The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Just in addition to what [Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations] Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix said on the International Day of the Peacekeeper, the Secretary-General today took part in a number of related events. He laid a wreath to honour the brave women and men who gave their lives to protect others and to give war-torn countries a chance for peace and hope. The Secretary-General noted in his remarks that we ask much of our peacekeepers, and that, in return, we must continue to do all we can to ensure they are as safe as possible.
He then took part in the awarding of the Captain [Mbaye] Diagne Medal, the United Nations’ highest and most prestigious recognition earned in the service of peacekeeping. That medal went to the late Private Chancy Chitete of Malawi who died protecting a wounded fellow blue helmet while serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Secretary-General called Private Chitete a true hero, noting that his selfless heroism and sacrifice helped the peacekeepers achieve their objective and dislodge the militia from its stronghold that was vital for the Ebola response to go on. He expressed his gratitude to the family of Private Chitete, including his wife and infant daughter, and whom he will meet privately in a short while. This is the first time the medal has been awarded since it was presented to Captain Diagne’s family in 2016.
The Secretary-General also spoke at the Dag Hammarskjöld [Medal] Ceremony to honour UN military and police personnel, international civil servants, national staff, and UN Volunteers who died in 2018 and 2019. Hailing from different backgrounds, our fallen heroes were united in their efforts to help the UN attain its most important objective: to save further generations from the scourge of war.
Just as a reminder that on Monday, the Secretary-General will arrive in Austria for a long-scheduled visit to attend a number of meetings around the fortieth anniversary of the UN presence in Vienna. He will also attend the annual meeting of the R20, an organization that brings together leaders from around the world of politics, business and the private sector who are focused on fighting climate [change]. He will travel on to Aachen in Germany, from 29 to 30 May to receive the International Charlemagne Prize, an honour which has been awarded annually since 1950 for efforts made in the service of European unification. The Secretary-General will be back in the office on 3 June.
**Central African Republic
Yesterday evening, we issued a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf in which he condemned the attacks against villages in western part of the Central African Republic which left at least 34 civilians dead. The Secretary-General called on the authorities in the country to investigate these attacks and swiftly bring those responsible to justice.
Just a note on disarmament. “Securing Our Common Future” is the theme of the Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda, and today marked its first anniversary. In a video message recorded for the occasion, the Secretary-General cautions that “states need to [seek] security through diplomacy and dialogue, not by building new weapons”. He reminds us all that in our turbulent world, “disarmament is the path to preventing conflict and sustaining peace”.
A note from Libya: Our humanitarian colleagues there are deeply concerned by the deaths of two more first responders in the line of duty yesterday, when two clearly marked armoured ambulance vehicles were struck by shelling in Tripoli. One doctor was killed when the first ambulance was struck. The second ambulance was struck while trying to recover casualties from the first attack, killing one paramedic and injuring three more people on board. This brings the number of health workers killed since the start of the current clashes to six, with seven more injured, while 14 ambulances have been either damaged or destroyed. Also, two health facilities were struck by shelling. Civilian displacement has continued to surge, with over 82,000 people now displaced as a result of the clashes, and that’s according to our colleagues at the UN migration agency.
As we’ve been telling you, a conference was going on in Oslo and it concluded today. Some 50 States, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and others submitted written political, policy and best practice commitments on how to end sexual and gender-based violence, while many others outlined specific measures and [showed] their political will to end that scourge. Several hundred commitments were made related to standards and legal frameworks, operational support, sexual and gender-based violence‑prevention and response services, leadership and coordination. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has a press release on that topic.
A couple of notes from our agency colleagues. One from Bangladesh, where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tells us that, due to sporadic rainfall in the country’s Teknaf Peninsula, UNHCR and its partners will truck water to the 140,000 Rohingya refugees, and that will be taking place the coming days. Water supplies at refugee settlements are at a critical level, with water [rations] having been cut. The limited availability of water raises concerns over the potential of water-borne diseases. And an update also on the funding for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis: less than one fifth of the [$920] million needed for the 2019 Response Plan to help more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees has been received so far.
And from Afghanistan, our colleagues at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today sounded the alarm on the nutritional situation of children in the country. Of the 2 million children under the age of five who are acutely malnourished, 600,000 of them are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and need to be treated to survive. UNICEF is the sole provider of ready-to-use therapeutic food for malnourished children in Afghanistan, but it cannot reach the 60 per cent of these children they are targeting without the $7 million in additional funding.
Reminder — a very important reminder — Monday: no work, office closed, Memorial Day. We will resume the briefings on Tuesday. If you need us, we will, of course, as you will, be available by phone, WhatsApp, telephone, telegraph and carrier pigeon. And on Tuesday, we will be joined at the briefing by Luis Alfonso de Alba, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit. He will be here to answer all questions related to climate. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions for you. First, the Pentagon is announcing that more US troops are being sent to the Middle East. The Secretary-General has been calling for de-escalation and restraint, so things seem to be going the other way. What's your response?
Spokesman: We would continue to call for caution and restraint, both in terms of actions and in terms of rhetoric. Your second question?
Question: My second question. I know the Secretary-General has received a letter from President [Abdrabuh] Hadi of Yemen with criticisms of the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths. Does the Secretary-General believe those criticisms are legitimate? Does he still have confidence in his Special Envoy?
Spokesman: Yes, the Secretary-General has full confidence in Mr. Griffiths and his work. We did, indeed, receive a letter and we actually… we have replied to that letter. In his letter to President Hadi, the Secretary-General says that the UN's commitment to the Stockholm Agreement stems first and foremost from our deep desire to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and assist in addressing the humanitarian crises, which continues to beset Yemen and its people, who have suffered for long. He assured President Hadi that his Special Envoy, Mr. Griffiths, will redouble efforts to support the parties on delivering on the commitments made in Stockholm and do so in a manner which is balanced and fully supportive of achieving a peaceful and lasting political solution to this conflict.
Question: So it wasn't balanced until now?
Spokesman: It is reaffirming Mr. Griffiths' very balanced approach to what is… to his political efforts in Yemen. Masood?
Question: Thank you, and follow-up on this question about US troops going… being sent…?
Spokesman: Can you put your microphone a little closer, because I'm a little hard of hearing?
Question: Okay, can you hear me now?
Spokesman: I can hear you now.
Question: Okay. Follow-up on this question about US and United States sending additional 1,600 troops to the Middle East. My thing is that the primary mandate of the Secretary-General is maintenance of international peace and security. Why isn't he giving it more urgency? Because this is how it happens, and then a war will break out and nothing can be done. Can the Secretary-General go and meet with these people in the [Donald] Trump Administration about this war that is being on the way?
Spokesman: I think that… I don't disagree with your view on what the Secretary-General's mandate is, and I can assure you that the Secretary-General is paying quite a lot of attention to what is going on in that part of the world. Monica Grayley, all yours. Thank you.