The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Memorial Service for Fallen UN Colleagues
All right, good afternoon. Let's get started. This morning, the Secretary‑General paid tribute to all the members of staff who have lost their lives in the line of duty in a memorial service here at UN Headquarters. Between January 2018 and March of this year, 115 UN staff from 43 nations lost their lives. Most were involved in peacekeeping and the vast majority were African. Among the fallen, there were also 19 civilians, as well as 21 colleagues who perished in the Ethiopian air disaster. The Secretary-General praised the commitment of these men and women to risk all to promote peace and provide assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. He also offered his deepest condolences to all the families and loved ones and added that the United Nations is promoting better individual preparedness for crises and providing enhanced medical and psychological support for the victims and their families. It is also working to settle claims and provide comprehensive counselling, care and assistance to survivors and families. The Secretary-General reiterated his commitment to ensure that the UN reviews and improves its practices related to the safety and care of staff.
**Deputy Secretary-General's Travels
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York for Geneva to attend meetings on 8 May of the UN Sustainable Development Group, the United Nations Joint Steering Committee to Advance Humanitarian and Development Collaboration and the first regular session for 2019 of the UN System Chief Executives Board, which is scheduled for 9 and 10 May, which we’ve already told you the Secretary-General will also participate in.
**United Nations-African Union Conference
Also, as we speak, right here at UN Headquarters, the third annual African Union-UN Annual Conference is going on here; the Conference is led by the Secretary-General and the Chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat. The Conference, which aims to build on the close partnership between the two organizations, will address, among other issues, climate change and the African Union Theme of the Year 2019, which is: “The year of refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons: towards durable solutions to forced displacement in Africa”. We expect a communiqué at the end of the meetings, and the Secretary-General and Mr. Faki will hold a press encounter at 3:40 p.m. this afternoon outside the Trusteeship Council. You are, of course, all invited.
And I have a statement on the situation in Mali: The Secretary-General welcomes the signing of a political agreement between the Government and the opposition on 2 May in Bamako, which was followed yesterday by the formation of an inclusive Cabinet. The Secretary-General commends the leadership of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and the successful conclusion of the consultations that produced the political agreement and a renewed commitment to implement the 2015 Peace Agreement. He also welcomes the constructive contribution of opposition parties in this regard. The Secretary-General urges all Malian stakeholders, including the signatory parties to the 2015 Peace Agreement, to redouble their efforts to address the challenges facing their country through the full implementation of the Agreement, including the completion of the constitutional review process. The Secretary-General reiterates the UN’s commitment to continue to support the people and the Government of Mali in their quest for peace and stability.
Turning to the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. For the past year, the United Nations has been working hard to prevent the situation in Gaza from escalating and to provide humanitarian relief to the population. The latest escalation over the weekend was the worst since the 2014 conflict. Fortunately, following a series of engagements with Egypt, Qatar and all concerned parties, we were able to contain it, based on understandings on the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the livelihoods of people, with no violence at the Gaza perimeter fence. It is now up to the parties to implement these understandings. If the calm is sustained, the United Nations believes that we will be able to discuss longer-term arrangements to improve the situation and provide relief for the people of Gaza by easing the closures, and support for the reconciliation process. Both are critical to finding a political solution to the problems of Gaza. The UN Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, will be going to Cairo tomorrow to continue his discussions with relevant parties. Over the weekend, you will have seen that the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres. He urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint, immediately de-escalate and return to the understandings of the past few months.
And turning to Libya, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) called for an extendable one-week humanitarian truce starting on the first day of Ramadan, which is today, during which all parties pledge to halt all forms of military operations. Unfortunately, the truce has so far not been observed and fighting continues on the outskirts of Tripoli. The UN Mission renews its call to all parties to abide by the truce and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need and to ensure the freedom of movement of civilians. Over the weekend, the UN Mission also called on all sides in Libya to focus efforts on combatting terrorism, their common enemy, noting that terrorist groups will seek to exploit the ongoing fighting in Tripoli to expand their presence in Libya. We echo the strong condemnation by the UN Mission of the attack — claimed by Da’esh — in Sabha in southern Libya on Friday, which took nine lives, including one civilian.
