15 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.

**Financing for Development

The Economic and Social Council forum on financing for development started today, bringing together representatives from Governments, financial institutions, civil society and the private sector.  The four-day forum will pave the way for the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development that is scheduled for later this September.  Speaking at the opening this morning, the Secretary-General stressed that we have the tools to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change, but we need to act more boldly to face current challenges.  He said that 2019 is a defining year for implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, adding that financing is key to making this happen.  “Everyone, and particularly developed countries, must meet their commitments in full,” he said, referring to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which was adopted in 2015 by Member States as a blueprint to finance sustainable development.  At the global level, the Secretary-General said he is convening a Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, comprising the chief executives of large companies around the world, while at the regional and country level, the UN is working to increase access to private and public finance for developing countries.


Turning to Libya, the UN’s political and humanitarian teams continue to operate in Tripoli, providing urgent humanitarian assistance to civilians and migrants and refugees impacted by the ongoing fighting.  We have observed increased indiscriminate shelling in residential areas and attacks on civilian infrastructure, and again are reminding the parties of their obligations to follow International Humanitarian Law.  In statements to the media over the weekend, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé, said that the conflict is severely impacting the lives and the living conditions of the Libyan people.

Yesterday, Mr. Salamé and his Deputy, Stephanie Williams, met in Tripoli with the President of the Presidency Council, Fayez Serraj, and mayors from the western part of the country.  Discussions focused on the necessity for an immediate halt to the fighting; protection of civilians and provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in need.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that thousands of civilians remain trapped in conflict-affected areas on the southern outskirts of Tripoli.  Only a few hundred families have been able to be brought to safety so far, due to ongoing clashes and reports of ambulance vehicles being deliberately targeted.

Close to some 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in or close to conflict-affected areas.  In some cases, guards have abandoned detention centres, leaving detainees to their own devices, without basic life-sustaining supplies, such as food or water.  Humanitarian partners are continuing their efforts to access these highly vulnerable people, and to provide assistance wherever access allows.  So far, some 6,000 people have received some form of humanitarian assistance.  According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the overall number of people displaced since the eruption of conflict has reached well over 18,000.  Some 48 civilian casualties have been registered, including 13 fatalities.  These number reflect only those cases that could be individually verified, and so should be considered a minimum.  The humanitarian community in Libya continues to operate on extremely low funding levels.  Just 6 per cent of the requirements of the $202 million humanitarian response plan for 2019 have been met, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Turning to Syria, we welcome all efforts to find durable solutions for the people of Rukban, in southeast Syria along the border with Jordan, in line with the results of the survey carried out by the UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent in February, in which 95 per cent of the people surveyed expressed a desire to leave, but had also expressed significant protection concerns.  Yesterday, 1,433 people — more than half of them were children — left Rukban.  This is the fifth group of people who’ve left Rukban in the past three weeks.  To date, more than 3,600 people have exited Rukban camp for shelters in and around Homs city.  Nearly 1,200 have left shelters to stay with relatives.

The UN is providing limited support to the evacuees through the Red Crescent, including food, nutrition, water, hygiene kits and medical services.  The UN has not been granted access to the shelters.  We reiterate our willingness to engage more directly if granted full access to shelters, in the areas of origin and destination, and to the displaced people who are on the way to Homs.  Our humanitarian colleagues add that over the past four days, 10 people have been killed and 20 people have been injured, in hostilities and explosions in Aleppo, Idleb and Hama Governorates in the north-west part of the country.  We call again on all parties to the conflict to cease all violence and remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law.


Turning to Yemen, back here, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council by video this morning, and he announced that both parties have accepted the detailed redeployment plan prepared by General Mark Lollesgaard for the first phase of redeployment from Hodeidah.  The UN is encouraged by this development.  He said that we will now move with all speed towards resolving the final outstanding issues related to phase two and the status of local [security] forces.  The Special Envoy said that while there has been some delay in implementation, it is important to acknowledge that the ceasefire in Hodeidah is generally holding and to see tangible progress in Hodeidah, as we move forward towards convening a next round of political consultations

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, for his part, told the Council members that, while the ceasefire in Hodeidah has largely held, we have seen a pronounced escalation of violence in other parts of the country.  So far in 2019, he added, nearly 200,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported — which is almost three times as many as in the same period last year.  About a quarter of cases are children under five.  Mr. Lowcock said that humanitarian access problems remain; movement and customs clearances are withheld, visas denied, project agreements side-tracked, and many missions are delayed at checkpoints.  Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told the Council members that more than 7,000 children were killed and maimed in Yemen between 2013 and 2018, while more than 3,000 were recruited for armed service.

