The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As we announced on Friday, the Secretary-General left today for Havana, Cuba, where he will be addressing the thirty-seventh session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). During his visit, the Secretary-General will meet with the President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, and other senior officials.
We will have some more details on his visit either later today or tomorrow. And we expect the Secretary-General back in the office tomorrow — back in New York tomorrow evening.
Following military operations in Syria’s Yarmouk Camp, our humanitarian colleagues report that some 7,000 people — 70 per cent of whom are Palestinian refugees — were displaced to Yalda, Babilla and Beit Sahem towns in Rural Damascus.
Since 13 April, hostilities in southern Damascus have resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, as well as the displacement of civilians and the destruction of infrastructure.
The UN and partners stand ready to deliver inter-agency humanitarian assistance to people in need in Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahem, as well as to Yarmouk, as soon as the conditions allow and access is granted.
The UN calls on all parties, and those with influence over them, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
The United Nations further reminds all parties that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and in strict accordance with the protection standards under international law.
And earlier today, Izumi Nakamitsu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Security Council in closed consultations concerning allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.
A new report issued by the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on the 2 April 2018 airstrikes in the Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz Province was presented today. Its findings include verification of 36 people killed and 71 wounded. The report notes that UNAMA received additional credible information indicating higher figures.
A key finding of this report is that the Afghan Government, which indicated the airstrike targeted senior Taliban leaders present in the area, used rockets and heavy machinegun fire on and around a religious gathering, killing and injuring civilians, the majority of whom were children.
The report makes several recommendations to the Government, including conducting a review of military policies to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law to protect civilians at all times.
In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack that had taken place earlier on Sunday on a mosque being used as a voter registration centre in Khost Province, Afghanistan.
The Secretary-General extends his solidarity to Afghan citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional rights and to take part in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
**Central African Republic
I also want to flag a press release issued over the weekend by our colleagues at the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The press release was on an operation against members of an armed group, the FPRC, who were planning to advance on the town of Dekoa, in the centre of the country.
Efforts to prevent the group from pursuing its activities continue in and around the city. More details are available online.
From Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that some 11,500 people have been displaced to Rokero town and nearby Jemeza village in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur, following fighting that took place in April between various armed groups.
This figure is a preliminary estimate by an inter-agency assessment team that recently visited the area.
Several villages have reportedly been burnt during the fighting. Many of the newly-displaced people had been previously displaced.
The displaced are sheltering under trees, and immediate needs include food, shelter, and access to water and sanitation services. In Jemeza, there is only one functioning water pump for 15,000 people and no health facility.
Last week, 1,900 children and pregnant or lactating women also received assistance.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us that more than 2 million people across Africa are set to receive oral cholera vaccine by mid-June, the largest cholera vaccination drive in history.
A spate of recent outbreaks across Africa has prompted the campaigns in Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, South Sudan and Nigeria. The campaigns are being implemented by the respective Ministries of Health supported by the World Health Organization and partners of the Global Task Force on Cholera Control (GTFCC).
The burden of cholera remains high in African countries, with at least 12 areas or countries reporting active cholera transmission in sub-Saharan Africa as of today.
Recent developments in the use of oral cholera vaccines show that the strong mobilization of countries and partners can effectively tackle the disease when tools for prevention and control are readily available. More details on these campaigns on WHO’s website.
Lastly, in Geneva today, our friends at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) kicked off a global conference on hydrological services that will address the urgent need to improve forecasting, management and utilization of water resources in an era of growing water stress, pollution and hazards such as floods.
The HydroConference, running through 9 May, brings together providers and users of hydrological services to strengthen knowledge-sharing and coordination among all water stakeholders.
Its aim is to establish a more coordinated platform to inform the international agenda on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change.
It is estimated that by 2050 at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. More details on WMO’s website.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. Is the Secretary‑General concerned that the United States may pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)?
Spokesman: Look, we've seen all the reports, all the chatter. We're not going to comment on what may or may not happen. What is clear is that the Secretary‑General strongly supports the JCPOA as a very important diplomatic achievement, and I think… and he's also open to building upon the JCPOA.
Question: As a follow‑up, has the Secretary‑General spoken to anyone in the [Donald] Trump Administration about the JCPOA?
Spokesman: Contacts continue to be had at various levels, and the Secretary‑General has made his views known both publicly and privately. Nabil… Ali. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Steph. As a follow‑up, there are reports that Mr. [Javad] Zarif met within… inside the UN compound with the former Secretary of State, John Kerry. Was that done with coordination with the UN and if…
Spokesman: I'm not aware of these reports. I'm not aware of any meetings and we don't… I'll leave it at that.
Question: Another question. On Lebanon, do you have comment on the parliamentarian elections, please?
Spokesman: Yes, we welcome the holding of parliamentary elections in Lebanon, which initial reports indicate were conducted largely peacefully. We hope that all Lebanese political stakeholders will continue to act responsibly in the days following polling to protect Lebanon's stability, which should include the swift formation of a Government.
Question: A follow‑up?
