The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement on the situation in South Asia. Sorry? Okay.
As I said, I will start off with a statement on the situation in South Asia. The Secretary-General has been following with great interest and great concern the situation in South Asia.
He reiterates his strong condemnation of the terrorist attack against Indian security forces in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February and subsequent violence.
It is essential that there be accountability under international law and the perpetrators of terrorist acts be brought to justice swiftly.
At the same time, the Secretary-General urgently appeals to the Governments of both India and Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint to ensure the situation does not further deteriorate.
It is the belief of the Secretary-General that all difficult challenges can be resolved peacefully and satisfactorily through meaningful mutual engagement.
That statement is available online.
**Central African Republic
Also, an update from Central African Republic, the UN Peacekeeping Mission there reports that President Faustin-Archange Touadéra issued two decrees related to the recently signed Global Peace Agreement between the Government and armed groups, establishing follow-up mechanisms, as well as committees in each prefecture to supervise implementation of temporary security arrangements. The Mission has also conducted several meetings and sensitization sessions on the peace agreement in various parts of the country.
Meanwhile, a Quick Reaction Force from the Mission exchanged fire yesterday with suspected combatants from the UPC along the Bambari-Alindao axis in Ouaka prefecture, after they shot at peacekeepers. The two UPC combatants were killed. The Mission increased patrols in the area to deter armed groups presence and to continue protecting civilians.
Back here as you will have seen, Nickolay Mladenov, the [UN] Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council by VTC on the Israeli-Palestinian question, where he said that the prospect of sustainable peace is fading by the day as the spectre of violence and radicalism grows.
He said the UN’s efforts focus on the immediate challenges - preventing the risk of an economic and humanitarian implosion in the West Bank and Gaza and preserving the hope - slim as it is - that Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live in peace, side by side, in States of their own that are recognized and integrated into the global and regional [community].
He said the viability of the two-State solution is being eroded by the deteriorating reality on the ground and that the first thing that is required to reverse the situation is leadership and a will for political change. Mr. Mladenov regretted Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.
Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Operations, told the Council that overall, the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the Gaza Strip, has deteriorated in 2018. This included an increase in casualties associated with the demonstrations at the Gaza fence, limitations on the movement of people and goods and financial restrictions. Both sets of remarks are available in our office.
Yesterday afternoon, as you may have seen, Michel Kafando, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, briefed the Security Council on the situation in Burundi.
He highlighted the latest political development in the country, as well as regarding the Inter-Burundi dialogue. He said this inclusive dialogue remained the only viable option for a sustainable solution to the political crisis in Burundi and the holding of elections in 2020.
On Burkina Faso, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 100,000 people have been displaced due to armed attacks and insecurity – half of them have been displaced in the last two months.
It is the first time that Burkina Faso is facing internal displacement at this scale.
The persistent armed raids, intercommunity clashes and insecurity in the Centre-Nord, Nord and Sahel regions have also triggered an unprecedented humanitarian emergency. Aid organizations and the Government are working to ramp up assistance.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that last week, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ministry of Health launched the third phase of the Ebola strategic response plan, requesting $147 million to cover all aspects of the response for six months.
As of 18 February, 844 cases and 537 deaths had been reported since the beginning of the outbreak in August 2018. Some 278 people have recovered from Ebola.
The Ministry of Health, the UN World Health Organization and their partners will continue to respond to all alerts in the affected areas, and to scale up preparedness in non-affected health zones and in neighbouring countries. Serious security incidents and community mistrust continue to hamper the response to Ebola.
And the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals today that spending on health is growing faster than the rest of the global economy. This trend is particularly noticeable in low- and middle-income countries, where health spending is growing on average 6 per cent annually, compared with 4 per cent in high-income countries.
The 2018 global health financing report presents data for all WHO Member States between 2000 and 2016; health spending includes government expenditure, people paying for their own care, sources such as voluntary health insurance, employer-provided health programmes, and the activities of the NGOs.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
I have a senior personnel announcement to share with you. Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Major General Zia Ur Rehman of Pakistan as the Force Commander of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, better known as MINURSO.
Major General Ur Rehman succeeds Major General Xiaojun Wang of China, whose tour of duty ended on the 17th of February.
The Secretary-General is grateful to Major General Wang for his exemplary service and contribution to the work of MINURSO.
Major General Ur Rehman has 30 years of national and international military leadership experience, including as commander of military formations on operations and directing staff appointments at Command, Staff and War College level. More information on his bio in my office or on the internet.
