The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
My guest today will be Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs [DESA]. He will be here to brief you on the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York and should be arriving in the next hour or so.
Yesterday, as you will have seen, he held separate meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine. He also had discussions with people who had been displaced by the conflict in Ukraine. Speaking to the press along with President [Petro] Poroshenko, the Secretary-General highlighted his strong emotional ties to the Ukrainian people. He said that he deeply felt the suffering of those who have been displaced and stressed his commitment to address their plight.
On Saturday, he wrapped up his participation at the G-20 [Group of Twenty] Summit in Hamburg, Germany. In the morning, he attended an event to promote women’s entrepreneurship hosted by the White House and the World Bank, followed by a G-20 working session on partnership with Africa, migration and health. The Secretary-General also met with President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea and took part on a lunch on digitalization and women's empowerment.
We issued a statement earlier today on the recovery of Mosul.
The recovery of Mosul is a significant step in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
The Secretary-General pays tribute to the people and Government of Iraq for their courage, determination and perseverance. He also expresses his sincere condolences for the loss of lives and wishes speedy recovery to those injured.
The United Nations will stand by the Government of Iraq in the tasks ahead of creating the necessary conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced communities, restoring the rule of law in freed up areas, preventing a return to violence and fostering accountability for all violations committed.
Our colleagues on the ground tell us that while there may be an end to military conflict in Mosul, there is still no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, will continue to play a key role in assisting displaced Iraqis for as long as it is necessary.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced; many have lost relatives, their homes, and have been injured. It’s likely that many thousands of people may have to remain in displacement for months to come. More details in UNHCR briefing notes.
Humanitarian workers report that, of the 54 residential neighbourhoods in western Mosul, 15 are heavily damaged and at least 23 are moderately damaged. Humanitarians are also concerned for civilians who are trapped in the areas where fighting is likely to occur, including Tel Afar, Hawija and western Anbar.
The latest round of talks among the Syrian parties began today in Geneva. Speaking to the press, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy, noted that we are witnessing a phase of simplification of one of the most complex conflicts of our time.
He highlighted a pragmatic approach to institutional engineering and the need for incremental progress. His remarks are available on our webcast and the transcript will be done shortly.
We issued a statement earlier today on Syria, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Governments of Jordan, Russia and the United States of a de-escalation zone and arrangements to support a ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian assistance in southwest Syria.
This is a significant step towards reducing violence and increasing humanitarian access across Syria, in line with the pursuit of the goal of a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, as endorsed by multiple Security Council resolutions.
Notwithstanding this positive development, the Secretary-General urges all countries to preserve the right for all Syrians to seek asylum and enjoy refugee protection until conditions are conducive for return in safety and dignity.
As the UN reconvenes the intra-Syrian talks on a political settlement based on Security Council resolution 2254, the Secretary-General urged all parties to redouble efforts for a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) report that peacekeepers on Saturday prevented the abduction of internally displaced people by two armed individuals wearing uniforms of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) outside the protection of civilians site in Bentiu in Unity State. A Mongolian Quick Reaction Force was deployed to the scene when the UN Mission first noticed the soldiers harassing the civilians. The troops fired warning shots over the heads of the soldiers, who were also behaving aggressively towards the peacekeepers, including firing at them. The soldiers fled to the bush. No casualties were reported.
The UN Mission has reported the incident to the SPLA leadership in the region, who assured the Mission that they will investigate the issue.
Back here, the Security Council today adopted a resolution to establish a political mission in Colombia, called the UN Verification Mission, for an initial period of 12 months, headed by a Special Representative of the Secretary-General. That Mission will begin its activities on 26 September of this year.
According to the resolution, the Verification Mission shall verify implementation by the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army] of different parts of the Final Agreement, including the process of political, economic and social reincorporation of the FARC-EP and the implementation of personal and collective security guarantees, as well as comprehensive programmes on security and protection measures for communities and organizations in the territories.
Yesterday in Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in that country, Michael Keating, welcomed the opening of the second session of the Somali Parliament.
