The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Earlier this morning, we put out the following statement concerning the presidential elections in Zimbabwe: the Secretary‑General is concerned about reports of incidents of violence in Harare following the elections on 30 July. He recalls commitments the stakeholders made in the Peace Pledge and the Code of Conduct to ensure a peaceful and orderly electoral process. He calls on the political leaders and the population to exercise restraint and reject any form of violence while awaiting the announcement of the election results. He further calls on political leaders and electoral contestants to pursue any disputes through peaceful means, dialogue and in accordance with the law.
The elections mark an important step forward in Zimbabwe’s democratic development. The Secretary‑General notes the peaceful and democratic spirit, which was commended by national and international observers, during polling day. He appreciates the commitment of the people of Zimbabwe to deepen democracy and their renewed focus on development of the nation.
In another statement, we said that the Secretary‑General condemned the 31 July suicide attack targeting the provincial government’s Department of Refugees and Returnees in Jalalabad City, Afghanistan, killing at least 15 civilians, including a staff member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Any attack deliberately targeting civilians is unjustifiable and in clear violation of international law.
And in another statement, the Secretary‑General commended the Central and West African regions for their successful joint summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) on peace, security, stability and the fight against terrorism and violent extremism, which took place in Lomé, Togo, on 30 July 2018. The full statement is online.
The Security Council will hear from Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, in an open briefing followed by closed consultations this afternoon. John Ging, the Director of Operations of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will also brief the Council members on Yemen. Following that session, Mr. Griffiths will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said it is shocked to learn of the tragic death of six Nigerian asylum seekers, among them three children, who were killed in a blast in the far north of Cameroon. UNHCR has learnt that on 29 July, 12 asylum seekers were being forcibly returned to Banki, Nigeria, in a Cameroonian army truck which drove over an improvised explosive device that exploded. Six Cameroonian soldiers and six other asylum seekers were also injured in the incident, which took place in Homaka, Mayo Sava Division.
UNHCR once again calls upon the Government of Cameroon to refrain from carrying out further forced returns of Nigerian refugees and asylum seekers. It also reminds Cameroon of its obligations under international law relating to the protection of refugees and asylum seekers and the commitments it made by signing the Tripartite Agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees from Cameroon in March 2017.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that there have been new cases of the Ebola virus in the North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. WHO said the new cluster of cases is occurring in an environment which is very different from previous locations as it is an active conflict zone, and added that the major barrier will be safely accessing the affected population. The agency added that it is working closely with the Government to quickly address the outbreak. More information is available on WHO’s website.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that volcanic activity on Vanuatu’s Ambae Island, which has a population of over 10,000 people, has intensified in the last few weeks. The Vanuatu Council of Ministers has called for the immediate compulsory evacuation of Ambae residents to the neighbouring island of Maewo. The United Nations and humanitarian partners are supporting the response through the Government. OCHA is closely monitoring the situation and supporting the Resident Coordinator’s office with coordination. We will continue to report on new developments.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that global food commodity prices fell sharply in July, causing the Food Price Index to drop by 3.7 per cent, the biggest monthly drop since late last year. In particular, export prices for dairy and sugar experienced sharp declines. The Dairy Index declined by 6.6 per cent, with butter and cheese prices dropping faster than those for whole and skim milk powders. And the Sugar Index fell by 6 per cent to a nearly three‑year low, largely driven by improved production prospects in India and Thailand, both important sugar‑producing countries. More details can be found on the FAO website.
And lastly, today, Cabo Verde has paid its regular budget dues in full. Thank you very much! The Honour Roll now totals 114 Member States. And that’s it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Ben?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hi. Is… this… we’re into the third day of violent protests in Iran. Has the Secretary‑General been following? And has he got any response to claims by the opposition that the authorities are using violence against the protesters?
Deputy Spokesman: On this, we, once more, emphasize, as we do with all such protests, that the rights of peaceful… to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly needs to be respected by all, including the security forces.
Question: Has there been any conversation with the Iranians about this, this present protest, these present protests?
Deputy Spokesman: There’s nothing to disclose at this stage, but, like I said, we have a point of principle on this, and we hope that our messages will be conveyed to all who need to hear it. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Is anyone trying to mediate Cameroon Anglophone‑Francophone conflict? The shooting seems to be getting worse.
Deputy Spokesman: You’re aware of the efforts by the envoy, François Louncény Fall, and he has been working with different parties. As you know, the Secretary‑General and other officials in the system also have had discussions on this topic when they’ve been dealing with the question of Cameroon. But Mr. Fall is the person in charge of this basic issue. Yes, Rosiland?
