The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon. You will have seen that very early this morning we issued a statement from the Secretary‑General on the situation in the Black Sea, in which the Secretary‑General said he is greatly concerned over the 25 November incident near the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea at the approach to the Kerch Strait and involving Ukrainian and Russian vessels. He underlines the immediate need to avoid any risk of further escalation of the situation. The Secretary‑General urges both parties to exercise maximum restraint and to take steps without delay to contain this incident and reduce tensions through all available peaceful means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. He underscores the need to fully respect the rights and obligations of all concerned parties under relevant international instruments. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders, in accordance with relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, must also be fully respected.
And this morning, he spoke at a high‑level event on the Multi‑Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea Region. The Secretary‑General recalled his visit last June, where he saw for himself the drying of the Aral Sea, which is called one of the largest ecological catastrophes of our time. But, he said that he also witnessed enormous local resilience and a yearning to look ahead, adding that he is heartened that Governments and the UN system are poised to help write a new chapter for the communities in the region. The Secretary‑General also spoke earlier at the high‑level special event on cooperation between the UN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He called the Organization a leading player in regional diplomacy, representing the largest combined population of any regional grouping in the world, with more than 3 billion women and men.
And this afternoon, the Secretary‑General will speak to a closed plenary meeting of the General Assembly to brief the membership on the status of his reforms of the United Nations.
**Emissions Gap Report
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today released its Emissions Gap Report, which assesses the gap between anticipated emission levels in 2030 compared to the levels consistent with a 2°C/1.5°C target. The report warns that the current pace of international action is insufficient to meet the Paris targets and concluded that nations must triple their efforts to meet the 2°C target and increase their ambitions five‑fold to meet the 1.5°C target. The report added that if the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the 2°C temperature goal can be reached. The report is online.
And also, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) today said there is a 75‑80 per cent chance of an El Niño event developing by February next year. The last El Niño took place in 2016 and was linked to droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world. WMO said that while the upcoming event is not expected to be as powerful as the previous one, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns, with important consequences to agricultural and food security, as well as water resources. WMO said the El Niño could also combine with long‑term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures. More information online.
And our friend Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, in consultation with the Secretary‑General, has accepted an invitation to participate in the high‑level meeting in Astana on 28 and 29 November. He will chair a meeting with senior representatives of Iran, Russia and Turkey in their capacity as the conveners of the Sochi meeting of 2018. This meeting will seek to accelerate a concrete outcome on the establishment of a constitutional committee. The presence of the Special Envoy in Astana will be in a spirit of not leaving any stone unturned and maximizing the chances of upholding the Istanbul Joint Statement. Mr. de Mistura has offered clear proposals and a full range of creative ways forward. He strongly appealed to the three countries to do what needs to be done now to support the UN‑facilitated political process. He will report on these consultations to the Secretary‑General and the Security Council in due course.
And on Yemen, the World Food Programme (WFP) completed distributing food to all residents in Hodeidah City, reaching approximately 30,000 families, or some 200,000 people. Humanitarian partners have also pre‑positioned enough supplies inside the city to support the population for two months. Since June, a vast majority of the 130,000 households displaced by conflict in Hodeidah have received assistance, including emergency food aid, water and sanitation, shelter and non‑food items. Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the port in Hodeidah remains open and operational. And World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are also supporting a three‑day polio vaccination campaign which aims to reach nearly 700,000 children under the age of five in Hajjah, Mahwit and Raymah Governorates.
**Central African Republic
And on the Central African Republic, our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission on the ground there (MINUSCA) deployed peacekeepers yesterday along the Ippy-Bambari axis in Ouaka Prefecture in response to reports of clashes between Unité pour la Paix en Centrafrique (UPC) and anti‑Balaka members. The Mission also reports that its Joint Task Force has intensified patrolling in the city’s third district in Bangui following clashes yesterday between three different criminal gangs. And to the country’s west, in Ouham Prefecture, peacekeepers prevented the lynching of two combatants of the Révolution et Justice group after they clashed with members of a local self‑defence group in Bondoro‑Kota, leaving two members of that Révolution et Justice group dead.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And an update on the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Our peacekeeping mission there, MONUSCO, reports that the situation remains tense in the Beni area of North Kivu as the joint operation by the Mission and the Congolese Army against the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] continues. In addition to these operations, peacekeepers continue to provide escorts to health workers in charge of the Ebola response. For her part, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Leila Zerrougui, was in Beni today to pay tribute to the peacekeepers who were killed earlier this month. She also visited the wounded and reiterated her support to all troops based in that part of the country. She met with the Malawian peacekeeper who was recovered over the weekend. He had been missing since 14 November, following the launch of the joint operation. The Mission continues to undertake efforts to recover the remaining three peacekeepers from Malawi who are still missing.
