The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today said it is outraged by the attack in Kabul targeting the Shia community and leading to more than 50 casualties at an education centre. “There is no justification whatsoever for targeting civilians, at any time, under any circumstances,” the Mission said in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, earlier in the day said the Taliban’s attack against Ghazni city, and the subsequent fighting in crowded urban spaces, has caused terrible suffering to civilians caught in the conflict.
“The extreme human suffering caused by the fighting in Ghazni highlights the urgent need for the war in Afghanistan to come to an end. The United Nations continues to maintain that there can be no military solution to the conflict in that country,” Mr. Yamamoto said in a statement. The Special Representative added that humanitarians must be given explicit and absolute guarantees by all parties to the conflict that they will be allowed to operate safely, without hindrance or any attempts to interfere with distribution carried out under humanitarian principles. That statement is online.
Earlier today, our humanitarian colleagues informed us that Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s sole functional goods crossing, for the entry and exit of permitted goods. Between 9 July and 14 August, Israel had allowed only food, medical and limited fuel deliveries into Gaza and prohibited the exit of any goods.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 400 truckloads of goods are expected to enter Gaza today. In addition, Israel increased the permissible fishing zone from three back to six nautical miles off northern Gaza’s shore and to nine nautical miles in the southern shore. Other restrictions in remain in place, however. And we do expect a statement to be issued later on this.
On Mali, the representatives of the international community based in Bamako have issued a statement reaffirming their support for Mali and commitment to the Malian authorities and people for a calm and respectful post‑election process. They remind the two candidates of their commitments to peaceful campaigns before and after the electoral process and strongly encourage them and their supporters to use legal and constitutional channels to settle disputes. The full statement was sent out earlier today.
And just to flag that earlier this week, the Assistant Secretary‑General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Alexander Zouev, wrapped up a visit to Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan. And we have more on this if you are interested.
And from Venezuela, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are leading the response to the regional refugee crisis related to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, with UN agencies, funds and programs also providing assistance. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration have launched regional appeals of $46 million and $32 million respectively to help Governments and host communities with the response. Some $6.2 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been given to IOM and UNCHR. Inside Venezuela, several UN agencies are operating in areas such as health, nutrition, agriculture and development.
**World Humanitarian Day
Ahead of World Humanitarian Day, which is on August 19, this Sunday, the UN and its partners have launched the “Not A Target” campaign to bring global attention to the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council in May on the need for greater protection of civilians in conflict.
This year’s campaign is built around creating the world’s first “living petition”, where the public can sign on by taking a “selfie” to advocate for the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law. These “signatures” will become a digital installation which will be on display at UN Headquarters in the Visitors’ Lobby starting on Friday and all the way through the high‑level week of the General Assembly, when world leaders will be able to see the level of global support for the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers. More information is available at: https://www.worldhumanitarianday.org.
I also wanted to flag that next week, Tuesday will be a holiday for the UN — we will be closed. We will be open on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. However, we will not be having live briefings next week. We will put updates online, but we will remain available in the office in person or via any other telecommunications medium to answer questions, which I will do now. Michelle?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thanks, Stéph. On 1 August, Farhan [Haq] told us that the UN were helping CAR [Central African Republic] in their investigation into the deaths of the Russian journalist. Do you have any update you can give us on how that’s going and whether they have any preliminary findings?
Spokesman: No, I believe that’s still ongoing. We will update you as we can. Yes, Betul?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Staffan de Mistura is in [Washington] DC meeting Secretary [of State Michael] Pompeo, and I was wondering if he’s going to visit New York and is he planning any press encounters?
Spokesman: No, he was in New York earlier this week for just our internal meetings. I do expect him to be back in the General… back in New York during the General Assembly period, if not a bit earlier. We have conveyed your standing requests to hear from him, which has been passed on. His meeting in Washington is part of his regular consultations with a number of Member States on the situation in Syria.
Question: Will you have a readout later in the day today?
Spokesman: I will ask him. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, I don’t know whether you made a statement or not. On this abuse of 1,000 children in Pennsylvania as reported in the newspapers today and yesterday, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on this particular gross abuse of children?
Spokesman: I think we have seen the press reports. Like all of you, I think the accusations put forward are disturbing and heartbreaking, as any allegations of abuse, especially of abuse of children, and we hope that these allegations are fully investigated by the authorities as they appear to be in the process of doing. Mr. Klein, then Evelyn.
