The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General at General Assembly
Good afternoon, clearly. As you saw the Secretary-General this morning spoke at the informal session of the General Assembly. And this session is still going on, I think Member States are making some statements and asking some questions the Secretary-General will be answering if he’s not already doing so. In his remarks he sounded the alarm that we face a world of trouble. He said that ills such as armed conflict and climate change are generating anxiety and polarizing societies. The Secretary-General said that it is not difficult to understand why many people are losing faith in political establishments as well as the United Nations. But, he pointed out the successes of 2018 — in places such as Yemen, Liberia, Cambodia, as well as the progress on climate change made in Katowice — to show that when we work together, we do get things done.
The Secretary-General acknowledged that may people see the UN as ineffective, cumbersome and bureaucratic, stressing that the Organization is reforming itself to be more nimble, effective, flexible and efficient. He noted that there is a new UN development system in place to better support the efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN is cutting red tape and implementing new management practices to bolster transparency and accountability. His remarks are available, have been made available to you, and as a reminder the Secretary-General will have a press conference in this very room on Friday. We hope to see you there. And he is expected to have a town‑hall meeting with staff tomorrow morning, that will be with staff all over the world to talk about the upcoming year and answer questions they may have.
Turning over to the situation in Yemen, this morning, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, thanked the Government of Jordan over Twitter for its approval to host a meeting of the follow-up committee on implementing the prisoner exchange agreement, as well as for its continued support for efforts to bring peace to Yemen. The Special Envoy and the International Committee for the Red Cross will take part in the meeting, which is already underway in Jordan. The Special Envoy hopes the release of prisoners will happen soon as he believes this is a very important humanitarian step affecting the lives of thousands of Yemeni families. Here in New York, you will have seen that the Security Council adopted unanimously a resolution setting up a Special Political Mission to be known as the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement for an initial period of six months.
Also in the Council, the Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, briefed the Council on Mali. Having visited the country a month ago, she said that she was encouraged by progress to implement the 2015 peace agreement and the constructive nature of relations between the parties. She however added that the security situation remains of grave concern, with attacks that continue to target peacekeepers, national and international forces, and increasingly civilians. She particularly noted the further deterioration of the security situation in the centre of the country where intercommunal violence, instrumentalized by extremist armed groups, has intensified over the past months. She stressed that the G-5 Sahel joint force remains an instrumental part of the response needed to address the threat of violent extremism in the region and called upon G-5 Sahel member to take all steps necessary, to resume the operations of the joint force as soon as possible, and on international partners to provide it with the support that it deserves.
On Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues there report that, on 14 January, non-State armed groups attacked a military position and civilian locations, including a humanitarian hub managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in Rann, in north-eastern Nigeria’s Borno State. The attack resulted in the killing of several internally displaced people, while some 3,000 Nigerians have crossed the border to Cameroon and thousands have fled to different locations. The UN in Nigeria calls on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to take all measures to protect civilians, civilian infrastructures, and humanitarian operations.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that according to allegations from credible sources, at least 890 people were killed between 16 and 18 December 2018 in four villages in Yumbi Territory, Mai-Ndombe Province in the west of the country. This appears to be in clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities. Our human rights colleagues said that the reports suggest that at least 82 people were also injured in the [attacks], but the actual number of those injured is expected to be higher. And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the violence must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice. She offered the advice and support of her Office in the conduct of investigations, as well as in efforts to prevent the recurrence of such violence, and to work towards justice and reconciliation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in Haiti today to lead a Strategic Assessment Mission on the different options available for the UN’s continued presence in Haiti. He is accompanied by the Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas from the Department of Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, alongside United Nations Development Programme UNDP) and UN‑Women officials and other representatives from across the system. As part of his two-day-visit, Mr. Lacroix will meet with Haitian officials and the UN family in the country as well as personnel from the peacekeeping mission, the UN Mission for Justice and Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH). This Strategic Assessment Mission will provide the Secretary-General with an evaluation of the situation on the ground and recommendations on the way forward, based on which the Security Council will determine, by 15 April, both the exact timing and the end of the peacekeeping mission’s mandate and the configuration of the UN mission to follow.
You saw that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement from the Secretary-General condemning the terrorist attack in Nairobi and he also addressed it in his opening remarks this morning.
And just to flag that our colleagues at the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are urging countries in western and central Africa to do more to stop new HIV infections among children and adolescents, and to boost HIV testing and treatment coverage. At a high-level meeting bringing together governments, health experts, UN agencies, civil society and other partners in Senegal, today, UNAIDS reported that while progress has been seen in curbing new HIV infections among children in 11 countries in the region, others, including Nigeria — which has the largest epidemic in the region — experienced no declines at all. And although there have been advances in antiretroviral therapy coverage for children in western and central Africa, the region still has the lowest coverage in the world. In a statement, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said in order to remove barriers and save lives, these countries will need to address underlying issues including a lack of domestic investment, fragile health systems, user fees, inequality and widespread stigma and discrimination.