Today is World Social Justice Day. This year’s theme is “If you want peace and development, work for social justice” and that social justice is the underlying principle for a peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations.
More information about that Day is online.
Also want to flag that beyond World Social Justice Day today is UN Kids Day here at Headquarters. The Secretary-General opened the Day by greeting a group of children in the Visitors’ Lobby. And throughout the Day, kids will be able to take a special tour of the UN, meet and greet with UN Security Officers and even spend some time with Chloe, the staff therapy dog – which I will bring to the briefing one day for my benefit. There will also be a treasure hunt and other activities if older children are interested.
Today our Honour Roll is up to 56, thanks to Micronesia, Slovakia and a small island in the Caribbean that starts with a “D”.
Spokesman: There you go. All right. I’ll take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Any development on the redeployment of forces in Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa? And who is to blame if not?
Spokesman: Nothing to report as of yet. I think Mr. Griffiths said he expected things to, the redeployment to take place, I think, in the coming days but nothing… nothing yet to report. And blame will not be apportioned. We’re looking forward to the full implementation of the redeployment plan.
Question: Two questions. The first one is on your statement on India and Pakistan, the Secretary-General calling for meaningful mutual engagement between the two sides. The Pakistan side had asked for the UN Secretary-General himself to get involved in this process to try and encourage this dialogue. Is he going to take on that role?
Spokesman: As a matter of principle – and I think that’s what the statement says – the Secretary-General believes that all difficult challenges can be resolved through peacefully and satisfactorily through meaningful mutual engagement. And same thing for his good offices – no matter where you look at them – there, both parties, as we said yesterday, both parties need to request it.
Question: And the second question was about Ukraine and the speech by the Ukrainian president, Poroshenko, to the General Assembly. In that speech, he, again, said he thought that a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission could be very useful in the Donbass, and he said a Technical Assessment Mission, which the SG could send to Donbass, would definitely assist in this discussion. The fact that…
Spokesman: Read me back that quote.
Question: Yeah, his exact quote: “A Technical Assessment Mission, which the UN Secretary-General could send to Donbass in order to elaborate respective options, would definitely assist to this discussion”. So, that’s a… a suggestion coming from the Ukrainian President, who clearly is the host country involved here, that the UN should perhaps send a Technical Assessment Mission to see whether a peacekeeping mission would be viable. Is that something…
Spokesman: Look, I mean, I think you know, we all know what the procedures are for the deployment of a peacekeeping mission. The Secretary-General and President Poroshenko, I think, had a good meeting or are having a good meeting as we speak. We hope to get a readout soon. In order to solve the situation in Eastern Ukraine, our… the Secretary-General has always believed and has always supported the lead of the efforts of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, the Minsk process and obviously the OSCE.
Question: [inaudible] follow up on that [inaudible]… on the issue of an assessment mission, is that something that the UN is considering?
Spokesman: I have no information on the eventual deployment of an assessment mission.
Question: Can you check? I mean…
Question: So, Mr. Mladenov in his report – and I’m quoting – he said, “For Israelis and Palestinians to get back on track for peaceful resolution of the conflict, the first thing that is required is a leadership”. Does that mean that the Secretary-General is disappointed with the leadership of the Israelis or… and Palestinians or both or one of them?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General is disappointed of the lack of progress on the peace front.
Question: Yeah, but he attribute…
Spokesman: Of course, and you need -- for any viable peace process, you need… strong leadership dedicated to that peace process.
Question: So, who… whom does he see that is not dedicated to the peace process, like…
Spokesman: I’m not going to apportion blame. I think we’re – one should read Mr. Mladenov’s monthly reports. I think they’re very clear as to the Secretary-General’s position, the fact that there’s been no progress by either party on the peace front.
Question: A follow-up – sorry – on Mr. Mladenov, a different issue. Mr. Mladenov was required almost every third month to… to… regarding his report about the 2334 resolution to, by different members of the Security… Security Council, including today by the South African and the Kuwaitis and others, to submit this report in a written form, which he’s not doing and…
Spokesman: I think we have… -- some of the reports since the resolution was adopted have been delivered in written form. Others have been delivered orally by Mr. Mladenov, and there’s always a written record of what he says.
Question: Yeah, but…
Spokesman: But we will obviously take into consideration the wishes of the Security Council on that front.
