The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General’s report on sexual violence in conflict is out as a document, and it highlights patterns of violations, as well as challenges faced and actions taken by States to protect women, girls, men and boys from such violence. While many countries are affected by the threat, occurrence or legacy of conflict-related sexual violence, the present report is focused on 19 countries for which credible information is available.
The report notes that sexual violence is no longer treated as merely a by-product of insecurity, but rather as a significant form of insecurity in itself. In the report, the Secretary-General calls for victims of sexual violence to be recognized as legitimate victims of conflict and terrorism at the national level, which can entitle them to relief and reparations and can also destigmatize survivors of these crimes. As I mentioned, the report is online and my understanding is that it is being presented to the [Security] Council I think on 15 [May].
Also, another report that I wanted to flag, which focuses on Nigeria — boys and girls in north-east Nigeria continue to be brutalized as a result of Boko Haram’s insurgency in the region and the ensuing conflict. This is the conclusion of the Secretary-General’s first report on children and armed conflict in Nigeria, which documents the impact on children of the severe deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the country between January 2013 and December 2016.
Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, says that Boko Haram has inflicted unspeakable horror upon the children of Nigeria’s north-east and neighbouring countries. During the reporting period, attacks by Boko Haram on communities and confrontations between the group and security forces resulted in at least 3,900 children killed and 7,300 more maimed. Suicide attacks became the second leading cause of child casualties, accounting for over 1,000 deaths and 2,100 injuries during the reporting period. More details available online, where the report can be found.
I want to flag a travel by the Secretary-General. On Saturday, 6 May, the Secretary-General will travel to Columbia, South Carolina, to speak at the commencement ceremony at the University of South Carolina. He will address 1,300 students, as well as receive an honorary degree from the institution.
The Secretary-General will depart back to New York from Charleston, where, before flying back to the City, he will have an opportunity to visit the Boeing assembly plant at the airport. This visit is part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to step up engagement with the private sector. He will return to New York Saturday evening.
The Secretary-General has agreed with the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, to establish a direct partnership between the UN and the International Olympic Committee. Accordingly, it was decided to close the UN Office on Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), effective 30 April of this year. The substantive portfolio of the Office on Sport for Development and Peace will henceforth be handled by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). The Secretary-General has also requested the UN Office at Geneva to oversee the closure arrangements of the Office on Sport for Development and Peace. He wishes to express his appreciation for the dedicated service provided by the staff and its leaders.
I just wanted to flag some items from Staffan de Mistura, who, as you know, is in Astana. He just spoke to reporters a little earlier and told them that he thought we have been able to witness an important promising positive step in the right direction in the process of de-escalation of the conflict.
He said that the most important thing is that the initiative in Astana today is a step in the right direction because it is pushing for a concrete de-escalation in addition to the ceasefire in four areas. He added that de-escalation obviously must be followed by humanitarian access. This is part of the memorandum. We have the transcript of his remarks available in my office and online.
Yesterday, as you will have seen, the camp of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in Timbuktu was attacked. Preliminary reports indicate that six shells landed in the camp. One peacekeeper from Liberia was killed and nine were wounded. Eight of them were evacuated to Bamako. Peacekeepers have reinforced the camp’s protection and deployed aerial reconnaissance assets to identify the zone from which the shells were fired.
The UN Mission condemns the attack in the strongest terms and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. We, of course, join the UN Mission in extending our sincere condolences to the family of the peacekeeper who was killed, as well as to the Liberian people and Government, and we wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
The [United Nations] in Colombia condemns the kidnapping yesterday in Guaviare of a national staff member of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and demands their immediate release.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, today urged the Government of South Sudan to halt any further military offensives towards Aburoc on the west bank of the River Nile. Civilians in Aburoc are in areas controlled by opposition armed forces, facing a military offensive by the Government. There are concerns that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) has positioned itself in close proximity to civilian areas, placing civilians in harm’s way in the event of an attack by the SPLA and its affiliated forces. Mr. Zeid warned that civilians in Aburoc are at serious and imminent risk of gross human rights violations, inter-ethnic violence and re-displacement. He calls on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
And still on South Sudan, the UN Mission’s (UNMISS) Temporary Operating Base in Leer town came under small arms fire last night from the direction of the nearby Government-held town. Ghanaian peacekeepers quickly returned fire, deterring the attack. There were no casualties within the base or among the internally displaced people who had sought protection in areas adjacent to the base. The head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, strongly condemned this attack and called on all parties to respect the sanctity of UN premises.
