The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Thank you for your patience. I have a couple of Yemen updates.
First, on the meetings regarding prisoner exchange. The meeting of the Supervisory Committee on the implementation of the prisoner exchange agreement for Yemen began in Amman today.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, said at the outset that this is an important meeting, as it will lay the basis for the next step, which will be to see the release of prisoners. He made clear that the prisoner exchange is an important issue, as it touches the lives of thousands of Yemeni families waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. Also, the implementation of the agreement will help confidence-building measures among the parties on other issues.
The Committee also includes representatives of the Government of Yemen and Ansar Allah and is co-chaired by the Special Envoy and the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).
Also on Yemen, in Hudaydah, Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard assumed his duties as the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and Head of the UN Mission to assist on the Hudaydah Agreement, and that is of this evening.
Houthi and Government of Yemen representatives of the RCC have been continuing to meet yesterday and today aboard the UN vessel that is berthed in Hudaydah. The parties have engaged in long and intense discussions both yesterday and today in order to find mutually acceptable solutions and associated timelines for the implementation of the Hudaydah provisions of the Stockholm Agreement. The RCC Chair, who chaired the meetings yesterday and today, General [Patrick] Cammaert, commended both parties for demonstrating goodwill and engaging constructively together to overcome trust issues and to find viable solutions that would eventually demilitarize the ports and the city of Hudaydah and facilitate life-saving humanitarian operations.
Weeks of sustained engagement by the Chair and his team are beginning to pay off. Today, the Parties are closer to agreeing to modalities for phase one redeployment than they were six weeks ago. They are also grappling with the complexities of disengaging forces in close proximity of each other and the gradual deployment of heavy weapons, armour, and infantry. The Parties are fully aware of the international spotlight on their efforts to implement the Hudaydah Agreement and its implications in the broader peace process for Yemen.
Back here, in the Security Council, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, noted that two thirds of the world’s surface is ocean, most of which is not subject to a single State’s criminal jurisdiction.
He said that transnational maritime crime is increasingly sophisticated and expanding.
This was part of an open Security Council meeting on transnational organized crime at sea, and his remarks have been shared with you.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues remain gravely concerned for thousands of people fleeing the last Da’esh-held areas in Hajin, in Syria’s south-eastern Deir Ezzour Governorate, as well as for those civilians who remain in the area. Those fleeing report many civilian casualties, including women and children, large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure and shortage of food and medicine.
Since December 2018, more than 25,000 people have arrived from the Hajin area to the Al Hol camp in Al Hasakeh Governorate, effectively tripling the camp’s population to some 35,000 people, and that is surpassing its maximum capacity. Since 22 January, around 10,000 people have arrived at the site.
As of yesterday, [at least] 35 children have reportedly died, either in route or shortly after arriving, in the camp since December, mostly from hypothermia.
The UN and humanitarian partners continue to scale up the response at the camp. Twenty-four-hour teams have been set up to receive the newly displaced, quickly identify the most vulnerable cases and provide urgent assistance, including medical and protection support.
The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict and those with influence over them to take all measures to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
And the UN and the Libyan Government of National Accord today launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for the country, seeking $202 million to provide health support, protection, water and sanitation, shelter and education to support more than 550,000 vulnerable people.
Seven years of instability and insecurity have taken a heavy toll on the well-being of tens of thousands of children, women and men in Libya, with thousands of families unable to afford food, water and basic household items.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 823,000 people across Libya – including a quarter of a million children – are in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes internally displaced people and returnees, conflict-affected people, host communities, refugees and migrants who face grave human rights violations and abuse in the absence of the rule of law. You can find the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya online.
Also on Libya, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned today of increasing attacks on health facilities and workers. The agency has documented more than 41 attacks targeting health workers and facilities across the country over the past year. These attacks resulted in six health workers and patients being killed and 25 health workers injured. An additional seven health workers were also assaulted during the period. More information online.
