The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will be joining the high-level meeting on Syria in Astana on 3 and 4 of this month. In view of the urgency and importance of re-establishing a de-escalation of the situation in Syria and moving on confidence-building measures, he has agreed to attend the meeting as an observer at the invitation of the Kazakh Government.
While in Astana, the Special Envoy will be supporting the efforts by the guarantors of the ceasefire and other participants to de-escalate the military situation. He will be accompanied by a technical delegation of UN experts who have been present in the previous Astana meetings.
Mr. de Mistura will also use the opportunity to conduct political consultations with the ceasefire guarantors and others that will be present. This will be particularly timely as he is at present putting finishing touches on his deliberations regarding the next round of intra-Syrian talks that will be held in Geneva.
The Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, and the Greek Cypriot leader, Nicos Anastasiades, met today at the UN’s Good Offices under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, to continue the Cyprus talks.
There was a good discussion between the sides on several outstanding issues, even if several differences remain.
The leaders have scheduled two more meetings to be held in the next two weeks on 11 and 17 May. We hope that they will do their utmost to move the process forward decisively in the crucial weeks ahead.
For his part, Mr. Eide will be in New York toward the end of this week to update the Secretary-General on the latest developments in the peace talks and on the way forward.
In a new report by the Secretary-General on the impact of armed conflict on children in the Philippines, he says there has been significant progress in the protection of boys and girls, in spite of continued violations, particularly in Mindanao.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has made progress in implementing an Action Plan to put an end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, culminating with the identification and formal disengagement of more than 1,850 children.
For its part, the Government has strengthened the national framework to address violations against children. The report is online on the website of the Office of Children and Armed Conflict.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that despite tremendous needs, the Central African Republic counts among the world’s most forgotten crises and receives ever-shrinking humanitarian funding. Half the country’s people require humanitarian assistance and more than 2 million are hungry.
WFP’s humanitarian response plan for 2017 is only 7 per cent financed. Insufficient funding has forced the agency to cut food rations in half that are distributed to the most vulnerable Central African families; for many, this is the only thing they get to eat. WFP immediately requires $12.5 million through October 2017 to meet the most urgent needs of extremely vulnerable people.
The number of children who are or will be acutely malnourished in Somalia has shot up by 50 per cent since the start of this year to 1.4 million, according to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).
It said today that more than 275,000 children either have or will suffer life-threatening severe acute malnutrition this year.
UNICEF says that severely malnourished children are nine times more likely to die of diseases such as cholera and measles, which are spreading. More information online.
An update on the activities of Judge [Mohammed] Othman, the Eminent Person that the Secretary-General named in conjunction with the investigation into the tragic death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him.
The Secretary-General affirms his own commitment to this matter in the strongest terms as he strongly feels that he owes it to his illustrious and distinguished predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, and to the other members of the party accompanying him and their families, to pursue the full truth of this matter.
Judge Othman held meetings in New York last week with Member States looking into the investigation into the death of Dag Hammarskjöld and of the members of the party accompanying him.
Mr. Othman continues to urge Member States to identify and make available possible further information that may shed light on the final stages of flight SE-BDY, the aircraft that carried the former Secretary-General and his party that crashed near Ndola on the night of 17-18 September 1961. Mr. Othman noted that more active cooperation is necessary from Member States to declassify or otherwise allow access to records that are now over 55 years old.
The current stage of the work will build on the findings of the 2015 Panel, which concluded, among other things, that there was significant new information with sufficient probative value to further pursue aerial attack or other interference as a hypothesis of the possible cause of the crash.
Mr. Othman will continue to liaise with relevant parties prior to reporting his findings to the Secretary-General and the General Assembly before the end of the current session.
**Press Freedom Day
Tomorrow is World Press Freedom Day. And the Secretary-General in a message we issued today says that journalists go to the most dangerous places to give voice to the voiceless.
He notes that media workers suffer character assassination, sexual assault, detention, injuries and even death.
The Secretary-General stresses the need for leaders to defend a free media, saying that this is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation.
He also calls for an end to all crackdowns against journalists – because a free press advances peace and justice for all.
For her part, the Director-General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), Irina Bokova, said that journalism is facing a crisis of audience identity and stands before a horizon where old challenges are merging with new threats. The concepts of post-truth and fake news point to rising questions that go to the heart of free, independent and professional journalists.
