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

13 February 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.

**Syria

Starting with Syria, our humanitarian colleagues say that civilians remain in harm’s way as hostilities are continuing in Idlib and Aleppo.  Reports from the ground indicate that thousands of civilians are on the move, from around the M5 highway, with most people moving further north and north-west towards the Turkey‑Syria border.  Inclement weather, including snowfall, is exacerbating the situation, both for civilians on the move and for those who remain in unfinished buildings and camp settings.  The UN and our humanitarian partners are continuing to scale-up operations on the ground to respond to the needs of civilians, including by providing food, shelter and other forms of essential assistance.

**COVID-19

And just an update on the COVID-19 outbreak.  A 2‑day forum of health experts from around the world has concluded yesterday at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.  The participants agreed on a set of global research priorities.  They also outlined mechanisms for continuing scientific interactions and collaborations coordinated and facilitated by WHO.  They worked with research funders to determine how necessary resources can be mobilized so that critical research can start immediately.  “This outbreak is a test of solidarity — political, financial and scientific,” said Dr. Tedros, the Director-General of EHO.  And also today, WHO said that the COVID-19 advanced team and their Chinese counterparts have now finalized the scope of work and design for the mission.  They expect the rest of the international team to start to arrive in China over the weekend.

**Central African Republic — Electoral Assistance

And the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) says it has taken steps to assist the country as it prepares for presidential and legislative elections, scheduled to take place late this year and early next year.  Thirty-four electoral advisers have now joined the UN Mission to provide support with security, operations and logistics, particularly to facilitate access to remote areas, and by coordinating international electoral assistance.  The electoral advisers will be deployed in Bangui and in the 16 prefectures to support the National Elections Authority.  Other deployments will follow in the next months.

**Ebola

And as we mentioned earlier this week that the World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee on Ebola was scheduled to meet in Geneva.  The Committee concluded that the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.  The Committee revised the outbreak’s risk assessment.  It is high at national and regional levels, but low at the global level.  The Committee was concerned that withdrawing the global emergency status for the outbreak might have adverse consequences for the response efforts.  They said the country continues to need support to combat infectious diseases, as well as to strengthen its health system.

Dr. Tedros will be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, where he is scheduled to meet with the President of the country and other senior ministers to discuss how to support and strengthen the country’s health system.  Between the 3 and 9 February, there were only three new confirmed cases, reported in the Beni Health Zone.  And in a tweet Dr. Tedros said the latest developments are very positive.  He added that he hopes that by the time the Emergency Committee reconvenes, they will be able to declare an end to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Staying in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Leila Zerrougui, the head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), was in the Kasai region this week, where she invited the local population to "turn the page on conflict and to work together for the return of stability in order to stimulate development”.  In the past few years, this region has been deeply affected by internalcommunal conflict.  Since then, the UN has increased its efforts to promote reconciliation and to help restore State authority.  In addition to meetings with local officials and community members, Ms. Zerrougui also visited a centre that houses former child soldiers and works to reunite them with families and reintegrate them into society.  She stressed the need to support community reintegration for children and adults formerly associated with armed groups.

**Security Council

And back here, the Security Council is holding an open debate on transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations.  Briefing members from Geneva, Michelle Bachelet, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that lasting peace is interlinked with justice, development and respect for human rights.  Transitional justice processes, she added, have repeatedly shown they can help to address grievances and divisions.  And yesterday afternoon, you will have seen that the Security Council adopted a resolution that welcomed the Berlin Conference and the commitment of the participants to refrain from interference in the armed conflict or in Libya’s internal affairs.

**World Radio Day

And today is… what day is today, besides Thursday and besides being the day before Valentine’s Day?  Before… the day before Valentine’s Day.  Hear me now, it is World Radio Day, marked this year under the theme of diversity, both in the newsroom and on the airwaves.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that in an era of rapid media evolution, radio retains a special place in every community as an accessible source of vital news and information.  Radio brings together people, he added.  As such, radio has a key role to play as we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and tackle our climate crisis.  And on World Radio Day, the Secretary-General concluded, let us recognize the enduring power of radio to promote diversity and help build a more peaceful and inclusive world.

