4 December 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.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York after wrapping up his participation at the 24th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland.  This morning, the Secretary-General joined Member States, civil society and other stakeholders to brief them on his 2019 Climate Summit.  He said that the gathering, which will take place on the side-lines of the 2019 General Assembly, will focus on delivering three key outcomes:  a raising of real ambition; transformative action in the real economy; and an unprecedented citizen and youth mobilization.  “My summit,” the Secretary-General said, “is not an end in itself.  It is a tool — a tool to leverage unprecedented ambition, transformation and mobilization.”

Following that [event], the Secretary-General participated in the High-Level Event on Global Climate Action and Multilateralism.  He told the participants that they need to be frank, to be bold and to encourage their governments to reach a positive outcome at the summit.  He said that he is a true believer in global solutions for global problems, but multilateralism needs to adapt to new circumstances and cannot work in isolation.  Prior to leaving Katowice, the Secretary-General participated in the High-Level Event on Electric Mobility, sponsored by COP24 President Mihal Kurtyka.  He thanked the participants for focusing on mobility, as transport [accounted] for one quarter of total emissions in 2016, a level 71 per cent higher than what was seen in 1990.  This event, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said, is critical because it is a key step towards the sustainability transition that we all know is needed.


And also at COP24, UNESCO today launched its Atlas on the retreat of Andean glaciers and the reduction of glacial waters.  The atlas shows that if current trends continue, some of the lower-altitude glaciers of the tropical Andes could lose between 78 and 97 per cent of their volume by the end of the century, reducing the region's available freshwater resources.  To meet the challenges of ensuring water security for the populations that depend on these glaciers, the Atlas makes a series of recommendations for policymakers in the region.  You can find it on UNESCO’s website.

**Western Sahara

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson concerning the initial roundtable meeting on Western Sahara.  The Secretary-General welcomes the decision of Morocco, the Frente Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania to accept the invitation of his Personal Envoy, Horst Köhler, to participate in an initial roundtable meeting in Geneva on 5 and 6 December.  The Secretary-General reiterates his steadfast support to his Personal Envoy and his efforts to relaunch the negotiation process in line with Security Council resolution 2440 of 31 October 2018.  He urges all to engage in good faith, without preconditions and in a constructive spirit in the discussions.

**South Sudan

Last night, we issued the following statement:  The Secretary-General strongly condemns the brutal sexual attacks perpetrated against women and girls in the last ten days in the Unity region of South Sudan.  These horrific acts are a distressing reminder of how, despite recent recommitments by South Sudan’s leaders to a cessation of hostilities and a revitalized peace agreement, the security situation for civilians remains dire, especially for women and children.  Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been a consistent feature of the conflict in South Sudan, used both as a tactic of war and a driver of forced displacement.  The Secretary-General underlines that such predatory behaviour against the most vulnerable is unacceptable.

The Secretary-General urges the leaders of all the parties to the conflict — and future leaders in the Transitional Government of National Unity — to ensure the safety of civilians and address impunity for these crimes through investigation and prosecution of perpetrators, including through the operationalization of the Hybrid Court, as an immediate priority.  The Secretary-General underlines that the only viable solution for the security and prosperity of the people of South Sudan is the immediate cessation of hostilities and the full implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.  The United Nations stands ready to support all national, regional and international efforts to that effect.  Also, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; UNICEF’s Executive Director; and the UN Population Fund’s Executive Director, issued a joint statement on this, as did the Special Representatives on Sexual Violence in Conflict and on Children and Armed Conflict together with the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide.  Those statements are available online.


One in every 70 people around the world is caught up in a crisis, with more than 130 million people expected to need humanitarian aid next year.  The United Nations and its partners will aim to help more than 93 million of the most vulnerable people, according to the 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview presented by Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock today in Geneva.  Some $25 billion will be needed for these efforts.  The average humanitarian crisis with a UN-coordinated response lasts more than 9 years, up from an average length of 5.2 years in 2014, according to the World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2018 analysis.  Mr. Lowcock said that the humanitarian system today is more effective than ever, stressing that response plans are now more inclusive, comprehensive, innovative and prioritized.  Also on the humanitarian front, in a video message today, the Secretary‑General said that humanitarians are constantly on the front lines, negotiating access with parties to conflicts and assisting the world’s most vulnerable people.  You can read his full message to the 3rd Annual Meeting of Frontline Humanitarian Negotiators online.


