The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General congratulates Member States on the outcome of the review of the peacebuilding architecture. The adoption of these comprehensive resolutions simultaneously by the General Assembly and the Security Council sends a powerful signal.
These resolutions are a statement of intent pointing to a change in strategy and mindset. The UN system will work more strategically with Governments and on the ground, in stronger partnership with others, not only to prevent the recurrence of conflict, but to prevent conflict from breaking out in the first place.
The Secretary-General is strongly committed to supporting the entire United Nations system in implementing these resolutions immediately, noting that there can be no higher priority than sustaining peace, which is a prerequisite for human rights, sustainable development and all other efforts.
The Secretary-General urges Member States to maintain this momentum and calls for the strengthening of international attention, assistance and funding for countries affected by conflict.
And in a short while I will be joined by the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, and Macharia Kamau, the Permanent Representative of Kenya and Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission. They will be here to brief you on the resolution I’ve just spoken about.
And in Vienna today, the Secretary-General spoke on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), saying that the occasion is not a celebration, but a reminder of work remaining, and it is a call to action. He said that the CTBTO has proven its value again and again and has carried out activities far beyond what anyone imagined. During the Fukushima nuclear crisis and again with the recent test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said, the CTBTO proved its worth.
The Secretary-General recalled that a few years ago, he had stood in the fields of [Semipalatinsk] to spotlight the damage from hundreds of tests there. He had repeatedly pointed to the toxic legacy of 2,000 tests left on the people and the environment in parts of Central Asia, North Africa, North America and the South Pacific. He once again called on the eight remaining Member States to sign and ratify the Treaty without further delay. His remarks are available in my office.
Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, will brief the Security Council this afternoon on recent meetings in Geneva with the Syrian parties. That briefing will be in closed consultations and via videolink from Geneva. Mr. de Mistura, following these consultations, will brief the press corps in Geneva and that will be, obviously, available on webtv.un.org. You can watch that on webcast. We also understand the Special Envoy will also be sharing a copy of his mediator’s summary, and we will make that available to you as soon as we get it. The Council briefing on Syria will happen under “other matters”, following the consultations on Western Sahara; they will take place at 3 p.m.
On the return from a technical rapid assessment mission to the World Heritage Site of Palmyra in Syria, UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] experts presented their preliminary findings regarding damages to the site. The experts took stock of considerable damage to the museum, where they found that most of those statues and sarcophagi that were too large to be removed for safekeeping have been defaced, smashed, their heads severed, their fragments left lying on the ground.
The experts identified emergency measures to consolidate and secure the building and the considerable work that will be required to document, evacuate, safeguard and restore whenever it is possible. Work to match and document the fragments of destroyed statues has already begun. More information on UNESCO’s website.
The Yemeni delegations met in plenary session in Kuwait yesterday, during which both parties highlighted the importance of continuing constructive dialogue in order to reach a comprehensive, peaceful solution. They commended the positive atmosphere at the talks.
The Special Envoy for the Secretary-General, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said afterwards that it is clear that the parties are committed to continuing discussions towards a comprehensive political solution, and to engaging with the points in the agenda previously agreed. He added that he presented the parties with a general framework for the coming period, which includes security, economic and political components.
Prior to the plenary session, the Special Envoy met with the Emir of Kuwait, who expressed keen interest in the success of the talks and reaffirmed Kuwait’s willingness to help Yemenis overcome all of the obstacles that they will face as they try to build peace.
And also on Yemen, the UN Resident Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, concluded a three-day assessment mission to the Sa’ada Governorate. He urged Yemeni parties to remain committed to the cessation of hostilities and allow unhindered humanitarian access. He also said the international community needs to increase its level of support for the country. He added that health and educational facilities should be preserved as neutral, protected spaces during armed conflict. He called on all the parties to the conflict to act in accordance with international humanitarian law and refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Martin Kobler, has expressed concern over the recent incursions by [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] into Libya’s oil crescent region and attacks carried on oil fields. He added that the attacks constitute a grave assault not only on the lifeline of Libya’s national economy, but on the livelihoods of millions of Libyans, who are already bearing the brunt of the political and military conflict. Mr. Kobler joined Libya’s Presidency Council to urge all parties to take necessary measures to safeguard the oil fields and terminals.
**Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, I just want to update you — as we have been doing — on the ongoing investigations into victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN and non-UN troops in the Kemo prefecture. The UN Mission there (MINUSCA) reports that a Burundian team of National Investigators Officers arrived over the weekend in Bangui and are now in the Kemo prefecture area to conduct a joint investigation with the team from the UN’s Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which is on the ground.
Gabonese National Investigators Officers are already integrated with their contingent and have also begun their investigations along with OIOS. Just to remind you, the OIOS team has been on location since Thursday to follow up with these investigations.
Yesterday, you would have seen that the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Abiodun Oluremi Bashua of Nigeria to lead the Special Investigation into the attack against the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) protection of civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan. The Special Investigation will undertake a detailed examination of the circumstances which led to the incident from 17 to 18 February, in which at least 25 civilians on the site were killed and an additional 144 were injured. This investigation will complement the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry which was announced on 11 March, which is conducting an in-depth investigation into the overall response of UNMISS to the incident.
And just to flag that our colleagues in Nigeria are flagging that a serious food security crisis is unfolding in the north-east part of the country. The preliminary findings of a new joint UN rapid food security assessment estimates that over half a million people need immediate food assistance and some 350,000 children in Borno and Yobe States are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Humanitarian partners are scaling up their presence and response in the north-east and partnerships with state-level actors have also been reinforced. Since the beginning of the year, more than 312,000 people have been reached with food and other assistance, 180,000 have been provided with protection assistance and 317,000 people have received water and sanitation support. But the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the Humanitarian Response Plan for Nigeria, which is requesting $248 million, is only 14 per cent funded this year.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) has fallen for the first time since 2010 and is expected to worsen the food security in the country. Total food production in DPRK is estimated to have decreased by 9 per cent from 2014. Moreover, the production of rice, which is the country's main staple, has dropped by 26 per cent, mainly due to poor rains and low availability of water for irrigation. More information is available on FAO’s website.
**United Nations Population Fund
Our friends at UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] just want you to know that Carmen Barroso, a Brazilian social scientist with a long commitment to population causes, and the Childbirth in Dignity Foundation, a Polish organization promoting improved quality of care for mothers and new-borns, have won the 2016 United Nations Population Award. Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981, the award recognizes outstanding achievement in the fields of population and health.
Tomorrow, at 10:30 a.m., in this very room, you will hear a press briefing organized by the European Union on the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. Speakers will include João Vale de Almeida, EU Ambassador to the United Nations, and David Miliband, the International Rescue Committee CEO. And at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference by UNESCAP [United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific] on the launch of the ESCAP Survey Report for 2016.
Finally, we say “Thank you” to our friends in Baku in Azerbaijan for having paid their [United Nations] dues in full.
**Questions and Answers
Question: How many States have paid up?
Spokesman: Seventy-four. I don't want to ask you… if I ask you every day, you'll guess, little too easy. Go ahead?
Question: Sure. I wanted… some other things, but I wanted… given what you announced on Yemen, the… the… this… I wanted to ask you directly whether you can confirm or deny that the… the… the parties that travelled there from Yemen, ie, the Houthis and GPC [General People’s Congress], have made, you know, a formal complaint to the Envoy about violations of the cessation of hostilities by the Saudi side. You didn't mention it.
Spokesman: I'm not aware of a formal complaint being filed. I think what is clear is that the cessation of hostilities, while holding in general, there have been violations, so I… one would not be surprised if either side complained along those lines.
Question: And was there a plen… you said this was all placed around a plenary held yesterday. Was there a plenary scheduled today that's actually been cancelled?
Spokesman: I'm not aware.
Question: Can you find out?
Spokesman: If I find out, I will share. [There was no plenary.]
Spokesman: Okay. Yes, sir?
Question: The Palestinian Ambassador just announced that the Security Council is going to hold an Arria meeting on international protection for Palestinian people. Is the Secretariat…?
Spokesman: Hold… sorry, hold a?
Question: Arria meeting, Arria‑formula meeting on protection, international protection. Is the Secretariat planning to attend, to be part of this meeting? Especially that the Secretary‑General has already put a study… a paper on this.
Spokesman: I was not aware of the meeting. Obviously, it's up to the organizers to reach out to the Secretariat, should they wish for Secretariat presence. Masood-ji, then Carole.
