The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right. Good afternoon to you all. I hope you are all at home safe and warm. I’m just a little sorry that we have the technology that will force us to work on what should otherwise be a great snow day here in New York.
Moving to, obviously, the most current issue that we are dealing with and that’s Myanmar. As you will have seen, we issued a statement yesterday evening in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor, as well as President U Win Myint and other political leaders, and that was obviously on the eve of the opening session of Myanmar’s new Parliament. Mr. [António] Guterres expressed his grave concern regarding the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military. These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar. The Secretary-General stresses that the 8 November 2020 general elections provided a strong mandate for the National League for Democracy, reflecting the clear will of the people of Myanmar to continue on the hard-won path to democratic reform. Mr. Guterres urges the military leadership to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms, with any differences to be resolved through peaceful dialogue. All leaders must act in the greater interest of Myanmar’s democratic reform, engaging in meaningful dialogue, refraining from violence and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, remains actively engaged on the issue. She has spoken to Myanmar interlocutors outside the country. She is trying to connect with leaders in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, but communications with the Myanmar capital are very difficult at this moment. For her part, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that she is gravely concerned about the situation in the country, echoing the Secretary-General’s call for the military leadership to respect the outcome of the elections. She is also alarmed by reports that at least 45 people have been detained — including parliamentarians under confinement. She called for their immediate release and noted that there are also disturbing reports of journalists being harassed or attacked.
Meanwhile, our colleagues in the UN country team on the ground in Myanmar are also following the situation closely with deep concern, especially in light of the need to prevent and respond to the ongoing pandemic. They are working to ensure that the recent events do not adversely impact the most vulnerable people in Myanmar. The UN team has supported Myanmar’s COVAX application, as well as the national COVID-19 and vaccination plans by assessing the country’s readiness and mapping the cold chain capacity. Myanmar has so far received 1.5 million doses of vaccine under a programme that started last week. Some 70,000 health‑care workers have been vaccinated so far in 14 states and regions. The team in the country has repurposed nearly $100 million to address the impact of the pandemic, including to protect the most vulnerable groups.
Turning to Libya, our colleague Stephanie Williams, the acting Special Representative for Libya, opened the new session of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Switzerland today. She told participants that the decision to hold national elections on 24 December is a commitment which must be honoured at all costs. She noted that on Saturday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) had published a list of candidates nominated for the positions of the Presidency Council and Prime Minister. She added she was encouraged by the high number of nominations that were put forward. She welcomes the diversity represented by the pool of candidates who are drawn from all political parties and social components of the Libyan society. Her full remarks are online.
Turning to Somalia, the Secretary-General strongly condemns yesterday’s deadly terror attack against the Hotel Afrik in Mogadishu, which resulted, as you will have seen, in several casualties. He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a swift recovery to those injured. The Secretary‑General reiterates the support and solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Federal Government of Somalia in their pursuit of a peaceful and prosperous future. For his part, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the ground, James Swan, said he is appalled by this reprehensible and senseless attack on a venue frequented by innocent civilians.
Staying in the region and turning to Ethiopia, access constraints due to the ongoing conflict and administrative bureaucracy continue to challenge the scale-up of humanitarian assistance. Access to essential services, livelihoods and cash remains restricted across large swathes of Tigray. Two refugee camps remain inaccessible since November, hunger is increasing and the health system has reportedly collapsed. Access is particularly limited in rural areas, where 80 per cent of the population of Tigray lived before the start of the conflict. Although dozens of trucks carrying humanitarian commodities are being mobilized towards Tigray, most of the staff needed to carry out distributions have not been able to travel to the region. Many of them are waiting in Addis [Ababa], ready to move into Tigray. Our Humanitarian Coordinating team and our team on the ground are continuing to work closely with the Government to make sure UN agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] receive clearance to travel to the region.
