Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

19 July 2019

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and happy Friday, everyone.

**Security Council

This morning, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed Security Council members.

He said that the peace process has had mixed results.  On the one hand, efforts by the Government to advance the reintegration of former FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army) members have begun showing concrete results.  On the other hand, security in conflict-affected areas remains of grave concern, and he emphasized the need for timely investigations into recent killings.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu also stressed that the great majority of former FARC-EP members remain strongly committed to the peace process and added that the support of the Government, local communities, and the international community has been instrumental in making this possible.  He called for an increase in the number of productive projects for former combatants and for increased technical assistance and access to markets in order to ensure their sustainability.

In addition, he noted that the UN remains gravely concerned about the situation of social leaders and human rights defenders and said the work of the National Commission on Security Guarantees is essential to stop the threats and killings of this group of citizens.

Yesterday afternoon, the [Security Council] held an open meeting on the theme, “Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace:  Strengthening Partnerships for Successful Nationally-owned Transitions”.

Speaking at the meeting, the Secretary-General said that, while UN special political missions and peacekeeping operations are some of our most effective tools to promote and maintain international peace and security, they are temporary. 

He said that we are strengthening our focus on moments of transition, when our missions are reconfigured or leave a country.

The Secretary-General said that the UN’s role in transition processes must be comprehensive and coherent.  It must work in an integrated way to address the interlinked and often stubborn drivers of conflict: poverty, exclusion, inequality, discrimination and violations of human rights, exacerbated by climate change and the movement of people.  His full remarks are online.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, reacted today to the attack that took place near Kabul University.

The deliberate targeting of educational facilities during armed conflict is a war crime, the mission said in a social media post.

Initial findings indicate that Kabul University was the intentional target of today’s attack.  The blast killed 8 civilians and injured 33 more.

**Japan

We issued a statement earlier on the Secretary-General’s sadness at the loss of life caused by the arson attack and fire in Kyoto, Japan.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and the Government of Japan.  He wishes those injured a swift recovery.

In this tragic moment, the United Nations stands in full solidarity with the Government and people of Japan.

**Syria

In a press release today, Najat Rochdi, the Humanitarian Adviser to the Special Envoy for Syria, said that an alarming intensification of daily violence is continuing in north-western Syria.  At least 350 civilians are reported to have been killed in recent hostilities in the Idlib de-escalation area, she said, while some 3 million civilians lack protection and face a deteriorating humanitarian situation.

She added that attacks on civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, continue, with reports of 45 incidents impacting 35 health facilities already confirmed this year.  Ms. Rochdi echoed the Secretary-General in his condemnation of such attacks, which recently included one of the largest hospitals in Maarat al Numan, whose coordinates had been shared with parties to the conflict through the UN de-confliction mechanism.

Yesterday, after he briefed the Security Council on Syria, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said that medical facilities and medical workers enjoy special protections under international humanitarian law.  Civilians and civilian infrastructure require the protections afforded to them under International Humanitarian Law.  His press release on this is online.

**Venezuela

A survey conducted by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has found that many Venezuelans who have left their country continue to face risks during their journey because of their age and gender.

The survey, which was conducted in several Latin American and Caribbean countries, also found that many Venezuelans were facing difficulties finding work and accommodation due to lack of funds and documents, as well as discrimination because of their nationality.

Of the 7,846 people interviewed, only 15 per cent said they had applied for asylum, while the majority said they were not aware of procedures and entitlements.

UNHCR said it has already started referring people interviewed to counselling and other services to help them in their journey.  The full survey is available online.

**Bangladesh

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that monsoon rains have led to flooding and landslides across parts of Bangladesh, with at least 30 people reportedly having been killed and more than 2 million people affected.

