The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
As you will recall, the Deputy Secretary-General returned yesterday from a joint UN-African Union mission to South Sudan, Niger and Chad. She was joined for part of the mission by the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Walström, who is chairing today’s meeting.
The Deputy Secretary-General pointed to the need to address the stark cost that women and girls pay for conflict. She said they heard a universal and increasingly frustrated call by women for greater inclusion, representation and participation in all areas of society.
The Deputy Secretary-General also noted that there is a clear need to keep countries experiencing fragility today from becoming the failed states of tomorrow.
She stressed the importance of urgently increasing our budget support for development in these and other fragile countries. Investment in development must be transformative, she said, adding that it must support only scaled-up, integrated projects.
The Deputy Secretary-General warned that the cost of inaction is high. Poverty, weak institutions and gender inequality, including abhorrent practices such as child marriage, are creating an environment ripe for extremism. Her full speech is available online.
On South Sudan, our human rights colleagues said today that UN human rights monitors have documented what appear to be deliberate, ruthless and brutally violent attacks on civilians, particularly against women and children, by Government and aligned forces, as well as armed youth in parts of Unity State.
A report issued today documents acts that constitute gross violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law — that may amount to war crimes. The investigation has also identified three individuals who may bear the greatest responsibility for the violations committed. The human rights monitors found that between 16 April and 24 May, at least 232 civilians were killed and many more injured in attacks on villages in opposition-controlled areas in Mayendit and Leer. The report also documents the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, with at least 120 women and girls raped or gang-raped, including children as young as four. The brutality and ruthlessness of the attackers, as described by survivors, suggests their intent was to take a “scorched-earth” approach, killing or forcibly displacing people, burning their crops and homes, punishing and terrorizing them to ensure they never return.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called on the Government to halt all attacks against civilians, launch investigations and hold the perpetrators accountable, including those who bear command responsibility.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock arrived in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) yesterday.
He is seeking to better understand humanitarian needs there, as well as to see the support the United Nations is providing and to gauge need for further assistance.
Today, he visited UN-backed projects in South Hwanghae Province. At two hospitals, he saw the difference that UN humanitarian assistance is making in the lives of the most vulnerable, including children and pregnant and lactating women. With funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund, the UN has been able to reach more than 6,500 women and children.
Mr. Lowcock also met with children and caretakers to discuss early screening for child malnutrition.
He visited a kindergarten in Sinchon County, which had received UN nutrition support up to 2016. Since November 2017, UN operations had to discontinue nutrition support to kindergartens due to a shortage of funding.
Mr. Lowcock stopped at the Pyongyang Children’s Foodstuff Facility, which produces 160 MT of food for 80,000 children and pregnant and lactating women. Production, however, is under capacity due to funding constraints.
Tomorrow, Mr. Lowcock is expected to meet with Government officials, the donor community and humanitarian partners. He will also visit the Korea Rehabilitation Centre for Children with Disabilities.
Humanitarian partners, through the DPRK’s 2018 Needs and Priorities Plan, are seeking $111 million to provide vital humanitarian assistance to 6 million of the most vulnerable people. Only 10.5 per cent of this funding has so far been received.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today said that he was concerned by the consequences of Israel’s decision to temporarily suspend imports and exports, with the exception of basic humanitarian supplies, through the Kerem Shalom crossing. He urged the authorities to reverse this decision.
Mr. Mladenov said that Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza should also do their part by maintaining calm, stopping incendiary kites and preventing other provocations.
The United Nations is continuing its engagement with Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, as well as regional and international partners, to reduce tensions, support intra-Palestinian reconciliation and resolve all humanitarian challenges.
Mr. Mladenov said that everyone must step back from the trajectory of confrontation and escalation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that conditions in Hodeidah, even before the escalation of the conflict, had been some of the direst in Yemen. Hodeidah had registered the highest incidences of suspected cholera cases (around 14 per cent of reported cases countrywide since the start of the epidemic in April 2017) and diphtheria (209 suspected cases). In addition, there had been 252 suspected cases of measles.
WHO says that the intensification of fighting in Hodeidah endangers not only those directly affected but also the 70 per cent of the population who depend on vital supplies, including health-care supplies, that flow through Hodeidah port. The port constitutes a lifeline not only for the city but for all the northern governorates.
According to local health facilities, a total of 328 injured and 46 deaths had been recorded in Hodeidah between 13 June and 7 July. However, fighting has decreased in the city and the port remains operational.
In Haiti, the Core Group (composed of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, the Ambassadors of Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, and the representatives of Spain, the Organization of American States and the European Union) has expressed concern over the acts of violence and looting, which largely paralyzed the country during the weekend.
In a statement, the Core Group said it is saddened by the loss of life and expressed its condolences to the families of the victims, adding that nothing can justify behaviours that threaten the lives of people as well as the progress made in recent years in terms of stability and security.
The Core Group further encouraged all the parties in Haiti to exercise restraint and respect the constitutional order.
The UN Migration Agency (IOM) today said that in 2017 it assisted more than 72,000 migrants to return home voluntarily.
This represents a 27 per cent decrease compared to 2016, when some 98,000 migrants were provided with return and reintegration support. The agency said this decrease was mainly due to a lower volume of voluntary returns from the European Economic Area and Switzerland. However, the region is still the one from which the largest proportion of beneficiaries returned. More information is available on IOM’s website.
**High-Level Political Forum
This morning at the High-Level Political Forum, participants discussed how to build resilience and how to advance science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
During the resilience session, speakers highlighted the need for political will to devote resources towards disaster risk reduction and strategic planning in both developed and developing countries, and the need to involve vulnerable sectors, including the urban poor, persons with disabilities, youth and women.
