The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today is the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The theme this year is “Listen First — Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe”. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General urged countries to advance prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration services; ensure access to controlled medicines while preventing abuse; promote alternatives to illicit drug cultivation; and stop trafficking and organized crime. All these measures, he said, contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. And to mark the Day, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) launched its “2018 World Drug Report” this morning and my guest, in a short while, will be the Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov. He will be here to present and brief you on the report.
Two programming notes of interest to you: tomorrow, Virginia Gamba, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, will be my guest at the briefing to talk about the annual report, which you will have access to tomorrow morning. And the Secretary-General’s press conference: we have changed the date. It will now be on 12 July instead of this week.
This morning, the Security Council members held a debate on Afghanistan. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that Afghanistan is experiencing a politically dynamic period which shows the possibilities for peace. He pointed to the historic ceasefire announcements by the Government and the Taliban during Eid festivities earlier this month, marking the first time in 17 years of conflict that the two sides honoured their respective ceasefires. The country, he said, is also seeing an unprecedented grassroots movement, with people protesting for peace in 20 provinces and religious scholars denouncing suicide bombings as being against the teachings of Islam. “The Afghan people’s genuine demand for peace, coming from the bottom of their hearts, must not be ignored,” Mr. Yamamoto told Security Council members. And at approximately 1 p.m., he will be at the stakeout to speak to you if you have any questions. Yury Fedotov, Head of UNODC, and Vladimir Voronkov, the Head of the Counter-Terrorism Office, also briefed the Council.
A Bangladeshi peacekeeper from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was killed today during an attack on a United Nations convoy that was supporting the delivery of humanitarian aid to vulnerable civilians in Central Equatoria province of South Sudan. The convoy, which was led by Nepalese peacekeepers, was providing protection to humanitarian workers travelling from Yei to Lasu when several shots were fired at the group by unknown gunmen. The Nepalese peacekeepers immediately returned fire and the assailants retreated into the forest. We join the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer, in expressing our deep regret at the tragic loss of life and extending our condolences to the family of the peacekeeper, and of course condemning the actions of the armed group.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The sixth report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo shows that children continue to bear the brunt of conflict in the country, and were victims of over 11,500 grave violations committed by more than 40 parties to the conflict between 2014 and 2017. This represents a 60 per cent increase in grave violations compared to the previous reporting period, covering the years 2010 to 2013. Although the report attributes the majority of casualties to armed groups, a third were committed by the Congolese security forces over the period under review. The report also notes that the Congolese Armed Forces put in place measures to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in their ranks. However, large scale recruitment and use of children by armed groups continued unabated. The proportion of children used as combatants increased to nearly 50 per cent in 2017, and it is estimated that children were the majority in the ranks of the Kamuina Nsapu group active in the Kasaïs.
Our humanitarian colleagues report from Syria that hostilities continue to escalate in the southern part of the country, resulting in civilian casualties and displacement. Up to 50,000 people have reportedly been displaced since 19 June, most from north-east part of Dar’a Governorate. The number of internally displaced people is expected to further increase as hostilities continue. And the reported number of deaths and injuries also continues to rise. Yesterday, local sources reported the death of 18 people across Dar’a Governorate, with many more injured. The United Nations and its partners responded to meeting the needs of those displaced by recent hostilities within 48 hours, with food for more than 30,000 people sheltering in villages and makeshift camps. Core relief items, including basic shelter materials sufficient for 60,000 people, have been pre‑positioned. The United Nations and its partners stand ready to scale up its response to people in need, wherever they are. Meanwhile, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are delivering food, health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation and core relief items today for 107,500 people in need in Ar‑Rastan, Homs. The last UN interagency convoy to reach Ar-Rastan was in October of last year.
You will have seen that we issued this morning a senior personnel appointment: Robert Piper of Australia has been named by the Secretary-General as the Head of the United Nations Development System Transition Team, established to provide strategic leadership and oversight to all aspects of the repositioning of the United Nations system. Under the oversight of the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, Mr. Piper’s team will implement a package of reforms that call for significant changes to the set-up, leadership, accountability mechanisms and capacities of the whole United Nations development system, to ensure it meets national needs for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Mr. Piper brings to the role 30 years of experience in international development and peacebuilding at the United Nations, as well as a strong track record in management, reform and coordination. We congratulate him.
