The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**African Union-United Nations
As we had told you, right now, the Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, are meeting today for the first AU-UN Annual Conference.
Issues they are discussing include the complementarity between Agenda 2030 and the AU’s Agenda 2063, countering terrorism, and financing for AU-led operations, as well as some country-specific and regional situations — Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Boko Haram, among others.
The Secretary-General and the Chairperson will sign shortly a Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhancing Partnership on Peace and Security and we expect them to be both down at the stakeout in front of the Trusteeship Council around 1 for a chance for you to ask some questions. And they will both be making remarks as well.
Then at 3:45 p.m. in this room, the Chairperson will be holding a press conference.
**World Bank Group
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Washington to attend the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group — that will take place on Friday and Saturday.
The Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York tonight to participate in these Meetings, as well.
On Friday, we expect the Secretary-General to address the opening segment of the meeting entitled “Meetings on Financing for Peace: Innovations to Tackle Fragility”. He will then speak to the Development Committee during a Ministerial lunch, and in the afternoon, he will meet with climate leaders from the public and private sectors.
On Saturday morning, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening plenary of the International Monetary and Financial Committee and in the afternoon he will address a high-level meeting on Famine and Fragility.
We expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York on Saturday evening.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Martin Kobler, briefed the Security Council this morning. He said that the institutions of the Libyan Political Agreement must deliver if they are to maintain credibility and legitimacy. He warned that the divisions in these institutions are setting Libya down a worrying path. That meeting was open and his remarks were made available.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN investigators in that country have confirmed the existence of at least 17 further mass graves in Kasai Central Province, which has been the scene of clashes between soldiers and members of a local militia known as Kamuina Nsapu.
This brings to 40 the number of mass graves documented by the UN in Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental Provinces since August of last year.
The presence of the additional graves was confirmed during an investigation mission by staff from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the Congo and UN Police (UNPOL).
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that this discovery of yet more mass graves and the reports of continued violations and abuses highlight the horror that has been unfolding in the Kasais over the last nine months.
He is urging the Government to ensure a prompt, transparent, and independent investigation to establish the facts.
Should there be no effective national investigation, he said he will not hesitate to urge the international community to support an international investigation.
Also on the DRC, you will have seen that there was an incident yesterday in Munigi camp, a camp for former combatants that is next to Goma. Sixteen staff from the Mission were held for a few hours and then returned safely to their homes.
The camp is home to 530 former combatants from South Sudan who live in the camp but the camp is not under the control or supervision of the UN but rather of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Mission is looking into this incident.
On South Sudan: the Secretary-General has sent a letter to the President of the Security Council summarizing the progress in implementing the recommendations of the independent special investigation into the violence in Juba in July 2016 and the actions of the UN Mission (UNMISS). In March 2017, an independent follow-up mission led by Major General Patrick Cammaert returned to South Sudan to assess progress.
On the basis of the conclusions of the assessment, in his letter, the Secretary-General observes that significant work has been undertaken over the last five months to enhance the ability of UNMISS to protect civilians, better plan and prepare its response to crisis situations and increase staff safety and security. Of particular note is the establishment of a weapons-free zone around the Protection of Civilians sites and UN House in Juba, which has contributed to a significant drop in reported crime and violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. Peacekeepers are also conducting patrols within the area throughout the day and night, as well as cordon-and-search operations within the Protection of Civilians sites to try to disrupt arms trafficking.
Both the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support have also made important changes to enhance training and performance accountability. The full letter is available to you online, should you be interested.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is following with great concern the tense situation in Gaza, where a new energy crisis is currently unfolding. He said that reform of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company is essential to improve revenue collection and transparency in line with international standards. The de facto authorities in Gaza must ensure that collection rates are improved and that revenue collected in Gaza is returned to the legitimate authorities in order to keep fuel and electricity supply flowing. And all in Gaza must share the burden by paying their bills.
He added that Israel also has a significant responsibility to assist by facilitating the entry of materials for repairs and maintenance of the grid and power plant. Egyptian power lines to Gaza also need to be repaired and upgraded.