Question: Sorry. There's supposed to be a 1559 report, and it was delayed. Do you know why it was delayed and when is it…
Spokesman: Let me check where it is in the pipeline. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Yemen. There's been a Saudi‑led Coalition airstrike in the middle of Sana'a on the presidential palace. At least… some people say six civilians killed. I don't know if there's more, but, given that the UN is presumably there, Lise Grande and various members of the team, what is the UN's comment on such an airstrike in the middle of a city?
Spokesman: Sure, we've seen the reports of an airstrike reportedly striking several populated areas in Sana’a this morning, potentially causing civilian casualties. We're working now to verify these reports and gather more information. I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear to all the parties on their need to uphold international humanitarian law, including taking steps to protect civilians.
Question: Thanks. I also wanted… oh, I'd asked last week about… whether Mr. Martin Griffiths has any comment on the deployment by the UAE [United Arab Emirates] of soldiers to the Socotra Island. And, since then, it's come out… it's been reported that members of the [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government intend… or mulling… complaining to the UN about this breach of their sovereignty.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, we've seen these reports related to the situation and tensions around Socotra Island. We have no further information available to us at this point. I mean, no complaint has been made to us. We do call on all the parties to refrain from further escalation and remind everybody that the Socotra Archipelago has been inscribed on the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage List since 2008. It's a site of universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna, and I think it's… safety of both its people and its environment needs to be secured. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question is about the worsening situation in the part of Kashmir controlled by India. Ten people… civilians were killed by… including a university professor, were killed who were protesting against four killed the previous day. Does the Secretary‑General have any comments?
Spokesman: I mean, we're obviously… oh. Sorry. We're aware and watching the situation, have seen the media reports, but I would refer you to what we've said in the past on that issue. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding the JCPOA, you mentioned that the SG supports it, but he also… I believe you said that he also supports some changes to it. I was wondering if… regarding those changes, are you… does that imply that he supports establishing a ban on the ballistic missile use?
Spokesman: No, I think what the Secretary‑General has said, both through myself and Farhan [Haq] here at the briefing and himself directly, I think, in an interview recently with the BBC, is that we must build on this important achievement, the JCPOA, to preserve the non-proliferation regime, which is a cornerstone of global security. And we believe that the JCPOA contributes to regional peace and security.
Question: But does that imply that he would support, you know, obviously other changes, tightening it?
Spokesman: I think we're… I hear what you're saying, but I think we're getting ahead of ourselves. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Steph. You mentioned cholera in Africa and WHO's distribution. What about Yemen, which has about a million cases…
Spokesman: Yes, we've highlighted the terrible cases of cholera and other waterborne diseases in Yemen…
Question: Is WHO going there?
Spokesman: …which are still going on, which are made worse by the continuing conflict and the lack of proper access to health care for most Yemeni civilians.
Question: But does WHO have a programme there?
Spokesman: WHO does have a programme. Masood?
Question: Stéphane, again, on the situation in… in — what do you call — West Bank and Gaza, Israeli authorities and the Palestinians seem to be clashing and… but what about the plight of the Palestinian children? Has the Secretary‑General been able to talk to anybody in the Israeli Government to… about this situation at all?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General, through his Special Representative, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov, on the ground, have had conversations with all the parties involved on all these issues repeatedly.
Question: But the thing is the situation, as you know, Stéphane, is getting bad to worse…
Spokesman: I know, and we've not been hiding from it, and I think if… his… Mr Mladenov's last briefing to the Security Council… last briefing was very clear on that aspect. Nizar and then Edie.
Question: Yeah. On the situation in Yemen, with the intensification of air raids by the Saudi‑led Coalition, how is the humanitarian aid proceeding in… in the country?
Spokesman: It continues to be a challenge. Some aid is getting through the ports, Hodeidah, and through… and other means, but it continues to be a very, very challenging situation. Ms. Lederer?
Question: On… on Cyprus, Steph, the Cypr… the Cypriot Foreign Minister's urging the Secretary‑General to immediately move to restart the moribund talks, and the leader… the Turkish Cypriots have also welcomed the idea of restarting talks. How quickly can the Secretary‑General do this? Will he do this?
Spokesman: I think the… we are in contact with the parties to determine a way to seek the outcomes of their reflection and their views on the way forward. As you will recall, at the end of the Conference on Cyprus last year, the Secretary‑General encouraged all parties to reflect in order to determine whether the conditions would mature again for a meaningful process in the future. Yep?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a follow‑up on Cuba, and that has to do with the fact that, over the weekend, the Government of Colombia and the ELN (National Liberation Army) decided to make Cuba as the new host for their peace talks. So, I'm wondering if Secretary‑General will be able to maybe discuss this issue with the new Cuban President, or if this will be an opportunity for the Secretary‑General to convey a new message of support of this new round of talks?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is very supportive of these new rounds of discussions. I think it's… we've had challenge… there's been very… great number of challenges between Colombia and the ELN. I think it's a good sign that these talks are going forward. I have… we'll have to see what Secretary‑General discusses, but it could very well be on the… as part of the discussions. But we have to wait for these discussions to happen. Luke?
