The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will have seen, we issued a statement earlier today on the terrorist attack in Manchester last night in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the horrific terrorist attack in Manchester last night. The Secretary-General expresses his profound sympathy and solidarity with the people and Government of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary-General conveys his condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and wishes the injured an early and full recovery.
The Secretary-General hopes that those who are responsible for this despicable attack will be swiftly found and brought to justice.
Earlier today the Secretary-General was in touch and spoke to the UK Permanent Representative, Matthew Rycroft, and he will also be writing to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, to express his condolences.
For its part, the Security Council honored the victims of the attack this morning by having a moment of silence.
**World Humanitarian Summit
Today marks the first anniversary of the World Humanitarian Summit that took place in Istanbul.
On that occasion, the Secretary-General said that the call to action set out in the Agenda for Humanity remains as urgent as ever.
Preventing human suffering is my top priority as Secretary-General, he said, stressing the need to redouble our efforts to reach those left farthest behind: refugees, internally displaced people, women and girls, children and all people whose lives have been overturned by conflicts or disasters.
The Secretary-General noted that humanitarian assistance alone cannot sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people. We must engage our collective strengths and mobilize new partnerships.
The World Humanitarian Summit was one step toward our joint endeavour to reduce human suffering. It is critical that we maintain this momentum to advance the Agenda for Humanity and deliver better results for people in the coming years. His full statement is available online and has been shared with you.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
Tomorrow morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York for Cancun, Mexico, where she will participate in the fifth Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction. It is the first such meeting since the adoption of the Sendai Framework and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015.
The Deputy Secretary-General will deliver a speech at the opening session and moderate a leader’s forum round table with Heads of State and Government, as well as ministers and high level stakeholders. The Global Platform will be an opportunity to take stock of progress toward the implementation of the seven Sendai global targets and the outcome [documents] will contribute to the deliberations of the General Assembly and the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], through the High-Level Political Forum, on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The DSG will also hold bilateral meetings and participate in an event highlighting women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction. She will return back on 25 May.
This afternoon at 5:30 p.m., the Secretary-General will meet with disability rights activist Andrea Stella, whose Wheels on Waves initiative is raising awareness of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Mr. Stella is taking a copy of the Convention from New York to the Vatican on a specially-adapted catamaran, to promote the rights of people with disabilities and the removal of physical and attitudinal barriers towards them.
From Mali, as you will have seen, two peacekeepers from our UN Mission in the country [MINUSMA] have been killed this morning in an ambush five kilometres from Aguelhok, in the Kidal region. Another peacekeeper was wounded in the attack.
The Head of the UN Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, stressed that the current wave of indiscriminate attacks against civilians, Malian forces and international forces over the past few weeks aims to undermine efforts for the peace and stability of Mali.
The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the fallen peacekeepers.
This afternoon, he will speak at the High-Level Political Session of MINUSMA’s Force Generation Conference. That will be this afternoon, I think at 3:00.
In the next hour or so, we expect Singapore’s Permanent Representative to hand over to the UN a software application to help us better create and maintain reports of casualties of blue helmets in peace operations.
The Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support will receive the software on behalf of the UN and we expect them obviously to be thanking the Government of Singapore for its support and contribution. We’ll have more information later.
Staying on the subject of peacekeepers, just a reminder that tomorrow, 24 May, we will have several events at the Headquarters to mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, which will be observed on 29 May around the world.
At 9:30, the Secretary-General will preside over a wreath-laying ceremony at the Peacekeepers Memorial Site in the North Lawn.
At 10:00 in the ECOSOC Chamber, the Secretary-General will preside over the Dag Hammarskjöld medal ceremony, at which the 117 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who lost their lives last year will be honoured.
And at 12:00, in this very room, Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Under Secretary-General for Field Support Atul Khare will be joined by the Canadian Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh Sajjan, as guests at the briefing. And all of this obviously, you will be free to cover and follow on WebTV as well.
Yesterday, from Syria, an inter-agency humanitarian convoy delivered much needed assistance to the hard-to-reach areas of Jirud, Nasriyeh and Atna in Rural Damascus. In total, 44,250 people in need were provided with food and non-food items, including nutrition, education, and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.
This was the first joint mission to deliver humanitarian assistance to Nasriyeh and Atna. The last inter-agency convoy to Jirud was on 23 June 2016.
The UN continues to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need across the country, particularly the more than 4.5 million men, women and children in hard-to-reach and besieged areas.
I also want to flag that the Secretary-General’s report on the new approach to cholera in Haiti is out as an official document.
