The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Head of the Peacekeeping Department, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He told Council member that it was more necessary than ever for the national political parties and international partners to be mobilized in order to put the 31 December 2016 Agreement back on track. On the security front, he noted that instability persists in a number of areas in the East and in the West, with the violence in the Kasaï provinces reaching disturbing levels.
In response to these developments in the Kasaï provinces, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has established small and mobile presences in various locations to help protect civilians. However, despite these efforts, disturbing reports of human rights violations and abuses continue to be received on a daily basis. Mr. Lacroix said that in the current financial context, it will be critical to ensure that the Mission make the best possible use of the resources placed at its disposal by focusing on a limited set of key priorities. The strategic review of the Mission is under way and the Council will be presented with options as requested by 30 September.
You will have seen that in a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General welcomed the establishment of a new UN political mission in Colombia. The Mission is tasked with verifying the commitments in the Peace Agreement relating to the reintegration of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the implementation of security guarantees for the group and conflict-affected communities. The UN Verification Mission in Colombia will begin its activities on 26 September.
Today marks the twenty-second anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the largest atrocity on European soil since the founding of the United Nations. In a statement by the Secretary-General that was issued to mark the day, we remember and honour the thousands of men and boys who were slaughtered, and express our solidarity with the families and friends of those whose lives were taken. The terrible events that occurred in Srebrenica in July 1995 are historical facts and have been documented extensively.
Both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have concluded that the acts committed at Srebrenica constituted genocide. To help prevent future [such] atrocities, we must look honestly at the past, and acknowledge that these crimes occurred and our roles in allowing them to occur. The Secretary-General’s statement is online.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said today that the retaking of Mosul from Da’esh by Iraqi Government forces, supported by their International Coalition partners, marks a significant turning point in the conflict. But, he added that Iraq faces a series of human rights challenges which, if left unaddressed, are likely to spark further violence and civilian suffering. With Mosul now reclaimed, the extent of Da’esh’s violations and abuses has become even more evident.
Information gathered by the UN Human Rights Office strongly suggests that international crimes may have been perpetrated by Da’esh during the three years that the group was in control not only of Mosul but of large areas of Iraq. Horrific though the group’s crimes are, there is no place for vengeance, the High Commissioner said. As soon as practicable after re-taking of areas from Da’esh, he added, the Iraqi Government should ensure that responsibility for law and order is restored to civilian control and that the human rights and basic humanitarian needs of civilians in those areas are met.
From the humanitarian side, we are told that, over the last three days, the water situation — excuse me, this is concerning Syria — the water situation in the Syrian city of Menbij and the surrounding area has improved after the water department managed to finalize some maintenance work and found a new temporary system for water distribution. Throughout Syria, 51 per cent of the population does not have regular access to the public water network — with high regional variations. Meanwhile, we continue to be deeply concerned for the safety and protection of thousands of civilians trapped inside Raqqa, as fighting and military operations in the area continue. As fighting intensifies, airstrikes are reportedly resulting in death and injury of civilians and hindering civilian movement out of the city.
Turning to Gaza, the UN country team in the Occupied Palestinian Territory released a report today that says that real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Gaza has decreased over the past decade, while the provision of health services has continued to decline, and the demand for additional health clinics, doctors and hospital beds has not been met. Thanks in large part to the scale of services provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Gaza has maintained high education standards but average daily classroom time for students remains as low as four hours per day.
The report calls on Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the international community to take action towards more sustainable development investments, reinvigoration of Gaza’s productive sectors, improvement of freedom of movement for both people and goods, as well as respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Piper warns that the alternative will be a Gaza that is more isolated and more desperate. More in the report and in a press release online.
According to a report released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), only 23 million people representing less than 0.5 per cent of adults worldwide are actively preparing to migrate abroad. The countries with the highest number of adults planning to migrate abroad are Nigeria, India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the most popular destination for those planning to migrate is the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, France, Canada, Germany and South Africa. Adults planning to migrate are generally male, young, single, living in urban areas and more likely to have completed at least secondary level education.
