14 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.


All right.  Good afternoon.  The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is in Washington, D.C., today, as well as tomorrow for meetings with US officials.  He will then proceed to New York, where he is going to brief the Security Council on Thursday on the situation in Yemen.  The Special Envoy is coming to the US from Riyadh, where he met with Yemeni President [Abdrabuh] Mansour Hadi.  He was previously in Muscat, Oman where he met with the head of the Ansar Allah delegation to the political process, Mohamed Abdul Salam.


Turning to the Philippines, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as well as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have teams on the ground near the erupting Taal volcano, some 70 kilometres south of Manila.  More than 350 volcanic earthquakes have been recorded near Taal [as of] today with more than 38,000 people having been relocated so far to over 200 evacuation centres.  The UN is concerned about warnings issued by the authorities that the current volcanic activity could last days, months or even years.  UN teams are visiting evacuation centres and supporting authorities by reviewing their needs.  The Government has officially requested the United Nations’ support in procuring face masks.  We will, of course, assist in that regard.


Turning to the humanitarian situation in Libya.  Our colleagues at IOM are reporting a sudden increase in the number of migrants leaving Libya.  More than 1,000 people have left the country by sea since 1 January.  Over 950 of them, including 136 women and 85 children, were returned to Libyan shores and taken to detention centres, mostly in Tripoli.  The migrants who spoke to IOM staff said the escalation in hostilities in and around the capital and the deteriorating humanitarian situation were the main reasons they had attempted to leave.  IOM says the increase in departures is especially alarming given the limited search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.  They also called, once again, for the dismantling of the detention system and the orderly release of migrants.  Alternative solutions that safeguard lives must be found, said IOM, to alleviate the suffering of thousands of men, women, and children who are held in inhumane conditions.


On Sudan, the Refugee Response Plan for Sudan was launched today in Khartoum.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and more than 30 other partners will take part in the plan, which calls for $477 million to help more than 900,000 refugees and nearly a quarter million of their Sudanese hosts.  The call for funding comes at a time when Sudan is undergoing a historic political transition and severe economic crisis, and the country requires international solidarity to achieve peace and [stability].  Sudan has long hosted refugees and asylum seekers, but also struggles with internal displacement, with UNHCR helping some 1.9 million people uprooted in the country.

Also on Sudan, the Head of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) visited a camp for internally displaced people in El Geneina following the recent deadly intercommunal clashes.  The Joint Special Representative, Jeremiah Mamabolo, expressed his deep regret at the damage to the camp, which is now [deserted].  He said that the clashes are a stark reminder to the involved communities that violent means of resolving disputes can only lead to a lose-lose situation.  He encouraged the leaders and members of local communities to always engage in meaningful dialogue to resolve their differences.


Turning to Colombia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today said it is deeply troubled by the number of human rights defenders killed in the country last year.  OHCHR records show that 107 activists were killed last year in Colombia, and 13 additional cases are still in the process of verification.  In 2018, there were 115 killings, and the Office says this trend is set to continue, with at least 10 human rights defenders already reportedly killed during the first 13 days of this year.  The UN renewed its call on the Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights and to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations.  More information is on the website.


I wanted to flag that Luxembourg and the United Nations have announced a new agreement in support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  The Department of Operational Support tells us that Luxembourg peacekeepers deployed in Mali will now provide a secure satellite link between the Mission Sector locations in Mali, for an initial period that will run through the end of February 2022.  Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, welcomed the agreement and said it showcases the benefits of collaborative engagement between the UN and Member States.

