Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

14 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary-General is back in Katowice today.  As you know, this is the last day of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change [COP24] which is taking place in the Polish city.

The Secretary-General had a series of bilateral meetings this morning, including with the Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs of China and the President of Poland.  He also met with representatives of the Alliance of Small Island States [AOSIS] and the Least Developed Countries [LDCs] as well as a representative of countries in Latin America.  He also met with non-governmental organizations present at the conference.

You’ll remember that on Wednesday, the Secretary-General made an appeal to the parties to the conference and told them that this was the time for consensus and for political compromises.  And he challenged them to work together and raise ambition on all fronts.

**Yemen

Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council by VTC [video teleconference] this morning on the agreements reached during the Sweden consultations that came into force yesterday upon publishing of the documents.  This is no small achievement, he said, made possible first and foremost by the commitment of the parties, and the credit goes to them.  Mr. Griffiths noted the role that the Secretary-General played in the process, saying that his meeting at the G20 in Argentina with the Saudi Crown Prince ensured the last-minute clearances needed to move the 50 injured to Muscat days before the talks.  And the Secretary-General’s subsequent visit to the consultations for the vital last 24 hours was instrumental in making the agreements happen.

The agreement, Mr. Griffiths told the Council, includes phased but rapid mutual withdrawals of forces from both the Hodeidah ports and the city.  The United Nations is asked to monitor the compliance of the parties to these commitments and the Special Envoy added that he was sure that the Security Council will want to address this requirement.  A robust and competent monitoring regime is not just essential, he said; it is also urgently needed.  He said that Gen. Patrick Cammaert has been contacted to lead the monitoring component of the agreement.

Parties have also reached a mutual understanding to ease the situation in Taiz, he said, with the prospect of the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow the safe passage of goods and people across the front lines, the reduction of the fighting in the governorate, the deployment of demining operations and the release and exchange of prisoners.

Mr. Griffiths added that, before arriving in Sweden, the parties had already agreed to the establishment of a joint committee to provide and plan for the mutual release of all prisoners.  He said that we hope, with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] in the lead, for a mass exchange in mid-January of as many as 4,000 prisoners.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian crisis that he witnessed first-hand in Yemen.  He said that millions of people are starving, sick and desperate and have one message to the world:  This war must stop.  This week’s success, he said, must not lead to complacency.

**Syria

The efforts to establish a constitutional committee have been the subject of continuing consultations.  In this context, Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura anticipates hosting high-level representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey in Geneva early next week as he finalizes his assessment, to be presented to the Security Council on 20 December, of the possibility of establishing a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee.

The Special Envoy is currently in Qatar, after which he will be returning to Geneva, and thereafter will proceed to New York to report to the Security Council.

Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Security Council yesterday and welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 2449.  He said that the situation in the north-west of Syria, where some 3 million people remain dependent on humanitarian cross-border operations, remains very challenging.  While the pause in airstrikes has had a meaningful impact on the lives of the people there, he said that shelling and fighting in areas in and around the demilitarized zone continue to result in civilian death and injury and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Mr. Lowcock said that Idlib remains on the edge of a humanitarian disaster.  Should there be a further escalation of violence, the needs would quickly overwhelm the ability of humanitarian agencies to respond.  He also remains very concerned about the more than 40,000 people in Rukban and 6,000 trapped in Hajin, where we continue to receive reports of civilian suffering and death.

**United Republic of Tanzania

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is currently in Zanzibar, Tanzania visiting the families of the 15 UN peacekeepers who were killed in an attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] last year.

Mr. Lacroix expressed his solidarity with the families of the fallen peacekeepers and mentioned that the UN will never forget its brave heroes.

The Under-Secretary-General also met with national authorities to express gratitude for their contributions and support to UN Peacekeeping.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today expressed her deep concern over the violence at opposition rallies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, ahead of presidential elections scheduled to be held on 23 December.

Ms. Bachelet called on authorities to ensure that these incidents are promptly investigated and that the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which she called essential conditions for credible elections, are fully protected.

These incidents include those such as the one on 11 December, when at least three men were killed and several injured after police reportedly fired live ammunition at an opposition rally in the Haut-Katanga province.  On the same day, the convoy of a presidential candidate also reportedly came under attack by police.

