Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

29 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.

We will get started now.

**Syria

On the eve of its launch, the Secretary-General today welcomed the unique opportunity provided by the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led Constitutional Committee that will be inaugurated tomorrow in Geneva with the UN’s facilitation.

For the first time, the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic and the opposition Syrian Negotiations Commission, along with civil society, will sit together and take the first step on the political path out of the tragedy of the Syrian conflict.  The Secretary-General is pleased that women’s representation on the Committee is very near 30 per cent — the UN has been steadfast to secure that minimum threshold.

He fully expects that the parties will work together in good faith towards a solution in line with resolution 2254 that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Syrians and is based on a strong commitment to the country’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.

The Constitutional Committee’s launch and work must be accompanied by concrete actions to build trust and confidence.  Meaningful engagement in the Constitutional Committee, accompanied by a cessation of hostilities across the country, will provide the Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, with an environment he requires to effectively discharge his mandate to facilitate a broader political process.

The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is holding meetings today in Geneva with the two co-chairs, and preparatory meetings separately with the Committee members from the Government, the Syrian Negotiations Commission and the Middle Third members.

The Special Envoy is also meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran as part of the series of meetings he has been holding with international stakeholders prior to the launch of the Constitutional Committee.

And also on Syria, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has so far provided emergency food assistance to more than 300,000 people in Syria following the recent military operations in the north-east.  Displaced people and families who are providing shelter to the displaced are among those being assisted.

WFP is also scaling up food assistance to reach as many as 58,000 vulnerable people in Hasakeh and Raqqa governorates, including many of those who were recently uprooted.

**Sadako Ogata

And the Secretary-General was deeply saddened by the death of Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, humanitarian and role model for people across the world.

Sadako Ogata set the standard for helping refugees: principled, compassionate, effective.  She was fearless in her advocacy for people, humanitarian action and political solutions.  As the first woman to serve as High Commissioner for Refugees, she was a pioneer in highlighting not only the impact of violence on women but the imperative of women’s involvement in solutions.  Her contributions continued long after her service as High Commissioner, in particular in articulating the concept of human security.

Sadako Ogata left a unique legacy and imprint on the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), as the Secretary-General witnessed upon assuming leadership of UNHCR a few years later.  Many millions of people enjoy better lives and opportunities thanks to her solidarity and skilful work on their behalf.  And the many people today who have been forcibly displaced from their countries and homes are better served because of her achievements.

The Secretary-General is grateful to have known Sadako Ogata as both colleague and friend, and he offers condolences to her family, to the people and Government of Japan, and to her many admirers around the world.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

On Thursday, the Secretary-General will be in Istanbul where he will meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

While in Istanbul, the Secretary-General will attend a meeting of his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation and will address the Istanbul Mediation Conference.  He will also visit the UN Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, which was established to support the capacity of these countries to build their science, technology and innovation to transform their economies, eradicate poverty and foster sustainable development.

On Saturday, he will depart for Bangkok, where he will be delivering remarks at the opening of the 10th ASEAN-UN Summit.  ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has shown the value of regional integration and shared approaches to local and global challenges, and the close cooperation between regional organizations and the United Nations remains more critical than ever.

While in Bangkok, the Secretary-General will also participate in the launch of the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue by the Thailand Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha.  He will also meet with regional leaders on the sidelines of the Summit.

He is expected back in New York on Monday.

**Lebanon

The Secretary-General has taken note of the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon.  He calls on all sides to maintain peace and avoid violence, and for security forces to show restraint and to protect civilians, including peaceful protesters.  We hope that a political solution would be found to preserve stability and peace in the country.

In light of today’s developments, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubiš, urges the security forces to maintain law and order, to take action against those that instigate violence, regardless of their party affiliation, and to protect demonstrating civilians, who need to maintain the peaceful character of their protests.

He reminds the political parties that they bear the full responsibility for the behaviour and action of their supporters and for controlling them, especially if they provoke clashes with peaceful protesters or security forces.

**Iraq

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, condemns in the strongest terms the rising number of deaths and injuries during the demonstrations engulfing many parts of Iraq.

The recent developments across many parts of Iraq, in particular in Karbala last night, are most alarming.  Witness reports indicate that live fire was used against demonstrators, causing high numbers of casualties.

“Violence is never the answer; the protection of life is the overriding imperative,” the Special Representative said.  “A national dialogue is urgently needed to find prompt, meaningful responses.  This vicious cycle of violence must end.”

The UN stands with the Iraqi people and is ready to assist in this dialogue, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert said.

**Central America

Turning to Central America: Subsistence farmers and some larger-scale farming operations, located in an area called the Dry Corridor, have lost as much as 50 to 75 per cent of their crops because of irregular weather conditions, including high temperatures, below average rain and long dry spells.

Our humanitarian colleagues are concerned that these significant losses may severely affect people’s access to food and increase the risk of malnutrition.

The region had a severe drought last year, and as a result it is the second year in a row that farmers experienced poor first season harvests.

Last year’s drought led to the loss of 280,000 hectares of beans and maize in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and affected food security for more than 2 million people.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open meeting today on the theme “Women, Peace and Security.”

