15 November 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Good afternoon.  I will start off with an update on an ongoing operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Our Peacekeeping colleagues tell us that six peacekeepers from Malawi and one from Tanzania, who were part of the UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), were killed yesterday in Beni territory, in North Kivu.  As you know, this is the area where there is an Ebola outbreak and insecurity has been an obstacle to the response of the outbreak.

The peacekeepers were killed during a joint operation carried out by the UN peacekeeping mission and the Congolese armed forces against the Allied Democratic Forces, known as ADF.  Initial reports indicate that 10 additional peacekeepers were wounded, and another one is missing.  Several soldiers from the Congolese armed forces were also reportedly killed or wounded during the operation.  The Secretary‑General expresses our condolences to the families of the killed peacekeepers and the Government and people of the Republic of Malawi and the Republic of Tanzania.  We do expect a more formal statement to be issued shortly.

**Security Council

Back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council this morning on the G-5 Sahel Joint Force.  He said the security situation in the Sahel was still very worrying and the operationalization of the G-5 Sahel Joint Force has not been easy.  Mr. Lacroix noted that now more than ever, the G-5 Sahel Joint Force depends on the support of the international community.  Remarkable progress has been in made in the area of force generation, he said, but the Joint Force has still not attained full operational capacity.  Major equipment shortfalls, capacity gaps, insufficient infrastructure and a lack of secured operational bases continue to delay its full operationalization.  His remarks are available in our office.  And also this morning, the Security Council also adopted resolutions on Abyei, renewing the mandate for six months, and another resolution on the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was a two-week technical rollover.

**Central African Republic

And on the subject of the Central African Republic, the UN Mission there reports that earlier today, clashes took place in Alindao, in the Basse-Kotto Prefecture between anti-Balaka and UPC [Mouvement pour l’Unité et la Paix en Centrafrique] armed members.  Four civilians are reported to have been killed.  The fighting led to the deaths of an unknown number of other civilians, and also the displacement of thousands more, who fled to local MINUSCA premises seeking protection.  The UN Mission dispatched patrols to the area and provided security to those displaced.  The situation is reported to be calm now and the Mission is closely monitoring the situation.


And following questions raised at yesterday’s Security Council briefing, we wanted to say that the Secretary-General closely follows the recent developments in the Horn of Africa and trusts that the lifting of the sanctions on Eritrea will contribute to further advancing peacebuilding efforts in the region and to consolidate a conducive environment for greater economic integration and sustainable development.  The United Nations stands ready to support countries in the region in addressing the remaining peace and security challenges.  It also stands ready to support the ongoing dialogue between Djibouti and Eritrea and other regional efforts to settle outstanding issues between the two countries.


And on Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef are functioning normally but at reduced capacity since the gantry cranes in Hodeidah were destroyed in August of 2015.  There are currently three vessels — two carrying food and one carrying fuel — that are currently offloading at Hodeidah, and one is offloading food at Saleef.  Since 10 October, the Government of Yemen has imposed new restrictions on vessels carrying fuel, with four currently being denied clearance by the Coalition at the Government’s request.  These four vessels are carrying more than 40 per cent of the average month’s supply of fuel.  As you will recall, in his briefing to the Council on 23 October, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, stressed that humanitarian and commercial imports must flow to all ports and onwards to their final destinations.  He called for the lifting of restrictions on imports and keeping the main transport routes open and safe.

Mr. Lowcock will brief the Security Council tomorrow on Yemen’s humanitarian situation, including the risk of famine.  Also briefing the Council tomorrow is David Beasley, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).  And he will also be my guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, having just wrapped up a three-day visit to Yemen, where he also included a visit to the port of Hodeidah.  The World Food Programme is currently reaching up to 7 to 8 million Yemenis with food aid and is scaling up its efforts to feed up to 12 million people.


