19 December 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.

**Secretary-General in Italy

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, was in Brindisi today in Italy, where he travelled along with Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, and that was to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the UN Global Service Centre.  In a tour of the UN facilities, he saw the wide scope of services provided by the United Nations from Brindisi, from telecommunications to humanitarian services, as well as an innovative pilot project to reduce the UN’s carbon footprint in the field.

During the ceremony to mark the anniversary, the Secretary-General highlighted the vital role of the Global Service Centre in supporting some of the most difficult peacekeeping and other United Nations endeavours.  He noted the strong commitment of the Italian Government to the United Nations and multilateralism that have created the opportunity for the UN to have a remarkable presence in Brindisi and throughout Italy.  Speaking to the press at the end of the visit, the Secretary-General reiterated his gratitude to the Italian Government and people for their support as the UN strives to advance peace around the world.  Back in Rome, the Secretary-General had a bilateral meeting with Robert Fico, the President of the Chambers of Deputies.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to have an audience with His Holiness Pope Francis.


Turning to Syria and back here, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, briefed the Security Council on Syria this morning, and she discussed the importance of continued cross-border humanitarian operations.  Ms. Mueller said the situation in north-western Syria remains alarming and noted recent reports of families in Idlib burning tires and old clothes to stay warm.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has increased the number of people receiving aid through cross-border mechanisms to 1 million per month.  She recalled that the Secretary-General has warned that a full-scale offensive would have devastating consequences and must be avoided.  Ms. Mueller added that the situation in North East Syria remains serious, even as hostilities have decreased in recent weeks.  Also, this morning, the Security Council adopted resolutions extending the mandates of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).


Concerning Yemen:  The Redeployment Coordination Committee held its seventh joint meeting today and yesterday aboard the UN-flagged vessel that was in international waters.  The Committee members reiterated their commitment to work jointly on the implementation of the Hudaydah Agreement.  In this regard, Lieutenant General Guha, the Chair of the Committee, said he is encouraged by the effective cooperation between their Liaison Officers, who work through the Joint Operations Centre of the Ceasefire Enhancement and De-escalation Mechanism, and the five Observation Posts established in October along the Hudaydah city front lines.

Building upon this progress, the Committee is developing a roadmap for humanitarian corridors in order to improve humanitarian access and facilitate smooth movement of civilians.  Both parties are working on the swift implementation of this road map.  Committee members are working to formalize all the operational aspects for the full implementation of Phase One and Two of the mutual redeployment of forces.

**Resident Coordinators

And I wanted to read an announcement form our colleagues in the UN Development Coordination Office that we have now three new UN resident coordinators in Ethiopia, the Maldives and Pakistan.  The appointments follow the confirmations from their respective Governments.  Catherine Sozi of Uganda will serve as the UN Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Catherine Haswell of Australia will serve in the Maldives and Julien Harneis of the United Kingdom will serve as the new resident coordinator in Pakistan.

In this leadership position, they will boost the development coordination mechanisms among UN agencies, funds and programmes, which will be crucial to support countries as we enter the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.  We are also proud to announce that we will remain with full gender parity among all our resident coordinators covering 162 countries.  We have full biographies in my office.  You can also look up more information in the UN Sustainable Development Group website, where you will find full list of resident coordinators.


And the Regional High-Level Conference on “Empowering Youth and Promoting Tolerance:  Practical Approaches to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism” concluded today in Abu Dhabi.  In remarks, the UN Under‑Secretary-General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, announced that his office and Hedayah signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation.  Co-organized by the United Arab Emirates, the UN Office of Counter‑Terrorism (UNOCT) and Hedayah, it gathered 250 representatives from 32 Member States, various UN entities, international and regional organizations, civil society partners to discuss different approaches to strengthening resilience against radicalization leading to terrorism.  Mr. Voronkov also stated that conference participants agreed that the threat from ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups remains acute and widespread and underlined the need to further strengthen international and regional cooperation.

**Global Refugee Forum

And in Geneva, the Global Refugee Forum wrapped up last night.  Governments, international financial organizations, business leaders, humanitarian and development actors, refugees and civil society representatives have secured wide‑ranging and substantial commitments of support for refugees and the communities they live in.  In all, over 770 pledges have been made from across the spectrum at the Global Refugee Forum, attended by some 3,000 participants, including refugees, and 750 delegations.  These were in areas from employment, to places in schools for refugee children, to new government policies, solutions like resettlement, clean energy, infrastructure and better support for host communities and countries.  You can check out more information online.

