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

19 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.

**Middle East

Good afternoon.  I’ve been asked by a number of you before the briefing for a reaction to the announcement made yesterday by the Secretary of State of the US regarding the Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, and I can say for our part our position remains unchanged.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

The Security Council is holding an open debate today on the role of reconciliation processes in the maintenance of peace and security.

Briefing the Council, the Secretary-General said that successful reconciliation contributes to preventing a recurrence of conflict and building more peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies, pointing to examples such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland and Bosnia‑Herzegovina.

On the current wave of protests around the world, he said that while each is unique, they share common features:  a deficit of trust between people and political institutions, as well as deepening inequalities.

The Secretary‑General urges governments to respond to these protests with respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to address people’s grievances through dialogue and reconciliation to counter deep polarization.

And this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Secretary‑General will speak at the high‑level event between the UN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the theme, “preventing the linking of terrorism with organized crime and its financing through drug trafficking.”

He is expected to say that security measures are just one part of addressing terrorism and its links with transnational crime and drug trafficking.  The UN system is working with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to support holistic efforts to prevent and counter terrorism by dealing with root causes, with full respect for human rights and the rule of law.

**Sahel

A couple of humanitarian updates, one from central Sahel.

Our humanitarian colleagues say that violence and insecurity have sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in parts of Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger.

The number of internally displaced persons has now risen to more than 750,000.  This is ten times more people than a year ago.

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 2.4 million people need food assistance in Central Sahel — a figure that could rise due to continued displacements.

In a statement, the head of WFP, David Beasley, said teams on the ground in Burkina Faso are seeing malnutrition levels pushed well past emergency thresholds.

As you can imagine, the crisis is affecting the most vulnerable families, compounding the impact of food insecurity, malnutrition and epidemics.

This year, 6.1 million people in the affected regions need urgent assistance, including 3.9 million in Mali, 1.5 million in Burkina Faso, and 700,000 people in western Niger.

The UN and humanitarian organizations, in support of national and local authorities, are scaling up their assistance and need over $700 million to help 4.7 million people in the three countries.  This appeal is only 47 per cent funded.

**Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that one third of the country’s population — or just over 10 million people — experienced severe acute food insecurity between August and October of this year, requiring urgent humanitarian action.

Between now and next March, [severe] acute food insecurity may increase to affect around 11.3 million people, or 37 per cent of the total population.

At the end of September, the UN and its humanitarian partners had reached nearly 5.4 million people with assistance.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan for 2019, which calls for $612 million to help 4.5 million people, is nearly 70 per cent funded so far.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nearly 28,000 foreign children from over 60 countries, including almost 20,000 from Iraq, remain trapped in north‑eastern Syria, largely in displacement camps.  Some 80 per cent of these children are under the age of 12, and 50 per cent of them are under the age of five.

At least 17 countries have also already repatriated at least 650 children.

The UN commends the leadership of the countries who have repatriated civilians.  Their actions, and UNICEF’s long experience of supporting children, families and communities impacted by armed conflict around the world show us that where there is a will, there is a way.

It is imperative for Member States to take responsibility for children who are their citizens or born of their nationals and to take measures to prevent children from becoming stateless.

In line with the best interests of the child and in compliance with international standards, governments should ensure the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of foreign children back to their countries of origin.  The preservation of family unity and the principle of non‑refoulement are also critical for protecting children.

The UN urges all Member States to find durable solutions for all their nationals living in displacement camps in Syria, through repatriation, reintegration or prosecution, as appropriate, in line with international law.

**Vision

A couple of things to flag for today.  At 3 p.m. today in Conference Room 7, the first World Report on Vision will be launched, with an event hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the group Friends of Vision.  There will be an overview of the report and a moderated, interactive discussion of the key findings and their implications for advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

**Press Conference Today

Then at 1 p.m. here, Chantal Line Carpentier, the Chief of the Office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in New York will brief you on the launch of the 2019 Least Developed Countries Report.

