Print
9 March 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.

Good afternoon.  Happy Tuesday.  It kind of feels like Friday. 

I just wanted to flag a couple of things for you.

**Secretary-General

Tomorrow at 3:15 p.m., the Secretary-General of these United Nations, António Guterres, will do a press stakeout to mark the tenth anniversary of the Syrian conflict.  We will actually do the stakeout from the stakeout area.  So, yes, over there.  So work it out with MALU (Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit).  It will probably be first-come, first-serve.  So it will only be in-person and it will be on Web TV.  It will not be on WebEx.  Anyway, he will just take a few questions, as it’s a stakeout.  That’s 3:15 p.m. tomorrow. 

I will brief at noonish.

**Press Encounters Tomorrow

And then earlier, at 8:45 a.m., there will be a virtual press briefing by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the launch of their 2021 "Map of Women in Parliaments".  Speaking at the event will be UN Women’s Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.  And that’s always a very interesting map that they put out.  So I urge you to log on.

All right.  We got that out of the way. 

**Violence against Women

A report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners says violence against women remains pervasive and starts when women are alarmingly young.  Across their lifetime, one in three women, that’s around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner.  That’s a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.  One in four young women who have been in a relationship will have already experienced violence by the time they reach their mid-twenties. 

The report is based on data from 2000 to 2018 and does not reflect the ongoing impact of the pandemic.  WHO and its partners warned that COVID-19 has triggered a “shadow pandemic” of increased women’s exposure to violence, as a result of measures such as lockdowns and disruptions to vital support services. 

The report also found that the regions of Oceania, Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest prevalence rates of intimate partner violence among women who are between the ages of 15 and 49.  The lowest rates are found in Europe, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, and South-East Asia. 

More information online. 

**Central Emergency Response Fund

This month, we are marking the 15 years since we launched the UN’s Central Emergency [Response] Fund (CERF).  It was a truly innovative and revolutionary project when it was founded back then.

It has allowed humanitarian organizations to kick-start urgent aid operations worldwide within hours of a natural disaster.  With it, we reach people in crises not receiving the attention and funding they deserve.  The fund is a cornerstone in our response to global crises and in standing with people at their time of greatest needs. 

In 2020, we helped bring food assistance to over 7 million people.  We also ensured that 5.5 million women and girls were protected in natural disasters among many other crises. 

Since 2006, CERF has allocated $7 billion helping millions of people in 100 countries get critical life-saving assistance. 

We thank all the donors and Member States who have generously contributed funding to the Central Emergency Response Fund over the years, as well as the partners who have worked together to deliver humanitarian relief and protection. 

**Security Council — Sudan

Back here, the Security Council met virtually on the new UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, otherwise known as UNITAMS. 

In his first briefing to the Council, the Head of the Mission, Volker Perthes, said the political transition process in Sudan is moving forward. 

He stressed that an inclusive political process, including all segments of Sudan’s diverse society, is essential for its success. 

Mr. Perthes said that the protection of civilians remains one of the mission’s main priorities, with 165 people killed and more than 100,000 people displaced in intercommunal clashes in West Darfur in January. 

He said the UN is working to support the new Government to strengthen the protection of civilians. 

And a couple of crises we continue to follow.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, I just wanted to update you on the activities of our Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener. 

I can tell you she’s continuing her diplomacy; she is in contact with countries in the region, including Myanmar’s direct neighbours. 

Discussions about her going, her potential travel to the region continue.

**Afghanistan

In a tweet this morning, our Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said the UN envoy for the country, Deborah Lyons, arrived in Doha, on a regularly scheduled visit.  She is meeting with Afghan parties and international partners. 

The aim is to discuss the status and next steps in the Afghan Peace Process, as well as to exchange views on how best the UN can support these efforts. 

Ms. Lyons underscored the continued commitment to work with the parties in ending the conflict and reaching an inclusive peace agreement. 

**Senegal

The Secretary-General continues to follow the unfolding events in Senegal.  He took note of President Macky Sall’s address to the nation and other efforts being made to appease tensions.  He urges all Senegalese stakeholders to engage in dialogue and to resolve the situation.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support national efforts in this respect. 

