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

17 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Lebanon

I just got a note from our colleagues at UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force) in Lebanon, so I will read it out as I have just received it.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon, as you know, has been actively following up on developments relating to the discovery of tunnels along the Blue Line by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The IDF has informed the UN peacekeeping mission that they have so far discovered four tunnels along the Blue Line.

UNIFIL technical teams have undertaken a number of site inspections south of the Blue Line in order to ascertain the facts.

Based on the UN’s independent assessment, the peacekeepers have so far confirmed the existence of all the four tunnels close to the Blue Line in northern Israel.

After further technical investigations conducted independently in accordance with its mandate, UNIFIL at this stage can confirm that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line.  These constitute violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).

This is a matter of serious concern and UNIFIL’s technical investigations are continuing.

The UN peacekeeping mission has requested the Lebanese authorities to ensure urgent follow-up actions, in accordance with the responsibilities of the Government of Lebanon pursuant to resolution 1701 (2006).

The situation in UNIFIL’s area of operation remains calm.  The UN’s leadership is fully engaged with the parties to ensure stability along the Blue Line and prevent misunderstandings in order to keep the area of operation calm.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General landed back in New York from Doha a few hours ago.  Over the weekend, as you know, he attended the Doha Forum and [before] that, he was in Katowice, Poland, and in Marrakech [Morocco] at the migration meeting.

Yesterday, in Doha, he met with the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani; the Prime Minister of Qatar; as well as the Foreign Minister.

Speaking to the press with the Foreign Minister after taking part in a signing ceremony for Qatar-UN partnerships, the Secretary-General thanked Qatar for its generosity and welcomed the new strategic relationship between Qatar and the United Nations.  He also hailed Qatar for its support to UNRWA – the UN’s Relief and Work Agency - so that the United Nations could continue supporting Palestine refugees.

While in Doha, the Secretary-General also gave a lecture at Hamad bin Khalifa University, where he made his case to the students about the importance of multilateralism.

He ended his visit by giving the keynote address at the closing of the Doha Forum, where he underscored that international cooperation is crucial to solve the pressing challenges of today, including climate change and conflicts, as well as issues such as technology, that will pose problems in the future.

The text of his lecture, as well as his speech and the press conference, was distributed to you over the weekend.

**Afghanistan

Back here, Tadimichi Yamamoto, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council this morning on the political situation there, saying that the elections in October were essential but that there were major and avoidable irregularities in the preparations and implementation of the parliamentary elections by the electoral management bodies.  It is clear that these electoral institutions need to significantly improve themselves before the presidential election, he said.

The Special Representative said that the possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now.  On the Afghan side, he said, a peace plan was suggested by President [Ashraf] Ghani at the Geneva Ministerial Conference, while a team to negotiate directly with the Taliban was appointed.  The key next step, he added, would be for representatives of the Government and the Taliban to meet, or at least to formally initiate what in mediation is referred to as talks about talks.

Yuri Fedotov, the Executive Director of UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that according to this year’s Afghanistan Opium Survey, the overall area under cultivation remains the [second] highest measured since the beginning of systematic opium poppy monitoring and recording in 1994.  The area under cultivation fell by 20 per cent compared with the record level of 2017, accompanied by a drop in opium yield, but both can be attributed to the devasting drought that Afghanistan has suffered.

And later today, my understanding is that the Security Council will hold a meeting on the situation in Kosovo, according to relevant Security Council resolutions.

And the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will brief at their request.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jamie McGoldrick, and the Minister of Social Development of the State of Palestine, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Shaer, launched the Humanitarian Response Plan for the occupied Palestinian territory for 2019, which seeks to address rising critical humanitarian needs amidst new challenges.

The plan appeals for $350 million to provide basic food, protection, health care, shelter, water and sanitation to 1.4 million Palestinians, who have been identified as in most need of humanitarian interventions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Mr. McGoldrick said that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continues to deteriorate, preventing Palestinians from accessing health care, clean water and livelihoods, among other needs.  At the same time, he added, humanitarian workers are facing unprecedented challenges, including record-low funding and a rise in attacks to delegitimize humanitarian action.

**Iraq

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert assumed her responsibilities today as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, pledging to continue UN support for Iraq in its post-conflict recovery.

