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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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Happy Friday, everyone.

**African Union Summit

As we mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General is now on his way to Addis Ababa, where he will take part in the thirty-third African Union Summit.

On Sunday, he will speak at the summit’s opening ceremony, held this year under the theme “Silencing the Guns, Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will participate in a meeting organized by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to discuss the situation in Libya and the Sahel.

He will also speak at a high-level forum focusing on Africa’s development Agenda 2063, as well as in a number of additional events, including one on gender equality.

Throughout the weekend, the Secretary-General will meet with African leaders.

He is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon.  We will share transcripts of his remarks there and at other events.

**Security Council

Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism, briefed the Security Council this morning on the threat posed by Da’esh, and said that, even following the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Da’esh remains at the centre of transnational terrorist activity.  He said that Da’esh’s regional affiliates continue pursuing a strategy of entrenchment in conflict zones by exploiting local grievances.

He noted the pressing challenge of 100,000 people detained in north-eastern Syria, of whom 70,000 are women and children stranded in the Al-Hol camp, for their actual or alleged relationship with Da’esh.  Mr. Voronkov said children should be treated primarily as victims and that the best solution is to get children out of harm’s way and back to their own countries as soon as possible.

Yesterday, the Security Council heard from the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, who both described the rise in violence in north-western Syria and called for a ceasefire there.

Mr. Pedersen said that heavy strikes from both air and ground are causing massive waves of civilian displacement and major loss of civilian life in the area.  He said, “We appear to have lost sight of the principle of proportionality.” He emphasized that attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including on health-care and educational facilities, are unacceptable.  Mr. Pedersen said that all military operations -- including those against and by terrorist groups designated by the Security Council – must respect the requirements of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and civilian objects.

Mark Lowcock announced the release of $30 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to immediately scale up critical assistance to thousands of civilians who are trapped in the unfolding humanitarian disaster in north-west Syria.  The emergency allocation will help kick-start the UN’s Readiness and Response Plan for north-west Syria and will fund a scale-up of shelter assistance and essential relief items, which are urgently needed in the middle of a harsh winter.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) welcomed the verdict of the Bangui Court of Appeal in the trial of 32 individuals tried for violence committed in 2017 in Bangassou and other communities in the country’s south-east.

Today, 28 of them were convicted and received sentences ranging from 10 years’ imprisonment to forced labour for life.

The 32 individuals on trial, associated to the Anti-Balakas, were accused of committing violent acts, including the murder of several civilians, as well as 10 UN peacekeepers.  They had also attacked the MINUSCA office in Bangassou, using heavy weapons, and forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

In a statement, the Head of the Mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, said that today’s verdict demonstrates the will of the Central African State to fight against impunity through its judiciary system.  This step, he added, is essential for the country to move forward towards an effective reconciliation.

The Mission reiterated its support to help strengthen the rule of law in the country.


The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that they are boosting their response capacity in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, following a recent escalation of violence.

At least 100,000 people are now displaced throughout the province, where at least 28 attacks were carried out by armed groups since the beginning of the year.

UNHCR said the past few weeks have been the most volatile period since violent incidents began in October 2017.

So far, hundreds of villages have been burned or are now completely abandoned as armed groups carry out wide and indiscriminate attacks.  Government institutions have also been targeted.

Many areas affected by the attacks have also been devasted by cyclone Kenneth in April 2019.

In response to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, and at the request of the Mozambican Government to all humanitarian agencies, UNHCR is expanding its presence in the province and will be deploying additional aid and staff to meet the need, initially, for 15,000 displaced people and host communities.

The agency is appealing for urgent and strong support to scale up its response in Mozambique.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, witnessed the Government’s signature of a renewed Action Plan that goes beyond the issue of child soldiers and formalizes its commitment to end and prevent all grave violations against children.

Ms. Gamba said that this Action Plan is the first of its kind, adding that it has the potential to build confidence between the parties in the context of the peace process, and also carries a strong message of prevention.


The UN Human Rights Office today said it is very concerned about repeated attacks against indigenous peoples in Nicaragua, the lack of protection of their rights and the impunity for crimes committed against them.

Most of the violence has been carried out by settlers as they seek to force indigenous people from their ancestral homes and use their lands for illegal logging and cattle farming.

Since 2015, some 40 indigenous people have been killed, 47 injured, 44 kidnapped and four disappeared, in cases related to land invasions.

The UN Human Rights Office urged the Nicaraguan authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into these incidents, and to hold those responsible accountable.


The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said the Antarctic region likely saw a new temperature record of more than 18°C on Thursday.

