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

21 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.

Good afternoon.


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the opening of the organizational meeting of the 2019 session of the Special Committee on Decolonization.  He noted that decolonization helped to transform the UN membership, propelling its growth from 51 original members to 193 today.  The Secretary-General said that the story is still being written, as 17 Non‑Self‑Governing Territories remain, with each deserving attention.  To achieve decolonization, he said, the voices of the people should be heard.  The cooperation of all concerned, including the administering Powers, is likewise vital.  His speech has been shared with you.


I wanted to flag that the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation will hold its third meeting tomorrow at UN Headquarters with the Secretary-General.  As you will recall, the Secretary-General established the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation in September 2017 as part of his vision for a “surge in diplomacy for peace”.  The Board is composed of nine women and nine men, current and former global leaders, senior officials and renowned experts who bring together an unparalleled range of experience, skills, knowledge and contacts.  Two new members joined the Board in January of this year:  Sima Samar of Afghanistan and Juan Gabriel Valdés of Chile.  The first meeting of the Board took place in November 2017, while the second was held in Helsinki last June.


The Secretary-General met yesterday with Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine.  The Secretary-General and the President discussed the latest developments concerning the conflict in eastern Ukraine and in the areas of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.  They also exchanged views on humanitarian and human rights related issues.  The Secretary-General reiterated the UN’s strong support for the ongoing efforts of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and other key actors to find a peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.  The Secretary-General and the President exchanged views on various areas of cooperation between Ukraine and the United Nations.  The Secretary-General underlined the UN’s commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

**Central African Republic

Just wanted to stay here in New York:  On the Central African Republic, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga gave his last briefing to the Security Council as Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and that took place earlier today.  He told Council members that the Global Peace Agreement between the Government and the armed groups signed on 6 February could be a decisive turning point in the history of the country, although dangers remain.  He added that the Peace Agreement was the result of a long process, carried out by the African Initiative for peace and reconciliation in the Central African Republic with the support of the United Nations.  Mr. Onanga-Anyanga stressed that the real test would be the implementation of the Agreement.  He called for all parties to honour commitments made and to not betray the trust of the Central African [people].  He also noted that the unified political support of the Security Council, the countries of the region and the international community would remain critical to the successful implementation of the Peace Agreement.

Mr. Onanga-Anyanga and the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, will speak to you at the stakeout after the end of consultations.  And tomorrow, Mr. Smail Chergui will join the Under‑Secretary‑General for the Department of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix — they will co-chair a closed principal-level meeting on the Central African Republic here at UN Headquarters.  The meeting is to engage the international and regional community to ensure sustained support for the timely and sustainable implementation of the peace agreement.  After the meeting, I expect to have Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Chergui in the briefing room to speak to you.


And today, the Government of Cameroon, the UN and humanitarian partners released the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan requesting $299 million to assist 2.3 million people in need in the country.  Humanitarian needs in Cameroon have risen by a third this year alone owing to an upsurge in insecurity and violence, leaving 1 in 6 people — mostly women and children — requiring assistance.  This year, around 4.3 million people need urgent assistance.  More information online.


Turning to the Middle East, as fighting in the areas of Hajin in Syria’s Deir-ez-Zor Governorate appears to reach its final stages, thousands of women, children and men are expected to be evacuated and move towards Al-Hol camp in Al Hasakeh Governorate in the coming days.  Those who are moving north have been trapped in Da’esh-held areas with limited or no access to health [services], basic goods and humanitarian assistance.  Many are arriving in critical condition, with at least 61 children having died during the journey out of Hajin [or] shortly after arriving in Al Hol camp.  The United Nations and partners are continuing to scale up their efforts to accommodate and provide assistance to the people arriving at Al-Hol camp.  Its population is already at maximum capacity, with some 41,000 people living there, including [over] 30,000 who have arrived since December 2018.  A transit point has also been set up between Hajin and Al-Hol to provide assistance for the arduous journey to the camp.  The United Nations continues to call on all parties to take every possible measure to protect civilians and ensure the displaced have access to assistance and protection services, including emergency health care as they leave Hajin.


And a measles and rubella vaccination campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has now reached nearly 12 million children in Yemen.  The campaign, which wrapped up today, reached 90 per cent of children targeted.  Despite challenging conditions, WHO teams and health workers were able to reach high-risk areas, marginalized communities and camps for internally displaced people.

**United Nations Association

And I want to flag that tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, the Secretary-General will open the United Nations Association of the United States Global Engagement Summit.  He will deliver the keynote address to some 1,500 United States high school and college students and share a “call to action” for them to take local actions to tackle climate change.  The event will open to you and also streamed online.

**Mother Language Day

And today is the mother of all days.  What today is today?  Exactly — International Mother Language Day.  This year, the Ombudsman's office is inviting people to send them their favourite proverb in their mother tongue about peace, well-being and other topics.  A compilation of the proverbs will be published on their website and social media.  You can find more online.

