The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary‑General met earlier today with Stefan Löfven, the Prime Minister of Sweden. They discussed issues of common interest, in particular the links between child protection, child’s rights and sustaining peace, and the launch of a process to develop practical guidance on the integration of child protection issues in peace processes, led by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict. The Secretary‑General thanked Sweden for its support to the initiative.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is continuing her two‑day mission to Chad, jointly undertaken with the African Union and the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström. Earlier today, she held meetings with authorities in N’Djamena, including a number of ministers and President Idriss Déby [Itno]. The Deputy Secretary‑General commended Chad for hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees while the country faces a dire economic situation. She acknowledged that Chad is one of the largest refugee hosting countries in Africa and thanked the President for the sacrifices the Chadian people have made. The delegation also discussed with him the challenges of addressing gender inequalities and the extraordinarily high levels of early marriage in Chad. She also indicated the UN’s readiness to continue to support the Government in efforts to address political and socioeconomic challenges and grievances. The Deputy Secretary‑General and the delegation are due to fly this evening to Niamey, Niger, where their mission will continue.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, will visit the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from 9 to 12 July 2018, the first such visit by the most senior UN humanitarian official to the country since 2011. Mr. Lowcock is scheduled to meet with Government officials, humanitarian partners and people receiving humanitarian assistance in order to better understand the humanitarian situation. He will also visit UN projects and see first‑hand the impact that international funding is having on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the DPRK.
The DPRK continues to face a protracted humanitarian crisis that is largely overlooked by the rest of the world. Over 10 million people — or 40 per cent of the population — require humanitarian assistance. Chronic food insecurity and undernutrition are widespread, resulting in 1 in 5 children being stunted. Access to basic services, such as health care, water and sanitation is a challenge for much of the population, especially in rural areas. In April, humanitarian agencies working in the DPRK launched a Needs and Priorities Plan, which requires $111 million to provide vital humanitarian assistance to 6 million of the most vulnerable people this year. As of 5 July, the plan was only 10.5 per cent funded.
Our humanitarian colleagues continue to be deeply concerned for the safety and protection of civilians caught in military operations in southern Syria, including up to 325,000 people reported to be displaced since 17 June. Yesterday, intense air and ground‑based strikes on Dara’a City and eastern and western rural areas resulted in the reported death of 18 people, including 14 children and 3 women, with several more injured.
The immediate needs of displaced Syrians, many of whom are children, include shelter, water, food, medical care and sanitation. The living conditions of internally displaced persons along border areas are extremely difficult, as they lack adequate shelter, sanitation facilities, basic assistance and access to services. Up to 70 per cent of those in western parts of Quneitra are reported to be without shelter, exposed to dusty desert winds and high temperatures. In coordination with the Government of Jordan, the United Nations has provided life‑saving assistance including food, water, soap, sanitary items, shelter and medical supplies and equipment for the tens of thousands of Syrians near the Jordanian border. Additional items remain on standby in Jordan until the security situation allows delivery into south‑west Syria.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that it has begun verifying Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, together with the Government of that country. The six‑month process will help to consolidate a unified database for the purposes of protection, identity management, documentation, provision of aid and population statistics. Ultimately, it is hoped the exercise will help to find solutions for the roughly 900,000 refugees who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Most of these people — well over 700,000 — fled since last August in what was one of the largest and fastest growing refugee emergencies in the region in decades. Biometric data, including eye scans and fingerprints as well as photographs, are being used to confirm individual identities for all refugees over the age of 12. At the end of the process, refugees are provided with new identity cards. For many of the refugees, this will mark the first time they have possessed an individual identity document.
Our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency today said they are concerned that despite a reduction in the number of people arriving in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea, men, women and children continue to die during the journey in proportionally larger numbers. This year, the milestone of dead and missing has already reached over 1,000 for the fifth year in a row, despite the lower numbers crossing to Europe. The agency called for the strengthening of search and rescue capacities in the region, and reminded countries of their obligations under the Law of the Sea, to permit efforts to respond to people in distress at sea. More details are available on UNHCR’s website.
