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The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen in Geneva, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, spoke to reporters at the UN Headquarters there and he warned of what he called a possible “perfect storm” in Idlib due to the potential military escalation in the area. Mr. de Mistura stressed that 2.9 million lives are at stake in Idlib, which is the largest of the so called de escalation areas.
Mr. de Mistura cautioned that, although discussions are taking place to avoid a worst case scenario, miscalculations could occur, leading to unforeseen escalations. He also echoed the Secretary General’s own statement from yesterday, underlining the use of chemical weapons would be totally unacceptable. The Special Envoy said there is a need to maintain moral pressure to not hurry with a drastic military option and allow more time for a sustainable formula that could be linked to fighting terrorism but also to save civilians.
And our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of reported suspected cholera cases in Yemen has been increasing over the last two months. Since April 2017, more than 1.1 million suspected cholera cases and 2,310 associated deaths have been reported across Yemen. The outbreak is the most serious on record. Between the beginning of the year and mid-August 2018, 120,000 suspected cases have been reported. Although this figure is lower than during the same period last year, the increasing rate of infections over recent weeks is raising concerns of a possible third wave of the epidemic, with the current rains increasing the risk of spread.
Humanitarian partners are working to avoid a large scale resurgence. This [month], our partners vaccinated nearly 400,000 people against cholera in high risk [districts] of Hodeidah and Ibb. This followed an earlier campaign in Aden in May, were nearly 275,000 people were vaccinated against cholera. Our partners also continue to support critical water, sanitation, hygiene and health facilities. Supplies to treat over half a million cases have been pre positioned in warehouses and health offices in at risk districts.
The Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed just concluded her visit to Copenhagen, in Denmark, where she met with several senior Government officials, including the Minister of Foreign [Affairs] and the Minister of Development Cooperation. Discussions focused on Denmark’s support to the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development], on climate action, multilateralism and the ongoing reforms of [the] United Nations.
Ms. Mohammed also met with Crown Princess Mary, whom she thanked for her advocacy on behalf of women and girls and discussed key actions needed to advance Sustainable Development Goal 5. She also visited the UN City in Copenhagen where she held a town hall with all staff. Finally, the Deputy Secretary General delivered a lecture at the University of Copenhagen focusing on today’s global challenges.
And the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, continued her visit to Mali today, visiting Mopti in the central area of the country. Currently, 972,000 people need protection and humanitarian assistance in Mopti, the highest number, the highest proportion of people in need in the country. Humanitarian needs have increased there due to intercommunal violence and various attacks by armed groups.
In Bankass, Ms. Mueller met with internally displaced people, hearing about their desperate need for food, water and shelter. The number of internally displaced people in the country has sharply increased since the beginning of the year to over 75,000 by the end of July. In Mopti alone, the number of displaced increased from 2,000 to 12,000 from April to July.
Ms. Mueller also met with representatives of aid organizations to better understand the challenges they face in providing life-saving protection assistance and with local authorities, stressing the need to scale up conflict resolution, access to basic social services and protection.
Also on Mali, the Head of the Peacekeeping Department, Jean Pierre Lacroix, will be heading there, starting a visit tomorrow. During his time in Mali, he will be in Bamako, as well [as] the north of the country. He will meet with the UN staff in the peacekeeping Mission as well as with officials from the Government of Mali and other involved in the Malian peace agreement. He will also hold discussions with the G5 Sahel leadership to discuss UN’s support for this joint force.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners are providing emergency food aid to Ebola victims in North Kivu Province. Before the declaration of the outbreak at the beginning of the month, WFP had already been assisting 12,000 displaced people who had been forced to move due to conflict, and they are now expanding their operations to provide food in hospitals treating those affected by the epidemic and their families. Some 4,000 people are receiving a one month supply of cereals, beans, oil and salt, and that is to reinforce the response to critically ill patients. WFP is also airlifting high energy biscuits into Goma from their warehouse in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
This morning, the Security Council extended the mandate of the Panel of Experts on Mali, that was followed by an open meeting on Guinea Bissau.
