23 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.

**Security Council on Sexual Violence

Good morning.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s open debate on Women and Peace and Security:  Sexual Violence in Conflict.

He told Council Members that over the past decade, advocacy groups and individuals have spoken up about the enormous damage caused by sexual violence in conflict and many Governments have shown a willingness to provide justice for sexual violence survivors.  He said that the United Nations has taken action by strengthening its ability to investigate these crimes, as well as by training peacekeepers to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict.  However, he said, sexual violence continues to be a horrific feature of conflicts around the world.

The Secretary-General emphasized that sexual violence in conflict is closely linked to the issues of gender inequality and discrimination and added that prevention must be based on promoting women’s rights in all areas, before, during and after conflict.

He stressed the need for women’s full and effective participation in the political, economic and social life to ensure lasting peace, and he also called on Council Members to strengthen justice and accountability for perpetrators, as well as support for survivors.

Also, addressing the meeting was Pramila Patten the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for sexual violence in conflict.

**Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General will be going to the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka late this afternoon, early evening, to sign the condolence book.  Meanwhile on the ground, following the terrorist attack on Easter Sunday, the UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hannah Singer, said she met with the President, the Prime Minister, the army commander and religious leaders to convey the United Nations’ condolences.

The Resident Coordinator, who spoke to our colleagues in the News Centre said the UN is working to speak as one to build a narrative of peace and is monitoring social media to track hate speech.

She added that she is coordinating with UN agencies on the ground, such as UNICEF, which is providing medical supplies to treat injured children and their families.  The UN Children’s Fund, together with the World Health Organization, is also providing psychosocial first aid for families impacted by the violence.


Our humanitarian colleagues say they have received reports in the past few hours from Libya that say that the Qasr Ben Ghashir detention centre in Tripoli was breached by armed actors; some 890 refugees and migrants are located in the detention centre.  There are as yet unconfirmed reports of multiple injuries.  The humanitarian community is closely following the evolving situation in order to provide assistance as soon as access can be granted to the area.

Overall, some 3,600 refugees and migrants are thought to be trapped in the detention centres close to the front lines.  Five of these centres are in areas already engulfed by fighting, while six more are in close proximity to the clashes.  The situation in these detention centres is increasingly desperate, with reports of guards abandoning their posts and leaving people trapped inside.  In one facility – Gharyan – has reportedly been without drinking water for days.

An estimated 35,000 people have now fled conflict-affected areas in and around Tripoli, according to the International Organization for Migration.  Some individuals who remain stuck in conflict-affected areas remain unable to move due to conflict dynamics, while others are unwilling to leave, often due to fear of looting.

Ninety civilian casualties have been verified by the health sector, that includes 21 civilian deaths.

Wherever access allows, the humanitarian response continues, including at detention centres; some 21,000 people have received humanitarian assistance and services so far, despite considerable access and funding constraints.

The UN and humanitarian partners have launched a flash appeal seeking $10.2 million in addition to funding to assist 100,000 people.

WHO for its part has registered 264 fatalities in total, including more than 1,200 injured, and that includes civilians and armed combatants since the beginning of the conflict.


In Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they remain concerned for the people of Rukban, where dire conditions continue to cause suffering for tens of thousands of people stranded there.

Following the announcement of the opening of corridors in February, over 5,400 people have now left Rukban for shelters around Homs.  Of those who have arrived at the shelters, some 3,750 people have been allowed to leave and stay with relatives.

The UN is providing support to those leaving Rukban through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, including by providing food, nutrition, water, hygiene kits, and medical services.  The UN has also facilitated dialogue between the Government and the communities in Rukban and it continues to highlight the need for a third humanitarian convoy to provide assistance to the people inside the camp.

**Yemen - UNDP

The ongoing conflict in Yemen has already reversed human development by 21 years, that’s according to a new study released by the UN Development Programme.

The study warns of exponentially growing impact of conflict on human development.  It projects that if the war ends in 2022, development gains will have been set back by 26 years — that’s almost a generation.  If this continues through 2030, that setback will increase by four decades.

Launching the report, UNDP Resident Representative in Yemen Auke Lootsma said:  “Even if there were to be peace tomorrow, it could take decades for Yemen to return to pre-conflict levels of development.”

The report is available online.

