The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General began his meetings in Washington, D.C., today by seeing more than 20 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Secretary-General discussed efforts on UN reform, his prevention agenda and the importance of positive United States engagement at the United Nations, as well as the threat posed by global terrorism. He thanked the members for their generosity and support provided by the United States to the United Nations. The Secretary-General and the members of the committee exchanged views on a number of global issues. The Secretary-General is continuing his meetings in Washington today and tomorrow, and likely Thursday morning, as well.
In a statement we issued this morning, the Secretary-General said he is encouraged by the reconvening of the Conference on Cyprus in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, this week, and that he welcomes the determination shown by all participants in taking this important step. The Secretary-General stressed that the opportunity for the reunification of Cyprus is now finally before us, calling on all concerned players to seize this opportunity, for Cyprus first and foremost, but also for the wider Eastern Mediterranean region.
To this end, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, he said that he reiterates his steadfast commitment to supporting this effort. He also urged all participants to demonstrate the will and leadership required to conclude a comprehensive settlement. Speaking to the press today in Geneva, his Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide, called the Conference a unique opportunity. You can watch the Special Adviser’s press conference on the UN Webcast page.
We issued a statement earlier today, in which the Secretary-General condemns the series of suicide-bombing attacks on 25 and 26 June in Maiduguri, Borno State, in Nigeria. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the people and Government of Nigeria for the loss of life. He wishes a quick recovery to those injured and hopes that those responsible for this act will be swiftly brought to justice. The Secretary-General reiterates the United Nations’ support to the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council today. He said that the situation on the ground presents a mixed picture. While there have been some positive developments, he said that we are at a time of testing whether the political will exists for a real de-escalation and more meaningful political talks. He discussed preparations for the round of talks that is to be held next month in Geneva and proposed holding a further round of talks in August or early September, prior to the General Assembly session. He also said he plans to be present for talks being held in Astana on 4 and 5 July.
Mr. de Mistura said that violence is clearly down in Syria since the signing in May of the de-escalation agreement, and many towns have returned to some degree of normalcy. However, he added, in some areas, fighting has continued and even intensified. And the improvements in the security situation have not resulted in equivalent gains in humanitarian access, he warned.
Over the weekend, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, strongly condemned the terrible loss of life in Mosul, including the 23 June attacks in eastern Mosul and in the old city, where up to a dozen civilians were killed and potentially hundreds injured. Ms. Grande noted that there are reports that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are being held as human shields, and that humanitarian partners are doing everything they can at trauma points near the front line and in field hospitals to stabilize patients.
She stressed that the parties to this conflict are obliged under international humanitarian law to protect and assist civilians. Nothing, she emphasized, is more important. Nearly 900,000 civilians have fled Mosul since the fighting began last October, and up to 150,000 civilians are still trapped inside the old city. The humanitarian operation in support of Mosul is one of the largest and most complex in the region, with more than 1.7 million people having received emergency support, including food, water and sanitation items. So far, less than half of the nearly $1 billion requested for the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq has been received.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the number of suspected cholera cases has topped 200,000, with more than 1,300 deaths, in Yemen. Over the weekend, the heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) jointly described it as “the worst cholera outbreak in the world”. They called on authorities in the country to pay the salaries of some 30,000 health workers who have not been paid in 10 months. UNICEF has been providing incentives for three months to around 1,500 health workers.
Funded by the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), an airplane carrying 24 metric tons of medical supplies has arrived in Yemen. Humanitarian partners are supporting more than 400 oral rehydration centres, while WHO is training health workers on cholera case management and infection control. For its part, UNICEF is also helping improve access to clean water to 500,000 people in and around Taizz City.
Our colleagues in Colombia said yesterday that the UN mission has now stored the totality of individual arms of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army (FARC-EP) that were registered — that is a total of 7,132 arms. To date, the mission has verified 77 arms caches from which weapons have been extracted and munitions, explosives and unstable armaments destroyed. More available on the mission’s website.
In Vienna, experts from all over the world are gathering this week at the Science and Technology 2017 Conference to share knowledge and technological advances in monitoring nuclear tests. The Conference is the sixth in a series of meetings aimed at strengthening the relationship between the scientific community and authorities for compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). More information online.
I also want to flag the launch yesterday by our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) of #ASK1TOASK1 campaign, asking all Canadians to join the challenge to raise 150,000 meals for children in Haiti through the ShareTheMeal app to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. The #ASK1TOASK1 ShareTheMeal campaign will allow WFP to scale up their Home Grown School Meals programme in Haiti. More than 850,000 people have downloaded the award-winning app and shared over 14 million meals with thousands of vulnerable children in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Malawi, Cameroon and Yemen.
