The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Speaking to reporters in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation, today, the Secretary-General said that climate change is undeniable, and added that climate action is unstoppable. He urged all the Governments around the world to stay the course and to remain committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Regarding the US withdrawal from that agreement, he said he remains convinced that states, cities, the business community and civil society will also remain engaged and will bet on the green economy, because the green economy is the economy of the future. We have his remarks available online, along with the statement issued yesterday following the US decision. The Secretary-General met with Russian President Vladimir Putin a short while ago, and he also met yesterday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He will be back in New York tomorrow.
Earlier today, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the situation of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria: The Secretary-General is deeply concerned over the plight of tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, who will have their food rations cut due to lack of funding. Humanitarian aid, including food aid, is a lifeline for these refugees from Western Sahara. A recent survey highlighted the precarious nutrition situation in the Sahrawi refugee camps and the refugees' limited access to markets or livelihoods.
A lack of funding has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by almost one fifth this year, and to halt distributions of nutritional supplements to treat anaemia and malnutrition in pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. Food rations will be further reduced to half in June, which could have a severe impact on the refugees' food security and nutritional status. The Secretary-General calls on donors to urgently increase their assistance to this often overlooked and vulnerable population. WFP requires $7.9 million to continue providing vital food assistance over the next six months.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) today expressed concern over the crisis in the Kasaï provinces and its disastrous impact on local communities. More than 1 million people are currently displaced due to the violence plaguing that part of the country. Most of them live in deplorable conditions, with no access to health care, food or safe drinking water.
In the Kasaï Central province, one in three health centers is no longer operating. Six-hundred and thirty-nine elementary and secondary schools have been destroyed or attacked by militias in the Kasaï Central and Kasaï provinces. The UN has also documented over 500 cases of children being used as combatants or human shields by militias. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Maman Sidikou, condemned the attacks and called on the parties involved to respect health centers and schools as zones of peace.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues at the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) report that a delegation of Government officials, parliamentarians and UN Mission officials visited Bangassou yesterday and met with local leaders, internally displaced persons and anti-Balaka representatives as part of their efforts to resolve intercommunal tensions. The UN Mission has also increased patrols in Bria to prevent clashes between the armed groups and ensure the protection of civilians in response to fresh tensions in the town. Amid the volatile situation in and around Bria, the Mission yesterday established a safe passage corridor between its premises, an NGO [non-governmental organization] complex, the hospital and the airport to facilitate humanitarian activities.
The Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, today called for increased protection and support to humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons across Libya. The humanitarian community is following with concern recent developments in the Tawargha internally displaced persons camp in Janzour, Tripoli and the possible return of internally displaced persons from Zintan to Tripoli. The Humanitarian Coordinator is alarmed by allegations of abuse of [internally displaced persons] and calls for their protection and freedom of movement.
Our colleagues from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have informed us that they have reached a milestone in their campaign to prevent famine in Somalia. In fewer than three months, they have treated more than 12 million animals, protecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of families who rely on their livestock’s meat and milk for survival. Many of the animals have been badly weakened by the lack of feed and water, making them highly susceptible to illnesses and parasites but they are too weak to withstand vaccination. FAO said it will continue its campaign by deploying 150 veterinary teams across Somalia to treat goats and sheep as well as cattle and camels — up to 270,000 animals each day. By mid-July, it expects to reach 22 million animals, benefiting over 3 million people.
Our humanitarian colleagues in Iraq tell us that aid agencies are continuing to plan for a potential mass displacement of civilians from Mosul’s Old City area. Somewhere between 2,000 and 7,000 people have been fleeing western Mosul every day since the Government called for civilians to leave last week. Aid partners report that little food is available in markets in western Mosul, while many people living in Da’esh-controlled areas have not had access to safe drinking water and medicine for weeks or even months. For its part, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that it urgently needs $126 million to meet critical needs of vulnerable children, women and men displaced from and returning to Iraq’s Mosul until the end of the year.
Wrapping up a visit to Yemen, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa warned that cholera is spreading incredibly fast, turning an already dire situation for children into a disaster. Geert Cappelaere said that cholera doesn’t need a permit to cross a checkpoint or a border, nor does it differentiate between areas of control. In just over one month, nearly 70,000 cholera cases were reported with 600 people having died. You can read the full statement on UNICEF’s website.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is deeply concerned that today’s protests in Kabul have led to more violence and loss of life following Wednesday’s terrorist attack that caused hundreds of civilian casualties. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said the “genuine anger expressed by the protesters, many of whom suffered the loss of family and friends, is fully understandable”, but added that this tragic week has already caused too much civilian suffering to Afghanistan, and further violence will not solve any problems. The Mission reminded those protesting, and also those in a position to protect the protestors, that all have an obligation to avoid violence.
