The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Noon Briefing Guest
In a very short while, we are going to be joined by Diane Corner, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Deputy Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). She will be joining us by video link to brief you on the situation in that country.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said today that, as the hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails enters its second month, it is imperative that a resolution be found as soon as possible, in line with international humanitarian law and Israel's human rights obligations, Mr. Mladenov said. With growing tensions on the Palestinian street, Mr. Mladenov hopes that current efforts will result in an immediate resolution to the matter, which is in the interest of peace and ongoing initiatives to revive a political process. He calls on all actors to exercise maximum restraint, show responsibility and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions.
On Syria, on the humanitarian front, we are very much alarmed by reports of an attack on the Aqareb al‑Safyieh village in the eastern countryside of Hama today, reportedly resulting in the death of dozens of civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. A large number of people were also reportedly injured due to missile shelling. In addition to the people killed and injured, several people are reportedly missing and believed to have been kidnapped. We do not have further information at this time on the incident or who was responsible. And the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, continues to facilitate the talks in Geneva and, as you will have seen, he issued a press release earlier today on his intention to establish a technical process to address constitutional and legal issues in the context of the intra‑Syrian talks.
From Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues warn that there has been a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing western Mosul, in Iraq, as fighting has intensified in the area. Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said that the numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming. Large numbers of families are on the move and are leaving everything behind. She added that the [number] of people who are moving are now so large that it’s becoming more difficult to ensure that civilians receive the assistance and protection they need. As military operations intensify and move closer to Mosul’s old city area, we expect that up to 200,000 more people may flee.
She also said that without the generosity of people in other parts of Mosul city who are opening their homes and looking after displaced families from western Mosul, the camps would have been overwhelmed long ago. As of today, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq, requesting $985 million, is currently only 28‑per‑cent funded. Under the 2017 Plan, approximately $331 million is being sought for the Mosul operation.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
This afternoon, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, will leave New York for Brussels. Tomorrow, she will participate in the Foreign Affairs Council on Development, and meet with Senior European Union Officials, as well as with heads and staff of UN system entities. The Deputy Secretary‑General will travel further to Switzerland tomorrow, where she will join the thirteenth Seminar for Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys that the Secretary‑General is attending near Geneva. She’ll be back here on Saturday.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that medical experts are racing against the clock to contain the outbreak of Ebola in the Likati Health Zone, a remote area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The area, as you know, borders the Central African Republic. The zone is 1,400 kilometres from Kinshasa and 350 kilometres from the nearest major town, Kisangani. There are only 20 kilometres of paved roads in this area and virtually no functional telecommunications.
Speaking to the press in Geneva, the Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Peter Salama, said that the first Ebola treatment centre in Likati General Hospital has been established. Protective gear has been dispatched to health workers and a mobile lab is being constructed and will be deployed to the area. Immediate repairs to the air strips and telecommunications are being carried out to allow the operation to continue successfully.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
Our friends at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) inform us that the global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010. According to UNICEF’s latest report, which was released today, at least 300,000 children were unaccompanied or separated from their families while on the move during the years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010. UNICEF says an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death.
**World Meteorological Organization
Our colleagues at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have issued a report ranking the deadliest weather events, such as cyclones, tornadoes, lightning and hailstorms. Cyclones top the list of the deadliest weather events, with the deadliest cyclone being a tropical cyclone in Bangladesh in 1970, which killed 300,000 people. Tornadoes come in second, followed by lightning strikes and hailstorms. This is the first time that the WMO is highlighting the impact of specific weather events, and the agency said that it is doing so to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change and the need to increase resilience measures. More details at WMO.
And today, two countries, Barbados and Indonesia, have taken us over the century mark so the honour roll is at 101. We thank them both. Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I want to ask about Burundi and WIPO [World Intellectual Property Organization]. In Burundi, there's been grenade attacks followed by mass arrests in this Musaga neighborhood, which is one of the most involved in protests against the Government. So, particularly, given the mass arrests, I'm just wondering… I'd asked you before a couple of Burundi questions… has Mr. [Michel] Kafando begun his work yet, and if so, what does he say about these developments?
Spokesman: I don't have an update on Burundi, but I'll see what I can get for you.
