21 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.


Good afternoon.  I have a senior appointment to announce.  Today the Secretary‑General is appointing Ghada Fathi Waly of Egypt as the next Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  Ms. Waly will also serve as Director‑General of the United Nations Office at Vienna.  She succeeds Yury Fedotov of the Russian Federation, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his dedicated service to the Organization.  Ms. Waly brings to the position over thirty years of experience in the field of sustainable development, poverty reduction and social protection, women and youth empowerment.  Currently Minister of Social Solidarity, a position she assumed in 2014, Ms. Waly developed the national anti‑drug strategy, led a nationwide drug awareness and prevention campaign among youth and pioneered innovative programmes to rehabilitate and reintegrate persons with substance abuse [issues] into society.  Her previous positions include her time as the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Assistant Resident Representative for Egypt.  Her full biography is available in my office.


This afternoon, the Secretary‑General will speak at the first meeting of the Group of Friends on Digital Technologies.  He will stress the impacts — both positive and negative — of digital technologies on international peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, and he will call on the Group of Friends to support UN initiatives like the high‑level Panel on Digital Cooperation to mitigate the risks of these technologies and ensure that everyone can benefit from them.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open meeting, followed by consultations on Somalia.  The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative, James Swan, told Council members that Somalia, together with its international partners and friends, wants to see the progress made in the past decade — including building state institutions and the military gains against Al‑Shabaab — consolidated in 2020.  He stressed the importance of political consensus, especially ahead of next year’s elections, as well as the adoption of an amended Federal Constitution, to address the threat posed by Al‑Shabaab, and as well as address economic development.  His full remarks have been shared with you.  At 3 p.m., the Council will reconvene in closed consultations to take up the issue of Cyprus.


Yesterday afternoon, Bintou Keita, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Africa, reminded members of the Security Council that the situation in the Sahel is of serious concern and that urgent action is needed.  Since the beginning of the year, she said, security incidents have tripled in Burkina Faso.  For example, 489 incidents have been recorded so far, compared to 151 last year.  Terrorism today is a common problem, she said, and she called on the international community to support the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and also to renew their efforts towards development initiatives in the region.


Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, condemned today in the strongest terms the missile attack, reportedly fired from Syrian Government‑controlled territory, that hit the densely populated Qah camp for internally displaced people and exploded near a maternity hospital in Idlib.  At least 12 people were killed and some 50 injured, including children — with confirmed casualties expected to rise.  Ms. Rochdi called on all warring parties to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.  The humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Syria must come to an end, she said.

The Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Mark Cutts, also condemned the attack in the strongest terms and called for a full investigation.  He reiterated calls on all parties to the conflict to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with their obligations under international law.


Turning to Myanmar, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has wrapped up a ten‑day visit to the country.  She met with Government and Tatmadaw officials in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, and also participated in the opening ceremony of the Third Consultation Forum of Religions for Peace.

On next year’s elections, the Special Envoy held talks with several groups, including the Union Electoral Commission, representatives of the main political parties in parliament, and Rohingya and Rakhine political [parties] and activists.  Her discussions focused on voting rights, eligibility for elections and encouraging women’s participation.

In northern Rakhine State, she met with local officials, community leaders and with returnees to understand their experiences and needs.  She also travelled to Sin Tet Maw camp in Pauk Taw to speak with Kaman and Rohingya internally displaced people to hear their perspectives and expectations.  And in Rakhine, the Special Envoy noted the toll that the continued clashes between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw are taking on people.  She called on all sides to protect civilians and to respect International Humanitarian Law, stressing for the need for combat to stop.

**Papua New Guinea/Bougainville

A note on Papua New Guinea and Bougainville:  Voting in the referendum on the political future of Bougainville, in line with the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement, begins on 23 November, in two days, and will take place over two weeks.  Voters will be choosing between two options:  greater autonomy or independence.  The vote will lead to consultations between the two governments on the way forward.

The referendum will be observed by more than 100 international observers, representing the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, as well as Australia, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Australian National University and more than 140 domestic observers.  The United Nations has been providing technical support to the referendum process and to the ongoing dialogue process between the two parties.  We will continue to support, at the request of the parties, the post‑referendum consultation process.


