The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I really apologize for being late. Just a quick follow-up on the Bahamas. The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, should’ve just landed or is about to land in Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, where the team there is updating him on the impact of the hurricane and the ongoing efforts to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs.
The UN predeployed teams to Nassau to support the Government-led assessment that is supported by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and the teams there are expected to deploy to Abaco and Grand Bahama later today. We’re also trying to work on a phone hook-up or video hook-up with Mr. Lowcock from the Bahamas for a bit later on this afternoon. We’ll keep you posted.
From Lebanon, the [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)] Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, today met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut, and after the meeting, he said he had shared his serious concern at the incident on Sunday when anti-tank missiles claimed by Hizbullah were fired from southern Lebanon across the Blue Line. He said that this was a serious breach of the cessation of hostilities and a gross violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).
Major General Del Col said that UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanism played a critical role in deconflicting the situation along the Blue Line. At this time, he added, UNIFIL remains closely engaged with the parties to contain tensions and incidents, and enable a safe and secure environment in the area.
He added that it is of paramount importance that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River is free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL. And he said that he and the Prime Minister agreed on the importance of strengthening the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces in the UNIFIL area of operations in order to enable it to take greater security responsibilities along the Blue Line.
Turning to Syria, I can tell you that we remain gravely concerned over the ongoing hostilities in the north-west part of the country. Since hostilities increased in late April, our human rights office reports that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed. Civilian infrastructure has also been significantly impacted, with entire towns having largely been destroyed.
However, a unilateral ceasefire announced on 30 August by the Government of Syria has resulted in a degree of respite for civilians who have suffered under the intense hostilities of recent months. While artillery shelling reportedly continues to result in casualties, there have been no reported airstrikes since the announcement of the ceasefire. With some 15,000 aid workers on the ground, the UN and our humanitarian partners continue to provide shelter, food assistance and health services to those impacted in the north-west, where security allows.
The UN continues to call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and to follow their obligations under international law.
Turning to Mali, the UN peacekeeping Mission in that country (MINUSMA) reports that at least 14 people were killed and many more injured, including children, yesterday, when a bus hit an improvised explosive device near Douentza, in the Mopti region. The UN Mission supported Malian armed forces with the medical evacuations of 16 victims and helped secure the site after the incident. We are outraged by this horrendous attack on innocent civilians. We convey our condolences to the families of the victims and the Government of Mali, and wish those injured a speedy recovery.
And as you saw we issued a statement yesterday on Afghanistan in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack in Kabul by the Taliban that took place on Monday. Such indiscriminate attacks can never be justified, he said. The Secretary-General also expressed his concern about civilian casualties caused by pro-government aerial and search operations, including on 31 August in Faryab Province. The full statement was distributed.
Back here this morning, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the country. In his remarks, delivered by videolink, Mr. Salamé paid tribute to the three UN staff members that lost their lives in the attack a few weeks ago and he said the UN will remain in Libya and is working to mitigate further risk to UN personnel and operations.
The Special Representative said that the worse the situation gets on the ground, the greater the need for UN presence, mediation efforts and the provision of humanitarian assistance. According to him, since 4 April, the conflict has spread geographically and has [exacted] a heavy toll on civilians and those fighting. To date, more than 100 civilians have been killed and over 300 injured, and 120,000 civilians have been displaced. The full remarks are available online.
This afternoon, Council members will discuss the situation in Syria.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
After accompanying the Secretary-General on his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the weekend, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix wrapped up a two-day visit to South Kivu.
In Bukavu, Mr. Lacroix met with the Governor of the province and with UN staff. He also visited several peacekeeping bases, including a standing combat deployment in Bibatama. Standing combat deployments are structures placed in remote areas to provide a more nimble and efficient protection to civilians affected by ethnic tensions and armed groups in the province. In Minembwe, Mr. Lacroix also met with civil society representatives to discuss issues of security and community reconciliation.
**Central African Republic
Today, as she concluded a week-long mission in the Central African Republic, [Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs] Ursula Mueller called for urgent additional funding to meet the humanitarian needs of 2.9 million people in the country. She said the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.
As we mentioned recently, two thirds of the population depend on aid to survive. This year’s humanitarian response plan requires $430.7 million, but is less than 50 per cent funded. The people of this country need our help now and we cannot fail them, Ms. Mueller concluded.
