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24 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.

**Syria

Good afternoon.  As you saw, last night we issued a statement on Syria, in which the Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned about the military escalation in the north-west and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

He reminded all parties of their obligations to protect civilians and ensure freedom of movement and said that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians, including through cross-border modality, must be guaranteed in order to allow the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out their critical work in northern Syria.

UNICEF also issued a statement saying that children are bearing the brunt of the intensifying violence.  More than 500 children have been injured or killed in the first nine months of 2019, and at least 65 children have been killed or injured in the month of December alone.  UNICEF called on all parties to cease hostilities and put children first for once and for all.

**Central African Republic

From the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues estimate that some 2.6 million people in the Central African Republic — over half of the population — need humanitarian assistance in 2020.

As of November, nearly 700,000 people were displaced throughout the country, and over 595,000 have taken refuge into neighbouring countries. 

Limited access to agricultural fields due to insecurity impacts 75 per cent of the population of the Central African Republic, which depends on agriculture for their food supply and income. 

Over 1 million girls and boys of school age will need humanitarian assistance in education in 2020 and approximately 178,000 children will need treatment for acute malnutrition.

The Humanitarian Response Plan for the Central African Republic in 2020 requests $401 million to assist 1.6 million people.

**Nigeria

And from Nigeria, many civilians have reportedly been executed and many others abducted by armed groups yesterday in northern Borno State and on the Damaturu-Biu road, linking Yobe and Borno states. 

The UN and our humanitarian partners have condemned the violent incidents and are urging the Nigerian authorities to do their utmost to prevent further violence and brutality and to protect the civilian population, including aid workers. 

Over 36,000 people were killed since the beginning of the conflict, about half of them civilians.

In 2019, nine aid workers have reportedly lost their lives while trying to provide lifesaving assistance to those who desperately need it in Borno State. 

The UN and our humanitarian partners in Nigeria remind all armed groups of their duty to protect civilians and call on the general public, including the media, to refrain from sharing any unconfirmed information. 

**Briefing Schedule

As you know tomorrow, we will be closed in observance of Christmas Day.  So, Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it.  And as I said last week, we will not be having any noon briefings again until 3 January.  But, please visit our website where we will update on a daily basis.  And on Thursday, on the 2nd, at 3 p.m., at this point, Permanent Representative of Viet Nam and the President of the Security Council for the month of January will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work.  That’s Thursday, the 2nd, at 3 p.m.; if that changes we will let you know. 

**Questions and Answers

And on that note, Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Steph, and happy holidays to everyone.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  The North Korean leader, Kim Jong‑un, has promised a Christmas gift.  Does the Secretary‑General have a message for him on the eve of Christmas?

Spokesman:  Our message is to the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and to resume working‑level talks with the United States.  Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete denuclearization and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Happy holidays, may I offer.  Yesterday, a series of ruling were issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  The trials were held in the presence of representative of five permanent members of the Security Council and representative of the Government of Turkey, as well as a human right organization. 

Now, the question, what is the position of the United Nations concerning all these measures that the Kingdom has taken in dealing with the case?  Also, does the UN see that this all reflect the Kingdom's keenness to find the truth and to conduct a fair trial regardless of accepting the ruling issued?  And what is the position of the United Nations of the trial procedures itself?

Spokesman:  Look, I think we made our position clear yesterday.  What I would add is that my understanding is that there is an appeal process going on for the decisions taken by the court.  We will, obviously, wait for that procedure to end to have further comment.

Sato‑san.  Oh, sorry.  Did you have a follow‑up?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Actually… 

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  I would like to ask another question, if you let me.  Yesterday, Reuters released information stating that the Iranian regime killed nearly 1,500 protesters, which is a large number, in fact.  What is the Secretary‑General's comment on this alarming number now?  And are there any measure that can be taken to hold those responsible for these crimes to account?

Spokesman:  Look, we have, over the past few weeks when we've seen the recent spate of demonstrations in Iran, expressed our concern at the loss of life and at the violence we have seen.  It's a matter of principle for us that people have a right to demonstrate peacefully and that security forces need to show restraint. 

