The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will be arriving in Geneva a bit later today, where he is scheduled to speak tomorrow at the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen.
He is also scheduled to hold bilateral meetings on the margins of that event.
The Secretary-General is expected to do a brief press encounter in Geneva after the Conference — that will be up on the UN webcast page — and he is expected back in New York tomorrow afternoon.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that nearly 130,000 people have left Eastern Ghouta following weeks of fighting.
The UN and partners are responding to the mounting humanitarian needs of those displaced with food, shelter, health and other assistance and protection services. However, the needs remain very high.
Humanitarian partners also continue to deliver assistance through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to people in Ain Tarma, Saqba, Harasta and other places inside Eastern Ghouta.
The UN continues to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all in need, and any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. It is imperative that civilians have the right to return as soon as the situation allows.
Regarding the situation in Afrin, the United Nations continues to be concerned for the safety and protection of civilians impacted by the ongoing hostilities and reported restrictions of movement. An estimated 137,000 people have been displaced to Tal Refaat and to the surrounding villages where fighting has recently intensified, posing new protection risk for civilians in the area.
You will have seen that we put out over the weekend a statement on Liberia, on the day marking the conclusion of the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). The Secretary-General congratulated the people and Government of Liberia for their determination to turn the page on crisis and conflict.
As United Nations Peacekeeping departs Liberia, the Secretary-General stated his appreciation for the essential contributions of all partners in the Liberian peace process over the years, particularly the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whose green helmets laid the foundation for UN peacekeepers in Liberia.
Turning to Nigeria, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Yassine Gaba, today strongly condemned the deadly attack which took place near Belle Village in the outskirts of Borno State’s capital, Maiduguri, yesterday. Dozens of civilians were reportedly killed and many more were injured. Mr. Gaba said innocent civilians continue to suffer daily from direct and indiscriminate attacks in the north-east part of the country. He called on all parties to the conflict to end this violence and to respect human life and dignity.
In recent weeks, there have been continued attacks on civilians in the three most conflict-affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, in the north-east part of Nigeria. Since the beginning of the year, at least 120 civilian women, children and men have reportedly been killed, and over 210 people have sustained serious injuries in over 22 attacks allegedly by non-State armed groups directly targeting civilians.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, is travelling today to Myanmar, where she will be for a week.
The purpose of the mission is to observe first-hand the impact of the crisis in Rakhine State and the conflict in Kachin and Shan states, and to discuss ways to improve the humanitarian response.
Her mission will include meetings in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, as well as field visits. During her stay in Myanmar, Ms. Mueller is expected to meet with people impacted by the humanitarian crises, senior Government officials, and humanitarian partners.
Following this, on Sunday, she will travel to Indonesia to attend the ASEAN-UN Annual Regional Meeting.
**Papua New Guinea
The World Food Programme (WFP) today airlifted life-saving, nutrient-dense biscuits from its Humanitarian Depot (UNHRD) in Dubai to Papua New Guinea. The plane carried enough food to feed approximately 60,000 people who have been impacted by the earthquake.
More than 270,000 people continue to require humanitarian assistance following the 7.5 magnitude quake which struck the country in February.
The earthquake was followed by a series of severe aftershocks throughout March, causing widespread panic among communities.
Papua New Guinea already faced severe food insecurity and alarming malnutrition levels before the earthquake.
Today, the United Nations team in Afghanistan welcomed the progress made by the Independent Election Commission in setting an October 2018 date to hold the parliamentary and district council elections.
The head of the UN Mission in the country, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said this is a “positive and important development in the work of the Commission that will allow progress from the formal planning stages to implementation.”
He added that the participation of all Afghans is critical and reiterated the United Nations commitment to support and strengthen the electoral process in the country.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day. The theme this year is "Empowering women and girls with autism."
In the message for the Day, the Secretary-General said we must stand up for the rights of people with autism and speak out against discrimination. He added that the United Nations work for gender equality and women’s empowerment must reach all the world’s women and girls, including those with disabilities, and ensure that they have the freedom to make their own choices and participate in the creation of policies that concern them.
And this morning in the ECOSOC Chamber, there was an event to mark the Day with experts and advocates, looking at the challenges that women and girls with autism face today. If you missed it, you can watch it on the webcast.
**Press Conference Today
After we are done here and you are also done with Mr. Brenden Varma, there will be a briefing in this room by Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, the Permanent Representative of Peru to the UN and President of the Security Council for this beautiful sunny month of April.
Lastly, we say “Merci” and “Gracias” to our friends in Paris and Managua, as France and Nicaragua have both paid their regular budget dues in full for 2018, which brings us to?