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was informed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) this morning that they have started activities south of the Blue Line to look for suspected tunnels.  The overall situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remains calm and UNIFIL is working with all interlocutors in order to maintain the overall stability.  UNIFIL peacekeepers have further increased their patrolling along the Blue Line, together with the Lebanese Armed Forces, to maintain the overall stability and avoid misunderstandings that could lead to any escalation.  UNIFIL’s liaison teams are operating on both sides of the Blue Line.


Our humanitarian colleagues call on all parties to the Syrian conflict to ensure freedom of movement for civilians, following the reported closure of the Abu Al-Thohour crossing point in Idleb Governorate between Syrian Government and opposition-controlled areas.  The crossing was open between 26 November and 2 December, and nearly 4,500 people, including some 1,200 children, reportedly used it to move into Government of Syria-held areas.  Most were heading towards rural Hama Governorate, with the rest going to Sinjar area in Idleb Governorate and to southern rural Aleppo Governorate, as well as to Aleppo city.  The United Nations urges all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians, and to provide safe, sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian actors in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Department of Public Information Screening

And just to let you know that tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., the Department of Public Information — in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Brazil and the Consulate General of Brazil in New York — is organizing a screening of the Academy Award nominated animated film Ferdinand, to mark Human Rights Day.  This event will take place in the ECOSOC Chamber and will also feature a panel discussion with the film’s director afterward.  And the event is open to media.  That’s it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes.  Yes, please. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  I have a question on Western Sahara.  How many days the meetings will stay?  And second, if there is items that the parties will be discussing.  And, also, why every time you invited Algeria and Mauritania are to support or they're also part of the negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  In this case, these are the parties that Mr. Köhler believes will be helpful for a situation.  In other words, both those directly involved and those of the neighbouring states.  And, so, he has decided that those sides are all welcome to participate in these discussions.  This is an initial round‑table meeting, and it will last for two days, 5 and 6 December.  Yes.

Question:  And the items? I asked about the items they're going to discuss. 

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll make more clear what the nature of the discussions was once we get to the end of this particular process.  So, if you wait a couple of days, we'll have some further information for you.  Yes, please. 

Question:  A follow‑up question on the statement you read on Yemen and ‑ on Lebanon and then a question on Yemen.  On Lebanon, you've explained what the UN force is doing right now on the ground.  Can I ask you about what the Secretary‑General is doing?  Is he… has he been in contact with… with… anyone rather than… with regard to this? And how concerned is the Secretary‑General that this new Israeli operation could be a new flashpoint in that very sensitive area?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as I pointed out, the situation does remain calm, and what we're doing is working with the parties to maintain the overall stability.  The Force Commander has made it very clear to all of the various parties the need to avoid any unilateral steps or actions that could escalate the situation.  But at this stage, like I said, we are at work on that, and we are hopeful that overall stability can be maintained.

Question:  And, on Yemen, can you give us an update on the talks given that we now hear the various parties are actually in the air on the way to Sweden?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's nice thinking that things are moving and I'm very hopeful that things are, indeed, moving.  What I can say on this is that the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, is due to arrive in Stockholm this evening, and preparations are ongoing to convene the political discussion — the political consultations.  We are confident that the two parties will meet this week in Sweden.  Beyond that, let's see when we can make any further announcement.  Yes, please.

Question:  I have, also, a follow‑up on UNIFIL.  You mentioned — I hope I'm right — that UNIFIL… they are working on both side of the Blue Line.  That's what you say?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  What I mentioned is that we have liaison teams operating on both sides of the Blue Line.

Question:  You said the Lebanese side, they work with Lebanese army?  What about the other side?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are in contact with all the parties, including the Lebanese Armed Forces on one side and the Israeli Defense Forces on the other.  And we are, like I said, making sure that they avoid unilateral steps and any actions that could escalate the situation.

Question:  Just the last one.  And they patrolling only the Lebanese sides or also the other side?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, in terms of where UNIFIL patrols, that is within our area of operations, as according to our mandate.  Yes, please. 

Question:  Hi.  Has the Secretary‑General feels the key achievement of the COP24 this year?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the COP24 is ongoing, and although the Secretary‑General has departed from Katowice, he will be in touch with people, including with the heads of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  And… and there's… as you know, going to be continuing developments there, and we'll evaluate that as the Conference of Parties continues this week and next week.  And with that, have a good afternoon.

For information media. Not an official record.