The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today, we mark World Refugee Day. We do it first by acknowledging the sobering fact that close to 70.8 million people around the world are fleeing war, persecution and conflict. This is the highest level the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has seen in its almost 70 years of existence. In his message to mark the day, the Secretary-General recognized the humanity of countries that host refugees, even as they struggle with their own economic challenges and security concerns. But, he also reiterated his call to the international community to work towards political solutions to end the conflicts that are fuelling this crisis. “What refugees need most is peace,” he said. This year, to show solidarity with refugees, UNHCR is inviting people around the world to take a “Step with Refugees” to honour their resilience. Every year, refugees walk over 2 billion kilometres to safety, according to UNHCR. There are events here and around the world to mark the day, including a social media takeover of the Youth Envoy accounts by a young Syrian refugee who now lives in Za’atari camp, in Jordan.
As you will have seen, we issued earlier this morning a statement from the Secretary-General regarding Mexico and Central America, in which the Secretary‑General welcomed the Comprehensive Development Plan that translates the efforts spearheaded by Mexico to respond to the fundamental causes of human mobility coming from Central America and to guarantee access to asylum for those in need of international protection in close collaboration with the Governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The Secretary‑General expresses his appreciation for the invitation that the Government of Mexico has extended for agencies, funds and programmes to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Development Plan elaborated together with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), as well as humanitarian and protection responses. The United Nations reiterates its commitment to support the coordinated action of all agencies, funds and programmes to ensure the implementation of the Plan in close collaboration with the four countries involved.
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the African Centre for Strategic Studies Emerging Security Sector Leaders’ Seminar. She told participants that Africa’s conflicts today are unconventional, involve a wide range of non-State actors, and affect huge civilian populations — especially women, children and the elderly. She stressed that only by focusing on human security can we achieve the “people-centred” vision of the “Africa we want” and to “leave no one behind”, she said. For this, she noted that it is essential to develop a shared vision between host Governments, national and international partners, jointly identifying the key needs and objectives to consolidate peace gains and prevent a relapse into conflict. She also reiterated the UN’s readiness and commitment as a strategic partner and ally, to support Africa’s efforts at national and regional levels to prevent conflict and tackle existing ones.
Back here, Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Council today and said that the expansion of Israeli settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, as stated in Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). It must cease immediately and completely, he said. The Special Coordinator reported on what he called a very dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza, and continued violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. He reiterated his deep concern for the continuing economic crisis in Gaza, saying that it is crucial that the current calm be sustained in order to gradually introduce longer-term projects that will support Gaza’s development. On its own, he said, no amount of humanitarian or economic support will resolve the conflict. That requires a political solution.
Turning to Haiti, this year, there are twice as many people who are food insecure as there were last year in the country. Some 2.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure, including 571,000 in “emergency phase”. This increase in food insecurity is due in part to two important factors: the signiﬁcant deterioration of the economic situation and a reduction in agricultural production brought on by dry spells. The situation is expected to worsen in the coming months. Also in Haiti, with the hurricane season upon us, June to November, humanitarian and development organizations are supporting the authorities in preparing the country for the hurricane season. However, they note that more resources are needed to prepare adequately. The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti requires $126 million to meet the urgent needs of the 1.3 million most vulnerable but it is only 11 per cent funded.
Two more things, a couple of things to flag… this afternoon, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., the 2019 United Nations Population Award ceremony will be held in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The National Peace Hut Women of Liberia is the institutional laureate for the award this year, and Mamadou Tangara, Gambia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, is the award’s individual laureate.
**Noon Briefing Guest
Tomorrow, my guest will be Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He will brief you ahead of the annual UNRWA Pledging Conference, which takes place at Headquarters on 25 June.