On Ukraine, our humanitarian colleagues also today spotlighted the increasingly forgotten plight of millions of people inside eastern Ukraine who are facing temperatures of well below zero in the midst of an ongoing active conflict.  Osnat Lubrani, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, today called on international donors to urgently step up funding to help vulnerable families through the long, harsh winter. While more than one million people most in need have received vital assistance and protection services, funding is falling short, with only 36 per cent of the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan funded.  Ms. Lubrani warned that a lack of funding means that the basic needs of millions of men, women and children continues to be denied.


And we had been asked earlier about our response to the Palermo talks being hosted by Italy on Libya.  And I can say that we welcome the unity of the international community in supporting the UN Action Plan, including the holding of a Libyan-led inclusive national conference in early 2019, and the efforts of the Secretary—General’s Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, in the Libyan-owned political transition, as reiterated in the conclusions of the Palermo Conference.

**Philosophy Day

And something to think about, because today is World Philosophy Day…mm, like that, huh?  I had worse jokes, but I’ll save them.  In Paris, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] is having three days of events to mark the Day.  These include a Night of Philosophy at the Organization’s Headquarters in which philosophers, artists and the general public exchange ideas; a discussion about Barbara Cassin, initiator of the International Network of Women Philosophers; and a presentation of recently digitized philosophy archives.  Or, as I like to say, I brief, therefore I am.  Sorry.  Which leads me to the next one.


Tomorrow is the International Day of Tolerance.  Tomorrow, at 11 a.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, there will be a screening of short films from YouTube’s 2018 Creators for Change programme; a panel discussion on tolerance and the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; as well as a musical performance.  At a time when the Internet is criticized for fuelling division and distrust, the event seeks to demonstrate how it can be used to create positive social impact.  You are invited to attend or to watch on the webcast.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

And I will be joined in a short while by Nihal Saad, the Spokesperson for the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.  She will be here to brief you ahead of the eighth Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum, which will be held on 19 and 20 November here in New York.  Questions?  Señorita?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Does SG has any comment on the announcement from Riyadh that 11 people have been indicted for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?

Spokesman:  We're, obviously, continuing to follow this situation closely, and we will want to see all of the people who are… who were involved in this atrocious murder to be brought to justice.

Question:  A follow‑up, Stéph?  Have… has the SG received any kind of request from Turkey for a UN‑led investigation into this…?

Spokesman:  No, we saw the press reports that something may be coming.  We have not received anything, and, as we have said, the Secretary‑General would need a mandate from an inter… a UN legislative body to proceed with an international investigation.  Yep?

Question:  Another follow‑up on that, Stéphane.  Would you take the call by the Turkish Foreign Minister for an international investigation into consideration?  I know the UN has been waiting for a request but…?

Spokesman:  I… as I said, we've seen the press reports.  We've not received anything in writing.  So, I wouldn't want to react until we have received something.

Question:  Another follow‑up on this.  Does the Secretary‑General have any opinion about the request of the five death penalties?  In the Khashoggi case, the five death penalties…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General's position on the death penalty is clear — is that he stands firmly against it.  Yes, Luke?

Question:  Thanks.  I'm curious if the SG has seen these reports that 15 ambassadors in China have requested to meet with the leader of Xinjiang province in the West about the Uyghur situation there? Does… has the… does the UN have any access to this province or…

Spokesman:  Sorry, no.

Correspondent:  I know you're not laughing about…

Spokesman:  No, I'm not laughing about that at all.  No, I haven't seen that so…  Yes, James?

Question:  The death of the peacekeepers, you said, was in an operation.  Can you tell us what the UN was doing at the time?

Spokesman:  It's an ongoing operation, so, we hope to have a bit more details tomorrow.  But, obviously, as we have highlighted here, this is an area where the presence of armed groups has made the response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak that much more complicated in an already very complicated setting.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you.  Can you elaborate on the Ukraine?  Are the Russians in the East and Kiev in the West withholding aid or just not giving it or…

Spokesman:  No, the issue is that our humanitarian appeal is underfunded and that, obviously, the underlying political issues have… are not being solved, and the civilian population continues to suffer, especially as we enter into the winter months in the area.  Yeah?

