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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.  I think you will all have seen that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.  It is also important to note that this designation did not include any travel or trade restriction, based on the current information available.  In a tweet published a few minutes ago, WHO’s Director General, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], reiterated his confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.  As you can imagine, WHO is actively involved in the response coordination and working on things such as increasing the clinical management capacity of vulnerable countries and interacting with networks of experts to accelerate access to therapeutics and vaccines.  Elsewhere in the UN system, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today they are ready to offer technical support to Governments to enable people to travel in a healthy manner and to help enact public measures with minimum impact on society and the economy.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a ceremony in the General Assembly to extend his profound condolences to the Royal family, the Government and people of Oman on the passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.  The Secretary-General said that Sultan Qaboos led Oman for nearly half a century and transformed it into the remarkable country it is today.  He noted that Oman has consistently played a critical role in ensuring lines of communication among disputing parties.  And within his country, the Secretary-General added, His Majesty’s vision for Oman saw levels of education for women and men rise exponentially — with a manifold increase in schools, hospitals and roads.  His remarks are available online.


Turning to Syria, recent reports indicate air strikes and shelling continue in southern Idlib and western Aleppo in Syria, with front lines moving quickly along the M5 highway towards Saraqeb.  Across numerous villages, dozens of civilians — including women and children — have reportedly been killed or injured in the fighting.  Many medical facilities have suspended activities due to growing insecurity.  Humanitarian organizations on the ground are still trying to organize and support evacuations of people seeking to leave Ariha, Saraqeb and the surrounding areas — many civilians are leaving spontaneously by whatever means available.  Meanwhile, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations are urgently looking at all options to scale up the humanitarian response to help displaced families.

In Idlib, an already dire situation is getting worse.  Families are traumatized and feel totally abandoned by the world.  Their message is simple:  “We are afraid.  Please help us.  Make it stop.”  We urge all parties to the conflict to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure and to facilitate humanitarian activities without hindrance.  For humanitarian reasons and as a matter of international humanitarian law, human suffering must be minimized.


I was asked about developments in Malawi since the May 2019 presidential elections, which we have been following closely.  As the country awaits a decision of the Constitutional Court, the Secretary-General calls on the Malawian stakeholders to continue upholding the rule of law and promoting peace, unity and stability in the larger interest of the people.  The Secretary-General stresses the need for all political parties to send a message of peace to their supporters.  The UN country team and the Resident Coordinator continue to actively work with the Malawian stakeholders to preserve calm.

**Security Council

And just to note that this morning at the Security Council, the mandate of the sanctions regime in the Central African Republic was renewed until the end of July.


Interesting fact that I learned today:  A small swarm of locusts can actually consume the equivalent of food for 35,000 people in just one day.  In the Horn of Africa, the UN is increasingly concerned about the current desert locust outbreak, which is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and the worst infestation that Kenya has experienced in 70 years.  Djibouti and Eritrea are also being affected.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General said the outbreak is making the dire food security situation in the region even worse, and the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director-General today appealed for urgent funding to tackle the outbreak, noting that it now threatens to become a humanitarian crisis.  FAO has already mobilized $15.4 million of the $76 million requested for the five countries, but expects the needs will rise amid concern that the outbreak will spread to other countries, in particular South Sudan and Uganda.  The agency is also working to monitor the situation in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen for any developments.


I am very pleased to announce today that the Secretary-General is appointing Jack Christofides of South Africa as the Deputy Head of Mission for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Jack succeeds Imran Riza of Pakistan, who became the UN Resident Coordinator for the Syrian Arab Republic in September.  The Secretary-General is of course very grateful for Mr. Riza’s dedicated service in that post.  Mr. Christofides brings a wealth of experience in diplomacy, international affairs, human rights and peacekeeping.  Most recently he served as the Director of the Northern Africa Division of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations.  We have more on our web page and we congratulate Jack.

**Press Briefings

[On Monday], at 1:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of February, and we have eagerly waited for February to start.  It’s been a long January.  He will brief you on the Council’s programme for the month.  And, just as a reminder, the Secretary‑General’s rescheduled press conference is still scheduled for Tuesday at 11 a.m.

**Honour Roll

As of this morning, we thank Azerbaijan, Georgia and Montenegro who paid quickly enough to make it into the Honour Roll, which now contains how many Member States?  Your… what?  Thirty-four.  Listen, since you’re the only one who played the lotto, you win.  All right.  Let’s take some questions.  Ali and then…

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Two questions.  One on coronavirus.  I wonder whether the United Nations has taken, including in the headquarters, any precautionary measures to prevent any case in… within the UN here or in Geneva or worldwide.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Your second question?  I’m sorry.

