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The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General spoke at the ceremony this morning to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of Victims of the Holocaust. He said that as we remember the Holocaust’s victims, we also reaffirm our resolve to fight the hatred that still plagues our world today. He said that he wished to sound an alarm today: Not only is anti-Semitism still strong — it is getting worse. We must rise up against rising anti-Semitism, he told the audience.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, he noted, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased by 57 per cent in 2017. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported last year that 28 per cent of Jews had experienced some form of harassment for being Jewish. And other communities are also facing greater harassment, the Secretary-General warned, saying that the demonization of others rages on. Such hatred is easy to uncork, he said, but very hard to put back in the bottle. The Secretary-General also discussed the lessons of the Holocaust when he spoke on Saturday morning at a special ceremony at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.
As part of today’s events in remembrance of the Holocaust, there is the opening of the exhibit “Beyond Duty: Diplomats Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations”. That is at 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., in the Visitors Lobby — there will be an event which the Secretary-General will attend.
There is also a panel discussion entitled “India: A Distant Haven during the Holocaust”, from 3 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., in Conference Room 2.
And this evening, there is the opening of the exhibit Bracha. A Blessing. Back to Polish Shtetls; that is from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the South Wall, Conference Building. For events in the coming days, please look at the “week ahead”.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, is on his way to Sana’a today. He then intends to go to Hodeidah on Tuesday and be back in Amman on Thursday.
Mr. Griffiths has emphasized to the parties that the UN is committed to staying the course to help the parties implement the Stockholm Agreement fully and rapidly. Both parties continue to demonstrate political will in abiding by the Stockholm Agreement, and he believes that both parties are constructively and seriously engaged in implementing the Agreement.
Yesterday, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, condemned the 26 January shelling of a collective centre for internally displaced people (IDP) in Haradh District, in Hajjah Governorate, during which eight people were killed and 30 others were wounded. She also expressed her condolences to all of the families impacted by the attack. “Any attack on a civilian site is unconscionable and a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” she said.
The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in N’Djamena, Chad, where this morning he attended a memorial organized by the Government to pay tribute to the 10 Chadian peacekeepers killed in last Sunday’s attack in Mali.
Mr. Lacroix praised the heroism of the Chadian contingent in not only repelling a well-coordinated attack and protecting many lives in Aguelhok, but also in taking every precaution in avoiding civilian casualties.
He also conveyed the UN’s immense gratitude for Chad’s commitment to the restoration of peace and security in Mali and the Sahel. He noted that Chad has the highest number of fatalities of any [UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) troop-contributing country].
The Under-Secretary-General, accompanied by the head of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), also met with President [Idriss] Déby of Chad.
**Women, Peace and Security
And also on peacekeeping, our colleagues say that a two-day event on women, peace and security kicked off today in Addis Ababa in preparation for the 2019 UN Peacekeeping Ministerial conference, due to take place in New York in March.
Ethiopian President [Sahle Work] Zewde and Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the African Union, Hanna [Serwaa] Tatteh, addressed the gathering, which is co-hosted by Ethiopia and Canada and brings together Member States, troop and police contributing countries, civil society, academia and UN officials.
The meeting aims to develop concrete proposals for the advancement of the Women, Peace and Security [agenda] in the context of the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping initiative, as well as to elicit pledges and action ahead of the Peacekeeping Ministerial conference.
Over the weekend, you saw we issued two statements: one condemning the terrorist attack that took place at Jolo Cathedral in the Philippines; a second also expressing the Secretary-General’s sorrow at the terrible loss of life and significant damage to people’s homes and environment caused by the collapse of the dam in Brazil.
As you know, also on Saturday, the Security Council met to discuss the situation in Venezuela. Council Members heard from the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, who stressed the need to bring about a political solution that will allow the country’s citizens to enjoy peace, prosperity and all human rights.
And today, the UNHCR-IOM (United Nations Refugee Agency-International Organization for Migration) Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants, Eduardo Stein, issued a statement praising the “exemplary solidarity” and generosity [that] Latin American countries have shown towards people fleeing Venezuela. However, he expressed concern over the violent actions and threats against Venezuelan citizens that have taken place in recent days.
He called these incidents of xenophobia “extremely worrying” and called on Governments and societies to respond with a clear and forceful message of rejection.
And a new report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) shows that the link between conflict and hunger remains persistent and deadly. The report, prepared for the UN Security Council, estimates that around 56 million people are in need of urgent food and livelihood assistance across eight conflict zones around the world, including in Yemen, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Last May, the Council adopted resolution 2417, which condemns starvation as a tool of war and calls on all parties to armed conflict to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to minimize the impact of military actions on civilians, including on food production and distribution.
