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

**COVID-19

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the noon briefing.

In a statement we are issuing right now, the Secretary-General says that, one full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, our world has faced a tsunami of suffering.  So many lives have been lost.  Economies have been upended and societies left reeling.  The most vulnerable have suffered the most.  Those left behind are being left even further behind.

It has been a year of empty office buildings, quiet streets and closed schools in much of the world.  The Secretary-General commends women, men and young people everywhere for adapting to work, learn and live in new ways.  He honours health workers for their dedication and sacrifice, and all other essential workers who have kept societies running.  He salutes all those who have stood up to the deniers and disinformation and have followed science and safety protocols.  You have helped save lives, the Secretary-General says.

With the vaccine roll-out, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.  Yet the Secretary-General is deeply concerned that many low-income countries have not yet received a single dose, while wealthier countries are on track to vaccinating their entire population.  We’ve seen many examples of vaccine nationalism and vaccine hoarding in wealthier countries, as well as continued side deals with manufacturers that undermine access for all.

He says that the global vaccination campaign represents the greatest moral test of our times.  It is also essential to restart the global economy — and help the world move from locking down societies to locking down the virus.

COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global public good.  The world needs to unite to produce and distribute sufficient vaccines for all, which means at least doubling manufacturing capacity around the world.  That effort must start now.

We are sending his full statement, which will be available online.

**‘Only Together’ Campaign

The Secretary-General today launched the “Only Together” campaign, which calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be available to everyone, everywhere.

He said in a video message that, now, with the promise of vaccines, we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

But, the Secretary-General said, so far, a small number of rich countries are rolling out most of the doses.

No country can overcome this crisis in isolation, he said, pointing to COVAX as the best way to ensure that supply goes further, and distribution goes faster.

The Secretary-General said that only together can we protect health-care workers and the world’s most vulnerable people.  Only together can we revive our economies.  Only together can we end this pandemic and recover.

We’ve shared the text and video of this message with you.

**COVAX

Speaking of COVAX, I have two COVAX updates for you.

Benin received more than 140,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday through the COVAX facility.

UN Resident Coordinator Salvator Niyonzima said this was a clear result of the power of multilateralism and international cooperation.  Some 70,000 frontline health workers and the most vulnerable, including people over the age of 60 and those with co-morbidities, are at the top of the list for the vaccines.  The UN team will work with authorities to mobilize the entire population for one of biggest national vaccination campaigns.

Peru also received an initial batch of [nearly] 120,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, becoming the second country in Latin America and the Caribbean to do so.  The UN team welcomed the extraordinary result of international cooperation and solidarity, reiterating our support to a national vaccination campaign that leaves no one behind.

As we have been telling you, UN teams have been supporting health authorities with the logistics, preparation and distribution of all vaccines, not just those from COVAX.

**Food Security

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the Security Council virtual debate on food security.

The Secretary-General said that he had one simple message, and that is: if you don’t feed people, you feed conflict.  He also noted that hunger and poverty combine with inequality, climate shocks, sectarian and ethnic tensions, and grievances over land and resources, to spark and drive conflict.

The Secretary-General warned that without immediate action, millions of people will reach the brink of extreme hunger and death.  He stressed that while all countries face some economic strain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the solution does not lie in cutting aid to starving children.

The Secretary-General said that the disappointing outcome of last week’s High-Level Pledging Event on Yemen cannot become a pattern.  He asked all countries to reconsider their responsibilities and their capacities.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn about the untimely death of Hamed Bakayoko, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire.  He extends his heartfelt condolences to Mr. Bakayoko’s family, as well as to the Government and people of Côte d’Ivoire.

As Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Bakayoko was instrumental in advancing inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation efforts.

**Myanmar

In answer to questions from last night, I can say that the Secretary-General welcomes the adoption of the Security Council’s presidential statement on Myanmar.  The Council’s unity and continued engagement and action is crucial.

The Secretary-General continues his efforts to mobilize a coherent international response, including through United Nations support to regional initiatives towards ending the violence and restoring democracy in Myanmar.  His Special Envoy also remains closely engaged with all relevant parties.  As the Council has highlighted, it is critical for the Special Envoy to visit Myanmar as soon as possible.

