The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
First of all, I have some good news: on Tuesday, at 11:45 a.m., the Secretary-General of the United Nations — the ninth Secretary-General — António Guterres, will be here for a press conference. So, he’ll be here at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday, and that will be pegged to World Refugee Day.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
In other news, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, met today with President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa, as part of a five-day trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Throughout his visit, Mr. Lacroix reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to support the full implementation of the 31 December Agreement and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (MONUSCO) efforts to help create a peaceful environment conducive to the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections by the end of the year.
Mr. Lacroix conveyed the UN’s deep concern over the continuing violence and grave human rights abuses in the Kasais. He underscored the importance of ensuring accountability for crimes committed by all sides and pledged the UN’s full support in ensuring that those responsible for the killing of Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán are brought to justice. On Wednesday, he travelled to Kananga, the capital of Kasaï Province, to express the UN’s solidarity with the people of the region and discuss ongoing efforts to strengthen the UN Mission’s presence there. In Goma, Mr. Lacroix exchanged views with the Governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, on how the UN Mission can best help address security challenges and inter-communal tensions in the province. And a fuller note to correspondents is being issued.
The Office of the Special Envoy for Syria — Staffan de Mistura’s office — has completed two days of joint technical meetings at the United Nations in Geneva with opposition experts from the High Negotiations Committee, the Cairo platform and the Moscow platform. These meetings took place in the context of the consultative process on constitutional and legal issues established by the Special Envoy during the sixth round of the intra-Syrian talks. The opposition experts worked to develop joint technical [options] regarding the schedule and process for drafting a new constitution and its popular approval, and the principles involved, in the context of a negotiated political transition process within the framework of relevant Security Council resolutions.
Participants looked forward to continuing technical discussions in advance of a future round of the formal intra-Syrian talks. To this end, they agreed to consult their political leadership and to meet again at the invitation of the Office of the Special Envoy in early July.
And back here, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, briefed the Security Council, and he said that there had been tangible progress over the past months in the implementation of the peace agreement, including with the holding of the conference for national harmony and the installation of interim authorities in five regions. However, Mr. Annadif warned that these positive developments could be annihilated by tensions between the Coordination des mouvements de l’Azawad and the Plateforme, which have turned into inter-community conflict. He called on the leaders of these two movements to put an end to the killings of innocent people.
Mr. Annadif further noted that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) would strengthen its support to the implementation of the agreement, increase its good-offices role, continue to support the international mediation and strengthen its partnership with the Malian armed forces to enhance their capacity and their redeployment across the [country].
The members of the International Support Group for Lebanon welcome the agreement of a new electoral framework. The [International Support Group] sees that this is a further step towards the reactivation of Lebanon’s institutions of state and normalization of Lebanese political life. This will, in turn, be conducive to addressing pressing concerns of Lebanon’s citizens and to enhanced cooperation with the international community. In the spirit of continued political progress, members of the Support Group stress that the timely conduct of peaceful and transparent parliamentary elections, in accordance with the Constitution and reflecting the country’s democratic traditions, will be important to sustain progress achieved to date. The full statement is online.
And today, our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that at least 750,000 children could be cut off from safe drinking water after a surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine. UNICEF warns that nearly 3 million people rely on water infrastructure which is now in the line of fire. As we told you earlier, some 400,000 people — one quarter of them children — were not able to access water this week following the destruction of filtration stations by shelling. Urgent repairs were completed last night. And UNICEF says that children cut off from clean drinking water can quickly contract water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, stressing that all sides of the conflict must allow urgent repairs when water sources are destroyed and immediately stop the indiscriminate shelling of vital civilian infrastructure.
Yesterday, at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Headquarters in Paris, 144 countries and the European Union approved a set of guidelines to help countries ensure that artists and producers benefit fully and fairly from digital information technologies at the stages of creation, production and distribution. The guidelines address the issues of fair pay for artists, as well as the need to ensure an inclusive offer of content to the public that will not discriminate against cultural goods on the basis of provenance, language or social factors. They also reaffirm the need to respect human rights in the digital environment, notably freedom of expression, artistic freedom and gender equality.
And today is the International Day of Family Remittances. The Day recognizes the significant financial contributions that migrant workers make to the well-being of their families back home and to the sustainable development of their countries of origin. I think we had a briefing on this issue earlier this week.
