The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right. Good afternoon.
**Central African Republic
I will start off with a quick note on the Central African Republic. You will have seen that yesterday afternoon we issued a statement from the Secretary-General, in which he took note of the final results of the first round of the legislative elections, proclaimed by the Constitutional Court earlier in the week.
He also said that he remains very concerned about armed clashes and threats to civilians in the country and strongly condemns the violence and reiterates his call for a global ceasefire. He urges all parties to immediately halt hostilities.
The perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as serious crimes, including killing of civilians and UN peacekeepers, must be held accountable, he said.
We will hear a lot more on the Central African Republic after this briefing, when we are joined by Denise Brown, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Deputy Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). She is logged in and will join us live from Bangui.
The Secretary-General earlier today discussed the challenges over the coming year for Israelis and Palestinians, in remarks to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people.
He said that the pandemic has had a severe impact on the Palestinians, particularly in Gaza. The UN and its partners are supporting the Palestinian Government’s work to control the spread of the pandemic. The Secretary-General added that the Special Coordinator continues to encourage Israel to support the COVID-19 vaccine availability, which is in line with Israel’s obligations under international law.
Mr. [António] Guterres said that President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for an international peace conference under the auspices of the United Nations — and an expanded [Middle East Quartet] — provides a positive opportunity to advance peace in the region.
He also called on the parties to refrain from unilateral acts that can jeopardize the possibility of restarting the peace process.
That event took place in person in the Hall of the General Assembly.
Moving to the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, who spoke via a video message to the Global Engagement and Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development today: She stressed that to ensure that societies rebuild in a sustainable and resilient manner, our collective response and recovery efforts must be rooted in the 2030 Agenda [and] the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adding that we need more targeted assistance for the furthest behind who are most vulnerable and have the least resilience.
Ms. Mohammed also said that we must act multilaterally to mobilize more development assistance and socially conscious investments and enhance our social protection systems.
Her remarks are online.
**Global Inter-Generational Dialogue
And I wanted to flag that tomorrow morning, Amina Mohammed will join Graꞔa Machel at the virtual Global Inter-Generational Dialogue (IGD). They will join an international panel of young leaders in an event designed to give them a voice and to establish dialogue with current leaders.
Graꞔa Machel, as you know, is a member of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group, also the Chair of Global Peace, an initiative of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Dispute, launched by South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, in 2018.
That will be live on the interweb.
Moving on to Ethiopia, where the situation in Tigray is dire, with hundreds of thousands of people still not receiving aid.
Economic activity, electricity, communications and basic services remain largely disrupted, especially in rural areas, where two thirds of the population live.
Banks remain closed, except in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle. This hinders aid organizations and others from providing basic services.
It has been reported that there is a lack of food in markets due to fighting having broken out during harvest season, which left crops unharvested.
Even before the conflict, malnutrition was already on the rise because of the pandemic and desert locusts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that nearly 80 per cent of the hospitals remain unfunctional.
Some 1.3 million children have been out of school since the beginning of the conflict. Many schools are now sheltering internally displaced people (IDPs). There are reports of children having been separated from families, as well as forced recruitment, and serious allegations of sexual and gender-based violence.
The continuing conflict and administrative bureaucracy are still making it difficult to scale up humanitarian assistance.
We continue to call for full, immediate, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access to provide urgent assistance and protection to those in need. We are encouraged that recent high-level visits have resulted in productive exchanges with Ethiopian authorities, who understand the potential for greater risk.
And from South Sudan, I can tell you that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, David Shearer, said today that political parties must speed up efforts to finalize the constitution so that elections can take place. They must also form state and county institutions and reconstitute the national legislature.
Mr. Shearer said that positive progress has been made by political parties in the past year. He pointed to the formation of the Transitional Government and other developments.
But he stressed that the pace of implementing the 2018 peace deal has been too slow. This has heightened doubt and frustration.
Mr. Shearer said he fears that the slow pace of reform as set out in the Peace Agreement will deteriorate further, pointing to increased violence in places such as Warrap, Tonj and Jonglei.
And the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomes the convening of the seventh round of the 5+5 Joint Military [Committee] (JMC), which takes place in Sirte, from 4 to 7 February. This session is intended to continue the planning for the implementation of the ceasefire agreement that was signed on 23 October 2020 in Geneva.
