The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is in Jerusalem, where he had a working lunch with President Reuven Rivlin of Israel. Speaking to the press with the President before the lunch, the Secretary-General said that he welcomes today’s announcement of the normalization of relations between Israel and Turkey, calling it an important and hopeful signal for the stability of the region.
He added that the Middle East Quartet was soon to publish its report. Once issued, he said that Israeli and Palestinian leaders will need to engage on its recommendations for the resumption of meaningful negotiations.
Earlier, the Secretary-General was in Tel Aviv and spoke at a ceremony at Tel Aviv University, in which he was also awarded the George S. Wise medal. In his remarks to students, he said that global technologies are linking people as never before in webs of commerce, culture and connections. Our challenge, he added, is how to harness that innovation to meet the challenges facing humanity — from climate change to promoting food security to preventing cyber-crime. And reflecting on the recent ceremony that he attended in Havana between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army), the Secretary-General said that seeing those bitter enemies lay down their arms offered a glimmer of hope in today’s world.
In Kuwait yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the Amir of Kuwait and expressed his deep appreciation and gratitude for Kuwait’s strong backing of the efforts of his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, on the ongoing Yemen peace talks in Kuwait.
And the Secretary-General also spoke to the Yemeni delegations in Kuwait and urged them to prevent any further deterioration of the situation in Yemen and to show the responsibility and flexibility required to arrive at a comprehensive agreement ending the conflict. He also urged the release of all prisoners, including political detainees, journalists, civil society activists and others as a goodwill gesture ahead of the Eid holiday.
You will have noticed that yesterday the Secretary-General phoned Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, to say he welcomed the progress made by Iraq’s security forces in retaking areas from Da’esh.
While noting the work the UN is doing to support the Iraqi Government in addressing the humanitarian needs of civilians in Fallujah, he also expressed concerns over reports of serious human rights abuses against civilians displaced from that city.
He welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to establish an investigative committee to look into all alleged abuses.
The UN and its partners are helping to look after the needs of some 85,000 displaced persons from Falluja.
In a related matter, UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) today reported it has finished reconstruction of an irrigation canal near the city, which will help local farmers get back on their feet. The canal was destroyed in recent fighting.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, spoke at the fortieth Annual Conference of the Centre for Oceans Law and Policy this morning.
Stressing that healthy oceans are critical to sustaining life on our planet, the Deputy Secretary-General said the decisions we make now on sustainable use of ocean resources stand to benefit millions of people for generations to come.
He added that our impact on oceans and seas is taking a toll and many marine species today are at serious risk from ocean warming and over-fishing. He urged the international community to renew its efforts to protect the oceans and use their resources peacefully, equitably and sustainably.
Later today, at 3 p.m., the Deputy Secretary-General will speak at the humanitarian affairs segment of the 2016 session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). More information is available in our office.
The Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, strongly condemned the four suicide bombings that took place at dawn this morning in the north-eastern Lebanese border town of El-Qaa, which killed five civilians and injured several others. The Special Coordinator expressed her profound condolences to the families of the victims and wished a quick recovery to the injured.
Ms. Kaag commended the courage and commitment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and security forces, and she called for sustained international support to enhance their capacity in the face of security challenges, including the terrorist threat, in Lebanon and along its borders.
Today, an inter-agency convoy is delivering much needed life-saving assistance to the hard-to-reach town of Qudsaya in Rural Damascus. The convoy contains food, nutrition, health, water and sanitation and education supplies for some 30,000 people. This is the second convoy to Qudsaya this year. The previous one took place in May.
Since the beginning of 2016, the UN and its partners have been able to reach almost 57 per cent of people in besieged locations and 12 per cent in hard-to-reach areas through inter-agency operations. Further assistance is also provided to hard-to-reach areas through cross-border activities.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that its local partners in Syria informed the agency yesterday that 25 children were reportedly killed in air-strikes on al-Quriyah town, in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzour. Three attacks reportedly hit heavily crowded areas, including a mosque, during prayer time.
