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6 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.

**Africa — Climate

Early this morning, the Secretary-General addressed virtually the Leaders’ Dialogue on the Africa COVID-Climate Emergency, convened by the African Development Bank and the Global Centre for Adaption.

In his remarks, he said that as the world confronts a pandemic, a recession and a climate crisis, the United Nations climate conference, COP26, in November, provides a compelling opportunity for Africa to turn ambition into reality.

He reiterated the five actions needed for a breakthrough on adaptation, which include increased funding from G7 members and integrating climate risk policies into investment decisions.

“African countries continue to contribute little to global emissions,” he said, “yet Africa is on the front lines of dramatic climate impacts, from floods to cyclones and drought that can wipe out decades of development gains overnight.”

He also encouraged all international partners to come forward with pledges to support the African Adaptation Acceleration Program.  Once again, Mr. [António] Guterres urged countries to align their COVID-19 recovery packages with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement.

And, lastly, he reiterated the UN’s commitment to working with African Governments to secure the support they need to chart a prosperous and a sustainable future.

Those remarks were distributed to you earlier.

**Digital Learning Initiative

For her part, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, spoke at the consultation of Ministers of Education of the E9 Digital Learning Initiative in a session entitled “Scaling up Digital Learning to Accelerate Progress towards SDG4”.

And, if you’re like me and wondering who the E9 are, they are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.

This initiative focuses on supporting teachers, investing in skills, and narrowing the digital divide, which are three of the five priorities of the 2020 Global Education Meeting Declaration.

In her remarks, Ms. Mohammed noted that, before COVID-19, access to quality education was already profoundly unequal.  Financing gaps were immense, and learning was not equipping young people with the skills needed to excel in today’s world.

She said as we look to the future, it is clear that there is no going back to the education we had before the emergency.  The Deputy Secretary-General stressed that, if we are to realize the ambition of SDG4, then we need to pursue pandemic recovery efforts that transform education.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground today say they remain deeply concerned about the impact that the continuing violence is having on the country’s health and education systems.

Since 1 February, there have been at least 28 attacks against hospitals and health personnel and seven attacks against schools and school personnel.

Attacks against health volunteers and against ambulances are preventing life-saving help from reaching civilians wounded by security forces.

**Mali

And a quick update from Mali — our colleagues on the ground tell us that the 34 peacekeepers wounded in Friday’s attack [in Aguelhok] continue to receive medical treatment.

Nine of the 34 were evacuated to Dakar, in Senegal, where they are currently being treated for serious injuries in hospital.

Speaking at the Security Council this morning in a prescheduled meeting, the Head of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, said that Friday’s attack on the Mission’s camp in Mali was a reminder of the challenges facing the country and the broader Sahel region.

This tragedy, he added, is also an illustration of the bravery and determination of the UN peacekeepers to support the Malian population.  The Chadian peacekeepers’ heroic defence inflicted a serious setback on the attackers, Mr. Lacroix said.

He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call on all those concerned to scale up and strengthen the international community’s response to the issue of terrorism and violent extremism in the Sahel region.  He also called on Mali’s transitional Government to devise a comprehensive approach to improve the security situation.

Turning to the country’s political situation, Mr. Lacroix welcomed recent progress, but also called on all concerned to accelerate the pace of reforms.  Any sustainable improvement of the security situation in Mali is predicated, in no small part, on the success of the current political transition, he said.

His remarks were shared with you.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, as you know, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, David Shearer, will soon leave his position after four years in the country.  He will be succeeded by Nicholas Haysom.

He expressed his admiration for the South Sudanese people, whom he called tough, resilient, and remarkably patient.

Mr. Shearer urged the people and the leaders of South Sudan to remain united and energized to push the peace process forward to fully implement the revitalized agreement and hold elections so that communities across South Sudan can finally enjoy true peace and prosperity.

He noted that, while important progress has been made, the peace process remains fragile and there is still much to be done, including picking up the pace on constitution-making, transitional justice, and economic reform.  He said that courageous decisions need to be made to unify the armed forces of all sides.

His statement is online.

**Sudan

And, from north of the border, in Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, Volker Perthes, today welcomed the decision by the country’s Security and Defence Council to declare a State of Emergency to contain the situation in West Darfur.

Our humanitarian colleagues say that 56 people were killed in recent clashes between the Massalit and Arab communities in West Darfur’s capital of Ag Geneina.

In a statement, [Mr. Perthes] urged Government security forces to prevent further violence and restore order in the interest of all civilians.  Mr. Perthes also called on the Government to ensure safety and access to humanitarian organizations providing services to all those affected and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the violence.

