The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement on Libya: The Secretary-General welcomes the meeting that took place on 27 February in the United Arab Emirates, that was convened by his Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé. That meeting was between the Prime Minister of Libya and President of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord, Faiez Serraj, and the Commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar. The Secretary-General commends both parties on the progress made, in particular the agreement on the need to end the transitional stages in Libya through the holding of general elections, and also the commitment to maintain stability in the country and unify its institutions. The Secretary-General hopes further progress can be achieved on the basis of what has already been agreed upon, with the support of the international community.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke this morning in a meeting of the Group of Friends on Preventing Violent Extremism, and he said that the focus of today’s meeting was on how to defend the rights of women, place their voices and expertise at the centre of our strategies, and work together with them to limit and prevent violent extremism. He said that groups like Da’esh, Boko Haram and others have systematically subjugated hundreds of thousands of women to slavery, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, trafficking and other horrific ordeals. The Secretary-General said that many UN entities are integrating gender dynamics into their responses. In Nigeria, the UN has helped establish a gender desk as part of national counter-terrorism and prevention of violent extremism efforts, which recruited additional female investigators. In North Africa, the UN is supporting national institutions to research the gender specific dimensions of violent extremism. In the next few months, he added, the United Nations will launch a handbook on Gender Dimensions of Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism, to help countries develop gender-sensitive security measures.
Today, the UN published its 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Syria — which highlights the scale of humanitarian needs in that country. The overview is a reminder that the crisis is far from over for millions of people in Syria who have lived through eight years of crisis. 11.7 million people remain in need of some form of humanitarian assistance, including food and livelihood assistance, health care, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene support. Over 2 million boys and girls are currently out of school in Syria. People’s resources are depleting and more than 8 in 10 people live below the poverty line. Displacement continues to be a defining feature of the crisis, with an estimated 6.2 million people who are internally displaced. Last year saw a 16 per cent increase in the number of displaced people living in last resorts sites. More than 5.6 million people remain displaced across the borders and in neighbouring countries. In 2018, the UN and humanitarian partners reached 5.5 million people each month on average with humanitarian assistance. The UN and its partners are appealing for continued donor support to support the critical life-saving, protection and livelihood needs of over 11 million people.
And the Security Council this morning is working on its programme of work for the twin presidencies, and the French and the German representatives will be here to brief you this afternoon for that work at 4 p.m.
Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council wrapped upv its work for February by hearing from the Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who told the Council members that, since she began her assignment nine months ago, she has been in Myanmar five times, Bangladesh three times, as well as other tours in the region. Ms Schraner Burgener said that while Bangladesh and host communities have been very generous, we cannot expect this to continue indefinitely. The recently launched UN Joint Response Plan for 2019 to benefit both refugees and host communities needs urgent funding, she told Council members, adding that she is concerned that the heavy fighting with the Arakan Army will further impact efforts towards the dignified, voluntary and safe return of refugees. The Special Envoy said that we must collectively continue to build trust and work in partnership with the Government of Myanmar.
On Burkina Faso, Ursula Mueller, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be in Ouagadougou, as well as in displacement sites in the Centre-Nord region of the country from 2 to 5 March — and that’s from tomorrow through Tuesday. Ms. Mueller is expected to meet with Burkina Faso’s President, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, and other officials, local authorities in conflict areas, displaced people, UN agencies, as well as international and local NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Burkina Faso as you know is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. [Armed violence] and insecurity have caused population displacement in a number of regions and across the Sahel. Conflict and intercommunal clashes have uprooted over 100,000 people from their homes, more than half of them in the first two months of this year.
In Nigeria, we have an update on the ongoing return of refugees from Cameroon to Nigeria. Our humanitarian colleagues say that yesterday, an estimated 20,000 refugees reportedly returned to the north-eastern Nigerian town of Rann from Cameroon; since Wednesday, some 30,000 refugees have returned to Rann. They are among the more than 40,000 Nigerian refugees who originally fled Rann following deadly attacks by non-State armed groups in December last year and January of this year. Reports indicate that the returnees are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. International and national humanitarian organizations have not returned to Rann since 17 January due to ongoing insecurity. An estimated 5,000 Nigerian refugees remain in Goura in Cameroon and are expected to return to Rann today. Also, today marks one year since the deadly attack on Rann town that claimed the lives of three aid workers, and another three aid workers were also kidnapped during the attack.
