The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I will start off with a statement on Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General condemns today’s attack in Kabul during the Nowruz celebrations near a religious shrine. Nowruz is a time of renewal and celebration, and should be a time for promoting the values of peace and solidarity. Those who have organized this attack must be brought to justice.
The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured. He expresses his solidarity with the Government and people of Afghanistan.
I have a Senior appointment to announce: The Secretary-General is announcing today the appointment of Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania as his Special Adviser for the Sahel.
He will support Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, in ongoing efforts to advance the recalibration of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel and the emerging Sahel Support Plan.
Currently Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), his appointment builds on almost 40 years of experience in sustainable development, environmental governance and natural resource management.
The Deputy Secretary-General will arrive in Liberia in a few hours.
Tomorrow, she will meet with the President of Liberia, George Weah, and attend an event hosted by the President that will celebrate the successful completion of the mandate of the UN mission in the country, known as UNMIL. She will also meet with civil society organizations and women parliamentarians and attend a national reconciliation conference. She is also expected to brief the Security Council by VTC on the situation in the Lake Chad region.
On Friday, she will participate in a high-level meeting to initiate the design of the national development agenda for 2018-2024 and in a ceremony marking the turning over of UNMIL Radio to the Economic Community of West African States Commission.
Turning to Syria, we remain deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in eastern Ghouta.
Living conditions continue to be desperate, bread is unavailable and water is not potable. Humanitarian access remains extremely limited. The last convoy to eastern Ghouta took place on 15 March with food for 26,100 people in Douma.
Since 11 March, the UN estimates that more than 50,000 people have left eastern Ghouta. The UN teams have been visiting collective shelters in recent days in Rural Damascus where people who have left eastern Ghouta are staying. Most of the shelters do not have the capacity or infrastructure to accommodate the large number of people arriving.
The World Health Organization (WHO) for its part has activated an emergency operations centre that works around the clock to assist the tens of thousands of Syrians from eastern Ghouta who have taken refuge in the collective shelters in Rural Damascus.
Mobile health teams supported by WHO have been deployed to the shelters and are providing up to 550 medical consultations and treatments per day.
WHO has delivered 9 tonnes of health supplies, including 40 patient beds and medical equipment, and has also prepared an additional 7-tonne shipment of life-saving medicines, sufficient for more than 190,000 medical treatments, to be delivered to health facilities in Rural Damascus.
We remind all parties that whether civilians choose to stay or evacuate, they must be protected against attack, be treated humanely, and have access to the essentials to survive, including through humanitarian assistance, in accordance with the parties’ obligations under international humanitarian law.
We remain deeply concerned by the increase in violence in Idleb Governorate in recent days and we remind all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives and allow freedom of movement.
Back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, briefed the Security Council this morning. He announced that the UN mission (UNSMIL) had now returned to Tripoli.
Mr. Salamé said that while Libya was once known for its great demographic fluidity, ideological or identity cleavages have led to widespread ostracism. Unless Libyans can come together to speak, they will be unable to agree, he said. And unless they agree, the political process cannot progress. He added that his mission is not to slice the cake between competing greeds but to bring Libyans together around a common national narrative.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization tell us there have been massive livestock deaths due to drought in Somalia, which is severely affecting the livelihood of many communities in the country.
In some areas, as much as 60 per cent of herds have been wiped out. Those losses threaten to exacerbate the country's food security situation, as the livestock sector accounts for about 40 per cent of GDP and 65 per cent of the population is engaged in livestock rearing activities.
Actor and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN refugee agency Cate Blanchett today warned of a “race against time” to protect Rohingya refugees from the worst impacts of the upcoming monsoon season in Bangladesh. She just returned from a visit to Bangladesh this week, and is calling for urgent action to support UNHCR and its partners, working with the Government of Bangladesh, to avoid an “emergency within an emergency”.
Since August 2017, over 671,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have sought safety in Bangladesh. Heavy rains, potential cyclones and adverse weather conditions are now threatening to put more than one hundred thousand Rohingya refugees living in congested settlements in Cox’s Bazar district at serious risk within the coming months.
In Bonn, in Germany, sustainability experts from around the world are gathering over the next three days to discuss ways to take action on the Sustainable Development Goals, at the Global Festival of Action for sustainable development.