If there is loss of life — and it's clear there has been; we don't have any access to those numbers or be able to verify those numbers one way or another — is that there needs to be accountability for those responsible.

Sato‑san.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions to you.  One is, last week…  maybe I missed and…  I know that you can't say in a word but the…  how Secretary‑General characterize this year?

And one more question is to…  the first day of Secretary‑General next year will be January 3rd or January 2nd?

Spokesman:  The first…  sorry?  Say again.

Question:  The first Secretary‑General appearance to the UN premise next year will be the January 2nd or January 3rd?

Spokesman:  I think he comes back from leave on the 2nd.  I don't know whether he'll be in the building on the 2nd, but he's back here in New York on the 2nd.

Question:  Is he going to…  is he going to make any speech to the…

Spokesman:  You know, obviously, there will be appearances, and we'll share with you the calendar.  The big item on the Secretary‑General's calendar for January is a speech to the General Assembly on the 20th of January, which is his traditional kind of year‑forward speech, and we do also expect him to have a press conference on that day, as well.

Your first question?  Say again.

Question:  How…  how does Secretary‑General characterize this year, 2019?  How can he wrap up?  Of course, there is seven days ahead…  left but…

Spokesman:  Yes, we hope that the next seven days will provide a solution to all of the world's problems but… 

[laughter]

If that doesn't happen, you know, I think, for the Secretary‑General, I mean, there were a lot of crises that we saw, and we can't sit and name them all, but we saw, in Syria, we went forward in the sense of the first meeting of the Constitutional Committee.  We've seen the horrendous fighting and the loss of life and the impact of civilians this year.  In the [Democratic Republic of the Congo], we saw fighting on Ebola in the eastern part of the country.  I think the Secretary‑General, as he said clearly, was very disappointed in the outcome of the Climate Summit. 

But I think, for him, 2019 was a year of hope in the mobilization that we saw among young people around climate and around other issues, and this drive of young people to make the world better, this drive of young people to keep political leaders accountable is something that gives him great hope.  Thank you.

Yes.

Question:  Stéphane, Merry Christmas.  Can you give us a sense of what is going on today in the Fifth Committee and the prospects for adoption of the budget for 2020?

Spokesman:  What is going on is a lot of discussions.  I will not, with my years of experience here, I will not characterize the ongoing discussions until we have a budget.  We very much hope that the Member States will come to a consensus before the end of the year.  Our budget starts on January 1st.  We will, obviously, be there with Member States and accompany them and answer their questions until they reach an agreement.

Question:  Follow‑up, quick follow‑up.  If nothing happens today, UN closed tomorrow, everybody would…  back on Thursday?

Spokesman:  Yes, we will, obviously, be there to service whatever meetings Member States need to have for the Fifth Committee and then for the adoption of the General Assembly.

Yep, Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I don't recall that the Secretary‑General did an end‑of‑year press conference this year.  Might he do a beginning‑of‑year press conference in…

Spokesman:  Yes, on the 20th of January.

Question:  That's a press conference or is that…

Spokesman:  No, I said there are two things on that day.  There's a speech to the General Assembly of his year looking forward and his focus for the year and a general press conference on that very day.  Reserve your seat now.

[laughter]

Question:  And is there a chance that residents of the 3rd and 4th Floor in this building might get a New Year's gift of a restoration of escalator service?

Spokesman:  There is no stronger advocate within the Secretariat for you to get that gift than your humble servant.  I think you and I should be the first passengers on the escalator when they get turned on. 

Yes, sorry, Allen.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Turkey expressed their readiness to provide the military assistance to Tripoli, so regarding this statement, what's the assessment of the UN of the situation in Libya, how this military involvement of Turkey can…  could affect the situation?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You know, as you know, we don't talk about hypotheticals, but the message for us on Libya is clear.  Only a political solution will lead to peace for the Libyan people, and what we call on all parties, whether they are fighting on the ground or whether they have influence of those fighting on the grounds, is to focus on de‑escalation.

Thank you, and we shall see you next year.

For information media. Not an official record.