The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General has written a letter to the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, to express his condolences for the loss of life and destruction caused by landslides and flooding across western and central parts of Japan.
He commended the Government’s efforts to help people affected and expressed his admiration of the domestic search-and-rescue teams aiding all those in need.
The Secretary-General said that the United Nations stands by to provide support if requested.
She said that, while the impact of climate change may be spread unevenly across different regions today, no country will be spared from its consequences in the long term and Governments need to act together to find effective and sustainable solutions to this challenge.
She stressed that climate change is linked not just to environmental issues but also to food insecurity and conflicts, as she saw first-hand during her trip to the Lake Chad Basin region.
“Fragile countries are in danger of becoming stuck in a cycle of conflict and climate disaster,” the Deputy Secretary-General warned, adding that action on climate change is urgent and an integral part of building a culture of prevention and ensuring peace.
The Secretary-General said this morning in a tweet that he is appalled by recent reports [in South Sudan] of yet more brutally violent attacks, including sexual violence, on civilians across the country. He said these are gross violations of international law and may amount to war crimes. He called for all perpetrators to be held accountable.
Yesterday, as you may have seen, he congratulated the brave team that rescued 12 boys and their football coach from flooded caves in Thailand. In a tweet, he said this was such a relief for the boys and their families, adding that it is an example of international solidarity that should inspire us all.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Our colleagues from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) report to us today that they have temporarily deployed 40 peacekeepers to Bijombo, an isolated area of South Kivu where violent clashes have been reported between local armed groups for the last several weeks.
The Mission has received reports that schools, health centres, churches and entire villages have been destroyed, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to neighbouring areas such as Uvira.
The peacekeepers will promote de-escalation of conflict and facilitate the work of the UN Mission’s personnel, including human rights and protection officers, who have been in the field since this morning to [assess] and respond to the protection needs of the civilian population in the area.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock is wrapping up his three-day mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Today, he had constructive discussions with authorities, including the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s National Assembly, and the Minister of Public Health.
These meetings focused on the progress made in reducing human suffering in the past 20 years, but also on significant remaining humanitarian needs, particularly in malnutrition, water and sanitation, and availability of life-saving drugs and equipment.
Some 20 per cent of children under five are stunted and nearly half of children in rural areas do not have access to safe drinking water.
While significant progress has been made in health, serious shortages in drugs and equipment remain. For example, a hospital in Sinchon County had 140 tuberculosis patients but only has drugs to treat 40 of them.
Mr. Lowcock also met with diplomats based in Pyongyang, as well as the UN humanitarian country team.
More predictable funding is urgently needed to meet the immediate needs of the most vulnerable people in the country. Funding has declined dramatically since 2012. This year, the Needs and Priorities Plan has received less than 11 per cent of the $111 million requested to provide urgent life-saving assistance for 6 million people.
Our humanitarian colleagues continue to receive reports of hostilities in Dara’a city in Syria as well as in the Yarmouk basin area in Syria’s south-western Dara’a governorate. Up to 10,000 people were reportedly displaced towards the Dara’a and Quneitra countryside due to fighting in the Yarmouk basin.
Up to 234,500 people remain internally displaced in Dara’a and Quneitra governorates in the country. This includes a majority who are in camps in Quneitra, as well as some 30,000 to 35,000 who have moved into areas that have recently changed control.
The displaced population reportedly requires food, medical aid and shelter. There are also reports that some people are being prevented from leaving the Yarmouk basin area by the Da’esh-affiliated group in the area.
The UN calls again on all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, allow freedom of movement, and protect civilian infrastructure at all times and in accordance with international humanitarian law. It also calls for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all those in need.
**World Population Day
Today is World Population Day and this year’s theme is “Family Planning is a Human Right,” which highlights the right of women and men to choose when and how often to embrace parenthood — if at all. The Day also serves as a reminder for countries to make family planning information and services available and accessible to all their citizens.
**High-Level Political Forum
Just a note from the HLPF that’s ongoing right now: the third morning of the High-Level Political Forum convened two sessions: one on perspectives from small island developing States (SIDS) and another on the perspectives of least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), and middle-income countries (MICs).
The session on small island developing States examined the issue of building island and community resilience through the perspective of water and sustainable energy, with acknowledgment that reducing poverty, triggering economic growth and building resilient societies requires harnessing the potential of ecosystems to satisfy the demands of water and energy.
Regarding the other session, many countries in special situations are experiencing rapid urbanization, with rural-urban migration expanding the peripheries of many cities. They often suffer disproportionately from deforestation and loss of biodiversity; declining water availability and degraded water quality; land and soil degradation, desertification, and the adverse impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events, floods, droughts and cyclones.
**Global Goals Day
Our friends in the New York City Mayor’s office for global affairs today announced that New York City has become the first city to submit a voluntary review of its local progress on the Sustainable Development Goals to the United Nations.
The city’s Voluntary Local Review will be presented today at 3 p.m. by the Commissioner for International Affairs, Penny Abeywardena, during the High-Level Political Forum session dedicated to local government engagement. You can watch the session on webtv.un.org and the conversation can be followed on social media with the hashtag #GlobalGoalsNYC.
In a short while, I will be joined by Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, otherwise known as UN–Habitat. She will brief you, in the context of the HLPF, on the implementation of SDG 11, which is make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Ms. Sharif will be accompanied by Eduardo Lopez Moreno, the Director of Research and Capacity Building at UN-Habitat, and Robert Ndugwa, the Chief of Global Urban Observatory Unit, also at UN-Habitat.
And as a reminder, tomorrow at noon, the Secretary-General will be here for a press conference. And obviously there will be no noon briefing.
