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

14 May 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 Travels

Good afternoon, everyone.  Today, the Secretary-General was in Christchurch, New Zealand, to pay his respects and show solidarity with the Muslim community there after the attacks on two mosques in March.  The Secretary-General told the Muslim community:  “I know there are no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain.  But, I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support and total and complete admiration.”  He said that hate speech is spreading like wildfire in social media and is being exploited as a platform for bigotry.  “There is no room for hate speech, online or offline,” he said, adding that we must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred.

The Secretary-General visited the Al-Noor Mosque, where he laid a wreath at the Christchurch Remembrance Wall for the victims of the terror attack and met with local Imams and Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel.  He also visited the Linwood Islamic Centre, where he heard from survivors of the attacks.  He told them:  “In these trying times, I am here to say with a full heart:  You are not alone.  The world is with you.  The United Nations is with you.  I am with you.”  In the afternoon, the Secretary-General was given a presentation focusing on sustainable agriculture by the Ngai Tahu, a large Māori tribe in the South Island, and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.  The Secretary‑General is now in Suva, Fiji, where he will attend the Pacific Island Forum.  We will bring you more on that tomorrow.

**Yemen

The Chairman of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) in Yemen, Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, visited today the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa to verify the redeployment of Ansar Allah forces.  UN teams have been monitoring this redeployment, which has been executed, partly as agreed by the Yemeni parties in the concept of phase one.  Lieutenant General Lollesgaard welcomed the handing over of the security of the ports to the coast guard and the efforts to remove all military manifestations from the facilities.  There is still a lot of work to be done on the removal of the manifestations, but cooperation has been very good.  These steps are significant as the first part of the broader redeployments in Hodeidah, to which both Yemeni parties continue to express their commitment.  Lieutenant General Lollesgaard urged the parties to finalize the outstanding negotiations to allow for a full implementation of phases one and two of the Hodeidah Agreement.  UN teams will continue to monitor these initial steps in an impartial and transparent manner.  We sent a full note to correspondents on this topic earlier today.

Also today, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is meeting the Yemeni parties in Amman to discuss the implementation of the economic provisions of the Hodeidah Agreement.  Issues to be discussed include the management of revenues from the ports of Hodeidah, Ras Issa and Salif and their use for the payment of public sector salaries in Hodeidah Governorate and throughout the country.  The Special Envoy encourages the parties to engage constructively and with good faith to agree the modalities of implementation, for the benefit of the people in Hodeidah and the whole of Yemen.

**Inequality

The Deputy Secretary-General spoke this morning at the General Assembly’s high-level thematic debate on addressing inequality toward inclusive development.  She said that reducing poverty and inequality is the lynchpin if we are to ensure that the results of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are seen and felt in the lives of everyone, everywhere — and if we are to keep our commitments to have a people-centred and planet-sensitive future.  The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that high inequality is not inevitable, with investment in human capital, well-targeted social protection programmes, and the tackling of discriminatory laws, among others, being critical.  She also noted how crucial financing is, stressing how we must align global financial and economic policies with the 2030 Agenda.  Her full remarks are available online.

**Sri Lanka

You will have seen that we issued a note to correspondents yesterday evening in which the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, and the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Karen Smith, expressed their alarm at the growing attacks on religious minorities in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka.  They noted a recent spate of attacks against Muslims and Christians in Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist country, following the deadly attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday.  The Special Advisers said that the recent violence in Sri Lanka has highlighted a growing influence of nationalist and extremist views of identity in the Asia region, putting religious minorities at risk.  They stressed that it is in the interest of all ethnic and religious groups in Sri Lanka, as well as the Government, the opposition, civil society and the security sector, to work collaboratively in taking appropriate action and immediately stopping these hateful attacks.  They added that the country is trying to move forward from a traumatic period of interethnic armed conflict, but these attacks are pushing Sri Lanka backwards.  If not adequately dealt with, the recent violence has the potential to escalate even further.

**Libya

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli and neighbouring areas, with more than 66,000 people displaced from affected areas in Tripoli since the onset of the armed conflict.  The situation is especially alarming for more than 3,300 migrants, among them children and pregnant women.  IOM says it is concerned about the return of migrants to an unsafe port and their placement in often overcrowded detention centres where conditions are not acceptable.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is continuing to monitor the needs of the displaced, and is distributing blankets, sleeping mats and other core relief items.  The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that it is shipping medical supplies to more than 40 facilities in response to the country's shortages.  Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance to affected people where access allows.  Over 34,000 people have received assistance to date.  Humanitarians continue to call on all parties to allow and facilitate rapid, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to affected areas, to allow the evacuation of civilians and the wounded and sick, and the relocation of all refugees and migrants to safer areas.  More information is available online.

**Myanmar

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, completed a six-day mission to Myanmar, which included visits to Rakhine and Kachin States and meetings with senior Union and state officials.  Her visit focused on finding durable solutions for internally displaced people in Myanmar, improving humanitarian access and underlining the need to sustain humanitarian aid and protection for vulnerable, crisis-affected people.  More than 270,000 people are internally displaced, including the 128,000 Rohingya and Kaman people who remain confined in camps in Rakhine State.  Ms. Mueller stressed that any closure of camps must be linked to improvements in freedom of movement and access to services and job opportunities.  She noted that this must also apply to Rohingya people living outside the camps, who continue to face extremely difficult circumstances.  She encouraged that further efforts be made to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission to address the root causes of displacement and vulnerability.  Ms. Mueller said that she remains extremely concerned about the upsurge in violence in Rakhine and [Chin] States which has displaced more than 30,000 people in the last six months.  She called on all parties to uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect civilians and allow access for humanitarian assistance.

