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.
Alright I have two senior appointments for today.
The Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Lieutenant General Michael Anker Lollesgaard of Denmark as the Chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and Head of the United Nations Mission in support of the Hodeidah Agreement, otherwise known as UNMHA, as established in Security Council resolution 2452 (2019). The Lieutenant General succeeds retired Major General Patrick Cammaert of the Netherlands, who has led the advance team and has been serving as the RCC Chair and Head of the Mission. The Secretary-General is very grateful for Major General Cammaert’s dedicated and exemplary service during this period. Lieutenant General Lollesgaard brings to this position 30 years of national and international military experience.
Another appointment I have to announce, in addition, following consultations with the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania as the next Executive Secretary of the Desertification Convention. He succeeds Monique Barbut of France, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her outstanding commitment and dedicated service to the United Nations and the Desertification Convention. Mr. Thiaw brings to the position almost 40 years of experience in sustainable development, environmental governance and natural resource management. He is currently Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for the Sahel, and I think we had him here not too long ago.
**United Nations Staff Union
According to the annual report issued by the Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service of the United Nations Staff Union, at least 34 United Nations and associated personnel — 26 peacekeepers and 8 civilians— were killed in malicious attacks in the line of duty in 2018. The 2018 casualty rate is among the lowest of the last five years and is less than half the number recorded in 2017.
In 2018, the peacekeeping Mission in Mali suffered the greatest loss of life, with 11 peacekeepers killed. This was followed by the Missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 8 peacekeepers were killed, and in the Central African Republic, where 7 peacekeepers were killed. Since 2012, at least 344 United Nations and associated personnel have died in malicious and deliberate attacks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s extremely concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Al-Hol camp in Syria’s Al-Hasakeh governorate and calls on all parties to the conflict to provide unhindered humanitarian access to people in need of life-saving aid.
[Over the last] two months, approximately 23,000 people, mainly women and children fleeing hostilities in rural areas of neighbouring Deir Ezzour, have arrived in the camp. At least 29 children and newborns are reported to have died over the past eight weeks, mainly from hypothermia, while travelling to the camp or shortly after arrival. The situation in the camp is now critical. Its population has tripled in size [in less] than two months.
A team supported by the World Health Organization [is] working around the clock to screen new arrivals and refer them to hospitals when required. Severely malnourished children are being referred to a WHO-supported hospital in Al-Hasakeh. WHO is also supporting the deployment of additional vaccination teams, setting up disease surveillance, and training camp volunteers on psychological first aid and basic counselling.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) tells us that more than 12,000 people, including 3,000 children, have crossed from Guatemala to Mexico, over the past two weeks. The agency said that it is critical to uphold special protection for these children, particularly those who are traveling alone. Last year, more than 30,000 children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were temporarily held in detention centres. The Mexican Government recently pledged to end detention of all child migrants and UNICEF is supporting these efforts by helping develop alternatives to detention, such as open shelters, day centres and humanitarian visas. UNICEF is also providing assistance to ensure that unaccompanied children are duly processed and receive appropriate care.
**Occupied Palestinian Territory
And I was asked for a couple of humanitarian updates on the situation in Gaza and on Ukraine.
On Gaza, I can tell you that, according to our latest humanitarian report, the Gaza Strip continues to face an unprecedented humanitarian crisis as its health system struggles to cope with a high number of injuries following months-long demonstrations along the fence. In 2018, 180 Palestinians were killed and more than 23,300 were injured.
Along with medical supply shortages, the health system is facing severe energy concerns, with disruption of the provisions of health services at some of hospitals and clinics. At the end of December 2018, 42 per cent of essential drugs were at zero stock level – meaning up to a month’s worth of supplies.
The Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, has welcomed the contribution of some $20 million from Qatar for cash-for-work programmes in Gaza. The United Nations hopes that this Qatari transfer will help to alleviate some of the immediate distress and calls for continuous support for the people of Gaza, where a further $148 million will be required for cash-for-work activities in 2019.