**Libya

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Ján Kubiš, concluded a three-day visit to Cairo, in which he met with high-level Egyptian officials, the League of Arab States’ Secretary-General and Libyan interlocutors. 

He met on Sunday with Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, to discuss the latest developments in Libya, including the progress made on the various tracks of the Libyan dialogue. 

Security and political developments in Libya were also the focus of discussions with the heads of Egypt’s General Intelligence and Military Intelligence.  Mr. Kubiš also held a meeting with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. 

**Central African Republic

And a quick update from the Central African Republic, where our colleagues at the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission on the ground (MINUSCA) tell us the deployment of electoral materials to the 16 prefectures is now completed, with the exception of parts of the Ombella-M’Poko prefecture.  This is ahead of the legislative elections. 

The UN Mission also supported International Women’s Day celebrations yesterday.  They supported activities encouraging women’s participation in the electoral process, including an awareness campaign in Bangassou, in the Mbomou prefecture.  The Mission also concluded a two-day workshop on sexual harassment and women leadership bringing together several women organizations in the same prefecture. 

And also on the Central African Republic, our colleagues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today they are very worried about the volatile situation in the country.  They are also concerned about the risk of renewed violence linked to Sunday’s second round of legislative elections. 

There has been a steep increase in documented human rights violations and abuses before, during, and after the December elections. 

Armed groups, particularly the CPC, were responsible for the majority of violations documented — about 85 per cent of those.  The Human Rights office added that the post-electoral period has also been characterized by violations linked to counter-offensives and retaliatory actions against armed groups by the Central African defence forces.   

They called for accountability for human rights violations and abuses as the only way to break the cycle of violence in the Central African Republic. 

**Yemen

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is calling for urgent humanitarian access to migrants injured in Sunday’s deadly fire at [an immigration] holding facility in Sana’a, Yemen.  IOM also calls for the release of all migrants from detention in the country and a renewed commitment to providing safe, predictable movement options for migrants. 

The total number of migrants who died in the fire remains unconfirmed, as official records have yet to be released.  IOM reports that more than 170 people have been treated for injuries, with many remaining in critical conditions.

**COVAX

A few updates on COVAX:  In Sierra Leone, nearly 100,000 doses of the COVID‑19 vaccine arrived in the country last night. 

By the end of May, more than half a million doses are expected to arrive there — that’s enough to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population of the country: eight million. 

UN Resident Coordinator Babatunde Ahonsi said the arrival of this first batch through the COVAX is a testimony to the power of global solidarity in response to a global health and development crisis. 

And in Nepal, authorities received the first UN-backed COVAX shipment of more than 340,000 doses of the COVID-19 [vaccine] on Sunday. 

This is part of the UN team’s effort to support the national vaccination plan targeting 22 million at-risk people, including refugees and migrants. 

The UN has trained more than 11,000 health workers in Nepal to help strengthen the country’s health system and logistics capacity to deliver vaccines.  Our teams are also helping to address misinformation and build trust in vaccines.  They are helping to address women’s needs, through cash transfers to households headed by women, as well as mental health programmes. 

**Food — Climate

The food systems are responsible for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s according to a new FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization)-European Commission study, which says that food system emissions are estimated at 18 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015.  That’s 34 per cent of the total. 

The top emitters are: China, Indonesia, the United States, Brazil, the European Union and India. 

The research highlights how global food systems are becoming more energy intensive, reflecting trends in the retail, packaging, transport and processing sectors.  The emissions from those sectors are growing rapidly in developing countries. 

You will also recall that we highlighted the high level of food waste, which impacts the climate.

**Contributions

And ending on a happy note, we thank our friends who may be far away but are thinking of us.  Samoa.  They have paid their budget dues in full, bringing us up to?

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, the lady in purple won the lot, so she…  it’s 67.  She was closer than you were. 

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.  Okay.  Okay, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Steph, a question on Myanmar.  The military is ignoring all the verbal appeals from many people, including the Secretary‑General.  Today, they were rounding up people in that area of Yangon.  Teacher who was arrested, his body was delivered to his family.  Nobody knows what happened. 

You mentioned what Miss Schraner Burgener is doing, but that doesn’t sound like putting significant pressure on the military.  What else can and should be done and by whom?

