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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 January 2019

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**World Economic Forum

Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary-General spoke at a plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, and he underlined the modern contradiction in which global challenges are interlinked, but our response is fragmented.  There's also a growing sense, he said, that political systems, nationally and internationally, have lost the confidence of many people.  Speaking as a multilateralist, he said that we should not vilify those who don't agree with us and have lost faith; we need to understand the root causes of why large sections of the population disagree with us and to address the discontent of those who feel they were left behind.  Governments and international organizations need to act and show that we care, he said during a conversation with the former Norwegian Foreign Minister and current President of the World Economic Forum, Borge Brende.

Turning to climate change, the Secretary-General said that the reality is worse than what the scientists had predicted but the problem is that political will is not there.  However, he added, technology is on our side and the private sector and civil society are fully mobilized.

While in Davos, the Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings, including with the President of Colombia, the Prime Minister of Jordan and Dubai's Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Gergawi.  He also met with Susannah Rogers, a gold medal Paralympics swimmer and disability rights advocate.  The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York, where he will arrive tomorrow.


You will have seen that last night we issued a statement on Venezuela in which the Secretary-General said that he is concerned about reports of casualties in the context of demonstrations and unrest in the country, and he called for a transparent and independent investigation of these incidents.

He urged all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent violence and avoid any escalation and underlined the urgent need for all relevant actors to commit to inclusive and credible political dialogue to address the protracted crisis in the country, with full respect for the rule of law and human rights.


I would like to confirm that the Secretary-General welcomes the recent announcement by the Emir of Qatar to allocate $50 million to support Syrian refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East affected by the recent severe weather in the region.  The Secretary-General is very grateful to the Emir and the people of Qatar for their generosity.

As you know, the recent harsh winter conditions in the Levant has had a horrific impact on populations who were already vulnerable, both refugees as well as the communities hosting them.  Humanitarian partners continue to respond to the needs of those who have been affected and are reinforcing preparedness and mitigation efforts.  These difficult conditions make Qatar's donation extremely valuable and timely for the UN system's efforts to help vulnerable people.

**Central African Republic

Earlier today, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, spoke in Khartoum, Sudan, at the opening of the direct dialogue between the Government of the Central African Republic and 14 armed groups, convened under the African Union Initiative for peace and reconciliation in the country.

Mr. Lacroix conveyed the UN's support for the African Initiative to end the crisis in the Central African Republic and called on all parties to seize this important opportunity to bring the country back on the path to stability, peace and development.

Mr. Lacroix will then travel to Chad from 26 to 29 January to pay tribute to the ten Chadian peacekeepers of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) killed in the attack against their base in Aguelhok on 20 January.  He will attend a memorial ceremony that will take place in N'Djamena next Monday.

**Great Lakes

I've been asked about the appointment of the new envoy for the Great Lakes region – you may recall that on 22 January, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Ambassador Huang Xia of the People's Republic of China as his Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region.  Mr. Xia will assume the position of Special Envoy on 1 April 2019.

The Secretary-General reiterates his deep gratitude to his outgoing Special Envoy, Said Djinnit, for his distinguished service in West Africa and the Great Lakes region, respectively, over the past eleven years.  During that period, Ambassador Djinnit worked closely with the African Union, as well as regional organisations and mechanisms, to tackle complex peace and security challenges on the continent.

The Secretary-General particularly appreciates Mr. Djinnit's efforts to advance the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region.


Our humanitarian colleagues report that yesterday, 14 new cases of Ebola were reported in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the largest one-day increase since the beginning of the outbreak on 1 August last year.  Nine of the new cases were detected near Butembo, a city of a million inhabitants.

As of 21 January, the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases of Ebola stands at 699, including 433 deaths and 246 survivors.

The Ministry of Health, WHO (World Health Organization) and humanitarian partners have fully scaled up the response on the ground.  A decline in case incidence had recently been reported in Beni, the former epicentre of the outbreak; this is an indication of how effective the response can be despite multiple challenges, including access, contact tracing, and delayed case detection.

