15 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 and Happy Friday, everyone.  As you know, Nigeria will hold presidential and parliamentary elections tomorrow.

And on the eve of these elections, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is encouraging all Nigerians to continue to maintain calm and to exercise patience and restraint throughout the voting process and the announcement of the final results.

He also calls on Nigerians to firmly reject all undemocratic and negative voices that may seek to disrupt the elections and promote conflict between Nigerians.  He encourages Nigerians to come out in their numbers and cast their vote peacefully in exercise of their civic responsibility.

Mr. Chambas hopes that the successful conduct of peaceful, free, fair, transparent, inclusive and credible elections will set another example for the elections coming up in West Africa and Africa, and underscore Nigeria’s leadership in the region.

**South Sudan

A joint report released today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) warns that although attacks against civilians have decreased significantly since the peace agreement was signed in September 2018, endemic conflict-related sexual violence continues in the northern Unity region.

According to the report, at least 134 women and girls were raped in northern Unity between September and December 2018, while another 41 suffered other forms of sexual and physical violence.  It adds that the ruthlessness of the attackers appears to be a consistent feature of the documented sexual violence.

In a press release, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urges the Government of South Sudan to take adequate measures — including those laid out in the peace agreement — to protect women and girls, to promptly and thoroughly investigate all allegations of sexual violence and to hold the perpetrators accountable through fair trials.  The press release and the full report are available on the Human Rights Office website.

**Palestinian People

The Secretary-General spoke at the meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and he said that Israelis and Palestinians continue to suffer from deadly cycles of violence.  He said that the leaders have a responsibility to their populations, not least the youth, to reverse this negative trajectory and pave the way towards peace, stability and reconciliation.

The Secretary-General affirmed the need to keep the focus on a just and peaceful solution with two States coexisting in peace and security.  This is the only way, he said, to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and there is no plan B.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told reporters in Geneva today that during his recent travels, he has addressed all issues related to governance, to the constitutional process, and the need for UN-supervised elections.  He also had in-depth discussions on the refugees’ issue, on the situation for internally displaced people, on the humanitarian challenges and on reconstruction.

Mr. Pedersen emphasised that only a negotiated solution is possible.  He said that he intends to be an impartial, careful and focused mediator, dealing directly with all the parties, and then seeing how we can sort out the issues that so far have made progress so hard to achieve.  We have a note to correspondents with the transcript of his press remarks.

Yesterday, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) completed the delivery of humanitarian assistance to more than 40,000 displaced people at the remote Rukban makeshift settlement in south-eastern Syria, on the border with Jordan.  This is only the second time that the UN has been able to reach the remote site from within Syria, where the cold winter months have exacerbated an already dire situation.

The teams distributed a one-month food ration to more than 8,300 families, along with shelter materials and core relief items, including blankets, sleeping mats and water containers.  Some 10,000 dignity kits were distributed to women and girls, while critical nutritional supplies were provided to young children.


On 26 February, in Geneva, the UN will convene a high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, co-hosted by the Governments of Switzerland and Sweden.

All UN Member States are invited, as well as leaders of relevant regional organizations, development finance institutions, UN agencies, funds and programmes, and representatives from humanitarian non-governmental organizations.

An estimated 80 per cent of the population — 24 million people — require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 14.3 million people who are in acute need.  Humanitarian programmes last year scaled up to reach 8 million people with direct assistance per month, up from 3.5 million in 2017, making Yemen the largest humanitarian operation in the world.

**Rohingya Appeal

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN Migration Agency (IOM) and their partners today launched the 2019 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.  The appeal seeks to raise $920 million to meet the needs of more than 900,000 refugees from Myanmar and over 330,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis in host communities.

Critical services such as food, water, sanitation and shelter represent more than half of the funding needs this year.  Other key sectors of the appeal include health, site management, protection activities, education and nutrition. 

More than 745,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to Bangladesh since August 2017, escaping violence in Myanmar and joining roughly 200,000 others already displaced in the Cox’s Bazar area by previous cycles of violence.  More information on the appeal is available online.


The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concerned about the arrest on libel charges of Maria Ressa, CEO of the independent news outlet Rappler, in the Philippines.  While Ms. Ressa was released on bail yesterday, the charges are still pending.

