Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

24 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon everyone.  Happy Friday.  Today, the Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings, including with Nechirvan Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, with whom he discussed the security, political, and humanitarian situation in Iraq and the region.

The Secretary-General also met with Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operations Officer of Facebook.  He also met with his incoming Climate Envoy, Mark Carney, as well as with World Economic Forum Chairman Klaus Schwab.

Prior to leaving Davos, the Secretary-General met with a group of young people from the Global Shapers programme for a listening session about the future of multilateralism and the United Nations.  This is one of the many conversations that will be held as part of the UN75 anniversary.

The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York.

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 Niño) in our office.


Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Raouf Mazou of the Republic of the Congo as Assistant High Commissioner for Operations in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Mr. Mazou will succeed George Okoth-Obbo of Uganda, who has been appointed as Secretary to the High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement.  The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Refugees are grateful for Mr. Okoth-Obbo’s 36 years of dedicated service to the refugee cause.

Mr. Mazou brings to the position some 28 years of professional experience with UNHCR, and we have lots more on this in my office.


Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement concerning the order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning the case The Gambia vs. Myanmar.

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 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The Secretary-General notes the Court’s unanimous decision to order Myanmar, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, “to take all measures within its power” in relation to the members of the Rohingya group in its territory, to prevent the commission of acts within the scope of Article II of the Convention, including killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s destruction and imposing measures intended to prevent births.

He also notes the Court’s instruction to Myanmar to ensure that its military, as well as any irregular armed units directed or supported by it and any organizations and persons subject to its control, do not commit such acts; also, that they do not conspire to commit genocide, do not directly and publicly incite the commission of genocide, do not attempt to commit genocide and are not complicit in genocide.

Further, the Secretary-General notes the Court’s order to Myanmar to ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention, as well as to report to the Court on the implementation of all provisional measures on a regular basis.

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 and trusts that Myanmar will duly comply with the Order from the Court.

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.


Yesterday evening in Geneva, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was not declaring the novel coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern at this time.

However, he cautioned that this is an emergency in China and yet could become a global health emergency.

WHO’s risk assessment is that the outbreak is a very high risk in China, as well as regionally and globally.

Dr. Tedros thanked the Government of China for its cooperation and transparency, noting that the outbreak was detected because China had put in place a system to pick up severe lower respiratory infections.

He said that WHO is continuously following the outbreak and is working to prevent human-to-human transmission.  It has provided guidance to all countries for the rapid identification, management and containment of the virus.

For the moment, WHO does not recommend any broader restrictions on travel or trade and said that all countries should have in place measures to detect cases of coronavirus, including at health facilities.  More information on WHO’s website.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix will travel to Mali from this Sunday until 30 January.

He will visit Bamako, as well as northern and central Mali.

While in Bamako, he will meet with Government officials at the highest level and other stakeholders involved in the Malian peace process.


François Louncény Fall, the Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), and Ahmad Allam-Mi, the Secretary-General of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), have just concluded a 5-day visit to Cameroon, ahead of the legislative and municipal elections, scheduled to take place on 9 February.

They urged all actors involved in the electoral process to foster peaceful conditions and continue working towards the well-being of Cameroonians, adding that it will be a decisive step towards strengthening the country’s stability and democratic gains.

They stressed the need for full respect of civil and political rights, including the right to vote, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and movement during this crucial period.


Martin Griffiths, in a tweet, offered his heartfelt condolences to Yemeni MP Hussein Al-Sawadi, following reports that members of his family, including a child, were killed when a missile hit his residence.

Mr. Griffiths said that targeting MPs and civilian areas is unacceptable and against international law.  This military escalation must stop, he said.


In Guatemala, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) is providing food, medical care, housing, and transportation and facilitated the return of more than 140 migrants who voluntarily decided to go back to their countries of origin after arriving in Guatemala from Honduras, in the latest migrant caravan.

IOM said it has deployed a team at the border crossing to provide technical assistance to authorities to help identify migrants who may require aid in returning to their communities of origin in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

The caravan, which departed from Honduras 10 days ago, was widely reported to have quickly grown to more than 4,000 people by the time it reached the Mexico-Guatemala border.


Today, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the UN Bookshop, award-winning author and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez will present her best-selling book called “Invisible Women”, which is an exposé on how data collection systems fail to account for gender and consequentially have far-reaching, profound effects on women everywhere.

The event will be moderated by Nahla Valji, the UN’s Senior Gender Advisor, who oversees the Spotlight Initiative, the largest investigation into the pandemic of violence against women across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

**Honour Roll

I am happy to welcome Bulgaria and Malaysia to the Honour Roll.  Thanks to them both for full payments to the 2020 regular budget.  The total is now 27.


