The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I now have for you a trip to announce: Later today, the Secretary-General will depart for Tunis, where he will attend the thirtieth League of Arab States Summit and make an address on Sunday. While in the Tunisian capital, the Secretary-General will meet with President Beji Caid Essebsi and senior members of the Tunisian Government. He will also meet university students to discuss the critical role of young people in national and international conversations and policies, and the UN’s efforts to ensure that their voices are heard, and their views are translated into action. The Secretary-General will also inaugurate the new UN House in Tunis, la Maison Bleue, and hold a meeting with women leaders and civil society representatives.
The Secretary-General’s main priority for this visit will be the situation in Libya. On the side-lines of the Summit, the Secretary-General will attend a Quartet meeting on Libya, which brings together the United Nations, the League of Arab States, the African Union and the European Union. He will be joined by his Special Representative for Libya, Ghassam Salame.
On Monday, the Secretary-General will travel to Cairo, where he will hold discussions with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who also serves as Chair of the African Union. In Cairo, the Secretary-General will visit the Al Azhar Mosque and meet the Grand Imam to express his solidarity and underscore the need to fight the scourge of Islamophobia, as well as all forms of hatred and bigotry.
The Secretary-General will move on to Jordan, where he will speak at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea. He will meet with His Majesty the King of Jordan and senior Government officials. The Secretary-General’s visit to Jordan comes after the London Conference 2019 that took place this past February, which marked the start of a new partnership approach between Jordan and the international community in pursuit of Jordan’s sustainable growth and self-reliance, in light of the pressures on the country.
While in Jordan, the Secretary-General will visit the Baqa’a Camp, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), where he will meet with students from an all-girls UNRWA-run school, students from the UNRWA Central Student Parliament and women’s representatives. At the Baqa’a Camp, the Secretary-General will highlight the importance of continuing to fund the vital services UNRWA provides to millions of Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the ministerial meeting on peacekeeping — taking place here at Headquarters.
He said that the UN’s peacekeeping operations have helped countries from Liberia and Sierra Leone to Timor-Leste and Cambodia move from conflict to peace. They protect hundreds of thousands of civilians, support political solutions to conflict and help preserve ceasefires.
The Secretary-General said that making these missions stronger and safer is one of the key elements of his Action for Peacekeeping initiative, together with refocusing peacekeeping with more realistic expectations and mobilizing greater support for political solutions.
He urged Member States to consider contributing high-value and critical capabilities such as armoured personnel carriers – which are needed in Mali — or helicopters for medical and casualty evacuations from remote areas which are needed in the Central African Republic and in other countries.
Beyond better equipment and readiness, the Secretary-General also said that we must increase local engagement. Women peacekeepers and civilian staff are essential to improve these efforts, he added.
And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the Security Council on Mali. He is expected to call on all parties to strengthen efforts to address the root causes of instability and insecurity in the country.
In addition to the update you just got on Mozambique, we have more updates on the other countries affected by Cyclone Idai. Our humanitarian colleagues report that in Zimbabwe, about 270,000 people have been affected, with at least 181 deaths recorded, 175 people injured and 330 others missing. The death toll is expected to rise as previously cut-off areas become accessible.
There has been severe destruction of property and infrastructure, and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. The devastation caused by Cyclone Idai adds to existing humanitarian needs in Zimbabwe, with communities throughout the country already impacted by a drought and an economic crisis. An updated flash appeal, including new needs, is expected in the coming days.
The cumulative impact on food security will be significant. The maize crop harvest, which will begin in May, will be 60 per cent of the average production, with a further risk of deterioration in food security.
In Malawi, the Government reports that close to 870,000 people have been affected by the cyclone, with 59 deaths and 672 people injured, according to the Government. Nearly 87,000 people are estimated to be displaced.
Needs assessments are under way to determine the total number of people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
The Governments of Malawi and Zimbabwe are leading the humanitarian responses in their respective countries, alongside local and international humanitarian partners.
