31 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.  Sorry for the delay.  I am just trying to get myself organized here.  Just as a reminder, as soon as I am done, we will have guests from the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  They will brief you ahead of the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.  More on that later.

**Secretary-General — Yemen

I will start off with a statement from the Secretary-General himself on the situation in Yemen and the role of Oman.  Over the years, the Sultanate of Oman has played an important role in building bridges for peace in the region, including in Yemen.  In particular, the Secretary-General is grateful to His Majesty, Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq al Said, for his constructive and essential support to his Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths.  Mr. Griffiths is working 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.  He is also working to move to an inclusive political process to reach a comprehensive negotiated settlement to end the conflict.  In the statement, the Secretary‑General wants to reiterate that no efforts should be spared to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people, to end the devastating conflict in Yemen and to pave the way for a just and sustainable peace.  He looks forward to continuing the United Nations work with the Sultanate of Oman and other partners to achieve this goal.  The statement from the Secretary‑General has just been shared with you via email.


Staying on Yemen, the country today received 360,000 vaccine doses shipped via the COVAX Facility.  These vaccines, licensed and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, will enable health workers and other vulnerable populations to be protected against the virus.  Health authorities and World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representatives received this first batch, along with 13,000 safety boxes, 1,300,000 syringes that are critical for the safe and effective roll-out of the [vaccination campaign], and nearly 2 million doses are expected for Yemen this year.  And staying on COVAX, but moving to a different part of the world, Trinidad and Tobago, also received today an initial 33,600 doses of vaccines, enabling the country to kick‑start its vaccination campaign next week.  The delivery is part of the first phase of deliveries to the Caribbean country and more are on the way.  Dr. Erica Wheeler, the Pan-American Health Organization’s (PAHO) representative in Trinidad and Tobago, said that the UN team will continue to work with authorities to vaccinate the population, along with the entire package of known public health and social measures that we know can help stop the spread of this virus.

**Deputy Secretary-General — Climate

This morning, our Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, took part virtually in the climate and development ministerial meeting, co-hosted by the United Kingdom.  Ms. Mohammed urged for action to boost climate resilience on five fronts.  First, by committing half of all climate finance to adaptation — this includes having the G7 meet its 0.7 per cent ODA target.  Second, by making climate support more streamlined and transparent.  Third, by scaling-up disaster‑triggered financial tools and creating new ones to drive resilience‑building.  Fourth, helping developing countries embed climate risk in all planning, budget and investment processes.  And fifth and last, by supporting locally‑led resilience-building efforts and empowering women, indigenous, as well as youth actors.  The meeting was in the lead-up to the upcoming COP meeting that will take place in Glasgow, with the United Kingdom.  And her full remarks have been shared with you.

**International Four Freedoms Award

And today, the Secretary-General was awarded the International Four Freedoms Award by the Roosevelt Foundation.  He said that the award is especially meaningful given its deep connection to both President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.  [For] more than 75 years, he added, around the world and around the clock, UN personnel have strived to make fundamental rights real in the lives of people.  However, he added, today, we are facing the biggest international tests since the idea of the United Nations was little more than a dream in the eyes of Franklin Roosevelt and others.  But, through the storm, this award will inspire all of us to keep pushing.  To keep striving.  And to keep working for a better world.  His remarks have also been shared.


Moving on to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that three female polio workers were killed yesterday in Nangarhar Province in Jalalabad.  Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, condemned this brutal attack against aid and health workers, who are at the front line in providing life-saving vaccination for children.  Mr. Lowcock extended his condolences to the families of the victims and said that aid workers should never be a target.  They must be protected at all times.  For its part, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that it shares the overwhelming revulsion over this crime, when everyone is working for a safer Afghanistan and a better future for all of its children, as well as a world free from polio.  The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, also underscored that polio workers save children’s lives and that they are not targets.


Moving on to Mozambique, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that the escalation of violence in Cabo Delgado Province continues to drive massive displacement, following the recent attacks by non-State armed groups and ongoing clashes reported in Palma since 24 March.  The security situation remains volatile and is of concern to all of us.  The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has already registered about 8,000 people at arrival points in Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba.  Thousands have arrived today in Pemba and other areas of Cabo Delgado.  We have information that hundreds of people are still trying to leave Palma right now and thousands are making their way by foot, boat and road.  Some are being rescued by the UN Humanitarian Air Services and other civil society groups.  For its part, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is pre-positioning birthing kits and essential drugs to support displaced pregnant women and mothers.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has ramped up assistance and aims to reach up to 50,000 people impacted by the attack, and its air service, the Humanitarian Air Service is also providing an air bridge to transport critical medical staff and humanitarian workers as close as possible to the operational sites.  And today, in a joint statement, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, as well as the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten; and the Special Representative for Violence against Children, Najat Maalla M’jid, strongly condemned the brutal and horrific acts of violence reported in Cabo Delgado, and underscored that the protection and humanitarian needs of the civilians, especially women and children, must be urgently addressed.


