The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
You will have seen that over the weekend, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) expressed grave concern over reports of renewed violence in Kananga.
The Mission has received credible reports of high numbers of deaths in the context of clashes between Kamwina Nsapu militiamen and members of the Congolese security forces.
MONUSCO is concerned by the attacks of militiamen against State institutions and symbols, but also by the disproportionate use of force by the security and defence forces and the targeting of civilians, including women and children.
Restrictions placed on the freedom of movement by security forces in Kananga in recent days also impede the ability of the Mission to implement its mandate.
From Libya, humanitarians are alarmed at the impact of the ongoing fighting in Tripoli on the civilian population. On 15 March, a mortar shell hit Tripoli’s Al-Hadbha Hospital, setting fire to the paediatric department. Three children received treatment for suffocation.
As fighting continues in Tripoli and other parts of Libya, health facilities, health staff and patients are at continuous risk. A recent assessment by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that almost 75 per cent of health facilities are closed or only partially functioning.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Do Valle Ribeiro, and WHO have called on all warring parties in Libya to respect civilians, health facilities, and medical staff, according to international humanitarian law.
The Government of Iraq is reporting that 180,000 civilians have fled western Mosul since mid-February, when military operations to retake the western districts of the city began. Humanitarian agencies are bracing for the possibility that an additional 300,000 to 320,000 civilians may flee in coming weeks.
Humanitarian agencies are deeply worried that civilians are at grave risk in western Mosul. Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, says that the use of explosives in the densely populated Old City is likely to cause extensive damage. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped, she warned, and they are in terrible danger.
The main supply route into western Mosul has been cut since mid-November. Families fleeing the city are reporting that shelves are empty and that the only food available is what they already have at home. Water and electricity supplies have been cut and medicines are running out. There’s a press release with more details.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has condemned last Thursday’s incident in which 42 people, including refugees, were killed when a boat carrying around 145 passengers — among them women and children — came under fire off Yemen’s west coast, near Hudaydah.
The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, calls on all parties to the conflict to make proper inquiries to ensure accountability and to prevent this from happening again.
While the circumstances surrounding Thursday’s attack are still unclear, according to international law, civilians must not be attacked and warring parties must do everything possible to protect civilians. UNHCR staff on the ground have been giving support to families of the victims and survivors of the attack.
Ahead of tomorrow’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging countries to do more to combat hate speech and hate crimes.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the dangers of demonizing particular groups are evident across the world. “Words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences,” he said.
This day reminds us that States have no excuse for allowing racism and xenophobia to fester, much less flourish, said the High Commissioner; and he stressed that States should adopt legislation expressly prohibiting racist hate speech as a fulfilment of their legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination.
Today, we welcome Spain to the honour roll, as its full payment for the 2017 regular budget has arrived. The total now stands at 61. Gracias.
**Questions and Answers
And that’s it for me. Are any questions from you? Yes, Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I didn’t hear you say anything about the Yemen incident, whether there is going to be any investigation into the…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what I’ve said is that there has been a call for all parties to make proper inquiries to assure accountability and to prevent a reoccurrence, and that call was made by the High Commissioner for Refugees. Edie?
Question: Farhan, I wonder whether you had any comment on Uruguay’s announcement that it’s pulling its troops out of MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission) in Haiti?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, obviously, it’s up to every nation and the right of every Member State to rotate its troops whenever it sees fit. We’ve appreciated the contribution that Uruguayan troops have made in Haiti. If their rotation is going to be ending now and they’ll be moving out, what we’re going to try to do is make sure that they can be quickly replaced so that there’s no security void in the country. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to know if you have anything from UNMISS (United Nations Mission) in South Sudan about this reported plane crash in Wau and whether there’s any… who was on the plane, whether the airline that was running it is actually… I saw one report that they… they… they claimed to have stopped running that airline in 2015. What do you have from there?
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t have a confirmation of this incident. I’m aware of the reports, but we’ll need to check with UNMISS to see what the UN Mission is saying.
Question: What is Wau’s… I mean, Wau has, obviously, a camp and POC (Protection of Civilians) site and everything else in Wau, so…
Deputy Spokesman: There is, and there’s been security concerns in Wau in recent months as we’ve been reporting to you, but this particular incident, I don’t have any details on. Yes?
Question: Farhan, the United States boycotted the Human Rights Council meeting today, which was on Israel and the Palestinians. Do you have any comment? And is there any update on a possible meeting between the Secretary‑General and President [Donald] Trump?
Deputy Spokesman: On the latter, there’s no meeting scheduled just yet. On the other question, of course, we believe that the work of the Human Rights Council is important, and we encourage all Member States to support that work. Obviously, different Member States have their opinions about different topics before the Council to which they’re entitled, but at the same time, we do hope that the overall work of the Council will be supported by all Members. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about readouts. First about Cameroon. Stéphane [Dujarric] on Friday had a statement, I guess, from [François] Loncény Fall welcoming certain moves by the Government. And, since that time, over the weekend, there was a deployment of troops into the… the north and south-west province regions and many arrests and how… searches home by home. So I’m wondering, what was… what was the UN’s understanding of… of what the Government was moving toward when they made this announcement on Friday? And do they have any response to actually what’s happened since they made their announcement?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we don’t have a response to the most recent developments. But, yes, Mr Loncény Fall has been in touch with a variety of interlocutors. As Stéphane described, he continues his efforts to make sure that the various communities in Cameroon are being treated fairly, and he’ll keep up with that work.
