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8 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.

**Myanmar

Good afternoon.  I’m going to start off with Myanmar.  Just to tell you that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener will travel to the region this week.

She will start off in Bangkok where she will meet with Thai authorities, United Nations regional officials and ambassadors accredited to Myanmar who are in Bangkok.

In addition to Thailand, the Special Envoy is consulting on visits to other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, as well as other neighbouring countries.

As she has highlighted repeatedly, a robust international response to the ongoing crisis in Myanmar requires a unified regional effort involving neighbouring countries who can leverage influence towards stability in Myanmar.

The Special Envoy will continue to support the important role of regional actors in facilitating stability and, ultimately, in finding an orderly and peaceful way out of this situation.

With support from the Security Council, Ms. Schraner Burgener will continue her efforts to visit Myanmar.  She hopes that the Myanmar military will provide her access to the country and to detained leaders, including President U Wint Myint and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

She, of course, stands ready to resume dialogue with the military and to contribute to a return to Myanmar’s democratic path, peace and stability.  She is ready to visit Myanmar at any time.

Also on Myanmar, our colleagues on the ground say that they are alarmed by the humanitarian impact of escalating violence in north-eastern and south-eastern parts of the country in recent weeks.

In south-eastern Kayin State and Bago Region, thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes due to attacks by the Myanmar armed forces, including with the use of air strikes, as well as due to clashes between the armed forces and the Karen National Union.

In the north-east of Myanmar, clashes have displaced 3,000 people since early March, while in northern Shan, fighting has forced more than 8,000 people from their homes since December of 2020.

**Mine Action

Here at the Security Council, virtually at the Security Council, they held a ministerial virtual debate on mine action this morning.  The Secretary-General in his remarks noted progress in the past years that have made significant expanses of land safe to use — from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Cambodia to Colombia.

But, he added, challenges have also intensified.  Conflict has become more urbanized, armed groups are proliferating and the use of improvised explosive devices is increasing.

The Secretary-General pointed to three areas that require attention.  He urged Member States to ensure that all peace operations have the capacity to operate in environments facing high explosive threats, and particularly improvised explosive devices.  Peacekeepers must have the knowledge and the equipment they need to deliver on their mandates safely, he said.

Secondly, Mr. [António] Guterres urged the Security Council to strengthen efforts to further integrate mine action into relevant resolutions, reporting and sanctions regimes.  Finally, he called on those Member States that that have not yet acceded to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention to do so without delay.

Those remarks were shared with you.

**Mozambique

Turning to Mozambique, we along with our partners are closely following with deep concern new reports of violations against civilians, including alleged beheadings and unverified reports of the use of child soldiers, during attacks by non-State armed groups and clashes in Cabo Delgado’s Palma District that have been going on since 24 March.

It is extremely difficult to verify information on these incidents at this time for us, but we are concerned about the situation of civilians who fled the violence and those who remain in Palma.

Nearly 12,800 people — 43 per cent of those 12,800 people are children — have arrived in the districts of Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba.  Many more are expected to still be on the move in search of safety and assistance.

Humanitarian partners in Mozambique are assisting displaced people at the arrival points and scaling up the ongoing humanitarian response in Cabo Delgado.  So far in 2021, more than 500,000 people in the province have received humanitarian assistance.

The United Nations calls on all parties to the conflict in Cabo Delgado to protect civilians.

The humanitarian community in Mozambique was already stretched prior to the Palma attacks, having responded to multiple climate emergencies, on top of conflict in Cabo Delgado, in the first months of 2021.  Yet, the humanitarian appeal for the Cabo Delgado crisis is currently just 1 per cent funded.  More resources are immediately required to meet the needs of people fleeing the violence in Palma.

**Côte d’Ivoire

And turning to Côte d’Ivoire, I can tell you that the Secretary-General noted the announcement made by President [Alassane] Ouattara yesterday, in which he indicated that former President Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are now “free to return to Côte d’Ivoire when they want”.

