Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
22 June 2018
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., tomorrow for a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. That meeting will be followed by a luncheon as part of the Inaugural Portuguese-American National Conference. The Secretary-General will return to New York later that day.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for [Yemen], said in a statement that he is continuing his consultations with all parties to avoid further military escalation in Hodeidah, which he fears would have severe political and humanitarian consequences. The Special Envoy's priority now is to avoid a military confrontation in Hodeidah and to swiftly return to political negotiations. He said he was encouraged by the constructive engagement of the Ansar Allah leadership in Sana'a and he looks forward to his upcoming meetings with President [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi [Mansour] and the Government of Yemen. He is confident that an agreement can be reached to avert any escalation of violence in Hodeidah.
A week after fighting began in the port city of Hodeidah, hundreds of thousands of civilians remain at serious risk, according to the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande. She says that cholera is top of the list of concerns right now. Hodeidah was one of the epicentres of last year's cholera outbreak, one of the worst in modern history.
Meanwhile, 25 per cent of children in Hodeidah are suffering from acute malnutrition. If nutritional support from humanitarian partners is disrupted, the lives of almost 100,000 children will be at risk. The United Nations considers Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and has called on all parties to the conflict to do everything possible to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including the port of Hodeidah, which is the main entry point for humanitarian assistance into the country.
The United Nations is alarmed by reports of two consecutive vehicle-borne improvised explosions yesterday in Idlib city in Syria, which killed 8 people including a child, and wounded 40 others. An estimated 2.5 million people live in Idlib Governorate, nearly half of whom have been displaced by violence and are in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations strongly condemns attacks targeting civilians, aid workers and humanitarian infrastructure; and continues to call on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
**Central African Republic
The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, wrapped up her visit to the Central African Republic today, where she reiterated the United Nations' full support to the peace process led by the African Union and to the UN Mission's (MINUSCA) efforts. Ms. Keita expressed support for the national authorities and their efforts to stabilize the country, including through a gradual extension of State authority beyond Bangui. She met with the President, the Prime Minister, the first Vice-President of the National Assembly, as well as with civil society, including women's groups and religious leaders. She also met with international partners, including the Special Representative of the African Union and the Representative of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Ms. Keita also visited Bambari, where she met with civil society, religious leaders, as well as the armed groups. The visit takes place in a sensitive context after the resurgence of violence in April and May.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has condemned the decision by the Hungarian Parliament to pass legislation that criminalizes individuals and groups deemed to be supporting asylum seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. He recognized the responsibility of the Hungarian State to govern its borders, but added that this legislation threatens the safety and human rights of migrants and refugees, as well as the vital work of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and human rights defenders providing protection and assistance to them. There is more in a press release from the Human Rights Office.
Our Human Rights colleagues published a report today which spotlights the failure of the Venezuelan authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of serious human rights violations. The report documents credible accounts of extrajudicial killings in the course of purported crime-fighting operations carried out since 2015, known as the Operations for the Liberation of the People. Impunity also appears to be pervasive in favour of security officers allegedly responsible for the killing of at least 46 people during protests last year.
Civil society organizations working on human rights issues also continue to face severe legal restrictions, smear campaigns, threats and harassment, as well as accusations of terrorism, treason and other crimes. The report also looks at the grave impact of the economic and social crisis in the country on the rights to food and health. As the Venezuelan Government has not granted the Human Rights Office access to the country despite repeated requests, and given the scale and scope of violations, High Commissioner Zeid has recommended that the Human Rights Council establish a commission of inquiry into the situation in Venezuela. The full report is online.
On Monday, the guest will be Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees [in the Near East] (UNRWA). He will be here to talk to you ahead of his briefing to the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions. And that is it for me. Yes, Maggie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, on the Secretary-General's trip to Washington, could you talk a bit about the agenda with Secretary Pompeo? It's right before the UNRWA meeting on Monday. It follows on this [Jared] Kushner/[Nikki] Haley/[Jason] Greenblatt meeting that they had last week. Is it to do with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Are the Americans rolling out their peace plan? Are they discussing it with the UN? What's going on?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that there will probably be a number of issues of mutual concern that will be discussed. That is easily expected to be one of them, along with the overall situation in the Middle East region, but as you know, there are other developments, including the situation in the Korean Peninsula, where we'd have things to discuss, but we'll try to provide details once the meeting has happened.
