The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General arrived in Somalia earlier today to highlight the ongoing risk of famine and cholera faced by millions in the country. The Secretary-General said he decided that he wanted to make this his first field visit as Secretary-General to express his solidarity with the Somali people at this difficult time. At a moment when more than half of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance and 300,000 children are acutely malnourished, he made a strong appeal for support from the international community.
Speaking to reporters alongside the newly elected President of Somalia, the Secretary-General stressed that there is a chance to avoid the worst and avoid a situation like the one in 2011 when hundreds of thousands of people perished. He also underscored that this was a time of hope in Somalia, with a new Government with a strong commitment to enhance security and the capacity of the Government to provide effective services to the population.
The Secretary-General then flew to Baidoa, where after meeting with President of the Southwest State of Somalia, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, he visited two camps for internally displaced people just outside the city. For over an hour, the Secretary-General walked through the camp and listened to the stories of dozens of families who had come to Baidoa to seek food and water. Some had recently resettled from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya only to be forced to move again because of the drought. Following the visit to the camp, the Secretary-General went to Bay Regional Hospital, a medical facility created in 1936, and toured the cholera wards there.
The Secretary-General is now back in Nairobi, where he will meet with the President tomorrow and then make a field visit focused on girls’ empowerment for International Women’s Day.
Also on Somalia, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that one out of seven children dies before her fifth birthday in Somalia. WHO says acute malnutrition weakens the immune system, which makes affected children more susceptible to disease such as measles.
Only about half of the Somali population — some 6.2 million people — has access to basic health services; and less than half of all pregnant women have access to assisted deliveries.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Yesterday afternoon, we issued the following statement on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: The Secretary-General condemns the reported firing of ballistic missiles by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), three of which landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Such actions violate Security Council resolutions and seriously undermine regional peace and stability. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the DPRK leadership to refrain from further provocations and comply fully with its international obligations.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke at a meeting of the Ministerial Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo, and he said that as the region faces challenges that require all moderate forces to work together against the common threat of extremism and terror, cooperation is needed more than ever.
He noted that, since the beginning of the year, significant settlement moves have been made in the occupied West Bank. These have included tenders for around 800 units and the advancement of plans for over 3,300 units, some of which have reached the final approval stage. Construction has also been advanced in East Jerusalem. He reiterated the UN position that settlement activities are illegal under international law and once again called on Israel to stop all such activities.
Mr. Mladenov added that he is concerned by continuing violence, including so-called “lone wolf” attacks. His remarks are online.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, this week opened Chamakor, its latest camp in the Mosul area, to manage the spike in displacement triggered by the recent Iraqi offensive to recapture the western parts of that city. Capacity is rapidly filling in camps to the east, while those to the south are full. More than 195,000 people are currently sheltering in the 21 camps built by UN agencies and the Government around Mosul, and there is currently space available for up to 109,000 new arrivals in existing camps. UNHCR is building two additional camps near Mosul for another 39,000 people.
Also, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, has concluded a seven-day visit to Iraq, encouraged by the commitment of Iraqi authorities to address the immediate and long-term consequences of conflict-related sexual violence, giving recognition and support to the victims and shining the spotlight of international scrutiny on those who commit, command or condone such egregious violations. There’s a press release with more details.
Following the signing of the new Executive Order on US refugee resettlement, UNHCR has underscored that refugees are ordinary people forced to flee war, violence and persecution in their home countries and are in urgent need of lifesaving assistance and protection.
Commenting on the Executive Order, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said that “the imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects.”
UNHCR says it is ready to engage constructively with the US Administration to ensure all refugee programmes meet the highest standards for safety and security. The full statement can be found on UNHCR’s website.
UNHCR has expressed its deep concern over a new law in Hungary, approved by the Parliament, that would put in place measures resulting in mandatory detention of asylum seekers for the entire length of the asylum procedure.
