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.

All right, good afternoon.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In a short while, we will have our guest Rabab Fatima, the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

She will be here to brief you on the Third UN Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), which will be held in Kigali, in Rwanda, in June of this year.


Let me now turn to the situation in the Middle East, and UNRWA, and all the stuff you heard about this morning. The Secretary-General, in consultation with Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA Commissioner-General, this morning appointed an independent Review Group to assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to the allegations of serious breaches that have been made.

The review will be led by Catherine Colonna, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of France, and she will work with three research organizations: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Christian Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

The Review Group will begin its work on 14 February and is expected to submit an interim report to the Secretary-General by late March, with a final report expected to be completed by late April. The final report will be made public.

The review is in response to a request made by Philippe Lazzarini earlier this year in January.

The Review Group’s terms of reference are:

(1) To identify the mechanisms and procedures that the Agency currently has in place to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations or information indicating that the principles may have been breached;

(2) To ascertain how those mechanisms and procedures have, or have not, been implemented in practice and whether every practicable effort has been made to apply them to their full potential, taking into account the particular operational, political and security environment in which UNRWA operates;

(3) To assess the adequacy of those mechanisms and procedures and whether they are fit for purpose, including in relation of management of risks and taking into account the particular operational, political and security context in which UNRWA works;

(4) To make recommendations for the improvement and strengthening, if necessary, of the mechanisms and procedures that are currently in place and for the creation of new and alternative mechanisms and procedures that would be a better fit for purpose, taking into account, obviously, the operational, political and security environment in which UNRWA operates.

The Secretary-General notes that these accusations come at a time when UNRWA, the largest UN organization in the region, is working under extremely challenging conditions to deliver life-saving assistance to close to 2 million men, women and children in the Gaza Strip who depend on that aid for their survival amidst one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world.

This independent external review will take place in parallel with an investigation currently under way by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, OIOS, which is looking into allegations of the involvement of 12 UNRWA personnel in the 7 October attacks. The cooperation of the Israeli authorities, who made these allegations, will be critical to the success of the investigation.

And all of that was circulated with you.

**Sigrid Kaag

I also have an update on Sigrid Kaag’s activity, our Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza. She just concluded a visit to Cyprus, where she discussed a possible maritime corridor to Gaza.

In Cyprus, she met with government counterparts, including President Nikos Christodoulides and Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos. She also visited the Larnaca airport, as well as the seaport in Larnaca.

Before Cyprus, the [Senior] Coordinator was in the United Arab Emirates to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza. There, she met with the Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan; she also met with the Chairman of the Emirati Red Crescent Society, Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and also, with the Commander of Joint operations at the Ministry of Defence, Major General Saleh Al Ameri.

During the Ms. Kaag’s visit to the UAE, the Government of UAE generously pledged $5 million in support of the efforts to implement Security Council resolution 2720 for civilians in Gaza, and we thank them for that.


On the ground, from Gaza, our Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Thomas White, said in a social media post this morning that an aid convoy waiting to move into northern Gaza was hit by gunfire, but adding that thankfully no one was injured.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continue to report heavy fighting throughout Gaza over the weekend. It cited reports of significant destruction to residential blocks across Gaza, particularly in Khan Younis – this by Israeli forces. On 2 February, the destruction of residential blocks was also reported in Al Sabra neighbourhood, in Gaza City, and also in parts of southern and eastern Khan Younis. On 3 February, a residential block was reportedly destroyed in central Khan Younis.

The health sector remains extremely precarious, with only 13 out of 36 hospitals being functional in Gaza, only partially, and that is as of last week, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

For the month of January as a whole, only 10 of the 61 humanitarian aid missions planned for the north of Wadi Gaza were facilitated by the Israeli authorities, that is 16 per cent, and two were only partially facilitated.

Thirty-four missions, that is about 56 per cent of them, were denied access, and six were postponed by aid organizations due to internal operational issues.

Facilitated missions primarily involved food distribution, while the access of missions to support critical hospitals and facilities providing water, sanitation and hygiene services remained largely denied.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Also, just to say that our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, arrived in Rabat, Morocco. She held meetings with senior government officials, including the Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita.

They also discussed the challenges faced by Middle-Income Countries and the Deputy Secretary-General reiterated our commitment to supporting the country’s ongoing efforts towards the sustainable development.

On Tuesday, she is expected to address the opening session of the Ministerial Segment of the High-Level Ministerial Conference on Middle-Income Countries.

**Security Council

Also, I want to flag, on the Security Council this morning, Khaled Khiari, the Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Security Council on Myanmar. That was done in a private meeting.

And this afternoon, at 4 p.m., Council members will reconvene for a meeting on threats to international peace and security. Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of that Department, will brief. We will circulate those remarks.


And just turning to Chile. I am sure you’ve all seen the news of the devastating fires which have especially impacted the Valparaiso region. The Secretary-General said today that during his visit to Chile in November, he saw first-hand the generosity of its people and he offered his condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims of these horrific fires. He also expressed the solidarity of the UN with the people and Government of Chile at this difficult time.

And on the ground, our team there, led by the Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, is boosting preparedness to support the national response to the wildfires in Chile. Our team is preparing non-food items, and assistance for post-disaster coordination challenges and is ready to assist the Government with any support it needs and we can offer.


Turning to Yemen. The Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and other officials and diplomats. That took place in Tehran this weekend.

