The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
First off, I have a travel announcement for you; we had announced earlier that, starting this weekend, the Secretary-General will travel first to Vienna and then to Brussels. I can inform you that, following those stops, the Secretary‑General will be in Washington, D.C., starting on Thursday, 17 May. He will have meetings on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and key officials in the United States Administration. And on Saturday, 19 May, the Secretary-General will deliver the commencement address at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He will return to New York following that event.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) said today they have estimated figures showing a total of 32 Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the period between 4 April and 9 May. WHO and Médecins sans Frontières already have a response team on the ground and a second team is being set up, with between 20 and 40 specialists in epidemiology, logistics, social mobilization, contact-tracing and vaccination programmes. Personal protective equipment has been deployed and we hope that mobile laboratory facilities will be functioning by the weekend. Access to the area is extremely problematic, as it is 15 hours by motorcycle from the closest town; WHO is discussing with the World Food Programme (WFP) the possibility of clearing the runway in Bikoro and setting up an air bridge.
The outbreak is of particular concern as it has already been identified in three locations over a range of 60 kilometres. Furthermore, three health workers are already known to have been infected, one of them having died yesterday. WHO is therefore planning for all scenarios, included the worst-case scenario. It has released $1 million from its contingency fund on the day the outbreak has been declared. And Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock has announced an immediate $2 million allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund to help humanitarian partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo fight and contain this new outbreak of Ebola.
On South Sudan, three senior United Nations officials today strongly condemned the recent escalation of violence in former Unity state and urged all parties to end the attacks against civilians, especially women and children. In the last two weeks, reports from the former Unity State indicate intense fighting between Government forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and the SPLA-in Opposition (SPLA-IO). Preliminary investigations by the United Nations have uncovered alarming patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses, including killings, pillaging, abductions, rape and gang-rape committed by both parties during the fighting, leading to forced displacement of the population. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, said these violations could constitute atrocity crimes. They added that sexual violence as a widespread and systematic tactic of war continues in South Sudan, reportedly to punish civilians who are perceived to be associated with a particular political or ethnic group. There are more details in a joint communiqué available online.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, will travel to Sudan and South Sudan from 12 to 16 May to see first-hand the protracted humanitarian situation in Sudan and the devastating consequences of ongoing violence in South Sudan. While in Sudan, from 12 to 14 May, Mr. Lowcock will meet people displaced by conflict in South Kordofan and engage with senior Government officials and humanitarian partners in Khartoum. Sudan is one of the world’s largest protracted emergencies with at least 5.5 million people in need of assistance. The humanitarian community has appealed for $1 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need in 2018, of which $229 million has been received. In South Sudan, from 15 to 16 May, Mr. Lowcock will witness the current humanitarian situation there and call for urgent action to alleviate suffering. The crisis in South Sudan continues to grow in severity, scale and scope with 7.1 million people at risk of becoming severely food insecure in the coming months. South Sudan’s Humanitarian Response plan is currently just 14 per cent funded, leaving a gap of nearly $1.5 billion.
In Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, has welcomed the commitment by the Government to improve the human rights situation, but he also urged more action to end attacks on civilians, mainly by extremists, and the continued discrimination against Afghan women at all levels of society. “What would send a strong signal to men who continue to violently abuse women with impunity would be to start seriously prosecuting them,” Mr. Gilmour said. He also urged the authorities to investigate and prosecute military or civilian perpetrators of sexual abuse of boys. And in his meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday, Mr. Gilmour welcomed the President’s clear commitment to take additional measures to protect civilians, despite extremely difficult circumstances. More details on his visit can be found on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) website.
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, met in Moscow today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and he warned that the United Nations is very concerned that there is a conflagration of conflicts currently in the Middle East that are raising tensions on all levels, including the situation in Syria, the situation in Yemen, and the Palestinian track. He said he was particularly worried about the US Embassy move to Jerusalem on Monday and the planned protests in Gaza. He once more called on Israel to be very careful and calibrated in how it uses force in addressing the protestors in Gaza. And he also called on Hamas and the leaders of the protests in Gaza to prevent friction and to prevent situations in which provocations can happen. His remarks are online.
