The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
A bit earlier today, the Secretary-General briefed the [Security] Council on Syria, on a week that marks the end of seven years of conflict there. He highlighted a stark fact on this grimmest of anniversaries: in 2017, more children were killed in Syria than during any other year since the war began.
The Secretary-General told the Council that, despite the passage of resolution 2401, there has been no cessation of hostilities. Violence continues in eastern Ghouta and beyond — including in Afrin, parts of Idlib and into Damascus and its suburbs. And humanitarian aid continues to face blockages, with the humanitarian and human rights situation becoming more desperate by the day.
On Thursday, the Secretary-General said, this conflict will enter its eighth year — but he refuses to lose hope to see Syria rising from the ashes.
He praised women across the world who are telling their stories and provoking important and necessary conversations. “In villages and cities, in boardrooms and bedrooms, in the streets and in the corridors of power, women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour and discriminatory attitudes,” the Secretary-General said.
He stressed that centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy. He added that changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence is not only the greatest human rights challenge of our time, but it is also in everyone’s interests. Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies, he said, which is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality.
Calling himself “a proud feminist”, the Secretary-General said that when women are already taking action, it is crucial to listen to them and support them. His full remarks are online.
And the Deputy Secretary-General will also deliver remarks later today in the ministerial segment of the CSW, under the spotlight “ending violence against all women and girls” — that is the name of the session. And that will be at 2:55 in the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Chamber.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a briefing here sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations on “Arab Women’s experiences”, in connection with the ongoing session of the Commission on the Status of Women.
And there are a number of other events — and I encourage you to look on the web to see all of those.
The Acting Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Pernille Kardel, met today with President Michel Aoun, and she emphasized that the conference later this week in Rome will be an opportunity for Lebanon, and the Lebanese Government, to state its desire to see the security institutions extend state authority throughout the country.
She congratulated the Lebanese Government for its preparations ahead of the 6 May elections, saying that it is encouraging to see an historic number of female candidates for these elections. There is more in a press release from her office.
Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, today stressed the need for the Iraqi Government to take active steps to support and protect minority communities and to ensure the return of minorities who suffered from Da’esh persecution to their homes. He urged the religious, political and civic leaders, as well as the general public, to stand up for their fellow vulnerable citizens.
Mr. Kubiš called for the support and protection of minorities, including Yezidi, Christians, Shabak, Sabean Mandaeans, and others. He said Iraq needs all its components, all its ethnic and religious groups, to rebuild in the post-Da’esh period and to prosper in the future as a stable and united country.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, concluded a three-day visit to Sri Lanka yesterday.
Mr. Feltman met with President [Maithripala] Sirisena, as well as other political and Government leaders. He commended the Parliament’s recent adoption of the Bill for Protection against Enforced Disappearances.
Regarding the recent communal violence, Mr. Feltman condemned the breakdown in law and order, and attacks against Muslims and their properties. That note to correspondents was shared with you over the weekend.
Turning to Afghanistan, the Director of Operations and Advocacy in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), John Ging, just concluded a three-day visit to Afghanistan, where he visited families displaced by conflict in informal settlements and families which recently returned from Pakistan after living there for years.
He also met with UN, humanitarian NGOs and Humanitarian Donor Group partners, as well as the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Mr. Ging stressed the challenges of reaching 2.8 million Afghans, who have acute needs, in 2018.
He said that humanitarian assistance continues to be a priority to ensure the survival of the most vulnerable, adding that we should not abandon the people of Afghanistan.
**Central African Republic
In the Central African Republic, our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that the first training for 500 national police and gendarmes started today in Bangui. This is the first training of its kind and the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) supported the recruitment process, the rehabilitation of the police academy and the preparation of the training. This is the culmination of a process that lasted over a year to recruit candidates from all 16 prefectures in the Central African Republic to reconstitute the national police and gendarmerie into a national security force that is representative of the entire country.
Our colleagues from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced the winners of the #CleanSeas Innovation competition.
The competition was held among university students and recognized creative ideas for tackling marine litter. The winners include a group of students who designed biodegradable plastic cups and plates made out of egg whites, a recycling scheme in Cameroon that turns plastic bottles into fishing canoes, and a project that uses remote sensing to detect marine litter along the coast of Chile. More information online.
Lastly, we thank our friends in Slovakia — we can thank the President of the General Assembly, no doubt — as they become the latest Member State to pay their membership fee in full for the regular budget, which brings us up to?
