The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
I am expecting a statement on Pakistan to come down shortly but in the meantime, you will have seen that we issued this morning a statement on Cambodia. As Cambodians prepare to take part in the elections scheduled for 29 July, the Secretary‑General recalls that an inclusive and pluralistic political process remains essential for safeguarding the progress made by Cambodia in consolidating peace. The Secretary‑General calls on all actors to reduce tensions and political polarization. He calls upon the Government to uphold international human rights standards and in particular to ensure guarantees for civil society actors and political parties to exercise their democratic rights. He reiterates the continued commitment of the United Nations to support a peaceful and democratic Cambodia that fully respects the human rights of all its citizens.
[The Spokesman later read the following statement:
The Secretary‑General congratulates the people of Pakistan on the 25 July general elections. By exercising their constitutional right to vote, the people of Pakistan have reaffirmed their commitment to a democratic Pakistan. The Secretary‑General commends the Electoral Commission of Pakistan for the organization of the elections, noting positive initiatives related to training and efforts to enhance the inclusion of women, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, as well as first‑time voters, in the electoral process. The United Nations is committed to continue to support the Electoral Commission. The Secretary‑General looks forward to the formation of the new government and wishes it success in providing the people of Pakistan a stable, democratic and prosperous future.]
Also on our electoral updates: ahead of the presidential election that will also take place on 29 July in Mali, our peacekeeping Mission in the country, MINUSMA, reports that the security situation remains volatile, with local inter‑community tensions and the risk of criminal and terrorist actions in the north and the centre of the country. So far, however, there have been no major incidents related to the electoral process.
The UN Mission is providing technical assistance to the Malian authorities’ efforts to create conditions conducive for the holding of credible and peaceful elections. This includes the preparation and dispatching of electoral materials, back‑up security support, as well as sensitization, transportation and training of electoral officials. The Mission also has made transportation available for all candidates to travel to the north and centre of the country for campaigning purposes. The Special Representative and Head of the Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, is proactively performing his good offices and political support mandate, with a view to ensuring that any electoral‑related dispute is resolved peacefully and in accordance with the law. The Mission is closely coordinating with international, regional and national partners that have been deployed to observe the electoral process.
Here, the Security Council is meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria this morning. The Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that the UN and its partners have mobilized a response that is reaching tens of thousands of people across much of the south‑west. However, some 110,000 newly displaced people remain in Quneitra in [areas] largely cut off from aid. He said that humanitarian organizations continue to reach millions of people across Syria, with more than 3 million people having received food last month alone. But he stressed that needs in many areas have continued to grow, particularly in the south‑west and north‑west, as well as in Raqqa. The Emergency Relief Coordinator noted that the UN appeal for Syria this year is still substantially underfunded, and also emphasized the need for safe, unimpeded and sustained access.
For her part, Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said that children continue to be disproportionately affected by the conflict. She said it was essential that the Security Council does all that is in its power to put pressure on parties to [conflict] to comply with their obligations under international law and ensure that children are no longer subject to grave violations of their rights. Ms. Gamba said that it is time for the children of Syria to believe in their own future and to learn what peace means. Their statements have been made available to you.
Yesterday afternoon, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in Colombia, Jean Arnault, briefed the Security Council. He said the UN stands ready to adopt the same collaborative approach with the incoming administration of President‑elect Iván Duque that the Mission pursued with President Santos. His text was made available to you as well.
**Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that recovery and response efforts are continuing in the wake of Monday’s dam collapse in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The United Nations is working closely with the Government to provide any support requested. The UN is also bringing together all international NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] and development partners to coordinate support and to meet the immediate needs. Several UN agencies are helping the Government on the ground, including through the deployment of staff to the impacted areas to assess road conditions and immediate needs, and to provide food, medicine and hygiene supplies.
This year, the Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $10 million to respond to the urgent food needs of 382,000 people in Chad and to provide nutrition support to 72,000 children under the age of 5. Twenty‑two thousand of these children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. In June, more than 1 million people in Chad were assisted with food support. Chad’s food security and nutrition situation is showing a marked deterioration compared to last year as a result of severe rainfall deficits in 2017 which have compounded conflict dynamics and high food prices.