**Toilet Day

Lastly, today is World Toilet Day, marking this year will be the theme:  Leaving no One Behind.

Close to half of the world’s population- or to be exact, 4.2 billion people — are still living without safely managed sanitation.  This is not without consequences and it is estimated that inadequate sanitation causes over 400,000 diarrheal deaths every year.

World Toilet Day aims to remind all of us that we need to do much more to achieve Sustainable Goal 6, or sanitation for all, by 2030.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Can I start by asking you about some basics… going back to some basics?  And so a very clear basic question to you:  Are UN Security Council resolutions binding on all Member States?

Spokesman:  It depends on… under which charter… under which chapter they're adopted.  I'm going to get into the legal issues.  If you… I assume you're asking in the context of…

Correspondent:  Resolution 2334, but other resolutions, as well.

Spokesman:  Right, yeah.  We…

Correspondent:  Resolution 2334 says that the establishment by Israel of settlements has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law; says Israel must immediately and completely cease all settlement activities.  That is the last settled position of the UN Security Council.

Spokesman:  That is our… that remains our guidance.

Question:  And given that is a UN Security Council resolution, is Secretary [Mike] Pompeo and what he's now saying a contravention of that resolution, of the UN Charter and of international law?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into legal interpretation from here.  What I can tell you, as far as we're concerned, we remain guided by relevant Security Council resolutions.  We remain committed to supporting the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve lasting and durable peace based on those resolutions.

The Secretary-General regularly reports… periodically reports on Resolution 2334.  That also remains our guiding light.  And the resolution states that Israeli settlement activities are flagrant violations under international law, a major obstacle to the achievement of the two‑state solution and a just and lasting comprehensive peace.  And that remains the Secretary‑General's position.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that a permanent member of the Security Council is ignoring some resolutions and treating international law as though it was an a la carte menu?

Spokesman:  We regret the decision and the announcement made by the United States.  Mr. Klein, and then Edie.

Question:  Just a follow‑up on that and a couple of… a couple of elements.  Would you extend that regret to another permanent member, Russia and its invasion of Crimea?  That's the first question.

Second question, you're saying the Secretary‑General has reaffirmed, as his own opinion, the Security Council's statement on the legality of settlements.

Spokesman:  No, no.  That's not what I said, James.  I said we… "James"?  Sorry.

Correspondent:  I’m not James.  Two J's, I know.

Spokesman:  Ever since… the two of you just look so much alike.  James, if only you were as handsome.

Correspondent:  I shaved this morning, so…

Spokesman:  Joe.  Sorry.  It's a serious issue. 

There [are] Security Council resolutions.  There are General Assembly resolutions.  Those remain the basis for the Secretary‑General's position.  I would refer you to the number of speeches he has given on the issue.  And what I am saying today is that the position that the Secretary‑General expressed in the latest report on Resolution 2334 remains our position.  If it was our position yesterday, it's our position today, and it will remain our position.

Correspondent:  But what I'm trying to follow up on is number 1, whether he has the same regret of Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, and its invasion of Crimea against international law…

Spokesman:  On…

Question:  Wait.  And secondly, applying the standard of illegality of settlements in quote "occupied territory," does the Secretary‑General have an opinion regarding Turkey's continued settlements of Turks in Northern Cyprus with its own troops stationed in Northern Cyprus, occupying in effect land there?  Does he see any comparability?

Spokesman:  Let's deal things one [by] one.  I think on the issue of Crimea and the Ukraine, our position is based on the territorial integrity of the Ukraine, as expressed in relevant General Assembly resolutions, and I would refer you to what the UN… what the Secretariat had said at the time.

On Cyprus, the Secretary‑General has been very clear in his position.  There was a report on his Good Offices just recently, and he is also working with the parties to try to find a settlement on Cyprus.

Mr. Abbadi and then… Sorry.  And then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You initially, at the beginning, you stated that regarding the settlement in the West Bank, that the Secretary‑General maintains his position.  Does he think the situation warrants repetition of that position?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I repeated his position.  Edie?

