The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a note on Syria. You’re aware that the Secretary‑General has been closely following developments in the Security Council on the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and he continues to regret that the Council has so far been unable to reach agreement on this issue. In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary‑General said that he had called the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the Security Council to reiterate his deep concern about the risks of the current impasse and stressed the need to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. The Secretary‑General reiterated that, ultimately, our efforts must be about ending the terrible suffering of the Syrian people.
While the Government of Syria has reportedly taken full control over eastern Ghouta, an estimated 50,000 people remain in different towns that have changed control, in addition to an estimated 70,000 to 78,000 civilians in Douma city. Yesterday, close to 3,900 people reportedly arrived [from] Douma city in eastern Ghouta, Syria, to Al‑Bab in rural Aleppo Governorate. Nearly 3,000 of them were transported to a camp near Azaz town. As we have been making clear, any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and in strict accordance with protection standards under international humanitarian and human rights law. It is also imperative that all those displaced are allowed to return voluntarily, in safety and in dignity, to their homes as soon as the situation allows it. The UN and its partners are urgently appealing for increased funding to allow for the UN to respond and its partners to respond with life‑saving assistance and protection services to those displaced to IDP [internally displaced persons] sites in rural Damascus, as well as to people who remain in eastern Ghouta. Additionally, further financial assistance is urgently required to assist internally displaced people in Idlib and Aleppo Governorates.
**Central African Republic
Turning to the Central African Republic, the Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, and the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, today met with the religious platform, including the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, and the Imam of Bangui, Kobine Layama. The UN and African Union officials praised the interfaith platform for its sustained effort towards peace; in particular its recent mediation in Bangassou and in the PK5 neighbourhood of the capital. They reiterated the commitment of both organizations in support of sustainable peace in the Central African Republic through dialogue and through regional synergies and restoration of State authorities with all available means.
Mr. Lacroix and Mr. Chergui also met a delegation from PK5 to discuss the ongoing situation and stressed the need to work with all those who are committed to peace through dialogue. In the afternoon, Mr. Lacroix chaired a memorial ceremony for a peacekeeper from Mauritania and one from Rwanda who were recently killed in attacks in Tagbara and Bangui, respectively. There have been no major security incidents in Bangui today, although there have been some attempts to spread misinformation. The Mission has reinforced its position at key locations in the capital’s third district.
In relation to the guest we just had, this morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, spoke in the General Assembly Hall at the event on improving global road safety. She said that deaths and injuries due to road traffic have become a serious and urgent global concern with some 1.3 million people dying and up to 50 million getting injured on the world’s roads every year. Ms. Mohammed said that the newly established United Nations Road Safety Trust Fund, which you just heard about, will help address this issue and help achieve the road safety‑related Sustainable Development Goals. She called on Member States to contribute to the Fund and pool their resources and expertise to save the lives of millions of people around the world and prevent suffering and loss.
A senior personnel appointment: the Secretary-General has appointed Marta Ruedas of Spain as his new Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Ms. Ruedas will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq. She succeeds, as you know, Lise Grande of the United States, who has served in Iraq since December 2014. The Secretary‑General is grateful for Ms. Grande’s leadership and dedicated service during her tenure. Ms. Ruedas brings to this position more than 27 years of experience in coordinating UN development and humanitarian work in conflict and post‑conflict countries, as well as extensive experience supporting peacebuilding transitions. She has served as the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan since 2015.
The latest records released today by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) show that the number of civilians killed and injured by armed conflict have remained at high levels this year. During the first three months of 2018, the Mission documented 2,258 civilian casualties; that’s 763 deaths and 1,495 injured, which is similar to the figures from the same time period in 2017 and 2016. The Mission called on all parties to “do everything in their power to protect civilians from harm”, stressing that Afghans continue to suffer, caught in the conflict, in ways that are preventable. The full report is on the Mission’s website.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), our humanitarian colleagues launched their needs and priorities plan for this year, which seeks $111 million to assist 6 million of the most vulnerable people in the country. Undernutrition continues to be a serious concern in the DPRK, with more than one quarter of children stunted due to a lack of adequate food. People are also struggling to access basic services, and almost a quarter of the population do not have access to sanitation facilities. The plan will focus on enhancing food security, reducing malnutrition, increasing access to healthcare, water and sanitation services and building resilience to natural disasters.