A note from Lebanon:  The Special Coordinator, Ján Kubiš, has called upon the leadership of Lebanon to urgently nominate the Prime Minister‑designate, start the mandatory process of parliamentary consultations and maximally accelerate the process of the formation of the new government of personalities known for their competence and integrity and trusted by the people.  He believes that such a Cabinet, formed in line with the aspirations of the people and supported by the broadest range of political forces through the parliamentary vote of confidence, will also be in a better position to appeal for support from Lebanon’s international partners.  I would like to make it clear that the Special Coordinator Kubiš has not otherwise intervened in the details of government formation, its character or its composition, as that remains a sovereign matter for Lebanon and its people to decide.


Bear with me, Evelyn, we’re not done.

Mark Lowcock, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is travelling to Sudan for a three‑day visit, his first to the country since the transitional Government was formed in August.  Mr. Lowcock will meet with senior Government officials, diplomats and aid agencies in the capital, Khartoum.  He will also travel to Kassala in the country’s east to visit health facilities and meet people impacted by the recent economic shocks and disease outbreaks, as well as youth volunteers responding to the situation.

Erratic weather, multiple disease outbreaks and the economic crisis have led to [more than] 8.5 million people — including nearly 2 million who are internally displaced — needing humanitarian aid.  These needs are expected to increase further.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, over 8,600 children associated with armed groups have been released in the Central African Republic between 2016 and the middle of this year, making the country one of those on the children and armed conflict agenda with the highest number of children released.  While this in itself is a positive development, a new report by the Secretary‑General on children and armed conflict in the Central African Republic shows that children continue to endure dreadful acts of violence.

While the inclusion of child protection measures in the peace agreement was a milestone, said Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative, mechanisms to tangibly end and prevent grave violations against boys and girls and to verify the compliance of signatory parties must be implemented.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, my guests will be Alain Noudéhou, the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan; along with Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF’s [United Nations Children’s Fund] Representative in South Sudan; and Kamil Kamaluddeen, UNDP’s Resident Representative in South Sudan.  They will be here to brief you on the humanitarian and development situation in the country.

And later in the afternoon, hopefully not in the evening, Geir Pedersen, will be speaking at the stakeout after the consultation and the open meeting on Syria, which starts at 3 p.m. and hopefully will not end at six, given the new measures.  See, there is some good news.  [Laughter.]

**Press Opportunity

Just as a reminder — today, the Harlem Globetrotters are visiting UN Headquarters.  There will be a basketball demonstration at 4 p.m. in the Visitor’s lobby, as well as a photo op.

And if you want to get your vision checked, in the lobby all day today, the UN Friends of Vision Group under the Chairmanship of the Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, Dr. [Walton] Webson, have set up a special eye health exhibit where we can all get our eyes checked.  Khalas.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  There are two worrying reports, one from Hong Kong and the other from Nicaragua.  The Hong Kong is a group of protesters isolated in a campus and with exits closed by the security forces.  In Nicaragua, there is another group of protestors ‑ whom they are surrounded inside a church.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on these two incidents to the respective Governments of China and Nicaragua?

Spokesman:  On Nicaragua, we have been following the developments in Masaya, that city which is not far from Managua.  In recent statements issued by the international community, the Secretary‑General is concerned about the situation.  He calls for full respect for human rights and the right to a peaceful assembly as a means to overcoming tension and reiterates his long‑standing call for good faith and dialogue.  As for the siege… of the situation around the University in Hong Kong, we very much hope that it will end, it will end peacefully and without violence, and we would encourage dialogue.

Question:  I’m sorry, a follow‑up, did the Secretary‑General intend to issue a statement in this regard or…?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, you have asked me, I speak on his behalf, so at least I hope, I was told I did up until a few minutes ago.  [Laughter.]  So, yes, Evelyn, then we will go to Edie.

Question:  Yes, on the very horrible attack on the IDP camp in Idlib, are you allowed to say who did it?  The press reports have… do not say who is doing it?

Spokesman:  I think we have, as you just heard, our Najat Rochdi, our humanitarian adviser colleague, said it’s… as far as they know, the missiles were fired from Government‑controlled areas.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the killing of the Somali‑Canadian peace and human rights activist, Almaas Elman?  It’s been raised in the Security Council this morning during today’s meeting.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we very much, first of all, send our heartfelt condolences to her family and her friends.  We know she was a strong voice for peace and reconciliation in the country.  I think our colleagues in Mogadishu are trying to get a bit more information as to exactly what happened.  But if this is indeed targeted, she was targeted, we obviously condemn it in the strongest possible terms.  One second.  Nabil?

