The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Let’s start in Myanmar, where our colleagues in the country have been expressing their strong concern at today’s reported use of force by security forces against demonstrators. The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ola Almgren, called on the security forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. He stressed that the use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable. Mr. Almgren also reiterated the Secretary-General’s recent statement in which he urged 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.
For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Myanmar today expressed its deep concern at the impact of the ongoing crisis on the well‑being of children. UNICEF also reminds all parties of their obligations to uphold children’s rights as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is a State party, and under the Myanmar Child Rights Law enacted in July 2019. In the context of ongoing demonstrations and current events, UNICEF calls on all parties, including security forces, to exercise the utmost restraint, to resolve differences through constructive and peaceful means and to prioritize the protection and safety of children as they express their opinions.
On Syria, [Special Envoy for Syria] Geir Pedersen, as you know, briefed the Security Council in its closed consultations today about his diplomatic efforts. You’ll recall that he had convened the fifth session of the drafting body of the Syrian Constitutional Committee two weeks ago. In his remarks at the close of that meeting, which we shared, Mr. Pedersen said that the session had been a disappointment and that we cannot continue like this. He will be updating you in a virtual stakeout as soon as we are done here or soon after. On the humanitarian situation, I can tell you that we remain concerned about the situation of almost 62,000 people living at Al Hol camp in Syria, 93 per cent of whom are women and children, including more than 31,000 children under the age of 12. We and our humanitarian partners continue to provide comprehensive and life‑saving assistance at Al Hol, including through food, clean drinking water, health facilities, shelter and a range of other services. To help protect families against cold winter temperatures, close to 4,000 tents have been replaced, and essential items distributed, including heating fuel, blankets and winter clothes. The UN stresses the need for full and regular humanitarian access to the camp so that all residents continue to receive essential assistance. We also emphasize that durable solutions for all residents are needed. Any returns must be voluntary, safe, and dignified, as well as fully informed.
You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday afternoon in which Antonio Guterres commended the announcement by the President of Colombia, Iván Duque, that the Government of Colombia will provide temporary protection to the 1.7 million Venezuelans living in that country. This will allow approximately a third of the 5 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the region to access services and contribute to the Colombian economy. The Secretary-General noted that the inclusion of Venezuelan refugees and migrants will contribute to the pandemic recovery process and enable Venezuelans in Colombia to access the country’s health and other basic services. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also welcomed the announcement and said that they and their partners stand ready to contribute with their technical expertise, field presence, logistical capacity and resources to support the roll-out of this very important initiative.
**Sustainable Energy for All
This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke by a pre‑recorded video message to the Sustainable Energy for All Youth Summit. She said that young people have a critical role to play in building the global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050. Young people understand the links between sustainable development and climate justice, she said, and have risen to the forefront as advocates and innovators in bringing sustainable energy solutions to homes, communities and countries. Ms. Mohammed stressed that, as we recover from the impact of the pandemic, it is important that we recover better with sustainable energy for all. She encouraged youth to actively shape the events taking place this year, such as the General Assembly Debate and COP26 [twenty‑sixth Conference of the Parties), to help the UN reach the future we want.
A quick note on Burkina Faso: as we told you earlier, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ramesh Rajasingham, is there this week. Today, he visited the area of Djibo, in the country’s north. Also, today, in Ouagadougou, he met with Government and donor representatives and launched the country’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan, which appeals for $607 million to help 2.9 million people. This is a 43 per cent increase in cost compared to the amount sought in the middle of last year. More people are being targeted — 61 per cent more than January of last year. This also takes into account the increasing unit costs of delivering aid, including due to COVID-19 related measures. As we have said, Burkina Faso is experiencing the world’s fastest-growing displacement crisis. More than 1 million people have fled their homes over the past two years. As of January, more than 2 million people — about 10 per cent of Burkina Faso’s population — were struggling to feed themselves. Vital basic services, particularly education and health, have been disrupted. Almost 2,400 schools are closed in affected areas, depriving 350,000 children of education. Close to 1 million people have no access to medical care. Despite these challenges, the humanitarian community in Burkina Faso continues to scale-up assistance. Aid deliveries have tripled since 2019. Tomorrow, [the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator] will go to Kaya, in the centre north of Burkina Faso.