I wanted to flag a couple of events happening in our sister stations in Geneva and Vienna. In Geneva, a meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems has been taking place in Geneva this week, and that session will end on 13 April. The second meeting is foreseen for 27 to 31 August 2018, also in Geneva. Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India is the chair of both meetings. The discussion will build on three informal meetings of experts on the topic, held under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Participation at these meetings includes a wide array of stakeholders, including many of the Convention’s 125 High Contracting Parties, as well as representatives of international organizations, non‑governmental organizations, academia, private sector and civil society.
**United Nations in Vienna
From Vienna, I can tell you that a new episode of the popular Chinese reality show called “Keep Running” will be broadcast tomorrow in China. You may not know that the programme was shot at the United Nations in Vienna. Seven top Chinese celebrities visited the UN’s headquarters in the Austrian capital last month to film an episode of the TV challenge show “Keep Running”, which is hugely popular with young people and others in China and across Asia. The seven film, TV and singing stars, who have a combined social media following of more than 500 million people, took a Chinese language guided tour with the Vienna Visitors Service and were briefed on the work of the United Nations. If you’re interested, you can watch the show online on tomorrow at 8:50 p.m. (Chinese time)/ 2:50 p.m. (CEST)/ 8:50 a.m. (EST) on YouTube. And there’s a focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, there’s always in every TV show filmed at the UN. If you’d like to get an impression of the visit, check out the UN Vienna photo gallery, which is online.
Tomorrow I will be joined by Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education. He will be here to provide an update on the “Education Cannot Wait” initiative for children in emergencies. And then at 1 p.m., Panos Moumtzis, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis, will be here to brief you. In between those two briefings, the meat in that sandwich will be myself and then followed by Brenden [Varma]. We will try to get in between those two.
Our new Honour Roll total is 77. Two more payments went into the regular budget, from nos amies in the Central African Republic and Tunisia, and we thank them and we take questions. Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online. Sir, you mentioned about the Secretary‑General speaking to the P5 members last night, late last night. Could you just tell us what was the response of the P5 members, and how did they react? And how do they… how did they ensure to the Secretary‑General that session will not run… spiral out of situation… condition, you know?
Spokesman: You know, I can't… I can only speak for one half of the conversation, from my boss's half of the conversation. For him, it was important to reach out to those ambassadors. Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding. We're hoping that the diplomatic discussions continue. We very much also hope that a mechanism will be found at some point to ensure accountability for the reported use of chemical weapons. We think that the issue of accountability is not only important, obviously, for the victims, first and foremost, but also is a way to ensure and strengthen the international normative system against the use of chemical weapons, and I think the wider disarmament… global disarmament efforts as well. Mr. Lee? And then we'll…
Question: Actually, I have other stuff, but just on the same topic, I… earlier today, I asked UK Ambassador Karen Pierce about this idea that the UK Prime Minister Theresa May was convening a, quote, war cabinet to make decisions about military action. And she said she couldn't answer that from here; I refer you to Number 10 [Downing Street]. So, I'm just… it made me wonder as you were giving this… this description of a call to the perm reps, whether the Secretary‑General is actually thinking of trying to reach the principals. I take that answer to mean, like, the decision is made at a different level. Will he try to make such calls? And, also, if he does, will you tell us…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, if there are contacts that we wish to share with you, we will share them with you.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the CAR [Central African Republic] thing yesterday. I wish I'd been able to ask you when you read it out. I mean, it seems that some 17 corpses were laid in front of the… of the UN's base there and that many people are saying that they were… at least some of these people were… were civilians who were killed maybe in an… unintentionally, but they weren't all criminals. I've… I heard on the radio that Mr. [Vladimir] Montero, one of the spokespeople there, had said everyone that was killed was a criminal. And I'm just wondering, on what basis does the UN believe that all 17 were killed or injured…?
