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, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Good afternoon.  We have no guest today, no Monica [Grayley] today, but tomorrow, we will have Bruno Lemarquis, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who will be here to brief you on what’s going on in the humanitarian situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Doha, where the second meeting of the Special Envoys on Afghanistan ended just a few hours ago.  Mr. [António] Guterres will be on his way back to New York shortly, and we expect him tomorrow morning.  During the meeting, the participants discussed the Independent Assessment, mandated by the Security Council resolution and led by the Special Coordinator appointed by the Secretary-General, Feridun Sinirlioğlu, as well as the way forward.

Speaking to the media after his final session, the Secretary-General said the participants agreed they want an Afghanistan in peace — peace with itself and peace with its neighbours.  He described a consensus among participants on the vision of an Afghanistan with inclusive institutions, in which its diverse groups all feel represented.  There was also a consensus on the concerns about respect for human rights, and in particular, the respect for the rights of women and girls.  The Secretary-General said the special envoys agreed to continue holding these meetings at different levels, adding that he hopes the de facto authorities will join the discussions in the future.

Also today, the Secretary-General had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani.  He thanked Qatar for hosting the meeting of Special Envoys and also expressed his deep appreciation for the country’s continued mediation role regarding the expansion of humanitarian aid to Gaza, an interruption of hostilities and of course the release of hostages.  The transcript of the stakeout and readout were shared with you.  And as mentioned, Mr. Guterres will be back in these United States tomorrow morning.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

Meanwhile, his Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed was today in Bangkok, where she met with Anutin Charnvirakul, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Interior of Thailand, to discuss the critical role of local and regional governments in advancing the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the support of the United Nations for the Government’s efforts.  Ms. Mohammed then chaired the United Nations Regional Collaborative Mechanism for Asia and the Pacific, where participants discussed regional-level efforts to effectively support SDG acceleration and the UN resident coordinators and UN country teams in 23 countries.  Meeting with the UN resident coordinators for the region, they discussed how to accelerate progress and support governments and other stakeholders in shaping just transitions and investment pathways for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the country level.  Also today, Ms. Mohammed held meetings with senior UN officials from various country teams.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Moving to the situation in Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that negotiations are ongoing to evacuate remaining patients from the Nasser Hospital, which, as you know, is in Khan Younis, where an Israeli military operation is ongoing, we were told. Yesterday, the Office, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, visited the hospital and evacuated 14 patients.

Meanwhile, the situation in Al Amal Hospital — also in Khan Younis — remains critical, following a four-week siege by the Israeli military.  Food supplies have reportedly been nearly exhausted, and fuel reserves are dwindling. As the bombardment of Gaza continues, public health concerns are mounting — with women hardest hit.  The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that everyone in Gaza is hungry, including some 50,000 pregnant women. We and our partners are doing all we can to provide food assistance across the Gaza Strip, despite major challenges to the humanitarian response, including ongoing air strikes and heavy fighting.

Last week, more than a dozen partners reached 1.5 million people — with nearly one third of food supplies going to Rafah Governorate, 28 per cent to Deir al Balah, just over a quarter to Khan Younis and 14 per cent to the north.  To do more, we need secure, more uninterrupted humanitarian corridors in Gaza. And we need more trucks and fuel inside Gaza to ensure a consistent and predictable food humanitarian delivery.

Also today, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, visited the Gaza Strip.  He spoke with internally displaced families and listened to their stories.  He met with UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] personnel doing the very difficult work to deliver vital humanitarian assistance to those in need. He also reviewed the operational and security challenges, including the breakdown of law and order, facing the entry and distribution of humanitarian goods.  It’s clear that more needs to be done.  The UN needs the tools to deliver on the ground, including the need for Israel to allow entry of items critical to UN operations and to improve deconfliction.

Mr. Wennesland described the situation in Gaza as disastrous, saying that you can easily recognize the despair and the fear faced by the people.  Adding that there are nearly 1.4 million Palestinians crammed in Rafah with barely any resources, hardly any access to medical care, nowhere to sleep, and nowhere safe to go, he warned that a full-scale Israeli military operation into Rafah may lead to a far more perilous situation.

