The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon — since it’s clearly afternoon.
As you know, the Secretary-General met yesterday with Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel of Guatemala. She presented him with a letter informing the United Nations of the Government’s intention to terminate the Agreement establishing the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) within 24 hours.
As we said in a statement yesterday, we strongly reject the content of the letter. We have been constructively engaged with the Government of Guatemala, at various levels, over the last sixteen months, in accordance with article 12 of the Agreement creating the Commission. The mandate of the Commission is set to end on 3 September. Until that date, we expect the Government of Guatemala to entirely fulfil its legal obligations under the Agreement. The Secretary-General expects the Government of Guatemala to abide by its international undertakings to ensure the protection of the Commission’s personnel, both international and national. The Secretary-General recalls the important contribution of Commission to the fight against impunity in Guatemala.
**Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and the region are starting a joint visit to the country today. And they will be there until Thursday. The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is part of a high-level delegation, as well as the Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union, Smail Chergui, and ministers of the Central African region and representatives from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The purpose of this joint engagement is to show their sustained support for President [Archange-Felix] Touadéra of the Central African Republic and his Government and to give new impetus to the peace process under the auspices of the African Initiative for peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic. They will meet with senior Government officials and key stakeholders and will be working to reinvigorate and amplify international efforts to secure a long-lasting peace in the country through dialogue between the Government and the armed groups.
From Myanmar, the Acting Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Knut Ostby, is deeply concerned about the situation in northern and central Rakhine State, where an estimated 4,500 people have been displaced so far due to fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar’s security forces. Mr. Ostby was shocked by the reports of attacks on 4 January, regrets the loss of life and offers his deepest sympathies to the families of the police officers who were killed. The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator urges all sides to ensure the protection of all civilians and uphold their responsibilities under International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law. Mr. Ostby further appeals to all sides to intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation and to ensure humanitarian access to all people affected by the violence. The United Nations has been in close contact with the Myanmar authorities in recent weeks and has offered to support ongoing efforts to respond to the humanitarian needs of those affected by the violence.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned by ongoing reports of civilian casualties — including many women and children — and large-scale civilian displacement due to ongoing hostilities in the south-eastern part of Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate. Over 7,000 people have reportedly fled the Hajin enclave since the beginning of December 2018, the majority of them women and children, while an estimated 2,000 people remain in the area. Those leaving the Hajin area have reported a dire situation on the ground, with many civilian casualties, critical shortages of food and medical supplies, and large-scale destruction and damage to civilian infrastructure. Humanitarian access to areas affected by fighting remains severely restricted. We remain extremely concerned for civilians who continue to be trapped in Da’esh-[held] areas.
The United Nations continues to call upon all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure freedom of movement and safe passage for civilians, and to allow unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to people in need. The United Nations continues to strongly call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), today launched its 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety campaign which calls on people all over the world to cover the distance travelled by refugees each year. UNHCR traced the journeys of refugees around the world and calculated that collectively, people forced to flee travel approximately 2 billion kilometres every year to reach the first point of safety. The campaign encourages people to walk, run or cycle to achieve a cumulative total of 2 billion kilometres. These acts, when taken together, acknowledge the resilience and strength of refugees. People can log their distances on their fitness apps or on the campaign website www.stepwithrefugees.org.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the resumption of full operations in response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province; operations had been affected by civil unrest in Beni, the epicentre of the epidemic, towards the end of last month. WHO now says that, under the Government’s leadership and in collaboration with partner agencies, the Ebola response has resumed across all locations, but warns that further disruptions could have serious consequences and gains could be lost if the area suffers a period of insecurity. The main challenges to the response are the security environment, pockets of mistrust among affected populations, and poor infection prevention and control in many public and private health facilities. Some 625 cases — 577 are confirmed — and 377 deaths have been recorded since the outbreak was declared in August of last year. WHO reports that more than 56,500 people have been vaccinated, while 220 people have recovered.
Our colleagues in the Security Council Affairs branch tell us that the “Highlights of Security Council” report for 2018 is out now, and it provides an overview of the work the Council has done over the year. It contains information on the evolving practice of the Security Council relating to meetings, agenda, decisions and voting patterns, as well as its subsidiary bodies. Like past editions, the 2018 edition includes some innovations. This year’s edition features, for the first time, information on procedural votes and it expands to 10 years the scope of analysis of Security Council meetings and decisions. The electronic version of the document is also available. And it is an interesting read for all of us who are Security Council geeks.