Our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon continue to support the Lebanese authorities in their fight against COVID-19. Recently, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) provided personal protective equipment, PPE and other medical supplies to communities in Tyre, Bint Jbeil and Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. Peacekeepers also donated generators to the Lebanese Armed Forces and three laryngoscopy video systems to public hospitals.
In Bolivia, our team there, led by Resident Coordinator Susana Sottoli, has been supporting the Government to ensure its participation in the COVAX facility. Bolivia expects to receive a shipment of nearly 1 million vaccine doses in the next few [weeks; please see below]. To make this happen, the UN team helped the country prepare its cold chain capacity, purchase vaccines and plan their safe distribution. This effort will target health‑care workers first, as well as the elderly and other vulnerable groups. The team and authorities are also boosting communications efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while backing the UN’s “Verified” initiative to curb the spread of the so-called “infodemic”. The UN team has so far repurposed $31 million of its existing funding to address the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
I can tell you that our Honour Roll is on a roll. We are delighted to thank our friends in Vienna, Sarajevo and Warsaw for their payments in full. Because of Austria’s, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s and Poland’s payments, we have now reached last year’s Honour Roll total of 35, and we have some days to go — we have two days to go, in fact, until the 30-day Honour Roll period is over. If you are reaching for your chequebooks, do so quickly and send me the money. And so that’s welcome news, and I will take your questions. And I will take your questions. Ms. Lederer?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much, Steph. One clarification. On Bolivia, did you say they are expecting these million doses in the next years? I hope it's sooner than that.
Spokesman: Let's see what I… I have… the question is, do I listen to what I actually say? In the next few weeks. Thank you for listening. And paying attention.
Question: With the vaccine roll‑out underway, many countries are thinking… starting to think about how to let people who have vaccinations have some kind of a document to say that they have been vaccinated. I know Denmark has been… done this and other countries. Wouldn't it be far more effective for people, especially anybody wanting to travel internationally, if the United Nations did some kind of a vaccination certificate that was watermarked with lots of other symbols to prevent it from being counterfeited, so that people and/or authorities would then know that these people really have been vaccinated?
Spokesman: I mean, it's a very interesting question, and I do think that there needs to be international coordination and standardization of these things moving forward. As far as I know, it is an issue that our colleagues in Montreal at ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] have been looking at, I don't know about the creation of certificates but about some sort of standardization, because the other thing that we have to be concerned about is… as always in these issues, is the criminal element of people falsifying vaccine certificates or, even worse, giving people false… vaccines that are not actual vaccines. So, I think the more international cooperation we can get on this, the better in a way… especially in a way to restart the travel sector, which has… and tourism, which has been so hard hit. Mr. Bays, and then we'll go to Lenka.
Question: Yes. First, Myanmar. Every day I'm asking you to respond to more worrying news, but reports that several people have been injured. Security forces have dispersed peaceful protesters. Amnesty International saying, as feared, the authorities in the country seem to be now using unnecessary and excessive force. What's the UN's reaction? And what's the UN's message to those, currently the coup leaders, the army in charge?
Spokesman: The use of excessive force, disproportionate force, is unacceptable. We're very concerned about the reports that we've seen, about what our colleagues on the ground have seen, what we've seen just watching the news. People have a right to demonstrate. They have a right to demonstrate peacefully, and that is in Myanmar and anywhere else. The message is very clear, is that we need to see a return to the democratic process. We need to see the will of the people of Myanmar respected and a return to the situation as it was more than a week ago.
Question: Two more from me. And the next one, we have this afternoon, the UN Security Council are going to read out a statement that they've put together on Libya. What is the Secretary‑General's reaction? I know this is something — she's now left her job — that Stephanie Williams was asking, actually, not just for a statement, but for a resolution.
