The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is on his last day of his visit to Washington, D.C. This morning, he was at the State Department, where he met with the Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan. That comes after a meeting he had yesterday afternoon with the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. He also met just a short while ago with the Qatari Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani. The Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister had a good exchange of views. The Secretary-General delivered and repeated the message that he has delivered to other parties dealing with the crisis in the Gulf — mainly that he strongly supports the Kuwaiti mediation efforts and hopes that they will lead to a progressive de-escalation of the situation, gradually creating the conditions for a meaningful dialogue to take place.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to fly to Switzerland from Washington this afternoon, where he will attend tomorrow the Conference on Cyprus that is taking place in Crans-Montana.
And just to recap the meetings the Secretary-General had in Washington yesterday after the briefing. He met with the House Appropriations Chairman, Rodney Frelinghuysen. That was followed by a meeting with Senators Todd Young of Indiana and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and then a separate meeting with Senators Marco Rubio, Chris Coons, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bob Casey.
This morning, you will have seen, we issued a statement by the Secretary-General on the closure of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) that takes place tomorrow.
The Secretary-General congratulated the people and Government of Côte d’Ivoire for their determination and efforts in turning the page of crisis and conflict. He also paid tribute to all uniformed and civilian personnel who have served with the UN mission, and expressed his profound respect for the memory of the 150 peacekeepers who lost their life in the service of peace during the 13 years of deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission.
The Secretary-General reiterated the commitment of the rest of the UN family present in Côte d’Ivoire to support the Government with the implementation of outstanding reform activities with a view to ensuring that the hard-won peace can be sustained and the country and its people will continue to progress and thrive.
Back here, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People began a forum today to mark 50 years of occupation of Palestinian territory. The Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the event.
Amina Mohammed read out a message from the Secretary-General, in which he said that ending the occupation is the only way to lay the foundations for enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty. It is the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, he said. He added that it is time to return to direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, agreements and international law. It is time to end the conflict, he said, by establishing an independent Palestinian State, side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.
In her own remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General said that some think that the situation can be managed. They are wrong, she said, it must be resolved. Real peace cannot be achieved without a just and lasting resolution. She recalled the Secretary-General’s remarks that there is no “Plan B”.
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Syria a short while ago. He warned that 13.5 million people in the country are caught in a protection crisis that threatens their lives on a daily basis. We will have as our guest, in a few minutes, Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, who can go into more detail, as soon as we are done here.
Our humanitarian colleagues are deeply concerned for the safety and well-being of civilians in the remaining Da’esh-held part of Iraq’s western Mosul, as military operations in the Old City continue. Some 10,000 to 50,000 civilians are still inside the Old City. Since the start of operations in October, at least 15,000 people have been treated for trauma injuries. Nearly 900,000 people have been displaced from Mosul city since last October.
People leaving western Mosul report deteriorating conditions, including unsafe water [sources] due to potable water shortages, as well as malnutrition. It is estimated that half of west Mosul’s female population requires sexual and gender-based violence response services. Aid workers are providing emergency assistance, with 1.85 million people having received front-line emergency support, including food, water and basic hygiene items. Partners are also distributing 6.4 million litres of water into Mosul every day.
Regarding Libya, the UN Support Mission in that country (UNSMIL) confirmed the safe return of UN staff to Tripoli following an attack yesterday on a convoy traveling from Surmon to the capital Tripoli. All staff are safe and accounted for. The Mission reiterates its appreciation to the Government of National Accord, House of Representative Members from Zawiyah and local authorities for securing the safe return of our colleagues.
**Central African Republic
The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports clashes between local self-defence groups and members of the Muslim community in Zémio in Haut-Mbomou prefecture. Unidentified armed elements also fired at MINUSCA peacekeepers this morning and yesterday in Zémio, but no injuries were sustained.
About 85 displaced persons sought refuge in UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] premises nearby, while another 500 took shelter at a local church. The UN peacekeepers are securing both locations, with additional reinforcements on their way today, and they are also facilitating engagement at the community level to discourage youth from joining self-defence groups.
Our colleagues at the UN refugee agency are alarmed over a fresh incident of forced returns of refugees from Cameroon into north-east Nigeria. On Tuesday, some 887 Nigerian refugees, most of them children, were forcibly removed to Banki in desperate conditions. Several dozen refugees fearing that they would be returned against their will reportedly escaped and went into hiding.
Inside Nigeria, insecurity is preventing refugees from returning to their places of origin. Many end up in Banki, where more than 45,000 internally displaced men, women and children are already accommodated.
