5 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.

All right, good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is now on his way to Jordan.  He took off from Libya about 20-25 minutes ago.  He started his day this morning in Tripoli and then went to Tobruk to meet with the President of the Libyan House of Representatives, Agila Saleh, and then on to Benghazi where he met with General [Khalifa] Haftar.  Just before his departure, the Secretary-General said that he was leaving Libya with a deep concern and a heavy heart.  “I still hope it will be possible to avoid a bloody confrontation in and around Tripoli,” he added.  And he said the UN will remain committed, as he would as Secretary-General, to supporting the Libyan people.

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General visited a detention centre in Tripoli.  After meeting with families, he said he was deeply shocked and moved by the suffering and despair he saw in the centre where migrants and refugees are in detention for unlimited amount of time and without any hope of regaining their lives.  The Secretary-General is now on his way to Amman where he will speak at the World Economic Forum tomorrow morning and then visit a camp, run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in fact, there, he will be meeting with students and visiting a school.  We will send you updates from there as we get them, and we expect the Secretary-General back in New York on Sunday night.

**Security Council

And also on Libya, this afternoon, the Security Council will hold closed consultations on that country and will be briefed by Ghassan Salamé, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there.


Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are alarmed by continued reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities in and around the demilitarized zone in the north-west of Syria.  At least 19 civilians have been reportedly killed, dozens injured in hostilities within the [demilitarized zone] in Idleb and Hama governorates in the last two days.  Some 13 people were killed and 14 injured, among them women and children, in air strikes in southern and eastern rural Idleb Governorate, while 6 are reported to have died and at least 11 are reported to have been injured in artillery shelling in northwest Hama Governorate.  The recent surge in violence in [Hama,] southern Idleb and western Aleppo has displaced at least 90,000 people in the past two months.

**Cyclone Idai

I have some updates [on] Cyclone Idai in southern Africa.  In Zimbabwe, humanitarian partners and the Government today launched a revised flash appeal for Zimbabwe, seeking $60 million to respond to the needs of 270,000 people affected by floods following the cyclone.  This is in addition to the $234 million previously requested to support 2.2 million people impacted by the drought.  In Malawi, UN agencies and our partners have provided assistance to approximately 200,000 people, prioritizing 87,000 displaced people in the hardest-hit areas with floods.

Surge support has also arrived in the country to support critical sectors — including shelter and displacement tracking — and the Government of Malawi has established emergency operations centres in Lilongwe and Blantyre.  Malawi’s humanitarian response faces a gap of $26 million to reach the $45.2 million required for the response plan.  In Mozambique, almost 530,000 people have been reached with dry food, and efforts are underway to accelerate the distribution of education supplies and the cleaning of schools previously used as accommodation centres.  The Mozambique Humanitarian Response Plan for Cyclone Idai requires $282 million and is currently only 21 per cent funded, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Health Organization (WHO) says a marked increase in the number of Ebola cases in that country took place this week, [highlighting] the difficult environment and the multitude of challenges confronting the response to the outbreak.  As of 3 April, there have been 1,041 confirmed cases reported, including 629 deaths.  Some 338 patients who received care at Ebola treatment centres have now been discharged.  The World Health Organization — working under the Government’s leadership and in collaboration with other agencies — says teams are working to build community trust and scale up the response in these areas.  The agency reports that a recent shift in the response strategy to promoting greater engagement and ownership by affected communities is beginning to produce results.


On Niger, our humanitarian colleagues say that the Diffa region in the south-east of the country — which borders Nigeria and Chad — has seen a spike in violence and displacement in the past month.  There have been at least 21 attacks against civilians and military forces, resulting in 88 civilian deaths following increased activity by non-State armed groups, in particular Boko Haram, in the Lake Chad [Basin].  The 88 civilians who were killed last month compare to a total of 107 deaths total throughout 2018.  A new pattern targeting displaced people is emerging.  The 21 attacks that occurred in March triggered the movement of nearly 18,500 people towards the urban centre of Diffa and other big settlements in the region, which already hosts over 100,000 internally displaced people and 120,000 refugees.  The humanitarian situation rapid assessments indicate that people critically need water and sanitation, shelter, food and household items.