Question:  My second question is about that Saudi Arabia donated $1 million for the UN office of Alliance of Civilization, and I wonder what the… what you have to say on that and whether this should be… should put in places… invested in areas like Jerusalem, where there’s much need for…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  On the second part, you should reach out to Nihal [Saad] in the Alliance office.  She will be able to answer that question.  We’re, obviously, closely monitoring the situation.  We have shared information by the medical service to all staff about basic precautions to take and share the WHO information.  At this point, there is currently no known infection of staff or any other personnel actively deployed within the Secretariat.  And we’ve asked, you know, anyone who’s travelled to China in the last 14 days and doesn’t feel well to seek urgent medical advice.

Question:  Just on the Alliance of Civilization, are you aware of this conditions, or other conditions…?

Spokesman:  No, I was not.  So, as I said, Nihal Saad in the Alliance office.

Question:  Thank you.  So, on Libya, Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé said yesterday… or he urged the Security Council to vote as soon as possible on resolution.  Could you tell us, what do you… what the Secretary‑General or Mr. Salamé wish to have in this resolution?

Spokesman:  I… unfortunately, I can’t really expand more on what Mr. Salamé said.  What we would like to see is, first of all, a cessation of hostilities and a full respect for the arms embargo, which the Security Council has already adopted.

Question:  A follow‑up.  So, it seems to be that the different Security Council members are not really on full agreement on putting a resolution soon and…?

Spokesman:  That would probably be a good observation.

Question:  So… and some… some Member States are saying that there was no… I mean, that not all parties who were in Berlin signed an agreement.  So, how do you want to table a resolution where…?

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, I mean, resolutions are put forward by members of the Security Council themselves.  What we need to see is not only a unified Security Council, but all the parties to adhere to… already to Security Council resolutions and to live up to the commitments they made in Berlin, whether they were in writing or verbally.  Evelyn and then madame.

Question:  Could you confirm Bel… the Ambassador of Belgium’s having a press conference at 1:30 p.m. today?

Spokesman:  That’s… sometimes I don’t even listen to what I say but… I’m sorry.  My mistake.  It’s Monday at 1:30 p.m.

Correspondent:  Oh, thank goodness.

Spokesman:  Thank you for checking.

Correspondent:  Because they’re having something else at 1:30 p.m.  A real question.  Would it not… with the situation in Syria deteriorating minute by minute, would it not help to start calling out the perpetrators bombing hospitals and so forth?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. [Mark] Lowcock was pretty detailed in what he said yesterday.  Madame and then monsieur.  Yesterday, yeah.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the meeting, tomorrow’s meeting the… from the Arab League to discuss the peace process… peace plan, will the United Nations will be represented there, and if yes… no?

Spokesman:  No, not…

Correspondent:  There’s an important meeting tomorrow.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I know, but not that… I’m not aware that we’re participating in this meeting.  On the Middle East peace process.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I’m not aware that we’re… we’ll check, but I’m not aware that we have anything… Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this regular threats by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that, if he wants, he can take care… he can conquer… India can conquer Pakistan within seven days, within 14 days, does the Secretary‑General has anything to say about these threats that are being launched at Pakistan?

Spokesman:  Look, I haven’t seen those particular comments, but we’ve always encouraged dialogue in order to solve these outstanding issues.  Ali?

Question:  [Inaudible] you have not read…?

Spokesman:  I just haven’t seen the particular comment, so I can’t com… I’m not disputing it, but I’d rather not comment on something that I haven’t seen with my own two eyes.  Ali?

Question:  The UN Special Envoy to Iraq has been criticized more than one time regarding her positions towards the demonstrations and other stuff, but the latest thing that she visited the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, and she… obviously, on Twitter, there are photos with Qasem Soleimani and other, Mohandes, just in a… is it appropriate for a UN Special Envoy to have this context in their official…?

Spokesman:  What are you saying, that there were pictures of…?

Correspondent:  Of Qasem Soleimani…

Spokesman:  In the background?

Question:  In the background… but other than the UN flag, for instance…

Spokesman:  Listen, I have to see… if she went to see the ambassador, she met the ambassador in his office, so it doesn’t imply anything except for the fact that she met the ambassador.

Question:  But, do you think it is appropriate?

Spokesman:  What I’m saying, it doesn’t imply any… she went to visit the ambassador in his office.  The only thing it implies is that she met the ambassador.

Question:  What about the other criticism regarding her positions… regarding…?

Spokesman:  Which position?

Correspondent:  She criticized the demonstrators more than one time in Bag… in Iraq.

Spokesman:  Look, I think the Special Representative has been doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances.  She has repeatedly pressed the Government to listen to the people, to move forward on the political process, and she has actively defended the rights of demonstrators to demonstrate peacefully, free of violence from uniformed forces of any kind, and we’ve condemned the violence against the demonstrators.  Oui?

Question:  Thank you again.  Regarding the UNIFIL new appointment, when Mr. Christofides is supposed to take… start his new function?

Spokesman:  I’ll check when the exact start of service is.  I will let you know.  But, I know he’s eager to go.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  See you Monday with the Belgian Ambassador.

For information media. Not an official record.