The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General spoke this morning at an event to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s centenary. He said that he was fortunate to have met Mr. Mandela several times, and was tremendously impressed by his vision, his wisdom, his determination and his compassion. The Secretary‑General noted that very few people in history have captured the imagination of the world as he did, while even fewer have been able to provide such inspiration. He honoured Madiba’s memory by calling on people around the world to make a difference.
Mr. Mandela, the Secretary‑General said, understood that we each have in our hands the ability to create a better world, a world where people are treated equally and fairly, regardless of race, faith or gender. Creating that better world is the job — indeed the duty — of our Organization, the Secretary‑General emphasized. You can read his full remarks on our website.
**High‑Level Political Forum
The Secretary-General is to address the closing session of the High‑Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development this afternoon, and he will say that the past eight days of the Forum have been a time to recommit to the transformative vision of the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] and to assess where we are. The Secretary‑General will say that, although we see important progress in a number of areas around the world, the past week’s discussions have also made clear that we are lagging or even backtracking in other areas that are fundamental to our shared pledge to leave no one behind. And he is to assert that we need to embed the essence of the 2030 Agenda into everything that we do.
Ján Kubiš, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, in a statement yesterday urged the Iraqi Government to fully respect and address the people’s legitimate concerns, following recent demonstrations over the lack of services and job opportunities and the need for improved living conditions. He calls on the political actors to ensure that the next administration prioritizes good governance, reforms and the fight against corruption that will enable economic development and progress, job creation and delivery of critical public services.
At the same time, the Special Representative is deeply concerned about violence as well as acts of vandalism, which accompanied some of the otherwise largely peaceful public protests. He regrets the loss of life and numerous injuries on the side of both protestors and security forces and the destruction of public and private property, including offices of Government institutions and political parties, as well as oil and public infrastructure. Mr. Kubiš underscores the inalienable right of the people to freedom of expression, including to partake in peaceful demonstrations without fear and intimidation or arbitrary detentions while abiding by the law, and to have unfettered access to information. It is the duty of the authorities to enable such lawful demonstrations and to protect their participants. While maintaining law and order, he added, the security forces must exercise restraint and avoid use of excessive disproportionate, lethal force. He also warns against allowing intruders and opportunists to exploit the otherwise legitimate demonstrations for their political purposes, to trigger disturbances.
The United Nations is deeply concerned about the protection of civilians affected by hostilities in southern Syria, as military operations continue in the south‑western Governorates of Dara’a and Quneitra. Continued air strikes and shelling on the town of Nawa, in western Dara’a Governorate, reportedly resulted in further death and injury, in addition to rendering the only field hospital in the town inoperable.
In the meantime, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent delivered UN humanitarian assistance for nearly 10,000 people in six areas in parts of eastern Dara’a Governorate that have recently come under the control of the Government of Syria. The United Nations continues to call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with obligations under international humanitarian law. The United Nations also calls for safe, sustained and unimpeded access to all those in need through the most direct routes.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the situation in the north‑west and south‑west regions of Cameroon continues to deteriorate and that humanitarian needs are growing steadily. An emergency response plan was launched last May as the escalation of tension and upsurge in hostilities between non‑State armed groups and defence and security forces triggered humanitarian needs across the two regions. The plan aimed to assist 160,000 displaced people for an initial period of three months and was seeking $15 million.
As of mid‑June, it was estimated that 211,000 people were displaced because of the conflict: this is a thirty‑two per cent increase in the number of people in need. There have not been any financial commitments by international donors in support of the emergency plan. Donor funding is urgently required.
UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] issued a stark wakeup call today, saying that time is running out to reach the 2020 targets for HIV. New HIV infections are rising in some 50 countries, while AIDS‑related deaths are not falling fast enough. A new UNAIDS report has found that gains made for children are not being sustained. New HIV infections among children have declined only 8 per cent in the past two years, with just over half of all children living with HIV receiving treatment and 110,000 children dying from AIDS‑related illnesses last year.
The report also noted that discrimination by health‑care workers, law enforcement, teachers, religious leaders and others is preventing young people and people living with HIV, among others, from accessing HIV prevention, treatment and other sexual and reproductive health services. You can find the full report on UNAIDS’ website.
The Secretary-General has written to the President of Namibia to offer his condolences on the passing of Dr. Theo‑Ben Gurirab, who had been the President of the fifty‑fourth session of the General Assembly.
The Secretary‑General recalled that Dr. Gurirab, when serving as SWAPO’s [South West Africa People’s Organization] representative at the United Nations from the early 1970s, had been an untiring champion of self‑determination and justice, leading the diplomatic efforts that eventually led to the establishment of an independent Namibia. The Secretary‑General said that his achievements will serve as a powerful reminder to the United Nations and the entire international community to persevere in the quest for a more peaceful and just world through diplomacy and peaceful engagement.
After I’m done, we’ll hear from Brenden Varma. And then this afternoon, at around 3:15 p.m., Annika Söder, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout ahead of the meeting on the partnership between the UN and the African Union on issues of peace and security in Africa. Before that, yes, Philippe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I would like to know, what is your reaction to the withdrawal of Hungary from the global agreement on migration?