**Sigrid Kaag

Staying on the same subject but moving to Brussels, Sigrid Kaag, the Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, spoke to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels today, and she told reporters afterwards that she had briefed foreign ministers on the facilitation, expedition and acceleration of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, as well as negotiations around the establishment of a mechanism which is supposed to verify and monitor assistance.  She said that strong support was issued for the mission and for the UN’s efforts on the ground.  The full transcript of her questions and answers was shared with you.


And this morning, Catriona Laing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, and Head of the political mission there, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the country. She noted that the Federal Government of Somalia has made solid progress in recent months in the implementation of its priorities, including the completion of a critical security roadmap. On the Ethiopia and “Somaliland” announcement of a memorandum of understanding, which reportedly grants Ethiopia a 50-year lease on 20 kilometres of coastline, she echoed the words of the Secretary-General who has recalled that the Security Council has repeatedly affirmed its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Somalia and called for all parties to engage in peaceful and constructive dialogue to refrain from inflammatory words and actions that could further escalate tensions.


Turning to Ukraine, our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs inform us that a surge of hostilities over the weekend in front lines areas led to civilian casualties, as well as to damage and destruction of civilian infrastructure.  In the Donetsk region, in the east, local authorities reported at least a dozen civilian casualties and damage to more than 150 homes and civilian facilities damaged, including a school.  In the Kharkiv region, in the east, intensified fighting led to more civilian casualties and damage to homes, three education facilities and a medical institution.  That’s according to local authorities.  Humanitarian organizations are mobilized and have provided materials for emergency repairs to houses.  Meanwhile, we, along with our partners, are supplying the response to address the impact of oil spillage on water sources in Kharkiv City after a strike on an oil storage facility in that area on 9 February.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And I have an update from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they remain deeply concerned by the renewed escalation of hostilities in the eastern part of the country.  They reiterate their call on the M23 [23 March Movement] group to cease its offensive and to respect the Luanda Roadmap.  Meanwhile, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) continues to support the Congolese army by defending major routes leading to key towns of Sake and Goma in North Kivu Province.  Due to the deteriorating security situation around Sake and Goma, the Mission is reinforcing its presence there by bringing in peacekeepers from its Force Intervention Brigade; that’s based in Beni, in the northern part of the province.

The Mission also met with the coordinator of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in North Kivu — that took place over the weekend — and that was to coordinate joint military action in the defence of both Sake and Goma.  It also expressed concern over recent disinformation campaigns targeting peacekeepers, which is hampering the peacekeepers’ ability to implement their mandate.  Peacekeepers are continuing to facilitate safe passage of civilians fleeing the fighting to more secure areas, including around the Kitchanga base, which some 25,000 civilians have sought shelter with the UN.

**South Sudan

Meanwhile, the head of the peacekeeping operations department, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in South Sudan for a joint visit to the region with Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa.  The focus of the visit is on assessing progress made on the peace process and the preparations under way for the upcoming December elections — the country’s first since independence.  Speaking upon his arrival in Juba yesterday, he said this is an important time for South Sudan and his visit is an expression of the UN family’s solidarity with the country.  Adding that it is clear the region is facing many challenges, including hostilities in Sudan, which are having an impact on South Sudan, intercommunal tensions in Abyei, which we’ve talked to you about, as well as other issues such as the impact of climate change on communities.  Mr. Lacroix and Ms. Tetteh will then go to Abyei later this week.


A note from Sudan, where the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning us that at least 25 million people across Sudan, South Sudan and Chad are struggling with soaring rates of hunger and malnutrition as the crisis in Sudan sends shockwaves around the region – at a time when WFP is facing an almost $300 million funding gap for the next six months.  WFP says that people who are crossing to South Sudan or Chad are hungry and arriving with no resources.  WFP had to prioritize scarce resources for new arrivals, this means pre-existing refugees no longer receive assistance.  We have been sounding the alarm for months now regarding the humanitarian situation in Sudan.  There are 18 million acutely food insecure people within the country, most are trapped in areas of active fighting where WFP and aid agencies are struggling to maintain consistent access.  To avoid a hunger catastrophe as we approach the lean season, our agencies need to be able to provide support to families in Sudan.

**Financial Contribution

A quiz today.  James, you missed the hint, but there you go:  In 1976, Bob Dylan wrote a beautiful song about this country, where he said I’d like to spend some time there.  [Response from the crowd]  No.  For all of you “parrotheads”, Jimmy Buffett and Emmylou Harris also did a copy version of this song.  It is Mozambique.  I don’t know if you claim the first question, James, but there you go.

