The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll start off with a senior personnel announcement: The Secretary-General is pleased to announce the appointment of Sima Samar of Afghanistan and Juan Gabriel Valdés of Chile to his High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. Ms. Samar and Mr. Valdés succeed Michelle Bachelet and José Manuel Ramos-Horta, to whom he is grateful for their valued expertise during their membership on the Board. Ms. Samar is the Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and among other roles, previously served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan. Mr. Valdés is a former Foreign Minister of Chile, the former Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, and most recently, Ambassador to the United States. He’s also previously served as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti and led a strategic review of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The High-Level Advisory Board was established in September 2017 to provide the Secretary-General with advice on mediation initiatives and back specific mediation efforts around the world.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that, following fighting between two non-State armed groups in parts of north-west Syria in early January, which reportedly resulted in the death and injury of civilians, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham have reportedly expanded their control in the area. The United Nations continues to support the millions of people in need throughout north-west Syria, with assistance provided from across the border in Turkey. While the full implications of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s control are not yet clear, the UN and partners are closely following developments to ensure that independent, impartial and principled humanitarian action continues. The United Nations continues to remind all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to take all measures to protect civilians and to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those who need it.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has expressed concern about credible reports of the use of excessive force, including live ammunition, by State security forces against protestors across Sudan over the past month. Demonstrations have taken place in cities across Sudan since 19 [December] 2018; the Government says 24 people have died in the course of the protests, but according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), other credible reports suggest the death toll may be [nearly] twice as high. Many others have been injured, while authorities say they have arrested more than 800 in connection with the demonstrations. In a statement today, Ms. Bachelet called on the Sudanese Government to protect the exercise by all people — regardless of their political affiliation — of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. She also urged all sides to refrain from the use of violence.
And turning to climate change, today, Michael Bloomberg, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy for the Climate Action, announced the founding members of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, who will help facilitate the private financing objectives of the Paris Agreement. Mr. Bloomberg will work closely with the founding members in their efforts to accelerate investments in clean energy and climate solutions around the world. The members of the Initiative are: Thomas Buberl, CEO of the French insurance company AXA; John Flint, CEO of HSBC bank; Hiro Mizuno, Executive Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer of Japan’s Pension Investment Fund; Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon; and CEO of the Italian company Enel, Francesco Starace; and the CEO of Australia’s investment firm Macquarie [Shemara Wikramanayake].
And as we speak, more stuff. As you will have seen, there was, I think, an attack in Colombia, and I can tell you that the United Nations in Colombia today strongly condemned the attack committed against the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá, which left several fatalities and dozens injured. “It is an unacceptable criminal act which goes against the efforts the country is making to steer away from violence and work with its people to build a more prosperous and peaceful future,” the UN office in Colombia said. The United Nations in Colombia expressed solidarity with the families of the victims and the National Police and wished a speedy recovery to all those who were injured in this criminal act. And of course, we join this condemnation of this attack.
After you’re done with me, we’ll have Monica [Grayley] speak to you on behalf of the President of the General Assembly, and as a reminder, there will be a headline act tomorrow here at noon, and that will be António Guterres himself appearing in person, in front of the press. Ms. Lederer?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Are there any additional details on this shooting… reported shooting incident involving General [Patrick] Cammaert in Hodeidah?
Spokesman: Yes. What we know is that General Cammaert… who, as you know, chairs the RCC [Redeployment Coordination Committee], he and his team left a meeting with the Government of Yemen RCC representatives. As they were leaving, one UN‑marked armoured vehicle sustained one round of small arms fire. The team returned to base without further incident. We do not have information as to the source of the fire. General Cammaert and all members of the Secretariat team are safe. He has reiterated his appeal for calm and the strengthening of the ceasefire by all sides, in the wider interest of all the people of Yemen. James?
Question: A follow‑up question. Was General Cammaert in an armoured vehicle? Were there armoured vehicles in the convoy? Was he wearing body armour? And are there now plans to change General Cammaert's itinerary and his security arrangements?
Spokesman: We're, for reasons you can understand, not going to comment on whatever security precautions we are taking or we may take further. I can assure you that General Cammaert and his team are supplied with the strongest possible security measures the UN can supply, but it is important to add that all the parties in Yemen are also responsible for the safety of all UN personnel in Yemen, General Cammaert, his team, all our humanitarian colleagues. All of them have a responsibility to ensure his safety. Mr. Avni?
Question: Hello. Two questions. First, does the UN have any comment on yesterday's attack in Ma… Manbij, Syria? Any… any comment on… on the terrorist attack…?
Spokesman: No, no specific comment. We, obviously, very much regret the loss of life. But, we have no further… no other comment. Yeah?
Question: Any plans to include that in the itinerary of… of the new Syria coordinator?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that Mr. [Geir] Pedersen will be going to Manbij anytime soon. As you know, he was in Syria for a very serious and, I think, very fruitful talks with the Syrian Government. He's continuing a regional tour.
Question: Second question is about the use of this room. Since this is a room that is UN facility and is made for the purpose of press use…?
Spokesman: I do know that, yeah.
