27 January 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Holocaust Remembrance

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the UN’s Holocaust Memorial Ceremony, which this year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

The Secretary-General spoke of the recent resurgence of antisemitic attacks around the world, saying that our solidarity in the face of hatred is needed today more than ever.  He said we need to name this phenomenon for what it is:  there is a global crisis of antisemitic hatred; a constant stream of attacks targeting Jews, their institutions and properties.  He also drew attention to the initiatives designed to counter such hatred, including the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech that he launched last year and the UN Plan of Action of Safeguarding Religious Sites.

The Secretary-General added that new surveillance technology can also be abused by both Governments and corporations to enable discrimination and deny people of their rights.  He said the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation had recommended actions to safeguard human rights in the digital age, which will include working with partners to develop standards for fair, accountable and transparent artificial intelligence.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General also spoke at Park East Synagogue, on the Upper East Side, here in New York, which he has visited every year since becoming Secretary-General, and in his remarks there, he stressed that “The United Nations stands with you every day, together with many people around the world who believe that an attack on one is an attack on all.”

**Press Conference

And also, I just wanted to flag that due to scheduling considerations and issues, we are postponing the Secretary-General’s press conference by a week, and we will see you next Tuesday, in a week, on [4] February, for the press conference.


Turning to Syria, the UN remains deeply concerned about the safety of over 4 million civilians in north-west Syria, over half of whom are internally displaced, following reports of ongoing air strikes and shelling over the weekend.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that over 1,500 civilians in the north-west of Syria have been killed since April, when the current military escalations began, including over 430 children and 290 women.

Since 1 December, an estimated 389,000 people have been displaced.  That’s an increase of more than 30,000 since last week.  The vast majority, about 80 per cent of those people who are being displaced, are women and children.

The latest displacement compounds an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground in Idlib, where more than 400,000 people were displaced between the end of April and the end of August, many of them multiple times.

We continue to call for a cessation of hostilities and urge all parties, and those with influence over the parties, to ensure the protection of civilians, the protection of civilian infrastructure, and that’s in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


Turning to Libya, the UN Human Rights Office, in a new report today on the air strikes last July on the Tajoura detention centre in Libya, renewed its call on all parties to the conflict in that country to conduct independent, impartial and thorough investigations to ensure accountability for the violations of international law.

The report concurs with previous UN findings that the air strikes were likely conducted by aircraft belonging to a foreign State, noting that, “it remains unclear whether these air assets were under the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) or were operated under the command of that foreign State in support of the LNA”.  The report quote “calls on all parties, as well as any States supporting either party, to conduct investigations in the air strikes with a view to ensuring the swift prosecution of those responsible.”

Over the weekend, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) deeply regretted the continued blatant violations of the arms embargo in Libya, even after the commitments made in this regard by concerned countries during the Berlin Conference.

The UN Mission said that over the last 10 days, numerous cargo and other flights have been observed landing in Libyan airports in the western and eastern parts of the country, providing the parties with advanced weapons, armoured vehicles, advisers and fighters.  The UN mission condemns these ongoing violations, with a risk of plunging the country into a renewed and intensified round of fighting.

Meanwhile, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, is currently in Tunisia, holding meetings in preparations of the security track and the political tracks of the peace process.


And on the coronavirus, I wanted to flag that the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], arrived in Beijing today.

He is expected to meet with senior Chinese Government officials to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

WHO has stressed that we have a chance to get ahead of the virus if we all work together.  It has provided advice to countries on how to identify and care for people sick with the virus, as well as those individuals and how individuals can protect themselves and others.  You can find information on the WHO’s website.


And a new report from Colombia on the situation of children and armed conflict concludes that the peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army), which contained child protection provisions, contributed to a significant decrease in violations committed against boys and girls.

Ms. Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on this issue, commended the Government of Colombia for its efforts to protect boys and girls, but, she pointed out that more than 3 years after the signature of the peace agreement, children continue to be exposed to grave violations as other groups are occupying the space left by the withdrawal of the FARC-EP.

More information online.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And also, we have an update on the measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Although case incidence showed a decreasing trend in December, the cumulative number of cases and deaths has continued to increase, with over 6,000 deaths reported last year.

