The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I’ll start off with a travel announcement, which will be no surprise to most of you: The Secretary-General will be in Geneva on Monday, where he will speak at the opening of the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council. He will also speak at a special session of the Conference of Disarmament on that day.
Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, will deliver a joint statement on sexual and gender-based violence in conflict.
And in the evening, the Secretary-General will address the Geneva Association of the UN Correspondents (ACANU) on “Press Freedom and Journalists under Attack”.
And on Tuesday, he will convene a high-level pledging conference for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland, which you heard quite a bit about today. This event is an important opportunity for the international community to make clear its continuing commitment to save the lives of starving and vulnerable people in Yemen.
Continuing on Yemen, as you will have heard, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, briefed the Security Council by videoconference this morning on what he called the significant progress made in implementing the agreements reached in Stockholm. He welcomed the agreement on the redeployment of the parties – first from Saleef and Ras Issa and then from the port of Hudaydah – as a first step. Mr. Griffiths said that despite deadlines being missed, the parties have constantly showed their commitment to the agreement.
He added that he has continued to work on the release of prisoners by the parties, saying that the watchword for the process is a release of “all for all”. He expressed hope that the release of the first batch of prisoners could take place soon.
Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, for his part said that about 80 per cent of the Yemeni population – that’s about 24 million people - need humanitarian assistance and protection. Some 20 million people need help securing food, including 10 million who are just a step away from famine. In sum, he said, things are very bad; and unfortunately, aid agencies are running out of money.
Mr. Lowcock said that we expect current resources to be used by the end of March, just six weeks from now. He noted next week’s meeting in Geneva on funding for Yemen and urged Member States to attend the meeting at a senior level and, of course, to pledge generously. Together, he said, we can save millions more lives in Yemen, but only if we have the resources that we need.
And the humanitarian appeal from the UN and the humanitarian partners for Yemen is at $4.2 billion to help up to 19 million people in need.
After four years of conflict, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the world’s worst, with 10 million people being one step away from famine.
Since 2015, nearly 15 per cent of the people in Yemen have been forced to flee their homes, the vast majority of whom are still displaced.
Turning to Syria, the United Nations condemns the reported bombing in the city of Idlib yesterday, which resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, many of whom of women and children.
At least 17 people were reportedly killed in twin explosions in the Al-Qusour neighbourhood in Idlib, and nearly 100 people were reportedly injured, including civilians and aid volunteers.
The UN is gravely concerned by reports of what seems to be an instigation of hostilities and an increasing number of casualties in the north-west part of Syria.
Meanwhile, 130 schools in Idlib Governorate remain suspended due to hostilities, impacting nearly 50,000 children.
The United Nations continues to call on all the parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and to ensure the protection of civilians to put an end to the destruction of hospitals and other civilian infrastructures that are essential for the civilian population.
**Civil Society Advisory Board
And just to flag that the Secretary-General announced today that he has appointed seven experts to serve on the newly established Civil Society Advisory Board on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse. The aim of the Board is to foster closer interaction with civil society and external experts and organizations as part of the UN’s efforts to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.
We issued a Note to Correspondents earlier with more information and the biographies of the members of the Board.
**Central African Republic
And I just need to respond to a couple of questions that were asked either yesterday or offline. One is on the Central African Republic, and, responding to questions on the UN peacekeeping mission’s (MINUSCA’s) role during the violence that took place in Batangafo in late October last year: When the violence erupted on 30 and 31 October 2018, including setting fire to the internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp by ex-Seleka, peacekeepers intervened by removing the ex-Seleka fighters and helping to protect humanitarian and local administration officials as well as hundreds of IDPs who fled towards the mission’s temporary base.
As the tensions continued in beginning of November, peacekeepers patrolled the Batangafo-Bouca and Batangafo-Kabo axes to deter violence by armed groups and protect civilians. The Mission also deployed additional troops to restore security in the city.