Amid an intensification of violence, attacks on children in Syria are becoming commonplace with callous disregard for the lives of children. UNICEF deplores these attacks and calls on all parties to the conflict to keep children out of harm’s way.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is continuing to provide protection to approximately 12,000 civilians in Wau, following the outbreak of violence. UNMISS military forces have created a security [cordon] around an area adjacent to the UN base and peacekeepers are conducting active patrolling to ensure the safety of the displaced civilians within this area.
UNMISS wishes to clarify that opening its gates is not a first line of response in the protection of civilians. At this time, UNMISS is continuing to provide a secure environment for those displaced by the violence in Wau adjacent to its base and UNMISS will consider additional measures in line with its mandate should the security situation deteriorate further.
In a statement we issued on Saturday, the Secretary-General called on all fighting forces to immediately suspend the hostilities, provide access to the UN Mission in South Sudan and cooperate with humanitarian partners to facilitate the delivery of assistance. He urged all parties to agree to dialogue to resolve their political disputes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has condemned recent attacks on two health facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
The agency reiterated that such attacks violate international humanitarian law and present a serious setback for people who need medical assistance and for the humanitarian community. Nearly 60 per cent of public hospitals in conflict areas in Libya have shut down or are inaccessible.
WHO has urged all parties in the conflict to respect the safety and neutrality of health workers and health facilities. More information is available online.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, today condemned in the strongest possible terms yesterday’s attack on the Naso Hablod Hotel, in Southern Mogadishu.
Mr. Keating also expressed sadness at the death of the Somali State Minister for Environment Affairs, who was killed in the attack together with at least 25 people. More information is available on the UN Mission’s website.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, the UN Mission in the country, MINUSCA, condemned the killing of a peacekeeper by unidentified armed men on 24 June in Bangui.
His body was found at Bangui General Hospital and an investigation was launched to determine the circumstances of the tragedy.
Over the weekend, the Mission also welcomed the release of six Central African policemen who were held hostage by armed men.
MINUSCA applauds the perseverance of the negotiating team that contributed to their release without the use of force.
The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $13 million to provide life-saving assistance to people in north-eastern Nigeria who have been affected by Boko Haram violence and who have just become accessible to humanitarian responders.
The Central Emergency Response funds will enable UN humanitarian agencies and their partners to provide food, cash for food purchase, child nutritional supplements, protection and health services to more than 250,000 of the most vulnerable people in the next four months.
Since 2015, and including this latest allocation, the CERF has supported life-saving assistance in response to Boko Haram-related violence with more than $70 million in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, is travelling to Italy today where he will be meeting with Italian national and local authorities in Rome and Brindisi. In Brindisi he will also meet with members of the UN Global Service Centre and the UN system. On Friday, Mr. Khare will proceed to the Central African Republic, where he is expected to meet with Government and local officials as well as personnel from the UN peacekeeping mission and partners. He will discuss operational support to the mission and follow up on initiatives related to conduct and discipline matters.
And the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, is travelling to Argentina and Mexico. Mr. Ladsous arrived in Argentina today and he proceeds to Mexico on Wednesday. In both countries, he is expected to follow up on pledges to increase contributions to peacekeeping.
I have an appointment to announce: the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Yacoub El Hillo of Sudan as his Deputy Special Representative in the UN Mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL. He will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Mr. El Hillo succeeds Antonio Vigilante of Italy, who concluded his assignment on 15 June, and to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his outstanding contribution and dedicated service in supporting the implementation of UNMIL’s mandate and coordinating the activities of the UN system in Liberia.
Mr. El Hillo brings to the position a wealth of experience in the field and at UN Headquarters. Since August 2013, he has served as the UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic, based in Damascus. We have more information available in our office.
For the honour roll, Afghanistan has paid its regular budget dues in full, which brings the total number of Member States on the Honour Roll to 90. Our thanks go to Kabul.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly, the election of the new non-permanent members of the Security Council will take place. And following the elections, a stakeout will be set up outside the General Assembly Hall for elected members to speak to press.
