4 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.

Hello.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for your patience.  I have for you the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia.


The Secretary-General deeply regrets the decision of the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia to declare the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), Nicholas Haysom, persona non grata.  The Secretary-General has full confidence in Mr. Haysom, an experienced and respected international civil servant who has distinguished himself in numerous senior leadership roles, in the field and at UN Headquarters.  The doctrine of persona non grata does not apply to, or in respect of, United Nations personnel.  As described in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the doctrine applies to diplomatic agents who are accredited by one State to another in the context of their bilateral relations.  The United Nations is not a State and its personnel are not accredited to the States where they are deployed but work under the sole responsibility of the Secretary-General.

At the same time, the Secretary-General is totally committed to ensuring that the needs of the Somali people are at the forefront of the work of the United Nations in Somalia.  UNSOM needs to be able to carry out in the most effective manner its mandate to support the country.  Therefore, he intends to appoint in due course a new Special Representative for Somalia and Head of UNSOM.  The Secretary-General remains strongly committed to assisting Somalia in its efforts to achieve peace, stability and prosperity for all.


Our humanitarian colleagues are extremely concerned by reports that civilians, including women and children, have been killed and injured due to ongoing intense hostilities between non-State armed groups in north-western Syria.  Fighting has been reported in north-western Aleppo Governorate, northern Hama Governorate and various parts of Idleb Governorate.  There are indications that some of the latest fighting between non-State armed groups has taken place near the sites of internally displaced people, with reports that some displaced people have been forced to flee to other areas.  The violence is also reported to have affected several medical facilities.  Most humanitarian activities in affected areas have been suspended due to insecurity.  The increased hostilities have also reportedly resulted in road closures and curfews being imposed in some affected areas, with bakeries also reported to be closed.

The humanitarian situation in the north-west of Syria has been further complicated by the impact of flooding in several areas.  Flooding is now estimated to have affected some 23,000 displaced people.  The United Nations continues to strongly urge all parties to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, and to facilitate humanitarian access, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


The second meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, or RCC, convened in Hodeidah City, Yemen from 1 to 3 January and discussed the modalities for the implementation of the RCC mandate.  The parties discussed and agreed on the operationalization of a monitoring and liaison mechanism to oversee the ceasefire and redeployment of forces from Hodeidah and its three ports.  The RCC Chair, General Patrick Cammaert, remains heartened by the continued goodwill of the parties to tackle the difficult issues in front of them.  The next meeting of the RCC is scheduled for 8 January.  In the meantime, General Cammaert continues to urge the parties to ease restrictions on life-saving humanitarian operations and to uphold the ceasefire.

**Middle East

In a statement issued yesterday, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that the stoning attack on Palestinian Prime Minister [Rami] Hamdallah’s convoy on Christmas is a very worrying incident.  He said that it is absolutely unacceptable and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  Such violence, he said, must stop immediately.


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calls on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally release prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and to ensure that all Bahrainis are able to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression without fear of arbitrary detention.  Mr. Rajab has been imprisoned since June 2016, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had last year declared his detention to be arbitrary.  OHCHR urges the Government of Bahrain to stop criminalizing dissenting voices.


OHCHR today expressed its concerns over the violence and alleged rights violations in Bangladesh before, during and after the 30 December 2018 elections.  The Office said that there have been credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on the polling day alone, and there are worrying indications that reprisals — notably against the opposition — continue to take place, including harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases.  More on this on the Office’s website.


On the Philippines, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 120 people are believed to have died with nearly 30 more missing after Tropical Depression Usman made landfall near Borongan late last month.  More than 480,000 people across 14 provinces have been affected by the storm, with more than 57,000 people staying in shelters and nearly 160,000 people staying with relatives and friends.  The national Department of Social Welfare and Development is leading the humanitarian response, and the United Nations remains closely engaged with authorities to offer any support that might be needed.


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that it regrets India’s decision to repatriate a family of Rohingya asylum seekers to Myanmar, the second such return in three months.  The family, which was registered with UNHCR in India, was sent back to Myanmar yesterday from India’s Assam Province, where they had been in prison since 2013 for illegally entering the country.  Despite repeated requests, UNHCR did not receive a response from Indian authorities for access to the family to assess the voluntary nature of their decision to return.  There are an estimated 18,000 Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR in India.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