In an already tense electoral environment, the High Commissioner urged the Government to send a clear signal that threats and violence against political opponents will not be tolerated.

Also on the DRC, the UN Refugee Agency [UNHCR] today voiced its concern at the large number of people left homeless by fighting in the country, leaving aid agencies unable to provide even basic access in several areas.

UNHCR estimates that some 1.5 million people’s homes have been damaged or destroyed in deadly clashes involving armed groups and Government forces.  More than 1 million Congolese people are now estimated to have become internally displaced in 2018.

In the Ebola-affected area near Beni, North Kivu, more than 1,300 cases of human rights violations against civilians have been recorded in the last three months, including physical attacks, indiscriminate killing, pillaging and kidnapping.

UNHCR urges all parties to the violence to immediately stop targeting civilians, calling on the Government to address the causes of forced displacement and to engage in seeking solutions for the victims.

**Libya

In Libya, the United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, Mourad Wahba, the Director of the Crisis Bureau, Asako Okai, and the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs [OCHA], Ursula Mueller, called on the Government and the international community to address people’s urgent need for life-saving assistance and support recovery and stabilization in the country.

The [three] senior officials just completed a four-day mission to Libya and Tunisia, where they visited hospitals and shelters and spoke to people who are displaced and have been affected by the conflict.  They also met the Libyan Prime Minister and representatives of the humanitarian communities in both countries and reiterated the UN’s continuous support towards a peaceful transition in Libya.  And they will be the noon briefing guests next Wednesday.

**Venezuela

In Geneva, the UN refugee agency [UNHCR] and the UN Migration Agency [IOM] today launched their regional refugee and migrant response plan for Venezuela.  The plan is the first of its kind in the Americas and will respond to the needs of Venezuelans on the move and secure their social and economic inclusion in the communities receiving them.

The response plan is also an appeal for funds.  For next year, the plan will require $378 million to help 2.7 million people in 16 countries, 2.2 million of them Venezuelans and 500,000 people in host communities.  More information is available online.

**Press Encounter

On Monday, at 1:30 p.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will host a special event on the Global Compact on Refugees:  a model for greater solidarity and cooperation.  Speakers will include the President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés; the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed; and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; as well as the Principal of the Rawhide Elementary School and former refugee, Bertine Bahige.

Following the event, at around 2:15 p.m., Mr. Grandi will brief reporters at the stakeout area between the Trusteeship Council and the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber.

**Questions and Answers

That's it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes, yes, please.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  So Kosovo's Parliament approved legislation on Friday to form an army, which promoted criticism from NATO, European Union, Russian officials, and my question is if Secretary-General considers it to be a violation of the Security Council resolution?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the relevant Security Council resolutions, I draw your attention to Security Council Resolution 1244, which entrusts the international security presence, namely the Kosovo Force, or KFOR, with the responsibility to ensure a secure environment in Kosovo.  This resolution continues to provide the sole legal framework for the international security presence.  Any legislation that would limit, restrict, or otherwise inhibit the discharge by KFOR of its security functions and responsibilities would be inconsistent with the resolution.  Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you.  There was a poster made by the settlers, here's a picture of the poster, of Mahmoud Abbas, the President, which calls for killing him.  It says, "kill these… those who support or finance terrorism."  And the poster was placed on checkpoints.  That means protected by the army, which means that the Government is condoning this poster.  Have you heard of it?  Is there a position?  Did the… did the special envoy of the SG, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, pay attention to this poster?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would draw attention to the fact that in recent days, for example like yesterday's briefing, we called on all sides to avoid any escalation.  That would include any sort of rhetoric, including violent rhetoric, directed at any of the parties.  We want to make sure that the climate on the ground calms down once more.  We're trying to do what we can, including on the ground through the efforts of Nickolay Mladenov, our special coordinator, to lower the tensions.

Question:  As a follow-up, in his statement, the SG, condemning the violence in the West Bank, and saying that violence targeted civilians, and he called that "savage attacks," or something.  Does the SG consider the settlers and the occupation forces in occupied West Bank are innocent civilians?  That… he used the word "innocent civilians."  Does that apply to the settlers and to the occupation forces?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, we want all violence against all civilians to be halted.  Obviously, all unarmed people should be spared from the effects of violence, regardless of where they are.  Regarding our position on settlements, the UN's position on settlements is well known and the Secretary-General continues to uphold that.

