The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen over the weekend, we issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General in which he condemned yesterday's attacks on two Coptic Churches in Egypt. He expressed his deep sympathies to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Egypt. The Secretary-General of course wishes a quick recovery to those injured and hopes that the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act will be swiftly identified and brought to justice. This morning, the Secretary-General spoke to the Permanent Representative of Egypt to express his condolences and he is expected to write a letter to President Al Sisi along the same lines.
An update on the humanitarian situation in Syria from our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]: a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered life-saving assistance, including food, water, sanitation and health supplies, to 35,000 Syrian men, women and children in need on Saturday, in the hard-to-reach towns of Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm in Rural Damascus. Unfortunately, some surgical items were removed from the aid supplies. The last inter-agency convoy to the area was on 5 May 2015, nearly two years ago.
Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) plans to deliver matching aid for Palestine refugees in the area in the coming weeks in a separate operation. The UN continues to call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to close to 5 million people who are in hard-to-reach areas and besieged locations throughout Syria.
[On] the city of Atabaqa in Raqqa governorate, the UN is deeply concerned for the safety and protection of over 30,000 civilians following reports of military operations. The civilians remain inside the city where they face deteriorating humanitarian, health, living and security conditions, and the city has had no water and no electricity for more than 20 days. The fighting and insecurity around the city is also inhibiting those who are trying to leave. We remind all parties to the fighting in Raqqa of their obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law.
Another humanitarian update from Iraq: our colleagues on the ground tell us that displacement from Iraq’s west Mosul continues to surge, with some 17,000 people having fled the area over the weekend. More than 280,000 people have now been uprooted from west Mosul since the military operation there began in late February, with a total of 352,000 people having been displaced in total as a result of the fighting in both east and west Mosul. Humanitarian partners continue to work around the clock to keep up with daily sharp increases in displacement. There is enough room to immediately host some 36,000 people, and further site expansion and construction is ongoing, with a new camp at Hamam al Alil, south of Mosul, that is expected to be open tomorrow.
And according to a joint food security report issued by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Iraqi Government today, more than half of Iraqi families are at risk of food insecurity and can no longer absorb any further shocks, such as conflict or increases in basic food prices. The report, conducted prior to the recent Mosul offensive, is one of the most robust technical food security studies ever conducted in Iraq, and warns of unprecedented levels of vulnerability. If you are interested, it is on WFP’s website.
As you know, today the Secretary-General will designate Malala Yousafzai as UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on girls’ education. Ms. Yousafzai, as you know is a global advocate for girls’ education and Nobel Peace Laureate. She will become the youngest-ever UN Messenger of Peace and the first one to be designated by this Secretary-General.
Her designation will take place this afternoon at 3:15 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council and will be followed by a conversation on stage between the Secretary-General, Ms. Yousafzai and youth representatives from around the world coming from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, among others. Many of these young people are first or second generation immigrants or refugees in the US. The ceremony will be webcast on WebTV un.org, and it will also be on the UN Facebook’s page and YouTube channel.
UNHCR [Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] asked us to flag that today called for a temporary suspension of all transfers of asylum seekers to Hungary from other European States under the Dublin Regulation. UNHCR said the situation for asylum seekers in Hungary has worsened since a new law introducing mandatory detention for asylum seekers came into effect on 28 March. More information on UNHCR’s website.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here sponsored by the Permanent Missions of [Argentina] and Mongolia on the launch of the Amnesty International annual report on “Death Sentences and Executions 2016”. And immediately following that, at 11:30 a.m., there will be a briefing by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Peter Thomson, and the Office of the Mayor of New York City on the forthcoming Ocean Conference and the World Ocean Festival, which will be take place from 5 to 9 June. I expect our briefing will be slightly delayed because of the press conference.
Finally, we want to say thank you to two more Member States to the Honour Roll who paid their regular budget dues in full, and that is Ethiopia and Haiti, which brings us up to? Nobody pays attention. Michelle. Oh, that's… go ahead, Michelle.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Thanks, Stéph.
Spokesman: Seventy-nine is the answer, by the way. Seventy-nine. Yes, Michelle, sorry.
Question: Does the… there's some disturbing reports coming out of South Sudan today, specifically around Wau, where there are UN peacekeepers. Do you have any update on what's going on there and whether the peacekeepers have had any access?