Tomorrow, 28 July, the World Health Organization (WHO) marks World Hepatitis Day. This day focuses on raising awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis, a major health problem that needs an urgent international response. According to WHO, there were approximately 325 million people living with chronic hepatitis as of 2015, and about 1.34 million deaths per year are caused by viral hepatitis, higher rates than HIV/AIDS or malaria.
However, 90 per cent of people with hepatitis B and 80 per cent of those with hepatitis C do not even know it, which prevents them from seeking appropriate medical care and taking measures to avoid transmission of hepatitis. This pause means that you are now free to ask your questions. It’s a tradition usually, yeah. Go ahead, Yassein.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah. Hi, Stéphane. Do you have an update for the Yemen?
Spokesman: No, I do not have… I do not.
Correspondent: I heard the news in the morning, you know, the special report. I was watching the news in the morning. Something going on in Taiz.
Spokesman: Sorry. No, I don’t have, I don’t have any updates. The work of the… of the Special Envoy, Mr. [Martin] Griffiths, continues, and he’s actively engaging with all the parties. Yes.
Question: Stéphane, Zimbabweans go to the polls on Monday in the first elections in the post‑Mugabe era, the first time Robert Mugabe won’t be on the… on the ballot in almost 40 years. Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about these historic elections?
Spokesman: This is obviously a momentous moment for the people of Zimbabwe. The United Nations, through its country team, has been very… working very closely, providing assistance that is geared towards facilitating credible, inclusive and transparent elections in Zimbabwe, and that means the work that we’re doing is on supporting the electoral commissions, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission. The technical assistance to the Electoral Commission is managed by UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and it focuses on capacity‑building in the area of biometric voter registration, voter education and strengthening the Commission’s engagement with stakeholders and obviously, we’ll be watching, watching the elections and we very much hope that it goes off and it goes off well. James, and then… yeah.
Question: While we’re on the subject of credible elections, I’m trying to decipher your statement on Cambodia. Does the Secretary‑General believe that the elections can be credible with no participation by the main opposition group?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the Secretary‑General has in the past expressed his concern at the shrinking political space in Cambodia. He’s made that… he’s made that known and he’s made that… made that known very clearly. Obviously, we want to see how the elections go about, but I think the Secretary‑General’s message is a need for inclusive and pluralistic political process remains essential in safeguarding the progress made by the Cambodians in consolidating peace.
Question: A follow‑up. You say you want to see how the elections go about. I can tell you Hun Sen will be the Prime Minister, number one. How disappointed is the Secretary‑General, after all the work that’s been done, all the money that’s been spent by the international community, from UNTAC [the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia] in 1992, by the state of things in Cambodia now?
Spokesman: As I said, I think the issue of human rights, of shrinking political space, is one that the Secretary‑General has underscored and underscored his concerns and other parts of the UN system have, as well. Yes, sir.
Question: I want to come back to Yemen. Two Saudi oil tankers came under attack by the Houthis two days ago in the Red Sea. This, of course, can threaten the maritime security and the… and the transit through Bab el‑Mandeb Strait. This could trigger also environment catastrophe and this is not the first time this has happened. Why we didn’t hear anything from the UN about it?
Spokesman: Well, we did. I mean, I spoke about it, I’ve been speaking about it for the last couple of days. It is of great concern to us that commercial ships are being attacked. I think those kinds of attacks are inexcusable and need to be… are inexcusable, and I think it underscores the repercussions that this conflict has beyond the physical borders of Yemen of threatening a critical shipping lane for international trade. This and the continuing suffering of the Yemeni people, is… should only serve as yet another reminder for the parties to return to political talks. Evelyn, and then we’ll go…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I got the distinct impression from listening to the Syrian discussion at the Security Council that everyone’s very concerned about getting proper aid and help to the civilians and the children, but as Russia said, there are not many besieged areas left, so is the war nearly over, with Assad having achieved what he started out to?
Spokesman: We need a… we continue to need a political solution to the conflict in Syria. That road map is laid out by the relevant Security Council resolutions and that’s what Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura is focusing on in his efforts and as you know, he’s… he’s continuing… he’s very much continuing those efforts. The humanitarian needs and the suffering of the Syrian people very much continues. Mademoiselle, you’ve been very patient. And then go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions if you don’t mind. A few days ago, [United States] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and also Ministers of Foreign Affairs of UK and Poland, etc., they made an official statement of non‑recognition of occupation of Crimea by Russians. In their declaration, they refer to implementation of the international principles of the UN. Does the UN has its own statement about Crimea according to the last news? And the second one, question…
Spokesman: Let me take them one at a time because my recall capacity is fairly limited by the time Friday rolls around. As far as Crimean recognition, recognition of Crimea. The UN has been guided and is guided by the relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on Ukraine, including the General Assembly resolutions 262, 205 and 190 that reaffirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and that is the Secretary‑General’s and the UN’s guiding principles.