The Secretary-General calls on all Ivorian stakeholders to build on the positive outcomes of the Government-initiated dialogue to foster peace and national reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire.

**South Sudan

From South Sudan, and just to highlight the real impact of when the money no longer flows into our humanitarian appeals, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that, due to significant funding gaps, it is cutting food rations for refugees and internally displaced people in the country.

The cutbacks will affect nearly 700,000 refugees and internally displaced people, who will now receive 50 per cent of a full ration, down from 70 per cent.

WFP’s Country Director in South Sudan, Matthew Hollingworth, said it is a very painful decision to take from the hungry to give to the starving, but this is the reality.

The agency’s resources in South Sudan are stretched thin at a time when levels of food insecurity are at their highest in a decade and donors are grappling with the economic impact of COVID-19.

WFP immediately needs $125 million for its food assistance operations for the next six months to provide food in sufficient quantities.

More from the World Food Programme.

**Central African Republic

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is telling us that the National Elections Authority announced that the next round of legislative elections, initially scheduled for 2 May, has been postponed until 23 May.  This, they said, will give authorities more time for ongoing technical and operational preparations.

The Mission also indicated that based on the provisional results published on 21 March, the forthcoming legislative elections are likely to involve roughly 50 constituencies in Bangui and 12 of the 16 prefectures of the Central African Republic.

**Yemen

Moving on to Yemen, over 5,000 COVID-19 cases have now been confirmed since the start of the pandemic.  This number has doubled in just one month, signalling an alarming and dangerous surge in the virus.

Fatalities are on the rise, with almost 1,000 deaths having been recorded so far.  A third of those have been confirmed since mid-March.

We know that these figures greatly underestimate the country’s actual disease burden due to limited testing capacities and underreporting, as well as challenges of access to any treatment.

Health partners are working hard to scale up support, including through enhanced surveillance, expanded testing and the provision of essential medicines and supplies.  Efforts are under way to vaccinate priority groups, following the arrival of the first batch of doses that I reported on last week.

As of today, Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan, which is seeking $3.85 billion, is only 13 per cent funded.

**COVID-19 — India

In India, our team there has been supporting authorities to safely reopen schools, and in some areas to continue remote education, with a focus on reaching children in marginalized and disadvantaged communities.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has worked on e-learning and other programmes in 17 states, reaching nearly 60 million children, half of them girls.  UNICEF helped to train 400,000 people working in early childhood education.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has reached more than 22,000 teachers and half a million students on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

The UN Refugee Agency helped more than 3,400 refugee children access education and provided nearly 3,000 education kits.

**Oceans

A few more notes if you’ll bear with me.  The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) today announced that they have partnered with 30 countries to tackle marine litter and clean up the world’s oceans.

The GloLitter Partnerships Project will assist developing countries in identifying opportunities to prevent and reduce marine litter, including plastic, from the maritime transport and fisheries sectors.  The project aims to decrease the use of plastics in these industries and identify opportunities to recycle plastics, to better protect our fragile marine environment, as well as lives and livelihoods, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.

Five regions will be represented:  Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.

**Food Price

Today, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) said that global food commodity prices rose in March, marking their tenth consecutive monthly increase.  FAO noted that quotations for vegetable oils and dairy products led the rise.  The Price Index was 2.1 per cent higher in March than in February.  It reached its highest level since June 2014.

**Financing for Development

Toby, since you’re here, I have an answer for you on our reaction to the press statement released by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) on debt service and other issues.

The Secretary-General is encouraged by calls for the extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which has already provided $5 billion in savings, which is helping vulnerable countries contribute to the pandemic response.

To truly enable a global recovery, the DSSI and Common Framework for Debt Treatment must also be expanded to include vulnerable middle-income countries, which face increasing debt risks.

