The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a short while, I will be joined by David Shearer, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan.
Today the Secretary-General opened the meeting of the UN system’s Chief Executives Board at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) headquarters in Geneva. There is a second day of meetings tomorrow and then we expect the Secretary-General to be back in New York tomorrow evening. And the Deputy Secretary-General is also with him, attending those meetings.
The Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Ali al-Za’atari, and the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Crisis, Kevin Kennedy, issued a joint statement today on the appalling damage and destruction of medical facilities in northern Syria, which is depriving hundreds of thousands of people of basic health services.
On 25 April, the Shahid Wasim Husseini hospital in Kafr Takharim was reportedly hit by air strikes, putting it out of service. On 22 April, air strikes in the area of Abdin in Idleb Governorate reportedly hit an underground field hospital, killing four civilians. Four other air strikes impacting medical facilities were recorded in April alone.
Mr. al-Za’atari and Mr. Kennedy called for the parties to the conflict to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals.
In a video message today, the Secretary-General today offered his congratulations on the twentieth anniversary of the historic Chemical Weapons Convention and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
He said that there had been two decades of success in dealing with chemical weapons, but progress is under threat, with belligerents breaking the norm against chemical weapons. The recent attack in Syria was a horrific reminder of what is at stake. There can be no impunity for these crimes, he added. The text of his message is online.
Our friends at the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said today it procured 2.5 billion doses of vaccines for children in nearly 100 countries in 2016, reaching almost half of the world’s children under the age of 5.
These figures, released during World Immunization Week, make UNICEF the largest buyer of vaccines for children in the world.
Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the three remaining polio-endemic countries, each received more doses of vaccines than any other country.
Access to immunization has led to a dramatic decrease in deaths of children under 5 from vaccine-preventable diseases, and has brought the world closer to eradicating polio.
Yet an estimated 19.4 million children around the world still miss out on full vaccinations every year because of conflict, weak health systems, poverty or social inequities.
**UN Joint Staff Pension Fund
I wanted to flag that the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund has informed us that it has received a 2017 rating of AAA from the Asset Owners Disclosure Project, for incorporating climate change consideration into its investment. The AAA is the highest rating. The Asset Owners Disclosure Project rated 500 assets owners globally and 17 of them were rated AAA.
The UN Joint Pension Fund is at #17 among all the asset owners who were rated this year. Last year, it was #20, with a rating of AA. So it improved.
Today at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 5, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction are launching a report highlighting the role of indigenous peoples in tackling climate change.
The report stresses that while indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, they also play a key role in mitigation and adaptation efforts due to their traditional knowledge and unique occupations.
According to the report, indigenous peoples make up 5 per cent of the world’s population, but take care of an estimated 22 per cent of the Earth’s surface and protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity.
The report makes recommendations on how to create opportunities for them so they can have access to decent work, and thrive as innovators and contribute to policies to address climate change. Copies of the report are available in my office and on the web.
Tomorrow at 1:15 p.m., also another press conference linked to the indigenous peoples meetings are going on and this press conference is entitled “Three years after the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples — progress on the ground” and we will have representatives of Indigenous Peoples from Namibia, El Salvador and Norway.
**Questions and Answers
If you have any questions before we turn to Mr. Shearer… Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Thank you. As you know, the Secretary‑General has frequently spoken about placing top priority on gender parity and women’s rights. So I wonder if he has any comment regarding the election of Saudi Arabia to the UN Women’s Rights Commission, considering Saudi Arabia’s abysmal record on women’s rights?
Spokesman: As you said, the Secretary‑General continues and has shown himself to be a strong supporter of gender equality and women’s rights. The election of any Member State to a legislative body as part of this organization is the responsibility of those Member States who participate in the election. I think we expect all Member States to abide by their obligations under the Charter, under the various conventions unto which they are… of which they are signatory, but that election is a… and any other election of Member State, whether it’s the Security Council, various other legislative bodies, is the responsibility of Member States and not one in which the Secretary‑General is involved or will comment on.
