The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
We are continuing to follow the protests in Gaza with concern. Reports are still coming in and it is still too early to determine the outcome of the day. As the Secretary‑General said in the statement issued yesterday, we urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid confrontation. Our colleagues on the ground are closely following the situation and if we have any more [information] we will share that with you.
And yesterday evening we also issued a statement on Mali in which the Secretary‑General condemned the mortar attack against the UN Mission’s camp that killed 2 Chadian peacekeepers and injured at least 10 others yesterday in the Kidal region. The Secretary‑General conveyed his condolences to the Government of Chad and his profound sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims. He wishes a swift recovery to the injured. The Secretary‑General recalls that attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law. These acts only reinforce the commitment of the United Nations to support the people and the Government of Mali in their quest for peace.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues are concerned about reports of escalating hostilities in the Idlib Governorate. Yesterday, air strikes on Al‑Bara town in the Ariha district, south of Idlib city, reportedly hit two schools and a mosque, causing extensive material damage. We’re also expressing our concern for the safety and protection of civilians in Douma following reports of the resumption of hostilities in the area. An estimated 78,000 to 150,000 people remain in besieged eastern Ghouta and continue to face deteriorating humanitarian conditions. The UN calls on all parties, and those with influence over them, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, to ensure freedom of movement and to allow for safe, sustained and unhindered access by all humanitarian parties to help to those who need it.
In Myanmar, the Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ursula Mueller, today visited the Maina KBC camp in Kachin State where she met with displaced people. The camp is home to more than 2,500 women, men, girls and boys, many of whom have been displaced since 2011. People described their lives in the camp and shared their hopes to return to their homes someday. They also talked about the challenges they face, including issues of land ownership, landmine contamination, protection concerns and difficulties accessing their land. Ms. Mueller also visited a women and girls’ centre supported by UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] in the same area, where she met with women who work on prevention and response to gender‑based violence in displacement camps in Kachin. We expect OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] to issue a press release at the conclusion of her visit on Sunday, and we understand she will be giving a press conference in Yangon over the weekend, Saturday or Sunday.
In Paris, the UN Development Programme Administrator, Achim Steiner, urged the international community to continue its support for Lebanon, citing its critical role for stability in the region. He was speaking at a conference hosted by President Emmanuel Macron to support Lebanon’s economic stability. The conference received pledges of $10.2 billion dollars for Lebanon. Mr. Steiner praised Lebanon’s capital investment plan, saying it presents an ambitious agenda to put the country firmly back on the path of economic growth and create employment opportunities for the Lebanese people and Syrian refugees alike. Lebanon is currently hosting nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees displaced by the ongoing fighting in Syria. Mr. Steiner was there to represent the Secretary‑General.
In Brazil, our colleagues from the UN refugee and migrant agencies have been working with the Government to ramp up the humanitarian response for the growing number of Venezuelans arriving in the north of the country. According to Government estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil every day, and as the situation in their country worsens, they are in more desperate need of food, shelter and health care. UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has been working with the Brazilian Government to register Venezuelans and ensure all those arriving have proper documentation. Once documented, they have the right to work and access health, education and other basic services. Meanwhile, IOM [International Organization for Migration] is supporting the Government to relocate about 300 Venezuelan migrants from the State of Roraima to other cities in Brazil. More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the beginning of 2017. More information on the web.
I want to flag a new report that was done by our colleagues at the UN Environment Programme [which] found that solar energy dominated global investment like never before in 2017. Investment in solar power grew by 18 per cent and is now at $160.8 billion, surpassing new investments in coal and gas which were about $103 billion last year. A driving force behind this surge is China, which leads with more than half of the world’s new solar power capacity. There were also sharp increases in investment in Australia, Mexico and Sweden. The report also attributes this surge to the falling costs for solar electricity, and to some extent wind power. Last year was the eighth in a row in which global investment in renewables exceeded $200 billion — and since 2004, the world has invested $2.9 trillion in renewable energies.
A couple of days to flag. The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace is today. The Day highlights the unique power of sport to promote social integration and economic development in different cultural and political contexts. Sport also helps to promote the ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence and tolerance issues.
And two more international days in the coming days. Tomorrow is the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. In his message, the Secretary‑General said that on this day, “we remember all those who were murdered and reflect on the suffering of the survivors, who have shown that reconciliation is possible, even after a tragedy of such monumental proportions.” There will be a commemoration event held here at Headquarters next Friday, which you can attend and you can get more details online.
World Health Day will also be observed tomorrow. This year’s theme is “universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere.” And the World Health Organization is not just marking World Health Day, but also its seventieth anniversary.
