The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon and welcome to the noon briefing.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the Brussels Conference on support to Syrians and the region, telling the participants that today, as the conflict lines shift, there may have been a perception that the situation has eased. This is completely false, he said. Recent months have been some of the worst yet. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured as fighting goes on. The Secretary-General said that the Brussels Conference must represent a moment of truth, when the international community takes decisive steps to increase its support for the victims of the Syria conflict, and for the neighbouring countries that are providing a safe haven for millions of refugees.
Before speaking at the Conference, the Secretary-General told reporters that the horrific events of yesterday demonstrate that, unfortunately, war crimes are going on in Syria, and that international humanitarian law continues to be violated frequently. He noted that the Security Council was meeting today and added, regarding accountability, that he is confident the Security Council will live up to its responsibilities. Also speaking in Brussels today, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, noted the pattern that every time there is a conference or meeting that can give some perception of hope about the future of Syria, there is a temptation by some, through horrific acts, to “kidnap” the event with a new outrage. All those remarks are available online.
Kim Won-soo, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, southern rural Idleb, Syria. If confirmed, he said, this would be the largest single chemical weapons attack in Syria since the Ghouta attack in August 2013. He said he has been in close contact with the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who informed him that the OPCW has begun gathering information and is prepared to send a team to the area.
In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General recalled that the Security Council previously determined that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security and that it affirmed that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a serious violation of international law.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that at least 70 people have died and hundreds more have been affected in Khan Shaykhun. Doctors in Idleb are reporting that dozens of patients suffering from breathing difficulties and suffocation have been admitted to hospitals in the governorate for urgent medical attention, many of them women and children. The likelihood of exposure to a chemical attack is amplified by an apparent lack of external injuries reported in cases showing a rapid onset of similar symptoms, including acute respiratory distress as the main cause of death. Some cases appear to show additional signs consistent with exposure to organophosphorus chemicals, a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemns the multiple suicide attacks in Tikrit on Tuesday, which resulted in many casualties. He said that targeting civilians and inflicting maximum casualties among civilians is the hallmark of the terrorists' despicable tactics. He added that these latest suicide bombings in the Sunni heartland of Tikrit show that the terrorists are sparing no effort to indiscriminately target everyone and anyone who is not willing to die for their barbaric ideology.
Concerns remain high for civilians still trapped in western Mosul, where fighting is ongoing. An estimated 500,000 people remain in these western neighbourhoods, sheltering from the fighting, or waiting for an opportune time to flee. Civilian displacement continues to rise rapidly; more than 6,000 people were displaced from west Mosul yesterday alone. Almost 249,000 people have been displaced from west Mosul since late February.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) continues to be alarmed by ongoing reports from the Kasai region of escalating violence and serious human rights violations, including the discovery of mass graves. The Head of the Mission, Maman Sidikou, said that the violence in the Kasais has already claimed the lives of possibly more than 400 civilians, as well as a significant number of members of the security forces.
MONUSCO encourages the Government to intensify its efforts to find a political solution to the unrest and calls on the leadership of the Kamuina Nsapu and other militia to stop the senseless violence and immediately halt the recruitment of children. As you may know, the Mission initially deployed peacekeepers and reinforced police and civilian capacities in the Kasai region in November 2016, and has done so again more recently. It will continue to monitor and document allegations of serious human rights violations in the region, and is also available to support greater humanitarian access. More details on this are available on MONUSCO’s website.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that UN peacekeepers have been prevented twice, in as many days, from accessing Pajok in Eastern Equatoria by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The Mission has received reports of fighting between SPLA troops and the opposition there and is trying to follow up on reports of civilians killed in the area. This morning, the UN Mission’s patrol was stopped at a checkpoint seven kilometres outside Torit and was prevented from proceeding further. The patrol remains at the checkpoint and is continuing to negotiate access. UNMISS is concerned by these reports and calls on the government to immediately allow the Mission access to Pajok, as obligated by the Status of Forces Agreement, so it can fully implement its mandate, including to protect civilians and report on human rights violations.
And I wanted to flag that tomorrow you are all invited by UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], in partnership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), to the launch of the report “A Socioeconomic Impact Assessment of the Zika Virus in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a Focus on Brazil, Colombia and Suriname”. This will take place at 11:30 a.m. in Conference Room 8.
