The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, said today in a statement that he is extremely concerned about the military developments in Hodeidah. Further military escalation will have serious consequences on the dire humanitarian situation in the country and will have an impact on his efforts to resume political negotiations to reach an inclusive political settlement to the conflict in Yemen. He reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict. Mr. Griffiths said he is in constant contact with all the parties involved to negotiate arrangements for Hodeidah that would address political, humanitarian and security concerns of all concerned parties. He calls on the parties to engage constructively with the UN efforts to spare Hodeidah any military confrontation. He also calls on the parties to exercise restraint and to give peace an opportunity.
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are present in Hodeidah and we continue to work to deliver the most critical programmes in partnership with local organizations. Humanitarian partners are positioning 70,000 rapid response kits at humanitarian service points across the governorate, including in Hodeidah City. Rapid response kits include food rations for a family for two weeks, as well as hygiene items and other essential goods. They are intended to cover people’s most immediate needs in line with planning projections. Partners will provide rapid response kits to the newly displaced families. In addition, vulnerable families are receiving monthly food rations, hygiene kits, non-food‑item kits, emergency shelter kits and protection services. Partners are also providing fuel for water pumps and emergency rooms, as well as sewage pumps and support for health‑care services. All parties must uphold their obligation to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including by ensuring access and refraining from targeting humanitarian supplies or other assets. Aid operations will be severely challenged in the event of sustained fighting in densely populated urban areas. People seeking to flee conflict-affected areas must be allowed to do so without any hindrance. We will be updating on the situation in Hodeidah as we get more information.
Turning to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, has invited senior Iranian, Russian and Turkish officials to Geneva for consultations on 18 and 19 June on the way ahead in the establishment of a constitutional committee, and they have accepted, he has told us. The Special Envoy will in addition be inviting other countries for relevant discussions in due course. He will update the press corps during a press encounter in Geneva tomorrow. Meanwhile, we continue to be deeply concerned for the safety and protection of up to 2.5 million civilians in Idleb Governorate, including some 1.2 million internally displaced people, following continued air strikes in the area. At least 66 women, children and men have reportedly lost their lives and scores more have been injured in air strikes over the past week. Our humanitarian colleagues also continue to receive alarming reports of air strikes endangering and killing civilians in Hassakeh Governorate, following a recent intensification of anti-Da’esh operations.
According to a new study by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), infant mortality, which, in most parts of the world is decreasing, has not declined for the last decade in Gaza. The Director of UNRWA's Health Department, Dr. Akihiro Seita, said that this is an extraordinary warning sign and an alarming trend in the overall situation not only of health for infants but also the health of the entire Palestine refugee population in Gaza. Infant mortality is a barometer of the health of an entire population. The new study found that the infant mortality rate among Palestine refugees in Gaza was 22.7 per 1,000 live births. This is within the same range of the previously reported [rate] of 22.4 per 1,000 live births in 2015 and 20.2 per 1,000 live births from the study conducted in 2006.
Back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Africa, François Louncény Fall, briefed the Security this morning, warning that serious threats remained on the political, security and socioeconomic stability in the region. All 11 countries that are under his area are either in the middle or at the start of an electoral cycle, he noted. They are experiencing political tensions, including countries impacted by conflict, such as the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr. Fall detailed recent political developments in Chad, Gabon, Congo and Burundi. He also stressed that violence in Cameroon, both linked to Boko Haram and to tensions in the Anglophone regions, were a source of major concern. The United Nations will continue to call on all people to refrain from any act of violence, he said. Mr. Fall also stressed that the situation in the Central African Republic continues to have a negative impact on the situation in the region, with massive movements of population.
Yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, said he is increasingly concerned by the situation in the Sahel, where nearly 6 million people are struggling to meet their daily food needs. Severe malnutrition is also threatening the lives of 1.6 million children in the region. These are levels unseen since the crisis of 2012, and the most critical months are still ahead. The crisis has been triggered by scarce and erratic rainfall in 2017, which resulted in acute water, crop and pasture shortages and livestock losses. With support from the United Nations and its partners, national authorities in the impacted countries have developed response plans focusing on pastoral and food security needs. A scale-up in operations to reach 3.6 million people with food security interventions is already under way. However, the United Nations response plans across the six countries are only 26 per cent funded. Mr. Lowcock called on donors to urgently provide further funding, adding that the worst could still be averted.