Yesterday, two groups of people reportedly reached the Al-Madiq Castle crossing point after being evacuated from northern rural Homs to the north-western parts of Syria. One of the two groups was reportedly denied entry to Al Bab City and forced to return to the crossing point after waiting for 37 hours. The total number of people evacuated from northern rural Homs was 6,194 as of yesterday. The freedom of movement of civilians must be ensured by all parties on the ground. Any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and in strict accordance with protection standards under international law. The United Nations continues to call 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. 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.
In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General congratulated Malaysia on the peaceful holding of national and state legislative elections and commended the people of Malaysia for their strong commitment to the democratic process. The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement of the formation of a new Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and he paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak. The Secretary-General looks forward to further working closely with Malaysia on issues of mutual interest.
We also issued a statement in which the Secretary-General welcomed the trilateral summit held between Japan, China and the Republic of Korea on 9 May in Tokyo, the support of the leaders of the three countries to the Panmunjom Declaration and their cooperation for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary-General hopes that the joint resolve of the countries in Northeast Asia will strengthen the path to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in the region.
Since the onset of the rainy season in East Africa, consistent and heavy rains have caused flash and river flooding in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Flooding has resulted in the displacement of 151,000 people in the Somali region of Ethiopia and 311,100 people in Kenya. In Somalia, flooding has affected 718,000 people, including the displacement of 220,000 people in the southern and central regions of the country. Respective Governments and humanitarian partners are providing assistance but the delivery of aid is being impeded by resource constraints. In Ethiopia, urgent interventions are required to prevent the re‑emergence of acute watery diarrhoea outbreaks in the Somali region. The Kenya Red Cross Society has reported an urgent need to replenish non-food stocks and $23.8 million are critically required for assistance in Somalia.
I want to flag that tomorrow is World Migratory Bird Day, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of protecting migratory birds and their habitats all around the world. The Secretary-General says that migratory birds connect people, ecosystems and nations and are symbols of peace and of an interconnected planet. He adds that the Day is a reminder that ecosystems worldwide are threatened by climate change and urged governments and people everywhere to take concerted conservation action that will help to ensure the birds’ survival — and our own.
And today, we are pleased to thank our friends in Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania and the United Kingdom. The three Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full. This takes the Honour Roll to 93.
We will have, after I am done, Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. And then I’ll be joined by Gordon Brown, the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, who is meeting right now with the Secretary-General and receiving a petition from youth advocates calling for more investment on education. We’ll also be joined by Annette Dixon, the World Bank’s Vice-President of Human Development; Luis Alberto Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank; and Jakaya Kikwete, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Commissioner with the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity. Anything for me before we get to Brenden? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane… thank you, Farhan. I'm sorry. Two questions. In the… in the… in that… in Middle East, the situation is that it seems that there's going to be a war any time, and a nuclear war and so forth. And the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has been responsible for all the nuclear… what do you call… weapons being carried by the people. I know that Israel has not allowed any access to IAEA or anybody else, but does the United Nations know how much of an arsenal… a nuclear arsenal does Israel have? At last count it was 200. Is it more than that? What is the situation?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have, of course, called for all countries, all Member States, to abide… to sign and abide by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and, of course, we continue to do that, but you're quite right that the International Atomic Energy Agency does not have access to Israel. It did mention earlier this week, by the way, that it continues its activities in Iran. Yes, Sherwin?
Question: On the same thing, on the same thing. Russia has said that the United States withdrawing from the… I mean reneging from the deal… Iran deal, is a violation of the Security Council resolution. Does the Secretary-General also believe it's a violation of the Security Council resolution?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you've seen what we have said about this, and we stand by what the Secretary-General has said. Regarding questions of Security Council resolutions, I would refer you to the text of resolution 2231 (2015), but it's up to the members of the Council to determine if resolutions are not being implemented and if so what to do about it. Yes?
Question: Farhan, I had a couple of questions regarding Stéphane's response to calls from civil society for Michel Sidibé, the head of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS], to step down over his handling of sexual harassment claims. Steph [Dujarric] said that the Secretary-General feels Michel Sidibé has done a good job at UNAIDS, especially on issues of gender, and fully supports him. Why did the Secretary-General decide to express his full support, given the serious allegations that Mr. Sidibé is facing, and given the fact that the investigation has been reopened?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we have taken the decision to reopen the investigation. As you know, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is now looking into the matter. Obviously, we would… we'll go by whatever their conclusions are once they have gone about their work. Regarding Mr. Sidibé's leadership of UNAIDS, the position is as Stéphane has expressed it and continues to be the case.