It provides updated information on the incidence of suspected cholera cases in Haiti and on the further development and implementation of the new approach.
The Secretary-General in the report urges Member States to provide their full support to the new approach, including material assistance. He has decided to appoint a high-level envoy to develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy to seek additional voluntary contributions from Member States and other sources.
He also requests the General Assembly to consider inviting individual Member States to consider voluntarily waiving the return of the 2015/16 unencumbered balances and credits from miscellaneous income from MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti), and instead direct them to the UN Haiti Cholera Response Trust Fund.
Today, the Global Compact for Migration will [conclude] its second thematic session here in New York under the theme “addressing drivers of migration.”
In her opening remarks to the session, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for International Migration, Louise Arbour, reminded participants of the importance of understanding why people move and the circumstance in which they move. “We must remember our mandate which is to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration, not to discourage mobility altogether”.
This is the second out of six thematic sessions which will gather recommendations to inform the development of the Global Compact for Migration. The next one will take place on 19-20 June in Geneva.
Today is the International Day to end Obstetric Fistula with this year’s theme being “Hope, healing, and dignity for all.”
The Day seeks to raise awareness of the need for affordable health care for women to treat this condition, which is entirely preventable.
In his message, the Head of UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin] said the theme is “a call to realize the fundamental human rights of all women and girls everywhere, with a special focus on those most left behind, excluded and shunned by society.”
An estimated 2 million women, mostly from developing countries, are living with this injury. Many endure depression and deepening poverty because they cannot afford to obtain treatment.
You will have seen today that Roger Moore passed away.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director Anthony Lake said that the world has lost one of its great champions for children — and the entire UNICEF family has lost a great friend.
In his most famous roles as an actor, Sir Roger was the epitome of cool sophistication; but in his work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, he was a passionate — and highly persuasive — advocate for children. The full statement is online.
A senior personnel appointment to announce: the Secretary-General is appointing David McLachlan-Karr of Australia as his new Deputy Special Representative in Guinea-Bissau.
Mr. McLachlan-Karr succeeds Maria do Valle Ribeiro of Ireland, who completed her assignment in January. The Secretary-General is grateful for her contribution to UN peacebuilding efforts in Guinea-Bissau.
Mr. McLachlan-Karr will also serve as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Resident Representative — and he brings 21 years of experience working with the UN.
Our colleagues at UNEP, the UN Environment Programme, today launched a partnership with Formula E, the world’s first fully-electric single-seater racing series, to improve air quality in cities.
The partnership will focus on educating consumers about the benefit of buying electric vehicles, and will leverage the popularity of the Formula E Championship to reach younger generations and motor sport fans globally.
UNEP stresses that with 6.5 million people dying prematurely each year from air pollution-related diseases, bringing attention to the need for clean air in cities is crucial for people’s well-being.
And if you are interested in auto racing, the Formula E Championship will be right here in New York City, in fact in Brooklyn, on 15-16 July.
Yesterday, I think, Matthew, you asked me about the report on Garoowe, Somalia, which was a Board of Inquiry.
I can tell you that the report of the Board of Inquiry dealing with that matter was completed and shared with UNICEF and the UN Mission in Somalia and other relevant partners. They have acted on the recommendations made in the report.
At 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference here on the adoption of inter-governmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations of the 2017 Economic and Social Council Forum on Financing for Development follow-up. Speakers will include the President of ECOSOC, Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava.
**Questions and Answers
And khalas. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, probably, you heard about the attack today against Sheikh Salman's home in Manama, Bahrain, where one people was killed and many injured, also the arrest of all the people inside the house. He's a senior cleric across the region…
Spokesman: I know who he is, yeah.
Question: Do you have any update…?
Spokesman: I know who he is. It's the first I've heard of it. I'm sure I have some colleagues working on it. As soon as I get you some language, I will share it with you. Evelyn?
Question: The SG's report on Haiti, is that going to be online or…
Spokesman: Yeah, it's a public document.
Question: Where do we find it?
Spokesman: At the documents counter, where documents are birthed.
Correspondent: Oh, I see.
Question: Stéphane, can you update us about the UN Board of Inquiry regarding the death of the two UN experts in Kasais? The investigation was supposed to start on 1 May. Apparently, it hasn't started. Can you… [Cross talk]
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that the work has started, and it's scheduled to be completed by the end of July. It's important for us to do this Board of Inquiry as methodically as possible.
Question: But do you have your investigators in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] already?
Spokesman: I don't know where their exact location is, but I know their work… they have started the work. Matthew and then Michelle.
