11 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.

Good afternoon.  Happiest of Fridays.


I’ll start off with a humanitarian note on Yemen: The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, today announced that $32 million will be allocated from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help scale up life-saving operations in Yemen.

The funds will allow WFP to ramp up humanitarian logistical operations, including increases in humanitarian air cargo, transport more humanitarian workers, provide more accommodation spaces, including in Hodeidah, and expand emergency telecommunications.

The funds will also support the work of UN agencies, as well as NGOs [non-governmental organizations] engaged in the humanitarian relief operations.

Mr. Beasley said that the World Food Programme is going to help 12 million people a month, up from 8 million currently.

Mr. Lowcock said that, to avert the worst in Yemen, all parties to the conflict must facilitate rapid unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need.

They both welcomed the recent decisions taken in Sana’a to provide more visas for humanitarian workers, to investigate allegations of theft of food aid and to punish those responsible, as well as to ban the sale of food aid intended for Yemenis with no income, and to put in place more effective targeting and monitoring systems.


Turning to Syria, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, had good meetings with the International Syria Support Group task forces yesterday, focusing on humanitarian issues in Rukban, Idlib and the north-east.  He remains committed to the protection of civilians and expressed deep concern about the attacks on humanitarians.  He said he was pleased to hear from Russia and Turkey on their sustained commitment to maintaining stability in Idlib.

As directed by the Secretary-General, the Special Envoy continues his consultations with concerned parties within and outside of Syria towards a peaceful solution and the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254.

And today, the UN refugee agency said it is deeply concerned by reports of mounting civilian casualties — including many women and children — and large-scale civilian displacement amid renewed fighting in the Hajin enclave in Deir Ezzour governorate in the eastern part of the country.  Over the past six months, clashes and airstrikes in the south-east part of the governorate forced about 25,000 people to flee.  As well as the women and children, many elderly people are at risk.

And an estimated that 2,000 people remain in the conflict-affected area of Hajin.  Those fleeing report increasingly desperate conditions with diminishing services and extremely high prices for basic foods.  We are all worried for civilians who continue to be trapped in the Da’esh-held areas.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And this morning, the head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Leila Zerrougui, briefed Security Council members following yesterday’s announcement of the provisional election results.  Focusing on the ongoing electoral process, which she said was in the final stretch, she commended the Congolese people for exercising their democratic right to vote and for their commitment to the political process.

The Secretary-General’s Representative said the coming days would be critical to the conclusion of the historic electoral process, adding she will continue to engage with all Congolese stakeholders to reinforce the need for calm and recourse to established judicial procedures.  Her full remarks are online.

**Central African Republic

Our colleagues at the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) have just told us that, on the ground, the Mission is conducting an operation to restore order in Bambari, in Ouaka Prefecture, in coordination with the Central African Republic’s own security forces.

The operation was launched yesterday in response to ongoing attacks by the armed group, UPC [Union pour la paix en Centrafrique], against the local population and peacekeepers.

According to our peacekeepers on the ground, UN troops seized weapons and lethal equipment and removed barricades.

The Mission strongly condemns violence against civilians and calls on all parties to engage in dialogue, especially within the context of the upcoming African Union peace talks in Khartoum on 24 January.


The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, has today expressed deep concern over the escalation of hostilities in the eastern city of Derna and the consequent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in parts of the city.

Intense fighting recently has reportedly resulted in substantial civilian casualties in Derna and the deterioration of infrastructure and services, as well as the civilian population lacking access to basic needs including food, water and urgent lifesaving medical care for the wounded.

Ms. Ribeiro called for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to the affected civilians in the old city and urged all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian facilities, and to strictly follow to their obligations under International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law.


And the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, says she is concerned about three water workers being injured after their car came under fire in the country’s east.

Ms. Lubrani said it was unacceptable that water workers face lethal risks in carrying out their normal duties in ensuring that water continues to flow to millions of people.

This latest incident brings to 11 the total number of water workers injured in the past nine months.

Ms. Lubrani stressed that any targeting of civilian workers or infrastructure, or intentional disruption of access to water supply and heating systems, is a clear violation of International Humanitarian Law.

