5 November 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.


Good afternoon to you all.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Turning to Iraq, the Secretary‑General says he is shocked at the death toll we have seen in recent days in Iraq since the start of the demonstrations.  And today, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) published a report in which it found that serious human rights violations and abuses continued to occur during a second wave of demonstrations that started on 25 October in Iraq.

The latest report indicates that demonstration‑related violence from 25 October to 4 November caused at least 97 further deaths and thousands of injuries.  Although Iraqi security forces displayed more restraint than in previous protests earlier in October, particularly in Baghdad, the unlawful use of lethal and less‑lethal weapons by security forces and armed people requires urgent attention.  The report attributes at least 16 deaths — and many serious injuries — to demonstrators being struck by tear gas canisters.

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq said that the report also highlights areas where immediate action is needed to stop the vicious cycle of violence and stressed once again the imperative of accountability.


Turning to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, today congratulated the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council on reaching an agreement in Riyadh on the way forward.  He said the signing of the Riyadh Agreement is an important step for our collective efforts to advance a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Yemen.  The Special Envoy expressed his gratitude to Saudi Arabia for mediating successfully this agreement and for their strenuous diplomatic efforts.  Mr. Griffiths says that this agreement will strengthen stability in Aden and the surrounding governorates and improve the lives of the citizens.

Yesterday, the Head of the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement and Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) [Abhijit] Guha, called on all parties to adhere to the ceasefire in Hudaydah Governorate as agreed to in the Stockholm Agreement from December 2018.  We condemn any violations committed by air, sea and land on areas agreed by the Hudaydah Agreement.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council held a debate on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and adopted unanimously a resolution reauthorizing a European Union military operation in the country.

The resolution reiterates that the primary responsibility for the further successful implementation of the Peace Agreement lies with all the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves and notes the continued willingness of the international community and major donors to support them in implementing the Peace Agreement.


In Venezuela, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, is in Caracas to be briefed about the humanitarian situation there and strengthen cooperation among the humanitarian organizations operating in the country.  At his arrival, Mr. Lowcock met and discussed the humanitarian response with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.  He also met people affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation.  Today, he is scheduled to meet with members of the National Assembly, senior Government officials and members of civil society.

**Cabo Verde

Turning to Cabo Verde, today, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) welcomed the approval of a Parity Law by the country’s Parliament.  In a statement, Mohamed Ibn Chambas congratulated the Parliament for this historical accomplishment and added that the country’s commitment to ensure the equality of rights and duties between men and women will contribute to consolidating social justice and development.

And in other news related to Mr. Chambas, he has started a three‑day tour to support the peacebuilding efforts of countries of the Mano River Union, which includes Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.  He is travelling with the Chair of the UN Peacebuilding Commission, Guillermo Fernández de Soto, and Oscar Fernandez‑Taranco, the Assistant Secretary‑General and Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office.


Turning to Syria, in October, the UN began its winterization campaign in Syria, providing winter clothes, blankets, heaters, stoves, heating fuel, mattresses, carpets and plastic sheeting to people who would otherwise not be prepared to face the cold winter months.  Some 900,000 people in north‑west Syria are expected to benefit from the winter assistance this year.  However, there is a 40 per cent funding gap of about $32 million that still is needed.  The UN calls on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and allow for the winter response operation to be implemented with safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all in need.


Turning to Somalia, the first flight of humanitarian aid organized by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) arrived in Somalia to help more than 20,000 people cut off by the worst flooding in years.  UNHCR is scheduling up to 10 flights to airlift up to 60 metric tons of urgently needed supplies, including soap, blankets and plastic sheets.

More than 270,000 people have been displaced by flooding in the past two weeks, highlighting Somalia’s increasing vulnerability to the effects of climate change.


We have an update from Cameroon, where UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] said today that 855,000 children are out of school in the country’s north‑west and south‑west, as a result of three years of violence and instability.  Two months into the new school year, about 90 per cent of the region’s public primary schools and 77 per cent of public secondary schools are closed or non‑operational.

Fear of violence also means that more parents choose to keep their children home, and not all teachers and staff report to work.  Without urgent action and without a commitment from all parties to the conflict to protect education, the future of these children is at risk.

In the meantime, UNICEF has initiated community‑run learning.  They are also procuring learning materials and will use radio to disseminate literacy and numeracy lessons to help children while they cannot attend school.


