13 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.  Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today he is very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel, following the targeted killing of one of the group’s leaders inside Gaza yesterday.  He said that the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centres is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately.  There can be no justification for any attacks against civilians.  The Special Coordinator said the continuing escalation is very dangerous and is yet another attempt to undermine the efforts to improve the dire socioeconomic conditions in Gaza and prevent another devastating conflict.  The UN is working urgently to de‑escalate the situation.


Turning to Iraq.  Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, spoke to the Iraqi Council of Representatives, and she told parliamentarians that many Iraqis are asking for a brighter future for the country to reach its full potential and for the benefit of all Iraqi citizens.  She added that the Iraqi people have paid an unthinkable price to get their voices heard.  Since the start of the protests on the first of October, she said, at least 319 people have been killed and around 15,000 injured.  She reiterated the importance of guaranteeing fundamental rights — above all the right to life, but also the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.  Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert reminded the delegates that, with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has proposed a number of concrete steps as a way forward to confidence‑building and reform.  She emphasised that now is the time to act; otherwise any momentum will be lost at a time when many, many Iraqis are demanding concrete results.  Her full remarks are available.


The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Ján Kubiš, said today that he was disturbed by the tragic loss of life in Khalde last night, in Lebanon.  He urged for a thorough and rapid investigation in the incident.  Mr. Kubiš appreciated the stance taken by Walid Jumblatt, who helped to calm down the situation while requesting justice.  The Special Coordinator appeals to the security forces to continue protecting peaceful protesters and refrain from using force.


A few humanitarian notes.  From Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 100,000 people have reportedly been affected across seven areas in the country since late last month, due to the worst flooding in seven years.

Some 19,000 people have been displaced by the floods.  The Government is leading the response, with the UN and its partners scaling up assistance to provide reproductive kits and farming supplies, among other aid.  The flooding compounds an already dire humanitarian situation in Adamawa State, which is one of the worst affected by the 10‑year conflict in north‑east Nigeria.  The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria is calling for $848 million to help 6.2 million people and it is so far only 59 per cent funded.

**Southern Africa

Meanwhile, the lean season has begun in Southern Africa, with our humanitarian colleagues telling us that nearly 12 million people are severely food insecure.  Parts of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Angola are projected to face emergency levels of food insecurity, with acute malnutrition having risen in multiple countries.  Many people are unable to access clean water, and girls and women are reportedly forced to resort to negative coping strategies, including early marriage and transactional sex.  Southern Africa is experiencing the effects of the climate crisis, with warming at about twice the global rate.  Below‑average rains are being recorded in many areas and cyclones are expected in others, which could lead to a second consecutive poor harvest.

**Venezuela Refugees

And in Bogota, in Colombia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), today will launch a $1.35 billion regional plan to respond to the increasing humanitarian needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean and the communities hosting them.  As of early this month, there were approximately 4.6 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela around the world.  Nearly 80 per cent of them are in Latin American and the Caribbean countries — with no prospect for return in the short to medium term.  If the current trends continue, 6.5 million Venezuelans could be outside the country by the end of 2020.

The regional plan includes actions in nine key sectors:  health; education; food security; integration; protection; nutrition; shelter; relief items and humanitarian transport; as well as water, sanitation and hygiene.  In addition to the emergency response, the plan puts a strong focus on ensuring the social and economic inclusion of refugees and migrants.  The plan is set to launch at 4 p.m. in Bogota.  More information will be available online.


And, today, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the start of a pilot programme to pre‑qualify human insulin to increase treatment for diabetes in low‑ and middle‑income countries.  The decision announced ahead of World Diabetes Day, which is observed tomorrow, is part of a series of steps that WHO will take to address the growing diabetes burden in all regions.  About 65 million people with type 2 diabetes need insulin, but only half of them can access it, largely due to high prices.  All people with type 1 diabetes need insulin to survive.  WHO pre‑qualification of insulin is expected to boost access by increasing the flow of quality‑assured products on the international market, providing countries with greater choice and patients with lower prices.  More information online.

