The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A couple of updates from South Sudan: today the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Serge Tissot, called on the Government to ensure that the thousands of civilians sheltering in and around Aburoc are not subject to attacks. He also called on the opposition forces to ensure that areas highly populated by civilians are, and remain, demilitarized. An inter-agency mission travelled to Aburoc on Saturday and found about 30,000 Shilluk civilians including new arrivals and those displaced during the earlier offensive on Wau Shilluk. Displaced people are in urgent need of clean water and other life-saving assistance. More details online.
And as you will have seen, we issued a statement over the weekend in which we urged the Government and other warring parties to cease hostilities, uphold their responsibility to protect civilians and cooperate fully with the United Nations and other humanitarian actors to ensure safe access to all civilians in imminent danger along the West Bank of the River Nile.
And the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) also said on Saturday that the first elements of the Regional Protection Force (RPF) have started to arrive in the country. The RPF Headquarters has already been established in Juba under the leadership of Brigadier Jean Mupenzi from Rwanda. More information online from the UN Mission.
Turning to Syria, we remain deeply concerned by the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus, including reports of intensified fighting among non-State armed groups in the enclave over the past few days. Commercial and humanitarian supplies continue to be prevented from entering eastern Ghouta since March, resulting in significant price hikes of basic staple goods for some 400,000 people who are trapped in the area. Civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and schools, continue to be affected by the tight restrictions and reports of shelling, air strikes, and ground fighting.
The UN has not reached any part of eastern Ghouta since October last year. The UN stands ready to immediately deliver life-saving assistance to those in need of assistance in eastern Ghouta should the pause be established and abided by all parties to the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, will make an official visit to Lebanon and Syria. This is his first in his newly appointed role as Head of the World Food Programme. Mr. Beasley will be in Lebanon and Syria through 3 May to meet Syrians affected by the ongoing crisis and to witness the profound humanitarian crisis first hand.
Turning to Iraq, a group of 36 Yazidi survivors including women, men and children have recently been rescued from slavery, having been held in captivity by Da’esh for nearly three years. The Yazidi women and girls are currently being cared for at dedicated service points set up by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, with the support of the Dutch Government. They have been provided with first response assistance, including lodging, clothing, medical and psychosocial first aid, even as they are being reunited with their families.
It is assessed that up to 1,500 women and girls remain in captivity and may be exposed to protracted sexual abuse by Da’esh.
“What these women and girls have endured is unimaginable,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, adding that the UN, through UNFPA, is going to do everything possible to provide the kind of specialized medical and psychological support these women and girls need.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that there was a big spike in the number of people fleeing western Mosul yesterday, with double the number of people transiting through a screening site located south of Mosul. These numbers may rise further in the coming days as military operations progress in the Old City.
We wanted to flag that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, will be visiting Ethiopia, at the invitation of the Ethiopian Government, from 2 to 4 May of this year.
Mr. Zeid will meet the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives and other high-ranking Ethiopian officials.
He will also meet with the Chairperson of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, members of civil society organizations and political parties, as well as African Union officials, including the Chairperson of the Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat.
And the High Commissioner, as you may have seen, gave an extensive press conference today in Geneva on a number of human rights issues around the world.
More information is available on the High Commissioner’s website.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Our colleagues at UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) wanted to let us know that a plane carrying core relief items arrived yesterday in Luanda, in Angola, to assist over 11,000 people who fled a recent surge of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
More relief items will be airlifted to Angola in the coming days.
The brutal conflict in the Kasai region of the DRC has already displaced more than 1 million civilians within the country since it began middle of last year. More information online.
As you will have seen, on Friday, we issued a statement welcoming the withdrawal of all Frente Polisario elements from the Guerguerat area, between the berm and the border with Mauritania, as confirmed by UN observers on 27-28 April.
We continue to call on the parties to adhere to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement and to respect both its letter and spirit, and to cooperate fully with the UN Mission (MINURSO). The need to ensure that tensions do not erupt anew in the Guerguerat area remains vital.
I just want to flag that our colleagues in the UN Chamber Music Society of the UN Staff Recreation Council will be performing the “New World Concert” on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. That concert is being presented by the Czech Mission to the UN, the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, and the Czech Center.