Question:  I wondered whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on the killing of 24 Malian soldiers on Monday in the latest extremist attack.

Spokesman:  Yes, we very much extend our condolences to the armed forces and the people of Mali.  I expect a further detailed statement coming up shortly.

We are… the peacekeeping mission there (MINUSMA) is in touch with the Malian authorities, is assisting medical evacuations if requested.  I think the attack, for us, illustrates once again the magnitude of the threat in the region, and the UN Mission in Mali reiterates its unflagging support for the Malian authorities.

Question:  And a second question.  Does the Secretary‑General… I know you had an early comment on protests.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the current protests in Hong Kong today, where police have surrounded about 100 protesters at a university?

Spokesman:  I think we're obviously, you know, watching those protests, as we are protests in different parts of the world.  The same basic principles applies — is that it's important to respect people's right to demonstrate peacefully and express themselves peacefully.  Security forces always need to show restraint, but there is… and this is true for many of these places, as the Secretary‑General himself said a few minutes ago, that there needs to be increased dialogue and reconciliation in order to avoid deeper polarization.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  Again, I want to ask about the lexicon.  Using the word "regret," it describes the speaker.  It doesn't extend to the action taken by a Member State that violating international law.  Why there is not one word addressed to that new position which troubles, which violates international law?  Why there is nothing like "to reject" or "to condemn" or to something like that?

Spokesman:  We very much regret the announcement made, and obviously, not only the announcement, but obviously, the substance of the announcement.  But for us, our own position, the way we view it, remains unchanged.

Question:  So do you think the four Geneva Conventions' applicability is still valid?

Spokesman:  I don't know… I mean, we want to talk about lexicon, I don't know what "unchanged" means more than "not changed."  Evelyn, and then Sherwin.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the action of Secretary of State Pompeo have an impact on the two‑state solution?  And does the SG have a position on that particular point?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think I've expressed our position on that particular point.  We remain committed to a two‑state solution based on the relevant UN resolutions.  Sherwin?

Question:  Just sticking with the subject, Steph.  You talked about the position not changing, that the work continues on finding a solution, a two-state solution, finding a lasting peace.  Pompeo yesterday said that he believes the policy reversal brings the parties closer to a resolution.  Is that a view the UN can back up?  Or does it undermine the work you're trying to achieve in the region?

Spokesman:  That's his analysis and I would let all of you do your own analyses.  Mario, and then Ibtisam.

Question:  Is there any update on Bolivia and the work that Mr. [Jean] Arnault is doing there?

Spokesman:  Yes, we obviously are continuing to follow the situation in Bolivia closely.  We're concerned about the developments.  I think it's important, once again, to call on all actors to give dialogue a chance, including by exercising restraint both in deed and in words.

As for Mr. Arnault, he has been, since 15 November, he's been in La Paz.  He's been engaging with political actors, social actors.  His objective is really twofold.  First, to stress the need to end violence and protect life and human rights.  And second, to help find a peaceful resolution to the crisis, including through free, credible and inclusive elections.  And Mr. Arnault has also been supporting the efforts by the Episcopal Conference of Bolivia and the European Union to establish a dialogue to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis that is ongoing.  Yeah?

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  You said there's concern regarding this latest event.  Do you have any words specifically on the violence of the past few days?  The deaths of protesters?  And some measures that the new government has taken, such as this decree to protect the armed forces from prosecution in this?

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, no death of any civilian demonstrator is acceptable.

On your other part, I would refer you to what I've already said, which is it's very important that all the parties exercise restraint, both in action, in deed, and in the words that they use.  Madame?

Question:  I want to go to James' question regarding the… whether it's legally binding for Member States or not, and you said that you don't have a position, but this is not the first time or your… I mean, this is not the first time that the Americans are taking a step, whether before regarding moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and your lawyers, or the lawyers working with the Secretary‑General, must have some legal opinion about it.

