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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

29 August 2019

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

**Secretary-General's Trip

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit just now to Yokohama, Japan, where he took part in the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).  He spoke at a thematic session on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that Africa only contributes a small amount to climate change, but it experiences the devastating consequences which is why he is convening his Climate Action Summit on 23 September.

Throughout Africa, long-term drought is an ever-present and growing reality, which is directly implicated in causing insecurity as we see only too clearly in the Sahel, he said, adding that it is always the case that the poor and the vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst-hit areas by climate impacts.

The Secretary-General underscored that, as well as tackling the causes of climate change, we must also leave nobody behind when dealing with its consequences.

Following this session, he spoke to reporters and expressed his deep appreciation to the Japanese Government for its commitment to African development, as exemplified by the holding of TICAD.

He pointed out that Africa faces a climate crisis, which requires a lot of political will to address and requires the strong commitment of Governments, the private sector, and civil society.

Just before leaving Japan, he tweeted that he was now on his way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to express both his strong support to those responding to the Ebola outbreak and his solidarity with the people and the Government of the DRC.


Turning to Yemen, where preliminary reports from medical facilities indicate that in the past two days, as many as 13 people have been killed and at least 70 others were wounded during the clashes in Aden and Abyan governorates.

Streets in Aden are empty and flights to and from Aden airport are temporarily suspended.

In remarks made today by the Humanitarian Coordinator, Lise Grande, she called on everyone who is fighting to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

She also reiterated her appeal for support to the humanitarian response in Yemen.

The operations in Yemen are in deep trouble, she said.  Pledges made at an international conference in February have not materialized.

And we mentioned last week, vaccination and health programmes have been suspended.  Protection services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence were also scaled back.

If donation pledges are not met soon, 22 major programmes could be closed in the coming weeks.

Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis.  Almost four out of five people in that country require some form of humanitarian assistance or protection.

This year's Humanitarian Response Plan requires $4.2 billion to assist more than 20 million Yemenis, including 10 million people who have relied entirely on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs.  As of today, the plan is only 34 per cent funded.


And also on Syria, here in the Security Council, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen briefed Council members.  He said that the scale of violence and instability in Syria is extremely alarming, with an ever-rising death toll and millions of people displaced.  In Idlib, he said violence continues unabated, and stressed that counter-terrorism tactics cannot put at risk the lives of 3 million civilians who have a right to protection under international humanitarian law.  He emphasized that the solution to the situation in the country needs to be a political one.

Mr. Pedersen said that tensions between Israel and Iran are "extremely worrying" and urged all parties to respect the sovereignty of Syria and all States in the areas, by showing maximum restraint, both in action and in rhetoric.

Mr. Pedersen who will be available to speak to you at the Council stakeout at about 1 p.m.  We will make that announcement beforehand.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock also briefed Council members.  And he said the UN is continuing to carry out relief operations and has reached 6 million people around the country this year.  However, he said, with less well funded than 2018 he appealed for countries who made pledges in the Brussels conference in April to take action to implement them.

**UN Resident Coordinators

And I wanted to flag that we have four new UN Resident Coordinators (RCs) covering five countries to announce - Chad, Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Serbia.

These appointments follow the confirmations from the respective Governments.

Violet Kakyomya of Uganda will serve as the UN Resident Coordinator in Chad, Birgit Gerstenberg of Germany will serve in El Salvador and also covering Belize, Mauricio Ramirez-Villegas of Colombia will be the new Resident Coordinator for the Dominican Republic and Françoise Jacob of France will serve in Serbia.  We congratulate all four of them.

They will boost the development coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are also proud to announce that we will remain with full gender parity among all our RCs covering 162 countries and territories.  We have the biographies in our office.

**Greta Thunberg

You will have seen that yesterday Greta Thunberg who arrived in a marina in Lower Manhattan was welcomed with a flotilla of 17 UN sailboats – one for each the Sustainable Development Goals.  In a tweet, the Secretary-General  welcomed her and praised her determination and perseverance during her journey across the Atlantic and said her example should embolden all of us taking part in next month's Climate Action Summit.

The Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed also welcomed Ms. Thunberg saying she has shown the world that each person has the ability to affect change for people and planet, added that climate action is integral part of reaching the SDGs.

**International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Today is the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General called on all countries to commit to bringing nuclear tests to a permanent end.

The legacy of nuclear testing is nothing but destruction, he added.  Affected communities have yet to fully recover from the environmental, health and economic damage.

The Secretary-General called on all States that have not yet done so, to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; especially those whose ratification is needed for the Treaty to enter into force.

And an effective and legally binding prohibition remains one of the longest and unfulfilled goals of nuclear disarmament.  In a world of rising tensions and divisions, our collective security depends on it, the Secretary-General concluded.