Question:  You know settlers are always armed; they have their guns.  Are they considered "innocent civilians"?  This is my question.

Deputy Spokesman:  I've said what I've said.  Yes, Joe.

Correspondent:  Yeah, because I just have to point out that a three-day-old baby was killed, and I don't think that baby was armed.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll let you deal with this amongst each other.

Question:  I understand that, but I had to say it anyway.  For the record.  My question… actually, there's two separate questions on two different matters.  The first question is Ukraine.  We haven't heard very much about that lately.  Has the UN… the Secretariat, specifically, assumed any role in trying to intercede for the… I'm… I'm assuming that the sailors captured by Russia are still detained there.  If that's the case, I believe it is, as I haven't seen anything to the contrary, is the UN taking any role in trying to help secure their release?  So that's the first question.

The second question involves Yemen.  We heard a fair amount of praise for the Saudi Crown Prince this morning, including from Mr. Griffin [sic], and I'm wondering to what extent the Secretary-General would credit the Crown Prince, after his discussions with the Crown Prince in Argentina, for helping to make this… this Sweden conference a success, and does that counterbalance in his mind the… at least, the pretty supportive allegations of the Crown Prince's role in the killing or his directing of the killing of… of the journalist, Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't really see how those two things are connected.  They're very different things.  On the one hand, as you know, regarding Mr. Khashoggi… [cell phone rings] Please halt that phone.  Regarding Mr. Khashoggi, the Secretary-General has been very clear of the need for a thorough and transparent investigation so that we can get to the bottom of the facts, and you'll also have seen what the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said.  But regarding this, you saw what we've been saying.  His role was significant in our efforts to try to get to a positive outcome, and I would refer you to the fact that Mr. Griffiths at today's briefing mentioned that the Secretary-General's meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince in Argentina helped to ensure the last-minute clearances that were needed to move the 50 injured people to Muscat days before the talks, which I think was a very valuable step in moving us to the point where we are.

Regarding your question on Ukraine, you'll have seen the briefing that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, gave to the Security Council, that included the mention of the sailors.  I don't have anything to add to what we said.

Question:  That was some time ago, so you have nothing new?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't have anything further to add to that.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  I have two questions.  The first one is follow-up on the issue of the poster on the checkpoints, because your answer wasn't really clear for me.  So are you condemning the fact that Israeli settlers are calling with… in posters to assassinate President Abbas, and it's happening under the eyes of the Israeli army, because these posters were placed on checkpoints?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, it would be up to the Israeli authorities to discuss their own response to this.  From our standpoint, any such threats to assassinate Heads of State are irresponsible.  And again, like I said, what we want is for all sides to lower the rhetoric before we get to any further escalation of the situation we've seen on the ground in the last few days.

Question:  My second question is on Yemen.  Do you have more details regarding how you are going to go on the ground regarding monitoring the agreement around Hodeidah?  Do you have enough people on the ground to do so, et cetera?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, Martin Griffiths said that we are preparing some details to share with the Security Council concerning what our presence on the ground would need to be.  That is being developed right now.  He did mention Patrick Cammaert, whom I assume you all know from his previous experiences here, as the person who would head that monitoring presence, and we would rely on our normal force generation capacities to get people there rapidly.

Correspondent:  Sorry, just a follow-up.

Deputy Spokesman:  You've had two questions.

Question:  No, a follow-up on the same issue, on what you said.  Do you have a time frame when… I mean, sorry.  Do you have to come back to the Security Council, regarding these details?  Is he going to take this…

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes, we'll return to the Security Council with some detailed information.  Yes?

Question:  Me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Suha Jbara, a Palestinian woman, mother of three, was arrested by the Palestinian authorities in the middle of the night, and she was taken to the detention centre.  She was roughed up, bad words were used against her, and it's making big waves.  Human Rights Watch issued a statement, and they said she was physically abused by the Palestinian Security Forces.  Are you aware of this violation of the human rights by the Palestinian Authority?  Is there a statement on that?  Are you… is Mr. Mladenov aware of this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the reports and, of course, we would urge the Palestinian Security Forces to abide by all human rights norms.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.