The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is in Vienna today, where he had a working lunch with Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, as well as meetings with President Alexander Van der Bellen and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.
In his press remarks after meeting the Chancellor, the Secretary-General welcomed the recent announcement by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea of their intention to close its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri. He said that the irreversible closure of the site will be an important confidence-building measure that will contribute to further efforts towards sustainable peace and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He looks forward to this positive momentum being consolidated at the summit between the leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Secretary-General also said that he was particularly worried today with the news about what’s happening in Gaza, with a high number of people reported killed. Following his meeting with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General said that Israel must calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire. Lethal force should be used only as a last resort, under imminent threat of death or serious injury. And he added that Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations must keep protestors away from the Gaza fence and prevent all violent actions, provocations and attempts to breach the fence.
After his meeting with the President, the Secretary-General thanked Austria as an exemplary host of UN agencies. The Secretary-General then went to the UN headquarters in Austria at the Vienna International Centre, where he met with heads of Vienna-based UN agencies and held a town-hall meeting for staff.
The Secretary-General delivered remarks to the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. In speaking to Commission members, he commended their work and that of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in their efforts to combat the scourge of human trafficking, cybercrime and corruption, among others.
This evening, the Secretary-General will be attending a high-level dinner hosted by Chancellor Kurz for the participants of the R20 Austrian World Summit on Climate, which the Secretary-General will attend on Tuesday.
We will have a full statement about his remarks on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea available shortly.
In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General congratulated the people of Iraq on the holding of parliamentary elections on Saturday. Following the military defeat of Da’esh, the elections represent further progress in building a stronger Iraqi democracy.
The Secretary-General calls on all Iraqi political actors and their supporters to uphold peace as the results are processed. He further urges political actors to resolve any electoral disputes through established legal channels and to complete the electoral process by forming an inclusive Government as soon as possible. The United Nations remains committed to supporting the Government and people of Iraq in this endeavour.
Yesterday, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited the town of Bikoro in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the response to the current Ebola outbreak. WHO is deploying experts and coordinating partners, as well as providing supplies and equipment to the area.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Tedros also met with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila, and the Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga, to review the steps taken so far and agree on the way forward.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has assisted WHO in putting in place an air-bridge between Kinshasa, the town of Mbandaka and affected areas, with flights six days a week. As of today, a total of 39 Ebola cases have been reported in the area in the past five weeks: 2 confirmed, 20 probable (including 18 deaths) and 17 suspected.
This morning, Zahir Tanin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), briefed Security Council members in an open meeting. This past period in Kosovo, he said, was generally characterized by a decline in both the quality of actions and the tenor of political discourse between Pristina and Belgrade. The situation has calmed again with intensive efforts, including with some support from external parties. A new focus by Brussels at all levels, he said, provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for Pristina and Belgrade to leave the current difficult moment behind and to take the dialogue to the next stage of real progress.
Mr. Tanin spoke about the Kosovo Trust-building Forum, held earlier this month in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Representatives of the UN Kosovo team, the European Union, EULEX and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined over 100 community leaders from throughout Kosovo to discuss ways to address common challenges caused by mistrust and stale political approaches. The starting point of the Forum was simple: not to reinvent or reinterpret past events, but to illuminate, guide and pursue a more positive path for the future.
Our colleagues in the peacekeeping Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) this weekend reported a number of indirect fire attacks on their convoys and camps in the Kidal region, in the north of the country. Three peacekeepers were wounded on Sunday morning when their vehicle — which was part of a convoy from Aguelhok to Tessalit — hit an improvised explosive device about 40 km north-west of Aguelhok. The injured peacekeepers were immediately evacuated to Bamako. And in two separate incidents, the UN Mission’s camp in Tessalit came under indirect fire attack on Friday evening, while its camp in Aguelhok came under indirect fire attack on Sunday morning.
At the end of a three-day mission to Sudan, UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock urged the international community to step up its support to the humanitarian response for 7.1 million vulnerable people and called for investment in the country’s development. He also stressed that unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to people in need across Sudan is critical for the delivery of relief. Mr. Lowcock welcomed the Sudanese Government’s efforts to improve humanitarian access to most locations in the country but noted that further measures can be taken to improve the operating environment for humanitarian agencies.
While in Sudan, Mr. Lowcock visited South Kordofan state, where he met with some of the nearly 200,000 people who have been internally displaced by conflict there — most of them women and children. South Kordofan is also hosting thousands of vulnerable returnees, residents and South Sudanese refugees. Mr. Lowcock thanked the Sudanese Government for hosting hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees across the country.
**Central African Republic
Over the weekend, our colleagues from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warned that a dramatic increase in violence in the Central African Republic in the first part of 2018 has forced at least 55,000 people, including 28,600 children, to flee. There are currently an estimated 687,400 internally displaced persons, up from 440,000 in 2017, including more than 357,400 children who lost access to education, health and protection services.
A third of children are currently out of school. Close to half of all children are not fully immunized and 41 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. At least 2.5 million people, including 1.3 million children, are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, but resources are severely limited. As of the end of April, only 15 per cent of UNICEF’s 2018 humanitarian appeal has been funded.
