The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon and happy Friday, everyone.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General wrapped up the spring meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board. A short while ago, he spoke at the World Trade Organization’s General Council. The Secretary-General focused on the importance of revitalizing multilateral trade cooperation for sustainable development and global prosperity. He stressed that the WTO reform efforts should be guided by the imperatives of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the global partnership for sustainable development. The Secretary-General also noted that in the face of growing discontent over globalization, trade tensions have escalated over the past year to threaten growth in international trade and the very foundation of the rules-based multilateral trading system. “It is worth highlighting,” he said, “that when trade tensions rise, there are no winners, only losers.” He reaffirmed that a rules-based, non-discriminatory and equitable trading system is essential to preserving the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable economies, but it is also clearly in the interests of all trading partners, weak and strong alike. The speech is available online. The Secretary‑General will be leaving Geneva as we speak to start his tour of the South Pacific.
Earlier today, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on the Belize-Guatemala border differendum. The Secretary-General took note of the decision of the people of Belize and Guatemala, through referenda held in each country on 8 May 2019 and 15 April 2018 respectively, to submit their border differendum to the International Court of Justice for a final settlement. Established by the Charter as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the Court is an essential mechanism for the peaceful settlement of disputes. The Secretary-General welcomes the spirit of cooperation with which both countries have sought to resolve this matter.
We are extremely concerned about another attack in Libya claimed by Da’esh yesterday in Ghoudwa, south of Sabha, in which several civilians lost their lives. This was the second attack claimed by Da’esh in one week. This is another reason why we need to have a ceasefire and to resume a political process that will re‑unite the Libyans and enable them to join forces in the fight against terrorism.
The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on Libya and on Syria. On the latter, Council members are being briefed by Reena Ghelani, Director of Operations and Advocacy for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. On that topic, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that distributions of monthly food rations in southern Idlib for 47,500 people have been temporarily suspended for a few days due to insecurity.
A joint UN-African Union-Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mission led by the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix; African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui; and IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan, Ismail Wais, is in Juba, South Sudan, today for a two-day trip. The aim of the visit is to provide support to the peace process in the country, further to the 3 May agreement facilitated by IGAD that extended the pre-transitional period by six months. Earlier today, the delegation met with President Salva Kiir. They will also be meeting with senior Government officials and representatives of the joint institutions established under the peace agreement, women’s organizations and the international community. Mr. Lacroix will also visit Bor in the centre of the country to see first-hand the implementation of the peace agreement. He will then travel to Kigali, Rwanda, on Monday to attend a symposium on peacekeeping.
Our colleagues at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report that 894 children — including 106 girls — were released today from the ranks of the Civilian Joint Task Force, a local militia that helps the Nigerian security forces in the fight against insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria. The children and young people released in Maiduguri today will benefit from reintegration programmes to help them return to civilian life and seize new opportunities for their own development. UNICEF says that between 2013 and 2017, more than 3,500 children were recruited and used by non-State armed groups in the armed conflict in the north‑east. Others have been abducted, maimed, raped and killed. More details are available online.
Our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO) say that a series of major security incidents have disrupted response activities in Butembo and neighbouring health zones this week. While operations resumed yesterday, WHO expects that the backlog in lab testing, coupled by the restricted access, will result in a rise in the number of cases reported in the coming days. This outbreak is in a critical phase, with increased transmission rates in recent weeks raising the risk of spread to other provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to surrounding countries. WHO says a major surge in political and financial support from all national and international actors is urgently needed. The current funding gap could lead to WHO and partners rolling back some activities precisely when they are most needed. As of 2 May, WHO had received $32.5 million out of $87 million required to sustain the response at the current scale. Also this week, WHO’s advisory group on vaccines suggested new approaches that will help reach more people more quickly, taking into account ongoing insecurity and incorporating feedback from the affected communities. You can read more about that online.
Damaged roads and bridges continue to prevent relief teams from reaching thousands of people in need as floodwaters from Cyclone Kenneth recede. Nearly 45,400 houses were destroyed in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado and Nampula Provinces, as of 7 May, with over 1,300 houses flooded in Cabo Delgado, according to the Government. Cholera control efforts are ongoing with some 109 cases recorded in Pemba, Mecufi and Metuge areas, as of 8 May. More than 66,100 people had been reached with food assistance provided by the World Food Programme (WFP), alongside assistance provided by the National Disaster Management Institute, as of 8 May. In Comoros, almost 186,000 people are in need of immediate multisectoral assistance. The death toll following Cyclone Kenneth stood at 50 people as of 8 May, including 43 deaths in Mozambique and 7 in Comoros.
