The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll start off with a trip announcement. On Monday, the Secretary-General will arrive in Austria for a long-scheduled visit to the attend events to mark the fortieth anniversary of the opening of the Vienna International Centre, the home of a number of United Nations organizations. He will express his congratulations and thanks to the Vienna-based parts of the United Nations system for their work and call for a renewed commitment to multilateralism and the values of the United Nations Charter.
On 28 May, the Secretary-General will attend the annual meeting of the R20, an organization that brings together leaders from the world of politics, business and the private sectors focused on fighting climate change. The R20 was founded in 2011 by the former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Citing his recent trip to the South Pacific, the Secretary-General will highlight the need for urgent climate action, including by subnational governments, business and civil society leaders. He will appeal for leaders to bring more concrete and ambitions plans to his climate summit in New York in September.
The Secretary-General will then travel to Aachen in Germany, from 29 to 30 May to receive the International Charlemagne Prize, an honour which has been awarded annually since 1950 for efforts made in the service of European unification. As part of the two-day event, the Secretary-General will deliver a keynote address. He will also meet and engage in a conversation with students at the Aachen University and will also take part in a number of public events at the Charlemagne Prize Open Air Festival. The Secretary-General will be back in the office on 3 June.
Back here, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council by videoconference on the situation in the region, noting that, earlier this month, we witnessed the most intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad [in] Gaza since 2014. The Special Coordinator said the escalation was part of a pattern — the closer we get to consolidating an understanding that would relieve the pressure on the people in Gaza and reduce the risk of rocket fire towards Israeli communities across the border, an incident like the last one would appear to undermine our careful and painstaking efforts.
He welcomed Israel’s decision to lift the ban on a fishing zone in Gaza and the reopening of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, and also welcomed the renewed commitment by the Palestinian Government to engage constructively on addressing the situation in Gaza. Mr. Mladenov reiterated the Secretary-General’s condemnation on the launching of rockets from Gaza and also called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from using lethal force against protesters. The UN Commissioner-General for the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Pierre Krähenbühl, also briefed the Council on Gaza, and he thanked countries who helped UNRWA successfully overcome an unprecedented deficit last year of $446 million. And he drew the Council’s attention to the increasingly desperate situation faced by the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip — of which at least 1.3 million are Palestine refugees.
A couple of updates in answer to questions that have been raised. First on Moncef Kartas, we can confirm that Mr. Kartas was released from detention and that he is now at his home in Berlin in Germany. We are pleased to see that Mr. Kartas has been freed and is recovering at home. We will continue to engage with the Government of Tunisia on any outstanding matters.
And I have been asked several times this week about reports of drone attacks on Saudi Arabia coming from Yemen. I can say that the Secretary-General is alarmed by reports of a second consecutive drone attack on an airport in Najran, for which the Houthis have claimed responsibility. He condemns these attacks, as well as any attack targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, which violate international humanitarian law. He also calls on all the parties to the Yemen conflict to exercise maximum restraint and prevent further escalation amid heightened tensions. The Secretary-General reminds the parties that a more productive path forward exists — and that is through dialogue. He further calls on all parties to work constructively with his Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to make more progress in the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, as well as efforts to end the conflict.
From Libya, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that people are still being forced to flee their homes due to ongoing heavy fighting in and around Tripoli, as well as the deteriorating conditions in front-line areas. To date, more than 78,000 people have been displaced, with half of them estimated to be children. Some 100,000 people remain in immediate frontline areas, with another 400,000 within a one-kilometre radius of the front lines. Aid workers are concerned about water and electricity outages, as well as over reports of an increasing degree of lawlessness in conflict areas, including sexual violence perpetrated by combatants and looting of homes. People are unable to safely travel to markets, many of which have been closed, resulting in restricting the availability of food and other basic items. The price of fresh produce has also seen a spike. Humanitarian partners have reached 42,000 people to date with food, hygiene and baby supplies, and psychosocial support. Emergency medical teams and supplies have been dispatched to health facilities in Tripoli and its surroundings.
