The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary-General arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, early this morning and he met with the Danish Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee. The Secretary‑General held a town hall meeting with some 1,000 UN staff members at UN City, which is an environmentally sustainable facility. He then opened the UN Refugee Agency‑World Bank Joint Data Centre on Forced Displacement, which aims to allow for decisions affecting refugees, internally displaced people, asylum seekers and others to be made in a more timely and evidence‑based manner. At the event, the Secretary‑General said that many decisions that are taken in the world are based on wrong information. He expressed his hope that this new centre will help the most vulnerable people in the world. Those remarks have been shared with you.
Together with the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, he visited the UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warehouse, which is the world’s largest humanitarian warehouse, from which 161,000 kits were shipped last year. He will deliver a keynote address tomorrow at a plenary session of the C40 World Mayors Summit on climate change. Ahead of that speech, he gave a press conference and we hope to share a transcript of that with you shortly. The Secretary‑General has just wrapped up a meeting with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and they are jointly speaking to the press right about now.
A number of UN humanitarian agencies have voiced their concern over the latest developments in Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that civilians are now in harm’s way, with tens of thousands of people on the move to escape the fighting and seek safety. The situation of those caught in the fighting is worsened by colder weather that is setting in across the region. UNHCR stresses the urgency to have unfettered humanitarian access to reach those newly displaced and assist them.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s Executive Director, urged all parties to protect children and the civilian infrastructure on which they depend, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law. She added that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas causes unacceptable harm to children. Echoing UNHCR’s call for access, UNICEF added that a military escalation in the region would have dramatic consequences on the ability of humanitarians to provide assistance and protection to thousands of boys and girls.
Virginia Gamba, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, called for restraint in the conduct of hostilities. She added that the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as the recruitment and use of children, are among the most severe children’s rights violations in Syria, and the utmost must be done to prevent them.
And on a related note: today, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has begun a two‑day visit in Turkey. Mr. Lowcock’s visit was planned prior to the announcement that military operations would begin this week and is focused on cross‑border aid operations from Turkey into Syria. Of course, Mr. Lowcock has been closely following the developments in north‑east Syria. He is very concerned about the impact that military operations may have on civilians in the affected areas. The Emergency Relief Coordinator today had constructive discussions, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Ankara, and will go to Gaziantep tomorrow where he will meet with humanitarian partners involved in cross‑border aid into Syria. He is also scheduled to visit a centre supporting education, women’s empowerment and psychosocial support for Syrians. We expect to have more details to share tomorrow.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, expressed his deep concern today about the impact that violence at protests has had on children. Mr. McGoldrick has called on Israel not to use excessive force and at the same time urged Hamas not to put children in harm’s way. Since 30 March 2018, 40 Palestinian children have been killed and 1,521 injured with live ammunition by Israeli security forces.
The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, today, where he just briefed the African Union Peace and Security Council, along with the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smaїl Chergui, on their joint trip to Sudan and the Central African Republic. In Khartoum, they met with the new authorities, as well as the UN country team and the diplomatic community. They also travelled to Darfur, where they had meetings with local government officials and Mission leadership and personnel. They also participated in the tripartite meeting with the Government of Sudan to discuss the future of the Joint African Union‑UN Mission in Darfur, UNAMID.
Looking at the situation in Darfur, Under‑Secretary‑General Lacroix and Commissioner Chergui expressed the continued support of the UN and the African Union towards peace and stabilization efforts, and to ensure that the Mission’s mandate and priorities remain aligned with the Government’s vision.
This morning, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed the Security Council. Mr. Massieu said that the peace process has continued to move forward, in spite of challenges. Two years after the successful laying down of arms by the former FARC‑EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia‑People’s Army) guerrillas, the vast majority of former fighters remain engaged and committed to the peace agreement, he said. Thousands are pursuing academic studies, receiving vocational training, and are employed in activities related to the Peace Agreement.
Mr. Massieu emphasized the role of these fighters in keeping the peace, especially in light of the small number of fighters who have taken up arms again. The Special Representative said attacks against former FARC‑EP combatants continue to be of serious concern and he called on the authorities to strengthen security and carry out investigations into these killings. He also warned that with the local elections less than three weeks away, violence against candidates is affecting political parties across the ideological spectrum, including the FARC, which is participating for the first time, and he called for protection measures for all candidates.
**Mental Health Day
Today is World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme focuses on suicide prevention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide and close to 800,000 people die by suicide every year. Furthermore, for each suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. WHO is asking people to join in “40 seconds of action” to raise awareness of the scale of suicide around the world and the role that each of us can play to help prevent it. More information on how to participate is on their website.
And we’ve been getting questions about Ecuador. In response to the questions, I can say the following:
The Secretary-General is concerned about the recent developments in Ecuador. He recalls the right of peaceful assembly, in accordance with international law, and calls on all actors to reduce tensions, avoid acts of violence and exercise maximum restraint. The UN system and the Episcopal Conference are supporting preliminary talks with the authorities and different civil society sectors to deescalate tensions. We have received a request from the Government to facilitate a dialogue with different civil society sectors. The United Nations stands ready to consider a role in support of dialogue if its engagement is accepted by all the relevant parties.
And immediately after my briefing, Reem Abaza, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly will be here to brief you. Welcome, Reem!
And tomorrow our guests will be the Under‑Secretary‑General for Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, Catherine Pollard, and the Controller, Chandramouli Ramanathan. They will be here to brief on the financial situation of the Organization.
And that is it for me. Do we have any questions? Yes, Philippe.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Farhan. You asked for an access in the north‑east of Syria, but do you have already people from UN in this area? And, if yes, how many?
Deputy Spokesman: The answer is no. We're not located in the region where the conflict is taking place. We have humanitarian personnel in other areas where we believe people may be departing as they flee for safety. And, so, we will be scaling up our operations in the nearby areas, but we're not there. And like I said, Mr. Lowcock is in Turkey, and he will be in the border town of Gaziantep tomorrow and will discuss ways to ensure that there can be humanitarian access and the free movement of people in the current process.
I'd also like to point out, regarding the humanitarian and political situation, that we do expect this morning, as the Security Council discusses other business in the morning consultations, that they will discuss Syria. And the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, will brief them on the humanitarian situation in north‑eastern Syria, and they also expect to hear from [Mohamed] Khaled Khiari, the Assistant Secretary‑General who deals with Asia and the Middle East.
And if that is it, Reem, the floor is yours.