The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
All right, good afternoon.
The Secretary‑General is now back in New York. He arrived over the weekend after his trip to Indonesia. On Saturday, he attended the World Bank‑IMF [International Monetary Fund] annual meetings in Bali, and he took part in the Development Committee, the Climate Finance Ministerial Meeting and the International Monetary and Financial Committee. In his remarks, he focused on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including how to align global economic policies and financial systems with the 2030 Agenda. The Secretary‑General also stressed the need to mobilize resources and technologies to better the lives of people. You can find his remarks online.
And on Yemen, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, condemned the reported killing of at least 15 civilians and injury to 20 others when the minibuses they were traveling [in] were struck in Jabal Ras District of Hodeidah Governorate yesterday. She said the incident was horrific and added that United Nations agencies working in Yemen unequivocally condemn the attack on civilians and extend their deepest condolences to the families of the victims. Humanitarian agencies are rushing to assist the injured. The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners are supporting the hospitals in… Bait al Faqiah and Zabid which are treating the wounded. Agencies are on standby to provide whatever assistance may be needed.
We were asked last week about the possibility of famine in Yemen, and I can confirm that, as of late 2017, there were 8.4 million severely food insecure people who need emergency food assistance every month to survive. Due to economic decline, including depreciation of the currency, humanitarian partners estimate that this population could rise [by] up to 5 million people. So the total figure could come to 13.4 million severely food insecure people. The UN and partners need $3 billion through the 2018 Humanitarian Response to support the millions of people in need across Yemen. To date, a little over $2 billion, about 68 per cent of the resources required, have been received.
**United Nations Disengagement Observer Force
The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), in cooperation with the parties to the Disengagement Agreement, welcomed the rehabilitation of the Quneitra crossing between the Alpha and Bravo sides. The crossing point reopened today. The Quneitra crossing point closed in August 2014 due to the deterioration of the security situation in Syria, including in the area of separation. During the time when it was closed, UNDOF was unable to conduct regular crossings of UN personnel between the two sides.
Our colleagues in Zimbabwe report that the Central Emergency [Response] Fund (CERF) has allocated $3 million to provide immediate life‑saving assistance to about 600,000 people who are infected or at risk of being infected by cholera in 10 hotspots across the capital of Harare. More than 8,500 cases have been reported since the Health Ministry declared a cholera outbreak in Harare on 6 September. The Government has issued an appeal for $60 million to address life‑saving short‑ and medium‑term needs in water, hygiene and sanitation infrastructure.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization continue to warn that the recent spike in violent incidents in Ebola‑affected areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is making the response more difficult and increasing the risk of the outbreak spreading not only within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also to neighbouring countries, with Rwanda and Uganda particularly at risk. In recent weeks, armed attacks in and around Beni, in North Kivu Province, have severely affected both civilians and front‑line workers, forcing the temporary suspension of the response and raising the risk that the virus will continue to spread. The agency reports it continues to work with all nine neighbouring countries to increase their preparedness. As of 11 October, a total of 205 Ebola cases — 170 confirmed and 35 probable — have been reported, and the outbreak resulted in the deaths of some 130 people.
On Friday afternoon, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Leila Zerrougui, announced to staff that a UN colleague based in Beni had tested positive for Ebola and is now receiving the necessary medical treatment. Medical staff report that the patient is feeling well and that [his] progress is satisfactory. Co‑workers who have had contact with him will receive appropriate support and follow‑up. The UN emergency operations operation in Boikene in Beni was disinfected on 12 October, and some 100 people from MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and other parts of the UN, as well as NGO [non‑governmental organization] partners, were voluntarily vaccinated at the centre on 13 October. And vaccinations are continuing.
The Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, is in the Horn of Africa region from today through 19 October to reiterate the UN support to regional peace efforts. She is expected to meet with leadership of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti and with African Union and key regional and international partners. We will keep you updated on her visit.
The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, says that the level of violence and brutality endured by children in South Sudan is dismaying. A new report shows that more than 9,200 children were verified by the UN as victims of grave violations in the close to four years covered by the report. Grave violations against children were often interconnected: abductions took place for the purpose of recruitment, recruited boys and girls were killed or maimed or sexually abused, she said in her report. She added that it was urgent to address the impunity for perpetrators and to prioritize accountability measures and the reinforcement of national law. And there is a press release online.
