7 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.

**Burkina Faso

All right.  Good afternoon.  A couple of notes to read out.  First, on Burkina Faso, the Secretary‑General strongly condemns yesterday’s attack on a convoy of a mining company in the East region of Burkina Faso, resulting in dozens of casualties and leaving scores more injured.  He calls on the Burkinabe authorities to do everything in their power to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous act against civilians.  The Secretary‑General conveys his condolences to the families of the deceased, as well as to the people and Government of Burkina Faso, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He reiterates the full support of the United Nations to the Government of Burkina Faso in its continuing efforts to ensure peace and stability in the country.


I was asked earlier about Cambodia and I can say that the Secretary‑General is closely following developments in Cambodia related to the announced return of Sam Rainsy and other opposition leaders.  He is concerned over the restrictions imposed by the authorities on freedom of movement and assembly, as well as reported military deployments along the Thai border.  The Secretary‑General emphasizes the need for peaceful dialogue among all stakeholders and for a conducive political environment free of intimidation, harassment or fear.

**Holocaust Remembrance

This evening at 6:30 p.m., the Secretary‑General will deliver a keynote address at the 81st Anniversary Commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Jewish Museum Heritage, downtown in New York.  He will also have the opportunity to visit the exhibit entitled “Auschwitz.  Not long ago.  Not far away.” — the most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever presented in North America.  In his remarks, the Secretary‑General is expected to highlight that, decades after the Holocaust, the world’s oldest hatred is still with us and other forms of intolerance are also taking a deadly toll.  He will stress that hatred also works in insidious ways to undermine relations between people and on the foundations of society.  The Secretary‑General will also recall how the UN is fully engaged in this fight with the launch of the UN Strategy and Plan of Action to confront and address hate speech.  Additionally, he is also expected to announce that a conference on the role of education in addressing and building resilience against hate speech will be convened by the UN.  Before that, late this afternoon, the Secretary‑General will deliver some remarks to the Forum of Small States that is taking place here downstairs.

**High School Workshop

I just want to flag that tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in Conference Room 12, a hundred high school students will participate in an interactive workshop organized by the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, together with the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect and Facing History and Ourselves.  Students will consider Anne Frank’s writing and legacy and the testimonies of other young people affected by more recent atrocity crimes, and the experiences of refugees caught up in the contemporary crises.  If you’re all interested, you are all invited to attend.


Moving on to Syria, the UN [remains] gravely concerned over the safety and protection of some 4.1 million women, children and men in north‑west Syria, including some 2.1 million internally displaced people, following an intensification of air strikes and shelling in recent days in Idlib.  Yesterday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that shelling was reported in 13 communities inside Idlib Governorate, reportedly killing at least two people and injuring 20.  Shelling was also reported in several neighbourhoods in west Aleppo city, resulting in the [death] of at least one man and wounding of six people.

An air strike yesterday reportedly impacted the Orient hospital in the town of Kafr Nobol, injuring several people and rendering the hospital inoperable.  Since the end of April, over 400,000 women and children and men have been displaced by the violence in the north‑west, many of them multiple times.  Over 1,000 have lost their lives, many of them children.  The UN continues to remind all parties of their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.


From Lebanon, Major General Stefano Del Col, Head of the UN Mission and Force Commander of the UN Forces in Southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, today chaired a regular Tripartite meeting with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and this took place at a UN position in Ras Al Naqoura.  The General underlined the challenges posed by the ongoing political and security developments in Lebanon, Israel and the wider region.  “These are very sensitive times,” General Del Col said, adding that as uncertainties multiply, extra efforts are required by all concerned to preserve the stability along the Blue Line.  He warned that provocative actions of any kind could trigger incidents endangering the cessation of hostilities.  He further said that “it is important that all concerned avoid unilateral action, refrain from rhetorical exchanges and uphold the spirit of this tripartite engagement that has served us well through very challenging circumstances.”


In a statement we issued last night on Iraq, the Secretary‑General expressed his serious concern over the rising number of deaths and injuries during the ongoing demonstrations in Iraq.  Reports of the continued use of live ammunition against demonstrators are very disturbing.  The Secretary‑General urges all actors to refrain from violence and to investigate all acts of violence seriously.  He renews his appeal for meaningful dialogue between the Government and demonstrators.


Couple of notes from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), one note rather:  With 620 million children in South Asia breathing polluted, toxic air, the head of UNICEF today called for urgent action to address this air quality crisis.  Henrietta Fore, who recently visited the region, said that children breathe twice as quickly as adults do because they have smaller lungs and therefore endure the damaging health and neurological impacts of air pollution the most.  Her statement is available online.

