The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon and happiest of [Thursdays]. I’ll start off with Yemen. The members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) met for a third time between Sunday and yesterday aboard a UN vessel berthed in the inner harbour of Yemen’s Hudaydah port. In discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, the parties worked together constructively to resolve outstanding issues related to the mutual redeployment of forces and the opening of humanitarian corridors.
Nevertheless, challenges remain, not least the complex nature of the current frontlines. To help overcome these issues, the RCC Chair tabled a proposal that proved acceptable, in principle, to both parties to move forward on the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement. A preliminary compromise was agreed, pending further consultation by the parties with their respective leaders. The RCC Chair, Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, expects to reconvene the Committee within the next week, with the aim of finalizing the details for the redeployment.
Both parties have given a firm commitment to observe and enhance the ceasefire in the interim.
Also on Yemen, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said today he is deeply concerned that the United Nations has been unable to access the Red Sea Mills in Hudaydah since September of 2018.
He said that enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month has sat unused and possibly spoiling for more than four months while nearly 10 million people across Yemen remain just a step away from famine.
Mr. Lowcock stressed that no one gains anything from this, but millions of people suffer.
He noted that Ansar Allah-affiliated forces have declined to authorize the United Nations to cross into Government-controlled areas to access the mills, citing security concerns.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator said that, while he appreciates the genuine efforts that have been made on all sides to find a solution, such a solution still remains elusive.
He implored all parties to finalize an agreement and facilitate access to the mills in the coming days.
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are scaling up efforts to reach 12 million people with emergency food assistance, which is a 50 per cent increase over the 2018 targets. In December, the World Food Programme (WFP) reached more than 10 million people – which in itself was a record achievement.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Tonight, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to give the keynote speech at the World Government Summit, at the invitation of the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. She will have bilateral meetings with senior Government officials on Climate Change, the Sustainable Development Goals and the upcoming World Expo 2020.
The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on Monday. As a reminder, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Addis Ababa tonight to attend the annual African Union Summit and he will also be back on Monday.
In Geneva today, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) launched its 2019 Mine Action Portfolio, which says that clearance of landmines and explosive ordnance is advancing rapidly in many regions, but the [amount] of new contamination is keeping up with these advances.
According to the agency, broad swaths of territory in Iraq, Libya and Syria, where millions of people reside, are heavily contaminated and millions of refugees and internally displaced persons need to go through “risk education” before they can safely return to their homes.
The Portfolio represents 19 countries and 146 projects, with a total cost of $495 million dollars. More information on the Mine Action website.
**Food Price Index
Our friends in Rome at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) tell us that global food prices started 2019 on a high, driven by rising prices of dairy and palm and soy oils.
That’s according to the latest Food Price Index. More information on the FAO website.
Efforts to find and treat an additional 1.5 million so-called tuberculosis patients who are undiagnosed, unreported and untreated by the end of 2019 have been showing signs of success, according to the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
A large part of this progress has been driven by Asia, which is home to six countries – India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Pakistan – with the highest TB burdens in the world.
Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund, said that these results show what can be achieved when greater resources are put into the fight against TB.
I’ve been asked about recent statements made in Sri Lanka regarding UN peacekeeping, and what I can tell you is that we have seen the media reports. Sri Lanka is a very important contributor to UN peacekeeping. The Secretary-General has condemned the attack against Sri Lankan peacekeepers and extends his condolences to the Government and people of Sri Lanka.
It is the policy of the UN that individuals and units deployed to UN peacekeeping by any member States, including Sri Lanka, are screened through a thorough and credible process in order to safeguard the integrity of our peacekeeping missions.
The procedures for conducting the screening of UN peacekeepers in Sri Lanka were only agreed to in December of last year. Since then, it is not the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission alone, but the UN together with the Human Rights Commission, that have been jointly screening the personnel nominated by the Government of Sri Lanka. The aim is to ensure rapid deployment of Sri Lankan peacekeepers to the field.
And today we have jumped from 39 to 41, thanks to Georgia and Slovenia. Thank you to both. Sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yesterday, Venezuela authority blocked the humanitarian assistance convoy from the border. What does the Secretary… Secretary-General say this? And what does Secretary-General respond to this?
Spokesman: Well, for the Secretary-General, as we said yesterday that humanitarian assistance should be needs-based and carried out in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. I think always humanitarian assistance and action needs to be independent of political, military and other objectives. I think the current standoff that we are seeing in Venezuela makes… it becomes even more clear that serious political negotiations between the parties are necessary for the sake of the people of Venezuela. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, Yemen. The compromise agreement or… that’s on the table has to do with redeployment but not access to the Red… well, I mean, I think… I understood from Mark Lowcock’s statement that there was nothing on the access for the Red Sea Mills that had not been resolved. So, I’m…
Spokesman: Right. That has not been resolved. The focus of the talks on… aboard the UN ship was on the redeployment of forces from the Hudaydah area. There’s a separate issue, which has been ongoing for quite some time, of the lack of access to the Red Sea Mills.