Spokesman: Nope. But since you were the only one who played, I guess you win. So, you can have the first question.
Spokesman: It's 73, is the right answer, by the way.
**Questions and Answers
Question: All right. Somebody slipped in there. I'd wanted to ask… ask you. I tried to ask the Secretary‑General, I guess it was on Thursday, about allegations that UNAIDS have retaliation by staff. And, since then, as you may know, the victim or stated… self‑described victim of Luiz Loures, Martina Brostrom, has appeared on CNN International and described in great detail both what she says happened and… and the very flawed investigation.
So, I wanted to know, presumably, even in Lisbon, this is… CNN International is available. What does the Secretary‑General — who so far, at least to my knowledge, has said it's entirely up to UNAIDS — what does he think of this person coming forward?
And also I wanted to ask you, there appear to be new allegations of sexual exploitation at the UN support office in Somalia. And I'd like you… maybe you can't do it now, but maybe you can ask OIOS…
Spokesman: I'll check…
Question: …for a status on the case.
Spokesman: I'll check on Somalia. Look, I think people are free to come forward and speak. So, she has a right to do that. I think UNAIDS has… the head of… Executive Director of UNAIDS, I think, has sent out a letter to staff. I think he is committed to creating an environment that is free of harassment. Already, I think, if you look at the progress that UNAIDS has made in the last few years towards achieving gender parity, which they have, on increasing the number of women representatives of UNAIDS in the field, I think they have done tremendous… they have done tremendous success.
I know the leadership of UNAIDS, as I said, is committed to creating an atmosphere that is not only free of harassment, where people feel free to come forward. And, as a matter of fact, anyone who, I think, disagrees with investigations into their own cases also has the right to appeal the results of an investigation.
Question: But so… just one… does the Secretary‑General not believe then The Guardian article, which quotes extensively from Mr. Sidibé telling staff, I'm going to investigate anyone that came forward? This seems to carry more weight than…
Spokesman: No, I think it's…
Question: …a canned letter sent out later.
Spokesman: I think, my sense is that this was not the intent of what he said. Mr. Sidibé's committed to creating the right atmosphere at UNAIDS.
Question: A follow‑up on eastern Ghouta. You said 130,000 people had left. Is there a time frame for that? Is that… that they've left in the past week or since…
Spokesman: Let me get the exact time… let me get the exact time frame for you.
Question: And is there any indication of how many people remain in eastern Ghouta?
Spokesman: I should be able to do the math off the top of my head because we did have an estimate inside but I…
Question: I know it was about 4,000…
Spokesman: Chalk it up… chalk it up to the first day back since vacation, but I will get you those numbers.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Steph, struggle icon and South Africa's first lady Winnie Madikizela‑Mandela passed away earlier today. Is there any reaction from the Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is saddened by the passing of Ms. Winnie Madikizela‑Mandela, a leading figure at the forefront of the fight against apartheid in South Africa. She was a strong and fearless voice in the struggle for equal rights and will be remembered as a symbol of resistance.
The Secretary‑General wishes to extend his deepest condolences to the people of South Africa as well as to her family.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Today, in Hodeidah, a refugee camp has been hit by an airstrike. More than 20 people were killed, mainly children and women. Any statement about that?
Spokesman: Yes. I think we're obviously looking into the circumstances surrounding this attack. We understand that the site had been hosting displaced families. We're still trying to gather more information.
According to our estimates, between 65 and 100 families who had been fleeing the fighting in… elsewhere in Yemen were housed in the… in the area. Our colleagues in Yemen have seen an initial casualty report cited in the media, but we're not in a position to confirm those reports. We're trying to get more information. As far as we know, the families had been living there for about the past… the past ten days.
I think this is, again, a clear reminder of the heavy price that civilians pay in Yemen for the lack of political progress. We very much hope that, with the arrival of a new UN envoy, this will give impetus to all the parties to come to the table and agree to a political settlement and also as a reminder to all the parties of their need to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure at all costs.
Question: Any information about the suspicious burning of aid in World Food Programme warehouses in Hodeidah?
Spokesman: No, I have no… I have no information on that.
Question: Did you quantify the damage?
Spokesman: I don't have any information on that.
Question: Stéphane, on Gaza, the Secretary‑General issued a statement on Friday, and he called, among other, to form an independent and transparent investigation into what happened. So, is he asking… I mean, is he… is there going to be an independent investigation committee from the UN?
Spokesman: No, I think the… I would refer you back to the statement. The statement was a request for an investigation to be done on the ground independently of the Israeli security forces, to be done by the Israelis but independent of the security forces. We have been, through our… through our representation on the ground, we've been in contact with the various… the various parties. And we've seen the statements also coming out of the Israeli Government on that very issue.
