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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

22 August 2019

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

**Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief

Good afternoon.  Today, and for the first time, we observe the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.  In his message, the Secretary-General recalls the increasing number of attacks that occurred in the past months against individuals and groups targeted because of their religion or belief.  He highlighted that many assaults, like those in New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States, have specifically targeted places of worship.  The Secretary-General also points out that in many conflicts around the world, from Syria to the Central African Republic, entire communities have been attacked on the grounds of their faith.  He appeals to resistance and rejection of those who falsely and maliciously invoke religion to build misconceptions, fuel division and spread fear and hatred.  The full message is online.

**Burkina Faso

Also, yesterday afternoon you will have seen that we've issued a statement to condemn an attack that took place on 19 August at the military camp of Koutougou, in Burkina Faso.  According to official reports, this was one of the deadliest attacks in the country since the beginning of the year.  The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the families of the deceased, as well as to the people and Government of Burkina Faso, and wishes a speedy recovery to all those injured.  In the statement, the Secretary-General further condemned the ongoing indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.  He calls on the authorities to ensure perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, and for all military actions to be conducted in accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian law.  The Secretary-General reiterates his solidarity with the Government and people of Burkina Faso.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate this afternoon at 3 p.m.  From the UN side, the briefer will be the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu.

**World Health Organization

And today, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health.  The appeal followed the release of the WHO's first report on microplastics in drinking water.  Based on the limited information available, the microplastics in drinking water don't appear to pose a health risk at current levels, according to WHO.  Nevertheless, they recommend drinking-water suppliers and regulators prioritize removing microbial pathogens and chemicals that are known risks to human health.  More information online.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said that the Government of Myanmar has conveyed to the Government of Bangladesh the names of 3,450 Rohingya refugees who have been cleared for return to Myanmar's Rakhine State.  UNHCR called Myanmar's engagement in this process a positive step in the affirmation of the right to return of Rohingya refugees.  The agency has been assisting Bangladesh in surveying these refugees on whether they wish to return to Myanmar.  So far, none of the interviewed have indicated a willingness to repatriate at this time.  UNHCR appreciates the consistent commitment by Bangladesh to ensure that the refugees' decisions will be respected.  Many of the refugees stated that they do hope to go home to Myanmar as soon as conditions allow and that assurances regarding their citizenship status, freedom of movement and security in Myanmar could be provided.  The agency has agreed with the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar that any repatriation of refugees must be voluntary, safe and dignified. 

**First Global Refugee Forum

And also from our friends at UNHCR, they would like to us flag that on 17 and 18 December, in Geneva, the Government of Switzerland, along with UNHCR, will host the Global Refugee Forum.  This will be the first ministerial gathering to follow up on the practical implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees.  The Global Refugee Forum is organized to generate impactful commitments and other pledges, geared towards making tangible, long-term policy and practice shifts to improve the lives of refugees and host communities worldwide.

**Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

And just a clarification from our friends at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, they would like to clarify the remarks made about corruption made by the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, during the noon briefing on Monday.  Her quotes regarding corruption were referencing the UN's standing policy of zero tolerance on corruption across the entire system.  Her remarks did not refer to any specific crisis, agency or organization.  She has no insights nor has she access to any investigations ongoing.

**Press Conferences

And after I'm done and Monica is done, Alison Smale, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, will be here to speak to you about the sixty-eighth UN Civil Society Conference due to take place later this month in Salt Lake City.  She will be joined by the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Jackie Biskupski, by audio from Salt Lake; Maruxa Cardama, the Chair of the UN Civil Society Conference, also being piped in from Brazil; and a number of other guests.  There were also be, a bit later, a Security Council stakeout by the Foreign Minister of Poland, alongside Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Samuel Brownback, US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.  They will speak following today's Arria formula meeting on "Advancing the safety and security of persons belonging to religious minorities in armed conflict".  I am happy to take your questions should you have any.  Yeah.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is a bilateral relationship, but it may affect regional security situation.  So, yesterday, ROK [Republic of Korea] announced a scrap of the Japan-ROK bilateral agreement on exchanging military information.  What does Secretary-General respond to that?

