The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Secretary‑General on Nigeria:
The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the suicide attacks on 24 July in the two camps for internally displaced persons near Maiduguri, Borno State, in Nigeria. These terrorist acts are targeting people who had already fled their homes as a result of Boko Haram violence.
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 calls for those responsible for this heinous act to be swiftly brought to justice. He reiterates the United Nations support to the Government of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism and violent extremism in full observance of international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council that developments over the past 11 days at the holy sites of the Old City in Jerusalem have demonstrated the grave risk of dangerous escalation that exists — a risk of turning the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict into a religious one and dragging both sides into the vortex of violence with the rest of the region.
He welcomed last night’s decision by the Israeli security cabinet to remove the metal detectors, while ensuring the security of visitors and worshippers to the holy sites. He hopes that the cabinet decision will lead to a calming of the current tensions and will enable a return of worshippers to the Holy Esplanade. It is expected that President Abbas will convene the Palestinian leadership later tonight to discuss these developments.
Mr. Mladenov said that all parties must refrain from provocative actions, show restraint, and bring a conclusive end to this crisis in the next few days. In these efforts, constant discussion with the Islamic religious authorities in Jerusalem and the Palestinian leadership can greatly contribute to maintaining calm in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. His remarks at the Council’s open debate are available in our office.
Our colleagues are deeply concerned by reports of deadly air strikes on the town of Arbin in Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta yesterday. The UN has also received unverified reports of air strikes on Duma city and Zamalka town in eastern Ghouta. These reports come despite the 22 July announcement of a ceasefire for eastern Ghouta.
The UN is concerned for the protection and well‑being of the 400,000 people in eastern Ghouta, with reports of people in desperate need of medicine, health supplies, food, nutrition and other life‑saving assistance.
Our humanitarian colleagues also cite reports of increased fighting in several locations in Idleb Governorate, including the area around the Bab Al‑Hawa border crossing, which hosts a large number of settlements and camps for displaced people.
The clashes continue to undermine the delivery of much needed life‑saving assistance through the Bab Al‑Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria, which has remained closed since 19 July, with no UN cross‑border shipments having taken place since then.
Thousands of civilians also remain trapped in Raqqa city as fighting continues in the area, with more than 202,000 people having been displaced since April.
Over the weekend, a UN/Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy delivered assistance for 33,500 people in the hard‑to‑reach Dar Al‑Kabira area in rural Homs. Solar lamps, plastic sheets and some health supplies were not allowed to be loaded or were reduced in quantity. The area was last reached on 20 April.
The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, is in Abyei today, where he met with local communities and UN personnel.
He earlier visited North Darfur, where he met with the Governor in El Fasher. The two discussed continued support to vulnerable populations, especially internally displaced persons. They also exchanged on plans for capacity‑building in the area of rule of law, as well as on cooperation in the reconfiguration of the African Union‑United Nations Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, and the implementation of the mission’s new mandate.
Mr. Lacroix also visited Golo, in Central Darfur, and engaged with local communities in the area where the mission will establish a new team site for the protection of civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance. Mr. Lacroix was also in Khartoum, where he met with Government officials and discussed the situation in Darfur, Abyei and the wider region.
He will continue his trip by visiting South Sudan in the coming days.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she had a press encounter following her meeting with the country’s Vice‑Prime Minister, Léonard She Okitundu.
On the issue of sexual violence, she said the DRC has made some progress but stressed that not only do we have to solve the problems of today, we have to prevent them from ever happening again.
As you know, this visit is being carried out in conjunction with the African Union to raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in peace and security processes and of ensuring that women’s voices are heard in all aspects of society.
I also want to flag that Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, is in Honduras until 27 July.
He is expected to meet with Government officials, the National Human Rights Institution, human rights defenders, civil society representatives, the UN Country Team and the international community in Honduras.
He will pay particular attention to the protection of human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as well as the fight against impunity.
