19 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and happy Friday, everyone.

**Munich Security Conference

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke virtually at the Munich Security Conference segment on “Priorities for Global Action”.  He said that, while our global tests keep getting bigger and more complex, our responses remain fragmented and insufficient, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Secretary-General stressed that 2021 must be the year to get on track, with pandemic recovery being our chance.  He said there are four imperatives.  First, there needs to be a global vaccination plan, again calling on the G20 to bring countries, companies and others together with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities.  The Secretary-General said the second priority must be to reach net‑zero greenhouse‑gas emissions by mid-century.  He voiced hope that more countries will commit to that target by the Climate change Conference in Glasgow in November.  Third, he said that we need to ease geopolitical tensions and enhance diplomacy for peace, adding that we cannot solve the biggest problems when the biggest Powers are at odds.  Last, the Secretary-General called for a redefining of global governance for the twenty-first century and a strengthening of multilateralism.  We’ve shared his full remarks with you.


I want to remind you that at 3 p.m. today, the Secretary-General will take part in a virtual conversation with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, to mark the United States’ re-entry into the Paris Agreement.  The chat will be part of the opening session of UNA-USA’s [United Nations Association of the United States of America] virtual 2021 Global Engagement Summit.  You can watch it live on UN WebTV.

**Human Rights Council

I wanted to flag that on Monday morning, the Secretary-General will address the opening of the forty-sixth regular session of the Human Rights Council.  In his pre-recorded remarks, he will talk about the impact of the pandemic on human rights around the world.  He will also ask for concerted action, including a call to combat racism, xenophobia and an appeal to fight for gender equality.  This event is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., Geneva time, and we will share his remarks.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 10 years into the Syria crisis, humanitarian needs there are deepening.  A convergence of factors, including armed conflict, a sinking economy and COVID-19, are contributing to growing needs across Syria.  Health, water and sanitation infrastructure are poor or non-existent all around the country.  As of January, around 13.4 million people are estimated to require some form of humanitarian and protection assistance.  This is an increase of more than 2 million people over the previous year.  Some of the greatest needs are in food insecurity.  The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that at least 12.4 million people, nearly 60 per cent of the population, are now food insecure.  In one year, an additional 4.5 million Syrians have become food insecure.  About 2 million Syrians are estimated to be living in extreme poverty, and an estimated 2.4 million children are out of school.  Last year, an average of 7.6 million people was helped each month with humanitarian assistance — which was an increase of 1.9 million people compared to 2019.


The Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, arrived today in Benghazi.  The Special Envoy held a meeting with General Khalifa Haftar.  They both agreed on the importance for all parties in Libya to commit to and facilitate the holding of the national elections on 24 December.  Their discussions focused on ways to expedite the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement.  Ján Kubiš and his team met yesterday with the President-designate of the Presidency Council for Libya, Mohamed Almenfi and a member-designate of the Presidency Council, Abdullah el Lafi, in Tripoli.  They discussed ways the UN can support expediting the implementation of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum Road Map, including the holding of an official House of Representatives vote of confidence session.  Special Envoy Kubiš also met with the Government of National Accord’s Minister for Defence and senior Defence Ministry officials.  They discussed the security situation in the country and ways to expedite the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.  And he met with the head of the electoral commission and stressed the UN’s readiness to provide the necessary technical support to ensure the success of the democratic process.


I’ve been asked about the death of a protestor in Myanmar and can say that the Secretary-General has been following the case of Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing closely and is deeply saddened and disturbed.  He extends his condolences to her loved ones.  We reiterate that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable.  The right of peaceful assembly must be fully respected.  Reports of continued violence, intimidation and harassment by security personnel are appalling.  Such acts must stop.  The UN country team has also expressed its deep sadness at the passing of Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing.  The team once again called on security forces to respect human rights and avoid using force against demonstrators, including women and girls.


The United Nations in Somalia today said it is deeply concerned by armed clashes in Mogadishu overnight and into this morning.  The team calls for calm and restraint by all parties involved and urges that open lines of communication be maintained to help reduce tensions.  The UN in Somalia notes that the clashes in Mogadishu underscore the urgent need for the Federal Government and Federal Member State leaders to come together to reach political agreement on the implementation of the 17 September 2020 electoral model.  We also expect a statement from the Secretary-General later today.