And as we come to a close with January, a number of Member States [have] paid their regular budget dues in full for 2019. We wish to thank Bulgaria, Denmark, Netherlands, Tuvalu and Ukraine for their payments. The Honour Roll now stands at a healthy 25. Michele?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. I have an initial question and some follow ups. On Venezuela, the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, sent a letter to the SG [Secretary-General] on Saturday night, basically requesting UN help with humanitarian aid and coordination. First of all, would you like to respond to that letter?
Spokesman: Yes. So, yes, we’ve seen the tweets that include the letter. We’re verifying the authenticity, and a response will be considered.
Question: And if you could remind us and the viewers out there, what kind of presence… presence does the UN currently have in Venezuela?
Spokesman: Well, the UN has a country team. Obviously, the focus of the country team has been on working through with the Venezuelan people on our existing Development Assistance Framework, which right now is focussing on areas of health and nutrition and, obviously, also having to do with the broader framework, having to do with Venezuelan refugees and migrants, which have left the country. But we’re, obviously… I think, as Ms. DiCarlo had said and the Secretary General has repeatedly said that he’s concerned about the situation… the humanitarian situation and reiterates his call on all relevant actors to commit to inclusive, credible and political dialogue to address the protracted crisis through peaceful means, in full respect of the law and human rights…
Question: And just one… one last… one last follow up. Previously, the UN has… the [Nicolás] Maduro Government has denied that there is a sort of humanitarian crisis that needs UN help. Given the Maduro Government still holds the seat here at the UN, could the SG decide to work with Guaidó? Can you… can you explain to us… explain to us how that might work given that, officially, the Maduro Government is still recognized by the UN?
Spokesman: Sure. Just a couple of points on principle, because I think this question has come up again and again. The Secretary General of the United Nations does not have the authority to recognize, to grant recognition of Member States or of leaders. We’ve, obviously, taken note of the respective positions by Member States. The recognition of a Head of State of a country is a matter for Member States. We have not… as the Secretariat, have not received any information there’s been any changes in the Government of the country. It would have to come… it would come through a Permanent Mission, and so far, there’s been no changes. Yeah…
Question: So just… It’s the last one…
Spokesman: No, no, Michelle… Let’s please… I know it’s the last one, but let’s share a little bit. Thank you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just following on Venezuela, the NGO (non-governmental organization) Foro Penal has said 850 people have been detained, among them 77 minors. And, also, they talked about 35 people dead in Venezuela since the 23rd, which is when Guaidó took power in front of… or took about to go into being the president… interior president of Venezuela. What is the position from the Secretary General in terms of making a call for the stop of violence? We understand that that’s something that he has done in the past, to try to get to a dialogue. But what are the concerns in terms of what could happen when we’re talking about 77 minors being detained, where it has been different reports of people being killed on the outskirts of different neighbourhoods of Caracas and where we have political detainees that might be in danger and they don’t have the guarantees…
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, we’ve… we and the Secretary General have expressed their… his concern over the reports of casualties in the demonstrators. I would refer you to the statements made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also, on Venezuela, we share those concerns, and I think Miss DiCarlo outlined that very clearly in her statement to the Security Council on Saturday.
Question: Is Ms. [Michelle] Bachelet going to visit Venezuela? Because one of the things she had mentioned… I mean the Government of Maduro said they want her there and that they are welcome…
Spokesman: I’m not aware, but we’re happy to check. Okay. Yeah?
Question: A quick follow up also on Venezuela, Steph, but this… on something that happened on Saturday in the context of the meeting of the Security Council. There was a meeting between the delegation of the US and some representatives from Juan Guaidó. So, I just want to ask if there was any UN presence at this meeting between the US and the Guaidó mission and the… for whatever reason, Juan Guaidó has reached out to you in any capacity…
Spokesman: No, there’s been no… I mean, beyond the tweets that we’ve all seen, there’s been no contacts that I’m aware of, and there was no UN present at that meeting. Monsieur?
Question: On Venezuela, too, on Saturday, there was a country who asked to have a [António] Guterres mediation in Venezuela. What is your answer?
Spokesman: The Secretary General’s good offices are always available, but it obviously… good offices have to be accepted by all parties concerned. Yep?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. A question on Turkey and the [Jamal] Khashoggi investigation. The Special Rapporteur from the UN, Agnès Callamard, is over in Turkey now. She’s requested access from the Saudis to the Saudi consulate, so she can do her investigation. What does Mr. Guterres think? Should the Saudis let her inside the building?
Spokesman: Look, Ms. Callamard operates under very independent mandate from the Secretary General. She has her mandate. She’s following it. As a matter of principle, we do encourage all Member States to cooperate with the human rights mechanisms.