Question: Thanks, Stéph. Egyptian authorities executed nine men for their alleged role in the killing of the country’s public prosecutor in 2015. They… the executions were carried out today despite the appeals of human rights groups, including Amnesty International that called the trial unfair, and the accused men also said during the trial that they were forced into confessing via torture. Does the SG have any reaction to this?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General stands firmly against the use of the death penalty in any case.
Question: Was he following the case, though…
Spokesman: We’ve been following the situation in Egypt. We have.
Let’s move to the right, if I may, but we’ll start with James, and then we’ll go to Benny.
Question: Hi there, Stéph. Thanks. It’s a question about…
Correspondent: [inaudible] your right is my left.
Question: It’s a question about ISIS and the diminishing size of Caliphate. There’s a large number of former fighters, terrorists, their wives and their kids and they’re falling into detention under the Kurds. It’s a bit of a mess in terms of what does one do with them. There’s lack of evidence in many cases, and also some of the European Governments to which these countries are citizens are revoking their citizenship in some cases. Has the SG been involved in any conversations with Member States about a UN role in this? And is there any guidance that the Secretary-General can offer?
Spokesman: Yeah, I’m not aware of any UN role being offered, but I think, as you rightly pointed out, it is – to use a diplomatic word – a bit of a mess that we’re dealing with issues, I think, the international community has not dealt with before. There are issues of security of countries that need to be taken into consideration, also of the respect of due process and of rights. And we hope all those can be balanced out.
Question: Two questions on two different subjects, and since you mentioned politics, one is follow-up…
Spokesman: I didn’t mention politics.
Question: Oh, you haven’t. Okay. So… but I do have a question about what you defined as politicization of… of aid as referred to in Venezuela. It now seems that the Maduro Administration is accepting aid from Russia but is not accepting aid from the US. Is that politicization?
Spokesman: I think we have seen, in the current situation, in Venezuela different parties politicize aid for the, for the aid that we control, right, for the aid that is under UN… UN auspices. We follow humanitarian principles of where aid should be distributed, independent of political, military or any other objectives.
Question: Does accepting aid from one country but not from another consist of…
Spokesman: I can only speak for us.
Question: Okay. So, the second question regarding the… what you said before about lack of progress in the peace process, is the Secretary-General encouraged by warming up of relations between Israel and Arab States as was shown in… in Warsaw? And is that helpful to the peace process in his view?
Spokesman: Look, that sounds like a question for a longer evening conference chat.
Question: Let’s have it right now.
Spokesman: Yeah, exactly. We have all the time in the world. I think it is always encouraging…
Spokesman: Yassein, please. It is always positive when countries open up their diplomatic relations, when countries increase their dialogue. So, I think that is always to be considered a positive step. There is also, as Mr. Mladenov pointed out, the central issue of lack of progress of dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Question: You said, in answer to your earlier question, that you know… or that we know how things work in terms of how peacekeeping missions and technical assessment teams work. Actually, I don’t. So, could you tell me under what conditions the Secretary-General would send a technical assessment team to look at the viability of a peacekeeping mission? Is that something he would only do on referral from, say, the Security Council? Could you just tell us how it works?
Spokesman: I was hoping you knew so I wouldn’t have to answer.
As you know, the… to dispatch a Security Council… a Security Council mission, we need a mandate from the Security Council, right, and that’s clear.
Question: [inaudible] A peacekeeping mission.
Spokesman: A peacekeeping mission. We would need a mandate from the Security Council. I’m not aware of any debate within the Security Council… and we do not have a mandate for a peacekeeping mission in Ukraine or many other places. My sense is that there… and I will leave it at that for now.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. You’re not going to get a mandate from the Council. Can’t he go anyway and do an exploratory mission on the request of the…
Spokesman: I will leave it at that.
Question: All right. The SG yesterday – was it yesterday or day before? – had appointed a panel on sexual harassment, and that brought up in my mind, is there any progress on the UNAIDS controversy, or is it still going…
Spokesman: The panel, as I understood it, is really having to do with how…
Spokesman: …we engage… sorry?
Question: No, you’re right.
Spokesman: Yeah, the panel has to do with how we engage with civil society, with NGOs, on fighting the issue of sexual abuse done by – whether it’s peacekeepers or international staff. It is not – it has nothing to do with the issues regarding sexual harassment within the UN, of which the Secretary-General is very much engaged… engaged in. As for UNAIDS, you would have to ask them.
Question: Is that a never-ending process?
Spokesman: What… what is…
Question: It seems like a never-ending procedure at UNAIDS, no?
Spokesman: I don’t know. You would have to ask UNAIDS.
Monica, all yours.