**Financial Contribution

And today, we say thank you to our friends in Thailand and in the United Arab Emirates.  They have both paid their budget dues in full, which brings us up to?  What did you say?   No, no.  It's okay.  All right.  Yeah, be open.  It's okay.  [Fifty-six.]  No.  All right.  You're closer, Ibtisam, if you have a que… it was… 48 was the right answer.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Any… there was the news about an… regarding Libya not allowing UN flights there or… could you confirm or say something about that?

Spokesman:  I mean, you know, I expressed our concern yesterday.  My understanding from the Mission is that discussions are ongoing.  Certain flights are being allowed in.  What is important for us is that we receive all the normal clearances so we can operate safely for our staff.

Question:  So, just to clarify, did this… that started actually before the Security… the Security Council adopted their resolution?

Spokesman:  Yes, because we talked about it yesterday before the resolution.

Question:  Yeah, in the morning.  And then did it… so my question is if it's continued also later.  So, you are saying there are still some flights…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I'm not sure it's… it's clearly linked.  I'm saying our colleagues on the ground are trying to work out with the various parties to make sure we have all the de‑confliction information and the right clearances.  Erol.

Question:  Yes, thank you, Steph.  Regarding Syria, Idlib, obviously, the situation somehow is not going better, but from bad to worse, as reports say.  What does the Secretary‑General really has to say beside that there is no military solution and there is only political solution?  What kind of…?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think, A, that's a very important message to put forward.  This is a message that is being… continues to be passed on privately and publicly, the contacts we have at all sorts of different levels.  And our focus also is very much on the people, all right, on trying to get humanitarian aid through either the cross‑border — and we've updated you regularly on those critical operations we get aid through the border with Turkey — and for all those who have… who are directly involved in the fighting who have impact… who have influence on those in the fighting to halt that fighting and give people a chance to live and get the humanitarian aid they need.

Question:  Just on more… more broadly, actually, does the Secretary‑General thinks or see where should be the situation for the R2P, responsibility to protect, to be activated today?

Spokesman:  Look, that's an activation that needs to be done by Member States.  Our focus is on trying to do whatever we can to find an immediate stop to the fighting.

Question:  Is R2P dead?

Spokesman:  I will leave that to the academics.  Sir?  Oh, sorry.  I thought you were holding a microphone.  Madame who just came in.

Question:  Thank you.  A quick question.  The President of Congress of El Salvador said yesterday that the UN will mediate negotiations between the Congress and the President of El Salvador after the impasse over the weekend where the military came into Congress.  Is any confirmation from the United Nations in terms of that?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we… first of all, I would say that we are concerned by the tensions that we're seeing in El Salvador between the branches of the State in the country, and it's important that authorities resolve their differences through dialogue and within the existing legal framework.  As to the good offices, we very much hope and trust that these issues will be addressed through national institutional mechanism and within the legal framework of El Salvador.  The UN has supported the strengthening of democracy in El Salvador since the signing of the peace agreement in 1992, and we stand ready to support El Salvadorans in their efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous country in full respect of democratic principles.  Yep.

Question:  The publication of the list of com… private companies operating in occupied territories, that has produced a statement of outrage from the US… from Pompeo, the Secretary of State from the US.  What was the process by which… this is a remedial question, but what was the process by which that list came to be published historically, and more recently, as well, within the human rights agency of the UN?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I think, first of all, it's important to understand that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, acted on a mandate given to her office by the Human Rights Council back in 2016.  It is her responsibility to act upon mandates given to her by the Member States who sit on the Human Rights Council.  It's not as if she had… you know, a mandate is given by Member States.  It's not as if she had an option not to fulfil that mandate.  So, the initial resolution was passed in 2016.  The work has been done since then.  I mean, I think, on the details of the work, I would refer you to press releases put out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  You can contact my colleagues in Geneva who can tell you about how the work was done.  You know, there have been different reactions to the list, and I think it's perfectly legitimate to have… for various Member States to have opinions on the report and on the mandate given to… by the High Commissioner… to the High Commissioner by the Human Rights Council.  Madames et messieurs, hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.