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

21 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.


All right — let me start off with a couple of notes on Syria and then answer some questions that have been asked.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are very concerned by the continuing drought in north-east Syria, which, combined with the conflict, could severely impact millions of people.  While the food security situation has improved in many parts of Syria in the past year, some 5.5 million people are still food insecure and need assistance.  More than 90 per cent of households spend half or more of their monthly income on food.  The drought is exacerbated by damaged or destroyed infrastructure due to the conflict.  This year has been the lowest wheat and barley production in Syria since 1989.  The UN and its humanitarian partners are providing assistance to drought-affected communities in the northeast, including seeds for winter crops, agricultural support mechanisms and technical training.

And I was also asked earlier by some of your colleagues about the reports of fighting in the Hajin enclave; I can tell you that we are of course aware of continuing reports of intense fighting in and around Hajin enclave, with an estimated 6,000 civilians trapped by Da’esh in desperate conditions.  Sustained access to civilians displaced by ongoing hostilities in the immediate vicinity of the Hajin area has remained very challenging.  As soon as we were able to get some assistance to the internally displaced people in the sites in the Gharanij and Bahra areas as recently as October, but the area remains largely inaccessible due to current insecurity.  Of course, we again call on all parties to protect civilians and allow safe and sustained and unimpeded access to those in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


And I have been asked over the last two days about the situation in Guatemala, and in answer to those questions, I can tell you that the Secretary-General regrets the Government of Guatemala’s announcement that it will expel 11 investigators and lawyers of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  Their work is integral to the fulfilment of the mandate of the Commission to combat impunity and to the Commission’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala.  The Secretariat had hoped that the requested visas of the Commission staffers would be issued promptly.  The Secretary-General values the dialogue of the Government since his last meeting with President Morales and invites the Government to continue engaging in an open dialogue with the Secretariat to address this situation, as well as concerns related to the Commission.


And back here this morning in the Security Council, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, addressed the Security Council on recent developments in Guinea-Bissau.  Introducing the [special] report of the Secretary-General on the assessment of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) led by independent expert Joao Honwana, Mr. Zerihoun described the political situation in the country as fraught with uncertainty.  In his report, the Secretary-General underscored the challenging political context in which the Office operates, and said the Office warranted recognition for the crucial role it has played in supporting the work of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-led mediation process to resolve the political impasse in the country.  His statement has been made available to you.

**South Sudan

And in a statement issued a short while ago, the UN Mission South Sudan (UNMISS) strongly condemned the recent assault and detention of Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism team.  The assault, conducted by the Transitional Government of National Unity security forces, took place earlier this week, on 18 December, in the Luri area of Central Equatoria State.  The Mission notes that the monitoring and verification team members and their support personnel were merely discharging their mandate in support of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan.  The Mission urges the immediate commencement of investigations in order for the perpetrators to be held to account.  The Mission also urges the Parties to the Revitalized Agreement to adhere to the commitments outlined in the Agreement and to ensure that all their forces are aware of and comply with the tenets of the Agreement.  UNMISS calls on all parties to fully cooperate with the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism team as they carry out their mandate.


And from Myanmar, our UN colleagues there have welcomed today’s announcement by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Services regarding a ceasefire from 21 December of this year through 30 April next year.  The ceasefire seeks to enable peace talks and national reconciliation with all Ethnic Armed Organizations, including non-signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.  The acting UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Andrew Kirkwood, says he hopes that this will provide a new impetus to Myanmar’s peace process and bring an end to fighting between the Tatmadaw and Ethnic Armed Organizations during this period and beyond.


And I also want to flag that our concern as the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to take a toll on civilians, our humanitarian colleagues tell us, with more than 5 million people affected and 3.5 million people in need of aid.  During 2018, more than 1 million people benefited from some form of humanitarian assistance and protection services.  As of yesterday, the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which had called for $187 million, is only 38 per cent funded.  Next year, $162 million will be urgently needed to deliver vital humanitarian assistance and protection services to the 2.3 million people in need.  With winter temperatures now dropping below -10°Celsius, mobilizing these funds now is crucial.

