The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
As we all saw this morning, the Secretary‑General spoke at the Security Council meeting on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which he called one of the longest-standing and most serious issues before the United Nations. He noted that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests this century. He added that we must assume that, with each test or launch, the DPRK continues to make technological advances in its pursuit of a military nuclear capability. The Secretary‑General strongly condemned the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s repeated violations of relevant Security Council resolutions.
He also expressed alarm at the risk of a military escalation in the region, including by miscalculation or misunderstanding. He said he is particularly concerned by the possibility that efforts to offset the destabilizing activities of the DPRK could also result in increased arms competition and tensions, further impeding the ability of the international community to maintain and achieve a peaceful solution. The Secretary‑General stressed that the onus is on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with its international obligations. At the same time, the international community must also step up its efforts to manage and reduce tensions. His full remarks are available [online].
Turning to Mali, following a three‑day visit to Mali, the Director of Operations for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging, wants to draw attention to the complex emergency in Mali and the deteriorating humanitarian situation as a direct result of the conflict. Humanitarian and development needs are escalating across the country, with the greatest vulnerability in the conflict and violence‑affected areas of northern, and now increasingly, central Mali.
People are cut off from access to basic services including water, health and education, prompting an intensification of needs. Since February of this year more than 10,000 people have been displaced. Radical groups threaten teachers and communities, and as a result, 507 schools have been closed across the central and northern parts of the country. Mr. Ging also said that 9 in 10 women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to the horror of female genital mutilation and he calls on all to do much more to protect innocent girls from this brutality. He stressed that the focus and support for the security sector alone will not solve Mali’s crisis. The key is to [support and empower] the people of Mali, he added.
**Central African Republic
At the end of their mission to the Central African Republic today, regional humanitarian officials urgently appealed for the world not to neglect the Central African Republic. Their message takes on new urgency after an upsurge in attacks in the east and north-west has sparked fresh displacements. The regional representatives of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations met with affected communities, civil society, donors, aid workers and authorities in Bangui and in the north-west prefecture of Ouham‑Pendé, which has witnessed a recent peak of violence.
Almost half the population in the CAR [Central African Republic] depends on humanitarian assistance to survive. Due to the lack of State presence and services in most areas, humanitarian actors are delivering over 50 per cent of social services to the population. Equally worrying is the continued and serious funding shortfall that threatens life‑saving assistance. The $400 million humanitarian response plan for CAR in 2017 is only 10‑per‑cent financed.
**Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
You will have seen that last night we issued a statement in which we said that we are following developments unfolding in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia with great concern, as well as calling for calm and restraint. Violence directed at democratic institutions and elected representatives of the people is unacceptable. We urge all political forces to resolve their differences through democratic means, strictly following the Constitution, in order to overcome the political impasse without further delay.
From Cambodia, the UN human rights office today called on the Cambodian authorities to release five human rights defenders who have been in pretrial detention for one year, and whose detention was yesterday extended for an additional six months by the investigating judge.
**Press Conferences Monday
On Monday, at 1:15 p.m., I just want to flag that there will be a briefing here on Indigenous Human Rights Defenders with Vicky Tauli‑Corpuz, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and Lourdes Tibán Guala, a Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and she’s from Ecuador. And then, at 3:15 p.m., there will be a briefing by the President of the Security Council for the month of May, Ambassador Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay. He will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the merry month of May.
And today we thank Sudan, which has paid its regular budget dues in full. And the Honour Roll has now grown to… . Finally. Excellent, on a Friday. Joe, if you have a question, you get the lead. Go ahead. You definitely… Joe was first.
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you. You've stated many times from this podium and it's been official UN policy to support and encourage a two‑State solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Yet, it's been reported that the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] (UNRWA) for the Palestinians are maintaining in the curriculum in the schools that UNRWA runs, among other things, a map that shows Palestine from the river to the sea. I’m wondering how that comports with the idea of a two‑State solution and whether the Secretary‑General would urge UNRWA to reverse that policy.
Spokesman: As you correctly state for the Secretary‑General, the two‑State solution is the one solution. As for UNRWA and its curriculum, I think there's been a lot of disinformation over the years on the curriculum that is taught in UNRWA schools. I haven’t seen the particular report that you mentioned, but I would encourage you to first check with UNRWA as to the veracity of the report.
