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

26 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.

All right, good afternoon.

**Yemen

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York after chairing the pledging conference in Geneva on Yemen, the humanitarian appeal for Yemen.  He told reporters there that today’s pledging conference can be considered a success, with a 30 per cent increase in donations from last year to help address the dramatic humanitarian situation in Yemen.  This year, $2.6 billion has been pledged, with large contributions coming in today from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Opening the pledging conference, Mr. [Antonio] Guterres said that Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  As the conflict continues, he said, 24 million people — 80 per cent of the population — need humanitarian aid and protection.  While there is still a long way to go, he added that there are some signs of hope.  The Secretary-General said the Stockholm Agreement has led to a ceasefire in Hodeidah that continues basically to hold, and he also told the plenary today that he had received confirmation that the UN has gained access to the Red Sea Mills.  We’ll have a bit more details on that.  The Secretary-General emphasized to reporters that there is no humanitarian solution for humanitarian problems.  He said it is very important to address the dramatic needs of Yemeni people in this terrible situation, but more important to end the conflict.  His remarks have been made available to you.

Turning to the Red Sea Mills, a team from the World Food Programme (WFP) visited the Red Sea Mills.  This visit was the first by WFP to these vital wheat stores since September 2018.  WFP has been appealing for access to the mills for the past months since they had been cut off by fighting in the area.  The World Food Programme is hopeful that Tuesday’s brief visit will pave the way for more sustained access, allowing it to carry out a full assessment of the conditions of the wheat and the milling facilities themselves.  The Red Sea Mills currently hold a total of 51,000 metric tons of WFP wheat, which is enough to feed 3.7 million people for at least a month.  At this stage, WFP is unable to confirm how much of the wheat stored at the mills is still fit for human consumption.  Properly stored wheat can last in silos for over a year, but these stocks have a two-year expiration date until 2020.  WFP had been using other in-country wheat stocks, as well as importing more wheat, both by sea and overland from Oman, to cover food needs for nearly 10 million people in Yemen.

**Spain

And in Madrid today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, met with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and they agreed on a joint communiqué, which says, in part, that Spain and the UN commit to work towards a more nimble, effective, flexible and efficient United Nations to better serve the people and the planet.  The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona yesterday and said that we are in the midst of technological change unprecedented in pace and scope and we cannot predict where it will lead.  We do know, she said, that we need to start working much better together if we are to steer change for the good of all.  That statement is online.

**Security Council

And I also want to flag that today, as you know, at 3 p.m.  the Security Council will meet on the situation on Venezuela.  For our part, the Under‑Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, will be there to brief Council Members.  And this morning the Council passed a resolution on the 2140 Yemen sanctions Committee.  It was also briefed on the recent mission to Western Africa and held a meeting on Syria.  And during that meeting on Syria, Reena Ghelani, Director for Operations and Advocacy for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that across north‑western Syria, an estimated 2.7 million men, women and children remain in need of humanitarian assistance.  Some 40 per cent of children are out of school, while 2 million residents rely on water trucking for most, if not all, of their clean water.  Each month, she said, some 1.7 million Syrians are reached with critical assistance through cross-border operations out of Turkey.  Ensuring sustained humanitarian access is therefore critical.  She added that the UN welcomes all efforts to ease the suffering of people stranded at Rukban and to identify durable solutions.  These efforts, however, she said, need to ensure that any return or relocation is voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed, and abides by the core protection standards in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

**Cyprus

Turning to Cyprus, our colleagues at the good offices mission in Cyprus report that, earlier today, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, and the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, met in the buffer zone under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.  The two leaders decided to implement the confidence-building measure regarding mobile phone interoperability in order to facilitate greater interaction between the two communities.  In addition, the leaders announced that the interconnectivity of the island’s two electricity grids, as agreed in 2015, has now been achieved.  Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akıncı also agreed on the clearance of nine suspected hazardous areas on both sides of the island, with a view to working towards a mine-free Cyprus, as well as a number of other confidence-building measures.

**Ebola

And our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) said there is an urgent need for $148 million to continue the response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or risk backsliding.  WHO says, so far, under $10 million of the required funds has been pledged.  In a press release issued today, the Director-General of WHO described the situation as unprecedented, noting that there has never been an Ebola outbreak in these conditions, with such a highly mobile population and [with] many gaps in the health system.  With that information, Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus] also condemned the burning of an Ebola treatment facility run by Doctors Without Borders in Katwa in North Kivu Province that took place on Sunday, and also the murder of a chief nurse in Vuhovi, also in North Kivu, last week.  He stressed that health workers and their facilities must not be targeted.  More information on WHO’s website.

