15 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 Travels

Some travel to announce, which will not be unexpected:  The Secretary-General will be going to Berlin to take part in the Libya conference on Sunday.  That conference is being hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  He will be accompanied by his Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, as well as the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo.  The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Monday night.  However, as a result of this travel, we’ve had to rejigger the Secretary-General’s schedule, and the press conference which had been scheduled for next week will now take place on 28 January.

**Group of 77

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will be at the handover of the chairmanship of the Group of 77, and that takes place at 3 p.m. this afternoon.  Guyana will take over the rotating chairmanship of the Group this year, replacing Palestine.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General is to say that the Group of 77 has played a pivotal role in shaping priorities and driving change.  He will say that he is deeply grateful, in particular, for the Group’s support for the first annual budget and the ongoing reform efforts.  The Secretary-General also will discuss the reform process, the Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and our wider agenda, and the UN budget.  We will share those remarks with you as soon as we can.

**Security Council

Back in the Security Council this morning, the head of the UN’s peace operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, reiterated our concern about the deteriorating security situation in Mali and the Sahel.  He said that terrorism continues to feed intercommunal violence in the centre of Mali and repeated that the rapid and thorough implementation of the peace agreement remains the only viable path for the stabilization of the country.  Mr. Lacroix called for additional resources to ensure the Mission is able to effectively fulfil its mandate in the country’s centre and north.  He said the Mission has developed a plan that calls, among other things, for the establishment of a Mobile Task Force to improve its ability and mobility to protect civilians and implement the mandate.  Mr. Lacroix reminded Council members that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is only one element of a broader collective response to fight violence and instability in Mali and the wider Sahel.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, following clashes last week in the city of Alindao, the UN peacekeepers are now patrolling the city to protect civilians, including some 400 people displaced by the violence who have sought shelter at the UN base.  The clashes took place on 9 January and involved the country’s armed forces and members of an armed group associated with the ex-Séléka coalition.  Two personnel from the Central African Republic’s armed forces died in the violence.  Today, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) says that the situation is calm, despite continuing tensions.  They are preparing to send a team to Alindao consisting of police, human rights and justice, and prison officers to investigate the clashes.  Meanwhile, we also have an update on efforts to secure Bangui’s PK5 neighbourhood.  The Mission says that all 13 bases of the ex-self-defence groups have now been dismantled.  UN peacekeepers continue to conduct joint patrols with the Central African Republic’s Internal Security Forces to protect civilians.  The Mission has also launched an awareness campaign in the PK5 neighbourhood to explain to the community its outreach and work to protect civilians.


Our colleagues at the UN country team in Kenya today voiced their deep distress at the rising cases of terrorist attacks on schools, teachers and students, especially in the north-east of the country.  Noting that the bombings of schools and the killing of civilians violate international humanitarian law, the team said it is especially troubling that the regions most affected by these attacks are already lagging behind in school attendance rates.  The UN in Kenya is determined to work with the Government to implement the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.


Turning to Syria, I want to say that we remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib and surrounding areas in north-west Syria, over half of whom are internally displaced, following new reports of air strikes and shelling.  Despite the announcement of a ceasefire that began on 12 January, there were reports today of air strikes and shelling impacting civilians in various parts of Idlib, including air strikes on Idlib city, reportedly killing 15 people and injuring scores.  Civilian infrastructure was also reportedly damaged.  Tens of families have reportedly moved through so‑called “corridors” announced by the Russian Federation on 13 January for civilians who want to move to areas under the control of the Government of Syria.  The UN urges all parties, and those with influence over those parties, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


And just a quick update from the Philippines and our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and they are telling us that the Philippines authorities are reviewing contingency plans having to deal with the ongoing situation with the Taal volcano.  They have asked several UN agencies — including that Office, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) — for their support.  We will obviously do what we can to help.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, my guests will be Elliott Harris, the UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, along with Dawn Holland, the Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  They will be here to brief you on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects, the report’s 2020 edition, which is under embargo until that time.

**Financial Contributions

We are delighted to welcome two new members to this year’s Honour Roll, and those are Djibouti and Luxembourg, and we thank them heartily for their paying their budget dues on time and in full, which brings us up to how many members of the honour roll?  [Six.]  Very good.  I think if we keep it to the two digits, we can all keep up, but we hope that will not last long.  Betul?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Four of my colleagues in Egypt have been detained in a police raid today — from Anadolu Agency.  Their passports and phones have been seized, and their whereabouts are still unknown.  Do you have anything to say on that?  And also, another question on Libya, has the invitation for Libya talks been extended to the Libyan parties?  Will Mr. [Fayez al] Serraj and General [Khalifa] Haftar attend the talks in Berlin?

Spokesman:  On your first question, I had not seen those reports.  I will look into them.  We're, obviously, always very concerned on any reports of arrests or detention of journalists, but we will look into it.  As far as the Berlin conference, the German Government is issuing the invitations.  James?

Question:  A follow‑up then on Libya.  Clearly, this follows… I mean, I know it has a different aim, which is part of Special Representative Salamé's plan, but this follows from the Moscow talks between… well, with Serraj and Haftar there.  Only one of those parties has currently signed.  What is the Secretary‑General's message to General Haftar in the days leading up to Berlin?

