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7 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.

Good afternoon.

**Rwanda

This morning, as you have seen, in a pre-recorded address the Secretary-General spoke at the commemoration of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.  The Secretary-General paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the genocide.  He recalled how those days remain in our collective conscience as among the most horrific in recent human history.

But he added that we must also take a hard look at today’s world and ensure that we heed the lessons of 27 years ago.  Around the globe, he said, people are threatened by extremist groups determined to boost their ranks through social polarization, political and cultural manipulation.

To prevent history from repeating itself, we need to counter these hate-driven movements that have become a transnational threat, the Secretary-General added, saying that we must forge a common agenda to renew and reinvigorate our collective actions going forward.

**Youth Forum

And he also spoke to youth leaders today, as well as activists and youth-led organizations at the virtual ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) Youth Forum.

In his remarks, Mr. [António] Guterres said that he was immensely saddened by what the pandemic has done to the world’s young people — disrupting their education, increasing youth unemployment, and worsening their mental health.

The Secretary-General said we should not be surprised that both online and, in the streets, young people have been expressing their impatience with the pace of change, their alarm at the war on nature, and their frustration with injustice and poor governance.  He added that we must listen to them, rebuild their trust and find ways to engage them in the governance systems and democratic processes strengthening work with and for youth.  He asked young people to continue showing the way on critical issues such as racial justice, gender equality and the climate crisis.

The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, also spoke at the Forum.

**Libya

And the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) will facilitate a three-day direct meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s Legal Committee in Tunis.  That is from 7 to 9 April.  That meeting is intended to finalize discussions on a constitutional basis which will pave the way for national elections on 24 December of this year.

In his opening remarks, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Ján Kubiš, welcomed the members of the Legal Committee and underscored the importance of efforts to achieve the objectives of the Roadmap adopted in Tunis last November. 

The UN Mission is fully committed to support the holding of national elections in accordance with the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum Roadmap and the overwhelming request of the Libyan people.  The deliberations of the Legal Committee are a critical element to move the elections preparations forward.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia:  Our colleagues tell us that the humanitarian situation in Tigray remains dire.  While there has been substantial improvement in humanitarian access, active hostilities have been reported in the north-western, central, eastern, south-eastern and southern zones.

Some humanitarian partners have accessed the towns of Gijet and Samre, in the southern and south-eastern zones.  They reported that most of the population in these towns has fled.  The Alamata-Mekelle-Adigrat-Shire road remains partially accessible.

Our humanitarian colleagues said that an estimated 2.5 million people in rural Tigray have not had access to essential services over the last five months.  The conflict continues to drive massive displacement across the region, with tens of thousands of people moving towards urban areas, including to Mekelle and Shire.  According to a recent assessment report, there could be as many as 450,000 people displaced in Shire.

Our humanitarian partners are grappling with capacity and resource challenges as they scale up the response, which remains inadequate for the estimated 4.5 million people who need life-saving assistance.

**Mali

Turning to Mali:  The UN Mission there (MINUSMA) is telling us that peacekeepers have just conducted a long-range patrol covering over 1,200 kilometres from Gao to Tassinga, in the centre of Mali.  This patrol is part of the Mission’s efforts to provide security and protect civilians in the region that is also known as the three-border area.

The day and night patrols were conducted over a period of 28 consecutive days.

Throughout this mission, peacekeepers maintained constant contact with the Malian Armed Forces.  They also engaged with communities to discuss their concerns to better protect local populations.

Local community members between Ansongo and Tassiga reported back to the Mission that cases of robbery and theft have not been recorded in the two-week period coinciding with the peacekeepers’ continuing patrol of their region.

More is online and the Mission has also produced a very nice-looking video of the patrol.

**Red Sea

And turning to the situation in the Red Sea, I can tell you that we are concerned about another report of an incident in the Red Sea yesterday, involving a vessel flying the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  This is the fourth such incident in the region in just over a month.  Although the circumstances around the incident remain unclear, we want to underscore the importance for  the  concerned  parties, including countries in the region, to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from taking any escalatory actions and, in particular, to respect their obligations under international law.

