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12 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.

**Noon Briefing Guests

In a short while, we will be joined by our friend Elliott Harris, who, as you know, is the UN’s Chief Economist, and here is here along with Anne Nuorgam, the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as well as Rosemary Lane, the Officer-in-Charge of the Indigenous Peoples Development Branch Division for Inclusive Social Development in [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs].  She will also be there.  They will brief you virtually on the launch of the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Vol. V.  A couple of humanitarian situations I want to flag for you.

**Yemen

Continuing on Yemen, I think you all heard from David Beasley earlier.  Our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report that the humanitarian situation is worsening in Yemen’s Marib Governorate, with fighting continuing along multiple front lines.  The violence has forced up to 15,000 people to flee since early February.  Roughly 60 per cent of them are reportedly residing in informal settlements and crowded sites where services are overstretched.  Humanitarian organizations are providing assistance, including support to both newly displaced and existing vulnerable internally displaced people in camp-like settings.  Across Yemen, more than 20 million people — 20.7 [million], to be exact — need humanitarian assistance, many of them at the brink of starvation.  They are the ones who are paying the highest price in this war.  The UN continues to call for an immediate end to hostilities and a nationwide ceasefire.

I’ve also been asked about fuel shortages in Yemen.  Last month, no commercial fuel imports were allowed through Hudaydah Port — that’s zero.  In recent years, more than half of commercial fuel imports had been coming in through Hudaydah.  This is the first time since the escalation of the conflict in 2015 that we’ve seen the level drop to zero.  This is driving shortages and price rises.  Fuel prices have doubled or even tripled in some areas.  This is, in turn, pushing up, of course, the price of food, water and other goods, complicating humanitarian needs.  We call on the parties to urgently find a sustainable solution that will allow commercial fuel imports to resume through all ports.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, where the situation in Tigray remains extremely concerning, with conflict continuing to drive population displacement and reports of some villages being completely emptied.  Over the past week, a large influx of displaced people has reached Shire from Western Tigray.  Following the announcement by the Office of the Prime Minister that humanitarian agencies will have access to operate in Tigray on the basis of notifications to the Ministry of Peace, humanitarian partners have started to use the new email notification system to deploy international staff to Tigray, and that is, of course, a change from the system we used to have — where we used to have to seek permission.

Despite some progress in accessible areas, especially in the eastern zone, many people in need of assistance are in hard-to-reach areas due to insecurity, logistical hurdles, administrative impediments and limited capacity and resources.  Disruptions in basic services continue to pose serious challenges to humanitarian efforts, while putting people further at risk.  Access to health, water, education, food and farming and livelihood opportunities is severely compromised throughout the region.  With partners able to access hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray, it is vital that additional funding be released immediately to enable humanitarians to increase the scale and scope of the response.

**Central African Republic

Some updates from the Central African Republic, which, as you know, will have a second round of legislative elections over the weekend, and I wanted to give you some information about the support being provided by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Denise Brown, the Mission’s Deputy Special Representative, had discussions with the President of the National Electoral Authority to encourage the adoption of measures to facilitate electoral operations.  Meanwhile, it was reported that 96 per cent of poll workers have completed their training, with the Mission’s support; 23 per cent of them are women.  Campaigning for the elections is scheduled to end today.  The Mission also calls on those involved to ensure peaceful elections, to refrain from violence and resolve any dispute through peaceful means.

Staying in the country, our friends and colleagues at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are telling us that the recent spike in violence has grave consequences for children’s health.  At least 24,000 children under the age of five across 14 of the country’s 35 health districts are at risk of severe acute malnutrition.  The agencies are calling on all parties to the conflict to allow safe access to children.  Despite growing insecurity, UNICEF and WFP say their teams on the ground are intensifying efforts to reach the most vulnerable children and mothers.  They are pre-positioning food supplies to ensure there is no disruption in the delivery of aid.  They are also deploying mobile clinics to bring health and nutrition support to remote and displaced communities.  Six of these districts currently have no resources or capacity to respond to the needs of the children.  Both [agencies’] programmes are, sadly, critically underfunded.  Both agencies are calling for additional support.

