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24 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.

**Press Briefing Tomorrow

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the noon briefing.  You will be hearing from me first and then from my comrade Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

First off, tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, will be here, or rather in the briefing room, to brief you on the launch of the Financing for Sustainable Development Report.  The report shows that COVID-19 is sharply increasing stress on development finance and equality and that immediate action is needed to finance a sustainable recovery.

The report, which has inputs from 60 organizations, also shows the deep and widespread negative economic and social consequences of COVID-19 in both developed and developing countries.  It looks at how the pandemic is affecting the development agenda and the lives of billions and offers concrete recommendations for overcoming the crisis.

Ahead of the briefing, we will be sending you an embargoed copy of the report this afternoon.

**Yemen

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on steps to help end the fighting and restart the political process in Yemen.  He thanked the Kingdom for its support for the United Nations efforts.

The Secretary-General welcomes all steps aimed at bringing the parties closer to a resolution in line with the efforts by his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to secure a nationwide ceasefire, the re-opening of Sana’a airport, the regular flow of fuel and other commodities into Yemen through Hudaydah port and move to an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement to end the conflict.

Underlining that the needs of the Yemeni people must be put above any other considerations, the Secretary-General calls for fuel ships to be urgently allowed into the port of Hudaydah and for the removal of obstacles to domestic distribution.  The full statement is online.

Also on Yemen, we take note of the decision of the Government of Yemen to reportedly allow four fuel ships into Hudaydah port.  This is a step in the right direction, as fuel shortages persist across the entire country.

Commercial imports of essential goods, including food, fuel and medical-related items, must be able to enter Yemen in adequate quantities through all ports, and obstacles to domestic distribution removed.  Fuel is also essential to transport food, pump drinking water, power the delivery of basic services and run electricity grids.  People need cooking gas to cook their meals, especially as we approach Ramadan.

We are alarmed by the reported claim by the Houthis (who also call themselves Ansar Allah) of a drone attack yesterday on Abha Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  We condemn all attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

We encourage all those involved to refrain from actions that are detrimental to the mediation efforts of Special Envoy Griffiths and call on them to continue working to advance the political process to reach a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.

**Somalia

As you saw yesterday evening, we issued a statement on Somalia.  The Secretary-General reiterated his deep concern at the continued political impasse regarding the holding of elections in Somalia, despite several rounds of consultations amongst Somali political actors, both at technical and principal levels.  He said that the protracted stalemate carries significant risks for the stability of the country and the welfare of the Somali people, who are already facing a dire humanitarian situation and precarious security conditions.

The Secretary-General urged the Federal Government of Somalia and all Federal Member State leaders to engage in dialogue and hold the planned summit urgently and without preconditions to resolve their differences on the electoral process and reach consensus on the way forward.

**Niger

And you will have seen that in another statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned Sunday’s heinous attack against civilians in Niger’s Tahoua region.  As you know, the attack by unidentified gunmen reportedly killed at least 137 people.

The Secretary-General reaffirms the solidarity and support of the United Nations to the Government and people of Niger in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime.  He urges countries in the Sahel to continue their efforts, in close collaboration with regional organizations and international partners, to address these serious threats to security and stability in the subregion and beyond.

And we have received a disturbing new update on the attack, this time from UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund).  The agency was able to confirm that 22 children aged 5 to 17 were among the victims.  Several others were injured or separated from their families.

UNICEF reiterates that killing and injuring children is a grave violation of human rights.  The agency urges all parties to protect boys and girls and to keep them out of harm’s way.

**Libya

Ján Kubiš briefed the Security Council this morning for the first time in his new capacity as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya.

He discussed the installation of the new interim Government, and he said that the recent developments represent a trend and momentum that must not be lost.

Moving forward, he said, we all need to assist and encourage the new executive bodies to pursue an inclusive political process, to fulfil the objectives set by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and to maintain momentum on all intra-Libyan tracks.