UNHCR renews its call on Cameroon and Nigeria to refrain from further forced returns and calls on both parties to take urgent steps to convene a meeting of the Tripartite Commission — which consists of UNHCR and the two countries — to ensure a facilitated voluntary return process in line with international standards.
The Government of Malawi and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] launched today an air corridor to test the potential humanitarian use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. The corridor, which will run for at least one year, is the first in Africa and one of the first globally with a focus on humanitarian and development use. It is designed to provide a controlled platform for the private sector, universities and other partners to explore how drones can be used to help deliver services that will benefit communities. UNICEF is working globally with a number of Governments and private-sector partners to explore how drones can be used in low-income countries.
Today is – what day is today? – it is the International Day of the Tropics, the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The Day seeks to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of this region, while also highlighting the unique challenges that nations of the tropics face. The tropics host 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and over half of the world’s renewable water resource, but they are threatened by climate change, deforestation, urbanization and demographic changes. More information online.
Yesterday, I think it was you, Masood, who asked about the UN’s response to the current cyberattacks. Our colleagues at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) tell us they assist Member States to more effectively combat and prevent cybercrime, working with national- and regional-level partners, particularly through ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations]-based mechanisms and forums.
Khalas. I will stop there, and I will take some questions. Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, there’s a report saying that the Secretary‑General is… suggesting the Secretary‑General is reluctant to mediate or to involve themselves in this Qatari crisis, because he fears that the Saudi and the coalition partners would withdraw from the United Nations. And they were citing these part… one particular threat, which has been confirmed by the United Nations High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Saudi threat when it was included in the list of the nations… I mean, involved in Yemen.
Spokesman: Masood, as I think I’ve been… we’ve been talking about now for a few days, the Secretary‑General has been obviously following the current crisis in the Gulf extremely closely. Over the last 48 hours, he has met with the Qatari Foreign Minister, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Cabinet Minister of Kuwait, who is personally involved in the mediation. His message to all three is his support for the Kuwaiti initiative, which he hopes will lead to a de‑escalation, where a conversation and a dialogue can be initiated. So he is not afraid of getting involved in any way. His focus right now, the UN’s focus, is on supporting the Kuwaiti efforts.
Question: Nonethe… nonetheless, sir, can I ask you a follow‑up question? Say, that will the Secretary‑General after these meet… the way things are going, the Saudis do not seem to budge on their demand, I mean, no matter how many… I mean, interpretations or how many… how many interventions that are there. Is the Secretary‑General going to involve himself more aggressively?
Spokesman: I don’t know how much better to answer your question. I think… to say that the Secretary‑General has not been paying attention, I think, would be wrong. As I said, he’s just met with three Foreign Ministers who are deeply involved in this, representing both sides of the issue, and he will continue to follow this very closely. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. As a follow‑up, I mean, the deadline for these demands to be met is on the… 2 July. That means something could happen after 2 July. I mean, the question we have been raising, would the SG put a note before the Security Council on this issue?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of any efforts to put this… for the Secretary‑General to raise Article 99 of the Charter. I think he has… the Secretary‑General has spoken out publicly on this matter, either directly or through me, and he’s deeply aware of the risks that go beyond the region if this crisis is not resolved through dialogue.
Question: Thank you. As a follow‑up, Stéphane, one of the demands is to close down Al Jazeera and all its related or affiliated channels. And that is something that had to do with freedom of expression and freedom of opinion and freedom of the flow of information. And I think that should, you know, instigate the UN to say something about that particular demand…
Spokesman: Well, I think you’ve had different human rights bodies and mechanisms speak out, as they are as within their mandates, as is normal for them to do. As a matter of principle, of course, the Secretary‑General supports the freedom of expression, but we’re not going to get into the nitty‑gritty of these things publicly at this point. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about what UNHCR said about this… this expulsion of almost 900 people of Cameroon into Nigeria… I wanted to know…
Spokesman: They were, in fact, in a camp in Nigeria very close to the Cameroonian border. So I said they were internally displaced people (IDPs), but the operation, as we understand it, was jointly conducted by Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities.
Question: Sure. My… my… and my… given that a number of groups have said it violates both the agreement between the countries and international law, I wanted to know whether the Secretary‑General, given his history in these issues of IDPs, refugees, etcetera, has considered speaking with President Paul Biya. And I ask because I’ve seen, as I’m sure you have, the reports that he did reach out to Iran about a former UN staff member, Baqer Namazi, asking for humanitarian release. And there’s a UN staff member who’s on trial with the death penalty in Cameroon called Agbor Balla. So I’m just wondering, one, can you… will you… what can you confirm or say about his… his communications to Iran? And, two, is this a policy on his part…?
