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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Responsibility to Protect
This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the General Assembly debate on the responsibility to protect. He said today’s discussion is critical as atrocity crimes are being committed around the world at a scale and ferocity not seen in years, with little regard for international human rights and humanitarian law. He stressed that these crimes are not inevitable, and that the international community must build consensus to mount responses to end the violence against innocent people. He said that our overarching challenge is to uphold the responsibility to protect principle while preventing its misuse. This means acting promptly, preventively, diplomatically, before situations escalate and spiral out of control. The Secretary‑General reminded States of their duty to protect their own people, and added that the international community cannot abandon the responsibility to protect principle or leave it in a state of suspended animation. His full remarks are online.
The Secretary-General discussed the situation in the Middle East and North Africa in the Security Council today, and he warned that the territorial integrity of countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya is under threat. Millions of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The impacts of this instability have spread to neighbours and beyond. Today, he said, in a region once home to one of history’s greatest flowerings of culture and coexistence, we see many fault-lines at work, old and new, crossing each other and generating enormous volatility. These include the Israeli-Palestinian wound, resurgent cold war-like rivalries, the Sunni‑Shia divide, ethnic schisms and other political confrontations. The Secretary-General said that economic and social opportunities are clearly insufficient. As such difficulties rise, he said, trust in institutions declines. Societies fracture along ethnic or religious lines, which are being manipulated for political advantage. At times, he added, foreign interference has exacerbated this disunity, with destabilizing effects. And the risk of further downward spirals is sky high.
Over the weekend, we issued a series of statements. First, the Secretary‑General condemned the explosion on Saturday at a rally attended by Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. He also condemned another explosion during a rally in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other party officials were present. Lastly, the Secretary-General welcomed the lifting of the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. He said he hoped that this will generate further new opportunities for women in the kingdom, and that he looked forward to witnessing Saudi Arabia’s continuing journey towards substantive equality for women and girls. All these statements are online.
At the invitation of the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, consultations were held in the United Nations Office at Geneva with senior representatives of France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States, on the way ahead on a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, United Nations-facilitated Geneva political process in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015). During the meeting, updates and exchanges were shared on the situation on the ground. Grave concerns were expressed at the ongoing military escalation in southwestern Syria and calls made for an immediate end to violence. Substantive exchanges took place on the prospects for progress on the constitutional track, and on continuing diplomatic efforts to promote common ground among international players in support of a political settlement in Syria. The Special Envoy welcomes the six countries’ re-affirmation of their support of the United Nations’ role in facilitating the political process. The Special Envoy anticipates inviting them to Geneva again as efforts to facilitate the establishment of a constitutional committee and address the wider dimensions of the political process continue.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues continue to be alarmed by reports of escalating hostilities in southern Syria, endangering an estimated 750,000 people. An estimated 45,000 people have reportedly been displaced due to the fighting, mostly from eastern Dara’a Governorate to areas near the border with Jordan. There have been reports of 13 deaths due to hostilities since 23 June, including an attack in Mseifra town yesterday that killed nine people, including four children. The cost of goods, such as fuel, has increased due to the disruption of commercial movement caused by the fighting. Displaced people are in particular need of humanitarian aid and shelter. Despite the hostilities, the United Nations and its partners continue to provide food, health, nutrition, education and core relief items to hundreds of thousands of people in need in southern Syria from across the border in Jordan. You’ll recall that in a statement last Friday, the Secretary‑General expressed his concern at the recent military escalation, including ground offensives and aerial bombardments, in south-western Syria. He called for an immediate end to the current military escalation and urged all stakeholders to respect their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today released a report that shows a widening gap between the number of refugees in need of resettlement and the place available for them around the world. The report projects that some 1.4 million refugees will need a resettlement country in 2019. However, the number of available resettlement places has dropped to just 75,000. UNHCR is appealing to all countries to take in more refugees from a diverse range of countries and operations, and to commit to this policy on a sustained basis.
Today is the Day of the Seafarer. The theme this year focuses on seafarers’ well-being, and looks into best practices to help seafarers tackle stress and other issues affecting their mental health. More information is available online.
After I am done, you will hear from Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. And tomorrow the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will launch the “2018 World Drug Report” at 11 a.m. in Conference Room 1. Following the launch, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, will be here as our guest. And that is it for me. Are there any questions? Yes, Joe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah. Last week Stéphane [Dujarric] mentioned that the Secretary‑General will be giving a press conference this week. He didn't mention a date or time. Do you… can you give any more details?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, he had mentioned an earlier scheduled date, which was 26 June, which would be tomorrow, but it will not take place then. We're now working with the Secretary‑General's Office to find a suitable time, and we'll let you know when we have a date and time. Yes, please?
