The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General of these United Nations visited Tuvalu earlier today as part of his ongoing trip to the South Pacific. He said Tuvalu is on the extreme front line of the global climate emergency and expressed admiration for Tuvalu’s resistance and determination to tackle this issue head on. However, he emphasized that climate change cannot be stopped in Tuvalu only — it has to be stopped in the rest of the world. “Saving Tuvalu is a global mission for us all. It’s a global duty. And it starts with the biggest emitters in the world. We need urgent climate action to stop Tuvalu from sinking and the world from sinking with it,” he said.
The Secretary-General also met with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, and they discussed issues of access to climate financing, mitigation and reliance. They then spoke briefly to the press, and the Secretary-General stressed that we need to make the world understand that climate change is [not] something that can be solved with minor changes and this requires very strong commitment. At the end of his visit, the Secretary-General said he knew the challenges that Tuvalu is facing, but he had not previously known how welcoming and friendly the people of Tuvalu are. He added that: “The generosity and hospitality of the people of Tuvalu warmed my heart and made me more determined to continue my work to ensure we can all have a sustainable future on this planet.” The Secretary-General is back overnighting in Fiji, and tomorrow, he will be heading to Vanuatu.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
This morning in northern Virginia, in Fairfax, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the commencement of George Mason University. She told the graduating students that the United Nations is the first, and so far only, organization that tries to bring peace and order to our whole world, in all its complexity. That is our greatest strength and our greatest challenge, she told them. The Deputy Secretary-General said that the United Nations tries to turn challenges into opportunities. Every day, around the world, she said, we are saving lives, helping to lift people out of poverty, fighting climate change, providing food, education and shelter to the world’s most vulnerable, and promoting the rights of girls and women. Amina Mohammed emphasized that the United Nations is totally committed to working with the youth to safeguard their future. Last year, she noted, we launched a new strategy, Youth 2030, to engage with young people and bring them into our decision-making processes. It includes programmes on climate action, education and health. The speech was webcast by the university, and we’ll have the transcript shortly.
Back here in the Security Council, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed the Council members on Syria and expressed concern at the dangerous escalation of fighting in the north-west of the country. She said that, on 6 May, Government forces began ground offensives in the area, and, as of 15 May, those forces had seized several towns in Hama. Ms. DiCarlo appealed to all parties to cease hostilities and added that we condemn all attacks on hospitals and medical infrastructure. She stressed the need for all sides to work together for an immediate de-escalation in Idlib.
Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, also spoke to Council members, and said that, despite warnings, our worst fears are coming true. He said that up to 160 people have been killed and up to 180,000 people have been displaced during the past three weeks of fighting. Humanitarian agencies are trying to help people caught up in the fighting, but the response is already stretched thin. He warned that a full military incursion would overwhelm all the United Nations’ ability to respond and we are rapidly approaching that point. Mr. Lowcock noted that Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) specifically reinforced the admonition not to bomb hospitals in Syria and he added: “What is the point of the Security Council passing resolutions like that if States are not going to comply with them?”
Turning to Yemen, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, Lisa Grande, said in a statement that several people were killed and dozens injured when strikes hit Sana’a City yesterday. Preliminary reports indicate that 5 children have died and 16 more are wounded; additional causalities, including health workers, have been reported. “We grieve with the families of the victims and are aghast this tragedy has occurred,” she said. She added that international humanitarian law is clear. “Everything must be done to protect civilians. This is not optional. This is a legal and above all moral obligation on all parties.” And we also issued a note yesterday which said the Yemeni parties met from 14 to 16 May to discuss the implementation of the economic provisions of the Hodeidah Agreement in Amman. The parties held candid and constructive discussions and also engaged with other participants on proposals to implement the economic provisions of the Hodeidah Agreement. The Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen will continue to engage with the parties to further these discussions and advance the implementation of the agreement.
Turning to Libya, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that additional civilian casualties have been verified following air strikes on Qasr bin Ghashir on 14 May. Overall, 129 civilian casualties, including 29 civilian fatalities, have now been verified since early April. As [these] figures include only those cases that could be individually verified as civilian casualties, they must be considered a minimum number. As of today, the number of people displaced by the clashes in Tripoli and surrounding areas have exceeded 75,000, with 10,000 people displaced over the past week alone. Humanitarian partners continue to provide assistance where access allows. Over 34,000 people have received assistance to date. However, insufficient access and funding are impeding response operations. The humanitarian partners launched a flash appeal for $10.2 million in support of the Tripoli response. Only 30 per cent of this has been received or pledged so far.
A few international days to note. Today is the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia or Transphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s (WHO) decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. In a joint statement, the heads of the UN departments of political affairs, peacekeeping, operational support and management said the Day is an opportunity to reiterate our continuing commitment to build a more inclusive work environment free of harassment and discrimination, including for those who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). They said that, while progress is being made, we must redouble our efforts to end criminalization, bias and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
Today is also Vesak Day, which marks the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha. The Secretary-General said in a message that all of us — Buddhists and non‑Buddhists alike — can reflect on his life and draw inspiration from his teachings. Mr. Guterres said that, in a time of growing intolerance and inequality, the Buddha’s message of non-violence and service to others is more relevant than ever.
Today is also World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which is marking [its] fiftieth anniversary this year. The Day highlights the importance of international technology standards in accelerating innovation worldwide. In a message, the Secretary-General said that technological advances have the potential to deliver considerable social and economic benefits and to drive progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
And we are getting close to the century mark. Today, we say shukran to Libya, for having paid its budget dues in full, which brings us up to? I said we're getting close to the century. I can tell you're a cricket player. Ninety-seven. But, anyway, regardless, since nobody tried, I will still take questions. All right. Yes, go ahead. Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, thank you. What is the latest assessment of United Nations about the crisis in the Persian Gulf [inaudible] had warned of war and the Iranian ambassador to UN says that he believes him?
Spokesman: Well, you know, we are… I think we're happy to see that there is a certain level of de‑escalation of the rhetoric. The Secretary‑General had been concerned about the recent incidents, as well as the growing rhetoric. I think it's important that all the relevant leaders in this case do whatever they can to lower the tensions. Okay. Oh, no, no. Everybody's all asleep today. Yeah, I know. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Reports coming out of Nicaragua say that a political prisoner died during a firefight on the prison that he was being kept, and this incident has risen against… again… sorry… questions over the overall situation of political prisoners in Nicaragua. So, could you remind us the voice of the SG on the situation in Nicaragua, the problems with the political prisoners, and if there's any comment in particular around the death of this… of this activist in the last couple of hours, which is, by the way, a dual American‑Nicaraguan citizen…?
Spokesman: We've seen these reports. We'll take a look into it. I think, for the Secretary‑General, his position has… continues to be the same, is that he feels that there's a need for serious and substantive process and creating and fostering an environment conducive to a credible and inclusive political dialogue. Okay. Monica. All yours. Have a wonderful weekend and happy Friday.