And today is Safer Internet Day, and our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) are highlighting the dangers posed to young people by online violence, cyberbullying and digital harassment.
According to the data from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) on the prevalence of cyberbullying in high-income countries, the proportion of children and adolescents who are affected by cyberbullying ranges from 5 per cent to 21 per cent, with girls appearing to be more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys.
In a statement issued today, the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, called for greater action to make the Internet a safer place for everyone, adding that it was time for Governments, families, academia and the private sector to put children and young people at the centre of digital policies. More information online.
**Lunar New Year
And today, we also officially celebrate the Lunar New Year. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, and in his message, the Secretary-General sent his best wishes to those celebrating and said the New Year is an opportunity to join hands to build a peaceful and prosperous world for all, leaving no one behind.
**Female Genital Mutilation
I just want to flag that tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) will launch a photo exhibition to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance [for] Female Genital Mutilation. The exhibit sheds light on [this harmful practice] that is still prevalent in many parts of the world. You are all welcome to attend.
And today we say thank you to Montenegro…
Spokesman: … and [Austria].
Spokesman: There we go. Joe, you get the question, unless you yield.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Particularly in light of the recent observance or the remembrance of the Holocaust at the UN and the Secretary-General’s statements with respect to that observation and remembrance, I’d like to know what the Secretary-General’s comments are with regard to Cameroon’s minister delegate of justice’s warning to President [Paul] Biya’s opponents that they “might end up like arrogant Jews whom Hitler put in gas chambers”. Thank you.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has stood and will continue to stand against any anti-Semitic statements or statements that incite violence. Mr. Bays?
Question: [inaudible] Particularly… I mean the reference to the Holocaust and Jews was in the context of what could happen to Cameroonians, who…
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the particular statement, but I’m telling you what our reaction is. Yes, Mr. Bays?
Question: Yeah, on Yemen, just a little bit of some clarification to the useful statements you put out. Who is in charge of the RCC now? Because it seems you have two generals currently in Yemen. [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, we have one general at a time. So General Lollesgaard has arrived in Yemen, I think, yesterday. And, as of this evening, he has taken over the chairmanship of the RCC. It was very important for us to have both… there were… Let me just put it this way: there were two generals, one chair.
Question: Okay. And, in terms of the chair, General Cammaert is still on the ship right now? Those talks are finished that you gave us a readout of, or are they continuing?
Spokesman: No, I mean, the… I gave you what I… which is the talks continued today.
Spokesman: Continued today.
Question: But are you keeping them on that ship for another day?
Spokesman: I think we will go to reporting one day at a time. As to…
Question: So, one assumes General Lollesgaard, if they are continuing on the ship, he will… he will join the vessel? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Yes, he’s the chair… As I said, he was there.
Question: He was there on the vessel?
Spokesman: This was to ensure the smoothest possible handover, which is what we’ve been talking about. And General Lollesgaard assumed his duties as chair and Head of the Assistance Mission as of this evening. Carole?
Spokesman: No, you will. One second.
Question: Also… sorry. The statement says the discussions are continuing tomorrow. Okay. What is phase 1 of redeployment? Can you… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’ll have to refer you back to the text of the agreement. Yeah. Benny?
Question: Yeah, follow-up on that: since you have two generals in the room, did you ever… did they ever get the two sides in the dispute in the same room?
Spokesman: They’re on the ship together. That’s what we’ve been reporting.
Question: But are they conducting negotiations with both sides present or are they… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Yes. They’re… As far as I know, they’re in the same room. They’re not in separate berths. Yes, ma’am?
Spokesman: Yeah. I think you have to press the light on your microphone… yep. There we go.
Question: Okay. I have to repeat?
Question: [inaudible] Meghrabi, International Daily Bulletin. I have two questions regarding the meeting that took place in the… the outcome of the Jordanian meeting… it took place yesterday… and regarding the agreement of the release of the Houthis… the release of the hostages. I knew that the Houthis requested only two hostages to be released.
Spokesman: Are you talking about the prison exchange?
