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

15 November 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, and happy Friday.

**Climate Change

The Secretary‑General welcomes the European Investment Bank’s landmark decision to cease funding fossil fuel projects by the end of 2021.  The European Investment Bank joins other pioneers who have wisely decided to invest solely in the clean and resilient economy which will allow us to get to carbon neutrality by 2050 and a sustainable future.

The Secretary‑General calls on all other investors to choose the right side of history.


Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, responded to an attack in Gaza today, claimed by Israel, which reportedly killed eight family members, saying that there is no justification to attacking civilians in Gaza or elsewhere.

He said his heartfelt condolences go to the Al‑Sawarkeh family, and he wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.  He calls on Israel to move swiftly with its investigation.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution on the Somalia sanctions regime, renewing for one year the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces; the authorization for maritime interdiction to enforce the embargo on illicit arms imports and charcoal exports, and humanitarian exemptions to the regime.  The resolution also renewed the mandate of the Somalia Panel of Experts until 15 December 2020.

The Security Council also extended the mandate of the Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) for one year.  In addition to its current priority tasks, the mission is requested to assist the authorities in the preparation and delivery of presidential, legislative and local elections in 2020 and 2021.


Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock briefed the Security Council yesterday on Syria, reminding Council members that across the country, more than 11 million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance, or more than half the estimated population.

So far this year, he said, humanitarian workers have reached an average of 5.6 million people a month in all parts of Syria, prioritising the neediest people.  Over half of the response is in areas under Government control, he added.

Mr. Lowcock said he remains very concerned about the situation in the northwest.  In recent weeks, he noted, there has been an increase in airstrikes and ground‑based strikes, mostly in parts of southern and western Idlib, that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports has caused a high number of civilian casualties.

The Emergency Relief Coordinator added that there is no alternative to the cross‑border operation and that a renewal of the provisions of Security Council resolution 2165 is critical.  There is no Plan B, he warned, saying that, without the cross‑border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that since the beginning of the year, they have provided over 1 million health consultations for displaced and conflict‑affected Yemenis, as well as migrants.

Health facilities in Yemen have been greatly affected by the conflict, and only half of them are currently operating.

IOM works to ensure that public health facilities can provide a minimum service package to the population by providing human resources, medicines and medical supplies.

The organization supports the restoration and operational needs of 86 health facilities across Yemen.  They also operate nine mobile health teams to reach migrants and displaced people who do not have access to traditional health facilities.  More details are available online.


Over 210,000 people in Chad have been affected by widespread flooding following heavy rains over the past few months.  Most affected areas are in the north and east, including Mayo‑Kebbi province, which is also facing a cholera epidemic.

Some 15,000 houses have reportedly been damaged.  Loss of life and livestock are also reported.

Initial assessments by the Chadian Red Cross indicate need for food, shelter, and non‑food items to the affected population.

The UN and humanitarian partners are planning to scale up the response but have very limited resources.

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Chad seeks $477 million to assist 2 million people but is only 49 per cent funded so far.


**International Day for Tolerance

Tomorrow is the International Day for Tolerance.

In a special message, the Director‑General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Audrey Azoulay, recalls that cultural diversity is part of the fabric of human society.

Tolerance is also a strength and a driver of development and an asset from which we can all benefit, she says, provided that we learn to understand one another, that we are able to see what is universal to all cultures, and that we adopt an attitude of tolerance towards what might at first seem foreign to us.  Her full message is available online.

**Press Conferences

And for press events:  Today, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, will address reporters at the Security Council stakeout at 1 pm.

And Reem Abaza, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be in this room to brief you after the noon briefing on Monday.

That’s it for me, do you have any questions before we get to our weekend?  Yes, Sylviane?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is on the reaction on the new… selection of the new Prime Minister in Lebanon.  Any reaction from the United Nations or for the SG?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on this we don't actually have a confirmation yet.  We are aware of the media reports, but we have yet to be able to confirm this.  You're aware that Mr. [Jan] Kubis and the UN mission have been working with all the various parties and we are eager to see the formation of a Government in Lebanon that responds to the needs of the Lebanese people as swiftly as possible.

Question:  Another question on 1701?

Deputy Spokesman:  Uh‑huh, sure.

Question:  There is a meeting, a consultation next week on 1701 report, the latest development on it.  Do you have any… do you have any information or update on this report?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the report is going soon to the members of the Security Council, and you'll be able to see it for yourself at that point.  As you know, we've made clear through our periodic reports our concerns about the situation; but there is nothing to share beyond what we have been saying about Lebanon in recent days.

