The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement on the Sudan: The Secretary-General continues to follow the developments in Sudan very closely and reiterates his call for calm and utmost restraint by all. He recalls his previous encouragement and expectation that the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people will be realized through an appropriate and inclusive transition process. The Secretary‑General reaffirms that the United Nations stands ready to support the Sudanese people as they chart a new way forward.
Turning to Libya, our political colleagues say that clashes have reportedly further intensified in southern Tripoli, with the fighting in the past 24 hours the heaviest since the outbreak of hostilities. We remain deeply concerned about the well-being of civilians in and around the areas of clashes, especially amid increasing reports of indiscriminate shelling on built-up areas, leading to an upsurge in displacement and blocking access to emergency services. Our humanitarian colleagues report that displacement continues to surge from areas affected by the clashes in and around Tripoli. More than 8,000 people have fled the fighting, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
An estimated 650 families have requested relocation to safer areas. However, due to access restrictions, hostilities and the indiscriminate use of weapons, evacuation teams have only been able to respond to 15 per cent of all requests. Further operations continue today. Families stranded inside conflict areas not only fear for their safety, but are also starting to run out of supplies. Emergency service providers are operating with great personal risk, with three medical staff reportedly killed and four first responders reportedly injured. Evacuation teams have issued an urgent call for bullet-proof vests and helmets to protect their staff from harm while on duty.
The World Health Organization (WHO), for its part, has deployed emergency medical teams to help hospitals cope with their caseloads and support surgical staff, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. WHO plans to deploy additional emergency teams and supplies to support first-line responders and has activated contingency stocks which were strategically pre-positioned before the fighting began. The agency is also working with partners to support the medical needs of the displaced and migrants.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, while most of those displaced by the fighting continue to seek shelter with family members and other hosting arrangements, multiple collective shelters have been set up in the various areas of Tripoli. However, at least two of these shelters had to be evacuated and moved today, as the conflict lines moved too close. The UN continues to call for a humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from areas of conflict.
As you will have seen that yesterday, the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on his recent trip to Libya. He reiterated his strong appeal for an immediate end to the fighting. The Secretary-General underlined that there is no military solution and that there is an urgent need for the parties to return to a serious political process. And in Tripoli, [Special Representative] Ghassan Salamé echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal to stop the fighting immediately, stressing that it is high time for the voices of reason to prevail and save Libya from the scourge of a bloody civil war.
The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to work to de-escalate the military situation and support humanitarian assistance [efforts]. The UN urges all parties to respect the calls for a humanitarian truce to allow civilians caught in the crossfire to move to safer places. And you will have seen that, earlier today… we contradicted a press report that had been out of Nepal, saying the UN, the Nepalese guard unit in Tripoli was about to leave. They are remaining in Tripoli to protect the UN Mission there. We very much appreciate all their work that they have been doing.
Back here, the Secretary-General told the Security Council this morning that the issue of women in peacekeeping was not just a question of numbers, but also of the UN’s effectiveness in fulfilling its mandates. He said that evidence showed that greater numbers of women peacekeepers leads to protection responses that are more credible and meet the needs of all members of local communities. The Secretary-General highlighted the measures for meaningful participation of women in all stages of peace processes and the integration of a gender perspective for his Action for Peacekeeping initiative, as well as the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy. He said the UN was pressing forward to answer the call by the Security Council to double the numbers of women in military and police components of UN peacekeeping operations by 2020, and to review the barriers to their recruitment and advancement. The Secretary-General appeals to Member States to do their utmost to meet the targets in the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy, not only through pledges, but also, more importantly, through the sustained recruitment and deployment of women within national services.
Also this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the Economic and Social Council Partnership Forum. She warned that the clock is ticking to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and we are still facing many challenges, including climate change, gender disparity, poverty and inequality. “Our task is immense, but many of the pathways to change are in plain sight,” she said. She added that, to build the momentum, it is important that Governments, businesses and civil society all work together in a more coordinated way, that we must acknowledge that everyone is a development actor. She also emphasized the need for leadership and innovation at the local level and the need to put vulnerable groups at the centre of the 2030 Agenda.
