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5 April 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.

**Mali

We have an update from Mali where, you will recall, four peacekeepers from Chad were killed on Friday, during an attack against their camp in Aguelhok.  This is in northern Mali’s Kidal region. 

Thirty-four peacekeepers were injured in the attack — that’s up from 19 originally reported as injured on Friday. 

The Secretary-General, of course, condemns the attack in the strongest terms.  He also commends the courage and bravery of the peacekeepers who robustly repelled the attack by armed combatants on one of their camps. 

The Secretary-General conveyed his heartfelt condolences to the Government and people of Chad and extends his profound sympathies to the families of the victims.  He wishes a swift recovery to all the peacekeepers injured. 

The Secretary-General recalls that attacks that target peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law and that sanctions can be applied against those responsible.  He calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort in identifying and promptly holding to account the perpetrators of this heinous attack. 

Tomorrow, the Security Council will discuss the situation in Mali.  Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of peacekeeping, is scheduled to brief Council members. 

**Myanmar 

From Myanmar, our colleagues there say they remain alarmed by the ongoing violence in the country. 

They say that another 18 people were killed over the weekend.   

As of today, the UN Human Rights Office has received credible reports of at least 568 women, children and men who have been killed since the military seized control of the Government in February.  The Office warns that this number may be significantly higher. 

**South Sudan

And from South Sudan, the UN Mission there said they helped reunite 58 women and children, who had been abducted last year during intercommunal fighting in Jonglei State. 

The UN Mission has been working with our partners since December to broker peace between the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka Bor communities. 

UN helicopters have helped women and children be reunited with their communities and families. 

David Shearer, the head of the Mission, said the agreement reached to release abducted women and children is an essential step to build trust and avoid the cycle of revenge. 

The UN Mission believes that as many as 686 women and children were abducted during the clashes that took place between January and August of last year.  Tragically, these abductions often involve sexual violence. 

We are supporting efforts for the return of the remaining women and children. 

And a couple of updates related to a storm that hit parts of Timor-Leste and Indonesia.

**Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, the UN is supporting the Government as the country has experienced its worst flash flooding and landslides in recent years. 

There have been reports of damages to homes, roads and bridges.  Families have been left homeless and people have been reported missing.  Preliminary figures show that at least 10,000 people have been affected across eight municipalities, with the capital Dili being the hardest hit. 

The Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy, said the UN in Timor-Leste is deeply saddened by the loss of life and infrastructure caused by the natural disaster. 

We have delivered supplies including sanitary kits, dignity kits, plastic mats and blankets to those who need it. 

**Indonesia 

And in Indonesia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that at least 75 people have died, and 70 are still missing.  Thirty-five have been injured following the impact of that same storm. 

Many roads are cut off due to landslides, and electricity is interrupted in many areas.  Emergency response, including food, blankets, and COVID-19 testing kits, are being provided by local, provincial and national governments, as well as humanitarian partners. 

The Indonesian Red Cross has mobilized personnel to assist with evacuations, provide first aid services and assist in evacuation. 

OCHA continues to monitor the situation.  So far, there have been no official request for international assistance. 

**COVAX

A couple of COVAX updates for you today. 

To date, COVAX has shipped more than 36 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 86 countries. 

Algeria received more than 36,000 doses over the weekend from COVAX.  These doses will help accelerate the vaccination campaign already underway in the country. 

The UN Resident Coordinator, Eric Overvest, said the new doses will help ensure that no one is left behind.  Our teams on the ground have helped to train healthcare workers, sensitize people on vaccines, and supported the cold chain. 

And in Laos, the country has vaccinated more than 4,000 people, including frontline health-care workers, with doses received from COVAX.  The UN team, led by the Resident Coordinator, Sara Sekkenes Tollefsen, is supporting the country’s vaccination campaign, which kicked off on Friday. 

So far, the country has received more than 130,000 doses, with another 350,000 expected to arrive next month.  The goal is to vaccinate 20 per cent of the population — that’s around 1.6 million people — this year.  The UN team helped procure syringes and other materials, and we are also supporting efforts to ensure that people can continue access to health-care services. 

**International Criminal Court

In a statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the revocation by the United States of an Executive Order concerning the International Criminal Court. 

The ICC plays an important role in advancing accountability for international crimes. 

The Secretary-General affirms the continued cooperation of the UN under the Relationship Agreement between the UN and the International Criminal Court. 

**International Day of Conscience

And today is the International Day of Conscience.  Who knew?  Yes.  The International Day of Conscience was declared by the General Assembly in 2019, and is inspired by article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. It aims to mobilize the efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity. 

