5 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.

**Landlocked Developing Countries

Good afternoon.  Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at an event in the General Assembly Hall on the Vienna Programme of Action on Landlocked Developing Countries.  He said that we are all keenly aware of the geographical disadvantages faced by some of these 32 countries, but stressed that, with partnerships, the challenges can be overcome.

The Secretary‑General called on the right policy mix, increased investment, and reliable transit infrastructure, efficient customs operations and improved access and the use of technology.  He also emphasized the need for cooperation from the international community to stem the massive amounts of resources that continue to flow out of landlocked developing countries in the form of illicit financial flows.  His remarks have been shared with you.

And in a short while I will be joined by the High Representative for the Least Developed, Landlocked and Small Island States, as well as the Deputy Permanent Representative of Paraguay.  They will be here to brief you on the “Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action for the Landlocked Developing Countries”.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, will leave tomorrow for Doha, Qatar, to participate in the Disabilities Conference and meet with senior State officials and other stakeholders over the weekend.

On Sunday, she will proceed to Amman, Jordan, where she will meet with senior Government authorities, the UN Country Team, regional representatives and other entities of the UN system.  She will depart on 10 December.


The UN Migration Agency (IOM) said today that at least 58 women, men and children have died after a vessel from The Gambia carrying an estimated 150 migrants sank as it approached the coast of Mauritania.

Eighty‑three others who managed to swim to shore are receiving medical assistance.

IOM is supporting the medical response by providing first aid kits, blankets and other supplies.  Those injured have been transferred to the city hospital and an IOM doctor will arrive today to support the local response.


Turning to the Philippines, the UN and our humanitarian partners are supporting the Government‑led response efforts with rapid assessments in the most affected areas.  This is following the landfall made by Typhoon Kammuri, which made landfall in the Philippines earlier this week.  Apparently, about 400,000 people have been displaced and 13 were reportedly killed, and over a thousand homes destroyed.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, more than 900,000 people have been impacted by heavy rainfall and flooding in the country since July; that’s according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The UN and our partners have stepped up their response.  As of last week, 7,000 metric tons of food have been distributed, reaching more than 700,000 people.  Emergency kits have also helped 9,000 households, with 12,000 additional households set to receive these kits soon.  Aid workers are using planes and waterways to access hard‑to‑reach locations and are repairing roads, with the support of local communities.

As you’ll recall, last month, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, released $15 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to help with the response to the floods.  An additional $10 million was allocated from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund and the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan remains severe, with 7.5 million people in need of aid due to conflict, chronic vulnerabilities and a lack of essential services.


Turning to measles, I want to flag that within the hour, the World Health Organization (WHO) is releasing new global estimates on measles.  In the meantime, I can tell you that… give you a short update on what the situation is in Samoa in the South Pacific.  There are 4,217 cases recorded to date and 62 deaths, the vast majority of which have been babies in Samoa.  According to our colleagues in the field, the situation remains critical and medical teams are mindful of the importance of rapid vaccination across the country.

From the very beginning, the UN, through the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), supplied over 200,000 vaccines and WHO brought in the emergency medical teams from all over the world to help Samoa.  The UN applied for… anyway, more on that in a second.

Also on measles, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the World Health Organization today launched a measles vaccination drive targeting 2.2 million children in North Kivu.  The DRC is currently experiencing the world’s largest and most severe measles epidemic, impacting all 26 provinces.  Since the start of 2019, more than 250,000 suspected cases and over 5,000 deaths, mostly among children under five, have been recorded.  The drive is part of a large vaccination campaign which will ultimately reach 18.9 million children across the country by the end of the year.

WHO said that to date, $27.5 million have been mobilized for this campaign.  However, another estimated $4.8 million are needed to complete it and to strengthen disease surveillance, case management and communications.

**Food Price Index

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today released its [Food] Price Index and said world prices rose significantly in November, reaching their highest point in more than two years.  This was largely due to an increase in the price of meat products and vegetable oils.

Overall, the FAO Price Index averaged 177.2 points over last month, up 2.7 per cent from October and 9.5 per cent from the same period [a year] earlier.

For meat products, the demand was largely driven by China ahead of the year‑end‑festivities.  And for vegetable oil products, demand increased due to their use in the production of biodiesels, as well as expectations of shortages next year.


Two international days to mark.  Today is International Volunteer Day.  The theme is ‘Volunteer for an Inclusive Future’ celebrates that, through volunteering, people make meaningful contributions to more inclusive and equalitarian societies.  In a message, the Secretary‑General stressed that volunteerism is a powerful mechanism to engage people, especially those left farthest behind, in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  By voluntary actions, people on the margins can become more included in societies.


Today is also World Soil Day.  This observance aims to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.  For more information, go to the interweb.  And just a reminder after we’re done, we will have the High Representative for the Least Developed, Landlocked and Small Island States, and the Deputy Permanent Representative of Paraguay to brief you.

In the meantime, I will be entertained by your questions.  Abdelhamid?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As far as we know that the first round of talks at the… Geneva for the Constitutional Committee has adjourned.  Do you have any plans for resuming the talks and the Constitutional Committee?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. [Geir] Pedersen will be continuing his travels and consultations, and so we’ll wait for him to announce a new date.  But I know he is very focused on the consul… ongoing consultations.

