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

14 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.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Good afternoon.  I have a senior personnel appointment to announce.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Chandramouli Ramanathan of India as Controller, at the Assistant Secretary-General level, for Programme Planning, Budget and Finance in the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance. 

He succeeds Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas of Uruguay, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization.

Chandramouli brings to the position nearly 40 years of executive international experience in diverse organizational settings in finance and budget, management and information technology.  We are delighted to officially have him in that position.


Turning to Yemen, the UN and its humanitarian partners today released the 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen.  The crisis remains the worst in the world with an estimated 80 per cent of the population — that’s nearly 24 million people — in need of some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million people who are in acute need.  The number of people in acute need is now 27 per cent higher than last year.

More than 20 million people across the country are food insecure, half of them with extreme levels of hunger.  For the first time, we have confirmed pockets of catastrophic hunger, with 238,000 people affected in some locations.

Some 3.2 million people require treatment for acute malnutrition — 2 million [children] under 5 and more than 1 million pregnant and lactating women.

A total of 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation, and almost 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare.

An estimated 3.3 million people remain displaced in Yemen, up from 2.2 million last year.  This includes 685,000 people who fled during fighting in Hudaydah and on the west coast from June onwards.

A High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen will be hosted by the UN and the Government of Switzerland as well as Sweden and is scheduled on 26 February in Geneva.


Turning to Syria, we remain concerned for the protection of civilians who remain trapped in the last Da’esh-held areas of Hajin, in Syria’s south-eastern Deir Ezzour Governorate, and for those who are able to flee the fighting.  There are continued reports of civilians being killed and injured due to ongoing hostilities and air strikes around Hajin.

Today, the UN opened a transit centre in Suar, half-way between Hajin and Al Hol, with a capacity of some 400 individuals.  A small number of displaced women and children are already using the services provided by the UN.

Further assistance is urgently being dispatched today and in coming days, that’s including non-food items, food, children’s clothes, and access to drinking water and hygiene.  UN mobile health and nutritional clinics will also provide assistance at the site — that’s together with our partners.

We are concerned by reports of civilian casualties and suffering due to hostilities in the de-escalation zone of Idlib and Hama Governorates in the north-west Syria.  Yesterday, artillery shelling in the north-west Hama Governorate reportedly resulted in the death of one civilian and injured others, including children.

The UN reminds all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to exercise restraint.


And in Haiti, the UN Mission (MINUJUSTH) there reports that anti-Government protests in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and throughout the country continue for the eighth day.

Protests were marked by multiple instances of roadblocks, burning barricades, and sporadic street demonstrations amid calls for President Juvenal Moise's resignation.

The Haitian National Police, supported by the UN Mission, have demonstrated considerable professionalism and resilience to restore order. 

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Helen La Lime, has been in close contact with all national stakeholders to encourage them to de-escalate the situation through dialogue and to identify realistic solutions to restore public order, within the framework of the Constitution of Haiti.


Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) today briefed the media in Geneva on the current measles outbreaks.

WHO noted that provisional data indicates that with 230,000 cases, the number of measles [cases] initially reported for 2018 have already exceeded the total reported measles [cases] for 2017, which were just above 173,000.  The reporting period for 2018 has not yet closed, so this figure is still likely to increase.

It is also important to note that officially reported cases are only a fraction of the full picture, but they provide us with an important sense of where they are heading.

Officials from WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals said it would be important for WHO, Ministries of Health and other partners to act with urgency, clarity and appropriate tactics to close the gaps in vaccine coverage and to ensure measles vaccines are available, accessible and delivered to all children who need them.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease which remains an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

**Childhood Statelessness

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called on European countries and regional organizations to take urgent action to ensure no child is born, or remains, stateless in Europe.

More than half a million people in Europe are estimated to be stateless, and in 2017, some 2,100 children were registered as ‘stateless’, which represented a four-fold increase compared to 2010.

To better address child statelessness in Europe, UNICEF and UNHCR are proposing a series of solutions which include ensuring that every refugee and migrant child is properly identified and protected upon arrival in Europe, simplifying procedures to enable stateless children to acquire a nationality, and adopting or amending legislation to include safeguards granting nationality to all children born in a country who would otherwise be stateless.

