The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
This morning, as you will have seen, we issued a statement on Venezuela. The Secretary-General is closely following events in Venezuela. He is concerned that recent developments could lead to further escalation of tensions and distance the country from a path conducive to a peaceful solution to its challenges. He is convinced that the Venezuelan crisis cannot be solved through the imposition of unilateral measures, but requires a political solution based on dialogue and compromise. At this critical time for the country, the Secretary-General once again urges the Government of Venezuela and the opposition to relaunch negotiations for the benefit of the Venezuelan people. He is strongly supporting the ongoing efforts of the international facilitators and regional actors who are seeking to contribute to this end. The statement was also issued in Spanish.
And last night, we issued a statement on the election that are going on today in Kenya, in which the Secretary-General called on all national stakeholders to renew their commitment to credible and peaceful elections, as well as their confidence in the institutions constitutionally mandated to conduct the elections. The Secretary-General underlines the importance of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as professional and impartial conduct of law enforcement officials during the elections.
Turning to South Sudan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in that country, David Shearer, spoke to the press this morning in Juba about the deployment of the Regional Protection Force. He said that the arrival of a Rwandan company, a Nepalese High Readiness company and over 100 Bangladeshi engineers marked the beginning of the phased deployment of the force, which will eventually comprise up to 4,000 troops. The remaining Rwandan peacekeepers will arrive in the next few weeks and the arrival of Ethiopian troops is also imminent. Mr. Shearer said that the regional protection force’s arrival means that UN troops already based in Juba can be redeployed to different locations across South Sudan as needed. For example, it would enable the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to put more patrols along insecure roads where there have been attacks on civilian convoys. Extra peacekeepers means we can better protect the people of South Sudan, said Mr. Shearer.
You will have seen that, earlier today, we announced that the Secretary-General and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat announced the appointment of Lieutenant General Leonard Muriuki Ngondi of Kenya as Force Commander for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, also known by its acronym UNAMID. He succeeds Lt. Gen. Frank Mushyo Kamanzi of Rwanda to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedication and effective leadership as head of UNAMID’s military component. Lt. Gen. Ngondi has had a distinguished career with the Kenyan Defence Forces, spanning over 39 years. Many more details on this are available on his bio in my office.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said the UN and its partners are preparing to help civilians fleeing Da’esh-controlled areas where fighting is expected to take place soon. Hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced during military operations in Talafar and other areas in Iraq. Ms. Grande stressed that, as they did in Mosul, Iraqi security forces will do everything they can to protect civilians and manage evacuation to camps where aid workers will provide assistance. She said that Iraq remains one of the largest and most volatile humanitarian operations in the world, with more people having been displaced faster than anywhere else recently.
**Papua New Guinea
Our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today they’re gravely concerned by the deteriorating conditions at a processing centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, where a young refugee tragically died yesterday. The closure of this centre — as well as medical care, torture and trauma support, and security services — has been announced without appropriate alternatives, causing acute distress among the 773 people who remain on Manus Island.
UNHCR stresses that, to prevent further tragedies and an escalation of the crisis, critical services must continue, adding that any further reduction of support for refugees and asylum seekers transferred by Australia to Papua New Guinea would compound the serious health and security risks faced by people who have been detained in the past four years. UNHCR once again calls on Australia to urgently find viable, humane solutions outside of Papua New Guinea and Nauru for people remaining under offshore processing arrangements.
Speaking of refugees and migrants, our colleagues from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today said that they have rescued some 1,000 migrants since April who were crossing the Sahara Desert trying to reach Niger. Many of the rescued are now recovering at IOM’s transit centre for migrants in Agadez as they wait for assistance to voluntarily return to their countries of origin, which include Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria and Ghana, and other countries.
I wanted to flag a brand new and very interesting website published by our friends and colleagues at the Department of Public Information called Essential UN page, which contains quick facts about the Organization, frequently asked questions, infographics and videos to help users quickly get a grasp of what the UN is, what it does, and where it is having an impact. The page is available in all official languages and you can access it at www.un.org/en/essential-un/. You are always welcome to ask humans like me questions about the UN, as well, so we are not replaced.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m. there will be a press conference on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. The conference is entitled: “Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples — a decade in review”. Speakers include Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, Cree Chief, from Canada. This pause means you're allowed to ask questions. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Palestinian ambassador has said today that the Secretary‑General would pay a visit to Israel and Palestine on 28 August. Do you have anything to… do you have anything on that? Thank you.
Spokesman: No. I've seen that. Ambassadors are always happy to announce our trips. And we will confirm them from here when ready. Dulcie and then Matthew.
Question: Yeah. The IOM finding that they've discovered more migrants farther out from Agadez, what accounts for these migrants taking new roots? And, also, how does the UN define human smugglers versus human trafficking? Thanks.
Spokesman: I'm not… I can ask if there's a legal difference. From where I stand, it's people taking advantage of other people, putting them in harm's way, and abusing people. Whether or not there's a legal definition between smugglers and traffickers, I can check for you. We can ask IOM about your… your question seems to me that people on the move are always trying to find different ways to where they want to get to. It is a huge challenge for IOM and others, whether international organisations or national organisations, to try to help and find people as they undertake a very perilous trek across the Sahara. Ah. Periscope question. All right.
