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

18 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Good afternoon, everyone.  The Secretary-General is wrapping up his three-day visit to Pakistan just now, after a day in which he visited the Kartarpur Corridor, which allows Sikhs to travel between nearby holy sites on either side of the India-Pakistan border.

The Secretary-General visited a gurdwara, or Sikh Temple, in the Pakistani town of Kartarpur and said he was honoured to visit the Kartarpur Corridor between the countries, which he called “a corridor of hope”.

He told press after his visit, “When we see so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion, it’s necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine.”

Earlier, the Secretary-General met with polio workers as he visited a kindergarten school in Lahore during the first nationwide polio campaign of the year.  He gave three students the polio vaccine.  He said he appealed to all leaders, including religious and community leaders, to fully support the Government of Pakistan, and other governments around the world, to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.

He tweeted, “Important gains have been made, but we need a concerted push to eradicate this awful disease.”

The Secretary-General spoke at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, LUMS, this morning, saying that, as we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, he wants to reach out and hear from youth.  He said that with the UN’s seventy-fifth anniversary, we want to make the voices of young people count in the ways that policies are defined and actions are implemented, and he listened to the students gathered at the University.

We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York tomorrow afternoon.

**Afghanistan

In a statement yesterday, we said that the Secretary-General had been following closely the talks between the United States and the Taliban about a significant reduction of violence in Afghanistan aimed at opening the way for intra-Afghan peace negotiations.

During his visit to Islamabad, he expressed his sincere wishes that such talks are successful and lead to an Afghan-led peace process.  He reiterated the United Nations’ readiness to provide any assistance that the parties may require.

**Yemen

Martin Griffiths, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, today told the Security Council that we are witnessing in Yemen what we have long feared.  During the past month, he said, the military situation has grown increasingly dire, and both sides have announced expansive military goals and exchanged fierce rhetoric.

The Special Envoy said that the leaderships of both parties have the ability and responsibility to rein in the violence, scale down the rhetoric and commit to a more sustainable de-escalation.  Prior to the recent increase in violence, he noted, the parties had considerably reduced the number of air strikes and cross-border aerial attacks.  This de-escalation had a strong, positive impact on the prospect of peace, and can do so again if the parties are committed, Mr. Griffiths said.

The Special Envoy added that he is concerned that the escalations may also threaten the progress made in Hudaydah, where the situation is vulnerable to an increase in violence.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock also briefed the Council on Yemen and said that hostilities have escalated significantly along several fronts, most notably in the governorates of Marib, Al Jawf and Sana’a.  Fighting in these areas has displaced more than 35,000 people since mid-January, he said.

Mr. Lowcock said that access is essential if we are to continue saving millions of lives across Yemen.  Yet the space we need to do this work has been narrowing from all directions.  He said that we are now entering the sixth year of this war, and enough is enough.

**Syria

The United Nations remains alarmed about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib and surrounding areas in Syria, as reports of incessant air strikes and shelling continue to exact a heavy toll on the civilian population.

Yesterday, seven communities in Idlib and four communities in Aleppo governorates were reportedly struck by artillery shelling, while air strikes affected 12 communities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also verified appalling incidents where camps for displaced persons — the very places where families have fled to seek safety — have been affected by bombardments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that since 1 December, dozens of health facilities have suspended services in the Idlib and Aleppo areas.  Out of nearly 550 health facilities in north-west Syria, only about half are operational.

We continue to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities.  We further urge all parties, and those with influence, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to ensure safe and sustained humanitarian access to people affected by the crisis.

**Libya

The parties to the Libyan Joint Military Commission, or the 5+5 talks, have resumed their discussions in Geneva today.

Ghassan Salamé, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, told the press in Geneva that, despite the continued violations of the fragile truce, the last of which was an attack today on Tripoli’s seaport, none of the parties to the Libyan Joint Military Commission has reneged on the principle of accepting the truce.

Mr. Salamé hopes that this round of talks succeeds in reaching a consensus about what a lasting ceasefire could look like in Libya.

Mr. Salamé also said that it would be difficult to move forward with the three tracks of the peace process if the violations of the truce continued; he noted that we have registered 150 violations until now.

**Central African Republic

Today, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is continuing its operations to protect the population and secure the town of Birao, in the country’s north-east.