**Ukraine

And moving to Ukraine:  Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that yesterday shelling damaged a power line near a […] we were told that yesterday shelling damaged a power line near main lift pumping station of the South Donbas Waterway, in eastern part of Ukraine.  This interrupted safe water supply for over a 1.1 million people in 50 nearby settlements on both sides of the “contact line”.

While repair teams were able to quickly fix the damaged power lines today, we reiterate the call for all involved to avoid targeting critical water infrastructure in eastern Ukraine.

This year we, along with our humanitarian partners, require $168 million to help 1.9 million of the most vulnerable 3.4 million people in the east.  Only 5.5 per cent of this funding has been received.

We also urge all concerned to provide unconditional access to those in need.

**COVAX

And a COVAX update for you, today from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

This morning, Costa Rica received more than 43,200 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.  This is the first shipment of nearly 220,000 doses expected to arrive soon.  Our colleagues in Costa Rica hailed the arrival as an historic step towards the goal of ensuring access to and equitable distribution of vaccines globally.

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic received more than 91,000 doses last night.  This is the first batch of more than 2 million doses of vaccines the country expects to receive through COVAX.  The UN team has been supporting authorities to address the pandemic, helping to deliver more than 60 tons of protective equipment to health personnel.

**World Health Day

Speaking of health personnel, today is also World Health Day, and the theme this year is “Together for a fairer, healthier world”.

In his message, the Secretary-General notes that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed how unequal our societies are.  He points out that thanks to the COVAX initiative, more nations are now beginning to receive vaccine supplies, but most people in low- and middle-income countries still must watch and wait.

The Secretary-General stresses that such [inequities] are immoral, and they are dangerous for our health, our economies and our societies.  He says that as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must implement policies and allocate resources so we can all enjoy the same health outcomes.

**Questions and Answers

Célhia?

Question:  I love to be the first one, James.  [laughter]

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) will reduce its staff by 7 per cent this year, but as far as I know, the peace agreement has yet to be implemented.  So, does the UN think that this is the right thing to do in a country where peace is still very fragile?

Spokesman:  Look, let me… I have to tell you, I’ve seen those reports.  I have to get the details of what’s going on behind the Mission.  I think I would point you to what David Shearer said yesterday, that, yes, a lot has been achieved.  Much remains to be done to consolidate the peace and that… called on the political parties to work together for the benefit of those involved.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  So, first, on the statement you read out, which I would assume is about the Iranian ship, the Saviz, Israel has… according to reports, has notified the US that it carried out this attack.  You said that everyone should respect their obligations under international law.  If Israel did carry this out, was it a breach of international law?

Spokesman:  I mean, I haven’t seen those reports.  We will look.  We have seen… what we have seen in the past month is a number of attacks on ships that were different flags, different owners.  What we do not want to see is any escalation, tit for tat.

The freedom of navigation is critical all over the world but especially in this region, in the Red Sea and in the Persian Gulf.

Question:  So, would an attack like the one that we saw there, whoever carried it out, would it be illegal under international law?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think everyone understands what their responsibilities are, and we want them to be respected.

Question:  I just want you to tell us what the responsibilities are… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  You know, I have to see the details of… I can’t go any further at this point.  [cross talk]

Question:  One other quick question, if I may.  There are reports from Washington that the US is about to make an announcement of funding to the Palestinians, money to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and other monies.  Do you… can the UN confirm that it’s been notified by the US about this?

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve seen those reports.  It is also our understanding that a major announcement is imminent.  Obviously, we welcome this announcement, if it turns out to be true, and we have no indication that it’s not.  We’re waiting for the official announcement, but we very much welcome it.

The relationship between the United States and UNRWA is a long-standing relationship.  We hope that others will now follow suit.  There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced or halted contributions to UNRWA.  We hope that the American decision will lead others to re-join UNRWA as UNRWA donors.

Edie and then Stefano.

Question:  Sorry, Steph.  Thank you.  I have two questions.  First, the AP has done a major story on the apparent cleansing of Tigrayans, and I wonder if the Secretary-General has any comment on what’s happening there and what the UN is trying to do to actually document this and prevent it.

Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve read the story, which is a harrowing story.  We are very concerned about these latest reports of human rights violations, and we’ve seen others since the beginning of this conflict.  As I understand it, our colleagues at the UN Human Rights Office are in discussions with Ethiopian counterparts to do joint investigations with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.  We hope that these investigations will be carried out thoroughly.  Part of the prevention is also about access and greater access for humanitarians and for aid personnel, and we continue on that front.

