The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A couple of announcements: On Sunday, the Secretary-General will travel to Kenya for a two-day visit. While in Kenya, the Secretary-General will meet with senior leadership of the Kenyan Government to discuss a range of regional issues. He will also participate in a number of events in the Kenyan capital to mark International Women’s Day. Prior to returning to New York, the Secretary-General will also visit the UN headquarters in Nairobi, which you know are the African headquarters for the UN, for a town-hall meeting with staff and to meet with our senior leaders there. We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, is continuing his tour of areas that have been impacted by severe food shortages. Today, he was in Kenya, where he visited one of the driest areas in the north and saw the devastating impact of drought on rural communities. Travelling to the remote village of Bandarero in Moyale, Marsabit County, Mr. O'Brien spoke to families facing severe food insecurity. Many of them told him they had very little access to water, that their livestock had perished, and that their children were struggling to stay in school.
He also visited several UN, Government and private-sector-supported initiatives, including some on school feeding, malnutrition screening, water trucking, cash transfers and programmes to help supplement livestock. Mr. O’Brien also stressed that the international community stands with the people of Kenya, where more than 2.7 million people are severely food insecure. He added that, together, we will get through these difficult times. We must act early, together, and now, he said. Tomorrow, Mr. O’Brien is scheduled to visit South Sudan.
In South Sudan, the Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission there, David Shearer, said today that South Sudan’s political leadership needs to support its own citizens, who are in desperate need across the country, and cease hostilities. While famine has been declared in parts of the country, humanitarian agencies and the UN, who want to reach people in need, are repeatedly refused access by local authorities. Humanitarian organizations have been forced to leave several areas due to fighting or risk of fighting.
Mr. Shearer deplored that it is the most vulnerable in society who are most affected by this shocking situation. He said he was alarmed at how little a response to the plight of these people has been heard from their leaders. Mr. Shearer added that those affected by the humanitarian crisis deserve protection but the constant fighting shows they are getting none. His remarks are online.
Our humanitarian colleagues in Yemen report that the first humanitarian truck from Ibb since August 2016 arrived in Taizz City today, carrying eight tons of medicine and medical equipment. The distribution of the medicines to health facilities in Taizz City is expected to be conducted tomorrow. This follows, as you will recall, the disappointing denial of the visit by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, to Taizz on 28 February. Parties to the conflict are reminded of their responsibilities to respect humanitarian and international humanitarian law, including the provision of timely, full and unimpeded humanitarian access.
On Somalia, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has launched a $24.6 million appeal to help more than 1 million Somalis affected by drought. The funding would be aimed at scaling up life-saving interventions throughout the country. IOM says that an increasing number of Somalis are being forced to relocate in search of food and water. Without assistance, many will face malnutrition, as well as increased risk of disease and even death.
And as you will have seen yesterday we announced the appointment by the Secretary-General of Major General Jean-Paul Deconinck of Belgium as the Force Commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). He succeeds Major General Michael Lollesgaard of Denmark, who completed his tour of duty at the end of last year. The Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated and exemplary service during his tenure with MINUSMA. The incoming Force Commander brings to this position 38 years of national and international military experience with the Belgian Army. Most recently, he served as Commander of Land Forces of the Belgian Armed Forces since September 2014. More information online.
And also from Mali, the International Organization for Migration said today that internal displacement in the country can be resolved by the end of 2017, but only if there is no resurgence of communal violence or armed conflict. IOM is calling on all groups in Mali to help foster stability and peace to avoid further displacement and encourage the return home of those still displaced. There are currently 44,762 people internally displaced in Mali. There are more details online.
A quick update on the ongoing discussions on Cyprus: Espen Barth Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, met with the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, today, and he will meet the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, tomorrow. Mr. Eide is discussing the current situation in the talks and how to move the process forward with both leaders. The UN remains committed to facilitating the leaders' efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible.
A new report issued by the UN human rights office finds that the slow pace of transitional justice in Sri Lanka and the lack of a comprehensive strategy to address accountability for past crimes risk derailing the momentum towards lasting peace, reconciliation and stability. The report was mandated by the Human Rights Council to assess progress made in tackling the legacy of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that in many ways, Sri Lanka appears to be turning a corner on the promotion and protection of human rights, but he stressed that hard-won gains could prove illusory if they are not tethered to a comprehensive and robust strategy. The full report is online.
