26 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.

**Secretary‑General’s Travels

Today, in Berlin, in Germany, the Secretary‑General called on Member States, companies, technology experts and civil society to join forces and explore the possibility of a Global Commitment on Digital Trust and Security.  Speaking alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel at the opening of the Internet Governance Forum, the Secretary‑General also announced that he will soon appoint a Technology Envoy to help advance international frameworks and nurture a shared digital future that puts people first and helps bridge the social divide.

Immediately after the event, the Secretary‑General had a bilateral meeting with Angela Merkel.  In remarks to the press, he said that digital technology is shaping history, and reiterated that we have a collective responsibility to maximize its benefits, while managing risks and avoiding unintended consequences.  He also said that we need smart regulatory frameworks and that he was pleased that Europe is leading the way.

Turning to the climate crisis, the Secretary‑General mentioned the two reports published this week that bring more evidence that we are currently not winning the race for our lives against the climate crisis.

Throughout the day, the Secretary‑General met with several other Government officials, including the President, Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

As you saw last night, the Secretary‑General hosted an informal dinner with the leader of the Greek Cypriot Community and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community.  That statement was issued yesterday.

**Emissions Report

As mentioned on the climate reports, ahead of the start of the next UN climate change conference in Madrid, a new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that global emissions must be slashed by 7.6 per cent every year for the next decade to meet the Paris Agreement target of a 1.5°C temperature rise.  With the current unconditional commitments made under the Paris Agreement, this year’s annual Emissions Gap Report cautions that global temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2°C.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cautioned that going beyond 1.5°C will increase the frequency and intensity of climate impacts.

The Secretary‑General stressed that there has never been a more important time to listen to the science, adding that failing to heed these warnings and take drastic action to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heat-waves, storms and pollution.  In a tweet, he underscored that we need more-ambitious climate action from every country, city, business and individual to protect our future.  The full report is online.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Congo, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Leila Zerrougui, will brief the Security Council via VTC [videoconference] in closed consultations regarding the situation in Beni in the country’s east.  We have arranged for her to speak to you at 2 p.m. by videoconference in this room.

Also on the DRC, earlier today, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that, although recent violence in Beni was not directed against the Ebola‑response teams, WHO has decided to relocate 49 of its 120 staff from Beni to Goma.  WHO had previously been able to trace more than 90 per cent of contacts, but now that figure stands only at 17 per cent.  Seven new cases have been reported in the past week.  Overall, as of 24 November, there had been 3,303 cases, of which 2,199 had resulted in the death of the patient, 1,077 had survived, while the others were still receiving treatment.


Turning to Yemen, the Head of the UN Mission to Support the Hudaydah Agreement, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) [Abhijit] Guha, is deeply concerned by the escalation of violence witnessed in the last few days in Yemen’s Hudaydah governorate and its surroundings.  The increase in the number of air strikes undertaken in the past 72 hours is in stark contrast to the relative calm after the establishment of the observation posts.  The Lieutenant General is alarmed by the reported loss of lives and the suffering among the Yemeni people caused by such attacks, noting that they jeopardize the safety of members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, the body responsible for monitoring the ceasefire.  He urges all parties to refrain from any action that may be in contravention to the terms and the spirit of the Stockholm Agreement and avoid further escalation of the situation.  He further urges the use of the de-escalation mechanism established with the support of the UN Mission to resolve differences and support ongoing efforts to maintain the ceasefire in Hudaydah.


As part of her continued efforts in the search for political solutions for Iraq’s crisis, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, has held separate meetings with the President of Iraq, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Council of Representatives.  She stressed the need to reflect the people’s legitimate call for electoral reforms in the legislation that is currently under review by the Council of Representatives.  The Special Representative also recently visited two hospitals in Baghdad, where she met some of the people who had been injured during the protests, and she also spoke with some of the health-care workers.

**Security Council

Back here in the Security Council, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, the Special Adviser and Head of the UN Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh (UNITAD), briefed the Security Council this morning.  Mr. Khan told the Council that the Investigative Team has continued to ensure that the experiences and the needs of the survivors of Da’esh crimes, and the families of its victims, are placed at the centre of its work.  He said that, one year following the arrival in Iraq, the Team is now fully operational.


The head of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Special Representative Mahamat Saleh Annadif, paid tribute this morning to the thirteen French soldiers of Operation Barkhane who were killed in an accident between two helicopters during a fight against jihadists in Mali.  Mr. Annadif said the French Operation Barkhane is dedicated tirelessly to keep people in Mali and the Sahel safe from terrorism.  He said he bowed to the memory of the fallen soldiers.


And just to flag that Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller is starting off a [three]-day visit to Morocco, where she will deliver a keynote address in Rabat at an International Humanitarian Law event on the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.  That event is being co-hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  In Morocco, she will also meet with Government officials to discuss the multilateral humanitarian system and Morocco’s further contributions to it.

