of risks to their lives, health and well‑being.

For this reason, the Secretary‑General has announced today the establishment of a High‑Level Panel on Internal Displacement to focus on finding solutions to internal displacement situations and alleviating the impact on millions of affected people.  The High‑Level Panel will work to increase global attention on and support for displaced persons, while developing concrete recommendations for Member States, the United Nations system and other relevant stakeholders to improve the approach and response to the issue, with a particular focus on durable solutions.  The Secretary‑General will announce the composition of the High‑Level Panel shortly.  He expects the Panel to begin its deliberations in early 2020 and to submit recommendations to him within a year of its first meeting.  The full statement is online.

**United Kingdom

In a tweet sent out just now, the Secretary‑General said he is horrified and deeply saddened by the discovery of 39 bodies in a lorry in the United Kingdom.  He offered his deepest condolences to all who have lost family and loved ones.  Those responsible must be swiftly brought to justice, he said.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, was in Somalia today on the third day of her joint UN/African Union solidarity mission on women, peace and security in the Horn of Africa.  Ms. Mohammed met with Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre, Government officials as well as civil society and a group of women civil society leaders.  They discussed elections, peace, security, and women’s meaningful participation.  The Deputy Secretary‑General said she is filled with a sense of optimism for the future of this country.  The UN is committed to supporting efforts to sustainable development, inclusive peace and gender equality.


The International Support Group for Lebanon, including UN Special Coordinator Ján Kubiš, met yesterday with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and afterwards issued a joint statement.  In the statement, the International Support Group says that Prime Minister Hariri informed the Ambassadors about the series of long‑overdue measures taken yesterday by the Government.

Members of the International Support Group expressed its support for the reform objectives Prime Minister Hariri has outlined, and the decisions endorsed by the Cabinet, which are in line with aspirations of the Lebanese people.  They applaud the democratic expression of the Lebanese people, and their calls for just, socially responsible, and acceptable deep reforms and changes that should substantially reduce corruption and waste and move away from sectarianism, ensure good governance and full accountability, and lead to sustainable development and stability.  Their grievances must be addressed.  Members of the International Support Group urge the leaders and political actors of Lebanon to hear the voices of the people, to work with them on solutions and their implementation and to refrain from rhetoric and action that could inflame tensions and incite confrontation and violence.  The full statement is available online.


We continue to be concerned about civilians caught up in fighting in northeast Syria.  UN humanitarian workers report that almost 180,000 people have been displaced as a result of hostilities since the 9th of October.  With a reduction in fighting in some areas, an estimated 43,000 of those recently displaced have reportedly returned home in recent days.  With winter looming, the well‑being of an estimated 120,000 people in displacement camps, sites, collective shelters and informal settlements is a major concern.  The provision of humanitarian assistance for people in need in northeast Syria, particularly those in camps, remains a priority for the UN.

UN agencies and humanitarian partners are scaling up their response to meet the increased needs.  Food has been delivered to 256,000 people so far this month, with plans to deliver to 580,000 people before the end of the month.  Winter items have been distributed to 100,000 people.  Over 450,000 people have been reached with water, sanitation and hygiene support, and 10,000 people have been provided with health consultations.  A polio vaccination campaign is ongoing, having already reached over 70,000 children.  The UN continues to reiterate the need for all parties to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure remain protected and that humanitarians have safe, sustained and unimpeded access to those in need.


This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, will speak at the General Assembly.  She is expected to stress the need for greater action to address the root causes of violence and institutionalized discrimination against the backdrop of communal tensions and ethnic strife throughout the country.  The Special Envoy will also spotlight that it is high time for concrete steps and genuine political will in building an inclusive and vibrant democracy, which requires durable solutions based on a consultative and right‑based approach.


The Under‑Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, is in Nigeria for a three‑day visit.  He will represent the Secretary‑General at a ceremony to re‑open the UN house in the capital, Abuja, tomorrow, which is UN Day.  On 26 August 2011, 23 UN staff, contractors and visitors lost their lives and 60 people were injured in a car bombing at the entrance of the UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital.  This was the first attack against a UN facility in Nigeria and was claimed by Boko Haram.  During his visit, Mr. Lowcock will also meet with Government officials and humanitarian workers to discuss developments in northeast Nigeria.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that there has been flooding along the two major rivers in Somalia, affecting tens of thousands of people.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is working with local authorities and humanitarian partners to scale up the response and continues to monitor the situation.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, which seeks $1.08 billion to assist 3.4 million people in need, is 69 per cent funded.