**Food Price Index

Turning to our regular food price index, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that food prices rose in October for the first time in five months, as international quotations for sugar and key cereals increased significantly.  According to FAO, the Food Price Index averaged 1.7 per cent higher in October than the previous months and six per cent higher than during October last year.  Cereal prices increased as wheat and maize export prices moved up sharply on the back of reduced crop prospects in several major producing countries.  By contrast, rice prices slipped, driven by subdued demand and prospects of an abundant basmati harvest.  Good news.  I knew you’d be interested… yeah but those are good calories.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Luis Carrilho, the UN Police Adviser; along with Irene Gaga, the Police Representative for the UN Regional Office in Central Africa; and the Police Commissioner for South Sudan, Unaisi Lutu Vuniwaqa.  They are, of course, here to brief you on my favourite week at the UN — and that is Police Week.  And lastly, after you’re done with me, Reem [Abaza] will be here to brief you on behalf of the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations.  Our guest.  Welcome.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, sidi rais.  The situation with the inspector that has left Iran yesterday and was accused by the Iranians of having traces of nitrate, explosive nitrate, and the… and the international agency for atomic energy (IAEA) has come out for the first time and refuted the claim by the Iranians.  What is the take of the Secretariat in this breach by Iran that a threat is the whole monitoring system that is the backbone of [resolution] 2231 (2015), and the nuclear…

Spokesman:  Obviously, the IAEA is in the lead in this case.  It is their inspector.  It is important that the work of the inspectors mandated by the international community be respected.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  So, yesterday, the US Department of Justice exposed Saudi Government spying and interfering on the social networking site Twitter.  The indictment refers to a guy called Bader Al Asaker and the MiSK Foundation, which he is secretary‑general of, which is, of course, a partner organization of you guys and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization].  How do you respond?

Spokesman:  I have to… I haven't read the indictment.  I will take a look at it and get back to you.  Wait.

Question:  Steph, first of all, which relationship do you have with the police?  And second…

Spokesman:  Very positive one, I assure you.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Yeah, you don't know, yeah.  The less you know, the better off you are.  Sorry.

Question:  And, second, I see in the programme of work of the Security Council that the G5 Sahel report is due tomorrow.  Could you elaborate on that?

Spokesman:  If it's due tomorrow, it should be out to Council members, if it's not already out, but we'll check where it is in the pipeline.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you.  There are reports about so‑called secret talks between Houthi rebels and Saudi officials in Oman and Moscow, I think.  Does the United Nations know anything about these talks?  And is Martin Griffiths maybe part of the talks, as well?

Spokesman:  By definition, we're not going to comment on things that may be secret.  No… 

Correspondent:  They're not secret anymore.

Spokesman:  Right, exactly.  It's… no, all… it's a ser… it's obviously a serious matter.  Mr.  Griffiths remains fully engaged with all the parties and fully apprised of developments that may be going on, even outside of his direct purview.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Last night, we had the statement by the Secretary‑General regarding his concern about the situation in Iraq.  What are the actions that the Secretary‑General is planning to take in order to convey the message clearer to the Iraqi Government?

Spokesman:  Well, the message is being conveyed very clearly by the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, who's present in Baghdad, who has been speaking to Government officials.  I think we laid out a fairly detailed report from our Human Rights Office in Iraq a couple of days ago, giving some details to numbers behind those concerned, noting that, you know, in Baghdad there had been… the security forces had shown restraint.  We, obviously, are there to support the Iraqi Government in whatever way we can in order to move the process forward to help the political situation improve, but our… we have a political presence in Baghdad, and those concerns are being directed, directly.

Question:  I'm sorry.  We might differ on the word restraint for the security forces.  If they were killing 100 a day and now they're killing 50, that’s…

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to read the report that we flagged on Monday or two days ago.  Yes.  James yields.  Yeah, he yields.

Question:  Thank you, Sir James.  I would like to take… take issue with the call for dialogue between the Government and the demonstrators in Iraq, because as if you are trying to show that the matter is Iraqi-Iraqi, while we know for… very well that there are militias loyal to Iran, armed by Iran, more than 160,000 in Baghdad alone, taking part in these demonstrations, outside influence and interference, and they're the one, most of the time, shooting the demonstrators, sometimes in the head.  Why is the UN not alluding to this fact?  And, also, Qasem Soleimani, who is under sanction, is supposed to be not allowed to travel in and out of Iraq, and nobody even mentions this violation.

Spokesman:  Look, Member States have the responsibility to uphold whatever sanctions are put in place by the Security Council.  That's one.  On the other one, whether… we've seen unrest in different parts of the world.  It is… it goes without saying that, obviously, the authorities in power, whatever country, need to listen to the people in the street, need to listen to the real demands of real people, as the Secretary‑General said.  It is also important that in Iraq and other countries, that… other countries that may have an influence have that influence laid out in a positive way in order to support the people of Iraq.

Question:  Excuse me, but this is not a positive influence by Iran.  It's a murderous influence.

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm not going to engage into a long discussion with you… I think we have condemned the use of force by security forces and by militia in a very direct way.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  I have two things I want to ask about, and I apologize for being late, because I was at the Cuba vote at the GA, so one of these may have been asked, which is the fallout now, a day later, as the dust has settled on UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], do you have any more details and possible timeline for, one, giving us more information about what was in the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report and, number two, for the timeline for the GA and the SG to come up with a new Commissioner‑General.