**Questions and Answers
That's it for me. Yes, Maggie?
Question: Hey, Farhan. Any word on who will replace Mr. El Hillo in Syria, because that's a very important post right now?
Deputy Spokesman: That is, indeed, an important post, and we're thankful for the great work Yacoub El Hillo has done over the past few years, and you've seen the progress that's been made, particularly in recent weeks and months, in terms of getting humanitarian access and providing aid to people in need throughout Syria. And we're very appreciative of the work he's done on that. As for an appointment in his position, we'll have to make that announcement as it comes. We just made this announcement right now.
Question: Is there any effort to make it quickly, since it's so urgent to fill it?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, there certainly is. Of course, Mr. El Hillo is on the job right now today in Syria, and we'll have to see how quickly we can get a replacement announced and get that person in.
Question: Sorry. Did you say when he'd be leaving to go to Liberia?
Deputy Spokesman: It will be fairly soon. Mr. Vigilante, the person he's replacing, has just left, as of the middle of the month. So he's been gone for a couple of weeks. But, first, we want to make sure that there's an orderly transition in place in Syria, as well. Yes?
Question: Thanks. Following up on Thursday's vote in the UK, there seem to be a number of ministers, world leaders who are making visits to London, Brussels, some of them maybe courtesy calls and nothing more, but has the SG been asked to come and speak to anyone at the EU, been asked to go to the UK just to make sure the wheels are still on the European operation? Or is he doing this via phone or not at all?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he's certainly apprised of the latest developments, and a number of officials throughout the system have been in touch with our various counterparts. You'll have seen, of course, what the Secretary‑General said on Friday in response to the UK vote, and we stand by what he says. I don't have any travel by the Secretary‑General to announce to the United Kingdom at this stage. Yes?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you about Yemen and the Secretary‑General's stop in Kuwait. Obviously, the talks have now been suspended, and I wanted to know what… and there's talk… I wanted to know, is the UN aware of talks continuing outside of the UN process between the Saudis and the Houthis? And are they aware of reported airstrikes by the Saudi‑led Coalition even as Ban was… Mr. Ban was in Kuwait that killed up to seven civilians?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the air operations and the violence, we, of course, have spoken out about the violence in Yemen. The Secretary‑General and his Special Envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, have weighed in against the continuation of such attacks. And, as you know, we've been pleading for the parties to respect the cessation of hostilities, and we continue to do so. Regarding the talks, I don't have any suspension of talks to inform you about. At this stage, the Special Envoy, Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed, continues his work with the various parties, and we'll continue to provide updates as we get them from him.
Question: I think both sides have been quoted by wire services as saying it's suspended until mid‑July.
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of what the parties are saying. Like I said, from Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed's standpoint, he is continuing with his work. If there's anything further to say from his end, we'll share that with you. But he has continued to work… meet at various levels with parties, and he will continue to do that. There's a lot of work that can be done outside of face‑to‑face talks by the leader of the delegations, and as you know, the Secretary‑General himself met the leaders of the delegations just yesterday. So he himself has also continued with those efforts and urged them to continue to meet with each other and be willing to make concessions in the interests of the Yemeni people. Yeah? Have another one.
Question: Sure. Wau, South Sudan, Burundi and something else. On Wau, I mean, I heard initially it's the… the Secretary‑General praised the response. Then the mission issued a statement clarifying that the gates hadn't been opened. Some people are saying there are many… you know, people were killed. What's the estimate? And how is it… is there a new policy on the UN's part given, I guess, Malakal and other things to not open the gates? What's the… it seemed to many people strange to say we're protecting civilians by shutting the gates.
Deputy Spokesman: It's not by shutting the gates. There will be an evaluation of the situation. If there's a need to open the gates, that will happen. Like I just said, if the situation deteriorates further, that would be one of the steps that could be considered. But it's not the first resort. The first resort, at this point, is to have a site adjacent to the protection of… a site adjacent to the military base, where we can protect people there. And, at this stage, we have, I believe, 963 military personnel deployed in Wau, and 90 additional troops have been sent as reinforcements with 60 more ready to move now, subject to flight clearance. So there's a lot of people available there as well as people who will be trying to augment the forces existing. We have a protection of civilians site that's been operational in Wau since December 2013. There's currently, I believe, 219 displaced people sheltered at that site. But, meanwhile, we have, like I said, thousands more people, basically 12,000 people, being protected in an adjacent area where a security cordon has been established.
