14 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.

Thank you, and happy Valentine’s Day.  What better place to spend Valentine’s Day than in this very room.  Right?

**Secretary-General in Pakistan

I just wanted to remind you that next week, starting this weekend, the Secretary-General will be in Pakistan.  He will be arriving on Sunday in Islamabad, and will hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Hussain Qureshi and he will also speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change.  That is all on Sunday.

On Monday, the Secretary-General will speak at  the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. That event is being organized by the Government of Pakistan as well as UNHCR.  The Secretary-General, along with the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the Foreign Minister, will also hold a press event.

He will also meet with the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, on Monday.

And on Tuesday, he will be in Lahore, where he will meet with students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign. [He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit a holy site, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib.]

The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Wednesday.

**Deputy Secretary-General Travel

Meanwhile, The Deputy Secretary-General will be in London from the 15th to the 17th of February 2020, to meet with the UK leadership team preparing the UN Climate Change Conference, the COP 26, which is scheduled for late November in Glasgow.

On the 17th, she will travel to Brussels, to meet with the newly appointed EU [European Union] leadership, also on Climate and International Partnership.

And she will be back in New York on 19th.


Turning to Syria, Overnight hostilities have continued across most of Idleb and Aleppo, especially in Idleb City, Sarmin and Atareb.  Over 830,000 people have now been displaced since the beginning of December, and that includes 143,000 displacements of people in the last three days.

Women and children are among those that are suffering the most — they make up about 81 per cent of the recently displaced people. 

Temperatures across north-west Syria have been below freezing for several days, leaving families exposed to increasingly harsh conditions.

Humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially.  The ongoing emergency compounds the already dire humanitarian situation for people in the north-west, who have been made vulnerable by years of crisis, violence, economic downturn and, of course, multiple displacements.

Shelter is the most urgent need, as millions of people have been pushed into small areas not equipped to support so many people, especially during the cold winter.

As of Tuesday of this week, 72 health facilities have reportedly suspended operations in the impacted areas of Idleb and Aleppo.  And that’s due to insecurity, the movement of civilians and other operational requirements.  Those 72 facilities had the capacity to assist, on average, 106,000 outpatient cases per month.

We continue to scale up the response, along with our humanitarian partners, to support all people in need, including in the provision of emergency food assistance, medical support and temporary shelter.  The growing needs on the ground, however, continue to exceed the capacity of our humanitarian partners to deliver.

**Syria — World Food Programme

Also, just a note from the World Food Programme in Syria.  They say they, of course, are continuing to provide emergency food assistance to people in the north-west, but escalating hostilities this week have caused a 24-hour break in distributions.  Fighting disrupted the movement of trucks carrying supplies into the region from Turkey.

WFP has prepositioned food inside the area to support growing needs.  In December, they had launched an immediate response operation to provide food to all those displaced.  Since January, they managed to provide ready-to-eat food rations to more than 300,000 displaced people.  This food can be eaten without cooking and is light to carry, so it supports families as they move from towns to camps in search of safety and shelter.

In addition, WFP partners have distributed monthly food assistance to nearly 900,000 people.

**Central African Republic

And, in the Central African Republic, fighting has broken out again yesterday, about fifteen kilometres outside of Birao, in the country’s north-east.

In a joint statement, the African Union, the Economic Community of Central African States and the UN Mission in the country have condemned the violence and remind the armed groups involved that this is a flagrant violation of the Peace Agreement, to which they are signatories.

They call on the armed groups to immediately abandon their attempts to attack the city of Birao and to avoid any act that could lead to an unjustified escalation.

The head of the Mission, Mankeur Ndiaye, asked the armed groups involved in the violence to immediately begin negotiations for a ceasefire.

**Mali Attack

And turning to Mali. As a reminder that the situation in Mali remains volatile.

The UN mission reports that this morning, the village of Ogossagou, in the Mopti region, the village was attacked, claiming the lives of many villagers and leaving several wounded.  Houses were also reportedly burned.

The UN Mission has deployed a rapid reaction force to the scene and provided air support to prevent further attacks and to evacuate the wounded.

