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30 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.

Good morning.

**Syria

As you will have seen, at the General Assembly session this morning on Syria, the Secretary-General said that over the last 10 unrelenting years, the people of Syria have endured some of the gravest crimes the world has witnessed this century.  The massive and systematic violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law in Syria over the last decade shock the conscience.

At this in-person briefing, he reiterated that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Syria, and also renewed his call for a negotiated political settlement in line with Security Council resolution 2254.

A first step, the Secretary-General said, must include credible progress within the Constitutional Committee, to implement the resolution’s call for the drafting of a new constitution, allowing for free and fair elections.  So far, he said, the results of the Committee’s work have fallen short of his — and the Syrian people’s expectations.

Turning to the country’s humanitarian situation, he said that millions inside the country — and millions of refugees outside of Syria — grapple with deep trauma, grinding poverty, personal insecurity and lack of hope for the future.  The pandemic has made it all even worse.

Despite the UN’s massive response in Syria and across the region, more humanitarian access is required to those in need.  A large-scale cross-border response for an additional 12 months remains essential to save lives.

On human rights, he added that addressing the plight of detainees, abductees and the missing is an issue that requires our urgent attention.  In the absence of a mechanism with an international mandate to address this issue, so far, we have not seen the kind of progress that is commensurate with the gravity of the matter.

After a decade of war, he concluded, many Syrians have lost confidence that the international community can help them forge an agreed path out of the conflict.

I am convinced that we still can, he told General Assembly members.

**Syria Conference

And earlier in the day, on Syria as well, the Secretary-General addressed — by pre-recorded video message — the fifth Brussels conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”.

For many Syrians in need he said, the humanitarian aid and protection brought by the UN and its agencies, as well as our humanitarian partners is the only source of survival.

He called on Member States to address the rising needs and to step up financial and humanitarian commitments to the people in Syria, as well as to help relieve the significant financial burden of the countries that are hosting refugees.

A reminder that the conference is seeking $10 billion to fund the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan and the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for this year.

The conference is still ongoing.  We will share information on pledges received as soon as we get it.

The UN Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, also spoke and his remarks were circulated to you.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Security Council meanwhile, Bintou Keita, the Head of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, briefed Council members.  And this is her first briefing since taking up her new job.

Since her arrival in the DRC, she said she noted an opening to push forward necessary governance and institutional reforms that will have a direct impact to support peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the East.

But at the same time, Ms. Keita said that in her exchanges with the Government, she emphasized the need to overcome the deadlocks holding back political progress and stabilization.

She added that, in collaboration with partners, the Government must address the immense and pressing security, humanitarian and development needs facing the country.  To silence the guns, there is no military solution, only political strategies that must address the many social, economic, and governance needs.

She, of course, reiterated the UN’s commitment to work, together with all partners and colleagues, to help alleviate the Congolese population’s long-standing, and unacceptable suffering.

**Central African Republic

And in neighbouring Central African Republic, our peacekeeping Mission there, known as MINUSCA, said that the re-elected President Faustin Archange Touadera was today sworn in for a second term in a ceremony at the Parliament.  The event was also attended by dignitaries, as well as the UN and other international organizations.

The peacekeeping Mission also said that it has completed a three-day visit to Ouanda Djallé, in Vakaga Prefecture, with the local commanders of the Central African forces and [Internal] Security Forces.

During the visit, the Mission’s team met the local authorities, armed group leaders, mainly from the FPRC, as well as two rival candidates in the recently held legislative elections.  The FPRC local commanders were informed about the Political Agreement and stated that the combatants are ready to lay down their arms and join the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes organized by the Mission.

**Mozambique

Today, from Mozambique, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that sporadic fighting is still being reported from Palma, in northern Mozambique.  We expect that thousands more people are fleeing the area and making their way by foot, boat or road to reach safer destinations.