I just want to answer a question which I had been asked about reports seen in some Lebanese and Israeli media saying that the Middle East Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, had been involved in the transfer of Qatari funds to Hamas on Gaza. And I want to tell you that the story is false and Mr. Mladenov is not involved in any way in this issue.
And lastly on a musical note — for your enjoyment, there will be a concert next week at Carnegie Hall, on Tuesday, 15 January at 7:30 p.m. The Chamber Music Society of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council will present a concert in support of the Helen Sawaya Fund, a philanthropy programme headquartered at Mount Sinai Hospital, whose mission is to enhance the experience of cancer patients using complementary therapies, including music. And I assume you all know how to get to Carnegie Hall. There you go. Thank you. Go ahead. Practise, practise, practise.
**Questions and Answers
Question: One, two, one, two. Thanks, Stéphane. The Kuwaiti Government announced they are willing to host the upcoming Yemen talks in Kuwait. Is there any updates on the date of the upcoming talks? And how do you look at the Yemeni Government position that they are not willing to participate in any upcoming talks before full implementation of Stockholm Agreement? Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is scheduled to update the Security Council tomorrow as part of the weekly reporting that the Secretary‑General has been tasked to do. So, he will give you the latest updates, including wherever… whatever he has or can announce on the talks. We're always, of course, very pleased at any offer from anyone to host any talks sponsored by the UN. The situation on the ground remains, obviously, delicate. For the Secretary‑General's part, he's encouraged that the parties have remained committed to the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement. But, there is… obviously, Mr. Griffiths' efforts and the parties' efforts underscore a collective recognition of the urgency to find a sustainable solution for Hodeidah and to secure that vital humanitarian space that we've often talked about.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Bonne année. My question is regarding Syria. The area near Aleppo and Hama has been overtaken by Jabhat al‑Nusra, or Hayat Tahrir al‑Sham. For few days now, the fighting has intensified. Do you have any update on that one? Why there's no news coming from United Nations…?
Spokesman: No, I don't have any update on Syria. This… beyond what I've already… what I've just given you. But, if… I will ask and see if I can get something.
Question: How about the humanitarian help in this area? Because the fighting is very…
Spokesman: I will try to get an update. Let's stay in the region.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane, and happy New Year. About Syria again, you mentioned Hajin. Is there UN personnel, humanitarian workers or your partners on the ground near Hajin, where… and can you give us an update about the humanitarian situation in the northeast Syria now?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any UN personnel in Hajin area. As far as the north, we, obviously, remain concerned about the humanitarian situation there, but I'll try to give you a bit more exact numbers. I'll come back to you. James?
Question: Yes. Back to Yemen, I know we're going to get a… an… an update from the Special Envoy tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., but for our reporting between now and then, can you just update us, particularly those that have been away of the holiday period, how many monitors are now on the ground in Yemen and specifically in Hodeidah? What… what sort of complement do you have, and what work are they doing?
Spokesman: They are continuing to work with the parties in trying to implement the agreement. The ramping up of the staff is continuing, but I do not have exact numbers to share with you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have an… an… follow‑up on Yemen. Does the SG has any comments on the allegation from the Coalition that the Houthis vi… violated the agreement reached in Sweden?
Spokesman: Look, as I said, the situation on the ground remains extremely fluid. We understand that all the parties remain committed to the implementation of the Stockholm agreement. Mr. Griffiths is continuing his discussions. He was in Yemen over the weekend, met with the Ansarullah leadership. I think he's… my understanding is he's scheduled to meet with President [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi, if he hasn't already done so, today. You know, and we are doing whatever we can to work with the parties through the RCC to ensure that there is full respect of the Stockholm Agreement. What we all have to keep in mind is the need to create this humanitarian space, to ensure that humanitarian goods can flow in and out of Yemen.
Question: Thank you. I have two questions, Steph. First, on… a follow‑up on Guatemala. On his statement, the SG says that he hopes that the Guatemalan Government allows the work of the Commission until 3 September. However, the Morales Administration is pretty clear that it gave only 24 hours for the work of the Commission to be done for good. So, how is the exit strategy going to be dealt? What's going to happen with the prosecutor…
Spokesman: Well, the legal exit strategy is that on 3 September the mandate of the Commission ends. Right?
Question: But the message of…?
Spokesman: So, there is a legal agreement, and that agreement is in force until 3 September. The commissioner and his team are… will continuously evaluate the best possible way for them to fulfil their obligations under the agreement, and currently, there remains in Guatemala City staff from the Commission.
