29 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  Just a quick update on Yemen.  Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, is in Hodeidah today.

He tweeted out that he welcomes the unconditional release by AnsarAllah of the sick Saudi prisoner, whom the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) will now transfer from Sana’a to Riyadh.  The Special Envoy hopes to see more similar humanitarian gestures from the parties.

Mr. Griffiths looks forward to the implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement by the two parties.  Thousands of Yemeni families wait to be reunited with their loved ones, he said. 


And the other Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, is on his way back to Geneva after continuing his initial intensive consultations with key stakeholders.  Yesterday, he was in Ankara, where he had valuable talks with the Turkish Foreign Minister and the Deputy Foreign Minister in the effort to rally support for Security Council resolution 2254, concerted backing for the UN efforts and the active facilitation of a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led political process in Geneva, including the constitutional committee.

The Special Envoy said he had a good exchange of views over the weekend in Egypt with the Secretary General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, and the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry.  Discussions revolved around regional developments and the reaffirmation of support for a UN-facilitated political solution in line with resolution 2254.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) report that in recent weeks [there] has been an increase in reported cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu Province, most notably from the Katwa health zone, where response teams have faced pockets of community mistrust.  The outbreak has also extended southwards to Kayina health zone, a high security risk area. 

The World Health Organization — working under the Government’s leadership and in collaboration with other agencies — says teams are actively working to build community trust and scale up the response in these areas. 

As of 24 January, a total of 666 confirmed and 49 probable cases of Ebola were reported, including 443 deaths, and 248 people have now recovered from the disease. 


In Nigeria, the UN and humanitarian partners today launched a three-year Humanitarian Response Strategy covering 2019-2021, which, for 2019 alone, asks for $848 million in funding.  This Strategy was launched together with the Nigeria Regional Refugee Response Plan, which seeks $135 million; both plans are in support of the Government of Nigeria and countries hosting Nigerian refugees.

This year, aid groups in Nigeria aim to reach 6.2 million vulnerable people who have been hit the hardest by the decade-long crisis between non-state armed groups and the Government forces in Nigeria’s north-east. 

In total, 1.8 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria alone, and 228,500 people are refugees in neighbouring countries.  More details on the website. 


We’ve been asked about the situation in Cameroon, and I can tell you that we are concerned about reports of violence and use of force by security forces during demonstrations in Douala in recent days.  We condemn incidents of violence at Cameroonian embassies in Paris and Berlin. 

We are also concerned about the reported arrest of Maurice Kamto, the leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement and some members of his party, which reportedly took place yesterday.  We call on Cameroonian authorities to respect the freedom of assembly, association and expression and stress the need for restraint by all political actors.

The Secretary-General reiterates the need for all Cameroonian stakeholders to engage in an inclusive and genuine political dialogue to address the challenges facing the country.  The United Nations stands ready to support such efforts.


Our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) today launched a $3.9 billion appeal to support the agency’s work for children in humanitarian crises in 2019.

The appeal outlines the agency’s efforts to provide 41 million children in 59 countries across the globe with access to safe water, nutrition, education, health and protection.

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.  UNICEF reports that today, more countries are embroiled in internal or international conflict than at any other time in the past three decades, threatening the safety and well-being of millions of children.  More information on UNICEF’s website.


Our friends at the UN Migration Agency, IOM, said that Guatemala will triple its capacity to assist its migrant populations returning by air from Mexico and the United States, when a new migrant support centre is opening later this year.

IOM is overseeing the construction of the centre, which will be managed by the Guatemalan Migration Institute when it opens in June.

The centre is being built on Guatemalan Air Force land and is part of efforts to dignify the return process and provide the first step towards successful reintegration into communities of origin.

**Champions of the Earth

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that it is calling for nominations for the 2019 Young Champions of the Earth — the organization’s prize for environmental entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30 with a big idea for the world’s future. 

Each of the seven winners will win $15,000 in seed money to invest in their projects, $9,000 to invest in communicating and marketing their projects, invitations and funding to attend high-level UN meetings to share their big ideas with the world, and tailored training and mentorship.

If you’re interested, I’m looking for all of you between the age group of 25 and 30, you are welcome to apply.  The deadline is 21 March.  I’m just looking out there.

**Honour Roll

Today we welcome Bahrain to the Honour Roll.  It is the latest Member State to pay its budget dues in full.  The total is now 26.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, Head of UNHCR’s (United Nations refugee agency) Global Communications Desk, who is based in New York.  She will brief you on UNHCR’s report, called “Desperate Journeys”, which analyses the latest trends, changes in movement patterns and presents the most up to date data for 2018 — while telling the human story on what is driving people to undertake these journeys and the dangers they face along the way. 


And for the best story of the day, I don’t know about you but I loved chemistry in high school, but it did not love me back.

But as you know, 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Periodic Table by the Russian scientist, Dmitri Mendeleev, and the General Assembly has proclaimed this year as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements.

An official launch was held today at UNESCO and was opened by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Director-General Audrey Azoulay and Mikhail Kotyukov, Russia’s Minister of Science and Higher Education, and Professor Ben Feringa, the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

What's the first element?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  We're journalists. 

Spokesman:  Hydrogen, yes.  Yeah.  You could be both.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just following up on yesterday, has the United Nations been able to verify the letter from the Venezuelan opposition leader?  And do you have a response to that?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  I have no updates to share with you at this point on your first question.  I await the second.

Question:  On Yemen, why is General [Patrick] Cammaert standing down after five, six weeks on the job?

Spokesman:  First of all, when there is an announcement on staffing issue, we will do so, but… and General Cammaert continues his work today.  James?