I pause here before turning over to Monica.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  My question is about Yemen and three things.  The first one, could you confirm if the talks are going to take place in Jordan or not, and when, if you have now a date?  And the second point regarding the… the Yemeni Government is saying that they are not going to go to talks unless they have control over Hodeidah so… and can you elaborate on this?  What's your standpoint regarding this?  And, as for aid, you have… Mr. Lowcock, when he talks two days ago, he said that about 5 per cent… or about 95 per cent of that aid gets to the right people, but about 5 per cent is not getting to the Yemeni… or the people in need.  So, which measures are you taking now to make sure that you are getting there?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sure.  Let me take your question in the reverse order.  In discussions with the authorities in Sana’a, our humanitarian colleagues were pleased to know that they are increasing… that they have banned the sale of humanitarian aid that is meant for those who receive no income.  There are increased procedures that will… that have been agreed to by the Government, I think, including biometrics, which helps us track the aid, and investigations will be going on.  I think, when you're distributing aid in what essentially is a conflict zone, there will always be some issues about aid getting to the right people.  It is the responsibility… our own responsibility in partnership with the local authorities to ensure that those in need get the aid.  I think there is something particularly atrocious about stealing humanitarian aid for those who need it the most.

Your second question, you know, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has been travelling around.  He's also talking to the parties as well as every staff.  Mr. [Patrick] Cammaert is very much engaged on the ground in Hodeidah in trying to operationalize the Stockholm Agreement.  What is important is that all parties cooperate with the UN to help move the process forward to ensure that, you know, the relative calm that we see in Hodeidah can be solidified, spread to other places in the country, because that's something we've been calling for, for quite some time, and engage in the political process that Mr. Griffiths is leading.  I'm not able to confirm any dates on talks.  I think we've seen various reports.  I would disregard those reports if I were you.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I know it's UNHCR, but can you confirm that the Saudi woman in Thailand was granted asylum by Canada?  That's what the Thai officials are saying.

Spokesman:  Again, you'd have to… I mean, I haven't gotten any update from UNHCR.  We can give you their number here, but I cannot confirm.  Mr. Bays?

Question:  It's a follow‑up on Yemen talks.  The Special Envoy, I'm told, told the Security Council in consultations that the next stage… even though there may be talks on prisoner exchange, potentially in Jordan, the next stage of the political talks now have slipped until February.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned about a loss of momentum in this process?

Spokesman:  Look, what the Secretary‑General would like to see is the consolidation of what we've been able to achieve in Hodeidah, the parties working closely with Mr. Cammaert to live up to their obligations and to operationalize in Hodeidah.  This has been a long road, a lot of ups and downs.  I think we're pleased with what is happening right now, but we need to move forward.  We need to solidify what is happening on the ground.  We have our responsibilities.  All the parties involved have their responsibilities, as well those who have influence on the parties involved.

Question:  Stéphane, I asked yesterday about this letter from the Moroccan Permanent Representative, and I saw the letter.  It contains some alleged violations by Polisario in the Guerguerat area.  Can MINURSO [United Nations Mission in Western Sahara] or the UN confirm those violations?  And I have a question also whether you have any comment on the start of the [United States] troops’ withdrawal from Syria.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, I don't have a particular comment on that.  On Western Sahara, as you've seen the letter, I can confirm that we've received the letter from Morocco alleging violations of the ceasefire and related agreements in Western Sahara.  As you know, there is an established procedure for assessing such allegations by either party undertaken by the UN Mission on the ground, based on the impartial monitoring and observation functions of our colleagues in Western Sahara.  The UN Mission, MINURSO, was present at both of these alleged incidents and did not observe anything amounting to a violation under the terms of the applicable agreements.  Incidents or issues which are identified as being violations of the applicable agreements are shared with the parties for their immediate action, a process which has been effective in preventing conflict and maintaining the ceasefire since its inception.  Such violations are also reported to the Security Council as part of the Mission's normal reporting procedures.  Let's go to a different place in the world.

Question:  Actually, not so much.

Spokesman:  Really?

Question:  I have a follow‑up on Syria.

Spokesman:  Oh, okay.  Sorry.

