Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement on Cameroon: The Secretary-General condemns the reported kidnapping on 5 November of students and staff from a secondary school in Bamenda, in the North-West region of the country. He calls for their immediate release and return to their homes and families. There can be no justifications for these crimes against civilians, particularly minors. The Secretary-General reiterates the need for a peaceful solution to the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon through an inclusive dialogue process, which the United Nations stands ready to assist. The full statement is online.
The Secretary-General is on his way back from Lisbon, where yesterday he attended and spoke at the 2018 Web Summit, during which he saluted the scientific progress that is helping cure diseases, conquer hunger and drive economic growth. He also highlighted how the UN is already profiting from new technologies across the agenda. The Secretary-General talked about the many challenges and perils associated with frontier technologies. He said that the existence and use of autonomous weapons with the discretion and capacity to take human lives is politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be banned by international law.
He also emphasized that with the weaponization of artificial intelligence, the prospect of autonomous weapons that can select and destroy targets will make it very difficult to avoid escalation of conflicts and to guarantee the respect of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The video of his speech yesterday is available for you on the web. And as I mentioned, he should be back in New York a little later this afternoon and he will go straight to a meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB), which brings together the heads of the UN system, and he starts off with a dinner this evening and they will continue their meetings in Greentree tomorrow and Thursday.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix arrived yesterday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take stock of joint efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in North Kivu. Dr Tedros and Mr. Lacroix met in Kinshasa on Monday with the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and discussed the security situation in North Kivu and ways to improve engagement with communities to help the Ebola response. They also met with the UN’s humanitarian team. The delegation is currently in Goma and will arrive in Beni, the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak, tomorrow, where they will meet with local authorities, first responders and communities. And they will also be briefing the members of the Chief Executives Board over the next two days via videoconference from the Congo.
Back here, this morning the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2442 (2018), concerning piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia. The text stresses the need for a comprehensive response by Somali authorities and the international community to prevent and tackle the underlying causes of piracy. Also this morning, the Council adopted resolution 2443 (2018) on Bosnia and Herzegovina, renewing its authorization for the European-led multinational stabilization force (EUFOR ALTHEA) for one further year. The Council urged the parties to abide by their commitment to cooperate fully with all institutions involved in the implementation of the peace settlement.
At 3 p.m. this afternoon, as part of UN Police Week, the Security Council will be briefed by the Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Alexandre Zouev, and the UN Police Chiefs from peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and South Sudan. Following the briefing, Mr. Zouev and the Police Chiefs will be available to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout; that’s expected around 5:30 p.m.
Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), warned today that intense fighting in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah is now dangerously close to Al Thawra hospital — putting the lives of 59 children, including 25 in the intensive care unit, at imminent risk of death. She said that medical staff and patients in the [hospital] have confirmed hearing heavy bombing and gunfire. Access to and from the hospital, which is the only functioning hospital in the area, is now imperilled. UNICEF calls on all parties to cease hostilities near and around the hospital, and to ensure that civilians can safely access the hospital from all sides, and to abide by their legal obligations to stop attacks against civilian infrastructure — including the port of Hodeidah.
Meanwhile in Iraq, a new UN report says that, in former Da’esh-controlled areas of the country, there were more than 200 mass graves containing the remains of thousands of victims. The report by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Human Rights Office documented the existence of these graves in the northern and western parts of the country, but they say there may be many more. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that, while Da’esh’s horrific crimes in Iraq have left the headlines, the trauma of the victims’ families endures, with thousands of women, men and children still unaccounted for. It says that these sites could potentially hold critical forensic material to help identify victims and will be central to ensuring that credible investigations, prosecutions and convictions take place in line with international standards. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, for his part said that determining the circumstances surrounding the significant loss of life will be an important step in the mourning process for families and their journey to secure their rights to truth and justice.