Question: Hi. Are UN agencies aware of reports of a Saudi coalition air strike on or outside the Al‑Thawra Hospital in Hodeidah, Yemen? And, if so, what is their response?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of any particular… of that particular air strike. Obviously, we have encouraged all sides to avoid fighting in Hodeidah and ensure that Hodeidah City and the port can remain functional. As you know, Mr. Griffiths will brief the Security Council this afternoon. He’ll talk to you afterwards, and he can deal with your questions on Hodeidah and other topics at that point. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Look, I… maybe you saw the reports of a quote in the Investigations Management Centre about Russian journalist in CAR [Central African Republic] that they… they were in touch with one of UN Mission representative, and they even called his name, Martin, and that this Martin recommended them a driver and was in charge of their safety. Do you know something about the possibility of connection between the Russian journalist and the United Nations Mission in Central African Republic (MINUSCA)? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on this is that the UN Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA, is working with authorities trying to help with the investigation into these deaths. You saw what I had to say on the finding of the bodies yesterday. And, as you’re aware, the UN Mission, MINUSCA, did send a team to the area, Sibut, to help with that. And that’s where we stand for now. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Yeah, thank you, Farhan. With the liberation of Dara’a area and the Quneitra Governorates, what’s the situation in the UNDOF [United Nations Disengagement Observer Force] area? Do you have any update on the patrols or any other activity on UNDOF?
Deputy Spokesman: Actually, we are trying to get in touch with our colleagues in the UN Disengagement Observer Force and get an update on what their presence in the area is. I don’t have that update just yet, going in, but we are in touch. There’s some activity there.
Question: How about those who have fled the area? Do you have an update about the militants and the civilians who went some of them through Israel, others through Jordan?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, you… we provided an update with some of the figures just yesterday. So, look at the information we put out then. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The situation in Gaza continues… humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. Can John Ging give us a briefing?
Deputy Spokesman: On the situation in Gaza?
Correspondent: Humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. I don’t know whether he’s willing to speak at the stakeout once he does the Yemen briefing, but, in any case, we did have a statement from all of the senior UN humanitarian officials in the area just yesterday about the situation for Gaza. So, I would refer you to the joint press release that was put out at that point. Yes, please?
Question: Thank you. I asked you yesterday what the UN official statement is about changing border or changing territories in Kosovo, between Serbia and Kosovo. And you told me that UN is encouraging every kind of discussion that is going to help finding… or settle a status of Kosovo. Is UN included in the… in this process?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, as you know, this is a European Union‑led process, and we encourage, like I said, dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade on that topic.
Question: And about the idea of correcting maybe a border, what the Albanian Kosovo President said yesterday?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, this is for the parties themselves to discuss. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As you know, I think today was the first day in six years when UN peacekeepers could reach the Syrian‑Jordan border. And the question is, will the UN peacekeepers in further having their job there and in this area and how it will help with the humanitarian situation there?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, we are trying to get an update from the Disengagement Observer Force about their deployment at this point. Obviously, what we want to be able to do is make sure that the peacekeepers can go about their mandated tasks. Because of fighting in the area, that’s been difficult in recent weeks. And, if there’s an ability for them to return to their previous duties, that would certainly be something we would try to achieve, but we’re trying to get some updates about what their deployment will be. Yes?
Question: And if I might, a follow‑up question about Syria. Today, the Security Council couldn’t, again, get an agree about the situation with the chemical weapons, so how do you think it will affect the situation with the humanitarian providing to the people? And can it affect providing from France and Russia? They’re making their humanitarian goods for Syrian people.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, that’s a separate issue. Obviously, we commend the initiative by France and Russia to improve the delivery of humanitarian aid to that part of Syria. The chemical weapons issue is a different topic, and, as you know, the members of the Security Council are seized with that issue. We have stressed the need to make sure that there’s proper accountability so that chemical weapons cannot be used in Syria or elsewhere. Yes?
Question: Has there been any communication between the UN and the Gaza authorities involving the environmental terrorism that is being launched via kites? It’s burning up a lot of Israeli farms and wildlife…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: I understand the Israelis sent a letter to [Deputy Secretary‑General] Amina Mohammed. Has that been responded to? And what was the response?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not aware of whether that letter’s been formally received, but, yes, we have been in communication with the local authorities. You’ll have seen that Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, did visit Gaza, and he’s made the point to avoid the sending of any such provocations as incendiary kites. I’d refer you to the statements he has issued. [He later confirmed that the Deputy Secretary‑General had received the letter.] Yes?
Question: Is there any update on the improvement of the finances of the United Nations after the recent shortfall in the budget?
Deputy Spokesman: We’ve provided some periodic updates, but, yes, we continue to need different funds. You saw the letter that was issued by the Secretary‑General on this a couple of weeks back, and those continue to be concerns. Again, as we pointed out, some of these are concerns that are dealt with over the course of different countries’ budgetary cycles. You know, different payments come in at different times of the year, but we have fallen shorter earlier than we tend to do, and we do need support to get the money coming in now. And with that, have a good afternoon.