And also another update from the Central African Republic. Yesterday, a third armed group committed to protect children by signing an action plan with the United Nations. This time, the Unité pour la paix en Centrafrique, otherwise known as the UPC, a member of the ex-Seleka coalition, made a formal commitment to take a series of measures to end and prevent grave violations against children, such as releasing all child soldiers within their ranks, ending killing and maiming, sexual violence against children and attacks against schools and hospitals. Virginia Gamba, the head of the Children in Armed Conflict Office, said she is encouraged to see that the February peace agreement is bringing more opportunities to engage with armed groups.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
I also want to flag a report by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], which says that 1 in 3 young people in 30 countries said they have been a victim of online bullying, with 1 in 5 reporting having skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence. Those are some of the outputs of a new poll released today by UNICEF and Ms. Gamba.
Speaking out anonymously through the youth engagement tool U-Report, almost three quarters of young people also said social networks are the most common place for online bullying.
I apologize; the report is jointly by UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children. More information online.
I want to add, just to flag that the fourth UN high-level conference on counter-terrorism ended today in Minsk. Organized jointly with the Government of Belarus, the conference aimed to assess the complex threats arising from terrorist misuse of new and emerging technologies. More than 400 conference participants, including senior officials from 55 countries, exchanged views on how technological and digital change has made terrorist groups more connected, more resilient and capable than ever before. The conference ended with a call to strengthen international cooperation and to share innovative approaches to counter this threat.
And lastly, when we’re done here, there will be a briefing by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on the launch of the Digital Economy Report 2019. The briefing will be led by Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief of UNCTAD’s office in New York. I apologize to them for being late. I will now entertain your queries, should you have any. Mr. Bays?
**Questions and Answers
Question: What information does the UN have about talks taking place in Jeddah involving separatists from the south of Yemen and the Yemeni Government? And is Mr. [Martin] Griffiths involved in this process?
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that the UN is not represented at the meeting, but we have been in… we are in touch with all the parties and are being kept abreast of developments. Sorry. Go ahead, Fathi?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Just a quick clarification, Mr. Lowcock arrived… landed in the Bahamas. What kind of…?
Spokesman: Yes, sir. He should have landed… I was told at 12:22. So what time…?
Question: What kind of transportation he took to the Bahamas since there’s no…?
Spokesman: From what I understand, the… Nassau, the capital, has been spared the brunt, and so the airport in Nassau is working as far as I understand.
Question: Okay. And the other question, can you reconfirm that the Secretary‑General press conference will take place on the 18th?
Spokesman: I’m happy to reconfirm it about 54 times.
Correspondent: Okay. [laughter] Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, sir, and then we’ll go to you, Sherwin. Go ahead. Yes, please?
Question: My name is Horace, News Agency of Nigeria. Is the Secretary‑General aware, and if he is, what does he have to say about the renewed wave of xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa? I ask because the Government there has refused to recognise these attacks as xenophobic, and the security agencies, too, appear to be doing little or nothing to prevent these attacks on the…
Spokesman: Sure, okay. I mean, as… as we said…
Question: …lending credence to… I know these are fuelling attacks in South Africa.
Spokesman: No, no, I’m aware of the situation. You know, as we said yesterday, the Secretary‑General condemns the acts of violence that we’ve seen reported in different provinces of South Africa, including attacks against foreigners, destruction of property and businesses owned by foreigners. It is very important that all political leaders clearly and openly reject the use of violence. We will note, as we said yesterday, the… President [Cyril] Ramaphosa’s unequivocal condemnation of the violence and his call for strengthened accountability of those who perpetrated the violence. Sherwin?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Given the epidemic of femicide in South Africa, the country’s Justice Minister said the question of reintroducing the death penalty will be taken to cabinet for further discussion: “Whether we are open to a referendum or not, at this stage, I cannot say.” What says the United Nations?
Spokesman: Our principled position is that we stand against the use of the death penalty. The issue of femicide is an extremely important one. Those who commit the crimes need to be punished to the full extent of the law, and societies as a whole also have to deal with the underpinning reasons, why we see these crimes. And these are crimes that need to be punished, but our position, whether it’s in South Africa or anywhere else in the world, is that we stand against the use of the death penalty.
Question: If I could ask, what informs that position?
Spokesman: We feel it’s a cruel punishment, and the rules… I mean, the legal instruments in the UN have always stood against the death penalty.
Thank you. And I will leave you in the hands of UNCTAD, and I will try to be in a better mood tomorrow. [laughter]