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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

8 August 2019

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 situation in Jammu and Kashmir. 

The Secretary General has been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with concern and makes an appeal for maximum restraint.

The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter of the United Nations and applicable Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, also known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

The Secretary-General is also concerned over reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, which could exacerbate the human rights situation in the region.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to refrain from taking steps that could affect the status of Jammu and Kashmir. 

**Climate Change

Turning to climate change, climate change poses a major risk to the world's food supply, and while better land management can help to combat global warming, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential to keep global temperature rise to below 2°C.

That's according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is out today following approval by the world's Governments.

These findings will be a key scientific input into upcoming negotiations, such as the Conference of Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification next month in India and the UN climate action summit during the upcoming General Assembly high-level week and the COP25, which is scheduled to take place in Chile in December.

For the Secretary-General, this latest IPCC report is yet another piece of compelling evidence that points to the urgent need for climate action.  As he has said, we cannot continue on this current course.

[António] Guterres said that while food security is already at risk from climate change, there are many nature-based solutions that can be taken.  Next month's Climate Action Summit will be a prime opportunity to ensure these solutions are put into practice.


And turning to Syria, Najat Rochdi, the Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the Special Envoy for Syria, said today it is deeply regrettable that the cessation of hostilities that has been announced on Monday collapsed and that a new wave of violence is again threatening the lives of millions of civilians who live in the Idlib area, more than a million of whom are children.  During the lull in the fighting, Ms. Rochdi said, many civilians had returned to their homes and are currently in areas where heavy attacks have resumed putting them at even great risk. 

She noted that more than 500 innocent civilians have been killed and hundreds more injured, since the escalation of fighting began in late April.  Displacement figures also have climbed at an alarming rate, with some 400,000 men, women and children forced to flee, many of them multiple times.  Our humanitarian colleagues say that at least 10 people have been killed and dozens injured since hostilities resumed this week after a three-day pause.  Despite the hostilities, they add, the UN continues to provide assistance through its humanitarian partners in accessible areas and calls for access to inaccessible areas.

Ms. Rochdi said that parties to the conflict are legally bound to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, and perpetrators of any violations of international humanitarian law must be held into account.  Her full statement is available.


And I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has appointed Gillian Triggs of Australia as Assistant Secretary-General to serve as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Ms. Triggs will succeed Volker Türk of Austria, who as you know has been appointed as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Secretary-General's own Office here in New York.  The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, are grateful for Mr. Türk's 30 years of dedicated service to the refugee cause, including four years as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.

Ms. Triggs, who recently served a five-year term as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, brings to the position several decades of professional experience as academic, lawyer, advocate and public policy expert.  And we very much welcome her to the United Nations.

**Press Encounters

And as you know then, the Chargé d'affaires ad interim of the Permanent Mission of Russia will be briefing you after you're done with me, and that's why I assume the room is so crowded.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Turkey and US reached an agreement to create what Turkey calls it a safe zone and the US call it peace corridor.  What is the Secretary-General's position about this development?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We've taken note of the discussions to establish a "safe zone" in north-east Syria.  Humanitarian actors are increasingly concerned by statements suggesting a possible military intervention, which would have severe humanitarian consequences in an area which has already witnessed years of military activity, displacement, droughts and floods.  The area has also recently been affected by fires, impacting crops and agricultural production.  Response efforts are continuing to support the 1.6 million people in need in the area.

Question:  And one…

Spokesman:  Hold on a second. 

Correspondent:  Sorry.  Apologies.

Spokesman:  It's okay.  It's pretty dramatic music.  All right.

Question:  I have two more… one follow-up to that is, what is the UN's position about Turkey's plan to return the refugees… Syrian refugees to those areas once this zone was created?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into a hypothetical.  As a matter of policy…

Question:  It's not a hypothetical.

Spokesman:  As a matter of policy, the return of refugees needs to be done in a safe manner and, most importantly, in a voluntary manner.

Question:  And my… my… my other question, Stéphane, last week, Secretary-General expressed concern in a statement about the situation in Gulf.  What has… has he been in contact with any of the parties, especially Iran and in US, with regard to the tensions in the Gulf?

