Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

10 January 2019

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Just a quick update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:  the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that the situation remains relatively calm.  Ahead of the declaration of the provisional results, the UN Mission continued to provide its good offices by meeting with key stakeholders and to try to defuse tensions in line with its mandate.  The Mission also continues to monitor the situation and follow closely developments in the country.

You will have seen that last night — late last night — we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, in which the Secretary-General said that he took note of the announcement made by the Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) on the provisional results of the presidential elections, and commended the Congolese people and political actors for the conduct of the presidential, national and provincial legislative elections, which saw a broad and inclusive participation of political parties.  The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to refrain from violence and to channel any eventual electoral disputes through the established institutional mechanisms in line with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Constitution and electoral laws.  The Secretary-General expressed the hope that the Independent Electoral Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Government, political parties and civil society will each live up to their responsibility in preserving stability and upholding the democratic practices of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General further reiterates the continued support and commitment of the United Nations, in collaboration with regional actors and international partners, for the consolidation of peace, stability and development in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Security Council

The head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed ibn Chambas, briefed the Security Council this morning.  He noted the progress made in democratic consolidation in the region, despite persisting security challenges.  In the past six months, he said, presidential elections were successfully organized in Mali, regional and parliamentary elections were held in Mauritania and Togo respectively, and local elections were organized in Côte d’Ivoire.  But, he said that there is a need for continuous efforts to address the contentious issues around elections.  This is even more important because over the next six months, the region will see several high-stake elections in Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania and Benin.  More information in his statement.

**Central African Republic

On the final day of the joint UN-African Union visit in the Central African Republic today, the Under-Secretary General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, reiterated the UN’s full support to the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the country.  Speaking to the press a bit earlier today in Bangui, together with Smail Chergui, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Mr. Lacroix called on all Central Africans to commit to dialogue and reconciliation in order for the country to move away from violence and regain its position as a regional player.  Mr. Lacroix welcomed the Central African authorities’ and all stakeholders’ commitment to support the African Initiative, in partnership with neighbouring countries, ahead of the African Union-brokered dialogue between the Government and armed groups that will take place in the Sudan.  He also warned that those who continue to use violence against the civilian population, UN and humanitarian personnel will be held accountable.

**Nigeria

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Edward Kallon, expressed grave concern following the upsurge in violence in the country’s north-east that has led to massive displacement.  In a statement he issued, he said the fighting had created “a humanitarian tragedy”.  According to our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 260 aid workers have been withdrawn from areas impacted by the conflict since last November, hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of needy people.  While some aid workers have started to return, insecurity is preventing a return to normal humanitarian activities.

**Lebanon

Lastly, Major General Stefano Del Col, the Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), today chaired the first regular Tripartite meeting of 2019 with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.  And that took place at the UN position in Ras Al Naqoura.  The discussions focused on tunnels and ongoing engineering works near the Blue Line.  The meeting offered a forum to hear perspectives from both sides, especially regarding activities near the Blue Line, with UNIFIL’s Head of Mission reiterating his call to the parties to continue to work through the mission’s coordination mechanisms to maintain overall stability along the Blue Line.  The parties were updated about UNIFIL’s independent investigation that had confirmed the existence of four tunnels, of which two crossed the Blue Line in violation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  UNIFIL remains closely engaged with both sides in this regard as the operations continue.  Tripartite discussions also touched upon air and ground violations, and other issues having to do with resolution 1701 (2006).  Sidi rais?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  The Jordanian Foreign Minister said today that his Government received a request from Mr. [Martin] Griffiths to host… asking the Jordanian… Jordan to host a meeting on Yemen.  Are we talking about the political talks or something related maybe to the prisoners or something else…?

Spokesman:  No.  As far as I know, there's been no date set for the next round of political talks.  We, obviously, very, very much appreciate Jordan… all that Jordan has done and is doing for the UN and not only on hosting refugees from Syria, but also, of course, hosting Mr. Griffiths' office.  But, I have no official news on any meeting.  Let's go here.

Question:  I'd like the Secretary‑General's response to two China‑related issues.  The first is that state media reports Beijing intends to release a five‑year plan for the sinicization of Islam in China, urging Islamic communities in China to improve their… “improve their political stance and follow the party's leadership”.  So, how does the Secretary‑General view this policy?  And the second is that, on Monday, the Spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said it would welcome UN officials to visit the re‑education centres in Xinjiang.  So, where is the UN at now with regards to sending officials to the camps?

Spokesman:  On your second part, I believe that's a question asked of our… should be asked of our human rights colleagues, because… and the ones who manage the Special Rapporteurs.  So, they may be in discussions with them.  There are no discussions that I'm aware of with, directly with the Secretariat.  On your first question, we tend not to comment on things that have yet to happen.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, on the Congo, the French Foreign Minister said this morning that he thought that… he didn't think that [Felix] Tshisekedi had won the election as announced by the Election Commission.  I'm wondering if the Secretary‑General is concerned that the results are not the result?

Spokesman:  What is important, from the UN's perspective, is that this is a Congolese‑owned process.  The UN doesn't have a candidate.  The UN did not run the elections.  I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in his statement yesterday, not only appealing for calm, but also ensuring that all of the institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the courts, the Government, the political parties, each live up to their responsibilities in terms of providing stability and upholding the democratic practises in the country.  We're obviously all waiting for the final results, but as you know, we did not even… the UN is not involved… was not directly involved in the elections.  Betul and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  It's been 100 days since the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and my question is, does the Secretary‑General still believe that he needs an official request from the Member States, which is not happening?

Spokesman:  Our… his position is unchanged, and I would refer you to the comments he made, I think, at a press event in Qatar late last year in which he, again, called for a full investigation.  Evelyn, and then we'll go back to front row.