And today we thank Bhutan and Finland to the Honour Roll. The two countries have paid their regular budget dues in full for 2019, which leaves… that's not the question. The question, how many countries still have to pay? 182. God, this is why we're in this business and not trying to solve big scientific problems.
**Press Conference Today
And 3 p.m. today, there will be a press conference here by Jorge Arreaza, the Minister of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of Venezuela. And between now and then, I am happy to take, or at least I will take your questions. Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéph. A question on Syria. I was wondering if the SG has any comment on Turkey's plan to form a 20‑mile safe zone in Syria? And a second question, if the SG will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Spokesman: I think we can expect an announcement on Davos on Friday when he gives his press conference. You know, we have not been directly and fully briefed on the Turkish plans. Obviously, we'll see what happens. As a matter of principle, the United Nations has always stood for the territorial integrity of Syria.
Question: Follow‑up? Stéphane, on one of the proposals that reportedly been discussed about safe zone in Syria is a UN deployment to prevent clashes between Turks and Kurds and in that part of Syria. And I know you don't talk hypothetical. So, I want to ask you, is it possible in a technical, legal side, for UN to have a role, that kind of role, without a Security Council authorization or resolution? And is Secretary‑General theoretically willing to let the UN play that role?
Spokesman: Okay. As you took the words out of my mouth, then I will not answer hypotheticals. On the second one, I'm not going to even speculate. As a very general and broad statement, it would be very doubtful that any… you know, if… let me refer you… instead of going hypothetical, I think you would only have to look to the past to see where safe zones in the past have been created, and they've all, to my knowledge, have involved the Security Council.
Question: And about Syria, the other question, today, the Secretary‑General's statement mentioned Syria and he warned about the potential humanitarian catastrophe in northeast and north-west Syria. Is… is this because of the reportedly potential military operation by Turkey against the Kurds? Was he referring to that?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General watches the news, like all of us, so I think we are seeing the current instability in that part of Syria, which is leading our humanitarian colleagues to have great concerns. On top of that, I think we are seeing in parts of the region, which has hit, notably, Syria and Lebanon, a very nasty weather system, which has had a horrific impact on refugees in Lebanon, on internally displaced people in Syria. The winter, as we have reminded people, for every winter during this conflict brings an increased hardship and suffering to people who are already in a dire situation. Linda and then we'll… yeah.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Following up on Syria, I was wondering, in his remarks, I believe you said that the SG viewed Yemen as becoming successful or successful in terms of the international community dealing with it. I was wondering if, how he would characterize, for example, the political process, you know, the efforts towards reaching a political decision regarding Syria.
Spokesman: Look, we've just appointed a new envoy, Mr. Pedersen, who is… who is there. I think there still remains a big gulf in terms of the political, lack of progress in terms of the political talks in Syria. We hope that Mr. Pedersen, especially with his, you know, his trip to the region ‑ he was in Syria ‑ will help re‑energize the parties to coalesce around the UN's efforts. James. We'll go down the line.
Question: Yes. A question, further question, on Yemen and the Jordan talks. Could you give us a little bit more detail? My understanding is this is a joint UN/ICRC talks procedure. I also hear reports it goes on for three days. And who are parties to these talks? Because the Houthis are… my understanding… have problems with the fact that some of the prisoners they want exchanged are not held by the Government of Yemen. They've been transferred to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Are those two countries also party to these talks?
Spokesman: Let me give you a bit more. The meeting is, it's really a technical meeting as a follow‑up to the implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement, which was signed shortly before the talks in Sweden. The agreement signed between the two parties since the beginning of the conflict, the two parties exchanged the list of prisoners in Sweden and they are now discussing steps to implement it. So, it is between the two parties being the Government of Yemen and the Houthis. As far as the length of the meeting, I think we have enough experience to be able to announce the start of a meeting without speculating about the end. Edie and then Evelyn, and then we'll move south.
Question: Two questions. First, on Yemen, can you tell us, are there still about 20 monitors deployed in the Hodeidah area? And any indication of how long it's going to take to get the 75 monitors authorized by the Security Council into the region? And secondly, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, said yesterday that the Palestinians are going to reactivate their application for full UN membership. Was this discussed… excuse me. I'm going to sneeze. Was this discussed with the Secretary‑General in their meeting? Sorry.
