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 Security Council this morning heard a briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui. Ms. Zerrougui stressed that significant progress in the preparation for the elections was made, with all major political parties being able to successfully enrol candidates for provincial legislative elections. However, she said she remained concerned by the poor implementation of the confidence-building measures. Violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms continue to impact negatively on the democratic space, she said. While the country is focused on the important elections ahead, the security environment continues to be volatile, and indeed is deteriorating in some parts of the country, especially the east and in the Kasaïs.
Ms. Zerrougui noted with concern that United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) personnel has been increasingly targeted, and that in the months ahead, MONUSCO will operate in an increasingly tense environment, faced with high expectations but fewer resources. She explained that she mentioned this not to [make a plea] for more resources, but because it is important that we collectively understand that, while MONUSCO’s resources continue to shrink, its mandate remains the same and expectations only continue to grow. This morning, the Security Council also unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until 31 January 2019.
**Economic and Social Council
Her Excellency Ambassador Ronda King of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines was elected today as the President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council for the 2018-2019 term. The new President stated that it will be a defining year, which could help set a new course for the work of the Council and the High-Level Political Forum.
I was asked yesterday about South Sudan and the initialling of governance arrangements in South Sudan. I can say that the initialling of the Agreement on Outstanding Issues of Governance by some of the parties participating in the negotiations in Khartoum is a step forward for the peace process for South Sudan. However, other parties still have outstanding concerns that have yet to be resolved. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will continue to monitor the ongoing discussions as all parties work towards a genuinely inclusive and enduring peace agreement.
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Sweida City, in Syria. He is appalled by the utter disregard for human life displayed by Da’esh. The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of the victims of the incidents and wishes those who were injured a speedy recovery. Those responsible for the attacks must be held accountable, he said. Meanwhile, today, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent/United Nations humanitarian convoy to eastern Ghouta delivered humanitarian aid provided by France, and undertook a health needs assessment. The assistance, delivered by the Red Crescent in partnership with the United Nations, included medical items and non-food items. The United Nations continues to call on all parties to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded access to all people in need, in line with international humanitarian law.
You will have seen that the Secretary-General condemned the suicide attack at a polling station in Quetta in Pakistan, also claimed by Da’esh, in a statement we issued yesterday. He extends his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan. The United Nations stands in solidarity with and supports the efforts of the Government of Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. And we may have more on the elections later today.
**Lao People’s Democratic Republic-Cambodia
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the recovery and response following the collapse of a dam in the south of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic continues. As we told you, in addition to the dam break, more than 16,000 people have been affected by flooding in other parts of the country. The dam collapse has also affected northern Cambodia, where some 3,000 people have now been evacuated.
Also in El Salvador, there will be a meeting of the United Nations country team tomorrow to develop a plan of action following the declaration by the Government of a red alert emergency due to the severe drought affecting some 77,000 corn farmers. Lack of rain led to losses of over 90,000 metric tons of corn, one of the main staple foods in the country. The eastern part of the country has reported 33 consecutive days without rain and record temperatures reaching 41°C.
A new study launched by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that, despite progress being made in treatment that enables people living with HIV to work, they continue to face discrimination when seeking employment and as they try to keep their jobs and progress in their careers. The report shows that a large proportion of people living with HIV are unemployed, ranging from 7 per cent of those surveyed in Uganda to 61 per cent in Honduras. Young people living with HIV especially have a much higher unemployment rate. Another key finding is that many people continue to lose their jobs in part or fully as a result of their HIV status. Many people are hesitant to disclose their HIV status to employers or even co-workers and HIV-related discrimination remains a major cause for not receiving job promotions.
I am delighted to say thank you to our friends in Mexico City, as Mexico has paid its regular budget dues in full. This payment brings the Honour Roll to 112. Sorry? 112. I just said it. So, If I give you the answer, you can't… sorry. That's… well, all right.
**Questions and Answers
Question: So does Mexico's payment or contribution, does that take the UN out of the red, given the letter that's going around?
Spokesman: No. It does not. As you know, the Secretary‑General has written to staff today, basically outlining his… the concerns that he himself has sent on to Member States about the troubling financial situation that the Organization is in. The issue is really late payments and payments not yet received to the regular budget. We've often, at this time of year, are… received a kind of a shortfall, but, unlike those we've had in previous years, the cash flow has never been this low so early in the calendar. And it's also part of the broader trend that is concerning, which we're running out of cash sooner and staying in the red longer. The Secretary‑General has appealed to Member States to pay their assessments on time and in full. And obviously, the funding shortfall, at some point, will cause a risk to our ability to deliver our mandates. He's also told staff and stressed to Member States that we are looking on how to reduce non‑staff costs in order to help with this situation.