She said that she was delighted to be in Baghdad and she added that the UN will continue its efforts in support of Iraq as the country recovers from the fight against terrorism and looks towards a brighter future.  She said, “It is my intention to make the well-being of the Iraqis a top priority, and work towards that goal in the security, humanitarian, political, economic and development fields.”

As you know, she succeeds Ján Kubiš, who had served in the post for almost four years.

**Climate Change

As you know, over the weekend countries at the UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice adopted a set of guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement.

The agreed ‘Katowice Climate Package’ is designed to operationalize the climate change regime [contained] in the Paris Agreement and will promote international cooperation and encourage greater ambition.

The Secretary-General said that “Katowice has shown once more the resilience of the Paris Agreement – our solid road map for climate action.”

He added that from now his five priorities will be “ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition”.  In mitigation, adaptation, finance, technical cooperation and capacity-building and technological innovation.

The Secretary-General stressed that ambition must guide all Member States as they prepare their Nationally Determined Contributions for 2020 to reverse the present trend.  “It is our duty to reach for more and I count on all of you to raise ambitions so that we can beat back climate change.”

The next step, obviously, is the Climate Summit the SG has called for in September 2019, on the side-lines of the General Assembly.

**Human Rights

Just to flag that tomorrow the Secretary-General will speak at the UN Human Rights Prize 2018 award ceremony.  That’s taking place in the General Assembly Hall at noon.

The four winners will formally receive their award tomorrow.  The winners of the Prize are:

– Ms. Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, an activist for the rights of women and girls;

– Ms. Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, who was a human rights lawyer; the award will be received by her daughter, Ms. Munizae Jahangir, journalist and human rights activist in her own right;

– Ms. Joênia Wapichana of Brazil, an activist for the rights of indigenous peoples;

– as well as the organization “Front Line Defenders” from Ireland, which works for the protection of human rights defenders.

The United Nations Human Rights Prize is an honorary award given every fifth year to individuals and organizations in recognition of outstanding work in the field of human rights.

**Press Encounter

After you hear from Monica, 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; the Deputy Secretary-General; and UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi; as well as 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 Economic and Social Council Chamber.  He will be there to answer your queries, should you have any.

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays, you look overly anxious.

Question:  I’d like to try and get some more information on the proposed monitoring mission in Yemen, because the ceasefire in Hodeidah is supposed to come into force soon.  Could you… few specifics.  When does the ceasefire come into force?  When do you propose the first monitors will deploy?  What are their security arrangements?  Will they be armed?  Will General [Patrick] Cammaert be the commander in the field?  Some questions.

Question:  Yeah, good, valid questions all around.  The understanding that we have is that it will come into force at midnight tonight, local time.  So, if… by my calculations, that’s in about four hours or so.  Mr. Cammaert will, indeed, be leading that part of the mission, which falls under the authority of Mr. [Martin] Griffiths and the Office of the Special Envoy.  The details are being worked out as we speak, the logistical details, the security details, everything that will determine how the mission is implemented.  What will be very clear is that we will need the continued cooperation of all the parties and all the signatories of the agreements of the Stockholm… the signatory… excuse me, not the signatories, of all the people who agreed to the Stockholm declaration.

Question:  So, on the… on timing of deployment, a number of monitors and whether they’re armed and whether you need a UN Security Council resolution before they deploy.

Spokesman:  We look forward to very strong support from the Security Council.  We understand a resolution is making its way through.  It will be… I think it will send a strong signal from the international community in support of the UN’s work, of Mr. … what Mr. Griffiths has done and what Mr. Cammaert… General Cammaert will lead.  It will be… as I said, Mr. Cammaert’s mission will be… will not be a separate mission.  It will be part of the existing mandate that Mr. Griffiths has.  As for armed… they will not… as far as I understand, this is not a peacekeeping mission.  They will not be armed.  But, obviously, there are a lot of other issues that need to be worked out.

Question:  And numbers?

Spokesman:  Numbers, I don’t have any numbers to share with you at this time.  Yeah?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  My question is about the serious question, the situation in Kashmir.  Again, it is under curfew, lockdown, big protest demonstration, freedom from Indian rule.  And seven people were killed… seven civilians… Kashmiri civilians were killed by Indian security forces on Saturday.  Any comments on this?

