Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

4 February 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.

All right.  Good afternoon and happy Monday.  Definitely Monday, definitely Monday.  They all start to blend in after a while.

**Mercenary Activities in Africa

This morning, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, addressed the Security Council at a high-level debate on mercenary activities in Africa.  The Secretary-General said that the shadowy nature of mercenary activities makes data hard to come by, but while the numerical picture may be murky, the impacts of mercenaries is all too clear.

He highlighted illicit activities and trafficking by terrorist and mercenary groups in the Sahel, the alleged involvement of mercenaries in post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010 and the many violations of human rights and humanitarian law against civilians in the Central African Republic.

The Secretary-General said meeting these challenges requires stronger legal regimes, globally and nationally, and increased bilateral, regional and international cooperation, adding that we need to examine the political, economic, social and psychological factors that give rise to mercenary activities.


As you will have heard yourselves this morning, the Secretary-General, on his way to the Council, said a few words about Venezuela.  He said he’s been following with concern the evolution of the situation in that country, adding that he has been in contact with leaders of a number of initiatives by several groups of countries, but he stressed that the UN Secretariat had decided not to be part of any of these groups in order to give credibility to the UN’s continued offer of good offices to the parties to be able at their request to help find a political solution to the crisis.


Turning to Yemen, the Supervisory Committee on the implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement for Yemen is scheduled to reconvene in Amman tomorrow.  The Committee includes representatives of the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah and is co-chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  Mr. Griffiths, and the President of the ICRC, Peter Maurer, are scheduled to take part in the first day of the meetings of the committee.

During this round of technical meetings, the Supervisory Committee will discuss the steps taken by the two parties to finalize the lists of prisoners to advance the implementation of the agreement.

Meanwhile, the third meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, chaired by Patrick Cammaert, convened yesterday on board a UN vessel berthed in the port of Hudaydah, and that meeting is continuing today.  Both the Government of Yemen and Houthi RCC representatives are present aboard the ship.

Both parties have reiterated their commitment to implementing the Hudaydah aspects of the Stockholm Agreement and, in particular, underscored their commitment to finding a solution that would open up the Hudaydah-Sana’a road to allow humanitarian access to the Red Sea Mills.


Our humanitarian colleagues report that the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $2 million to support critical Ebola preparedness activities to protect an estimated 440,000 people in high-risk areas of South Sudan, as the outbreak continues in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Although there have been no cases confirmed in South Sudan, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the country is at “very high-risk” due to its proximity to the DRC.

The CERF funds will help to strengthen surveillance, build case management capabilities, enhance laboratory services and increase infection control and prevention.


Our colleague Allegra Baiocchi, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Cameroon, and representatives from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and local authorities, visited the Goura refugee site in the Far North of the country on 1 February.

That site is [hosting] 35,000 Nigerian refugees following clashes between non-State armed groups and the Nigerian military.

Aid organizations are providing food, shelter and water and sanitation, among other services.  At the end of January, the World Food Programme (WFP) began distributing food for 13,500 Nigerian refugees.

However, the response needs to be scaled up significantly to cope with the influx of people, with many refugees reluctant to return to Nigeria’s Rann area or any other camp in Ngala without assurances of their safety and security.

Aid workers are working with authorities to protect the refugees’ right to asylum and to relocate them to safer areas away from the border.

The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Cameroon seeks nearly $300 million to assist 2.3 million vulnerable people.


Food security in Somalia has deteriorated slightly due to below-average seasonal rains in 2018, the lingering effects of the 2016/17 drought and ongoing conflict in parts of the country.  That’s according to the latest analysis of the Food and Agriculture Organization – managed by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.  More information online.

**World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day.  Nearly every family in the world is touched by cancer, which is now responsible for almost 1 in 6 deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization.

This year, WHO is focusing on cervical cancer, with the theme, “Cervical cancer:  It is preventable, treatable, and it is time to eliminate it.”

The agency warned that accelerated action is needed to achieve global targets for reducing premature mortality from cancer and ensuring universal health coverage, adding that a renewed emphasis on strengthening health systems is needed to ensure early diagnosis and accessible, high-quality care for patients.  More on WHO’s website.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow, you will have the pleasure of hearing from David Shearer, the Special Representative in South Sudan and the Head of the peacekeeping Mission there (UNMISS).

**Honour Roll

And today the Honour Roll has reached 35, thanks to a very cold country filled with very warm people, and I’ll let you guess what country that is.

Correspondent:  Finland?

Spokesman:  No.  The fact that it’s not Finland doesn’t mean that they’re not very warm people.  Iceland is the right answer.  [laughter]  I don’t want to get in trouble with the Finns, who are, indeed, very warm, as well.

**Questions and Answers

I will take your questions, I guess, now.  Yes, James?

Question:  Two questions for you.  Before I ask my question on Yemen, I just… on the issue of mercenaries, what does the UN consider a mercenary?  Is there… because when the SG speaks, it was relatively short, and it seems that the basic term wasn’t defined in this debate.  What’s the difference between a mercenary and a military contractor, or are they the same thing?

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question.  I mean, I could give you what I think is the difference.  I will look to see if there’s actually a legal difference within UN terms.  [He later referred the reporter to the UN definition of mercenaries, which is provided in the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries (1989).]