**Cyclone Idai

Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report that Malawi, where nearly 870,000 people were affected by last month’s Cyclone Idai, was hit by rainstorms a few days ago, which have caused flooding and landslides, leaving three people dead, in addition to damaging houses and schools.

A search and rescue team, which includes the Malawian Government, has been deployed to the affected area.

As Southern Africa continues to recover from the impact of Cyclone Idai, weather reports indicate the possibility of yet another cyclone that could impact Comoros, Mozambique, Madagascar and Tanzania in the next 24 to 48 hours.  The Regional OCHA office has reached out to Tanzania on preparedness and is following the situation closely in Madagascar and Mozambique.

The revised Humanitarian Response Plan for people impacted by Cyclone Idai, seeks $337.2 million, including $282 million to assist people impacted by the cyclone, that’s only 24 per cent funded.


The UN World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed the launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine in Malawi.  In a landmark pilot programme, the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children in Malawi under the age of two.

Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.  The pilot aims to reach 360,000 children a year across the three countries.

Thirty years in the making, the vaccine is the first – and to date, the only – vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children; in clinical trials, it was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases.

Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, most of them children; most malaria deaths occur in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from malaria every year.

**International Days

Today is World Book and Copyright Day.  This year, the Day focuses on the importance of protecting indigenous languages.  This is in line with the International Year of Indigenous Languages.  And this year’s World Book Capital is the city of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and there will be several events to mark the Day there including a poetry contest for youth, a conference on freedom of speech and [workshops] for creating Braille books, among others.

Today is also World English Language Day and Spanish Language Day.  Both languages are focusing on the importance of gender-inclusive language to combat gender stereotypes and discrimination.  More online.

**Honour Roll

We say thank you to our friends in Fiji, who have just joined the Honour Roll by paying their full payment to the regular budget, which takes us up to?  All right.  You’re all… nobody’s paying attention.


Michelle.  It’s 85, by the way, is the right answer.  Yeah.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  You will be aware that today Myanmar’s top court rejected the final appeal by Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.  Does the Secretary‑General have a comment on that?

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve seen the decision taken by the Myanmar supreme, the Myanmar court on the appeal.  The Secretary‑General remains concerned at the continued detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.  It is unacceptable that these journalists were prosecuted for reporting on major human rights violations against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

The Secretary‑General has repeatedly urged for their release and for the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and information.  We must continue to advocate and work towards their release and to strengthen the protection of journalists.

Yes, Masood.

Question:  Thank you, sir.  So, on Yemen, can you tell us the… they said that at least 70,000 civilians have been killed since this conflict began.  Do you have the figures?

Spokesman:  I don’t have the exact figure of… off the top of my head, but it is clear, as we’ve been saying almost every day here, that civilians have borne the impact of the war in Yemen, both in terms of casualties, in terms of the impact on the health system.  We often talk about the impact on cholera and, just now, if, as I’m sure you heard, when I mentioned the new UNDP report, which talks about the years and, if not, decades lost in the development of the country.

Question:  What about… and the children, you know? And has…

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  …the Secretary‑General succeeded in asking the, Saudi Arabia not to attack, which they have been doing intermittently?

Spokesman:  We have and we continue to engage with all the relevant actors who are involved in the conflict in Yemen and those who have an influence on those who are involved in the conflict to get the parties back to a political process, to push for the full implementation of the Hudaydah, the Hudaydah agreements, and that is the one and only focus of Mr Griffiths.

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Linda Fasulo.  I’ll come back to you, Masood.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  I had a quick question regarding Venezuela, if you have any further information about the UN role there or any kind of communications or just a status…


Spokesman:  No…

Question:  …report.

Spokesman:  …I don’t have, in fact, it’s a very good question.  I will try to get a bit of an update on what our humanitarian colleagues are doing in, in Venezuela.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you, Stéph.  Yesterday, Sri Lankan authorities suggest the motive of that terrorist attack may be retaliation against the terrorist attack in Christchurch in New Zealand.  Secretary‑General always underscores the importance of, the worry about the religious extremism and also underscores the tolerance.  So, is there any comment from…


Spokesman:  We have no access to whatever intelligence the authorities in Sri Lanka have.  We have no reason to doubt the statement.  It is clear that this attack was targeting Christians as they took part in one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar.

The Secretary‑General has and will continue to raise his voice against the violence, whether it’s persecution of Christians, whether it’s Islamophobia, whether it’s anti‑Semitism, this rise in hatred of the other, this rise in hate speech.  And this is a message that he will continue to carry forward loud and clear.