Turning to Myanmar, our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today said that they are deeply disturbed by the intensification of the conflict in Rakhine State in recent weeks.  The Office condemned what appear to be indiscriminate attacks and attacks on civilians by the Myanmar military and armed fighters in the continuing clashes with the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.  The conflict has led to credible reports of the killing of civilians, burning of houses, arbitrary arrests, abductions, indiscriminate fire in civilian areas and damage to cultural property.  The Office called on the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army to immediately cease hostilities and to ensure that civilians are protected.  It also said humanitarian access to all areas of northern Rakhine must be urgently restored.


Meanwhile, in neighbouring Bangladesh, the first monsoon of the year is expected in the coming weeks.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and partners are ramping up emergency preparations and training of Rohingya refugees as first responders in Cox’s Bazar.  Last year’s monsoon was a major test for humanitarian agencies, with more than 740,000 refugees fleeing Myanmar in a matter of months to seek safety in Bangladesh.  The Rohingya refugees experienced their first monsoon season in their place of refuge.  And also on Bangladesh, UNICEF released a new report today which found that the lives and futures of more than 19 million children in Bangladesh are being threatened by devastating floods, cyclones and other environmental disasters linked to climate change.

**Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda

A couple of things to flag in the coming days:  As you know, this year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.  The International Day of Reflection will be observed on Sunday, and a series of events will mark the important anniversary here at Headquarters and around the world in the month of April.  In a message commemorating the anniversary, the Secretary-General describes the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda as one of the darkest chapters in recent human history.  On this Day, he says, we honour those who were murdered and reflect on the suffering and resilience of those who survived.  He notes that we are seeing a dangerous trend of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance in many parts of the world and calls on all political, religious and civil society leaders to reject hate speech and discrimination, and to work vigorously to address, to mitigate, the root causes that undermine the social cohesion and create conditions for hatred and intolerance.

**UN Bookshop

Also today, from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., in the UN Bookshop, the author and winner of the 2018 Prix des Cinq continents, Jean-Marc Turine, will be here to tell the story of Théodora, the main character of his book La Théo des fleuves.  Born at the beginning of the twentith century, Théodora lives through times of war, communism and repeated oppression.  Her history as a Roma is revealed over the course of the novel and merges with that of the twentieth century.

**Concert for Homeless

And tomorrow, at 7 p.m., if you want to go listen to some music, head over to Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium, where the New York City Department of Homeless Services will present the UN Chamber Music Society Concert for the Homeless.  The event will be dedicated to people experiencing homelessness in our host city, and all funds will be directed to the Homeless Trust Fund of New York.  The evening’s repertoire will include music by Vivaldi, Handel, among other classical greats.  Remarks will be made by Andrew Gilmour, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, and Mayor Bill de Blasio and Martha Calhoun, the General Counsel for the City of New York.

**Honour Roll

And, lastly, Mauritius puts us to where on our honour roll?  81.  Mabrouk.  You get the first question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  First, best wishes for the Secretary‑General on his safe departure from Libya.  Does the Secretary‑General have any further input than the prepared statement that he… he has seen first‑hand in Tripoli and in Benghazi how the situation, and is there any new initiative to bring… to bridge the gap between the east and the west of Libya?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, what we issued a short while ago is not a prepared statement.  It's just something he said just upon departure after his final political meeting in Libya.  He's obviously, as he said, very concerned about the military situation, the fighting that we saw… I think, as he himself tweeted out yesterday.  He still very much hopes a bloody confirmation will be avoided.  His envoy, Mr. Salamé, remains in the country.  He will continue his contacts, and we will do whatever it takes to protect a political solution.  Carole.