And in Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that, through a deliberate campaign of violence and intimidation, the Taliban aimed to disrupt parliamentary elections, leading to a record high number of civilians killed and wounded on election day last month. The special report said that, on 20 October and several days afterwards, the UN Mission verified 56 deaths and 379 injuries, making this the highest level of harm done to civilians compared to the past four elections in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s actions forced many ordinary Afghans to choose between exercising their right to participate in the political process and risking their own safety.
And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that more than 2,000 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year. The agency says the Mediterranean continues to be the world’s deadliest sea route for refugees and migrants and called for action to address this situation. Around 100,000 people who were seeking asylum as well as migrants have reached Europe this year, representing a return to pre-2014 levels. However, the 2,000 drownings mean that the rate of deaths has escalated sharply. This is in large part due to the substantially reduced search and rescue capacity in the area. UNHCR says it continues to be very concerned about the legal and logistical restrictions that have been placed on a number of non-governmental organizations wishing to conduct search and rescue operations, including the Aquarius vessel and warned that if this continues there’s a risk of many more casualties in the future.
Our friends at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) are today drawing attention to the Caravan of Mothers of Missing Migrants, which every year crosses Mexican territory in search of their children who went missing trying to reach the United States. This event started in 2005 and seeks to raise awareness and search for the lost loved ones. It also calls for an international search mechanism to help families gather information about what happened to [their] relatives. For the first time, these mothers were joined in Mexico City by mothers from other continents, with the aim of building a transnational movement to [remind] the international community that one disappearance, one death, is one too many. More information online.
Today the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published its semi-annual Food Outlook, which analyses trends and developments in the markets for cereals, oilseeds, sugar, meat, dairy and fish products. FAO reports that the outlook for global food supplies in the coming year shows robust production prospects and inventory levels taming prices; however, erratic weather, trade policies and currency exchange rates all pose mounting uncertainties.
And yesterday I was asked about Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer for Asia Bibi in Pakistan who had arrived in the Netherlands earlier this week. I can say that the United Nations in Pakistan extended its assistance to Mr. Malook at his request but did not force him to leave the country against his wishes, nor can anyone in the UN force someone to leave Pakistan against his or her will.
**Environment and Conflict
Lastly, today is the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. The Day highlights the damage that war has on our ecosystems, destroying land, crops and polluting the air we breathe as well as killing animals to gain military advantage. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that over the last 60 years, at least 40 per cent of all internal conflicts have been linked to the exploitation of natural resources, whether it’s over high-value resources such as timber, gold, diamonds and oil, or scarce resources such as fertile land and water. Conflicts involving natural resources have also been found to be twice as likely to relapse. Michelle?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Steph. A follow‑up on the letter which the Iranian ambassador sent to the SG yesterday. In the letter, he says that the US, with the imposition of the new sanctions, is defying the Security Council resolution and violating parts of the annex to that resolution. What is the SG's assessment?
Spokesman: The, I think… the letter will be circulated, as I understand it, as a document to the Security Council and the General Assembly. For our part, we will look at it, but I think a lot of those questions are for the Security Council to answer.
Correspondent: But the SG is the one who does report back to the Security Council.
Spokesman: He will report in due course to the Security Council. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: In Cameroon, is the… is the UN on the scene? Is anyone speaking to whoever might have kidnapped those boys?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that we're speaking to anyone who may have been involved in the kidnapping. The UN team on the ground is obviously… the country team is following the situation closely, and it is imperative that anyone who is either holding these people, who knows who's holding these people, these students, release them at once. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Steph, is… the Chief Executives Board meeting, is there a particular theme this year?
Spokesman: Obviously, they will look at the progress of UN reform, but I will get you a more detailed agenda, which I thought I had with me, which I, unfortunately, don't. Linda?
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding North Korea, I was wondering if there is any update or new information about UN involvement or contacts with North Korean leaders or diplomats or officials.
Spokesman: You know, we… our UN country team continues to work in Pyongyang, focussing, obviously, on the humanitarian work that they coordinate on the ground. In terms of the broader process of denuclearisation, the Secretary‑General stated clearly that the UN is there, ready to help and assist as requested, but, obviously, we'd have to see the process move along a little bit more. Thank you, and I will leave you in Monica's hands.