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  I've been to Mozambique.

Spokesman:  Yes, yes, you’ve been to Mozambique.  In fact, I don't think Bob Dylan ever went to Mozambique.  Alright, but we thank our friends in Maputo.

Question:  We, now as you know, are supposed to have a Security Council vote on Gaza in less than 24 hours, on an Algerian draft.  There is now a US draft, as well, before the Security Council, although that's not in blue.  Just from the Secretary-General's point of view, what does he want the Security Council to achieve?

Spokesman:  Well, we understand negotiations are still ongoing, so I don't think I'll get into the details of it.  What the Secretary-General would like to see, first of all, on the ground is a humanitarian ceasefire, the immediate release of all hostages, increasing humanitarian access.  He would like to see the Security Council speak with one voice on this issue, which has been challenging.

Question:  And as you know, he's been calling for a long time for a ceasefire; the reason there has not been a ceasefire is because of the US veto.  They have been opposed to that word — ceasefire. In their new draft, they now are underscoring support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable. Is he pleased that the US have significantly changed their position?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into commenting on draft resolution.

Question:  I'm going to try again, though.  In the US draft, it also talks, and you did talk about this earlier on in the briefing, about a major ground offensive into Rafah, resulting in further harms to civilians and their further displacement, including potentially into neighbouring countries; and then the draft paragraph says such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.  Does the Secretary-General agree with that reasoning?

Spokesman:  I think Secretary-General has, I think, been very vocal expressing his extreme worry at the impact of a ground offensive in Rafah.

Question:  So, does he hope the Security Council will take action on this?

Spokesman:  He hopes the Security Council will speak with one voice, hopefully mirroring his own position, but that's far as I'll go for now.  Okay.  Yes.  I mean, I'm… I know it’s Monday.  Yes, sir.  Go ahead.

Question:  Yep, about Russia.  How do you think the assassination of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Russia, as well as the disqualification of Boris Nadezhdin from running in the elections, will affect the legitimacy of the electoral process in Russia, from the point of view of the international community?

Spokesman:  I mean, I'm not into making predictions.  Let's wait and see for the elections to happen.  Benno?

Question:  Thank you.  Ursula Von der Leyen announced that she wants to run again for the Commission Chief of the European Union.  Do you have any comment?

Spokesman:  I mean, A, we don't have a vote in this process.  It's not our process.  We have difficulty commenting on our own processes, so we'll refrain from commenting.  I will, however, say that the Secretary-General had a very good, productive and positive relationship with her in this post and in her previous one. Dezhi, then Miriam.

Correspondent:  First, a follow-up on the draft resolution by Algeria.

Spokesman:  You'll be luckier than James?

Question:  Let me try this.  So, on Sunday, the US Ambassador posted this statement, said that this resolution wouldn't achieve outcomes regarding the releasing of hostages and negotiations in Cairo, I believe, and indeed may run counter to them, and so for these reasons, the US does not support action on this draft resolution.  I just checked the draft resolution for two parts.  First one, on the expansion and the double down of efforts for Sigrid Kaag to work there; and second, urged for a temporary ceasefire.  I mean, the Secretary-General called for a ceasefire for a long time.  Does that mean that the SG is running counter to the negotiations in Cairo?  Because, you know, that's what the statement says.  Because you’re calling for basically the same thing, right?

Spokesman:  I will leave all this analysis to you, Dezhi.

Question:  So, and the second thing is:  Does the Secretary-General feel, how to say that, content on the process of Ms. Sigrid Kaag's work?  I mean, is it too slow?

Spokesman:  Okay, you know, the only thing we can control is the intensity and the efficiency in which she is working and her team is working.  And we, of course, have… she is doing whatever she can. She's working hard.  She's talking to people she needs to talk to.  But, as always, the levers of power are not in the hands of the Secretary-General, nor in the hands of Sigrid Kaag.  She's doing whatever she can and, I mean, she's…

Question:  Yeah.  It's been beyond two months.

Spokesman:  I'm not debating the calendar with you.  I'm just saying, I know she is working, and her team are working as quickly and as efficiently as they can, but they don't hold the levers of power.

Question:  Does anybody sabotage her work?

Spokesman:  I will leave that to investigative journalists.  Mariam and I'll come back to you, Dezhi.

Correspondent:  No.  Just one second.

