The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, today. Earlier today he delivered a keynote address at a plenary session of the C40 World Mayors Summit, saying that cities — home to more than half of the world’s population — are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost. The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for the role played by mayors in the fight against climate change, calling them the world’s first responders to the climate emergency. Before he departed Copenhagen, he issued a statement on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize [to] Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. “I have said often that the winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa,” he said, adding that the Prime Minister is one of the main reasons why. “His vision helped Ethiopia and Eritrea achieve a historic rapprochement, and I was honoured to witness the signing of the peace agreement last year.” We’ve shared the Secretary‑General’s remarks at the C40 and the statement on Ethiopia with you earlier today.
Turning to Syria and Turkey, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock issued a statement following the completion of his planned… that’s a first. I didn’t think it was Evelyn. Some high holy days have already passed… yeah, I know, we’ve… sorry. Let’s continue on. Sorry. We may have no cash, but we know how to laugh. Mark Lowcock noted that he repeatedly expressed his concern about the impact on civilians of military operations in Idlib since last April. Mr. Lowcock said his visit has coincided with the start of the Turkish military operation across the border in north-eastern Syria, and he expressed his concern at reports of civilian casualties on both sides of the border and of the large number of people moving inside Syria in the hope of avoiding the fighting. He reiterated what the Secretary-General has said: that we urge all parties to exercise restraint, to act in line with their obligations under the Charter and international humanitarian law, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, and in particular, to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. Mr. Lowcock added that he has discussed the situation with the Government of Turkey, who assured him that they attach maximum importance to the protection of civilians and the avoidance of harm to them.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says an estimated 100,000 people have now left their home in the area. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it has begun to receive reports of civilian casualties during the first two days of the Turkish operation. OHCHR said that military operations must be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. It added that civilians and civilian infrastructure are to be protected from attack and from the effects of the hostilities. When displacement occurs, displaced civilians must be provided with assistance and protection [until] they are able to return to their homes or relocate elsewhere, voluntarily, in safety and dignity.
Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. “Unscripted and Unstoppable” is the theme of this year’s Day. In his message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General pointed out that, in the past 25 years, we have seen more girls completing school, fewer getting married or becoming mothers, and more gaining the skills they need to excel in the workplace. However, he added, many are still held back by harmful gender norms that influence everything they do. Two hundred million girls and women are [subjected] to female genital mutilation. Three of four victims of human trafficking are women and girls. Conflicts trap millions in violence, uncertainty and despair. The Secretary-General called on everyone, everywhere, to uphold the equal rights, voices and influence of girls in our families, communities and nations.
And this afternoon, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed will deliver remarks at the Girls Speak Out event, scheduled to take place in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. She will reiterate the UN’s commitment to advocate for girls’ rights, and support governments to provide girls with a safe childhood, access to quality education and skills, and an environment where they can make informed decisions about their own lives.
From Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it says in what the agency describes as a historic moment, more than 85 Governments, civil society, international and regional organizations have made 300 new pledges during a high-level meeting to end statelessness. There are about 3.9 million known stateless people, although UNCHR says the true global figure is estimated to be much higher. At the end of the meeting, Filippo Grandi, the Head of UNHCR, said that this week has shown there is an unprecedented level of political will and commitment to resolve this issue and prevent it from arising in the first place.
In the Bahamas, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) today launched a $10 million appeal to support recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian which hit Abaco and Grand Bahama a month ago. These funds will support operations of shelters, provision of non-food items, tracking of missing persons and protection of those who are still vulnerable. IOM is already supporting the Bahamas with debris removal in Abaco. The agency said it is removing over 100 cubic metres of debris daily in coordination with the Government. The Government has also formally requested IOM to support and relocate Bahamian citizens stranded in the US after their evacuation following Hurricane Dorian.
Lastly, to stay on the money issue, Sri Lanka is the latest country to pay budget dues in full, bringing us up to 131.
And I had an answer on a question on Ethiopia and the dam. I can tell you that we’ve been following the developments regarding negotiations over the Great Renaissance Dam very closely. We hope that the parties will reach a mutually agreeable solution. The UN stands ready to assist in any it can, in agreement with the parties. James?
**Questions and Answers
Question: A question on the Turkish military operation. As you've seen, in the Turkish ambassador's letter, he invokes the UN Charter and Article 51. As the Secretary‑General is the guardian of the Charter, does he believe this is an act of self‑defence?
Spokesman: It is not up to the Secretary‑General to interpret… it is not the role of the Secretary‑General to validate or not validate the ambassador's letter, which is also sent to the Security Council.
Question: No, I'm asking him about the Charter. He knows what's in the Charter…?
Spokesman: No, he knows it… I know he knows what's in the Charter.
Correspondent: So, he must know what an act of self‑defence is.
Spokesman: I will refer you to previous answer. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, on this 8 million Kashmiris still incarcerated by India, there was a question earlier of whether there is any help going to them to… medical help and so forth. And you had said that there will be an answer later on. Is that true? And is there going to be any assurances or help to these people incarcerated for almost more than two months?
Spokesman: Let me check. I thought the answer had been provided. Let me check. Yes, Edie? [The Spokesman later said that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Volunteers (UNV) have development programmes in Kashmir, and UNHCR is working with refugees through non-governmental organizations.]
Question: Thank you, Steph. Also on the Turkey‑Syria issue, has the Secretary‑General been in touch with the leaders? Is he trying to, perhaps, promote dialogue as some members of the Security Council have mentioned?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, this is, as I've said… as we've been saying, contacts have been had at various level. Mr. Lowcock was meeting… I mean, obviously, had a pre-planned meeting to Turkey, but, obviously, raised points on behalf of the Secretary‑General with the Turkish authorities.
Question: On that specific issue of promoting dialogue?
Spokesman: Well, on the current situation. Yes, ma'am?
Correspondent: I've heard lots of expressing concerns about Syria, but I can't find explanation why there is no… any condemnation of what happened especially for killing kids by Turkish regime.
Spokesman: We have always stood against and condemn any targeted killings of civilians.
Correspondent: Doesn't help.
Spokesman: That's what I have to say. On that note, hopefully, we'll be here tomorrow. Oh, James?
Spokesman: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. God help me.
Question: So, the Secretary‑General's in Europe. It's only a relatively short flight time from Copenhagen to Ankara. He can do it in four hours. We've seen the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] Secretary‑General go to Turkey. Why… you said there's some dialogue going on at various levels. Why doesn't the Secretary‑General just get on a plane?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General… listen, every… and I don't mean this in relation to the Secretary‑General of Turkey, who has… of NATO, who has different responsibilities. Turkey is a NATO member, and I'm not on top of his travel schedule, if it was planned or unplanned. The Secretary‑General of the UN has a different role. He is not looking to… he is looking to see how best we can deal with the humanitarian crisis. He is looking how best we can support the political process. Let us not forget, there is a political process, UN‑facilitated process led by Mr. [Geir] Pedersen. The Secretary‑General's focus, Mr. Pedersen's focus is on that political process, because we strongly believe that is the best and only solution to the current situation.
Question: Do you have any idea as to when there would be an assessment by the United Nations humanitarian agencies to give some sort of relief to the incarcerated Kashmiri people?
Spokesman: As I said, I was trying to get you some answers on what UN agencies…
Question: How long will it take, Stéphane?
Spokesman: I will get you an answer as soon as I can.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up to James' question on the Syrian political process. With everything that's going on, is the UN still on track to host these talks in Geneva at the end of the month?
Spokesman: I have not heard any change. Mr. Pedersen will be travelling, I think, in the next few days to the region to galvanize support, but I have not heard of any change. Thank you.