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.
This morning, the Secretary‑General attended the seventieth session of the Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. He thanked the Board for their contributions to his Disarmament Agenda. And right now, he is at the East Lounge for the launch of the book HERstory, which celebrates women leaders at the UN. He will stress that changing attitudes on gender is one of the most important and difficult challenges, which is why it’s important to have books like HERstory that raise awareness of women’s contributions and help to correct the imbalance in our culture that has historically undervalued women’s contributions and women’s work.
**Children and Armed Conflict
As you heard earlier today from Virginia Gamba, the number of children affected by armed conflict and the severity of grave violations affecting them increased in the past year — that’s according to the annual report of the Secretary‑General on children and armed conflict, which she presented to you. Ms. Gamba said that shows how in too many conflict situations, parties to conflict have an utter disregard for any measures that could contribute to shielding the most vulnerable from the impact of war.
Over 21,000 grave violations of children’s rights have been verified by the United Nations from January to December 2017, an unacceptable increase from previous years (the number had been 15,500 in 2016). Over 10,000 children were killed or maimed in 2017 with numbers growing substantially in Iraq and Myanmar, while remaining unacceptably high in Afghanistan and Syria.
Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, briefed the Security Council this morning by videoconference. He said that he is gravely concerned at the turn of events in the country’s south‑west, with a full‑scale ground and aerial offensive taking place there. He warned that a situation similar to Aleppo or eastern Ghouta could happen once more, and he urged all parties to use existing channels to work on arrangements to prevent further human suffering. He said that we are now seeing signs of [progress] with intensified efforts for the establishment of a Syrian‑led, Syrian‑owned and UN‑facilitated constitutional committee.
Meanwhile, John Ging, the Director of Operations for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, detailed the humanitarian consequences of the fighting in Dara’a Governorate, saying that to date, an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people have been displaced due to fighting. He added that humanitarian access in Afrin District continues to improve, while needs in that district are considered to remain high, with most health facilities in rural areas closed.
Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, visited Aden today and met with President [Abdrabuh Mansour] Hadi [Mansour]. He is now back in Amman and intends to travel to Oman tomorrow.
While civilians are still moving around Hodeidah City, shops, bakeries and restaurants remain largely closed, due to limited availability of supplies in the market. According to humanitarian partners, basic commodities including wheat flour, vegetable oil and cooking gas have become scarce in markets. Where available, prices of wheat and vegetable oil have increased by about 30 per cent while prices of cooking gas increased by 52 per cent in the last week. Electricity is unavailable in most areas of Hodeidah City. Water shortages are also reported due to recent damage to the supply pipes. Sanitation problems are also reported in some sites for internally displaced people, which could trigger a cholera outbreak. Humanitarian partners are repairing water supply pipes and sewage systems in Hodeidah City to try to minimize the risk of cholera.
You will have seen that in a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary‑General said he is following with concern the rising toll of intercommunal clashes in central Mali, including the killing of 22 people in the village of Koumaga, in Mopti region, on 23 June. He calls for calm and restraint, and urges all parties to seek a peaceful resolution of differences and reconciliation through dialogue. The Secretary‑General is concerned about reports of human rights violations committed against the population by Government forces, including in the village of Nantaka on 13 June. He underlines the need to hold perpetrators of all crimes accountable and to bring them to justice. In that regard, he welcomes the investigations announced by the Malian authorities and the disciplinary measures taken. The full statement is online.
And yesterday, the UN Mission (MINUSMA) also expressed its grave concern about grave human rights violations in central Mali, and said that its investigation has concluded that soldiers of the Malian battalion of the G5 Sahel joint force summarily and/or arbitrarily executed 12 civilians in the Boulkessy cattle market on 19 May. The Mission has provided its investigative report to the Malian Government. More details on the web.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that close to 1 million people are believed to be displaced in two regions of Ethiopia since early June of this year, due to intercommunal violence. Authorities in Gedeo registered more than 793,000 displaced, while at least 185,000 are believed to be in West Guji zone, where registration is still limited due to insecurity. Food has been provided by the Government, and emergency shelter and non‑food items have been provided by both the Government and humanitarian partners. Last week, the Government of Ethiopia and humanitarian partners jointly launched a response plan requesting $117.7 million for the coming six months to deliver immediate life‑sustaining assistance and access to basic services to the displaced.