In the same vein, he also wholeheartedly welcomes the calls for a general allocation of $650 billion in Special Drawing Rights, which will provide the liquidity needed, including to purchase and invest in vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

We call on the IMF to explore how to further support vulnerable low-income and middle-income countries in line with its mandate, and also for them to work with their members to continue exploring ways for voluntary post-allocation channelling of Special Drawing Rights to support members’ recovery efforts.

Since the very beginning of the crisis, and most recently during the Summits he co-hosted with the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada, the Secretary-General has been calling for a three-phased approach to the debt crisis:  a debt standstill, targeted debt relief for the most vulnerable, and a reform of the international debt architecture.

**International Roma Day

The Secretary-General sent a message today to the International Romani Union as it marked the fiftieth anniversary of its first Congress.

He said that the troubled human rights situation of Roma worldwide has long been a matter of serious concern to the United Nations.  The United Nations, he said, is strongly committed to working together with Roma civil society and other partners in strengthening the protection of human rights and freedoms.

The Secretary-General said that we stand with all Roma who stand up to combat multiple forms of discrimination, including stereotyping and hate speech.  We will continue to speak out against anti-Gypsyism and support efforts to secure the genuine inclusion of Roma in societies across the globe.

**Press Briefings

Today at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press encounter by the Co-chairs of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security — that is Ambassador Christoph Heusgen of Germany; Ambassador Margo Dieye, Permanent Representative of Nauru; along with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States.  They will brief you from the Security Council stakeout area live and in person.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a virtual briefing by the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); Ambassador Munir Akram will hold an end-of-term press briefing, entitled “Face to Face”, to discuss how ECOSOC can respond to the challenges of the pandemic.  We will be sending those details along.

**Financial Contributions

Lastly, we are up to 87 fully paid-up Member States.  So, we say Efkaristo poli, Ulken Rah Met and Spasiba.

If any of you can guess the actual three countries I’m talking about, you will get a week’s worth of first questions.  Philippe, you want to give it a try?

Correspondent:  I have two, Greece and Russia.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I know.  Everybody has two.  [laughter]

The third is Kazakhstan.  So, we say thank you to our friends in Greece and Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Well, we’ll go to Philippe because at least he dared to try.

Question:  Thank you very much.  My question is on Denmark.  Denmark apparently decided to send back Syrian refugees, saying that Damascus is now secure, and they have to leave.  It’s not a forceful departure, but in the same time, if the refugees don’t want to go back to Syria, they can’t anymore have a job or study in a university or school.  What is your position on this?

Spokesman:  Listen, I haven’t seen that particular report.  Our stand, and principled stand, is that refugees should never be forced to go back.  Any return should be free of… should be their choice, and it should be done in dignity and, of course, in safety.  But let me look at that particular case.

[He later shared the following information from UNHCR:  UNHCR is aware that the Danish authorities are re-assessing the protection needs of some Syrian refugees who have been accorded a subsidiary protection status on the grounds that the situation in the area they originate from would have improved.  While this has led to the non-extension or withdrawal of protection status, so far none of the Syrians concerned have been returned to Syria as Denmark currently does not maintain any formal relations with the Syrian authorities.

UNHCR is concerned about this development as UNHCR does not consider the recent improvements in security in parts of Syria to be sufficiently fundamental, stable or durable to justify ending international protection for any group of refugees.  UNHCR continues to call for protection to be maintained for Syrian refugees and urge that they should not be returned forcibly to any part of Syria, regardless of who is in control of the area concerned.]

Edie and then James.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  First, a follow-up on Christine Schraner Burgener’s visit.  When you say that she’s interested in going to see neighbours, is one right to assume that that includes China?

Spokesman:  Yeah, I think that would be an assumption that would be safe.

Question:  Okay.  Secondly, the Polisario Front says that its police chief has been killed, and local media say he was killed in a Moroccan drone attack.  Does the UN have any comment?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re… Our colleagues at the Mission are very much aware of these reports, of alleged incident in or near the territory of Western Sahara.  At this point, the Mission is unable to confirm these reports.  If that changes, I will let you know.

