The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will leave New York for a visit to China on 6 April.
In Beijing, he will meet with the President of China, Xi Jinping, as well as with Yang Jiechi, Member of the Political Bureau of the [Communist Party of China] Central Committee; Wang Yi, State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs; as well as Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council.
The Secretary-General is also expected to visit the [China Peacekeeping Police Training Centre].
He will then travel to Boao, in Hainan Province, to attend the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018, where he will deliver remarks at the opening session of the Forum.
We expect the Secretary-General to be back in the office on 11 April.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
I also have a senior personnel announcement: the Secretary-General is appointing Major General Gebre Adhana Woldezgu of Ethiopia as the new Force Commander of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, also known as UNISFA.
The Major General succeeds Major General Tesfay Hailemichael, also of Ethiopia, who will complete his assignment on 23 April 2018. The Secretary-General is grateful for the tireless dedication and invaluable service and effective leadership of Major General Hailemichael.
Major General Woldezgu brings to this position 38 years of experience in the Ethiopian Army.
We have more of his bio in my office.
**Economic and Social Council
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed spoke at the opening session of the 2018 ECOSOC Partnership Forum and said that in order to deliver on the Agenda 2030, the UN must continue brokering a new generation of partnerships. She added that we count on the private sector to align their business models with the 2030 Agenda because sustainable business makes good business sense.
She also called on the business sector to innovate market-based solutions that drive inclusion and provide opportunities for women, young people and vulnerable groups.
You can watch the forum on UN Web TV, and there will also be a series of Facebook live discussions on the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Facebook Page.
Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General said that “in our turbulent world, mine action is a concrete step towards peace,” and he added that it is vital so normal life can resume in places where there has been conflict. He also urged Governments to provide political and financial support to enable mine action work to continue, wherever it is needed around the world
And my guests today will be able to talk about more this topic. We’ll have the Director of the UN Mine Action Service, Madame Agnès Marcaillou, and she will be joined by the Permanent Representative of Germany, Christoph Heusgen, and the Permanent Representative of Iraq, Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom.
The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller, is today visiting Sittwe, in Rakhine State, to take stock of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and advocate for the protection of civilians, unfettered humanitarian access, as well as addressing the humanitarian needs of the population.
As we told you, Ms. Mueller is on mission to Myanmar to observe first-hand the humanitarian situation in the country and discuss ways to improve the response through meetings with key stakeholders.
She met with Government officials, including Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Ministers of Social Welfare, Border Affairs, and Defence.
Turning to Syria, this morning, the Security Council heard a briefing by Thomas Markram, the Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, on the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.
He said that efforts have continued toward the destruction of the two remaining chemical weapons production facilities by Syria. He also noted that the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] Technical Secretariat continues to be unable to confirm the completeness and accuracy of Syria's declaration.
As for the Fact-Finding Mission, it has a team currently in Damascus, looking into allegations of the use of chemical weapons that were brought to the attention of the Director-General by the Government of Syria.
Mr. Markram stressed that the conclusions of the fact-finding mission do not entail attribution of responsibility in cases where the use of chemical weapons is determined. The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was created for this purpose, but regrettably, as you know, its mandate was not renewed.
The persistent allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria underscore the need to identify solutions and reach agreement on an appropriate accountability mechanism, said Mr. Markram.
On the humanitarian side, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains of deep concern to us, especially for the safety and protection of tens of thousands of civilians from Eastern Ghouta who continue to be displaced from their areas of origin, in addition to those who remain in the besieged enclave.
Since 9 March, an estimated 133,000 women, children and men have left the besieged enclave of eastern Ghouta, either through established corridors to internally displaced persons (IDP) sites in Rural Damascus or through evacuation agreements to Idlib and Aleppo governorates.
As of 3 April, some 44,000 people remain in eight IDP sites in Rural Damascus, down from a peak of 83,000, but most shelters are still over capacity.
While some assistance is being provided to the population remaining in newly-accessible areas, there has been no access to the besieged area of Duma since the last inter-agency convoy reached the area on 15 March.
The UN and its partners are also facing serious funding gaps to respond with life-saving assistance and protection services.
In Afrin, the gradual return of internally displaced people reportedly continued mainly from Nabul and Zahraa, and a number smaller from Tal Refaat towards Afrin district, but exact figures are not yet available.
The UN continues to be concerned for the safety and protection of civilians impacted by hostilities in the area and reported restrictions of movement. An estimated 137,000 people have been displaced to Tal Refaat and to the surrounding villages due to recent fighting.
Also, just to flag that we shared with you the transcript of the press encounter done in Geneva of Jan Egeland, the Senior Adviser on Humanitarian Affairs to the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
**Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, you will have seen the statement we issued late yesterday in which the Secretary-General condemned the attack against a base of the UN Mission in the country (MINUSCA) on 3 April, in Ouaka prefecture. The attack led to the death of one Mauritanian peacekeeper, while 11 others were injured and are receiving medical care.
