The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Eri Kaneko, Associate Spokeswoman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, welcome to the noon briefing. As you will have seen in a note to correspondents we issued earlier today, the Secretary-General will arrive in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, 7 August. On the morning of Wednesday, 8 August, the Secretary-General will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. During his visit, the Secretary-General is also expected to meet with Foreign Minister Taro Kono. On the afternoon of 8 August, the Secretary-General will travel to Nagasaki, where he will meet with the Mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, and other local officials, as well as with some hibakusha, or survivors of the atomic bombs. The following morning, on Thursday, 9 August, the Secretary-General will visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims before taking part in the seventy-third Nagasaki Peace Ceremony. He will return to New York that same evening.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
We have a personnel appointment. Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Jens Wandel of Denmark as his Special Adviser on Reforms. The Secretary-General has decided to establish a reform coordination structure under the joint leadership of the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet to ensure a unified and cohesive change management programme across all three reforms, with dedicated teams to service each individual stream. The transition team will be headed by the Special Adviser on Reforms to ensure the overall coordination of the three reform streams which are sustainable development, peace and security, and management. Mr. Wandel has had many years of distinguished service within the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and you can find details about his bio on our website.
The Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, chaired informal consultations today with senior Iranian, Russian and Turkish representatives during the Astana-format meeting in Sochi. The consultations focused on realizing further progress on the implementation of the Sochi final statement and the establishment of a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned constitutional committee, facilitated by the United Nations, within the framework of the Geneva process and in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). The meeting saw useful exchanges on the composition of the constitutional committee, in line with the criteria outlined in resolution 2254 (2015) and the Sochi final statement, as well as a range of other issues related to the establishment and functioning of a constitutional committee. The Special Envoy looks forward to holding formal consultations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey, very early in September in Geneva, to begin to finalize the constitutional committee.
Also on Syria, The United Nations remains deeply concerned over the reported ongoing large-scale displacement across parts of Syria and its impact on the civilian population. In the first half of 2018, nearly 1.2 million people were reportedly internally displaced, an average of over 6,500 people per day or close to 200,000 per month. The largest movement of internally displaced people occurred in Idleb in the first quarter of the year as the Syrian Government offensive displaced nearly 400,000 people, and more recently in Dara’a, where military operations displaced more than 300,000 people. The magnitude of ongoing displacement places significant strain on host communities, some which are overstretched to support the large numbers of people arriving. The United Nations continues to respond to those in need, particularly internally displaced people. In June, the United Nations provided food aid to over 400,000 people in north-west Syria, many of them internally displaced persons, and to nearly 100,000 people in the south via cross-border operations.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that funding for the United Nations‑assisted emergency fuel programme for back-up generators in Gaza has been exhausted. As a result, only two thirds of the regular 950,000 litres of fuel will be distributed to 231 critical health, and water sanitation and hygiene facilities in August. In the absence of new funding, emergency fuel distributions will end by mid-August. Some $4.5 million is urgently needed for the operation to continue. The lack of emergency fuel will severely affect the provision of basic services to 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, including more than 2,000 patients in hospitals relying on electrical devices. Overall, some 1.27 million people will be directly affected by the closure of the hospitals and reduction in provision of vital health interventions. Additionally, the reduced functioning of water and sanitation facilities risks an increase of waterborne diseases and outbreaks.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today said that it is concerned about the continuing arrests and apparently arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia, including women’s rights activists. Since 15 May, at least 15 Government critics have been detained, the Office says. In some cases, their whereabouts are unknown and there is a serious lack of transparency in the processing of their cases. The Office urges the Government of Saudi Arabia to unconditionally release all human rights defenders and activists who have been detained for their peaceful human rights work, including their decades-long campaigns for the lifting of the driving ban for women. Any investigations must be held in a transparent manner, with full respect for due process rights.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called for international solidarity and support for countries hosting Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers, as thousands of people are fleeing the mounting political tensions and violence in that country. UNHCR said that, in recent months, the number of asylum applications by Nicaraguans in neighbouring Costa Rica and other countries has increased exponentially. Nearly 8,000 asylum claims by Nicaraguan nationals have been registered in Costa Rica since April, and some 15,000 more have been given appointments for a later date, as national processing capacities have been overwhelmed. Panama, Mexico and the United States have also recorded growing claims by Nicaraguans. UNHCR is strengthening its presence in Costa Rica’s northern border region and working with the Government to provide protection and assistance to thousands of Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers. In Nicaragua itself, UNHCR is closely following up on the situation of more than 700 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from El Salvador and Honduras.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today released a report which says that some 78 million babies — or 3 in 5 — are not breastfed within their first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue breastfeeding. The report found that breastfeeding rates within the first hour of birth are highest in Eastern and Southern Africa (65 per cent) and lowest in East Asia and the Pacific (32 per cent). Nearly 9 in 10 babies born in Burundi, Sri Lanka and Vanuatu are breastfed within the first hour. By contrast, this only happens for 2 in 10 babies born in Azerbaijan, Chad and Montenegro. The report urges Governments, donors and other decision-makers to adopt measures to restrict the marketing of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes.
