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17 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.

**Global Refugee Forum

Good afternoon.  The Secretary‑General spoke at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva this morning and recognized the tremendous efforts made by countries and communities to welcome large numbers of refugees, adding that at this time of turbulence, the international community must do far more to shoulder this responsibility together.  He said that more than 70 million people have been forced from their homes, including more than 25 million refugees, in what UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] calls the “highest levels of displacement in the world.”

The Secretary‑General said the Global Compact on Refugees must be the blueprint to reaffirm the human rights of refugees.  He urged attendees to be bold and concrete in the pledges they would make and to work together to build a more equitable response to refugee crises through a sharing of responsibility.  He said the world must chart a bold and practical path to help millions of people find protection and dignity, and to help all of us shared with a path towards a better future.

In remarks to the press afterwards, the Secretary‑General said that our system of international protection is one of the defining successes of the past century, but it is clearly feeling the strain.  He said that this is a moment to ensure that human rights of refugees are upheld and to re‑establish the integrity of the international refugee regime and to address the root causes that lead people to flee in the first place.

The Secretary‑General will be heading to Italy, as we announced to you yesterday.

**Security Council

The Security Council also held an open meeting this morning in which Permanent Members were briefed by Chairs of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.

This afternoon, the Council will hold an open meeting followed by consultations on Sudan and South Sudan.  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for South Sudan, David Shearer, will brief the Council by video link.

And yesterday afternoon, the Council held an open meeting on Afghanistan.  Briefing Council members was Tadamichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Representative in Afghanistan.  He said the country awaits the results of the October presidential election and called for electoral institutions to exercise their responsibilities for all.  The full remarks have been shared with you.

**Afghanistan

Also on Afghanistan, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, released today a report saying that, in the first nine months of2019, an average of nine children were killed or maimed every day in Afghanistan.

This marks an 11 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018 and is largely due to a surge in suicide bomb attacks and ground engagements between pro- and anti-government forces.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, the UN remains deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over three million civilians in the Idlib area, in the north‑west of the country, over half of whom are internally displaced, following ongoing reports of airstrikes in the area.

Over the weekend, in the last days, airstrikes reportedly impacted dozens of communities across Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia governorates.

Up to 60,000 people have been displaced in the last few weeks alone, due to hostilities, adding to over 400,000 that have been displaced as a result of hostilities this year.

More than six months on, clashes, and shelling and air strikes have taken a devastating toll on critical civilian infrastructure in the area, damaging schools, hospitals and other critical civilian infrastructure.

We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to ensure the safety and well‑being of civilians in the conduct of military operations and strictly follow international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

**Yemen

The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, met yesterday with Abdulmalik Al Houthi and that took place in Sana’a.

Mr. Griffiths discussed with the Houthi movement next steps in the advancement of the peace process, including the implementation of the prisoners’ exchange agreement.

The Special Envoy is today and tomorrow in Riyadh, where he will be going to hold meetings with the Government of Yemen and Yemeni political parties.

**Ebola

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a couple of things I would like to flag.  One, the UN Peacekeeping Mission (MONUSCO), with the UN Department of Safety and Security, launched a joint plan to improve security support to allow the full resumption of Ebola control activities in Mangina and Biakato.

Coordinated attacks on Ebola response teams took place in the night of 27‑28 November, jeopardizing operations in that area.

The Peacekeeping Mission is committed to strength the security conditions necessary for the work of response teams on the ground by increasing the number of peacekeepers on site, building a secure base in Biakato and setting up operational structures and coordination capable of providing the security support requested by the response teams.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Heavy rains as we’ve seen in DRC have caused major floods in 12 of the 26 provinces of the country since the end of October.

Our humanitarian colleagues estimate that at least 600,000 people are being affected country-wide.  The loss of life, displacement, significant material damages to houses, infrastructures and agricultural land are being reported.

Clean water, hygiene, sanitation, shelter and essential household items, food and health care have been identified as priority needs.  Physical access to many locations remains limited.

The UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government‑led response efforts by providing urgent assistance including household items, cash assistance, water and sanitation kits, nutrition, and logistics support.  The rainy season is expected to last until the end of December.

**Cyprus

And the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) announced today the clearance of nine suspected hazardous areas each on both sides of the island, amounting to a total area of 210 square meters.

This confidence‑building measure was agreed upon by both leaders on 26 February of this year as part of their commitment towards a mine‑free Cyprus.

In a note released earlier today, the Mission praises the professionalism and dedication demonstrated by both sides in speedily clearing these 18 locations while adhering to International Mine Action Standards, as checked and approved by the United Nations Mine Action Service.

**Da’esh/Al-Qaida

And today is the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Office of the Ombudsperson to the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al‑Qaida Sanctions Committee.

The Ombudsperson conducts an independent and impartial review of requests from individuals and entities seeking to be removed from the United Nations Security Council ISIL and Al-Qaida Sanctions List.

Since the Office of the Ombudsperson became operational, the Ombudsperson has accepted 89 petitions for delisting; 75 per cent of the petitions have been granted.

The Permanent Mission of Switzerland, on behalf of the Group of Like‑Minded States on Targeted Sanctions, has organized a high‑level panel discussion today on topics that include the genesis and achievements of the Office of the Ombudsperson and the future outlook for protecting the legitimacy and effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions.

**Chile

I wanted to say that in response to questions we were getting on statements reportedly made by the Secretary‑General regarding possible foreign interference in the violence in Chile, I can say that the Secretary‑General has not made any statements of any kind on this issue.  We promote the right to peaceful assembly and condemn all forms of violence.