Question: Sure. Just on the same topic. I just wanted to… I'm sure you've seen the editorial in The New York Times, very… very… saying, quote… on the, quote, “astoundingly irresponsible approach by the United Nations to an obviously dangerous and unusually important task”. They also question what's been accomplished for the billions spent in the… in the DRC. Given that it's an editorial and it's a major newspaper, what's your response to… to… to their evaluation of…
Spokesman: I think it's a little… I would say it's a little disappointing. First of all, as soon as we heard of the disappearance of our colleagues, the mission [MONUSCO] put in place quite a large number of assets to track them down. And I think that was done very quickly. As you know, the UN doesn't have the authority to launch a criminal investigation. We, obviously, would work closely, should… and put one in effect should the Security Council take the decision to launch an investigation to the killings of two experts who were working for Security Council Sanctions… Sanctions Committee. I think we've seen that the… the MINUS… the Congolese authorities have completed… said they've completed their investigation. We've not been fully briefed on it. Obviously, I think we're… you know, there… that was… seemed to have been done with quite a bit of rapidity. But we do hope to be briefed on it. And, second, I would add that, you know, these… the contractual basis under which these experts operate is one that is put in place by the General Assembly on consultants and that they… these… the staff member were fully briefed on security protocols.
Question: I guess I have two… yeah, because they say, like, training… training and equipment and also the underlying article says that the… for ex… no health insurance, for example. Is this something that António Guterres, in seeing what happened to these people, may change?
Spokesman: They… the protocol, as far as our understanding, for death and injury for what happened are the same for staff and consultants. That's my understanding. In terms of health insurance, following the rules put in place by the General Assembly, consultants, across the board, carry their own health insurance and they're not covered by the United Nations.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General see any need for reforms that you can articulate from…
Spokesman: I think there is always a need to see how we can improve the safety and security of our staff. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Steph. I have a follow‑up on this issue and then a question on another topic. Does the UN have confidence in the Congolese Government to carry out this criminal investigation?
Spokesman: Look, as I just said, I think we're a little taken aback at the rapidity of which it was done. I think these things need to be investigated thoroughly. And we still, as far as I'm aware, have not been briefed on the content of the investigation.
Question: Could the Secretary‑General call on the Security Council to establish a…
Spokesman: I think it's… there will be… I think we have to wait and see what the Security Council decides. Obviously, it is up to the Council to give us a mandate, and we would, obviously, implement that mandate with zeal to try to find out what happened to our two colleagues and especially in the atrocious way they seemed to have been killed.
Question: But could the Secretary‑General request?
Spokesman: I think I'll leave it at that for the time being.
Question: And just on… I asked you a little while ago about the treatment of gay people in Chechnya. And we've now seen the caning of some gay men in Banda Aceh in Indonesia. Does the UN have any comment on these issues?
Spokesman: You know, I think the Secretary‑General has seen recent developments, and he's deeply concerned about the recent spate of cases of gay men — or men who are just perceived as being gay — being harassed, arrested, prosecuted, and punished — in some cases even allegedly tortured and killed — on the grounds of their alleged sexual orientation. It's essential that the fundamental human rights principle of non‑discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation be safeguarded and fully respected. Everyone is entitled to their human rights and protection from violence and discrimination, irrespective of whom they may love. Yep?
Question: Thank you. The high rep for the disarmament during the Security Council meeting this morning mentioned a planned trip to Khan Shaykhun by the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] Fact Finding Mission, also said the UN might assist in some way. Can you elaborate on how the UN may assist? And do you know of a timetable for this trip?
Spokesman: I don't know of a timetable. That's something that should be asked of the OPCW. Obviously, if they need to go anywhere and we're able to support them logistically, we would. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. I want to ask a follow‑up on the Indonesia question. I was going to ask you about that specifically. Michelle already asked you but… more broadly, there appears to be, let's say, a conflict or clash between Sharia law and what Muslim majority countries, including Indonesia, presumably, which has been called a moderate Muslim country, in terms of, under Sharia law, the illegality or impermissibility of homosexuality versus the Secretary‑General's declaration and others' declaration that it's a fundamental human right for the protection against discrimination of people based on sexual orientation. Do you have… you have sort of a clash between two… two rights, if you will, free exercise of religion and the sovereignty of Muslim majority countries in applying their version of Sharia law, which prohibits homosexuality, versus the principle… the universal human rights principle, in quotes, of non‑discrimination based on sexual orientation. So how does the Secretary‑General reconcile the two?
