4 April 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Noon Briefing Guest Today

Today, we are honouring what day?  International Mine Awareness Day, so, in a short while, I will be joined by Agnès Marcaillou, who, as you well know, is the Director of the UN Mine Action Service.  She will be joined by Ambassador Fatima Kyari, the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, addressing the situation of landmines and explosive hazards in Africa, as well as Ambassador Mona Juul, the Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations, representing the Presidency of the fourth Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.  So, as soon as we are done here.

**Secretary-General in Libya

As you all well know, the Secretary-General is in Tripoli today, and you will have seen that, in light of the developments this morning, he tweeted out that he was deeply concerned by the military movements taking place in Libya and the risk of confrontation.  “There is no military solution,” he said.  “Only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems.  I call for calm and restraint as I prepare to meet the Libyan leaders in the country,” the Secretary-General said.  In about an hour or so, we expect him to have some sort of a press encounter with the media there, and we will be sending you a transcript as soon as we have that.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And later today, the Deputy Secretary-General will depart for Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, where she will meet with senior Government officials and United Nations colleagues and will also speak at the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend.  On 7 April, she will be in Beirut in Lebanon, to attend the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia’s (ESCWA) Arab Forum for Sustainable Development and the Regional Coordination Mechanism, as well as meet with the resident coordinators from the Arab and Middle East region.  The Deputy Secretary-General will be back in New York on 10 April, and as you just saw, she launched the Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019 and we will be putting out her remarks shortly on that.


From Mali, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reports that its premises in Kidal city were targeted yesterday by unknown assailants.  Nine mortar rounds were fired, with seven exploding within camp premises.  Two Chadian peacekeepers sustained slight injuries and two helicopters were damaged, and the Mission is monitoring the situation.

**Burkina Faso

And in Burkina Faso, our humanitarian colleagues say that more than 60 civilians have been killed in recent clashes between communities in the north of the country, and that’s according to the Government.  In Abinda, a city in Som Province, the security and humanitarian situation has deteriorated in the last few days, with the city hosting over 14,000 internally displaced people.  Priority needs include food, non-food items, water and sanitation hygiene and protection.  Humanitarian organizations are scaling up operations to support the Government-led response and to provide life-saving assistance and protection to the displaced and other people in need.  In total, some 136,000 people have so far been displaced in Burkina Faso, over half of them since January.  Population displacement is accelerating because of the surge in violence, resulting in increased humanitarian challenges along the border with Mali and Niger.

**South Sudan

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund, otherwise known as CERF, today announced an allocation of $11 million to help 268,000 women, men and children who have been displaced by fighting in South Sudan, return to their homes.  Announcing the funding today through a press release, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the CERF allocation would ensure that these families have food, farming tools and seeds, shelter items and other basic necessities ahead of the rainy season starting in May, when access to many areas will be cut off.  Protection services will be provided as a central component of the plan.


The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) yesterday launched an appeal for $122 million to provide 2.6 million children with humanitarian assistance in Sudan through this year.  Sudan hosts 1.2 million refugees and has 1.8 million internally displaced persons, the majority of whom are children.  According to UNICEF, children in Sudan continue to suffer [from] the long-term conflict, displacement, natural disasters, epidemics and malnutrition, all of which have been made worse by the economic crisis of 2018.  Child malnutrition is widespread, with some 2.4 million children affected by malnutrition.


And from Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, yesterday, four internally displaced people, including three women and a 13-year-old girl, were reportedly killed, and six others injured following shelling in the non‑State‑armed‑group-controlled town of Khan Al-Asal in Syria’s north-western rural Aleppo Governorate.  A 15-year-old boy was also reportedly injured after being struck by a stray bullet in a school in Aleppo.  The UN is alarmed by continued reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities in or around demilitarized zones.  The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict to cease all violence and reminds them of their obligations under International humanitarian law and international human rights law.

**Sanitation Message

The Secretary-General issued a message on sanitation and water for all to a meeting of dozens of ministers that started today in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.  He said that achieving safe water and access for all is an urgent challenge, pointing out that 2 billion people today live without safe water at home and 4.5 billion do not have safely managed sanitation.

**World Health Statistics

And, from the WHO’s annual snapshot of the state of the world's health, they tell us that women outlive men everywhere in the world, particularly in wealthy countries.  The World Health Statistics 2019 report, which was disaggregated by sex for the first time this year, found that the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy is narrowest where women lack access to health services.  Published to coincide with World Health Day on 7 April, the report aims to highlight the need to improve access to primary health care worldwide.  In [his] message ahead of World Health Day, the Secretary-General said primary health care is the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and universal health coverage.  Universal health coverage, he said, is about ensuring equitable access to health services for all, without people experiencing financial hardship as a result.  The report is on the Interweb should you want to take a look at it.  And I’m happy to take some questions before we go to our guests. Margaret.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On two different subjects.  On the southern Africa cyclone countries, can you confirm that the cholera vaccinations programmes began yesterday?  And do you have any update on that?

Spokesman:  The short answer is no, but I will try to get something.