WMO said that the record reading taken in the north of the continent would be considered unusual, even in the warmer summer months.  Experts at WMO will now verify whether the temperature extreme is a new record for the Antarctic continent, with the Antarctic Peninsula being among the fastest warming regions of the planet (almost 3°C over the last 50 years).

More information is available on WMO’s website.


And, today we would like to thank Kuwait for its full payment to the regular budget.  So far, 42 Member States have paid in full for 2020.

**Noon Briefing Guests Monday

And on Monday, my guests will be Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Director of Emergencies, Dominique Burgeon, and the FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, Keith Cressman.  They will brief you on the Desert Locust Upsurge in the Greater Horn of Africa.  And that briefing will start with them speaking at noon sharp.  I will go after them.

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  Farhan, do you have any comments on the recalling of the Tunisian ambassador to the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the case of credentials for Member States’ delegations is the decision of the Governments of the Member States, so we leave that decision in their hands.

Question:  Yeah, so, what is the exact, like, procedure in this case?  Do you get informed?  I mean, I know you get informed when somebody’s hired, but in this case when capital is recalling him, were the Secretary‑General informed?  When was that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in this case, we would need to receive information whenever there are credentials coming in.  If, for example, credentials are presented to us for a new permanent representative, we would receive those.

Question:  No, but I’m asking about the representative who was recalled to the capital.  Did you receive any information about that?  What is the procedure?  Do you…

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s nothing formal on our end at this point.  You’d need to inquire with the Government of the concerned Member State.  Yes, please?

Question:  So, just to be totally clear on that… I have another question, but to be totally clear on that, the way the procedure works is you’re told of the hiring; you’re not told of the firing.  Or the commencement of the post… [cross talk]

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn’t know which words to describe that.  The point is, whenever there is a new permanent representative who receives credentials, we receive documentation about those credentials.

Question:  Okay.  My questions are about Libya, if I can.  So, first, three weeks now since the Secretary‑General was in Berlin, and the SRSG [Special Representative Ghassan] Salamé wanted the Security Council to come out with a common voice in support, and still no resolution.  Is there frustration from the Secretary‑General on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are certainly willing to be patient to see the members of the Council take up the situation in a unified manner.  The Secretary‑General is well aware that the Council is at its best and most effective when it can be unified on issues.  And, certainly, he and Ghassan Salamé have made clear the need for strong action on Libya.

Meanwhile, Mr. Salamé’s efforts continue.  As you know, right now, the 5+5 talks have been continuing in Geneva, and he is working with the parties to see whether the current truce can be transformed into a full‑fledged ceasefire.  And, meanwhile, we expect, on the 9th, which is two days from now, that talks on the economic track will proceed in Cairo and that talks in the political track will proceed then a few weeks from now on the 26th.

So, we are still moving ahead on all of the courses of the peace platform, but we do need support from the Member States of the region, the concerned parties and, of course, the Security Council.

Question:  So, on that… sorry.  On the 5+5, you said the talks are continuing.  It’s getting to the evening in Geneva.  We’re getting no… I mean, I’m speaking on behalf of my colleagues in Geneva, who are getting absolutely no guidance at all from UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya).  And I’m afraid it’s getting very frustrating that this is a continued problem.  When we deal with Syria and Yemen — they had difficult issues, as well — the press teams are very, very helpful.  On Libya, no one even answers your email or your phone call.  So, can we get simple updates, if it’s continuing over the weekend, just a courtesy of some idea from UNSMIL of what’s going on, because they never reply to any media about anything?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, while I sympathize, I do know that my colleagues in Geneva are working their very best to get you as much information as they possibly… [cross talk]

Question:  [inaudible].  My understanding is my colleagues in Geneva are not being told by UNSMIL what’s going on.

Deputy Spokesman:  They’re working their best to do this.  The nature of some diplomatic processes, depending upon how it’s conducted, is that sometimes the envoys in charge believe it’s better to conduct as little of it… [cross talk]

Question:  Absolutely, absolutely…

Deputy Spokesman:  … as possible in public, and we have to respect that, as well.  [cross talk]

Question:  … but in terms of good relations with the media, you would expect the press offices to reply:  “Sorry, we don’t know at this stage; we’ll keep you informed”, but no… it’s like a black hole dealing with UNSMIL.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I have submitted questions to UNSMIL, and I try to get updates.  What I have been told by them is to say that the delegations are still there, and we’re still hard at work trying to make sure that we can turn this truce into an effective ceasefire.  That is as much as they want to give in the way of detail.