Spokesman:  As I said, no one is a bystander in this.  Every Member State has a role to play individually and collectively.  Collectively, we are always looking for a strong voice and strong action from the Security Council. 

And, obviously, countries in the region, ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), Chi…  Myanmar’s neighbours, also have a role to play, and that’s why, whether it’s the Special Envoy or the Secretary‑General, we’re continuing our contacts.  But we remain distressed by the violence that we keep seeing, the continuing violations of human rights of people in Myanmar. 

Célhia and then James. 

Question:  Stéphane, did the SG call the Senegalese President?  Because violent clashes continue, especially after the opposition leader was charged with rape.  What can be done?

Spokesman:  Look, we’ve taken note of the calls for calm and for a lessening of the tensions.  I think the words of the President, of Macky Sall, expressed yesterday in his efforts to appease tensions were very strong. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I’m not aware if the Secretary‑General spoke to Macky Sall. 

Everyone, all political leaders, all stakeholders in Senegal have a role to play.  They need to engage in dialogue.  Senegal is a critical force for good in the region, and we very much hope that all the differences that we have seen will be sorted out through dialogue.

Mr.  Bays?

Question:  So, I’ve got several questions, if you don’t mind.

Spokesman:  Have I ever?  Have I ever?  Do I have a choice?

Question:  So, first on Ethiopia and Tigray, the Security Council, after that meeting last week, was trying to come up with a unified position.  They’ve given up their negotiations on this issue.  Does the Secretary‑General have a reaction to the fact the Security Council doesn’t seem to be able to find unity on an issue that seems to concern his humanitarian chief so seriously?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we are always better served by a unified and strong voice from the Security Council. 

For his part, the Secretary‑General has also spoken to Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed] yesterday and raised a number of the issues that have been raised in the past.  I think we’re seeing some movements on humanitarian access, which is good news.  But we will continue to do our bit, and we hope that the Security Council will do…  will speak again with one voice.

Question:  You mentioned the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.  He’s been speaking at the Peace and Security Council of the AU (African Union).  Can I ask you, the UN stands by the allegations we’ve heard of human rights abuses that it’s corroborated, I believe, because he says:  “Claims of deliberate mistreatment of civilians in the region are baseless and aimed at sowing seeds of discord.” He also says, “While the international community’s loudly proclaiming the need for assistance, even after the provision of unfettered access, is it true that you have it?  We have great worry that the international partners have not acted in congruence with the level of concern expressed.” So, on those two points, baseless allegations of abuse and whether you’ve got unfettered access.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think our position on human rights, as expressed by Mark Lowcock, as expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, are unchanged. 

We are seeing…  we have seen an improvement in terms of access.  We are trying to move as quickly as possible.  As you know, there were a number of bureaucratic hurdles that had been in place.

Okay.  Alan.  I don’t recognize you in person.  I just…  took me a while. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  I’m used to seeing your avatar, yeah.

Question:  Okay.  A question on Armenia.  Reportedly, the Government of this country terminated the mandate of the representative of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in the country, accusing her, in quote, uncooperate work style, end quote. 

Earlier, some media reported that the person allegedly was engaged in espionage in favour of Azerbaijan and UK, and the Armenian authorities declared her persona non grata.  So, do you have any comment on these allegations…?

Spokesman:  The allegations against…  the spying allegations against her are baseless, and I would defend her strongly. 

What I can tell you and what my colleagues of UNICEF have told me is that UNICEF and the Government of Armenia have agreed that Marianne Clark‑Hattingh will complete her assignment as UNICEF Representative in Armenia this month, and she’ll be redeployed to another duty station. 

She is a highly qualified, extremely experienced and committed development professional, who has previously served with UNICEF at Headquarters, as well as being the Representative in Malaysia and other posts in places such as Somalia, Guinea, Benin and Madagascar. 

UNICEF has been working for the children in Armenia since 1993 and has had a close and effective partnership with the Government.

Okay.  Tobias and then Abdelhamid.  Then we’ll go back to the…  yes.  And Iftikhar, I see you, as well. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  My question is about what Deborah Lyons, the Special Envoy of Afghanistan, thinks about this proposal to share power with the Government…  I mean between the Government and the Taliban.  What is her assessment of this?  Is she bringing this to bear on her meetings in Doha?  How is she thinking about this?