Mr. Grundberg stressed the need to safeguard the progress made toward a nationwide ceasefire, measures to improve Yemenis’ living conditions, and the resumption of a Yemeni-owned political process under the auspices of the United Nations. He explored with the Iranian officials ways to maintain a conducive environment for continued constructive dialogue in Yemen, including through sustained concerted regional and international support for the UN-led peace mediation. Discussions also focused on the need to de-escalate tensions at the regional level, and to prevent a relapse into the cycle of violence that plagued Yemen until the UN-brokered truce in 2022.


And turning to Abyei, which has been the site of violence recently. I can tell you that over the past three days, in the area located along South Sudan’s border with Sudan, we and our humanitarian partners have been providing food and shelter materials to displaced men, women and children, despite major access and logistical challenges.

The UN Interim [Security] Force for Abyei, or Peacekeeping Force, confirmed that a fresh outbreak of attacks in the southern part of Abyei over the weekend resulted in a number of civilian deaths and injuries, kidnappings, the burning of villages, as well as the theft of cattle.

The fighting has displaced more than 2,200 people. Our peacekeepers have been sheltering the displaced in United Nation bases. Among the displaced are hundreds of children, pregnant women, elderly, and people with disabilities.

Humanitarian teams continue to carry out assessments in villages impacted by those hostilities. A health team also carried out medical consultations.

The Peacekeeping Force has intensified its patrols by land and air to deter further violence and to do whatever it can to protect civilians.

The mission urges the immediate cessation of hostilities, respect for international humanitarian law, and of course, the protection of civilians.


And just north, to Sudan, but rather in relation to Sudan, I want to flag an event that is taking place Wednesday in Geneva, at our headquarters there. We will launch this year’s humanitarian and refugee response plans for Sudan that aims to reach about 15 million people inside the country this year.

Both, Martin Griffiths, our head of Humanitarian Affairs, and Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN Refugee Agency, will participate in the event.

After nearly 10 months of this current conflict, more than half of Sudan’s population – that is 25 million people – needs humanitarian assistance and protection. The current round of hostilities also forced more than 1.5 million people to flee across Sudan’s borders to countries already hosting large refugee populations.

The Regional Refugee Response Plan looks to support nearly 2.7 million people in five neighbouring countries: that is in Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and, of course, South Sudan.


You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday in which the Secretary-General said he was deeply saddened by the passing of the President of Namibia, Dr. [Hage Gottfried] Geingob.

Dr. Geingob was a respected and principled statesman who dedicated his life to serving and developing his country.

A prominent anti-apartheid activist and pioneer of Africa’s green energy transformation, he became the first Prime Minister of Namibia in 1990 and President in 2015.

The Secretary-General sent his condolences to his family and to the Government and people of Namibia.

**Honour Roll

Two more Members State on the Honour Roll. One is in the heart of Europe, and one is an island nation on the fringes of the Caribbean. It is going to be easy.

Paprika prominently features in the cuisine of the first country. Hungary […] We thank our friends in Budapest.

And second, flying fish, often paired with a side of cou cou, is the favourite on this island nation. Barbados.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesman: All right. Who said Hungary first? I think you did. So go ahead if you have a question. Otherwise, well, you can yield.

Question: On Senegal, there’s been some unrest during the weekend due to the postponement of the elections. Any comment?

Spokesman: We’ve obviously been very falling very closely the situation in, in Senegal. For the Secretary-General, it’s very important that all stakeholders uphold a peaceful environment, refrain from violence, and any action that can undermine the democratic process and stability in Senegal and to speedily resolve differences through consensus, and especially, I would say, in line with Senegal’s long-standing tradition of democratic governance. Edie and then Pam.

Question: Thank you, Steph. Two questions, first, is there any timetable for the OIOS inquiry report, and I’m asking because I saw some times in some publications, like four months.

Spokesman: I cannot give you a time frame because, obviously, the investigators will do whatever they need to do. From our standpoint, we would like to be done as speedily and as efficiently and credibly as possible. We don’t want to box them in to a time frame, but I think four months is way too… is way too long. I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere.

Question: Okay. And secondly, President Putin is going to visit Turkey and one of the issues according to the Turkish Foreign Minister is to discuss a new Black Sea Grain export idea proposal for Ukraine. Is, does the UN know anything about this? Is the UN involved?

Spokesman: We’re not involved as far as I know in this bilateral visit, but obviously, we will be looking closely as to what comes out. Pam, then Dezhi, then Ibtisam, then Frank.

Question: Thanks, Steph, a few quick questions on the UNRWA investigations. One is, there had been some sense that it could be four weeks on the OIOS and are they in any way coordinating these too?

Spokesman: No. So, they’re two distinctive things. That’s why we tried to make it as clear as possible in the announcement this morning. OIOS is looking at the specific cases of the 12 that was mentioned. It’s the kind of investigations that OIOS routinely does, looking into the behaviour of staff members. They will need the cooperation of everyone, all Member States involved. The independent review group, led by Catherine Colonna, now working with the three research organizations, is a much different mandate, and I think we’ve, we’ve listed it pretty clearly.

Question: Okay. On that, do you expect other people other than the three organizations to be appointed on Colonna?

Spokesman: Not that I’ve been made aware of.

Question: Okay, the next one is will there be testimony or information that comes from the parties to the conflict? Israel and the Palestinian authority to either of those?

/Public Release. View in full here.