The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**United Nations Reform
I just wanted to flag that today the Secretary-General has written to Member States to update them on his various reform initiatives. Through a number of global agreements, on sustainable development, climate change, sustaining peace and financing for development, Member States have provided a broad vision of the future they want. The Secretary-General intends to advance meaningful reform to adapt the United Nations to the complex world in which we operate today and to make sure that this organization can effectively serve all of its Member States in achieving that future and managing shared challenges and opportunities along the way.
The letter provides a timeline of progress on a number of reform issues, including Gender Parity, the reform of the development system, the reform of the peace and security architecture, management of the Organization, the new counter-terrorism office, whistle-blower protection, combating sexual exploitation and abuse, among others. The Secretary-General has also established an Internal Review Team on peace and security in January and one on [management] reform in April. The Secretary-General also shared his vision for prevention.
For him, prevention means doing everything we can to help countries to avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development. We cannot meet the prevention challenge with the status quo. The United Nations needs to be much more united in its thinking and in its action, putting people at the centre of its work — hence the various reform streams the Secretary-General has initiated since he joined the helm of the Organization to ensure that we are doing so. In short, prevention needs to permeate everything the United Nations does. Throughout this reform process, the Secretary-General is committed to extensive consultations with Member States, starting with brainstorming sessions on management reform in May.
I also want to announce travels by the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General will leave New York on Tuesday, 9 May, for London, to attend the London Somalia Conference, the first leg of a trip that will then take him to Beijing to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation; Strasbourg, France, on the occasion of a plenary session of the European Union Parliament; and finally Switzerland, for the annual seminar of his current Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys.
On 10 May, the Secretary-General will deliver a speech during an event in the Great Hall of Central Hall Westminster organized by the UN Association for the UK. He is expected to address an audience of approximately 2,000 people, including representatives from Government, Parliament, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], the private sector, media, academia, as well the general public. The following day, the Secretary-General will co-chair the 2017 London Somalia Conference with Prime Minister Theresa May and President Mohamed Abdullahi [Mohamed] Farmajo of Somalia. There, he will also hold a press conference along with President Farmajo and the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.
He will then travel to China for the Belt and Road Forum — that will be from 14 to 15 May in Beijing. The Forum’s theme is "strengthening international cooperation and co-building the 'Belt and Road' for win-win development". The Secretary-General will also have a series of bilateral meetings with Heads of State and Government who are attending the Forum.
On 17 May, the Secretary-General will be in Strasbourg to deliver a speech before the plenary of the European Parliament and meet with its President, Antonio Tajani of Italy. The next day, he will be in Switzerland for the thirteenth seminar of his current Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys. And that seminar is organized by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. We expect to have the Secretary-General back in New York on Monday, 22 May.
As a reminder: as we told you yesterday, he will be in South Carolina tomorrow, to deliver a commencement address and receive an honourary degree from the University of South Carolina. His remarks will be broadcast live on the University of South Carolina’s webcast and we give you the details if you are interested.
Also I have a senior personnel appointment: the Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso as his Special Envoy. Mr. Kafando’s role will include leading and coordinating the United Nations political efforts to promote peace and sustainable development in Burundi. Furthermore, he will provide assistance to the efforts of the East African Community for political dialogue among Burundi key players. Mr. Kafando brings to the position more than three decades of extensive experience in high-level international diplomacy and politics. He served as President of the Transition in Burkina Faso until December 2015. More information in his bio.
As you will have seen yesterday, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General in which he said he was encouraged by the agreement reached in Astana, Kazakhstan, by guarantor countries Iran, Russian Federation and Turkey to de-escalate violence in key areas. It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians. The Secretary-General welcomes the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets; to rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access; and to creating conditions for the delivery of medical aid and meeting civilians’ basic needs. He stressed that the commitments made should not affect the rights of Syrians to seek and enjoy asylum. That statement is online.
We wanted to flag that Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels, in which he said that we are walking into another crisis in Gaza with our eyes wide open. For the last 10 years, he said, 2 million people are held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures. It is time for this situation to end.