**World Health Organization

And lastly, two items I would like to flag from the World Health Organization (WHO).  The first says the number of cholera cases decreased globally by 60 per cent in 2018.  WHO said this points to an encouraging trend in cholera prevention and control in the world’s major cholera hotspots, including Haiti, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The second report is about tobacco and it projects that the number of men using tobacco is on the decline, indicating a powerful shift in the global epidemic.  By 2020, WHO says there will be 10 million fewer tobacco users, both men and women, compared to 2018, and another 27 million less by 2025.  Those are the predictions.  And that's where I stop and turn to you.  Betul and then Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Idlib, Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said today that 50,000 people were fleeing Idlib towards Turkey.  Do you have a confirmation?  And is the UN on the ground?  And can you give us a sense of what is happening?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the latest that I have is what Ms. Mueller reported in her briefing, but I know we're trying to get more information.  So, I would refer you to what she said.  Masood?

Question:  Yes.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this death sentence passed to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the subsequent comments by the judge that he should be hanged in the… in the… in the street and the protests are going on in Pakistan, does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about it?

Spokesman:  Look, my understanding is that the case is still going through an appeals process.  That being said, our position… our principled position remains the same, that we stand against the use of the death penalty.

Question:  But the court has… what do you call… passed a judgment basically saying that he should be hanged and one of the judges…?

Spokesman:  I think I've stated our position as it refers to the death penalty.  Our esteemed guest from Washington, D.C.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, sir.  Yesterday, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, gave a scathing denouncement of the… of UN resolution 2334 (2016), which is three years old on Monday.  I want to ask you, in this atmosphere of almost, you know, unbridled Israeli expansion of settlements, throwing out human rights activists and so on, how would you enforce these resolutions?  What is the value of these resolutions, especially at a time when what we see is basically, you know, denouncement of… and international diplomats who say that international law matters?

Spokesman:  Look, you know, that's a question, I think, also addressed to the membership at large and to members of the Security Council on the inf… on the responsibility to follow each and every Security Council resolution.  For our part, the Secretary‑General's been given a mandate and that is to report periodically, which he does, through his Special Coordinator, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov.  I think Mr. Mladenov gave a pretty clear and realistic, from his… from our viewpoint, of the situation on the ground and the lack of progress towards a peaceful settlement.  James and then Alan.

Question:  Got two questions on two subjects.  First, on Libya, as you know, there is this suggestion that Turkey is going to send troops to Tripoli to support the GNA [Government of National Accord].  The GNA has now said that it welcomes that offer of troops.  Clearly, in the Charter, a country can… if they're the sovereign country, can call in other people to support them if they want, but at the same time, there's an arms embargo on the country.  So, what is the Secretary‑General's position on this whole idea?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, I think the Secretary‑General, a couple times yesterday, was very clear in his expression of… frankly of his… I would say, his frustration at the situation in Libya, of the constant flouting by various Member States of the arms embargo, and of the continued fighting that we're seeing in and around Tripoli and other places in the country.  This is a time, yet again, where we think it's important for all the parties involved and those who have an influence over the parties to recommit themselves to a political solution.  I mean, I think, if you were to look at what the Secretary‑General said in the Italian Parliament yesterday and various places, and af… I think even after meeting the Prime Minister, this frustration is palpable.

Question:  Just to… because I am still a little confused.  I get the Secretary‑General's point, because he's been making this for a long time, but does he believe, if Turkish troops were to arrive there on the invitation of the GNA, which is the internationally recognized UN‑backed Government, that would be a breach of the arms embargo?  Because there's troops, not arms.  They're carrying arms, I guess.

Spokesman:  We're getting into legal hypotheticals, which, as you know, I'm not keen to get into.  What is clear is that Libya needs peace and needs a recommitment to a political process.

Question:  And my other question is about Yemen.  Just your statement on the RCC… because, again, I'm trying to slightly decode these statements that we get on the RCC.  And it seems that this is the seventh meeting, and every single time, we seem to get good intentions but no actual new actions.  Has anything actually happened, or are they just all smiling a lot while they're on the…?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, you know, good intentions are better than bad intentions as a matter of ground… of principle.  I think the fact that the parties are meeting, are meeting under the chairmanship of the UN, are recommitting themselves — we're not seeing the situation go backwards — I think in itself, in the Yemeni context, is a step forward.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Would you be still able to comment on the situation around Sputnik Estonia?

Spokesman:  No, I'm… I apologize.  I should have had an answer for you.  I'm trying to get some language and clarity on what is going on.  Madame?

Question:  This afternoon, the Security Council will examine a project of resolution about cross‑border points between Syria and neighbouring countries.  Russia seems to ask for the closure of two out of four of these points, going against OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] recommendations to enable humanitarian help to reach 4 million Syrians.  The ambassador here has been clear he is following Moscow orders.  Has the SG been in touch or is planning to be with Moscow and plead the United Nations case?