Spokesman: I'm not sure… look, first of all, I'm not an expert on Sharia law, and I'm not an expert on law in general. But I think, if you look at the incidence of homophobia across the world in the past one, two, three, four years, or discrimination against people for their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, we've seen it happen in Christian countries, in Catholic countries. It seems to be something that spans the world. Obviously, we grew… we lay… we attach great importance to the rights of… to human rights and for people's dignity and rights to be respected. But I think we have seen attacks on gay men and women in many countries. We see them in the city, even. So I think it's… I'm not going to… I'm not qualified to talk about Sharia law or other kinds of religious laws. I just see that this is an issue of discrimination that seems to, unfortunately, span the world and a lot of cultures.
Question: Well, I think the difference is that, in many Muslim‑majority countries, the prohibition of homosexuality is… is enshrined in the constitution or domestic law of those countries based on Sharia law, their understanding of Sharia law versus what you correctly say are individual acts of harassment against gays all over the world, but there are laws protecting…
Spokesman: I think we stand against laws…
Question: Let me just finish.
Spokesman: We stand against laws that discriminate against people. And I think you will see also there are laws against… on the prohibition of homosexuality, not just in Muslim countries, but in all sorts… all countries that have official and unofficial religions, but I think it's a problem that spans the world.
Question: Could you name… could you name some of those countries?
Spokesman: I will go on my Wikipedia, and I will look with you afterwards. Benny?
Question: So, President [Donald] Trump, the US President, was…
Spokesman: Yes, I know who he is. [Laughter]
Question: …was in Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the last couple of days, and he… there was a lot of confusion on the State Department website as to whether his visit to the Western Wall was in Israel or where was it. Does the UN have a position as to where the Western Wall is?
Spokesman: I think it's in Jerusalem. [Laughter]
Question: Is Jerusalem… where is Jerusalem? What country is Jerusalem in?
Spokesman: I think the status of Jerusalem is one of the final status issues that will be… need to be negotiated. Sir?
Question: Okay. One follow‑up, please.
Question: So in his speech today, Trump declined to mention the word "two‑State solution" or talk about "Palestinian State". As a mem… co‑member of the quartet, does the UN have any change of position as to that?
Spokesman: I think… I wasn't planning on commenting on what he said, and I'm not going to comment on what he didn't say. But it's clear what the UN's position is. Yes, sir?
Question: Yesterday, you talked about the combination of Google and UNHCR [United Nations Refugee Agency] creating this website searching for Syria, so I took a look at it. And I was surprised that it did not have either a Russian or a Chinese section. Did have German, which is unusual, I think, for a UN site. So, my question is, is there a mandate on UN organizations to have the five basic languages? Or are we seeing a step‑back from multilingualism because there are things like Google that has Google Translator on it?
Spokesman: No, I think you're over-reading the situation, if I may say so. My understanding is that they're planning different languages, including one in Arabic, as they go along. But you can… you can contact my colleagues at UNHCR for more information, but I would not say that there's a rollback from multilingualism.
Question: So, there is some mandate on all UN sites, let's say, for five languages?
Spokesman: There's a mandate for… I can speak for the Secretariat. Our… all our official sites are expected to be in the six official languages. Masood‑ji and then Mr. Abbadi, who has been very patient.
Question: Thank you so much, Stéphane‑ji. I just wanted to find out about this detention of children on… in Israel, continued detention of children in… Palestinian children, in particular, and I've been… we've been… I've been raising this issue earlier. Are… does the United Nations have the exact figure of the children in the detention by the Israeli authority? And has it had any conversation with the Israeli authority as to release them?
Spokesman: I don't have a… those… I don't know if we have those figures. I don't have them with me. The issue of administrative detention of people, whether they be minors or adults, is one that we have raised repeatedly.
Question: So isn't it against the law [inaudible)?
Spokesman: I think I've answered the question. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. President Trump has relaunched or is trying to relaunch the Middle East peace process through his visits and discussions in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank. What is the position at this stage of the Quartet?
Question: The Quartet remains as it is. As soon as there's another meeting, we'll flag it to you, but I have no updates from their last update we may have given you on the Quartet. Nizar, I have an answer for you… sorry.
Correspondent: Yeah. Oh, okay…
Spokesman: I have an answer for you, that we note with concern that a protester at a sit‑in in Diraz in Bahrain was reportedly killed by security forces. We urge the authorities to investigate the killing and ensure that any use of force by security forces adheres to the relevant international standards. Supporters of Sheikh Qassim demonstrating near his house and security forces should exercise restraint.
Question: How about the attack on civilians who are protesting peacefully and those who are picketing for many months? In similar circumstances, the United Nations would have taken an adamant position on that. Right?
