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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

20 August 2019

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the representatives of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and the World Health Organization.

Libya

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), thanked everyone for participating in the successful World Humanitarian Day event the previous day.

He then read the following statement:

“At least 90 civilians have been killed and more than 200 injured since hostilities escalated early this month in and around the small oasis town of Murzuq in south-western Libya. Casualties include some 45 people killed in an air strike that hit the area on 4 August and the death or injury of six children on 8 August, after a mortar landed on a house hosting internally displaced persons in the Bendalwah neighbourhood.

Casualties on all sides of the fighting have continued as a result of air strikes by planes and drones, indiscriminate rocket attacks and shelling, and direct fighting on the ground.

Some 9,450 people have been displaced by the violence within the Murzuq municipality since the beginning of August, according to IOM, but some families are reluctant to leave the affected areas because they are afraid of reprisals. If a family leaves a neighbourhood controlled by one side of the conflict, the other side may think they are affiliated with their enemy. Families therefore fear that they may be targeted.

Humanitarian needs are growing fast, according to local counterparts, with priority on medical supplies and health assistance, food, water and sanitation support, but also tents, blankets and hygiene kits.

The UN and humanitarian organizations are responding with emergency health care, food distribution, shelter, and non-food items, but access remains difficult due to the active fighting. The UN has extremely limited access to Murzuq itself with many roads damaged and many roadblocks.

As humanitarian needs keep growing, we call on all parties to the fighting to urgently ensure the conditions for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need and make sure civilians can leave if they so wish. We also remind the parties of their obligation to protect civilians and civilian facilities at all times.

To the international donor community: we call for additional funding to the recently reprioritized Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya. This plan requires USD 202 million in funding, but has only received USD 60.5 million, or 30 percent. Half of this funding is from the European Commission.”

Responding to a question, Mr. Laerke explained that the area was in the far southwest part of Libya, which was quite far away from Tripoli. It was a relatively small oasis town with up to 15,000 people living there before the conflict. The violence was displacing people from the town which was why there were some IDP settlements around the town that were receiving humanitarian aid. The critical issue at the moment was the Murzuq town itself in which the fighting was ongoing.

Mr. Laerke reiterated that the conflict in Libya was very complex with multiple actors, including local tribes, and foreign countries with influence over various parties to the conflict. OCHA’s focus was of purely humanitarian nature; it was concerned about the wellbeing of the people who were fleeing neighborhoods under shelling. OCHA was calling on all parties to allow people who wished to leave to do so, and to spare civilian infrastructure, in accordance with the international humanitarian law.

Asked about the casualties, Mr. Laerke said that Murzuq was a civilian area, in which many children were living. At least two children had been killed and four injured, when a house hosting IDPs had been hit. Children were clearly suffering in the ongoing fighting.

Syria

Jennifer Fenton, for the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE), said that Special Envoy Pedersen was back in the office. He had had a productive meeting with the Chinese Envoy for Syria, Mr. Xi. They shared similar concerns about the humanitarian issues and the situation on the ground. They had reviewed the progress on the constitutional committee, in line with the UN Security Council resolution 2254. Mr. Pedersen was grateful for support from China. He was looking forward to engaging the press. Mr. Pedersen noted that moving forward with the composition and rules of procedures were among his priorities, and he hoped that the work could be completed soon. Mr. Pedersen was very concerned about the continuing fighting in Idlib and stressed that there was no military solution to the conflict. Ms. Fenton informed that the Special Envoy would be briefing the Security Council the following week, and the media would be kept abreast.

Ms. Vellucci quoted the UN Spokesperson, who had stated that:

“We remain concerned about the latest developments in the north-west of Syria. We are aware of the reports of a Turkish military convoy that is en route to a Turkish observation post in Morek in southern Idleb was struck by aircraft fire earlier today. Turkey's Defence Ministry has indicated that this has resulted in multiple casualties. These reports are of grave concern to us and remind us that violence in Idleb is not just a humanitarian issue; it also poses a significant risk to regional security. The United Nations reiterates the call for an urgent de-escalation of the situation in the northwest part of Syria and for all parties to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements agreed by Russia and Turkey in 2018.”

Responding to a question, Ms. Fenton said that the Special Envoy had always noted that the protection of civilians was a key priority, and while fighting terrorism was legitimate, it had to be done with concern for the lives of civilians in the affected areas. Ms. Friedman could not comment on the activities of terrorist organizations or an alleged revival of ISIS. The focus of the OSE was on moving ahead with the political process.

Migrants in Europe

Asked to comment on the relations between Spain and Italy over the reception of migrants, Andrej Mahecic, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), reminded of the 13 August statement, in which the UNHCR called on the European governments to allow for immediate disembarkation of people recently rescued and now stranded at sea. Some 98 people remained on board the Open Arms, and further nine had been medically evacuated the previous night. For those still on board, there were serious health and psychosocial needs, which could not be met on the vessel itself. Many of them had suffered terrific abuses in Libya. Six EU countries had come forward and expressed readiness to receive them, and it should now be a simple matter of getting them safely to land. Rescued people should not be used as hostages for the purpose of political point scoring, and the current situation was truly regrettable.

Mr. Mahecic reiterated that there were 98 people remaining on board of the Open Arms and further 350 people on the Ocean Viking, an Médecins Sans Frontières-run boat, which was still at sea. There were no details on the conditions there, but it could be assumed that they were similar to the situation on the Open Arms.

Mr. Mahecic said that the only person who could make the assessment of the conditions and of what needed to be done with the Open Arms was the captain in charge of the vessels, who was familiar with the situation. UNHCR was systematically calling for clear, arranged places of disembarkation where people could be properly received.

Geneva announcements

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), informed that the WHO would release its first report on microplastics in drinking water. The report would be presented through a virtual briefing on 21 August at 2 p.m. The link to the report would be sent out today.

Mr. Lindmeier further stated that the WHO Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication would publish recommendations with key steps needed to eradicate malaria on 22 August at 2 p.m; a virtual briefing would be organized.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Conference on Disarmament was holding this morning a public plenary meeting, the first under the presidency of Ambassador Taonga Mushayavanhu of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Presidency would run until the end of the 2019 session on 13 September.

Ms. Vellucci also said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was meeting in private until the end of its 99th session, scheduled for Thursday, 29 August.

Ms. Vellucci informed that 21 August would be the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism and referred to the Secretary-General’s message on that occasion.

22 August would be International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, for which the Secretary-General’s message was available as well.

The press breakfast with the new Director-General Tatiana Valovaya would take place in Press Room I on 29 August at 9:15 a.m. It would be an informal meeting, a part of which would be on the record.

Ms. Vellucci also informed that the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) would be meeting on 22 and 23 August. On 22 August, it would discuss the Amended Protocol II on landmines, booby traps and other explosive devices, and on 23 August – Protocol V on the explosive remnants of war. The meetings would be open to the press, and a note would be sent to the correspondents.

Press conferences

On Thursday, 22 August 2019 at 10:00 a.m. in Press Room 1 a press conference would be held by the Permanent Mission of Latvia. The speakers would be Ambassador Janis Karklins, President of the 5th Arms Trade Treaty Conference of States Parties, and Anna Macdonald, ATT Advisor.

On Friday, 23 August at 9:30 p.m. in Room III, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) would hold a press conference related to the release of a UNICEF Child Alert “Education Under Threat in West and Central Africa”. The report would be embargoed until 8 a.m. GMT on Friday, 23 August. The speakers would be Muzoon Almellehan, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director.

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The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog200819