Question:  Okay.  And the second one is, Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins University had a press conference this morning in Washington and… on Venezuela, and they called for a full‑scale UN humanitarian response to the severe food and medicine shortages in that country, and they called on the SG to act.  Do you have a reaction?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, I think we… first of all, I think everyone, whether it's us or other organizations, are in agreement about the need to provide more life‑saving support to Venezuelans.  As we have said previously on a number of occasions, we're deeply concerned by the substantial humanitarian needs of the people in Venezuela.  We have been scaling up our operations there, focussing on nutrition, on health and protection.  We've increased our staffing.  It's gone from about 190 in 2017 — September 2017 — to over, just over 300 as of March of this year.  This has allowed us to equip hospitals with emergency medical supplies, as well as generators, provide pregnant women and children with nutritional supplements, and vaccinate more children.  I think, on the specific issue and the call to, on the SG to declare a complex emergency, I mean, that kind of designation is really an internal… it's an internal procedure for the UN.  It's an internal process that activates certain system‑wide mobilization.  As I said, we have been building up our capacity.  We've been… the Secretary‑General has been very much focussed on it, both on what's going on inside Venezuela, but on the impact of the movement of people leaving Venezuela and the impact it's had on the neighbouring countries.  And the designation that, I think, Human Rights Watch and Johns Hopkins calls for does not pertain to, that designation doesn't pertain to the consent of Governments as a matter of policy.  So, in any country that we work in, we work with the consent of the government.  That's… In order to distribute humanitarian aid along our principles of neutrality and impartiality.

Question:  Few things.  One, the Panel of Expert member who was arrested in Tunisia, do you have any… anything to say about the contacts with Tunisians?

Spokesman:  No, no, not more than what I said yesterday, which is that we are in touch with the Tunisian authorities.

Question:  On Libya, General Haftar just ordered his forces to head towards Tripoli.  And as we all know, there is this national conference that's due to happen in the middle of this month.  Do you have… are you… is the Secretary‑General, who is there on the ground, worried that this is… might put at risk the conference?  And I have a third question about whether you have any comment on the returning of the Israeli soldier body from Syria or Lebanon.  This is… it returned a few days ago to Israel.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, on that, it's not something that I'm aware we were involved in.  But, obviously, I think the return of the remains of a loved one to the family is always a positive step, especially for the families concerned.  On Libya, the Secretary‑General, as you said and as we know, is there.  I think he, in his tweet this morning, he expressed very much his concern about the increased military movement, reminded all the parties that the only solution is a political one.  He's currently having meetings in Tripoli, and I expect to… we expect to hear from him publicly within the next few hours.  So, I think you will hear from him.  Erol.

Question:  Couple of things.  First of all, there are reports that, while, of course, you are aware that Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece was in Macedonia yesterday… northern Macedonia yesterday, few days ago, and they reach agreement that the NATO… NATO alliance, which Greece is member of, will take care of the protection of the borders of northern Macedonia, et cetera.  They also mentioned that the agreement, so‑called Prespa Agreement, was about 35 pages in which a UN role was very recognized.  However, little bit on the north on Kosovo, there are reports that the European Union is preparing hundreds of pages of agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.  My question is whether you are aware — we all know that Secretary‑General is very much involved in the process — and what will be the role of the United Nations in that…?

Spokesman:  We've been supporting… on Kosovo, we've been, obviously, supporting the discussions hosted by the European Union between Belgrade and Pristina, and we will continue to support it as much as we can.  On the visit by the Greek Prime Minister to the Republic of North Macedonia, it's obviously something we very much welcome.  I think all of this is an outcome of the tremendous work the parties have done over the last decades under the auspices of Ambassador Nimetz.  And I think, as Ambassador Nimetz said here himself a few weeks ago, better to talk for three decades than to shed blood.  Evelyn and then…?

Question:  Yes, on Venezuela, is there any chance, has the UN asked whether this enormous amount of humanitarian supplies the US has on the… over the border, can the UN take them in?  Has the UN negotiated on that?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, as you know, it is, in any country, it is the Government, it is the Government's decision.  We continue to be in touch with the Government and other institutions in Venezuela to try to improve the humanitarian situation.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Follow‑up on Libya.  Is there anyone who's in contact with Mr. Haftar or his forces from the UN?

Spokesman:  The UN Mission remains in touch with all the relevant parties in Libya.

Question:  No, I have another question.  So, Amnesty International called on arm embargo on Israel, given the fact that, in the last year, 26,000 Palestinians were injured and about more than 200 were killed by Israeli forces.  Any comment?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that, but I will look.  Nabil?

Question:  Yeah, also on Libya, is the SG planning to meet or talk to Mr. Haftar?

Spokesman:  We will have, we will have updates as they come in.  And as I said, the solution, the political solution to the current crisis in Libya goes through the UN talking to all the relevant parties.  But, as soon as — the updates will be trickling in.

Question:  And I know that the SG has talked with Mr. Haftar before over the phone.  Have they met?

Spokesman:  Have they met before?  Not that I recall in my very limited brain capacity, but just take it as a temporary no, but we will confirm it as a no.  Yes, sir, and then we'll go to our guests.

Question:  Just one more on NATO.  NATO summit in Washington on 70‑[year] anniversary is wrapping up today.  Did the UN have any representative observer or any comment on the NATO?

Spokesman:  We wish them a happy birthday, but we were not there.  Let's go to our guests.

For information media. Not an official record.