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

18 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


I have a statement on the attack that took place in Afghanistan today.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s attack inside a mosque during Friday prayers in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, which resulted in scores of civilians killed and dozens more injured, including children.  Those responsible for this attack must be held to account.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  He reiterates the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Government of Afghanistan.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

On Saturday, the Secretary-General will be in Washington, D.C., to attend the annual meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He will participate in the Small States Forum, the meeting of the International Monetary and Financial Committee and a meeting of the Finance Ministers Coalition on Climate Finance.  The Secretary-General will be in Washington just for a few hours and be back Saturday evening in New York.


Turning to Syria, following the announcement of a 120-hour ceasefire on 17 October, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the situation is reportedly calm in most areas, with the exception of Ras al-Ain, where shelling and gunfire continued to be reported earlier today.

Yesterday alone, 16,250 people reportedly were displaced from communities in northern Aleppo towards Manbij.  Displaced families are staying with relatives or in informal settlements.

Despite challenges, humanitarian partners continue to assist people in need where access is possible.  Focus has been on support to those newly displaced — both in collective shelters and in host communities — as well as in the camps.

More than 60,000 people have been supported in the last 48 hours.  Distribution of winter items in camps has begun, with distributions completed at the Mahmoudli and al Roj camps.  Further distributions are planned in the coming days.

Stocks of food and medicine are in place to meet many of the immediate needs.  The necessary pipelines for bringing aid into the area and referral pathways to move those in need to adequate care facilities have also been established.


A quick update on Ebola: First, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee met earlier today in Geneva to determine whether the Ebola outbreak in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] is still a health emergency of international concern.

This decision is scheduled to be announced shortly.

Now, in the DRC itself, in the past three weeks, have brought some encouraging progress.  There has been a decrease in the number of new confirmed cases taking place in fewer areas.  While this is good news, the new cases are occurring in zones with challenges linked to access and insecurity.  WHO also warns that the risk of resurgence remains very high.


Turning to Haiti, as you are aware, the UN Integrated Office in Haiti, BINUH, started its operations two days ago.

We issued a statement yesterday afternoon, in which the Secretary-General reaffirmed the continuous commitment of the United Nations to support the Haitian people on their path to peace and development, through a new partnership.

The Secretary-General is concerned by the current political crisis and its adverse impact on the security situation and the lives of Haitians.  He urges all Haitian stakeholders to engage in genuine dialogue and prevent a further escalation in violence that threatens to reverse stability gains.  He calls on the Haitian National Police, which has assumed full responsibility for the security and protection of the Haitian people, to discharge their duties with due regard for all people and their human rights.

While continuing to uphold all ongoing efforts for the elimination of cholera, which has seen significant progress, and the resolution of pending cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, the Secretary-General reiterates the unyielding commitment of the UN to Haiti’s stability and prosperity.

**Operational Support

The Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, Atul Khare, wrapped up a three-day visit to Tokyo yesterday, in Japan.

In Japan, he met with Defence Minister Taro Kono and other senior Government officials to thank Japan for its contributions to the UN’s peacekeeping capacity-building.  Mr. Khare briefed those officials on the UN’s financial situation and management reform and also discussed possible cooperation in telemedicine for UN peacekeeping operations.

Mr. Khare is currently in Bhutan for consultations with senior Government and military officials.

From 21 to 23 October, he will be in Beijing to participate in the Ninth Beijing Xiangshan Forum and to meet with senior Chinese Government and military officials.


Just a note from the UN Human Rights Office on Ecuador.  They say that a small team would visit Ecuador from 20 October to 8 November to look into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed in the country in the context of the recent protests.

The mission will be conducted at the invitation of the Government.  The team is expected to meet with Government officials, indigenous leaders, civil society and journalists to collect first-hand information on the circumstances of the violence that spread across the country from 3 October onwards.

**South Sudan

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in South Sudan, flooding in large areas of the country could impact between 600,000 and 800,000 people.

High levels of water are restricting access, limiting the ability to help those affected and to assess their needs.

Safe drinking water, anti-malaria medicines and shelter materials are expected to be among the items that are needed.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), its partners and local authorities are rushing emergency support to the area.  UNHCR has prepositioned emergency shelter kits and other materials for more than 5,000 families to rebuild homes, but more support is needed.


