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

20 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.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the [Security] Council this morning in the aftermath of the most serious recent escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.  Although the immediate crisis was defused, he said, the situation remains highly volatile.

Although calm was restored in Gaza, Mr. Mladenov said that the dangers have not passed.  He said that, for now, the arrangements that came into effect in the early hours of 14 November are holding, but sporadic rocket launches have continued, prompting Israeli retaliation.

The Special Coordinator said that Gaza ultimately requires a political solution.  Militant activity cannot continue to undermine the chances for peace and development.  He added that Israel cannot continue with its policy of closures that stifles development.  His full remarks have been shared with you.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said today that Iraq’s draft electoral legislation — currently under review by the Council of Representatives — requires improvements to meet public demands.

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative said that it is the prerogative of the Council of Representatives to examine this legislation as it sees fit.  However, she urged the parliamentarians to act on their constituents’ legitimate demands for credible, free and fair elections.

The United Nations stands ready to assist, she added.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the humanitarian situation throughout Syria remains dire, with more than 11 million people in need of assistance and over 6 million people displaced.

We are particularly concerned over the safety and protection of some 3 million people in Idlib and surrounding areas of the north‑west of the country, including some 1.6 million internally displaced people.

Since the end of October, an increase in airstrikes and shelling has impacted dozens of communities in Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia governorates.  In addition, an increase in attacks with improvised explosive devices have been reported in Idlib and Aleppo governorates.  There have also been recent reports of ground fighting.

Since hostilities began in late April, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified over 1,000 civilian casualties as a result of hostilities, hundreds of them children.

The UN continues to remind all parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.  Hospitals and medical facilities, as well as medical staff, enjoy special protection under international humanitarian law.

**Darfur

Turning to Darfur, in Sudan, the head of the UN‑African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, spoke to reporters in Khartoum earlier today.

The Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, noted that the Security Council’s resolution late last month maintains the mission’s two‑pronged approach of having peacekeeping in the Jebel Marra area and having peacebuilding in the rest of Darfur.

Mr. Mamabolo said that, yesterday, the UN‑AU mission handed its largest camp in Darfur over to the Sudanese Government to be exclusively used for civilian purposes.  More information on UNAMID’s website.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

We have new clashes reported between armed groups in the Congolese province of North Kivu that have reportedly left six people dead and led to the displacement of up to 40,000 people, who have fled villages around Bukombo.

Earlier this year, in June, some 300,000 people, mainly women and children, were also displaced following a wave of attacks by various armed groups in Ituri and North Kivu.

In total, over 5 million people are currently displaced across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Insecurity and displacement especially impact the most vulnerable, who are also in need of assistance.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for the DRC, which is $1.65 billion and which aims to assist 9 million people, is only 42 per cent funded.

**Myanmar

Regarding Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the armed conflict in Rakhine and northern Shan states between the Myanmar military and armed groups is deeply concerning since it continues to impact civilians.

More than 40,000 people are currently displaced across Rakhine and Chin states, which marks an increase of at least 8,000 people since late October.  This is in addition to the 128,000 mostly Rohingya who remain displaced in camps in Rakhine state, many of them have been there for more than seven years.

The UN and our humanitarian partners’ access to those in need is impeded by persistent insecurity and restrictions Rakhine State.

In northern Shan, nearly 25,000 people have been temporarily displaced by conflict this year, up from nearly 22,000 last year.

We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to refrain from violence, adhere to international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate timely access to people in need.

**Environment

Our colleagues at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and its partners today released a report that says countries plan to produce 120 per cent more fossil fuels by 2030 than can be burned under the 1.5°C warming limit.

The Production Gap Report is the first assessment of the gap between the Paris Agreement goals and countries’ planned production of coal, oil and gas.  This report complements UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, which shows that countries’ pledges fall short of the emissions reductions needed to meet global temperature limits.  That report is due out next Tuesday.

The Production Gap Report says the world is on track to produce far more coal, oil and gas than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C, creating a “production gap” that makes climate goals much harder to reach.  The report also details options to close the production gap, as well as those available through international cooperation under the Paris Agreement.

