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. We will start off with an update on Libya.
The Secretary-General continues to follow the situation in Libya with grave concern. His Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, remains in Tripoli, where the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues its work. Earlier today, he met with the President of the Presidency Council, Fayez Serraj, with whom he discussed ways the UN can assist at this critical and difficult juncture. As the Secretary‑General said before leaving Benghazi on Friday. The UN remains available to facilitate any political solution able to unify the Libyan institutions.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that the escalation of violence in and around Tripoli has caused the displacement of some 3,400 persons fleeing from fighting and has blocked emergency services from reaching casualties and civilians; fighting has also damaged electricity lines. Clashes with heavy weapons are affecting residential areas, and an unknown number of civilians are unable to flee these locations. We are calling for a temporary humanitarian truce to allow for the provision of emergency services and the voluntary passage of civilians, including those wounded, from the areas of conflict.
Our humanitarian partners have stocks in place in multiple locations throughout Tripoli. These include food stocks for an additional 80,000 people for a period of two weeks and emergency medical supplies to treat up to 210,000 individuals over the next three months. This is in addition to recent distributions of emergency medical supplies that can treat up to a million individuals, and shelter and non-food assistance for 15,000 families across Libya. The Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, reminds all parties of their legal obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law to ensure the safety of all civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The Secretary-General returned to New York following his travels last week to Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Jordan. On Saturday, the Secretary-General visited the Baqa’a Camp in Jordan, which is run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Secretary-General said it was a very emotional moment for him to see young children learning about and discussing human rights and participating in a student parliament. He said: “To see that in 700 schools, 530,000 Palestine refugee children are learning not only about science and about mathematics or about Arabic, but also are learning about human rights, about democracy, about tolerance, making the conditions to be exemplary citizens — this is something that warms my heart,” he said. He also called on the international community to maintain the level of financing for UNRWA this year and to make sure that the stability is guaranteed for 2020. He underscored that, if the Agency’s programmes are stopped, it would have a devastating impact on the region. While in Amman, the Secretary-General also spoke at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa and met with King Abdullah of Jordan. His remarks were shared with you over the weekend.
Preliminary reports from our team in Yemen indicate that as many as 11 civilians, including 5 students, were killed and scores of civilians injured in Shu’aub District in Sana’a City yesterday. Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said that these are terrible, senseless deaths and injuries, and we offer our deep condolences to the families of the victims. She said that protecting people and protecting civilian infrastructure [are] core principles of international humanitarian law. We tweeted yesterday evening about our concern at the deaths in Sana’a and called on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and ensure the safety of all Yemenis. During 2018, humanitarian organizations reported an average of 45 incidents of armed violence each week in Yemen. Thousands of civilians were killed last year, including more than 950 children.
Turning to Mozambique, our humanitarian colleagues report that almost 670,000 people have received food assistance in the four provinces of Mozambique worst affected by Cyclone Idai. The UN and humanitarian partners are targeting some 1.8 million people with food assistance over the next three months and will aim to provide around 18,000 households with seeds and tools. Almost 430,000 people have been vaccinated — 51 per cent of the targeted population — in the ongoing oral cholera vaccination campaign. Eight emergency medical teams are currently fully operational across the five most affected areas, supporting damaged national health facilities and providing health care to isolated populations. Nearly 94,000 people have received shelter and non-food items assistance, with displaced people continuing to be moved out of schools and hospital buildings. The Mozambique Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019 following the cyclone seeks more $282 million and it’s only 21 per cent funded.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Global Vaccine Alliance and the Sudanese Ministry of Health, today launched a large-scale vaccination campaign in Sudan to vaccinate over 11 million children under the age of 10 years against measles and polio. Official statistics in Sudan indicate that measles is the third cause of mortality in infants and the first among vaccine-preventable diseases. WHO reports that more than 38,000 people — a workforce of community vaccinators, front‑line health workers and social mobilizers — are working to implement this campaign, which will go on until 2 May.
