The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General arrived in Riyadh very early this morning. As I mentioned before, he had stayed back in New York over the weekend to address the Security Council on Saturday, and I think most of you were here and you had his comments from then. His Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Counter‑Terrorism Office, Vladimir Voronkov, was at the Arab League Summit representing the Secretary-General. This afternoon, in Riyadh, the Secretary‑General visited the King Salman Humanitarian Centre and met with the United Nations country team. Tomorrow, he will attend the sixteenth meeting of the United Nations Counter Terrorism Centre Advisory Board and he is also expected to meet with His Majesty King Salman, as well as Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. The Secretary-General is expected back in New York on 18 April.
On the weekend, close to 3,800 people from Douma city in Syria arrived in Al-Bab District in rural Aleppo Governorate, in what is expected to be the last movement of people from the city. Close to 63,000 people, mostly civilians, were evacuated to north-western Syria in recent weeks. The recent displacement, in addition to the displacement of nearly 400,000 people from southern Idleb since 15 December 2017, is stretching the capacity of the local host communities, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners in north-western Syria. In total, more than 155,000 men, women and children are estimated to have left eastern Ghouta since 9 March. Approximately half of the over 92,000 people who have arrived at internally displaced people sites in rural Damascus remain at those sites. The sites, which are meant to host just over 25,000 people, are operating well beyond their capacity. The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict to allow for safe, sustained and unhindered humanitarian access to provide life-saving assistance to all those in need. As I mentioned, over the weekend you saw the Secretary-General issued a statement late Friday night on the situation in Syria, and also spoke to the Council on Saturday.
This morning, in the Security Council, an open debate was held on sexual violence in conflict. The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, said that, this year, the widespread threat and use of sexual violence has, once again, been used as a tactic to advance military, economic and ideological objectives. The Deputy Secretary-General said that gender-based discrimination is the invisible driver of most crimes of sexual violence, and the lower a woman’s status, the greater her vulnerability and exposure to those crimes. Ms. Mohammed told Council members that our responsibility must be to bring justice, recognition and reparations to the survivors of these horrendous crimes. Not only justice in the courtrooms, she said, but also social justice and [economic] empowerment.
And the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, also spoke. She said that, while significant normative progress has been achieved, we must urgently consolidate it by ensuring accountability or risk a reversal, resulting in wartime rape being once again "normalized", due to the frequency and impunity with which it is committed. She said that wartime rape is preventable, and not inevitable, and addressing it is our collective responsibility. And at about 2:30 p.m., the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Meza-Cuadra of Peru, and Ms. Patten will brief you at the Council Stakeout.
And as you will have seen over the weekend, there was another attack on a UN base in Mali. Yesterday, the Secretary-General, in a statement, condemned the attack on the United Nations camp and the French operation Barkhane’s camps in Timbuktu that occurred on 14 April, during which one peacekeeper from Burkina Faso was killed, and seven peacekeepers, as well as seven French soldiers and two Malian civilians, were injured. It was the largest attack on a United Nations Mali camp since the deployment of the peacekeeping mission and the third attack against the Mission this month alone. The Secretary-General conveyed his condolences to the Government of Burkina Faso, and the family and loved ones of the deceased peacekeeper, and wished a swift recovery to all those injured. He paid tribute to the courage of the men and women serving in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as Malian and international forces who do so at great personal risk and sacrifice. He also called on the Malian authorities and the signatory armed groups to the peace agreement to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of this attack so that they can be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. The Secretary-General recalled that attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law and that those trying to obstruct the peace process may be subject to sanctions. These acts will not deter the UN peacekeeping mission’s determination to support the Malian people in their quest for peace and stability.