Spokesman: Okay. You sneeze. I'll answer. Go ahead. All right. Taking your questions backwards, we have not received any official, the Secretariat has not received any official request from Palestine on the issue. Your first question, yes, I think the numbers are about the same. From our end, we will mobilize as quickly as possible, but, of course, these monitors, the people that are coming in, whether they're monitors, whether humanitarian workers, need visas. And it is important that the parties make sure that the, all the administrative clearances are given as quickly as possible. Stefano. No, I promised Evelyn. Sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Again, on… on President Abbas, the Palestinians have also spoken of the need for a protective force. Are they… was this at all raised with the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: On which… I'm not aware… I'm not aware of anything beyond what we said in the readout. I was just given some extra details, in fact, on the situation in Hodeidah, that the Chair of the RCC, General Cammaert, has continued to shuttle between the RCC representatives of the Government of Yemen and the Houthis this week. The aim is to strengthen the ceasefire and to find common ground on a plan for the redeployment forces in the three ports and the city of Hodeidah. Independent of the redeployment plan, the parties have now confirmed in writing to the Chair their commitments to facilitate the access of UN humanitarian agencies to the Red Sea Mills. As you may know, the Red Sea Mills currently hold about 51,000 metric tons of food commodities, and that's enough to feed more than 3.5 million people for a month. And in the coming days, the Chair and his team will propose a plan for the parties and the humanitarian partners on how to access the area and retrieve the commodities before they outlive their shelf lives and become unfit for human consumption. Stefano.
Question: Yes, the United States is on the verge of recognizing a new President of Venezuela. I mean, [inaudible] Nicolás Maduro, the President of National Assembly. This should happen, at least press saying that it's happening any moment. What would be the reaction of the Secretary‑General in a situation like this where… who is the President of, for Secretary‑General, who is going to be tomorrow the President of Venezuela?
Spokesman: Well, Stefano, you know us well enough that we're not going to get into answering what may or may not happen. The, it's not up for the Secretary‑General to recognize… to give recognition or blessing to a Head of State or another. The issues of credentials and who is recognized at the UN is… is an issue for Member States. The UN team on the ground continues and, to work with the Government of Venezuela as they have done.
Question: Just a brief follow‑up. But, because the contention is about the election means many coun… not only United States, but other countries have been saying that the… that there was a fraud on the election, so they don't recognize Maduro as a legitimate president… what the Secretary‑General thinks about the election that were held in Venezuela?
Spokesman: As I said, I think we made comments at the time, and I have nothing else to add. Yes, sir.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. I have a question on the migrant caravan. It's been reported that a second group of people took off from El Salvador in the last couple of hours. So, I wonder if there is any update on any efforts by the UN to assist or help these people as they make their way up and whether or not you have received any kind of request, maybe by other Governments on this issue…?
Spokesman: No, we… as far as I know, we, in terms of the Secretariat and Secretary‑General's Office has not received anything. I would encourage you to check with IOM, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and UNICEF. Sherwin, you looked impatient.
Question: Not at all, not at all. I wanted to ask about the sexual harassment survey. I thought you might have said something about that already but clearly at the bottom of your pile. Could you just talk about what it says, what the findings of the survey says about the UN system at large?
Spokesman: Sure. This was a survey of the whole UN system as asked for by the Secretary‑General. This is part of his overall efforts on combatting sexual harassment, which is something he's really been doing since, since day one. It found that the… the UN was basically in line with a lot of other… other institutions. The response rate was, I think, about 17 per cent, which is on the low end, but, according to the contractor who conducted the survey, is also within, within the margins. It's also important to say that it's the first such survey, which gives the UN system a kind of benchmark on which to monitor… on which to monitor progress. It showed that quite a large number of recipients were aware of the zero‑tolerance rules, also seem to think that things had gotten better. About a third of the respondents had seen… reported some experience of sexual harassment in the last… in the last two years, mainly in terms of not physical attacks, but improper jokes, office atmosphere, and so forth. And it showed, what I think, what we all already know, that the most vulnerable groups are mostly young women, members of the LGBT communities. And I think it's, for the Secretary‑General, it's a very, I think, it's a sobering look at where we are. And it shows, I think, also it should be seen as part of his overall commitment to combat sexual harassment, which means creating new posts in internal investigations. I think six new investigators were hired, all women, to ensure that all complaints of sexual harassment were upgraded to what we call category 1, opening up of help lines, creating a system‑wide kind of employment check to make sure that people who have been found, found to have committed harassment in one part of the system, they're not rehired in the system, and I think, most of all, in addressing the power imbalance. And that's where his push on gender parity comes in. As you know, we now have gender parity-plus in terms of his senior management group, in terms of Resident Coordinators. And so, this is a push that he is continuing… continuing to make.
Question: Just one follow‑up, if I may. Seventeen per cent participation, does that number bother the Secretary‑General? Why was it so low?
