The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good Afternoon. As we told you yesterday, the Secretary-General will be flying off to Canada tomorrow to attend the G7 Summit in Charlevoix in Quebec. He will participate in an outreach session on “Healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas, coasts and communities” with leaders of the G7, as well as several other countries and heads of international organizations. He also is planning to have a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, as well as some other high-level participants at the Summit. We’ll be efforting to give you as many readouts as we can, and he’ll be back in New York later that evening.
Early this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, departed for Qingdao, China, to participate in the eighteenth meeting of the Council of Heads of State of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That meeting will take place between 9 and 10 June. She will also have bilateral meetings with high‑level officials attending the event in China. The Deputy Secretary‑General will be back in New York over the weekend.
Humanitarian agencies in Yemen say they are deeply worried by the likely impact of a possible military assault on Hodeidah. The United Nations and its partners estimate that as many as 600,000 civilians are currently living in and around Hodeidah. Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said that a military attack or siege on Hodeidah will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Humanitarian organizations have rushed to develop a contingency plan. In a prolonged worst case, she said, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything — including their lives. Ms. Grande said that the top priority is helping to ensure the 22 million Yemenis who need some form of humanitarian aid and protection receive the assistance they need. She warned that cutting off imports through Hodeidah for any length of time will put Yemen’s population at extreme, unjustifiable risk.
Turning to Syria, our humanitarian colleagues inform us that, yesterday, multiple air strikes on Zardana village in Syria’s northern rural Idleb Governorate reportedly killed 45 civilians and injured dozens more. The population of Idleb, estimated at over 2.5 million people, has suffered immensely from more than seven years of conflict. Half of the population are internally displaced, many of whom have been displaced multiple times. The United Nations continues to call on all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians in the conduct of military operations and strictly adhere to international humanitarian law concerning principles of distinction and proportionality.
From South Sudan, we are told that approximately 50,000 people have been displaced in South Sudan’s Leer, Mayendit and Koch Counties, in Unity State, amid a sharp escalation in fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the SPLA-in-Opposition and associated armed groups. According to reports from aid organizations, women, men and children in Leer and Mayendit counties are enduring extreme levels of violence, including gang rapes, forced recruitment and mass killings. Villages have been looted and burnt down, and food reserves have been destroyed in the fighting. Humanitarian organizations are responding to urgent needs with food, health care, safe water, non-food items and emergency shelter in areas that are currently accessible.
In Somalia, our friends at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) tell us that the flooding since April has displaced thousands of children and is putting many of them at risk of malnutrition and other diseases. According to the agency, half of children under 5 — that’s more than 1.25 million — are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. That includes up to 232,000 children who will suffer severe acute malnutrition, which requires specialized life‑saving care. Many of the flood-impacted areas are in the path of an ongoing measles outbreak, and a spike in acute watery diarrhoea/cholera cases is a major threat. UNICEF warned that the crisis is not over, but short-term funding is running out, and this will hurt water, health and nutrition services.
**Central African Republic
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that, yesterday, it dispatched patrols to the Mombae internally displaced people site in Kaga Bandoro, in Nana-Grébizi Prefecture, and secured the area after four unidentified armed individuals entered the camp and stole livestock. This prompted around 80 displaced people to temporarily seek refuge in the UN camp. They have since returned to their site. Meanwhile, amid recent violence in Bambari, in Ouaka Prefecture, MINUSCA has increased patrols to protect civilians in Kouango after receiving information of clashes between two anti-Balaka rival groups that resulted in an unknown number of casualties and triggered population displacement.
Today the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, welcomed the adoption of the Security Council resolution that calls for increasing the role of youth in negotiating and implementing peace agreements. She stated that “the resolution is a strong testament to the increased momentum to advance the youth, peace and security agenda and reaffirms the important role that young people can play in these efforts”.
Today is World Oceans Day. This year’s theme focuses on preventing plastic pollution and encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean. A couple of alarming facts for you: 8 million tons of plastic per year end up in the ocean, wreaking havoc on wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and plastic pollution kills 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals per year. In his message, the Secretary‑General said that we must work individually and collectively to stop marine pollution of all kinds, including plastic. “Action starts at home, and speaks louder than words,” he said, adding that the United Nations aims to lead by example, and that more than 30 agencies have now begun working to end the use of single-use plastic. The Secretary-General will be taking his message to the G7 summit this weekend in Quebec, where he will urge Governments to do more to combat the issue.