Question: And the second question is kind of even more interesting because yesterday, Russian Ambassador to UN, Vassily Nebenzia, went to the occupied Crimea Peninsula, which is… itself undermines international law, but even more, he opened some kind of UN children’s assembly in children’s camp called Artek in Crimea. So does UN has any relations to that kind of camp?
Spokesman: No, no…
Question: And what’s going to be your reaction on that visit of Ambassador?
Spokesman: We’ve seen the media reports referring to the… the events you mentioned. We do not have any access or presence in Crimea. We abide by the relevant GA resolutions, which I have just mentioned, that reaffirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The UN is not associated with the event that you mentioned and according to news reports seems to be a locally organized event for children.
Correspondent: But [inaudible] ambassador… visit of ambassador, official visit to occupied territory, which undermines international law.
Spokesman: I have no specific comment on the presence of Mr. Nebenzia. Yes, sir, and then mademoiselle.
Question: The Palestinian question in Gaza, the West Bank. Today in Gaza, another Palestinian was killed and so far since the strangulation began, when it stopped supplying any supplies into… into Gaza, 150 people have been killed. One hundred and fifty Palestinians have been killed. Do you have anything to say about that? And is there… is there a movement in, what do you call, releasing some of the aids to the… the Gaza people?
Spokesman: [Inaudible]… in Gaza very recently, if not earlier today or yesterday. He is working with all the various parties in trying to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the people in Gaza. We have seen that there was fuel that came in through the Kerem Shalom Crossing. Recently, medicines have gone in and obviously, the immediate focus is on the humanitarian situation, but there needs to be a broader and longer‑term focus on the political situation.
Question: [Inaudible]… that it’s been opened up?
Spokesman: I think I just said that they have.
Question: And another thing… [inaudible]… statement on Pakistan. How long is it taking for the statement on Pakistan?
Spokesman: Statements at the UN work in mysterious ways, and there’s a pipeline that goes around different floors in this building. It turns, it twists and at some point, it pops up into my office and I grab it and I read it for you. So I hear the clanging. I know it’s in the pipeline somewhere, and I hope to have it soon. Madame.
Question: Monsieur, I wanted to ask you about the White Helmets. I think you’re aware that the… a senior member of the White Helmets is urging the UN to help stranded colleagues who didn’t make it out and who are still in Syria escape, move, be extracted from south‑western Syria. And I’m wondering if the UN is in touch with the White Helmets? Are you speaking or lobbying Syria or Russia to allow them to leave? Are you talking to Jordan or Israel to help them across the border?
Spokesman: We’re aware of the… of the concerns relating to the safety of humanitarian civil society workers in the south‑west of Syria. We remain available to facilitate humanitarian efforts in accordance with well‑established practice and the relevant conventions, but I do not want to go into any further details at this point. Ben.
Question: How much is the actual shortfall of the UN regular budget?
Spokesman: Please, let’s not go into numbers again. I will give you the numbers that we had as of yesterday since no money… no money came in.
Correspondent: $800 million was batted around.
Spokesman: The outstanding amount for 2018 right now is $809,990,043.53.
Question: And just a separate question, if I may. You mentioned an Inner City Press investigation going on under… through the system. Is there a separate investigation going on from the point of view of the accusations of… of a member of the UN press corps being roughed up or is that all under the…?
Spokesman: That’s all being… everything is being looked at as one.
Question: Sorry, can I just… do you expect that to be wrapped up by the General Assembly debate?
Spokesman: I would very much hope so.
Spokesman: No, I’m waiting for words to be given to me and then…
Question: Can I just get a follow‑up… the question… I’m just wondering is there anything more that you can tell us that the UN is doing with regards to civil society, the White Helmets…?
Spokesman: As I said, we’re… we’re aware of the situation of the civil society and others, but I really do not want, cannot go into further details at this point. Thank you.