According to WHO, the current Ebola response is likely to continue for the next six months and the spread of the epidemic, both north and south, remains possible.

**Disaster Risk Reduction

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction today said that extreme weather events affected 60 million people last year.

Earthquakes and tsunamis accounted for the majority of the more than 10,000 lives lost in disasters last year, while extreme weather events accounted for most of the 61.7 million people affected by natural hazards such as floods, droughts, storms and wildfires.

The countries with the most people affected by extreme weather events are India, the Philippines, China, Nigeria and Guatemala.  More information on this is online.


And a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that even though there are significantly more laws to protect the environment, enforcement of these laws is weak, which ends up exacerbating environmental threats.

The report found that environmental laws have increased 38-fold since 1972.  However, these laws are not enforced properly due to poor coordination across Government agencies, weak institutional capacity, lack of access to information, corruption and stifled civic engagement.

UNEP said that having the necessary laws and regulations is not enough, stressing that political will is lacking.  You can read the full report on UNEP's website.


And this just in, on Yemen:  Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and General Patrick Cammaert are currently in Riyadh.  They held meetings with President [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi as well as Saudi and Emirati officials to discuss suggestions of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) Chair for a proposal on redeployment of forces as agreed in Stockholm; access to the Red Sea Mills; and the next RCC meeting.

Following the adoption of Security Council resolution 2452, we are actively working to stand up the United Nations Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement.

**International Day of Education

And today, we mark the first-ever International Day of Education, proclaimed by the General Assembly last year in celebration of the role of education for peace and development.

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), today, at least 262 million children and youth still do not attend school, while 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math.

In his message on the day, the Secretary-General noted that education transforms lives and is at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.  He added that Nelson Mandela rightly called education "the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

And at 12:30 p.m., there will be a briefing here by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the recognition of the role of education for peace and sustainable development.

And that is it for me.  Before we get to the UNESCO people at 12:30, do you have any questions?

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Russian president mentioned a letter yesterday in a press conference with the Turkish president.  That letter was sent to the Secretary-General by the UK, France and Germany.  I was wondering if you have any more to share with us about the content of this letter.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we have not actually received such a letter.  It may be that something's been drafted that has not been turned in to us.  We have received a letter from those three delegations from last November, but that's not the letter to which the person was referring yesterday.

Question:  And the second question: a UN rapporteur in Geneva announced a visit to Turkey for the killing of the Saudi journalist.  I was wondering if you have more about this visit and what's the purpose. 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is a visit by at Special Rapporteur.  They work independently of us, and they can follow their own guidelines in terms of dealing with topics such as, in this case, the topic of extrajudicial executions.  You're aware of the position of the Secretary-General about the need for a full and transparent investigation, and he continues to stand by that.  Yes, please? Yes, you. 

Question:  Okay.  My question regarding the situation in Venezuela.  It seems like Venezuela has two presidents now, and one is being recognized from more than 14 countries, and the other one is being rejected from those countries.  And now, in this regard, what's the UN position if the opposition president now in Venezuela desires to name a UN Ambassador?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I don't want to engage in hypothetical questions.  We'll see what happens.  We do have a Permanent Mission here, and that is… that remains the Mission that we deal with.  As the Secretary-General made clear in some comments that he made while in Davos today, sovereign Governments have the possibility to decide whatever they want in relation to recognizing other Governments.  You know, that is ultimately a matter between sovereign Governments, and we don't intervene in that process.  Representation at the UN follows certain rules.  Different countries have credentials, and, of course, there is a credentialed representative of Venezuela at the present moment.  But, beyond that, we are looking not at the issue of representation and which Governments are doing that.  At this critical time, what the Secretary-General emphasized, and he emphasised it again in Davos, is that he urged all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent violence and avoid any escalation.  That remains our priority.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Regarding the situation in Sudan, there have been massive protests in the last couple of weeks and especially yesterday and today and have been many reports that spoke of using live ammunition by the Government security personnel against the peaceful protester.  Are there any UN efforts to pressure the Sudanese Government not to use live ammunition or excessive force against the protesters?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, we issued a statement on Sudan at the start of this month when the protests began, and we continue to hold by the idea that peaceful protests must be allowed, as everywhere in the world.  We would call upon all parties to avoid any violence, including the excessive use of force by the security forces.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I just want to do a follow-up on some of the issues around Venezuela.  On his statements, [the Secretary-General] has insisted on the necessity for dialogues and for talks.  However, developments on the ground over the last couple of hours suggests that this is a possibility that is pretty much slipping away.  So, I wonder, could there be any kind of breaking point in which the UN might change its position and maybe consider circumstances difference, taking into account the massive support that Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition, has received?  And, moreover, if the situation turns into like that, would the UN at some point support any kind of transitional government in Venezuela?

