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 start off with a statement on the Board of Inquiry for north-west Syria.
As announced on 1 August, the Secretary-General has established an internal United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry to investigate a series of incidents that have occurred in north-west Syria since the signing of the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Area between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey on 17 September 2018.
The Board will be led by Lieutenant General [Chikadibia] Obiakor of Nigeria and it will also include as other members Ms. Janet Lim of Singapore and Ms. [Marta] Santos Pais of Portugal. The Board will review and investigate a number of specific incidents in which there was destruction of, or damage to, facilities on the UN deconfliction list and on UN-supported facilities in the area. The work of the Board will be supported by two senior experts - Major General Fernando Ordóñez of Peru and Mr. Pierre Ryter, the former International Committee of the Red Cross Head of Regional Delegation, and he is from Switzerland.
The Board will commence its work on 30 September. It will ascertain the facts of the specific incidents concerned and report to the Secretary-General once it completes its work.
The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to extend their full cooperation [to] the Board.
The Secretary-General, as you know, is on his way to Nassau in the Bahamas. He is expected to meet with Prime Minister Hubert Minnis this afternoon. And as he told you yesterday, this is a visit to show the UN’s solidarity with the Government and people of the Bahamas after the onslaught of Hurricane Dorian.
While in Nassau, the Secretary-General will visit a shelter for hurricane evacuees, as well as the operations centre of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Tomorrow, he is expected to visit the areas hit by Hurricane Dorian on Abaco Island.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is in Rome in Italy, today to participate in the Joint Meeting of the Governing Bodies of Rome-based UN agencies.
She told the officials of the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) that they have shown continued unity throughout the year to advance the reforms and have played a pivotal role in ensuring timely cost-sharing contributions by the entities of the UN development system. She has said they have provided their respective entities with the mandates they needed to seize this historic opportunity for transformation.
Ms. Mohammed said at a meeting on the Sahel that it is our collective responsibility as an international community to support the Governments of the Sahel as they strive to address the root causes of the crisis and create a path towards peace and prosperity.
**Culture of Peace
This morning, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, spoke at the General Assembly’s High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace and she spoke on the Secretary-General’s behalf.
She said that peace is at the heart of the United Nations Charter and all that we do, stressing that the concept of a culture of peace is grounded in the understanding that peace is fragile and that its pursuit must be a constant process.
Ms. Viotti said that a culture of peace is also inseparable from human rights, respect for diversity and fairer societies. As societies become more multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious, we need to invest in more social cohesion, recognizing that diversity is a richness, and not a threat. Her remarks have been shared with you.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the Mission there, met today with the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to discuss the fight against Ebola, as well as other health emergencies.
She reiterated the importance of supporting the Ebola response, while addressing other diseases affecting too many people in the country, such as measles, cholera and malaria. She added that improving basic health services for the population has also to be a priority.
The UN Mission (MONUSCO) also confirmed that the body of the peacekeeper from the Indian contingent deployed in Goma, who drowned in Lake Kivu and had been missing since Sunday, has now been found. Ms. Zerrougui offered her condolences to the family and friends of the peacekeeper, as well as to the people and Government of India.
And finally, further south, in the province of Tanganyika, UN peacekeepers supported rescue operations following the derailment of a train yesterday in Nyemba. The peacekeepers provided first aid to the wounded and helped evacuate them to a local hospital.
Turning to Mali: today, 3.9 million Malians need humanitarian assistance, or one in five people in the country. This is an increase of 22 per cent compared to the beginning of the year.
The number of internally displaced people has also doubled to reach close to 170,000 people as of the end of July.
The surge in intercommunal violence has, as one can imagine, exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. As of today, over [half] a million people are severely food insecure.
The revised Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 seeks $324 million, but it is only 30 per cent funded.
Yesterday afternoon, as you saw, the Secretary-General met with Vice President Felix Ulloa of El Salvador. In response to a request for the UN’s support from the Government of El Salvador to establish an international mechanism to fight impunity and corruption, the Secretary-General has agreed, as a first step, to deploy an interdisciplinary technical assessment mission to El Salvador in the coming days.