And moving north to Ethiopia, and to give you a humanitarian update to the situation in Tigray, which remains extremely dire.  Access in parts of southern and south-eastern Tigray has been curtailed for a month and the road from Alamata to Mekelle remains closed, blocking humanitarian response in the area.  An estimated 2.5 million people in rural areas have not had access to essential services for the last four months.  We continue to receive concerning reports of attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, including the looting and vandalization of health centres, schools, as well as several cases of sexual and gender-based violence.  All of which are unacceptable.  The conflict continues to drive massive displacement across the region, with tens of thousands of people arriving in the towns of Shire, Axum and Adwa over the last weeks.

We, along with our humanitarian partners on the ground, are scaling up the response and have assisted more than 1 million people with food baskets.  More than 146,000 displaced people have received emergency shelter and vital relief items and distribution is ongoing for nearly 60,000 people.  More than [630,000] people have received clean water.  To date, 67 per cent of the targeted districts have been accessed through 50 mobile health teams compared to 25 per cent last month.  The response is, however, still inadequate to reach an estimated 4.5 million people who need life-saving assistance.  We urgently need more funding to make sure we can urgently assist affected people.

**South Sudan

Moving to South Sudan, a new report released today by our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission there says that community-based militias in the country were responsible for 78 per cent of killings and injuries caused to civilians, as well as abductions and conflict-related sexual violence during the attacks in pockets of South Sudan.  The report documented killings of 2,421 civilians in 2020.  That is more than double the previous year.  Just over 1,500 people were injured, up from 866.  And there is particular concern about the sharp rise in abductions, which more than tripled.  While the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said that the figures represent a significant increase compared to 2019, the clashes were concentrated in just 13 per cent of the country’s 540 administrative areas and largely involved community-based militias rather than conventional parties to the conflict.  More information online.


And in response to a question we received about the ongoing situation in Niger, I can tell you that the Secretary-General is following with great concern the unfolding developments in the country.  He urges all involved to desist from any form of incitement that threatens democratic consolidation and the stability of the country.  And he particularly calls on the armed forces to strictly abide by their constitutional obligations.  The Secretary-General urges all stakeholders in Niger to adhere to democratic norms by respecting the outcomes of the 21 February presidential election and allow for an orderly and peaceful transfer of power.  We of course reaffirm the solidarity of the United Nations and the support of the United Nations to the Government and the People of Niger in their efforts to promote peace, the rule of law and sustainable development.


And in Mali, the Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Mahamet Saleh Annadif, met with representatives of the International Criminal Court, as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to discuss repairs to Timbuktu's cultural heritage, following the damage suffered in the city in 2012.  Discussions with the ICC also reaffirmed the Mission's commitment to end impunity in Mali at all levels.  The Mission also concluded a meeting with youth organizations in Timbuktu.  The meeting was meant to build awareness among young leaders on the role of the UN Mission in restoring peace to Mali.

**Syria — Brussels V Pledging Conference

And a quick update from the pledging conference in Brussels.  Participants pledged $4.4 billion for 2021, and another $2 billion for 2022.  In addition, international financial institutions and donors announced around $7 billion in loans on concessional terms.  Our colleagues tell us that while the total number is lower compared to the $5.5 billion pledged in 2020, a number of donors stepped up their contributions this year.  The UN also joined the European Union in welcoming those countries who exceeded their pledges from last year and will continue to work with donors to seek funding throughout the year.

Needs of course, as you know, remain staggering in Syria, with the UN and humanitarian partners seeking an estimated $10 billion for the response inside Syria and for support to countries hosting Syrian refugees in the region.  Last year, we, along with our partners, we increased by nearly 30 per cent the number of people we were assisting — that is up to 7.7 million people — each month in Syria, even with funding that fell short of overall requirements.  We will continue to do its part to deliver to people in need.  Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said at the end of the event that if we are going to continue to help Syrians, access and funding are needed.  On access, he reiterated that the cross-border operation is essential if we are going to reach all of those in need.  The humanitarian assistance, he added, depends on donors’ generous and continuing funding.