Correspondent: They have been quoted. I can double check this, but they have been quoted as saying that after considering the plan to revise the curriculum, they came up against opposition from the Palestinian Authority. They said they abide by the curriculum of the “host country”.
Spokesman: That is the policy for UNRWA curriculum wherever the school is. I would encourage… as I said, I can't speak to the veracity of the report. I would encourage you to contact the UNRWA office here. Yeah?
Question: Other things, but I'm sure you heard Rex Tillerson say the country should suspend diplomatic relations with North Korea. And I wanted to know… given an answer you'd… earlier in the week, you'd said how diplomatic relations are in all instances a good thing. That was in response to a question about Morocco and Cuba. So, what is Antonio Guterres' response to Rex Tillerson's call to suspend diplomatic relations?
Spokesman: I think Antonio Guterres' position on the DPRK, I think, has been elaborated very clearly in his own remarks to the Council a few minutes ago, where he underscored the fact that the onus was on the DPRK to abide by its institutions — by its obligations… international obligations, but also stressing the need for a diplomatic solution.
Question: Right. But, does that involve…?
Spokesman: That's my answer to your question.
Question: No. But, it's a specific… Does he favour suspending diplomatic relations?
Spokesman: No. No. I understand your question. You'll have to understand my answer. The Secretary‑General favors diplomatic solutions.
Question: So, he doesn't favour it?
Question: Stéphane, in general, should a country request humanitarian help from the United Nations, would the UN be able to give it? And I'm thinking particularly of Venezuela, which has a huge humanitarian crisis at the moment. Thank you.
Spokesman: Sorry, I didn't really… can you just repeat your question?
Question: Regarding humanitarian assistance, would the [United Nations] be willing, generally, to give humanitarian assistance to countries asking for it? And specifically I'm thinking of Venezuela. Venezuela has asked for this type of help. Thank you.
Spokesman: The United Nations is always ready to give help and humanitarian aid to any country that asks for it. That is a matter of policy. We obviously continue to be concerned about the developments and the current situation in Venezuela. Over the past week, the Secretary‑General has been speaking to a number of contacts and interlocutors, including the mediators that are involved in the issue and the Holy See, to try to push and continue to push for a solution to the current impasse that we see. We saw, I think, on two days ago a communiqué being issued by the former eads of Government facilitating the process of dialogue, and again, I think we call on both the Government and the opposition to engage sincerely and to immediately reactivate that dialogue. Erol, and then, sorry, Iftikhar… who was the first in the room?
Question: Thank you. Last week… I hope I… last week, the Secretary‑General told us when he was talking to us with the chairman of the African Union that he is preferring that all parties concerned on North Korea to be involved in negotiation in a diplomatic solution. Would I assume… or what do you mean by that… did he mean by six‑party nation that were engaged in talks, previous talks? And number two, how that would reconcile the preference by United States that China and US would lead that diplomatic solution?
Spokesman: If I recall what the Secretary‑General said a week ago, he was just stating, it’s a fact that there had been six parties involved in these talks. Again, I think the Secretary‑General gave a fairly detailed briefing to the Security Council a little over an hour ago, and I think his position should be taken as what he just said. Yes, sir? Do you have a question? Yes, Iftikhar. Go ahead.
Question: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. As you know, the situation in Afghanistan has really deteriorated with Taliban's full‑fledged spring offensive and a lot of civilian casualties and the UN report attested to that. Is the United Nations playing any role on the political track to bring about a peaceful settlement?
Spokesman: I think that's… the aim of the UN [Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] (UNAMA) is to help a political process and help to find a peace… help build a more peaceful future and society for the people in Afghanistan. I think, as you mentioned, we've issued a couple of reports, one on civilian deaths and on other issues and that's really the focus of the work of the UN there. Yeah?
Question: Stéphane, on Macedonia. Yesterday, Macedonian Parliament elected the Speaker of the Parliament. They were attacked after that. Does Secretary‑General support the election of the new speaker, having in mind that generally we support democratically elected institutions?