Mr. Kubiš told the Council that the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) embraces the key priorities identified by the interim executive authority and by Prime Minister [Abdul Hamid] Dabaiba, and it stands ready to support them.

He added that on 3 March, the UN Secretariat deployed an Advance Team to Libya to assess possible UN support to the Libyan-led Ceasefire Monitoring Mechanism.  Preliminary findings were shared with the Security Council in the progress report issued on 22 March, he noted.

**Syria

Today, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock made a virtual visit to Syria.  He spoke by videoconference and by phone to families in different parts of the country, including displaced people.  Mr. Lowcock also met with health-care professionals, and patients receiving primary health-care services.

This is in the run-up to 30 March, when the UN will jointly convene, along with the European Union, a virtual high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis in Syria.  The event will mobilize resources to address the devastating humanitarian needs of millions of Syrians inside the country and in the region.

After a decade of conflict, around 12.4 million [people] across Syria are now suffering from hunger, the most ever seen in Syria, affecting 60 per cent of the country’s population.

The UN along with our partners are delivering one of the largest humanitarian aid operations in the world in Syria, reaching on average 7.6 million people in need every month.

**Middle East

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet met virtually yesterday to discuss returning to meaningful negotiations that will lead to a two-State solution, including tangible steps to advance freedom, security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, which is important in its own right.  The Quartet, you will recall, brings together the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations.

The Envoys also discussed the situation on the ground, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic, the unsustainable disparity in economic development between Israelis and Palestinians, and the need for the parties to refrain from unilateral actions that make a two-State solution more difficult to achieve.

**Mali

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is continuing to work with national and local authorities to support the protection of civilians, as well as stabilization efforts in the country.  In Timbuktu, the Mission is currently conducting a three-day training workshop on the rights and the protection of children.

This training is designed to benefit agents of the Malian Security Forces, who will in turn train their peers.  Participants will strengthen their capacities in terms of the national and international legal framework for child protection, as well as on the role of Malian forces in interactions with children.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the country today said it remains deeply concerned over the imposition of martial law in outlying areas of Yangon.

Thousands of migrants have left Yangon’s township of Hlaing Thar Yar, following the imposition of martial law on 15 March.

IOM estimates that approximately 100,000 migrants have returned to their communities of origin, mainly Rakhine State and Ayeyarwady Region, in search of safety and security.

They are returning to communities already in distress due to the impacts of the military takeover, including the suspension of banking services and scarcity of food.

Having left rapidly and using up their limited savings, many migrants cannot meet basic needs, including food and water.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  The World Food Programme (WFP) today said that it has begun providing emergency food assistance to vulnerable people in the Tigray Region.

WFP says that it urgently needs $170 million to meet critical food and nutrition needs over the next six months.  The Government estimates that 4.5 million people need emergency food assistance until late this year and has requested that WFP support 1.4 million of them.

WFP noted that the outbreak of conflict in Tigray last November coincided with the peak harvest period, meaning employment and incomes were lost, markets were disrupted, food prices rose, and access to cash and fuel became very difficult.

In addition to delivering emergency food assistance in Tigray, WFP has started providing nutrition support for up to 875,000 vulnerable pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as children in the region over the next six months.

WFP is also providing transport and logistics support to the Government and its partners to deliver humanitarian assistance both to and within Tigray Region.

**Caribbean — COVAX

An update on COVAX:  Jamaica has become the first country in the Caribbean to receive COVAX-backed vaccines.  Last week, an initial batch of more than 14,000 doses arrived in Jamaica, with more on the way.

This first batch will go towards health workers, older adults and other priority groups.

Another 15 Caribbean countries are expected to receive 2.1 million doses of COVAX vaccines by May.

**El Salvador

In El Salvador, the UN team there is supporting authorities to reopen schools safely, gradually and voluntarily.

UNICEF has provided a protocol for the safe return of teachers, other staff and students.

The UN team also helped to create educational content to ensure that education continues for 100,000 children with no Internet access and whose schools might not reopen immediately.  This includes dozens of educational programmes over television and radio.

