The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen, in a press encounter earlier today, the Secretary‑General said that Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi have suffered some of the worst weather-related catastrophes in the history of Africa, with at least 700 people dead, hundreds still missing and an estimated 3 million people affected — nearly two thirds of them in Mozambique. He reiterated his complete solidarity with the people and Governments of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, adding that a $281.7 million revised appeal for Mozambique was launched yesterday, with a revised appeal for Zimbabwe and the response plan from the Government of Malawi to be issued in the days ahead. He added that such events are becoming more frequent and more severe, devastating and more widespread, and this will only get worse if we do not act now. The full transcript was made available to you.
And a short while ago, in a Security Council briefing this morning, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that a fragile calm seems to have taken hold, one day after at least 103 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza towards Israel, while the Israeli Air Force conducted 42 strikes on various locations in Gaza. He said that since the early hours of yesterday, he and his team have been working intensely with Egypt and all concerned parties to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control. He reiterated that nobody has an interest in a full military confrontation in Gaza. The Special Coordinator asked the members of the Security Council to join the UN in condemning the continued indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas towards Israel. Such acts of provocation, he said, only dramatically increase the risk of escalation and ultimately damage our collective efforts to support the people of Gaza and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. He added that we must all call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint, as the situation remains very tense.
And Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, over the weekend travelled to Riyadh, where he had detailed discussions with the Syrian Negotiation Commission on the same issues he discussed with the Government of Syria, on how to carry forward a comprehensive political process based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). The Special Envoy said good progress was made. He also had valuable meetings with Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Mr. Pedersen appreciated his affirmation of Saudi support for a UN-facilitated Syrian political process based on Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). Meanwhile, on the humanitarian end, we are alarmed by continuing reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities in the north-west part of Syria. Today, in the town of Al-Sheikh Idrees, within the demilitarized zone of eastern rural Idleb Governorate, two children were reportedly killed and a number of civilians injured when artillery shelling struck a primary school. Yesterday, a 12 year old was reportedly killed and three people were injured following the shelling in the demilitarized zone in rural Aleppo. We continue to call on all parties to cease all violations and abide by international humanitarian law.
And on Mali, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that a team of 10 human rights officers, a child protection officer and two crime scene investigators from the UN police component of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) was deployed to the Mopti region to conduct a special investigation into Saturday’s attacks in Ogossagou, in central Mali. Our human rights colleagues add that this was the latest in a series of assaults and a cycle of violence that has resulted in some 600 deaths since March 2018 in Mopti alone. Of these, 219 have been killed in the three months since the beginning of this year. OHCHR is in direct contact with the authorities to help them tackle the cycle of violence in the central part of the country and assist them in pursuing swift investigations. And a UN-led humanitarian needs evaluation mission is providing emergency assistance, including food, non-food items, water purification kits and emergency health‑care assistance to people impacted by the clashes in Mopti. The emergency humanitarian assistance is being provided to displaced people on the basis of need, with displaced people in villages neighbouring Ogossagou being prioritized.
Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say that tens of thousands of South Sudanese school children in 150 schools will benefit from a just-launched programme for education in emergencies. Funded by the European Union and jointly implemented by WFP and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the programme will provide hot meals daily to 75,000 school children, help train some 1,600 teachers, equip students with educational supplies and provide psychosocial support services for 40,000 children in South Sudan. Food security remains a serious challenge; last month, WFP, UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organization warned that nearly 7 million people in South Sudan could face acute food insecurity at the end [height] of the lean season.
And just to flag that a Brazilian peacekeeper serving in the Central African Republic has been selected to receive the UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. Lieutenant Commander Marcia Andrade Braga is a Naval officer who has been serving as the military gender advisor at the headquarters of our peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic since 2018. She is being recognized for her work to help build a network of trained gender advisors and focal points among the Mission’s military units and to promote the use of mixed teams of men and women to conduct community-based patrols around the country. She will be receiving the award from the Secretary-General during the Peacekeeping ministerial meetings which are taking place this Friday. A number of high-level defence and foreign ministers will be here, and the ceremony will take place at Headquarters on Friday. And we congratulate her. And now we take your questions. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Back to the Security Council earlier on and the briefing by Special Coordinator Mladenov, one assumes that his briefing is supposed to cover all the important developments with regard to the Middle East peace process and regional developments with regard to that. Can you explain the fact that he excluded mention of President [Donald] Trump's decision on the US view of sovereignty over the Golan? Given that this was something mentioned by everyone else at the meeting and subject just to a stakeout by all the EU ambassadors, it seems very odd that he wouldn't include that in a summary of the important developments.
Spokesman: Well, you know, our position was clear a month ago. It was clear this week. It's clear today that there is… for the Secretary‑General, there is no change in the status of the Golan.
Correspondent: Just a quick follow‑up. There is a change in the status of the US Government on this and the whole of the international community, for now, since the beginning of the Trump Administration, seems to have entrusted… because no one else is doing anything diplomatically, the Trump Administration and Jared Kushner to find a peace plan. So, if the US Government is changing its position and they are the lead negotiators on behalf of the international community, everyone else is… has ceded that responsibility to them, then, clearly, it's quite important.
Spokesman: I understand. No one is debating the importance of it, and I think the peace plan is really focusing on the Israeli‑Palestinian issue. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On that, as well, we all know what the UN's position is on the Golan Heights, and I was just wondering if you would be able to tell us whether the US decision was a violation of the UN Security Council resolution. And also, a second question, are you concerned that this decision would actually encourage other countries seize territories by force? Apparently, the UN Security Council resolutions could be ignored, even by the permanent members of the Council.
