Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 October 2019
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the Security Council's open debate on preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention and resolution in Africa.
He said that all of the UN's work on conflict prevention and resolution relies on partnerships with Member States, regional and subregional organizations, and others, pointing to how the African Union is our key strategic partner in the continent.
The Secretary-General said we are making progress on conflict prevention in many parts of Africa.
As an example, he pointed to the Central African Republic, where the UN, the African Union and others are cooperating in support of the historic agreement reached in February, to end violence against civilians, strengthen the extension of State authority and bring social and economic development. His full remarks have been made available to you.
**Central African Republic
And staying on the Central African Republic: At the end of a joint mission in the Central African Republic, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of the Department for Peace Operations (DPO); the African Union's Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui; and the European Union's Director General for African affairs, Koen Vervaeke, reiterated their support for the full implementation of the peace agreement.
They welcomed the efforts of the President and his Government, as well as all who are working towards this goal, which the mission described as the only way to build a durable peace in the country.
They were up in Birao, to see first-hand the impact of recent clashes on the population. We also have a fuller note available to you on the trip.
We also want to note with much regret that a fourth Senegalese crew member, injured in the 27 September helicopter crash in the Central African Republic, has died. We send our condolences to his family and all of his colleagues.
And also staying on Mr. Lacroix, earlier today, after his trip to the Central African Republic, he and Mr. Chergui, arrived in Khartoum, for a two-day visit.
During the visit they will meet with Sudanese transitional authorities and participate in a tripartite meeting to discuss the future of the UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
Tomorrow, they will also go to Darfur, where they will meet with the mission's leadership and staff.
The officials will then travel to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on 9 October to jointly brief the African Union Peace and Security Council on the outcomes of the visits to the Central African Republic and Sudan.
On his way back to New York, Mr. Lacroix will visit Spain, where he will take part in the National Day ceremonies on 12 October at the invitation of the Government, as this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the participation of the Spanish Armed Forces in international peacekeeping operations.
**Deputy Secretary-General's Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke to the Executive Committee of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Geneva today and told the Committee that, time and again, we see how both host communities and refugee populations can benefit from increased development cooperation, including in the areas of education and health.
The Deputy Secretary-General also added that December's Global Refugee Forum will be an excellent opportunity to support implementation of the Refugee Compact and to put the principle of leaving no one behind into good practice.
She also spoke at a ceremony marking the accession of Angola and Colombia to the conventions on statelessness, and she said that statelessness makes people invisible. When people are unable to prove their identity, they may be unable to access basic services like education and health care.
She is now on her way back to the city of New York.
Turning to Baghdad, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq [Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert] said over the weekend on Twitter that she was deeply saddened by the senseless loss of life in Iraq and added that this must stop.
She said she was shocked at vandalism and intimidation of some TV studios by masked gunmen, which she called entirely unacceptable. She said that Government efforts must be put in place to protect journalists.
The Special Representative also called on all parties to pause and reflect. Those responsible for violence should be held to account, she added.
And you saw over the weekend we issued a number of statements. One on Mali in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned two attacks against the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Mali [MINUSMA].
In the Kidal region, a Mission convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. One peacekeeper from Chad was killed; three others were seriously wounded.
In a separate incident in the Mopti, a temporary peacekeeping base was attacked by unidentified assailants. One peacekeeper from Togo was also seriously wounded.
The Secretary-General expressed his deep condolences to the family of the deceased peacekeeper, as well as the Government and people of Chad, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General also called on Malian authorities, as well as the signatory armed groups to the peace agreement, to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of these attacks so that they can swiftly be brought to justice. He recalls that attacks targeting UN peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law, and he reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to support the Government and people of Mali in their pursuit of peace and stability.
We also issued a statement on Cameroon, in which the Secretary-General said he is encouraged by the decision announced by President Paul Biya to release Maurice Kamto, the leader of the Mouvement pour la Rennaissance du Cameroun (MRC), as well as 102 members of the party.
He also took note of the release of another 333 individuals in connection with the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions.
The peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) has reiterated its deep concern about the impact of the political crisis on the population.
They said they are attentive to the demands of different sectors of society and stand ready to support peaceful solutions, which only Haitians can devise, to resolve the current situation and alleviate the suffering of the population.
The Mission encourages all State actors and citizens to refrain from violence, to ensure the normal functioning of schools, hospitals and emergency services, and to allow humanitarian workers to assist those most vulnerable.
Just to flag that in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners today kicked off a five-day conference on climate change and the role of nuclear power.
The conference will provide a platform to discuss the scientific and technical aspects of the role of nuclear power in combating climate change. Topics include challenges and opportunities for existing nuclear power plants and the prospect for synergies between nuclear power and other low-carbon energy sources, among others. More information on the IAEA's website.
**World Habitat Day
Today is World Habitat Day. In his message, the Secretary-General highlights the central role played by the cities and communities in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
[coughs] I should not eat spicy wasabis before coming into the briefing.
