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 note on Syria.
The United Nations is gravely concerned by the continuing reports of a deteriorating humanitarian situation, civilian casualties, damage to vital infrastructure and waves of displacement due to intensified hostilities in in the north-west part of the country.
Over the past 48 hours, at least seven people have reportedly been killed in south rural Idlib, while two were reportedly killed in Hama governorate yesterday. Dozens of people were reportedly injured in Idlib, Hama and Aleppo governorates.
Over 300 civilians have apparently lost their lives due to hostilities in the north-west in the last three months, 60 of them in April alone.
These increased hostilities are triggering large-scale displacement, from northern Hama and Southern Idlib. There are also reports of deserted villages after civilians fled for safety. An estimated 323,000 people are estimated to have been displaced in the north-west since September of last year.
The United Nations reminds all parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and calls on all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) today released the preliminary findings of a special fact-finding mission to investigate the serious human rights violations in Ogossagou region in the Mopti area that occurred on 23 March 2019. During the attack that day, attackers killed at least 157 members of the Fulani community.
According to the Human Rights and Protection Division of the UN peacekeeping mission, the impunity enjoyed by the self-defence groups for some time in central Mali has further fuelled the cycle of violence and human rights abuses committed against civilian populations there. The planned, organized, and coordinated attacks on the Peule part of Ogossagou village was in the context of many other similar attacks by traditional hunter groups against Fulani communities.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said he was deeply shocked by the cruelty of the horrendous acts committed against the civilian population, especially women and children. He said the perpetrators of such atrocities must be held accountable for their actions in court.
Turning to Darfur, the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, otherwise known as UNAMID, has concluded the closure and handover of its sector headquarters in El Daien to the State Government of East Darfur.
In line with the Mission’s insistence that the facilities be used for civilian purposes, the State Government of East Darfur has indicated that the former sector headquarters, together with associated assets, will become an extension of El Daien University. Also, a hospital within the camp will be a health centre providing maternity services.
This is the first sector headquarters to be closed and handed over, in line with the second phase of the Mission’s ongoing drawdown, as mandated by the Security Council in July of 2018. The mission issued a press release with more details.
And on Cyclone Kenneth, the World Health Organization (WHO) tells us today that nearly 190,000 people are in need of health assistance or are at risk of diseases in Mozambique.
Kenneth was the second category 3 cyclone to hit the country within five weeks.
Due to the lack of accessibility, the full extent of the damage to the health system is not known. At least 17 health facilities have been damaged but this number is expected to rise.
WHO is working with the Ministry of Health to carry out evaluations, and they’re also working with UNICEF and have sent tents, water purification units and other supplies.
A WHO team of specialists, originally deployed to Beira following Cyclone Idai, have now been redeployed to follow Cyclone Kenneth.
WHO stresses the need for rapid action to manage the risk of cholera.
And I have been asked about the ongoing situation in Benin, and I can tell you that we are closely following the unfolding developments in the Republic of Benin, in the aftermath of the April 28 legislative elections, in which opposition parties were barred from participating. We note with concern the ongoing tensions and unrest, resulting in the destruction of property and high-handed response from the security forces.
We call on all Beninese stakeholders to exercise maximum restraint and to seek solutions to their differences through dialogue. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is in contact with colleagues in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), as well as with Beninese stakeholders, with a view to encouraging a consensual and peaceful solution to the situation and preserving peace and stability for the country.
And this morning, the Security Council held consultations on Cyprus.
I also want to flag that, in a video message today to the opening of the 2019 Regional Seminar on Decolonization in Grenada, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations work on decolonization continues today with 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining on the rolls.
Today, renewed commitment of all involved parties and pragmatic measures are required to accelerate the decolonization process.
Yesterday, I was asked about our response to the European Union’s humanitarian assistance for Venezuela, and I can tell you the United Nations welcomes the announcement made by the European Union at the end of March that the Commission is allocating a further €50 million in emergency assistance to help Venezuelans most in need. For additional details, I would refer you to the European Commission.
After you’re finished with me and I’m finished with you, Monica [Grayley] will be here to brief.
Then at 1 p.m., a briefing sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Georgia called “A Vision for Modernizing the Fight Against Hunger”. Speakers will include Ambassador Kaha Imnadze, the Permanent Representative of Georgia to these United Nations, and Dr. Davit Kirvalidze, Georgia’s Candidate for Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
And tomorrow, my guest will be Gemma Connell, the head of OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa. She will be briefing from Mozambique by phone on the aftermath of the cyclones that have hit Mozambique.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. On Syria, part of the… the main reason, it seems to be, for the deteriorating situation in Idlib and Hama was… were air strikes. Who did them, Syria, Russia, US?
Spokesman: As you know, we don't have any investigative capacities in that way. Right now, we're focussing on two things: a political process, which, I think, Mr. [Geir] Pedersen briefed you extensively on, and, second, obviously, the humanitarian impact of the ongoing fighting. Betul?
Question: That's true — excuse me, except that one has to know what the fighting was about or who did it.
Spokesman: Well, that's not… but that's not… we don't have the forensic capacity to do that at this point.
Question: Thank you, Steph.
Spokesman: Yes, ma'am.
Question: I had asked yesterday if you were able to get us the number of foreign fighters being held by SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) in Syria. Do you have anything on that today?
