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.
Good afternoon. I will start off with a statement on Syria. The Secretary‑General is gravely concerned by the resumption of the military offensive in south‑west Syria and its continued devastating impact on civilians. An estimated 750,000 lives are in danger and up to 325,000 people have already been displaced. The Secretary-General fully supports today’s statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. As the custodian of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the High Commissioner is the authoritative voice of the United Nations on refugees.
The Secretary-General once again appeals for an immediate suspension of the hostilities and the resumption of negotiations. He calls on all parties to take all necessary measures to safeguard civilian lives, allow freedom of movement, and protect civilian infrastructure, including medical and educational facilities, at all times, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The Secretary‑General further reiterates his call for the United Nations to be allowed to conduct cross‑border and cross‑line humanitarian deliveries without further delay for the benefit of people in need within Syria. That statement should now be online.
I have a trip announcement to share with you. The Secretary‑General will be arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, 9 July, where he will take part in the second African Union‑United Nations Annual Conference. That event will cover a wide range of topics, including peace and security and development, as well as peacekeeping missions in Africa. This meeting is part of efforts to strengthen the AU‑UN partnership. While in Addis Ababa, the Secretary‑General will also meet with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The Security Council is holding closed consultations this morning on Yemen. Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed Council members by videoconference from Amman [Jordan]. John Ging also briefed on humanitarian affairs.
Speaking to reporters yesterday upon his departure from Sana’a, Mr. Griffiths said that he was reassured by the messages he had received, which had been positive and constructive. All parties have not only underscored their strong desire for peace, he said, but have also engaged with him on concrete ideas for achieving peace. And he noted his fruitful discussion on Tuesday with Abdel Malek al‑Houthi. Mr. Griffiths said he hopes to see very soon President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi [Mansour] and that he looks forward to working with all the parties urgently to find a solution, first that will restore security and stability in Hodeidah, and also create positive conditions for a rapid and urgent restart of the political negotiations in the coming days.
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, arrived in Chad last night on a joint visit with the African Union and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Margot Wallström. Their visit will highlight women’s meaningful participation in peace, security and development, with an additional focus on climate security and the Sahel.
Today, she travelled to Bol, north of the capital, N’Djamena, where she met with communities adapting to climate change. She also met with religious, youth and women’s groups. In those meetings, she emphasized the important role women play in Chad to counter the challenges of Boko Haram and violent extremism. Ms. Mohammed met with one young woman who had been forced by Boko Haram to become a suicide bomber. The bomb exploded prematurely and she lost both her legs. The Deputy Secretary‑General said that the woman, who now works to sensitize other young women and girls against radicalism and extreme violence, had moved from “victim to survivor”.
The Deputy Secretary‑General also discussed climate change and poor land management, with local people saying they contribute to desertification in the Lake Chad Basin, which is home to 50 million people. The lake provides livelihoods to 2 million people, and the surrounding basin supplies food to nearly 13 million people.
And yesterday, Ms. Mohammed was in South Sudan. While there, she visited a clinic at the Juba Teaching Hospital, which had already received more than 1,300 women and children seeking treatment for injuries and trauma caused by sexual violence in its eight months of operation. Leading a “solidarity” mission by the UN and the African Union, Ms. Mohammed shared her deep concern about the suffering of sexual violence victims in the country with President Salva Kiir and Government ministers. She also stressed the need for a comprehensive peace accord to be signed and concrete steps taken to build confidence to enable investment in development.
And also in South Sudan, our humanitarian colleagues report that one UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] staff member was killed yesterday in South Sudan. The aid worker, an assistant driver, was killed when two trucks carrying education supplies were attacked by armed men, as they were traveling along the Juba‑Bor road in trucks that were clearly marked with the UNICEF insignia. This brings the number of aid workers killed in South Sudan to 9 this year and 107 since the conflict started in 2013.
Speaking to the Human Rights Council yesterday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said that thousands of Rohingya people continue to flee Myanmar’s Rakhine State. People also continue to die leaving Rakhine, he said.
All the newly arrived refugees who have been interviewed by the UN Human Rights Office have described continuing violence, persecution and human rights violations, including killings and the burning of Rohingya homes. The High Commissioner said that Myanmar must grasp that the international community will not forget the outrages committed against the Rohingya, nor will it absolve the politicians who seek to cover them up. To ensure a credible investigation, he stressed that the Government must grant immediate access to independent international human rights investigators and the current Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee.
