The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon. In a statement that we issued yesterday afternoon you saw the Secretary‑General said he was saddened by the loss of life, displacement of people and destruction of property due to monsoon rains and associated flooding in India. He extends his condolences and solidarity to the families of the victims, to the Government and people of India and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.
The United Nations stands ready to work with the authorities as they respond to the humanitarian needs resulting from this ongoing monsoon season.
We have some new senior appointments to announce, coming from the UN Development Coordination Office. The Secretary‑General has appointed two new Resident Coordinators. One to serve in Botswana and the other in Myanmar — and that’s following confirmations from the respective governments.
Zia Choudhury of Bangladesh will be the new Resident Coordinator in Botswana while Ola Almgren of Sweden will be the new Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar.
As you are aware, the Resident Coordinators are tasked with boosting coordination among UN agencies, funds and programmes on the ground to support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
As previously announced, we remain with full gender parity among all our Resident Coordinators covering 162 countries and territories.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that more than 9.2 million people across the southern Africa region are now severely food insecure due to a climate crisis that is impacting parts of the region. This figure is expected to grow to 12 million at the peak of the lean season between October and next March.
Parts of the region are experiencing their lowest rainfall since 1981, which is leading to increased humanitarian needs.
Some parts of the region have endured destruction by cyclones, pests and disease, and are working to recover from the multi‑faceted impacts of those shocks. For example, in Mozambique, drought, two cyclones and violence in the north are expected to leave nearly two million people severely food insecure from October through March.
Namibia has received its lowest rainfall in 35 years and at least 290,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the north of the country are suffering from an acute food security crisis, with up to 90,000 livestock reported to have died due to drought.
And Ursula Mueller, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator will travel to Djibouti from tomorrow until Friday to draw attention to the effects and humanitarian consequences of climate change to the country and the region.
The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator will meet with people impacted by drought, high levels of food insecurity and see first-hand the response of humanitarian partners. She will also meet with senior Government officials, humanitarian organizations and the diplomatic community.
In addition, she will see first‑hand the efforts undertaken to respond to challenges which include the growing number of refugees and migrants hosted in Djibouti.
From Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said today that, three months after the air strike on the Tajoura detention centre, vulnerable migrants returned from sea continue to be taken to the facility despite persistent calls for its closure due to its proximity [to] a military location.
As you’ll recall, that airstrike killed 53 migrants and injured more than 130 people.
IOM also renewed its urgent call for the end to arbitrary detention in Libya, in a gradual orderly manner, that guarantees the safety of detainees. It stressed the need for alternative solutions to be established and adopted urgently to end the intolerable suffering of thousands of migrants.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said today that, while movements of refugees in South-East Asia have dropped in the 18 months between January 2018 and June 2019, the threats for those fleeing violence and persecution are higher. The Rohingya remained the largest refugee group on the move in the region, with nearly 18,000 registered as new arrivals in Bangladesh during this period. Nearly 1,600 refugees and asylum‑seekers embarked on dangerous maritime journeys in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. At least 15 of these people drowned, but that is obviously a conservative figure.
UNHCR is calling on all countries in the region and beyond to expand opportunities for solutions through safe and legal pathways that can help reduce the likelihood that refugees will risk desperate and dangerous journeys [or] be forced into the hands of criminal smuggling networks to find protection or reunite with their families.
**International Day of Older Persons
Today is International Day of Older Persons. With this year’s theme being "The Journey to Age Equality", the UN aims to highlight that the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals will only be achievable if it is inclusive of all ages.
For this observance, the UN also wants to stress that empowering older persons in all dimensions of development, including promoting their active participation in social, economic and political life, is one way to ensure their inclusiveness and reduce inequalities.
The world’s population is ageing fast. The UN estimates that by 2050 one in five people will be over 60. The number of aged over 80 is projected to triple from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.
Also, to observe the Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a package of tools, including a digital app to help health and social workers provide better care for older persons.
**Press Briefing Today
And as soon as we’re done here the Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa who is also President of the Security Council for next month will be here to brief you. In the meantime, I will entertain some questions. Mr. Klein, then Mr. Bays.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you. Do you have any comment on today’s violence in Hong Kong, including the report of at least one protester having been critically wounded by a police shooting?
Spokesman: Yes, I think, you know, as a matter of principle for the Secretary‑General, we’ve always called for demonstrations to be peaceful and for security services to exercise restraint. Mr. Bays.
Question: I was going to ask about that as well, so I will give you a follow‑up question. What’s the Secretary‑General... what is the Secretary‑General’s response to the fact that live ammunition was used? And does the Secretary‑General believe that China is in breach of the 1984 joint declaration? And does he see a role for the UN in this?
Spokesman: It’s not for the Secretary‑General to comment on that 1994 declaration... 80... you said ‘94...
Correspondent: 1994 was South Africa.
Question: 1984. If I said it wrong, I’m sorry...
Spokesman: It is the day of older persons so... okay. [Laughter.] Sorry. Let’s try it again. No, it’s not for the Secretary‑General to emit an opinion on that joint agreement, and I think my answer to Joe covers your follow‑up.
Question: Can I have a different question on a different subject then?
Spokesman: You may.
Question: Today is the deadline set by the Turkish Government for establishing a safe zone or coming up with a plan to establish a safe zone in northern Syria. How closely is the UN and the Special Envoy following this? And do you have concerns about unilateral Turkish action?
