The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Just as a reminder that the Secretary-General will be giving a press conference tomorrow; start time is about 11:40 a.m. in this room. The focus, the peg for the conference will be World Refugee Day. On that note, we have today Ninette Kelley, the Director of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) here in New York. She will brief you on UNHCR’s Global Trends report ahead as soon as you are done with me.
**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels
This afternoon, Amina Mohammed, will depart New York for Vienna, Austria, to participate in the R20 Austrian World Summit tomorrow. The Deputy Secretary-General will also join UNHCR colleagues to mark World Refugee Day. On Wednesday, the Deputy Secretary-General will leave Vienna for Cannes, in France. She will participate in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and discuss ways to build on the progress of Common Ground, an initiative by the world’s biggest advertising agencies to raise awareness and encourage action in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. She will be back in New York on 22 June.
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, is in Colombia today for a three-day visit and is expected to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos later today. You’ve seen that over the weekend, the UN system in Colombia condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attack that took place in Bogota. The UN team stressed that terrorism in all its forms is a threat to peace and security, and said they are determined to continue to support the Colombian people and Government on their path to sustainable peace in the country.
**United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today welcomed Achim Steiner as he begins a four-year term as Administrator of the UN Development Programme. Mr. Steiner said that he very much looks forward to working with all UNDP staff and Member States to continue the fight to end poverty, protect the planet and promote peace and justice around the world.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The theme this year is: “Preventing Sexual Violence Crimes through Justice and Deterrence.” In his message today, the Secretary-General said that rape and sexual violence in conflict are tactics of terrorism and war, used strategically to humiliate, degrade and destroy, and often to pursue a campaign of ethnic cleansing. They should never be downplayed as war’s inevitable by-product. Sexual violence is a threat to every individual’s right to a life of dignity, and to humanity’s collective peace and security. He added that the UN is making every effort to address the root causes of sexual violence.
From Iraq, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that there has been no major displacement of civilians so far as a result of the Iraq Security Forces’ operation to retake Mosul’s Old City from Da’esh. Preparations are under way. Between 100,000 and 150,000 people are still in the area and may flee for safety
From Syria, they tell us that we remain deeply concerned for the protection and safety of 100,000 people in areas of Deir ez-Zour city, besieged by Da’esh since July 2014. Civilians continue to be subjected to violence, humanitarian aid is limited and basic services, especially medical care, is lacking. On 16 June, due to heavy airstrikes, about 250 people reportedly fled Abu Kamal city in rural Deir ez-Zour to the countryside. On 17 June, over 500 mainly women, children and elderly reportedly fled from Raqqa to Al-Mayadin and Abu Kamal cities in rural Deir ez-Zour.
The UN continues to provide basic food, nutrition and medical supplies to people in need in Deir Ezzour through World Food Programme (WFP) airdrops. But, continued clashes between Government of Syria and Da’esh forces may jeopardize the delivery of humanitarian aid should landing sites become unsafe for aid.
Over the weekend, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, condemned the shooting and stabbing attack by Palestinian assailants in the vicinity of the Old City of Jerusalem in which one Israeli Border Police officer was killed and at least four others, including civilians, were injured. He said such terrorist acts must be clearly condemned by all. He said he was appalled that once again some find it appropriate to justify such attacks as “heroic”. They are unacceptable and seek to drag everyone into a new cycle of violence.
From Geneva, the third thematic session of the Global Compact on Migration began today under the theme, “international cooperation and governance of migration in all its dimensions, including at borders, on transit, entry, return, readmission, integration and reintegration”.
Speaking at the two-day event, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on International Migration, Louise Arbour, emphasized that smart, responsible and cooperative arrangements can allow nations to fully realize the benefits of migration. She argued they could trigger a virtuous cycle in which the public trust in States’ ability to control their borders would be restored, resulting in more acceptance of migrants. The next thematic session will take place on 24 July. More information online.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
Our colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today announced that they have appointed 19-year-old Syrian refugee and education activist, Muzoon Almellehan, as a Goodwill Ambassador. The appointment makes Muzoon the first person with official refugee status to become an Ambassador for UNICEF. Muzoon fled the conflict in Syria along with her family in 2013, living as refugee for three years in Jordan before being resettled to the United Kingdom. It was during her 18 months in the Za’atari camp that she began advocating for children’s access to education, particularly for girls.
You will have seen, over the weekend, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said that he was shocked and horrified by the many lives claimed by devastating fires that hit the Pedrógão Grande region of Portugal. He has spoken with the Portuguese President and Prime Minister to express his deep sadness and condolences to the Portuguese Government and people. You can read the full statement online.
Saturday was the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. This year, the theme for the Day focused on the link between land degradation and migration. Speaking today at an event to mark the Day, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva stressed the need to invest in preparedness and build resilience of farmers so they can face situations of extreme drought.
Yesterday, Sunday, was my favourite day of the year: it was Sustainable Gastronomy Day. The Day acknowledges gastronomy as a cultural expression related and reaffirms that all cultures and civilizations are contributors to sustainable development. It also emphasizes the need to focus the world’s attention on the role that sustainable gastronomy can play by promoting agricultural development, food security, nutrition, sustainable food production and the conservation of biodiversity.