Ahead of World Food Day, which is tomorrow, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched its annual State of Food and Agriculture report, which this year focuses on migration, stating that migration must be a choice and not a necessity. While international migration makes the most headlines, the report shows that internal migration is a significantly larger phenomenon: more than 1 billion people living in developing countries have moved internally, with 80 per cent of moves involving a rural area. FAO calls on policies that maximize the positive impact of migration while minimizing the negative ones, as well as for efforts for peace‑ and resilience‑building to help communities better withstand the crises that force people to move.
And I want to flag that, over the weekend, the Secretary‑General sent a letter to President Donald Trump of the United States, expressing his condolences for the loss of life and destruction caused by Hurricane Michael. The Secretary‑General also commended the efforts taken by the US Government in assisting those affected by this calamity.
And on Saturday, you saw we issued a statement in which the Secretary‑General condemned the lethal attacks against an election campaign rally in Takhar Province and a candidate’s office in Herat Province of Afghanistan. In a separate statement, the Secretary‑General strongly condemned the twin bomb attacks in Baidoa in Somalia and reiterated the UN support and solidarity with the people and Government of Somalia.
And today is the International Day of Rural Women. In his message, the Secretary‑General said the empowerment of rural women and girls is essential to building a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for a healthy planet. He also called on countries to take action to ensure that women and girls fully enjoy their human rights, including the rights of land and security of land tenure, adequate nutrition, and a life free of all forms of violence and quality health care and education.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And tomorrow, in addition to the briefing, there will be a press conference at 11 a.m. on the prevention of torture. The speakers will be Jens Modvig, Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture; and Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture; and Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on Torture. That’s at 11 a.m. And after we are done, Monica [Villela Grayley] will be here to brief you on behalf of the President of the General Assembly. Questions? Carole?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, the Cuban Mission is protesting an event organized by the US at ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) tomorrow. They're saying that the use of ECOSOC is in violation of nor… of UN rules. Can you address that? And there was a letter to the Secretary‑General. Did he respond to the letter?
Spokesman: Sure. We are aware of the press release put out by the Cuban Permanent Mission and their concerns raised. We will be in touch with them to answer those concerns. As a matter of rule and principles, there is an administrative instruction that has been shared with all Member States that shows the… that regulates the use of UN premises for meetings and exhibits. And that's the guidance the Secretary will follow, but we will be meeting with the Cubans to address their concerns.
Question: Can I just clarify your… you're saying that their objections will be addressed in that the event will go forward, or…?
Spokesman: No, no, I'm… first of all, the event… as any event on the schedule, it is the responsibility of the organizing Member State. They have raised concerns with them… with us. We will address… we will be meeting with them and addressing… and trying to answer their questions. What I'm saying to you as… in general terms, in principled terms, there is a very… there is an administrative instruction, which is a public document, which lays out the parameters through which Member States and others can organize meetings and exhibits at the United Nations.
Question: Steph, as the Security Council debates the extension and the timelines for… for MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), could you give us an update on the talks that were called for Geneva in December? Have the foreign ministers of the various regional players accepted the invitation? And what are the parameters of these talks?
Spokesman: As you know, the Secretary‑General's Special Representative, Colin Stewart, briefed the Security Council on the latest developments there. He conveyed that the Secretary‑General was encouraged that, despite occasional violations and tensions, the parties continue to maintain the ceasefire and generally observe related military agreements. However, the Secretary‑General did express concern over the rise in tensions between the parties and increasingly uncompromising rhetoric and urged the parties and the neighbours to respond positively to the invitation of his Personal Envoy, Horst Köhler, to come to the negotiating table in good faith and without preconditions. The Secretary‑General further recommended that the Council extend the [mandate] of MINURSO for a year.
Question: When he says without preconditions, there is, of course, a proposal from the Moroccans in terms of providing autonomy to Western Sahara. Does that essentially mean, therefore, that a referendum, as mandated initially by the Security Council, is completely off the table and has become a moot point?
Spokesman: The mandate of the mission is clear, and it's been approved by the Security Council. The invitation to talks without preconditions is exactly that. Richard and then…
Question: Now that he's home, is the Secretary‑General planning to meet or has he met with the Saudi UN Ambassador? What is the Secretary‑General's comment regarding President Trump's remark this morning that the Saudi King said that there were rogue killers, rogue actors who were responsible? And it might be nice if the Secretary‑General stopped after his Security Council appearance tomorrow morning considering some of the events that have happened while he was gone. Just a suggestion. Thank you.
