The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today at 3 p.m., in the Delegates’ Dining Room, the Secretary-General will deliver a major address on climate change. He will speak to an audience of young people, business leaders, journalists and diplomats on the eve of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and the annual gathering of world leaders for the General Assembly. The Secretary-General will emphasize the need for greater ambition and stronger leadership in addressing what he has called “the defining threat of our time”. In Bangkok, the Climate Change Conference ended on Sunday with an urgent call for accelerated climate action. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, said that the Conference had resulted in “uneven progress” on the guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement, and she said this “underlines the urgent need for continuing work in the coming weeks”. You can find more on the conference on UNFCCC’s website.
And this morning, the Secretary-General addressed the Security Council on corruption in conflict. Noting the prevalence of corruption in all countries, rich and poor, North and South, developed and developing, the Secretary-General highlighted estimates by the World Economic Forum that show the cost of corruption to be at least $2.6 trillion, or 5 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Secretary-General noted that corruption could be a trigger for conflict, and added that the consequences of corruption in times of conflict can be especially devastating, as they can affect the most basic needs and exacerbate hunger and poverty. The Secretary-General said people across the world continue to express outrage at the corruption of their leaders, and at how deeply corruption is embedded in societies. He called on leaders everywhere to listen, to nurture a culture of integrity and to empower citizens to do their part at the grass roots. The full remarks are online.
And the Special Envoy for Syria, Martin Griffiths, is traveling to Muscat. After that, he will likely visit Sana’a and Riyadh to continue his consultations on the issue. Mr. Griffiths spoke to reporters in Geneva on Saturday and said that he had had three days of full consultations with the Yemeni Government delegation. He added that, although he did not manage to meet with the Ansarullah delegation, he would go to Muscat and hopefully Sana’a to meet with the Ansarullah leadership. His press remarks are online.
Turning to Syria, we remain concerned about the situation of three million civilians in Syria’s Idlib, where an intensification of fighting has resulted in death, injury and displacement, as well as in the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The recent escalation of air and ground-based attacks in southern rural Idlib and northern rural Hama Province has reportedly resulted in dozens of casualties. From 1 to 9 September, more than 30,000 people were displaced in the areas where air strikes were reported, with the majority of the displaced moving into northern Idlib, and to communities close to the Syrian-Turkish border. About half of the displaced people were reportedly staying in camps, 30 per cent were hosted by local families, 15 per cent were in self-settled camps or camp-like structures, and other accommodations. The UN and its partners continue regular humanitarian deliveries to Idlib from across the border in Turkey, despite the difficult operating environment. In addition, pre-positioning of assistance inside Idlib as well as in surrounding areas continues. The UN reminds all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives and to protect civilian infrastructure, as required by international humanitarian and human rights law.
Turning to Madagascar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Abdoulaye Bathily, will travel to the capital of Madagascar from 18 to 25 September to continue his facilitation efforts. He will also engage with stakeholders on the ground and take stock of the electoral and political processes before the 7 November presidential polling. You will have seen that over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the designation on Friday of Rivo Rakotovao, Speaker of the Malagasy Senate, as acting President of Madagascar, and reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to continue to support the electoral process leading to a peaceful, credible and inclusive poll. That statement is online as well as a statement on the Horn of Africa, which we issued this weekend.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, condemned the recent violence and riots in Basra, as well as attacks on government, political parties, media offices and others. He said that these acts of violence have nothing to do with the people’s rightful demands for services and jobs and their protest against corruption. Mr. Kubiš said he fully supports the legitimate demands of protestors pursued in peaceful ways, and also urged the authorities to ensure law and order and to take firm action against the instigators of violence. In a meeting yesterday, the Special Representative met with women leaders, former Members of Parliament and others to press for the robust participation of women in negotiations for government formation and for holding key ministerial posts.
Over the weekend, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock and the High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrapped up a three-day visit to Pakistan, where they highlighted the progress made by the Government in responding to people’s need in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including helping nearly 5 million people return to their areas of origin. During their visit, they met with the Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Government officials, donors, leaders and staff of United Nations agencies and NGOs, as well as with formerly displaced people. The Emergency Relief Coordinator said that while Pakistan remains highly prone to natural disasters and exposure to climate-related events, the country has made laudable progress in preparedness. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the two UN officials saw first-hand the innovative use of cash in response to displacement and returns.