Today is the second International Day of Education, and there are several events to mark the day.

This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the high-level interactive dialogue organized in the Trusteeship Chamber under the theme: “Learning for people, planet, prosperity and peace”.

She said that without education, we cannot achieve any of the Sustainable Development Goals and called for more investment and action.  At the current rate, she said, by 2030, 420 million of the 1.4 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries will not learn the most basic skills in childhood.  Eight hundred twenty-five million will not acquire basic secondary-level skills.

We have a duty to step up our efforts, so that quality education for all is no longer a goal for tomorrow, but a reality, Ms. [Amina] Mohammed concluded.

And in a few minutes, my guest will also talk to you about education.

Yasmine Sherif, the Director of Education Cannot Wait, will brief you on her work to provide education to children caught up in crises around the world.

So, are there any questions for me before we get to our guest?  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, just to clarify a little bit, Secretary-General immediately reacted through you guys, through Spokespersons, on that Gambia verdict and ICJ.  Now, can you tell me, what’s actually next?  What the Secretary-General will move?  Like, what is his move?  He concluded in that statement that Security Council is called for the reference, but can you explain a little bit what’s going to…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that’s the standard procedure that, in line with the Statute of the International Court of Justice, the Secretary-General now transmits this order to the Security Council.  Of course, it’s up to the Security Council to determine what it wants to proceed to do after that.

But regarding further steps, as you know, this is… these are provisional measures.  We urge all States, including, of course, Myanmar, to abide by them.  But the International Court of Justice will now continue with its actual consideration of the substance of the case.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General had any feedback from the Member States or including Myanmar, actually? Did they somehow react negatively or…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the order just came out yesterday, and we’re waiting to see what we can gather in terms of information about different Member States’ reaction.  But, again, our hope is that all States will comply, as we hope for all rulings of the International Court of Justice.  Edie?

Question:  Farhan, I understand that the inter-agency emergency directors are meeting today on the threat of the new virus spreading to fragile areas that might not be able to deal with it.  Is it possible to get a readout on this meeting given the global interest in this escalating situation?

Question:  Well, as you yourself mentioned, this is an internal meeting.  We use these as efforts to organize ourselves in how we deal with potential crises down the road, and that’s what we’re trying to do in this case.  So, that’s the basic summary of what will be going on.

If we can get a further readout, I’ll see whether that’s possible, but it’s difficult to do for internal meetings, which are essentially information gathering and organizational meetings.

Yes, Nabil?

Question:  So, on ICJ, can you tell us what happens if the country does not comply?  What can the UN do… the Secretariat, what can the Secretariat do to support the ICJ’s decision?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t want to speculate what would happen if it doesn’t comply.  We trust that Myanmar will comply with these provisional measures.

Question:  No, only procedurally, regardless of which country is involved…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there’s a long history of rulings of the International Court of Justice, so you can look and see in the past what’s happened with other similar cases.  Our basic point is that the UN does encourage this.  And, as you know, in this case, the provisional order, the information about the provisional order will also be conveyed to the Security Council.

Yes, Celia.

Question:  Farhan, on this Day of Education, what is the UN doing about all those kids in camps?  Do they go to school?  Do you take care of them, or what is the UN doing about those kids?

Deputy Spokesman:  Wherever there are children in places like camps… [cross talk]

Question:  I’m talking about the US, the US.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, that’s a case where we would not have the access.  Where we’ve had access to different groups of refugees or displaced peoples, we have tried to provide them with services… the children with services, through the efforts of UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF.  But, of course, these are contingent on our ability to reach out to those populations.

In terms of the larger question of what we’re doing for children, I’ll leave that to our guests, who will come around shortly.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, you mentioned that the Secretary-General met with Facebook Chief of Operations today.  Did he raise the question of alleged hacking of [Jeff] Bezos’ phone over WhatsApp by Saudi Arabia?  Has he… did he raise any concerns in this regard?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  In fact, that topic didn’t come up, and there wasn’t any discussion of particular cases.  So, that was not part of their discussion.

A lot of what their discussion concerned was the UN’s seventy-fifth programme and other issues such as hate speech and abuse online and Internet governance issues.


Question:  Farhan, sorry.  I missed the name you said with whom the Secretary-General met, the Iraqi representative with whom he met.

Deputy Spokesman:  This was Nechirvan Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Question:  There are at least 15,000 refugees in Libya, and they… they’re all kids.  Does the United Nations have any plans in regards to the situation, to establish any type of plan to put these kids into an education system in Libya?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  Again, as I told your colleague, whenever we have access to different groups of children, including those who are refugees or displaced, we try to provide them with basic services.

And I believe our guests will have more on this sort of topic, so we’ll turn to them now.

For information media. Not an official record.