The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is now on his way to Portugal, after having met with the President of Madagascar in Madagascar today, winding up his visit to that country. Speaking to the press after meeting the President, the Secretary-General said that during his various meetings in Madagascar, he had discussed the political situation in the country, the need to promote inclusive development and the primacy of human rights. He added that it was critical that Madagascar stay on the path of national reconciliation and build lasting peace.
The Secretary-General also addressed a joint congress of the senate and the assembly of Madagascar and urged parliamentarians to fight corruption and the illegal trafficking of endangered species. He said that Madagascar needed to manage its wondrous biodiversity sustainably and ensure that all people benefit from these riches. He also called for dialogue and inclusiveness.
Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General met with development partners and representatives of the business community, as well as with the International Support Group for Madagascar. He also [visited] a UN-backed development project that supports vulnerable populations in the capital. His remarks from his meetings are already online.
Back here, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at the Security Council open debate on Countering the Narratives and Ideologies of Terrorism this morning.
Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, he said that terrorists and violent extremists continue to blatantly challenge the values enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He stressed the importance of prevention, which is the focus of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action, as well as the need for a practical and comprehensive approach to respond to the complex factors which drive people to violent extremism.
The Deputy Secretary-General warned that the fight against terrorism must not be carried out in such a way that allows anyone to infringe upon basic freedoms, adding that violations of human rights in the name of countering violent extremism will give terrorists their best recruitment tools. He also expressed concern about young people falling prey to terrorist narratives and ideologies.
He told Council members that we must stand together in global solidarity against the forces that try to divide us. His full remarks are available online.
And the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, is expected to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout anytime from 12:30 to 1 p.m., and obviously, we will let you know.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, strongly condemned the car bomb attack which occurred today in a busy market in Sadr City, Baghdad, claiming many lives and leaving scores injured.
This latest attack comes after a car bomb was detonated near a restaurant in Baquba on 9 May, which also left large numbers of casualties.
Mr. Kubiš said that these are cowardly terrorist attacks on civilians who have done nothing but just go about their normal daily lives. He called on the authorities to do their utmost to quickly bring the perpetrators to justice.
**Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, today spoke on behalf of the Secretary-General at the joint meeting of the UN and the Organization of Islamic (OIC) Cooperation in Geneva.
Highlighting the Secretary-General’s priorities, including the prevention of violent extremism, human rights and sustainable development, Mr. Jenča said that the UN system and the OIC must together to promote a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding.
He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on parties to the conflict in Syria to recommit immediately to the cessation of hostilities and uphold their responsibility to protect civilians. He also urged the international community and organizations such as the OIC to help find a lasting solution to the conflict in Yemen.
Speaking of Yemen, the three working groups in the Yemeni peace talks held extended sessions yesterday and their discussions are now continuing today. The Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, attended the session of the working group on political issues yesterday and said that the discussion was constructive overall and that some common ground has emerged.
The security working group was briefed by a UN expert on issues involving disarmament, while the third working group on prisoners and detainees discussed, with UN facilitation, a number of issues including proposals to release a percentage of prisoners within a short period of time as a measure of goodwill and confidence-building between the parties. They agreed in principle to explore a proposal to release 50 per cent of all detainees held by each side ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and eventually release all detainees.
The Special Envoy commended the seriousness of all delegates in addressing the above matters and urged them to show more goodwill and flexibility. He welcomed, in particular, the progress of the third working group and hoped that it will culminate in an agreement that would enable the release of many Yemenis who are detained.
While conflict continued in some parts of Yemen, the Cessation of Hostilities was largely holding in the past month in Yemen. This provided some opportunities for humanitarian partners to expand responses in certain areas, conduct assessments or directly monitor activities that up to that point had been monitored remotely.
For example, in Sa’ada Governorate, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) was able to re-start the rehabilitation of a water facility in Kitaf district, serving some 10,000 people, which had been damaged by air strikes. The cessation also coincided with an ongoing food distribution to about 270,000 people in the area.
Emergency clean water was trucked to Taiz Governorate, benefitting over 45,000 people, and three mobile health and nutrition teams were deployed in Taiz City, where partners delivered medical supplies for over 130,000 people.