On the eve of the one-year mark to the start of the “Great March of Return” demonstrations in the Gaza Strip, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, calls on all parties to avoid further deterioration.
Mr. McGoldrick said that in the past year, there has been a staggering loss of life and injury in the Gaza Strip. Between 30 March 2018 and 22 March 2019, 195 Palestinians, including some 40 children, have been killed by Israeli security forces in demonstrations, mainly during the weekly protests near the perimeter fence.
Mr. McGoldrick said that the priority now is to save lives and everyone needs to take action accordingly. He said that Israeli security forces must ensure that their responses are in line with their international legal obligations, using non-violent means to the greatest extent possible. He added that Hamas authorities must prevent acts of violence that compromise the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and everyone must ensure that children are not put in harm’s way.
And the Secretary-General is also very worried about the situation in Gaza. He hopes that violence will be avoided and that no more victims will be added to this tragic story.
In a video message to an event in Dublin, Ireland, the Secretary-General today paid tribute to Peter Sutherland, who served as Special Representative for International Migration for more than a decade.
The Secretary-General said that Mr. Sutherland’s unique and ardent voice contributed to the efforts – which succeeded after his passing – to adopt a landmark Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The full message is on our website.
I would like to read into the record a senior personnel appointment that was announced electronically yesterday. The Secretary-General has appointed George Conway of Canada as Acting Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, or UNSOM, where he will also serve as the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. We put out the full announcement yesterday.
And at last, we can report three fresh contributions to the UN’s coffers. We are delighted that the Czech Republic, France and Guyana have paid their dues in full. Thanks go to all three. The Honour Roll now has 77 members.
For press briefings, at approximately 2:15 p.m. today, there will be a press encounter with Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, Prime Minister of the Republic of Mali, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France. They will brief at the Security Council Stakeout.
And later this afternoon, at around 5 p.m., the Prime Minister of Mali will speak again at the stakeout.
On Monday, the guests at the Noon Briefing will be Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations and Chair of the fifty-second session of the Commission on Population and Development; along with Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund; and John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
**Questions and Answers
That’s it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Carole?
Question: Farhan, can you give us any information on the detention of this member of a… the panel of experts in Tunisia? Apparently, he’s been detained on suspicion of espionage.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. What I can say on that is we are aware that Moncef Kartas, a member of the Panel of Experts of the Libya Sanctions Committee, was arrested following his arrival in Tunis on 26 March. He remains in detention. We are in touch with the Tunisian authorities to ascertain the reasons for his arrest and detention, as well as the conditions under which he’s being held. Experts on mission for the United Nations, as Mr. Kartas is, are covered by the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yeah, Farhan. When the Secretary‑General visits Egypt and so forth, will he be talking to the Israeli Prime Minister and the Egyptian President about Gaza crossings? Because, as you have… as you know, the situation as it is horrible, horrendous human rights situation in Gaza. So, is he going to speak with the Prime Minister of Israel, as well as the Prime Minister… President of Egypt on easing these things, you know? I mean, there promises, they are being done, but nothing seems to be done. The Palestinians living in Gaza are forsaken people.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, as you’re aware, our Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov provided a briefing to the Security Council about the situation just a few days ago, and we’ve made clear our concerns about these crossings. The Secretary‑General will discuss a wide range of issues, as you know, with the President of Egypt when he visits the country. There’s no scheduled meeting with… or scheduled travel to Israel.
Question: Yeah. Also…
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. Yes? Yes, Edie?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As a follow‑up to Carole’s question, if he’s covered by the Vienna Convention on Privileges and Immunities, has the United Nations demanded his immediate release?
Deputy Spokesman: We have informed the authorities of… that he falls under… that his actions are covered by the Conventions on Privileges and Immunities. So, yes, we have made that point clear. Yes, yes, please, Maria?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Another follow‑up on the same topic. So, if it was already clear on 26 March that he was detained, do you have the reason for his arrest now? Can you clarify it?
