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

3 December 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

Good afternoon.  A couple of notes.

The Secretary-General, earlier this morning, met with His Majesty King Felipe the VI, of Spain.  The Secretary-General expressed once again his gratitude for Spain’s support for hosting the Climate Change Conference in Madrid and the impeccable organization that was achieved in record time.

He is currently on his way back to New York City — the Secretary-General, that is.

**Climate Change

And on the side-lines of the COP (Conference of Parties) 25, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stressed that 2019 concludes a decade of exceptional global heat, retreating ice and record sea levels driven by greenhouse gases from human activity.

According to a new report released by the agency, average temperatures for the five‑year (2015‑2019) and ten‑year (2010‑2019) periods are almost certain to be the highest on record.  2019 is on course to be the second or third warmest year on record.

Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that safeguarding human health from climate change impacts is more urgent than ever, yet most countries are not acting fully on their own plan to achieve this.

According to the first global snapshot of progress on climate change and health released by WHO, countries are increasingly prioritising climate change and health, but only about 38 per cent have finances in place to even partially implement their national strategy.  And fewer than 10 per cent are channelling resources to implement it fully.

**International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The theme for this year:  “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership:  taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda”.

In a special message, the Secretary-General stresses that we still have much to do to secure the rights of people with disabilities.

He recalls that almost all UN Member States have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and urges those who have not yet done so to ratify it without delay.

On this International Day, he also reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to work with people with disabilities to build a sustainable, inclusive and transformative future in which everyone, including women, men, girls and boys with disabilities, can realize their full potential.

**Security Council

And the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, just briefed the Security Council on the situation in that country, including on demonstrations taking place.  She said that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — from all walks of life — have taken to the streets, out of love for their homeland, emphasizing their Iraqi identity.  All they are asking for, she added, is a country reaching its full potential for the benefit of all Iraqis.

However, she said that they are paying an unimaginable price for their voices to be heard.  Since early October, 400 people have been killed and over 19,000 people have been injured.

The Special Representative told Council Members that we are witnessing an accumulation of frustration for the lack of progress for so many years.  The high loss of life, the many injuries, the violence — combined with this long period of undelivered promises — all resulted in a crisis of confidence.

She once more stressed the importance of guaranteeing fundamental rights — above all the right to life, but also the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

**South Sudan

Turning to South Sudan, 75 UN peacekeepers have been temporarily redeployed from Rumbek to Maper to deter further violence in the northern Lakes region of South Sudan.

This comes on the heels of reports that nearly 80 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in a series of communal clashes and revenge attacks between the Gak and Manuer communities.

While political violence has largely subsided in South Sudan since the signing of the revitalized peace agreement in September 2018, intercommunal clashes continue to result in the killing and injuring of civilians, cattle raiding and the looting of property.

The head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, David Shearer, urged the communities involved and their leaders to put an end to the violence and to come together in reconciliation and peace for the good of the people.

**Global Humanitarian Overview 2020

And tomorrow, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will be launching the 2020 Global Humanitarian Overview.  And that launch will be done simultaneously in five cities:  in Geneva, Berlin, Brussels, London and Washington, D.C.

The Global Humanitarian Overview presents inter‑agency response plans for humanitarian action across the world with an overview of the funding requirements to implement them.

It is based on data sharing, joint analysis and programme coordination by humanitarian UN agencies and hundreds of NGOs, to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable people are addressed first.

The event will be livestreamed on the UN website.  The report, press release and all materials will be available online tomorrow.

**Libya

And I have been asked about the situation in Libya, and I can say that we are very concerned with the intensification of airstrikes in civilian populated areas in the past few days.

We stress that indiscriminate attacks are prohibited and all feasible precautions must be taken to avoid and, in any event, to minimize incidental civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.  We remind all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law.

And on the humanitarian end from Libya, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a number of civilians — mostly women and children — were killed in airstrikes in recent days in different parts of the country.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, said that he is appalled by these horrific attacks, which constitute yet another blatant violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws.

More than 300,000 people remain displaced across Libya, including more than 140,000 people uprooted in the clashes in the capital Tripoli.

**Zimbabwe

And from Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme (WFP) is quickly expanding its already sizeable emergency operation in the country, where drought, flooding and macroeconomic meltdown have plunged 7.7 million people — that’s half the country’s population – into severe hunger.

