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

14 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.  Let me start off with a statement on Bolivia:  The Secretary‑General remains deeply concerned about developments in Bolivia.  He reiterates his appeal to all Bolivians to refrain from violence and exercise maximum restraint.

The Secretary‑General has asked Mr. Jean Arnault to engage as his Personal Envoy, with all Bolivian actors and offer United Nations support in efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including through transparent, inclusive and credible elections.  Mr. Arnault will be travelling to Bolivia today.

Mr. Arnault, as you know, is the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Colombia.  He has also served as his Special Representative in Georgia, Afghanistan, Burundi and Guatemala.


Turning to Somalia, nearly $19 million has been released from both the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Somalia Humanitarian Fund to scale up life‑saving assistance to more than half a million people affected by recent floods.

The flooding has destroyed infrastructure, farmlands and roads.  Livelihoods have been disrupted and homes have been inundated in many areas, displacing some 370,000 people.

The funds will help UN agencies and our partners quickly distribute food aid, deploy rapid response teams, support health facilities, and provide shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, education, and other critical protection services.

The funds will also support the UN Humanitarian Air Service to transport essential goods and personnel into areas made hard to reach due to the floods.

Despite this influx of funding, significant gaps remain.  The UN and our partners estimate that at least an additional $50 million is required for the immediate life‑saving response to these floods.


The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today a technique that sterilizes male mosquitoes using radiation that will soon be tested as part of global health efforts to control diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and Zika.

The Sterile Insect Technique is a form of insect birth control and helps to reduce insect population.

According to WHO, half the world’s population is now at risk of dengue fever.

**Sanitation Workers

A joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Bank, the World Health Organization and WaterAid highlights the unsafe and undignified working conditions of sanitation workers in several developing countries.

The report, issued to mark World Toilet Day on 19 November, is the most extensive exploration to date of the plight of sanitation workers in the developing world.

It is based on a study done in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Haiti, India, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

According to the study, most sanitation workers are in the informal economy and are deprived of their rights and protection.


Just a couple more notes.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published today new guidelines aimed at assuring crop diversity and farmers’ resilience to plant genetic resource loss.

And according to the agency, these Guidelines are a valuable aid to countries in developing national plans to conserve critical crop resources.


Today, as you know, is World Diabetes Day.

In his message, the Secretary‑General recalls that more than 420 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide, a treatable and often preventable disease largely driven by unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and poor access to health services and medicine.

Affirming that diabetes damages health and undermines educational and employment aspirations for many, the Secretary-General also stresses how it affects communities and forces families into economic hardship through catastrophic medical expenses.  His message is available to you online.


Also today, from 1 to 2 p.m., in the UN Bookshop, you are invited to a talk by Vladimír Dzuro, the author of the book “The Investigator:  Demons of the Balkan War,” and he will be discussing his new book in a conversation with your colleague Pamela Falk.

The book is about how he and his team of investigators pieced together the truth about the Ovcara massacre in Croatia, which led to the arrest of Slavko Dokmanović, one of the people responsible for it.

Mr. Dzuro worked as an investigator for the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and is currently Chief of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in New York.

And I had a note with an update from Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, but I think I left it in my office.  Somebody will bring it to me.

**Questions and Answers

In the meantime, Maria, please.

Question:  Follow‑up on your announcement on Bolivia.  This Special Envoy which Secretary‑General… whom Secretary‑General is sending, what mandate he has?  Is he planning any meetings with the ex‑president or somebody else in Bolivia?

Spokesman:  He will speak to… engage with all relevant actors in Bolivia to offer the UN’s support and to find a peaceful solution to this ongoing crisis.  Mario?

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  Does this respond to a request from different parties in the country?  Former President Evo Morales has publicly called for a UN mediation.  Is…

Spokesman:  This is something done on the Secretary‑General’s own initiative as a personal envoy in an effort to help the people of Bolivia find a path, a peaceful path, out of the current crisis.  And… yes, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  Just one more.  Has the SG been personally in touch with Mr. Morales or with any other…?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware the Secretary‑General’s spoken to Mr. Morales.

And just an update on Gaza:  Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator, said today that Egypt and the UN had worked hard to prevent the most dangerous escalation in and around Gaza from leading to war.

He said that the coming hours and days will be critical and that all must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed.  The Middle East does not need more wars, Mr. Mladenov said.

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With regard to the Secretary‑General have appointed a personal envoy to Bolivia, which is his prerogative, of course, why did the Secretary‑General… or does the Secretary‑General… let me rephrase.  Does the Secretary‑General intend to appoint a personal envoy for the evolving situation in Iraq and Lebanon?  Because I know that the heads of the missions are already involved with humanitarian and other…

Spokesman:  I think you’ve answered your own question.  I think, in Lebanon, Mr. [Jan] Kubiš is the Special Coordinator.  He has a very specific mandate.  Ms. [Jeanine] Hennis‑Plasschaert is the Special Representative in Iraq with a specific mandate.  There are structures there for the UN to support the Iraqi people and the people of Lebanon.  So, there’s no plan to add an additional layer.  Each situation is different.  Madame?

Question:  Sorry, Stéphane, I have two questions, one on Palestine, a follow‑up on Mr. Mladenov’s statement.  I did not hear any condemnation of the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli military.

Spokesman:  I think we’ve always condemned the killings of civilians, and I would refer you to what we said yesterday.