**Road Safety

Also today, I want to flag that the UN Road Safety Strategy will be officially launched at UN Headquarters and at the World Health Organization in Geneva on Thursday.  Entitled “A Partnership for Safer Journeys”, the UN Road Safety Strategy is based on a safe-system approach that manages the interactions between speed, vehicles, road infrastructure and road-user behaviour to prevent crashes resulting in deaths and serious human injuries.  The Secretary-General said that “this strategy guides United Nations organizations in developing a new approach towards safer journeys”.  A press release will be available.

**Honour Roll

Also, a few more countries to add to our list.  Today we thank the Bahamas, Monaco and Qatar for their payment to the regular budget.  That Honour Roll stands at 65.

**Papa Menon

And I just wanted to flag some sad news about one of your former colleagues.  Bhaskar Menon, the reporter many of you knew as “Papa Menon”, died in December of last year in Yuma, Arizona.  We were just told.  As you know, he served for decades as a reporter, including as a correspondent for The Times of India at the UN and as the founder of the newsletter and later a blog called the Undiplomatic Times, which was always a great read.  We send our condolences to his family.  On that note, why don’t I take some questions, should you have any?  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, in his speech to the Correspondents Association in Geneva, the Secretary‑General said he relies on the work of journalists to do his daily work.  Could you specify how?

Spokesman:  To do his… I'm sorry.  I didn't hear your question.  To do…?

Question:  He relies on the work of correspondents to do his work on daily basis.  Could you specify how?

Spokesman:  I think it's clear that the media has a great role to play in helping us carry the messages that the United Nations puts out every day and more globally our ideals.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, do you have any reaction to Indian Air Force claim that they just… they killed 350 so‑called terrorists in Balakot?  And it was in response to the 34… 35 or 45 killed… Indians were killed last week.  Can you… do you have any… does the Secretary‑General has any comment on this?  Is now taking this…?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, first of all, we don't have any information on possible casualties.  We've seen different press reports.  I mean, I spoke to the Secretary‑General not long ago, before he boarded his plane.  He's obviously following this situation very closely and reiterates his urgent appeal to both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint to ensure that the situation does not further deteriorate.

Correspondent:  This is absolutely outrageous, 350… claim of 350.  I mean, now they're saying there were terrorists, and they were sitting ducks because they were escaping.  I… I can send it to you.

Spokesman:  I'm hearing what you're saying.  I think I've answered the question to the best of my ability.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  US‑DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] summit meeting in Hanoi is coming soon.  So, what result Secretary… Secretary‑General ex… expect most from that meeting?  And has UN prepared for that case which the Donald Trump declares the end of Korean war?

Spokesman:  A few things.  First of all, I don't want to predict or project what the outcomes of this summit will be.  So, obviously, once it happens, we will… depending on what is said, we will react.  Obviously, we very much welcome this dialogue between the leaders of the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.  If you'll recall, in January, the Secretary‑General, I think in this very room, said it was high time to make sure that negotiations between the US and the DPRK start again seriously and that a road map is clearly defined for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.  So, like all of you and like many others, we await the outcomes of the summit, but we very much welcome this dialogue.

Question:  Stéphane, on Syria, at today's Security Council briefing, while it was pointed out that the Rukban convoy had successfully reached many IDPs [internally displaced persons], it was also pointed out that the aid would only last for 30 days and the US representative stressed the need for another convoy.  Are there active plans for another convoy?

Spokesman:  We are always looking to deliver aid to those who need it.  The last convoy took a lot of time and planning and especially discussions with various parties to ensure the safety of our humanitarian colleagues, to ensure the safety of the goods.  So, whenever the conditions are right to reach the people in Rukban, we will return there, but I have nothing more concrete to add at this point.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, again, on the same subject, on Syria, is it possible in the future or at any time that the briefers say why they can't get to Rukban or anywhere else?  Is it Da’esh?  Is it the Syrian Government?  Is it someone else?  Because, if we don't mention it, there's no chance of it improving.