**Financial Contribution

Finally, some very good news from Mexico City.  Our Mexican friends have now paid their regular budget dues in full for 2019, bringing us to 135, but that will not unlock the escalators.  All right.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I'll come back to the escalators later.    On Israel‑Palestine, you said the United Nations is working urgently to de‑escalate the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians.  What specifically is the UN doing? Is the Secretary‑General making phone calls?  Is Mr. Mladenov in contact with Egypt and other Arab countries to try to get a ceasefire?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is, obviously, following it closely.  Mr. Mladenov is in the lead.  He is currently in Cairo, in fact, today to address the situation.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Monsieur Dujarric.  I wanted to ask you… I don't know whether you address it, but I will ask you from the other angle, probably, because you are not commenting on the bilateral issue.  Gambia has decided to sue Myanmar for genocide against Rohingya people.  I know the Secretary‑General probably would not comment directly on that, but that's the legal framework, beside the human rights framework that it is actually dear to him.  What does he think… what would be the way to stop the suffering of those people?  Is that acceptable?

Spokesman:  As you rightly say, we're not going to comment on actions that may be in front of the court in The Hague.  That's a separate process.  For his part, I think the Secretary‑General has been very direct and very clear, notably in the comments he made in ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] in Bangkok not too long ago, where he laid out a number of measures that he thinks should be taken, reiterating the fact that the return of the Rohingya refugees who have been hosted mainly in Bangladesh can only be done in a safe and voluntary basis, in safety and in dignity, and the fact that they should enjoy… that they need to be assured that they enjoy all full rights of any citizens while in… full rights of any citizens in Myanmar.  And he did that, in fact, in front… at a meeting with the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Question:  For many times, he repeated that he is not somehow satisfied with the moves by the Government, needs to be done more.  What is… what's the recent… most recent action by him or call or talk with the authorities of Myanmar where he has expressed his concern?

Spokesman:  As I said, again, we were in Bangkok — I lose track of the days but — last week, I believe, right, part of the UN ASEAN Summit at a table of ASEAN Heads of States, small table.  The Secretary‑General spoke directly in an open meeting to Aung San Suu Kyi, so he delivered that message.  That message was made public, and that was as of, you know, less than a week ago.  And he continues… he will continue to press those messages, both in private and in public.  Let's go to the back, and then we'll come back to you.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have actually two questions, and I… they may be unrelated.  The first is, there is a policy, which I think is an excellent one, whereby MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] keeps press briefings exclusively for press, and diplomats and Government representatives are not permitted to enter.  And it seems to me to be very important, because this protects journalists.  I am interested, though, in knowing what is the reason for this?  Because I was at a press briefing across the street in which there were Government people present, and then they subsequently harassed the actual presenters, the speakers, so it was not really a press conference.  And my feeling was that the journalists there, myself included, were, to some degree, endangered by that.  What is the reason why diplomats are excluded from press briefings here, if you could be as…

Spokesman:  Because it's a press briefing.  It's for the press.  As you have today, we sometimes… I sometimes have guests.  We have a group of young women from a school in Connecticut here.  I'd like to have them observe, but ever… this policy has been in place since even before I got here, and I… even I got here!  I don't know if before you got here, Erol.  But if I recall, there used to be two… I think François Giuliani, who worked for [Boutros] Boutros‑Ghali, used to do two briefings, one for journalists and one for diplomats.  Anybody who's interested in looking at… watching the briefing can watch it on the webcast.  And that's been the policies, and I see no reason why that would change to be the policy.  I can't speak for what happens outside of this building.  What is your second question?

Question:  The second question is — and this is very serious — as you know, the General Assembly adopted a resolution prohibiting the glorification of Nazism, and it has just come to my attention that the brilliant statesman who founded the organization in Lithuania called Lithuania Without Nazism, has been put into prison.  Now… he is also a journalist.  Does the Secretary… his name is Algirdas Paleckis, and I personally brought him to Washington to speak to the State Department regarding the…

Spokesman:  I will look into this case.  I was not aware of it, but I will look into it.  James?

Question:  You've been asked about the specific situation regarding Israel and Gaza at the moment, and you've answered on that, but is the Secretary‑General frustrated about the state of diplomacy on this, given the repeated clashes that break out every now and then?  And is it time for high‑level diplomacy, possibly led by the Security Council, and for the international community to give up waiting for a peace plan that has been promised now for the best part of three years and may not even exist?

