The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Our friend, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, is back in Amman today, after concluding his visits to Riyadh, Sana’a and Hodeidah yesterday. As you know, he also briefed the Security Council by VTC [video teleconference] in closed consultations.
In Sana’a, Mr. Griffiths met with Ansar Allah leader, Abdulmalik Al Houthi, in addition to senior political officials from Ansar Allah and representatives of the General People’s Congress party. He also discussed the deployment of UN staff in support of the implementation of the Hodeidah agreement. The Special Envoy was encouraged by the responsiveness demonstrated by the leadership of Ansar Aallah in that regard.
In Hodeidah, the Special Envoy met with General Patrick Cammaert and local officials and stressed the importance of the rapid implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement, in particular speedy redeployment according to an RCC plan. Mr. Griffiths expressed concern about recent hostilities in Yemen and called on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and de-escalate [tensions] in Hodeidah and in other parts of the country.
During his visit to Riyadh, Mr. Griffiths received assurances from President [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi as well as the Saudi-led Coalition of their continued commitment to respect and fully implement the Stockholm Agreement. Mr. Griffiths appreciated that the parties have demonstrated the necessary flexibility and good faith regarding the timelines for implementation and the technical challenges that need to be resolved on the ground.
And the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, completed a two-day visit to Somalia, where she held discussions with the President, the Prime Minister of the Federal Government and women and civil society.
Ms. DiCarlo reiterated the UN’s commitment to supporting peace, stability and prosperity for the people of Somalia. She also welcomed the Federal Government’s ongoing reform agenda and expressed the UN’s support for implementation of the milestones set out in the Government’s roadmap on inclusive politics, security and justice, economic recovery, as well as social development.
And Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, concluded a two-week pre-electoral mission to Nigeria.
The mission, which took place from 21 to 31 January, included extensive discussions with Nigerian stakeholders in several States, including Benue, Kaduna, and Kano. During his third pre-electoral mission, Mohamed Ibn Chambas had important discussions with stakeholders and key actors involved in the preparation of the elections.
To all his interlocutors, the UN Representative conveyed the support of the UN and the international community to all efforts aiming to consolidate and strengthen Nigeria’s democracy. He called on all candidates, political parties, State institutions, and citizens of Nigeria to abide by their commitments to ensure free, credible, and peaceful elections in 2019.
And he also encouraged each camp to uphold its commitments and refrain from any action that could incite confrontation and violence. He called on all Nigerians to firmly reject all undemocratic and negative voices that seek to promote conflict between Nigerians and also to disrupt the elections.
And an update from our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) in the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, where they are working together with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ministry of Health and other partners to respond to the Ebola outbreak in the face of security challenges and community mistrust.
Six months since the outbreak was declared, there have been more than 750 cases, with 465 deaths from Ebola. In the past three weeks, nearly 120 new cases have been reported to the authorities.
Teams continue to work to prevent further transmission of the disease and actively strengthen community trust and participation in the affected areas.
From Geneva, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that, in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, they have built, together with Oxfam, it has put the biggest human waste treatment facility ever built in a refugee settlement, it’s come into service this week.
The new UNHCR-funded facility can process the waste of 150,000 people a day — that’s roughly the equivalent of the populations of the cities of Savannah, Georgia, or Dijon in France. Interesting comparisons.
Nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees live in settlements in Cox’s Bazar, including Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, which alone is home to more than 630,000 people.
Being able to treat large volumes of waste on site, rather than having to transport it elsewhere, is critical to the safe and sustainable disposal of waste in emergency situations. This will significantly reduce health risks for refugees and host communities and the likelihood of the outbreak of disease.
This morning there was a high-level event to mark the global launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The Year encourages countries to renew their commitment to preserve, promote and revitalize indigenous languages. It also calls for strengthening many standard-setting tools adopted by the international community, including specific provisions to promote indigenous languages.
After me, of course, you will hear from Monica [Grayley] on behalf of the President of the General Assembly (PGA).
