The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Central African Republic
I will start up with some sad news to report from the Central African Republic. Early this morning, the temporary base of the UN mission in Tagbara, which is about 60 kilometres north-east of Bambari, was attacked by anti-balaka fighters. United Nations peacekeepers fired back and after several hours of exchange of fire, 1 peacekeeper was killed and 11 others were injured. The United Nations Mission has deployed reinforcements in Tagbara. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. We do expect a fuller statement on this shortly.
Separately, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) later discovered the bodies of 21 civilians, including 4 women and 4 children in Tagbara. Yesterday evening, United Nations peacekeepers had been informed that the UPC group, Unité pour la Centrafrique, had detained 23 people, including 13 women and 3 children. These people were released peacefully to the Mission and spent the night at the United Nations temporary base to guarantee their safety. MINUSCA strongly condemns all of these events. The Mission also reports that, on Saturday, United Nations peacekeepers launched a joint operation with the Central African armed forces during which they rescued 15 people who had been taken hostage by the Lord's Resistance Army. Fifteen Central Africans had been taken hostage in the village of Koumbou, near the town of Obo in the morning.
In Geneva today, the Secretary-General announced that more than $2 billion was pledged to support the humanitarian response in Yemen. He stressed that humanitarian resources are very important, but they are not enough: it is essential that they reach the people in need, he added. And for that, we need unrestricted access into Yemen; unrestricted access everywhere inside Yemen; and we need all the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians; above all, the Secretary-General said, we need a serious political process to lead to a political solution. In his remarks at the beginning of the Conference, he recalled that Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people — three quarters of the population — in need of humanitarian aid and protection. The Secretary-General stressed that a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only solution, and he urged all parties to engage with his new Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, and that, without delay. His remarks as well as the transcript of his press encounter in Geneva are all available and the Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York, where we expect him later tonight.
Meanwhile, on the ground in Yemen, humanitarian partners are already reaching millions of people across the country this year. As of 1 March, the World Food Programme (WFP) had reached over 6 million people with emergency food assistance. UNICEF and partners ensured access to safe drinking water for nearly 2 million people by rehabilitating urban water systems and rural water schemes, in addition to trucking safe drinking water directly to nearly 375,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced people. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and Yemeni institutions worked together to vaccinate 2.7 million children against diphtheria, which has re‑emerged in Yemen for the first time since 1982. UNICEF and partners have likewise treated nearly 40,000 acutely malnourished children, including more than 11,000 severe cases. Lastly, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners also provided emergency shelter or essential household items to 60,000 people newly displaced by recent fighting in Hudaydah and Taizz area.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that a United Nations inter-agency team conducted an assessment mission to Raqqa on 1 April. Despite a high level of unexploded ordnance on the ground, an estimated 100,000 people have reportedly returned to Raqqa. The team observed an extremely high level of destruction, with nearly 70 per cent of buildings destroyed or damaged, according to the local council. Many services, such as water, electricity and health are absent or severely limited. Some schools have resumed, though they are lacking school materials and other supplies. Local non-governmental organization partners, supported by United Nations agencies, are providing assistance to those in need in the city. The United Nations and partners are currently working on responding to gaps and priority needs to strengthen the provision of aid and basic services.
Back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council this morning. He highlighted an overall stable environment in the country, stressing that as a peacekeeping operation, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) can only be effective if it has a sound relationship with the Haitian Government and people based on solidarity and mutual trust. While acknowledging that this relationship could have been smoother, Mr. Lacroix said that he was also encouraged by recent indications of a closer, substantive convergence of national and United Nations priorities. Mr. Lacroix also said that alongside opportunities, we need to keep in mind that challenges and risks remain, especially as we prepare for a transition from peacekeeping to development. He added that he looked forward to a close collaboration with the Haitian Government and other partners to ensure the success of this transition, with benchmarks for an exit strategy weaving together an ambitious but flexible framework. We are determined to ensure, within the overall timeframe already indicated by the Council, that MINUJUSTH will be the last peacekeeping operation deployed to Haiti, Mr. Lacroix said. His remarks are available.
Tomorrow, my guests will be Agnès Marcaillou, the Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS); along with Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations — Germany is the first, most important donor to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Mine Action in 2017 — and Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom, the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations, which as you know, Iraq is very much an affected State by unexploded ordnances. Khalas. Masood‑ji?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did you happen to see that particular thing that I sent you about Muslim bashing, Islamic bashing?
