Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
As you will have seen, the Secretary‑General today [spoke at] the University of Geneva on his disarmament agenda. He began by commenting on the announcement of the cancellation of the Summit between the President of the United States and the leader of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]. The Secretary‑General said he regretted the cancellation of the planned meeting, and urged the parties to continue their dialogue to find a path towards the peaceful and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
And in a statement we had issued earlier in the morning, the Secretary‑General also welcomed today’s reported closure of the nuclear test site at Punggye‑ri in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is regrettable that international experts were not invited to witness the site closing.
In the comments he made at the University of Geneva, where he launched his disarmament agenda, the Secretary‑General outlined three priorities of his agenda. First: disarmament to save humanity, which aims to reduce and eliminate weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, chemical and biological. Second: disarmament that saves lives, which seeks to reduce and mitigate the impact of conventional weapons, and third: disarmament for future generations, which seeks to prevent technological advances like artificial intelligence from being used for malicious purposes. The Secretary-General stressed that “we cannot create a safer world for all through uncoordinated action. Disarmament works best when we work together: Governments, experts, civil society and individuals.” His remarks are being issued. Right afterwards, the Secretary‑General also spoke to the press and took, I think, three or four questions, and our colleagues are working on that transcript right now.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
This afternoon, the Deputy Secretary‑General will depart New York for Geneva, Switzerland, to participate in the fourteenth Seminar for current Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys of the Secretary‑General, which will be held in Mont Pèlerin. She will return back in the office on Tuesday morning.
You will have seen that we announced this morning that the Secretary‑General will spend Peacekeepers’ Day, Tuesday, 29 May, in Bamako, Mali, with troops and personnel from the UN Mission in the country (MINUSMA). He will be accompanied for this visit by the Head of Peacekeeping Department, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, as well as the Head of Field Support, Atul Khare, and the Executive Director of UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund], Henrietta Fore.
Upon arrival in Bamako, the Secretary‑General will attend a ceremony paying tribute to fallen UN peacekeepers. For the fourth year in a row, the peacekeeping mission in Mali suffered the greatest loss of life in 2017 of any UN peacekeeping missions, with 21 peacekeepers and seven civilians killed.
The Secretary‑General will also be meeting with the President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, the Prime Minister Soumeviou Boubève Maïga and other Malian officials. He will also do some field visits, where he is expected to meet with local authorities, as well as women, youth and religious representatives. During his visit, the Secretary-General will also be fasting in solidarity for Ramadan. Meanwhile, celebrations of Peacekeepers’ Day here at Headquarters will be held on the next day, 1 June.
Turning to the Sahel, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, today released $30 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund to urgently scale up relief efforts in the Sahel, where an acute drought, combined with exceptionally high food prices and worsening insecurity, has escalated humanitarian needs. Thousands of families have exhausted their food reserves and are cutting down on daily meals. Up to 1.6 million children are at risk of life‑threatening malnutrition, and 5 million people need food and livelihood assistance in what is expected to be the worst lean season in years. Mr. Lowcock stressed that, to avert a catastrophe, we need to act early to get assistance quickly to the most vulnerable people. The window of opportunity to help these communities during the lean season and the most difficult months ahead is closing soon, Mr. Lowcock said.
And yesterday, the Assistant‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bintou Keita, briefed the Security Council on the G5 Sahel joint force. She commended member States of the G5 Sahel for their efforts over the past year to operationalize their joint force. But she said a lot of work remains as the process has incurred delays and the force has yet to attain full operational capability. Her full speech is available to you.
Earlier today, the Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Burundi, Michel Kafando, briefed the Security Council. He said that, following the referendum on the adoption of a new Constitution, we are now waiting for a strong signal from the Government in favour of the resumption of an inclusive political dialogue. Without such a signal, Mr. Kafando expressed concern about a possible polarization of an already tense political situation. He also called on the authorities to facilitate the return of human rights experts, whose visas were cancelled last month, and to resume cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR). Even if the security situation is generally calm, Mr. Kafando stressed that the recent assassination of 26 people in the Cibitoke province reminds us that the environment remains volatile and the humanitarian situation remains of concern. An inclusive dialogue, under the auspices of the East African Community, is the only sustainable way forward, he stressed to Council members.
Our colleagues in the African Union‑UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today expressed deep concern about recent attacks on three internally displaced persons camps in Central Darfur State, which took place between 21 and 23 May and resulted in a number of fatalities and injuries among IDPs [internally displaced people]. The Mission reminds all parties involved that IDP camps are considered humanitarian space, which should be free of weapons, where displaced people must not be subjected to threats, harassment, attacks or harm. Such actions constitute grave violations of international humanitarian law.
