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.
**Intangible Cultural Heritage
Good afternoon. I’m going to start with my favourite story today. Our colleagues at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) say the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage met today in Mauritius and added six new elements to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list aims to increase the visibility of the traditions and know-how of communities without recognizing standards of excellence or exclusivity. New additions to the list include: Chidaoba, an ancient form of Georgian wrestling; hurling, which is an Irish field sport; Raiho-shin, from Japan, which involves ritual visits of deities in masks and costumes; the spring festive rites of [Kazakh] horse breeders; As-Samer, a form of Jordanian song and dance usually performed at weddings; and reggae, which means that everything is gonna be alright. [Laughter] Sorry, I’ve been working on that all morning.
Anyway, speaking of everything being alright, the Secretary-General arrived safely in Buenos Aires this morning to attend the Group of 20 Summit — the G20. This evening, he’ll be having a press conference, press encounter in Buenos Aires and meet the UN country team. We will provide a transcript of his remarks as soon as we get them. And tomorrow, he will address the G20 [at] a session entitled, “Putting People First: Global Economy, the Future of Work and Women’s Empowerment”, where he will call on G20 leaders to ensure that all their citizens enjoy the benefits of technological and scientific advances, global trade and economic integration. And he will continue to have meetings, participate in the discussions, on Saturday. And as he told you, he will then go off to the COP [the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] meeting, the opening of the COP meeting in Poland.
And today, the Secretary-General is announcing the launch of a global task force charged with recommending strategies to harness the potential of financial technology to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Task Force on Digital Financing consists of leaders from a range of sectors from both developed and developing countries, and is co-chaired by Maria Ramos, Chief Executive Officer of South Africa’s Absa Group, and Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). In a press release, the Secretary-General notes that we have already seen how technology has helped expand financial inclusion — itself an important goal — [by] 1.2 billion people in just six years. However, he said, we have only just begun to tap the potential of digital finance and investment to meet the broader agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate change Agreement. The Task Force on Digital Finance will meet in Davos in January and is expected to present its preliminary report of recommendations to the Secretary-General in September.
And we have a statement on Madagascar: The Secretary-General takes note of yesterday’s announcement of the final results of the first round of the Presidential elections held in Madagascar on 7 November. He commends the people of Madagascar for having peacefully expressed their constitutional right to vote, as well as the Malagasy institutions, in particular the National Independent Electoral Commission, as well as the High Constitutional Court, for their leadership and professionalism throughout the electoral process. He also welcomes the role of the Malagasy Government in ensuring an environment conducive to the holding of elections.
The Secretary-General will continue to follow the next steps of the electoral process through his Special Adviser, Mr. [Abdoulaye] Bathily, who is working in close coordination with the African Union and the Southern African Development Community Special Envoys. And the UN, through the country team, will continue to support the people of Madagascar in the consolidation of democracy and sustainable development. He appeals to all stakeholders to exercise restraint in the lead up to the run-off elections on 19 December and remains confident that any potential disputes related to the electoral process will be addressed peacefully through the appropriate legal channels.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, appreciates the work done by the Astana meeting by the three guarantors — the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey — to ensure that the Idlib de-escalation arrangements are sustained. However, Mr. de Mistura deeply regrets that at a special meeting in Astana with the three Sochi co-conveners, there was no tangible progress in overcoming a ten-month stalemate on the composition of the constitutional committee. This was the last occasion of an Astana meeting this year and has, sadly for the Syrian people, been a missed opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, and UN-facilitated constitutional committee. The Special Envoy will continue to pursue any avenue that can overcome the obstacles for the establishment of such a constitutional committee prior to the target date of 31 December 2018. The Special Envoy has continued to keep the Secretary-General closely updated and intends to report to the Security Council in December.