Spokesman:  You know, we've received letters from the Iranians, and contacts continue at various levels.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Media reports from Turkey and from the Middle East speak about hundreds of Syrians have been repatriated to Syria by the Turkish authorities.  Most of them are involuntarily returning there.  Do you have any statement on this?

Spokesman:  I don't have any confirmation.  As I said, the return of refugees needs to be done in a safe, dignified and, most importantly, voluntary manner.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  The Secretary-General has supported diplomacy in Venezuela.  Today, [Nicolás] Maduro pulled out.  What's the situation?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we've obviously taken note of the latest developments, including the statements that you refer to.  For our part, we can only reiterate our strong support and the Secretary-General's strong support that he's expressed for the Norwegian facilitation [initiative] on Venezuela.  A negotiated agreement is urgently needed to reach a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Question:  Just to follow up on this, the reason given by the Maduro Administration was that, you know, the US… blamed the US, basically, yet the US is not part of these negotiations, in fact, opposes them.  Does that show the Secretary-General that there's any hope for these negotiations?

Spokesman:  Look, I'll leave the analysis part to you.  Our position is unchanged, is that only settlement through negotiations will solve this ongoing situation.  Michelle and then we'll come back.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Just a follow-up question to the statement on Kashmir.  Who on both sides has the Secretary-General spoken with?  And given that he specifically mentions the Security Council resolutions, does he plan to bring this to the Security Council?  Are there any plans for the Secretariat to brief on the latest developments?  Does he think it should be taken up…?

Spokesman:  We've not… I'm not aware of any plans to brief.  There was a letter from the Pakistani Foreign Minister, which was circulated to the Security Council at their request.  There've been contacts from the Secretariat both with Indian authorities and the Pakistani authorities.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you said before, we've got the Russian envoy coming up next.  There's a chance, of course, that he talks about the Secretary-General's Board of Inquiry investigation into Syria.  Given that that might come up, could you just tell us what is the latest on the creation of the board?  And also, how do you guys respond to the criticisms that Moscow has levied against its creation?

Spokesman:  Look, on your last part, the Secretary-General himself answered that, so his position is… was stated more clearly by him.  So, I'd refer you to what he said at the stakeout.  The process is ongoing in terms of recruiting and identifying members of the board and, obviously, the terms of reference.  Valeria?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Does the Secretary-General has any comment on the last World Food Security report that was released…?

Spokesman:  The World…

Question:  The World Food Security report that was released… in Geneva… 

Spokesman:  The IPCC report?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Yes, I mentioned that.

Correspondent:  Oh, I'm so sorry. 

Spokesman:  That's okay.

Correspondent:  I arrived late.  Okay.

Spokesman:  That's okay.  That's okay.  Let's go to another Al Jazeera, and then we'll go to Pam.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  It seems that there's like a third front emerging in Aden with the UAE (United Arab Emirates)-backed separatists.  What does the Secretary-General have to say about this upsurge in conflict there?

Spokesman:  We're very concerned about the ongoing violence that we're seeing in Aden.  This is something that the Special Envoy himself has stated.  It is important for everyone to recommit themselves to a political process and also to make sure that none of the military activities impact negatively on the humanitarian operations that we have ongoing in Yemen.  Pam.  Thank you for your patience.

Question:  No, absolutely.  On the Kashmir dispute, just one last technical point is… is the… you said the Secretariat has some contact with the Indian side, the Pakistani side.  Is there anyone in particular that is the… Secretary-General's envoy or… and/or on each side, and is there… is it the same person?

Spokesman:  No, it's done through the Permanent Missions here and the Secretariat.  Mr. Barada, and then we'll go to Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Jammu and Kashmir, again, can you be more specific on what do you mean by that the position of the United Nations is… should… or it is according to the UN Charter and the applicable Security Council resolutions?  Can you be more specific?  And what's your response specifically to what the Pakistanis are saying about the iron curtain put in by India in Kashmir so they… nobody in the world would know what's going on in Kashmir?

Spokesman:  I think the statement… I'm not going to go into any more specifics, but the statement also refers to our concern about reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir.  So, I'd refer you to the statement.