Mr. Mladenov called on all parties to ensure that this vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all. The UN stands ready to provide its support in achieving this vital goal.
As a reminder, Mr. Mladenov will be briefing the Security Council tomorrow.
A humanitarian update from Iraq where colleagues tell is that high water levels of the Tigris left two key bridges in the Mosul area impassable this week, preventing displaced people from relocating to camps and emergency sites on the eastern bank, where the majority of space is available. Aid distributions in some camps and emergency sites were also affected, with suppliers unable to reach them.
One of the bridges, at Nimrud, reopened yesterday for civilian traffic and use by humanitarian workers. However, a key bridge at Qayyarah is likely to take two or three more days to be repaired. It is expected that water levels will remain high for a few more days, and impact on distributions and camp construction work is likely to continue.
So far, more than 336,000 people have been displaced from western Mosul since the start of military operations on the western neighbourhoods in late February. The cumulative number of displaced people since the beginning of the Mosul operation last fall has reached 484,000 people.
Our colleagues at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) have informed us that this year’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize will be awarded jointly to Giuseppina Nicolini, Mayor of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and to the French non-governmental organization SOS Méditerranée for their work to save the lives of refugees and migrants and welcome them with dignity. More information online.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today reports unprecedented achievements in tackling neglected tropical diseases (otherwise known as NTDs), with an estimated 1 billion people receiving treatment in 2015 alone.
The new report, entitled Integrating neglected tropical diseases in global health and development, demonstrates how strong political support, generous donations of medicines, and improvements in living conditions have led to sustained expansion of disease control programmes.
Key achievements include that the eradication of the Guinea-worm disease is within reach, with only 25 human cases reported last year, and 12 reported human deaths attributable to rabies in the Americas in 2015. More information online.
A couple of senior appointments to announce: one is a new one.
The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Alexander Zuev of the Russian Federation as his Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Mr. Zuev succeeds Dmitry Titov, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service with the United Nations.
Mr. Zuev joined the United Nations in 1990 and has served with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS). His full bio note is available online — or in my office, rather.
The full press is available in my office. The Secretary-General notes his gratitude to Helen Clark, who Mr. Steiner will succeed, for her leadership over the past eight years. He describes Ms. Clark as “a highly effective communicator and champion of development, environmental protection, democratic governance and institutional reform” noting that she has advocated for the rights of the poor and marginalized, particularly women, LGBTI, refugees and migrants, and people with HIV/AIDS.
Press conferences today: in addition to the AU Chairperson at 3:45 p.m., they will have a briefing here by Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. That is at 3 p.m. today.
10 a.m., tomorrow: the Mission of Canada is sponsoring a briefing on the Launch of Watchlist’s Field Monitor report detailing the impact on children of attacks on health care in Yemen in 2015 and 2016.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the hostage‑taking in Congo, the South Sudanese refugees were demanding that they not be sent back to South Sudan as a number of other South Sudanese refugees had been, I think, about a week ago. Was there any agreement before the release of the UN staff on not sending these South Sudanese back to South Sudan?
Spokesman: A couple of things. First, as far as we’re concerned, it was not a hostage situation. They were… people were… there… our colleagues were in their offices. They were prevented from leaving for a few hours. They were then allowed to leave. So it was not… as far as we were concerned, it was not a hostage situation. The camp, as I mentioned, is managed by the DRC authorities. It is… they are the ones dealing with the future of the people in the camp, whether… and working on either repatriation back to South Sudan or to a third party. We do not believe anyone should be repatriated or sent back as a matter of principle against their will. Anna?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions, and actually, both of them are devoted to the plight of children trapped in armed conflicts. You’ve been duly inviting our attention to death of migrants at sea, which is a very important topic still ongoing. But I also wanted to raise this issue of… a Harvard Review was published recently which spoke about children, especially unaccompanied minors, agreeing to sexual exploitation to pay the smugglers to get to the better countries, especially in Greece. And it’s been published that there are as many as 5,146 children who are unaccompanied now. Is UN doing something about them? Is UNICEF going to get involved?