Spokesman: I’m always happy to take the suggestions on board. You know, I think the Secretary‑General was very clear in the comments he made, I think, to some of your colleagues in Indonesia, is that he thinks it's very important for the truth to come out. Our understanding is that, obviously, the Turks… Turkish authorities are investigating. I think we, like everybody else, would like to know what happened to Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi. And as the Secretary‑General said, as we've said from here, we've had… there have been contacts between the UN and the Saudi authorities. Señor and then…
Question: Thank you. I have a question on Nicaragua. Over the weekend, there was a fresh round of violence against movements of opposition to the Government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. So, at least 40 protesters have been detained, and tensions have seemed to scale again in Nicaragua. So, what's the view of the Secretary‑General on this, you know, renewed tensions and political violence in Nicaragua?
Spokesman: Well, I think it's important, as a matter of principle, that people be allowed to demonstrate freely. That is a basic… freely and peacefully. That is a basic right. The Secretary‑General continues to hold his position of the need for an inclusive political dialogue. Evelyn?
Question: Can you… thank you, Steph. Can you be more specific on who the Saudi contacts were on Mr. Khashoggi…?
Spokesman: Not at this point.
Question: And, secondly, who killed the… who… who struck the buses in Yemen? Was that Saudi Arabian airplane?
Spokesman: It was an air strike.
Question: By whom?
Spokesman: We have… what we understand is that it was an air strike. You know, the… it's… we don't have the forensic, obviously, capabilities to decide… to say who did this attack, but, obviously, this is an attack that the Secretary‑General condemns. He condemns attacks on civilians, and he condemns… I think he reminds all parties of the need to take the utmost care to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure in conducting military operations. I think he's very concerned about the renewed fighting that we have seen around Hodeidah, and he reiterates his call for all to work with his Special Envoy on a political solution.
Question: Thank you. Two questions. One, a follow‑up… follow‑up on Evelyn's question. This is not the first air strike attack by the Saudi‑led Coalition in Yemen against civilians and buses. So, I… I wonder what is the UN position on the repeated loads of war violations in Yemen when it comes to the collateral damage and attacking civilians. And the second question, this is on a relatively old subject, but there are about five… over 500 Yemeni asylum seekers in South Korea, in Jeju Island, who are stranded and not able to contact UN bodies there. They are threatened to be deported to Yemen because it's… it's reported that, in South Korea, the rates of accepting asylum‑seekers' cases are about 3 per cent only. So, I wonder what the UNHCR responsibility is there.
Spokesman: Sure. Let me check with UNHCR on the case in Jeju Island, a case we're obviously aware of, but let me see what the latest is on that. The Secretary‑General, since… has repeatedly condemned the attacks on civilians that we have seen in Yemen, whether on wedding parties, whether on funerals, whether on minibuses. We've seen also the targeting of civilian infrastructure through missiles fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. There is no excuse for the killing of civilians. There's no excuse for civilians continuing to die and to be maimed in Yemen. I mean, in addition to the violence that they are suffering through these air strikes and others, we've seen, as I've just said, the very, very grave threat of a massive famine in Yemen. I think all this, as if we needed a reminder, should remind all the parties to come to the table, to work with the Special Envoy, who is continuing his efforts on the parameters for consultations and confidence‑building measures. The people of Yemen, who were already in a very precarious state before this conflict started, deserve a political solution, and they deserve a halt to the fighting. Thank you and… uh… no, that's… go ahead. No, go ahead.
Question: Can I ask about Syria? Today's the deadline for the pullback to create the buffer zone in Syria in Idlib under the Russian‑Turkish deal, and it looks like it's not happening. I'm wondering if there are any concerns that it's going to collapse and that we're headed towards the offensive that was averted last time.
Spokesman: You know, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura and his colleagues are, obviously, following this very closely. We hope to have an update for them a bit later on today as the day goes by. But, obviously, I think it's important that all the parties do whatever they can to ensure that there is no massive military action that would bring great suffering to the civilians in that region of Syria.
Question: Can I follow up on that, Stéphane? I was wondering if Mr. de Mistura is going to brief the Council with… by video conference, or is he going to be here in person on Wednesday? And is he planning to stop and talk to us?
Spokesman: Okay. My… I heard… somebody told me that earlier today —may have gone in one ear and out the other. If I'm not wrong, he will be here in person. If I am wrong, I will correct it as soon as I get back to my desk. And we will put in a request that he stops by, but Staffan, from my past experience, if he can, always stops. Thank you. And, Monica, all yours.