Cases of measles continue to be reported in all 26 provinces, including the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, which are also affected by the Ebola outbreak.  The majority of measles cases – 75 per cent of those cases– are impacting children under the age of 5.

The emergence of new cases is likely a result of persisting gaps in the vaccination coverage, which needs to be scaled up accordingly.  Forty million dollars are needed urgently, in order to extend the vaccination to children over 5 and to reinforce outbreak response activities beyond vaccination.

Another reminder to vaccinate when you can.


And in Madagascar, last week, following heavy rain and flooding, caused by a tropical disturbance, there has been an impact to 107,000 people, and caused at least 31 deaths.  More than 16,000 have also been displaced.

The Government is leading the response, with support from the UN and humanitarian partners who have mobilized and pre-positioned stocks to assist people affected by the floods.


And as you may have seen, over the weekend, we issued a statement, where the Secretary-General said he was deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property in the wake of an earthquake in the Elazig province of Turkey.  And that statement was shared with you.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Couple of questions.  First, a clarification, you say the Secretary-General can’t be with us tomorrow because of a scheduling conflict.  Can you tell us, is he in New York at 12:30 tomorrow?  And what is he doing?

Spokesman:  There is the global town hall meeting with staff and other issues, which may run over, and there are other issues that have come up.

Question:  But these were… that was pre-planned, wasn’t it?  I mean, it raises the question that the only problem is that he’s scheduled to give a news conference on the same day as the Middle East peace plan and would face some difficult questions.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is experienced and can face difficult questions.

Question:  Okay.  My question is on the Middle East peace plan.  Has the Secretary-General been given an advanced copy by the US Administration?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of that, and at this point, obviously, we have to see what the release is, and I have no other comment.

Question:  So, if he hasn’t been given, you’re not aware of an advanced copy being given to the Secretary‑General, does he believe that, given his very important role in this, as a member of the Quartet, as the Secretary‑General of the United Nations, where the UN is, where all the Security Council resolutions are… does he feel that it’s disrespectful of the Trump Administration not to be consulting him and giving him an advanced copy?

Spokesman:  As I said, I think we all have to wait for this plan to be released, whenever that will be.  We will have further comment at that time.  In the meantime, the Secretary‑General’s own positions on it have not changed.

Question:  You didn’t answer my question, though:  Does he believe it’s disrespectful… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I answered it to the best of my ability.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  Follow‑up on the same subject.  Do you… was he consulted in any of the… if… you said he wasn’t given any advance copy of the plan.  Was he consulted or his envoy in Jerusalem was consulted regarding this plan anytime?

Spokesman:  Over the last three years or two… I mean, since the Secretary… since the announcement of… that the plan would be coming, there had been contacts at various levels, including the Secretary‑General and Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.

Question:  So, are you saying that you are aware of the details of the plan, or what exactly are you saying?

Spokesman:  No, that’s… I’m just saying that there have been conversation over the last two… two, three years on this but… and I will leave it at that.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On the new coronavirus, last week, there was a closed meeting of the major emergency experts from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund), WHO, etc.  Can we have some kind of a reading on what they have decided to do, because we were told that meeting was aimed at helping fragile countries that might not be able to deal with such a virus themselves?

Spokesman:  Yeah, unfortunately, I have nothing for you on that meeting.  Erol?

Question:  Yeah.  Just, actually, it’s a follow‑up, although I have a separate one on Libya, but it’s also… all the time raises the question, Stéphane, how much UN is involved in these kind of processes, whether it’s more passive, more active role.  So, what… how would you characterise the involvement of the UN?

Spokesman:  Our involvement is regulated through relevant Security Council resolutions.  We have a Special Coordinator on the ground, Mr. Mladenov, and as you know, the UN has extensive humanitarian operations in the area.

Question:  And what would be the leadership of the Secretary‑General in that direction, to move a little bit forward beside that…? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General’s position on the Middle East peace process are regularly shared with you through public briefings in the Security Council.

Question:  May I ask one on Libya?

Spokesman:  You may ask one on Libya.