Spokesman: No, I’m not going to get into the details of private conversations; the Secretary‑General may have private communications. The welfare of UN staff that is… that are detained, that may be detained anywhere, is of concern to us. As far as the issue having to do with the people who were forcibly returned to an area that we feel… that UNHCR feels is not safe, UNHCR is on the lead on this issue and continues to be for the time being.
Question: And do you have… obviously, you’ve seen… on the… on the peacekeeping budget and the… the… the reduction in… in… from 7.9 to $7.3 billion, what are the next steps for DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]? What… do you have any comment generally on it?
Spokesman: Well, I… first of all, my understanding is that the budget will not be officially approved until this afternoon, voted on this afternoon. So we will react more officially at that point. Obviously, it is the right and responsibility of the legislative bodies of this Organization to set the budget. Once we see what actually has been voted on, we will take the appropriate measures to follow up and ensure that our mandates are fulfilled with the resources that are given to us.
Question: Can we get DPKO to, like, come and do some kind of briefing on this?
Spokesman: I said I will… We will have some sort of reaction afterwards. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. I guess I want to go to a question of the Secretary‑General’s priorities. I mean, with all of the hot conflicts going on around the world, you know, from… from Yemen, Syria, Libya and Africa and so forth, why does he seem to be spending so much of his personal attention and time on the more than 40‑year‑old Cyprus conflict or… which hasn’t really resulted in any violence to speak of? Why is he devoting so much of his time and effort to that… to that matter, and appears to be delegating to others the handling of… of more imminent crises around the world?
Spokesman: You know, I… first of all, I don’t really agree with your analysis. I think the Secretary‑General has, as many of his predecessors have involved themselves in the mediation negotiations over the resum… the positive resolve of conflicts at certain times when we are within striking distance. So I think it’s important… the Secretary‑General felt it was important to attend the conference on Cyprus. The effort to facilitate the talks are being led by Mr. [Espen Barth] Eide and Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman. It’s important for the Secretary‑General to be there, and if… you know, I think we’ll have to… obviously have to see what happens, but if his presence is critical to resolve this issue, it’s important for him to be there. There are many crises throughout the world. Obviously, some have caused more pain and destruction to civilians than others. But I think for… we also have to look at it from the point of those who are living these crises. The Cyprus issue has been going on, as I said, for a long, long time. There’s been an absence of open conflict, which is welcome, but it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been human tragedy and human pain for the inhabitants of the island. And if we are… if the Secretary‑General’s presence can help finally resolve this conflict and sew up old wounds, then I think it’s a good use of his time. He’s also able to multitask and has been staying in touch with envoys on all sorts of other crises, and when his physical presence is necessary, he will be where he needs to be. Yes?
Question: Follow‑up on Cyprus. SG, what… what outcome he’s awaiting, he’s expecting about this new round of talks, especially for the security and the guarantees?
Spokesman: Listen, I’m not going to get into the details. The talks are in high gear and are going on as we speak in Crans‑Montana. Mr. Eide and Mr. Feltman spoke to the press yesterday. The Secretary‑General is on his way. Obviously, we would like to see the situation resolved, but I’m not going to get into pre-emptive details at this point. Pam?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Do you expect — just a follow‑up on the travel — the Secretary‑General to go to any of the countries where there is a peacekeeping mission, or Darfur, any… any… any of those areas? Do you have any projections on that? And has he gotten… a separate issue. Has he gotten any feedback on the… from the House Appropriations Chairman on budget, how they see the… any readout on that?
Spokesman: No, this… I think the talks with House leaders, with Senate leaders have been very productive. As we said, it’s an ongoing conversation. It’s a chance for him to have some in‑depth conversations about the US involvement in the UN, the need for sustained US involvement, for them to… for him to answer questions about UN reform and other issues. It’s a conversation. Obviously, the legislators will decide on the budget and what impacts the UN, but I think it was important for the Secretary‑General to be there and to continue and have sustained conversations with them. Yeah?
Question: And just a quick…
Spokesman: And nothing on travel to announce.
Question: Okay. And quick… just a timetable. Do you have any timetable or sense of when this new Office of Counter‑Terrorism starts up, when the new Under‑Secretary‑General arrives?