Question:  Okay.  Moving on to Yemen, the talks, as you say, on the ship continue.  Is there anything more you can tell us about that?  Also, I was trying to work out which ship it is.  Do you have the name of this ship?

Spokesman:  No, we will not share the name of the…

Question:  Because there are two WFP ships apparently.

Spokesman:  It’s a UN… all I can tell you is that it’s a UN chartered ship.  I think it was a very creative solution by General Cammaert to try to get the parties… you know, it’s hard to predict.  I think what… General Cammaert’s message was underscoring the fragility of the situation and the really… the need to see progress.  We have a kernel in a sense of a ceasefire in a specific area in Yemen.  We need to secure that and build on that moving forward.

Question:  Sorry, I hadn’t quite finished my question.  I also wanted your view on the other talks that are taking place in Amman tomorrow, which are the prisoner exchange talks.  That was something that was first mooted as planned to take place before Stockholm.  Can you tell us the importance… the numbers involved and the importance of this prisoner exchange and the whole process?

Spokesman:  I think the exchange of prisoners in any conflict is highly symbolic.  It shows a commitment of both parties to start trusting each other, and I think it’s also, obviously, a very emotional issue for the families involved.  And I think it’s a confidence-building measure by any measure, and it’s a very important one.  And I think it… as I said, it really underscores the issue of trust, which is something that has been lacking in this particular conflict.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  With regard to the Secretary-General’s remarks this morning on Venezuela, what are the tangible measures he’s planning to take to use his good offices to try to mediate the problem currently taking place in Venezuela?  Does he try… does he plan to go to the region… to Venezuela and… and the region or to invite President [Nicolás] Maduro? [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary-General is not… his offer of good offices are very clear that it is… as in any conflict or problem, both parties or if there are, in case, multiple ones, both parties have to request and agree to his good offices.  His offer to that end stands.  There’s no trip planned.  There’s no headline grabbing trip, which may or may not work, in the plans.  The Secretary-General is very focused on continuing his contacts with leaders around the world and underscoring yet again the availability of his good offices.  Yes, sir?

Question:  We have found that… we are glad to see that the Secretary-General has sent out the… earlier today the congratulations message to the Chinese New Year and because it’s hosted, actually the whole world, Chinese community are celebrating the Chinese New Year.  What events are we going to have at the UN Headquarters?

Spokesman:  I will check.  I think there’s some other social events planned, but I think the Secretary-General was delighted to once again send out a message of hope and prosperity for Chinese communities around the world for the Year of the Pig, if I’m not mistaken.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Evelyn?

Question:  The mercenary discussion is most confusing, and James’ question was right on; like, what is a mercenary?  The SG gave examples of where they… where mercenaries are used but not who they… who they are.  Do you have any information of who these mercenaries are?  Because most people… most speakers did not give examples, and it’s very hard to get a grip on that story.  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, I mean…

Question:  We all agree that mercenaries are bad…

Spokesman:  I don’t have any more examples than what the Secretary-General said.  If I’m not mistaken, there is a Special Rapporteur on the issue of mercenaries, and we can put you in touch with them.  [inaudible]

Question:  And second…

Spokesman:  Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Oh.  Can you find that on the website?

Spokesman:  I don’t know.  We’ll see.

Question:  I’ll check.  Secondly, on Yemen, Amnesty International is one of several organizations that are pointing fingers at the UAE (United Arab Emirates) for giving weapons to all sorts of strange militia.  Is there anything on that?  Any news on that?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, not in particular.  Our message from the beginning has been clear is that the conflict in Yemen needs a strong commitment to a political solution and to help humanitarian aid and not more weapons.  Masood?

Question:  Stéphane, thank you, sir.  On this resurgence of settlers’ violence in the occupied West Bank, since… and you also gave a statement attributable to the Secretary-General after the… after the United… the Israelis decided to withdraw from that so-called mutual accord.  Can you please tell us, has the… has the Secretary-General managed to talk to the… the Israeli Prime Minister or any other Israeli authorities about this issue?

Spokesman:  I think this is an issue that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has raised both privately and publicly.  Frank…? [inaudible]

Question:  But do you have…

Spokesman:  I have nothing else to add.  Frank?

Question:  A bit of a housekeeping issue.  The Secretary-General was on the stairs talking to reporters.  Of course, you just read out some of what he talked about.  I asked UNTV did they get it, and they said, “No, we’re instructed not to shoot the Secretary-General…”  Can we get this cleared up?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  It was a mistake that was due to me typing too quickly email instructions and adding the wrong words and the wrong syntax order, which you can blame on my non-native English-speaking capacity.  [laughter]  So, it was a mistake.  It was just a mistake.  [inaudible]

Question:  Can you tell UNTV it’s okay in the future to do this…?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  As I said, of course, they can cover the Secretary-General.  The mistake was mine and my fat fingers on my small iPhone.  [laughter]

Question:  Okay.  So, it’s okay for them to shoot…

Spokesman:  As I said, mea culpa.  Okay.  All right.  On that self-sacrifice, self-criticism note, I will leave it to you, Monica.  [laughter]

For information media. Not an official record.