The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A bit earlier this morning in Washington, D.C., the Secretary-General met at the White House with US National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Following that meeting the Secretary-General also had the opportunity to meet with President [Donald] Trump. The Secretary-General and the President agreed to meet again in the near future.
The Secretary-General felt he had had an interesting and constructive discussion on cooperation between the United States and the United Nations.
As you know, the Secretary-General was in Washington to attend the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and this morning, after his meetings at the White House, the Secretary-General participated in a panel discussion entitled “Financing for Peace: Innovations to Tackle Fragility”, along with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.
Mr. Guterres stressed that the best and most necessary investment is an investment in prevention and in addressing the problems of fragility before it turns into conflict. It is absolutely essential to find a way to divert the massive use of resources in managing crises to what is necessary to do to prevent them and to build the capacity of societies to solve their own problems, he added.
He also said that the international community must combine the peace and security approach with the sustainable development and human rights approaches.
In addition, he emphasized that because of the scale of the needs, it is crucial to stimulate innovation and fully mobilize the private sector. His remarks were webcast and I think are up on the World Bank’s website as well.
**World Jewish Congress
And I just want to flag another event that the Secretary-General is going to have when he comes back to New York — he will be back in New York on Saturday evening — and on Sunday he will attend the opening dinner of the fifteenth Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress, here in New York. He will deliver remarks. That will be at the Hilton in Midtown Sunday evening. If you are interested in attending, you can contact the World Jewish Congress through Charlotte [Larbuisson] in my office, who has the details.
This morning, — just a note from Somalia — earlier today the World Food Programme (WFP) air-lifted life-saving food supplies to drought-stricken Somalia for the most vulnerable people, particularly children.
A Boeing 747 arrived in Mogadishu carrying 47 metric tons of high-energy biscuits — enough to assist 31,000 people for three days — as well as critical medical supplies on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO).
**Democratic Republic of Congo
An update from our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo: the current spike of violence in the Kasai Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has forced over 11,000 refugees to seek safety in Angola. They reported fleeing attacks from militia groups, who are targeting police, military officials, and civilians.
Some parents have sent their children across the border, worrying they would be forcibly recruited by the militias if they had stayed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
UNHCR is currently coordinating the response with the Government, local authorities and partners on the ground but stress that further aid is urgently needed.
Our colleagues at UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) in southern Lebanon tell us that Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri today paid his first visit to the headquarters of UNIFIL, as part of his tour of the UNIFIL area of operations in the southern part of the country.
The Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Michael Beary, received the Prime Minister and his delegation, including the Defence Minister and the Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Force Commander commended Prime Minister Hariri for reaffirming Lebanon’s commitment to resolution 1701 (2006) and a permanent ceasefire.
Yesterday, a UN/ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter-agency convoy delivered food and other assistance for 33,500 people in need in several hard-to-reach villages in the northern area of rural Homs. The last inter-agency convoy to this area was on 20 October of last year.
Some items (including sanitation and health supplies) were not allowed to be delivered by Government authorities.
The UN continues to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all those in need in Syria, particularly the millions in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said today in a report that more than 150 children have died crossing the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy this year. However, the agency stressed that this number is almost certainly higher since many children are unaccompanied and their deaths go unreported.
Since the start of the year, nearly 37,000 refugees and migrants, 13 per cent of whom are children, have reached Italy by sea via the Central Mediterranean — an increase of 42 per cent when compared to the same time period in 2016.
WHO, the World Health Organization, today issued its Global hepatitis report, 2017, revealing that 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
The large majority of these people lack access to life-saving testing and treatment, and as a result, millions are at risk of a slow progression to chronic liver disease, cancer, and death. The full report is on WHO’s website.
**Mother Earth Day
Today in the Trusteeship Council, the General Assembly is having an interactive dialogue on harmony with nature to commemorate International Mother Earth Day, which is being officially observed tomorrow.
The theme of the dialogue is “Earth Jurisprudence” and will discuss expert recommendations to improve the relationship between humankind and the Earth in the context of sustainable development.
**Press Conferences Monday
A couple of things for Monday: my guest on Monday will be John Ging, from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), who will brief you on his Mission to Mali, which he is conducting right now.
On Monday, we will also have a press conference at [1:15 p.m.] on the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Attending will be with Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chair of the Permanent Forum from Mali, Chief Willie Littlechild, Grand Chief for Treaty No.6 from Canada, and Mililani Trask, Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement. At 11 a.m., before that, there will be a meeting on the General Assembly Hall on indigenous people.