**Central African Republic
Our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tell us that, following violence last week, the overall security situation in the country remained relatively calm over the weekend, although tensions persist in Bangui and in other towns. Road blockages have been removed in the PK-5 neighbourhood of Bangui and in Bria, as well. Over the weekend, the Mission continued to engage community leaders to calm the situation, while the United Nations force reinforced positions in Bangui and beyond. And still on the Central African Republic, I wanted to give you an update on the apprehension of a United Nations peacekeeper from the Gabonese contingent by Central African gendarmes on Friday. Apparently, when he was apprehended the peacekeeper was in possession of ammunition. Cooperation is ongoing with the Gabonese authorities and the Mission reports that both the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers of Gabon have called the Special Representative of the United Nations in the Central African Republic to regret and strongly condemn the criminal act perpetrated by their soldier. On the ground, the Mission is making progress to complete the preliminary investigation into these allegations.
And our humanitarian colleagues in South Sudan tell us that seven aid workers from a South Sudanese humanitarian organization have been released 20 days after being detained by forces from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) in Morobo County in Central Equatoria. The aid workers were in good health when they were handed over to an international humanitarian organization yesterday. The seven national staff from the South Sudan Health Association, a national aid organization, were delivering supplies to health centres serving thousands of people in need in the area. This is the second incident in six months in which aid workers have been taken captive by armed groups in South Sudan. Aid worker security in Africa’s youngest nation remains a key concern for humanitarian workers who are being harassed, intimidated, beaten and killed. Since the conflict began in 2013, at least 99 aid workers have been killed in the line of duty in South Sudan, including two in April.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Miroslav Jenča, completed his visit to Nepal today. There, he met with the Speaker of House of Representatives, [Krishna Bahadur Mahara]; Foreign Minister [Pradeep Gyawal]; Chief of Army Staff General, [Rajendra Chhetri]; and former Prime Ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba; Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, [Arup Sharma]; as well as other high-level Government officials, and other political party leaders, women and civil society representatives. In his meetings, Mr. Jenča commended the Government and the Nepali people on the success of the homegrown peace process, as laid out in the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the political transformation Nepal has undergone over the last two decades. He also congratulated the Government on holding the local, state and federal elections last year [in line] with Nepal’s new Constitution. We have a note with more details.
The Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, today condemned the killing of three Ecuadorian newspaper staff workers: reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Paul Rivas and their driver Efrain Segarra. She welcomed the decision of authorities to investigate into the case and said that no effort must be spared to bring the culprits of this crime to justice. The three media workers, employed by the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio, were kidnapped on 26 March, close to the border between Ecuador and Colombia.
And in addition to Ms. Patten and the President of the Security Council, today, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here on indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and natural resources. Speakers will include the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. And at 3 p.m., there will be a briefing by Catherine Marchi-Uhel, the Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for the Crimes Committed in Syria, along with the Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein [Ambassador Christian Wenaweser]. They will be here to brief you ahead of the first informal debate on the Mechanism, which takes place on 17 April. Tomorrow, I will be joined by Ursula Mueller, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who will brief you on the trip she recently undertook to Myanmar.
And lastly, we are up to 79 in our Honour Roll, thanks to our friends in Astana, as Kazakhstan has paid in full. Yes, ma’am?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Steph. The Russians have said that the delay in the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] getting to Douma is because of an absence of some sort of UN security permission. Can you provide clarity if… has the UN given that permission?
Spokesman: Sure. The UN has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We've not denied them any sort of clearance.
Question: Can I follow up? Does the UN know why they're not being allowed access? And has the Secretary‑General or anyone in the Secretariat been in touch with the Russians or the Syrians to encourage them?
Spokesman: Those contacts are being done at the local level. There are discussions, as I understand it, ongoing in Damascus. Margaret?
Question: Following that up also, in the OPCW Director‑General's statement from his briefing today at The Hague, he said that the Syrian authorities had offered to bring 22 witnesses to Damascus to meet with the fact-finding mission. He didn't say, though, in his remarks whether they accepted that offer. Have they accepted it?
