23 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Just to let you know, there will be two briefings we’ll have today.  First, I’ll speak to you, then after that, you’ll hear from Reem Abaza, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.


First off, I’ve been getting questions and I can say that the Secretary-General welcomes the Order of the International Court of Justice, indicating provisional measures in the case of The Gambia against Myanmar on the alleged breaches of the Genocide Convention.

The Secretary-General strongly supports the use of peaceful means to settle international disputes.

He further recalls that, pursuant to the Charter and to the Statute of the Court, decisions of the Court are binding.  He trusts that Myanmar will duly comply with the Court’s Order.

In accordance with the Statute of the Court, the Secretary-General will promptly transmit the notice of the provisional measures ordered by the Court to the Security Council.

We expect to have a statement concerning the Court Order later today.

**Secretary-General in Davos

As we speak, the Secretary-General is delivering his special address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  It is being livestreamed and the video will also be made available later.

The Secretary-General arrived in Davos today to attend the annual World Economic Forum.

Earlier, he participated in the informal gathering of World Economic Leaders, where he was joined by a number of world leaders.  He focused his remarks at the closed-door meeting on how to bring about a cohesive and sustainable world.

The Secretary-General then dropped by a lunch organized by the UN Global Compact.  He told the attendees to be not just business leaders, but also leaders in society for essential values.  He encouraged them to put pressure on their Governments to price carbon, embed climate risk and implement policies of inclusion.

If we are going to solve the global challenges, he said, we need to make multilateralism, including the UN, more inclusive and open to the private sector, civil society, youth groups and local governments.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet with a group of young global leaders to hear their thoughts and ideas about the UN and its future as we mark our seventy-fifth anniversary.  He’s also expected to have a number of bilateral meetings.

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Friday.

On Saturday, he will attend a special service at Park East Synagogue to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  If you are interested in attending, please contact Florencia [Soto Nino] in our office.


The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is deeply alarmed by the latest round of violence in Yemen, which resulted in the death of many innocent civilians.

Mr. Griffiths has been in contact with the parties, reiterating his call for de-escalation.

In a statement issued yesterday, Mr. Griffiths called on the parties involved to take all necessary measures to de-escalate all military activities, including movement of troops, air strikes, missile and drone attacks.

He calls on the parties to adhere to the implementation of the initiatives they have undertaken to de-escalate and to further enhance these initiatives.  Reduction of violence is crucial for sustaining the progress made so far on de-escalation.

He said, “We all have to work towards advancing the peace process, not setting it backwards.  Yemen has suffered enough.”


The UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) reports that a group of armed members of the Misseriya community attacked a Dinka community group in the Kolom area, north-west of Abyei town, yesterday, killing at least 32 people, including women and children, and wounding dozens.  Three children are also reportedly missing.

Five people were apprehended by peacekeepers after the attack, and the Mission continues to patrol the area and investigate the incident.

A similar attack occurred on 19 January in the same area, in which three people were killed.  The Mission says that, prior to that attack, it had been engaging with the Dinka and Misseriya communities to discuss how to prevent tensions and conflict, and afterwards, met with Misseriya leaders to de-escalate tensions and prevent retaliatory attacks.

The Mission also increased its efforts to protect civilians after 19 January to prevent further attacks.



**East Africa

The UN’s Humanitarian Chief, Mark Lowcock, has released $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help scale up the response to the devastating desert locust outbreak in East Africa.

This outbreak is affecting the Horn of Africa, South-West Asia and the Red Sea.  It is the worst of its kind in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia and the worst Kenya has seen in 70 years.  Crops are being wiped out in communities that were already facing food shortages.

The outbreak is exacerbating the impacts of climate change already being felt in this region.

The allocation will go to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and will fund an increase in pesticide aerial spraying operations.

Mr. Lowcock said that we must act now, noting that, if left unchecked, this outbreak has the potential to spill over into more countries in East Africa with horrendous consequences.  A swift and determined response to contain it is essential, he has stressed.


On Somalia, the UN, the Somali Government and humanitarian partners have launched the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan in Mogadishu, calling for $1 billion to provide life-saving assistance and livelihood support to 3 million people, nearly half of whom are internally displaced.

The Plan says that some 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance, including 1.7 million people displaced by conflict, insecurity, forced evictions, droughts and floods.

Our humanitarian colleagues say that Somalia is one of the most complex longstanding humanitarian crises in the world.  Climatic shocks, coupled with conflict, widespread poverty and protracted vulnerability, have exacerbated the situation.

**Republic of Congo

About 170,000 people across the Republic of Congo – that’s Congo-Brazzaville – have been affected by heavy rains in the past four months, including 30,000 Central African and Congolese refugees.

Over 6,300 hectares of agricultural fields have been destroyed.

The rains continue to fall in sections of the country below the Equator, leading to fears of an increase in flooded areas, population displacements and a higher risk of waterborne diseases.

The UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government-led response with food, non-food items, shelter, water, hygiene and sanitation.

Over 80,000 people have received food assistance.

Approximately $30 million is required to respond to the situation.  As of today, $11 million has been received, including $7 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for a five-day official visit.

She spent the day in the north-eastern province of Ituri, where she met people displaced by the ongoing violence.

