22 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Cyclone Idai

I have the following statement by the Secretary-General on Cyclone Idai.  And again, this is in the name of the Secretary-General.  I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and heart-wrenching images of human suffering we have seen since Cyclone Idai hit Beira, Mozambique, on the night of 14 March, and then swept into Malawi and Zimbabwe, resulting in the massive disaster.  I have been encouraged by the efforts of national and international search and rescue teams, who have been working around the clock to save thousands of lives under dangerous and challenging conditions.  These heroes have not only rescued families off roofs, but are also delivering food, water purification tablets and other life-saving humanitarian assistance to survivors after communities have literally been washed away.

The UN and humanitarian partners are scaling up the response with the initial funding from generous donors.  The UN has already released $20 million to kick-start the response.  However, far greater international support is needed.  With crops destroyed in the breadbasket of Mozambique more people are at risk of food insecurity in all three countries.  And homes, schools, hospitals and roads lie in ruin.  What is needed now are funds to support the response in the days, weeks and months to come.  We must all stand in solidarity with the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  I would like to make a strong appeal to the international community to step up support.  Again, that statement was in the name of the Secretary-General.

And over near the door, there are some copies as well of a statement by Inga King, the President of the Economic and Social Council.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore is in Mozambique’s Beira to see the impact of Cyclone Idai on children and families there.  She said that the situation on the ground remains critical, with there being no electricity or running water.  Ms. Fore noted that hundreds of thousands of children need immediate help and that the priority right now is to give them shelter, food, water, education and protection.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than 1.8 million people need assistance in Mozambique.  At least 242 people have died and more than 1,400 others have been injured, according to the Government.  UNICEF is supporting World Food Programme (WFP) with food distribution and is also providing water purification supplies and is helping to set up spaces to protect children and provide psychosocial support.

**Islamic Cultural Centre

In just a short while from now, the Secretary-General will visit the Islamic Cultural Centre of New York, and he will visit the mosque and intends to speak to the press while he is there.  He will discuss the attack last week on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and will say that around the world, we have seen ever-rising anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, hate speech and bigotry.  And he will make a call to reaffirm the sanctity of all places of worship and the safety of all worshippers who visit revered sites in a spirit of compassion and tolerance.  We’ll share the transcript of what he says to the press there, and video coverage of his visit will be available later today.


We have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the capsizing of a ferry near Mosul, Iraq:  The Secretary-General is saddened by the tragic loss of lives after a passenger ferry capsized yesterday in the Tigris River near the Iraqi city of Mosul.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims, the Government and people of Iraq and wishes the injured a speedy recovery.  This tragedy happened on the Nowruz holiday, when many across Iraq were celebrating the first day of spring.  The Secretary-General conveys the solidarity of the United Nations with the Republic of Iraq, as well as its readiness to support national assistance efforts as needed.


Just a few minutes ago we issued the following statement:  The Secretary‑General was deeply saddened to learn about the loss of life and injuries caused by the explosion at a chemical plant in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province of China.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.  The Secretary-General expresses his heartfelt sympathies to the people and Government of China.

**Western Sahara

Horst Köhler, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, spoke to reporters in Geneva today after the second round‑table meeting on Western Sahara.  He said that this meeting demonstrated that all delegations are aware that many people are placing hope in this process, with the costs of this conflict being far too high.  Mr. Köhler read a joint communiqué agreed on by all four delegations, which said that they welcomed the new momentum created by the first round‑table meeting in December of last year.  The delegations also said they held in-depth discussions on how to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution to the question of Western Sahara that is realistic, practicable, enduring, based on compromise, just, lasting, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in accordance with Security Council resolution 2440 (2018).  There was consensus that the whole Maghreb would greatly benefit from a solution to the question of Western Sahara.  Delegations also recognized that the region had a special responsibility to contribute to a solution.  They also welcomed Mr. Köhler’s intention to invite them to meet again in the same format.  You can read the full transcript on our website.


The UN Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, concluded his visit to Syria and has been in Lebanon, where he met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri.  Today, the Special Envoy is visiting Syrian refugees in shelters in Mount Lebanon.


Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more measles cases continue to be recorded in the Philippines, with nearly 23,000 cases — including 333 deaths officially reported — so far.  This marks a 385 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.  Over half of the cases involve children under the age of five.  The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the overall risk of the current outbreak as high, but there are signs that the outbreak is beginning to slow down, in part due to stepped up vaccination efforts.  UNICEF is helping to procure 6 million additional vaccines, and together with WHO, will deploy personnel to support the national vaccination campaign.