Our friends the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have launched a partnership with eleven of the world’s leading banks to promote climate transparency in financial markets. The banks have committed to develop analytical tools and indicators to strengthen their assessment and disclosure of climate‑related risks, as well as opportunities. The data obtained will be made available to companies, investors, lenders and insurers with the aim of boosting climate‑friendly investments. More information from UNEP.
**World Population Day
Today is… what is today? Apart from Tuesday? Today is World Population Day. This year’s theme is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations”. In London, representatives from 37 countries, as well as businesses and civil society are gathered at the Family Planning Summit, which is being co-hosted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). And the Deputy Secretary-General is also there. In a statement, the Acting Executive Director of UNFPA, Natalia Kanem, noted that since its creation 50 years ago, UNFPA has contributed to nearly doubling the use of modern contraceptives worldwide, from 36 per cent in 1970 to 64 per cent in 2016.
She added that despite this dramatic progress, enormous challenges remain: some 214 million women in developing countries lack modern family planning. Fulfilling their demand would save lives by averting 67 million unintended pregnancies and reducing by one third the estimated 303,000 maternal deaths that occur every year.
I was asked earlier today by one of your colleagues about new settlements… the plan for new settlements that are being planned in East Jerusalem. I can say that we have seen the reports about the advancement of plans for a large number of housing units in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, which is alarming. We are also deeply concerned that the Jerusalem District Planning Committee is reportedly set to discuss plans for additional units in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, some of which may entail evicting current Palestinian residents. Once again, we condemn all unilateral actions that threaten peace and undermine the two-State solution. Mr. Klein?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. You… you mentioned the in‑country Gaza report, and, while I haven't gone through the whole thing, I note one item in particular, the reference throughout the report to Gaza as still occupied territory even though it's run day to day by Hamas. But, in the footnote explaining that characterization, the author cites a report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories. And you've said from the podium numerous times that the opinion of the Special Rapporteur is that of an independent individual and not necessarily that of the United Nations. So, what I want to ask you is: is the Secretary‑General himself of the view that Gaza remains part of the “occupied territories”, occupied by Israel…?
Spokesman: That is the view of the United Nations. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, on… on… on Cyprus, since the… the, whatever, collapse, failure or suspension of the talks, Cyprus has announced that they intend to go forward this week with natural gas drilling with Total and ENI. And Turkey has made a statement that this would be an irresponsible move. I guess the threat is against the companies, not Cyprus itself. But, does the UN or the Special Envoy have a view of whether this should go forward this week?
Spokesman: I don't have anything on that for you. I will try to get you an answer later today.
Question: And I wanted… you may or may not have a comment on this, but maybe you could get one. Since you were talk… I wasn't… about World Population Day and the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] is there, you may have seen that there was a speech by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, at the G20 in which… he said other things; it's more complicated than this, but he definitely did say that one of the things holding Africa back is women having, quote, seven children apiece. He called it civilizational… see, there's a lot of controversy online that you can find. But, what I wanted to ask you is, what does the UN, given it's a P5 member, was a major speech and a major conference where the Secretary‑General was… took part, either do you have a view of this speech, or can you ask if the Deputy Secretary‑General that works on these very issues has a view…?
Spokesman: We're not going… I haven't particularly seen the speech. We're not going to comment on it. But, obviously, it's clear from our point of view that women everywhere should have access to family planning services, to maternal health, and that families as a whole should have access to family planning services in the best and safest possible way.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, yesterday was a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir targeting pilgrims, and seven pilgrims were killed, including women… five women. And police authorities in Kashmir have said that Pakistan‑based Lashkar‑e‑Taiba was behind the attack and a Pakistani terrorist was behind the attack. Does the SG [Secretary-General] have a comment on this?
Spokesman: We have… I mean, you know, I would only comment on the deaths of civilians, which is to be condemned in any situation. We're obviously looking a little closer to exactly what happened. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As you indicated, the new peace mission in Colombia will begin in couple of months. Are there any candidates to head the mission?