The programme will feature the classical chamber music masterpieces from Czech Republic, including arrangements by Dvořák. The concert will take place in the ballroom of the Bohemian National Hall and I think tickets are available through the Czech Permanent Mission.
Today, at 1:15 p.m. there will be a press briefing on Indigenous Human Rights Defenders with Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, and Lourdes Tibán Guala, Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
And at 3:15 p.m. please don’t forget the Permanent Representative of Uruguay will be here to present the programme of work for the month of May.
Lastly we say “thank you” to our friends in Guatemala and the United Kingdom who have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to 92.
**Questions and Answers
And at this point, you ask me questions. Yes, sir?
Question: [inaudible] some minutes ago, Mr. Ken Roth, the head of the Human Rights Watch, he contradicted Ambassador Paulo Pinheiro’s statement that Mr… Ambassador Pinheiro issued a week or so ago that there was no evidence… there was no evidence that the Syrian Government’s involvement in the chemical attack. Mr. Roth’s position is that Mr. Pinheiro… the reason why Mr. Pinheiro concluded…
Spokesman: Your mic… are you using your microphone?
Question: Oh, shucks. I’m so sorry.
Spokesman: If you could just skip to the second part.
Question: Sorry about that. Yeah, I’m sorry.
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Yes. Yeah, he said… Mr. Roth said that Mr. Pinheiro… the reason why he concluded that there was no Syrian Government involvement was that Mr. Pinheiro did not… and his team did not do enough investigation. They did not gather the correct evidence, in effect, suggesting that Ambassador Pinheiro’s work was somewhat shoddy. Would you like to comment on that as to what Mr. Roth’s position with regards to the ambassador’s…
Spokesman: I was not at the briefing. What I can tell you is that, obviously, the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is doing its work on the chemical weapons attack. There are existing frameworks, including the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), to pursue it further, if needed. I’m not sure Mr. Pinheiro used those exact words, but I… what I do know is that the work of Mr. Pinheiro and his other commissioners is vitally important for the long‑term issue of accountability for what the Syrian people have suffered. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, also at that press conference, Human Rights Watch expressed frustration with the fact that there hasn’t been an appointment of the head of the accountability mechanism that was voted by the General Assembly. And they suggested that the Secretary‑General was dragging his feet on it. Can you tell us what’s going on? [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t think the Secretary‑General is dragging his feet. My understanding is that that process is under way, and hopefully, we’ll be able to announce it soon. But there is no… I don’t think there’s any feet‑dragging by any… by the Secretary‑General nor anyone else. Mr. Lee and then Edie.
Question: Sure. First, I just… I see on the Secretary‑General’s schedule that at 12:15… so I guess about now… he’s supposed to be meeting with, quote, members of US Congress. Can you say who the members are and what the purpose of the meeting is?
Spokesman: Yes, I have… in fact, I should have brought the list with me. It’s a number… it’s a delegation of congresswomen, Democratic congresswomen, and it’s a visit that’s been arranged by the United Nations Foundation. And the Secretary‑General agreed to meet with them. And I’ll send you the list. [inaudible]
Question: Can you get the list?
Spokesman: I’ll share… we’ll make the list available as soon as I can. [The Spokesman later shared the list of visiting members of the US Congress.]
Question: And I wanted to ask you something. This happened before, so maybe you’ll have an answer to it. On Friday, after the meeting on Western Sahara, in the Security Council, there were three stakeouts, Morocco, Algeria and then Polisario. And three days later, only Morocco and Algeria are up and not Polisario. Now, the last time it took several days, and then it was appended behind Algeria. How did the same thing happen again, or it hasn’t even been… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I can look into it.
Question: But isn’t it… I mean, after last time…
Spokesman: I said I would look into it.
Question: Okay. Can I ask you another… go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. On the release of the 34… 35 Yazidi, mainly women and children, you stressed what the UN was doing to help them. Did the UN play any role in their release? And is the UN doing anything? Because there are more than 1,000 or 1,500 Yazidis who are still basically enslaved.
