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

19 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 will start off with a couple of statement and then an update on Yemen.

**Migration Compact

The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption by the General Assembly of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  The Compact is a non-legally binding agreement that reaffirms the foundation principles of our global community, including national sovereignty [and] universal human rights, while pointing the way towards humane and sensible action to benefit countries of origin, transit and destination as well as the migrants themselves.

He said that at a time when international cooperation is more important than ever, this new Global Compact provides a platform for precisely that.  It calls for greater solidarity with migrants in situations of appalling vulnerability and abuse.  The Compact underscores the need to anticipate future trends, from labour markets to the impacts of climate change.  And it also highlights the imperative of devising more legal pathways for migration, which would help to crack down on trafficking and exploitation. 

The Secretary-General thanks all those who have helped to bring this landmark step to fruition:  the current President of the General Assembly and her predecessor; the co-facilitators; his Special Representative, Louise Arbour; and the UN’s many partners, including civil society, diaspora communities, the private sector, trade unions, academic experts and municipal leaders and, of course, migrants themselves.

He also welcomes the overwhelming global support for this Compact and hopes that those countries that have chosen to remain outside of the process will come to see the Compact’s value and join this venture.  The Secretary-General said leadership will be crucial in bringing the Compact to life, and in avoiding the myths and disparaging discourse that have become all too frequent.  The newly established United Nations Migration Network stands ready to support Member States and all our partners as we strive together in a spirit of respect and common purpose to make migration work for all.  His statement is now available online.

**Guatemala

I also have a statement on Guatemala.  The Secretary-General regrets the Government of… OK.  I apparently do not have a statement of Guatemala.  There you go.  The beauty of live television.  Back to our regular programming.

**Yemen

I have an update for you on Yemen:  General Patrick Cammaert and members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, the RCC, met today through video- and telephone-conference and discussed the general outlines of the work of the Committee.

The RCC members all expressed support for the work of the United Nations and to General Cammaert and his team.

The RCC will adopt a code of conduct, based on the Hodeidah Agreement, to be the basis of its work.

General Cammaert reiterated the commitment of the UN to help the parties fulfil their obligations and commitments and to help the parties to de-escalate tensions.

He highlighted the primacy of the humanitarian goal of the ceasefire and the importance of securing unhindered flow of humanitarian aid.

General Cammaert and the members of the Committee will stay in close contact in the coming days until the Committee convenes a meeting in Hodeidah as soon as possible, per the request of the Chair.

Both parties remain constructively engaged with the work of the Committee and vowed to facilitate the work of the Committee in good faith, and to cooperate in the implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement.

General Cammaert will travel on Thursday to Amman, Jordan, with a small initial advance team, and he will then travel onwards to Sana’a and Hodeidah.

**Lebanon

Back here in the Security Council, as you will have seen, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning on Israel’s “Operation Northern Shield” to uncover and disable tunnels believed to cross the Blue Line from Lebanon into Israel, which has been going on for two weeks.  During this period, he said, the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, carried out a series of technical visits at suspected tunnel sites identified by the Israel Defense Forces near the Blue Line.  Based on its own findings, the UN confirmed the existence of four tunnels south of the Blue Line.  UNIFIL technical assessments, he added, have further determined that at least two of these tunnels cross the Blue Line and constitute a violation of resolution 1701.

Mr. Lacroix said that UNIFIL is acting judiciously to complete its investigation of the tunnels — with technical teams on the ground — and to work with both parties to ensure that any tunnels that are in violation of resolution 1701 are disabled decisively and safely.  UNIFIL has requested the Lebanese authorities to work with the Mission to identify and disable any tunnels crossing the Blue Line from Lebanon.

The Under-Secretary-General also commended both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for their stated commitment to continue to use the liaison and coordination arrangements established by the UN and their intention to maintain the prevailing calm along the Blue Line and avoid any escalation.  The potential for miscalculation, however, cannot be underestimated, Mr.  Lacroix warned.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) tell us that they are facing a severe funding shortfall that will impact some 193,000 of the poorest people in the occupied Palestinian territory, both in the West Bank and Gaza. 

As WFP prioritizes its operations based on available funds, 27,000 people in the West Bank stand to receive no further assistance, while the rest are to receive only 80 per cent of their monthly entitlement.  Those cuts will go into effect as of 1 January.

WFP is very concerned that these cuts may have a devastating effect on the food security, livelihoods and welfare of the people it serves in Palestine.

WFP needs $57 million to maintain the current level of support to 360,000 people in 2019.  In the absence of additional contributions, further cuts in assistance will have to be made.

Food insecurity is on the rise, affecting one third of the Palestine population, and is worst in Gaza, where nearly 70 per cent of the population are food insecure.

**Afghanistan

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that in Afghanistan, aid organizations in Herat City have started distributing food and non-food items to displaced people who have been affected by drought.

As part of the ongoing full-scale drought response, the World Food Programme and its partners reached nearly 287,000 affected people from 6–12 December with food and cash assistance, in rural and urban areas in 11 provinces. 

In the past week, 381,236 people affected by conflict and drought received humanitarian assistance, including cash, food, hygiene kits, emergency household items, emergency shelter and safe drinking water.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new UN report has found that hundreds of extrajudicial killings and cases of torture and sexual violence against civilians have been documented in the past two years in North Kivu Province.

The number of human rights violations account for one third of all such violations documented in the entire country.

The security and humanitarian situation in North Kivu steadily deteriorated between January 2017 and [October 2018], resulting from more armed groups fighting against both security forces and among themselves to gain control over territory and natural resources.

