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12 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council today marked the International Day against the use of child soldiers with a briefing [attended] by the King and Queen of the Belgians, which also marked the launch of the Practical Guidance for mediators to protect children in situations of armed conflict.  Speaking at the session, the Secretary‑General said this new guidance is the next step in the UN’s strategy to put children at the heart of protection, peacebuilding and prevention efforts.  The Guidance is based on principles that put children first and recognizes that the needs and rights of boys and girls must be considered during all phases of conflict.  But, it is our fundamental duty as leaders to do everything in our power to protect children from the chaos and madness of wars that have nothing to do with them, the Secretary-General said.  [The Secretary-General] urged all Member States to take concrete actions to prioritize the protection of children affected by conflict at the national and regional and global level.  The members of the Security Council also welcomed the new Guidance in a presidential statement.

And at 3 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber, there will be a high‑level event to launch the Guidance that will include the participation of a former child soldier, who will share his experience from the Colombian peace process.

**Yemen

Just wanted to say that we have been getting a number of questions in recent days about our humanitarian aid to Yemen, and I just wanted to make the following thing very clear:  The Secretary General is following the humanitarian situation in Yemen closely.  He reiterates the importance of sustaining the humanitarian operation, which is being implemented in challenging conditions, but is providing life-saving assistance to millions of Yemenis.  The Secretary-General supports continuing dialogue with all the interested parties to ensure that help reaches all those who need it, in accordance with humanitarian principles.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, ongoing hostilities in Idlib and Aleppo continue to pose grave risks to civilians in Syria; that’s according to our humanitarian colleagues.  Between 1 and 10 February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded incidents in which at least 85 civilians, including 20 women and 27 children, were killed.  Most of these casualties were in the Idlib… “de-escalation area”.  In January, the OHCHR recorded incidents in which at least 191 civilians, including 33 women and 67 children, were killed.  Reports indicate that some 1,710 civilians, including 337 women and 503 children, in north-west Syria have been killed since the escalation began in April 2019.

**Libya

The UN in Libya regrets that its regular flights, which transport its staff to and from Libya, have not been granted permission by the Libyan National Army to land in Libya.  This practice has been repeated on several occasions in the past weeks.  The UN is very concerned that preventing its flights from traveling in and out of Libya will severely hinder our humanitarian and good offices efforts at a time when all the staff are working relentlessly to push forward the ongoing three-track intra-Libyan dialogue and to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable conflict-affected civilians.

**Terrorist Fighters

In Vienna today, a two-day high-level regional conference on challenges posed by foreign terrorist fighters finished today.  The conference was organized by the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) and Switzerland, gathered more than 400 participants from over 70 countries.  The event aimed to address the challenges posed by foreign terrorist fighters, such as their expected return from Iraq and Syria, as well as the repatriation of women and children associated with them.  The Under‑Secretary‑General for Counter-Terrorism, Vladimir Voronkov, reiterated that “the international community must reaffirm and be guided by the principles of individual criminal responsibility, presumption of innocence, right to appeal, and the internationally recognized standards of justice”.  This event was part of a series of regional conferences that will feed into the second UN High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States, scheduled to take place in this very city in July.

**United Nations Development Programme

Tomorrow, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is launching “Mission 1.5”, a major climate change engagement campaign that will connect global citizens with their Governments and policymakers on climate action.  The campaign is built around an online video game that educates people about climate policy and provides a platform for them to vote on the solutions they want to see happen.  The votes will then be compiled and delivered to government leaders, with the aim of helping climate policymakers gain confidence to take the ambitious action necessary to tackle the climate crisis.  The game will be live as of tomorrow in all UN languages at www.Mission1Point5.org.  Did you get that?  More information online from our colleagues at UNDP.

**Humanitarian Campaign

You know what Friday is?  There you go.  And on this Valentine’s Day, the UN will launch “What It Takes”, a global campaign recognizing the generosity, hard work, heart and hope that goes into humanitarian responses — from the donors who contribute essential funding to the women and men who put themselves on the front lines to deliver aid.  This year, 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance.  That’s 1 in every 45 people worldwide.  “The outlook for 2020 is bleak,” said Mark Lowcock, the head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  But, there is every reason to be hopeful, he added.  The humanitarian system is more effective today than it has ever been.  Last year saw record levels of humanitarian funding, enabling medicine, food and shelter to reach the majority of those in need.  But, needs are growing faster than funding.  The campaign will encourage continued contributions and support to allow the UN and the organizations it works with to keep delivering lifesaving aid to women, men and children in desperate need.