Mr. Bays and then Toby.

Question:  Two questions.  First, a follow-up on Myanmar.  You said that the Special Envoy is hoping to resume dialogue with the military.  When she’d spoken here, she said she had had dialogue with the deputy commander.  When did dialogue break off?  When did she last speak to them?  Was there any reason they gave to stopping the dialogue?

Spokesman:  No, I think she is… to answer your question factually, I think it was probably more than a few weeks ago that she had her last phone conversation with them, but she has been in contact in writing.  I think what she is hoping to have is, obviously, a face-to-face and a more active dialogue with them.

Question:  And my other question on a different subject, we’re seeing scenes of violence in Northern Ireland.  What is the Secretary-General’s reaction?

Spokesman:  I think we would call for all involved to do whatever they can to appease the situation.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Two questions for you today.  First one on UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).  The US has resumed funding, and it was received positively by administrators there.  But the West Bank administrators said that settler violence has never been higher in the West Bank and that we’re up 30 per cent on demolitions and displacements year over year.  Why is this?  And what does the Secretary-General make of it?

Spokesman:  I mean, I’m not here to answer the “why”.  I think you should ask those who are responsible for that.

We will, as usual, report back monthly to the Security Council through our Special Coordinator.  We have always and will continue to express our concern and our opposition to violence, as well as to the demolitions.

Question:  And the second question is that Kim Jong-un, the Head of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), said that… yesterday, it was reported he said that it’s the… the country is facing one of the worst situations ever, maybe the worst.  What’s the status of where DPRK is with receiving vaccines from the international community?  And how concerned is the Secretary-General over the humanitarian situation in North Korea?

Spokesman:  On the vaccines, I’d have to check, and I think… in terms of what the access is.  We continue to be concerned by the humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  We have a humanitarian presence on the ground, and we are doing our best working with the Government to address the situation.

All right.  Evelyn, I think you registered a question early, and then we’ll come go back.

Question:  Yes, I did.  Thank you very much, Stéphane.  On mine, there was nothing said about the Ottawa Convention.  And while [Joseph] Biden has made strong statements against mine deployment, the Pentagon has announced it has smart bombs that disintegrate and aren’t as bad as the regular bombs.  Is there any reaction to that contradiction from the Secretary-General?  And I have another question after that.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think I addressed… I’ve addressed this issue last couple of days…  [cross talk]  The Secretary-General was very clear in his call for all countries that have yet to do so to join the Mine Ban Convention, and I think his message against mines, against explosive devices, his message for disarmament has always been very clear.

Question:  And secondly… one more.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Okay.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  WHO (World Health Organization) has announced… WHO has announced that 100 countries received vaccines — I think it was 100 — and they were all the vaccines we know about.  Is anyone tracing the ones that China’s distributing that has not… that have not proven effective yet?  Is anyone following this in the UN, or is it just WHO?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, there are two things here.  Member States… those who are not… who do not have access to direct vaccine productions have been accessing vaccines either through COVAX — or they’ve tried to, and I think that’s what WHO was referring to — and a lot of Member States have, in parallel, done bilateral deals with various countries that are producing vaccines.  So, we have no official visibility on those deals.

On COVAX and who’s gotten it, I think the COVAX and the UNICEF website is very clear with the latest information.

Okay.  James Reinl?

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Two questions on Myanmar.  First one is on Miss Schraner Burgener’s visit to Thailand.  That could plausibly involve a visit to the Karen community who live in Thailand, but they’re refugees from Myanmar, and they have been affected by this recent bout of fighting.  Is anything like that in the works, a visit to those refugee camps?

Spokesman:  We’ll… I will check.  Her time in Bangkok… first of all, I think she has to do some sort of quarantine.  The COVID situation is, obviously, making all travel within countries and between countries that much more challenging.