Spokesman: As you know, when staffing announcements are ready to be made, they are made, but we're not going to comment beforehand. Yep?
Question: Stéphane, do you have any information about ISIS leader [Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi's fate? Because some report that he's dead. And other question, Syria, there was some ceasefire agreement in the south and still some violations are reported. Do you have any information?
Spokesman: No, I think as Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura said it himself best, there is always some teething problems when ceasefires or the cessation of hostilities comes into place. I think that's to be expected in any situation. We, obviously, very much hope it will hold. We welcome the agreement, and we also hope that, not only will lead to a reduction of violence for the sake of those people still living in the area, but also enable the UN and its Syrian partners, humanitarian partners, to deliver as much humanitarian aid as possible. Yeah? And nothing on al-Baghdadi. I have no way of knowing one way or another.
Question: Thank you. As you know, the political forum for… on sustainable development has begun this week, and I just wanted to know which goal does the SG feel the most worried or concerned about accomplishing and which goal he feels the most optimistic about?
Spokesman: I think we have to wait for the forum to finish. Mr. Wu Hongbo, I think, gave a pretty extensive briefing yesterday. Let's wait to see how the forum goes and what the conclusions are so that countries will be presenting their own progress. Obviously, we would like to see progress across the board. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to the family planning, is that a summit or a meeting? How is it characterized?
Spokesman: It's a family planning summit, I think is organized by the UK. But, I should… let me find out a bit more for you.
Question: Okay. But this is my question. Doesn't a summit usually imply that all countries are invited, like the 193 countries…?
Spokesman: I don't believe — and I will stand corrected before the end of this briefing — that it is a UN Summit. Obviously, in the UN jargon, we would call that a summit, but also you have the G20 summit, the G7 summit. I think to me “summit” implies that the representation is at the highest level possible. It doesn't necessarily imply universality.
Question: But, it does… doesn't it generally imply that everyone's been invited? The reason I'm bringing it up is, I thought you said that only 37 countries were participating, so that's just like…
Spokesman: Let me find out… as I said, I don't think… we are not the sponsors of it, but let me find out. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I have two… at least two questions. One is… has to do with Sudan. The country team there has put out a statement saying it “looks forward to the decision that will be taken shortly on sanctions”. This is in reference to the US's unilateral sanctions on Sudan. It's a matter of some controversy here. There are many people in Congress actually writing to the State Department saying don't remove it given the situation in Darfur. So, I wanted to know, I always thought the UN really didn't talk about sanctions. Is this a… was this… is this statement by the country team in Sudan, was this run by DPA [Department of Political Affairs]? Is it the UN…?
Spokesman: You should refer those questions to the UN country team in Sudan. Next question. I'm not saying it wasn't official, but I'm saying they can speak for themselves.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you this. I tried to hold off, but the case is coming, is moving along quickly again about the John Ashe… may he rest in peace… and Ng Lap Seng. And the reason I'm asking you is that there's a controversy now of the defence, Mr. Ng Lap Seng's defence, wanting to use videos to cross‑examine Francis Lorenzo, who's been testifying for a few days, including that he received $1 million in bribes to obtain the document that was modified by the Secretariat. And since, as you know, there were South‑South videos that made their way into the UNTV system in some way, and I know I've asked you before… I just… I went back and looked at it. There are 17. They're still there. They're not all having to do with Habitat. Has there been any review by the UN to figure out, now that South‑South News is being described every day in Southern District of New York as a bribery conduit, how that happened? And is there any either accountability or are they going to remain in there? What's the status and do you believe that any of these videos will be used in court?
Spokesman: I think… well, I'm not a lawyer. I'm not involved in the case. It's not up to me to decide what's going to be used in court. As I've said, we've cooperated to the best of our abilities with the prosecution, with the legal authorities here in the US. I think the fact there were… at the time, I think there was an explanation for why these videos were on board. We can… and that's really all I have to say.
