Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
18 November 2019
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A bit earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke to about 120 UN Resident Coordinators during their annual meeting this week here at UN Headquarters. He thanked them for their work and commitment to the reforms of the UN development system and acknowledged that much more remains to be done.
He stressed that we cannot chart a road to peace and prosperity without putting development strategies front and centre, and he called on the Resident Coordinators to make full use of their newly empowered role by leading by example, building partnerships with governments, and making the most of the 2030 Agenda by leveraging all its components, including the Paris Agreement.
He added that reform is about results and emphasized the crucial role of the Resident Coordinators in bringing these to life.
The Deputy Secretary-General also addressed the Resident Coordinators this morning.
The objective of this annual meeting is to start readying the UN's chiefs on the ground for the decade for action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and assess the progress and challenges of the UN development reform.
Speaking at the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Secretary-General reminded participants that the world already enjoys five zones: in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
These nuclear-weapon-free zones, he added, put a permanent end to the possibility of nuclear conflict in a given region.
The Secretary-General said a Middle East zone will need to be a product of the specific circumstances of the region and strengthen the security of all states.
He told the participants that we should all take inspiration from the first successful proposal for a denuclearized zone, tabled just a few weeks after the Cuban Missile crisis.
Despite tensions and politics of the Cold War, Latin American and Caribbean countries managed to establish a flexible and durable arrangement, which has served as a model for other zones.
The Security Council this morning held an open meeting on the situation in Libya.
Briefing the Council members via video link, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Ghassan Salame, said that, more than seven months into the conflict and given the dangerous escalation in fighting in and around Tripoli, we are ever more in a race against a time to reach a peaceful solution that would spare many lives.
Mr. Salame said that he was angry and sad that, in what may be a war crime, a biscuit factory in Tripoli was hit today in an air strike, with at least 10 people dead and dozens more injured.
He stressed his determination to see an end to this debilitating conflict, as preparations are underway for the next steps of the initiative announced in July of this year. His full remarks are online.
I have an update, a humanitarian update from our colleagues in Haiti.
Most businesses and schools in the country have been closed since mid-September, due to ongoing protests and unrest. This, as you can imagine, has a negative impact on the economic and social life in Port-au-Prince and other urban centres.
Food insecurity is on the rise. According to the latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) report, 3.7 million people are currently experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. This includes 1 million people – out of a total population of 11 million – facing emergency levels of food insecurity.
Assessments indicate that food insecurity could affect more than 4 million people by March of next year.
To facilitate access to people in need, WFP (World Food Programme) is working to establish a Humanitarian Air Service, using a $1 million allocation from the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) Rapid Response.
Humanitarian needs continue to rise in Haiti and new support is encouraged. Lack of funding has impacted the capacity of humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti, which is valued at $126 million, is only funded at 29 per cent thus far.
According to a new report released by UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) today, there have been historic gains overall for the world's children since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted 30 years ago.
However, many of the poorest children have yet to feel the impact, the agency says.
Citing progress in child rights over the past three decades, the report notes that the global under-five mortality rate has fallen by about 60 per cent and the proportion of primary school-aged children not in school decreased from 18 to 8 per cent.
However, the report notes, this progress has not been even: in low- and middle-income countries, children from the poorest households are twice as likely to die from preventable causes before their fifth birthday than children in the richest households. The full report is online.
WHO (World Health Organization) and the African Union (AU) earlier today signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) cementing their mutual commitment to expand and deepen their relationship and cooperation between the two organizations.
This significant commitment to global health follows the political declaration on universal health coverage, approved by 193 Member States during the GA (General Assembly) and the adoption of a global resolution to translate that political commitment into reality in 140 countries shortly thereafter.
Just want to flag a senior appointment: The Secretary-General is appointing today Kanni Wignaraja of Sri Lanka as the next Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific in the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
She succeeds Haoliang Xu of the People's Republic of China, who has recently been appointed to head UNDP's Bureau for Policy and Programme [Support].
Kanni recently served as the Acting Assistant Administrator and Director for the Bureau for Management Services at UNDP and as Special Adviser to the UNDP [Administrator]. We congratulate her on this well-deserved appointment.
I want to flag today an event that will take place tomorrow.
The UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, better known as DDR, is set to launch its revised guidance during a high-level event scheduled at 10 a.m. in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber.
The event, called "Journey for Peace and Development", will gather principals of the working group on DDR, which is made up of 25 UN entities, as well as Member States and the Group of Friends of DDR.
The high-level event will be held simultaneously in New York and in Geneva and will be webcast on UN Web TV and on the UN YouTube channel.
**Press Briefing Today
After you are done with me, our colleague Reem Abaza will brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.
And we are up to 136 Member States who have paid their regular budget dues in full, and we thank our friends in Mali for having done so.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the UN have any knowledge of who's responsible for the air strike in Libya which killed ten people today?
Spokesman: No, nothing… we have nothing more than what Ms. Salame said. Yes, sir?
Correspondent: I do wonder whether Mali gets the escalator switched on, but anyway.
Spokesman: You may be surprised who gets the escalator switched on.
Question: My questions are about China. I've got two questions for you. So we've seen an intensification of the violence in Hong Kong. As I walked past the stakeout, the Secretary-General told me, "we asked the demonstrators not to be violent and for security forces to show restraint", which has been your consistent position. But I'm wondering how he is trying to articulate that position to the parties involved. What contacts has he had, particularly with representatives of China, in recent weeks?
