The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday evening in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack that killed four Bangladeshi peacekeepers and seriously injured four others in Mopti region. This incident happened one day after six members of the Malian armed forces died from another improvised explosive device attack in the central area of the country.
The Secretary-General conveys his condolences to the Governments of Bangladesh and Mali and his profound sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims. And he wishes a swift recovery to the injured.
In Geneva, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed reporters in Geneva today about his ongoing political work, and added that today, the priority must be stopping the suffering and the tragedy of the civilians in eastern Ghouta and elsewhere. We cannot see a copycat of Aleppo taking place, he warned.
His Special Adviser for humanitarian issues, Jan Egeland, told the press that Eastern Ghouta is devoid of respect for international law, saying that 24 attacks had been reported between 18 and 22 February, including attacks on 14 hospitals, 3 health centres and 2 ambulances.
Between 19 and 25 February, 540 people — including 114 women and 155 children — were reportedly killed, and 3,057 people were reportedly injured during the fighting in the area.
The only United Nations delivery of assistance to eastern Ghouta in 2018 was on 14 February, when a convoy with assistance for 7,200 people reached Nashabiyah. The UN and humanitarian partners continue to stand ready to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged enclave.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, will be in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, from tomorrow to 4 March, where he will visit camps housing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and speak to those who fled across the border in recent weeks.
Mr. Gilmour will also meet with local government officials and non-governmental organizations, as well as United Nations and other humanitarian partners.
In Dhaka on 5 March, he is due to meet with senior Government officials and representatives from Bangladesh’s National Human Rights Commission to discuss the human rights situation in Cox’s Bazar. At the end of his visit, there will be a statement to the media there.
Turning to Cameroon, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, is indeed in Cameroon to consult on and assess recent developments in the south-west and north-west regions of the country and encourage a peaceful resolution of the crisis through dialogue and in accordance with international standards of human rights and humanitarian law.
Mr. Fall held consultations in Yaoundé, in Douala and in the two concerned regions, including with Government officials, political stakeholders, the diplomatic corps and civil society, among others. His visit to Cameroon will end on 4 March.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, concluded a five-day mission to Sudan, including to Darfur and South Kordofan. She expressed satisfaction at the progress made in the implementation of the Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict signed in 2016 by the Government of Sudan, but she noted that more needs to be done to ensure that all children in Sudan continue to be protected from violence.
Progress includes the issuance of command orders by all Government security forces and allowing dialogue between the UN and non-state armed groups who are also engaged in action plans with the UN. Access has also allowed for joint UN-Government monitoring and verification missions, and training of security forces in all affected conflict states in 2017. But despite the good news, violence still affects hundreds of children across Sudan, particularly in Darfur.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that clashes in northern Central African Republic (CAR) have continued to trigger influxes of people seeking refuge into neighbouring southern Chad.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the National Refugee Agency (CNARR) in Chad have registered over 20,000 new refugees with groups of people continuing to cross the border.
UNHCR is coordinating humanitarian assistance and distributing non-food items, while the World Food Programme (WHO) is carrying out food distributions as non-governmental organizations run mobile clinics.
Relocations are ongoing to refugee camps or host villages, further away from the border, but these are challenged by limited hosting capacities and lack of resources.
Southern Chad is already hosting some 77,000 refugees and 43,000 Chadian returnees.
Turning to Libya, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says they are deeply concerned by the intensification of armed conflict in Sebha, in southern Libya, over the past week. At least six civilians have been killed and several more have been injured since the beginning of hostilities in Sebha in early February. Sebha’s main hospital has been hit by crossfire multiple times over this period. Some 600 people are reported to have fled the impacted neighbourhoods to other locations within Sebha district but most people are confined to their homes as a result of the clashes.
Humanitarian health providers are supporting medical facilities in the area to cope with incoming casualties. The Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, has called on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
An update from our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, who released their Food Price Index for last month: It shows that rising world prices for staple grains and dairy products more than offset lower prices for vegetable oils, leading global food commodity prices up 1.1 per cent in February.
The FAO also lowered its projections for worldwide wheat harvests this year, while noting that inventory levels are poised to hit a record high.
Unfavourable weather in South America and Southern Africa, along with an expected contraction in plantings, points to a likely output decline for maize in the southern hemisphere.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the NGO Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition say today in a report that nearly 19 million babies born globally every year are at risk of permanent brain damage and reduced cognitive function due to a lack of iodine in the earliest years of life.
More than one in four of these children — 4.3 million — lives in South Asia.
Insufficient iodine during pregnancy and infancy results in neurological and psychological deficits, reducing a child’s IQ. This translates into major losses in the cognitive capital of entire nations and thus [has] a negative impact on their socioeconomic development.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) launched its Annual Report for 2017 in Vienna today. In the report, the Board highlights that the need for treatment and rehabilitation largely outstrips the availability of services.