Masood, and then we’ll go to Monica.

Question:  On this situation again in Libya, which you had a briefing yesterday by… the question is, has the situation in any way stabilized at all, or is it still untenable and it’s called now the most dangerous conflict in the region at this point in time?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to start ranking conflicts, but I think, if you heard and listened to what I just said about what’s going on in Libya today, it is clear that the situation has, has not yet stabilized.  And, again, it’s those who are the most vulnerable who are hurting, whether it’s the civilians trapped in the conflict, whether it’s migrants and refugees who are being abused yet again in detention centres, either by guards fleeing and leaving them locked up or by armed people storming these detention centres.  I mean, I think the report that I just, I just read out should give us the most cause for great concern.

Meanwhile, you heard from Ms [Maria] Ribeiro yesterday.  Mr [Ghassan] Salamé is, he’s now travelling outside of Libya for the first time since the clashes occurred.  He was in Tunis yesterday.  Today, he’s in Rome to meet with officials there, and he will continue to travel in the region in Europe for urgent efforts to try to de‑escalate the situation.  And then he will go back to Libya once he’s…

Question:  Do you have any opinion or update on the involvement of the… the Egyptian… the Egyptians are involved…

Spokesman:  I have no, we have no, nothing more than what we read in the press.

Yes, ma’am.

Question:  Thank you.  The attacks in Sri Lanka, I believe three of them were at, against luxury hotels.  I was reading The Times and a number of reports today.  They’re focussing on social media as the cause of this.

Why is no attention being given to possible economic root causes of this massive increase in terrorism?

Spokesman:  Look, no… I don’t know where you’re going with the question, but what I can tell you is that no cause can justify the killing of over 300 people, including 45 children, as they, most of them… there were attacks against luxury hotels, people on vacation, people in a place of worship.  So, I’m sure analysts will look at all sorts of things, but no cause can justify such heinous violence targeted at civilians.

Question:  I wasn’t suggesting there was any justification, but, in terms of preventing this kind of thing from happening again, why is there no look at the economic component, because the worst hate crimes in history were committed during the Great Depression in the 1930s and…

Spokesman:  I mean, I will leave all that analysis to journalists and analysts.

Yes, Madame, and then we’ll go…

Question:  Stéphane, a follow‑up on Libya.  Did the, Mr Salamé meet with Haftar, General Haftar after the Secretary‑General left Libya?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that they met in person.


Question:  In person, but did they have…

Spokesman:  I know his office has been in touch with all the parties.  But I don’t know if he’s met with him since he saw him with the Secretary‑General.

Question:  Or did he have any phone contacts or…

Spokesman:  They’ve had, there have been contacts at various levels with all the parties.


Question:  Thank you very much.  On Libya again, so if I understand correctly, you said there were 25,000 people displaced because of the latest…

Spokesman:  35,000.

Question:  35,000.  Okay.  Is there an estimate of how many refugees, recognized refugees, there are in Libya now, how many, more or less, economic migrants…


Spokesman:  What I…

Question:  And at what point the people that are fleeing the conflict would be considered deserving as according to the UN…


Spokesman:  30…

Question:  …Convention…

Spokesman:  The numbers that I have here say that about 3,600 refugees or migrants are trapped because of the conflict, right, in Tripoli.  We can get you the global numbers for Libya.

Obviously, anyone who makes a claim of asylum, claiming to be refugee status, will have to have their claim, their claim examined.  But it is clear that, and as the Secretary‑General himself said, that Libya is not a safe disembarkation point for people – for refugees or for migrants.

Yes, sir.

Question:  Thank you.  Yesterday, our colleague asked you regarding Iran oil exports and United States’ decision against that, and you responded it’s a unilateral decision.  Could you tell us what is the multilateralism at, as a priority of Secretary‑General in this era?

Spokesman:  Multilateralism is at the top of the Secretary‑General’s priority in this era and any other era, for that matter.  This is what he advocates for.  This is what he represents by being at the head of the United Nations, by being the Secretary‑General of this Organization.

The Secretary‑General is carrying a message of the importance, the critical importance, of multilateralism in solving the problems, the global problems that we face today and most of which know no borders.

Monica Grayley, you may approach the bench, as they say in court.

For information media. Not an official record.