The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement on the explosion earlier today in Saint Petersburg.
The Secretary-General condemns today’s bombing in the St. Petersburg metro. He extends his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and the people of the Russian Federation. Those responsible for this appalling act must be held accountable. And that statement is now online.
And the Secretary-General will be off and leaving New York later tonight for Brussels, where he will participate in the Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, which the United Nations is co-hosting. He will speak on Wednesday at the opening session of the Conference. The Secretary‑General will call for support for the political process, and for renewed efforts to provide sufficient humanitarian aid and access to all those in need inside Syria, and aid for refugees and host communities in the neighbouring countries. We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on Wednesday evening.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the landslides over the weekend in the city of Mocoa in Colombia’s Putamayo Province have left more than 250 people dead, many of them children, with many more missing or injured. Search-and-rescue efforts led by the Government continue, and the United Nations commends Colombia for its efforts to ensure that immediate humanitarian needs are being met. The UN humanitarian and country teams are working closely with the Colombian authorities and stand ready to offer assistance. The Secretary-General, for his part, conveyed his condolences to the people and Government of Colombia in a conversation yesterday with Colombia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and we expect him to speak to the President of Colombia later today.
And the new UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, took office today. Earlier this morning, he visited the UN memorial site at the General Assembly Building, where he paid tribute to the sacrifices of the UN peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the service of peace.
And humanitarian partners in Iraq have continued to work around the clock in order to keep pace with the rising displacement from western Mosul. Despite the daily arrival of thousands of newly displaced people at camps and emergency sites, space is currently available to receive almost 23,000 people, while further expansion and construction work is under way. In addition to providing shelter, humanitarian partners continue to assist displaced families, families on the move and vulnerable people who remain in newly retaken areas, wherever access allows.
Some 800,000 people have received “rapid-response” emergency packages with food rations, water and basic hygiene supplies, since the start of the Mosul crisis. Trauma stabilization points receiving trauma casualties from western Mosul have treated more than 6,000 people. Meanwhile, yesterday, more than 5,000 people were recorded as displaced from western Mosul. Almost 236,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul since the start of the military operation in the western neighbourhoods in late February.
And yesterday evening, as you may have seen, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, and the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, held an open and constructive exchange about the challenges experienced over the last months. The two leaders reconfirmed their joint commitment to finding a solution in the best interest of all Cypriots, taking into account the concerns of both communities. They also exchanged ideas about the way ahead. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, will continue to be in touch with the leaders to lay the groundwork to resume negotiations as soon as possible.
And, as you may have seen earlier this morning, the Secretary-General and the African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki, announced the appointment of Jeremiah [Nyamane] Kingsley Mamabolo of South Africa as Joint Special Representative for Darfur and Head of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, otherwise known as UNAMID. Mr. Mamabolo has been serving UNAMID as Acting Joint Special Representative since the departure of the previous Representative earlier this year, January of this year.
He brings to the position first-hand experience in dealing with the situation in Darfur, as well as the expertise from a distinguished career in the diplomatic service. He has served in UNAMID since 2016 as Deputy Joint Special Representative overseeing political, human rights, and legal aspects of the Mission’s activities. And from 2013 to 2016, he served as Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during which he also acted as the Chair of the “Group of 77”. His bio is available online.
Later today at 3 p.m., you will have the US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley, who will brief you on the Programme of Work, as the US assumes the Presidency [of the Security Council] for the month of April.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference on “changes of the world population age structure and their consequences for sustainable development: findings and recommendations of the fiftieth session of the United Natiosn Commission on Population and Development”. And the guest at noon, we will have Agnes Marcaillou, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service in occasion of the International Mine Awareness Day.
Lastly, we say thank you to our friends in Albania who have paid their full payment to the regular budget, which brings us up to …you’re closer, so if you have a question, Linda, otherwise you may yield it. You yield? Okay. Yes, Nizar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In Bahrain, these… they have abandoned all due process to any protesters, and now they were sent, any protesters, to the martial courts or court‑martials. What does the United Nations believe about that? And Mr. Ali Salman's sentence has been reduced to four years. Does the United Nations call for his release, immediate release, since he has really not committed any crime?
