28 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.

**Security Council

Good afternoon, everyone.  Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council by videoconference on the Israeli-Palestinian situation and said the past month has witnessed the continuing deterioration of the situation on the ground.  With no prospect of final status negotiations on the horizon, he said, facts on the ground continue to deteriorate, pushing us ever further from a viable two‑State solution.

Mr. Mladenov warned that violence continues to be a major part of the day‑to‑day reality of the conflict.  However, he added, in recent weeks we have seen a welcome reduction of violence in Gaza and the launching of rockets and the agreements for calm brokered by the UN and Egypt continue to hold.  Despite the overall improvement, he said, three Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces, and over 500 injured during protests at the Gaza perimeter fence.

The Special Coordinator told the Security Council that we can no longer continue to address Gaza’s critical needs on a month‑to‑month basis, while failing to confront the broader political reality including the stiffening closures, violence and lack of unity.  Similarly, he said, we also can no longer disregard the cracks emerging in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  Settlement construction and expansion continues, the Palestinian Authority financial crisis is not fully resolved, and the economy continues to stagnate.


Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to the press in Geneva today, and he noted that as he was speaking, 150 members of the Constitutional Committee are arriving in Geneva.

He said that the Constitutional Committee talks will begin on Wednesday and added that the agreement to establish the Constitutional Committee marks the first political agreement between the Government of Syria and the opposition.

He said that the Constitutional Committee commits the Government and the opposition and their nominees to sit together face‑to‑face in dialogue and negotiations and also creates spaces for the voices of civil society to be heard.  And it could be a door‑opener to a broader political process.

Mr. Pedersen stressed, however, that the Constitutional Committee alone cannot and will not resolve the Syrian conflict.  For that, he said, concrete and tangible progress is needed on other aspects of Security Council resolution 2254, as well as meaningful progress on the ground.

And the UN remains deeply concerned for the safety and protection of hundreds of thousands of civilians in north‑east Syria following reports of sporadic fighting.

Some 106,000 people remain displaced of the over 180,000 previously reported.

The UN continues to call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and reiterates that the only sustainable solution to the conflict is a UN‑facilitated political, negotiated solution among all parties which respects Syria’s unity and territorial integrity; the legitimate concerns of neighbouring countries; and the diversity of the Syrian population.

The UN continues to call for an immediate de‑escalation and urges all parties to resolve their concerns through peaceful means.


Over the weekend, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert, deeply regretted and condemned the further loss of life and injuries in Iraq and strongly denounced the destruction of public and private property.

She also expressed grave concerns about armed entities seeking to hinder Iraq’s stability and unity, undermining the people’s right to peaceful assembly and their legitimate demands.

The Special Representative reiterated that implementing the many measures announced by the Government in recent weeks will take time.  A constructive dialogue on the way forward is in the interest of all, she said.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, was in Sudan this weekend to meet with the authorities, including the Prime Minister and senior women Government officials.

Earlier today, Ms. Mohammed also travelled to Darfur.

At the conclusion of her visit to the country, she tweeted that the UN and partners stand ready to respond to Prime Minister [Abdalla] Hamdok’s call to join Sudan as the country comes together to “rebuild and restore the values of human coexistence and social cohesion” for peace and development.  To succeed, she added, women’s leadership will be critical, today and tomorrow.

Her trip to Sudan came on the heels of a one‑week solidarity mission with the African Union to highlight issues linked to Women, peace and security in the horn of Africa.  That mission took her to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea.

The Deputy Secretary‑General is expected back in New York tomorrow.


And now turning to Mali.  We have learned with sadness that over the weekend, a UN peacekeeper from Togo has succumbed to injuries he sustained on 6 October, in Bandiagara (in the Mopti region), when the MINUSMA (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali) temporary base was attacked by unidentified assailants.

He was seriously injured in the attack and evacuated to a hospital in Dakar, where he received medical treatment.

We extend our deepest condolences to his family, the Government and the people of Togo.


The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Somalia, James Swan, met yesterday with President Said Abdullahi Deni and members of his cabinet in Garowe, the capital of Puntland state.

Mr. Swan said the visit was another welcome opportunity for him to hear first‑hand from Puntland’s leadership about the progress being made with its ambitious agenda.

He congratulated Puntland’s leaders for the recent successful investment conference and the start of the Ethiopian Airlines flights to Garowe, noting that these developments were positive signals of economic revival in Puntland.  More on his visit online.