**Press Briefing

And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Chargé d'affaires of the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation.  The briefing will be on marking the beginnings of the Second World War.

**Financial Contribution

And today we say thank you to our friends in Kampala, in Uganda, who have paid their budget dues in full, which brings us up to?

Correspondent:  114.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Very good.  If you have a question, you may ask it, Masood.

Correspondent:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  My question will just be the same, the situation in occupied Kashmir, and can you tell us anything about whether there is going to be anything initiated by the Secretary-General or talks between the Indian and the Pakistani Prime Minister?  Because tomorrow is going to be a big day for Kashmir in…  especially in Pakistan, is going…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, nothing to add to what I shared with you already yesterday.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  What's the view of the SG on a major setback that the Colombian peace process offered the…  overnight after a group of former FARC rebels decided to take arms again?  So, first item maybe, then a follow-up.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, first of all, I think it's important that the Secretary-General, we all, reaffirm the full support of the United Nations to the peace process in Colombia, and we stress that there is no justification for any return to arms.  We, again, commend the commitment to peace that the FARC's political party leadership and the vast majority of its members demonstrate every day.

The decisions to lay down arms and pursue the goals through democratic means was the correct historical decision, and we continue to encourage and welcome ongoing efforts by the Government of Colombia and all parties to implement the peace agreement and to overcome the many challenges that remain.

Question:  And now we wonder if there's any additional message or comment, in particular for the Colombian society?  Now that there is a heightened risk of deepening political polarization because of this agreement, is there any message from the SG on the risk of this very tense political situation that could drive the country into a…  maybe uncharted territory?

Spokesman:  Look, no one wants to see Colombia go backwards.  I think it is important that all those who are directly involved in the peace process reaffirm their commitment to this process.  The courageous decision to lay down arms was the right historic decision.  We need to move forward to ensure peace and stability for all the people of Colombia.


Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Obviously, lot of you have played, but I have to turn on the other side of the planet, Kosovo.  As you know, the Secretary-General, in all his reports, supported strongly the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.  There are recent reports, very recent actually, that Serbia apparently was bribing some African States to withdraw recognition of Kosovo, which is hindering element to that continuation of the dialogue.  What's the position of the Secretary-General on that in that context?

Spokesman:  We've seen press reports like anyone.  We have no comment and no way to verify or know any of the facts that are alleged.

As I said, the Secretary-General's commitment to the dialogue continues, and he will continue to report back regularly to the Council.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Greta Thunberg said yesterday she was going to participate in a protest outside UN Headquarters tomorrow.  Is anyone from the Secretariat going to meet her, welcome her?

Spokesman:  I know she will be in the building and will likely, at some point meet with the Secretary-General one way or another during the climate events in September.  I'm not aware of any plan for her to come into the building.  You should check with her people, and I will check also on our end.


Question:  Just on…  more on climate change, during the G7 summit, the Secretary-General said in France that he's very kind of encouraged with the position of the American society, but he clearly didn't finger-point or mention that…  as many other media or activists here in this country are saying that the administration is not doing so well with regard of that.  So, a simple question.  Is Secretary-General is avoiding to say something to administration, or would he at least appeal to the administration?

Spokesman:  Look, the Secretary-General's position is well known on climate.  He tends to focus on the positive.  But, obviously, we look forward, I think, as Luis Alfonso de Alba said, we look forward to the US participation in the climate summit that will take place.  They have told us that they will be participating.  We don't know yet at what level.


Question:  Yes, thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this Yemen situation, which you just broached in your briefing earlier, that as…  the blaming UAE for the air raids and the killings of people, has that…  United Nations also independently observed and said that, in fact, air raids are responsible for killing of these civilians…

Spokesman:  We're very alarmed about what has been going on in Aden recently.  It's obviously putting the lives of civilians at risk.  As Ms. Grande said, Mr. Griffiths has been in touch with all the parties who are involved.  There was an issue of the Saudi mediation.  We are not directly involved in those talks, but we are in touch with all the parties and, obviously, with the need to defuse the situation and refocus everyone's attention on a broad political process for the future of Yemen and its people.

Question:  These areas are being coordinated by UAE and Saudi Arabia, or they're the same?

Spokesman:  That's a question you need to ask those respective countries.  I have no forensic ability to tell you, to answer that question.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I just wanted to ask if there were any updates as far as the Amazon fires are concerned.  Have there been any other missions or countries that participated…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yes.  In terms of the Amazon, we are working with, at this point right now, with the Government of Bolivia, which has engaged the UN on trying to get support for its efforts to fight the fires.

Earlier this week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Planning in Bolivia held a meeting with the international community, requested immediate international support.  Both UNDP, the FAO have offered some financial support.  We're also looking at other ways we can help the Government.

Thank you.  Monica, all yours.

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