**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I have an update about the preliminary investigation on the allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse there during the Ebola outbreak response.  The Secretary-General is unwavering in his determination to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse.  The policy of the organization is zero tolerance, and we will pursue all allegations whenever they arise.  The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is currently reviewing these allegations.  Because the investigative work is ongoing, we will not comment further on these critical efforts.  In all such inquiries and investigations, the rights and needs of the victims must be paramount.  All victims identified have received and will continue to receive support.  We are committed to ending and preventing sexual abuse and exploitation everywhere, including in humanitarian settings, and we will continue to press for a victim-centred approach and punishment of perpetrators.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Also on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a new report, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that the lives and futures of more than 3 million displaced children are at risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  As we have mentioned in this briefing, attacks in the east of the country have forced entire communities to flee.  Families, including children, have been killed.  Health centres and schools have also been attacked.  UNICEF’s report recounts the testimony of children who have been recruited as militia fighters, subjected to sexual assault, and suffered other grave violations of their rights.  They say that violations against children have increased by 16 per cent in the first half of 2020, compared to the previous year.  The agency is calling for renewed solidarity with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  UNICEF’s 2021 humanitarian appeal for $384 million is currently only 11 per cent funded.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reports that armed combatants from the CPC [Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement] have ambushed a UN patrol that was traveling from Baboua to Nguia Bouar.  This is in the Nana-Mambere Prefecture.  Peacekeepers returned fire, forcing the combatants to retreat.  We can report that no casualties were reported.  Meanwhile, in Bangui, MINUSCA participated in a two‑day workshop organized by the Central African Project for Support to the Electoral Process.  The workshop is part of our preparation for the next round of legislative elections, which is scheduled for 14 March.  Finally, in Berberati, located in the Mambéré Kadei Prefecture, the Mission also supported the local peace and reconciliation committee, as well as local authorities, to organize an awareness campaign to sensitize people on the need to work together towards peaceful legislative elections.

**Humanitarian Air Service

Our colleagues at the World Food Programme (WFP) are telling us that the UN Humanitarian Air Service — better known as UNHAS — urgently requires $204 million to continue existing operations beyond the end of the month.  UNHAS, managed by WFP, transports humanitarian workers and lifesaving cargo to some of the most challenging and hard-to-reach locations.  UNHAS has also played an important role in national pandemic responses by transporting test samples and critical medical supplies on behalf of Governments.  The service currently runs 21 operations and carries up to 400,000 passengers every year to over 400 destinations using a fleet of aircraft and helicopters.  Air Service disruptions could impact major humanitarian operations, including those in Yemen, Syria and Haiti.

**Mali — COVID-19

An update on what our colleagues in Mali are doing to support national efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and vaccinate the population:  The UN team, led by the Deputy Special Representative and Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mbaranga Gasarabwe, is purchasing nearly 8.5 million doses of vaccine for the national immunization plan.  The purchase is being made with nearly $5 million in financial support from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).  This brings the total to what the UN has contributed to the COVID-19 response in Mali to $15 million.  UNICEF — together with the World Bank, the Global Fund and Gavi — has procured, among other materials, half a million items of testing equipment, more than 640,000 masks and other personal protective items.  WFP scaled up emergency food and nutrition initiatives to help nearly 1 million people in the central and northern regions.  WHO is helping community hospitals on how to manage COVID-19 cases.  The UN team is also working to sensitize people about the virus on social media.  It is also working with community mobilizers to help young people, religious leaders, women's associations and traditional chiefs on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

I would like to read into the record an announcement that we put out yesterday.  And that is about the Secretary-General appointing Khardiata Lo N’Diaye of Senegal as his new Deputy Special Representative for Sudan.  She will serve with the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).  She will also be the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country.  Ms. Lo N’Diaye brings 35 years of experience in development, humanitarian assistance, women empowerment, democratic governance, conflict prevention and peacebuilding.  Most recently, she served as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim in Niger in 2020, and as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Representative ad interim in Nigeria in 2019.  You can find lots more in a press release.

**World Day of Social Justice

Tomorrow is the World Day of Social Justice, and the theme this year is “A Call for Social Justice in the Digital Economy”.  This year's commemoration supports efforts by the international community to search for solutions to achieve sustainable development, poverty eradication, the promotion of full employment and decent work, universal social protection, gender equality and access to social well-being and justice for all.