And lastly, the eighth Economic and Social Council Youth Forum — under the theme “Empowered, Included and Equal” — kicked off today at UN Headquarters. If you see a lot of young people, you will know why. Addressing the opening session, the Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, she said that the outcomes of this year’s Youth Forum will help steer discussions to prioritize young people’s needs and rights ahead of the SDG and Climate Action Summits later this year. The Youth Envoy said that the UN is pursuing action across many fronts to support Member States in meeting these [challenges] and it continues to pursue a path towards a fair globalization that works for all, while seeking to instil continued appreciation for multilateralism and dialogue, including among young people. The Forum concludes tomorrow. Edie and then Maggie.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. Two questions on Libya. First, has there been any response to the UN call for a humanitarian truce? And second, what is the status of the national conference scheduled for 14 and 15 April, I believe? To 16…?
Spokesman: Unfortunately, we have no… I have no positive news to report on our call for a humanitarian truce. It is imperative that all the parties involved ensure the safety of civilians, as I've said a number of times; we believe some civilians are trapped. This… they need to be able to escape to safer areas. As for the national conference, I have nothing to add to what Mr. Salamé said himself, I think, over the weekend from Tripoli, which he said planning for the conference was ongoing. But, I would refer you to what he said on the record. Maggie?
Question: Steph, on that humanitarian truce, does OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] negotiate it directly with the parties, or do you need to come to the Security Council to maybe get them to call for it…?
Spokesman: No, it's a matter of… it's not a matter of negotiating. Our appeal has been made to all the parties. It's a matter for the parties involved to stop the fighting. Obviously, if there's discussions to be had, those will be had locally. We're asking for a pause. This is not something that requires a Security Council mandate. It requires people [to] stop the fighting.
Question: And just one more: any plans to evacuate any UN staff or reposition them or relocate them?
Spokesman: The UN Mission continues to work in Tripoli. The Special Envoy… the Special Representative, Mr. Salamé, continues his work. He's meeting… he met with Mr. Serraj today and will be meeting as needed with others. We, as always in these situations, look at re… you know, as… moving perhaps… moving nonessential staff, but the key point is that the Mission and its leadership continue to work in Tripoli.
Question: So, just to clarify: have you moved…?
Spokesman: Some adjustments have been made, but the bulk of the Mission, including Mr. Salamé, remain in Tripoli.
Question: Could we get the figure on that?
Spokesman: I'll see if there are numbers I can share with you.
Question: Okay. But, just getting back to the national conference, though, I mean, who is supposed to attend that? If the idea is that the eastern forces… the eastern government is engaged in an offensive to take Tripoli, what is the point?
Spokesman: Obviously, we would… the point of the national conference is to bring the Libyan institutions closer and to solve the ongoing issues through a political dialogue. Obviously, the ongoing fighting doesn't simplify the issue of the national conference, to put it mildly. Madame?
Question: Can I just clarify a point, though?
Spokesman: You can try.
Question: Yeah. So, who will be attending the national conference? Clearly, the eastern factions are not going to go.
Spokesman: Obviously, I think we need all the parties involved in this conflict to attend. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the SG have any reaction or any comment on the Israeli Prime Minister's remarks over the West Bank, that if he won the elections, he would annex?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General's position on the occupied West… on the Occupied Palestinian Territory was the same a month ago; it was the same yesterday, and it continues to be the same today. And the Secretary… our position has been made very clear, and it's based on UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. From our point of view, all settlement activities are illegal under international humanitarian law and will greatly diminish the prospect of a negotiated two‑State solution. Go ahead.
Question: Today, [Donald] Trump Administration labels Iran Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. How do you comment on it? Thank you.
Spokesman: We don't have any comment on what… on the decision made by the US Government at this point. Maggie?
Question: On the air strike yesterday in Yemen, has the Secretary‑General or Madame [Rosemary] DiCarlo or someone high up reached out to the Saudis or the UAE [United Arab Emirates] here to get more information about it, to follow it up?
Spokesman: Contacts, I'm sure, were had regionally on the ground. Thank you much.