He urged all parties to refrain from taking actions that would further exacerbate the situation and to seek a political solution to the current standoff. This situation can only be resolved through a compromise, based on the implementation of intra-Palestinian agreements that would end the division and return Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities. Until then and under the current circumstances, he added, the UN can only work to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable. His remarks are online and available in my office.
**Central African Republic
Two items on the Central African Republic to flag: our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] today warned that, without increased support, the lives and futures of more than 1 million children in the Central African Republic are under threat. Christine Muhigana, UNICEF’s Representative in the country, said that, without sufficient support, the agency will not be able to provide the vital services that are needed to keep children healthy, safe and in school. Forty-one per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition; 1 in 7 children will die before they reach their fifth birthday; and a third of children are out of school. UNICEF is facing a $32 million funding gap as it races to provide life-saving assistance to children and families in the country.
And our colleagues at OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] in the country also added that during the first quarter of the year, 33 incidents targeting humanitarians were recorded across the country. This figure places the Central African Republic among the high-risk countries for humanitarian aid. Since last March, in the Prefecture of Ouham only, 16 attacks against humanitarians have been reported. Four major humanitarian organizations have decided to temporarily suspend their activities in areas where threats have surged. Other organizations have decided to reduce their presence to life-saving activities.
Our colleagues in Brazil expressed their grave concern following an attack against a group of indigenous persons from the Gamela ethnicity, earlier this week in the Maranhão region of northern Brazil. More than 10 were injured — some of them severely and are still receiving treatment in hospital. In the region, land disputes involving indigenous people and their rights to land are common. The UN system in Brazil expressed its appreciation for the Brazilian authorities’ pledge to bring the perpetrators to justice. Attacks against indigenous people in Brazil, and impunity for perpetrators [are] unfortunately very common, they said.
Just two reports to flag: one by the World Health Organization (WHO), called “Managing Speed”, which suggests that excessive or inappropriate speed contributes to one in three road traffic fatalities worldwide.
A new study by the World Food Programme (WFP) released today says that, at a time of record-high number of people being forced to flee their homes across the world, high levels of food insecurity lead to higher levels of migration across borders.
The UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]-backed fourth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue opened today in Baku, Azerbaijan, to support cultural diversity and inclusive societies through dialogue. The two-day event will look into effective response to challenges such as migration and violent extremism. It brings together Government leaders, civil society, journalists and others. More information from UNESCO.
In a short while, I will be joined by Philippe Lazzarini, the Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon and the Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for the UN in that country. He will brief you on the latest developments there. On Monday, there will be a press conference at 11 a.m on the UN Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2017.
And on Tuesday, I want to flag that, at noon sharp, I will be moderating a press briefing by a number of representatives of the Elders: that will be Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson. They will have met the Secretary-General on Monday and they will be briefing you here on Tuesday and then we will do the briefing after they are done.
I need to say thank you to somebody, two people, two countries, rather: Chile and Kenya, who have paid their regular budget dues. [Ninety-five.] Indeed. You go.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Mostly I only did it because I want to ask you about Kafando. So, I guess, now that you have confirmed it, can you say… will you say whether it is, in fact, a part‑time "when actually employed" appointment and whether the Secretary‑General has agreed with the [Pierre] Nkurunziza Government that the office will close by the end of year, as some involved in the process say?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any agreement to close any office. What I can tell you is that his post will be "when actually employed". He'll be based in Burkina Faso. However, he'll be back‑stopped and have office support, political staff based here in New York.
Question: Was the Secretary‑General… did he speak with Pierre Nkurunziza or attempt to?
Spokesman: There was no phone call between him and the Secretary‑General I can report. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, can I follow up on that? Isn't it odd that a Special Envoy for Burundi is based in Burkina Faso?
Spokesman: Well, that's where he's from, so he's based at home. He's "when actually employed"…
Question: The Special Envoys are usually in the country, no?