**Somalia/South Sudan

Also, on Somalia, seasonal rains have started early in many parts of the country and have led to flooding in the states of Hirshabelle, Jubaland and the South West.

Over 180,000 people are estimated to have been displaced thus far.  Farmland, infrastructure and roads have been destroyed, and livelihoods disrupted in some of the worst‑hit areas.

South Sudan is also affected by severe seasonal flooding that has devastated large areas of the country since July.  An estimated 900,000 people are affected, including internally displaced people, refugees and their host communities.  The rains are likely to continue for another four to six weeks and will put more people at risk.

The heavy rains have hit areas that were already facing high humanitarian needs.  Considerable damages to crops, arable land and livestock are anticipated.

In both countries, humanitarian partners are working to scale up their response capacity.


To support the Government of Zambia, the UN and humanitarian partners have launched a seven‑month Humanitarian Response Plan to address rising humanitarian needs triggered by the poorest rainfall season since 1981 in the southern part of the country.

More than 2.4 million people, out of a total population of some 17 million, are expected to be severely food insecure during the lean season, which goes from October to March 2020, with at least 430,000 people in emergency levels.

In response to this crisis, the UN and international NGOs (non‑governmental organizations) are seeking $89.5 million to provide immediate humanitarian assistance and early recovery support for 2.3 million people for seven months.  The main portion of this plan is for food assistance.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they are deeply concerned by the impact of stepped up fighting in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where civilians have been caught up in an escalation of fighting between the Myanmar Military and the Arakan Army in Rathadaung Township in recent days.  Human rights violations and abuses continue to be reported.

Some 32,000 people remain displaced in Rakhine and Chin states, and this is in addition to the 128,000 internally displaced people — mostly Rohingya — who remain in camps in Rakhine state, many for more than seven years.

Insecurity and access restrictions across much of Rakhine State are impeding humanitarian organizations to assess and respond to the needs of affected people.

The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate timely access to people in need.  The Humanitarian Response Plan for this year seeks $214.4 million to assist some 1 million people in need in Myanmar.  That Plan is 78.5 per cent funded so far.

For her part, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has repeatedly expressed her concern over how the clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar Military have exacerbated the precarious situation in Rakhine, one of the nation’s poorest regions.

**Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants

The international solidarity conference on the Venezuelan refugee and migrant crisis started today in Brussels.

Co‑hosted by the European Union, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), this conference aims to mobilize support and to demonstrate solidarity of the international community to the affected host countries.

It is estimated that, so far, approximately 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled as a result of the political turmoil, socioeconomic instability and humanitarian crisis in their country.

The international community is actively involved in supporting the host countries bearing the burden of the refugee and migrant crisis.


On Friday afternoon, we issued the announcement that the Secretary‑General has appointed David McLachlan‑Karr of Australia as his Deputy Special Representative in the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUSCO.  He will also serve as UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the DRC.  His bio is online.

**World Day for Audio-Visual Heritage

Yesterday was World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.  The General Conference of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) approved the commemoration of this observance in 2005 as a mechanism to raise general awareness of the need to preserve and safeguard important audiovisual material for coming generations, and for urgent measures to be taken to conserve this heritage and ensure it remains accessible to the public — now and in the future.

In a special message to the World Radiocommunication Conference that is taking place in Sharm el‑Sheikh, in Egypt, the Secretary‑General highlighted how radiocommunication technology has transformed information sharing, revolutionized industries, saved lives and advanced development.

He pointed out that technologies such as 5G, high‑altitude platform stations and satellite communications offer great promise to help close the digital divide and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

**Press Briefing

And tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be press briefing by the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, who will brief you on the Court’s role and jurisdiction, its latest activities, and an overview of its current caseload.

That is it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the United Na… States’ announcement about the death of the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al‑Baghdadi?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we’ve taken note of the announcement by the President of the United States on the death of Abu Bakr al‑Baghdadi, the leader of the UN‑designated terrorist group Da’esh.  Da’esh has committed heinous crimes and brought tragedy and death to thousands of men, women and children.  And we should take this moment to remember the victims and families of victims of terrorism everywhere in the world.  Yes, Mr. Sato?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Farhan.  [Inaudible] Secretary‑General expressed…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I can’t quite hear the microphone.  Maybe try again.

Question:  Hello?  Can you hear?  Okay.  Thank you.  So, like you said that the situation in Iraq, so, like Secretary‑General expressed concern last week, the demonstrations all over the world is very concerning, especially Iraq, the… causing the more… many more deaths, like you said.  So, what is UN able to do for alleviate the situation on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ve seen that Ms. Hennis‑Plasschaert spoke out over the weekend about the situation and she and her colleagues in the UN Mission, UNAMI, are working with authorities to see what can be done to calm down the situation.