Question: Yes, but wouldn’t he or the High Commissioner for Human Rights have any comment on at least how Saudi Arabia perhaps can improve its record? And I raise that because… because the High Commissioner in particular and his… his office continues to intrude itself into US domestic issues, for… one example being… and this was just publish… published, I believe, in The Washington Post, a memorandum sent to a representative of… in the State Department by an official in the Office of Human Rights, commenting negatively on proposed changes in… on repeal and replace ObamaCare. So it seems like there’s selective… selective expressions of concern in some respects, and yet here’s a pretty egregious example, Saudi Arabia, and…
Spokesman: Let’s… there are quite a few things to unpack in your question. On the article that I think, a number of us saw in The Washington Post, I think it was a misrepresentation. The letter was not from the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter that was sent was from a Special Rapporteur. As you know, Special Rapporteurs all have special… specific mandates. They often address letters to Member States. They are independent. It has nothing to do… the content of the letter has nothing to do with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I think I saw the pdf. I think it was forwarded by the High Commissioner’s office, but it is not an action of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is one of the Special Rapporteurs. The High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t ‑‑ I don’t… can’t remember what word you exactly used ‑‑ doesn’t intrude himself into the affairs… selectively into the affairs of a country. He feels he speaks up as to his mandate on issues of human rights when he feels he needs to. The Secretary‑General will continue to speak out when human rights are violated, when women’s rights are violated, as he sees fit. Again, the election of any Member State to a committee is the responsibility of that Member State. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. There are some videos circulating online of a possible alleged air strike on an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in Idleb. Does the UN have any details on that?
Spokesman: No, I haven’t seen that. We will check as soon as we know.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have the same question that I asked you yesterday about the Turkish air strikes against Northern Iraqis, PKK targets that also led to the death of five Iraqi Peshmergas, also the UN’s position about the presence of PKK in Northern Iraq, which is against the position of both Iraqi and Kurdish Government. Thanks.
Spokesman: You know, I think we’ve seen the… we’re aware of the reports of the Turkish Air Force strikes that took place in Sinjar province, reportedly causing casualties amongst Peshmerga stationed there. We’re concerned over the incident and extend our condolences to the families of the victims. We also acknowledge the security concerns of Member States but also remind them of their responsibilities under the Charter to fully respect the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non‑interference. And we urge the Governments of Turkey and Iraq to engage in consultations on all issues of interest and concern. Sidi rais?
Question: Thank you, Sidi rais. The Yemeni Government has written to the United Nations on 26 February, asking for the United Nation to change their Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick. And the United Nation answered in early April, saying they still have full confidence in the gentleman to carry out his mandate. Now, that letter also speaks about all the points why they want it to be changed, bias and anyway. Isn’t it the sovereign State Government’s right to ask for change of United Nation official or even to kick the United Nations, like the Sudanese Government did in Darfur?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we continue to have full confidence in Mr. McGoldrick. I think he’s doing… he’s working in an extremely challenging environment, to say the least, in a country where civilians are in dire need of humanitarian help… humanitarian aid. We also welcome a dialogue with Member States on these issues. In fact, we did receive the letter from Yemen, as far as I know, but Mr. McGoldrick remains in his position.
Question: But they do mention why they want him out. He hasn’t visited Taizz, the poster child of humanitarian suffering in Yemen, for more than a year. He has no connection or contacts with the legitimate Government. He has… There are so many… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Listen, there are concerns, and I’m sure we’re addressing through a dialogue, but we continue to have full confidence in him. Yes, sir?
Question: Yeah, yesterday, I asked about Saudi Arabia’s smuggling of weapons from Bulgaria to the Nusra… Jabhat al‑Nusra in Syria. I… I… I think you should have seen this report by now. Is there any position regarding that…?
Spokesman: I don’t have any further information on what was reported in the press.
Question: Today, Mr. [Haider al] Abadi of… Prime Minister of Iraq, mentioned that Qatar has sent hundreds of millions of dollars, which have been seized in Iraq, which were destined to terrorist groups in Iraq. How does the United Nations deal with that?
Spokesman: I think, again, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Syria, we are not… the people of Syria, the people of Iraq don’t need more weapons going in. What we need are political agreements, and we need more access on the humanitarian front. As for the accusations, we have no way of verifying them at this point.
Question: You have UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission) in Iraq, and I believe they have contacts with the Government. [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, I know who we have. I’m just telling you… I’m telling you what the situation is. I’ll come back to you, Nizar. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Zambia and Burundi but just one follow‑up on Yemen. I know I’d asked you in the past about a letter that was received from, I guess you would call them, the de facto authorities in the capital, Sana’a, concerning Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. You didn’t… you never kind of confirmed receipt of that letter? You did say that, of course, there’s full confidence in the envoy. Is there some way you can go back and just similarly confirm receipt of a letter, as you just did now?
Spokesman: We can check. And we continue to have full confidence in the envoy… [inaudible]
Question: Is there a different policy for…
Spokesman: For what?
Question: In a situation where you have a mediator trying to talk between two sides, do you confirm one side’s letter and not the other side’s letter…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: No, we con… I mean, you know, if I’m aware the letters are received, I will… I confirm it. I love letters.
Question: Okay. I want to ask you about Zambia.
Spokesman: Yes, sir.