**Chamber Music Society

Lastly, on a completely unrelated but musical note.  This Saturday, since we all need a break from what is going on, the UN Chamber Music Society of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council will perform a concert to support the ongoing relief and recovery efforts in Australia in the face of the bushfires.  All funds raised will be directed to the Australian Red Cross.  The concert will take place on Saturday, 18 January, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the All Saints Episcopal Church on East 60th Street.  Maria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So, yesterday, you said you probably may have an update on the Libya meeting in Moscow.  Do you have any comments after the meeting concluded, and generally, on the situation before the Berlin meeting scheduled for 19 January?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we've seen what has come out of Moscow, and we, obviously, continue to urge the Libyan parties to continue to adhere to the ceasefire that was supposed to begin on 12 January.  As far as the Berlin Summit, the International Conference on Libya, to be held on 19 January to accompany the three‑step initiative of Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé, it needs to demonstrate international unity in support of resuming the intra‑Libyan political process, ending foreign interference and leading to full respect of the UN arms embargo.  Mr. Bays, and then… yeah.  We'll go down the list… the line.

Question:  Here is a follow‑up on that.  Is 19 January definitely on, given that the talks in Moscow ended without General [Khalifa] Haftar signing the agreement, or are you still awaiting what happens?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that the German Government has issued the invitations.  They are the ones organizing the meeting, and it is, as far as I know, ongoing for 19 January.

Question:  And in terms of the participants, do you expect General Haftar and Prime Minister [Fayez al] Serraj to be at this meeting?

Spokesman:  We would expect the highest level of participation, but I think, since the Germans are organizing, you may want to ask them, as well.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  But, the reason I'm asking, it's supposed to be only external… the external actors…

Spokesman:  No, no, I…  Let me… I will get back to you on that.  Yeah?

Question:  On this, is the Secretary‑General going to attend on 19 January?

Spokesman:  We'll have some announcement soon on the UN participation.

Question:  Okay.  My question… or my follow‑up is whether there are reports that there are discussions in the Security Council about possible monitoring mechanism for a potential ceasefire in Libya.  Is there any contingency plan within the Secretariat for this?

Spokesman:  There's… I mean, we're, obviously… we're not blind to what is going on and what is being discussed.  So, contingency plans are always ongoing.  UNSMIL [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Libya] already is currently recording and verifying reported cases of ceasefire violations, which are reported and mentioned in the Security Council… in the SG's reports to the Security Council.  But, obviously, we have to… let's take it one step at a time.  Edie?

Question:  Following up on Yemen and Mr. Griffiths' travels and meetings, it seems that he's gone to a lot of places that are key into trying to press for some kind of a ceasefire or some kind of a movement toward ending the conflict.  Is that what his aim is in all of these travels…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, that's… he… I don't think he travels for the pleasure of travelling.  So, all his travels are really with the aim of advancing the political process.  He's going to report back to the Council, and we will put in a request for him to report back to you as a group, as well.  Let's make our way down.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A follow‑up on Libya.  Has Mr. Salamé been in touch with General Haftar since he left Moscow without signing the ceasefire agreement?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update on that.  Okay.  Linda and then Masood.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  This is in regard to Iran and the decision by the Brits, French and Germans to launch a dispute process of the Iran violations of the nuclear deal.  I was wondering if the SG's… what the latest SG's reaction to that is and if there was any sense that there would be discussions here.

Spokesman:  Whether there are discussions here, I think that's up to the relevant Member States.  I mean, we're, obviously, aware of what happened this morning, of the joint announcement made by the three and the confirmation made by the EU diplomatic chief.  For the Secretary‑General, our position is unchanged, and we continue to call on parties to work together to do whatever they can to preserve the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] through a constructive diplomatic dialogue and all other Member States to work effectively with the JCPOA participants towards the preservation of the Plan.  And we also call on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] on its nuclear programme and implementation of all its nuclear‑related commitments made under that agreement, under the JCPOA.

Question:  But does the SG have any view in terms of whether or not he feels that Iran has been violating the JCPOA?

Spokesman:  Look, the JCPOA… there are certain responsibilities on the Secretary‑General, on the JCPOA to report back, which he does.  And so, he reports back through his mandate and through the recent report that was, I think, in December 2019.  Masood and then…

Question:  Thank you.  Stéphane, on this thing that you've been calling me a broken record, on Kashmir, the thing is that Pakistan's Foreign Minister is coming tomorrow to meet with the Secretary‑General and also meet with the other officials of the United Nations.  Do you have anything to say about that?  Is there any development on Kashmir…?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the meeting was done at the… I think… we still have to confirm it, but my understanding is that the meeting… if it happens, the meeting was requested by the Pakistani Mission, and the Secretary‑General is always happy to meet visiting Foreign Ministers, and we'll see what kind of readout we can give you afterwards.

