12 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.  I will start off with a statement on the situation in Pakistan:  The Secretary-General is shocked at today’s attack in Quetta, in Pakistan.  He strongly condemns this cowardly act and extends his condolences to the families of the victims and the Government and people of Pakistan.  He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.  The United Nations expresses its full solidarity with the Government of Pakistan in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

**Model UN

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the first-ever United Nations Model UN Summit.  Addressing students between the ages of 15 and 24, he noted that there are three main challenges that we must address:  climate change, inequality, as well as xenophobia and hate speech.  Emphasizing the importance of diversity, the Secretary-General stressed that it is the youth who must address these issues, given that his generation has failed to do so.  The goal of today’s Summit is to get young people thinking about how to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their Model UN conferences and take real action to help implement the Goals in their communities.  The SG’s remarks are available on UN Web TV.


And also this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at an event to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.  Expressing his solidarity with the people of Rwanda, he honoured those who were murdered and reflected on the suffering and resilience of those who survived.  The Secretary-General noted that, while the capacity for evil resides in all societies, so too do the qualities of understanding, kindness, justice and reconciliation.  Rwanda’s experience, he added, holds so many lessons for humanity.  The Secretary‑General commended Rwanda for its exemplary role in the international community; the country is today the fourth-largest contributor to UN peacekeeping, is a pioneer in environmental sustainability, and — having suffered unspeakable gender-based violence — Rwandan women now hold 60 per cent of the seats in the parliament.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is in Washington, D.C., today for the World Bank-International Monetary Fund meeting.  She told a breakfast meeting on financing for education that 263 million children are out of school, and 617 million children and adolescents lack even minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.  We must act urgently if we are to uphold our promise to leave no one behind, she said.  In the coming hour, she will speak at a ministerial lunch on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), called “Building Bridges:  An Open Dialogue on Financing for Development”.  She will also discuss what it will take to unlock private investments for the SDGs.  And at 4:45 p.m., you can tune in to your screens, as the Deputy Secretary-General will participate in a Facebook Live interview.  She’ll be back in New York tomorrow.

**Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, a joint high-level mission of the African Union, United Nations and the European Union, composed of the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and the European External Action Service Managing Director for Africa, Koen Vervaeke, will visit the Central African Republic from 14 to 18 April.  The objective of the mission is to support the Central African parties in the initial phase of implementation of the Political Accord for Peace and Reconciliation, which was signed in Bangui on 6 February.  The delegation will hold meetings with the President, the Prime Minister, as well as the President of the National Assembly in Bangui.  They will also meet with representatives of political parties, civil society, as well as the guarantors and facilitators of the Political Agreement.  And the delegation will participate in a meeting of the International Support Group for the Central African Republic on 17 April, aimed at strengthening the support of the international community around the implementation of the Agreement.


And on Libya, just an update to tell you that we’re continuing to closely monitor developments on the ground.  Fighting continues on the outskirts of Tripoli, with reports of increased use of heavy artillery.  We are concerned about the impact of these clashes on the already difficult living conditions of ordinary Libyans.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, and his team, continue to work in Tripoli and they are having intensive outreach to national and international actors to seek to urgently de-escalate the situation.  The Special Representative and his team also met today with mayors from conflict‑affected areas to discuss the humanitarian situation, including ways in which the UN can assist civilians trapped in those areas.  The fighting is also impacting the economic situation, with increasing cash withdrawals from banks and the hoarding of goods anticipated to exacerbate the liquidity shortages and high commodity prices.

Our humanitarian colleagues say that almost 10,000 people have now fled their homes in areas affected by the ongoing fighting in and around the Libyan capital.  Local evacuation teams have received requests to move some 3,800 people to safer areas, but only 550 people have been evacuated so far due to access restrictions caused by hostilities.  Health partners have verified 17 civilian casualties so far, with seven fatalities, including three medical staff.  At least five ambulances have been hit since the onset of the conflict.  We continue to call for a humanitarian pause to allow people to safely evacuate and emergency services to get through, and for all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Medical facilities, medical personnel and medical transport must be respected and protected at all times.


Also an update on Tunisia and the arrest of Moncef Kartas.  The arrest and detention by the Tunisian authorities of Moncef Kartas, a member of the Security Council Sanctions Panel of Experts on Libya, while he was performing his official functions is a matter of very grave concern.  We are aware that as of yesterday, 11 April, Mr. Kartas was brought before an investigative judge and understand that the judge has decided to continue the detention of Mr. Kartas.  The continued detention is in violation of the privileges and immunities that Mr. Kartas enjoys, which are held in the interests of the United Nations.  Mr. Kartas is an expert on mission for the UN and enjoys specific privileges and immunities under Article VI, Section 22 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.  The procedure for addressing his immunity is clearly spelled out in the Convention.