The Head of the Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, strongly condemned the attack and noted the urgent need to break the spiral of violence in the region.

He also reiterated the UN readiness to support the Malian Government in its investigation and to appease the situation.


And we have been keeping you updated on the locust situation.  And today, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that Kenya is currently experiencing its worst desert locust infestation in 70 years.  It is also the worst than Somalia and Ethiopia have experienced in 25 years.  Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda and Tanzania are also experiencing swarm activity and locust breeding, while the risk of spread to South Sudan is high.

Left unchecked, and with expected additional rains, the scale of the locust upsurge could grow 500 times by June.  This would have a devastating impact on food security and livelihoods in the affected countries with knock-on effects on health, nutrition, education and protection.

Humanitarian needs are also high in the affected and high-risk countries, with millions of people already severely food insecure.

As a result, more funding is urgently needed so that control operations can be massively scaled up.

So far, only $20 million of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s appeal for $76 million has been pledged.

The speed of the locust spread and the size of the infestations are beyond the norm and have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit.  The window to contain the crisis is closing.  We only have until March to bring this infestation under control — and that is when the rain and planting season begins.

Taking swift action now will cost the international community far less than waiting to respond to a complex, expensive crisis in several months’ time.

**Security Council — Guinea-Bissau

And here at the Security Council, Rosine Sori-Coulibaly, the head of the UN mission in Guinea-Bissau, said that ahead of the reconfiguration of the UN presence in the country, with the Mission working towards its exit at the end of the year, we have a collective responsibility to safeguard the democratic and peacebuilding dividends.

Guinea-Bissau needs to remain high on the agenda of the regional and international community — including the peacebuilding commission.

Turning to the current developments in the country, Ms. Sori-Coulibaly said that despite the challenges to the outcome of the presidential election, Guinea-Bissau should be commended for completing its electoral cycle within the legally-mandated timeline.

She added that with political will and commitment, the upcoming post-electoral period could present a window of opportunity for sustainable peace and stability, national cohesion and reconciliation.

**Noon Briefing Guest on Monday

Just to note that on Monday, our guest will be Yacoub El Hillo, the Deputy Special Representative for Libya.  He is also the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya.  He will brief you on the situation in Libya, on the humanitarian situation, and that will be by video link.

**IPU Annual Parliamentary Hearing

And also, next week, on the 17th and 18th, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the UN will bring together close to 200 parliamentarians from over 60 countries, as well as diplomats, representatives from civil society and experts, for the IPU Annual Parliamentary Hearing in New York.

This year, the hearing will focus on SDG 4.

**Press Events Today

And of course, following my performance, Reem will be here to brief you on the work of the President of the General Assembly.

And we expect the European Union Members of the Security Council to brief you on the situation in Syria, at the Security Council Stakeout.  And we will keep you updated as to exactly when that happens.

**Questions and Answers


Question:  Steph, I will reiterate what I asked a few days ago. With this basically exponential escalation of fighting and violence in Idlib, has the Secretary‑General made an attempt to speak to President Putin in Russia and President Assad in Syria about the dire consequences to civilians?

Spokesman:  The… as I've said, con… I'm not aware of any direct calls. Contacts have been had at various levels.  Mr. Pedersen is or will be arriving at the Munich Security Conference where in his… his contacts, he will continue to appeal for an end of hostilities and for de‑escalation and for an urgent need for a sustained ceasefire so the humanitarians can have the access they need.


Question:  Stéphane, I have two questions, the first regarding also the cross‑border aid delivery.  Do you have more details about it and how many people you are reaching?

Spokesman:  I don't have an update from what, I think, I shared earlier…

Question:  Earlier.

Spokesman:  …this week in terms of the cross‑border numbers, but we can see what we can get for you.

Question:  And, on Idlib, you said Wednesday that… not on Idlib.  On Libya, you said Wednesday that you don't have all… there are some UN flights that were not allowed.  Yesterday, you said others were allowed.  Some flights were allowed to land in Libya.  What's the update?

Spokesman:  No, I think where… from what I gather, we're continuing to get some clearances for some flights to various points, but this is being done now on a case… you know, we're looking at it on a case‑by‑case basis.