Question: Yes… On 15 June, 28 countries, among which are… was United States, France, United Kingdom and all EU members… countries have asked UN Secretary‑General, António Guterres, to raise the case of Ukrainian jail film director Oleg Sentsov and 70 of other Ukrainian prisoners during his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A letter making their request was delivered, like I said, on 15 June. Did Secretary‑General get any results of the meeting with President Putin?
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say on that is the Secretary‑General is aware of the situation concerning Ukrainian citizens detained in Russia, and he discussed the topic during his meetings on his recent visit to Moscow. The Secretary‑General encourages both sides to work constructively towards an early solution of that issue. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions, Farhan. First, in his remarks this morning, the Secretary‑General… he used the term "Palestine‑Israel conflict". Isn't that a wrong characterization of the nature of the conflict when one side occupies and the other is occupied? When one side confiscates land, the other side loses their land; when one maims and kills and the other loses their lives and their freedom and dignity. Why it… when you put them this way, isn't that kind of equating both sides?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't think that he's equating anything particular in the use of that phrase, no. Yes?
Question: Just on Zimbabwe, I was wondering if you could say anything more. Is there a planned call between the Secretary‑General and President Mnangagwa?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, there's no call to say. He conveyed his sentiments in that statement, and that statement will be shared. Yes, Stefano?
Question: Thank you. The min… Italy's Minister [for the] Interior today was in Libya and meeting the… the Libyan Government. He proposed… he call it hot spot of practically camps that will block migrants coming from the south of Libya. And he did say like it should be on the border of the south of Libya. I don't know exactly if he was talking about within Libya or outside Libya. The Libyan Government say that they will never accept this inside the Libya Government. So, I… Libyan territory. I… my specific question is, what is the position of the United Nations and specifically Secretary‑General on the demand that Italy ask Libya to block migrants when they don't know if those migrants or some of those migrants are also refugees? Because we know that when they… they go in the hands of the traffickers and they get tortured and so on, they become further UN refugees. So, I would like to know the position to this proposal; and then also — sorry for another — in those days, Italy's blocking port… its ports in Sicily to [non-governmental organization] ships that… [non-governmental organization] boats that they have migrants or refugee that they've just been saved. Again, what is the specific position of the Secretary‑General on this?
Deputy Spokesman: We don't have a specific comment on issues having to do with agreements between Italy and Libya. Our point of principle, as you know, is that all refugees deserve to have their claims heard. So, wherever they are and whoever is stopping them, they need to have… be apprised of their due… and accorded with their due process rights. And that goes for every country dealing with them. And regarding the question of non‑governmental organizations and their access to Italy, that's an issue for the Italian Government. But, again, what we're urging is for a solution where the countries throughout Europe will respect the inherent dignity and rights of all migrants and refugees. Masood?
Question: Yeah. Thank you, Farhan. On this situation in Yemen, where they say that there are at least an estimated 30,000 Yemeni who have fled their homes in event of the attack by the Saudis and UAE [United Arab Emirates] coalition, and that's more than 10,000 Yemenis… sorry, more than 10,000 Yemenis have died. Can the United Nations confirm that that is, in fact, the case and that… how many Yemenis have fled their home, especially in Hodei… in Hodeidah?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, in recent days, we have been receiving reports from our humanitarian partners that people are moving within and out of Hodeidah Governorate to other governorates, and the situation there remains volatile. What we're trying to do to help them is that we're pre-positioning food, fuel, health and other supplies across the governorate, including supplies from Aden and other humanitarian hubs. But, in terms of the numbers, at this stage, the situation is fluid. We wouldn't be able to provide confirmation of numbers until we have better access to the situation on the ground.
Question: Follow-up, please?
Correspondent: Specifically, I mean, it’s mentioned in news reports that, I mean, so many millions are refugees, 10,000 specifically killed during this operation by the Saudis and the UAE.
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we are aware of the heavy casualties, and we have… and, as you know, in our recent reports to the Security Council, we have provided numbers about the casualties in the Yemen conflict. Regarding the casualties of the latest phase, we wouldn't be able to confirm numbers, given the fluidity of the situation. Yes, Ali?