Question:  Just to follow up, Stéphane, did the Secretary‑General ask Khalifa Haftar to halt the march, the advance on Tripoli?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to go into the details of his discussions, but it is clear for the Secretary‑General that there can be no military solution.  He wants to see everything done to possibly avoid what he referred to as a possibility of a bloody clash in and around Tripoli.

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Can I… just a few on Libya, if I may.  So where does this leave plans for the conference, discussion on elections?  Is that all on the back burner for now?

Spokesman:  I don't think anything's on the back burner.  We're continuing our work.  Obviously, we're very much aware and the Secretary‑General saw first‑hand the current political situation in Libya.  Mr. Salamé will update the Security Council in more detail later this afternoon.  Yes?

Question:  [Inaudible] later this afternoon?

Spokesman:  At 3 p.m., in closed consultations.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Thank you.  On Yemen, now that this President Trump has forsworn to veto the resolu… the aid package that was… I mean that the House…?

Spokesman:  Please put the microphone closer so I can hear you.

Question:  Sorry.  On the aid package that the House has decided to… what do you call… stop, but Trump is going to veto it.  And now with the surge in cholera that's… has the Secretary‑General relented in any way, shape or form to stop bombing at all, the…?

Spokesman:  Listen, I'm not going to comment on what's going on on Capitol Hill in this country.  Our efforts are continuing both on the political track with Mr.  Griffiths and with General Lollesgaard and on the humanitarian front, as we have said very clearly… almost every day, we talk about the extremely worrying disastrous humanitarian situation in Yemen.  We continue to focus on trying to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people.  The best way to do it would be for all the parties to agree to halt the fighting and agree on a political solution.

Question:  Do any… any update on this humanitarian situation vis‑à‑vis cholera in Yemen?

Spokesman:  On cholera itself, I don't have anything fresh for today, but I would refer you to what I've said in the last couple of days.  Yes?

Question:  Stéphane, back on Libya, did Secretary‑General felt any time threatened during his stay in Libya?  Who took care of him, only UN or somebody else, as well?

Spokesman:  No, as always, you know, the Secretary‑General has… there are, obviously, UN security officers with him, but the hosts of wherever he is are responsible for his personal safety, and I think the Secretary‑General felt fine.  He's been in these situations before, and I don't think there was any concern.

Question:  Does he shares media reports so far that are saying that next 48 hours are crucial for the security of Tripoli?  I mean…

Spokesman:  Listen, I… He's not involved in the military and security planning of whatever operations may be going.  He's very well aware of the threats, and I would refer you to what he's been tweeting out for the last 48 hours.  Carole… no, sorry.  I…

Question:  Can I follow up?  More on Libya?

SpokesmanAu point où on en est.  Yes.

Question:  Just, generally, Stéphane, I mean, isn't this an incredible slap in the face of the Secretary‑General for him to go there personally to push a peace initiative and have a military offensive launched while he's there?

Spokesman:  I will leave the colour analysis to you.  I think, given the very difficult situation in Libya, I think it was very important… I mean, it was timely for the Secretary‑General to be there and to deliver personally the message for the need of a political solution and the avoidance of a military solution to all the leaders in Libya.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Ann Charles, Baltic Review.  Yesterday's New York Times reported that the Norwegian head of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], Secretary‑General Stoltenberg, stated that the annexation of Crimea, the use of a nerve gas in Britain and Moscow's interference in democratically elected… elections was threatening its allies.  What is the UN Secretary‑General's position on any of these issues, particularly on the annexation of occupied Crimea?