UNHCR says that in the wake of Cyclone Mora, which swept across the Bay of Bengal, damaging thousands of homes in Bangladesh and Myanmar, shelter is urgently needed for those affected. The agency says that many refugees and internally displaced people are among the victims. It found that most of the homes of refugees in Bangladesh’s Kutupalong and Nayapara camps suffered some damage, with some 20 per cent having been completely destroyed.
In Myanmar, UNHCR and aid agencies are helping the Government in carrying out assessments, and they found that hundreds of shelters in the camps for internally displaced people in central Rakhine State have suffered damage in the strong winds. In both countries, UNHCR and its partners are supporting Government-led efforts to assist refugees, displaced people and their host communities who were affected by this natural disaster.
I also want to flag that the UN Mission in Colombia says it stands ready to receive the more than 7,000 weapons from the FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army] that have been registered since the beginning of the laying down of arms’ process. The new deadline to receive these weapons in the 26 transitional areas set up to host the FARC-EP members is 20 June, as agreed by the parties. There are more details in a press release from the Mission.
UNHCR said that it is shocked to hear about the reported deaths of 44 migrants and refugees in the Sahara Desert this week, including women and children, mostly from Nigeria and Ghana. Survivor accounts suggest that 50 people were on their way to Libya when their truck broke down between the cities of Agadez and Dirkou in the desert in northern Niger, exposing them to extreme heat and lack of drinking water. Only six people survived. UNHCR repeated its call for credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection, and is seeking $75.5 million to meet the increased humanitarian and protection needs of people in Libya — including internally displaced persons and host communities, as well as refugees and asylum seekers.
As we announced earlier this week, the Secretary-General will be meeting jointly with the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Cypriot leader here in New York on Sunday evening. We hope to have more details regarding the media arrangements with you a bit later this afternoon.
And today, I would like to thank Burundi for its full payment to this year’s regular budget. The total on the Honour Roll now stands at 103.
And for press conferences, as you all know, the World Ocean Conference will take place here at Headquarters from Monday to Friday next week. We will have a series of briefings here in this room on the Conference. You can find a complete list of those briefings later on today in the Week Ahead section of the Spokesman’s website. That's it for me. Yes, Sylviane?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Conference… Ocean Conference, how many… on this Conference, how many… do you have the list of speakers, the kind of people coming, how many people will be attending, hundreds or…?
Deputy Spokesman: We expect delegations from many different countries. Many of them are represented at the level of environment ministers or ministers for the oceans. And so, our colleagues will be able to provide some details. I'd suggest that you contact our colleague in the Office of the President of the General Assembly, Dan Thomas, and he might have some lists for you. But, we'll have some further information, and, like I said, we do expect regular briefings next week about the Ocean Conference.
Question: You were talking about Ocean Conference, not, like, Mediterranean Sea or… you include everything into it… in the ocean?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, yeah, the Ocean Conference is about oceans, but it's about the situation of the world's waterways, largely. Yes? Yes, yes, you, yeah.
Question: Thank you. Farhan, yesterday, following the decision of the US to withdraw from the climate pact, the UN environment chief said that India and China already taking leadership roles in the fight against climate change. How does the Secretary‑General view India's role and China's role, given that they are also polluters but their leadership role now that the US has withdrawn? How does he see and what are his expectations from these two countries and others?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, the Secretary‑General has been very appreciative, as you know, not just of India and China, but of all the countries who are trying to meet their commitments. It's been very clear from their own nationally declared contributions that these are countries who are trying to play their part in doing what they can to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The Secretary‑General yesterday and today has made clear once more that he underscores the need for all countries, and indeed, not just countries, but states, localities, businesses, civil society, all to play their part. And if that happens, we can make progress on this issue even if countries here or there fall short on their commitments. Yes?
Question: Thank you. On your statement on the situat… humanitarian situation in the Tindouf camps, Algeria, as you know, the Security Council has repeatedly asked for the registration of these populations. Have you… I mean, can you update us on the SG's efforts to satisfy that request? Because, otherwise, how can you decide the exact needs of these populations?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General has described the situation in his reports on Western Sahara, so I would just refer you to those reports. Our concern today is about the need to make sure that all of the people who are living in those areas have proper food and nutrition, and that's what we're focusing on for today. Yes, please?
