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

13 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 Friday the 13th to one and all.

**Climate Change

In Madrid this morning, the Secretary‑General appealed to countries to send a message of ambition to the world, align their climate objectives to science, and commit to stronger climate action.  In a tweet, he added that a spirit of compromise is necessary for a successful conclusion to regulations related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

He also congratulated the European Union for its announcement committing to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and said this example of climate action needs to be followed worldwide.

The Secretary‑General is currently still meeting with various parties at the Conference, which is expected to conclude this evening.

**Bolivia

I was asked yesterday about the latest developments in Bolivia.

I can say that we welcome the agreement announced today by the political parties in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly on legislation aimed at guaranteeing the full exercise of constitutional rights.  The implementation of this law should pave the way for further normalization of the situation in the country and the holding of transparent, inclusive and credible elections.

The Secretary‑General calls upon all political and social actors to remain committed to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis that has affected the country through constructive dialogue.

**Chile

In a report on Chile published today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that during the recent mass protests and state of emergency, the police failed to adhere to international human rights norms and standards relating to management of assemblies and the use of force.

The report was produced by a UN human rights team which spent the first three weeks researching the situation across seven regions of Chile.

It details extensive allegations — including specific examples — of torture, ill‑treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence by the police against people held in detention, many of whom appear to have been detained arbitrarily.  The full report is available online.

**India

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today said that it is concerned that India's new Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 is fundamentally discriminatory in nature.

The Human Rights Office said that the amended law would appear to undermine India's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of [All Forms of] Racial Discrimination, to which India is a State party, which prohibit discrimination based on racial, ethnic or religious grounds. 

The Human Rights Office said that it understands the new law will be reviewed by the Supreme Court of India and it expressed the hope that the Supreme Court will consider carefully the compatibility of the law with India's international human rights obligations. 

**Migration

Yesterday, with support from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 183 refugees originating from Sudan and the Central African Republic left Chad and flew to France, where they will be resettled.

The refugees had been living in camps in Chad’s eastern and southern regions as well as in the capital, N’Djamena.  The country hosts nearly 438,000 refugees, who mainly originate from the Central African Republic, Nigeria and Sudan, and live in camps in the eastern and southern parts of the country. 

The charter marks the last operation in a two‑year programme which has resettled over 1,700 refugees from Chad to France.

And in other news linked to Migration, IOM released its most recent numbers of Mediterranean migrant arrivals.

As of the 11th of December, nearly 105,000 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea.  This represents roughly a 6 per cent decrease from the nearly 111,000 people who arrived during the same period last year. 

Most of the migrants, about 80 per cent of them, have landed in Greece and Spain, while Italy, Malta and Cyprus received the rest of the migrants.  Arrivals to Greece are running approximately 93 per cent ahead of 2018’s totals from this time.  Arrivals to Spain are more than 55 per cent lower. 

Deaths recorded on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through the 11th of December stand at 1,246 individuals — or about 56 per cent of the 2,219 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018.

**South Sudan

On South Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, is calling on all parties to boost efforts to form an inclusive national unity government in order to achieve permanent peace.

Despite the signing of the peace agreement last year, the situation remains critical, with millions of South Sudanese displaced and in need of safety and humanitarian assistance.

South Sudan is Africa’s largest humanitarian and refugee crisis, with over two million of its people seeking safety in neighbouring countries.

**Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is also appealing for intensified support for displaced Afghans and their host communities, ahead of the first‑ever Global Refugee Forum in Geneva next week.

As we enter the fifth decade of Afghan displacement, some 4.6 million Afghans remain uprooted globally — including some 2.7 million registered as refugees, and another two million displaced inside Afghanistan.

**Concert

And the UN Chamber Music Society of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council, in association with Edge of Arabia, will hold a concert in celebration of World Arabic Language Day, next Wednesday, 18 December. 

Founded in 2016, the Chamber Music Society is dedicated to promoting the UN goals at large through the universal language of music.  Its performance will be at 8 pm next Wednesday at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and you’re all welcome to attend.

That is it for me.  Are there any questions? Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Secretary‑General's participation or attendance at COP25 (twenty‑fifth Conference of the Parties), there are reports of serious differences going into the last day of negotiations today, and I wonder how active a role the Secretary‑General is playing in trying to get the disparate sides to reach an agreement. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General has been in touch with the various parties, including the presidency of COP25, and he is meeting with and has been meeting with different groups over the course of his stay in Madrid. 

He's made very clear the need to step up ambition, and what he's trying to do is make sure that all parties are aware of their need to have an ambitious and concrete agreement at the end of the day.  Of course, a lot of the negotiating needs to be done by the parties themselves, and we understand that and respect that.  But he is trying to make sure that they all are aware that the time has come, that we need to get to an agreement now, and that it needs to be solid.  And he'll keep up with the process as the evening unfolds.

