The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, as you saw early this morning, we issued a statement on Iraq saying that the Secretary-General learned with deep sorrow of the loss of life and injuries that occurred near the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, in Iraq.
A large number of worshippers were present on the site to commemorate Ashura, including nationals from Iraq and other countries.
The Secretary-General expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased and wishes a speedy recovery for the injured. The United Nations stands ready to support the Government in dealing with this tragedy.
And last night, we issued a statement welcoming the announcement made by President Paul Biya of Cameroon on the launch of a national dialogue process in the country.
The Secretary-General encourages the Government of Cameroon to ensure that the process is inclusive and addresses the challenges facing the country.
He calls on all Cameroonian stakeholders, including the diaspora, to participate in the effort.
The Secretary-General also reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to support the dialogue process.
And in the Bahamas, our humanitarian colleagues continue to work with the Government to identify the most urgent needs to provide support to those impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
The World Food Programme (WFP) today sent two vessels with humanitarian cargo to Marsh Harbour, in Abaco Island. The ships offloaded 13,800 individual ready-to-eat meals and relief material from WFP and its partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN migration agency (IOM).
WFP also said it distributed over 1,500 ready-to-eat meals to people in the hard-to-reach areas in Little Abaco.
For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has released an initial $200,000 emergency funding grant to support debris and waste management; housing and building damage assessments and the national recovery strategy.
**Central African Republic
And we have an update from the Central African Republic.
Last week, we mentioned that 3,000 people had sought refuge near the UN peacekeeping base, following clashes between armed groups in Birao, a town in the country’s north-east.
A week later, an additional 10,000 people have fled, the great majority of them seeking protection around peacekeeping base. Our humanitarian colleagues report that more people are leaving their homes every day.
And to assist the UN and other humanitarian organizations are providing emergency services, including health, food, water, sanitation as well as non-food items. Water points and latrines are being built, and planning for this new displacement site is ongoing, with humanitarian partners and the UN Mission, which is also providing logistical support for humanitarian actors.
An additional aid supplies are scheduled to be delivered by air in the coming days, as the area is inaccessible by roads.
While the situation remains tense in the city, the UN mission reports no further violence. Peacekeepers continue their work to protect civilians and prevent new clashes, including by patrolling the city and manning checkpoints.
The peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA), regional groups and the Central African Government are continuing their discussions to find a durable solution to the situation there.
And from South Sudan, despite the slight improvement in the food security situation in recent months, more than half of the country’s population — that’s more than 6 million people — do not know where their next meal will come from.
That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The three agencies stressed that peace can improve access to livelihoods, markets and humanitarian assistance.
The FAO is providing supplies such as crop seeds, agricultural tools and fishing equipment, while UNICEF and other organizations are distributing food for women and children. For its part, WFP and its partners are responding with food and cash.
And just want to flag that in a briefing paper published today, three UN agencies called on European States to increase resources and practical support to ensure access to quality education for all refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children.
The UNICEF, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration say the challenges these children face in European school systems include: insufficient school spaces or teachers trained to work with refugee and migrant children, language barriers, a lack of psychosocial support and limited catch-up classes.
Currently, twice as many children and adolescents born outside of Europe leave school early compared to native-born children. More information online.
**Noon Briefing Guests
In a short while, we will have a guest from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) here to brief you on the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Report.
The briefers will include Shantanu Mukherjee, Chief of the Integrated Policy and Analysis Branch in DESA; along with the Co-Chairs of the report, Peter Messerli, Director of the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, and Endah Murniningtyas, the former Deputy Planning Minister of Indonesia
Since I’ve been asked many times, I just wanted to confirm that tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. the Secretary-General will receive the credentials from the US Permanent Representative, Ambassador Kelly Craft.
And tomorrow at 11, the Secretary-General will launch the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. The Secretary-General and his High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, will speak to Member States about the plan.
After that, at approximately 12:30 pm, the Secretary-General and Mr. Moratinos will be speaking to you at the Security Council stakeout.
The stakeout will replace our noon briefing but I understand Monica [Grayley] will be briefing here at noon.
And we’re up to 119 Member States who paid their dues in full. We are grateful for our friends in Côte d’Ivoire’s for having done so.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Come on. You're hiding a microphone there, Abdelhamid. Go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Steph. You said yesterday, I think, the SG will issue a statement about [Benjamin] Netanyahu's statement deciding to annex the… Jordan Valley and the settlement after he's… if he's elected as Prime Minister. Did you issue the statement?
Spokesman: No, what I said yesterday in answer to questions, I think, all… what I answer comprehensively will stand as the UN's position. Mario?