**Honour Roll

Finally, we say thank you to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lithuania for paying their dues in full.  And Erol is not even here.  All right.  Mr. Avni.  Why not?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  I'll start.  So, this is about logistics.  I understand that the Secretary‑General sometimes have issues with travel, but we plebeians, we use companies like Expedia and TripAdvisor and Airbnb for booking our trips.  Does he recommend we stop?

Spokesman:  I think I know where you're going with this question, Benny.  The list you may be referring to was issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights following a mandate given to her and her predecessor by the Human Rights Council.  I think any questions having to do with that list should be referred to them.

Question:  So, can we continue, as far as the Secretary‑General, despite that list…?

Spokesman:  I think any questions regarding that list should be referred to her.

Question:  Follow‑up?  The Israeli Government called the publishing of the list shameful.  Do you have any reaction to that?

Spokesman:  Again, this was a list… this was a project mandated by the Member States of the Human Rights Council to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and she was implementing that mandate.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to comment further.

Question:  And Stéphane, on Syria, the Kurdish‑led Syrian Democratic Forces announced they will start, with the help of Finland and some European countries, the process of trial of ISIS terrorist fighters… the foreign fighters.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comments about this?

Spokesman:  I haven't seen that report.  I will look into it, but it's clear for us that any judicial proceedings should be done in full compliance with international standards.  Yes, Maggie?

Question:  Steph, on this Libya business with the UN flights not being allowed to land, is there any action or recourse the UN is trying to take?  Are you going to the Security Council to inform them of it?

Spokesman:  I mean, we're… you know, we're pushing with our Libyan counterparts.  We're not going to put people's lives at risk and land without permission, obviously, but this is… as I said, this has been a recurring issue which is hampering our ability to do our work at a critical time.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There are indications that there is significant progress in the US‑Taliban talks regarding reduction in violence in Afghanistan.  Does the Secretary‑General have any encouraging words?

Spokesman:  Well, we… you know, as a matter of principle, in any case, we would encourage all the parties involved to try to resolve their differences in a way that is best beneficial to the people of Afghanistan.  Sir?

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  On the stuff you said about Libya, the flights, you just said that you're not going to allow without permission.  But, these are UN planes that are landing in Tripoli, and this permission is not being granted by [Khalifa] Haftar's forces.  So, why do you need his permission to land your planes in…?

Spokesman:  I think we just want to make sure we have all the necessary clearances.

Question:  And so, basically, you got a flight coming in, and you go to all the major forces in the area, and you say, we want to land our planes.  They come back to you, and they say, it's not safe, and then you say, okay, we're not going to land our planes?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, it goes without saying that you want to make sure that all the passengers on the plane are safe.

Question:  You think they'll shoot you down?

Spokesman:  I just… I mean, there… you know, flight clearance is pretty basic.  We're not landing fighter planes.  We're landing passenger planes.  Mario?

Question:  Steph, any issues that the SG wants to raise with the Spanish Foreign Minister when they meet later today?

Spokesman:  The meeting was at the request of the Spanish Foreign Minister.  We'll see what comes up.  Edie?

Question:  Steph, going back to Idlib, the fighting attacks seem to be growing day by day.  What steps is the Secretary‑General taking to try to de‑escalate the violence?

Spokesman:  You know, messages are being passed to all the parties via various channels.  Our concern… our central concern is for the people of northern Syria and for our ability to deliver humanitarian aid to them.

Question:  Follow‑up on that?  And as you know, part of the issue these days is the tension between Turkey and Syrian Government forces.  Has the Secretary‑General been in touch with either side personally about this growing tension?

Spokesman:  As I said, contacts have been had at various levels.  Yes, Maria and then Benny.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  So, one of the Russian diplomats confirmed… suggested, I would say, that the meeting between leaders of P5, which was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, could be held in United Nations during high‑level week.  Was Secretary‑General contacted by Russians regarding the organization of such meeting?

Spokesman:  You know, I haven't asked the SG that direct question, but it is clear that we would welcome any meetings of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which we would hope would lead to increased cooperation between those five within the work of the Security Council.  Mr. Avni.

Question:  One follow‑up to my travel questions.  So… I don't know.  My memory's a bit hazy on this but… old man.  But, didn't the [General Assembly] at one point request the Secretary‑General issue a similar list of companies that do business in the… in the territories?  And if so, where is it at?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  There was a nice musical backdrop.  You may be just slightly older than me, Benny, but my memory is also as hazy.  So, we can do some research together.

Correspondent:  Let's do it.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  On that note, I wish you all an extremely pleasant day.

For information media. Not an official record.