The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Security Council on Peacekeeping
He noted that improving training is a major shared commitment of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative.
With peacekeepers deployed to increasingly complex and often hostile environments, training prepares them for their vital tasks and saves lives.
The Secretary-General said that one of our key priorities is strengthening conduct and discipline, noting that we are encouraged [that] the number of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping appears to be decreasing.
But the Secretary-General stressed that we must be vigilant in our prevention efforts and seek accountability whenever the zero-tolerance policy has been violated, in strong partnership with Member States. The full remarks are online and I hope you noticed his shirt.
The Secretary-General also, just a short while ago, spoke at the launch of the UN Countering Terrorist Travel Programme, saying that the recent despicable [attacks] in Kenya, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, among others, are tragic reminders of the global reach of the scourge of terrorism. These attacks, he said, underscore the need to work closely with partners across the UN system and beyond.
He said that the Countering Terrorist Travel Programme that is being launched today will help Member States collect, process and share travel data with other competent national and international authorities, with full respect for privacy and fundamental freedoms. The Secretary-General added that this information sharing will enhance the ability of Member States to effectively detect, prevent, and investigate, as well as prosecute terrorist offences, including those related to travel.
And just a reminder that the Secretary-General will be leaving tonight for Geneva where, on Thursday and Friday, he will chair the spring meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board. While in Geneva, the Secretary-General will address a special session of the World Trade Organization’s General Council, and that will take place Friday afternoon. There, he will stress the importance of preserving the multilateral rules-based order — including on trade — for a fair globalization and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Then, on 12 May, the Secretary-General will head to the South Pacific to focus on the issue of climate change ahead of the summit that he is convening in September in New York. As part of the trip, he will be going to New Zealand, Fiji, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
On Libya, we can report that clashes have continued in southern Tripoli despite the UN Mission’s (UNSMIL) call for a week-long humanitarian truce.
At least 12 airstrikes and several fatalities were reported yesterday.
The United Nations is extremely concerned about increasing reports of weapons and ammunition being supplied to both parties, in contravention of the relevant Security Council resolutions.
The UN Mission renews its call for a humanitarian truce to allow for civilians to move freely and shop during Ramadan [and] allow unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to those trapped in conflict zones.
And related to the release of the two Reuters journalists in Myanmar, I can tell you that the Secretary-General was very much relieved to hear the news of the release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. And there was also a statement from the UN office in Myanmar.
Also, I wanted to let you know the Secretary-General has written a letter to President [Vladimir] Putin of the Russian Federation to express his deepest condolences and profound sadness over the loss of life in the plane crash at Moscow airport over the weekend.
The Secretary-General, in the letter, sends his heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims as well as to the people and Government of the Russian Federation. He wishes those injured a speedy and full recovery.
Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said today that it is a relief that the United Nations has finally been given the green light to use an existing corridor to gain access to the Red Sea Mills, adding that it is very positive that the parties have taken this step.
“Everyone knows we need the food in the Mills,” she said. “It is now a race against time to salvage supplies that can feed 3.7 million people for a month.”
In a statement we issued last night, the Secretary-General expressed great concern at the intensifying hostilities in the de-escalation area of north-western Syria involving Syrian Government forces and their allies, armed opposition forces, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The Secretary-General is alarmed by reports of aerial attacks on population centres and civilian infrastructure resulting in hundreds of civilians dead and injured and over 150,000 newly displaced people.
The Secretary-General urges all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and protect civilians. He calls for an urgent de-escalation of the situation as Ramadan begins and urges the parties to recommit fully to the ceasefire arrangements in the memorandum signed on 17 September 2018. He urges the Astana guarantors to ensure that this takes place.
As you saw, the Secretary-General spoke to you yesterday afternoon, when he was accompanied by the African Union Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki, following the Plenary Meeting of the Third AU-UN Annual Conference.
The Secretary-General said that the partnership between the AU and the UN is an absolutely central, strategic one, underlining that our work in peace and security, human rights, development, and climate change can only succeed in the world if Africa succeeds. There are two battles — climate change and financing for development — in which the African Union and the UN will work hand in hand in the months to come.
On climate change, the Secretary-General said that while Africa does not contribute much to climate change, it is one of the areas where its impact is dramatic and devastating, pointing to the recent storms in Mozambique and the drought in the Sahel. He called for more ambition in mitigation, adaptation, as well as financing to reverse the current trends.
**Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
I also want to flag that the Norwegian Government will be hosting an international conference on ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in humanitarian crises in Oslo from 23-24 May.
The conference aims to mobilize stronger political commitment for prevention of sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises, increase funding for the response through UN-coordinated response plans, and to highlight best practices. All UN Member States are invited at the ministerial level, together with civil society organizations and influential individuals.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a report that says that the demand for sand is leading to pollution, flooding and drought, as well as accelerated beach erosion and reduced deposits in river deltas.
