Print
16 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

Good afternoon.  This morning, the Secretary-General spoke virtually at the civil society town hall, which took place on the side-lines of the Commission on the Status of Women.  He said that we are seeing new evidence almost every day that the social and economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating for women’s rights — and particularly for those most vulnerable:  poor women, women working in the informal economy and indigenous women.

He noted that despite these serious setbacks to gender equality and women’s rights, there is a huge gender gap in the task forces and panels that are supposed to be building the recovery.  There is no excuse for this, he said, adding that male-dominated teams will come up with male-dominated solutions.

The Secretary-General underscored that we cannot go back to the failed man-made policies that have resulted in the fragility we see around us — in health-care systems, in social protection, in access to justice, and in the well-being of our planet.

The Secretary-General added that the upcoming Generation Equality Forum will offer a critical opportunity to confront gender disparity, as well as the enduring structural inequalities that preceded it.

He also heard from representatives from civil society and answered their questions and that was live on WebTV, and I think it is already archived there or will be shortly.

**Latin America and Caribbean

This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the opening ceremony of the Fourth Meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for Sustainable Development.

She noted that while the pandemic is expected to produce the worst economic contraction in the history of the region, Governments are implementing rapid responses through unprecedented fiscal and social measures which have saved millions of lives and prevented many from falling into poverty.

She underscored that much remains to be done to stave off further damage and use the recovery to reignite the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reiterated the UN’s support for the region.

And yesterday, Ms. Mohammed chaired the first annual meeting of the new Regional Collaborative Platform for Latin America and the Caribbean.  The Regional Collaborative Platforms are a new mechanism to bring together all UN entities with regional activities to support the sustainable development for the region.

**Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, our colleagues in Geneva, the UN Rights Office, said today that the number of peaceful protestors who have been killed since 1 February, according to them, has climbed to at least 149.

The Office says that more than 2,000 people remain arbitrarily detained.  There are deeply distressing reports of torture in custody and hundreds of people who have been unlawfully detained remain unaccounted for.

You will have also seen the statement we issued yesterday afternoon, in which the Secretary-General said he is appalled by the escalating violence in the country at the hands of the Myanmar’s military.

He also said the killing of demonstrators, arbitrary arrests and the reported torture of prisoners violate fundamental human rights and stand in clear defiance of calls by the Security Council for restraint, dialogue and a return to Myanmar’s democratic path.

He urged the international community to work collectively and bilaterally to help bring an end to the repression by the military and urges the military to allow a visit by his Special Envoy as an important element in calming down the situation and setting the stage for dialogue and a return to democracy.

Also on Myanmar, the World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that the current political unrest could impact the supply chain and markets, leading to rising food and fuel prices.

WFP has found that prices of palm oil and rice are trending upwards in some areas.

According to WFP, coming on top of the pandemic, if these price trends continue, they will severely undermine the ability of the poorest and most vulnerable to put enough food on the family table.

More information online.

**Yemen

You will have seen Martin Griffiths, or you will have heard Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, warning the Security Council this morning via videoconference that Ansar Allah’s offensive on Marib continues, putting civilians, including an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons, at risk.  Fighting forces on both sides have suffered heavy losses, he told Council members.

He added that cross-border attacks have also increased significantly in recent weeks.  He said he was concerned by the intensification of missile and drone strikes, including ones that have targeted civilian and commercial infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

The Special Envoy noted the recent fire at a migrant detention centre in which dozens of people were killed, saying that there must be an independent investigation into the cause of these fires.  All people in Yemen, regardless of nationality, must be afforded protection and kept safe, he affirmed.

Mark Lowcock, for his part, our head of Humanitarian Affairs, warned the Council members that a lack of funding was hurting efforts to stave off famine.  Although the 1 March event for Yemen raised $1.7 billion, he said, that’s less than half of what aid agencies need for this year’s response plan.

**Nigeria

Speaking of response plans, a couple of funding opportunities to flag.  In Nigeria’s capital Abuja today we, along with our humanitarian partners, launched Nigeria’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan.  We are seeking $1 billion to help 6.4 million of the most vulnerable people — among 8.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Nigeria.

Most of the funds will go towards the response to the humanitarian crisis in the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe.  More than 5 million people in the region risk acute hunger in the forthcoming lean season because of escalating conflict, displacement, and livelihood disruptions due to the pandemic restrictions.  This is the worst outlook in four years.

Last year, just over half of the funding needed for the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan was received.  Despite the low funding, humanitarian partners helped more than 5 million people in 2020.

**South Sudan

And in South Sudan, we along with our partners launched this year’s South Sudan Humanitarian Plan, calling for $1.7 billion to reach 6.6 million people in need of aid and protection.

Alain Noudéhou, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, said that thousands of humanitarian workers — most of them South Sudanese — are working tirelessly to save lives and provide humanitarian assistance to people in the areas of greatest need.

But, he said, we need urgent funding to prevent a further deterioration of the situation, and we need the violence to stop so that the people of South Sudan can finally recover and rebuild their lives.

And the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched the 2021 South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan, which seeks $1.2 billion to help 2.2 million South Sudanese refugees across five neighbouring countries.

