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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.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council today and said that the human rights agenda is losing ground in many parts of the globe — but he is not losing hope.  Although we see troubling trends, he said, we also see powerful movements for human rights and social justice.  The Secretary-General warned that we are also seeing a groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance — including rising anti-Semitism and anti‑Muslim hatred.  Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace, he added.

The Secretary-General also spoke at the Conference on Disarmament, saying that key components of the international arms control architecture are collapsing.  The Secretary-General added that the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, should it be allowed to happen, would make the world a more insecure and unstable place.  He calls on the parties to the Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised.  It is very important that this treaty is preserved, he said.

The Secretary-General just spoke at an event with Peter Maurer, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), also joined by Julienne Lusenge, the Director of the Fund for Congolese Women and President of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development.  This is on gender-based violence.  Tomorrow, he will speak at the pledging conference on Yemen; and as you will recall, the United Nations is asking for $4.2 billion in a humanitarian appeal this year.  Tonight, he will speak at an event organized by the UN correspondents in Geneva on press freedom.  And we will put out his remarks.


As you saw over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he was following with increasing concern the escalating tensions in Venezuela.  He said he had been shocked and saddened to learn that a number of civilians lost their lives after the events on Saturday.  The Secretary-General appealed for violence to be avoided at any cost and for lethal force not to be used in any circumstances.  He also appealed for calm and urged all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent further escalation.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a statement on the situation in Venezuela.


Turning to Mali, following an attack on a camp of the Malian armed forces in Koulikoro, 55 kilometres north-east of Bamako, yesterday, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and expresses its solidarity with the Malian and European partners and salutes their effective response to the attack.  UN Police are monitoring the situation.  The UN Mission and the UN Mine Action Service stand ready to support the Malian authorities in investigating the attack.

And over the weekend, you will have also seen that we issued a statement condemning the attack against members of MINUSMA in the area of Siby that resulted in the death of three peacekeepers from Guinea and a number of injured.  That took place on Saturday.  The Secretary-General reiterated the determination of the Mission in Mali to continue implementing its mandate in support of the people and Government of Mali in their quest for peace.


An estimated 6,000 people, mostly women and children, from the last Da’esh‑held area of Baghouz in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor Governorate have arrived at the Al Hol camp over the last 72 hours, bringing the total number of people who have arrived at the camp since December of last year to over 37,000 people.  The total camp population is now at almost 47,000 people.  At the same time, around 3,000 people have also arrived at the Suar transit centre between Hajin and Al‑Hol.  They are awaiting transfer to Al-Hol.  Conditions at the camp are extremely challenging, particularly in the reception areas, which are currently hosting thousands of people, but with insufficient water and sanitation hygiene facilities.  This is increasing the risk of a disease outbreak.  To help decongestion in these areas, extensions to the camp are already under way, with services and assistance provided to people in these areas. 

We are also gravely concerned by further reports of civilian casualties due to hostilities and unexploded ordinances in Idleb and Hama governorates in the northwestern part of the country, including in areas believed to be in or near the demilitarized zone.  Recently, civilians, including women and children, have reportedly been killed and injured due to heavy shelling in Ma’ret An-Nu’man and in Khan Shaykun city in southern rural Idleb.


Back here, Assistant Secretary-General Bintou Keita this morning briefed the Security Council on the situation in Darfur.  The briefing follows her recent visit to the Sudanese region alongside the Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office and the Head of the Regional Bureau of Arab States in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  The visit aimed to inject momentum into the transition process and convey joint messages on the withdrawal of the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the transition to the Government of Sudan, UN interlocutors and key partners.  In her briefing, Assistant Secretary-General Keita noted that the frequency of inter-communal tensions and other security incidents remain relatively low, except for a few hotspots, particularly in Jebel Marra.


On Afghanistan, according to the latest UN report, more civilians were killed in the conflict in the country last year than at any other time since records have been kept.  The new report, issued yesterday by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN human rights office, documented 3,804 deaths in 2018.  This number includes 927 children.  This is the highest recorded number of boys and girls killed in the conflict in one single year.  The UN Mission attributed nearly two thirds of civilian casualties to anti‑Government elements, such as the Taliban and Da’esh, and nearly a quarter to pro-Government forces, including the Afghan national security forces and international military forces.  The report says that the significant increase in civilian casualties was due to a spike in suicide attacks by anti-Government elements, as well as aerial and search operations by pro-Government forces.  The full report is online.