Question: If I may just follow up, so out of 193 Member States… I know you're not going to mention those that haven't paid, unless you want to.
Spokesman: No, it's available publicly. So, the Honour Roll… as you know, I mention an Honour Roll every time we pay. There's a website that shows you who has paid and how much they've paid. And, obviously, by doing the math, you can figure out… by us telling you who's paid, you can figure out who has not paid. Mr. Bays?
Question: Same subject. Can you give us some idea of the sort of savings he's looking for now? And if this doesn't improve in the near future, what sort of cuts will have to be made?
Spokesman: No one is, at this point, talking about cuts. We're not trying to show alarm. It's a remainder of Member States that, you know, we don't have the same flexibility as Governments in terms of controlling income and timing of income. We rely… the Member States set budget. They vote on a budget. We then rely on Member States to pay their dues in full and on time. Obviously, we fully understand that some Member States have different budgetary years and calendar… you know, fiscal years, so that has an impact. But, this year is worse than others. So, obviously, you know, we look at anything from travel to office supplies, things that we can… in terms of cost saving, things we can have an immediate… immediate control over.
Question: You're saying no one's talking about cuts, but just an example from 24 hours ago, of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], when you don't have the money, you're going to have to make cuts…?
Spokesman: Right, no, exactly. But, what I'm saying is that we're not at that point. It's just… it's really a strong reminder of Member States to pay their regular budget. Michelle?
Question: Just sort of a follow‑up from that. The US is obviously the largest contributor to that budget. I haven't looked at the list, but I'm presuming they haven't paid yet for this year. But, are they paid up until this year? And also, earlier this year, North Korea was trying to work out a way with the UN to pay. Was that resolved? Have they paid and how did they pay?
Spokesman: I will check on DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. You know, as for the numbers, those things are available on the web. We can direct you to the sites. Mr. Avni?
Question: The US… obviously, as you mentioned, there's fiscal years. The US always pays late… late. Is that… is the Honour Roll a way to also urge them to change their timing of their payments?
Spokesman: As I said, different countries have different fiscal years. The Honour Roll is to underscore those countries that have paid their dues on time. And we encourage all countries to do that. But, late payment has… you know, it has an impact obviously on our cash flow. It may have an impact on our ability to deliver mandates.
Question: But, that has been a long‑term practise due to UN budgetary rules… US budgetary rules, which are different than the UN, and as the biggest contributor, I mean, do you want to change it? Is there any way to change it?
Spokesman: I do believe, ideally, all Member States would pay their dues by the end of January, but that's not the case. Mr. Masood. That would be you.
Question: Oh. Thank you. Stéphane, I'd like to know these… United States ambassador just said on Tuesday that one of the main reasons for the shortfall in Palestinian funding is because the Arab States are unwilling to come forward and fund. Does the United Nations believe that the Arab States are not coming forward or the Muslim states are not coming forward…?
Spokesman: I think I addressed that at length yesterday. UNRWA's donors are a secret to no one. Those are also publicly available, and everyone can look at who is giving to UNRWA and by how much and who is not. Yes, sir, and then Joe.
Question: Two questions not budget related. First question is, High Commissioner Zeid had indicated in the statement I believe he released yesterday regarding Cameroon urging that the Government itself undertake an investigation of alleged human rights abuses. What I want to know is whether the Secretary‑General agrees that a Government investigation in part of itself is sufficient or is he looking… wait. Is he looking for an independent investigation…?
Spokesman: Yeah, we flagged that yesterday, yeah. I think any case of use of violence and civilian deaths, it is the primary responsibility for Governments to initiate independent investigations. And, obviously, we should… that's a first step, and then we need to see…
Question: But in other contexts, for example, relating to Israel and Palestine, I believe he has… the Secretary‑General, in the past, has called for outside independent investigations…?
Spokesman: No, I think that's… I would correct you. Many cases, in the case of civilian deaths… in Palestinian civilian deaths in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Secretary‑General's initial calls have always been for independent investigations, which is exactly what we're doing now. Yes, sir?
Correspondent: Okay. I'll ask another question.
Spokesman: Sorry and then we'll come back to you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Can you give us any information about when the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] will utilize emergency fund to support DPRK?
Spokesman: No, but we can ask. I don't have any information on that. Nizar?