Spokesman: We are, obviously, following this closely. We’ve always expressed our concerns with safe zones. We want to make sure that they do not infringe on the rights of people who want to seek asylum. We want to make sure that civilians are, and civilians are protected. Nizar.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Among the thousands of Saudi soldiers arrested by Ansar Allah or seized by Ansar Allah, there were hundreds of children aged 15 or less, some of them between 15 and 16. Has Mr. Griffiths been in touch with the Ansar Allah for their release? And if they are releasing 350 prisoners of war, are the children among them?
Spokesman: Listen, we have no, as far as I know, we have no first‑hand account of exact, you know, of, we have not, I think, had any contact with those who were released. I would refer you to what Mr. Griffiths said yesterday on the issue of the release.
Today, he arrived in Sana’a for a two‑day visit. He, again, commended yesterday’s unilateral release of detainees by Ansar Allah, saying that, for him, such initiatives create a conducive environment and build confidence for the resumption of peace talks, for the peace process. And the, Mr. Griffiths hopes that this will encourage parties to renew their commitments towards the exchange of prisoners and detainees in accordance to what they’ve all agreed to in Stockholm.
Question: A follow‑up on, a follow‑up on that. Are there any investigations regarding the bombardment of the jail where the, where many prisoners were kept in and more than 100 were killed by the Coalition fighters?
Spokesman: Let me check up on you, for that. James.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Tomorrow marks the one‑year anniversary of the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. I think, in the one year, we can safely say that the quest for justice and accountability for the people who were behind the killing has been a difficult one, and some people — Amal Clooney, Agnès Callamard and Human Rights Watch — say that what is, that it exposed the frailty in the international system, and they’re suggesting a new UN standing mechanism or instrument that automatically clicks into gear and investigates extrajudicial executions like that one the next time around something like this happens. What do you guys think?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t seen the specific proposal. I think the mechanism that exists through the Special Rapporteurs is an extremely important one, at least to bring light to those extrajudicial executions. For his part, the Secretary‑General’s position has been stated and remains unchanged and the need for justice to be done.
Question: Do we expect any statement on the first anniversary of the murder of Khashoggi by any UN official tomorrow?
Spokesman: I, as far as I’ve, I think I’ve answered the question for today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Yes, Madame?
Question: Good afternoon. I’m Disha Shetty, a RAF fellow from IndiaSpend in India. The Indian Government has admitted to the Supreme Court in the country in India that security forces in Kashmir have picked up children as young as 9, and this is, I believe, about the 50/50 of communication clampdown in the region. So, is the UN likely to respond?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t seen the, what’s happened in front of the Supreme Court. What we have said, we’ll continue to say, is that, in order to resolve the current situation in Kashmir, human rights need to be addressed and need to be at the forefront. Yes, sir.
Question: Thank you. My name is Mbom Sixtus from Cameroon. On the conflicts in Cameroon, the dialogue, which the UN were, mostly welcomed, actually started yesterday, but the separatists boycotted the dialogue. So, I’m just wondering, is the UN already thinking about what to do if killings continue after this dialogue ends?
Spokesman: Well, you know, we’ve seen that some people did not participate in the dialogue. I think we do have to let some of that process play through. We were present to observe some of the proceedings at the dialogue, though the process itself is Cameroonian‑owned and Cameroonian‑led. Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Going back to the issue of Kashmir, in the readout of the SG’s meeting with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, it says that he called for restraint of all parties and to solve their differences through dialogue, just Mission dialogue only. I’m waiting.
Spokesman: Sorry. I’m waiting for... thank you.
Question: And I’m waiting... [Laughter.] Okay. Now, there are relevant Security Council resolution. Would it be more meaningful if the SG added to the word "dialogue" and “international law" or "relevant Security Council resolutions"? Why he stopped at the word "dialogue" only?
Spokesman: I think dialogue is a primary requirement for the resolution of any dispute between two nations.
Question: There is a framework, legal framework.
Spokesman: Yes, and I would refer you to the statement that we issued a bit earlier on that. Yes, sir.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. China had the seventieth anniversary celebration yesterday, and President Xi Jinping said in his remarks that China is going to stay on the peaceful development path. Does the SG have any comment on that?
Spokesman: It’s not for the SG to comment. I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said at the end of last, at the end of last week at the public event commemorating the seventieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, and that statement is public. Yes, sir.
Question: Thank you, sir. Thank you. Follow‑up to Abdelhamid’s question. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, after giving his speech, went to see the Secretary‑General to plead with him to somehow in, go and intervene in this issue. And, I mean... I mean, just to emphasise the gravity of the situation, they have been incarcerated for almost, more than two... almost two or three months, and that is what he was trying to say that he should... so, has the Secretary‑General, at any point, decided that he will be able to go and see for himself what is the situation at all...
Spokesman: It’s not an issue... I mean...
Question: ... or plead with...
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General is very well aware of the situation in Kashmir. He has discussed the issue over the past few weeks and months with the leaders of both countries, with the foreign ministers of both countries. The High Commissioner for Human Rights herself has issued a report, and we will continue to engage in whatever way we can. Thank you. Nizar.
Question: Do you have any statement regarding the opening of the crossing points between Syria and Iraq? Does it help for humanitarian purposes and other issues...
Question: ... or not?
Spokesman: I don’t know what the exact impact is on humanitarian purposes, but I think any opening of borders should be welcomed. Thank you.