The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Good afternoon, thank you for coming.
The Secretary‑General will speak to the Security Council this afternoon about the security challenges in the Mediterranean Sea. He expects to tell the Council that the Mediterranean region faces serious challenges on multiple fronts, including illicit trade in narcotics, weapons and petroleum products; large movements of refugees and migrants; maritime piracy; and human rights violations. So far this year, at least 2,800 refugees and migrants have perished in the Mediterranean, while countless others died on their way across the desert. The Secretary‑General will argue that we need a more effective cooperation in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers, while protecting their victims and opening up meaningful opportunities for regular migration. And right now, as you know Security Council members are holding consultations concerning the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for Syria.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that approximately 620,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since 25 August. The refugees are mostly living in makeshift settlements without adequate infrastructure or services. As of today, the Rohingya Refugee Crisis Response Plan has received nearly $140 million, or just under one third of what is actually needed. Donors have pledged a total of $360 million for the response, and we urge them to disburse these funds as quickly as possible. For its part, the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that, over the past 10 days, it has received reports of some 30 improvised rafts, carrying more than 1,000 people, arriving in Bangladesh from Myanmar.
As of today, more than 100 Rohingya refugees are known to have drowned in shipwrecks and boat incidents since the start of the crisis, with recent arrivals telling UNHCR that they had been waiting for more than a month in desperate conditions on Myanmar’ shores. Also, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, wrapped up a visit to Bangladesh. She said her observations point to a pattern of widespread atrocities, including gang rape and sexual slavery. Ms. Patten said her office has agreement to develop a framework of cooperation with the Government to strengthen sexual- and gender‑based violence services and programmes.
Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as the blockade by the Saudi‑Led Coalition on Yemen’s Sana’a airport and the country’s main ports in Hodeidah and Saleef is now in its twelfth day, millions of Yemenis continue to require urgent humanitarian assistance to stave off starvation and disease. The warring parties are obligated under international humanitarian law to allow and facilitate safe, rapid, unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief to all people in need, through all sea ports and airports and throughout the country. To prevent a health catastrophe, medical supplies need to be imported to contain a new outbreak of diphtheria, which is putting at risk approximately 1 million children. In addition, fuel is necessary to provide water, but reports say the lack of fuel imports has resulted in three cities shutting down their clean water and sewage systems. In ten days, there will be no petrol supplies left in the northern parts of Yemen.
Turning to Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that preliminary findings of a humanitarian assessment mission to Tal Usquf in Iraq’s Ninewa Governorate have recorded 250 houses as either partially or fully damaged following the military realignment in northern Iraq in the middle of last month. The primary needs in the area were found to include school rehabilitation, medical equipment, and winterization, such as the supply of heating fuel. Humanitarian workers continue to struggle with effective access to Tal Usquf, due to the closure of key checkpoints in the area. Meanwhile, some 4,800 people, who had left in the context of the military realignment, have since returned to the area. Regarding earthquake recovery near the Iran‑Iraq border, the delivery of humanitarian services and assistance continues, as do assessments in the affected areas. The Darbandikhan water treatment plant has been found to be operational at only 20 per cent capacity following the quake. Distribution of water purification tablets and water purifiers is planned to ensure people are not exposed to waterborne diseases.
Today, the Climate Change Conference in Bonn is coming to an end. Our colleagues there tell us that this evening countries are expected to adopt a series of decisions that will advance the process of implementing the Paris Agreement. Some of the announcements made today include a Global Alliance by more than 20 countries to phase out coal, the launch of an initiative to promote clean biofuels; the expansion of a G7 initiative to increase insurance coverage for climate‑related disasters; a $59 million commitment by Germany to help developing countries in their adaptation efforts; and a pledge by the EU to make up any shortfall in funding for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Going forward, countries will discuss progress made through the newly established “Talanoa Dialogue”, a mechanism to facilitate dialogue among the Parties. More information on the UNFCCC’s [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] website.
Our colleagues at the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) said yesterday in a statement that they are concerned about the increase in the number of security incidents in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon. The UN, they say, condemns the use of any form of violence by any party and reiterates its call for calm and restraint. The UN has continuously stated that the best way to address the situation in the two regions is through a genuine and inclusive dialogue. The Secretary‑General reiterates the availability of his Special Representative, François Louncény Fall, to assist national efforts in the search for a lasting peaceful solution to the crisis.
Turning to Colombia, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there tells us they have noted an increase in murders and threats against human rights defenders and community leaders in the Pacific Coast region. In most cases, the victims are from indigenous and Afro‑Colombian communities.
Staying in the Southern Hemisphere, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, today wrapped up a visit to El Salvador, the first ever by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He said that, 25 years after the end of the civil war, El Salvador has proven itself to be a functioning democracy that honours freedom of expression and the political discourse there is vibrant. Moreover, by presiding over the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner said the country has demonstrated its willingness to take a leadership role internationally, along with the responsibilities of being on the Council, which is much appreciated. The High Commissioner thoroughly condemned the violence perpetrated by gangs and organized crime there. He took note of the Government’s plan to curb and prevent violence, stressing that it needs to be implemented in a comprehensive way, in accordance with international human rights standards.
