20 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.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Trip Note

The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York where he will be arriving later this afternoon.

As you know, he was in Berlin, and yesterday, he took part in the Libya Conference hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Secretary-General welcomed the commitment by the Member States present, including all five permanent members of the Security Council, to refrain from interfering in the armed conflict or Libya’s internal affairs.

He said that countries – along with regional and international organizations – sent a strong signal that they are, quote, “fully committed to supporting a peaceful resolution to the Libyan crisis”.

He reiterated that there is no military solution for the Libyan conflict and urged all Libyan parties to engage in a Libyan-owned and Libyan-led dialogue under the auspices of the United Nations, paving the way for a political solution.

At the Conference, all participants committed to supporting the ceasefire and to put pressure on the parties to the conflict for a full ceasefire to be reached.

His remarks were shared with you yesterday.


And on Yemen, you will have seen that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, condemned the escalation in military activities.  He said he was particularly concerned by the aerial attack that reportedly hit the Al-Estiqbal military camp in Marib city, which reportedly killed dozens of people.

Mr. Griffiths reiterated that the hard-earned progress that Yemen has made on de-escalation is very fragile, stressing that such actions can derail this progress.  He urged all parties to stop the escalation now and to direct their energy away from the military front and into the politics.

His full statement is online.

And Mr. Griffiths has been actively engaged in the last 24 hours with all parties.  He has expressed his alarm over the tragic events and urged the participants to remain calm and avoid any further escalation.

**Iraq Demonstrations

And, turning to Iraq, in a statement issued earlier today, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, urged the Government of Iraq to initiate a renewed push for reform and expressed concern about ongoing human rights violations.

With demonstrations across many parts of Iraq in their fourth month, she emphasized the importance of pressing ahead to meet the needs of the Iraqi people.  The killing and injury of peaceful protesters, combined with years of undelivered promises, have resulted in a major crisis of confidence, she said, adding that the violent suppression of peaceful protests is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs.

The Special Representative said that geopolitical developments – namely the escalation in regional tensions - must not eclipse the rightful demands of the Iraqi people.

**Security Council

And the Security Council held closed consultations this morning on Cyprus.

Council members were briefed by Elizabeth Spehar, the Special Representative and head of the mission in Cyprus.  And I know she spoke to you afterwards.

**Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territory

Following a six-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ursula Mueller, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, called on the international community to ensure continued commitment and sustained funding to help alleviate the challenges faced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Ms. Mueller was the keynote speaker at the sixth international conference on preparedness and response to emergencies and disasters, that was held in Tel Aviv.  During her visit, she met with Israeli authorities, and commended Israel on its contributions to global emergency relief efforts.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Ms. Mueller met with the Prime Minister of the State of Palestine and the Director General of Palestinian Civil Defence, to identify areas for strengthened cooperation.  She visited the central West Bank, where she met with vulnerable communities who are exposed to a coercive environment that reduces their access to shelter, basic services and natural resources, placing them at risk of forcible transfer.

And she was also in Gaza, she visited Al-Shifa hospital, a women’s centre where vulnerable women and men receive support and she also met youth leaders.

She said that “Member States must continue to support humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the West Bank.  At the same time, they must work to rekindle a robust political dialogue and promote long-term solutions, to address the root causes of the crisis.”

**DiCarlo in West Africa

And over the weekend, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs concluded a visit to five African countries: Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

In meetings with national and regional leaders, she discussed the pressing issues of peace and security and development.

She held consultations with the UN country teams on the humanitarian situation and ways to further strengthen our support through an enhanced strategic partnership with regional organizations such as the Economic Community for West Africa and the G5 Sahel.

More information on a press release and Ms. DiCarlo joined the Secretary-General in Berlin for the Libya conference.


Staying in West Africa, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, has strongly condemned the attack on Saturday evening by non-State armed groups against the main accommodation for aid workers in Ngala in the north-eastern state of Borno.

Five UN staff were staying there at the time of the attack.

Aid workers are providing assistance to more than 55,000 people in Ngala, which borders Cameroon.  And we are continuing with our partners to help more than 7 million people in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, but humanitarian workers are increasingly the target of attacks.


And from Paris, our colleagues at UNESCO said that, while the number of journalists killed worldwide dropped by nearly half in 2019, they continue to face risks and perpetrators enjoy almost total impunity for these crimes.

UNESCO recorded 56 killings of journalists last year, the lowest annual toll in more than a decade.  In total, 894 journalists have been killed in the decade from 2010 to 2019.