Our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warned today that nearly 75,000 refugees and migrants, including an estimated 24,600 children, currently stranded in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Western Balkans in large are at risk of psychosocial distress caused by living in a protracted state of limbo.
The situation is particularly acute for single mothers and children stuck in Greece or the Balkans waiting for reunification with family members in other EU countries. In many cases, adult males are the first family members to make the trip to Europe, with the rest of the family following later. But, with the 2016 border closures and implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, other family members are being held up in transit countries from where they must apply for family reunification — a process that typically takes between 10 months and two years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that it will launch, this year, a pilot project for prequalifying biosimilar medicines, a step towards making some of the most expensive treatments for cancer more widely available in low- and middle-income countries. If you were like me, you did not know what biosimilar medicines are, they are produced from biological sources such as cells rather than synthesised chemicals. Like generic medicines, biosimilars can be much less expensive versions of innovator biotherapeutics. They are usually manufactured by other companies once the patent on the original product has expired. More information online.
Today, as we do every month, we issue through FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] the Food Price Index for the last month. Global food commodity prices fell in April amid expectations of ongoing robust supplies of many key staples. Sugar, vegetable oil, cereal and dairy prices all fell, while meat rose 1.7 per cent, as pig meat prices increased in response to strong domestic demand in the European Union and increased sales to China. More on FAO’s website.
Today, we will have at 1:15 p.m. a press conference here on outcomes of the sixteenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Speakers will include Brian Keane, Rapporteur of the sixteenth session of the Permanent Forum from the United States; Les Malezer, Member of the Permanent Forum from Australia; and Mai Thin Yu Mon, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact and Chin Human Rights Organization from Myanmar.
Tomorrow, we will have Philippe Lazzarini, the Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, who will brief you on the latest developments there. And today is?
Correspondent: “Star Wars” day.
Spokesman: “Star Wars” day. All right. All right.
Correspondent: May the Fourth be with you!
Spokesman: Exactly. Thank you. Thank you. All right. Carole?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, can you say anything about what role the UN might play in these de‑escalation zones in Syria?
Spokesman: We’re wait… I’m waiting to get a little bit more detail. Obviously, we’ve always maintained that any de‑escalation to the violence is vital to save lives and increasing conducive conditions for fruitful intra‑Syrian talks. We will do whatever we can to support de‑escalation, but, as I said, I expect a bit more details later on.
Question: Would the UN play any kind of monitoring role?
Spokesman: As… again, I’m waiting to get a bit more detail. I mean, we’ve obviously always been very supportive of the discussions in Astana, especially some of the discussions concerning detainees and humanitarian de‑mining. Madame?
Question: There’s a Dutch journalist, his name is Derk Walters. He works as a correspondent in Israel and Palestine, and he will be deported, most probably for his coverage in Hebron about settlements. This is at least what he’s saying and because he’s covering very critical stories there and the Israeli officials are saying that they are doing this because of some permission issues, but there was an editorial in Haaretz supporting his view. Any comments on that? And could you please put this on the border… broader context regarding Palestinian journalists, that they are detained in Israeli prisons? Thank you.
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the particular report you mentioned. I can look into the case. Obviously, I think, as the Secretary‑General expressed through his message yesterday, he supports an active and free press, wherever and whenever journalists are able to work. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This question that I’ve been asking about this situation in occupied Kashmir, in which India is now blocking all the villages and so forth from uprising because of the human rights situation that exists over there. And now some of the newspapers have speculated that might result in unintended, I mean, consequences — being a nuclear war between the two countries. Does the Secretary‑General thinks that this situation is of that import that he should eventually try and tackle this situation, as he has often said that he would, but he has never…?