Question: Thank you. Talking about Yemen, just can you update us at… on where the… the special envoy is now and where is he at regarding the peace plan that he is… he's trying to forge? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: What I can say is that the Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, is continuing his diplomatic efforts to find a mediated solution on Hodeidah. He is going to travel to Aden on Wednesday, 27 June, for consultations with President [Abdrabbuh Mansur] Hadi. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I want to ask about Cameroon, a few other things and something about press access. On Cameroon, the BBC has… over the weekend has published a… a lengthy video compilation of what they say is authenticated social media images of the Cameroonian army burning villages, engaged in torture, shooting people. There's one in which one of the people burning a village is wearing a Blue Helmet, which I'd asked Stéphane about previously. But, given that… that a media as respected as the BBC calls these authenticated images of essentially mass killing and extra… extrajudicial executions by a Government that contributes UN peacekeepers, what is the response of, for example, François Fall, the envoy, or the Secretary‑General to this now documented… they call it images you're not supposed to see, descent toward civil war. What is the UN doing about this?
Deputy Spokesman: What we believe… obviously, we would need to see whether this video can be authenticated. But, regardless, we would urge the authorities in Cameroon to fully investigate. Obviously, when it comes to peacekeeping, we vet components, including the individuals who participate in meetings and in peacekeeping operations, and we would vet them in accordance with all the information we receive, including information such as this. Yes, Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you, Farhan, again. Last Tuesday, Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov gave a statement to the Security Council. Are you aware that this statement has been protested by many Palestinians? There was an iss… a statement issued by Hamas that Mr. Mladenov was… had been meeting with Ambassador [Riyad] Mansour in Ramallah about it, and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] Executive Committee will discuss this what is considered extremely biased report. Are you aware of this reaction to the report?
Deputy Spokesman: We're aware of the reaction. As you know, different envoys get criticism from different sides depending upon the things they say, but we continue to stand by Mr. Mladenov and the objectivity of what he says.
Question: My question, was this report cleared by the Political Affairs Department and the Office of the Secretary‑General, or it was on his own? I mean, who approved this very strange report?
Deputy Spokesman: I don't comment on the approval processes of reports. Yes, please, Luke.
Question: Yeah. The readout on Saudi Arabia allowing women to drive failed to mention this arrest of about a half dozen prominent female activists in the country last month. They were basically the people who, several years ago, were pushing for this policy change, as well as an end to the guardianship policy. What do you have to say on those arrests? And why not fold any mention of that into this statement today?
Deputy Spokesman: The statement yesterday, you mean. The statement yesterday says what it says. But, at the same time, our concerns across the board on a number of other issues, including human rights issues, continue to apply, and we'll continue to follow up on those.
Question: Has the SG reached out to the Saudis regarding these arrests last month?
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, this is something… the sort of thing the various human rights mechanisms of the United Nations continue to follow up on.
Question: So, that's a no?
Deputy Spokesman: No, that's not a no. I'm just…
Question: Well, presumably this would be important human rights issue to highlight…?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not commenting on what the Secretary‑General's discussions are on this one way or the other. What I'm saying is that we also have human rights mechanisms that continue to follow up on this. Yeah?
Question: Sure. On the peacekeeping vetting, I did want to ask you about the Sri Lankan peacekeepers. There's a big controversy there about it, but I want to be sure to ask you the press access question, because you just never know when these things end, the briefings, I mean. So, on Friday there was the Eid event in which António Guterres gave a speech, and I… I want… I guess I want to put this in a general way because I don't understand it. During the event, as the event went on, I was required to leave by a Lieutenant Dobbins and the emergency response unit. And it seemed strange, because there were many other non‑resident correspondents at the event. So, I wanted to know… to know, one, what are the rules? Number two, is it acceptable for a… a… UN Security to… to single out and target a specific journalist? And I did… and I ask this because I've previously written a story about promotions in DSS [Department of Safety and Security], including Mr. Dobbins, and whatever that is, what are the provisions in the UN to make sure that security cannot abuse its powers? So those are… I… I… I'd like you to answer that, and also they didn't give their names. The other individuals refused to give their names. Is that UN policy?
Deputy Spokesman: UN Security has their policies. Your concerns with them need to be addressed to UN Security. I'm not going to comment on your own problems with UN Security. Brenden, come on up.
Correspondent: I don't understand. This happened at a speech given… this happened at a speech by the Secretary‑General.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I'm sorry, your security issues are things you're going to have to deal with.
Question: It's not a security issue. It was done in the name of the Secretary‑General. Is he speaking tomorrow at 6 p.m. somewhere? Can you say where the Secretary‑General is speaking tomorrow at 6 p.m.?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m not going to argue with you on this. Brenden.