Question: Yesterday, we had a press conference with a person who came in and… and gave us some 25‑minute speech and then refused to take any questions. Is there any way the UN can either censor that act… such acts or inform people who come… who ask for the use of this room that it's made for questioning?
Spokesman: We… this room is available to representatives of Member States for interaction with the press. They book it through our office. Censor is something we do not do with Member States. We will, however, remind all of those who… who book the room that the tradition in this room is to speak and then take questions, and we hope… very much hope that they respect that tradition.
Question: [Inaudible] interaction?
Question: [Inaudible] no, that it's made for interaction with the press?
Spokesman: Yes, I did take questions, yes. Yes. Oh, Richard, Roth. That's right. I recognize you. Yeah, sorry.
Question: Thanks, Fred. Do you know… I know you can't talk about certain things, and maybe I missed it in your answer to James, but did a UN Security force protect… advance team go to Yemen before these deployed initial monitors…?
Spokesman: We don't send people to these kinds of places without taking as many precautions as we can. That being said, this remains Yemen and this remains Hodeidah. But, you know, this is one incident. As I said, one bullet was fired… one round was fired into one vehicle. We're not over‑dramatizing this. Everybody is safe, and we would hope that all the parties are… respect the ceasefire for the benefit of all Yemeni people. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Steph, I'm questioning your use of the word "tradition". Isn't it more than a tradition that this room was actually set up and designed to hold press conferences? And by the description, a press conference means that you interact.
Spokesman: Listen, I'm not disagreeing with you, and I'm… you know, Benny brings out the worst smart aleck in me. We were not… let me just put it this way. We were not told in advance that there would be no question and answers. I would assume my… I go under the assumption that people book a press briefing room; there's a question and answer. We will remind all those who book as to the use of this room and what is expected in this room.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Budget shortfall on the UN regular budget, you sometimes mention the urgency of the UN… the budget shortfall. So, why such a situation happen? So, $2 billion for PKO [peacekeeping operations], and more than $500 million for the regular budget. In the relate… regarding this shortfall and the day before yesterday, the Secretary‑General mentioned he will be making proposal to GA [General Assembly] in addressing this problem. When and what kind of proposal will the Secretary‑General do to the GA?
Spokesman: Sure. I will let… this sounds like a perfect question to ask him tomorrow. I will let him talk about the kinds of proposal and his vision going forward. I will just say, in very broad terms, there are a couple of issues that we're facing. One is the late… the increasingly late payment by Member States. We had… I think we had in 2018, we had more countries pay to the regular budget, but there was an issue of late payment, which has an impact on the cash flow. There are also some structural issues concerning re‑costing and increasing mandates outside of the PKO budget, which are not financed. So, there are all sorts of structural issues that the Secretary‑General will want to address with Member States. And as he said, he will put proposals forward. For the Secretariat's part, we have done quite a lot of cost‑cutting in terms of things that we can control, but there has always been… there is this increased issue of the shortfall that we have to deal with. Yes, sir?
Question: Stéphane, yes. Thank you. Just to confirm, did you say it was an armoured vehicle that sustained the one round of small arms fire? I think you said in one sentence armoured vehicle and the other one, you said vehicle. Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, it was yeah. I think all of us can imagine what sort of vehicle one would want to drive in as they're driving through Hodeidah. Yes, sir?
Question: The Security Council voted yesterday to send more monitors to Yemen. Given what happened with the general's convoy, is the Secretary‑General that this might be a sign of more bad things to come?
Spokesman: No. Again, I think we don't want to over‑dramatize one incident. The Security Council passed the resolution sending monitors in. We will operationalize that as quickly as possible. We are dealing with a highly volatile environment in Hodeidah. These things are going to happen. So, this was an incident. We're glad that everybody is safe, but we are just taking it as an incident, and these things may very well happen. Madame?
Question: Thanks, Steph. To switch gears, I wanted to ask you about Burkina Faso. I'm not sure if you heard, but there was a Canadian who was kidnapped on Tuesday by armed gunmen who's turned up dead, the second Canadian to go missing in a… in the last couple of weeks. And I know that the Secretary‑General put out a… released a statement, a few weeks ago talking about the deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and saying that the UN is ready to support Burkina Faso in its efforts to fight terrorism, sustain security sector reforms. And I wonder if you can… one, if you heard of what just happened and what the UN is doing and what you have heard about the deteriorating security situation?
Spokesman: No, unfortunately, I had not heard of this particular case. The UN country team in Burkina Faso is and will continue to work with the Government in line with what the Secretary‑General asked for. And we, obviously, condemn and are saddened by the loss of life. Mr. Bays?
Question: The new Syria Special Envoy has concluded his first trip to Damascus. Perhaps understandably, he's… there are not that many public statements, but there have been tweets from the Special Envoy's Twitter account, and they make no mention of the Constitutional Committee, which, under the previous Special Envoy, was all he was focussing on. Can we ask the question, is the Constitutional Committee still the main priority for the new Special Envoy?
Spokesman: Listen, I think this is a getting‑engaged tour for Mr. Pedersen. He's listening to the parties. He's briefing them. I would not… the UN's road map remains the same, and it's the one established by the Security Council. Madame. And I will see you tomorrow. I will not answer your questions. My boss will, and I will see you otherwise on Monday. Thanks.