The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, everyone. I’m going to start today by telling you about a senior appointment: The Secretary‑General is announcing today the appointment of Major General Cheryl Pearce of Australia as Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, or UNFICYP. Major General Pearce succeeds Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir of Bangladesh. The Secretary‑General is grateful to Major General Kabir for his dedication and leadership during his two years of service in UNFICYP. Major General Pearce has had a distinguished career in the Australian Defence Force, most recently as Commandant of the Australian Defence Force Academy. The Academy provides undergraduate and postgraduate education as well as military training and education for future leaders of the Navy, Army and Air Force. We have much more in a bio note in our office.
Today, United Nations and Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams completed the delivery of life‑saving assistance for 50,000 people in need at the Rukban camp near the Syrian‑Jordanian border. During the five‑day mission, the teams delivered assistance to those in need, including food, water, sanitation and hygiene materials, nutrition supplies and health materials and other emergency items. In addition, the teams conducted rapid need assessments inside the camp, met with community leaders and monitored the distribution of aid. The teams also conducted a vaccination campaign where more than 5,000 children were reached with polio and other vaccines. Other than the provision of water and basic health care from Jordan, this was the first assistance to Rukban camp since last January and the first time that assistance has been provided to Rukban from within Syria. Despite the welcome completion of this delivery, many people continue to live in dire conditions in makeshift or semi‑permanent shelters. Some have been in Rukban camp for as long as three years now. The United Nations continues to call on all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Our humanitarian colleagues remain deeply concerned by escalating conflict in Yemen. Fighting has continued around the outskirts of Hodeidah City in the last 24 hours. Local authorities reported that about 50 more families had fled areas adjacent to fighting in the city. This is in addition to some 300 families who reportedly fled earlier. Since 1 June, the conflict has displaced more than 570,000 people from across Hodeidah Governorate. Humanitarian agencies have consistently warned that protracted fighting inside Hodeidah City, or any incidents that interrupt port operations, could set off a humanitarian catastrophe, as some 70 per cent of the population live in proximity of Hodeidah and Saleef, where most of Yemen’s food is imported. The Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has made clear that any military escalation does not help the ongoing efforts to relaunch the political process. We hope to see the first steps for de-escalation in Yemen, as we move forward towards convening political consultations between the parties, before the end of the year.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), today announced that the number of refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide has now reached three million. The majority of them, a little over one million, are in Colombia. Peru is currently hosting half a million, and the remaining ones are in Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. The UNHCR‑IOM Joint Special Representative for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, Eduardo Stein, praised these countries’ open‑door policy, but warned that their reception capacity is severely strained and a more robust response from the international community is needed. The UN, through its Regional Inter‑Agency Coordination Platform, is strengthening the operational response and is working on a humanitarian Regional Response Plan to be launched in December. You can find out more about this online. And after I’m done, we expect to hear from Monica Grayley, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. Any questions for me before we get to her? Yes, Carol?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, on Yemen, you mentioned that Martin Griffiths is hoping to hold political consultations before the end of the year, but he had initially talked about 30 days. So, what happened that this has been pushed back?
Deputy Spokesman: As you know, there's always different challenges to bringing the parties together. Most recently, when we tried to convene the parties in Geneva a few months ago, there were some logistical problems, and we weren't able to bring both sides to the table. And, so, what we're trying to do is clear up any issues so that we can get a successful round of talks as soon as possible. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. My question is bit difficult. I might… might end up to be a [inaudible] journalist, but, as far as I know, UN stands for human rights and gender equality. And, lately, we have a Friday prayer here at the UN, which females are sitting behind the males. I was wondering why, why this happens here at the United Nations. If it was outside United Nations, agreed. But here, when the gender equality is one of the first things, why the females has to sit behind the males?
Deputy Spokesman: That's a religious question, and I would advise you to take it up with the people who convene the Friday prayers here. It's an issue having to do with a particular religion, and it's nothing I can comment on in that regard.
Question: Sure, but, in that religion, there is nowhere in that religion that says the female has to be behind the males. And since UN stands…
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I've read the same holy book as you. I'm well aware of this, but we are not theologians and our colleague in the back would understand this challenge. But, again, it's not an issue for the United Nations to comment on.
Question: It is because UN allows… this happens here at the UN so…
Deputy Spokesman: Friday prayers is not a new thing. They've been happening every Friday for centuries.
Question: But now it's getting bigger and bigger.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yeah, thank you, Farhan. I want to know about the [Jamal] Khashoggi situation. Is the United Nations resigned to having any investigation into that at all? Or are they… is it still open and it is still up to the Member States to go ahead and do something about it? But the horrendous murder that took place should have been investigated, and Michelle Bachelet has called for it.
