The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We have just received information from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), indicating that a UN military vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device on the Boni-Douentza axis, in the region of Mopti in Mali. Preliminary reports indicate that four peacekeepers were killed and four others were wounded. Medical evacuations are currently ongoing. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, condemned the attack. We join him in extending our condolences to the families of the victims and in wishing a speedy recovery to those injured, and I also expect a more formal statement from the Secretary-General shortly.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues from United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today they are deeply saddened and shocked by the killing of their colleague, along with five other education workers, who were attacked on 25 February while travelling in the north-western region of the Central African Republic, near Markounda, a remote area near the Chadian border. They strongly condemn this senseless act against aid workers who were there to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations. We join them in offering our deepest condolences to the families and to the colleagues of the victims.
Later today, the Secretary-General, along with the Deputy Secretary-General and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, will host a high-level retreat bringing together some of the world's most committed innovators in finance, health and technology to stand with the Government and the people of Haiti in defeating the scourge of cholera. Defeating cholera in Haiti is not only a matter of saving lives but of justice. Today, incidence of cholera has declined by 99 per cent, and we praise the Government of Haiti and the people for their leadership on this front. To eradicate the last 1 per cent of incidences, we will explore game-changing ways of partnering with nations or deploying new technologies in other areas of the world to brainstorm with the top leadership of the UN and Haiti on how we write this new chapter of hope for the country.
The President of Haiti has called for a shift from aid to investment, the all-critical developmental shift from “handouts to handshakes”. The Secretary General has pledged a new type of partnership with Haiti in achieving not only the 2030 vision of a Haiti without extreme poverty, but also in defeating the devastating eight-year-long epidemic of cholera. For more than a century, the devastation of cholera has galvanized nations from England to Italy to the Philippines to transform hygiene, water, sanitation and health systems. The dream here is that this terrible tragedy can be alchemized into a new beginning for Haiti and become an example for the world that big goals can be achieved in targeted, measurable ways by marshalling the world's best practices and ideas. This is an opening of a new relationship between the Government of Haiti and the United Nations. The Secretary-General and his Special Envoy are deeply committed to partnering with Haiti to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to end the scourge of cholera. This is an important matter of justice and saving lives and we will never waver from that commitment and will see it through until the job is done.
Back here in the Security Council, Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told Security Council members this morning that the brief respite the Council unanimously demanded for Syria only days ago in resolution 2401 (2018) has not materialized. The airstrikes, shelling, and ground offensives continue. There are even reports of yet another chlorine gas attack. What is needed, he said, is implementation of resolution 2401 (2018), and that is clearly not happening. He said that the United Nations condemns all violations of international law by all parties, including shelling from eastern Ghouta that has injured or killed civilians in Damascus. He added that the scale of the Government’s indiscriminate military attacks against eastern Ghouta — an area with a civilian population of 400,000 — cannot be justified on the basis of targeting Jabhat al Nusra fighters. Mr. Feltman recalled that yesterday, the head of the Syrian Negotiations Commission transmitted to the Secretary-General a letter on behalf of the three major non-State armed opposition groups — Jaish al Islam, Failaq al Rahman and Ahrar al Sham — and civilian groups in eastern Ghouta regarding their full commitment to the implementation of resolution 2401 (2018). Specifically, they committed to ensuring the necessary environment for United Nations humanitarian access, as well as “to expel all elements of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, Jabhat al Nusra, and Al Qaida and all those who belong to these groups from eastern Ghouta”.
Also briefing was Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations. He told Council members that more than 580 people are now reported to have been killed due to air and ground-based strikes in eastern Ghouta since 18 February, with well over 1,000 people wounded. At the same time, hundreds of rockets from eastern Ghouta into Damascus have reportedly killed 15 people, and injured over 200. He said that the United Nations and its partners have convoys ready to go to 10 besieged and hard-to-reach locations. They include a 45-truck convoy with aid for 90,000 people to Douma in eastern Ghouta. But, Mr. Lowcock warned that humanitarian access has decreased recently, to the point that we were reaching more than 50 times as many people in besieged and hard‑to‑reach areas last year as we have done so far this year.
Mohammed ibn Chambas, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, today delivered a message to the International Conference on Lake Chad in Abuja on behalf of the Secretary-General. He said that Lake Chad was once a major source of livelihoods for millions of people living throughout its basin but today the lake’s water levels have shrunk 90 per cent compared with what it was in the 1960s. He added that as desertification advances and trade routes between the affected countries are interrupted, food security has become a major concern. There are 4.5 million food insecure people across the region and this is projected to rise to 5.8 million by August this year. This has also had a deep impact on the area’s socioeconomic outlook and has led to increased insecurity in a region that has been affected by violent extremism. Mr. Chambas called on the Governments of the countries of the Lake Chad area and the international community at large to take decisive action to save Lake Chad. Doing so, he said, will help restore lives and livelihoods for millions of people, foster regional integration and development, and offer a durable solution to the Lake Chad Basin crisis.