In practice, the law would mean that all asylum seekers, including children, would be detained in shipping containers surrounded by high razor wire fence at the border for extended periods of time.
UNHCR says the new law violates Hungary’s obligations under international and European Union laws, and would result in terrible physical and psychological impacts on women, children and men who already suffered a great deal. The full statement is available online.
Our colleagues in Madagascar are working with the Government’s office of national disaster and risk management to respond to the immediate humanitarian needs following tropical cyclone Enawo.
UN agencies have scaled up their presence to support the Government in responding to the potentially devastating humanitarian impacts of this natural disaster, which struck the island today.
About 760,000 people are likely to be directly affected and 9 regions are at high risk of either floods or severe impact of winds.
**Department of Field Support
And I just want to flag that the UN Department of Field Support (DFS) launched today its new website on conduct and discipline.
The new website comes amidst the Secretary-General’s continuing call for strict enforcement of United Nations standards of conduct in peacekeeping operations and political missions.
The site contains in-depth information on the conduct and discipline mandate of UN missions, policies, training, awareness-raising activities and the handling of allegations of misconduct. The site also contains a new and enhanced section on data. You can visit the website at https://conduct.unmissions.org/.
I also want to flag the statement by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, following the passing of former President René Préval.
She stressed Mr. Préval’s political and social mark on Haiti’s history, describing him as a consensus builder and a supporter of political pluralism.
The Secretary-General also conveys his heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Préval, as well as to the people and Government of Haiti.
Our thanks go to the Russian Federation and to Bahrain, for they have both paid their full payments to the UN’s regular budget. So, spasibo and shukran, respectively. The honour roll total is now 53.
Ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, the High Commissioner for Human Rights today paid tribute to the struggle of millions of women who have demanded respect for their rights and the rights of others.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that the women’s movement has brought about tremendous change, but that we must also recognise that progress has been slow and uneven.
He noted that in too many countries, we are now seeing a backlash against women’s rights, a backlash that hurts us all.
The High Commissioner said that it is extremely troubling to see the recent roll-backs on fundamental legislation in many parts of the world underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their bodies and lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family. Such an agenda, he stressed, threatens the gains of the past. You can read his full statement online.
Today our guest will be the UN Women Deputy Executive Director, Lakshmi Puri. She will brief the press on the eve of International Women’s Day on the theme of this year’s celebration: “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work”, with discussions ranging from the gender pay gap to unpaid care work; the challenges for women in the informal economy and the opportunities created by the new technologies.
**Questions and Answers
And that’s it after me. Are there any questions before we get to her? Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank very much, Farhan. I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comment on the decision by the internationally recognized parliament in Eastern Libya in Benghazi to pull out of the UN agreement and the acceptance of the coun… the transitional council?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we’re aware of this latest move by this particular body. We’re studying it. I’ll see whether we have any particular response. Of course, you’re aware that we have called on all parties in Libya to work with the UN’s framework for discussions and with our… with the agreement that had been reached earlier. So we are trying to get them to work together, and any sign that parties are retreating from this is, of course, disturbing. But we’ll have to see what else we can say about that. Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, do you have anything to say about the deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence) missile defence in North Korea? The Chinese are very upset by it. Thank you. South Korea. Sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Hold on one second. On that, I can just say that we hope that efforts will be stepped up to find a path to reduce tensions and to work for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. First, on the new Israeli law that passed by the Knesset, 46‑28, barring anyone who supports BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] to enter the country — is there any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, we encourage the freedom of expression and freedom of views. Any steps that would seem to go against that would be disturbing, but we have to look and see what this new legislation entails and how it’s carried out.
Question: My second question, for the second year in a row, the General Assembly is being used to promote anti-BDS by the Israeli Mission. It never happened in the past and probably will never happen in the future. I want to have a hypothetical question. If North Korea reserved the General Assembly to promote arms race, would it be allowed… nuclear arm race, would it be allowed to do that?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t actually answer hypothetical questions. What I can say is that, of course, Member States do have the right to reserve different rooms of the UN for their purposes. And any objections or concerns about that should be raised with the sponsors of those meetings.