Nearly two thirds of these refugees are under the age of 18, including 66,000 children who have been separated from their parents.

UNHCR praised the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda for continuing to generously host South Sudanese refugees.  It calls for renewed support from the international community to help them.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And in response to questions I’ve been asked about the violence over the weekend in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I can tell you that the UN peacekeeping mission in that country (MONUSCO) is reporting that at least 14 civilians were killed in an attack by suspected combatants of the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces).  This happened on Sunday night in Bulongo village, which is located east of Beni.

Yesterday, peacekeepers from the Force Intervention Brigade deployed to the area of the incident, following the discovery of the bodies.

**Africa — COVAX

A few COVAX notes:  Today, Somalia kickstarted its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, a day after the arrival of 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX facility.  This initial batch of vaccines targets frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, James Swan, said the UN is committed to supporting authorities to reach out to the most vulnerable groups to contain the spread of the virus.

And over the weekend, COVAX delivered 12,000 doses of the vaccine to Eswatini.  This brings the total number of doses delivered to the country to 32,000.  Authorities received an initial 20,000 doses from the Government of India last week, also with UN support.  Health care and essential workers will be vaccinated first.

**Lebanon

Our colleagues at the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) recently conducted a three-day COVID-19 disinfection training workshop with civil defence volunteers from south-east Lebanon.

Volunteers from eight Civil Defence Centres active in the area joined  UNIFIL  peacekeepers in the training.  The practical training is intended to share knowledge and experience on best practices in dealing with the pandemic.

**Senior Appointment

You will have seen that last night we issued a senior announcement.

The Secretary-General has appointed El-Ghassim Wane of Mauritania as his new Special Representative and Head of the Peacekeeping Mission [in Mali,] MINUSMA.

We welcome Mr. Wane back to the UN; as you know, he held a leadership position in the peacekeeping department and was then most recently with the African Union.  He succeeds Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh of Chad, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his invaluable contribution to peace and reconciliation efforts in Mali.

**UN News Centre

Just to let you know that our colleagues and friends at the UN News Centre would like you to participate in a survey.  They are checking with their audiences, starting today until 5 April.  The Department of Global Communications will carry out a survey in order to understand how the UN is meeting users’ needs and to identify areas of improvement.

The survey is available in all UN languages, as well as Hindi, Kiswahili and Portuguese.  It’s on UN News and on social media.

**Financial Contributions

And we thank the three Member States that have paid their regular budget dues in full bringing us up to 73.  Anybody can guess who those three States are, at least one?  All right.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  All right.  You can always try.  You never lose.  It’s the Bahamas, Fiji, and Micronesia, three island States.

Correspondent:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  I could have given us a clue.  Next time, next time.  All right.

**Questions and Answers

James and then Célhia.

Question:  Okay.  Couple of questions, if I can.  First, Myanmar, you’ve now… really shocking death toll and torture you’ve talked about and the statement from the Secretary-General in the last 24 hours using the word “appalled,” not a word often we see in the lexicon of Secretary-General statements.

So, clearly, this is as concerned as you can get, but words aren’t going to cut it anymore, are they?  There’s going to need to be action.  What’s the Secretary-General’s view on that?  Would he like to see the Security Council meet again?

Spokesman:  Look, I think as I’ve said before, there are no bystanders in this.  We need to not only continue to hear the collective voices of the Security Council, we also need to hear the collective voices of the countries in the region.

We all can take different paths, but the goal is the same, and we need to hear those voices, especially from those countries that may have influence over the situation in the country more directly than others.

Question:  And then two quick questions about the US and the current diplomacy under way by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence, who have gone to Asia, on a visit to Asia.  As you know, they are planning to be in Seoul in the next few hours, and a statement has come from the sister of Kim Jong Un:  “We take this opportunity to warn the new US Administration trying hard to give off gun powder smell in our land.  If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it’d better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

What is the Secretary-General’s view on what doesn’t seem to be particularly good signs in diplomacy with regard to North Korea?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains the same.  He wants dialogue.  He wants to see a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  He wants to see tensions lowered, whether those tensions are military or rhetorical tensions.  I think we would want to see re-engagement of the major players on this file to try to find a diplomatic solution forward.

Question:  And a final follow-up, when Secretary [Antony] Blinken comes back to the US, he’ll be in Alaska.  He’ll be meeting the Chinese Prime Minister, Wang Yi.  The Secretary-General has spent quite a bit of attention on that relationship between China and the US.  He’s warned of the great fracture.  This is the first senior meeting of the new Administration and of the Chinese Government.  What are the Secretary-General’s hopes for that meeting?

Spokesman:  Well, we hope for a positive outcome.  We hope that China and the United States can find ways to collaborate on critical issues, notably on climate change, on rebuilding the post-COVID world.  We fully understand that there are tensions and outstanding issues between the two, but they should also both find ways to cooperate on the biggest global challenges that are before us.

Célhia de Lavaréne?

