The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. In Cairo, the Secretary-General today met with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar earlier today. He took the opportunity to reiterate his respect for Islam and his solidarity with the Muslim community around the world, particularly in light of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Secretary-General stressed that “in this time of difficulties and divisions, we must stand together and protect each other.” He also commended the Grand Imam’s call for Muslims in the Middle East to protect Christian communities, as well as the initiatives taken by Al-Azhar to promote the true face of Islam and counter violent extremism. Later today, he will meet with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry. And tomorrow, he is expected to meet with President [Abdel Fattah] al Sisi of Egypt. On a related note, the Secretary-General, in a video message today, said that the world must stand together to protect all religious sites against rising anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism and hate speech. He said we must counter those who seek to demonise and divide, and we must defend freedom of religion and belief.
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, addressed a special session convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Council President on the response to Cyclone Idai. The Deputy Secretary-General said that, three weeks since Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the needs remain profound, and she flagged the continued risks of more floods, spread of diseases and the destruction of livelihoods, as well as lives lost. The Deputy Secretary-General paid tribute to the local, national and international responders who have been on the scene from the earliest moments of the crisis. She called on Member States to fund the $392 million response for the three countries for the next three months; just $46 million has been recorded so far. She reiterated the commitment of the UN to supporting those in the affected countries to rebuild their homes and communities. Also, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, also addressed the meeting and he too stressed the need for more funding to the response.
And on the ground, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it is capitalizing on receding floodwaters in Mozambique and now aims to reach 1.2 million people this week with food assistance now that roads are opening up in the worst-affected provinces. The agency has provided food assistance to 350,000 victims in Mozambique. And WFP adds that at least 500,000 hectares of crops — primarily maize — were washed away ahead of the main April–May harvest. Our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 1,000 cases of cholera, including one fatality, have been reported in Mozambique, and that’s according to the Ministry of Health. Over 90 per cent of the cases were reported in Beira. Nearly 900,000 doses of the cholera vaccine, procured by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), arrived in Beira today. An oral cholera vaccination campaign is scheduled to begin tomorrow and training for medical personnel is under way. WHO says it has deployed experts, including epidemiologists, logisticians and disease-prevention experts, to build a 40-strong team that will help restore primary care services destroyed by the cyclone.
And a new report launched jointly today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Programme, as well as the [European] Union, finds that around 113 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity in 2018, that’s down slightly from 124 million in 2017. According to the report, nearly two thirds of those facing acute hunger are in just 8 countries, and those are: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity last year. In a message on the launch of the report, the Secretary-General said the report highlights the plight of millions of people who must fight every day against severe hunger and malnutrition and points the way towards solutions that can rebuild lives and livelihoods in communities around the world. The Secretary‑General stressed that determined action is needed to uphold last year’s UN Security Council condemnation on the use of starvation as a weapon of war. That full report is available to you.
And the Central Emergency Response Fund, otherwise known as CERF, and the Somalia Humanitarian Fund yesterday released a combined $45.7 million to scale up life-saving assistance in Somalia. In the country, there are more than 4.2 million people who need urgent humanitarian assistance this year alone, including 900,000 acutely malnourished children. Overall, 4.9 million Somalis are estimated to be food insecure following poor seasonal rains, the lingering effects of the 2016/17 drought, as well as conflict, displacement and evictions.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today said in a statement that the UN and its partners have mobilized nearly $45 million that will allow for the creation of approximately 20,000 temporary jobs in Gaza this year. He added that improved electricity supply has positively affected the delivery of basic services and the operations of water and wastewater facilities. Mr. Mladenov said that significant progress on the lifting of the closures and advancing intra-Palestinian reconciliation remains essential. He called on all Palestinian factions to engage in earnest with Egypt on reconciliation efforts. He also welcomed Israel’s decision to increase the fishing zone to 15 nautical miles in certain places and urged substantial improvements of the movement and access for goods and people, including between Gaza and the West Bank. The Special Coordinator reiterated that, ultimately, only one sustainable political solution will reverse the current negative trajectory and restore hope to Gaza’s long-suffering population. His statement was issued a day after he himself visited Gaza.
And today in Finland, members of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation and those of the Global Tech Panel convened by the European Union’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, met together for the first time. The meeting took place at the invitation of Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two Panels focused their discussions on global governance in the digital age, and how societies can prepare for challenges and opportunities ahead, including those emerging from artificial intelligence and data. They also looked at practical ways to leverage digital technologies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As a reminder, the Secretary-General established the High‑Level Panel on Digital Cooperation to make recommendations on how to strengthen international cooperation in the digital age, with the aim to realize the potential of digital technologies while safeguarding against risks and unintended consequences.
Back here, Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General, Yukiya Amano, are currently briefing the Security Council on the nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Ms. Nakamitsu told the Council that the NPT is widely acknowledged as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime and the essential foundation of nuclear disarmament. She said the NPT has proven remarkably durable but added that that durability should not be taken for granted. Ms. Nakamitsu warned that the disarmament success of the post-cold war era has come to a halt. In its place, she said, there is dangerous rhetoric about the utility of nuclear weapons and an increased reliance [on] these weapons in security doctrines. She said that 2020 is the fiftieth anniversary of the NPT’s entry into force; it presents a golden opportunity to make the practical gains that will ensure the Treaty’s continuing viability. A strong, political level re-affirmation by all of the Treaty will be important. The Director General of IAEA, Mr. Amano, will talk to you at the Council stakeout at around 12:30 p.m.