**World Water Day

Today is World Water Day, and this year’s theme is “Leaving no one behind”, which is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  In his message on the Day, the Secretary-General stressed that water is a human right and that nobody should be denied access to it.  He noted that, today, 2.1 billion people live without safe water due to factors such as economic status, gender, ethnicity, religion and age, and that, by 2030, some 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity.  As we strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he said that we must value water resources and ensure their inclusive management if we are to protect and use this vital resource sustainably for the benefit of all people.  His full message is available on our website.

**Press Encounter Today

Once I am done, you will hear from Monica Grayley, the spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.  At 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations, will brief reporters at the Security Council Stakeout.

**Noon Briefing Guests Monday

On Monday, our guests will be Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  They will brief you on their recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That’s it for me.  Yes, Masood.  Your hand's been up for quite some time.  Yes.  You can get to go.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  Thank you.  Farhan, the United States' recognition of Israeli occupation of Golan Heights as… has… is it also… does it rec… can it be recognized as international community?  Where does that stand?  And what is the Secretary‑General's opinion on this?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have any comment on the tweet that we saw yesterday, but if you're asking what the UN policy on Golan Heights is, it's very clear.  It's the policy reflected in the resolutions of the Security Council and the relevant resolutions as well of the General Assembly, and they refer very clearly to it.

Question:  So, basically, it remains oc… I mean, so‑called occupied land for now.

Deputy Spokesman:  The status of Golan has not changed.  If you'll recall, our Special Envoy on Syria, Geir Pedersen, briefed the Security Council just a few weeks ago, on 28 February, and he took up that issue there.  And you can see what his comments are, but certainly, the status of Golan remains as it was.  Yes?

Question:  I have one follow‑up and this… a question on a different subject.  The follow‑up on the Golan Heights, I know you said it was just a tweet, but President [Donald] Trump has made it clear his intention to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  Given what you've said about the existing position of the UN and the existing Security Council resolutions, does the Secretary‑General believe this will be a clear breach by the United States, a permanent member, of Security Council resolutions, and as such, in breach of international law?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you well know from the many times we've brought up the topic of Security Council resolutions in the past, it's up to the members of the Security Council themselves to determine whether their resolutions have been breached or not.  And so, we'll leave that matter in their hands.  The resolutions are, of course, unchanged, and we can show… we can turn you to them, but they are what they are, and our policies have not changed on that regard.

Question:  And the other question is on Yemen and what you had to say the other day.  You talked about some progress.  You talked about the regional Coordination Committee meeting soon.  Do you have any update on the timing of that meeting, number one, with regard to Hodeidah?  And then the other aspect, which we've forgotten for a bit, is the talks about the prisoner exchange.  Any update on that?

Deputy Spokesman:  When we have those updates, we'll certainly let you know.  We are hopeful that we can get a meeting of the Redeployment Coordination Committee soon to endorse the progress that we've seen in recent days on the withdrawals from Hodeidah.  Meanwhile, there's nothing new to report about the prisoner exchange.  It is welcome that the sort of cessation of hostilities we had had in those areas is holding and that the parties continue to be willing to meet with each other around the table.  We'll have to see what more we can get in terms of concrete results about that.

Question:  Can I push you on soon, over the weekend?

Deputy Spokesman:  We'll announce it as soon as we possibly can.  Yes, please?

Question:  A UN human rights team went to Venezuela on 15 March, if I'm not mistaken, and they're scheduled to come back today.  Is there any update on the mission?  And did they come back to New York?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the team actually will go back to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is in Geneva.  They have been able to go about their work.  As far as we're aware, they were able to make the meetings that they had scheduled.  So, we hope that they will be able to report back on what their findings were.  Yes?

Question:  On the… I was going to ask you about the Gaza crossing to… that I've been asking you, strangulation of Gaza by the Israelis and the Egyptians.  Do you have any update on that situation now?

Deputy Spokesman:  There's nothing particularly new to say.  Next week, I believe Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov will give one of his periodic briefings on the situation in the Palestinian territories to the Security Council, and we can provide some further factual information.  But, the situation remains basically the same as it was when you last asked a few days ago.  And with that, have a good weekend, everyone.

For information media. Not an official record.