The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Deputy Secretary-General is in the Security Council where she is wrapping up her briefing on her recent visit to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This was the first visit of its kind: a high-level mission focused entirely on women, peace, security and development. Ms. Mohammed said that both countries have dismayingly low levels of women’s political participation and are experiencing conflicts marked by extremely high levels of sexual- and gender-based violence. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sexual violence is wide-spread. In northern Nigeria, abductions, forced marriage and the use of women as suicide bombers have taken a terrible toll.
The Deputy Secretary-General called on the international community to better understand the role of women in development and peacebuilding alongside the gender dimensions of conflict for our responses to be effective. She concluded by saying that one message resounds most: investing in women and girls must be central to our efforts in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond if we are to have sustainable peace and development. Giving special consideration to the context will be key to responses that deliver the right results. Her remarks should be available soon.
Looking at Yemen, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the cholera outbreak in Yemen has spread to all but 1 of its 22 governorates, with more than 480,000 suspected cases and nearly 2,000 associated deaths from cholera and other diarrhoeal-related diseases. The number of new cases has been declining for several weeks, having plateaued in the four most affected governorates of Sana’a City, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Amran.
However, there are concerns the numbers could rise as Yemen heads into its rainy season while health workers have not been paid in nearly a year and some 8.8 million people are living in areas without enough health centres. The UN and its partners have set up more than 200 cholera treatment centres and more than 900 oral rehydration points. Regular UN-operated flights carrying supplies to address cholera between Dijbouti and Sana’a began last week. We have received less than half of the $254 million we need to respond to the cholera outbreak.
With decades of conflict and lack of investment having strained Iraq’s healthcare system, the UN is supporting a new campaign launched by the Iraqi Ministry of Health today to improve maternal and new-born care. Also in Iraq, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is stepping up its help for families in Mosul, including thousands of people who are returning to the city after the end of the fighting. The Agency has already distributed shelter kits to more than 3,200 families to help them repair their damaged homes. According to Government figures, more than 90 per cent of families who had fled eastern Mosul due to the conflict have returned to the city, but the situation is more complex in the west of the city, which was as you recall extremely damaged and is littered with explosive devices.
And from Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that 8.5 million people need humanitarian assistance during the second half of 2017 — an increase from 5.6 million people at the start of the year. Rainfall was lower than expected, worsening the already severe drought conditions, particularly in the Somali region. Humanitarian actors are currently scaling up operations in support of the response led by the Government.
**World Food Programme
And a couple of notes from our colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP). Today, WFP welcomed a donation of 5,000 metric tons of rice from the Government of Nigeria. This will help feed nearly half a million internally displaced people in the conflict-ravaged northeast part of the country, where the threat of famine continues. In Kenya, the agency warns that the impact of drought in the country is worsening. The number of people who cannot feed themselves has risen from 2.6 million to 3.4 million — a 30 per cent increase this year. Additional funding is urgently needed for vital nutrient-rich foods. And in Mali, some 3.8 million people — one fifth of the population — are not sure where their next meal will come from. That’s 30 per cent more than during 2016’s lean season. WFP says it needs $32 million until the end of the year and their operations are only half funded.
**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, today condemned the killing of Syrian media worker and open-web promoter Bassel Khartabil Safadi, whose death in a Syrian prison was confirmed last week. She also denounced the killing of Mexican journalist Luciano Rivera Salgado, who was a TV presenter for local channel and the director of the online news portal El Dictamen. He was shot on 21 July in a bar in Playas de Rosarito in the State of Baja California. She called on both the Mexican and Syrian authorities to investigate and disclose information regarding the deaths of these journalists. And I had a note on the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which, hopefully, my colleagues who are, no doubt, listening to me will bring to me. But, in the meantime, I will take some questions. Mr. Roth.
**Questions and Answers
Question: That may be the note, but I was going to ask, unless I missed it in that tale of misery and awful news you're reading, the murder of dozens of the refugees at sea, what the UN has…?
Spokesman: Yes, I'll have something on that very shortly. Yes, Edie.
Question: Stéphane, in the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programme, is the Secretary‑General prepared, if asked, to play any kind of mediation role, or is this something he's offered?
Spokesman: As, as a matter of principle, whenever all parties in a conflict or in a situation request his good offices, he's always willing to do so. Nizar, then Matthew, then Masood.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, I asked about the human cost to the blockade in Yemen and especially to the Sana'a airport. And then I heard a report by Norwegian refugee agency saying that 10,000 Yemenis are killed as a result of the denial of access to medicine out abroad. The, the continued closure of the Sana'a airport may cost more human lives than the war itself. What's the United Nations doing about that? You mentioned that there will be refuelling soon, but we have heard just about more than 10 days ago.
