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15 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.

**Commission on the Status of Women

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke in person at the opening of the sixty-fifth session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

He said that the fallout of the pandemic has shown how deeply gender inequality remains embedded in the world’s political, social and economic systems.  The Secretary-General said that “now is the time to change course.  Women’s equal participation is the game-changer we need.”

He called on all leaders to put in place five key building blocks:

First, to realize women’s equal rights fully; second, to ensure equal representation in the private and public sector through special measures and quotas; third, to advance women’s economic inclusion through equal pay and social protection; fourth, to enact an emergency response plan in each country to address violence against women and girls; and finally, to give space to the intergenerational transition that is under way and to give greater support for young women advocating for a more just and equal world.

His full remarks are online.  Tomorrow, he will take part in the Commission on the Status of Women town hall, which you will be able to watch on UN WebTV.

**Violence against Women and Girls

Just moments ago, he took part via video message in the high-level side event of the Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls.

In a video message, he told the Group that many countries have committed over the past year to step up efforts to prevent and respond to this issue, but much more needs to be done.  The increase in violence is sometimes blamed on the pandemic, he said, but that ignores the responsibility of perpetrators and the importance of accountability.

He added that now is the moment to increase support for women’s organizations, and encouraged all members of the Group of Friends to play a full part in the Gender Equality Forum, which starts later this month in Mexico and later on moves to France.  The Forum will provide new opportunities to chart a fresh and bold feminist agenda.

**Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, where we saw a weekend filled with bloodshed:  According to the UN Human Rights Office, to date, at least 138 peaceful protestors, including women and children, have been killed in the violence since 1 February.  This includes 38 people who were killed yesterday, the majority in the Hlaing Thayer area of Yangon, while 18 people were killed on Saturday.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns this ongoing violence against peaceful protesters and the continuing violation of the most basic human rights of the people of Myanmar.  The Secretary-General renews his call on the international community, including regional actors, to come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations.

We expect a more formal statement later on this afternoon.

You have seen that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, issued a statement condemning the bloodshed as the military continues to defy international calls, including from the Security Council, for restraint, dialogue and full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

**Central African Republic

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said that yesterday’s second round of the legislative elections was conducted peacefully throughout the country without major incidents.  A number of officials from the UN peacekeeping office, including senior leaders, visited several polling stations in Bangui and noted a high level of voter turnout.

Our peacekeepers actively patrolled all polling stations to ensure security, in collaboration with national forces.  We are continuing to provide the necessary support to authorities for the transfer of electoral materials and the process of the results, ahead of their provisional publication by the National Electoral Authority — that is scheduled to happen between 15 and 22 March.

On Friday, the UN Security Council also adopted resolution 2566 (2021), authorizing the increase of MINUSCA’s military component by 2,750 soldiers and the police component by 940 — that’s from the current authorized levels.  In this resolution, the Council stressed that these reinforcements are aimed notably at enhancing MINUSCA’s ability to perform its priority mandated tasks in the current evolving context in the Central African Republic, in particular protection of civilians and facilitation of humanitarian access.

**Syria

Geir Pedersen, the Special Envoy for Syria, told the Security Council this morning that the conflict has now lasted for 10 years — as long as the first and second World Wars combined.  He paid tribute to the Syrian people for their resilience in dealing with all they have faced over the past decade.

In a VTC (video teleconference) briefing, the Special Envoy said most Syrian children have never lived a day without war and most have gone without food.

He said that the world has not succeeded in delivering the Syrian people from what the Secretary-General has called “a living nightmare”.

On the more positive side, he noted the relative calm of the past year, although with continuing clashes and air strikes.  He stressed the importance of consolidating the current fragile calm into a nationwide ceasefire.

Mr. Pedersen reiterated that a political solution is the only way out and added he is convinced that it is possible.  He urged Council members to ensure Syria receives top-level, sustained attention.

**Libya

I’ve been asked about the new Libyan Government and I can tell you that we welcome the swearing in of the new Libyan Government of National Unity before the House of Representatives in Tobruk earlier today.  This is another major step for Libya following the endorsement of the cabinet by the House of Representatives last week.

The UN stands ready to support the new Government as it takes on the tasks of addressing the urgent needs of the Libyan people, advancing preparations for national elections on 24 December 2021 and working toward the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement of 23 October 2020.

The Special Envoy, Ján Kubiš, today also welcomed the swearing-in of the Government of National Unity.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, as you will recall, on Friday, I shared with you that humanitarian partners had started using a new email notification system to deploy international staff to Tigray.  It’s a change from the system we had when we had to seek permission.

This is a welcome development for humanitarian colleagues and, of course, for humanitarian access and the delivery of critical assistance.  It has allowed several organizations to deploy more international staff to Tigray to support the scale up of the response.  Overall, there are 240 UN staff in Tigray.  There are more than 1,000 non-UN humanitarian staff as well.

The delivery of assistance has also been stepped up, with humanitarian partners reaching 900,000 people with full food baskets, almost 700,000 with water, and [136,000] with shelter.

However, much more remains to be done.  Humanitarians urgently need an estimated $400 million in additional funding to meet needs in Tigray, the full scope of the needs is not yet clear.

**Mozambique — Idai

Turning to Mozambique, we marked yesterday the second anniversary of Tropical Cyclone Idai.  In a message, the Secretary-General said that the UN is honoured to continue standing in solidarity with the people and Government of Mozambique.

