The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a senior staff appointment. Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Ján Kubiš of Slovakia as his new Special Coordinator for Lebanon.
Mr. Kubiš succeeds Acting Special Coordinator Pernille Dahler Kardel of Denmark, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedication and leadership of UNSCOL.
Mr. Kubiš, who served as the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq from 2015 to 2018, brings with him many years of experience in diplomacy, foreign security policy, [and] international economic relations, both internationally and in his own country, and we welcome him back.
Back here in the Security Council, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council this morning on the follow-up to the Stockholm Agreement between the Yemeni parties. He said that both sides have largely adhered to the ceasefire agreed to in Stockholm on the Hodeidah governorate and there has been a significant decrease in violence since then. This relative calm indicates the tangible benefits of the Stockholm Agreement for the people of Yemen, he added.
He noted the work being done by the team led by Gen. Patrick Cammaert, which has been rapidly deployed in Hodeidah. The activation of the Redeployment Coordination Committee is very welcome, Mr. Griffiths said, urging both parties to work in good faith with Gen. Cammaert’s team. He also discussed efforts to achieve progress on prisoner exchanges and addressing the situation in Taiz.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also briefed Council members, but this on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. He said the situation remains catastrophic, with 24 million people – or 80 per cent of the population – needing humanitarian assistance. He said that millions of Yemenis are hungrier, sicker and more vulnerable now than they were a year ago, but he also said that the World Food Programme (WFP) is expanding assistance so that it can soon reach 12 million people a month. Agencies are also preparing for large-scale returns to Hodeidah as and when conditions allow.
The Security Council members have now moved into the consultations room to continue their discussion on Yemen.
We issued a statement yesterday evening – or afternoon, rather – on the situation in Madagascar on the elections. The Secretary-General noted the announcement of the final results of the presidential election as done by the High Constitutional Court of Madagascar. The Secretary-General congratulates President-elect Andry Rajoelina. He also commends all stakeholders for the peaceful and orderly conclusion of the presidential elections.
The Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) and the High Court (HCC), civil society and religious leaders, as well as the leadership of the Government, should be also commended for being part of this historic milestone.
The Secretary-General will continue to follow developments in the country through his Special Adviser, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily, with the support of the UN Country Team, and in close coordination with the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and other international partners. The UN remains fully committed to supporting the Government and the people of Madagascar and the Constitution in the consolidation of democracy, human rights and sustainable development.
Turning to Syria, the United Nations remains concerned by reports that civilians, including women, children and medical workers, have been killed and injured due to ongoing intense hostilities between non-State armed groups in the north-west part of the country since late December. Recent fighting has been reported in northern Hama and in the southern part of Idleb governorate.
There are indications that some of the fighting between these non-State armed groups has taken place near the sites of internally displaced people, with reports that some displaced people, as well as other civilians, have been forced to flee to other areas. The violence is also reported to have affected several medical facilities.
The humanitarian situation in the north-west of the country has been further complicated by severe weather, including flooding in several areas and increasingly cold weather. Flooding is estimated to have affected some 23,000 internally displaced people, with more than 3,000 temporary shelters damaged or destroyed due to the flooding.
The UN continues to strongly urge all parties to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities, and this to facilitate humanitarian access to people in need, in line with their obligations under international law.
I wanted to flag that our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us that, while on a four-day visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan this week, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus], highlighted the organization’s full support for their final push to eradicate polio. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where wild poliovirus cases were reported last year.
Dr. Tedros also commended the Governments of both countries for their efforts to provide universal access to health services. He met with the Heads of State and senior Government officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan and visited a number of WHO-supported health projects.
As recently as 30 years ago, wild poliovirus paralyzed more than 350,000 children in 125 countries every year; last year, there were fewer than 30 reported cases – as mentioned, [all] of those cases were either in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Yesterday, I was asked about the refugees and migrants on board the Sea Watch 3 vessel, and we have an update for you.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tells us that today they welcomed the safe disembarkation in Malta of 49 people on board the Sea Watch 3 and Sea Eye passenger vessels.
In a statement, they commended the Maltese authorities for having provided safe port and the decision of the eight European States to receive the migrants. It also commended the European Commission for their role in coordinating the response with Member States.
**Questions and Answers
And why don’t I stop there and answer your queries? Betul?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Yemen, the resolution which endorsed the agreement in Sweden, the deployment for the 40 monitors was only 30 days. I was wondering what the Secretary‑General’s next plan would be, and would you be able to tell us how many monitors there are in Yemen at the moment?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General will continue… we will continue our discussions with the Security Council. We are committed to sending as many monitors as possible to effectively implement the agreement and support the work of the RCC (Redeployment Coordination Committee). I believe there are about 20 currently. Obviously, the deployment is also… hinges on the security situation on the ground, which, as you can imagine, is fairly delicate, to say the least. Mr. Klein. Welcome back.
Question: Well, thank you. My question is: Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan had indicated yesterday, in rather strong terms, that he rejects any notion of pledging to not attack the Kurds in northern Syria. I’m wondering whether the Secretary‑General would have any comment on that.
Spokesman: No, we’re not going to comment on hypotheticals. As a matter of principle, we’ve always supported the territorial integrity of Syria. Yes, ma’am?
