6 March 2019

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Morning.  Tonight, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will travel to Geneva to address the Human Rights Council.  She will also have bilateral meetings with senior Government officials and senior officials of UN entities in Geneva.  We expect the Deputy Secretary-General back in New York on Thursday.

**Human Rights

In Geneva today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the 40th session of the Human Rights Council.

She stressed that inequalities stir grievances and unrest, and that they also fuel hatred and violence.

But Ms. Bachelet said that human rights build hope, binding humanity together with shared principles and a better future, in sharp contrast to the divisive, destructive forces of repression, exploitation, scapegoating, discrimination and inequalities.  You can read her full statement on the UN Human Rights Office’s website.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Turning to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the humanitarian country team today released the 2019 Needs and Priority Plan, calling for $120 million to urgently provide life-saving aid to 3.8 million people.

Some 11 million people — or more than 40 per cent of the population — lack sufficient nutritious food, clean drinking water or access to basic services such as health and sanitation.

Widespread undernutrition threatens an entire generation of children, with one in five children stunted due to chronic undernutrition.  Coupled with limited health care and a lack of access to safe water and sanitation and hygiene services, children are also at risk of dying from curable diseases.

Humanitarian activities in the DPRK are critically underfunded and last year’s Needs and Priorities Plan was only 24 per cent funded, making it one of the lowest funded humanitarian plans in the world.  Without adequate funding this year, some agencies will be forced to close down projects providing life-saving aid to the most vulnerable people.

Tapan Mishra, the UN Resident Coordinator in the country, said that if we are to address and mitigate the impact of food insecurity on the most vulnerable in the country, including women and children, the time to act is now.

Last year, aid agencies were only able to reach one third of the people to whom the UN planned to provide humanitarian assistance, with an estimated 1.4 million people not receiving food assistance.  More information online. 


The United Nations and NGO (non-governmental organization) aid officials today sounded the alarm over rising conflict and insecurity that have accelerated forced displacement across the Sahel, where millions of people are still reeling from the impacts of 2018’s food and nutrition crisis. 

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, who was just in Burkina Faso, said that growing insecurity was generating a rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Sahel and that increased efforts were needed. 

Around 4.2 million people are displaced in the Sahel — a million more than in 2018 — due to escalating armed violence in parts of Mali, across the Lake Chad Basin and the Liptako-Gourma region — that’s the border between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Experts say that in this year’s lean season, between June and August, 9.5 million people will be critically food insecure in the Sahel, including 4.4 million people in the Lake Chad Basin. 


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, today released $500,000 from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for the creation of a regional logistics centre in Entebbe, Uganda, to strengthen Ebola readiness and response to the region.

The new centre, led by the World Food Programme (WFP), will support early action in countries neighbouring the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to prevent the spread of the disease and respond if needed.  As you know, the DRC has been dealing with an Ebola outbreak since August last year, with more than 800 confirmed cases and 500 deaths to date.

The allocation is part of a $10.5 million regional contribution from the Central Emergency Response Fund towards mitigating the possible impact of Ebola should it spread beyond the DRC’s borders — measures include surveillance, community mobilization, vaccination campaigns and training for health workers.  More information on the web.


Staying on health issues, our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) report that together with South Sudan’s Ministry of Health, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), they have embarked on a campaign to immunize 40,000 children against measles. 

The nine-day campaign follows the recent confirmation of a measles outbreak in Mayom, former Unity State, with 17 cases reported so far.

Measles outbreaks in South Sudan are attributed to an accumulation of unvaccinated children due to low immunization.  Access to health care across the country is very limited.

**World Health Organization

Lastly on health, the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the most wide-ranging reforms in the Organization’s history, aimed at modernizing and strengthening it to play its role more effectively as the world’s leading authority on public health.

The changes are designed to help countries achieve the “triple billion” targets at the heart of WHO’s five-year strategic plan: 1 billion more people benefiting from universal healthcare coverage; 1 billion more people better protected from health emergencies, and 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.


Our colleagues in Libya say the Humanitarian Coordinator for that country, Maria Do Valle Ribeiro, visited Sebha this week, in the second UN humanitarian mission to the town in two weeks.  Libya’s southern Sebha region has seen recurring conflict since 2011 and hosts an estimated 21,000 internally displaced Libyans as well as 43,000 migrants.  In January, the UN accessed Sebha for the first time since 2014.

During her mission, Ms. Ribeiro discussed priority areas for support with local authorities and humanitarian partners, including supporting under-resourced medical facilities and establishing referral systems for survivors of gender-based violence and civil documentation for displaced families.


Lastly, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said today that, according to international laboratories’ test results, the deaths of [1 million] of farmed carp in Iraq in late 2018 was caused by fish disease, not pollution. 

This mass fish kill episode was traced to the Koi Herpes Virus (KHV), which is a lethal disease known to cause almost 100 per cent mortality rates in carp.

Based on all the samples taken by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, test results showed no significant contamination from heavy metals, hydrocarbons or pesticides.  Therefore, UNEP said, the public should be aware that the farmed carp is safe to eat. 

**Press Encounters

Tomorrow, a couple of things to flag for you.  At 11:45 a.m., Miroslav Lajčák, Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Foreign Minister of the Slovak Republic and a former President of the General Assembly, will speak at the stakeout, following his briefing to the Security Council members on the OSCE.  That’s about 11:45.

Then at noon, I will be joined by Zachary Mwangi Chege, the Chair of the 50th Session of the UN Statistical Commission and Director General of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, and our good friend Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the UN Statistics Division.  They will brief you on the work of the Commission, including the ongoing discussions on a refined indicator framework and measures to close the funding gap.