Spokesman: No. Listen, I can't speak for the OPCW on issues of substance. They are managing their own fact-finding mission. The United Nations is providing all the logistical and other support it can to make sure the mission goes forward. But, on the substance of the investigation, those questions need to be answered by the OPCW.
Question: Okay. Can I phrase it in a different way? Would you consider it… any sort of substitute for the team going to the site if, you know, people are evidently…?
Spokesman: Again, the OPCW is leading the investigation. This is not a joint investigation. This is being led by the OPCW along… following their rules and regulations. We want the investigation to go forward. The Secretary‑General is very supportive of the investigation. We hope it is as complete as full as possible. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I'd wanted to ask you, it seems like, on Friday, at just after 5 p.m. the UN disclosed a new set of sexual exploitation and abuse cases. So, I'd… I'd asked you immediately thereafter why one of them is dated 20 April. And it seems like, since we haven't reached then yet… maybe they're reading into the future, but that's a case in the CAR [Central African Republic], which you were just talking about, Niger, sexual exploitation. There's a case of child rape, alleged child rape, by a civilian UN contractor in UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] and several cases from UNMIL [United Nations Mission in Liberia], I guess from the past. One… so, what can you say about these cases? What's being done on them? Two, why is one of them dated in the future? And then I have a question about UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS]?
Spokesman: I don't know why the dating issues…
Correspondent: I'm looking at it.
Spokesman: I'm not debating the veracity of what you're telling me. I'm just saying I don't know, which happens to be a fact on a lot of things, in fact. The UNMISS case relates to allegations of rape of a 15‑year‑old minor, implicating a local contractor from the UN Mission in South Sudan, which resulted in a pregnancy. We're, obviously, deeply concerned about the serious allegation which was reported in late March. Through the support of our partners and the victim rights advocate on the ground, the victim has received immediate medical and psychosocial assistance. The allegations are being investigated by OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], and the local authorities are also informed of the allegations.
Question: But… so, do they have immun… I guess my question is, it says OIOS, but it seems like, if this is a… a local staff that's presumably allegedly raping a local citizen, is it subject to local law?
Spokesman: It's a local contractor. I think we're… it's being investigated.
Question: And on UNAIDS?
Spokesman: I'll come back to you on UNAIDS. Yes, sir?
Question: Good morning. Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online. Secretary‑General gave a call on Saturday to the Security Council members, you know, and he actually wants the de‑escalation in Syria, and what we understand is there are several drafts which are moving informally in the Security Council. How do you view them? And what do you… do you think none of them would be… some… one draft will be accepted…?
Spokesman: It's… we're aware there are different discussions going on. It's not up to us to comment on the substance of these drafts. I think the message from the Secretary‑General was very clear to the Security Council: Find unity. Find a way forward so that we have a mechanism through which accountability can be reached. But, obviously, it's up to the Council to lead its own discussions.
Question: Can I ask another question on peacekeeping? Like, lot of the peacekeepers are dying recently, and is there any way that you somehow kind of upgrade them? Because they are… they come from different countries, and they could not be that coercive, and, you know, that could be the reason because they're not army, you know. So, is there any way forward? Is there any thinking…?
Spokesman: The way forward is… involves both the Secretariat; it involves troop-contributing countries, the Security Council, local actors. The Secretary‑General is very keen, as he said and his representative said it, to do a rethink of a lot of the ways that we do peacekeeping. There was a recent report called the dos Santos Cruz report, which looked at the safety and how peacekeepers operate. We've already taken a lot of these recommendations on board in terms of strengthening and securing the way we do business to lessen the chances of casualties. A lot of the recommendations have been put forward. But, there's also an issue of mandates and how the UN operates and how troop contributors outfit their troops. It's a debate that is at the forefront of the mind of the Secretary‑General. Mr. Roth?
Question: This question is from your children, who could not get into today's briefing. Will the Secretary‑General issue a call to Russia and Syria not to tamper with evidence at the site in Douma? And, if not, why not?
