The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Today, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock visited Damascus to engage with the Government of Syria on how best to further scale up the collective humanitarian response across Syria and how to ensure that those in greatest need are assisted and protected as they deserve.
His one-day visit coincides also with a visit to Syria by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
**Staffan de Mistura
As announced by our colleagues in Geneva this morning, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, invited Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, as well as the United States, for joint consultations at the UN office on 14 September.
The Special Envoy would like to take this opportunity to follow up on the 25 June meeting and discuss with senior representatives of those countries the way ahead on the political process pursuant to Security Council resolution 2254, and that includes the UN efforts to facilitate the establishment of a constitutional committee, and the broader dimensions of that effort.
**Security Council Syria
Keeping on Syria, back here, the Security Council met this morning on Syria and was briefed by John Ging, the Director of Operations [and Advocacy] for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
He told the Council that recent weeks have seen a further serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the north-west of Syria, with intense aerial bombardment and shelling reported in parts of Idlib, Aleppo, Hama and Latakia governorates, resulting in the death and injury of civilians.
Mr. Ging said that aid organizations are using cross-border assistance deliveries which provide a critical lifeline for hundreds of thousands of civilians. Some 680,000 people received food from Turkey in July alone.
He noted that, in the south-west, the Government of Syria has now regained control over the vast majority of Dar’a, Quneitra and As-Sweida governorates, which has led to the large-scale return of internally displaced people. But Mr. Ging cautioned that massive levels of humanitarian needs persist, and the UN continues to provide aid in partnership with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other local organizations.
Mr. Ging also called on members of the Council to do all they can to ensure a de-escalation in Idlib as well as surrounding areas. He emphasized that a worst-case scenario there will overwhelm humanitarian capacities and has the potential to create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen during this crisis.
Keeping on the Security Council subject, as you know, the Secretary-General will be speaking at the Security Council open meeting on Myanmar and that’s at 3 p.m. this afternoon. You will recall that during his recent visit to Cox’s Bazar he met with Rohingya refugees and heard their harrowing stories.
The Secretary-General will stress the need for accountability, which he believes is essential for genuine reconciliation between all ethnic groups and is a prerequisite for regional security and stability.
Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General met with actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett, and she is also scheduled to speak at this afternoon’s Council meeting.
Having visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh this year, they both agreed on the need to persist in seeking an end to the horrific suffering and to maintain international attention to this crisis.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that armed conflict continues in Yemen’s Hodeidah governorate, where more than 500,000 people have been displaced since 1 June.
Aid partners have provided emergency relief kits containing food rations, hygiene supplies and items to preserve dignity to nearly all of the recently displaced. Additional assistance, including cash, shelter kits and essential household items, are also being provided based on assessed needs. Regular humanitarian programmes also continue in parallel across Yemen and have reached 8.1 million people with direct assistance for this year.
For its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that it is ramping up its response to help civilians who are fleeing the fighting in Hodeidah governorate and it is calling on all parties to ensure the physical safety of civilians and their freedom of movement and to guarantee safe routes for those who wish to leave the conflict area.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, is in Copenhagen, Denmark, today, where she is holding bilateral discussions with senior officials from the Danish Government, as well as other stakeholders focusing on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, the repositioning of the UN development system, and other issues of mutual interest.
We expect she will be having similar discussions in Oslo, in Norway, tomorrow.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today it is taking measures to ensure a smooth, safe start to the new school year in Ebola-affected regions in the eastern part of the country. UNICEF says that there are some 250 schools in the Ebola-affected zones, with some 82,000 pupils.
The measures to be taken included training of school principals and more than 1,750 teachers about Ebola and about [protective] measures against the virus, also how to set up procedures for early detection, isolation and referral to health services for children who may have Ebola-like symptoms. More information online.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
Today, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, warned that the outbreak of African Swine Fever threatens to spread from China to other Asian countries. Currently, there is no effective vaccine to protect swine from this disease, and its outbreaks can be devastating. Chinese authorities have taken some measures to control the spread of the virus, and the Food and Agriculture Organization is communicating with them closely and monitoring the situation. FAO also urged regional collaboration to respond more effectively to stop the further spread of the African Swine Fever.
You will have seen that yesterday evening we sent you a note to answer questions about the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Nicaraguan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denis Moncada.
The Secretary-General insisted on the need for full respect of the population’s human rights and the importance of a truly inclusive dialogue. He also reiterated the UN’s readiness to support that process.
**Questions and Answers
Ma… well, you've got mic, Abdelhamid, and then…
Question: Thank you, Stéph. There are two reports this week, one on Myanmar, and that implicates at least five senior army generals, and it calls for accountability, and another report released this morning from the experts on Yemen and also calls for accountability. How could accountability be implemented or just recommendation and will, nothing will happen?
Spokesman: There, as you know, there are different mechanisms for accountability within national and international systems, and we hope that the parties concerned and the international community will consider all of the options.
The… the Secretary‑General very strongly feels that it is in all conflict, especially those, and mostly those, I mean, especially those where civilians bear the brunt that ultimately people will be need, will need to be held accountable.
Go ahead. Behind you, Masood, and then we'll go… I'll go to you.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. I have two questions. First, on the regional refugee crisis. Today, immigration authorities from Colombia, Ecuador, oh, sorry, Colombia, Peru and Brazil gathered in Bogota to be able to find common ground on how to better deal with these crises. So, I wonder, what's the view of the SG on the beginning of these talks between these local authorities to try to solve this issue?