Spokesman:  Whatever legal opinion and legal advice the Secretary‑General seeks is an advice he gets from his lawyers.  We obviously… as a matter of principle, we would expect all Member States to abide by all resolutions.  Does that happen?  James?

Correspondent:  No, I was thinking of wielding Article 25 at you, but I'm not going to.

Spokesman:  Is that an article that calls for the removal of the spokesman?

Question:  I… I have one follow‑up question on the Middle East and then on the Middle East peace, and then another… another question if I can.  First, on… connected question to settlements.  Does the Secretary‑General have any evidence that the Jared Kushner peace plan actually exists?

Spokesman:  There has been… as far as I know, there has not been an official announcement that the peace… of this peace plan.  I have no indication that it does not exist.  It's a bit of an existential question, which is beyond my French abilities.

Question:  And… and another question on protests.  We entirely get the Secretary-General's point that he's made quite a few times, his general point on restraint, and he made it again in the Security Council, but it would be useful to get specific language on some of these protests, because they all have very, very different causes, so I'm going to ask you about one of them.

You've already been asked about Hong Kong, which you didn't answer, but I'm going to ask you about the protests in Iran, because Amnesty International is reporting that at least 106 people have been killed in the last four days, and they say there may be… that maybe that number is up to 200.  So what is the Secretary‑General's view on the fact that the Iranian authorities seem to be using live fire to attack protesters?

Spokesman:  Look, any use of live fire is deeply concerning, right?  I mean, we've seen the pictures.  If people are demonstrating peacefully, they should be allowed to do so.  And even if they're not demonstrating peacefully, restraint should be shown in how we deal with it.  We've seen the use of live fire in other places, in… notably in Iraq.  And I think I would also refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today about her deep concern about what she saw of repeated violations of international norms and standards in the use of force.

Question:  And does the Secretary‑General plan to speak to any Iranian representatives about this, particularly as there are allegations in Iraq that Iranian snipers might have been involved?

Spokesman:  We have no independent invest… no independent information on the allegations you raise.  Our special representative in Iraq is deeply involved and in contact with the Government to try to help them find a way out.

As for our contacts with Iranian, it has gone on at various working levels, and I'm sure also through the country office.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Back to Mali and the Sahel.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction to two presidents of West African nations who were concerned about the casualties, 100 soldiers killed since September in Mali?  First, President of Senegal Macky Sall, he specifically talked about the MINUSMA.  He said the… the UN Security Council needs to agree to a stronger mandate from MINUSMA and the second president was from Mauritania, the Mauritania president.  He said, quote, “the UN must reform in its peacekeeping policy, which is not in line with the issues on security in the Sahel”.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the UN force in the Sahel is operating under extremely different conditions.  I mean, you know we tragically report continuously on the loss of life of our peacekeepers in the front lines.  Our peacekeepers and also the Malian armed forces and also, of course, Malian civilians.

There is a more robust force, the G5 Sahel, which the UN Mission in Mali is supporting, as required by Security Council.  We provided fuel to a number of its units recently.

For us, we welcome the fact that the G5 Sahel has increased its operational tempo, so to speak, but for it to be effective as the Secretary‑General has said we think there should be also a constant and predictable source of funding.  Fathi?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Follow‑up on the Sahel region, the World Food Programme report, I think, raises great concern and alarms.  What is the Secretary‑General plans to deal with the situation evolving in Burkina Faso, where it's facing a dire situation for food insecurity, security problems and terrorism, in addition to climate change, which I know it's close to the Secretary-General mind and heart.  Is there any consideration from the Secretary‑General to maybe reorganise the operations of the United Nations in this part of the world, since it's a… it's a… it's an axis of multiple forces?

Spokesman:  Of course, and we recognise that a lot of the issues that these countries face in the Sahel recognize no border and they travel easily across the border.  Conflict, climate change and so on.