**Right to the Truth

Today is the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims.

In his message to mark the day, the Secretary-General reminded us that we are commemorating the life of Monsignor Oscar Romero, who was murdered for his vocal opposition to inequality, marginalization and injustice in El Salvador.

We honour all victims and survivors of gross human rights violations around the world, the Secretary-General said.

Acknowledgment, justice, and prevention, he added, can only begin with uncovering and acknowledging the facts.  Without truth, there can be no justice or reparation.

**World Tuberculosis Day

Today is also World Tuberculosis Day.  The theme this year is “The Clock is Ticking”, which conveys the sense that the world is running out of time to act on the commitments to end TB made by global leaders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses that this is especially critical in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to preliminary data compiled by WHO from more than 80 countries, an estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis in 2020 than in 2019.  This is a reduction of 21 per cent.

WHO notes that many people who have TB are unable to access the care they need, and the pandemic has greatly worsened the situation.  WHO fears that over half a million more people may have died from TB in 2020, simply because they were unable to obtain a diagnosis.

**UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has appointed the football player Alphonso Davies as its newest Global Goodwill Ambassador.

Davies was born in a refugee camp in Ghana, to Liberian parents who had fled the civil war in their home country.  Davies and his family were resettled to Canada when he was 5.  At 15, Davies began playing professional football and a year later, he had his national team debut, making him the youngest player ever on Canada’s Men’s National Team.

Now 20, Alphonso is keen to support the work of UNHCR and to harness the power of sport to help those forced to flee to build a better future.

In a statement, Filippo Grandi, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said that the Agency is truly honoured to have him as a new goodwill ambassador.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And last, but by no means least, I have a senior personnel announcement for you.  The Secretary-General is appointing Major General Ingrid Gjerde of Norway as Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, or UNFICYP.  Major General Gjerde succeeds Major General Cheryl Pearce of Australia, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedication and leadership during her two years of service.

Major General Gjerde has had a distinguished career in the Norwegian Defence Force, currently serving as Head of Strategic Plans.  She is a graduate of the Norwegian Military academy, as well as from the US Army command and staff college and from the US Army War College.  We have lots more about her in a note being emailed as I speak.

And that is it from my notes.  I see that we have some questions before we get to Brenden.

**Questions and Answers

So, first off, Majeed Gly.  Majeed?

Question:  Thank you so much, Farhan.  My first question is on Libya.  We heard from Mr. Kubiš and every international mediator that this momentum, this optimism, that’s happening in Libya cannot… it would be at great risk if the many fighters that… does not stop, that is going for all these international sides.  And this is all clear violation, documented violation, of Security Council resolutions of sending these… the nearly 20,000 fighters in Libya right now.

My question is, why does Secretary-General don’t call these countries out by name and ask them to stop?  Because at this day, unlike Syria, what we are seeing with Libya, it’s more documented what’s going in Libya.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, the Secretary-General has called for the release of… the withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Libya, and certainly this is part of the agreement, and it has to happen.

As Mr. Kubiš said, the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Libya will go a long way in reconstituting the unity and sovereignty of the country and healing the deep wounds caused by many years of internal strife.  And so, he is encouraging that.

He says that there [have] been signs that some of the foreign fighters and mercenaries have been repositioned in and around Sirte, but he warns that those fighters remain in the country and are, indeed, within the vicinity of the city.  So, we are calling for them to be fully withdrawn.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  This… that was supposed to happen, the withdrawal of the fighters, the foreign fighters and mercenaries, back in January and hasn’t happened yet.  Has Mr. Kubiš gotten any assurances, any written assurances, or anything from the parties to start that process and a timeline?

Spokesman:  Well, again, this is part of an agreement.  There is no timeline yet, but this is part of a process.  It’s something, as you know, that we are going to be trying to keep track of so that we can be sure that they have withdrawn.  But ultimately, this is part of a process, and we are still working with the parties.