In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, in the nearly two decades since the landmark resolution 1325 was adopted, women still face exclusion from so many peace and political processes.

He noted that peace agreements are still adopted without provisions considering the needs and priorities of women and girls.

The Secretary-General also pointed out that there is a growing number of armed groups for whom gender inequality is a strategic objective and misogyny part of their core ideology.

But despite this grim litany, he said we will not give up, stressing that this is an absolute priority for him.

Also speaking at the meeting was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, who stressed the importance of political will to demand women’s direct and meaningful participation in peace talks.

Both sets of remarks have been shared with you, and Ambassador Mona Juul, the President of ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), also issued a statement.

**Haiti

And we have an update on Haiti, where widespread protests in the past six weeks have limited the ability of our UN and humanitarian partners to deliver assistance for thousands of the most vulnerable Haitians.

The humanitarian community urges all parties to facilitate access to everyone affected by the crisis so that they can receive the assistance they need.

Despite the worrying security context, in recent days, the UN and humanitarian partners have delivered a one-month supply of fuel, drugs, medical supplies and oxygen tanks to 17 hospitals, providing health care to over 4.3 million people.

The fuel delivered will allow pumping stations to distribute drinking water to more than 400,000 people.

**Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants

The International Solidarity Conference on the Venezuelan Refugee and Migrant Crisis was held in Brussels yesterday and today sent a strong message of support to the Venezuelan refugees and migrants, as well as to their host countries and communities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Conference was co-chaired by the European Union, UNHCR and IOM (International Organization for Migration).  It reviewed best practices and achievements of host countries, confirmed international support for a regional and coordinated response, and called for a global and inclusive partnership, where solidarity and responsibility are shouldered by the entire international community but are also shared between public and private sectors.

More information on the outcomes of this Conference is available online.

**Appointment

I have a personnel appointment.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Ms. Damilola Ogunbiyi of Nigeria as his Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of United Nations-Energy.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the announcement by the Administrative Board of Sustainable Energy for All that Ms. Ogunbiyi has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All.

Ms. Ogunbiyi succeeds Rachel Kyte of the United Kingdom, and the Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to Ms. Kyte for her dedication and commitment to the United Nations, her achievements in accelerating universal energy access, and her leadership in advancing sustainable energy transition in the context of the Paris Agreement.

Ms. Ogunbiyi brings extensive leadership experience and a track record of supporting energy access in sub-Saharan Africa to these roles.  She was the first woman to be appointed as Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency.  And we have her bio.

**Financial Contribution

And for the budget, our thanks today go to Honduras, which has paid its regular budget dues in full.  The total number of fully paid-up Member States is now 134.

**Sexual Violence in Conflict

And tomorrow, at 10 a.m., in the ECOSOC Chamber, there will be an event to observe the 10th Anniversary of the Mandate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, created by Security Council resolution 1888.

This event aims to provide a critical opportunity to take stock of progress, challenges and change, and to set the stage for the next decade of concerted efforts to end conflict-related sexual violence.

Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence will also share their stories in the form of a “Survivors’ Hearing”.

Also tomorrow, at 1 p.m., in the Security Council stakeout, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten; the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Naledi Pandor; and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege will brief the media.

**Press Briefings

Following my briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Arthur Erken, Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  He will discuss the upcoming Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development, which is scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, from 12 to 14 November.

And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

**Questions and Answers

Are there any questions for me?  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today, we have witnessed attacks by thugs from Hizbullah and Amal Movement against the peaceful protesters in downtown Beirut, attacking also journalists, and I wonder whether you have anything to say about the… those attacks, violent attacks, against the peaceful protesters and against the journalists, and I have a follow‑up.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on this, as you know, both the Secretary‑General and Mr. Kubiš have made clear the need to protect civilians, including the protection of peaceful protesters.  They both emphasised this.  And Mr. Kubiš made clear… as I pointed out, he has reminded the political parties that they bear the responsibility for the behaviour and action of their supporters and for controlling them, especially if they provoke clashes with peaceful protesters or security forces.

Question:  But… can I follow up?  Why aren’t you addressing those thugs, condemning or express how the Secretary‑General and the United Nations is reacting to those attacks?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, I’ve made it clear, we’re fully opposed and strongly opposed to all attacks that impede the peaceful protests that are under way.  This is something the Secretary‑General has made clear, and as you know, he has pointed out in recent weeks the need to protect peaceful protesters in many countries in the world, including in Lebanon, as he has also specifically mentioned.  So, we have done that, and, as Mr. Kubiš has made clear, the political parties will bear full responsibility for what their supporters are doing, including these… including any such attacks.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Can I follow up, please?

Correspondent:  [inaudible] follow up…

Deputy Spokesman:  No, she also has a question on Lebanon.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Any reaction from the SG on the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri?

Deputy Spokesman:  You may have missed this, but I mentioned at the start that both the Secretary‑General and Mr. Kubiš had reacted.  And, again, one thing I would like to reiterate is the Secretary‑General calls on all sides to maintain peace and avoid violence, and for security forces to show restraint and to protect civilians, including peaceful protesters.  We hope that a political solution would be found to preserve stability and peace in the country.