The report says that global demand for sand and gravel stands at 40-50 billion tonnes a year, making it the second largest resource extracted and traded in volume after water. UNEP warns that we are “spending our sand budget” faster than we can replenish it and the report recommends ways to manage this very useful resource.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today welcomed the commitment made by the International Food and Beverage Alliance — comprising some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies — to eliminate industrially produced trans fat from the global food supply by 2023.
The move is in line with WHO targets and the Organization will monitor the next steps to make sure the commitment is realized.
The move comes after a meeting WHO’s Director-General Dr. Tedros [Ghebreyesus] had last week with some CEOs of companies which are part of the Alliance.
He said that eliminating industrially-produced trans fat is one of the simplest and most effective ways to save our lives and create a healthier food supply, with trans fat intake responsible for over half a million deaths from coronary heart disease each year globally.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have two questions on two different subjects. First, picking up on your statement on Libya, you talked about the ongoing clashes, even though the Secretary‑General has called for a truce for Ramadan. You talk about the breaches of the arms embargo. The Security Council also now have a Panel of Experts report in front of them, detailing further evidence of breaches of that arms embargo. What does the Secretary‑General want the Security Council to do now?
Spokesman: I think it's very important for the Security Council to send a unified message to the parties and to keep the interests of the Libyan people in mind as this fighting continues, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.
Question: My second question, as we've heard in the last 24 hours again, the Secretary‑General talking about climate change; as you know, there was an important meeting in the Arctic that's taken place in recent hours. Comments from the US Secretary of State: "Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days. Arctic sea lanes could become the twenty-first century Suez and Panama Canals." Your reaction from the United Nations.
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General's position on the climate change crisis remains unchanged. The fact that, as he always puts it, climate change is running faster than we are remains unchanged. I think it is important that there be political will from global leaders on tackling this problem, which is running towards us at an extremely fast clip.
Question: A very quick follow‑up, if I can. Is he surprised, even dismayed that such comments are coming from the holder of the job of Secretary of State, comments that seem to be ignorant of the agreed science?
Spokesman: I will leave it at what I said. For us, as we've repeatedly said, the science is clear. Madame?
Question: Monsieur. You said yesterday that the SG would be meeting with the Cuban Ambassador. Did that take place? And do you have any information of that meeting?
Spokesman: Yes, the meeting did take place at the request of the Cuban Permanent Mission. I expect to have a little bit more information… I thought I would have something for you today. It may be a little later today. Yes, sir?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. We've just been speaking with the Palestinian envoy, [Riyadh] Mansour. He said that he's concerned that the [Donald] Trump Administration's forthcoming peace plan for the Middle East is really a pretext for Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank. Could we get your comment, please?
Spokesman: We haven't seen the plan, so I'm not going to comment on something that we have not seen. Our position on the two‑State solution, the need for a two‑State solution for the parties to engage remains unchanged. But we have not seen the plan. Abdelhamid?
Question: Are you… sorry. Are you guys involved at all? Have there been any meetings between [Jared] Kushner and [Jason] Greenblatt and the Secretary‑General on this…?
Spokesman: I mean, the Secretary‑General has met Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt on occasions, but we have not… as far as I know, no plan has been shared with the Secretary‑General, and it is a plan that is coming out of the United States, not out of the United Nations. Abdelhamid and then Benny.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Can you confirm that the Secretary‑General would visit the mosque and Christchurch in New Zealand in his forthcoming visit and to pay some tribute to the massacre that had been committed in that…
Spokesman: Sure, I mean, of course, we announced that he would. Yeah, he will be going in as a visit of solidarity to meet with the Muslim community leaders.
Question: And the second, did the Secretary‑General issue a statement congratulating Muslims on the Ramadan…?
Spokesman: Yes, there was a tweet from his account over the weekend.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: Mr. Avni?
Question: You mentioned those air attacks in Idlib, I think, and that area, recent air attacks in Syria? Can you… is there any information, as far as you know, as to who was doing the attacks? Was it the… the Syrian air force, Russian planes?
Spokesman: We don't have any more information than what we've put in the statement. What we do know is that there's been an increased level of clashes, air attacks, ground attacks, and the end result is that there is increased suffering from the Syrian civilians, both in terms of increased levels of displacement and destruction of civilian infrastructure.
Question: And can you extrapolate for that… from that on how does that affect the efforts to… you know, for political solution?
Spokesman: Extrapolation, I will leave as a job for journalists.
Question: Is it a setback…?
Spokesman: Obviously, without trying to be snitty or snotty, my… increased fighting does not help the political process, which seems to be a basic fact. Evelyn and then Betul.