**The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Erol, I had a response for the questions you had raised about the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. What I can tell you is that we are closely following the recent developments in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and in the Western Balkans in general. While the formation of a Government is an internal matter, we encourage all political parties to uphold constitutional standards and the rule of law. We hope that countries of the region will continue to prioritize progress towards achieving high standards of democracy, rule of law, and economic welfare for their populations.
**World Health Organization
Today is World Hearing Day, and the World Health Organization (WHO) is using the occasion to draw attention to the 360 million people worldwide with disabling hearing loss. WHO says that hearing loss not only has a significant impact on the lives of those affected, but also poses high costs to the global economy. According to WHO estimates, some $750 billion a year is lost due to unaddressed hearing loss.
**World Wildlife Day
The Deputy Secretary-General — I should have mentioned this earlier — delivered remarks earlier this morning at the General Assembly in an event marking World Wildlife Day. In her remarks, Ms. Mohammed noted that over the past four decades, the planet has lost as much as 50 per cent of its wild animals and plants due to climate change, habitat loss, over-exploitation, poaching and illicit trafficking. To combat the poaching and trafficking of protected species the international community must address both supply and demand, she stressed.
And on that, at 3 p.m. today there will be a joint press briefing here by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) on the efforts to stop the illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife. And that will be at 3 p.m. here.
On Monday at noon we will be joined by Jeffrey Feltman, the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will brief you on his recently concluded visit to six African countries in West Africa. And one last thing to note, if you had not seen it, at 1 p.m. New York time, 7 p.m. in Geneva, Staffan de Mistura will be having a stakeout giving an update on the ongoing talks in Cyprus and Syria. Thank you. Somebody's paying attention. In Syria and that will be on the UN WebTV for you to follow. Ms. Lederer.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With thousands of people fleeing Western Mosul, I wonder if you can give us an update on what the UN is doing to help them in terms of humanitarian aid.
Spokesman: Sure. The latest figures we have of people having been recorded leaving Western Mosul is 28,400, and that's since the operations in the western part of the city started on 19 February. However, we're also tracking down reports of thousands more people on the move, and so once those reports are verified, we'll update the figure. On average, since the beginning of the operation, it's been about 4,000 people a day fleeing Western Mosul. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, our humanitarian colleagues and their partners have no access to the western part of the city that remains under Da’esh control. We think about 750,000 people are still trapped inside… civilians are still trapped inside, either sheltering from the fighting, or obviously, waiting for an opportunity to flee. It goes without saying that we're deeply concerned with their well‑being and their safety and their access to vital resources. Humanitarian missions are being undertaken to establish access as the front line moves. Another access mission was completed yesterday close to the western front line to allow humanitarians to plan distribution. Go ahead.
Question: On a military front, Stéphane, today, there was a troubling military escalation between PKK‑affiliated forces on the border of Syria‑Iraq… between PKK‑affiliated forces and KRG, Kurdistan Regional, Peshmerga‑backed forces. Obviously, as you know, Turkey and Kurdistan Regional Government are against the presence of PKK in that area and now turn to a military escalation. Do you have any comments about that?
Spokesman: We, obviously, have no one directly in the area, so we're not able to verify those reports. So, the only thing I could say is that, obviously, any increase in the military activities remains a concern to us. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Today, Israeli warplanes and tanks carried out strikes and artillery attacks on Gaza. And, on Monday, at least four people sustained injuries after Israeli military aircraft carried out a number of attacks. Last month, the Gaza‑based al‑Mezan Center issued a statement calling on international community to express concern about the Israeli airstrikes escalation in Gaza, warning that it could lead to a wider scale war. Now, Mr. Mladenov yesterday issued a statement condemning one rocket that fired from a Gaza tower at Israel. Does he see these things? Does he have…? Why he doesn't issue a statement at least expressing concern about the Israeli escalation?
Spokesman: I think if you look at the body of what Mr. Mladenov said since he's gotten the post, he has obviously reported objectively on the situation. He will update the Council again in this coming month for the periodic report on the Middle East. I think it goes without saying that we would call for maximum restraint on the part of the Israeli forces and also second Mr. Mladenov's condemnation of the rocket attack. We would ask again the Israelis to do their utmost to avoid any civilian casualties. And, again, call on both parties to go back to the negotiating table to find a solution to the ongoing conflict. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. First, I wanted to ask you about the… the statement you read out about Sri Lanka. Since… since the report was delivered at the Human Rights Council, the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Sirisena, has said in Sri Lanka that there will be no foreign judges, no hybrid court. So I wanted to know… I know this was an issue that the former Secretary‑General had kind of a personal interest in, this idea of following up on the 2009 events. Does… is there any… what's the response of the UN system to essentially a flat “no” by the President?
