The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary‑General is in Norway today, where just a few moments ago he held a press conference with the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg. He praised Norway for being “a strong pillar of multilateralism and a strong defender of the rules‑based international order”. He also thanked the Prime Minister for her efforts to promote the Sustainable Development Goals and particularly the protection of the oceans. He added that we must all assume the protection of the oceans as a collective responsibility.
Earlier this morning, he spoke at the Oslo Forum, where he emphasized the role of mediation to solve conflicts. In particular, he focused on the importance of having women involved in the mediation processes. On the sidelines of the Forum, he met with the Foreign Minister of Norway; the Somali Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Khayre; the Foreign Minister of Oman; and the German Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. The Secretary‑General then had an audience with King Harald V and Crown Prince Haakon, who is one of UNDP’s [United Nations Development Programme] longest‑serving Goodwill Ambassadors.
The Secretary-General also visited a newly inaugurated exhibition on the Sustainable Development Goals at the Nobel Peace Centre. And he met with representatives of the high‑level panel on building a sustainable ocean economy.
The Secretary‑General will be heading to Moscow a bit later tonight.
Turning to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, is continuing his diplomatic efforts. He left Sana’a and is now travelling to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he will be meeting key officials from the Saudi‑led coalition. He will also contact the Government of Yemen to discuss with them his mediation efforts on Hodeidah. Yesterday afternoon, the Special Envoy briefed the Security Council on the framework that he has been discussing with his interlocutors, as well as on the situation in and around Hodeidah.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that heavy fighting and air strikes are continuing in several locations in Hodeidah City and districts south of the city. An estimated 5,200 families have fled the fighting since 1 June, moving to safer areas within their home districts or neighbouring areas. Humanitarian partners are continuing to distribute emergency kits and other assistance to affected people. Assistance includes about 50,000 litres of water being trucked to impacted areas every day, in addition to 20 newly established water points. A concerted effort is under way to engage the parties to ensure the safety of humanitarian partners on the ground, and to remind them of their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Also, our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) tell us they are unloading food from three ships in Hodeidah harbour, which will give them the ability to feed about 6 million people for one month.
Turning to Syria, at the invitation of the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, consultations were held in the UN Office at Geneva today with senior representatives of Iran, the Russian Federation and Turkey, on the way ahead for the implementation of the Sochi final statement and the establishment of a Syrian‑led and Syrian‑owned constitutional committee, facilitated by the United Nations, within the framework of the Geneva process and in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).
During the meeting, constructive exchanges and substantive discussions took place on issues relevant to the establishment and functioning of a constitutional committee, and some common ground is beginning to emerge. The Special Envoy now expects to invite Iran, Russia and Turkey back to Geneva in the next few weeks, in order to widen the common ground. The Special Envoy also welcomed the three countries’ reaffirmation of their support of the UN’s role in facilitating the establishment and functioning of the constitutional committee.
Yesterday, I was asked about the situation in Afrin. I can say that we remain concerned about both the 136,000 people estimated to remain in Afrin District and the 134,000 people who were displaced to the Tal Refaat sub‑district, Nabul and Zahraa towns and surrounding communities. A needs assessment conducted in Afrin District last month found that services and markets were limited with many service providers displaced during the military operations. While Damascus‑based UN agencies and their partners have not been granted permission to deliver assistance to Afrin District by the Government of Syria, over 10 cross‑border humanitarian organizations have been delivering aid and providing services to Afrin District from Turkey.
Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning and said that settlement activity has continued in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He reiterated that all settlement activity is illegal under international law. The Special Coordinator noted the recent violence in the region, including during the protests in Gaza. Mr. Mladenov said that Israel has a duty to protect all of its citizens but it must do so while using lethal force only as a last resort.