Spokesman: I think we've… we always stand for the right for people to demonstrate peacefully. Mr. Lee?
Question: I have another question regarding the… cholera in Yemen. Does the United Nations view the blockade as contributor to the cholera in Yemen?
Spokesman: Look, the ongoing conflict is the major contributor to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Yemen. I will leave it at that. Matthew?
Question: I guess, also on Yemen, then I want to ask you a couple other things, but on Yemen, I… there are these reports of the guards of envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed opening fire in the air. It's unclear if they're… who the guards were, whether they're UN DSS [Department of Safety and Security] or not, and whether he was attacked by bottles and eggs, as one account puts it, or a more serious attack on his convoy. What are the facts…?
Spokesman: Yesterday, he was attacked by a… by demonstrators. My understanding is that there were eggs and other things thrown at him, and a number of shots were also fired at the vehicle. He is continuing his engagements with the General People's Congress in Sana’a, as earlier planned, as well as Ansarallah. Obviously, the security and safety of UN personnel is the responsibility of the local authorities, and it's their responsibility to investigate it. And we reiterate our call on all the parties to engage constructively in the negotiations over cessation of hostilities and resumption of the peace talks.
Question: But did those protecting him also fire? And, if so, who were they? Were they UN personnel or were they [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi personnel?
Spokesman: My understanding is that they were local security personnel.
Question: A private company?
Spokesman: They were local security personnel working for the authorities in…
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you, on Burundi, I'd asked you before whether Mr. [Michel] Kafando had started yet, and I didn't understand the answer. Has he started? Is it true that he'll be coming to New York next week? And does the Secretariat or DPA [Department of Political Affairs] intend to comply with the timeline and file a written report with the Security Council about Burundi in June?
Spokesman: As a matter of policy, we… we do our best to follow the instructions and mandate given to us by the Security Council. It is my understanding that he will be here next week to meet with officials in DPA. And so he'll be here next week.
Question: And can you ask DPA whether they've agreed not to file a written report?
Spokesman: I think that was my first answer. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: In Mali, do we have… do we know the nationality of the dead peacekeepers?
Spokesman: My understanding is that they were Chadians operating in that…
Spokesman: …in that area, but we're waiting for the full confirmation. Nizar?
Question: With Saudi Arabia saying that they want to take the war to Iran itself and then the United States is providing a big deal of $450 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, how does the United Nations stand seeing such escalation in armament in the region and threats as well?
Spokesman: I think, for us, the focus continues to remain on engagement in the political talks. So we call all parties to engage in political talks and to halt the violence. That has been and will remain our position.
Question: So does the pro… provision of weapons on that massive scale help the peace or…
Spokesman: I think I've answered the question. Yes, Benny?
Question: Speaking of SRSGs [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General], [Martin] Kobler is still in Libya and going to be for a while? Is there any active search for a replacement?
Spokesman: As soon as we have something to announce, we shall. Matthew and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask, I'd asked you yesterday about Kyung‑wha Kang. And I wanted to ask you, what's her… she had said to… to the South Korean press that she had to wind up a few things in New York before going for, I guess, a confirmation hearing. What's her status with the UN? Did she resign?
Spokesman: Yeah, she handed in her resignation letter today to the Secretary‑General, effective tomorrow. So, she will… my understanding is she will travel to Korea very soon. But, as of tomorrow, she will no longer be employed by the United Nations. So, when she arrives in Korea, she will be free and clear of her contractual obligations or of any contractual link to the United Nations.
Question: And will that post be… is a recruitment to begin for that post…
Spokesman: We're still getting over the shock of her leaving, and then I'm sure…
Question: There's no… there's no agreement to… to return if… I mean…
Spokesman: She's going… she's handed in her resignation. It's not a resignation with an asterisk that says I can come back so… she's cut the ties with the mothership, unfortunately. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Did the Secretary‑General at any time discuss the Middle East peace process with President Trump before his departure to the region?
Spokesman: There's… the last meeting and the only meeting between the Secretary‑General and the President was back in… was in Washington… I can't remember what month… earlier this month or late last month, in which there was a brief conversation in which they agreed to have a… to meet again soon. So, when they do, we shall announce it. Mr. Klein.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up to that.
Spokesman: Yes, sir?
Question: Was there any conversation on the subject of the Middle East between the Secretary‑General and Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson or any other member of President Trump's Cabinet?
Spokesman: We've had…
Question: In… within the last week or so in the context of the President's trip.
Spokesman: No. Not within the last week. I will get our… our following guests.