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

30 October 2019

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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Climate Change

First off, I have been asked in the past hour about reports that Chile will not host the twenty-fifth session of the Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

UNFCCC’s Executive Director, Patricia Espinosa, said that earlier today, she was informed of the decision by the Government of Chile not to host COP25.  UNFCCC is currently exploring alternative hosting options.

And the President of Chile has informed the Secretary-General by phone that the Government would not be in a position to host the COP25 meeting in Chile.

**Guinea-Bissau

Earlier today, we issued the following statement on Guinea-Bissau: The Secretary-General is following with serious concern the unfolding developments in Guinea-Bissau following the decrees issued on 28 and 29 October by President José Mario Vaz dismissing the Government and appointing a new Prime Minister.  He calls on all political stakeholders to abide by the decisions taken by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) regarding the governance arrangements in Guinea-Bissau until the presidential election on 24 November and reiterated in the ECOWAS communiqué of 29 October.

The Secretary-General looks forward to the holding of a peaceful, credible and transparent presidential election on 24 November and urges all stakeholders to exercise their civic duty.

The Secretary-General was also saddened to learn of the death of one person reportedly following a demonstration on 26 October.  He looks forward to the prompt conclusion of the independent inquiry announced by the Ministry of the Interior into the circumstances and consequences of the demonstration.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General has arrived in Istanbul, where he will meet this evening with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Tomorrow, he will speak at the Istanbul Mediation Conference, and he is to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday.

**Syria

In Geneva today, Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, launched the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned, credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee.

He told the participants that the Secretary-General firmly believes that today’s launch of the Constitutional Committee can and must be a first meaningful step along the political path out of Syria’s nearly nine-year-long conflict towards a durable solution in line with United Nations Security Council resolution 2254.

Mr. Pedersen said that this is a historic moment, because, for the first time, 50 nominees of the Government and 50 nominees of the Opposition are sitting face-to-face to work as Committee members on a key project: a new constitutional arrangement for Syria.  He added that he was proud to see so many women — around 30 per cent — included among the 150 participants.

The Special Envoy encouraged the Constitutional Committee members to be patient and also to be persistent; to be ready to compromise and to engage constructively as they fulfil their important mandate.  He expressed his sincere hope that by signalling their good intentions to one another from the very beginning, trust will steadily grow and a positive working environment can be created.  His full remarks are online.

**Lebanon

I have been asked about the Secretary-General’s views on the recent developments in Lebanon, and I can say the following:  The Secretary-General is closely following developments in Lebanon, including the resignation announcement yesterday by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.  He appeals for calm and restraint.

He calls on all political actors to seek a political solution that will preserve the stability of the country and respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

He calls on all actors to avoid violence and respect the rights to peaceful assembly and expression.

**Sexual Violence in Conflict

Today, an event started in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Mandate on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

This morning, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, highlighted that the past 10 years have seen more concerted action to combat this scourge than what we have seen in the rest of human history combined.

Looking to the future, she asked for a new decade of decisive action to remove sexual violence from daily headlines and end it once and for all.

And shortly, at 1 p.m., at the Security Council stakeout, Ms. Patten will brief you, along with the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, Dr. Naledi Pandor, and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege.

**Security Council

The Security Council held an open meeting this morning on the theme “Cooperation between the United Nations and Regional Organizations including the African Union.”

Briefing Council members, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union, Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, said that the partnership between the AU and the UN continues to grow from strength to strength.

Both organizations, she said, recognize that contemporary threats to peace and security in Africa are complex and interconnected, and their impact is so profound that neither Organization can resolve them without the other.

The Special Representative pointed to examples of AU-UN collaboration in countries such as Madagascar, the Central African Republic and Sudan.

This afternoon, the Security Council will meet on Western Sahara and Burundi.

**Sudan

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director Henrietta Fore just finished her first visit to Sudan.

The country is at a historic moment and it is critical that children’s rights are at the heart of the national agenda, she said.

During the visit, Ms. Fore met with several senior Government officials, including Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok, and travelled to Kadugli in South Kordofan where she met with partners and communities.

According to UNICEF, decades of conflict and underdevelopment have left millions of children vulnerable.  Over 38 per cent of children under five years are believed to be stunted, or too short for their age.  Some 1  per cent are wasted, or too thin for their height.

