The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
A short while ago, the Secretary‑General and President Yoweri Museveni closed the Uganda Solidarity Summit on Refugees in Kampala. Pledges of more than $350 million were made towards Uganda’s efforts to support more than 1.2 million refugees hosted, for the most part, in local communities. In remarks to the press, the Secretary‑General congratulated the Ugandan Government for the conference. What has been pledged is a good start, he said, but we cannot stop.
In the opening session, the Secretary‑General praised Uganda’s Government and people for the way they had opened the country’s borders and their homes to refugees. It is necessary, he said, to recognize that Uganda remains a symbol of the integrity of the refugee protection regime that unfortunately is not respected everywhere in the world. Not all doors are open, he said, not all refugees are accepted, and sometimes in countries much richer than Uganda.
The Secretary‑General recalled with emotion how, 12 years ago in northern Uganda, he had celebrated with South Sudanese who were about to return home full of hope. Now he was back and South Sudanese had been forced to flee their homes again. The conclusion is obvious, he said: Everything must be done to end the war in South Sudan. In answering a question at the press conference, the Secretary‑General said that the UN was committed to protecting civilians in its protection of civilians’ sites for as long as it takes.
As the Secretary‑General himself told you earlier this week, he will travel to Washington, D.C., and this will be next Tuesday, 27 June. This trip will be part of his ongoing outreach to Washington and other capitals. He is expected to meet with both Democratic and Republican leaders, members of the foreign affairs and relations committees, as well as the appropriations committees, of both the House and Senate. The Secretary‑General will also be meeting with senior members of the President's cabinet.
You will have seen the statement we issued yesterday evening in which the Secretary‑General welcomed the adoption of resolution 2359 (2017) as a first step in support of the decision by the Group of Five for the Sahel to set up a joint force to combat terrorism and transnational organized crime, in coordination with national and other forces. The Secretary‑General reiterated the commitment of the UN, working closely with the African Union and other partners, to do its utmost to help mobilize adequate resources for the attainment of the objectives of the force as agreed by the leaders of the Group of 5 and endorsed by the African Union Peace and Security Council.
The Secretary‑General also noted that the adoption of the resolution coincides with the second anniversary of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. While welcoming the important progress made by the signatory parties, he underscored the need for expeditious progress on the remaining aspects of the agreement, with a view to consolidating and sustaining peace in Mali and the region.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, welcomed today the creation of an international investigation into allegations of gross violations and abuses in the Kasaï regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He said it sends a strong message to the perpetrators that the international community is serious about bringing them to justice. Since 2016, some 1.3 million people in the Kasaïs have been internally displaced by the violence, while some 30,000 refugees have fled to Angola. The High Commissioner said he expected and counted on the full cooperation of the authorities, particularly in providing unfettered access to all sites, files, people and places.
Today that the announcement of an end to famine conditions in South Sudan this week should not distract from the fact that severe food insecurity continues to put the lives of millions of children at risk in north‑east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Manuel Fontaine, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Director for Emergency Programmes, said that there is no room for complacency, and that while famine has been reversed in South Sudan, the crisis is far from over. He stressed the need to continue to scale up our response and insist on unconditional humanitarian access, otherwise the progress made could be rapidly undone.
Our colleagues at UNICEF warn today that more than 5.6 million children are at increased risk of contracting water-borne diseases, such as cholera and diarrheal infections, as the rainy season begins in conflict‑affected areas of countries around Lake Chad. The threat of disease outbreaks in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria coincides with growing regional insecurity and increased population movements particularly in Nigeria’s north-east, while flooding and muddy roads are expected to severely limit humanitarian access to remote areas for several weeks.
Across the Lake Chad region, UNICEF and its partners are working in communities at higher risk of cholera outbreaks to teach families about the effects of the disease and practical steps to avoid infection. In Niger, Cameroon and Chad, essential drugs and bars of soap have been prepositioned in warehouses close to internally displaced persons camps in case of a cholera outbreak. The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene response in the Lake Chad Basin has received less than 20 per cent of the $80 million required to meet urgent needs in 2017. Despite the lack of funding, this year UNICEF aims to provide 2.7 million people with a basic supply of water needed to survive.
**Central African Republic
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that the situation in Bria, in Haute‑Kotto, remains tense after clashes earlier in the week between the Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique and the anti‑Balaka. International humanitarian workers began the process of recovering bodies from the streets. The Mission reports its inability to access areas controlled by the Front populaire pour la renaissance de la Centrafrique, where most of the clashes occurred.
