19 March 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As we announced last week, the Secretary‑General is traveling this afternoon to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to attend the Second High‑level United Nations Conference on South‑South Cooperation.  Tomorrow morning, the Secretary‑General will deliver remarks at the Conference, which will focus on the “Role of South‑South cooperation and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:  challenges and opportunities”.  While in the Argentine capital, the Secretary‑General will meet with the country’s President, Mauricio Macri.  The Secretary‑General will be back in New York on Thursday.


Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, said today that, following constructive discussions with both parties, there is significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hudaydah Agreement.  Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) for endorsement shortly.  The Special Envoy welcomes the progress made by the parties and looks forward to the swift endorsement of the plan by the RCC.  The UN hopes that this will pave the way towards the pursuit of a comprehensive political solution in Yemen.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, has been in Damascus for the past two days, where he had good in‑depth discussions with Foreign Minister Walid al‑Moualem on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).  Special Envoy Pedersen stressed that progress was made and that he looks forward to returning to continue the good cooperation that has been established.

Today, Special Envoy Pedersen is on a field visit to Homs, where he is scheduled to see internally displaced persons and returnees and observe UN humanitarian work.  The United Nations remains gravely concerned by continued reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities in north‑western Syria.  Between 15‑18 March, shelling affected many villages in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo Governorates, reportedly killing and injuring many civilians, including women and children.  Since September 2018, over 160 people were reportedly killed by shelling and air strikes.

**Cyclone Idai

We have an update on the impact of Tropical Cyclone Idai from our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  In Mozambique, Beira city has suffered extensive damage, according to reports from preliminary assessments and aerial overviews.  As of today, at least 84 people have been confirmed dead — but that toll is likely to rise according to the Government.  OCHA says that the exact numbers of people affected are not yet known as many areas remain inaccessible.

Our humanitarian colleagues also add that logistics and warehousing capacity remain a challenge.  UNICEF’s [United Nations Children’s Fund] warehouse was damaged.  The World Food Programme’s (WFP) office and warehouse in Beira were also damaged, but some of its stocks — including ready‑to‑use nutritious food for malnourished children and women — have been salvaged.

The UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government‑led relief efforts in Mozambique, including assistance to 3,800 families in accommodation centres, supporting urgent response in health facilities, and cash transfer and vouchers assistance.  Four helicopters, including one from WFP, are supporting the response in‑country.

In Malawi, 920,000 people have been affected by the cyclone and 82,000 people are displaced.  OCHA has deployed resources to support assessments and information management, and UNICEF is deploying additional supplies to affected areas including tents, water and sanitation supplies and learning materials to affected children.

And in Zimbabwe, flooding continues to cause massive destruction.  At least 82 deaths and over 200 injuries have been reported, with 217 people reportedly missing.  The hardest‑hit district of Chimanimani remains inaccessible as heavy rains have damaged roads and main access bridges have been washed away.  The UN and humanitarian partners are supporting the Government‑led relief efforts.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock; the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore; and the Secretary‑General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Elhadj As Sy, are on a joint mission there and arrived in the eastern part of the country.

In Goma, in North Kivu Province, the delegation visited a local hospital where they heard testimonies from women survivors of sexual and gender‑based violence.  They also met with local and international activists to discuss how to combat this violence and better protect women.

Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Sy also visited an Ebola operation centre to see the work being accomplished by the teams monitoring the disease.  The DRC is going through its longest Ebola outbreak, which has killed close to 600 people since it started eight months ago in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces.


From Myanmar, the Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Knut Ostby, said today that he is deeply concerned about new reports of fighting between the Arakan Army and Myanmar security forces.  These clashes continue to cause civilian casualties and are uprooting communities in Rakhine State.