This will be the second visit to Honduras by a senior official from the Office of the High Commissioner since the agreement with the Government to open a UN Human Rights Office in the country in May 2015.
**Questions and Answers
Deputy Spokesman: That is it for me. Do you have any questions? Yes, Joe.
Question: Yes, the Israeli ambassador today at the press stakeout said that the Palestinian Authority is spending as much as 7 per cent of its annual budget on salary payments to terrorists and payments to terrorist families. He also said that those payments constitute approximately 30 per cent of the foreign aid being given to the Palestinian Authority. I know I asked you this question yesterday, and I listened carefully to Mr. Mladenov’s statement today. There was no reference in that statement today, at least to the whole issue of the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists and their families. So, again, I would like to ask, from the Secretary‑General’s perspective, to comment on the propriety of continuing such payments.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on Mr. Mladenov’s comments, I’ll leave them as they are. They speak for themselves. Regarding the basic point of principle, our basic point of principle is that we are against all incitement to violence. I do not have any information to verify what Ambassador [Danny] Danon says. We’re aware of his remarks this morning.
Question: Well, would you… would the Secretary‑General or you on his behalf consider regular salary payments to terrorists in Israeli prisons and/or their families to constitute encouragement or incitement to violence?
Deputy Spokesman: I think Mr. Mladenov has commented on this in the past. I’ll leave that in his hands. Yeah, Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane [sic]. Tell me something, Israel, with all the financial dealings of the Palestinians completely, reimburses the Palestinians for the taxes that it collects on their behalf. So how does the Secretary‑General see this continuous happening? Is that still a fact — that is happening?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you’re aware, we’ve asked for the reimbursement to the Palestinian authorities to be made regularly, and this is an issue that whenever there have been any difficulties, we’ve tried to resolve those.
Question: So you’re saying the reimbursement process is going on unimpeded? Because they usually withhold payments of the Palestinians.
Deputy Spokesman: Whenever there are issues about withholding payments, we try to have those resolved. Regarding the situation as it stands today, the Security Council received a briefing on this from Mr. Mladenov, and I’ll leave it at that. Luke?
Question: Shifting gears here. There’s a big new report out today that found that nearly all of these American football NFL players who donated their brains to science suffered from a very severe degenerative brain disease called CTE. I know the UN has an office that promotes sport as a means of peace and development and fulfilling the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). Where do these very serious health risks from sports, football, soccer not immune either, how does that fit into the message of getting kids to play these sports?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we try to encourage people to participate in sports as an activity as a way of encouraging community involvement. It helps give people a peaceful outlet in places which have sometimes been countries in conflict. It provides people with a set of skills and improves their overall health. These are complex issues having to do with people at the most professional levels of sport, and we certainly hope that at that level, steps are taken to ensure that proper health considerations, proper safety considerations are put in place, just as we would at any other occupation. This isn’t just a World Health Organization (WHO) issue, in other words. It’s something that deals with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its requirements that all jobs have basic conditions of workplace safety.
Question: But the concern doesn’t extend below the professional level?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, obviously it concerns everyone everywhere, but part of these problems have to do with people at the professional level who take a lot of hits, as I understand it. Playing sports casually with friends should be safe, but obviously the people who organize those activities need to make sure that they’re conducted in a safe manner. But sport by its very nature is not deemed to be unsafe. It has actually contributions to peoples’ health through activity. Yeah?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in the Maldives, the army has blockaded the parliament and fired teargas at opposition lawmakers. So I wanted to know, I know there’s been some involvement in the past by the UN on it. Is this something, particularly under the idea of conflict prevention or otherwise, that the UN is aware of, and do they have any… are they going to do anything about it?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re aware of the situation there, and we are studying the situation as it stands. If there’s any need for UN involvement, we would be willing to play a helpful role if asked by the various parties.
Question: But is the army blocking elected lawmakers from entering the parliament and shooting teargas at them? Is that of concern or would require the Government to ask for your assistance to have some greater concern about it?