Meanwhile, the Mission has transferred 29 civilians, mainly women and children, who fled Tuesday's fighting to an internally displaced persons’ site in Bria. The UN Mission has also reinforced its presence in the town by temporarily redeploying 70 police officers from a Bangui based formed police unit. Elsewhere, in Bambari, UN Police yesterday arrested six armed members of the Union pour la paix en Centrafrique and handed them over to the local gendarmerie, as part of the Mission's efforts to protect civilians and end the presence of armed groups in the town.
The UN human rights office says that it continues to document reports of civilian casualties as a result of the conflict in Yemen, having verified 49 civilian deaths in the past month. The office reiterated that indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks or attacks targeting civilian objects such as markets are prohibited under international humanitarian law.
It also reminded all parties to the conflict of their obligation to ensure full respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and said that all incidents resulting in civilian casualties must be thoroughly investigated to ensure accountability when breaches of international law have been found to have taken place. Since March 2015, the office has recorded a total of 13,504 civilian casualties, including 4,971 killed and 8,533 injured. You can read more about this on the human rights office’s website.
On Iraq, our colleagues tell us that, with the offensive on the old city of Mosul ongoing, civilians continue to flee the area, though at a slower rate than in previous weeks. This slowdown is thought to be the result of people choosing to remain in the relatively protected environment rather than attempting the hazardous exit from the old city. Da’esh fighters are also known to be actively preventing civilians from leaving.
Conditions inside Da’esh‑held parts of Mosul are increasingly desperate. A sack of wheat is now selling for $675, gasoline is reportedly selling for more than $6 per litre, and malnutrition rates among children arriving from west Mosul are rising. As of yesterday, and since the Mosul operation began last October, more than 880,000 people have been displaced from Mosul. Of these, more than 686,000 remain displaced, while nearly 200,000 people have reportedly returned home.
On Syria, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that between yesterday evening and the early hours of today, a UN/Red Cross/Syrian Arab Red Crescent inter‑agency humanitarian convoy delivered food and other items for nearly 110,000 people in the Ar‑Rastan area of rural Homs. Solar lamps and some health supplies were removed upon loading, and the delivery also faced insecurity in neighbouring towns while items were being unloaded. The last inter‑agency convoy to the area was on 30 March. 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.
Today is International Widow’s Day, which seeks to shine a light on the struggle that many women face around the world after the loss of a husband and ensure their rights are respected. According to UN-Women, there are some 285 million widows around the world, with over 115 million of them living in deep poverty.
Today is also Public Service Day, which recognizes — or celebrates, rather — the value and virtue of public service to the community, recognizes the work of public servants, and encourages young people to pursue careers in the public sector.
**African Union Mission in Somalia
Earlier this morning in New York, the UN and Uganda signed the first memorandum of understanding on support provided to the African Union Mission in Somalia. This Memorandum of Understanding will also be signed by the African Union. This aims to strengthen and formalize the provision of support provided to AMISOM. It covers the provision of support to the military contingent and a formed police unit that Uganda is contributing to AMISOM.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Field Support, Atul Khare, thanked the Government of Uganda for its contribution to AMISOM and expressed his deep appreciation for the sacrifices made by all troop and police contributors in Somalia. Mr. Khare noted that today’s agreement will strengthen the AU‑UN partnership framework that the Secretary‑General signed in New York in April. This was the first of the six memorandums of understanding that will be signed by the UN and the AU with troop and police contributors, namely Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria.
Lastly, I promise, our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs today a study which advocates that internally displaced people should not have to wait until a conflict is fully resolved or all impacts of a disaster are over before they can begin rebuilding their lives. The study says Governments bear the primary responsibility for addressing internal displacement and should, with the international community, regard protracted internal displacement as primarily a development and political challenge, which may also require a continued humanitarian response. You can read more about this on Office’s website and, I promise, I am done with my part. Michelle.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Eri. Just to follow up on the announcement of the SG's trip to Washington, obviously it comes amid discussions down there on the US budget and funding for the UN. What's the message that he's going to be taking to the lawmakers in D.C.?
Associate Spokesperson: You know, as he told you on Tuesday, he will be meeting with members of Congress, and as he said, that, you know, the proposal that was presented to the Congress would, he said, “create an unsolvable problem”. So, I think these and other matters of mutual concern are issues that he will be bringing to the leaders when he meets with them.
Associate Spokesperson: You know, as he told you, on this trip, he's meeting members of Congress and said he has no other plans, but if that changes, we will let you know for sure. Yes.
Question: Thank you. Earlier today, Colombian President Santos said in Paris that the UN has received 100 per cent of the arms by the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] guerillas. So, I wonder if there's any comment on that. Can you confirm if, in fact, it has happened? Do you plan to do any announcement later today? What can you tell us on that?
Associate Spokesperson: Right now at present, I don't know. We don't have any confirmation right now, but if we have anything, we'll get back to you on that.
Associate Spokesperson: Not right now. Yes.
