The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement from the Secretary-General on Yemen: The Secretary-General welcomes the launch today of intra-Yemeni consultations in Sweden and urges the parties to make progress on the agenda for the consultations as outlined by his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, by exercising flexibility and engaging in good faith and without preconditions. The Secretary-General appeals to the warring parties to continue the de-escalation of Hudaydah and explore other measures to mitigate the life threatening economic and humanitarian situation. He reminds the parties that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only way to end the conflict and address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
In the opening remarks Martin Griffiths made at the consultations in Sweden, he announced the signing of an agreement on the exchange of prisoners, detainees, the missing, the forcibly detained and individuals placed under house arrest. He said that the agreement would allow thousands of families to be reunited and it is a product of very effective, active work from both delegations. Mr. Griffiths also spoke to the press in Sweden and said that there is a massive international effort to try to solve the conflict in Yemen. He said that there was huge consensus about the urgent need to resolve the conflict, noting the worsening plight of Yemeni civilians, with a risk that fully half of Yemen’s people will become vulnerable to famine, hunger and disease if we do not move urgently towards a political solution. He said that he intends to discuss with the parties what might constitute the outlines of a settlement. And he added the parties would discuss, among other measures, the release of prisoners, the question of opening Sana’a airport and how the two parties can contribute to a coherent economic and monetary plan. Mr. Griffiths underlined the importance of finding ways to de-escalate the violence in the country.
The round-table meeting held in Geneva yesterday and today under the auspices of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, has wrapped up, and the delegations involved — Morocco, the Frente POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania — have agreed to a communiqué. The communiqué says that the delegations took stock of recent developments, addressed regional issues, and discussed next steps in the political process. All delegations recognized that cooperation and regional integration, not confrontation, were the best ways to address the many important challenges the region is facing. All discussions took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness, and mutual respect. Delegations agreed that the Personal Envoy will invite them for a second round-table meeting in the first quarter of next year.
Back here, the Secretary-General addressed the Security Council this morning on the role of States, regional arrangements and the United Nations in the prevention of conflicts. He said we are overwhelmingly managing crisis and conflict, when we should put far more effort into preventing them from happening in the first place. He added that prevention saves lives but also makes economic sense. The Secretary-General noted that the UN is working to improve its capacity — from greater use of good offices, to investing in mediation and strengthening the contribution of peacekeeping and peacebuilding, [to] prevention. He also stressed that sustainable development was one of the most effective tools for prevention and that achieving the SDGs will make a significant contribution to tackling root causes and [building] lasting peace.
He also spoke this morning at the first meeting of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Compact Coordination Committee and said that the new Compact Task Force will enhance the collective approach to counter-terrorism across the United Nations system. He said the United Nations counter-terrorism architecture is now better coordinated and organized around fundamental objectives. The Secretary-General noted the new Compact between 36 United Nations entities — plus INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization — will provide a clear framework and solid platform. He added [that] we must lead by example by fighting terrorism in a manner that fully respects international human rights standards and the rule of law. Policies that limit human rights only end up alienating the very communities they aim to protect, who would normally have every interest in fighting extremism.
Lt. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the Force Commander for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon [UNIFIL], along with a technical team, today visited a location near Metulla in northern Israel where the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] has discovered a tunnel close to the Blue Line. Based on the site inspection, UNIFIL can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location. Accordingly, UNIFIL is now engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action. It is very important to determine the full picture of this serious occurrence. UNIFIL will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon.
We remain deeply concerned by continuing reports of injury and displacement in Idlib Governorate in northwest Syria, following ongoing hostilities and shelling in the area. Yesterday, shelling reportedly continued on several areas in southern Idlib, reportedly injuring civilians in Khan Shaykhun and temporarily displacing many people. Many of the newly-displaced people are reportedly staying in the open without adequate shelter. While initial food assistance and non-food distributions by local organizations and local councils are [reported] to have started, many people reportedly remain in need of emergency food and shelter. The United Nations continues to reiterate that a full-scale escalation of hostilities in the area must be averted at all costs, and that failure to do so will bring about humanitarian suffering at a scale not yet seen in this conflict.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it had evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger, most of them women and children who were previously detained in Libya. UNHCR secured their release and housed them in the newly opened Gathering Departure Facility in Tripoli before safely evacuating them. The Facility is the first centre of its kind in Libya and is intended to bring vulnerable refugees to safe environments while solutions including refugee resettlements, family reunification, evacuation to emergency facilities in other countries, return to a country of previous asylum, and voluntary repatriation are sought for them. More on UNHCR’s website.
The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] today said that food commodity prices declined in November, led by a drop in the price for palm oil and other vegetable oils. The Food Price Index for this month was down 1.3 per cent from October and 8.5 per cent from a year earlier. The index is now at its lowest level since May 2016. Large palm oil inventories and abundant supplies of soy and sunflower oils fuelled the decline, as well as large exports for cereals which increased the competition in the market.
**Central Emergency Response Fund
Couple of things to flag for tomorrow, the Secretary-General will open the annual CERF High-Level Pledging Conference — and that is the Central Emergency Response Fund. That will take place tomorrow morning. The event will highlight the Fund’s achievements, announcements towards the fund in 2019, and discussion on how to collectively increase the level of funding towards the US$1 billion target endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2016. You are welcome to attend.
