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

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


Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, told the Security Council by video-teleconference today that he cannot report any progress on the ground in that country, as heavy air and ground strikes continue.  The ongoing offensive has displaced nearly 900,000 civilians since 1 December 2019, some of them for multiple times, he said.  Mr. Pedersen said all military activity must respect the principle of proportionality and the need to protect civilians.  He said that Turkey and Russia must play a key role in finding a way to de-escalate the situation now.  The Special Envoy appealed once again for full respect for international humanitarian law and for an immediate ceasefire in Idlib, ultimately towards a nationwide ceasefire.  He urges key international players to continue and intensify their contacts to restore calm.

Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council that we are considering all avenues to increase support into the north-west.  He said we are working with the Government of Turkey to expand the opening of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing to seven days a week, in order to increase the number of aid trucks coming.  In addition, he said, we are asking the Government of Syria for permission for a humanitarian mission from Damascus to areas they have recently taken control of, in order to see who is there and assess their needs.

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed alarm at the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in north-west Syria and the suffering of civilians.  The Secretary-General called for an immediate ceasefire, adding that international humanitarian law must be upheld and that the only path to stability is a credible and inclusive UN-facilitated political solution pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).


The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) hopes to resume the second round of talks of the Libyan Joint Military Commission.  At the same time, the Mission expresses its strong and renewed condemnation of the bombing of Tripoli’s seaport yesterday by the Libyan National Army, which resulted in a number of casualties and could have led to a real disaster had the vessel transporting liquefied gas been hit.  The Mission calls for an end to the escalation and provocative actions, especially expansion of the conflict area and urges all parties to resort to dialogue as the only means to end the crisis.


Turning to Niger, our humanitarian colleagues today tell us that nearly 3 million people, more than half of them children, are in need of humanitarian assistance.  Niger continues to face simultaneous emergencies that are stretching the capacities of humanitarian partners to respond adequately and the situation is exacerbated by instability in the region, including in neighbouring countries, resulting in an influx of thousands of refugees, returnees, internally displaced persons and migrants, all needing access to basic social services and protection for survival.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) colleagues in the region have urged for increased attention to the plight of children and their families, adding that the people of Niger have shown extraordinary resilience.  UNICEF and its partners need $59.4 million to deliver vital humanitarian aid to children in 2020.


Today, a Commission convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet said that no single country is adequately protecting children’s health or their environment so that they can have a healthy future.  The Commission, which is made up of more than 40 health experts, warned that progress improving child and adolescent health is set to reverse due to the threat of ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices pushing processed foods, alcohol and tobacco to children.  The Commission said countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today, but protect the world they will inherit in the future.  More information is available on WHO’s website.

**Honour Roll

I am very happy to thank Estonia for its full payment to the regular budget.  The total number of fully paid-up Member States is now 51.

**Press Stakeout Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. at the General Assembly stakeout area, the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Vadym Prystaiko, will speak to the press following the General Assembly debate on the situation in Ukraine.  And that is it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Maybe just for clarification, maybe I understood it wrong, but as far as I know, the UN‑brokered talks in Geneva were suspended yesterday by the UN‑supported Government.  What is your take on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, basically, where we stand right now, the Libyan Government of National Accord yesterday notified the UN Mission, UNSMIL, of its decision to pause its participation in the ongoing Joint Military Commission talks in Geneva, and that was following the attack on the Tripoli seaport, as I mentioned, by the Libyan National Army on 18 February.  The UN Mission strongly condemned the attack on the Tripoli seaport by the Libyan National Army, and the Mission has reiterated its call on all parties to respect the truce, to desist from escalating the conflict and from targeting civilians and vital infrastructure.  UNSMIL hopes to resume the second round of Joint Military Commission talks.  The Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, is in contact with the [Government of National Accord’s] leadership in Geneva and Tripoli, as well as with international partners and Member States, to maintain the momentum.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is going back to the whole coronavirus, I know there… I was wondering if there are any new developments in terms of UN involvement in trying to address the crisis.  I know the UN's involved, but if there's anything in the pipeline or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there's nothing dramatically different to say.  You know the support that we've given, and the World Health Organization has been supporting this process.  As you know, it has been supportive of the efforts, in particular, of the Government of China, as the lead country that's dealing with this, to handle the situation.  And there continues to be some degree of success in making sure that the growth of the disease has been… is being contained, and we'll have to see where we go from there.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Again, on the same subject, on the virus, how… what's the WHO's involvement in China?  Is it there?  Is it trying to do research, or is it contributing, or is it taking out… is it doing a general survey?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's been contributing its own facilities and expertise to the Government of China as needed so that the Government can handle that.  And as you know, on a more global scale, the World Health Organization has declared this a public health emergency of international concern and has gone ahead with the procedures that go into effect as a result of that declaration.  Yes, please?

Question:  Yesterday, the meeting on the situation in Ukraine resulted in European countries condemning the Russian annexation of Crimea, as well as the ongoing fighting in the Donbas region, which has not been mitigated at all by the Minsk Agreements, and now we have the Ukrainian Foreign Minister speaking tomorrow.  Is Crimea still an issue for the Secretary‑General?  Is this… or has the annexation just been, you know, sort of reified and is finished?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the situation in Crimea, as you know, the General Assembly did come out with a resolution concerning that.  And of course, we respect the resolutions of the General Assembly, and that is where we stand.  For the views of the Secretariat more widely, as you know, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, did brief the Security Council yesterday in its discussions and conveyed what our views are.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on an investigative story by the AP that Yemen's Houthi rebels have blocked half of the UN's aid delivery programmes in the war‑torn country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, we've made clear to all parties the need to make sure that our aid can proceed, and we have been… and we've regularly reiterated the importance of sustaining the humanitarian operation, which is being implemented in challenging conditions and is providing life‑saving assistance to millions of Yemenis.  The Secretary‑General supports continuing dialogue with all the interested parties to ensure that help reaches all those who need it in accordance with humanitarian principles.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The meeting of [the Disarmament Commission] was postponed for 10 days because Russia… head of Russian delegation didn't receive his American visa on time.  Do you have any comment on this?  And I suppose the meeting… emergency meeting of Host Country Committee will take place next week.  I wonder if Secretary‑General will participate in it?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretariat is involved in meetings of the Host Country Committee, but not the Secretary‑General, regarding those.  Concerning the work of the Disarmament Commission, obviously, we'll wait to see when they hold an organizational meeting on their work, and so we'll keep apprised of exactly when the Member States choose to do that.  Yes?

Question:  On that topic, is it just the Russians that they're considering or [Javad] Zarif not getting a visa and… and the ICC [International Criminal Court] prosecutor being limited and so forth?

Deputy Spokesman:   Well, there's a number of States that are on the Disarmament Commission, and so, the question is when those States can determine that they can hold an organizational meeting.  We'll leave the matter in the hands of the relevant States.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.