On Thursday, UNESCO and DPI (Department of Public Information) will hold a high-level panel discussion on the freedom of expression, peace, and inclusiveness. That will take place at 10 a.m. in Conference Room 2. And I assume you are all invited.
**World Tuna Day
As Maggie said, today is also World Tuna Day.
Snicker all you want, but many countries, particularly Small Island Developing States, depend heavily on tuna resources for food security and nutrition, economic development, employment, government revenue and livelihoods.
At present, more than 80 countries have tuna fisheries, and thousands of tuna fishing vessels operate in all the oceans, making trade in tuna a significant contributor to the global economy. However, increasing threats resulting from human activities, such as overfishing, and the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, as highlighted in the First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, adversely impact the conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks.
So, on this very first celebration of the World Tuna Day, we strongly urge all stakeholders to make every effort for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna resources which is important for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this regard, we wish to emphasize the critical importance of effectively implementing the international legal framework, as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has been strengthened by the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, recommendations of its Review Conference, and General Assembly resolutions. The Ocean Conference, next month, will provide a valuable opportunity for States and all other stakeholders to support implementation of the targets [in Goal] 14 of the 2030 Agenda.
At this opportune moment, let us all commit to protecting our precious tuna resources and their surrounding ecosystems and using these resources sustainably for generations to come.
On that note, I just want to flag that Mr. [Yukio] Takasu, the Head of the Department of Management, will be here tomorrow to brief you on the financial situation of these United Nations.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. So the Secretary‑General, big proponent of conflict prevention, what is he doing to prevent the situation in Venezuela spiralling out of control and into something more tragic?
Spokesman: As we’ve said, I think the Secretary‑General’s been following the situation very closely. I think he has been, over the last week and recently, on the phone with the mediators who are involved, as well as the Holy See, to discuss the situation in the country and, obviously, see what can be done.
Question: Has he considered appointing some sort of special envoy, or is there anything in the works for that?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that for the moment. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: I have a question on Venezuela. Yesterday, the President of Venezuela said that he wants to redo the Constitution of Venezuela, which has been deemed by the opposition as a move to try to stop the elections, which should be happening next year, and another move to stay in power longer. How the United Nations see these type of moves, especially now that we know that Leopoldo López has been in jail for over four years and we have the mayor of Caracas taken, as well as the mayor of Cachira, and we still see protests daily with more than 25 people dead?
Spokesman: I think what’s… obviously, the violence is something that is… that we’ve seen and is something that is worrying. And I think, at this point, it’s also important for the Government and the opposition to engage sincerely, to reactivate an open dialogue effort, and to see what concrete gestures from all parties can create sort of the necessary conditions so that everyone can unite and address the country’s challenges. Michelle?
Question: Just another follow‑up. Does the Secretary‑General see any role in Venezuela for some of the UN agencies to help out with regard to aid of some sort?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, the UN is present through its country office. We can get you some more details of what exactly they’re doing on the development and humanitarian front. Mr. Avni? Maybe we’ll switch tacks.
Spokesman: Maybe, maybe not. You never know.
Question: Speaking of conflicts prevention, so the Secretary‑General has, in the past, said on several occasions that there is a strong connection between the Jews and Jerusalem. Today, UNESCO voted to basically erase such a connection. Does he have anything to say about that?
Spokesman: You know, we’ve seen the vote that took place in UNESCO. I think there is no question as to the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem as a holy site for the three religions, the Jewish religion, Islam, and Christianity, and about the importance of the religious and historical links that the city has to those religions. I think any undertaking perceived to repudiate the undeniable common reverence for these sites would not be in the interest of peace and only feed violence and radicalism. As for… there are a number of final status issues, and those issues should be resolved through direct negotiations by the parties.
Spokesman: Well, I… you’re asking for… our point of view is that… in our point of view, maybe I… the tone of my delivery was not correct. There is no question.
Question: Does that mean UNESCO is politicized by this resolution?
Spokesman: The Member States that make up UNESCO are free, and it is their responsibility to take whatever actions they feel they need to take. I’m asked for the Secretary‑General’s position. It’s not for me to analyse whether UNESCO’s been politicized or not. They took the vote… the Executive Committee of UNESCO took the vote it did today. My understanding is it then goes to the general membership later this week.
Question: I have another question regarding the prisoners in Israel. Fifteen thousand of them are in their sixteenth day of a hunger strike. What is Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov doing in order to alleviate this suffering, which can… which is jeopardizing the lives of many of these prisoners?