The Board urges Governments to place more emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation — with particular attention to the needs of special populations — rather than just focusing on prevention.
The Board also calls on the international community and Afghanistan to work together to reprioritize responses to the drug challenge in that country.
Now that the Winter Olympics are finished, our friends in Seoul have paid their regular budget dues in full. The Republic of Korea brings us up to 62, in our count.
This afternoon at 3:00 p.m., Ambassador Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and President of the Security Council for the month of March, will be here to answer everything that you always wanted to ask him.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two questions on… on Syria. first, civilians started to leave eastern Ghouta. I was wondering how many civilians have left? And where did they go? And has there been any medical evacuation? And my second question is on Afrin. Yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, while briefing the Security Council, said that local authorities in Afrin were stopping the civilians at the checkpoints and preventing them from accessing to safer areas. Has the UN contacted these local authorities to find out why the civilians were not allowed to leave to access the safer areas? Thank you.
Spokesman: Sure. On Afrin, I need to check with our colleagues to see if there's any more information. On Ghouta, what we are aware is that two people reportedly exited the besieged enclave under corridors set up by the Russian proposal for a five-hour pause. We were not involved or party to those negotiations. I think the clear message for us is a full implementation of resolution 2401, asking for a 30-day cessation of hostilities. That needs to come into effect at that point, and once we have… once the conditions on the ground permit it, our humanitarian colleagues are ready to move with delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Well, there are allegations that the armed groups are preventing civilians from going out. We have our crew there and we see… we reported sniping at civilians who attempted to cross to safer areas. Also, why the evacuation of wounded and critically ill people is not taking place, although five-hour time is enough to evacuate these people?
Spokesman: What is clear is that 400,000 people are unable to live in safety because of the continued fighting. We have seen, as Mr. de Mistura said, exchange of fire in both directions. We do not have anybody on the ground in Ghouta. Anyone who is a member of an armed group, who is a member of a security force, needs to allow civilians to move. We need to have the full implementation of 2401. The Security Council voted unanimously. We had a result in New York, but we're not seeing any results on the ground. And in the meantime, the people are continuing to suffer and they're continuing to live under bombardments.
Question: Yesterday, Mr. [Mark] Lowcock did not mention anything about armed groups preventing people from going out, although he mentioned that he has information about “chlor” being used… chlorine, and that some people…
Spokesman: We report on the information that we feel comfortable reporting.
Question: Do you have your own people there? On the same topic…
Spokesman: I will come back to you. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Following up on the whole east Ghouta question: Does the Secretary-General have any response to Britain's call for a Human Rights Council meeting?
Spokesman: You know, I think we would welcome any continuing examination of the situation in eastern Ghouta. The Human Rights Council has a role to play. The Security Council played its role. What we're not seeing is those who control the guns play their role. We're seeing the fighting continue, and we're seeing the suffering continue, and that's why the Secretary-General's message is for a full and immediate implementation of 2401. Edie?
Question: Steph, did the United Nations make any attempt to deliver aid during the five-hour pause or is that really just an impossible… impossibly short period of time?
Spokesman: It's an extremely short period of time. Our colleagues on the ground are constantly monitoring the situation. I'm not going to second-guess their decisions. There are truck drivers, there are humanitarian workers who are ready to go as soon as the conditions on the ground permit it. As soon as our humanitarian colleagues on the ground feel that there is enough time that the situation is safe, they will go in. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Government in Afghanistan [inaudible]… Will the United Nations be expanding its contacts with Taliban to promote the peace process and to work in the areas… in the vast areas, 40 per cent of Afghanistan, to work in those areas?
Spokesman: I think our… my colleagues at the mission in Afghanistan, I think, issued some press remarks on that and I would refer you to that… as to where… in terms of contacts with Taliban. As to where we work, we deploy in areas where we feel the safety of our colleagues, who are mostly Afghan nationals, can be assured. There are some areas where… in Afghanistan where it is just too dangerous for us to go.
Question: What I had asked was, now that it is a legitimate political party and the United Nations was shying away from calling it that…
Spokesman: What I said is I would refer you to what the mission said in Kabul yesterday. Señor? I understand. Yes, sir.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions on Venezuela. Two days ago, we learned that Secretary-General was considering a request by Venezuela to send a mission to oversee the electoral process there. However, a couple of minutes ago, we learned that this process has been postponed to late May, so does this decision affect in any level the request by Venezuela? And also for the future, which will be the factors that determine whether the Secretary-General will send a mission there or not?
Spokesman: It's very simple. The deployment of UN electoral observers requires a mandate from one of the UN legislative bodies, namely the General Assembly or the Security Council, and that is just… that's a fact and a question of process that the Secretary-General needs to respect.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Can you elaborate a little bit about upcoming pledging conference to support UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees)? And do you have any knowledge about what's the status of the UNRWA activities in any shortfall or influence by the backing of the budget?