**Cyclone Idai

Yesterday marked one month since Cyclone Idai made landfall in southern Africa.  In Mozambique, our humanitarian colleagues say 1.85 million people were affected by the tropical cyclone.  Nearly 1.1 million people have received food assistance; and more than 900,000 have been reached with water; and over 155,000 with hygiene support, and some 18,000 with sanitation support.  In Malawi, nearly 870,000 people have been affected.  Over 10,000 households out of 110,000 households have been reached with shelter assistance — that’s about 10 per cent of all households requiring shelter assistance.  In addition, 40,000 households have received seeds and tools.  Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, 299 deaths have been reported, and the livelihoods of over 270,000 people have been impacted.  So far, humanitarian partners have assisted an estimated 30,000 people in the worst-affected areas with food; a supplementary feeding programme is currently under way, targeting 70,000 vulnerable people.  The revised Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $337 million — including $282 million for the Cyclone Idai — remains just over 22 per cent funded.

**Honour Roll

And lastly, we say thank you very much to Jamaica for paying its budget dues in full, bringing us up to 84.  Valeria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On Libya, today, the UN envoy, Ghassan Salamé, accused General [Khalifa] Haftar of a coup attempt.  This is the first time that the UN say something like that.  Is this in anticipation of his resignation from the post, or it is… is it an implicit admission of having underestimated General Haftar?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that particular quote, so I couldn't comment on it.  I think our appeal is for all the parties to immediately cease the fighting, to create at least a humanitarian pause, for us to help the people in Tripoli.  I mean, as you heard, we're having great challenges in reaching people.  We've seen the targeting of ambulances, of medical personnel, which is completely unacceptable.  And we need all the parties to recommit themselves to a political solution.  Yep?

Question:  Follow‑up on Libya stuff.  Ghassan Salamé, on the BBC this morning, said that his greatest fear was that this would turn into a proxy war.  Is this a concern of the Secretary‑General, as well?

Spokesman:  Well, our concern is that this… the conflict that we are seeing does not escalate out of control.  It is clear to all that there are parties in Libya and then there are parties outside of Libya who have influence on those doing the fighting.  It is important that all the parties on the outside bring pressure to bear on their Libyan partners to ensure that the fighting stops.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Follow‑up on Libya, with two… two question.  One is about the Government in Tripoli just said that there is the risk of 800,000 migrants, refugees — at this point, they probably could be considered refugees — leaving Libya.  If… what the UN consider people leaving Libya in this moment?  Are they refugees or migrants?  And if they are refugees, can Italy keep its port closed, like has it now?

Spokesman:  Look, the designation that people have is granted after examination of file.  So, I'm not going to predict what people are.  What is clear is that those third‑country… those nationals of other countries who find themselves in Libya, who have been trying to make their way to Europe, are at great risk of the current fighting.  What is clear, as the Secretary‑General has repeatedly said, is that Libya is not a safe port of disembarkation for human beings, whether they're migrants or whether they're refugees.

Question:  So, can…?

Spokesman:  There are… there is a body of international law regarding refugees.  There is a Global Compact on Migration.  I think it is important that the rights of people be respected and that the dignity of every human being be respected.

Question:  And I have another question.  It's about the Security Council, of what the Secretary‑General thinks.  The Security Council in this crisis has been saying for days now that it's united on the UN position is that it cannot be resolved in the military way.  What… usually, when the Security Council is united, has a way to pressure who's… who is that, using military… you know, military confrontation.  We know how.  And in the past, the Secretary‑General, when he saw that the Security Council united, for example, thinking of Burma situation, is different in a sense, but, at the same time, the Security Council acted united right away.  So, is the Secretary‑General taking advantage of this declaration of the Security Council that it's united or is united only by words but, in reality, not united at all?

Question:  I will leave the analysis of the Security Council words and action to you.  What is clear is that the Secretary‑General and his envoy are working based on Security Council resolutions, Security Council mandates.  We're not freelancing in any way.  We're implementing the resolutions and the goals set forth by the Security Council.  Carole and then Evelyn.  Sorry.

Question:  Stéphane, on the weekend, on Cyprus, there were reports that the envoy, Jane Holl Lute, has come forward with some proposals for restarting talks.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesman:  There will be a report of the Secretary‑General on his good offices work that will be going to the Security Council this week.  Evelyn and then we'll go… we'll come back to this hemisphere.

Question:  Yes.  Further on migrants, could you elaborate, that… what's happened to them?  The guards have abandoned the centres.  Does that mean the migrants are locked in and the UN can't reach them?

Spokesman:  We are having a very difficult time reaching those centres.  The reports that we're getting is that the guards and whoever was managing some of those facilities have abandoned their posts, which means that these people are… who are already living in very difficult conditions, are not getting the food and the water that they require.

Question:  And the… in… in Rukban in Syria, who's preventing the access?

Spokesman:  Well, as you know, we've had very… the UN has had difficulty getting the access and all the permissions we need from various parties to access Rukban.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Michelle Bachelet announced last week that she will be travelling to Venezuela shortly.  She hasn't set a date, but, also, she said that it will depend on the opinion of the Secretary‑General for her to be able to travel.  Do you have any information about that?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, the Secretary‑General very much supports the work of the High Commissioner and her efforts in and around Venezuela, as well.  She has a mandate to fulfil, and we support her in doing so.  Okay?  Monica, your turn.

For information media. Not an official record.