Question: Regardless of the message of the Guatemalan Government on the 24 hours…?
Spokesman: We heard the message. We'll see… obviously, there is a deadline of… which I think is about 4 p.m. our time. There's an agreement. There's a legal agreement. We continue… we are committed to continue to abide by that agreement.
Question: And on Venezuela, also, it's…?
Question: Could I follow‑up…?
Spokesman: Hold on. Let… if you don't mind, let him finish. Go ahead.
Question: Yeah. My question on Venezuela is, on Thursday, Nicolas Maduro will be swearing in… will be swearing in again for a new term as president. And already there is a group of nations around the continent pretty much who are saying that they will not consider legitimate this new term of Nicolas Maduro as president. So, I wonder if the SG is reading this position by different nations that will say… that do not see as legitimate this new government and will he do a… you know, will this change in any level the relationship that Venezuela has with the UN?
Spokesman: You know, we've seen the positions expressed publicly by a number of Member States concerning Mr. Maduro's second term. The recognition of a Head of State or Head of Government is not for the Secretariat. It's not for the Secretary‑General to rule upon. The UN system, system outside or within Venezuela, will continue cooperating with the Government and other national actors under the existing development framework… assistance framework for Venezuela, particularly in priority areas of health, food security and nutrition. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, just to clarify on Guatemala, if the Government go… follows through on its decision to end the Commission, would that be a violation then of the legal agreement that they've entered with the UN? And would the Secretary‑General, for instance, take that to the Security Council?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into hypotheticals. The… a letter was presented by the Secretary‑General yesterday from the Foreign Minister of Guatemala informing them… informing us of their intention to terminate the agreement. We rejected the content of that letter. We have been constructively engaged with the Government under article 12 that cre… and… of the agreement that created CICIG. And as far as we're concerned, that agreement stands until 3 September. The agreement is a public document. We're happy to share it with you, and you can all take a look at it and analyse it as much as you would like.
Question: If I could just, generally then, what would be the consequences for Guatemala for… for ending the mandate?
Spokesman: Listen, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. I can't speak for Guatemala. What I… no, no…
Correspondent: You said they're ending it.
Spokesman: What I'm saying is that we're… as far as we're concerned, the work of the Commission will continue until 3 September. The commissioner, as you know, has not been in Guatemala, will continue to evaluate with his team how best to continue that work until 3 September. Yes?
Question: Back to Yemen, when you talk about obstacles you're facing regarding implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, can you elaborate on that? And then, do you have a general update regarding humanitarian aid in Yemen?
Spokesman: No. I should have had a humanitarian update, but I don't, but I will get one for you. Listen, I'm not going… Mr. Griffiths is in the thick of it. I think it's all plain for all of us to see the complexity of the situation, of trying to end a conflict that has been going on for so long. Yes, sir?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. On this rigmarole of the Saudi girl who is now detained in… in Thailand and her father has now arrived, what is the situation now? And now is she…
Spokesman: I would encourage you to talk to UNHCR, who is in charge of this rigmarole.
Question: But, is she still under the protective…?
Spokesman: As I said, I… this is being completely handled by UNHCR. It's their job… it's their day‑to‑day job to assess these things. They have an office here. They have a big office in Geneva. Contact them. They'll be happy to tell you what's going on.
Question: So, the thing is, will she be safe? Will she be kidnapped?
Spokesman: I don't know what other words to use, Masood. They are in charge, UNHCR. They've been dealing with it. They've been talking about it publicly. I would encourage you to ask them. And then…
Question: Thank you so much, and it's another one on Yemen and Hodeidah. The sticking point at the moment, the complexity that you were talking about before, at this stage, seems to be the agreement referred to a handover of power in Hodeidah to local security forces. And the Houthis say this is one bunch of people who are their allies, and the Government says it's a different group of people that needs to be returned to. Does the UN take a position on this? Does the UN define who the local security forces should be, who should be taking control of Hodeidah?
Spokesman: Those kinds of discussions are going on between the RCC… within the RCC and with Mr. Griffiths. The agreement that was reached in Yemen was critical in the sense that it did create a space for dialogue, which we did not have before Stockholm. We've seen the criticism of some that it could not… should have been more detailed. Of course, every agreement could have been… could be better and more detailed. But, I think everyone understands the fluidity, the complexity of the situation in Yemen and especially in Hodeidah. And I can assure that you that Mr. Griffiths is trying to bring all of this to a happy ending. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. Back to Guatemala, concerning the members of the Commission or the staffers who are still there, what are they doing today? Are they at work, or are they packing up in case they have to leave? And is the UN concerned at all about their safety or security…?