He also welcomed Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah border crossing and expressed the hope that the situation in the Sinai will allow for the border [opening] to be sustained. Mr. Mladenov also warned that UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency [for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], is weeks away from painful cuts because of its budget shortfall and added that a pledging conference for UNRWA will be held in New York next week.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that some 215,000 people remain at risk of landslides and floods in Cox’s Bazaar, including an estimated 42,000 refugees in the highest‑risk areas who have been prioritized for relocation due to imminent risk. Improvements to camp infrastructure including road construction and dredging of waterways continue, led by the Government of Bangladesh. Also, 30 mobile medical teams are on standby and ready for deployment as needed, and an early warning alerts network has been established to identify and respond to any outbreaks.
Forced displacement reached a new high in 2017 for the fifth year in a row, led by the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan’s war, and the flight into Bangladesh from Myanmar of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. In its annual Global Trends report, released today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said 68.5 million people were displaced as of the end of last year. Among them were 16.2 million people who became displaced during 2017 itself, either for the first time or repeatedly — indicating a huge number of people on the move and equivalent to 44,500 people being displaced each day, or a person becoming displaced every two seconds. Refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution accounted for 25.4 million of the 68.5 million. In short, the world has as many forcibly displaced people in 2017 as the population of Thailand. Across all countries, 1 in every 110 persons is someone displaced.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. In a short while, I will be joined by Pramila Patten, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Alen Muhic, representative of the NGO [non‑governmental organization] “Forgotten Children of War”. They will speak to you on that subject.
At 1 p.m., Ninette Kelley, UNHCR’s Director of Office in New York, will be here to brief you on the Trends Report.
At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a briefing here on the launch of the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report. We expect the Deputy Secretary‑General, along with Francesca Perucci and Yongyi Min of DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] to be here to brief you on the launch.
We also want to say thank you to our friends in Prague, as the Czech Republic has become the latest country to pay its budget dues in full, bringing the number up to 104.
Lastly, a weather‑related announcement. It is that time of year again: as in previous summers, UN Headquarters carries out its “Cool UN” programme to demonstrate the Organization’s commitment to using energy wisely and to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Thermostats are now set to 77°F / 25°C in offices, and to 75°F / 24°C in the conference rooms. The landlords of our leased spaces in New York are also joining in. Staff are encouraged to dress in lighter clothing appropriate for a business setting, including national dress, so as to remain comfortable during the summer months, which explains their seersucker. [Laughter] Thank you for laughing. If you have a question, Carole, you can ask it.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, I wanted to follow up on Yemen. Have the… has the heavy fighting or the air strikes impeded or… the humanitarian operations on the ground at all? And I was curious about this… these three ships offloading WFP for 6 million people, you said? It seems like a big influx of… of aid… is that unusual? And what might have prompted that, I mean, recently?
Spokesman: Yeah, it's large… we were trying to get in as much food as possible, given the humanitarian situation. WFP has been working on this for quite some time. The port is still operational. I think our colleagues at WFP are seizing the moment to ensure that as much food is offloaded as possible. You know, as for the fighting, because as I said, we're able to continue some humanitarian operations — obviously, it's making things a lot more challenging in terms of security of staff, security of all our humanitarian partners and, most and fore… first and foremost, the safety of civilians, who are forced to move and to flee within Hodeidah to find safety in various other quarters. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On Gaza, the Special Coordinator, Mladenov, announced that they will be pledging conference next week here in New York, I believe. Efforts are being made to collect $1 billion, mainly from Middle Eastern countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for the humanitarian situation in Gaza. But President [Mahmoud] Abbas has rejected those efforts, saying that they… their aim is political, is to divide Gaza from West Bank. What does the Secretary‑General think about that?
Spokesman: Look, I haven't seen those particular comments from President Abbas. What I can tell you is that UNRWA services, whether in the West Bank, in Gaza and in other parts of the Middle East, whether Syria, Lebanon or Jordan, are critical to the population it serves. UNRWA is a stabilizing force in the region, and the Secretary‑General is very keen for Member States to do whatever they can to support that work. Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner‑General, I think, will be here in the briefing room on either Monday or Tuesday, and he'll be giving you more details. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. In his remarks to the Security Council, Mladenov mentioned that the… the violence started with these rockets attack on Gaza by Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad. So he put the rocket attack before he mentioned 135 Palestinians killed, and you know that rockets came in the tenth week, not the first week. So, when you frame it this way…
Spokesman: What is the question, Abdelhamid?