Spokesman: Well, since you're the only one who played, you get a question. It's actually 66. All right. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I ask you first about Omar Kiswani, the chief of the Palestinian union at Birzeit University, was snatched from the university campus, if you have any update on that.
Spokesman: I do not, unfortunately.
Question: Could you please…?
Spokesman: I will try.
Question: Okay. The second, there is a new law passed by the Knesset authorizing the Interior Minister to confiscate any blue identity of the people of Jerusalem, the… of course, the Arab population of Jerusalem. This is a… very alarming, and there is a statement saying that beginning of a total ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Also, do you have any information on that?
Spokesman: No, let me take a look at that, see where that is.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the situation in Yemen, there are reports… ongoing reports again and again that the civilians are dying, children are dying over there, and that… and that the Saudi Coalition have not let up or to allow aid to come in. What is the update on that? What is the situation over there?
Spokesman: The situation in Yemen continues to be dire for the people of Yemen, for the civilians. The fighting is continuing. Some aid is going in, some… through some of the ports, and there's been improvement on that, but we're not nearly seeing the level of humanitarian aid that we would like to see go into the country. Not only is it not enough aid, there are continuing attacks on civilian infrastructure. There's… the medical and health sector in Yemen continues to suffer tremendously. All this should be a constant reminder to the parties to regroup and push forward on a political agreement. We hope that the arrival of a new envoy will help spur momentum towards a political agreement.
Question: So… also on Ghouta, I would like to know about… there's a report now that the Russians saved about 72 civilians from Ghouta, but as the situation is still… is very, very fluid and people are dying.
Spokesman: Well, Masood, with due respect, I would encourage you to read or watch the Secretary‑General's extensive report on the situation in Syria, notably in eastern Ghouta, and I think all will agree he paints a pretty bleak picture of the situation. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have other stuff, but I guess, on Yemen, I just wanted to ask you, I've seen some reports that Lise Grande has been named the Humanitarian Coordinator there. And may… you obviously don't… I hope… I don't know if I missed it, but was this announced here?
Spokesman: I didn't announce it, so I don't have an update for you. We'll check, but I've not announced it, and we usually…
Question: Seems like she's already meeting with parties.
Spokesman: As always, you're better informed than I am, if that is, in fact, the case, Mr. Lee.
Question: Okay. I also… well, in the interest of being better informed, I wanted to ask about this meeting on the Secretary‑General's schedule with H.R. McMaster. It's not in the media alert. Is there any… it seems like it's a pretty high‑profile meeting. Many people are interested in it. Is there… can it be open for a photo op? Is there a photo op? And there will be a readout?
Spokesman: There'll be a UN photo. I don't expect there to be a readout. It's a meeting being done at the request of Mr. McMaster, who asked to see the Secretary‑General.
Question: And it's up on the 38th?
Spokesman: It is up on the 38th Floor. If that… if the media arrangements change, you will be advised.
Correspondent: All right.
Spokesman: Okay. Masood‑ji?
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, I've been asking this question again and again. The latest report is that there are still 200 children incarcerated by Israel… Palestinian children incarcerated by Israel. Now, what is the situation… has anybody in the United Nations had a talk with the Israeli authorities about the children? I mean, they're not…
Spokesman: We've given you an update on the… on the numbers. The incarceration of minors throughout the world is an area that's of concern to us, and it's important that minors be treated with full respect of the rights that is owed to them. Let's continue this tennis match, Mr. Lee.
Question: Definitely. I've been for… a couple times been asking for an update on… on Mr. Horst Köhler's work on… on Western Sahara, and I did want to ask, if… since having not gotten one, a specific question, which is that I think this Crans‑Montana forum is kicking off, and I've seen a lot of back‑and‑forth on it. And, as you may know, the African Union specifically called in one of its resolutions for it not to be held in… in this disputed territory and for countries not to go. And I'm wondering, if we can't get an update, can we get Mr. Hans [Horst] Köhler's view on this forum being held at this time and this place?
Spokesman: Mr. Köhler, as you know, has been meeting with the parties. He met… I think his last round of meetings was in Lisbon, where he met with the representatives of Morocco. As for the holding of this event, we have no particular comment, and I'm not aware of any UN participation in it.
Question: And… okay. There's been… I'll go back and look at previous… there's… there's…
Spokesman: Well, I know what happened previously.
Question: No, I know. Yeah. I'm sure you do. The South Sudan radio, you'd said on Friday that it hadn't yet been closed and that hope sprung eternal. Has it now been closed?