Question: Yes. Is there any comment on what appears to have been an attack by a terrorist yesterday in London and also the rash of car burnings by gangs in several cities in Sweden on Monday night? I don’t believe there’s… I didn’t see anything from the Spokesperson’s office.
Spokesman: No, I don’t have any particular comments on… I mean, I briefly saw some press reports on Sweden, but I don’t have any particular language on that. On the UK, we, obviously, condemn what appears to be and what is being considered an act of terrorism. I think we’re thankful that no one was killed, and the authorities seemed to have responded very quickly. And we hope that those who are injured recover quickly, as well. Evelyn. Evelyn, please?
Question: Welcome back. Can you clarify on Venezuela what UNHCR is doing? Are they only inside Venezuelan borders? Do they have a special territory for the refugees, or are they just… well, not just, but are they offering services?
Spokesman: No, what UNHCR and the IOM are doing is offering… is helping those countries that have welcomed and have… are hosting Venezuelan refugees to cope with the added stress. Obviously, the arrival of large numbers of civilians in any country is… can cause a stress, and that’s where the focus of their work is.
Question: How are they helping? Are… aside from money?
Spokesman: They’re helping, I have no doubt, with whatever materiel support they can, but we’ll try to get a bit more detail. Yes?
Question: In terms of the raise of funds, you were mentioning the numbers. How are they helping to utilize those funds, and… and what is the process? Do they give it to the countries, or do they give it in… as like a… through different organizations? We understand that the United States have donated funds to Colombia, for example, and they don’t give them in terms of money, but they give it in forms of assistance, medical supplies and things like that. Would that happen in that case?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, some countries are donating bilaterally. We are encouraging people to help through the coordinated response of UNHCR and IOM. It is done, as in any crisis, as a matter of principle, either sometimes helping Governments directly. Sometimes it is helping fund local NGOs [non‑governmental organizations] who are there in the front lines. And, obviously, the agencies themselves are present on the ground. Yep?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Also following up on Venezuela, but, on the issue in particular of the thousands of Venezuelans that are fleeing right now, I wonder which is the overall view of the SG on the fact that the situation seems to be worsening day by day. Shortly after you mentioned those numbers yesterday coming out from… by OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], an agency in Peru reported that only in one day, 5,100 Venezuelans arrived to Peru. So this is pretty much brewing a situation that so far in the northern part of South America hasn’t been seen. So I wonder if there is an additional concern by the SG on this worsening of the situation there.
Spokesman: I think this is a situation the Secretary‑General has been following closely. He has repeatedly expressed his concern and continues to do so. Obviously, the lack of political agreement within Venezuela is having an immediate humanitarian impact on the Venezuelan people themselves. As outlined by our humanitarian colleagues, they have stated the reasons most of them are leaving, which is lack of access to food and other basic supplies, and also creating a strain on the neighbouring countries. I think what is important is — and the Secretary‑General’s message has been consistent — is urging all national actors to find consensus on the way forward to address the country’s many challenges.
Question: So, would the Secretary‑General, for example, support an idea that has been debated over the last couple of hours of opening a humanitarian channel that has been discussed in Ecuador, so they’re able to provide a better support to the Venezuelans…?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the details of that offer. Obviously, I think our humanitarian colleagues, UNHCR and IOM specifically, would be in the front lines to work with the neighbouring countries to figure out what is the best way to organize the delivery of humanitarian aid so it gets to the people who need them.
Question: Just a… to clarify something, the 6.2 million from the emergency fund that go to IOM and UNHCR, is that new money? Is it a decision that was taken today or…?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, it’s… I think it’s the… from what I gather, the money had been allocated a short while back, but I’ll double‑check on the timing of that allocation. This… the CERF is really there to help kick‑start humanitarian appeals and to make sure that, even if there is no money right away, we can get the pump primed and get the delivery of humanitarian goods going. Sir, and then go to Ben. Go ahead, Masood.
Question: Yeah. Stéphane, on this Gaza crossing, which has been open temporarily, apparently, there have been some sort of agreement between the Syrian [sic] authorities and Gaza. Do you have any idea if United Nations can independently verify in fact that the crossings are operating and that… how long will that truce last? Because on again‑off again, it has been…
Spokesman: I mean, we can… I mean, I think that’s exactly what I’ve just said is that the Kerem Shalom crossing, which is the commercial crossing, right — there had been a humanitarian goods, UN goods… certain amount of UN goods coming in before. This is for commercial goods. Obviously, the bulk of the necessary goods that come into Gaza are under commercial license. So, as I said, we’re confirming it. We’re welcoming the opening of the crossing. And we, obviously, hope that the crossing remains open indefinitely, and we hope that all the parties recommit themselves by ensuring that everything remains open and that the people of Gaza can get the aid that they need. Ben?