**Central African Republic
And in the Central African Republic, I can tell you that our colleagues on the ground are very concerned about the serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation there. The very high level of insecurity along the main supply route from Cameroon to the Central African Republic has caused the suspension of imports. Over 1,600 inbound trucks, including 500 with humanitarian supplies, have been blocked at the border since mid-December 2020. Humanitarian organizations are beginning to report critical stock outages including food and trauma kits. The closure of the supply route also caused a worrying increase in the prices of basic foodstuffs — that’s cassava, oil, meat and rice. The increase has gone between 75 per cent and 220 per cent. This is impacting several markets in the country, including that of the capital, Bangui, and we’re also seeing the closure of several markets because of the impossibility for traders to restock. This is happening in a context of an already severe food insecurity, as 2.3 million people were already projected to be food insecure. Rapid assessments show alarming figures of severe malnutrition among the newly displaced. On Friday, we reported that over 200,000 people had been displaced inside and outside the country. Refugee arrivals into the Democratic Republic of the Congo have reached 92,000, according to local authorities. Some 13,240 people have crossed into Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo. Refugees are continuing to arrive. Despite an increasingly difficult operational environment due to insecurity and access constraints, the humanitarian response has continued across several regions in the Central African Republic.
Also on the Central African Republic, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) tells us that during Friday’s mini-summit of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region on the situation in the Central African Republic, regional leaders of state and government acknowledged the validity of the December elections. They also called for a unilateral and immediate ceasefire and asked to immediately allow the free movement of people and goods on the Douala-Bangui corridor, while encouraging President [Faustin-Archange] Touadéra to pursue dialogue. Today, the Constitutional Court announced the final results of the first round of the legislative elections, which were also held last month. Twenty-two candidates were elected in the first round. The Constitutional Court ordered the National Election Authority to draw up a new timetable for the completion of the legislative elections in the remaining 118 constituencies where the votes could not take place or were cancelled. Meanwhile, one of the ex-Séléka chiefs, Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, made his first appearance in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on Friday to face charges of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. And our peacekeeping colleagues also tell us that one of their convoys was fired on by unidentified armed combatants near Bangassou on Saturday; no casualties were reported.
**Press Briefing Today
At 1 p.m. this afternoon, we will have a virtual briefing by the new Security Council President for this month; that’s the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Barbara Woodward. She will brief you on the Council’s programme of work for February.
And last, but by no means least, we welcome — and thank — two new members of our Honour Roll, that’s India and Kiribati, and they paid their regular budget dues in full. Our Honour Roll now has 25 members. Okay. That’s it from me. I will go to the chat and see who actually wants to chat. Okay. James and then Edie.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Hello, Steph. Good morning. So, questions about Myanmar, if I can. Can you, first… the latest information the UN has with regard to the fate of those that have been detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have you had any information on how they are and whether they are unharmed?
Spokesman: No, we do not… we have not been able to get information. As the… our Special Envoy has been trying to reach her interlocutors in Nay Pyi Taw. She's not been able to get through, and I don't think… our country team has not had any information. And it is important that all those people who have been detained be released.
Question: Could you just update us on the country team? How many personnel does the UN currently have in the country?
Spokesman: That's a good ques… I'll get you the exact number. It is quite a large country team. The humanitarian situation in Myanmar is already quite challenging, so to speak, whether it's on COVID-19, as we've said, on issues of hunger. So, we have and we've always had quite a large presence in Myanmar, but we'll try to get you some numbers.
Question: And final question from me so far, with regard to what the UN is doing — clearly, we're going to hear from the new President of the Security Council in an hour's time; you've told us what the Special Envoy's doing — what is the… what is the Secretariat, particularly the Secretary‑General, doing? Has he picked up the phone to anyone with regard to this, particularly to any of the authorities in Myanmar and, for that matter, to the most important regional Power that has leverage on them, the Chinese?
Spokesman: I have nothing I can share with you on the Secretary‑General's contacts. What I can tell you, though, is that no one that I'm aware of on this side has been able to reach the current authorities in Nay Pyi Taw due to the communications challenges. All right. Edie?
Question: Thank you, Steph. I had many of the same questions that James had, but on the issue of phone calls, is the Sec… would the Secretary‑General seek to talk to the military leaders now in control of Myanmar? And does he think that talking to the powers that be in China could help, perhaps, restore Myanmar on the path to democracy? And I have one other follow‑up question on something else.
Spokesman: No. I mean, the Secretary‑General is always ready to talk to whomever to try to advance the situation in the right way, be that the people directly involved or regional Powers. I'm not going… it's not for me to assess the role of one regional power over another in terms of the links they may have to those in charge. I think what we're facing right now is a situation that's still a bit obscure. What we do know is that the will of the people of Myanmar has been overturned in an undemocratic way, and that needs to change. The will of the people needs to be respected.
