12 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.

**Secretary-General at COP25

Hello, and good afternoon everyone.  At the UN Climate Conference in Madrid, the Secretary-General today spoke about the need for a just transition that leaves no one behind.  He stressed that “the path of climate action is about people’s jobs, health, education, opportunities, and their future”.  He added that Governments need to take into account that, as they move from the grey economy to the green, the jobs and livelihoods of many people will be affected.

The Secretary-General emphasized that we must not repeat the mistakes of the past, when great transitions have left people, communities and entire nations falling by the wayside.  “We must ensure the transition to a low-carbon future is fair and inclusive,” he said.

The Secretary-General also addressed workers in traditional energy industries, telling them:  “Those of us leading on climate action are not adversaries.  We want the same thing as you:  decent jobs in a cleaner, healthier world."  Those remarks have been sent to you.

Earlier today, he took questions from social media users in a Facebook Live event and urged regular citizens to tell their Governments to act now and vote accordingly.

The Secretary-General will continue to meet with ministers at the COP [Conference of Parties] before the Conference wraps up tomorrow night.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

And after he concludes his participation in COP 25 in Madrid, the Secretary-General will travel next week to Geneva.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening of the Global Refugee Forum, which is being co-hosted by UNHCR [United Nations refugee agency] and Switzerland.  The Secretary-General and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, also intend to talk to the press following the opening ceremony.


And yesterday we issued the following statement on the Bougainville referendum:  The Secretary-General welcomes the successful holding of the referendum on the political future of Bougainville and congratulates the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, as well as all voters, for their dedication and peaceful conduct of the process.

This historic referendum marks an important step forward in the ongoing implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement.  The Secretary-General encourages the parties to continue to commit to the provisions of the Agreement and to ensure the post-referendum consultation process is inclusive and constructive.

The United Nations has been present in Bougainville since 1998 and will continue to support the implementation of the Peace Agreement at the request of the parties.


The Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has condemned yesterday’s attack perpetrated against a military camp located in Inates, close to the border with Mali.  It is reported that 71 soldiers were killed and others wounded in the attack in Niger.

The Special Representative extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Niger and wishes a prompt recovery to the wounded.

He also called for the perpetrators of this crime to be swiftly brought to justice.


In Mali, escalating violence and insecurity have sparked an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and 3.9 million people are now in need of assistance and protection, an increase of 700,000 since the beginning of the year.

The number of internally displaced people has increased from around 80,000 to nearly 200,000 in one year.  More than half of the them are children and women.

A recent food security report shows that 650,000 people face food insecurity, compared to 185,000 at the same time last year.  The number of food insecure people is projected to nearly double to 1.2 million by June 2020.

These figures are the highest recorded level over the last five years.  Seventy per cent of the affected people live in the conflict regions of Mopti, Timbuktu and Gao.

The UN and humanitarian partners have assisted about 900,000 people with food assistance in 2019.

In 2020, the Humanitarian Response Plan seeks $365.6 million to assist nearly 3 million people.

**South Sudan

The United Nations and humanitarian organizations today launched the Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 for South Sudan, requesting $1.5 billion to assist 5.6 million people.

Humanitarian needs remain high despite a relative stable period since the signing of the revitalized peace agreement last year.  Some 7.5 million people still need assistance or protection and 3.7 million are displaced inside or outside of the country.  Women and children continue to be the worst affected.

With improved access across South Sudan, the United Nations and hundreds of non-governmental humanitarian organizations will work with authorities and affected communities to re-build lives and livelihoods.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped 5,087 Somali refugees return home from Yemen since 2017.

The voluntary returns are part of UNHCR’s Assisted Spontaneous Return (ASR) programme, to which IOM is a partner.

Yemen hosts the world’s second largest Somali refugee population, around 250,000 refugees.  It is a long-standing refugee host nation and the only country in the Arabian Peninsula which is signatory to the Refugee Convention and its protocol.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the people of Syria are facing yet another cold and difficult winter.  Millions of displaced women, children and men are living without power and heating.  Tens of thousands of families are in inadequate or temporary shelters, including in displacement camps.

Over the past week, heavy rains have caused flooding in sites and camps for internally displaced persons across north-west and north-east Syria, including at least 16 camps in Idlib Governorate, and in the Al Hol camp in Al-Hasakeh Governorate.  Hundreds of tents have reportedly been destroyed.