Spokesman:  Look, I think frustrating is a word that he probably would use, and I think if you look at the briefings that Mr. Mladenov has given over the last year to the Security Council, I think frustrate… you know, coming out of those briefings, I do get a sense of frustration from the diplomats on the UN end.  For us, there needs to be direct dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  I think we've laid out our position repeatedly to the Security Council.  What the Security Council decides to do, that is really up to them, but I think there is a level of frustration.  Betul, Edie and then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions.  Turkey has started to deport some of the ISIS fighters it has captured, and one of them is now stranded on the Turkish/Greek border.  I was wondering what you have to say on that.  And also, the former US‑UN envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, yesterday said that the fate of the UN depends on its willingness to change with the times.  What do you have to say on that, as well?

Spokesman:  I haven't read Ambassador Haley's book yet.  I think the Secretary‑General has been saying for quite some time that the UN needs to adapt to the twenty-first century.  And if… I think you… the briefing you had by Fabrizio Hochschild here a few weeks ago about the UN75 is all about what.  What is going to be the UN in 100 years? What is the future of multilateralism?  These are questions that the Secretary‑General has asked.  These are discussions that he's having with Member States, and these are discussions that we want to have with civil society and with the world at large.  But the UN is not just the Secretary‑General.  The UN is also — and very much so — its 193 Member States.Sorry, on your first question, let me get some specific language on that case.  You know, in a recent interview the Secretary‑General gave to French radio two days ago in Paris, I think he said that this was… obviously, the return of foreign terrorist fighters is something that needs to be handled within the framework, obviously, of international law but that he encouraged countries… European countries to at least move forward on taking back the children and some of the women who have been involved with foreign terrorist fighters.

Question:  Can I have a follow‑up on that?  Does the UN have access to the ISIS members in the camps in Syria as well as their spouses or children?  And can you give us a number of how many…?

Spokesman:  Let me check on the numbers, and I am not sure we have… I'm not sure we have access.  That may be more something for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Edie and then Linda.

Question:  Steph, I have two questions.  First, Oman is reportedly mediating indirect talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi rebels to end the war in Yemen.  I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on this or whether the UN has any role in this?

Spokesman:  I have no comment on this particular issue at this time.

Correspondent:  My second question goes back to another topic of…

Spokesman:  Yes, please, please.  Escalators.

Correspondent:  …escalators.  I raised the issue last week of how much money was being saved by keeping the escalators between the 2nd and 3rd, and 3rd and 4th floors closed, and I am still waiting for an answer.

Spokesman:  I think I had given you numbers of how much was saved, but I'm happy to…

Correspondent:  I mean, we… we know that the yearly cost of running the escalators was $14,000.

Spokesman:  $14,000, yes, a year.

Question:  Excuse me.  A follow‑up?

Correspondent:  But this is… I'm talking about two escalators here when others are running both for the delegates and otherwise.

Spokesman:  I hear your question.  And I also… you know, my calves have gotten better from walking two floors to go up to the cafeteria every day, but I would like to see the es…

Correspondent:  You don't walk in heels, Steph.

Spokesman:  Indeed.  Indeed, indeed, indeed.  I will not… Maria, I hear you.

Correspondent:  There have… there have been reports among some members of the press corps that, if the price was right, we might be willing to start a collection.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, let me see how… how we can divert some funds into that.

Question:  Excuse me, Stéphane, a follow‑up on the escalator issue.

Spokesman:  You're going to give these poor students such an amazing vision of the UN.  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  You said it's 14,000… the number that was mentioned, 14,000… that's for the 4th Floor.  Since there is half, 50 per cent of it now, so it's $7,000 on the PRs [permanent representatives] and other people who benefit…?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm well… I'm pretty well versed in the safety of escalators but not completely well versed in the actual cost per escalator saving…

Correspondent:  Anyway, under no circumstance that the initial cost of starting the electricity of the escalator is the bulk of the cost.  The other is not as much.  But I'm just saying for the sake of argument, it's 50 per cent.

