The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone. The Secretary-General announced this morning that the parties at the intra-Yemeni political consultations taking place in Sweden, had reached an agreement on Hodeidah port and city, which will see a mutual re-deployment of forces from the port and the city, and the establishment of a Governorate-wide ceasefire.
He also said that they had reached a mutual understanding to ease the situation in Taizz which he hoped will lead to the opening of humanitarian corridors and the facilitation of demining.
And the parties also agreed to engage in discussions on a Negotiating Framework in the next meeting and agreed to meet again at the end of January during the next round of consultations.
The Secretary-General was speaking at the [closing] of the Intra-Yemeni political consultations in Rimbo, Sweden. He said the parties had the future of Yemen in their hands and a precious opportunity. He said that what the parties have agreed to in Rimbo will mean a lot for the future of Yemen, he stressed. It will mean a lot for the Yemeni people who will see concrete results in their daily lives.
The Secretary-General also said the UN will always be available to continue discussing the issues that are still pending.
Those remarks are online. And the Secretary-General also spoke at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and his Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. That is also available online.
Just to give you the timeline, the Secretary-General arrived in Sweden last night and met right away with the two delegations in Rimbo, along with his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths. As the Secretary-General mentioned in his press conference, the discussions had gone on until two in the morning. The Secretary-General will be leaving Sweden shortly to return to Katowice, Poland for the final day of the [24th] Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24).
I had been asked before the briefing about the violence in the West Bank. I can say the following: The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over the recent violent incidents in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian security services must work together to restore calm and avoid an escalation.
He condemns all acts of violence and terrorism, in particular against innocent civilians, and he calls on political, religious and community leaders to speak out clearly against such brutal acts and those who glorify them.
This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, briefed Security Council members on [developments] in the region. He told members of the Council that he remains concerned about the situation in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon, as violence has not diminished and allegations of human rights violations by all sides continue to be reported. He appealed to the Government to continue to safeguard access by humanitarian partners to the populations in need and to ensure that all human rights violations are addressed. He also reaffirmed the UN’s readiness to support the Government to seek a lasting solution to the crisis and assist in the fight against Boko Haram.
Mr. Louncény Fall also highlighted the situation in the Central African Republic, where there has been a recent escalation of violence. He urged the countries in the subregion to support the Peace and Reconciliation Initiative and remain committed during the critical stage of implementation of a possible agreement. He added that the Lord's Resistance Army continues to threaten the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and encouraged the African Union to adopt a cautious approach.
The United Nations [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, strongly condemns the attacks by unidentified armed persons that led to the execution of civilians in the localities of Tinabaw and Tabangout-Tissalatatene, in Menaka region, on Tuesday and Wednesday and expresses its sincere condolences to the families affected.
MINUSMA is in contact with the interim authorities of the region to establish the facts and welcomes the joint efforts of Malian armed forces and other partners in their assistance to those affected. We call on the Malian authorities to investigate these incidents and bring those responsible to justice.
In accordance with its mandate, MINUSMA immediately deployed a special human rights investigation team to establish the facts and circumstances of the execution of civilians in those localities and to assist in identifying those responsible.
MINUSMA intends to support the Malian authorities in their efforts to fight against impunity.
The humanitarian community in South Sudan today launched an appeal for $1.5 billion dollars to provide urgent and life-saving assistance to 5.7 million people affected by conflict, hunger and displacement in the country.
Our colleagues said that despite challenges, including with accessing people in need, the humanitarian operation in South Sudan continues to reach millions of people with aid. More than 4.7 million people have been assisted with food, health, water and sanitation, education, livelihoods, nutrition as well as critical protection services since the beginning of the year. There’s more information online.
The UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today said it’s concerned by the ongoing violence in Niger’s border areas with Mali and Burkina Faso, which has forced 52,000 Nigerians to flee their homes this year alone.
The displaced people report fleeing horrific violence. Armed groups are said to be attacking villages, killing and abducting civilians, including community leaders, burning schools and looting homes, businesses and livestock.
UNHCR said the violence is hampering humanitarian relief efforts. Since October, the Government, in coordination with the humanitarian community, has attempted to secure certain zones to ensure distributions of aid, but ongoing security threats have prevented humanitarians from reaching all those in need of help.
UNHCR is leading a coordinated inter-agency protection response to help those fleeing, including through protection monitoring which enables humanitarian actors to provide rapid assistance to those identified as particularly vulnerable and in need. More information on this on UNHCR’s website.
