The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As we speak, the Security Council is having a debate on the initiative “Silencing the Guns in Africa” and how the association between the UN and the African Union can contribute to a continent free of conflict. The Under‑Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, said that the UN and the African Union share a common mission: to prevent conflict. In the last two years, she added, we have strengthened our joint ability to detect and defuse crises before they escalate, as well as our cooperation to resolve those crises. She noted that this partnership was bearing fruit in different countries on the continent — highlighting the developments in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Rosemary DiCarlo said that silencing the guns for good requires the participation of all, as well as resilient societies with strong institutions, good governance and inclusive politics. She said African countries had a central role to play in making the “Silencing the Guns” initiative a success, but that the international community’s support was also vital. Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns in Africa, also addressed the Security Council.
As you saw yesterday, Rosemary DiCarlo also briefed Security Council Members on the situation in Venezuela during a long debate yesterday.
Today, the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe, [and he] travelled to Epworth, one of the urban areas most affected by food insecurity and economic conditions. Mr. Lowcock met affected people — including disabled people, women groups, orphans, people affected by HIV/AIDS — to better understand how the situation has impacted [them] and how they were coping. He also met with local officials and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to discuss UN support and collaboration to address the situation. Zimbabwe is facing rising humanitarian needs as a result of erratic rains and the economic crisis, with 5.3 million people estimated to be in urgent [need of] assistance.
And on Mali, today, the UN and our humanitarian partners launched the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan requesting $296 million to assist 2.3 million people in the country. These people are in need, and over half of the requirement requested is for food security and nutrition response. Our humanitarian colleagues say that the situation in Mali has significantly deteriorated over the past years due to increased conflict and intercommunal clashes, as well as a high level of food insecurity in [certain] regions. The number of internally displaced people has tripled since the beginning of last year, to over 120,000 as of earlier this month. And around 3.2 million people are in need of assistance and protection this year.
**Central African Republic
Turning to the Central African Republic, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has launched an airlift operation to deliver life-saving food supplies to 18,000 people in Zemio, about 1,000 kilometres east of the capital, Bangui. The region is on the brink of a severe food and nutritional crisis, due to a combination of insecurity and transport infrastructure challenges, which hamper humanitarian access to the area. WFP says the airlift is the first step in a more comprehensive plan to address the humanitarian situation in the south-east of the country. Long-running conflict is having devastating effects on people in the Central African Republic. Up to 2.1 million people, [almost] half of the country’s 4.7 million population, are food insecure according the National Food Security Assessment released in January. More information online.
Staying on the World Food Programme, but turning to Yemen, the WFP assessment team that gained access yesterday to the Red Sea Mills in Yemen — that’s their first access since September of last year. WFP sent samples of the wheat to labs to test the quality and is awaiting the results. Some of the wheat is infested, which is something that was anticipated. WFP will need to fumigate the wheat. But, they do not see any evidence of water damage to the wheat, which is in itself a very good sign. The agency said that Tuesday’s visit was a great first step, but WFP needs sustained access to the mills in order to fumigate the wheat and then start milling it. To do that, we need safe unconditional passage to the mills for humanitarian staff and the mill workers. This will take weeks of sustained access to the mills to get the facility up and running again.
Turning to Syria, we welcome all efforts that will ease the suffering of those displaced in Rukban in Syria and promote a durable solution to their plight. These efforts need to uphold key humanitarian principles, especially on return which must be voluntary, safe, dignified and well-informed. Dialogue is ongoing to aim to ensure that any initiative abides by these core protection standards. It also remains essential that the UN, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, can again have access to the Rukban population to continue to meet their critical needs.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, and the Secretary-General’s Humanitarian Envoy, Ahmed al Meraikhi, today wrapped up a visit to Cox’s Bazar. There are half a million Rohingya children who are stateless refugees in Cox’s Bazar and there is no viable solution in sight for them. Ms. Fore stressed that the global society has an obligation to give the children and the young people the world has defined as stateless the education and skills they need to build decent lives for themselves. A survey conducted in December 2018 found that more than 90 per cent of Rohingya children between the ages of 4 and 14 years old had learning competencies at the pre-primary to grades 1-2 [levels].