**Children

Today is World Children’s Day.  It is also the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty.

In his message to mark the day, the Secretary-General highlighted achievements of the past 30 years, including a 50 per cent decrease in child deaths before the age of 5.  With millions of boys and girls still suffering from war, poverty, discrimination and disease, he urged countries to keep the promises made to children by joining this landmark convention.

At a high-level event at the General Assembly this morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, also recognized the important progress of the past 30 years, but, she added, our work is far from done.  Children are rightly demanding action on climate change, on gender inequality and on human rights.

Speakers this morning included UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, as well as Goodwill Ambassadors Millie Bobby Brown and David Beckham.

**Harlem Globetrotters

And ending on another sports story, tomorrow at 4 p.m., five members of the Harlem Globetrotters, including two new players and one female player, will be here at UN Headquarters for a VIP guided tour.  For the first time in its 93‑year history, the Harlem Globetrotters will be announcing the signing of their first Chinese player and their first player from Poland.

Over the course of the team’s history, the Globetrotters have played in 124 countries and territories around the world.  And we are delighted to have them here, and I think there will be a photo opp.

Sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  First one about Iraq.  We saw the statement of UNAMI about concern of targeting protesters and violence — which continues.  Is UN willing to participate in any of those… in an investigation into those business, especially the Iraqi Government right now is saying that is not our forces, we did not give orders to kill and use live ammunition against protesters?

Spokesman:  Obviously, it’s the primary responsibility of governments to investigate the killing of civilians on its territories.  The UN stands ready and our human rights colleagues stand ready to assist in any way they can if they are requested by the Government.  But any government has the responsibility to investigate those deaths.  The human rights component of the UN mission in Iraq has been very active in documenting the violence that we’ve seen, including, obviously, the civilian deaths, the high number of civilians we have seen killed during these demonstrations.

Question:  Turning to Syria.  Three weeks ago, the Secretary‑General said this about Turkey’s plan of resettlement of millions of refugees into north‑east Syria, he said UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) will immediately form a team to study the proposal.  What happened to that studying team?  Is UN going to…

Spokesman:  UNHCR, I think, is in touch with its counterparts in Turkey and they are looking at the proposals put forward by the Turkish authorities.  You should check with UNHCR, and we can check as well if there is an update.

Question:  Just to be clear, those proposals by Turkey is widely accused of being, not just by the Kurds, but by the US and some leaders in UN, European Union and NGOs, as a plan to ethically cleanse Kurds in north-east Syria, this is accused of a plan and with ethnic cleansing, my question here is:  Why would UN want to study a plan like that?

Spokesman:  Study, it’s a matter of principle, studying doesn’t entail endorsing, right?  The Turkish authorities presented this to the Secretary‑General.  Any issues having to do with refugees is the sole remit of the High Commissioner for [Refugees] as enshrined in international law.  So the High Commissioner for Human Rights… excuse me, the High Commissioner for Refugees, so he is obviously looking at that.  But the UN is not going to waver from its principles of no forced repatriation and also that any repatriation needs to be done in safety, in dignity, voluntary, and, obviously, to the places where people came from.

Question:  And one thing, studying you said is not endorsement, but it’s not rejection, either?

Spokesman:  We are, you know, we are an organisation made up of Member States.  If a Member State gives us a plan and asks us to look at it, we are going to look at it.  James?

Question:  Two separate questions on Syria.  Firstly, what is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to air strikes by the Israelis in Syrian territory?

Spokesman:  And the second question?

Question:  Well, the second question is… it’s not related.

Spokesman:  It gives me time, as you listen to… as I hear your second question, it gives me time to prepare the answer to the first in my head.  It’s a diversionary tactic.

Question:  The second question is on a separate subject unrelated to Syria.  I’m hearing from diplomatic sources that there is a plan to bring the Board of Inquiry on Idlib to an end before the end of the year.  Can you confirm that timeline?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I think the plan had always been for the Board of Inquiry to wrap up its work by December.  So I don’t think there is anything new in that.  We are obviously… [phone rings]  Anybody I want to talk to?