Following a recent visit to eastern Ukraine on 11 December, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Osnat Lubrani, has called for urgent political solutions to end the suffering of millions of people in the region.
Ms. Lubrani visited the Entry/Exit Checkpoint (EECP) Stanytsia Luhanska where she joined hundreds of people making the arduous crossing from governmental-controlled areas to non-governmental-controlled areas. The wooden footbridge has been in need of urgent repair for a while and was further damaged by shelling recently.
She commended the Government’s efforts to improve the crossing conditions at Stanytsia Luhanska but she noted that seeing the elderly, as well as people with disabilities, continue to move across the rickety bridge is a reminder of how they struggle in their daily lives, even more so with the harsh winter taking hold.
Ms. Lubrani also met with the representatives of the de facto entities in the non-governmental-controlled areas and discussed the humanitarian situation on the ground, and the need to scale-up humanitarian efforts to reverse the deprivation of millions of people.
A new report released today by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) says that nearly 30 million babies are born too soon, too small or become sick every year and need specialized care to survive.
The report finds that among the new-born babies most at risk of death and disability are those with complications from prematurity, brain injury during childbirth, severe bacterial infection or jaundice, and those with congenital conditions. Additionally, the financial and psychological toll on their families can have detrimental effects on their cognitive, linguistic and emotional development. You can find the report online.
**Questions and Answers
And after I’m done you will hear from Monica Villela Grayley, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. Are there any questions for me before we get to her? Yes, Maggie.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, today was speaking about Africa strategy, and he spoke about re‑evaluating support for UN peacekeeping missions, streamlining, reconfiguring or terminating ones that are basically not meeting their mandates. Do you interpret this as an extension of what Nikki Haley's been doing for months here, or have you been notified by the Americans of further impending peacekeeping budget cuts or any sort of changes? Have you heard anything from them recently?
Deputy Spokesman: We're not aware of any impending cuts to our budget from any of the Member States. Obviously, it's up to them to keep us informed about that. Regarding the larger question of peacekeeping, as you know, our mandates are set by the members of the Security Council, and we, of course, respect the decisions by the Security Council members to adjust mandates according to what the needs on the ground are. And we participate in discussions with them precisely about what we feel is needed in order to serve out the mandates that we have. Yes, Sherwin.
Question: Farhan, the interim report submitted last month by the UN investigator into new evidence of… into the death of Dag Hammarskjöld found that two countries in… including South Africa have not cooperated and not appointed internal assessors to review possible new evidence. What can you say about that report? And has there been any engagement from the Sec… between the Secretary‑General and President [Matamela Cyril] Ramaphosa on this issue?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, of course, the report speaks for itself, and we believe that it's been very clear about the need for cooperation by countries that have potential valuable information to share that with Judge [Mohammed Chande] Othman and his team. We, of course, encourage all Member States to cooperate with the work of the investigation and with Judge Othman. It's been very clear that the General Assembly as a whole in the votes that it's taken regarding the question of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and his companions has been very clear about the need to get to the bottom of the situation and for all countries to come forward with information if they have it.
Question: Is there a bigger role here for the Secretary‑General in terms of engagement with the South African authorities?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we are supportive of the work of Judge Othman, and we are in touch with his team. If there's any assistance or support that they need from us, certainly, we're in contact with them about that. But, ultimately, as you can see from his reports, he has, in recent years, gotten considerable information that had not previously been uncovered. That's a welcome development, and we're encouraging further countries to step up and share whatever they have. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Just on Yemen, the SG mentioned this morning that he had spoken with President [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi. Did he speak with anyone from Saudi Arabia? And he also mentioned that he'd like to see a UN Security Council resolution sort of backing the whole deal and also including a monitoring mechanism. Do you have any details on what that monitoring mechanism might look like?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. What I can say is that the Secretary‑General has been in contact with a number of leaders. Among them, he was on the phone with the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, to discuss the situation in Yemen, and the Secretary‑General felt that his contribution was very important to the outcome of the consultations. And, as you've heard, he also spoke by phone with President Hadi, who played a positive role. In general, the Secretary‑General is thankful for all of the parties, including those inside and outside the region who have tried to encourage the parties at the talks in Rimbo to make progress and feels that that was valuable in the sort of achievement we were able to obtain today. Regarding the question of a Security Council resolution, I think we'll probably get more details on this tomorrow. Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy, as well as the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, intend to brief the Security Council and will talk to them, including about the agreements reached in Sweden. And I think it's very clear that, for some things, including the monitoring of the port of Hodeidah, that there's certain aspects for which we might need Security Council approval. Yes, you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. It's… on 30 December, they have an election in Bangladesh. What's the role of UN to be, like, fair… free and fair, you know, election? That's number one. Number two, Bangladesh commissioner… election and commissioner, he decide to, you know, apply for the army support the election. What's the message we going to send for it?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have made clear in our communications with the various parties the need for all those in Bangladesh to contribute to the holding of free, fair, and credible elections. It's very important for us that that be the outcome. We are not election observers, although, as Stéphane [Dujarric] made clear to you last week, the UN, through some of our bodies, including the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, have helped to support the work of different parties on the ground that can work with the elections. Yes, Stefano. Oh, and then Edie. Yeah.
