The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General just spoke to reporters in Geneva a few minutes ago following the pledging conference for Yemen. He called today’s events a considerable success. He said that $1.1 billion has been pledged at the conference, which is more than half the amount of our $2.1 billion appeal for the year. That includes $25 million allocated by the Central Emergency [Response] Fund. Today’s pledges, he said, are an encouraging signal that we will reach our funding target for humanitarian aid to Yemen by the end of the year. The Secretary-General said that we now need to make sure that the pledges are translated into effective support for the people of Yemen. He added that we need three things: access, access and access.
Earlier, he told participants at the conference that Yemen today is experiencing a tragedy of immense proportions. The Secretary-General said that only a cessation of hostilities and a political settlement can bring about a permanent end to the conflict and the suffering of the Yemeni people. He called on the parties to the conflict to engage in peace talks facilitated by his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. His remarks both at the press encounter and his speech earlier today should be online.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
For her part, the Deputy Secretary-General is also in Geneva, where she participated in the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UN Economic Commission for Europe. She also attended the high-level pledging conference in Yemen. She will also have meetings with heads of UN agencies and senior Government officials in Geneva. She and the Secretary-General will then participate in the meetings of the Chief Executives Board, which is taking place in Switzerland. Both the Secretary-General and the Deputy will be back in New York Thursday evening.
Back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan, David Shearer, briefed the Security Council this morning. He said that, since July last year, the security, economic and humanitarian situation has worsened markedly and that virtually no part of the country is immune from conflict. Yet, he said there has been no concerted effort by any party to adhere to a ceasefire. Instead, over the past month, the conflict has intensified.
In the face of this escalation, Mr. Shearer said that the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has increased the robustness of its protection activities, with more patrols to the most conflict-affected areas. Mr. Shearer also added that despite what appear to be attempts by the parties to achieve victory through military means, a political solution is the only way forward. The political process is not dead, he said, but it requires significant resuscitation. To create political will for the parties to end hostilities and build peace, Mr. Shearer stressed the need for the international community to speak with one voice.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Our humanitarian colleagues have launched today an appeal for $64.5 million for the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An estimated 1 million people have been displaced by the violence that erupted in Kasai Central in August 2016 and rippled across neighbouring provinces, leading to civilian deaths, gross human right violations and disruption of livelihoods and education for thousands of children. The appeal launched today will provide water, food, health services and basic household items, as well as protection services to minors, women who have suffered sexual violence, and other civilians who have been victims of violence.
From Iraq, our colleagues there report that, while fighting continues in Mosul, civilian displacement from remaining Da’esh-held areas has also continued. In the last four days, more than 5,500 people have fled from Tel Afar, west of Mosul, to Sahlej, in the Zummar area north-west of Tel Afar. Sahlej does not have basic services to host this number of people, with particular shortages of water, shelter and latrines.
As fighting in the Mosul area continues and Tel Afar becomes increasingly unsafe, people have fled temporarily to Zummar, en route to better-serviced locations. The Government of Iraq has already bussed approximately 1,300 people from Zummar to areas south and east of Mosul, and to newly accessible neighbourhoods of Mosul city. Further transportation to other Government of Iraq areas is expected to follow.
Humanitarians continue to respond to displaced families on the move, families in displacement camps and sites, those who remained in newly retaken areas, and others made highly vulnerable by this crisis. Emergency aid has to date been provided to cover the needs of some 2.1 million people in Mosul and surrounding areas, with many families requiring assistance more than once.
A UN report released today in Kabul says authorities in Afghanistan have made significant progress in their fight against corruption. The report, released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), welcomes the progress and gives recommendations so that the Government, with the support of the international community, can build on its achievements and tackle the enormous challenges that still remain to end corruption in all aspects of life in the country.
In Somalia, our friends at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] have begun an emergency campaign in Baidoa to vaccinate nearly 30,000 children against measles. UNICEF said that many of the children that are being immunized come from remote areas and have been displaced by the drought. This year, almost 5,700 cases of suspected measles have been reported across the country, more than the total of cases in 2016.
Our colleagues at WFP [World Food Programme] and ECLAC [Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean] have released a study that says that the combined impact of undernutrition and overweight/obesity, also known as the “Double Burden of Malnutrition,” contributed to the loss of billions of dollars to the economies of Latin America. Malnutrition — comprising both undernutrition and overweight/obesity — has significant negative impacts on sickness and mortality rates, educational outcomes and productivity. It, therefore, carries huge economic consequences for affected individuals, communities and nations.
**United Nations Development Programme
Just a few moments ago here at UN Headquarters, our colleagues at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched a partnership with the Chinese bike-sharing start-up Ofo to raise public awareness about climate change. The partnership will provide financial support to projects that address urban environmental challenges and will encourage taking actions such as biking to reduce our carbon emissions. Ofo will also donate its income on the seventeenth of each month to help achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. For its part, UNDP will advise Ofo on ways to redistribute abandoned bikes to rural areas to improve education access for children living in poverty. The partnership is expected to reach about 100 million people.