The High Commissioner has also released a statement expressing his grave concern over the conduct of credible, free and fair elections in Cambodia next year following the Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve the main opposition party.
Our friends at the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] and the World Health Organization (WHO) today released a survey which reveals that countries have stepped up their efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance on farms and in food systems. The survey found that more than 6.5 billion people — or more than 90 per cent of the world’s population ‑ now live in a country that already has, or is developing a national action plan to tackle the issue. Nearly all of these plans cover both human and animal health in line with the recommended “one health”, multi‑sectoral approach.
**Sustainable Development Goals
A couple of things to flag for you over the weekend and Monday: Over the weekend, in Doha, Qatar, there will be a High‑level Conference to jump‑start 2018 discussions on financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hosted by Qatar, with the support from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the event will address current challenges in advancing [financing for] the SDGs and implementing the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The results of the Conference will be presented during next year’s high‑level political forum [on sustainable development], which will take place here at UN Headquarters. More information on Department’s website.
On Monday, our colleagues at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] will host an event here at Headquarters to mark World Children’s Day. The Secretary‑General will be in attendance along with high‑profile supporters, special guests, and 150 children representing some of the world’s most vulnerable children to speak out to the international community on issues that matter to them. Some of the participants include: singers, songwriters and musicians Chloe and Halle, who will debut a specially penned track to mark the day; Isabela Moner from Transformers: The Last Knight and Nickelodeon; Logan actress Dafne Keen; Jaden Michael, the star of Wonderstruck; and Zari, the star of the local Afghan version of Sesame Street. There will be a blue carpet photo call from 9 a.m. in the East Foyer which you are all welcome to attend.
I also want to flag that Sunday is World Toilet Day. This year’s theme is wastewater, and it seeks to inspire action to tackle the global sanitation crisis. Today, more than 4.5 billion people live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste. As in previous years, there will be a giant inflatable toilet in front of the UN Secretariat on Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The toilet is installed by UN Water with the support of the Mission of Singapore.
Press conferences: at 9.45 a.m, Monday, you are expected to hear from Danny Danon, the Permanent Representative of Israel. He will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout. At 11 a.m. there will be a press briefing right here in this room on the CARICOM [Caribbean Community]‑UN High‑level pledging conference: Building a more Climate‑resilient community. This is in the aftermath of the terrible hurricanes that struck the Caribbean region. After I’m done, you will hear from my competitor, Brenden Varma.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I was going to start with… with rosewood, but I have to actually ask you about this… this this François [Louncény] Fall statement. And the reason I’m… I’m asking is that, as you may know and… and… and five experts of Geneva‑based special rapporteurs, including on freedom of expression, defence of human right defenders and others, issued a statement. I don’t know… I guess I want to ask you about it. The statement says… is largely focused on abuses by the Government of Anglophones, censorship, turning off social media. They have a… a… a death figure. They talk about torture. And so I’m wondering. How is it… how is… I know that they’re not part of the UN system. They do give briefings in this room. They are appointed by the Human Rights Council. What’s the relationship between human rights experts saying the Government is killing Anglophones and François Fall saying territory is important and gendarmes have been killed? It seems like they’re two opposing statements.
Spokesman: A, I don’t think they’re in contradiction of each other, and everybody has a different role within the wide and varied UN system. The special rapporteurs, as you do note, are independent from the Secretariat and the Secretary‑General, appointed by the Human Rights Council. They are an extremely important part of the UN’s human rights mechanism and, as a matter of principle, countries should cooperate with these human rights experts. I’m not privy to their research or how they get their information. As I said, they’re independent. We have over the past months, expressed our concern at the violence. We’ve expressed our concern at the lack of Internet access. The basic message that Mr. Fall and that the Secretary‑General have reiterated is the fact that the situation in these two regions will best be addressed by an inclusive and genuine political dialogue.
Question: Just… thanks. I want to ask one follow-up. And I asked you before, but I think you’ll see the need to… to actually… to answer it now. Mr. François Fall, in an interview played on UN Radio, said that secessionists are extremists and that federalism, which used to be the status of this area, is off the table. Number one, that’s why people don’t see him as a credible mediator, but more importantly, the equation of nonviolent secessionists with extremists is exactly the logic that the Government uses to kill people from… from helicopter gunships, so that’s why I’m asking you. It seems like some of the problems that the human rights experts are criticizing are, in fact… I don’t want to say caused by Mr. Fall’s statement, but in some way resonant with the logic of… of saying that anyone that says we should be independent is an extremist and should be shot at from a helicopter.
Spokesman: I don’t agree with your logic, and I don’t think in any way, shape, or form Mr. Fall should be blamed for what is going on in the country. Yes, sir?
Question: On the JIM Mechanism… is… is the Secretary‑General disappointed by yesterday’s vote and what’s the expectations from today’s consultations?