The meeting will also focus on expediting the opening of the coastal road to enable the safe passage of citizens and goods, building on the progress achieved in previous rounds. Demining experts from both sides, in addition to UNSMIL staff, will attend the meeting to provide technical support and discuss the way forward to clear mines and remnants of war in the areas under the control of each party.
The JMC will also finalize discussions with the UN Mission on the necessary requirements for the deployment of UN monitors in support of the ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism.
I want to flag that the Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, expressed her shock and sadness over the assassination of Lebanese activist Lokman Slim. Ms. Rochdi extended her deep condolences to Mr. Slim’s family and friends and voiced solidarity with the Lebanese people. She said that the killing of a courageous and engaged intellectual is a loss to all the Lebanese people and she called for a thorough, quick and transparent investigation and judicial process to bring all those responsible for this outrageous act to justice.
Mr. [Ján] Kubiš, the departing Special Coordinator, added in a tweet, that “You can kill a journalist but you cannot kill his or her message. You can muzzle the media but you cannot silence the truth.”
Also, today marks the six months since the Beirut explosions that left nearly 200 dead and some 6,500 injured. The UN and our humanitarian partners have provided immediate humanitarian assistance to at least 300,000 people since the beginning of the response. And today, our thoughts go out to all the victims of this blast, as well as all the families that were impacted, including a number of our own UN friends and colleagues.
Turning to Peru, I want to flag that our team there has helped the Government secure the country in the initial phase of the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX facility. Led by Resident Coordinator Igor Garafulic and the World Health Organization, the UN has worked with authorities to fulfil the COVAX requirements to receive and deploy the vaccines, targeting health-care workers and other key vulnerable groups.
These requirements include a national vaccination plan, target vaccination groups and the purchase of equipment to preserve and ensure the efficacy of the vaccine. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also helped the Government to buy cold chain equipment. Peru is expected to receive an initial shipment with over 1.7 million doses of vaccines in the next few weeks.
I want to flag a story that we found that was kind of neat. The World Food Programme (WFP), with support from the United Kingdom, is stepping up global cooperation on the use of humanitarian drones.
With low-operating costs and rapid deployment, even in difficult weather conditions, drones can be a game-changer for fast, accurate, disaster impact assessment and response.
However, WFP says that the responsible use of drone technology in humanitarian work requires careful evaluation, cooperation and protocols that focus as much on data protection and public trust as on aviation safety.
To ramp up engagement from leading public, private and academic experts, WFP has launched a web platform — at drones.wfp.org — to facilitate the safe and ethical use of this technology.
More information on the website.
And today, our other friends in Rome, at the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), said that the global food prices rose […] in January for the eighth consecutive month. This was led by cereals, vegetable oils and sugar.
The Food Price Index saw a 4.3 per cent increase from December 2020, reaching its highest level since July 2014.
**World Cancer Day
Today is World Cancer Day, with the theme “I can and I will”. According to the WHO, in the past two decades, the overall number of people diagnosed with cancer nearly doubled, from an estimated 10 million in 2000 to 19.3 million in 2020. Today, one in five people worldwide will develop cancer during their lifetime.
WHO notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the problems of late-stage diagnosis and lack of access to treatment. These occur everywhere but particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
In addition to having to cope with the disruption of services, people living with cancer are also at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness and death.
1:00 p.m., right here today, after we are done with Denise Brown, the Ambassador Barbara Woodward of the United Kingdom, President of the Security Council, will read out a press statement on Myanmar. That will be at the stakeout.
And finally, we are grateful today for our friends in Baku and Podgorica, who paid their budgets in full. Honour Roll up to 30. Capitals of which country? James?
Spokesman: Baku and Podgorica.
Correspondent: One of them is Montenegro. What was the other one? Baku…
Correspondent: …is Azerbaijan.
Spokesman: Okay. There you go.
Correspondent: So I can get a question?
Spokesman: Yes, you may.
Correspondent: And other one is Montenegro.
Spokesman: Yes, that’s what he said. Don’t worry.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Anyway, yes. So, the Security Council has now come up with a statement on Myanmar, and they are expressing deep concern. They are calling for immediate release of those detained, and they are emphasising the need for the continued support for the democratic transition, exactly echoing what the Secretary‑General has been calling for. What is the Secretary‑General’s response to the fact that now the Security Council has come on the same page?
Spokesman: I think it’s very welcome that, relatively quickly, the Council came together to speak with one voice, which is, as you said, exactly what we had asked for.