**Security Council Stakeout

Just want to say that around 1 p.m.  there will be an in-person stakeout by the outgoing president in the Security Council for the month of March.  That is Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.  And then, at 3 p.m., there will be closed consultations on the situation in Myanmar.  Council members will hear from the Secretary-General's Special Envoy Christine Shraner Burgener.  All right.  Before we go to our guests, I'm happy to take a few questions, for which I will put on my glasses.  Let's go to the room.  Célhia and then Edie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Stéphane, it's about the report that came out yesterday in Mali.  I read that MINUSMA has asked Mali and friends to conduct their own investigation.  If that is true, what was the point of the first investigation?

Spokesman:  Well, I don't really have anything more to add to what we've said.  I mean, the point is, investigations of this sort should be conducted by concerned countries.  Edie.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Steph.  Two questions.  First, is the Secretary‑General satisfied with the results of the international investigation into the origins of COVID‑19?  The report was officially launched yesterday.  Does he think that more investigation needs to be done?  And if so, by whom?

Spokesman:  It's really not for the Secretary‑General to opine on this.  This was managed and launched by WHO.  The Secretary‑General has always felt that we need to do a few things at the same time.  One is, obviously, deal with the pandemic, look at its origin, and continue to do so.  And then he also looks forward to the report that is commissioned by WHO from Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Question:  Sorry.  And my second question is on Christine Schraner Burgener's briefing to the Council this afternoon.  Is there any chance that she will speak to us or that we can at least get some idea of what she told the Council, preferably her briefing?

Spokesman:  Two things.  One, I would ask you to check the email you received from me about half an hour ago.  On the stakeout, she will not be able to do it today.  We're in touch with her office.  She is keen to do one.  So, we will try to schedule it in the next few days but do look at the email I sent to you before the briefing.  All right.  Let's go to… is that you, Pam?

Question:  Sorry.  Yes.  Thank you, Steph.  The question is on Myanmar.  Dr. Sasa, the Special Envoy of Myanmar to the UN, sent a letter to the SG and to the President of the General Assembly, calling for a few things, including a referral to the ICC.  Do you have any comment on that?  And 45 or 46 former Heads of State called for the UN to intervene in Myanmar.  Any comments on either of those?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the letter.  I will take a look at it.  I think on the UN intervention, that's always a broad call.  I think the Secretary‑General has been extremely vocal on the situation in Myanmar from the get‑go.  We continue to be engaged through the Special Envoy, but as I've said, there are no bystanders in this situation.  The international community as a whole represented by the United Nations, by the Security Council, needs to speak with one voice.  And individual countries in the region and beyond also have a role to play.  Ibtisam…?

Question:  Steph, I… just any comment on the proposal for a pandemic treaty?  Thank you, by the SG…

Spokesman:  I think WHO has commented on that, and that is, whatever tools can Member States agree on to strengthen our ability to respond to the next pandemic, which no doubt will come at some point or another, would be much welcomed, because I think what we have seen is a lack of coordinated response to this pandemic, as the Secretary‑General has been saying really from the beginning.  Ibtisam, if that is you.

Question:  Yes, it's me.  Thank you.  Hi, Steph.  On… back to Yemen, if you have any updates on the political arena there and then also on the humanitarian side regarding famine and the financing of the aid?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the humanitarian indicators in Yemen are trending the wrong way.  There are a few ways to get them to trend the right way.  One is for a ceasefire.  The other one is to increase the access of oil and food and through Hudaydah Airport as well as opening of Sana’a Airport, and then, obviously, a political agreement.  All three of those things is what Mr. Griffiths is working on very actively.  We welcome the role that Oman is playing in this.  And obviously, underpinning a lot of this on the humanitarian end is the funding, and we don't have enough money, to put it bluntly.  Okay.  We'll go to the video.  James Reinl.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  It segues nicely because I'm asking about Yemen also.  Obviously, you started the briefing with a big thank‑you to the Sultan of Oman.  I'm just wondering, the Sultan, what specific conversations has he been involved in?  And there's an implication in your statement that, in some way, the ball has been moved forward.  If there's any indication you could give us exactly how has the ball been moved forward, that would be great.

Spokesman:  Look, I'm going to dive into sports analogies, which are not my forte, but I think we have to look at this as a rugby game, where the ball sometimes goes backwards and sideways more than a football, European football match, not that I'm implying any of this is a game.  But, I think things move forwards, backwards and laterally.  It's a complicated process.  Oman, I think, has traditionally played a bridge‑making role, with the previous Sultan having been very active.  The current Sultan, I think, is continuing this very positive tradition of being bridge‑builders between the parties, and we very much welcome that.  Abdelhamid, please.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions.  Recently, France issued a report putting the blame for the 1994 massacres in Rwanda on the French Government.  Are you aware of this report?  And do you have any comment on that? That's my first question.