And our friends in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) took delivery of a shipment of low enriched uranium (LEU) at a purpose-built facility in Kazakhstan yesterday, officially establishing the IAEA LEU Bank.  That Bank is aimed at providing assurance to countries about the availability of nuclear fuel.

Owned by the IAEA and hosted by Kazakhstan, the Bank is one of the Agency’s most ambitious and challenging projects since it was founded in 1957.  More information online.

**Press Conference

After we are done here, you will be able to hear from Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just to clarify, is the UN monitoring the ceasefire in Syria?

And, also, I have another question.  There’s been concerns over the resurgence of ISIS following Turkey’s military operation into Syria.  But at the same time, there’s been calls for the foreign ISIS fighters to be returned to their countries of origin, as well as calls by the victims of ISIS for justice.  I’m not sure if you’re aware of any wording or statement by the SG.

Spokesman:  No, we’re aware… on the issue of foreign fighters, we are aware there are discussions between Member States on how to bring those people to justice, those who need to be brought to justice.  There are discussions going on about different options.  What is important for us is that justice is done and that human rights are also respected.

We do not have an official monitoring role in the ceasefire.  Our humanitarian colleagues are reporting what they are seeing and hearing from, obviously, trusted sources on the ground.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  A couple of follow‑ups.  In Washington, is the Secretary‑General going to see any officials in the US Government?

Spokesman:  No is the short answer.  It’s strictly a World Bank/IMF visit.

Question:  On… with the Constitutional Committee going to be meeting shortly on Syria in Geneva, is everything still on track for that meeting to take place on the 30th?

Spokesman:  As far as Mr. [Geir] Pedersen is concerned, as he said it in Damascus, yes, we are staying on track.  And the focus of his work and our work has really been to keep that process on track.

Question:  And one last question on payments to the UN for the regular budget.  Are you ready to announce any payments in the past week?

Spokesman:  No, I am not.  Yes, and then Evelyn, so all the way at the end and then Evelyn.  Go ahead, yeah.

Question:  Today, Amnesty International said that there is evidence of war crimes and other violations by Turkish forces in north‑east Syria.  Will you investigate this?

Spokesman:  Well, it’s clear that any… you know, we don’t have any… at this point, we don’t have any monitors on the ground to look at these things, but it is clear, as a matter of principle, that any violations be investigated.  Evelyn?

Question:  You have 15,000 or so displaced in Aleppo.  Where did they come from?  They came from the border area or what?

Spokesman:  They’ve been displaced by the fighting.

Question:  And not Kurdish fighting or with the Kurds?

Spokesman:  Well, by the… I think when fighting happens, people flee.  Nabil?

Question:  Lebanon.  Ms. [Rosemary] DiCarlo just briefed the Council, but she didn’t address the media after the meeting.  Can you tell us about her visit to Lebanon?  And what’s your reaction on the demonstrations that’s happening in the country today?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We’re, obviously, following very closely the demonstrations that we’re seeing in Beirut and in Lebanon.  From our point of view, we urge all the parties to refrain from any activities that could lead to increased tension or increased violence, for that matter.  The United Nations continues to work with the Government of Lebanon and the international partners to support the pressing challenges in Lebanon, including the economic situation.

Ms. DiCarlo did brief on her visit to Lebanon.  I believe that briefing was pre‑scheduled.  You know, I think, having just visited Lebanon, she’s very much aware of the importance of a number of issues, which… including the disbanding of militias, ending the violations of the country’s sovereignty, and addressing the economic challenges that are really sparking the protests that we’ve been seeing over the last few days.  Nabil?

Question:  I know, as a follow‑up, please, that a number of Council members talked about corruption in the country, in Lebanon.  Does she have anything to say or what’s your position on the corruption in the country that was one of the main reasons behind the demonstrations today?

Spokesman:  Look, I think she said a number of challenges, economic challenges, need to be addressed.  As a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General and others at the UN have spoken about many countries in the world where the issue of corruption needs to be addressed.  Señor?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday were the elections for the new member of the UN Human Rights Council, and Venezuela got a seat again on this Council.  So, besides all the record of accusations and human right violations and despite against more than 4 million civilians Venezuela leaving the country and is still right now people leaving the country because the situation there.  So, what is the Secretary‑General reaction on this?  And what are your comments on that?