Question: Yes, thank you, Stéphane. I just want to ask about the situation in Nigeria on the… on the women issue, as to what happened… I mean, of course there have been complaints. Those 800 girls have still not been released. Where does it stand? Has the United Nations had any contact with the Nigerian Government to update you or us about the situation?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, it is clear to all that not all the girls have been released. I think the UN system at various levels continue to call for their release. I know the various parts of the UN have been in touch with the Nigerian Government, but, as we have said previously, we’re not involved in any of the military or security issues surrounding the kidnapping. The focus, especially through UNFPA and other UN agencies, has been to support the communities that the girls came from, as well as support those girls who were fortunate enough to be able to escape.
Question: On the issue of Palestinians detained by the Israeli [inaudible], has the Secretary‑General talked to them… talked to the Israeli authorities about releasing them?
Spokesman: Again, I think you've asked that question numerous times. I don't have any update from when you've last asked. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to get an update on Western Sahara, because the Security Council is expected to vote tomorrow on the mandate renewal. So what is the… how are the talks between Jeff Feltman and the Moroccan Ambassador going? What is the… how is the Mission on the ground functioning? And is the idea to… that… to negotiate a return, perhaps not of the same 83 or 84 people, but to find a way to… to restore what was cut…?
Spokesman: I think the idea is to have the Security Council act on the Secretary-General's recommendations. Again, this is a Security Council-established Mission. We would look for support from the Council to that end. The Mission, as it is now, has been able to maintain a minimal level of operation by putting, you know, stopgap measures in place and relying especially on existing life-support equipment, such as food and fuel. The current staffing is about 28 remaining staff, who are working above and beyond the call of duty to keep the Mission going. We have not received any indication of a possible return of any of those staff that are currently blocked from re-entry. I think the focus right now will be on the Security Council and the action they will take. Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous and Mr. [Christopher] Ross, I believe, will be briefing the Council as well during their hearing… during the session this afternoon.
Question: Can I just get you to clarify, when you say you're looking for the Security Council support, what… can you spell out what they need to do?
Spokesman: Yeah, it's spelt out pretty clearly in the report. We obviously want to see a full renewal… the Secretary‑General recommends, given the situation on the ground, a full renewal of the mandate. I think he outlines in the report the risks of non-renewal, including the re… highlights of risk of extremism. We would like to see… the Secretary‑General recommended to the Security Council that the Mission be renewed and, obviously, with the necessary staffing in order to carry out its mandated work. Stefano?
Question: Yes. My topic is always immigration, but in this case with a particular side. Donald Trump looks like he's going to be the nominee for this… for the Republican… for the presidency of the United States. And just a couple days ago, he met an Italian politician that's called Matteo Salvini, and he wished that he will become Italian premier. And Matteo Salvini has exactly the same position that Trump; means: “Let's build walls; let's keep immigrants, refugees out.” So is the United Nations said to be concerned on the possibility that the coalition on the walls start to get power… empowered in United States, Italy, Austria and so on?
Spokesman: I think… I'm not… I have no inside knowledge. I'm not in any position nor do I want to predict of what the outcome will be of the US electoral process. It's up to the people of the United States to make that decision. I think the Secretary‑General has spoken out repeatedly on the need to build bridges, on the need to help those who seek shelter, who flee war, within the full respect of their human rights, their dignity and international law. This is a message… I would refer you to what he just said yesterday in Vienna. This has consistently been his message, and it will continue to be his message. Nizar?
Question: Yeah, one question about the refugees. In Lesbos, obviously, there are some clashes between the police and the Italian… and… sorry, the Greek police and the refugees themselves. It seems they are confined, and they are treated with tear gas sometimes when they express themselves. How does the United Nations feel about that…?
Spokesman: You know, I haven't seen those particular reports from Lesbos. I know that UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is working with the Greek authorities to ensure that those who are on the shores of Greece are housed properly, again, with the full respect of their rights in accommodations that are liveable and workable, and we would hope that continues.
Question: Another question on Yemen. I asked a couple times on… what happened in Mukalla, and there were reports that 800 of Al-Qaida were killed, but 500 of them turned up in Marib in the north, and they had clashes with tribes in the… in the area there. Do you have any update on that, on the situation?
Spokesman: I don't. I wish I had, but I don't. Emoke?
Question: One more question?
Spokesman: I'll come back to you, Nizar.
Question: Just a clarification on MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara]. So you said 28 staffers are currently working. Is that the international civilian staffers?