Spokesman:  On Crimea, I think the Secretary‑General has made his point clear, is that, for him, his position is guided by the relevant security… General Assembly resolutions, which underscore the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Madame, CBC.  Give that woman a microphone.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I wanted to ask you about the US decision to revoke the travel visa for the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda?  Obviously, the ICC isn't a part of the UN, but it was created by the Rome Statute.  So, I'd like to get your reaction to that.  And I'm also wondering if you could sort of explain what happens now, what kind of visa… obviously, the UN and the US have an agreement about…

Spokesman:  Sure.  Sure, sure.  I mean, I think, you know, we've seen and we're aware of the visa policies announced by the US in reference to ICC staff members, including the prosecutor.  We very much trust that the United States Government will continue to comply with its obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement as confirmed by the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in his statement of 15 March.  It is important to underscore that the issuance of visas is the responsibility of the host country, whether it's people visiting UN operations in the United States, or Nairobi, then it would be the Kenyan Government.  The national Governments are the ones who issue the visas.  There is a Headquarters Agreement in effect with the United States, and we very much hope that they will honour that agreement, and we heard the Secretary of State saying that he would honour such an agreement.

Question:  Just as a follow‑up… sorry.  So, has this happened in the past where there has been somebody who, in their functions, for the UN, has been prevented from travelling to the UN by the US?  Has this… is this something that…?

Spokesman:  Off… off the top of my head, I don't… you know, again, we're… our assumption is that the prosecutor, who, if she needs to come to the United Nations, will be afforded a visa in light of the Headquarters Agreement for work being done at the United Nations.  Off the top of my head… so, I will have to check on any historical, historical events of relevance to your question.  Nabil.

Question:  One more?

Spokesman:  Yeah, but not from you.  One second.

Question:  Back to Libya.  So, can you tell us, what's the main achievement after the Secretary‑General's visit to the country?  What did he leave with?  What impression he left the country with?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I think his impression, I think, is revealed in a few sentences that we put out, which he spoke publicly just before getting on the plane.  I think the important thing for him was, again, to be able to deliver personally the UN's commitment to the political process and the message that a military confrontation needs to be avoided.  And also, I think as somewhat of another important part of his trip was — and I think one that moved him greatly — was his visit to the detention centre and meeting these migrants who have been held, who are being held indefinitely.  And I think also the conditions in which they're being held underscores the fact that Libya can really not be considered a safe port of disembarkation for migrants and refugees.

Question:  On… on the… the conference that Mr. Salamé is preparing for… and I think the target was mid‑April.  Right?  So, does the Secretary‑General still believe it's possible to be held around that time?

Spokesman:  Listen, we'll wait for… Obviously, we'll wait for an official announcement from Mr. Salamé.  Erol?

Question:  [Inaudible]?

Spokesman:  I have nothing new on that front.

Question:  I just wanted to ask about this Ebola outspread.  When it comes to the [inaudible] previous emergency situation in Africa of the Ebola outbreak, now it's 629.  That's as you said.  Is there any need for any kind of emergency?  What is the position of…?

Spokesman:  Well, it is an emergency.  I think the Secretary… which the response is being led on the UN end by the World Health Organization working under the leadership of the Ministry of Health.  The challenge in this particular emergency, which was not the case in the Ebola outbreak that hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, is the security situation, the overlay on the outbreak of an extremely, extremely challenging security situation where we have seen health workers attacked, Ebola centres attacked.  We also have to do much greater work within the community to build the trust, and I think that's exactly what WHO is doing.  So, there is… there are added challenges beyond just the basic health challenges in dealing with Ebola.

Question:  Can I give it a run where Melissa might have come up short on the ICC?  In a statement to mark the twentieth anniversary of the court last year, the Secretary‑General said that he wishes to reaffirm that the ICC‑UN relationship agreement as a foundation that the court can count on support of the United Nations.  So, you'd agree that the actions by the State Department is a punitive measure against the court given the preliminary investigation into crimes committed in Afghanistan after 2003.  How is that statement supporting the work of the ICC given that this is a punitive measure by a Member State of the United Nations?

Spokesman:  I think what we are saying is that we expect the United States to live up to the agreement to allow for the travel of ICC staff members to do their work here at the United Nations.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.