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9 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, and happy Friday.

First of all, I have several statements to start with.  First of all, regrettably on the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

**Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

The Secretary-General is saddened at the passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  He extends condolences to Her Majesty, the Queen, and to the people of the United Kingdom.

As royal consort, the Duke of Edinburgh capably supported the Queen in her duties as sovereign for over 60 years.  He was known for his dedication to charitable causes as a patron of some 800 organizations, in particular those focused on the environment, industry, sport and education.

The Secretary-General pays tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh for his active work for the betterment of humankind.

**Benin

And we have a statement on Benin.  Ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in the country, the Secretary-General calls on all national stakeholders to ensure that the poll is conducted in a transparent, credible and peaceful manner.

The Secretary-General urges political leaders, political parties and their followers to resolve any disputes that may arise from the electoral process through peaceful dialogue and legal means.

He reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support the country’s efforts to consolidate democratic gains and social cohesion.

**Financing for Development

And Stéphane talked about this yesterday, but we now have a statement on the steps announced by the International Monetary and Finance Committee and the World Bank Group Development Committee.

The Secretary-General welcomes the steps announced by the International Monetary and Finance Committee and the World Bank Group Development Committee to address debt crises and other damage arising from the Covid-19 crisis.

He also welcomes the Committee’s calls for a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights and voluntary reallocations to countries in need.  He is also encouraged by the support for the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which has provided $5 billion in temporary relief for vulnerable countries, and for the Common Framework for Debt Treatments.

Reforming the international debt architecture is also critical as a debt crisis amidst the current pandemic emergency would put the Sustainable Development Goals out of reach.  This week’s discussions on the international debt architecture are a major step in the right direction.

The Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to join in a global effort to rethink the principles underpinning today’s debt architecture and urges action to complement existing instruments with more effective debt crisis resolution mechanisms.  The full statement is being emailed and posted online.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, has arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, for talks.

She tweeted that she regrets that the Tatmadaw told her yesterday that it is not ready to receive her.

The Special Envoy said she is ready for dialogue and stressed that violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions.

**Sudan

On Sudan, the UN Human Rights Office says it is appalled by the latest resurgence in fighting in West Darfur that has killed at least 87 people and forced thousands to flee their homes.

The Office is also disturbed by the slow progress in ensuring accountability for this and previous violence, despite repeated calls by victims and their families.  It noted that, as with previous fighting, authorities failed to stop these recent clashes despite a robust security force presence in the town.

Our humanitarian colleagues said the violence in the West Darfur capital of Ag Geneina continues to affect humanitarian operations in the region.

As we told you earlier this week, humanitarian operations and flights remain suspended, affecting aid to some 700,000 people in West and Central Darfur states.

Although power has been restored in parts of Ag Geneina, sites for displaced people lack access to water.  There have also been reports of attacks against health-care workers and facilities.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Joint Human Rights Office has expressed its concerns, following acts of violence committed by police against some protesters in the eastern province of North Kivu.  Violence against demonstrators by security forces is contrary to Congolese law and the DRC’s international commitments, our human rights colleagues added.

The Office recalls that the freedom to demonstrate peacefully is a fundamental right recognized by the Constitution and calls on demonstrators to refrain from any recourse or calls to violence.

They reiterated that the UN is committed to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful demonstration.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUSCO, continues to work with the Congolese authorities at the national and provincial levels to defuse tensions.

**Niger

Turning to Niger:  Our humanitarian colleagues say that about 1.6 million people in the country are likely to face severe food insecurity, from March through May.  This is a 30 per cent increase compared to projections done last November.  During the lean season — or between June and August — the number of people facing severe food insecurity could reach 2.3 million.

The country’s eastern region of Tillaberi is the most affected.  Over 30 per cent of its population — over 686,000 people — will be at risk of severe food insecurity this summer (between June and August).

Increasing hunger in Tillaberi comes on top of growing protection concerns in the region.  More than 300 civilians have lost their lives since the beginning of the year following a spate of armed attacks.

Already, half a million people in Tillaberi need humanitarian assistance, including 125,000 internally displaced people and refugees.

**Chad

[read later in the briefing]  And I have one further statement to read to you, that is attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Chad:  As Chad prepares for the presidential election on 11 April 2021, the Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to work towards a peaceful and credible electoral process.

The Secretary-General stresses the need to respect civil and political rights, including the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, and encourages the media to promote social cohesion.

The Secretary-General urges all stakeholders to resolve any disputes that may arise from the electoral process through dialogue and legal channels.

The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support national efforts to promote social cohesion and sustainable development in Chad.

And I have just received that statement, so we will try to issue that as soon as we can.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

You will have seen reports that the La Soufriere volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines erupted today.

As part of our response, the UN Emergency Technical Team for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries met today to discuss preparedness and the pre-positioning of relief items.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been in contact with the Government to outline support implementing food and basic needs assessment, including distribution points.  In-kind and cash support, ready to eat meals and food kits are available upon request.