Participants will be able to connect with partner organizations, exchange ideas, build partnerships, and ensure that solutions are transported across borders. The Festival will also hold the first SDG [Action] Awards, recognizing innovative efforts to ignite action on the SDGs.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
I had been asked earlier about the meeting on the DPRK in Finland, and I can say that the Secretary-General is aware of the meeting in Helsinki on the situation in the Korean Peninsula.
The United Nations has contributed to this academic exchange, with a UN official providing legal expertise. The Secretary-General is encouraged by the diplomatic advances made recently to further reduce military tensions and to discuss denuclearization in future talks with all relevant parties.
We have quite a few International Days today.
As I mentioned yesterday, today is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. As we mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly in the afternoon and stressed that world leaders “cannot allow extremist ideologies to become normalized and legitimized in our societies. The answer is to preach and practice tolerance, inclusion and respect for diversity,” he said.
Today is also the International Day of Forests. The focus for this year is forests and sustainable cities, and highlights the importance of green spaces to make cities greener, healthier and happier places to live. There will be an event sponsored by the Dutch Permanent Mission — I think at 1:30 p.m., in front the Security Council — in which the Secretary-General will also participate.
Today is also World Down Syndrome Day. This year, the Day’s theme is #WhatIBringToMyCommunity — how people with Down syndrome can make meaningful contributions throughout their lives, whether in schools, workplaces, living in the community, public and political life, culture, media, recreation, leisure and sport.
Moving on, today is also World Poetry Day, something we try to practice here every day, which celebrates the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.
And last but not least, it’s also as you know Nowruz Day, which marks the first day of spring, as you can see if you look out the window here in New York.
A couple of things to flag.
There will be an event this weekend on Saturday: our colleagues — our very talented colleagues — at the UN Chamber Music Society will present a Haiti Benefit concert. That will be at All Saints Episcopal Church, on East 60th Street.
All proceeds will be directed to Fonkoze, Haiti’s leading microfinance institution, which provides financial and development services to empower Haitians — primarily rural women.
More information in my office.
In a short while, after Brenden briefs on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly], I will be joined by Claude Jibidar, the World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director for the DRC, who is here to talk to you about his work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At 11:15 am, in this room tomorrow, there will be a briefing on the occasion of World Water Day. Speakers will include Federico Properzi of UN Water, Lani Dolifka, founder of Clean Water Here, and Armando Christian Perez, who some of you may know as Pitbull, will be here as well.
We have a wide variety of guests here at the United Nations.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. A question on the Rohingyas. Teenage girls are reportedly trafficked into prostitution in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar. I was wondering if the UN has anything on that?
And do you also have any updates on the appointment of the Special Envoy for Myanmar?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: On the Special Envoy, the process is continuing. When we have something to announce, we will share it with you.
We've read the reports, which are heart-breaking and, I think, horrendous. In situations such as these, when you have large movements of people where… who need to be resettled quickly in camps, those who are most vulnerable are most at risk. And, once again, we see children and young women being exploited in the worst possible way.
I know our colleagues on the ground are trying their best to ensure… to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, but this is an extremely challenging situation.
Question: Regarding Syria, Afrin right now, it's been controlled by Turkey, and does the UN have any, like, you know, news or information about what's going on over there in Afrin?
Spokesman: As you know, we are not… we are not present directly in Afrin. We are speaking to people who have moved out of the area, who have told us of the dire situation, the dire situation on the ground and also reports of threats of violence and arbitrary arrests of civilians, as well as looting. Those reports that we're getting from people that we are… that we've interviewed, not… we're not seeing these things first‑hand for ourselves, are obviously extremely troubling.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the Finland meeting that you mentioned on North Korea, you said a UN official helping to explain the legal circumstances. What do you mean by the…
Spokesman: I think what's important to understand, this is obviously… it's an important… it's an important gathering, but it is something that was… that had been, from what I understand, in the works for quite some time about encouraged contacts within the… between the various parties.
I don't have much more of a readout for we are not the organizers. We're there to support it. If I can share any more information with you, I will.
Question: And can I just follow up?
Question: Is Mr. Under‑Secretary‑General Feltman participating in any of these other dialogues and that one in particular?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware that he is. Mr. Feltman is finishing his last… next week will be his last week at the UN, and we hope to have him in the briefing room at some point next week for his farewell, valedictory briefing.