Question:  He sounded pessimistic, a little bit.

Spokesman:  I think Mr. Pedersen is a very realistic person.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Monsieur Dujarric.  Madame [Federica] Mogherini was named by Secretary‑General as one of the co‑chair of the Commission of Displaced Persons [sic].  Now, if you please, Stéphane, just a little bit refresh my knowledge on that commission or panel or what is this for?  And, of course, since we are talking about budget all the time, who is going to pay?  And…

Spokesman:  That work will be funded through extra budgetary resources.  I’ll share you the exhaustive press release we put out, which should answer your questions.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Stéphane, I think on Monday, was it, or Tuesday, the Security Council heard the Representative of the Secretary‑General on Iraq and then the Iraqi Ambassador.  And what struck me is actually the differences in numbers, where you presented… or the Representative of the Secretary‑General presented 5… 400 people were killed, and 19 people… 19,000 were injured.  The Iraqi official numbers were:  300 were killed and 1,500 injured.  What is your comment on that?  And where do you get also your numbers?  And it seemed to be that the Iraqi Ambassador was actually in kind of denial or didn’t take any responsibility in his side or his Government’s side to the killing and injuring of civilians.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, I can’t speak to the Iraqi Government’s numbers.  Our numbers come from a mix of official sources and trusted Non‑Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and directly from health services.  These are… those numbers, if I’m not mistaken, were compiled by the Human Rights… the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq.  We stand by those numbers.  What is very important in parallel to the political engagement that needs to happen, the political on… in Iraq is also accountability, like in any country where we see security forces having killed or wounded demonstrators, that there needs to be accountability for those who’ve committed those crimes.  Joe, and then…

Question:  Yeah.  Two questions on different subjects.  The first one, does the UN have any comparable figures on fatalities at the hands of Iranian security or their Revolutionary Guard?  There have been reports as many as 700, many unarmed, civilians have been killed.  Does the UN have any independent means to verify at least a range of those killings and calls, as you just did, with respect to Iraq for accountability of the… of those who committed these massacres?  The second question just relates to your remarks about the FAO and the increase in food prices.  You said it’s the highest increase in two years.  Is anyone at the UN or the Secretariat involved with the SDGs looking at some correlation between those price increases and the impact on achieving the SDG goal of reducing hunger and extreme poverty?  I mean, statistically.  And I know…

Spokesman:  Yeah, we monitor these things all the time.  There are obviously links between increase in food prices, and there could be political… you know, and civil unrest.  We saw that a few years ago.  That’s why it’s also important to ensure that arable agricultural land is used to the best way.  We kind of chuckle at all these International Days, but the International Soil Day, which has to do with soil erosion, is a very important part of responsible agriculture.  But we, obviously, monitor these things and see how they impact these… the price index has repercussions in many different sectors.  On Iran, first of all, unlike Iraq or other countries, we do not have a political mission and a mission in Iran as we do in Iraq or as we do in Lebanon and other places.  So, we don’t have the same mandate and resources.  What I can tell you is I think we’ve… the Secretary‑General was shocked at some of the videos that we’ve seen come out of Iran in the last few days, showing violence against demonstrators.  In Iran, as in any other place, it is important that security forces show restraint, that people be allowed to demonstrate peacefully and that, if there is violence against demonstrators, against peaceful demonstrators, there needs to be accountability.  And that is the same whether people are demonstrating in Chile, in Iran or anywhere in Europe.  It’s a basic principle.  Sato‑san, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Did the Secretary‑General receive any letter from DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Ambassador to the UN regarding possible human rights situation at Security Council?

Spokesman:  Not that I’ve seen in the last few hours, but we can check.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Yes, I have two questions too.  The first is about our colleague, the Egyptian young journalist who was here with the Reham Al‑Farra [Fellowship], Solafa Magdy.  She was arrested together with her husband in Egypt recently, and we raised her issue here.  Any information?  Anybody contacted the Egyptian authorities?

Spokesman:  As you mentioned, we did raise the issue of Solafa and her husband.  I remember well sitting where you are.  We’re, obviously, very concerned about her current situation, and we are trying to get more information.  That’s what I can tell you at this time.

Question:  My second question is about the intention of Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to annex the Jordan Valley.  There was a statement by the US Administration saying that they will endorse that annexation if it happens, and it could happen next week.  This is one fourth of the fertile land of the West Bank.  So, is there any preventive statement, at least, raising concern about this dangerous… which will nail the last nail in the coffin of the two‑State solution?

Spokesman:  I think when the initial statement was made, you know, a few months ago by the Prime Minister, we expressed our concern and, as we’ve always said, that any unilateral actions will move us away from the two‑State solution, which is everything that we’ve been working for.  Madame, and then monsieur.