Spokesman:  I promise I'll come back to you.  Mariam?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Today, UN experts express alarm over credible allegation of human rights violation to which Palestinian women and girls continue to be subjected in Gaza Strip and West Bank.  Does the Secretary-General receive, has he received any of these reports, and what does he say?

Spokesman:  You know, let me put it this way:  The independent experts are independent from us.  The Office for the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been expressing these concerns.  They've been highlighting these things, and we fully back and support their position on this.

Question:  Also, a question on Doha meeting on Afghanistan.  Has the Secretary-General have a short list of people for this Special Envoy for Afghanistan?  How's that process going?  Do you have anything to share with us?

Spokesman:  That process is going, and I have nothing to share with you, beyond what the SG said.

Question:  Is the Special Envoy going to be introduced for the Security Council meeting on [25 February], I think?

Spokesman:  25 February?

Question:  Yes.  Is he going to have someone?

Spokesman:  If I signed up to Draft Kings, I would not put money on that.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  But, the process is ongoing, and it will work at its own pace. I could be wrong.  Benno and then Celhia.

Question:  I'm not sure if you commented on this already, but there are reports since a few days that Egypt is setting up a camp on its border with Gaza. Does the UN have any stake in…

Spokesman:  We've just seen those same reports as you have, and I think I have commented, and I've reiterated our deep worry about the situation of the more than one million people who are crammed into southern Rafah.

Question:  Means you're not setting up or helping setting up a camp close to Rafah?

Spokesman:  That's correct.  Celhia, I'd realized Benno already had a question.  Celhia?

Question:  Steph, it's about the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].  Was I wrong to think that DRC has no national army, and until now when they wanted to have some sort of an army, they were hiring the M23?

Spokesman:  I don't know if they were hiring the M23, but what I do know is that the Armed Forces of the DRC, which are in the east, are coordinating their work with the [UN] peacekeepers, in order to protect especially to protect civilians and Goma and Sake from the advance of the M23.  Sir?

Question:  On the eve of International Mother Language Day, day after tomorrow, I have two questions on that event.  First, Bangla also has a demand or request to be included in the UN official languages as one of the seventh largest speaking languages in the world.  And we all know that the United Nations has declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day, on the day of sacrifice of Bengalis for the right of mother tongue.  Can you say anything about the Secretary-General's views on that request?

Spokesman:  Mother language Day is extremely important day.  I think diversity of language and culture is extremely important and is it at the centre of a lot of our work.  As for changing the six or adding to the six official languages, that, I believe, is a decision to be made by the General Assembly.

Question:  And second part?

Spokesman:  Yes, sir?

Question:  Is there any possibility of build a martyrs minar, or monument, or Bangladesh called Shoid Minar, on the premises of the United Nations Headquarters?

Spokesman:  For any piece of art or monument, there is a process involves the Arts Committee and permanent missions to know what that process is.  Dulcie, then Yu.

Question:  Yeah.  The Secretary-General's press conference at Doha, he thanked Qatar for their additional support of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] in these trying times.  What was he referring to?

Spokesman:  Their stated commitment to give more money to UNRWA.  I don't, we're trying to get an update on what other countries, what are the actual cash transfers.  But, the Qataris have told us that they are willing to support UNRWA financially.

Question:  Did they say by how much?

Spokesman:  I don't have that number with me.

Question:  Okay.  And then did the Taliban tell the Secretary-General why they didn't come to his Doha meeting?

Spokesman:  The Taliban did not meet with the Secretary-General.

Question:  But, did they convey any message?

Spokesman:  Rosemary DiCarlo met with them separately.  I mean, I think they were very public in what they were saying. I don't want to speak further, but they were very public in their statement as to why they would not participate, and I don't believe there was any difference to what they said publicly and privately.

Question:  So, where did Rosemary meet with them?

Spokesman:  She met with them in their… my understanding is she met with them in their offices in Doha.

Question:  Oh, okay.  And then I have one question about Egypt and the refugee camp there for the Sudanese. It Is the UN affiliated with that at all?

Spokesman:  For the Sudanese?

Question:  For the Sudanese refugees?

Spokesman:  That's a question you should ask UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  Thank you. Yu?

Question:  Thank you, Steph, so I have questions about Afghanistan, Qatar's meeting — Doha's meeting — but you have already answered.  So, Secretary-General does not meet the top member of Taliban people coming out of the meeting?