Question: A point of clarification, and then my question. Is the Secretary‑General's trip to Washington just one day? Because there's some reports suggesting that it's a three‑day trip to Washington.
Associate Spokesperson: For now, we don't have an end date, but as soon as we know, we will let you know.
Question: Okay, and then my main question. Overnight, it was leaked the list of demands from Saudi Arabia and its allies on Qatar. In one sense, it's a question of curbing Qatar's sovereignty, cutting off diplomatic ties with certain countries, ending military relationships with other countries. And then there's the question of press freedom, specifically calling for the shutting down of the Al Jazeera media network, not just the Arabic channel. What is the Secretary‑General's view of this list of demands, especially given that there's a 10‑day deadline? And if there's a specific comment about the efforts to shut down, not just Al Jazeera, but a number of other media outlets based in Qatar? Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: We continue to follow the situation with deep concern. We're… we are aware of reports of the list of demands on Qatar, but we are not able to comment in detail on or confirm such a list. We hope that the countries involved resolve the situation through dialogue. We are ready to assist if requested by the parties, and any resolution or basis for discussion should be consistent with international law including human rights and International Humanitarian Law, as well as the UN Charter, as all countries concerned are UN Member States.
Question: And a quick follow up. The fact that there is a 10‑day deadline, does that raise particular concern? Does that sound like some sort of ultimatum that perhaps one nation state should not be making to another?
Associate Spokesperson: You know, as the Secretary‑General told you earlier this week, you know, he really hopes that this is a situation that is resolved through dialogue and through diplomatic channels. So, on our end, you know, you've heard our concerns, and we'll see what happens. Yes, in the blue dress.
Question: Yesterday, the Israeli ambassador to the UN sent a letter to the Secretary‑General that Hizbullah is violating the UN‑backed ceasefire by building up observation posts under the guise of an environmental group. Is the UN looking into this? Is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) looking into this?
Associate Spokesperson: We've checked with our UNIFIL colleagues, and they say that they have, as have we, seen the media reports alleging violation of resolution 1701 (2006) in the context of the activities of the non-governmental organizations that you mentioned near the Blue Line. Our UNIFIL colleagues say that this non-governmental organization has been active in the area for the last two years, and UNIFIL, in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces, closely monitors all activities close to the Blue Line. And in accordance with its mandate, UNIFIL cannot and does not enter private property unless there's credible evidence of a violation of resolution 1701 (2006) or an imminent threat of physical violence emanating from that specific location. Over the last two years, UNIFIL has observed tree‑planting activities undertaken by the non-governmental organization as is their stated objective. UNIFIL has not observed any unauthorized armed persons at the location or found any basis to report a violation of the resolution. UNIFIL constantly urges the parties to exercise caution in undertaking any activity in the vicinity, and UNIFIL remains in regular contact with the Lebanese Armed Forces command in relation to this and other activities close to the Blue Line to ensure that there are no violations of resolution 1701 (2006) and to avoid any misunderstandings or tensions that could endanger the cessation of hostilities. And for its part, UNIFIL remains vigilant and continues to closely monitor the Blue Line.
Question: So, just to be clear, they say they have not seen any violations?
Associate Spokesperson: No.
Question: No violations. Okay. Thank you.
Associate Spokesperson: Stefano.
Question: Thank you very much. Again, on the situation in Libya with refugees. The new appointment of Ghassan Salamé on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, we know that, of course, there is a lot of hope that this will push the political crisis there. But, also, talking to the Italians there about the concern with the situation with refugees, migrants, and the way they feel that the agreements that they're doing with their Government, the Government recognized by the UN, on how to keep those migrants there. They think that it's legitimate. At the same time, they wish, they hope — they use these words — that the UN will do more on the social aspect of their mission, not only political events, but also to help Libya to be able to take care of those in need. So, my question is: Salamé doesn't have special instructions from the Secretary‑General on making sure the UN will do more in providing for the refugees and migrants that are stuck in this moment in Libya in very, very terrible conditions.
Associate Spokesperson: So, I'm sure Mr. Salamé has heard the concerns that you've raised. The issue of refugees and migrants is obviously of huge concern both to the UN, and of course, I'm sure, to Libya. Let's give him a few days to settle into his job. You know, the concerns that you raised have been heard loud and clear, and so let's give him a few days to settle in and see his, you know, when he begins his work officially and how he makes contacts with the Libyan government and other parties. Yes?
Question: The Secretary‑General [inaudible] refugees. Will he be raising those issues when he meets with Trump Administration officials, members of Congress, et cetera, in terms of dealing with the wars that really create refugees? I’m mentioning this because when we talk about Libya, the Libyan situation is a unique situation that rarely had a stable North African Muslim country, secular Muslim country. And then the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations went in there, created this confusion, and now we have refugees pouring out of Libya. Will the Secretary‑General be raising those types of issues with Trump Administration officials in terms of mitigating its refugee problems?