Today, we say thank you to our friends in Belgrade as Serbia became the 108th Member State to pay its dues. Before I turn it over to our guests, I will take some questions. Mr. Lee?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, there… you… you may… I bet you’ve seen this CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] article based on FOIA [Freedom of Information Act]… based on accessed information records there, showing a variety of UN DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] requests to Canada for positions. And it seems like… what I wanted to do is… I mean, since these seem to be official records of UN requests made to Canada, they’re not leaked, but, rather, released under freedom of information laws, is it the case that… is that how DPKO operates? Do they offer to countries without reference to the person particular positions like deputy commander, et cetera? And can you confirm that the Dutch are, in fact, leaving the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)?
Spokesman: No, I can’t confirm any… anything about these documents.
Question: Even though they’re…? I mean…
Spokesman: I’m not going to comment on these documents. Okay?
Question: Why not?
Spokesman: Because I can’t.
Correspondent: They were released under FOIA.
Question: Stéphane, have you seen the reports about the shooting down of the Syrian plane and the Russian reaction to that? Are there any concerns there about escalation?
Spokesman: No, I think we’ve seen the reports of the shooting down of the Syrian plane. We’ve also seen press reports of Iranian missiles being fired against Da’esh positions. We’re not in a position to independently confirm those reports or the circumstances regarding the incidents. But, I think it does bring up, more broadly, our deep concern about the risks of possible miscalculation and escalation in the conflict in Syria. We believe that this risk is heightened when efforts to combat Da’esh and other listed terrorist groups are not combined with the pursuit of a comprehensive political solution to the Syrian conflict based on the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nizar?
Question: Follow‑up on that…? Well, the plane was obviously attacking positions near Deir ez-Zour against Da’esh, and the United Nations supports actions against Da’esh, and they are separate from any political process. Why would the Americans interfere and prevent… and shoot down that plane?
Spokesman: I think that’s a great question for you to ask a spokesman at the Pentagon. I’m not in the business of reading people’s minds.
Correspondent: But, the United Nations should have a position on that.
Spokesman: You’re asking me why they did it. I don’t know. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Does Secretary‑General have any statement on the London mosque attack?
Spokesman: Of course, we condemn the attack that took place in London yesterday, and we extend our sympathies to all the victims and friends of those who are affected. And we, obviously, wish all those who were injured a speedy recovery. I think we’re still looking and trying to analyse the details and motivation of what happened, but this appears to be a deliberate attack against members of a faith community gathered… who were gathered in the exercise towards the end of a sacred tradition. And it’s a particularly reprehensible form of violence.
Question: Is it… is it an act of terrorism, you believe?
Spokesman: I think anything… yes, it seems to us like an act of terrorism, when you’re trying to terrorize a particular community and trying to inflict death and hurt. Yes, Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. Maybe this is a press report that you’ll comment on. Several press outlets in South Korea have quoted the Secretary‑General in a call with Kyung‑wha Kang after she was given the position of Foreign Minister just… I’ll have a second part to this. But, I just wanted to know, can you, in fact, confirm that call? Are the quotes that were published in South Korea, which were issued by the Foreign Ministry of South Korea accurate, i.e., that he offered her help, that he congratulated her? And does he have any response to the fact that the parliament or the opposition parties didn’t, in fact, give the approvals they were supposed to, in part due to questions that arose about things during her UN systems service?
Spokesman: No, I have no comment on the legislative and internal process of the Republic of Korea and how the Government is formed. That’s not for us to talk about. The Secretary‑General did reach out to Kyung‑wha Kang yesterday after she was officially named to congratulate her and to offer his support. I think it was a… it’s an act that shows the esteem in which he holds Kyung‑wha Kang as a former colleague and wishes her all the best in her new job as Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea.
Question: Is there some way we can get a more systematic list of the calls made by the Secretary‑General? Like, this doesn’t seem to be a secret one. They… the… the Foreign Ministry of Korea issued a readout.
Spokesman: So, I’m confirming the call.
Question: And the call… and the press conference tomorrow, when you say the “peg” is, does this mean that the questions are limited to refugee issues?
Spokesman: The questions will be unlimited only in… they will be limited in time, but unlimited in substance. Olga, and then we’ll go to our guest.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. While the attack on joint convoy of ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and UN and SARC [Syrian Arab Red Crescent], did UN have any security guarantees from both parties…?
Spokesman: Which attack… a recent one or… I don’t have any… let me check. I don’t have to take any details…
Question: It was yesterday.
Spokesman: Okay. I’ll… it’s my bad. Obviously, as a matter of principle, the convoys move when we feel we have the sufficient security guarantees with the understanding that our colleagues on the ground and their partners, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC understand that we’re… they’re working, unfortunately, in an active conflict zone. But, the convoys move when the people in charge of the convoy feel there is a… they’re able to move. Ms. Kelly, welcome to the briefing. [The Spokesman later said that a United Nations/SARC/ICRC convoy attempted to deliver assistance on 17 June, but after multiple delays was forced to turn around without entering into East Harasta. As the convoy began its return to Damascus, a SARC driver was shot. He has undergone surgery and is reportedly in stable condition. A second SARC driver was grazed by a bullet, but not seriously injured. The UN condemns the attack on an aid convoy and wishes the injured drivers a speedy recovery. The UN stands in full solidarity with SARC against such attacks, which are violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.]