Question: Yes. And out of 1,300, so…
Spokesman: I don’t… I mean, those discussions are ongoing. I don’t have any more details. We can ask our colleagues who are on the ground, but I don’t have numbers with me here.
Question: Okay, but… okay, but the numbers…
Spokesman: Come back to my office. We’ll see what more we can get for you.
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. One more detail on the Yemen talks, the Hudaydah talks. Do you know the name of the lead negotiator for the Houthi side and the Government side? And have it… has it been the same individual in both cases throughout since the talks began in January?
Spokesman: I will check. I will check. Yes, and then Carla. Go ahead. Yes, please.
Question: A report of the UN Security… UN Sanctions Committee that was obtained by journalists yesterday suggests that North Korea tries to protect and disperse testing assembly and storage of its nuclear missile capabilities. Can you confirm that information, or do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: No, that’s… those reports are addressed directly to the Sanctions Committee… Security Council Sanctions Committee. I haven’t seen the report, and we don’t see them. Those are for Security Council members. Carla?
Question: Thank you. The Times has been publishing very, very large articles about Mr. [Philip] Alston’s report on the effect of austerity measures, increased poverty in England. Do you know how we can get the report? And is there any chance of bringing him here for a press briefing?
Spokesman: Those report… the reports usually of the Special Rapporteurs are online. There is a season during which the Special Rapporteurs tend to migrate to New York, but I think that’s in the fall. That being said, he may be available through our colleagues in Geneva. Dulcie?
Question: Yeah. Regarding Lollesgaard: so, how long is his appointment for?
Spokesman: Until further notice. Yes, Benny?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the nomination of David Malpass for World Bank?
Spokesman: No. That’s a process that involves the World Bank, its Executive Board. First of all, I’ve read the press reports. I’m not aware that it’s been officially nominated, but it’s… this isn’t… excuse me. It’s a decision that involves the Executive Board of the World Bank and not the Secretary-General of the United Nations. You’ve been very patient.
Question: Thank you. Again…
Spokesman: There you go.
Question: All right. I just have a question because the Security Council yesterday, he issued a statement regarding ceasing of fire, but what happen that that, like, a couple of hours later…
Spokesman: A seizing of?
Question: The ceasing of fire between… between the two parties.
Spokesman: Oh, the ceasefire, yes. Sorry, sorry. Yes. I’m sorry.
Question: So, what happened that the Houthis, one hour later, they started shooting. And so… so, what did the UN… what was the role of the UN in this particular issue?
Spokesman: The ceasefire in Hudaydah has been largely holding. I think what is important that we have not seen either party try to use the ceasefire to gain further territory. The agreement is what it is. It is not unsurprising that there may be some sporadic fire here and there, but as far as we’re concerned, it is generally holding.
Question: Just a follow up: Did the UN condemn any of the Houthis’ action that happened yesterday? Because after the issuing of the statement, they started shooting so…
Spokesman: I’m not sure that the UN was able to determine the source of any firing. Yes, James… but we call on all parties to continue and observe the ceasefire. You have to hand over the microphone to your neighbour. [laughter]
Question: Could I… sorry. I’m coming back to the berths on that ship. Just to be clear, the Houthi delegation came a day after the coalition delegation. I remember that. But no one has left the ship. They are all… they’re not leaving at night. They are all staying on the ship is your understanding… and… and… that brings me to my question. [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’m not the steward on the ship; at least, that’s my understanding. [laughter]
Question: No, no, you’re not. The fact you’re having both sides and you take them into the ocean onto a ship, explain to me the thinking of sort of cooping them up together and what that might achieve.
Spokesman: They’re not at sea. They’re berthed. So, I mean, you know, we’re not sailing out to sea with them. I think it was a creative solution by our colleagues on the ground to find a place that they could… both parties could agree to go to, a place that is relatively secure. I will leave it to those who have greater experience in managing negotiations as to the psychological effect of putting people on a ship.
Monica, you have been patient, and it is now your turn.