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The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
I have three statements to read out, the first one on the situation in the gulf in the Middle East. The Secretary-General is following the situation in the Middle East with deep concern. He urges countries in the region to avoid escalating tensions and work instead to overcome their differences. He encourages diplomatic means to address concerns and is ready to support such efforts, if desired by all parties. That statement is now online.
I have a statement on Colombia. The Secretary-General is encouraged by the progress in the implementation of the peace accord in Colombia and in particular, the completion yesterday of the delivery to the United Nations Mission of the first 30 per cent of the arms of the FARC-EP [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-Popular Army]. The Secretary-General encourages both parties to advance with further progress in the implementation of their respective commitments under the peace agreement and reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to continue to support the peace process as required. That statement has been released both in English and in Spanish.
Finally, I have a statement on the elections in Lesotho: The Secretary-General congratulates the people of the Kingdom of Lesotho on the conclusion of a peaceful National Assembly election. He commends the work of the Independent Electoral Commission in organizing the election and the role played by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in assisting the Kingdom of Lesotho to ensure a peaceful political environment. The Secretary-General highlights the importance of now focusing attention on the implementation of SADC decisions on further strengthening democratic governance and stability and reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to support the Kingdom of Lesotho in this regard. That statement is also available online.
As you know the Secretary-General is in Kazakhstan. He arrived in Astana a few hours ago. Upon arrival, he attended a concert in honour of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of State Council, which he will address tomorrow. And we will put out his remarks on that occasion. Tomorrow, he will also hold a bilateral meeting with the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and pay a visit to the EXPO-2017 organized in Astana.
I have a senior appointment to announce: The Secretary-General has appointed Liu Zhenmin of the People’s Republic of China as the next Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. He will succeed Wu Hongbo, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the Organization, and for successfully guiding the preparations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, third International Conference on Financing for Development, as well as the United Nations Ocean Conference, which is ongoing right now.
Mr. Liu brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in the diplomatic service, with a strong focus on the promotion of bilateral, regional and global issues. He was deeply involved for 10 years in climate change negotiations including the conclusion of the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Currently, Mr. Liu is Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, and we have biographical information available, should you be interested.
Back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, just briefed the Security Council on Da’esh, also known as ISIL [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], and in his remarks he said that the group continues to resist, particularly in Mosul and Raqqah. At the same time, Da’esh has reorganized its military structure, giving more power to local commanders, and is more focused than ever before on enabling and inspiring attacks outside of conflict zones.
Mr. Feltman said that the threat from Da’esh has been intensified by its use of the Internet and social media to disseminate propaganda online to a wide international audience. Although the volume of such messages has declined in the past 16 months, the threat persists as supporters outside Syria and Iraq collect and re-distribute the propaganda. He added that, although Da’esh’s financial situation has steadily declined over the past 16 months, it continues to rely chiefly on the same two revenue streams, sales of hydrocarbons and extortion/taxation, which may amount to tens of millions of dollars per month. His remarks are available online.
On Iraq, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today said it has received credible reports that more than 231 civilians attempting to flee Iraq’s western Mosul have been killed since 26 May, including at least 204 people over three days last week alone. The Office has been documenting Da’esh’s use of civilians as human shields and its slaughter of people trying to leave Mosul, and notes that there has been a significant escalation in such killings.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that there are no words of condemnation that are strong enough for despicable acts, such as shooting children as they try to run to safety along with their families. He called on Iraqi authorities to ensure that those responsible for these horrors are held accountable, stressing that the victims of such terrible crimes must not be forgotten. More information on the High Commissioner’s website.
**Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) say that, in May, violence in the south-eastern part of the country caused massive numbers of people to flee their homes and exacerbated humanitarian needs. Half of the population requires assistance and more than 2 million are hungry. Stunting due to malnutrition is wide-spread among children. Even so, the Central African Republic still counts among the world’s most forgotten crises. Halfway into the year, the humanitarian response plan for 2017 is only one-quarter funded.
**Horn of Africa
Our colleagues at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs tell us that a high-level humanitarian mission led by the African Union and the UN began today in Addis Ababa, and will then proceed to Somalia and Kenya. The mission will assess the humanitarian situation on the ground and seek to enhance humanitarian support to respond to the devastating drought and [food] security crisis in the Horn of Africa. The mission will visit the Somali region in Ethiopia tomorrow to see first-hand the drought-induced crisis and the humanitarian response. On 12 June, they will travel to Doloow in southern Somalia to meet impacted people and humanitarians on the ground, before wrapping up their mission on 13 June in Nairobi, Kenya.
FAO said today that despite stable global food markets, rising shipping costs and larger import volumes will drive the global food import bill higher this year. The bill will top $1.3 billion this year, a more than 10 per cent increase from 2016. The food import bills of least developed countries, low-income food deficit countries and sub-Saharan African countries are on course to rise even [faster] because of higher volumes of imports of meat, sugar, dairy and oilseed products. If you’re interested, you can read more on the FAO’s website.