The latest report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warns that time is running out for the world’s forests, whose total area is shrinking every day. Forests provide around 20 per cent of income for rural households in developing countries and fuel for cooking and heating for 1 in every 3 people around the world. The report urges Governments to halt deforestation and sustainably manage this ecosystem to avoid damaging consequences for the people and species who depend on them.
You will have seen that earlier today, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Ayşe Cihan Sultanoğlu of Turkey as the UN Representative to the Geneva International Discussions. That announcement is online.
And today, Iraq has joined the Honour Roll, having paid its full contribution to this year’s regular budget. The total now stands at 108. Shukran, Iraq.
And on Monday, the guest at noon will be Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary‑General for Economic Development. He will brief you on the high‑level political forum on sustainable development.
And we will shortly go to our colleague, Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. Before that… yes, Ali.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Obviously, this morning, Mr. Nasr Hariri, the chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition, tweeted that he handed over the names of the constitutional committee from the opposition's side. Can you confirm that the Special Envoy has received this, and what are the numbers on this? And I have a follow‑up.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the only thing I really have to say on that is we have received a list from the Syrian negotiation committee and we are studying that document.
Question: My follow‑up is regarding Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura's repeated pledges that he's going to have three lists from the civil society and others, is he going to proceed with this and what is the timeline for that? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, he's proceeding with the efforts that he's detailed to you already. When we have something to announce about a list we'll let you know at that point, but right now, we're in the middle of that process. Yes?
Question: Another Syria question, Farhan. There's reports that rebels in the south of Syria have reached some kind of peace deal. Is the UN aware or have any details?
Deputy Spokesman: Have reached it, you said?
Correspondent: Yeah, so south Syrian rebels have agreed to give up arms in a Russian‑brokered ceasefire deal.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. Although we're not part of the negotiations, we are aware of reports that a ceasefire agreement has reportedly been reached today in southern Syria. As the Secretary‑General stated yesterday, the United Nations has repeatedly called for an immediate suspension of hostilities and the resumption of negotiations, as far too many civilians have been killed, injured and displaced by the last three weeks of escalating violence. The United Nations continues to call for unconditional, sustained and unhindered access to people in need in southern Syria and reminds all parties to the conflict to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with international humanitarian law. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Farhan. Secretary‑General visited Bangladesh and his personal initiative is very remarkable for the Rohingya refugees. And he met the ruling Prime Minister, [Sheikh] Hasina. But the country's internal position is very vulnerable in terms of democracy; the main opposition leader is in prison and human rights violation is very severe. Secretary‑General… during the meeting, Secretary‑General raised these issues with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't really have anything further to say about Bangladesh compared to what we've been saying over the course of his visit. Of course, you are welcome to look at the various remarks he made, including at his various press encounters but also the remarks he made at the meeting concerning Sustainable Development Goals in Bangladesh, so he touched on a wide range of topics with his interlocutors, but that's as much as I have for now. Yes, please?
Question: I wanted to ask you about the last African Union summit in Nouakchott and the Sahara issue. Indeed, during… in a report during that last summer in Nouakchott, the African Union stressed actually that regarding this entire issue, that the African organization cannot establish a parallel process to the political one led under the exclusive aegis of the UN, and that report also says that the UN resolution… Security Council resolutions are the sole reference on this matter and also the need for African Union to support these efforts. What's the Secretary‑General's position on this?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding questions having to do with the role of the African Union, I will leave those in the hands of the African Union. We, of course, continue to do our mandated tasks regarding Western Sahara, including the work of Horst Köhler and the work of the UN Mission, MINURSO. Yes?
Question: Thank you for taking my question. My question is about the nuclear ban treaty [Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons]. Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the historic nuclear ban treaty's adoption. So far, 11 countries have ratified the treaty, but still some more countries… you need more countries to be ratified. How are you looking at the situation right now?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, of course, the Secretary‑General welcomes this anniversary and he does encourage all the countries who have not yet signed up or ratified the treaty to do so as soon as they can. Yes?
Question: Do you have any specific prospect when the treaty entering into… into the force?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, the treaty itself lays out the process by which… at a certain point, after a certain number of ratifications, it enters into force, and that is why we need to get as many countries ratifying as possible. [He later informed the correspondent that 50 ratifications would be needed.] And with that, come on up, Brenden and have a good weekend, everyone.