10 January 2020

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.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

A couple of travel notes.  The Secretary-General tomorrow will take part in a ceremony in Lisbon to kick off that city’s designation as European Green Capital.  The title, awarded by the European Commission, aims to honour cities that are leading the way towards environmentally friendly urban living.  The ceremony will also mark the beginning of a decade of climate action to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement.  In another event linked to Lisbon’s designation as 2020 European Green Capital, the Secretary-General will attend the inauguration of an interactive installation titled “One” and taking place at the Lisbon Oceanarium.  It is worth noting that the 2020 UN Ocean Conference will also be held in Lisbon in early June.  The President and Prime Minister of Portugal, the Mayor of Lisbon, the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, the Vice-President of the European Commission and others will also take part in the events. 

Then, on Monday, 13 January, the Secretary-General will travel to Pau in France to attend a working dinner hosted by President Emmanuel Macron as part of a summit with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, otherwise known as the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) countries.  Josep Borrell of the European Union, Charles Michel of the European Council, the African Union’s Moussa Faki and Louise Mushikiwabo from the International Organization of the Francophonie are also expected to attend the dinner.  The dinner aims to address the crisis in the Sahel by strengthening international engagement and collaboration on security, humanitarian and development issues.  The Secretary‑General will be back in New York on Tuesday.

**Senior Official Travels

Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, will arrive in Dakar in Senegal on Sunday, ahead of a week‑long visit that will take her, not only to Senegal, but also to Guinea‑Bissau, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.  In meetings with national and regional leaders, Ms. DiCarlo will discuss the security, political and humanitarian situation in the region and explore ways on how the United Nations can enhance its support in tackling challenges to peace, security and stability, including the fight against terrorism.


Ten years ago, on Sunday, at 4:53 p.m., about 35 seconds of violent [tremor] changed the face of Haiti.  In a video message released today, the Secretary‑General paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their lives and to the millions more who lost their homes, family members and so much more in the devastating earthquake.  He also honoured the memories of our 102 UN colleagues who lost their lives that day and renewed the UN’s commitment to help Haiti and its people build a brighter future.  In Port-au-Prince, on Sunday, all UN staff have been invited to attend a commemorative ceremony to be held at the site of the Christopher Hotel, which, as you will recall, was the hotel that housed the UN peacekeeping mission’s headquarters and that hotel collapsed during the earthquake.  Assistant Secretary-General Miroslav Jenča will be the senior official from New York representing the UN at this ceremony and other commemorative events organized by the Haitian Government.

Next week, there will be a number of other events to mark the anniversary.  On Monday, in Tunis, the UN will inaugurate the Hedi Annabi Hall, honouring the memory of the head of the UN peacekeeping mission, Hedi Annabi, who died in the collapse of the Christopher Hotel.  As you will recall, Mr. Annabi was also a long‑time Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations here in New York.  And in Geneva, on Wednesday, there will be another commemoration at the Palais des Nations with, among other participants, Haiti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

And lastly, on Friday next week, 17 January, the Secretary-General will take part in a ceremony here which will include representatives of the countries who lost [citizens] their lives in the earthquake.  Those wishing to pay their respects will also be able to visit the memorial relocated from Haiti to the North Lawn to honour the memory of all of our colleagues who died that day 10 years ago.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council, as you know, is continuing its ongoing meeting on upholding the Charter, which began yesterday.  There were 56 speakers inscribed for today’s discussion at the start of the morning.  Meanwhile, we do expect the Security Council to consider the re-authorisation of the cross-border crossings for humanitarian aid for Syria at a meeting later this afternoon.


Turning to Libya, I want to state that we are deeply concerned by the deaths of two more health workers yesterday, who were killed by shelling in Al Washka, about 137 kilometres west of the city of Sirte.  Five support staff were also injured in the incident.  In 2019, at least 61 attacks impacting field hospitals, health‑care workers, ambulances and medical supplies were recorded.  At least 75 people were killed in those incidents and 52 others injured.  Humanitarians continue to call on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.  Medical facilities, medical personnel and medical transport must be respected and protected at all times.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a new UN report says that killings, rapes and other forms of violence targeting the Hema community in the Ituri Province may amount to crimes against humanity.  The report, which is a result of an investigation conducted by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the country, says that the Lendu armed groups have become more organized to carry out attacks and that one of their objectives is to take control of the land and associated resources of the Hema communities.