Mr. Ostby urged all sides to ensure the protection of civilians, resolve differences through peaceful means and uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the preservation of sites of cultural heritage.  He also stressed the need for effective humanitarian access to people in need, especially children, women, the elderly and other affected people.  The United Nations is in contact with the Myanmar authorities and stands ready to continue to provide humanitarian support.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they are concerned about armed clashes in the southern Philippines between the army and non‑State armed groups.  The fighting has uprooted more than 47,000 people.  The UN and our humanitarian partners are supporting Government‑led relief efforts by delivering aid to nearly 35,000 displaced people in Maguindanao and by carrying out joint assessments.

**Security Council

The Security Council heard a briefing today from the Ambassador of Indonesia, in his capacity as Chair of the sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1540 (2004), which concerns the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.


And last, I have a personnel announcement to make:  today, the Secretary‑General, along with World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director General José Graziano da Silva are announcing the appointment of Ute Klamert of Germany as Assistant Executive Director, Partnerships and Governance, of the WFP, at the Assistant Secretary‑General level.

Ms. Klamert succeeds Elisabeth Rasmusson of Norway, who retired last year.  The Secretary‑General, WFP’s Executive Director and FAO’s Director General are deeply grateful for her dedicated service and distinguished United Nations career.  Ms. Klamert has worked for 27 years for the German Corporation for International Cooperation, both in the field and at headquarters.  She has deep experience at the nexus of development and humanitarian affairs and a track record of network‑building and resource mobilization.  More on this in our office.  And that is it for me.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Two follow‑up questions:  first, on Mr. Griffiths’ statement about significant progress, can you give us any details on what this significant progress is?  Is it… is it keeping to any kind of timetable for the withdrawals?

Deputy Spokesman:  At this stage, the operational details are still to be presented to the Redeployment Coordination Committee.  So, there will be operational details, but I can’t spell them out yet because they have yet to be endorsed.  However, we do believe that this is a welcome step in the right direction.  Both Mr. Griffiths and General [Mark] Lollesgaard have been working to bridge the gap between the parties, and we’re committed to continue working with them for the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement.

Question:  And I had a second question about Cyclone Idai.  Is the United Nations considering releasing any money from CERF [Central Emergency Response Fund]?  Obviously, this is a poor developing area, and it appears that a tremendous amount of international assistance is going to be needed.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah.  It seems clear that they will need a substantial amount of help.  So, the Response Fund is one of the avenues that could be explored.  First, we’ll need to do a more precise assessment of needs and then see about different appeals for the countries.  So, we’ll be providing that information as we get it.  But, yes, there are different avenues, and that is one that could be considered once we know more precisely what the needs are.  Carole?

Question:  Farhan, on Yemen, when is the Redeployment Commission meeting to discuss this plan?  And would you expect, at that meeting, they’ll decide on a date to start, which is really what we’re waiting for at this point?

Deputy Spokesman:  Certainly, we hope that there will be an endorsement of the operational details.  At this stage, I do not have a date to announce, but we do expect to have a meeting shortly, and we’ll announce it in due course.  Maria?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any comments on the resignation of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev?  And is Secretary‑General planning to… planning any contacts with the new President?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we take note of the announced resignation of President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan today. We also take note that it’s been announced that the Speaker of the Senate, Kassym‑Jomart Tokayev, the former Under‑Secretary‑General and Director‑General of the UN Office at Geneva, will assume the responsibilities of the Presidency.  I believe that some of that development will happen over the coming day, and we’ll see what happens then.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know, tomorrow, the Residual Mechanism, which is the continuation of the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia], will deliver the final verdict on Mr. Radovan Karadžic.  I know you are not commenting either in advance or postpone… or post scriptum on the judgements, but I’d like to ask you, in that light, Secretary‑General met the mothers of Srebrenica.  Did they touch that issue of Radovan Karadžic verdict, his stature and et cetera?  And, also, does the Secretary‑General also mean that the Srebrenica will haunt the United Nations as his predecessor late Kofi Annan did?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly, it’s very clear that what happened in Srebrenica is a shame for us all, and it’s something that the international community as a whole needs to reflect on, including the United Nations, and we’ve tried to do so.  Regarding the Secretary‑General’s meeting with the mothers, that was designed to show our support for their cause and our sympathies for all that they have faced.  And, in terms of the verdict, yes, you’re right.  We are not going to comment in advance about this, but you’ve seen that we’ve repeatedly discussed the importance of the work of this tribunal in terms of ensuring that there’s no impunity for the horrible crimes that were committed during the wars in Yugoslavia.