Question: Even if the theme of those activities goes directly against international law, even though it is… it would be accepted. That’s my question.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, the position of the UN concerning the relevant Security Council resolutions remains unchanged, regardless of what events are held. Yes?
Question: Sure. I want to ask something about South Sudan. But first, I want to ask you about… on DPRK. Yesterday, I’d asked you about the missile launches and you said… I’ll look it up. You said somehow… there was a line you said that… that the call was to return to full compliance with its international obligations. And then, later, there was a written statement, sort of amending that without using the word “return.” So I just wanted to understand, what… what came between the two? Did somebody complain about the use of the word “return”? Is it the UN’s position… you sent out an amended statement yesterday. So I’m wondering, just what… what triggered the amendment?
Deputy Spokesman: The amended statement… if you compare the two statements, there’s a very small difference in the words, basically because it’s believed that the wording as it was amended was somewhat more precise. It’s not because of an amendment. Basically, the wrong draft… the two drafts were very similar, and the wrong draft was posted, and we quickly caught that and put the right draft up.
Question: But I’m actually going… I’m talking about the transcript of yesterday’s briefing, was it similar to the first one that was put out? And I just… there’s a substantive thing behind it. I wanted to know, is it the UN amending itself to say that they were never in compliance and so to call to a return to compliance is wrong…? That’s the word that’s missing. [inaudible]
Deputy Spokesman: No, no. It’s nothing like that. When I came to the briefing, I didn’t have a statement. I knew that a statement was coming up down the line, but I didn’t have that language to go on, and so the language came later in the day.
Question: Okay. What I wanted to ask you about South Sudan is that I’ve learned that there’s a…
Deputy Spokesman: Okay… hold on. Can we go to another question and then you can go to South Sudan. Yeah?
Question: Farhan, I wanted to ask, now that you’ve had time to study the Executive Order from the US presidency on the refugee resettlement suspension and the ban on visas, do you have an assessment of the impact of that?
Deputy Spokesman: Earlier, I think possibly before you came into the room, I read out what the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has been saying and his concerns, which are available online, but just to let you know a little bit about what his concerns are, one of the things…
Question: Is the Secretary‑General not speaking out on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’re also still studying this. There’s nothing that the Secretary‑General has said, but what Mr. Grandi had made clear regarding this, of course, as I mentioned yesterday, UNHCR is continuing to work with the US authorities and is willing to work with the US authorities to make sure that the protections for refugees that have been in place in this country remain in place. But one of the things he said is that the imperative remains to provide protection for people fleeing deadly violence, and we are concerned that this decision, though temporary, may compound the anguish for those it affects. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about South Sudan. I’ve become aware that there’s, next to the UN base in Leer, something called a temporary protection area that has… is protecting civilians, but it’s not included in the… in the… this Protection of Civilians weekly release that’s put out by UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) so… whereas something called an adjacent area in Wau is included. So some people there say this is kind of a… kind of an off‑the‑books or under‑the‑table. Can you… maybe you’ll know it from the podium or I’d actually like you today to get an answer whether there is a temporary protection area in Leer and, if so, why it was chosen not to include it in the… the disclosures that the UN puts out of people it protected? And what would happen if people there were actually attacked by Government forces that they’re seeking to flee from?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we do disclose all of the various Protection of Civilians sites, as well as adjacent areas, so that information is provided. Depending upon what the facilities are, we… you know, we provide different updates if other areas are set up. I don’t have any particular information about any site in Leer, but we can check.
Question: Okay. And I mean, the reason I’m… please do, because yesterday I’d asked you about Nepal, and you said, you know, “I’ll get back to you if something comes out”. Something actually did come out from the office of Nepal. So I… maybe you’ll read it from here, but, like… wasn’t that… when you say “I’m gonna get back to you”, does it mean I’m going to send you something if the UN system provides the information? Like, what happened?