**Prespa Agreement

And yesterday evening, we issued a statement acknowledging that the Secretary-General had received official notification of the entry into force of the Prespa Agreement as of 12 February 2019, which, among other things, expresses the agreement by the parties to the name “Republic of North Macedonia”.  He welcomes this development, which settles the long-standing dispute between Athens and Skopje and demonstrates that even seemingly intractable issues can be resolved through dialogue and political will.

The Secretary-General calls on Member States, regional organizations and all international partners to support the historical steps that the parties have taken.  The full statement is online.

**Noon Briefing Guest

And in a short while, I will be joined by Maria do Valle Ribeiro, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL); she is also the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator.  She will brief you on the situation in Libya.

**Honour Roll

And today we thank Ethiopia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, who have paid their budget dues in full and on time. 

And that brings us to?

Correspondent:  Forty-seven.

Spokesman:  Yes.  Do you have a question or do you yield?

Correspondent:  Yield.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman:  All right.  Go ahead.

Question:  I have a question… Heba Meghrabi, International Daily Bulletin.  I have a question regarding Yemen.  With the catastrophic statistics that you just mentioned earlier now, Yemen is heading towards famine.  So, what is the UN's role to control what's going on?  Did the Secretary‑General condemn what's going on with the Houthis?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think we've been condemning since the beginning of this crisis the continued violence, which is clearly impacting the Yemeni people.  Yemen, already before this current conflict, was a country with a precarious humanitarian situation, importing 70 per cent or more of its food.  They are now in the midst of armed conflict.  We're seeing… just as an example, in Hudaydah, we still do not have access to the Red Sea Mills.  The people of Yemen deserve peace, and whether it's through the efforts of Martin Griffiths or the team in Hudaydah and our humanitarian team, we're doing whatever we possibly and humanly can to help the people of Yemen.

Question:  So, was it… excuse me, a follow‑up.  So, was it an official condemn, I mean, to the Houthis…?

Spokesman:  I think we've been condemning the situation and reporting very clearly and highlighting the issue of whether it's one party or the other through the regular reports that Mr. [Mark] Lowcock and Mr. Griffiths provide to the Security Council.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Mr.  Stéphane.  Hathem [inaudible] from NA.TV.  If you allow me to ask further about Yemen, the humanitarian crisis is still looming despite the ceasefire.  So, is it because lack of cooperation between the parties in Yemen involved with, or is it lack of security?  Is it lack of humanitarian supplies?  I thought, after the ceasefires in December, it should have been… got much better, and the port is open.

Spokesman:  Well, the ceasefire is… represents a very important achievement in a very small part of the country but critical port.  Hudaydah is a critical port.  We would like to see that extended, but we still have to go through the efforts of redeployment.  We're waiting to hear back from the parties.  We operate… our UN humanitarian colleagues operate wherever they can, wherever it is absolutely safe to do… or where it is safe to do, often taking… I should not use the word "absolutely", because they often… our colleagues and their partners often take great personal risk delivering aid.  But we know it is an issue having to do with conflict.  It is also an economic issue with hyperinflation, lack of payment of salaries.  There are many reasons… all of the suffering that I've listed exhaustively should only reaffirm the parties' will to come to a political agreement.  Yoshita?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on the terror attack against police personnel in India… in Kashmir in India, any message from the Secretary‑General? It's one of the worst terror attacks.  Close to 40 police personnel have been killed, and Pakistan‑based Jaish‑e‑Mohammed has taken responsibility for this.

Spokesman:  Yes, we strongly condemn today's attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama district and express our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and to the Government and people of India.  We, of course, wish a speedy recovery to those injured and call for those behind the attack to be brought to justice.

Question:  Quick follow‑up.  In a statement issued from India, it… India has also appealed to the international community to list Jaish‑e‑Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, who… and India's bid to have him sort of designated under the UN Sanctions Committee has been… has not been able to go through.  And also India wants that the international community should come together to ban terror organizations operating from Pakistani soil.

Spokesman:  The issue of listing terrorist organisations is one that is left… is in the hands of the Security Council.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Señora?

Question:  Today, it was… a group was announced, a coalition of countries that are aligning with Venezuela.  They believe that it is a violation by the United States and other countries that recognize the interim President of Venezuela.  What is the position of the Secretary‑General in the formation of this coalition?  And then the second part is, on 23 February, Juan Guaidó says that they're going to carry through the process of moving the humanitarian aid.  Is any concern that anything could happen if they try to, with volunteers, mobilize all that aid?