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think, on Rwanda, the UN's position and role in the tragedy and the genocide was laid out in the report that had been commissioned by the late Secretary‑General Kofi Annan.  I think, in any situation where there have been atrocious crimes, where there has been human suffering, every country, every party has a responsibility to look critically at its own role and learn from its lessons, but that's my… just… that's my principled position.  I haven't seen the particular French report you referred to.  Your second question.

Question:  My second question, I recently asked your Deputy Spokesman Mr. Haq about Israeli role in distributing the vaccine to the Palestinian, and he thanked Israel for their cooperation.  The same day, which was Friday, not this Friday, the one before, the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People issued a statement criticizing Israel and calling on Israel to live up to its responsibilities.  And, in particular, they criticized Israel for selling vaccines or distributing it freely for some of their allies.  So, the same day Farhan Haq thanked Israel, and the same day the UN committee criticized Israel.  Whom do I believe?  The UN position…

Spokesman:  Look… Abdelhamid, you know the UN better than me.  There are different voices within the Organization.  I speak for the Secretary‑General, and the Secretariat.  The Committee is a committee of Member States.  Both have expressed a position.  I have nothing to add to what Mr. Haq has said.  Okay.  We'll go down the list here.  Maggie Besheer.

Question:  Steph, I'm just trying to still figure out what exactly has happened with Yemen or what might be about to happen.  And just looking back through Mr. Griffiths' tweets, he met with the Houthi chief negotiator about five days ago, I guess Saturday, and… in the region.  And he said in his tweet that he discussed all these things you mentioned in the SG's statement about the airports and such.  So, I mean, was there a breakthrough?  And do you have a readout of that meeting?  Perhaps maybe I missed it, but I don't think so.  So, what… I mean, what can you tell us concretely?

Spokesman:  I think you're all going to have to bear with us a little bit.  These negotiations — and I don't think have to tell you this in detail — are very delicate.  We are continuing to speak to all the parties.  Mr. Griffiths is on the ground, as he has been reporting himself.  He's talked to Houthi Ansarullah.  He's talked to the Government of Yemen.  He's talked to the Saudis.  He's talked to the Omanis in close consultation with the US Special Envoy.  There are a lot of moving pieces, and what is important for us is that all these pieces move in the right direction, and that is the direction of helping the people of Yemen lead a better life and get themselves out of this conflict.  And as soon as we have things to announce, we've reached certain thresholds, we will do so.

Question:  But, Steph, it's like a bit… Steph?  It's like a bit of a tease.  Like, you're telling us, thank you, thank you, Oman, and the Americans did it, too, by the way.  I mean, you're not the only ones.  So, everybody's thanking the Omanis, but the big question is for what?  Like, why are you thanking them if nothing's been announced?  Like, that's what I'm finding a little perplexing.

Spokesman:  Listen, things need to be said during a negotiating process.  Things need to be recognized during a negotiating mediation process.  The process is ongoing, and as much as we want to be as transparent and open with you as possible, but we also don't want to get ahead of our skis.  We don't want to say things that have not yet happened.  We are all working towards a positive outcome.  And when we do have something to announce, we will share it with you.  Mr. Bays.

Question:  Rather unusually joining the briefing from the stakeout to hold my position for the forthcoming stakeout, so sorry about that.  So, Mozambique, you've read out lots of statements.  We know that the group involved there is ISIL‑linked.  Time for the Council?  What's the Secretary‑General think?  Time for the Security Council to take up this matter?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, we do have an envoy who is dealing with this, as well.  I think it is important for the international community, at this point, to support Mozambique in the best way possible, and that's what I will say on that for today.

Question:  Okay.  And one more.  President Sisi's quite controversial comments he's made about the river Nile being untouchable, does the Secretary‑General feel that when that dispute is particularly wrought off‑topic that those are helpful comments from the President of Egypt?

Spokesman:  Look, far be it for me to rate the comments of the President of Egypt.  What is important is that all the parties involved ‑‑ Egypt, Sudan and, of course, Ethiopia ‑‑ work together to try to find a solution to what is a critical problem.  We know the importance of the Nile for the region.  We have offered our good offices, along with others, and we hope we can move forward.  Okay.  Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Following up on the question on the report about the origin of COVID, does the Secretary‑General have a reaction on a proposal by a group of Heads of State for an international study to improve response to pandemics?