Question:  Carole asked the question I was going to.  But, I'm just going to add that not only France but Belgium and the Catholic Church are question… and Congo are questioning the results.

Spokesman:  My… Carole asked a question, and the answer that I gave Carole stands for yours.

Question:  But, it's confusing in that…?

Spokesman:  That I cannot help anybody with.

Correspondent:  No, I mean your answer is confusing.

Spokesman:  Yes, ma'am… yes, sir.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Happy New Year.  So, one question is about a letter that was sent by Morocco to the SG and to the Security Council about the violations… about violations by Polisario to the military agreement in Western Sahara.  Do you have any comment on that?  And…

Spokesman:  I'll take a look at the letter.  Obviously, we report back to the Council on those things.

Question:  Two follow‑ups on Lebanon.  So, beyond the meeting of the tripartite parties, is there any effort needed by the United Nations or the Security Council to stop the violations, whether underground, in the air or by land or sea?  And on Yemen, do you have any comment on the attack, happened few hours ago and land military exercises and…?

Spokesman:  You're talking about the drone attack?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Okay.  On your… on the drone issue, I think continuing hostilities that we've seen, including that attack, demonstrates vividly why we need to make progress on peace efforts quickly.  And I think this is exactly in line with what the Special Envoy said yesterday, though it's important to note this is not part of the area that is under the Stockholm Agreement.  But, we've… whether it happens within that area or outside, obviously, this continuing violence… as if we needed another reason to underscore why we need a political agreement.  Nizar and then James.  Sorry.  On Lebanon, you know, we've… I think it’s a standard answer.  We, obviously, call on all the parties to respect [resolution] 1701 (2006) and anyone who has influence over the parties to do so.  Nizar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  With the Jabhat al‑Nusra, the terrorist group, taking control of the Idleb area or governorates and other crossing points between Turkey and Syria, what’s the United… how is the United Nations dealing with this new situation?  Is there any… no-escalation zone anymore in that area?

Spokesman:  These developments don't help the humanitarian work of the UN.  We continue not to have access to large parts of the population… civilian population in Syria.

Question:  How would that affect the cross‑border humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  I think we'll have to see what happens.  James and then we'll…

Question:  I'm going to try again on DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  You said the Secretary‑General was clear in his statement.  It seems he wasn't clear on one central question in this:  I understand the UN is not acting as observers, but you've seen what observers, including members of the Catholic Church, have said, and you have a lot of UN personnel on the ground in DRC.  The central question is this:  Does the result that has been announced by the Commission… the interim result, in the Secretary‑General's view, reflect the votes cast by the Congolese people?

Spokesman:  It is… first, we are not in… we do not have a mandate or in a position to bless or not bless these results.  First of all, they were provisional results.  This is a Congolese‑owned process.  The UN is there to support the Congolese people.  Ms. [Laila] Zerrougui, who briefed the Security… the Secretary‑General this morning, has been very clear.  She's been talking to all the parties, the political leaders, party leaders with a central message to ensure calm.  And as we've seen, we can report, that the situation is relatively calm for the time being.  We very much hope that that process continues.   There are… this is a process.  Right?  These are provisional results.  We have to wait for the final results.  There are options… constitutional options for people to appeal those results, and it is important that that process plays its part out.  Let's go to another region.

Question:  In Venezuela, President [Nicolas] Maduro is starting today a new term, and many… several countries are saying they don't recognize it, are condemning his Government.  Does this concern the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  We’re obviously following closely what is going on.  We've taken… we've seen the decisions taken by a number of countries.  For the Secretary‑General, for the Secretariat, you know, we're not in the business of recognizing a Head of State or not recognizing a Head of State.  We will continue to work with the Government of Venezuela, notably on the development assistance framework, on food, health, security, and nutrition.  As a principled matter, we always are supportive of dialogue and regional dialogue.  Mr. Abbadi and then Linda.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Which day of next week will the Secretary‑General choose to give his year… end‑of‑the‑year press conference?

Spokesman:  It will be a start of the year.  We like to look forward, not back.  So, it will be 18 January, if that is, indeed, the Friday of next week.  Ms. Fasulo?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There was a report that came out, I believe, yesterday, by a credible watch group, Human Rights Watch group, that said that Yemen was appointed Vice-President of UN‑Women, which we know is charged with promoting gender equality and empowering women.  Given that… we also know that Yemen is… is… the UN call… says that Yemen has the worst humanitarian situation.  So, does the UN or the UN agencies, given the record of Yemen, make any special efforts, for example, to ensure that aid is distributed fairly to women or… or at least…?

Spokesman:  Very much so.  The issue of… gender issues are very much at the forefront of our work in Yemen and also part of the work that General [Patrick] Cammaert is doing.  So, this is something that we are very much aware of and very much focussed on.  Let's stay in the region.  Then we'll go someplace else.

Question:  Just as you've announced a diary date for the Secretary‑General on 18 January for a press conference, I know you haven't yet announced any travel.  Is the Secretary‑General this year thinking of attending the World Economic Forum in Davos?

Spokesman:  He is, indeed, thinking about it.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Just a follow‑up on Venezuela…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Let's let the chuckles die up in the front row here.

Question:  Is the Secretary‑General going to try to find any common ground between all these countries in the region and the Venezuelan Government to try to improve this relationship that has been in problems for quite a while now?

Spokesman:  Look, we have always called for inclusive political dialogue.  We have supported the various initiatives that commit the parties to an inclusive and credible political dialogue, and the Secretary‑General always remains available to help in any way he can.  Thank you.  No Monica today.  So, you're all dismissed.

For information media. Not an official record.