Question: The opposition to… to the Salva Kiir Government, have… they come up with a figure of 400, which other people say is too high, of people killed. What's your estimate? What's UNMISS's estimate of people killed in Wau?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have an estimate of people killed. What we're trying to do is conduct active patrolling in Wau. The UNMISS personnel are trying to the extent possible to deter any violence against civilians, and we're engaging with parties to… in order for them to return to dialogue. It's difficult to get a handle on how many people have been killed over the violence. We have made it very clear that that's the responsibility of the parties and they need to halt all the violence and, once again, return in good faith to dealing with each other in all areas. Are there any other questions? Do you have a question, or are you just sort of wandering around at the periphery?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I'm asking you, because otherwise it's just really one person asking questions.
Correspondent: [inaudible] I want to ask you a question about the Adama Dieng, who…
Deputy Spokesman: Please use the microphone. Please use the microphone.
Question: Oh, sorry. If you have further information about the visit of Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser of the Secretary‑General on the prevention of genocide, to Israel. He's there now. Can you share with us why he's there or…?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I mean, Mr. Dieng's work takes him to a number of places. He does provide periodic press releases about his travels and his work. Once he has something to give us, we'll share that with you. Yes?
Question: Sure. Something on Burundi and then on this Andrew Gilmour announcement you made Friday. In Burundi, there… people are saying that there have been a deployment or is being a deployment of the… of army soldiers from certain units into Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to hunt down perceived opponents or push… putschists. And given this and given that MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is there, is MONUSCO aware of any deployment by Burundian military to conduct operations with FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in Eastern Congo?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware of anything from that. I'll check with MONUSCO whether they've seen anything more recent, but I'm not aware of any incursions by Burundian troops.
Question: But would they… it may be at the invitation of the Government. Would MONUSCO be informed of that?
Deputy Spokesman: If it's at the invitation of the Government, you also need to check with the Government of the DRC. It’s ultimately… that's for them to answer. I can see what information MONUSCO has, but for that, you really do need the DRC Government's information. Yeah?
Question: Sorry. Correct me if I'm wrong. The SG held a press conference in Gaza, but he said he would not take questions.
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, he has not been to Gaza today. Tomorrow he will be in Gaza.
Question: Oh, tomorrow. But he said… there was a statement saying that he will not take questions.
Deputy Spokesman: In Gaza?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll have to see what happens. That's tomorrow. You can complain about it once it has happened, but in advance, I'm operating from ignorance about what happens. Yes?
Question: Sure. And you'd mentioned this, that Mr. [Ivan] Šimonović will be replaced by Andrew Gilmour. Since then, I've heard from a number… I guess I want to just to ask factually, what was the recruitment pol… pr … was a call put out for an ASG (Assistant Secretary-General) post? Because people in G-77 (Group of 77) are saying there was no call, and there's… there's some… some pushback to it. And also some people that work in the human rights at D2 and other levels are saying they couldn't apply. Isn't it the norm for an ASG post to write a letter to Member States and saying send in names or do interviews? Was that done or not done?
Deputy Spokesman: As far as I'm aware, the standard process for filling that post was followed as with all senior posts.
Question: Can… I mean, I guess… can you check on that? Because maybe these people are ill‑informed, but they seem to think that didn't take place.
Deputy Spokesman: As… like I said, I mean, as far as I'm apprised of the process, it was filled in the standard way of previous posts, with a short list of candidates and interviews and so forth.
Question: But is it the norm to inform Member States that an ASG post is becoming empty and for them to write in if they have a candidate?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, things depend on the level, but I believe that all the appropriate policies for that post were filled. Have a good afternoon, everyone.