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 will be joined in a short while by Ramiz Alakbarov, the Director of UNFPA’s [United Nations Population Fund] Policy and Strategy Division, who is here to brief you on UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2019.
After that, around 12:30 p.m., there will be a joint press briefing by the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, and the Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder. And they will be here to brief you on the high‑level meeting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the ILO.
And then at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Samuel Moncada, the Permanent Representative of Venezuela to these United Nations.
As you will have seen, the Secretary‑General attended this morning’s [Security Council] meeting on Venezuela, in which Council members heard from the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock. After that, the Secretary‑General met with the US Vice President, Mike Pence. The Secretary‑General will be returning to the Security Council at 3 p.m., where he will speak in closed consultations on Libya following his travels to Libya.
Staying on Libya, I can tell you that the Secretary‑General continues to closely follow the situation in that country. The Secretary‑General remains very concerned about the continued fighting in and around Tripoli, where clashes are reportedly intensifying, with increased use of artillery and air strikes. He reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to ensure the safety of all civilians. The Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and his leadership team, the leadership team from the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), remain in Tripoli and continue to engage in talks with local and international interlocutors in an effort to de‑escalate the situation.
Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé, the head of the Mission, met today with the President of the Presidency Council, Fayez Serraj, and discussed the best way the UN can support Libya and its people at this critical period. You will have seen Mr. Salamé’s statement yesterday reiterating his commitment to convene the National Conference as soon as possible but that the security conditions need to be in place.
The UN Mission is working to address the humanitarian situation, including the need for emergency services to access those injured and civilians trapped in conflict areas. Our colleagues at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) say a further escalation of violence in and around Tripoli has led to an upsurge in displacement, with over 5,800 people having fled their homes.
Many Libyans and detained refugees and migrants are currently unable to flee the violence due to their proximity to the conflict, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The humanitarian community is extremely concerned by the use of explosive weapons in densely inhabited areas and continues to call on parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international law and to take all feasible precautions to spare civilian [lives and] infrastructure, including schools, medical facilities and power stations.
Just to head back to Venezuela for a moment, this morning, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, told Security Council members that there is a very real humanitarian problem in Venezuela, with some 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, and that is 25 per cent of the population.
The Joint UNHCR‑IOM [United Nations Refugee Agency-International Organization for Migration] Special Representative for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, Eduardo Stein, also addressed the Council and stressed that Venezuelans continue to move across the region and that it is in the best interests of receiving countries to avoid situations where Venezuelans remain undocumented, invisible and without access to basic rights. Mr. Stein called for more support for countries employing open‑door policies and for more international cooperation and resources for these humanitarian efforts.
**International Labour Organization
Earlier today, the Secretary‑General spoke at the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the ILO, and he said, despite being among the oldest members of the UN family, the ILO remains to this day one of the most unique gathering places of the international system. In recent years, the Secretary‑General said, the ILO has been out front in recognizing the need to build a fair globalization that expands opportunities, reduces inequalities and answers people’s demands for support for decent work — a concept which itself is firmly embedded in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. The Secretary‑General added, “Let us make the most of this pivotal anniversary to renew our collective commitment to international cooperation, to peace and to social justice.” His remarks are with you.
Turning to Syria, we welcome all efforts to find durable solutions for the people of Rukban, in south‑east Syria along the border with Jordan, in line with the results of the survey carried out by the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent in February. It says that 95 per cent of the people surveyed expressed a desire to leave but also had expressed protection concerns. Between 23 March and 10 April, a total of 1,726 people reportedly exited Rukban camp for collective shelters in and around Homs.
The UN is providing limited support to the evacuees through the Red Crescent, including food, nutrition, water, hygiene kits and medical services. The UN has not been granted access to shelters. It reiterates its willingness to engage more directly if granted full access to shelters, the areas of origin and destination, and to displaced people on their way to Homs. Pending the realization of durable solutions for the population of Rukban, the UN also continues to strongly advocate for additional assistance to be provided. Conditions for the approximately 40,000 [displaced] women, children and men at Rukban are dire.
I just want to flag that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, is wrapping up a five‑day visit to Mexico. She praised Mexico’s new Government for its willingness to put human rights at its centre and reiterated her Office’s readiness to support the policy change. While in Mexico, the High Commissioner also called for the strengthening of the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.
**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
And on a related note that is related to journalists, I wanted to flag that, following the recommendation by an international jury of media professionals, the Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone of Myanmar will share this year’s UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize.
As you know, the two journalists are serving seven‑year prison sentences. At the time of their arrest in December 2017, they were reporting on alleged human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The choice of these two journalists pays tribute to their courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.
The Prize recognizes outstanding contributions to the defence and promotion of press freedom, especially in the face of danger. We congratulate them and [there is] more information on the UNESCO website.
On Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as the fighting continues in Rakhine and Chin States, civilians caught in the crossfire are being killed and injured. They are also concerned by reported use of indiscriminate and heavy weapons in populated areas.
At least 26,000 people across Rakhine and Chin States have been forced to flee their homes. Access restrictions across Rakhine have limited or cut off support and services to some 95,000 people. The longer this continues, the more at risk these already fragile and in‑need communities across the state become.
The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law to find a peaceful solution.
**United Nations Development Programme
I wanted to flag that, at 3 p.m. today in Conference Room 12, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, otherwise known as the OECD, will hold an event to present a new report by the OECD on the challenges facing the middle class.
The report, entitled “Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle Class”, published today, highlights how middle‑class households feel left behind and are questioning the benefits of globalization. In many countries, middle incomes have grown less than average incomes and, in some countries, they have not grown at all. OECD Secretary‑General Angel Gurría will present the report with Luis Felipe López‑Calva, UNDP Assistant Secretary‑General for Latin America and the Caribbean.
And we say muchas gracias to our friends in Madrid as Spain has paid its regular budget dues in full and not a small amount, I might add. And our honour roll is up to?
Spokesman: Eighty‑two. But if you’re the only one who plays, it’s like the lottery; you win. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Okay. Yes. I’d like to know the Secretary‑General’s reaction to Vice‑President Pence’s call for the UN to take a more active role relating to the recognition of the interim president in lieu of [Nicolás] Maduro and also… whether this came up during the discussions he had with the Vice‑President and, also, his response to the call, I believe, by Ms. [Kathleen] Page from Johns Hopkins [University] for the Secretary‑General specifically to call what’s going on in a complex humanitarian crisis and to take some concrete steps to investigate.
Spokesman: On your first part, as we’ve been saying since this question came up, the issue of credentials and who recognizes delegations, who recognizes the people who represent States here is one that is dealt with by the Credentials Committee of the General Assembly. It is not one that involves the Secretary‑General in any way. The reaction… and it… and I think, as the Vice‑President said, I think he mentioned it himself; it did come up in the conversation that the Vice‑President himself said he raised it in the conversation with the Secretary‑General, which the bilateral, in fact, is, not surprising, focussed on Venezuela. As for the response to Miss Page, I would have you reread Mr. Lowcock’s own remarks to the Council, in which he outlined all the ways the United Nations is moving forward on trying to increase humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela.
Question: I think… if I heard her correctly, I think she was asking for more personal direct involvement by the Secretary‑General given his moral authority…
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General has been, I think, very much personally involved in the UN’s handling of Venezuela. Masood and then…
Question: Thank you. Yeah. On Yemen, which the question which we’ve been asking you over and over again, in the re… today, the United Nations officials have again said the situation in Yemen continues to be catastrophic, to say the least. Has… question again arises. Has the Secretary‑General been able to talk to the Saudi authorities…?
Spokesman: You ask the same question every day and rightfully so, because I think we need to underscore the horrendous situation in which the civilians of Yemen are placed. The Secretary‑General, either directly or through his efforts ‑ through the efforts of Martin Griffiths, through the efforts of Lise Grande, his humanitarian representative on the ground are doing whatever they humanly can to try to bring the parties together, to find a political way forward, and to bring humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen. The solution is for the fighting to stop, and that’s where our work has been focusing. Yes, go ahead.
Question: On Venezuela, two issues. On the same subject regarding the Ambassador to… of Venezuela and the United Nations, from your point of view, are you still considering Mr. [Simon] Moncada to be representative of Venezuela?
Spokesman: From our point of view, the Member States are the ones who have the power over the credentials. We are dealing with the current Permanent Representative and again, the issue is for the member… if there is a challenge, the issue is for the Member States themselves to decide.
Question: On Venezuela also, the Vice‑President Pence talked about humanitarian aid that the US provided or trying to provide to Venezuelans. Could you… did the UN get any money that Mr. Pence is talking about? Or… and can you put us more on the picture regarding the UN that… the aid that the UN is pre… giving to Venezuelans?
Spokesman: What we’re doing in Venezuela, I think Mr. Lowcock gave a pretty granular presentation in terms of numbers, staff and where we’re working. And his presentation is most up‑to‑date presentation of what we’re doing in Yemen. Yes, sir? Oh, sorry…
Question: Regarding the… I mean, the US was talking about providing $200 million for aid. It did not say that to the UN, but did the UN… did the UN get any US money to their…?
Spokesman: I’ll have to check on the funding issue.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Actually, I want to know, is there any, like, talks between the UN and its organizations, between the… talks between the UN and the current Government of the Venezuela? And did the Government of the Venezuela propose any solution on the crisis in the country?
Spokesman: I mean, there… we are in touch with the Government of Venezuela. We’re in touch with other institutions in Venezuela. I think, as Mr. Lowcock said, and we are… we will continue that dialogue. Okay.