For the Secretary‑General’s part, I can say that he deeply regrets the terrible loss of life and injuries over the past days in Iraq and expresses his deep condolences to the victims and their families.

The Secretary‑General reiterates his appeal for non‑violence and for restraint by the authorities and other actors involved, in full accordance with international standards.  He urges the Government of Iraq to investigate all incidents thoroughly and transparently and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice without delay.

Yes, Joe?

Question:  First a follow‑up to Edie’s question, you said that the Secretary‑General took note of the successful US special ops operation resulting in the death of al‑Baghdadi.  It’s a rather peculiar phrase.  I mean, wouldn’t he commend and… you know, the operation and the result and see it as a positive?  So, that’s my first question, and that’s a follow‑up.

Second question has to do with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) whose mandate is up for renewal, I guess, later on this autumn, by the General Assembly.  Could you give us a current status report on the internal investigation of the alleged corruption at the top of UNRWA’s management?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  On your second question, the report is still being worked on.  We don’t have any results to share with you, but it is being done as expeditiously as possible.

Regarding the choice of verb, the basic point is that, yes, this is one of the events that we’ve taken note of.  We’ve made very clear that any progress against Da’esh is to be welcomed.  The Secretary‑General and the many branches of the UN, including our offices dealing with political affairs, with counterterrorism and others, have repeatedly urged all Member States to work together in the fight against Da’esh, and any progress against them is to be commended.

Yes, Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  UN Rapporteur Agnès Callamard said that she was expecting the Secretary‑General to take a stand on the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and she said she was disappointed that the Secretary‑General did not take the opportunity she provided with the report she had prepared.  She also says that she’s not asking for the establishment of an international tribunal but a Panel of Experts, and she says she believes that the Secretary‑General doesn’t need a mandate to form a Panel of Experts.  What is your response to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe we’ve said this many times over the past year, but our view is that, in fact, such a mandate is needed, and we have repeatedly tried to see whether any Member States would try to provide that.  As you know, there are different bodies of Member States that could create a mandate for such an inquiry, and they have not done so.  Yes, Abdelhamid, did you have…?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Farhan.  My first question is that the Palestinian Authority closed down 59 web accounts, and it was mentioned by Mladenov.  Did the SG or any of his representatives speak with the PA about the closing of these 59 web accounts?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Mladenov is our envoy on the ground who deals with the Palestinian Authority the most, and he did mention his concerns, and those are shared by the Secretary‑General.  But, yes, Mr. Mladenov is the one who’s in dialogue on this.

Question:  But did he talk to them?  Did he ask them to reconsider their decision or just took note of it, as you just always say, we took note?  Taking note means nothing.

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously, we want to make sure that all avenues to freedom of expression are kept open, and that is something that we have conveyed on the ground, as well.

Question:  The second thing, Mr. Mladenov mentioned about the attacks of the settlers, and he used the word “incidents.”  Is that kind of trying to beautify an ugly action of those extremists?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Why he use the word “incidents”?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, no.  I mean, the words we choose are the words we choose, you know, as with “taking note” and so forth.  I know that you sometimes object to how we choose the words we go about, but this is a diplomatic organization, and we choose words with care.  That doesn’t lessen the amount of concern we have about these acts, which were reported to the Security Council today.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Farhan, a follow‑up on the issue of the statement that the Secretary‑General issued and read on Friday.  As a matter of fact, the statement does not actually reflect the situation on the ground in so many countries.  He expressed concern, but he did not condemn any of the killing of civilians in Iraq and in so many different countries.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in part, because he was trying to talk about the overall phenomenon in country after country.  So, it was essentially a wide‑ranging statement applying to several different circumstances.  Each circumstance is different.  But, obviously, in country after country, the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest has to be protected by all institutions.  And, in all of cases, if civilians are killed, of course, that’s to be condemned across the board.  Alan…?