He congratulated the Speaker and the parliamentarians and stressed that they can make significant progress by passing key legislation, including the electoral law, legislation enabling a constitutional review and revenue-generating laws.
Mr. Keating added that real sovereignty for Somalia depends upon the country reducing its dependency upon others, and its ability to raise revenues and shape its own agenda.
Our humanitarian colleagues inform us that the unprecedented cholera outbreak in Yemen has now surged passed 300,000 suspected cases, with over 1,700 associated deaths in just 75 days.
Cholera is present in 92 per cent of Yemen’s districts, in all governorates except Socotra Island. Children under the age of 15 account for 40 per cent and 25 per cent of suspected cases and fatalities respectively. People over 60 also represent 30 per cent of fatalities.
In Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it will be able to provide food assistance to more than 577,000 people in need, thanks to a $20 million dollar contribution by the United States.
The money will be spent to buy local wheat flour, salt, yellow peas and cooking oil, among other supplies, and will benefit internally displaced people, people affected by natural disasters and people who struggle to feed their families at certain times of the year.
UNHCR, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], and the International Rescue Committee today issued a road map for action to improve the situation of refugee and migrant children arriving and staying in Europe without their parents or care givers. More information on UNCHR’s website.
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here on marine biodiversity, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the UN.
Speakers will include: José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and Co-Chair of the Global Ocean Commission; Sophie Mirgaux, the senior international negotiator for Belgium’s Department for the Marine Environment; Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho of Mexico; and Dr. Lucy Woodall of Oxford University.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Happy Monday. Thanks, Steph. Anything…
Spokesman: It is so far.
Question: Anything… let's change that for you. Anything on the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]? The head of the Electoral Commission there has said that it's not going to be possible to hold presidential elections before the end of the year. How concerned are you that that is an indication that President [Joseph] Kabila will stay on even longer beyond his term?
Spokesman: We've taken note of the comments made by the President of the Electoral Commission. We trust that the commission will soon publish an electoral calendar, clarifying when exactly the presidential and legislative elections will take place. The head of the peacekeeping department, Mr. [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix, will be briefing the Council tomorrow, and we'll have more information on this issue… on the focus on the Congolese authorities and the electoral calendar. Yes, sir?
Question: Do we have a number for the number for the displaced persons in… near Mosul or more generally in Iraq with the UNHCR?
Spokesman: Sure. The number… let me find out. We've had that number for a while. The latest, as of couple of weeks ago, I think the… basically, about 862,000 [people] had been displaced. So, we can imagine that number is now slightly higher. As we've said, you know, we obviously welcome the end of the fighting. The humanitarian crisis continues. And, obviously, the quick… the focus will be on providing humanitarian assistance and rebuilding basic services as quickly as possible in the city, focusing, obviously, on water and the issue of electricity grid. We've been in touch with Lise Grande's office, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, and we're trying to get her to brief you here this week by video conference. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Some other things, but I wanted… something else on DRC. There's been a letter by ten US senators bip… pretty much bipartisan about the killings of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. And I wanted to ask you about this sentence in it. They said that they… they… you know, they've heard of the UN Board of Inquiry [BOI], but they understand, quote, it will not seek to identify perpetrators or what happened to Mr. Sharp's and Ms. Catalan's Congolese interpreter and drivers. So, they're asking for a more serious investigation. One, I wanted to know, generally, just what's the status of that Board of Inquiry given the… the interest and what happened. And is it true that the Board of Inquiry, as… as these senators are saying, will not look at all at what happened into the UN‑contracted interpreter and driver?
Spokesman: No. The BOI is under way. We… last I'd heard, we expect it for the end of this month. As we've said, we would effort to make some of its findings public. The BOI was appointed to establish the facts and, if possible, identify the perpetrators around the killings. We'll submit a report with recommendations as to the next step. We're also looking at further options that may be available to us. Obviously, first and foremost, the responsibility lies on the Congolese authorities. We cannot substitute ourselves for a national criminal investigation unless, of course, there is a Security Council mandate. I think I would urge you to wait and see what the findings are, and then we can take it, next step. My understanding also is that the letter was addressed, from what I saw in the press reports, to Ambassador [Nikki] Haley, not to the Secretary‑General.