**Questions and Answers
Questions? Yes, Maggie?
Question: Stéphane, this developing news about northern Syria, has the Secretary-General… who has he been talking to? Has he been working the phones? USG [Under-Secretary-General Rosemary] DiCarlo is in the region. She'll be in Lebanon later this week. Any chance he might deploy her to Ankara to get a clearer picture of what the Turks plan?
Spokesman: Look, we are in touch with the relevant parties, mostly through our Office of the Special Envoy. The Secretary-General, for his part, is following with great concern the situation in north-eastern Syria, in particular the risks to civilians from any potential escalations. It's very important that all parties exercise maximum restraint at this time. The Secretary-General also emphasizes that civilians and civilian infrastructure need to be protected at all times and that sustained, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to civilians in need must be guaranteed in order to allow the UN and its humanitarian partners to continue to carry out the critical work in Syria. And I would add that we… the Secretary-General reiterates that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict; the only sustainable solution is a UN-facilitated political process, as outlined in Security Council resolution 2254.
Question: So, he hasn't himself picked up the phone yet, only Geir Pedersen?
Spokesman: He's been… there have been contacts at various levels this morning. Yes, sir?
Question: A follow-up on Maggie's question. Does the situation where we have a group of people, the Kurds, are on the verge of extinction or cleansing, as described in the Turkish Foreign Minister statement, isn't that grave reason enough for the Secretary-General to take a flight and go to Ankara and start diplomacy on the ground?
Spokesman: Look, there are… as I said, we are in contact with the relevant parties. I think one of the things that we're concerned about, and our colleague Panos Moumtzis outlined it, I think, very well this morning in Geneva, is to make sure that any changes that may take place, right, because nothing has happened so far, will not result [in] any further displacement, and it's very important that people have retained their freedom of movement and access also to humanitarians… [cross talk]
Question: Follow-up, please. This is the Special Envoy view and United Nations' view, but the reality on the ground, we have threats by the Foreign Minister of Turkey to cleanse the territory from the Kurds. This is war that dates to World War II.
Spokesman: I think I've… [cross talk]
Question: Isn't that a red flag enough to start an untraditional diplomacy in this scenario? [cross talk]
Spokesman: First of all, as I said, we've remained and we continue to remain engaged with all the major actors in this. Our concern, I think, as we've… the Secretary-General has outlined it through what I've said and through what Mr. Moumtzis said, is the impact on civilians. Yes, Nabil?
Question: [inaudible] Stéphane, can you share with us any contingency planning you're doing, whether in Syria or southern Turkey? Have you taken -- I don't know -- any urgent action to deal or address the situation?
Spokesman: Our humanitarian colleagues are always ready with any contingency plans. This is not the first time we've had threats of developments of this kind, so they are ready inasmuch as they can be ready. And, of course, I think what concerns us, if there is any increased military action, is the lack of access we have to people who need our help. Yes, Betul?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Another follow-up. We know that the UN has been cautious on any type of buffer zone given its previous experiences, but Turkey has been determined to establish a safe zone, and they suggest that they would relocate at least 2 million Syrians in that area. Would the UN coordinate or has the UN been given any assurances?
Spokesman: Look, I'm not aware of any assurances having been given. What is important is that any sort of zone that may or may not be created -- and again, we're sort of talking hypotheticals here -- is that it has no impact on the rights of people to seek asylum, that any return for any refugees -- and this applies worldwide -- any return to any refugee be safe and, most importantly, be voluntary and, of course, done in dignity. James and then Ibtisam.
Question: Another follow-up on a specific aspect of this. You've talked about the humanitarian situation, but, of course, clearly, in the area we're talking about, there are a great number of detainees, including ISIL fighters. How concerned is the Secretary-General about the custody of those people? And do… does the Secretary-General want countries to get together to try and find some sort of new mechanism for the… to hold those people?
Spokesman: I think, on your latter part, there have been Security Council discussions on this issue. It is very important that things be done in a way that would deal with the threat of Da'esh but also that people's rights be respected. And, also, our concern, as we've expressed and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) has expressed, is the fate of those children in the camps. You asked a first part of the question, but I've already forgotten it. And so, have you… [cross talk] We both have, yes; excellent. [laughter] Ibtisam?
Question: Stéphane, you said that you… that the representatives of the Secretary-General are… is in contact with different parties. Does this include also the Americans who are there? And…
Spokesman: We are regularly in touch with all the parties involved in this conflict, which means either those on the ground or those who have influence on those on the ground.
Question: And which reactions are you getting? I mean…
Spokesman: I'm not at liberty to speak to that. Abdelhamid and then Erol.