Question:  Okay.  I have something on Iraq.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  So Ms… the representative of the Secretary‑General, Mrs. Jeanine Hennis, a week ago tweeted… on… on one of her tweets, she said that Iraqis and the demonstrators should not block oil installations.  And that was received as a very problematic tweet by many Iraqis.  She got at least around 7,000 response.  And how do you respond to that?  Do you see that the UN representative should tell very peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities that… how they should demonstrate, especially that they are demonstrating in a peaceful way?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The UN has always and will always defend the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully.  As the Secretary‑General said, I think, when he spoke to you… to all of you a few weeks ago, it’s also about the need for governments to listen to the real demands of real people.  And this is what we’re seeing in a number of countries around the world.

We’ve also taken note of the violence that has been occurring, as well.  But we are there to help support the people of Iraq, to help the Government move forward on necessary reforms and necessary moves and to listen to the voices of the people.

Question:  But do you see the problem in her tweet and also given the fact that she did not apologise, actually?  I mean, that a UN official telling Iraqi people how they should demonstrate… specifically that they are actually very peacefully to block a road for oil companies or oil…

Spokesman:  Look, I’m not going to second‑guess the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy.  I think I would refer you to the very powerful remarks she delivered to parliamentarians yesterday or the day before and on the need for the Government to step up in answering the demands of people.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Two questions, Steph.  First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the announcement by judges from the International Criminal Court (ICC) that they have opened an investigation into crimes committed by… against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority in Bangladesh?

Spokesman:  No, it is not for us to comment on procedures going on in the judicial end of the UN system.  I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out very clearly and very forcefully on the need to address the situation of the Rohingyas and for the Government of Myanmar to put in place a number of actions and for justice to be done, but we have no specific comment on that case.

Question:  And as the second question, a follow‑up on Bolivia, is the new Personal Envoy going to be heading to La Paz this week?

Spokesman:  He’s going to Bolivia today.

Question:  Today?

Spokesman:  Today.  Masood and Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  I just wanted to find out about this situation in — what do you call — in Gaza and vis‑à‑vis Israeli attacks or killing of Palestinians who they deemed were terrorists.  How do you determine who are terrorists and who are not terrorists?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the statement we made yesterday, and I will leave it at that for the time being.  This situation is ongoing.  Yes, Stefano?

Correspondent:  So [inaudible] you think… you take the word of the Israeli Government…

Spokesman:  It’s not about taking the word.  We’ve always stood against… in principle, against extrajudicial killings.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Last week, I asked you what the Secretary‑General thought about the renewal of an agreement between Italy and Libya for handling of the migrants in the Mediterranean.  This week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch submitted a joint third‑party intervention to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.  The intervention relates to a recent case that raises issues surrounding Italy’s role in the fate of migrants who are stopped in the Mediterranean, returned and indefinitely detained in Libya.  So, this is kind of important news, because Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are following this issue.  I ask again, what does the Secretary‑General think that the… the agreement that has been on for three years and has been just renewed, does he has any advices for the Italian Government?

Spokesman:  On the agree… specificity of the agreement, I would ask you to ask UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  From the Secretary‑General’s standpoint, he strongly and personally believes that refugees have certain rights.  Those rights need to be respected.  He believes that migrants also need to be treated with dignity and with respect.

And as for Libya, it’s been clear for us for quite some time that Libya is not an appropriate place for refugees and migrants to either be sent back to or to actually be.  And as you know, UNHCR and IOM and others have been involved in programmes of taking people out, because we’ve seen the violence that they’ve had to endure in terms of the ongoing conflict right now in Libya.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, different ONGs (non‑governmental organizations) in Colombia are sounding the alarm of the increasing of the recruitment of children in the front line of fire in Colombia.  What is the information that you have about it?  And what is the Secretary‑General concern, when the international humanitarian rights ordered to protect the kid… the life of the kids in these kind of situations?  And let me point you… yesterday, you made a report about the number of migrants from Venezuela to Colombia, and part of these children are Venezuelans, as well.

Spokesman:  Yeah, listen, on the issue of recruitment of children, I’ll need to get an update for you on the specifics of Colombia.  Obviously, within the refugees and the migrants that are coming out of Venezuela, there are an important number of children who are especially in… as in all these situations, are in an especially vulnerable, precarious position, and they need to be protected at all costs.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With respect to the special representative of Bolivia, is the Secretary‑General concerned about the fact that each time there are domestic problems, he might be forced to appoint a special representative?  And is this a way of saving the finances of the UN?

Spokesman:  No, I think the appointment of a personal envoy for the situation in Bolivia is not linked to the financial situation in any way.  It is about the Secretary‑General’s capacity to be involved in preventive diplomacy, in mediation, and to be helpful in any way we can.  Obviously, consultations were had with various parties before the appointment, and it’s clear to us that this is something that would be a positive sign, and so the Secretary‑General went ahead.

Correspondent:  Preventive diplomacy, as you know, is before the problem breaks out.

Spokesman:  Well, preventive diplomacy is also before things could get worse.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A question on Cyprus.  The Secretary‑General’s report should be coming out tomorrow.  And in the past two reports, he was referring to new ideas.  It can you elaborate on these new ideas — what they are what he means by that?

Spokesman:  I will beg your indulgence and ask you to wait for the report to actually come out.

Question:  I was talking about the past two reports he had, and he was talking about new ideas in those reports, and can you elaborate what these new ideas are?  What is he referring to?

Spokesman:  The report is about to… I understand you’re talking about the past reports.  The new report is going to come out, and I’ll just have to wait a little bit.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  On these talks between… if… you had been asked this question before.  Talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemeni Houthis are going on in Oman.  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  Not more than what I told Edie yesterday.

Question:  Nothing…?

Spokesman:  Nothing more than what I told Edie yesterday.  Yes, sir?  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Later on, the Secretary‑General will be receiving Mr. David Rockefeller.  What is the subject of discussion?

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  I will try to find out.

On this very valid question, I bid you farewell.  Farhan [Haq] will be here tomorrow, so be on time.

For information media. Not an official record.