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.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by Gemma Connell, the Head of OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa. She will be briefing us by telephone from Mozambique on the aftermath of the cyclones that have pounded the region.
I will start off with a statement on Benin: The Secretary-General has been following closely developments in the Republic of Benin in the run-up to and aftermath of the 28 April legislative elections. He deplores the violence witnessed in the post-electoral period. He calls on all Beninese stakeholders to exercise maximum restraint and seek to resolve their differences through dialogue in line with the democratic traditions in the country.
The United Nations, through the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, will work with all concerned parties, in coordination with the Economic Community of West African States and other partners, to support the Beninese stakeholders in their efforts to find a consensual and peaceful solution to their differences.
That statement is available to you in French, as well.
**World Press Freedom Day
As you know, today is World Press Freedom Day, and this year’s theme is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.”
In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General stressed that a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights.
And his full message, I think, has been shared with you earlier this week.
For her part, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, said at a time of growing discourse of mistrust and delegitimization of the press and journalism, it is essential that we guarantee freedom of opinion through the free exchange of ideas and information based on factual truths.
A three-day event to mark World Press Freedom Day — jointly organized by UNESCO, the African Union Commission and the Government of Ethiopia — just wrapped up at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa. Here in New York, there was an event to mark the Day in Conference Room 1 that wrapped up a short while ago that included a panel discussion.
And just to note on the African Union, on Monday, the Chairperson of the African Union, Mr. [Moussa] Faki, will be here in New York for the regular consultations between the UN and the African Union, and the Secretary-General and Chairperson Faki will hold a press stakeout on Monday afternoon, I think in the area between ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) and Trusteeship.
We continue to be concerned about the heavy fighting in southern Tripoli. There are reports of extensive use of airstrikes and rocket shelling causing more civilian casualties and destruction and forcing thousands more civilians from their homes.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, continues his outreach to Libyan interlocutors in an effort to de-escalate the situation. As I mentioned, he met on Wednesday with the President of the Presidency Council, Fayez Serraj, and with a group of elders, officials and tribal leaders from the western region. He offered the United Nations full support to help civilians affected by the fighting including internally displaced people and host communities.
On World Press Freedom Day, the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is expressing deep concern over the threats, incitement and violence Libyan journalists are increasingly facing since the outbreak of fighting in southern Tripoli. Two journalists were abducted yesterday. The Mission is also concerned about the increasing use of social media to incite violence and hatred.
As fighting continues, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says now that more than 50,000 people have now been displaced. Most are finding shelter with families or in other private arrangements, while 29 collective shelters are now in operation, housing an estimated 2,750 people. Humanitarians are providing assistance at these collective shelters, as well as other areas of displacement as access is allowed.
More than 3,400 refugees and migrants are estimated to remain trapped in detention centres already exposed to, or in close proximity to, the ongoing fighting. The availability of food, water and health care has been severely restricted in these facilities for refugees and migrants.
Some 32,000 people impacted by the crisis have been able to receive some form of humanitarian assistance to date.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
A joint assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) has found that 10.1 million people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are suffering from severe food shortages, meaning they do not have enough food until the next harvest.
The agencies found that this comes on the heels of the worst harvest in 10 years due to dry spells, heatwaves and flooding, as well as limited supplies such as fuel, fertilizer and spare parts.
The assessment is based on missions carried out to the DPRK last month and in November 2018.
It found worrying levels of food consumption, limited diversity in diet and families being forced to cut meals or eat less.
The assessment recommends scaling up food aid to meet immediate needs and to prioritize areas where food needs are greatest and climate impacts are most severe. It also suggests expanding nutrition programmes and disaster risk reduction measures to help people better cope with future shocks.
As mentioned by Monica [Grayley], there was an event on Sri Lanka earlier today. The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the event and she expressed the UN’s full and continued solidarity with the people and Government of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the attacks.
She said that, as a Muslim, she knows that her faith preaches peace and tolerance, and she added that, tragically, yet again and again, the world is seeing places of worship become killing grounds and houses of horror.
Churches, mosques, synagogues and the religious sites of many faiths are being targeted for murder, arson, vandalism and desecration, the Deputy Secretary-General said, asserting that we must reject this form of violence.
[The Special Envoy for Syria] Geir Pedersen today met in Geneva with senior officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues report that, through 30 April, nearly 7,700 people have left Rukban and have been registered at one of five shelters around Homs city. In addition, 3,200 more people left Rukban yesterday and are arriving at the shelters today. With the most recent arrivals, over one quarter of the original 41,000 people at Rukban have now left.
The UN stands ready to engage more directly once granted full access to all areas and reiterates its willingness to be directly involved to ensure that core protection standards are met and that movements are conducted in a voluntary, safe and well-informed manner.
While the UN was able to access the shelters last week to assess the situation, we are not able to provide regular assistance to those who are there. It is, however, providing support through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Needs in the shelters are extensive.
