The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, and happy Friday, everyone.
I am going to lead with a personnel appointment. Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico as his Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit. Mr. de Alba will provide leadership, guidance and strategic direction towards the Climate Summit in 2019. He will be responsible for cooperation with key strategic climate change leaders, including governments and coalitions, to galvanize climate action and leadership for the Summit. The Summit focuses on building momentum for enhancing national ambition and accelerating implementation of climate action, towards 2020 and beyond as set out in the Paris Agreement. The Summit will bring together Heads of State and Government, business leaders, academics and scientists, young people, civil society representatives, local leaders and the UN system. Mr. de Alba will work closely with Robert Orr, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Climate Change; with Peter Thomson, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Ocean; with Michael Bloomberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Climate Action; and other senior officials across the United Nations System. A full bio note is online.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the Security Council’s open meeting on multilateralism. In his remarks, he said that it took World War II to trigger the multilateral arrangements we know today, which have had a proven track record in saving lives, generating economic and social progress and avoiding a third descent into world war. But the Secretary-General noted that there is anxiety, uncertainty and unpredictability across the world, stressing that we need to inspire a return to international cooperation. Towards that end, he said, we need stronger commitment to a rules-based order, with the United Nations at its centre, with the different institutions and treaties that bring the Charter to life. The Secretary-General also emphasized the need for cooperation with other international and regional organizations, as well as closer links with civil society and others. His full remarks are available in our office and on our website.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is extremely concerned about the recent intensification of conflict in Yemen’s Hodeidah Governorate and its impact on the civilian population as well as on humanitarian aid operations. In October alone, 94 civilians were killed and 95 injured in Hodeidah Governorate. There is also damage to civilian infrastructure, including health facilities and houses. While the number of those remaining in Hodeidah City is difficult to gauge, UNHCR is worried that people needing to flee for safety are unable to do so, trapped by military operations, which are increasingly confining populations and cutting off exit routes. UNHCR is urgently appealing to parties to the conflict to protect civilians and humanitarian personnel, and to secure humanitarian relief items stored in Hodeidah.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up dramatically to meet increasing need in Yemen — from 7 to 8 million people per month to almost 14 million people per month. Most of that increased assistance is with food, but WFP is also using cash-based transfers where it is possible. Regarding Special Envoy Martin Griffiths’ diplomatic efforts, I would like to clarify that the efforts to relaunch the political process are proceeding as planned. We are in constant consultation with the parties to finalize the arrangements for holding the talks. We are committed to convening the talks as soon as those arrangements are finalized.
As I briefed you yesterday, the United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams completed the delivery of life-saving assistance for 50,000 people in need at the Rukban camp near the Syrian-Jordanian border. The United Nations would like to thank all partners and other actors, particularly those on the ground, who extended support to our colleagues and were instrumental in its success. We continue to call on all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the Security Council on the “fragile but palpable” improvements in Tripoli’s security situation and outlined efforts to support the Libyan authorities in tackling terrorism, overcoming the political stalemate and ending the plunder of the country’s wealth. Mr. Salamé urged Member States to support efforts to combat foreign terrorist fighters in the south. The Special Representative also called for a Libyan-led, Libyan-owned National Conference in the first weeks of 2019, with a subsequent electoral process to follow in the spring.
**United Nations Police
And today, UN Police wrapped up the 13th United Nations Police Week Conference. Since Monday, Heads of Police Components in United Nations Peacekeeping and Special Political Missions gathered to discuss strategic police priorities and operational requirements for approximately 11,000 officers from 88 contributing countries. They highlighted progress in fulfilling the implementation of the commitments in the joint declaration on Action for Peacekeeping. The Police Chiefs also briefed the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the Security Council on community-oriented policing in Abyei, safety and security in Mali and in the Central African Republic, gender-responsive policing in South Sudan, preventing and addressing organized crime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and strengthening rule of law in Haiti.
UN Police Adviser Luís Carrilho and Heads of Police Components also called for increased deployment of women police officers in order to improve confidence-building measures with local populations and strengthen the effectiveness and efficiency of UN Police operations. UN Police Week featured other events, such as a photo exhibit highlighting the work of United Nations police in the field, which you may visit at the Conference Building at the Curve Wall in front of the East Lounge. There are more details online. And that is it for me. Do we have any questions? Yes, Majeed.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to ask you about the… follow up about the letter that the representative of Iran has sent to Secretary-General with regard to the… to the new sanctions, the US sanctions.