Spokesman: Listen, I haven't seen what they're about to read out. It is clear that a very strong and unified voice from the Security Council is critical to the reconciliation and political process in Libya moving forward. There are many parties outside of Libya who have been involved in one way or another in this conflict. It is important that all of those Member States, all those parties, come together and really replicate what Libyan political leaders have done themselves, which is come together for the sake of the Libyan people and reunite institutions and pave the road for a better future for all Libyans.
Question: And finally, something you've read out today and you're reading out lots of different parts of the UN on the Al‑Hol camp, but, I mean, this is a problem that is not being solved. There are countries that have nationals there that probably have an obligation to take them back and deal with them themselves. Isn't it time the Secretary‑General sort of took a system‑wide approach to this and started banging some heads together?
Spokesman: Listen, there's so many issues in which we need to bang heads together, and this one, I would say, included to a certain extent. This is something that our colleague Mr. [Vladimir] Voronkov, the head of the Counter‑Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), has been very vocal on and our humanitarian colleagues. And I think the Secretary‑General backs all the efforts of our colleagues in the UN system to find a way forward for all of these children. I mean, if I recall, I think there were 31,000 children. I mean, we just… we talk about these numbers all the time, but you think about, what does it mean for 31,000 children to live not only in horrendous conditions, without education, without access to proper health care, what is their future? Where are they going to be? These are problems that need to be dealt with immediately, because if you leave a 5‑ or a 10‑ or a 12‑year‑old in these conditions for too long, you've ruined their future in a certain extent.
Question: Is there a danger of radicalization, perhaps?
Spokesman: It's… I… listen, it… children who are living in horrend… very challenging conditions without education, without a proper structure are always at a risk of potential radicalization. Lenka, and then we'll go to the screen.
Question: Thank you. Two questions on Myanmar. So, first, does the UN have an access to Rakhine State? And secondly, would the Secretary‑General like to see a special mission or something to assess the situation of Rohingyas after the events? Thank you.
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we… our access… our humanitarian access was always a bit challenging in Rakhine State before. It is now even more challenging. We are doing whatever we can, under these current conditions, to continue life‑saving humanitarian work, wherever it is needed in Myanmar. And we will continue to do so. It is clear that the upheaval we are seeing will have a negative impact and is having a negative impact on our ability to do our work and, more importantly, on those in Myanmar who depend on humanitarian aid. I think there are about a million people that depend on humanitarian aid in Myanmar. What is going on now is only making their life worse, and that's just yet another reason why we need to see the events reversed. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: And a special monitoring mission?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, we're not calling for any additional missions or whatever. It's pretty simple. We're calling for a return to the democratic process — to the situation as it was before, which was… which had its challenges. But, this… the situation as it is now just makes our work, our ability to access those people who need help, that much more challenging. Okay. Let's see who is in my chat box. Nabil. Nabil? Nabil, I can't hear you. Okay. We'll come back to you, Nabil. Toby?
Question: Hi. Thanks very much, Steph. My question is on the investigation into Mr. [Fabrizio] Hochschild. I'm assuming there's no update there, but I did want to ask and see if… how it's progressing, and as a corollary, to ask, who is in charge now of the UN's technology initiatives? And is the postponement of Mr. Hochschild's appointment affecting these initiatives negatively? Thank you very much.
Spokesman: The… sorry. I'm just looking… the investigation, as far as I know, is continuing. But I'm not in touch nor do I have any reason to be in touch with those conducting the investigation. The office is continuing to function smoothly. In order to ensure that smooth functioning, the Office of the Special Envoy has a new officer in charge, and that's Maria‑Francesca Spatolisano, who is appointed in her personal capacity, and she will report to the Chef de Cabinet and the Secretary‑General on any issues related to the work of that office. Her other day job, as you may recall, is an Assistant Secretary‑General in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). I think we've had her here at the briefing. Nabil?
Question: Yeah. Thank you again, Steph. Sorry. I lost the connection. So, two questions on Syria. Does the Secretary‑General share Mr. Pedersen's frustration on the Constitutional Committee's deadlock? And, two, how does he see the way out of this deadlock? What does the Secretary‑General think, or what's his thinking now to overcome this result?
