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 Emergency Response Fund
The Secretary-General this morning spoke at the high‑level pledging conference for the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, otherwise known as the CERF, which he called the most effective investment that can be made in humanitarian action. He noted that the pace of crises has been relentless in 2019, with CERF having supported people in 44 countries this year, from Yemen to Afghanistan to Colombia. The Secretary‑General said that CERF is the only global emergency fund that is fast, predictable and flexible enough to reach tens of millions of people each year. It also provides funding without the bureaucracy that can slow down our work, so the money is available within days, sometimes hours, of disaster striking.
He also said that the Fund has helped to sustain relief operations in long‑running crises, and to avoid gaps in critical services for the most vulnerable people when funding levels are low. The Secretary‑General said he was grateful for the generosity of 127 Member States and Observers, as well as other donors, who have contributed to the CERF. In addition, 52 Member States that have received CERF funding have also contributed to the fund, making it truly a fund for all, by all. The General Assembly has set a $1 billion yearly funding target for the CERF, and the Fund provided a record $200 million to 21 crises last year. His remarks have been shared with you.
Related to the CERF, Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, has set aside some $2.6 million from the emergency Fund to support the response to the measles outbreak in Samoa and other countries in the Pacific. The funds will be used for emergency vaccinations, obstetric and neonatal care for mothers and newborns infected with measles, mental health and psychosocial support, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene assistance for about 1.25 million people. More information online.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, is in Amman today, where she is meeting with senior Government authorities, the UN country team, regional representatives and other entities of the UN system. On Saturday, she was in Qatar, where she spoke at the Doha International Conference on Disability and Development. She said that 80 per cent of the estimated one billion persons with disabilities worldwide live in developing countries and are among the most marginalized in any crisis‑affected community, with a disaster mortality rate more than double that of the general population. She noted that, this past June, the Secretary‑General launched the first‑ever UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, a framework for action by the UN System. The Strategy is our commitment to persons with disabilities, she said, establishing the foundation for the systemic and sustainable change we need.
She also spoke on Saturday with leading women of Qatar on women’s empowerment and gender equality. She said that gender equality is the challenge of our lifetime and of this generation. Her remarks are online. After her meetings in Amman, the Deputy Secretary‑General will fly to Aswan in Egypt to attend the Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development. She will also meet with participating senior Government officials. On Thursday, she will be in London to meet with senior officials and other stakeholders around the decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. She will be back in New York on Sunday.
Turning to Baghdad, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert, met yesterday with Iraqi President Barham Salih and discussed the current political and security developments in the country. Over the weekend, she condemned in the strongest terms the shooting of unarmed protesters in central Baghdad that took place on Friday night, which left a high number of deaths and injuries among innocent citizens. She said that the deliberate killing of unarmed protesters by armed individuals is nothing less than an atrocity against the people of Iraq and that the perpetrators must be identified and brought to justice without delay. The Special Representative urged the Iraqi Armed Forces to spare no effort to protect peaceful protesters from violence by armed elements operating outside of state control. She calls on peaceful protesters to cooperate constructively to ensure the peaceful protests can be duly protected.
Turning to Syria, some four million people in need across northern Syria are supported by the UN cross‑border humanitarian assistance mechanism, including 2.7 million people in the northwest who rely solely on the operation for life‑saving assistance. Since 2014, the UN has sent nearly 30,000 trucks of humanitarian assistance across the four border crossings named in the Security Council resolution 2165 (2014). Nearly 2,000 trucks have passed through those crossings in October and November. More people are being reached than ever before. In November alone, the UN provided over 1.1 million people with food through cross‑border deliveries — double the number in January of 2019.
The operation from Turkey has grown by more than 40 per cent since this time last year, due to the increase in humanitarian needs. Life‑saving assistance such as medicine is sent from Iraq into north‑east Syria, providing assistance that cannot otherwise reach people in that area. The cross‑border operation in Syria is one of the most closely scrutinized aid delivery systems in the world today. We continue to take every step possible to ensure that the operations meet the highest standards for accountability.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
As you recall, we told you last week that, following attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo against civilians and Ebola responders, we have decided to send Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, of Brazil, to the country. He will be traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo tomorrow. There, he will assess the ability of the peacekeeping force to effectively deliver its mandate to protect civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to neutralize armed groups in North Kivu and Ituri Provinces. He is expected to submit an internal report to the head of UN Peacekeeping by early January.