I was asked yesterday about a visit, I think by you Matthew, by [football star] Samuel Eto’o to Anglophone Cameroon. UNICEF has told us that this was a private visit to Cameroon, and that this was done completely outside his role as UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador. This pause means you can ask a question. Rodrigo?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Are there… has there been any movement of staff out of Yemen, or are there plans to move any staff out of Yemen?
Spokesman: None that I'm aware of. Staff security is assessed on a daily basis, but I'm not aware of any shift in our… in our posture. Ben and then…?
Question: On the bilats [bilateral meetings] the SG is having, will he be meeting President [Donald] Trump? Which issues will be discussed?
Spokesman: I'm not aware… there's no bilateral schedule with President Trump. As you know, he saw him not too long ago in Washington, D.C., and from what I understand by the Secretary-General's first session, I think it's around 11:15 a.m. on Saturday and from… at least from what I've seen reported, I think the President may no longer be there by then, but anyway, there was nothing scheduled because they saw each other very recently.
Question: I have a question about UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq], but before that any comment about the election of the new five members of Security Council? And then I want to ask about a proposal about the mandate of UNAMI. The proposal is for UNAMI to have a bigger… larger role in solving the issue of disputed territory between Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi Government.
Spokesman: On the first question, the Secretary-General obviously congratulates the five new elected members of the Security Council. He very much looks forward to working with them. On UNAMI, you know, on the issue of Kirkuk, which is what I think you've been asking about, this has been part of UNAMI's mandate since 2003. Since then, if you look back, I think the mandate has been extended every year — most recently last year. The Security Council in its resolution stressed "the importance of the United Nations, in particular UNAMI, in advising, supporting and assisting the Iraqi people […] to advance inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation according to the Constitution, ensure reconciliation efforts are coordinated, facilitate regional dialogue, develop processes acceptable to the Government of Iraq to resolve disputed internal boundaries." The reference to the internal boundaries clearly is with the issue of Kirkuk in mind, and the Mission, since 2003, as we said, has been involved in trying to help the Iraqis solve this issue through dialogue.
Question: …the SG supports a larger role of UNAMI? I know it's been part of the UNAMI's mandate, but the proposal is for the UN to have a larger role to solve this issue?
Spokesman: Look, the mandates are given to us by the Security Council. The role of the UN in Iraq is to assist the Iraqi people in resolving a number of external, but also, obviously, internal issues, including the boundary issue, and we'll continue to be working on that. Abdelhamid and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Two days ago, a young Palestinian, his name is Izz al-Din Tamimi. He's the cousin of Ahed Tamimi, who is in jail. He was killed execution-style at a… they were just two metres away from him in the town of Nabi Saleh. And same day, there was a young girl… 16-year-old, she was run by a settler and killed also. Is the UN aware of these crimes? Have they taken…?
Spokesman: We've seen the reports of… I've seen the press reports. I think it's important that all these cases of loss of life be fully investigated. Matthew?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you. The Foreign Minister of Lebanon has issued a statement that the residency permits of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] staff won't be renewed because he says that the UN system is not… is discouraging people from returning to Syria. And I wanted to know, it's… I mean, he's put it out; it's an official statement of the Government. What does the Secretary-General think about it? Does he… does he see this as a… as a… both an encroachment on UN powers and sort of a… forcing refugees to return?
Spokesman: I just got off the phone with my colleagues at UNHCR. They have not… we've seen the press statements. They have not been formally informed… formally notified of this order. Once they are, they will, obviously, assess it and see what impact it has. I think the bottom line, and for the Secretary‑General this is very important, is that any refugee has to make his or her own decision about going home. It is about returns being voluntary and that the individual makes a decision.
Question: Sure. And then… and maybe they haven't received this thing about the residency permits yet, but the… and I guess in a way… what the Government there is complaining of is that UNHCR is saying to people, like, are you aware of compulsory military service? Are you aware…?
Spokesman: No, no. I've seen the reports. And you know, those detailed questions should be addressed to UNHCR. This is an issue having to do with returning and for the Secretary-General, the most important thing about returns is that they need to be voluntary.
Question: Right. Has he thought of reaching out to the Lebanese Government?
Spokesman: The UNHCR is on the lead on this issue. Yes, sir?
Correspondent: [Bashar al] Assad has come up with a new law. All the refugees…
Spokesman: Who has come up with a new law?