Question:  The Secretary‑General in his latest report on 1701 commended the role that the Lebanese Army is playing in protecting protesters in this crisis.  So can you elaborate more, what does the SG think that the Lebanese Army can do to maybe reach a political solution for the crisis?  Should the Army be part of consultations on the political solution?  What is… like, what does he hope?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is not advocating for a specific role for the Lebanese armed forces.  As I just said, from Mr. Kubiš’s statements, we are… Mr. Kubiš’s statements were statements of principle trying to encourage the Lebanese leaders to form a government as quickly as possible.  Exactly how we get to that, that is up to the Lebanese people.  I think what the Secretary‑General is referring to in his comment is, for the most part, the restraint we have seen from the Lebanese security forces by and large in how they have been dealing with these demonstrations.  Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Two questions — a follow‑up on the IDP camp at Qah.  Can you tell us how many people there were in the camp?  Also, a question on Cyprus.  For the consultations that the Security Council this afternoon, is there a UN briefer?

Spokesman:  My understanding is Rosemary DiCarlo will be briefing.

Question:  And would she talk to the press after the briefing?

Spokesman:  If we were to wager money, I would not wager money on it.  [Laughter.]  No, I don’t think she plans to speak to the press, as much as I would like to make your wish come true, Betul.

Question:  Thank you.  And the camps…?

Spokesman:  Ali, and then we will go to the front.  So I don’t know.  I will have to find out.  I will ask.  [He later said that there were about 4,000 people in the Qah camp.]  Yes.  Sorry.  Ali and then…

Question:  Since you speak on behalf of the Secretary‑General, can you please tell us whether the Secretary‑General is going to celebrate Thanksgiving or is going to a pardon a Turkey…?

Spokesman:  You know, there is… we did have Canadian Thanksgiving not long ago.  I don’t know what animals the Canadians pardon.  I doubt that the Secretary‑General will participate in any of the traditional American rituals around Thanksgiving.  But I do hope that you all enjoy your Thanksgiving.  As a reminder, we will not… the office will be closed on Thursday.  We will be open on Friday, but we will not have a briefing, unless there is breaking news or a turkey escapes.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General going to comment or to issue a statement about UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] elections?

Spokesman:  I have enough problems without you.  [Laughter.]  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a follow‑up for my question, if I may.  Does the Secretary‑General know about the new situation in Iran?  Does he follow it?  Does he have any comment?  And my follow‑up is, since many Governments around the world, they cut Internets to the activists or people so the news does not come out, can the UN do something that open up that door for pictures, videos, voices, comments, so people can share?

Spokesman:  The UN does not control the Internet, contrary to what possible conspiracy theories may be out there, but we do not control the Internet.  As I said yesterday, we obviously are following the situation in Iran.  We are very well aware of the reports of a significant death toll in the recent demonstrations.  And the Secretary‑General echoes the statements made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the immediate re‑establishment of people’s access to the Internet.

Question:  The reason I mention UN on Internet because UN has so many offices and they have their own Internet, their own access outside, so…?

Spokesman:  I think in just about every place we work we access through… we do not have a separate Internet.  We access the Internet like everybody else does.  Señora?

Question:  Stéphane, going back to Nicaragua, the Catholic Church has been one of the targets of the [Daniel] Ortega Government during the past few months, according to the Archdiocese locally.  The latest events, especially the church and the impossibility for some of the members of the church, especially one of the priests in Masaya, to be able to get out ‑ will this maybe start a process where the UN could get involved in terms of a dialogue?  We understand that eventually, at one point of the beginning of the protest, with the students that was talk, that was managed between the UN and the Catholic Church as well as the Government or Ortega.  Do you see that this could be a point where something could be done?

Spokesman:  As a matter of principle, the UN is always available to help facilitate any dialogue if we are requested and all the parties involved agree.  I will have to check with our country office colleagues to see what involvement they may have had at the local level that I may not be aware of.

Question:  And a follow‑up, the hunger strike started because of over 130 young people that are detained and that is why the mothers and the Catholic Church are doing the hunger strike.  Are there any efforts to try to see what the conditions of those detained and the possibility of seeing their due process followed in their cases?

Spokesman:  We would expect people who are detained to have due process afforded to them, including access to legal services and then, you know, basic, at least, at minimum, basic due process.  But let me check with our country office colleagues.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  More serious, US Congress members sent a letter to the Secretary‑General with regards to 1701 and Hizbullah and Iran.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I think that the letter, my understanding is that the letter was received.  As with all letters, we will answer it.  The Secretary‑General’s position on 1701 could not be clearer and every word of it is included in his recently released report.  Thank you all.  I was going to say have a good weekend, but we are not quite there yet.

For information media. Not an official record.