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17 February 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Okay.  It is 12.  Good afternoon.

**Security Council — COVID-19

This morning, as you know, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on COVID-19 vaccination.

He said that vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community.

Progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair, with just 10 countries having administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines.  Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.

Mr. [António] Guterres warned that if the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate again and again.  New variants could become more transmissible, more deadly and potentially threaten the effectiveness of current vaccines and diagnostics.

This can prolong the pandemic significantly, enabling the virus to come back to plague the Global North and delaying the world economic recovery.

The Secretary-General called on the G20 to set up a task force to create a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities.

He said that the G7 meeting later this week can help create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources.

And also speaking at today’s meeting was UNICEF’s (United Nations Children’s Fund) Executive Director, Henrietta Fore.  She asked Council members for their support in three areas:

Firstly, to urge all Member States to ensure that everyone is included in national vaccination plans, regardless of their legal status or if they live in areas controlled by non-State entities.

Second, on a global ceasefire and, at a minimum, for a humanitarian pause for the duration of vaccine delivery.

Lastly, to help UNICEF re-start stalled immunization campaigns for other diseases.

**Environment

Two events to flag for you for later this week.  As you know, tomorrow at 11 a.m.  the Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, will brief you on the triple emergencies of climate, biodiversity, and pollution, which are the focus of the latest report by UNEP.  The Secretary-General will be here in this room for those of you who wish to attend in person.  I think that UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association) is dealing with the attendance issue.  Ms. Andersen will be beamed in from outside of New York.  The Secretary-General will make an opening statement.  She will make an opening statement.  He will take a few questions, and then she will remain virtually here to answer more questions on the report.

On Friday, at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will take part live in a virtual conversation with the US [Special] Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, and that is to mark the United States’ re-entry into the Paris Agreement.  The chat will be part of the opening session of UNA-USA’s virtual 2021 Global Engagement Summit.

You can watch that live on our UN WebTV.  We will share with you under embargo the SG’s opening remarks for tomorrow, as well as his remarks for Friday, on the climate…for the event for the US re-entry into the Paris agreement.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

Just in a new senior personnel announcement to share with you.  The Secretary-General is appointing Usha Rao-Monari of India as Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme, otherwise known as UNDP.

The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude and appreciation to Mourad Wahba of Egypt for his commitment as Associate Administrator ad interim and his 30 years of service in the United Nations.  He also wishes to extend his appreciation to Tegegnework Gettu of Ethiopia for his significant contributions to the development agenda as UNDP’s Associate Administrator.

As Senior Adviser to Blackstone’s Infrastructure Group, Ms. Rao-Monari is an investment professional with almost 30 years of investment experience, particularly in the infrastructure area.  Her full bio is on the interweb.

**Ebola

Turning to an update on the Ebola situation.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, vaccination teams are working in the north-east of the country.  WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF, as well as other partners, are mobilizing to support the response, rehabilitating treatment centres and boosting contact-tracing capacity.  Communication campaigns are also helping combat misinformation among local population to promote safe vaccination.

In Guinea, our UN team started a four-day mission today to assess the situation in the south-eastern part of Nzérékoré area, where the first case of Ebola was reported.  The mission is led by Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Vincent Martin, with representatives from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) and the World Food Programme (WFP), as well as, of course, the World Health Organization.

Less than 24 hours after the official declaration of the epidemic, the UN Humanitarian Air Service, with logistical support from the World Food Programme, organized a first humanitarian flight to the area.  It carried personal protective equipment for health-care personnel, assistance kits for infected people and disinfection equipment.  The UN delegation met with local authorities, as well as community leaders.  They also took part in a crisis meeting organized by national authorities to roll out a rapid contact-tracing mechanism to assess the spread of the disease and establish an effective response plan.  This includes emergency vaccine distribution, case management, crisis communications, and help with border management.

**Somalia

A quick note on Somalia from the Food and Agriculture Organization, which said today that more than 2.6 million people in the country are expected to be in extreme food insecurity.

Poor rainfall, flooding and desert locusts are the main contributing factors.  The situation could worsen through the middle of the year, barring large-scale and sustained humanitarian assistance.

From July to December of last year, aid reached more than 1.8 million people per month on average in parts of Somalia.  This large-scale humanitarian and Government support helped to minimize the magnitude of the crisis.  However, funding is needed urgently to boost efforts to reduce the new food security threats the country is currently facing.

**International Criminal Court

The Secretary-General has congratulated  Karim  Khan on his election as the next Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Secretary-General affirms the continued support and cooperation of the UN under the Relationship Agreement between the UN and the International Criminal Court.

**Financial Contributions

Just to end on some good news.  Although no… on the honour roll per se… we are very thankful for our friends in Cyprus, in the Philippines and in France, who have paid up their budget dues in full, which brings the roster up to 46 States.

**Questions and Answers

Okay.  Célhia and then James.  I give myself a break here before… [laughter]

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I know, sorry.

Question:  At a meeting of the G5 Sahel countries, President [Emmanuel] Macron said that France will not reduce the number of soldiers in Mali.  But at the same time, the population is asking the French soldiers to leave, because the security situation is worse than before their arrival.  What could the Mission do to defuse the rising tension between the population and France?

Spokesman:  Look, I’m in no position to assess that relationship.  What I can tell you is that, in Mali, what the UN presence on the ground is trying to do is to continue to help foster a political dialogue, a political… the implementation of the agreements that have already been signed to bring peace and stability to Mali.  I mean, that is the best solution for the people of Mali.

Question:  Yes, but if the Mission doesn’t do anything, it will have an impact on the Mission.