Question: All right. And one little follow‑up on Pitbull. He will be appointed UN envoy for water? Is that…
Spokesman: I don't believe so. I think he's just an advocate on water. I will check with my colleagues.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. Follow‑up on North Korea, not on Pitbull, but I did want to know, when you say to provide legal advice, can you at least say whether the person comes from the Department of Political Affairs or OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?
Spokesman: Yes, from… my understanding is it's the Department of Political Affairs. [The Spokesman later clarified it was the Office of Legal Affairs.]
Question: And is this viewed as a response… I know that DPRK has been asked repeatedly for the Secretary‑General to set up some kind of conference of legal advisers, just…
Spokesman: No, this is… it's separate…
Question: This is not it.
Spokesman: It's not it…
Question: He's not going to do it. Okay. And also…
Spokesman: …to be clear.
Question: …another follow‑up, on Myanmar, the President, as you may have seen, has resigned for… reportedly due to health reasons, Mr. Htin… H‑t‑i‑n K‑y‑a‑w. And I wanted to know whether this… who is the UN's interlocutor on… it seems like it's been a long time on the envoy, so it probably seem… would indicate that the… on the Government side, there's some thoughts of what the name should be. Does this change at the very… at the top or at least the titular top of the Government in Myanmar have any impact on the process?
Spokesman: Well, the process is ongoing, and we consult with various parties. Obviously, as with the dispatch of any envoy, country‑specific envoy, there are discussions that are had with the Government… the Government in place, whatever Government that is, and I have no reason to believe that that's not going on there.
Question: And I… I’ve seen that the Secretary‑General met twice pretty recently with Kevin Rudd, including one quite recently. And I wanted to know, is there any readout on that? His name was at one point floated. I don't know if he would take this job or I don't know if he's being considered for it, but what's the… especially with two meetings so close to each other…
Spokesman: No, I'm aware of the meetings…
Question: …[inaudible] request of Mr. Rudd?
Spokesman: I'm aware of the… of the rumours, which are… which are exactly that. Mr. Rudd, I think, has an appointment here at the Japan Society, if I'm not…
Spokesman: …mis… the Asia Society, my mistake. But there is no specific readout of that meeting.
Spokesman: Okay. Yes, sir, and then we'll go to the back.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question is about North Korea. Today, the Security Council adopted unanimously the renewal of the series of the Security Council resolution. What support can Secretary‑General do to the implement on the series of resolution on the North Korea? And what expectation does Secretary‑General have implementing the series of resolution?
Spokesman: Well, you know, the resolutions are passed by the Security Council, legislative body of this organization. The Secretary‑General, obviously, his message is always for the full implementation of the relevant… the relevant resolutions. And, if there are… if the Secretariat is mandated for any activities by those resolutions, we will… we will follow up.
The Security Council resolutions are an important part of the ongoing situation in the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary‑General, as I said, is encouraged by these diplomatic discussions that we've also seen outside of this building.
Question: Yeah. What is the status of the ports and the airports in Yemen? And when is the Crown Prince coming to meet with the Secretary‑General? Thanks.
Spokesman: He will be meeting with the Secretary‑General Monday or Tuesday next week.
Question: [inaudible] specific day?
Spokesman: We do have a specific day. It's just not in my head at this very second. And the ports, my understand… I have not gotten any updates in the last couple of days, but Hodeidah, I think, is… is operating. Obviously, the amount of humanitarian aid that we're able to get in is not meeting the needs of the people of Yemen.
Question: My question is about Serbian President was today here and met General Secretary, and my question is, does he said something about Serbia is allowed Kosovo to have the… to join the… the UN membership to have…
Spokesman: Let me see if I can get a readout of the meeting so I'll share that with you. Obviously, the issue of membership of the organisation is one for Member States themselves to decide.
Question: I have a follow‑up on Syria, Stéphane. The UN has expressed concern over the displacement and the civilian infrastructure. I was wondering if the UN has contacted the Turkish authorities.
And you also expressed concern over the reports of arbitrary arrests and reports of looting. Who's looting and who is arresting who?