We continue to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded access to people in Rukban, in the shelters and at their areas of origin, as well as access to all people in need throughout Syria.
On Myanmar, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, will travel to Myanmar from 9-15 May.
This will be her second visit to Myanmar in her current capacity. She will be in Yangon, Naypyitaw, as well as the camps in Kachin and Rakhine states.
She will see first-hand the humanitarian situations and the impact of the ongoing conflict, and she is expected to discuss solutions for the displaced and vulnerable people in these areas, along with how to improve the humanitarian response.
Ms. Mueller is expected to meet with people affected by humanitarian crises, senior Government officials and of course our humanitarian partners.
Before being in Myanmar, she will travel to Jakarta, [Indonesia,] to attend the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-UN Committee of Permanent Representatives and Secretariat to Secretariat meetings. She will meet with Indonesian Government officials.
Also on Myanmar, the acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator there, Knut Ostby, is following with concern recent reports of escalation of violence and civilian casualties in Rakhine state.
Mr. Ostby calls for calm and utmost restraint by all, protection of civilians in all circumstances and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
The UN stands ready to support authorities in strengthening their prevention and conflict resolution capacities, and to continue with provision of humanitarian aid.
**Occupied Palestinian Territory
Today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jamie McGoldrick, and the directors for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) in the West Bank, called for an immediate halt to the destruction of Palestinian-owned property in East Jerusalem.
“Demolitions in East Jerusalem have increased at a staggering pace over the last month, leaving tens of Palestinians displaced and others who have lost their livelihoods overnight,” said Mr. McGoldrick. “This must stop.”
As of 30 April, 111 Palestinian-owned structures had been destroyed in East Jerusalem. Overall, more Palestinians were displaced in East Jerusalem in the first four months of 2019 than in all of 2018 — that’s 193 for the past four months, compared to 176 last year.
Also, I had been asked a couple of times about the situation of Omar Shaker, the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch.
I can tell you that we are concerned about the shrinking space for human rights defenders to operate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel must allow them to carry out their work without threat or intimidation.
And I was also asked about our colleague, Moncef Kartas, and I can confirm to you that the Tunisian Government has provided documentation relating to the legal proceedings initiated against Moncef Kartas in Tunisia. We are in the process of analysing and assessing what has been sent to us by the Tunisian Government.
However, our position remains unchanged. The arrest and detention of Mr. Kartas was not in accordance with Tunisia’s obligations under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, and he should be immediately released until the matter is resolved.
I was also asked about Afghanistan and the Taliban and the United Nations. I can confirm to you that Mr. [Tadamichi] Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, had met in late April with Mullah Baradar Akhund and the Taliban negotiating team in Doha. The meeting is part of a regular dialogue between the UN and the Taliban on human rights, humanitarian assistance, and the peace process.
The UN Mission (UNAMA) conducts frequent meetings with all parties to the conflict as part of its good offices work to support the Afghan people and Government to bring an end to the war.
It has, over the course of the last several years, been engaged in regular meetings with the Taliban in Doha at which peace efforts, the protection of human rights and humanitarian work to help the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan are the primary focus.
The UN Mission advises all parties to the conflict of its regular contacts with the Taliban in key areas.
Lastly, I just want to flag that our wonderful colleagues at the UN Chamber Music Orchestra will be having a concert to honour the legacy of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. That will be on Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., at the All Saints Episcopal Church.
And lastly, but not lastly, we say thank you to our friends in Uzbekistan for their payments to the regular budget, which brings us up to 90. Ninety. I answered myself so…
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this statement that you read out on Palestine, the territories and the… and shrinking space for the Palestinians, when is the Secretary‑General… because Secretary‑General has one of the most powerful — what do you call? — moral voices is what we… when will he be able to persuade the Israelis to abide by some of the Security Council resolutions, which they are constantly flouting and…
Spokesman: Masood, the Secretary‑General, I think, expresses his position loud and clear through his Spokesperson, through the reports that he presents to the Security Council, through the briefings by his special… his political coordinator on the ground. So, his position is clear. As to the actions of other parties, that's not something I can speak to. Maggie?
Question: Steph, on the WFP/FAO report on North Korea, does the SG have any concerns that perhaps international sanctions are adding to this problem of the food shortages? Because they mentioned limited supplies of fuels, spare parts, things like that.
Spokesman: I mean, we have expressed our concern on that issue and have sent messages to Member States to ensure that sanctions do not hamper humanitarian activity. Part of the challenge, in addition to all the other challenges, is the difficulties in accessing the banking system and getting funds into the DPRK for our own operations. Yes?
Question: I have a question — thank you, Stéphane — regarding a tweet by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan, urging Secretary‑General to ensure that Taiwan's members of the press are given UN media accreditation. And can you tell us why… what the reason is for them not being able to access the UN as journalists? Thank you.
