13 January 2020

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’s Travels

As you know, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, is in France today, where he is about to attend a working dinner hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron along with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, otherwise known as the G5 Sahel countries.  The dinner, held in the city of Pau, aims to address the crisis in the Sahel by strengthening the international engagement and collaboration on security, governance, humanitarian and development issues.  The European Union’s Josep Borrell, Charles Michel of the European Council, the African Union’s Moussa Faki and Louise Mushikiwabo, of the International Organization of the Francophonie are also attending the dinner.

On Saturday, the Secretary-General was in Portugal, as we told you, where he took part in the ceremony to mark Lisbon’s designation as the 2020 European Green Capital.  In his remarks, he said humanity had been waging a quote “suicidal war” against nature and emphasized that 2020 should be the year to tackle climate change.  And the Secretary-General will be on his way back to New York tomorrow morning.


Back here in the Security Council, the Special Representative on Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed Council members.  And he said that, last year, Colombia continued making significant strides in the peace process.  Mr. Ruiz Massieu, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, stressed that these hard-won gains must be protected and built upon through the comprehensive implementation of the Peace Agreement, and he encouraged parties to deepen their dialogue to be able to implement this Agreement.  Regarding the recent violence in some communities, Mr. Ruiz Massieu said peace will not be fully achieved if the voices of social leaders continue to be silenced and if former combatants who laid down their weapons and are committed to their reintegration continue to be killed.  He called for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice, and for more effective measures to protect these people and their communities.


Turning to Syria, we remain deeply concerned about the safety and protection of three million civilians in Idlib in north-west Syria, over half of whom are internally displaced, following continued reports of airstrikes and shelling over the weekend.  While a ceasefire that went into effect on 12 January has reportedly resulted in a degree of calm, intensive air strikes on 11 January in towns in the area reportedly resulted in the deaths of 21 people, including 8 children and 5 women, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure.  Dozens more people were injured, many of them were women and children.  The UN urges all parties, and those with influence over those parties, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.


And turning to Yemen, the humanitarian operation in Yemen remains the largest in the world, with 24 million people — about 80 per cent of the population — in need of life-saving support.  About 7.4 million people need nutrition assistance, including 2.1 million children under the age of five, and 1.1 million pregnant and breastfeeding women who need acute malnutrition treatment.  As of 8 January, almost 861,000 suspected cholera cases had been reported since 2019, impacting 324 of Yemen’s 333 districts.  Some 3.6 million people are internally displaced, with nearly 400,000 newly displaced in 2019 alone.  And also to note the Security Council this morning renewed the mandate of the UN Mission in Support of the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) for a further six months.


And on to the Philippines, and I can tell you that we are in touch with the Government, which is leading the response to the Taal volcano eruption in the Calabarzon region, some 70 kilometres south of the capital Manila.  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that 18,000 people have taken shelter in evacuation centres, with the number expected to rise.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, along with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have teams in the field providing technical advice to the Government.  These teams will visit evacuation centres and review the needs in support of the Philippines’ authorities.  The Office commends the Government’s swift assistance to those affected by the volcanic eruption.  The UN’s Humanitarian Country Team stands ready to provide additional support as needed or requested.


And the World Health Organization (WHO) said today it is working with officials in Thailand and China after reports that the new coronavirus was confirmed in a person in Thailand.  The person travelled to Thailand from Wuhan, China, and is now recovering from their illness.  WHO says the case being identified in another country reinforces why the agency is calling for ongoing active monitoring and preparedness.  WHO has guidance on how to detect and treat people who are ill with the new virus.  China has shared genetic sequencing, which allows countries to rapidly diagnose patients.  WHO also stresses that it is essential that investigations continue in China to identify the outbreak.  Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the WHO Director-General, will consult with members of WHO’s Emergency Committee.