From 12 to 15 May, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will conduct a joint mission to Sana’a, Yemen, to gauge the current humanitarian situation and the operational response.
John Ging, who I assume will be part of that mission, will brief you upon his return, later this month.
Today, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza in both directions for two days. The passage was opened after 85 consecutive days being closed — the longest such period since 2007. The crossing has been opened partially for 42 days since October 2014.
Authorities in Gaza indicated that over 30,000 people, including around 9,500 medical cases and 2,700 students, are registered and waiting to cross and are only allowed to pass through Egypt.
We obviously welcome this opening, which may hopefully provide some relief to the people enclosed in Gaza, exacerbated by the long-standing blockade. We also encourage Egypt to expand the opening both in time and in volume, and include a flow of much-needed assistance.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press briefing here on the launch of the World Economic Situation and Prospects, that will take place at 11 a.m. here.
And then at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by indigenous youth representatives on “Indigenous youth: solutions to self-harm and suicide”.
At 2 p.m., briefing by the Special Adviser on Africa, Maged Abdelaziz, along with the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco and others following the High-Level Meeting on “Sustaining Peace: Mechanisms, Partnerships and the Future of Peacebuilding in Africa”.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Mr. Abbadi. Then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The French Government, as you know, is planning an international conference on the Middle East peace process at the end of May at the foreign minister level, and I assume the Secretary‑General will be attending. In his last few months as Secretary‑General, would he be carrying some bold new ideas as a contribution towards the resolution of this conflict, which is as old as the UN itself?
Spokesman: The participation… the level of participation in the conference in Paris has yet to be determined.
Spokesman: No, what I’m saying is the level of participation on our side has yet to be determined. I think the Secretary‑General has expressed his ideas regularly to the Security Council in how to move the process forward. We also look forward to the upcoming report of the Quartet, which is supposed to be released this month. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you first, there’ve been reports of kind of a crackdown in Gambia in the last few days of opposition people locked up, and I know that the UN had previously been… had worked on it through DPA (Department of Political Affairs). So what’s their… do they have any comment? One of the reports involves an audio clip of the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN here in New York saying, if I were… if I were in charge, I’d shoot all the protesters… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t have anything on Gambia for you today.
Question: Okay. And I wanted… this is something totally different. You may have seen that Emma Watson, a fine advocate but also US.… UN Goodwill Ambassador, has confirmed that she… that an offshore company through Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers. So I wanted to know, you know, obviously… various people in the UN system have said that this… this… this information is important, that it shows tax evasion, that people shouldn’t do it, that it undermines development. Does the UN have any position on whether its goodwill ambassadors should have their own shell companies through British Virgin Islands or elsewhere? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I haven’t seen that particular report. We would expect all of our goodwill ambassadors to uphold the highest ethical standards. Masood?
Question: Yes, sir. On this… again, on this continuing situation in Gaza, because of Israel’s strangulation of the Gaza, has the United Nations and the Secretary‑General activated the so‑called Quartet, which is still not been able to function properly. And…
Spokesman: First of all… [inaudible] Go ahead.
Question: Go ahead.
Spokesman: No, the situation in Gaza, as I just mentioned, obviously, we would like to see a complete lifting of the…
Question: Siege. Yeah.
Spokesman: …of the blockade. The Egyptians have just opened up for two days the crossing. It had been quite a long period since the last opening. We would encourage both Israel and Egypt to ensure the… the free flow in and out of Gaza. It would be one way to alleviate the very dire humanitarian situation in the country. As for the Quartet, it’s very… it is, indeed, as I just mentioned a few minutes ago, very well activated, and we expect a report from the Quartet before the end of the month.
Question: So can you tell us about the latest talk the Secretary‑General or Secretary‑General’s Office has had with the Israeli authorities about this issue? And the point…
Spokesman: I think this is the issue… [inaudible] the humanitarian… the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza is one that has been raised by the Secretary‑General and by his representatives in discussions with Israeli representatives and also with their contacts in Gaza. Evelyn and then Joe. Sorry and…
Question: Why is it only open for two days? Are they… are they… do they want to make sure Hamas doesn’t come into Egypt?