Question:  Just another follow‑up.  Now that the… Mr. Hariri has submitted his resignation to the President of the Republic, what… in the view of the United Nations, what does Lebanon need, what kind of government, at this point?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t want to weigh in on this right now.  This is, of course, a sovereign process of the Government of Lebanon.  Our hope is that all the political forces in the country will continue to come together and ensure that peace and stability is maintained in Lebanon.  As for the resignation, I believe the process now goes to the presidency to determine the follow‑up steps.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Regarding the budget, how much more money has come in since you said recently that there was not enough money to pay the staff?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I’m aware that different countries have done various different partial payments.  I believe that, in recent weeks, we’ve received to the tune of $200 million, and that helps us to continue with the payroll for the coming month.  And we do have expectations of further partial payments coming in the next few weeks.  So that is a good sign, although we continue to be in the red financially, so we are still having to make sure that we can maintain all of our budgetary commitments.  But we are in touch…  As you’re aware, there are a number of key nations, about seven nations, that are accountable for the vast majority, about 97 per cent, of the dues we continue to be owed.  And we are in regular contact with them.  They have been very helpful about trying to proceed with payments in accordance with their own budgetary cycles, and we’ll see where we go with that.  Yes, again, Sylviane, and then you.

Correspondent:  Me?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, Sylviane first and then you.

Question:  Okay.  Is there any… regarding the demonstration in Lebanon, on their 13 days or 14 days now, is there any plan for the United Nations to step in to help in… or to facilitate the situation?  It seems nothing… we’re not going anywhere.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we will provide whatever role the Government and the parties would want us to play.  Mr. Kubiš is in touch with many of the different main players on the ground, and he is working with them to make sure that they will continue to maintain the stability that the country has enjoyed.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yes.  I was just wondering if you mentioned the countries that haven’t paid their dues?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, off the top of my head, they include the United States, Brazil, Venezuela, Iran, Argentina, Mexico.  There’s one I’m forgetting.  But, in any case, we are in contact with the countries, and they are continuing to provide partial payments.  Several of them have provided partial payments in recent weeks, and we are hopeful for a continuation of that.  Yes, please, Tarek?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  A follow‑up on the budget question.  Since Venezuela, Iran have already sanctions in place, how does the payment or the transfer of funds goes from these countries where they have restrictions on sending money abroad goes to the United Nations?  The second question…

Deputy Spokesman:  If I can answer your first question before we go to the second one; on this, yes, there are a series… there are alternative arrangements that need to be made for the countries that are facing sanctions, and we are in touch with them to make sure that there are, in fact, alternative ways of making sure that their payments can go through.

Question:  The second question is about the escalators.  When are they going to open the door at least so we can bypass the long… going around the cape to go to our offices and the press corps on the 3rd and 4th Floor?

Deputy Spokesman:  Unfortunately, our security colleagues inform us that, for security reasons, when the [escalators] are turned off, they cannot be used as stairs.  So we’ll have to wait for a point where we can once more turn them back on.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Continuing on the budget saga, you mentioned that there are about seven key countries that will be paying about 97 per cent of whatever’s due, which means that there are… about a quarter of the membership owes about 3 per cent.  So, I was just wondering, I believe that what makes this year different is that so many more countries… not the big ones, in general, small countries are late.  What kind of communication has there been with these small countries?  And have they given any explanation in terms of why they’re not paying and when they will?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we’re in touch with the smaller countries, as well.  And their payments are helpful, too.  I just announced one mere minutes ago from Honduras, which paid $50,000, which is their full payment for the year, and is appreciated.  But it’s a small step on the way towards helping us.  So we are in communications with them.  And, of course, for many of them, these are countries from the developing world.  So it’s clear that sometimes there are problems in terms of getting payments from them. But we do press them, as well, to make sure that they keep up with their commitments.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, is it 7 countries or 64  countries?  Last time I asked Stéphane for 4… the names of 4 countries which he hadn’t mentioned.  He mentioned 3.  And then, on my way out, one of my colleagues said to me, no, there was a list released that there were 64 countries who had not paid.

Deputy Spokesman:  There are [59] countries that have not paid.  My point is that 97 per cent of those arrears are from a small number of larger countries, but there [were] 64 countries.  Now, with one new payment, there’s [59], so our number has decreased.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About the death of Sadako Ogata, like you… as you know that the… just after she became the High Commissioner, she directed to support not only the refugees but also the IDP [internally displaced people] Kurdish people inside Iraq.  So, does the Secretary‑General’s comment, quote, “Sadako Ogata set the standard for helping refugees,” imply [inaudible] that her harder action?

Deputy Spokesman:  What?  I’m sorry?

Question:  So, the statement said that Sadako Ogata set the standard for helping refugees.  What does that imply?  I wonder if the SG just became… the High Commissioner, she enlarged the scope of the support to… not only to the refugees outside the country but also IDP people.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, yes.  The Secretary‑General wants to reflect that.  One of the things he pointed out was the many people today who have been forcibly displaced from their countries and homes are better served because of her achievements.  And that, of course, means people who are internally displaced as well as those who are externally displaced.

Thanks, and I’ll now get our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.