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.
Good afternoon. I’ll start off with a statement on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the entry into force of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention:
The Secretary-General welcomes the twentieth anniversary on 1 March of the entry into force of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention – a Convention that has saved countless lives, stopped mutilation and injury and enabled the revitalization of [livelihoods].
The Secretary-General commends the commitment of the States parties to rid the world of a weapon that kills and maims indiscriminately, while seriously impeding peace and development. He congratulates the 31 States who have declared their country to be mine-free and urges all States that have not done so to accede as soon as possible to the Convention.
The Secretary-General calls for accelerated efforts to render anti-personnel mines a relic of the past. He also appeals to States to ensure access to sustainable assistance and services for thousands of mine victims.
That statement is online.
As you heard a bit earlier, Geir Pedersen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting this morning and said that it is essential to have direct and effective engagement with the Government of Syria and the opposition. He welcomed the readiness of the parties to work with him, and said he believes that there is a shared sentiment that the battlefield developments may be winding down, although the conflict is far from over.
The Special Envoy said he senses a wide acceptance of the notion that convening a credible, balanced, inclusive and viable Syrian-led and -owned Constitutional Committee under UN auspices in Geneva can be an important revitalization of the political process. It can be a door opener to a deeper dialogue and genuine negotiations, he said.
Mr. Pedersen is expected to speak to you at the stakeout a bit later on, probably after the briefing.
And, earlier in the day, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS) for one year, until 28 February 2020.
And at 3 p.m. this afternoon, there will be an open meeting on Venezuela at the Security Council. This will be followed by an open meeting and consultations on Myanmar, in which Council members will be briefed by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener.
**Silencing the Guns in Africa
And just to round up the Security Council items, yesterday, the Council adopted resolution 2457 (2019) in support of the Silencing the Guns in Africa Initiative of the African Union. The resolution represents substantial political backing from the Security Council to the top priorities of the African Union.
We welcome the readiness of the Security Council to contribute to the African Union’s effort to build on existing progress and achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa towards the realization of Agenda 2063 and the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.
The Secretary-General looks forward to strengthening the strategic partnership with the African Union to further advance peace, security and sustainable development in Africa.
Staying in the continent, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock – during a three-day mission to Zimbabwe – today announced the allocation of $10 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help reach more than 5.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe following drought and a number of economic shocks.
Mr. Lowcock made the announcement during the launch of a Flash Appeal by the UN and the Government today; the Appeal requires $234 million to provide food, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection support for 2.2 million people over the next six months.
And the Democratic Republic of the Congo – regarding the DRC, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus], says he is deeply concerned following an arson attack last night on an Ebola treatment facility managed by Doctors Without Borders in North Kivu.
This is the second such attack in days; last Sunday, another Ebola treatment facility in Katwa – also run by Doctors Without Borders – was partially burned down.
Following last night’s attack, the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has reinforced security in the area.
And, turning to Nigeria, our humanitarian colleagues report that at least 10,000 people reportedly returned to Nigeria’s north-eastern town of Rann from Cameroon yesterday. These civilians were among more than 40,000 Nigerian women, men and children who originally fled Rann following the deadly attacks by non-State armed groups in December 2018.
According to our humanitarian colleagues, they say that reports indicate that hundreds more people are en route to Rann from Cameroon, which is 8 kilometres away by foot. All of these people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food and safe drinking water.
International and national humanitarian organizations have not been able to return to Rann to provide the needed humanitarian assistance due to ongoing insecurity since 17 January.
And in Haiti, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mamadou Diallo, and the Prime Minister, Jean-Henry Céant, launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti. It seeks $126 million to provide critical humanitarian assistance and protection services to 1.3 million [Haitian] dollars this year.
And a couple of things I wanted to flag to you – a new website to increase transparency and accountability in the UN system. The Resident Coordinator Special Purpose Trust Fund web portal was launched this week and it displays in real time the commitments, contributions and expenditures recorded for the Special Purpose Trust Fund, which manages all the financial transactions of the new Resident Coordinator system.
The URL, if you’re interested, is soc.un.org/SPTF.
And in Geneva, the UN Road Safety Strategy was launched today. The strategy is based on an approach that manages the interaction between speed, road infrastructure, and road-user behaviour to prevent crashes.
Worldwide, road traffic crashes claim the lives of 1.35 million people every year. This means that more people die from road injuries than from HIV/AIDS, TB and diarrhoeal diseases. And in the context of the UN, the UN operates over 25,000 vehicles around the world, and data shows that UN personnel are twice more likely to be killed by road traffic crashes than by a terrorist act, with an average of 12 staff members every year killed in road crashes.
Here, at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 3, there will be an event on the new strategy, and that will be led by the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, Peter Drennan, as well as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt.
And today we travel to the South Pacific, and we say thank you to the Marshall Islands for paying their budget dues in full. The Honour Roll goes up to 69.
At 4:45 p.m. this afternoon, there will be a briefing here by Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, and that follows his meeting with the Secretary-General.