From Syria, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that evacuations following local agreements continue to see people moving from areas in rural Damascus and northern rural Homs, with nearly 30,000 people displaced to the north-west over the last week.
The United Nations was not a party to these evacuation agreements between parties to the conflict. We continue 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. It is 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.
I also want to flag a new report by the World Food Programme (WFP), called World Food Assistance: Preventing Food Crises. Among the most telling findings of the report is the huge amount of money in food assistance costs that could be saved by the taking of preventative action. An end to violent conflict — one of the main drivers of hunger — could reduce food assistance costs by up to 50 per cent per annum.
The report finds that a one-[point] increase in peace and stability on the World Bank’s measure of these conditions — known as the Index of Political Stability and Absence of Violence — could result in a saving of nearly $3 billion, based on 2016 data. In real terms, this would mean WFP would save $300 million a year in Syria and more than $200 million a year in Yemen. You can find the report online.
The World Health Organization today released a step-by-step guide, called REPLACE, for the elimination of industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease.
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack food, baked foods and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. But healthier alternatives can be used that would not affect taste or cost of food. WHO’s guide, called REPLACE, provides six strategic actions to ensure the prompt, complete and sustained elimination of industrially produced trans fats from the food supply. More details are available online.
And after you are done with me, Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will talk to you. Before that, do you have any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, Farhan. Unarmed protesters being executed by snipers — does the Secretary‑General agree with the Palestinian Ambassador that this is a massacre and these deaths amount to war crimes?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has commented on this extensively, as I just mentioned, so I would refer you to his remarks. I do expect that, later this afternoon, hopefully in the next hour or so, we’ll also have a statement containing our thoughts on this matter. We are, of course, concerned about all of the violence. And, again, as the Secretary‑General made clear, Israel has to calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire. We’ve been extremely concerned about that and the idea that it can only be used as a last resort when human life is itself being under threat.
Question: A follow‑up. Should there now be an independent investigation?
Spokesman: At this stage, we’ll have to see what kind of investigation goes into this. Obviously, all of the deaths need to be investigated thoroughly, and we’ll have to see about the quality and credibility of that.
Question: But the UN has the facilities, it has the staff, it has the infrastructure in Gaza to carry out an investigation. Why is the Secretary‑General not ordering an investigation?
Spokesman: Like I said, first, the big priority right now is to make sure that the violence is halted. Beyond that, we will have to see that all of those who have been killed or wounded get the justice served that is needed for what has happened over these days.
Question: But surely an investigation would… would highlight exactly what is going on, and that might help bring the violence to an end?
Spokesman: We have made it clear since the start of this violence that all killings, all of the actual use of force needs to be investigated by the authorities, and we continue to hold that. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Right. The Secretary‑General, in his discussions in Austria, did he say anything with the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s Freedom Party, FPÖ… did he say anything about immigration, human rights and other things that this party has… is on the other side of history?
Spokesman: Well, he deals with human rights at all of his stops when he travels, and he is doing so here. But, regarding the specific issues, I would refer you again to the remarks he made after his meetings with Chancellor Kurz and President Van der Bellen.
Question: I saw one… two sets of remarks. Immigration was not mentioned, and… it’s a populist party that won on the basis of hating Slovenes.
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General, as you know, is a passionate advocate for the rights of refugees and migrants, and he is… and he will do the same in his meetings here. Yes?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask about Burundi and something that the Secretary‑General did say in Vienna. In Burundi, as you… 26 people were killed in Cibitoke, which is a… on the border, and it’s a pretty large number. And two journalists that were investigating it were detained. Their files were seized. And I’m just wondering, the run‑up to the election, given the UN’s role there, including Mr. [Michel] Kafando, what does the UN have to say about this murder of 26 people?
Spokesman: Of course, we’re concerned about any violence in the run‑up to the elections. We wanted and have made clear the idea that voting needs to be held in a free and fair atmosphere where people can vote without fear. Regarding the views of Michel Kafando, the Special Envoy, he’s expected to brief the Security Council later this month, I believe in a little over a week from now, around the 24th. And so he’ll express his views at that point. But, certainly, we are concerned about any violence and want it to be investigated thoroughly.
Question: And I wanted to ask, in Vienna, what he said…
Spokesman: Hold on.
Correspondent: Well, you just… I have another question.
Spokesman: Yeah, but it’s on a separate topic. There’s another hand up in the air. I’ll get back to you. Yeah?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Does the Secretary believe that the moving of the US Embassy and the celebrations of that today is contributing in any way to the developments in Gaza and in that area?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve already expressed the Secretary‑General’s concerns about any unilateral steps being taken. As you know, the Secretary‑General believes that Jerusalem is a final‑status issue that is to be negotiated by the parties. And so we’ve expressed our concerns on that. That’s as much as we have to say on that at this point. Yes?