The Government is responding by providing food, shelter and emergency cash assistance.  The UN and our humanitarian partners are supporting the Government-led efforts in the areas of water and health and are on standby to assist as needed in other areas.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) is coordinating with Government departments and local authorities.  WFP cautions that Bangladesh, a country with more than 161 million people and more than 700 rivers, is extremely prone to flooding every monsoon season.  The situation is exacerbated by climate change, which is melting glaciers in the Himalayas, whose rivers flow into Bangladesh and also contribute to flooding.

**Zimbabwe

From Geneva, our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that a recent UN-backed assessment has found that of the 14.5 million people in Zimbabwe, more than 3.5 million of them who are in rural areas are currently food insecure.

It is estimated that this number will climb to nearly 5 million people, or half of all rural households, by the end of the year.

Given the scale of the situation, WFP plans to bolster its assistance to help more than 2 million people by the peak of the lean season from January to April of next year.  Until then, teams will continue providing immediate food aid to the most vulnerable people, while also working with communities to build resilience to the impacts of climate change and future shocks.

WFP requires $173 million to meet these needs over the coming 9 months.

**Mozambique

And now, turning to Mozambique, where, as you can imagine, cyclones Idai and Kenneth, as well as irregular rainfall patterns in other parts of the country, have had a huge impact on this year’s agricultural production.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said today we should expect a difficult lean season.  Between October of this year and March 2020, over 1.9 million people are projected to struggle to meet their minimum food needs without humanitarian intervention.

WFP plans to assist over 560,000 people per month from July through October of this year with recovery-oriented assistance to both cyclone- and drought-affected areas.

As needs increase during the lean season, WFP wants to scale up its assistance to 1.25 million people per month.  The agency is calling for additional resources to reach more families during these critical 6 months.

**Contributions

And our thanks today go to Myanmar, which has paid its 2019 regular budget dues in full.  This takes the total number of fully paid-up Member States to 109.

**Press Encounters

And after I’m done, you’ll hear from Monica Villela Grayley.

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., Elizabeth Spehar, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus and Head of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), will brief the Security Council in closed consultations, and she will speak to reporters at the Security Council Stakeout following her briefing.

That’s it from me.  Do we have any questions? Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that the response to Ebola in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] in recent months has been adequate?  Or have there been mistakes made?  I have in the last hour been speaking to Anthony Banbury, who was the head of UNMEER [United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response], the UN's mission in 2014.  He says the lessons learnt from that were not learnt.  He said exactly the same mistakes were made.  He said he's watching the response with considerable frustration.  He says that political considerations have been put above health ones.  He says there's not been enough global leadership and the early response was inadequate.  What's the Secretary-General's response on whether the WHO [World Health Organization] and the rest of the UN acted in the way they should have done?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we do give credit to our colleagues, particularly in the World Health Organisation, who have been doing an admirable job with contact tracing of all of the people who have been diagnosed with Ebola and have tried to get as many people either quarantined or treated as quickly as possible.  At the same time, as you're aware, this is a zone where there's been fighting.  There have been times even in recent weeks where health workers, including those working on Ebola, have been killed, and there have been many numerous challenges, so it has been difficult.  The Secretary-General appreciated early on the need to have a better organization of our operations on the ground and was trying to reorganize the way that the UN system deals with this issue.  We're going to continue to examine what needs to be done to focus best on how this happens, but before we go into a period of analysing our own bureaucrat response, the main priority is to bring this crisis under control, and that's where the focus lies.  Yes?

