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 as you know, yesterday evening the Secretary-General met the Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza. As you know, and that’s why most of you are here, he will be briefing you in this room at 12:30 p.m.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Africa, Bintou Keita, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support Oscar Fernandez-Taranco are completing their visit to Darfur in Sudan, and they will now travel to the Central African Republic from tomorrow through 15 February.
They will be joined by the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, Central African Republic configuration, Ambassador Omar Hilale, who is the Permanent Representative of Morocco.
The delegation will focus on key peacebuilding priorities and resource gaps in the country, including the implementation of the National Peacebuilding and Recovery Plan, the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court, preparations for the [2020-2021] elections, and the peace process under the framework of the African Initiative.
They will also hold talks with the President of the Central African Republic, as well as the President of the National Assembly, Government officials, parliamentarians, civil society, UN partners and personnel. And they will visit projects supported by the Peacebuilding Fund in Bangui.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is in Berlin today for meetings with the German Foreign Minister and senior Government officials.
In his ongoing tour of relevant stakeholders, Mr. Pedersen remains focused on a political solution based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), which affirms Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and foresees a Syrian-led and owned political solution facilitated by the United Nations. In this process, the Special Envoy is attentive to possible confidence-building measures towards a calm, neutral and safe environment in which such a solution can be realized.
Staying on Syria, the humanitarian response in north-west Syria is continuing, while humanitarian workers take increased risk mitigation measures after an increase in fighting among non-State armed groups last month and expanded control by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in the area.
Despite the difficult operating environment, the UN and non-governmental organizations continue to deliver assistance in the area.
Some 2.4 million Syrians are now being reached with critical food, medicine, tents, and winter supplies each month, primarily through cross-border operations from Turkey. An estimated 2.7 million men, women and children are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance in the north-west part of that country.
The UN continues to call on all parties, and those with influence over them, to facilitate sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian actors to independently assess needs and provide services to persons affected by the conflict. This is particularly important where developments on the ground have resulted in a change of control over populated areas.
And Jan Kubis, the new Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met for the first time today with President Michel Aoun in Beirut. He congratulated the President on the new Government in place in the country and expressed his expectation that the session of the Parliament that is under way will take the necessary steps.
Mr. Kubis once again recommitted the UN system to work in very close partnership with both authorities of the State and with the people of Lebanon to be a partner and facilitator in all the areas that are important to the country.
And this afternoon at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold an open meeting on Ukraine. Assistant Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Miroslav Jenča and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller will be among the briefers.
And just to flag that our colleagues at UNHCR said they are seeing a surge in refugee arrivals from South Sudan into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In the past few days, an estimated 5,000 refugees have arrived in several border villages near the town of Ingbokolo, in north-east DRC’s Ituri province – that’s according to local chiefs.
And in Geneva, the World Health Organization and the International Telecommunication Union today issued new international standards for the manufacture and use of audio devices, which include smartphones and audio players, to make them safer for listening.
Nearly half of the people aged 12 to 35 – that’s 1.1 billion young people – are at risk of hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds, including music they listen [to] through personal audio devices.
I will send this to my teenaged children.
WHO’s Director-General said that young people must understand that once they lose their hearing, it won’t come back, and added that the new standard will do much to better safeguard young consumers as they go about something [they enjoy].
In Addis Ababa, the First International Food Safety Conference opened today. The conference [is] organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization and the African Union. It seeks to ensure food safety at every stage of the food supply chain – from harvest to processing to storage, distribution, preparation and consumption.
Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals causes more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420,000 to die worldwide every year.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
And tomorrow, my guest will be Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Change Summit. He will be here to brief you on the Summit preparations.
And thanks to Algeria and Eswatini, the Honour Roll of countries that have paid their budget dues in full and on time has climbed up to the very honourable number of 43.
At this stage, I am ready to answer questions or, at least, listen to your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, on Venezuela, what was the Secretary-General’s message on humanitarian aid?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s message remains the same and the one we have been…
Spokesman: …we’ve been repeating for quite some time, is that the UN… for the UN, humanitarian assistance should be carried out in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. And that’s the Secretary-General’s position.
Question: At that meeting, was there any sort of understanding… understanding or agreement to increase the humanitarian aid that the UN and its agencies are providing through the Government of Venezuela or in collaboration with the Government?
Spokesman: Look, I’m not going to go into the details, but just to say that our position on humanitarian aid, on the standing offer of good offices from the Secretary-General for a meaningful political negotiation stand and are unchanged.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Foreign Ministry of Venezuela posted a photo about the meeting, and then they said the Secretary-General is willing to keep working and deepen the relationship with Venezuela. But, also, he says that he is very happy about the peace in Venezuela. Is the Secretary-General believes Venezuela right now is in peace as it was characterized by the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela? And what is…
Spokesman: Look, we’re… we’re not going to get into a tit for tat of readouts. Our position, as I told Mario on humanitarian aid, on the offer of Secretary-General’s political… political good offices remains. The Secretary-General also very much hopes that the demonstrations, which were scheduled to go on today, will be… will take place in a peaceful atmosphere.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Has the Secretary-General or any of his top officials been in touch with Juan Guaidó on this issue of his good offices?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s contacts with Mr. Guaidó remain, as far as I understand it, the letter that the Secretary-General… the Secretary-General sent to him, I think, last week or a bit longer. And I will leave it at that.