Spokesman: Yes, I saw you what you sent me…
Question: It was also on the news yesterday. Do you have any reaction to that?
Spokesman: To what news yesterday?
Correspondent: To that particular flyer that is being… going around.
Spokesman: Any… any hate speech, any distribution of hate speech is to be condemned and is something the Secretary‑General has often spoken out about, including… especially on issues relating to Islamophobia. Mr.…?
Question: On Yemen, I just wanted to ask, on Yemen, have the Houthis accepted the formula being presented to them by the United Nations? And has… have the Saudis [inaudible] anything on Secretary‑General's proposal…
Spokesman: I think the… I would refer you back to what the Secretary‑General said in Geneva, which was that he was… he was pleased with the report that he received from Martin Griffiths following his meetings in Riyadh and in Sana’a and that Mr. Griffiths would now go to the UAE [United Arab Emirates], Oman and other destinations, and again, reiterated the call for all parties to engage substantively on political discussions and to come up with a political solution. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask about Israel and Haiti separately. On Israel, the… the… there's been this back‑and‑forth of a d… reported deal by the Government with UNHCR to resettle these migrants as… and I guess I wanted to know… I know it's a UNHCR thing, but it's a very high‑profile refugee issue. And I wanted to know, is it your understanding that UNHCR had actually reached agr… resettlement agreements with the countries named — Canada, Germany? What's the UN… what was… what was the deal?
Spokesman: I think the… what was the deal is a… Masood, please. What was the deal is a question to be addressed to UNHCR. They've told us they've taken note of the announcement by the Prime Minister that he's suspending the plan for resettlement of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. They had learned through the media the agreement had been suspended on the evening of the same day it had been reached, and UNHCR has been in close touch with the Prime Minister's office and remains convinced that an agreement is a win‑win solution for all sides. So, I think all those questions should be addressed to the UNHCR…
Question: But, does the Secretary‑General himself… this is one of the highest profile kind of… it raises a lot issues about the right to resettlement, about…?
Spokesman: I mean, there… you know, I think there… that's your characterization… I mean there… there are issues of… there are very important issues having to deal with migrants and refugees the world over which need to be… need to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. And you know, that's why, I think, as Brenden will talk about, the migration discussions that are going on this week in New York are very important. As for the specificity of this particular deal, it's a question you need to address to UNHCR.
Question: How about Nauru? I wasn't going to do this one, but Nauru has… has… next week or… or… it's cut off a deal in which asylum seekers could appeal through the Australian court system and have their cases heard. Does he have a view of that? Is that going to leave a class of people with no… no rights?
Spokesman: We've seen the issues relating to those asylum seekers of Nauru, I think, have not been dealt with in the best… in the best possible way. UNHCR has expressed its concern. And, again, all these issues point to the need of a global… of a new Global Compact on migration and refugees. Yes?
Question: On the… on the Sahara issue, some media and news organizations indicated that the UN contested Morocco's affirmation containing… yeah. I was saying on the… on the Sahara issue, some media and press news agencies indicated that the UN has contested Morocco's affirmation contained in the letter sent to the Security Council Sunday, and other media reported that the UN is even supporting Polisario in this regard. So, what do you have to say about this?
Spokesman: Look, you know we stand by what we said yesterday. We expect to have a bit more maybe later, later today on the… on the issue. The UN is not taking sides. The UN mission is reporting on what it sees. It's a very vast, a vast area they have to cover. They can only report on what they've seen. But, again, this is not about taking sides. This is about reporting what we see, as the Secretary‑General will do in his… in his report. But, again, I expect to have a bit more later on this.
Question: Same topic? Yesterday, you said that you've seen the press statements coming out of the Israeli Government about not wanting to launch an independent transparent investigation on Gaza. And you also said that we stand by our request. So, do you now have a position on this rejection or…?
Spokesman: I… I stand on what I said yesterday. I'm not aware of any official comm…
Correspondent: Yeah, there's an inherent contradiction between… I mean, it's quite clear that Israel… what Israel…
Spokesman: I'm aware… I'm aware of the situation. Our call for an independent investigation stands.