Today, we thank India and Portugal for joining the Honour Roll, which brings us up to 87.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The meetings in Washington and the fact that the Security Council is going out there on Monday — can we say that there is really a new level of engagement between the US and the UN or is that overstating it at this point?
Spokesman: You know, I’ll let you do the colour commentary. I think obviously the Secretary‑General was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the President, pleased to have a good discussion also with General McMaster, as I said. President Trump invited… President Trump and the Secretary‑General agreed to meet again in the near future. I think it’s important… it was an important meeting to be had. Obviously it’s an important relationship and I think we are very pleased that the meeting happened. As for the Security Council going down there, I mean, that is really an initiative of the presidency of the Security Council this month, but we are obviously pleased that it is going on. Evelyn and then… your microphone, please.
Question: Thank you. Was General McMaster in the same meeting with the President and the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: Yes, he was. Okay, yep, and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, the Secretary‑General made a call to try to get the parties to the conversations in Venezuela. Today things are getting worse. We know that at least three people are dead in the streets, that protests continue but the President of Venezuela has said that he is going to give guns and arms to civil members of the Venezuelan people that are part according to what he says of Plan Zamora, which is a structure that allows civilians to have guns. The Foreign Minister of Colombia was here this week and she spoke to the Secretary‑General about this particular subject and we know that the President of Colombia has expressed his concern because of the border between both countries. The second part of my question is: The Secretary‑General, what is his reaction to that complaint or that alert given by the Colombian Government? And the second part is today the President of Venezuela said that he is going to start giving details of the peace process that was agreed between Colombia and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) because they were part of some of the negotiations and he said that he is going to give out the dirty secrets of what was behind the process. Would that present a threat to the Colombian peace process that is being followed by the UN?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything to say in reaction to your second part on the FARC. Obviously, we will wait to see what is said, if anything is said. The peace agreement in Colombia that the UN has been working very hard to sustain and to help is a critical agreement in helping Colombia go back on the path to peace and it’s a very important work, I think, the Colombians are doing with help from the United Nations. On the situation in Venezuela, we are obviously keeping an eye on it. We are concerned at the violence that we have seen, the deaths, also concerned about the impact that it’s had regionally. We have seen over the last number of years, according to UNHCR, a spike in the number of people who are asking for asylum in various countries in the region from Venezuela, and as I said, we will keep an eye on it. If we have more to say, we shall. Yes?
Question: Sure. I want to ask you a couple questions and first on the visit, I want to be sure… you said it was in the same meeting but Sean Spicer said at 11:25 that the Secretary‑General had already met with McMaster and would be having a, quote, drop in in the Oval Office with President Trump? So…
Spokesman: The way I interpreted Evelyn’s question and the way I answered it is: Was General McMaster in the meeting with President Trump? Yes.
Question: And was it a drop in? And how long did the meeting take if it was described as a drop in?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General and General McMaster took, walked the Secretary‑General to the Oval Office and they met, I think, for 15‑20 minutes with the President.
Question: Okay, I wanted to ask you on Burundi. Inner City Press has reported and I believe has some confirmation from the French Mission that there is a proposal by France and possibly the EU for an UN envoy to Burundi, specifically Burundi only, not conflict prevention: Michel Kafando, the former transitional President of Burkina Faso, and I wanted to know from you whether the Secretary‑General has discussed this proposal with the proponents and if he thinks given the urgency of the situation if it’s a good idea and what the next steps would be?
Spokesman: I have no comments on that. Stefano? Sorry and then we will go…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. And yesterday at the White House President Trump met the Italian Prime Minister [Paolo] Gentiloni, and during the press conference, Gentiloni had stressed the need for help in Italy in this case, the United States for the stabilization of Libya and he looked like the Italians were very worried because if things are not going well and in that case, Gentiloni asked Trump directly for help. President Trump answered actually: No. He says that we will help maybe against ISIS but no involvement at all of United States in Libya because there are too many other things to think about it. So my question is, first of all, has the Secretary‑General noticed this issue of Libya and what is the role of the United Nations here can have a role in this? You know, Italy is very nervous, asking for help and seems like…
Spokesman: Well, I mean, you know, I’m not going to try to interpret the meeting of both Prime Minister Gentiloni and President Trump, those two comments, I’m not exactly sure exactly what they’re referring to. What I can tell you is that obviously the UN is involved on the political process in Libya. I think Martin Kobler gave an extensive briefing to the Security Council, which you all saw a few days ago. The Security Council backs the UN Mission. The US is obviously part of the Security Council, a permanent member, so we are focusing on that. I’m not sure what the Prime Minister was referring to, in terms of what he was asking of the United States, so that’s an issue that I’m not going to interpret. What we are focusing on is the backing of the Security Council for our work in Libya. Yep?