Question: Can I just do a follow up on that?
Question: I mean, obviously, since the Khashoggi thing started, there have been those questions to you about should there be a UN investigation, et cetera, et cetera. Now there is this kind of UN investigation, but it’s quite hard to explain this to readers and viewers how this might differ from one that’s by the Security Council or from the Secretary General. So, like, on… how would you represent what kind of investigation this is? Is it serious and credible, or is it just one woman’s opinion?
Spokesman: Your job… I think your job is to make the complicated UN simple is what I expect journalists to do. Don’t expect me to do it. All… that being… that being said, Ms. Callamard is a Special Rapporteur. She does not report to the Secretary General. She has a specific mandate. She’s acting on that mandate. The fact that she is acting on that mandate does not mean that a request has been received by the Secretary General from any Member States to conduct an investigation. That situation is unchanged. Yeah?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. A question on Yemen. Building on the comments you gave us from Lise Grande and the most recent days, it involves the Red Sea Mills. Now, this strike last week, which appears to have destroyed a lot of grain, there’s a story out today from Hodeidah, pointing out that access has still not been given to access… I think it’s now 51,000 tonnes of grain that’s stored in the Red Sea Mills. Just following up on the comments you made here a little while back about the apparent agreement to gain access, why did that not happen? And what’s the Secretary General’s latest position in terms of the parties making that deal happen so that food can be distributed…?
Spokesman: Look, General [Patrick] Cammaert and Martin Griffiths are working with the parties to operationalize what was agreed to in Stockholm. What is clear is that the continued conflict, the fact that not everything has been operationalized, is having an immediate impact on the humanitarian situation of the people in Yemen. One of the reasons we focussed on Hodeidah is its importance in terms of humanitarian aid distribution, and the aid that is already there or that we need to get there needs to be distributed without any hindrance.
Question: So, just a very quick follow up. What are the specific issues, though, that are blocking it?
Spokesman: I… that will… I’m not going to sort of micro report from what is going on on the ground, unfortunately. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, a question on Hodeidah and again… another one on Bahrain. On Hodeidah, what are the sticking point in implementation of Stockholm? Is it interpretation of the Stockholm Agreement or what? What is the sticking thing?
Spokesman: The difficulty is this conflict has been going on for a number of years. There is a lack of trust, and the UN on the ground is trying to bridge that trust.
Question: On Bahrain… yeah, sorry.
Spokesman: No, go ahead.
Question: On Bahrain, today, the Bahrainian authorities have reinstated or reconfirmed the sentence of Sheikh Ali Salman, the Secretary General of the Wefaq society. It’s the society where no… which has been dismantled by the Government. So, what is the position of the Secretary General regarding that…?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen that report. I will check. Ibtisam?
Question: Stéphane, a 30-years-old… 38-years-old Palestinian was killed by settler, and he was shot by the… in his back, according to Palestinian medical reports. Do you have any comments?
Spokesman: I would refer you to what Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov had said on this already.
Question: Okay. So Mr. Mladenov said that he…
Spokesman: You’ve learned.
Question: Oh, yeah. …that he’s shocked about what happened. Do you consider this a terrorist attack? Do you consider the actions of settlers against Palestinians to be terrorist attacks against civilians?
Spokesman: I will leave it right now for Mr. Mladenov to speak, who speaks for the Secretary General. Yep?
Question: A follow up on Venezuela. You said that UN cannot recognize the new leader…
Spokesman: I said… just to be here clear, the Secretary General. The UN has lots of moving parts. I speak for the Secretary General.
Question: Secretary General.
Spokesman: Obviously, the General Assembly can make decisions. The Security Council can make decisions. We’re talking about the Secretary General.
Question: Okay. Does that mean that Secretary General does not support him as well, or he cannot support him as a new leader, as well?
Spokesman: For… the Secretary General is not in the business of deciding who is going… who is the Head of State of a country and recognizing a Government. We work on an everyday basis through the Permanent Mission of the… of Venezuela, and we continue to do so. And our member… our team on the ground, which is doing also a lot of work on humanitarian issues, continues to work with the Government. Stefano?
Question: Yes, a question is on situation on the Mediterranean between Libya and Sicily in this moment. There is a… there is another boat that rescued migrants they had… is now off Sicily with 47 migrants there for a few days, some also minors, and the port of Italy are closed. Some other… the UN already said… already said that they should open ports for humanitarian reason and so on, but this actually happen, continues to happen. And the Italian authorities say that the ship being… being a Dutch ship, I mean the flag being Dutch…
Spokesman: La domanda per favore?