Correspondent:  But it was due yesterday…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  I believe it should be going shortly to the members of the Council.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Scores of people, the peaceful demonstrators were arrested in Lebanon, some of them are released and there are… they have clear signs of torture on their bodies.  So, I wonder whether you have any comment on that and what is the message from the United Nations to Lebanon regarding the International Convention against Torture and Other Inhumane Activities?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, as you know, all member states need to abide by the relevant International Human Rights Laws, including the convention against torture.  That goes without saying.  In this case, we would be concerned about any ill treatment of protesters and believe that any allegations of such ill treatment need to be thoroughly investigated.  Again, we call on all authorities in Lebanon, and indeed all countries, to make sure that the rights to assembly and to peaceful protest are fully observed.  Abdelhamid?  Yes?

Question:  May I follow up?  Those people are being arrested by the military intelligence most of the time in Lebanon, and they are not allowed to have their legal due process even in Lebanon.  So, is the United Nations monitoring the situation with this regard, or is there any message that the Secretary‑General would like to convey to the Lebanese authorities with this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, the message we have, and this is one we have shared in Lebanon and in other countries, is that the right to peaceful protest needs to be upheld.  If anyone is arrested, they need to be formally charged or else set free and due process needs to be observed at all times.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  I have a few questions.  I hope you will bear with me.  First about the family of Al‑Sawarkeh — a family of eight have been obliterated by six missiles, hit by Israel, including five children, two women and the father.  No statement came out, except I know Mladenov expressed sadness and, quote, for Israel to investigate.  But there is no condemnation.  This is a crime.  Is it a crime of the crime against, you know, a war crime or a crime against humanity?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are opposed to all killings of civilians.  In this case, in the case of the Al‑Sawarkeh family, it's clearly a tragedy.  The Secretary‑General expresses his heartfelt condolence to the Al‑Sawarkeh family and wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured; and he calls on Israel to move swiftly with the investigation.

Question:  But where is the word condemnation?  I'm looking for a word condemnation.  A family of eight had been killed while they were sleeping.  Israel admitted; Israel admitted it was a mistake.  Why there is no statement to condemn this crime?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have consistently condemned all attacks on civilians that lead to their deaths.

Question:  Again, this is not a satisfactory answer, because this is a crime against humanity.  It's a war crime, a family who are sleeping, Israel admitted that, and there is no statement to condemn?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, it's a little odd to me that first you say it's not satisfactory if we don't condemn it; then I say from this podium that we do condemn all the attacks on civilians and then you say it's still not satisfactory.  I actually just was doing what you said I wasn't doing.

Question:  But the statement, I'm sorry, I don't want to argue, I'm looking for a statement regarding this family using the word “condemn”, that is not there, that is what I'm saying.  Now, I go to another issue.  I mean, the foreign minister of Palestine, Palestinian foreign minister, issued a statement criticizing Mladenov for his biased statement, claiming that this wave of escalation, almost putting the blame on the victim.  It started when Israel attacked and killed a Jihad leader.  It's not the Palestinian who started it.  But, however, his statement almost put the blame squarely on the Palestinians, and the foreign minister issued that statement.  Did you read the statement of the foreign minister?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't share that particular interpretation.  Our objective, the objective of the Secretary‑General, of the United Nations, and of Nickolay Mladenov, is to make sure that calm can be restored in and around Gaza.  Now, it's up to those concerned parties to live up to the responsibilities of sustaining the agreement.  The Secretary‑General urges all to refrain from any act that could lead to further escalation.  He supports all efforts that contribute to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and international law.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Farhan, about these 8 million Kashmiris incarcerated by the Indian authorities under various laws and so forth, as the advocated article 35, and so on and so forth; does the Secretary‑General have anything unique or anything planned to ensure that he can ask the Indian authorities to let these people out of jail, of these so‑called jails which has been provided by the Indian Government?  Is there anything new that the Secretary‑General is planning or is going to plan to talk to the Indian authorities, on Government of Mr. Narendra Modi?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know the Secretary‑General has been in touch with both the Indian and Pakistani Governments, including at the highest levels, in order to deal with this matter.  And as I told Ali about his question concerning Lebanon, again, we expect that due process is observed with all arrests and detentions.  Carla? 

Question:  My question is only… has the Secretary‑General, no, yeah, he still doesn't have anything planned.  Does he have anything planned to somehow get the Indian authorities to ease the so‑called embargo on the Kashmiris, just because they are Kashmiri Muslims and living in India, occupied India, does that mean that they can continue to do that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have shared with you what the Secretary‑General's interventions on this have been in the past months.  If there are any further interventions to share, we will let you know.  Carla? 

