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

20 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.

**Central African Republic

Good afternoon.  This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Central African Republic and Head of the UN peacekeeping Mission there (MINUSCA), Mankeur Ndiaye, briefed members of the Security Council.

He stressed that this is a crucial year for the country, as its citizens will head to the polls in December, and said that the Government remains in place despite many difficulties.  There has also been a clear reduction in violence against civilians and the disarmament process continues in the west of the country.  However, he warned that armed groups continue to expand their areas of influence and he reiterated the determination of the peacekeeping Mission to fulfil its mandate and protect civilians.  Mr. Ndiaye also urged the international community to provide technical, logistical and financial support to the election process.

**Syria

Turning to Syria, we remain very alarmed about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib and its surrounding areas in north-western Syria, as reports of airstrikes and shelling continue to take a heavy toll on the civilian population.  There was no respite for families in Idlib and Aleppo in the last 24 hours.  Yesterday, at least 15 communities were reportedly hit by airstrikes, and 11 communities were reportedly struck by shelling.  Most markets have been closed and supply routes are disrupted due to the hostilities.

A massive cross-border operation in the north-west of the country is currently under way to assist civilians as needs are growing.  A total of 1,227 trucks of humanitarian assistance crossed from Turkey through Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salam cross-border checks last month, compared to 928 trucks in December.  This is the largest amount of aid the United Nations has sent across the Syrian-Turkish border in [any month] since the operation was authorized in 2014.  Nearly 900 trucks carried food assistance that will help 1.4 million people.  Other trucks carried health supplies for almost half a million people, and non-food items for more than 230,000 people.

**Peacebuilding

At 3 p.m. today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will address members of the Peacebuilding Commission to discuss the 2020 review of the UN’s peacebuilding architecture.  She is expected to stress that the review of the peacebuilding architecture is a critical opportunity as the reform of the United Nations unfolds.  Accelerating transitions out of crises is a key part of the picture, she is expected to say, and effective United Nations support for transitions is crucial.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

And tomorrow, she will head to Zimbabwe, to participate in the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.  The Deputy Secretary-General will also meet with Government officials and United Nations colleagues working in the country, as well as regional offices, with a focus on ensuring a robust collective response in Africa to support the Decade of Action for the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].  We expect the Deputy Secretary-General to be back in New York on 27 February.

**South Sudan

Turning to South Sudan, about 6.5 million people in South Sudan — that’s more than half of the country’s population — could be in acute food insecurity at the height of this hunger season, which is traditionally May to July, that’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The three agencies warned that the situation is particularly worrying in the areas hardest hit by the 2019 floods, where food security has deteriorated significantly since last June.  Hunger is projected to progressively worsen between now and July, mainly in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, with over 1.7 million people facing an emergency level of food insecurity due to the impacts of devastating floods and low level of food production.

The three agencies are helping to deliver emergency livelihood support.  This year, FAO will distribute seeds, farming tools, fishing and vegetable kits, and provide cash assistance to people most in need.  UNICEF is focusing on treating malnourished children and intensifying prevention efforts.  WFP will assist some 5 million people, providing life-saving food to the most vulnerable.  More information on each of their efforts and appeals are online.

**Resident Coordinators

We have three new colleagues to announce today.  The UN Development Coordination Office tells us that we have new Resident Coordinators in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Namibia and Tajikistan.  These appointments follow confirmations from the respective Governments.

Ingrid Macdonald of Australia will serve as the UN Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sen Pang of China will serve in Namibia and Sezin Sinanoglou of Turkey will be the new Resident Coordinator in Tajikistan.

Resident Coordinators seek to boost the development coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes, which, as you know, is fundamental to support countries in this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  We are also pleased that we continue to have full gender parity among all our Resident Coordinators, covering 162 countries and territories.  We have the full biographies in our office and on the Development Group website.