Spokesman: Anyone can access the UN premises as long as they have a passport or identification from one of the UN Member States. The United Nations view on China is based on the relevant General Assembly resolutions, and I think the Secretary‑General has often stated his support for the territorial integrity of China. Philippe?
Question: On Tunisia and the expert, did Tunisia ask for a lift of the immunity of the expert?
Spokesman: We're looking at what they've sent us. So, I'm not going to comment on that at this point. Our position is clear - is that we firmly believe that he is covered by the Convention on the privileges and immunities granted to United Nations staff and experts on mission and that he should be released until the matter can be resolved. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Do you have an approximate time on Monday when the stakeout you announced…?
Spokesman: I do have an approximate time, approximately after… mid‑afternoon, what the English would probably call tea time.
Question: Okay. So approximately…
Spokesman: But I will give you… we'll give you the exact time, but in time for high tea. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, to follow up the question I just made to Monica, to PGA (President of the General Assembly), it's about the situation in Venezuela. And since 30 April where the incident happens with Juan Guaidó and calling the militaries for… I mean, to take off the regime in Venezuela, so yesterday, Nicolás Maduro marched with 4,500 troops and… and… to show demonstration and how is his power — the other side, of course, Juan Guaidó with demonstration of the Venezuelans. In fight, people has died since… according to the UN report and including three kids, and more than 300 people being injured in this according to the Human Rights Report from the spokesperson in the region. So, my question is, what is the Secretary‑General reactions on these regards?
Spokesman: Look, we've expressed our concern and continue to do so, especially with the violence we saw. I think, as you mentioned, our colleagues in the Human Rights Office underscored the information about people have been killed and died during these demonstrations. It's very important that all actors in Venezuela undertake immediate steps to try to lower tensions and refrain from any action that will lead to further escalation, and that includes the… our concern about Venezuelan authorities seeking to restrict the political activities of the opposition, which we think could lead to an escalation of tensions.
Question: To follow‑up, Stéphane, and what is this… this position again? Because the call is now for military intervention in the country, but basically, the people in Venezuela is being killed from Maduro's armed forces. So my question is, what is the SG, the Secretary‑General, reaction, position in this situation…?
Spokesman: It's critical people be allowed to demonstrate freely and peacefully and that there needs to be a clear effort to find a political dialogue out of this situation. Maggie?
Question: Following up on Mr. Kartas, does OLA (Office of Legal Affairs) represent him in this sort of situation, or does he have to find his own lawyers? And…
Spokesman: It's not a matter… for us, we are in contact with him. Right?
Question: Have you visited him? That was my next question.
Spokesman: Yes. We have been in contact. We have seen him. Our colleagues in Tunisia have been able to see him. Yes, Carla?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Why is there continued silence about Jeffrey Sachs' brilliant report, which attributes the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela to US sanctions?
Spokesman: I think, Carla… and I have no doubt you've been listening, but there's been quite a lot of words, quite a lot of expression for concern, at the suffering of the Venezuelan people, both inside the country and those who have left the country, and for efforts to need… for efforts to solve this… the humanitarian issues that are facing Venezuela. So… but…
Spokesman: Carla, I'm not going to engage with you on this debate. Yes, Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this situation in India, the cyclone, 100 million people are in the path of this cyclone. And has anybody had conversations with the Indian authorities whether they need any help?
Spokesman: Yes. We are… our colleagues in India are well aware… hold on a second. I don't want to… the UN humanitarian agencies in India have also met ahead of the storm's arrival to take stock of preparedness measures. All right. We will go to Mozambique. While we wait:
On 12 May, the Secretary-General will travel to the South Pacific to spotlight the issue of climate change ahead of the Climate Action Summit that he is convening in September in New York. This visit will take him to New Zealand, Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
In each country, the Secretary-General will meet Government leaders, civil society representatives and youth groups to hear from those already impacted by climate change and who are also successfully engaging in meaningful climate action.
In Fiji, the Secretary-General will be at the Pacific Island Forum, where he will meet with senior Government officials from each Member State in attendance, as well as with members of civil society.
In New Zealand, the Secretary-General will meet with Muslim leaders in Christchurch to express his solidarity following the 15 March terrorist attack.
Prior to traveling to the Pacific, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva from 8-10 May to attend the spring meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board (CEB). This is one of the semi-annual meetings that brings together, under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General, the executive heads of 31 UN system entities. This session, which will be hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the occasion of its 100th anniversary, will focus on the future of work in the digital age. The heads of the UN entities will also look to agree on ambitious and concrete steps to address climate change in advance of the September Climate Summit.
While in Geneva, the Secretary-General will also address a special session of the World Trade Organization’s General Council, where he will stress the importance of preserving the multilateral rules-based order — including on trade — for a fair globalization and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.