The head of WFP, David Beasley, said that Zimbabwe is deep into a vicious cycle of skyrocketing malnutrition that’s hitting women and children hardest and will be tough to break.

The agency urgently needs $300 million to meet the needs of the hardest-hit Zimbabweans and will more than double the number of people it is helping by January to 4.1 million.

Zimbabwe’s hunger crisis is the worst in more than a decade and is part of an unprecedented climate‑driven disaster gripping southern Africa.

**Philippines

And Typhoon Kammuri made landfall in Luzon Island in the Philippines, with homes damaged, power supplies interrupted and widespread flooding along the Bicol River.

The UN and our partners, together with the Government, will carry out a rapid needs assessment in the most affected areas as soon as conditions allow.

**Albania

And an update on the situation in Albania, where an earthquake struck last week:  The UN, through the Office of Coordination Affairs (OCHA), is supporting the response with damage and needs assessment as well as coordination.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 people are estimated to be displaced and living in the vicinity of their homes and over 2,850 are being accommodated in hotels.

And according to local authorities, 51 people died and all those missing have reportedly been accounted for.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

You saw that, yesterday afternoon, we announced the appointment of Bruno Lemarquis of France as the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti, otherwise known as BINUH.  He will also serve as the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

Mr. Lemarquis joined the United Nations in 1992 and brings to this position extensive managerial and leadership experience in development, humanitarian affairs and peacebuilding.  And we congratulate him on his appointment.

**Burkina Faso

And yesterday afternoon, you saw we also issued a statement on the situation in Burkina Faso, in which the Secretary‑General strongly condemned Sunday’s attack on a congregation attending a church service in the village of Hantoukoura, in Burkina Faso.

**International Year of Plant Health

And lastly, 2020 is the international year of what?  Anybody know?  Plant health.

Plants make up 80 per cent of the food we eat, and they produce 98 per cent of the oxygen we breathe.  Yet, they are constantly threatened by pests and diseases.

The General Assembly proclaimed 2020 as the International Year of Plant Health.  In an event that took place in Rome at FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the year was officially launched and FAO pledged to raise global awareness on how protecting plants can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment, and boost economic development.

In a message, the Secretary-General calls for the necessary resources and increased commitment to plant health not only next year, but throughout this Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

**Questions and Answers

Fini.  Maria?

Question:  Stéphane, thank you.  I’m interested about, when Security Council goes to a trip abroad, is it covered by UN budget or countries’ budget which are in Security Council?  And, especially, of course, I’m talking about the case when it’s not a hot spot trip but unofficial… unofficial trip to Kentucky, which is going to take place this weekend.

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  What I do know is:  when there are Council’s visit to field missions, most of the costs associated with that are covered by the Secretariat.  I will have to check with the Security Council, Secretariat and the US Mission about the finances of these different kinds of trips, but I will get back to you.  [He later said that the Kentucky trip was not an official Security Council visit.]

Erol, and then Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  As we all know, the… one of the issues the Secretary‑General is very much concerned is about migrants… excuse me.  There are many reports now that the migrants are not treated very well and the inhumane accommodation in the countries of western Balkans.  Recently, there is a report on Vucjak in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Does Secretary‑General have anything to say beyond the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and beyond the usual… since it’s very urgent call for the people to…

Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me… I don’t have any details on this particular place that you mentioned.  And, as you know, it is an issue that the Secretary‑General cares very much about, so I could… but that’s an issue, I think, we should check with IOM (International Organization for Migration) or UNHCR.  But let me check on this particular place, but it goes without saying, and the Secretary‑General has said it repeatedly, that all migrants and refugees need to be treated with dignity and respect.

Question:  So, you’re going to follow up…?

Spokesman:  I will ask… see if UNHCR and IOM have any specific information on that.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this situation, two… two… two questions.  One is the situation in Yemen, and what is the latest going on over there?  And because there are organizations, human rights organizations, saying that, in some ways, they find that besides Saudi Arabia, United States being complicit in the crimes against humanity because they give them… gave arms and ammunition to Saudi Arabia.

Spokesman:  What is the question?

Question:  Do you have any… does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about it…?