Deputy Spokesman: What we can say about that is that all Member States, as they themselves agreed when calling for the conference, are welcome to participate in the conference to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration at the Global Conference in Morocco in December. The global conference aims to provide Member States with a set of principle… the Global Compact, rather, on migration aims to provide Member States with a set of principles and values, grounded in international cooperation and respectful of national interests, to deal with international migration. Yes, Betul?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I was wondering if the SG has a comment on the lifting of state of emergency in Turkey.
Deputy Spokesman: There’s no comment at this stage. We’ll… we’re studying this announcement. Obviously, it will be good to see if a climate is created where all basic rights can be upheld. Yes, please. Maria?
Question: It’s Maria. Russian Defence Minister informed today about creation of new refugee centre in Syria, which should help people come home from abroad. Do you have any comments on that? And was the UN informed about this initiative? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t believe we’ve gotten the details about this initiative just yet, but, at this point, of course, what we want to do is make sure that all Governments help with the efforts to bring the refugees back to their homes. Ultimately, what that means is creating a safe environment, ending the hostilities, and then creating the conditions conducive for their return. Yes, Joe?
Question: Yeah. I have two questions, but just, first, on that one, I didn’t hear; the initiative was relating to Syria? Or to…?
Correspondent: Yes. To Syria.
Question: Yeah, okay, and was your response… did it also address at least the intimation at the Helsinki summit that it would… that Russia and the US would look for ways… specific ways to relieve the humanitarian situation and whether there’s been any contact with the UN to try to implement any understanding that they had? That was… that’s my first question but…
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think that there’s been any formal communications on any such agreement. We, of course, would appreciate any efforts by the countries involved in the conflict to work together to create the right conditions on the ground, to improve the humanitarian climate, as well as to allow for the eventual return of refugees.
Question: All right. Now, my second question, which is unrelated, is really a follow‑up to one that’s been asked here last week and the week before, and that’s a report on the current status of the investigation into the events on 3 July leading, ultimately, to the ouster, at least temporary ouster, of Inner City Press. And did the Secretary‑General receive any communications from any non‑governmental organization (NGO) on… on this subject? For example, I think it’s called the Global Accountability Project or something like that.
Deputy Spokesman: The UN has received a letter from the Government Accountability Project, and I believe we’ll be responding to them in due course.
Question: And… and the status of the investigation? Could you…
Deputy Spokesman: It’s ongoing. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions about Syria. First of all, the evacuation of people from Kafraya and Al Foah today, is the United Nations involved in any way? And what do you think about it?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on that is the United Nations is aware of reports that dozens of buses have arrived in the besieged towns of Foah and Kafraya in Idlib Governorate following a local agreement between parties to the conflict on the evacuation of residents in the area. The estimated 8,100 people in the two towns have been besieged by non‑State armed groups since October 2015. The United Nations was not a party to any agreement reached, nor was it involved in the implementation of the agreement. The UN stands ready to provide assistance to all people in need with life‑saving humanitarian assistance, wherever they may be. The United Nations also emphasises that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary and to a place of their choosing. All those who are displaced through such local agreements must have the right of return as soon as the situation allows.
Question: Staying on Syria, President [Vladimir] Putin of Russia yesterday described the situation in Al‑Raqqah as total annihilation. This city has been totally demolished, destroyed by the attack. What is the United Nations’ view on this?
Deputy Spokesman: We have made our concerns known about the fighting throughout Syria over the course of this war, and this is one of the many reasons why we want to make sure that all of the fighting stops and we can get to the improvement of the conditions in the country and, ultimately, to its rebuilding.
Question: Do you subscribe to his opinion that it has been totally destroyed?
Deputy Spokesman: We would need to have access to the areas, but, obviously, there are many, many areas of Syria that have been destroyed over the course of this war.
Correspondent: You do have access to…
Deputy Spokesman: Please. This is not a debate. I’ve answered your question. Yes, Ben?
Question: Yeah, just two very quick questions. Following up on Joe regarding Inner City Press, you said it’s ongoing. Is there an idea of when… is there a date… any idea of when it’s actually going to come out and have a result?
Deputy Spokesman: No. I mean, once we’ve come to a decision, he’ll be informed of the decision.
Question: And Secretary [Michael] Pompeo meeting the Secretary‑General on Friday, do you have any information on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. We do expect them to meet. The time is not yet set. I expect it to be sometime in the afternoon, but we’ll have more details closer to the date.
Question: Do you know which subjects are going to be raised by the Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s any number of subjects on which we would have fruitful discussions, and you’re well aware of what those would be. We’ll see whether we can get some details after they’ve had a discussion. Yes?
Question: Yeah. Now, on Yemen, is… are… is there any development regarding the reconciliation or any solutions to the situation there?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, what I can say on that is that the Special Envoy for Yemen continues to engage with the parties to get an agreement to prevent an attack on both the city and port of Hodeidah. At the moment, both parties are studying a proposal from Martin Griffiths, which is based on a UN role in both the city and the port. Brenden, come on up.