Also experiencing flooding are Sudan and South Sudan, where some 40,000 people have been affected in Abyei.  The UN and our partners are assisting those in accessible areas with food and other items.  Some areas cannot be reached due to the flooding.  More than 360,000 people have been affected by flooding in Sudan this year, with over 45,000 homes destroyed.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for Sudan in 2019 seeks $1.1 billion to help 4.4 million people but is only 44 per cent funded so far.


Today, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Union announced that they’ll hold a high‑level International Conference next week to show solidarity with the millions of Venezuelans who have left the country.  The Conference will be held on 28 and 29 October in Brussels and will be hosted by Federica Mogherini, High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission; UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi; IOM Director General António Vitorino; and the UNHCR/IOM Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Eduardo Stein.  Ministers and high‑level officials from Latin America and the Caribbean and Members States of the European Union will attend together with UN agencies, international cooperation agencies, NGOs, private sector companies, civil society and development organizations, including international financial institutions.  More information can be found on UNHCR’s website.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association to promote access to medicines.  Full access to medicines is hampered by a variety of factors but two important barriers are high prices and regulatory issues, such as long lag times in bringing medicines to market, the Agency said.  The new agreement is an important step in WHO’s drive towards universal health coverage by underscoring the importance of generic and biosimilar medicines to increasing access to affordable, quality treatment.  More information is available online.

**World Food Programme

Today, the World Food Programme (WFP) and “Education Cannot Wait”, the first global, multi-lateral fund dedicated to education in emergencies, started a strategic partnership to ensure children and youth in emergencies do not miss out on the education opportunities that will shape their futures.  A memorandum of understanding was signed by both parties at WFP’s headquarters in Rome, to strengthen joint programming, and joint advocacy at a global level.  You can find more information on this partnership online.

**Press Briefings

And today at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here 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.  Then, tomorrow marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations.  My guest will be the Special Adviser on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the seventy‑fifth Anniversary, Fabrizio Hochschild, who will brief on the occasion.  Then at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk.  That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Maria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday, a meeting between Russia and Turkish president took place, and they came to a number of important agreements on north‑west Syria.  Do you have a comment on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  We are following the situation in north‑eastern Syria closely.  We’re aware of yesterday’s discussions between the Russian Federation and Turkey and Turkey’s announcement that, as they say, “at this stage, there’s no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present operation area”.  The Secretary‑General welcomes any effort to de‑escalate the situation and protect civilians, in line with the UN Charter and international humanitarian law.  Refugee returns must be voluntary, safe, dignified, and well informed.  The Secretary‑General 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.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This week we have been receiving several briefings about the human rights situation in different parts of the world, different countries.  We had Iran, DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), and this afternoon is going to be Myanmar.  How does the Secretary‑General see from universal perspective the state of human rights in the world nowadays?  And my second question, why, for example, in area such as the Middle East, which is infested with violations of human rights, why we don’t see Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia or the human rights situation in Egypt, which they both suffer severe attacks to the basic freedoms that’s guaranteed in the Universal Declaration?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on your second question, the appointment of human rights envoys and rapporteurs is something that is ultimately decided by the Human Rights Council, essentially in a dialogue with the UN human rights mechanisms.  But your question really should be for the members of the Human Rights Council to take up on that regard.  Regarding your first question, it’s clear that violations of human rights persist everywhere and are a matter of concern for us, and the Secretary‑General is concerned about that.  The difference is that, compared to past decades, there are more avenues to bring the issue in front of Member States and make sure that they examine the human rights violations around the world, including, through the Universal Periodic Review process, the human rights problems in their own respective countries.  So, we do have those mechanisms in place, and that’s our effort to try to improve the situation incrementally.  You have a follow‑up?

Question:  Follow‑up, please.  Taking the fact… with full respect to your statement, the fact of the Human Rights Council, that it’s having its membership… its 47 members, some of the world worse violators of human rights.  How can this be a balanced, unbiased, objective review when you have countries are exchanging favours, as we have seen over the years since the inception of the Human Rights Council? How can we guarantee the process is going to be fair for the people and not for governments?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s one of the long‑standing challenges of the UN system.  All of our bodies are Member State bodies.  The members of the General Assembly select who are the incoming members of the Security Council.  They also deal with elections… the Member States also deal with elections to the Human Rights Council.  We have tried to point out — and the Secretary‑General’s pointed out — that Member States have to take their responsibility carefully as they determine who is to be on the Human Rights Council.  At the same time, as I just mentioned, through the Universal Periodic Review, the members of the Human Rights Council themselves have to participate in reflection on what their own human rights records are and to improve those.  Yes?