**Financial Contribution

And we end on a happy note.  While Indonesia was hit by floods, I want to thank our friends in Jakarta, who have paid their regular budget dues in full, bringing us up to 84 countries. 

**Questions and Answers

Mr. Bays.

Question:  A couple of questions for you.  A follow‑up on Myanmar, the envoy, I believe, is supposed to be in the region now.  Can you update us on her travel?

Spokesman:  She is working on her travel plans, and as soon as we have an update, we will share that with you.

Question:  Okay.  Developments over the weekend in Jordan, how concerned is the Secretary‑General about the stability of Jordan?

Spokesman:  We’re obviously following those events closely.  Jordan plays a vital role in the Middle East and its peace and security, and the stability of the country is critically important.

I would add that, as you know, Jordan hosts, I think, over 650,000 Syrian refugees, and the Kingdom remains a trusted partner of the UN through its support for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and more than 20 other agencies, funds and p rogrammes.

Question:  Last one from me, for now anyway, on the JCPOA and Iran talks, they convene again in Vienna tomorrow, this time with the Americans just down the corridor.  What are the Secretary‑General’s hopes for this fresh…  talks and trying to get the deal back on track?

Spokesman:  We very much welcome the active efforts by all the JCPOA participants to hold a constructive dialogue and to use diplomacy regarding this important multilateral agreement.

Célhia, and then Edie.

Question:  Stéphane, in videos collected by Le Monde, [inaudible] the action of Russian mercenaries in Ukraine, Libya and the Central African Republic, countries where Russia has officially no fighting soldier.  What does the UN think about that?

And, in Mozambique, what is the UN waiting for?  Are we going to do something, I mean, at least at the Security Council level?  Because the situation is getting worse and worse.

Spokesman:  On Mozambique, we completely agree with you.  We have been…  I mean, the UN, in terms of the Secretary‑General’s staff, has not been waiting for anything.  We have been actively working in the region, even before these more tragic events, trying to reach the thousands of people who streamed out of Palma.  We’ve been reaching them with food, with emergency supplies and other things they need.  What the Security Council will do, that’s not for me to speak [on].

On the videos, I haven’t seen them.  I will look into it. 

On a broader issue, the issue of mercenaries, in general, regardless of whatever the nationality of the companies is, is something that has been of concern to us.  We’ve seen them active in Libya and other places, and it is something that will remain of concern to us.

Edie, and then we’ll go to the screen.

Question:  A couple of follow‑ups.  First of all, on Mali and the attack, is there any indication of how many of the attackers were killed?

Spokesman:  Well, according to the UN Mission’s leadership, the…  first of all, I think we need to salute the bravery of our peacekeepers and especially this Chadian contingent.  They repelled the attack with force.  The Mission leadership tells us about 23 bodies were left behind, as well as equipment, including several combat vehicles.

Question:  And a follow‑up on your answer on Jordan and this… at least, verbal confrontation between the Government and Prince Hamzah and his supporters.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that there is any kind of a human rights issue involved here?

Spokesman:  It’s…  we don’t have the…  we can’t, I’m not in a position to analyse what is actually going on within Jordan or to speak to the motivation of people who may be involved.  Our focus right now is to support the stability of Jordan, which, as I said, is a critical and key partner of the United Nations in the region.

Question:  And just a third… 

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …follow‑up on Mozambique.  The Government announced today that the military has recaptured total control of Palma.  That was the city that…

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Yeah, Palma, yeah.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that specifically?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, it’s, we’ve been following these developments.  We hope that that will lead to people being able to come back, but there are obviously broader issues that need to be dealt with in the situation.

Okay.  Iftikhar, I think you had a question, and then we’ll go…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  …to Toby.

Question:  The violence in Afghanistan, there’s been lot of escalation in the [inaudible] ahead of, ahead of the [inaudible] official conference in Turkey.  We have not heard of what the UN Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy is doing.  Has he started his work?  Has he become operational?

Spokesman:  We are continuing to have discussions on next steps in Afghanistan, active discussions with various participants.  That’s what I can share with you at this point.

Okay, Toby and then Sherwin and then Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Thanks, Steph, and good afternoon.  I have two questions for you today.  Janet Yellen, the US Treasury Secretary, said that G20 is working on a global minimum corporate tax rate.  What does UN DESA feel about this?  And what is the Secretary‑General’s opinion of this policy?

Spokesman:  Look, I don’t…  let’s wait to see what the G20 agrees to.  What is obvious is that the more coordination there is at the global level between the world’s largest economies on this issue, I think, is more…  is beneficial for everyone involved.