Question: Okay. And in Mark Lowcock’s statement, he said he wanted… he was calling on the parties, in particular the Houthis, to grant access to the food house… warehouses in the coming days. Now, what happens if nothing happens in the coming days?
Spokesman: Well, what happens is that yet… the Yemeni people continue to suffer and the suffering increases. That’s what happens.
Question: But do you expect… I guess my question was, do you expect consequences to that?
Spokesman: You know, we are continuing to have discussions with the Government of Yemen, with the Houthi representatives on a number of issues, including humanitarian issues and political issues. This is an issue that, as Mr. Lowcock says, has been brewing for quite some time. As I said, the consequences of this lack of access is being borne by the people of Yemen. Yes, sir, in the back, and then James.
Question: Yes, thank you. To follow up about the situation in Venezuela and about the humanitarian crisis, Nicolás Maduro blocked the entrance of this humanitarian aid to come in into Venezuela, and Nicolás Maduro says that Venezuelans are not a… beggars to get any aid… any aid for Venezuelans. So, at the same time, he is organizing human shields to prevent any military intervention in the country. So, does… is there any comments from the UN about this, human shields he’s creating?
Spokesman: Look, our concern, as it is everywhere around the world, is for the people. Right? It is clear that there needs to be serious negotiations between the parties for the sake of the people of Venezuela. For its part, as you know, the UN is present in the country. Since November, UN agencies have been scaling up to deal with the humanitarian problems that exist inside Venezuela to meet urgent health, nutrition, and protection needs. We’re continuing to work on those, and we will scale up our activities. But humanitarian aid should never be used as a political pawn.
Question: Yes. I want to get some more details, if I can, from you on Yemen. So, you talk about this preliminary compromise. Can you give us the outlines of what the preliminary compromise is? Secondly, with regard to this, you said the preliminary compromise does not cover the Red Sea Mills, but the Red Sea Mills are in Hudaydah. And you had an RCC meeting. One assumes the Red Sea Mills was also discussed… What was… Where did they get to on the Red Sea Mills issue…? [inaudible] And then the last part of my question is, you had two parallel talks going on. You have also the… had the prisoner exchange talks continuing in Amman. Can you give us a status update on whether that, like this, has been adjourned or whether it’s continuing? [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, that is ongoing, as far as I understand it. I think the fact that those talks have been ongoing is a good sign. When talks keep going, it’s a good sign. On the Red Sea Mills, you’ll recall a few… I think last week, early this week, we had… I think it was last week. I’m getting my time frame switched. We had a UN team make it, I think, to… as far as they had already gone towards the Red Sea Mills, which was already a positive step. There remain issues. I think Mr. Lowcock was very clear in the fact that they had been… found blockage from the Ansar Allah affiliated forces that had not given them the access to the mills. We would like to see that access. On the preliminary compromise that was agreed, I’m not able to give you more details. As we said, the parties have to go back to their respective leaders. And I think we don’t want to add to any pressure. So, we will leave it at that for the time being.
Question: A quick follow-up. Just a suggestion of something that might be useful for us, as you mentioned things like the Red Sea Mills and whatever. Either on the record or on background, would it be possible to get a UN official with knowledge of the security and the humanitarian situation to perhaps lay the… give us…
Spokesman: Give you a bit more.
Question: … give us… well, show us a map and explain this, because it’s quite hard to visualize when you mention all these places. [inaudible]
Spokesman: Yeah. Sure.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: I will do my best to paint a better picture. Mr. Abbadi, and then we’ll go to Mario.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. On Rwanda, as you know, the French security system has revealed that it was the Hutus that conducted the genocide for knowing of the assassination of President [Juvenal] Habyarimana. Does the Secretary-General have any comments on that?
Spokesman: No, I haven’t seen those particular comments. I think… no, I have nothing to say. Mario?
Question: On Venezuela again but on the political side of things, Mexico and Uruguay proposed a plan yesterday for… to bring di… dialogue between the parties. Does the SG support this proposal?
Spokesman: We’re looking at what came out of the meeting. You know, we were not… we did not participate in the meeting in Montevideo nor in the one that’s going on today, from what I gather. As a general principle, the Secretary-General has been supportive of international efforts to try to bring a solution to the current crisis in Venezuela. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the new appointment of the new Special Coordinator for Lebanon, did he… are they plan… plan to come to New York, or did he assume his job already? What…
Spokesman: I will check with Mr. [Jan] Kubiš…
Question: Yeah, did he meet with… if is he in Lebanon or not?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I will check. It’s a very good question, and I will…
Question: Because the new Government…
Spokesman: No, no, I understand. I will check to know where he is. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, can you describe which is the group… what’s the group that is preventing the grain in the Red Sea Mills from coming to dry land…?
Spokesman: What I said a few minutes ago is that Mr. Lowcock noted that Ansar Allah affiliated forces…
Question: Who is that?
Spokesman: They are not part of the Government. Joe?
Question: One more?
Question: Anything new on the rapporteur investigating the [Jamal] Khashoggi murder?
Spokesman: No, and I would not have any… privy to information on that. Mr. Klein and then Maria.