Today we are happy to welcome Guyana to the Honour Roll. This full payment from Georgetown to the regular budget takes the total membership to 113.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 3 p.m., here in this room there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Karen Pierce of the United Kingdom, President of the Security Council for the month of August. She will discuss the Council’s monthly programme of work with you. And that's it for me. Do you have any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you; Motokura from Kyodo News. I have to ask about the Secretary-General’s trip to Japan. I understand that this is going to be the Secretary‑General's first trip to Nagasaki, to participate in a peace ceremony of the City of Nagasaki, and what will be the main message from Secretary‑General to the people in Nagasaki and also what will be the main topic that he is going to talk with Prime Minister Abe? Thank you.
Associate Spokeswoman: As you know, the Secretary‑General has a very strong disarmament agenda which he has spoken about with you in this room, as well. He is also going to Nagasaki as the first Secretary‑General of the United Nations to visit the… not to visit the ceremony, but visit the city, excuse me, but to attend the ceremony to pay his respects to the victims. As we mentioned earlier, he will visit a museum; he will meet with victims from both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the mayor and other local officials, to discuss their experiences and their ideas for how to promote nuclear disarmament. He will speak with the Prime Minister on a range of topics, not just disarmament, but other issues of mutual concern, as well. I think we can expect topics such as North Korea to come up.
Question: Some more follow‑up on that: Is he trying to talk to Prime Minister Abe about the nuclear‑ban treaty that was adopted last year? I'm asking this because a few weeks ago Farhan [Haq] explained to us in the noon briefing that on the occasion of adoption of one‑year anniversary, the Secretary‑General encouraged all Member States to sign and ratify the treaty and he will bring up this issue in the talk with Prime Minister at this time?
Associate Spokeswoman: I don't think the agenda has been formalized, but we will let you know when we have more information on this. Thank you. Edie?
Question: One follow‑up on that, I just want to make clear, so Secretary‑General [António] Guterres will be the first UN Secretary‑General to go to the Nagasaki…?
Associate Spokeswoman: Ceremony.
Question: Ceremony, but I believe that his predecessor Ban Ki‑moon went to the Hiroshima ceremony?
Associate Spokeswoman: Yes. So, Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon went to the Hiroshima ceremony, I believe it was 2010, and he visited Nagasaki afterwards, but he did not attend the ceremony.
Question: Okay, and a question on the inauguration of the President of Nicaragua… I’m sorry, Colombia next week. Who is going to be represented the United Nations?
Associate Spokeswoman: I don't have any information on that, but we will check and get back to you.
Question: Yes, thank you, Eri. I assume Secretary‑General is preparing his regular three‑month… a report on Kosovo. However, there is some discussion so far behind the closed doors that the new format should be not to be released at the Security Council meeting or to be discussed at the Security Council meeting. What is the opinion of Secretary‑General? Is that the proper way or only way or what other?
Associate Spokeswoman: As the mission is mandated by the Security Council, I think he would like to discuss it in the format of the Security Council. But, we will check in and if there is anything new we have. I'll get back to you on that.
Question: Hi, regarding Nicaragua, the President of Nicaragua said last night in an interview with CNN in Spanish that his Government is consulting with the Secretary‑General on a new form of dialogue. I wonder if you can share more details about it, what are the discussions, when was the last time they talked? And any details you can give us would be helpful. Thank you.
Associate Spokeswoman: We saw the same reports. I don't have any information to give you other than to say that you have seen what the Secretary‑General said on the issue, as well as our good offices remain open should the sides want to engage with him.
Question: There has not been talk about any formal dialogue?
Associate Spokeswoman: There is nothing I can tell you at this moment. Masood?
Question: Thank you. I just want to ask you, has the United Nations officials been successful in asking Israeli to release… to, what do you call, ease up on the Gaza crossings into Gaza? Has it been successful, any successful talk to the Israelis?
Associate Spokeswoman: As you will recall last week, thanks to some interventions by the UN, Egypt and others, we were able to see an opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing to let some fuel out. What we are asking for is an easing in all areas to allow more goods and items into Gaza, as well as more funding, the situation which you are probably aware of.
Question: Yes, thank you. Today there was information, some Russian media quoted United Nations Mission in African… in Central African Republic about the possible killing of three Russian journalists, and does the UN have any information at this moment about what happened and any updates about it?
Associate Spokeswoman: We haven't received any information on this and we will look into this, but our principle, as you know, stands about the importance of press freedom and the importance of journalists to be able to go about their work safely. Michelle?
Question: Thanks, Eri. Prince Zeid has one month left as High Commissioner for Human Rights. When does the SG hope to announce his replacement? Do they expect there to be any gap?
Associate Spokeswoman: We typically hope there is no gap. I believe, in his case, there was no gap. I need to double‑check on that, but we hope to be able to give you a name as soon as possible. All right, thank you very much. Have a good day.