Question:  And a second question on Yemen and where Mr. [Martin] Griffiths is, what he’s doing, and is any UN effort being made to try and de-escalate the situation in Marib?

Spokesman:  Mr. Griffiths, as I recall, is in Amman.  As you know, he had done quite extensive travelling in the last week.  He’d been… before that, he was in Oman and travelled to Riyadh, as well.  He’s continuing his contacts to… for… excuse me.  He’s continuing his contacts from Amman, and we’re continuing our efforts to try to find a way to halt the fighting in Marib.

Stefano Vaccara, and then we’ll go to the screen.

Question:  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  This is an update on Mario Paciolla case with a question.  Recently, an Italian publication wrote an article by Gabriella Santora who interviewed prosecutor… Colombian prosecutor Giovanni Álvarez Santoyo.  He is not just a prosecutor.  He works on the organization that… for the peace process.  He investigates crimes that been during… that have been done.  So, he’s involved in the peace process.

Well, he… asked about… what he thinks about the Mario Paciolla case, he said, and I quote, this stuff is an attack on the peace process and that this country’s trying to do and on the quality of the support that the Mission… the United Nation Mission can do in this process.

So, my question is, in this moment, it’s not even more a question to try to find out the truth about the death of somebody that was working for the United Nations in Colombia, but does the Secretary-General think that to find out what really happened to Mario Paciolla means also to help the peace process in Colombia?

Spokesman:  We want to find out what happened to our colleague, first and foremost for the sake of his family and those around him who have suffered a tremendous loss.  It is not for me to prejudge the conclusions of the Colombian and the Italian criminal investigations.  We continue to support them, and we continue to support the people of Colombia with our large presence there.

Okay.  Abdelhamid and then Ibtisam and then Toby, I think.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions, one on the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  The talks in Congo completely collapsed.  Sudan now is asking to be… to participate in the management of the dam so they will not… it will not hurt their water supplies.  But Egypt said they want to go back to the Security Council and the General Assembly.

My question, why the Secretary-General does not take a proactive role and become involved personally in a brewing crisis that has been developing for the last few months and becoming a kind of a threat to international peace and security?  That’s my first question.

Spokesman:  Okay.  What has been clear for us… clear for the Secretary-General is that this issue can only be resolved through peaceful means, and his call is for urgent and concrete measures to the parties to de-escalate tensions, build confidence and demonstrate compromise in good faith.

We’ve, obviously, seen the statements that came out of the talks in Kinshasa.  The Secretary-General is following this, I can tell you, very, very closely, has, in the past, talked to various parties.

Our stance on being available to help the parties and also support the AU mediation continues, but I can assure you that this is something… I know we always say he’s following this closely, but I do know for a fact that he is following this extremely closely.

Your second question, sir?

Question:  My second question, this morning in… at the entrance of a Palestinian village near Hebron called Samou, S-a-m-o-u, Palestinian old woman of 73-year-old — her name is Shafiqa Muhammad Suleiman Abu Aqeel — was run and killed by a settler.  That has happened this morning.  Is there… are you aware of this incident?  And what can UN do as the Israeli [inaudible] and their crimes against the Palestinian escalating by the day?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I had not personally heard of this case.  Obviously, this is something that needs to be investigated fully, but we will check with our colleagues.

Ibtisam?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  I have a follow-up on the issue… first, thanks for… I got an answer to my question about the landmine yesterday, but I have a follow-up on the subject regarding Rick’s question and that whether you had any comments on the Pentagon announcement, press secretary announcement, that they are analysing the issue and still not taking back actually the policy that was… that took place by the [Donald] Trump Administration last year.

Spokesman:  Look, our stand is… remains clear and that, from our standpoint, from the Secretary-General’s standpoint, we want to see every country sign up to the Anti-Personnel Landmine Convention, and we support every effort and we call on every country to do whatever they can to eliminate this weapon, which strikes indiscriminately.  And it’s so insidious that it is able to kill and continue killing and maiming years after it was laid into the ground.

Question:  I have another question… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Toby.  Sorry.  Yes, please, please.