Spokesman: Short answer to your first question is yes. The short answer to your second question is I think you will hear from Mr. Pedersen after his briefing to the Council, and I don't want to get ahead of him. And obviously, Mr. Pedersen represents the Secretary‑General and acts on behalf of the Secretary‑General.
Question: May I add one question on Lebanon, please? Okay. So, the assassination of Lokman Slim happened, took place, in UNIFIL's operation area. Based on the previous reports from UNIFIL and 1701, do you expect that this incident will be mentioned in the coming report in details? How does the UNIFIL deal with this assassination?
Spokesman: Well, whether or not it will be reported as something that occurred in the area of responsibility, I don't know. We can check. But, that does not mean that the primary responsibility for investigating his killing changes in any way, shape or form. That responsibility remains, first and foremost, with the authorities in Lebanon. James Reinl and then Alan.
Question: Thank you, Steph. I'm asking mostly for an update on this Yemen oil tanker, the Safer. Is there anything new? And as a clarification, you've had this UN mission to the tanker planned for a number of weeks now. Can you just clarify? Is the mission to repair the tanker, or is it to empty it of oil and then to scrap it?
Spokesman: It's first to assess the situation and do some initial mitigation measures. We don't… until there's a thorough assessment, we don't know what full repairs will be done. The first order of business, really, is to assess and stabilize and mitigate any… have any urgent measures that we would need. Every day that we're not able to access the tanker just increases the risk of an ecological disaster for the millions of people who live on the border of the Red Sea, so not only in Yemen, but all of the countries that border the Red Sea. And it would also very likely lead, if there was… if there was a disaster, to the closure of the port in Hudaydah, which would obviously have an impact on the ability to import basic staples, food, et cetera, which would have the knock‑on effect of raising prices even further in Yemen and making the humanitarian situation that much worse. Okay. But, all this to say that there is no… I don't have… there's been no movement that has been reported to me. And I hope if there was, it would have. Alan and then Erol.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I have two questions, please. First is on the decision of the authorities of Latvia. Today, they decided to ban the rebroadcasting of another 60 Russian channels in this country. So, how does that correspond with the norms of democracy, with the freedom of speech, of media? And did the SG get any complaints regarding that from Russian side? That's the first one.
Spokesman: I'm not aware of any complaints that have been received, at least as of today, but maybe there have. We can check. It is our principled position that there be freedom of press in every country. Did you have another one?
Question: Yes, I had a second question. As far as I know, Minister [Sergey] Lavrov held a phone call with the SG today. So, do you have any information? What did they discuss? Did the Russian Minister somehow express his support to the SG in the fact that he's running to the second term? Do you have any readout? Thank you.
Spokesman: No. I can confirm the phone call took place, but I haven't had a chance to speak to the Secretary‑General about it as of a few minutes ago, but I do know it took place. Okay. Erol?
Question: Yes. Steph, just to clarify, regarding this reappointment of Mr. [Michael] Bloomberg by Secretary‑General, we ran that piece, but in order to enrich a little bit with more information, what is the context, if any, financial context? Whenever you… one mention Mr. Bloomberg, there is assumption that he may contribute something, or I think… I don't even have to ask whether he's paid or not. He's not, isn't that?
Spokesman: Well, I mean, his appointment is not… his appointment is costing us a dollar per year.
Correspondent: All right. But…
Spokesman: He is not making any personal contributions, so…
Question: Okay. And just one more. You mentioned that there is a danger to have even a false vaccine. Do you have some information on that? Does the UN collect…?