Today is Micro-, Small and Medium‑sized Enterprises Day, dedicated to companies which employ fewer than 250 persons. These enterprises are the backbone of most economies worldwide and play a key role in developing countries. However, they face many challenges such as limited access to finance, and today encourages countries to foster and facilitate their growth. Masood‑ji?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. My… Stéphane, my question is about this dispute between the United Arab Emirates and… and all the… and Qatar, which is now going to these… between the… to The Hague court. Does the Secretary‑General have any position on what is happening in Qatar? And why is Qatar being discriminated against, especially is suffering… its airline is suffering and so forth? Sorry.
Spokesman: You know, the…
Correspondent: I'm sorry.
Spokesman: No, don't be sorry. I can actually do one and a half things at the same time. [Laughter] The Secretary‑General, I think, has expressed his concern about the continuing tensions in the Gulf and has encouraged all the parties to reconcile through dialogue.
Question: And on… and on this situation which he has also spoken about, the killing of the Bangladeshi — what do you call — peacekeeper and so forth in…
Spokesman: Mali. No, sorry. No, go ahead. Sorry. South Sudan.
Correspondent: In South Sudan.
Spokesman: South Sudan. Sorry.
Question: And, on that issue, how many peacekeepers have been killed so far in… including Bangladeshis and…?
Spokesman: I don't have the total but… off the top of my head, but we have seen, over the last year and this year, very high and, obviously, a too high number of peacekeepers being killed. Every… obviously, every death is… of our colleagues who are in the field helping people trying to bring peace is a tragedy, but we've also seen an increase in targeting, deliberate targeting, of peacekeepers in various peacekeeping missions, notably in Mali and Central African Republic, and in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name just two. Yes, sir?
Question: Stéph, the Sudan appeals court has commuted the death sentence of the teen Noura Hussein, sentenced to death initially for killing her rapist husband. Any reaction?
Spokesman: We, obviously, welcome the decision. Appeals from various parts of the UN system had been made for clemency and to spare her life. So, we obviously welcome this decision. And I… before I take another question, I have a statement from the Secretary‑General on the Children and Armed Conflict Report:
The United Nations has verified more than 21,000 violations committed against children in 2017. The UN has reliable reports of more than 10,000 children killed or maimed in armed conflict last year. The Secretary‑General is outraged by this number, a significant increase compared to previous years and documented in his Annual Report that was published today. Children are also affected by other verified violations, including the recruitment, the use of children by armed forces and armed groups, sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals. Boys and girls have once again been overly impacted by protracted and new violent crisis. Despite some progress, the level of violations remains unacceptably high. The Secretary‑General reiterates that the best way to address this horrific situation is to promote peaceful solutions to conflicts. He calls on all parties to exercise maximum efforts in this regard. The Secretary‑General reminds parties to conflict of their responsibility to protect children, in line with international humanitarian and human rights law. He calls on all parties to conflict to engage with the United Nations and develop concrete measures to end and prevent grave violations against children and to provide support and relief to affected children.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about this upcoming counter‑terrorism high‑level conference. Couple of questions. One is, as I'm sure you've seen, the US announced loudly that they're… they're pulling back funding and the level of their representation. They say it's because of a decision by Mr. [Vladimir] Voronkov to limit the participation or perhaps ban the participation of NGOs [non‑governmental organizations], civil society, academics. So, I wanted to know, specifically, what is the Secretary‑General's position on the right of civil society to participate in conferences such as this one?
Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General, through his actions and his words, has always defended the space for civil society, the right for civil society. He's underscored the need for civil society to participate. And, in fact, I think, if you look at this conference, there'll be more than 60 civil society organizations present. The UN is, in fact, helping pay the way for a number of these organizations to ensure that there's broad representations. There will be over 84 representatives of civil society. The conference, as a whole, is an opportunity for Governments, for regional organizations, for civil society and law enforcement experts to have practical and operational discussion that we trust will lead to real impact on the ground where it matters and forge a new and innovative partnership to address evolving threats of civil socie… terrorism. Civil society organizations have a vital role to play in the efforts to combat terrorism, and they will be participating actively in the second day. So, I think any objective look at the way the conference is organized will tell you that there is actually very broad and active civil society participation. On the issue of the US participation, obviously, every Government, every Member State, is free to choose the level of representation. We're very thankful and appreciate the US participation in the conference and, also, I think, very importantly, the US encouragement and efforts and work that they did with the Secretariat in creating the Office of Counter‑Terrorism.
Question: So it sounds like you think that they're wrong in their analysis. But I wanted to ask you a… on the same… on the same conference, I understand that I think last week there was a background briefing by USG [Under‑Secretary‑General] Voronkov, and I wanted to know, since I wasn't informed that it took place and I believe that your office or someone, Soares Pinto, in your office was in charge of deciding…
Spokesman: I was in charge.
Question: Okay. So, how do you decide who is informed of this type of background briefing…?
Spokesman: It was to… for resident correspondents and, frankly, people that we can trust, because I think we've had issues of background… of issues on background briefings…
Question: Have you… which issues are those?
Spokesman: Live tweeting from background briefings.
Correspondent: No, that was the Jane's Defence…
Spokesman: Sorry. Go to Linda.
Question: Thank you, Stéph. As we know, I believe the Sec… the Security Council will be dealing with the implementation of resolution 2231 (2015) this afternoon. And U… of course, the US concerns have been… included the lack of a ban on the development of ballistic missiles and the sunset clause. I believe… I mean, is it true that the SG supports some changes to the Iran deal, you know, particularly the sunset clause and…?
Spokesman: You know, the United Nations, the Secretary‑General's office, was not a signatory participant in JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. There are a number of parties involved. Through a Security Council resolution, the Secretary‑General has a number of responsibilities in reporting, which he will fulfil. The Secretary‑General has stated a number of times that he believes that the JCPOA is an achievement in diplomacy and that it should be supported, and that opinion has not changed.
Spokesman: His opinion has not changed. We… you know, what changes are made to the agreement is up to the parties who created the agreement. Stefano?
Question: Yes. Again, on the migrants issue, tomorrow in Europe, there's going to be a… a… meetings of the Governments deciding a new approach and, therefore, what we know the new approach should be: keep the migrants in Africa, so agreements with the country where they will stop the migrants, that we don't know yet how also because they're a country that basically cannot do that. At least we saw that already, what happened in Libya. But my question specifically is also there is this new approach also on the ONG (NGO), the ships that they practically… they stopped to… they closed the ports and not only the Italian ports…
Spokesman: Qual, Stefano, la domanda?
Question: La domanda — parla in Italiano, no?
Spokesman: No, that's… [Laughter]
Question: La domanda, again, it's the same question. The Secretary‑General last year say that to do agreements, to reach agreements with country, they cannot hold migrants or refugees because they cannot respect their human rights. They are not… they are in a situation of chaos. They cannot do that, means no respecting international law. He say that in this room. So, is the Secretary‑General ready to… if this is the case, if the migrants is going to be stopped in country, they will not… the human rights are not going to be respected, is he ready to… to say that those country and Europe is doing agreement where international law is not respected?
Spokesman: What the Secretary‑General wants to see is international law respected. He wants to see migrants and refugees treated with respect and with dignity, and he wants refugees and people to be afforded the rights that they are owed. Each country has the sovereign right to protect its borders. It's a responsibility. We've never seen so many people on the move today than since the end of the Second World War. What we need are global solutions, and that's why the Secretary‑General, through his Special Representative, Louise Arbour, is so invested in the Global Migration Compact. These discussions have to involve three groups of countries: the countries of origin, the countries of transit, the countries of destination. There can only be a holistic solution, while always respecting the sovereign rights of… and sovereign right of Governments to manage their own borders. What we also need to remember is that the vast number of migrants and refugees that are being hosted in countries other than their own are being hosted in the developing world. They're being hosted in the poorest countries. Those are the countries that are making the greatest sacrifice. The Secretary‑General, as he said recently, has been and continues to be concerned about the shrinking space for refugee rights in a number of developed countries. Yes, sir?