Spokesman: We are not directly involved in the extraction operation. These, as you can imagine, are rather delicate operations. But we are following those very closely to ensure that, as soon as these women and girls reach safety, they are able to get the support, the psychological and other support, they so dearly need.
Question: Do you know who is directly involved in the extraction, in trying to free them?
Spokesman: Yeah, I can see if I can get you some more information on that.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Yes. On Syria, Russia submitted a proposal calling for establishment of the zones of reduction of tensions in the country with safety lines along the checkpoints and monitoring centres. Do you know of this proposal, and do you have any comments on that?
Spokesman: No, I haven’t seen it. Do you know where it was proposed?
Question: Probably in Astana today. I’m not sure…
Spokesman: My understanding is that there are discussions going on in Astana, obviously, on the ceasefire and other issues. And we’ll… I think… if I’m not mistaken, we have some representation there. We’ll see what we can get you. [The Spokesman later shared a press release stating that the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, would be in Astana on 3-4 May.] Carole and then Matthew.
Question: Stéphane, on Western Sahara, given the pullback from the Polisario, how quickly do you think these negotiations in the new spirit that the Secretary‑General is pushing for will happen and, specifically, the appointment of a new envoy?
Spokesman: When we have something to announce on the new envoy, we will. It’s obviously a work in progress. We would like to see those start as quickly as possible. Yep?
Question: Sure. Again, sorry to go back to something, but on Friday, I’d asked you about MONUSCO (United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) saying that there are at least five new allegations of sexual abuse by military and non‑military personnel, including from Burundi. And I wanted to know, do you have… first of all, do you have more… it seems strange… what’s the policy now in terms of making these announcements? Are they done by headquarters, by the…
Spokesman: I think they… we expect… we very much expect the missions to regularly update on where they are and we need… we can echo it from here, but it’s up to the missions to do it. CDU website, the website of the Conduct and Discipline Unit, is regularly updated. I think you can sign up for email updates for them. I think… I felt bad because I think I should have been prepared to know… to have known what was announced, but, whatever, there was a breakdown in communications. But it’s perfectly appropriate and, in fact, expected for the perm… for peacekeeping missions to do those announcements themselves.
Question: My question… I guess my question was, was one of the things they seem to emphasise at MONUSCO is that one of the… the… the alleged victim that’s a minor is going to be, quote, turning… you know, in the care of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). And given the recent report and call by Code Blue that UNICEF didn’t follow through on what they… they say on victims in CAR (Central African Republic), has not… has anything been learned from that? Is there any UN response?
Spokesman: I think it was an allegation from Code Blue. I think you’ve seen the response from UNICEF. You’re also welcome to contact them. I think UNICEF works very closely with the victims, and we have no doubt that this particular person will be assisted and well assisted by UNICEF for medical and psychosocial care.
Question: And I wanted to ask you a Cameroon question. There… there… I mean, the internet is on, but there are now… over the most recent weekend, there was a guy, Awah Romeo, beaten to death by the police. And there’s footage of it. And I’m just sort of wondering, what’s the follow‑up of that… that mission by François Louncény Fall in terms of… he said he’s coming back at some other date but…
Spokesman: Right. He said I think he was coming back… [inaudible] I think he was coming back in May, which is this month, and I have no doubt his office is following the situation.
Question: Because the… the… the mission itself, the Cameroonian Mission, here is now using his statement as sort of to say everything is great. I was handed just now…
Spokesman: That’s… I mean, I think everybody’s free to interpret… I think Mr. Louncény Fall’s statement was fairly clear in what he felt the situation was and what he felt needed to be done.
Question: I have a WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) question, and it’s more specific than last time. I know… I have now seen… I saw the picture that Mr.… he sat with Mr. [Francis] Gurry, the Secretary‑General. WIPO is actually… it is reported, filed… gotten the local authorities to file a criminal defamation complaint against a media or a reporter in Geneva. And I wanted to know, again, what is the UN’s thinking in the sense of using… I thought the UN was against criminal defamation laws. Is it appropriate for the UN system to be using it…? [inaudible]
Spokesman: First of all, WIPO is an independent agency with its own governing board, and the head of WIPO reports to it. As far as we’re concerned here, we’re not in the habit of using such measures. Thank you.