Deputy Spokesman: I think it’s best to leave the answer for that in the hands of the Tunisian authorities who have detained him. From our standpoint, like I said, we are in touch with them, trying to ascertain the reasons for his arrest and his detention. And we’ve, as I’ve pointed out, made clear the fact that an expert on mission for the UN, such as Mr. Kartas, is covered by our Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
Question: Will Secretary‑General raise this issue while… during his visit?
Deputy Spokesman: We shall have to see. Of course, we’ll provide details of his travels as they happen. As you know, he will be in Tunisia over the coming day. Erol?
Question: Just first follow‑up, Maria ask, will the Secretary‑General raise this issue? I’m asking, will the Secretary‑General demand his release?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ve already said what our position is on Mr. Kartas’ case. Regarding what is said about that, we’ll provide details of his meetings in Tunisia while he’s there. Yes, Carole?
Correspondent: May I go… okay.
Deputy Spokesman: Carole.
Question: On a separate topic, President [Donald] Trump is tweeting that he’s going to shut down parts of the border with Mexico next week. I’m wondering what the UN thinks about that.
Deputy Spokesman: I… as you’re aware, this is a bilateral issue, and we will leave that as a bilateral issue. We’ll see what the actual policy on the ground is. I wouldn’t comment on any particular tweet. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. Following Carole’s question, one of the issues that they have seen is the large amount of family units coming through the border. El Paso recently said that their border patrol agents are getting families every 20 minutes. How is the United Nations working with the local authorities, either Mexico and the United States, to try to assist all these people that are now overwhelming the system?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, we have had personnel available in Mexico to deal with the influx of people moving across the borders. And we continue to have people there. What we’re trying to ensure is also that all the local authorities on the ground in all of the countries through which these people travel are sure to treat them with respect for their rights and their basic dignity. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yeah. I just want to ask this question about… similarly about Yemen. Is there any update on Yemen? Because, you know, you talked about this cholera outbreak and stuff like that. It happen… it has happened in Yemen again and again. Do you have any update on that?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing new to what we said earlier in this week. As you know, the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed its concerns about the latest cases of cholera in Yemen. Meanwhile, our diplomatic efforts continue. As you are aware, we provided details of the forum that Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, held in Amman for women’s groups there who are involved with the peace process, and we are continuing with our efforts. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, on the other topic, yesterday, the Secretary‑General raised dramatic appeal, if not warning, that we have only a couple of years more to act on climate change. If not, there are going to be disasters, he implicated. So, today… yesterday, actually, the US Congress acted as described by the US media, made the baby steps in that direction to change something. I’m asking you whether the Secretary‑General, since he didn’t, obviously, find, I would say, proper response from the Trump Administration, talked to somebody within the US Congress on the topic as dramatically as he did to us journalists, and will he probably talk to Anast… Alexandria Ocasio‑Cortez, which is the leading voice now in the Congress on that issue?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the question of the United States, as you know, the Secretary‑General’s met with a wide range of officials including members of Congress, as well as the President and senior members of the Administration. And with all of his interlocutors, he’s made clear his views on climate change. Yes?
Question: I’m… I’m just saying — just to follow‑up — will the Secretary‑General seize the opportunity as it was described: baby steps at the US Congress in that direction? This is a window of opportunity. That’s my question. So, I’m not asking whether he talked to everybody. I’m asking specific question.
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General encourages all countries to make progress on this, and he encourages any movement forwards in terms of dealing with the sort of scourge that he sees. Yes, Masood?
Question: On this… I just wanted to find out, on this visit by Angelina Jolie, she’s now meeting with the Secretary‑General. Will she… and then she’ll… but there’s been no stakeout opportunity or anything like that. Is there going to be an opportunity for a stakeout, a Q&A with her, at all?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don’t believe that she has sought one so far. If that changes, we’ll let you know. Have a good weekend, everyone.