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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.


The Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, announced that Najat Rochdi has joined his team as Senior Humanitarian Advisor, replacing former advisor Jan Egeland.  Ms. Rochdi will chair the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force on behalf of Mr. Pedersen and help facilitate crucial humanitarian access and protection of civilians in Syria through supporting humanitarian negotiations in coordination with the UN country team and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Ms. Rochdi, a native of Morocco, is the team leader of the peer-to-peer Programme of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, based in Geneva.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced today that the UN human rights office in Burundi was closed down last Thursday at the insistence of the Government.  She said that the office, established in 1995, had worked for many years with the Government on peacebuilding, security sector reform, justice sector reform and to help build institutional and civil society capacity on a whole host of human rights issues.  Since 2016, the Government — in reaction to a report by the UN Independent Investigation [in Burundi established by the UN Human Rights Council] — suspended all cooperation with the office in Burundi.  Ms. Bachelet said her office would continue to explore other ways to work to shed light on human rights concerns and support the advocacy, promotion and protection of human rights in Burundi.  For his part, the Secretary-General was deeply disappointed by the decision to close down the human rights office.  The Secretary-General also very much believes that the Government of Burundi should engage with the High Commissioner’s office regarding the human rights situation in the country.

**Burkina Faso

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, called for urgent assistance for thousands of vulnerable people in Burkina Faso who are facing an unprecedented humanitarian emergency due to armed violence and insecurity.  This was at the end of her four-day mission to the country.  Ms. Mueller said more had to be done to meet the growing needs of affected people.  Yesterday, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund allocated $4 million to boost relief response in the country.  Ms. Mueller said the funds would make an immediate difference for displaced people — most of whom are women and children — and would help to quickly deliver assistance to communities hosting the displaced, as well as to people who are still living in conflict-affected areas.  Violence in Burkina Faso has displaced over 100,000 people, more than half of them in the first two months of this year.  Some 150,000 children are deprived of education, and around 120,000 people have no access to medical care in the violence-affected regions.  Around 670,000 people are at risk of food insecurity.


Our colleagues at the Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) say they are greatly encouraged by the news that an HIV-positive man has been functionally cured of HIV.  The result, reported at a conference in Seattle, is one of only two cases of reported functional cures for HIV.  The man was treated in London for Hodgkin’s lymphoma using stem cell transplants from a donor carrying a rare genetic mutation.  The virus has been undetectable since he stopped taking antiretroviral medicine 18 months ago.  Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said the breakthrough gives us great hope for the future, but also shows how far we are from the point of ending AIDS with science, as well as the absolute importance to continue to focus on HIV prevention and treatment efforts.


The International Narcotics Control Board launched its annual report for 2018 in Vienna earlier today, in which it warned about the risks of poorly controlled medical cannabis programmes.  Such programmes, according to the report, may have a negative health impact, increase non-medical use and lower the perception of risk associated with cannabis.  The Board also expressed concern about the legislative developments of the non-medical use of cannabis, which pose a risk to health and contravene the drug control conventions.


And finally, today, the Finnish capital, Helsinki, hosted the first-ever International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes, with the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Jayathma [Wickramanayake], in attendance.  The Symposium is intended to move forward the implementation of Security Council resolutions 2250 (2015) and 2419 (2018), aiming to boost young people’s participation in efforts to build and sustain peace.  Young people under the age of 30 account for over half of the world’s population, but despite their numbers, their contributions to peace processes remain undervalued.  The Symposium ends tomorrow, and is being webcast by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, should you want to see it.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this situation in India and Pakistan, I mean, it continues to be tense as it is.  Has the Secretary‑General managed to talk to the Prime Minister of India, by any chance, or the Prime Minister of Pakistan to somehow take some… some measures, you know, so‑called confidence‑building measures, to… what do you call… reduce the tensions?  These two countries are nuclear… nuclear armed…

Spokesman:  We're fully aware of the situation.  The Secretary‑General has had no calls with those two Heads of Governments as far as I'm aware, but he's had contacts with both sides to express, I think, his concern and the need to do as much as anyone can to de‑escalate the tensions.

Question:  Can you… can you share with us what happened…?

Spokesman:  I've shared what is shareable.  Mr. Barada?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yemen‑Hodeidah agreement, yet to be implemented.  The Security Council has asked the Secretary‑General to report on the violations on noncompliance of… of this resolution, and why the SG is still silent on why the agreement is not implemented in Yemen?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is deeply, deeply focussed on trying to get the parties to fully implement… operationally implement what was agreed to.  They have, on repeated occasions, expressed their willingness to do that.  Obviously, the devil is in the details.  Mr. Griffiths is putting all his efforts in trying to make sure that the process moves forward.  Obviously, when we have something to announce and when something can be shown on the ground, we will do so, but the discussions are continuing.