**Regular Budget

We would like to say thank you very much to our friends in Uruguay for having paid their dues in full.

That brings us up to 143 Member States.  Thank you.  The year is not done.  There’s still time to pay, Betul.  We take credit cards too.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Will the escalators work?

Spokesman:  All right.  Well, let’s see how much.

Question:  Okay.  Two questions, Steph.  On Libya, tensions are rising with General [Khalifa] Haftar saying that he would try to advance on Tripoli again and also Turkey saying that it would send troops upon request by the internationally recognised Government in Libya.  I was wondering if the S‑G or Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé has anything to say.

And, also, on Syria, there are different proposals for the renewal of cross‑border humanitarian aid into Syria, with Turkey proposing an additional border crossing to Tel Abyad and also Russia proposing that the number of border crossings should go down to two — from four to two.  What kind of impact that would have on the UN and the work of the UN, either increasing or decreasing the number of border crossings which are used for humanitarian assistance to Syria?

Spokesman:  Sure.  To take your last question first, obviously, those are debates going on in the Security Council.  I’m not going to comment on those.  But from our standpoint, the cross‑border deliveries [are] a critical and vital life‑saving part of the work we’re able to do to help civilians in Syria, and we would hope that we are able to continue to do cross‑border deliveries.

On your first part, I mean, for us, we continue to call for de‑escalation and for active support by all Libyans and international actors engaged in Libya to find a peaceful and political solution to end the conflict and by addressing its underlying causes.

I think it’s important that the international community as a whole rally around the efforts of the Libyan people, of course, and also the efforts of the Secretary‑General’s representative, Mr. Salamé, in trying to find a political solution.

Evelyn, and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just to follow up on the cross‑border discussion, is aid coming across the lines now?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I mean, aid is coming across through the different border points that we are authorised to use.

Question:  And secondly on Syria…

Spokesman:  And the Secretary‑General is reporting back to the Security Council on that.

Question:  When? Today or…

Spokesman:  There’s a report that’s in the pipeline.  Should be public very soon.

Question:  Right.  And there’s supposed to be a ceasefire in Idlib.  Is anything holding because…

Spokesman:  I think…

Question:  I know you…  Yeah.

Spokesman:  What I said, I think, answers that question.  Iftikhar, and then…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on the eruption of protests across India against the Indian’s Citizenship Act, which discriminates against Muslims, especially the violent police action against students of a university, Jamia Millia [Islamia], in Delhi in which hundred students were injured.  Any comments on that?

Spokesman:  I… two things.  First, I think on the proposed Amendment Act, I would also refer you to the very strong words coming out of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madame [Michelle] Bachelet.

We are concerned about the violence and alleged use of excessive force by security forces that we’ve seen that have been taking place in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.  We very much call for restraint and urge full respect for the rights of freedom of opinion and expression and peaceful assembly.

Question:  Sir?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  Secondly, on Kashmir, the lockdown of the state and the communication blackout continues, and it’s now four months.  UN has not been able to even provide humanitarian assistance to the suffering 8 million people.  Does the Secretary‑General has anything to say…?

Spokesman:  I think we’ve… our concern about the situation in Kashmir has been expressed before and has not changed.  Nizar?

Question:  In your answer to Betul ‑‑ thank you, Stéphane ‑‑ you said that you support… the United Nations support a political settlement in Libya.  Does it mean that you are against the involvement of Turkish troops in Libya in support of the Government?

Spokesman:  We believe that the only solution to the current state of play in Libya is through political dialogue.  Yes, sir?

Question:  That… turning next to Lebanon.  My question is about Lebanon.  That was a follow‑up.  Do you support national unity government in Lebanon, given the political impasse that’s prevailing there and the financial and economic crisis?

Spokesman:  Look, I think Mr. [Jan] Kubiš has been very clear that he expressed his concern at the postponement of a political solution and that the longer decisions are… the more decisions are delayed, the more it creates a fertile ground for provocation and political manipulation.

Question:  Do you support National Accord Government…?

Spokesman:  Ultimately, the decis… the political future of Lebanon will have to be decided by the Lebanese people and their leaders.  What Mr. Kubiš is saying that we should… such decisions should not be postponed.

Question:  Does it… should it take into consideration the results of the parliamentarian elections?

Spokesman:  The Lebanese people will need to make those decisions.  Sir, and then…

Question:  Hello.  I will keep the question short.  Yesterday, China and Russia actually submitted a draft resolution concerning lifting sanctions on… some sanctions on north… DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), and I just want to know, what’s the sit… what’s the attitude to… of the Secretary‑General toward this current situation in DPRK or Korean Peninsula, and as well… especially in the humanitarian part? Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, on… we have expressed our concern at the ongoing humanitarian crisis that we’ve seen in the DPRK.  As you know, we have a UN country team that is there that is trying its best to help the people.  Ultimately, the best solution for the ongoing situation in the Korean Peninsula will be a resumption of the talks between the DPRK and the United States, which we hope would lead to full denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

Karina.  Yeah.

Question:  I think you have just answered my question, but maybe I’ll try in a different way.  What is the Secretary‑General’s opinion on the lifting of some sanctions on North Korea? What does he think about it?  The sanctions that impact the humanitarian situation.

Spokesman:  Sure.  That will be… there’s a debate going on in the Council, and that will be up to the Council to make that decision.

Thank you, all.  See you tomorrow.

As a reminder, we will halt our briefings on the 24th.  So, we will brief 23rd and 24th, and then resume probably around the 2nd or 3rd [January] or more likely a bit later.

For information media. Not an official record.