And tomorrow is one of my favourite days of the year. It is International Day of Yoga, and there will be an event this evening at 5:30 p.m. in the North Lawn entitled “Yoga with Gurus”, organized by the Permanent Mission of India and the Department of Global Communications. The Deputy Secretary-General will speak at the event. And I will look with admiration at those people who are actually physically able to do yoga, which I am not. Mr. Bays, speaking of yogis.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Definitely not. Start off with a question about the shooting down of a US drone by Iran. That bit we know happened, because both sides say it happened. Where the drone was clearly is disputed and how either side will react is obviously up in the air right now. What is the Secretary‑General's reaction? How worried is he about it? What is he… what diplomacy is he doing?
Spokesman: I mean, he's very concerned about this latest development, about the shooting down of the drone. He has warned against any escalation, warned… stressed that the world cannot afford a major conflict in that area. I think it's important that all parties exercise maximum restraint and avoid any action that could inflame the situation.
Question: Does there need to be an investigation to work out where this drone was? And who should carry that out?
Spokesman: Obviously, the facts need to be established. I know there are various parties are looking into the issue right now. At this point, I think we would call on everyone to avoid any further escalation.
Question: Could I ask another question about another subject, which is a follow‑up to yesterday and the report by Agnès Callamard? Can I get the Secretary‑General's view of the current Saudi judicial process? Does he believe it is credible?
Spokesman: For the Secretary‑General, it is important that there is accountability for the death of Mr. [Jamal] Khashoggi. Various processes are going on, but we don't have any opinion as to those at this point…
Question: Do you have any monitoring of the trial that's going on? Is the UN being allowed to…?
Spokesman: No, no, I'm not aware of… A, of a mandate to monitor or, B, that we are being… that we are monitoring. Nabil?
Question: Has the SG received any letters or communications from the Iranian Mission or the US Mission?
Spokesman: Not as of this very moment, but we will keep checking. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Facebook, together with some 27 partners, is launching an international currency called Libra, which is supposed to have significant impacts on the international financial order. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?
Spokesman: Look, we're very much aware of this development. I think they are… we are ensuring and working towards a coordinated approach from the UN system, because I understand there's been some approaches made by Facebook to various UN entities. But, this is an issue that we are looking closely at, at this point. Sylviane and then Edie.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It's about the… on the conference… two‑day conference in Bahrain, Manama. The… on the… that will take place in Tu… on Tuesday and Wednesday, 25‑26 June. The conference is named "Peace to Prosperity", and it's about encouraging investment. What do you expect to see as an outcome of this conference? Any hope for change or a new deal?
Spokesman: I will refer you to what Mr. Mladenov said in the Security Council just a few minutes ago on that, and I would refer you to his statement. Yes, Edie?
Question: One follow‑up to James' question and then a question from me. The… James asked about the Saudi trials that are going on in relation to Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Is the Secretary‑General concerned at the lack of transparency in this trial, where there are… there have been some diplomats allowed, but no reporting at all and no outside independent observers?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General's position on this is that any investigation on this murder needs to be transparent and needs to be thorough. There are recommendations for… towards the Secretary‑General in Ms. Callamard's report. We've spoken out on it. Again, the ability of the Secretary‑General to launch a criminal investigation is not there, and the… if a full and effective criminal investigation is not conducted by a Member State, for us, the only way to pursue it, with the relevant cooperation Member States, is through a Security Council resolution.
Question: I had another question. Do you have any details on the evacuation of a large group of refugees from Libya today?
Spokesman: No, I do not, but we can check with UNHCR. [UNHCR later provided details and noted that Wednesday night’s evacuation brings the total number of people that UNHCR has helped out of Libya this year to 1,297.] Yes, ma'am?
Question: Thanks, Steph. Following up on Nabil's question about if there's been any communication from Iran or the United States regarding the shoot‑down of the drone, I was interested in the opposite question, which is, has the Secretary‑General or any top UN officials been in touch with Iran or the US?
Spokesman: Over the past days and week, there's been contacts at various levels with various parties.
Question: But, specifically regarding the drone…?