Spokesman:  Look, the human rights architecture of the United Nations is a complex one.  Some of the work of that architecture falls firmly in the lap of the Secretary‑General or of his High Commissioner.  Other parts of that architecture, namely, the election of Member States to the Human Rights Council, is the work of the Member States themselves.  These are elections in which the Secretary‑General is not involved and has no part in that process.  The Member States make the decision about who sits on the Human Rights Council.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, last week we heard that 97 per cent of the budget is due by seven countries.  Two of these countries, Brazil and Venezuela, have been elected to the Human Rights Council.  How does it work?  Farhan [Haq] told me about Article 19 of the Charter…

Spokesman:  Whatever Farhan explained is probably better than anything I can ever explain.  [laughter]

Question:  But you’re here now.

Spokesman:  Yeah, exactly.  I could bring him in.  Yeah, go ahead.  [laughter]

Question:  When does it kick in that a country can’t vote or can’t participate because it is so in arrears?

Spokesman:  It’s two years, if I’m not mistaken, about two years’ worth of dues that are unpaid.  They then lose their right to vote in the General Assembly or in General Assembly matters.  Again, this is an issue of the Member States themselves.  There’s no… as far as I know, there’s nothing in the Charter that says that, if you’re in arrears, you cannot be elected to various legislative bodies within the United Nations.

Question:  As a follow‑up, how long has Venezuela not been paying its dues?

Spokesman:  I can check, and we can give you… we can try to give you some numbers on various countries.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Is it true that the United States has not paid its dues in full?  And, also, in view of the fact that the United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela, which, even Jeffrey Sachs has said, has totally destroyed the economy, I think… wouldn’t you think it a bit unrealistic to expect Venezuela to pay when the United States has not paid?  And can you mention the other… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I will leave those sort of analyses questions for all of you to write and, as we’ve said a number of times over the last few weeks here, the United States has a payment calendar which we’ve gotten used to, which they pay later in the year.  What has made this crisis worse is that more countries have either not paid or have paid also later in the year.

Question:  What about the other countries who haven’t paid?  If there are only seven and Venezuela, Brazil and the United States, what are the other four countries — are you permitted to say?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we’ve put out… I don’t have the information in front of me, but we issued… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  I appreciate the class participation… [laughter]  But that information is public, and it was handed out over the last few days.  I will share it with you right after the briefing.  Erol.  Sorry.  And then…

Question:  Thank you, professor.  [laughter]  I just wanted to ask you…

Spokesman:  It’s the first time I’ve been called that, trust me.  [laughter]

Question:  … two questions [laughter]… two questions.  Just to clarify whether the Secretary‑General actually shared the, I would say, judgement or view of the President [Donald] Trump that a ceasefire that is now in Syria that is excellent, that is good, that is pretty good.  [laughter]  I mean, what is his view of the ceasefire?  Is it sustainable, at least, from his point of view?

Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary‑General believes is that he, obviously, welcomes any move that will lead to a de‑escalation, a lessening of violence, something that will lead to greater protection of civilians.  What is also important is that we recognise that there’s still a long way to go for any effective solution to the crisis in Syria.  Yes, sir?  I’ll come back to you.

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Good afternoon.  Nigeria, I attended the Wilson Center for African affairs this Tuesday, and the former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, noted that Nigeria is the third most dangerous country in the world, 30,000 killed since 2011, ethnic extremist violence.  And he proposed that there should be a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, such as… like there’s a Special Envoy to Somalia, the Horn of Africa.  And they were wondering why there isn’t a Special Envoy to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, given this violence?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, a couple of things.  First, we have been speaking about the humanitarian impact of the violence in the north of Nigeria, especially around the Lake Chad Basin.  We’re fully aware.  We’re working in cooperation with the Nigerian authorities to bring as much humanitarian aid and development aid as we can.  The issue of a Special Envoy is one that is usually dealt with with the country in question and with the region and a legislative body.  So, that’s… the fact is, we remain… regardless of the fact that there may not be a Special Envoy doesn’t mean we’re not fully engaged on the issue.