And in Brussels today, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, spoke at a conference organized by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations on the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine. She reiterated the need to keep the spotlight on the dire situation faced by millions of conflict-impacted Ukrainians. She said it is sobering to note that four years ago, Ukraine had no need for a humanitarian appeal. Yet, today, 3.4 million Ukrainians need humanitarian assistance for their protection and survival, particularly in the eastern parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. At least 2,530 civilians have been killed since hostilities began, and nearly 9,000 people have been injured. Some 1.6 million Ukrainians are displaced across the country. The most vulnerable among them are the elderly, with pensioners making up over half of the people in need.
And yesterday, you will see that we issued a statement on the situation in Nigeria, in which the Secretary-General said he is gravely concerned over the situation of the more than 100 schoolgirls abducted by suspected Boko Haram insurgents during an attack on an educational institution in Dapchi Town in Yobe State. He strongly condemned the attack and abduction. The Secretary-General calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all missing girls and for their safe return to their families. He urges the national authorities to swiftly bring those responsible for this act to justice. The Secretary-General reiterates the solidarity and support of the United Nations to the Government of Nigeria and other affected countries in the region in their fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
I wanted to flag that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomes the Afghan Government’s renewed call for unconditional peace talks with the Taliban and the outlining of a framework for peace, presented at the Kabul Process conference that took place in Kabul today. Together with the 25 countries and international organizations participating in the second Kabul Process conference, UNAMA strongly supports the vision for peace through intra-Afghan dialogue and urges all parties involved to engage at the earliest time.
**United Nations International School
At the opening this morning of the forty-second Conference of the United Nations International School and the United Nations, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, addressed the participants on the theme of technology, innovation and the future of work. Her remarks touched upon many of the positive aspects of how technological advances are profoundly changing how we live, work and interact. But she also highlighted the concerns and risks to be mindful of. Speaking to her audience of students, which she described as “the influencers of today and the leaders of tomorrow”, she reminded them that, over the coming days, to keep a clear mind about the values and aspirations that define humankind, and to “think creatively and act big”. She urged them to “think globally and act locally,” and to be the change agents the world needs. Those remarks are online.
**United Nations Population Fund
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has said that it welcomes the recent news coverage about possible sexual exploitation and abuse in the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Syria. UNFPA underscores that it has zero tolerance for any form of abuse or exploitation. One of the strong tools of the humanitarian system in Syria to look at the forms of such abuse is the Voices publication, which has been produced for the last three years as a programming tool to determine needs and plan responses. By bringing such information to the attention of the entire United Nations and humanitarian actors, it helps to direct programming to address such issues as sexual exploitation and abuse. UNFPA is proud of its work as the lead agency within the United Nations humanitarian system to combat all forms of gender-based violence. In its own programmes providing reproductive health and gender-based violence services in southern Syria, UNFPA has put internal mechanisms in place to guard against sexual exploitation and abuse, including inspections of their programmes by independent outside monitors. UNFPA works only with two non-governmental organizations in southern Syria and has not received any allegations related to sexual abuse or exploitation.
Lastly, tomorrow is the first of the month, which means a new [Security] Council Presidency. At 3 p.m., Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, the Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations and presiding over the Council for March, will be here to brief you at 3 p.m. and answer your questions, as I shall at this very moment. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two follow‑ups to things that you raised. The first one is on the death of the peacekeepers. Does the Secretary‑General feel now that, because of what's happened, it should speed up the important recommendations made in the Cruz report?
Spokesman: First of all, I… you know, we have to wait for the details of this particular horrendous attack, but I think that our colleagues in Mali and in the Central African Republic, our peacekeepers have been at the forefront of really… bearing the brunt of attacks on peacekeepers. And this, as you say, underscores the need for rethinking of how and when peacekeepers are deployed to ensure that they come properly equipped and, just as important, that they come, not only properly equipped in terms of the mechanics, but in terms of the mandate and the authority given to them and whether or not it is a peacekeeping mission or a peace‑enforcing mission, which may demand a different kind of solution.
Question: My second follow‑up question… I'm sorry. I walked in during what you were saying about Haiti. But, reportedly, the Haitian ambassador has been recalled following comments made by the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Port‑au‑Prince. Can you tell us what… the Secretary‑General's response to that? Does he support the comments she made?