**Greece-The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
And in a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement settling the difference between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the so-called “name issue”. The Secretary‑General commended the parties for their determination to bring this long‑standing dispute to an end, and he also paid tribute to his Personal Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, who, he said, “embodied the values of perseverance, patience and quiet diplomacy” in facilitating this historic agreement. That statement, and one from Mr. Nimetz himself, have been distributed.
We also issued a statement yesterday from the Secretary-General welcoming the formation of a new Government in Madagascar and the recent appointment of Christian Ntsay as Prime Minister. The Secretary-General appealed to all political actors to strengthen [dialogue] in the country and reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to support peaceful, credible and inclusive elections this year.
Our colleagues at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today released a study that says that at least 2.5 million migrants were smuggled worldwide in 2016. Migrant smuggling occurred in all regions of the world and generated an income for smugglers of $7 billion that year. The study found that smugglers advertise their business where migrants can easily be reached. This includes neighbourhoods that are home to diaspora communities, refugee camps or various social networks online. The report recommends making regular migration opportunities more accessible in origin countries and refugee camps, improving international cooperation to tackle smuggling networks, and raising awareness in communities of origin about the dangers involved in smuggling.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its Global Soil Partnership today launched a new programme to boost soil productivity and reduce soil degradation for greater food and nutrition security in Africa. The Afrisoils programme aims to increase soil productivity in 47 African countries by 30 per cent, and reduce soil degradation by 25 per cent. Africa is the second driest continent, with nearly half of its surface made up of desert, and 40 per cent of it affected by desertification. Out of the 815 million undernourished people globally, 243 million are from Africa.
Today is International Albinism Awareness Day. In his message, the Secretary-General urged for more to be done globally to raise awareness about the challenges that people with albinism face so they can live free of discrimination, and he commends the Regional Action Plan on Albinism in Africa, which has been endorsed by the African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights, as well as by the Pan African Parliament. Masood, you seem very eager this morning. Yes, sir?
**Questions and Answers
Correspondent: Stéphane, on this… two things, two questions. One is about North Korea and why… what… I mean, the… it seems that the United Nations not… not kept in the loop by the [Donald] Trump Administration or the North Koreans as to what was the deal that it was… because it's very unclear exactly what has been achieved and what is still left to be achieved.
Spokesman: I think, as the Secretary‑General said to you a couple of days ago, the United Nations is not protagonist in these talks. The Secretary‑General and the United Nations system is there to assist the parties and others in trying to reach the goal of denuclearization. Contacts will be had with various parties, and we will see how we can assist. And that was also the very clear message from the Director‑General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Question: On this situation in Yemen where the Saudi‑led Coalition is about to attack or has already attacked the port city with ABI and the port city of Yemen and so forth, does… is United Nations aware? because the appeals by the UN Special Coordinators and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]…
Spokesman: I think we're… Masood, with all due respect, I think we're much more than just aware. As you know, our… we continue to have UN staff in Hodeidah Governorate. We are there to stay and to deliver trying to help in whatever way we can to appease… to make this humanitarian situation slightly better. There are millions of people at the risk of being impacted in what is already a disastrous situation. Martin Griffiths who leads the UN's political efforts is in Amman. He's been in touch with all the parties. And the underlying message continues to be the same, that there is no solution but a political solution, and that continues to be the message we delivered to the parties. Excuse me?
Question: Has he talked to anybody in Saudi Arabia? Has he talked… Secretary‑General talked to Saudi partners or Saudi Arabians…?
Spokesman: Mr. Griffiths is in touch with all the parties. Mr. Klein and then Edie.
Question: Yes. Does the Secretary… does the Secretary‑General have any opinion on whether individuals who flee gang violence or domestic violence should be eligible for asylum in the country to which they flee to?
Spokesman: Look, there is a global discussion going on under the aegis of the United Nations on migration, on this mass movement of people, which includes discussions for… between countries of origin, countries of transit, countries of destination to try to come up with solutions that respect the sovereign rights of every Member State. There is international refugee law which needs to be respected, and obviously, Member States have the sovereign right to decide on policy.
