25 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, everyone.  Sorry to keep you waiting.  I was waiting for a statement about Mali.  As you know, earlier today, there was an attack on UN peacekeepers in Mali in the region of Mopti, and we have some casualties there.  We express our condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers, but I do expect to have a statement in the Secretary-General’s name, possible a little later today.

**Greece-Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

We also expect to have a statement from the Secretary-General concerning the agreement between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  You’ll have seen that, earlier this morning, we issued a statement by Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, in which he welcomed the ratification of the Prespa Agreement by the Parliament of Greece.  Mr. Nimetz commended the Parliament and the Government of Greece on this visionary step, noting that this historic Agreement between two neighbours opens the door to a new relationship between them and ushers in a new era for the consolidation of peace and security in the Balkans.  He said that he looks forward to completion of the process as outlined in the Agreement and reiterated the continued commitment of the United Nations to working with the two Parties.  As I mentioned, we do expect a statement from the Secretary-General on this.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, today condemned and called for effective investigations into the violence that has led to several deaths and injuries during this week’s protests in Venezuela.  She urged all sides to conduct immediate talks to defuse the increasingly incendiary atmosphere, and said that she is “extremely concerned that the situation in Venezuela may rapidly spiral out of control with catastrophic consequences”.  The High Commissioner said her staff have also received more than 350 reports of large-scale detentions of demonstrators and have been collecting information about raids on property in some of the poorest areas of Caracas, where at least 180 protests have taken place during the course of the week.  Ms. Bachelet urged the Venezuelan authorities to exercise restraint and respect everyone’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and reminded them that “excessive, disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force is clearly and unequivocally prohibited under international law.”


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concern about an increase in political violence in Malawi as the country heads towards elections in May.  The Office says political violence had already been on the increase during the 2018 primary elections, where women candidates in particular faced threats, harassment and intimidation; attacks on persons with albinism have also increased in the run up to the elections.  The Office welcomed Malawian President Peter Arthur Mutharika’s recent condemnation of political violence, but said it was concerned that so far, no one has been brought to justice for these politically motivated attacks.


Our humanitarian colleagues are warning that humanitarian needs in Cameroon have increased drastically and will likely continue to rise, with 8 out of the country’s 10 regions impacted by violence, particularly in the north-west and south-west, where over 437,000 people have been forced to flee.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 4.3 million people need life‑saving assistance, an increase of 31 per cent from 2018.  In a statement issued yesterday, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon, Allegra Baiocchi, and Cameroon’s Civil Protection Director, Yap Mariatou, said attacks against civilians had increased, while many conflict-affected people were surviving in harsh conditions without assistance due to the dramatic underfunding of the humanitarian response.  A joint Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 — presented yesterday in Geneva — is seeking $299 million to assist 2.3 million people.


This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, spoke to Security Council members during an open debate on the impact of climate-related disasters on international peace and security.  Ms. DiCarlo said climate change affects peace and security in indirect but serious ways.  In the Sahel, competition for resources has fuelled tensions between herders and farmers; in the Lake Chad Basin, drought has reduced economic opportunities and threatened the livelihoods of many who are turning to armed groups; and in Asia, studies have shown a link between the impact of climate change on livelihoods and the intensity of civil conflicts.  Ms. DiCarlo also pointed to climate-related displacement as an acute problem which drives up local tension, as well as human trafficking and child exploitation.  She said the UN is intensifying efforts to address climate-related security risks and is leveraging its partnerships with Member States and civil society to act with urgency on this collective problem.  Members of the Council also heard from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Achim Steiner, and Chief Scientist of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Pavel Kabat.


In response to questions asked at the noon briefing yesterday, our human rights colleagues put out a press release today saying that the UN human rights expert, Agnès Callamard, will visit Turkey from 28 January to 3 February.  You can read more about her travel on OHCHR’s website.

**Holocaust Remembrance

On Saturday, the Secretary-General will attend a ceremony at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan for a ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.  He is expected to express his alarm at rising anti-Semitism, the proliferation of neo-Nazi groups and growing discrimination against minorities, migrants, refugees and others.  In a video message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that “we see bigotry moving at lightning speed across the Internet” and intolerance entering mainstream politics and stressed the need to be vigilant.  In this connection, correspondents are invited to attend next week’s events to mark the International Day of Commemoration.  On Monday, the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony will take place in the General Assembly Hall, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Speakers will include the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations.  For more details on the ceremony and a full list of events, please visit the Week Ahead page on the Spokesperson’s website.  And that is it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  With the unfolding situation in Venezuela and the US call for an emergency meeting of the Security Council, is Secretary‑General planning to take part in this meeting offering his… or… consulting views to the Member States on this situation?  Or he's not going to be taking part?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's not on his schedule, but the Secretary‑General has taken note of the Security Council meeting on Venezuela that is scheduled for tomorrow, and we'll see what happens there.  I guess we'll…

Question:  So he might go?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, it's not in his schedule.  The one thing he is going to be doing, as I've pointed out to you just now, is go to the ceremony at Park East Synagogue.  Evelyn?

Question:  Will he be meeting separately with Mr. [Michael] Pompeo?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing to announce at this point.

Question:  And also, on Mali, how many casualties were there?  Do you have a number?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, there are two people dead.  There's also several more who have been injured and are being treated.  And like I said, we do expect to have a statement, hopefully, within the next hour or so about this.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you confirm that the head of UN observers in Yemen, the Dutch general, will resign?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I think as I've been pointing out, General Patrick Cammaert is continuing with his work.  He and the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, have, in recent days, been in Riyadh meeting with… among others, with members of the Government of Yemen.  And if there's anything further to announce down the line, I'll mention it.  But, at this stage, he has his work to do and is doing it.  Yes, Maria?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  There was a meeting on Syria scheduled for next week, 30 January.  I wonder if Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. [Geir] Pedersen, will take part in it?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, it's not expected that Geir Pedersen will be one of the briefers.  That briefing this time around is going to focus more closely on the humanitarian situation in Syria.  Yes, please, Zach?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The report you gave on Cameroon, interesting, insofar as, at the beginning of the year, I think I mentioned it to you that Paul Biya, the President, mentioned he would liquidate or neutralise anybody in the… the armed separatists, et cetera, if they didn't put down their arms.  So, does it surprise anyone that there's an increase in violence and an increase in refugees going into Nigeria and other places?  What's been the response of the Secretary‑General, the UN in general, about this escalation in violence apparently?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we've been concerned about the periodic violence that's been happening there.  Our Special Adviser there, François Louncény Fall, has, in fact, in recent days, been in Cameroon, where he spoke with several senior officials, including the Prime Minister of Cameroon, and made clear our various concerns.  One of the things we're hopeful for is that there will be more efforts by the Government of Cameroon to have a more constructive and positive relationship with the communities that… including the Anglophone communities, and that is part of what Mr. Fall has been pressing while he's been there.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can you give an update with West Sahara, what's going on?  You have any info about that?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing especially new to say.  Mr. [Horst] Köhler has been continuing with his work, but I don't have any new round of meetings or talks to announce at this point.  Yes, please, Seana?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Just a logistical question.  Is Rosemary DiCarlo the briefer tomorrow?  Can you confirm that?  For Venezuela?

Deputy Spokesman:  I can't confirm that at this point.  We'll have to see what kind of expectations the members of the Security Council have by way of briefing, and we'll coordinate with them.  But, if a briefer is needed, we will certainly provide one.  And with that, have a good afternoon.  Let's see whether we have to see each other again.  Okay.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.