2 January 2019

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.

Good afternoon and Happy New Year, one and all.  I hope you had a great 2018 and will have a good 2019.


Yesterday, we issued a statement on the attacks against the United Nations compound in Mogadishu, which the Secretary-General strongly condemned.

He recalled that intentionally directing armed attacks against United Nations personnel may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and urged the Somali authorities to investigate the attacks and swiftly bring those responsible to justice.  The full statement is online.


On Mali, the UN Mission there, MINUSMA, reports that yesterday unidentified armed elements attacked Kouloughon village in the Mopti region.

Over 30 people have been reportedly killed, and several more are wounded.  Houses and granaries were also destroyed.  The precise circumstances of the attack have yet to be determined.

The UN Mission in Mali condemns the attack and has launched an investigation.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 85 people have died and 20 are missing after Tropical Depression Usman made landfall near the capital of the Philippines’ Eastern Samar province on 29 December.

The storm brought heavy rain and triggered landslides and caused widespread flooding.  Nearly 200,000 people have been affected.

Nearly 25,000 people are staying in 170 evacuation centres, while 54,600 others are staying with relatives or friends.

Local and provincial authorities are leading the response, with the Philippine Red Cross and civil society organizations providing relief goods and services.  The United Nations is in close communication with national authorities to offer support.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, in Myanmar’s central Rakhine State, some 2,500 people were forced to flee fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military that began last month.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has led a team to the area to look into what the uprooted people and host communities need.


Our team in Syria reports that heavy rains have taken a toll on internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Syria this winter, with camps flooding and temporary shelters destroyed.  Nearly 18,000 people have been affected in more than 60 informal settlements in the north-west, and some 3,000 tents have been damaged.

Many of the affected people were moved to schools, mosques, nearby houses and unaffected camps.  Those impacted by flooding have been encouraged to relocate temporarily to reception centres and available spaces in planned camps where services are being provided.

Despite challenges to road access because of the flooding, humanitarian teams are providing relief, including family tents, to those impacted at several IDP sites in the region.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

You will have seen that on Monday, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Robert Piper of Australia as Assistant Secretary-General of the newly transformed United Nations Development Coordination Office.

Mr. Piper brings to the position nearly 30 years of experience in international development, humanitarian response and peacebuilding at the United Nations.  He is currently the Head of the United Nations Development System Transition Team which was established to provide strategic leadership and oversight to all aspects of the repositioning of the United Nations development system.  Prior to this position, he was Officer-in-Charge of the Bureau of External Relations at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  His full bio is available in our office.

**Honour Roll

It’s a new year and it’s a new Honour Roll.  Two members have enrolled to date - Estonia and Malawi - and we extend gratitude to those two Member States for their full payments to the regular budget.

As for last year, 152 out of 193 States paid in full by 31 December 2018.

**Media Opportunity

Today at 3 p.m., at the Security Council Stakeout, there will be an installation ceremony of flags of the newly elected non-permanent members of the Security Council.  This event is organized by the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

**Press Briefing

At 4 p.m. today, there will be a press briefing by Ambassador José Singer Weisinger, Special Envoy of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations Security Council and President of the Security Council for the month of January.  He will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month, which was agreed to this morning.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, please.

Question:  The reported expulsion of Nicholas Haysom from Somalia:  firstly, can you confirm it?  And secondly, what is the reaction?

Deputy Spokesman:  All right.  On that, at this stage, I can’t officially confirm it.  What I can say is that we’re looking into the matter.  We’re trying to get the various details corroborated, and we’re going to see, based on that, what further steps are needed.

Question:  Fink was due to address the Council tomorrow, was he not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, and he is going to address the Security Council, and I believe he’s also scheduled to meet with the Secretary‑General tomorrow.  So, he’ll be here in New York.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you… do you have any update about Hodeidah agreement?  There were some reports that… blaming the United Nations for failure to implement the Stockholm Agreement.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’re continuing to do our best to implement the Stockholm Agreement.  You’ll have seen that we are putting out regular reports, including through Notes to Correspondents last week, about the efforts of our team on the ground and General Patrick Cammaert.  And, so, I would refer you back to those periodic updates.  But we are there on the ground, and we’re trying to make sure that the agreement stays in full effect.