Spokesman: I didn't hear the same quote that you did. I think, as we've said, on Sunday, our… our colleagues, together with the Central African security forces, launched Operation Sukula, which focused on Bangui's PK5 neighbourhood. The aim was to arrest and disarm members of two heavily armed criminal groups, which have been preying on the local population. Those two, I think, were known as “Force” and “50/50”. The operation, as I said, was planned jointly and was a joint operation. We also… prior to the operation, as we do in… and especially when we operate in heavily civilian neighbourhoods in, you know, civilian neighbourhoods, precautionary measures were taken to protect civilians before, during and also after the operation. In the days following the operation, a number of violent incidents were recorded in Bangui. MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] reacted to these and returned fire when targeted. The Mission will continue to monitor the situation closely and will undertake a thorough internal investigation of the violent incidents in Bangui over the last few days.
Question: I guess my question would be, like a normal police force, if somebody is inadvertently injured or killed, they pay compensation. They investigate it, and they make themselves accountable.
Spokesman: As I said there'll be… there's an internal investigation going on, you know, and I think the opera… there is calm in Bangui. I think the operation may have been suspended, but things are still ongoing. There will be an investigation.
Question: Right but will there be compensation if it's…?
Spokesman: There will be an investigation. And there's a SOFA [status‑of‑forces‑agreement], and their procedures will be followed. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you. The Security Council has set a date for its trip to Myanmar, Bangladesh and Iraq. I'm wondering what the Secretary‑General hopes to see from that trip and if you have a status update about the selection process for a Special Representative to the country.
Spokesman: No, no update on the process to find a Special Envoy for Myanmar from the Secretary‑General. What we hope is that the Council will show unity on the trip. It will help improve the situation in Myanmar, in terms of helping the Government implement the Annan… the conclusions of the [Kofi] Annan panel. And we also very much hope that it will help refocus the attention of the international community on the plight of those Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh and the need… the continuous need to fund the humanitarian operations. As you know, we're coming up to the monsoon season, which will create even newer and more challenges to them. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Syrian ambassador said that the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] would send two groups of investigators to Syria. They would arrive today. Have they arrived? And do you have more to share with us? And Sweden also proposing a draft resolution to the Security Council asking the SG to send a team of investigators to Syria, and do you have anything on that?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we'll wait to see what the Council comes up with. As the Secretary‑General has said in his statement, as he has been saying repeatedly, he's very much focusing on hoping to find unity in the Security Council so they come together and they create some accountability mechanism. As I said, we have… we have 50 per cent of what we need here. We have the fact‑finding team led by the OPCW. The UN on the ground in Syria will do its utmost to facilitate its work and help it logistically with security and whatever else they need. On the… whether or not they've actually arrived, I think you have to talk to the OPCW for the substance of their work, because it can't… I cannot speak for them. Abdelhamid?
Question: I thank you. My first question is about the drums of war now are beating and loud, so would it be appropriate for the SG to at least issue a statement calling for restraint and calling on the parties to re‑examine the issue, maybe going back to the Security Council? And my second question, a video has been released by two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] spotting a Palestinian, and one of them asked the other for a bullet. And he took and he shot him, and they were cheering. And now it is… IDF is even investigating that? Have you any comment? Have you seen…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, we are… we would want to see a thorough investigation of this case. The reports, as we've seen in the press, are disturbing, and we look forward to the investigation. As for your first question, I don't think the Secretary‑General could have been clearer in the statement yesterday when… and I'll read, just to be clear, when he reiterated his deep concern about the risks of the current impasse and stressed the need to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. He has called for restraint in the past, and he continues to do so in all his discussions with his interlocutors. I'll come back to you. Masood?
