The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
In his first time speaking before the Security Council as Secretary-General, António Guterres spoke about the importance of conflict prevention, saying that it has proved very difficult to persuade decision-makers at national and international levels that prevention must be their priority — perhaps because successful prevention does not attract attention. The television cameras are not there when a crisis is avoided, he said.
He told the Security Council that we must rebalance our approach to peace and security. For decades, this has been dominated by responding to conflict. For the future, we need to do far more to prevent war and sustain peace. He said that we must commit to a surge in diplomacy for peace, in partnership with regional organizations, mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious authorities to civil society and the business community.
The Secretary-General said the United Nations will launch an initiative to enhance mediation capacity, both at UN Headquarters and in the field, and to support regional and national mediation efforts. His remarks are available online.
And on the margins of today’s Security Council meeting, the Secretary-General is holding a number of bilateral meetings with some of the visiting foreign ministers; those include Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden. Readouts are available in my office.
And I was asked yesterday about the fighting going on in Al Bab, in Syria’s Aleppo governorate. I can tell you that we obviously remain very concerned for the situation of civilians impacted by the anti-Da’esh operations in and around Al Bab.
Reports continue to be received of deaths and displacement as a result of fighting, which reportedly intensified last month. It is estimated that about 30,000 civilians have fled Al Bab city and surroundings since then, heading mainly towards Azaz, Jarabulus and Menbij districts. An estimated 5,000 to 8,000 civilians are still in Al Bab city, facing difficult conditions under Da’esh control, including severe restrictions on movements.
The UN and partners are providing assistance to those who are displaced, including through setting up reception and transit centres to receive and provide basic assistance to all those who need it.
And from Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues say that the number of people internally displaced as a result of conflict in Mosul city in Iraq is approaching 140,000.
Trauma cases remain extremely high, particularly near frontline areas. In the week up till 8 January, 683 people were referred from eastern Mosul city to hospitals in Erbil and Dahuk. In the previous week, some 817 trauma cases required referrals to hospitals.
Aid distribution by humanitarian partners in eastern Mosul city continues and reached 50,000 people in the first week of the year with ready-to-eat food, water and hygiene items. Hundreds of thousands of displaced and other vulnerable people are receiving a wide range of assistance outside of Mosul itself.
Meanwhile, there is no humanitarian access to Da’esh-controlled areas in the western part of the city, and there are increasing humanitarian concerns for the well-being of civilians in those areas.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today condemned the double bombing that took place today in a civilian-populated area in Kabul. The bombings were carried out near the Afghan Parliament during rush hour, reportedly killing dozens of people and leaving many more injured. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Mission says it is continuing to investigate the circumstances around the bombings.
And yesterday I was asked about the issue of vaccination against cholera of Indian peacekeepers in Haiti. The UN Mission there (MINUSTAH) says that all Formed Police Units who were not already vaccinated at the time of their arrival in the Mission have now been given the vaccine.
A second dose, for those who have not yet had it, is being administered or will be in the coming days.
Cholera vaccination is mandatory for all peacekeepers deploying to peacekeeping operations and it is the responsibility of Member States to ensure that their personnel receives all mandatory vaccinations prior to deployment.
Should troops deploy to a mission area without the required vaccination, the supporting Mission takes measures to provide them. All costs incurred are deducted from the reimbursement to the troop and police contributing countries.
And I want to flag today a new global report from the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute of the US.
This report, entitled the Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control, finds that policies to control tobacco use, including tobacco tax and price increases, can generate significant Government revenues for health and development work, as well as greatly reduce tobacco use.
But left unchecked, the tobacco industry and the deadly impact of its products cost the world’s economies more than $1 trillion annually in health-care expenditures and lost productivity.
Currently, around 6 million people die annually as a result of tobacco use, mostly in developing countries.
And our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the US Children’s Fund for UNICEF today supported the LEGO Foundation.
It’s a project called #EarlyMomentsMatter, and it aims to drive increased awareness about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life and the impact of early experiences on the developing brain. More information on UNICEF’s website.
And, after we’re done here with questions, I will joined by Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), to brief about the UN World Data Forum, which will take place in Cape Town later this month.
And tomorrow, as I mentioned, we will have Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, briefing you by phone from Iraq on the situation in Mosul and other parts of the country.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Secretary‑General's statement this morning to the Council clearly puts prevention at the top of priorities, which previous Administration had not done. He has done something to start by creating the Executive Committee at the cabinet level. Is he confident that he will be able to persuade the Secretariat, the Assembly, and the Council to take the road to innovation? And how would he do that?
Spokesman: You know, he is the head of the Secretariat, so he is confident that the Secretariat will follow his example and his directives. I think, as you said, the message on prevention is at the top and at the centre of his agenda. It will be what will be driving a lot of his initiatives. I think this was the… his opening remarks to Member States delivered to the Security Council. He will also be speaking to the General Assembly fairly soon. And I… he very much hopes that Member States will heed his message and give him the resources that he needs to implement the plan that he will be putting forward. Mr. Klein?