And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke to the Human Rights Council in Geneva today, her first speech to that body as High Commissioner. She discussed her vision for her office and her specific human rights concerns. Over the weekend, she issued a statement saying that she is extremely concerned that the Egyptian court’s confirmation of 75 death sentences on Saturday did not result from a fair trial, and the sentences, if carried out, could therefore amount to “a gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice”. The High Commissioner said that she hopes that the Egyptian Court of Appeal will review this verdict and ensure that international standards of justice are respected by setting it aside.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organisation (WHO) report that under the leadership of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ministry of Health, WHO and partners are scaling up the response to the Ebola outbreak in Butembo, a city of around one million people in North Kivu Province where a patient died last week. WHO says the case was detected quickly, and the response is already in place and expanding. More than 60 WHO experts are currently in Butembo setting up a key operation. An Emergency Operations Centre is also being built in the city and is expected to be operational early this week. A mobile laboratory is now operational and has begun to accept samples and conduct diagnostic tests for the Ebola virus. More information online.
**United Nations Environment Programme
Turning to the oceans, over the weekend, a 24-year old Dutch inventor and UN Environment Champion of the Earth, Boyan Slat, launched an ocean clean-up system expected to tackle 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic marine debris. The system, which was deployed in San Francisco, consists of a 600-meter long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a tapered three-meter deep skirt attached below, which catches plastic debris. For now, the system will undergo some trials, before travelling 1,000 nautical miles to what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. More information is available on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) site.
We have been updating you in the last few weeks on the Declaration of Shared Commitments on UN Peacekeeping— part of the Secretary-General’s effort to renew political support for UN peacekeeping operations. Forty-two countries — including major troops and police contributors to UN Peacekeeping and UN Security Council members — have now endorsed the Declaration. We thank Estonia, Jordan, Bangladesh, Guinea, Slovenia, Finland, Monaco, Germany, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Philippines, Ireland, Slovakia, Latvia, Malta, Hungary, Capo Verde, Comoros, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea, Georgia, Albania, Tunisia, Rwanda, Nepal, South Sudan, Zambia and Morocco for endorsing [since] our update last week and for their strong commitment to peacekeeping. The Secretary-General calls on all Member States to join in endorsing the Declaration before 14 September — which is the end of this week — ahead of the High-level Event on Action for Peacekeeping, which will take place on 25 September on the sidelines of the General Assembly. The list of endorsing countries is being published daily.
And lastly, we say a lot of thank yous today to our friends in Zambia, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to 130. All right. I'm done. You ask. Stefano?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is about actually the first speech of Bachelet in Geneva. In that speech, she also points [a] finger to Italy, and I think also Austria, about the policy on the migrants and she mentioned that… that the UN will send an inspection, the way the migrants are being treated lately in Italy and… and… and she mentioned also the thought that the ship that was… the boat was stopped and no… the human rights are not being respected when the… the people rescued in the sea were not allowed to… to disembark. Now, there's been a reaction by [Matteo] Salvini, the Interior Minister of Italy, and it's been a very harsh one. It's been, he starts talking about money: "Italy gives a lot of money to the UN and the UN doesn't use this money well." It's been really, really harsh. I don't know if you read it. So I would like to know are you… probably you don't… you already read it so you don't want me to tell all the things that Salvini said…
Spokesman: I'm delighted to hear the question, Stefano.
Question: What is the reaction to Salvini's reaction to Bachelet's speech?
Spokesman: Ms. Bachelet gave her first speech today. I think she gave a very factual rundown of areas that were of concern to her. That is her job. That is her responsibility as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Different countries are going to react in different ways. We're not going to comment on that, but what is important, I think, is for every Member State to work closely with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and with the mechanism… the UN’s human rights mechanism as a whole.
Question: Just a follow-up, quick follow-up, because there has been a specific reaction saying, we give a lot of money, and the UN has been wasting these moneys, wasting a lot of money. Now, what is it, just no… forget the migrants and Bachelet. Just the reaction on that specific… an Italian… it's also important because it’s the Deputy Prime Minister of Italy saying the UN is wasting money. What is the reaction?