Question: So, could I ask then does the Secretary-General also fully support Martina Brostrom, who has accused Mr. Sidibé of a cover-up?
Deputy Spokesman: We want to help all the sides of this case get to the bottom of this, which is why the decision was taken to reopen this. It was felt that the previous investigation needed ultimately to have a proper follow-up, and that's what we're doing.
Question: But, you do agree that there are claims against Mr. Sidibé? So, for the Secretary-General to come out and fully support him, given the allegations against him, seems odd to people sitting on this side of the room. I mean, do you know something that we don't?
Deputy Spokesman: This is support for Mr. Sidibé and his work at UNAIDS. I can't speculate or prejudge what the Office of Internal Oversight Services will say as they look into the [Luiz] Loures case. They are free to do so, and then we will evaluate that accordingly once they've done that. Hold on. You, please?
Question: Thanks. Do you have any information about Amina's [Mohammed] visit to Cuba?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, I believe we had pointed out that the Deputy Secretary-General is visiting Cuba, so we have the announcement that went out yesterday. Beyond that, there's nothing further to share today. Yes?
Question: Sure. Beyond the reopening and… and whatever… you know, OIOS's reinvestigation of the Loures case, there was the widely reported speech by Mr. Sidibé to staff, saying Mr. Loures is a great man and those of you who come out against him will be investigated. This was reported in The Guardian with direct quotes, and I guess, I think… I wanted to ask you, totally outside… is OIOS looking at threats of retaliation attributed to Mr. Sidibé by many participants in that meeting in an article published in The Guardian, and what is… Mr. [António] Guterres as the head of the system, does he believe that was a… a… a speech that's consistent with the non-retaliation principles that he espouses?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it's up to OIOS to determine. The Office of Internal Oversight Services determines what they'll look into. I'll leave that matter in their hands. Regarding the ability of people to speak out obviously, the Secretary-General believes that all staff of all the UN bodies have the right to speak out if they feel that there has been any sort of wrongdoing, and that they shouldn't feel silenced or impeded in any way.
Question: But, if the Secretary-General is sort of… if you've just said that he'll… he's… obviously will defer to the OIOS's findings, does he understand what the scope of the review is? Is the review of the… of the… the abuse alleged by Mr. Loures, or is it of a speech after Mr. Loures was cleared by Mr. Sidibé to staff?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, like I said, it's up to the Office of Internal Oversight Services itself to determine what avenues it wishes to pursue. We'll provide information about the investigation once addition once it's completed. Yes? Sorry, sorry. Evelyn hasn't had a chance, and then you can go. No, Evelyn first.
Question: Sorry to keep belabouring UNAIDS. The entire case… does the Secretary-General know this is as political as it is legal? And is he aware of what happened when Mr. [Kofi] Annan defended Mr. [Ruud] Lubbers and Mark Malloch Brown had to come out and change it? Because right now, it's damaging the UN reputation, and saying there's another investigation… there's always another investigation. The man… to clear him would be difficult. It's not just one woman. It's just one woman now knows how to hit the media.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary-General is very well versed in the history of the Ruud Lubbers case. As you'll recall, he was the High Commissioner of Refugees who replaced Mr. Lubbers. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On this situation in Gaza and West Bank, one person was killed today after the Friday prayers, and there was more than that. And Israel has been… what do you call… killing people in the Gaza, especially around Friday, as a ritual. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say as to what is happening? And has he talked to anybody in Israel about the use of extreme force against these people?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, you heard what I had to say at the start of this briefing about the remarks by Mr. Mladenov that he made in Moscow. Beyond that, we reiterate the calls we have been making for all sides to exercise restraint and to refrain from violent actions, incitement or provocations that may lead to an escalation of the situation. It's imperative that children should not be put in harm's way during these events. We also reiterate calls for measured response by security forces, proportionate to threat and ensuring protection of civilians. Yes?
Question: Just a clarification on OIOS. Are you saying they have free rein to follow what… whatever avenue they think is appropriate? So it would include the original investigation which was… which doubts have been cast over, and the reaction of the… of the executive director? Am I understanding you correctly?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not speculating what exactly they are looking into at this point. That is their purview.
Question: Should we not know what they're looking into, Farhan? I mean, what are they investigating?