Correspondent:  No.

Spokesman:  Okay, thanks.  The Secretary‑General is following with concern the reports of Israeli air strikes in the suburbs of Damascus and also reports earlier of rockets fired from Syria towards the Israeli‑occupied Golan yesterday.  We saw those reports yesterday.  We once again caution against any hostile acts to avoid a wider escalation in a region already embroiled in terrible conflicts and immense suffering of civilians.  I mean, everyday including today, I outline the suffering of the Syrian people.  On the peacekeeping side, the UN peacekeeping force in the area, UNDOF, has been in touch with both Syrian authorities and the Israeli Defence Forces, urging both parties to exercise maximum restraint.

Question:  And, sorry, just to clarify on the Board of Inquiry, you say it was always the original plan to bring it to the end… to bring its work to an end by the end of the year.  One assumes that is based on the fact that the Board of Inquiry has had a chance and time to look at all the relevant evidence.  If they have not completed their work, they’ll get an extension?

Spokesman:  You know, they are the masters of their own work.  The general timeframe, I think, had us completing around the end of December.  But as soon as they are ready to bring something to the Secretary‑General’s attention, they will.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question for a change, for a change:  Is the SG considering running for Secretary‑General next year?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, if you would ask him that, saying his only focus is on what he is doing now and not giving any other consideration.

I can’t answer beyond what I’ve just answered.  Yes, sir.  Yes, Erol, please?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It’s not about the escalator but it’s still…

Spokesman:  It’s too bad.  We haven’t had an escalator question in at least two days.  It’s a moving target.

Question:  It’s regarding actually money.  So that is why I’m very hesitating to ask you, but I have to.  Since there are many public buildings that are going to be in blue because it’s Child Day today all over the world, is UN considering something to put some lights because they are in severe mood…?

Spokesman:  The question, I’m not aware of any lighting plans for the UN.  But if there were a lighting plan, it would be done through outside resources and not from the meagre cash that is… remains in our treasury at this point.

Question:  What does it mean actually, the outside resources?

Spokesman:  I mean, if it’s a special project, then an agency would pay for it.  It would not come out of the regular budget.

Question:  So you are late, just saying a little bit late?

Spokesman:  That’s not new.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Related question about finance but an indirect one.  The escalators are still closed to the use and we take the elevators.  What if there is an emergency situation, a fire in the elevators — what would happen?

Spokesman:  There are stairs to be taken.  Escalators, in a fire emergency, you should not take the escalators, either.  The only safe route is stairway.  I’m also a fire warden on top of being an escalator expert.  Yes, Yasin?

Question:  My question follows up on Syria.  I mean, Israeli bomb like, you know, yesterday when we wake up to see what is going on and two people die and a bunch of people is, I mean, in danger.  And what’s the comment from, you know, the general?

Spokesman:  I think I just answered.

Question:  That question is enough — that answer is enough?

Spokesman:  Well, you asked a question.  The answer for us is we are very concerned about these reported air strikes coming yesterday from the Syrian side into the occupied, the Israeli‑occupied Golan, and today reports of Israeli strikes into Syria.  The last thing Syria needs is more violence.

Correspondent:  It’s not a first time.

Spokesman:  No one is saying that it is the first time.  It continues to be concerning.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is in regards to the US decision to view Israeli settlements as not being not necessarily illegal.  And I was wondering, I know the SG said he expressed regrets — by you, of course, through you yesterday, and said that US… UN policy remains intact.  I was just wondering if there has been or a plan or are there plans to discuss this decision with US officials?

Spokesman:  At the Secretary‑General’s level, I’m not aware of any.  But we are in constant contact with the US Mission on all sorts of issues.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Just I want to ask about any updates from Iran.  And if you can, Stéphane, explain about UN presence in Iran — like how is that there and are there any…

Spokesman:  There is the UN country team, a number of agencies are represented in Iran.  I mean, it’s… you can look on the country team’s website.  It’s…

Question:  It’s in Tehran?

