The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We are obviously following the developments in Kenya very closely, and I am sure you heard earlier today, the Secretary-General said he joined his voice to the expressions of total solidarity with the people, the Government and the President of Kenya in condemnation of what he called this “horrible terrorist act.” And we do expect a bit of a more formal statement a bit later on.
**Group of 77
That was at the handover of the Group of 77 developing countries and China. And the Secretary-General, in the ceremony of the handover of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China, he noted the progress — including reaching agreement on the work programme to implement the Paris Agreement and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — made with the Group of 77 and China, led by Egypt, in 2018. On climate change, the Secretary-General said that the Group continued to make sure that resilience and adaptation remain high on the global climate agenda. He added that some of their largest economies are stepping in as leaders of climate action, filling the space left by others, reaping the rewards of a clean, green energy future. The Secretary-General said he looks forward to continuing to work with the Group of 77 and China this year under the historic leadership of the State of Palestine. He stressed that 2019 will be a critical year for our common efforts to end poverty, reduce inequalities and transition to a more inclusive and sustainable economy. The Secretary-General noted that multilateralism continues to come under intense pressure from many sides, and we cannot take the advances [we have made] for granted, underlining that we count on the continued engagement and support of the Group of 77 and China.
Quick humanitarian update on… quick update on Syria, rather. Geir Pedersen arrived in Damascus for his first visit to Syria as the Special Envoy. He tells us he is looking forward to productive meetings there. He met today with Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Walid al-Mouallem. Also on Syria, the United Nations system in Syria says it is gravely concerned about the protection of thousands of people who are estimated to remain trapped by ongoing fighting in Da’esh-held areas of Hajin in south-eastern Deir ez-Zor Governorate, as well as [for] some 11,000 people who have fled these areas since the beginning of December 2018. The United Nations is also deeply worried about the dire humanitarian situation at the Rukban makeshift settlement in southern Syria, where more than 40,000 people remain displaced and in urgent need of assistance.
At the Rukban settlement, conditions for displaced people, the majority of whom are women and children, are increasingly desperate and the situation is exacerbated by the winter cold. The last time the United Nations had access to Rukban was in November of last year, when an interagency convoy, jointly with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, delivered food, medical assistance and other items. The United Nations strongly calls upon all parties to the conflict, and those with influence over them, to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with their obligations under the International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Law. The United Nations further calls on all parties to facilitate unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need in Hajin and Rukban, and to minimize the distress and unnecessary suffering.
This just in, as they say. Just a humanitarian update on Yemen. The World Food Programme (WFP) said today it has been able to reach thousands of families south of Hodeidah. They have received aid for the first time in more than six months. More than 10,000 families in the communities of Al Tuhayat and Al Darayhimi were reached with more than 3,300 metric tons of food thanks to the recent partial… the recent ceasefire deal. They were the first humanitarian shipments delivered since July 2018 when a WFP-contracted truck was hit in the area. Last month, the agency scaled up the delivery of food and food vouchers to around 8 million people throughout the country, up from 7 to 8 million in November 2018. In the coming weeks, WFP aims to reach 12 million people to help avert famine in the country. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen aims to reach some 15 million people. The aid agencies have provided supplies to 1,400 newly displaced people in Taiz Governorate, while 42,000 people in Hajjah Governorate will receive hygiene kits. Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided supplies for three months [for] the Ibb Blood Bank.
As winter sets in in Iraq, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has distributed supplies — including heaters and blankets — for 150,000 of the most vulnerable people throughout the country. Carried out in partnership with local authorities, IOM prioritized distributions to hard-to-reach and insecure areas where other aid agencies are not present, including communities bordering Syria and in Ninewa Governorate. Some 1.8 million people are still displaced following the conflict with Da’esh, with more than 4 million people [who] have returned to their homes living in precarious conditions, with many having had belongings stolen or their houses destroyed.
**World Food Programme
WFP again tells us… reports that flexible funding, which allows the agency to use funds wherever and whenever needs are greatest — allowed it to reach the world's displaced and forgotten people in 2018. WFP received $440 million in flexible funding last year, a 10 per cent increase from 2017. That allowed it to reach more than 3 million people in the Sahel — which was facing its worst lean season in four years — as well as to sustain assistance to almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, scale up its support to displaced people in Colombia, and provide relief to farmers facing severe drought in Madagascar. In a statement issued today, the WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, called on more Government donors to provide funding that is predictable, unearmarked and usable over multiple years.
And today, we say “thank you” to three more countries on our Honour Roll, which are Liechtenstein, Rwanda and Singapore, for paying their budget dues in full for 2019. And there are now how many countries? You know, I just won't take questions. There are nine. Yeah, close enough, yeah. You know, it's a lot of money we're talking about. Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you know, the former President of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, has been acquitted by the International Criminal Court. Last year, the Congolese [Vice‑]President, Pierre Bemba, was also acquitted. Does the Secretary‑General believe that these measures would help re‑establish faith in the court, especially among African leaders?
Spokesman: Look, the court, as you know, is independent from the Secretary‑General. He strongly supports the work of the ICC. We've taken note of the judgement today. Masood and then… yep.
Correspondent: Thank you. Stéphane, on this [inaudible], you… thank you very much for promptly issuing this statement… readout on… between the meeting between Palestinian President and the Secretary‑General…
Spokesman: Some… once in a while, we like to do things promptly.
Question: What, sir?
Spokesman: Once in a while, we like do things promptly.
Correspondent: Yeah, but to my…
Spokesman: We'll do it again next year.
Question: My… my question is, the statement was very terse, and it did not elaborate what… I mean, it didn't even say where… it took place between the Palestinian President and about the issue of… of Israel and Palestine to be settled and all that. Why such a terse statement? Can you tell us that?