And tonight, the Deputy Secretary-General will leave New York and head to Washington, D.C., to participate in the spring meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Amina Mohammed will also discuss, with key Government officials and leaders of international financial institutions, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, with specific focus on climate action, sustainable finance and education. She will be back in New York on Saturday.
A couple of humanitarian updates: One from Iran, where heavy rains and flash flooding have impacted large parts of Iran, affecting as many as 10 million people. The UN is working in coordination with relevant authorities, who are leading the response. The Iranian Red Crescent Society has provided assistance to more than 330,000 people in need. The UN, for its part, has provided assistance worth $1.4 million for shelter, non-food items, health and water, and sanitation. Efforts are under way to mobilize additional humanitarian assistance for those affected. UN teams are conducting field visits to the impacted areas to assess critical needs and needed humanitarian responses to support those affected. According to initial reports, over 54,000 homes have been destroyed and another 90,000 damaged.
Today, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, [Edward] Kallon, called on the Government of Nigeria to provide humanitarian assistance and protection for up to 10,000 women, men and children who were forced to relocate to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. The UN is urging the Government to provide safety, shelter, food, water and medical care to the displaced civilians.
And just to flag that tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall, the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda will be commemorated, in the presence of the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda, and I believe President [Paul] Kagame will also be there. And he and the Secretary-General just met a few minutes ago. The event will include testimonies by survivors and a musical performance by the UN Staff Recreation Council Symphony Orchestra Quintet. You’re invited. It will be on the webcast.
At 12:45 p.m., after we’re done and after Monica [Grayley] is done, Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, will be here to speak to you and to answer your questions.
And today, we say thank you to the faraway Republic of Maldives for having paid its payment in full to the regular budget, bringing us up to 83. Edie Lederer. You didn't play, but you can still ask a question.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Steph. Two questions. Human Rights Watch, among other organizations, have called for the Sudanese military to turn former President [Omar al-]Bashir over to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Does the Secretary‑General support this? And secondly, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the arrest of Julian Assange?
Spokesman: Sure. Yes, Omar al-Bashir is, indeed, subject to an arrest warrant by the ICC. The Secretary‑General has routinely called for full cooperation with the ICC, consistent with Security Council resolution 1593 (2005). The UN, however, is not in a position to comment on the issuance and execution of ICC warrants in specific areas. As for Mr. Assange, I would refer you to some of the steps that have been taken by our human rights special procedures with regard to his case. We, of course, as in… as a principled position, expect all relevant authorities to ensure that Mr. Assange's right to a fair trial is upheld. Nabil?
Question: So, have you… has the UN established any contact with the new authority in Khartoum?
Spokesman: I have not gotten an update from our country office, but I think things are still a bit unclear at this point, but I'm sure the contacts will be established as soon as possible.
Question: And so, what's your main message now to the new authority in Sudan regard… including the ICC position that you just read? Do you think they are responsible of abiding by the ICC arrest warrant? And on rule of law in Sudan in general, what's your message to them?
Spokesman: Well, I think, as I just said, we routinely called and will continue to call for full cooperation… for Member States to have full cooperation with the ICC, consistent with Security Council resolutions. The message, at this point today, is calm and restraint and that the Secretary‑General is very much… expects that the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people will be realized through an appropriate and inclusive transition process. But, obviously, the situation remains fluid, and we'll continue to watch it. Madame. Are we moving to another area of the world?
Question: Coming back to the hemisphere. Stéphane, what's the process and how it's going to work for the United Nations to support the efforts of providing humanitarian aid by the Red Cross? President Nicolás Maduro said that they're opening the doors, that they have opened now the way for the Red Cross to assist with the help of the United Nations.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, we very much welcome the announcement that the International Committee of the Red Cross’ operation in Venezuela on the expansion of those operations. We and our partners… our humanitarian partners are continuing discussions with the Government of Venezuela on the humanitarian needs in the country and the best modality in which to expand our humanitarian operations, as outlined by Mr. [Mark] Lowcock yesterday.
Question: Would you have, like, a deadline… a time frame where everything will start?
Spokesman: No, I mean, there's no… I think it would be irresponsible to put forward a strict time frame. As we know, It's a complex situation. We're… our primary goal is to support the people of Venezuela. Monica, all yours.