Spokesman: As I said, we appreciate all of the moneys that are entrusted to us by all Member States, assessed contributions and others, and we continue to encourage Member States to work cooperatively with us. Richard?
Question: Stéphane, the US National Security Advisor has threatened sanctions on the International [Criminal] Court, membership, travel ban, asset freezes. Maybe that's a little too much. Anyway, in a speech a little while ago… what's the UN reaction to the US National Security Advisor going after this bedrock organization?
Spokesman: Well, I mean… As I say, it's a bit [of] asymmetrical warfare, because you're able to watch the speech while I'm standing up here on the podium, so we'll have to take a listen to the speech. I think what is important from the Secretary-General's standpoint is his continued support for the ICC [International Criminal Court] and for the critical role it plays in accountability worldwide.
Question: Thanks, Steph. You mentioned Michelle Bachelet's press release over the weekend about the 75 confirmed death sentences over the weekend. Does António Guterres have a reaction to that? And is there any update on the status of the photojournalist Shawkan, who reported on the Rabaa massacre?
Spokesman: A couple of things. First, the Secretary-General's standpoint against the death penalty is well known and is unchanged. The Secretary-General subscribes to the position of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and also hopes that clemency will be shown by the authorities. As for the photojournalist, for Shawkan, I think the Secretary-General has been following this case very closely. We understand that he is now free, that he was sentenced to five years and he had already served five years, so he's now been free. This is very much good news and a positive development. Al Jazeera 2?
Question: Yes. I would like to ask you a question again about the [John] Bolton speech. I know you haven't heard it, and it's ongoing right now, and I'm sorry for blurting out a bit of it a moment ago as I was trying to check on it. But there's been an announcement that he's been talking about, which is the US is closing the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] office in Washington, D.C. Does the Secretary-General think this is a positive development in terms of Middle East peace?
Spokesman: Again, I would beg your indulgence and let us listen and read the speech before reacting.
Question: Can I ask one more? Idlib. Lots of warnings of the humanitarian catastrophe were made on Friday, and yet, the bombardment is growing there, in Idlib. Does the Secretary-General, in fearing there could be this humanitarian catastrophe that Mr. [John] Ging and Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura talked about, want to warn the parties of possible breaches of international law? Because one assumes that if you attack an area where there are so many civilians, that you are in danger of war crimes.
Spokesman: I think we have been repeatedly warning the parties against breaches of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, whether it's the Secretary-General, his envoys, his representatives. We have seen over the term of the conflict in Syria repeated attacks against civilians, against civilian infrastructure. The people continue to suffer. The Secretary-General, in his own statement last week, underscored the catastrophic consequences of an all-out military attack. His special envoy, Mr. de Mistura, has been working the phones. I think today, he is doing a political meeting with the Astana guarantors. The message from him and from the Secretary-General whether privately or publicly is to put a halt and to avoid military action and to coalesce around a political solution. Mr. Klein?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the reported multiple stabbings in Paris over the last 24 hours, reportedly by an Afghan national? And does he have any comment on the Swedish elections yesterday, in which the party that came in third was avowedly anti-immigrant?
Spokesman: From what I gather, the elections in Sweden took place. There are discussions going on to form a government. The Secretary-General is not going to comment particularly on that at this point. We've seen the reports in Paris. Obviously, we condemn the attack regardless of the motivation. We wish those injured a speedy recovery, but we have to wait. I think the French are in the lead in the investigation. We have to wait and see what happens.
Question: But wouldn't you [inaudible] relationship between such crimes and, in fact, Sweden itself has experienced in the last month multiple arson attacks in migrant communities, and the rise, in Europe, of this populist anti‑immigration…
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on this… on the attack in Paris which, as I said, the investigation is ongoing. What we have seen… and any violence is to be condemned, regardless of who commits it and against whom, but we have seen repeatedly in Europe, I think currently in the not-too-recent past, a scapegoating of migrant communities, and I think the Secretary-General has expressed his concern on that front. Thank you, and I will leave you with Mr. [Brenden] Varma.