Spokesman: I think, not speaking about the particular case, which I haven't seen, I think we have in the past and will continue to express our concerns about a number of restrictions in place in Bahrain, notably on fundamental freedoms. And, as always, we've encouraged the Government to undertake meaningful and confidence‑building measures, including a genuine national dialogue, so as to help ensure peace, stability and prosperity for all Bahrainis.
Question: How about sending protesters to military courts?
Spokesman: I think I've… I think my answer answers that. Abdelhamid and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have noticed that, when the item of the Middle East is discussed in the Security Council, the item is titled according to the UN Journal and MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit], it's called the question of the Middle East… Middle East question or Middle East… Middle East and the question of the Palestinian people. It has been changed. Originally, it was the question of Palestine. Now, who authorized this change, from the question of Palestine to the Palestinian question? Which is big difference between both. And I think DPI [Department of Public Information] and MALU took on… took this title, which is erroneously.
Spokesman: I haven't noticed, but I'm happy…
Question: Yeah, can you please give me explanation?
Spokesman: I'm happy to… I will check. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some country questions, but I just wanted to ask, I saw on the Secretary‑General's schedule for today, 10:45 a.m., I believe, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the Yemen envoy. Can you confirm that he was extended for six months?
Question: And I guess, since statements have been made as to… regarding other officials, is there a re-… and I know that Farhan gave a quote about Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura…?
Spokesman: I just don't… I have no information on his contract… on the status of his contract. What I do know is that he continues as the Special Envoy for Yemen.
Question: Right. Others have asked… so… like, the Department of Management, does it have an officer in charge now, or is Mr. [Yukio] Takasu still the USG [Under-Secretary-General] of Management?
Spokesman: I have no update on that. I will give you one as soon as I have one. Yep?
Question: Nina, i24. President [Bashar al-]Assad, today… [inaudible] said that there is no place for President Assad in the future of Syria. Can you tell me where the Security Council currently stands on this, especially in the context of the peace talks ongoing?
Spokesman: Well, I think that sounds like a great question to hold off for 3 p.m. when the President of the Security Council will be here to answer your questions. Linda. No, Linda's come in as… you've unyielded your time. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question involves Secretary‑General… the Secretary‑General and Ambassador Haley. She said last week that she's been meeting a bit with the Secretary‑General on various issues, including going over… reviewing some of the peacekeeping operations. And I was wondering if you can give us some insight into how often they're meeting. Are the issues sort of focused on peacekeeping or… in general what the relationship is?
Spokesman: They've been meeting on a… on a regular basis. I think they've probably met about six times. I'd have to check exactly how many since… but they've also spoken on the phone. I think… and the conversations are about issues of mutual concern. Obviously, I have no doubt the UN reform writ large is part of that, but there are a lot of issues to discuss. And I think the Secretary‑General has found his relationship and his dealings with Ambassador Haley to be very constructive and open. Carmen and then Evelyn.
Question: Thank you. There was a reaction last week regarding Venezuela, and I wanted to know, now that the Government in Venezuela has reversed the decision to place the National Assembly under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, would there be another reaction? Thank you.
Spokesman: I don't have anything for you right now. If I… I may have an update but a bit later today. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. The United States has come out with a report of over 270 civilians killed in Mosul. Some of them were used as human shields. Does the UN have its own report on this, its own calculation? Since you have the refugees.
Spokesman: Right. I mean, I think, as you know, we're not on the ground where the fighting is actually taking place. I think the issue of protection of civilians and ensuring that civilians do not get hurt during these military operations is one that is very high on the Secretary‑General's agenda and one that was raised by the Secretary‑General in his meeting with Iraqi authorities. Abdelhamid and then we'll go to the back.
Question: Thank you. Siham Nimr, her last name is N‑i‑m‑r. She's 49. She was shot and killed by the Israeli security forces near Damascus gate on Thursday. They accused her of having scissors, that she raised scissors. Eyewitnesses said that she never had a scissor. She's a mother and she lost her son also. And this crime has not been noticed by the UN, and at least there was no call for investigation. Why the UN when this crime…?