Question:  Palestinians in Lebanon are demonstrating today.  They are protesting the new labour laws that had been suggested by the Minister of Labour, which discriminate against Palestinians.  Are you aware of that?  Is the Secretary-General aware of these riots and these discriminatory laws?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're aware of the situation.  Obviously, we don't comment on domestic legal systems, but certainly, we're hopeful that Lebanese society will continue to be as inclusive and as accepting of its refugee population as they have proven themselves to be for the past decades.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  The other day I asked you about what the Secretary-General thought about the… the speech, the hate speech that many leaders around the world are delivering and you had said, we will know because the Secretary-General talk a lot about this in his speech… speeches.  And I remember once with us journalists, the Secretary-General on one stakeout, he… he answered, because it was asked to him, why you don't mention by name who… who, you know, should be… you know… who should stop doing those kinds of speeches.  He said no, I don't mention by name, because there are several, and if I just mention one or that, then they will… the others will think that they are not, you know, guilty of this.  So you know, it was a good answer, but it's not convincing anymore because these speeches are still going on.  We had an example in this country just a few days ago.  So does the Secretary-General maybe going to change his strategy, start to name the people that are guilty of this kind of hate speech?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you yourself made clear, he explained his own reasoning why he continues with this particular approach and that is what he will do as long as he feels that that's the best approach.  If we change and start naming people, I'm sure you'll be the first to know.  Yes?

Question:  On Ebola again.  How many UN staff currently in the area, or in the region where the Ebola exist?  And also, what contingent is there that protecting the population, for the UN staff?  Two years ago, as my colleague said, the WHO and many, actually, world organization, they said they were… they were about to have vaccination against Ebola.  What happened to that promise?  And actually, they started giving people that vaccination.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, I believe that's part of the approach that we're doing in terms of dealing with vaccinations.  At the same time, what we're dealing with on the ground is having to make sure that we can find out all of the people who have contracted the disease and take the appropriate remedial measures with all those people.  I don't have the numbers of staff here.  I'll have to get back to you on that.  I'm certainly aware that, in addition to the World Health Organization, there's also support that they get from MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], who are helpful in terms of dealing with things like transport and security.  And right now, the funding needs to deal with this are about $98 million, but we face, the World Health Organization faces a funding gap of $54 million.

Question:  I mean, my question on the effectiveness of this vaccination, because they started two years ago to give it to people and it was the purpose of… it's like every three months we have news that it's going to be a disaster also because of Ebola.  I mean, what was… what has… what has been done?  And then what has to be done in order to contain the disease?  Especially in… in the area where you said this is a conflict between people, which is going to be very hard for international employees to be there to monitor.  And again, just if you have also the contingent, I'm talking about the military presence, beside the UN staff who are protecting the civilians in that area?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah… yeah, the military staff, the numbers are available on MONUSCO's website, so I would refer you to that.  Regarding vaccines, yes, some vaccines have been helpful in dealing with this, but, as you know, the bigger problem is that it has to be swiftly detected before it spreads to other some people so what we're trying to do is prevent the spread of the virus as it can pass from person to person.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I have to… My question is here about the vaccination.  They gave many people… many people were vaccinated.  Was it effective or not?  This is… or you have no information?  That's… that's it.

Deputy Spokesman:  The World Health Organization has better information than I do about the nature of the effectiveness, but yes, that has been one of the ways in which we are able to treat this, so yes, vaccines do work.  The bigger problem with the spread of it is determining how many people have it and getting to them before… and getting them treated and isolated before it spreads further.  Yes.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In regard to the US shootdown of the Iranian drone yesterday, I was wondering what the UN or Secretary-General's reaction or response was or is?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we don't have any first-hand information to verify any of the facts in this matter which, as you know, are under some sort of dispute, but we have been calling for parties to show restraint and to avoid any escalation of the conflict.  And that remains our message on this today.  Yes, Abdelhamid?

Question:  It seems, Farhan, that the fighting in and around Tripoli has accelerated now and the Presidential Council has accused three countries by name.  He mentioned those three countries who are supporting Khalifa Haftar, who is attacking Tripoli.  Do you have any update?  Do you have any statement on the development in Tripoli?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that, what I can tell you is that Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé is continuing with his efforts.  He has been reaching out in recent days and weeks to both General Haftar's side and the Government of Libya, and he continues to be in communications with them.  Beyond that, I don't have anything to say about external support.  We have made very clear the need for all parties, including those in the wider region, to avoid any further escalation and to bring both the Government and the LNA (Libyan National Army) back to the table. 

And with that, Monica.

For information media. Not an official record.