Spokesman:  Listen, we've just seen the press reports a short while ago.  At this point, I don't have any initial comment.  Masood.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Stéphane, thank you.  The Prime Minister of Pakistan in an interview with The New York Times today has expressed fear that, since India is unwilling to discuss any of the issues and that there might be ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Kashmiris in the occupied Kashmir and that also 4,000 Kashmiris have been detained since the out… uprising began following the, what do you call, I mean, following the… the so-called 5 August declaration of the… of… August… sorry…

Spokesman:  Sure.  What is the question?  I'm aware of the situation.  What is the question, Masood?

Question:  Question is, is the Secretary-General, given the gravity of the situation, going to talk to the two sides at all or going to ask the Indians to talk?  Because they are steadfastly refusing to… what do you call… talk.

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary-General, I think, we issued a statement earlier this month which was very comprehensive.  Our position has not changed on this.  And as I, as I said at the time, contacts will be, were had and are being had with various, at various levels, but I don't have anything I'm able to share with you at this point.

Question:  Okay.  Sir, but you have been saying that and you, again and again, it's the same thing.  You have been sharing this view again and again, but is there going to be any movement at all?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to share with you at this…

Correspondent:  Okay.  And the other thing that… yesterday, I asked you about this Priyanka Chopra, the [Goodwill Ambassador], and I called the UNICEF, and I called the press office, Mr. Joe English.  Nobody has responded at all.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, I mean, I can tell you that, for any Goodwill Ambassador, whether it's Ms. Chopra or anyone else, we expect them to adhere to impartial positions when they speak on behalf of UNICEF or any other organization.  When they speak in their personal capacity, they retain the right to speak about issues of interests or concern to them.  Their personal views, however, do not reflect those of the agency with which they may be affiliated with.  James?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So, the United States wants to buy Greenland, but Denmark doesn't want to sell Greenland.  From a United Nations perspective, presumably you guys don't see anything inherently wrong with one member talking to another member about buying or selling a chunk of territory.  Right?

Spokesman:  You know, there's… this has captured the headlines, and as much as I would always love to insert myself in the headlines, I think I will leave this one, this glacier alone.  Yes, sir.  But I appreciate your effort.  Yes?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Cameroon.  What's the Secretary-General's reaction to the troublesome situation in Cameroon regarding the Government that sends the leader of the Anglophile separatist movement to life in jail and opposition leaders continue to remain in jail?  The last time the Security Council met on this Cameroon issue was in June.  So, what's the next step, sir?

Spokesman:  Look, we're, obviously… we've taken note of the decision that was taken, that was taken by the military court in the sentence of Mr. Tabe and others, and nine other activists to life imprisonment and also a very serious fine.  We also understand there is an intention to appeal the sentence.  We continue to reiterate the need for due process to be followed throughout these proceedings, and we remain concerned about the allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners and call on the authorities to ensure that all detainees are treated humanely in accordance with international human rights standards.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I wanted to ask about the situation, well, we know the Amazon fire is continuously burning right now, and there's been talk recently that it's not an accident, that this isn't about dry weather, that this was probably done for agricultural purposes.  Do you have any statement…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We have no insights as to how these fires started.  What I can tell you is that we are obviously following the reports very closely.  We're very concerned about these fires, both, I think, for the immediate damage that they're causing and also because sustaining forests is crucial in our fight against climate change.  All forests are essential for the health of the entire world.  The international community recognizes this importance of the forest, not only the Amazon, but also the forests in the Congo basin and Indonesia.  The well-being of all these massive, massive forests is critical for the well-being of humanity.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Follow-up your… the statement about Security Council meeting this afternoon.  So, it may show the deepening conflict and the mistrust between US and Russia.  So, how much does Secretary-General worry about the current situation of disarmament, especially between US and Russia?

Spokesman:  This, you know, the Secretary-General has been expressing his deep concern about the progress, or lack of progress, on disarmament issues for quite some time.  He laid out last year his views on a disarmament agenda, and I think we've expressed our concern recently about treaties being rescinded or being allowed to lapse.  The issue of disarmament is one that is a priority and has always been a priority for the UN, and we would hope that all Member States show a high level of commitment towards the issue of disarmament.  And we will share with you Ms. Nakamitsu's remarks to the Security Council.  Yes, and then we have to let Monica go.

Question:  Stéphane, do you have any update at all on the talks between United States and Taliban on Afghanistan at all?

Spokesman:  No, sir.  No, sir.  Okay.  Monica, thank you.

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