At 1 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador [Anatolio Ndong] Mba, Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea, who will preside over the Security Council in February.
And we’re not just on a roll here, we’re on an honour roll, with two new members having joined the Honour Roll — I don’t know, I thought it was funny — Cyprus and Norway, and we say thank you to them. They’ve raised the number to 34.
**Questions and Answers
Spokesman: Yes, ma'am?
Question: Hi, Steph. I just wanted to ask, the Mexican Ambassador met with the SG just a little bit ago regarding a meeting in Montevideo on 7 February about Venezuela. Do you have a readout of the meeting? And if it… will the Secretary‑General be attending or will someone from Secretariat…?
Spokesman: No, not yet. My understanding is that the meeting is… was going on or was going on just as we were walking into the briefing. So, we're, obviously, aware of the press reports and the invitations, but I don't have anything to brief you on at this point. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Steph. So, following on that question, is this part of the efforts with Uruguay and Mexico to try to establish dialogue with the parties in Venezuela? That's one part. And the second part is: the European Union is leading an effort to try to have also dialogue. Federica Mogherini said that Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Bolivia will be part of the group of contact for the European Union on the subject of Venezuela. Will that be part of that?
Spokesman: Look, as I said, we were… the expectation is to get briefed on the initiatives by Mexico and Uruguay. Obviously, various players in the international community have a key role to play to help build dialogue.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the UN have any reaction to the US suspension of the middle‑range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty?
Spokesman: Sure. We have, obviously, seen the announcement made today. I think, for the Secretary‑General, his hope that the parties will use the next six months to resolve their differences through dialogue, as provided for by the Treaty. The INF, obviously, is a very important part of the international arms control architecture, and disarmament has always been a very important part of the Secretary‑General's own agenda and arms control, as well. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, on Yemen, so, further to what you said yesterday, General [Patrick] Cammaert clearly is continuing his duties. And he told the Security Council yesterday of the plans for the meeting on a ship. Do you have any detail on when that's going to happen?
Spokesman: No. I think, given the situation on the ground in Yemen, we will confirm things once they have happened. Yeah, James?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Agnès Callamard, the UN official who's investigating the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, is wrapping up her probe today. She leaves Turkey tomorrow. What happens next?
Spokesman: You would have to ask her. She works independently. The Special Rapporteur's part of the human rights architecture named by the Human Rights Council. She may report back to the Human Rights Council. I don't know. She works independently of the Secretariat. So, it's best to ask her, or we can give you the name of one of our colleagues in Geneva who may be able to help out. Carole. I'll come back.
Question: Steph, getting back to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and the Yemeni Government have written to the Security Council. The letter was also sent to the SG. They claim that there have been… there have been 970 violations of the Hodeidah ceasefire over the past six weeks. I'm wondering, does the UN share that assessment?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General reports back to the Security Council through Mr. Griffiths and through the chair of the RCC, who's currently General Cammaert. I think they have said publicly that the ceasefire is generally holding, but, obviously, it's important for the Mission to be able to scale up quickly and to be able to monitor the agreement that was reached.
Question: Can I follow up on that and ask you, how many observers are on the ground?
Spokesman: I don't have… you know, I should have that number. I don't have the exact number with me, but I'll try to get that for you.
Question: Can… can you…?
Spokesman: I will do my best.
Question: Are we up to half of the 75?
Spokesman: As I said, I will try to… I don't think there's been a big spike since we last reported, but I will try to get…
Question: So, the last report was 20.
Spokesman: As I said, I don't think there's been a big spike, but I will try to get what I can. [He later said the number remains around 20.]
Question: Just a couple of quick follow‑ups on Venezuela. One, the SG met with President [Evo] Morales of Bolivia today, I think. Did they discuss the situation in Venezuela? And the President of the Parliament, [Juan] Guaidó, said today that he rejects any dialogue that… that would keep [Nicolás] Maduro in power. Does the SG have any comment on that, since he's been calling for dialogue for so long…?