Question:  Second question…  Sorry, just one follow‑up quickly.  Who has the Secretary‑General spoken to in Jordan specifically?  Are you able to say?

Spokesman:  Contacts have been had right now between the Resident Coordinator’s office and the Government, and there will be likely contacts this afternoon at Headquarters, more at a working level.

Sherwin Bryce‑Pease.

Question:  Hi, Steph, good to see you.  Could you just clarify how many countries have received 36 million doses from COVAX?  And what’s the UN’s reaction to just how slow that’s been?  Thirty‑six million to how many countries?

Spokesman:  Okay, hold on a second.  If you weren’t paying attention to what I was saying, maybe I should be paying attention.

I said 36 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered to 86 countries.  The doses allocated through the end of May will target 201 million.  What we wish for is greater financial support to the COVAX facility.  I think we, along with the Governments, are working as fast as possible on the rollout.

Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the ground to ensure that the cold chain is there, and that’s a critical one for the vaccines, that the systems are in place to receive the vaccine.

But I mean, as you pointed out, the issue of vaccine inequity and unequal distribution of the vaccine remains clear for all to see and remains troubling.

Question:  I have a follow‑up on Mozambique.  You talked about broader issues that need to be addressed, and you know that there’s a SADC troika meeting upcoming this week on politics, defence and security.  What’s the UN’s expectations of SADC’s role in the region?  And is there growing concern that Southern Africa is becoming a hotbed for terrorism?

Spokesman:  Look, the issue of terrorism in different parts of Africa is one that is well known.  I think the increasing boldness of the terrorist activities that we’ve seen in Mozambique is very concerning, indeed.  I think the violence they have perpetrated on civilians in Mozambique is truly atrocious, and it has been condemned and needs to be condemned again and again.

SADC has a critical role to play because these issues also need to be dealt with at a regional level.  We know very well that terrorist groups operate between borders at regional and subregional levels.

Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have couple of questions also.  I called yesterday the Office of the Spokesman to see if there is a statement issued by the SG on the development in Jordan.  There was none.  And I expected a statement today, and there is none.  I mean, you expressed the position of the SG, but this a major development.  You see what happened in Myanmar when these coup succeeds.  So, why there is no special statement on the development in Jordan?

Spokesman:  Listen, Abdelhamid, our position was made clear.  Things developed in a way that I was able to express the position of the Secretary‑General today, and I will continue to do so as needed.

Question:  My second question, Stéphane, about the meeting in Congo about the Renaissance Dam.  Apparently, it failed, and the parties who met there did not achieve anything.  So, is the SG concerned about this development, and would he be reaching out to the parties to see if there is any breakthrough [inaudible] crisis?

Spokesman:  Abdelhamid, you are, as usual, a step ahead of me.  I have not seen the reports that it has failed.  We, of course, had welcomed this initiative by President Tshisekedi of the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] as Chairperson of the [African Union].  Let me look into these reports because I don’t want to speak blindly.

Thank you.  I think, Ephrem, you had a question.

Question:  Yes, thank you so much.  I had a question about the Safer tanker.  Today, a Houthi leader accused the United Nations of stalling and delaying sending the technical team to assess and begin repairs.  He also said the UN is alone responsible if any leak may happen.  Could you please update…  give us a reaction to this announcement and also where we’re at right now in terms of the ongoing talks with the Houthis about that?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, I can tell you, first of all, I think there’s no, there is no use and it is not useful to negotiate these things via public statements. 

What I can tell you is that the discussions continue.  We are eager, which is probably the understatement of the year, to get people onboard the tanker.  And we will do whatever is possible and we will continue to explore every avenue to make that happen as soon as possible in our discussions with the Houthi Ansar Allah people we are speaking to.

Benno.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Do you have an overview of how many UN workers in the Headquarters [inaudible] timetable for repopulating?

Spokesman:  I don’t have those num…  I mean, now that New York City, the State of New York has lowered the minimum age to 16, I assume that covers just about everybody in this building.  I hope we have no one under 16 working in this building.  So, I urge all of you to get vaccinated.

We are looking at the next few weeks.  We’ve, we’re asking UN staff to self‑report the vaccination.  I mean, it is, anything having to do with one own’s health care is, obviously, private, so we can’t force people to do so.  But we look forward to having more people in the building as the vaccination of the community, both the UN community and New York City writ large, increases.

Question:  Is there a rough timetable?

Spokesman:  Not rough enough for me to share with you at this point, Benno, but I will keep looking to smooth it out.

Okay, on that note, thank you for being here today.  I have to warn you, tomorrow, we will be hybrid, then we’ll be back in person the rest of the week, inshallah.

For information media. Not an official record.