Question: My question, is that a fair characterization of what happened in Gaza? And my second question…
Spokesman: Mr. Mladenov, as well as the Secretary‑General, has been briefing the Security Council periodically on the situation in the… in Israel and the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He does it to the best of his ability, and he does it in the way that he observes it and feels is best presented. And I would encourage you to… if you're going to analyse one briefing, I think it best to analyse all of his briefings.
Question: Yeah. And also he mentioned that 135 Palestinian killed. Is that also fair? Why he didn't say how many children, how many journalists, how many paramedics to humanize these 135? When you put a number and pass…
Spokesman: I think we take great effort at the United Nations to humanize every victim of violence. Nizar?
Question: But on the same subject, when he says that Israel has a duty to protect its citizen, he does not say that Israel has a duty also to protect the occupied population. Why is this bias in this case?
Spokesman: I don't see any bias in what he said.
Question: No bias…?
Spokesman: I don't see any bias in what he said…
Question: Okay. I have a question regarding Iraq. The American allied forces attacked the Iraqi forces near Ramadi and killed dozens of them. The Iraqi Government has protested. What's the position of the Secretary‑General regarding such attack against a sovereign State?
Spokesman: I don't have any information on that particular incident. Yes, sir?
Correspondent: It took place two days ago.
Spokesman: I'm not debating the fact that it took place or didn't take place. I'm just saying I have no information on it. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about Darfur, the troika. The UK, US, and Norway have put out a statement that… the part I want to ask you about is talking about fighting between the Government and SLA [Sudan Liberation Army] Abdul Wahid, but they say that, quote, it is unacceptable that the Government of Sudan is repeated… repeatedly prevented the UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] from accessing the areas of conflict. And I haven't really seen UNAMID saying that, and I know that there's a plan to actually draw down UNAMID substantially. How do you… is… is UNAMID angry about being restrained as the troika is saying?
Spokesman: We have reported on a number of occasions into the Council our concern about limits on our freedom of movement.
Correspondent: Right. But I… I mean, this seems to… this is a current… this is not a historical…
Spokesman: I will check on this particular incident, but it's not like as if we have not reported on issues of freedom of movement.
Question: But is this still consistent with the plan to draw down given that the fighting has upsurged and that…?
Spokesman: I think the strategic plan will continue to be implemented.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, there's a new case of… in this case, it's listed as child rape, was disclosed by the UN yesterday, a Tanzanian peacekeeper in MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], DRC. And all it said is everything is pending. It seems like… this seems like a pretty serious charge. And so I'm wondering, what can… what more can you say about this? When… when did the UN learn of it? Where is the person?
Spokesman: What I have, the information that I was given is that the UN Mission in the DRC received allegations of sexual abuse involving a member of the Tanzania military contingent deployed to the Mission in June 2014 and '15. The allegation refers to sexual abuse on a minor, aged 17 at the time, an incident which occurred sometime between '14 and '15, resulting in the birth of a child. The UN has informed the Member State of the allegations, has requested the National Investigative Officer be appointed within five working days, as the procedure is, and that the investigation be completed within the reduced 90‑day time frame. The alleged victim and her child have been referred to UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] for appropriate support and assistance. The Mission will continue to monitor their needs, as well as provide any additional assistance, such as the collection of DNA samples if [requested] to do so by the victim.
Question: And the actual… the accused, did… did… has he remained deployed in MONUSCO during that time? Where… what… what's the information on that?
Spokesman: My understanding is that he was deployed between 2014 and '15, so that person is no longer deployed on the ground. Masood? And then we'll go to people who haven't asked a question, then…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, I'm going to… about the Rohingya refugees and their repatriation, there's a question that I've been asking. Has, at any point in time, the refugees or… have agreed to be repatriated, as the United Nations maintains that they will only be repatriated when they feel safe? So where is the situation now?