And in Ukraine, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Osnat Lubrani, today launched an appeal for more than $162 million to provide aid and protection for 2.3 million of the most vulnerable people in the east in 2019. She said that five years of conflict have had a devastating impact on civilians on both sides of the so-called “contact line”. The new plan will allow for 43 United Nations, national and international organizations to implement collective action to provide food, shelter, winterization support, access to clean water and education, among other sectors.
In a short while, I will be joined by the new High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Ángel Moratinos.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the Permanent Representative of Equatorial Guinea, Ambassador [Anatolio Ndong] Mba, who will be presiding over the Security Council for what will hopefully be a warm month of February.
Today we have four new members to the Honour Roll. Member States who have paid their dues in full to the regular budget. And those are Azerbaijan, India, New Zealand and Thailand, and that brings us up to?
Spokesman: I’m not even going to entertain that answer, because the answer… that try, because the answer is actually 32.
Spokesman: 32. Margaret?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, on Venezuela, Mexico and Uruguay have offered to facilitate talks between the parties. Has there been any outreach from those two delegations to the Secretariat or from the Secretariat to Mexico and Uruguay?
Spokesman: No, we’re aware of the initiative taken by Mexico and… and Uruguay. Obviously, the international community can play a key role in facilitating inclusive agreements. We are awaiting some details from both those parties. There’s… I think there’s a meeting in the pipeline in the next day or so with the Secretary‑General and the permanent representatives or other representatives of the Secretariat, but we’re awaiting some details of that. James?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. This afternoon, the Secretary‑General is meeting Anwar Gargash from the UAE [United Arab Emirates]. Dr. Gargash has spoken in the last 24 hours about using calibrated force in Hodeidah. He says that the Houthis aren’t sticking by the Stockholm Agreement and that the UAE forces there will start using calibrated force. What will be the Secretary‑General’s message to Gargash on this issue?
Spokesman: Well, the meeting was requested by the UAE. So, we’ll see what they want to discuss. Our focus on Yemen, obviously, remains on the parties living up to the implement the agreements they reached in Stockholm and keeping the ceasefire alive and well. Sidi rais, and then we’ll go to James.
Question: Thank you so much, Stéphane. I have a question and then a follow‑up. My question is, the denial that came out from your office on the 22nd that General Cammaert is continuing his work contrary to media reports, meaning our reports in Al Arabiya, which caused us a lot of problems, needless to say. People were accusing us of dealing in speculations and rumours. However, my question — I really hope you answer it — when your Office issued that denial, did you know that the Secretary‑General’s Office sent a letter to the Yemeni Government, informing them of this change at the highest level? And if you didn’t know, which is a problem, why did you issue that denial?
Spokesman: Listen, I’m… first of all, I would say I have great respect for your work. I’m not going to run a journalism class here, but what I will tell you is that the denial was that General Cammaert had resigned. Right? He did not resign. When General Cammaert came on board, it was for an initial one‑month contract, with the understanding with us that this would be a temporary assignment. We extended his time. He will now stay, obviously, to do a handover, so he will leave very soon, in the early days of February, as soon as we can get his Danish replacement online. The most important thing for us is that there is continuity in the work of the RCC and the person who heads it. So, the General did not resign. He was hired on a temporary basis. I think everyone can understand that the situation and what the UN is trying to do, what Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is trying to do, hold the ceasefire, is fraught with dangers. And I mean not only the physical danger, but obviously, the danger… the diplomatic dangers of the thing… of the whole thing collapsing. So, it is very important for us to underscore, to continually underscore, that there is no gap. General Cammaert will work until he no longer works, and, at that point, a new General will come to lead. Again, what I… what we denied is that he was resigning. And I stand…
Spokesman: You stand by your reporting, and I’ll stand by my denial.
Question: No, but… I have two follow‑ups, please. First of all, you know that you have a limited time, contract, with him, for three or four weeks, which was extended once. Did you inform the Yemenis? Because the Yemeni Government has no news about… I mean, you are a very transparent and [inaudible] UN. Did you inform the Yemeni Government, this guy’s with you for only three or four weeks? Because, according to them, they were not informed.