**Syria

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said today that as Syria is about to enter its eleventh year of violence and conflict, the pursuit of truth, justice and reparations for victims must be stepped up.

She said that the violence that spiralled into an armed conflict has left hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead, millions displaced both within and outside the country, and many Syrian families struggling to establish the truth of what happened to their loved ones.

The Secretary-General marked the tenth year of the Syrian conflict in his press stakeout with you yesterday, and he said that after a decade of conflict, Syria has fallen off the front page.  And yet the situation remains a living nightmare, he said.

The scale of the atrocities shocks the conscience, the Secretary-General said.  Their perpetrators must be held to account if there is to be sustainable peace in Syria.

The commemoration of a decade of conflict in Syria will continue through the coming week, and Special Envoy Geir Pedersen will brief the Security Council about this next Monday.

**Libya

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the endorsement of an interim Government of National Unity by the Libyan House of Representatives as an important step towards restoring unity, stability, security and prosperity in Libya.

We have that full statement online.

**South Sudan

Our peacekeeping colleagues tell us that peacekeepers serving with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have repaired 300 kilometres of road between Juba and Rokon.

This is an important supply route for both the Mission and humanitarian partners to reach remote communities, particularly during the rainy season.  This is part of the Mission’s plan to fix more than 3,000 kilometres of roads across the country in the coming months.

As part of its efforts to mark International Women’s Day, the Mission held a COVID-19 workshop with female inmates at Wau Central Prison on health and hygiene.

In Twic East County in Jonglei state, the Mission provided solar panels to a health centre that will provide around-the-clock power to its maternity ward.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is telling us that a majority of the people who had sought refuge on the premises of the Catholic Diocese in Bossangoa have returned home and resumed normal activities.  People had started to arrive there on 21 February to seek safety following armed clashes.  Peacekeepers continue to patrol in the town to ensure the protection of civilians.

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the second-round of legislative elections on Sunday, the Mission continues to monitor and support the technical, operational, institutional and security preparations.

The peacekeeping mission supported the national elections authorities during a training for local electoral staff from Batangafo, Kabo and Sido.  This took place in Batangafo, in the Ouham Prefecture.

**Contraception

The UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, today released new data saying that nearly 12 million women lost access to contraception due to disruptions caused by the pandemic.  This led to some 1.4 million unintended pregnancies.

In the 115 low- and middle-income countries studied, women faced an average disruption in their family planning services of 3.6 months over the past year, suggesting that many health [systems] were resilient enough to eventually adapt and continue to provide services.

During this time, UNFPA worked with its partners and took immediate measures to mitigate its impact.  The agency added more suppliers to its roster and closely monitored global inventory levels, transferring surplus stock to countries in urgent need, amongst other measures.  As a result of quick action and collaboration, the disruption in access to family planning was less severe than it could have been.

You can find more information online.

**Food Insecurity

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today said that it is seeking $1.1 billion in 2021 to save the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s most food-insecure people.  In 2021, FAO aims to reach more than 48.9 million people who rely on agriculture for their survival and livelihoods.

According to FAO’s latest data, the total number of people who experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2020 is expected to exceed 2019’s high of 135 million people.

FAO’s emergency response in 2021 will focus on providing assistance to highly food-insecure communities in more than 30 countries.  These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

**Environment

We have some good news.  You will remember our Chief Economist, Elliot Harris, briefed you a few days ago on the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, a new framework that includes the contributions of nature when measuring economic prosperity and human well-being.

Today the framework was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission.  It marks a major step that goes beyond the commonly used statistic of gross domestic product.  This measure would ensure that natural capital — forests, wetlands and other ecosystems — are recognized in economic reporting.

The Secretary-General welcomed the adoption, saying it is an “historic step forward towards transforming how we view and value nature”.  He added, “We will no longer be heedlessly allowing environmental destruction and degradation to be considered economic progress.”

**Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., we will be joined virtually by David Beasley, WFP’s (World Food Programme) Executive Director.  As you know, he is just back from Yemen and he will brief you on his trip and answer your questions.

And our guests at noon tomorrow will be Elliott Harris, who we just mentioned, the Chief Economist, along with Anne Nuorgam, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  They will join virtually to brief on the launch of the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples Volume V.

**Financial Contribution

I am delighted to thank our friends in Monaco for their full payment to the regular budget.  The number of fully paid-up Member States is now 69.

