The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Right after this, we expect to have, giving his farewell press briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous.
First, some notes.
The Security Council is meeting this morning on the destruction and trafficking of cultural heritage by terrorists and armed groups. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council, saying that the resolution adopted today aims to strengthen international cooperation to deprive terrorists of funding and to protect cultural heritage as a symbol of understanding and respect for all religions, beliefs and cultures.
Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), quoted the German poet Heinrich Heine, who said that “everywhere men burn books and culture, they end up burning other men.” She said that defending cultural heritage is inseparable from defending human lives.
And Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), discussed how the destruction and looting of landmarks have generated profits for terrorists, which can then fund further acts of terrorism.
All those remarks are available in our office. And some of the speakers were just at the stakeout.
And at 3 p.m. today, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, will brief the Security Council in an open meeting followed by consultations.
Addressing the Security Council yesterday, the Secretary-General said that despite the alarm sounded by the United Nations and the international community over the crisis in South Sudan, the Government has yet to express any meaningful concern or take any tangible steps to address the plight of its people.
He said there is a strong consensus that South Sudanese leaders need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the well-being of the country’s people, who are among the poorest in the world. But if there is to be any hope of these leaders changing their current calculations, greater pressure is needed.
The United Nations is profoundly concerned by reports yesterday of a high number of civilian casualties in Al Aghawat Al Jadidah in Iraq, a densely populated neighbourhood in Mosul. Initial reports indicate hundreds of casualties.
Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said that we are stunned by this terrible loss of life and wish to express our deepest condolences to the many families who have reportedly been impacted by this tragedy.
She said that all parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of firepower.
As the fighting to retake Mosul intensifies, civilians are being put at extreme risk. “We fear for the families who are caught in the conflict,” said Ms. Grande. “Everything must be done to avoid civilian casualties.”
A UN-International Committee of the Red Cross-Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency convoy is delivering multi-sectoral assistance to the Wadi Barada area in Rural Damascus for 24,500 people in need.
This is the first ever inter-agency convoy to reach the area, and follows several attempts to reach the area over the last few months that were unsuccessful, due to administrative and security hurdles.
The UN continues to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in Syria, particularly those in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
The UN is deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians following reports of fierce fighting in the north-eastern governorate of Hama over the last few days, as well as those in eastern Ghouta.
Our colleagues from UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] are deeply alarmed at reports of at least two shipwrecks off the Libyan coast.
Five floating bodies and two partially submerged rubber dinghies were reportedly discovered about 14 miles off the Libyan coast yesterday. UNHCR fears the death toll could be well over 200 people, given the capacity of the sunken vessels.
The incident comes after an intense week of arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route, with almost 6,000 migrants and refugees rescued in just five days this week.
Today, as you know, is World Tuberculosis Day, and UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) is urging countries to do much more to reduce the number of tuberculosis deaths among people living with HIV.
TB is the most common cause of death among people living with HIV. For example, 1.1 million people died from an AIDS-related illness in 2015 — 400,000 of whom died from TB.
I also want to flag that next week, more than 190,000 polio vaccinators in 13 countries across west and central Africa will immunize more than 116 million children, to tackle the last remaining stronghold of polio on the continent.
All children under five years of age in Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone will be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent.
The synchronized vaccination campaign is one of the largest of its kind ever implemented in Africa.
There is more information on this from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the World Health Organization.
The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade will be observed this afternoon at 3:00 in the General Assembly Hall. The Secretary-General will deliver remarks, along with keynote speaker Lonnie Bunch, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of both the Day and the UN Remember Slavery Programme. The theme this year is “Recognizing the Legacy and Contributions of People of African Descent”.
Following the 3 p.m. meeting, there will be a special dedication and photo op with the diplomatic corps at 5:30 p.m. on the Visitors Plaza at The Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Then, at 6 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby, DPI [Department of Public Information] will host a cultural and culinary event with live music by Afro-Caribbean jazz group “La Familia Sextet”.
We are welcoming today Nepal to our Honour Roll, as it became the sixty-seventh Member State to pay its dues in full.