Deputy Spokesman:  Again, we're not going to engage into hypothetical discussions about what would happen down the line.  At present, the Secretary-General's concern is of the fracturing of Venezuelan society.  He believes it's essential that the Government and all political actors address the country's protracted crisis urgently with full respect for the rule of law and human rights.  The Secretary-General reiterates his firm belief that an inclusive and credible political negotiation is the only means to address the country's deep-rooted problems.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This morning, there was a press conference by the newly established World Refugee Conference.  Maybe you might monitor.  So, what is Secretary-General's position to the… some proposal from that organisation in the… the collaboration with such independent organization?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we continue to engage with all the civil society groups dealing with refugee issues, and we hope to continue to work constructively with them in terms of dealing with all of the crucial problems.  As you know, the Secretary-General has spoken out, both in his current capacity and as High Commissioner for Refugees, for the need to work together in addressing the challenges posed by refugees, and he continues to do that.  Yes, please.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding Venezuela, I read the statement that you put out yesterday, but I know the Foreign Minister of Venezuela was here last week meeting with the Secretary-General precisely to alert him about the coup d'etat was coming.  And I wonder, beside encouraging all the sides to… to lower the tensions, what is the UN willing to do in… to encourage this dialogue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, UN good offices are always available if both parties avail themselves of that.  The Secretary-General made that point again today.  What he has been saying and emphasizing is that he hopes the dialogue can be possible and that we avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a total disaster for the people of Venezuela and for the region as a whole.  Joe, do you have a question?

Question:  Yeah, just a follow-up on the Special Rapporteur with the [Jamal] Khashoggi investigation.  Are you saying that… was this prompted by any UN Member State, or was this vol… this person's own intention to do this inquiry?  Can you give us more about how this occurred?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you'd have to discuss with Agnès Callamard, the Special Rapporteur, how she goes about her work.  She's an independent expert and can follow the course that she so chooses.  On our standpoint, as you know, we've made the call for an investigation.  We've reiterated what the conditions would be in terms of receiving a request, first and foremost, from a Member State for any UN involvement.  And, as you're aware, up till now, we have not received any such formal request from any State.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  This is going to another part of the world, Ukraine.  I was wondering what the latest developments are in terms of either UN involvement in humanitarian… providing for humanitarian aid and also the status of the political process.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on the status of the political process, I mean, the basic point is that we continue to encourage the parties to work through the process in line with the Minsk agreements.  And we continue to urge them to avoid any unilateral steps that could depart from the Minsk agreements.  For the humanitarian situation, it remains largely the same as we've been reporting, that we want the parties to the conflict to continue to ensure humanitarian access to people who need humanitarian assistance there.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, sir.  The Foreign Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Khaled Al Sabah is visiting the UN at the moment.  Any idea if he will give any press briefing, or can you shed some light about that visit?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, if he does intend to give a press briefing, we'll put it on our schedule, and you'd be able to attend.  But we haven't received anything to put on our programme of press briefings at this point.  Yes, please, in the back.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Farhan.  On the Special Rapporteur going to Turkey, are you able to confirm the dates that she's planning that trip?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I think that would be for our human rights colleagues in Geneva.  They keep track of the schedules of the various Special Rapporteurs.

Question:  So, it's not something that they need to inform you about?

Deputy Spokesman:  They don't need to check with us here, no.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thanks.

Deputy Spokesman:  All right.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

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