**International Mother Language Day

And Sunday, 21 February, is International Mother Language Day.  This year’s theme is “Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society”.  In a message for the Day, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay, said that the theme encourages us to support multilingualism and the use of mother tongues, both at school and in everyday life.  UNESCO notes that linguistic diversity is increasingly threatened as more and more languages disappear.  At least 43 per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are endangered.

**Financial Contributions

Since our last briefing on Wednesday, we’ve received a few more very welcome payments to the 2021 regular budget.  Our sincere thanks go to our friends in Djibouti, San Marino, Slovenia and the United Arab Emirates.  The total number of fully paid-up Member States is now 50.

**Press Briefing Monday

And last, on Monday, at 1 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, will brief reporters from the Press Briefing Room.  Mr. Lacroix will discuss peacekeeping operations in Mali, the Central African Republic, as well as other issues related to peacekeeping.  And that is it from me.  And before we go to Brenden Varma, I see you have some questions.  We'll start on the list with Joe Klein.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Can you hear me?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I can hear you.

Question:  Okay.  Yeah.  On the same day that a UN commission of inquiry accused Syria of "crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes, including genocide," the UN apparently announced or one of its committees announced that the [Bashar al-]Assad regime will be elected to a senior post by a UN committee in charge of upholding fundamental human rights in opposing the "subjugation, domination and exploitation" of peoples.  I'd like to know the… what the SG would have to say on this kind of rather ironic juxtaposition other than it's a decision of the members.  I'd like to know what the Secretary‑General himself believes as to… as to the decision, morality for putting Syria in this committee opposing the "subjugation, domination and exploitation" [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, Joe, as you are aware, we do not control the elections to Member State bodies.  And as you yourself pointed out, that is something that Member States themselves decide.  Of course, our hope is that when Member States do that, they consider the human rights records of the countries that are going for these positions.  And we've already made clear our own concerns repeatedly about the human rights situation in Syria.  But, beyond that, of course, it's the Member States' responsibility to go about this process, and we leave it in their hands.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is about Yemen, the situation in Marib.  As you know, things are escalating there.  Yesterday, we heard from Martin Griffiths and the Security Council, but things are moving very fast.  Any update from Marib?  There are expected clashes there.  I don't know if I missed that in the beginning.  And second thing I want to ask again about Yemen, UAE [United Arab Emirate] reportedly closed a major military base in Eritrea.  Any reaction to that? Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  In Eritrea, you said?

Correspondent:  Yes, they have a base there.  They used to have a base.

Deputy Spokesman:  I'll have to check up on that.  I'm not aware of the United Arab Emirates' actions in Eritrea, so… but we'll check with our colleagues.  Regarding Yemen, we've made our concerns known.  Both Martin Griffiths and Mark Lowcock briefed the Security Council about our extreme concern about the situation in Marib and the need to halt the fighting there, and we reiterate that today.  Our human rights colleagues in Geneva also made that point from Geneva — that they have immense worries about reported violations of basic human rights in Marib right now, and so, we once again repeat our call on all parties to halt fighting.  James?  James Bays and then James Reinl.

Question:  Is it okay if I jump in?  Because I got the impression that maybe James' microphone isn't working again.  You gave us a whole bunch of information before on Libya, really important update.  Thank you so much for that.  Two additional bits of information on Libya, if you don't mind.  With Mr. Kubiš' meeting with all these important power brokers in Libya, has he managed to move the ball forward when it comes to the deployment of ceasefire monitors?  And second point, UN says there's about 20,000 foreign forces in Libya.  Everyone wants them out.  Have you noticed, have any of these forces left the country yet?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm not aware of any progress about the departure of foreign forces, but you are aware of our call for all parties to pull back their forces.  And this is something we're discussing with the parties on the ground.  Mr. Kubiš will continue with his work on that, just as he has been continuing to work with the various parties on the ground regarding the question of the deployment of ceasefire monitors.  We are not yet ready to proceed with the deployment, but it is something that is being taken up by the various parties and at the Joint Military [Commission].  So, we are making some progress, and Mr. Kubiš will continue his dialogue along those lines.  So, is the other James online now, James Bays?

Question:  Hello, Farhan.  Can you hear me okay?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I can hear you.