**Questions and Answers

And now… yes, sir.  Go ahead. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Regarding the… the UN humanitarian support to DPRK, just you mentioned, so, does UN have any action to take for humanitarian support, such as additional money from the CERF?  And, also, does… how does UN access DPRK Government effort to improve its own people's humanitarian situation?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, as we do in every country, we work in partnership with the Government.  As you know and as I think was reported not too long ago, there was a request from the Government for assistance.  They came out also with their own numbers in terms of gaps in food production.  So, this is a partnership with the Government.  The UN operates wherever it operates in partnership with the Government.  Obviously, for us, the environment in the DPRK is challenging, and it's important that humanitarian needs are separated from political dynamics.  Yes?

Question:  On… on the same topic, you were saying it was one of the most underfunded plans last year.  Do you have the information on which funds were less funded?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We can give you… I mean, our… unfortunately, most of our appeals are chronically underfunded, but we can get you the… we can get… that information is publicly available.  I just don't have it in front of me, but that's easy enough to get.  Betul?

Question:  May I?

Spokesman:  Yes, you may.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The Human Rights Watch released their report on the hundreds of children suspected of IS affiliation in Iraq being detained and forced to confess.  I was wondering if the UN is try… talking to these children or the wives of IS fighters.  We have seen some discussions on the return of these people to their home countries, and what is the UN's position?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, there are a lot of things to unpack in your question.  Obviously, I think the report, as we read it, is of concern.  It is important that children, especially, be afforded all the rights they're entitled to, that they be treated in a way that separates them from adults.  And I know we have a human rights presence in Iraq through our Mission, and I'm sure they are working with the Government in trying to access and deal with those issues and guide and assist the Government in whatever way they can.  On the issue of foreign fighters, there are relevant Security Council resolutions that give guidance to Member States and that should guide Member States' actions on how to deal with foreign fighters, on the reintegration, the repatriation of foreign fighters.  And it is important that all of that also be done within the proper human rights framework.

Question:  Follow‑up on that?

Spokesman:  If you can grab the microphone, yes.

Question:  Yes.  Thank you.  This is… 1,500 children are in detention since at least 2018 by both Iraqi and Kurdish Governments and, according to the report, they have been abused, investigated, coerced into confession.  Does the UN has access to those prisons?  And the second thing I want to ask, why the Special Envoy to Iraq, the head of UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq), did not highlight in her report to Security Council this issue about the 1,500 children…

Spokesman:  Listen, I will check with the Mission about that specific Human Rights Watch report.  Our regular reporting to the Security Council in terms of the UNAMI reports has a human rights component, and our Human Rights Office is, in fact, very active in Iraq.

Question:  Okay.  And about the access to the prisons…

Spokesman:  I will check with them.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  I'm sorry.  I came a bit late, and I missed probably one of… from my point of view, the most important pieces of information that you were discussing, the terrible crisis in the D… humanitarian crisis in the DPRK.  And the so‑called humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions are not working, and just about everybody from the rapporteur on human rights to various other experts on the humanitarian situation in the DPRK have pointed out that the humanitarian exemptions aren't working, and the sanctions are blocking desperately needed humanitarian, medical and… and nutrition…

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, Carla, I highlighted a lot of the challenges.  I'm happy to entertain a question.

Question:  The question is, what can be done to… I know you're going to refer me to the sanctions… to the Security Council, but the Security Council is failing, and it's beginning to look deliberate, and it's beginning to look as if…

Spokesman:  Carla, I really, really… I'm dying for a question mark.

Question:  Okay.  The question mark is, what can be done about the sanctions to lift them so that the people of North Korea don't starve to death or… or…

Spokesman:  Okay.  So, a couple of things.  The UN's humanitarian work in the DPRK remain strictly within the parameters of the Security Council resolutions.  We're able to work.  I think I… you… I will share with you what you missed in the beginning of our appeal and the way we're working with the Government.  However, it is true, and we've said this in the past, that the sanctions have had some unintended consequences on humanitarian operations; notably, the biggest impact for us is the banking channel and how to get money for our UN operations in and obviously some lack of funding.  The sanctions, as you said, are imposed by the Security Council for reasons that the Security Council has highlighted.  We hope very much that, you know, the dialogue that we've seen between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea will have positive benefits and positive outcome, which we hope and one day we'll see the lifting of the sanctions.  But the imposition of sanctions is strictly within the domain of the Security Council, which remains the master of its own domain.

Question:  Isn't there some oversight… I mean, if we're…

Spokesman:  If you're talking about oversight of the Security Council, that… you can read the Charter, and I'm not going to go into a deeper analysis now.  I would like to move to a different continent. 

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have two questions on Venezuela.  It was reported earlier today that Venezuelan authorities, under the control of Nicolás Maduro, arrested American journalist Cody Weddle after a raid of his home in Caracas.  So, could you remind us whether or not raiding journalists of their homes goes against any UN principle?  And… and… sorry.  And the second question, also on another incident in Venezuela, earlier today, the Guardia Nacional Bolivariana, also under the control of Nicolás Maduro, prevented Venezuelan kids to go to their schools in the Colombian side, because this is an incident that happened on the border.  So, I just wonder if preventing kids from going to schools goes against any kind of…

Spokesman:  Sure.  I had not seen the report of the second case you mentioned.  I will look into that.  On the first one, I've seen the press reports.  We're trying to get some details.  As a matter of principle, I think the Secretary‑General very much supports the right of journalists to be able to do their work free of harassment and the responsibility for every Government around this world to ensure that journalists have a space in which to do their work.

Okay.  Monica, why not?  Yalla.

For information media. Not an official record.