Yesterday we observed the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General called on governments to ensure their approach to reduce drug use and illicit trafficking promotes equality, human rights, sustainable development and greater peace and security. Yesterday was also the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. In a tweet, the Secretary-General reiterated the UN’s and his personal opposition to torture in all its forms, adding that “we must resist this barbaric practice”.
Today, we observe for the first time the Micro- Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day. The Day spotlights the impact that enterprises which employ fewer than 250 persons have in economies worldwide. They tend to employ a larger share of the vulnerable sectors of the workforce, such as women, youth and people from poorer households. To mark the Day, the UN has launched a global initiative on decent jobs for youth to scale up action and impact on youth employment. More information on the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) website.
Press conferences ahead: tomorrow, at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on Sustainable Development Goal 4, on education. Speakers will include the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, Irina Bokova, and a civil society representative from Tanzania. Khalas. Mr. Lee?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I have some other things, but I'd wanted to ask you, in Haiti, as the Security Council made its trip, various people approached the… the press that was part of the trip and said very clearly that they interpreted what… what Amina Mohammed and Mr. [António] Guterres had said as a retrenchment, as a stepping back from the idea of individual… possible individual reparations what was… that was in the November 2016 report by the… by then-Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon. And they said… one guy… one gentleman, 57 years old, who has had cholera and his spouse died, said: "Community projects are useless to me, do nothing for me." And I guess I just wanted to understand more clearly, was… I was left… Farhan [Haq] ended up saying that… that there's still some consideration of indiv… of individual. That's not really the way that I read the thing. What is the current thinking of the Secretary‑General on… on attempting to make at least some type of reparatory payment to people whose relatives got cholera and died and have to educate their children?
Spokesman: First of all, our hearts go out to all the people who suffered from the cholera epidemic, either personally or through the loss of loved ones. I think the Secretary‑General and the Deputy Secretary‑General were very clear in outlining the way forward. The focus will be initially on community‑based projects, and we're taking things one step at a time. But, I can't really go any further than what the Secretary‑General himself said.
Question: But, he seemed to say that there was never a… I mean, maybe I misunderstood it, but I've looked at the… stared at the transcript, that there was not… individual was not being considered. And I'm just… I guess I'm… trying…?
Spokesman: Things are progressing. We're taking things one step at a time. Nizar?
Question: Yeah. On… on these new threats or just [inaudible] that Syria chemical attacks may happen and in the light of the Seymour Hersh report that Khan Shaykhun was not a chemical attack, but the report was very condemning — that there was no chemical attack and no… of course, no investigation was established. How does the United Nations view such threats, which can escalate to a confrontation with Russia…?
Spokesman: We have no… I think the UN's focus is, as Mr. de Mistura said, on ensuring that all the parties involved have… find the will to move the political talks forward. There are different parts of the UN, including the JIM [Joint Investigation Mechanism] and the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons], that are tasked with looking at chemical weapons. We've seen the reports of threats and tweets and so forth. We're not going to comment on things that have yet to happen.
Question: But [the] JIM did not go to Khan Shaykhun or to Al‑Shayrat air base, both areas which were said that…?
Spokesman: Their reports, moving forward to the Security Council, will be clear, and I believe they will be reporting soon. Mr.[Edmond] Mulet will be in front of the Security Council in not too long. Oleg.
Question: Follow-up? Thanks. Stéphane, do you think a response for a possible chemical weapon used in Syria should be an airstrike?
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on hypotheticals. What we know is that any use of chemical weapons is to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Secretary‑General has done so in the past, and any use of chemical weapons, any probable use of chemical weapons also needs to be fully investigated, as it is in violation of international law.
Question: And again, about Syria, can I ask another question? Stéphane, you might saw those reports about rising civilian casualties in the anti‑ISIS operation in Raqqah. Can… do you have any updates about those reports? Are you confirming… does the UN… can UN confirm those reports?
Spokesman: No, we're not in Raqqah, I'm not able to confirm it. I think just last week the Secretary‑General expressed his very deep concern at the lack of enough protection of civilians in Syria, in the conflict in Syria, notably in the context of fighting terrorism. And all the parties involved need to put the protection of civilians at the forefront. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This new counter‑terrorism structure established a while ago, when is going to be operational? And how are the personnel… how is it going to be hired? What's the procurement process for that?
Spokesman: Let me find… there should be an answer that I should know but which I don't, so let me find out. Yes, Mr. Lee? [He later said that the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism is now operational.]