And yesterday, Haiti marked the tenth anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, including 102 of our own UN colleagues.  In Port-au-Prince, at 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon, UN staff gathered for a ceremony at the site of the Christopher Hotel — the former headquarters of the peacekeeping mission, which as you will recall, collapsed during the earthquake.  In a press statement issued on behalf of the UN country team, Helen La Lime, the head of the UN political mission, said that, “while we honour the victims, the commemoration of this tragic event must also be a source of renewed engagement and a call to unite behind a vision of a stable, democratic, inclusive and prosperous Haiti”.  She reiterated the UN’s continued commitment to support the population and leaders of Haiti to fulfil these aspirations.

As we mentioned on Friday, there will be other events to mark the anniversary throughout the week.  In Tunis, today, the UN inaugurated the Hedi Annabi Hall — honouring the memory of the former head of the UN mission, who perished in the earthquake.  Mr. Annabi was also a long-time Assistant Secretary‑General for peacekeeping operations.  Commemorations are also planned in Geneva, on Wednesday, and the Secretary-General will host a commemoration here event, on Friday.


And over the weekend, we issued a statement saying that the Secretary‑General was concerned about increased tensions in Western Sahara as the Africa Eco Race was about to cross Guerguerat.  The Secretary-General calls on all actors to exercise maximum restraint and to defuse any tensions.  We also issued a statement in which the Secretary-General extended his profound condolences to the Royal family, the Government and people of Oman on the passing of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said.  The Sultan led Oman for 50 years and spearheaded the transformation of Oman into a prosperous and stable country.

**Security Council

Two other things I want to flag.  For those of you who are interested and fascinated in the work of the Security Council, as we all should be, our good friends in the Security Council Affairs Division has come out with the latest edition of its online flagship publication — 2019 Highlights of Security Council Practice.  This year’s edition has been published in a brand-new platform, leveraging new technologies and visual design, as well as an expanded scope of data to enhance user interactivity and engagement.  This year’s edition includes data on the meetings of the Security Council dating back to 1946.  The report is now available through the website of the Security Council Affairs.  It’s a really neat report.


Lastly, on Friday, at this very podium, I flagged the updated Article 19 list, which had been published as an official document.  This morning, I was advised by the Comptroller of the United Nations, who confirmed that Lebanon has just made a payment.  With this payment, Lebanon’s voting rights have been fully restored under Article 19.  And we are glad of this news.  Madame?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Following up on this Lebanon's due to United Nation General Assembly, what is the amount due that they received?

Spokesman:  I'll have to get you the exact amount that was paid, but it was sufficient to cover the amount needed to have the full voting rights.  You know, and I should also mention that we… the Secretariat had been in touch for the last few weeks with the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations in order to help with the… help them make the required payments, and we fully recognize that the recent events in Lebanon have challenged the banking system, delaying part of this money.

Question:  And what kind of procedure do Lebanon has to follow to vote again?

Spokesman:  Well, it's not, I mean the amount that was needed to get off the Article 19 list has been paid.  We have officially informed… the Controller has written to the General Assembly Affairs Division to tell them that Lebanon is no longer under Article 19 so they can vote.  There was… and a new official document under Article 19 has been published, and Lebanon is not on it.  Ali and then Edie and then Erol.

Question:  Thank you.  First, follow‑up on Sylviane's question.  So, on what… what are the years that Lebanon was not paying?  My understanding, from the Lebanese authorities, they said that they paid 2018, so they shouldn't be put… subject to Article 19, because there was no…?

Spokesman:  The proced… what is important is that a payment was made.  Article 19 does not apply to Lebanon.  Lebanon has its full voting rights so… okay.  And the procedure is laid out in the Charter, and I can give you a bit more details offline.

Question:  My question is on Western Sahara.  So, what was the main concerns for the Secretary‑General to issue his latest statement about the situation, especially in the Guerguerat?  And what are the reasons for… that bars the Secretary‑General from appointing a new Special Envoy, Personal Envoy, to Western Sahara since this issue has been lagging for more than six months?