Question:  This is about the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).  The Israeli Prime Minister, [Benjamin] Netanyahu, has said that he wants an end to that longstanding observer mission.  What is the response of the United Nations to that?

Spokesman:  I will share that response with you in… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  You know, we regret Israel's decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.  While the TIPH, as you know, is not a United Nations body, its role in contributing positively to defusing tensions in such a sensitive area has been widely recognised, including by the General Assembly.  The UN Special Coordinator on the ground, Nickolay Mladenov, is continuing to follow these developments very closely, and he's also engaging with contributing Member States as well as to the parties on the ground.

Question:  And a follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Clearly, that was created originally following a… a… the [Baruch] Goldstein massacre in 1994.  So, an act of appalling violence by a settler.  As we speak now, there's a Palestinian recently killed and a surge of settler violence.  This happening at this time, does the Secretary‑General worry about the message that it sends when you have this… this tide of settler violence…?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to analyse the reasons why the decision was taken by the Israelis.  That's a question best asked of the Israelis.  It is clear for us that the TIPH did provide a very important presence on the ground.  Mr. Mladenov, I think, has been very vocal in condemning the violence that we've seen in recent days.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, a follow‑up on Martin Griffiths.  What is the status of the prisoner exchange that was supposed to have, I believe, taken place already?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, my understanding is that there was some extension of the timelines.  We saw one Saudi prisoner being released by AnsarAllah today, which was a very welcome move, and we hope to see further moves in that direction from all parties.  Yep?

Question:  A follow‑up on Venezuela.  Has the SG been in touch with Mexico and Uruguay on their ideas for a mediation in the crisis…?

Spokesman:  No, no, we saw the press reports concerning with… I think were… Mexican and Uruguayan delegations coming to New York.  There've been no requests — I checked just a few minutes ago — for delegations coming to see the Secretary‑General or people in our… in other departments, but we're obviously… the Secretary‑General is very open to discussions with anyone that would further a peaceful dialogue to resolve the ongoing crisis.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Also, a follow‑up on Venezuela, if you don't mind, if there are any kind of talks between Mr. Juan Maduro… Juan Guaidó and any officials in the UN?  Did his camp try to claim the Venezuela seat in the United Nations?

Spokesman:  No, there are no contacts that I'm aware of.  As you know, as a matter of principle, the issue of who represents a country's credentials, all of that is decided by the General Assembly, right, by the Member States themselves.  The Secretary‑General has no role in that.  So… Yep.  Nizar?

Question:  Yesterday, I asked about the sentence of Sheikh Ali Salman in Bahrain, life imprisonment, just for making communications with Qatar or others.  Do you have any statement on that?

Spokesman:  No, I should have something for you.  And I'm sorry I don't.  We'll try to get something.  Yes, Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Will Mr. Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, be here in person tomorrow to brief the Security Council, or is it video conference?

Spokesman:  No, he will not be here in person tomorrow, but I saw him just a couple of days ago, and he said he was planning to be here, I think, in February at some point.  So, I think, like… much like his predecessor, they will alternate briefings by video and in person.  Mr. Bays and then Fathi. 

Question:  Two further questions on other issues.  One, let me follow up on Yemen.  The Director of National Intelligence at the US, Dan Coats, was briefing Congress.  He says, "The Houthi movement in Yemen and the Saudi‑led Coalition remain far apart in ending a negotiation to the conflict.  Neither side seems prepared for the kind of compromise needed to end the fighting."  You have a fragile ceasefire still in Hodeidah.  You had talks that were supposed to take place the next round this month.  They've now been moved to next month.  Is the Secretary‑General concerned that time is running out about the urgency of the situation at this stage?

Spokesman:  Well, I… everything's… the urgency of the situation remains, all right, I think, first and foremost, for the civilians that are impacted every day by this ongoing conflict.  Mr. Griffiths, as I mentioned, is in Hodeidah today himself.  I think he, more than anyone, understands the need for the parties to get back together.  He is doing whatever he can, obviously, trying to build on what is going on in Hodeidah.  As we've said over and over again, there is very little trust between the parties.  Our role is to… really to get the parties to the table and try to build on this… on what we have achieved to try to get a political deal.  But I think no one was under any illusion that this would be easy, clean, quick and simple. 

Question:  And if I can get a comment on what the Security Council was meeting about today, Western Sahara, being briefed by the permanent… the personal representative of the Secretary‑General, who is now suggesting that there could be another round of talks in March.  Does the Secretary‑General feel this is a moment where there could be a breakthrough?

Spokesman:  Again, I think we're dealing with a situation, and… let me rephrase that.  I don't want to make any links between Yemen and Western Sahara.  So, let me be clear.  In Western Sahara, we're dealing with a longstanding issue that has gone through a number of Personal Envoys.  I think the word of the day remains "realism", and when this Personal Envoy is ready to announce a new round, confirm a new round, he will do so.  The Secretary‑General, I think, is being briefed as we speak by the Personal Envoy, but, again, I think no one is under any illusion, and this will take a lot of work from our side and from all the parties involved to move this forward.  Yes, sir.  Sorry.

Question:  Just a quick follow‑up.  Ms.  [Agnes] Callamard was in Istanbul today at the vicinity…

Spokesman:  Who?

Question:  Callamard, the head of the UN team for the investigation of the [Jamal] Khashoggi killing.  And she was in the vicinity of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but she was not allowed to enter in.  Any comment or any…

Spokesman:  I think I spoke extensively about this yesterday.  As she said, this is independent of… this is based on her global mandate.  Right?  This is not an investigation on behalf of the Secretary‑General or… on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  This is part of her… what she feels is the implementation of her global mandate, and she's continuing to do about her work, and I think those questions should be addressed to her. 

Madame Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.