Question: Well, I think who listen has to know also the background…
Spokesman: No, no, but I…
Question: The question is, the Italian authorities say that the ship should go to… the Dutch should take care of the ship because it’s a Dutch ship. What is the UN position on this? Should the ship arrive to the closest port or…
Spokesman: What is important is that these people who are making these harrowing journeys be treated with dignity and with respect, should not be bounced around, and that, obviously, there needs to be some European wide decisions. But, for any further detail, I’d refer you to UNHCR or IOM. Madame and then Monsieur?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Saturday, at the Security Council meeting, the Russian ambassador accused the German representative of inciting…
Spokesman: Did what to the German?
Question: He accused the German representative…
Spokesman: Oh, sorry. I misheard you.
Question: …of inciting the situation in Venezuela when there had been calls to reduce tension, and today Guaidó is… is calling for increased demonstrations, which appears to be an escalation. And, as a follow up, why would… since two permanent members of the Security Council and many other countries recognize President Maduro, why would the Secretary General be expected to recognize the self proclaimed opposition leader?
Spokesman: I don’t know how to answer your second one. On your first observation, the Secretary General has called and repeats his call for maximum restraint and avoid an escalation of violence in a scenario where we find Venezuelans confronting each other.
Question: Merci, Monsieur Dujarric. First, I have on former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, many… very many prominent European parliamentarists… parliamentarists proposed both Prime Ministers of Greece, Alexis Tsipras and Mr Zoran Zaev of Macedonia, to be candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. What does the Secretary General means on that and whether he would support that, for his own opinion? And then I have a follow up.
Spokesman: All right. Well, we… there are a couple… there are a lot of things we don’t do. We don’t recognise Heads of States, and we don’t give out the Nobel Peace Prize. Obviously, we think that this is a wonderful example of diplomacy. Right? It took a long time, and I think the Greek… the two leaders are to be commended, and I also think the work of Ambassador [Matthew] Nimetz, who has worked on this year in and year out in the face of very, very difficult odds, shows that diplomacy does take some time, but in the end, it avoids confrontation.
Correspondent: …And, also, if I may follow up…
Question: Thank you. On James’ question actually on Mr, Khashoggi, does the Secretary General fully support and back the independent investigation of human rights representative, number one? And, number two, does it mean whatever you answer to James that now Secretary General totally considered that ball is not in his court and he is not even called to comment on that?
Spokesman: No, not at all. The ball often has a way of finding itself back into the Secretary General’s court. So, I would not interpret what I said as that. It’s not for the Secretary General to comment on the details of Madame Callamard’s work. It is, as you said it yourself, an independent investigation. As a matter of principle, the Secretary General thinks that the work of the special mechanism, Special Rapporteurs, is very important, and countries should cooperate with them. Michelle then Nizar and then Stefano.
Question: Two quick follow ups. It sounds like you haven’t actually received Guaidó’s letter yet, physically have a copy of it?
Spokesman: We’ve seen it on Twitter.
Question: Okay. And is the SG limited in how he can respond in terms of offering assistance, given that the UN seat is held by Maduro’s Government?
Spokesman: Look, the… we work… as with any country, we work with the agreement, the permission of Member States. The UN doesn’t operate independently. And we, obviously… you know, our colleagues on the ground are working, including UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), scaling up assistance, obviously subject to available resources. Any humanitarian action, as a matter of principle, should be independent of politics, economic or military or any other objective. But our… the… I mean, you’ve been here long enough, Michelle, that you know how the UN operates. We don’t go in without specific mandates. The Secretary General’s focus remains on the people of Venezuela. Nizar?
Question: On this agreement at Doha between Taliban and United States, has UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) been involved in any way in these discussions…?
Spokesman: I’m not aware that… they’ve not been involved in the discussions, as far as I’m aware.
Question: But you are following what’s happening…?
Spokesman: Of course.
Question: And what do you think… did you…
Spokesman: As a matter of principle, we’re always for dialogue. Stefano?
Question: Yes, a follow up on Venezuela, just to clarify, the idea of new election for the Secretary General, is it a good idea in this moment, like that Maduro, let’s say, will allow new elections in Venezuela?
Spokesman: I’m not going to comment on any hypotheticals. Yes?
Question: Well, it’s been requested by important countries.
Spokesman: I understand. I’m not commenting on that.
Question: In this process, will be the Secretary General willing…
Spokesman: Sorry, in what?
Question: In this process that Venezuela is living, is going through, will the Secretary General be willing to meet with Guaidó, possibly travel to Venezuela and meet with both parties? We understand he cannot take sides, but will that be a possibility?
Spokesman: The Secretary General’s good offices, as he said clearly, remain available to the parties.
Monica, you remain available to the press, and it’s all yours. Thank you.
Source: United Nations