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

10 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and happy Human Rights Day to everyone.

**Human Rights Day

Youth standing up for human rights is the theme for this year’s Human Rights Day.

In an event that began a few minutes ago, the Secretary‑General said that throughout history and across the world, young people have been at the forefront of standing up for what is right.

As someone who grew up under a dictatorship, he said, he is deeply inspired by the energy and passion young people bring to the struggle for human rights.

The Secretary‑General reiterated that human rights are at the core of the United Nations and inform all of our work.

He highlighted some of the challenges we currently face.  Human rights violations, misogyny and exclusion are widespread and systematic, he said.  Inequality is growing and hate speech is poisoning public debate.  The climate crisis, urbanization and endless conflict, he added, are denying millions of people their fundamental rights and freedoms.

In her own message, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it is particularly fitting that this year, we mark this day during the UN conference in Madrid to uphold climate justice.

She added that the global climate emergency presents perhaps the most profound planet‑wide threat to human rights we have seen since World War II.  From the right to life, to health, to food, water and shelter, to our rights to be free of discrimination, to development and to self‑determination, its impacts are already making themselves felt.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

Just a reminder that the Secretary‑General will be heading back to the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

Tomorrow, he will take part in several events, including the High‑level Meeting of Caring for Climate organized by the UN Global Compact and the High‑level Event on Global Climate Action.  He will be there until the closing of the Conference, which is scheduled to take place on Friday evening.

**Climate change

In Madrid, at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP25 [twenty‑fifth Conference of Parties], 15 initiatives have been recognized by the UN Global Climate Action Awards.

The award‑winning projects range from an in‑app programme that has helped plant 122 million trees, to a women‑led project that generates clean energy from the ocean, and Quebec’s international climate finance programme, which is uniquely funded by the province’s own carbon market.

You can see the full list of winners on UNFCCC’s [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] website.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

In Jordan, yesterday, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, visited a number of installations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [in the Near East] (UNRWA) and received information about the Agency’s health programme and services to Palestine refugees.

She visited the Nuzha Health Centre, in the north of Amman, and the Nuzha Elementary Girls’ School, where she also engaged with a group of students representing the school parliament from that area.

The Deputy Secretary‑General said that the role that UNRWA plays in ensuring that the protection and human development of Palestine refugees is a constant priority is remarkable.  She said that quality health and education are key to any individual and societal well‑being, and that is what she saw in the UNRWA facilities in Jordan.

**Africa Floods

For the past few weeks, we’ve been telling you about the flooding that has been affecting many parts of Africa.

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that at least 170,000 people have been impacted by heavy rains in the Republic of Congo — that’s Congo‑Brazzaville.  This includes some 30,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The UN is supporting the Government‑led response efforts and has sent food, hygiene kits and other urgently needed supplies by boat to the hardest‑hit area.

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, some 140,000 people have been affected by flooding.

The UN and our partners are supporting the Government response, sending nearly 2,600 metric tons of food and supplies for thousands of households.

**Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

Today, Miroslav Lajčák presented to the Secretary‑General the signed letter on the occasion of issuing the Joint Statement to Supplement the 1993 Framework for Cooperation and Coordination between the United Nations Secretariat and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Mr. Lajčák presented the signed letter in his capacity as OSCE Chairman‑in‑Office and on behalf of the Secretary General of the OSCE, Thomas Greminger.

The Secretary‑General and Mr. Lajčák reaffirmed commitments to continue to enhance the partnership between the United Nations Secretariat and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, answering the calls of the General Assembly and Security Council for closer partnership with regional organizations.

**World Health Organization/Ebola

In an op‑ed published today, the Director‑General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said a manmade terror is keeping health workers awake at night in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Dr. Tedros was in eastern DRC last week to follow up on the recent attacks against Ebola responders.  He said health workers dedicated to helping their neighbours should not be confronted by such violence and fear.

He is calling for increased security, effective dialogue at community level, and a clear demonstration of political will to protect humanitarian operations.


Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) marks the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the certificate of the eradication of smallpox.