The session on innovation focused on strengthening the partnerships between scientists and policymakers. And in the afternoon, there will be a session reviewing the progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal 7, which calls for ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m. here, there will be a briefing here by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) on forests and water, in the context of the High-Level Political Forum. This briefing is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations.
At noon, the guest will be Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN–Habitat). She will brief, in the context of the HLPF, on the implementation of SDG 11.
And then at 2:30 p.m., Lisa Filipetto, Head of the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), will be here to brief on the situation in Somalia.
And Immediately after my briefing, there will be a press conference here by Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
**Questions and Answers
Any questions for me before we get to that? Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Secretary‑General is in Addis Ababa to attend the African Union‑UN conference. What message is he taking to the continent?
Spokesman: Actually, the Secretary‑General is on his way back from Addis Ababa and should be arriving this afternoon here in New York. We've put out his remarks and his press conference that he gave in Addis Ababa. He did talk about a number of things, including some of the positive developments, such as the recent signs of normalization between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which he said was a sign that the winds of hope are blowing across the African continent. So, I would refer you to his press remarks, which are out on our website. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. Do you have any update on the situation… the previous situation in Jordanian‑Syrian border?
Spokesman: Yeah. What I can say on that is that the situation on the ground remains fluid as military operations and local agreements have resulted in large‑scale displacement since 17 June. We are hearing reports of some people returning to their homes in south-western Syria. We are currently reviewing the displacement figures and will provide an update in due course. And if that's it… yes?
Question: You said earlier that Mr. Lowcock will be back on the 12… his trip is from 9 to the 12th. So does that mean he's back in New York on the 12th? Do you know?
Spokesman: I believe there will be some travel time in between. We're providing updates as we get them on his travels. I do believe he is due back in New York once his trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has finished.
Question: Okay. And, Farhan, can I raise a concern that many of us have? We're having a lot of problems with the EZTV that's freezing or going blank and also the WiFi system. And I just want to make people aware of this, because the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) is coming up, and I hope the problem can be solved, because we can't do our jobs. So, can somebody please take this seriously?
Spokesman: I hear you loud and clear. And we've also tried to bring this matter up to our TV colleagues. There have been some technological problems that they've been having, but they are trying to get them fixed. But we'll remind them that this continues to be a serious problem.
Correspondent: Yeah, yeah. It has to be fixed before UNGA or you’ll have a riot…
Spokesman: I'm well aware. Yes, Stefano?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Just have a couple of words more of records, if possible. Again, what is the position of Secretary‑General on the ports that in Europe, in Italy, for example, have been closed to ONG (non-governmental organization) boat ships that are… that have migrants rescued in the channel of Sicily in the Mediterranean? What is the position on that?
Spokesman: We do want all Governments to take steps to make sure that human life and the dignity of the refugees and migrants is kept at the forefront of how we deal with the situation. To that end, of course, as you're aware, there continue to be discussions on a Global Compact on Migration, and those are happening as we speak. We expect to be able to say more later in the week if, as we expect, there will be agreement on some language on this.
Question: Well, just… sorry for my follow… follow on this. Just I needed… I was… you know, this is what you have been always saying. What I just need is a reaction on a specific issue that these ports have been closed; like, they cannot really… they got these boats then end up to be strained. They don't know where to go, because other country, not only Italy, let's say Malta and so on, do the same. And on the boat, there are women, children, sometimes in condition… so, what is the specific… is international law respected in this situation?
Spokesman: As you know, our colleagues in UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) and the International Organization for Migration have expressed their own concerns about this, but what we're trying to make sure, although we respect, of course, the sovereign decisions taken by national Governments, is that Governments place at the forefront the need to save human lives at sea, as well as the need to respect the dignity and the basic rights of all refugees and migrants. And that's what we're trying to make sure that they do. We're aware of the various ways that they're trying to deal with this. UNHCR and IOM are in touch with the Governments, and we're hoping that a solution can be found so that places can be found for all those who are on the high seas.
Question: Just… sorry. Just to have it so I can have it on record for me, for what I am trying to write, for the Secretary‑General, international law is respected when a country close its port to ships that have people that just been rescued at sea.
Spokesman: No, that's not what I said.
Question: Well, you said you respect the decision of the… of sovereign… sovereign decision of a country means that it's a decision he can take.
Spokesman: Governments have sovereign rights, but those need to be also weighed against the responsibility of all Governments to protect human lives. That has to be at the forefront, as I've said all along. The dignity and rights of migrants and the lives of the people who are placing themselves at risk at sea, those need to be considered by all Governments, and a solution needs to be found. Our agencies on the ground, particularly the ones that deal with refugees and with migrants, that is to say, UNHCR and IOM, are in touch with Governments, and we're trying to see what sort of responsible solution can be found. Yes?
Question: I have a follow‑up question on your answer about the refugees and the border. You said some of them… you hear some of them… the reports stated that some of them have returned back to their home. Does the UN have any role on their returning home? And is the UN present at this time inside southern Syria? And if not, where and why? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, we're trying to get as much of a presence as we can. Regarding the returns, obviously, if people voluntarily choose to return to their homes, that is their right, and what we would try to do is provide them with whatever assistance they need as they go to their homes. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The Deputy Secretary‑General in her remarks in the Security Council asked for more money for the Sahelian countries, including Niger and Mali. How would that be possible given the fact that those Member States are reducing the budget of the UN?
Spokesman: Ultimately, we hope that all Member States will realize the need to make sure that there is adequate funding for programmes throughout the Sahel. Otherwise, the situation, including the security situation in the Sahel, could worsen dramatically. And that's a point she made earlier this morning in the Security Council. And with that, have a good afternoon, everyone. In just a few minutes, you will hear from Francesco Rocca. Thanks.