Question: Thank you, Mr. Stéphane. Secretary‑General urging for free, fair and credible election in Bangladesh, but last Thursday, the mayoral election of Gazipur City near capital city, Dhaka, ended wide… aimed widespread illegalities and show of muscle by Awami League activists and ended by the police. And our fellow journalist faced harassed while they are covering the city‑wide election in Gazipur… so how you are observing this situation?
Spokesman: I was not in… I was not aware of this particular case. I will look into it and get back to you. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I have a question… couple questions about Morocco, UN Security, and the Secretary‑General's own live tweeting. But I did want to ask, just since you said what you said, this was a Jane's Defence event in the library that was under Chatham House rules. It wasn't under background. I do background… I do…
Spokesman: You know what? Matthew…
Correspondent: I do background… I do embargoed briefings under the IMF [International Monetary Fund] every two weeks and never had an issue…
Spokesman: Matthew. The decision is mine. So that's fine.
Question: Exactly. Yes. Exactly. So, my question is, as you may have seen, in Morocco, the Rif activists, including Nasser Zefzafi, have recently been sentenced, including Mr. Zefzafi for 20 years. I wanted to know, since, for many months, you had no comment on it, is anyone in the UN system aware of this issue within Morocco and these lengthy 20- to 30‑year sentences?
Spokesman: We're aware of it, and I think our human rights colleagues are aware of it.
Question: And the tweeting question has to do with… so, you're aware of it, but what? Do you think it's a good sentence?
Spokesman: What's your next question?
Question: Okay. My next question is, it's reported… again, I don't know if this is true or not since I didn't look as closely as I might have, but there are some saying that António Guterres deleted a tweet, that he had a tweet about Israel‑Palestine, which included a photograph of kites and that he then took it town and replaced it with a similar…
Spokesman: There was a photo that was not the right photo that was used, so we deleted it and changed the photo.
Question: Who runs his account? Who actually does the tweeting?
Spokesman: It's run out of his office. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yes, thank you, Stéphane. Stéphane, on this United Nations report on human rights violations in Indian‑occupied Kashmir and Pakistan, Pakistan has accepted the UN report and is willing to open its doors while Indian — what do you call — army chief Bipin Rawat has rejected it. Do you have anything to say about that?
Spokesman: No, I think we've said all that we've said about the report. I think the report… these reports are important tools for the UN's human rights architecture. Okay.
Question: Thanks so much. I'll keep this brief. I thought you'd have something on South Sudan, but I want to get… be sure to ask these two questions.
Spokesman: I expect to have something on South Sudan…
Question: Okay. These two questions are as follows: number one, I received a return message that Ms. Heidi Mendoza of OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] is on leave, and I just… I haven't… since… having… having raised some issues to OIOS, I wanted to know, is she on perm… is she on a long‑term leave? Is that just…?
Spokesman: I don't check most of my colleagues' leave.
Correspondent: I guess the reason I do this is because OIOS is the entity that would either be auditing… you don't know. Okay.
Spokesman: Okay, Matthew, I don't comment on emails between you and OIOS.
Question: And my question is this, that your… is Farhan [Haq], on Monday, when I informed him that on Friday I had been, during an event in which the Secretary‑General was giving a speech, made to leave by UN Security while other non‑resident correspondents, a distinction you just cited, were still in attendance, he said to talk to security. And that seems strange to me, because it seems to me that the Secretariat, like civilian…
Spokesman: I think if there are any issues that you have…
Correspondent: My issue…
Spokesman: If you have any issues with your access, you should take them up with DPI [Department of Public Information] and the people who actually issue the accreditation.
Correspondent: They came… they came and they said there was nothing they could do…
Spokesman: Thank you very much. Brenden.