Spokesman:  The Secretary's message to all the Libyan parties is to abide by a ceasefire, to stop the fighting and recommit to a political process.

Question:  I have another question on a different matter, if I can.  We had an interesting news conference from the head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, in the last 24 hours.  In that news conference, he raised a long‑standing issue, which is the database that the High Commissioner for Human Rights was supposed to come up with, detailing the companies doing business with Israeli settlements.  And he said that had been sit… had been completed and was sitting on the High Commissioner's desk and had been for 15 months, and he speculated that it was the SG worried about retaliation from [Donald] Trump.  And he said, if the SG wanted, he could get that released tomorrow.  Can you tell us about why that database hasn’t been published, and does the Secretary‑General want something that the Human Rights Council has requested to be published?

Spokesman:  That is a question for the Human Rights High Commissioner.  The high… the Human Rights Council mandated the High Commissioner to publish such a database, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any problem with it being published?

Spokesman:  We are given a mandate by the Human Rights Council, and it's a question to refer to the High Commissioner.  Yes, Edie, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  As a follow‑up to Ken Roth's… both press conference and the report that Human Rights Watch issued, the report was critical of the Secretary‑General, saying that he had not spoken out on China's activities against the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang.  What's your response to that?

Spokesman:  This is… sorry… we were delighted that Mr. Roth chose the UN to launch his report, and we welcome everybody into this building.  I think, as some of you may recall, we have answered that question, and we have spoken out on this issue.  The Secretary‑General himself, last year, on a number of occasions, raised a number of issues with his Chinese counterparts, including the situation in Xinjiang.  This… I think the last time was on the side‑lines of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting.  He has done it earlier in 2019 when he was in Beijing, and his position and his message is the same in public and in private, which is based on three principles:  A full respect for the unity and territorial integrity of China, condemnation of terrorist attacks and that human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism.  Each community must feel that its identity is respected and it fully belongs to the nation as a whole.  Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  Thank you.  About Syria, it's now a few days after the UN Security Council compromised on the cross‑border resolution, and officials have expressed concern that 1.4 million could be cut out of aid.  So, now, after few days, I'm wondering if you have any information how dire the situation on the ground in north‑east Syria actually is.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think I've just outlined our concerns with the situation in north‑east just at the start of this briefing, given the challenging humanitarian situation, the ongoing reports of shelling and attacks and the suffering of the Syrian people themselves.  The Security Council passed the resolution on Friday.  We took note of it.  We are now adapting our operations to be in line, obviously, with the mandate given to us.  It is clear that this pauses… this will cause operational challenges to us, but we will try to meet those challenges and do whatever we can for the… to meet the needs of the Syrian people.

Question:  But, you don't have any information right now how it developed after Friday evening?

Spokesman:  No, and I'm… our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] are working on something for us on that.  Okay.  Thank you, all, except for James, who clearly wants to ask one more.

Question:  Well, I just want to clarify one of the things you said.  We welcome everyone to this building.  I'm going back to questions asked months ago, actually.  I don't think I ever got an answer on what the current policy was for officials from Taiwan who wanted to come in this building.  So, are officials from Taiwan welcome to come in this building to brief us at any point?

Spokesman:  I… the requirements for people to come into this building to show documentation from one of the 193 Member States remains the same.

Question:  No, but, actually, that was the question, and I know Farhan [Haq] took it away, and it never came back.  Officials from Taiwan say that they were allowed to show other forms of identification to come in this building in the past, and the rules have been strengthened or… is m… the bar has been raised in recent years?

Spokesman:  The rule stands as it is today.  Thank you.

Question:  Well, can we see the rule, please, exactly what the rule is?

Spokesman:  We can try.  Maria?

Question:  Thank you.  On Russia, President Vladimir Putin announced today some possible changes in Russian Constitution, and one of them is that, in case if some international decisions contradict Russian internal interests, Russia can… if these changes will be adopted, Russia will be able not to… not accept these decisions.  Do you have any comments on this?

Spokesman:  No, let me take a look exactly what was said, and I'll come back to you.  Yes, sir, and then we'll go to the back.

Question:  One of the things that Human Rights Watch was critical of the SG for was sending its top counter-terrorism official to Xinjiang, and I just wanted to clarify whether or not the Secretary‑General views the Strike Hard Campaign, which is what's happening in Xinjiang, as a form of counter-terrorism.  Is this counter-terrorism, or is this something else?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what we said at the time on this.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Hi.  Samira Sadeque with Inter Press Service.  Going back to the Human Rights Watch report, Ken Roth also very specifically said that, at the UN, a major Chinese Government priority has been avoiding the conversation on Xinjiang.  And I just wanted to see if that's a statement that the security… Secretary‑General's office acknowledges or agrees with.

Spokesman:  You know, that's… I think that's a question left for observers and analysts to comment on the policy… you know, the strategy of one Member State at the UN.  It's not for us to comment.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  With regard to Iran and the three European countries that have triggered this dispute mechanism, I was wondering if there's any update as to whether the SG's office has been approached and whether…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware that we've been officially approached.  The way… as I understand it that the dispute mechanism does not directly involve the Secretary‑General so… but we're aware, obviously.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.