Question:  Who’s reneging on the agreement in particular, in this case?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe you’ll have seen that last Friday we put out a Note to Correspondents reflecting General Cammaert’s disappointment at some of the implementation of the agreement, but I would refer you to that for the details.  Yes?

Question:  And… happy New Year, Farhan.  There is… the second phase that should start, I think, in three weeks from now, is the UN planning to deploy more people to… to monitor the situation, or what’s the plan for the second phase?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, once we get to that, we’ll provide you some more details.  Right now, what we’re trying to make is that the first phase of implementation goes according to plan, but we are planning for the next phase down the line, and we’ll provide details of that as it happens.

Question:  And for the peace talks, because Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is expected also to call for another round, is it clear now when and where the talks will take place?

Deputy Spokesman:  We do not have a date or venue at this point.  You will recall that Mr. Griffiths expressed his hope that, as early as we could this year, 2019, we would have a new round taking place.  And he is working with the various parties to see when we can have that held.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Happy New Year.  Israel withdrew, as of yesterday, from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the second country after the US.  Is there any position on this withdrawal?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, this was part of a process that had taken a year to implement, and we commented on this last year when you had asked about that.  Obviously, we want all Member States to support the agencies of the United Nations, including the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  But beyond that, I have no further comment to what we have said already on this matter.

Question:  As a second question, Israel decided to build 1,450 new Israeli settlement units in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  There was no statement from [Nickolay] Mladenov or any UN official.  Why is that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you’re aware of our existing position on settlements, and we continue to hold to that and to call for a halt to all settlement activity.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, and happy New Year, Farhan.

Deputy Spokesman:  Oh, and if I haven’t replied to all of you, Happy New Year, one and all.  Yes?

Question:  Okay.  Back to Yemen, there seems to be a controversy over food.  WFP (World Food Programme) said the Houthis have snatched food meant for a starving population, and the AP have an investigation over Taizz saying that the… the forces close to the Saudi‑led Coalition are doing the same thing and taking… taking food and snatching it for themselves or selling it.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we try to monitor all food distribution throughout.  Regarding WFP’s remarks on Monday, I would just refer you to their full press release, which goes into details about what they were able to find out.  Obviously, we would be concerned at any report of diversion of food aid by either side, and we’ll try to confirm those as we get details.  Yes?

Question:  Yes.  First of all, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on reports that the Palestinian Authority imposed a lifetime sentence on a Palestinian who sold his home to a Jewish family in East Jerusalem?

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have any comment on that, but I believe the Special Coordinator’s office is aware of these developments and will comment as needed.

Question:  And, secondly, since this is a new year, is the Secretary‑General scheduling a press conference at some point this month?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I’m pleased to inform you that he does intend to speak to you shortly, probably in the next two weeks.  We’ll get a more precise date for you, but it will be in the middle of January.  And… yes?

Question:  You mentioned 152 nations paid their dues last year?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Was the US one of those?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of paying it in full, no, but they did pay a very significant chunk of their dues, and we appreciate all the contributions, even if they’re not full contributions.

Question:  So, do they get counted in the 152 or the rest?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, they get counted in the rest of the group.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, the… I’m sure probably you heard about this fighting and fighting between the Hayat Tahrir al‑Sham, or Nusra Front, and Noureddine Al Zenki group… groups near Aleppo, close to Aleppo.  This fighting has been going on for two days.  Dozens of people have been killed.  What’s the United Nations doing to help the people of the area there who are inflicted by the fighting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we are concerned about this, but I believe I just mentioned to you our humanitarian efforts on the ground, in part because of the flooding in the north, but we’re also concerned about people uprooted from the fighting that has been happening around the Aleppo area.  And, of course, as you’re aware, we continue with our efforts to make sure that there are peace talks going on amongst the various parties.  But I don’t have anything further on this particular issue.  Yes?

Question:  Back to the 152 people… countries who paid dues, what percentage is that of the budget?

Deputy Spokesman:  We actually… I believe we pointed out late last year that this was… we actually got about 96 per cent of the budget, 96, 97 per cent of the budget paid last year.  So, we’re pleased with the response we got from the Member States overall.  And with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.