Question: In his… in his town-hall meeting in… in Vienna, seems that the Secretary‑General said sexual exploitation and abuse is not relevant in Geneva, in the context of, I guess, saying that anything that happens in the UN system is sexual harassment. What I’m wondering, is, if in the case, for example, of Luiz Loures, where the allegation is actual physical action and abuse and in a case… a separate case in the UN Support Office on Somalia where the allegation is paying for sex, how is it… can you explain such a comment? I’d just like to understand how the Secretary‑General believes that sexual exploitation and abuse is not an issue in the UN system.
Spokesman: These categories differ between the treatment of people who are beneficiaries of the UN, people, in other words, who are dependent upon us and whether they are being exploited in any way, and, on the other hand, any sort of infractions that occur within the United Nations system, in other words, within and among UN personnel.
Question: But can you understand why, like, say, physical sexual abuse within the UN system, why would this be characterised as harassment if, in fact, it’s a physical crime?
Spokesman: Well, the difference in nomenclature should not create any false impression that one category is lesser than the other. It’s not. These are all serious categories, and they comprise a variety of different offences.
Question: Does… okay. In… in… in… in re‑opening the investigation of Luiz Loures, does the Secretary‑General understand that the allegation is not just… not to say just, but involves physical actions by… by… by the…?
Spokesman: We’re aware of the nature of the allegations that are being investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Yes?
Question: Pardon me. Thank you, Farhan. There are reports in US newspapers that the [Donald] Trump Administration is going to cut off money for Ebola. Have you heard anything like that? And the reason is because it was a cause for [Barack] Obama, and he can’t possibly do the same thing.
Spokesman: I’m not aware of these reports. Obviously, I’ve just given you an update about our own efforts in combatting Ebola. We hope and expect that we will get the funding that’s needed by Member States in order to contain and combat this scourge. Yes, in the back?
Question: I have a question on Kosovo. Is there any expectation that a breakthrough is going to be happen today in the Security Council?
Spokesman: You can follow the events in the Security Council. It’s a discussion and one of the periodic discussions we have of the Mission, and you’ll have seen from Mr. Tanin in his briefing his own expectations, his hope that at least the sort of tensions we’ve seen in recent weeks can be contained. Richard?
Question: Farhan, on the [Secretary‑General’s] visit to Washington, you stated the dates and you were asked Friday about what he might do. I… but to probe a little deeper, it’s a… the visit comes at another interesting time in global tensions. This is a Secretary‑General that doesn’t want to anger President Trump, but needs the US money, but also the US is opposed to whatever the Secretary‑General may believe regarding the Middle East, the Iran deal. They might agree on North Korea. Can we go a little deeper here and find out what really is the approach of the Secretary‑General’s team as they head to Washington at this time? Good time for a visit? Bad time? What do they need? What do they want?
Spokesman: Well, every time for a visit is a good time. The Secretary‑General, as with his predecessors, makes it a point to visit Washington frequently because of the nature of the strong US‑UN relationship, and we’ll continue to keep our partners, including, in this trip, President Trump, apprised of the sort of work we do and how we can move forward on our issues of mutual concern. Yeah?
Question: Sure. On Friday, Ng Lap Seng of South‑South News and other fame was sentenced to 48 months in prison for what’s described as bribery of officials at the UN. I did see that the… the… the… somehow part of the settlement was that the UN’s legal fees would be paid. So, I had two questions. Number one, how much are those legal fees? Number two, in the second what’s described as a UN bribery case involving Patrick Ho and the China Energy Fund Committee (CEFC), has the UN as of yet rung up any… any legal fees? And has there as yet been any audit ordered as was audit… ordered in the case of Ng Lap Seng and South‑South News? And, if not, why not?
Spokesman: Regarding the second question, that’s an ongoing case, and we’ll have more details as it proceeds. Regarding the first, the United Nations had cooperated extensively to facilitate the proper administration of justice in the Ng Lap Seng case by disclosing thousands of documents and waiving the immunity of officials to allow them to testify at trial. In this regard, the organisation notes the court’s award of $302,000 in restitution to be paid to the United Nations as a victim of these crimes. Nizar?
Question: My que… I have a follow‑up question… One of the people that testified was… was the person that worked in DGACM [Department of General Assembly and Conference Management] and actually changed the GA resolution to put in the name of Sun Kiang Ip foundation as the builder of the… the… the centre in Macau. Was anything ever done on that? I think, if you follow the case, you know that that took place. Yes, bribes were paid allegedly and now convictedly [sic] to… to John Ashe and Francis Lorenzo, but a… a UNGA [United Nations General Assembly] document, once it was passed, was amended by DGACM. Who did that? And… and… and are they being held accountable?
Spokesman: The person who testified in this case has retired from the United Nations. Yes?
Question: Now, Farhan, with the high number of casualties in Gaza and Qalandia and even in Jerusalem itself, is the United Nations planning to expedite any aid, like medical aid, to the victims and to the authorities there to help them alleviate the situation?
Spokesman: We are trying to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. We are aware of the high number of injuries, and our Humanitarian Coordinator on the ground has issued a statement about his concerns, but we’re certainly trying to do what we can to support the local health institutions. Come on up, Brenden.