Spokesman: We've been informed of the recalling of the ambassador. On the comments made by the Special Representative, I would only say that the Secretary‑General stands in full solidarity with people and the Government of Haiti.
Question: The Government of the Haiti, so does he support the position of the… of the Special Representative in this? Did she exceed her mandate with those comments?
Spokesman: I would refer you to my answer, what I've just given you. Masood‑ji?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Stéphane, about this question that I've been asking and I just am… want to ask, what is it that is… what do you call… holds United Nations and other countries back from questioning Israel as… about what is the plight of Palestinian children in Israeli jails? Nobody seems to bother about that. Last time when I saw the update, which was about… like a week ago, it kept on saying 400, but there has been no update how many children… Palestinian children in Israeli jails.
Spokesman: I don't have an update for you, and I think the Secretary‑General, in his press conference, fully represented the UN's position on that issue.
Question: What… I mean, one doesn’t even know how they're doing in the… those… when they're incarcerated? How long they've been? Are there numbers increasing…?
Spokesman: I think throughout the world, we are… there are various situations where minors and children are incarcerated, and it is important that their rights be fully respected. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Something on South Sudan since… at the end of… I saw you around, but there was no stakeout at the end of… by the Special Representative. So, I wanted to ask you whether the report that the UN or is commissioning into the sexual exploitation allegations in Wau what… if there's a deadline for it and if it will be made public. And I also wanted to ask you or, I guess, Mr. [David] Shearer whether he's aware of the travel ban on a civil society leader that the US Embassy in Juba has denounced. Does the UN have any view on the Government blocking…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen that report. You can check with our colleagues in the mission. On the accusations against the Ghanaians, I think Mr. Shearer and the mission moved extremely swiftly, as soon as he became aware of these allegations of transactional sex, to remove the foreign police unit from Wau to Juba. They are currently confined to base. OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] is doing an investigation. The Ghanaian Government is also doing an investigation. We hope that that will be finished quickly, and then we will see what measures; if the allegations are founded and turn out to be true, we will obviously be able to take measures, and we would expect the Ghanaian authorities to also take measures.
Question: Right, but will the report or… or the findings, one way or another, be made…?
Spokesman: We will make it clear once we have concluded the investigation what the all… which allegations were founded and the measures we've taken.
Question: And does the Secretary‑General… I mean, does he believe that, in general, if it's possible, based on timing, that his Special Representatives, when they come to New York and do such briefings, should make… should have some questions and answers with the press… at a stakeout?
Spokesman: I think it's up to them to decide what they feel is best. Luke? No, no. Masood‑ji, your name is not Luke just yet. Go ahead.
Question: What is the SG's reaction to the proposed elimination of presidential term limits in China?
Spokesman: As far as I know right now, it's a proposal making its way through the system in China, so I do not have a particular comment at this point.
Question: On the peacekeeping attack, do you… do you have any details on the nationalities?
Spokesman: None that I can share at this point because the… all the people that need to be informed have yet to be informed, and I think, first and foremost, we have to think of the families of those who were killed. Mademoiselle? Oui, because all the… you, because only men had lifted their arms, so you would be the only mademoiselle lifting her arm asking for a question. Yes?
Question: Merci. UNICEF staff have petitioned calling for senior management to take more action to address sexual misconduct in light of the allegations surrounding the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth. I'm wondering if the SG's seen that and is willing to take it up. Some of the things they're calling for are more reporting channels being made available to survivors, statute of limitations on reporting to be eliminated. I'm wondering if he's seen that and is looking to take up some of these…?
Spokesman: I haven't spoken to him about it. I haven't seen it. I don't know if he has. I think, for our part, for the Secretariat, I think the launch of the speak‑up line is exactly to meet what we know is a demand, is… we know is a need of a place for people to call and be guided on how to report harassment. The Secretary‑General expects all parts of the UN system, especially those UN funds and programmes over which he has the most direct authority, to take the issue of harassment with the utmost seriousness, to ensure that staff feel they are listened to and staff feel they are… they have a place which they can… where they can report and how they can express themselves and ensure, more importantly, that there is an environment free from harassment. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. I'm wondering what's your comment on a report says UN… a released… UN report links North Korea to the Syrian chemical weapons?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the report. The report, I think, is going to the Sanctions Committee. My understanding is that the report will be made public… be published next month. Our principled position is that we expect all Member States to abide by Security Council resolutions and especially various sanctions regimes. Madame?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. The matter of delineation of the border between Israel and Lebanon, maritime borders — is the United Nations very much involved in this matter, especially the matter of gas and oil, specifically?
