The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will just start off; I have one statement which I will start the briefing with on the xenophobic violence we have seen in South Africa.
The Secretary- General condemns the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa that has resulted in the deaths of at least seven people in the past few weeks. He expresses his condolences to the families of the victims. The Secretary-General notes the actions and statements of the President of South Africa and the Government to address the violence. He welcomes the public expressions of the many South Africans who have been calling for peaceful coexistence and harmony with foreign nationals. He urges all efforts are made to avert future attacks, including any incitement leading thereto, and encourages peaceful solutions. And that statement is online.
Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the second day of the General Assembly thematic debate on tolerance and reconciliation. Addressing interfaith leaders gathered today, the Secretary-General said that, [as] men and women with great influence, the leaders can and must do more to foster peaceful, inclusive societies, and counter violent extremism.
He stressed that religion does not cause violence but people do. He added that there is a direct line between prejudice and extremism, and between racism and genocide. He urged faith leaders to use their wisdom and leadership to make differences — first, by promoting dialogue as an antidote to sectarian tensions, and second, by addressing the factors that enable violent extremists to gain new recruits.
As you know, the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly accompanied by the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations will be able to take some of your questions at about 1 p.m. or 1:10 p.m. outside the General Assembly in the East Foyer. I would encourage you to be there. The Secretary-General’s full remarks and the rest of the proceedings are available online and on the webcast.
Just continuing on the coverage and comments we have made on the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean: I just wanted to flag to you that the Secretary-General has written to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, in advance of tomorrow’s meeting in Brussels. In the letter, the Secretary-General expresses his sadness and concern at that continuing loss of life in the Mediterranean.
He urges the European Union to continue to take comprehensive and bold collective action to put an end to the humanitarian disaster at sea. The Secretary-General also says that the safety, protection needs and human rights of migrants and refugees must be at the centre of the response. He told President Tusk that the United Nations stands ready to work closely with the European Union, as well as transit and origin countries, to alleviate the immediate plight of migrants. We all have a moral imperative to act swiftly, the Secretary-General said in the letter, which he asked to be circulated to all the members of the European Council.
And from South Sudan, our colleagues at the World Food Programme said they are deeply concerned about the fate of three staff members who disappeared in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State on 1 April, en route to a food distribution operation. The disappearance comes amid generally deteriorating security and increasing harassment of humanitarian workers throughout the country.
Ten humanitarian workers have been killed in Upper Nile State since the start of South Sudan’s current conflict 16 months ago. Another WFP staff member was abducted at gunpoint in October  and hasn’t been heard from since. The World Food Programme aims to assist roughly 3 million people throughout the country in 2015.
**United Nations Mission in South Sudan
Also from the same country, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that fighting erupted in Malakal, in Upper Nile State, on Tuesday evening and continued throughout most of the morning and early afternoon. The residence of the Upper Nile State governor was reportedly shelled by mortar rounds and two of his security officers were also wounded. At least 1,500 unarmed civilians have arrived at the UN protection site outside Malakal, which brings the total number of civilians being protected there to that particular site to 28,000 people.
Back here, the Security Council this morning held consultations on Western Sahara and received a briefing from the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Christopher Ross. This afternoon, Côte d’Ivoire is on the agenda.
And from Yemen, the World Health Organization reports that 1,080 people have been killed, according to their statistics, and 4,352 injured between 19 March and 20 April. Due to the insecurity today in Aden city and the continuing spread of street fighting, one aid agency was unable to distribute household items to displaced people staying in schools. Another relief organization successfully delivered hygiene items to one of Aden’s major public hospitals. Water trucking has started today for vulnerable people in Al Dhubayiat area of Al Dhale’e governorate, which had had no water and electricity for more than a month.
And our colleagues at WHO also say today that progress towards global vaccination targets for 2015 is far off-track with 1 in 5 children worldwide still missing out on routine life-saving immunizations. And this is part of the lead-up to World Immunization Week. 1.5 million deaths could be averted each year from preventable diseases, and WHO is calling for renewed efforts to get progress back on course throughout the world. More information is available on WHO’s website.
