14 September 2018

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon, everyone.  I have travel to announce.  At the invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, His Majesty Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the Secretary-General will travel to Jeddah on Sunday to attend the signing ceremony of the peace agreement between the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Monday.

**South Sudan

And yesterday afternoon, we issued the following statement, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on South Sudan:  The signing of the Revitalized Agreement to Resolve the Conflict in South Sudan on 12 September is a positive and a significant development.  The Secretary-General commends the parties on this step forward and applauds regional and international efforts that led to the signing of the Agreement.  The Secretary-General calls on the signatories of the Agreement to fully and inclusively implement the Agreement both in letter and spirit, so that the people of South Sudan can finally receive the peace dividend they deserve.  It is imperative that all parties immediately cease hostilities across South Sudan.  The road ahead remains challenging and the international community must remain seized of the situation in South Sudan throughout the implementation of the Agreement.  The United Nations stands ready, in close coordination with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union, to assist the parties in implementing the Agreement.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, following heavy rains at the end of August, the North and South Hwanghae Provinces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have experienced heavy flooding which has reportedly killed dozens of people and uprooted more than 10,000 people.  Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed, along with civilian infrastructure and agricultural land.  A joint UN-Government assessment mission found that there are needs in the areas of food security, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, shelter, and disaster risk reduction.  On 12 September, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Government requested international assistance.  United Nations humanitarian agencies and their partners are responding to the immediate needs of the flood‑affected people and are planning to expand their support.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, on 12 September, Typhoon Mangkhut entered the territory of the Philippines and is expected to make landfall over northern Cagayan Province tomorrow morning to exit on Sunday morning.  It is estimated that more than 5 million people within a 125‑kilometre radius of the projected typhoon track could be severely affected.  Damage to agricultural crops and houses, as well as landslides in mountainous areas, are anticipated.  Local authorities are pre-emptively evacuating people in the northern provinces and low-lying areas.  The United Nations and our partners are working closely with the Government to coordinate response preparations, with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs supporting the Office of Civil Defence with preparedness efforts.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Government’s relief efforts as needed.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organisation (WHO) report that the Government of Zimbabwe has declared a state of emergency following a cholera outbreak in the capital, Harare.  As of this morning, there have been more than 4,000 suspected cases, including 58 confirmed cases and 25 cholera-related deaths.  The city is seeing an increase of 400 to 700 suspected cases per day.  As part of the state of emergency, the Government has ramped up health education and shut down some schools and banned the sale of meat and fish by vendors in affected areas.  WHO is assisting the Government to track down cases and is providing cholera kits to treatment centres in Harare.  WHO experts are also providing technical support, including deploying expertise in case management and in the oral cholera vaccine.


In Colombia, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing assistance to thousands of Venezuelans who continue to cross the border daily due to lack of food, medicine and other basic needs, and loss of livelihoods.  WFP said it has provided emergency food assistance to more than 60,000 Venezuelans in the border departments of Arauca, La Guajira, and Norte de Santander.  It has also started operating in the department of Nariño, bordering Ecuador.  In addition, WFP has reached some 33,000 people through its community kitchens in Arauca, La Guajira and Norte de Santander.  These kitchens provide two daily hot meals to the most vulnerable people, especially women, children and the elderly, and people with disabilities.  More information is available on WFP’s website.


A new report released today by the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that over one fifth of irregular migrants arriving in Europe are doing so by land.  The most frequently used route is from Turkey to Greece where authorities reported a total of 12,166 land arrivals since the beginning of this year.  In total, there were almost 18,000 people making the trip by land, which is a nearly six-fold increase compared to the same period last year.  As in previous years, more than half of the migrants making this trip come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.  More information is available on IOM’s website.

**Human Development Index

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today released its Human Development Index, which shows that, although there have been steady improvements in human development, there are still major concerns in terms of disparities of quality of life and education.  The Human Development Index reveals that on average, people are living longer, are more educated and are earning more money.  However, there are massive differences among and within countries.  This year, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland and Germany top the rankings of the report, while Niger, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Chad and Burundi have the lowest scores.  You can look at the full rankings on UNDP’s website.

**International Days

I want to flag a couple of international days coming up over the weekend.  On Saturday, we’ll mark the International Day of Democracy.  This year’s theme is “Democracy under Strain:  Solutions for a Changing World” and seeks to highlight ways to invigorate democracies by making them more inclusive.  And Sunday is the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.  The theme this year is “Keep Cool and Carry On:  The Montreal Protocol”, and it urges us to continue protecting the ozone layer and the climate under the Montreal Protocol.