Question:  Does that mean that there are still some flights that…

Spokesman:  I think… I don't think everything has been resolved, from what I understand.


Question:  Steph, a question about apartheid.  South Africa's last pre‑democracy President, F.W. de Klerk, recently, in an interview with SABC, questioned whether apartheid was, in fact, a crime against humanity.  He said he did not believe that to be the case.  Of course, it's created a political stir in the country.  Could you provide some clarification on the UN position?

Spokesman:  Look, I think… I haven't seen the exchange that you mention, but I think it is… the UN's role in the dismantlement of that hateful system of legalized racism, legalized discrimination, I think is one of the things this organization can be proudest of . From Security Council resolutions, imposing arms embargo, to the creation of a special committee on apartheid to the General Assembly's decision to suspend South Africa's membership are all actions that helped to end that system, and I think it's something this organization's been very clear of and remains very proud of.


Question:  Hi there.  A quick thing.  Thanks so much for organizing the Libya briefing on Monday.  That will be really useful for us.  And question, you mentioned Afghanistan, a Secretary‑General trip to Pakistan dealing with Afghanistan issues.  This is happening at the same time as Trump and Pompeo are talking about being very close to a peace deal with the Taliban.  Is the SG going to be involved or speaking anything to do with that process?

Spokesman:  We're, obviously, following… well, I… there is… the Secretary‑General is not going to go to Afghanistan.  The trip is focused on Pakistan, on, I think, recognizing the tremendous generosity of the people and Government of Pakistan over the last 40 years in hosting Afghan refugees.

We're, obviously, following very closely what has been going on in these talks.  There's been… we have been kept up to date.  Our office in Kabul has been kept up to date.

You know, if this were to succeed, it would, obviously, be a notable step in bringing peace to the country, and the dialogue's a vital pa… is vital to paving forward the constructive intra‑Afghan negotiations on peace.

I think it's very important to find ways to reduce the levels of violence in Afghanistan, especially the violence that is harming civilians as… in Afghanistan, as so many other places, the civilians are really people who bear the brunt of it.  And we, obviously, remain committed to supporting an Afghan‑led peace process that is inclusive with the meaningful participation of women and youth, and I think — and this also bears underscoring — that upholds the human rights of all citizens, including the gains made in regards to women's rights and freedoms and leads to sustainable peace in Afghanistan.


Question:  Thank you. On Idlib, Turkish President Erdoğan threatened to use force against Russian aircrafts in Idlib.  Do you have any particular comments on this and then you call for restraint?

Spokesman:  Our… thank you for answering my question.  You've been… you've now reached that seniority level where you know how to answer the question you ask.

You know, our message is clear and is one of pushing for de‑escalation and looking for ways not to increase the violence, not to increase the fighting, but to lead to a ceasefire that can be sustained so we can get the humanitarian aid in that we need and that the people of Syria need.


Question:  Thanks, Steph.  A follow‑up on the SG's visit to Pakistan.  Does he have any plans to visit the disputed region Kashmir between India and Pakistan?

Spokesman:  He does not.


Question:  Yeah, thanks again.  Earlier this week, the Security Council passed the resolution on Libya.  In it there's an instruction on the Secretary‑General for devising the terms of reference for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism.  Can you just talk us through what is the process for that?  Is it the kind of thing where he's going to be appointing somebody specifically?  Is it an appointment we'll get an email about?  Whose responsibility is devising this mechanism?  Is it UNSMIL, or is it peacekeeping and it's going to be done here?  And will there be a document, a report about it, and do we have a date on that?

Spokesman:  We're in the habit of following the instructions given to us by the Security Council.  They asked the Secretary‑General to report.  He will, obviously, task it within the Secretariat.  A report will be produced and shared with the Security Council in his name.  But I'm not expecting… I may be wrong, but I'm not expecting the appointment of a… an individual who will be producing it.  This will be done in the Secretary‑General's name.

Question:  Rough date?

Spokesman:  Whatever the Council wants is the rough date.

On that note, Reem, all yours. Enjoy the weekend.  Eri will be here on Monday, and I will be back on Tuesday.

For information media. Not an official record.