Our humanitarian partners tell us that fighting continues in and around Tripoli; 104 civilian casualties have so far been verified by the health sector — that includes 23 civilian deaths. Civilians continue to be driven from their homes by the fighting, with more than 56,000 people now displaced, according to the UN migration agency. Most displaced people are staying in urban areas with friends or family, or in rented accommodation. Twenty-nine collective shelters are in operation, housing close to 3,000 people. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that multiple conflict-affected areas remain largely inaccessible to humanitarian workers, while conditions for civilians trapped in these areas continue to deteriorate.
And I can tell you that the United Nations is extremely concerned about attacks on healthcare facilities and hospitals in north-western Syria following a recent escalation of violence and hostilities in and around the demilitarized zones. Since 28 April, at least seven facilities have reportedly been struck, including four in Hama Governorate and three in Idlib Governorate. Yesterday, health facilities were reportedly hit by air strikes in Idlib and Hama. We continue to call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians, and in particular to avoid the destruction of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
And the World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that they successfully arrived at the Red Sea Mills in Yemen over the weekend. The plan is to establish a small technical team of Red Sea Mills employees at the Mills to begin cleaning and servicing the milling machinery in hopes of then preparing the wheat for distribution. This process may take several weeks. WFP lost access to the Mills in early September 2018. At that time, there were 51,000 metric tons of wheat, enough to feed 3.7 million people for 1 month. Over the weekend, the Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, met with officials in Sana’a. And he is now back in Amman.
And our humanitarian colleagues report from Mozambique that cholera is on the rise following Cyclone Kenneth, which made landfall late last month. Some 64 cases have been received at health centres around the Pemba and Mecufi areas in the north of Mozambique. Cholera Treatment Centres have been set up in two districts, and treatment units are also being established. The World Health Organization (WHO) is redeploying a team of public health specialists and logisticians from the City of Beira, where they had been following Cyclone Idai, to Cabo Delgado Province to assess Cyclone Kenneth’s impact on health. Organizations working in water and sanitation hygiene are also ramping up activities to prevent the spread of cholera. Over 43,000 houses were reportedly damaged or destroyed, while nearly 41,000 students in Cabo Delgado have had their education interrupted due to damage to their classrooms, according to the Government. The World Food Programme (WFP) says 36,000 people have received food assistance in the four worst-affected areas.
And I have been asked by one of your colleagues before the briefing to comment on Turkey’s decision to send ships to begin offshore drilling operations around Cyprus, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is monitoring the developments closely with concern. Our position on hydrocarbons exploration has not changed. Offshore hydrocarbons have the potential to benefit both communities in Cyprus. The Secretary-General recalls that the Greek Cypriot leader and the Turkish Cypriot leader have previously agreed in their negotiations that natural resources in a unified Cyprus would lie within the competence of the future federal Government. The Secretary-General urges efforts to be made to reduce tensions.
**Children in Armed Conflict
And I want to flag that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, wrapped up a five-day mission to the Central African Republic, during which she held the first national event on the campaign, entitled “ACT to Protect Children Affected by Conflict”, and publicly introduced the idea of a national plan to prevent grave violations against children in that country.
And a global assessment launched today by the Intergovernmental Science‑Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, otherwise known as the IPBES, warns that around 1 million species are threatened with extinction as nature is declining at unprecedented rates. Among the most threatened species are amphibians, corals, and marine mammals. The report ranks the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: one, changes in land and sea use; two, direct exploitation of organisms; three, climate change; four, pollution; and five, invasive alien species. The report says that the decline will have grave impacts on people around the world and stresses that the current global response is insufficient and transformative change is needed to protect and restore nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades and draws on indigenous and local knowledge to map the way forward. More information online.
And over the weekend, the 1 billion monthly users of Instagram were joined by António Guterres, the Secretary-General of these United Nations, who now has his own Instagram account. In his first post, he explained that he joined the platform to give people a first-hand look at his job and share what motivates him to strive for a better, more peaceful world for all.
Lastly, we want to thank China, which has paid its regular budget dues in full — xie xie. We are now up to 91. Yes, no, I said 91. You don't have… Masood, I appreciate your effort to answer, but if I gave you the answer, it doesn't count. Edie? Sorry.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Couple of questions, Steph. First, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the latest missile launch by the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] Government? And secondly, does he have any reaction to the top news item everywhere today on the birth of a son to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?
