17 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.

**Javier Pérez de Cuéllar

This Sunday, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, the fifth Secretary-General of the United Nations, will celebrate his 100th birthday, and Secretary-General António Guterres has written him a letter to extend his best wishes on that celebration.

In his letter, the Secretary-General said that Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar held the office of the Secretary-General with dignity and commitment starting in the 1980s and, indeed, through his last moments as Secretary-General in 1991 with the historic El Salvador peace accords, which were signed at the last minute of his term.

António Guterres wrote that, as the United Nations now marks its seventy-fifth anniversary, we who work for the Organization today strive every day to build on Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar’s impressive legacy.  We all wish him a happy birthday, indeed.

**Haiti Commemoration

At an event organized today to mark the tenth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, the Secretary-General laid a wreath and paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their lives on 12 January [2010].  He also expressed his solidarity with the millions more whose lives were forever changed and who, a decade later, are still struggling to recover from that tragic day.

A loss of this scale leaves permanent reminders and scars on Haiti and the United Nations, he said, adding that the loss of 102 colleagues that day amounted to the single greatest loss in one day in the UN’s history.

The Secretary-General renewed his commitment to honour the legacy of those lost, by working alongside the people and Government of Haiti, and with the country’s friends and supporters throughout the international community.

He also took a moment to pay his respects at the memorial brought from Port-au-Prince and installed on the North Lawn earlier this week.


Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the Head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), condemned the new attack in the Mopti region, during which 14 people were killed and two more were injured.

The UN has sent a fact-finding team to the village of Sinda, where the attack took place.  Mr. Annadif also offered the Malian authorities the UN’s support to determine what exactly happened and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Initial reports indicate that armed men on motorbikes raided the village in the early hours of Thursday.


And turning to Libya, the UN Mission in Libya, UNSMIL, today called for the immediate release of Siham Sergewa, an elected member of the House of Representatives, who was seized at night from her home in Benghazi six months ago.  Since her violent abduction, her fate remains unknown.

UNSMIL continues to follow up on the enforced disappearance of Ms. Sergewa and reiterates that the authorities in eastern Libya are responsible for respecting international human rights law and are legally obliged to establish the fate and whereabouts of Ms. Sergewa.

The United Nations condemns the abduction and her disappearance.  We demand the immediate release for her and for all victims of forced disappearance and that all those responsible be held accountable.

And, as a reminder, as you know, the Secretary-General will be heading off to Berlin today to attend the Berlin Conference on Sunday being organized by the Germans.


Turning to Sudan, the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs co-hosted a high-level meeting in London in which 19 donors affirmed the importance of scaling up aid to Sudan this year.

The other co-hosts were the United Kingdom and Sweden, with participation of the Sudanese Government.

Sudan also received assurances from the UN and NGOs to scale up the response to address the country’s urgent humanitarian needs.

Some 9.3 million people – one in four people in Sudan – will need humanitarian assistance this year, and that’s up from 8.5 million last year.

The UN-coordinated Humanitarian Response Plan 2020 for Sudan appeals for $1.4 billion to assist 6.1 million people, complementing the transitional Government’s own response.

It is critical for funding to be made in the first half of the year to sustain the response in conflict-impacted areas and help families hit by economic crisis, but also to reach people before the lean season starts in May and the rainy season in June.


From Geneva, our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) today warned that the fall in private investment and the lack of innovation in developing new antibiotics are undermining efforts to combat drug-resistant infections.

There are currently 60 products in development, but they will bring little benefit compared to existing treatments and very few of these new products will target the most resistant bacteria.

There are others in the early stages of testing, but it would be years before they reach patients.

The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], said the threat of antimicrobial resistance has never been more immediate and the need for solutions more urgent, stressing the need for countries and the pharmaceutical industry to step up and contribute with sustainable funding and innovative new medicines.

**Financial Contributions

And today we say thank you to our friends in Dublin and welcome the Republic of Ireland to the honour roll.  With its full payment to the 2020 budget, it means we have reached the wonderful number of 11.

And this is where I stop.  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Secretary‑General, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs [Rosemary] DiCarlo, and the SG Envoy [Ghassan] Salamé are heading to Berlin to attend the conference on Libya.  Does the UN planning… or the Secretary‑General and his team planning to bring fresh ideas or perhaps new initiatives, or he’s attending the conference as merely an observer?

Spokesman:  No, we are not an observer.  I think it is very important that Berlin, as the meeting in Moscow before, feed into the vision of the three‑step initiative that Representative Salamé outlined for you very clearly when he was here earlier this week and that what we need is unity in support of resuming the intra‑Libyan dialogue, among others, as well as ending foreign interference and ensuring that there’s a full respect for the arms embargo.

Question:  Follow‑up, I’m sure you’re aware of The Guardian report on the fighters… the Syrian fighters that have been relocated from Syria to Libya under the auspices of an unnamed country.  Is there any feedback from the UN on the ground from the UNSMIL about the influx of those, since they are in the hundreds…? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I have no… I’m not aware that they’ve reported that.  What is important, I think, as Mr. Salamé said, is that all foreign interference, from whichever quarter, ceases to give the Libyan people a chance for peace.  Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Concerning the violence in Lebanon, I didn’t hear any condemnation from the United Nations.  Do you have something to say?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think as Mr. [Jan] Kubiš has said, we’re very concerned about the violence that we’ve seen against demonstrators.  The right for freedom of assembly, for freedom of expression is one that should be respected, and there should be a full investigation into the incidents of violence, and people need to be held accountable.