I just want to flag again that the Secretary‑General is heading off to China today for meetings with senior Chinese officials, including the President on Sunday, and he’ll be back in the office Tuesday afternoon.
And I want to end with a big thank you to our friends in Nigeria, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, which brings us up to 74. Well, you're jumping, but you know, you were ready so go ahead. You have to be prepared, Michelle. Go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: You said it was too early to tell, but there are already reports of four killed in the… in the Gaza Strip, so I was wondering if you have a more updated response to what you've said earlier? Thank you.
Spokesman: Obviously, we're following the news. We're trying to get some confirmation on what is going on. Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary‑General's representative on the ground, he and his team have been in contact with various interlocutors to reinforce the Secretary‑General's message and his own message about the need to allow people to demonstrate peacefully. They need to ensure that excessive force is not used, and they need to ensure that children are not deliberately put in harm's way, so as soon as we're able to have a bit more confirmation we may be able to say a bit more. Michelle.
Question: Happy International Day of Sport, or whatever it was. You may have seen [United States] Ambassador [Nikki] Haley's comments last night that she has “disdain” for the UN. Does the Secretary‑General have a response to that?
Spokesman: We saw the comments. I mean, all I can tell you is that the Secretary‑General has a very positive, very solid working relationship with Ambassador Haley and he hopes to continue that positive and strong working relationship with her. And I will leave it at that. Edie.
Question: Thank you very much, Stéphane. Violence has broken out again in Douma, near the Syrian capital after about two weeks of calm. I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any reaction to this new outbreak of violence?
Spokesman: Look, we've seen a renewed outbreak there, which is I think of great concern to us. There's still a number of people who are besieged and trapped in the areas. You know, the situation in various parts of Syria is concerning. We are continuing to see civilians targeted. As we mentioned, in a town just south of Idlib city, we saw two schools and a mosque hit. We remind all parties that it is a violation of international law to target civilian infrastructure, to target civilians, and what we are also seeing are our continuing struggle to get humanitarian aid in. We're able to get some in, as we're being able to flag. We've scaled up our response to those in need who are coming out around Afrin, but what we're able to do, what our partners are able to do in terms of humanitarian aid, continues to fall short because of the continued fighting. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about UN peacekeeping vetting and a break… a reported breakdown in it. Sri Lanka has… there's some agreement where their human rights commission is supposed to vet soldiers before they're deployed, and it's emerged there that 49 soldiers were deployed to UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] in Lebanon without being vetted. They were deployed in February. [Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations] Mr. [Jean‑Pierre] Lacroix has received the letter from the same parties that wrote to him before about the colonel that was later suspended. This seems to be a more serious breach in that they're already on the ground. And so I wanted to know, one… I mean, they've… they've asked him to confirm that this is a breach of… of their agreement with Sri Lanka, that it shows… if, to the degree that the UN is relying on this process, the process doesn't exist. What is the UN's response to that?
Spokesman: Let me check on whether the letter has been received and what actions, if any, have been taken. You had another question?
Question: I do have another question. I had asked you a couple of days ago about the… the AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] soldiers killed in Somalia. Uganda says 8; others say 59. I asked Ambassador [Karen] Pierce of the UK, who said she's sure that when the UN knows it will inform the press corps. Given that it's my understanding that UNSOS, the UN Support Office on Somalia, has a role in actually moving bodies, so it's not a matter of reading media reports.
Spokesman: No, I know, but I think it is up to AMISOM and to the countries concerned to confirm those numbers.
Correspondent: So it's not that you don't know. It's what you won't say…
Spokesman: It's not that I won't say. I think it is appropriate for the African Union peacekeeping mission and for the countries concerned to confirm the number of dead.
Question: I guess… I had another question about the UNSOS. I had asked you about a… a sexual exploitation investigation by OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] that I've heard is taking place there, against a D1. I know the name of the individual, but I just… I've been wanting you to respond, given how seriously this is being taken in the UN, will you confirm or deny this OIOS investigation?
Spokesman: My understanding that allegations were indeed reported to the UN Support Office in Somalia November of 2017 and subsequently posted on the conduct and discipline website. The Support Office is currently reviewing the allegations of exploitative relationship, which involves an international civilian in view of collecting sufficient information to conduct an investigation if warranted.
Question: And I just want to confirm… if you could confirm that the alleged victim here is themselves a UN…?
Spokesman: No, I'm not able to do that. Stefano, welcome back.
Correspondent: Yesterday, on the Security Council there was… Russia called for the Salisbury chemical attack to talk, and we… when we heard how the conversation is going, the debate is going, there even was wording [phonetic] that the cold war… I mean, the Secretary‑General said that this can bring the cold war back, certain… well, it is astonishing to see two major countries on the Security Council, permanent member talking to each other…
Spokesman: With respect, I've watched as well. What is the question?
