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

18 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.

Good afternoon.  I’ll start with an update on Yemen, because I know a lot of you have been asking.

**Yemen

The ceasefire in Hodeidah entered into force today at midnight, local time.  The redeployment from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, Ras Isa and critical parts of the city associated with the humanitarian facilities shall be completed within two weeks after the ceasefire’s entry into force.  The full mutual redeployment of all forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa shall be completed within a maximum period of 21 days after the ceasefire goes into force.  It is the responsibilities of the parties to fulfil the agreement.

Maj. Gen. (ret) Patrick Cammaert, as you know, has been appointed as the UN Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, as outlined in the Agreement, established to oversee the ceasefire and redeployment.  A team led by General Cammaert will leave New York on their way to Yemen later this week.  Tomorrow, General Cammaert will convene the first meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee.  It will include military/security representatives from the two sides, connected via video teleconference.  The UN is on the ground to operationalize support to the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation that is mentioned in the Hodeidah Agreement.

**Syria

The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, held consultations with the Foreign Ministers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey and the Russian Federation in Geneva today.  The three Foreign Ministers offered the Special Envoy a significant joint input regarding the constitutional committee.  The Special Envoy, in close consultations with the Secretary-General, believes there is an extra mile to go in the marathon effort to ensure the necessary package for a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee — and for including a balanced chairing arrangement and drafting body and voting threshold, to be established under UN auspices in Geneva.  The Special Envoy will further consult with the Secretary-General in New York and he will brief the Security Council on 20 December, which I believe is Thursday.  There is a note to correspondents, and, before you ask, yes, he will be doing a stakeout after briefing the Security Council.

And also, on the humanitarian front, colleagues tell us that civilians in Syria continue to face a crisis of displacement, with over 1.5 million people displaced in the first 10 months of this year alone.  Many civilians have been displaced multiple times over the seven years of conflict.  There are currently 6.1 million internally displaced people throughout the country.  This includes 1.5 million internally displaced people living in Idleb Governorate in north-east Syria, many of whom were displaced following local agreements between Government forces and armed groups.  They are particularly vulnerable, as the host communities have reached the limit of their ability to support them.  Those newly displaced to the area often do not have access to proper shelter and are forced to live in tents and under plastic sheeting despite the colder winter weather.  The UN calls on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

**Human Rights

And earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at an event in the General Assembly to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He said that the document’s adoption marked the first time that countries had ever come together to recognize that all people, everywhere, are born free and equal and share fundamental, inalienable rights.  The Secretary-General stressed that, wherever we live, whatever our circumstances or place in society, our race, colour, gender or sexual orientation, language, religion, opinion, nationality or economic status, we are all equal in human rights and in dignity.  Yet, seven decades on, there is still a long way to go, he said, noting that today we are seeing a rising tide of authoritarianism, intolerance, xenophobia and racism.

The Secretary-General said he understands the importance of human rights from his personal experience having grown up under a dictatorship in his home country of Portugal and having seen the bitter results of human rights abuses as High Commissioner for Refugees.  Just about now, he is speaking at the award ceremony for the UN prize in the field of human rights which will be given this year to Rebeca Gyumi of Tanzania, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan, Joênia Wapichana of Brazil, and Front Line Defenders, which is an organization from Ireland.  Then, at 3 p.m., he will speak at the General Assembly’s high-level plenary meeting on the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

**Migrants Day

And today is International Migrants Day, and in a message, the Secretary‑General called migration a powerful driver of economic growth, dynamism and understanding.  He stressed that it allows millions of people to seek new opportunities, benefiting communities of origin and destination alike.  But, the Secretary-General said that, when poorly regulated, migration can intensify divisions within and between societies, and expose people to exploitation and abuse, and undermine faith in government.  He said, this month, that the world took a landmark step forward with the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which he said will help us to address the real challenges of migration while reaping the many benefits.  His full message is available.