Question: Yeah. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia declared that they will suspend oil… trips through Bab el‑Mandab in the Red Sea strait. So… also, there is escalation today by Yemen, attacking Abu Dhabi's airport. Is there… is Mr. [Martin] Griffiths there addressing any of that? Is he going to do any trips, regional…
Spokesman: Mr. Griffiths is, if I'm not mistaken, about to embark in another regional tour. He's continued his consultations even from Amman.
Question: Oh, is the Secretary‑General going to do any contacts with the regional Powers, leaders…?
Spokesman: Mr. Griffiths is representing the Secretary‑General, and he's working in the Secretary‑General's name. As often in these cases, when sometimes a special envoy, special adviser will ask the Secretary‑General to make calls, the Secretary‑General will make those calls. Rami?
Question: Thanks, Steph, and sorry for arriving late. Is… is… is the SG concerned at all about how these latest developments, both the Houthi attack… or alleged attack on the Abu Dhabi airport and the Saudi decision to stop oil exports, how these things will affect Martin Griffiths' efforts?
Spokesman: I think they… what all these events do is underscore the need to put an end to this conflict and to find a political solution, as if we still needed to be reminded after all these years, after all the suffering of the Yemeni people. This conflict is and has been… has had regional implications, when commercial navigation is starting to get impacted, the movement of goods from global trade is starting to get impacted. All these… the continuance of this conflict has many, many implications, the most important one being the suffering of civilians in Yemen, but it, obviously, has commercial and trade implications, as well. This should serve as a reminder to everyone to rally around the efforts of Mr. Griffiths and to come back to the table and find a political solution. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have a question on Colombia and the report of the Verification Mission that will be addressed later today by the Security Council. So, in paragraph 29, there is an issue that says that FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] is creating a list currently of about 1,000 former FARC members who have not been included in any kind of toll that the UN has of those who have been demobilised. So, in light of these kind of issues, I wonder which is the view of the Secretary‑General on the challenges ahead that the Verification Mission is facing right now in Colombia?
Spokesman: I'll be honest with you. It's not a question I can answer off the top of my head or on my feet, but I will try to get something to you. Yeah. Go ahead, sorry.
Question: Hello, Stéphane, my question is about Ukraine. Today Minsk Group meeting in Normandy format took place in Berlin, and Russia stressed that there is still no progress in implementation of Minsk agreement. What… does the UN have any comments on the situation with Minsk agreement? And also with the situation of the of the disability of UN Mission to Donbass. Thank you.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General, we've always been supportive of the Minsk… the efforts of the Minsk Group as a way to find a political solution, as a way to move forward on what is going on in the Ukraine. The lack of agreement and the continuing tension and the continuing fighting we've seen in eastern Ukraine continues to have a humanitarian impact. I mean, we have… they… the civilian population in Eastern Ukraine came through a very difficult winter. We've seen issues around water. All these things should push everybody to support a political solution. Carole?
Question: Stéphane, can I just get back to the cash shortfall? I'm not sure I understand. Is the… is the cash shortfall a result of more expenditures or is it more deadbeats in terms of the…
Spokesman: Your term, not mine. The cash shortfall is due to the fact that about only 67 per cent of Member States have paid their budget dues in full. The way this works is that there is a budget. We plan for the budget, but we don't get the money to implement that budget at the start of the budget cycle. So, that may… that creates a challenge, and that's what I think I was telling James: We don't have the same tools that national Governments have to control their own budget. So, we have mandates that need to be implemented and activities that need to be done. But, the money, to speak bluntly, trickles in, and we've always worked around that because we've always planned for that. But this year, the drought is coming earlier and harder than it has in previous years.
Question: Right, but what… what's the cause of that? Why is this year…?
Spokesman: Because we're… the Member States are not paying… not enough Member States are paying their budget dues in full.
Question: And can I just specify, in the case of the US, they're not on the list of countries that have paid their dues, so, are they withholding dues?
Spokesman: As I said, the honour roll… no one is, to my understanding, withholding anything. It's a matter of cycle of payments. Mr. Klein, then Mr. Bays and Mr. Avni.
Question: First, a very quick follow‑up to my previous question on Cameroon, then my other question. On Cameroon, does the Secretary‑General believe that an independent investigation can be undertaken by a Government that is essentially under one‑man rule? The President, I believe, has been in for 36 years, and he's running again, something like that. So, that's… that's my first question. My other question is a follow‑up to Ben's question yesterday regarding the investigation of Inner City Press. What I'd like to know is, who is going to make the final, final decision on the disposition of that case? Is it going to go up… all the way up to the Secretary‑General, to the head of global communications, head of security? Can you tell us?