Mark Lowcock, the United Nations Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, is completing today a three‑day mission to Haiti and Panama. This was Mr. Lowcock’s first visit to these countries, which he undertook to see the Government‑led and regional efforts to prepare for upcoming natural disasters at the start of the hurricane season. Tomorrow here in New York, Mr. Lowcock will brief Member States on hurricane preparedness efforts in the region.
I just want to flag two other things. A report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that low quality health care is increasing health costs globally. Inaccurate diagnosis, medication errors, inappropriate treatments and inadequate clinical facilities are some of the factors that are increasing the burden of illness in many countries and are costly in the long run.
The report estimates that the economic and social costs of poor quality care, including long‑term disability, impairment and lost productivity, amount to trillions of dollars each year. The full report is available online.
Our colleagues at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) today said that the Food Price Index declined last month for the first time this year due to rising tensions in international trade relations. The Index averaged 173.7 points in June, down 1.3 per cent from its level in May. The decline was driven mainly by lower price quotations for wheat, maize and vegetable oils, including those made from soybeans. FAO also said that global output of cereals this year was 2.5 billion metric tons, down 2.4 per cent from 2017’s record production levels. Ms. Lederer?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. As a follow‑up on Syria, has the Secretary‑General been in engaging in any diplomatic contacts in relation to the escalating violence in south‑west Syria?
Spokesman: Yes. Both he and his Special Envoy… Special Adviser, Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura, have been in contact with various parties at various levels. The Secretary‑General was briefed this morning by de Mistura on the latest situation on the ground. Raed?
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. This statement you just read, the Secretary‑General is calling for the United Nations to be allowed to conduct cross‑border… there is a resolution from the Security Council on this issue. Who… who's not allowing the UN to deliver the humanitarian…?
Spokesman: I think, first of all, the fact that fighting is ongoing is not conducive to the safety of humanitarian workers. A part of the need to be allowed is for a suspension at minimum of hostilities and, as always, in these cases, there are various impediments that are thrown up that doesn't allow us to get through to the people that need our help.
Question: Stéph, yesterday South Africa's International Relations Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, spoke to journalists and… and talked about the ICC [International Criminal Court] decision to withdraw… that… that it was something taken by…
Spokesman: This is South Africa…
Question: South Africa's decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court was a decision taken by the previous Administration, that a final decision on withdrawal had not been taken. They are still open… the debate is still open. It's still a matter before Cabinet. What do you make of these… these comments and it something that the SG had raised with Sisulu when he met her on 8 June on the site of the Security Council?
Spokesman: I'm not aware that that issue was raised. Obviously, participation in the ICC is… is a sovereign decision that Member States made. I'm not going to delve… dive into an internal South African political debate. Obviously, the ICC, which operates separately from the Secretary‑General, is a critical component of international justice and the need to find accountability for the most egregious crimes.
Spokesman: Well, we'll have to see. You know, I think we'll wait and see if we get any official confirmation. Yep?
Question: Thank you. I wonder if there is any comment or reaction on the effort late today by 53 nations at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva? This group of countries, they promoted a resolution criticizing Venezuela for the grave situation of human rights over there, and there was a debate in the Council, so I wonder if the Secretary‑General would consider supporting additionally these efforts?
Spokesman: We're obviously watching the debate. We'll see how it ends up. It's not for the Secretary‑General to support or not support one of these… this resolution. Obviously, we'll wait to see what comes out of the Human Rights Council.
Question: But also part of the report was calling the nation to allow the UN to be able to go there and open a channel of humanitarian assistance in Venezuela, so would the Secretary‑General consider calling again to Venezuela to allow this mechanism to do something?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General's position on Venezuela is un… has not changed and he has always called for the need for a credible and politically inclusive political dialogue. Yep?
Question: Two Iranian officials said yesterday that Iran would close Hormuz Strait in case they lost their abilities to export oil. Do you have anything…?
Spokesman: Look, we're not going to… you know, we try not to talk about hypotheticals, but obviously, it's important that the freedom of navigation, as a matter of principle, be respected. Mr. Varma.