Question: Yes, is the UN doing anything to attenuate the conditions of Africans in Libya who are being… suffering enslavement, as reported by the International Migratory Commission?
Spokesman: You know, it’s something we have, the UN has flagged through our comments by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I think our… unfortunately, our ability to be present throughout the country due to security situation is very limited. The horrendous cases that we are seeing of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the way they are being treated in Libya as flagged by the IOM has to do with the lack of progress on how to manage migration flows. where the issue of how refugees and migrants, how people on the move are treated is being left in the hands of criminal gangs and smugglers instead of having managed pathways for people to move. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, just getting back to Washington, can you tell us how… whether the issue of US funding for the UN was raised and what the tenor of that discussion might have been?
Spokesman: No. What I can tell you in broad, no, no, what I can, sorry, [laughs] no, exactly, no, I can’t tell you that it wasn’t raised, no. I mean, in speaking, in getting a readout this morning it was clear that there was…it was a good conversation, an interesting one on US/UN cooperation, so I think I would leave it to you as all the things that do fall under the rubric of US/UN cooperation. Carmen?
Question: Thank you. The expert of human trafficking has called on the Cuban Government to update its legislation and take new measures to avoid this activity of human trafficking. Do you have any other comment on this, please, and this is the first time that a human rights expert can visit Cuba in 10 years?
Spokesman: You know, the work of the human rights expert is independent. What is important, and, obviously, it’s not for us to comment on everything they say, but what is important and what we support is for Member States to work with all the parts of the human rights mechanism including the special rapporteurs and they be allowed to visit a country, do their work and report openly. Yes and then go ahead.
Question: Thank you. I was just wondering if you can elaborate more on what was discussed during the meeting with McMaster because that sounds like it went on for a much longer time?
Spokesman: I would leave it unfortunately for you under that same rubric. Go ahead. Sam, go ahead.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. There is a video that came out yesterday showing the members of the Egyptian Army carrying out extrajudicial killings in Sinai and then staging events to make it seem like the people that were unarmed were fighters. Have you seen the video? Does the SG have a comment or does the UN have a reaction?
Spokesman: You know, I’ve seen the video on the news reports. We have no way to verify the veracity of the report. As a matter of principle and something we stated often and often again is the fight against terrorism should not be at the expense of human rights. But, as I said, on the particular video, I have no way of knowing whether it’s… of its veracity.
Question: Can I just follow up?
Question: I mean, it appears to be filmed by members of the Egyptian Army themselves and also if you look at the pictures at the Egyptian Army released on their Facebook page it matches the video and it shows them with the guns, so what more do you need to see?
Spokesman: That’s what I have to say for now. If I have more to say, I shall say it to you. Yep, go ahead, please.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) mission, they had the press release that is criticizing your comment about the UN Security Council’s resolution and so on… do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: I don’t. As a rule I try not to comment on people who comment on what I’ve commented on, so I said what I had to say and I will leave it at that. Yep?
Question: Jonathan Sanders from Icast News. With the news coming out of Israel from the Defense Minister’s meeting yesterday that there is a ton or more of sarin gas in Syria, I’m wondering if the right to protect doctrine would authorize preventive strikes to destroy this before it could be used on the Syrian people?
Spokesman: That’s not something I’m willing to comment on at this time. I think what is important is that there be full cooperation with the relevant entity, and that is the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons). As you know there was a joint UN mission, which cleared Syria of the declared stockpiles of chemical weapons, and if there is more, it’s important that that be investigated and dealt with so we don’t see the horrendous incidents we have seen in the past. Matthew… yeah, sure.
Question: The reason I asked in that form, you remember we have been struggling over what in international law would authorize such things and we never discussed the right to protect as an issue for the American strike on the base, is that a possible rationale under international law?
Spokesman: It’s a fascinating question; but, as I said at the time, I’m not going to get into analysing the legality of what happened. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks. I want to ask about Cameroon and Haiti. On Cameroon the… after 94 days, the internet was turned on in the regions but the Government has said if there is any further use of the Internet for they say is hate speech, other people say it’s in opposition to the Government, so I wanted to know what is the UN’s comment on how, going forward, the right to Internet in those areas? You also asked me to ask UNICEF who the resident acting, resident coordinator is and I have and they confirmed receipt but have not stated it. So I’m wondering shouldn’t there be an online site saying who is in charge of the UN system?
