The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon everyone. The Secretary‑General arrived in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, early this morning. He met with President Mauricio Macri, congratulating Argentina for successfully hosting the Second High‑level UN Conference on South‑South Cooperation and commending the Government’s leadership concerning other UN global priorities, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Secretary‑General addressed the opening of the Conference, saying that the Buenos Aires Plan of Action, which resulted from the landmark international conference on South‑South cooperation 40 years ago, has transformed the dynamics of international cooperation. He stressed that South‑South cooperation can provide solutions to several issues central to combating climate change and promoting sustainable development, including rising inequality; infrastructure and energy; and gender.
The Secretary‑General also met with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera [Echeñique] this morning. He will arrive back here in New York early tomorrow morning.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Tonight, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, will travel to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the opening of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regional Forum for Sustainable Development and meet with UN resident coordinators in the region. While in Geneva, she will also brief Member States, participate in an Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, convene a Principals’ discussion on the Sustainable Development Goal 3 Global Action Plan and visit UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS].
On Friday, the Deputy Secretary‑General will proceed to Marrakesh, Morocco, to attend the twentieth session of the Africa Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting, and the Ministerial Segment of the United Nations Economic Commission Annual Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. She will also meet with UN resident coordinators in Africa and senior Government officials.
On 25 March, she will fly to Bangkok, Thailand, to attend the Asia Pacific Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting and the sixth Asia‑Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development and she will meet with UN resident coordinators from the region. She will also meet with senior United Nations and Government officials.
The Deputy Secretary‑General will return to New York on 29 March.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that the UN’s humanitarian chief, Mark Lowcock, yesterday allocated $20 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to complement the efforts of the Governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to provide assistance to communities affected by Tropical Cyclone Idai. The bulk of the funding will kick‑start the response in worst‑hit Mozambique. Mr. Lowcock noted that the allocation would be insufficient to respond to the expected rise in the level of need and urged donors to contribute to the response.
In Mozambique, according to the Government, at least 202 people are confirmed dead following Cyclone Idai’s landfall; the death toll is expected to rise. An estimated 260,000 children have reportedly been affected, according to UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. The main roads into and out of Beira remain impassable due to flood waters and extensive damage to the road network.
The World Food Programme (WFP) continues to airlift high‑energy biscuits and other vital supplies, while emergency telecommunication partners have deployed to support the humanitarian community in the affected areas. Yesterday, shelter kits and family tents arrived in Mozambique to shelter up to 38,000 people.
In Malawi, nearly 840,000 people have been affected by the floods. Close to 94,000 people are displaced and sheltering in displacement sites.
In Zimbabwe, at least 102 deaths and over 200 injuries have been reported, and more than 200 people are reportedly still missing. Relief trucks carrying shelter, non‑food items and water and sanitation supplies have arrived, and distribution is under way in some areas. WFP has pre‑positioned food stocks ready to deploy and other agencies are mobilizing stocks, particularly for health and water and sanitation interventions. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has more information on the humanitarian response.
This morning, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the Security Council by video teleconference on the situation in that country. Mr. Salamé told the Council that the National Conference will be held from 14 to 16 April inside Libya, adding that the Conference represents a critical opportunity to end the country’s eight‑year‑long transitional period. We have shared his remarks.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of yesterday, nearly 123,000 people were affected by flooding caused by heavy rains earlier this month in Afghanistan. Dozens of people have been killed or injured. The United Nations and our humanitarian partners are helping the Government‑led relief efforts, providing emergency health kits, food, emergency shelter, non-food items and hygiene kits. Just as a reminder: the Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan needs $611.8 million to help 4.5 million people in 2019 and is currently only 4 per cent funded.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Just to let you know that the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, the UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, and the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Elhadj As Sy, concluded today their joint mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The delegation, along with the country’s Health Minister, visited a site for internally displaced people in Bunia, Orientale Province, where thousands of families sought refuge from violence. They also visited child protection projects run by UNICEF. And Mr. Lowcock and Mr. Sy went to another displacement site where Red Cross personnel are conducting community information campaigns on Ebola, before visiting an IFRC‑managed Ebola centre. An estimated 12.8 million people are in need of assistance in the country.
**Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, acknowledged today’s final appeal [judgment] by the Hague Branch of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, largely upholding the verdict issued in 2016 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against Radovan Karadžic and increasing his sentence from 40 years to life imprisonment.
Special Adviser Dieng underlined that this appeal judgment confirms that accountability rather than impunity will prevail. Justice alone, however, will not bring genuine reconciliation to communities divided by violence, and it cannot be imposed from the outside.
During his visit to the region in February, Mr. Dieng consistently underscored that “genocide denial is a direct barrier to reconciliation.” We have a press release online with more details. That’s it for me. Are there any questions from you before we get to Monica Grayley? Yes, yes, please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Today, [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] Michelle Bachelet gave her report on Venezuela and other countries in the region, and specifically on Venezuela, she said that is worries that the sanctions imposed to the Government of Venezuela, and not having access to some funds, might deteriorate the situation inside the country. And, also, she talked about the reduction of the space for the opposition to be able to protest and to have their voices heard. What does the Secretary‑General can say about this type of report?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, her views are her own, and so, they speak for themselves. But regarding the question of the right to protest, obviously, we want to make sure that all fundamental rights, including the right to peaceful protest and to freedom of expression, are upheld throughout Venezuela. And, of course, from the Secretary‑General’s standpoint, the most crucial thing, as you know, is to have dialogue between the parties. And we want to make sure that there’s the right atmosphere for such a dialogue to be conducted. Yes, you?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just a quick follow‑up on the SG trip to Argentina. You just told us that he met earlier today with Sebastián Piñera. Do we know if Venezuela was part of the talks or, for that matter, with any of the bilateral meetings that he might have had down there…?
Deputy Spokesman: It wouldn’t be surprising if the topic of Venezuela came up in his discussions with Latin American leaders. Regarding Mr. Piñera, we have asked for a readout, and we’ll see whether we can get something later. Yes, Masood?
Question: Farhan, yes. On this… the crossing… Gaza crossings, which have been brought time and again by the Israelis and the Egyptians, and that’s a cause and effect. I mean, when the population in Gaza is being starved to death because of… how will they not protest? So… and that becomes violent. That is the cause and effect. So, what is the situation now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, we’ve repeatedly called for all the crossing points to be opened to regular commercial traffic, and our Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, has been in touch with all the parties on the ground to make sure that, as much as possible, the crossings can be opened. And we’ve had, as you know, some success about this. I’d refer you to the recent reports that Mr. Mladenov has provided to the Security Council.
Question: But… yeah, he’s on record having to blame the Palestinian in the Gaza for situation over there. So, now is there… I mean, do they recognize that that is happening as a consequence of Israel’s blockage of crossings and Egyptian blocking…?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, he and the UN system as a whole, we’ve been in touch with all various parties, including on the Egyptian side, the Israeli side, and among the Palestinians. And we’ve worked to have these crossing points opened. Obviously, it’s been difficult, and we continue to implore all sides to work with each other in order to keep them open. Yes, Evelyn. And… Evelyn first and then you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Has anyone related the disasters in Southern Africa to climate change?
Deputy Spokesman: I think you’re as aware as we are of the news coverage of this and what some analysts and experts on this issue have been saying. I’d also refer you to some of the data provided by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Yes?
Question: My question is about Libya. So, is the conference going to come up with a clear road map on how to end the conflict in Libya or what we can expect from the conference?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that… I’d refer you back to what Mr. Salamé said. Obviously, it’s our expectation to have progress on that issue at the conference. But, obv… but we’re about a month ahead of when this takes place, so we’ll have to see what can be achieved. Yes, Stefano?
Question: Yes. I have a follow‑up on that. Is… because conferences before in Libya or about Libya, about special election didn’t work and then the explanation has been always because they were poor… powers, for regional Powers that influence the part and for the agreement to… is the Secretary‑General, this time, offer… you know, his… what… why we should be offer… have hope that, for example, I just name it, France, Italy, those country, now finally get along in making sure this conference will work?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, Mr. Salamé has dealt with all the countries, not just the countries in the region but more widely, to see whether he can get as broad a participation as possible to all of the various efforts to resolve this crisis. And we’re hopeful that, at long last, after so many years of disarray on the ground, that there’s a growing consensus among the key parties so that you can have a stable, united Libya.