Deputy Spokesman: Excuse me, please don't talk while he's asking his question. Sorry, go ahead.
Question: Has the Secretary-General responded to the Iranians? And what will the SG is planning to do with regard to what the Iranians are calling unilateral measures by the US?
Deputy Spokesman: The letter has been received, and it's being studied at present. We do expect to make a response, but right now, that response is being considered. Regarding the overall issue, certainly you know, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly stated, his support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the need for all states to abide by it.
Question: And Farhan, is there any update from inside Iran about the impacts of… of these new measures, domestically inside the country, to the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that's not something the UN is itself studying at this point. Obviously, Iran has provided some of this information. The letter, I believe, is being circulated as a document. Yes, Masood.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Farhan, on this… on Yemen again. Yemen… the… the attacks have still not stopped and the… and keep on going. And the Saudis… have the Saudis have any conversation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the situation that is happening? It's very urgent.
Deputy Spokesman: We're certainly aware of the urgency and we've raised up our concerns concerning the fighting in Yemen at many levels, including through our Special Envoy. The Secretary-General, as you know, has also spoken out repeatedly about the need to halt the fighting in Yemen and go back to peace negotiations, and we continue to reiterate that. We want to make clear that all parties to the conflict must respect international humanitarian law, and health facilities and other critical infrastructure are protected sites in reference to the latest fighting in Hodeidah. Yes, Joe? No, Joe.
Question: With regard to the migration caravan getting closer and closer to the southern border between the US and Mexico, does the Secretary-General have any comment on the executive order signed, I believe, this morning by President [Donald] Trump mandating that anyone seeking asylum in that caravan go through the official ports of entry, as opposed to crossing anywhere they want on the border and then asking for asylum? Does he have any comment on that? Does he think that's inconsistent with the Convention on Refugees and so forth?
Deputy Spokesman: No. On this, I think I would refer you to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This is really their issue and we'll leave the matter of analysing these developments in their hands.
Question: Well, he… as you obviously know, he had been the head of that agency for quite some time so, I mean, he has a perspective. He's talked a lot about this issue, so I'm just… I'm not talking about getting into the… into the nitty-gritty, but just overall, the issue of protecting a nation's sovereignty, which he also recognises. Does he think it's inconsistent with the overall architecture of the convention on refugees and recognition of the rights of migrants or asylum seekers to regulate the particular ports of entry where asylum seekers can make their claims?
Deputy Spokesman: You're quite right that he does have perspective, as a former High Commissioner for Refugees, and as a result of that, he believes that it's appropriate for the current High Commissioner for Refugees and UNHCR to analyse the latest developments. Yes?
Question: To follow up on Yemen. Has Mr. [Martin] Griffiths… who is he negotiating with? Is Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and even Iran part of the talks there? Because the so-called "legitimate government" has little power.
Deputy Spokesman: He has been consulting not just with the Yemeni parties themselves but also with others, including Saudi Arabia, Oman, and other countries who have been involved in the process. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Bangladesh comment on Bangladesh. Bangladesh Government has declared the next election schedule on 23 December, just ahead of Christmas. Major opposition parties are in dialogue with the ruling authority, but without any conclusion or accepting any demands of the opposition, the controversial chief election commissioner has declared the election schedule. Main opposition leader Khaleda Zia is still in jail. Opposition party and civil society groups already oppose the one-sided election schedule and urging for a level playing field before declaring any election day. What is… is UN's position? And is Secretary-General aware of this? Because UN is urging for a free, fair and credible election all the way.
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of the latest developments on the ground and are monitoring it. Our priorities are the need for the elections in Bangladesh to be inclusive, credible and transparent, so we'll continue to study the arrangements and see whether those particular priorities are upheld, so that will be what we're weighing as we consider what the appropriate timing would be. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Secretary-General, when he's in Paris, is he planning any bilateral meetings? Is there a schedule of who he's planning to meet?