The peacekeeping Mission immediately launched an internal investigation to look into the events and the response of the Mission. This report is currently being finalized and its outcomes will be shared publicly.
Should the investigation into allegations conclude that the peacekeepers’ performance was insufficient in Batangafo, appropriate remedial actions will be taken to improve the delivery of the protection mandate.
And I was also asked about a recent incident involving the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, known as UNMOGIP.
The Observer Group reported on 16 February that a UN vehicle in the city of Jammu was surrounded by a group of protesters who placed a Pakistan flag in front of the vehicle. The vehicle attempted to bypass the flag but was unable to do so.
The Mission has informed both Indian and Pakistani authorities of this regrettable and unavoidable circumstances of the incident. The Mission also requested India to provide additional escorts and will be conducting an investigation.
And just to flag that new data released today by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) shows that despite record levels of forced displacement, just 4.7 per cent of global refugee resettlement needs were met last year. This means that out of 1.2 million refugees in need of resettlement in 2018, only 55,692 were resettled.
Most refugees referred for resettlement are from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and Afghanistan, and 68 per cent of referred refugees were survivors of violence and torture, had legal and physical protection needs, or were women and girls at risk.
And I think those numbers show we are down from 2017, and more information is available on UNHCR’s website.
**Questions and Answers
Excuse me. I’m losing my voice. Yes, James?
Question: I have two questions on unrelated matters. One of them relates to what you were just talking about, though, India and Pakistan. I understand the Secretary-General is meeting the Permanent Representative of Pakistan in the coming hours. This follows the comments from the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Foreign Minister [Shah Mahmood] Qureshi, who said the UN must step in to defuse tensions. There’s a direct request from one of the parties involved in this tension to get involved. Is the SG going to take that role?
Spokesman: First of all, we have to wait for the meeting. The meeting is taking place at the request of the Permanent Mission of Pakistan. We’ve seen press reports of a letter having been delivered to the UN. As far as we’ve ascertained, none has been received as of this very minute. Also looking at the situation in general between India and Pakistan, we’re deeply concerned at the increase in tensions between the two countries in the wake of the attack on Indian security personnel on 14 February in Pulwama. The Secretary-General stresses the importance for both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps to de-escalation, and his good offices are always available should both sides ask.
Question: Second question is about the UN budget, and I notice you didn’t announce any new countries that have paid their dues.
Spokesman: No, that’s… it’s due to… just so you know, it’s due to the fact that yesterday was one of the floating holidays, and so we wouldn’t have gotten…
Question: But there has been a new letter, I believe, from the Chef de Cabinet to senior officials of the UN talking about how dire the budgetary situation is. Can you explain to us how bad things have got?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General, I think, will be speaking to an informal meeting of the General Assembly soon to go into details. As we have explained in the past, there are issues of cash flows. There are issues of how the budget process is designed. The Secretary-General… which, I would also add, has been his message from day one, which is to cut expenses as much as possible for the time being. Yep?
Question: Thank you. Thanks, Stéphane. Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the new ambassador of Mexico, Ambassador [Juan Ramón] de la Fuente. Can you tell us, as you… as far as you can tell us, what was said in that meeting, especially in terms of Venezuela? The ambassador shared with us that they spoke about Venezuela and talked about the possibility of dialogue and the… how happy the Secretary-General was about the position of Mexico of being a neutral partner in the region.
Spokesman: You know, the Secretary-General has said that he… while he did not participate in any of the various meetings that took place in the last 10 days, one of which was sponsored by Mexico, he very much welcomed these initiatives. As far as the Secretary-General’s position, it remains unchanged. His good offices remain available, and he continues to believe in the need for serious political negotiations. [coughs] Excuse me. I did too much screaming over the weekend.
