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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

15 May 2019

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General's Travels

Let's start far away from here in the Pacific, in Fiji, where the Secretary-General today addressed the Pacific Island Forum and told Pacific leaders that he is there to see the region's climate pressures first-hand and learn about the work being undertaken by communities there to bolster resilience.  He said:  "I know that Pacific Island communities have been responding actively to today's hardships and tomorrow's dangers.  You are drawing on a long history of adaptation and traditional ecological knowledge."  He praised the region's Governments for challenging the status quo and being at the forefront of global climate negotiations.  The Secretary-General also spoke about the need to tackle marine pollution and stressed that "we have the blueprints, frameworks and plans.  What we need is urgency, will and ambition".  He said that this is why he is convening his Climate Summit in September.  He said he wants the Summit to demonstrate the benefits of climate action and how everyone can benefit.  The Secretary-General reiterated the UN's commitment to supporting the Pacific Islands' response to climate change and reversing the negative trends that have put their cultures and very existence at risk.  He also tweeted out his support, welcoming the pledge made by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to make sure that Germany goes carbon-free by [2050].

The Secretary-General also held a joint press conference with the Pacific Islands Forum Troika, which is made up of the President of Nauru, Prime Minister of Samoa and the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, as well as with the Forum's Secretary-General.  He emphasized that the joint message from the Pacific is not one of generosity, but of determination.  What we ask for is not solidarity, it's not generosity; it is enlightened self-interest from all decision makers around the world because it is not only the Pacific that is at stake, but the whole planet, he said.  All of his remarks have been sent to you.  And on the margins of the Forum, the Secretary-General also met with various leaders of the region.  Tomorrow, he will address the Fijian Parliament and speak to youth at the University of the South Pacific.


I have been asked in recent days about the different developments in the Gulf, and I can say that the Secretary-General is following with growing concern recent incidents and hardening rhetoric in the Gulf region, which threaten to further destabilize an already volatile situation.  In particular, he condemns the recent attacks on commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and stresses the need for further investigation to determine the facts and hold accountable the perpetrators.  He also condemns the drone attacks on oil facilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for which the Houthis have claimed responsibility.  The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting civilian infrastructure violate international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General calls upon all actors to exercise maximum restraint and prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions.

**Moncef Kartas

I wanted to update you on the status of our colleague, Moncef Kartas.  Since the previous statement of 12 April with regard to the arrest and detention by the Tunisian authorities on 26 March of Moncef Kartas, a member of the Security Council's [Sanctions] Panel of Experts on Libya, the Government of Tunisia provided the Organization with documents concerning the prosecution of Mr. Kartas by the Tunisian authorities.  Following a careful review of the documents, the Organization formally notified the Government of Tunisia that it has reaffirmed the immunities enjoyed by Moncef Kartas in relation to the legal proceedings against him in Tunisia and requested Mr. Kartas' immediate release and for the charges against him to be dropped.  The United Nations remains very concerned by the continued detention and prosecution of Mr. Kartas by the Tunisian authorities, which is in violation of the privileges and immunities that have been granted to Mr. Kartas in the interests of the United Nations.  The Organization calls upon the Government of Tunisia to release Mr. Kartas immediately.  The United Nations will continue to engage with the Government on this serious matter.


Turning to Libya, our colleagues at the UN migration agency report that, since early April, nearly 70,000 people have been displaced as a result of the clashes in and around Tripoli, while another 100,000 are thought to remain in the front-line areas amid deteriorating conditions.  Some 3,300 refugees and migrants are trapped in detention centres that are already exposed to or are in close proximity to fighting.  Access to food, water and health care is severely restricted at these facilities as a result of the conflict.