Between December 2017 and September 2019, at least 700 people have been killed and 168 injured during inter-ethnic clashes between the Hema and Lendu communities.  At least 142 people were subjected to sexual violence.  Acts of reprisals of the Hema communities against the Lendus were also documented.  The report urges the authorities to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the violence and to ensure the right to reparation for victims, as well as access to medical and psychosocial care.


On Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, due to climate and man-made crises, some 8.4 million people are in need of assistance.  That’s according to a new report put together by the UN and other partners in consultation with the Ethiopian Government.  Most of the people in need are in the Oromia, Somali and Amhara regions in Ethiopia.  The 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ethiopia is currently being finalized and will be shared with you when we can.

**El Salvador

A couple of other notes related to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The agency today welcomed El Salvador’s new law that will help protect internally displaced people.  The legislation opens the doors for tens of thousands of victims of forced displacement in the country to gain access to life-saving humanitarian assistance and to have their basic rights restored, including effective access to justice.  The law further provides for the establishment of a comprehensive national system that brings together a wide range of State institutions to collaborate in responding to and preventing forced displacement.  The text of the legislation was drafted with technical support from UNHCR and aligns with the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.


And lastly, we congratulate UNHCR, because today they were awarded the Olympic Cup by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its work in supporting refugees and their host communities through sport.  In accepting the award, High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that the award is a tribute to the displaced people and communities that UNHCR serves, who understand the transformative power of sport and have seized the opportunities that have been offered to them.  The IOC has established a second IOC Refugee Olympic Team to take part in the Summer Games in 2020.

**Financial Contributions

Lastly, let’s talk about money.  So good, we’re going to be crediting them twice.  On 3 January, while many of us were on leave, Farhan [Haq] spoke about the first three Member States that paid full contributions to 2020’s regular budget.  With a fourth country paying up today, we are going to repeat thanks to Armenia, Portugal and Ukraine, and freshly thank India, which paid up today.  So far, how many Member States who have fully paid up?  Four.  We closed out 2019 with 146 Member States having paid their dues in full for the 2019 budget.  And as of yesterday, 10 Member States were in arrears and fall under the provisions of Article 19, and that’s Central African Republic, Comoros, Gambia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, Tonga, Venezuela and Yemen.  In October 2019, the [General Assembly] decided that three of those — Comoros, Sao Tome and Principe and Somalia — shall be permitted to vote in the General Assembly until the end of the seventy-fourth session.  Khalas.  Nabil?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  So, we expect a meeting on the cross‑border mechanism this afternoon.  Can you tell us what's the immediate and direct impact on the ground if the Council fails again today to adopt a resolution?

Spokesman:  Well, the… first of all, we don't want to speculate.  Right?  We very much hope that the members of the Council will come together in agreement and permit us to continue our work doing cross‑border operations.  I think, as I said yesterday, we have no alternative to reach the people in the north‑west and north‑east than through cross‑border operations.  So, if there is no resolution rollover, the operations will cease by the end of today.  Yes?

Question:  I have a follow‑up, Steph.  Can you tell us how many people will be affected if the resolution fails to pass?

Spokesman:  The millions of people that we reach… civilians that we are trying to reach through these operations.

Question:  Can you give us an exact number?

Spokesman:  Well, I… you know, I'd have to tabulate all the people that we've reached.  I can try to do that, but I… it's obviously in the millions in terms of the people that we've been able to reach since we were permitted to run these cross‑border operations.  [He later said that, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are 4 million people in need supported by cross-border operations — 2.7 million in the north‑west, and 1.3 million in the north-east.]  Maria and then Mr. Bays.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, it seems that countries put for vote two resolutions which remain almost unchanged.  During this time since first voting, did Secretary‑General try to interfere in negotiations to try to bring parties closer to agreement?

Spokesman:  Let's be clear.  The work on the resolution is the domain of the members of the Security Council.  Right?  They are the ones who are negotiating.  That being said, the Secretary‑General, over the past week and before, has spent a lot of time on the phone with various members of the Security Council, expressing his own views, which is basically what I've been telling you, is the critical need for us to continue to cross‑border operations.

Question:  And by phone, you mean he was contacting capitals?

Spokesman:  No, he was… I mean, there were some capitals.  There was a lot of discussions either in person or by phone with Permanent Representatives here, as well.  He has been… he and other senior UN officials have stayed in close touch with members of the Security Council on this issue.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  What is the view of OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and the humanitarian community?  Would it be better to have three border crossings or two border crossings?