Spokesman: No, Special Representatives are. Special Envoys are not based in-country. Special Representative… Special Envoy for Syria is based in Geneva. The Special Envoy for Yemen is based in Jordan. So, he's… since it's "when actually employed", I think it makes sense that he works out of his home country where he has an office, with the support of the Department of Political Affairs here. So, there's nothing unusual about this particular arrangement.
Question: What would you… just one last thing to knock it out. What would you say to people that's… how does this compare to the previous focus of the Secretariat through the Special Adviser on conflict prevention, including Burundi, to this? Some people are saying this is a… the reason the Government was so quick to accept it is that it's… and I think it's public knowledge that the Government has been blocking visas and raising a lot… why… that they accepted it because this is actually a downshifting or downgrading of focus. Is that… how would you respond to that?
Spokesman: No, I think appointing someone who is as experienced as Mr. Kafando from… we all know from his time here, a former head… African Head of State, I would not interpret it as downgrading at all. Olga. Oh, sorry, then… no, Olga, and then come back to you.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Question about deadly airstrike in Mosul. Do you have any information what happened there in the refugee camp and how many people died?
Spokesman: In Mosul? No, I don't believe I do. I will ask to see if we have anything, but I don't… I did not see anything unless I missed it. No. I mean, I… we understand that the flow of people [has] been continuing, and families are escaping now through a new front line. Just yesterday, 4,000 people arrived in Badoush, about 15 kilometres north-west of Mosul, which is a new area that had been set up in anticipation of these arrivals. People have been given ready‑to‑eat rations and given access to health care. About 425,000 people to date have been displaced from West Mosul. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, is there any update on the appointment of a Special Envoy for Western Sahara? There were some reports that a former German President, [Horst] Köhler, was being considered, but that's… we haven't heard anything.
Spokesman: Sure, we've been in… you know, I think, as the Secretary‑General very clearly said in his report, he's determined to relaunch the negotiating process with a new dynamic, I think, in the spirit of the Security Council resolution. He has communicated to his parties his preferred candidate to replace Christopher Ross, you know, who had announced his intention to leave. Right now, the Kingdom of Morocco has not yet responded to the information passed on to it.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up. Anything new on the hostage in… the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] hostage?
Spokesman: No, nothing yet. Jonathan?
Question: Stéphane, on Astana, have you gotten a graphic representation of what the deconflict zones proposed are, in other words, a map or something approximating the map? And, secondly, both in the SG's statement and in… in what Staffan de Mistura said, I didn't hear any reassertion that the commission to investigate war crimes be given access. Is that just…?
Spokesman: I mean, I think that's a standing… I think the independent… any UN-mandated body to investigate crimes should be given access. So, I think that's a… it's been restated, and it will be restated again. I think, as Mr. de Mistura said, the devil is in the details. There will be ongoing discussions over the next two weeks on the implementation, and we will be looking very much closely at that through Mr. de Mistura's office.
Question: And have you seen a map of the deconflict zones…?
Spokesman: I don't know if they've… I can't speak from here whether or not they've seen a map. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Just actually as a follow‑up to that… to those safe zones, as we call them, and since we do have… hello, Jon. Since we do have experience at the UN with the Srebrenica and other six safe areas in the Bosnia during the war from 1992 to 1995 and the Secretary‑General's saying… or expressing his ambiguous regarding that previously talking to us to report us in front of Security Council, what is the clear position of the Secretary‑General towards this proposal now?
Spokesman: I don't think… we're not using the term "safe zones". I think as the Secretary‑General said, and as I said… I've said at this podium a number of times, the experience of the UN with safe zones has not been a good one. And the experience of the people who are living in those safe zones especially, as you mentioned, in the Former Yugoslavia has not been a positive one. But, we're… yeah, in the Former Yugoslavia, the full Former Yugoslavia. I said Bosnia, as well.