Correspondent: Yeah, but under that refugee convention, as I recall, the criteria really relate to persecution based on specific criteria like national origin, religions, et cetera, and normally, it's persecution by the Government that triggers the rights and obligations…
Spokesman: International refugee law says what it says. It is important that anyone seeking refugee status be treated with respect and with dignity. Edie? I will come back to you. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. The Secretary‑General said in his statement yesterday welcoming the decision of the Prime Ministers of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the agreement on a name for Macedonia, now North Macedonia, that he hoped that this would spur other conflict countries to follow suit and reach similar agreements. Did he have any conflict in mind in?
Spokesman: I think any place where there continues to be violence and conflict is a place the Secretary‑General was thinking about. I think we see with the name issue, it's taken a long time, but conflict was avoided. And it is the power of diplomacy in a sense, but we talk about other conflicts here every day about the need for political solutions, whether it's in Yemen or in Syria, and I think the Secretary‑General would like all the parties involved in those conflicts to heed his call. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, on Yemen, first, whe… who the UN thinks is… is calling the shots. All… the various calls that were made to not begin the assault which began last night, many people are saying the UAE [United Arab Emirates] as opp… not as opposed to but along with Saudi Arabia, but that the UAE is very central to it. And so, I guess I… and they made the threat. The Foreign Minister of the UAE said, 48 hours and we're going in. Did the Secretary‑General or Mart… or… or Mr. Martin Griffiths… at what level have they reached out to the UAE to…?
Spokesman: They've reached to… they've been speaking to various parties to those who have influence on the parties, but I'm not going to get into details about that.
Question: And I'm asking in part because former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino León, with some fanfare, went to be… is a… I don't know if he's the head of, but he's a major figure in the UAE Diplomatic Academy…?
Spokesman: I recall.
Question: Yeah, exactly. So, I guess I'm wondering… obviously, he's no longer with the UN, but I would assume he's someone that UN people know… this seems like a diplomatic gambit to make a threat…
Spokesman: I'm not aware that Mr. León has had any contact with anyone at the UN.
Question: Okay. And I guess, given… given that… that… the… the statement by UNICEF about the impact on children in… in Hodeidah — and this was a statement made before the assault began — and given the… the… the children and armed conflict mandate, would you say that this is inconsistent with having listed the Coalition, or does it cause a rethinking of listing the Coalition as one that takes children's safety seriously?
Spokesman: The safety and the violence… the safety of children, the violence caused upon children, is one of great concern to the Secretary‑General that has been going on in Yemen. There is a process under which the report of… the Secretary‑General's report on children and armed conflict is being produced. It should be coming out soon-ish. That report will look back at 2017, and you'll be free to make your own analysis. Mr. Roth?
Correspondent: Thank you. If you could speak more directly to the mic — it could be the distance — it's hard to hear you back here.
Spokesman: We're both getting old, Richard. What can I tell you?
Question: All right. Well, one of us. I'm Benjamin Button. The Middle East. You're going to have a big vote today. And you've talked about it in other days, but is the idea of the Secretary‑General taking action, fact‑finding mission, the resolution will vote — is he going to take actual action, or this whole idea dead about…?
Spokesman: The General Assembly is discussing the issue of… the issue you mentioned this afternoon at 3 p.m. I think Brenden [Varma] will have more details on it. We will, obviously, take note and act upon whatever is requested of the Secretary‑General by the resolution, but we have to see what the Member States come up with and what they agree on. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. In Austria, a few days ago, the Government shut down seven mosques and kicked out 50 imams with no real explanation. I came to the Spokesman office. I asked about it, and the Deputy Spokesman said that we are waiting for a statement from the human rights groups. Was there any statement, first?
Spokesman: I don't know if anything came out of the High Commissioner for Human Rights office.
Question: So, can I ask you to follow up with that, and see why this massive expulsion…?
Spokesman: Yeah. Yeah, we will follow up. Ask your second question, sir.
