The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, concluded a three-day visit to Liberia, whose main purpose was to establish a UN human rights office in the country. Mr. Gilmour said that, while Liberia has progressed dramatically since the civil war ended, human rights gains are still precarious, hence the vital need for the UN to continue its support. The new office will open early next year and will conduct human rights monitoring and reporting and also provide technical assistance to State institutions, the Independent National Commission for Human Rights, civil society and other partners.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
A new report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warns that violence in the Kasaï Provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo appears to be taking on an increasing and disturbing ethnic dimension. Information gathered by a team of UN human rights investigators suggests that some of the violations and abuses committed in the Kasaïs may amount to crimes under international law.
The report is based on the interviews with 96 people who had fled to Angola to escape the violence in Kamonia territory. The team confirmed that between 12 March and 19 June of this year, 251 people were the victims of extrajudicial and targeted killings. Interviewees indicated that local security forces and other officials actively fomented, fuelled, and occasionally led attacks on the basis of ethnicity. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, urged the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to act now to prevent such violence from tipping into wider ethnic cleansing and to take all necessary measures to fulfil its primary obligation to protect people from all ethnic backgrounds in the greater Kasaï area.
**Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Our colleagues at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) today released their annual report which says that Latin America and the Caribbean region will record a positive, though still low, growth rate this year. The report foresees that, after two years of economic contraction, all countries in the region will experience positive growth rates in 2017 averaging 1.1 per cent, with the exception of Venezuela — the GDP of which is falling — and two countries in the Caribbean — Saint Lucia and Suriname — the gross domestic product (GDP) of which is forecast to contract, as well. The forecast growth will largely be due to better prices for the commodities that the region exports and an improved international context, according to the report.
Our colleagues at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said that migrants crossing the United States-Mexico border are dying at a faster rate in 2017 than in past years. According to the agency’s Missing Migrants Project, some 232 migrant fatalities have been recorded this year, an increase of 17 per cent compared with the 204 deaths recorded between January and July of last year.
And also just to flag that the Republic of Moldova has joined the honour roll by paying its budget dues in full, which brings us up to 119. Yes, sir.
**Questions and Answers
Question: [Inaudible] on Colombia, is the SG working on the new mission? Any update on that?
Spokesman: No, the, the work continues based on Security Council, Security Council resolutions. As soon as we have something to update, I will share with you. Edie.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. The Venezuelan new… newly elected body met today. I wonder if the Secretary‑General has any comments on, now that there are rival assemblies.
Spokesman: We may have something to share with you on Venezuela a bit later this afternoon. Yes, Rosiland.
Question: Follow‑up on Kasaïs and DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]. The allegation that one of the militias may be getting support, however directly or indirectly, from the Government, is a serious allegation. Is there anything that the UN can do to try to compel the Government to stop this behaviour, stop this relationship, as well as try to live up to its basic responsibility of protecting civilians?
Spokesman: These are issues that are regularly brought up to the Government's attention through the peacekeeping mission, through the human, UN human rights office there. As you know, we sometimes work alongside various Congolese armed or police units, but we do it on a case‑by‑case basis. Mr. Lee. Yeah.
Question: Wait. I guess I just… I was going to ask you about Cyprus, but I just want to understand that better. So, the idea is that there's a due, there's a due-diligence and vetting process. So, one side of the UN has found that there may be Government units supporting these. Are you saying that these units are not being supported… the… the supervisors or whoever the UN is aware of…?
Spokesman: I think, as you know, we've said in the past and we do due diligence. There are some units we've worked with and others we have not, and we've been very open about when we've refused to work with certain units.
Question: And although this report doesn't specifically name, but seems to show some knowledge of, who in the Congolese governmental system is supporting these militia units, has that information been turned over for the… for purposes of vetting? And are there any people actually being vetted?
Spokesman: I'm sure that, in drafting the report, it was shared with the Congolese authorities. Your question on Cyprus.
Correspondent: Okay. Yeah, yeah. I wanted to know, there… there are reports… and I just wanted to… to get you to either shoot them down or not… of some discussions by the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Elizabeth Spehar, of the possible pull-out or…
Spokesman: I will shoot it down. The UN is not leaving Cyprus. The UN peacekeeping mission has a mandate given to it by the Security Council. That mandate remains. The UN is, will remain supporting the Cyprus, the people of Cyprus. And I think, from what I understand, the… the Special Representative was… was misquoted.
Question: Sure, but my… I guess my… bigger picture. If António Guterres, one of the things he said is that, one, peacekeeping shouldn't be in places where there is no peace to keep or, presumably, like, if there's now no peace process, if, in fact, the UN has said, well, the parties don't seem to want to talk and so we're not going to force them to talk, what exactly is the function of the mission at this time in terms of peace?
Spokesman: The mission is there to continue to monitor the line between the two… the two communities. It's not a matter of no peace to keep. No one would ever say that Cyprus is in a state of war or conflict. There is peace. What we're looking for and what we're… will continue to be available to the Cypriot parties is to help reach that… that political agreement. In the meantime, the UN mission there is staying on the ground.
Question: But, if, in fact, there's peace and there hasn't been a shot fired in [inaudible] in some time, how does this differ than for the situation, for example, in Haiti or Liberia or other places…?