Whether or not she meets… speaks to Karen refugees, I will find out, but I think, from what you’ve heard from her remarks here and other places, she has put a premium on contact with people and hearing the voices of people directly, and I can assure she will continue to do that.

Question:  Sorry, Stéphane.  There was a second question, as well.  It’s a quick one, though.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  It’s all right.  Go ahead.

Question:  Tomorrow, I believe, there’s an Arria Security Council briefing on Myanmar.  Is anybody from the Secretariat briefing?

Spokesman:  A valid question, which deserves an answer, which I will get to you.  Every question you ask is valid, James, I will add.

Mario?

Question:  Hi, Steph.  Just a follow-up on the Western Sahara question.  Over the past few months, the Polisario has repeatedly said that there’s a war ongoing and that there have been casualties among the Moroccan troops.  Has MINURSO (United Nations Mission in Western Sahara) been able to verify any of these?  And what’s the… your take on the situation in the area?

Spokesman:  The Mission continues to receive reports in various places of sporadic… sometimes, unconfirmed reports of sporadic fighting.  They continue to do their work, monitor the situation throughout the territory and will report back regularly to the Security Council as mandated.

Abdelhamid and then Iftikhar.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Today, Israel issued a statement… an official statement saying they will not cooperate with the ICC (International Criminal Court) and its ongoing investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, committed in the war on Gaza in 2014.  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, our… as you know, the ICC is independent from us.  I have no specific comment on that.

We, for our part, will continue to regularly report back what we observe in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Iftikhar?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  You said that the Special Envoy on Myanmar will go to Myanmar.  Does this mean she has assurances from the military authorities to visit the country…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We’re not… no, as I said, she hopes to very much go to Myanmar, and I think she doesn’t have the green light to go as of yet.  I think part… I think her efforts… the success of her efforts would in… the possibility of the success of her efforts would increase with strong support from the Security Council, and I think the Security Council has expressed itself collectively in that way.  So, we hope that will help, but we have nothing to confirm at this point.

James… oh, sorry, then… let’s go first to first… continue the first round of questions.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Abdelaye Massih from Alhurra TV.  Some sources told Reuters today that foreign lenders and banks cutting ties with the Lebanon’s central bank.  How do you evaluate the situation there in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  Well, I haven’t seen those particular reports.  We continue to be concerned at the fact that there is no government found.  We will continue with our international partners to work in support… to support the people of Lebanon and to encourage political leaders to form a government that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Yeah, just returning to Abdelhamid’s question about Israel’s statement on the ICC, the Israel statement says that the ICC does not have any authority in this case.  I know that the ICC is separate from the UN, but the UN is supportive of the ICC.  And the ICC examined this issue at great length and decided it did have jurisdiction.

Does the Secretary-General back the ICC in the work it’s doing anywhere it wants to work in the world and for it to decide its jurisdiction?  Does he agree with that?

Spokesman:  Well, the… yes, the Secretariat of the UN and the ICC are separate.  The Secretary-General, as a matter of principle, has expressed his support for the ICC and the important work that it does.

As to the debate of where its jurisdiction is or is not, that is something that Member States have to decide, and he will not weigh in.

Question:  But Member States of the ICC… Member States, the States Parties, have given that authority to the ICC, and they’ve made a decision that they have jurisdiction.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, I understand, but that is an issue for Member States to decide.

Yes, Toby.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General support a global minimum corporate tax rate?

Spokesman:  Look, this is an issue, I think, that will be discussed for… by the G20.  I think what we want… we’d like to see is an equitable system that ensures that corporations pay their fair share, I think, especially at a time where there is a need for Governments, for major investments as part of a pandemic recovery.

But I’m not going to get into the weeds of, you know, the tax rates, how it should be done.  That is something that… I mean, the G20 and, I understand, others will take up.

Okay.  Amy, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.