In a Tweet, she said she had heard heart-rending stories from displaced Hema people in the province and told them this is a meeting she will never forget.  This tragedy has lasted too long, and it needs to end, she added.

Tomorrow, Ms. Bachelet is scheduled to fly to the capital Kinshasa, for three days of discussions, including a meeting with President [Félix] Tshisekedi.


And an update from Geneva, where the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee is meeting again today to determine whether the Coronavirus outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and what recommendations should be made to manage it.

Yesterday, WHO’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the committee had an excellent discussion, but he added it was also clear that, to reach a decision, they needed more information.

In about an hour, WHO is expected to hold a press conference, broadcast live on their Twitter account and Facebook page.

**Financial Contributions

And today, we are delighted to welcome Fiji, Norway and the Republic of Korea to the honour roll.  Their full payments to the regular budget – arriving before 1 February – takes the total to 25.

**Noon Briefing Guests

And like I said, after I’m done, you’ll hear from Reem Abaza, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.

Tomorrow is the International Day of Education.  My guest will be Yasmine Sherif, Director of ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (ECW), UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) global fund for education in emergencies.

Before we get to Reem, are there any questions for me?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding the coronavirus, it has spread, according to latest information, to several countries.  Why is WHO delaying issuing another worldwide alert?  I know they are meeting now.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and the reason that they continued their meeting into today was to obtain further information.  They just want the most precise and up‑to‑date information they can have about the spread of the virus, and we expect them to come to a decision.  And, hopefully, that will be in the coming hours.  Yes, Rami?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General support the call by UN Special Rapporteurs for an investigation into allegations that the Saudi Crown Prince was involved in hacking Jeff Bezos’ phone?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is something that is now being looked at, and we’ll have to see what further information we get from that.  We take note, of course, of what the independent experts, who are the Special Rapporteurs, have said, and we’ll see what follow‑up can be done about this latest allegation.

Question:  Can I follow up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General communicate with any world leaders over WhatsApp?  And has he communicated with the Crown Prince over WhatsApp?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, at this stage, the senior officials at the UN are… have been instructed not to use WhatsApp.  It’s not supported as a secure mechanism.  So, no, I do not believe the Secretary‑General uses it.  Yes?

Question:  Same subject.  What… any details of what the US… the UN is doing to look into this controversy?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re not investigators, nor do we have a mandate to investigate this issue.  So, we are not the ones who are involved, but as you’re aware, some of our independent experts had received a report, and they reacted to this yesterday.  Yes?  Yes, you.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have a response to Russia’s statement that they did not repatriate DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) labourers as a result of transportation issues?  This is related to 1718 and… yeah.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, ultimately, compliance with resolution 1718 is something to be monitored by the Security Council and specifically its Sanctions Committee that deals with resolution 1718.  So, we’ll leave it in their hands to determine how nations have implemented and complied with that resolution.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is regarding Libya.  I was wondering if there are any further developments in terms of meetings regarding the Berlin plan or efforts to conclude a ceasefire.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé continues with his contacts, and he is continuing to work with not just the parties but also the regional players in this to see what can be done to de‑escalate the situation.

As you know, the Secretary‑General briefed the Security Council on Tuesday about the situation, and he did speak to reporters at the stakeout afterwards.  And I’d refer you to what he said.  He is at least hopeful that the tensions have decreased somewhat in recent days, and we hope that we can build on that.

Yes.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Actually, two questions, two separate subjects.  There have been increasing reports of terrible humanitarian suffering in North Korea as a result of the sanctions, Security Council sanctions.  And these reports are very, very alarming.  This, in fact, was the precise word used by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights several years ago.  Only things are getting worse, and nothing’s being improved.

Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this?  Because the… I know, some years ago, 20 years ago, I guess, the Assistant Secretary‑General, Denis Halliday, resigned because the consequences of the sanctions on half a million children in Iraq were death.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as you know, the UN has been working to do what it can to alleviate any humanitarian problems, and we do have our humanitarian operations ongoing in that country.

Regarding the consequences of the sanctions, that’s really an issue for the Security Council, which itself is the one that has implemented and passed resolution 1718.  And, ultimately, it will be up to them to determine whether there’s any need for any changes.

Question:  [inaudible] Russia and China have tried, but evidently, there’s no progress on that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, ultimately, this is something the Council members have to discuss with each other.  We leave the matter in their hands.

What was your second question?

Question:  Yeah.  Also, is there any comment about the fact that the Brazilian Government has listed Glenn Greenwald as criminal for his reporting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don’t have a specific comment, but certainly, we hope that Governments do not use legal powers as a way of harassing the media.  We want to make sure that all reporters are able to go about their work freely and without harassment.

As to whether… as to the legal issues concerning this, though, I would have no comment.

Yes.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Tunisia is celebrating the elimination of slavery.  It’s only the second country in Africa to do so.  Does the Secretary‑General have any observations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we certainly encourage any areas where slavery or any form of forced labour continues to exist to shut that down.  As you know, we have stood against slavery throughout the existence of the United Nations and welcome any advances made against this.  And our agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO), continues to study questions of labour and forced labour throughout the world.

And with that, Reem, the floor is yours.

For information media. Not an official record.