Our colleagues at UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) warned today that global cases of measles are surging to alarmingly high levels. According to UNICEF, ten countries account for more than 74 per cent of the total increase in global measles cases; those are Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil. Those saw the largest increases from 2017 to 2018. In Ukraine alone, there were [35,120] cases of measles in 2018. UNICEF and its partners are supporting Governments to urgently reach millions of children in countries around the globe. Measles is a highly contagious viral disease which remains an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of safe, effective and inexpensive vaccines.
I just want to flag that Sunday is World Wildlife Day. This year’s theme is “Life Below Water: For people and planet”, and it focuses on the importance of conserving and [sustainably] using marine wildlife. In his message, the Secretary-General said that ocean life is under severe pressure, with causes ranging from climate change to pollution, the loss of coastal habitats and overexploitation of marine species. However, he stressed that solutions are available and called on countries to sustainably manage marine wildlife by following the recommendations of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
**Zero Discrimination Day
Today is Zero Discrimination Day. In a tweet, the Secretary-General said that discrimination based on a person’s HIV status is a violation of their human rights and he called for an end to laws that discriminate. He joined UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS) and called on countries to make positive changes to ensure equality, inclusion and protection. Before Monica [Grayley] rescues me, I'm happy to take some questions. Yes, Carole?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, yesterday, at the Security Council, we heard Bangladesh say that it is no longer able to take in Myanmar refugees. Have they notified you? What is the actual impact of this? And has there been any discussion with Bangladesh about this decision?
Spokesman: I will have to check if they have been in touch with our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency). As you know, Bangladesh has been amazingly generous in the support they have given the Rohingya refugees. If… I mean, if you look at the numbers of people who have arrived in one country in basically a year, you know, it's close to 700,000. It is important that people fleeing conflict are able to find safe haven, wherever they go. Yes, sir?
Question: Stéphane, thank you. Regarding the Afghanistan and yesterday media floated a plan. Maybe you've seen it, that the Americans are proposing in the talks with Taliban in Qatar, which includes restoring all international forces over the next five years. I wonder if SG's aware, he's seen this plan maybe and maybe there's a comment.
Spokesman: No, I mean, we're obviously following what is being reported in the press. We're not going to comment on things that are floating around, so to speak. A few… I think about two, three… two weeks ago or a bit earlier, our envoy, Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, was briefed by the US envoy, Mr. [Zalmay] Khalilzad. We do expect to be briefed at various intervals by the United States on these discussions, and, obviously, we'll be watching closely the outcome. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Steph. There was a story in The Guardian about an investigation the UN is undertaking in Myanmar because of criticism that, a few years ago, the representative there missed the rising turbulence and discrimination and deaths. And, secondly, with Nigerians going to Cameroon, are the Cameroonians still flooding to Nigeria? Or are they meeting somewhere in the middle?
Spokesman: There is… we've seen populations from both countries find haven in neighbouring countries that… at different times. You know, what I can tell you is that there is actually no investigation. I think it's the wrong… it's not a term to use. As you will recall, the Human Rights Council, earlier, approved a resolution in which it asked… it made some comments on… and suggestions to the Secretary‑General moving forward. Taking that into account, taking that resolution into account, the Secretary‑General has asked Gert Rosenthal to conduct an internal review of the UN's operations in Myanmar. It's important to underscore that the review is not d10irected at any one particular individual or agency but, rather, how the UN as an institution works on the ground and possible lessons learned for the future. Based on those… on his findings, Mr. Rosenthal will provide the Secretary‑General with advice moving forward. This review is being conducted not on the ground. He has no plans to travel to Myanmar. He's reviewing documents and speaking to people as he deems necessary. Monica, it's time you rescue me. Thank you, and have a great weekend, everybody.