Correspondent:  No, I have a follow‑up.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  But you are saying, of course, to be condemned, but he didn’t do that.  I mean, it’s not that… there were so many people killed in the last month at least, whether in Gaza, whether in Iraq, in different countries, and yet what we hear from him… and when he even made press conference, it was a stakeout.  It wasn’t even a press conference where people… where journalists can ask him more.  And he’s almost absent in his statement.  Some statements come two days or three days after things on the ground happening.  So, there is not enough reaction from his side compared to what’s happening in so many countries of the world.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m sorry you feel that we don’t have an appropriate and timely response.  That is what he is trying for.  That is, in fact, why he came before the press on Friday.  He did so in full knowledge both that he could speak at length about what he thinks is a phenomenon happening in many different countries and many different regions in the world, and he fully expected to take questions about the specific situations, and he took several of those.  And, so, he’s trying to express his concerns.  Obviously, they vary from country to country because each circumstance is different.  But, in all of them, in all of them, he wants to make sure that people’s basic rights are protected, and that includes the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and peaceful protest.

Correspondent:  I have a question on northern Syria.

Deputy Spokesman:  Can we go around and then come back to you?

Correspondent:  Okay.  Sure.  Sure.

Deputy Spokesman:  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Regarding the al‑Baghdadi elimination question, does the Secretary‑General believe that the statement of the United States is, I mean, quite reliable?  Doesn’t this information has to be checked, double‑checked?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we cannot personally verify the accuracy of this.  We trust the reliability of the various sources of information that have been speaking up, but, obviously, any sort of information would need to be verified by the various authorities on the ground.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Last week, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories asked for the speedy release of the list of businesses, companies, doing business in the… in Israeli settlements, and I wondered what the status was of that list.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is considering that issue.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  On northern Syria, do you have any information regarding ISIS fighters and their families and their… what’s the update on this issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we… again, we don’t have first‑hand reporting on the activities of Da’esh in north‑eastern Syria.  I mean, we know about the overall displacement of people, and we’ve expressed our concerns in terms of the situation in places like Al‑Hol camp, where they had been known to be.  But we don’t have an ability to talk at any great length about the numbers of Da’esh people who are going from one place to another.

Question:  But do you have any information regarding whether there is an agreement and the details of agreements between the Turks and the Russians and other parties?  Were you informed?  Are you… about this, regarding the two camps with families of fighters and the fighters in the other camp in northern Syria?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Those are not agreements that were reached with or through the United Nations.  Of course, we would have concerns to make sure that all the people in locations like Al‑Hol are kept safe.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  You talked about the humanitarian food situation in southern African region from the drought, one of its worst droughts its ever faced, and also SADC (Southern African Development Community) released a statement today where they are saying that, currently, the whole region… well, some parts — Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, specifically — are experiencing a heat wave right now and that they’re expecting temperatures to escalate into the current agricultural seasons.  So, I wanted to find out from you, besides raising or trying to raise money or funds to help with the humanitarian assistance effort… food assistance efforts, is the UN and is some of its agencies working directly with the farmers on programmes to try and equip them to maybe plant their crops in light of these climatic changes?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there are UN entities, including specifically the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that does try to provide that sort of technical expertise, so they would be doing that.  And, of course, the added factor is that the presence of these hot, dry conditions is another testament to the need to do more to counter the effects of climate change.  Yes, Betul, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A follow‑up on the foreign ISIS fighters.  Does the UN think that the issue of the foreign ISIS fighters should be a matter for only Iraqis and Syrians, or does Secretary‑General… does the Secretary‑General believe that the… those fighters should be repatriated… should be returned to their countries of origin and put on trial?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Security Council has adopted resolutions concerning specifically the foreign fighters belonging… you know, the foreign terrorist fighters belonging to Da’esh, and so we want to make sure that the Security Council resolutions are fully complied with.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you again.  There was a meeting of the Non‑Aligned Movement in Baku, Azerbaijan.  Correct me if I’m wrong; the SG did not go there, did not give a speech in this meeting.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Which is normally he does.  Why he didn’t go and participate in the Non‑Aligned Movement conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, his schedule, as you know, is quite busy, and he has been going from place to place.  I’ll see… I believe we sent a representative, but I’ll check who attended in his place.  (He later added that Under‑Secretary‑General Rosemary DiCarlo represented the UN in Azerbaijan.)

Question:  The second thing, there is tension developing between Egypt and Ethiopia now, and according to his policy of preventive diplomacy, did he take any initiative to talk to the parties, try to calm things and find some middle ground to discuss the crisis?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on that, I think we’ve made clear our concerns about the situation at the Renaissance Dam, and what I can say is we’ve been following the developments regarding negotiations over the Great Renaissance Dam very closely.  The UN stands ready to support any process that would lead to a mutually agreeable solution to all parties involved — Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan — should the parties seek UN assistance.

And, with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.