And as world leaders converge in Geneva for a two‑day Conference on Afghanistan, UNICEF says that 2019 will mark 40 years of conflict in that country, with four decades having left a terrible impact on the country’s children. The agency said 2018 has been especially challenging due to a spike in violence; unprecedented levels of drought and insecurity; and increased poverty taking a disproportionate toll on children. UNICEF said that some 5,000 children have been killed or maimed in the first three quarters of 2018, compared to all of 2017. And the Secretary‑General will have a message to the Conference tomorrow, where he will be represented by the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) meanwhile said today, over the weekend it began its first airlifts to western Afghanistan to bring thousands of tents to people uprooted by both conflict and an ongoing drought.
Our colleagues at the World Food Programme report that, together with UNICEF, they have launched a major programme to improve the delivery of quality nutrition services in north‑eastern Uganda. The programme will support more than 100,000 malnourished children under the age of five with supplementary feeding, as well as nearly 15,000 severely malnourished children with specialized treatment in hospitals and health centres in Uganda’s north‑eastern Karamoja region. More information online.
And just to flag a couple of upcoming events. The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will hold a special meeting tomorrow in observance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People — that’s at 10 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council. The Secretary‑General and the President of the General Assembly will be among the speakers.
**UN Chamber Music Society
And if you’re looking for something to do this Saturday, on 1 December at 3 p.m. at the DiMenna Performing Arts Center, the UN Chamber Music [Society] of the UN Staff Recreation Council will perform a concert for children. I’m not done, I didn’t say khalas.
And at 2:30 p.m. in this room, there will be a press briefing by Sodyq Safoev, First Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Uzbekistan. He will brief reporters, that means you, on the High‑Level Event to launch the Multi‑Partner Human Security Trust Fund for the Aral Sea Region. And of course, my guest, with me in a few minutes, after we’re done, will be Louise Arbour, who will be here to brief you on the road to Marrakech. Mr. Klein?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Can you tell us why it took nearly 48 hours for the Secretary‑General to issue his statement about the maritime confrontation in, around… around Crimea? And why… why wasn't a specific statement as to the importance of freedom of passage, particularly through that strait, which is the only passageway that Ukraine was able to use to connect the two ports in Ukraine was trying to reach? I know he made some general statements about recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but this was really dealing with a specific fundamental international law principle about freedom of the seas.
Spokesman: I would… I don't know about you, but I noticed Rosemary DiCarlo speak at 11 a.m. in the Security Council in an open meeting. She represented the views of the Secretariat and the Secretary‑General. And I think we were prompt in commenting and reacting to this situation, which is of grave concern to the Secretary‑General. And I would refer you to her detailed briefing.
Question: No, I was present at that, but… but the event occurred on Sunday, and there was nothing intervening from the Secretariat at all, let alone the Secretary‑General, on what could have been and may still be a major flare‑up of this conflict.
Spokesman: No one is questioning the risks involved in this situation. We were obviously trying to gather information over the weekend, and once the event… the first media events took place and Ms. DiCarlo, I think, briefed in detail representing the Secretary‑General.
Question: Follow‑up? Yeah, Stéphane. Mr. Klein just said that it was a period of time of 48 hours for the conflict that could have been a major conflict after the Cold War or so, and it's still with that potential, some… one would say. To whom the Secretary‑General counts, since he expressed his great concern on the issue, to talk about this? And will he reach some of the involved and probably talk to Moscow or Kyiv?
Spokesman: Contacts have been had at various levels, and I think the Secretary‑General relies on the parties themselves to exercise the maximum amount of restraint. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Still on the same subject of the Crimean region. I have seen the statement of the Spokesman of the Secretary‑General. Does the Secretary‑General consider that the situation may pose a threat to regional peace and security?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is very concerned about the ongoing… the situation, and as I said in the statement, he is concerned about the risk of escalation. Madame?
Question: Thanks. Stéphane, the United Nations on Monday announced $9.2 million in health and malnutrition funds for the crisis in Venezuela. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is? What's the process of giving it to Venezuela and what it will mean, those funds?
Spokesman: Sure; the money is not a transfer of money from the United Nations to Venezuela. It is transfer of money from the CERF (Central Emergency Response Fund) to various UN agencies to complement the ongoing activities that have already been agreed to with the Government of Venezuela for projects directly implemented by UN agencies. And these address, you know, critical health, nutrition and other needs in the country.
Question: [Inaudible] follow‑up? Will… will this mean that Venezuela is accepting that they have a humanitarian crisis, or is just what you mentioned just a process that has been already agreed to and it doesn't…
Spokesman: It's things that have already been agreed to, and it's really to address critical life‑saving needs. I think it's… part of that money, as I mention… I think I flagged yesterday or two days ago some deliveries by UNICEF. Part of that money is going to UNICEF. UNICEF has been delivering some critical aid for some months, but again, this is focused on life‑saving critical needs. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On 30 December, you have election in Bangladesh. There's two people run for that, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. What's… the UN get involved with this? That's first question. Second question, how they going to make it fair election with that?