A new report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says that tariffs imposed by the United States on China are economically hurting both countries, and this is a paper that was released today.  The study shows that the ongoing US‑China trade war has resulted in a sharp decline in bilateral trade, higher prices for consumers and trade diversion impacts.

**Mental Disorders

A note on mental disorders:  with the alarmingly high rates of self‑harm, suicide and anxiety among children and young people around the world, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are teaming up with some of the world’s leading minds to tackle this growing threat.  In a joint push to put child and adolescent mental disorders higher up on the global health agenda, both agencies will co‑host their first‑ever conference on the topic in Florence, Italy, 7‑9 November.  According to the latest data, up to 20 per cent of adolescents globally experience mental disorders and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 19‑year‑olds worldwide.

**Tsunami Day

Today is World Tsunami Awareness Day.  In his message, the Secretary‑General said that there has been great improvement in early warning systems since the Indian Ocean tsunami occurred 15 years ago.  However, he stressed that we have not yet fully learned the importance of disaster‑proofing critical infrastructure, which is essential to avoid the disruption to important public services that can occur during tsunamis, earthquakes and extreme weather events.  He encourages governments, local authorities and the construction industry to pursue risk‑informed development and investment in [resilient] construction.  His full message is online.


Lastly, today, at 1 p.m. at the UN Bookshop, Japanese‑American author Kathleen Burkinshaw will speak about her book The Last Cherry Blossom in a conversation with disarmament educator Kathleen Sullivan.  The book is based on her mother’s life as a young girl in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped.  She advocates strongly for immediate disarmament.  This event is organized in cooperation with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs as part of the yearly Workshop for High School Educators on nuclear weapons and disarmament‑related topics.  Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the announcement today by Iran’s Government that it plans to inject uranium gas into the centrifuges that it is…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we have, obviously, seen and the Secretary‑General is aware of the announcement made by the President of Iran regarding centrifuges.  The Secretary‑General has consistently reiterated that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) represents a major achievement in nuclear non‑proliferation and diplomacy and has contributed to regional and international peace and security.  He reiterates his call to JCPOA participants to abide fully by their respective commitments under the agreement and on all other Member States to continue to support the agreement.  Yep?

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  That’s basically what Farhan [Haq] said yesterday in response to the moves by Iran yesterday.  This is a larger step.  Is there any move for the SG to sort of talk to Iran or…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s, I think, position, both in public and private, remains the same and his call for all Member States to do whatever they can to uphold the JCPOA.  Madame, and then James.

Question:  Thank you.  Thanks, Stéph.  Does the SG has any comment on the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement [on climate change], now that it is… they have initially notified it to the SG?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, the US’ official notification of its withdrawal from the Paris climate Agreement had been announced and, therefore, was expected.  Our determination to move forward on the implementation of the Paris Agreement remains unchanged.  We continue to encourage Member States to actively engage, ahead of COP25 (25th Conference of the Parties) in Madrid, to raise ambition to tackle and defeat climate change.  Mr. Bays, welcome back.

Question:  Thank you.  On Yemen, what role did the UN play in brokering this new agreement with regard to southern Yemen?  And what are the next steps for the UN’s Special Envoy in trying to get a wider peace?  Is there any discussion on having another follow‑up to the talks that took place almost a year ago in Stockholm?

Spokesman:  Mr. Griffiths is continuing his consultations, both regionally and with others.  I think, at the time where he feels the batter is set, I’m sure he will be ready to call for another meeting, but at this point, the consultations are going on.  As far as the agreement, we’ve been kept apprised of the ongoing discussions by the parties, and I’ll leave it at that.

Question:  You said kept apprised.  So, you…so, Mr. Griffiths was not directly involved in brokering any of this agreement…?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that.  Thank you.  Yes, Nabil?

Question:  Thank you.  So, your other statement on Iraq and based on the report of your Mission in Baghdad, what’s the message that the SG sends to the Iraqi authorities in light of this huge number of casualties?

Spokesman:  The message is very clear, is that people wherever, in Iraq and other places, need to be able to demonstrate freely and peacefully.  Security forces need to show restraint.  I think we’re seeing a large number of casualties, both people wounded and people dying, which is completely unacceptable.  So, there is that response.  And, obviously, in terms of politics, it’s important that the leadership in Iraq and other places we’ve seen demonstrations listen to the people and engage.

