11 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is expected back in New York this afternoon, after having been in Addis Ababa, where he attended the thirty-second Session of the Ordinary Assembly of the African Union.  In his remarks yesterday at the opening session, the Secretary-General underscored his determination to build ever closer ties between the United Nations and the African Union.  The Secretary-General saluted Africa’s inspirational leadership in finding durable solutions to forced displacement, saying that Africa has set a gold standard for solidarity with refugees and internally displaced people.  And he outlined the shared agenda of the United Nations and the African Union on issues relating to peace and security, development and climate change.  At a press conference yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that many people see Africa as a continent of problems, but that the United Nations sees Africa as a continent of hope and opportunity.  Asked about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General said that we must look ahead to support the Congolese institutions in ensuring stability and progress in the country and, at the same time, support an internal dialogue and an inclusive way of devising Congolese political life.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General met with a number of girls who are participating in the African Girls Can CODE Initiative, which is a programme of UN‑Women and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).  The four-year programme is designed to equip young girls with digital literacy, coding and personal development skills.  The Secretary-General encouraged the girls to continue with their scientific education.  We have put out the remarks the Secretary-General gave over the weekend and the readouts of his bilateral meetings.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Over the weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the World Government Summit in Dubai.  She said that in this fourth year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world must accelerate its work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  While there has been progress in many countries, it has not happened fast enough, and the world remains on a trajectory of increasing inequality.  “It is up to us to bring back the trust and demonstrate that global institutions can meet global challenges and meet people’s expectations,” she said, adding that “we must all keep pushing the boundaries of transformation.”  While in Dubai, Ms. Mohammed also spoke at an SDGs in Action event, and met with senior Government officials on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals and the forthcoming World Expo 2020.


In a joint statement, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said that the urgency of United Nations access to the Red Sea Mills in Hodeidah is growing by the day.  The World Food Programme (WFP) grain stored in the mills — enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month — has been inaccessible for over five months and is at risk of rotting.  At the same time, the United Nations is in the process of scaling up to provide food assistance to nearly 12 million people across Yemen who struggle to meet their daily food needs.  Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Griffiths said they are encouraged by the recent engagement of all sides, working with the United Nations on the ground, to create the necessary conditions for the team to reach the mills without further delay.  They emphasized that ensuring access to the mills is a shared responsibility among the parties to the conflict in Yemen.  With safe, unfettered and sustained access, the United Nations can make this urgently needed food available to people in need.  Meanwhile, the Supervisory Committee on the implementation of the Prisoner Exchange Agreement finished its second meeting in Amman, Jordan last Friday evening.  And there was a press release issued over the weekend on that.


Ján Kubiš arrived today in Beirut to take up his new position as United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon.  Upon his arrival, he said that he was very pleased to be in Beirut at a time when Lebanon is also embarking on a new phase after the formation of the Government.  Mr. Kubiš looks forward to supporting this renewed momentum in close partnership with the Lebanese authorities, political leaders, civil society and other partners in Lebanon and the international community.

**Security Council

Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, briefed the Security Council today on the threats posed by Da’esh.  He said that the group remains a threat as a global organization with centralized leadership, despite a fall in international attacks and plots in 2018.  This threat, he said, is increased by returning, relocating or released foreign terrorist fighters.  Mr. Voronkov said that Da’esh is reported to control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants, including up to 3,000 foreign terrorist fighters, in Iraq and Syria.  He added that the group has continued to evolve into a covert network operating at the local level and organizing itself at the provincial level, with a reported intent to undermine any form of stabilization on the ground.  Michele Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, told the Council that Da’esh has retained its global intent and global networks.  It remains one of the international terrorist groups most likely to carry out a large-scale, complex attack in the future.


On Nigeria, Mohamed ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), is starting today a mission to the country ahead of the presidential elections, scheduled on 16 February.  This is part of the efforts of UNOWAS to support the consolidation of democracy and good governance in Nigeria, in line with the Secretary-General’s commitment on conflict prevention.  During his mission, Mr. Chambas will visit various states in Nigeria and meet with all stakeholders, local and national, to renew United Nations support for inclusive, peaceful and credible elections.


