The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General arrived in Nairobi this morning. Tomorrow, he is scheduled to speak at the opening session of the African Regional High-Level Conference on Counter‑Terrorism and the Prevention of Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism. Just a short while ago, the Secretary-General went to the Kamakunju area of Nairobi to visit the Jiongoze Project, which aims at reducing vulnerability to radicalization and violent extremism among the youth. During his visit to the project, the Secretary-General met young people who were part of a project which aims to help local youth develop technology skills and find online employment. During a town-hall meeting at the same site, the Secretary-General listened to community representatives explain a number of projects intended to combat violent extremism and terrorism in a neighbourhood of Nairobi that has suffered from a number of terrorist attacks in recent years. After hearing from them, the Secretary-General said that he was impressed by the comprehensive approach taken by the community and that they were looking at all aspects of the threats that they face. He also told them that he found some of their projects particularly innovative. The lesson, he said, was that they all understood that it was better to prevent than to respond. Later in the afternoon, the Secretary‑General held a number of internal meetings with the UN leadership in Kenya.
Today, the Security Council is holding an open debate on the linkage between international terrorism and organized crime. In his remarks to members of the Council, Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted priority actions to strengthen the global response to this threat. He noted the importance of working towards effective implementation of international commitments; called for more resources to provide technical assistance to build up specialized expertise and capacities; and stressed the need to reinforce investment in mechanisms for inter-agency, regional and international cooperation, including information‑ and intelligence‑sharing. “The UN clearly has a role to play in encouraging and enabling such networked responses,” he added. Also speaking at the open debate was Michele Coninsx, the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, also known as CTED. She said that “events such as today’s open debate enable us to reaffirm our joint commitment to combating all forms of support for terrorist groups and individuals, as well as to promoting regional and international cooperation through the dissemination of relevant tools and practices”. Their full remarks are available in our office.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is currently on a two-day visit in Washington, D.C. He is expected to meet with US officials to discuss the situation in Yemen. Mr. Griffiths counts on US support to advance the peace process and put an end to the conflict in Yemen.
The United Nations remains deeply alarmed about the humanitarian impact of hostilities in north-west Syria, including incidents impacting schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. This past week, some 26,000 people fled from areas controlled by non-State armed groups into Government-controlled areas in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Latakia. Operations are under way to assess needs and provide humanitarian assistance. Of the more than 300 people that have been killed in the north-west in recent months, at least 140 were children, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Despite ongoing hostilities, UN humanitarian workers and partners continue to provide critical life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of civilians, including food, protection, nutrition, shelter, education and clean water. The United Nations urges all parties to fully abide by their obligation to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including their obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality.
Today marks the eighth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, but our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) say that, since then, the country has tragically seen more war than peace, and UNHCR appeals to its leaders to speed up efforts to end what has become Africa’s largest displacement crisis. UNHCR believes that it is essential that representatives from the refugee and internally displaced communities are active and meaningful participants in the peace process. These communities’ faith in the reconciliation processes is vital to their success. UNHCR noted that more than 2.3 million South Sudanese are currently living as refugees in neighbouring countries, while 1.9 million have been internally displaced inside the country. The South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan calls for $1.4 billion, of which only 21 per cent has been received.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said today that heavy rains in the Cox’s Bazar settlement, which is housing Rohingya refugees, have uprooted more than 2,700 people in Bangladesh. As of yesterday, WFP has provided extra food aid to 6,000 people, and with the help of hundreds of refugees, is racing to stabilize slopes which have slipped. For its part, UNICEF expressed its concern over the impact of the flooding on the thousands of children in Cox’s Bazar. With its partners, UNICEF has ramped up the distribution of supplies, including water‑purification tablets and plastic sheets. The agency also noted that the risk of waterborne diseases is on the rise.
Ongoing conflicts and dry weather conditions remain the primary causes of high levels of severe food insecurity, hampering food availability and access for millions of people. According to a new report issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 41 countries, of which 31 are in Africa, continue to be in need of external assistance for food. FAO says that cyclone damage and rainfall deficits in 2019 caused significant agricultural production shortfalls in Southern Africa, resulting in substantial increases in cereal import needs. In East Africa, severe dryness negatively affected first season harvests and led to a degradation of rangeland conditions. The full report is available online.