**Mother Earth Day
Today is International Mother Earth Day. In a message available online and in my office, the Secretary-General said we are increasingly aware of the damage our species has wrought but have yet to change our ways. He said that 2015 brings a critical opportunity to do just that, that the big decisions that lie ahead are not just for world leaders and policy-makers but for each and every one of us. The President of the UN’s Economic and Social Council, Martin Sajdik, also said that on this day, Earth Day, we must work as one and deliver for all.
A couple of questions to follow up on: I was asked a number of times about Bangladesh and reported attacks on the motorcade of the leader of the National Party, Khaleda Zia. We are aware that the responsible authorities are investigating the incidents. The Secretary-General reiterates his appeal for transparent, inclusive and credible elections, which are only possible in a secure and safe environment for campaigning.
And as previously noted, on Armenia, the Secretary-General is mindful that on 24 April of this year, the Armenian nation and others around the world commemorate the centenary of the tragic events of 1915. He is also fully aware of the sensitivities related to the characterization of what happened in 1915. He firmly believes that commemorating and remembering the tragic events of 1915, and continuing to cooperate with a view to establishing the facts about what happened, should strengthen our collective determination to prevent similar atrocity crimes from happening in the future. The United Nations remains committed to strengthening the capacity of the international community to prevent such atrocity crimes from ever occurring again.
The Secretary-General acknowledges the forward-looking statement made by the Prime Minister of Turkey [H. E.] Mr. Davutoğlu yesterday. He also encourages both Turkey and Armenia to make all possible efforts to normalize relations between their countries, in line with the 2009 Protocol on the Development of Relations between Armenia and Turkey. And as soon as you are done with me, we will be joined by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović, who will talk to you about his visit to Afghanistan.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference here by the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa. And then at 12:30 p.m., [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs] will brief you on the fourteenth Session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration. And I will be sandwiched in the middle of those two. And I’ll stop here and I am sure you have a few questions. Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Can you tell us… there are reports that the Houthis have said they are ready for the United Nations talks’ with the Saudis on the future of Yemen. Have you received such notification from them that they are ready?
Spokesman: We've seen reports from within the country, I think a statement from the National Security Council, from the White House today. We, of course… the United Nations, of course, stands ready to play any facilitation role at the request of key players involved. The details of any future rounds of talks will be announced as soon as practicable.
Spokesman: That's what we have for now. We may have a little bit more to say later on. Abdel Hamid.
Question: It's a follow‑up question about Yemen. The Secretary‑General called for a truce and last night, Saudi Arabia and the coalition decided to stop the air bombardment by themselves. Is that in response to the SG's call for a truce or what happened to the…?
Spokesman: I think you would have so ask… we've obviously seen those reports. You would have to ask them what motivated this decision. I can't speak for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Obviously, as I said, I hope to have a little bit more to say on our reaction to the latest developments, but any initiative that can reduce the violence in Yemen is a welcome one. I think we've also seen some ground fighting continue. What is really urgent is the establishment of humanitarian corridors to bring in life‑saving aid. I think as we've been saying from here, the humanitarian situation, which was already very challenging in Yemen, has only gotten worse. I mean, as I said just earlier today, you know, we've had a water distribution in an area that had not had water or electricity for over a month. Joe and then Evelyn, Edie, and Matthew.
Question: All right. Yes. First of all, is Mr. Ross going to be giving a stakeout? That's question number one. And then, substantively, with reference to the statement you read out on the Secretary‑General's discussion on the EU [European Union] matter, what specific steps would the Secretary‑General recommend the EU take? For example, some have proposed a rescue operation much closer to the coast of Libya. Others have talked about processing immigrants at the origin rather than waiting until they can arrive in Europe. Have there been any concrete proposals or just a general statement?