And, also, has the UN had a role on these talks? And how is the UN…
Spokesman: I have to check whether or not our humanitarian colleagues were represented or were participating in the talks. Obviously, whenever you do have a crisis of regional proportion, it is always best to — to coordinate.
For the Secretary‑General's standpoint, he's asked UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration for a proposal on a regional mechanism for, from the UN standpoint on how to coordinate, to best coordinate our response and our support for those countries who are taking in Venezuelans.
Question: And another question on, on Honduras in this case. Today, in Tegucigalpa, a new round of talks backed by the UN started to be able to deal with the crisis of the alleged fraud that happened on the general election in 2017. So this dialogue began today. However, there are some political key actors that are not taking part on the discussion, namely, the President, Hernandez. He's not going there. He sends someone…
Spokesman: Let me… let me check. I don't have anything for you on Honduras, but I will check. Masood.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I want to know and follow‑up on Abdelhamid's question. I just have… in both the reports that he, that were mentioned, both the reports, every time they've said "may have committed", "could have committed", but there's no firm thing that, yes, they have committed war crimes. So, now, is that deliberate to leave wiggle room for these countries to come back…
Spokesman: No, first of all, that's a question best addressed to, to the authors of the report, who, as you know, in both the case of Yemen and of, and of Myanmar, the two we're talking to, are, are independent reports. But, obviously, before people are convicted of a crime, they need to be, to go through some sort of judicial, of a judicial process.
Question: Yeah, but the thing is that there are several United Nations own rapporteurs and… who have said that, I mean, especially in case of Yemen, they've said that there have been these war crimes being committed and… and this is another report which leaves this wiggle room for…
Spokesman: No, I think… first… these are questions addressed to the authors of the report, but they are reporting as, as I would like to assume, as honestly and transparently as they can based on the information that they've, they've received.
Question: Meaning they're… as he said, there's no accountability to be… to be talked about now at this point in time. Given…
Spokesman: Masood, it's not… what we're talking about here. There needs to be effective measures taken to ensure accountability for violations of… of human rights. That's clear and that's the Secretary‑General's position.
Yes, sir. Oh, sorry and then Evelyn.
Question: Ma Jinguo from Xinhua News Agency. I heard that the Secretary‑General is going to Beijing to attend China‑Africa Cooperation forum. And, on different occasions, SG said China is the leader in South‑South Cooperation. And what's his comment on China‑Africa cooperation? Thank you.
Spokesman: As, as we said, we announced that the Secretary‑General will be going to China as he was invited to address the China‑Africa summit. He looks forward to that. I think China has an important role to play in, in helping other developing countries. And the Secretary‑General looks forward to engaging with both African leaders and Chinese leaders during that meeting.
Yes, Evelyn. Sorry.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. Could you repeat the countries that are going to attend the meeting with Staffan de Mistura? And then I have a question on that.
Spokesman: Why don't you phrase your question as I look to answer, your second question as I look to answer your first question?
Question: Well, no, because it concerns the country.
Spokesman: Okay. He's invited Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the US.
Question: And the US. Right. Okay. I… I don't understand why these countries without Russia, Iran or Syria…
Spokesman: I think, as you recall, he's also had separate discussions recently with, with those three countries.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Has the Secretary‑General sent a condolence message to the family of Senator John McCain?
Spokesman: Yes, he has. He has, he has addressed a letter to, to Ms Cindy McCain to express his condolences on the death of John McCain, I think underscored the, the personal courage that Senator McCain has, has always shown and especially in his, and in addition to, to his vocal stand against the use of torture.
Question: I have several questions…
Spokesman: I'm sure you've… you've stored them up during your leave.
Question: I'll start with… I want to ask you if the same measures granted to the late Kofi Annan, same had been granted to Boutros Boutros‑Ghali? From what I'm noticing is there is so much attention and prominence given to the passing away of Kofi Annan, and I compare that to this late Secretary‑General Boutros Boutros‑Ghali, and I don't see the same measures or equal attention…
Spokesman: From our standpoint, we are following the same, the same procedures of, I think the General Assembly will hold a meeting. There was a, a deposit of flowers by, by the Secretary‑General, and there was a black ribbon put on, across his portrait. And this was done for the, the former Secretary‑General, Mr Boutros Boutros‑Ghali.
As for the prominence that may be given in the media, that is really way beyond my control.
Question: On last Friday, Saudi Arabia beheaded a woman. Her name is Israa al‑Ghomgham, probably one of the rare moments that, when Saudi Arabia beheaded a woman, accusing her of being anti‑state. Were there any statement or any attention given to that incident…?
Spokesman: This was brought up at the briefing, and we repeated that we stand firmly against the use of the death penalty.
Question: Yeah. And my last question, I promise.
Spokesman: For today.
Question: For today.
Question: On 19th of July, the Israeli Knesset pass a law, which is called Jewish nationalism law or whatever it… it was. Fifty-five Knesset member voted against it, 62 did. And it was labelled as a textbook apartheid law, because it's defined Israel as exclusive Jewish state only and denies the right of self‑determination to anyone in the same land. Was there any statement, was there any position, any comment by any UN official on that law?
Spokesman: Yes, we answer… there were questions raised, I think, on either the 19th or the 20th of July, and we answered those questions.
Evelyn, and then we'll go…
Question: Can you briefly tell me…
Spokesman: I mean, I've restated… that was our position at the time, and you can check the transcript.
Question: I'm going to repeat what I asked previously just in case I missed something. Any news about the funeral or memorial service for Kofi Annan, aside from the one in Ghana?
Spokesman: I think we're still waiting to hear from the General Assembly as to when they will schedule their, their session.