I know you.  It’s been a long time.  How are you?

Question:  Good, good.  Staying on Lebanon, Mr. Kubiš, in another statement earlier, praised the Governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon for being the only person who’s proactive regarding the situation… the financial situation in the country.  Mr. Salameh himself came under a lot of criticism for his mismanagement of the economy.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Are you talking about Mr. Kubiš or Mr. Salamé?  Sorry.  Oh, yes, okay.

Question:  Mr. Salameh who…  Not Salamé of Libya.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah, no, it’s…

Question:  Riad Salameh, who is the Governor of Central Bank of Lebanon, is under heavy criticism from the people, as well as from politicians, for having led the country into this financial almost meltdown.  How did Mr. Kubiš allow himself to take sides in such a very thorny issue in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  I have to look… I haven’t seen what Mr. Kubiš has said.  I will look, but we have no reason to second question what Mr. Kubiš has said, but I will take a look.  I can’t comment on his statement because I haven’t seen it.

Question:  Well, this was even announced here a few days ago, and it was widely publicized.  Anyway, I can raise that later after you have a look at it.

On the other side, how are the UN staff being paid in Lebanon, since there are a lot of restrictions on transfers of capital into Lebanon at this stage?

Spokesman:  I have not been advised that there’s been any challenge in meeting the obligations… financial obligations and salaries to UN staff.  Edie?

Question:  Two questions, Steph.  First, what are the Secretary‑General’s hopes for the Berlin conference?

Spokesman:  And your second question?

Question:  My second question is that there’s been an announcement that the rival parties in South Sudan have agreed to meet the deadline to form a unity government.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?

Spokesman:  I will take a look.  Obviously, if it’s confirmed, it’s something to be welcomed, but let me take a look.

You know, what we hope comes out of Berlin is renewed demonstration of international unity in supporting the intra‑Libyan political process, ending foreign interference, leading to full respect of the UN arms embargo.  And, again, I think, as I told your neighbour, what is important is that this process feeds in and supports the efforts by Mr. Salamé, and we have absolutely no reason to believe that it is not the case.


Question:  Yes, a follow‑up.  So, for the meeting in Berlin, just one day, does the Secretary‑General expect that a lot of things are resolved, or it’s just the first step of a long process?

Spokesman:  Let’s let the meeting happen in Berlin before we start to analyse its results.  It will bring around the table a lot of countries, a lot of key players.  It’s a very… it’s a meeting that we look forward to participating in.  Let’s wait for it to happen, and then we can talk about the outcomes.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  [inaudible] signed agreement of a free movement between Kosovo and Serbia.  It has been brokered by EU and supported by UN.  Kosovo Albanians are being arrested in Serbia, continuously, and you guys have…

Spokesman:  Your microphone closer.

Question:  Yeah.  You guys have a Mission in Kosovo.  In UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo).  Do you have any information on this, what is being done, why this is…

Spokesman:  Let me check on that.  Yes, sir.

Question:  Regarding the Host Country Agreement, is there any progress… I understand there is a meeting today for the Host Country Committee.  What was the message of the Secretary‑General to the Committee during this meeting and was there any outcome regarding the visiting…

Spokesman:  I think the outcome, you need to check with the Permanent Mission of Cyprus as the Ambassador is the chair, and it’s a General Assembly‑led committee.  Our message continues to be the same, is that we have raised our concern, and we’ll continue to raise our concern with the host country on the issue of the deliverance of visas to officials who have business before the United Nations.

Question:  But, of course, this… I mean, the delay in any decision regarding that is also… delay… impacting the work of many committees.  Can Mr. [Javad] Zarif, for example, come in the near future?  Do you believe that?

Spokesman:  I think… listen, the process is, when you come to attend a meeting at the United Nations, whether it’s in Geneva, in New York or Nairobi, you apply for a visa with the host country.  So, I cannot answer for the host country.

What I am aware of are the obligations under the various treaties, and we are pushing the case for the host country to make sure that all those commitments are respected.

Yes, Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, last week, Farhan [Haq] has announced that 20 January, we’ll have press conference with Secretary‑General.  Is it still on?

Spokesman:  No.  I announced… when we announced the trip to Berlin, I said, because of the travel, it is being postponed to, I believe, the 28th of January.  Just the travel got in the way.

Okay.  Thank you.  Friday today?

Correspondent:  One last question?

Spokesman:  Friday.  [laughter]  I guess not, until the last question.  Yes.  It’s not Friday until the last question.

Question:  Regarding UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission) in Iraq, the United States has declared that they will not respond positively to the request of the Iraqi Parliament to leave the country.  So, what does… what is the position of UNAMI and the Secretary‑General regarding this defiance of an agreement between the Iraqi Government and the United States troops deployment there?

Spokesman:  The status of the United States troops, as far as I understand it, in Iraq is based under a Status of Forces Agreement that’s negotiated bilaterally.  It’s up to the Iraqis and the United States to work out those issues.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.