Question: On UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees], as you know, do you know if all the pledges made to the various pledging conferences have been collected and are…?
Spokesman: No, my understanding is that they have not yet been all collected. We’re trying to harvest some updated figures from UNRWA. And, as soon as we get them, we’ll share them.
Question: So is 200 million a correct figure that was raised?
Spokesman: I mean, what was announced by UNRWA as having been raised at the pledging conference in terms of pledges is, obviously, correct. If they said it, it’s correct. What we’re… there are two steps to pledging conferences, which is, one, organizing them and getting the pledges, and then the next step for any pledging conference is actually knocking on doors and ensuring that the pledge is transformed into actual hard cash.
Question: And do you… can you give us the name of the countries that have not yet ponied up?
Spokesman: No, we’re trying to get some updated figures from UNRWA to see where they are on the door‑knocking and on the hard‑cash collection. Please.
Question: Thank you. Today, UN experts in Geneva called for immediate release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov who is in prison in Russia on charges of terrorism. So, my question is, what is the Secretary‑General’s position on this matter? And it was also mentioned that UN in… in contact with Russian officials on this, so maybe you can give us some details about this dialogue.
Spokesman: Sure. Let me… on your first part, I will check, because I’m not aware of the particular case. And your second question about the dialogue, I didn’t hear correctly, the second part of your question?
Question: In the same report, it was mentioned that UN officials are in dialogue about Oleg Sentsov with the Russian officials.
Spokesman: Okay. Let me check on that. Mademoiselle and then Mr. Klein and then… go ahead.
Question: Stéphane, yesterday, a lawmaker, Juan Requesens, has been detained seven days in Venezuela, and he was accused of plotting the alleged killing or plot to kill the President of Venezuela. The international Inter‑Parliamentary Union (IPU) issued this morning in a statement, requesting to be able to see more facts in terms of taking away his immunity. And what they have put again and doubt the due process, in his case in particular. I understand that is not… is… is a sovereign country, and they have the capability of charge or not charge their people. However, how the United Nations see the questionable process in terms of the… taking immunity of a lawmaker as well as providing the guarantees…?
Spokesman: Look, I’m not familiar enough with the intricacies of Venezuelan laws as it involves the lifting of immunity. We, obviously, hope that any investigation is done according to accepted norms. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. Is there any comment on Turkey’s continued detention of the preacher Andrew Brunson, who was held without any charges for about a year and half now? There’s… at least alleged that the charges that he participated in terrorism are really kind of made‑up charges. And Turkey’s continuing to hold him. Is there any comment on that? That’s question number one. And, question number two, in Myanmar, there’s been a lot of attention, well deserved, on the Rohingya refugees and their plight, but there’s also a mostly Christian group of refugees, I believe, that are in camps bordering on Thailand, who have also been mistreated. They’re considered stateless. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on them? Because…
Spokesman: Sure, I think… whether it’s the Secretary‑General or all of the senior UN officials who have… who are dealing with Myanmar, who have travelled with Myanmar, they have expressed their concerns at the treatments of minorities throughout the society. This is not… I mean, the Rohingyas have and rightfully so grabbed… I mean, have been on the headlines. But whenever we’ve had envoys go, they have looked at the situation in Myanmar as a whole. As for the situation between Turkey and the US, we hope that the current issues are dealt with through dialogue and that a solution is found. Yes, sir?
Question: The United Nations celebrates on 21 August the victims and survivors of Terrorism Remembrance Day. Will be there any special activities or ceremonies held by the United Nations to commemorate such a day?
Spokesman: Let me check on exactly what will be organized. Michelle and then I’ll come back to you, Joe.
Question: Stéphane, Martin Griffiths told the [Security] Council that he planned to send invitations for these talks in Geneva on 6 September. When does he plan to send these invitations?
Spokesman: Before the talks, but we’ll try to get a more precise date for you. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yeah. I… just a follow‑up on the previous question about Mr. Brunson. The UN has and the Secretary‑General has, on frequent occasions, spoken out on other instances of at least what many consider to be arbitrary detentions. And this is a religious figure who’s been held. As I said, he was held without trial, so why in this case…?
Spokesman: I’m aware of the case. I don’t have any specific language on this issue at this point. Mr. [Brenden] Varma, this is your cue to replace me.