Question: Okay. My second question, last Friday, there were four people killed, including the child… a child of 15 years old — his name is Haitham Mohammed Khalil al Jamal. He was 15. Together with three others, and about 237 were wounded, including journalists, 11 children, women and paramedics. Not one single statement, as far as I know — maybe I am wrong — issued on what happened last Friday. Why is that…?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, his Special Coordinators have repeatedly condemned the loss of civilian life, and we have… as a matter of principle, have called for investigations looking into the circumstances of those losses. Yes, ma'am?
Question: But does that answer my question about…?
Spokesman: Well, I've answered to the best of my capabilities. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions also, but short ones. The first one is about Aquarius, the ship that's trapped in Mediterranean with no European country wanting to accept it until Pedro Sánchez finally said they can dock in Valencia. Can you confirm this? And also, can we hope that UN is not going to join European countries' ostrich policies, so to say, and come up with long‑term solution about this migrants issue? Thank you.
Spokesman: On your first question, I'm not able to confirm from here. I would urge you to check with our colleagues at the [International Organization for Migration] and UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. I mean, I think to accuse the UN of following an ostrich policy is misreading the situation. I think, as I just told Joe, we have the Global Compact on Migration, which is being debated intensively here, and the Secretary‑General's idea is to come up with a Global Compact that everyone can agree upon — countries of origin, countries of transit, countries of destination — that respect the rights of people, that respect the rights of migrants to be treated with dignity, that ensures that refugee law is respected. As the Secretary‑General himself said a couple of days ago, he's concerned about the shrinking space for refugee law that we've seen in Europe recently. So…
Question: Just one remark. By no means I'm accusing you. And UN is our last best hope to see some positive change in the world. And my second short question was about vote in Argentina to approve legal abortions. What is Secretary‑General… General's opinion about legal abortions?
Spokesman: No, I have no… you know, we'll see how the vote goes. Yes, Carla?
Correspondent: I also have two questions. Follow…
Spokesman: It's Wednesday. Go ahead.
Question: Yeah. Follow‑up on Mr. Abbadi's question and mine of a few days ago, why is the UN not encouraging a peace treaty to be signed between North Korea and the warring parties of 70 years ago and why emphasising only denuclearization, which, if a state of war exists… okay? That's the first…
Spokesman: As a matter of principle, we stand for peace, and we encourage peace treaties. There is a process ongoing on the Korean Peninsula. We are following that process. It is going step by step. What we want to see is a peaceful Korean Peninsula. What is your next question?
Question: The next question is, this Belt and Road Conference that's being held, there's evidently no information available about it. Can you tell us something about it? Is… who is attending or…? Conference Room 12.
Spokesman: Okay. I'm not aware. Yes, sir?
Question: Bonjour, monsieur. Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online. Please hear me out. I know your stand on this, on the migration. There are 700,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh, and towards the end of May, the Prime Minister had visited India and requested the Indian Prime Minister to create some conducive environment so that these migrants can go back to Myanmar. Similarly, India has 70,000, you know, these migrants in one of the north-eastern states, bordering state. So, could you just tell us that… how… what is the thought of the Secretary‑General so that this quickly happens? You know, and… because these… these migrants are living in very bad conditions, and they really want to go back to their country. Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, our principled position is that refugees cannot be forced to return home. Returns have to be safe. They have to be voluntary. They have to be dignified. There are… in terms of Myanmar, we need to see the right conditions in Rakhine State to allow people to return home under those conditions. The United Nations in its… through its country team in Bangladesh… in Myanmar is there to support the Government to try to implement the recommendations of the [Kofi] Annan Commission and also to help create those conditions so that people can go home. But, the returns need to be voluntary. They need to be safe, and they need to be dignified. Yes, go ahead, your follow‑up.
Question: Okay. Now I understand that there is an agreement between Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations?
Question: Russia, Ukraine and United Nations for peacekeeping forces there. Could you give us some details on that?
Spokesman: No, I'm not… any peacekeeping… deployment of peacekeeping force would need a Security Council mandate. So, I'm not aware of any agreement along those lines. Ben?
Question: Yeah, can you confirm if the Secretary‑General got a letter from the President of Yemen? And if so, can you let us know what he was… what it's about?