Lastly, we have a message today marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The Secretary-General stressed today that these victims have a right to an effective remedy, rehabilitation and redress. He said that torture remains unacceptable and unjustified at all times, including during states of emergency, political instability, or even in a war. The full statement of the Secretary-General is available. Majeed?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. The first one is about Turkey. Do you have any statement about the recent elections? And the second one is a follow‑up about Syria humanitarian. About 10 days ago, I asked about the 200,000 IDPs [internally displaced persons] in Shabaan near Afrin. Any updates from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]?
Spokesman: No, not anything since we last updated you. On Turkey, I think, my colleague spoke to that yesterday and as… we will send a letter of congratulations from the Secretary‑General, as we do in these cases. Mr. Abbadi and then James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The AP issued a report describing a dramatic situation in the Sahara Desert. It indicated that 13,000 migrants have been expelled by Algeria and pushed into the Sahara Desert, and they were wandering without food and resources and that many of them have died. Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to this specific incident?
Spokesman: No, it's obviously… these are issues that are of great concern to us, and I think these are issues, not this particular case but other cases, of the mistreatment of migrants and refugees is something that we've been highlighting for quite some time. Mr. Bays?
Question: The Secretary‑General has sent his Children and Armed Conflict report to the Security Council. On the blacklist again is the Saudi and UAE [United Arab Emirates]‑led Coalition listed as a party that commit grave violations affecting children in situation of armed conflict, again with the caveat that they've put in place measures aimed at improving the protection of children. If they put measures last year to improve the protection of children in place, why did they kill 370 children?
Spokesman: Look, the report has not yet been released publicly, so I will not get into the content of the report. What I encourage you when you actually get… when people actually get the report is read the report as a whole. Read the narrative. Obviously, look at the annexes. The report is put together in a very methodical way. What is important for us is for people to… and for state actors, non‑state actors to engage with the office of Ms. Gamba, to put in place whatever mitigation measures they can. The point of the report is to improve the situation and report on it as honestly as we can.
Question: So, if you engage with the office, you can continue killing children?
Spokesman: I think you're making an unfair assumption. The point is that people need to… we need to see people engage and engage constructively and show us repeatedly over the [reporting] period that they have… they are making an effort to avoid the death of children. Mr. Lee?
Question: One follow‑up to that and then some other things. But, I just… I guess I want to ask you just for the… was this presentation of the $930 million check by Saudi Arabia on behalf of itself and UAE, is that any part of the engagement being referred to here?
Spokesman: Of course not.
Question: Okay. I wanted to ask you on FYROM [the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], on FYROM, the Secretary‑General had issued a statement congratulating what he said was a deal, and now the President of FYROM has refused to sign the deal, saying that it violates the Constitution there. Does the Secretary‑General have any updated comment?
Spokesman: No, this is a… there is a process… there are a number of steps that have to be taken. Obviously, there's a constitutional process underway in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as there is a Greek process. We need to let that process play out fully.
Question: Does it require the President's signature?
Spokesman: I think you… that's an issue for constitutional scholars in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and not for me.
Question: There's been a protest in Geneva at the beginning of a… of a UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme against HIV/AIDS] meeting with donors, and the protests very clearly say that they want Michel Sidibé to step down or to be removed, and they point to sexual harassment, cover‑up, retaliation. And I'm just wondering, has the… has the Secretary‑General's thinking, as he's seen these protests go global, has his thinking evolved at all in whether UNAIDS appropriately dealt with the Luiz Loures situation?
Spokesman: Look, there is an investigation that was reopened at the request of UNAIDS that is being done by the World Health Organization (WHO). That needs to play out, and the Secretary‑General fully supports Mr. Sidibé.
Correspondent: The victim in that case…
Spokesman: I'll come back to you. I will come back to you. Yes, sir?