Spokesman: I think that sounds like a perfect question for the Egyptian Foreign Minister, which you’ll be able to ask in a few minutes. Joe, and then we’ll go to the back.
Question: Just on the same issue, you’re saying, I guess, on behalf of the Secretary‑General, that the UN would like to see the complete opening of all these crossings into Gaza… into and out of Gaza. Is that saying that this will be unconditional, in view of the recent evidence of terror tunnels being built between Gaza and Israel… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I think everyone…
Question: I mean, talk… talk about security. I know you always talk about Israeli security, but then you talk about just opening up all of these crossings without referencing any actions by Hamas, which is the governing authority in Gaza, to demonstrate abandoning its military ambitions. [inaudible]
Spokesman: I think we have… Joe, we have underscored time and time again the need for… the need to understand Israeli’s… Israel’s security concern. We have condemned the misuse of construction material that is being used. We’ve seen reports of being used to build tunnels and instead of for its intended purpose. Obviously, every country has a responsibility to its own citizens and needs to take the measures it needs to take. What we would like to see is an improvement of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and that would mean for humanitarian cases, for students, people who need medical help to be able to leave Gaza to seek treatment. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, yesterday, the Bangladesh executed the Jamaat‑e‑Islaami leader, [Motiur] Rahman Nizami. Do you have any information about the trial and what Secretary‑General has to say?
Spokesman: No, no, no particular. Obviously, we’ve raised our concern on this particular case, in the way the case has been handled, and obviously, the Secretary‑General’s position against the use of death penalty stands and stands especially… stands in this case… including in this case. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In fact, I raised many questions in the last two weeks, and you promised to come back with answers to me, and none of these questions were answered: The killing of the pregnant woman at Qalandia checkpoint and her 16‑year‑old brother; the burning of the three children in Gaza due to candlelight, but, of course, the blame was on the siege and those who are responsible for the siege; and dismantling of a school near… Jahalin Bedouins near Maale Adumim settlement and many other questions. When there were two children killed by Israeli bombardment, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov did not see that. But when Hamas threw a rocket, immediately he condemned that and issued a statement. And regarding the tunnel, also, there was a statement saying this is an old tunnel, but nobody took note of that statement, only with the other narratives when it comes from Israel. These are my question, and it will be repeated again and again, why there is no attention paid when the Palestinians are victimized?
Spokesman: I think there are… there is a lot of attention paid to the plight of civilians, all civilians. On the case… the tragic case of the girls who were burnt by candlelight, I think I expressed our condolences a few days ago. The case of the checkpoint, my understanding is that it is being actively investigated, and we would like to see it fully investigated. There is an overall issue of improving the situation in Gaza, an immediate improvement of the situation… humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Israelis have their roles to play. The Egyptians have their roles to play. The Palestinians also have a role to play. I think the overall message that the Secretary‑General has been repeating is a need for a restart of a political process to give a glimmer of hope to those civilians who are suffering day in and day out. Mr. Abbadi and then Mr. Lee.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I also raised a question regarding the budgetary figures of the Secretary‑General’s trips last year and this year, and I wonder if you have anything.
Spokesman: You know, what I can point to you right now is the… obviously, the budget that is… the costs that are allocated in the budget for the trips. If I have anything more, I will share it with you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Burundi and then again something, I guess, financial. There’s this… I would… given the interest of the UN system in Burundi, I’m hoping that you have something on this. There were yesterday and today some 250 people arrested reportedly in Musaga, which is a… perceived to be an opposition neighbourhood. And there are pictures all over the internet. People are saying it’s another crackdown. And so I just wanted to know what is the status of the UN’s, I guess, monitoring, speaking, and engaging in this crisis?
Spokesman: We continue to have people on the ground. We’re also eagerly awaiting a decision by the Security Council on the way forward for an increased UN presence. I think as the crisis grows every day, our concern grows about the need to have a political horizon and to ensure that Burundi moves in the right direction, that people’s rights are respected and their freedom of expression is also respected.