Spokesman: What we've been told by our, our colleagues is that, while there are regular commercial flights to Aden, the commercial flights to Sana’a have been restricted for now over a year. International NGOs [non-governmental organizations] have said that the closure of Sana’a airport effectively traps millions of Yemenis and prevents the free movement of commercial and humanitarian goods. And the Humanitarian Coordinator, Jamie McGoldrick, said that reopening of Sana’a would help alleviate the suffering of civilians. Aviation fuel for UN operations arrived in Sana’a from Aden yesterday, and the UN is maintaining flights from Djibouti and Amman to Sana’a and Aden. Obviously, any restrictions in, to ports, airports, all of that, are… hinder our ability to deliver humanitarian goods as we would, as we would want to see.
Question: Staying on Yemen, reporters from Hajjah speak that there are no more places on pavements for people to die. Literally, almost half of the population is infected by cholera, and this is the nearest place to Saudi Arabia, which is leading this campaign against Yemen. Where… where the responsibility lies here, about Saudi Arabia and the Coalition and about…?
Spokesman: There is, what we have said from, for many months now, is that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a man‑made crisis. That is clear. The conflict in Yemen is, burdens and forces the unspeakable suffering of the Yemeni people, who already were living in a very fragile society in terms of the humanitarian situation. That is why our, our colleague, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is continuing his efforts to bring about a political solution. In the meantime, our humanitarian colleagues and their Yemeni partners are doing what they can to deliver humanitarian goods, to deliver aid. I mean, you just heard what I… what I said about… about cholera and WHO's efforts. But, clearly, it's not enough. We're operating in a… in a conflict zone.
Mr. Roth, I do have my note on the IOM: Our colleagues at the IOM have told us about a series of deeply troubling incidents over the coast of… off the coast of Yemen over the past two days in which smugglers have thrown migrants from the boats into the sea, causing many of them to drown. According to IOM, some 280 migrants have been forced from boats in two separate incidents, which took place yesterday and today. As a result, more than 50 migrants have drowned and some 30 are still reported missing. The migrants were hoping to reach the countries in the Gulf via war‑torn Yemen. The journey is especially hazardous with smugglers often making fake… fake promises to vulnerable migrants, forcing them off the boats when they fear getting caught by authorities. The IOM is providing urgent care to those who are surviving, including food, water and emergency relief. I think, looking at the situation in both the Mediterranean and the Sahara, those situations are just as heart-breaking. Two thousand, four hundred and five people have died or disappeared during their attempts to cross the Mediterranean. As we reported on Tuesday, more than 265 people are dead or missing travelling across the Sahara just trying to reach the sea. The Secretary‑General is heartbroken by this continuing tragedy. This is why he continues to stress that the international community must give priority to preventing and resolving a variety of situations would both generate mass movement and expose those already on the move to significant danger. We must also increase legal pathways for regular migration and offer credible alternative to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection. Matthew, then Masood.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about Kenya and Myanmar. In Kenya, obviously, there's been… there's the… Raila Odinga, the candidate, has said that there's been hacking of the system, but the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, has offered his congratulations. What's the UN's view? Is the election, you know… one, do they think that it was, to the degree that… that they have a view, that the… that the rule‑of‑law process to review it is being… is being conducted and… and is that process over?
Spokesman: No, I, as far as I know, the, the official election results have yet to be announced. We're, obviously, watching the situation unfold. We're watching it closely. As you know, the UN did not observe, did not have a role in observing the, the elections. I think what's important is that all stakeholders, all people in Kenya, allow the process to follow its course and, if they have any grievances, that they channel those through legal and peaceful means. We reiterate the call of the Secretary‑General for maintaining calm and ensuring strict respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in this time while people await, and understandably await eagerly, the official results. And Myanmar?
Question: Yeah. I wanted to ask you there… two things. One, over the weekend, the Government's own investigative commission on Rakhine State said that there's no evidence of war crimes and was very dismissive of reports, including UN reports, saying there are problems there. But then there's also some, there's a report of a UN precautionary security notification to its own staff in western Myanmar saying that there's a possibility of Bud… of, I guess, Buddhist extremists. And so I just, can you confirm that the UN views this as a danger? How serious a danger is it?
Spokesman: Well, I think that, our colleagues said they're aware of planned protests in Rakhine State, and, obviously, for us, it's important that we call for peaceful and respectful demonstrations. We routinely issue precautionary safety and security notifications from the perspective of staff safety and security of our assets and field activities. The UN underscores that all the people of Myanmar, regardless of ethnicity or background, should be able to live in equality and harmony. As far as the, as the human rights report, our, the Government report, and situation in Rakhine State, we understand from our human rights colleagues that the full report has not yet been made public. They look forward to seeing it and studying it. On the executive summary that was released, the High Commissioner's office said that, noted that many, the commission recommended many allegations of human rights violations must be further investigated. And I think, given the scale and nature of the human rights violations documented by the UN's own office for human rights earlier this year, it continues to urge the Government of Myanmar to fully cooperate with the Fact Finding Mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, including giving it full access. Masood.
