The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good morning everyone.
In Yemen, the members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) met for their fourth joint meeting on 16 and 17 February in Hudaydah city. They made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hudaydah Agreement.
After lengthy but constructive discussions facilitated by the RCC Chair, Gen. Mark Lollesgaard, the parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces.
The parties also agreed, in principle, on Phase 2 of the mutual redeployment, pending additional consultations within their respective leadership. The next meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee is expected to convene within a week with the aim to finalize an agreement on Phase 2.
Our humanitarian colleagues 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. Although fighting is reportedly less intense, there are continued reports of civilians being killed and injured.
On Friday, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy with six trucks loaded with UN and Red Cross/Red Crescent supplies reached Hajin town and distributed aid to 5,000 people. Yesterday, the UN and partners completed a food distribution to 15 towns and informal settlements in the eastern part of Deir Ezzour Governorate.
The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict to take all measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Law. And we continue to advocate that immediate assistance is provided to people fleeing Hajin, including critical medical assistance and the deployment of ambulances along the route, as well as to provide food, water and protection from the harsh weather.
The Heads of the international election observation missions and the United Nations present in Nigeria, put out a joint statement over the weekend following the postponement of the elections in the country.
In it, they call on all Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) works to implement its new timeline.
They also urge the Independent National Electoral Commission to use this time to finalize all preparations and ensure that the new election dates are strictly adhered to.
You will have seen that over the weekend, we announced that the Secretary-General, following consultations with the Chairpersons of the regional groups of Member States, had informed the General Assembly of his intention to appoint Inger Andersen of Denmark as the new Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Ms. Andersen is currently serving as Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a post she has held since 2015. She previously held various leadership positions at the World Bank and United Nations, most recently as Vice President of the Middle East and North Africa Region at the World Bank and Vice President for Sustainable Development and Head of the Consultative Group of the International Agricultural Research Fund Council.
**FAO on Locusts
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that heavy rains and cyclones have triggered a recent surge in Desert Locust populations, causing an outbreak in Sudan and Eritrea that is rapidly spreading along both sides of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Desert Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers that can form large swarms and pose a major threat to agricultural production, livelihoods, food security and the environment and economic development.
Aerial spraying operations were mounted in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Egypt, treating more than 80,000 hectares since December 2018. In a press release issued today, FAO called on all the affected countries to step up vigilance and control measures to contain the destructive infestations and protect crops from the world’s most dangerous migratory pest.
More information is available on FAO’s website.
For budget, we start the week on a happy note, with five Member States having paid their dues in full. Our sincere thanks go to Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Malta, Saint Lucia and Viet Nam. The Honour Roll now totals 53.
**Press Encounter Today
After I am done you will hear from Monica Villela Grayley.
And then this afternoon at 3:45 p.m., Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, will brief reporters at the East Foyer Stakeout, following his presentation of credentials.
**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow
Tomorrow the guest will be, UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. He will be here to speak to you about the funding needs for education in emergencies.
That is it for me.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, on Yemen, now that Phase 1 of the redeployment has been agreed, how quickly do you think it will happen?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, there’s always the need to have real impetus towards implementation on the ground. And we hope that now that we have the first phase agreed, it will be carried out immediately, and we’re expecting that to happen on the ground as the parties have agreed. Regarding the continuing process, we hope to convene another meeting as soon as we can on the… to move ahead on the second phase, and we’re hoping that that can be announced or held in the coming days or weeks.
Question: A follow-up on Carole’s. What kind of details can you give us on what exactly is going to happen in Phase 1 and what’s going to happen in Phase 2?
Deputy Spokesman: I can give you a little bit more detail about Phase 1 than Phase 2 given that Phase 2 is still being discussed among the parties. So, we’ll have to leave those details in their hands.
On Phase 1, the agreement that was reached in Stockholm detailed the fact that they needed to move out from the key ports, which is to say Hudaydah, Saleef, and Ras Isa, and also from critical infrastructure, such as the Red Sea Mills. So, that is where we expect to see the redeployments happening in the current phase that is to be implemented on the ground. And then, like I said, for the second phase, for a greater amount of withdrawals where we have reached some tentative agreements, but the sides are going back to their leadership.
Question: Farhan, at which stage is now the office… offered office of good services and moderation within Venezuela’s parties of the Secretary-General? And what about the f… aid delivery? Can you refresh our memory actually how it goes? It’s - aid delivery is delivered to everybody, would be, will be or so?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as we’ve pointed out several times in recent weeks, we believe that all aid deliveries must be based on needs. This is our point of principle in all countries, not just Venezuela. And we have been coordinating with the authorities on the ground to make sure that the humanitarian needs that we have seen can be met.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, the idea is: it’s based on needs. So, our preference, in other words, is to make sure that all of those who are in the worst situations, those who have the greatest needs, are dealt with. Now, regarding your other question, we’ve made clear that the Secretary-General’s good offices remain available to both parties if they agree to it.
Question: A very damning report by the international aid agency MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] on the UN’s response to violence in October. What is your reaction given that the peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic’s primary job is protecting civilians and this report lays out in some detail how they failed to do that? In fact, a quote here: “roving passive spectators”. That’s not what the UN’s supposed to be doing.
Deputy Spokesman: We’ve detailed what the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, has been doing, and it’s very clear that - as you can see from our reports – that they have taken action as… as the situation arises. The question is, are we doing enough? And we ourselves through our peacekeeping mission on the ground, are trying to re-evaluate constantly how effectively the contingents carry out their duties, and if there’s any particular deficiencies that are spotted, we try to improve that. But it’s certainly our belief that this mission has performed a very valuable task of protecting civilians wherever they can in the Central African Republic, and they’ve tried to respond as quickly as they can to the needs.
Question: What about these specific allegations on the specific case on the 31st of October? What is the UN going to do with this information that has come from MSF? And if it finds that MSF’s allegations that the UN failed dismally to protect civilians and that’s one of the main roles of the missions, what action will the UN take against those in the mission, particularly those who were responsible, the contingents that were involved?
Deputy Spokesman: We appreciate receiving this new information from Médecins Sans Frontières. Any sort of information that can help us do our work better is to be lauded actually, and we will be studying these findings to see whether there’s any truth to it, what can be improved. If we spot deficiencies with any particular contingent, we’ll try to respond accordingly. But, right now, we’re at the stage simply of studying what these new findings are.
Question: Farhan, you probably saw on the weekend that Heather Nauert, who was tipped as the next US Ambassador to the UN, withdrew her candidacy. And I’m wondering if the Secretary-General is concerned now that the US is going back to square one that that position has been… that there’s a void in terms of that position and how that might affect the UN.
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t really think that there’s a void. As you know, Ambassador Cohen continues to do the work in an acting capacity on the ground. And, as you’re well aware, in a, in an organization that has 193 Member States, there are many times when different positions, such as the positions of Permanent Representative, need to be vacant. You’re aware, for example, that, in the Russian Federation, there was a gap caused by the sudden death and the tragic death of Vitaly Churkin just recently. So, circumstances arise, and sometimes you need to rely on people working in an acting capacity, and that is fine and standard for this Organization.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: When it comes to the positions of the permanent representatives that needs to be vacant, probably you are aware of the letter that Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent before the weekend to the Secretary-General advising him that he had to return because of political turmoil in Bosnia. Does the Secretary-General has any comment, additional comment, to that letter?
Deputy Spokesman: No. As with what your colleague asked, obviously, if there is any need for a change in representation at the UN, we will, we will wait for that change to take place, but we work with whoever is dispatched by the government to the permanent missions.
And with that, have a good afternoon.
Monica, come on up.