We have an integrated approach to the situation in the Sahel, both through our political and humanitarian branches.  We also have the Secretary‑General's special representative, Mr. [Mohamed] Ibn Chambas, for West Africa, who has been to Burkina Faso on a number of times and working there with the Government to try to address… help them address the complexity of the issues, which go well beyond their own borders.

Question:  Is there any emergency measures to provide food for Burkina Faso?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean… I think our humanitarian colleagues in Burkina Faso in the region are very well aware and trying to ramp up their presence.  Mr. Abbadi and then Abdelhamid and…

Question:  Further to my earlier question.  Does the Secretary‑General specifically think that it is a violation of international law to alter territories and their occupation?

Spokesman:  I think the international law is pretty clear on that.  Mr. Abdelhamid?

Correspondent:  I just want to say that every Security Council resolution is binding but not enforceable, and there… people sometimes make.  When Boutros Boutros‑Ghali, in his first press conference misused the two terms, he had to write…

Spokesman:  I'm not going to argue with your historical knowledge.

Correspondent:  … according to article I think 26, every resolution is binding but that's not my question.  My question…

Spokesman:  Always happy to be schooled.  I do respect… I respect all of you who have… most of you who have much greater knowledge.

Question:  My question is about the statement issued by Mr. [Pierre] Krähenbühl addressed to his former colleagues in UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).  It's a long letter.  I hope you read it.  In fact, he stopped short… I mean, he said that I was asked to step aside, and he explained it, politically, why he was asked to step aside, before the end of the investigation.  Do you share these views? I mean, that he was mostly expelled rather than resigned?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment on his letter to staff.  Mr. Krähenbühl sent his resolution to the Secretary‑General; the Secretary‑General accepted it.  Mr. [Christian] Saunders is now the officer in charge, and his only aim is to see how to better serve the Palestinian refugees under its mandate.

Question:  Any comment on that statement?

Spokesman:  No, no.  No.  Señora, bella?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  The president of Haiti said during an interview to Reuters that Haiti needs international support to tackle an unfolding humanitarian crisis.  Has the Government of Haiti has reached out to the UN to try to provide any support to face what he said is being… talks with some of the parties on what is happening right now?

Spokesman:  I mean, we're… we have a presence in Haiti.  I think, as we said, I think yesterday if I remember what I said myself, our humanitarian colleagues are establishing a humanitarian air service to try to move humanitarian goods to where they're most needed in Haiti.

The ongoing political unrest has had a devastating impact on what is already… what was already a precarious humanitarian situation, so we are dealing, obviously, with the humanitarian impact and also working with the country in whatever way we can to try to help the political situation.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  Would it be possible or is any effort from the Government of Haiti to try to reach out to the UN, or the Secretary‑General might be thinking on creating a special group that maybe does a side visit?

Spokesman:  We… our humanitarian colleagues in Haiti are very much on the case.  I will see if there was any specific request that came in.  [He later said the United Nations had not received any formal request from the Government of Haiti.]  Mario?

Question:  Just wanted to insist on the issue of this decree passed by the Bolivian Government.  Is the SG concerned that protecting the armed sources from prosecution can lead to more deaths and to impunity in these protests?

Spokesman:  I don't think… I'm not going to get into the details.  For us, we have seen violence in Bolivia.  We have seen civilians killed in trying to express their own… express themselves.  It is very important that people be allowed to demonstrate and that the Government show restraint and when there is violence, and when there are deaths, there is accountability. 

Yes, ma'am.  And then, we'll go to the back.  No, behind you, Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you.  Also on Haiti.  You mentioned yesterday that the funding for the humanitarian response is funded by only 29 per cent.  How will the airlifts be funded?  And…

Spokesman:  There is an emergency grant from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, a bit over $1 million to kickstart that.  Yep.

Question:  I know it's not an international dispute, per se, but have any of the stakeholders in Hong Kong reached out to the UN for any kind of mediation, assistance, in any way?

Spokesman:  Not here in New York, as far as I'm aware of. 

Thank you.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.