On Sudan, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners in the country are appealing for $1.1 billion to help 4.4 million of the most vulnerable people — which is about half of the estimated population in need. Although the security situation has improved, there is still protracted and new displacement, with 1.9 million displaced people in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Nearly 6 million people are believed to be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity, and the situation is exacerbated by spiralling inflation. The humanitarian response plan for Sudan is currently only 15 per cent funded. The plan will be revised given the current political and economic fluctuations in the country.
It’s official. Algeria and Argentina have been certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being malaria-free. Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], the head of WHO, said today that Algeria and Argentina have eliminated malaria thanks to the unwavering commitment and perseverance of the people and leaders of both countries. He said their success serves as a model for other countries working to end this disease once and for all. More information online.
Today is the International Day of Biodiversity. This year’s theme is “Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health”. In his message, the Secretary-General said that our health and well-being [depend] on the natural world; however, the world’s ecosystems are facing unprecedented threats.
A new report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) today found that gender diversity improves business outcomes. The report surveyed some 13,000 companies in 70 countries and found that businesses with gender diversity, particularly at the senior level, see profits increases between 5 and 20 per cent. The report also notes that the benefits begin to accrue when women hold 30 per cent of senior management of leadership positions.
Lastly, just to let you know that at 1 p.m. today, Ambassador Karen Pierce, the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, will brief you at the Security Council Stakeout concerning this morning’s discussion in the General Assembly on the Chagos Islands. Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Given what's happening in and around the Persian Gulf, does the Secretary‑General consider the situation a threat to international and regional peace and security?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has spoken out and expressed his concern, the volatility in the situation, both in terms of actions and in rhetoric and has also had discussions with Security Council members on this issue. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Does the United Nations have any information about the possible use of chemical weapons in Idlib, and if it does, by whom… actually, who was using these weapons?
Spokesman: Sure. We have seen the media reports alleging chlorine use… chlorine attacks in north-west Syria earlier on 19 May. We are not able to independently verify this information, but, I think, as the Secretary‑General has repeatedly said, any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent, and impunity for their use is inexcusable. It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons. Yes, Madame? No. Sylviane.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My question is on the Lebanese-Israeli border and intense discussion between Americans and Lebanese authority to have the… to delineate the boundaries, land and maritime borders. How much is Secretary‑General involved in that process? And I have a second question. Is there any delineation between Lebanon and Syria, on another hand, and help with the United Nations for that?
Spokesman: I can't answer off the top of my head the second part your question…
Correspondent: Because they are discussing the matter, obviously.
Spokesman: I understand. On the first part, we're aware of the discussions are ongoing, and we're always supportive of any effort to resolve these outstanding issues through dialogue. Señora?
Correspondent: You didn't answer my question.
Spokesman: I answered it to the best of my ability. Yeah?
Correspondent: Yes. Stéphane, Lester Toledo is the envoy by [Juan] Guaidó’s interim Government on the humanitarian…
Spokesman: Sorry. Say again?
Question: Lester Toledo is the representative of Juan Guaidó on the humanitarian assistance. Is any connect… any dialogue or any meetings that they have had with any of the representatives of the United Nations? They have claimed that they have been able to bring some of the thousands of donations that they had in different warehouses outside of Venezuela into Venezuela, and they're now delivering inside Venezuela. However, beyond their word, we don't know if maybe the United Nations has any…?
Spokesman: I will check. I've seen those reports, and I will check. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. Mr. Mladenov, in his remarks, he almost endorsed the economic workshop to be held in Bahrain 25-26 June to raise money to improve the lives of the Palestinians. Is that his job to endorse… almost endorse that meeting?
Spokesman: Well, I don't know what the definition of "almost" is.
Correspondent: I mean he spoke positively… let me put it this way. He spoke… he spoke positively.
Spokesman: I mean, his job is to report back on events in the region, and I have nothing to add. He did… I think he… by briefing and what he briefed, he did exactly what his job is.
Question: No. We talking about fund‑raising meeting in Bahrain on the 24 and 25 June to raise money for the Palestinians, this part of what they call the Deal of the Century. Is that his mandate? Does his mandate allow him to endorse or to support such a meeting which is a controversial meeting?
Spokesman: I think… there is no doubt in my mind that he fully respected his mandate in his briefing to the Security Council. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The Unite… UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the United Nations human rights office has drawn attention to the thousands of children of Da’esh/ISIL fighters languishing in Iraq and Syria, but it doesn't say what the UN is doing to alleviate their situation?