Deputy Spokesman: We’re concerned about the media reports of activity in the recent days, and we’re monitoring and trying to follow up.
Question: And I’ve asked you before about… you or Stéphane [Dujarric]… about Zambia. Now not only is the opposition leader H.H. complaining of his conditions in prison, he’s still in prison, but a student is essentially going to jail for insulting President [Edgar] Lungu on Facebook. So I wanted to know, is it something that the DPA (Department of Political Affairs) has continued to follow and do they think things getting better or worse?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, yes, we have been following developments in Zambia. We’ve taken note of the declaration of a state of heightened alert, and the President’s call for an independent investigation into the fire at the Lusaka Central Market. We believe the tensions and differences in the country are better addressed through constructive and inclusive dialogue among all stakeholders, including with the opposition, and we remain committed to supporting Zambia on its path to sustainable peace and development.
Question: Sure. So being able to criticize the president on Facebook would be considered part of a robust debate?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: Okay. Let me ask you about the trial. There’s other questions?
Deputy Spokesman: Why don’t you ask about that, and then we’ll go on to the others.
Question: Okay. Today is the… the… the charge conference, and the issues that have come up involve whether Francis Lorenzo was an agent of the UN. That’s why I guess I just want to ask you once again because it’s coming to a head down there. You’ve said somehow to ask… maybe I misunderstood you when you said ask the President of the General Assembly how Mr. Lorenzo… about a UN email address. I can’t really ask Mr. [John] Ashe… who should I ask?
Deputy Spokesman: Ask… I mean, there’s an office of the President of the General Assembly…
Question: I did. They told me it’s DGACM (Department of General Assembly and Conference Management). That’s why I’m asking you.
Deputy Spokesman: I mean, it would have been a decision taken by the President of the General Assembly. They’ll need to provide you details about that.
Question: Was he an agent of the UN? [inaudible] Given that he’s not a special adviser… he had a business card saying he’s a special adviser to the President of the Assembly, the General Assembly.
Deputy Spokesman: He had no UN employment, certainly none that I’m aware of. His employment was with his Mission. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On this talks between the two rival Libyan groups going on in London, do you have any update on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I mean, the basic update I have is the incoming special representative, Ghassan Salamé, attended the meeting between Prime Minister [Fayez al] Sarraj and General [Khalifa] Hafter under the French auspices today, and he’s grateful to President [Emmanuel] Macron for the invitation. And we believe that today’s meeting is an encouraging development towards finding a political solution to the Libyan crisis. If there are any further developments from that meeting, we’ll keep you apprised as we get them. Yes?
Question: Farhan, what is the Quartet doing now regarding the Middle East peace process?
Deputy Spokesman: You have seen the statement that the Quartet put out on Saturday that has their basic points in terms of how they wish to see the situation in the Old City of Jerusalem addressed, and I’ll leave it at that statement. Yes, Ben?
Question: Yeah, hi. Just the last few days we’ve heard a lot about the Palestinian system of paying terrorists and their families. Where does the SG stand on this, because it’s obviously a practice that not many people can really go along with?
Deputy Spokesman: Your colleague asked that question earlier. I believe Mr. Mladenov has dealt with that overall situation. We don’t have any confirmation about the sort of allegations that were made this morning. Regarding the issue of incitement, we stand against all incitement. Yes? Luke, you had your hand up.
Question: Pardon me if I… I’m having trouble with the UN spokesperson website, so I couldn’t go back and find previous statements on this. But there’s Reuters reporting that the US‑Australia refugee transfer deal is going to get under way in a few months. Central American refugees who will be accepted into the US be transferred to a third‑party nation. Could you remind me the UN position on this and if there have concerns in the past, if they have been worked out through time?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe the concerns on this matter have been articulated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and you would need to ask UNHCR for any… if they’re satisfied with any of the recent developments. Joe. And then Mr. Abbadi and then Masood.