Spokesman: The focus of what… of our position is one to underscore that violence directed at democratic institutions and elected representatives of the people is unacceptable; and that we urge all political forces to resolve their differences through democratic means, strictly adhering to the Constitution, in order to overcome the political impasse without further delay. It is not up to the Secretary‑General to approve a vote or not approve a vote in the national parliament. Our basic message is there's a Constitution which should be adhered to and that this kind of violence directed at elected democratic institutions is really not the right way to go. Oleg?
Question: Follow-up? Does that mean when the Secretary‑General says that he supports respect for the Constitution in Macedonia and the moving forward without any delay, does the Secretary‑General support or would like to mention that the President of Macedonia, Mr. Gjorge Ivanov, is delaying that action for peaceful transferring of the transition of the new government… to the new Government?
Spokesman: Again, the Secretary‑General has no role in the political process in [the former Yugoslav Republic of] Macedonia. What we're underscoring are issues of principles, of upholding a Constitution and calling on political parties to resolve their differences through democratic means following the Constitution, which is a road map for any country on how to resolve these issues. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Any updates on the air strike near Damascus on the international airport? And also Ambassador… US Ambassador [Nikki] Haley yesterday accused authorities of Syria of robbing the UN convoys of medication, baby food and other items, and reselling them at the black market. Can you confirm that this is happening, and what are you doing about it?
Spokesman: I can confirm half of that because that's something I think Mr. [Stephen] O'Brien has repeatedly told the Council and something we've repeatedly flagged — of medical items, sometimes even female hygienic items are being removed from convoys, which is completely unacceptable. Whether or not these things end up on the black market is not something we're able to verify, at least not something I can speak to. I think Mr. O'Brien was very clear in the hurdles that each and every… almost each and every humanitarian convoy has to go through, whether it's on the Government side or on the other side, of checkpoint after checkpoint, of administrative road blocks. All of which is unacceptable. Humanitarian aid needs to sail through these roads and needs to get to the people that need it. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about these new sexual abuse allegations in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. Seems like… like now the UN, I guess, there is naming a Romanian military observer accused of sexual abuse of a minor and others, including from Burundi. Have you seen the story? Can you respond to this?
Spokesman: I have not, but I will take a look at that as soon as I leave the podium.
Correspondent: Seems like MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] has said this…
Spokesman: I'm not disputing it. I'm just saying if I haven't seen it with my own eyes, it's hard for me to respond.
Question: I would assume, having seen all the posters around the building, like, wouldn't DRC have said… wouldn't MONUSCO have told the UN…?
Spokesman: Matthew, I don’t…
Question: Okay. All right. Let me ask you this then. Maybe you've seen this. Francis Lorenzo, the former head of South‑South News and former Deputy Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the UN has expanded his guilty plea to a clear and clean admission of having bribed former PGA [President of the General Assembly], may he rest in peace, John Ashe, and he's going to testify against Ng Lap Seng. It gives rise… this now seems to be previously just tax charges. Now he's saying, on the record… taking responsibility, saying he knew it was wrong at the time that he did it. So, my question is: As the case… as the case gets more pointedly in terms of what took place inside the United Nations walls… and yesterday I saw the former DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management] individual, now retired, who I believe… it seems from the audit is the one that changed the document. What is the ramification? Was anything ever done for that changed document, and what is exactly OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] doing now that there's admission not just of tax charges or evasion, of bribery…?
Spokesman: First of all, the alleged bribery you're referring to does not involve a staff member of the UN. There were audits done, and the situation was looked at very carefully in the past two years, if my memory is correct. We continue, obviously, to follow the developments in the case, and if we need to act upon anything that is revealed by the time the case is done, we shall do so.
Question: But, I guess the… the… the… the goal of the bribery was to obtain a UN document saying that Macau Conference Center was needed, and that document was obtained from DGACM. So, are you saying that somehow the actual… the ultimate act that they wanted was done without any…?
Spokesman: That's not what I'm saying.
Question: But, what was done? I saw the guy walking around. Was there any repercussion of any individual named in the audit?
Spokesman: As I said, as more information comes to light, we'll act upon it.
Question: Okay. On Burundi. Do you have any answer on the D-2? I heard there was one in the works.
Spokesman: No. Thank you.
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