Spokesman: UNRWA's shortfall continues to be very great. There is… a number of Member States have facilitated the payment of dues so that the money comes in much earlier, much quicker, which is appreciated. But we need to have… UNRWA needs to have new moneys in order to continue its critical operations throughout the Middle East and the occupied West Bank, in Gaza, in Syria, in Jordan where they provide education, they provide socioeconomic services, health centres. UNRWA, as we've always said, is a stabilizing force in the region. It needs to be supported. There will be a pledging conference in Rome on March… on 15 March, and we very much hope to see an active participation, and we very much hope that Member States will answer the call of UNRWA in order to increase funding and to give us new moneys so that it can continue to operate. Nizar?
Question: Yes. In Deir Ezzour yesterday, there was a big massacre against civilians. About 30 people perished as a result of a coalition air strike. We haven't heard anything from the United Nations or from Mr. de Mistura mentioning that. Why is this silence about this?
Spokesman: I haven't seen those reports, but I will see… I will look up into it. Yes?
Question: My other question is regarding Kuwait. A couple of days ago, a Kuwaiti… stateless Kuwaiti incinerated himself in front of the parliament and died as a result of that. He was representing 160,000 Kuwaitis… stateless Kuwaitis who have been waiting for citizenship for 60 years. Does the United Nations have anything to say about that?
Spokesman: I haven't seen this particular case. I know the issue of statelessness in Kuwait is an issue that has been raised by the UN at different times in different fora. Sato, I had something to add on UNRWA, which I need to say that the conference is being co-hosted by Sweden, Jordan, and Egypt. It is in fact… and it is being hosted in Rome by the Italian… through courtesy of the Italian authorities. What we're trying to do for the conference is to ensure that UNRWA's unprecedented funding crisis of $446 million is urgently resolved. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you. Yesterday in the Southern District Federal Court, the aide, Jeffrey Yin, to Ng Lap Seng, which was convicted of UN bribery, was sentenced to seven months in prison, and it was a long, two-hour sentencing argument in which a lot of information came out about the UN. I wanted to know whether the UN had anyone monitoring that, to ensure that those involved at the UN are held accountable, interviewed?
Spokesman: It's not a question I'm able to answer right now.
Question: And I guess the reason… relatedly, the… the… this China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC) case, the head of the whole organization in China has been called in for questioning, Mr. Ye Jianming. And I wanted to know, because it seems like since that indictment in November, China Energy Fund Committee has remained with special consultative status…
Spokesman: We've… I've answered that question already. That is an issue… the Member States… a Member State committee grants that special consultative status to the NGO. That Member State committee needs to act if they want to withdraw that status.
Question: I guess my question is António Guterres is the head of the UN system. Does he have… does he have… has he taken note that there are two separate developing UN corruption cases involving briberies taking place at the UN and what’s his response…?
Spokesman: We're very much aware of the issue and our legal counsel… our legal office is cooperating on these cases with the national authorities.
Question: So I also wanted to ask you about UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). There's a… there's a… whistleblowers there have alleged a number of irregularities, but the one that caught my eye and I've published has to do with… the allegation is that UNEP, which claims under Mr. [Erik] Solheim to have a number of corporate partnerships is, in fact, in some cases paying the corporation for the partnership. I.e., it's not a partnership like, you know, Barcelona Football Club with UNICEF, where they pay. In this case, they're alleged that, under Mr. Solheim, the UN Environment, as it's now called, is paying $500,000 to Volvo Ocean Races. And I wanted to know is it… one, I don't know if it's true, but they work there and they have a lot of names and a lot of information.
Spokesman: I think you can ask those questions directly of UNEP. I have no doubt that Mr. Solheim is operating and running the agency in accordance to all relevant rules and regulations.
Question: Did the Secretary-General receive this e-mail? Because it was sent out as a… as a cri de coeur of the people who work there, saying…
Spokesman: I have not spoken to him about it. Thank you. Nizar, go ahead and then we'll go.
Question: There are news that Jaysh al-Islam, Failak ar-Rahman, Ahrar al-Sham, and Al-Nusra have pooled their command together in eastern Ghouta, and they are operating from one operations room. How does that work with the resolutions…?
Spokesman: I have no way of verifying that and I would refer you back to the very detailed statement read out by Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman in the Security Council yesterday.
Question: Could I ask one thing on Cameroon, on the thing you read out? What I wanted to know is that… you know, it all sounds great and thanks for coming back with the statement. It seems like at the same time that he's there with this statement, the Government is actually deploying its special forces to… to increasingly militarize the conflict. So I wanted to know, did… did he witness that while he was there?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that…
Question: Did he raise the issue of the… what he had called separatists, what they call restorationist leaders, that are… have been detained and not seen for months?
Spokesman: I think the situation in the Anglophone area was raised, as we said it was. Thank you.