Deputy Spokesman: We're trying to work out that particular schedule right now. I don't have anything to share with you, but one of our colleagues, Vannina [Maestracci] will be travelling with the Secretary-General and we'll try to provide details once we have the schedule firmed up, but certainly, there are… there is opportunity to meet with a number of leaders, and we'll see what we can meet then. [He later added that meetings with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had been announced.] Yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have another follow-up on the caravan of migrants. Yesterday in Mexico, a group of members of that caravan did a march through Mexico City, requesting UNHCR to provide at least 150 buses because they want the UN to provide this transportation services so they're taken securely to the border with Mexico, so I wonder… I mean, would the UN consider this, after the meeting that they even had with a UN team there in Mexico City? You know, would there be any kind of conversation on… on… on this request? And also, have the Mexican authorities reached out to you on these concerns by the migrants, that they might not be secure enough and requesting more efforts by the UN to protect them as they make their way to the US?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, as with your colleague, I would refer you to UNHCR. As you know, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been providing some services to the Mexican authorities as they're dealing with the situation of the migrants. If there's any need to provide any further different ones, they'll have to consider that on the ground, but I don't have anything new to report, in terms of the assistance that they've been providing so far. Yes?
Question: Can UNHCR pop in here once in a while since you get slammed with these questions every single day? And I mean, I know the situation changes constantly, but once in a while they could… somebody could come.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, they could, but as you know, UNHCR is based out of Geneva and, in fact, our UNHCR colleagues participated in the Geneva press briefing just today, just a few hours ago. And the records of what they said there are already being transcribed and should be out.
Question: And secondly, how… how long is the SG in Europe?
Deputy Spokesman: He will come back on Monday evening, and then I think we'll have some further travel to announce after that. Yes, Masood. Oh, and then you, Mr. Sato.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Should I…? Okay. I just wanted to find out about the situation in Sri Lanka, where the President has now reportedly dissolved the Parliament and the situation… and the crisis has become back to worse. Do you have any position on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Hold on one second. On Sri Lanka, then. The basic issue is that we have been informed of the latest developments. We certainly hope that the regular constitutional procedures will be followed, and we'll keep monitoring the situation to see what happens after that.
Question: So on this issue, on the… on the issue of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi. Did Saudi Ambassador in Geneva apologize and regret it, that this has happened? Is that acceptable? And that they are now scot-free and everything and that is all acceptable?
Deputy Spokesman: You'll have seen what our position has been both from the Secretary-General and from the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We continue to call for a prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation and we'll continue to monitor to see that that is being carried out. Yes?
Question: Hello, Farhan. Yesterday you mentioned about Venezuela and the UN will launch a new humanitarian response to support the refugees away from the neighbours from next month. Could you elaborate on this response?
Deputy Spokesman: Not at this stage. We're still preparing to launch this effort, but we're not quite there yet. Once we have that in the coming days, you'll get some further details of what we're looking for in terms of assistance to all of the neighbouring countries. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I have a question about your clarification on the Yemen talks that you just gave. Yesterday, you had said that Martin Griffiths was trying to convene them… convene them by the end of the year, and prior to that, it was by the end of this month. Which one is it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, ultimately, once we can make an announcement, you'll see whether it is. I wouldn't foreclose the possibility of either the end of the month or, you know, possibly slightly after that. The bottom line for us is we're trying to convene the talks as soon as the arrangements are finalized, and Mr. Griffiths and his team are working to finalize the arrangements now. Once we have an announcement, you'll have more precision about when exactly that will be. Yes?
Question: Still another question about migration. After Austria bailed out of the UN migration pact, there was a long debate yesterday in the German Parliament, so there's a good chance that even Germany may pull out. Now, one of the criticisms being made is that the pact does not address the impact of migration on nation States. It does not address the crime rates in those countries. We have heard very little from the Secretary-General. He said simply that he regrets that Austria pulled out. Can we expect anything more?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, the Compact on Migration has been developed by the various Member States. This has been the product of discussions that have been held by all the countries that are involved with this, whether they're countries of origin, countries of transit, or countries of destination, and we're trying to work out a solution that is acceptable to all of those categories. Ultimately, that will involve some degree of compromise, but there's been a huge number of countries on board for this and we hope and expect that there will be a very large number of countries on board and participating at the conference in Marrakech to help resolve this issue, because ultimately, this is only a problem that can be solved collectively. And with that, have a good weekend, everyone.