Since 29 March, we have sought to engage with the Government of Tunisia, including through 4 successive notes verbale that explained our legal position and invited the Government to share relevant information with the United Nations regarding the basis for his arrest and continued detention.  We are very concerned that, to date, the Government has failed to provide an adequate response in line with the international legal obligations under the Convention.  A United Nations official has visited Mr. Kartas in detention to ascertain his health and well‑being and will seek to do so periodically.  Mr. Kartas has legal representation with whom the UN is in close contact.  As you are aware, we have engaged with the Government at the highest levels and will continue to urgently seek constructive engagement by the Government of Tunisia on this very serious matter.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

Just a couple of humanitarian notes.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, yesterday approved the allocation of $125 million from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) — that’s the largest-ever allocation in the Fund’s history — for 13 emergencies.  The UN and its partners will use these funds to help more than 9 million people in Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Haiti, Honduras, Madagascar, Niger, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Mr. Lowcock also released $26.5 million to help 800,000 people affected by a worsening economic situation and food insecurity across seven states in Sudan for six months.


And turning to Syria, Najat Rochdi, the Senior Humanitarian Adviser to Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, convened a meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva today.  She said that the group was deeply concerned about reports over the past weeks on the intensification of military activities in Idlib.  She said that since February, 106,000 people have fled their homes and at least 190 people have been killed as a direct result of increased military clashes and attacks.  She added that the Task Force remains concerned about the welfare of the tens of thousands of internally displaced people in the Al Hol camp in north‑east Syria.

**Cyclone Idai

This Sunday, 14 April, will mark one month since Cyclone Idai made landfall in southern Africa.  Our humanitarian colleagues say that in Zimbabwe, at least 299 deaths have been reported, and 329 people have been reported missing, according to the Government.  The livelihoods of more than 270,000 people have been affected, with 4,000 households displaced.  In Mozambique, 1.85 million people are in need of assistance, with over 73,000 people in collective sites.  The official death toll remains at 602 people.  An Oral Cholera Vaccination campaign has been completed, with 803,125 people vaccinated.  And in Malawi, more than 730,000 in need of assistance in the country.  UN agencies and partners have provided some 90,000 households with assistance including food, water and sanitation, health, nutrition, shelter and protection.  Funding towards the revised Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $337.2 million, including $282 million for the Cyclone Idai response, is just over 22 per cent funded.


And lastly, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Colombia, briefed the Security Council this morning and he noted that recent weeks have been dominated by divisive debates regarding transitional justice, a contentious issue in most peace processes.  He told Council Members that we continue to stress the Secretary-General’s call for prompt action by all concerned to ensure that a Statutory Law consistent with the Peace Agreement is put in place as soon as possible.  No more words.  Questions?  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, besides everything else that's going on in the world, Iran just wrote… acting… wrote a letter to the Secretary‑General that it's a… that the United States' designation of Islamic Guards as a terrorist organisation will exacerbate the situation in the Middle East, especially around Syria and so forth.  That letter has been sent to the Secretary‑General.  Has he seen that letter?  Does he have any opinion on that?  Where does the situation stands as far as Iranian National Guard is concerned?

Spokesman:  That was a unilateral decision by one Member State on this designation.  I don't have any specific comment on it.  I will look to see if we've received that letter.

Question:  But is there… he… they also asked that that letter be made… what do you call… circulated…?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, if that's the case, we do that routinely as our role of Secretariat to the various legislative bodies.

Question:  And has the Pakistani Government sought any help from United Nations about the situation in Quetta?

Spokesman:  Not that I'm aware at this level.  There, perhaps, have been contacts at the country level.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is… does the UN still hope for a humanitarian truce in Libya, and is there any sign of progress on it?  It doesn't seem like it with the fighting, but it…

Spokesman:  Well, I think you've answered your question.  The fighting is continuing.  So, there's been no let‑up in the fighting.  There's, in fact, been increased use of heavy artillery, which one can only imagine the devastating impact that it can have, especially in urban areas.  The fighting is not allowing people to flee.  We've seen the targeting or at least the hitting of medical personnel, of ambulances, which is completely unacceptable.  We continue to be on the ground in touch with the parties and continue to plead for at least a humanitarian pause so people can flee safely and aid can come in.  Erol and then Yassein.

Question:  Thank you.  Steph, also on Libya, I know that the Secretary… we all know that the Secretary‑General is very much an analytical mind, and I would like to ask this difficult question.  How does he see… what are the root cause… how does he see or he's seeing the root causes of this fighting in Libya?  And also, if you want to touch on or comment on the reports that [Khalifa] Haftar is backed by Saudi Arabia finances.  And, also, many, many are saying and reports are… media reports are saying that he's [Vladimir] Putin's Russian man, as well.