Spokesman: I think… no, there have been discussions between the European Union and UNHCR [the Office of the United Nations High Representative for Refugees] trying to find ways to immediately increase the safety of migrants. That's really priority one: that migrants, refugees, people have rights. They need to be treated with dignity. That's the urgent, urgent need. Obviously, this is a multifaceted problem that also involves countries of origin, countries of transit, all sorts of push‑and‑pull factors. There have been… you know, there have been ideas floated about processing centres outside of Europe. Of course, those are issues that need to be looked at, but what is critical is to see how those… the details of those proposals to ensure again that the rights of migrants, the rights of refugees are fully respected. Evelyn and then Edie.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Has the Secretary‑General submitted the name of the new Envoy for Yemen to the Security Council on a no‑objection basis?
Spokesman: When a name is ready to be announced, it will be announced.
Question: And secondly, if there are new talks, which there probably will be, would they be in the region?
Spokesman: Those are details that obviously will have to be fleshed out. They should be in the place that is most convenient and acceptable to all the parties involved. We obviously want… we don't want to get the location of the talks get in the way of the talks.
Question: And thirdly, aside from what you mentioned, is there access for humanitarian…?
Spokesman: There's very little access for humanitarian, as I said, but we do hope that any… you know, obviously any initiative that reduces the violence is welcome. Edie, Matthew, then…
Question: Steph, is this letter that the Secretary‑General wrote to President Tusk, is that going to be made public?
Spokesman: I'm just flagging it for you. Salient points.
Question: Secondly, if the UN is going to play some kind of a role in the Yemen talks, how is that actually going to be possible since Mr. Benomar's leaving and there's no replacement yet?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, we're working on appointing a successor to Mr. Benomar as soon as practicable. So, there are a lot of moving parts to this machinery. They all need to be aligned, and as soon as I have more details, I will share them with you. Mr. Lee, Mr. Charbonneau and then Mr. Iftikhar.
Question: Sure. Follow‑up on Yemen and then something on Western Sahara. On Yemen, these… US NSC statement today said that the US, “looks forward to the United Nations announcing a location for the talks in the very near future”. So, I guess I want to know, just, is it possible that the UN will name a location before having an Envoy? How would the US know… is it the UN's… do you acknowledge it's your role to name this location? And is that really at this point the UN's only role? It just seemed like a strange statement.
Spokesman: No, I think… you know, as I just said, the details of the round, including the locations will be announced as soon as practicable. This will obviously envoy… excuse me… involve the Secretary‑General's Envoy on Yemen. And our role, as the role that Mr. Benomar has and the role that his office has, is to facilitate those discussions. So, I said, there are still a lot of details that need to be aligned, and as soon as we can, we'll share more information with you.
Question: Okay. And… thanks. And on Western Sahara, I think it was a week ago, I asked… it was a kind of confirm or deny these reports of a clash between Moroccan security and protesters in Laayoune, you said you'd ask MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara]. Given that a week has gone by and today is the day of the consultations, did you ask them and they say it didn't happen…?
Spokesman: We owe you an answer.
Question: And I'm sorry if I missed your answer to Joe, but is… to a couple of… couple of times in this room, you've said to questions about Western Sahara and the Secretary‑General's report that Mr. Ross would be able to clear things up. So, is he going to do that at the stakeout or…?
Spokesman: I will check whether he does it today or when a resolution is actually passed.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Also, on Western Sahara, the POLISARIO again were not allowed to go to the stakeout and I'm just wondering, since they had in years prior to 2013 it was pretty normal for them without sort of Member State kind of endorsing them or…?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that they were not allowed. I'm not aware that they were not allowed today. Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is a follow‑up to Abdel Hamid's question. What are the UN reports, have the Saudis actually stopped bombing? Because there are reports that some parts are still being bombed.
Spokesman: I think, as we've said, obviously, we've seen the reports, there are some operations going on. Obviously, our ability to observe on the ground is limited. So we're going by the information we have. But, it's not as if we have military observers on the ground who can give us precise information. Stefano.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. I'm sorry. I just got here so I hope you didn’t talk already about it. Or you did…
Spokesman: I'm always happy to talk.