In addition, prices of basic goods have been rising sharply across Syria, and fuel shortages are reported in some areas.

With over 80 per cent of Syrians already living below the poverty line, impoverished families will be further stretched to purchase essential items in the winter months ahead.

The UN estimates that nearly 3 million people are in need of assistance this winter.  An additional $25 million is needed to meet the expected lifesaving needs during the colder months across the country.


Today, Kanni Wignaraja, the UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] regional director for Asia and the Pacific, concluded her visit to Afghanistan.

Ms. Wignaraja was in the country to follow up on the safety and security of UNDP staff and operations after recent attacks and the tragic loss of a colleague on 24 November.

Ms. Wignaraja met with UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan] and UNDP leadership and staff and engaged with the Government and partners to discuss the well-being and safety of the team, as well as the strategic direction of UNDP’s assistance to the Government and people of Afghanistan, going forward.

Though deeply saddened by the tragic events and emphasizing the need to take all necessary safety measures to protect staff, she reiterated UNDP’s strong commitment to Afghanistan’s sustainable development priorities and pledged to pursue the development work with national and international partners for the benefit of all people in Afghanistan.


The UN Network on Migration commemorates the first anniversary of the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and celebrates the world’s 272 million migrants and their important contributions to countries of origin and destination.

In the run-up to International Migrants Day on 18 December, the UN Network on Migration gathered earlier today in Geneva to review its progress and seek ways to improve migration for the benefit of all.

The Network reaffirmed its commitment to support partners in upholding the guiding principles of the Global Compact, in promoting international cooperation for the development and implementation of principled and effective national migration policies.

**Health Coverage Day

Today is International Universal Health Coverage Day.  This observance aims to raise awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with multi-stakeholder partners.

In a message, the Secretary-General recalled that last September world leaders endorsed an ambitious political declaration on universal health coverage, reaffirming that health is a human right.  He called on leaders to keep the promise and ensure health for all is a reality for everyone, everywhere.

A person’s health coverage should never depend on their wealth or where they may live, he added.  The full message is available online.

**International Day of Neutrality

And today is also the International Day of Neutrality.  Recognizing that national policies of neutrality are aimed at promoting the use of preventive diplomacy, which is a core function of the United Nations and occupies a central place among the functions of the Secretary-General, the General Assembly decided to declare 12 December the International Day of Neutrality and called for marking the day by holding events aimed at enhancing public awareness of the value of neutrality in international relations.

**Financial Contributions

And we have some more good news regarding the regular budget.  Thanks to payments from Djibouti and Oman, the number of paid-up Member States has reached 142.  That's it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions, Farhan.  First, the Indian Parliament approved legislation today granting citizenship to non‑Muslims who migrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, even though critics said that this undermines the country's neutrality.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this legislation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We're aware that the lower and upper houses of the Indian Parliament have passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill, and we're also aware of the concerns that have been publicly expressed.  The United Nations is closely analysing the possible consequences of the law.

And I'd like to also draw your attention to the fact that some of our human rights mechanisms, including our rapporteurs, have already been expressing their concerns about the nature of this law, and you can see those from the Human Rights Office.

Question:  And following up on that, is there going to be some statement after this analysis is completed?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll have to see what the nature of our reaction needs to be.  Right now, we are in the process of analysing the features of this.  And as I mentioned a few days earlier, of course, we have our basic principles, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and expect those to be upheld.

Question:  And on my favourite topic of the escalators, now that we have additional countries paying their regular budget dues, don't you think it's time to at least start the escalators between the 2nd and 3rd and 3rd and 4th Floors?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is actually something that is up for consideration now.  I don't think that we'll have action taken on this prior to the Christmas and New Year's holidays, but we're looking to see what steps can be taken in terms of the financial measures that have been put in place, and we might… if there are any changes and adjustments that can be made, those might take place next month.