Spokesman: The situation remains one that we're following. I think I would encourage you to ask the human rights… our colleagues in the Human Rights Office who are on the lead on this issue.
Question: And I also wanted to ask you, yesterday, I'd asked you about this letter from the former senator… the Senate President of Nigeria. And I've just… maybe they misunderstood it, but the press in Nigeria picked up on your answer and said that no letter has been received at all. So, I wanted to know… you said you hadn't seen it. Does that just mean that you personally hadn't seen it, or have you checked to see whether the letter…?
Spokesman: We have not… I have the not received any confirmation that a letter has been received. I can't speak to whether or not a letter was sent since we were, apparently, if this letter exists, the recipients. As far as the recipients, as of today, nothing has been received.
Question: Okay. And can I ask one… just related to this… since the Council is… is on this trip and is in Cameroon, I wanted to know whether the… the… the… whether, I don't know, I guess, [Department of Political Affairs], has it taken any notice of this protest in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon? Many people have been arrested. Eight journalists have been detained. What is the… is the UN… it doesn't seem… it seems like the Security Council's focus is entirely on the Boko Haram aspect, but is anyone in the UN system concerned and trying to get some answers?
Spokesman: We're obviously following it, and I'll see if I can get you something further. Rosiland.
Question: On something very different — climate and the Paris accords — Patricia Espinosa, the UN climate chief, says that she's been trying to get a meeting with [United States] Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson and hasn't been able to arrange such a meeting. Is this a matter of concern for the UN? And, if so, why?
Spokesman: You know, I can't speak to Ms. Espinosa's efforts. Obviously, a dialogue with the United States on the issue of the Paris Agreement is very important. But, I don't know… I don't know the details of when or where she asked. But, obviously, the US is a key partner in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Fathi.
Question: A follow‑up. Until now, the Secretary‑General… no announcement made about a possible appointment or a meeting with US President Donald Trump. Now we hear about Ms. Espinosa trying to get an appointment with the Secretary‑General… with the Secretary of State and yet no success. Is this a trend towards the US Administration… from the US Administration towards the UN by totally ignoring the requests for meetings to discuss ongoing business whether within the entire organizations or for certain aspects of its operation?
Spokesman: You know, I will leave the observation and the analysis of trends to all of you. Obviously, when we have a meeting to announce, we will do so. Matthew.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you a couple questions about Burundi. One is just there… there was a letter sent in by Ambassador Shingiro dated 21 February, but it's only become public recently, saying that three politician… opposition politicians that had fled the country have returned and this is a good sign and should… should be circulated. People there are saying that these people didn't flee under threat of a… of arrest at all. It's kind of a misleading presentation. Have you seen this? Is…?
Spokesman: If it's been circulated, I have no… I have no way of verifying what the ambassador said.
Question: Sure. There's also a… because of the UN's historical, I guess, work on the FDLR issue, an FDLR member Habi… [inaudible] has re… has surfaced in Rwanda, and it's said that he was… had been in training the youth wing of the CNDD‑FDD. And I wanted to know, which… in… both just in terms of the Sanctions Committee, who tracks this in terms of the FDLR, I guess, is looked at by the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] Sanctions Committee, but if, in fact, this group is in Burundi, does this fall within the mandate of…?
Spokesman: That's a question for the Security Council, how they organize and how they follow their own sanctions.
Question: And the other question… this is going to be now the third and, I'm hoping, last time that I'm asking you this, because I think it is in your mandate. DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]. Can you state why DPKO is — and, you know, you… it's been like about 10 days — training the Burundian contingent in CAR [Central African Republic] in the use of drones given what the Human Rights Council and others have said about the Burundian forces, how they operate in Burundi itself?
Spokesman: If I can get some confirmation...
Question: Have you tried? Have you…?
Spokesman: I do actually try. But, If I can get some confirmation, then I will share that with you.
Correspondent: They don't confirm that they're training…
Spokesman: As I said, if I get some confirmation, I will share it with you. Thank you.