Question: One final comment. Just… one question. You said that the… the UN has cooperated to the extent it could with the legal authorities. And they've complained that the list of people that were spoken to to write the UN task force report, which is also a major issue in the case now, was never provided to them. And so, therefore, they don't want it in at all. There's a big dispute. But, why was it… can you say why it was that the UN declined to provide a list of people spoken to?
Spokesman: No, I'm not going to comment on that. Herman?
Question: Yeah. On Mali, there are 10 soldiers missing after ambush with… after an ambush by suspected Islamists. Are you aware of it? Can you give us more detail?
Spokesman: We're looking into the situation. Joe, then Mr. Avni, then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Back to the Gaza report. Is it fair to assume that this is regarded as an official UN report adopted in its entirety or agreed to in its entirety by the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: It's a report issued by the UN country team in the name of the UN country team.
Correspondent: And the Secretary‑General… because we've had issues before with other documents where the Secretary‑General said it didn't go through all the appropriate review process.
Spokesman: Well, those reports were issued in his name. This is a report by the UN country team. It's their duty to report on… it's part of their work. They report. This… what's the question before you lay out the premise?
Correspondent: No, I'm just trying to… to, first of all, get the appropriate characterization of the document, which does go into various factors causing the… what he describes as a very serious distressing situation in Gaza, among which, it says, the Hamas takeover of Gaza has had a significant impact on the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. The fact that no presidential or legislative elections have been held in Palestine since 2006 has also created a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of State institutions and their actions on both sides of the divide. And, you know, I know in your statement that you read out, there was a general call for all parties, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, to… as well as Israel, to cooperate in trying to improve the situation. But, there are some very specific criticisms of Hamas in terms of its terrorist attacks, the division between the PA [Palestinian Authority] and Hamas, what I read you, and there are a lot of others, parallel systems, calling into question whether there is legitimacy for calling Palestine a State. So, that's why I'm asking whether the Secretary‑General adopts… is adopting or agrees with the complete content of this document.
Spokesman: I'm… it is a UN report. We stand by the report. And, you know, I've read out a basic press summary of the report. I could have stood here and read out the whole report, but it would have taken out… taken a bit of time. You're obviously reading it, which is good, and you'll report on it. We stand by the report. And I'm told Mr. Lacroix will be at the stakeout in about 10 minutes. We still have some time for grilling. Mr. Avni?
Question: There are several reports about new factory… missile factories in Lebanon, built by Hizbullah and Iran. Has any of them been observed by UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]?
Spokesman: We've asked that question of our colleagues at UNIFIL. I'm waiting for an answer. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I saw on the Secretary‑General's schedule that he's meeting with Mark Lowcock this evening. Is there… is he… when it says incoming, when does he actually…?
Spokesman: I think 1 September, if I'm not mistaken.
Question: Okay. So, this was just kind of a… all right. And the other one has to do with the Personal Envoy on Western Sahara. Some time's gone by. Some people are saying there's kind of a loss of momentum, if there was any momentum. What's happening or does the Secretary‑General recognise that not having an envoy for this period of time…?
Spokesman: There's… I think we will be the first ones to recognize that there's been some time, and as soon as I have something to announce, I will announce it. We would have been happy to announce it earlier, but… go ahead.
Question: Are you able to say which side…?
Spokesman: No, no, all sides… both sides have… there's been no disagreement from both sides. It's an issue still being worked out.
Question: And on… on this… this… I just want to ask one more time about the Myanmar and the decision by the Government led by, you know, Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to not allow the UN examination team. Many Governments are saying the international community as a whole should do everything possible to get them in there, given what's happened with the Rohingya. Has the Secretary‑General made a call? Does he anticipate making a call?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General believes that all countries should cooperate fully with the human rights mechanisms. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you. Is the UN making any contingency plan for the possible reconstruction of Iraq?
