The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General, António Guterres, landed a short while ago in Tripoli, in Libya, where he will show his support for the political process during this critical phase in the country. Speaking to reporters after his encounter in Cairo with Egyptian President [Abdelfattah al] Sisi, the Secretary-General said, “Our objective is simple, to avoid any major confrontation and to create conditions to stabilize the situation in Libya.”
He added that it is essential to unify the country’s institutions and said that [he] hopes that the conversations that took place between Prime Minister [Fayyaz] Sarraj and General [Khalifa] Haftar in Abu Dhabi will be an important step towards this unity. He hoped that this progress can be consolidated by the National Conference that will take place later this month.
You will have seen that we just tweeted out about this arrival, saying that he is totally committed to supporting the Libyan-led political process.
As for his discussions with the President Sisi earlier today before leaving Cairo, the Secretary-General said their talks covered the three pillars of the UN: peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. The transcript was shared with you.
We issued a short while ago a statement on the situation in Algeria following the resignation of the President, Bouteflika: The Secretary-General takes note of the resignation of the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The Secretary-General salutes the mature and calm nature in which the Algerian people have been expressing their desire for change. He looks forward to a peaceful and democratic transition process that reflects the wishes of the Algerian people.
The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ continued commitment to supporting Algeria in its process of democratic transition.
And also, last night we issued a statement on the announcement of the results of the presidential and gubernatorial elections in Comoros.
In it, the Secretary-General expresses his deep concern over the reports of violence and fatalities, as well as arrests of political opponents and restrictions on media. He urges the Comorian authorities and other national stakeholders to refrain from any action likely to heighten the current tensions.
Back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, told the Security Council this morning that the end of peacekeeping in Haiti was within reach.
He said that the UN supported the Haitian leaders’ wish to end the mandate of the UN Mission in the country - otherwise known as MINUJUSTH - and that the end of that Mission should come in October and for Haitian authorities to completely take over the security of the country.
Mr. Lacroix also said that the Secretary-General’s recommendation to continue to assist Haiti through a small strategic advisory office was based on the assessments of the most urgent needs [and represents] the ideal format to address these needs.
If this recommendation is adopted, Mr. Lacroix told the Security Council that the UN Mission would work, in the next six months, to assist the priorities put forward by the leaders and people of Haiti, while preparing for a smooth transition to a post-peacekeeping UN presence.
And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also addressed the Security Council, saying that as Haiti stands at the crossroads between peacekeeping and development, we must recognize the progress accomplished. We must continue building on the progress accomplished or risk losing it, she said. Ms. Bachelet encouraged the Council to provide the people of Haiti with the necessary support to strengthen the institutions, fight impunity, and promote and protect human rights as a foundation to stability and development.
Also, the Executive Director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), Henrietta Fore, wrapped up today a visit to Honduras, where she said a child under the age of 18 dies from violence every day.
For a country not engaged in active warfare, she said, this figure is staggering.
Ms. Fore noted that the combination of violence, poverty and lack of education opportunities is causing thousands of children and families to flee their homes, adding that, without access to protection and safe migration pathways, most are forced onto dangerous routes where they are at risk from violence, exploitation and abuse.
Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF put out a report on water today which says that one in four health facilities around the world lacks basic water services that impacts over 2 billion people worldwide. And that is the first comprehensive global report on these services.
The report found that just 55 per cent of health-care facilities in the least developed countries had basic water services, and that, each year, 17 million women in these countries give birth in health centres with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.
The report comes ahead of the annual World Health Assembly, due to be held in Geneva in May, where Governments are expected to debate a resolution on water services in health-care facilities.
The UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute - otherwise known as UNICRI - examined key challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence and robotics for preventing crime, combatting terrorism and enhancing security. And that’s during a discussion that took place here at UN Headquarters. Interpol and the missions of Georgia, the Netherlands and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) also participated in the meeting.
The importance of not putting practice before policy was underlined, as well as the fundamental importance of protecting human rights and building collaboration as we move forward to talk about standards and guidelines. A report has been produced and is available through UNICRI.