Most journalists have been killed outside of the conflict zones.

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General, said that the agency remains deeply troubled by hostility and violence directed at all too many journalists around the world.  She added that, as long as this situation lasts, it will undermine democracy.

**World Health Organization on Smoking

And our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) say that tobacco smokers who undergo surgery face higher risks of post-surgical complications than non-smokers.  These complications include impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing.

However, a new joint study done by WHO and a number of partners shows that smokers who quit approximately four weeks or more before surgery have a lower risk of complication and better results six months afterwards.

**UNICEF Schooling of Adolescent Girls

And UNICEF today launched a paper that says that nearly 1 in 3 adolescent girls from the world’s poorest households have never been to school.

The paper, entitled “Addressing the learning crisis:  an urgent need to better finance education for the poorest children”, highlights major disparities in the distribution of public education spending and calls for a more equal allocation of resources.

Looking at 42 countries, the paper finds that education for children from the richest 20 per cent of households are allocated nearly double the amount of education funding than children from the poorest 20 per cent of households.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

And tomorrow I will be joined again by Elliott Harris, the UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General at DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], along with Marta Roig, the Chief of Emerging Trends and Issues at DESA.  They will be here to brief you on the launch of the 2020 World Social Report.

**Financial Contributions

And we are bounding along on the Honour Roll.  We welcome today fresh cash from Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland, which brings us up to 14.

Correspondent:  14.

Spokesman:  If it’s simple enough, I will answer the question.


Thank you.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Steph, could you give us some more details on what to expect later this week in Geneva on the Libya ceasefire negotiations?  Is it this week spec--  I mean, do we have date, and what’s the format?

Spokesman:  Mr. Salamé, I think, will try to organize this as soon as possible, and as soon as we have details, we’ll share with you.  We do expect the Secretary‑General to brief the Security Council at their request either tomorrow or Wednesday.  That will likely be in closed consultations, where he will report back on his discussions on Libya.

Question:  Thank you.  Also on Libya, does the Secretary‑General thinks the Security Council should act on this in the nearest future to make it legally binding?

Spokesman:  Well, I think it’s up to the Security Council to see how they want to endorse it, but I have no doubt that they will take that up.


Question:  Two other follow‑ups on Libya.  First, in eastern Libya today, there has been a freeze on oil production ordered by Khalifa Haftar’s forces, which does not seem to bode well for what happened in Berlin.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this?  And, try that first.


Spokesman:  Okay, I’ll give it a try.  Obviously, I think those, these developments on the ground are of concern to us.  The issue of the oil of Libya, the economy of Libya is… will be addressed in one of the tracks laid out by Mr. Salamé on the… that focuses on the economy, but the resources of Libya should, obviously, be going to the benefit of the Libyan people themselves.

Question:  Secondly, on the preparations or what might happen in the future, obviously, the Security Council would have to give any okay for a new UN peacekeeping force.  But with this as a serious possibility, is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] doing any preparatory work for this possibility?

Spokesman:  We’re always looking at contingency planning and making plans for what the Security Council may call on us to do, including ways we could increase our ability to report back on ceasefires.

Joe and then…

Question:  Yes.  On Yemen, does the UN have any more details from its in‑country presence on the attack, who launched the attack, the kind of weaponry that was involved, etc.?  I mean, there’s speculation that it came from the Houthis but as I…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, we don’t…

Question:  …has there been any confirmation?

Spokesman:  …have any more forensic information on the… what was used in this aerial attack and who may have been responsible for it.


Question:  On Lebanon, it seems there’s… there are escalations everywhere in Beirut and other areas, clashes between the police and protesters.  Do you have any statements regarding that?

Spokesman:  Look, we’re obviously concerned by what we’re seeing on the streets of Lebanon about the violence during the protests over the weekend.  Obviously, we urge all parties to refrain from violence, and it’s very important that security forces be there to protect peaceful protesters and to refrain themselves from using disproportionate force.  And we also call on Lebanon’s political leadership to advance government formation to maintain stability and facilitate efforts to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis.

Question:  Follow‑up on that.  Last week, Mr. Kubiš issued a statement praising the governor of the Bank of Lebanon for his leadership or for being active, whereas other politicians have failed the country.  Is he in the business of rating Central Bank governors, especially that this figure in Lebanon is very controversial and many people are accusing him of connivance or with corruption?

Spokesman:  Mr. Kubiš issued, posted a Tweet with a photo after the meeting.  I think you’re analysing the words, but I would refer you to what he actually said, which is pretty self‑explanatory, and Mr. Kubiš has been acting within his mandate.