The Human Rights Office is calling for an independent and thorough review of all charges against Ms. Ressa and other media professionals in the Philippines.  It urges the country’s judiciary to safeguard their own independence by throwing out cases that are clearly politically motivated or are not in line with international human rights standards, including freedom of opinion and expression.  More information is available on the Human Rights Office website.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And I have a personnel announcement.  Today the Secretary-General is appointing Major General Mehari Zewde Gebremariam of Ethiopia as Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).

He succeeds Major General Gebre Adhana Woldezgu of Ethiopia who will complete his assignment on 23 April 2019.  The Secretary-General is grateful for his tireless dedication, invaluable service and effective leadership of UNISFA.

Major General Gebremariam has a distinguished military career with the Ethiopian Armed Forces spanning more than 37 years, most recently as Head of Human Resources Main Department of the Ethiopian National Defence Force, responsible for all aspects of management of human resources for the land army and general defence forces.  You will find more in his bio note.

**Honour Roll

And I am happy to announce that Morocco has paid its regular budget dues in full.  This takes the Honour Roll total to 48. 

**Questions and Answers

And that is it for me.  Yes?

Question:  Good afternoon.  I was just wondering… I'm sorry if it has been said already, but which countries are the UN monitors to Yemen from, or which countries have offered these monitors?

Deputy Spokesman:  There are individuals from a number of countries.  Since we regard them as international civil servants, we're not providing the specific nationalities.  But as you know, in recent weeks, we had had about 20 monitors already in the country, and we're getting more of them in as the visa conditions allow.  Anything else?  Yes.  Yes, please. 

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I know the UN is watching what's happening in Haiti, and I'm wondering if you could give us an update of what's happening on the ground, the protests.  We know that there are people trapped in hotels and unable to make it to the airports.  So, I'm wondering if you can give us an update on what's happening on the ground and what the UN is doing to help the situation.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, yes, we have been closely monitoring the situation on the ground in Haiti.  Throughout the recent events, the Haitian National Police has demonstrated professionalism, leadership and strong public order capacities.  We're in close contact with the Haitian leadership on the level of UN support provided to the Haitian National Police through our Formed Police Units, and we will continue to do so as the situation evolves.  We're encouraging all national stakeholders to work to de‑escalate the situation through dialogue and to identify realistic solutions to restore public order, within the framework of the Constitution of Haiti.  And you'll have seen the press release that was issued yesterday that quoted from our senior official, Helen La Lime, there on the ground.

Question:  Can I ask you, can you explain what is the… I know now that it's MINUJUSTH (United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti), can you just tell us how many personnel the UN has on the ground?  Do you have an idea?  And what do you mean when you say you're helping the National Police — in what way, in what capacity?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we've scaled down in size; so, our presence there, rather than a military presence, includes Formed Police Units who act essentially as advisers for the Haitian National Police.  And we are continuing to coordinate with them to see how to deal with the security situation on the ground in a responsible manner, and we're trying to do that, and we hope that the situation can be de‑escalated.  [He later added that MINUJUSTH has 1,312 total personnel on the ground, including 979 police.]

Question:  Can I get one more very quickly?  Sorry.

Deputy Spokesman:  Sure.

Question:  We're also hearing that food, fuel, there are shortages across the country because of these protests.  I'm wondering if aid is another way that the UN is thinking that you might intervene in the coming days, weeks.

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing at this point to say about any new humanitarian needs in the country.  We'll evaluate the situation, but our hope and our expectation is that calm can be restored and then we can see where we'll go from there.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Can you tell us when Mr. Pedersen will be in New York to brief the Security Council?  And on this pledging conference on Yemen, how much is the UN aiming to get from this conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the overall needs in terms of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen is about $3 billion.  Some of that has already been achieved and acquired.  But we'll try to get more.  So, we are… so, the amount we're looking for is in the billions because, as I said, this is our largest humanitarian operation and, certainly, dealing with the largest number of people in absolute need.

Correspondent:  And Pedersen?

Deputy Spokesman:  And regarding Mr. Pedersen, I don't have any current plans for him to visit New York to announce just yet.  We'll see when the next Security Council meeting on Syria.  There will be one at the end of the month, and we'll see whether he'll be coming around for that.

And with that, have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.