Due to the violence, the delivery of aid to West Darfur has been suspended and humanitarian flights have been cancelled, preventing aid from reaching 700,000 human beings.

Humanitarian partners have been providing food, health, sanitation and protection [services] to people in and around Ag Geneina.

We and our partners are appealing for $1.9 billion to help 8.9 million vulnerable people in Sudan, including in Darfur, in 2021.  To date, only 7 per cent of the funding has been received.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Moving onto the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to our partners at the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in their latest food security analysis for the DRC, one in three people is suffering from acute hunger.

This means that an estimated 27.3 million people are affected by acute food insecurity, including nearly 7 million people grappling with emergency levels of acute hunger.

This is a record high, the agencies said, adding that the country is home to the highest number of people in urgent need of food security assistance in the world.

Conflict remains a key cause of hunger, but other factors such as the impact of the pandemic, are compounding the crisis.  The most affected populations are mainly the displaced, refugees, returnees, host families, as well as female-headed households.

FAO and WFP are urgently calling for urgent intervention to scale up support to Congolese people in crisis areas.  In addition to their emergency operations, the agencies are investing in resilience-building projects that support community farming to boost yields, reduce losses and spur access to markets.

**Mozambique

Going south to Mozambique:  Today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that it continues to work around the clock to assist thousands of people in Cabo Delgado province.  A recent attack by insurgents on the coastal town of Palma has forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes, with thousands more reportedly trapped in the area.

UNHCR says its teams in Pemba have received worrying reports that more than 1,000 displaced people were prevented from crossing the border into Tanzania.  They are following up on these reports and have called on Mozambique’s neighbours to provide access to territory and to asylum procedures for people escaping violence and seeking protection.

The agency, with its partners, has distributed relief items, including blankets and sleeping mats.

The World Food Programme, for its part, said today said that the UN agencies were still struggling to access Palma.  Both food assistance and evacuation flights remained suspended owing to the deteriorating security situation.  We continue to appeal for access to the affected area and [are] working to pre-position food in the neighbouring districts of Montepuez and Mueda.

WFP warned that hunger is continuing to rise in Palma as many people’s livelihoods have been interrupted by the fighting.  Some of those who arrived in Pemba from Palma have told WFP that they have not eaten for weeks.

**COVAX

Moving onto our regular COVAX update, today from Azerbaijan, Barbados and Timor-Leste, which have all received COVID-19 vaccines doses with the help of UN teams on the ground.

This morning, more than 33,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine landed in Barbados.

Yesterday, Timor-Leste received 24,000 doses, with several more batches on the way.  They will target 20 per cent of the population.  The UN Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy, said that this is a historic moment, noting that this first shipment is critical for ensuring first responders are not left behind in the vaccinations.

On Sunday, Azerbaijan received 84,000 doses, with more on the way, with support of the UN and our partners.

**Vaccines

Staying on topic, the head of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), Henrietta Fore, stressed today that there is not enough COVID-19 vaccine supply to meet demand, with available supplies concentrated in the hands of too few.

She warned that, with some countries having an oversupply and others having none at all, this threatens all of us — the virus and the mutations will win.

Ms. Fore called for speed and simplicity to remove barriers to the acquisition, manufacture and distribution of vaccines globally.

Her full statement is online.

**International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

Lastly, today is International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General notes that sport is one of the great human pursuits — a model of teamwork, a platform for individual excellence and a driver of economic growth for all of society.

The Secretary-General points out that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the world of sports.  He says that workers, fans and athletes have felt the pain of absence, of lost revenue and of dreams deferred.

The Secretary-General notes that, as vaccines spread hope and spectators begin to return to arenas, the world of sport has crucial contributions to make in forging a safe and sustainable recovery.  He adds that the UN looks forward to continuing to work with sportspeople and organizations around the world to advance climate action and to promote peace, human rights and sustainable development.

I will go to your questions before turning to Amy Quantrill from the PGA’s (President of the General Assembly) office, and I do want to thank my colleagues at the UN Information Centre in Washington for generously hosting me today.

So, let me go to the screen and see who’s chatting, who’s waving.

**Questions and Answers

Toby.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Good afternoon.  My… I have two quick questions today.  The first is on the General Assembly high-level week later this year.  I just want to know if there are any planning discussions about what’s going to happen for that week in terms of a pandemic response.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  For the… I missed what you were saying.

Question:  For the high-level week in September.

Spokesman:  First of all, the decision on how the high-level week will proceed will be a decision left to the Member States, to the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  We will support them, guide them and, obviously, offer advice on how to best move forward.  There will also have to be, no doubt, a discussion with the host country authorities.  All those words to say that it’s too early for me to share any information with you.