Our colleagues at the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) today welcomed the release in Kabul of a colleague and her child held hostage since January, while expressing outrage at their abduction and the earlier murder of another colleague who was also seized during the same incident. We have a statement from the UN Mission, as well as from UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund].
Ján Kubiš, the Head of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), strongly condemned the suicide bomb attack that took place in Baghdad yesterday. He said the attack was the work of cowards who have no respect for human life and no respect for the holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Kubiš said all Iraqis must stand united in rejecting such heinous acts and in working together to consolidate their hard‑won democracy.
Today, the humanitarian fund for the Occupied Palestinian Territory announced the release of $3.9 million to address urgent water, sanitation, shelter and protection needs. Over 75 per cent of the allocation targets needs [are] in the Gaza Strip, where the already dire humanitarian situation has been exacerbated since 30 March 2018 by a massive rise in Palestinian casualties in the context of demonstrations. In total, 13 projects will be implemented by national and international non‑governmental organizations. The Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Jamie McGoldrick, said that with this allocation, we ensure that humanitarian partners have the resources to respond to some of the most urgent needs, but this is a stop‑gap measure and much more needs to be done.
The humanitarian community in Libya is perturbed by the continued lack of humanitarian access and assistance into Derna despite repeated requests. Humanitarian workers have not been allowed to deliver life‑saving assistance to Derna, such as supplies to support medical facilities and other basic services, as well as to provide food and other items that are in need. Shortages in medicine and medical supplies are reaching critical levels and the first food shortages are being reported. The Humanitarian Coordinator in Libya, Maria Ribeiro, calls on all parties to immediately allow safe and unfettered access to Derna for humanitarian workers and urgently needed humanitarian supplies.
**Greece-The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
A reminder that today, here at UN Headquarters, Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary‑General’s Personal Envoy, is meeting jointly with Nikos Kotzias, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, and Nikola Dimitrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The meeting is part of the UN’s ongoing efforts to assist the sides in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the “name” issue. We will let you know if a media opportunity presents itself over the course of these talks.
In a very short while, I will be joined by Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s [World Food Programme’s] Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe, and he will speak about the humanitarian challenges in the region. That is after Mr. [Brenden] Varma briefs you briefly.
Tomorrow, Peter Salama, the Deputy Director General of Emergency Preparedness and Response at the World Health Organization (WHO), will brief via videoconference from Geneva on the Ebola outbreak in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo].
And a planning reminder that you are welcome to be here on Monday, but no one else will be here because it is Memorial Day, and we will not have a briefing. Khalas. Abdelhamid?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have a few questions. First, [Nickolay] Mladenov, in his briefing yesterday, he mentioned that the number of Palestinians killed were 76. I want to know how he came up with this number. If on the first day, 19 Palestinians were killed and the last day, 61 killed and everybody knows that, how he came up with that number, 76, including 11 children.
Spokesman: The number, as always, is based on the credible information we receive from various sources.
Question: But there are so many credible information that put the number over 100. This is… this is an established… well‑established fact.
Spokesman: I'm trying not to debate with you. Obviously, we're working…
Correspondent: No, I need explanation only.
Spokesman: We're working based on the numbers that we have from our sources. What is your next question?
Question: Can I ask for explanation? I mean…
Spokesman: I think I've used all the words I can to explain to you. I'll take your second question.
Question: Okay. My second question, a child — his name is Odai Akram Abu Khalil — is 15, succumb to his wounds. He was shot in the stomach by the Israeli forces in Ramallah. He's from a village called Ein Sinia. He's 15. Is there any statement on that? Is there any recognition…?
Spokesman: I had not heard of this particular case. We will look into it. Obviously, we're saddened by any loss of death, but we'll look into it. Carole and then Edie.
Question: Stéphane, we saw the Secretary‑General's reaction to the cancellation of the summit. He says he's deeply concerned. So, will he be doing anything to try to, perhaps, put the pieces back together? Is he planning to… to help in any way?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General always remains at the… available to all parties to try to help facilitate the process. Ms. Lederer?
Question: Steph, I asked on Monday about the knobs on the air conditioners of all of us.
Spokesman: I'm trying to get some answers for you.
Question: No answers yet?
Spokesman: No. Sir?
Question: Two questions as well. The first one is… actually is, in… yesterday, the Secretary‑General did meet with the Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and… and, in covering that, minutes before it began, Ambassador Danny Danon of Israel came out of his office. And I didn't see it on his schedule. So, I wanted to ask you, one, what was that meeting about? And, two, what's the policy of your office, I guess it is, in terms of putting forward a public schedule which lists meetings with some Permanent Representatives but, in this case, not this one?