Today we are marking the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. At 1:15 p.m., the Deputy Secretary-General will discuss the link between sport, peace and development at a celebration co-sponsored by the Principality of Monaco and the State of Qatar.
The Deputy Secretary-General is to say that in time of divisions and distrust, sport helps bring people together and communities together. And she will point to the proven role that sport plays in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda identified sport as an enabler of sustainable development – by promoting tolerance and respect, empowerment of women, youth, health, education and social inclusion.
Today’s event is part of a series of discussions highlighting sporting initiatives to help implement and promote the Sustainable Development Goals. The discussion is moderated by Sports Anchor for Fox 5 San Diego, Tabitha Lipkin, and the discussions include high-level representatives from the NBA - the National Basketball Association - ESPN and the International Paralympic Committee, among others.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Deputy Secretary-General herself, Amina Mohammed, will be here to brief on the “Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019”, which evaluates the global landscape and makes recommendations for Governments before the spring meetings of the World Bank, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Fund) Forum on Financing for Development.
Then at noon, Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the UN Mine Action Service, will be joined by Ambassador Fatima Kyari, Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, addressing the situation of landmines and explosive hazards in Africa; and Ambassador Mona Juul, Permanent Representative of Norway to the UN, representing the Presidency of the Fourth Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC). And they will be here to brief you as part of… guess what day they will be here to brief you about?
Correspondent: International Mine.
Spokesman: Yes, International Mine Awareness Day. Very important day, indeed.
The pause signals my ability to take questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, on Libya and the Secretary‑General’s trip, what can you tell us about who he’s meeting? Is he travelling outside of Tripoli? And, specifically, is he meeting Sarraj and Haftar?
Spokesman: You know, for security reasons that you can fully understand, we’re not going to talk publicly about exactly where he will be, but I… rest assured that the Secretary‑General will meet all the critical political actors while he is in Libya. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane, in Brunei today, new Islamic criminal laws came into effect, including stoning to death for adultery and gay activities. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on these new laws?
Spokesman: Sure, I think the… first of all, the Human Rights High Commissioner has spoken out, and I would refer you to that. For the Secretary‑General’s part, he stands clearly against any form of cruel punishment, and he stands very much for the protection of rights of all people to be able to be with who they want to be and love who they want to love.
[He added after the briefing: The Secretary-General believes that human rights are to be upheld in relations to every person everywhere without any kind of discrimination. The legislation approved is in clear violation with the principles expressed. The United Nations stands up for the rights of the LGBTI community. Many of its members are imprisoned, abused and even killed simply for who they are or whom they love. Progress has been made in recent years, but so long as people face criminalization, bias and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end these violations. Everyone is entitled to live free and equal in dignity and rights.]
Madame, and then we’ll move to the right… [inaudible] …to the left. Right? No, your left, my right. [laughter]
Question: Following up on Edie’s question and the Secretary‑General, has there been any contact either by the Secretary‑General or a representative of his with the Brunei Government?
Spokesman: I’m… you know, I’ll have to check. I’ll check also with the Human Rights Office. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Is there any update about the situation with arrested diplomat in Tunisia?
Spokesman: No, the issue was raised by the Secretary‑General, but… during his meetings there, but I have nothing else to… I mean, there’s been no change that I’m aware of.
Question: And I just want to understand, is he or is he not under the Vienna Convention?
Spokesman: Let me double… I have some language on that. Like, give me two seconds. You know, let me come back to you on that. Yes, ma’am?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, regarding Edie’s question, after all these years and all these meetings denouncing torture, cruel and unusual punishment and so forth, is there any reason why this is not being taken seriously enough by Member States?
Spokesman: I don’t speak for Member States. I think for the Secretary‑General, his position on these things have been made very clear. His clear language on human rights, especially… and including the rights of LGBT people have been more than clear. On… so, I don’t know what else to say… I mean, those… that’s a question for… to Member States, and I will leave the analysis of where Member States stand to you. And I would also refer you to the speech that the Secretary‑General made at the Human Rights Council, I think, about a month ago, which, I think, clearly outlines his preoccupation with what we have seen in some places, which is a walking back of human rights standards.
