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

11 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.

**Ethiopia Air Crash

As you will have all seen, the flags at the UN are flying at half-mast today in remembrance of the colleagues we lost yesterday in the air crash in Ethiopia.  I know that the numbers of fatalities have been fluctuating and we have gone through different numbers — as of five minutes ago, we have confirmations that 21 UN personnel, from different parts of the system, died in the crash.  Before speaking to the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General said that this is a sad day for our organization and for many around the world. He said the United Nations is united in grief, and he extends his deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all the victims, to the Government and people of Ethiopia, and all those affected by the disaster.  He said our fallen colleagues were women and men — junior professionals and seasoned officials — hailing from all corners of the globe and with a wide array of expertise.  They all had one thing in common:  a spirit to serve the people of the world and to make it a better place for all.  It is the same spirit that calls us to the UN every day, he said.

And as you know many of these people on the plane were heading to Nairobi to attend the UN Environment Assembly.  And the fourth UN Environment Assembly began this morning.  The Assembly is addressing the theme “Innovative Solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption & production”.  And after I’m finished here, we will have by phone the Head of the UN Environment [Programme’s] New York Office, Satya S. Tripathi, who is in Nairobi and will speak to you more about the Assembly.  And a number of various UN agencies who lost staff or their executive heads have sent out condolences notes and statements.  And some of the agencies are also releasing the names of the victims as next-of-kin are notified.


I have a statement on Malawi.  The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and significant damage to people’s homes and livelihoods caused by heavy rains and flooding in Malawi.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Malawi.  The United Nations expresses its solidarity with the Malawi authorities and stands ready to support them as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from the heavy rains and flooding.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, since 8 March, a total of 30 deaths [and] 377 injuries had been recorded.  Our humanitarian colleagues say more than 93,000 households — that’s close to half a million people — have been impacted, including 6,000 households have been displaced.  More information online.


And the same storm is also hitting Mozambique, where our humanitarian team is reporting at least 10 deaths and the displacement of some 10,500 people following heavy rains due to a tropical cyclone.


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General strongly condemns the recent attacks on Ebola treatment centres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He sends condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the attacks, and stresses that protecting civilians in conflict is a fundamental tenet of international humanitarian law. He emphasizes that civilians — including health workers — are not a target.  Still on Ebola, on Saturday, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus], visited an Ebola treatment centre in Butembo, that was attacked by armed groups last week and again […] this weekend.  The visit came as he concluded a three-day mission to the country, during which he met with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Government officials, partner organizations and local responders involved in the response to Ebola.  Expressing sorrow over the deaths and injuries resulting from these attacks, he said:  “We have no choice except to continue serving the people here, who are among the most vulnerable in the world."

**Commission on the Status of Women

At the opening of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General stressed that gender equality is fundamentally a question of power and emphasized that the world today cannot make progress without women’s voices, ideas and participation in all areas of society.  “We need you more than ever,” he told Commission on the Status of Women participants.  The Secretary-General noted that advocates for gender equality are mobilizing like never before, but warned that there is a pushback on women’s rights around the world that is deep, pervasive and relentless.  He said the United Nations will not turn back and continue pushing for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Secretary-General highlighted the progress made within the Organization, where for the first time in history, there are more women than men in the Senior Management Group, there is gender parity among Resident Coordinators and there are more women heading peace operations than ever before.  The Secretary-General said parity is about securing peace, advancing human rights and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and added that if women are excluded, everyone pays a price.


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, is scheduled to co-chair, on behalf of the Secretary-General, the third conference on cupporting the future of Syria and the region with the European Union in Brussels on 14 March.  He is expected to arrive in Brussels on 13 March on the second day of the Days of Dialogue that precedes the ministerial-level conference.  The recently issued 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Syria is a stark reminder that the crisis is far from over for 11.7 million people in Syria who remain in need of some form of humanitarian aid and protection.  During the conference, the UN and its partners will appeal for continued support and generous financial pledges to the critical life-saving response inside Syria, as well as for support to the refugee response and resilience needs in neighbouring countries.  Meanwhile, we are gravely concerned by the continued reports of increased civilian casualties and suffering due to intensified hostilities in the northwest part of the country, as four civilians were reportedly killed and ten injured in various locations between 8 and 10 March.

**Security Council

Back here, the Security Council held an open meeting on Afghanistan.  Addressing the Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said [that] the last three months have seen significant developments on both peace and elections, with tangible progress being made towards ending the conflict.  He noted that the UN and the Taliban have continued to engage in intensive talks but stressed the need for the Taliban to speak directly with the Government of Afghanistan.  Mr. Yamamoto stressed that we must recognize that all international efforts need to come to support the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.  He said he expects this year’s presidential elections to be a critical step forward in further consolidating Afghanistan’s representative political system, [but] that holding them on time will be very challenging.


On Myanmar, our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about the situation in Rakhine State, with conflict continuing between the Myanmar authorities and the Arakan Army.  As a result of stepped up clashes last week in the Mrauk-U Township, some 3,700 people remain displaced in that area.  Overall, 9,000 people have been displaced by fighting since late last year across Rakhine and Chin States.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says it is working closely with partners to advocate with the Government for increased access to those affected by the fighting.