Spokesman: This drone? I'm not aware of anything right now in the last few hours. But, the fact that I'm not aware doesn't mean it hasn't happened.
Question: Thank you. How about a follow‑up on Mexico? The statement coming out this morning doesn't have any language on very specific requests made by the Mexican Minister for Foreign Affairs for the SG to appoint a Special Coordinator or envoy to help all of these 14‑plus UN agencies on their work on the ground. So, is this not going to happen at all, or is the SG still considering this specific request by Mexico?
Spokesman: I don't have anything further to add to what the statement says. What is clear is that the UN system, obviously in the region led by ECLAC, will be doing whatever it can to support the Comprehensive Development Plan and to support Mexico as it tries to manage with the flow of people coming in from Central America.
Question: So, no Special Coordinator?
Spokesman: That's the words I can use at this point.
Question: A follow… two follow‑ups. On the issue of contacts that the UN had with Iran and Americans in the last few days, so, could you elaborate more which… why and in which context and is it New York or…?
Spokesman: No, I can't… you know, the head of the peacekeeping… of Political Affairs, Ms. [Rosemary] DiCarlo, met with the Iranian Foreign Minister a few days ago on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation [Organization], but further than that, I have no details to share.
Question: Another follow‑up on the Khashoggi case. So, if the Secretary… if I got you right, the Secretary‑General believes that there should be an investigation. Is that correct?
Spokesman: What the Secretary‑General said… and I'll read to you what I said extensively yesterday so there's no confusion. Right. Okay. That, for his part, the Secretary‑General has always clearly condemned what happened and has called for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation and accountability for those responsible. That remains his position. He does not have the power or the authority to launch a criminal investigation without a mandate from a competent intergovernmental body. That continues. That power and authority lies with Member States. If a full and effective criminal investigation is not conducted by Member States, the only way to effectively pursue an investigation, requiring the cooperation of the relevant Member States, would be through a resolution of the Security Council, under the relevant Charter provisions.
Question: Here's my follow‑up question. Why isn't he going to the Security Council and asking the Security Council to give him the mandate or not?
Spokesman: I think Security Council members are fully aware of the Charter and the situation. It is up for them to make the decision. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Speaking about drone, does the UN have any drone of its own or lent to it by government?
Spokesman: Yes, we have, in various peacekeeping missions… notably in the Congo and Mali, we have or have used unarmed — unarmed, underlined, unarmed — aerial reconnaissance vehicles that have been lent… either that have been managed by the UN or, I think, lent to us as part of contingency… contingent‑owned equipment. Yes, sir? Yeah.
Question: Any reaction from the Secretary‑General to the meeting between the Chinese president and North Korean leader? Also, does the Secretary‑General… what's the Secretary‑General's view of the prospects of the nuclear programme on nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula?
Spokesman: Well, we, obviously, welcome any opportunity for dialogue between the leadership of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and the regional Powers, obviously, the People's Republic of China being a critical player in this. We're waiting to see what the outcome of the summit, but any opportunity for dialogue needs to be seized. And obviously, the Secretary‑General supports this… is looking forward to the outcome and is very supportive of this kind of diplomacy. As to predict what will happen, I think it would be unwise for any of us to try to predict what will happen. The Secretary‑General's goal continues to be for a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Sato?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Follow‑up on the… Mexico's comprehensive support plan to the Central American countries. So, according to some media, once the US Government also had interest in this… Mexico's plan; does Secretary‑General have any comment or expectation to the US commitment to Mexico's plan?
Spokesman: Well, the issues facing Mexico at this point on migration and the economic impact that it has and the social impact that it has is one that will require support from the international community. We hope that the international community will support Mexico in that… efforts and keep the focus on the people that are impacted, both the migrants and the refugees and, obviously, the people of the host communities. This is part of a… it should be part of a global effort to manage migration in the best possible way. Monica, all yours. Early today.