Then, a press conference tomorrow: The Permanent Representatives of France and Germany will be here to present the programme for their twinned presidencies, which will be March and April. So, you will hear from Ambassador [François] Delattre and Ambassador [Christoph] Heusgen of Germany, and that will be at 4 p.m. tomorrow. We will soon hear from Monica, after you’re done with me.
**Sir Brian Urquhart
And I wanted to flag one last important item. Today, we join the Secretary-General in wishing a very happy 100th birthday to Sir Brian Urquhart, the legendary long-time UN official.
The Secretary-General in a statement, said that Sir Brian’s imprint on the United Nations has been so profound as that of anyone in the Organization’s history. As one of the Organization’s earliest employees, he set the standard for international civil service: principled, dedicated and impartial. Sir Brian’s commitment to peace was forged in part during the Second World War, where he was among the Allied soldiers present shortly after the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen death camp.
With warmth and generosity and encouragement, the Secretary-General said, Sir Brian has been an inspirational figure for UN staff and countless young people as they pursued careers. As we mark this milestone, we are grateful for his brilliant and incomparable contributions as a stalwart servant of “we the peoples”.
We wish him a Happy Birthday; the message is available online.
And now we turn to Majeed.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. The first one is on Syria. The Syrian Government asking the refugees in the camps near Rukban and in those areas that are controlled by the US to return to their home. I just want to understand, what’s the United Nations’ assessment about the… and message for the refugees in those camp? Is it safe for them to return home? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the particular comments you are referring to. Our position, as we’ve been expressing it here for a couple of days on the specific camp and also as a matter of policy, is any return of people to their home, to refugees, should be voluntary, should be dignified and should be done within the framework of international humanitarian law.
Question: Is it safe for them to return?
Spokesman: That is not an assessment that we’re able to make. Others… at this point.
Question: And my second question is – sorry – is about the ISIS terrorist fighters, the foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. The European countries seems to be reluctant or downright unwilling to accept their citizens back that… those citizens that committed heinous crimes against Iraqis and Syria. And that… those countries there’s not much taking responsibility about their citizens’ crimes that are committed against civilians in my country and Syria. What is the United Nations’ position about this? Do you think those countries should take back their own citizens?
Spokesman: I think this is, obviously, a very timely issue, also a very complex issue. The Security Council in 2017 passed resolution 2396, which really is the best guidance and normative guidance on the issue of the return of foreign fighters to their homes. There obviously needs to be very strong human rights-compliant policies of how to deal with returning fighters and especially the children of foreign fighters and some of the women who went and followed their partners or husbands to the battlefield. Yes, sir? Sorry.
Question: Yeah. Stéphane, on this India-Pakistan conflict, on the… two questions, one is that the President of the United States, [Donald] Trump, said it in his statement in Hanoi that he sees there’s some positive signs between India and Pakistan, and then Pakistan’s Prime Minister just decided to release the Indian pilot. So, does the United Nations Secretary-General see any positive sign…? Does he see… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Look, the reports of the promise of the release of the Indian pilot by the Pakistani authorities, I think, would be very much a welcomed step. We would encourage both parties to do whatever they can to de-escalate the situation, and this is the message that we… that has been passed on by the United Nations and, I think, by the international community as a whole.
Question: Yes. And another thing, has the Secretary-General himself has had any time to talk to the Indian Prime Minister or the Pakistani Prime Minister?
Spokesman: Contacts have been had with both sides at various levels. [inaudible]
Question: But has he had any…
Spokesman: That’s what I’m able to share with you at this point, Masood. Yeah?
Question: Thank you. Please I wanted to ask, does Secretary-General have any comments on the Trump-Kim [Jong-un] summit which happened?
Spokesman: Yes, of course. The Secretary-General has been following… was following closely the developments in Hanoi. I think he very much appreciates the effort that was made in those discussions regardless of the results, of the outcome, that we saw. Courageous diplomacy, I think, has established the foundation to advance sustainable peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, and we all very much hope that these discussions will continue in that direction. Mr. Avni and then Erol.
Question: Few questions. First of all, to follow up on that, is he disappointed that there was no outcome that was in that summit?
Spokesman: I think no one – and that includes the Secretary-General – ever thought that this process of engaging with the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), as we’ve seen over the years, would be an easy one. So, he’s very grateful for the effort that was made, and he very much hopes the dialogue and discussions will continue.
Question: Okay. Couple of other questions. One, there was a report issued today by the Human Rights Council on Gaza. Does the Secretary-General support the report?
Spokesman: It’s not for him to… the Secretary-General is aware of the release. The report was from an independent Commission as mandated by the Human Rights Council, but it’s not the Secretary-General’s report, and he’s aware of its release.
Question: No comment, though?
Spokesman: I have no further comment.
Question: And my last one… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Let’s go for three, Benny. Last one? Okay. I’ll hold you to that, yeah.
Question: I may have missed it, but has the Secretary-General, at any point, made a comment on the attack in Argentina over the chief rabbi of Argentina?