Addressing the Council, José Viegas Filho, the Secretary General’s Special Representative and head of the UN peacebuilding office in Guinea Bissau (UNIOGBIS), said the political and security situation has remained relatively calm in recent months. He noted that authorities and political actors have focused on preparations for legislative elections in November. The envoy said the consolidation of long term stability remains contingent on the successful holding of legislative elections, urging international partners to maintain and increase their political, technical and financial support.
In the afternoon, the Council will meet on the extension of the mandate of UNIFIL, the Interim Force in [Lebanon], and that will be followed by consultations on sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well as other matters.
Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Enforced disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror in a society. It often targets human rights defenders and those who are vulnerable like children and people with disabilities. The Day seeks to raise awareness of this issue which has become a global problem and is not restricted to any specific region.
**United Nations Police Adviser
We are sad to announce the passing yesterday of Mr. Andrew Hughes of Australia, who was the UN’s Police Adviser from 2007 to 2009. Mr. Hughes headed the Police Division with a high level of integrity, dedication, professionalism and strong leadership and he will be missed by friends and colleagues. We send our condolences to his family.
**Press Encounter Today
We do expect the President of the Security Council for the month of August, Ms. Karen Pierce of the United Kingdom, to speak to you at the stakeout of the Security Council of the United Nations after they’re done this morning.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, should there be an attack or counter attack to potential chemical incident in Syria by any State legitimate by UN standard? I mean any… any attack trying to punish the Syrian authorities or the Syrian army for a possible chemical attack, would it be legitimate by UN at all?
Spokesman: There is no reason, no excuse, for any use of chemical weapons. Full stop.
Question: Okay. But, in this case, there are many players on the ground, and there are a lot of reports talking about chemical weapons being brought into Syria through Turkey. And, in the past, there were two kilograms of sarin, which were reported from Libya…
Spokesman: I have… I’ve read… I… I…
Correspondent: I want to finish my question.
Spokesman: Like you, I’ve read, I’ve read press reports. We have no confirmation of the veracity of those reports, but the, the UN’s position, the Secretary General’s position is unambiguous. Chemical weapons must not be used. Full stop.
Question: Not be used, but, in the case of retaliation as a result of death without investigation…
Spokesman: I don’t, you know, I’m not a native English speaker so, but I am going to try to be as clear as possible. Chemical weapons must not be used. Yes.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About Idlib and the declaration by Mr. de Mistura, one of the several preoccupation that particularly European countries have is that the offensive could produce a new wave of refugees toward Europe. As far as you know, is there any discussion, preparation going on inside the UN system to prevent that?
Spokesman: Look, it’s, our main concern, the Secretary General’s concern, Mr. de Mistura’s concern, Mr. Lowcock’s concern, the UN system’s concern is for the safety and well being of civilians. We have warned that any, that a military action in Idlib Province could have catastrophic humanitarian implications. There are 2.9 million civilians in the, in the area. I think over 2 million of these people are already getting, are in need of humanitarian, humanitarian aid. All the parties involved have a responsibility to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, under international law. They must all do what we can. I think Mr. de Mistura, very, echoed the Secretary General’s statement from yesterday. He raised the alarm on, I think, in very clear terms, on the situation in Idlib. We understand there are all sorts of discussions going on, and we hope, we very much hope that, that everything can be done to, to avoid more humanitarian suffering. Erol.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. In the light of Mr. de Mistura’s statement in Geneva, how the Secretary General sees the role of Turkey, obviously, when it comes to Idlib? Did anybody reach to any Turkish official or talk on that issue? And I’ll have another question.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary General yesterday was very clear in his call on the, on the Astana guarantors to step up their efforts to find a peaceful solution to, to the situation in, in Idlib. Contacts have been had at, at various levels. Mr. de Mistura is, is constantly on the phone on the, on the issue of Syria as all.