Spokesman:  It is… well, no one wants the situation to improve more than the Syrian people and more than our colleagues.  Syria is a complex situation.  The security of our and… and also, just as important, our Syrian partners, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and local Syrian NGOs [non-governmental organizations], is very important.  But, it is not a matter of assigning blame.  It's a matter of ensuring that the proverbial ducks are in a row, so the convoys can roll.  Yeah.?

Question:  Are you… sorry.  Are you saying that, if you mention that Da’esh or Syria prevented this, it would endanger… it would endanger them?

Spokesman:  No, I'm just mentioning that it's a very complex operation of lining up certain things that may not always stay lined up for very long.

Question:  Thanks so much, Stéphane.  At the beginning, you mentioned the generous donations on the Yemen pledging conference from Saudi Arabia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates].  Are there any strings attached to that cash?  For example, is there an agreement by which the UN will give positive publicity to those two countries for the money?

Spokesman:  No, there are no strings attached.  There are regular understandings with donors, and this is across the board, about ensuring that we acknowledge the gifts.  But, the aid will be distributed according to basic United Nations humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality and free of any political objectives.

Question:  But, is it not problematic to give positive publicity to two Governments for the money they give through UN programmes at the same time as they are, even by your own human rights experts, accused of committing atrocities in the conflict…?

Spokesman:  It's not about giving positive publicity.  It's about acknowledging gifts and saying thank you for money received, and we do that for every donor.  And, if you look at Mark Lowcock's Twitter feed this morning, he thanks Malaysia.  He thanks the United States.  I mean, he thanks a number of countries, including UAE and Saudi Arabia, who have given.  That does not stop us in our political reporting from calling out various parties in this conflict, and we've done so regularly since the beginning.  Ben?

Question:  Yeah.  There's been some recent criticism aimed at the Secretary‑General and the UN over its handling of the Venezuela crisis; notably, Marco Rubio said the SG had played right into [Nicolás] Maduro's plans.  Is the UN being an honest broker in the Venezuela crisis?

Spokesman:  The UN operates according to our core principles.  We will continue to do so.  The Secretary‑General has always said his good offices remain available, and we will continue to operate in that way, including on the humanitarian front.

Question:  Has the UN taken a side in this conflict?

Spokesman:  The UN has not taken a side; except the UN's concern is for the people of Venezuela.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes.  What's the UN assessment on the… to the human casualties in Venezuela since the beginning of the crisis?

Spokesman:  Well, we've expressed our concern at the humanitarian problem in Venezuela.  We've been working… our colleagues on the ground are working with the Government to try to scale up the humanitarian aid, notably in the areas of nutrition and health.  We will continue to do that.  But, I think what we're seeing, what we saw over the weekend, just makes it clearer for the need of a negotiated political settlement.  Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Since Ben mentioned Marco Rubio, what is the UN's reaction to a member of the US Government threatening the Head of State of Venezuela with a hideous, gruesome death, his Twitter of the sodomization by bayonet of [Muammar] Qaddafi?  And as a follow‑up, how is this likely to affect the negotiations Trump will be having with Kim Jong‑un, since North Korea has said that it is the example of what was done to Libya when they gave up their programmes, which is the reason they're holding on to their own?

Spokesman:  On your second question, as usual, I will leave the analysis, the predictions and the thought pieces to the people sitting in these green chairs, and I will not engage.  And we will not react to every Twitter post that we see on that very interesting platform.  Mr.…?

Question:  Doesn’t he have a… any position on one… on the Head of State being threatened?

Spokesman:  I think I've answered the question.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  As you mentioned, the situation in Venezuela is very dire.  And what does the Secretary‑General think of the concept of the responsibility to protect in this case?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's focus right now is on seeing how he can help achieve a political… negotiated political settlement and also on the… on trying to assist the Venezuelan people to make sure that they receive the help that they need.  The responsibility to protect is something that may be discussed by Member States, but at this point, I don't have a comment.  Yes, sir, in…

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General think the Human Rights Council should discuss the detention camps in China's Xinjiang region?

Spokesman:  The Human Rights Council is the master of its domain.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Yes, Stéphane.  Is the Secretary‑General aware of Indian claims of 350 killed by the Indian Air Force?  And has he had a conversation with the Indian…?

Spokesman:  We read the press like all of you do.  The Secretary‑General is currently on a plane on his way back to New York.  Thank you.  What day is today?  Tuesday?  So, I shall see you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.