Speaking of the Security Council, Reena Ghelani, the Director of Advocacy and Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, briefed Council members on Syria this morning. She said that, in the north-west part of the country, there have been reports of mortars, including some shells reportedly containing chlorine gas, hitting three densely populated neighbourhoods in western Aleppo. People with respiratory symptoms were rushed to two main hospitals. The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided support to both hospitals and stands ready to provide further public health [support] as required. She noted that the Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed that any confirmed use of chemical weapons is abhorrent and a clear and egregious violation of international law. She said that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has also received reports of airstrikes in Idlib Governorate on 24 and 25 [November] — the first such airstrikes in more than two months. She added that some 4.3 million people in need live in areas outside the control of the Government. That accounts for more than one third of all people in need of assistance in Syria and includes almost 3 million people in need in areas exclusively reached through cross-border operations. The full text was made available to you.
And Mark Lowcock, the UN’s Humanitarian Chief, arrived in Yemen today for a three-day visit. He is in Sana’a, where he expressed his concerns about the humanitarian situation, which has deteriorated since the last time he visited the country in October. He reiterated the key five requests he’d asked the Security Council on 16 November to address the suffering of the people. Mr. Lowcock is scheduled to meet authorities in Sana’a and Aden, affected people, including displaced families, humanitarian colleagues and other stakeholders.
And on Iraq, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) today condemned what it called a cowardly attack by four gunmen using heavy weaponry on the office of the Directorate to Combat Violence against Women in Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdistan region. No casualties were reported, but UNFPA said offices supporting women should be safe havens where they can find refuge from violence and abuse.
And our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) say they are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of the more than 1,000 migrant children moving through Mexico or waiting at the border town of Tijuana for their asylum claims to be heard by immigration authorities in the US. UNICEF says these children have limited access to many of the essential services they need, including nutrition, education, psychosocial support and health care. They are also at risk of exploitation and trafficking. In a statement, UNICEF stressed that “a child is a child first and foremost, regardless of their migration status”, and urged all governments to guarantee that uprooted children have access to asylum procedures in a timely fashion, no matter how they enter the country. The agency stands ready to work with all governments in the region to ensure that children’s rights are respected and upheld and that uprooted children receive support.
And the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre have launched a partnership to enhance efforts to provide solutions to the tens of millions of people displaced within their own countries by conflict and disaster. More information online.
And today we mark, for the first time, the International Jaguar Day, to boost conservation efforts to guarantee the survival of the largest feline in the Americas. Half of the original range of the species has been lost and its population is declining due to poaching, conflict with humans and disintegration of their habitat. While some countries have already witnessed the complete extinction of the jaguar, 14 of the 18 jaguar range countries in Latin America have come together in an unprecedented global commitment to save the jaguar, with help from the UNDP, the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera [Corporation].
And I have been asked earlier today about recent press reports regarding the relations between Algeria and Morocco. I can say that we have always been very supportive of increased dialogue between Algeria and Morocco, whose relationship is very important to the region.
And Burundi paid its budget dues in full for 2018, so we say thank you, which leaves us with 44.
And at 4 p.m. there will be a press briefing by the outgoing President of the Security Council for the month of November, Ambassador Ma [Zhaoxu] of the People’s Republic of China. Carole?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, can you confirm that the Secretary‑General has set up a meeting with the Crown Prince on the side lines of the G20? And can you update us on Yemen?
Spokesman: No, there's no update on Yemen besides what the Secretary‑General said to you yesterday at this point. I know the discussions led by Mr. [Martin] Griffiths are still going on. I don't have a finalized list of the bilaterals for the Secretary‑General as of yet, but I would refer you to what he clearly said yesterday in his stakeout. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I was wondering if you are aware of a letter that the Israelis say was sent to the President of the G… of the GA [General Assembly], in essence, asking UN members to help thwart… US efforts to condemn Hamas at the UN. I was just wondering, if you don't know about it being sent to the PGA, I was wondering, perhaps, if such a letter was sent to the SG.
Spokesman: I have not seen it, but maybe Monica can answer. But I'll check for our part. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Stéphane, does… does Secretary‑General or do you have any comment on Brazil withdrawing their offer to host COP25? I guess President‑elect [Jair] Bolsonaro made this announcement yesterday. And does the SG fear there's an attitude toward climate change that it seems to be spreading?