Spokesman: It's an issue of press accreditation, and it is being handled by the Department of Public Information. On Cameroon, you know, I think we said in… that there has… the Government itself has said they would launch an investigation. We would want to see that investigation go forward, that independent investigation go forward, and then we can… once those… we can then pass judgment or comment on that once that has happened. Mr. Avni and then Mr. Bays or was it…
Correspondent: So two questions. One, just to… to… to tie up this whole business with the budget, and again, with the US situation, it's been like this for a thousand years or whatever.
Spokesman: Sometimes I feel like a thousand‑year‑old man.
Question: The US has always paid towards the end of the year. Wouldn't the UN already have adjusted to that factor? Because the US is obviously such a big contributor…
Spokesman: The US… it… the scale of assessment is public for all. The US is the largest contributor to the UN. It is not the only contributor to the United Nations. The problem is that we obviously… we know how this system works, and we do… it's not a surprise. What I'm saying… you know, the low level of cash is not a surprise. However, we're experiencing lower levels earlier on in the calendar year, and that's not… I'm not… no one is putting its finger to one Member State. It's… if my math is correct, we have… 67 per cent of Member States have paid up. Who has paid up is a public document. At some point, you can plan for your… if I could continue with the drought analogy, you can plan for water use knowing that there are drought periods and periods of rain. The drought is coming earlier than usual.
Question: My point is, if the… to follow up on your analogy, if rain falls… instead of in the summer, it falls in… instead of in the winter, it falls in the summer, it's still rain. What I'm saying is that, by now, for so many years, the US has paid, I think, in November. I'm not sure exactly when. And… and… you know, so you have the money from November. You don't have it from January. You have it from November. So, it's actually two months earlier in a way. But the point is, this is a cycle, an annual cycle…?
Spokesman: It's a cycle that we understand and we plan for. This year, the cycle is worse than it's been.
Question: And another topic I just wanted to… so, on this call for an independent investigation in the case of Gaza, usually, those calls are made when there's a loss of life and rightly so. What about loss of property? I mean, there's a large‑scale fire situation in the southern of Israel. Hundreds of acres have been burnt. Is that something that the UN should pay attention to, call for an investigation…?
Spokesman: I think Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov has mentioned it in quite detail in his last briefing. Mr. Bays?
Question: But, does it… does it rise up to the same…?
Spokesman: I would refer you to his last briefing. Mr. Bays?
Question: The UN Security Council voted on Cyprus this morning. Does the Secretary‑General see this as a time of fresh opportunity? And is it time for fresh direct engagement from the Secretary‑General himself now?
Spokesman: As you know, Mr… the… we obviously… well, first of all, we obviously welcome the fact that the mandate was renewed. Jane Holl Lute has gone to Cyprus. She had a round of… it was a listening tour. She listened to what the parties had to say. She's back in New York, and then the Secretary‑General will decide on next steps. Mr. Klein?
Correspondent: Again, I'm going to ask a follow‑up to Ben's question today. Regarding the question of an independent…
Spokesman: Masood, I'll get to you. Nobody's leaving this room until the questions have been answered. Except for Nizar.
Question: Okay. Anyway, regarding an independent investigation on events in Gaza and Israel, I… I was there for Mr. Mladenov's statement and have read it. The question is whether there should be an independent… outside independent investigation, for example, from the Human Rights Council or from any other unit in the UN regarding the fires and destruction of property in Israel proper, because, again, Mr. Zeid, when he talks about an investigation, he's only focussing on Israel's actions and the killing of Palestinians.
Spokesman: I think… first of all, what the Human Rights Council decides is what the Human Rights Council decides. I would… Mr. Mladenov's briefing to the Security Council stands as the last word on our position on what is going on between the Israelis and Palestinians, and I have nothing to add. Sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Again, on this situation in Gaza where it is being said that the people… that the Palestinians are living like caged animals in that… has the Secretary‑General or anybody have any talks… latest talk on releasing some sort of aid to the convoys into the occupied Gaza, which have been blocked again and again?
Spokesman: Masood, with respect, I think that was covered in depth by Mr. Mladenov giving you an update on the latest openings of the Karem [Shalom] crossing where supplies… humanitarian supplies were let in. Fuel was let in. Mr. Mladenov was in Gaza. He was also then in… he was in Jerusalem. He spoke to Israeli… the senior‑most Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, spoke to the Egyptians. Our focus is on trying to… right now is on trying to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza and to avoid any further conflict. Thank you.