And I know you’d asked a question yesterday, Farhan, about Mr. Parfait Onanga‑Anyanga.

Question:  On Tibor Nagy?

Spokesman:  Yes, and he did meet with him and he discuss… they… surprised to… you will be surprised to hear that they discussed relevant regional issues.  Sir, and then sir.  And then we’ll go to the…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Follow‑up on the questions about Syria, north‑east Syria.  With the Amnesty report that a colleague just asked about of damning evidence of war crimes, reports of even use of prohibited weapon now by not Kurdish media but by Western media about the use of phosphorus, and there are now reports of deliberate targeting of civilian, executions by the Turkish force’s allies on the ground, this is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe.  The world is condemning this, the European Union, United States, many voices.  I… let me finish this.  Even China is asking for this to stop, but the Secretary‑General of the United Nations is silent.  He hasn’t condemned.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not silent.  He’s asked for the violence to stop in Syria, not just from last week, but for…

Question:  When?

Spokesman:  Ever since he got into office, as his predecessor has been.  He has warned of humanitarian… of the risk of humanitarian catastrophes if this violence continues.  We are doing what we can on the political track, because we believe that that is the most important track to follow.  We believe that the only solution for what is going on in Syria is a political one.  That is the focus of our work.  The other focus of the work is, obviously, the humanitarian angle, and we’re doing what we can to reach those people in need.

On the issue of the use of… reports of use of chemical weapons, our colleagues at the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) are very much aware of the situation.  They’re collecting information inasmuch as they can.  As far as I know, as we’ve been told, the OPCW has not yet made a… determined the credibility of these allegations, but they’re continuing to monitor and to look into the situation.

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  But what you mention about what the Secretary‑General has been asking for in Syria, that’s a very general statement.  I’m talking about the specific military operation initiated by Turkey again… in the area that is now causing a humanitarian crisis, why he hasn’t himself condemned it or asked for Turkey to stop.  It’s very simple.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  He called for an immediate de‑escalation.  He urged all parties to resolve their differences through peaceful…

Question:  Does that mean stop?  Are you asking Turkey to stop?

Spokesman:  We’re asking for the fighting to stop.  We’re asking for everyone to stop fighting and to focus on a political solution.  Yassein?

Question:  Thank you, chief.  It’s 30 kilometre [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan come inside of Syria, and how many people get killed?  Do you have any numbers?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t have any more numbers than what we’ve shared with…

Question:  When he’s going to go back?

Spokesman:  Who?

Question:  To leave the country, you know, he take 30 kilometres from Syria.

Spokesman:  Who?

Question:  Erdogan.

Spokesman:  Ask his spokesman.  I have no clue.  Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  It’s a follow‑up on Syria and what my fellow journalists just asked.  From 1 to 10, what the… the Secretary‑General will rate at the moment the possibility that will be ethnic cleansing on… the risk.  I’m talking about the risk?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to play the ratings game.  [cross talk]

Question:  I finish with the question…

Spokesman:  Okay.

Question:  …because the Secretary‑General, when he thought in the past that there was highly risk of loss of civilians by military force, he acted differently than is acting in those days.  For example, he… for example, he delivered a message to the Security Council to act.  So, it doesn’t mean… his behaviour in the last days means that maybe he thinks that the Turks will just stop and the Turks will behave and the Turks will not act in a way… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think there are basic principles to reflect in every situation, which is a protection of civilians, the respect for human rights, the respect for international law.  There are also different situations that you’re referring are handled differently in terms of the Security Council.  Syria is pretty prominently on the agenda of the Security Council and has been for some time.  So, there… and the Secretary‑General is engaged with all the parties.  He has… and we’ve always called for greater unity of the Security Council when it comes to Syria.  You have observed those divisions as much as we have.  Right?  We need unity in the Security Council.

The Secretary‑General believes that the best way to solve the problem that we’re seeing in Syria is through a political solution, and what he’s doing and what he’s saying is with the aim that the best way to protect civilians is through a political solution.  Monsieur?

Question:  Follow‑up?