Spokesman:  No, we’re, obviously, aware and watching the situation and watching the situation closely, but I don’t have anything further to add to what we’ve already said about the situation in Kashmir.  Yep.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  I see on the SG’s schedule that he’s meeting with the incoming Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. [Geir] Pedersen today.  Is that to kick off the transition?

Spokesman:  Yeah, it is part of the transition.  Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura will be staying in office until the 31st, extremely active… knowing him, he will be very active and extremely active until the very last moment.  One of the reasons we have said that Mr. de Mistura would stay a bit longer is to ensure a proper and smooth handing over of the baton.  So, they will be… you can imagine two relay runners.  They will be, at some point, running exactly at the same speed and hand over the baton to ensure there’s absolutely zero gap in the leadership of the office.  Yep, James.

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  Just a clarification on what you were talking about before in Yemen.  You intimated that it’s not going to be a DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) operation.  Can you just talk us through why a monitoring mission would not be a DPKO mission and if there’s a track record of special envoys having control of effectively peacekeepers in these situations?

Spokesman:  They’re not peacekeepers.  It’s people to monitor cessation of hostilities as outlined in the Stockholm agreement.  This is part of Mr. Griffiths’ mission.  I mean, whether it’s DPKO, DPA (Department of Political Affairs), I mean, that’s sort of… as we say in French, cuisine interne.  The point is, this is part of the UN’s mediation effort, of the UN’s effort to bring peace to Yemen, with the full support, obviously, of all the parties involved.  As to historical examples, we’ll have to look.  I just came back, and I will look through my UN almanacs… UN yearbooks, rather.  [He later noted that the UN verification mission in Colombia similarly reports to DPA, as one recent example.]  Yes, Linda and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is in regard to the GA vote on condemning human rights in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).  I was just wondering if the SG has said anything about it or has a point of view… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I mean, the Secretary‑General, as a matter of principle, is already concerned about the non‑respect of human rights and the violation of human rights.  He has reported back to the General Assembly on his position.  I think he’s been very clear on the need for full respect of human rights.  Evelyn and then Mr. Klein.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS), the Executive Director said he’d step down in June.  Sweden has cancelled its contribution until he does.  Can the Secretary‑General ask him to resign sooner or does this depend on the board?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I think he has… I haven’t seen the particulars about Sweden’s announcement, but Mr. [Michel] Sidibé will stay… as he said himself, will stay in office through June to… one of the important things is, obviously, to ensure that the reforms on management and the… what he… are put in place, that there’s a good transition.  UNAIDS has done a lot over the last year or so on strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers and ensuring that there is… the atmosphere is one where people are free… live… work free of harassment.  And I think Mr. Sidibé’s record on fighting AIDS is excellent and open for all to see.

Question:  May I ask another question?

Spokesman:  You may.

Question:  Great.  Cameroon, journalists are being arrested, five in one day.  And it, according to CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), has got the second highest number of journalists in sub‑Saharan Africa who have been jailed.  Fighting is also resumed or continued.  Do you have any information on any of that?

Spokesman:  You know, we have expressed our concern about the situation in Cameroon, notably in the Anglophone regions, and we continue to express our concern, and our office remains in contact with the Government.  Mr. Klein, and then we’ll go to…

Question:  Yes.  One of those five ambitions that you read off involves finance, and my understanding is that any real decisions on meeting… starting to meet the $100 billion‑a‑year funding commitments beginning in 2020, which is sort of… the can was kicked down the road.  So, does the Secretary‑General have any specific ideas between now and the summit scheduled for next September to make substantial progress on it, given that 2020 is around the corner?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Well, he does not control the purse strings.  He will continue to beat the drums of ambition in order to get that financing.  There will also be private-sector financing, you know, conversations have had… been had, and the private sector has been involved in those conversations.  But he will continue to carry that message.

Question:  I also have a related question on climate talks.

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  There’ve been some complaints that, when the US had, along with some other Member States, sponsored a side event discussing alternatives, including some support for dealing with fossil fuels and so forth, that the… whoever was in charge of the UN premises allowed in demonstrators, who essentially really either prevented or made it very difficult for the proceeding to go forward.  And I’m wondering whether you can confirm any investigation of what happened?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I can’t off the top of my head, but I will check on that incident and report back to you.  Let’s go there and then to you, sir.

Question:  Yeah.  Thank you, Steph.  My question is regarding Kosovo.  Since General‑Secretary is promoting very much multilateralism, how is multilateralism working on Kosovo?