Spokesman: The secretary… I'm not aware of the Secretary-General having discussed the situation in Hong Kong with its senior Chinese official recently. Contacts are had at various levels as a matter of routine, but that is the Secretary-General's position.
Question: And another China question: You will have seen over the weekend the New York Times obtained documents showing the level of repression in Xinjiang. I want to know what the UN's reaction to that story is. And what is the Secretary-General's clear position on those camps, where there are more than a million people reportedly being held? Does the Secretary-General believe they should be closed?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General… I mean, we have no particular comment on the New York Times article. We don't comment on leaked documents, whether they are from the UN or from… maybe from other places. The Secretary-General has been very consistent both publicly and privately on his…on China…on the issue of the situation in Xinjiang. He raised it, in fact, not too long ago with the Prime Minister of China during his meeting and in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). First of all, the Secretary-General hopes very much that there will be a positive outcome to the ongoing dialogue between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the People's Republic of China to arrange for a trip to China by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
His position on the situation is that there needs to be full respect for the unity and territorial integrity of China, condemnation of terrorist attacks, as no cause or grievances can justify them. And human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and the prevention of violent extremism. Each community must feel that its identity is respected and fully belongs to the nation as a whole.
Question: You did not answer my specific question. Does the Secretary-General believe those camps should be closed?
Spokesman: I think what the Secretary-General believes is that a visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be a very positive one.
Question: Can you give me a "Yes" or "No" answer on that one?
Spokesman: That is what I will tell you. Yes, Evelyn, please?
Question: On Bolivia, do you have any update on the work of Mr. [Jean] Arnault in the country?
Spokesman: Yes. Mr. Arnault continues his work in Bolivia. My understanding is that he will participate in a meeting organised by the Episcopal Conference of Dialogue with different sectors of Bolivian society. Madame, and then Ali.
Question: Thank you. Today the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented a report on the UN global study of children deprived of liberty and they claim that more than 100,000 children are detained because of immigration in the United States. Does the Secretary-General have any concerns about the high numbers of children detained in the United States under migration rules, and they also are giving high numbers to Mexico, which is now one of the countries working with the US?
Spokesman: We have nothing to add to what our human rights colleagues have said. The Secretary-General has always spoken out against the detention of children, wherever that may occur. Ali?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I wonder whether you have any comment on the… what is happening in Iran, especially that the authorities are just, on their crackdown on the protesters, there are casualties, and some people are injured. Also, the authorities in Lebanon and in other countries, they are saying that blocking streets and public venues is contrary to international laws or customs; is that true?
Spokesman: Look, on Iran, the Secretary-General is following with concern the ongoing situation in Islamic Republic of Iran, especially the clashes between protesters and security forces that we saw over the weekend. He is very much saddened by the loss of life that we have seen. And I would refer you to what we said already earlier this fall in October regarding street demonstrations and he calls on all to avoid violence and the importance also for safeguarding civic space.
On the issue of roads, I mean, you mentioned to me the comments made by Lebanese senior officials. I have not seen those direct comments. There is a body of work within the human rights that deals with the balance that needs to be struck between allowing people to demonstrate freely but also respecting the rights of others, including people wanting to get on with their lives, so I would refer you to that. As a matter of principle, we believe that people have a right to demonstrate freely. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. A policy journalist, his name is Muath Amarneh, was shot in the eye when he was covering a demonstration in the Village of Surif next to Hebron; are you aware of that? Anybody had… took note of this attack on a journalist?
Spokesman: I've seen the press reports. I think any time a journalist gets injured while doing their job, the authorities need to investigate it very thoroughly.
Question: Another question. There is a statement issued by UNICEF regarding killing children in schools. The statement mentioned two students killed in East Russia and two students killed in California, but there is a Palestinian student who was at an UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) school, his name is Ameer Ayad, he is second grade, he was killed during this latest Israeli attack. So UNICEF failed to see also a Palestinian killed in his school in the second grade, and in the UN. Why is that and I asked UNICEF and they didn't reply so I'm asking you so you can address it to them?
Spokesman: I will pass on your request to UNICEF. Stefano and then James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just a follow-up on Libya about the bomb being on the list of ten civilian deaths; does the Secretary-General think, apart of who did it, that it amounts to a war crime, this?
Spokesman: I think Mr. Salame said this may amount to a war crime. We don't know exactly what happened yet; but, obviously, if it turns out to be, you know, I think the investigation needs to be done to look exactly what happened. Mr. Salame speaks on behalf of the Secretary-General on what happens in Libya. James and then.
Question: Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew in his television interview said that at the townhouse parties, he met a variety of people, including people from the United Nations. Are you aware of any senior officials from the UN meeting Mr. Epstein? Are there any inquiries going here at UN Headquarters to find out who did meet him?
Spokesman: I have absolutely no knowledge of anyone, any UN official meeting Mr. Epstein in that townhouse.
Question: Okay, since we have a few Middle East issues, any update on Yemen and the negotiations taking place in Oman?
Spokesman: No. We have some travel to announce for Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, who I believe may be heading to Saudi Arabia soon; but otherwise nothing, nothing else. All right.
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