Spokesman: I think… I don’t… no one agrees to this kind of horrendous treatment. People are forced into it. A couple of things. I think the issue is very much the focus of UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and UNICEF’s work. There have been agreements made with certain countries. I think there was one recently with the French having to do with the issue of guardianship of minors. This is just yet another example on how the lack of real reform in management on how people move, right, whether they be refugees or migrants, because people will always move, has allowed criminal elements, in fact, to be in the lead and dictate the situation, which should not be the case. I think, as we mentioned yesterday in flagging the events sponsored by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) here yesterday, there is an ongoing process, which is being led by the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative on mass movement of people and migration, Louise Arbour, to bring countries together, countries of origin, countries of destination, countries of transit, on how to manage these flows and how to think outside the box and ensure that children are protected.
Question: And the second question is about Boko Haram. It’s been reported by UNICEF that 27 children were made as suicide killers, and they, you know, caused lots of damage to themselves and to other people. And they were forced to do this by Boko Haram. Do we have any confirmation if these children were from those 276 girls which were abducted three years ago…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, I would… I haven’t read the UNICEF report in full, but I think it’s pretty exhaustive, but I don’t believe we have any confirmation.
Question: Is anything still being done to bring these girls back or it’s…
Spokesman: The Government of Nigeria is in the lead, and we’re supporting them in any way we can.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Lee. And then Oleg. Sorry.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, on this issue of the… the Roma that were given… that were poisoned by lead in the UN camp, I wanted to know, I’ve seen your quote, but I wanted to know more specifically, if it’s true that the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) is recommending that the delays attributable… the delay in making some kind of a payment or reparations to the people who have been poisoned for so long is being delayed by OLA not wanting to admit liability, what has the UN system, including the Secretary‑General, learned from the situation of Haiti, which many people describe as a shameful one for the UN in which no one has really received much compensation and it went on for years? What’s been learned from that?
Spokesman: Look, I understand that people may be interested in what is being said behind closed doors. There are discussions going on between various parts of the house. The Secretary‑General will make a decision in the very near future on how to respond to this particular case in Kosovo. I think if you ask what we’ve learned is that there is a need for… I think there is a need for continued care and compassion on how the UN operates.
Question: What about the speed of decision‑making? I guess, one of the things that people point to in Haiti is that six years of denials, etc., so is this… does this speed what the UN would want to do going forward, or is there some desire… obviously, you’d have to… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I think all these questions are complicated and complex, and they, unfortunately, take time.
Question: When is the decision expected?
Spokesman: As I said, very soon. Oleg?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Couple of questions, actually. The first one, the obvious, while in Washington, does Mr. [António] Guterres plan to meet either President [Donald] Trump or any of the members of the cabinet? And also, on Turkey, you didn’t say much yesterday about the referendum. Is there anything you would like to add, taking into account that there is an upcoming major change in the political system of this country, which is a big player in the region?
Spokesman: No, I don’t think I want to add anything to what I said yesterday on Turkey, but thank you for giving me the opportunity. On your first question, if we have something to announce, we will, on possible meetings with US officials. Yeah, Carole?
Question: But have you requested a meeting?
Spokesman: I mean, obviously, discussions are ongoing. If there’s something to be confirmed, we shall. Carmen?
Question: Thank you. The opposition in Venezuela has called on the Government to give a timeline for elections and also to stop the harassment of demonstrators. How does the Secretary‑General view this?
Spokesman: You know, let me get back to you on Venezuela and answer your question. Okay. Anna. And then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. When the Secretary‑General was having a speech on ethics at UN, in general, he said, there will be a drastic change towards the attitude to whistle-blowers. Could you please specify?
Spokesman: Well, I would ask you to look back to one of the first things that he did in January, which was to implement, in coordination with the staff, I think, a much stronger and a much better whistle-blower protection policy. Matthew?
Question: It’s going to be an ongoing thing?