Question:  And the second question is just Henrietta Fore, head of UNICEF, also had remarks today specifically about relaxing some intellectual property rights to get vaccine production ramped up to suitable levels.  And considering that we’ve only had about 35 million doses delivered to the global population through COVAX, does the SG have new… any revised guidance on what he wants in terms of waivers to get vaccines out there more quickly?

Spokesman:  I think the points that the Executive Director of UNICEF makes are the ones that reflect our position.  There needs to be ways to simplify the process.  Obviously, WTO (World Trade Organization) is the body where the issue of patents will be discussed, but I think, in the meantime, there needs to be stronger partnerships between the owners of the patents, the manufacturers and all of the people involved in this supply chain to make the distribution faster and to, obviously, increase the volume.

All right.  James Bays.  Sorry.  Is that you?  Yes.  You were displaced by Edie.

Correspondent:  No.  I was late.  [laughter]  I was late.

Correspondent:  He was late.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Stake your claim.  Go ahead.

Question:  I thought you’d be late.  Right.  Here’s the question.  With regard to the Nile and the talks that took place, I know that you were asked about this yesterday.

But they certainly have now collapsed, those talks between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan.  And Egypt is certainly blaming — I quote — a lack of political will to negotiate in good faith from Ethiopia.  And, clearly, Egypt had declared these the last chance talks.  How worried is the Secretary-General about the situation?  And how does he think diplomacy can be brought to bear on this issue?

Spokesman:  Look, I think we can’t underscore enough the importance of compromise and cooperation.  I mean, we’ve taken note of the conclusion of the discussions in Kinshasa.  We continue to urge the parties to continue with the efforts to take concrete steps towards reaching an agreement on the issue.

Obviously, I think the efforts and the work… the initiatives of President [Felix] Tshisekedi, as the AU Chairperson, in reconvening the parties is to be welcomed.  And we reiterate, we stand ready to support these efforts as guided by the parties.

But I think the critical message is one of continued compromise and cooperation.  And since we were not at the meeting, I can’t… it’s not for us to characterize a position of one or another.

Question:  Okay.  One other question, if I can, and you were asked about this some weeks ago by Edie.  And you said you would look into it and find out what was going on about it, but it’s become a much bigger issue in the meantime, and that’s the whole issue of vaccine passports.  It’s deeply controversial in many parts of the world, in Europe, here in the US.  Now you’ve got the Governor of Texas and the Governor of Florida saying that they’re banning the idea of vaccine passports.

Where… who in the UN is looking at this?  What is the UN’s position on this?  Because clearly, it’s not just a WHO (World Health Organization) issue.  It’s ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).  It’s economics.  It’s human rights.  Is there someone who is addressing this?  And is the UN in favour of vaccine passports?

Spokesman:  Okay.  I think the answer isn’t as simple as the question.  On one hand, having passports with vaccines… and, in a sense, they already exist.  I mean, we’ve all… so many of us have had little yellow books, passports, with our yellow fever or other vaccines in it.  So, it is not a concept that is foreign to the world.

I think we’re looking at COVID, on one hand, facilitating the resumption of travel, of trade is critical, and anything that would facilitate that would be welcomed.  On the other hand, there are issues of privacy, issues of inequity that also need to be looked at.

So, there’s a lot of discussions going on, but the answer is not a simple one.  I think what is important, though, is to try to depoliticize the issue and look at the privacy, the health and, obviously, the economic benefits and come up with a solution that doesn’t make the issues of inequity and lack of privacy even worse.

Question:  So, just explain for us, Steph, as a follow-up, who is doing this work in the UN?  Who is trying to work… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think there are a lot of…

Question:  Clearly, there’s an issue where international standards are needed.  Who is doing the work…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Exactly.  There are a lot of discussions going on.  The issue of public health, the global issue of public health, is one in the hands of WHO.

Edie.  Sorry.  I should have gone to you first.  I… it’s hard for me to see from where… my vantage point.

Question:  That’s fine.  [laughter]

I know you were asked about this perhaps yesterday, but today, in Vienna, the talks started between the United States and the other parties to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), and I wonder whether the Secretary-General has any message to that meeting?

Spokesman:  It’s a meeting that we welcome.  We welcome all of these efforts by the JCPOA participants to hold these… to hold constructive dialogue.  We hope this is a first step in the right direction.

We have always expressed our support for the JCPOA, which is an important multilateral agreement, and we hope that the agreement will get back on track.

I think we’re not… we fully understand that this will take time.  There’s a lot of work to be done, but we very much welcome the meeting in Vienna.

Question:  And I have one other question about North Korea.  The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) has put out a statement refuting a UN expert’s report saying that there is malnutrition among children in the DPRK.  Does the Secretary-General stand by that report?  Do you have any comments?