The International Organization for Migration confirmed that more than 3,360 people displaced from Palma arrived in Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba districts.  That was as of yesterday afternoon.  The numbers, however, might be higher and are expected to increase over the coming days.

Our colleagues on the ground tell us that displaced people, including children, are arriving in dire conditions.  They have been traumatized, or injured, or in need of urgent medical attention, or all three.  Many saw their family members killed or had to hide for days, without food or water, to evade the armed men who attacked their communities.

We, along with our humanitarian partners, are rapidly mobilizing personnel and resources and are supporting people at their arrival points.  WFP is providing emergency food assistance while IOM is providing medical supplies and other emergency items.

For its part, the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Children’s Fund are supporting identification and referral of vulnerable people at their arrival points.

As we said yesterday via email, we are deeply concerned by the still evolving situation in Palma.  We strongly condemn the attacks that have taken place and extend our deep condolences to the families of the victims, as well as the Government of Mozambique.

**Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, since I was asked, I can tell you that the Secretary-General condemns yesterday’s attack on Ivorian security posts in Kafolo and Tehini, near the border with Burkina Faso, which left several Ivorian security personnel dead and wounded.  The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the bereaved families and wishes a speedy recovery to those wounded.

We, of course, remain steadfast in our support to the Sahelian and neighbouring countries in their efforts to overcome the scourge of terrorism and address the security and political, as well as humanitarian and socioeconomic challenges in the region.

**Zimbabwe

And speaking of challenges.  In Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme says it is warning that hunger is peaking in urban Zimbabwe as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt across the nation.

They say that 2.4 million people are struggling to meet their basic food needs.

WFP is delivering monthly cash transfers to 326,000 Zimbabweans across 23 urban areas and aims to scale up to reach 550,000 people living in the 28 worst affected and food insecure urban areas in the country.  Households are given cash through electronic transfers and vouchers that enable them to buy food items from selected retailers.

**Rohingya Refugees

UNHCR is telling us that today, it is providing thousands of relief items and medical supplies to assist some 48,000 Rohingya refugees who lost their shelters and belongings in the fire, which devastated parts of Cox’s Bazar refugee camp last week.  The camp, as you may recall, shelters more than 600,000 refugees.  It is the largest refugee camp in the world.

The agency is also monitoring the safety and security of refugees and working to address the critical needs of children who were separated from their families during the fire.

More information online.

And a note on Myanmar, the Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, will brief Security Council Members behind closed doors tomorrow on the situation in Myanmar.

**COVAX

A quick update on COVAX.  COVAX-backed vaccines arrived in Guyana and Kosovo.

Authorities in Guyana received 24,000 doses of the vaccine, with more expected to arrive in due course.  The Pan-American Health Organization is responsible for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and they are currently shipping them from labs in the Republic of Korea.  Guyana is one of 10 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean receiving vaccines at no cost through COVAX.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, our team in Guyana has worked with government, civil society, and other partners to identify and assist the needs of the population in responding to the health crisis and its socioeconomic impacts.

And on Sunday, Kosovo received 24,000 doses of the vaccine.  Nearly 80,000 more doses are expected [by] May.  This is with the logistical support of UNICEF.  These initial doses are being distributed to nearly 40 health centres to help the rollout of the vaccination campaign, prioritizing population groups most at risk, such as health-care workers and the elderly in care homes.

**Noon Briefing Guests Tomorrow

And tomorrow, we will be joined by our friends at the UN Mine Action Service.  They will brief you ahead of the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action (UNMAS).  The guests will include Ilene Cohn, the Deputy Director and Officer in Charge of UNMAS; Abigail Hartley, the Chief of Policy, Advocacy, Communication and Resource Mobilization for UNMAS; and Stephen Pritchard, the Chief of Programmes, Planning and Management of UNMAS.

**Financial Contribution

And we finish on a very happy note.  In the past couple of days, no fewer than five Member States have paid their dues.  We sincerely thank our friends in Chișinău, Gaborone, Lisbon, and Phomn Penh, as well as Santo Domingo.