Spokesman: Of course.
Question: Sure. I have a number of questions. I’ll do them as quickly as I can. One has to do with Burundi. Yesterday, you read out Prince Zeid’s statement about hate speech in Burundi. So I wanted to ask you, there’s a governor of Makamba province who’s been quoted as saying that… that people should be killed to not waste fuel of taking them to the police, appears in a joint flag of Burundi and UNICEF shirt. So the question has arisen, including by some in Burundi, what are the rule… like, how does this work? Does… does… does UNICEF hand over shirts to be used…
Spokesman: I would… I would ask you to call UNICEF.
Question: Right. I guess I’m asking you…
Spokesman: No, I mean, I don’t… I would ask you to call UNICEF. What’s your next question?
Question: Okay. My next question has to do with Cameroon. In Cameroon, there’s a doctors’ strike, which has left many, many people without any health‑care at all. So I wanted to know if the UN has any response and also, again, back to this question, where does it stand in choosing a new Resident Coordinator, who might address these type of issues?
Spokesman: Replacement for Resident Coordinators is an ongoing process. When one is… has been chosen and agreed to by the Government, we’ll announce it, as we do with every country. In the meantime, the country team is headed by, I believe, the UNICEF representative.
Question: I know, and I’ve never… I’ve gone to their website, and it doesn’t list who the person is. So you say reach them, but it’s not as easy as you seem to say. I wanted to know whether you think that between the internet still being turned off and this doctor strike and the President having been in power for 35 years and being out of the country, does the UN see this as a… as a… as these issues as somewhat related, as sort of a prevention of conflict issue given…
Spokesman: I think the… the… as Mr. [François] Louncény Fall said, he would encourage both the Government and the other communities to engage in a constructive manner. Oleg?
Question: Thanks again. On the appointments, how did Mr. Guterres react to the fact that his proposed next SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) on Libya was blocked?
Spokesman: Which next SRSG for Libya?
Question: His candidate. The American…
Spokesman: Well, there was no… there was no… I’m not aware of any formal letter to the Security Council following the letter that went on Mr. [Salam] Fayyad, so when there is a candidate to be named, it will be done through the usual procedure of the Secretary‑General writing to the Security Council.
Question: And, on a separate issue, I’m sure you’ve seen the ruling by the ICJ (International Court of Justice) on the case that Ukraine brought up against Russia. Do you have any reaction to that…?
Spokesman: Not at this time. Masood?
Question: Thank you, sir. I have a question about children in Yemen. The situation over there being reported by the agencies is that getting bad to worse, as you already know. So what is it that the United Nations has a report now on Yemen? Unless this question…
Spokesman: I know, because we’ve been reporting it from here — the disastrous impact of the conflict on the people and especially the children of Yemen.
Question: So… so there’s no additional information on behalf of United Nations…?
Spokesman: Well, we update regularly as soon as we have information on the situation. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, you said now that the Secretary‑General is going to the spring meetings of IMF (International Monetary Fund). Can you… is he going to attend the CEB (Chief Executives Board) meeting of April 26th, 27th? And I’m asking, in part, because I believe WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) is either the sponsor or… or may be the host. And, if so, is the Secretary‑General aware of the various issues about retaliation that have been raised about Mr. [Francis] Gurry, including the sale of illegal technology in North Korea, etc.?
Spokesman: When we have more travel to announce, we shall announce it.
Question: And, finally, I saw that the… the Deputy Secretary‑General and the chief of Chef de Cabinet presented to the G77 (Group of 77) yesterday on the two reforms I’ve been asking you about, one having to do with resident coordinators, the other one, I believe, having to do with the gender policy. I’m wondering, now that there obviously is a text that’s being presented in that way, can you give some summary of what the Secretary‑General’s policy is?
Spokesman: I’ll see what I can do. Masood?
Question: So just one thing about this Nigerian epidemic, meningitis epidemic, that has broken out over there. Do you have any update on that or…
Spokesman: No, but we can ask. Okay?