Question:  A follow-up on… on Syria as well.  So, does the United Nations support those agreements between Russia and Turkey or…

Spokesman:  Yeah, sorry, and I was just given an update on the US-Turkish agreement.  And I can tell you that we've seen the statements by the US and Turkey regarding these discussions on north-east Syria.  As the Secretary-General has said, any solution in Syria should combine three principles:  Syria's unity and territorial integrity; the legitimate [security] concerns of States; and the diversity of Syria's population, the different components of which should have a voice.

Question:  One last thing, if I may.  On the…

Spokesman:  Don't ever say it's the last.

Question:  There is this letter from Russia on the… some new security arrangements for the Gulf region or the whole region.  And, obviously, the Secretary-General has spoken about it.  Other countries has been… have been speaking about it.  Is the Secretary-General going to do any work… workshop around this issue so there is a consensus?

Spokesman:  We're obviously following the situation.  The Secretary-General has expressed his own position.  As I said, we're in contact with various parties.  Yes, Edie?

Question:  Another question on Kashmir.  The Security Council resolution specifically call for a plebiscite.  Does the Secretary-General support a plebiscite?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General's position is that the region is governed by the Charter and the applicable Security Council resolutions.  Yes, sir, Majeed?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane, one follow-up on your… on the statement.  The third component that you mentioned about diversity, ensuring diversity in Syria, which the Secretary-General previously has mentioned.  That's a reference to the ethnic diversity and religious diversity in Syria, namely Kurds, which they are still not part of the political process especially the Constitutional Committee.  What is the Secretary-General's position about that point, why the Kurds has not been included?

Spokesman:  The issue around the Constitutional Committee have not yet complete… been solved.  For the Secretary-General, it is important that Kurds, that all other minorities in Syria, have a voice.

Question:  And about the return of refugees, one question.  This is obviously, you know, a plan by Turkey to make all these refugees go back to Syria.  It's been talked about for months or years now.  Is there any coordination between OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and Turkey to plan this return of refugee in a safe manner or in accord…

Spokesman:  This would be done with UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency).  We can check with them.  Obviously, Turkey has been, since the beginning of this conflict, extremely generous in hosting an extremely large population of Syrian refugees, and that needs to be noted.  And as I said, there are certain rules and principles regarding the return of refugees that also need to be respected.  Nabil?

Question:  Thank you.  Two questions on Jammu and Kashmir.  Pakistan asked in the letter that there is a need now for an appointment for a new Special Envoy.  So, what does the SG think about this request or this suggestion?  Does he think that there is a need to monitor the situation closely through a Special Envoy?

And I have another question on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees).  Belgium also announced that it's going to put on hold its additional contribution to UNRWA.  What's your reaction on that?  And what's your message to all donors and Member States regarding their contributions to UNRWA in light of the investigations that's happening now?

Spokesman:  Look, on your first point, there is this letter.  We're studying it.  The Secretary-General is following the situation very closely.  The Secretariat is following the situation very closely, but I have nothing to announce or to hint at towards the issue of a Special Envoy.

On UNRWA, there's an investigation, as we've said.  Until the investigation is completed, we're not in a position to make further comments.  What is important is that the Secretary-General continues to very strongly support the work of UNRWA and the critical and stabilising active… work that it does throughout the region.

Joe and then Rob, and then we'll have to leave it before I get expelled by the Russian Mission.

Question:  Quick follow-up to the UNRWA question.  Given the potential impact on UNRWA funding if more and more countries suspend their contributions, is the Secretary-General setting a deadline for the completion of this internal audit report?

Spokesman:  We're not in the business of setting deadlines in terms of investigations.  We would like it to be completed as quickly as possible but also to be done as thoroughly as possible.

Question:  Do you know what stage it's in at this point?

Spokesman:  I do not.  Mr. Hannah?

Question:  You mentioned earlier lines of communication with India about Jammu and Kashmir.  Could you elaborate on that, given India's non-recognition policy?

Spokesman:  We're in touch with the Permanent Missions.  Thank you.

Question:  Just one more question on UNRWA.  Sorry about that, Steph.

Spokesman:  Really?

Question:  Last one, as you said, as you said in your [inaudible].  So, would it be wise to, at least while the… while the investigation is going, to suspend the executives involved without pay or with pay like it has… was done before during other OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) investigations?  

Spokesman:  I'm not… I appreciate your comments and your experience in the matter, but I'm not going to comment further while the investigation is going on. 

Thank you.

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