Question:  Thank you.  Today, Foreign Minister for Germany was very disappointed by the progress, actually lack of progress, of the follow‑up on the Berlin peace process… peace conference.  He said that the Security Council should be informed.  What is, again, the role… role or what is the position of Secretary‑General on that?

Spokesman:  I mean, we share the disappointment expressed by Mr. Salamé of this continuing violation of the arms embargo.  I mean, as I just flagged, we’re seeing flights continue to arrive in different parts of Libya, disgorging weapons, troops, armoured carriers.  Those are blatant violations of the Security Council resolution.

Mr. Salamé, for his part, is pushing forward, as we always do, on the political track, with trying to organize and set up the number of meetings that he had flagged, on the military issues, on political issues, on economic issues.  We will continue to persevere and push for the political track, but, obviously, the parties on the ground need to honour the cessation of hostilities and all those parties who are helping one side or another need to abide by the commitments made in Berlin and need to abide by Security Council resolutions.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Back to the peace plan.  It seems that the plan will address the borders issue.  So, can you please remind us, what’s the UN position on Israel’s borders and the Palestinian state border…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, the UN’s position are reflected every month or more than once a month in the Security Council briefings.  And you can refer those… to that.  His… Secretary‑General’s positions are unchanged.

Question:  And… sorry, on corona, did the UN evacuate any personnel from China…? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, not that I’m aware of.  Yep?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  It’s related to the coronavirus, and it’s going to take a second to lay out the question, so I appreciate your patience.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has recently been blocking people on social media.  It looks like it’s at least a couple dozen people that include think tank experts, researchers, writers, journalists, citizens.  And they all have a common thread, which is that they’re saying Taiwan should be receiving information directly from the ICAO, not that they should be a member of the ICAO but that they should be receiving, as a regional transport hub, information directly from them.

ICAO has responded saying that it reserves the right to get rid of irrelevant, compromising and offensive material.  So, I wanted to see your thoughts… the head of the ICAO, by the way, right now is a Chinese national, someone from the PRC (People’s Republic of China).  And so I’m wondering if you see this as a politically motivated way to silence opinions.

Spokesman:  One of your colleagues just emailed me the same question.  I’m in touch with… I’ve reached out to ICAO to see what exactly is the issue, but ICAO is an agency with its own governing body, not under the authority of the Secretary-General, but let me see what I can find out from ICAO.


Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  It’s another question on the Middle East peace plan.  You said a few times that the Secretary‑General… his position hasn’t changed.  It’s been stated in the Security Council again and again.  Are you saying that you don’t think now is a time to make any changes to this?  Or are you willing to see what the Americans put forward tomorrow and are you willing to… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I’m not… that’s not… All I’m saying is that the Secretary-General’s positions are unchanged, and they’ve been related to you repeatedly.

Question:  Does he have an open mind then?  Is he willing to look again at some of these bedrock principles?

Spokesman:  I will leave it at that for the time being.  Yes, Madame?

Question:  A follow‑up on Middle East plan.  So, let me preface my question this way.  So, does the Secretary‑General… or is the Secretary‑General disappointed regarding the fact that a peace plan will be announced… so‑called peace plan will be announced tomorrow when… where a part… a partner or a main partner to this plan is made absent?  So, what’s your comment on that?

Spokesman:  I’m not… I understand what you all are trying to get and what you need… [laughter] … but I’m not going to get into saying anything further until there’s an announcement.

Question:  No, but I’m not asking about the plan itself.

Spokesman:  No, no, I… [cross talk]

Question:  I’m asking about a fact that somebody who is a main partner is made absent.

Spokesman:  No, I understand, but I will not get into it.

Question:  Okay.  I have some… a question about Iraq.

Spokesman:  Lovely.  [laughter]

Question:  I’m not sure… I mean, the demonstrations in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq have… they have been continuous, peacefully mostly, and the killing and injuring of civilians is also continuing.  Any comments?  And is your representative there in contact and negotiation with different parties?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, the UN on the ground continues to be engaged with the Iraqi authorities and Iraqi civil society.  I think the… in Iraq, as in other places around the world, there is a discontent, and leaders need to move forward, listen to the people.  The new Government needs to be formed, but this is… Iraq is a sovereign country, and it is… will be the decisions of the Iraqi leaders.  But we have been concerned by the continued violence, by the attack on demonstrators.  Some of them, we understand, have been subjected to horrendous treatment, and these things are of concern to us, and they’ve been raised directly with the Iraqi authorities.