**Briefing Schedule

And I do want to mention that due to the holidays — yes there will be holidays — we will suspend our noon briefings starting from Monday onwards, and we will resume our regular schedule on Wednesday, 2 January.  My Office will be staffed throughout — we will be present in the building — so, if you need anything, just come by.  And obviously, if there is a need to do on-camera briefings we will do so, and we will also post daily updates, daily updates every day, which is what daily does.  Voila.  Okay, Michelle.  You're gesticulating.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéph.  On Yemen, the Council is expected to adopt shortly this resolution to authorize the advance monitors.  Can you just explain to us whether not having this resolution earlier has held up UN work in any way?

Spokesman:  No.  At the Secretary-General's instructions, we, the UN — all its parts — has moved ahead very quickly.  As you know, General Cammaert, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee and an advance team have already been deployed to the region.  We'll be deploying additional personnel in the coming days as we scale up to support and facilitate the implementation of the agreement that was agreed to in Stockholm, and we of course urge all the parties to abide by the commitments made in Stockholm.

Question:  Just a follow-up question.  How big is this advance team?

Spokesman:  It's a couple of people.  I don't have hard numbers to share with you.  Obviously, we will be scaling up as soon as possible.  I mean, I cannot reiterate enough the Secretary-General's insistence that people be deployed very quickly.

Question:  Yeah, to follow up on that, as well.  Do you know how quickly they'll actually be in Hodeidah?  And can you give an idea of the make-up?  I…  I heard something that one UN official said 30 uniformed…

Spokesman:  They will not be wearing uniforms, as far as I'm aware.  As soon as I have a bit more precision on the numbers, I will let you know.

Question:  Stéph, do you have any commitments yet from countries on giving equipment or expertise or whatever's needed for this monitoring and verification mission?

Spokesman:  Those teams are being put together.  My understanding is that some observers that are serving in existing missions will be redeployed quickly.  We're trying to get a footprint on the ground as quickly as possible.

Question:  Do… do you know what kind of things they need?  Do they need, like, UAVs to monitor?  Do they need, I don't know, computers?  Do…  what…  what do they need specifically?

Spokesman:  They need the basic equipment that all of us now travel with, which I assume includes a computer, but obviously, it's a matter of organizing transport and these things.  We already have a fairly large presence in Yemen through our humanitarian work, the country team, so we have some resources around.  The important thing is to get the actual observers on the ground in Hodeidah.

Correspondent:  I had a follow-up.

Spokesman:  Yeah, sure.  Go ahead.

Question:  What exactly is an observer?  So if it's not…  like…  no, if it's not a uniformed person…  if it's not uniformed… like could it be me?  Could I go in…?

Spokesman:  No, no, you know these very well may be, like General Cammaert, people with military background.  They will not be wearing military uniforms.  They will be in civilian clothes.  Whether or not these people are actually military officers or personnel wearing civilian clothes, obviously, we'll see what the makeup of it is, but you do need, with all due respect to you, Michelle, I'm sure you would do a fine job, but this is a very serious and complex security situation, so obviously, these will be people with a military or military-like background, but when there's an opening I will let you know.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  No.  Let's resume our serious programming.  My understanding, as of yesterday, as of today, these people will not be wearing… they'll be wearing distinctive clothing that marks them as UN, right, but they will not be wearing military uniforms.  Let's move to Bangladesh.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Stéphane.  Crackdown on opposition candidates and supporters by the ruling authority.  Do you still believe the upcoming election of Bangladesh will be free, fair and credible, as now they are disqualifying opposition candidates to… by using the codes?

Spokesman:  As I've told you, we are all following these developments very closely and we're concerned by the reports of incidents of electoral violence and arrests of opposition members and we call on all stakeholders to do their part to make sure that the election is inclusive and transparent.  In this respect, it's, of course, very important that the security forces act to ensure free and unhindered campaigning by all candidates.  Bangladeshi citizens should feel confident in their ability to safely exercise their right to vote.  Civil society and electoral observers also need to be fully supported to play their role in this process.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you know, Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke to the Secretary-General yesterday and made some specific points with regard to the deteriorating situation in Kashmir, especially that it's an international dispute on the…  and on the agenda of the Security Council and the responsibility of the United Nations to resolve it.  Do you have any readout on the…?