Early this morning, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of new essential medicines and diagnostics tests. This update aims to address health challenges, prioritize highly effective therapeutics, and improve affordable access, the Organization says. WHO’s Essential Medicines List and List of Essential Diagnostics are core guidance documents that help countries prioritize critical health products that should be widely available and affordable throughout health systems. These two lists focus on cancer and other global health challenges. Around the world, more than 150 countries use it to guide decisions about which medicines represent the best value for money, based on evidence and health impact. You can find more information online.
**Economic and Social Council
The High-level Political Forum opened today with the President of the Economic and Social Council, Ambassador Inga Rhonda King, saying that we all want the forthcoming climate summit to be a milestone on the road to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Forum convened a session on “Progress, gaps and obstacles: are we on track for leaving no one behind?” The panel speakers presented data showing that that the world has made encouraging progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in areas such as the reduction of extreme poverty, access to health and education services, and development of basic infrastructure. Yet, we are off track for meeting many of the goals by 2030. The afternoon session will review progress made towards SDG 4, on quality education.
**Noon Briefing Guests
And in a short while, I will be joined by Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Francesca Perucci, Chief of the Statistical Services Branch in the UN Statistics Division. They will brief you on the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals Report. And following that, we will hear from Monica Grayley. Before that, are there any questions? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane… Farhan. The… it's about the human rights report issued yesterday. The New York Times has written a scathing article… I mean review of what is happening in the Indian‑occupied Kashmir and the torture that is going on, and the report also highlights the same thing. Does the Secretary‑General agree with the findings of the report?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, as you know, the report is presented by the Office of the [United Nations] High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to the Human Rights Council. So, we'll leave it for the members of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the report. Obviously, the Secretary‑General believes that all of the members of the Human Rights Council should take the contents very seriously.
Question: So, basically, Secretary‑General does not agree, or does he agree with the Indian narrative, which is going on at this point in time full‑blast? They're blaming the Kashmiris for what is happening in occupied…?
Deputy Spokesman: As you're well‑aware, the report itself contains some vital information about conditions over the past year. The Human Rights Office made it clear that they believe that the past year of reporting had a higher number of incidents than previous such years. And, so, it's now up to the members of the Human Rights Council to evaluate the contents of the report.
Question: So, why is the Secretary‑General so scared to take… to take on the Indian Government or the biggest… big Powers?
Deputy Spokesman: First of all, I think you're putting words into his mouth. The Secretary‑General, as you know, has, in fact, even responded to questions you've asked him about Kashmir and made clear his own views about the situation. This particular report, like I said, is a document that goes to the Human Rights Council, just as there are certain reports that are presented to the Security Council. When those reports go to those Member States, it's up to those Member States to evaluate them. That's how the procedures work. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The parties to the Afghan conflict have made significant progress in Qatar. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as we've made clear, including through our Special Representative, Mr. [Tadimichi] Yamamoto, we're very encouraged by the progress of these talks. We hope that the parties will continue to work in good faith in this process, and we'll see where they go from there. It's also appreciated the contribution that parties in the region, including the Government of Qatar, have played. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you know who Mr.… to whom Mr. Griffiths spoke in Washington? And did he, by any chance, raise the congressional objections of the Saudis sending weapons to Yemen… sending US weapons?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we'll leave it to him to conduct his diplomacy in the way that he sees fit. Once we get any more details about his meetings, I'll provide them to you.
Question: Do you know to whom he spoke?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe some of these meetings are just happening today and tomorrow. So, we'll have to see what happens over those days. Yes, please? No, no, in the back first. Yes?
Question: Yes. Thank you. The Special Envoy, Geir Pedersen, is going to Syria shortly. Do you have any information on with whom he will meet? Will he meet with President [Bashar] al‑Assad or any information at all about his trip?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, on that, I can say the Special Envoy Geir Pedersen is in Damascus in hopes of moving the political process forward in a substantive way. He expects to have in‑depth discussions with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al Muallem and other senior officials. The Special Envoy looks forward to progressing towards the conclusion of the composition and rules of procedures for the Constitutional Committee. And he has expressed his concerns about the violence in Idlib, and he continues to press for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, noting that the fight against terrorists must comply with international humanitarian law. Stefano?