Question: I have a follow‑up quickly. The Palestinians… this is… the Palestinians have said that they're going to continue to protest, that this wasn't a one‑off thing, that they're going to protest through 15 May, which marks Land Day. So, what… what… what… we can expect that this is going… we can expect this to happen again with impunity on the Israeli part. What can the United Nations do in this… on this… in this situation?
Spokesman: I don't… what is important to us is that any demonstration be done peacefully. It is important also that children not be put in harm's way, whether by those who are protesting or by those… or by security forces. That's the message that was delivered, it has been constantly delivered to all the parties involved as Mr. Zerihoun told the Security Council on Friday, and that message remains the same. Mr. Ucciardo?
Question: [Inaudible] wondering if you have any more information about a specific Korean… North Korean ship that was blacklisted by the UN, and they mentioned a specific oil transfer with a Russian ship mid‑October 2017. Supposedly there was… some comment came out about that today?
Spokesman: No, I have not. That may be best to ask the Security Council sanctions people.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About Afrin, of the 183,000 civilians that has been displaced because of the military operation, do you know how many of them were able to return to their homes so far?
Spokesman: No, I do not have those, I do not have those numbers. I can see if our colleagues in OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] have them, but I was… those numbers have not been shared with me, and I'm not even sure we have them.
Question: And locals, like, from the refugees, they are reporting that they are trying to return to Afrin, but Islamic jihadist groups, they have checkpoints. They don't allow them to return. And, also, there are reports that refugees from eastern Ghouta are forced to go to Afrin, which… which constitute the accusation of… of attempt to change a demographic of… what is your view…?
Spokesman: I'm not in a position… I'm not in a position to verify, to confirm rather, what you've… what you've said. What is important is that there are a number of principles at play here, is that, A, people should not be forced to move, forced to return or forced to leave anywhere. People should be able to choose where they live. People should be able to… be able to live in peace. There are now… there's continuing fighting in large parts of Syria, including in Afrin. The fate of civilians is one that our concern has… is… continues on their fate. We've had access to people who've been… who've left Afrin because of the fighting. The info… we've gotten some information from them, but it is clear that civilian… the freedom of movement of civilians should not be impeded. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There will be a summit tomorrow in the Turkish capital between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents. I was wondering if the UN has any expectations from this summit?
Spokesman: We'll wait to see what comes out. Obviously, we hope that… I mean, for the parts that deal with Syria, we hope that all these discussions will move the process towards a political solution. Masood and then we'll come back in round two.
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, on… on this ongoing situation with the Palestinian children incarcerated by Israel, do you have any update on how many children now in Israeli custody…?
Spokesman: No, no, sir, not from what I've already told you.
Question: Not more than 200…?
Spokesman: I have no update from what I've told you.
Correspondent: I mean, just as a follow‑up, yesterday, you talked about the MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] not seeing any… any movements of military elements. But, I think what Morocco is referring to in his letter is not military movements but the situation in the Guerguerat area and the intention of the Polisario to transfer some…
Spokesman: No, we, obviously, we… the letter has been received. It's being studied, but, as I said, I hope to have a bit more later on all of this. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Sure. But, nothing has changed from what you said yesterday. Just on that, I just want to be…
Spokesman: I hope to have more tom… later today. Tell me. What's the question… the other question?
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you about in… in… in… following the Haiti meeting, early in March, there was going to be that fundraising or whatever, the future of Haiti, including cholera meeting on the outskirts of New York City or in the suburbs. Didn't happen. Have any st… what steps have been… have… given what you said about Mr. Lacroix talking about things getting better, have any steps been taken to reschedule that meeting? And is there… just to put it to bed, some have said that… that… that the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary‑General] Susan Page might either have heard the word PNG [persona non‑grata], might be PNG'd. Are you aware of that? What is her status?
Spokesman: There's been no change that I can report on the leadership of MINUJUSTH [United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti]. I know discussions are ongoing to try to set up a meeting and we'll have… regarding the investments in Haiti. And, when I have something to share with you, I shall.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, in Somalia, there… there are widely differing figures of how many of the AMISOM [African Union Mission to Somalia] peacekeepers were killed in the Al Shabaab attack. Uganda says it's more… four. Now they say eight. Some people say 59. Given that there is this UNSOS [United Nations Support Office in Somalia] that I asked about yesterday, what is the figure?
Spokesman: I don't have, I don't have an independent figure from our end to report. Mr. Varma.