From Geneva, World Food Programme (WFP) colleagues tell us that the agency has launched its biggest emergency response for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh so far this year following this week’s heavy rains and flooding.
In 24 hours, WFP reached 16,000 people with food aid — that’s more than the total number of people WFP reached since the start of the monsoon season.
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) warned today that, without urgent action, 12 million children will never set foot in a school.
As of last year, one in six school-age children – or roughly 258 million – were out of school, making it difficult to ensure inclusive quality education for all. More information online.
Yesterday, you saw that we announced the appointment of Lieutenant General (retired) Abhijit Guha of India as the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and Head of the UN Mission in support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA).
As you know, he succeeds [Lieutenant] General [Michael] Lollesgaard, who served as head of the mission until 31 July.
A couple of things to tell you as well. I have some numbers for you, as you prepare your General Assembly reporting. As of today, the Secretary-General is expected to have about 140 bilateral meetings and participate in 52 separate events. We will be putting out a Week Ahead that will be updated daily as soon as we can, and those numbers are expected to change, obviously, as we get closer to the date.
As of Wednesday of this week, 196 individuals are scheduled to speak at the GA, according to our colleagues from the General Assembly: 97 Heads of State; five Vice-Presidents; 46 Heads of Government; five Deputy Prime Ministers; 38 Ministers; two Chairs of Delegation; and three observers.
A total of 560 official meetings have so far been requested, and this does not begin to include bilateral meetings between representatives of Member States. We don’t have that number yet. But just for your information, in 2018, 1,676 bilateral meetings were confirmed and serviced by the UN here on the premises.
At the end of the day, while we would hope to accommodate as many meetings as there are requests, we do have a space factor, obviously.
We congratulate and wish good luck to our friends in the General Assembly and Conference Services, who have to handle all of the requests and all of the meetings.
In a short while, I will be joined by Miguel Angel Moratinos, the High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). He will talk to you a bit more about the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites, which was launched yesterday.
After that, you will hear from Monica, and this is expected to be her last briefing as Spokeswoman of the President of the General Assembly. We want to congratulate you on a great year, a stellar year, and all the work you’ve done. We’ve enjoyed working with you.
Lastly, we thank our friends in Ghana, who have paid their budget dues in full today, bringing us up to? [cross talk] One hundred and twenty. Should I ask the question myself? [laughter]
**Questions and Answers
James. Go ahead, James. Okay.
Question: I want to follow up, please, on the announcement of the Board of Inquiry, which has finally… the details have finally been announced some six weeks after the SG first said he was going to set it up. As you know, some of these instances in Idlib probably amount to war crimes. This is an internal Board of Inquiry. You say the board will report to the Secretary‑General. Can you pledge to us that the full report, in the interest of full transparency, will be made public?
Spokesman: Board of Inquiries — and they routinely happen — are internal documents and not for public release. That’s what I can tell you at this point. It’s also important to know that Board of Inquiries are not judicial bodies. They’re not criminal investigations. They make no legal findings and do not consider questions of legal liability or legal responsibility. Their job is to ascertain the facts. And it helps… it’s also important for us, in terms of improving the efficacy or suitability of our own policies, procedures and protocol.
Question: Isn’t it important that the full facts, given these are life‑and‑death situations, are made public?
Spokesman: I completely agree with you that these are life‑and‑death situations. This is what I can tell you at this point. Edie and then Evelyn.
Question: Another follow‑up on the Board of Inquiry. Is the Board of Inquiry going to visit Idlib? Is that a possibility, or is all of this going to be done from outside of Syria?
Spokesman: No, the Board of Inquiry will organize its work. The parties concerned, including Syria, Russia and Turkey, have all been informed that the Board of Inquiry will commence its work. They will engage with those Governments and other Member States in due course. And, as we said, we… and as the Secretary‑General himself said, he encourages all States to cooperate with the Board of Inquiry, and they will decide how they work. And that, obviously… that will include, may include, travel to the area. And we very much hope that they have access to the sites of the incidents.