Question: And a question on Yemen, the National Security Adviser of the United States has announced that the US is going to end all military support for offensive operations by the Saudi‑led Coalition. Does the UN think that this potentially gives more space to diplomacy and the work of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t seen the exact wording of the announcement, but what I will say is I think that any move that reduces the number of weapons, the military activity and gives… is to be welcomed and will give more space, as you say, and more hope, most… not only to the talks but, more importantly, more hope to the people of Yemen.
Correspondent: I have some Libya questions later.
Spokesman: Okay. We’ll come back. Ray and then Célhia.
Question: There has been information that the Security Council instructed the Secretary‑General to deploy ceasefire monitors to Libya as soon as possible. My question is, when is this going to happen? And the other question is, will they be deal… how will they be dealing with the issue of foreign fighters? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, on the issue of foreign fighters, we have called for a ban on foreign fighters. We’ve called… and there’s relevant Security Council resolutions on that. I mean, the Secretary‑General has been very clear on the need for those countries who have interest in Libya to support the Libyans, not with more weapons or more men with guns but with support for the political and the peace process.
The issue of the monitors is being discussed, as I mentioned, in the 5+5 committee meetings that are ongoing.
Question: [inaudible] The situation in Bangui is catastrophic. What are the Russian and Rwandan troops doing to restore the security situation?
Spokesman: It’s very valid questions. I see Denise Brown already on my screen. I would ask you to ask her since she’s in Bangui la coquette, and I’m here in Manhattan, so she will know more and provide better answers.
Question: Hi, Stéphane. Can you hear me?
Spokesman: Yes, I can.
Question: Great stuff. I’ve got a couple of questions. First one is, does the UN have any comment on the sentencing for 20 years of an Iranian diplomat over in Brussels today — sorry — in Belgium over an attempt to launch a bomb attack on a meeting of an anti‑Government Iranian group in Europe?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t seen the report of that, so let me look at it, and I will get back to you.
Question: Okay. I’ve got a second one, if that’s okay?
Spokesman: That is okay.
Question: Yeah. It’s back on the Safer oil tanker, the one that you guys are trying to get access to. The Government of Yemen — that’s the [Abd Rabbuh Mansur] Hadi Government — has today made a statement, and they say that it’s time now for the Security Council to take binding and deterrent measures against the Houthis to prevent the greatest environmental and humanitarian disaster in the region and the world. Does the UN Secretary‑General, Mr. Guterres, does he agree? Is it time for the Security Council to act on this?
Spokesman: Look, the Security Council is master of its own activities. I think there is quite a number of resolutions of the Security Council on Yemen, including that mentioned Safer oil tanker. So, I think the wish of the Council has been clear. The wish of the international community is clear. Our wish is to be able to move forward constructively with the repairs and the mitigation measures that are needed on this tanker to avoid a catastrophe that will impact Yemenis regardless of where their allegiances are and that will impact the region.
Question: Hmm. But I mean, it’s the way that you get there is the important thing. And do you want to keep on waiting for the Houthis to give you the sign‑off or do you think you need to go another route now?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we’re going to need to get there by sea, no matter what the resolutions are, what the statements are. That’s the way we get there. We’re very much fo… on our end, we’re focused on the practical. It would be good for the international community to do whatever they can to support our practical efforts.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I’ve got two questions. First of all, does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to the systematic rape and sexual harassment allegation by the Uyghurs in China’s re‑education camps? I did ask but couldn’t get a response yesterday.
And also, the SG also talked about mobilizing all actors and international community to make sure that the military coup in Myanmar fails. How does he plan to move forward? Thank you.
Spokesman: On Myanmar, I think the statement issued by the Security Council unanimously, I think, sends a very strong signal and includes the Permanent Five and, obviously, the other… the elected ten. I think that in itself sends a strong statement.
Our envoy and various others in the Secretariat, including the Secretary‑General, will continue to have contacts with various parties on this issue, I think, all with the same aim.
On the… this BBC report, I think, taking into account the nature of the allegations in the report and the denial by the authorities of these allegations, I think it’s more important now than ever for the proposed mission of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to go forward.
Okay. I will go to… sorry. Erol, go ahead, and then Abdelhamid and Sylviane. Erol?
Question: Just two que… first of all, we forgot to ask… probably I did forgot, how the Secretary‑General is feeling after the first shot of vaccine? Did he have any side effects or so?