Question:  Are you… there… or is there somebody… I know that the… Mrs. Jeanine [Hennis-Plasschaert]… she went once since October.  I’m not sure if she went again to the square in Baghdad.  Is there somebody from the UN who is monitoring or…

Spokesman:  We are… I will find out how detailed the monitoring is, but I mean, we are… we have quite a large presence in Baghdad, and our team there is full… well aware of what going on, on the ground.

Edie, and then we’ll go back to Mr. Bays.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on an attack yesterday that killed 20 Malian soldiers at a base near Mauritania, which appears to be an extremist attack?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Our… the Head of the Mission, Mr. [Mahamat Saleh] Annadif, condemned the attack on… the cowardly attack on… via Twitter.  He expressed his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and wished a swift recovery to those injured.

We are… the Mission itself deployed to the area of the attack today to support the Malian armed forces and reiterate its commitment to support peace and stability in Mali.

James, and then…

Question:  Yes.  So, two questions.  One is a follow‑up on Libya.  Eight days now after the Berlin conference, General [Khalifa] Haftar is clearly pursuing an offensive on a number of fronts.  And now the GNA (Government of National Accord) Prime Minister [Fayez al] Serraj saying that they are debating whether to continue in this process.

How disappointed is the Secretary-General that, rather than after Berlin there’s an improvement in the situation, things seem to have deteriorated so badly?  And, specifically, can you tell us whether the meeting that is supposed to take place in Geneva tomorrow of both sides is going ahead?

Spokesman:  I need to get some details on the meeting.  I know Mr. Salamé is working hard towards making those things happen, but I need to get some details.  Listen, doesn’t take a genius to see that we’re going in the wrong direction, right, on the ground.  As I said, the arms keep flowing in.  The fighting is continuing, and the Libyan people keep suffering.

We’re, of course, very disappointed in the situation, but we will continue to push ahead for a political solution with Mr. Salamé in the lead, and we will continue to support… to provide whatever humanitarian assistance we can.

Question:  And my other question was just an update for us.  You told us a number of times and I know this is drifted…

Spokesman:  I always get nervous when you say, “you told us”.  [laughter]

Question:  No, about… about the timeline for the Board of Inquiry on Syria.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  And you said that you were hoping now the new timetable was by the end of the month.  We have four days left.  Will it happen by the end of the month?

Spokesman:  We do have four days left.  [laughter]  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of one of the darkest events of the humanity, the Holocaust.  But throughout all these years, many other dark events did happen — genocides, mass killings, starting from Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Syria, even denial of those crimes.  What it can be done to stop this craziness?  By not just being reactive to this…? [cross talk]

Spokesman:  It’s a…

Correspondent:  That’s for another peace prize question, sir.

Spokesman:  First of all, is to never forget, never be complacent, and continue to speak up every time atrocities occur.


Question:  Thank you.  On Lebanon, the violence against protests in Lebanon has escalated dramatically in the last week, and now we have a new Government in the country.  Do you have a new message to authorities in Lebanon on this?

Spokesman:  You know, I haven’t gotten an update from Mr. [Jan] Kubiš, but I will try to get one.

Question:  Also, in Lebanon, there’s a big crisis in flow of cash, US dollars in the country.  Did the UN suffer by any way — sorry — from this crisis in the country?  How do you get your funds to Lebanon?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that there have been any repercussions on the UN’s programmes, whether on humanitarian development or peacekeeping in Lebanon.

Question:  So, does the UN use the banking system in Lebanon to transfer or to wire funds?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, we…  Listen, I will just say that I have not been made aware of any issues.  We, of course… like in any country, whenever possible, and that’s a vast, vast majority of places, we use the local banking system.

Question:  Can… is it possible to get more details on this?

Spokesman:  It is always possible to ask for more details.  We’ll see if more details can be had.

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.