Spokesman: It’s been approved. Maybe Farhan [Haq] will come in with a note to tell me exactly when he’s supposed to be here, but he’s been named so it’s a matter of logistics.
Question: Right. So July, August?
Spokesman: It’s a matter of logistics more than anything else. I don’t know. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have few questions. First, it has been announced in Israel that the SG… Secretary‑General would be visiting Israel in August. First, do you confirm that? And if it’s so, would he be visiting Gaza, as well?
Spokesman: Well, we always… this is not the first time that others announce the travels of the Secretary‑General. I would ask for reference to wait until announcements of the Secretary‑General’s travel are made by his Office, most likely me.
Question: My question also is about IOM [International Organization for Migration]. I think you mentioned in your briefing saying the UN refugee agency, and it has been referred to as such. So what is the relation between IOM and UNHCR? Are they one… and… two and… separate entities?
Spokesman: They are two separate entities. As you know, IOM was independent of the UN system up until a few months ago. It is now a part of the UN system.
Question: So how is the work? Is it duplicated or…?
Spokesman: No, it’s not duplicated.
Question: Can you invite…?
Spokesman: It’s not duplicated… it’s not… I mean, we can have… the next time Mr. [William] Swing is here, we’d be happy to have him.
Correspondent: We’d like to.
Spokesman: But, obviously, they deal with different parts of the same issue, which is the global movement of people across the globe.
Correspondent: I’d like to meet with him so we can see him. Thank you.
Spokesman: Masood? Sorry, Matthew, and then Masood.
Question: Sure. Just some… some court case questions, but I just wanted to know, is… is the Secretary‑General… the… the Cyprus talks, are they take… are they going on over the weekend? Is he… how… how many days does he plan to participate in them?
Spokesman: Let’s get him there, and then we can talk about when he leaves.
Question: Will we talk about it?
Spokesman: Go ahead. Next question?
Question: Okay. What I wanted to ask is, I’m sure you’ve seen the decision in The Hague by Netherlands appeals court confirming that the… the partial responsibility of the Dutch battalion of UN peacekeeping in the deaths of… in Srebrenica. And the… people are angry because it’s reduced the damages to 30 per cent; it’s basically saying they would have… they might have been killed otherwise. But what is the UN’s response, given this… that the… the… the Dutch battalion was, in fact, a UN peacekeeping battalion. What’s been learned to it, and what do you have any to say about that?
Spokesman: Obviously, we’re aware… I think, first of all, our thoughts need to be with the victims of the massacres that took place in Srebrenica and with the relatives of the victims and the survivors and all of those who perished in the atrocities committed throughout the Former Yugoslavia. As you know, the UN was not a party to this court case, which was in a national court in the Netherlands. We will study the judgment carefully, but, at this point, we’re not going to make any further comment, because our… my understanding, at least, is that it will be appealed to a higher court. And as you know, the UN issued years ago a rather exhaustive report on its failings, the Organization’s failings in Srebrenica.
Question: But isn’t it not a party because it cited immunity early in the case? I mean, I’ve seen the lawyer even of this current case saying that that’s why the UN’s not…
Spokesman: Well, the fact is we’re not a party.
Question: Okay. All right. And just if… just two related. One, there’s a case also in The Hague against Royal Dutch Shell by the… the… the… it’s called the Ogoni nine, but it’s a case basically tying corporate responsibility to a military crackdown. Separately, there’s a case now just begun against the Banc Nationale de Paribas about the Rwanda genocide. I don’t expect… you can say obviously these are not UN related, but since both seem to be members of the UN Global Compact, I wanted to know, does the UN track such high‑profile human rights corporate cases? And, if so, what… are… are the institutions expected to respond?
Spokesman: My understanding is that these cases are all ongoing, and the Global Compact, as you know, has a mechanism to deal with its own members. So I will leave it at that. Okay. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There’s a report that says that Israel has prosecuted more than 5,000 Palestinian children. At… at presently, according to United Nations, there is like… there are about 354 children in Israeli jails. Can you tell us, has you… have you had any conversation with the Israeli authorities to release them at all?
Spokesman: I think you’ve raised this issue before, and I have nothing new to add. Olga, did you have your hand raised? Did I answer your question?
Correspondent: You answered my question.
Spokesman: All right. Then we’ll get to Mr. Kennedy, if you can come up. Thank you.
Question: On the Burundi thing, have you run the names through?
Spokesman: As soon as I have something on it, I will share it.