Spokesman:  I understand.  There's no reason that bars him.  The search is ongoing, and when we have someone to announce, we will do so.  I think, for us, today, on Monday morning, what we're… we're pleased to note that the Africa Eco Race passed through Guerguerat peacefully today.  And you know, we had called for… basically, we had called for everyone to exercise maximum restraint, defuse any tensions, and we're glad the race went through without any incident.  We continue to be committed to supporting the parties to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict in accordance with Security Council resolutions.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Did the United Nations have any representative at the ceasefire talks in Moscow between General Haftar and President [Fayez el] Serraj?  Was Ghassan Salamé…?

Spokesman:  No, Mr. Salamé was not present in Moscow.  We're, obviously, following the developments in Moscow and are hopeful that these positive steps… that these are possible steps that will lead to the convening of the International Conference on Libya in Berlin, which is in line with the three steps that Mr. Salamé had outlined, and we continue to stress that all international efforts to support Libya should be complementary and in support of the Berlin process.

Question:  And as a follow‑up on a separate subject, many of us noted that the escalators between the 2nd and 4th Floor have re‑opened.  Does this mean that all the other limit… restrictions that were put in place are also being lifted?

Spokesman:  Let us take a joint pledge that this is the last time we will ever mention the "E" word in this briefing.  I was happy and surprised that the escalators were turned back on, on Friday.  I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, but just proves to show you once again that I don't know whatever is going on in this building.  The other restrictions have not yet been lifted.  There… some will; some won't, but I hope to give you some update at some point.  Maggie and then to the front row.

Question:  Steph, I missed your first item.  Was it by any chance a statement from the Secretary‑General on violence in Iran against protesters?

Spokesman:  No, on Iran, all I can tell you is that we're, obviously, following very closely the demonstrations that have been taking place today and over the weekend in Iran.  And the Secretary‑General recalls the rights to freedom of expression and association and peaceful assembly of people.

Question:  But does he have any comment on the fact that some protesters are being shot, shot in the back… excessive use of force?

Spokesman:  No, I think these… We have seen these reports.  We're not able to confirm them independently.  We've seen the reports, which are clearly worrying, and I think it's important that any, as in any demonstration, reports of lethal use of force be fully investigated.  Erol and then James?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I asked you on Friday on the upholding of the Charter; you said that the Secretary‑General is… he likes that… actually, he believes that every State actually is happy with the Charter, is supporting of the Charter.  So, my first question… I have two on this issue.  My first question is, does the Secretary‑General believes that every single State is really upholding the Charter?

Spokesman:  Well, I think that's what… I think every State that spoke, every representative that spoke, I think, underscored their own importance to the Charter.  Your second question?

Question:  Yes, on Charter, as well, as you know, the US said it will not comply with the vote of the Iraqi parliament to withdraw… I mean to get out their troops from Iraq, some 5,000 or so.  So, what does the Secretary‑General think?  Is this a violation of the sovereignty of the State or… and upholding of the Charter, as well?

Spokesman:  The status… as far as I understand, the status of US forces in Iraq is under a Status of Forces Agreement, which is negotiated bilaterally between Iraq and the United States, and those discussions should take place between the United States and Iraq.

Question:  And this is upholding of the Charter…?

Spokesman:  That's what I'm telling you at this point.  Yes, James, please.

Question:  Follow‑up questions on what's happened in Moscow with regard to the Libya peace process.  And some diplomats I've spoken to see a parallel with Syria — that Russia and Turkey are in the driving seat, and the UN really isn't in control of the process.

Spokesman:  Look, I think that sounds like a great question to ask a number of analysts on your show.  The UN cannot operate in a vacuum.  Right?  What is always important, whether it's in Syria or Libya… and those are different cases, right?  I mean, that… whether it's in Syria or in Libya, a political process cannot move forward without the will of the people being represented.  But, also, we need to be realistic without involvement of… not only of the parties who are fighting on the ground but of the parties outside of the country who have an influence.  What is important is that what is happening in Moscow feeds into Berlin.  If it helps us get to Berlin, if it helps us get the two… three… the three‑pronged process, which SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Salamé had laid out, then I think it's all to be welcomed.  It's not a parallel.  It's… what's important for us is these efforts be an impetus and a push for the UN political process.