Question:  Sorry.  It was a connection issue, I think, with the WiFi.  So, the G7 has been meeting.  They've come up with a statement.  It doesn't seem to have any new commitments or any new numbers with regard to COVID‑19.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction to the statement?  And also, to the G7's record on COVID‑19, and whether it's been leading the world as these are supposedly leading countries in terms of their economy.  I know the SG when he spoke to the Security Council on Wednesday said just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID‑19 vaccines.  One assumes that seven out of the ten are the G7.  So, what is his view on the G7?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary‑General made clear, both in his remarks to the Security Council on Wednesday, his remarks at the Munich Security Conference today, and throughout what he's been saying about the COVID‑19 pandemic, about the need for leadership by, particularly, the leading developed countries, which, of course, includes the G7 countries.  And he does expect them to take this role.  You saw from what he said two days ago about how vaccines have been distributed primarily in a small number of countries and how roughly 130 or so countries had lacked vaccines — about the need for the situation to change and for there to be global leadership on this, and he'll continue to take these issues up.  Regarding the G7's actions today, we'll continue to see what they're able to achieve, and we'll be monitoring that situation.

Question:  And another question on the Secretary‑General's speech today.  The bit of the speech about time to redefine global governance for the twenty‑first century I thought was interesting, but I wonder if there's any more detail, any way you can flesh it out, particularly the bit about a networked multilateralism that links global and regional organizations.  Does that mean sort of more fusion between the UN and the AU [African Union], the EU [European Union]?  Could you perhaps explain what the thinking is?

Deputy Spokesman:  And this is… yes, that's basically the point, and that's something that we've been working on in recent years, that there's been more UN collaboration with larger continental groups like the European Union and the African Union and the Organization of American States (OAS) but also with subregions, with groups ranging from ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] to the Central African states to ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] dealing with the West African states and so forth — that we try to manage things at a variety of different levels, so that all of us are working in harmony in dealing with problems on the ground.

Correspondent:  So, very quick follow‑up, and then I'll see to others, but that doesn't seem to chime at all with comments from the French President in an interview with the FT.  He said the UN Security Council no longer works, and he said one of the reasons was its permanent members were mad to have allowed to… to… displaced by competing regional formats.  The Secretary‑General and the President of France seem to be on very different… in very different places on this.

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't think that that's an unbridgeable difference.  What we're talking about is the need to work in harmony, both the larger groups and the other groups.  They have distinct responsibilities to play.  And by working with each other, they can enhance their efforts to deal with things.  It's not the case of a regional group substituting for the UN.  It's about us work together with each other, and I don't think that we're in disagreement on that.  So, next, we'll turn to Edie and after Edie, Erol, so Edie first.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a couple of follow‑up questions.  First, on the G7, the Secretary‑General usually writes a letter to leaders of the G20, the G7.  Did he write a letter this year?  And he specifically asked the G7 to finance the start of the global leadership plan for… on COVID‑19 at its meeting today.  I, for one, didn't see anything about that in the final communiqué.  Maybe I missed it, but did he ever get a reply on that? And then I have one follow‑up question on Libya.

Deputy Spokesman:  On the follow‑up by the G7 to the Secretary‑General's request, I believe we're still waiting for that.  Like I told James, we'll monitor the full total of what the G7 produces as a result of today's proceedings and evaluate how closely they track.  And regarding a previous letter, I'm not aware that we sent a specific letter to the G7.  We have sent letters like this, as you know, to the G20, and the Secretary‑General's message to the membership as a whole has been made in public.  And what's your Libya question?  Sorry.  I can't hear you.  Try again.

Question:  Sorry.  Is there a date for the advance team to arrive in Libya?  It's been several weeks already, and since there's a lot of pressure to get this monitoring mechanism on the ground, why is it taking so long?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, ultimately, the reason for that is that we actually need to make sure that the parties can facilitate their arrival onto the ground.  We had had the joint Military Commission meet last week to consider the next steps about operationalising the ceasefire agreement, including timelines, and as you know, right now, this week, Mr. Kubiš is following up on that issue with the various parties on the ground.  So, we're trying to get the ceasefire language fleshed out and the ceasefire agreement fleshed out, and then we can have a timetable for their deployment.  You're muted again.

Question:  But, following up, the advance team to go look at a mechanism has nothing to do with the ceasefire agreement.  It's not in the ceasefire agreement.  It's a way of implementation.  So, I don't understand why there has to be this long period of time before they get on the ground?