Question: Okay, and on this, I will do as gently as I can. Again, I wanted… and I’ll explain why. I wanted to ask you again about this Global Governance for UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). And the reason I am and I’ve asked about this group and not the one that you answered on yesterday is that in March 2016, a UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), South‑South office attended their event here in New York. And I know that you’d said on, I guess it was, Monday that… that “we would encourage all parts of the UN to do as deep a due diligence as possible when partnering.” So I wanted to know what is the… what is the current… given the audit, what is the current state of play in things like UNFPA and various far-flung agencies… What kind of… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I’m not aware of… that’s a question you have to ask UNFPA to confirm whether or not they actually attended this event. Again, I think there is a very important role in the UN’s work for partnership with civil society and NGOs. However, there is also a responsibility on every part of the UN system to do due diligence and to ensure that its partners are stand‑up, to use a colloquial term. And we would hope that due diligence is done, by all funds and programmes and other UN agencies.
Question: Thanks for that. And this may be to benefit these funds and programmes. If an individual who has recently pleaded guilty to bribery charges involving the UN, is the registrant and centrally involved in an organization, should funds and programmes continue to be engaging with them?
Spokesman: That would… I think… The short answer would be no. Also, I’m not sure Mr. [Francis] Lorenzo’s role in that organization is clear to see. But it would… obviously, you would need… everyone needs to do due diligence. Masood.
Question: Thank you, sir. Talking about Israeli security concerns. Israel’s own security chief, Mr. [Yair] Golan, said that there’s a xenophobic atmosphere… anti‑Palestinian atmosphere existing in the country, and that is undermining the peace process also. So has the Secretary‑General addressed that also, because this is being said by the Israeli officials. Not by… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t monitor every utterance by every official around the world. Maybe I should. What is clear is the Secretary‑General’s position, and it is clearly laid out in his periodic briefings to the Security Council. Mr. Abbadi, Mr. Lee and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you. Regarding my questions on the Middle East conference at the end of May in Paris, has the Secretary‑General received an official invitation? And could you explain why there is such hesitancy regarding his presence?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has a schedule. Obviously, we are looking at different options. When we’re able to confirm it, we will announce it. And, yes, he has received an invitation. Mr. Lee, then Mr. Abbadi… Mr. Abdelhamid?
Question: Sure. This one you may have seen. There’s been… Amnesty International and other groups, including the media, reported on this barracks in north-east Nigeria in which people, including children… women and children, family members, have… perceived Boko Haram members have been locked up, and children have been dying there. So they’ve called… they said this is sort of one step too far in the fight on… on terrorism. And I’m wondering, what does the UN think? Are they aware of this?
Spokesman: I think the… we’ve seen the horrendous report put forward by Amnesty International. We would hope that, one, the Government of Nigeria fully investigates the cases and those responsible, if this actually occurred, are brought to justice. I think, in terms of the fight against terrorism, I would just refer you to the points the Deputy Secretary‑General just made about how the need to fight against extremism and terrorism needs to fully respect human rights, freedom of expression, because, otherwise, it’s the best recruiter for extremist groups. Abdelhamid, then Evelyn.
Question: Stéphane, if you recall, I raised the issue of the arrest of Omar Nazzal, a prominent Palestinian journalist. In fact, he was arrested on International Day… Freedom Press Day. And that put the number of the detainees to 627. And, according to Israeli sources, does the double number since October, wave of violence, the recent wave of violence, so the number had multiplied. What can be done to those who are detained without any trial and including some prominent Palestinian journalists?
Spokesman: We have time and time again called for the release of people in administrative detention that they should either be released or formally charged, and we’ll continue that call. Evelyn? [The Spokesman later informed the correspondent that Nickolay Mladenov had taken up Omar Nazzal’s case with the Israeli authorities.]
Question: It was unusual at today’s Security Council meeting to have Microsoft give one of the first speeches. Is it its relationship with Egypt that has prompted this or do you know?
Spokesman: Again, this sounds like a warm‑up session for questions that should be asked to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Have a good day.