Deputy Spokesman: It means exactly what it means. We’ve been dealing with each other for years. You’ll get answers down the line once we get them.
Question: So do you have… you’re unaware that the office of Nepal has actually put out a statement about the incident I asked you about yesterday, or do you have that?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m aware that they’ve put out a statement. That was after I was at the briefing. If it was before the briefing, we could have mentioned it then.
Question: Right, but since… between the two briefings, like, once they put it out… okay. I’m going to ask you another question.
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. Yes. You.
Question: On DPRK, North Korean media reported the recent ballistic missile tests are a kind of a training process to attack US base in Japan. How does Secretary‑General react to it? And, secondly, any comments on the diplomatic disputes between Malaysia and North Korea?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the dispute between the DPRK and Malaysia, what we can say is that we call for calm and for both parties to settle any differences through established diplomatic practice. Regarding the DPRK’s other activities, you’ll have seen the sentiments in our statement, and the bottom line is we want the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to return to full compliance with all of the various UN resolutions that are in effect. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. Today, Farhan, the Hungarian Parliament passed a number of measures to make it easier to keep all those refugees in detention centres on the border. It made asylum seekers almost extremely difficult. Is there any reaction to that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Before you came into the room, I’d read… this is something I’m saying a few times today. I’d read something from UNHCR expressing their concerns about this step, which is in contravention of international and European Union law. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there… there… on Cyprus, you’ve said that there are two things… you or Stéphane [Dujarric] had said there are two things being investigated by the UN system, one being the chief financial officer having become a citizen of Cyprus in contravention, some say, of the Status of Forces Agreement and also the stealing of watches, the films… apparent stealing of watches by UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) peacekeepers. So I wanted to know, since it… apparently, the only way to get it is to ask again, what is the status of those two investigations, particularly the filming of peacekeepers taking watches out of a watch store? Has anything actually occurred since then?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, the mission’s investigating the veracity of the allegations, and it will take prompt and appropriate action if UNFICYP personnel have been found to have committed any wrongdoing. But that is… that investigation is proceeding. Regarding the other case, the competent UN offices are reviewing it to confirm its compatibility with applicable UN rules.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask about Cameroon and Kenya. On Cameroon… so I’d asked Stéphane, then I’d asked you. Finally, Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman said Mr. [Francois] Louncény Fall had made two visits to the area. Many people have now asked online, what came of those visits? When did… because there was nothing put out by the UN. When were the visits made? Did Mr. Louncény Fall express any concern about the treatment of Anglophones to President [Paul] Biya’s Government? And is there some way to know what the purpose of those visits were?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’ll check with his office about whether they have an update.
Question: And, finally, in Kenya, with the Secretary‑General in Kenya, there’s been a widely publicized strike of doctors that was apparently solved and now is… now the solution is off. And I’m asking you because basically the Government said that all the doctors are going to be fired, which would obviously have a humanitarian impact. So I’m wondering, either does he have a view on it or has the resident coordinator or anyone else in the UN system taken an interest in the… the… the possible suspension of health care in Kenya due to this strike?
Deputy Spokesman: No, we haven’t expressed a view on this. As you know, the Secretary‑General is in Kenya right now, though, and he’s meeting with a number of officials tomorrow. Yes?
Question: Yesterday, Farhan, Save the Children released an important report about the psychological effect of six years of war in Syria. They had a press conference here on the third floor, and they revealed some important information. Are you aware of that report? And do you have anything to say about it?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re certainly aware of the report; it’s extremely serious, and it’s yet another sign of the reason why this war needs to be brought to an end, because the findings would indicate that an entire generation of Syrians could be traumatized basically for the rest of their lives, and this once more is a testament to the huge and horrifying impact that this war has had. Let me get to our guest.