Question: Thank you. This is a follow‑up on Edie's question. It is ready… the whole world is riveted with what is happening in North Korea, and between the rhetoric of the North Korean President and President Trump over here, the thing is getting out of hand. The Secretary‑General, who is responsible for international peace and security, at least… at least he's a moral voice. He's sitting there and he's not moved by it at all? He's not even saying that he's going to go there and have a look at and talk to the North Koreans and the South Korean people to, what do you call, bring the situation…? Because the whole world is riveted but the Secretary‑General at this point.
Spokesman: Well, you may, you know, I appreciate your suggestions for him. I'm not sure I heard a question there, but I will tell you that, obviously, you know, yesterday we expressed and continue to express our concern at the increased rhetoric that we're seeing from all sides, and we're troubled by, by this rhetoric. The Secretary‑General has repeatedly said he welcomes all initiatives that will help de‑escalate the tensions and return to diplomacy. He welcomed the Security Council's unanimous vote. It's important that all Member States implement, implement the resolution, and I can promise you, this Secretary‑General is, is following the situation closely.
Question: Let me ask a question, which I was going… the question… my question, which was follow‑up that Secretary‑General is a recluse, is not going to go there, my question was, can he appoint a sort of envoy for North Korea, which there was one before Mr.…?
Spokesman: I think, I'm aware there used to be an envoy for North Korea. I think every… every situation is different, and it's important not to make empty gestures but to ensure that whatever is said or is done is actually constructive. Nizar.
Correspondent: Yeah. On Saudi Arabia yesterday, I asked about Awamiya, and there was… there were videos on YouTube showing the soldiers brandishing their guns, dancing after destruction of a mosque, not only a whole neighbourhoods. Also, they denied the population there of electricity in temperatures over 48°C at this time of the year.
Spokesman: We've seen, we've seen the media reports. We're not in a position, obviously, to confirm them independently. So, at this time, we would reiterate that all actions taken by… by the authorities in Saudi Arabia should be in compliance with their obligations under international human rights law.
Question: But, the authorities themselves are the ones who are attacking…?
Spokesman: The point is, is that our calls for the national authorities to do whatever… whatever they do should be, needs to be in compliance under international human rights law.
Question: Which means? Compliance…?
Spokesman: Which means that international human rights need to be respected, and the law needs to be followed. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Ask you… maybe I… maybe I'd misheard you, but on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two questions. One is, the… the report into the… the killing of the two experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, I noticed that the Deputy Secretary‑General met with the perm rep of DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] this week? Is that report, in fact… I think you'd said it was coming out quite soon.
Spokesman: Yeah, I expect a, it is coming out quite soon. I also made sure not to box myself in with a… with a date promise, but I think we should have… we should be able to announce something either late this week or early… early next week.
Question: Is that… do you know if the meeting of the Deputy Secretary‑General with the… I… somehow I saw this as…?
Spokesman: No, I don't think, I’m… I don't have a readout, but I don't think it was directly related.
Question: And just a… down in the basement today, there's a meeting of the American Bar Association, somehow sponsored by the Office of Legal Affairs. And I just wanted to know, given issues that have come up here around OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] and its advice on Haiti…
Spokesman: I don't know what the meeting's about, but I'm always happy to look into a meeting full of lawyers, so I'll find out what it's about. Masood‑ji.
Correspondent: Ng Lap Seng case. Check it out.
Correspondent: Thank you. Thank you very much, Stéphane. Stéphane, this is a question about freedom of press. Al Jazeera, what do you call, is facing [inaudible] pressure for closure by… between the Saudis and the Israelis. Israeli Government, which is now saying they're going to shut down the Al Jazeera operations in Israel because of censorship that they have and that…
Spokesman: Well, I think, what is… I hear the preamble. What is the question?
Question: The question is, this… how does the Secretary‑General view this threat to the freedom of press?
Spokesman: I think we have seen, we've seen reports of intentions by the Israeli, the Israeli authorities. I'm not aware of any decisions having been taken. As a matter of principle, we stand for protection of freedom of the media and freedom of the press. Yes, sir.
Question: The, maybe I missed it, but the Dag Hammarskjöld latest report handed in to the Secretary‑General, what might happen now with it? Is it going to face…?
Spokesman: It should become a public document in the next, in the next couple of weeks. It's undergoing a process of translation. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Okay. I won't even… I was going to ask where the Secretary‑General is.
Spokesman: He's in Europe finishing up his vacation.
Question: And the other thing is, just, on the freedom of the press, when does the new head of… the new head of Global Communications or… the, DPI [Department of Public Information] still exists as a department, right? It's just the top position is called Under‑Secretary… when does she begin?
Spokesman: She should be here, I understand, in September, but I'm not aware of a fixed date. Okay. Thank you.