Question:  And with regard to Berlin, there are reports coming from various capitals that Berlin will happen on 19 January, this coming Sunday.  Can you tell us any more about that summit?  At what level will it be? How long will it take place?  What is the scope of the discussions?  And will the SG be attending?

Spokesman:  We expect to have… you know, the Moscow meeting is just ending as we speak.  I hope to have some more for you either later today or tomorrow, and I do expect some official announcement on that end.  Madame?

Question:  Hello.  My name is [inaudible] from Independent Persian.  I have two questions, if I may.  One is regarding the Ukrainian Foreign Minister has recently said that there will be a meeting on Thursday in London with the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose nationals died in the Ukraine plane crash.  I was wondering whether or not the Ukrainian Mission has approached the SG's office to play any role?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not aware of… I mean, we've… you know, we've, obviously, seen the news over the weekend.  We've taken note of the announcement by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the Ukrainian Air charter was "unintentionally" shot down by the Iranian armed forces.  For our part, I think it's very important that the authorities ensure a thorough and transparent investigation into what happened, into this tragic incident, and that the investigation — and this is very important — be done in accordance with annex 13 on the Convention on International Civil Aviation, with the involvement of the relevant countries impacted.

Question:  And my second question, please?  Sorry.  About the British ambassador's arrest in Iran, a few hours… whether the SG has a position on this?

Spokesman:  Look, as a matter of principle, we believe that the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations should be respected by everyone involved.  Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A little follow‑up on Libya, negotiations in Moscow.  As far as I understood, there was presented some kind of a draft of ceasefire agreement there, which was signed by Serraj, but wasn't signed yet by [Khalifa] Haftar, and he asked an additional time, till tomorrow morning, to decide, so…?

Spokesman:  Look, as I said, we're not in Moscow.  Mr. Salamé's not in Moscow, so I don't have any more details in terms of the minute‑by‑minute what may be going on as we speak.  We've seen reports that parties have accepted the ceasefire.  We welcome that.  I think what is important is that, once everything has been signed, is that all the parties fully follow the ceasefire and enable a peaceful way to address their differences.  Yeah?

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  It's a question on cross‑border aid in Syria.  Obviously, on Friday, the Council changed the mandate… closed a couple of those border crossings.  Can you give us an update and tell us what's been happening on the ground over the weekend?  Are those two crossings… are they now, as far as you're concerned, closed and no longer functioning?  And have you worked out any other way to get aid to the people in the…?

Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, we've taken note of the Council's decision on the cross borders.  We will obviously be guided by the Security Council's instructions and mandate that is given to us.  Crossing points that have not been mandated or renewed will not be used, and the crossing points that have been [mandated] will be used.  We're, obviously, constantly looking at the best possible way to get aid to the people who need it.  Nabil and then Maggie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Back to Libya, I would like to know, what do you think about countries… influential countries supporting what looks like parallel peace talks or ceasefire talks rather than supporting the UN process in Libya?  And we see this… that also happened in other conflicts in the region.

Spokesman:  Sounds very much like the question James just asked.  What I can tell you… we're not seeing this as competition.  What is important is that all international efforts to bring peace to Libya should be complementary and supporting of the Berlin process, and we have no reason that it's… to believe that it's not.  Maggie?

Question:  Following up on James' Syria question, during the Council meeting Friday, several members mentioned that there were between 8 and 10 trucks coming from Erbil.  They were at Yarubiyah waiting to cross.  So, that was one of the border points that was closed.  Do you know if they were able to get any of that aid in?  Do you know what happened to it?

Spokesman:  I don't have any update.

Question:  Could you try and get us one?

Spokesman:  That I can promise to do.  To try.  All right.  On that note, happiest of Mondays, and maybe we'll see each other mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.