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7 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Syria

Good afternoon.  Geir Pedersen has started his duties today as Special Envoy for Syria, based in Geneva, as you know.  In a tweet, he said that he was honoured to assume his duties in service of the Syrian people and their aspirations for peace.  He added that he looks forward to consulting broadly within and outside of Syria.  As you know, Mr. Pedersen succeeds Staffan de Mistura.  We have all greatly appreciated Mr. de Mistura’s tireless efforts on behalf of the Syrian people.  As a mediator, Mr. de Mistura demonstrated many times his ability to bring together the international community as he tried to bring peace to the country.

Meanwhile, we strongly condemn the abduction and killing of a humanitarian aid worker in Syria.  Mark Cutts, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, said today that he was appalled and outraged by the news of the abduction and killing of an aid worker representing a non-governmental organization (NGO) last week in Idleb, in the north-west part of the country.  Parties to the conflict have an obligation not only to protect their lives, but also to ensure that aid workers can work unhindered.

**Yemen

And on Yemen, just to give you a logistical update.  Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy, is in Riyadh today, and he expects to meet President [Abdrabbah Mansur] Hadi of Yemen tomorrow.  And over the weekend, he was in Yemen, where he met with the Ansarallah leadership, as well as with UN officials.

**Central African Republic

And on the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues say they were shocked and saddened by the killing of a humanitarian worker in Batangafo town, Ouham Prefecture on Saturday.  A guard of an NGO succumbed to injuries following a shooting during a violent break-in at his organization’s premises.  The Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous places for humanitarian aid workers, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Some 396 incidents directly affecting humanitarian personnel and assets — that’s more than one incident per day — were recorded in 2018.  And that was a 17.5 per cent increase compared to incidents in 2017.

And also on the Central African Republic, the Government and the humanitarian country team — the UN’s humanitarian country team — have today launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requests $430.7 million to assist 1.7 million extremely vulnerable people.  The number of people in need of assistance and protection has increased from 2.5 million to 2.9 million, a 16 per cent rise compared to 2018.  Of these people, 1.9 million people require immediate assistance.  More information online.

**Burkina Faso

And just to flag that over the weekend, we issued a statement on Burkina Faso, in which the Secretary-General said he was concerned over the deteriorating security situation in some parts of the country, where the authorities declared a state of emergency.  He is also concerned about intercommunal violence.

**Human Trafficking

And in Vienna, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report that says the number of human trafficking victims is on the rise and calls on countries to strengthen their cooperation to protect victims and bring criminals to justice.  The report found a clear increase in the number of children being trafficked, and who now account for 30 per cent of all detected victims, with far more girls detected than boys.  Sexual exploitation continues to be the main purpose for trafficking, accounting for some 59 per cent.  The report draws on information from 142 countries and examines trafficking trends and patterns, while focusing on human trafficking in armed conflict.  More information on the UNODC website.

**Press Briefing Today

And at 4:35 p.m. this afternoon, Sandra Erica Jovel Polanco, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Guatemala, will be here in this room to brief you on her meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres.  I pause and take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, and happy New Year.  There was reports yesterday about a Saudi… a young Saudi woman that was not allowed to enter Thailand and her passport confiscated by Saudi officials in Bangkok.  And she… she was denied, at the beginning, access to UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] office to seek refuge.  As far as I understand, from the last hour, that UNHCR in Bangkok got in contact with her.  My question is, and this is to the Secretary‑General, does he have any position one way or the other, on a universal rights ground, about the guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia and its impact on the rights of female Saudis?

Spokesman:  On this particular case, UNHCR's involved.  And, as far as I understand, from what we've been told, they're in touch with the young lady, in person.  As a matter of principle, for the world over, the Secretary‑General believes in equal treatment of men and women under the law.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  May I ask another question?

Spokesman:  You may, but later on, 2020 maybe.

Question:  You just told us that the Foreign Minister of Guatemala is going to be here to give the readout of the meeting with the Secretary‑General.  Can we ask what the Secretary‑General is likely to tell the Foreign Minister, particularly given this row over the corruption body, the UN‑backed corruption body, now one member of that body being held?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the meeting was requested by the Foreign Minister of Guatemala.  So, before I know what the Secretary‑General will say to the Foreign Minister, we, obviously, have to hear what the Foreign Minister has to say, since she requested the meeting.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has and continues to support the work of the Commission [against Impunity in Guatemala] and expects the Guatemalan Government to provide the Commission with all the assistance necessary for the discharge of its functions and activities, including the freedom of movement of its staff throughout Guatemala, as provided in the agreement that was signed.  Señor?