Spokesman:  Look, you know, it is not up to us to comment on various coalitions and groups of countries that are forming.  What is important for us and, I think, underscored on a daily basis is the clear and even more serious needs to find… to start serious political negotiations.  As for what will happen, you know, I'm not going to hypothesize.  We would want to see any sort of… our standing policy is that any sort of demonstration or public demonstration should be held peacefully.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this tripartite summit in Sochi, this joint statement, what is your… what is the United Nations position on that?  And also about when it also condemned the attack inside — what do you call?  — Iran by… by the tripartite summit, what is the position of the Secretary‑General on this?

Spokesman:  On the tripartite summit?  I haven't seen the final statement issued out of Sochi.

Question:  No, you haven't seen it yet?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen it as of yet.  We will take a look at it.  But, obviously, those three countries that met are very important partners in our efforts to find a political solution in Syria.

Question:  Especially… well… when… the mention about this — what do you call? — efforts are being made by certain powers to — what do you call? — vilify Iran and so forth.  And they have condemned…

Spokesman:  No, no, I haven't seen the statement.  So, I… let me see it, and then I will comment on it.  You had another question or no?

Question:  Yes, sir.  In this regard, I have another question as to, does the Secretary‑General believe that Iran is abiding by the… this agreement, that United States has so far…

Spokesman:  Which agreement?  The JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]?

Question:  Yeah.  JCPOA.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General reports as requested to the Security Council.  Sorry.  Benny and then we'll go… yeah.

Question:  Two quick questions.  First on whether the Secretary‑General has any comment on the conference in Warsaw and, you know, that various countries that… that participated.

Spokesman:  No is the short answer.  We're not present at the conference at Warsaw.  We have… you know, we have no specific comment on…

Question:  You have commented on Sochi in the past.  Why not on this one?

Question:  Well, Sochi, I think, is directly related to the Constitutional Committees, and so that's why.  But I'm not… I have no specific comment on the conference in Warsaw.

Question:  Okay.  The second is on Venezuela.  Isn't it the policy of the UN that humanitarian aid… any humanitarian aid would be better delivered than blocked?

Spokesman:  Our… the policy of the UN is that humanitarian aid should not be politicized by any party, and we continue to operate in the humanitarian sphere under our standing policy of impartiality and depoliticization of aid.

Question:  When you say not politicized, are we talking about delivering aid or blocking aids?  Because… I mean, is there a difference between blocking aids… aid as political act or…

Spokesman:  Humanitarian aid… any humanitarian action should be independent of political, military and other objectives.

Question:  But is deliver… can delivering aid as the Government is alleging, can… can be described as political?

Spokesman:  Benny, I… as much as I enjoy our conversation, I think I've used all the words I can use.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Excuse me.  A follow-up to Masood’s question.  Yesterday took place a terror attack in Iran by a terrorist group which are supported by some who were attended in Warsaw.  What's the Secretary‑General's position about this attack?

Spokesman:  We condemn the terror attack in the Sistan‑Baluchestan province in Iran and express our condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Iran, and we wish, of course, the injured a speedy recovery.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Yemen, on this pledging conference of… which is to take place 26 February, does the UN has any targeted… how much money he wants to raise?

Spokesman:  I don't have the number of the appeal in front of me, but it's a… quite large, and it's in the billions, but I'll try to get you that number.  [He later said that the humanitarian response plan for Yemen amounts to $3 billion for 2019.]  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  Following to Venezuela, how can the UN… can improve to… improve to international humanitarian intervention in a country when humanitarian aid is being blocked and not to get into the country even if there is an interim government acting on behalf of the people's interest?

Spokesman:  I'm… what I would restate is that we stand against any politicization of aid by any party.  Humanitarian aid should be free of politics, should be handed out with impartiality and with independence.  The country team in Caracas continues to work with the Government on trying to expand the work that we're already doing on health and nutrition and other sectors.  Yes, Madame, and then we'll go to our guest.

Question:  Yeah, it's a follow‑up question on my two colleagues that asked… who asked about Yemen.  The question is, how can the UN's role be more positive and more effective regarding what's going on?  Especially… especially the food, the prevention of the food.

Spokesman:  What needs to happen is that the guns need to fall silent.  That's what will help the people of Yemen.  What needs to happen is for our humanitarian aid to be able to go wherever it needs to go to reach the people that need it the most.  What needs to happen is for the roads to be de‑mined so we can access the places we need to access.  That's what needs to happen.  Thank you, and we will go to our guest.

For information media. Not an official record.