Question:  So, my question is on the Rwanda genocide and whether, after all these years, you can maybe point out to which lessons did the UN learn from what happened back then and its own role.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Look, the UN’s own role, I think, was analysed and dissected in a seminal report that came out a few years after the genocide, which had been commissioned by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.  I think one of the lessons learned is to ensure that we tell the Security Council what they need to know, not what they want to know, not to self-censor, to ensure that we focus on the protection of civilians, and I think that’s something we have seen in peacekeeping missions throughout since the genocide.

One example I would point to is, in South Sudan, when… we’re all dating ourselves here, but when there was a massive… when… this was 2014, 2013, when civilians were being hunted down, when civil strife renewed.  If you’ll recall, the UN opened its doors to its peacekeeping bases in South Sudan, which became Protection of Civilians sites.  And the Secretary-General at the time, Ban Ki-moon, was very clear in giving instructions to his commanders on the ground, is just do it, focus on saving people.

So, I think the focus of our work on the protection of civilians is one of the most important lessons learned from that time.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Three questions for you today.  First, it looks like tomorrow that world finance chiefs are going to extend the DSSI.  It’s going to be 650 billion more in Special Drawing Rights, and also this language on trade protectionism is going to be dropped.  What is the SG’s reaction to these developments?

Spokesman:  Well, let’s see what actually comes out.  The issue of Special Drawing Rights and expanding them is something the Secretary-General had called for.  All the things you mentioned are things he had called for.  I think we will wait to see what the scope of the decisions reached are before we comment.

Question:  Thanks.  Okay.  And then can you just… this is a bit of a remedial question here, but why did 91,000 doses go to the Dominican Republic from COVAX and 43,000 go to Costa Rica?  How do these numbers get determined by location?

Spokesman:  It’s a very good question, and I will assume but I will also check that part of it is what the countries actually request because, as you know, some of these countries are also getting vaccines through other means.  It is also how… what is the absorption capacity of the country at the time to get vaccines.  So, these are things that are worked out, but I can try to give you a bit more details.

Question:  Thanks.  And then just, finally, did you send the… have we gotten the youth remarks… the SG’s remarks to the youth event from today?  I don’t think we were shown those.

Spokesman:  If you were not shown them, we will show them to you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  And I apologize.  And you’re young enough to get them, too.

Correspondent:  Thanks, appreciate it.

Spokesman:  And on COVAX, I would also encourage you to reach out directly to COVAX.

Mr. Bulkaty.  Alan?  [cross talk]

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  I have a question on Ukraine.  The situation on Eastern Ukraine is quite tense right now.  Do you have any assessment of the situation over there?  Do you have any appeal to the sides?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Well, our appeal is, obviously, for all involved to do whatever they can to lower the tensions.

Célhia and then Mr. Bays, to go back to the original order.

Question:  Stéphane, do we have an update on the killing of the Italian ambassador in the DRC?  Merci.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, it’s a good question because I was thinking about that just yesterday that I needed to ask, so I will ask, get something to you.

Question:  I’m also requesting updates.  We keep hearing that a meeting on Afghanistan in Turkey is imminent.  Do we have any information on that meeting and what the delay is?

Spokesman:  No.  What I can… I mean, I shouldn’t say no and then answer.  [laughter]  No is my initial reaction to any question you ask, James.  Then I get a hold of myself.  [laughter]

There are a series of consultations going on in Doha and in Dushanbe with representatives of Qatar, the US, regional States, Afghan parties concerning the proposed conference that we hope will be held in Istanbul later this month.  There will also be discussions in Kabul, and we, obviously, remain committed to find… helping find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Question:  But you said this month.  You’re confident it will be held this month.

Spokesman:  That’s what our aim is.  Let me put it that way.

Question:  Okay.  One more update, again, something that’s been flagged repeatedly, which is the Myanmar Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener.  I know she’s still trying to get into the country itself, but we were told she was about to embark on a regional visit.  Can you tell us more about it?

Spokesman:  Yeah.  So, I think she’s waiting for all the necessary green lights.  She hopes to go there in the next few days.  As soon as something’s confirmed, we will confirm it.

Okay.  I’m delighted to leave the podium to Amy and see you mañana.

For information media. Not an official record.