On Mr. [Moncef] Kartas, I will add that we’re in touch with the Tunisian authorities, as I mentioned, to ascertain the exact reason for his arrest and detention as well as the conditions under which he’s being held. Experts on mission for the United Nations, as Mr. Kartas is, are covered by the Convention [on the] Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
Question: Thank you, Steph. The… Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly that sides with Nicolás Maduro has stripped opposition leader Juan Guaidó of his immunity, paving the way for his arrest and possible political trial. In the past, the SG has called for all parties to engage in dialogue and to refrain from these kinds of actions. However, these new steps make clear that the voice of the SG is not being heard. So, after this new movement by Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly, I wonder if there’s any comment by the SG on this issue.
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General’s position on this issue and on the political… on the restrictions that some are facing in Venezuela has been consistent. He’s concerned about the continuing reports that Venezuelan political leaders who oppose the Government are facing restrictions on their political activities. And he, once again, reiterates his call on all actors to undertake immediate steps to lower tensions and refrain from any action that could lead to further escalation, and this is clearly one of those actions. Yes, Edie?
Question: A follow‑up on Mr. Kartas. What you just said is exactly what you said last week, and it makes, I’m sure, not only me but other people be concerned that the Tunisian Government is not respecting Mr. Kartas’ diplomatic immunity.
Spokesman: I mean, the fact that he continues to be held is of concern to us. And, as I said, we are continuing… the Secretary‑General raised the issue, and we are continuing to be in touch with the relevant authorities. The immunities and privileges granted to UN staff, to experts on missions are for Member States to respect and uphold. Carole, then we’ll go back…
Question: Just one quick point before a question. It’s… we didn’t get a chance to see Michelle Bachelet at the stakeout today. I’m not sure why. I mean, someone usually of that stature you… you would think she would come talk to the press.
Spokesman: We’ll inquire with her office.
Question: Okay. And my question was about the peacekeeping arrears. Several weeks ago, the Secretary‑General put out this alarmist letter about running out of funds, said he would be presenting proposals. Where does that stand?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, this is not so much an issue… I mean, there is the issue, obviously, of peacekeeping, but there’s also the issue of the budget as a whole. And, as you mentioned, he did put out the letter in January, which said, “Unless all Member States pay in full and on time, the cash situation for the Regular Budget will remain difficult in 2019, with significant and unpredictable impact on our work.” He added that he will continue to ensure strict fiscal discipline in an effort to mitigate the impact of the dramatic shortfalls that occur when Member States do not meet their commitments, resulting from structural challenges posed by the current methodology. As part of that, financial ceilings were assigned to all departments for both post and non‑post expenditures, based on projected cash balances throughout the year and on historical trends of collections from Member States. The measures are tailored to individual departments’ needs in an effort to minimize the impact on mandate delivery. These measures will be adjusted as needed throughout the year as cash inflow and outflow estimates are regularly updated.
Question: That’s it? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Well, I mean, obviously, the… Well, basically, we are working to put it in plainer English, if I may. We are working our… our money people are working with each individual department to look at their both post and non‑post expenditures, looking at the money that has come in and trying to look on projections of what’s happened in past years. But the situation… you know, obviously, we’re trying to… the Secretary‑General’s trying to manage a difficult fiscal situation with the most… the least amount of impact on programme delivery. Yep?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It’s about Venezuela as usual, and it’s about the military presence in Venezuela by the Russian army forces there. And even Washington is going to talk about this issue this week with the NATO. And what is the reaction from Secretary‑General about this?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we have no independent… we’re not involved in whatever agreements… military agreements there may be between the Government of Venezuela and the Russian Federation. The Secretary‑General’s concern is… remains, to put it very clearly, twofold; one is the concern about the humanitarian situation and the concern about the political situation.
Question: Okay. Even Group of Lima made a call that the military… the Russian military presence in the region represents a real risk of peace and security in the whole region, as well. So, is there any follow-up?
Spokesman: I’ve said, I think, what I’ve had to say.
Correspondent: All right.
Spokesman: Thank you. See you… tomorrow? Why not?