Today is World Oceans Day; it is no coincidence that we are having a Conference. In his message, the Secretary-General said: “Oceans connect all of us, linking people and nations in cultural ties, and they are essential for sharing goods and services across the world. The importance of our oceans to every single living being on our planet cannot be overstated. Today, we celebrate [all that] the oceans give us, and reaffirm our commitment to being good stewards.” As we speak, the Day is being observed in the General Assembly Hall with a series of performances, talks from world-renowned ocean experts and explorers, representatives from coastal communities, and voices from current and future generations. You will get more details when our friend Damian Cardona briefs here after we are done.
I will have a guest in a short while, Geert Cappelaere, United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. He will be here to brief you on the situation in Yemen. Along with Damian, we’ll be joined at 1 p.m. with Anthony Long of the Pew Charitable Trusts; Milton Haughton of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism; and Dame Meg Taylor, the Secretary-General of the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat. And at 3:30 p.m., tomorrow, there will be a briefing here entitled “Oceans and Climate: The Way Forward”. And the way forward is you asking me questions so… Mr. Lee?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure. I want to ask you about some of the things that I’d asked you about yesterday, but first on this announcement of Liu Zhenmin, I see that he’s on the schedule of the Deputy Secretary‑General this afternoon. And also then, at 4 p.m., she’s meeting the President of Ghana. So, I wanted to know, can these thing be open for… for photo op or whatever? It’s a case of Head of State…
Spokesman: The President of Ghana is open. The meeting with Liu, I think, is just a UN photo, but you’re free to get the photo.
Question: Okay. I wanted to, I guess… I wanted to ask you yesterday, in Cameroon, which I’ve asked you about before, the… the… those Anglophone region lead… protest leaders were held over for trial. They face the death penalty. One of them is a former UN legal adviser, Mr. Felix Agbor Balla. So, I’m just wondering, is there… this is… in the country, it seems to be an escalation. People… and I’m wondering whether… I know it took about a week to get the comment from [Francois] Louncény Fall. Is there any more rapid response to the holding over of these leaders?
Spokesman: I think we believe that all parties need to address the current issues in a spirit of dialogue, and I’ll try to get a bit more from Mr. Fall.
Question: Okay. And do you have… on this Rif issue, I just wanted… and, again, I wasn’t… I want to be clear. I wasn’t telling you to be quiet; I think there may have been a misunderstanding. Okay. My question was really just if you could give some… it seemed like you said there’s… something might be coming the next day, so I just wanted to ask…?
Spokesman: No, no, that’s fine. Sure. I mean, as soon as I have something, I will share it and not hold it. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you. I have two questions. First about the senior appointments of the Secretary‑General. Can you give us a breakdown of senior appointments according to nationality? In fact, I have been waiting to see or to hear one single appointment by any senior… for any senior position by an Arab, and I didn’t hear that. The only exception was when Salam Fayyad was nominated and his nomination was turned down by a powerful member of the Security Council. And, of course, I’m not counting the appointment of the Executive Director of ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for West Asia]. Can you give us that?
Spokesman: I mean, all of the… we can do the math for you, but all of the Secretary‑General’s appointments are listed on his senior team, and it’s all… who he has appointed and where they’re from is all very transparent. Your second question?
Question: And my second question is about Israel announced yesterday building 1,500 housing units in the area of Jerusalem. Is there any statement on that?
Spokesman: You know, we’ve seen the press reports, so I can’t really comment. We’ll take a look at it closely, but our position on settlements continues and continues to be the same. [He later added: We are aware of these reports, but have not yet been able to confirm them. We are following the issue very closely with authorities on the ground. If confirmed, this would be a worrying development.]
Question: But, that brings me to the… the same question that I keep asking. Is Israel a normal State, to be treated normally, no less, no more, as you like to…?
Spokesman: I think every Member State of this Organization, including the State of Israel, needs to be treated with the same rights and the same responsibility as all of the other Member States. I’ll come back to you. Mr. Abbadi. Sorry, then we’ll…
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Egypt has promulgated a law severely restricting the activities of NGOs [non-governmental organizations]. They have to pay €15,000 to register, and they cannot publish a report without the authorization of the Government. What does the Secretary‑General say specifically about this law?
Spokesman: I don’t… I haven’t seen the specific reports on the law. What I can tell you is, as a matter of principle, we under… we, wherever and all over the world, underscore the importance of civil society and the importance of allowing civil society to conduct its work. Yep. Go ahead.
Question: I think it was asked yesterday. I was wondering if the UN has any comments on the announcement of the independence referendum in Northern Iraq. Thank you.
Spokesman: We’ve taken note of the announcement that is taken… by the Kurdis… the authorities in Kurdistan. And we’ll leave it at that for the time being.