Question: With the Turkish as well?
Spokesman: Astana includes Turkey. He’s in touch with all, all the parties.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Sorry if I missed that, because I was not regular on the briefing, whether the SG is going to attend the funeral for the late Kofi [Annan]?
Spokesman: Yes, he is.
Correspondent: And also…
Correspondent: You want to follow up?
Correspondent: No, no.
Question: Also, I’m asking this late one on my own, not a representative of the media organization, but a long term journalist here. I’m receiving email… emails from Mr. Matthew Lee. He’s complaining how the UN handled his situation.
Spokesman: Erol, Erol, Erol…
Question: Is his case finally… no, I’m just asking.
Spokesman: No, I know you’re just asking. This issue has been asked and answered. I would encourage you to either read the transcript or to look at the videos, even of, I think, yesterday or the day, of the day before. The issue is settled as far as we’re concerned.
Spokesman: Mademoiselle… hold on. If we could let this young lady, who has not yet asked a question, and then I will come back to you with pleasure, Nizar.
Question: Thank you. As UNGA is fast approaching and Trump will be coming to us once again, I was wondering, there’s been some speculation that perhaps he could use his speech to set out the long awaited Middle East peace plan. Can you say anything to the SG’s hopes for that if that were to happen or…?
Spokesman: No, we…
Question: … or expectations?
Spokesman: … very much look forward to having the President of the United States here as the, the leader of the, the President of our host, of our host country. We’ll have to wait and see what he says. I’m not going to speculate on the speech of a, of a Head of a State, but obviously, the Secretary General has been in touch with senior members of the US Administration on, in various discussions on the issue of the Middle East. And I think we do await to see, await to see the plan. Okay. Yes, Nizar. I come back to you with pleasure, as I mentioned.
Question: Mr, Mr. Guterres has appealed to the guarantors, Astana guarantors, regarding the situation in Idlib. However, does he appeal to the three… P3 — United States, Britain and France — who have threatened to use force in Syria to, to restrain from using force against all… carry out any attack in Syria?
Spokesman: I will reread his own words from yesterday. The Secretary General urgently appeals to the Government of Syria and all parties to exercise restraint and to prioritize the protection of civilians. That, our message for the protection of civilians, the protection of civilian lives, the protection of civil infrastructure, goes to the parties on the ground and to all those who also have influence over those [on] the ground, and that list is quite long.
Question: Well, do you have any information regarding the kidnapping of children and women in order to stage another chemical attack in Idlib as alleged by the Syrian and the Russian…?
Spokesman: No, I do not.
Question: … authorities?
Spokesman: I do not. Yes.
Question: Stéph, starting in September, two women from Latin America are going to be holding two of the main positions in the UN structure. Does the SG have any comment on the significance of this for women and for the region?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, they were the best candidates for their jobs. I think the Secretary General has made it a priority and has successfully reached parity and, and beyond in terms of the senior leadership of the United Nations of the positions that he can himself appoint. It’s very important that the senior leadership is a broad reflection of the geographic balance of the United Nations, and we look forward to having them on board. Erol.
Question: Thank you. What is the position of the new High Commissioner of Refugees on the Rohingya issues? Again, if I miss it, especially in the light of, in the light of the yesterday meeting when we heard so many very strongful statements.
Spokesman: We have one High Commissioner at a time. Right now, it is Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. I think he has made his position on the Rohingyas very clear, as has the Secretary General. I don’t know what Madame [Michelle] Bachelet’s personal position is. I don’t speak for her in a personal capacity. We’ll have to wait till she comes on board and is sworn in.
Question: Yeah, and do you now have any… the list of those who were invited to Geneva for the Yemen talks?
Spokesman: The Houthis and the Government of Yemen, the two main parties that were, that were invited. Okay. Thank you all. Tomorrow is Friday. We shall be here, but we will not be here on Monday.
Source: United Nation