Spokesman:  Inasmuch as you would like me to get involved in the negotiations, negotiate from here, I will not.  What is vital for us is for these cross‑border operations to continue.  We will see what comes out of the Security Council today.

Question:  Okay.  I'll ask the question another way.  Which would deliver more aid, three border crossings or two border crossings?

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  Yes.  On Haiti, you noted the various events marking the anniversary of the tragic earthquake.  There was another tragedy, as you know, in Haiti caused by UN peacekeepers, and that's the cholera outbreak… you know, the breakout of the cholera epidemic and many deaths that followed.  What is the current status of the UN's pledges to make restitution to the communities affected and the families and individuals affected by the cholera outbreak?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we have been extremely involved in the continuing fight against cholera.  And since the outbreak of cholera in October 2010, the international community, I think, has spent about $705 million to fight cholera in support of the Haitian Government's own national plan.  That includes $64 million raised and mobilized by UN agencies.  The latest numbers I have really date back from December 2019, for nearly 11 consecutive months as of, I think, around 20 December 2019, there were no positive tests for cholera that had been reported.  There has been a consistent downward trend in… in [the] number of cholera cases since late 2016, 2017 and 2018, and 2019.  I mean, just in the last week of December 2019, I think there were five cholera tests in Haiti.  All turned out to be negative.  And that's down from a peak where there were some 18,000 cases a week.  So, in a sense, there's been an extremely positive trend in… downward trend in the number of cholera cases, and that is thanks to the mobilization of the international community.  We still need about $20 million to finalize the cholera response plan through 2022 and to try to maintain a zero transmission for three… for the… we need a three‑year zero benchmark to be… for the WHO [World Health Organization] to declare Haiti cholera‑free.  There is, as you know, Track 2, which the UN is working with communities that were most impacted by cholera to empower them to identify and implement projects that are most meaningful to them.  The UN has expanded its community‑led consultative process to about 25 communities throughout Haiti.  That work is continuing to be led by Josette Sheeran, who continues to be very focussed on it.

Question:  What about the individuals or families who were directly impacted by the outbreak?

Spokesman:  That's done through Track 2, which is working with those communities.

Question:  And how much money… could you tell us about how much money…?

Spokesman:  No, I don't have the… let me just see if I have the Track 2 numbers.  I don't have them in front of me, but, unfortunately, we've not been able to mobilize as much as we'd like on Track 2.  But, I think it is very important to underscore the work that has been done with the leadership of the Haitian Government in getting to that almost zero‑case number of cholera cases.  [He later added that to date, we have dispersed $7.2 million for Track 2 programming.  We need an additional $25.6 million to implement the current Track 2 approach in the remaining 109 communities identified as hardest hit.]  Fathi and then Stefano.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Positively, there is a movement in the track on the Sahel region from the Secretary‑General and the USG DiCarlo that she is going to be in the region.  Is there any ideas the Secretary‑General is going to bring out to try to bring change in this region to the UN operations?  I know that there is a dinner with the leaders in France this week or next week.  What the Secretary‑General have to bring to this… to the region in terms of the UN operations that have been questions about its validity or continuing its validity?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think we addressed this quite at length yesterday.  I mean, the UN Mission in Mali is focussed… its mandate is to focus… it is not a counter-terrorism operation.  That is not its mandate.  It is there to support the Government of Mali, support the people of Mali.  It has been on the… borne the brunt… a huge number of casualties.  There is the G5 Sahel [joint] force, which the Secretary‑General has been consistently pushing now for them to receive predictable and consistent funding so they're able to do their work effectively, and there's also the need on the development side to deal with a lot of the root causes of what is going on in the Sahel.  So, the Secretary‑General will… is looking forward to meeting with the leaders in Pau to try to increase the coop… not only the cooperation and coordination but also to increase the support from the international community to those countries that are on the front lines.  Stefano, and then James, then Erol.

Correspondent:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Sorry I arrived two minutes late, so I don't know if you say it in your introduction.

Spokesman:  You missed a lot in the first two minutes.

Question:  Probably.  Even the call for a ceasefire by President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and [Vladimir] Putin didn't work, because in Libya the fight continues, and actually General [Khalifa] Haftar rejected the ceasefire.  So, what is the reaction of the Secretary‑General when it looks like nothing works?  Even the call from Russia and Turkey didn't work.

