22 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.


Thank you for your patience – I will start off with a statement on the Philippines.

The Secretary-General congratulates the Government of the Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, civil society groups and local communities on the establishment of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority today.  This follows the confirmation on the 21 January and 6 February plebiscite on the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

This is a landmark achievement on the road to lasting peace in the Southern Philippines, as well as a historic occasion for all people from the Philippines.

The United Nations will continue to support the Philippines in the implementation of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, and to help build the capacity of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority to achieve peace, democratic governance, and respect for human rights.

**United Nations Association-USA

This morning, the Secretary-General delivered the keynote address at the UN Association of the US Global Engagement Summit.  He told some of the 1,500 participants that over the years, the US has played a critical role in helping provide multilateral answers to global challenges and stressed that today “we need the engagement of the US more than ever.”

He also told the students that the UN needs them to tackle today’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, and he called on all of them to sound the alarm and highlight solutions for this issue.  In a tweet, he asked them to share their climate action ideas with him.

**Inter-Parliamentary Union

Also, yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke at the annual hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations.

He said that, as a former parliamentarian himself, he has felt the heavy responsibility of representing people and trying to advance their aspirations.

The Secretary-General said that, today, we live in a paradox, where global challenges are more connected, but our response remains fragmented.

He added that it is our duty as parliamentarians and at the UN to re-establish trust.  His remarks are online.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And this evening, our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will head out to Barcelona, in Spain, to deliver a keynote address at the World Mobile Congress and to participate in meetings with CEOs.  The Deputy Secretary-General will highlight the power of mobile technology as a tool for development and action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also while advocating for the need to bridge the digital divide, ensure gender parity and mitigate the social and environmental risks of new technologies.

On Monday, she will head to Madrid for meetings with senior Government authorities.  During that time, Spain and the UN will announce a Joint Communiqué, which reflects Spain’s strong commitment to the implementation of the 2030 development agenda, specifically the UN Development System reform and the funding compact.

On 27 February, the Deputy Secretary-General will proceed to Seville to deliver the closing remarks at the High-Level Event on Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals, which is co-hosted by Spain, Ecuador and Cape Verde, in collaboration with the Local 2030 initiative.


Turning to Nigeria, the Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, appealed today for all eligible Nigerian citizens to turn out massively to exercise their constitutional rights to vote tomorrow.  As you know, these elections were previously scheduled to take place last Saturday.

Mr. Chambas encourages all Nigerians to continue to maintain a peaceful atmosphere by remaining calm and restrained through the result of the voting process and especially after the announcement of the final results.

He is calling on all political parties and candidates to contribute to the integrity of the electoral process by addressing any complaints that may arise through established legal and constitutional channels.

**South Sudan

Turning to South Sudan, nearly 7 million people in that country could face acute food insecurity at the height of this year’s May-to-July lean season, according to a report released today by the South Sudanese Government and our colleagues at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report shows that the number of acutely food insecure people has already increased by 13 per cent since January of last year.

Food insecurity continues to be driven by the effects of conflict, insufficient food production and associated population displacement.

The agencies said there is an urgent need for more funds to scale up humanitarian assistance to save lives and protect livelihoods.


And the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, is in Brussels today, where he met Belgian officials - yesterday as well.

The Special Envoy met this morning with the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini.

Meanwhile, an estimated 2,500 people, mostly women and children, from Hajin and Baghouz in Syria’s Deir Ezzour Governorate, arrived in Al Hol camp in Al Hassakeh Governorate last night, bringing the total number of internally displaced people in the camp to over 43,000.

The conditions in the camp are extremely dire as the camp has surpassed by far its accommodation capacity.  Thousands more may arrive at the camp in the coming hours and days.


And on Yemen, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, on 19 February, three days ago, eight civilians were killed and another 10 were injured in Hudaydah when an artillery shell landed on Al Azeeb market in the Al Mateenah area.

The following day, there were unconfirmed reports indicating that one woman was killed and three children were injured when a house was hit in At Tawayah, in Hajjah Governorate.

And Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande said these attacks are unconscionable.

And as you know, next Tuesday in Geneva, the UN and the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland are convening a third High-Level Pledging Event on the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen to mobilize support for the humanitarian response, and the Secretary-General will address that meeting.


And our colleagues at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) have today released a new report in which they present mounting evidence that the biodiversity that underpins our food systems is disappearing – putting the future of food, livelihoods, health and environment under severe threat.

Information from 91 reporting countries reveals that wild food species and many species that are vital to food and agriculture are rapidly disappearing.  More information online.

**Press Conference Today

And something that I know will make you happy.  At 5:30 p.m., there will be a press conference in this very room, and it will be held by Jorge Arreaza, the Minister of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  We’ll keep you updated if there are any scheduling updates.

**Honour Roll

And today we say thank you to Namibia and Serbia, who have joined the Honour Roll, totalling?

Correspondent:  Fifty-nine.

Spokesman:  There… you see, at least one person pays attention.  That’s good.  Questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  I have a couple questions.  The representative of Venezuela will be here, but the Foreign Ministry have posted some information about the United Nations serving to help to get some aid donated by the European Union.  The Vice-President of Venezuela announced that initiative.  Can you tell us a little bit about that?  And, also, what is the reaction of the Secretary-General of the reports… or the Office of the Secretary-General of the reports of two people killed on the border between Brazil and Venezuela, after reportedly a Venezuelan Army man opened fire when they were trying to get humanitarian aid?

Spokesman:  Sure.  On the first one, we’ve seen the reports, and we’ve been in touch with our colleagues in the country office and here in OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), and we’re trying to get some clarity as to exactly what the situation is concerning that statement.  Obviously, any loss of life is regrettable.  I think… especially looking ahead for tomorrow, the Secretary-General strongly appeals for violence to be avoided.  As you know, he’s been following the situation in Venezuela with increasing concern, and we will, obviously, keep a very close eye on what happens tomorrow and, again, very much appeal to ensure that there is no violence.  Maggie?

Question:  To follow up on that, Steph, did he convey that message to [United States] Secretary [of State Michael] Pompeo during their meeting yesterday?  Because there’s a lot of concern that the US military might become involved there…?  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  This is a message the Secretary-General has been conveying privately and publicly all around.  Yep?

Question:  Following up with that topic, as we speak, Elliott Abrams is also heading to the border of Venezuela and Colombia with humanitarian aid.  Is the UN and particularly the Secretary-General concerned about the weaponization of humanitarian aid and how that can affect the work that the UN does in the future in other countries?

Spokesman:  Well, I think we have been talking about this for quite some time, and we are concerned about the politicization of humanitarian aid.  For our part, aid should be used really to… in a way that is impartial, that is free of political or military… or any military objectives.  And there are humanitarian principles that we abide by, and that’s… and I can only speak for ourselves.  Michelle?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I saw the readout yesterday from Pompeo and [Secretary-General António] Guterres, which was brief.  Did Secretary Pompeo ask the Secretary-General for anything on Venezuela?

Spokesman:  I can’t really go beyond what we said in the readout.  I think you could also ask the Secretary of State’s office what he raised, but I saw their readout, which, in fact, thank God, in fact, matched what we said about the meeting, which is always a good thing.  [laughter]  So, I really have nothing to add.  As I said, they discussed Venezuela, the events in the region, and, of course, the importance of the Stockholm Agreement and the implementation of the Hudaydah redeployments.

Question:  And did the Secretary-General convey the message that you just told us about, the politicization of aid?

Spokesman:  I think that… as I said, this is a message the Secretary-General has been conveying both publicly and privately.  Yes, Mario?