Spokesman: The issue of the current hunger strike being taken by a number of Palestinians in Israeli jail is one, obviously, that Mr. Mladenov and his team are following, but in which our colleagues for the… in the Office of Human Rights are in the lead. And they have repeatedly called on Israel to end the practice of administrative detention and also to ensure that all detainees… the treatment of all detainees must be consistent with international law.
Question: In Bahrain, the protesters have been protecting the house of the senior cleric there for nine months, literally standing in the streets, picketing there for nine months, and do you know how hot the weather is there? Is there anything the United Nations can do or say in order to stop the… this… the… the threat to Sheikh Isa’s safety? They want to take him to prison as a result…
Spokesman: Let me look into it. I don’t have anything on Bahrain for you today. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, the… the… in South Sudan, the SPL… the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) in Opposition is claiming that UNMISS (United Nations Mission in South Sudan) airlifted some Government soldiers out while they were in the middle of, they say, attacking non‑Dinkas, and so they’re questioning the impartiality. But also, I just wanted to get from you, did UNMISS… has UNMISS moved SPLA soldiers? And, if so, why? They also say, more generally, that… that… that the UNMISS is not investigating the actions of its own peacekeepers that may harm people.
Spokesman: I don’t really understand that last part. I think UNMISS through… if you look… if you look at what the Mission has done through the [Patrick] Cammaert report and others, I think we’ve been as transparent as possible into the activities and the work of the peacekeepers and flagging the issues that may rise when they have. On your sec… on your first question, we’re aware, we’ve seen the reports, and we’re looking into it currently.
Question: Okay. I have another… a related…
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: On this issue of the UN investigating itself, I wanted to know whether you have anything on an event that took place in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) in North Kivu near Rutshuru on 28 April, said that MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) peacekeepers confronted by protesters fired some 11 warning shots resulting in six civilians being injured. So this is within… this is a… the SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) brief in DRC. How… number one, what’s the rules of engagement? How can warning shots… 11 warning shots result in six civilians being shot…?
Spokesman: I can see if we can get anything on it. I have not seen the reports. You can also… I mean, I think on these detail things, you can also call… [inaudible]
Question: I think shooting civilians is not just… That’s why I’m asking.
Spokesman: What I’m saying to you is that you’re also free to call the press people at the Mission, and they can probably give you information faster than I can.
Question: But I’m asking… I’d like to know…
Spokesman: Maggie, Maggie. I’ll go back to you.
Question: Steph, you said recently that there’d be a decision coming soon on compensation and an apology to the Roma in Kosovo on the lead poisoning issue. Do you have any update on that?
Spokesman: No. Nizar. Oh, sorry, Iftikhar. You’ve been very patient.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane.
Spokesman: And Masood. You’ve also been very patient. [laughter]
Question: This question has been asked before a couple of times, and you promised to get back. Has the United Nations determined what led to the expulsion of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) boss in [the United Republic of] Tanzania, the exact reason?
Question: Are you trying…
Spokesman: I’d love to be able to answer your questions. I don’t have anything for you on that. Masood?
Question: Stéphane, on this issue of Israeli detention of children, Palestinian children, continued detention of Palestinian children — I have been asking this questions earlier and about… and that, in view of the Amnesty report, that there have been instances of torture of the children and so forth. So, does the United Nations have anything to say about the… had any conversations with the Palestinian officials… [inaudible]
Spokesman: This is an issue that our human rights colleagues have looked into and have been in touch with the Israeli authorities. Carole and then Evelyn.
Question: Stéphane, there was a meeting today between the Libyan Prime Minister and General [Khalifa] Haftar. Given the UN calls for more inclusivity, do you have any information on whether there was any progress towards that?
Spokesman: Let me see what I can get you after briefing. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Steph. To follow up on Carole’s question yesterday, is there an ETA for the naming of a prosecutor for the General Assembly resolutions on Syria?
Spokesman: Oh, you mean the accountability? That… No, I can’t give you a hard date, but that is something that is very much in progress. Nizar?
Question: Staying on the accountability in Syria, Khan Shaykhun incident happened few weeks ago, and the Syrian Government has always encouraged the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) to come forward and investigate that on the ground, especially in Shayrat Airbase, which was bombarded. Why are they reluctant to do that? Why is the OPCW reluctant to send someone or the United Nations or both to send a delegation or investigation team on that?