Question: Yes. Thank you. About that meeting yesterday on… on Iran of the Security Council, what [does] the Secretary‑General think of the reaction that the United States and other countries, especially European, had to the… its rep… its report delivered by Under‑Secretary-[General Rosemary] DiCarlo? I mean, it looks like all Europeans, for example, show concern of those testing, missile testing, this… these violations, so‑called, of Iran, and Secretary of State [Michael] Pompeo start to talk about the building of a coalition. He say, like a… this means [that] now here, we're building a coalition. Now, what… is… what… is this what the Secretary‑General expected from his report, this kind of reaction?
Deputy Spokesman: It's up to the Member States to choose how they wish to treat the Secretary‑General's reports. I think Under‑Secretary‑General DiCarlo gave a very strong and factual accounting of what we have seen regarding the implementation of resolution 2139, and we stand by what she said. As you know, the Secretary‑General, for his part, has made clear his continuing support for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a significant diplomatic achievement and his hope that all those countries who are party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will continue to uphold its aims. Yes, Edie.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. In light of the fire in Kinshasa that destroyed about 80 per cent of the voting machines that were going to be used in the 23 December elections, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the upcoming elections?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, what I can say on that is that the UN Mission we have in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, reported that, earlier today, a large fire engulfed the Independent National Electoral Commission warehouse in Kinshasa. Preliminary reports indicate that polling station kits from Kinshasa and a large number of voting machines and other electoral materials were destroyed in the fire. A MONUSCO firefighting unit was rapidly deployed to the scene and helped to extinguish the fire. So far, the details surrounding the cause of the fire are unknown. We have been very clear, including through the head of the UN Mission there, Leila Zerrougui, our concerns about any actions taken by various parties that could impede the holding of elections on the ground, and we are encouraging all parties to assist in the holding of free and fair elections. Obviously, any sort of incidents like this are a cause for concern in that respect. Yes, Philippe.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Yemen, did Mr. [António] Guterres talk with any Iranian official[s]?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware, but if you look at his press remarks, he was asked about the role played by Saudi Arabia, Iran and others. And he commented about the significant role played by such nations in helping to achieve a better outcome. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Yes, thank you, Farhan. In Mali, why are the Tuaregs… the attack, why this particular group was attacked? Do you have anything on that?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, we do not know the reasoning behind the attacks. And we're, at this point, still trying to count the number of casualties. The preliminary reports indicate that up to 40 civilians may have been killed, so it's a very serious attack. But at this stage, we do not know the identity or the motivation of the attackers. Maggie?
Question: Farhan, the Secretary‑General's called the situation in Myanmar ethnic cleansing. I think Mr. [Adama] Dieng has gone slightly further, saying it's a potential genocide. Today, the US House of Representatives adopted a resolution saying the situation in Myanmar against the Rohingya is a genocide, which has legal implications. So, do you have any reaction to the adoption of this bill or any… does the Secretary‑General agree that it's a genocide?
Deputy Spokesman: It's not for us to agree or disagree. As I think we made clear a few times in the past, genocide can only be defined through a judicial ruling from one of the main courts. And, ultimately, it's not something that we can state simply as a matter of opinion. Anything that helps build international solidarity about the need to address the plight of the Rohingya is to be commended, and we want to make sure that all countries are aware of the seriousness of the situation and the need to find some solution so that the many hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected can have their rights and their dignity respected and can return home when they feel that it's safe to do so.
And with that, have a good afternoon.