**Nigeria

Turning to Nigeria, I can tell you the Secretary-General strongly condemns the reported abduction of another group of students in that country, this time from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization in Kaduna.  He understands that some of the students have reportedly been rescued by the Nigerian security forces.  The Secretary-General calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those students who remain in captivity.  The Secretary-General urges the authorities to safeguard schools and to ensure the right to education in a safe environment.  As you know, attacks on schools and other educational facilities constitute a grave violation of children’s rights and human rights more broadly.  The Secretary‑General underscores that schools must remain safe spaces for children to learn without fear of violence or kidnapping or any other attacks on them.

**Myanmar

A couple of notes from Myanmar:  The head of UN‑Women, Phumzile Mlambo‑Ngcuka, expresses her deep concern over the targeted and disproportionate violence against women being recorded in Myanmar since the start of the violence.  The Executive Director said that this repressive response has already taken the lives of six women and resulted in the arrest of close to 600 women, including young women, LGBTIQ+ activists and civil society participants.  In addition, those in detention are also reportedly experiencing sexual harassment and violence.  UNICEF in Myanmar today condemned in the strongest possible terms the use of force against children, including the use of live ammunition, and the arbitrary detention of children.  They continue to call on security forces to immediately refrain from violence.  As of yesterday, UNICEF tells that at least nine children have reportedly been killed and at least eight have been severely wounded, while more than 700 children have been arbitrarily detained.  Many of those arrested or detained are being held incommunicado, without access to legal counsel, which is a violation of their human rights.

**Somalia

An update from Somalia, where we are told that 34 districts in the country are experiencing serious water shortages following poor seasonal rains in 2020.  More than 83,000 people have been displaced by the water shortages since November 2020.  Humanitarian needs are also set to increase with La Niña weather conditions anticipated early in the year, on top of conflict and insecurity and other drivers of crisis.  According to our humanitarian colleagues, [currently] 1.6 million Somalis are facing acute food insecurity.  Without sustained humanitarian assistance, this number could increase to 2.7 million through June.  Water shortages may also escalate the risk of disease outbreaks.  Despite funding and security-related access challenges, humanitarian partners are delivering water to more than 300,000 people in impacted areas.  In 2021, 5.9 [million] people in Somalia need humanitarian assistance — that’s up from 5.2 million people in 2020.  Humanitarian partners require $1.09 billion to help 4 million of the most vulnerable among them.  As of today, 2.5 per cent of the funding has been received.  That’s 2.5 per cent of the $1.09 billion that’s needed.

**COVAX/Cabo Verde

Some good news on COVID-19:  Our UN team in Cabo Verde tells us that the country has just received 24,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.  This is a first batch of 100,000 doses that will arrive through May of this year.  The UN Resident Coordinator, Ana Patricia Graça, said this is a time of renewed hope and a testimony of the solidarity the world needs to respond to global challenges.  The UN team will help authorities start the vaccination programme on 18 March.  Health professionals, people with chronic diseases, the elderly, teachers, and others will be prioritized.

**Rwanda

From Rwanda, our colleagues at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomed the Rwandan Government’s vaccination against COVID-19 of more than 400 refugees.  This makes Rwanda one of the [first African] countries to actually vaccinate refugees.  This is a great example which we hope that other countries will follow.  A couple of notes for upcoming events.

**Mozambique/Tropical Cyclone Idai

I want to flag that Sunday, 14 March, will mark two years since Tropical Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, which was followed by [Cyclone Kenneth] in April 2019.  Later today, we will share with you under embargo a message from the Secretary-General, stressing that the people of Mozambique urgently need our help to tackle the triple threat of conflict, the climate [crisis], and COVID-19.  That will be sent out this afternoon.