Spokesman: The… it is up to Member States, and obviously, members of the Council to determine the violations. It is… we would ex… so, it's not for the Secretary‑General to opine himself on that. For him, the texts are clear. Obviously, we're not going to predict what could happen in the future, but we stand firmly against the taking of any territory by force. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, thank you, Stéphane. On this Gaza situation, where at least three Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli air strikes and… what do you call… the situation continues to be horrendous for the people living in Gaza. And the crossings have been closed again, which are not going to help in any case. And has Egypt come with anything to ask Israel to open those crossing? Because…
Spokesman: I… sounds like a question… a great question for the representative of the Egyptian Government. What I can say for our part and both the Secretary‑General and Mr. Mladenov has said is that they have worked very closely with Egypt to try to calm the situation, to try to bring a ceasefire into effect. And I think, looking back… I don't know if you were here yesterday… what… our concern is obviously for people of Gaza, for the people around Gaza. Civilians are the first ones to pay the price in any conflict.
Question: But, the thing is… what I'm saying, yes, you're saying this is a press briefing by Mr. Mladenov. I understand that. What is the latest situation over there? And…
Spokesman: As far as I know, the crossings are closed, and that's why one of the many reasons we would want to see a stop to this current round of fighting and to make sure that the humanitarian situation in Gaza can be worked on by the UN and its partners. Madame, and then we'll go here.
Question: Stéphane, the Mission of Venezuela just hosted a group of three panellists who came to talk about this… their views on Venezuela. One of the claims they made is that it is not a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, that the… different migration is that regular migration and that it is not a food and health issues that are beyond just the sanctions imposed by the United States. What's the take on the United Nations — they have given several reports by different agencies; the SG has created a group that is attending the crisis within the migrations — when we see these claims that everything is just a campaign by fake news?
Spokesman: Well, I will leave the compare‑and‑contrast analysis to you. What is clear from our point of view is that there's serious humanitarian problems in Venezuela. We have seen recently, over the last year, a large outflow of people leaving Venezuela. The Secretary‑General has put in place a coordinated response to ensure that those people receive the help that they need and that the host countries are also supported, and our position on those things has not changed. Yes, sir?
Question: Thanks, so much, Stéphane. I've got my own question, but, first of all, may I do a proxy question for a colleague who can't be here?
Spokesman: Ooh. You need to identify the colleague, then.
Question: It's Naoufal. It's a Western Sahara question. Thirty‑seven African Union ministers met in Marrakesh yesterday. They made a declaration in support of the UN's exclusive process on the Sahara issue. Does the SG have a response?
Spokesman: Well, the SG's response is in the work and the effort of his Special Envoy, Mr. [Horst] Köhler, who you know just finished a latest round of discussions with the parties, and we would hope that all Member States support the UN's effort, as they are… as Mr Köhler's efforts are being mandated by the Security Council. Carla and then we'll…
Question: I have my own question, as well. Sorry. It's… Kurdish leaders today came out in support of a tribunal for Da’esh/ISIS militants. There's thousands of them, what to do with them, an international tribunal they called for along the lines of Rwanda or Former Yugoslavia, for example. We've asked you about this a few times before. Is the SG doing anything, even a provisional stage, feeling out people, looking into whether or not this could even be a possibility?
Spokesman: Well, we are supporting and the Secretary‑General's very much supporting the efforts of the team that was mandated to gather evidence of crimes committed by Da’esh, and we are working on that, but I have nothing to share with you on any possible international tribunals.
Question: Are they only in Iraq?
Spokesman: My understanding is that their main focus is in Iraq, but the issue of impunity for crimes committed by Da’esh in Iraq and Syria is a very serious one. Carla?
Corresponent: Thank you, Stéphane. I'm… I think it's necessary… since I was at the previous press briefing on Venezuela, necessary that I correct my distinguished colleague. The panel did not say…
Spokesman: No, Carla, I… if you have a question… I mean, no, if you have a question, I'm happy to entertain it, but I'm not here to moderate a discussion amongst journalists. So, your question, please.
Question: Alright. My question is, since the panel said that the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is a result of the sanctions that the United States have imposed upon Venezuela since 2005, when they failed to overthrow [Hugo] Chavez, has the United Nations any position on sanctions that cause humanitarian crises? Mostly, they are pushed by…
Spokesman: I think… I would refer you back to a statement the Secretary‑General made, I think, last year on the issue of sanctions in the Security Council, and I think that would answer your question. Yes, sir?
Question: Just… thank you, Steph. A quick follow‑up also on developing situation in Venezuela. A second major blackout has been… you know, undergoing right now as we speak that especially has made worse the current humanitarian crisis, especially in the health sector, that the UN has supported a lot. So, I just wonder whether or not the UN operations in Venezuela have been affected at all by this blackout…?
Spokesman: I will ch… I'm not aware of any specific impact, but, obviously, it adds to our grave concern about the humanitarian situation. Thank you.
Question: Stefano… sorry. Okay. In Venezuela again, it's about the humanitarian aid. My question is, have the Secretary‑General has any… any ways to dialogue with Nicolás Maduro to negotiate on the way to see way how to bring in the humanitarian aid into Venezuela, under what conditions, if it is any conditions, or under what cooperation of which country or whatever, because it's still the humanitarian aid on the border, and people are still dying day by day?
Spokesman: Couple of things. First of all, our colleagues in Caracas continue to be in constant contact with the Government, which is their point of contact in terms of humanitarian assistance, health sector, nutrition and so on. UN aid, humanitarian aid, as a matter of principle, can only be distributed free of any political, military or other necessity. The only focus of how humanitarian aid is distributed is that it is needs‑based. Thank you.