Deputy Spokesman:  We're simply trying to get the agreements that we need from the parties so that the ceasefire monitors will be able to deploy and will be able to go about their work successfully.  Erol and then after Erol, Toby.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  For the record, it seems to be that I'm only one in the room, although I know that Edie and James are around.  Anyhow, since yesterday, since the Secretary‑General made rather dramatic and urgent call on the climate changes and environmental problems, what… and now that the US joins the Paris Agreement, what does Secretary‑General specifically expect from the [Joseph R.] Biden Administration?  And he mentioned Biden Administration once in his opening remarks.  So, is there anything that he awaits or have a wind in his back or what?

Deputy Spokesman:  He certainly welcomes the resumed responsibilities by the US Federal Government, and you'll be able to hear more about this just in a few hours from now when the Secretary‑General speaks with John Kerry.  You can see that on WebTV, and we'll put out his remarks at the time, and I think that will flesh out how we're going to work with them on climate change issues as we proceed.  Okay.  Toby, NHK.

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  Just a terminology question.  Does the UN consider the biodiversity loss to be a mass extinction?  Is that a term that is in regular usage from the various bodies of the UN that deal with this?

Deputy Spokesman:  That's not what… a phrase that we've used per se, but as you know, there are different UN bodies about biodiversity that have showed their extreme concern about the scale of such loss and how it could lead to the extinction of species.  So, we've been clear on that, but the terminology that we've used is the ones that are in our reports, including the recent ones put out by UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] and others.  Okay.  And then I believe James has a few more questions, and then we'll turn to Gloria.  James?

Question:  Sorry.  I wanted to come back with a couple more on Iran, please, if I could, Farhan.  As you remember, we had a situation where we either had snapback or not snapback earlier in the year, and the US said it believed the international sanctions had snapback; the rest of the international community said they hadn't.  The US is now withdrawing that position.  Any reaction from the United Nations to the fact that there was no snapback?

Deputy Spokesman:  We had… simply put, we had wanted to make sure that the members of the Security Council agreed on this issue and came to a common position.  If they're now at a common position, that's a welcome development.  And certainly, we hope that whatever happens in the coming days and weeks will be done to strengthen the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  And we, once again, call on all sides to do actions that will support and strengthen that momentous diplomatic achievement.

Question:  So, following up on Iran, as you'll remember, the previous administration of the US also put very restrictive movement controls on diplomats working for the Iranian Mission to the UN, meaning they could only go to their home, to their Mission or to this building.  Those have now been lifted by the Biden Administration.  UN reaction?

Deputy Spokesman:  It's always a good thing when diplomats can agree to make their own work easier and more productive, and we hope that all Member States will cooperate in order to do that.

Question:  And my final one on Iran, if I can; so, we potentially are entering a crunch weekend for the Iran talks and for trying to get the JCPOA back with regard to Iran being in compliance and the US being a member of it, and it's been very much "who blinks first" situation.  We now have the Europeans saying that they are prepared to call a meeting of the so‑called E3+3 or P5+1 and inviting the US as a guest.  The US has accepted such an invitation once it's issued.  Iran hasn't yet responded.  What is the Secretary‑General's reaction? Should Iran sit down with the others now?

Deputy Spokesman:  We are, of course, not a party to the P5+1 and their agreement with Iran, but at the same time, we would encourage that agreement, and we do encourage all sides to work productively with each other.  We want the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to be implemented; we want it to be strengthened, and we want parties to avoid any steps that would undermine it.  And that will be the position we take throughout the days ahead.  And of course, part of that, as you know, is that we want to also make sure that Iran's cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues, and we've said that in the past.  All right.  Gloria, you have the floor.

Question:  I read a report from the Human Rights Commission on the deplorable conditions in the Turkish prisons, up to 2,000 people, overcrowded, malnutrition and being forced to make unfair admissions of guilt.  I think this is something we should really look into at the UN.  How… what is happening there?  And my other question, by some chance, are some double passport Turks in there with an American passport, also?  Because as I understand it, this Mr. [Fetullah] Gülen… and the reason they're being jailed is because the man, Mr. Gülen, from this faction is in the United States and that part of what Turkey wants is that Mr. Gülen be repatriated to Turkey.  I don't know if I'm completely correct, but that's what I understand.

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  Thanks, Gloria.  On this question, as you know, the UN human rights instruments in Geneva include rapporteurs who do look at detention conditions and try to make sure that conditions of detention around the world are held to a standard that is acceptable.  And, so, I'd just refer you to the work that they do.  And with that, I'm going to cede the floor to my colleague Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Brenden, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.