The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I know you’ve got some questions on what is going on in Gaza, so let me just go ahead and start with that and just say that the Secretary-General is gravely concerned by the latest developments regarding Gaza. Today's firing of a rocket from Gaza towards Israel is a serious and unacceptable violation. We are also aware of the latest reports of firing on Gaza and are monitoring events. We urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint. The Secretary-General is set to meet tomorrow with his Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, who is also scheduled to brief the Security Council in person and where he will discuss the latest developments. This is a pre-scheduled briefing. We continue to work with Egypt and all concerned parties to try to de-escalate the situation, and again encourage restraint. Further escalation is likely to make an already bad situation worse, in particular for civilians in and close to Gaza.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a meeting of the General Assembly to mark the International Day [for] the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. He said that this is an occasion for all of us to renew our promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, including social and ethnic discrimination, anti-Muslim hatred and anti-Semitism. The Secretary-General said that the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand two Fridays ago is the latest tragedy rooted in such poison, noting that he visited the Islamic Center in New York on Friday to show his solidarity and express his outrage. Today and every day, he stressed that we must stand united against racial and religious hatred and the terrorism of bigots, adding that no country or community is immune. The Secretary-General noted that he has asked his Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together the UN system to design a strategy and plan of action to combat hate speech.
And at 3 p.m. this afternoon, he will speak again at a General Assembly, this time at a meeting to mark the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and the theme of this year is “Remember Slavery: Power of the Arts for Justice”. We expect the Secretary‑General to express his support for the artists, writers and poets committed to the struggle for racial equality and empowerment. And as a reminder, the Secretary-General will do a stakeout tomorrow morning at 9:45 a.m. focusing on the devastation caused by the cyclone in southern Africa.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is traveling to Bangkok after attending the twentieth session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism for Africa in Marrakesh, Morocco, over the weekend. On Saturday, she spoke at that session [and said] that 2019 will be a defining year to deliver the promises we made to humanity through the 2030 Agenda and Africa’s Agenda 2063. Put in simple terms, she said, we need to accelerate to meet the ambitions that we have set for ourselves. Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is still to reach the scale required to address the increasingly complex and interlinked challenges facing humanity and our planet. She added that our youth potential remains underused, hindering the ability of girls and boys to shape not only our future – but our present. Her transcript is available. And my understanding is that she is on her way to Thailand.
And on Syria, our humanitarian colleagues are alarmed by the continued reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities in north-western Syria. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to cease all violence and remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all times, and to exercise restraint. Between 22 and 23 March, 15 people were reportedly killed and over 30 injured in eastern rural Idleb Governorate. Extensive damage to physical infrastructure was also reported. On 23 March, two women and two children were also reportedly killed due to artillery shelling in the demilitarized zone in northwest rural Hama Governorate. On the same day, 21 people were reportedly hospitalized after inhaling toxic gases in the Government-controlled town of Al-Rasif.
On Mali, I just want to update you on the attack this weekend on the village of Ogossagou Peulh, in the Mopti region, in central Mali. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) now says that the number of civilian casualties from this attack has increased to over 150 dead. The peacekeeping Mission also says that in addition to casualty evacuation services it provided for the injured over the weekend, it will support a visit of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to the village — and this is scheduled for today. The Mission has also strengthened its presence in area. And you will have seen that, in a statement we put out over the weekend, the Secretary-General said he was shocked and outraged by these reports of civilian deaths. He called on the Malian authorities to redouble their efforts to bring back peace and stability to central Mali. Also over the weekend, in another statement, the Secretary-General welcomed the establishment of a government in the Central African Republic, in line with the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation signed in Bangui on 6 February.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that it is concerned that, according to its preliminary findings, an airstrike by international forces against the Taliban carried out overnight between Friday and Saturday in Kunduz killed 13 civilians, 10 of whom were children. The Mission urged relevant authorities and parties involved in the airstrike to carry out their own enquiries into the incident and to take immediate steps to protect civilians. As you’ll recall, the Mission’s 2018 annual report on the protection of civilians found that there had been a sharp increase in civilian casualties from aerial and search operations in 2018 as compared to 2017.
Also on Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues say that some 13.5 million people in Afghanistan are severely food insecure, with 3.6 million of them facing emergency levels of hunger, just one step from famine as the country grapples with the worst drought in a decade, with 6 million more people affected compared to 2017. To date, United Nations agencies and humanitarian partners have reached 4.1 million of the most affected people with support. This is over 90 per cent of the 4.5 million people targeted for assistance. Of those reached, 400,000 people are displaced while the rest are in drought-affected rural areas.
On Myanmar, our colleagues there say that the conflict in Rakhine and Chin States between the Government and the Arakan Army have displaced more than 16,000 people. The Government, local communities, civil society organizations, the Red Cross Movement, the international NGOs and the United Nations agencies are providing aid. The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian workers access to all those in need, stressing that all parties to the fighting must uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law, notably [on] the protection of civilians.
And just an added note on Ebola — that World Health Organization WHO) reports that more than 1,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the outbreak [was declared] in August 2018. As of 23 March, 1,009 confirmed and probable cases and 621 deaths had been recorded in North Kivu and Ituri [Provinces]. More than 300 patients have been released following treatment. And I shall stop and answer questions. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: While we've been here in the room, in the White House, President [Donald] Trump has signed a declaration formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Does the Secretary‑General… what's his reaction to this? And does he believe this is a contravention of UN Security Council resolutions, and for that matter, of the UN Charter?
Spokesman: Look, it's not a matter of the Secretary‑General's reaction. The Secretary‑General's position has remained unchanged from last week to today. And for him, for the Secretary‑General, it is clear that the status of Golan has not changed. The UN's policy on the Golan is reflected in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and that policy, again, has not changed.
Question: So, is he going to reach out to President Trump and to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who has said in the last few minutes: "We hold the high ground, and we will never give it back"?
Spokesman: Again, for us, the status of the occupied Golan is enshrined in Security Council resolutions. The position has not changed. And we will leave it at that.
Question: But, he's not planning to have any… to make any contact with the US or the Israelis on this?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any planned contact. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Just about an hour and a half ago, Roberto Marrero, which is the chief of staff of Juan Guaidó, was taken to the tribunals. He was charged with alleged terrorism and to try to kill the President of Venezuela. What is the reaction of the Secretary‑General, as members of the international community have called for his release and for a due process?
Spokesman: For the Secretary‑General, any crackdown on the Venezuelan opposition would not only be a mistake, but also could lead to an escalation with dramatic consequences for the people of Venezuela. Maggie?
Question: Steph, on the UNAMA thing that your mentioned about the airstrike, do you have… do you know which country was leading that airstrike? Was it the United States? Or…?
Spokesman: No, we understand it's the International Coalition. I think you should reach out to them to see who was actually involved. All right. Yes, one more and then Monica will re…
Question: Following up on Venezuela, at the end of this week, the group of contact created by the European Union with the support of Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ecuador will meet in Ecuador. And one of the things that had been said is that they're trying to pressure or try to have Spain to be more active in the initiative is to get the United Nations and the Secretary‑General to be actively involved in the process to go to a dialogue. Otherwise, they believe that it will… the… the threshold will close, and we'll have a military action within the region. Is there any reaction by the Secretary‑General? Because we know Federica Mogherini has talked about working on the humanitarian aid, which is believed is the focus of the meeting this week.
Spokesman: For the Secretary‑General, he is… as he said himself, he supports the various regional initiatives, but, I think, to preserve his own independence and potential good offices, he's not actively meeting… participating in the meetings of these different initiatives. But, his good offices remain available should all parties accept it. Thank you. Monica, é toi.