Spokesman: I haven't seen reports of this particular case. If I have something for you, I will share that with you. Yep.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, yesterday, OIC [officer-in-charge], education and cultural budget, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], decries that UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] sponsored some textbooks for Yemeni Houthis and allegedly they say the Houthis using these textbooks for sectarian ideology. Do you have [inaudible]?
Spokesman: I've not heard of that. We can put you in touch with our colleagues at UNICEF here who may have some information. Nizar and then Matthew.
Question: Hudaydah seems to be at the verge of major attack from sea, land and air. Also, there have been intensive bombardment to the area. How does the United Nations deal with the humanitarian issue there? And were there any precautions has been taken to safeguard the civilians?
Spokesman: First of all, it is incumbent on the warring parties to do what they can to protect civilians and to ensure that civilians are not in harm's way. The continuing military activities in Yemen are of continuing concern for us, for the impact, as you mentioned, on the civilians, for the negative impact it has on our ability to deliver humanitarian aid. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Let me ask you, there now… there hadn't been any pirate ship takings off Somalia since 2012, and now there have been two in about a week, including an Indian ship that's just been taken. And I wonder… I know that the UN system was all revved up at the time. What's the current UN, I guess, preparedness to deal with this? What's their knowledge of it? And do you have any comment on… on the resurgence of this issue?
Spokesman: No, obviously, we've seen those reports. I think it's… the… I don't want to say the rise, but the number of reports we've seen recently is troubling. But, as far as the UN system response to it, I will check what the status is.
Question: And just… I wanted to… there have been some high‑profile beatings of people… Africans from different countries in India recently, and I've heard the… the African ambassadors in New Delhi have said that there should be a UN pr-… involvement in… in what they see as xenophobic attacks on their citizens. Is there any UN involvement or response to these attacks?
Spokesman: No, there's no UN involvement that I'm aware of. We do very much hope that these people who are responsible for these… these attacks are brought to justice. Evelyn?
Question: Thanks, Steph. A Syrian doctors' group has put out a report listing all the hospitals that were deliberately bombed from the air, which means we know who… more or less, who did it. But, they say now that there's… that there's… Sunday night, there was another attack at Maaret al‑Numan, and do we have any news on that?
Spokesman: No… not on this particular attack, but, obviously, the issue of attacks on health facilities is one that we've highlighted regularly, that we've condemned. I think, if you look at what Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien has said repeatedly to the Security Council, I think that the attack on health facilities and health professionals has been especially odious.
Correspondent: I'm asking only because it's so close to the Syrian conference.
Spokesman: Yeah. Abdelhamid?
Question: Leila Zerrougui, as of today, is no longer the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict. Was there any statement thanking her for her services by the SG [Secretary-General]?
Spokesman: The usual… I mean, we obviously thank her very much for her service, but if you've noticed, the pattern that we've used, I think that statement of thanks usually comes with the appointment of the next person. So, when we have somebody to fill her post, the post that she occupied to succeed her, we will obviously thank her more formally and officially. Mr. Lee?
Question: Follow‑up on that and then Sri Lanka and the environment. But, just… I've seen, I guess, a video farewell to Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous in the GA [General Assembly] lobby with people saluting. I guess I just wanted to know, is it decided department by department how much fanfare to give these exits or how is that…?
Spokesman: Well, each department organizes its own farewell. Obviously, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], with its strong military and police tradition, I think, put together a farewell that was extremely appropriate for Mr. Ladsous along the traditions that they have.
Question: Right. But, I… if it was in the Visitor's Lobby, like, was it… I guess…?
Spokesman: I don't see what the problem was with it. I think it was completely appropriate for his service…
Correspondent: You said that the farewell to Ms. Zerrougui is going to be done in writing after the fact, so I'm asking about a 21‑gun salute in the lobby…
Spokesman: Well, that's… I think it's… I think, first of all, unless we're all deaf, I don't think there was a 21‑gun salute. Second of all, I think there's a difference between what Abdelhamid was asking about, which is an official thank you, and what you were talking about, which is each department or division…
Correspondent: That's all I was asking, is whether it's the department…
Spokesman: They were completely different things.