Question: Yes. First a quick follow-up question. Does the UN Secretary intend to take any steps to independently verify the Israeli ambassador’s claims this morning regarding the payments, particularly as it relates to international aid to the Palestinian Authority, and have you been asked to do that by the Israeli Mission? And my second question is a different topic. It relates back to yesterday, when you referred to a statement by Louise Arbour, in which she said that analysis of the impact of migration should be evidence-based, not perception-based. She focused on the benefits to the originating country like remittances and so forth. There was no reference to the cost‑benefit analysis of the impact on the destination country. There have been some studies at least in terms of the US… illegal immigration to the US where such immigration has actually depressed the wages of native‑born Americans at the lower end of the skill set. So I’m wondering to what extent in support of her mandate the Secretariat is looking into a full cost‑benefit analysis, both in terms of the destination country, as well as the originating country of migration.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on that, Ms. Arbour talked about the need to have information about all the various countries, both countries of departure, transit countries, as well as destination countries. So we do actually try to work on getting information from all of those. Regarding your earlier question, Mr. Mladenov’s office will follow up and try to get any further information as needed. Hold on. Now I forgot the order in which I had them. Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Linda?
Question: Thank you. Farhan, my question was not about Jerusalem. My question was what role is the Quartet currently playing regarding the Middle East peace process?
Deputy Spokesman: They’re working as hard as they can with the various parties to try to bring the parties back into serious negotiations with each other. In order to do that, of course, first we have to get past this current hurdle, which is the situation in Jerusalem, so that is what they pronounced themselves on. But if you look at the full statement, they’re, again, committed to providing support for the entire process. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. This goes back to Mr. Mladenov’s speech to the Security Council today. He says that he welcomes, you know, the decision by the Israeli Government to remove the metal detectors and also says that he, of course, favours ensuring security of visitors and worshippers. I was wondering if the UN, particularly the Secretary‑General, might have a view in terms… how this might best be achieved in terms of maintaining security.
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General’s bottom line is that any arrangements need to be agreed by the various parties on the ground. You know of the role that is played by the Israelis and the Palestinians and the historic role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan regarding the arrangements for the Old City, and so anything that is acceptable to them would help to resolve the situation. Matthew and then Ben.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you… the… first of all, thank your office for saying that Frances Fuller had separated from service. I wanted to ask you, going… introduced in the court is the attendance list of the Macau conference in August of 2015. So I wanted to ask you, there… there… one… one… I believe he’s still a UN official, Mr. Navid Hanif, was in attendance. And I wanted to know, is this something that the UN has ever asked in what capacity it took place? I know that Mr. [Ian] Botnaru was there. He’s no longer at the UN. He was listed in attendance as an Ambassador of Moldova, which he wasn’t at the time. What follow-through has been made by the UN regarding that conference and still high officials that were there? Were they interviewed as to why they were there? Why was he there?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any details to share about the ongoing court case.
Question: It’s not about the court case. I’m talking about the UN.
Deputy Spokesman: It’s actually about information that’s coming up in the court case. So I wouldn’t comment on it as the process is under way. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, Farhan, I just wanted to point out something. There have been reports that say that Israel is supporting terrorist organizations inside Syria. Do you have any update on… do you have any information on that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I do not. Ben?
Question: Just wondering when we’re actually going to hear from the new USG for Counter-Terrorism?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe he’ll be here in office formally probably towards early September.
Question: And will he do a briefing?
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll see when is the earliest time he can do that. But we’ve encouraged him to brief as soon as he’s ready to do so. Yes?
Question: This will not be about the court case. This will be about UN’s own task force report which was… which… which states there are no formal agreed common principles of ethical conduct for financial disclosure measures for the president and the personnel of his office. And I wanted to know, in the months that António Guterres has been Secretary‑General, can you list any reforms whatsoever made both of this portion of the task force report but also of the lapses and loopholes into the system shown by the John Ashe, Ng Lap Seng case?
Deputy Spokesman: There are a series of reforms that the Secretary‑General will be announcing, including management reforms and others. You’ll know about those in due course. Have a good afternoon, everyone.