Spokesman:  Always happy to hear things for the sake of argument.

Question:  The other thing, coming 1 January 2020, in the new fiscal year, do we anticipate or expect that the escalators will be back?

Spokesman:  I would hope so.  I would hope so.  I will talk to the comptroller… I will speak to the comptroller today.

Question:  Or this is going to be a punitive against journalists permanently?

Spokesman:  It’s not something against the journalists.  I don't know how many times I can tell you…

Correspondent:  Well, the journalists are the ones on the 3rd and 4th Floors, mostly.

Spokesman:  Okay.  First of all, MALU staff is on the 2nd Floor.  My staff is on the 2nd Floor.  The…

Correspondent:  MALU is on the 2nd Floor…

Spokesman:  The… yes, but we also like to access the 4th floor cafeteria.  There's also a large DPI or DGC [Department of Global Communications) presence on the 4th Floor.  But, I… let's just…

Correspondent:  We hope with the new fiscal year that with new money coming in, that this issue would be resolved or not.

Spokesman:  Let's move on manually.  Yes?  Linda, please.

Correspondent:  I don't think you're, you know… I don't think you're necessarily going to like this one as… I'm not reprieving you.  Put it that way.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.

Question:  You're not off the hook.  So, my question is that you say that… I mean, it seems like about two‑thirds of the membership still hasn't paid its dues this year, so we have 45 days, a countdown…?

Spokesman:  No, no, less.

Question:  You said 135 have paid?

Spokesman:  Somebody needs to do the math.  We have 193 Member States and 134 have paid.

Question:  So that's about two thirds?

Spokesman:  Obviously, some of the late…

Question:  Like a third hasn't…?

Spokesman:  Some of the late payers are the… owe quite a lot of money.  But, you know, as I've said repeatedly, this is not a United States issue, as they have always been paying on a different… on a slightly delayed calendar, and we're engaging in discussions with them and rather positive discussions.  Yes?

Question:  But, following up on that, so, approximately two thirds of membership has paid, I guess.

Spokesman:  Has paid, yes.

Question:  So, a third hasn't.  Is that the highest proportion of Member States that has not paid…?

Spokesman:  It's not… I will check.  [He later said 58 Member States still have to pay in full, which is similar to other recent years.]

Question:  How high does it go this year…?

Spokesman:  I don't think the highest proportion.  The problem is you have basically two different numbers.  You have the number of Member States that have paid and the percentage of the budget that it represents.  So, you could have a higher number of Member States have actually paid but still a higher number of money that is owed because some of the big payers have not [paid].  But let's try to get a bit more granular update for you.

Correspondent:  It's 28 per cent.

Spokesman:  Okay.  I like this kind of, like, group discussions.  Yes, Masood, and then we'll go…

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, I'm going to ask you a question, which I usually do, about continued incarceration of 8 million Kashmiri Muslims, and also now added to that is this atmosphere of ethnic cleansing, which is now gaining in India, which has been… which, if you know, was reported by The New York Times day before yesterday.  So, in that case, is the Secretary‑General, at any point in time, going to intervene and talk to the Indian Prime Minister?

Spokesman:  As I've said… you have asked this question a number of times, and I've given you the same answer, that the Secretary‑General has engaged directly with the Prime Minister of India on a number of times.  He's engaged directly with the Prime Minister of Pakistan a number of times.  The fact that the situation remains unchanged on the ground is a fact, which does not obscure our continued concern for the situation in Kashmir.

Question:  The Prime Minister of Pakistan has taken steps to ease the tensions between the countries by allowing the Sikhs to go, and…?

Spokesman:  Yes, and we welcome that.  We welcome that.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yesterday, I stumbled across a video on WebTV, and it's of Ghislaine Maxwell, who is the Jeffrey Epstein alleged co‑conspirator for lots of child sex trafficking, and she's giving a press conference right there.  It's still on the UN's website.  Do you guys have, like, a policy for removing videos of people who are credibly accused of sex trafficking?

Spokesman:  I think she was here a few years… or years…

Correspondent:  Yes, 2013.

Spokesman:  Yes, exactly.  We do not have a policy of removing videos from events that have taken place.  Thank you, all.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.