11 February 2020

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Middle East

The Secretary-General opened today’s Security Council meeting on the Middle East, and he expressed a deep sense of concern as we witness growing tensions and instability around the globe, particularly in the Middle East.

The Secretary-General said the position of the United Nations has been defined by resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly, by which the Secretariat is bound.  He added that the UN remains committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements and realizing the vision of two States — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security with recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, also briefed the Council, adding that in the days since the proposal was unveiled, we have unfortunately witnessed some violent incidents throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in and around Gaza.

He said that further escalation or provocations should be a concerning development.  They could complicate the situation on the ground and would serve only those who seek to radicalize people and undermine efforts to achieve peace.  All must show restraint and clearly and unequivocally condemn violence wherever it occurs, the Special Coordinator said.


Since December, nearly 700,000 people have been forcibly displaced in Idlib and surrounding areas in the north-west of Syria, most of these are women and children.  This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people displaced in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago.

Most civilians attempting to get out of harm’s way are settling in already overcrowded areas near the Syria-Turkey border.  Many families are reportedly seeking shelter in makeshift camps and unfinished buildings.  The temperature in some parts of Idlib has now dipped to −11 degrees Centigrade, making living conditions for people in camps and unfinished structures even more unbearable.

Several more hospitals and health-care centres across Idlib and Aleppo governorates have reportedly shut, suspended or reduced operations due to hostilities.

Schools in Idlib and the countryside have also reportedly been closed, until further notice, and that’s impacting 160,000 students in 278 schools.

A massive humanitarian operation is under way and this month alone, more than 230 trucks carrying life-saving assistance have been sent into north-west Syria through the Bab al-Hawa and the Bab al-Salam border crossings as authorized by the Security Council.  The trucks have carried food, shelter material, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as nutrition assistance for over 440,000 people in urgent need.  This is in addition to the 1,227 trucks sent across the border in January.


Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said that clashes that hit and badly damaged two hospitals in Marib on 7 February were a completely unacceptable breach of international humanitarian law.  She said it was terrible that facilities upon which thousands of people depend to survive have been badly damaged.

Ms. Grande said the health sector has been hit very hard during the war.  Preventing further damage and helping to rebuild it are some of our highest priorities.


Turning to Libya, in Cairo on 9 and 10 February, 28 Libyan economic experts gathered for the second round of talks under the Libyan Economic and Financial Track, one of the three intra-Libyan tracks that the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is organizing — along with the military and political.

Representatives from across the Libyan political and geographical spectrum participated in the meeting, in addition to representatives of the main Libyan financial and economic institutions, as well as sector specialists and academic experts.  Participants agreed on the Terms of Reference for the Libyan Expert Economic Commission, as well as its mechanisms.

They also agreed that Libya’s prolonged institutional fragmentation and divergent policies were negatively impacting the economy, particularly the banking sector.  Given the country’s worsening economic crisis, including the latest halt in oil production, the participants concluded that the Commission was needed to work on issues of immediate concern until a unified government is established.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will visit Abyei from 12 to 13 February, as part of his regular visits to field missions to assess the situation on the ground.

During his visit, Mr. Lacroix will meet with the peacekeeping mission’s leadership and the UN personnel in Abyei.  He will also interact with community leaders on peace restoration efforts.

Mr. Lacroix will then be in Khartoum on 13 February, where he will hold meetings with Sudanese officials to discuss the situation in Abyei, the transition from peacekeeping in Darfur, and efforts to support the Sudanese transition.

On his way back to New York, he will visit Germany from 14 to 16 February to participate in the Munich Security Conference.  He will then hold meetings with key stakeholders to discuss UN peacekeeping operations, challenges and opportunities.


Turning to the coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the launch of a UN Crisis Management Team, which will help WHO focus on the health response while UN agencies will bring their expertise on the wider social, economic and developmental implications of the outbreak.  The team met for the first time this morning.

Also, WHO announced that there is now a new name for the coronavirus disease.  It’s COVID-19, C-O-V-I-D hyphen 19.  Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the name does not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group.  WHO stressed that having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing.