Spokesman: I think… listen, I don’t… I’m not privy to whatever communications there were. The important thing for us is to have sent a strong message that someone would be deployed quickly right after the Stockholm Agreement, which is… I mean, the Secretary‑General, in terms of UN speed, moved at lightning speed. And he really pushed this house to get the team deployed and deployed quickly. I think it serves in no one’s interests… and, again, I say this without knowing what was communicated, that when you are trying to support a fragile ceasefire that you’re going to send somebody on a temporary basis.
Question: You did not know the letter that went to the Yemeni Government informing them of the change before the 20… on the 22nd or before the 22nd?
Spokesman: I’m… what I am telling you is that General Cammaert did not resign. He was hired on a temporary basis, and he fulfilled his contract…
Question: [inaudible] Stéph, did you know about the letter [inaudible] resigned or not resigned? We’re playing with words here. You sent a letter…
Spokesman: I’m not playing with words. I’m just using as many words as I can.
Question: Let me please put my point. The UN, the official Office of the Secretary‑General, sent a letter to the leadership of Yemen, informing them of the change, whether leaving, whether resigning, whether not extending his contract after they extend it for one… one time. He’s gone, but to… to go and he’s continuing his work, contrary to media reports, it’s really a very sweeping statement.
Spokesman: Listen, I think the point is that he’s continuing, and he continues and he continued his work.
Question: [inaudible] We never said he’s leaving immediately [inaudible]. We said until you find a replacement.
Spokesman: As I said again, we denied that he resigned. James?
Question: Staying with Yemen and the situation on the ground, 24 hours ago, you said the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, was optimistic. He is now, in the last few hours, tweeted that he’s deeply concerned. Can you just give us a… what his position is? Because I know he’s briefing the Security Council, but we don’t get to hear that briefing. So, why is he now deeply concerned?
Spokesman: I think we… we have seen the incidents that we talked about yesterday. We’ve… I think the situation on the ground remains tense. The ceasefire is holding in the… especially if you look at the fact that no one… none of the parties have tried to get… to try to gain territory. But it is a situation that remains fraught with danger.
Question: A follow‑up. One thing that has happened since yesterday is it seems attacks by the coalition on Houthi camps that have happened. I don’t know if that is what he was referring to when he said he was deeply concerned. But those attacks and the tweet by Minister Gargash saying… boasting about those tacks… attacks, saying the coalition was prepared to use calibrated force, are those helpful to the process or unhelpful?
Spokesman: I think the less we see violence, the less we see threats of violence, the more the process is helped.
Question: So ‑ unhelpful?
Spokesman: I’ve used… again, I don’t mean to play on words. I’ve answered to the best of my ability. Yeah?
Question: Thanks. On Venezuela, Steph, can you tell us if there has been a response to Mr. [Juan] Guaidó’s letter to the SG? And what is his reply to the request for more humanitarian involvement?
Spokesman: Yes. The Secretary‑General did respond to the letter sent via Twitter by the President of the [National] Assembly, Juan Guaidó, which was sent earlier this week. The Secretary‑General reiterated that he’s… what he’s already said publicly in his letter, which is basically his concern regarding the crisis in the country and the impact that it is having with the Venezuelan people. He said the United Nations is ready to increase its activities in Venezuela in the areas of humanitarian assistance and development. However, he said that, for this, the United Nations needs the consent and the cooperation of the Government. The Secretary‑General again underscored that recognizing Governments is not for the Secretariat, [but] for Member States, and he noted that, in his relations with Member States, he respects decisions taken by… particularly by the General Assembly and the Security Council. And he reiterated in his letter the availability of his good offices to help find a political solution to the crisis. And the letter… just so we’re clear, the letter was also shared with the Permanent Mission of Venezuela and also shared with all the people that were cc’d in the original letter. On the humanitarian issue, our colleagues at UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are scaling up assistance and are ready, subject to the availability of resources, to do more. We’ve already scaled up in terms of health, nutrition, protection, and we are continuing to increase them as much as possible.
Question: Just a follow‑up. Do you expect the SG to talk to the Maduro Government in regards to doing even more in the humanitarian that you said they needed to send?
Spokesman: Well, our contacts… As we do in the 193 countries that are Member States of this Organization, in this particular case, when there is a country team, the UN country team works with the Government on issues of development and humanitarian. Yep?