Question: And… I’m sorry. And then I have another question that he’s… I had it two days ago. In Iran, the activist lawyer for human rights Nasrin Sotoudeh has been… she’s in prison and in a really… condition that we all know is… is… is very… is… concern for all the community in the world that care for human rights. And I would like to know if her situation is in the Secretary‑General round‑up or not yet.
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on this for now is that, yes, we aware of the situation, and I would refer you to our long‑standing concern for the treatment of all human rights defenders. We want to make sure that those who are in charge of defending human rights are not themselves targeted in the countries where they work, and that is certainly our concern in this case. Yes, please?
Question: Hi, Farhan. Thank you. I have a couple of questions on the Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. The first one is the… if the Secretary‑General is going to make a new statement on this tragedy. As we know, for example, that in Mozambique, there are three days of mourning. He had to… he made a statement on Sunday, but now the numbers are growing, and I want to know if… what he has to say.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’ll consider what further things we need to say as that comes up. As you know, we have issued statements about all of the countries most affected by this, about Malawi and Mozambique and Zimbabwe. So, the Secretary‑General is on record, and his concerns are on record, as is our offer of help to those countries. If it is helpful to say something further, certainly, we’ll do that.
Question: Okay. Another question is if the UN is going to ask for more donations or money from the Member States to help these devastated countries.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we will. It’s been very clear, and if you’ve seen, for example, our press release last night about the Central Emergency Response Fund, we made clear that the sort of money that we have on hand right now is insufficient to meet the needs on the ground. So, we will be coming back to Member States. At this stage, what we want to do is underscore the sheer level of this crisis. This may be one of the worst natural disasters to hit Southern Africa in living memory. And so, we will need to do quite a lot. We do not know at this point, because of the amount of damage that’s been created and the inaccessibility to some of the area, we do not know yet the scale of damage to make a precise estimate of what kind of numbers we’re looking at, but it will be large. And we are trying our best to inform the international community already to expect that we need to do quite a lot. Evelyn?
Question: Is there any update on the visa refusal for ICC [International Criminal Court] officials, protest, whatnot for their [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is a matter, as you know, in the hands of our colleagues in the International Criminal Court. Beyond that… hold on.
Correspondent: You see something in your notes?
Deputy Spokesman: I have something here, but you never know quite where it is, but… I mean, we’ve taken note of the Secretary‑General’s statement that these restrictions will be implemented consistently with the host country’s obligations under the United Nations Headquarters Agreement. And along those lines, we will continue to closely follow developments in this matter. Yes. No, no, no, her first, and then you. Yes, you.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I have a question on Guatemala. The CICIG [International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala] is… has a lot of attention by Guatemala officials as well as here at the United Nations. Just yesterday, a detention order was issued for one of the prosecutors or former prosecutors of the country Thelma Aldana. She says that it is because of political reasons. The Government has stated that they have a legitimate cause to present those. And she also is a candidate for the presidency, will… for now, will provide some immunity for her to be detained. Is that a concern that, so close to the elections in Guatemala, the subject of corruption and especially the CICIG could be used to try to attack those that had supported the CICIG in Guatemala?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we… I don’t want to get involved in what the campaign process in Guatemala is. Our principled point is that we want to make sure that all parties support the work of the Commission against Impunity, of CICIG, because, ultimately, its work is not meant to benefit any political party or any specific politicians. It does its work for the benefit of all Guatemalans, and we hope it will be seen that way. Yes?
Question: Thank you. General direction. I just wanted to ask about the Rohingya crisis. I mean, there are four American senators calling for accountability on behalf of the… they call it Burmese Government, but I understand it’s Myanmar Government. So, now, is… do you have anything that this crisis is still… I mean, it’s not coming to an end. The Rohingyas are not being given nationality, nor they are recognized as an entity in Myanmar. So, what is the situation now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we continue to follow up with the authorities in Myanmar to make sure that the steps that they’ve agreed to will be implemented. And we are working, including through our UN country team, on the ground, through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to see what can be done to make sure that the conditions on the ground are conducive to the return of the Rohingya. It… we’re not at that stage yet, but we’re continuing to work, and we’ll continue to do so until the matter is resolved.
And with that, please, Monica, come on up. The floor is yours.