**Questions and Answers
And that's it. Are there any questions for me before we turn to our guest? Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Libya. In Lib… two questions. In Libya, there's a… the National Human Rights Commission in… in Libya has expressed concern about a proposal by Italy to open up, they say, migrant camps inside Libya, I guess, to stem the flow of people coming to them, but apparently, they… they… they… Italy believes they can open it without the Government's consent. And I wanted to know, given that the Secretary‑General is a… is something of an expert in immigrat… in migration law, does the Secretary‑General or Secretariat have any view of a European country like Italy opening up migrant camps in countries of origin in order to keep people from coming even without that Government's consent?
Deputy Spokesman: First, we'll check with UNHCR what they're saying about this. I believe that they'll be looking at this matter, and they've been in touch with the relevant authorities. So we'll have to see what the response is.
Question: Also on Libya, I wanted to ask you, the former ambassador here, Ibrahim Dabbashi, has written that the Secretary‑General is considering naming Richard Wilcox, in a… he says… according to Dabbashi, an Obama‑era official to be Special Representative to Libya. And I wanted to know, where does the process stand? Is that the case? And, if so, would… this is… is this something that the Secretary‑General would go through a more extensive process with the P-5 than was the case in the former nominee?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the consultations on this issue continue. There's nothing to announce in terms of any names, and the process that will be followed is the same one that we've been following.
Question: But did it work last time?
Deputy Spokesman: We will continue with our consultations. Of course, what we want and expect is the cooperation of all parties. Yes, in the back? [inaudible response] Hold… can you press the button? I don't think yours is working. Yeah?
Question: Sorry. The Human Rights Council in Geneva was scheduled, I believe, today to look at several items under agenda item 7. Do you know whether that took place? Do you have any statement on those consultations?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe that process has taken place today. We don't have any comment on this, but you can get details from our colleagues at the Human Rights Council. Yes?
Question: Want to ask you two things about UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]. One is Ségolène Royal, the French Minister of Environment, has now said publicly that she is a candidate to head UNDP. So I wanted to know, is there going to be any kind of, like, short list announced? I know, under some previous Administrations, there were for such top jobs. Do you anticipate announcing… given that one candidate has said publicly… there are other names I would like you to confirm. Mr. [Bert] Koenders is running, Mr. [David] Miliband, Ms. [Sigrid] Kaag. Do you anticipate there being a public process so that people know who the candidates are?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't anticipate us providing a short list. That process was discontinued almost a decade ago.
Question: Okay. Then my other question is this. In terms of candidates knowing what the job entails, because it remains open until 27 March to apply for it, I'd like… I tried to ask you yesterday about the Secretariat trying to get funding for the Resident Coordinator system, but I want to ask you more directly. Is it the intention of the Secretary‑General and his Deputy Secretary‑General to have Amina Mohammed become the chair of the UN Development Group, a position previously belonging to the administrator of UNDP, and essentially bring the Resident Coordinator system under the Secretariat? And, in part, I think you should disclose it, but certainly, if people are applying, does the UNDP job they're applying for include heading the Resident Coordinator system?
Deputy Spokesman: Any reforms to the way the UN Development Group is organized is something we'll announce if that change is made. Right now, there hasn't been, and there's nothing to announce about the Resident Coordinator system.
Question: But when a reform is being proposed, usually, like, most… in most systems, the proponent of the reform discusses it publicly, argues for it. Are you saying it's a totally secret process of reform?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, but if there's any need… there's some things that go to lower levels of discussion that never get to become policy discussions. If there's any real major change of policy that we're planning, of course, we'll announce that. But we don't have… we're not at that stage. All right. Let… Abdelhamid. Then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Yes. Recently, Mr. Mladenov issued a statement condemning some Palestinian elements for firing a rocket into Israel. However, Israel had been staging air… airstrikes into Gaza, leaving some casualties, some… I think, two people killed and number of people wounded. Why he is not issuing similar statement to be… to be… to look more fair and unbiased?
Deputy Spokesman: Mr. Mladenov does make remarks about actions by either side. And, in fact, he's going to make such remarks at 3:00 today when he briefs the Security Council, and you'll be able to see what he has to say at that point. Thanks very much.