Spokesman:  Look, as I said yesterday, we’re very much aware of what has been discussed about Afghanistan, what’s being reported in the media.  She has met separately today with Afghan Government representatives, with Taliban representatives, and I believe also with some international partners.  This is part of her regular engagement in support of the Afghan peace process. 

As I said, we stand ready to assist, if so requested by the parties.  Any potential UN role must be supportive of the Afghan people and be agreeable to the parties to the conflict and relevant to regional and international partners.

Okay.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  My first question today, the UK rejected expanding the mediation mode to include others like the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.  So, we are facing a standstill situation in the mediation with Ethiopia…  between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.  So, is the UN doing some…  anything about that?

Spokesman:  Well, we continue, as…  to be supportive of the African Union’s effort.  We believe that this mediation is important and should move forward.  The Secretary‑General, I think, said so in his meeting…  in his phone call with the Foreign Minister of Egypt.  So, we will continue to progress on that way and speak to the parties and try to move things in the right direction.

Question:  And my second question, Stéphane, if you will allow me, regarding COVAX, it has been distributing vaccine to many countries, I think in [inaudible] Nepal, Kenya, maybe other African countries.  Can you give me any number of COVAX or WHO (World Health Organization) of vac…  any number of vaccines sent to the West Bank and Gaza?  The situation is going out of hand.  The Authority declared emergency situation, and yet there’s no access to the vaccine while Israel is saving the extra vaccines they have.

Spokesman:  What we are doing, from what I understand, is working with the Palestinian Authority to ensure that they have access to COVAX.  As the COVAX vaccines are being shipped and shared, we will be updating you regularly, and we… 

Question:  Do you have any number?  Do you have any dates?

Spokesman:  No.  What I’m saying to you is that we have flagged publicly every place where the vaccine has arrived.  And as soon as I have an update on our work with the Palestinian Authority, I will share that with you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question has already been asked about Afghanistan, but can you just let me be clear.  Please make it clear whether the State Department has shared the letter…  [Antony] Blinken’s letter with the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Not aware that we’ve officially received the letter as of yet.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay?  We’ll go to James Reinl and then Evelyn.

Question:  Thanks.  Yeah, Steph.  It’s just another question on Afghanistan.  It’s basically already been asked, but let me pick you up on one thing.  When you were speaking about it before, you said any potential role that the UN plays in Afghanistan.  What does that mean exactly?  Is…  what we’ve seen from Deborah Lyons today and also the letter from Blinken that Iftikhar referred to, is the UN poised or considering playing a more active role in these peace negotiations?

Spokesman:  Look, we will play the role that supports the Afghan people and that continues to reflect our values and our mandate, but we need to…  there needs to be more discussions.  But as always, we are ready and able to discuss any potential role that may be asked of us.

Okay?  Evelyn and then Benno.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Large oil companies play a role in Myanmar.  Several of them are based in countries…  P5 countries, both east and west ones.  Is that a route perhaps the UN can pursue — for the P5?

Spokesman:  Sorry.  I didn’t…  can you repeat the beginning of your question?

Question:  Yes.  The large oil companies, international oil companies, play a…  are based in Myanmar and play quite a role there.  And is that a route that could be pursued through the P5 since they come from those countries?

Spokesman:  Look, I mean, we…  the Secretary‑General remains in touch with all the members of the Security Council, including, of course, the permanent members.  When I say no one is a bystander in this, I would definitely include the private sector, as well, which has large presence…  the international private sector has large presence in Myanmar.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Benno?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I didn’t follow particularly closely this topic, but could you give me an update about the UN efforts to vaccinate senior UN officials, including the Security Council representatives to normalize the negotiations in the Council?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware…  I mean, let me put it this way.  As of now, the…  New York City has generously opened its vaccination pro…  as of now, New York City has generously opened its vaccination programme to diplomats and members of the UN community who meet the relevant criteria.  Right?  And that’s why the Secretary‑General got his vaccine.  That’s why the President of the General Assembly got his vaccine.  They’re all over the age limit of 65. 

There are all sorts of other health considerations that will allow you access to the vaccine, and anyone who meets those criteria can take advantage of the vaccines being offered in New York City.