Spokesman:  Listen, we all read the same things, right, about what influence countries may have on the various parties in Libya.  What is essential for us is that, not only the leaders of the various parties, but all those countries that may have an influence over the parties push them towards a humanitarian pause, and further along, push them towards a political agreement, which is what Mr. Salamé has been trying to work on now for quite some time.  As to the root causes of the conflict, I'm… you know, I don't think we have the… A, I don't have the intellect and, B, I don't have the time to go into the story… the history of Libya through the ages as to what has led us to this very point.  What is clear is that those who have their fingers on the trigger need to stop the shooting.  Yeah?  Hold on.  Let him finish up.

Correspondent:  Just to say, neither I had the intellect to ask that question but…

Spokesman:  No, you had the intellect to ask.  I don't have the intellect to answer.

Question:  No, no.  No, no, but, indeed, knowing how Secretary‑General is well‑advised… he knows details.  So…?

Spokesman:  I'm not saying the Secretary‑General doesn't have the intellect to answer that question.  I don't.  Yassein?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Do you have any update about Sudan, what's going on right now?

Spokesman:  Yeah, obviously, we continue to follow that situation extremely closely.  The Assistant Secretary‑General, Bintou Keita, will be briefing the Security Council in closed consultations in a short while, if she hasn't already begun to do so.  What is important for us is that the fundamental freedom of the Sudanese people, the fundamental liberties of all Sudanese citizens be upheld and that those in power avoid actions that undermine the security and stability of the country or impact the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  We continue to call for restraint by all.  Obviously, as you know, we also have a mission… a joint mission, UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  Our staff there are con… also closely monitoring the situation in Darfur.  Tensions are being reported in several locations, including El Fasher, Nertiti, Nyala, Zalingei, among others, and we are conducting patrols and engaging with all actors on the ground, including security forces, but also internally displaced people.  I also failed to add that the Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN mission in Abyei today.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  On Libya again.  Is there any plan to evacuate UN staff from Tripoli if the situation continues to be worsening, and how many staff do you have?  I have another question on the same subject…

Spokesman:  Okay.  I'm not going to go into, for obvious reasons that you can understand, the exact number of staff that remain in Libya.  What is important is that the leadership of the Mission, Mr. Salamé, and his staff are remaining there, are continuing to work, engaging with political actors, trying to get this humanitarian truce, trying to help the Libyan people as much as possible.  As always, contingency plans are there.  Contingency plans are constantly updated, but we remain in Tripoli with the very… under the very effective also security provided to us by the Nepalese guard unit.

Question:  Sorry.  The SG met during his visit to Libya with General Haftar.  Has… that was planned before his arrival or he…?

Spokesman:  Yes, I mean, the Secretary‑General went to Libya with the plan to meet the… all the… no, I appreciate it, Yassein.  I'm a little slow, but I do get the words out… had the plan to meet with the President, the Presidency Council.  He met with the house of representatives in Tobruk, and he met with General Haftar.  He had to go and meet with all the relevant political actors.

Question:  Did he sense… did he sense that he was about to attack Tripoli?  Did he tell him…?

Spokesman:  We were not… as you can well imagine, we were not told or sh… military plans were not shared with the United Nations.  Yes…?

Question:  He's not going tell him, but, like, the SG, as my colleague Erol said, like, he's very experienced man in the world.  Like, did he sense it that this guy is about to come to Tripoli…?

Spokesman:  By the time he met General Haftar, the troop movement by the Libyan National Army had already begun towards Tripoli.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Stéphane, a question on Ukraine.  We have another attempt to establish a ceasefire now from 18 April, which is… should be called eastern ceasefire.  The previous one collapsed on 1 April.  There was an attempt that didn't last, like, more than 10 minutes.  But, still, is there any comment from SG and maybe what needs to be done for another attempt to be successful?

Spokesman:  I don't have any specific language on that.  I will check.  We, obviously, as matter of principle, would always hope that ceasefires are attained and stay.  Masood, and then we'll leave it… the space to Monica.  And Linda.

Question:  Thank you, sir.  Just wanted to get an update on Yemen, this Yemen situation.  Has the Secretary‑General been able to talk to Saudi Arabian authorities at all…?

Spokesman:  Our contacts, being led by Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, continue with all parties.  I don't have an update to share with you right now.  I may have something for you on Monday.  Linda, you close.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  This is in regard to Sudan.  I was just wondering if the SG had any further comment about the military coup and specifically the leadership of the coup?

Spokesman:  The situation remains fluid.  For us, it's very important that a democratic dialogue take place, that democratic institutions be respected, and that the will of the Libyan people… of the Sudanese people be respected.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.