**Honour Roll

And today, we say thank you to Turkey for having joined the Honour Roll, which is now up to?  You're all pathetic.  Fifty-seven.  All right.  Go ahead.  I'm ready.  Yes, sir. 

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  [Off mic].

Spokesman:  Ah.  Excellent.

Correspondent:  Stéphane…

Spokesman:  Is that your mother tongue?  Or is Scottish your mother tongue?

Question:  I think we know the answer to that.  Stéphane, what is the reason for the US Secretary of State's previously unannounced visit to the Secretary‑General today?

Spokesman:  Well, it's announced because it was just confirmed this afternoon.  The Secretary of State has requested to see the Secretary‑General, and of course, the Secretary‑General is more than happy to see him, and we hope to get a readout afterwards.  Madame?

Question:  Yes.  I have two questions.  The first one is, we received a notification by the lawyer of Juan Guaidó.  He sent a complaint to the Special Rapporteur for the justice of the United Nations of… and… complaining about the treatment of Juan Guaidó and members of the assembly are receiving in terms of investigations opened by the tribunal in Venezuela.  And then the second question is, we received some letters that were sent by the Mission to Venezuela to different members, and one of them included a letter that will be… according to what was said, it was going to be sent to the Secretary‑General, complaining or making him aware of their concern of possible military action to Venezuela by one of the Member States.  Have… the Secretary‑General…?

Spokesman:  We checked a few minutes ago.  We had not received the last… the letter from the Mission of Venezuela.  Sometimes things take a while to get through the pipeline, but, obviously, once it's received, it will be looked at.  On your first question, that's a question really to address to the Special Rapporteurs.  People are free to, obviously, reach out to Special Rapporteurs.  That's what they're there for.

Question:  It there any concern by the Secretary‑General of the lack of independency between powers in Venezuela, like the Justice Department and then the Government?

Spokesman:  You know, I think the Secretary‑General broadly has raised his concerns about the situation in Venezuela, and again, I think encouraged and called for a solution that will come out of serious political negotiations.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Mr.  Stéphane.  Hathi [inaudible] from NA.TV.  Regarding the decolonization issue, I looked up the list of the 17 Territories recognized by the UN as Non‑Self-Governing Territories.  I didn't see the Palestinian territories of Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem on that list.  So, I'm just curious now, aren't the Palestinian territories considered colonization territories by the UN?

Spokesman:  If it's… the Member States… it is not the Secretary‑General's role to put countries on that list.  That's an issue for the Committee itself and for Member States.  On the issue of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, I think Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov spoke at length about it yesterday.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, back to the meeting with Secretary [Michael] Pompeo.  Can you tell us what might be discussed at this meeting?

Spokesman:  I think there are all sorts of topics du jour that will come up, that would be not… I would not be surprised if they do come up, but, again, the meeting was requested by the US side.  So, we'll wait and see what the readout is.  Seana?  Then we'll go…

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  There's a report out there circulating that Ambassador Kim Sung has admitted his country lacks food to feed his people…?

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  Can you speak a bit louder?

Question:  Sorry.  There's a report that Ambassador Kim Sung, the North Korean ambassador, has admitted that his country lacks food to feed people.  Is this any… is there any communication of that message to the UN?  And what is your response to that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, the… our country team in Pyongyang has been and continues to be in touch with the Government.  I think we've expressed and will continue to express our concern about the deteriorating food security situation in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  The Government has requested assistance from the international humanitarian organizations present in the country to address the impact of food security situation.  The 2018 figures of food production that were shared by the Government with the UN and our country team shows there is a food gap of about 1.4 million tons expected for 2019, and that's crops including rice, wheat, potato and soybeans.  So, we're continuing to consult with the Government to further understand the impact of food security on the most vulnerable people, in order to take early action to address the humanitarian needs.

Question:  Did you receive anything specifically…?

Spokesman:  I don't know if there was a specific letter, but I know this is discussions that have been… that are going on between the UN and the DPRK at various levels.  Mr. Avni?

Question:  Hope this is not politicized in any way.  On the meeting between the Secretary of State and Secretary‑General… wow, very secretariat… so, it's not a secret that the US has recognized the Government of Guaidó while the Secretary‑General wants negotiations between the Government of Guaidó and… and as of yet, there's no accreditation change as far as the UN is concerned.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  That's correct.  I'm not aware… I mean, I've been checking with our colleagues on the Credentials Committee, but there is no… I'm not aware of any meeting of the Credentials Committee.

Question:  And there's no communication from the US when they ask for the meeting that this might come up as a topic, or is there?

Spokesman:  I think… I don't want to prejudge a meeting.  We're looking forward to the discussion with the Secretary of State.  Obviously, there are a whole host of issues of which the Secretary‑General and the Secretary of State can and, I'm sure, will discuss.

Question:  And, on the accreditation issue, technically, can the… is it up to the Security Council or the General Assembly or the Secretary‑General to determine…?

Spokesman:  The issue of credentials is one that is determined by Member States through the Credentials Committee, but, for further details, I would advise you to talk to my colleagues in the President of the General Assembly's office.

