The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, everyone. Our humanitarian colleagues report that ongoing hostilities in north‑western Syria have exacted a heavy toll on the civilian population. At least 134 people, including many children, were reportedly killed over the weekend in Idleb, Hama and Aleppo Governorates. Yesterday, at least 59 civilians were reportedly killed, 17 of them children, when a weapons and ammunition depot exploded in a residential building near Sarmada town in northern rural Idlib Governorate.
Meanwhile, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) reports that in the past 36 hours, 28 children were reported killed in Idlib and western Aleppo in northern Syria. Three UNICEF‑supported health facilities were attacked. Two of them — providing aid to women and children — are now out of service. Education authorities reportedly suspended all school activities in Khan Shaykhun, Maarrat An Numan and Kafr Nobol in Idlib for three days due to hostilities.
We remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to protect all civilians and civilian objects, including schools and health facilities; and to allow safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all in need in compliance with international humanitarian law.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today welcomed the recent progress made towards Afghanistan’s parliamentary polls, including candidate vetting and other preparations required for printing ballots on schedule, as testament to Afghanistan’s successful ownership of the electoral process.
The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said that while preparations for the October 20 elections are on track, all parties must perform their respective roles to ensure the necessary timelines and conditions are met. He added that the UN remains committed to working with Afghan institutions as they implement reforms to enhance transparency and build trust in Afghanistan’s democratic processes, including by promoting the participation of women as voters and as candidates. More information is available on UNAMA’s website.
Also in Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues have reported that heavy fighting in Ghazni city in the past three days has resulted in more than 100 civilian casualties. Communications networks and electricity supply are currently down in the city resulting in water shortages, and food is also reportedly running low. The UN has called on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the lives and rights of civilians and to protect civilian infrastructure and has reiterated its readiness to respond once the security situation allows.
A new UN report has urged Somalia to build on the significant gains made in its peace process in the last five years and take steps to ensure future elections are not marred by the human rights violations and abuses committed during the 2016‑2017 electoral process.
The report, which was released by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), details human rights violations and abuses by State security forces, including the police and intelligence agencies, and non‑State actors, among them Al‑Shabaab, before, during and after parliamentary and presidential elections held in late 2016 and early 2017. It also documents violent attacks on people during that time and says that to date, only 2 of the 44 documented killings have been investigated and prosecuted.
Michael Keating, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Somalia and Head of UNSOM, said that, “Looking ahead to elections due in 2020‑2021, we are urging the Government to establish a system of representation that is inclusive of all citizens, based on the one person, one vote principle.” You can find the full report online.
And today, Eritrea joins the ranks of the Honour Roll. Its full payment to the regular budget takes the tally of Member States to 118. That’s it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, Amnesty International, as well as states like Germany, had condemned the process against lawmaker Juan Requesens in Venezuela. He was detained last week by the Government of Venezuela, accused of the alleged plot against the President. Midweek, we had a confession video, but then, days later, a filter video that shows that he was being mistreated in the jail. His family had said that they haven’t been able to see him. What is the response by the United Nations in terms of this type of situations? We understand that it is a sovereign country, and they do their… what they have to do; however, in this case in particular, we have seen international organizations denounce in violations of human rights.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, what we can say on this is the Secretary‑General has been concerned about the latest developments in Venezuela and rejects any act of violence. The Secretary‑General once again urges national actors to make all efforts to seek consensus to address the country’s many challenges, upholding the human rights of all Venezuelans and within the framework of the rule of law, and so those are our key concerns. Yes, you had a question?
Question: Yeah, yeah. Also on another issue regarding Venezuela but this one on the humanitarian crisis. Over the weekend, the Quito municipality in Ecuador, they’re receiving a massive influx of Venezuelan people who are fleeing the situation there. And they had to put in place an emergency… or a humanitarian emergency decree, so this is kind of sparking concerns in other neighbouring nations that overall the humanitarian situation, because of everything happening in Venezuela, might just get any worse. So, I wonder if there is, you know, any additional call from the UN to actually, you know, create a consensus among nations to do something more to protect all of the people fleeing the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I believe you’re aware that our colleagues in the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, late last week, I believe on Friday, came out with their own announcement concerning the situation between Ecuador and Venezuela. And they discussed their own preparations to assist with that. Of course, we’re thankful for the people and Government of Ecuador for their generosity in allowing the Venezuelans who are in need into the country, and UNHCR is ready to assist, as it has been with the other countries bordering Venezuela. So, we have concerns about the numbers of people who are seeking different conditions and better conditions elsewhere. And we’re hoping that all of the neighbouring countries will keep their doors open, and we are prepared to assist them in helping the people who go across the borders. Yes, Mr. Sato?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Can you give us any update on the political process in Yemen after last week’s air strike? And one more question is about what do you see the current situation of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees] budget shortfall? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we continue… the UN Relief and Works Agency continues to have a shortfall. I gave an update about a week or so ago about the number of programmes that they will not be able to do either starting at the end of August or by the end of this year, given the shortfall. So, we’re continuing to pledge for money, but there have been different services to the populations of this area, including in key areas like Gaza, that have been curtailed. And, of course, we’re in touch with our colleagues to see whether, at the very least, the sort of programmes we have, including on education, can be continued.
Regarding Yemen, Martin Griffiths has been in touch with the parties. You’ll have seen the remarks he put out a week ago, and he also briefed… he’s also kept the Security Council briefed about his travels and the progress of his talks. There’s no agreement to report at this stage, but we are pleased to note that there has been a lower level of tension in some of the areas in Yemen, and we’re hoping that that continues while Mr. Griffiths continues with his own talks so that we can get the parties to an agreement. As you’re aware, he’s planning to bring the parties to Geneva next month in September, and we’ll see where we can go with that. Rosiland?
Question: Sure, Farhan. Following up on his two questions, first, on the SG’s call for an independent investigation into the air strike on the school bus on Thursday in Sa’ada province, what is being done logistically to try to figure out which body, which country, which person is going to carry out in… that investigation, which everyone agrees needs to be carried out? And then, on the funding situation for Palestinian aid groups, there is a report that the [Donald] Trump Administration is now considering cutting $200 million that would go directly to these groups for humanitarian aid, and this is in addition to its decision to cut funding for UNRWA. What is the SG’s thought about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding your second question, obviously, our main priority at this stage is making sure that the UN’s aid to the Palestinians can go back to the levels that are mandated by the General Assembly and other bodies. So, we want the UN Relief and Works Agency and our other humanitarian efforts in the region to be fully supported and fully funded. But, of course, that speaks to the overall need to make sure that the Palestinian population across the region is tended to, and we believe that they have serious needs that all countries need to respect.
Regarding Yemen and the independent investigation, you’ll have seen what we said in the Secretary‑General’s statement, and the Security Council also came out with their own statement urging a transparent and credible investigation. We will, in turn, follow up to see what kind of investigation is being proposed and who is proposing it and see whether that meets our standards. But, at this stage, we are simply trying to get the information back about what’s next so that we can evaluate whether that meets the sort of criteria we’re looking at. And with that, have a good afternoon.