Question: Follow‑up question, please. Reports by the European antifraud office, the WFP and UNHCR have documented the cases of embezzlement of the humanitarian assistance to the Tindouf camps. My question is: have the donors been made aware of this risk? And what does the Secretary‑General suggest to prevent embezzlement practices? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: The UN agencies, including World Food Programme, have steps in place to make sure that all of the money that they receive goes to those in need, and we will continue to act on that. Right now, as the statement makes clear, what we're trying to do is make sure that there is sufficient money in place so that food aid to the affected population doesn't have to be cut. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about the Children and Armed Conflict mandate. As I'm sure you know, Secretary‑General is the addressee at least of a letter of 41 non-governmental organizations urging him not to freeze the list. Is it true that he intends to… in order to not address, apparently, the Saudi‑led Coalition issue and other issues, to issue a report with no new individual… no new parties on it? And if so, what would you say to those that basically this is a rollback of human rights name‑and‑shame by the UN?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, my basic point is that this is a report that's still in the process of being written. The information for it is still being collected. Unlike previous years, there's a few more months that will be given to the writing and composition of this report given the fact that there's a new head of the office on children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba. And so, we expect the report to come out much later this summer. I'd… so I'd urge you to wait until then, and we can then judge the report on its contents. It's clear that the office is trying to write as strong a report as it can, and it's trying to evaluate the information that it receives. So, we'll have a bit more decision down the line about what it comes up with.
Question: I thought… I thought when… when Ms. [Leila] Zerrougui left and before Ms. Gamba came, it was said from this podium repeatedly that there's an entire team working on it, that there would be no delay by having a new person. Now has a decision been made to delay? And if so, for how long? And how does it jive with what was said previously?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you know, Ms. Gamba is now in charge of the report. She's trying to evaluate the material, and so there will be some more information being accumulated. So, it's not coming out right away in June, but, like I said, closer to where it's the end of the summer. And we'll let you know once it's ready about that, but, at that point, you can evaluate the report and its annexes.
Question: But are these 41 non-governmental organizations… they're totally off‑base saying… thinking that the Secretary‑General is at least contemplating a freeze? And if he is contemplating it, can you explain… can you address the… the… the issues that they're raising?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as is the normal case, you know, we intend… or the office intends to update its report and its list to reflect changes that have been made at the country level. In those cases where parties to conflict have fulfilled their commitments, including in action plans, they'll be delisted and a sustained dialogue on ending and preventing violations has already been initiated with parties who are at risk of being listed in the report. So, we are in that dialogue, and we'll see where that heads.
Question: But, is that… does that imply that there's not a freeze for people coming off the list, but there will be a freeze for people going on the list?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what it implies is, right now at this stage, what we are focusing on and the purpose of this list is to have a change in behaviour. When parties are in danger of being listed, what we're trying to do is open a dialogue with them about what they need to do to improve their records, and so, that process has already begun. And we'll see where we can get with that.
Question: One last one. Is the Saudi‑led Coalition in danger of being listed? Would you… is there a dialogue?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, like I said, the report is still being worked on. I wouldn't be able to talk about any specific countries or specific circumstances while we're in that stage of preparation. Yes?
Question: Follow‑up, if I may. You said that WFP is asking for $7.9 million for the next six months for the population in Tindouf. How did you calculate this number? And how did you come up with this number without knowing how many people actually live in the camps?
Deputy Spokesman: This is a calculation that the World Food Programme makes based on the amount of people it knows that it has been feeding. It has been in charge of a certain caseload of people for many, many years.
Question: So does the WFP have a number of people, calculation?
Deputy Spokesman: They're aware of who they are feeding, yes. Yes?
Question: Sure. I have some other questions, but I guess I wanted to ask you, there's a press release by Amnesty International entitled “Morocco Rif protestors punished with wave of mass arrests”. It says that the… Morocco in the [inaudible] had carried out a chilling wave of arrests rounding up scores of protestors, activists and bloggers in Rif, northern Morocco. And I know that yesterday I'd asked, and you'd said that Stéphane [Dujarric] had no… had nothing on it. Is… is DPA [Department of Political Affairs] unaware of this? Does DPA have any comment on what's taking place and what Amnesty International has put out this press release about?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, the Department of Political Affairs is aware of the situation, and we're checking on them about a reaction. We'll let you know once they have a reaction to give.
Question: Okay. And could I also ask…?