Spokesman: Sure. There are some national… there's national staff. There's international staff. Where each of them are, I don't know. You know, I don't know these people personally. So, I don't know if they're home or in the offices. But my… I'm… my understanding is there are some… I'm not going to speculate. But, anyway, they're doing what they can do. The Government of Guatemala has responsibilities in terms of ensuring the safety of the staff and the protection of the facilities. We expect them to live up to that protection, but we… as always, we're not going to comment on safety procedures that we may be taking to ensure the safety of our colleagues. We'll go to the back and then Stefano. Yes, please, go ahead. Yeah.
Question: Okay. Thank you. I was wondering if it is time to say something on Kosovo? No?
Spokesman: It may be time, but I don't have anything new to say. But, I will… maybe tomorrow will be a better time but… and I don't mean to make light of the situation. Sorry.
Question: No, it… I was asking because The Washington Post has article last week saying that the… the quiet peace efforts on Kosovo and maybe will be peace ceremony in White House and…?
Spokesman: No, I saw those reports, but I have…
Question: UN is not part of this…?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of.
Question: You are not going to have invitation to White House peace ceremony if it is…?
Spokesman: I think that's all a lot of speculation. I'm not involve… I'm not aware that we are involved in any US… in any efforts as reported that could be taking place in The Washington Post article. Signore?
Spokesman: Buonanno. La domanda, per favore?
Question: Sure. About the ship of the… with migrants, 49 migrants still on… the ship is called Sea‑Watch, and they been there now I think it's 16… 17 days. Does the Secretary‑General… did he have any contact with European Government to try to resolve the situation? There are also children and women in this ship.
Spokesman: We're, obviously, extremely concerned about the health and the safety of people trying to make that journey, all right, and trying to make it safely and in dignity. The… my understanding is that both UNHCR and IOM [International Organization for Migration] are in the lead on this, and I think, if any contacts were had, they would be having it. But, it is important that people's dignity be ensured and that the lives of these civilians, of children, of men, of women be protected.
Question: And I have hand to my other question. It was about Italy in her… in the budget cut it about over $30 million on the contribution to United Nations. And in September, the…?
Spokesman: In terms of voluntary contributions?
Correspondent: Not only that. From what I understand, it's 30 millions on… not only on the voluntary list.
Spokesman: Let me check. Because I haven't…
Question: Yeah, but the question is, because in September was announced by Minister [Matteo] Salvini, the Deputy Prime Minister, that after a comment on this policy of Italy on… by the UN and by [Michelle] Bachelet on the policy of crit… that was critical on policy that Italy had, it was… the comment of the minister was that it was going to cut the… the budget… I mean, the money. What is the reaction of the UN or the Secretary‑General? Does he see this cut of $32 million as a consequence of certain…?
Spokesman: Listen, all the analysis I will leave to you, but let me check on the financial numbers from our Italian friends. Carole, Masood. It's okay. It's okay, Masood. Carole yields with pleasure and delight.
Question: Okay. On this recent report of Gaza… Gaza crossing being limited by these Egyptians, do you have any report on that at all?
Spokesman: No, sir. I'll try to get something. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, so, today, we're asking you about Guatemala ditching the UN Commission. And last week, we were asking you about Somalia kicking out the UN envoy. Are these manifestations of the attack on multilateralism that the Security Council…?
Spokesman: No, I think there… they should all be seen as individual… we see it as individual, unrelated cases.
Question: Yeah. Social media is littered with pictures of prisoners at… in Aden who are… who claim they are prisoners in UAE [United Arab Emirates] jails, and they have been tortured as they say. Do you have any comment on why the United Arab Emirates can have jails in Yemen…?
Spokesman: I don't know that for a fact, but I will look into those reports.
Question: Another question about Syria. You mentioned Hajin, but you have no presence in Hajin. How did you get the information about Hajin? Whereas you had presence in Idleb area and western Aleppo…?
Spokesman: We are… this is information we are getting through trusted sources and through speaking to the people who are coming outs.
Question: But, how… how about… I mean, the workers, the aid workers in area of Idleb? You have many workers there. Right?
Spokesman: If I have any update on Idleb, I will share it with you. Monica, all yours, and thank you for your patience.