Spokesman: Well, you know, inasmuch as the UN in different places can have access to these children, we help through humanitarian action. The message is clear to the Member States that are having to deal with the repatriation of children that… from their own countries or their mothers, but, especially, I think the message from UNICEF is focused on children is to remember just that, that they are children. Right? And they need to be treated and respected as children. Erol?
Question: Thank you, Steph. According to the media report and highly credible middle… Middle East Eye, apparently, there are three scholars in Saudi jail that are waiting to be executed immediately after the Ramadan. And one of them is a broadcaster… that's the reason I'm asking; he's a journalist fellow… mentioned in the… one of the tweets or so by the late Jamal Khashoggi, a couple of days before he was executed. Now, the [inaudible] reacted in January. US State Department reacted in his annual report on human rights. Will the Secretary‑General? That's my question.
Spokesman: Sure. I mean, I will look into those reports. We have spoken out strongly against the use of the death penalty all over the world and including in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Avni?
Question: Can I just… short follow‑up? Does the Secretary‑General plans to meet with the… his Royal Highness [Mohammed] bin Salman soon or…?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any meeting that's scheduled. Mr. Avni, and then we'll go…
Correspondent: I don't know if it's been asked. I wasn't here for a couple days. Couple days ago…
Spokesman: If I haven't heard it from you, it's new to me.
Question: Exactly. Couple days ago, Ján Kubiš tweeted: "Grateful for an open and substantive discussion on a broad range of topics with Deputy Secretary General Naim Qassem of Hizbullah. On top I received a copy of his book ‑ a necessary reading". Does the… since Hizbullah is designated as a terrorist organization by many countries, including in Europe and United States, does the Secretary‑General believe that such praise is due?
Spokesman: Look, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, just like the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, has a mandate. Part of his mandate is to work with the Government of Lebanon and with political parties and social forces and institutions in Lebanon, notably those elected to the parliament, which includes Hizbullah, encouraging them to work for the well‑being of the country and its people, for peace, security and stability of Lebanon and the region as a whole. As appropriate, the Special Coordinator raises relevant issues, notably related to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), including its implementation but also instances and areas of violations or of noncompliance of [resolution 1701 (2006)] and other resolutions in "an open and substantive discussion".
Question: And promoting his book is part of his mandate?
Spokesman: I think… my… I think… I will leave the interpretation to you, but the meeting was clearly part of Mr.…
Correspondent: It's promotion; it’s not interpretation.
Spokesman: I will leave the interpretation to you. The meeting was clearly part of his mandate. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The New York Times has had very large reports in the past week or so of orders from the Colombian military to kill a quota of people which may or may not be civilians, and these are official orders from the military. And soldiers are required to produce a body count. Does the Secretary‑General have anything to say about this?
Spokesman: Look, I… you know, we've seen the press reports, first of all, on whether the order was given. So, the article where the order was apparently not given, so I don't have any specific information on that. We know that the Secretary‑General definitely believes in the respect of the rule of law and respect of human rights in any security operations. Yes, ma'am?
Correspondent: Stéphane, it's been a report published by CNN that is claiming exposed systematic abuse of aid in Yemen. It says that, according to…
Spokesman: In where? Sorry?
Question: Yemen. It says that the UN reports and CNN reporting on the ground says that the food has been stolen by Iranian‑backed Houthi rebels on a scale greater than first reported, and they're claiming that the aid is actually not being delivered to the families, but, in reality, is being diverted away from the families and taken into some other… either to resell them or redistributed. Is the UN aware of what is happening?
Spokesman: You know, I think we… you may have missed this. We raised this earlier in the week. This is something that the World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed directly to the Houthi leadership in Yemen, expressing its concern about aid being diverted and underscoring the importance that aid needs to reach those people that it is intended to do. And WFP said it was considering reviewing its presence in Yemen. So, it's something we're fully aware of and following. I think the Yemeni civilians who need aid are suffering enough that they don't need to have that aid diverted for political or financial gain.
Question: Would it be an effort to try to engage with people on… in…?