He added that he would never forget the devastation and recovery efforts he saw first-hand when he travelled to Mozambique, in the aftermath of the unprecedented back-to-back cyclones, Idai and Kenneth.  He noted that the force of the storms is a reminder that time is running out for the world to act on climate change.

The Secretary-General pointed out that, two years on, many families still struggle to rebuild their lives.  He said the people of Mozambique urgently need our help to tackle the triple threat of conflict, the climate crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General called on the international community to step up and support the humanitarian response plan for Mozambique, which needs $254 million to respond to the escalating needs.

**Bolivia

You will have seen that, over the weekend, we issued a statement in relation to the situation in Bolivia and the recent legal action taken against former government officials and authorities there.  The Secretary-General recalled the importance of upholding due process guarantees and full transparency in all legal proceedings.  He recalled the importance of steps already taken by all Bolivian parties towards the consolidation of peace and reiterated the UN’s commitment to work towards these efforts.

Two pieces of good news I’m going to end with:

**COVAX — Jordan

One from Jordan, [which] received its first shipment of 144,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/SK Bioscience vaccine from COVAX, and that was on Friday.

The WHO (World Health Organization) and the European Union helped to secure vaccines for Syrian refugees and other vulnerable people in Jordan.

The next COVAX shipment is expected to arrive in Jordan in April.

**Financial Contribution

And we say muchas gracias to our amigos in Bogota, because [Colombia] paid their budget dues in full.

**Questions and Answers

And, James, I’m about to pay my budget dues in full in answering your questions.

Question:  Yes.  We learned from the [United States] State Department that the Secretary‑General had a conversation with the Secretary of State.  Can you tell us what that conversation was about?

Spokesman:  They spoke last week on Yemen and a number… Yemen and Afghanistan and a number of other issues.  This is part of the regular contacts they’ve been having.

Question:  And you talked about Afghanistan.  We’ve been asking you for some time about Afghanistan and the US [Antony] Blinken plan.  In terms of that conference that the US wants the UN to organize, have you been… during that call, was the Secretary‑General asked to organize a conference of foreign ministers?

Spokesman:  We’re not yet in a position to formally announce dates and processes, but we’re in touch with all the relevant parties to see how we can best support the process.

Question:  And is the Secretary‑General happy with his Special Representative for Afghanistan?  Because there are reports in the Afghan media that he’s now considering Jean Arnault as a Special Envoy for Afghanistan.  Does he need two people?  And is he happy with the person in the job currently?

Spokesman:  He is fully confident in the Special Representative’s leadership that she has shown over the years… rather, recent appointment, and there’s absolutely no indication of a change in Deborah Lyons, and we’re very happy with her.

Question:  And no need for a second envoy.

Spokesman:  I will leave… I don’t have any other announcements to make.

Célhia de Lavaréne?

Question:  It’s about the vaccine AstraZeneca.  Some 15 countries have stopped giving that vaccine.  So, why is the UN — or I don’t know who — sending the vaccine to some countries?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Look, our… the vaccine AstraZeneca and Pfizer, to a lesser extent, are part of… are being distributed as part of COVAX.  We are being guided by the science and by WHO, and there has been… I mean, I think WHO was pretty clear over the last couple of days about the fact that there was no issue with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Question:  So, are you telling us that the 15 countries that stopped using it are wrong?

Spokesman:  Look, I’ve seen that they’ve suspended… every… they are free to make their own decisions.  Our guiding light, so to speak, when it comes to vaccines and science, is the World Health Organization.

All right.  Let’s go to the screen.  Let me see if I have something in my back pocket.  Let me see if I have something in my chat.

Philippe?

Question:  Hello, Stéphane.  Question about the… who is going to replace Mark Lowcock?  Can you tell us how many candidates you have, which country and how many women?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  No, no and no.  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Just… not to be flippant with you, Philippe.  As you know, when we are ready to announce a candidate, we will… when we are ready to announce who the Secretary‑General has chosen, we will do so.

Question:  Yes, but you told last week about transparency, so you are not… you are not going to reveal how many candidates you have?

Spokesman:  No, we have never done… made public the short lists, and at this point, we are not… there is no plan in changing that policy.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Evelyn?

Question:  Hello, Steph.  In Tigray, where, apparently, health facilities, for reasons beyond me, have been attacked and burned down, how is the access these days?  Is it… for the… for any of the UN humanitarian groups?

Spokesman:  Well, the access is much improved in terms of sending staff in.  As I’ve mentioned, we now have a notification system instead of a permission system.  We’re seeing more goods flow, but we still do not have a clear picture of the holistic needs in Tigray, because we’ve not been able to access every part of the province that we would need to access.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yep.  Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I asked last time Farhan [Haq] the question if you have any update regarding this.  The Secretary‑General has always emphasized the fact that foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya must leave as soon as possible.  So, is there any update regarding if any troops have left the country or…

Spokesman:  No.  We hope that is… we very much hope that is happening, but I have nothing… I have no verification, so to speak, to share with you.  But that is a critical part of bringing peace for the Libyan people.

Okay.  Thank you, all.  I think you have a stakeout with Mr. Pedersen very soon if it hasn’t already started.

For information media. Not an official record.