**Universal Declaration of Human Rights
I also want to flag that today at 6 p.m. the Secretary-General will open a UN exhibit on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that will take place in the Visitors Lobby, along with the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of France. The exhibit highlights the little known, yet essential roles played by women delegates in drafting the Declaration. And tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Trusteeship Chamber, the Secretary-General will speak at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The event includes [an] interactive video presentation by USC Shoah Foundation, allowing for real time dialogue with Holocaust survivors. And as a reminder the Secretary-General will sign a cooperation agreement on peace and security issue with the African Union at 1:30 p.m.0 and I think that text has been sent to you under embargo.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. So, what do you make of these conclusions from the UNIFIL’s field trip to Metulla and the tunnels issue? And I have a follow‑up on that, please.
Spokesman: No, I… what I make of it is what UNIFIL said. They will also… obviously, everything that they do and they find is also regularly reported back to the Security Council.
Question: So, is this… can you explain why does the underground tunnels apply… the Blue Line apply in the underground tunnels?
Spokesman: I think it’s a matter of human logic that it applies in the sky. We report on violations of airspace. And if you dig underground, that would also be a violation. And the Secretary‑General’s been very clear that the building of tunnels from one country to another as we’re… would… is wholly unacceptable, and the existence of a tunnel under the Blue Line would be a violation of the relevant resolutions.
Question: So, the overflights, as well, are…
Spokesman: I mean, it is… to me, it is basic human logic that the separation of the Blue Line also applies underground. Mr. Abbadi and then… sorry.
Question: How satisfied is the Secretary‑General by the communication by Mr. Horst, the Special Envoy to Western Sahara, after the round table in Geneva?
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General is waiting to be fully updated by Mr. Köhler, but I think discussions that took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness, and mutual respect and the fact that the delegation agreed with Mr. Köhler to come back for a second round is something that is clearly a positive step forward. Sorry?
Question: I was going to ask the Secretary‑General’s reaction also to the Western Sahara talks. Will the Secretary‑General be going to the migration meeting in Marrakesh?
Spokesman: We’ll have an official announcement tomorrow, but I think you can expect to see him there. That’s an open secret. Yes, ma’am?
Question: Hi. Also on the migration Global Compact in Marrakesh, do you already have a specific number of countries who are going to be there or not going to be there? I know it’s unclear for you to know, but what has been the work of the United Nations to gather that number?
Spokesman: Well, we’re obviously… we’re harvesting the responses that we’ve gotten from various parties. I have to get… I don’t have the numbers here. I think sometimes countries will say they’re arriving with a delegation. It’s not clear what… at what level. I think, as [is] often with these things, we’ll have a much clearer picture on day one. [He later added that 135 Member States have registered to come to Marrakesh so far.]
Question: And I also would like a reaction from the United Nations as the… you were, at the beginning, expecting 193 countries for this Global Compact for Migration. But now it’s… it will be very different if there are 93 countries, for example. So, if there are less and less countries, what’s… what’s the expectation for that?
Spokesman: Well, you know, the Compact was already agreed to during the… back in New York. This is a more formal bringing together of all the parties, and it will go back for a vote in the General Assembly in December. It is regrettable that a number of countries have said they would not… they’ve withdrawn from their agreement to the Compact. I mean, for us, the… migration is one of those key issues that can only be dealt with through dialogue by… with various countries. And, again — we have to say over and over again — this is not a legally binding compact. And it also makes it very clear that countries remain… retain the sovereign right and have the duty to manage their borders. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Regarding the vote today in the General Assembly on this US‑sponsored draft resolution to condemn Hamas, does the SG have any opinion on that, seeing this little minute detail and leaving the bigger picture of occupation, putting Gaza under siege for 11 years, frustration?
Spokesman: We will let the Member States, as we do, because that is their right… I’m not going to comment on draft resolutions. I think, as Monica [Grayley] will… shall confirm, the vote is expected later today. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Michelle Bachelet, the Commissioner… High Commissioner for Human Rights, has asked for observers to be sent to the Uyghur region in China to observe human rights situation. Is the Secretary‑General of the same mind?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen her comments, but she has her mandate as High Commissioner for Human Rights, and she will speak. But I haven’t seen those comments directly. Yes?
Question: On the refugees in Libya, do you know how many the centre can hold? Because there are several thousand refugees scattered around Libya…
Spokesman: No, we can ask UNHCR. Ben? [He later added the centre has a capacity to shelter up to 1,000 vulnerable refugees identified for solutions out of Libya.]
Question: I saw the SG didn’t ask a question when asked about the Patrick Ho guilty charges last night. Does he have a comment on that?
Spokesman: Just to say that we have been cooperating with the Federal authorities here in New York from the beginning of this investigation. Please. I keep thinking it’s Friday, but it’s not so… I’ll stay for another one.
Question: There, apparently, are some very deep divisions at the climate talks in Poland, and I wonder if the Secretary‑General is considering going back to Katowice to push for a strong final declaration…
Spokesman: It very much remains a possibility. He is being kept in close… he’s being kept closely informed of the talks and of the state of the discussions. And, if he feels his presence will be useful, he will go back, but no decision has yet been made. Madame.