Payments from Botswana, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Portugal and the Republic of Moldova, bring us up to 82 fully paid-up Member States.

On that note, I will put my glasses on to see who’s waving at me.

**Questions and Answers

I see Mr. Bays; so, James, go ahead.

Question:  At the meeting yesterday between the Secretary-General and the US Secretary of State [Antony Blinken], we have the readout, but I wanted to ask some specific questions to see if, following that meeting, there is any movement.

Let’s start with Afghanistan, and is there anything now to announce with regard to the diplomatic efforts moving forward?  There was talk of a foreign ministers’ meeting.  There was talk of a new forum for talks in Turkey.  Have you got anything to announce at this stage?

Spokesman:  No, nothing to announce or share with you at this point.

Question:  Okay.  Next one, I was very interested to read the State Department version of the readout to see that the US were highlighting the Western Sahara situation and the fact that the Secretary-General’s envoy is not in place.  We’ve discussed this so many times, but I’m… why has he not got an envoy on this important issue after two years?

Spokesman: Well, I can tell you it’s not from lack of trying on the Secretary-General’s part.  We continue our search as far as I’m aware, but it is a complicated post for which it’s always been somewhat challenging to find the right people or the right person to take on the post.

Question:  But two years.

Spokesman:  I think my answer, I think, underscores the challenges.

Question:  Okay.  And one last question before you go to others.  I have some more later, but with regard to Hong Kong, substantial changes in Hong Kong’s governance have been announced.  And by any reading of them, they reduce democracy for the territory.  The UN is in favour of democracy.  Does it object to these changes?

Spokesman:  I mean, what I will tell you on Hong Kong is what we’ve always said, is that the Secretary-General has always affirmed his recognition of the principle of unity and territorial integrity of China and also his belief on the importance of respecting the will of the people of Hong Kong.

Okay.  Let’s go to Edie.  I can see you.

Question:  I’m semi hiding.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  I recognize you behind the mask.

[laughter]

Question:  Thank you very much.  Couple of questions, Steph.  First, on Christine Schraner Burgener, she’s been… supposed to be travelling to the region for quite some time.  What’s the holdup?  And why isn’t she at least going to the neighbouring countries as she said she wanted to do?

And I know she’s briefing the Council tomorrow, but what about briefing us at a stakeout possibly?

Spokesman:  That’s a very good question.  We’ll be in touch with her on the possibility of doing a stakeout or some other method of briefing you.

I think, on her travels, she is working towards it, but I think we’ll have a bit more information tomorrow.

Question:  Follow-up on the possibility of a Quartet meeting.  What’s happening?  Is the UN… the Secretary-General seemed a bit more optimistic that one could take place.  What’s cooking on…

Spokesman:  On the meeting you mean…

[cross talk]

Correspondent:  Yeah, on holding a meeting.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Correspondent:  On holding…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Correspondent:  …a higher-level meeting.

Spokesman:  I mean, as far as I’m aware, the discussion is ongoing.  As soon as we’re able to announce something, we will.

Okay.  We’ll go to the chat.  James Reinl.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I’ve got two questions on Syria.  First one is, there’s this meeting in Brussels at the moment.  I think it ends in about an hour and a half from now when we get the full statement of exactly how much money has been raised.  Can you just give us a heads-up?  Are we likely to expect anything from the SG or OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] or are you guys…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yes, there will be something from OCHA, I believe, around 3 p.m. New York time.

Question:  Great.  Thank you.  And second question, earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly about Syria.  He said a lot of stuff, but one of the big ones is that he was very strong in his language about keeping this last remaining border checkpoint from Turkey into Syria open.  In some ways, that’s a general statement to the world, but also, it’s quite a specific statement to one Security Council member, Russia.  Do you guys feel there is any chance that you can persuade Moscow, given what it has said so far about this, not to cast its veto in July?