Spokesman: I’m sure they will get back to you. You can check with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) as well, but I just don’t have the name in front of me.
Question: My other question, there are many people who were arrested during these 94 days who are still in jail in Yaoundé, and I’m wondering who in the UN system is going to follow‑up on ensuring that…
Spokesman: I would refer you back to Mr. [François] Louncény Fall and he said he would be back in Cameroon and on Haiti.
Question: On Haiti I wanted to ask, I’m sure you saw the article in The Guardian about the failure of the UN to assist and cooperate with women who had children by peacekeepers, they say, getting DNA tests; and there is one case where the woman was 16 at the time, under the age of consent, and the UN did a DNA test in February 2014 but has not, according to her lawyer, shared it with her. How is this consistent about the statements of accountability and zero tolerance to not share this DNA test with a person who it seems was victim of statutory rape by an UN peacekeeper?
Spokesman: My understanding from our colleagues in the mission is that of the cases that are discussed in the article, eight out of the nine are in our records. Out of the eight cases, one is closed, where paternity has been established and an ex gratia payment has been made for child support by the mother of the… to the mother by the Member State and the other seven, we are following up regularly with the concerned Member State. In some cases, paternity has been established through DNA testing that the mission has facilitated between the victim and the Member State and in others we are in touch with the Member State to facilitate the DNA testing and process the claim. We have requested the ministry to encourage the lawyer to provide credentials of one of the victims whose name does not appear in our records. So as far as I understand, the cases are being followed up on and it’s clear that the Member States of the peacekeepers who are being accused have a responsibility to cooperate and to pay ex gratia, to pay the mothers of the victims and if there was a crime that those people be prosecuted.
Question: Can you explain in English what ex gratia means and can you say how much is paid…?
Spokesman: I don’t have the information because that is something issued between the Member State and the family. Ex gratia just means a cash payment, as far as I understand it, but you’re the lawyer so you may know more. Carole and then Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: Stéphane, as you know, there is an important election. First-round voting in France this weekend, and the Secretary‑General has spoken frequently about populism and his concerns about that, so in light of all this would you like to say anything about the election in France?
Spokesman: No. We are not going to comment on the electoral… on the vibrant electoral process that is going on in France. The Secretary‑General has said what he has said and his comments are not changing.
Question: Are you voting?
Spokesman: That’s between me and my maker. Yes, yes, go ahead.
Question: Yes, given the escalating political disability in Venezuela and the movement of refugees and asylum seekers, do you see that instability having any impact on the ongoing border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana? I know there is a UN process going on right now.
Spokesman: We very much hope that it doesn’t; but, obviously, as we have seen in many other places, instability in one country has an impact and can have an impact throughout the region. Evelyn?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Do you have any worries about Mr. Trump tinkering with the Iranian nuclear freeze deal or has that not reached your desk yet… hinting it might?
Spokesman: We have seen the certification given by the State Department. And obviously…
Question: But this would be on missiles.
Spokesman: As the Secretary‑General said, we are not going to comment on things that have not yet happened.
Question: I wanted to ask, Uganda announced that it stopped searching for Joseph Kony and saying he is not a threat to their country and since the UN has, I guess it’s one of UNOCA’s (United Nations Office in Central Africa) roles, where is the UN? Have they taken note of this? What is the UN’s current posture toward the Lord’s Resistance Army?
Spokesman: We have taken note of it and as you know we have had some involvement in the periphery, but I’ll leave it at that.
Question: I also wanted to ask you the position of youth adviser, Mr. [Ahmed] Alhendawi has left and I sort of noted, I was not aware of it but apparently there has been a recruitment for it but it wasn’t done through the Secretary‑General’s website on senior leadership. Can you explain why that is? Is it less…
Spokesman: It’s not a matter of less important. It’s done exactly in the same way that the previous envoy was recruited, which is we put out outreach to NGOs that deal with youth issues and also with those UN agencies that are part of the youth network and ask them to put forward candidates and then the Secretary‑General’s office will go through the recruitment process.
Question: Right, but like Children and Armed Conflict was put on the website.
Spokesman: I’m just saying we are following the procedure that was established for the previous… how the previous envoy was recruited.
Question: But I’m asking what the logic of the procedure is for this position, to not publicize it in the same way as the other ones, even?
Spokesman: I’m saying the logic is we are following the procedures that are established. That is my logic.
Question: Just to say you have done it before?
Spokesman: That is my logic. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. There was a standoff in Mali in Timbuktu and I thought there was some kind of peace agreement with the Tuareg. Do you have anything more on that?
Spokesman: I do not. Have a good weekend. See you Monday.