And a couple of things to flag: at 3 p.m. today, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, Louise Arbour, will address the 2017 Global Forum on Remittances, Investment and Development, which is taking place here at UN Headquarters. She will be speaking about the need to showcase positive examples of migrants’ contributions to society at a time when xenophobia and intolerance are rising in many parts of the world.
And our colleagues from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have asked us to flag that on Monday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a high-level roundtable on the tenth anniversary of the Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Standards and the experience in Côte d’Ivoire. The speakers will include Izumi Nakamitsu, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, as well as other senior officials, and that will be in Conference Room 3, 9:30 a.m., and you are all invited.
And on Monday, I will be joined here by Ninette Kelley, the Director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ New York office. She will brief you on their annual Global Trends report, which is scheduled to be released on Monday. And lastly, I will be joined, when we’re done here, by John Ging, the Director of [the Operational Division at the UN Office for the] Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and he will brief you on his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the Central African Republic. I’m done. Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the situation in Doha, Qatar, and the Middle East vis‑à‑vis Saudi sanctions… Saudi and these four countries’ sanctions against Qatar, there are human rights groups and I think the United Nations itself has said the blockade of Qatar is worse than the Berlin Wall. And can… can you tell us, does the Secretary‑General concur with this? And would he…?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the statement, first of all, made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier this week, which I think lays out the human rights implications and potential damage done by the current situation. For his part, the Secretary‑General has not only been following this closely, he’s been on the phone with various representatives. He was notably speaking to the Deputy Prime Minister of Kuwait. He is very supportive of Kuwait’s diplomatic efforts and very much hopes to see a region once again reunited to face the challenges that they all must face together.
Question: Has he had any talks with the Saudis or any other…?
Spokesman: I will leave it at that for the time being. Nizar, then Rosalind, then Matthew.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. There were some reports talking about return of Syrian refugees from Arsal region in eastern Lebanon to Syria. Is that coordinated with United Nations in any way?
Spokesman: I will check with our colleagues at UNHCR. I have not seen those reports. Rosiland?
Question: I wanted to go back to the situation within the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. The spill‑on effect appears to be that because both Eritrea and Djibouti decided to side with the Saudis and other members of the GCC by downgrading diplomatic relations, the Qataris notified Djibouti officially that they would be withdrawing their peacekeepers, an operation that they had been running since 2010. Now it seems that the Eritreans are trying to claim both Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island, which are disputed territories, and the Security Council is now looking at this matter. Is this raising the urgency for resolving the diplomatic row within the GCC given that, the last time that Eritrea and Djibouti didn’t have anyone acting as a mediator, there was a clash and a dozen Djiboutian troops were killed?
Spokesman: I think, clearly, as you said, this is an example of the spill‑over effect, which, I think, no one needs at this point, to speak bluntly. The region, the Gulf region, has a lot of issues it has to face — security issues, issues relating to Syria, to Iraq, to other place in the region — all of those should be faced with a common diplomatic front from the region. The Secretary‑General hopes that this unity can be refound. We have… on the specific issue, we have received written communications from both Djibouti and Eritrea on this specific issue, and we’re taking a look at it. And, as you mentioned, my understanding is that the Council may take this up at some point. Matthew and then Edie.
Question: Wait, I just have a quick follow‑up, Steph. Is it alarming that, given that the Security Council worked out this arrangement and that Qatar agreed to carry out this work that, because of what would appear to be unrelated political and diplomatic problems, it just unilaterally decided to withdraw its peacekeepers?
Spokesman: All of these things are concerning. All the spill-over effects are concerning to us. Matthew and then Edie.
Question: Two questions about the Security Council — Mali and also Haiti. On Mali, there’s been this kind of roundabout on this held G5 draft where the French ambassador says repeatedly, it will be up to the Secretary‑General, if and when it’s passed, to recommend whether they’ll… assessed contributions should be used for the… for the force. Since this seems to be a holdup in it… and I’m wondering, has the Secretary‑General had any communications with either the five G5 countries or France about recommending funding for the force? And what’s his position on it?
Spokesman: We’re very much aware this is… the resolution itself is being debated in the Security Council. We’re not going to get in the middle of it. We will, as always, follow the mandate that is given to us once the Security Council resolution has been passed. The Secretary‑General has always supported a coordinated approach to this issue by the G5 countries. He’s said so in the past. The details of the resolution are being hammered out by the Member States. As I said, we’re not going to get in the middle of the details of the resolutions. Once it’s passed, we’ll, obviously, follow the mandate.