Question: Steph, the UN… Human Rights Watch called all these handling of the Secretary‑General with the Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi issue an affair… inaction of the Secretary‑General. What say you?
Spokesman: We stand by what the Secretary‑General said and did.
Question: And also, if I may follow up, somehow the independent counsel suggested that she had to jump in with the investigation since UN did not have a proper involvement.
Spokesman: We… the Secretary‑General did not receive any official request for an investigation, and Ms. [Agnes] Callamard operates independently on her own mandate. Now… Ali?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Lebanon, there are reports that the Government is being formed, and I wonder whether you have any comment on that. I…
Spokesman: I think we will wait for the official announcement of the formation of the Government.
Correspondent: [inaudible] It’s been announced.
Spokesman: No. It’s asymmetrical warfare, because I don’t have my… I don’t have access to my Twitter feed from here. [Laughter]
Question: My other question is on Libya. Also, there are reports that the planned conference for the elections…
Spokesman: Yeah, those reports I did see. We’re… in fact, just before we came in, I asked for some guidance. I haven’t received anything as of yet.
Question: Last, may I? [inaudible] This is the last day for the international monitors in Hebron, and I wonder whether the Secretary‑General has any comment.
Spokesman: I think… I would refer you to what I said yesterday. We spoke clearly about it. Evelyn?
Question: On Ukraine, the humanitarian aid that you spoke about, is that going to eastern part of the country also?
Spokesman: Yes, it’s focused on the eastern part of the country. Yeah, in the back.
Question: Thank you. On Nigeria, the general election would be coming up in the next two weeks, and it has been heightened tensions in the build-up to the election. In 2015 the former Secretary‑General made a lot of efforts, including personal contacts with the candidates and the political parties. So, I want to know what efforts the Secretary‑General is making to ensure that the election is peaceful and also credible. Is it making any personal contacts…?
Spokesman: It’s a very valid question. Let me ask some questions to my colleagues here, and I will get you some answers.
Question: Just one more on Venezuela. In the past few days, several journalists from different countries have been detained in the… in the country. Does the SG have any comment on this?
Spokesman: It’s critical that a journalist, whether in Venezuela or anywhere else around the world, be able to report freely on events and that their rights be fully respected.
Question: Is it customary… I just don’t know, really some information… Is it customary to employ or to appoint high‑level commanders or… for three or four weeks’ contracts, for a mission that is very difficult, sensitive, need continuous follow‑up and… and observation? Is it customary in the history of the UN to do three to four weeks’ contract in such important positions?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, I think the way I look at it — and I would implore you to look at it — an agreement was reached in Stockholm that needed to be monitored immediately. Right? There was no time to lose in trying to appoint somebody. General Cammaert is somebody that has worked over and over with… in UN peacekeeping, whether it’s Force Commander in the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, has done missions for us in South Sudan. It’s a matter of picking up the phone: “Can you go? Can you get on plane?” And then to just get the thing moving. If he’s available for a month, a month and a half, fine. But you just get him on the ground, because the more time you waste between an agreement and the sending of observer… of monitors, the more chances you have of the agreement failing. So, there is nothing… I think, to me, it’s a sign of the rapidity at which the Secretary‑General forced the house to move.
Question: So… so… I understand now that General Cammaert put this condition right at the outset, that he will stay for a short period and then he leaves…
Spokesman: That was the agreement, that he would… it would be for an initial month and then…
Question: And he accepted to extend for once? Until the end of his term?
Spokesman: General Cammaert is a professional. He’s not… if we ask him to stay a week, two, three weeks or a couple of days more until his replacement is in place, he’s not going to leave us hanging. Last question, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Just… just on… on the procedure with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, what’s the next step now? Who has to be informed, the Secretary‑General by whom, by both countries, by one country?
Spokesman: Yes, there is a process which we have to be officially informed by both parties. And I think that process is under way. Then the whole thing plays out. The name change plays out within the house.
Question: Did you receive any written communication…?
Spokesman: I have to check. I don’t… as of two days ago, we had not, but I will check. I will ask the High Representative to join me here, and then we can… you can ask him some questions. [laughter]