The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. In the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a debate on peacebuilding and sustaining peace and that meeting was chaired by the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara. The Secretary-General said that Côte d’Ivoire’s own experience showed that peace and development went hand in hand. The Secretary-General said that we needed to adopt an approach that was holistic, which addressed potential triggers of instability such as inequality and climate change. He also said that that approach needed to be more inclusive, led by national and local actors. The Secretary-General stressed the role of partnerships — with regional and subregional organizations, and with international financial institutions, to safeguard development gains, strengthen resilience and build local capacities to prevent and respond to conflicts. His statement is online.
And as you just heard, the Secretary-General mentioned in his remarks the strengthened partnership between the African Union and the United Nations. In line with that, just to let you know that the Secretary-General and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission tomorrow will sign a joint declaration on the partnership between the two organizations. That ceremony should take place at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, and if you’re interested, I think we can give you, we can share with you embargoed copies of what will be signed.
In Geneva, the initial round-table meeting on Western Sahara convened by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, got under way today. Delegations from Morocco, the Frente POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania are present for this initial meeting, which is scheduled to last until tomorrow.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s [UNIFIL] Force Commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, today chaired a regular tripartite meeting with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] at the UN position in Ras Al Naqoura. This included discussions on IDF activities south of the Blue Line looking for suspected tunnels. The meeting, which had been scheduled before yesterday’s start of the IDF’s operations on the northern front, provided a forum to present and discuss issues related to the ongoing IDF activities to ensure that overall calm prevails in the weeks ahead. Major General Del Col emphasized the critical role of the UN forces’ liaison and coordination mechanisms in mitigating tensions through continuous communications. He encouraged both sides to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that security and stability along the Blue Line is maintained and reinforced. The Force Commander stressed the importance of ensuring that UNIFIL has full access to all locations along the Blue Line, and he appealed for the support of the parties in reducing the high level of rhetoric. At the meeting, it was also agreed that UNIFIL would send a technical team to Israel on 6 December to ascertain the facts, and that would be tomorrow.
On Syria, we continue to receive disturbing reports of ongoing hostilities affecting the civilian population in Syria’s south-eastern Deir-ez-Zour Governorate. Yesterday, airstrikes in the Hajin and Abu Kamal areas reportedly killed and injured several civilians, including women and children. Ongoing clashes in Hajin town and surrounding areas are reportedly continuing to place further civilian lives at risk. The United Nations and its partners have been unable to access the areas in recent weeks due to the active hostilities. Previous assistance to the internally displaced people in the Gharanij and Bahra areas was delivered in October, when assistance to 5,000 people was provided. The UN continues to call for safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, and for all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian law.
On Yemen, yesterday, senior officials from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs visited Taizz City as part of an effort to scale-up [aid] operations in the area. Although the security situation is improving in the city, humanitarian needs remain high and the city remains divided by a front line, which means that civilians must travel hours on a long rural road to cross from one side to another. Water and sanitation related needs are particularly high, while health facilities are operating under capacity and the electricity grid needs to be restored. The main road from Taizz to Aden is closed due to the conflict, with commodity prices pushed higher and higher due to difficulties in access. Hundreds of families have returned to their homes to damaged neighbourhoods in recent months and urgently require shelter, water, sanitation and other emergency support.
The climate talks at the COP24 [twenty-fourth Conference of Parties] are continuing. In Katowice today, the World Health Organization [WHO] launched a report which says that meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement could save about a million lives a year worldwide by 2050 through reductions in air pollution alone. The report’s estimates from leading experts also indicate that the value of health gains from climate action would be approximately double the cost of mitigation policies at the global level, and the benefit-to-cost ratio is even higher in countries such as China and India. In the 15 countries that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions, the health impacts of air pollution are estimated to cost more than 4 per cent of their GDP while actions to meet the Paris goals would cost around 1 per cent of the global GDP. More information on the website of the World Health Organization.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke today in Geneva ahead of the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She said that, in the decades since its adoption, the Declaration has underpinned countless beneficial changes in the lives of millions of people across the world, permeating some 90 national Constitutions and numerous national, regional and international laws and institutions. But, as Ms. Bachelet pointed out, 70 years after its adoption, the work the Universal Declaration proposes is far from over and never will be. She noted that, while we are born “free and equal”, millions of people have their dignity trampled and their rights violated on a daily basis.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) today released a report which estimates that 164 million people worldwide are migrant workers. This represents a 9 per cent rise since 2013, when the number was 150 million. The report says that 58 per cent of migrant workers are men and  per cent are women. ILO said that women still face discrimination because of their gender and nationality, reducing their employment opportunities in other countries. The report also notes that nearly 61 per cent of migrant workers are to be found in North America, Northern, Southern and Western Europe and in the Arab countries. The report is online.
Today is… we have two days today. Do we know what those days are? That’s three days, then, I guess. The one that brings us closer to the ground is World Soil Day. This year’s theme is “Be the Solution to Soil Pollution”. Soil pollution degrades our soils, poisons the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Most of the pollutants originate from human activities, such as unsustainable farming practices, industrial activities and mining, untreated urban waste and other non-environmentally-friendly practices. The theme draws attention to how governments and business [can] help ensure food security. Today is also International Volunteer Day. In a tweet, the Secretary-General thanked the more than 1 billion volunteers worldwide for dedicating their time, skills and passion to make the world a better place. This year, the Day celebrates volunteer efforts that strengthen local ownership and the resilience of the community in the face of natural disasters, economic stresses and political shocks.