The World Health Organization today released a Global Influenza Strategy for 2019‑2030 aimed at protecting people across the world from the threat of influenza.  The [strategy] aims to prevent seasonal influenza, control its spread from animals to humans, and prepare for the next pandemic.

**Honour Roll

Thanks to Samoa, who just paid its regular budget dues in full.  We now have reached the nice number of 70 at the Honour Roll.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here by UN‑Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), on the launch of the Map on Women in Politics 2019, in the context of the Commission on the Status of Women meetings.  Speakers will include the Executive Director of UN‑Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Gabriela Cuevas Barron, the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.  And at 12.30 p.m., there will be a briefing on the High-Level Event on “Women in Power” by the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, along with the President of Croatia, the President of the Republic of Estonia, the President of Trinidad and Tobago and the Prime Minister of Iceland.  And I will be sandwiched in between those briefings. And I turn to you.  Yes, Maggie?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Steph, condolences on your loss of your colleagues.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General plan to go out to Nairobi, perhaps, for any sort of a memorial or to visit… I know they come from different places, so maybe it's hard to centralize something, but what's planned?

Spokesman:  No, I think… there are no plans I know of him travelling to Nairobi.  The Deputy Secretary‑General will be going to Nairobi, as previously scheduled, to attend the UN Environment Assembly.  We'll be officially announcing that in more detail tomorrow.  And I think, as you rightly said, there will be memorial services, I think, throughout the world.  Different agencies will, obviously, hold different memorial services, and we'll wait to see what… how these things are organised and where.  Obviously, right now, the focus is on supporting the families of the victims as best we can.  Carole?

Question:  Stéphane, do you have a breakdown of the 21, per agency…?

Spokesman:  We should be having that shortly. We're talking to our colleagues in DSS [Department of Safety and Security].  We're trying to get a confirmed list to you.  The numbers are changing, and they may yet change before the end of the day or next… yes… or and then… yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Sorry.  Also, Steph, condolences on the loss of your colleagues.  I have question on Colombia.  Last night, President Iván Duque announced his objection to six paragraphs of the transitional justice framework that was created with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and the Government of Colombia, and shortly after, a Group of Experts and personalities sent a letter to the SG asking for any comment or reaction of what it means to the future of the peace process in Colombia. So, have you been able to see the letter?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General received the letter this morning.  We'll be responding to it.  As soon as I have something, I will let you know.  Okay. Yes, sir?

Correspondent:  Condolences on your loss.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  And I wonder whether you have information that you can disclose on the rankings of the UN personnel and whether the UN is going to get involved in informing the families of the victims.

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, the victims… the vast majority of the victims worked for… I mean, they all worked for various UN agencies. So, each agency is taking care of informing the next of kin and will be releasing the names publicly. I think our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) did so earlier today.  Nothing will be released publicly until we are triple sure that the families have been notified.  The concern is really on the families and ensuring we can help them in this horrendous time.  I'm not aware of any involvement by the UN into the investigation of the crash.  Right now, we're, obviously, in touch with the Ethiopian authorities.  The normal protocols are being followed.  And as soon as… if we have more details, we’ll… to share, we will.  Yes, madame?

Question:  Thanks, Steph. I have a question about Venezuela.  They had lost power on Friday.  They have not been able to re‑establish the service mostly in all the states.  What is the impact to the operations of the United Nations, as you have an office in Caracas?  And also, to the visit of the High Commissioner of Human Rights group that's supposed to be in Venezuela during this past few days, is any impact to their operation as…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any impact on the human rights team, but you should check with our human rights colleagues in Geneva.  Obviously, the loss of power has an impact throughout the country and I think can only make what is already a very serious humanitarian problem more complicated and more complex.  And I'll leave it at that.  Yes, Carole, and then Maggie.

Question:  Stéphane, again, just to clarify on the plane crash, how unprecedented is this for the UN?  Has there been another incident where that high number of people died in a plane crash…?

Spokesman:  It's, obviously… ranks up there with one of the worst disasters that we've seen.  Obviously, the… what remains the highest toll were the 102 colleagues we lost in the earthquake in Haiti.  There was also… I mean, there was the attack on the Canal Hotel, which 23 people were killed.  Seventeen of our colleagues were murdered in Algiers in 2007 on the attack there.  In 2011, there was a plane crash… a UN peacekeeping plane crashed in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] with about 32 people on board, which was a mix of UN staffers and NGOs and contractors, as well.  This ranks extremely high in a very unfortunate ranking.  Yes, Maggie?

Question:  Just following up on Ali's question, would the UN's international civil aviation authority get involved in this?

Spokesman:  I think there are very set protocols on investigating air crash. There's the national safety organization of the… of where the crash happened. Obviously, the plane‑maker is involved.  I will check with ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization], but I'm not aware that they've received any request to be involved in this investigation, but we will check with them.

Question:  I'm sorry.  Not necessarily a request.  Wouldn't the… would the UN ask to be involved, since so many of their staff were killed?

Spokesman:  I think we will… at this point, let… we're in touch with the Ethiopian authorities, and we'll, obviously, be monitoring very closely this investigation.  Thank you, all.

For information media. Not an official record.