The new report found that women and children are often kidnapped, frequently for the purpose of sexual exploitation, with rapes and gang rapes committed both by armed groups and by the army.  Children are also subject to indoctrination by armed groups and forced to serve as child soldiers.

**Refugees

A new study released today by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) shows that more refugees are being helped by family, work and study permits than by resettlement schemes in the last eight years.  Some 560,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea entered OECD countries through these methods, compared to 350,400 through resettlement schemes.

**Press Briefings

After I’m done, I will 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, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  They will be here to brief you on their recent trip to Libya.

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Ibrahim Thiaw, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for the Sahel.  He will speak to you about the Sahel. 

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Thank you for paying attention.  Mr. Bays and then Mr. Abbadi. 

Question:  It… President [Donald] Trump is saying that… although there is some confusion around this, that he's pulling US troops out of Syria.  Two questions related to that.  Does the Secretary‑General believe ISIL in Syria has now been defeated?  And, secondly, is the Secretary‑General concerned that there will now be ungoverned territory in that part of Syria and that could cause concerns politically for the security situation and for the delivery of humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  Look, it's a lot of codes and hypotheticals right now.  Our focus and the Secretary‑General's focus remains on the peace process, the political process that is being… UN led by Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura and then Mr. [Geir] Pedersen.  That remains our focus.  Peace remains our focus.  As for ISIL, I think there are relevant Security Council reports to that matter, and I will leave it at that.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Does the text of the Global Compact as adopted by GA today include in its title the famous city of Marrakech?

Spokesman:  Excuse… does it?

Question:  If it does…

Spokesman:  I don't believe it does.  We can check.  It's a public document.  I don't know if it does, and I don't think it does.  Okay?  Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you.  The Nigerian military suspended the operation for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in the north-east on Monday, although it was lifted, reversed.  I want to know, did the United Nations play any role at any level to reverse the expulsion?

Spokesman:  Contacts, I'm sure, were had at the local level between UNICEF and the relevant representatives in Nigeria.  Yep.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'd like to ask about report of diplomatic cables breach, reported by New York Times today, and it is mostly about the diplomatic cables of European Union, but part of that article says that also UN system suffered the hacking by same group.  And the materials exposed… contains the record of meeting between Secretary‑General and some Asian countries' leaders.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not able to… I mean, we're aware of these reports.  You know, we don't publicly report on any data breaches.  What I can tell you is that, from what I've read of the article, these seem to be from a few years ago and that our systems are current… are constantly being upgraded and strengthened.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Yes, two… two questions.  One is about the Global Compact.  Did the Secretary‑General in the final vote see any… anything… any news of who abstain, who vote against or something?  Any reaction on the final count?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General saw was a compact adopted by an overwhelming number of Member States of this Organization.  And, as he said, the door remains open for those who have chosen not to join this document, which, as we have said about 1,001 times, is not legally binding.

Question:  And the second question is, the release today and… and yesterday by Reporters Without Borders and Committee to Project Journalists.  On their report, they say that this year was a really, really bad year for journalists.  And what is interesting is, reading on those reports, especially Committee to Protect Journalists, it looks like they find responsibility of the bad year often certain… certain policy by Government, like United States Government and the person of the President, there were certain speech, let's say, journalists, enemy of the people, so on, made the situation even worse.  What is the reaction… what did Secretary‑General think about it?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to the very strong message the Secretary-General issued on the issue of impunity [concerning] violence against journalists.  The Secretary‑General feels that, as a matter of principle, all Governments have a responsibility to ensure that journalists are able to conduct their work freely and safely.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  You started reading a… what sounded like a hard‑hitting statement on Guatemala.  You’re right to withdraw it, but can we ask you, what is your position on Guatemala withdrawing the diplomatic credentials of those investigators…?

Spokesman:  I think my position is about to be given to me shortly so…  I've…  yes, Stefano.  My position was given, then withdrawn.  So, hopefully, I'll be given one soon.  Yes?

Question:  On the other issue that you mentioned, the Security Council on the situation in the border between Lebanon and Israel, it look… in reading statement that also was sent to us by Ambassador… Israeli Ambassador [Danny] Danon, it looks like… I mean, I read… I read some criticism in the way that UNIFIL… the UN reacted when it looks like they didn't do things fast enough or something didn't go the way should have gone.  That's…  that's the way I read it.  How is the…  what the Secretary-General thinks of the way UNIFIL acted in this situation?

Spokesman:  I think UNIFIL reacted very thoroughly in both ensuring that the coordination mechanism between the IDF and the LAF works, and it does.  The Force Commander, General [Stefano Del] Col, went to Israel, met with Israeli counterparts, with the IDF, went to visit Israel's northern border, got the information he needed to have, then met with Lebanese counterparts, visited areas along the Blue Line.  And we identified the tunnels as reported by Mr. Lacroix and reported it as a violation of Security Council resolution 1701, which is exactly what they were supposed to do.  Ms. Fasulo, and then we'll go to our guests.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This is just a housekeeping issue.  You had mentioned that the SG was planning to give a press conference, I believe in January…

Spokesman:  Yes.  In January.

Question:  Is there a sense of when…?

Spokesman:  I think probably around the 16th or somewhere along those… that date, but he has confirmed it to me.  So, hopefully, it will not be like the Guatemala statement.

I will get our guests, and then we'll hear from Monica.  So, stand by, please.

For information media. Not an official record.