**Africa Floods

Just an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:  from Djibouti, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that heavy rains and floods have impacted more than 150,000 people, with nine people — including seven children — reportedly having been killed in the city of Djibouti.  In support of the Government-led efforts, the UN and our partners have launched an emergency needs assessment and are deploying emergency health kits, drinking water and mosquito nets.  Additional funds are needed to scale up the response.

And in Kenya, more than 160,000 people have been impacted by heavy rainfall since early October, with more than 100 reportedly killed and thousands displaced due to floods and landslides.  The UN offers its condolences to the families of the victims and stands ready to help the Government and people of Kenya.

**Albania/Bosnia and Herzegovina

Following earthquakes that struck, this morning, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I want just to let you know that two UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination technical support members will be deployed to Albania.  The UN stands ready to provide any further assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina if required.  The UN is in contact with local authorities for more information on the situation as well.


Just yesterday, we issued a statement on the situation in Bolivia, welcoming the positive developments announced this weekend towards a peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in the country.

**Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

Just a few more notes:  in a few minutes, I will be joined by Ninan Varughese, Director ad interim of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) office here in New York.  He will brief on the new UNAIDS report entitled “Power to the people”, released ahead of World AIDS Day.  Also, ahead of World AIDS Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that some 320 children and adolescents died every day from AIDS-related causes in 2018.  That’s according to a global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS released by UNICEF.


Do any of you know what Humanium is?  […]  I didn’t know, either.  Humanium Metal transforms illicit firearms in regions affected by armed violence into non-lethal commodities for peace, and re-invests income into communities affected by gun violence.  Today at 4 p.m., the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the Permanent Missions of Sweden and El Salvador to the United Nations, as well as the NGO IM Swedish Development Partner will host an inaugural ceremony to welcome the addition of a Humanium Metal display in the UN Permanent Disarmament exhibition.  The display includes a watch, an ingot and a bracelet made from Humanium Metal.  The events will take place in the exhibit area of the Delegates Entrance, otherwise known as the Kuwaiti Boat area.

**Briefing Schedule This Week

Finally, tomorrow, we will be joined by Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And as a reminder that Thursday we are closed.  You are not welcome in this building.  None of us are.  And Friday we will be open, but we will not be briefing, but we will be available to answer questions should you have any.  And maybe you want to ask one today.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  I have a question on Humanium exhibitions at the United Nations.  [Laughter.]  I thought exhibitions were not allowed, based on the austerity list that you sent us.

Spokesman:  No, outside of working hours.  This is within working hours.

Correspondent:  I’ll have to check.

Spokesman:  Okay.  [Laughter.]  That was the only question?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Wow.  Okay.  Joe?

Question:  Yes.  In the Secretary‑General’s remarks or meetings relating to the Internet Governance Forum, to what extent did he bring into the discussion his statements in the past on hate speech and social media?  And, also, did he strongly advocate for non‑censorship on the Internet?  As we know, some countries like Iran have closed the Internet and so forth.

Spokesman:  Have you read his remarks?  Okay.  Well, I would refer you to his remarks, because I think they’re fairly extensive on all of the issues that you raised, and he delivered them about two hours ago.  James?

Question:  I have two China‑related questions.  First one, with regard to Hong Kong, we have your consistent position of restraint with regard to the protests.  I don’t want to ask you about the protests.  I want to ask you what the UN’s position is on the actual demands of these people, because it’s clear that the demands are very representative of the people of Hong Kong, as displayed in the recent elections.  So, what does the UN make of these demands?  And what is its message to Beijing about listening to these demands?

Spokesman:  And your second question?

Question:  Well, it’s a different part of China, but…

Spokesman:  Well, go ahead.

Question:  Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo has said in the last hour that he believes the estimates of a million people being detained, Uyghurs being detained, in Chinese detention camps.  Does the UN share that view, that that figure is accurate?  And does the Secretary‑General have anything more to say about those people and the way they’re being treated?

Spokesman:  You know, on China, our position remains what it has been, which is that the issues need to be dealt with through dialogue.  I mean, that has not changed.

Question:  Yeah, but you have in the past…  I mean, certainly, the Chinese authorities have talked about activists, protesters.  It’s clear this is much more representative as a result of the election now.  Does that change the way that the Secretary‑General approaches…

Spokesman:  Listen, there were elections, by all accounts, held freely, and I really have nothing to add to what we’ve said earlier.  And your other question?

Question:  Uyghur numbers and your view on their ongoing detention.