Correspondent: [inaudible] Just a follow-up. Can I just get some clarity, right?
Question: So, they’ve met for the second time in person in a number of… in a matter of weeks. The messaging that’s coming out of that meeting is about humanitarian stuff, good offices. We’re not getting any new information as to what this second meeting was about. Has it taken the conversation forward? What progress has been made? We don’t seem to get a sense of kind of what the point of this meeting was.
Spokesman: Well, the meeting was requested by the Venezuelan side, as it is completely normal. The Secretary-General, of course, met with the Foreign Minister as soon as… basically as soon as he landed back from Addis. What I’m telling you is the Secretary-General’s position, which so far remains the same. If I have new developments to share, I will be happy to share them with you.
Carla and then Pam.
Question: Stéphane, this is another subject. Can you identify or will you identify the individual or entity or State that leaned on women’s organizations or the United Nations or the Secretary-General to replace the word “female genital mutilation” with the word “female genital cutting”? Because the words “mutilation” and the word “cutting” have no identity whatsoever…
Spokesman: I don’t… if you can send me the story you’re reading from because I’m not aware…
Question: The New York Times, Sunday.
Spokesman: …of the context. But, obviously, if it is a question of language within resolutions, that’s a Member State issue. The Secretary-General and the Secretariat continues to refer to this hard practice as “female genital mutilation”.
Question: Thanks, Steph. Can you say if there’s any UN agency, WFP, any agency that is trying to get aid into Venezuela that’s been blocked? And just to beat this dead horse, on the questions so far, aid has arrived at the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Does the Secretary-General believe the… the aid should get in? Given…
Spokesman: The United Nations in Venezuela works under the framework that has been agreed to with… with… with the Government. We have, we are involved in, in nutrition, in health issues, with UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and PAHO [Pan American Health Organization] and others. And that’s where we stand.
Question: So, wait. I’m just – sorry. Just to be perfectly clear: no UN aid has been blocked from going into Venezuela?
Spokesman: We continue to work with the Venezuelan authorities within the framework that has been agreed to.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, ma’am.
Question: [inaudible], International Daily Bulletin. I just have a question regarding Yemen. In spite of all the UN [inaudible]… in spite of all the UN trials to release the food that’s going to be contaminated in the silos, did you reach any agreement…
Spokesman: We still have not, the World Food Programme still has not had access to the Red Sea Mills, which is, frankly, a tragedy. You have… it’s basically a quarter of all of WFP’s in-country wheat stock. It could feed 3.7 million people. The fact is that we have not been able to access it. The fact is that it is at risk of contamination through various – whether it’s vermin or rot or anything else. The sell-by… the use-by date is 2020. But, obviously, that’s within a framework where the silos can be monitored and surveyed, which is not the case here. So, it is a high risk.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Following on the question that Pam made, one of the main questions for the international community is why Venezuela has not declared a humanitarian crisis. The Secretary-General and the reports coming from the United Nations says that we have seen 3 million people fleeing the country since 2017. Since 2015, they started the process. Is he, in these conversations that he has had with Jorge Arreaza, the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, has pushed or has recommended the possibility of opening the way of declaring a humanitarian crisis to avoid politicization of humanitarian aid?
Spokesman: I think it’s… Our view is that there are serious humanitarian problems in Venezuela that need to be dealt with, that humanitarian aid should not be politicized in any way, and that continues to be our position.
Question: Stéphane, the issue of prisoner exchange in Yemen, is there any update on a new date for another meeting?
Spokesman: No. I have not gotten an update.
Question: Back on Venezuela, I think the SG met with the Mexican ambassador today. Is there any contacts as to any possibility…?
Spokesman: That particular meeting was a farewell call, because you know the Permanent Representative is leaving. The Secretary-General has had, over the past week, conversations with the Foreign Ministry in Mexico, which is part of his contacts with various parties.
Question: Stéphane, back on Yemen, what’s the status of the preliminary compromise on redeployment in Hodeidah…
Spokesman: As far as I’m aware, both sides left the ship, went back to their, to their leadership, and we’re still waiting to hear from them.
I will leave you… Pam. I will leave you with Pam. No, go ahead, Pam.
Question: I can address the crowd.
One quick follow-up. The US and Elliott Abrams, the new Special Envoy, or Special Representative, for the Trump Administration, said visas of Maduro diplomats will be pulled. If the visa for the ambassador here would be pulled, is that something you would react to?
Spokesman: It’s a hypothetical. Issues having to do with representation and visas are, obviously, dealt through the credential – the Host Country Committee.
Spokesman: Okay. Thank you. And I shall see you mañana.