Question: The question is what is the position of the Secretary‑General on the way the investigation has been conducted so far? I mean, Russia is saying… accusing Great Britain. This is not the way…
Spokesman: I think all of us watched with interest the debate in the Security Council yesterday, but we have no… the Secretary‑General has no role in this… in this particular issue, so we have no particular comment on it. Masood.
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. So on this new Saudi action… Saudi coalition action, rather, in Yemen. Have you had any conversation… has the United Nations had any conversation? Because now, in the aftermath of Donald Trump signing this multibillion dollar arms agreement with them, it seems that, basically, they're getting a green light to do whatever they want in Yemen.
Spokesman: So what is your question, Masood?
Question: My question is has the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: I think as we've said, I mean, as I've said to you almost every day, these are issues that have come up in conversations that the Secretary‑General has had, that his envoy has had, Mr. Griffiths, with all the parties. The humanitarian situation in Yemen continues to be tragic for those civilians who have to endure it day in and day out. The UN is able to bring in humanitarian aid through Yemen's ports and airports without restriction since the coalition lifted its closure of the ports to the movements in November 2017. We've increased the capacity of the UN Verification Mission, UNVM, which, as you know, is involved in the screening of commercial cargo, but even that, there is not enough material coming into Yemen. There's not enough humanitarian aid. There's not even enough foodstuff or fuel. Even before the conflict, Yemen was dependent on imports for about 90 per cent of its basic needs. What needs to happen is we need to see a halt to the fighting and all parties involved coming back to the negotiating table, and as we said, we hope Mr. Griffiths' appointment will provide some new impetus.
Question: [Inaudible] update that you were just giving on Lebanon, that President Macron announced. Was that at $1.1 billion or $10 billion that were collected?
Spokesman: The numbers I have are $10 billion and I hope they're right. If they're wrong, I will stand corrected. Mr. Lee.
Question: Sure, I have… it's an access question, which at least to me, arose yesterday during the Security Council meeting. Had to do with you, and I don't remember if it was you or Farhan [Haq]. I asked twice about the door between the third floor and the public gallery of the Security Council, and it seems that it's still locked, but it's only locked to some. Yesterday, in trying to go from the gallery down to the stakeout to hear what people said when they came out, not possible. So I wanted to know, there was a lot of… there was a lot of…
Spokesman: Were you not allowed through the door when it was open? Were you not allowed… I don't have the key to the door. If you have any access issues, deal with MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit]… Matthew, we've gone through this.
Correspondent: It doesn't make any sense.
Spokesman: Welcome to the United Nations. Shawna.
Correspondent: You have a role in it. You play a role in it.
Question: Do you have any more clarity on the Yangon meeting? Would it be Saturday…?
Spokesman: Sorry, the what?
Correspondent: Yangon, Myanmar.
Spokesman: The press conference?
Correspondent: Yes, the press conference.
Spokesman: I read it before I came in here and I can't remember if it's Saturday or Sunday, but as soon as we're done, she's giving a press conference in Yangon either Saturday or Sunday.
Correspondent: And just another quick thing, on behalf of many print media, yesterday was absolutely horrendous to try to cover the Security Council meeting. The webcast froze; the EZTV wasn't working and it's been a consistent problem, at least for some of us for the past month, the past two days, and can you try to do something to someone to effect change please… it's stressful enough without…
Spokesman: I will try. I completely understand.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Correspondent: Just as a quick follow‑up on that, apparently the EZTV problem was not only with all of us, but also with at least several missions that also use the EZTV.
Spokesman: Okay. I will look into it. Mr. Lee.
Correspondent: Sure. I wanted to ask about the… the trip to China by the Secretary‑General. You know, as you know there's… there's one being concluded and one still active UN bribery cases pending in the Southern District of New York. Most recently…
Spokesman: I don't agree with your characterization.
Correspondent: They're both about bribing the PGA. I guess you can say the PGA is not really the UN, but…
Spokesman: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Correspondent: Okay. So my question is since there seems to be a pattern of… in two cases, one was Ng Lap Seng, South‑South News, who Vivian Wang has now pleaded guilty. The other is the China Energy Fund Committee, which remains in consultative status with ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]. Is this an issue that the Secretary‑General, in visiting the home base of both operations, and both are alleged to be Government connected?
Spokesman: The United Nations has cooperated with the Southern District here in New York in whatever way we can in any and all investigations. The legal process here has played itself out and is playing itself out, and as for the accreditation of the ECOSOC accreditation, as I've told you numerous times, it's a member state issue… I will leave you… I will leave you with Brenden [Varma]. Thank you.