We say salamat to our friends in the Philippines as they are joining our Honour Roll, having paid their budget dues in full. This brings us to a total of 76 Member States. And if anybody has any questions… Iftikhar, yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Thank you. Since the Syrian Government has completely rejected that it was involved in this chemical attack, what stage is the OPCW inquiry?
Associate Spokesperson: I think… I believe, as Mr. Kim Won‑soo, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, told you in the Security Council this morning that the OPCW is currently gathering information as part of its fact‑finding mission.
Associate Spokesperson: Not so far. It's been one day, so let's hope that they have time to work quickly. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask you there… if the UN has any… I know that there… the Special Adviser on conflict prevention works on Burundi, but there's a… a… a video has emerged of the ruling party militia talking about impregnating all the women of all people that don't agree with the militia's platform for pro… for Pierre Nkurunziza. So, given things that the UN has said in the past, what's the response to this? And what is the UN doing currently in the last, you know, two weeks or so on the situation in Burundi?
Associate Spokesperson: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We weren't aware of this video. And, if true, that's very highly troubling. And we have, as you know, a team on the ground that I'm sure is looking into this, and hopefully, will take some action.
Question: And can I also, I wanted… also, I tried yesterday at the UNMAS [United Nations Mine Action Service] press conference to ask this question. There was a conference held in… Friday in Rome between the Italian Interior Ministry and what was described as tribes from Libya, particularly from the parts not controlled by the UN‑recognized Government. And at least some press accounts say that Italy has agreed to provide weapons to the tribes, basically to stop immigrant… migrants or refugees from coming to their soil. So, what I wondered is, what's the UN's involvement in this? One, what do they think of a country arming tribes, if that's what took place? In any event, what is the UN… either Mr. [Martin] Kobler or… or… or anyone else in the UN system, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], are they involved in any way in this Italian interchange with Libyan tribes?
Associate Spokesperson: I mean, as you know, the UN is not a military force or has no military force in Libya, but I'm sure that the Italians are in touch with our team on the ground. We'll check with them what they think about this development.
Question: Right. But, I guess… well, okay. Check… check, if you could?
Associate Spokesperson: Yoshita?
Question: Thank you. There are reports that Pakistani troops have violated the ceasefire along the Line of Control, and I think this was the fourth ceasefire violation in the last two days. So, what are the… how does the UN see this, and what are your comments?
Associate Spokesperson: We… the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) is investigating alleged ceasefire violations on the Pakistan‑administered side of the Line of Control. And as we've said before, we continue to underline the need for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue. Yes?
Question: There was a statement before when Venezuela Supreme Court ruled over the National Assembly. Now that that has been reversed, is there any other statement regarding this? Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: We have nothing new to add to what we've said already, but we would continue, as we have in the past, to urge all sides to engage in dialogue.
Question: I just… I wanted… the outgoing, I guess, Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. [Murray] McCully, had… has made some comments about why his country never contributed peacekeepers to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], and they're pretty critical. So… I mean, I could go through them, but I'm wondering, is the [Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General] aware of the comments? And what is the response by either DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or the Secretary‑General's Office to this criticism by a Member State that was recently on the Security Council, et cetera?
Associate Spokesperson: I mean, we saw the same press reports, I'm assuming, that you did. And we would welcome any opportunity to engage with New Zealand to talk through any concerns they may have regarding UN peacekeeping, and we'd welcome any contributions that New Zealand or any Member State can make.
Question: Sure. And I wanted to… I've asked this before, but I want… maybe you'll… I don't know if you'll do it from here, but if you could… there's… there's… you know, there are issues in Cameroon. There are a number of issues of the Anglophone areas, but there's one in particular, which is now an 80‑day cut-off of the internet to two regions of the country. So, in the answers that have been provided about what [Francois] Loncény Fall has done, there's no reference to this pretty open‑and‑shut issue. Is there some way you can either ask DPA [Department of Political Affairs] or his office, like, what's being done on this? Does the UN… has the UN in any way conveyed to the Government of Cameroon that whatever the other issues are that turning off the internet to whole regions of the country is not a good idea?
Associate Spokesperson: We heard your question, and if we have anything to add further, we'll let you know. All right. Is that it? Okay. Thanks so much. Have a good Wednesday.