Question: No, that's for… for… for Cameroon. But, I wanted to ask first about Libya and the new envoy, Mr. Sal… Ghassan Salamé. He's… he's… he's been quoted in Italy as… as praising Italy's naval mission off Libya. And I wanted to know, since I've asked you before, what… there's a lot of the controversy in refugee circles, refugee rights circles, about this mission, which is basically to back up the Libyan Coast Guard in driving ships back to land. Is this really the Secretary‑General's position? Is he speaking…?
Spokesman: We'll check his quotes, because I haven't seen them. So, before I comment on what he said, I'll check the quotes. Your next question.
Question: Okay. The next question is about your quotes. I mean… and it's about… it's about UN‑Habitat. I wanted to understand… some days ago, you'd read this statement by the Secretary‑General praising the new study. And I just… since it refers to something called “UN Urban” in quote lines, is this… is the proposal to replace UN‑Habitat with UN Urban?
Spokesman: This is a… this is not a replacement. This is part of the proposals that the panel has made, the independent panel has made. It will be studied and consulted with Member States.
Question: It said it's partic… it's in line with his own proposals for the reform…
Spokesman: I think the line… it's not… what is in line is, on the proposal, is the fact that he is looking at a renewal and a reform of the UN development system. The exact proposals put forward by the panel will be studied. Okay? And Cameroon while your… while Periscope is on.
Question: Oh, okay. Sure. Thanks a lot. I just wanted to… the… the meeting's taking place today at 12:30 p.m. between the Secretary… one, I wanted to ask you, apparently, there's not a photo op, so could you…?
Spokesman: There will be a UN photographer there, and those photos, as you well know, are available, free of charge for your website.
Question: Sure, but will there be… like, who is at the table… who else is attending on the UN side?
Spokesman: There will be a readout, and the Deputy Secretary‑General will be leading the UN delegation. If we're able to release other names, we shall.
Question: Can she… is there some way, either on the way out in some way, she can answer questions about…? Because many people…
Spokesman: No, I understand. That's why we will have a readout of her meeting. Okay?
Question: How about Yemen?
Spokesman: Yes, Yemen. What can I tell you about Yemen?
Question: You may have seen the International Committee of the Red Cross has issued deep concern about airstrikes on Sa’ada and Taizz in great detail. They issued this today. And so, inevitably people wonder, given that the UN has a Special Envoy on Yemen, is he equally as concerned, either well documented…?
Spokesman: I think we have… The UN system, through its Resident Coordinator, expressed its concern at the airstrikes and the death of children and civilians over the weekend. Anyone who works for the UN is obviously troubled and concerned about the continuing suffering of the civilians, and that's why the Special Envoy is continuing his work and trying… and keep… and not giving up on trying to get the parties around a political settlement. And I think, if you… as I'm sure you do pay attention to the various Security Council briefings, I think our outrage at the continuing deaths and suffering of civilians is clear. Edie?
Question: Steph, is the Secretary‑General planning a press conference for the General Assembly?
Spokesman: Yes, on 13 September at noon. It's in his programme. I've seen it with my own eyes. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Stéphane, you mentioned yesterday that the panel which had been established to help investigate and prosecute the war crimes in Syria, they would start as of today. Will that be based in Geneva or in New York…?
Spokesman: Yes, in Geneva.
Question: And who is heading the panel?
Spokesman: I have the name, but not off the top… we announced the name. It escapes me for the second, but we have the name. It's not a secret. Yes, sir?
Question: Technology… technology and the UN. One's back to Yemen, and I… this came up on a few other officials, but I've been informed or… that the UN envoy on Yemen, Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, blocks journalists, including a guy, Mr. Shwaib al Musawa, who's like a… the stringer for The New York Times who covers Yemen. So, I'm just wondering, is there some policy from the top? I haven't seen Mr. Shwaib really, you know, be as critical as some others are of Mr. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, but is there some guidance from the Secretary‑General that people that are envoys on a country shouldn't block journalists that are covering that country?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any particular guidance. I don't monitor people's Twitter accounts, who they block, who they don't block. So, no.
Correspondent: But… relatedly, in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and this is not about… this is about the Government itself announcing two telecom companies to slow down the internet so that images cannot be transmitted by Twitter or other…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the situation.
Correspondent: I guess what I'm wondering on that — there's an article on it, so you could be aware of it —is, does the UN, as much as you might seem like you don't monitor Twitter, given that photographs are one of the ways in which human rights violations in the Kasaïs are being documented.
Spokesman: I understand. I'm aware of the situation. I can check. What I do… I want to share two things. One is the name of the woman who runs the mechanism. Her name's Catherine Marchi‑Uhel.
And I have a statement on the Constitutional referendum in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. With regard to the constitutional referendum of 5 August, in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, the Secretary‑General encourages all stakeholders to ensure that disagreements are addressed peacefully, within the confines of the law and respect for the rights to freedom of assembly and expression. The Secretary‑General calls on all Mauritanians to work together to deepen the rule of law and promote social cohesion and national unity. Thank you.