Spokesman: That's the civilian staff. That's not counting the military component.
Question: So how… how much of that are the local civilian staff?
Spokesman: That I have to check. I'll get back to you.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Okay. Matthew?
Question: Mauritania and Burundi. In Mauritania, it's said that even the President, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, has gotten involved in a protest by the soldiers serving in [Central African Republic] for the UN and the peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic]. They're protesting, I guess, lack of wages. And I know that this is something that comes up periodically, but if it's bad enough that the President has gotten involved, is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] aware of the dispute about the payment of the soldiers serving in [Central African Republic]? And, if so, what are they doing about it?
Spokesman: I don't know if they're aware. What we would obviously expect is that soldiers who serve in peacekeeping operations, from whatever country, are given what is due to them.
Question: Okay. And as you may know, there was a protest of Burundians outside the UN yesterday, 47th Street, 43rd Street. So I just wanted… I mean, general if you have anything to say, but they… there were some specific critiques, including a… you know, about this comment by the Secretary‑General praising media… not praising media freedom… specifically praising the reopening of stations. People said, again, these are not opposition stations. And there was also a call… just a… the word “genocide” was used to say, UN, we know that you know. So I wanted to know, as speaking for the UN, do you… what do you think of that?
Spokesman: Well, I think, first of all, people are free to demonstrate across the street from the UN. On the media issue, I think I gave you the answer that I had yesterday, so I have nothing to add to it. We have seen and we know there have been extremely serious crimes committed in Burundi. There have been investigation efforts, notably by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we need to see a system put in place to ensure that the victims get justice. Thank you. Nizar?
Question: The Syrian army captured a truck laden with munition and weapons coming from Israeli oc… occupied Golan going to Asweta area where ISIS is located. And though the weapons were paraded and the media covered that, they were filmed. How does the United Nations view such a development that weapons come from Israel to ISIS?
Spokesman: Well, I… as much as I have no reason to doubt you, Nizar, let me look into the report and see if I have anything to say to it. Masood?
Question: Yes, Stéphane. Can you tell me, there was a question raised earlier where the French Mission denied the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) first question. Did anything… has anything been done? Has the French… I mean Mission been approached about this situation?
Spokesman: A, I'm not sure I know what you're talking about, because if you're referring to the press briefing between the French President and the Secretary‑General, I believe one of your colleagues, who's sitting right in front of you, got the first question. If there was another event, then you are free to contact the French Mission. Matthew?
Question: I guess I'll… okay. I want… I wanted to ask you about a further… I guess it seems like it's an expansion of the Ng Lap Seng bribery inquiry in Macau, which is obviously where his company, Sun Kian Ip Group, is based. There's been a request that the prosecutors there take up the matter, including using the OIOS audit report. And what they're saying is that the document that… that he was able to get from the UN Secretariat DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management], the altered document, about the conference centre was, in fact, shown as a… as a… to get investment to an investment bank in Macau. So I wanted to know, does… does that give rise to more concern among the UN that not just a document was… was wrongfully changed and the name of a company inserted but this was, in fact, used to commit or attempt to commit financial fraud…?
Spokesman: I think if there… we have done the audit we've done. As I said, that has led to further investigations currently ongoing. If the prosecuting services in Macau have a question, I have no doubt our colleagues at OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] will consider their request.
Question: On the person that actually changed the document… seems like it's been since October that that's been asserted… has the UN identified the person?
Spokesman: As I said, further investigations are ongoing.
Question: And one thing… this is an access question, and it doesn't just affect me, so I'm asking you. And it has to do with yesterday's Arria‑formula meeting on Western Sahara. We were encouraged by… by one of the proponents of the meeting to follow it, but in fact, it was… I was unable to follow it. So I wanted to know… it became… it's clear that some could follow it; ie, some portion of the meeting was on EZTV, so that those with offices could observe it and report on it. It was not on webcast so no one around the world that was interested in it could see it. And so I wanted to know, one, it seems like there's kind of a two-tier system of… of… of journalists even inside the building, those who can follow such meetings and those who can't. And, two, what's UN's rationale for not making this available in a webcast more generally?
Spokesman: I think that's a question to the organizers, and I'm sure for many of the computers that are available publicly, you can access EZTV. Thank you. I will get our guests.
Question: Where would that be?
Spokesman: In the basement.