22 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon. Let’s get started. Okay.

**World Economic Forum

As the Secretary-General mentioned to you last week, he will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will arrive tomorrow morning.  On Thursday, the Secretary-General will give a special address focusing on the need for a coordinated response to global challenges.  He will also participate in a Facebook Live event on Thursday morning, so please feel free to send in whatever questions you may have through Facebook.  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Friday.


And I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Huang Xia of the People’s Republic of China as his Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.  He succeeds Said Djinnit of Algeria, to whom the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for his dedicated service and distinguished United Nations career.  Mr. Xia brings over 30 years of diplomatic experience across the world, with experience in Africa, having served in several high-level positions.  Over the years, he has served as China’s Ambassador to Niger (2009-2012), Senegal (2012-2015) and the Republic of Congo (2015-2018).  Most recently, he has served as the Ambassador at large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.  His bio will be available in our office.

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council by [video teleconference] this morning that, as 2019 begins, we should have no illusions about the dangerous dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continue to unfold before our eyes.  He said that, over time, the possibility of establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian state has been systematically eroded by facts on the ground.  In recent months, he said, we have seen additional attempts in Israel to pass legislation that would directly apply Israeli law to the territory of the occupied West Bank, raising fears of future annexation.

On the Palestinian side, Mr. Mladenov added, there are growing pressures on the foundations of the future Palestinian state, many of them imposed by decades of occupation and internal divisions.  Despite the tireless efforts of Egypt and the United Nations, hopes for a genuine intra-Palestinian reconciliation are fading by the day as the sides blame each other for the lack of progress.  The Special Coordinator informed the Security Council that the situation in southern Lebanon and along the Blue Line remained calm but tense.  The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), was able to confirm that two of the tunnels discovered by the Israel Defense Forces crossed the Blue Line and thereby constituted violations of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  Mr. Mladenov’s remarks are available in our office.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, was in Moscow yesterday for high-level meetings with senior Russian Federation officials.  Mr. Pedersen said afterwards on Twitter that he had comprehensive and fruitful talks with both Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu.  He said that there was strong support for a UN-facilitated political process based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015) and an agreement for closer UN-Russian cooperation.  The Special Envoy said that the discussions had focused on the constitutional committee, building confidence and moving ahead, and highlighted the positive discussions on a second UN humanitarian convoy, desperately needed for Rukban camp in southern Syria.  The Special Envoy will be travelling to Davos today, and plans to consult with the Secretary-General and with regional and international players attending.

**Central African Republic

The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will travel to Khartoum, Sudan, tonight to participate at the start of the African Initiative direct dialogue between the Government of the Central African Republic and armed groups, convened by the African Union with support from the United Nations.  The dialogue will also be attended by representatives of political parties, the national assembly and civil society, including women’s groups.  The African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation in the Central African Republic is an African Union-led initiative, for which the initial roadmap was adopted in Libreville in 2017.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) has been providing support for this initiative, as mandated.


Our humanitarian colleagues report that, since November, an upsurge in clashes between non-State armed groups and the military in north-eastern Nigeria — mainly in Borno State — has led to the forced displacement of more than 80,000 people.  This is in addition to the 1.8 million people already displaced in the north-east.  The humanitarian country team is currently finalizing a 90-day plan to further increase humanitarian response to meet the immediate life‑saving needs of 312,000 people in the area.  The UN and its humanitarian partners are also concerned about the potential implications of increased violence and insecurity around the Presidential elections on 16 February, including potential population movements and limited humanitarian operations in some locations.  The UN is urging all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and civilian assets and uphold international law.

Also on Nigeria, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says the recent upsurge in violence in north-eastern Nigeria has forced an estimated 6,000 people — most of them women and children — to seek safety in Chad’s Lake Chad region.  UNHCR, together with the Chadian authorities, is carrying out registration and pre-screening of new arrivals to evaluate the needs for assistance.  More details are available online.