As far as I know, there is no special effort to be made to vaccinate senior UN officials as such.

Question:  Would you agree that, like, vaccinating something like — I don’t know — 50 to 100 people who are directly in contact with the Security Council would actually help to enrich negotiations in the Council?

Spokesman:  Look, we all…  I think we all miss in‑person contacts.  We all miss…  I even miss some of you who I only see on the screen, but the point is there are rules in place in our host city.  We are not asking…  the Secretary‑General is not asking for any special dispensation.  But I think we also have to bear…  I mean, to see and to kind of honour the vaccine rollout that’s taking place in New York City, which I think is moving at a pretty serious clip.  And it seems more and more people are being vaccinated every day, and if they move the age limit down by ten years, I’ll get in there.  You may have to wait another…  a little bit more, Benno, but I think we’re very fortunate to live in a city and a state and a country that right now is having a vaccination rollout that is being fairly effective.

Question:  Just age‑wise, Steph, I guess, because we’re journalists, I think we might be earlier vaccinated than you think, but I’m not sure.  Let’s see. 

Spokesman:  Okay.  What I’m saying is that there are rules and procedures put in place by New York State and New York City, and we are following those.

Okay.  I’ll come back to you. 

Carla, please, and then James. 

Question:  You may have already addressed this, but if not, I’d like to know if the UN has any comment on the report by Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures.  Miss Alena Douhan reported on the vast number of starving children in Syria as a result of the sanctions, and I was just wondering whether…

Spokesman:  It’s not for us to comment on what special rapporteurs say, but I would say, this is something the Secretary‑General himself has expressed concern at in speaking in the Security Council chamber about broad sanctions, which wound up hurting innocent children, women and men more than anything.

Question:  Has he had any re…  any positive response from the Security Council?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think you will see that…  there are two types of sanctions.  Right? There’s ones imposed by the Security Council, and then there’s the issue of unilateral sanctions, which is a different matter.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  It’s not in his hands. 

Mr. Bays?

Question:  So, follow‑up on Afghanistan.  You said that SRSG (Special Representative of the Secretary-General) Lyons had had various talks with various international intermediaries.  Has she spoken, in the last 48 hours, with Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad?  And have they had discussions…  has she had a formal request or informal discussions about the UN convening this conference of Foreign Ministers?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything more to share with you on that at this point, but I will check and get back to you.  [He later said that her meetings with international partners will take place in the period ahead.]

Question:  And one more question on Myanmar, if I may.  I asked you earlier on about Tigray and the Security Council’s response there and the lack of unity.  On Myanmar, long, long negotiations but now under a silence procedure for a statement.  What are the…  what’s the Secretary‑General’s hope with regard to the Security Council on Myanmar?

Spokesman:  Same answer I gave you on Tigray.  We hope for…

Question:  I know, but could you answer the question…?

Spokesman:  I know.  I know.  I know, James.  No, what we hope from the Security Council is a strong and unified statement to help reverse the situation, to help reverse the actions of the military, and to regain and help the Myanmar people regain their basic human rights for which they’ve been denied.

Okay.  Any other questions? Otherwise…  oh, Gloria, go ahead, and then we’ll go to Mr. [Brenden] Varma.

Question:  My question is…

Spokesman:  And Mr. Sato…  [inaudible]

Question:  Hello?

Spokesman:  Go ahead, Gloria, then we’ll go to Sato. 

Question:  Okay.  My question is, is the Mission of the Central African Republic to the UN a rudderless ship?  Is the chargé d’affaires able to be a spokesman?  Because for several years now, there has not been an ambassador.  I’m not sure I’m correct, but that’s what I understand. 

Spokesman:  Gloria, that’s a question to ask the Central African Republic Mission and not one that I can answer.

Mr. Sato?

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  My question is about Myanmar.  Do you have any update on the scale of the casualties and injuries in Myanmar protests?  Because yesterday, we heard about the…  there are three more people killing.  Do you have any update on the casualties?

Spokesman:  No, no hard numbers to share with you at this point.  What I can tell you is that what we have seen is an increase in the number of detentions and an increase in the number of fatalities.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Mr. Varma, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.