Question: Okay. If you could. On… on… on the World Intellectual Property Organization and its patent work in North Korea, US Ambassador Nikki Haley has… has said in response to a question that WIPO should have informed the Council of its patent applications, and its failure to do so may have dangerous consequences. So, what I'm wondering is… I know that you'd said, you'd sort of just cited some statements by… by others. What I'm wondering is from the top of the UN system, both in light of this comment and just otherwise, given… given the launches and given what WIPO has done, what has the Secretariat done in terms of speaking with WIPO, about…?
Spokesman: I think WIPO has put out a fairly clear press release explaining in detail its… the patent application process and how it relates to existing sanctions regimes. So, I think, to me, that explanation is fairly clear, and I would direct your questions to them.
Question: So you're saying that António Guterres accepts WIPO…?
Spokesman: I'm saying what I just said.
Correspondent: Right but he’s the head…
Spokesman: I understand. I'm saying they have put out a very clear explanation.
Question: You used some other adjective. I just want to know, do you accept their…?
Spokesman: I'm answering your question in the best possible use of the English language that I have. Oleg and then Olga.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Ukraine, there were two draft laws introduced that will have some restrictions for the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and there's some discussion happening whether this could be considered a discriminatory practice or some form of violation of religious freedoms. And I know that the Russian patriarch sent a letter to the Secretary‑General, among a number of other leaders, including the Russian President, the Ukrainian President, calling for… taking measures not to adopt this law. I wonder if you could confirm whether this letter was received and also what is the SG's view on this issue?
Spokesman: We do our best not to comment on draft laws, so I will heed that motto at this point. But, obviously, as a matter of principle, we stand for peoples' freedom to worship. But, obviously, we're not going to comment on the details of something that's in draft. Yes?
Question: Stéphane, why did it take Mr. Mladenov so long to issue a statement? Was it for the fact that people on the ground in Ramallah and other places in Palestine blocked the UN entrances and accused it of collaborating or being silent on what's happening?
Spokesman: I don't think the UN has been silent. I think we said from this podium right from the start that this was an issue being looked at from the UN and from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And we've been flagging that repeatedly. I think in his own statement, Mr. Mladenov acknowledged the tensions that exist in the Palestinian… amongst Palestinian civilians as a result of the ongoing hunger strike.
Correspondent: I have a follow-up. It took him, like, 30… more than 30 days to issue such a statement.
Spokesman: I think Mr. Mladenov spoke out when he felt it was the right moment to speak on it.
Question: Is there somebody… did the UN request to [inaudible] the Israeli presence and to meet with the hunger strikers…?
Spokesman: That would be something you would have to ask our human rights colleagues. Yes, Carole?
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to ask about the Venezuelan opposition leader who's supposed to meet with the Human Rights Commission, but apparently he's not been allowed to leave the country.
Spokesman: I don't know. I'd heard that there may be such a meeting just before I came in. I'll follow up and see what the situation is. Edie?
Question: I wondered whether you had any comment on the killing of a Palestinian protester and the wounding of an AP photographer today in clashes in the northern West Bank?
Spokesman: Yes, I've seen those reports, and I know Mr. Mladenov condemns the reported killing of a Palestinian by an Israeli settler and the wounding of a photographer in the occupied West Bank. Mr. Mladenov added that this deplorable incident must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and those responsible are prosecuted. Carole and then we'll go to Matthew and then we'll go to our guest.
Question: Actually it was a request. Next week, the Secretary‑General is having his luncheon with the Security Council. Could he come to speak with us afterwards?
Spokesman: We will place that request.
Question: We have many questions. A million questions.
Spokesman: Indeed. Matthew?
Correspondent: Sure. I want to ask you about UN security. Inner City Press has published a memo to Mr. Peter Drennan, the head of the DSS [Department of Safety and Security], basically in which it's alleged that Mr. Drennan buried a report of death threats against Irina Bokova. That… that a DSS contingent was sent to write such a report. The report… the person writing the report, citing a fear of retaliation, has cited the Baghdad and Algiers previous attacks and said that Mr. Drennan buried the report in part for personal political reasons, in case Ms. Bokova became SG. And I think it's pretty serious… he's written a response to it…
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on something I haven't seen.
Question: Can you let us know as soon as you can?
Spokesman: I always do things as soon as I can.
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