Deputy Spokesman: We… when we made the announcement, we had mentioned that they were… that the Loures case was being reopened and the Office of Internal Oversight Services was looking into it. We will provide details once they've completed their work.
Question: Why not before?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, because we don't provide updates on investigations as they proceed. We wait for them to be completed.
Question: But, surely you do provide a mandate or a scope of, you know, reference to what they are looking at? It seems strange that you won't provide that now.
Deputy Spokesman: What I'm saying is I don't want to speculate in what avenues they will look at. It will become clear once they've completed their work. Yes?
Question: Sure. I guess it's just a request to have Heidi Mendoza, I don't think, has done a press conference since she's been head of OIOS, and previous heads of OIOS have done this, so could you consider this a request that she, both on this this issue and generally on the work of OIOS, have a press conference?
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. I mean, I know from past experiences with past heads of OIOS, that they tend not to comment on ongoing cases, but yes, we can make a request for her to do a briefing.
Question: I want to ask you about Côte d’Ivoire. The Malian president is in Abidjan, and it's reported that… that Côte d’Ivoire is going to give 400 peacekeeping troops to… to MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali], and I know that when… when the Secretary-General met with the foreign minister here, it was said by him at the stakeout, by the foreign minister, that they intend to give 450 troops in Central African Republic. Are… are these both true? Is Côte d’Ivoire going to be produce… providing 850 peacekeeping troops to two missions and… and what timeframe?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, ultimately, it's… you know, we don't… we confer first with Member States about what kind of contributions that they'll make. Obviously, at this stage we don't have a firm announcement to make about these contributions. But, what we try to do is work out with different Member States where the contributions can best be used.
Correspondent: But, he seemed… the foreign minister, standing at the stakeout… the UN Security Council stakeout on UN-TV, said 450 to CAR [Central African Republic], so it seemed like on their side, they made that commitment.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, but that is something that remains to be discussed with peacekeeping to see where best and how best we can use troops. Yes?
Question: Regarding the Secretary-General's visit next week to Washington, D.C., obviously, he's going to be addressing academia and Georgetown University students and meeting lawmakers on Capitol Hill, so what's the message he's going to be bringing to town there? Is he going to plead for something over there?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, whenever the Secretary-General travels to Washington, he tries to encourage support for our issues of mutual concern from our friends in the US Government, and he'll do that at this point. And we'll try to share his commencement message when we can do that, but as you know, he's been warning in his different speeches, including to students, about the problems that the world faces and the need for a collective response to deal with them. Yes, you and then you.
Question: Sure I wanted to ask. Yesterday, I had asked Stéphane about the… the… the compacts and also the public financial disclosure on the Secretary‑General's website. He said he would look into why both… just as an example Under-Secretaries-General [Jean-Pierre] Lacroix and [Alison] Smale don't… there's… there's no… they're not included on the list. Do you have an answer on that?
Deputy Spokesman: No, no, I don't. But, the general point is that there is an option, a voluntary option, to have your disclosure put on the website. We encourage openness among the senior officials to do that, but for a variety of reasons, they may find it best not to do that. The fact that their names are not on the website does not mean that they have not made the disclosures. Everyone who's a senior official has made their disclosures to our firms.
Question: Right, but does it mean that they have chosen to opt out of the public financial disclosure?
Deputy Spokesman: Either that or it hasn't been uploaded so far.
Question: And I wanted to ask about the compact. I'm sorry, this is on the same topic. Yesterday, Stéphane said these compacts are… are representative of transparency, et cetera. So, I wanted to know. I've seen some of them, but are they… are these compacts meant to be available to the public? And also, it seems that, at least as I've seen them, that Jan Beagle, there is no compact, or as of yesterday late afternoon. Although other Under-Secretaries-General had a 2018 compact, Department of Management did not. Is there a reason for that?
Deputy Spokesman: I think Stéphane said all we have had to say about the compacts yesterday. I don't have anything to add. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you have any update about Yemen?
Deputy Spokesman: For today, no. We'll try to get further updates as we get them. You know, we have been having our concerns, as you know, about humanitarian access and we'll continue to do that. Meanwhile, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths continues his work with the parties. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I did not pick up… maybe you did say. How many Palestinian children are now in Israeli… incarcerated by Israel, at this point? Do you have a number on that at all?
Deputy Spokesman: The information we got from human rights groups who we coordinate with is that as of the end of March, the number was at about 300. Come on up, Brenden.