Today is World Malaria Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced a pilot programme for the world’s first malaria vaccine — this pilot programme will start in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi next year, 2018. The injectable vaccine was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria. Global efforts reduced malaria deaths by 62 per cent between 2000 and 2015, yet approximately 429,000 people died of the disease in 2015 — the majority of them being young children in Africa.
Yesterday, I was asked whether or not the Secretary-General has received a letter from Foreign Minister [Nikos] Kotzias of the Hellenic Republic. I can confirm he has received the letter. I also want to reiterate that the Cyprus peace talks are Cypriot owned and leader-led, facilitated by the United Nations, through the Secretary-General's Special [Adviser], Espen Barth Eide. As I said yesterday, [Mr. Eide] has the Secretary-General's full confidence in the exercise of his mandate at this critical time in the peace talks. The Secretary-General and his Special Adviser have been in frequent contact with all relevant international actors, including the European Commission as a united Cyprus will be a full member of the Union. Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The newspaper in Bulgaria called Trud published a very extensive investigation showing that Saudi Arabia is purchasing weapons from Bulgaria and shipping them to Jabhat al‑Nusra in Syria, mainly to Jabhat al‑Nusra. More than two thirds go to them, as the caches in Eastern Aleppo have shown. The authorities there are investigation this… these allegations. Where does the United Nations stand regarding that?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the report. I have no way to verify its content. What is clear is that Syria doesn't need any more weapons. It needs a redoubling of the efforts to bring people to the political process and to find a solution. And we need to have increased access on the humanitarian front as we talk about every… almost every day here, that has been lacking. But, again, I have no way of knowing whether that report is true or false.
Question: What… will the United Nations, for example, get in touch with the authorities there to see where… especially that there's a violation to the many resolutions regarding support of terrorism?
Spokesman: I'll take a look at the report. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I'd like to ask you two questions about recent developments in Iraq. The Turkish military jets targeted PKK fighters in Sinjar and Qandil area… killed a number of them. Also by mistake, they killed five Iraqi Peshmergas. What is your comment about this? And my second question about this is: What is the UN position about the presence of PKK inside the Iraqi territory?
Spokesman: I'll… I haven't seen the details of what's going on there. What is clear for us is that, I think, any increase in violence is a concern, but we'll take a look a little more closely about what exactly happened. Oleg?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Can we have an update on the activities of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed? Because, while gathering money for humanitarian aid is good, there also should be some political talks.
Spokesman: He's currently in Geneva with the Secretary‑General. He's continuing his contacts in the region and more widely. And I think, when he has something to announce, he will emerge, and he will announce it.
Question: And, also, on [Jeffrey] Feltman, who is in Moscow, do you have any idea what meetings does he have over there? What is he discussing?
Spokesman: No, I'll try to get you something. Mr Lee? That's a new one. There you go. There we go. All right. Go ahead.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you, it's reported that the UN's top official in Tanzania has been expelled, Mr. [sic] Awa Dabo, has been PNG'd [persona non grata] by the Government. And I wanted to know if you have any comment, if the person who's the head UNDP official is also the Resident Coordinator and what you…?
Spokesman: I don't believe she is actually the Resident Coordinator. I can confirm that she has left [the United Republic of] Tanzania. We're in contact with the Government of Tanzania on the matter, and our colleagues at UNDP continue to work closely with the Government on all issues.
Question: Relatedly, I guess, because my question… the reason I was assuming she was the Resident Coordinator is I thought that, currently, anyone that's a Resident Coordinator in a country even shifts over to work for UNDP — that that's the structure of how… I know that it happened in Kenya, for example. The Kenyan Resident Coordinator worked for another agency, UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], and became a UNDP official in order to become Resident Coordinator. Isn't that the current structure?
Spokesman: I'm not sure that her title was Resident Coordinator… I don't know what exactly her function was in the country office. So, I don't know if she was the Country Director or the Resident Coordinator. [UNDP later confirmed that she was the Country Director.]
Correspondent: And just, on this Resident Coordinator issue, I'd asked you before for a readout of what Amina Mohammed had said to G‑77 [Group of 77]. I haven't gotten it yet, but I have spoken to someone at G‑77 who said there was no… there's no written proposal yet by the Secretariat, that it's waiting until June. And some of them expressed concerns about it, saying this would involve the… a politicization of functions if it came…
Spokesman: I think there's a discussion going on. The Secretary‑General has made no secret of his wish to reform the development system. Obviously, the Resident Coordinator post is part of that system. There will be some… I think, some clarity and somewhat unveiled in June, with more concrete proposals later in the year. What I do know is that our colleagues in the Executive Office of the Secretary‑General are… always have their door open for any representatives from the G‑77 plus China or any other group who have concerns.
