The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon. Starting off with a note on Syria, to say that we remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over three million civilians in Idleb. Over half of the people have been internally displaced, following ongoing reports of airstrikes in the area. On Saturday, the UN negotiated a six‑hour humanitarian pause that enabled safe passage for more than 2,500 people to flee. We continue to pursue efforts with all parties to advocate for the protection and safe passage of all those wishing to depart from affected areas.
Over the past three days, some 39 communities were reportedly impacted by shelling in northern Hama, southern Idleb and western Aleppo governorates, while 47 communities were reportedly struck by airstrikes. The newly displaced adds to the over 400,000 women, children and men that have been displaced as a result of hostilities since the end of April, many of them have been displaced multiple times. The United Nations urges all parties to ensure the protection of civilians, and to allow sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to provide life‑saving assistance to all in need.
Turning to Yemen, today, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, condemned the attacks against the premises of three international humanitarian organizations in Al Dhale’e that took place over the weekend. The attacks wounded one person and damaged property. Mr. Lowcock said these events represent an alarming escalation in the risks faced by humanitarian workers in Yemen. He urged a thorough investigation and said he remained gravely concerned by the continuation of media campaigns in parts of Yemen that spread rumours and incitement against aid operations. Twelve organizations have now been forced to suspend aid programmes in the area which impact 217,000 local residents. Humanitarian agencies reach more than 12 million people every month in Yemen and rely on the authorities to ensure a safe, enabling environment for humanitarian operations across Yemen.
On Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that in the ﬁrst 10 months of the year, over 400,000 people have ﬂed their homes due to conﬂict while nearly 300,000 people were impacted by natural disasters resulting in at least 149 killed; and over 39,000 houses destroyed or damaged. Next year, humanitarian needs are expected to increase with almost a quarter of the population or 9.4 million people estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance. Some 56 per cent of them are children. This is an increase from 6.3 million people in need in 2019.
We are working with our humanitarian partners and we will need $733 million to reach 7.1 million people in need in 2020. Also, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) welcomed the announcement of the preliminary results for Afghanistan’s presidential election and commends the country’s electoral commission for its work leading up to the announcement. In a statement released over the weekend, the Mission underscored the importance of an orderly process, conducted with particular care and sensitivity, leading up to the announcement of the final results.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that Kenya, Mozambique and Niger have curbed polio outbreaks that erupted in different episodes over the last 24 months, allowing them to regain their polio‑free status. Transmission of vaccine‑derived poliovirus was detected in the three countries in 2018 and early 2019, impacting a total of 14 children. Vaccine‑derived polioviruses are rare, but they affect unimmunized and under‑immunized populations living in areas with inadequate sanitation and low levels of polio immunization.
**United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara
Just, in response to a question we received earlier today in relation to the situation in Western Sahara, I wanted to say that the fifteenth Frente POLISARIO Congress has been underway in Tifariti, in Western Sahara, since 19 December. On 19 December, as part of their routine monitoring of developments in the Territory in support of MINURSO’s [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] mandate, two UN Military Observers based at the Tifariti team site decided to visit the site of the Congress. They left shortly after the ceremony began and returned to their team site. Their brief presence at this event does not imply any political position on the part of the observers or MINURSO, which remains strictly impartial in the fulfilment of its mandate. That’s it. Yes, sir.?
**Questions and Answers
Question: [Inaudible] News Agency [inaudible] Ukraine. [Inaudible] It was announced that Putin had launched a railway route over the Kerch Strait linking Russia and a [inaudible] territory. How does the Secretary‑General react to that and other violent, blatant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine?
Spokesman: I would just say that, as far as the Secretariat is concerned, we are guided by the relevant General Assembly resolutions on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on Saudi Arabia sentencing five people to death for the death of Jamal Khashoggi after a trial that was not open to any public scrutiny?
Spokesman: Sure. I would say, first of all, as a matter of principle, we continue to stand against the death penalty. We take note of the reports of today's… that eight people have been convicted and sentenced over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the court in Riyadh. The Secretary‑General continues to stress the need for an independent and impartial investigation into the murder to ensure full examination of and accountability for human rights violations committed in the case. The Secretary‑General also reiterates the UN's commitment to ensuring freedom of expression and protection of journalists, as well as our long‑standing opposition to the death penalty. Allen and then… sorry?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The former Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the UN, Volodymyr Yelchenko, in his recent interview, claimed that about two or 300 Russian citizens or Russian nationals… nationals are working for the Secretariat of the UN and are secretly affecting on the work of Secretariat. And he also said that half of them is a… servicemen of Russian federal security service. Can you comment on that somehow?
Spokesman: Look, I haven't seen the interview. I would say a couple of things in principle. One is that any civil servant, anyone who works for the United Nations takes an oath to respect article 100 of the Charter, and we take that very seriously. Second of all, in terms of numbers, the breakdown by nationality of staff in the Secretariat is a matter of public record. Señor?
Question: Yes, just a quick follow‑up on Khashoggi. So far, the S‑G (Secretary‑General) has not been approached by any Member State asking or requesting officially the opening of…?
Spokesman: We have not received an official request for an investigation and so, I will leave it at that. Carla.
Question: Thank you. You had mentioned that it was available online, the Secretary‑General's comments warning about the potential dangers of sanctions to humanitarian condition of people who are sanctioned. How… I have searched. I haven't been able to find it. Could you…
Spokesman: Yes, ma'am. It was a… remarks that he delivered to the Security Council. It was an open debate on the impact of sanctions.
Question: When was it?
Spokesman: At some point in the last 18 months, but we can try to figure it out.
Question: So, I send you an email or…?
Spokesman: Yeah, come to the office. We'll try to find the right remarks. Okay. Hasta mañana.