You have been asking me about Geir Pedersen and I can tell you that he will here in person – in person, himself, Mr. Pedersen — to brief the Security Council [tomorrow]. And not only that, he will also be speaking to you at the stakeout after his briefing. Then at 4:45 p.m., there will be a press briefing here by Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament.
Today we say thank you to Brunei Darussalam, Nicaragua and Greece and for their payments to the regular budget, which brings us up to? Ah, 6… who cares? Six… right, exactly. [Sixty-eight.] You won't even play anymore. Michelle?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. We've seen another escalation today between India and Pakistan. Has the Secretary‑General spoken with the leaders of those countries?
Spokesman: He received a call yesterday from the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. There've been contacts at various levels with all sides. He's, obviously, following the situation as we see it even today with deep concern, and his… the United Nations' message, both publicly and privately, to both sides is to urgently take steps to lower tensions through meaningful, mutual engagement and meet their responsibilities to maintain peace and security in the region.
Question: Is he planning to get involved to try and mediate a de‑escalation?
Spokesman: As always… and that's a principle that we repeat often here, is that the Secretary‑General's good offices are always available should both parties or all parties, depending on the situation, agree to do that.
Question: But, at what point do you become proactive?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, as I said, is… through his contacts and others, are in touch with the relevant parties to pass along the message that I've just…
Question: But he hasn't spoken to either of the leaders, the Prime Minister or the President…?
Spokesman: I've shared with you the information that I've shared. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Can I just get a clarification on… what… what level were the contacts with India?
Spokesman: At various levels. I'm not going to go into details.
Question: Not the Foreign Minister?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into any details. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. Xili Zhu from China Central Television. My question is, what's your comment on the second summit between US President Trump and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] leader, Kim Jong‑un? Thank you.
Spokesman: As we said yesterday, we very much welcome the meeting between the leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States, and we will be watching overnight and tomorrow for the outcome, and hopefully, we'll have a bit more to say then. Madame?
Question: Just a follow‑up on Michelle and Carole's questions. Has… have either of the countries reached out to the UN for assistance considering this… in this latest escalation? And if so, in what form have they reached out to the UN? And have both countries reached out, only one country reached out for help?
Spokesman: As I said, I've… I think I've shared all the information I'm able to share. Let's… I'll go back to you. Yes, James?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Yesterday in Geneva, the Yemen pledging conference, $2.6 billion raised. I've been speaking today to some Yemeni officials from the south of the country. They're really concerned about corruption. They say that something like 60 to 70 per cent of this aid gets swallowed up by corruption and the war economy. Of course, aid is always lost in these kinds of situations, but could it be as high as 60 or 70 per cent?
Spokesman: I… what I can tell… I can't comment on the figures given. What I can tell you is that the UN system, in general and especially in Yemen, has some very robust monitoring to ensure that the aid that is distributed is not diverted or resold or not used towards its intended purpose.
Question: A follow‑up to my question. Do you have any expectation for the results of this summit?
Spokesman: I think we will wait to see the actual outcome of the summit. The Secretary‑General has repeatedly said, notably in the press conference he had in January, on the need for meaningful discussions to take place and to start on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But, let's wait and see what is agreed to, and then we can talk about it. Michelle?
Question: On India‑Pakistan again, how would you describe the UN's role at this point?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is kept apprised of the situation. He's following it. He's… discussions are being had at different levels with different parties to make sure that we have… we get a full picture of what is going on and the message coming out of those discussions is on the need for both countries to do whatever they can to de‑escalate the situation.
Question: So, you're not act… the UN isn't actively playing a mediation role at this point?
Spokesman: I've said what I've had to say.
Question: That's pretty straightforward, though. Is it a mediation role?
Spokesman: Carole? I said what… I'll let you characterize it.
Question: On Yemen. So, I suspect there's no update on the redeployment of forces. And is that not worrisome, given the number of days that have gone by?
Spokesman: You know, I think if there is one thing I've taken away from listening to Ambassador [Matthew] Nimetz is the need for patience. The ceasefire is generally holding, which is good. The parties have told us they are committed to the implementation of the agreement. We would, obviously, want to see that implementation as soon as possible. As we mentioned, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths and General [Mark] Lollesgaard, I think, are in Sana’a today having discussions. We'll take it day by day.
Question: What's the hold-up?
Spokesman: The hold-up is that it hasn't happened yet. I'm not going to get into the details. Okay. Monica.