Question:  And there's… there's another situation developing in New York.  There's going to be a massive demonstration on Kashmir in New York.  So, does the Secretary‑General… my question is, does the Secretary‑General… is the Secretary‑General going to talk to the Indians about this situation over there and to give it more attention than just that we have asked them to talk to each other?

Spokesman:  Well, we've talked to the Pakistanis.  We've talked to the Indians.  So, I've really nothing to update you on that.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  Question on the Sahel.  The Secretary‑General was in Pau, France, with President [Emmanuel] Macron and the G5 [Sahel] members — Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, et cetera — and the big news is France is going to commit 220 troops on top of the 4,500 Operation Barkhane.  Did the Secretary‑General have a statement on this?  What does he think about it?  And does he plan to do anything radical?  Because this is a very radical move on the part of France, given the colonial baggage in this region.  So, does the Secretary‑General plan to do anything with MINUSMA to supplement this move in the Sahel?

Spokesman:  The… a couple things.  First, I'll admit, I haven't had a chance to… the SG's on the plane back, and I have not had a chance to speak to him about his… the participation in the dinner.  The summit brought together the G5 Sahel countries, France, other international organizations.  I mean, the Secretary‑General has been very vocal and very clear on the need for a coordinated approach to fighting terrorism and extremist groups in the Sahel, as well as to address the underlying causes through development projects and looking at other issues in the region.  He will continue to advocate for those things and to make sure that the situation in the Sahel is not relegated to the back burner.  Nabil and then Ibtisam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any update about the humanitarian situation in the north-eastern part of Syria, especially the Erbil crossing point?

Spokesman:  No, it's a… all your questions are very valid, but this question is, indeed, a very valid one.  I asked my [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] colleagues before coming to the briefing; they promised me an update tomorrow.  Madame?

Question:  Follow‑up on Libya.  So how does the Secretary‑General see or think that the fact that Mr. Haftar did not sign is going to influence the whole process?  And how do you think it's going to influence also Berlin and the meetings there?

Spokesman:  Look, I'm not going to do any future‑directed analyses.  What is clear is that the Libyan people deserve a ceasefire.  They deserve a halt to the fighting, and our call to all the parties and those who have an influence on the parties will continue to be in that direction.  I mean, every… today and every day, we flag the deteriorating humanitarian situation.  We very much hope that the Berlin conference will demonstrate international support for resuming the intra‑Libyan dialogue.

Question:  But, how do you see it?  I mean, if you… like, two or three days ago, there is a very important party that didn't sign part of the ceasefire agreement, and yet you are going to meet, and there is clearly one important party that is not committing to…

Spokesman:  We will continue to push for a ceasefire in messages to all the parties involved and those who have an influence over the parties.  We cannot afford to give up, and we have to continue to try to move forward whatever obstacles are put in our way.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Also in Syria, do you have any information how many UN staff affected by the closing of the two cross points between…?

Spokesman:  No, I do not have that number off the top of my head.  We can try to find one.  James?

Question:  A follow‑up to Ali's question earlier on about monitoring and whatever, and you, rather intriguingly, said you already had verification capabilities.  I mean, to my knowledge, UNSMIL only has a small guard force.  Are you… just to be clear, are you saying that UNSMIL checks media reports and local information, or are you saying there are actually UNSMIL people who go on the ground that can verify the ceasefire…?

Spokesman:  No, they report… there is no… to be clear, there is no uniformed military observers in UNSMIL.  We don't have the mandate for that, and it's not part of the work.  There are… when there are reports of ceasefire violations, in whatever way they can, they will report on that through Security Council reports.  Masood and then Ali.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this situation… I mean, I'm still talking about Kashmir situa… human rights violation, which have been reported again and again by… even by the Indian press and so forth, in the occupied Kashmir, especially vis‑à‑vis 8 million Kashmiris.  Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say…?  We asked for access on this… to these… what do you… to the occupied territories?