**Women

As you are all well aware, the Secretary-General has placed great emphasis on achieving gender parity at the United Nations.  And with Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert having taken over as his new Special Representative in Iraq, we are proud to announce that this will be the first time that the senior leadership of a UN special political mission is all women.  The Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance is Alice Walpole and the Deputy Special Representative for humanitarian issues is Marta Ruedas.  And, of course, we already have a peacekeeping mission in Cyprus where the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Force Commander and the Policer Advisor are all women, as well.

**Middle East

Back here, in the Security Council, Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke to Council members on the situation in the region, and he warned that over the past days and weeks, there has been an alarming rise in incidents that have led to the tragic deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers.  He added that the security measures put in place in the aftermath of these incidents, search operations in Ramallah, as well as clashes and protests that turn violent are adding to an already tense atmosphere.  He joined the Secretary-General in his call to Israeli and Palestinian security services to work together to restore calm and avoid escalation.  The Special Coordinator said that in terms of violence over the past year, although Gaza has been the most volatile, the risk of an explosion in the West Bank has also grown.  And he added that ongoing instances of incitement, provocative steps, and inflammatory rhetoric plague the public rhetoric of the conflict.  They are highly dangerous and threaten to push an already volatile situation past the boiling point, he said.

**Madagascar

On the eve of the second round of the presidential election in Madagascar, the electoral observer missions and the members of the international community issued a statement calling the two candidates to show restraint and to exhort their supporters to avoid any action that could compromise the electoral process.  They also called the candidates to accept the official results of the elections and, in case of dispute, to resort to competent bodies.  We have a full statement available in French, and just to add that Abdoulaye Bathilly is in the country in his mediation capacity, as sent there by the Secretary-General.

**Central African Republic

Turning to the Central African Republic, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that the UN Humanitarian Air Service that enables aid workers to deploy to reach tens of thousands of people in need in the country is at risk of shutting down due to a shortage of funds.  The Humanitarian Air Service, which depends entirely on the support of international donors to finance its operating costs, is in urgent need of $3 million to maintain its service for the next three months and will be grounded after January if there is no immediate injection of funds.  In the month of November alone, the Humanitarian Air service provided transport for over 2,000 aid workers — a record for a single month since it started operations in Central African Republic in 2006.  More information on the web.

**Nicaragua

I have been asked in recent days about the situation in Nicaragua, and I can tell you that we are following the situation in Nicaragua closely and we are concerned about recent developments in the country, particularly reports of alleged persecution of respected human rights non-governmental organizations and the media.  Only an inclusive dialogue, in an environment of tolerance and peace, will provide long-standing solutions.

**Peasants

And the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has welcomed the General Assembly’s adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas.  Madame [Michelle] Bachelet said that, globally, peasants feed the world, but their own enjoyment of their human rights, including their own right to food, is challenged.  She pointed to an imbalance of power in economic relations, with women being particularly vulnerable due to widespread unlawful discrimination restricting their access to and use of land and unequal payment for their work.  More information on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website.

**Kosovo

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council met on the situation in Kosovo.  Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of peacekeeping, said that several developments have heightened tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

**Press Briefings

And tomorrow, I will be delighted to be joined by Mourad Wahba, Director of the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States, along with Asako Okai, Director for the UN Development Programme’s Crisis Bureau, and Ursula Mueller, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  They will be briefing us on the situation in Libya, as I believe they have just returned from that country.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Question on Yemen and just a little bit more detail on the time lines of this.  You talked about the first meeting of the redeployment committee to be chaired by General [Patrick] Cammaert.  That is taking place where?  Is that in New York…?

Spokesman:  That will be taking place in New York.  We are trying to get General Cammaert to the region as soon as is practicable.  So, our colleagues are working extremely hard on making those arrangements and he… and, obviously, on mobilising a number of observers to monitor the ceasefire.