Spokesman: Some meetings are public; others are not.
Question: At whose request, at whose decision? Seems like…
Spokesman: It's a decision that's made. What's your next question?
Question: Okay. Well, I guess related… I wanted to ask you this. I've been, for a couple of days, looking into this… people that work in the… your UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) have been confused and surprised to see, according to them, that the husband of the Chief of Staff, Kyoko Shiotani, a John van Rosendaal, has been designated to run the Security Council's website. They… they found it kind of strange because there was… there was no need for it. He was brought in without any competition, according to them, and it seemed like a classic case of nepotism and affecting the Security Council itself. So, I'm wondering… maybe you don't have the information at your fingertips, but can you find out how it is that… that it's… I've seen this thing. He's now called a senior programme officer after being a self‑employed consultant.
Spokesman: I'm not aware of the case, and I'm sure all the rules were followed. Carole?
Question: How are you so sure?
Question: The Secretary‑General met yesterday with the Macedonian and the Greek foreign ministers. Based on those meetings, how optimistic is he that the issue… the name dispute can be resolved?
Spokesman: I think this issue has been gone for quite some time. We've had ups and downs. We're very happy to have Mr. Nimetz here host both parties, but I think, in this case and in most of these delicate diplomatic negotiations, I think we will reserve judgment until an announcement is made — is not to predict things one way or another. Predictions are dangerous. Yes?
Question: Just follow up on… in the conversation with the Greek Foreign Minister, was there a discussion about Greek demands for Macedonian constitutional changes and whether or not this…
Spokesman: I mean, I think we've all seen the reporting. All of these issues are being dealt with through the discussions facilitated by Mr. Nimetz. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Again, all parties call on the Palestinians and the Israelis to stop incitement. Yesterday, the US Ambassador [to Israel], David Friedman, received a gift, which placed the Temple Mount in the place of Al‑Aqsa Mosque. Isn't that an utmost expression of incitement that enrages millions of people?
Spokesman: Look, I don't speak for the US Government, the US Ambassador, but I did see an interview that he did shortly after, in which he completely distanced himself from that event. Evelyn?
Question: Thank you, Stéph. The Mali… the number of dead in the Mali peacekeeping mission, what's the time frame for that?
Spokesman: Sorry. The what?
Question: What's the time… what's the time period for that many…?
Spokesman: For? 20… it was in 2017, if I'm not mistaken.
Correspondent: Oh, it's 2017. Right.
Spokesman: If I actually paid attention to what I read. [Laughter] Seana? Yes, it was 2017.
Question: I just wanted to follow up with Carole's question regarding the cancellation. You said the SG's always ready to be available…
Spokesman: He remains available, yes.
Question: But will he proactively make any phone calls? I know he's travelling. Once he comes back, will he arrange…?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that for the time being. Edie?
Question: As another quick follow‑up, is the Secretary‑General giving any thought to appointing a… an envoy for North Korea?
Spokesman: You know, I think, if he felt it was useful, he would do it. I'm not aware of any plans for him to do so at this point. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. You'd said on this previous question, which I hope you will look into and get an answer to because you just said you assume that rules are being complied with. But I want to ask you about a rule or at least guidance from the Secretary‑General that I tried to ask you yesterday as… as… as you walked off, and it has to do with, in the situation in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in which whistle‑blowers there say that the Director General, Mr. [Yukiya] Amano, knew since at least at latest January 2018 of an open case of sexual harassment that took place at a retreat of the staff and did nothing until a whistle‑blower complained to OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] over there. What is the policy of the Secretary‑General for the heads of UN bought system agencies to act on complaints? Is it… and if they don't act and it turns out that it's founded, what happens?
Spokesman: I don't have the details you have on the case. So, I think, for any of those details, you should address yourself to IAEA. The Secretary‑General made it very clear during the CEB [Chief Executives Board] that he wants all the heads of the UN agencies of which he has direct authority and the ones who are part of the CEB to be as proactive as possible in dealing with cases of sexual harassment. But, as I said, I don't have the details of that… the IAEA case, and you should address your questions to them.
Question: Does he believe that… that there should be some public component of this? Because one of the things that's left people so… at IAEA so angry is that, even after the investigation, the person left with a full pension, was described it for family reasons. So, again, without getting… as a general matter, does he believe that a part of the justice in these matters is some public statement or accounting of what actually occurred?
Spokesman: Every case needs to be investigated to the fullest. Thank you and I will leave you with Mr. Varma.