Spokesman: Well, we welcome the new royal child and wish the parents the best of luck in raising children. No, we welcome… in all seriousness, we welcome him and send our congratulations to the parents. Sorry. DPRK. Yes. We cover everything here. We are very much aware of the recent launches by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Such an action serves only to increase tensions in the region. The Secretary‑General continues to closely follow developments. He encourages all parties to continue their dialogue to advance sustainable peace in complete and verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula. Joe?
Question: Yes. Was Islamic Jihad formally part of the ceasefire discussions and agreement? And was there any effort to have Hamas, which controls the Gaza territory, to take more effective steps to ensure that not only itself but Islamic Jihad and other groups operate… other terrorist groups operating in Gaza do not resume the rocket launches?
Spokesman: Look, I'm not going to get… I don't have… I'm not going to give you any more granularity than what I've already said. Mr. Mladenov was involved in discussions with Egypt and Qatar and all concerned.
Question: All concerned or all relevant…?
Spokesman: All concerned parties.
Question: …[inaudible] say who they are?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into any more detail at this point. It's now up to the parties to ensure that… to implement the understandings that were reached. Welcome back, sir.
Correspondent: Thank you. I have two questions, one on Libya and one on Palestine. I'll start with Libya, by the way. General [Khalifa] Haftar issued a statement saying he will not abide by the one‑week truce, and he urged his followers to intensify their attacks. And he called a jihad, and he should… we should… he said we should fight even more in Ramadan, as he said. That's my first question. The second about Gaza; Israel…
Spokesman: Well, wait. I didn't hear a question mark on your first statement.
Question: Yeah. I mean, I noticed that the statement did not mention that one party did not agree to the UN call for a truce. Are you aware of…?
Spokesman: I think we were very clear that, unfortunately, the truce has so far not been observed and fighting continues on the outskirts of Tripoli.
Question: Yeah, but… I mean, his statement stands out against the UN accord, yeah?
Spokesman: The statement is unfortunate, and we would like to see the fighting stopped.
Question: Yeah. The second, regarding the escalation in Gaza, Israel conducted 350 air raids, killed 22 Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and 2 children, and it is Gaza that is under siege. It is Gaza under occupation, and yet the blame went flagrantly against the Palestinian in Gaza. How could that be…?
Spokesman: I don't think the blame… we condemned the rocket attacks that were initially launched from Gaza into Israel. I think we called for restraint on all the parties. It is not an issue of blame, for the focus of the UN's work is on trying to bring calm back to Gaza in order to help improve the humanitarian situation. But, obviously, this will also go through a political solution that involves the parties. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. Recently, United States Administration decided not to renew the waiver related to Title III of the Helms‑Burton Act. During 27 years, General Assembly has approved a resolution that asked to end the blockade against Cuba and expressed concern about a continued promulgation of application of laws like Helms‑Burton Acts because of extra-territorial effects. So, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that? What is his position? Thank you.
Spokesman: We, obviously… we're aware of the General Assembly resolutions. We remain guided by them. I know the Cuban… Permanent Representative of Cuba, or, I think, some senior official from the Cuban Mission has requested to see the Secretary‑General, which they will do so this afternoon. So, I may have some more language for after that. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I had the number 91, but in any case, what I was saying, on Gaza… the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that he is going to take the… retaliate seriously against the Palestinians in Gaza. So, has the Secretary‑General had a chance to talk with him to tell him not to attack those people, who have nothing, you know, over there except these things? When the cat is just… I mean being attacked like that, they will retaliate. That's what… has he been able to talk to them?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that the Secretary‑General has had any direct conversations recently with the Prime Minister of Israel. Mr. Mladenov, who represents the Secretary‑General on the ground, was in touch with senior Israeli officials throughout the weekend. Our aim, as I said to Abdelhamid, is that, if the calm continues, we believe that we'd be able to discuss longer‑term arrangements to improve the situation and provide relief to the people of Gaza, including on the issue of closures.
Question: [Inaudible] will remain closed?
Spokesman: I think we will do whatever we can in cooperation with interested parties, with Qatar and Egypt, to try and improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Madame, le président de l'assemblée générale, it is your turn.