Question: So, can you confirm that they are going to… I mean, as long as… when I last looked, there was no statement that they are willing to form…
Spokesman: As I said, we've seen… we've seen the statements coming out from the Israeli Government.
Question: So which… exactly what you are meaning? I mean… that they are not going to form…
Spokesman: We've seen… we've seen those press statements.
Question: Okay. So are you then willing to go one step further and to do your work on this case and to form an independent…
Spokesman: I think we still… you know, we stand by what we've already said, and we can… we'll see how the situation develops.
Question: But… sorry. But it's not clear for me exactly what you are saying. So, what do you mean by you stand by what… you asked the… for an independent com… investigation committee, and they're not willing to do so. So, isn't it now…
Spokesman: As I said, we've seen the statements in the media. We'll see if we get some official confirmation.
Question: Couple of follow‑ups on that. You've seen the statements, which reject the idea of the investigation independent and transparent that the SG has called for. What is your reaction to that rejection?
Secondly, on the ground, are any UN staff carrying out… not carrying out an investigation but… but getting findings that could be used in an investigation by… by the UN?
And a final question… related question, the UN Security Council, as you know, met on Friday, and yet they've been completely unable even to come up with a statement with words on this. What's the Secretary‑General's reaction to the fact that there's so much disunity on this particular issue?
Spokesman: Our colleagues on the ground have been talking to the various parties, who are giving us their accounts of what happened. We are not, at this point, collecting information for an independent investigation, because we don't have a mandate to do so. So we need to be clear on that.
As for the lack of unity on the Council, I think, as a matter of principle, it is something that we wish didn't happen. I think a strong Security Council on any issue is important, and it is important to show a willingness, a unified willingness of the international community. We briefed the Council as requested on Friday. And, as you say, we saw… we saw the results.
Question: Sorry. There was the first question there, which was, your reaction to the Israelis coming out and saying they weren't investigating…
Spokesman: Look, we've seen… we've seen the press statements. We will see if there are other more official statements that come… that come our way, but we stand by our request.
Spokesman: Sorry. Go ahead.
Question: Yeah. Included in the Secretary‑General's statement on… on the situation in Gaza, I believe towards the end of the statement was a call to protect civilians and not involve civilians in… in… in the violence. And, as far as I know, there's been no denial of the report by the Israeli Defense Force that a 7‑year‑old child tried to cross the security fence border and was returned to her parents by the IDF, and also there was a statement on Hamas radio… broadcast saying that, essentially, children should be used to take down the security fence.
So, I'm wondering whether the Secretary‑General would see that kind of use of children by Hamas as breaching his understanding of protection of civilians.
Spokesman: I think the… I would refer you to what Mr. Zerihoun briefed… the briefing to the Security Council on Friday, and he mentioned the particular case of the girl being returned. Any use of… deliberate use of children and putting them in harm's way is to be condemned.
And in… you know, in the days… in the days prior to the… to the demonstration on Friday, Mr. Mladenov issued a statement to the media in which he reiterated the calls and emphasized the need to ensure that civilians, particularly children, should not be put in harm's way.
So, this is something that… this a message that was delivered to the Palestinians in discussions, also to the Israelis, in terms of protection of civilians in advance of the… of the march. And I think any, as I said, any deliberate use of putting children in harm's way is to be condemned.
Spokesman: Masood. I'll come back to you.
Question: Thank you. Stéphane, on… on the killing of 22… 20 civilians in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, including three children, by the Indian armed forces, has this… will the Secretary‑General call for similar reform… investigation into what led to this latest killing by the Indian security forces? And will there be similar reaction from him as in case of Palestinians?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is, indeed, very concerned about the situation that we've seen in Jammu and Kashmir. He reminds that Member States are responsible under international humanitarian law to protect civilians. The Secretary‑General reiterates his call on Member States to find ways to address disputes in a peaceful manner.
Civilians need to be protected wherever they are, whether it's in… whether it's in Gaza, whether it's in Jammu and Kashmir, or whether it's in Yemen. It's a basic…
Spokesman: …it's a basic principle of this organization.
Question: Is he calling for an investigation also in the Indian‑occupied Kashmir?
Spokesman: Any loss of civilians needs to be investigated wherever they occur.
Question: Mr. Zerihoun on Friday said that… he detected… or he reported at least that there were clashes between Hamas and the Israeli army during the protests. How did he come to that conclusion? Does he have any evidence? Was any Israeli soldier hit by a bullet? Was there any shelling that can be identified on the other side of the fence?
Spokesman: We reported the facts as we were able to harvest them, and we reported them to the Security Council, and we stand by those facts.