Question:  And is the UN office in Lebanon working on a… on any report also on the situation in Lebanon, similar to what we have heard from your Mission in Iraq?  Because we… we… I mean, we see daily violations against the peaceful protests in Lebanon.  So, is your office in Lebanon working on something?

Spokesman:  Look, Mr. [Jan] Kubiš will report back to the Security Council as needed, as mandated.  He has been meeting with senior Government political leaders, constitutional leaders, and his message to them was to accelerate the formation of a new government that will respond to the aspiration of the Lebanese people and get their confidence and also get a vote of confidence in the Parliament through a constitutional process.

Question:  So… one follow‑up, please.  This was his position, Mr. Kubiš’s position, a week ago, in his statement that was released after the Prime Minister stepped down.  So… but until now, we see that the process of reaching an agreement or formulating a new government has not moved on or progressed.  So, do you have a message on this particular detail?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, first of all, the formation of a new government is the responsibility of the Lebanese leaders themselves.  It’s not the responsibility of the United Nations or the international community.  We are there to support Lebanon.  We’re there to support the people of Lebanon.  As I said, the meetings in his… the meetings that he has had, Mr. Kubiš’s message is to hasten the process, right, to go about this faster.  And in whatever way we can help, we will help.  Linda, and then we’ll go to the back.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Going back to Iran, you mentioned that the SG is, obviously, concerned about any breach of the JCPOA and feels it… the agreement contributes to international peace and security, so forth, in the region.  But I was wondering if he has any point of view in terms of how serious this new decision is by Iran to use advanced centrifuges and if he thinks perhaps it might be a good idea for the Security Council to discuss it.

Spokesman:  Look, the Security Council has a process and a mandate to discuss the JCPOA.  We’ll see what the members of the Council decide.  I think any step that moves us away from the JCPOA is a serious step.  Right?  It was a landmark… it was a critical agreement, and it was a landmark agreement, and we very much hope that Member States will do whatever they can to continue to support it.  Sylviane?

Question:  Returning to Lebanon, Mr.… the UN coordinate… Special Coordinator, Mr. Kubiš, met today with Gebran Bassil, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Do you have any comment on that?  And especially Mr. Gebran is not welcome as a future… part of the future government.  Do you have any…?

Spokesman:  This is part of… I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to cut you off.

Question:  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  The intricacies of forming the government is to be left to the political leaders in Lebanon.  Right?  Mr. Kubiš is meeting with various people… various stakeholders, whether people in government or outside of government, political leaders, constitutional leaders, and is delivering the same message, that the economic… the current economic situation in Lebanon should not allow us time to procrastinate, that a government needs to be formed… a new government needs to be formed as quickly as possible.  Now, who is in that government and who’s acceptable and who’s not acceptable, that’s something for the Lebanese people themselves to decide.  Yep?

Question:  Given the recent controversy surrounding politicians blocking critics on social media and social media platforms banning accounts, firstly, what are the UN’s guidelines for blocking users on social media?  Also, are you aware of any terrorist or extremist groups that the UN has blocked on social media?  And lastly, has the UN blocked any journalists on social media?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that we have specific guidelines.  I think, in terms of people’s personal accounts, there should be some allowance for common sense.  And if people are abusive or out of line, I think peop… you know, that’s a person’s decision to make.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes.  Sorry.  Thank you, Stéph. Is there any update on UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], changes in leadership or have there been… there’s one story around from the Middle East Monitor that the Secretary‑General is looking for another body to replace it.  Any truth to that?

Spokesman:  No, I have no update for you on that front.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question, Stéphane, is, what is the Secretary‑General reaction with the wave of violence in the Cauca region of Colombia with the killing of the social “indigenal” [indigenous] leaders in that region, and there is call from the international community on the compliance of the peace process.  And, as well, many human rights organizations are calling to bring the justice… to justice all these… I mean who perpetrate these crimes in the region.

Spokesman:  Look, we’re, obviously, concerned about any extrajudicial killings.  I think it is important that the Government, which has the primarily responsibility, investigate these killings thoroughly and bring those responsible to justice.  We also have a Mission in Colombia, and I’m sure they’re on the front lines on dealing with this issue vis‑à‑vis the Government.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  The latest on escalator watch.