Spokesman:  That's correct.  They stated publicly they would not participate in the meeting.  He did say in this press conference that Rosemary DiCarlo had met with their representatives in Doha.  As you know, they have… these are not people who came in from Kabul, but these are people who work, who are based in Doha.

Question:  So how's the next step?  So how does UN communicate with Taliban members to improve UN’s position, human rights?

Spokesman:  We communicate with them by meeting with the de facto authorities in Kabul on a regular basis.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and her deputies regularly meet with them and regularly keep pushing for the restoration of the rightful rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.  James and Dezhi?

Question:  Sorry, there was a question that mentioned Navalny, but not a Navalny question.  Can you tell me what the Secretary-General's view is of the death of Navalny?  And what is his view subsequently of the fact that the body, the family would like the body handed over, and it seems like that is not happening at this stage.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, on his position, I addressed that on Friday.  Obviously, as our human rights colleagues said that states have a heightened responsibility for those people they hold in prison.  So, we very much hope that that issue will be resolved and that, in any situation, families should have the bodies of their loved ones.

Question:  Are you worried that if there is a period of time here, there might be important evidence that is no longer available?

Spokesman:  Let's see what happens.  Dezhi?

Question:  Actually, I only expect one word from you.  Any update on the resumption of the funding for UNRWA with those Member States who had stopped it?

Spokesman:  As I told Dulcie, we're trying to get…

Question:  Yeah.  I mean I mean, those who suspended…?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I think those… you will hopefully see some of the announcements, as we do publicly, but we don't have any updates for you.

Correspondent:  Okay.  That's more than one word.

Spokesman:  Okay.  That's more than one word.  Well, you ask a question.  You never know what you're going to get.  Jordan, please, and then Abdulhamed.

Question:  Some questions on Sigrid Kaag.  You just send us some communication with her press encounter with journalists.  And she used the phrase, right now and at the present, when she talked about UNRWA more than once or two times or three times and the language was — it could be this is the way she express herself.  But, my question on that:  Is she eventually replacing UNRWA? Is her official replacing UNRWA in the future in Gaza?

Spokesman:  Not at all.

Question:  And my second question, who is her counterpart in Gaza?

Spokesman:  What do you mean?  Who's her counterpart in Gaza?

Question:  Okay.  This is… I know you're going to ask me, because some weeks ago, you sent us a reading that she has mentioned she agreed with her counterpart who is the same term counterpart, that were the foreign minister and the president.  He said she meets her counterpart and agrees.  Now when it comes to Palestine, who is her counterpart in Gaza?

Spokesman:  The official contact for the United Nations in terms of Palestine is the Palestine Authority, and she's already met with them.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have there's so many developments to ask about, but I'll restrain myself to three. First, there is an Israeli decision now to restrict Palestinians inside Israel to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque in Ramadan and this could be a warning for escalation.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  I would restate what we've said about the need to uphold the status quo when it comes to the holy sites and allow people to pray in their respective parts of the holy sites.  Your other question?

Question:  Yes.  There is unanimous decision by the Israeli cabinet to deny the unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian State.  Are you aware of this decision?  And what is your comments on that?

Spokesman:  I've seen those reports.

Question:  And no comment?

Spokesman:  Well, our comment is that we will continue to advocate for a two-State solution.  Your other question, sir?

Question:  And the last question, 33 members of the Knesset Committee voted in preliminary decision to ban UNRWA altogether from working inside the occupied territories and Israel.  Did you follow that?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, the fact that we are hearing strong rhetoric against UNRWA from certain parts of the Israeli Government, including Knesset, is not really headline news.  We continue to defend UNRWA.  We continue to defend its vital role, its irreplaceable role right now in the work that they do in Gaza, the work they do throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as Jordan, as well as Syria and as well as Lebanon.  Yes, sir?  Then I will go.

Question:  I have one on Myanmar.  There are concerns from various corners including United States has flagged the security risks from the Rohingya refugee crisis for Bangladesh and India, amid the ongoing conflict between the Myanmar military and rebel groups.  What is the latest position of the United Nations to resolve this decision?

Spokesman:  On the issue between Myanmar and India?

Question:  No, Myanmar army and rebels?

Spokesman:  We're very concerned of the violence we have seen in Myanmar recently, including a reported attacks on schools by the Government air force.  We are unfortunately limited in our humanitarian access, and we keep for advocating for more.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.