Spokesman: Yes and no. I just checked upstairs. No… no letter had been received as of yet through our main mailbox system. So, we'll wait to see when the letter arrives. Sometimes it's… the actual letter delivery process is a little slower than the announcement of a letter having been sent or received. But, I will keep you posted. Yes, sir? No, no, no. The gentleman behind you has not yet had a question. You yield.
Question: Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman said… this is a question on the sanctions on the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. He said the relevant Security Council resolutions stipulates that we shall adjust sanction measures as may needed in light of the DPRK's compliance, including suspending or lifting a relevant sanction measures. What's your comment?
Spokesman: There are sanctions imposed by the Security Council. It is up to each and every Member State to implement and to follow those sanctions. How that's done, that is up to each Member State. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes, thank you. I just want to follow up on my earlier questions here to drill down a little bit. Does the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: I'm not going down with you. You can try, but go ahead.
Question: Well, let me… I will try, and you can answer or not as you will. What I'm trying to understand, because the Secretary‑General in his prior UN position, obviously, has long‑standing experience and knowledge of the refugee issue. So, does he look at refugees as encompassing individuals who claim to be fleeing gang violence and so forth that the Governments in those countries are not controlling? And does he see any distinction between individuals migrating for that reason versus economic migrants?
Spokesman: Look, refugee law is clear. It's about people fleeing persecution. Obviously, the assessment… people go through a screening. That is done most usually through… through the country that is receiving them. The issue of migration, the issue of refugees, as we see it now, needs to be solved constructively through a global dialogue while respecting the sovereign rights of Member States. Masood?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. Thank you very much. I… maybe you have reacted to this earlier. The Human Rights Watch has been saying that what the lethal use of force by the Israelis is a war crime…
Spokesman: The what? Sorry? Yeah?
Question: The lethal force in… of… use of lethal force in Gaza could be a war crime. Does the Secretary‑General have any opinion about that or…?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the numerous briefings done by the Special Coordinator and the Secretary‑General to the Security Council on the issue of the use of force. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Cameroon. I… just listening to what Mr. Fall said and I just wonder, it seemed… on… on Monday, a report was put out by Amnesty International detailing in some detail first‑hand accounts of torture, burning of villages, murder of suspects. So, I just… one, can he do a stakeout? Is he… if he's the Secretary‑General's envoy on the region…? Number two… and I say it because…
Spokesman: We can ask. As you know, he hasn't been to… in Cameroon in some time, but we'll ask.
Question: Right. Other Council members praised his engagement. I wanted to ask you that. There's no engagement that you haven't announced from here?
Spokesman: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not hiding any engagement.
Question: Right. So, I mean, is the Secretary‑General satisfied with not necessarily the performance of Mr. Fall, but with the engagement of the Government, given an Amnesty International report detailing the torching of villages…?
Spokesman: I think we have expressed and we'll continue to express our concern about the developments in the area.
Question: I wanted to ask… you may not know, but photos have come out of UNDSS [United Nations Department of Safety and Security] personnel in Buea, which is a town in Anglophone Cameroon, quite a few of them. And… and I'm… so people don't know what they're doing there. This goes back to the… sort of distrust from the Blue Helmet at one of the torching sites. Is there some way you can find out… if there's some… is there some engagement taking place?
Spokesman: I'll find out.
Question: And I wanted to… you probably have something on this. Nepal seems to have publicly announced that they're asking the… the UNDPA [United Nations Department of Political Affairs] office to… to decamp and end its engagement. Is the UN… what's the time plan for doing that, and do you have closeout statements on that?
Spokesman: We're aware of the situation. I have some guidance, but I need to… I'll get it to you. Thank you.
Question: And one thing on sexual abuse. Okay. Some new cases have been disclosed. And that's all… again, it's all to the good to be disclosing, but I did want to ask, it's a little unclear to me, because, in a category called "investigation", the most recent one involves a Moroccan peacekeeper, and it says investigation by TCC [troop‑contributing country] and OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services]. And then ones that seem to be… have been earlier disclosed or have taken place earlier under investigation it just says "pending". Does that mean there's no investigation yet taking place or is there some…?
Spokesman: I think it depends on the case. Thank you.