Spokesman: What the Secretary‑General wants to see is the fact-finding mission to have access to all the sites it needs to have access to so that we can have the most thorough and full picture of the facts. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Steph, the Secretary‑General is on his way to Saudi Arabia? If not there. Could you tell us the purpose of this trip and what he hopes to achieve and who he expects to meet?
Spokesman: He's there. Sure. He is participating in the meeting of… the sixteenth meeting of the UN Counter‑Terrorism Centre Advisory Board, which is being held in Saudi Arabia. So, there will be, obviously, a lot of discussions around counter‑terrorism. He will also be having bilateral meetings with the King of Saudi Arabia, as well as the Foreign Minister and probably other senior officials. There'll be a discussion of regional matters in the Middle East. Obviously, we expect Yemen to come up, Syria and other issues. As you know, the Secretary‑General had hoped to attend the League of Arab States summit, which took place over the weekend, but because of the events in Syria and the meeting of the Security Council, he had to truncate his trip to Saudi Arabia. Evelyn, and then we'll go… sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Is there any update on food and other deliveries with so many people moving around or — excuse me — is starvation or surrender still Damascus policy?
Spokesman: As to what Damascus policy is, I think you have to ask them. The humanitarian system, whether it's the UN or its partners, are really stretched to the limit in Syria, dealing with the people flowing out of Eastern Ghouta that are in shelters that are over capacity. We're well… we're into the eighth year of this conflict. The Syrian people continue to suffer a horrendous list of sufferings, whether it is bombings, chemical weapons attacks, the use of water as a tool of war, hunger. All of this… all of what we've seen should encourage all the parties to redouble their efforts to find a political solution. Yes?
Question: My name is Deng from Xinhua News Agency. My question is that on three occasions Mr. [Antonio] Guterres talk about the cold war, and at the 29 March stakeout briefing, he even talked about the need to resume the cold war mechanism. So, the question… two questions. One, are we in cold war? Second, have we done anything in resolving this cold war mechanism?
Spokesman: Well, you know, I speak for the Secretary‑General, and I think the Secretary‑General speaks better than me. I would refer you to what he said in the Security Council. He said the cold war is back with a vengeance. I think I would encourage to you reread and look at what he said. I think one of his great concerns, which he's articulated over the past few months, is also this danger of things spiralling out of control, of people sleepwalking into conflict. This is and this was and remains a great concern of his. Zach and then we'll…
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. Forgive me if I missed this, but has the Secretary‑General said anything about the legality of the US, French and British strike?
Spokesman: I would refer you to both his statement he issued Friday night and his Security Council… his statement that he delivered himself on Saturday to the Council.
Correspondent: I hope I will be allowed a follow‑up after my question.
Spokesman: Have you never not been allowed a follow‑up? Sometimes you've not been allowed three follow‑ups, but you've always been allowed one follow‑up.
Question: Many times, I was denied. Anyway, when was the last time the United Nations visited Raqqah? And when… do we expect a report coming out from Raqqah?
Spokesman: If I'm not mistaken, there was a UN team in Raqqah about two weeks ago that was led by OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. We'll see if we can get you an update. But, they… when I mentioned they were there, I also reported on what they'd seen, including the immense destruction. So, I would refer you back to what I said at the briefing.
Question: Okay. There were protests inside Raqqah, demanding that the occupiers leave the city. People were raising Syrian flags and coming out in protests, and their videos are littering the internet. What does the United Nations say about that?
Spokesman: I have not seen those reports.
Correspondent: Another thing. Sir Jeffrey Sach… oh, sorry, Mr. Jeffrey Sachs…
Spokesman: I'm sure he would be happy to have been knighted.
Correspondent: Well, this remind me of Sir Geoffrey Howe. That's why. Anyway, Mr. Jeffrey Sachs, in an interview couple of days ago, asked the United States to stop the proxy war in Syria and accused the United States of instigating that war and asked them that the suffering of Syrians for seven years is more than enough, which brought about…
Spokesman: What is the question?