Question: Is the SG going to make a pitch for UNRWA because… on the US funding cuts? I mean, it's the day… two days before that press conference.
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all Member States to do their utmost to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency. As you know, we're trying to get contributions on Monday and the Secretary-General has been pushing for UNRWA to be fully funded so that it can continue its services, not just in the Palestinian territories, but throughout the region. Yes, Masood?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I wanted to say Yemen… impending agreement… Yemen and Saudi Arabia and others. Is it also… it is said that the port… Yemen will be under… held under UN supervision. Is that… is that true?
Deputy Spokesman: That's nothing that I can comment on at this stage. I've told you what Mr. Griffiths has said. He's continuing his talks with the parties. What we want is a solution that is acceptable to all the parties, that will allow for the port to remain open.
Question: But is that possibility being… being explored?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't think it's helpful at this stage to give any particular details of any of the negotiations. As you know, Mr. Griffiths has visited Sana'a and Jeddah in recent days, so he has continued his talks at the highest levels, and he'll continue to sound out the parties for their ideas.
Question: Yes, Farhan on… on this point… another point. This… Pakistan has agreed to allow the United Nations Human Rights Council to send whatever delegation to look at the human rights abuses as related by them in the report, but India is still denying that. Do you have anything to say about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, just to say that we're always pleased when countries cooperate with the Human Rights Council and give access to human rights rapporteurs and we hope that all countries would do so. Yes?
Question: Sure. I… I just… in the… first on… on the trip announcement. I didn't exactly catch what you said, but you seemed to tie it… I know there is sort of a Portuguese-American week. Pompeo… Mr.… Secretary Pompeo has met with the Foreign Minister of Portugal. What's the relationship between the Secretary-General's trip and… and that wider week? Is there any linkage?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, the Secretary-General will actually be attending a luncheon as part of the Portuguese-American National Conference, so that is one of the events he will be doing while he's in Washington.
Question: And is he… is he going to meet with any other officials, including Portuguese officials who may be there?
Deputy Spokesman: He'll meet the people who are attending the luncheon, but his only official bilateral meeting is with Secretary Pompeo. Yes, Ibtisam?
Question: Farhan, a follow-up on the Palestine question. Are you going… you didn't really answer the question regarding whether you are consulted in any American plans regarding Palestine and Israel and peace process and, if yes, to which extent?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, there's nothing to say about this at this stage. Obviously, it's up to the United States itself to present any plan that goes forward, but what I was asked was simply about the Secretary-General's discussions. I think it will be much more clear once, of course, he's had his meeting.
Question: But are you consulted on any plans? Do you have any idea about the details of the plans? Or… or the…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly look forward to receiving the details as they're developed. Yes. Yes, please, Mario?
Question: Farhan, on Venezuela. Does the SG share the concerns expressed today by the High Commissioner? And what kind of steps would he like to see for accountability?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, regarding this report, the Secretary-General believes that the numbers are truly shocking. He thinks that this attests to the need for political dialogue and a fully inclusive political solution and, as you know, that's what he's been calling for repeatedly.
Question: Just have a follow-up. On the humanitarian side in Venezuela, the countries in the region have been calling for more UN involvement for a… for a long time. Are there any changes in that situation? And does the UN want to be more active there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly stand ready to be active in the region as needed, if the Governments request that of us. Yes, Jennifer. Did… is your hand up? No? Okay, then you.
Question: Laura. And I wanted to join to his question. Like, what is would make the situation change in Venezuela today, that today was, like, an actual… like, action of the UN trying to call international attention on this matter? And why didn't the UN do it before?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is a report that was prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report came… comes out today because they've completed their work and you'll have seen the suggestions that they make and we'll see how the Human Rights Council follows up to the report and its recommendations. Yes?