Spokesman: Definitely. I think, as Ms. [Lise] Grande has told you in the past, and as we have… as we hope to have her brief you, I think, on Friday — we're planning to have her come in here in person, 11 a.m. on Friday — I think she will outline that the UN is… the UN system is partnering up with the Government of Iraq to help rebuild Mosul, help the Government return basic services to Mosul. A lot of the UN support of the Government has been focusing on the water system and the power grid. I think the fastest we can help the Government return basic services to Mosul, people feel safe to come home, I think the better it will be for everybody. I'm told, Mr. Avni, that UNIFIL has not observed any evidence of illegal weapons transferred in its area of operations. Stefano and then Linda. Don't worry. I haven't forgotten.
Question: Thank you. How much interest the Secretary‑General has on… on the debate if Russia in… there was Russian interference on the US democratic election 2016? I mean, President [Vladimir] Putin had denied any interference, but there are reports from intelligence that say that Russia has… there has been actually an interference. So, if… if, in the next days, we continue to have proof of this interference, I mean, if they come out, there was going to be a reaction of the Secretary‑General? Is a… is a matter of concern this or not?
Spokesman: I think… you know, we have no intelligence, because it's not a debate in which we're involved in. We're reading press reports as anybody else is, and I will leave it at that. Ms. Fasulo, on your question, the… the London summit, the department… it's the department… the UK Department of [for] International Development, DFID, is cohosting a global summit on family planning in London with the UN Population Fund, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with Family Planning 2020, close partnership with US Agency for International Development and Global Affairs Canada to re‑energize global commitment to one of the “best buys in development rights‑based family planning programmes”. There you go.
Question: Just quickly on that, so the question… the question is, if there are only 37 countries participating, is that like one of the lowest participation levels?
Spokesman: No, I think… listen, we need to look at who was invited. As I said, I think, to me, the term “summit” calls for a meeting that is at the highest possible representation. It doesn't imply universality. We have the G7 summit, which is seven people… seven Heads of States invited, plus, you know, others are on the… or others on the guest list, same thing for the G20 or the BRICS. I mean, “summit”, to me, is about representation of delegation. It is not about universality, but we will check in my office to see exactly how many countries were invited.
Question: Excuse me. Thank you very much on that. Going back to the question… I have a question about migration. You said there were, I don't know, thousands, tens of thousands, of people who wanted to emigrate to the United States. I assume these are economic migrants. Is there a UN position in terms of the rights of economic migrants to travel to any country? And are those economic migrants equivalent to what the US calls illegal immigrants?
Spokesman: Okay. I think we're involved in a big question here. What I said was… flagged a report from the[International Organization for Migration], which handles migrants, as opposed to refugees. I think the point that they're making is, as opposed to what may be common perception, there are only very… there's very few people who are planning to migrate. Right? Only 23 million people, representing less than 0.5 per cent of adults worldwide, are actively preparing to migrate abroad. Okay? And they're… according to IOM, the top places are the UK, Saudi Arabia, US, France, South Africa and Germany. That's the point that we're making is that, in fact, the number is very low. For the UN, what is important — and this is the work that Louise Arbour is leading — is to get a global compact on how to better manage migration which involves a dialogue with the countries of origin, the countries of transit, and the countries of destination.
Question: But, does the UN believe that economic migrants have the right from anywhere to emigrate or…?
Spokesman: No, there are two things. Refugees have very clear rights under the 1951 Convention on Refugees. Migrants have the right to have their human rights respected, to be treated with compassion and within legal bounds, but they also have a responsible… people have a responsibility to obey laws, and countries have the right to protect their borders and to manage migration. But, what we want to see is exactly that: a migration that is managed. People are going to move, and so you need to manage it in a way that takes the power right now from the hands of criminal elements, you know, people smugglers, to a system where Governments can enter into dialogue, countries of… that receive migrants, countries that, you know, where migrants come from, can manage this migration, because people migrate, A, because, obviously, they're looking for better economic opportunities, but they also migrate because, in a lot of developed countries, there is a need for labour. Right? And this whole process needs to be managed. Migration's not going away. People have been moving from… in search of a better life since we were able to move on two feet and probably even before. And it's a process that needs to be managed. That's the point we're trying to make. Good day.