Spokesman: No. He’s… I keep asking him. He’s doing well. I mean, he’s not doing cartwheels, because as I told you before, he doesn’t do cartwheels, but he’s feeling very good. He had no side effects. And he’s looking forward to getting the second jab whenever he gets the appointment through the New York City authorities.
Question: Okay. Another one…
Spokesman: Thank you for asking.
Question: Thank you. Another one on Myanmar. How the Secretary‑General now feels with this statement by Security Council and his own? This situation will affect, worsen and, obviously, the situation for Rohingya refugees in the region.
Spokesman: Of course. I mean, I think, as I said, we very much welcome the statement by the Security Council, but now we need to… we’re also looking for movement on the ground, right? For people to be released, for the voices… the dem… the voices of the people of Myanmar as expressed through a democratic process to be listened to. So, now we’re focused on what will happen on the ground. And of course, it will have an impact on Rohingya refugees everywhere, but it will have an impact on the people… it has an impact on the people of Myanmar.
Okay. What did I say? Abdelhamid and then Sylviane.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions. This morning, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) razed to the ground, for a second time in a week, the small village, Palestinian village, called Humsa — that’s H‑u‑m‑s‑a — in the occupied Jordanian valley, in the northern part of the Jordanian valley. A delegation of the European Union accredited to the Palestinian Authority had visited the village, and it was also destroyed in November. So, is there any statement about the general position of the UN? This is a particular eight, nine families…
Spokesman: I haven’t seen. We will ask the Special Coordinator’s office.
And your second question?
Question: My second question about Kosovo, which is not a recognized State… recognized State at the UN. It has decided to establish relations with Israel and to establish an embassy in Jerusalem, which is in violation of resolution 478, as you know. Any position on that?
Spokesman: Well, the status of Jerusalem, as we’ve always said, is part of the final status discussion issues. We don’t comment on bilateral relations that are established. It’s… our focus is on the member… on issues regarding membership of the UN. So, I have no comment on the first part of your question.
Sylviane and then Maria and then Nabil.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. It’s about the assassination of Lokman Slim. He was a journalist, vocal critic of Hizbullah. The family just called for an international investigation. Is there any chance that this investigation takes place?
Spokesman: Look, as you know, whether or not to create an international investigation is up to Member States, to call for one officially, to put one in place through various procedures. What is important for us right now — and the primary responsibility lies with the authorities in Lebanon — is that a thorough, transparent investigation be conducted and, as Najat Rochdi said, also an efficient judicial process.
Maria and then Nabil.
Question: Hi, Steph. I have a question about the decision of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to ban the broadcasting of three channels, three opposition channels. So, I wonder if SG consider it to violate the freedom of speech in Ukraine?
Spokesman: Look, as a matter of principle, we are for freedom of expression. We are for free media all around the world.
Nabil, and then we’ll go to Toby and Ibtisam.
Question: Thank you. Two questions, please, Stéphane. Now that the Security Council has issued the statement on Myanmar, what’s the first step or first action the Secretary‑General is planning to take on this matter? And I have another question on another issue.
Spokesman: Both he and his contact… and his Special Representative… Excuse me. Both the Secretary‑General and the Special Envoy will continue their contacts and efforts to reach people who can move… help move the situation forward in a positive manner.
Your second question?
Question: And on the assassination of the Lebanese journalist, what was your position? Sorry, I missed the beginning of your answer to Sylviane’s question. What’s your position? And what do you call exactly the Lebanese authorities to do?
Spokesman: Well, the Leb… it is the Lebanese Government, as any Government is responsible to investigate crimes and murders in their own jurisdiction. So the primary responsibility, as would be anywhere, is on the Government of Lebanon to investigate.
Sylviane had asked about an international investigation. Those things need to be requested officially by the Member State where a crime took place or be set up by a relevant UN body, but it is not within the prerogative of the Secretary‑General to establish one on his own.
Question: Did you condemn the assassination? Sorry, I missed it.
Spokesman: Yes, our representatives on the ground condemned it. And, of course, the Secretary‑General fully supports them in that.
Ibtisam and then Toby.
Question: Thanks, Steph. My question is about Myanmar. So, do you have a team on the ground? What are they exactly telling you? And then is the UN envoy still in Europe? And the last part is, are you able to access the areas of the Rohingyas, whether displaced or in the areas where they live in? Thank you.