Question: Steph, has been any meeting… any talks with any of the Governments? Because the problem is we haven’t heard anything from either Mexico in terms of approaching Venezuela or the [Juan] Guaidó camp or the Secretary-General, but it… is it a possibility? Do we have any hope…
Spokesman: I think I understand, I think, everyone’s legitimate interests in knowing any new develop… political developments. The Secretary-General remains and other senior UN officials remain in touch with various parties, various countries on this issue. When we have something to announce, we shall. Madame?
Question: Stéphane, regarding Yemen and Mr. Griffiths, so, he talked about two phases of… the first one is redeployment in ports of Saleef and Ras Isa. Could you… I mean, is there now a better understanding for who’s going to take control in these airports when this redeployment is happening? Because if I understood, there was always this dispute about what will happen after the redeployment. Is it clearer now? Or…
Spokesman: You know, I think we want to take this whole process extremely carefully, one day at a time. I think Mr. Griffiths was as clear and forthcoming as he… as he could be. We’re, obviously, looking for the parties to immediately start the implementation with… of the redeployment, which we said could happen very soon. So, I’m not going to go into any detail that Mr. Griffiths himself did not go into.
Question: But… follow up. But what does that exactly mean? So, they are going to leave their areas and then?
Spokesman: The point is… I mean, the… it’s, obviously, important confidence-building measures. It’s also important… this is extremely important for us, because it will make the humanitarian access around the port of Hudaydah much easier, to the Red Sea Mills a lot easier, and the deployment also of… obviously, of UN monitors easier. Yes, sir, and then we’ll go to Mario.
Question: Yes. You mentioned the UN’s concern with the ratcheting up of violence in the north-west part of Syria, and you mentioned increased bombings. Could you provide or does the UN have information to provide a bit more detail on the source of the bombing? Is it from the air? Is it a suicide bombing or a mix? And if there’s any information on who might be responsible, at least for part of this… some of the bombing?
Spokesman: No, we don’t have any of the… what’s the term I’m looking for? We don’t have any… at this point, a mandate or the tools to allow us to know exactly who conducted these attacks on civilians or who’s responsible for the attacks of civilians. The point for us is to ensure that every party involved in this conflict needs to ensure the safety of civilian and civilian infrastructure. Mario and then the gentleman all the way in the back.
Question: Just a follow-up on Venezuela. With the tension increasing around these deliveries of aid and the deadlines are coming up, threats by the US President to the Venezuelan military yesterday, what’s the message of the Secretary-General regarding a possible outbreak of violence in the border?
Spokesman: Look, we’re clearly worried and concerned about the situation on the ground. We’ve expressed… the Secretary-General’s expressed it clearly from the beginning of this current round of the crisis. We are appealing for all parties to move towards a political… serious political negotiations and any de-escalation of the tensions that we’re seeing. Sherwin?
Question: I have a question on Nigeria’s postponement of the election. I saw the statement read by Farhan [Haq] from the UN and observer missions. Has there been any outreach from the Secretary-General to the political principals in Nigeria? There seems to be a sort of an eerie calm around the elections in the country that historically, if you ignore 2015, things could go very bad very quickly.
Spokesman: No, I mean, we’re obviously aware of the situation and the history of electoral-related violence that we’ve seen sometimes in the years in Nigeria. Mr. [Mohamed ibn] Chambas represents the Secretary-General, and he is very as much in touch with all the relevant parties in Nigeria. Carla?
Question: I may have missed your discussion of the India-Pakistan situation, but one of my more reliable or most reliable sources in Pakistan suggested to me this morning that, if fighting does break out, it could become nuclear. Do you know anything about that?
Spokesman: No. Mario?
Question: Just a follow-up on the earlier question. You’ve talked before about the need to depolitize… depoliticize the… the humanitarian aid. [inaudible]
Spokesman: Humanitarian aid, yeah.
Question: Does the SG consider these operations in… that are taking place are a political use of aid? [inaudible]
Spokesman: The depoliticization of aid and the need to do that applies across the board.
Thank you, all.