Spokesman: Yes, the, I think, following the ambush where a number of, that killed a number, several Government soldiers, we've seen an increase in fighting in Wau. That ambush, as you know, took place on Sunday. Our colleagues at the peacekeeping mission sent two patrols to the area today. They saw 16 bodies of civilians in a hospital and at least 10 others were injured. Eighty‑four people have arrived at the UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] protection-of-civilians Site in Wau, while at least 3,000 people have reportedly moved to a site run by the Catholic Church in town, and those are mostly women and children. We expect to have more patrols go to the area tomorrow. Matthew.
Question: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about this. I saw this, the note of correspondents from UNMISS talking about this ambush. It's sort of implying that it began with an ambush of the army, and then the army fought back. But, I've also seen an e-mail from… in UNMISS that the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] was using tanks as early as 7 a.m. on Saturday on this road to Bagari. So, I wanted to know, I guess it gives rise to, like, if the UN… if the UN is going to now come out and say they were ambushed, were they, in fact, advancing on… on enemy positions with tanks…? And, if so, what… what sort of is the… UNMISS's reporting, I guess, procedure…?
Spokesman: I… you, obviously, have access to e-mails that I don't. My sense and my hope is that the information that is verified is then reported on. I can only go by what the Mission told me. I would, if you have further questions for them and details, I would urge you to get in touch with them directly. Our concern, obviously, is for the status of the civilians in the area who are, once again, caught in fighting. I mean, as you said, we've already seen 16 bodies in the hospital, a small increase in the number of people who are seeking, who are seeking shelter. So, we'll have more patrols in the coming days. And, as we're able to report, we shall do so.
Question: Overall, can… overall, does the UN believe that… that… that this and other incidents involve the, the Dinka‑dominated Government and its associated militias… trying to conduct ethnic cleansing of other groups… in South Sudan?
Spokesman: I'm not… I'm not in a position to say that one way or another. Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There is complete strike in Indian-administrated Kashmir today following the killing of eight civilians by Indian troops. These civilians are protesting Indian rule in Kashmir. Does the Secretary‑General have any comments on this?
Spokesman: No, I think I would refer you to, to what we've already said on… on this situation in Kashmir, and I have nothing further to add to it. Yep.
Question: Thank you. As… Stéphane, as you would have seen over the weekend, Morocco allowed the remaining 17 staff members of the MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] back in. So, what's your comment on that, and what does the SG [Secretary-General] now expect from the Polisario?
Spokesman: I think we've seen all sorts of reporting over the weekend on the issue surrounding Western Sahara. I would wait for you to see the report, the Secretary‑General's report, to the Security Council on the operations of the, of MINURSO. I think you will have more details than that. That will go to the Council, the advance copy should go to the Council today or in the coming days. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: There's an e-mail sent by Bolduc about, informing that she has the… received the green light from the… from the Moroccan authorities for the return of the 17 members. So…?
Spokesman: I mean, that's… that's… there are clearly a lot of e-mails going around the UN system that you guys are getting that I'm not getting, which is par for the course. That being said, again, I would, I think everything will be clearer once the report of the Secretary‑General comes out. Yeah.
Question: Follow‑up. There were some reports also last week that the Polisario have threatened to shoot the MINURSO peacekeepers if they try to conduct ceasefire patrols in the areas under their control. What's the Secretary‑General think about that and the integrity of the peacekeeping mission itself?
Spokesman: Well, it's incumbent on all the parties involved to respect the, respect UN personnel in the area, whether uniformed or, or not, in the way they go about their work on a mandate of the Security Council.
Correspondent: I'm sorry. Just a quick follow‑up. The Polisario also reported that you have prevented the MINURSO from patrolling the El‑Guerguerat area after the Moroccan forces have withdrawn from it…
Spokesman: I think it is important that all the parties ensure that MINURSO has full freedom of movement. Masood‑ji.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane‑ji. I just want to…
Spokesman: I'm not old enough to deserve that title, Masood.
Question: I think you're old enough. Anyway, why is the Secretary‑General so reluctant to weigh himself on when the people are being killed right, left and centre in Kashmir? It has been going on for a long time. And every time I ask you the question or we have asked you the question, you seem to brush it off?
Spokesman: You know… I don't brush it off. I think if you… I don't think the Secretary‑General's been reluctant. I think he would underscore the need for, for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue. It's obviously, an issue that he is, that he is following. And, if we're able to say more, we shall be able to say more.
Question: Has he… has he come to grips with the… with this issue at all?
Spokesman: I'm not sure what "coming to grips" means. I mean, I think he's very, he's very well aware of the issue. Carole.