Spokesman:  Sure.  No to your first one.  On your second one, the process will be started as soon as possible.  It's very important… and the Secretary‑General realises it, that it is very important for UNRWA to have strong and stable leadership, especially at a time where its mandate is going to be renewed, discussions for renewal in the General Assembly.  And I think the Secretary‑General, throughout this process, has expressed and will continue to work for the strong support of UNRWA and the people it serves.

Question:  And the second issue is escalator watch.  Can we have a proper explanation why, when we're saving money, doing our bit by not having escalators, they need to be blocked off?  Because at weekends, early in the morning, normally, we walk up the block of escalators…

Spokesman:  It is… you know, I have been known to… in the old days, when the briefing room… I had to go down… I have been known to run down an escalator going the wrong way when I was late.  It is a very dangerous practise.  It is also a dangerous practise to use an escalator that is not running, because the height of the steps is much higher than in regular steps.  You didn't know I knew so much about escalators, did you? [Laughter] And when you stop an escalator, it is never level, so that last step is… can be very dangerous.  Third of all, the angle of each step is extremely sharp and metallic, and I would hate for us to be responsible for a gash on your forehead, James.

Question:  So, can I then…?

Spokesman:  Both of us have pretty large foreheads.

Question:  Can I then have a follow‑up?  Can you explain, then, why the main escalators in Geneva, in Building E, the Human Rights Building, are all shut down and everyone is allowed to go up and down them given the safety concerns that you've just outlined?

Spokesman:  I am an expert in North American escalators.  I am not at all aware of the technicalities of Swiss escalators.  Yeah, thank you.  I've never been so well prepared, yeah.  Yeah?

Question:  How much does UN really save on just the 3rd Floor… from the 2nd to the 3rd Floor?  It's not… it is really becoming a nuisance for us.

Spokesman:  We had an extensive discussion earlier in the week on cost saving in escalators.  So, I would refer you to that transcript, because I think I've used up all my escalator knowledge.  Arthur?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  It's just a clarification on James' question.  Yeah, on UNRWA.  You'll be relieved, yes.

Spokesman:  Thank you for that precision, yeah.

Question:  Personally, I think it's probably because there's a higher chance of being sued here if you fall on the escalator, but there you have it.  The initial findings are what the… were referred to in your statement yesterday of management shortcomings, I think, or so said.  As you understand it, is that investigation at an end, or will there be a secondary full report?  And of the preliminary findings that you already had or the SG had at his disposal, were any other individuals named in the initial report?  It's just because initially it said senior management.

Spokesman:  I'm not… you know, I have nothing to share with you at this point on any other investigations that may be going on.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  United States has begun the process of pulling out of Paris deal.  So, my question, is there any more negotiation with Washington on this issue?

Spokesman:  Look, we are moving on.  Right? The Secretary‑General… for the Secretary‑General, it is very important that those countries that remain in the Paris Agreement continue their negotiations, raise their ambitions, raise their actions.  The decision taken by the United States was a decision they took… a sovereign decision that they took that they have a right to take.  It is not an issue that we have to negotiate with them.  They had signed on to an agreement.  There was a process when you can kind of withdraw that participation, and that's what they did.  Stefano, and then we'll…

Question:  Yes.  There has been a UN report and has been also… coming from the Security Council… well, been seen at the Security Council.  That's what the report… the journalist… media report is saying, that they're saying that migrant centre that was bomb… that was bombed in… in Libya a few months ago, caused 53 people deaths.  That was caused by a fighter plane, a foreign fighter plane.  So, it was not… you… you…

Spokesman:  No, I saw the media report.  Frankly, I haven't seen the exact…

Question:  And what is… what is… I mean, do you have something more that you can tell us…?

Spokesman:  I have to look at the report.  I have to figure out where that report came from, because I haven't seen it.  So, give me some time, and I'll look at it.  Okay.

Question:  About South Sudan, Tuesday, if not mistaken, the new unity government shall be established in South Sudan, and right now the situation there looks pretty volatile.  Is there any possibility from your point of view that the deadline might be extended for…

Spokesman:  It is not up to us to extend the deadline.  This was an agreement by the Sudanese… primarily by the Sudanese parties.  There is, as you know, a meeting going on in Uganda with both Riek Machar and Salva Kiir.  We'll have to wait and see what comes out of that meeting, but we very much hope that the delay will not slip and that the government… the unity will be found by that date.

Question:  Stéphane, thank you.  The General Assembly has just voted, passed the vote calling for an end to the US blockade on Cuba.  What is… do you have a comment on that?  What is the Secretary‑General's position on this?

Spokesman:  No, I… this is an expression of the will of Member States, and it's not for us to comment.  Merci.  And Reem is going to brief you, so please don't move.

For information media. Not an official record.