Question: Okay. As a follow‑up on the Central African Republic, can you remind me what the humanitarian appeal is? I assume that they're still seeking a tremendous amount of money, particularly with this new refugee and [internally displaced persons] crisis.
Spokesman: Yes, I will get you that number, hopefully, before the end of this briefing. Unfortunately, working from home, I'm having a little… fewer notes than I would usually have with me. James, just to go back to your question and those who are interested, the full breakdown of the UN presence in Myanmar can be found and is updated regularly on myanmar.un.org. That's myanmar.un.org. Okay. Let's go to the chat. I think… anyone else has a question…?
Question: Follow‑up on Myanmar?
Spokesman: Yes, go ahead, Abdelhamid.
Question: Thank you so much. Is the Secretary‑General concerned more about Rohingya people, now that there’s no news coming out or presence on the ground, so do you see that atrocities might go much higher than they have before?
Spokesman: This… the events that's taken place in Myanmar will have, undoubtedly, a ripple effect. One of those impacts is not only delaying any safe and voluntary return of those refugees that have made it into Bangladesh and other countries… and in other countries, we do not know what will happen to the Rohingya that are… remain in Rakhine State. I don't want to… it's not for me to predict or… but obviously, I think this will have… the events have had an impact on the democratic institutions but will also, most likely, have an impact on the humanitarian situation.
Question: Do you think that these outcries coming from many different countries will affect the situation? If the UN also added some more, like a meeting of the Security Council or a presidential statement or…?
Spokesman: I think what is important is that the international community speak with one voice. Obviously, what will come out of the Security Council, if something does come out, will have… will just add more weight to that call, but I think those are issues you could raise with the UK Permanent Representative in just a few minutes. All right. I don't see anybody else…
Correspondent: Oh, me.
Spokesman: Who's "me"? Benno. Sorry, there we go. All right. There we go. Benno and then Iftikhar. Go ahead, Benno.
Correspondent: I asked a question, Stéphane. Maybe you saw it or not? But I asked first.
Spokesman: Sorry? Okay. Let's… we'll go to Benno and then Nabil. And you too. Everybody.
Question: Thank you. I have a few follow‑ups on Thursday's and Friday's question about Tech Envoy [Fabrizio] Hochschild and the sexual harassment allegations. I know you said on Friday that these kinds of investigations flow upwards after a certain time and not immediately, but isn't Mr. Hochschild, as Under‑Secretary‑General, directly reporting to the Secretary‑General? And doesn't that mean that the SG should be one of the first to know and not one of the last?
Spokesman: I don't think he was one of the last to know. There are procedures that are in place. My understanding is that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] then flags it once they have a certain level of confidence on the charges and that they have… on the… excuse me… confidence on the allegations and that they've interviewed a number of people, and so they were following their procedures.
Question: Is there a way to make available these procedures, the guidelines…?
Spokesman: I can share with you, a bit later today, sort of the… nothing on the individuality of the case, obviously, but just what we… the kind of procedures that are followed.
Question: Okay. And what I don't understand here is that there is that, like, serious allegation against a senior official who's about to get transferred to another high‑ranking job, obviously. And for me, it's just hard to believe that no one would alert the decision makers before he is transferred to that new job. Why did nobody put that appointment on hold?
Spokesman: I think the procedures that are established were followed, and I will leave it at that.
Question: And maybe one last question about that, if I may. Does the Secretary‑General think that harassment is a united… a structural problem at the United Nations?
Spokesman: I think he's been very clear about the issues of sexual harassment, really from… almost from four years ago when he started. I mean, one of the first things he did was to strengthen the whistle‑blower [protections] to ensure that there was a dedicated team of investigators in OIOS to look at harassment issues, that there were women investigators to look at harassment, to take in harassment complaints. We've… he created the hotline. So, he's done… he's put in place procedures. He's also, very clearly, stated that one of the structural issues having to do with sexual harassment comes from the power imbalance. Right? And that's why he has been pushing so hard on gender parity, which he's achieved, I think, in about two years, at the senior official levels, at the Resident Coordinator level and… basically with posts over which he has a direct authority. And there is a strategy in place to ensure that that also occurs throughout the system. The UN is no different than any other organization that it has structural power issues and that it has issues with harassment, with sexual harassment. And we have… and I think he has been very much leaning in in putting procedures in place to ensure that people who are victims can speak up. Okay. We'll go to Nabil and then Iftikhar.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. So, is the Secretariat getting ready to brief the Security Council on Myanmar? It seems like…
Spokesman: Yes. If that is, in fact, confirmed, the Special Envoy will brief.