Question:  Well, he said…  he said it seems that the Central Bank governor is the only person who’s working.

Spokesman:  He said what he said.

Yes, Stefano.

Question:  Yes, again on Libya, on the…  when they say, you know, that the participant commit to refraining from interferences, is this include also when the Government, the one recognized by the UN in Tripoli, ask for…  let’s say, when it did ask to Turkey to send a force in…  in the countries?  This include that as interference?

Spokesman:  I think the message that we’ve heard from the Secretary‑General that you could have seen from Berlin and we heard from Mr. Salamé here is pretty clear, that Turkey does not need…  let me rephrase that.  The message is pretty clear, and that is that Libya does not need any… any more foreign interference from whatever quarter that may…

Question:  So include that.  And then the point of human rights, it says…

Spokesman:  Who says?

Question:  In the final declaration in the communiqué of the conference.  That they will end to the proc…  I mean, they call for the Libyan authority to handle the process of arbitrary detention and then gradually close the detention centres for migrants.  This “gradually”, because you know “gradually” can mean many things.  Can mean in a month.  Can mean in one year.  Why gradually?  I mean, what does it mean, “gradually”?

Spokesman:  Well, “gradually” would mean as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.

Question:  So quickly as possible…

Spokesman:  Obviously, and to ensure the safety and dignity of those who are inside the detention centres.


Question:  It’s Anna from Armenia.  Thank you.  I have two questions.  One is about coronavirus that’s spreading in China.  They say it’s very similar to SARS virus and has the potential of global pandemic.  Is the UN monitoring the situation?  Are there any warnings?

Spokesman:  What’s your other question?

Question:  And my other question is about climate refugees, which is relatively a new term.  It’s been determined by UN commission that climate refugees cannot be returned to the place of their birth, and this was decided on a national [inaudible] body, but taking into concentration global warming, this can become a very disastrous issue for the future.  Is UN thinking about this, assessing…

Spokesman:  Yes, clearly…

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  …and the Secretary‑General has spoken about it.  This is something… I mean, I think the decision by the Human Rights Committee was a very important one, obviously, will have to be, and will have to be studied, but it is clear that it is something that the world is going to have to grapple with.

On your first one, I would refer you to the many statements that WHO has put out in the past, in the past few days.  They are clearly monitoring it very closely, working with authorities in China.  They had a team on the ground in Wuhan, and they’re obviously very much on top of it.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Back to Lebanon, more than 400 people were injured in the recent protests and maybe clashes in the streets of Beirut.  And it seems that the security forces are using a different or new gas, teargas, and a lot of people who were injured described these gases as, like, toxic gases.  Do you have any information about that and any message that you can send to the authorities about also accountability?

Spokesman:  I don’t have any details on the report you say, but we have seen violence over the weekend.  Security forces, whether it’s in Lebanon or any other countries, should be there to protect protesters who are, who have a right to demonstrate peacefully.  Violence from protesters and vandalism is, of course, unacceptable, but what we have seen are the vast majority of peaceful protesters, and they need to be protected.  Any violence against them needs to be investigated, and those who instigate the violence need to be held to account.

Caro, Stefano.

QuestionGrazie mille.  Again, on migrants, but this time, on the other side of Mediterranean, Greece, there is the… in the highland of Lesbos, West Lesbos Municipal Council voted to close the stage 2 transit camp.  This is going to take place in a few days, January 31st.  Now, this is a camp that the UNHCR… is a transit facility, but it looks like it’s… that it’s very… very important to keep it open because it’s the… is… there are thousands and thousands of people pass there and get the first help.  Now, what the UN is…

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, in detail, I think it’s something you need to check with UNHCR to see what the situation is on the ground and what contingency plans they may have.  What is clear is that Greece has shown an immense solidarity and generosity with the migrants and refugees that have been coming in, and whether it’s Greece or other countries on the Mediterranean, we have always said that there needs to be greater solidarity from other countries in Europe, as well.

Thank you.  Oh, Nizar, let’s go.

Question:  Last…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  You were gone for so long that I missed you.

Question:  Thank you.  Violence in Iraq, it seems in many cities nowadays, roadblocks and clashes are happening almost everywhere, in the south in particular.  Do you have any statement on that?

Spokesman:  Nizar, I’m happy to welcome you back, but I think the second or third item I read was a statement just on that issue.  So, I’ll share you what I just read.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.