Now that there is an interim authority in place, I think they’re well positioned to also push for the restoration, the full restoration, of Libya’s sovereignty.

Okay.  Adla Massoud?

Question:  Oh.  Hold on.  Can you see me?  Okay.

Farhan, apparently the SG spoke to the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch.  Would it be possible to know what was discussed and whether the SG supports the idea of an international conference on Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, the question of an international conference, that’s for the parties themselves to determine.  What I can say is that they did, of course, discuss the process under way in Lebanon.  And as I mentioned yesterday, we continue to reiterate our calls and those of the international community to all political forces to facilitate the timely formation of a Government able to undertake the reforms necessary to put Lebanon on the path to recovery and respond to the needs of the Lebanese people.

And of course, we have also called in the past for an investigation into the Beirut Port explosion and into the recent killing of Mr. Lokman Slim, and we continue to call for those.

Let me see.  I believe James Bays has his hand raised; so James, over to you.

Question:  It’s about Libya, because, of course, we don’t have a stakeout from Mr. Kubiš, which would be good given the importance of the news in Libya, the fact he’s addressing the Council and the new report on monitors is being delivered to the Security Council.  So, I’ll ask you instead.  The new report, which I’ve seen, to the Council does not give numbers of how many monitors would be needed for this Mission.  Can you give us an idea of the staffing?  I understand these are unarmed, non-uniformed monitors, but can you give us an idea of the numbers involved, the range of how many might be required to do this job?

And clearly, it now depends on a Security Council resolution that we understand the penholder of the UK will now work on before they can be deployed, but once there is a resolution, what is the UN’s timeline for deployment?

Spokesman:  I can’t give numbers or timelines just yet.  This is something that’s still under discussion.  We do have advance team there, and they have been providing information to the Security Council, and we’ll continue to report in to the Security Council about our needs and work with them to develop further details about our deployment.

At this stage, of course, we have made clear to the Council that a number of prerequisites are needed, including national leadership and ownership of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement.  And it’s essential that the ceasefire implementation take into account the impact on civilians, restoration of essential services, access to markets and freedom of safe movement.  So, these are some of the priorities that the advance team has been highlighting.  And we’ll continue, like I said, to work with the parties and with the Security Council to develop more details.

Yes.  Yes, James, still.

Question:  Just a follow-up, not on that… sorry, a separate question.  With regard to Lebanon, the UN is without a Special Representative, unless I’ve missed an announcement, and I’m told a name has been chosen and that the Security Council are fine with it.  What is the hold-up in announcing the European ambassador who’s going to take that job?

Spokesman:  I don’t have a name to confirm.  As is normally the case, when questions about appointments are asked, there’s little I can say until we announce the appointment.  Right now, the office is very ably handled by the officer-in-charge, who is also the Deputy Special Coordinator, Najat Rochdi, and we flagged her views about the need for a formation of a Government just yesterday.  And so, she will be on top of the matter until we can make a formal announcement, and I hope it’s not too much longer.

All right.  Let me turn to Evelyn Leopold.  Evelyn?

Question:  Ah.  Thank you, Farhan.  A couple of questions.  Did Mr. Lowcock… in his visit to Syria, did he go to Aleppo, where presumably the Government bombed health centres and hospitals?

And secondly, on Archbishop Romero, is El Salvador honouring his death also?

Spokesman:  You would have to ask the Salvadoran authorities what they’re doing.  Certainly, we are honouring this, and we’re doing this as an International Day, which we believe should be observed internationally.

Regarding Mr. Lowcock, of course, this was a virtual visit, so it’s not like he visited anywhere in particular.  [cross talk]

He made phone calls and made VTC appearances.  I’ll check whether one of… any of those calls went to people in Aleppo, and I’ll… I can get back to you on that after.

Correspondent:  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  All right.  I don’t see anything further in the chat.  Is there anything further in the room?  If not, I will send over to Brenden Varma.  Brenden, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.