Question: Back to… excuse me. Back to Venezuela, first of all, has there been any noticeable adverse impact on the UN’s own humanitarian operations that you just referred to in Venezuela as a result of the Maduro regime’s blocking of further humanitarian aid and other actions that the Maduro regime has taken? That would be my first question.
Spokesman: No. We are operating… I mean, there are two things to look at here. There’s the UN’s own operation within Venezuela where the UN country team works with the Government, according to activities which have been agreed to, to meet urgent health, nutrition and protection needs. We’re, obviously, working in a challenging environment, but I’m not aware so that… I’ll leave it at that. I’ll leave it at that. On… And then, obviously, there’s the regional consideration. As you know, there have been an outflow of Venezuelan citizens into neighbouring countries. And the United Nations is working with the neighbouring countries to try to meet the needs of those people.
Question: Yes, but wouldn’t the UN’s operations in distributing humanitarian aid be ultimately adversely affected if the spigot is turned off from outside sources since, obviously, within Venezuela itself, there’s very limited resources? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I think those are two separate things. We have agreements with the Venezuelan Government. We’re working on… to meet the humanitarian problems, working on urgent health, nutrition and protection needs. We’re trying to scale up our activities, and our work is continuing.
Question: My second related question is, just in following up on statements that you’ve been reading in terms of separating humanitarian aid from political and military considerations and also the Secretary-General’s urging political dialogue, is the Secretary-General prepared to say straight out that the Maduro regime’s blocking of humanitarian aid desperately needed by the Venezuelan people is a violation of international humanitarian law?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General has said what he’s had to say on Venezuela. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Stéphane. On Rohingya, according to Reuters reports, scores of ethnic minority villagers have crossed from western Myanmar into Bangladesh in recent days and fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Rakhine rebels. Many of them are in the no-man’s land already, and Bangladesh authorities say Bangladesh would not accept anyone any further and it is now time for other countries to open their borders… [inaudible]
Spokesman: What is your… what is the question?
Question: My question is, what is your… UN position that many of people are waiting in the no-man’s land? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Well, I’ll try to get updates from our humanitarian colleagues. Obviously, I think Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Government and the Bangladeshi people have shown an enormous amount of generosity in opening their borders and their hearts to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. But I will check on the particular new outflow that you report to. Maria?
Question: One follow-up on that?
Spokesman: Sure, a quick one. Yep.
Question: Yeah. As you are aware, Bangladesh experienced a very farcical election in 30 December, and even Secretary-General… I asked that question, and he said it was not perfect election. And he asked for the… called for the dialogue within the political parties, but Government side responded, they said the UN Secretary-General did not ask for any dialogue for the… this peaceful resolution or the stability of the country.
Spokesman: I have nothing to add. I’ll see if I can get you some more guidance. Maria?
Question: Thank you, Steph. It’s tough competition today. So, TV channel told that he was informed that Afghanistan Government complained to the United Nations over the recent trip of Taliban members to Moscow. Did you receive this complaint or have any reaction on that? Thank you.
Spokesman: I will check. I just saw your text before coming in. I will check if we’ve received that letter. You may also want to check with the relevant chairs of the Sanctions Committee. But I will check with our part if we’ve seen anything. Mr. Ali and then Mr. Erol, in order of appearance.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There is not much going on in Afghanistan following President [Donald] Trump’s declared intention to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. There’s been a round of talks in Qatar, Islamabad, Kabul and now Moscow. Is the United Nations being kept abreast of these talks…?
Spokesman: Yes, Mr. [Zalmay] Khalilzad briefed the Secretary-General’s Special Representative when he was recently in Kabul.
Question: Can you give us any information?
Spokesman: I’m… not that I am able to share at this point. Erol?
Question: Yes, thank you. Stéphane, Prime Minister of Kosovo, Mr. [Ramush] Haradinaj, has said that there are not any more communicating or cooperating with UNMIK (United Nations Mission in Kosovo). I wonder, what is the position or reaction of the Secretary-General on that? And how often the Secretary-General is briefed of the UN dialogue under the UN… under the EU auspices dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is briefed regularly on all relevant international developments. As far as the reports that there’s been a cut in communications, the UN Mission is following up to avoid possible misunderstandings. The Mission remains committed to the UN’s role to serve the people of Kosovo within the terms of the mandate given to us by the Security Council. The United Nations remains committed to ensuring that our relationships with the Kosovo people and institutions work to the benefit of Kosovo and to all processes which will promote peace and stability. And the Special Representative, as I understand it, will be briefing the Security Council this afternoon by video conference.
Question: Follow up?
Spokesman: You may.
Question: Also, what is the recent position of Secretary-General regarding the request… you remember couple of months ago during the presidency of the United Kingdom when they asked for no more open debate on Kosovo at the Security Council. Okay. Some UN Security Council members, including United Kingdom and United States, asked for no open debate, discussion, on Kosovo anymore, just report.
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s position is that he will follow the requests of the Security Council in how to present updates on any issue.
Monica, the podium is warm, and it is yours.