Question: Sure. I want to ask you about two diplomatic developments, and then something a little bit stranger. You said yesterday that the… it was IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] that was responsible for the meeting between President [Salva] Kiir and Riek Machar, but the UN was hope… hopeful that it would go well. It seems that it hasn't gone well, and that it's been announced that Mr. Machar, one, won't be… can't be vice-president and two, may not be able to return to the country, either. So is that something… what does the UN think of the results of this meeting in Addis [Ababa]?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'll have to see… we'll be in touch with the various parties to see what follow-up activities happen. I believe that our Special Representative, David Shearer, intends to meet with Riek Machar and we'll have to see whether we can get any result as a result of that.
Question: And in a… in a different vein, it seems that North and South Korea have agreed to have at least temporary family reunifications sometime this summer, maybe in August, and so I guess I'm just wondering, since you said the Secretary-General is following this process, what… what does he think of that? Is that… does it… does it have any implications for the… for the nuclear side of the… the discussions?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we welcome all confidence-building measures that are taken between the parties on the Korean Peninsula and we certainly hope that the issue of family reunifications can move forward. As you're aware, this has been a concern of many families for decades and anything that helps ease the sort of problems and pain that they've faced from separation is a welcome step.
Correspondent: I can wait on the strange one or…
Deputy Spokesman: No one else is asking, so why don't you ask your question and then we'll turn to Brenden [Varma].
Question: Okay. All right. It's… you're going to… bear with me for just a moment. The… the former tennis… tennis star Boris Becker has said that he is a diplomat of the Central African Republic (CAR) and has diplomatic immunity. The reason I'm asking you is that… number one, just on the off chance that the UN has any opinion or knowledge of passport control in the CAR, because it's… they've said it's a fake passport.
Deputy Spokesman: That's not a UN issue. I mean, we don't handle passport control in every country.
Question: Noted… absolutely. Noted publication the Economist in writing about the Boris… "l'affaire Boris Becker" said that there's a… there was a Nigerian billionaire known as Mr. Antonio Fernandez, who was both an ambassador of the CAR, officially, not contested, to the UN, and also an ambassador of Mozambique to the UN, and so my question that it made me think of is two things. Number one, overall, does the UN have any provisions to make sure that the same individual is not listed as an ambassador to two countries? And number two, I had asked Stéphane [Dujarric] maybe a week or two weeks ago, the day of the PGA [President of the General Assembly] election, in what capacity Carlos Garcia, formerly perm rep of El Salvador, shown in the Ng Lap Seng trial to have been involved in… in passing money from Ng Lap Seng to… to Francis Lorenzo, in what capacity he was… he was in the building. Stéphane said, "if I find out". Did he try to find out? Is there any way to know?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, these are questions that need to be addressed to the Governments for whom these individuals are working or are representing. We don't speak for those Governments. You know, questions having to do with who gets credentials from the Central African Republic would need to go to the Central African Republic Government. What we do…
Correspondent: Right, but given… and I take the Economist at face value, can the same person have two passes, represent Mozambique and CAR? Doesn't the UN have a system to make sure the same person doesn't have two countries?
Deputy Spokesman: When people present diplomatic credentials to the UN, we work to make sure that those credentials are in order, so what we do is verify that those credentials are in order, but it's up to the Government to actually confer credentials. Yes, Masood?
Correspondent: Thank you, Rehan. About the…
Deputy Spokesman: Farhan. You were close.
Question: Farhan. About this repatriation of the Rohingya by… into Myanmar, there was supposed to be some sort of an agreement reached about two or three weeks ago, but… has that been followed up on?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, that agreement was signed and agreed to between… on 6 June between the Government of Myanmar, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the UN agencies are following up on its implementation with the Government of Myanmar.
Question: So where do… where do we stand now? Because it has still not begun because the… apparently, the refugees have not accepted that offer?
Deputy Spokesman: This is a first step, but this is not a sufficient step for the conditions on the ground to be conducive to the safe return of Myanmar refugees. What we're trying to do is get the safe and voluntary return of the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, so this is a step forward, but we need to follow up on that and we need to make sure that the conditions in Myanmar are conducive to their return. Come on up, Brenden.
Question: Is the… is the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] public?
Deputy Spokesman: What?
Question: Is the MOU public? Is the document, the memorandum of understanding the UN signed, a public document?
Deputy Spokesman: Check with the country team.
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