Spokesman: No, but we know… it's been reported, I think, by our colleagues at the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is the risk of people being sold diluted or completely fake vaccines. I mean, it should come as no surprise to anyone that criminal elements take advantage of any opportunity in any crisis, and this is clearly one that is an opportunity, and I think that's why we need to redouble our efforts and our vigilance in that regard. Stefano and then Benno.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. This is a kind of a follow‑up on what Lenka asked before. It's about Myanmar. We can… I believe also with my colleagues, we can say the biggest success of this Secretary‑General was to prevent even a larger genocide in Myanmar. He probably saved 700,000 people, sending a letter to the Security Council. And on the beginning of his… of being Secretary‑General, his way to be assertive on the issue when he saw that… the danger, he was appreciated all around the world, I believe. Now, the situation in the same place in Myanmar at the moment is not so dire for the Rohingya, but my question is, if the situation gets worse again, if there are signs that these people is again in danger like before, would the Secretary‑General become the Secretary‑General that we saw three years ago, more assertive… or four years ago, more assertive and push the Security Council to take the right decision?
Spokesman: I mean, I think the Secretary‑General has been extremely clear, extremely vocal and extremely precise in his messaging on Myanmar since the start of this crisis, and he will continue to do so. Should things get even worse, he will also continue to do so. I mean, the Secretary‑General cares about many of these situations around the world, but, I think, as High Commissioner for Refugees, he had visited Myanmar a number of times. He's very well versed about the situation in the country, and he will continue to speak out based on the universal principles that are found in the Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights.
Question: Just a very quick follow‑up, just maybe to make more clear my question. Does the Secretary‑General have… has ready a letter to send back to the Security Council if the Security Council doesn't move fast enough in the situation, in a dangerous situation?
Spokesman: The Secretary‑General will take his responsibilities seriously and do whatever is needed at that time. Benno, I think you had a question. Then Iftikhar.
Question: Yes, I had a follow‑up to my colleagues. It's the question about the investigation of Mr. Hochschild. Generally speaking, for such harassment investigations, is there a rough… at least a rough time frame, how long they have to be conducted, minimum or maximum? Is it more like weeks or months? Can you give any…?
Spokesman: No, I don't want to give a time frame. I think it is important that the investigation be done thoroughly, in detail, and as expeditiously as possible for the sake of everyone involved. Okay. Iftikhar, and then we'll go back to James.
Question: Steph, can you hear me today?
Spokesman: I can hear you today, yes.
Question: Oh, great, great. Thanks. Do you have… this is on Myanmar. Do you have any information from the areas put under curfew in the country, whether any additional coercive steps have been taken, such as establishment of military courts to punish violators in order to establish control?
Spokesman: No. On the issue of military courts, I have not, but we have seen and we are concerned about various measures taken by the authorities that curtail people's basic freedoms. Ibtisam's raising her hand, and then we will go to James.
Question: Thanks, Steph. I'm sorry if you were asked about this, because I was disconnected, so I'm not sure. So, my question is about Egypt and more than 100 leading human rights organizations from around the world have warned today in a letter to Foreign Ministers of the deterioration… deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. And they called on Governments to lead and support the creation of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation of human rights in Egypt in the upcoming forty-sixth Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. So, my question… or my first question is, do you agree, first, with their assessment regarding the human rights situation in Egypt?
Spokesman: Look, I think whether it's the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has spoken out and expressed her concern, or our concern that we've also expressed directly from here about a shrinking civic space in Egypt, and our position has not changed. And the Human Rights Council, I think, as we've said earlier, is a proper forum for discussing human rights challenges in any country. All right. We'll go to James…
Question: I have a follow‑up. Okay. So, do you support the creation of such a monitoring mechanism?
Spokesman: Look, those things, I think, have to be taken up by various human rights bodies. We've expressed our position. James?
Question: Yeah. At the start of this briefing, you told us that we would just have to wait and then Geir Pedersen would be following you. I ran upstairs and only listened to the last minute of it. It was very short, but everyone in this briefing has missed it. So, I'm going to put my question about Syria to you, as I wasn't able to put one to the Special Envoy. In recent months, I've heard comments about the Constitutional Committee process by various delegations on the Security Council as pointless, a diversion, a farce, and just enabling the delaying tactics of the Syrian Government. So, does the Secretary‑General believe this whole Constitutional Committee process has now run out of road?