On Sri Lanka, nearly three weeks after the attacks on Easter Sunday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that it is extremely concerned for the plight of the more than 1,000 refugees and asylum‑seekers who fled their homes in the wake of the attacks. The agency is providing food, medicine and shelter materials, and discussions are under way with the authorities to identify alternative accommodation until refugees are able to return to their residences. Currently, over 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers have sought refuge in local mosques, police stations and community centres, for fear of possible reprisals and threats. Many fled persecution in their home countries due to their religious or political beliefs. More on this on UNHCR’s website.
Our human rights colleagues today said that they are alarmed by the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this trend seems to be worsening. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calls on Colombian authorities to make a significant effort to confront the pattern of harassment and attacks aimed at civil society representatives and to take all necessary measures to address what it calls endemic impunity around such cases. The Office said that, in just the first four months of this year, there have been 51 alleged killings of human rights defenders and activists, compared to 115 killings of human rights defenders documented in all of 2018. More on this online.
In response to questions I’ve received, I can say that the Secretary-General is concerned about the detention of another opposition lawmaker by Venezuelan authorities. He believes that arresting members of the opposition and lawmakers undermines efforts to seek a peaceful and negotiated solution to the deepening crisis in Venezuela. The Secretary-General calls on the authorities to uphold the rights of all political leaders detained and to grant their lawyers and families immediate access to verify the conditions of their detention. He reiterates his call on all actors to take immediate steps to lower tensions and refrain from any action that will lead to further escalation.
And today, our thanks go to two countries for their full payments to the regular budget — San Marino and Vanuatu. Their payments take the total to 95.
**Press Conference Today
You will hear shortly from Monica Grayley, and then, this afternoon at 2:15 p.m., there will be a briefing here by Ambassador Syed Hasrin Syed Hussin of Malaysia, Chair of the third Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] Review Conference. That’s it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Evelyn?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Thank you, Farhan. In Nigeria, 3,500 women or people were recruited, kidnapped, what? And then how many survived?
Deputy Spokesman: These were more than 3,500 children who were recruited and used by non‑State armed groups in the north-east. And that's in the period between 2013 and 2017. So, these are recruited children, and so today's news is that some of them were released from one of the groups, the Civilian Joint Task Force. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. On Yemen first, where is Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé? And can you give us an update on what's happening with his efforts to get the plan implemented?
Deputy Spokesman: On Yemen or Libya?
Deputy Spokesman: Oh, okay. So Mr. [Martin] Griffiths?
Correspondent: I'm sorry. I meant Mr. Griffiths.
Deputy Spokesman: Martin… it's okay. We've got lots and lots of envoys. Martin Griffiths has been in Amman. We do expect him to come to New York next week to brief the Security Council, and we'll see whether he will be willing to talk to the press, although he's normally very willing to come before you. Regarding the process, obviously, the talks have been continuing, and he and General [Michael] Lollesgaard have been reaching out to the parties to deal with different issues, including those withdrawals. There's nothing in particular to announce on that right now. And of course, in terms of other signs of progress, you saw the access that we've had to the Red Sea Mills.
Question: And is there any update on when General Lollesgaard might speak to us?
Deputy Spokesman: We're talking with his office to see when we can reschedule that. We'll let you know whenever that happens.
Question: And, on Syria, are any senior UN officials actually talking to the Government about this escalating violence in the Idlib area?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we've been making our concerns known about the escalation. You'll have seen the Secretary‑General's statement on this, but at other levels, we've been reaching out, including to the Government of Syria. And as I mentioned, Ms. Ghelani is briefing the Security Council on that topic… on the humanitarian situation in Syria, which includes the conditions in the north-west, today. Yes, Stefano?
Question: Thank you. In the Mediterranean Sea today, another boat with migrants sank. They talking about 70… 70 people disappeared. What the Secretary‑General thinks of this, you know, new approach that is being on for, I would say now, more than one here on the part of Italy and other countries to not allow [non-governmental organization] ships to rescue those migrants? I mean, when they rescue them, they do not open the ports to them. So, is this tactic working, or is dangerous for the life of those migrants?
Deputy Spokesman: Obviously, our hearts go out to the families of the people who have been missing in today’s incident. We hope that they will be found safe. But, at the same time, these are… have been very regular and very disturbing reports of casualties, and the Secretary‑General believes that the first and foremost priority of governments is to do whatever they can to make sure that lives on the high seas are spared. And so, we've made our concerns known. You've heard what we've been saying over the past year regarding the approaches by different governments. But, for us, the basic line is that they have first and foremost to look out for people's lives and ensure their safety and then, beyond that, of course, the need always to respect the rights and dignity of those who are putting themselves at risk on the high seas. And if that's it for me… oh. Yes, Linda?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I was just wondering about Myanmar and the Special Envoy's trip to Rakhine State, you know, what the latest was?
Deputy Spokesman: There's not a new trip about this. I mean, I believe, with the Special Envoy, Ms. [Christine] Schraner Burgener, we mentioned her travels the last time she'd come there. So, you can see the previous record of her trip. But, we'll let you know next time she's in the region. And with that, come on up. Have great weekend, everyone.