Spokesman: Yes. Yes, Evelyn.
Question: Sudan… Sudan, where there have been lots of demands for the President to step down, who’s refused, and chaos on the street, is this affecting UN deliveries of any humanitarian aid, or is there any comment from the SG…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of, but I will check.
Question: Is there any comment from…
Spokesman: No, not to what we’ve already said. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. My question is about Guatemala… Guatemala. Yesterday, the Guatemala’s Constitutional Court stopped to terminate the UN independent anti‑corruption body. Is there any response from the Secretary‑General on that?
Spokesman: We’re, obviously, aware of the ruling, and we’ve seen the ruling issued by the Constitutional Court. We’re not going to comment on internal legal issues within Guatemala. Our principled position remains the same, that the Secretary‑General trusts that the Government of Guatemala will respect its commitment to the Commission, including ensuring the safety and security of all staffers, and, for us, the agreement remains in force.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up. Will the personnel of the Commission that have left the country return after this decision from the court…?
Spokesman: You know, the management of the Commission, how the Commission does its work is in the hands of Mr. [Ivan] Velásquez. It’s not the Secretary‑General’s purview. For the Secretary‑General, the principle that he continues to back is that the Commission needs to continue to do its work, that the agreement remains in force until September of 2019. How the Commission organises itself is really up to the commissioner. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. This is in regard to Myanmar. We know there’ve been reports that Rohingya insurgents attacked several police stations, several… I think 13 police personnel were killed. I was just wondering, what is the latest in terms of the UN role or presence in Myanmar? And are there any contacts with the insurgents?
Spokesman: No, no contacts that I’m aware of - obviously, with the insurgents. We are… we stand against any violence in Rakhine State. Yesterday, the acting Resident Coordinator, Knut Ostby, issued a statement which we echoed here, expressing his concern at the reports of increased violence. It is important that the situation remains calm in Rakhine State and our dialogue with the Government continues. Mr. Abbadi and then James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The United Nations deals with the humanitarian crises all over the world. As you know, yesterday, President [Donald] Trump said there exists a humanitarian crisis on the US‑Mexican border. Does the UN have a role to play in this case?
Spokesman: I’m not going to comment on… we have no comment to add to what the… to the President’s speech. As we’ve said in the past, we flagged here, there are a number of UN agencies that are working with the Mexican authorities in bringing whatever help they can and support they can in support of the Mexicans’ own efforts on that front. James?
Question: Yeah, thanks, Stéphane. Another question on Hodeidah, Yemen, and the monitoring mission, sort of a continuation of Betul’s question. In the latest Secretary‑General’s report, he spoke about difficulties faced by the monitors. He referred to difficulty getting visas, office space, and getting armoured vehicles in. Can you comment on any of this? And do you make any call on the authorities?
Spokesman: I think the responsibility for the implementation of the accord reached in Sweden lies with the parties. I think Mr. Griffiths was fairly clear in his explication of the situation on the ground. The ceasefire is largely holding. There is a drop in the violence. We’re not seeing any party trying to gain more effort… more ground. But what is important is that both… all the parties involved do whatever they can to facilitate the arrival of the monitors, facilitate their… make sure that they have freedom of movement, and, of course, very importantly, on the broader picture, was to ensure that there is full access to all humanitarian workers so that humanitarian goods can get to where they need. Mr. Iftikhar and then Stefano.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Happy New Year.
Spokesman: Indeed, to you, sir.
Question: This is a follow‑up to Mr. Abbadi’s question about the situation on the US‑Mexico border. Does the UN personnel stationed around this area see a crisis situation as Mr. Trump describes it?
Spokesman: I would refer you to those UN agencies that have small presence in Mexico.
Question: But you are the spokesperson…
Spokesman: I don’t speak for them. You know, I think we’ve reported to you over the past that, at the request of the Mexican authorities, there have been some… some deployment of UN humanitarian staff, but I would refer you to, I think, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), which may have some presence there. Stefano?
Question: Yes. If the Secretary‑General has a comment on the agreement that Malta and the European Union on the situation of… of the migrants on the Sea Watch ship and if… and why it took so long for this agreement so there is any expectation that this kind of agreements comes early…
Spokesman: I would refer you to UNHCR. The Secretary‑General… I mean, UNHCR is in charge… along with IOM (International Organization for Migration), in charge of dealing with these issues, and I would refer you to them. He has nothing to add and fully supports their work.
Question: And then there was a follow‑up on the follow‑up on this. We are sure the Secretary‑General saw the speech of President Trump, but the wall is a solution for borders? Is this a solution? What does he think?
Spokesman: I’m not going to get into that. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: This is follow‑up to the follow‑up to the follow‑up. [laughter] Does the UN…
Spokesman: I get lost very easily so… yeah?
Question: Does the UN recognize that there exists a humanitarian crisis on the bord… US‑Mexican borders?
Spokesman: As I’ve said, I would refer you to those humanitarian agencies that have a presence in Mexico. With that, I was going to wish you a happy weekend, but, unfortunately, I won’t, because it’s only Wednesday. But I will leave you with Monica [Grayley].