Question:  But, is the… sorry.  Is the SG going to report to the Security Council why the agreement is not implemented or not…?  This is one…

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General… we are aware of the resolutions that request the Secretary‑General to report.  He will, obviously, do so.  At this point, Mr. Griffiths and his team are talking to the parties in trying to get that closure, that last agreement, and to make sure that the… it is implemented.  Carole?

Question:  Can I just follow up on… follow up on that?  The Coalition wrote to the Secretary‑General and to the Security Council yesterday and said that basically the Houthis had reneged on their commitments to do phase 1 redeployment.  Can you set the record straight?  Is… is… are…?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, I'm not going to set… it's not about setting the record straight.  The point is here that the discussions are continuing.  We're not going to do these negotiations through the media or publicly.  I think you're all aware and can all understand the difficulty of bringing this agreement to fruition for the full implementation.  Mr. Griffiths is talking, is… whether it's in person or on the phone; and his team are, as well, and we're just trying to get the full implementation.  The parties have committed themselves to that, and we're trying to make sure that translates to actual facts on the ground.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thanks.  Thanks.  Just briefly, does the UN have anything left in Burundi?

Spokesman:  Yes, there's a UN country team in Burundi.  This applied to closure not of the UN country tea,m but of the UN… the specific human rights office, which have been operating since, I think, 1995, if that's what I said.

Correspondent:  Yes, that's the one they wanted closed.

Spokesman:  That's the one they've asked to… the one they’ve closed.

Question:  What do the others do?

Spokesman:  Well, there's a country… all sorts of development programmes and dealing with other development and humanitarian issues, but there's a country team.  Sir?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  There's a report coming out on Sunday from SIPRI, which is a Stockholm‑based institute which tracks global arms sales.  It's got lots of details in it, but some of the key findings are the… over the past five years, arms sales to the Middle East have doubled, a lot of it coming from P5 members.  Obviously, the… that region has got some of the worst conflicts— Yemen, Syria, Libya and so on.  What does the UN say about a significant increase in arms sales to that region?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the details in the report.  I'm not surprised by the conclusions that you tell me are included in the report.  None of these conflicts need more arms.  They need more political commitment to achieving peace for the people.  Thank you very much…

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  May I, Monica?

Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly:  Of course.

Spokesman:  Excellent.  Monica said yes.

Question:  I just wanted an update on Western Sahara.  You were expecting a new round of talks in March, if you have that.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  It's going to take me some time because I have to flip to "W".  The Personal Envoy, Mr. [Horst] Köhler, has plans to convene a second round table of meetings in the second half of March in Switzerland.  In preparation for the second round table, in February and early March, he has been holding bilateral consultations.  Oh, Mr. Roth, if that is you, but your green jacket is blending in with the green chairs, so…

Correspondent:  That was the fastest getaway since Billy the Kid there.

Spokesman:  Didn't end well.

Question:  In Paris yesterday, defence attorneys for that Nissan former executive who was arrested, they say they submitted to the UN papers alleging dehumanizing, I think, conditions in jail.  Do you have any information on this, or is that all Geneva‑based?  He said:  "We've submitted to UN experts in charge of investigations on individual cases a complete dossier enumerating all the violations of fundamental principles regarding his detention and investigation."

Spokesman:  From what you tell me, I will venture to do an educated guess that it's to the Special Rapporteur's office.  But, if you can get from those people exactly who they addressed their missive to, I can help you out.

Question:  Has Gert Rosenthal begun his internal review on…?

Spokesman:  Yes, we've said he is.  He's doing it… as I said, I think to… in answer to Evelyn's question last week, he is doing a review, looking at documents and talking to people as needed and has, as far as I know, no plans to travel to the region.  While we're at it… might as well stay here.

Question:  Sorry.  Last question.  Has the Secretary‑General had any contact with Juan Guaidó or any of his supporters regarding the use of his possible… possible use of his good offices?

Spokesman:  The only contact the Secretary‑General had with the President of the National Assembly in Venezuela was in answering his letter, which was sent to us via Twitter.  We continue to have contacts with different institutions in Venezuela, and the Secretary‑General's offer of good offices continues.  Thank you.  Monica, your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.