Question:  Yes.  Stéphane, I was once promised by you that you would follow up on the situation for Yemeni refugees in… in South Korea.  If you remember, that about 500 Yemeni refugees was about… were about to be deported.  But the thing is they gave… they gave them one-year residency.  So, I wondered, what is the UN position from having these refugees from the world's worst humanitarian crisis?  There are also other cases of… the Dublin regulation affecting other Yemeni refugees and… and around Europe, for example, and Sweden, there is a Yemeni journalist called Hind Aleryani.  Her case is… she's threatened to be deported back to the original country because of the Dublin regulation.  What's the UN position on that?

Spokesman:  I don't have details on the specific cases you mention, but, obviously, this is an issue that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] follows closely, notably the one in the Republic of Korea.  I think it's good that these people who are seeking shelter and fleeing violence have been given an extra year, but this is something that our UNHCR colleagues are following, and I'll see if I can get you more information.

Question:  Just last question.  Regarding Hodeidah, there is a pause in the battle there.  And I… I can see that the UN is doing lot of pressure on that.  Does that mean that the hostilities there are going to end?

Spokesman:  Well, as the UN are… is not the one who are… who is engaged in the hostilities, I can't predict what the belligerents will do.  There is… as you know, we have seen that there is somewhat of a lull in the fighting.  We hope the fighting stops.  We're engaged really on two fronts.  One is on the political end through Martin Griffiths' efforts, and the other one is on the humanitarian end.  Mr. Beasley, who was just in Hodeidah less than, I think, 24 hours ago, will be here tomorrow and will give you a lot more detail on the situation on the ground.

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  Staying on Yemen.

Spokesman:  Welcome back.

Question:  There were reports about tensions in Mahrah governorate, where six people were slaughtered by Saudi and [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi troops together, at opening fire against protesters.  Do you have any position on this…?

Spokesman:  I will check.  I haven't seen those reports.  I'll check.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Do you have any update on the Bangladesh election?  Because it said on 30 December, which is, like, during the holiday.  And the opposite leader is still in jail.  Also, there is a journalist, Shahidul Alam; he's also still in jail.  Do you have any updates?

Spokesman:  No, nothing to what we've already said on the issue.  James?

Question:  Couple of further questions, one on Rohingya, and Bangladesh was going to offer to let some people return.  That has not happened, because none of them wanted to return.  That was a sort of bilateral arrangement between Bangladesh and Myanmar.  How does the UN… given that didn't work at all and was rather chaotic, how does the UN think things should operate going forward?

Spokesman:  Look, there's a basic principle here, is that any repatriation must be in line with international law.  It must be voluntary, and it must be done in dignity.  And the refugees need to have the right to return home or to a place of their choosing.  Our colleagues at UNHCR are on the ground following it very closely.  I think, as you've seen, they have stated that, A, they couldn't find anyone who actually wanted to go home and that, I think, neither UNHCR or UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], who have been involved in visits to various parts in Rakhine State, have stated that the conditions are conducive to their report… to their return.  So, this is something the Secretary‑General is following closely.  UNHCR is on the lead, but, for the Secretary‑General's part, there are some basic principles that need to be respected.  Yep?

Question:  Couple of other loose ends.  Sorry.  I might have missed it, but you said Mr. Beasley and Mr. Lowcock were briefing.  Martin Griffiths is still briefing, is he not?

Spokesman:  I believe he is, yeah.  The fact that I did not mention him does not mean that he's not briefing, but I will check. 

Question:  Okay.  And, on another Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura's term was supposed to end at the end of November, and then the new Special Envoy, Ambassador Geir Pedersen, was supposed to take over.  There are some reports now — I don't know if you've announced it — suggesting that Mr. de Mistura will be able to stay on until the end of the year, and the new Special Envoy will take over from 2019.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  What is important is that there is no gap, and so, we're making the arrangements to ensure that there's no gap into the leadership of the office.

Question:  But when does Ambassador Pedersen take over?

Spokesman:  I don't have the exact dates, but, obviously, the focus is on not leaving a blank seat, so to speak.  Nihal, you're most welcome to join me.

For information media. Not an official record.