Question: To follow up on Benny's question, press reports have pointed to Russia and Syria for the Idlib air attacks. Has anyone from the UN spoken to either one?
Spokesman: We remain in touch with all the parties. Betul and then Erol.
Question: Another follow‑up on that, Steph. You also mentioned the displacement of 150,000 people. Where did they go? And does the UN have access to them? And have you been talking to the Astana guarantors?
Spokesman: Yes, we've been in discussion with all the parties, including the Astana guarantors. We have very limited access to those people who are now being displaced. Erol?
Question: Steph, two quick question on Turkey. Probably I missed it during my couple of days off. Did the Secretary‑General reacted on that Gaza attack on the Anadolu agency when the whole building of that news agency was ruined? Number 1.
Spokesman: And Number 2?
Question: Number 2, does he have any comment on nullifying the elections in Istanbul…?
Spokesman: No, we've seen the press reports on Istanbul. These are elections that we were not involved in, so I have no particular comment. On Gaza, I think we've spoken out pretty clearly, and, obviously, it is also important in any conflict area, it is important that journalists' safety be guaranteed. I'll come back to you, James. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. How concerned is the Secretary‑General regarding possible deterioration of the security situation in the Persian Gulf?
Spokesman: I… the Secretary… we are following the developments, also the rhetoric that we've seen. The freedom of navigation… the concept of freedom of navigation is one that we hold dear. James, if you had a… sorry. I didn't know if you were raising your hand or not so…
Spokesman: Let James go and then I'll come back… I'll come…
Question: I have two very quick follow‑ups, one on the question that we just had on the Persian Gulf. The Iranian representative, speaking a short time ago, suggested that… what we've also seen in press reports, that Iran, with the anniversary of the US pulling out of the nuclear deal, might respond in the coming hours. What is your message to Iran about the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), is my first question?
Spokesman: Our message on the JCPOA is that the Secretary‑General feels that the JCPOA is a very important diplomatic achievement, and we would hope that those still partaking in the agreement will uphold it.
Question: And the second question is another follow‑up on Idlib. Certainly, numerous reports say that it was Russian air strikes that have been involved in some of this, including the destruction of a hospital. Does the Secretary‑General believe that, if Russia is carrying out those sort of air strikes, it is a breach of the de‑escalation agreement that they went into?
Spokesman: Look, it's a lot of speculation. What we do know is that civilian infrastructure, according to international humanitarian law, should not be targeted.
Spokesman: It's a different continent for you. Yes, Linda?
Question: Switching to Myanmar, I was wondering, you know, what the latest comments were regarding the reporters. And, also, what is the status of UN involvement in Myanmar both in terms of, you know, any political process, humanitarian efforts?
Spokesman: On the reporters, I mean, I said we were very relieved at their release. We're very happy to see them released. Our involvement in Myanmar continues to be quite broad on the political end, obviously, on the humanitarian end, on the development end. We have the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. [Ursula] Mueller, who is going to Myanmar, if she's not already there, including going to Rakhine State. We continue to express our concern at the situation in Rakhine State. So, the involvement is fairly important, I would say.
Question: Quick follow‑up on that?
Spokesman: You guys… [laughter] Just don't mind me. I'll be here. [laughter] No, that's fine. That's okay. You obviously spent a long time in the…
Question: On humanitarian goods, are… is the UN able to deliver them to Rakhine State?
Spokesman: We have some access to Rakhine State. We've been able to del… to visit, and I think there's been some humanitarian involvement, but I need to get the details for you. Yes, sir?
Question: Does the Secretary‑General consider to go there, I mean, in Myanmar to visit the places where the Rakhine… Rakhine Muslims?
Spokesman: There's no plan… no plan as of now. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The UN expert on human rights, Mr. Jaz… [Idriss] Al Jazairy, has strongly criticised US sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Venezuela as a violation of human rights. Does the Secretary‑General agree with that statement?
Spokesman: If you're referring to the comments by a Special Rapporteur, it's not for the Secretary‑General to agree or disagree. They are an independent voice. The Secretary‑General, as a matter of principle, has expressed his concerns to the Security Council in a speech, I think, last year, in a statement last year, about the humanitarian impact of sanctions. Madame, and then we'll go.
Question: Follow‑up on Gaza. Does the Secretary‑General condemn the targeting of civilians' buildings in Gaza by the Israeli army or the killing of civilian… Palestinian civilians by the Israeli snipers?
Spokesman: Yeah, we… civilians should never be a target. Thank you.
Question: One more question on Iran? Does the Secretary‑General…
Spokesman: Go ahead.
Question: Does the Secretary‑General have anything to do… to say about… to com… any comment on the US beefing up forces around Iran?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the answer I gave your colleague, which was the same question a few minutes ago. Thank you. [I think I'm all done with you. I will leave you in Farhan's hands for a few days, because we need a break.