Ursula Mueller, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, is arriving in Niger today where she will be there until 14 December, to assess the situation on the ground and the needed response. Ms. Mueller is scheduled to meet with the President of Niger, the Prime Minister, and other senior Government officials. She will also meet with non‑governmental organizations and the UN country team. Ms. Mueller will travel to Diffa, Maradi and Tillaberi to meet impacted people and to assess emergency relief operations to address the needs of more than 218,000 refugees and 187,000 internally displaced people. An estimated 2.9 million people in Niger will need humanitarian assistance in 2020. The UN and humanitarian partners aim to assist 1.8 million people in the next year — that’s an increase from the 1.6 million people targeted in 2019. The financial requirement to meet urgent needs in 2020 is $407 million.
Also on the humanitarian front, higher‑than‑average water temperatures in the Indian Ocean have led to unseasonably heavy rainfall in East Africa. Burundi is one of the countries affected. In the night of 4 to 5 December, 27 people were killed, nine people disappeared, 10 were injured, and over 240 households were impacted by torrential rains and landslides on at least a dozen hills in Nyempundu, located in the country’s north-western province of Cibitoke. An assessment team, led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was able to access these hard‑to‑reach affected areas to evaluate the damage. The UN and humanitarian partners will continue to work with the Government and local municipalities to support the emergency response.
From South Sudan, our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that a fresh outbreak of clashes between communities and other fighting over the weekend has led to civilians being killed and displaced in the centre and north of the country. The head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said that he is worried that the clashes are taking place in areas that have been relatively calm for months. He added that the parties in South Sudan have respected the ceasefire signed in 2018, but that these intercommunal incidents raise tensions and increase the risk of sparking even more violence. Mr. Shearer said that the shortage of food and access to basic services has put huge pressure on communities, with recent flooding having destroyed crops and pastures. The UN Mission is working with both local and national authorities to try to resolve the disputes and will continue to support reconciliation and peacebuilding efforts.
Today, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched its 2019 Human Development Report on Inequality. The report is entitled “Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today”, and identifies a new generation of inequalities that are increasingly determining people’s opportunities in the twenty‑first century and driving the global protests sweeping the world. The report finds that, just as the gap in basic [living] standards is narrowing for millions of people, the necessities to thrive have evolved. What used to be 'nice‑to‑haves', like access to broadband or university, are becoming increasingly important keys to success, but without access to these many people are finding their path to prosperity blocked. It also talks about new inequalities rising around technology and climate change. The report is online.
**International Anti-Corruption Day
Two days to focus on today. Today is International Anti-Corruption Day. In a message released, the Secretary‑General recalls that, every year, trillions of dollars — the equivalent of more than five per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) — are paid in bribes or stolen through corrupt practices that seriously undermine the rule of law and abet crimes such as the illicit trafficking of people, drugs and arms. He urges all Member States to unite against corruption to stop the drain on resources caused by illicit financial flows. The UN Convention against Corruption, ratified by nearly every country in the world, gives the means to strengthen our commitment to addressing this issue, he adds.
Also, today is the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of Genocide. In a tweet, the Secretary‑General said that the Holocaust did not start with the gas chamber and the genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia did not start with mass killings. Those, he said, started with discrimination and hate speech. In an event that took place this morning, the UN Chef de Cabinet, Maria Luiza Viotti, said, on behalf of the Secretary‑General, on this day we remember and pay tribute to the victims of horrendous crime of genocide. We also reflect on what more we can do to uphold the responsibilities set out in the Genocide Convention. Those remarks are available to you.
And I was asked about the Secretary‑General’s own reaction to Brazil’s decision last week to recognize thousands of Venezuelan asylum‑seekers as refugees. I can say that the Secretary‑General welcomes and thanks Brazil for this decision. As a former High Commissioner for Refugees, he knows full well the important impact that this will have on those Venezuelans, not least by increasing protection and access to vital services. Voilà. Edie?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. On CERF, are you going to be putting out a final tally of how much this pledging…?
Spokesman: Yes, we hope to do that. We're talking to our humanitarian colleagues…
Question: And that will be later today?
Spokesman: Insha'Allah. Yes, Maggie?
Question: Two questions, Steph. First, any update on UN assistance to Albania on the earthquake?
Spokesman: Not that I have.
Question: Okay. And, secondly, over the weekend, North Korea did some sort of, in their words, very significant tests at a satellite launch site. Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that and also to their UN Ambassador's comments that denuclearisation is off the table and that they don't need talks with Washington?
Spokesman: I mean, our reaction is really a reiteration of our stated principles, that we reiterate the Secretary‑General's call on the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and resume working‑level talks with the United States. Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.
Spokesman: Khalas. Okay. Hasta mañana?
Correspondent: Hasta mañana.