Then at 2 p.m., there will be a briefing by Pramila Patten, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She will be here to brief you on her recent trip to South Sudan.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. Two follow‑ups. On Mark Lowcock's visit to the DPRK, I'm sure a lot of us would like to hear what he has to say. Would it be possible to get him to talk?
Spokesman: Sure. We'll ask him. I think it's a good idea.
Question: And, secondly, on the letter that the Secretary‑General's written to the Japanese Prime Minister, are you going to be releasing copies of the letter?
Spokesman: Not copies of the letter, but I think you got the gist and details of the letter in what I've just read out.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, on this Iran deal which was reached between the international community and Iran and… as you know, Iran has been allowed to, you know, do business with the international community unless… now, there is a… what is the Secretary‑General… has any advice for countries which are now being threatened by one nation, which is not allowing that Iran… oil be taken by them. Like, for instance, in case of India and Pakistan, the oil Pak… these two countries are being threatened with sanctions, I mean, whatever [inaudible], if they do business with Iran. Does the Secretary‑General has anything to say about that?
Spokesman: Well, you know, some of these are bilateral issues. The Secretary‑General, for his part, has repeatedly voiced his support for the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and stressed that issues that are not included in the JCPOA should be dealt with outside of its programme. Mr. Avni. Welcome.
Question: Thank you. Can you update us on the status of the usual occupant of this chair?
Spokesman: The usual occupant of this chair?
Question: Of this chair.
Spokesman: His… there was an incident, I think, last week or a bit… I'm starting to get lost in the weeks. His status is being reviewed. And I know… my understanding is that he will be having discussions with various parts of this administration, and then we'll keep you updated, and I'm sure he will keep you updated.
Question: And is he currently suspended? Is he barred entry to this…
Spokesman: Yes. His credentials and pass have been suspended, pending review. Mr. Abbadi… one second. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. A follow‑up to Edie's question on the letter of the SG to Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe. What assistance… what kind of assistance can the UN provide to Japan which Japan… that Japan cannot provide for itself?
Spokesman: Well, that would be up to the Japanese authorities to decide what they would like from us. Obviously, I think the strength of the UN system in these kinds of cases is on coordinating international aid. As we know, Japan has a very advanced and effective search‑and‑rescue and civil safety system, and I think the Secretary‑General praised the way… Japan's handling in that regard. So, we're, obviously, on standby for whatever they… whatever help they would need, but they would have to tell us what help they would need.
Question: Stéphane, do you have any update on the plight of the Rohingya refugees who are to be repatriated but are still waiting? Any response from the Myanmar Government? Do you have any update on that?
Spokesman: No update. Just a… I would urge you, if you have a chance, to read the opinion piece published by the Secretary‑General in The Washington Post today, which is a reflection of his recent trip. And I think the horror of what he heard first‑hand from these refugees, from the men, from the women, from the children, the violence they had suffered in Rakhine State, from the plight they are still… their plight in the refugee camps. Our humanitarian appeal is underfunded. We need more funds for them. I think we also very much welcome the World Bank's initiatives, providing assistance to Bangladesh and the communities and the refugees. But, at this point, I think the conditions for their return are not there yet to Rakhine. And, as we've said, as a matter of principle and also specifically in this case, any return needs to be voluntary and be done safely and in dignity.
Question: Because… do you have any update on Yemen? Has there been… has there been a deal struck…
Spokesman: I think when… we're all looking at the chimney, and when white smoke comes out, we shall announce it. But right now, we have nothing to announce. Mr. Avni and then…
Question: Ambassador Nikki Haley of the United States wrote an Op‑Ed, speaking of Op‑Eds, about the UN report on US poverty. She basically said it's a waste of money but report… such reports should be addressed to cases in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], Venezuela, and so forth. Is the Secretary-General concerned that that will reflect on the US relations with the UN and specifically on budgets?
Spokesman: Look, I'm not going to speculate on what may or may not impact the US‑UN relationship, especially when it comes to budgets. As a matter of principle, it is very important… I think the UN human rights architecture, including its special rapporteurs, which as you know, operate fully… in full independence of the Secretary‑General. They're appointed in their personal capacities by the Human Rights Council. They do, I think, very important work. And the Secretary‑General supports the work of the special rapporteurs.
Question: But, to follow up on that, in the Op‑Ed, Nikki Haley did not specifically refer to special rapporteur, although she addressed the issues in his report, but she used the term "the UN" over and over again. And the question is, again, does that reflect… because, I mean, a lot of people in the US, obviously, see their representative at the UN as someone who represents them. So, does that… are you concerned that such reports and… and even though they're… the Secretary-General has nothing to do with them, you know, to… are bad for the UN's image in the United States?
Spokesman: That's an analysis, I think, best left to columnists. The…
Correspondent: To Ambassadors?
Spokesman: No, no, I'm saying to… I was referring to you. Oh, to you. Yeah, yeah. I think… I understand. I'm not going to speculate on the impact that it may have. The UN is a big place, a lot of moving parts, some of which the Secretary‑General has control over. Others are Member State issues. And I think sometimes Member States should address Member State issues to Member States, and that's something that I think is… that applies to many situations. Señor?
Question: Thank you. Do you have any new message on the situation in Nicaragua, considering the violent clashes over the past few days?
Spokesman: Sure, I think we're very much concerned about the ongoing violence. I do expect a statement from the Secretary‑General on that a bit later this afternoon. But it is a situation that he's been following closely, and he very much supports the work done by the Catholic bishops in that regard, for political dialogue. Sir?
Question: There was a tweet from the DPA [Department of Political Affairs] that there was a political mission going to Maldives yesterday. Do you have any further information about that?
Spokesman: No, I will… let me check, and I will get back to you. All right. I will now ask our guest to come up. And, after Ms. Sharif is done, Brenden Varma will brief you on behalf of the PGA [President of the General Assembly]. So please.