Spokesman: I don't think it was… I will leave the qualifiers to you. I don't believe it was terse. It's in line with most of the readouts we put out. The Secretary‑General was very pleased with the meeting. He was very happy. He thought it went very well and very warmly. He seemed pleased… I spoke to him afterwards. He appeared pleased on all counts with the atmosphere and the exchange of views between himself and President [Mahmoud] Abbas.
Question: So, why is it that you did not mention that? That's the only thing. Another question that I wanted to ask you was about this Egyptian girl who has been expelled from Al‑Azhar University, although the boy with whom she has had a relationship, or she kissed him or whatever, he still stays while she's been expelled out of the university. Why…?
Spokesman: I'll check. I'm not aware of this case, but I will look into it. Yes?
Question: Follow‑up on the Secretary‑General meeting with the Palestinian… State of Palestine President, Mahmoud Abbas. Did President Abbas bring the issue of submitting a request for full membership in the United Nations to the Secretary‑General? Was this topic ever discussed during the meeting?
Spokesman: The topics discussed, I think, were outlined here. There was no document, or nothing was handed over. Yep?
Question: Steph, we were expecting a meeting of the SG with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela. Has this been cancelled, postponed? Why…?
Spokesman: It's not… I mean, you would have to ask the Venezuelan Mission. It's not on the Secretary‑General's schedule. Yes, sir?
Question: Follow‑up also on Venezuela, but on the following issue: On Saturday, Nicolás Maduro had a meeting with UN personnel in Caracas, and in that meeting, reportedly, Nicolás Maduro requested the support of the UN to create new spaces of dialogue with the opposition. Would the SG support this idea? Could it be a part of the discussion on an eventual meeting with the Chancellor [Jorge] Arreaza when he meets with the SG, if he meets with him on the near future, but with the SG’s participation?
Spokesman: It's a lot of "woulds" and "ifs". What I can tell you is that the… on the meeting, the Resident Coordinator and the heads of the UN agencies based in Venezuela meet regularly with Government officials, including with the President. The UN maintains, as everywhere in the world, contacts with all players. The UN system will continue cooperating with the Government and other national actors under the existing Development Assistance Framework for Venezuela. For the Secretary‑General, our position remains the same, that our conviction is that the road to recovery depends on Venezuelans, and the Secretary‑General has always pushed for an inclusive and credible political dialogue. So, obviously, when things are asked, we'll deal with them as they come.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. Thanks so much. On Yemen and Hodeidah, yesterday, you told us that the negotiations there were not going smoothly. The International Crisis Group today put out a report saying that talks there are on the verge of collapse, and they describe reinforcements being sent in by both sides in preparation for a re‑outbreak of hostilities there. Is this characterization and the detail about reinforcements correct, by your understanding?
Spokesman: I'm not in a position to… I don't have any information to comment one way or another on possible military movements. Mr. Bays and then Ms. Fasulo.
Question: DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], there seems to be some quite important reporting from The Financial Times who obtained electoral data, and they contend… they say they've seen shows that Mr. [Martin] Fayulu should have got 59.4 per cent of the vote, and Mr. [Felix] Tshisekedi should have got 19 per cent of the vote, a completely different result from the one that was officially announced. What action does the UN believe should now take place? Should the Electoral Commission release all the data? And if it won't publish it publicly, should it hand that data to the office of SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General Leila] Zerrougui?
Spokesman: Is… there is a process under way. I think the court… there was a process lodged with the… a protest lodged with the court. That needs to follow its path. I think it's very important that the judicial and constitutional options that are open to all candidates are fully used. We continue to watch this process. Again, this was not an election that we organized, that we were involved in. The leadership on the ground, the peacekeeping mission, remains in touch with all the parties, and we would, again, appeal for calm. But, there's a process that is going on. That process needs to play itself out. Ms. Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Steph. This is in regard to Myanmar. It seems that Myanmar has said that the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights will not be admitted. In fact, they've said that they… she will never be admitted. So, my question is: Is there a position the Secretary‑General has or, in general, the UN when it comes to a country basically saying something like that, that they view the envoy as being biased and that they've indicated no way she's coming in? So, should there be consideration of her replacement?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, if we're talking about a Special Rapporteur for human rights, our principled position remains the same, that countries should always cooperate with the mechanisms of the UN human rights architecture. The Special Rapporteurs, who are independent of the Secretary‑General, play a very important role, and we would encourage all countries to cooperate with them.
Question: What would make it clear that this person is absolutely never going to be admitted…?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, there are places where the rapporteurs are never able to go. I mean, I recall during… if I'm not mistaken, during the time of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, there was a very strong Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iraq. He was never able to go. They report through other sources, but we always feel that it's better for everyone involved, including governments, to have the Special Rapporteurs being able to see things for herself or for himself. The naming of the rapporteurs, the choosing of the rapporteurs is up to the Human Rights Council. Mr. Bays?
Question: Well, it's a follow‑up on that. Can you… I mean, I probably should be asking UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], but can you confirm that Mr. [Filippo] Grandi was planning to go to Myanmar and has not been given permission for his trip? And do you see a very disturbing trend here?
Spokesman: Look, you'd have to ask… again, you'd have to UNHCR. I mean, we would encourage the Government of Myanmar to cooperate with the UN. Our goal is not to embarrass the Government in any way. Our goal is to help the Government. Our role is to help the people of Myanmar in a number of areas, including in Rakhine State. We continue to be seriously concerned about the new restrictions on humanitarian access, which leaves many, many women, men and children without assistance, which limits also our ability to look at possible conditions of return. We feel that transparency is the best way forward. Thank you. Ms. Monica, the podium is yours. I will take my stuff. Thank you.