Spokesman:  The reaction from the UN and the efforts led by Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé will be to continue to redouble their efforts to work on a political solution.  But, I think Mr. Salamé's call to all of you, that he made publicly in front of all of you last week, which is basically to ask the Member States to support the people of Libya but to leave Libya alone, in a sense, that Libya does not need more guns, does not need more intervention, does not need more missiles or drones, remains valid as it is today.  And we will continue our political efforts.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  But it… does the UN has a plan on the eventual fall of Tripoli if this happens in the next…?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to start to speculate on the fall of Tripoli or anything else.  We always have contingency plans, but the message is that there is no military solution to what is going on in Libya now.  I mean, and every day from here, I feel we're underscoring the suffering of the Libyan people, just today, the targeting of medical workers.  James?

Question:  So, it's another question on the Sahel summit, which I know you spoke about earlier and you spoke about yesterday.  And you said yesterday that the SG has been raising this since the beginning of his term, since 2017.  Clearly, since then, the situation has got worse.  The violence has expanded, particularly in the last year, Burkina Faso.  So, tell us, as these leaders come to meet at this summit, how critical, how serious are things now?

Spokesman:  They're extremely critical.  I mean, every day, we see increased attacks by terrorist elements, by insurgents.  And again, the people… the civilians are paying the price.  It's a crisis that is somewhat under‑reported in a sense because of the difficulties of access, but it is a situation that is deteriorating across the region.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Steph, thank you.  It seems to be that every single country of the United Nations' membership would like to address the issue of upholding of the UN Charter.  So far, I'm sure the Security… Secretary‑General is following as much as he can.  What is his conclusion what he wants to add or to say probably… although knowing his known sentiment of non‑resentment, I mean…?

Spokesman:  I think he delivered his own message at the start of the meeting.

Question:  Yeah, but… but… but listening to others?

Spokesman:  Listen, it is good to hear that every Member State believes in upholding the Charter.  It would be fantastic if we would see renewed unity and support for multilateralism.  Yes?

Question:  One more?  And one of the legacy of the Charter in which direction it could evolve, we are going to remember probably the 15 years ago… yes, 15 years ago in… on World Summit in September 2005, R2P [Responsibility to Protect] was developed out of the… so far, how the Secretary‑General see that… is it… R2P, is it alive at all?  Could be applied?  And what can he say about that?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, I don't have a quick analysis for you on the Secretary‑General's current view on R2P.  What is easy to note and… when we talk about what is going on in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, throughout the Sahel…

Correspondent:  In Libya.

Spokesman:  Yeah, that's what I just said, in Libya, across the Sahel is that it is people, it is ordinary civilians, it is men, women and children who are bearing the brunt of the suffering and the fighting.  Yes, go ahead, in the back, and then… yeah, and then Betul.

Question:  This is regarding Iraq.  I'm reading reports that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has submitted a letter to the Security Council complaining that Iran has violated its territorial sovereignty with the missile attacks.  I was wondering if you could confirm…?

Spokesman:  Yes, there was a letter, I think, that was… and it's been a long week.  There's a letter that was received earlier this week that has been circulated to members of the Security Council.  Betul?

Question:  Steph, you might have mentioned — maybe I missed it — there was a phone conversation between the SG and the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.  Can you tell us what was discussed?  And also, on the Ukrainian plane crash, I know the UN has nothing to do with that, but three countries — Canada, the US and the UK — said that they had evidence that the plane was hit by an Iranian missile.  The New York Times reported that they obtained a video which shows that it was hit by the Iranian missile.  Would the SG call for an independent investigation?

Spokesman:  No, I think there are procedures in place that are established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).  I think they put out a statement yesterday that they'd received notification… official notification from Iran that the investigation was ongoing.  So, we… I think we all look forward to the results of the investigation as it is established through procedures that have been used many times.  You know, we can only… we saw the press reports, I think, coming out of the Tehran that other countries, notably France and the United States and Canada, would be welcome to work with the Iranians on the investigation, and that's obviously something to be welcomed.

Question:  What's the latest for Yemen?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update for you from Yemen.  I'll try to get something to you soon.  Yes?

Question:  Reports in recent hours of two Iraqi journalists being assassinated in Basra.  What's the response of the…?

Spokesman:  I will take a look.  If they turn out to be true, they are to be condemned.  We have seen journalists throughout the world, but especially in the region, being killed or imprisoned in an effort to silence them, which is unacceptable.  Thank you.  Have a good weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.