Question: Right. But I mean, the… the… what the Secretary‑General will… recommends is actually one of the issues in the negotiations. So, I’m just wondering, is he part of the negotiation?
Spokesman: The negotiations are being done within the Security Council.
Question: Okay. And the other… just, on Haiti, I wanted to ask you this, and it sort of follows up on what you said yesterday. But, I went back and looked at what Amina Mohammed had said, and it said… you know, she seemed to be saying, very clearly, that that there are no funds for Track 2, and we propose to take a community approach. And I’m sure you’ve seen a number of advocates — Mario Joseph, other well‑known, long-time Haiti cholera activists — have said this is an outrage, that basically what the Secretary‑General announced, Ban Ki‑moon at the end of his tenure, is being totally rejected, and any… any consultation with the affected communities will take place after this speech by Amina Mohammed.
Spokesman: I don’t think it’s being rejected. I think I was asked this question yesterday. We, obviously, are eagerly awaiting funds. But, I think… I don’t think there’s been a change. The challenge for us is the lack of funding.
Question: But the… the sentence “we propose to take a community approach”, that seems pretty definitive. That seems like we’re… this is the approach that we’re taking. Before there were two. Now there’s one.
Spokesman: This is the approach that is being taken now. I think it’s one step at a time, as we had said in the beginning.
Question: And do you expect… there’s an upcoming visit by the… by the Security Council to Haiti. Do you expect… I mean, how is the Secretary‑General going to hear from the affected communities, what they believe should happen?
Spokesman: Well, I think, first of all, through our staff on the ground. And, as we’ve said, we would be appointing an envoy soon. Edie Lederer?
Question: One… one follow‑up on Djibouti and Eritrea and then another question. A follow‑up on that is: you said that the UN has received letters from both sides. There are some reports in the region that Djibouti has filed a complaint with the United Nations. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: No, but I can look into it.
Question: And, secondly, there… Russia’s Foreign Ministry reported that the head of the Islamic State, Mr. Abu [Bakr] Baghdadi, had been killed in an airstrike. Does the United Nations have any information about this, any confirm…?
Spokesman: No, we have no independent confirmation from our end. And, as you know, we’re not involved first hand in any of the military and security operations. So, I don’t have any information besides what we’ve read in the media. Nizar?
Correspondent: [Off mic] my question to someone else.
Spokesman: Well, there may not be time later. Did you have… yes, sorry. I have not been looking that way. And then Carmen.
Question: It’s all right. Yesterday, it was reported that the Palestinian Authority is asking the… is asking UNESCO’s World Her… Heritage Committee to register the Old City of Hebron, including the Cave of the Patriarchs, as a holy site exclusive to the Palestinians. Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on…?
Spokesman: It’s an issue that will be dealt with by UNESCO. It’s their… and the Member States and their process. It’s their mandate. I think, as a general principle, I think the Secretary‑General is very keen to see issues having to do with… critical issues being dealt with in direct negotiations between the parties. Carmen?
Question: So, does he… I’m sorry. So, does the Secretary‑General… is his position to… that there should be direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis to determine which sites are exclusive to…
Spokesman: I think I will… I know I will leave it at what I’ve just said. Thank you. Carmen?
Question: Thank you. The [Donald] Trump Administration has stated that it will keep the relations between Cuba and the United States as President [Barack] Obama set forth, but at the same time, it’s calling on free and fair elections in Cuba and the release of political prisoners, if these relations are to advance. Any comments in this regard? How does the Secretary‑General view the call for free and fair elections in Cuba?
Spokesman: I think on the announcements that we expect by the Trump Administration on Cuba, my understanding is they have not yet taken place. My daily advice by the… from the Secretary‑General is only to comment on things that have actually happened and not things that will happen. So, we will wait to see what is actually announced, and then we’ll comment on that. You wish to speak now, Nizar?
Question: There were reports that a vessel carrying medicine to Yemen was hit by a rocket recently. Does the United Nations have any information about this vessel, whether it was really carrying medicine or it was a military vessel?
Spokesman: I don’t have any information. Masood?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Do you have any update, any updates on the plight of the children in Israeli jail? I mean, I’ve asked that question earlier, but you’ve had no updates or any additional information than that they are incarcerated…
Spokesman: No, I have no… nothing additional to say than what I’ve said to you before on this issue.