Question: Has the Secretary‑General received any response from Syria, Russia or Turkey?
Spokesman: No, we’ve informed them. It’s not as if we were waiting for a response. This is within the Secretary‑General’s authority to establish this board, and we will move forward. Evelyn, then Michelle.
Correspondent: Right. I want to tell you this is the first press conference for the Dag Hammarskjöld fellows for this year. They’re in the second row, from Egypt, from Trinidad, from Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
Spokesman: Good. Welcome.
Question: And then will you keep us informed on when we could get the first release from the Board of Inquiry? The first document?
Spokesman: Yes. Michelle?
Question: Just a follow‑up to James’ question again on the Board of Inquiry. You mentioned that it won’t establish legal responsibility, but will the report point the finger of blame as to who’s responsible for certain attacks? [cross talk]
Spokesman: The goal of the board is to establish the facts for the Secretary‑General.
Question: So, it won’t say who’s responsible at all?
Spokesman: It is… the goal of the board is to establish the facts for the Secretary‑General. That’s not what I said. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has been begging and pleading on India to start talks. But, of course, it’s not going anywhere. And the Secretary‑General has been calling upon two sides, and that’s not going anywhere. What is it that the Secretary‑General can do to somehow force these two countries to meet, at least on the side‑lines or it’s not going to happen? Because India… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Masood, Masood, the… you’ve raised this question many times, and it’s a very legitimate… and it’s a very important issue to raise. I think we have stated over and over again the Secretary‑General’s position and what he has done to date, and if there’s anything new, I will share it with you. Joe and then Abdelhamid and then…
Question: But… but what I’m saying, the Secretary‑General’s position is clear, but the thing is…
Spokesman: No, I know what you’re saying, and I think I’ve answered it to the best of my ability. Joe?
Question: Okay. First of all, maybe I missed it, but has there been or will there be a readout of the Secretary‑General’s meeting with Ambassador [Kelly] Craft? I know she presented her credentials, but was there any substantive discussions at all on issues?
Spokesman: You know, they had a first… a very good first initial meeting. They had lunch together, and I think the Secretary‑General very much enjoyed the meeting and is looking forward to working with the Permanent Representative, and I think he’s very happy that she’s here before the General Assembly gets under way, and…
Question: You can’t enumerate any of the issues, substantive issues… [cross talk]
Spokesman: There’s a long list… this was an initial contact so let’s…
Question: Okay. And on this Syria Board of Inquiry, not to belabour the point, but you said it will not be made public, but to what extent will it be shared with the Member States…?
Spokesman: I said… this is what I said and this is what I can say at this point, that, as with all United Nations Board of Inquiry, the board’s report will be an internal document, not for public release.
Question: Well, that’s another… but… when you say “internal,” internal to what, just within the Secretariat, shared with Member States…?
Spokesman: That’s what I can tell you at this time. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The SG issued a statement regarding [Benjamin] Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the Jordan valley and some parts of the settlement, and he expressed concern. Could you give me a definition of the word “concern”? What does it mean? Where does it take the position of the United Nations… the moral position of the… when he expressed concern? Concern goes back to him, not to the incident. That’s one question.
Spokesman: Listen, I don’t know about you. I’m not a native English speaker. I… the general definition of “concern” is that he’s concerned about a statement made or a concern by a decision made by someone, a concern that something happened. It’s not a positive word as far as this French speaker. [cross talk]
Question: But it goes back to him. He’s not deploring. He’s not condemning.
Spokesman: I think… listen, I’m happy to have a long debate with you about the use of words. When we use the term “concern” in our statements, it is not a positive word. Yes?
Question: Okay… Can I have a second question?
Spokesman: Sure. Sorry. I’ve had a little too much caffeine this morning. [laughter]
Question: Bassam al‑Sayeh, a Palestinian prisoner, 47 years old, he died in jail after four years. And he had some medical complications, and human rights groups accuse Israel of medical negligence that he passed away. So, is there any… did you take note of that?