And that is it from me.  I will be ready to take your questions.  Please let me know.  Let me look in the chat box and see.

**Questions and Answers

Majeed Gly has a question, and so we’ll go to him first and then to James.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is somewhat related to the Security Council meeting today, this morning.  The OCHA’s (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) appeal for other countries for humanitarian assistance has increased this year, in 2021, globally; it’s 35 billion, I believe.  And I tried to look on the website and other places to find out how much of that money has been received so far to the United Nations to help 160 million people that the UN is targeting this year.

And also, is there any special appeal for this increase of humanitarian need that you are aware of by OCHA, or any conference anytime soon?

Spokesman:  Well, we have been making different appeals, and there will be specific appeals for different countries, including, for example, for Yemen, as you saw just a week ago, and others as they come along.

In terms of the amounts that are received, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs does track this.  And if you go to their ReliefWeb website, there is a place for tracking contributions as they come in.

James and then Abdelhamid after you.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Can I ask you about the Human Rights Council in the last hour?  The representative of Myanmar made a statement:  The authorities have been exercising utmost restraint to deal with violent protests.  Does the Secretary‑General agree that what we’ve seen for over a month amounts to utmost restraint?

Spokesman:  You will have seen that we have, in fact, called for utmost restraint, which is our sign that that is not what has been happening on the ground.  And you’ll have seen the statements we made including after last Wednesday’s violence.  So, we’ve been very clear about the need for more restraint by the security forces.

We’ve called for the right of people to protest peacefully, for the right to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly.  And, of course, we’ve called for the release of those who have been detained from the Government and from… as well as those who have been detained for things such as peaceful protest.  So, we’re continuing with that.

And as the Secretary‑General made clear, he… one of his… to you when he spoke at the stakeout yesterday, one of his hopes is that the unified stance by the Security Council will now encourage the Myanmar authorities to release the detainees and to return back to the situation we were in before 1 February.

Question:  Farhan, a quick follow‑up, if I can.  The video statement on behalf of Myanmar to the Human Rights Council was made by Chan Aye, who is the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He’s a veteran diplomat.  In his job, he clearly worked with who was in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before, which was the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi.  He seemed nervous and mumbling in his speech, and one person who knows him said he’d never seemed to be great supporter of the military.

Are you concerned that, perhaps, this is a man who is under duress, is in fear of reprisals and, in effect, the Human Rights Council may have been shown some sort of hostage video?

Spokesman:  I don’t want to speculate about that.  Obviously, we don’t have the information at hand to judge that one way or another.  What we would ask for is that all of the officials of the duly recognized Government be free to go about their work without any sort of harassment.

Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have a number of questions also.  Today in Doha, Qatar, the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Qatar and Turkey issued a statement about Syria.  This is the first time, as far as I know, that Qatar got engaged into these efforts to find a regional settlement of the Syrian issue.  Are you aware of that?  Do you have a position on that?  That’s first.

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re keeping track of the activities by different groups, but we don’t have any particular comment on any statements by different regional groups.  We simply are encouraging all regional groups, all concerned nations to cooperate and do what they can to bring the conflict in Syria to an end, and we certainly hope that they will work with each other to do that.

Question:  I have a second question, Farhan, regarding this… the email you sent to me about the vaccine that might be reaching Gaza in the next few weeks from COVAX.  And I have been asking about the responsibility of Israel to you for a few weeks now.  Israel, as an occupying Power, is responsible for the well‑being and the health of people who are under occupation.

Now, Israel is selling the extra vaccines it had and it is donating to Guatemala, El Salvador, Czech Republic and Hungary, donating the vaccine, while the Palestinian people are dying now, and they declared emergency because of the alarming rate of COVID‑19 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  [cell phone ringing]

That’s my question, about the responsibility of Israel.

Spokesman:  Well, we’ve made clear that Israel has responsibilities for the occupied territories.  We have been working with the Israeli authorities to make sure that we can help with their efforts to support the vaccinations, and Israel has worked closely with the UN and its partners through the course of the pandemic to ensure that equipment and supplies have been delivered throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.  So, we appreciate that, but, yes, we want Israel to live up to its obligations under international law.