Correspondent: Okay. All right. So, I wanted to ask you, in Sri Lanka, there's a military figure called Shavendra Silva that you may remember. He was appointed as a senior…
Spokesman: Yes. Yeah, I know who he was.
Question: Okay. So, there was some controversy, and he ended up… even the UN Secretariat seemed to acknowledge that there was a controversy under Ms. [inaudible]. He's recently been named the chief administrative officer of the Sri Lankan military. So, I wanted to know, one, if you have a comment, but, two, how this may relate to the vetting of Sri Lankan peacekeepers, which I've asked about in writing, being deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. Is the military…?
Spokesman: I think the… I… the vetting of peacekeepers will remain the same along our procedures. And I have no specific comment on him.
Correspondent: Okay. And the last one is this. I'd asked you this in writing, but I hoped to get an answer, but I'm going to ask you now. On the Earth Hour thing that was done on a Friday, I believe it's now 10 days ago, the Secretary‑General recorded a video saying: “Join me in turning off all lights.” And just for… just factually, UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], like, almost all the lights were on, and even the UN residence, the lights were on. So, I just…
Spokesman: I know you were monitoring the residence.
Question: Well, yeah. He said: “Join me in turning off all the lights.”
Spokesman: As far as UNDP was concerned, I don't know. We don't run that building. So, I think that's a question to be asked to the people who manage the building.
Question: But, isn't it fair… if he's asking the world as a whole to join him… It's right across the street.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, sir. Stéphane, nice to see you in any case. I just wanted to ask you the same old question about India and Pakistan and Kashmir. The situation is going bad to worse over there. Do you think that the Secretary‑General will be able to talk to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan to hold talks to save lives? And is going… I mean, the situation, of course, you know more than anything else is going bad.
Spokesman: I think, you know, we've… we've seen the alleged ceasefire violations over the Line of Control, which are currently being investigated by the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), in the Pakistani‑administered side of the Line of Control at Domel, Kotli and Bhimber, where the security situation has, indeed, been tense. We continue to underline the need for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue.
Question: Yes, follow‑up. The UNMOGIP, they… have they represented a report that can be made public or it's always a secret?
Spokesman: When we have things to report what they've seen, we will share.
Correspondent: They say that India puts pressure on UNMOGIP not to make the report.
Spokesman: I understand. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Now that we're beginning the second quarter of the year, are there any plans being formulated for the Secretary‑General to have a general press conference…?
Spokesman: When he has something to announce, he will be here in front of you.
Correspondent: Well, I mean… periodic… general press conference.
Spokesman: No, I understand. I hear you.
Question: And secondly, you said that he's had at least six meetings with Nikki Haley and telephone conversations. Has the subject of trying to arrange a meeting with President [Donald] Trump or the Secretary of State come up? Because, again, we're now in the second quarter and…?
Spokesman: You know, when we have something to announce on a meeting with the US President, we will. I have… my expectation is that we may see the Secretary of State up here maybe during the presidency if… and then the Secretary‑General would see him, but I think we'll probably get more details… you will get more details from Ambassador Haley herself. Evelyn and then Nizar.
Question: Yes, with the talk of reduction in peacekeeping, are there any plans or speculation over South Sudan and Central African Republic?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. Nizar?
Question: Yeah. Last week, there was an alarm about Euphrates dam in Syria. Do you have an update about three… two people we understand died when they tried to approach it to assess the damage? Did they start… did they try again to go there and assess the damage?
Spokesman: I don't know. I can check with my colleagues at [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. This… maybe this is a longshot, but there's a pretty high‑profile strike in French Guiana against France by the workers there, and it's actually now resulted in the cancelling of a satellite mission to go around the earth. And I'm just wondering, given that the UN gets involved in such issues in other countries, is there any DPA [Department of Political Affairs], is there any comment on how it should be resolved?
Spokesman: I have no comment at this point. Thank you.