Spokesman: Well, I'm not… I can check if we are involved in any way either technically… I mean, technically or otherwise in the elections. I'm not aware that we are, but I can check. And, obviously, we always would support the holding of free and fair elections. Abdelhamid, then Masood.
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. First, I wish that you continued with your announcement about the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people about the art… or photo exhibit on Thursday. It's not only tomorrow, but also on Thursday, there is more activities on that day, which falls on Thursday. My question is about… WFP today said that 50 per cent of the shipment of food to Yemen has been cut, due to many ships are refusing to go to Yemen to dock in Hodeidah port due to the escalation of the fighting. In fact, after Mr. [Martin] Griffiths left Yemen, the fighting had escalated…
Spokesman: No, I hear you. What is the question, sir?
Question: So I mean, the statement that you read, it sounds like everything is going fine in Yemen.
Spokesman: I don't think anything I've ever said here should be interpreted as everything is going fine in Yemen.
Question: But, I mean, the volume of shipment went down 50 per cent…
Spokesman: The shipping companies… the issue is that the shipping companies appear to be reluctant to dock at Hodeidah. Obviously, shipping companies have commercial interests. They see the insecurity in the port. It doesn't lend itself to increased activity. Over the last two weeks, the activities have been cut by half. If this continues, it will have a drastic and immediate impact, not only on WFP's availability to distribute food, but also on prices in local markets. And one of the issues that you'll recall that we've been stressing is the economic slice of this, is the shooting up of prices and the lack of cash available in the economy. This, as if we needed another reminder, is why we need a halt in the fighting and why we need for parties to rally around Mr. Griffiths and his efforts. What WF… what I flagged is that WFP had already distributed… it was distributing the food that was already in hand.
Question: So, do you think it's feasible now for the meeting in Sweden to take place in the first week of December?
Spokesman: I think any prediction will be left to you. We will announce things when things are firmed up. Masood, then Evelyn.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this situation in Palestine, again, following the arrest of the governor of Jerusalem in… the Palestinian governor in Jerusalem, has the situation, in your opinion, stabilised? Where is it… the detentions are growing much more… I mean, there can't be much more than what they are already, so…
Spokesman: The overall situation, I think, is… I would refer you back to Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov's last briefing but, obviously, is one of continuing concern.
Question: So, my other… other question I wanted to ask you was, the Secretary‑General, as you said, is going to give a closed‑door speech on this reform of the United Nations. Will the reform of the Security Council also be part of this?
Spokesman: No, reform of the Security Council is beyond the limited domain of even the Secretary‑General. Evelyn?
Question: Right. Can you bring us…?
Spokesman: But I would add that it's something that he's always… he and his predecessors have often called for.
Question: Can you bring us up‑to‑date on Yemen, if there's any fighting? And, secondly, the United Nations… well, there are lots of people who keep saying the UN should do something about Hodeidah. Does that mean control the port? And, if so, it would take… it would take months, would it not?
Spokesman: I think we have… I think both Mr. Griffiths and others have talked about the potential of the UN taking over the port. That's not something we're able to announce as of yet. The insecurity continues. I don't know what more I can say on Yemen. Yes, Fathi?
Question: Thank you, Steph. With regard to the Secretary‑General participation at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, is there any plans by the SG to have any meetings with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan of Turkey and the Saudi Crown Prince? And if… the second part, did Turkey submit a formal request to the Secretary‑General to conduct an international investigation into the…
Spokesman: We expect to have an announcement hopefully tomorrow on the G20. Two quick questions. Then I want to go to our guest, who's been waiting patiently in the green room and, I'm sure, is eager to come out here. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On the question of reforms, the Secretary‑General has been speaking about them before the General Assembly before. What is new? Why is he going now to the General Assembly?
Spokesman: It's… the reform is a partnership between the Secretary‑General and the Secretariat and the Member States. He's updating them and will spend, I expect, about two hours answering questions. And he's very engaged and willing and happy to do that. Habibi?
Correspondent: Okay. Last question.
Spokesman: Don't ever say that. I say that. You don't say that. Go ahead.
Question: On East Jerusalem, Stéphane, I don't know if Mr. Mladenov is aware of the campaign that Israel now is conducting to arrest activists in East Jerusalem. Four hundred people had been arrested in the last few days or few… two weeks. Mem… It include member of this Palestinian security and member of Fatah activists so in… in that campaign to empty the city… East Jerusalem from its Palestinian residents… is Mr. Mladenov aware of this recent campaign?
Spokesman: I'm sure… I will check with his office. I haven't received anything today. Okay? Thank you.