Question: And just, finally, several of them said that they believe that the… the… the person named to head UNDP, Achim Steiner, was basically, one, either a condition or part of the selection process was to agree to the loss… basically, it's a loss of powers for UNDP. Is that his position?
Spokesman: No, first of all, I'm not aware of any conditions being put forward, and I think everyone is speculating or projecting on what the outcome of this process will be.
Correspondent: More transparency would benefit the process.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Palestinians' hunger strike enters its ninth day now. Some of the hunger strikers are in bad health conditions now. And, still, there is no statement from the SG or his Special Envoy on this particular development. Over 1,000 Palestinian are now declaring the hunger strike. Is there any position vis‑à‑vis this problem?
Spokesman: If I'm not mistaken, I think Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov addressed this, I think, in part in his briefing. That is something that we're continuing to follow closely. Oleg?
Question: Stéphane, on Ukraine, the authorities in Kyiv, they cut off the power to millions of people in the eastern part of country. Before that, you remember the UN called for resuming of social benefits and pensions. So, now it came to this. Do we have any reaction to that? Would you call…?
Spokesman: I think it's important that the civilian population that is trapped in the fighting not be made to suffer more. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in… in Burundi, a gentleman named Oscar Ntasano, who is running a building… a set of buildings that the UN has… has used and was being renovated for him has been abducted, and some people believe that he's dead. He was abducted, and a car of his was found with a dead body in it. So, I'm wondering, does the UN… and people there are saying this is a person that was basically maybe targeted because he was seeking to rent his property to the UN. What's the UN's response?
Spokesman: I don't know. I've not heard of this gentleman. I can see if I find out anything.
Question: And also, I mean, in terms of not hearing things, I wanted to know whether the…?
Spokesman: That's my specialty.
Question: Yeah, whether the D-2 head of office of… for the UN in Burundi has… my understanding is that it's been six months that she's tried… she's tried to get into the country, but I'm wondering, what… from the top levels of the… has the 38th Floor… has anyone tried to speak to the country to actually get this being‑paid D2 head of office in Burundi into the country, or is this a de facto persona non grata?
Spokesman: If you send me the name, I can check on the status.
Correspondent: This person used to work in Capital Master Plan. Vivian… I think you know her name.
Spokesman: You could… and, Oleg, to your question, Jeff Feltman is, indeed, in Moscow to take part in the sixth Moscow Conference on International Security. He will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary‑General, hold a number of bilateral meetings. And we'll release the message once he has delivered it on behalf of the Secretary‑General. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, in Cameroon, a journalist, Ahmed Abba, was yesterday sentenced to 10 years in jail for reporting on the Boko Haram conflict. And many press freedom groups have expressed concern. I'm wondering, does the UN have any concern? And I wanted… I guess I'm just asking you again, who is the Resident Coordinator in the country?
Spokesman: As soon as the Resident Coordinator has been named, that person will… we'll announce it, and there will obviously be a press release. As I've said before, the UNICEF representative is the acting Resident Coordinator.
Question: Right. And are you aware of this case of the person being sentenced to 10 years?
Spokesman: I've heard the case. I think any sentencing of journalists, I think, is something that is of concern to us, and we have to make sure that it is not done for… in reprisals for anything that that person may have said or written.
Question: And, on the Jeffrey Sachs thing, yesterday, you said you'd look into it. I'm staring… I mean, it's been published. It's an open letter that he wrote saying that this candidate do should get the job. Have you seen it? Have you used your Google machine to see that…?
Spokesman: I have used the Google machine. I love the Google machine.
Question: Okay. What's… is… now… yesterday, you said you wouldn't say if it's appropriate or not because you hadn't seen it. Now that you have, is it appropriate?
Spokesman: No, I don't think UN officials should endorse other UN officials.
Question: So what's going to be done?
Correspondent: Back to the same issue, Stéphane. I am aware that Mladenov mentioned the prisoners in a… one line in a report that it was not focussed on the question of Palestine but, rather, he was summoned to talk about Yemen, Libya, Iraq and a general…
Spokesman: He wasn't summoned. It was a schedule… as there is monthly a briefing on the Middle East. So it… that's not word I would use.
Question: You and I know what happened, and the pressure is placed on him. That is… a development of such magnitude, having 1,000 in a hunger strike for the ninth day, and it doesn't draw the attention of the Special Envoy? This is…
Spokesman: I think it does draw the attention of the Special Envoy, and obviously, as in any of these situations, we're concerned for the health of the hunger strikers.
Question: On another development, Stéphane, two children, a young boy — his named is Mohammed Mousa [sic], and his sister Muna [phonetic], in the village of Zorba [sic] were ran over by two settlers on Monday… on Sunday evening. Are you aware of this?
Spokesman: No, but I will check. Thank you.