WHO says it’s continuing its response work by sending supplies to countries to diagnose and treat patients, advising countries on how to prevent the spread of the disease and care for those who are sick, training thousands of health workers and keeping the public informed on how to protect their health.  Today and tomorrow, WHO is hosting a meeting of more than 400 scientists from around the world, both in person and virtually.


During the press conference in Geneva, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus] also provided an update on the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

As you will remember, we have already reported a decrease in new cases, and today, WHO said it is encouraged by the current trend.  There have only been three cases in the past week, and no cases in the past three days.

However, to end the outbreak, there needs to be no cases for 42 days.

WHO and its partners are still in full response mode.  As an example, Dr. Tedros said that yesterday alone, 5,400 alerts were investigated, almost 300 samples were analysed, and more than 700 people were vaccinated and almost 2,000 contacts were followed up.

Tomorrow, the Emergency Committee will assess whether the Ebola outbreak in DRC is still a public health emergency of international concern.

On Thursday, the head of WHO will travel to Kinshasa for meetings with the President and ministers to look beyond Ebola, and devise ways to strengthen the country’s health system.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

And a note on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that they’re seeking $107 million to support life-saving humanitarian operations.

There are acute food, nutrition, health, water and sanitation needs, but funding levels for humanitarian operations there remain historically low.

Last year, the humanitarian appeal was only 27 per cent funded, at $32 million.  As a result, only 2.5 million of the 3.8 million people initially targeted for assistance received aid.  This year, the humanitarian assistance programmes aim to reach 5.5 million people, with a particular focus on children and mothers.

**Burkina Faso

A couple of notes on displacement.  First in Burkina Faso, where the displacement crisis is continuing.  It is now projected that over 1 million people will be displaced by the middle of the year.

Currently 600,000 people have been forced out of their homes, 10 times more than a year ago.

The humanitarian community has expanded its operations in the country, and the Resident Coordinator was named as the Humanitarian Coordinator.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today they are concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Beni.  Over the past two months, more than a hundred thousand people have been forced out of their homes due to violence, most of them women and children.

A majority of the people displaced are now being sheltered by local host communities.  UNHCR is distributing tarpaulins to help 3,000 families and is working to help improve the safety of those displaced.

UNHCR is calling for $150 million to respond to the needs of these families but has only so far received 4 per cent of that amount funded.  The displacement in the DRC is Africa’s largest number of internal displacement.

**Girls’ Education

At 3 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, the Secretary-General will participate in the “Drive for Five:  A Call to Action for the Education of Adolescent Girls.”  Also present will be Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, and Bono, who is, as you know, a musician and activist.

The Secretary-General will stress the need to overturn deeply rooted stereotypes and social norms that see women and girls as less deserving of an education and will call for investments to help women and girls build new skills so that they are equipped for the changing world of work.  You are welcome to attend or watch the event.

**Women and Girls in Science

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  In his message, the Secretary-General said science is being held back by a gender gap and added that we need to dismantle gender stereotypes and support careers of women scientists and researchers.

At present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women.  According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education and globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in ICT (information and communication technology), mathematics and statistics and in engineering, manufacturing and construction.

At 2 p.m., there will be a briefing here organized by the Permanent Mission of Portugal to the United Nations to talk about the Day.  Participants will include the Permanent Representative of Montenegro, along with Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, Executive Director of The Royal Academy of Science International Trust, and Dr. Amal Qattan, the editor from Saudi Arabia.

**Questions and Answers

Voilà.  Sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  We just had the Palestinian President, [Mahmoud] Abbas, in the Security Council.  One of the things he said is… he was calling for an expansion of the Middle East Quartet.  He says it can take on board other countries, and that can be the mechanism for future talks.  It’s a fact‑check.  Is he right about that?  Can the Quartet be expanded with other country members?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the Quartet represents four entities.  That would be a discussion that will be had… have to be had at the Quartet level.

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, Farhan [Haq] announced the visit of Secretary‑General to Pakistan, during which he will attend an international conference and meet Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Pakistani officials.  Will there be also a discussion on the situation in Kashmir, which has been under lockdown for nearly six months, with over 8 million people without Internet facilities and under curfew?

Spokesman:  Well, I have no doubt that the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister will discuss a host of issues.  What issues are raised obviously also depends on what issues the Prime Minister brings up.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.