Spokesman:  Look, the message was to the Security Council to underscore the importance of that lifeline, and I think all Security Council members, hopefully, heard the message.  July is far away from March.  So, we will continue to highlight the critical importance of that humanitarian lifeline.

I love your kitchen, by the way.

Mr. Sato.

[laughter]

Correspondent:  I’m closing down.

Spokesman:  No, much better than… yeah, okay.

Mr. Sato.

[laughter]

Question:  Yeah.  Hello, Stéphane.  Thank you very much.  My question is about North Korea’s recent missile launch, and today, they’re [inaudible]… maybe now, under discussion about North Korea’s recent missile launch at the Security Council, the closed meeting.  But so far, there seem to be no unified message, rather disparity still going on.  What is Secretary-General’s message to the Security Council and also the message to the North Korea?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, I think from the Secretary-General’s standpoint, I think it’s important that all the parties concerned renew their push for a diplomatic engagement to work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.  That’s really the only pathway to a sustainable, a long-lasting and, most importantly, complete and verifiable denuclearization of the peninsula.

Okay.  Philippe.

Question:  Merci, Stéphane.  Two questions for me.  First, does the Secretary-General has a reaction or comments on the incident in Bounti and the report from MINUSMA accusing French army to have killed a civilian beginning of January?

And second question, it’s on Myanmar tomorrow.  Do you plan to give us speech from the Special Envoy?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  On Myanmar, the meeting is closed.  We will do our best to share with you the essence, as much as possible, of what the Special Envoy says.

I mean, the report on the Bounti incident, I think, is a very important report.  It represents very important work that UN missions do.  I think the report, as it states, raises some very significant concerns on the principle of the conduct of hostilities, including precautionary principles and the obligation by Member States to do everything sort of practically possible to verify that targets are, indeed, military objectives.

I think the next step is really included in the recommendations to both the Malian and the French authorities to conduct what we would want to see is an independent, credible and transparent investigation to examine the circumstances around the attack.

Okay.  Let’s go back to the chat.  Célhia.

Question:  Stéphane, it’s a follow-up on Philippe’s question.  Will the report be released?  Are we going to be able to see it?  Do we know the conclusion?  Did the French kill the population, or were they jihadists?  Do we know anything?

Spokesman:  The Mission issued quite a lot of information.  We’ll get that to you, but there’s quite a lot of it available to the public.

It is not a conclusive report.  It’s really one that asks for further investigation but what they have found raises a lot of questions and a lot of concerns.

Question:  Will the Security Council see the report?

Spokesman:  They will see what’s public.  I don’t know if it’s directed directly to the Security Council, but it’s for everyone to see.

Ms. Besheer… oh, sorry.  Ray, Ray.  We’ll go to the room, and then we’ll go back to Maggie.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question regarding Saudi Arabia.  How does the UN evaluate the two initiative that has been announced by KSA regarding reducing carbons, which will come along with the UN effort to combat climate change?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I’m just seeing it.  I think we’re following with great interest the efforts made by countries like Saudi Arabia to step up their climate ambitions, and then we very much look forward to hearing more from the Kingdom and other G20 members on April 22nd at the meeting that’s being organized by the United States if I’m not mistaken, which really is the next big milestone.

Okay.  Ms. Besheer.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Welcome back.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  On Myanmar, two follow-ups.  First on Myanmar, what would the Secretary-General like to see come out of tomorrow’s Security Council meeting vis-à-vis the situation?  What kind of product, perhaps?

And on Syria Donors Conference, there’s been a reduction in donations from some of the larger donors this year.  Is that cause for concern for you?

Spokesman:  Yes.  On your second question, I think Syria is not the only humanitarian appeal where we have seen a drop in donations.  We’ve, sadly, seen it, I think, practically across the board.  I don’t want to say completely but practically across the board.