Question:  To go back to the budget questions, I’m not sure exactly how to do the math here, but wouldn’t a short suspensing… suspension, let’s say, for a month, until everything being sorted out, short suspension of the Secretary‑General and the USG (Under‑Secretary‑General) salaries, be more cost effective than shutting down the escalators and making sure that those gates that usually are, we are told, very important for the security, keep them open?  I’m told that saves 5 cents a day.  Wouldn’t that be… I mean, isn’t the proportion… aren’t the proportions here a little skewed?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are certain things that are commitments of the UN.  We are committed to meet our payroll.  We’re committed to pay our contractors.  There’s no leeway that we have on that.  The UN has to make certain commitments, and as we’ve explained, we also cannot borrow against that.  So, within that, we have to see what things we can trim.  And I’m sorry that you have to use your poor, tired legs to the walk up stairs…

Correspondent:  No, that’s actually… that’s actually very good for the heart, and it’s a good exercise but… and I love that, by the way, but I’m talking about the money here.  You say, “We’re committed to payroll,” but there’s no commitment to not voluntarily forgo some payment for a short while until everything clears out and then we can pick up the tab.

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, the measures we have taken and the money that we’ve received have allowed us to actually meet our commitments on this.  If that changes, we would let you know whether we need to consider anything further.  But there are certain areas where we have more leeway and others where we have less, and so that is why we focus on the avenues that we focussed on.  Yes, please.  No.

Question:  Thank you.  Was that me?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, it is you.

Question:  Okay.  Thank you, Farhan.  We have seen so many developments in the past two weeks in Syria.  Just wondering why we haven’t heard anything from the UN Special Envoy for Syria.  And the second question, does the Secretary‑General have any plans to attend the meeting for the Constitutional Committee at the end of this month?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on the Secretary‑General, I don’t have any travel to announce.  We do expect in the coming days to be able to provide more details about the Constitutional Committee meeting, which, as Mr. [Geir] Pedersen has previously stated, he fully intends to begin on 30 October.  He has been working with the various parties to try and make sure that the meeting of the Constitutional Committee is on track.  That’s where he’s focussed his energies.  But to the extent that we’ve been saying things about the situation on the ground, that reflects not simply the Secretary‑General’s views but the views of his Special Envoy, Mr. Pedersen, as well.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Couple of questions.  Can the UN and sister agencies get humanitarian supplies into north‑east Syria or help those who have fled to Iraq?  Is there… is there enough personnel?  Are there enough ways to get in?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are.  I mean, there have been humanitarian challenges, but the statistics I read at the top part of the briefing show that we are getting aid in, whether in the form of food, water, vaccinations or other sorts.  And we’re working with partners on the ground.  Obviously, the fact that there’s been a halt to operations right now allows for greater freedom of movement for humanitarian workers, and we hope that that continues.

Question:  But… they have no place… one more question, please.  Aside from the fact they have no place to live, which is quite a challenge, I didn’t understand what this Venezuela conference was about in Brussels.  What’s the purpose of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  The purpose of that is essentially to… both to show solidarity with the Venezuelans who have left their country and see what can be done to improve the situation with the people who have been migrants and refugees to the other parts of the region.  Yes, please.  You had your hand up? Yeah.  Yeah, yeah, I think you had your hand up?

Correspondent:  I have no question…

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay then.  Then you.

Question:  Violence is being used against peaceful protesters in south Lebanon and particularly in the town of Nabatieh.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about this?  And do you call on Lebanese authorities to protect those peaceful protesters?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, we continue to urge all concerned in Lebanon to refrain from any activities that could lead to tensions or violence.  The UN continues to work with the Government of Lebanon and international partners to help address the pressing challenges in Lebanon, including the economic situation.  Yes?

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  All concerned? I mean, we have a situation, at least from what we can see in the coverage, of one side being extremely peaceful, singing, dancing, that kind of thing, and the other side using guns.  I mean, all sides?

Deputy Spokesman:  The language I have is that.  If there is any particular side that’s a problem, of course, we’ll… we can raise that as that progresses, but the basic point is we want to make sure that everyone avoids any actions that can lead to further tensions or violence.  Yes, please?

Question:  Do you have any update regarding any development regarding a meeting on Cyprus?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, there’s no news on Cyprus for today.

Question:  Do you have an idea what is taking so long?  Because the parties wanted to meet after the high‑level meeting. 

Deputy Spokesman:  No, Jane Holl Lute has been in touch with the various parties.  If we have an announcement, we’ll make it, but right now, she’s working with them.  And I believe the progress has been good, but we don’t have anything to announce just yet.  Yes?

Question:  Ethiopian Prime Minister talk about… Ethiopian Prime Minister was talking about war with Egypt over Renaissance Dam.  Do you have any comments on statement on the issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve said in the past that we hope that this will be worked out, but if there’s anything further to say on that, I’ll let you know.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.