Spokesman:  I think we have made our case very clear, both publicly and privately.  I think Ms. Mueller could not have been clearer in what she said about the need for us to… the importance for us to maintain all four border crossings.  Obviously, this is an issue in front of the Security Council.  Our wish, in a sense… our wish list is clear.  We now have to wait and see what comes through, but I think all of the members are… have been informed as to what our position is.  And our position is such because it is what we believe is best in order to help the people of Syria who need humanitarian goods.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Just a follow‑up.  So, in case this resolution doesn't go through, how is this going… and it is technical, and they will have to, like, maybe technically do it, how is this going to affect your operation there?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, we're… I think the… if I'm not mistaken, the mandate goes through January of next year.  We can only operate within a mandate of the Security Council.  Again, I don't want to go into hypotheticals, but if there's no mandate, there's no operation and, I think, with the very clear damage that that will do to our humanitarian operations and, obviously, to the civilians that we help through those operations.

Question:  But… another follow‑up, so, but, in case… like, what the Russians are suggesting to close the two cross… to have two border crossings instead of four, how is this also going to… like, why is this going to…?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to… you know, we're not negotiating the resolution.  Right?  We are the Secretariat.  We're… because of this resolution, we are allowed to have cross‑border access.  The resolution mandates the Secretary‑General to report back on the implementation of the resolution.  He does that.  Our job is to give the facts in a very clear way to the Security Council, which we've done.  There are, obviously, discussions going on within Council members.  We have to see what happens, but I think, between the Secretary‑General's report and Ms. Mueller's statement, what we need in order to help the people… the civilians in Syria is very clear.  Betul?

Question:  Follow‑up on Libya, Steph.  The SG has been worried about the arms embargo being violated.  Can you tell us who these countries are?  And also, back to Syria, has the SG picked up the phone to talk to the Russian leader or the Turkish leader on the implementation of the ceasefire in Idlib?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of the direct communication between with the… by the Secretary‑General.  Obviously, the situation in the northern part of Syria was discussed when the Secretary‑General met President Erdoğan not too long ago.

Question:  Libya, arms embargo?

Spokesman:  Libya.  I think the Security Council reports back on it, but it is no secret that a number of regional Powers and beyond are involved.  Mr. Bays and then Masood.

Question:  Couple of follow‑ups on those two again, on Syria and on Libya.  On Syria, clearly, there may be a vote in the next couple of hours.  There may be more than one vote.  Would the Secretary‑General, if it looks like there is still deadlock, which it does, around the Council table, prefer the Council to defer any votes so there can be more negotiations and more high‑level diplomacy, possibly involving him?

Spokesman:  I think both you and I have been around for a long time.  I'm not going to answer that question.  The Council is master of its work and its domain, and we will see what comes out.

Question:  And on Libya, given the developments as we were just talking about with regard to Turkey and the GNA, given [Khalifa] Haftar's threat to push a final assault on Tripoli, we have the whole Berlin process and this delayed Berlin meeting.  Does the Secretary‑General now think it's urgent to convene that summit?

Spokesman:  What is important is to get people around the table as soon as possible.  Masood‑ji?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this continued incarceration of the 8 million Kashmiris, has the… are the United Nations humanitarian agencies going into our… stipulated to go into Kashmir to find out about the succour and sustenance of those people suffering in Kashmir?

Spokesman:  Let me get back to you on that.  Fadale.

QuestionShukraan.  On Libya, the report of the Panel of Experts that was represented to the Security Council… or sent to the Security Council last week, they talked mainly about three countries — Turkey, the Emirates and Jordan — as countries that violated the embargo but not only; there's others.  And they also criticized the Secretariat of bureaucratic regulations that… including having to have, like, 25 days' permission before they can go to Libya and to other places.  Do you have any comments on that?

Spokesman:  We try to, inasmuch as we can, facilitate the work of all the experts who work for the various Security Council Sanctions Committee.  By their very nature, they work in high‑risk environments.  We try to… also to ensure their safety and their security.  We have seen… I think we all remember that we've had colleagues who work in that function who were assassinated.  I think we have to do our utmost to make sure that they're safe and that they're able to do their work freely.  It's free.  You've travelled so far.  You're allowed a second question.

Question:  I want to ask you, on Idlib.  You know, Idlib has been deadlocked for a long time and is likely to be deadlocked again.  There has… are thousands of militants and so on that are well entrenched.  How do you see this deadlock being resolved?  Because every time there's, let's say, a movement by the Syrian State or… and its army and so on, there's a whole… a great deal of outrage is expressed, and nothing ever happens.  So, how do you see… not as part of the peace settlement or a political settlement but for the immediate resolution of this situation?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the faster we can get guns silenced is the best option for all people involved.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  No, I understand… without… I understand that.  Yep.

Question:  Yes, sorry, another Idlib‑related question, and just as we've come towards the end of the year and the end of your briefings, is there any update on the Board of Inquiry?  Because if you remember, we were told that the aim was the end of the year.

Spokesman:  They've asked for a bit more time, so we think early next year.  Okay.  Thank you, all.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.