Back here, as you will have seen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, told the Security Council today that between 11 and 14 May, Ansar Allah have undertaken an initial deployment of forces from the ports of Al-Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa under UN monitoring.  He said that General Michael Lollesgaard and his team from the UN Mission to Support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) were there at each of the three ports to monitor and verify the redeployments.  The military forces of Ansar Allah have now left the three ports Al-Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, he confirmed.  Mr. Griffiths told the Council that [this] is only the beginning and that these redeployments must be followed by concrete actions of the parties to deliver [on] their obligations under the Stockholm Agreement.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock also briefed the Council, warning that the spectre of famine still looms.  He said that 10 million Yemenis are still reliant on emergency food assistance to survive.  He added that a resurgent cholera outbreak has affected already 300,000 people this year compared to 370,000 [cases] in the whole of 2018.  The fighting also impacts aid operations.  Mr. Lowcock said that, because many main routes are not [usable], travellers, humanitarian agencies and traders now rely on a patchwork of back roads and mountain passes, often going through insecure areas with numerous checkpoints.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, told Council members that, since the fighting in Yemen began four years ago, 7,300 children have been killed or seriously injured.  Each day, she said, another eight children will be killed, injured or recruited to the fighting.  Every 10 minutes, another child will die from a preventable disease, she told Council members.  Those remarks have been shared with you, and as a reminder that at 3 p.m. today, General Lollesgaard will be briefing you by videoconference from Hodeidah to give you the latest on the situation in Yemen.


Turning to Sudan, the African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has condemned an incident that took place yesterday in its El Geneina super camp in West Darfur, when an unruly crowd forcefully entered the camp, looting UN property and contingent-owned equipment, vandalizing premises and putting the lives of UN staff and personnel at grave risk.  The crowd of looters included individuals in Government of Sudan police and military uniforms.  The Mission said these acts constitute a blatant violation of international norms governing the presence of UN peacekeepers across the world.  The Mission's Joint [Special] Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, called on the relevant authorities to bring to account the uniformed personnel alleged to have taken part in this looting.  The mission has dispatched troop reinforcements to El Geneina to strengthen protection arrangements ahead of the planned handover of the camp to the Government of Sudan which took place earlier today.  The full statement is online.

**Disaster Risk Reduction

This year's meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is now under way in Geneva.  In a video message to the gathering, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said the need to tackle climate change and disaster risk reduction is growing by the day – and so is the public's call for action.  She said that climate change is helping to drive the rise of extreme weather events, which, in turn, is upending jobs; threatening sources of food and water; and devastating lives.  Ms. Mohamed also stressed that the proliferation of disasters is undermining the efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

**Press Conferences Today

At 2 p.m. today, there will be a press briefing in this room by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), for the release of the State of Commodity Dependency Report 2019.  Speakers will include Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Director of UNCTAD Division on International Trade and Commodities; Yanchun Zhang, Chief of UNCTAD Commodities Branch; and Chantal Carpentier, Chief of UNCTAD's New York Office.  Then at 3 p.m., as I mentioned, General Lollesgaard will be speaking to you by video teleconference from Yemen.  And to cap off the day, at 4:30 p.m., there will be a briefing by Ambassador Samuel Moncada, the Permanent Representative of Venezuela to these United Nations.  Monsieur?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, on Kartas, can you tell us if Tunisia ask to have a… for a lift of his immunity?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into the details of what they've asked.  They've provided us information regarding their reasoning for his detention.  Our position, I think, could not be clearer.  We're asking for his immediate release and reaffirming the fact that the privileges and immunities afforded to him stand.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this Middle East detentions in the Gulf… Persian Gulf or the Arabian Gulf… Arabian Gulf, can you, again, say… tell us whether Iran is abiding by the nuclear agreement, which I… and what does IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] say about that?

Spokesman:  Well, the IAEA has reporting responsibilities which it fulfils.  It reports… it issues reports regularly.  So, I would refer you to the reports that they issue, but I cannot speak for them.

Question:  It is being… I mean, this is why I'm saying it, this is being quoted towards breaking the deal at all?  Is that… is there an effort under way? That's the reason why I ask.  They are still abiding by the deal, right?

Spokesman:  I said… we report regularly through… I mean, the IAEA reports regularly, and I think those reports are available for all to see.  Let's go to the right, and then we'll go to the left.