Spokesman: They are. WFP is engaging very directly with the Houthi leadership on the ground. Joe, and then we'll go…
Question: Yes. Just sort of to follow up on Mr. Avni’s question, a little bit different angle on it. Did the Special Envoy to Lebanon comment directly to the Secretary‑General or reporting to the Security Council on Hizbullah's observed violation of resolution 1701 (2006) in the construction of the tunnels into Israel, which I believe UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] did verify?
Spokesman: I think we have been reporting extremely clearly on those violations and on the tunnels, and I would refer you to what we've said publicly from here and what has been said very publicly in the Secretary‑General's reports to the Security Council. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On 29 May, UEFA's Europa League final game will be held in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, where Arsenal will play against Chelsea. And it's been reported that one of the best players, Armenian by ethnicity, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the player of Arsenal, will be banned from this game. He will not be allowed to participate just because of being Armenian, just because of his ethnicity. What is UN's attitude when people in today's world in twenty-first Century are being persecuted just because of their ethnicity or even banned?
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the case. I can look into it.
Question: Can you comment on it?
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on something I have absolutely no knowledge of. If I have a little bit of knowledge, I try to comment. But, if I have no knowledge, I try not to. Yes, sir. Go ahead, yes?
Question: I have a follow‑up question to the last week's Security Council meeting on the G5 Sahel joint force and the deteriorating situation. We also learned that INTERPOL signed an agreement for data‑sharing with the G5 joint force. So, does the Secretary‑General anticipate any closer relations with INTERPOL to help share data to solve the problems of…?
Spokesman: INTERPOL is not part of the UN system, but, obviously, it plays a very important part in the fight against terrorism. And I think any assistance that the countries of the Sahel can get in that part from INTERPOL would be more than welcome. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions. News just came now that President [Emmanuel] Macron is meeting with General [Khalifa] Haftar for a ceasefire. Are you aware of that?
Spokesman: I've… I'm aware of the reports, and I've seen the… yes?
Question: Okay. Anything that you want…?
Spokesman: No, I mean, I would… I think Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé was extremely clear on the UN's position concerning what Mr. Haftar has been doing.
Question: Okay. Second, yesterday, there were 11 civilians killed in the area of Idlib after an air raid. Are you aware of these…?
Spokesman: Yes, and we commented on that yesterday.
Question: Yeah. And my question, do you have any update about the humanitarian situation in Idlib?
Spokesman: It's a situation of grave concern to us because of the ongoing fighting and the violations of… and the ongoing air strikes, the shelling that we're seeing, the shelling of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals. Again, civilians are paying the price for lack of political will to solve this crisis. Yes, sir?
Correspondent: Thank you, Stéphane. I ask you this question every four years. It's that time of the year. The World Cricket Cup is beginning in England…
Spokesman: And every four years, I remember that I need to learn more about cricket before you ask the question.
Correspondent: No, it's… it's beginning at the end of this month in England.
Spokesman: No, no, we're very aware.
Question: It's a mega event, as you know. The Secretary‑General and the UN have involvement with Olympic Games and the World Soccer Cup. Does it have any involvement in the World Cricket Cup?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that, from the Secretariat side, we have involvement, but I will check with some of our agencies. I think the World Cricket Cup, like the…
Correspondent: The department of sports.
Spokesman: …like the world… there is no department of sports unfortunately. But, the World Cricket Cup, like the World Soccer Cup, [is] a great festival of sportsmanship and bring people together.
Question: Can you talk about the Mets?
Spokesman: Please. I’m too emotional to speak about the Mets. But we did win yesterday, so that's a good start. Mr. Abbadi? If you want me to cry, I will.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up to my question earlier on Persian Gulf situation. I believe you said that the Secretary‑General spoke to some members of the Security Council…?
Spokesman: This is an issue that has been discussed with Security Council members.
Question: Which members did he speak to?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into any further detail. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Did the Secretary‑General have anything to say about the fact that the Government of Ukraine is prohibiting the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, which appear… since a large number of Ukrainians, people in Ukraine or Ukrainians, speak Russian and are of Russian ethnicity. Seems to be this is a form of cultural ethnic‑cleansing. Has anything…?
Spokesman: I don't have any guidance on that, but I do expect to get some. Okay. Thank you, all. Monica, bon courage, as we say.