Question: Assad, Syria. You know what I'm saying? Anybody that, you know, have a house over there, they want to take it out from him. They don't want refugees to have… own nothing over there if they don't come back, and the refugees are scared to go back to Syria. What happens with the UN?
Spokesman: Whether in Syria or Myanmar or any other place on earth, refugees have the right to make their own decision about returning home. Nobody should be forced to return home. Any return should be done in a way that is voluntary and that is dignified and people should be able to return to their homes. Evelyn and then Ben.
Question: Thank you, Steph. In the bombing of Idlib today by the Russians, was it proportional? Did you… did you come to a conclusion or is it something…?
Spokesman: We have… the information that we have that's been reported to us is on the number of casualties and an air attack took place. We have no forensic capacity to see… to tell you who would have done the attack. Ben?
Question: Just a quick question on the World Cup. Is the Secretary-General going? Who will he be meeting? Who will he be cheering for? And how much is it costing, the trip?
Spokesman: We are in a… I think in the remarks he made about a week ago at an event sponsored by the Russian Mission, he said he would be going to Russia. This is part of an official visit. He will be going… having bilateral meeting with President [Vladimir] Putin, and he will be attending one game and he will travel commercially, as he does 99 per cent of the time.
Question: And who will he support? Which team is he supporting?
Spokesman: He will be seeing, from what I understand, the Portugal and Morocco game. He remains the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Matthew?
Question: Sure I just… I wanted to see if… if you or he have any comment on… on I guess the… the… the decision in the [Jean-Pierre] Bemba case? Maybe… you know, he was sentenced to 18 years…
Spokesman: I know and we just, you know… I saw the wire copy about an hour ago. I mean, we're… we've taken note of the case. As in other judgments rendered by the ICC [International Criminal Court], we're not commenting on the judgment. What is clear is that for us, the… it is the people who have suffered in the [Central African Republic] deserve justice and deserve accountability.
Question: Okay. And I wanted just to… just to… I guess to put… after this referendum in Burundi, as a big surprise, Pierre Nkurunziza seemed to say that he's not running in 2020, so I guess I just wanted to know is there… has the UN taken note of that? And will they remember that in 2020 when the time comes?
Spokesman: I hope I can remember in 2020 what happened today, but that's always a challenge. We obviously… you know, we learned of the decision… of the announcement made by the President. We take note of the announcement and this is yet another opportunity for us to stress the need for Burundian stakeholders to resume and conclude the dialogue that's being led by the East African Community as soon as possible, and to seek to set the stage for inclusive and credible elections in 2020. In this regard, we will remain committed to continuing to support the efforts of the mediators and facilitators of the dialogue and those of the Burundians themselves.
Question: Great. And just one more I wanted to ask you. At the… at the GA [General Assembly] stakeout, after the… the vote, this is something… I had asked you before once about the… the previous Permanent Representative of El Salvador, Carlos García, took part in some GMO [genetically modified organisms] meeting in ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council]. You may or may not remember that one. The reason I'm asking you… I saw him… he was there speaking with the current… I believe the current [Permanent Representative] of El Salvador. My question is, in the Ng Lap Seng trial that took place last summer, they showed on the screen a… a correspondence by him to the Dominican banking authorities, basically saying let this $50,000 go from Ng Lap Seng to Francis Lorenzo. So, it seemed pretty clear. Maybe the Government chose not to go after him… to pursue the case because he was an ambassador, but it seemed very clear that he was involved in the… the initiative of South-South with Ng Lap Seng to give money to Francis Lorenzo to obtain these various favours. So, I guess my question is, is it automatic that a former Permanent Representative keeps a pass to come in, or is he in the building in some other capacity?
Spokesman: I don't know under what capacity he was in the building.
Question: How would one find that out?
Spokesman: If I can find out, I will. Welcome back. It's been a long time.
Question: The microphone just took a vacation, as well. Okay. My… my question is the various… you might say the G6 of the G7, including many of the European countries, the EU [European Union] members, Germany and France in particular, have taken the position that President Trump's actions on trade defy the post-World War II global order and they want to, in effect, save that from what they consider to be an America-first attitude. I wonder if the Secretary‑General has an opinion, not on the specifics of the trade dispute, but on the more general philosophical issue of whether he thinks that the notion of a global order based on global consensus of rules is in jeopardy, as evidenced by, for example, what's going on with this trade dispute?
Spokesman: It will come as no surprise to you that the Secretary-General believes in the importance of dealing with these issues through the multilateral system, which he supports and which he would hope that all Member States do, as well. Thank you.