The Secretary-General offered his deepest condolences to the families of those killed, as well as to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and wishes a swift recovery to those injured.
The Secretary-General said in the statement he is outraged by the killing of 21 civilians, including four children and four women, as well as the injuring of 14 civilians, which occurred the same day in the same prefecture in a separate incident.
The Secretary-General calls on the Central African Republic authorities to investigate the attacks and quickly bring those responsible to justice.
Our colleagues with the UN refugee agency today announced the #WithRefugees solidarity tour to raise awareness and inspire action for people who have been forced to flee conflict or persecution.
The tour will kick off on Friday with a sports day at Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp featuring international athletes, including Egyptian modern pentathlete Aya Medani.
Other events on the tour will include a fashion show in Chicago featuring fabrics made by refugees in Kenya, a refugee football match in Ireland, a photo exhibit in Paris, a week of events on Jeju Island, in South Korea, and judo competitions and workshops in South Africa. The tour will end on 1 October at UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award Ceremony in Geneva.
More information upstairs — in my office, rather.
A sad note that we just learned before the briefing: the passing of Mr. Boukhari, who as you know represented the Polisario in these halls. And I just want to say the Secretary-General is saddened to learn of his death and extends his sincere condolences to his family.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. About Syria, White House just issued a statement. It says, "We expect countries and the United Nations to work toward peace and ensure that ISIS never re‑emerges."
Don't you think that's unrealistic expectation from the United Nations? Can you ensure ISIS will never re‑emerge in Syria?
Spokesman: Listen, I haven't seen the statement directly. I think one thing that the United Nations — through the actions of the Secretary‑General and humanitarian partners, our political… our political efforts — has been trying to find peace in Syria, to find a political horizon for the Syrian people. We are eight years into this conflict. The Syrian people deserve… deserve peace.
The message from the Secretary‑General has also been… repeated message has been that any fight against terrorism will also be done within the… within the framework of international human rights law and humanitarian law to respect the rights of all people and to protect civilians.
Yes, in the back.
Question: Hi. I'm Deepak Arora with the Tribune Online, New Delhi, India. Secretary‑General is visiting Beijing, and the world is watching the proposed summit between Kim and President Trump. What… will the Secretary‑General be discussing this with President Xi and other leaders? And is there any plan to suggest the venue by the Secretary‑General where could this proposed meeting take place?
Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any plan by the Secretary‑General to suggest a venue. But I… and I don't want to predict what will be discussed, but I think it's pretty clear that the situation on the Korean Peninsula will be part of the agenda in his discussions with Chinese officials.
China has a very important role to play in… in lowering the tensions and in finding a peaceful solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Matthew and then Masood… oh, sorry, and then…
Question: Sure. DRC and transparency. The Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has said, again, that the DRC will not attend the donors' conference in Geneva on April 13th. Last… I've asked Farhan twice in your absence, and he said, no, we have no correspondence. The preparations are going forward. With the Foreign Minister saying they're not going, is it the UN's understanding that they're not going?
Spokesman: Yes. Our understanding is that they will not be going, and our understanding is that the conference will go on as scheduled.
Question: My other… I wanted to ask you this, and it might seem… there was a swearing in of four officials today. This is the kind of thing, at least under Ban Ki‑moon and under the Secretary‑General Guterres when he began, it was open press. So, you could go and see what was said. This was not open press. Could not go. But then I asked UNTV for the video so we could actually see, and there is no video…
Spokesman: No, the fact that there was no UNTV is a mistake on our part. There was a communications issue. We've… I think the last few swearing‑ins had been UN Photo and UNTV, and the fact there was no TV was our mistake.
Question: Isn't the simple answer just to have… why… why did it become closed? Given that the purpose of these ceremonies is to pledge allegiance to the public, why would they be closed press?
Spokesman: It's not closed press. There's a video and photo made available to you…
Question: That's your press but that's not…
Spokesman: That's… that's my… what I have to say about that.
Correspondent: …makes no sense.
Question: Stéphane, on Gaza, when… last time, you said that the… you stand by… you did stand by your statement that the Secretary‑General is asking the Israelis to form a committee to investigate their own killing of 17 Palestinians and injuring more than 1,000.
As you know, the Israelis said that they're not going to do so. Are you going to take any steps to investigate the killings of Palestinians by the Israeli army? Thank you.
Spokesman: We still very much hope that that will… some investigation… an investigation will happen, but, as you know, as a matter of principle, the UN cannot investigate an incident, wherever it occurs, without a mandate from an appropriate legislative body.
Question: So a follow‑up…
Question: …so… you mean… I mean, but there were other incidents in the past where the UN did investigate, like, the war and last Israeli war on Gaza and then…
Spokesman: Well, I think some of those… as I said, we need either a mandate or if, obviously, if there is damage, we've seen in the past in other places, if there's damage to UN property, then we do get involved. But, as a matter of principle, the Secretary‑General cannot launch an investigation without a proper mandate.