Spokesman: Okay. But… okay. The point I'm making here is that we're talking about de‑escalation and that we're talking about studying these proposals in detail. I think the… we welcome any… I think Mr. de Mistura and the Secretary‑General described this as a promising, positive step in the right direction towards de‑escalation. We want to see a halt to the fighting. We want to see humanitarian aid being brought in. And we don't want to see these initiatives also to infringe any rights of people to asylum. We've heard… I mean, I think we've seen press reports that this may be an opportunity for people to return home. Refugees need to choose when they're able to return home, and no one should be forced or pressured into returning home when things aren't safe.
Question: As a follow‑up, is it fair to say that, only because of that… not only, but because of that negative experience in Bosnia during the war, those zones are now not called safe havens?
Spokesman: You know, that's… it's a very broad question. We were witness to the agreements in Astana. These were not drafted by the UN. We're use the terminology that is being used. Carole?
Question: Yeah, Stéphane, so, I mean, what role is the UN… does the UN feel it can play a role in implementing this accord or monitoring? And, also, is it your understanding that the territories that would be part of the designated areas include most of the besieged areas? Do… have you been able to look at that?
Spokesman: I think we have to look a little closer at the map. I think, again, for the next… there is a two… about a two‑week period when the details will be examined, and we will be looking very closely at the details to see where we can play a positive role and where we can help anything that will work towards de‑escalation of the violence and an improvement in the lives of the Syrians who are trapped in a conflict. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you one… one… I'm sure you've seen this story of the Philippines protesting a… a… a visit by a Special Rapporteur. So, I wanted to know two things. First of all, has any… has the… are you aware of the UN receiving any complaint from the Philippines, as they've said in the file…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, we… I saw the press reports that we could expect a complaint, but nothing… as of this morning, nothing had been received by the Secretary‑General's Office.
Question: But, I guess what I wanted to ask you and maybe you could… generally, is it… I saw her side of the story, which is that she informed them. They apparently objected even before she left. What are the rules… what rules apply to a UN Special Rapporteur… do they have to tell a country? And if a country says don't come, do they still go? I just wanted to know what the…
Spokesman: The point is that the Special Rapporteurs are named by the Human Rights Council. They do not report to the Secretary‑General. The Secretariat… the UN Secretariat in New York doesn't provide any support to them. Our colleagues in Geneva do. What is important is that Member States cooperate with them. We understand, from what I've seen in the press, that this was a private visit. These people are not full‑time… as we all know, they're not full‑time emp‑… Special Rapporteurs. They all have day jobs — academics or researchers or activists, whatever their jobs are. So, they continue with their lives. Traditionally, these visits… official rapporteurs’ visits are planned in partnership with Governments. But, that's just in principle. I don't know the details of the… of this particular visit. I mean, I've seen what she said. And I've seen what the Government has said.
Question: But, just for example, for example, those who are supposed to investigate the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar, could they go despite what Aung San Suu Kyi has said — in a personal capacity and then have a press conference?
Spokesman: They're independent. All right? So, they are the master of their activities. It's not for me to judge.
Question: And, also… I mean, I'm sor… I'm going to ask because it's now been a full week. You'd said, like, you'll say it… can… will… a week ago, there was a stakeout. I was there. I witnessed it. It was filmed, but it's not been put on the website, contrary to the precedent from last year. Has the precedent changed? What… what…?
Spokesman: As I said, when I have something to…
Question: But what… can you describe… since it's a week…?
Spokesman: No. No. What I can do is tell you, when things have been resolved, I will let you know. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you do anything on Cyprus? The Special Adviser, Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide, is meeting the Secretary‑General today, but we don't have anything on that.
Spokesman: No. I have nothing.
Question: Any comment on my question yesterday regarding the journalist…?
Spokesman: Not yet. I'm working on getting something for you.
Question: Can you just, Stéphane, clarify what's going to happen to Jamal Benomar?
Spokesman: He continues as a Special Adviser and as mediator in residence. So, he will continue his… Burundi was one of his portfolios. Some of his staff will likely now move to support directly the Special Envoy. Okay. I'm going to get our guest.