**Children and Armed Conflict
At an event this afternoon in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, is expected to unveil a new initiative entitled “ACT to Protect Children Affected by Conflict” to generate greater awareness and action to improve the protection of children affected by armed conflict. Over the next three years, the campaign will seek to strengthen collaboration among the UN, civil society and the international community to support action designed to end and prevent grave violations committed against children in times of conflict. In his message of support to the campaign, the Secretary-General said that it aimed to raise worldwide awareness, to assist children in need and prevent them from becoming victims in the first place. Crucially, the Secretary-General said that this initiative will offer children an opportunity to raise their voices. That’s at 3 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber; you’re invited.
Senior personnel announcement to tell you about. Today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Nicholas Koumjian of the United States of America as Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. Mr. Koumjian will be the first Head of the Mechanism, which was established, as you will recall, by the Human Rights Council in September 2018, and welcomed by the General Assembly in December of last year. Mr. Koumjian brings to this position over 35 years of experience as Prosecutor, including 20 years of experience in the field of international criminal justice. His bio is in my office.
And today we have reached 80 countries on the Honour Roll. Anybody can guess which is the latest country to have paid in full? Palau. Just trying to keep it interesting. Yes. All right. Any questions? Yes, Evelyn?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. On aid that the UN is gathering up for the cyclone, in Zimbabwe, there are reports, especially from Human Rights Watch, that the opposition is being denied some of the humanitarian goods. Do you have anything on that? Have you heard anything?
Spokesman: No. We'll look into these reports. It's clear from our end that aid should be completely depoliticised. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Yes, the… can you tell me again what the Burma Mechanism is? Is that to prosecute people?
Spokesman: Sure. Yeah, no, no, of course…
Question: The military and so forth?
Spokesman: The Human Rights Council established the Mechanism in December… in September 2018. The Mechanism is mandated to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations in respect to Myanmar. The UN human rights office and the Office of Legal Affairs have been working together to establish the Mechanism. The General Assembly also called for the expeditious entry into operation of the Mechanism, the steps to secure its effective functioning as soon as possible. The terms of reference were issued early in January. It's not unlike the same mechanism which was approved for Iraq. It is about gathering evidence, and we hope that all countries concerned will cooperate actively with the Mechanism. Jordan, yep?
Question: Thank you. On Mladenov’s visit to Gaza today, isn't job creation as part… especially for the preparation because it's part of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]?
Spokesman: No, I don't think it's linked to UNRWA, but I will check, yeah.
Question: And also, the fund, from where he get the fund to create 20,000 jobs?
Spokesman: The funds were given by donors. I mean, we have the… we can get the list of donors. I think it's through the HLP… the international… I… let's not burden us with another acronym, but it's through the group of donors that have been supporting humanitarian and development issues in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but we can give you the list. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Following up… excuse me… on the question. Does the… did the SG have any role in bringing about this… the contributions for the jobs in Gaza?
Spokesman: Well, I think the Secretary‑General has been encouraging donors to give to our humanitarian development work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in Gaza, which, as you know, has been suffering from an acute humanitarian crisis. Yes, sir?
Question: During his visit or participation in Tunis, Mr.… Mr. [António] Guterres, did he talk to Arab countries, especially the ones [that] have a lot of money, to support UNRWA? And is the UN planning to have another donor conference before UNRWA are going to face new crisis?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any donor conference, but the Secretary‑General has been actively engaged with Member States, both those who've traditionally given to UNRWA and those who have not been traditional UNRWA donors, to give to UNRWA. As you know, he will be going to Jordan. He'll be meeting with the Commissioner‑General, Mr. [Pierre] Krähenbühl. They'll be visiting UNRWA facilities, meeting with children educated by UNRWA. As we know, the educational mandate of UNRWA is so crucial to the refugee population that it serves, and he'll be going there, really, to highlight… part of it is the amazing work that UNRWA does throughout the region and its… and how it is itself a source of stability. And he will also be there to highlight the financial needs… the ongoing financial needs of the organization.
Question: I have another, if you allow. There are many concerns among Palestinians in Jordan, everywhere in the world, especially refugees, about lack of funding to UNRWA. Now, the visit by Mladenov to Gaza today and announcing that he's creating 20,000 jobs, which, in many ways, 75 to 80 per cent of Gaza population are refugees. One of the mandates of UNRWA to create jobs to the refugees. And the concern is that… is the UN starting to stop funding… the UN will continue to support the refugee but stop funding UNRWA and start giving the mandate to Mladenov…?
Spokesman: No, no, no. I think you're… if I may characterize your question, I think you're over‑interpreting things. First of all, it's not the UN that funds UNRWA. It's the Member States that fund UNRWA and that fund the UN, and we are encouraging and actively encouraging Member States to fully fund UNRWA, again, for the reasons that I said, most important that UNRWA is a source of stability in the region and in the conflict that is so lacking a political solution so far. The… I'm not… you may be right, but I'm not sure that UNRWA is mandated to create jobs. UNRWA is mandated to take care of the refugee population in terms of education and health and other sectors, and they do that. Mr. Mladenov's efforts should in no way be seen as a move of taking monies from UNRWA to other parts of the UN. His work is complementary to what UNRWA is doing. Khalas. Thank you, all. See you mañana.