Question: Sure. Now that the… the UN bribery case, as it's described, regarding Ng Lap Seng has begun… begun — and it began yesterday in… in lower Manhattan — there's a filing dated 25 June. I know that… that says… this is a quote: "The UN declined to identify to the Government all individuals who were interviewed in connection with the preparation of the report called the UN Task Force Report." And this is being used by Ng Lap Seng to say he didn't bribe anyone because everyone bribes everyone at the UN, basically, is his defence. And so, now, portions of the UN Task Force Report are not going to be produced to the jury because the Government says… the Justice Department says the UN declined to identify, i.e., didn't cooperate. So, I wanted to, I know I've asked you before about and you've said… at least I took you to say that the UN is fully cooperating with the authorities, and this is a statement in the letter by the Government to the court saying that that's not the case. How do you explain it? On what basis did the UN not provide this information as requested by the Government?
Spokesman: We've cooperated extensively to facilitate the proper course of justice in this case. The proceedings are ongoing, and I'm not going to make any comments while these proceedings are ongoing.
Question: Right, but I mean, this is not… this is… this was a statement involving now…?
Spokesman: No, I understand.
Question: Right? Do you see why it seems contradictory?
Spokesman: You asked what you asked, and I said what I said.
Question: Right, because without this…?
Spokesman: I said what I have to say. Olga?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. About the latest today's cyberattack, if UN has seen any consequences and you're aware of… of… of it…?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any visib… any… I'm not aware of anything on… relating to the UN cyberstructure.
Question: Okay. And… and another question on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. If UN is aware that… about new Russian proposal, new kind of road map to settle the situation on the Korean Peninsula?
Spokesman: No, let me take a look. I haven't seen anything. Yes, sir?
Question: On the cholera situation in Yemen, I mean, the Yemeni conflict has been going on for over two years, and there's no ceasefire ever been done in Yemen. What is the… Mr. [Ismail] Ould Cheikh Ahmed doing at the moment in order to stop at least the spread of cholera or to pay, as you mentioned, the health workers their salaries? What is he doing in any… any… any progress in that respect?
Spokesman: You know, I think laying the cholera outbreak at the feet of Ould Cheikh Ahmed is perhaps slightly misguided. We're seeing this humanitarian situation in Yemen, which is almost indescribable. We're almost at a loss of words. Those who have their fingers on the triggers need to stop fighting. Right? There needs to be a political solution. The UN, through his offices, have tried and continue to try to get the parties to the table and accept a political solution. The Humanitarian Response Plan in Yemen is underfunded. We have called for greater funding. We have called for greater access. We have called for the authorities to pay the health workers. The UN is doing whatever it can through the work of its own staff on the ground, through the heroic work of Yemeni health workers and humanitarian workers. But, those parties directly involved in the conflict, those parties who have influence over those directly involved in the conflict need to find the political will, need to find the will to reach a political solution. That's… by stopping this conflict is the only way the suffering of the human… the suffering of the Yemeni people will stop.
Question: What's Mr. Ould Cheikh Ahmed doing at the moment? I mean, with this crisis as he…
Spokesman: He continues with his… with his contacts. And the fact is, despite all odds, we have not given up hope on a political solution. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Back… back… in this situation in the Rif region of Morocco, on… on Eid, there were more arrests made in this Al‑Hoceima and people were blocked from actually even travelling to the town. The king has said that his ministers can no longer go on vacation due to a failure to implement what's being demanded by the protesters there. I'm just wondering, is [the Department of Political Affairs] any closer to either saying something, doing something?
Spokesman: I don't have anything.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you about Burundi. On… this issue of… of vetting that it was said a lot that vetting is taking place, there's a big controversy now in Burundi that one of the… Major Gahomera, who was charged with being part of the 12/12 massacre, is being trained as we speak today part of a UN pre‑deployment training in Bujumbura. And the documents are… have been made public. So, they're wondering how… what… what vetting takes place? Maybe for [the African Union Mission in Somalia), can you…?
Spokesman: I'm happy if you give me the… give me the name, email me the name and I will have…
Question: Gahomera. And there's one other one that's related. It appears that one of the individuals repatriated from Central African Republic facing [Office of Internal Oversight Services] charges of sexual abuse there, a Mr.… a Major Sergeant Zepherin [sic] has just been redeployed to AMISOM, and I know that AMISOM is under the African Union, but is it your understanding that…?
Spokesman: I don't have access to these individual cases. What is clear is, if anyone is alleged to have committed sexual abuse, they need to face justice. But, I will face… I will look at these two individual cases. Thank you.
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