Question: Are there any efforts to get them released?
Spokesman: I would refer you back to what I’ve said in the past. And, of course, the concern as a general rule, the concern for us on… especially on minors or people being held without… on administrative detention, is always one that we’re looking into. But, for specifics, you could reach out to the High Commissioner for Human Rights or our office on the ground. Matthew?
Question: Sure. Yesterday, I’d asked you about the… the… the proposed work stoppage by the staff in Geneva. And the… the… the… the message that went from Michael Møller saying it might violate the rules. It did go forward for two hours. There’s video of it, which I edited out here in the hall. And I wanted to know, given now that it’s happened; it’s not a hypothetical one, was the advice by… by the UNHQ [United Nations Headquarters] that such a work stoppage would violate rules? Did it… did it violate the rules? They still serviced one of the meetings.
Spokesman: The guidance we have from our colleagues in Geneva is that they fully acknowledge the right of staff to freedom of association, which is a basic right. Staff were allowed to meet on the UN… on the premises in Geneva in a non‑disruptive manner. I think our colleagues in Geneva have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the issues having to do with the International Civil Service Commission on post adjustments in Geneva. My understanding is that negotiations are still going on on the implementation of these issues, but we’re all international civil servants, and we need to respect the rules.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask… You may have… Somalia… it’s reported that Somalia has asked the head of the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] in the country, Richard Trenchard, to leave saying… the quote is “gross unprofessionalism”. And I’m just wondering…
Spokesman: Sorry, that were… who?
Question: FAO. Somalia is PNG-ing [persona non grata] the head of the FAO and has asked the UN to remove him. So, I wanted to know, is that the case…?
Spokesman: I don’t know. You should check with FAO.
Question: So, they haven’t asked the UN Secretariat…?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, that’s an issue that would go to FAO, so you should check with them…
Question: And is Mr. [Francois Lounçény] Fall… I see that Mr. Fall is going to meet with the Secretary‑General at 5 p.m. And I know I’d asked you a couple days ago, is there any way that he could make himself even briefly available for questions on Cameroon, Gabon, things that he covers?
Spokesman: We can try. Okay. Yes, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Mr. Dujarric, I… I… I must bring up this issue once again. In 2015, UNESCO did pass a resolution that did state that… that the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tombs and… going as far as the Western Walls thing, that they are exclusive… exclusively Islamic sites and not connected to… in any part, to… to… to Israel or Judaism. I mean, does this benefit… or does this help…?
Spokesman: It’s so nice. You can put that louder. Most phone rings I hate. That one you can put louder. Couple of things. First, on the UNESCO… the specific one you mentioned, the vote… the discussion has not… the decision has not yet been taken. So, referring back to what your colleague Carmen asked, I’m not going to comment specifically on something that has yet to happen. The Secretary‑General believes that key issues between Israel and Palestinians need to be dealt with in direct negotiations. He has also come out very strongly when the UNESCO resolution passed in Paris, reaffirming his belief, reaffirming as a fact that Jerusalem is a holy site to three monotheistic religions. And I think he was, frankly, criticized by some for the stance he took on that resolution. So, I would refer you back to what we said at the time. All right? I’ll go get… one more. Then I’ll go get our guest.
Question: I just wonder if the Secretary‑General has any reaction to the death of Helmut Kohl, who has just been confirmed?
Spokesman: We expect to have a more formal statement later, but I know that the Secretary‑General is very saddened to hear of Helmut Kohl’s passing. He was a personal friend of the Secretary‑General. I think it’s clear for all to see the… Mr. Kohl’s historic role in the reunification of Germany just a year or so after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the historic path he took Europe on by shepherding so well the reunification of Germany. But, as I said, we’ll have a fuller statement later. Thank you. [He later issued the following statement: The Secretary-General learned with great sadness of the passing of former Chancellor of Germany, Mr. Helmut Kohl. Mr. Kohl was modern Germany’s longest-serving chancellor. He played an instrumental role in the peaceful reunification of his country, within a year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and helped set a course for the historic process of Europe’s political and economic integration. Today’s Europe is a product of his vision and his tenacity, in the face of enormous obstacles. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to Mr. Kohl’s family and to the Government and people of Germany.]