Spokesman: Well, our understanding is that there are consultations going on. We’ve seen the press reports, as you have, of some sort of a draft resolution calling for a technical rollover. It’s obviously up for the Security Council to decide on the fate of the JIM, which operates under its mandate. I think the Secretary‑General has been very clear from the beginning about the importance of the work of the JIM, especially in assigning… excuse me, let me take that again. The importance of the work of the JIM, especially in terms of accountability and setting accountability for the horrendous use of chemical weapons that we have seen in Syria. But at this very moment, it’s in the hands of the Security Council. And the shelf life of the JIM, if unchanged, ends at midnight tonight, if I’m not mistaken. Stefano?
Question: Yes, about Libya. Yesterday, there was the Security Council meeting on Libya, and today, the Italian Foreign Minister, I know, is going to meet also the Secretary‑General. Just three days ago, the High Commissioner for Human Rights was saying he had… had a very strong critic on the policy of the European Union on… on the agreement that they reached with Libya to hold the migrants, because the situation of those camps, he said that it’s inhumane and the situation is getting worse instead of better. So there was just a press conference with the Italian Foreign Minister. I asked the question what is his… what is his reaction to this critic? And he said that… that Italy is doing anything possible. He’s also helping the UN agency, and then he said… in Italian, he said… “più buona azione e meno lezione.” Rough translation is, “more good action and less lecture”. Now, what is the reaction to something like this? I mean, it looks like Italy…
Spokesman: Listen, I… my knowledge of Italian is good, but I will not delve into the subtleties of commenting on something I haven’t heard. I think the UN system has expressed its concern at the fate of the people who are stuck in Libya, migrants and refugees. We have seen horrendous reports come out. There’s been talk of slavery and of just horrendous conditions, and these things need to be addressed.
Question: Just a quick follow‑up on that specific question. What do you think about what, for example, Filippo Grandi had to say we are here, but there are not the security conditions yet to be able to run those… those camps? What does the General Secretary think? Are the conditions of security…
Spokesman: We’re not going to second‑guess the High Commissioner for [Refugees] in terms of when he says what the conditions are needed in order for him to deploy more people on the ground. That’s his call, and it’s up to him to decide. The Secretary‑General is not going to second-guess him. Our efforts, through Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé, is on creating a political solution… working with the Libyan parties to move forward on a political solution to create the conditions that will restore peace and stability to the country. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Actually, just one… first, a follow‑up on the JIM thing. I don’t know if you’ll answer it or not, but I did notice that between the two resolutions yesterday, you were… you went into the Council, which is obviously your right, well within your rights. I just wanted… I guess I’m interested. Was it within the capacity of knowing whether it would pass so the Secretary‑General could… could report on it? Just in what capacity…?
Spokesman: No, I… the Secretary‑General doesn’t rely on his spokesman to find out what’s going on in the Security Council.
Correspondent: That’s why I’m asking. That’s why it was interesting.
Spokesman: I go in because I have the privilege to be able to go into the room and once in a while, I like to go into the room and soak up the atmosphere and see what’s going on.
Question: Okay. Fair enough, fair enough. Yesterday, I had asked you about… about some questions about this rosewood situation, and I want to say that yesterday, there were 46,000 people petitioning for the Secretary‑General. Now, there’s 62,000. But you had said to me, go and read Le Monde, so I did read Le Monde, and… and there’s no mention of Cameroon in it, but, in fact, in the report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, there is… and in other reports, there are talk that some of these logs don’t over come from Nigeria, which would make them outright illegal, signing any certificate for their export. So, I wanted to… this is the kind of thing I would like to ask Amina Mohammed if she did a press conference, just what did she know about… I’m sure there’s answers. I’m sure there’s many things that could be said.
Spokesman: Next time she’s in front of the press, she will be… she has engaged with journalists who have written stories on this and has not been hiding from anything. Quite to the contrary. We have said what we’ve had to say. I think any further questions on how this issue is dealt with should go to the Nigerian Government.
Correspondent: But just so you know, the petitioners are not writing to the Nigerian Government. They’re saying that there’s inconsistencies…
Spokesman: I’ve answered the question about the petitioners.
Question: This is kind of a related question that you may or may not like, but there’s a lot of interest by… by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations in a… in a… in a move by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to end what’s called an embargo on logging, or an embargo on new, you know, industrial logging concessions. And so people… I could imagine a UN body or the Secretariat itself, since it relates to climate change, might have a position on this. Sorry to ask you, but given the 62,000 signatures, would Amina Mohammed, otherwise, you know, responsible for sustainable development on many issues, would she be recused from deciding the Secretariat’s position on logging matters until this logging matter is cleaned up?
Spokesman: You’re jumping over conclusions that, I think, that have… over facts that have been an Olympic record.
Correspondent: Read the petition.
Spokesman: I’m not talking about the petition. I’m talking about your… the logic within your question. I think Amina Mohammed has, in her past capacity, in her current capacity, has been a very strong advocate against illegal logging and has shown that through her actions. Thank you.