Question:  So, in terms of that initial Patrick Cammaert deployment, how many people will he be accompanied with?  I'm assuming he's doing some sort of assessment of what he’s…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we're trying to mobilise people.  I'm not able to get into numbers right now.  We're trying to get the number… obviously, a sufficient number of people to be able to monitor the ceasefire in an effective form.  And what I will add, I think, in terms of details I gave yesterday is that the monitors will not be in uniform.

Question:  One last question.  All this work, I know, is to come up with a sort of, you know, formal monitoring mechanism and details of how many people you need.  The draft resolution before the Security Council… they may vote on the current draft… has a date of 31 December for the Secretary‑General to give the Security Council a detailed plan on the redeployment of forces and the monitoring.  Is that sufficient time?

Spokesman:  Well, I can tell you that there is no one in this building more… that… who wants the deployment more quickly than the Secretary‑General.  He is breathing down the [neck] of our colleagues to ensure that people are deployed quickly and as quickly as possible.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Another follow‑up on Yemen.  You might have already mentioned.  I missed the beginning.  Some media reports say that the ceasefire is holding.  Some suggest violations.  I was wondering if the UN have an assessment…?

Spokesman:  What I heard from Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is that it was largely holding.  I think there were some… I mean, we'd seen reports of some activity, military… you know, some fighting activity just after the ceasefire.  But I think it's not surprising that in these… that in this kind of conflict that things may happen after the ceasefire line, but from what I gather and from what I seem to remember from Mr. Griffiths saying that it is largely holding.  And we would encourage the parties… all the parties involved and those who have influence on the parties to ensure that the ceasefire holds.

Question:  I have another question on Syria.  When will Mr. de Mistura be briefing the Security Council?  And is he planning any proper… proper press conference before he leaves…?

Spokesman:  Yes, on… as I said, he'll be briefing on Thursday, and then he will be speaking to the press at the stakeout afterwards.  I mean, I just confirmed that with his team a few minutes ago.  Nabil?

Question:  [Inaudible] on Yemen.  So, what is the meeting tomorrow is going to be about?  Is it the committee or is it General Cammaert with both parties, Yemenis’ parties or representative from both sides or what kind of meeting?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Tomorrow he will speak by video conference, the first meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee.  It will include military and security representatives from the two sides connected via video conference.

Question:  Should we expect any readout after the meeting?

Spokesman:  I'm not… I would not expect one.  Obviously, I think it's an extremely important first step, and it's to send a message to the parties that we are not only gearing up but we are already operational, in a sense.

Question:  And another topic, the Middle East: Some members in the Security Council today reminded the SG that they expect a written… periodic written report on resolution 2334 (2016).  Is the SG planning to provide such a report on… on a periodic…?

Spokesman:  I mean, he has in the past, and I'm sure he will in the future.  Yes?

Question:  Sir, on the same topic, on the… in the Palestinian and… and Israeli problem, Secretary‑General has just, in his speech just now, appealed to both sides for peace and calm and so on and so forth.  But, what is happening is that both Egypt and Israel are strangulating the Gaza with… on the so‑called embargos, on food and oil… oil and everything else.  Has the Secretary‑General been able to persuade the Israelis and the Egyptian authorities to release some of the things that…?

Spokesman:  I think if you've watched the news and I'm sure you have, Masood, you will have seen and know that Mr. Mladenov has been personally involved in ensuring that fuel goes in and ensuring that as much aid as possible goes in.  It's an issue, obviously, that involves Israel and Egypt but also very much involves the political situation within the Palestinian leadership and the need for a single Palestinian leadership under the Palestinian Authority.

Question:  So, in this case, both sides… between the Israelis and the Egyptian, they're both somehow coordinating efforts to strangulate Gaza.  Why is that?

Spokesman:  I cannot speak for either the Israeli Government nor the Egyptian Government.  Evelyn, you had a question.

Question:  Just to clarify what you said after… earlier, on Yemen, we don't know yet how many people will be… how many monitors there will be?

Spokesman:  No, ma'am.

Question:  And we don't know when they'll arrive?