Spokesman: It's an issue of principle that has not changed. Repatriation of refugees needs to be voluntary and needs to be safe and needs to be done in a dignified way. We don't believe that the conditions in Rakhine State are right now conducive to that, but at the end of the day, the decision of any refugee to go home is… belongs to that person. Evelyn and then we'll go to you, sir.
Question: Yes. On Syria, you mentioned that Mistura wants to expand the common ground. Is there a common ground? And has Damascus agreed to any element in it?
Spokesman: Well, he… I think, as I said, he feels that there has been some common ground reached. These discussions that he had in Geneva were focusing on the constitutional committee, and he… what he said is that some common ground is beginning to emerge.
Question: But Damascus hasn't accepted it…?
Spokesman: You know, I will let Mr. de Mistura negotiate. I will not do so for him. He's more talented than I am. Yes?
Question: Mr. Stéphane, this is Deepak Arora from the Tribune Online. As you're aware, United Nations declared 21 June as International Yoga Day and benefits of yoga, mental, spiritual and including physical are well known. And WHO [World Health Organization] the other day gave a report saying that mobile addiction is becoming more and more among young children and even adults. So do you have some facts and figures as to how much yoga has become popular or how it has helped in people's health? Thank you.
Spokesman: I don't. Trust me, if there's one thing I wish I would… I was able to do it would be to do yoga every day, because my colleagues who do it are much calmer than I am and seem to be much happier than I am and less grumpy. Abdelhamid? I'm sorry. Go ahead, Mr. Abbadi, because he hadn't… I was… Mr. Abbadi, please. You haven't had a question.
Correspondent: Thank you. I had one question.
Spokesman: You see? This is why I need to do yoga. It's good for my brain, too. Go ahead. [Laughter]
Correspondent: I do yoga every day. In his statement before Security Council on the Middle East this morning, the Special Coordinator, Mladenov, said that the Quartet, the Middle East Quartet remains the preeminent forum for resolving the Palestinian‑Israeli conflict. If that is the issue, if that is the case, why haven't we heard anything about… from the Quartet for more than a year now?
Spokesman: We can only speak for 25 per cent of the Quartet. Carole and then Abdelhamid.
Question: Stéphane, the United States is going to announce in the coming hours that they're withdrawing from the Human Rights Council. Can you comment on that and whether the Secretary‑General has any concerns about them being absent from that body?
Spokesman: We will comment… we've seen the reports that a decision is to be announced. We will wait to hear the details of that decision before commenting fully. What is clear is that the Secretary‑General is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of this Organization… of the UN and the active participation of all Member States in that architecture. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I'm going back to the report of Mladenov. He had the time to mention there are two Israelis were missing in Gaza, and he called on those militant group to disclose the whereabouts of these two Israeli or three. I am not sure. But he failed also, again; there are 350 Palestinian children in jail were not mentioned and 6,500 Palestinian also in jail. Wouldn't worth it to mention with these two Israeli missing also at least the children? Not talking about the 6,000… 6,500 Palestinian. Why were not…?
Spokesman: I think, if you look again at Mr. Mladenov's briefings broadly, you will see that we take equal care in expressing our concern for the fate of all civilians. Matthew and then Carole.
Question: Sure. First, I just… I'm never sure if you actually have gotten an answer to a question previously asked, so I want to ask again. I'd asked, I guess, last week about these photos of… of UNDSS [Department of Safety and Security] personnel in… near Bamenda and Buea in Anglophone Cameroon. People are wondering because there are currently people being burned in their cars by the Government. So, if DSS is there, is it to protect civilians? What are they doing there?
Spokesman: As far as I understand it, I don't think they are there. Carole?
Question: On Western Sahara, Stéphane, there's travel apparently planned by Horst Köhler. He's going to Rabat and Laayoune. Do you…?
Spokesman: He has not told me, but I will ask him. And then I will get our guests. Thank you.