Spokesman: You know, we've seen those reports. Obviously, it will be up to the Latin American group to decide who will then host the COP, as it's done by regional rotation. And I think we very much look forward to engaging with the incoming administration in Brazil on a number of issues, including, of course, climate change. Betul?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the Astana meeting, you read out a statement already about the Special Envoy, is saying that it was… it is… it described the meeting in Astana as a missed opportunity. Does the SG have anything to say about that? Because it was… he was trying to… he's leaving in about a month, and it describes as a… as a missed opportunity to establish the Constitutional Committee. And what does the SG have to say about that?
Spokesman: No, the Secretary‑General shares the sentiments of his Special Envoy as this being a missed opportunity. I think what is important to note, Mr. de Mistura is leaving, as we all know, but the office itself is not leaving. Geir Pedersen will take over. There will not be a break. There'll be a handover; the work will continue seamlessly. But this is… you know, the tar… there had been a target date of 31 December for the establishment of the Constitutional Committee. This was an opportunity to move forward. This did not move forward, and we're, obviously, disappointed. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, when the Secretary‑General visits Argentina… visiting Argentina, will he, at any point in time, raise the issue of the… the migrants suffering at the United States border and that is… that issue with the international community? Because they need help, which is not forthcoming.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General will raise the issue as appropriate depending on who he will be meeting in his bilaterals. It may very well come up in the more broader discussion. His position on it, I think, has been very clear and articulated both by himself and by his representative, Ms. [Louise] Arbour.
Question: On the… on the issue of… I just wanted to raise one more question. On the issue of Palestinian Solidarity Day that the Secretary‑General issued a statement yesterday, but he seems to have fleetingly mentioned the settlement activity in… in the occupied territories. Why is that? Why is he not emphasizing that enough to create an atmosphere for the so‑called peace process?
Spokesman: I think fleetingly is a matter of judgment. The Secretary‑General's position on the issue of settlements has been clearly stated over and over again and has not changed.
Question: Yeah, I'm just wondering about the port of Hodeidah and the… its role in the negotiations with Martin Griffiths. Is that still… the possibility of the UN controlling that port, is that still on the table? And, if so, who would be in charge of that? Thanks.
Spokesman: Indeed, that is still something… that is an option we are, obviously, actively looking at. And our humanitarian colleagues would be in charge. But I'm trying to get a bit more detail on that, as well. Sorry, Betul and then Evelyn.
Question: Just a clarification. You said, "we're, obviously, disappointed". Is the UN disappointed with the meeting in Astana?
Spokesman: No. What I… what the UN… what the Special Envoy said is that he appreciated the work that was being done in Astana on Idleb, but he was disappointed and feels that it was a missed opportunity, the side meeting he had on the acceleration of the establishment of a Constitutional Committee. So, it's two separate things, and thank you for letting me clarify. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. You read out every day who has paid their dues or their obligations to the UN. Do you have handy what percentage is that of what's expected? Is it 50, 75…?
Spokesman: That's a good question. That can be calculated but not off the top of my head. Little too much reggae music. Yes, Masood.
Question: Yes, sir. Sir, I wanted to raise this issue about today, the Norwegian Refugee Council made a statement saying that the… in Yemen, people are being killed systematically by the so‑called coalition and that they're being starved. Does the… what I'm trying to ask… ask is this. At what point in time can you say that the Secretary‑General has urgently asked the Saudis and the coalition to stop these attacks at all?
Spokesman: Masood, he's been saying it for months. We've all been saying it for months.
Question: But this can't be overstated enough.
Spokesman: We've been pushing for that politically in talks. I don't think we or our humanitarian colleagues could be any clearer in the kind of messages they have brought back from Yemen in terms of the unspeakable suffering of the Yemeni people, in what is a man‑made crisis.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the Astana, what's the situation for the refugees around Syria, like Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan? What's going to happen with this, with the…
Spokesman: We know some of them have taken the decision to go back, but what is important is that refugees have the… they are the ones to choose when to go back. No one should be forced to go home. Thank you.