Spokesman: I have personally not seen that report. I will check with our colleagues on the ground. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As part of the latest prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia, there was one person who was handed to Russia and who was seemingly an ultimatum from Russia to hand back. His name is Volodymyr Tsemakh, and his significance is that he is probably a witness to a MH17 crime. And now the Dutch prosecutors even requalify him as a suspect. So, given that Russia voted for the UN Security Council resolution just days after the tragedy, pledging for the full investigation, do you think that this ultimatum to hand back such an important witness goes in accordance with that pledge?
Spokesman: I’m not going to interpret the resolution. I do know there are a number of investigations going on around the tragedy of MH17, and we hope that all Member States cooperate with those. Madame, and then… go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I was just wondering if we can get an update on the SG’s statement about the Amazon fires and, in relation to that, with Ambassador Craft, he met with her yesterday, but has he had… does he have any expectations or does he look forward to her joining in on the climate summit?
Spokesman: We’re… I’m waiting to get an update of who will represent the US at the climate summit. I think, as the Special Envoy told you, the US will be represented. He looks forward to engaging with her on every topic in front of the UN from A to Z. Yassin?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have update for Kashmir, what’s going on over there right now?
Spokesman: No, I do not. I think I… your colleague Masood‑ji tried to ask me that same question. I have no more creative words on that beyond what I’ve already stated. Yes, sir?
Question: Good afternoon, Steph. A quick observation. I was in Washington, D.C., on Monday. They had the National Defense University, the Africa Centre. They had a seminar on the situation… security situation in the African Sahel. There were various ambassadors from the West African countries, and they specifically expressed frustration with MINUSMA (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali), pointing out that it’s six years, $6 billion spent, and the situation is still volatile and unstable. What would be the Secretary‑General’s reaction to some of their concerns about this?
Spokesman: I think we’re all concerned… if you’ll excuse the use of that word. We’re all concerned about the situation in the Sahel. What I can tell you is that our colleagues, peacekeepers in MINUSMA, are doing an incredible job at a very high personal risk. I think that Mission, if I’m not wrong, has seen the highest numbers of fatalities. The role of the UN is to try to… peacekeepers is to try to create some safe space within Mali, but all the signatories to the agreements that were agreed to in Mali have a responsibility. The political leaders have a responsibility, from all of Malian society. The United Nations will continue to support Mali in their efforts. There is a broader challenge in the Sahel. The Secretary‑General has expressed his… I think, his frustration at the lack of predictable funding to the G5 Sahel force. There is a lot of work to do, but I think pointing the finger at our colleagues in MINUSMA, I think, is, frankly, a bit unfair given the heroic work that they do on very limited resources that they have facing very hardened terrorist groups who are hell-bent on creating terror. Madame?
Question: Sorry. Can I get that update on Amazon fires? And can you give an update on…
Spokesman: I have no update to share for you now on the Amazon fires.
Question: How about on Venezuela and Colombia?
Spokesman: No, nothing more than I’ve already said. Masood, and then we’ll go to our guests and then we’ll go to Monica.
Question: Stéphane on this concern that you expressed ‑‑ and I’m not going to go into subtleties of the language… of English language, but the thing is, Israel has known. Whenever it has said something, it has done it, gone through with it, with the support of the American Government. So, what is it that the international community can do to avoid another sort of confrontation?
Spokesman: The… the… I don’t speak for the international community. I speak for the Secretary‑General. He, through himself and through his envoy, have engaged and will continue to engage with the parties to try to move the process forward. We’ve expressed our frustration. Read Nickolay Mladenov’s last statement to the Council.
Question: What happened to… [cross talk]
Question: Can you endure another question?
Spokesman: I can. [laughter] It’s a good question, but, yes. I can endure one more question, and then we’ll go to Mr. Moratinos. It will put us in a better mood.
Question: Thank you. As we speak, there are 5,700 Palestinians in jail, 230 children, 48 women, and 500 detainees. Why these numbers do not show in the monthly briefing of Mr. Mladenov?
Spokesman: I think there… first of all, I think Mr. Mladenov has, on periods, referred to them. And, second, there are other parts of the UN mechanism, including the human rights mechanism, that report on these things regularly.