Question: Yes. About the SDG report, I see that the Secretary‑General, in presenting it, he finished with this phrase: "I commend this report to a wide global audience." So, he's probably recognizing that the people out there are not so much aware of what this report is talking about. So, my question is, how the UN and the Secretary‑General personally, the Secretary‑General, how they going to change or they already implementing a strategy, a new strategy, to make sure that the… the global audience out there are aware of every step or everything they significance… significant in this report? Because it seems like the people out there don't even know what the SDG is.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General has tried to educate people about the Sustainable Development Goals in many ways, including through his travels, which have raised the importance of different goals. You'll see that, in a couple of days from now, he'll be in Mozambique where, again, he'll draw attention to climate change, as he has done in his visits in the South Pacific and other places. He's shown the importance of alleviating inequality, of dealing with youth, as he did today in Kenya. So, wherever he goes, he tries to raise up the importance of the 2030 Agenda and of sustainable development. But, a lot of the effort is something that we try to target at the media, that we really want all of you to do as much as you can to get some of these messages out, because they are important things that may sometimes be neglected in the face of stories that are more based on clear definable conflicts, because, ultimately, these are the long‑range challenges that we, as a world community, have to face.
Correspondent: Just a short follow‑up. We know… I know the responsibility that we have in this, and I know that the Secretary‑General have been trying for two years now to do his part. I just talking about a UN strategy, means he does already what he can when he travels on that, but it's not working. It's not working, the sense him alone cannot do it. So, what I mean is there has been a plan, a plan in the building, to do a new strategy to make sure that the message goes through.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we try in a number of ways, including trying to get world leaders themselves to speak out about this. And once I'm off the floor, in just the next couple of minutes, you'll also hear from our head of Economic and Social Affairs about… further about what our concerns are and what we can do to address them. But, ultimately, like I said, this is something where we all know… I know, for example, when I come to these briefings, my role in needing to speak out. But it's a case where we all need to play out our various roles and making sure that people are informed, because, otherwise, this is a topic that can be easily ignored in the face of more pressing challenges. Yes, Ibtisam? Oh, sorry.
Question: Follow‑up on Kashmir. When the Secretary‑General was asked about the first UN report… human rights report on Kashmir, he said at his press conference that the UN has spoken, and the demand was by the… for an international investigation of the atrocities in Indian‑occupied Kashmir. Now the second report has also renewed that demand. So, where do we stand on that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as you know, with all of these cases about different types of investigations, we… and we've said this in many different contexts, what we need, ultimately, is a mandate from a body of Member States. This request has now gone out as a report to the members of the Human Rights Council, and they can now evaluate how to go about responding to that and seeing what kind of follow‑up is needed to that request for such a mandate. Yes, Ibtisam?
Question: A follow‑up on the Damascus question and the visit of the envoy. Do you have any updates regarding… or what is the latest about Constitutional Committee?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, he does look forward to progressing towards the conclusion of the composition and rules for procedure of the committee. So, we'll see whether we can make progress on that during his current visit.
Question: So, which… just to follow up. So, which part is still open that they didn't agree upon?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I don't want to get into the details of this, because that's precisely some of the stuff that he's discussing with the various parties, but part of the point is that he's trying to make some progress in his talks with Government officials on where they stand, and we'll see whether we can get that in the coming days.
Question: Okay. Last one on Idlib, regarding your… the presence of the UN on the ground and giving the fighting that has been going on for a while, could you say more about which operations you're able to continue to have and which not? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, part of it… part of the case is that we are also operating in places where we have access, including safe areas, and as I pointed out earlier in the briefing, some 26,000 people have fled into different parts of Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Latakia that are controlled by the Government, and we're having operations under way there to assess needs and to provide humanitarian assistance to the people who have been displaced. And with that, let's turn to our guest.