Question: Right but… okay. All right. Let me… I wanted to ask on… I’d asked… on Friday, there was the meeting upstairs of the Frente Polisario and the Secretary‑General, and I know that not only Inner City Press but other media have asked you for a readout. Is there any reason why currently the Secretary‑General’s Office is not putting out readouts of meetings with Bahrain, Armenia and now Western Sahara, whereas other parties do the readouts?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the basic point is that there’s some meetings for which the work of diplomacy requires us to have a certain amount of discretion, and, ultimately, that’s the case with this one. You’re aware of what our concerns have been in Western Sahara in recent weeks. We’ve made no secret of that. You’ll have seen our recent statements, and so it’s very clear what the broad topics of discussion would be.
Question: But I guess… if the countries that… does the Secretary‑General ask the people that he meets with not to do readouts? Because Bahrain did a very long readout that didn’t mention anything on human rights, for example. And… and… and they’ve responded to criticism of… at the Human Rights Council by demarching Switzerland. So it leads some to say maybe this… UN just doesn’t want to say the words “human rights.” Like, what was so sensitive in the discussion with Bahrain that required it not to be… [inaudible]
Deputy Spokesman: That’s not true. Human rights [are] important. It’s a very important part of the Secretary‑General’s work, and it’s a very important part of most of his meetings with interlocutors. At the same level, it sometimes helps our purposes in terms of particular meetings having concrete results not to have the readouts issued. I believe one of the previous Secretaries‑General — and you probably know which one I’m referring to — said that if I gave all the details of my meetings and phone calls with the press, the next time I picked up the phone, they’d just want to talk about the weather, and that would be it. Yes?
Question: Farhan, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the North Korean test over the weekend of a new rocket engine?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, you’ll have seen our basic concerns about the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and our concerns about the various tests. We want, ultimately, for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply fully with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and it needs to refrain from further provocation and comply fully with its international obligations. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about the… the sinking of the ship of refugees off Yemen last week. It was said that the… does the UN know any more who was responsible for it? It was also said that maybe people were not somehow UN‑certified refugees but some fought… some papers have been found in the… in the… among the remains. So the question is, what… what are the steps to find… Somalia has complained and asked for an investigation. What are the steps to make sure to find out who actually killed these 41 or 43 Somali refugees?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t know whether you heard the note I read at the top of the briefing, but the High Commissioner for Refugees has come out with a condemnation of the incident. He’s called on all parties to make proper inquiries to ensure accountability. He’s made clear that the circumstances surrounding the attack remain unclear, but he reasserted that civilians must not be attacked and warring parties must do everything possible to protect civilians. Regarding the status, I believe, as Stéphane said last week, some of them did have papers having to do with asylum. Yes, Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan finally opened today on the orders of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Any thoughts on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we certainly welcome the opening of the crossing points, and we hope that people will be able to move freely through the crossing points between the two countries. Yes? Yes, in the back.
Question: Excuse me if you addressed this earlier, Farhan, but I just wanted to ask about the Geneva… the talks in Geneva on Syria. How are they going? How will these talks differ from the previous ones?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe we mentioned that the next round would be coming up on… I think we said 23 March. Right now the Special Envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is travelling in the region. I believe he is in Riyadh today, and he’s going to be talking with different parties to make sure that the right understandings are in place so that we can move ahead. You’ll have seen from the previous round in Geneva that Mr. de Mistura made clear that there are several different baskets of discussions that will be taking place, so there’s an agenda that the parties have agreed to, and we hope we can moved forward on that agenda. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, the staff unions — you may have seen this — they’re saying that there… they… they’ve become aware of a proposal within the Secretariat, you know, gender equity proposal, but one in which all external recruitment will be restricted to female candidates and which all lateral moves will be restricted to female candidates and promotions restricted to women at the P and D… both P and D level. So I wanted to know, there’s… they’re… they’re… they’re getting responses from staff. Some are in favour. Others are saying they should be looking at things like parental leave, maternity cover, child care. But is this true? Is this whether… where the Secretariat is moving? And, if so, why didn’t this apply, for example, to DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), where I know at least one of the three candidates was a woman and was… Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix was selected. What’s the rationale… what would be the rationale for applying this to P and D but not to the higher levels of the UN system?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is not something that is policy at this point. Whether this is something that becomes developed later on is something that will have to be developed as a result of discussions, including discussions with staff and with management. So I don’t have anything to confirm as a policy change at this point.
Question: What’s the… but what would be the mechanism to… to… I know that there’s some election coming up and there’s some controversy around it. What would… would it await the results of an election of a… of a… of a… of a New York staff union, or what would be the mechanism to consult with staff about this?
Deputy Spokesman: We consult with many of the different staff unions with whoever is there to represent them. If there is a resolution to the situation in New York and there’s a staff union here in New York, that would also be a welcome part of the process. Yes?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. There’s some footage and reports out of Libya saying that forces of General [Khalifa] Haftar have dug up corpses in Benghazi, and there’s footage of them mutilating the bodies. Does the SG have any comment on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’re aware of the media reports, but we’d need more conclusive information about this. But I just read at the top of the briefing our concerns about the overall fighting in Libya at this point. Yes?
Question: A follow‑up on Syria. You said the Special Envoy was in the region. Where will the Special Envoy be visiting after Riyadh? Could you share the details with us, please? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: I believe, in the coming days, he will also be traveling to Moscow, and there may be some other stops to confirm as this progresses. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. The first is on North Korea. Given the escalating danger regarding its nuclear and ballistic missile programme, I know you’ve been asked this a trillion times, but what is the latest… the status of perhaps back‑channel diplomacy and the possibility of the SG meeting with officials from North Korea?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing to announce on that at this point. If that changes, we’ll let you know. Have a good afternoon, everyone.