Question: Thank you. Moving to Iraq, Mr… the Secretary-General was a little bit late in issuing a statement. We asked you first why he didn't issue a statement. You said his Special Envoy did. Then he issued a statement talking about people going to the street demonstrating in part… in different parts of the world, without mentioning Iraq. Then the third stage - he issued. Does it need to take like 95 people killed to issue a statement?
Question: Why he was late in issuing a statement?
Spokesman: We're… you know, the situations… inasmuch as I'd like to think that things rotate around noon, situations evolve throughout the day, throughout the world. It was felt that a strong political message needed to be sent through a direct statement, and that's what happened. Erol?
Question: Yes, Steph, when you say the… you are in contact in relevant sides or parties of… regarding this crisis in Syria, is Secretary-General talking to President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan? Does he know where is he today? For example, did he talk with the phone with him, because he is a major… [cross talk]
Spokesman: No, he has not spoken to President Erdoğan, and I don't think he knows where… I mean, it's not up to us to know where President Erdoğan is.
Question: All right. And that was a follow-up on follow-up. Now the real question on Myanmar, if I can. There are reports… actually, Al Jazeera reported that 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women were raped in a massive campaign in Myanmar or nearby territories on the border with… where they're moving and escaping. Knowing the previous history of UN when we… according to the UN, had the… some 50,000 raped, mostly women, in Bosnia and 20,000 in Kosovo, what does the Secretary-General says, obviously, to this repetition of the history?
Spokesman: Listen, I haven't seen the particular report you've mentioned. I know we have spoken out very strongly against the violence which the Rohingya population has been subject to, which includes sexual violence against women and is something we have condemned, the Human Rights Council has condemned, and I know the independent inquiry on Myanmar has also been looking into it. Señora?
Question: Gracias. Stéphane, on Ecuador, the Office of the High Commissioner for human rights has issued a statement over the weekend about the treatment and the reaction from authorities during the protests in Ecuador. Is anything that you can add on or the Secretary, you know, can add…
Spokesman: No, I mean, you know, the High Commissioner's office, as you said, said they'd been following closely the recent social demonstrations that we've seen in Ecuador. And what they said, which, frankly, we agree as matter of principle, is that law enforcement authorities must guarantee the right of all people to demonstrate peacefully. People should be able to express their opinions and to assemble peacefully and that the use of force must be proportionate in line with international law, and this reflects what we said, in fact, on Friday in the Secretary-General's statement. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. Good afternoon, Steph. I'd like to go back to the West African Sahel. Given the continued daily violence in that region, Burkina Faso, 20 killed over the weekend. You just mentioned the UN peacekeeper from Chad killed. My question is, some critics of MINUSMA (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali) note that this is not a military operation, it's a peacekeeping operation; and that they suggested that maybe some of the money should be shifted over to, say, ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), G5 Sahel, so that they can step up a military sort of an operation. Does the Secretary-General agree with this? Or…
Spokesman: I don't think it's an either/or proposition. Right? The peacekeeping mission has a mandate given to it by the Security Council. Our colleagues have been suffering disproportionate losses. We see it all too often. Our Chadian contingent has really borne the brunt of the killings and the injuries to peacekeepers. The Malian authorities, all the signatories to the agreements also have a responsibility to ensure the implementation… A peacekeeping mission is not a counter-terrorism mission. The G5 Sahel force should be supported with regular funding. A peacekeeping mission is traditionally there to create a political space, but we need that political space to be occupied right now. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane, again. Mr. Martin Griffiths, I think, in the last two days, he landed in Sana'a. Whom he met and what he's doing there? Did he leave Sana'a or still there… [cross talk]
Spokesman: Yes, no, he went to… we reported it. He went to… what did I say? He went… he was in Sana'a. Then he went to Oman, and he will be here in New York shortly to brief the Security Council.
Question: There is also some development. I mean, the Saudis now are dealing positively with the offer by the Houthis to observe a comprehensive ceasefire. We expected the SG to welcome this and to follow up with that. [cross talk]
Spokesman: I think I would ask… I would bear… ask you to have a bit of patience and wait for Mr. Griffiths' in-person briefing to the Council. Alan?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding the situation with participation of Russian Delegation in the work of First Committee, some delegates still didn't get visas. Today, the Iranian representative made some complaints in the Sixth Committee. So, I mean, regarding this question, don't you find that the work of committees may suffer from the visa policy of the United States?
Spokesman: Look, I can't assess the work of the committees. It's… that's for the committees themselves. What I can tell you is that, obviously, this issue is of con… one that's concerning us, and I know we have been raising it with the host authorities at various levels on a repeated basis. On that… oh, yes, why not?
Question: Do you have a comment on the elections in Kosovo?
Spokesman: In fact, I do have a comment on the election in Kosovo. What do you know? The UN Mission there, UNMIK, followed, in close coordination with relevant local and international actors, the conduct of the elections, as well as the security and the political situation. UNMIK itself did not play a direct role in the conduct… the operationalization of the elections. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) provided the technical support, and the European Union observed the elections.
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