Question: But [inaudible] you mean mandate from the Security Council.
Spokesman: From a… from a legislative…
Question: But did he ask for a…
Spokesman: We're still… we're still waiting to… the situation is still evolving.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Yemen, which there's so much Secretary‑General is talking about, has the Saudi Coalition allowed the United Nations team to go in there free… free without… what the Secretary‑General wants, without any hindrance?
Spokesman: What team are you referring to, sir?
Question: As… the question is [inaudible] has the Saudi Coalition allowed free access…
Spokesman: We have…
Question: …the Secretary-General’s been asking for?
Spokesman: Our political… our political wing, so to speak, represented by Martin Griffiths, has gone to Saudi Arabia, has gone to Yemen, and is now touring the Gulf to try to bring the parties together and restart, restart the process.
Humanitarian access has improved somewhat in… in Yemen, but we still do not have the unfettered and open access that we need, and it is clear that there have been some barriers thrown up by the Coalition, but there've also been some barriers thrown up by the Houthis.
The best and simplest answer to this would be to see a halt to the fighting so that humanitarian workers can get to where they need to when they need to.
Question: I understand that, but has the United Nations or the Secretary‑General talked to anybody in the Saudi Coalition to allow that to happen?
Spokesman: I think, Masood, that has been a persistent and repeated message from the Secretary‑General, both in public and in private.
Question: Stéphane, yesterday, my colleague asked about this. Can… do you have additional comments about the summit in Turkey about Syria between Russia and Turkey and…
Spokesman: No, nothing more than what I've already said.
Question: And can you ask your OCHA colleagues to get some numbers about the people who return to Afrin…
Spokesman: I'll see if we can get more details than what I've just said.
Question: Thanks a lot. Yemen and Egypt. On Yemen, first, now that you've said Mr. Griffiths is going around the Gulf, I'd asked before whether he was… would meet with Ahmed Saleh, the son of the former President. And many people are trying to get him off the sanctions list, and I just… if you find… if you can get a list of his interlocutors…
Spokesman: Yes, I'll… yes.
Question: The other thing is, I did watch that France 24 interview that the Secretary‑General did, and he seemed to say two things. He seemed to say… he seemed to say that all sides are violating international humanitarian law. And I'm asking you this because, just now at the stakeout or in the morning, Karen Pierce of the UK said the Saudi Government adheres to international humanitarian law.
So, I wanted to know, maybe it's a tran… what's his position on the compliance, for example, of the most recent bombing that killed 12 civilians…
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General said exactly what he said…
Spokesman: …which is that we have seen repeated violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict. We've had issues with the Coalition, which we're working on, and I think we've seen an improvement. There have also been cases in Yemen where Houthis and other groups have also blocked humanitarian aid.
Question: And he was… the France 24 questioner asked him about taking the check and… and, at least in that ceremony, not raising the issue of the bombings. And he seemed to say, we always raise it. Can you at least confirm that, in the… in the non‑public meeting, in the meeting with the photo op…
Spokesman: This is an issue…
Spokesman: …that the Secretary‑General… I mean, I've been, I was with him in Saudi Arabia a few months ago. This was an issue he's raised with his interlocutors, and he said it repeatedly, and he said it in the interview that he's raised it privately…
Spokesman: …and publicly…
Question: Sure . I just… having actually been there…
Question: …having actually been in the room when he took the check…
Spokesman: I was actually… Yes, okay. I've been in the room where it happens, and he has raised… he has raised those issues.
Question: Which is why… when you say the open press or closed press, if the White House brings in its own photographer, it's still closed press.
Spokesman: We've… okay.
Question: Okay. Do you have time for an Egypt question?
Spokesman: I do have time for an Egypt question.
Question: Okay. Great. You said earlier in this week, you said on Monday when you were asked about the 97 per cent election of President Sisi, you said, "We were not involved in the holding of the election, whether in observing or technical assistance. So, I'll leave it at that".
I wanted to ask you, since then, one, a newspaper, Al‑Masry Al‑Youm, has been fined for its independent coverage of the election. And now a website, Masr al‑Arabia, has been raided by the Government. So, beyond your… what you said on Monday, do you believe that… that… that… that the way in which the press was disallowed from covering this cake‑walk election complies with the principles of António Guterres and his open‑press ways?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, in the run‑up to the election, had expressed his concern at the limited political space in the country, and that is a concern we continue to have.
I did want to… I know I had… I meant to say this. We had been asked about the situation in Western Sahara, and I wanted to reiterate that the Secretary‑General reiterates his call on both parties to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid escalating tensions. The UN Mission, MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara], continues to closely monitor the situation on the ground.
All right. I will get our guests.