Approximately 120 children die every day due to undernutrition and related causes and 2.6 million children need humanitarian assistance, [UNICEF] said.

**South Sudan

The UN migration agency (IOM) has strongly condemned the killing of three of its volunteer aid workers on Sunday when they were caught in the crossfire during clashes between armed groups in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria region.

IOM called for the perpetrators of these senseless acts of violence against innocent civilians and humanitarians to be brought to justice.

Two other IOM workers were injured, while another volunteer and the four-year-old son of one of those killed were abducted and are still missing.

IOM was working at Ebola screening points, in the border areas between South Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to track the spread of the disease.  The agency has now suspended Ebola screening at five sites, stressing the safety of its personnel.

This is the first killing of aid workers reported in South Sudan this year.  At least 115 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in December 2013.  Most have been South Sudanese nationals.

**Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Somalia, James Swan, today expressed his concern over the flooding that has affected thousands of people, mainly in the country’s south.

He said that the United Nations stands ready to work with Somalia’s federal and regional authorities to support affected communities.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and casualties have been reported.  Farmland, infrastructure and roads have been destroyed, and livelihoods disrupted in some of the worst-hit areas.

**Central African Republic

A state of natural catastrophe was declared in the Central African Republic on 25 October following several days of unusually heavy rains that have caused flooding in the capital, Bangui, and Mobaye province, along the Oubangui River in the south.  An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 people have been affected.  The Government has requested international assistance and mobilization of resources.

The UN and humanitarian partners yesterday delivered over 20 tons of high-energy biscuits to 15,000 people; over 2,000 shelter kits; 1,300 non-food items; and over 1,000 water, sanitation and hygiene kits.

The most urgent needs are in food, non-food items, water and sanitation, and health services.  The humanitarian situation in the country deteriorated further in the past six months due to violence, and some 1.7 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.

Protection of civilians and accountability to affected populations are at the core of the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires nearly $431 million and is 65 per cent funded so far.

**Philippines

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of today, more than 16,400 people have been affected by the 6.6-magnitude earthquake that struck Mindanao in the Philippines yesterday.

Authorities say that five people were killed and nearly 400 injured.

The Government is leading the response and has deployed medical and search-and-rescue teams to affected municipalities.  They are being assisted by humanitarian partners providing food and relief assistance.

**Press Conference Today

Following my briefing, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by E.  Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

**Questions and Answers

Do we have any questions?  Yes, Mario?

Question:  Farhan, Chile and the COP25.  After speaking to the Chilean President, does the SG have any reaction to this decision and to the situation in the country that has forced this measure?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’re aware of what the Secretary‑General’s views have been about the situation in Chile.  And he continues to underscore his hopes for continued dialogue among the parties there, among all of the various participants.

Regarding his conversation with the president, yes, he was informed first‑hand about the reasoning that they cannot provide the venue, and this is a part of the reason why the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is now trying to see what kind of alternative arrangements can be made at this time.

Question:  Just a follow‑up. Does the Secretary‑General have an opinion on this alternative venue?  Would he like the meeting to stay in the Latin American region, for example?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think the arrangements will need to be worked out, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will be in dialogue to see what the best arrangements can be.  One thing I would like to point out is that there have been past precedents of cases where the hosting country is not the same as the venue country, so that could still be the situation in this case.  Yes, please?

Question:  Follow‑up.  Is… that means that the headquarters can be an alternative venue?

Deputy Spokesman:  The… we’ll have to see what the alternative venue can be.  I don’t want to speculate.  You also had a question on this?

Question:  Yeah, just a quick follow‑up on Chile.  The Climate Summit has been months in the making so far.  At this point, the situation as it is, is there any kind of concern that this could affect, at any level, the timetable for the summit to be done?  Or…

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the indications we have so far, at this present moment, is that Chile would continue to serve as the Presidency of the 25th Session of the Conference of Parties.  So, the sort of leadership that they’ve been providing in the past months will continue.  The question really is where we can have an acceptable venue and, hopefully, one can be found.  Yes, Margaret?

Question:  So, is Chile helping the UN to find an alternate location then for the meeting?  And can you tell us how many people were expected to attend COP, and maybe some of the ideas for alternate locations then? And could it possibly be postponed since it’s so near?