Spokesman:  I think I answered that question from Edie.  I think we would welcome anything that would strengthen the response to the next pandemic, which, at some point, will happen.  I think what we have seen in this current one is a lack of really coordinated international response, which we think has made the situation worse.

Question:  Will the Secretary‑General also issue a statement about the killing of polio workers in Afghanistan?

Spokesman:  I think I referred to that at the beginning of the meeting.  We join, of course, Mark Lowcock and our colleagues in Afghanistan in condemning this attack.  Okay.  Toby, please, and then Stefano.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Just a question on… I know that Special Envoy Schraner Burgener is about to brief later today, but Dr.  Sasa is now tweeting about the abolition of a Constitution and about a… an interim Constitution for Myanmar at the moment.  And we've seen recently reports from… or statements from some of the armed ethnic groups in Myanmar, saying that they really disapprove of the crackdown by the Tatmadaw on protesters.  So, I'm just wondering, is there any new information about the internal stability of the country? And is this something that the Secretary‑General is following with concern?

Spokesman:  It clearly is.  I mean, I think we've been saying this from the beginning.  The events provoked by the military have many different impacts, whether it's humanitarian on the access to people in need, whether it's on health, the stopping of COVID, whether it's of course and clearly, first and foremost, on violations of human rights and the basic rights of the people of Myanmar to express themselves freely and have a government that represents them.  But, it is also endangering the peace with the various armed groups, armed ethnic groups, that operate in Myanmar.  The previous Government had reached agreement with a number of them to try to bring peace and stability to all of the country, and all of this is endangering those gains.  Okay.  Stefano, and then we'll go to Gloria, and then we will go to our guests, who have been very patient.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'm sorry.  I got here late a little bit, a few minutes late, so I don't know if you mentioned, but did the Secretary‑General acknowledge the international day for transgender people and non‑binary people?

Spokesman:  I'm sure we have a message on that.  I will get back to you on that, but I didn't have anything at the beginning of the briefing.

Question:  Okay.  And I have a question that is… the UN with Sustainable Development Goals, especially about another occasion, speaks a lot about gender equality, but I would like to know more about what this gender equality means.  Does the UN, I mean, as institution, consider gender equality only when it talks about women and men, or are we talking also about exactly everybody, human beings?

Spokesman:  I think what is clear is that every human being deserves dignity and deserves respect regardless of what their gender is or if they're non‑binary or however they identify.  And no one, absolutely no one, should be discriminated against based on who they love, how they identify themselves, or their gender.

Question:  Very good.  Thank you so much.  I have another question.  Can I ask?

Spokesman:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.  Stefano?  Okay.

Question:  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  Go ahead.

Question:  Was it… again, about Mario Paciolla case, just a few days ago, he would have been 34 years old.  In Italy, they did a special event for it, for his birthday.  And during the event, it was talking about the right to the truth.  There's actually a day, international day, that UN celebrates, the right to the truth.  Does the UN and the Secretary‑General, in particular, thinks that, in this particular case, not only the family, but all the people that works for the UN and all human beings deserve the right to the truth?

Spokesman:  Of course.  They, of course, deserve the truth.  We are continuing our cooperation with the Italians.  Earlier this month, we cooperated with a team of Italian prosecutors that went to Colombia to examine Mario Paciolla's laptop so they could extract a timeline of what took place on the days ahead.  There are no requests that have been made by the Italians that we've not acceded to, and if there are others that I may not be aware of, we are still working on with them.  We are working hand in glove with the Italians and with the Colombians to establish the truth.  Gloria has a question and then [inaudible].

Question:  Very quickly, isn't civil society responsible in these countries, not just Afghanistan, wherever they're administrating health? The policemen, civil society should protect these health workers.  Why are they not accompanying them? They need security.

Spokesman:  They have to be protected by everyone, and they should not be a target.  Azad, sorry, you had a question, and then we will go to our guests.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Thank you so much.  My question is, I would like to know what the SG's position is on France — excuse me — France rejecting the MINUSMA report that concluded that the French bombed the wedding party in January.  I know you said already it's an important report, and it's concerning, but if France rejects this report and does not conduct an inquiry, as recommended by the report, what recourse do the victims have? And will the SG step in at all?

Spokesman:  Azad, I would ask you to look at the transcript for what I said yesterday, which, I think, was pretty clear.  And I don't want to prejudge what may or may not happen.  Okay.  We will now go to our guests, who have been extremely patient to sit through all of this.

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