And right before this mission to Nigeria, just to let you know that Mr. Chambas was in Senegal, where he visited the campaign offices of the five candidates running for the presidential elections in that country — those will be taking place later this month.  The visit was part of the UN's efforts to support the holding of participatory and peaceful elections in Senegal.  Mr. Chambas praised the commitment by the five candidates’ campaign leaders to ensure credible and peaceful elections in the interest of Senegal and the Senegalese people.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, last week, the Philippines Government declared a major measles outbreak in Metro Manila and Central Luzon, and it has now expanded to other areas.  More than 4,300 suspected measles cases have been reported since January, with at least 70 deaths.  In 2018, nearly 22,000 measles cases were reported in the Philippines, a 376 per cent increase compared to 2017.  In support of Government-led efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided technical support and funding to the National Immunization Programme and is monitoring the implementation of the vaccination campaign to contain the outbreak.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, has wrapped up a four-day visit to Myanmar.  Her mission comes after the United Nations and the Government of Myanmar, in December 2018, signed a joint communiqué to address conflict-related sexual violence in the country.  During her visit, she met with Government Officials and representatives of women’s organizations, non-governmental organizations and others.  Ms. Patten stressed in her meetings that, while the joint communiqué is a positive signal, fighting is ongoing and it is critical that all parties undertake efforts to prevent conflict-related sexual violence.


On Haiti, the Core Group has called on the Haitian society actors, and primarily the country's leaders, to engage in a constructive and inclusive dialogue in order to identify and implement realistic and lasting solutions to the political and economic crisis currently occurring in the country.  This follows a day of protest in Haiti last Thursday.  The Core Group has taken note of the demands expressed by the demonstrators.  It also deplores the loss of life and property damage caused by the acts of violence that took place on the margins of the rallies, while acknowledging the professionalism demonstrated by the Haitian National Police as a whole.

**Girls in Science Day

Today is the International Women and Girls in Science Day.  This year’s theme is "Investment in Women and Girls in Science for Inclusive Green Growth".  In his message, the Secretary-General said that women and girls are vital in driving innovation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.  However, he noted that they remain woefully under-represented due to gender stereotypes, a lack of visible role models and unsupportive policies and environments that keep them from pursuing those careers.  He said the world cannot afford to miss out on the contributions of half our population and urged countries to do more to promote access to learning opportunities for women and girls, particularly in rural areas.

**Press Briefings

For press briefings, at around 6:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Jorge Arreaza, the Minister of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  And that's it for me.  Yes, Michelle?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Venezuelan Foreign Minister, is he meeting with the Secretary‑General, as well?  I apologize if I missed that.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Yes, he is.  But, that won't be here at Headquarters.  That will be at the Secretary‑General's residence, and that will be prior to this press briefing.  We expect him to see the Secretary‑General at around 6 p.m.  So, it's possible the press briefing here might start a little after 6:30 p.m.

Question:  Okay.  And just one follow‑up question.  Has the SG had any contact with Juan Guaidó or any of his representatives since that initial exchange of letters? 

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been in touch with various parties on the ground, and we have our contacts, not necessarily directly, through the Secretary‑General.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan, a follow‑up on that first.  Did Mr. Arreaza ask for this meeting?  And did he say why he asked for the meeting?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you'll be hearing from Mr. Arreaza himself.  So, he can talk about what his purposes are.  But, yes, it was at their request.  Hold on one second.

Question:  And… and, as a second question, what specifically are the next steps involving the Red Sea Mills?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you have seen our request that Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Griffiths made for all parties to open up access.  There… in that press release, which is available to you, they mentioned that there has been some progress in dealing with the parties, and they are following up, including with Ansarullah, to see what sort of access they can get to make sure that they can get to this food and distributed before it starts to spoil.  Yes, first Maggie and then Joe.

Question:  Farhan, on Friday, Mr. [David] Beasley of WFP [World Food Proggramme] met with Secretary [Michael] Pompeo.  The State Department put out a readout, said that they spoke about Yemen and Venezuela.  Do you have anything that you could add to it in terms of detail?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, don't… I think we'll leave it at that, that those were the topics of discussion.