**Ebola

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that as of yesterday, some 1,705 probable and confirmed cases of Ebola have been recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the outbreak was declared on 1 August last year.  1,122 people have died since then, comprising two thirds of reported cases.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo Ministry of Health and humanitarian partners continue to battle the outbreak despite many challenges facing the response.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, only half of the $148 million requested for the Ebola response through July has been funded.  In addition, the overall Humanitarian Response Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo is critically underfunded, with only 12 per cent of the $1.65 billion covered, seriously undermining the response.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 November.

**Dementia

People can reduce their risk of dementia by adopting healthier lifestyles, according to new guidelines issued today by the World Health Organization (WHO).  The Guidelines provide the knowledge base for health‑care providers to advise patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia.  According to WHO, dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally; there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.  The illness is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people.  WHO says people can reduce their risk of dementia by, among other things, getting regular exercise, not smoking and eating a healthy diet.

**Press Briefings

And at 2 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press briefing in this room by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  UNCTAD will release the State of Commodity Dependency Report 2019.  Speakers will include Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Director of the UNCTAD Division on International Trade and Commodities; Yanchun Zhang, Chief of UNCTAD Commodities Branch; and Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of UNCTAD’s New York Office.  And that's it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Couple of things.  First of all, when… in New Zealand and visiting that Islamic centre, I'm just wondering whether the Secretary‑General, there or anywhere else during the month of Ramadan, would attend any iftar or probably participated in organization of one?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, he… the Secretary‑General did make it clear that this visit is part of his visits that he does every year to mosques during the month of Ramadan to show his solidarity with the Muslim people.  So, he did make that clear.  I don't believe he participated in iftar at this particular time.

Question:  Other topic, if I may.  On the Law of the Sea, you remember that I asked you and Stéphane [Dujarric] a couple of times regarding the issue of the territorial waters of… between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.  Croatia is building there the big bridge with the Chinese capital.  The EU [European Union] supports somehow, and Bosnia complained with a letter to the cabinet of the Secretary‑General.  What's the status of that letter?  What's… the Secretary‑General can intervene or how…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I'll let you know if we have any response to give at this stage.  I believe the letter is simply being considered at this point.

Question:  Excuse me?

Deputy Spokesman:  The letter is simply being considered at this point.  I'll let you know if there's any reply.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today is supposed to be the withdrawal letter from the three ports, Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa, is to be completed, the unilateral withdrawal of Houthis.  Had it been completed?  Did the UN verify completely that the withdrawal had taken place and that there is no…?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we put out a note just a few hours ago, which I read at the top of this briefing.  You might not have been in at that point.  What we said is that UN teams have been monitoring this redeployment which has been executed, and General Lollesgaard… Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard welcomed the handing over of the security of the ports to the Coast Guard and the efforts to remove all military manifestations from the facilities.  The one thing we added is that there's still a lot of work to be done on the removal of the manifestations, but cooperation has been very good.

Question:  Okay.  Now, the talks in Jordan, is it they just focus on the income generated by the three ports and how to divide it, or they are discussing also the land mine maps and exchange of prisoners?

Deputy Spokesman:  The point was that it was intended to discuss the management of revenues from the ports and their use for payments of public sector salary.  So, these are the issues, and those talks are being chaired by the Deputy Special Envoy, Muin Shreim.

Question:  Can I just have one more question about…?  Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, he has been speaking with [Ismail] Haniyeh in Gaza, and he promised that there will be some easing of the sanctions.  Anything yet you can report to us?

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  I mean, if we have any progress towards the easing of measures, we'll report them as they come.  As you know, he has been in touch also with the Israeli and the Egyptian authorities, and we're trying to make some progress on those issues.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Just wondering, as you seen, as Stéphane so many times said, we read the same newspaper, The New York Times reported that, apparently, US is ready to deploy 120,000 soldiers in the Gulf, Persian Gulf, if the things are going to go from bad to worse.  Is the sec… how closely the Secretary‑General follows that?  And at this point, what he does have to say?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of these reports.  Obviously, we want all parties in the region to avoid any actions that can escalate tensions, but we have no specific reaction to these.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I'm sure you have seen the announcement by the American investigators in… who are helping the United Arab Emirates in the investigations of the four ships sabotage that they think is Iran or groups that are loyal to Iran.  Do you have any comment?  Are these the sort of investigations you were waiting for?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, what I can say is that we're aware of the media reports concerning the four commercial vessels off the coast of the city of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.  We do take note that investigations into the incidents are under way.  We're concerned about the heightened tensions in the region.  We call upon all concerned parties to exercise restraint for the sake of regional peace, including by ensuring maritime security.

Question:  I'm not asking about media… I'm not asking about media reports or even Government statements or the Arab League statements.  I'm asking about the American investigators, which was announced in Washington yesterday, that the Iran or groups associated with Iran are responsible.  These are official statements by American Administration official.

Deputy Spokesman:  Like I said, we're aware of different investigations that are under way, and we'll see how they all turn out.

Question:  You said to me yesterday you're waiting for results of investigations.  Is that sort… that sort of investigation run by the Americans helping the Emiratis are the sort of investigations you're waiting for?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll look at all the inputs as they come in.  And with that, have a good afternoon.

Question:  I'd like to ask you, please, on the attack… drones attack on the oil refineries, Saudi Arabia, any reaction?

Deputy Spokesman:  Which attack?

Correspondent:  Drones attack on refinery in Saudi Arabia.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, we're aware of the reports.  We're looking into it.

For information media. Not an official record.