**Commission on the Status of Women

The sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women starts on Monday.  In light of the evolving COVID-19 situation and taking into account the latest guidance from the Secretary-General and the World Health Organization (WHO), the meeting will take place in a hybrid format with mostly virtual meetings.  The meeting’s priority theme is women's full and effective participation and decision‑making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.  The Secretary-General will speak at the opening on Monday, and on Tuesday he will take part in a town hall meeting with members of civil society.  It will be on WebTV and we will share with you his opening remarks for Monday either later today or over the weekend, so check your emails.  Madame, and then we'll go to monsieur.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, could we have an update into the… on the investigation of the killing of the Italian?  Because the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] Government has repeatedly accused the Rwandan Hutu rebels of killing the people.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  So, let me tell you… what I know is that for our part, the Department of Safety and Security is conducting a review.  They are continuing to do so.  They are keeping in touch with the Congolese and the Italian authorities.  The criminal investigations are the responsibilities, first and foremost, of the Congolese authority, and of course, of the Italian authorities, given the killing of the Italian ambassador and the carabinieri.  We will be working with those… cooperating with those investigations.  And I would encourage you to get a hold of my colleague Greg Barrow at WFP, who may have more of an update.  I can share those with you.  Mr. Bays and then Ms. Lederer.

Question:  I'm sure the Secretariat has seen an open letter from the UN association of the UK to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the replacement for Mark Lowcock, who is leaving his job, urging a transparent, inclusive and merit‑based process and saying ring‑fencing roles exclude a large wave of global talent and creates a perception of partiality, a letter signed by numerous ambassadors, officials, a former Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations.  What does the Secretary‑General make of that letter?

Spokesman:  I don't know if the Secretary‑General has seen the letter.  I've seen it.  I've seen this letter, which is addressed to the Prime Minister of the UK.  The selection process for Mr. Lowcock is ongoing, and I think, if you look at the overall… the senior management team that the Secretary‑General has put forward, I think it is a powerful team full of extremely strong and capable leaders and with full gender parity.  And the Secretary‑General will continue on that track.

Question:  But that's not answering the central point.  There are some countries that hold on to… successively hold on to individual high‑level important jobs and don't give them up.  And does the Secretary‑General feel that this is a breach of a 1992 General Assembly resolution that says, as a general rule, no national of a Member State should succeed a national of that State in a senior post, and there should be no monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State or group of States?  When you've had five in a row French heads of peacekeeping, four in a row head… Under‑Secretary‑Generals for Humanitarian Affairs, three in a row US heads of the Department of Political Affairs, you're not complying with the resolution, are you?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is the Chief Administrative Officer of this Organization.  His focus is on putting together the best possible team, and he will continue in that vein.

Question:  And he'll do it even if it's in defiance of the General Assembly resolution…?

Spokesman:  He will continue to work towards that aim.  Thank you.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Are there any details on why the delivery of food and fuel to Yemen has suddenly been totally blockaded?  Who's responsible and what's being done to try and open the port?

Spokesman:  Well, on… I think on the distribution of food, I think Mr.… in some areas, Mr. Lowcock kind of went into it.  On the fuel, these are issues that we've taken up with the Coalition.  And overall, I think we are… overall, it is important that all the parties involved in this conflict focus, one, on resuming an active participation or at least… I mean, not say resuming, but on finding a solution, a political solution to the current crisis, engaging actively with Mr. [Martin] Griffiths in an effort to find a nationwide ceasefire, and of course, take no decision that harm the humanitarian well‑being of the Yemeni people, which I think, as Mr. Beasley said in much, much more eloquent way than I can, is just terrifying.

Question:  What specifically is Mr. Griffiths doing to try and get Hudaydah port open again to fuel tanker delivery…?

Spokesman:  This is part of conversations that Mr. Griffiths and others are having with all the parties involved, because, obviously, with zero fuel coming in, it has a direct impact on food prices, which has a direct impact on people's ability to get food.  Okay.  Let's go to… I think I'll go to James Reinl and then Sherwin and then Ibtisam.

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

Spokesman:  Not very loudly for once, James.

Question:  Oh, I'm sorry.  I'll try and speak up.

Spokesman:  There you go.  That's perfect.