Question: Thank you. Does the SG have any comment on the growing tension between Colombia and Venezuela and on the military exercises that Venezuela is carrying out at the border?
Spokesman: Sure. We've seen these reports of military exercises. We hope that, through dialogue, the two countries can find a way to lower the existing tensions. James?
Question: Thanks, Steph. It's about that event that you guys are co‑hosting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's foundation. So, there's a lot of concerns about it. There's a petition, thousands of signatures. Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch and other people have criticized it. Yesterday, I got it confirmed that two of your speakers at the event have pulled out. That's Bart Houlahan and Ann Rosenberg. Could I get your comments on the petition, the two people who have withdrawn from it and, if you could confirm, who is going to speaking at this event?
Spokesman: I don't have the rundown of the events. My understanding is that, as far as I know, as of last night, one… only one of the speakers had decided not to attend. You know, we've seen the petition, and I think it's good that people express themselves, and I think the office is always ready to engage with civil society groups in order to answer whatever questions or concerns they may have.
Question: And how do you answer those concerns?
Question: And how do you answer those concerns?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, the office will answer the concerns. Obviously, this is a partnership that predates… it is part… the partnership with the foundation… the MiSK Foundation is part of the work plan. The event is part of the work plan based on the agreement that was signed in 2018. The forum is designed to bring together young leaders, creators and thinkers together to think about ways of engaging and encouraging youth to transform the world.
Question: And when you say the office will answer those concerns, can you explain what you mean? Because when I go to them, they tell me to go… They tell me to ask you.
Spokesman: I mean, I think if civil society organizations have concerns, those concerns will be answered. Madame?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Back to South Sudan, I wanted to ask, because yesterday the A3 had a press briefing where they were trying to urge the Security Council to remove sanctions off of South Sudan and I think… off of Sudan, in general, all the sanctions, and I think that would help a lot with the food security, or at least I would think. But I was wondering, does the Secretary‑General have any comments on that, or…
Spokesman: That's a decision the… it's a decision the Security Council will have to take. As a matter of principle, we always believe that sanctions should not impact… should be designed in a way that they not impact humanitarian aid and obviously we're able to deliver the humanitarian aid. The lack of peace in the country is a big hindrance, and I know the peacekeeping mission there is working to encourage both the Government and the opposition to come together. Abdelhamid?
Question: I have two questions, so I hope you don't rush me…
Spokesman: I'm not… I've got all day… I mean I don't have all day but…
Question: The first question is very short. There is a statement by a lady called Dr. Nadera Nassif. She announced the creation of a new state called the Yellow Mountain… the Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain. Have you heard of that? And if you…
Spokesman: No, you're the second person to have asked me about the Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain, but I have yet to receive… I don't… I'm not aware of any letter having been received, as of yesterday, by people claiming to represent the Kingdom of the Yellow Mountain.
Spokesman: Where is that?
Question: It's between Egypt and Sudan in an area that are disputed or unclaimed by any…
Question: And she said in her statement, it will be a State for refugees, for displaced people, for homelessness, for a stateless… it's open border for anyone, so that's strange. Okay. Maybe that's utopian State.
Okay. But my question, Stéphane, is about two statement by Nickolay Mladenov, and I hope you will be patient. There were two Palestinian killed and one Israeli civilian killed. So, when he talked about the two Palestinian, he mentioned the word "appalling," and he said must… "Israel must calibrate its use of force, use lethal force only if necessary. The cycle of violence must end." He didn't mention the two teenagers. He didn't mention their names nor how they were killed. They were killed by snipers from across the border. He didn't even offer his apolo… his condolences to the families. But when an Israeli young girl, 17 years old, was killed, he said the following: "Shocking, heinous bomb attack in the West Bank. There is nothing heroic in murder. Nothing is… is… it is to speak of, cowardly"…
Spokesman: I read… I'm aware of the tweets.
Question: And he mentioned her name, her family. He offered condolences. As an impartial envoy of the UN, is that fair treatment of three innocent victim, two Palestinian, one Israeli? Is he fair? Is he…
Spokesman: Look, I think…
Question: Is he impartial? Is he objective…? Honestly.
Spokesman: I think Mr. Mladenov is impartial and is objective. And I understand your interest, and I respect the way you look at the statements. But I think one has to look at the body of work from Mr. Mladenov and other UN envoys to see that we clearly and without condition condemn the killings of civilians, and we have done so and will continue to do so. Thank you. Farhan [Haq] will be here with our guests in just a second, if he's not already here. Here we go.