Question:  Thank you.  I just wanted to ask, does Secretary-General have any comments on the results of the [Michael] Pompeo-[Sergey] Lavrov meeting?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, no particular comments.  I can say that we, obviously, are always encouraging dialogue.  Sir?

Question:  Yes.  Could you describe, at least in general terms, what the charges are that have been levelled by the Tunisians?

Spokesman:  No, those… that's for the Tunisian Government to talk about.  From our standpoint, we do not believe he should be detained.  We believe the charges against him should be dropped and that he should be released.

Question:  But… but they have… obviously, UN officials have reviewed, you said, their reasoning… can you describe at least the substance of the charges so that an evaluation can be made whether the allegations are outside the scope of immunity protection?

Spokesman:  Yeah, they… listen… I mean, we've made our evaluation.  I think you should speak to the Tunisian authorities to get details on the charges they are holding him under.  Monsieur, and then we'll go madame.

Question:  You have probably seen that the State Department is withdrawing non-essential diplomatic personnel from Iraq.  This comes in the context of growing tension between the US and Iran.  How concerned is the Secretary-General about escalation and/or miscalculation?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General is following with growing concern, I think, the recent rise in rhetoric that we have seen, the hardening of rhetoric that we've seen, the incidents that we have seen.  It is a very volatile region, and I think an increase in rhetoric, an increase in incidents can only lead to further destabilizing this area of the world.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Does the Secretary-General have anything… any comment on the recently concluded PrepCom [Preparatory Committee] for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?  Almost everyone that I spoke to seems to think there has been no progress.  And according to the closing statement on behalf of 46 organizations in 60 countries, the dangers of war among nuclear-armed States are real and growing, and there has been regression rather than progress.

Spokesman:  The… I don't have any specific… I haven't seen the final results of the PrepCom.  What I can tell you is the Secretary-General is a very strong believer in the need for nuclear non-proliferation, for disarmament as a whole, and he would encourage Member States to move forward and not backwards.  Masood and then Joe.

Question:  Yes.  Stéphane, on this recent appeal made by the United Nations for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] because… for the Palestinian hurt during the crisis, especially their limbs have been… particularly focussed by the Israeli IDF [Israel Defense Forces].  So, has that appeal for more funding for UNRWA been…?

Spokesman:  I'll check what UNRWA's funding levels are.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yeah, just on the global climate summit scheduled for September, first of all, can you just again confirm the date?  Secondly, have formal invitations been sent out yet?

Spokesman:  Yes, invitations have been sent out.  We are in… asking Member States to come with concrete proposals and concrete movement.  The aim of the summit is to show the political will through concrete action to combat climate change.  I mean, as an example… recent example is the German Chancellor's statement.  And the date is just… I don't have it off the top… I think it's the day before the formal opening of the General Assembly.

Question:  And have you received… has the Secretariat received any acceptances, rejections?  Has…?

Spokesman:  I'll check what the status is, but it's still very much early days.  This is the United Nations.  People tend to RSVP for dinners at the last minute.  All right.  All right, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is regarding Burkina Faso.  You know there's been the series of attacks on Christians and the church, I think yes… Monday or… during a parade.  And I was just wondering, since this appears to become… becoming sort of a systematic way of fighting, I was just wondering what the UN… if the UN has been contact… you know, is there anything that there's… the UN is doing?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, a couple of things.  You know, the Secretary-General is, I think, extremely worried, as he has said so very vocally, on attacks on religious sites, on attack for… on people for their religion, whether it's anti-Semitic attacks, Islamophobic attacks, attacks on Christians, as we've just seen again in Burkina Faso.  He has tasked Mr. [Miguel Angel] Moratinos, the head of the Alliance of Civilization, to work with Member States on the protection of holy sites, and Mr. Moratinos is doing just that.  But, this is also linked to… obviously, to the rise of hate speech that we're seeing around the world and targeting people for who they are or what they may believe in.  Thank you.  No Monica.

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