Spokesman:  One second, please.  I need a break.  [laughter]

Question:  Sorry.  Just before the break, a follow‑up on this question.  [laughter] Do you have any announcement or anything new on the possible visit of the Secretary‑General to Turkey?

Spokesman:  No, nothing yet to share.  Maria?

Question:  Yeah.  It’s not about Syria.  It’s about visas.  So, Russia yesterday officially suggested… issued the possibility — yeah.  Thank you — of moving First Committee to another country, to Vienna or Geneva.  So, I understand that it’s up to Member States to decide on that, but how concerned Secretary‑General is about such a possibility?  How… also, how challenging economically it would be to move the whole committee to another country?  And, also, during the meeting with host country, as I understand, there were some suggestions… suggestions that if the visa situations doesn’t improve, there can be… it can be decided by the court between UN and US, as it is suggested in the procedures.  So, do you foresee such possibility?

Spokesman:  I am not… on your last bit, I’m… I’d have to look into exactly what kind of court… what they were talking about.

As we said, we have been very much in touch with not only the host country authorities in order to try to resolve the issue of the visas, and that is both the Secretary‑General’s legal counsel; the Secretary‑General himself has raised these issues.  It is very important that they be resolved, and it goes really to the heart of the function of how the UN is able to function here in the host country.  So, we hope these issues will be resolved.

Again, as I’ve said, you know, whether they… the Member States want to move the First Committee outside of New York, that will be their prerogative.  That will have financial implications.  I’m not able to calculate that at this point, but that will be a decision that the Member States take, and the Secretariat will have to do whatever it can to follow those decisions.  Erol and then Carla.

Question:  Yeah.  Just a follow‑up, as my colleague suggested and said, beside the general statement, and you said the Secretary‑General is talking what is necessary to be said or told, and you said he’s doing exactly what he is do… what he was doing, what he has done regarding Syria, I mean, more than a talk.  And why he’s not speaking also with more moral clarity undertaking the responsibility?  Can he envision himself… I’m asking this not only as a journalist but like a Bosnian.  Can he envision himself again in several years or so to apologize like Kofi Annan did apologize for Bosnia, not to say for Srebrenica?

Spokesman:  There is extreme moral clarity in the Secretary‑General’s thinking.  He wants the fighting to stop.  He wants the de‑escalation as immediately… as quickly as possible.  Let us remember that those… that the UN does not have its finger on the trigger of any weapon.  Right?  We’re not doing… the ones doing the fighting.  We’ve asked for the fighting to stop, repeatedly.  It’s been the same message using different words and different formulation in the last few years that I’ve been here.  We have a mandate from the Security Council to engage in the political process.  There is a resolution, 2254.  We are following that resolution.  We are pushing for the implementation of that resolution, because a political solution is the only way to bring long‑term stability and peace and calm to the civilians of Syria.  He is doing everything he can to make sure that, despite the bullets flying, that political process remains on track.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  This is going back sort of a follow‑up to the earlier questions.  Since I do not know the four countries who haven’t paid, I… my question is, is North Korea among them?  And, if it is, in view of the Security Council sanctions which have totally impoverished North Korea, how can they be expected to pay when the UN is… Security Council is making it impossible…?

Spokesman:  There are… we put out, almost as soon as we get… we put out an honour roll of countries that have paid, about 131 to the last call.  That list is public.  I can do the… you can do… look at the list of Member States and look at the list of Member States who have paid.  You can see those who have not paid.

On the broader issue of Article 19, obviously, there are also a number of countries that, for various reasons, are not able to pay.  And then the General Assembly gives its agreement to… basically, to let them continue to have the right to vote because they are facing extreme circumstances.  So, those are issues for the General Assembly to decide.

Yes, sir, and then we will go on a weekend.

Question:  Would it ever be the prerogative of the Secretaries‑General to criticize the election of someone to the Human Rights Council, a Member State to the Human Rights Council?  And has a Secretary‑General ever criticized the election of a Member State to the Human Rights Council?

Spokesman:  This is a Member State‑driven organization.  The Secretary‑General has responsibilities.  The Member States have responsibilities.  The Member States are responsible for electing members to the various legislative body.  That is their duty and their responsibility.


For information media. Not an official record.