Spokesman:  Of course.  I can confirm to you the phone call did happen, and it centred on the issue of Kashmir as brought up by the prime minister.  I assume you want a follow‑up, on the other side of the line of the line control?

Question:  [Inaudible] essentially saying that Pakistan should mind its own business, and Kashmir is an internal part of India.  So your comments on this?

Spokesman:  Our position on Kashmir has been reiterated.  There is an observer group as mandated by the Security Council.  The Prime Minister wanted to speak to the Secretary-General.  It's only normal that the Secretary-General speak to Heads of Governments and Heads of State and, as I said, I can confirm that the call took place and that the Prime Minister raised the issue of Kashmir.  Let's move to a different continent.  If somebody could shut off whatever phone is ringing, that would be appreciated.  Thank you.

Question:  On Nicaragua, Stéph, there's a growing concern that the governor of Daniel Ortega could begin a new phase of crackdown on opposition movements, especially after his Government ordered, or forced the way out, of two independent entities that were investigating and studying human rights abuses throughout 2018.  So, now that the Government has…  these two independent bodies pretty much is very uncertain, like how dire the human rights situation in the country specifically might be, so I wonder if the Secretary-General has been following the situation in Nicaragua, and if there is any kind of concern.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, he is fully aware and following it.  We spoke about it earlier this week, in which he expressed his concern and his wish to see an inclusive political dialogue.  I would also refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said she herself was extremely alarmed by the announcement that two key human rights institutions had to leave the country.  The expulsion of these two organizations, she said, means that there is now virtually no functioning independent human rights bodies left in Nicaragua.  You know, Ms. Bachelet said she hoped that there could be some common ground with the government to reverse this situation, and she is the voice of human rights for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Back to the same Yemen issue.  So, the resolution calls on…  not limited in monitoring the Hodeidah airport… the port, et cetera.  My question is to… according to your understanding, to which…  what exactly will be there monitored?  Goods?  Movement of people?  Can you go more into details there?

Spokesman:  I would refer you first to what was agreed to in Stockholm, which I think defines the parameters.  The observers will be there to report back on violations as established in, as agreed to, in Stockholm.

Question:  So, it also says…  includes that the Secretary-General reports on a weekly basis regarding commitment and whether the parties breached any parts or commitments of the agreement.  Do you…  according to your understanding, is it going to be also…  include other parties of Yemen?  Or is it only Hodeidah and other… and… and the ports that…?

Spokesman:  Right now, it's focused on, the observers' mission will be will be focused on Hodeidah.  Obviously, that does not mean our position on the halt to violence and…  and military activity throughout Yemen has changed.  We want to see calm throughout Yemen, but the particular mission of the observers will focus on Hodeidah.  Michelle.

Correspondent:  Congo.  The elections have been delayed a week until 30 December.  Does the SG have any comment on that? And what is the UN seeing on the ground with regard to tension, et cetera?

Spokesman:  We're aware of the delay that was announced by the commission, apparently for technical reasons.  Ms. Zerrougui, who heads the UN mission who represents the Secretary-General on the ground, has continuously engaged with all in a view to holding and transparent and credible elections.  As you know, we are mandated by the Security Council to provide logistical support to the electoral commission.  However, the Congolese authorities have not requested such support to date, so therefore, we have not provided any logistical support.

Question:  Any updates regarding the next meeting on Yemen, the political negotiation?  How things…?

Spokesman:  No, General Cammaert's intention was to hold the next coordination meeting in situ, so we'll see how quickly that can be done.  He had the first coordination meeting here via video conference and teleconference, and he very much hopes to have the next one in situ as all the members of the commission agreed to.  Ms. Monica, merry Christmas, and all yours.  Halas.

For information media. Not an official record.