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any access to any numbers.  I mean, the…  we’ve talked a lot about the situation in Xinjiang.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, as you’re aware, is continuing active discussions with authorities to have…  in order to be able to visit China.  We hope those engagements continue and lead to a positive outcome.  For his part, the Secretary‑General — and I think he made some comments to some of your colleagues in Germany earlier today — has consistently stressed the need for all countries to follow applicable human rights law.  And on…  and he’s also spoken in more detail on the situation in Xinjiang, and, I mean, I can reread what we’ve read a number of times…

Question:  But, again, it’s always couched in “all countries”.  This is a very specific issue…

Spokesman:  I know and I…

Question:  There’s one country that’s holding potentially a million people in detention.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has raised this issue with the Chinese authorities, the situation in Xinjiang.  He’s raised it when he was in China.  He raised it, as I said, when he met with the Prime Minister on the sidelines in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  And his position…  I mean, so he has…  this issue is not one that he has ignored.  It’s one that he has raised both publicly and privately.  Yes, and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, you know, because of the meeting of ISIS accountability, I want to ask you about this.  As you know, the work of the team is to gather evidence mainly, but the biggest question is not addressed yet —— what to do with these foreign ISIS fighters that, some of them, this evidence shows that they are…  committed these crimes.  Should there be a multilateral solution for this?  Should they just be returned to their countries, mostly in Europe?  I wanted to know, what is the Secretary‑General’s position about this?  Does he think there should be a multilateral solution for the issue of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and in Iraq?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary‑General has said publicly not too long ago is there needs to be better cooperation, global cooperation, on this issue.  There needs to be accountability.  There also needs to be respect for human rights, in the sense of anyone who’s accused also has certain rights.  I think, as Mr. Khan said in his remarks, they have been cooperating with Iraq.  They’ve also been cooperating with a number of other countries in order to help them prosecute these horrendous crimes.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the new report by the UN Environment Programme, saying that countries need to begin making steep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions — otherwise, risking global warming that’s going to go well beyond…

Spokesman:  I mean, you know, as if we needed more reminders.  Right?  The science is clear.  It’s clear every day.  There was a report yesterday by the World Meteorological Organization and today by the UN Environment Programme.  Failing to listen to the signs will have dire consequences.  Drastic action needs to be taken, and drastic…  We need to see drastic action, and we need to see renewed political commitment.  Carla, and then Joe.

Question:  Thank you.  On that note, I may have missed in the past couple of months, but has the Secretary‑General said anything about the Brazilian President [Jair] Bolsonaro’s authorizing the cutting down of so much of the Amazon?  I mean, since there’s a tremendous push for climate change, the Brazilian President seems to be totally, you know, clueless.  And all I…  You know, the only thing I’ve seen is him insulting President [Emmanuel] Macron’s wife.

Question:  I mean, I think, at the time this first… this issue was raised, the Secretary‑General spoke to it when he was in Biarritz during the G7.  It is clear that all those countries who are the keepers of these massive forests, whether they be in the Amazon, whether they be in Asia or in Africa, have a shared responsibility to keep these environments alive.  Joe?

Question:  [Inaudible] Bolsonaro isn’t changing.  So, is there any follow‑up at all?

Spokesman:  I…  You know, I think this will be an issue that will also, I’m sure, be discussed at the Conference of Parties.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  I now had a chance to review, fairly rapidly, I must admit, the Secretary‑General’s remarks.

Spokesman:  I thought…  You weren’t paying attention to what I was saying?  [Laughter.]  All right.  Fine.

Question:  Well, you didn’t…  You just told me to read it.  You know?  I always follow your direction.  So, having re… having gone over it — and I did see his references to the potential abuses of social media, reflecting what he has said before — I didn’t see anything calling out any specific instances of censorship or shutting down the Internet, let alone calling out any particular countries like Iran, China and other closed societies.

Spokesman:  Look, I think we have spoken out…

Correspondent:  But this was an opportunity…

Spokesman:  Let me…  Can I…

Question:  Excuse me.  This was an opportunity for him, you know, at that forum on Internet Governance, to specifically call out the repressive societies, like Iran, that have recently shut down, let alone censored… they’ve shut down the Internet.  Why didn’t he take this opportunity to address it?

Spokesman:  We addressed the issue of the shutdown that took place in Iran last week during the demonstrations from here, the Human Rights High Commissioner, as well.  The Internet Governance Forum is a very useful forum for the Secretary‑General, for all stakeholders, to get together to discuss the future of the Internet.  For the Secretary‑General’s part, it’s about ensuring that all the positive benefits of the Internet are not negatively impacted by all the negative sides of what we’ve seen — the hate speech, the human trafficking, all of that.  It’s about getting all the stakeholders together to create policies, to create guidelines, and to ensure that we remain to have one Internet, that we’re not seeing…  I mean, the Secretary‑General speaks about the risk of fracture, of different Internets, which is not what he wants to see.

Question:  Shouldn’t the cardinal principle be no censorship on the Internet?  It should be an open platform.

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General has been clear on the need for freedom of speech, in whatever form.  Next?  That would be you, my friend.

For information media. Not an official record.