Spokesman: I'm really sorry. I… no. This is… we don't believe it's run out of road. We think that all those involved need to redouble their efforts to make it work. And I'm really sorry that you missed it, because we were told that they would… or at least we were… I don't know what happened. Yeah. Go ahead, Edie.
Question: First, on Mr. Pedersen, could somebody please put it up on WebTV instantly and not in three hours?
Spokesman: Yeah. And they'll produce a transcript, as well.
Question: And produce a transcript?
Question: Thank you. I wondered whether the Secretary‑General had any comment on the United Arab Emirates being the first Arab country to put a satellite into orbit around Mars, the weather satellite?
Spokesman: It's an amazing accomplishment. Dulcie, and then Maggie, I think, you had a question.
Question: Yeah. Thanks. I can't remember, at the beginning of your briefing, whether you said the UN was involved in the Colombia decision to accept the Venezuelans.
Spokesman: Well, this is something that had been discussed, I believe, with the Colombian Government, with UNHCR and with IOM. I think it's… and we are there to now help implement and support in any way. I think it's a tremendous act of generosity by the Government of Colombia, which the Secretary‑General welcomes, and it gives hope to… we say 1.5, 1.7 [million] Venezuelans currently living in Colombia. And we would hope other countries can follow suit.
Question: So, was there money exchanged or money involved?
Spokesman: Between who?
Question: Between the UN refugee agency helping to settle these refugees accepted by Colombia. Will Colombia be able to draw on those financial resources?
Spokesman: Well, we will support them in any way we can, but the bottom line is that this means that, whether you're a refugee or migrant in Venezuela… sorry, in Colombia, you now have access to basic services the same as almost… generally the same as Colombians. You're able to participate and give back to Colombian society. I don't know about money being exchanged, but we will be there to support the Government of Colombia in any way we can.
Question: I have a separate question. The Mali Commission of Inquiry report, we had asked you about a week ago how much it cost the UN. So, if we could get that figure? Thanks.
Spokesman: Sure. Maggie?
Question: Hi, Steph. On Haiti, do you have any update for us? The President issued some decree yesterday retiring three Supreme Court justices, and apparently, he's not allowed to do that. And another judge who's been detained has claimed he's been badly mistreated in prison. So, does the UN have any comment on those in particular?
Spokesman: Look, we're obviously watching that situation in Haiti closely. It's very important that… I mean, what I can tell you is we encourage the constructive relations between the executive and the judiciary to preserve constitutional order and the rule of law. I think our concern is that recent developments and we emphasize… recent… we're concerned with recent developments, and we emphasize the importance of ensuring the separation of powers and the non‑politicization, and respect for, the autonomy of the independence of a judiciary. Okay. On that note… oh, sorry. One more question. Ephrem, you have a question?
Question: Yes. Hello, Stéphane. This is just a follow‑up on Nabil's question about Lokman Slim's assassination in Lebanon. You said that the sole responsibility for investigation falls on the Lebanese Government. And Lokman, before he died, he sent a letter to the Lebanese Government, holding the head of Hizbullah and the head of the Parliament responsible for his safety. And as we know, these are two leaders with militias that are backed by Iran, and they have been putting death threats on his wall. And as you know, Stéphane, since the end of the civil war in Lebanon, no crime has ever been solved. So, when the United Nations calls Lebanese Government to do the investigation and the widow of Lokman Slim is calling for an international investigation, how do you respond to these thoughts that are now [inaudible] in Lebanon?
Spokesman: I think it's important, first of all, that the case be fully investigated. As in any country, the primary responsibility for investigating murders or any other crimes in any country is with that government, and Lebanon is no different. As you know… and that investigation needs to be quick and transparent, and the judicial process needs to be effective, as well. As you know, there is… the Secretary‑General, on his own, does not have the authority to create an international investigation. If a crime is committed in any country, that country then would need to put that request to either the Secretary‑General or a legislative body. That's just the way the system works. I will leave you with Brenden [Varma]. I really apologize about the Syria mix‑up. We'll try to get that video up as quickly as possible. Brenden, all yours.