**Mediterranean Sea

And UNHCR today said it is watching with increasing alarm the situation in the Mediterranean, where over the past few days there have been two shipwrecks and other rescue incidents.  Close to 170 lives are believed to have been lost in the shipwrecks.  UNHCR said it had become urgent for States to take action to reassert effective rescue capacity in the Mediterranean by increasing coordinated multi‑State rescue, restoring rapid disembarkation and lifting impediments to the work of NGO rescue vessels.  More on this on UNHCR’s website.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today has expressed serious concern after the approval in first reading of a bill to amend Guatemala’s long-standing National Reconciliation Law.  If adopted, the amendment would result in a generalized amnesty for all cases of grave human rights violations and crimes committed during the internal armed conflict.  She said that, if passed, the amendment “will represent a drastic set-back to accountability and the rule of law in Guatemala.  At the same time, it will gravely endanger the progress made by the country to grapple with the legacy of the civil war and to prevent further violence.”  Her full statement is online.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) today is kicking off celebrations of its 100th anniversary with the launch of a report on the future of work.  The report calls on governments to commit to a set of measures to address the challenges caused by the unprecedented transformational change in the world of work.  Among its ten recommendations are: universal labour guarantees that protect fundamental workers’ rights, a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, and greater investments in the care of green and rural economies.  You can find the full report online.

**UN Office on Drugs and Crime

And just to flag that tonight the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Amazon Studios will be hosting a film screening of Beautiful Boy.  That will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 23 January, in other words, tomorrow night, in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  Actor Timothée Chalamet, author David Sheff, and producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner will take part in a Q&A following the screening of the film.  Beautiful Boy is based on the best‑selling memoirs from David and Nic Sheff and chronicles the experience of survival, relapse and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.  The film is available on Amazon Prime Video.  And that’s it for me.  Any questions before we turn to Monica [Grayley]?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, I'm sorry if I may have missed this, but I know… this is regarding the monitors in Yemen.  I know the Secretary‑General said last week that it was important for adequate assets… equipment and assets, such as aircraft and more armoured vehicles, to be delivered to Yemen to help protect the observers, and I was wondering where that process stands…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, the Security Council approved the resolution concerning the monitors for Yemen.  And so, we're in the process of trying to bring more people to the ground.  Of course, we'll need help to make sure that the parties can expedite the process of getting visas for the personnel that will be brought to the ground.  As you know, an advance team had been sent along with General Patrick Cammaert.  And so, we've had roughly 20 or so people on the ground already, but we're expanding the numbers as soon as we can.  And with that… oh, yes, you have one?

Question:  The question is regarding the situation in Colombia.  Now is the tension between Colombia and Cuba.  All this is because the terrorists… I mean the daily attack by the ELN [National Liberation Army] to the police academy in Colombia.  Now is tension because President Ivan Duque is requesting this extradition of these guerrilla leaders to Colombia to put to justice, and Cuba says they will follow just the protocol according to the dialogue, and they won't be extradited to Colombia.  So, is there any statement from the UN?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, there's no statement.  You're aware that we reacted against this recent attack.  The Secretary‑General will be meeting this afternoon with the Foreign Minister and can discuss these issues further.  But, certainly, we hope that all of the various groups in Colombia, including the ELN, will cease any armed activities and continue with the path of dialogue that had been proving fruitful in the past.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, thank you, Farhan.  It's just a quick follow‑up on… on a situation that is developing right now in Venezuela.  Recently, we have heard from the SG different calls for dialogue and from all parties there to be involved in a new phase of discussions to solve their issues politically and discussing and talking.  However, over the last couple of hours, there has been violence in some sectors in Caracas, in the capital.  And, moreover, in the… tomorrow, there will be a worldwide day of action against Nicolás Maduro.  So, I wonder, first, if the SG has been following all of these latest developments in Venezuela, especially regarding violence?  And, second of all, does he have any message on these new wave of protests instead of dialogue in Venezuela?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we encourage the right to peaceful protest in all such situations.  What we would encourage is for all parties to avoid anything that could lead to violence.  And, of course, we want to reiterate once more that the situation in the country can only be resolved through political dialogue between the parties involved.  And with that… yes?

Question:  Yes.  Follow‑up about Venezuela.  It's about the situation is growing on the way allies to Venezuela, and this is including Spain, which is providing military weapons or military to… defence to Venezuela, knowing that Spain is part of the NATO, and regarding the… all these issues is that more than 14 countries, including the United States, they won't recognise Maduro's next presidency for the next six years.  So, is there any statement about with Spain on this situation?

Deputy Spokesman:  We don't really have any comment on the bilateral relationship between countries, which is their own issue.  Have a good afternoon.  Come on up.

For information media. Not an official record.