Yes, Betul?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Security Council will be voting for the renewal of the cross‑border humanitarian assistance into Syria, and there is now a proposal — fifth border crossing.  I was wondering if the UN has any position on the new proposal adding another cross‑border for the humanitarian assistance into Syria.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we'll leave this as a matter for the members of the Security Council themselves to discuss and to agree on.  From our point of view, we have emphasised very clearly and repeatedly the importance of a flow of cross‑border traffic.  So, this is a vital way of making sure that we can maintain levels of humanitarian assistance in Syria, and so whatever agreement they can come up with that can help protect and preserve the accomplishments that have been provided through cross‑border traffic will be appreciated. 

Yes, Mr. Sato?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today the new mandate of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) adopted at the General Assembly, subsequent to the committee last month, but still that the UNRWA is facing… there's some issue of lack of the budget and also governance.  So, is there any comment from the Secretary‑General to today's… the adoption of the UNRWA mandate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We, of course, are encouraged by any of the support that the Member States have been providing to the UN Relief and Works Agency.  We want to make sure that UNRWA continues both to be supported in its mandate and fully funded in its operations. 

As you know, in recent years, we have had to struggle a bit to make sure that UNRWA can meet its commitments to ensure the quality of the assistance it provides, including education, health and other services for Palestine refugees throughout the region.  And, as a result, we do need continued strong funding from the Member States, and we're thankful for the support we've received that has allowed UNRWA to carry out its activities over these recent years. 

Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Israel recently decided to build a new settlement enclave in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron.  Other than the traditional position of the UN about the illegality of settlement, anything to comment on this very… on this act?  Because it's like… it's a challenge to about 350,000 Palestinian living in the city of Hebron.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, from our standpoint, of course, all settlement activities are unhelpful to the process that's on the ground and especially towards the prospects of a two‑state solution.  We want to make sure that any settlement activity is forestalled in order to allow the peace process to move forward.  And in a place like Hebron, it is particularly crucial, given the population there.

Question:  But there is no peace process anyhow.  I mean…

Deputy Spokesman:  We continue…

Question:  Why there's no clear position from [Nickolay] Mladenov about this decision recently taken by Israel?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov has been very clear about where he stands on the question of settlements, and he has expressed it both in what he says on the ground and in his regular briefings to the Security Council.  And as you know, I believe he will have another one of those briefings in the coming week or so.

The bottom line is we want to make sure that we can bring the parties together, and any steps like this are unhelpful to those efforts. 

Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  According to The New York Times, I think it was last week, there are 112,000 homeless students in New York.  And, I believe, last week there was a sleep‑in.  A lot of people were sleeping on the streets in Times Square to protest this.  Has the UN anything to say about the violation of human rights within New York City?  I mean, it's like an occupied city.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is not an issue for us to comment on beyond, of course, our normal concern about the basic living conditions for people around the world.  Homelessness is one of the issues, ultimately, that is covered in the Sustainable Development Goals.  We want to make sure that all people are given their full rights, which include the rights to health, to be able to eat and to maintain a decent lifestyle and to have housing.

As you know, the UN has a body, UN‑Habitat [United Nations Human Settlements Programme], that pushes for access to housing for all the peoples around the world, and we encourage support for the work that Habitat does.

Question:  The situation is getting worse here, not better.  I mean in California, in south…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well… yes, and I understand that, Carla, but this is also a global situation and a global crisis which needs to be handled globally.  And Habitat, in particular, is in the lead among the UN system in trying to make sure that there's adequate housing for all.

Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Apparently, China and the US has reached fir… the phase 1 of the trade agreement just now, and does S‑G [Secretary-General] has any comment on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have any confirmation of this just yet.  We're aware of the latest media reports.  What we can say is, of course, we would welcome any step forward in the bilateral cooperation between those two extremely important states.

Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just a quick question on the concert, the Carnegie Hall next week.  Where can we get tickets?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the Staff Recreation Council, which is based here at UN Headquarters, would be able to provide, if need be, but I'm sure that there must be a way to get tickets from Carnegie Hall.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, it's been alleged that the Human Rights Office in Geneva continues to give names of human rights defenders to China upon request from the Chinese Mission.  I did bring this up before, but I… there's no clarity on the issue.  As far as you know, is this still going on?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe that the Human Rights Office in Geneva has denied these reports, but I would suggest you take the question up with them.

Question:  Which I have, but it's been ignored for about two weeks, so that's why I'm asking you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I will encourage them to get back to you. 

Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.