Question: Yes. Sorry. Thank you, Stéphane. Earlier this week, you said that some diplomatic initiatives were under way to ease the crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Have you had any feedback of the progress made in that direction?
Spokesman: No, I have not received any particular feedback. Yes, sir?
Question: Just… just… [inaudible] announced by President [Massoud] Barzani yesterday. If it turns out to be a yes for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, I wonder about the UN position, what that will be? And also, would you oversee this referendum, this… that’s actually coming up, as it was announced yesterday by the President of the Kurdistan region for 25?September?
Spokesman: As I said, we’ve taken note of the announcement by the authorities in Kurdistan. As… separate from that, as a matter of policy, and a matter of constitutional policy, the issue for membership into the United Nations is laid out in the Charter. It goes through the Security Council and the General Assembly. On the issue of whether or not the UN would participate in any electoral process, again, as a matter of policy, we participate in electoral processes, usually at the demand of the national authorities.
Question: If the Kurdistan region would request an oversight from the United Nations for this referendum, would you be willing to do that?
Spokesman: Again, I would refer you to my answer two seconds ago. Ben?
Question: Yeah. Back to the USG [Under-Secretary-General] on counter‑terrorism, for the short list that is there right now, can you discount that the Russian ambassador to the US, [Sergey] Kislyak, is not on that list?
Spokesman: I’m trying to answer your question without giving you any information. We will know the… I’m… I have… I don’t want to mislead you one way or another. The announcement will come when the announcement comes. I’m not aware of a short list. I don’t know when the announcement will come, but obviously, it should come soon-ish, since the post has now been approved by the General Assembly. Mr. Abbadi, then…
Question: In that regard, when is the Secretary‑General going to announce the reforms, the general reforms, of the United Nations, as he promised to do in June?
Spokesman: The development system reforms will be announced probably later in June. There will be a report going to the General Assembly, and then he will present a… present them himself either in late June or early July. Someone told me, but I forgot exactly what the dates were.
Question: This concerns only the development aspect of the UN? What about…?
Spokesman: Yes, this will be focused on development. The other things that he’s spoken about will come as they will come. Obviously, the counter‑terrorism bit is an important one. Abdelhamid?
Question: Yes. As a follow‑up to my question, when Iraq was in violation of UN resolutions, it was punished. When Serbia was in violation, it was punished. Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, Libya, every country on earth, when it found guilty of violating the UN resolution, including North Korea, as we speak, it has been punished except one State. Can you explain that? This is a State…
Spokesman: Abdelhamid, you know the UN as well as I do. From the Secretary‑General’s point of view, every Member State has the same rights and responsibilities. There are not two categories of Member States. The issue of sanctions or whatever you want to call it is an issue for the membership and specifically for the Security Council membership. So, that’s not a question that should be addressed to the Secretary‑General’s Office. Mr. Lee and then Ben.
Question: I wanted to ask you, the… the… the media authority of the Government of South Sudan has said publicly that 20 non‑South Sudanese journalists are on a blacklist to not enter the country and report. And, given particularly that there’s a mission there, has the mission said anything about that and tried to…?
Spokesman: I have not seen those reports or aware that the mission has said anything, but, obviously, as we said, we feel it’s important that journalists be able to report on what is going on and what the UN Mission is doing.
Question: And I wanted to ask you again, I know it’s… it’s… I was sort of surprised… I’d asked you about Jeffrey Sachs in the past and his UN position and the things that he writes within the scope of his employ. And yesterday, he wrote in a syndicated article, saying that [Donald] Trump, climate change sociopath, socio… that he’s a sociopath, which is… there may be many people that believe that. But, I wanted to know, what is the relationship between this syndicated op‑ed and the UN system? It’s totally within the scope of his SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] mandate. So, what have been the com… I want to ask this right. I know you’re not privy to the communications between the Secretary‑General and Mr. Sachs, but how is a member of the public to understand, when he lists himself as a UN official… I mean, that’s fine. Is… is it the Secretary‑General’s view that President Trump is a sociopath?
Question: Okay. So, if he has an official that’s using the UN’s name and he’s saying that, what happens?
Spokesman: I think it is clear that those words written by Mr. Sachs were not done in his capacity as a UN adviser.
Question: How do we know that, though? It doesn’t say it… is that…
Spokesman: You’re asking me. I can tell you and I’ll leave it at that. Unless you have another question?
Question: I do, actually. I just… I wanted to ask… and maybe you weren’t able to… to… to… or you could find out, maybe even in the absence of Mr. [António] Guterres, this idea that he met with the… with the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia. Have you been able to find out if it’s true or not true?
Spokesman: No. Ben?
Question: Just checking if you’ve got anything on reports that President [Mahmoud] Abbas is ready to drop demand for settlement for eases of construction…?
Spokesman: No, I’ve seen… I think we’ve all seen those press reports. I’ve not been informed of any official communication to the UN on that end. All right. I will go get our guest.