Question: I’d asked you before, and you’d said sort of a generic comment about due process. Now the main opposition leader, they call… H.H., we’ll call him, has been held over for trial for treason for allegedly cutting off the… in his car, in his convoy, the… a convoy of the President. Many people are saying it’s pretty extreme and basically it’s an attempt to shut down the opposition. Is DPA (Department of Political Affairs) or anyone in the UN paying attention to this?
Spokesman: No, we’re following it, and I think, again, we would call on all the political actors to de‑escalate the tensions and engage in dialogue. Mr. Abbadi. And then we’ll come…
Spokesman: Your microphone, sir. My hearing is getting weaker by the day.
Question: Thank you. As you know, tension is developing around the Korean Peninsula, and there are threats and counter‑threats. In 1962, during the Cuban crisis, missile crisis, Secretary‑General U Thant undertook intensive diplomatic effort, which ultimately helped defuse the dangerous situation prevailing at the time. Will Secretary‑General [António] Guterres be able to undertake similar efforts to help prevent a conflict in the area?
Spokesman: I think… while I think we’re always… we always do learn from history, I think it’s a different situation. As a matter of principle and policy, the Secretary‑General is always available to help and mediate. Our position on the issue… on the current tensions in the… on the Korean Peninsula have… remain unchanged.
Question: But will he be able to initiate any effort for that purpose?
Spokesman: I think I will stay with what I’ve just said.
Question: Just a comment on the last answer you gave me, so he’s telling me that the United States… United Nations is… United Nations con… insisting on… on… on your coordinator on the ground, in spite of the fact that he doesn’t have any contacts with the legitimate Government of Yemen?
Spokesman: I think Mr. McGoldrick has… is in touch with all the parties that he needs to be in… to do his work in… again, in extremely challenging environment.
Question: My question now… my question now is concerning the Coalition. They’ve written a letter… we all know that UNVIM (United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism) is not carrying its duties to the standard required by the Security Council. There’s a lot of smuggling going through Hodeidah, misuse of humanitarian and black market in Hodeidah port. You received a letter on 10 March from the Coalition asking to strengthen UNVIM mechanism to… to deploy some observers in Hodeidah, and that was more than seven weeks. The United Nation have not till today replied to that request about the observers and Hodeidah. [inaudible]
Spokesman: Let me get an update on where we are on UNVIM. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. France just delivered quite an extensive research project on… showing that Syria was responsible for the sarin attack in Idleb, plus looked at chemical weapons and other places. Has this gone to the Secretary‑General and to the OPCW? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t think… We’ve not… to the OPCW, I would encourage you to check with them. I’m not aware it’s gone to the Secretary‑General. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. I just… I just have to go back to that Washington Post story, and I note what you said, that this was signed by a Special Rapporteur. But it did go under a cover letter from the chief of the Special Procedures branch of OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)… [inaudible]
Spokesman: Right. That is the Secretariat of… which handles the Special Rapporteurs.
Question: Well, is… so that’s customary to send with a heading “Urgent Appeal from Special Procedures” and asking the letter to be transmitted… [inaudible]
Spokesman: The Secretariat, which supports the Special Rapporteurs, who are, again, independent and do not report to the High Commissioner for Human Rights or to the Secretary‑General, it is their right, their duty to communicate with Member States of issues that are of interest to them. If you have further questions, I would encourage you to contact… I’ll put you in touch with the office of that particular Special Rapporteur. Mr. Lee, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Sure. I want to ask Burundi, two related questions, and something on the CEB that I tried to ask you yesterday. On Burundi, I gave you the name of the D2 head of office…
Spokesman: I don’t have anything for you on Burundi.
Question: And I wanted to know, there was a meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission on Burundi today downstairs. It wasn’t listed in the Journal as closed; sign didn’t say it was closed, but security said could not be covered by the media. And I wanted to know what… what… what is the policy of… of those meetings? And why isn’t that… why was security blocking coverage…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t know if the meeting was open or closed. I’d be happy to look into it.
Question: Okay. The question on CEB is… there’s many questions, but one… the only one I’ll ask today is this. Is there a discussion… can you confirm a discussion by the Secretariat led by António Guterres to outsource some mixture of IT, finance and procurement from New York to Malaysia and other countries? And, if so, what’s the status of the proposal?
Spokesman: No. I’m not aware.
Question: And did… What is the agenda? Can we get an agenda of the CEB meeting?
Spokesman: The agenda is broad. It’s on strengthening the UN system and improving coordination, and I think it’s an important meeting because it’s the Secretary‑General’s first opportunity to address all the member… the heads of the UN system.
Question: And when he met with Mr. [Francis] Gurry at WIPO — I’d asked you this before — you’d said that everyone is aware of the charges of retaliation. Did this come up at all? I’ve seen a picture of him smiling on the podium.
Spokesman: I have no readout of the meeting. I will get our guest.