Spokesman: I mean, as we said, we’re obviously following the situation closely, the recent developments included, and I think we would reiterate our call for the parties to find a peaceful solution through engagement and dialogue. Mr. Lee?
Question: Other questions, but I was… do you have a statement on… on… there was just a… does the UN system have a statement on the killing of Somali Government minister Abass Siraji, a 31‑year‑old Government minister killed by the [inaudible]?
Spokesman: We obviously condemn what appears to be an assassination of this minister and send our condolences to his family and to the Government of Somalia.
Question: Are you… Because some people are saying he was shot by mistake. And I’m wondering, does the UN have any role in security…?
Spokesman: I have no… a role in providing his security? No.
Question: No, no, in train… in training, in this case, the bodyguards or the auditor generals.
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of.
Question: Okay. And also, I wanted to ask, yesterday, I was at one of the credential photo ops upstairs on 38, one of whom was the… the Ambassador of Gambia, who was described as the new ambassador of Gambia. And the Secretary‑General said, welcome, we’re proud to have you among us, democratic country. It’s the same ambassador that represented Yahya Jammeh, Mr. Mamadou Tangara. So I’m just wondering, was there… was this a calculated… and was he trying to say you’re the same ambassador who represented Jammeh, but now you’re a democrat, or was it just…
Spokesman: Well, my limited understanding of diplomacy is that ambassadors represent States and not individuals.
Question: Right, but it’s the same guy so… I’m asking for a comment. Do you think…?
Spokesman: Again, I… my understanding is that ambassadors represent States and the policies of those States and not people personally.
Question: Then why did he… Can you explain why he had to re‑present his credentials if he’s still the ambassador of the country?
Spokesman: That’s something to ask to… of the Gambians why… maybe he had to re‑present his credentials. Stefano?
Question: Thank you. Again, about the press freedom… freedom and the days they’ve been celebrating, also in Jakarta, we heard UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] representative talking about how difficult is for their agency to really do… I mean, they, of course, defend press freedom, but… but they don’t have tools to really… to… to try to force countries to respect press freedom. So my question is, you know, there was… until last year, there was a lot of talk on special… you know, where there is a new special envoy by the Secretary‑General just for the protection of… of press freedom, the protection of journalists. And there was some talk, Ban Ki… with Ban Ki‑moon then. I don’t know how Secretary‑General [António] Guterres think about idea, but what is doing about this idea? And if it does encounter some obstacle as… if there is something that makes this idea possible…
Spokesman: Any new type of envoy would obviously require a resolution by a legislative body, most likely the General Assembly. I think what’s important to remember is that there are already a number of mandate holders on this, whether it’s organizations like UNESCO, whether it’s special rapporteurs for freedom of expression and others. So what’s important is that Member States cooperate with the existing mechanisms, which help highlight the challenges a lot… a number of your colleagues face around the world. The Secretary‑General has spoken out for press freedom, and I think the important thing is really on focusing and strengthening, if needed, the existing mandates.
Question: So, just a follow‑up, I mean, so does he support the idea of a special envoy or think it’s impossible to go through with this idea…?
Spokesman: I feel I’ve answered the question already. Yeah, in the back, then…
Question: Thank you. Has Secretary‑General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide, met Secretary‑General today? If not, when is he going to meet? And is he going to talk to the reporters and give some information, please?
Spokesman: We can ask if he will talk to the reporters. We’ll pass that request along. My… I think he’s meeting Mr. Eide tomorrow. Welcome back.
Question: Thanks. Can you tell us any more about the hostage in Colombia? Has any contact been made with the rebels? Are there any demands being made for his release or anything like that?
Spokesman: No, obviously, in these situations, when someone has been kidnapped, the less we say, the better. What I will tell you is that we’re obviously in touch with the Colombian authorities to help secure the person’s release. Abdelhamid, then we’ll go to round two.