Spokesman:  I mean, this is an issue we talk about repeatedly.  The UN is active on, broadly, two fronts, on the humanitarian end, where we are trying to deliver aid to those who need it in extremely difficult circumstances in what is parts of the country or in an active… remain active combat zones.  We are also dealing with a country that, even before this conflict, was a very fragile country in terms of humanitarian needs.

Our second focus is on the political end.  Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has been, over the last few weeks, travelling around the region, again pushing and continuing to push for a political deal that will halt the fighting.  What is clear is that those people who are involved in the fighting need to stop the fighting, and we need to focus on the political solution.  And that includes both people who are doing the fighting directly and those who have an influence over those who are doing the fighting.

Question:  Now, about… can I ask another question?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Price is the same.

Question:  This… sorry.  This question is about Kashmir, about the same thing, obtaining… the situation obtaining in Kashmir.  I mean, you have been saying it and Secretary‑General has been saying it, but nothing seems to be happening.  The eight million Kashmiris continue to be incarcerated in their homes.  They’re not basically allowed basic freedoms at all.  And Secretary‑General has been saying that we will… they want peaceful resolution, but nothing seems to be moving.  So, is he talking to the Indian authorities?

Spokesman:  You know, Masood, I think you and I have gone around and around on this question and my answer to your question.  I really have nothing to add to what I’ve previously said on this.

Question:  So, is there nothing that can be done…?

Spokesman:  I’m not saying there’s nothing that can be done.  I’m saying I have nothing to add to what I’ve already said on this, which is basically the Secretary‑General is well aware of the situation in Kashmir and has raised the issue repeatedly with both the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  Alan, and then…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Has the Inquiry Board on north east Syria already present… presented any findings to this…

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware.  I think they’re still working on it.

Question:  Could you please… just a follow‑up.  Could you please uncover… there were some reports that they’re working on seven sites in the north…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I have nothing… we’ll have to… what I’m basically saying is just to beg a bit of your patience for the report to come out, so we’ll have all the same information.

Yes, sir, and then Evelyn.

Question:  As of today, how much of the 2019 regular budget is unpaid?

Spokesman:  I had those figures.  I don’t want to speak off the top of my head, so I won’t, but I’ll give you that number as soon as we’re done.  [He later said the United Nations was still owed $772 million.]

Evelyn.  Sorry.  Thank you for your patience.

Question:  Yes.  Do you have any update on the attacks in north west Syria on civilians and markets and so forth?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have that… any more information.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  On the protest in Lebanon, do you have any more to say about the action of Ján Kubiš vis‑à‑vis the leaders?  And do they listen to him?  Do you feel that something is happening, something new is coming out?

Second thing, on the refugees, Lebanese… Syrian refugees, there are more than 1,500 going back to Syria.  How much the United State… Nations are involved in this movement of return of the refugees back to Syria?

Spokesman:  On your second part, we’ll have to check with UNHCR to see what their… if any, of their direct involvement.  Obviously, as always, the return of refugees needs to be done on a voluntary basis.

Are the leaders of Lebanon listening to Ján Kubiš?  I think that’s an answer best left to analysts and journalists.  I mean, I think he has been delivering his message for them to move quickly, to listen to the voices of the people.  But the decisions remain, and rightfully so, in the hands of the Lebanese themselves, but I think you are probably better suited to answer that question than I am.

Question:  Another thing, do they… do they… are they listening to the recent Security Council press statement, if we can call it, press element?  Do they listen to that?  Because it seems every… everything’s around this same issues.

Spokesman:  Again, I mean, I think, you know…

Question:  Do you feel that…

Spokesman:  You hear what Ján Kubiš says.  You hear what the Security Council says.  You can make your own con… draw your own conclusions about what is actually happening on the ground.  We understand people… there are political talks going on.  As to whether or not they’re listening to those voices, again, I would look to you for an answer.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Do you know off the top of your head how much the United States has left to pay of its assessment?

Spokesman:  Yes, the US has about 491 left to… 491 million [dollars] left to pay.  The US has paid up its budget dues in full for 2018, and we’ve received a number of partial payments for the US in… during the fall, totalling more than half a billion dollars, for which we are very grateful.

Question:  When was the most recent payment?

Spokesman:  The most recent was 25 November for $300 million.  [He later added that the last US payment came in on 2 December.]

Thank you, all.  I keep wanting to tell you to enjoy your weekend but… Shows you where my state of mind is.

For information media. Not an official record.