**Press Stakeout Today

Today at 12:30 p.m., at the General Assembly stakeout area, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Vadym Prystaiko, will brief you following the General Assembly debate on the situation in Ukraine.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Steph, on South Sudan, what can the Secretary‑General say?  We appear to have an agreement now between Riek Machar and Salva Kiir towards a unity Government meeting this deadline on Saturday.  But also, given that these are the two protagonists that have been a part of this Government before that has failed a number of times, you know, what’s his message?

Spokesman:  First of all, we’ve seen the reports.  We welcome the reports that both President Salva Kiir and First Vice-President and SPLM‑IO [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition] leader Riek Machar will form the transitional Government by the deadline on 22 February, and we hope that will help enable South Sudan towards a more secure and durable peace.  We’re waiting for further details, which we understand are forthcoming, including some important areas, such as the four vice-presidents, the cabinet, the governor appointments of the 10 states and the 3 administrative areas, and we do expect a road map for the next few weeks is also ahead.

I think the Secretary‑General’s message to the leaders of South Sudan is the one… I think, he clearly delivered during his recent meetings in the African Union, is one to listen to their people, to put the needs of the people first.  The people of South Sudan have suffered for a long time.  I mean, even just today, we were highlighting the difficult conditions due to drought and due to floods.  You add on that the years of conflict, which has impacted their ability to produce food; the sexual violence that we’ve seen; the attacks against civilians.  So, we obviously welcome this announcement today, the report of this announcement, and we look forward to these two leaders working together for a durable peace in South Sudan.

Question:  Have you seen the Human Rights Council’s report on human rights that was released earlier today?  Talks about pillaging of funds, endemic corruption, systematic starvation of civilians along ethnic and political lines.  I mean, this is quite an indictment, given…

Spokesman:  These are, obviously, very troubling information that’s come out in the report.  We ourselves and the Mission has, over the past years, routinely also reported on systematic human rights abuses, which the leaders will have to address and will have to do right.  Yes, Mike?

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General taken note of plans for the further development of Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem?

Spokesman:  We’ve seen these reports.  We’ve seen these reports before.  Our position on… against these illegal settlements remains unchanged.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I’ll use my own accent, thank you.

Spokesman:  Is there difference?

Question:  Just following on from what you said about Syria and what’s happening in Idlib, what conversations has the Secretary‑General had with anyone from… and with whom from Russia and Turkey about this in sort of the past 24 hours, two days, whatever?

Spokesman:  I think Mr. [Geir] Pedersen, clearly, yesterday, outlined the contacts that he’s had.  He represents the Secretary‑General.  He’s passed on the messages to all the parties involved for the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for a de-escalation and for us… in order for us to be able to get the aid that we need to the people that need it and, obviously, a recommitment to the political process.  Yes, sir, and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Good afternoon, Steph.  I have two questions.  The first one is going to be on the West Africa Sahel, and the second one is going to be on Ralph Bunche.  Sahel had more violence; 24 people killed over the weekend, particularly heinous, church — including a pastor.  Is the Secretary‑General going to do anything to address the root causes of this, like meeting with the political leaders?  Because the UN envoy said this is unprecedented violence.  You would think that it would require an unprecedented response from the Secretary‑General.

Spokesman:  This is an issue that the Secretary‑General has put front and centre, especially recently during his trip to Addis Ababa during… for the African Union, where he underscored the need to not only address the security situation in the Sahel, but all the underlying causes, right, that have helped develop this security… that have led to the situation we’re in.  Part of it is the issue of development, the lack of development, the lack of development investment, the issue of climate change.  So, this is something that we are dealing with… and the Secretary‑General’s staff… both on the security level and on the development level, is very, very much at the forefront of the Secretary‑General’s thinking.  And your second question?