Associate Spokesperson: As you know, the situation involving refugees and migrants is one that is close to the Secretary‑General's heart. He talked about this in depth on Tuesday. You know, as I said earlier, he will be raising issues of, you know, some of the main issues on the UN's agenda, and I wouldn't doubt that the situation of refugees and migrants is, would be high on that list. You know, as he told you and as he's said many times before, like you said, the situation involving refugees is largely a political one. While it's important, you know, that we, and critical really, that we raise money to find humanitarian solutions for some of the most immediate pressing problems, ultimately that's not the solution. It's finding a political solution. He just said that in Uganda yesterday, when he was talking about the close to 1 million South Sudanese refugees who have been there for a long time, he said, you know, at this point, it's up to the leaders of South Sudan. They need to work on behalf of their people. Yes.
Question: Thank you. I have a few questions, and I will start with something that has nothing to do with politics. I went to DC-2 building today to go to the [United Nations Federal] Credit Union, and I was denied entry. And they said the rules of using the pass has changed. So, as a resident correspondent, that means my ID does not allow me to enter DC-1 or DC-2. I thought that was an insult to the credibility of the body of journalists who have been working in this Organization for many years, and especially as for me, I am a former UN staff of many years. So, how can I be denied entry to meet an officer at the credit union?
Associate Spokesperson: This is the first we've heard of this. We'll check with our security colleagues and see what we can do.
Question: Okay, now I go to political question. I want to follow up with a question of Rosalind raised about the ultimatum. Giving a country, a sovereign country, 10‑day ultimatum to execute unexecutable demands, it is like a threat to war. According to UN Charter, the [Secretary-General] is entitled, according to Article 99, to bring an issue that may develop into a threat to international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council. Would he be considering activating Article 99 to bring this issue, that is serious now, it's 12 countries threatening another sovereign nation, putting demands that is completely unrealistic and giving them ten days to execute it?
Associate Spokesperson: You know, as we said, we've seen the reports of this list of demands, but we don't have the list, and we can't confirm the existence of it. But, either way, the situation has obviously reached a very serious stage. And as the Secretary‑General said earlier this week, you know, he supports the idea of a regional dialogue led by Kuwait, but he also said that, you know, there are other options on the table. And I don't think that he would spare any efforts to make sure that there is a diplomatic solution to this. Yes.
Question: First of all, I apologize, I do not know your name and your position. Can you please introduce yourself?
Associate Spokesperson: We've e‑mailed several times in the past.
Question: Yes, we have seen each other, but we have not been introduced.
Associate Spokesperson: My name's Eri Kaneko. Yes.
Question: In his press conference last, last Tuesday, the Secretary‑General said that he's had a couple of talks with the Indian prime minister and some talks with the, three times he's talked to the Pakistani Prime Minister. But, he did not elaborate as to what happened in the talks or whether any commitment was taken from the two leaders to continue the bilateral engagement. Because, at this point in time, there are human rights abuses going on in Kashmir, which you and everybody else knows, but they do not talk to each other. So, what did the Secretary‑General, I mean, do you have any understanding if the Secretary‑General was given any commitment?
Associate Spokesperson: I think what he was saying was that he has been engaged with these leaders. He's met them five times in total since he's become Secretary‑General. I think that's a sign of his commitment to the issue, his interest and his involvement in the issue. I mean, what the leaders agreed on is for them to say, them to announce. It's not for us to say. But, the point that he was making and that we continue to make is that he is very engaged on the issue, and we'll let you know if there is anything.
Question: Yeah, I do realize what you're saying, is the point that you’re making is that he's engaged. That makes sense. But, did you get any feedback from the Secretary‑General himself that either the Indian or the Pakistani Prime Minister has given him any commitment to what you call to continue to engage in dialogue or they will continue to…?
Associate Spokesperson: Again, any commitment from the leaders is a question for them. It's not something for us to announce.
Question: No, but the Secretary‑General has not been given any assurances?
Associate Spokesperson: That's for them to announce. It's not for us to announce. Yes.
Question: On the twentieth of this month, Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu said, while he inaugurating a new settlement, a new one… not… not expanding an existing one, he said, it is an honour to build the illegal outpost in defiance of international law. That's what he said. After the case, I have the honour to be the first Prime Minister to build a settlement in Judea and Samaria. So, he takes pride in defying international law. Is there any comment on that?
Associate Spokesperson: Our position on settlements is clear. We've long said that they're a contravention of international law, and we stand by that. Anything else? Okay. Thanks, have a good weekend. And we're closed on Monday, so we'll see you back here on Tuesday.