Question: First, did the SG issue a statement welcoming the results of the elections in Turkey?
Spokesman: I… the question was answered and it's… the procedure is for presidential elections that we send a letter of congratulations.
Question: Okay. The second question, ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for West Asia] has just published a report about the Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territories. Are you aware of this report? And does the SG…?
Spokesman: Yes, it's a standard report that went to the General Assembly. I think a few… like, ten days ago or so.
Question: So the SG subscribed to this report and he…
Spokesman: There is a note… if you look at the report, there is a cover note from the Secretary‑General. Carla and then…?
Question: The UN is a firm supporter of free and fair elections. Has… the UN is a firm supporter of free and fair elections. Has there been any comment on a very large report in The New York Times of attempts to destabilize the election in Mexico to prevent [Andres Manuel] López Obrador from becoming President?
Spokesman: No, not particularly. We are not involved, as far as I know, in the organising or monitoring of the elections in Mexico. Madame? Go ahead. Yeah, sorry. Go ahead.
Question: I just came from an Amnesty International briefing, if you will, where they issued their basically scathing report on Myanmar. Right? And they don't think the UN is doing enough, especially possibly a deeper investigation and some action or sanctions or whatever. Would you like to reply to that?
Spokesman: I think the… the United Nations system as a whole has been deeply engaged in the human rights situation in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. We have a country team that is working with the Government to try to implement the Annan… the recommendations of the [Kofi] Annan report. We have been asking also for greater and continued access to Rakhine State and other parts. I think we've made our position well known and our concerns well known, both publicly and privately. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, President [Donald] Trump said that his discussions on the Middle East conflict have made great progress. Is the Secretary‑General aware of any such progress?
Spokesman: I will refer you to… I mean, I will let you write up the analysis. The Secretary‑General's position on the Middle East, I think, was clearly outlined by the Secretary‑General himself in a recent statement to the Security Council. Abdelhamid and then Matthew.
Question: Thank you. The… the donors' conference last night at the GA [General Assembly] or the President of the GA was not successful. Only $50 million were raised, which is too short from the targeted $250 million. Is there any comment from the SG or Mr. [Pierre] Krähenbühl?
Spokesman: UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]… we spoke to UNRWA last night. I think they're trying to unpack what was money paid forward, what is new money, what is old money. And they will come out with a tally of what was given yesterday. We're obviously very grateful for all the new money and all the efforts that are being made by Member States for… to help with the critical funding shortage at UNRWA. Mr. Lee?
Correspondent: Sure. I had a follow‑up on UNAIDS, but I'm going to move on to try to get through this other material. One is to… a photo has emerged of the head of the China Energy Fund Committee with John Ashe, may he rest in peace, which has given rise to coverage saying that perhaps either the two cases are related or this China Energy Fund Committee penetrated…
Spokesman: What is the question?
Question: So, my question is this. Not only… it seems like you still haven't started an audit, but I wanted to know whether the audit that was done of the John Ashe era, was it only limited to Ng Lap Seng and South‑South News, or would it have caught in its net…?
Spokesman: The case of John Ashe has been… is being fully investigated by the Southern District of New York, and we're cooperating. What is your next question?
Question: All right. My next question is yes… and I'm sorry to ask this, but I'd asked Farhan [Haq], and I didn't understand his answer. BBC has spent a large amount of time authenticating social media accounts and video of houses being burned and people being tortured in Cameroon. And they've declared… declared this authenticated video, nine minutes of it. And so, I asked Farhan yesterday what the UN's response to it is, and he said, we have to see if it's authenticated. So, I wanted to ask you. Does the UN have some… have some authentication office that goes beyond that, or do you not accept the BBC's authentication…?
Spokesman: We have expressed and continue to express our concern about the situation in the Anglophone areas of Cameroon. Thank you… sorry, James?
Question: Somebody asked the question, but I think the viewers to the webcast perhaps might be asking why you are displaying a country flag on your hands at the moment.
Spokesman: I'm trying not to violate the… I think rule 100 of the UN Charter, so I will get our guests, but thank you for noticing.