Question: Oh, no, absolutely…
Spokesman: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, I'm just…
Question: Because… I made the… what I wanted to know is, one, I remember at the time, there was some dispute about whether the… in fact, the interpreter of the two experts had also been found dead. Is that… is your understanding that he has?
Spokesman: My… I don't have an understanding into that. I think we have to wait for the BOI and see what facts they would have been able to clear up. Nabil and then Linda.
Question: On de‑escalation zones in Syria, is the UN a partner in… in these agreements, or do you have any role to monitor them…?
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that we are not a partner. Obviously, as the Secretary‑General said, we welcome them. We welcome anything that would lessen the violence and also help us improve the humanitarian access, which has been so challenging, to say the least.
Question: And is Mr. de Mistura planning to brief the Council later this week from here or from Geneva?
Spokesman: He is in Geneva, I think, at least through… he's not moving until the talks finish. From what I remember hearing just a few minutes ago from the press conference, I think they're looking till Friday or Saturday. I think you have to check with what he actually said, but he's not going to leave Geneva. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Again, regarding the talks, I was wondering, is there a list of the participants, primarily, for example… you know, the Syrian participants?
Spokesman: You mean the Syrian talks. We'll put you in touch with our colleagues in Geneva. I don't have that information with me. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. Does the United Nations have any comment on the joint press statement by the US, the UK, and France on 7 July, which places them in direct violation of article 6 of the nuclear Non‑Proliferation Treaty, which requires them to negotiate the disarmament of nuclear weapons in good faith? They stated, "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become a party to the treaty," which was adopted by 122 Member States. Is… does the UN have any reaction to this? And I'm assuming that the treaty, which was just adopted, is considered entirely legitimate and a… a United Nations…
Spokesman: Well, there's no issue on the legitimacy of the treaty. It was passed with the needed votes. The Secretary‑General welcomed the adoption of the treaty as an important step towards building a nuclear‑free world. The treaty, my understanding, will be open for signature in September, as the Secretary‑General is the depositary of the treaty. And, as I said, we welcome it as an important step towards building a nuclear‑free world. We hope that all Member States, like… as with all UN treaties, we hope that all Member States will eventually support the treaty.
Question: The violation of article 6 of the nuclear non‑proliferation…
Spokesman: I've said what I've had to say. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Sure. I wanted to ask you, there's… Nigeria has summoned the… the representative of Cameroon. They say that up to 97 Nigerians or ethnic Nigerians were killed in Bakassi by… by Cameroonian forces. Given the UN's role in the Bakassi Peninsula, [inaudible]…
Spokesman: I'll check. [inaudible]
Question: …you haven't seen this one? And I also wanted to ask you, on Cameroon, the former UN legal adviser, Mr. Felix Agbor Balla, has now been moved to solitary confinement. It's all over the press in Cameroon. I just… I want to ask you again, particularly… particularly but not only because he's a former UN official now placed in solitary confinement facing the death penalty for advocacy of… of autonomy, is there any…
Spokesman: I don't have anything on that today, but I will try to get you something. One last one.
Question: And I wanted to ask you whether… whether the Secretary‑General… there's a… there's an interview with Louise Arbour on the topic of migration in the Corriere della Sera, and she says clear… you know, she says, "Giving"… quote, "Giving money to the Libyans will only serve to increase the migration flows," quote, "granting funds to the safe Coast Guard is not the solution." So, since she is the Special Adviser on migration, are these the Secretary‑General's views?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's view is that we need a comprehensive compact between those countries of origin, those countries of transit, and the countries of destination to manage the flow of people, of migrants, which has been in existence since time in memoriam and will continue. It needs to be managed in the best possible way. Thank you. I'll get to our guest.