Deputy Spokesman: Hold on. Your colleague. Yes?
Question: Can you share with us the number that the WFP have on… has on the people living in the Tindouf camps? You said they know how many people they…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we provided you… in our statement, we provided you with the numbers of what they feel is needed. There's more details available on… from WFP. So, I would urge you to look at their website. Yes?
Question: I have some other stuff, but since it seems to be a… a… one‑issue press conference, I wanted to ask you, do you have any answer on… on… from the Global Compact? I know that I'd asked two days ago about the suspended dialogue of a corporation that was exploiting the natural resources of Western Sahara, and Stéphane said he would look into it. My understanding now is that it was the Global Compact itself which announced that the dialogue was taking place, which seemed at least to some of the groups to be a violation of the Glob… Compact's own requirement that those in dialogue not say anything about it. So, what's their response?
Deputy Spokesman: The Global Compact actually has a press release on their website explaining the actions that it took. So, I would just refer you to that.
Question: Is that the one that was up before I asked? Because I've seen that one, and it says no more dialogue. So, I'm asking you, how is it consistent with the idea of dialogue if they can suspend it? What's the date of it? I'm sorry.
Deputy Spokesman: It's from some days ago, but it doesn't say “no more dialogue”. It does say, and I quote: “The UN Global Compact also expects parties to maintain the confidentiality of the process to foster collaboration and regrets that this has not happened in the present case. At the same time, the UN Global Compact acknowledges Vigeo Eiris' responses to the third party's concerns that can be found in the public domain. For these reasons, the UN Global Compact does not see any further role it can play in this matter.” Yes?
Question: On the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, President [Donald] Trump said that he is ready… or he wants a renegotiation of the agreement, and several countries have replied that there will be no negotiation. What's the US… what's the UN’s position on this? Are you ready to renegotiate the Paris Agreement?
Deputy Spokesman: The Paris Agreement is an agreement that has been negotiated, has a large number of parties. Where we stand on it is what we expressed in the statement that my colleague Stéphane read out just yesterday afternoon. Yes, you.
Question: Yes, a follow‑up question on the climate change: so, how concerned are you about the domino effect, given that the leading country has already withdrawn?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General believes that the momentum for this agreement that has been put in place cannot be halted. He made it clear today, as I read long before any of you got into this room, that climate action is unstoppable, and he explained why that is. So, I'd refer you to his comments from earlier today. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there's a pretty widely describe… reported botched vaccination campaign in South Sudan that's resulted in the death of more than a dozen children. I wanted to know, what's the… what does the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) think about it? And what steps are being taken to ensure that it doesn't reoccur and cause doubts about needed vaccinations?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. First off, I'd like to make it clear that evidence gathered by the investigators on this case indicated that the vaccination team did not adhere to World Health Organization improved immunization safety standards and that a single syringe had been used for multiple vaccine vials for an entire four days, instead of being discarded after a single use. The vaccination teams were not WHO staff. Local teams had been hired and trained by upper‑level supervisors who had, in turn, been trained by partners, including WHO. WHO provided technical assistance, planning and mentoring, and there are more details online in a joint press statement from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the South Sudanese Ministry of Health, who have looked into the matter and tried to make sure that there will be no such recurrence.
Question: Sure. And I wanted to… to… to… first, couple of things. This is on Internet cut-offs. There's a widely reported cut-off of the Internet nationwide in Ethiopia. The Government seems to say it's tied to the non‑leaking of exam results, but does… given that the UN has a pretty big presence there, in Addis, what do they… what's their comment on the internet being turned off? And is the UN's Internet nevertheless working?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, our Internet services are, in fact, functional. But, regarding this, we're aware of the reasoning, but we would be concerned about any broad‑based shutdown of means of expression.
Question: Is… is… I guess I wanted to understand. I know that the UN has various immunities. Does it have its own UN Internet hook up by satellite or wire, or does the Government grant it a waiver to the cut-off applying to all others in the country?
Deputy Spokesman: You'd have to ask the question to the Government of Ethiopia. We do have functional Internet there.
Question: And… and… and… I'm sorry to ask again about this Cameroon thing, but I wanted to ask because it was said that [Francois] Loncény Fall would be there in late May. Many people were kind of waiting to hear what he had to say. Yesterday, his whereabouts, I guess, according to Stéphane, were not known. What is his comment now that he's returned to the country?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we're checking with our DPA colleagues what we can say about Mr. Loncény Fall's travels. Once we have an update, we'll share it. Have a good weekend, everyone.