Spokesman: No, we're not especially involved in these issues. What is important, I think, is for both countries to use diplomatic channels to work through their differences on the issue of natural resources, on their maritime borders. There are different avenues for them to use, and we encourage them to use those.
Question: Is it the blue… is it the… where is exactly the delineation between the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel? Is it a border of the buoy?
Spokesman: I'm not going to… it's… this is one of these issues where, if I don't know it off the top of my head, I will not answer it. Off the top of my head, I will get you some guidance. But, I think what is important on the delineation of the border is that, not only diplomatic measures be used, but that unilateral measures be avoided, especially in disputed areas, as security implications could arise. Mr. Lee and then Masood.
Question: Sure. I just… on… on this… the sexual harassment issue and the… the… stated in… you know, seriousness from the top. I just would like to request that… that maybe Jan Beagle, if she's chairing this thing, have a press conference. And I'm… particularly, since she was at UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] in the very time frame where the head of the… of the world… you know, YWCA says that it was basically Animal House or that's… that's the kind of phrases that… she used… she said it was systemic, not just a matter that she was a victim, that there were a number of victims. It just seems kind of in… it's incongruous that one person would say that…?
Spokesman: I think… yeah, I think UNAIDS would dispute that assessment.
Question: Sure, but maybe she can do a press conference?
Question: Okay. I want… I mean… please. The… the… I wanted to ask you about Cameroon. I've seen that François Fall has… or at least his office is tweeting that he's in the south-west region in Buea, saying he's having some great meetings. Given that the Government side there has asked for a… for a… an alert and that young people's motorcycles are being burned, destroying their livelihood, I'm just wondering, are we going to get a readout? Was that said in advance…?
Spokesman: Let me see what I can get.
Question: It seems like Mr. Feltman didn't actually know it was taking place. I tried to… so, I'm just wondering is this a…?
Spokesman: Well, he may not be the only one. I was not aware of the visit, so that's…
Question: Can you get… okay. I have a bit more but go for… go…
Spokesman: Go ahead. No, it's Wednesday. Go ahead. It’s hump day.
Question: Okay. All right. I do want to ask… and I'm sorry to have to ask this. I went to cover the photo ops today of the Secretary‑General taking credentials. And on my way up, this very microphone here, [I] showed it to UN security, said I'm going to be using it. Seemed to be no problem. In the middle of it, I was told you can't shoot any audio, which is strange, because UNTV shoots audio. And this was… this was during the photo op with the Egyptian ambassador, when he said, I warmly wel… send my warm regards to President [Abdelfattah al] Sisi, et cetera. I just wanted to know because I need to know to not run afoul of any rules…?
Spokesman: You should follow… nobody wants to run afoul of any rules. That's definitely for sure. You should talk to MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit]. Masood‑ji?
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, about this… that… and it's… it's now latest figures coming from Syria is that there are about 600 civilians killed. Now, and… and has it been determined as to who… what are the entities which are now consistently violating the so‑called ceasefire, if at all there is such a thing?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the very detailed and information‑filled statements delivered by both Mr. Feltman and Mr. Lowcock, which I think answer your questions as much as the United Nations is able to answer. What is clear that the people of Syria are continuing to suffer, especially the people in eastern Ghoutah.
Correspondent: Also, Stéphane, one thing that I have… it's like maybe housekeeping or something, your website. It is very slow. It is not updated and…
Spokesman: My… the website is a reflection of me. Matthew?
Correspondent: But the thing is… is somebody…
Spokesman: I'll check. I will try to update myself and the website. We do… my office, I think, does a very good job of updating and putting up speeches and statements as quickly as we're able to. We tweet them out. We email them out. What we don't do is hand‑deliver them, but we would be happy to do that if that would help. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
Spokesman: Refresh. Exactly. You don't know what's in the bottle. Yeah?
Question: The… the… I wanted to ask for a… this afternoon, Jeffrey Yin, who was the personal assistant of Ng Lap Seng, the businessman who was recently convicted on six… six counts of, you know, bribery of the UN PGA [President of the General Assembly] and others in the UN system, is going to… is set for sentencing. And so, I theme… a time I'd like to ask you, does the UN feel that… that… is there anything more that it's going to be doing as this case… he's… Mr. Ng Lap Seng is going to be sentenced, as well, and he was found guilty. Given these… these guilty pleas — and there's another case coming down the pike — what steps is the UN… has anyone in the UN system been actually held accountable for what the jury found were bribes paid in the UN?
Spokesman: I think those who have committed crimes were clearly held accountable in court. Thank you.