Question:  We just had Mr. Beasley speaking with you.  He mentioned this new famine relief fund for Yemen, which is being organized by Ripplewood Holdings CEO Tim Collins.  A number of UN agencies have been dealing with Mr. Collins about this.  I'm wondering, has it reached the 38th Floor yet?  Does Mr.… has Mr. [António] Guterres spoken to anyone about it?  And does he have any concerns about where the money comes from and how it's going to be spent?

Spokesman:  No.  It's a good question.  I can tell you, I have nothing to add to what Mr. Beasley has said, but I will try to get a bit more on it.  Okay.  Sorry.  What did I say?  Ibtisam and then Sherwin.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I want to go to the… Mr. Beasley's press briefing and the fact… my second question that he didn't answer regarding weapon delivery to parties to the conflict.  So, my further question to you:  Does the Secretary‑General believe that the P5 — but any country — should stop delivering weapons to parties to the conflict, any conflict, but specifically since we are talking about Yemen, in Yemen?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, listen, the absurd amount of money that is being spent on sending weapons to Yemen could be spent on helping the Yemeni people get food, rebuild the health‑care system.  Yemen doesn't need more weapons.  Yemen needs political leaders who will agree on a peaceful way forward and bring solutions to the people of Yemen.

Question:  I have a follow‑up.  But, that's the part of the parties to the conflict, and you have been talking about that several times.  My question is actually about countries who are providing these weapons.  Are you calling on them to stop sending weapons?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I think I answered the first part of your question.  I said the money spent on weapons would be better spent someplace else.  Sherwin?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu of Zulu Nation passed on earlier today.  Is there any comment from the Secretary‑General on the king's passing, of course, the king of the largest ethnic group in South Africa?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We, of course, send our deepest and most sincere condolences to the king's family and his friends and to all the people of South Africa, as well as the Government of South Africa.  Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  My question is about Ms. [Deborah] Lyons… the UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan] chief, who had a trip to Doha and the talks with Mr. [Zalmay] Khalilzad and others.  What was the message she got?  What I mean is, what is the United Nations expected to do in the light of Secretary [Antony] Blinken's letter, going forward in the peace process?

Spokesman:  Well, listen, we… as I've said, we stand ready to assist the parties as requested.  Our role must and will always be in support of the Afghan people, must be agreeable to the parties in the conflict.  The Secretary‑General and others have been in touch with the Americans, the Russians, the Qataris and the Turks and many other parties, and we feel there is positive momentum from the international community in terms of coordination and moving forward on helping the Afghan parties find peace for the sake of the people of Afghanistan.

Question:  But, did… has the UN… the United Nations been formally told to organize some meeting as envisioned in Secretary Blinken's letter?

Spokesman:  Look, we are continuing our discussions, and we will do whatever we can to support and do what is requested of us within the framework I've already spoken about.  Toby and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi.  Thanks, Steph.  David Beasley today said that the Houthis are currently… he seems to be well liked by the Houthis, and their sentiments towards him, he said, have gone back and forth in the past.  What… does… have they warmed towards Mr. Griffiths, as well?  Is he experiencing a positive moment right now in his relations there?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Listen, I can't speak to Mr. Griffiths on that.  I know that Mr. Griffiths' contacts with… whether it's the Government of Yemen, the Houthi Ansar Allah or the Saudi‑led Coalition has… is constructive and the lines remain open, and we are exploiting those… that opening as much as we possibly can.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Yesterday, five Palestinian children were dragged and detained by heavily armed Israeli soldiers in the southern part of Hebron, and their crime was they were picking up a wild vegetable, very popular with Palestinians during this season.  And a figure of this arrest and roughing of the five children was released yesterday by B'Tselem.  Have you seen the video and if you have any position on that?

Spokesman:  No, I… to be honest, I personally have not seen that video, but we will look into the incident and comment accordingly.  Gloria?

Question:  My question is re the violence of women in Myanmar.  Where are all the women's groups, the powerful women politicians, the top people of the world, including Kamala Harris, helping these women and seeing that peacekeepers get in there and save the women?  It's not right.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Well, I can only speak for UN‑Women.  I think they've issued a very strong statement.  Great.  Seeing no more questions, we want to thank our guests for their patience.

For information media. Not an official record.