HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NOON BRIEFING BY STEPHANE DUJARRIC
SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
THURSDAY, 12 MARCH 2020

 
COVID-19
The Secretary-General has taken the decision the decision to cancel all United Nations system sponsored side events at Headquarters, from 16 March until the end of April, effective immediately.
He strongly urges all Member States to consider cancelling all side events for the meetings that they are sponsoring.
The Secretary-General will be communicating with Member States and staff in short while to update them on the preparation measures the UN has undertaken to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, the Secretary-General said that we have been balancing the safety and security of staff and representatives of Member States with the need to ensure that the work of the Organization continues, here and around the world.
The Secretary-General will say in a letter to Member States that a three-phase response activation system to manage and coordinate health emergencies is in place, and that UN Headquarters in New York is currently in phase two, which is an active risk reduction mode.
He said this includes taking measures for social distancing in the workplace and assessing the criticality of travel and meetings against associated risks.
As you know, the UN building has been closed to visitors and the Secretariat has instituted arrangements for staff to telecommute to reduce the population density in the building, thereby reducing the risk of transmission.
In a video message released yesterday, Mr. Guterres said that its classification as a pandemic is a call to action and a call for responsibility and solidarity. He stressed that, as we fight the virus, we cannot let the fear go viral.
Together, the Secretary-General added, we can still change the course of this pandemic, with the best science telling us that, if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response, we can go a long way to mitigating transmission.
He called on every government to immediately step up and scale up their efforts, and he added that we must move forward with resolve and without stigma.
 
SYRIA
Turning to Syria, and I have a statement regarding the start of the tenth year of the conflict in Syria: The Syrian conflict has entered its tenth year, yet peace still remains far too elusive. The brutal conflict has exacted an unconscionable human cost and caused a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions. Millions of civilians continue to face protection risks, over half the population has been forced to flee their homes with millions living in precarious conditions as refugees and 11 million continue to require life-saving humanitarian assistance. We have seen nine years of horrific atrocities, including war crimes. Nine years of human rights abuses on a massive and systematic scale, eroding international norms to new depths of cruelty and suffering. Tens of thousands are missing, disappeared, detained, subjected to ill-treatment and torture. Untold numbers have been killed and injured. There must be no impunity for such horrific crimes.
Throughout the conflict, the humanitarian system has used all available means to get aid to those who need it – from airdrops to crossline deliveries to cross-border deliveries.  In 2019, the UN and our partners reached over 6 million people each month throughout Syria.  In January of this year, food assistance for around 1.4 million people was delivered via the cross-border mechanism alone, as were health supplies for almost half a million people, and non-food items for more than 230,000 people.
The steps to end the suffering of the Syrian people are well known but must be realized. First, the 5 March Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area agreed between Russia and Turkey must lead to a lasting cessation of hostilities that paves the way to a permanent ceasefire nation-wide. Second, the parties need to return to the UN-facilitated political process mandated by resolution 2254 (2015), which remains the only viable path to end the conflict and offer lasting peace to the people of Syria.
The Secretary-General’s message today is clear. We cannot allow the tenth year to result in the same carnage, the same flouting of human rights and international humanitarian law, the same inhumanity.
 
IRAQ
Turning to Iraq, the UN Mission in that country condemned the latest rocket attack at Camp Taji, which resulted in the loss of life and injury among troops of the Global Coalition to fight Da’esh.
The UN Mission says that these ongoing attacks are a clear and substantial threat to the country, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups remains a constant concern. The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles.
The Mission says that maximum restraint on all sides is the only way forward. The Government of Iraq must exercise its full powers to hold perpetrators accountable and prevent future attacks.
The UN expresses its condolences to the families of the victims and their countries, and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.
 
YEMEN
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council by VTC on the situation in Yemen.  He warned that the parties to the conflict will either move Yemen towards de-escalation and the resumption of the political process, or, he fears, towards greater violence and suffering that will make the path to the negotiating table even more arduous.
He said that the most alarming military escalation has taken place in the Al Jawf governorate. The Special Envoy is deeply concerned about the rationale driving these escalations and the impact of the violence on the Al Jawf people. Thousands of families have been displaced by the recent fighting and are in critical need of shelter and assistance.
Also briefing was Ramesh Rajasingham, the acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that the renewed fighting there underlines the urgency of five priority issues: protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law; humanitarian access and delivery; funding for UN aid operations; the Yemeni economy; and progress towards peace.
 
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that gunshots were reported today in Ndele, near the UN compound. Our colleagues said the security situation there continues to be tense.
The Mission has deployed patrols to reinforce security in the UN compound as well as the nearby temporary camp for displaced people.
Additional peacekeepers have also arrived from Kaga-Bandoro to provide support to their colleagues there.
 
LOCUSTS
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the desert locust situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa.
Widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The UN’s humanitarian arm says this is an unprecedented threat to food security and added that an extended response will be necessary to safeguard people’s livelihoods.
Aerial and ground locust control operations by the Governments are ongoing with support from the Food Agriculture Organization, which says it has now increased its original appeal to $138 million, for which $107 million has already been pledged.
 
MOZAMBIQUE
Our friends at the World Food Programme (WFP) say that one year after cyclone Idai, the strongest storm ever to hit Mozambique, limited funding for essential reconstruction is preventing many of the hardest-hit people from getting back on their feet.
The agency says it needs $91 million to be able to fully implement rehabilitation [projects] for Idai victims this year.
 
SENIOR DESIGNATION
You saw that yesterday afternoon we announced that the Secretary-General had designated Stephanie Turco Williams of the United States as his Acting Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in Libya.
She will act as Special Representative in Libya until the appointment of a successor to Mr. Ghassan Salamé of Lebanon. The Secretary-General is of course very grateful to Mr. Salamé for his accomplishments as the Head of the UN Mission and his tireless efforts to bring peace and stability back to Libya.
Ms. Williams’ bio is available.
 
CONTRIBUTIONS
We say shukran today to our friends in Egypt, who become the 69th Member State to pay their budget dues in full.