Question:  Did he seek any particular help with the Red Sea Mills?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you're aware that we do want all sides to help with that.  You'll have seen what the World Food Programme has been saying about that, and, like I said, today that call was taken up by the Emergency Relief Coordinator and by our Special Envoy for Yemen.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah.  The Security Council discussion today and the Secretary‑General's counter‑terrorism report focussed fairly specifically on ISIS.  Al‑Qaida, however, is emerging… re‑emerging as a force to be reckoned with itself, and I believe they were responsible — or their affiliates were responsible — for the recent attacks in Kenya, as well as in Mali.  So, to what extent is the UN giving attention as well and in as much detail as it's doing with ISIS to the threat from Al‑Qaida?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we have been doing that, and as you're aware, there is a consolidated list that the Security Council has that involves sanctions on a wide range of people associated with Al‑Qaida and its affiliates, which has done quite a lot to ensure international coordination in making sure that the group and its affiliates can be combated around the world.  In this case, the reason for the focus on Da’esh today is that there was a specific report by the Secretary‑General on this, which is what was being presented to the Security Council by the two officials.

Question:  Is any comparable report, though, being prepared relating to Al‑Qaida?

Deputy Spokesman:  We've done those in the past.  I mean, obviously, these depend upon requests from the Security Council.  Yes, please?  No, no, no, first… back there.  You can go after that.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Over the weekend, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on the United Nations, particularly on the Secretary‑General, to take effective measures to end the human rights violations of the Uyghur Turks in China's Xinjiang region.  What is your response to that?  And does the UN have its own assessment of the rights violations in the region?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe these are things that have been taken care of by the various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, including through the review process that countries go through.  As you know, different countries go through Universal Periodic Review, where they have their records examined, and this is part… this has been part of that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, it's expected to… this week or next, ISIS to lose 100 per cent of its hold on territory in Syria.  I was wondering if the Secretary‑General have any thoughts about the change of the role of the coalition, international coalition against ISIS, since UN has been actively engaged with the coalition term… in Iraq and Syria?

Deputy Spokesman:  Regarding that, as your colleague just pointed out, the Security Council right now, as we speak, is having a briefing about the activities of Da’esh, ISIS, however you wish to call them, in the region.  And as I pointed out, Mr. Voronkov made very clear that the group, although it has lost a considerable amount of territory, does continue to pose a threat in the region and that it continues to control between 14,000 and 18,000 militants in Iraq and Syria.  And so, there's certain concerns that… about the group that need to be addressed.

Question:  My question was… I saw the report, Secretary‑General's report, that ISIS is still a threat.  Does the Secretary‑General agrees with change of role of… especially we're talking about US withdrawal, about the change of the coalition's policy.  Does he have any view about all this?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are not going to try to micromanage what the various military operations on the ground do.  What we're doing is just factually evaluating what the situation is, and we do believe that there are aspects of Da’esh's operations, which we've detailed in the report and in the briefings you've seen earlier today, different concerns that need to be addressed.  And now, as you're aware, the Security Council is discussing that.  Yes, in the back, Mario.