Spokesman: No, not specific… I mean, I… we’ve seen the press reports, and I… frankly, I don’t have enough background on the attack at this very moment, but I will get back to you. But, obviously, we condemn any sort of violence, but I will get back to you with something more precise. Erol?
Question: Thank you. Steph, there is an effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina president of the Presidency, Mr. Milorad Dodik, created a special commission which is opposing actually the finding of the UN courts in Hague on happenings in Srebrenica, genocide in Srebrenica and the siege in Sarajevo. So, I wonder, what does Secretary-General say in general on that, and was he aware of that…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I have no doubt that he’s aware, but I’m not aware, so let me try to get some information. Stefano?
Question: Yes. Does the Secretary-General had any contact with representative of the… of [Juan] Guaidó… we can call it government, but Guaidó…
Spokesman: The Secretary-General wrote back to the president of the national… of the Assembly when he wrote to him, and contacts are had at… also at various levels.
Question: But his representative… I mean Guaidó’s here in this country. We know there is an ambassador… for example, the president of the European Union, he said that he met him yesterday in Washington. Did these people in the United States had any… tried to contact…
Spokesman: I’m not aware… whether or not they’ve tried, you’d have to ask them, but the Secretary-General has not met that person.
Correspondent: [inaudible] follow up on that.
Spokesman: One second, because you said it was your last question. Arthur? [laughter] No, no, there was no… Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The UN Mission to Libya put out a tweet, I think it was yesterday, that there had been a meeting between the two factions, the Prime Minister and the other faction in Libya and that they had agreed that national elections are necessary. I think they said in the statement they also agreed on ways to maintain stability in the country and unify its institutions. And this meeting had taken place following – or sorry – at the instigation of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Libya. Do you have any details on… from this meeting and, secondly, on the plan for elections?
Spokesman: No. What I can tell you is that discussions are ongoing in trying to get the parties… the various parties in Libya to agree on a conducive way forward for elections but nothing to publicly announce at this point. Benny?
Question: Just to try to realize what’s going on in this afternoon’s Security Council, one of the resolutions proposes that the Secretary-General will use his good offices to facilitate a new election. (A) have the Americans, who proposed this resolution, contacted the Secretary-General to see whether he can do it? And (B) can he… is… are his good offices available for the situation? [inaudible]
Spokesman: Well, his good offices are always available, always open, as long as, in any situation if both parties, or if it’s multiple parties, agree to it. I don’t want to get ahead of the Security Council. Let’s see what happens with the votes, as I understand it. And, obviously, the Secretary-General will follow the instructions if any are given to him by the Security Council.
Question: The Americans contact him beforehand?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of any direct contact on this specific issue, but we talk to Member States all the time.
Question: Yes, thank you, Stéphane. Is there any report on the investigation of the killing of… in Venezuelan Indians last weekend in the incident? And, also, there is a report of killing of 80 indigenous on the… for… by gold miners in Venezuela. Three of them survivors. So, that’s the information. And is anything…
Spokesman: I don’t have any independent information on that. I think the Secretary-General condemned very firmly the loss of life that we saw over the weekend, the use of lethal force, but I will try to get a bit more information on what you mentioned. Carla and…
Question: According to The Wall Street Journal, I believe it was Monday, the Venezuelan opposition is calling for military intervention Saturday evening… no, I believe it was Monday. Also, The New York Times had a photograph of the opposition constructing Molotov cocktails. And, as a follow-up, if there is a call for new elections in Venezuela, who can guarantee that they will be free and fair? According to Jimmy Carter, the fairest elections in the world were in Venezuela, and he very much questioned the legitimacy of US elections. So, who is…
Spokesman: We’re getting… those are all interesting questions for journalists and analysts to try to answer, but we’re very much getting ahead of ourselves, and it’s a lot of hypotheticals. The Secretary-General’s position continues to be the same, is that he thinks it is… he would encourage meaningful political negotiations. Erol?
Question: Just since you mentioned the good offices of the UN, is now the good office of Mr. Matthew Nimetz closed?
Spokesman: I think you, unfortunately, missed a very interesting and pleasant briefing by Mr. Nimetz yesterday. He is wrapping up his work. As he said, I think his work here is done. If anybody deserves a break, it is Ambassador Nimetz after his almost three decades of work on this issue. As he mentioned, there was… I think yesterday, there’s a lot… there would be a lot of residual issues… I mean not issues but residual things that need to happen, logistically, change of names, of plaques and all of that, but the process that he facilitated is coming to an end, as is his tenure. Masood?
Spokesman: Very soon, I think. Masood. For him.
Question: Yes. Yes. In case that there is a conversation between the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of India and Pakistan, will there be a readout from you, either now, today or tomorrow?
Spokesman: I will do my best, as I always do, to share as much information as humanly possible with you, Masood, and with everybody else.
Correspondent: Thank you. Thank you, sir.
Spokesman: You’re very welcome. Monica, this sounds like a great time for you to come up here.