Spokesman:  Well, the Mission will… the Mission, through its… and the UN presence, through its humanitarian work, through its development work and, obviously, through its peacekeeping work, is trying to improve the lives of the Malian people.  But for stability and calm to return to Mali, a big part of that responsibility lies on the shoulders of Malian leaders themselves.

Mr. Bays and then Ray.

Question:  Staying in West Africa — Nigeria.  There 27 students have been abducted.  The UN’s reaction?

Spokesman:  We call for their immediate release.  Attacks on schools, on children are abhorrent and need to be condemned in the strongest terms.

Question:  Large protests in Myanmar.  Any update on the UN’s engagement with that country, on the Special Envoy and her movements, on any calls the Secretary‑General may have made?

Spokesman:  The Special Envoy continues her contacts, trying to move forward on a possible visit.  There’s nothing to… there’s been no change as far as I’m aware of.  She continues her efforts.

Our colleagues on the ground are reporting on these large‑scale demonstrations.  We continue to be worried about the state of the country, frankly, and the need for the military to reverse course and listen to the… and implement the democratic will of the people of Myanmar.

Question:  Final question from me for now, Uganda, you’ve expressed your concern about human rights abuses in Uganda.  You’ve expressed your concern about possible abductions in Uganda.  Bobi Wine, the opposition politician, today took a petition on this very subject to the UN office in Kampala.  While doing so, his delegation seems to have come under attack, including the press that were covering it, and some of the press that were covering the peaceful delivery of a petition had to be hospitalized.  The UN’s reaction?

Spokesman:  Well, I will look into what are, as you said, rather disturbing reports.  We’ll check with our colleagues on the ground.  They have not reported anything up to us, but it is clear that journalists need to be allowed to do their work wherever and whenever.

Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question regarding the COVAX initiative.  Do you have any numbers to share with us, like how many… how much money the initiative has raised until now and how much money they need?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yes.  On… what I have on the COV… the ACT Accel… the… support for the COVAX facility has been outstanding, but more is needed.  We need right now $5 billion to meet the target.  Let me get you that full figure.  Okay.

All right.  Any questions in the chat?  Let me look.

James Reinl, you have a question.

Question:  Hi there.  Yes, Stéphane.  Thanks so much.  I was listening to the Security Council meeting, and Mr. Guterres suggested that the G20 create some emergency task force to arrange vaccines to get everywhere.  I couldn’t understand.  Why is that a job for the G20?  Why isn’t it something that the UN wants to take the lead on?

Spokesman:  Well, the G20 has the financial resources, the economic power, and the scientific know‑how.  If you look at the G20, it’s basically all the countries where vaccines are being produced.  It’s where the money is.  This is an issue of money.  Right?  This is an issue of putting cash behind statements, and it’s an issue of the largest economies and those who produce the vaccines to coordinate their efforts.

This would be done, obviously, with the aim of supporting the UN’s efforts on COVAX, supporting the UN’s work on the ground, but I think the Secretary‑General is being very realistic as to see where the resources are, in a way not unlike John Dillinger.

Question:  But that just… it’s just a different intergovernmental format.  I mean, all those G20 countries are all members of the United Nations.  I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to take control of it yourself.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  The G20… it’s not about control.  It’s about efficiency.  And we’ve seen the G20 since its creation take the lead on issues having to do with the global economy, having to do with resources.  So, we feel it’s a natural place for coordination on the financial side and on the scientific side to be done very clearly in full support of the World Health Organization’s work, of the UN’s work, and what we’re… we can… what we hope to be able to achieve on the ground.

Okay.  Sarah Walton and then we’ll go to Evelyn.

And by the way, all the ACT numbers are online on the WHO platform.  So, you can dig down in there.

Sarah?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  I can.

Question:  Lovely.  And on Myanmar, the UN special rapporteur has warned for the potential of a sudden increase in violence there.  Given that, does the Secretary‑General have hope that the Security Council might return to this issue?

Spokesman:  Well, we definitely hope… first of all, I would say we share those concerns, but we would definitely hope for continued interest in the situation in Myanmar by the Security Council and continued action and a strong voice and unified voice coming out of the Security Council on the situation in Myanmar.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Evelyn?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Good to see you again.  Excuse me.

Spokesman:  Nice to see you.

Question:  Is there any update on Yemen, on the Houthi offensive to… on the general Houthi offensive and how it affects the UN aid distribution?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No.  No, no updates on the situation in Marib, which continues to be a source of worry for us, I think, as we’ve been underscoring.  The fighting there risks creating a new wave of internally displaced people who have already been displaced and, of course, is not conducive to more political talks.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re welcome.  I don’t see anything else in the chat but if you have a… Stefano?

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  It’s a question I asked you a month ago.  Now it’s seven months, the death of Mario Paciolla, and unfortunate, especially the family is not satisfied with… with what’s happening.  They even use the word omertà.  Probably is a word everybody knows, is a word when you don’t want the truth coming out, the Mafia uses that word.

So, there is anything that you can say from the UN to help the people that wants the truth for Mario Paciolla that I remind everybody was working for the United Nations in Colombia?

Spokesman:  Look, first of all, we share and understand the anguish of the family, which is more than understandable.  What I will say is that we continue to work very closely with the relevant national authorities, whether it’s the Colombian authorities or the Italian authorities, who have the primary responsibilities for these criminal investigations, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Bays, you look like you want to say something… or at least ask something.

Question:  Sort of more say something.  It’s not really a proper, substantial question, but it’s about scheduling.  We have a Yemen meeting tomorrow.  You mentioned that we might have a stakeout with the Special Envoy.  How is that proceeding?

Spokesman:  That’s a good question.  I need to check.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma, do you want to say something so we can do a wave?

For information media. Not an official record.