Question: What are your sources? How did you harvest that…?
Spokesman: Our sources are varied sources, both public and private sources.
Question: You condemned… you condemned any use of children in protests. Do you condemn, as well, the shooting of children, arresting children in protests as well?
Spokesman: Look, whether… any harm that comes to a child is to be condemned. Full stop.
Spokesman: I'm sorry.
Question: …mentioned that the SG is going to have some bilaterals tomorrow in Geneva. Who is he scheduled to meet with?
Spokesman: Off the top of my head, German officials, Swedish officials. He's also scheduled to have a sit‑down, obviously, with his… with his new Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths. We'll see who else I can tell you about.
Evelyn and then Carole and then Linda.
Question: Thanks. In Nigeria, in Borno, who were the killers? Was it Boko Haram or what?
Spokesman: As far as we… you know, we saw that it was… I mean, you've seen the press reports. As far as we can confirm, it was un… you know, it was armed… armed groups.
Correspondent: That doesn't help us.
Spokesman: We're not… we're not in a position to confirm, but, obviously, there have been many reports in the media.
Question: But the Deputy Secretary‑General might be in a position to confirm, no?
Spokesman: We have the information. She's here in New York.
Question: Stéphane, on Western Sahara, the Moroccans are complaining about new incursions in the buffer zone. Do you have any information on that?
Spokesman: Yes, I do. With respect to that situation, our colleagues in MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] have not observed any movement of military elements in the northeast territory. MINURSO continues to monitor the situation closely. And I will leave it at that.
Mr. Bays and Mr. Lee.
Question: This question…
Spokesman: Or Linda… I'm sorry. Linda has been very patient. But go ahead. James, you've started. Finish what you've started.
Question: President Sisi is still the leader of Egypt. Many criticisms of the process. Does the UN believe his was a free and fair election?
Spokesman: We were not involved in the holding of the election, whether in observing or offering technical assistance as far as I… as I know. So, I will leave it at that.
Ms. Fasulo, you've been very patient.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I have a question regarding North Korea. I was wondering if the Secretary‑General had any reaction or made any comments regard to the K‑pop performance in Pyongyang and the importance perhaps of cultural diplomacy.
Spokesman: I can't tell you whether or not the Secretary‑General's a fan of K‑pop. It's not a conversation I've had with him, but I do know that he does feel that cultural exchanges, sports exchanges are important in creating a positive atmosphere.
Obviously, the meat of the issue, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, needs to be dealt with. That's the main attraction, so to speak, but it's obvious that cultural exchanges, sporting exchanges can help thaw an atmosphere and can help provide the right… the right context.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask… try to send you this in writing about, in Kenya, the opposition figure Miguna Miguna was involuntarily and, some say, illegally deported to Dubai and has since been sent back to Canada. It's a big deal in the country and seems to… some people say it undermines the agreement by Odinga and Kenyatta. What does the UN have to say about this high‑profile…
Spokesman: I don't have any language on that at this point.
Question: Also on Kenya, I wanted to ask you, is it the case that… that UN‑Habitat is being disbanded, part of it moved to New York and the rest to Addis, as is being reported in… in… and does the Secretary‑General believe that Habitat eventually failed in its mandate and should be moved to Addis?
Spokesman: No, I don't think he feels Habitat failed in its mandate. Habitat has a new leadership. They have a governing council, which helps give them guidance. But, beyond that, I don't have any comment.
Question: Are they move… I guess…
Spokesman: Beyond that, I… beyond that, I don't have any comment.
Question: Is the United Nations involved in any way in the evacuation of armed groups from Douma in eastern Ghouta?
Spokesman: I don't have anything to share with you at this point.
Question: Another question is, regarding the war… war trade between China and the United States, there was retaliation here today against 128 items. How does the Secretary‑General feel about this exchange of retaliation… or retaliation between the two countries…?
Spokesman: We think that there are global, multilateral mechanisms that handle global trade, and we feel those mechanisms should be used.
Question: Sorry. I meant to ask this before. The UN still needs more than $2 billion for Yemen tomorrow. How hopeful is the SG that you'll get it?
Spokesman: I think we will… I was trying to quote Kenny Rogers about counting your money at the table, but I won't. We will assess it afterwards.
Question: Hi. Just on North Korea, any reaction to the announcement that the Prime Minister of Japan will be meeting with Trump and among the issues they'll be discussing will be North Korea ahead of, supposedly, Mr. Trump's visit? Anything you can…
Spokesman: We're all… we're all for dialogue. So, I mean, no particular comment, but we're all for dialogue.
I will leave you with Mr. Varma.