Question:  I also have a follow‑up on Guatemala.  There is a growing concern that, after the incident over the weekend, other investigators with the Commission who are still outside of Guatemala could go through the same that this investigator went through over the weekend.  So, I wonder if the SG shares that concern about what could happen to these other investigators who are outside of the country…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to predict what will happen.  We're, obviously, happy that Yilen Osorio was allowed back into the country, and we expect the Guatemalan Government to allow all the staff of the Commission freedom of movement, whether it is coming back in to Guatemala or whether it is travelling throughout the country.  I'm begging for questions here.  I should have left, I sense.  Go ahead…

Correspondent:  I can provide…

Spokesman:  Yes, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'm getting reports in from Hodeidah from humanitarians there of large numbers of civilians returning to the city.  Apparently, it's too cold in the hills around, and they want to get back to their homes.  Also, they feel that the ceasefire deal in Hodeidah is holding, but there are concerns because there isn't actually peace in the city yet, and they could be returning to a dangerous situation.  Question:  Do you have any confirmation of these reports?  Any idea of the number of peoples?  And…

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we had, in the past few days, if I recall, a report on some movement of people back into Yemen.  We very much hope that all the parties involved will respect the agreement.  And obviously, Mr. Griffiths… his trip to… his stay in Yemen and now his trip to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with President Hadi, is a big part of reinforcing the work that was done in Stockholm.

Question:  I'm sorry.  At the beginning there, you said "movement of people back into Yemen", but did you mean back into Hodeidah…?

Spokesman:  Back into Hodeidah.  Yes, I did.  Thank you for listening.  James?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow‑up on Yemen.  Do we have any guidance now on when the Special Envoy hopes to convene the second round of talks?  We were told it was going to be this month at some point.  And we know that those are not going to be convened in Stockholm again.  Some suggestions may be Kuwait or Jordan.  Could you give us any… any…?

Spokesman:  No, I think Mr.  Griffiths is neck-deep, as one would say, into these things, and we will let him announce when he feels the time is right on the next steps for face‑to‑face discussions.

Question:  Thank you.  I just wanted to see whether you had any thoughts to share with us on the ongoing election process in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  As you know, there were some results expected over the weekend that were not forthcoming.

Spokesman:  I always have thoughts to share, on many things.  But, I'll skip the personal thoughts.  We've, obviously, seen the decision taken by the Independent Electoral Commission to delay the announcement of the provisional results of the presidential elections.  As you know, those were expected on Sunday.  We look forward to the timely publication of the provisional results by the Commission, and I think it bears reminding that all stakeholders in this process have a responsibility to respect the laws and regulations governing the electoral process, help maintain an environment free of violence so as to enable the peaceful conclusion of the presidential, national and provincial legislative elections in a manner that reflects the will of the Congolese people.  Carole.  I will come back to you.

Question:  Stéphane, there were reports of an attempted coup in Gabon this morning, and I was wondering if the Secretary‑General had reached out to anyone, if the UN was doing anything in relation…?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General and others have been fully briefed.  His Special Representative for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, is monitoring the events closely, and he stands ready to provide good offices if and as required.  Of course, as a principle, the Secretary‑General has always stood against unconstitutional changes of power, especially by force.  And in that light, he condemns the attempted coup that took place this morning in Gabon.  And the Secretary‑General does take note that calm appears to have returned to Libreville and calls on all actors to follow the constitutional means.  Yeah, did you… go ahead… go ahead, Carole, and then we'll come back…

Correspondent:  I'm sorry.  On other… also reports on Myanmar that the army has launched a new operation in Rakhine.

Spokesman:  We're… we've seen the press reports.  We're trying to get a bit more information from our end.  Yes?

Question:  Michelle Bachelet, the UN High [Commissioner] for Human Rights, said couple of days that the trials in Saudi Arabia with the accused of assassinating Jamal Khashoggi falls short of international standards, and she's calling that an international probe must be taking place.  Did the Secretary‑General receive any formal request from Turkey or any other party to include that?  And is there any intention to activate Article 99 and bring it to the attention of the Security Council, since there was a violation of the Vienna Convention?

Spokesman:  There's been no official request, and nothing further to add on that.

Question:  Last question.  When is Secretary‑General going to have his press conference, new year press conference?  That's the easy one.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  It's… I'm trying to picture the calendar in my head.  I think somewhere between 16 and 18 January.  In this very room.  Monica, welcome.

For information media. Not an official record.