Question: The question, what does the Secretary‑General think about… well, Mr. Sachs is not an unknown entity…
Spokesman: I think Mr. Sachs made those comments in his personal capacity.
Question: And what does… what does the Secretary‑General think about that?
Spokesman: I think what the Secretary‑General is saying is that this war has gone on long enough, and we need to get back to the political process. Yes, ma'am?
Question: On Saturday, the Secretary‑General said in his remarks that he was going to ask [Staffan de] Mistura to come to New York as soon as possible. Do you have… do you know when Mistura will be here?
Spokesman: I will check, but it should be very soon. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Sure. I'd wanted to ask you about UNAIDS. It's re… given…
Spokesman: Or… apparently… sorry. I was told the specific date is not mentioned on CDU's [Conduct and Discipline Unit] website. We only indicate the months. In this case, it's April 2018. The number you might be referring to is the sequencing number of the allegation as it appears on the table, but I'm sure you will check, so… but let's hear your question about UNAIDS.
Question: I'll just write about that. I wanted to ask you about UNAIDS. As I'm sure you've seen, a number of… a number of groups have asked for an investigation, but the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which does work on AIDS in 39 countries, has reportedly written to António Guterres asking that Mr. [Michel] Sidibé step down in light of his alleged retaliation against staff, in light of a staff member having, in 2015, told him that Luiz Loures was a sexual predator. And I'm wondering, what does the Secretary‑General think now that… that… basically, it doesn't seem that Mr. Sidibé is going to self‑resign. What does he make of… of a member of the…?
Spokesman: I think it’s always important to hear from our partners. Mr. Sidibé continues to have the confidence of the Secretary‑General.
Question: And… and the investigation [inaudible] of Luiz Loures meets António Guterres' standards of zero tolerance…?
Spokesman: I think we've spoken about the investigation.
Correspondent: I wanted to ask you about Burundi, as well. In Burundi…
Spokesman: I'll come back to you. Mr. Ucciardo?
Question: Stéphane, I just want to follow up on a legal question on the attack on Syria by the US and the allies. It seems like the US and the UK and France are indicating that they're pretty confident that they had the legal right to do that attack. And the SG, in his speech, said, oh, the Charter is clear. I would like to get an answer from the Secretary‑General as to whether or not it was legal for the US, France and the UK to act as they did under the UN Charter? because, looking at the Charter, it refers to collective action by the Council, but I don't see any trilateral or unilateral action at all.
Spokesman: I would refer you back especially to the statement the Secretary‑General issued on Friday. Yes, sir?
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you two questions about Governments that the UN says it has an interest in having a dialogue not in fact having them. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza had said that he's basically going to suspend talks under Arusha through the East African Community. And I'm asking you this because some have noted that there was a statement that went up on the AU's [African Union] website saying that the AU and the UN were deeply concerned about this, and then it went down. But, a sort of a version of it is still up, in fact, the… so, I wanted to know, is the… is, in fact, the UN concerned about this? And, if it is concerned, why did it express…
Spokesman: I will check on Burundi.
Question: I just am saying the column that I was reading to you about 20 April 2018, it says "date" at the top of it.
Spokesman: I have no doubt that you are right.
Question: Okay. The other one is about Cameroon. It has to do with the Interior Minister of Cameroon, Mr.… has said there will be absolutely no dialogue with “secessionists”. Whether or not violent or nonviolent, if you do not pledge allegiance to… to the full territorial integrity of Cameroon, no dialogue. Given that Mr. François Fall has been saying for the longest that he's committing to dialogue, that's what the Government should do, what does he think of this statement that, in 30 days, it will be a final crackdown?
Spokesman: Our position continues to be the same, is that the best way to address the situation in the Anglophone regions is through a genuine and inclusive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders. Thank you.