Question: …about that situation in Mediterranean with migrants, I know that the Secretary‑General spoke with Italian Prime Minister. Tomorrow, there is a very important meeting in the European Union. Now, from the press, we find out that they… the Italians… European are kind of proposing to bomb or attacking the boat when they are emptying those Libyan ports, to block in this way. My question is, if… did the Italian Prime Minister speak about that with Secretary‑General? And in this case, it will look very strange because in this case, this 100,000 immigrants, because the problem is not only when they are on the sea, the problem is also when they are in Libya, what's happening to them and the condition in this moment when they are there. Thank you.
Spokesman: You know, the readout, I think, was fairly comprehensive from our end. The Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister agreed that there's shared responsibility and that the focus should be on ensuring that the robust… there's a robust rescue at sea mechanism and ensure the safety and regular avenues of migration and protection for people making that crossing. I think when you look at the issue of migration as a whole, the security response should really not be at the heart of it, but that's more of a general statement. We obviously don't want to get ahead of ourselves, and we look forward to seeing what the European Council decides tomorrow. Yes.
Question: Hi. Back to your statement about the Armenian genocide, you obviously didn't use the phrase… the word "genocide", you used "atrocity crimes". So, is that a deliberate decision not to use the word "genocide," and if so, what is the basis for that? Because it's sort of an aberration at this point.
Spokesman: The UN's position on that is unchanged. So, I have nothing to add except to say that as a general rule, the designation of genocide needs — in the U.N. context — needs to be made a legal body. Masood.
Question: Yes. On this Special Envoy talks on Yemen, have the Saudis given any nominations on their part or agreed to any person to be the Envoy?
Spokesman: When we are ready to announce, we will announce. Abdel Hamid.
Question: I have a legal question. If there is a crime committed on those ships, those who commit the crime, which part of international law applies to them? Since it is committed in the high seas.
Spokesman: I think we're going a little bit out of my depth here in terms of my legal abilities. There are crimes committed. We've seen the Italian authorities recently arrest, if I'm not mistaken, the captain and the first mate of the ship that was responsible for the killing of 800 people. I mean, they were responsible for murder of people. There is a long and wide body of international law and law of the sea. We can get some experts to talk to you about that, but those experts are not me. Madame.
Question: On Yemen yesterday, what communications has the Secretary‑General had with the Saudis or the coalition, what have you, on this new operation renewal of hope? How did they describe this operation would look like? And has the Secretary‑General spoken with the King, the Saudi King at all?
Spokesman: Not recently with the Saudi King. We met… what day is today? Wednesday? We met Monday afternoon… Secretary‑General met Monday afternoon with the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] in which the Saudi Ambassador was present. And obviously, on issues such as this, there are routine, there are a lot of phone calls between the Permanent Representatives including Saudi Arabia and various officials here in New York. Mr. Lee and then we'll go to Mr. Šimonović.
Question: Sure. I want to ask about [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and also the South Africa, the statement that you made. Well, [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and Under‑Secretary‑General [Hervé] Ladsous. First, I wanted you to… I saw in the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] press conference they did today that he's there, they said, for five days. Can you confirm that? And what is… is trying to get the UN active against the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] one of the goals? And relatedly or not, I wanted you to just confirm either here or maybe later today that Mr. Ladsous rejected an invitation from Rwanda to attend a protection of civilians event in Rwanda.
Spokesman: I don't have anything on the latter part. And Mr. Ladsous is indeed in Kinshasa where he's obviously having discussions on one of the UN's largest peacekeeping operations. Question: Okay. And on South Africa, I definitely heard your statement. Now, there have been different media reports of the UN's… UN system's role specifically UNHCR, saying that it's working with the Government to address these issues. I wanted to know, does any UN assistance on this have involved helping people leave the country? And if so, like, are those people refugees?
Spokesman: In cases like this there are all sorts of people who have different… are entitled to different protection, whether they be migrants, whether they be refugees. The UN works with every… you know, most Governments in trying to ensure that the people are treated with dignity and treated according to international law. We are not in the business of helping forced repatriation if that was the case. We're just there to ensure that all international law is respected. Thank you. And I will get Mr. Šimonović for you.