Spokesman:  Well, we know they are… they will arrive as soon as is practicable.  Mr. Cammaert will leave very soon, but, as I said, he's not wasting any time.  And tomorrow, he will already chair the meeting.  Oh, sorry, we'll go to… still the first round, yes.  Your microphone, please.

Question:  Yes.  Yes, Stéphane.  Just on that point, the numbers, yes, we're unclear of, but as you said, the monitors will not be in uniform?

Spokesman:  That's correct.

Question:  Yes.  To Syria and Geneva and Staffan de Mistura, I want to see if you can give me any more specifics on the one extra mile that they need to go.  It seems that the three foreign ministers came in, particularly the Russians, with some fresh proposals from the [Bashar al] Assad Government and fresh names potentially for the list of civil society.  Was Mr. de Mistura unhappy with that list?  Was he proposing additional members?  Can you confirm any of the details?

Spokesman:  I think what is clear is that we very much appreciate the intensive work done by the Astana guarantors in our effort to implement the final statement that was adopted in Sochi in 2018.  The extra mile is… in a word, Mr. de Mistura, I think, described as a marathon is to ensure the necessary package for a credible, balanced and inclusive Constitutional Committee and for including a balanced chairing arrangement and drafting body and voting threshold to be established under UN auspices in Geneva.  So, the… this was an extremely important step forward, but discussions are continuing.

Question:  And in terms of the… in terms of the extra mile going forward, the briefing to the… so, he's seeing the SG tomorrow.  The briefing to the Security Council is on Thursday.  That takes us to 20 December.  And given that you are at this crucial moment, who continues the work from [21 December] until the end of the year?  Is it Mr. de Mistura or Mr. [Geir] Pedersen?

Spokesman:  Mr. de Mistura.  As he said, I think, in a speech in Doha recently, he is not a lame duck; he will be a flying duck until 31 December, in which case he will hand over the baton to the Norwegian mallard, and they will continue their marathon.  Yes, sir?

Question:  So… so… so, what do you think about the… the outcome of the meeting with the Astana guarantors today?  Is it a setback?  Because, obviously, Mr. de Mistura hoped that he maybe would achieve or would reach an agreement on this committee before his departure.

Spokesman:  It's… I think if Staffan were here, he would say it's not about him.  This will be a seamless transition.  We've been working on this for quite… quite some time.  We not afford any gap.  Mr. de Mistura will work until the end, and then Mr. Pedersen will take over.  As I said, we're very appreciative of what has been done, but we feel and the Secretary‑General shares that feeling that there is an extra… there's some extra effort and extra mile to be walked or run.

Correspondent:  And back to the Middle East, Ambassador [Nikki] Haley…

Spokesman:  I think we were already in the Middle East.

Question:  Yeah.  The peace process in the Middle East… so, Ambassador Haley referred to a plan prepared by the US Government on a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.  Has the SG seen or discussed any elements of this plan with the US Administration…?

Spokesman:  I don't believe we have seen the plan.  The Secretary‑General has had conversations with Mr. [Jason] Greenblatt and Mr. [Jared] Kushner over the last year or so.  Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, again, continuing on this Kash… Indian killing in Kashmir, I know you answered this question that you're still monitoring the situation.  Is that been upgraded to… but have you assessed the situation in Kashmir?

Spokesman:  We’re continuing… I have nothing more than what I've said yesterday.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yes, Central African Republic, you mentioned the UNHAS flights might have to stop.  Could you just give us more information on what impact that would have?  My understanding is that's getting personnel in and out.  Or is it also carrying aid, as well?

Spokesman:  Yeah, it’s devastating.  It's getting personnel in and out.  WFP also, obviously, carries food.  I mean, I'm… as we know, the challenges in the Central African Republic are great.  Not only the continued insecurity, but the very weak infrastructure, road infrastructure, and flying is often the only option, the only safe option, the only timely option to get aid… both aid itself and aid workers in and out of the places where they're needed most.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.