Question:  Farhan, on Venezuela, specifically on the aid stand-off, has the UN been contacting the parties, the Government, to reach some way to… to increase the amount of humanitarian aid in the country?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I believe we've said this earlier last week, but it does bear repeating, that, you know, for us, humanitarian assistance should be needs‑based and carried out in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.  Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives.  And of course, in this present stand-off in Venezuela, it becomes ever more clear that serious political negotiations between the parties are necessary to find a solution leading to lasting peace for the people of Venezuela.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the US and Poland are co‑hosting a meeting on peace in the Middle East.  Lot of stuff on the agenda:  Syria, Yemen, Israel, Palestine, Iran's destabilizing behaviour and so on.  Was Mr. [António] Guterres invited?  And will he be attending? And if he's not, are there any other lower‑level UN attendees, such as the envoys for those particular countries?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware that any of the envoys are attending.  The Secretary‑General is not attending that, no.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The creation of militants in Venezuela, is this or not putting at risk the peace and security in the region, especially for Colombia, who is receiving daily thousands of people… Venezuelans leaving the country.  Is there any comment about it?  And the other one is about the humanitarian aid.  Nicolás Maduro, he's working on a programme himself Venezuela, which is the paper that people… Venezuelans who wants to have food, they need to sign that paper instead… if they want to get any food from Nicolás Maduro regime.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, again, as I said to your colleague just seconds ago, our principled position is that humanitarian aid must be needs‑based, and ultimately, we emphasised the fact that all those in need must have access to the humanitarian aid that they need to survive.  That's a simple basic point of principle.  Regarding your earlier question, we're aware of the presence of different groups on the ground, which is why we believe it is essential for there to be dialogue to avoid any worsening of the situation on the ground.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Tension is, again, rising in the South China Sea, especially around the Spratly Island.  The US has sent Navy ships there, and China has protested, saying that it violates international law and its sovereignty.  In view of the fact that there are no demarcation lines in the… on the oceans, how would the UN resolve this conundrum and find out who is violating what?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, there is a basic framework under the law of the sea.  But, aside from that, we want to make sure that, in any sort of dispute, the parties, in this case, the two parties involved in this, handle this bilaterally through negotiations with each other.  Yes, Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just a quick follow‑up to Mario's question earlier.  Has the United States reached out to the UN, either here or on the ground, to seek assistance in delivering aid into Venezuela?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any such requests from the United States.  As you know, we've made a call on all parties to respect the idea of preserving the impartiality and independence of aid deliveries and for all aid deliveries, like I said, to be needs‑based.  Maggie?

Question:  Can you just remind us what the UN is doing on the Colombian side of the border in terms of handing out aid? I'm… I'm… I think I recall that UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is there, but, I mean, is OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] giving out aid?  Especially since a lot of Venezuelans are crossing over there to go get supplies and go home.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, we do have a presence in Colombia and Ecuador with the World Food Programme, which has been on the ground providing food assistance to Venezuelan migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, in those areas.  So, there are aid operations there.  WFP, in particular, has been providing logistical support and assistance at the Colombian border since early 2018, and that's part of the World Food Programme's humanitarian mandate.

Question:  But, do you have anything specifically around Cúcuta, where the bridge is?  Because people seem to go back and forth over the bridge.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not specific to Cúcuta.  It's… the idea is that the World Food Programme has, for example, been involved in the pre‑positioning of food at the border as part of its mandate to help hungry people wherever they are.  So, that is where we stand, but it's not about specific crossing points.  Yes, Joe and then Mario.

Question:  Yeah.  Couple of questions related to the meeting planned, as you said, this evening between the Venezuelan Foreign Minister and the Secretary‑General.  First of all, who initiated the idea?  Why is it being held in the Secretary‑General's residence and not… not here at Headquarters?  And was there any request or consideration of a meeting two weeks ago when Secretary of State Pompeo was here for the emergency Security Council meeting to have a direct face‑to‑face discussion with the Secretary‑General?  And that did not occur.  Is that correct?  There was no…

Deputy Spokesman:  That did not occur.  I believe the Secretary‑General… that was the day that he was attending the service at the Park East Synagogue, so he was not here.

Question:  That was later in the morning.  Actually, the Secretary‑General did not attend the Security Council meeting itself, which was at 9 a.m.  I believe the service at the synagogue was later that morning, so… later in the morning.  So, was that the reason why there was no meeting with the Secretary of State or there was just no…?

Deputy Spokesman:  It was in the morning, yes.  It just wasn't scheduled, no.  As regards your earlier question, the meeting is taking place at the residence because the Secretary‑General is only arriving later this afternoon from a very lengthy flight from Addis.  So, I don't think he's coming in here.  Yes?

Question:  Just ahead of this meeting, the Secretary‑General has offered repeatedly his good offices.  Can you tell us if there's been a formal response from any of the parties to this?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, not at this stage.  As you know, he's meeting one of the parties… a representative of one of the parties this afternoon, and we'll see what the result of that is.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.