Spokesman: On the meeting with President Morales, who I think is here, in fact, for the Indigenous Language… I'm… the meeting ended a short while ago. I haven't had a chance to have a readout. The Secretary‑General's position has been consistently, since the beginning of this crisis, for an inclusive and open political dialogue. We're not going to react to each statement made by one or the other parties. Mr. Roth, then Mr. Avni.
Question: All right. To…
Spokesman: St. Patrick's Day, Richard?
Question: No, it's the colour of money. Two things. One, you were in my dream last night. I mean, you could call it a nightmare, but it was a dream, I think.
Spokesman: This is a PG briefing, Richard.
Question: PGA briefing? We usually get one of those.
Question: Anyway, moving on. Look…
Spokesman: It's your Joker suit. Yes, go ahead. Sorry.
Question: I'll give you a Riddler. Sometimes, I mean, you get the feeling the UN doesn't want to get too far in front, but is it leading from behind here where there's a chance to maybe be more advanced on the Venezuelan front? I'm not saying the Secretary‑General has to go fly to Caracas on a midnight flight, but what… is that the best strategy going forward as the cauldron heats up here?
Spokesman: Look, for the Secretary‑General, what is important, as I said, is to find a way to have an inclusive political dialogue. He has been working on the phones, being in touch with a number of leaders internationally. His good offices are always… are available, but they need to be, as in any situation, accepted by all parties. The Secretary‑General is not interested in night flights to Caracas just to grab a headline for something that may not work out. He is following this extremely closely. As I said, he's in touch with a number of leaders internationally, and we're seeing how it will… we'll see how the situation evolves and how best he can… his good offices can be put to use in a way that is productive, not just headline‑grabbing. Mr. Avni?
Question: Well, to follow up on this question on… on dialogue, I mean, which is what Mexico and… and Uruguay have proposed, doesn't the mere idea of dialogue means that Maduro stays in power, I mean, and therefore, taking sides in a way?
Question: Wait, wait, wait. I have a couple more questions. TIPH (Temporary International Presence in Hebron), any comment on that?
Spokesman: We did… that played in a show earlier this week. The transcript is available.
Question: Okay. Third last question: Probably wasn't… the Michael Gibb committee, do you know anything about that?
Spokesman: The what?
Question: Michael Gibb. He's investigating South Sudan violations, named by the Secretary‑General.
Spokesman: I'm afraid I don't. I… you… you are, as usual, one step ahead of me. I will check…
Spokesman: I don't know. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Coming back to Venezuela but in another angle…
Spokesman: We never left.
Question: Reporters Without Borders made a statement today where they are asking the Secretary‑General to intervene in the situation of illegal detentions of international journalists during the past few days where they have been detained, eventually deported, and they want the Secretary‑General to take action in itself. What's the response from the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: We'll have to take a look at the letter they sent. I think the Secretary‑General has, both publicly and privately, always called and defended the rights of journalists to do their work, and he will continue to do so. Yes, Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Another follow‑up on Venezuela. When you mentioned the letter the SG sent to… in response to Mr. Guaidó, you also said that you shared that letter with the Venezuelan Mission to the UN. Did you hear anything from… from the Mission?
Question: On Venezuela, yes, Stéphane, as you know, Maduro refuses to call what's going on in the country a humanitarian crisis. What is the United Nations assessment to the situation in… in Venezuela? Is it a humanitarian crisis?
Spokesman: We have said and we'll continue to say that we're concerned about the continued suffering of the population in Venezuela. There is, as we feel, an urgent need for increased humanitarian assistance. Our… the agencies are already on the ground. They've been scaling up assistance also depending, obviously, on the availability of… their capacity to do more, but we continue to work with the Government of Venezuela within the existing framework on both humanitarian and development issues.
Question: But is it a humanitarian crisis or not?
Spokesman: I've answered your question to the best of my ability on a Friday.
On that note, I will leave it to you, Monica, for the PGA‑rated briefing.