Question:  See if I can have a short follow‑up?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  Again, does this Secretary‑General also mean that Srebrenica is among the biggest labels, if not the biggest one, that will haunt the history of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I think our… the views of the UN, over the years, about the importance of the crimes committed in Srebrenica and the need to find accountability are well known and are shared by the Secretary‑General.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The US‑backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over of the last ISIS hold‑out… known as ISIS hold‑out in Syria, the town of Baghouz.  Any comment from the Secretary‑General?  And do you have any humanitarian update about the civilians in that area fleeing Baghouz?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we’ve been concerned about the displacement of civilians from the fighting, and we’ve provided different updates about that.  As you know, the numbers of people fleeing from the fighting in the Da’esh‑held areas, including to the Al Hol camp for displaced, continues and the numbers continue to go up, and we are providing as much aid to those fleeing the fighting as we can.  I don’t have any particular comment on the latest developments in the fighting.  Obviously, we have made clear that the need for international unity against Da’esh remains strong, and it is good to see that that unity has held.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Another question on Yemen.  Through the port of Hudaydah, a large amount of imports arrived, and whoever controls the ports is able to tax the imports.  Of the redeployment, who would be able to collect the money?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’re not going to get into that particular detail until we are able to finalize what the agreements on redeployment will be.

Question:  Could I follow up?

Question:  Is that part of the discussion?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll first see what the details are that are agreed to by the parties in the Redeployment Commission, and we’ll take it from there.  Yes, Maggie?

Question:  I’ll let Carole go first.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Carole and then…

Question:  On Yemen, I wanted to ask what operational details are in this latest plan that were not in the other plan, but I think you’re going to tell me that you won’t tell me.  [Laughter]  So, how… I mean, are you confident that now you’ve actually overcome the final hurdles on the first phase of the redeployment?

Deputy Spokesman:  As Stéphane [Dujarric] and I have said a fair amount of times in the last few weeks, this is a process that will take a lot of patience.  So, I don’t want to sound overconfident about this.  But any progress in getting the parties to agreement is welcome, and that is why today’s developments are welcome and a positive step forward.  Whether we can get to the final step of actually having the withdrawals occur, that remains to be seen, but we’re moving one step at a time, and we’re working with the parties to make sure that we can all get to that stage that all of us really want to see, where the parties can have a functioning port and can be at peace with each other about the arrangements.  Yes, Maggie?

Question:  Farhan, it seems yesterday that the Venezuelan consulate in New York may have changed hands to the [Juan] Guaidó people and some military offices in Washington, which kind of brings me back to the question that’s been brought up a lot.  Has there been any activity or any approach to the Credentials Committee here?  Have you heard of any new developments on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I’ve not.  I believe my General Assembly colleagues, including our comrade Mark [Seddon], who is sitting at the back, would know if there’s any proceedings in the GA’s [General Assembly] committee, such as the Credentials Committee, on that.  But, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing here about that so far.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Apropos of Venezuela, I hope I didn’t miss this, but are there any further specific developments regarding the SG’s efforts, whether in terms of meeting either with [Nicolás] Maduro or Guaidó or… or any such contacts?

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s nothing in particular to say about this.  You’re aware of the Secretary‑General’s past efforts and the fact that his good offices remain available to the parties if they agree to that, but beyond that, no, there’s nothing further to say for today.  And, with that, good afternoon, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.