Question:  Steph, so, it's been reported today that the US began some level of withdrawal from Syria.  So, due to these reports, could you remind us, first, what's the view of the SG [Secretary-General] on the importance on keeping the fight against terrorism and whether or not the SG believes that the withdrawal of the US poses a risk to the overall goals that the UN has set on fighting terrorism?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to comment on reports of a US military withdrawal.  We're not briefed or informed.  Our focus remains the work of Mr. Pedersen — get used to that — the work of Mr. Pedersen in his lead to try to get a political settlement.  As you saw, he's already deep into it, meeting with various stakeholders.  As for the fight against terrorism, our position has always been that the fight against terrorism needs to take into full respect the protection of civilians and international humanitarian and human rights law.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  I want to go back to the Congo.  I know you’ve indicated that the UN is not in the position to comment on the fairness of the election, but, at the Security Council meeting today, Belgium and, I believe, other… some other members have suggested that there be a detailed release down to the precinct level of the voting tallies, comparisons with the national Episcopalian conference tallies.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the issue of transparency and whether… does he believe that… that that suggestion of detailed release and analysis and comparisons of the different voting tallies should take place?

Spokesman:  Look, I think I've used quite a few words on our position on the election.  We're not going to dictate to the Congolese authorities.  It's a Congolese‑owned process.  What is important is that calm prevail and that the established constitutional and legal procedures be followed.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you confirm… with regard to Palestine, can you confirm that the Secretary-General will meet President [Mahmoud] Abbas when he visits New York next week?

Spokesman:  Yes, he will be meeting with Mr. Abbas.  Masood and… sorry.

Question:  Stéphane, can you… can… does the Secretary‑General agree with what his Special Envoy said about North Korea [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], that it's a prison without walls and so forth?  And that press conference was widely reported and… reported…

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the Secretary‑General having a Special Envoy on North Korea.

Question:  No, this is, you know, United Nations human rights envoy who was supposed to visit the…

Spokesman:  The Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has a specific mandate.  Special Rapporteurs operate outside of the control of the Secretary‑General.  They work for the Human Rights Council.  It's not for us to comment on what they say.  What is important is that the Secretary‑General has expressed in the past his concern for the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and he has… as a matter of principle, he encourages all countries to cooperate fully with all the special procedures of the Human Rights Council.

Question:  But does the Secretary‑General necessarily agree or not agree with this…?

Spokesman:  I think I've tried, to the best of my English‑speaking ability, to answer your question.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I would like to ask about two Reuters reporters in Myanmar.  It seems that today Myanmar court has rejected their bid of appeal against the sentence of seven years in prison.  Do you have any comment?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, as… I think, as you remember, the Secretary‑General has very publicly already expressed his concern over the conviction of the two Reuters journalists.  He continues to advocate for their release.  The Secretary‑General also stresses the right to freedom of expression and information is a cornerstone of any democracy.  It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.  The Secretary‑General sincerely hopes that the next steps in the judicial process will lead to a positive outcome in the case of the two Reuters journalists. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My question is about universal health coverage.  Yesterday, New York City mayor made a speech mention… announced the health coverage… universal health coverage, which covers more than 700,000 people, including the 300,000 illegal migrant.  And the… as a champion of the pushing for universal health coverage, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this policy?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't have the details of the policy that were announced by Mayor [Bill] de Blasio, our host here in New York.  The Secretary‑General's position on universal health coverage, as he expressed it very clearly in a meeting in Tokyo about a year and a half ago… two years ago now, almost, has been very positive towards that.  So, it's something that, I think, moves in the right direction.  But, again, I haven't seen the details of the policies.  Mr. Bays.  Let's start round two. 

Question:  I under… understand that you don't have a comment on the withdrawal of US troops in Syria.  Having said that, the US certainly says that it's been providing, in its area of operations, humanitarian support, humanitarian aid, and that other actors have been able to work under that umbrella.  Are you concerned about the humanitarian situation going forward in those areas that the US has been occupying?  And has the humanitarian agencies and arms of the UN been making arrangements for this moment?

Spokesman:  All right.  Let me try to thread a needle.  Again, as I said, we've not been briefed or informed, nor would we expect to be briefed or informed on what may be US military moves.  We are concerned, as we express it every day, about the humanitarian situation in Syria, especially in areas where Da’esh is still present.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  We remain very concerned about the humanitarian situation in areas where Da’esh is still present.  And we would hope that all actors work with the United Nations, with our humanitarian partners, to ensure that we have full access to the people who need humanitarian aid.  Mr. Klein?

Question:  Yes.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the seizure by Iran of another American as a hostage?

Spokesman:  I haven't…

[video playing on correspondent's device]

Spokesman:  We'll ask Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.  Let me try to get a bit more detail about the case before I answer or at least watch Morning Joe.  All right.  Monica, all over to you.  Thank you.  I think I'm done here.

For information media. Not an official record.