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any information regarding the e‑mail I sent to Stéphane [Dujarric] asking whether the Secretary‑General has any comment about the fact that the Lithuanian statesman and journalist, Algirdas Paleckis, has been imprisoned, is in poor health.  He was the founder of the organization Lithuania without Nazism.  And, in fact, it was he who advised me that out of 200,000 Jews in Lithuania, 195,000 were murdered by Lithuanian Nazis.  Evidently Lithuania does not like the truth about its past coming out, so they jailed the messenger.  There must be something that can be done before he dies in jail?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We are actually following up on the question that you shared with Stéphane, and once we have something on that, I'll let you know.  Maria?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  So, my question is about the Board of Inquiry in Idlib, which is investigating the attacks on hospitals.  It was raised, this issue was raised yesterday in an article published by the New York Times, and it says that there was document, an internal United Nations document saying that already seven sites were visited by the Board.  Can you confirm this information?  Are there any findings?

And another question is that Mr. Lowcock yesterday at Security Council again called for support of the work of this Board of Inquiry and Russian Ambassador said several times that Russia is ready to give any information, which Russia definitely has, because they are present in this site.  So, basically, did they… did UN receive any information from Russia concerning what is going on with any of that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I can't provide any details on the work of the Board as it continues about its work.  Once it's completed, we will try to share some information about the work that they have done.  But I wouldn't be able to confirm anything, including any leaked documents.  Regarding any offers of help, of course, we will follow up on any such offers and appreciate any offers by Member States to provide relevant information.

Question:  Farhan, but did they already provide it or not, because it's already something which has gone on for more than a month?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, the work of the Board of Inquiry proceeding, I would not comment about what information they have or not until the work is completed.

Question:  Okay.  That was the last follow‑up.  And do you have any comment on the main idea of the article — that Russia has pressure on Secretary‑General on this topic?

Deputy Spokesman:  The fact of the matter is that the Secretary‑General protects the independence of the UN's work.  The Board of Inquiry is an internal body that reports to him, and we will provide whatever information we can about its work once that's done.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just to follow up actually on the question that I asked Stéphane probably two weeks ago, and since the UN or the Secretary‑General through Stéphane actually commended this year Nobel Prize winner for economy, I asked then what is his opinion, the Secretary‑General's opinion, on the Nobel committee decision to give the Nobel Literature Prize to Mr. Peter Handke, who is genocide denier and who is condemned by many… and there are many, many articles on that.  So, what do you say on that, yes?

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, we don't have a comment about the Nobel Prize for Literature.  What I can say is we have clearly established the facts about what happened in the Bosnian war, including through the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  And, as you know, that criminal tribunal determined that some of the acts, including what happened in Srebrenica, constitute genocide, and the record is clear on that.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you.  On 6 November, Mr. Mladenov met with the family of Hadar Goldin.  His remains are held captive in Gaza, and he called for their release on a humanitarian basis and he said no one should live with such pain.  I agree with him totally.  Nobody should be kept captive.  But does he know that there are 32 captive Palestinians held by Israel?  Did he take initiatives to visit one of the families of those who have… their children are held by Israelis?

Deputy Spokesman:  He has made clear his sympathies for all people who have suffered, whether Palestinian or Israeli, by the fighting.  And you can just look to what he said today about the Al‑Sawarkeh family.  And, again, his thoughts go to all of the families of the victims and he cares about all of their needs.

Question:  But when he visits one side and not the other, he shows sympathy with one family and take picture with them, but he doesn't visit any of the other side, is that… do you call that objectivity?  Do you agree that this is, could be interpreted as a biased position of the Special Coordinator of the peace process in the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesman:  On different occasions, Mr. Mladenov and his office have reached out to families who have been bereaved on either side and his… and their sympathies are with both.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  A question regarding Northern Syria, do you have any updates regarding foreign fighter, ISIS foreign fighters and the camps?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've made clear our concerns about the needs to deal with particularly the family members of the foreign terrorist fighters.  And so, the women and the children in places like Al‑Hol camp, we’re trying to make sure that their needs will be addressed, their humanitarian needs, and that Member States, third country Member States, of those third country nationals will take them back.  And so, we are working to advocate for them.

Question:  Sorry, just to clarify, so are you saying that, I mean, so your official position is not to repatriate foreign fighters and to send them back to their countries of origin, but rather to send them to a third country? I'm just trying to clarify.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  Many of them belong to other countries beyond the ones in which they are located, and we're trying to see what their home countries can do to repatriate them.  In the short term, we want to make sure that, of course, their humanitarian conditions are met where they are right now.  Masood? 

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this affair, in the Indian… in the Indian subcontinent affair, minority communities in India about ethnic cleansing, being so‑called, there have been now seen, what do you call, promoted further by extremist India group, Hindutva group against the minorities, do you have…does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this fear of ethnic cleansing in India?

Deputy Spokesman:  Our human rights bodies and human rights mechanisms are looking in to make sure that all groups, including all minorities, are treated fairly.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.