Question:  And the Credentials Committee is governed by…?

Spokesman:  It is chaired by Palau.  It's…

Correspondent:  But, it's governed by the… it's a body of the UN.

Spokesman:  It's a General… it's a Committee of the General Assembly, as far as I understand it.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  What's the latest developments regarding the… implementing the agreement in Hodeidah?  And if there is no developments, what's… what's the situation?

Spokesman:  No developments doesn't mean bad… I mean, the fact that we've got nothing to announce doesn't mean we're going… doesn't mean bad news.  We're waiting for the full implementation.  The parties are committed to it.  And as soon as we have something to announce, we will.  This is a long and arduous…  It's been a long and arduous road since Stockholm, and I think we just… patience.

Question:  Why… why, then, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths rushed into setting some timing…?

Spokesman:  I had a different read of Mr. Griffiths' speech.  I don't think he rushed into anything.  I don't think we've been rushing into anything.  We've been pushing the parties.  I don't think we've been rushing into anything.  Again, when we have something to announce, we will.

Question:  Who… is there anybody who is trying to put obstacles in…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into that level of granularity here.  We're… we… the parties have told us they're committed to the implementation, and we look forward to that implementation.

Question:  On other issue, when is Mr. [Geir] Pedersen coming to New York?  I know he's due to…

Spokesman:  I'll check… I don't know.  We should just check the Security Council schedule.  I'll check.  James?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  So, the question is about this woman, an ISIS bride, Hoda Muthana, who wants to come back to the United States.  Mr. Pompeo and Mr. [Donald] Trump, they say that she's not a US citizen.  Apparently, they might be right; they might be wrong.  But, what it hinges on is whether her father was actually a serving Yemeni diplomat here in this building at the time of her birth.  If he was a diplomat, then she would not get birth-right citizenship.  But, if his term had come to an end, as I think the claim is, then she might be entitled to US citizenship.  Do you guys keep a record back then from the 1990s about who was and who wasn't a certain diplomat of the Mission?  And have you had any communications with the US officials about this issue?

Spokesman:  No, I don't think we… I'll venture to say I don't think we have, and it's really… you know, the visas to enter and the visas to give… that give people diplomatic status are diff… I mean, I'll speak… I'm not speaking about this case, but, in principle, you know, you have people working for permanent missions that have different status.  But, those statuses are really granted by visas… through visas by the United States.  So, that's a question that… you know, the granting of diplomatic visas, diplomatic status, is one that is granted by the host country of any UN entity.  So, that is really a question for the United States.  Carole, did you already ask a question?  You have the mic, so go ahead, and then Masood.  Sorry.  I'm getting old.  Carole… oh.  Go ahead.

Correspondent:  Carole wants to go, she can go ahead.

Spokesman:  You guys are matching today.  Let Carole go first, Masood.

Correspondent:  Yeah, there was a memo.

Spokesman:  There was a memo which I didn't get.

Question:  It's about India and Pakistan.  India and Pakistan.  I mean, the Secretary‑General has been calling for dialogue between them and to defuse the tensions and all that.  He is even… in latest statement that I saw, he called for accountability.  What does… what exactly does he mean by accountability?  And will the accountability be on both sides or only for one…?

Spokesman:  I think what he was talking about is the accountability… if I reread the statement, the accountability referring to the attack… the suicide terrorist attack that took place in Kashmir.

Question:  So, basically, has… has India accepted his offer of good offices?

Spokesman:  I think, if we had anything to report on that, we would, and I think you read the newspapers as much as I do.  Carole?

Question:  Just to get back to Venezuela, Juan Guaidó has announced today he's headed to the border with Colombia and hoping to bring foreign aid into the country.  Is the Secretary‑General involved in… in talks at this point trying to defuse what… what could turn into a nasty situation there?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is in touch and the Secretary‑General and various UN officials have been in touch with various parties involved in this.  Mario?

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  The message for the Secretary‑General is that his good offices always remain available and for the depoliticization of humanitarian aid.  Mario?

Question:  Just to follow up, is there a concern on what can happen on 23 February, now that the date is approaching?  I think the Venezuelan Government just announced they're closing the border with Brazil and might do the same with Colombia.  And will the SG discuss this with Secretary Pompeo today?

Spokesman:  I think we… again, I don't want to prejudge what will be discussed, but I think the situation in Venezuela may very well come up in the discussions.  I think that would be a safe bet.  The… you know, the concern is always when you have a situation where tensions are rising is that… for people to get hurt.  So, we're, obviously, looking at… in the days ahead.  We may have a bit more to say on this closer to the date.  But, the Secretary‑General continues to feel that the only way out of this current crisis is through negotiated… political negotiate… serious political negotiations.  Yes, sir?

Question:  As a matter of contemplating for the terrorist attack, does it apply also to the masterminds of the attack who are not based in India and also the organization that's claimed responsibility for it?

Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General would like to see is accountability.  Thank you, all.  See you tomorrow.  Why not?  Right?

For information media. Not an official record.