Yes, please, in the back first and then you.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.  So, yesterday, there was a Security Council meeting on North Korea missile launches, which was called by the United States.  I was just curious, does the Secretary‑General think it was a constructive step towards a peaceful settlement, or does he have any comments on that?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the question of Security Council meetings are, of course, in the hands of the members of the Security Council themselves.  As you're aware, we participated in that meeting, and our Assistant Secretary‑General, Khaled Khiari, briefed the Security Council and the views of the Secretariat are contained in Mr. Khiari's briefing.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  [inaudible].  Sorry.  On Edie's escalator question, did you say not during the holidays, after the holidays?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't expect any change in the coming days, but in terms of any review of different financial… [interruption by a distant announcement over the P.A. system]  You have some sort of ghost echo.  [laughter] In terms of any review of the financial steps that have been put in place, if there are any changes, they would occur in the coming month.  Yes, Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two questions.  Turkey says it has applied to the UN to register the accord it had signed with Libya on maritime affairs, in line with article 102 of the UN Charter.  How does that work?  And, apparently, it requires registration by the UN Secretariat.

And, also, climate activist Greta Thunberg was criticized by President [Donald] Trump, and President Trump suggested that she should learn how to control her anger management and go to an old‑school movie.  And a 16‑year‑old teenager being criticized by the President of the United States, would you have anything to say on to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think you've already said it fairly eloquently yourself.  What your question states is a fairly good summary of what the situation was.  Beyond that, the only thing I have to say is you're well aware of the respect we've had for the work that Greta Thunberg has done, and she is a very strong and resilient young woman.  And the Secretary‑General has been very pleased by the activities not just of Ms. Thunberg but of all of the youth that have been mobilized in the fight against climate change.

Regarding your earlier question, I don't have anything further to say on the question of this agreement on Libya beyond what I expressed yesterday.

Question:  But Turkey says it has sent it for approval by the UN.  Have you had that registration approval, and does that require any registration by the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman:  If there are any steps to be followed, that will happen in due course, but the views that I conveyed yesterday are what we have to say for now on this topic.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, the Swedish representative gave a farewell speech this morning at the General Assembly.  He was stating that the vote on a draft resolution regarding the investigation in the crash that killed Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961 had been postponed until the Fifth Committee decides on its budget.

Do you have a time frame for that discussion within 5C, then a new date for a vote at the General Assembly before the end of the year?

And last question about that, the requested budget from the Swedes is $350,000 that would have to be taken on the reserve fund from the UN.  In the current context of the organization, is that something the Secretariat is hoping will be made possible by the Member States?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, these are, as you've recognized, decisions to be taken by the Member States, so I'm not going to get ahead of the proceedings of the Fifth Committee. We don't have a timetable to say, but if you can be in touch with our General Assembly colleague, the Spokeswoman, Reem Abaza, she can provide you with more details of the schedule as that becomes available.  But for now, we'll wait to see what the Fifth Committee's action is, and hopefully we can proceed quickly with action by the General Assembly.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  A follow‑up on Greta.  Did the Secretary‑General meet with her in Madrid?  She gave a speech there yesterday.  And did he congratulate her on her Time "Person of the Year" award?

Deputy Spokesman:  He… as far as I'm aware, he has not had a meeting with her, although I'll continue to check with our colleague Florencia [Soto Niño], who's with him right now, and we'll know his programme for sure.  But certainly, we do congratulate her on her various achievements.  Again, it's not… we don't see this even just her achievement as an amazing and dedicated youth but an achievement of all of the youth who have been participating and getting essentially all the grown‑ups to recognize the scale of the crisis that we face.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, a question on Syria.  There was a meeting in Astana yesterday.  I was wondering who attended, or was there any participation by the UN in the meeting?  And do you have any more update on that meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, it was attended by Geir Pedersen, in fact, the Special Envoy for Syria, so he met with key international stakeholders in Nur‑Sultan.  He is going to brief the Security Council on the outcome of his consultations and the next steps in the political process on 20 December.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I read today that the crisis in Venezuela is exceeding the number of people who have been either displaced or refugees outside of the country over those in Syria.  Is there any update on the humanitarian work in Venezuela?

And, also, on Bolivia, is there any update on that situation as well? Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in the question of Bolivia, as you know, Mr. [Jean] Arnault is continuing his work, and so we have been in touch with him about that.  But he is continuing to try to deal with the various parties to achieve a peaceful resolution of the situation there.

Regarding Venezuela, I mean, you've seen our efforts to provide aid, including through the World Food Programme (WFP).  But with the situation of the refugees, you're quite right that it's dramatic, and we have been encouraging support for all of the neighbouring countries who have to deal with the large number of people who have left from Venezuela.

And with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.