Question: Two… two follow‑up related questions. Number one, has he… has the Secretary‑General drawn up or is he getting input to draw up kind of a priority list of areas where he believes that there is a need for his offices in terms of… of conflict prevention? That's number one. And number two, are there any projected budget figures for what he's looking for to help… to reinforce his conflict prevention agenda?
Spokesman: No, I don't… I'm not in a position to give you a figure. As to the focus, it's not a matter of priority lists. I think it's a matter, first, of ensuring that the system works as one on issues of prevention, which are not just focused on lack of conflict; it's also having to do with human rights, with governance, dealing with issues of inequality, of youth unemployment. These are broad… very broad‑based issues that he wants the system to look as one through the prism of prevention. Yes, sir. Walter?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Government of Austria and other Austrian officials have repeatedly called for the establishment of centres or islands in the Mediterranean where migrants would be processed before they can reach any of the borders of the European Union. Now, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is supposed to run these programmes. As have… having run UNHCR for ten years, is the Secretary‑General aware of this proposal?
Spokesman: You know, I've seen some of the press reports. Obviously, I think, what is important for us is that the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees be respected. I think one of the many things the UN system has been trying to do, which it did through the summit meeting it held last September and will continue to work on, is a continuing dialogue between the countries of origin, the countries of transit, and the countries of destination. The issues on how to deal with the mass movements of people has to go through all three of these to ensure that people are treated properly and, at the same time, obviously, deal with the root causes of why people move. And I think it goes back to the Secretary‑General's statement on prevention. People move because of conflict. People move because of inequality, of lack of opportunities. So all these things need to be looked at. Yeah?
Question: Thank you. Is there any update on the Gambia? There's a…
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is obviously following extremely closely the situation in Gambia. We are extremely supportive of the efforts led by the President of Nigeria. I know he will be leading an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) mission to the Gambia, I believe, tomorrow. And my understanding is that Mr. [Mohammed ibn] Chambas, the Secretary‑General's representative for West Africa, will be briefing the Security Council on the Gambia on Friday. Fathi and then Evelyn.
Question: Thank you, Steph. With regard to the conference on Cyprus in Geneva on 12 January, what's the Secretary‑General's expectations that this conference might come out? Is he optimistic about the breakthrough?
Spokesman: I'm not going to characterize his expectations. I think he's looking forward to opening the conference. He spent a good part of his weekend on the phone with the leaders, with a number of the guarantor Powers and other countries and others involved in this issue. I think we are, as Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide said, at a very critical point, and we look forward to the opening of this latest process. Evelyn?
Question: Yes, further on Gambia, the Supreme Court is… the Nigerian who somehow heads the Supreme Court in Gambia is unable to hear any petitions on the election for weeks, for months, because he's not available. Do you know what role that will play?
Spokesman: No, I mean, I think we've seen the will of the people of the Gambia expressed in peaceful elections. It's important that the will of the people be respected. We are at a difficult and critical time in this transition in the Gambia, and that's why I think… that's why we very much support the efforts by ECOWAS to try to resolve this situation peacefully. Mr. Klein and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Just going back to the prevention agenda, I need some clarification here, because you indicated it's not just about conflict, and you listed a whole bunch of things that are… inequality, education, reducing poverty, and so forth, which are already incorporated in the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). And what I thought the Secretary‑General was saying was that, rather than wait until conflicts erupt and then respond, he wants to focus his attention on mechanisms in improving the UN Secretariat's ability to effectuate conflict prevention mechanisms. So you said it's not just about conflict. I thought the whole purpose of his vision was to get ahead of emerging conflicts and try to prevent them, using the UN resources to support that. Isn't that what he was saying?
Spokesman: Yeah, but I thought I'd answered that. I mean, I think if you look at what he said, he talked about a number of the conflicts that we see in today's world, which start off often as internal conflicts and have then regional, even global impacts, and that they're fuelled by competition for power, resources, inequality, marginalization, poor governance, weak institutions, and so forth. I think what he's saying is that the causes of these conflicts are very much interlinked, but the UN's response all too often has remained fragmented. So he's really… it's not about… it's about retooling the organisation to ensure that it can deal and… as much as possible with the prevention… preventing these conflicts from arising in the first place by dealing with a lot of the underlying causes. Mr. Abbadi and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Thank you. Still on prevention, I think you indicated that the Secretary‑General soon will address the Assembly with a plan. Could you tell us when he will do that and also if you can say what the outline of the plan is?
Spokesman: No, what I said is that he would address the General Assembly, will also be focused… his address to the General Assembly will be focused on Agenda 2030. I don't think I said with a plan. But obviously, this is a theme he will develop in speaking to… in speaking publicly at the start of his mandate. I'll check the date, but I think it's within the next two, three weeks. It's not that far away from now. Love to invite our guest to come up.