Spokesman: We have about 2,300 staff in Myanmar, both international and national. It’s a pretty large country presence. I mean, as you know, we’d been involved in all sorts of programmes from peace consolidation to health to COVID to human rights. Obviously, I mean, these are first few days after what we… the events that we saw. The activities are not continuing as normal. I think our colleagues on the ground are trying to re‑establish some of the programmes, see what is possible, I think, in trying to assess the situation.
We remain very concerned about the situation of all people in Myanmar, the human rights situation, the lack of freedom of expression, the shutting down of some Internet platforms. Access has always been a challenge in different parts of Myanmar, including in Rakhine State, and these latest developments have not helped that in any way.
Question: Could I have a follow‑up?
Question: How worried are you that… especially in the Rohingya state that there will be another massacre or ethnic cleansing or something similar to what happened in the last years? Thank you.
Spokesman: These are issues at the forefront of our concern, and we will continue our advocacy for the Rohingyas and all the… frankly, all the people of Myanmar.
Okay. Toby and then I’ll go to Dulcie here in the room.
Question: Hi. Thanks, Steph. You just mentioned this very briefly in your last comment, but specifically, I think the Ministry of Transportation and Communications singled out Facebook specifically as the object of a temporary shutdown. Can you… what’s the UN’s position on this specifically among Internet media crackdowns?
Spokesman: The Internet is a global… is a tool for communications throughout the world now, and I think shutting down the Internet, shutting down certain platforms with the aim of stopping people from communicating is something that we, obviously, do not support and something that concerns us very much.
We will continue with our partners to see how we can continue our humanitarian programmes, our development programmes, but it’s still very much early days.
Question: I just wanted to clarify Jane Holl Lute’s role at the UN. So, she’s the Special Envoy for Cyprus. Correct?
Spokesman: She’s a Special Coordinator for Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, and she’s also the Secretary‑General’s envoy on issues of Cyprus.
Question: So, she’s paid for both roles?
Spokesman: No, she’s paid when actually employed.
Question: For both roles.
Spokesman: For both… yes, she has two portfolios.
Question: Okay. So, some people are wondering what she has done recently on the SEA (sexual exploitation and abuse) coordinator job.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, I think if you see the improvements in the UN system on how we are dealing with sexual exploitation and abuse, in getting the partners on board, getting the agencies on board, getting the reporting mechanisms strengthened, the increased transparency that we have seen, frankly, over the last three, four years on this, that is her work and the work of Jane Connors. She also remains in touch with Member States, who are, obviously, a key partner on this.
Question: Okay. So, you’re saying she still actively has this job.
Spokesman: Completely… [Cross talk] I mean, she’s completely working… I know she just briefed the Secretary‑General on it yesterday.
Question: On what?
Spokesman: On sexual exploitation and abuse.
Question: So, will we get information about that briefing?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, she was just updating the Secretary‑General. The information you get is through the regular updates that are published every day. If you look at the website, every day, they’re updated. And we have the yearly report, and we also have quarterly reports.
Correspondent: Okay. Thanks.
Question: Sorry, Steph. Can I have one follow‑up on the Facebook question, which was the…
Question: Given the importance of that specific platform in the country, which many people say is basically the same thing as the Internet in Myanmar, does the UN use that platform, Facebook, in any of its official duties?
Spokesman: Yeah, I mean, we use it to communicate, I mean, like you do or like anybody else does.
Okay. Stefano and then Benno.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is about the work of the Security Council, not specifically about Myanmar but in general. I guess we all received a comment by the Spokesperson of the Permanent Mission of China, where he seems… or the Mission of China seems shocked that there were leaks during the work of the Security Council. And for China, these kind of made the press statement and the work of the Security Council more complicated, more difficult to achieve.
So, I would… my question is, what does the Secretary‑General think first if… about the fact that this meeting was a closed‑door meeting when the Myanmar people were… you know, this situation was very difficult, so if he agree that this kind of situation did help, the fact that the Security Council… the meeting behind closed door and, in the specific, if he thinks that actually, when leaks or when the media is informed of anything of what’s going on, this make the work of the Security Council more difficult.
Spokesman: Do you want me to say if I like leaks or not?
Question: Well… If it’s useful, if it’s useful or not.
Spokesman: Listen, you guys do your job. I do my job. And somewhere in the middle, we meet through official statements and leaks. I mean, I have no comment on… Member States are free to… and are… should be able to express themselves freely. Whether leaks are good or bad, I will leave that for a panel discussion at a school for journalists.