Spokesman: You know, we're getting information through people who have… who have escaped, who have left Afrin. We don't have a way of… of confirming those reports since we're not there first‑hand. Frankly, at this point, what matters to us is that civilians are being put in harm's way. Right? In these situations, it's not always clear who is doing harm, but what is clear is that we need all parties involved throughout Syria to respect the rights of civilians to ensure their protection and to avoid any sort of arbitrary arrests or detention.
You know, we're continuing to see an immense spiralling suffering of the people of Syria. It's clear that the civilians are continuing to pay the heaviest price in the… in the conflict. I mean, we're seeing it recently, whether they're in Kfar Battikh in Idleb or in Kashkol in Damascus. We saw the attack on the market in Kfar Batna in eastern Ghouta or in Afrin.
From where we stand, it is clear that Security Council Resolution 2401 has yet to be implemented. The Secretary‑General, once again, reiterates his passionate call to see the resolution fully implemented throughout the territory of Syria, and he wants to see swift action to protect civilians.
Mr. Lee, and then we'll…
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in Burundi, now they've set the date for the constitutional referendum that some way would take… would swear off the Arusha peace agreement, of course, March… May 17th. What I really wanted to ask you about, specifically, is, the person that refused to register, Simon Bizimana, was arrested for, quote, obstructing the electoral process for refusing to register to vote. He was taken into police custody, and he has died in police custody. And people say that he was essentially…
Spokesman: I will check on that…
Question: …beaten to death.
Spokesman: I will check on this report…
Question: The reason I ask… I mean, I asked you before about the three groups that were… were sent… the three activists sentenced to ten years for setting up a human rights workshop, and you said you were looking into it. I don't know who… who in the UN is actually tracking this?
Spokesman: Well, you know, I think the various departments are tracking it. I think the Secretary‑General in… notably in his report, expressed his concern of the human rights situation, and I think that concern still stands today.
Question: Follow‑up, the Mr. Feltman press conference, so do you have any plan to announce the appointment of his successor?
Spokesman: The appointment process of this organization works in that, when I have something to announce, I will light some white smoke. But I try not to predict when I'm able to push out the white smoke. But I would not expect Mr. Feltman to announce his successor.
Spokesman: We want… we're working on having him come next week. Okay. But as far as the successor, I don't have a date. When I have something to announce, I will.
Question: That might be the best way. Behind the curtain, you could open the curtain, show us the new…
Spokesman: Yes, the latest Cardinal. Yes.
Question: More… more seriously, I wanted to ask you, I know that the Secretary‑General has spoken in the past about CICIG [the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala] in Guatemala. And now the Government there has removed 11 of its police investigators that were working with it, and Ivan Velásquez says this is clearly an attempt to undermine the CICIG. So I was… do you have any…
Spokesman: I'll check… check the reports. The Secretary‑General firmly stands behind the work of the Commission and the Commissioner.
Question: And, actually, I have two movie reviews to ask you for. One is, in the Security Council this morning, Ambassador Nebenzia of Russia, at the end of the Libya meeting, said, I'm coming forth with a documentary, not that he made it, but that he did present it, about eastern Ghouta. And I just wanted to know, is it something… has the Secretary‑General seen it? Do you have any view of…
Spokesman: I… I don't know. I'll have to check.
Question: …given… okay. And the other one is, I bet you he has seen this one, but I don't know if you'll review it. There's a movie called My Year with Helen, and it portrays the process through which he was elected, but it's sort of, you know, followed… so I'm just wondering, since it's now… it's been re… I…
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has not seen the documentary…
Question: He hasn't seen it?
Spokesman: …neither… neither have I.
Question: Does he plan to see it?
Spokesman: I don't know if he plans to… I don't know if he plans to see it. The process through which he was elected was, I think, more transparent than we had ever seen in the past. And it followed the rules and regulations, but I'm not in the…
Question: It focuses a lot on gender…
Question: I'm saying it because it focuses a lot on the gender issue and how it played out.
Spokesman: The decision to elect António Guterres as Secretary‑General was not taken by António Guterres.
Question: …but seeing the movie wouldn't, you know, remind us… Secretary‑General…
Spokesman: And I think his commitment to gender parity and gender equality has been clearly articulated and shown, notably, in the fact that he now has gender parity plus in his senior management group.
I will leave you with Mr. Varma, and then we'll go to our guests.