Spokesman:  I was hoping I’d get the question.  [Laughter.]  How was Geneva, by the way?

Correspondent:  There are some elevators closed.  With a trolley of equipment, it can be somewhat difficult navigating…

Spokesman:  I’m sure your legs are all the better for it.

Question:  But what is the latest on any new contributions to the funding crisis from Member States?  And why has it been decided to open the escalator from the ground floor that ambassadors use to get to the Council chambers, to the Security Council and other chambers, whereas the escalators to the journalists’ floors — and we have no way of solving the budget crisis, unlike ambassadors — remain closed?

Spokesman:  Okay.  The… I have no update… there are no updated numbers in terms of payments in full that have been received.  On the escalators… [laughs] Sorry.  It’s a serious matter but… on the escalators, there was an issue with the overflow of high traffic… because of the closure of the 1st and 2nd Floor, there was an issue of high traffic being reverberated on the elevator banks, which caused a problem.  There were some issues also with some delegates with disabilities, and so it was decided to open up that segment of the escalators.  The 3rd and 4th Floors are used… not used only by journalists but also by UN staff, who have their offices on the 4th Floor, some UN staff that have their offices on the 2nd Floor, even, who have to walk up and down.  And we, just like you, have nothing to… are not responsible for the financial crisis.  In fact, our staff assessment still gets paid into the dues.  Yes?

Question:  Last week on the escalator issue… [Laughter.] …I asked how much the UN was saving by keeping those escalators closed, and I heard from behind me one of my colleagues say, “Could we take up a collection?”

Spokesman:  I think taking up a collection is always a good idea.  We could pass the hat around.  I’ll have to check, but I think it was about $7,000 a month.  Let’s see if I have the figures…

Question:  I thought you said $14,000 a year.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Hold it… so much of my energy is spent walking up and down stairs that I keep forgetting what the actual number is.  [Laughter.]

Correspondent:  [Inaudible.]

Spokesman:  I don’t… I can’t find… it’s under “S” or escalators.  [Laughter.]  No, you’re right, $14,000… about $14,000 a year.  There is no such thing as a small change.  Linda?

Question:  Following up on Edie, so, given the statistics, it means that it’s probably about $50 a day… working days to pay for the escalator difference.  Now, can we take a collection… if all of us here gave $1 a day, it would be working.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  I will see if there is a way for us to absorb your money.  I’m always happy to take journalists’ money.  Okay.  Let’s… should we keep moving?

Question:  Just to round out this amazing conversation, apparently, in Geneva, they’ve got sheep to mow the lawn.  Any discussion of getting sheep out here for the North Lawn?

Spokesman:  Well, we could talk to our friends at the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to see if they have anything to offer.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Okay.  This is a follow‑up to the escalator question. [Laughter]

Spokesman:  You know, people… people often ask me what is the biggest issue that concerns the UN press corps?  Now I can answer with facility… yes?

Question:  [Inaudible] Kilowatt…

Spokesman:  Solar panels.

Question:  Solar panels.  Now, that’s outside the budget, so to make up for that loss of $14,000, can those… can the power from that be diverted, at least while the sun shines?

Spokesman:  I’m barely a spokesman.  I don’t think I’m an electrical engineer, but I will see where that electricity goes.  Let’s keep going.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  My name is Manoj Desai.  I’m from [inaudible], Nepal. My question is related to South Asia and in particular to Kashmir.  So, of late India and Pakistan, they have been publishing their own official maps that shows, for example, India showing the Pakistan‑administered Kashmir in their territory and Pakistan showing India‑administered Kashmir in their territory.  Do you think that kind of activity helps this process?  And what is your take?

Spokesman:  I think what we think would help this process would be a dialogue on… to resolve the issue, is dialogue.  That’s what we think would help the process.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Given that the Paris Agreement allows states to unilaterally adjust their targets based on their economic situations, does the Secretary‑General think there could possibly be any substantive economic reason why a state would leave the agreement, or is it just ideological?

Spokesman:  Listen, we are the recipient of letters.  I think when Member States decide to leave… formally remove themselves from a treaty or a convention, you have to ask them what their motivation is.  I’m getting out of here.  [Laughter.]

For information media. Not an official record.