Question:  I want to go to Iraq again.  To which extent are you actually concerned, given that the official statement or official response to your report is a response that is basically denying responsibility to the killing of… and injuring of thousands of Iraqis, peaceful…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative continues to be… and her staff continue to be in talks with Iraqi authorities to press home the same messages she outlined publicly about the need for accountability and also for the need for the voices of the people to be listened to and for a political solution… for a solution to come out of this political impasse.  Monsieur?

Question:  Stéphane, apologies for being a bit late, so if I… if you talked about the financial crisis already, I’m sorry for that.  My question is about the controller’s intervention yesterday with the staff union.  It was a pretty damning description of the current state… financial state of the UN.  He reassured the present… the staff that was present at this meeting that salaries were going to be paid until June next year, and then it’s a big question mark.  So, how do you assess the period that followed the intervention by the Secretary‑General about all the savings and economies that had to be made at the UN?  And how does the Secretariat plan to make sure that next year, considering things could get even worse in 2020, more Member States would be able to pay earlier on?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we’re controlling the costs as much as possible.  Right?  And I think, if the Secretary‑General hadn’t taken those decisions that he took early in the year and later in the year, we would be in much worse place than we are today.  Right?  And I think, as we’ve said, a lot of the situation was anticipated, and that’s why decisions were taken in January that enabled us to actually be able to hold the General Assembly.  Obviously, the lack of liquidity can have an impact on our ability to implement our mandates.  It already has an impact on the way we run this building, as you all very well know.  We continue to be in… to engage with Member States that still are… that continue to be in arrears.  The message to all Member States is for them to pay their dues in full in time at the start of the year.  And there are also discussions in trying to address the structural issues that have to do with the budget, which are long‑term issues that we need to deal with, with Member States.  I mean, one of the things that we’ve talked about and I think the… Ms. [Catherine] Pollard and the Secretary‑General talked about is this… how we are often given new mandates during the year, but that’s not budgeted till the following year, whether it’s the UN Mission in Hudaydah (UNMHA) or others.  And so there are structural issues that need to be addressed, but there are also more urgent issues having to do with cash flow that need to be addressed.

Question:  A follow‑up, if you allow me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Brazil is on the spotlight.  Is there any discussion of having Brazil… seeing Brazil vote at the General Assembly withdrawn, considering they haven’t paid more than two years of the contribution…?

Spokesman:  We are continuing to… our contacts with Brazil, as we do with all Member States that are in arrears, to try to get the cash, to put it bluntly and in crude terms.  Article 19 of the Charter is very clear. Those decisions having to do with Article 19 are dealt with through the Committee on Contributions, which is a General Assembly committee, so those are Member State decisions.  Decisions having to do with voting rights, suspension of voting rights or the derogations that are given to certain countries that are under Article 19 are decisions taken by Member States themselves and not by the Secretariat.

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  Sure.  Oh, sorry, and then Carmen.  You’ve been very patient.  Go ahead.

Question:  If you use only one word, what word would you use to describe the current situation… financial situation?  I mean, not putting your… my voice in your mouth, like catastrophic, destructive, whatever?

Spokesman:  Delicate.

Question:  And just, is the Secretary‑General planning in near future to pick up the phone and, like collection agency, call some…?

Spokesman:  You know, collections agencies work because they have a stick.  Right?  And they have leverage.  The Secretary‑General has his good offices and his charm.  Member States have Charter responsibilities to pay their assessed contributions.  It’s in the Charter when they sign up to the Charter.  The Secretary‑General cannot go around and act like a collection agency.  It’s not within his mandate.  Yes, ma’am?

Question:  Regarding Bolivia, is there any update on the work of the Special Envoy or Representative in that country?

Spokesman:  No, not today, but I’ll try to get you something.  Yes, Joe, and then all the way in the back.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yes, just back to the budget for a second.  Could you explain what specifically bars the UN from even short‑term bridge loans knowing that there’ll be certain monies coming in to relieve the cash‑flow crunch?  Because it’s not… I don’t believe there’s a bar in the Charter itself, so is it…?

Spokesman:  No, it’s not within the financial regulations.  It is not something that Member States have given the Secretary‑General… any Secretary‑General the authority to do.  What we are playing is, you know, taking… moving cash out from different accounts, but we do not… the Secretary‑General does not have the express authority from Member States to borrow money in the capital markets.

Question:  But is that something that he has considered requesting from the General Assembly…?

Spokesman:  That’s something that’s been in discussions for quite some time from various Secretaries‑General.

Correspondent:  And there’s been enough push‑back from the Member States that it’s not practical…

Spokesman:  There’s just… there is no authority given to the Secretary‑General to borrow money on the outside markets.  Yes, ma’am, and then we’ll go to our guests.  No, press the button.  There you go.

Correspondent:  Hi.

Spokesman:  Hi.

Question:  Thanks.  Sorry.  Samira Sadiq with Inter Press Service.  My apologies.  I was a little late, so if you already commented on this, but does the Secretary‑General’s Office have any comments on the protests going on in France today as about 180,000 protesters take the streets?

Spokesman:  No, no specific comment to what is ongoing as we speak.  We’ll, obviously, have to wait and see what happens.  Great.  I will ask you to stay put for our guests.  That includes you, Abdelhamid, yeah.

For information media. Not an official record.