Question: Thank you. I have two questions, one in line with the press freedom. A Saudi man — his name is Ahmad Al Shamri — was sentenced to death in 2015 for insulting religion. His second appeal had been lost few days ago, and the death sentence has been upheld. Is there any information about the case of Ahmad Al Shamri?
Spokesman: I’ll try and see if I can get an update on the case for you.
Question: My second question, back to the issue of Palestinians on hunger strike, there was no statement, neither from the Human Rights Commissioner nor from the Special Envoy nor from the Secretary‑General. And I just recall, when one Israeli prisoner was in jail, the Secretary‑General went and visited his family, there was a statement by the Under‑Secretary‑General in the Security Council, every organ of the UN has been involved asking for his release, Heads of State asked for his release, and you know his name was Gilad Shalit. But here, we’re having 6,500, including elected officials, 300 children, 17 women and 1,500 on the eighteenth day of hunger strike and no statement.
Spokesman: I think…
Question: Can you explain that?
Spokesman: We have repeatedly talked about, publicly, the issue of administrative detention and have called for the Israeli authorities to either charge people or release them. Whether this has been in briefings by the Special Coordinator, briefings in the Security Council and what I’ve said from here, in flagging the fact that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights was following the particular issue. Carole and then Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: On that issue, the Arab League today called for a UN inquiry of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails…
Spokesman: I’ll take a look at that statement. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Syria, do the proposals for safe areas — Russia’s the latest one who made one — does that look at all real? Do you see anything in Mr. de Mistura’s comments that sounds like he believes it’s going to happen?
Spokesman: As I said earlier, we’re looking… I’m trying to get a bit more detail on exactly what was agreed upon. I think Mr. de Mistura in his statement to the press said he welcomed any efforts to de‑escalation and said the UN would support it. But, obviously, we’re looking at exactly the details of what could be required of us. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Ask about Thailand and then Western Sahara. In Thailand, there’s a well‑known human rights lawyer, Mr. Prawet Prapanukul, who is now… who… first, he was missing. I was going to ask you yesterday when he was missing. He’s emerged, but he’s facing 150 years in jail for insulting the king. And so I wondered both… there’s a specific case, but there’s a more general principle. What does the UN and the Secretary‑General think of people being… facing jail time of that length for insulting a Head of State?
Spokesman: I will check with our human rights colleagues, see if they have anything on that case.
Question: And on Western Sahara, you can imagine what the second question is. It’s the same one that I’ve been asking, but I wanted to ask, you may have seen or the Mission or DPA [Department of Public Affairs] may have seen that the ship… it’s a Moroccan ship that was stopped and impounded in South Africa with 500,000… excuse me, 50,000 pounds of phosphorus. So it’s… basically, the idea is that exploitation of natural resources is illegal. That’s what the court there is finding. Given the UN’s role in trying to deal with this situation and the Secretary‑General’s personal calls on both sides, what does he think of the continued export of natural resources and of this decision by the South African courts…?
Spokesman: I would refer you back to the Secretary‑General’s report and his call for renewed negotiations between the parties. Michelle?
Question: What about the video?
Spokesman: I have no news. Okay. Thank… Evelyn, go ahead, and then we’ll go.
Question: Can you say again, the IOC is going to be handled by which department?
Question: DESA. Why?
Question: Why not human rights or something?
Spokesman: Well, because it’s its natural home. It’s about sports, peace, and development.
Correspondent: Okay. All right. Thanks.
Question: On that, is this a… could this be considered a cost‑cutting measure?
Spokesman: Well, it will… yes, it will save money.
Question: How much?
Spokesman: I… we can deal with the budget of the office, but it is the closure of an office and the elimination of a Special Envoy post.
Question: Stéphane, I asked you yesterday if Mr. Eide is planning a meeting here at the United Nations between the President of Cyprus and Mr. [Mustafa] Akinci. Can you find out for us?
Spokesman: We will find out. We’ve asked and I haven’t gotten any information. See you tomorrow on 5 May.