Spokesman:  The report of pan… two things.  On a… just on a broader issue, the reports of Panel of Experts are reports of the Panel of Experts to the Security Council.  They are not signed by the Secretary-General in any way, so… and that’s for any of them.  They’re an important tool.

What we do know is that there are issues… very serious humanitarian issues in the DPRK.  And through our country team and through… with our humanitarian partners, we will do our best to address them.

Okay.  Let… who’s that?  Benno.

Question:  Thank you.  So, a little follow-up to COVAX.  US Foreign Minister [Antony] Blinken said yesterday that the United States wants to share more vaccine doses with the world soon.  Is there any talks with the United Nations to channel that through the UN system?

Spokesman:  I will… we will have to check with our colleagues who manage the COVAX facility.  But obviously, we welcome any move by countries that have vaccines to share vaccines.  I think it’s a very important step forward.

Okay.  Who’s that?  In the room?  Stefano, is that you?  Go ahead.  Yes.  Go… I need your microphone.  We’re far from each other.  Yeah.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I know.  But you know, your name is my name so you should remember…

Spokesman:  I know.  Trust me.  There are many days when I don’t remember my own name.  Go ahead.  [laughter]

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, the Italian Prime Minister visited Libya today, Tripoli.  And during the press conference with Libyan premier, he said… he praised Libya for the… its policy with migrants, said that it was doing practically a good job.

So, my question is, does the Secretary-General think that Libya is doing a good job with migrants or should improve something, especially when it’s to do with those camps that looks like lager?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment on the Prime Minister’s position.  I think our issues with the way that migrants have been treated in the Mediterranean, have been treated in Libya and other countries, are clear and unchanged.  And I think I will let you do the compare-and-contrast.

Okay.  Let’s go to Rick and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I had a landmine question, a question about landmines.  The [Joseph] Biden Administration said that it was going to end the [Donald] Trump Administration’s policy on landmine use.  He called it deeply misguided.  Today, we learned from the Defense Department that that policy, use of land… landmine use, remains in effect.  And so, I wondered if you or a colleague from the Mine Action Service could comment on that, what appears to be a… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Let me get back to you on that because I’m not… it’s a level of granularity which I have to check with our colleagues, but we’ll get some comments for you very quickly.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  All right.  Iftikhar and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Now that Jordan’s royal family has settled the problem, according to the news reports, does the Secretary-General have any comments since he had voiced clear concern over the situation in Jordan?

Spokesman:  I mean, we… what I know is what you know.  We’ve seen the press reports, and if they are, indeed, true, it is a welcome development.

Abdelhamid Siyam.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This morning, in the village of Bir Nabala, north of Jerusalem, an Israeli checkpoint stopped the car of Osama Mohammed Mansour and his wife.  It was clear, and they let him go, and they immediately fired at him, killing him immediately and wounding his wife.

How long the Palestinians going to be killed and the UN going to keep just mentioning these number in a monthly report?  Why there is no statement on this extrajudicial killing?

Spokesman:  I will check with the Special Coordinator if they’ve issued anything, but I can tell you that we report regularly on the violence that we see in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Question:  My second question, Stéphane, about how much COVAX have offered the Palestinian a vaccine?  Do you have any numbers?

Spokesman:  How much they’ve received?

Question:  Yeah, how much the Gazans and Palestinians in general receive from COVAX.

Spokesman:  We had an update a few weeks ago.  I’ll get you those numbers this afternoon.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you very much.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Okay.  Oh, Ibtisam?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  I have a follow-up on the landmine issue.  So, the US is not… so far didn’t sign the Ottawa Convention.  Do you have… and other countries, not only the US, other very important countries that should be signed.  Do you have any comment or any message to the US but to other countries who didn’t sign…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Our message to those who haven’t signed it is sign it.  I think the violence that is… and the destruction brought about from landmines is clear for all to see.  The money that is spent clearing it… clearing them, the damage that is done in the… the damage that is left behind, by landmines that are left behind, the children that are killed, the land that is not used… cannot be used because landmines continue to be there, our stance against landmines has been very clear and will remain so.

Question:  I have another question, but I’m not sure if you… on the same subject.  So, when the Trump Administration, last year… when they lifted the restriction on the deployment of anti-personnel landmines, is there anybody from the UN who is… or one of the UN bodies who is monitoring how this affected things on the ground, whether selling or deploying landmines or… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Those are questions we’ll check with our Mine Action Service and Disarmament Affairs.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  All right.  Thank you, all.  Amy, welcome.  Happy Tuesday.  And I will be back in the room tomorrow to see you all.  Amy, all yours.  Bye.

For information media. Not an official record.