Spokesman: I do not. I do apologize.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, ma'am.
Question: I asked yesterday about deportation of Human Rights director, Omar Shakir, the Israeli authorities. Do you have any comment?
Spokesman: No, not at this point. I'm still trying to get some information. Ali and then Mr. Avni.
Question: Thank you for remembering my name. Moncef Kartas, I… can you confirm that the Tunisian Government has sent a letter to the Secretary‑General explaining the reasons why they arrested him and whether you still see no misconduct or reasons for him to be arrested in… in Tunisia? Thank you.
Spokesman: No, our position on Mr. Kartas has not changed. We believe that he is… he was conducting his official work and is, therefore, entitled to the privileges and immunities accorded to him. I will check on a possible letter. Benny?
Question: On Venezuela, we had a briefing with Diego Arria, no stranger in these halls, who was asked about the response of the Secretary‑General to the events there. He said the Secretary‑General "should be more forceful". The Secretary‑General initially — I don't know if that has changed — has supported a negotiated settlement between the Government of [Nicolás] Maduro and those who are against him. Does he still do… does he still support that? Arria said that that idea that came from Mexico is dead. Does the Secretary‑General still support that?
Spokesman: Our position on supporting inclusive and serious dialogue to lead to a political solution to this current crisis has not changed, and that continues to be our message. Stefano?
Question: Even though… even though, according to some, including Arria, we're talking about a regime that is narco-regime, a military regime that forces that… that has… that halts the power by force?
Spokesman: Our position for a peaceful outcome to this current crisis, which we feel needs to be… should be reached through inclusive and serious dialogue. Stefano?
Question: Yes. A quick one on Venezuela. What would be the position of Secretary‑General if the Maduro regime will arrest or will try to arrest [Juan] Guaidó? And then another question on Press Freedom Day that's going to be tomorrow, what is… how does Secretary‑General consider the situation of Julian Assange? Does he think he's a journalist, a publisher, or not?
Spokesman: It is not for us to designate… put a designate… a label on Mr. Assange. As for the Secretary‑General's message on Press Freedom Day, we've… it's been released, and I would turn… refer you to that. We're not going to get into what‑ifs, but in the past, we have spoken out against any restrictions on political… peaceful political activities for any of the actors in Venezuela, and that will continue to be our position. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Also on Moncef Kartas, do you have any update on his condition or any contacts between the UN and his… and him?
Spokesman: Yes, we've been… from what I gather, we have been able to meet with him. I don't… I'm not… I don't have any information as to particular condition, but we are able contact him.
Question: And there was an open letter released earlier this week by some UN staff. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: We have… I mean, our position, I think, joins up their position, which is that Kartas should be released because we feel that he enjoys the immunities afforded to him by various treaties. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding Libya, I was just wondering what the latest developments were there and what the latest is in terms of the UN activities.
Spokesman: Sure. Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé has now returned to Tripoli. Yesterday, he met with the president of the Presidency Council, Mr. [Fayez] Serraj. He discussed with him the security and the humanitarian situation in the capital. Mr. Salamé also was able to brief Mr. Serraj on his recent talks that he had in Europe with various international stakeholders all with the goal of facilitating an immediate halt to the fighting in the country. He also stressed the UN's commitment to provide all necessary support to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance, especially to those civilians in conflict‑trapped areas. The latest numbers we have on civilian [casualties] is 102 civilian casualties, including 23 deaths, that have been verified in Tripoli. But, obviously, those numbers we consider a floor, a minimum, because it is imaginable and probably fairly true that a number of deaths have not been reported to health authorities, though the… on the more positive end, no air strikes, shelling attacks or clashes have been reported in residential areas over the last 24 hours. However, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. Mr.… oh, sorry. Ibtisam and then James.
Question: Do you have any updates regarding Yemen and the political situation there, process, and also whether you are able to get to the UN aid in the storages of Hudaydah port?
Spokesman: No, the Red Sea Mills, if that's what you're referring to, we have still not had the access we need to the Red Sea Mills. Obviously, the more time goes by, the higher the chances of the grain stored becoming unusable. The… us having full humanitarian access to wherever we need to go is critical to starting to help deliver more aid to the people of Yemen. On your first part, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is in Amman, where he's based. He's continuing his contacts by phone, and we may have some travel to announce in the next few days.
Question: A follow‑up on the Red Sea Mills. Who is… like, which party or could you say more about how you are prevented from getting there?
Spokesman: The Mills are in… as far as I understand, in the Houthi‑controlled areas.
Question: So it's the Houthis?
Spokesman: Mr. Bays.
Question: Afghanistan and the ongoing talks in Doha, I believe you were going to give an update on Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, the Special Representative, and a meeting he… we believe he had with Mullah Baradar. Did the meeting take place? And, also, can you give us a readout from the Special Representative on how he believes this process is going as we approach Ramadan?
Spokesman: Very unfortunately, we have not been given an update, although it's not from lack of asking. Yep. Mr. Abbadi. Excuse me.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you know, on Monday, the Security Council adopted resolution 60… 2468 on the Western Sahara. And barely 24 hours after… 48 hours after, the Polisario started undertaking military exercise in a very sensitive area, Tifariti. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?
Spokesman: We have not received an update from our colleagues in MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), but we will ask for one. Monica.