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that it's still on the air. I have not received information that it is…
Question: I mean, there… Okay. Well, that's… that would be good news. I wanted to ask you that the staff in Geneva are… have scheduled in writing a vote on a strike on this ongoing… trying to get the… I guess… I don't want to say they're try… what they're trying to do, but it's all in there, the… the… the… and so they say or I've heard… they've told me that there's some mulling of retaliation if people vote for a strike or go on strike by Jan Beagle of Department of Management. So, I just wanted to ask you… in advance, not to hinder the vote, of course. This is all being done in a… kind of a way the union does things. They're having a vote in various places on Thursday, but what can you say about the… the Secretary‑General's respect of… for the right to collective bargaining?
Spokesman: As a matter of principle, we have a respect for unions. People should feel to free… feel free to vote the way they want to vote. I can assure you that there is no retaliation planned of any kind. The issue of collective bargaining is a principle itself. It doesn't really apply to… I mean, the UN pay structure is done, as you know, through a different way, through the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).
Question: I guess their idea is, if they, in fact… if people vote for a strike and as a last resort… last time, there was a work stoppage, and there was message from Michael Møller saying that there could be administrative penalties for actually having… this is what I mean. It's like, obviously, people can organize, but if they organize to actually take collective action…
Spokesman: I think there are rules in place, and those rules need to be respected. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. I have noticed, in the speech of the Secretary‑General to the GA regarding women, he did not mention, directly or indirectly, about the oppression of colonial period, of developing nations' women, colonialism, slavery, enslavement, apartheid and occupation. Yes, of course, there is oppression of women by the… by the society and by the historic patriarchal society but also colonialism, occupation, foreign domination also a major reason for oppressing women. Why his speech does not include that part…?
Spokesman: Listen. I will leave the analysis to you, Abdelhamid. There's always… I think people could always want this… wait for the Secretary‑General to say more. His speech was very clear. It's very direct. It's an assessment of what is going on today. It's forward looking. His message is that the issue of patriarchy, of oppression of women, is one that transcends cultures; it transcends religions; it transcends ethnic groups and transcends history, unfortunately. Masood?
Question: Agree, but there are women who…
Spokesman: I… you know, as I said… They could… any speech that the Secretary‑General delivers in any forum could always be two or three or four times as long. I'm explaining to you the framework of the Secretary‑General's thinking. Masood?
Question: Yes. On this situation of Afghanistan that you just spoke about, Pak… in Pakistan, there are calls by the civilian… civilian Government and many Government officials and so forth that it's time for Pakistan to repatriate some 5 million refugees, Afghan refugees, language in Pakistan for a very long time, since… I mean…
Spokesman: Masood, with respect, what is the question?
Question: More than… A very long time. So, and there… and the Afghan Government and relations between Pakistan and Afghan are not…
Spokesman: No, no, I'm aware of the situation. I'm just asking you for the question.
Question: Yeah, the question is, simple as this, now, what is the situation if the repatriation takes place? Now, is it going to be forced repatriation, or…
Spokesman: No repatriation of refugees should ever be forced. Repatriation should be done on a voluntary basis, in a dignified basis wherever it applies. Mr. Lee, and then we'll go to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.
Question: Okay. Sure. I wanted to… to… one thing is, on… on the readout of Jeffrey Feltman's visit to Sri Lanka, I just wanted to… to ask, there's been… the Government there has taken the decision to suspend access to a number of major social media platforms in the name of trying to quell communal violence, but people… it's one of these open questions of whether that is a… that's the way to do it. Did… did Mr. Feltman… did he observe that while he was there? And what is the UN's view on a Government banning access to WhatsApp…
Spokesman: I'm not aware if he observed it as a matter of principle. And I'm not aware of the specific details in Sri Lanka. We do support free access to the internet.
Question: And in part I'm asking because there's a protest or at least announced here at the UN on Wednesday of… of Sri Lankan Muslims basically saying the UN has not done enough. So, does… in turn, does Mr. Feltman believe that the Government has been… has dealt with this problem appropriately?
Spokesman: The issue was raised in the talks with Mr. Feltman, and I think it's reflected in the readout.
Question: And is Ms.… is Amina Mohammed going to London for the conf… the Commonwealth? I've seen some online reports that she's a speaker there, but I haven't seen anything announced from here.
Spokesman: I'm not aware, but that doesn't mean it's not a fact. So, we will come back to you one way or another. Thank you. And, Mr. Varma, you're up.