Question:  China has informed the UN Secretary-General that China would [inaudible] 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to United Nation peacekeepers with priority given to peacekeeping mission in Africa.  Why in Africa?  Is it because China has interest in Africa?  They’re solidly, comme on dit, implicated in Africa?  Why not to…

Spokesman:  Listen, I saw the report.  I’m trying to get details on it.  What is clear is that…  [cross talk]  No.  So, we’re trying to get details.  We’re, obviously… it’s a very generous offer, and we’re very thankful for it.  But as for the motivation, you should ask the Chinese Permanent Mission, but it’s clear that the vast… the bulk of our peacekeeping operations and the bulk of our peacekeeping soldiers and police officers and military observers are in Africa.  But I think the questions you asked are best answered by the Chinese Mission, but we do very much thank them for this gesture.

Yeah?

Question:  And I have another one.  When a special envoy is nominated, like in Mali right now, how long is he nominated for?

Spokesman:  Like, what’s the length of his contract?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  I’d have to check.  That’s a very good question.  I don’t know why…

Question:  Because I… [inaudible] the one was there before did not stay too long.  Or maybe I’m wrong.

Spokesman:  Mr. Annadif was there for quite some time.  Yeah.

You and I obviously don’t have the facts to either the question or the answer so… [laughter]

Okay.  Let’s see if… there’s nothing in the chat.  If somebody has a question, wave, and I will answer.

Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have actually two questions.  One is about Mozambique.  I connected the… just, I think, a couple of minutes after you started, so I don’t know if you already talked about it.  But about this news that this organization — they are affiliated to ISIS, we think, or they think — has been beheading children and killing in that way, does the UN… did the UN know about that and when exactly?

Spokesman:  First of all, I’d say we have been reporting on the situation in Mozambique for quite some time, on the devastation, the humanitarian devastation, the violence that has been perpetrated.  And, so, the report is horrific and I think is bone-chilling, and we have and we will continue to support the people of Mozambique, the Government of Mozambique, as it tries to bring help and aid to the people in… especially in the most impacted provinces.  But I would refer you to the Secretary-General’s own statement on Mozambique, which was issued over the weekend.

Question:  Okay…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Your second question, Stefano.

Question:  My second question was… is about the case of… the [Mario] Paciolla case in Colombia.  In an interview with the parents of Paciolla — they just came out in Italy — the parents say… the Mario Paciolla said that they… they were asked specifically, do you think the UN is… has been helpful?  And they say, not at all.  Actually, we know that the truth, it will come… has to come out of the UN.  And they practically, in their response, they are very upset about the way the UN has been handling all the investigation.

So, do you have any response to give to these parents that think that the UN has not been collaborative in the investigation on the death of their son?

Spokesman:  First of all, our hearts, again, go out to the Paciolla family for the terrible loss that they’ve suffered.  We have worked as hard as we can to cooperate with the investigations that are ongoing.  We’re very sorry if they feel this way, and it’s not for me to question them in any way, shape or form.  But I can tell you that we have been cooperating as much as possible with the relevant criminal investigations.

Okay.  Evelyn and then Philippe.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just, when you research China’s vaccine doses to peacekeepers, could you also ask what flavour… what kind of vaccine they’re going to donate?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Understood.

Oh, and by the way, my colleagues, who actually pay attention to the briefing, just sent me a message.  Mr. Annadif spent five years in Mali, Célhia.  So, I don’t know if that’s… if you will… if that is long for you, but I think it is a very good amount of time for a special representative.

Okay.  Philippe?

Question:  Merci, Stéphane.  The Libya final report was due yesterday to the Council, and apparently the Secretariat just sent a letter saying there is some technical issue.  Can you tell us what are the technical issue on the release of this report?

Spokesman:  Yes.  I… you’re referring to the Panel of Experts report?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  The technical issue is that it’s about 500 pages, and I think… which, even for a UN report, is a bit long.  And, so, I think we’re just having some uploading… some IT issues.  But they’re working through them as quickly as possible, and then you can have the joy of downloading 500 pages after we’ve finished uploading 500 pages.  [He later said the report had been put out in the afternoon.]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Any more questions?

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yes.  The UK has announced that it is increasing its nuclear arsenal by 40 per cent to 260 warheads.  What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to that?  And does he believe as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), they’re in breach of that treaty?

Spokesman:  We’re aware of the release of the media reports on the integrated strategic review.  I know the report is currently public, and we are going… we’re studying its contents at this point.

Question:  But would the Secretary-General be disappointed if any member or any signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty decides to increase, not decrease, their nuclear arsenal?

Spokesman:  As I said, we’re going to go through the report.  What is… the Secretary-General’s position is that he’s always and will continue to call for a world free of nuclear weapons, and that was his position yesterday, and that will be his position today and tomorrow.

Question:  And the question on the CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) today, the US Vice-President is speaking.  The US, as you know, has changed its position on gender issues and increased its funding for these issues.  What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to that and the way that it may change the conversation at this year’s CSW?

Spokesman:  We welcome those policy announcements.  I think UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) welcomed it, as did UN-Women.  They are a critical move forward in helping address the many challenges that women face, notably on issues of their own health.

Okay.  Thank you.  See you tomorrow.

For information media. Not an official record.