We have reached the number 150 in our Honour Roll, if anybody can guess which country paid today. G. Ghana. Who said Ghana? All right. Well, if you have a question, you may ask it, or you may yield it to somebody else. All right. Carole, you're closest to the winner. Yeah.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, has the Secretary‑General… would he have any comments to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's comments in Brussels yesterday, where he questioned whether the UN had lost its way and was faithfully serving its mission?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General has been a believer in the United Nations and a believer in the multilateral system for a long time now, and I would refer you to the very eloquent remarks he delivered at the Paris Peace Summit on 11 November of this year, which was, I think, a very strong defence of multilateralism, the United Nations, its many successes. And I think the Secretary‑General has also been very clear in addressing the lack of trust we have… that there exists in many international organizations, and he's often called for new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organizations, what he likes to call a network multilateralism. Yes?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. You must be tired of this question, but I have to ask…
Spokesman: No, we have not… nothing's come in the mail today. Sorry.
Question: Former Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon acted without any request or mandate when he set up a Commission of Inquiry into the killing of 150 people back in 20… 2009 in Guinea. So, I was just wondering what makes the [Jamal] Khashoggi case different from what happened in Guinea?
Spokesman: I'm not particularly familiar off the top of my head with details of the Guinea case. I will look into it, but I would refer you to the answers I've given in the past days on this issue, and our position remains unchanged. Mr. Barada?
Question: Thank you, Steph. The Secretary‑General must be very happy that two peace negotiations are happening today in Sweden and in Geneva. And, on the Western Sahara issue, what's the expectations that the Secretary‑General have regarding the participant parties, especially from the Algerian part and… and Mauritania?
Spokesman: First of all, I mean, the Secretary‑General is very pleased that the four parties I mentioned have accepted the invitation from Mr. [Horst] Köhler. That's already a big step. This is an initial round table. As you know, it's taken us some time to get to where we are. So, let's let the process end and not place any undue burden on the work of Mr. Köhler, which is difficult enough.
Question: May I ask on… also on Lebanon, on the tunnels, today, the Speaker of the Parliament in Lebanon met with the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] and the UNIFIL commanders together and, thereafter, just said that Israel provided no evidence that there are tunnels across the border or under the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: As I mentioned, the UN will be sending a military delegation from UNIFIL to Israel tomorrow to meet with the IDF and to get some facts. From the Secretary‑General's point of view, his principle is that the building of tunnels from one country to another for military purposes is wholly unacceptable. Mr. Benny and then we'll go to Mr. Klein.
Question: Follow‑up on that?
Spokesman: Yes, sir.
Question: Has UNIFIL, in the past, at… in any of it its report note… noted any tunnel activity south of the Litani [River] in its area of patrol?
Spokesman: I think both you and I can go through the reports to the Security Council, which are public, and we can answer that question.
Question: And if not… which, as far as I know it hasn't, has… is it… did it miss the activity…?
Spokesman: UNIFIL reports… the reports back to the Security Council are based on what UNIFIL has seen and what it's observed and based on the facts as they ascertain them.
Question: Is it possible they haven't seen activity of digging tunnels?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go down the road of speculation with you, Benny.
Question: May I follow up…?
Spokesman: No, I'll get back to you. Mr. Klein?
Question: Yes. The Secretary‑General and now, in the readout, you mentioned WHO, have talked about the long‑term economic benefits that can be gained in addressing climate change versus not doing anything. I'm wondering, though, what the Secretary‑General would have to say about the short‑term economic pain as evidenced in France and in the protests, the Yellow Vest Protests in France against the increased fuel tax proposed by President [Emmanuel] Macron, you know, on top of the already rather substantial taxes on… on fuel. What does he say to the people struggling today to make ends meet who see these global agendas long-term of… of… of dealing with carbon emissions and so forth as hurting their pocketbooks right now?
Spokesman: There is a… there will always be a challenge for governments to deal with the immediate and deal with the long term. What is key… and, if the Secretary‑General were here, he would quote the European philosopher [Jürgen] Habermas and talk about the need in any democracy for a very vibrant dialogue between civil society and the political class. Sorry. Let's go to Mr. Abbadi, and then I'll go to you, Ali.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Excuse me. On Western Sahara, still, I have a few questions. Did Mr. Köhler make any introductory remarks? Is it possible that he might extend the duration of the meeting to three days, beyond the two days anticipated? And is he coming back to New York to report to the Secretary‑General afterwards?
Spokesman: Let me take it backwards from you. I'm sure, at some point, Mr Köhler will come back to report to the Security Council. Mr Köhler and the Secretary‑General are in very close phone contact. So, that's… the issue of briefing, I'm sure, will be had. Whether or not the talks go longer, that's really up to Mr. Köhler, and I don't want to speculate from New York on day one. And I don't believe there were any public remarks. And if he says something publicly, our colleagues in Geneva will let us know, and we will send that out from here. Mr. Barada, I thank you for your patience.
Question: Sorry. In your initial statement, you said that there was a meeting for the tripartite parties in… Lebanon, Israel, and the UNIFIL. So, what do you make of not… for Israel not giving any evidence to the… in the meeting, since this is the mechanism to solve any issue?
Spokesman: It's not for me to speak for the Israeli Defense Forces. This was part of a pre‑scheduled routine meeting. I think one of the key benefits of having UNIFIL on the ground is its ability to bring the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces together for direct face‑to‑face communications. UNIFIL will be sending a delegation to Israel to talk with the IDF in Israel on this issue, and they will report back publicly if they're able… if they so choose to. Ms. Monica [Grayley], the podium is warm and all yours.