Question: Yes. Stéphane, I wanted to know from you how many UN team are there in Kahuta [sic]? Because I hear that WHO [World Health Organization] is sending a team of investigation over there to determine how many people are affected by the… by the so‑called nerve gas or whatever, and then there is OPCW. So, how many teams are there, do you know?
Spokesman: No, I don't… you have to check with WHO. My reading is that they are not sending a team, but, again, you have to speak to them. The fact‑finding team is an OPCW‑led team. As we've seen the reports, the Syrian Government has said they would support their work. We look forward to them being on the ground and being able to access what they need to access and to make a determination.
Correspondent: So, it seems there are going to be two teams over there…
Spokesman: No, that's not at all what I said.
Correspondent: No. What I'm saying is because WHO is sending its team also, and that's what they said in a statement today.
Spokesman: Okay. I can barely speak, and I can speak for what I know. So, I think I've answered to the best of my ability. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I'd wanted to ask you, this is something that I'd asked you on Friday, and I was hoping to get confirmation from you, whether a range of… of Tamil diaspora groups, now some in Sri Lanka, have written to Mr. Lacroix showing him evidence that more than 40 Sri Lankan soldiers who were deployed to UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] were not, in fact, vetted by the… the local Human Rights Commission. And since that was one… he himself has described that process in relying on it in a press conference in this room. One, I just wanted to make sure he's gotten the letter. It seems that he has and if you can say that. And, two, what is the response to the groups and the evidence they've presented?
Spokesman: Yes, my understanding is that the letter has been received, but I hope to have something for you, but I don't.
Question: And I wanted to ask you another… I'd asked yesterday in writing, but there's… an audit has emerged — Inner City Press has published it — of irregularities and cost overruns in UNSOS’ [United Nations Support Office in Somalia] provision of rations in… in Somalia, over $51.3 million of cost overruns, using an outside company when it seems that both the auditors and people that work there say the UN could have done it itself. And I'm wondering… it's a negative audit. What… what steps is taken by UNSOS?
Spokesman: I haven't seen the audit. I'll take a look at it. Brenden?
Question: Can I ask one more?
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: All right. Thanks a lot. It actual… I was going to do death penalty or Syria, but I'll do Syria. It's a little more timely. You heard Mr. [Jean] Todt's answer on… on why the organization that he funded has… has provided funding to the Syrian Automobile Club…
Spokesman: He doesn't fund the organization. He's the President.
Question: No, the organization… he's the President… has funded. Okay. Absolutely. That wasn't really the point. My point was this, and I'd wanted to understand this, because I think… it's… there are many people that are curious about this. By… by process of alphabet, it seems that Syria will become the President of the conference… UN Conference on Disarmament on 28 May. And some… some Member States have said this is an outrage. There's some discussion of walkouts. I know the UN is what it is, but I also know that the Secretary‑General… for example, it's up to the Security Council what they do on Syria, but he saw fit to call them. For the appearances and sort of for the good name of the UN, is it, in fact, the case that he is entirely hands off and finds this a… a fine turn of events, or would he attempt, as others have sometimes done, to make a switch with other positions? What is his position on Syria being the President of the Conference on Disarmament?
Spokesman: It's not for him… you're right. He's called out Member States for… on substance on… but the [rotation] is what it is. It is not for him to intervene in the procedural impact. It's… you know, I think, it was Switzerland. Now it's Syria. It is and solely a decision of the Member States themselves on how they work. I think we all expect Member States to live up to the values of this Organization, and I think those who are involved in certain committees and lead certain committees, I think, have even a higher responsibility to ensure that.
Question: Speaking of calling States out, in his trip to China, we just had a press conference on the death penalty and there… the finding of Amnesty International is that, far and away, the most executions were carried out in China. Did… was this issue raised in any of his… the meetings?
Spokesman: The issue of human rights was raised in… with the Secretary‑General in a number of his meetings with the senior‑most Chinese leadership, and it was also mentioned in his speech. Thank you.