Question:  Second question [inaudible].  This is a fairly easy one.  It’s regarding Ralph Bunche.  It’s a general observation.  He, for those that don’t know, was an African‑American.  He was the first African‑American to win a Nobel Peace Prize, in 1950, for negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt.  My question is, is he going to be honoured at some point with the UN?  Because I haven’t seen anything, like, any pictures of him.  Is there going to be like a special observation for this great man of peace anytime soon?  Just a question.

Spokesman:  I mean, I’ll have to check if there’s anything specific coming up, but Ralph Bunche is someone that we constantly honour in our work, notably on our work on peacebuilding, on preventive diplomacy.  He is someone that is recalled very often in statements and publications that we make, and he’s been gone for a long time, but his presence is still very strongly felt in this building.  Sorry. Iftikhar and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  The Secretary‑General’s participation in the international conference on refugees in Islamabad put the focus on the lingering problem of Afghan refugees, now in its 48th year.  Most speakers called for were appointed to the falling levels of assistance for the upkeep of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan.  Does the UN has any plan to call for international assistance…?

Spokesman:  Part of the reason for the Secretary‑General’s visit was to bring attention to the plight of the Afghan refugees.  I think he honoured the generosity of the people and Government of Pakistan over these decades who have welcomed these Afghan refugees, but this is not solely Pakistan’s responsibility.  The international community needs to help.  It needs to support the efforts to support these refugees, as we need to help to find help for refugees throughout the world.  The best way to help the Afghan refugees in Pakistan would be to have… to find peace in a durable and just peace in Afghanistan.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph. Is there any update on the agreement on the exchange of prisoners in Yemen?

Spokesman:  No, not… let me put it this way.  None that I’ve been given, which doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but not that I’ve been given, but we will check.

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  The first one, I want to go back to the issue of settlements.  So, you said that you saw or that you are aware or saw the announcement, and your position is not changed.  And we get this answer very often when we ask about Palestine and settlements and human rights violations.  Why isn’t that you… that you are not issuing and being active to issue a statement in this regard, whether Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov or your office?

Spokesman:  Look, I think the issue of increasing settlements has come…

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  What?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  It’s okay.  Let’s try it again.  We have, through statements, through the Secretary‑General’s own statements, through Mr. Mladenov’s statements, through presentations in the Council, through reports to the Council, following resolution 2119, if I’m not mistaken, if that’s the number of the resolution, we have been, I think, strongly and firmly against these illegal settlements, which are a… which stand in the way of lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.  And we do it, and we say it, and we do it and we say it routinely, and we will continue to say it.

Question:  I have another question about the meeting yesterday on Syria.  So, there were several countries, like the US, UK, France, who talked about the death of the Astana agreement.  How do you see this?  And do you think that the Security Council is taking… is somehow not taking full responsibility of what’s gone on in Syria?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I mean, it’s not for us to do a medical check on the Astana process.  Right?  I mean, there are three parties to the… there are parties to that process.  I think you should ask them how they feel about it.  What is clear is that, not just yesterday, but over the last years or less, the lack of strong unity in the Security Council on Syria, the lack of a unified voice on Syria in the Security Council has not helped the cause of peace in Syria.  Yep?

Question:  Do you have an update on the 5+5 talks regarding Libya?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that they have resumed.  Yep?

Question:  Sorry for being so late, first of all, and secondly, there was an attack in Germany, obviously, by a white right‑winger, a racist attack.  Ten people died in south‑western Germany.  I wonder if the Secretary‑General has a message for… about this rise of right‑wingers in Germany?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General was appalled to learn of the shooting in Hanau, Germany, which, as we know, claimed the lives of many people.  He extends his condolences to the people and to the Government of Germany, as well to the families of the victims.  You know, I would say the Secretary‑General stands in solidarity with Germany, and he reiterates his own call for all of us to renew our promise to end racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti‑Semitism and Muslim hatred.  I think that the Secretary‑General has been very strong in standing up and calling out against not only hate speech but hate action and what we have… what is all… according to German investigators — obviously, we don’t have our own information — seems to be a hate crime.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.