Question: Thanks. Two questions on Russia. I'll take them in turn, I guess. Do you have any response or remarks from the SG on the demonstrations over the weekend across Russia and the seemingly violent crackdown on those protests?
Spokesman: No. We've seen the reports. As a matter of principle, we believe in people's right to be able to demonstrate peacefully.
Question: And my second part, the… Mr. [António] Guterres' predecessor attended the opening ceremonies about the 2014 and 2010 World Cups. Does the SG plan on going to Russia next month?
Spokesman: When we have something to announce, we shall. Mr. Ben, if you're ready.
Question: Just going back to the JCPOA, sorry, I wasn't here, so I'll ask again.
Spokesman: If you haven't heard it, it's new to you. Right? Yes. Go ahead.
Question: [inaudible] the JCPOA. What do you mean by that?
Spokesman: I mean, what… the Secretary‑General feels that the JCPOA is an important achievement to preserve the non‑proliferation regime. It's a cornerstone of global security. And, if we need to build on that, he would support that, but he's very… yes. I would leave it at that. Thank you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted… I want to ask you again about this global service delivery mechanism. Seems that… you'd said you were going to give some granular guidance, but I wanted to ask you if it's the case that Kuala Lumpur has dropped out of the four cities and, if so, why, and also if you can confirm the receipt of a letter by the President of Uganda protesting their… the… their non‑selection in… despite having this Entebbe situation and the various critiques he's made in it. There's been a call… at least they've said that Sam Kutesa, which… a name from the past, may call a vote in the General Assembly about the selection of Nairobi over them. And staff are… are… many people and I've asked here to see the underlying recommendations of how these cities were selected.
Spokesman: Not aware of Kuala Lumpur. On Entebbe, the Secretary‑General spoke last week with the Foreign Minister of Uganda to explain the situation to him. A number of functions related to peacekeeping will remain in Entebbe.
Question: Could I ask you…
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: I want to ask you another… since it seem… so, was that called before or after the reported letter from the President?
Spokesman: It was before. I'm not… I can't confirm the letter's been received. I saw the reports in the Ugandan press, as well.
Question: There's another well… well, or seemingly much reported letter from Nigeria from the People's Democratic Party and its Chairman, Uche Secondus, describing what they describe as violations by President [Muhammadu] Buhari of the rights of journalists and of opponents. And I wanted to know, has that one been received and what's the…
Spokesman: I will check. I'm not aware that it has.
Question: And is the DSG (Deputy Secretary-General) going to have any involvement in responding?
Spokesman: Let's see if the letter's been received, and then we'll see the response. Ms. Fasulo?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane.
Spokesman: I… Masood, with all due respect, you are not Ms. Fasulo. Linda, please.
Correspondent: I'm sorry.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Not yet anyway. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Going back to…
Spokesman: There's always hope for you, Masood. Go ahead.
Question: Okay. Regard… Going back to the JCPOA, you mentioned that the SG has had contacts with the Trump Administration. I was wondering if he also was having contacts with the other parties to the agreement.
Spokesman: No, as I said, there have been contacts between the UN and the US at different levels. He did. He met with Foreign Minister Zarif just last week, if I'm not mistaken. Yep. Masood… oh, sorry. Go ahead, Linda.
Question: I mean, in case I missed it… Do you want to finish the question? Okay. I may have missed this. But has the SG said anything or been in touch with the Russian Government regarding the re‑election of President [Vladimir] Putin?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General had a phone call with President Putin a few weeks back, soon after the election. Masood?
Question: I heard it right this time. Stéphane‑ji, can you tell me that… it has been reported that Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, has been saying that she has problem understanding Mr. Trump… having communication with Mr. Trump. Does the SG also have the same problem of communication with President of United States?
Spokesman: No. The Secretary‑General has no problems on that front. Yes, sir?
Question: Just a follow‑up on Cuba. Can you tell us anything else about what the Secretary‑General is going to discuss with the President and if he has any particular message?
Spokesman: I think he looks forward to meeting the new leader of Cuba, obviously recently elected. This will be the first time they meet. He looks forward to hearing from the President about his… I think, his vision for the future of Cuba. And the Secretary‑General will also be discussing the issue of UN reform, on the development end and other ends.
Question: Okay. I want to ask about the vacancy for the High Commissioner of Human Rights. Some people have noted that it hasn't yet been put out to advertise, despite the… the… the stated resignation of Prince Zeid. Does the… does the Secretary‑General intend to put it out and have an open process…
Spokesman: I don't think… if I'm not mistaken, I don't think the current High Commissioner resigned. I think he decided not to seek.
Question: Not to seek.
Spokesman: Exactly. Slightly different. There's a procedure for it. I will find out where we are on that procedure…
Question: I guess the main thing would be to know whether he's going to put up…
Spokesman: No, no, I said, I will try to find out what the procedure is…
Question: And I wanted to ask, did you get anything back on… on — it's been a couple of times now — this award received or accepted by Marta Ruedas, who remains a high UN official now in Iraq, from Omar al‑Bashir and how it complies…
Spokesman: I have nothing on that. Thank you.