Question: Stéphane, first of all, I had a request. I was wondering if the Secretary‑General might be available to take questions after his luncheon with the Security Council on Wednesday
Spokesman: That is a probability that was raised with him, and we're, I think, on the right path.
Question: Good. So, my other… my question was about Syria. We heard the US Ambassador said there can be no peace in Syria as long as Assad is in power. I'm wondering if, what the Secretary‑General thinks of that statement.
Spokesman: For us, we would reiterate the importance of the process going on in Geneva, which, obviously, one of the issues on the agenda is… is transition. What is important is that the future leadership of Syria be decided by the Syrian people themselves, as we have said since the beginning of… of this crisis. And, again, I think we would call on all the parties to recommit themselves to the Geneva process and the political discussions going on in Geneva.
Correspondent: Can I follow up just… just because I think the… the US Ambassador's point was, given the chemical weapons attack, that he no longer had the legitimacy to lead that country.
Spokesman: I understand her…
Correspondent: So, you're going back to the past position, I mean…
Spokesman: Our position is unchanged. Our position is that the work needs to be done through the political dialogue in Geneva. And, as we've said, the, the future leadership of the Syrian… of Syria should be decided by the Syrian people themselves. Sherwin.
Question: Stéph, you might have dealt with this on Friday while we were covering the Council. Has the Secretary‑General weighed in in private on the legality of the US airstrikes against Syria?
Spokesman: No. As I said on Friday, we're not going to get into the issue of legality or not legality. I would refer you back to, to the statement.
Question: Why is that?
Spokesman: That's our position at this point. Oleg, and then Edie. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. With the risk of military escalation in Syria, is António Guterres doing anything? Is he contacting the Russians, the Iranians, the Americans? What is he doing in this case?
Spokesman: I think he is following the situation closely as is his… his team on… the political team on Syria led by Mr. de Mistura.
Question: And on the separate topic, couple of weeks ago, the Security Council called for bigger involvement of the Secretary‑General in the issue of DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. Now that there is some growing military presence over there, what is actually the SG doing now?
Spokesman: I have no update for you on DPRK. Edie. Sorry. You've been patient.
Question: Stéph, the Security Council is taking up the political situation in Syria. Is Staffan… is Staffan de Mistura going to be here? And, if he is, can he stop at stakeout to talk to us?
Spokesman: Yes, he is here either later this week or next week. Somebody told me, and I just cannot remember what they told me. But, yes, if he's here, we will ask him to stop at the stakeout. Yep. No, go ahead.
Question: Stéphane, is the, on Egypt, is the Secretary‑General worried about the human rights situation there, especially now with the emergency, three-month emergency laws declared there?
Spokesman: I think, as a matter of principle, we believe that the fight against terrorism should not impede the respect for human rights. That would be…
Correspondent: You didn’t answer my…
Spokesman: That would be my answer. Seana.
Question: Yes. Sorry to take it back to DPRK, but does the SG have any comment on the actual movement of the carriers into the Korean Peninsula area? Any commentary on that, any reaction? Thank you.
Spokesman: No. Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Has… have any UN personnel visited the Syrian airport, which was attacked by 59 missiles by the United States?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware that we have. In fact, I know we have no UN personnel in that military facility. Okay. Matthew.
Question: Sure. Something else, but I wanted to ask you, on… on Western Sahara, you'd said to wait for the report, but I guess I just want to say, this Kim Bolduc e-mail, which Inner City Press published, was directed to, like, many, many people in UNHCR. So, I'm sort of… I'm wondering what then, it talks about a code cable for Jean‑Pierre Lacroix to go forward and… and… and, you know, re… bring all 17 people back. So, I'm sort of wondering, like, is it that you know it, but she shouldn't have written that first? Is it…?
Spokesman: She's the master of her e-mails. She's obviously communicating what she needs to communicate with her… with her staff, and the Secretary‑General's position will be made very public and updated once the report comes out in the next day or so.
Question: Will he, by that time, confirm or deny that he's nominating Mr. Horst Kobler as… or Köhler…?
Spokesman: As you know, whenever we have a nomination for a high‑level person, there's a lot of the rumours prior. The Security Council will have to be consulted, and once all that is done, we will announce it officially and, no doubt, you will have the information before it is announced officially.
Question: Just finally, on both this and on South Sudan, is it possible to get Mr. Jean‑Pierre Lacroix to do a stakeout or some type of Q&A…?
Spokesman: I'm sure Mr Lacroix will be delighted to come meet you as soon as it is possible for him. Good day.
Question: Can I ask a Burundi question?
Spokesman: No. We're done. Thank you.
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