Spokesman:  How is what?

Question:  Multilateralism working on Kosovo case? One of my questions.  Just a second, please.  My second question is, Security Council is meeting today based on the brief that Permanent Mission of Serbia sent to Security Council.  What is in this brief? What is in this letter? What…

Spokesman:  That’s a question you need to address to the President of the Security Council, because those letters don’t come to us.  They come… they go to the Presidency of the Council.

Question:  Okay.  My next question… okay.  My next question… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Can I answer the first one? [inaudible]

Question:  It will be nice.  Thank you.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Okay.  And then we’ll go to the third.  You know, the Secretary‑General has… is… and his team are following, obviously with concern, the latest developments in Kosovo, notably the adoption of the three draft laws focused on the Kosovo Security Forces.  It’s important for us that… to remind everyone that, in a sense… and that’s where the multilateralism answer comes into, that Security Council resolution 1244 (1999), you know, provides the basis for discussion, the sole legal framework for the international security presence in Kosovo, and the responsibility for KFOR (Kosovo Force) to ensure safe, secure environment in Kosovo.  Hence, any restriction to the discharge by KFOR of its security responsibilities would be inconsistent with that resolution.  It’s important that everyone exercise restraint, and we look forward to the discussions in the Security Council.  As I mentioned, Mr. Lacroix will be briefing Council members.  Now, you had a third question before I interrupted you.

Question:  Is there… my third question is, is there a way to get rid of this 1244?  Does Security Council have resolution in her life that is not okay and is going to be changed or need to be changed?

Spokesman:  Well, that’s the work of the Security Council.  I mean, that’s a question for you to ask the Security Council members how they proceed.  The resolution 1244 (1999), for us, provides the legal framework, provides the framework also for the UN presence in Kosovo.  Yes, sir, and then we’ll go…

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  Do you have any update on the case of the murder of the UN experts in Congo in March [2017], Zaida Catalán and Michael Sharp?  Do you have any idea if the Congolese have arrested more people or they putting anyone on trial?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we’ve seen… I think, as you’ve seen in the press, there’ve been trials going on.  Someone was… there’ve been recent developments on that end.  The Secretary‑General has appointed a gentleman by the name of Robert Petit, who is leading the follow‑on mechanism, who is working, obviously, staying in close contact with the families and supporting the Congolese Government, which has the primary jurisdiction since the crime was committed on Congolese soil.  And he will be reporting back to the Security Council in due course.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Is the UN involved in any of the… this variety of meetings taking place on Afghanistan in Doha, in UAE (United Arab Emirates), and Kabul?  Is the… does the UN have any involvement in…

Spokesman:  I think that’s a question I have to check with the SRSG’s (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) office.  We’re obviously very much aware of these meetings.  Whether or not we have a physical presence, I will let you know.

Question:  [inaudible] And what time you said this awards ceremony was?

Spokesman:  12 tomorrow.  Sorry.  I cut you off.  You had a…

Question:  If you allow me a follow‑up on Yemen.  The ceasefire will be in effect in a few hours.  Do you expect Hodeidah port in Yemen to be fully rehabilitated to receive more humanitarian aid to help that… in… situation?

Spokesman:  It’s not so much a question of rehabilitation.  It’s a question of secure environment.  We very much hope that the ceasefire will be fully respected so that the… so more ships can come in.  That… I mean, one of the reasons we’ve said in the past that ships have not been able to come in is because of the insecurity surrounding the port and, you know, ship owners and brokers often, and understandably so, would not want to send their cargo and their ships into what is an active fighting zone.  So, that’s why the full respect of the ceasefire is so important for us to be able to deliver humanitarian goods.  Yep.

Question:  Is General‑Secretary have to intervene in this Kosovo issue or not?

Spokesman:  Well, he will be… [inaudible]

Question:  And is going to be… is he going to meet some of the leaders that are coming to Security Council meeting from Kosovo and from Serbia?

Spokesman:  I believe he has a meeting on the books this afternoon with the President of Serbia.  His Special Representative, Zahir Tanin, has been in… remains in very close contact with the leadership both in Belgrade and in Pristina.  Thank you.

Question:  He has not offering initiative on the issue?

Spokesman:  This is right now… we will brief the Security Council at their request.  Monica, all yours.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.