**Honour Roll

And thanks today go to our friends in Trinidad and Tobago, who have paid their regular budget dues in full.  The Honour Roll now totals 133.

**Press Briefings

And regarding press encounters, on Monday at 3 p.m., the incoming President of the seventy-third session of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, will address reporters at the GA Stakeout (at the East Foyer area on the 2nd Floor).  I would like to point out that at the Noon Briefing that day, you’ll have the final briefing by the current Spokesperson for the current President of the General Assembly, Mr. Brendan Varma, who will give his penultimate briefing when I am done.  Anything for me before that?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Following up on the announcement of the Secretary-General going to Saudi Arabia.  On 9 July, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed agreements to open embassies in their respective capitals, restore flight services, use port facilities and a lot of other things.  What is going to happen in Saudi Arabia that's going to be different?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe this is a further agreement helping to cement the positive relations between them.  You saw the statement we issued earlier, about developments between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Secretary-General will be on hand to witness this.  He's not a party to the agreement.  This involves the leadership of those two countries.

Question:  And will there be any other witnesses or will it only be the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe the African Union has been invited, as well.  I think that their commissioner will also be present.  Yes, please?

Question:  [Inaudible] in New York.  Will the Secretary-General discuss the situation in Yemen with the Prince?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll have to see whether there are any bilateral meetings.  We'll keep you posted and if there are, we'll try to provide any details of what happens, but at this stage, he is on hand, like I said, to witness this agreement.  I don't have a schedule of any other meetings that he'll have there, but we're planning this as we go.  This is kind of a race against time to make arrangements.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I raised this question with Stéphane [Dujarric] and I raise it again.  Israel started attacking or destroying this village of Al-Khan el Ahmar.  The UN is silent.  No word from [Nickolay] Mladenov or any UN official.  Could you explain that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we may have more to say about this, but, certainly, we are seriously concerned about the intention of Israeli authorities to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan el Ahmar-Abu al Helu.  This is a community of 181 people, over half of whom are children, and we do want… and we have spoken out about this, but we do want any efforts to demolish this, or the intention to demolish this, to cease.

Question:  I take it that is a statement, or…?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is what I have to say for now.  If we have any further statement, we will issue it at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane [sic], the Secretary-General, his visit to Saudi Arabia ever… I mean, this is a follow-up… raised the question… I mean forcefully about Yemen and about the Coalition Army holding off in Yemen and allowing aid to go in.  Will he ever talk about that with the Saudis, or is he…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, like I told your colleague, we'll see what sort of discussions he can have when he is in Saudi Arabia, and we'll let you know if he has such discussions with the leadership there.  Our concerns about the situation in Yemen have been expressed many times, including as you know, this week by Martin Griffiths, when he met with the Security Council.

Question:  What is the Secretary-General hoping to achieve on this at all, if anything at all?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, Mr. Griffiths is also continuing with his efforts in terms of diplomacy, and he has recently visited Oman to meet with Omani officials and with some of the members of the Ansarallah leadership.

Question:  On another pressing issue of the Rohingya refugees, who are not being allowed back, not… not being given citizenship in, what do you call, Myanmar.  Has there been any movement with the Myanmar authorities about that at all, or is it still a stalemate?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you saw that we had mentioned that the Memorandum of Understanding had been agreed between the Government of Myanmar on the one hand and UNDP and the [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on the other, and some of the first steps towards implementing it are being taken right now.  We still believe that there's much more that needs to be done in order to have conducive conditions for the return of the Rohingya to Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar, but at this stage, we're following up and making sure that this Memorandum of Understanding will be implemented.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, while we're getting… while we're mapping out the SG's programme in Saudi Arabia, do you expect him to raise human rights at all, such as the Badawi Family that… the Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes.  As I mentioned to your various colleagues, we don't have any meetings to confirm right now, but we're trying to set things up and we'll let you know about the details once that's happened.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has been attacked already by a number of countries, including Italy.  Is there any position of the Secretary-General on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Some of your colleagues have raised this over the last couple of days and I've mentioned that she's going about her work.  She's saying things in accordance with her mandate as High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General supports her in her work.  We believe that this is a standard part of the process.  No High Commissioner for Human Rights can go about the job without upsetting different Governments and that comes with the territory.  And with that, I wish you a happy weekend and bring back for the last time my colleague.  Come on up, Brenden.

For information media. Not an official record.