Spokesman: That… those initial steps need to be taken by the OPCW, and that’s a question you should address to them.
Question: Okay. Another thing about Yemen: Has there been any progress with regard to alleviating the suffering of the people of Yemen, the… the hunger… or the starvation risk after this conference, which was last week?
Spokesman: You know, the short answer is that the suffering of the people of Yemen continues. We were able to get, I think, quite a large sum of money from donors to help with the humanitarian aid. We continue to face access issues, and we continue to work… operate in an environment that remains an active conflict zone. And so, until the parties… the people who have their hands on the trigger stop pulling the trigger, the suffering of the people of Yemen will continue. The work of our Special Envoy continues in trying to bring the parties back to the table and put a halt to the fighting.
Question: How… how is the freight coming to Hodeidah? Is there any progress on… and is this mechanism… Joint Mechanism… [inaudible]
Spokesman: I don’t have anything for you on that. Benny and then Matthew.
Question: Another question on Hamas. They have a new document saying that… that, you know, there could be a Palestinian State in the ‘67 lines, but they still don’t recognize Israel as a State, its right to exist, and so on and so forth. Does the UN in Gaza and… and UNSCO (United Nations Special Coordinator) see this document as any change in the Hamas point of view, or is it progress? Is it backwards or what?
Spokesman: I would just say that we’ve taken note of the release by Hamas, this new document. We remain concerned about issues of persisting intra‑Palestinian divisions as one of the continued obstacles to a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict. Masood, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, on this situation, which you realise that we have been asking about in India and Pakistan, the border situation is again escalating, given the clashes between the armies of the… both countries. When is the Secretary‑General going to pay attention to this issue in the Kashmir dispute which…
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is paying attention to this issue. We checked with our colleagues at UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan), who had not yet received any alleged ceasefire violations reports from the Indian authorities related to the latest incident that we saw yesterday. We continue to reiterate the need for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue. Mr. Lee?
Question: UNMOGIP… as you know, UNMOGIP only speaks about what is happening on the Pakistan side, because India refuses to… refuses to allow UNMOGIP to operate on the Indian side. So it is not impartial.
Spokesman: We’re fully… I think UNMOGIP is impartial. We’re fully aware of the operational environment in which UNMOGIP is forced to work. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Yesterday, I’d asked you about the… the Friday stakeout by Frente Polisario and why it was not placed on the website. You said you’d look into it. It’s still not there.
Spokesman: We’re continuing to look into it.
Question: Yeah, but since the exact same thing happened, the exact same thing…
Spokesman: I understand the situation. And when I have something new to share with you, I will share with you.
Question: Can you say… was it determined last time that it does, in fact, go up if only annexed to the… to… to a Member State’s…
Spokesman: I’m saying to you the situation is being worked on, and when I have something to… when a resolution has been found, I will share that with you.
Question: Right. But… okay. I wanted to ask you about the CEB (Chief Executives Board) and then something about Cameroon. The CEB, first of all, is there a public readout of any kind about the topics that were discussed there?
Spokesman: No, more… not more than to say that it was… obviously, it was important, as it was the Secretary‑General António Guterres’ first chance to meet with CEB members on… as Secretary‑General. It was very much focused on issues of UN coordination and how the UN system can work better in more efficient ways.
Question: I guess I wanted to ask, since the staff union, I guess, is more transparent, they’ve actually put forward a list of issues that they say they were working on. And there’s two of them I want to ask you about. One is mitigating the impact on staff from administrative off‑shoring. So I asked you before, is there, in fact, a plan to move finance and other functions from Headquarters and some… let’s say New York off‑shore? And, if so, what is…
Spokesman: I don’t… listen, I’m not sure what the plan is. I don’t really understand what off‑shoring means when we’re talking about an organization that is made up of 193 Member States.
Question: Except you say… well, if the jobs are here and you move them elsewhere, that’s what their… I mean, that’s their word.
Spokesman: Okay. All right.
Question: Right? Okay. And would the people here be told to move elsewhere, or would they be terminated?
Spokesman: I don’t… when we have… details are being worked out. They will be shared with the staff at some point… [inaudible]
Question: And I wanted to ask you, this one was also kind of interesting. Said cooling off period for diplomats before joining the UN. Does the Secretariat have any position on the idea that to go directly from the Fifth Committee, for example, to work for DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) or for the budget might be problematic? And what is the proposed reform if there is one?
Spokesman: I have nothing for you on that. Thank you.