UNHCR is supporting local authorities in the Republic of Congo to provide humanitarian assistance to some 16,000 recently arrived refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The agency says that people are fleeing deadly clashes that erupted at the end of December 2018 between two communities in Yumbi, Mai-Ndombe Province, in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is the largest influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo into Congo‑Brazzaville in almost in a decade.  Refugees, mostly women and children of the Banunu tribe, continue to enter the Republic of Congo, where the Congolese authorities and UN agencies, including UNHCR, are providing medical treatment, food and non-food items.  There is more information online.  And that is it for me.  Do you have any questions?  Yes, yes, Evelyn.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On your first point, what's the reason that Mr.  Haysom has to leave? And is… are some AU [African Union] members and IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development] peop… countries in Somalia in any way involved?  Because he seems like the perfect guy for it.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the opinions of different states, you will have seen that Mr. Haysom, in fact, briefed the Security Council just yesterday on the situation in Somalia.  And you'll have seen the praise for his work… was received by other Member States who were at that briefing, including African Member States.  Regarding the reasoning for this, you would have to ask the Government of Somalia what their reasons are.  We have been in contact with them and are sharing today with them a note verbale share… expressing our views, including the views that I've just mentioned in the statement I read.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On this… India, at this situation over there, especially with the Rohingya refugees, is this considered a human rights violation by the United Nations, what they are doing to the Rohingya refugees?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I've told you what UNHCR has said about this, and they have more to say, but, ultimately, whenever any family is returned, we want to make sure that the nature of the return was voluntary.  And UNHCR was not able to assess the voluntary nature of that return, and so they are very concerned about this.

Question:  Another… another question about this Indian… about the situation in Kerala about Indian… two Indian women who went to this church [sic] and then whole state went into a state of frenzy, even the… what do you call… liberal… what do you call… munic… I mean former DPI [Department of Public Information]… what do you call… director, Shashi Tharoor, weighed in, criticizing the women for entering the temple.  What is the position of the United Nations on this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, this is an issue on which the Supreme Court of India has commented.  So, we will leave the matter in the hands of the rule of law authorities in India.  Of course, we want all parties to respect the rule of law, and you're aware of the UN's position and its fundamental position on the rights of… on equal rights of all people.

Question:  But, the thing is… is are… do you… I mean, is that considered to be a violation of human right, not allowing them to enter the temple, when the Supreme Court of India has struck down the law?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, obviously we encourage all to respect the laws of the country.  Yes, please, Jennifer.

Question:  Thank you.  Did the Secretary‑General attempt to persuade the Somali Government to re‑admit Mr. Haysom?  And, if so, how did those discussions go?

Deputy Spokesman:  What I can say is that the Secretary‑General has spoken twice in the last few days with President [Mohamed] Farmajo of Somalia.  Regarding how it went, obviously, you see what our statement that I just read at the top of this briefing was.  That expresses our position.  We hold firm to our position that the doctrine of persona non grata does not apply, but, at the same time, it's crucial that the UN Mission on the ground is able to go about its work.  Yes, Mr. Sato?

Question:  Yeah, thank you.  Follow‑up question.  Is any case that Secretary‑General's represent… Special Representative being persona non grata in the past…?

Deputy Spokesman:  There have been many such cases.  If you look at our past briefings, there have been many different statements we've issued about different individuals and different cases that we've handled over the years.

Question:  One question about Saudi Arabian journalist Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi case, UN human rights chief criticized the Saudi Arabian authorities’ trial to call for the investigation… the investigation… independent investigation.  What is Secretary‑General going to do for the in… independent investigation by Saudi… in… in… independent investigation?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we're continuing to monitor how these proceedings go.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has made clear the need for a thorough and transparent investigation, and we continue to hold to that call.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding the question about the temple in Kerala and the Hindu women, you said that the UN believes in equal rights for women.  Does that also apply to other religions, such as Islam or Catholicism?

Deputy Spokesman:  It applies across the board.  You know, the question is how that is to be carried out.  In this case, like I said, with regard to your colleague's question, ultimately, this is a question on which the courts have pronounced themselves, and we encourage respect for the rule of law.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Back to India and the Rohingya, the Rohingya locked up the Rohingya… they plan to… apparently, they plan to ship quite a few of them back to Myanmar.  Does… is the Secretary… does the Secretary‑General have any intention of talking directly to India?  Because UNHCR apparently has failed.

Deputy Spokesman:  I wouldn't say that UNHCR has failed.  What I would say is that there's movements on the ground about which they are concerned, but they are in charge of this particular file, and we'll see how it goes with their efforts.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan.  On this Yemen, the thing is there is this tenuous piece at this point in time.  We know that… but the thing is that the two… two countries which are supplying them arms to Saudi Arabia and the coalitions… what do you call… are UK and United States, which are still clamouring to supply as many… as much arms.  Has the United… United Nations Secretary‑General spoken to anybody about this… to anybody in the authorities, that this supply of arms to these two countries will come to exasperate the situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, have reached out to a wide range of relevant nations to make sure that all of them do their utmost to bring the parties on the ground back to peace talks and to a halt to fighting.  Ultimately, there's any number of steps that different states can do, including using their own influence with the respective parties to bring them back to the table.  And we've been pleased to see the developments of recent weeks in which there has been a cessation of hostilities in Hodeidah; there has been some progress towards the exchange of prisoners and, as you know, the parties had… have at least begun some talks, and we hope that we can announce another round shortly.  Have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.