But, to their credit, they did bring Mr. Salamé to hold an encounter with the press yesterday, and you have the transcript of that, and he spoke in some detail about the issues.  So, you have that, and the next time they think that they have an opportunity… [cross talk]

Question:  Just an operational background briefing will be useful.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  And the next time they have an opportunity to either bring Mr. Salamé out or put out some documentation, they’ve assured me that they will.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, just in that line… I mean, it’s a sort of follow‑up.  Let me put it in this way.  Are United Nations are concerned to get again into… be again in the situation to say:  “We are sorry, we could have done more”, particularly starting with Libya and some other hotspot areas?  You know what I’m alluding for, because I’m coming from that part of the world, so please address.

Deputy Spokesman:  The reason we’re working on the tracks that we are on Libya is precisely so that we are doing as much as we can possibly do.  Our hope and our expectation is that we will make progress and that we can bring the violence farther down even than the truce has currently done.

Ultimately, we don’t want to be in a position where we look back with regret on the efforts we’ve mounted, which is why, in all of these cases, we try our best to use a variety of tactics to bring the parties to the table.


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On US’s new Middle East plan, the Secretary‑General’s message was everything has to be within international law.  And, you know, the… [Jared] Kushner and the Administration are saying, we will move ahead with this, with or without the approval of the Palestinian Authority… of the Palestinians.  With that, the Secretary‑General’s message about international law, does that mean, first of all… does that mean the United Nations at any stage and at any attempt of the US Administration to implement this plan will not engage and help the US to implement it?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, that’s not what we’ve said, but what we’ve said is…

Question:  So, you will help the US in implementing the new plan.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  What we said is that any way forward needs to be based on the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly, and we’ve reiterated our support for a two‑State solution.  So, within that context, the United Nations and the Secretary‑General will continue to engage with all parties.

Question:  Do you think this new plan is based on the two‑State solution?  Is that the interpretation of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think that different Member States have already made clear their own respective views about that.  But regarding where the United Nations stands, it’s very clear what the resolutions say, and we’ll have to see whether… as this proceeds, whether this process works in line with the resolutions or not.

Question:  I have another question on counter‑terrorism.  There’s a meeting right now on the threat of ISIS and the Under‑Secretary‑General for Counter‑Terrorism Office just said that the biggest problem is these foreign fighters, thousands of them in the Al‑Hol camp, and ISIS is attempting… increasing its attempt to free them.  They are very dangerous.  But he complained that the respective countries that are the national of… that’s their nationals that are in Al‑Hol camp, they are not doing enough to take them back.

What is your reaction about that?  And has the Secretary‑General, at any level, pressured these countries — they’re mostly in the European Union — to do more?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s been very clear that officials throughout the UN system have called on the home countries of the foreign terrorist fighters to do more to bring them back, but certainly, we stand behind Mr. Voronkov and what he said at the Council today.


Question:  So, just to clarify, so you did not until now get any letter from the Tunisian Government or Foreign Ministry informing you that the Ambassador is not anymore having his…

Deputy Spokesman:  We have not received any documentation to that effect right now.

Question:  Okay.  And a follow‑up.  On Tuesday, is the Secretary‑General going to attend the meeting on Tuesday about the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, yes, he will.

Yeah, yes, Erol?

Question:  And, also, just to clarify, on that answer that Secretary‑General gave me, actually, when I asked him — thank you for the opportunity, by the way — when I ask him in the context of hate speech, what kind of measures would be preferable, bearing in mind that he is coming from Europe, where a long time ago the hate speech has been sanctioned by the laws?  What would be his opinions in Bosnia, where so many genocide deniers are really having their voice?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we encourage all countries to study the actual historical facts, because it’s always relevant to know the past and know it accurately so that disinformation of any sort does not prevail.

But regarding hate speech, as you know, the Secretary‑General has had a variety of initiatives in terms of dealing with hate, including regarding hate speech and regarding the protection of religious sites.  And, so, we’ve had the initiatives launched over the past few years, and you can look to those for further guidance about how we deal with those issues.

Question:  Would he, without any interference… and I know you answer to my questions previously that you are not interfering in the domestic jurisprudence or jurisdictions.  Would the Secretary‑General support the initiative of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Valentin Inzko, to move forward with some kind of law in Bosnia to legally punish those who are denying genocide?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you just pointed out, we don’t comment on the domestic laws of nations, but certainly, we can say very clearly from this podium that the determination that what happened in Srebrenica was genocide was a fact established by the International Court for the… Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and it remains a fact.

Have a good afternoon, everyone.  Oh, sorry.  One more?

Question:  The Secretary‑General’s annual counter‑terrorism report, it’s my understanding that it was supposed to come out last week, and it has not come out yet.  Is there any update on this report?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe, as with a number of reports, it’s being finalized.  It should come out… most of our reports come out, more or less, on schedule.

For information media. Not an official record.