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Since the Secretary-General met with Mr. Pompeo yesterday, he’s meeting the Foreign Minister of Venezuela today, is he passing along any messages between the two parties…?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any messages that are being passed on.  Yep?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  Okay.  Following up on Venezuela, tomorrow’s the deadline where Venezuela’s oppositions are prepared for a showdown against Nicolás Maduro armed forces.  And they’re expecting hundreds of thousands of volunteers to come and help President of National Assembly to bring in the… the aid into the country to save millions of lives.  On the other side, Nicolás Maduro is closing the borders in the area with militias and with the support of the military forces.  The UN has been calling for a good office of dialogue from both parties, but we all know there is not just the two parties.  Many countries are involved in this…

Spokesman:  We’re aware of the situation.  So, I would love to hear a question.

Question:  Yes.  The question is:  on the arising of this situation in Venezuela and in the responsibility to protect and in the responsibility to prevent any worse situation in the region, is there any other position from the UN on this situation in Venezuela?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, the Secretary-General and we have been talking about our concern about the situation for quite some time.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that his good offices are available.  Obviously, as in any situation, where there are two parties with differing views, both parties have to accept the good offices.  The Secretary-General is continuing… and others are continuing contacts at various levels with various parties.  I mean, the Secretary-General met with Secretary of State Pompeo to discuss Venezuela and other issues.  He’s meeting with the Foreign Minister of Venezuela this afternoon.  He’s been in touch with other ministers in the region and in Europe.  There is, obviously, a regional aspect to this crisis, as we’ve been talking about for quite some time, with a number of Venezuelans leaving their country, which has an impact on the neighbouring countries.  So, this is something that we’re fully aware of, and the Secretary-General is doing what he can.  Masood ji?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On this situation in the occupied territories, one of the… Palestinian teenager was killed today.  Has the Secretary-General got anything to say about it?  And about the incarceration of Palestinian children, who still lie in Israeli jail, anything about that, sir?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On the issue of children, nothing to what we’ve already said to you on that issue.  And on the reported death, I had not seen that report.  We obviously regret any loss of life, but I will look into it.  Yes?

Question:  The Government of North Korea has asked humanitarian organizations for help, and I wanted to know, is the UN going to help North Korea?  And is there some actions that are taken by the United Nations to provide humanitarian aid?  And is there some document that’s being drafted to provide this aid?  And, lastly, does the UN consider easing or lifting sanctions on the country?

Spokesman:  Well, the issue of sanctions on North Korea, obviously, are in the hands… on the DPRK (Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea) are in the hands of the Security Council.  Security Council sanctions exempt… clearly exempt humanitarian activities; however, there have been a number of unintended consequences on humanitarian actions, notably on issues relating to banking, which has made our work a little bit more difficult.  As I said yesterday, we were concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation and especially the one regarding food security.  The Government has told us that there is a gap in the food production for next year, notably on the harvest of rice, wheat and potato.  We are currently consulting with the Government in the DPRK to further understand the impact of the food security situation on the most vulnerable people in the country.  Nabil?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any updates from Deir Ezzour where, you know, civilians have fled the clashes or fighting area with ISIS?  Some of them, I think, arrived to Al Hol camp…

Spokesman:  Yes, no, I mean, the update that we get is by the arrivals of civilians in Al Hol camp, which is already over capacity.  There was a transit, kind of a… we’ve pre-positioned help on the road from Al Hol from Deir Ezzour.  The journey is very arduous.  We’re very, very concerned about, not only the safety of the civilians, but also the health, and a lot of them are arriving in the camp in very, very bad shape.  And we’ve seen the deaths of a number of them.

Question:  Do you have numbers?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I will pass them on to you, but I think… right now the camp is at 46,000, which is already over capacity, but I’ll get you more numbers.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Yesterday’s parliamentary hearing remarks, SG mentioned that he will convene a summit on the climate change in September.  So, can you elaborate a little bit on that?  Because the… is there going to be… is he going to have… bring up some financing issues?

Spokesman:  The summit that is scheduled for 2019 that the Secretary-General has repeatedly talked about is about getting the political ambition up, getting the political commitments up from Governments, which, obviously, includes financing, on the issue of climate change.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesman:  Great.  Michelle, did you have another question?

Correspondent:  No.

Spokesman:  I can go home?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  That’s excellent.  You answered.  Thank you, all.  Have a good weekend.

For information media. Not an official record.