And then beyond that, as I believe we’ve informed you, the COVAX facility is also working to get vaccines, and we hope that that will get into the Palestinian territories in the next couple of weeks.

I believe Edie’s got a hand up?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I want to follow up on James’ questions on Myanmar.  Apparently, today, at least 10 people were shot and killed by security forces in Myanmar.  And the military also levelled new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi.  So, I wonder if, specifically, the Secretary‑General has any response to those two actions today.

Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we’re concerned about any signs of actions taken against peaceful protesters, against civil society and others.  And so, we would reiterate those concerns.

And of course, regarding Aung San Suu Kyi, the Secretary‑General and others have called for her release.  As you know, the Secretary‑General reiterated, in his remarks to you at the Security Council stakeout yesterday afternoon, his hopes for the release of all such detainees, and we would say so again today.

Question:  I would also like to put on the record that the technical issues in broadcasting the Security Council meeting the last two days — that’s Tuesday and Wednesday — were really inexcusable after doing virtual meetings for almost a year.  Couldn’t hear a lot of things.  Members of the Council were cut off.  It was really… translators couldn’t hear.  I just wanted to put that on the record, and I think other of my colleagues would agree.

Spokesman:  Well, first of all, we really, truly apologize for all of those.  It’s a little bit late in the day to say that we continue to have these sorts of problems as we adjust to the pandemic, but the fact of the matter is that the problems do crop up from time to time.

When you complain, we do pass those along, and I’ll do that in this case, as well.  But certainly, we apologize for all of the problems that we’ve [had] as we adjust to this new world.

Yes, in the back.  Is that Ray?  Ray, you’re on.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The Secretary‑General has demanded many times in the past that foreign troops and mercenaries must leave Libya immediately.  Do you have any updates if any of these foreign fighters have left the country?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  We have no information to share about their departure.  As you’re aware, under the agreement, they are supposed to do that.  And we encourage all the countries that have worked with those groups to do what they can to pull them out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Mr. Sato?

Question:  Hi.  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is follow-up to Myanmar.  Today, Myanmar authority launched a new allegation against Aung San Suu Kyi with corruption.  Does Secretary‑General see this allegation is unlawful?

Spokesman:  Well, we don’t… I’m not going to try to evaluate this particular allegation against her one way or another.  I’ll simply repeat that we have expressed our concerns since her arrest and called for her release from detention, and we do so again today.

And I don’t see any further questions.  So, unless there’s anything more?  Is there anything?  Yeah, oh, Toby.  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Hi.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yes.  Sure, Toby.

Question:  Yes.  Can you just give us a little more practical information on the deployment or the launch of these new accounting standards?  Does this mean that these calculations are going to be calculated differently in capitals all across the world now?  We’re going to have different mathematical underpinnings to the world, or are these just recommendations that we’re hoping will be adopted?  How do they actually work?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Actually, Toby, there was… you’re in luck because there was a fairly lengthy press briefing on this by Mr. Harris just a week ago, so look at the video of that.  And he gave out a considerable amount of information about what we hope to accomplish with this and how it’s meant to be carried out so… I believe he was a guest at the Noon Briefing — I don’t know — sometime in the middle of last week, and the video of that is available.

Correspondent:  Yes, Farhan.  I have another question.

Spokesman:  Okay, Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, on Libya.  Despite of Stephanie Williams was to be engaged and to be next to the Libyan interlocutors and help them negotiate, advise them.  However, Ján Kubiš, he left the meeting in Sirte and he went to Egypt for three days.  So… and there is a crisis now about the Defence Minister.  There is disagreement who will be the Defence Minister.

I wonder why Ján Kubiš is not so close to the Libyan parties to advise them and to help and to maybe give them some ideas and try to facilitate their negotiation.

Spokesman:  Well, Mr. Kubiš has been in touch with the Libyan parties and he continues to be that way.  At the same time, it was important for him to travel to Egypt as a very significant neighbouring country, and we provided you some details of his talks.

The UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has also provided a fairly lengthy description of all of his talks with officials from Egypt, including the Foreign Minister, Mr. [Sameh] Shoukry, and with the League of Arab States.  So, that was also part of his work, but he’s also continuing with his work with the Libyan interlocutors.

And with that, I bid you a good afternoon.  Take care of yourselves.

For information media. Not an official record.