Spokesman: Well, I think there's clearly, there… there clearly remains, I think, in the… in the eyes of the UN and the eyes of the Security Council, the need for a peacekeeping mission, albeit a small one relative to the peacekeeping missions we have in… in the four corners of the earth, but there needs… the need remains. Adam.
Question: The Egyptian ambassador said earlier this week or indicated that he doesn't believe that Venezuela is a matter for the Security Council. I just wondered if the Secretary‑General agreed with that, and if so, where he thinks the focus of the UN's response to the Venezuelan crisis should be?
Spokesman: The, it is up to the Security Council, to the President in consultation with others, to decide what, what is discussed. I think, as we've said in the past, the Secretary‑General is being very supportive of the various international and regional mediation efforts in order to… to help Venezuela return to a path of calm. Yes, sir.
Question: Thank you. There's reportedly a group of 100, over 150 civil society groups in… from Syria who have sent a letter to Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura saying that the peace process is failing because some countries in the region have hijacked it for their own benefits and interests. Do you… did… did Mr. de Mistura receive that letter? And what was his…?
Spokesman: I'll double-check if they've, if they've received it. Obviously, I think it's very important for all of us at the UN to hear the views of, of the civil society organizations. Mr de Mistura continues, continues his work on the Syrian peace process.
Question: And if I, sorry if I missed this in the last couple of weeks, but can you enlighten us on what's happening in the peace process, the… the Syrian talks?
Spokesman: No, nothing more than, than what Mr de Mistura's office has said. I would, I would urge you to get in touch with them. Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The, the Trump Administration has nearly completed its Afghan strategy. Since UN has a last presence in Afghanistan, has there been any consultations between Trump Administration and the United Nations with regard to this?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any consultations on the… on… being done at Headquarters. There may have been contacts between the US and the… and the UN in Kabul. We can… we can ask, but I'm not aware of any. I'm not aware of any.
Question: And, secondly, the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, has boasted that he has created more settlements in Palestinian‑occupied territories than any Government in the past. How does the United Nations respond to such a claim, which is in violation of UN resolutions?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's stance on… on the illegality of settlements has been often expressed, and his position remains the same. Yes, sir.
Correspondent: Jeroud Arsal in Lebanon, right now, they're having like, you know…
Spokesman: About what? Sorry.
Question: Jeroud Arsal, that's in Lebanon, right now, between Al-Nusra and Hizbullah. They have, indeed, moved the people to Idlib, like, you know, north… north Syria. What's the situation right now? What's going on? They’re trying to move them. They stop them. You know what I'm saying?
Spokesman: No, I'm not sure I do. You’re talking about the exchange?
Question: Yeah, exactly, yes.
Spokesman: We are, as the United Nations, are not involved in the… in the exchange. Okay. Matthew.
Correspondent: Lightning round.
Spokesman: Is that… less… less value than the Periscope round?
Question: We'll see. We'll see. We'll see how things develop. Just… one is, I just… this Western Sahara envoy question, it's getting stranger and stranger. How long has it been since there's been an envoy? And what is the, I guess, at this point, what is the holdup?
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on your characterization. When we have a Personal Envoy to announce, we will announce one.
Question: Okay. The other one has to do with… I'm asking this because there's kind of a deadline on it. The Cameroon Government is sending these three individuals, they say, it's, as their formal letter to Tommo Monthé saying they're coming to UN Headquarters. You said you'd check with the usual suspects. Have you heard…?
Spokesman: Yes, I will have probably more for you, more on that for you on Monday.
Question: Okay. Okay. This is more, this is an investigative question, but no, no Periscope needed. Just I want to ask you this. There's, Inner City Press has obtained and published a memo from [the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process] to Mr. de Serpa Soares, the Legal Counsel, asking for legal advice on whether to inform Israel and Jordan of possible misconduct by UN staff in Jerusalem, comma, Israel. And I wanted to know, get… I wanted… I'm going to be delicate, because it's an allegation. Right? But, is it… has it been decided to inform these two Governments of possible misconduct implicating this… this extremely important touchpoint?
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on a leaked document, let alone one I'm not aware of.
Question: But, do you think… what's the standard…?
Spokesman: No, I'm not…
Question: What's the standard? Shouldn't the Governments be informed of this whether…
Spokesman: I… I'm not going to comment on it at this point.
Question: The last one has to do with the Ng Lap Seng case, believe it or not. In the case, among the evidence that… that came out leading to the guilty verdict was evidence of a… of a former Permanent Representative of El Salvador, Carlos Garcia, assisting Francis Lorenzo in getting ill‑gotten gains released from the Dominican Republic. I've asked you about him before because, since serving as a permanent representative, he seems to be a kind of bridge to NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. He had an NGO called Global Governance for the UNSDGs. I still see him around 1B squiring people around. So, my request to you is, given… and, again I don't know if OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] tracked the case or not. Given what was shown on the screen and put into evidence regarding his assistance in Mr. Francis Lorenzo getting bribe money released, does he have some, he has some kind of a pass. Is there some kind of emeritus status for diplomats, or how it does it work?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any em… emeritus, yeah, emeritus status except for journalists, so I will look into it. Thank you.