Question: Do you know around what time, when, today, tomorrow?
Spokesman: Sounds like a wonderful set of questions for Ambassador Woodward, but, we are, as usual, at the disposal of the Security Council. Okay. Iftikhar?
Question: Thank you, Steph. In India, Shashi Tharoor, a member of Parliament and a former senior UN official, has been officially charged with sedition, along with a group of senior journalists, for speaking out for Indian farmers who have been protesting for the last two months. Any comments?
Spokesman: Look, I'm not particularly familiar with that case. What I can tell you is that the freedom of expression is a fundamental, universal freedom, and people should be able to speak their minds and opine freely.
Correspondent: But this has been reported extensively in the media…
Spokesman: I… you know, Iftikhar, I'm not… I just haven't… my… as you probably know by now, my brain capacity is somewhat limited. That includes the storage capacity. I just haven't seen that particular story. I will look into it, but that's what I can tell you at this point. Yes, go ahead… Stefano, and then we'll got to Betul, then Gloria.
Question: Yes. Thank you, Stéphane. About Myanmar, at the moment, the Mission… I mean the diplomat Mission of the headquarters, I visited the website. Doesn't look there is any change. When eventually… I mean who represent Myanmar today and tomorrow at the United Nation? I mean…
Spokesman: There's a Permanent Mission of Myanmar. They are accredited to represent. Who… and I'm not speaking about Myanmar, but in terms of procedures, if there is a challenge to credentials and who is allowed to represent what Member State, that is something the Credentials Committee of the General Assembly will decide. Those are for Member States to accept the validity of credentials. So, that's…
Question: So, that… just a quick follow‑up. So, the… at this moment, for the Secretary‑General, if the Myanmar ambassador, the head of the Mission, wants to talk to him for… for the Secretary‑General, he is the representative of Myanmar?
Spokesman: I have seen no change into the status of the Permanent Mission of Myanmar. Before I go to Betul, Edie, the humanitarian appeal for 2021 for the Central African Republic is $444.7 million, and that's to assist 1.84 million people. Okay. Betul?
Question: Hi, Steph. Thank you. I was disconnected. You might have already talked about it, but I'll still ask. Is the UN concerned about the state of the remaining Rohingyas in Rakhine State or maybe another ethnic cleansing? Because the Myanmar army was also accused of ethnic cleansing by several UN agencies. Do you have anything to say on that?
Spokesman: Yes. I mean, I did answer, but I'm happy to talk some more about it. I mean, I think our estimates say there are about 600,000 Rohingyas that remain in Rakhine State, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps. They cannot move freely and have extremely limited access to basic health and educational services. So, our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them, and I think, as I told Abdelhamid or one of your colleagues, the other side of that coin, in a sense, is that it makes… the situation will likely negatively impact the eventual safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingya refugees who are in Bangladesh and other countries in the region. All right. Gloria, and then we'll go back to James.
Question: My question was along that line. I'm wondering if the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has made a statement or will make a statement?
Spokesman: That I do not know. You'd have to ask them. James, welcome back.
Question: Yes. So, a couple of things on other things of the day you've been talking about, number one, Somalia and the attack. You didn't mention the UN's position on the proposed elections. What… where are we on that?
Spokesman: Well, the UN hopes very much that the elections will go on as scheduled.
Question: And the other thing you talked about, Stephanie Williams and Libya, I've been trying to follow this quite closely, and the one thing that she doesn't seem to have talked about when they spoke to the Council the other day and no one seems to be talking about is the ceasefire is supposed to have monitors. Can you update us on what the plans are for getting those monitors into place?
Spokesman: That's a plan that's still evolving, and there are no operational details I'm sadly able to share publicly at this point. [He later added: The Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission is scheduled to meet in Sirte from 5 to 6 February to consider the next steps of operationalizing the 23 October 2020 Ceasefire Agreement, including on the issue of timelines.] Okay…
Question: Do you have a time frame for getting…?
Question: Do you have a time frame for getting them in place?
Spokesman: Not off the top of my head at this point. All right. Anyone else? Okay. We will see you tomorrow, hopefully a bit more in person. I see that James managed to get into the office with his snowplough, but we will see you all tomorrow. Take care.