Smallpox was a terrible disease that had killed 30 per cent of the people who contracted it and had caused 300 million deaths between 1900 and 1978.

In 1967, WHO had intensified its efforts through the global eradication programme.  The last naturally occurring case of the disease had been detected in Somalia in 1977.

Five months after the signing of the certificate of eradication in December 1979, at the thirty‑third World Health Assembly, the WHO Member States had declared the disease eradicated.


Also on vaccines, the UN is helping the Government of Bangladesh immunize more than 635,000 Rohingya refugees and people from the host community in Cox’s Bazar against cholera.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and other partners are supporting the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in its three‑week campaign in Cox’s Bazar, where the number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea is on the rise.

Both WHO and UNICEF have prepositioned medical supplies to respond quickly to any cholera outbreak.  More on this online.

**Global Refugee Forum

And I would like to flag that the first‑ever Global Refugee Forum is taking place between 16 and 18 December 2019 in Geneva.

Hosted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Government of Switzerland, this global conference will be attended by leaders and ministers and is the first high‑level gathering to follow up on the practical implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees, which was affirmed at the UN in New York one year ago.

The aim of the Forum is to give impetus towards achieving the Compact’s objectives and to translate international solidarity into concrete action.

More information on the Forum is available online.

**Western Sahara

Lastly, I wanted to say that there were some rumours that the Secretary‑General has made a decision on the appointment of his next Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.

This is not true and baseless.  The process to select the Personal Envoy for Western Sahara is ongoing.  The Secretary‑General looks forward to appointing an Envoy as soon as the process is completed.

And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Ibtisam?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, on Syria, there are some news reports that Turkey started moving Syrian refugees to northern Syria.  Are you aware of that?  Can you confirm that? And probably I have a follow‑up, too.

Deputy Spokesman:  We do not have a confirmation of that.  Of course, as we have made clear, any movement of refugees must be completely voluntary and must be with their informed consent.  So, we would need details about how it's being carried out.

Question:  So, a follow‑up. So, do… why don't you have actually information about that?  Because you are supposed to be near the area.  I know that you are not in the majority of northern Syria, but… and the Turkish‑Syrian border, you're supposed to have some presence…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we are in touch with the various governments.  If there is any activity to be carried out, it needs to be coordinated, and UNHCR would be in the lead on that.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the eve of Human Rights Day, the Lower House of Indian Parliament passed a bill which heavily discriminates against Muslims and is, in fact, the second heavy blow to Muslim minority after the annexation of Kashmir.  Do you have any comments from the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, this is legislation that is continuing to go through the legislative process.  So, we wouldn't have any comment while the domestic legislative process is being carried out.  At the same time, you're aware of what our concerns are about making sure that all governments pursue non‑discriminatory laws.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, today, as we mark the Human Rights Day, genocide denier Peter Handke, who supported and glorified the Slobodan Milosevic, former President of Serbia, was honoured with the Nobel Prize.  What's Secretary‑General's stand on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have a position on the awarding of the Nobel Prize, which, as you know, is by a different body.

Regarding the question of whether there was genocide carried out in Bosnia, that has already been established by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which, as you know, is a body set up under UN auspices.

Question:  I'm sorry. What… what message does this send, especially if it's done today on Human Rights Day?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of that, the basic point that we affirm is that all governments need to be cognizant of what the actual historical facts are.  In this case, the fact that genocide occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, in particular, in Srebrenica is something that's been established, like I said, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and it's a matter of fact.

Question:  Is it too much to ask to have a statement or stand from Secretary‑General on this issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we don't have a comment on the actions taken by other bodies.  This is a question that you would better pursue with the Nobel Prize committee.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the announcement by the Philippines' President that he's ending martial law in the southern Philippines after two years?

Question:  Well, this is something that we're… a situation that we're monitoring.  Of course, we welcome any signs that there will be any easing of the measures that have been put in place.  Anything that opens up the space for greater freedoms and greater liberties on the ground is something we would appreciate.

And, with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.