Okay. Benno. Benno and then we’ll go to James and then Maria.
Question: Yes. Hi, Steph. Hi, dear colleagues. I signed in late today, so I hope I… you didn’t talk about this before. The Security Council just today gave green light to the new Observer Mission in Libya. What will happen now? When will observers fly to Libya? Is it already decided who is actually going to be on the team? How big will it be? What is the time frame the SG is aiming for? When will the observers be ready to start working?
Spokesman: That will be one of the topics of discussions at the joint 5+5 meeting that’s taking place in Sirte, which I just flagged. And in term… in more details — I’ll be honest with you — I’m not as briefed as I should be on this issue, and I will do my homework on it.
Spokesman: James and Benno… James and then Maria.
Question: Yeah, so, first, follow‑up on that. You’re not briefed on it, so I’m not sure you’ll have the answer, but I was going to ask you more about the monitoring issue. I’d heard that it was not much more than a dozen initially, UN monitors. Is that about the right level?
And how difficult… given that you’re also staffing a monitoring Mission in Hudaydah and potentially that is supposed to extend to other parts of Yemen, how difficult it is… is it recruiting these monitors? And which part of… is this peacekeeping does this on behalf of the UN…? Who appoints…
Spokesman: It’s done… the recruitment is done through our operational support with input from political affairs and peacekeeping. The recruitment, I don’t think it’s something that we’re too concerned with because there are enough people globally with that kind of expertise, Military Police, civil authorities, that can be deployed. And I need to get more details on this; I’ll be honest with you.
Question: Okay. I’ve got two more questions, one more on Libya. In addition to what’s going on in Sirte, you have the big talks going on in Geneva. Am I right in thinking that, if all things are hopeful and go as the UN hopes, anyway, that Stephanie Williams may be in a position to announce the names of a new Libyan Government in the next 24 hours?
Spokesman: I don’t know if I want to be boxed into 24 hours, but we do hope soonish.
Question: So, on that, could we please… before my last question, could we please have… I mean, I think this probably potentially could be a very big day for Libya. Could we have some media arranged… some media guidelines, timings?
Question: Could we have access to Stephanie Williams, given this is probably the last thing she’s done and it could be a great achievement…?
Spokesman: And it’s not a small thing.
Question: No. Exactly. Thanks.
Last question, different subject, Bangladesh, an Al Jazeera investigative report about corruption in the Bangladesh military, the military claiming the spy equipment they’re shown buying is for UN peacekeeping operations. Your comment?
Spokesman: Yes, on that, let me just tell you, because I have something to tell you actually, that in… I can tell you that we are, in fact, aware of the reporting done by Al Jazeera investigations concerning allegations of corruption against senior officials in Bangladesh and the press release issued by the Ministry of Defence in Bangladesh. The allegations of corruption [are] a serious matter that should be investigated by the relevant authorities.
Bangladesh is the largest contributor of uniformed personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. The deployment of such personnel is pursuant to specific requirements from the UN that are reflected in agreements with Bangladesh for each peacekeeping operation that they contribute to. The UN has not identified in any of these agreements a requirement for the capability provided by the operation of electronic equipment in the nature described by Al Jazeera in its documentary, and such equipment has not been deployed with Bangladeshi contingents in UN peacekeeping operations.
We have required in one peacekeeping operation, in line with the relevant UN intelligence peacekeeping policy, the capability to intercept certain types of communications as a measure to enhance the security of UN personnel in situations where security conditions warrant its use. This capability is employed strictly in accordance with UN Peacekeeping‑Intelligence Policy and under the operational authority of the Force Commander.
Okay. Maria, one last question, and then Denise has been extremely patient in Bangui, and we’ll turn to her. Maria?
Question: Thank you. So, yeah, you just said in principle that United Nations supports the freedom of speech, and I never doubted it actually. But in particular about the situation in Ukraine, where opposition channels can’t broadcast now and at least for five years, has SG something to say? Is he concerned about this situation?
Spokesman: Look, I haven’t been following the specific situation, but what I can tell you is that, for any healthy democracy, there needs to be enough space to hear various voices, whether they’re for the Government or against the Government, and that’s the kind of environment we would like to see everywhere.
Okay. Denise, we will turn to you. I want to thank you for your patience. I will leave you in the hands of my colleague Farhan [Haq], who will moderate. And thank you again for doing this briefing.