On Sunday, there was violent fighting in Birao.  UN Peacekeepers and members of the Central African Army worked together to repel heavily armed fighters from the FPRC (Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic) armed group, who were threatening the army base, the UN base and a site hosting people displaced by a previous wave of violence in Birao.

The UN Mission strongly condemns this offensive against the town, which constitutes a serious violation of the Peace Agreement, to which this armed group is a signatory.

MINUSCA also denounces threats by the FPRC leadership against the UN Mission and condemns the armed group’s attempts to exploit civilian populations, including the use of women and children as human shields both in Ndélé and Birao.

**Cameroon

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern over reports about the killing of civilians, including children, last Friday, in an attack on the village of Ngarbuh in the North-West Region of Cameroon.  He extended his deepest condolences to the families and called on the Government of Cameroon to conduct an investigation and to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.

The Secretary-General also called on armed actors to refrain from attacks against civilians and to respect international humanitarian and international human rights law.

On Sunday, a humanitarian mission was dispatched to assess the needs of the displaced.  Because of security concerns, the mission did not reach the village, but staff were able to speak to the displaced and survivors about 2 kilometres away.

According to reports from trusted sources to the UN in Cameroon, armed men reportedly killed over 20 civilians, including children, in the village of Ngarbuh.  At least nine houses were burned and an estimated 600 to 700 people were displaced.

For 2020, over $317 million is required to meet the humanitarian needs in Cameroon.  Donors are urged to continue and increase their support.

**Burkina Faso

In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack, on Sunday, that reportedly targeted churchgoers in Pansi, in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of those killed and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.  He stresses that the perpetrators of this horrendous crime, and the series of others that have preceded it, must be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support Burkina Faso in the fight against violent extremism and the achievement of sustainable peace and development.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, the UN has strongly condemned the brutal killing of an aid worker in Pibor County, Jonglei.

On 12 February, a humanitarian vehicle was stopped along the Pibor-Gumuruk road at a roadblock manned by an armed youth, who captured two of the four aid workers in the vehicle.  One was shot, a South Sudanese national, and the other released.

At least 116 aid workers have been killed since the start of the conflict in December 2013, and most have been South Sudanese nationals.

**Niger

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today said it is deeply saddened by reports of the deaths of at least 20 people, among them women and infants, during a stampede for food and cash in Niger’s Diffa region on Sunday.

It is feared that the number of victims could rise as more information on the casualties is received from hospitals and health centres in Diffa.

The assistance was being distributed independently to Nigerian refugees hosted in the area by visiting authorities from Nigeria.

In a statement, UNHCR’s representative in Niger said they “appreciate all efforts by individuals trying to help refugees, but strongly appeal for these efforts to be coordinated with local authorities in Niger, as well as with humanitarian actors”.

UNHCR, which was not involved in Sunday’s distribution, has been providing protection services and assistance to refugees and those internally displaced in south-east Niger and has an aid distribution mechanism in place to ensure this can be done in a safe and effective manner.

**Press Briefing

Following my briefing, Reem Abaza, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be here to brief you.  Is there anything for me before we get to Reem?  Yes, Maria?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today’s Security Council will discuss the situation in Ukraine and the implementation of Minsk Agreements, as last week marked fifth anniversary of this document.  Do you have any comments from Secretary‑General on the fifth anniversary?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, our basic stance on this, as you know, is that we want all parties to abide by the Minsk Agreements.  And, of course, we hope that the parties will continue to do their utmost to de‑escalate the situation along their areas.

Question:  Sorry, I forgot to ask, who will brief Security Council today?

Deputy Spokesman:  What did you say?

Question:  Who will brief Security Council?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe there will be a briefing from the Department of Political Affairs.  We’ll give you those details this afternoon as that proceeds.

Question:  Rosemary?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to see… we’ll check with our colleagues in Political Affairs.  Yes, Ibtisam?

Question:  On the 5+5 meetings, do… are they… are you… are they going to take place only for one day or longer?  And did the format change?  Are you still with the same format where you have to… the… each of the group in different rooms and Mr. Salamé is going back and forth between them?

Deputy Spokesman:  Mr. Salamé spoke to the press and didn’t have any particular changes to report at this time.  If that happens… if there are any variations in how he goes about the process of bringing the parties together, he will keep people informed at that point.

As for the duration of the talks, they have begun.  They’re under way, and we’ll see how far we can go with them.

And with that, come on up, Reem.

For information media. Not an official record.