Deputy Spokesman:  All of these arrangements, ultimately, are in the hands of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  They’ve received this information today.  They’re at work on this, and I won’t be able to speculate on what type of format there will be until they’ve been able to have the necessary discussions, but that is under way right now.

Question:  And how many people were they expected to have?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’ll have seen from past sessions of COP that this includes participants basically from most of the world’s governments and that the participation is very large.  So, you can just see from the past experience that we’re talking about thousands of people.  The numbers and the information are provided on the websites of the Conference of Parties of the past sessions.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As far as I know, 4 November is the first day that the United States can officially pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate.  Did the Secretary‑General already receive a letter from the [Donald] Trump Administration?  And, if not, do you expect one soon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we are certainly aware of what they have publicly said, but in terms of an official legal document, no, we do not have one on that at this point.  Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Journalists in Lebanon were subject to attacks in the course of two weeks of demonstrations in Lebanon.  Can you please address this issue, attacks against journalists, and what can you say on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we stand against any attacks on journalists anywhere in the world, but in these cases, including in Lebanon and the other countries that have witnessed recent protests, we’ve been very clear that freedom of the press, along with freedom of expression more generally, and of course the rights to peaceful assembly and peaceful protest all need to be respected.  Where there are violations against the media, they need to be investigated and followed up.

Question:  A follow‑up.  Just… I just wonder whether there was any reasoning for… in the… at the UN for not naming and shaming the thugs that were attacking the peaceful protesters in Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is a fluid situation, but we’ve made clear, including through the UN Special Coordinator, Ján Kubiš, that all of the political leaders in Lebanon need to take responsibility for the actions by their parties, particularly including actions that are taken against either peaceful protesters or against security forces.  Yes, you also had a question?  Please.

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  Number one, during this month, the Algerian Government closed many or some of the biggest churches in the country.  Do you have any statement on this crackdown?

Deputy Spokesman:  On…

Question:  Algerian Government.

Deputy Spokesman:  I do not.  I’ll have to check on that.

Question:  Okay.  The second, the Pentagon announced yesterday that the United States will continue to control oilfields in north‑east Syria and will not allow the Syrian Government to use them.  Is this process compatible with international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would simply refer you to basically not just the UN Charter but all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Just across the street, I attended a briefing on the human costs of the sanctions on North Korea, and some of the most credible and expert witnesses to the horrific suffering of the North Koreans, as a result of the Security Council sanctions, spoke.  And my question is, why doesn’t the Secretary‑General come out and say that the Security Council is not above the law? They… according to the legal experts there, what is happening to the people of North Korea constitutes crimes against humanity, and they can be sued in the International Criminal Court (ICC).  And short of saying that everybody who voted for the sanctions is sadistic or claims ignorance, that’s pretty much like what people said in Germany.

Deputy Spokesman:  Carla, regarding that, we’ve raised our concerns about the humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  The Security Council is the one responsible for its own resolutions, and we leave that matter in their hands.

Question:  But the Secretary‑General is above the Security Council, we would assume, or can’t he say that the Security Council is not acting in a way consistent with United Nations goals?

Deputy Spokesman:  Carla, please read the UN Charter to understand how the powers of the UN are distributed.  Yes?

Question:  I have a question on Egypt.  So, the authorities have been sending a lot of activists to prison, including a former colleague here, Khaled Dawoud.  And I wonder whether you have any reaction to this and whether there is any contact between the United Nations and the Egyptian authorities regarding at least this special case.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll see what we can say about Mr. Dawoud’s case.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just a request.  Could we get readouts please on the Secretary‑General’s meetings in Istanbul with the Foreign Minister and the President?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the meeting with the Foreign Minister will be one on one, so I don’t believe we’ll be able to have a readout for today’s.  But he does meet the President on Friday, and we’ll try to get details of that.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is apropos of North Korea.  I was just wondering if you have any latest developments in terms of the UN’s role or the Executive Office’s role in terms of dealing with North Korea and… or in general trying to play some kind of role in a res… in a return to some dialogue.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we, as you know from the statements that the Secretary‑General has put out, have encouraged the recent steps towards dialogue on the Korean Peninsula, and we continue to encourage that.  The other work that’s done at the country team level and at the level of humanitarian agencies continues.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.