Spokesman:  What we have said repeatedly is that any political solution to the situation in Kashmir needs to take into account the human rights situation.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Bringing back Lebanon, despite that they paid their dues, the country is on the verge of financial collapse and failed to form a new government after almost more than two months than the resignation of the government, so… and there are today widespread demonstrations all over the country.  What do you have to say on the situation on Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Look, we continue to feel that the Lebanese political leaders need to move forward quickly.  Unf… and first, find a political solution, listen to the voices of the people.  And also, there's a role for the international community through the International Support Group, as well as international financial organizations, to do whatever we can to support Lebanon and its people.  Okay.  Let's go in the back.  Monsieur?

Question:  Stéphane, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is about to move in force against a tribe from western Canada for the planned construction of a coastal pipeline, and the chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en tribe have just submitted a formal request to the UN to monitor [the Royal Canadian Mounted Police].  Can you confirm this has been done…?

Spokesman:  No, I'll have to take a look at that request and where it was actually sent to.  Yeah?

Question:  Yeah, on Libya, I mean, I just want to repeat what you said, that the people… the people of Libya have the right to peace and then end fighting.  And also, you mentioned, I think you were reading from a statement from Mr. Salamé, that there is no foreign interference in the Libyan crisis.  This is what I hear.  I'm not sure if I'm correct.  If the parties are not willing to sign a peace agreement, why not you have a foreign… I mean, partners to come and solve the problem?

Spokesman:  The problem… the solution has to come from the Libyan parties, and the international community has to support and encourage and push the Libyan parties to find an agreement.

Question:  Many people in Libya, they believe the United Nations itself also is a foreign… the people, normal citizen, the grass root, they don't know the difference between French troops or Lib… or Turkish troops or the United Nations peacekeepers.  So, why not that big countries or… they can move to Libya and solve the problem, once and for all?

Spokesman:  First of all, there are no United Nations peacekeepers in Libya.  There's a political mission.  There are no uniformed military personnel in… from the UN in Libya.  The UN's sole purpose in Libya is to try to help the Libyan people through political dialogue and through the humanitarian help that we're trying to deliver directly or with our partners, often in war‑like conditions.  I think Mr. Salamé was very clear.  Libya does not need more foreign intervention, more foreign soldiers fighting for one side or another.  Sir?

Question:  Later today, Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, will be in this building to unveil their annual human rights report.  He's only in this building because he was not able to enter Hong Kong to have his news conference where he planned to have it there, because he wanted to highlight the human rights abuses by China in Hong Kong and the… targeting the Uyghur community.  What is the UN's view on the fact that he was excluded and the lack of freedom of speech there?

Spokesman:  Look, as a matter of principle, we support the right and the work of human rights defenders throughout the world.  Go ahead and then Masood.

Question:  So, Israeli Defence Minister, Mr. [Naftali] Bennett, said last week on a conference that "our objective is that within a short amount of time, and we will work for it, we will apply Israeli sovereignty to all of Area C, not just the settlements, not just this bloc or another”.  Your comment on that?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the comments, so I trust you that they are correct.  We've always stood against any unilateral moves that will move us even further away from a peace process.

Question:  Why… I mean, this comment or this… it's not new, and there is still also… it has been, like, for the last… it's almost a week old.  Why didn't we hear anything from the UN envoy about this… he's silent about any…?

Spokesman:  I think this… these… it's not the first time we've heard these comments, and I think, in the recent past, he's made his position and the UN's position very clear.  Masood‑ji, and then I will escape.

Question:  On this… the death of American in Egypt… Egyptian jail, despite his… several letters to President [Donald] Trump and all the other people, which has been reported in… he died of heart attack in The New York Times today.  Do you have… does the Secretary‑General has anything to say about it?

Spokesman:  I don't have anything on that.  I don't have anything on that particular case today.  Thank you.  Hasta mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.