At a time where global humanitarian needs are rising, we are seeing, unfortunately, a drop in financial contributions towards those humanitarian needs.  Now, it is clear we’re also living, the world and Governments are living in a period where there is less money, where there are greater needs at home.  So, we understand that, but the investment in humanitarian needs is a critical investment in peace and security and for the well-being of the planet.

Did you ask me another question?  Oh, on Myanmar, yeah, sorry…

[cross talk]

Question:  On Myanmar, what would you like…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  We will let the Security Council pick the product off the shelf that they feel is best appropriate.  What we want to see in terms of the content of the product, what we would like to see, is a very strong and unified message from Security Council members to the military in Myanmar to go back on the actions that have taken place, to stop the violence, to release the political prisoners, to return the country to the people of Myanmar, and to push for the travel of our Special Envoy to Myanmar.

Okay.  Ephrem.

Question:  Hello.  Thank you.  There were reports that a UN Panel of Expert has determined that the Houthis were responsible for the attack on the Aden airport last December, which killed over 20 civilians, and that Russia blocked the publication of the report.  Do you have any news about that report of experts?  Are we still going to be able to see it?  And what’s the message to Member States who block, basically, publishing the report?

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  I have no way of knowing what the deliberations within the Security Council members are, so it’s not for me to comment on whether or not this actually happened.  There is a process for these Panel of Experts’ reports to go through the Committee and then to the Council members.  I would encourage you to ask the various Council members and the Chair of the Committee.

Jessica Le Masurier.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Just a follow-up from Philippe and Célhia’s questions.  What do you make of the fact that the French Defence Ministry has criticized the methodology of this MINUSMA report on Bounti?  Do you think that France committed a war crime there?

Spokesman:  We stand by the report and the work of our colleagues in Mali.

Question:  You say that this report is not conclusive.  What would the best next step be?

Spokesman:  The best next steps would be for both the Malian and the French authorities to conduct an independent, a credible and a thorough investigation into what happened in January.

Question:  You don’t think it should be brought to the Security Council if it seems that there was some…

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  What the Mission put out is public, and of course, the Mission is mandated by the Security Council.

Iftikhar.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Following up on the question on Yemen, is there any update on the peace process and, of course, about the tanker?

Spokesman:  On Yemen, on the tanker, I have no updates to share with you.  Nothing is moving in the right, sadly, moving in the right direction.  The discussions are continuing.

On the negotiations, I think we’ve seen a statement made by His Majesty the Sultan of Yemen on their efforts to help the peace process move forward, and we’re very grateful for the support they’ve given Mr. Griffiths to bring this conflict to an end.

Okay.  I don’t see any other questions.  I think James, as usual, I will go back to you for closing remarks.

Question:  So, I have a couple of very quick little questions, checks with you on things.  You mentioned the Earth Day summit organized by the US on the 22nd of April.  One assumes that was discussed with Secretary Blinken.  What role will the Secretary-General be playing?  Will he be taking part?  Will he, perhaps, even be going to D.C. for that event?

[cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yes, he will be taking part.  Exactly what physiological format that will take place, we will let you know.

Question:  Also, we’ve had the WHO inquiry report into the origins of COVID, but there is the bigger report that is being worked on by the former President of Liberia and the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.  Can you give us a timeline of when you are expecting that report?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it will be presented, I think, at the World Health Assembly in May.  But that is a report to the World Health Assembly, so the Secretary-General himself has no role in it.  But we, of course, look forward to seeing its conclusions.

Question:  And the last question, just a check on this, because we haven’t checked for some time, the ongoing inquiry into USG Fabrizio Hochschild, what’s the latest on that?

Spokesman:  That is ongoing.  I think, as I’ve told your colleagues, we would like to see this concluded in a way that is thorough at the earliest possible date, I think for the sake of everyone involved.

Okay.  I shall see you virtually tomorrow.  Perhaps Thursday I’ll be able to come in if all my tests are actually negative.

All right.  Take care and thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.