Deputy Spokesman: And the Secretary‑General has also called for an investigation, which, as you'll recall, needs to be prompt, thorough and transparent. We're continuing to monitor, and we'll see what the authorities who have been conducting these phases of the investigation come up with and see what further steps, if any, are needed at that point. Yes?
Question: I just wanted to ask, on the Rohingya people's repatriation, which I spoke with… Far… Stéphane [Dujarric] yesterday, there's nothing that is being done at this point in time. There's no negotiations going on because the… the… the refugees have been told not to go back because it's not safe. When will it ever become safe? I mean, is United Nations going to talk to the…
Deputy Spokesman: We have… The United Nations has… as you know, had a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Myanmar. And, under those terms, our agencies on the ground, most particularly the Refugee Agency and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), are in touch with the Government about how to create conditions on the ground that are conducive for refugee return. At this point, we do not believe that enough has been done to create those conducive conditions. You had… you had your hand up? Oh, okay. Yes, you and then Amitoj.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. There will be Security Council meeting today on North Korean sanctions. I wonder if there is position of Secretary‑General on this topic, if the sanctions should be continued, as tough as they are now, or maybe the humanitarian situation allows to make some humanitarian exemptions.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, at this stage, of course, we believe it's proper to leave the matter in the hands of the members of the Security Council, who have been dealing with the imposition of sanctions on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. So, we'll await the discussions that are to take place.
Question: Can I follow up on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, certainly.
Question: Some of the requests for exemptions came from UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], UNDP. These are UN agencies. And the… as we understand it, the Americans have asked for more information. They've been put on hold. Is… is there… what is… is there a UN concern that there is foot‑dragging to get these exemptions for UN agencies?
Deputy Spokesman: What we want to make sure is that all agencies are capable of doing the work that they need to do, including providing humanitarian assistance and other needed facilities to the people of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. And, so, we will certainly allow the procedures in the Security Council to take place, but we hope that they will take up the concerns that have been expressed. Yes, Amitoj?
Question: Yeah, I just had a question about Jim Acosta, the CNN journalist whose pass has been revoked. I just wanted to know if the Secretary‑General has been briefed about that, has been told about that, anything about that? Has the UN taken note of it? I know it's an American matter, but just in case there has been any conversation about that.
Deputy Spokesman: We deal with the press corps in this room, not the press corps in the White House briefing room. So, we wouldn't really have any comment on that. But, certainly, all of you in this room are free to ask whatever questions you want. Yes?
Question: But Farhan… I mean, it's an issue… is it an issue of freedom of the press?
Correspondent: Yes, that's what I was saying.
Deputy Spokesman: I think we'll leave these matters in the hands of the… of the United States, but our general principle is that all countries need to allow reporters to have equal access and not to discriminate against any media.
Question: Sorry. Can I just follow up on that? There are two aspects out here, one that there's been an accusation against a journalist of inappropriate behaviour towards a woman, which the organization that is involved has said is actually a lie. And this is about protecting journalists that the UN is very serious about also.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. And we hold to the points of the protection of journalists, but, ultimately, the follow‑up on this issue would need to be done by the Government. This is a White House press briefing, not a UN one, and we don't have any oversight over other nations' press briefings. Yes?
Question: I'm sorry if I came a bit late to… to the meeting, but was there any update on gay crackdown in Tanzania? Has Secretary‑General been updated or anything… any news?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, yes, and we've… and I believe we've commented on this. We have commented on this, and the Secretary‑General, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed their concerns about this and the need for rights of all people, including the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual] community to be fully respected in all countries, including in Tanzania.
Question: Was there any response from the Tanzanian Government towards Secretary‑General?
Deputy Spokesman: We will need to be following up with them on this, but, yes, we have made various calls, and we'll continue to monitor the situation. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Is there an update on the migrants from Honduras and Mexico? Mexico said many were returning home. Do you have any more specific information? And then I have another question.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I believe we provided an update fairly recently, earlier this week, on this. We don't have any more since what we mentioned at the briefing.
Question: Okay. And, secondly, in South Sudan, there's an auction, an online auction, for marriage for a 16‑year‑old. Does that come to your attention? Lawyers are protesting in the country.
Deputy Spokesman: No, that has not, but, of course, we do expect all countries to abide by all UN Conventions, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, sir. On… Farhan, on this Yemen situation in Yemen, which we have dealt with extensively, can you tell… tell me… tell us whether that… does United Nations or Martin Griffiths or anybody else has been able to talk to the Saudis and persuade them not to carry out the air strikes inside Yemen, killing children?
Deputy Spokesman: We've been in touch with all of the various parties on the ground, including through Martin Griffiths, and have been prevailing upon them to halt all military offensives. I just pointed out our hopes that we can go back to talks and halt the fighting, including the military operations that are currently under way in and around Hodeidah. Monica, your turn.