Spokesman: Listen, it's, of course, it would have been great to have a higher response rate. According to the contractors, the response rate for organizations between 5 and 60 per cent in general. It's the first survey of its kind. It's also difficult sometimes to get people, to get people involved. We hope that people understand this is the first one. There will be more participation. And what I think is interesting, this survey was open not only to staff, but to people who have temporary contracts, consultant, contractors, from drivers to cleaning personnel, who often… those people often also most… most at risk. Yep, and then Iftikhar. Sorry.
Question: On the same subject, Stéphane, you outlined there some additional comments, which were not particularly in regard to, how you say, the report said that some things had improved in handling of sexual harassment. However, that wasn't in the main story done by Reuters last night that outlined the study. Where is the report so that we can look at it because I don't think…?
Spokesman: Sure. I think copies of the report were shared. We'll have a, for those of you interested, there is a briefing at 3 p.m. this afternoon. So, just come by my office…
Correspondent: Oh, okay, because, yes, because I didn't see it on any of the release documents. That's why I asked.
Spokesman: Okay. Iftikhar has been very patient.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this new tensions between China and United States over the reported… Taiwan's intention to declare independence, do you have any comments?
Spokesman: No specific comment except we always encourage the parties to work for the lowering of the tensions. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I understand from what you said the Secretary‑General this morning at the General Assembly address described well the turmoil in the world, including conflicts raging all over the world. And he spoke about his reforms, if I understood correctly. Did he offer any concrete solutions?
Spokesman: Well, I think I would encourage you to read the ten‑page‑long speech, which I think does offer a number of ways forward. And part of it is, of course, making the United Nations more fit for purpose, more nimble and closer to the field, which is what the general intent of the reforms has been. James, and then we'll go to Monica.
Question: I have a question on Zimbabwe and also couple of points of clarifications now you've read another Hodeidah statement, if that's possible. First, Zimbabwe. There's been a somewhat brutal crackdown in Zimbabwe on protesters, and the Internet and social media have been cut. Has the Secretary‑General got any response to that?
Spokesman: We are following that situation closely. We hope that people are able to demonstrate peacefully and freely. And, as a matter of principle, we've always called for the fact that people should have free access to information, that includes what's on the Internet.
Question: And some very detail, minor but just one clarification on… on Hodeidah. One, you said that General Cammaert had been shuttling between the parties. That, I assume, means the RCC has not met with all of the parties together at one time, either face to face or not…?
Spokesman: No, it has.
Question: No, no, recently. I'm asking… he hasn't been able to get them back together…?
Spokesman: No, I think he met with them twice, but in the last few days, it's been shuttling. There's been no new face‑to‑face meetings.
Question: But is there a refusal for them to meet either by video conference or whatever…?
Spokesman: I think, if he could get them to sit down together, he would have.
Question: Okay. And couple more clarifications, if you don't mind. This now has an acronym. Is the… is the aim still to get a ceasefire beyond Hodeidah to other parts of Yemen? And, if so, why call it… why have Hodeidah in the name of this mission? Why not [inaudible] monitoring mission in Yemen…?
Spokesman: I think this particular mission is being created in the response to the Stockholm Agreement, which looks at Hodeidah specifically. So, this is really a mechanism that is for Hodeidah. Of course, the goal remains to bring peace throughout Yemen, but this particular mission right now is focused on Hodeidah as… and the other, the two the other ports and the other city, but it's basically an implementation mechanism for Stockholm.
Question: And the last question, which is one that I had problems while writing the story this morning, and I apologize to my colleagues if they know the answer, but, in UN terms, is there a difference between monitors and observers or… for our copy, are those interchangeable?
Spokesman: The monitors will report back.
Correspondent: I know, but are the two phrases, in UN terms, "monitors" and "observers"…
Spokesman: I will, you know, I don't even pretend to be international lawyer…
Question: But, you're repeatedly calling them monitors. Previously, we've had UN observers in various places…
Spokesman: They're called monitors…
Question: Is there a difference between them?
Spokesman: We can… not being… no, I understand. I don't mean to be a smart aleck. I will try to get you an answer. Joe and then Linda and then please…
Question: This is a very quick question. You mentioned that the Secretary-General's press conference is on Friday. I didn't hear you indicate the time.
Spokesman: Noontime. In… for that day's performance, instead of the Spokesman, you'll get his understudy. Yes, Linda, you had another question.
Question: Yes. Excuse me. Following up on Yemen, in terms of these monitors or observers, how much freedom of movement do they have at this point?
Spokesman: Well, that's, we'll have to see once they're all there. The issue of free, there has been a challenge for General Cammaert himself and others for freedom of movement. And it is imperative that all the parties ensure the safety and the freedom of movement of the team. Monica, all yours.
Question: Is noontime at noon or is…?
Spokesman: He's the Secretary‑General. It's not "Spokesman's noontime".