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, will be in Zimbabwe and Malawi from 27 February to 2 March to see first-hand the humanitarian situation in these countries and the efforts undertaken by aid organizations to respond.  In Zimbabwe, Mr. Lowcock will meet with people in rural and urban areas who have been hardest hit by increasing food insecurity, as well as with Government officials, humanitarian organizations, and the diplomatic community.  Some 5.3 million people in Zimbabwe are in urgent need of assistance as a result of erratic rains and the economic crisis.  In Malawi, he will travel to Salima, where he will meet with people impacted by the 2018/2019 lean season and see the humanitarian response.  Mr. Lowcock will also meet with senior Government officials and the diplomatic community.  An estimated 3.3 million people in Malawi are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity this lean season.

**Honour Roll

Special thanks today go to our friends in Italy, Kuwait and South Africa, who help bring our Honour Roll up to 62 — which is a good number for a Monday.  Yes, ma'am?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Based on the meeting that today they're having in Colombia, the group… the Lima Group are actually talking about that intervention, the possibility of having a military intervention.  What is the position from the UN specifically on this matter, like, the possibility that militaries go to Venezuela to handle the situation that's going on?

Spokesman:  Look, the Lima group meeting is ongoing.  We'll, obviously, wait for the outcome.  The Secretary‑General's position remains unchanged.  He calls for a peaceful outcome to the current crisis and for meaningful negotiations to take place.  Next?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Another two follow‑ups on Venezuela.  First, on… on the weekend, containers with humanitarian aid were burned, containers were burned as they were… people trying to get some of the aid, and those who were trying to reach that aid also were cracked down by pro‑[Nicolás] Maduro forces; they were tear‑gassed.  And this incident, over the weekend, has created a huge controversy.  So, first, what's the view of the SG on burning humanitarian aid and the cracking down on those who are trying to reach that humanitarian aid?  And my second follow‑up is on something that happened on Friday.  The Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister told us that, most likely, New York City will have another round of discussions between the US and officers from Venezuela, and I'm just wondering if the UN will have any role in helping broker this third round of talks and if the SG will support any third round of talks between the US and Venezuela if it happens?

Spokesman:  Sure.  As a matter of course, the Secretary‑General is always supportive of dialogue, and he's been very supportive of the various initiatives that we have seen in the last few weeks.  You know, I… as we said, I think the Secretary‑General was shocked to see some of the events over the weekend in Venezuela, notably very saddened by the loss of life.  It's very important for him that, in no circumstances, lethal force should be used against demonstrators.  We are… we have no one on the border; so we did not ourselves independently see the events, but, I think, you know, any burning of humanitarian aid, the… is to be condemned.  And obviously, I think the rising tensions that we're seeing on the border just reiterate the need for a peaceful outcome and continued discussion on this issue.  Monsieur?  Are we switching areas?

Question:  Yes.  Yemen, I think the… the agreement in Hodeidah was supposed to be… start today, implementation.  And obviously, there is another delay, I think.  Some reports talk about another delay.  What's the situation?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We have no progress to report on the ground on any withdrawals today.  We do expect and continue to expect the parties to respect their engagements shortly.  As a matter of fact, Martin Griffiths, accompanied by General [Mark] Lollesgaard, will travel to Sana’a to speak to the authorities there.

Question:  Any details, like who's responsible of this delay or why…?

Spokesman:  No, that's for… the blame game at this point serves no… no purpose.  As we said, Mr. Griffiths and General Lollesgaard will be travelling to speak to… in Sana’a to speak to authorities there.  We know both parties are committed to the implementation.  We want to see that implementation as quickly as possible.

Question:  On Sudan, have… has the SG received any letter from the Government on the emergency situation that was announced by the Government, and what's your position on [inaudible]…?

Spokesman:  No.  No.  I don't have any information on Sudan today, but I'm not… I don't believe we received a letter, but I will check.  Okay.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sorry.  The last questions.  Thank you, Steph.  On Ukraine, because we had last week the meeting of Ukrainian President and the Secretary‑General.  We know from Ukrainian delegation that there was… one of the results of the meeting was that the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs will come to Ukraine at some point.  I just thought maybe you have any information on when this might happen…?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  We usually announce travel a bit closer to the date when we're ready, but I will check if I have any updates.  Don't ever claim for it to be the last question.

Question:  Just on something we talked about last week.  There was supposed to be some aid from the European Union that the UN was organizing…?  Nothing?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I… there continues to be lack of clarity on that.  Okay.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.