Spokesman:  It’s in Tehran, yeah, it’s in Tehran.  There is a resident coordinator who leads the UN system.

Question:  And the updates?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think we have been following with concern the reports of the death toll that we have seen in the recent demonstrations, and for our part we echo the statements made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the call to immediately re‑establish Iranians’ access to the Internet.  And we continue to urge the Iranian authorities and security forces to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid the use of force to disperse peaceful demonstrations.  James?

Question:  You mentioned the Resident Coordinator in Tehran, but, of course, the Resident Coordinator in Tehran and all the resident coordinators have been here in New York.  Given the financial emergency facing the organisation, was there any suggestion that that meeting should be postponed?  And have you any indication of what that is costing in terms of… do they travel business, these resident coordinators when they come here?  What is the hotel limit to the room that they spend?  How much does the whole jamboree cost?

Spokesman:  The jamboree, as you so wonderfully put it, and I’m sure they would agree, is paid for by 95 per cent by extrabudgetary resources.  It does not come out of the regular budget.

Question:  To Member States?  Or what’s the…

Spokesman:  Yeah, to Member States through the resident coordinator’s office.  We have about 120 resident coordinators who are here.  You know, the objective is really twofold.  It’s to reinforce, one, the new system where the resident coordinators report now directly to the Secretary‑General, through the Deputy Secretary‑General.  And it’s also for them to start, to get them ready for the decade of action to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and assess the progress and challenges of the UN development system.  Second…

Question:  Could you ask the comptroller for a costing?

Spokesman:  I will try for a costing.

Question:  Could we find out the class of travel?

Spokesman:  The travel, they follow… resident coordinators, like all UN staff, follow the policies in place, which are public, on the class of travel, which depend on time.  The allowance, the DSA, the daily allowance, is also set by the international civil service.  It’s a public thing, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary in that sense.  It is, you know, some meetings are really critical and important for the function of this organisation.  I think for the Secretary‑General to meet all of his representatives, his resident coordinators at least once a year, and so they have a chance to hear from him and to have a chance to have a real dialogue with him is important, is important indeed.

Question:  But it would be possible to postpone the meeting until next year when you have more money?

Spokesman:  It’s always difficult to coordinate everybody’s travel time, including the Secretary‑General’s time.  And, as I said, this comes out, this 95 per cent, it does not come out of the regular budget.  Madame?

Question:  What can you say regarding Bolivia…?

Spokesman:  What I can tell you, in fact, you must have seen what was just brought into me, is that we have obviously been following the demonstrations.  The Secretary‑General regrets the reported loss of life of… included of at least five people in clashes with the police.  It’s very important there be a prompt and impartial and thorough investigation to ensure accountability of police forces.  We condemn all violence and call on all social and political actors, including protesters, to act with restraint in order to pave the way for peaceful dialogue and solutions to the ongoing crisis.  Here again we echo the High Commissioner’s call on authorities to ensure that security forces comply with international norms and standards of use of force.  And, as you know, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has deployed a mission to Bolivia to gather information on human rights violations and the violence.  And Mr. [Jean] Arnault continues his constitutions.  Mr. Abbadi and then…

Question:  Thank you.  The situation in Hong Kong, as you know, is not only deteriorating further but becoming dangerous.  Does the Secretary‑General express any heightened concern?

Spokesman:  You know, I think that we have covered this yesterday.  We are obviously following the situation.  The violence is of concern.  And I would refer you back to the Secretary‑General’s statement that he made yesterday on reconciliation, which I think covers a lot of these areas.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Okay, thank you, on settlement again, the SG position is clear, also the Israeli position is very clear, as well as the United States.  Israel has stated clearly that they are about to annex Jordan Valley soon.  What or does the United Nations have a preventative measure to prevent this from happening?

Spokesman:  If you mean the Secretary‑General, I think the Secretary‑General can only use his good offices, and I can only speak for the Secretary‑General.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.