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has prepositioned supplies and stands ready to support any other areas including cash or non-food items.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) donated 400 dignity kits for women and families.

In addition, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) indicated that they can provide support in shelter management trainings, monitoring and tracking of the affected people.

We’ll let you know more as the situation evolves.

**COVID-19 — Chile

An update today from Chile, where the UN team there is helping local authorities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in the face of a rising number of cases.

We have helped expand a telephone support network for seniors.  The UN team has also supported the creation of a text messaging tool for women to seek guidance on gender-based violence.  It allows them to use text messaging to protect their privacy.

Our team has also helped more than 12,000 migrants and refugees by providing food and protection services.

**COVAX — Libya

A COVAX update for you from Libya, where nearly 60,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Tripoli yesterday.

The Government will begin a vaccination campaign soon, with this first batch of vaccines going to frontline workers, including health-care workers.  people over the age of 75, and people with pre-existing conditions.

The UN team will help deliver the vaccines safely to sites and also support risk communication and community engagement.

**Mozambique

Turning to Mozambique:  The International Organization for Migration today said that hundreds of people displaced by recent attacks in Palma have found temporary shelter this week in a transit centre established in Pemba City by the Government of Mozambique, with support from the IOM and partners.

As of yesterday, IOM has recorded nearly 14,000 people displaced to Nangade, Mueda, Montepuez and Pemba by the latest surge in violence.  This number is growing by the day.

Since the attacks, IOM has scaled up humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons in Cabo Delgado, in cooperation with humanitarian and government partners.

The Organization has provided mental health and psychosocial support and protection assistance to more than 1,000 newly displaced persons.  It has also supported referrals to health and social services and distributed wheelchairs, crutches and other in-kind assistance.

**FSO Safer

I have an update on the FSO Safer vessel to reiterate that we’re making every effort to resolve all pending logistical issues and security arrangements.  We’ve had some constructive discussions with the de facto authorities in Sana’a this week and are cautiously optimistic that we’re moving closer to a solution.

As we’ve said before, we need all pending issues to be resolved before we can commit additional donor funds to rent the vessels and move forward with the technical mission.  We do seem to be moving in that direction, and I’m hoping to have more news on this soon.

We also want to highlight the urgency of moving as quickly as possible.  Once we get the logistical arrangements in place, we will still need time to book the vessels, confirm personnel, deploy equipment and make all the other necessary arrangements.  The sooner we get everything agreed, the sooner this work can start.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

And you will have seen that last evening, we issued a senior personnel appointment.  I would like to read that into the record:

The Secretary-General is appointing Lieutenant General Marcos De Sá Affonso Da Costa of Brazil as Force Commander of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known as MONUSCO.

Lieutenant General Affonso Da Costa succeeds Lieutenant General Ricardo Augusto Ferreira Costa Neves of Brazil, and the Secretary-General is deeply grateful for his important contribution and service to MONUSCO.

Lieutenant General Affonso Da Costa has several years of experience in command-and-control structures in the Brazilian Army and we have lots more about his career on our website.

And once I am done, we will hear from Amy Quantrill, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.  And before that, we will turn to questions.

**Questions and Answers

I believe Ibtisam has a question, and then we’ll go to James Bays in the room.  Ibtisam?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I have two questions about Myanmar.  The first one is regarding the envoy that… the SG envoy visit to the region, if you could also say more, please, on how is she actually engaged with the military and… which… and on which level, because I think Stéphane [Dujarric] talked about it yesterday, but it wasn’t really clear to me whether the emails she has been sending, if she got a response, if you could say more to that.  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  Well, she’s been in contact with the deputy head of the armed forces, and we’ve provided some details on those as we’ve had.  And she continues to be in touch with officials at various levels, and we also are doing that, of course, trying to see what we can do to bring her into the country so that she can have direct contact.  And we’ll see what we can do about that.  Like I said, you saw what she had to say in her tweet today about the situation.

Question:  I have another question on… regarding the… so, the Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the Myanmar meeting today, and before… and they asked… or they called on the Security gen… Council to discuss measures to have a genuine impact on the junta, like arms embargo and targeted sanctions on the military leaders and companies.  Does the Secretary-General agree with such a statement?  Does he believe that such steps should be taken by the Security Council?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General believes is it’s important for the nations of the United Nations and particularly the members of the Security Council to work in a unified way to make sure that the coup can be reversed and the democratic transition can be restored.  How they go about it will be up to the respective Member States in the Security Council, but of course, different organizations are bringing matters like this to their attention, and we’ll see what their position is on this.  [cross talk]

What is important is… for us is the end goal.  We want an end to the violence.  We want a restoration of human rights.  We want a release of all those who have been detained.  And ultimately, we want a restoration to the pre-1 February Government.

Question:  If I may, I have a follow-up.  I mean, but how… but what is his own position?  I mean, I understand that he… that it’s up to Member States to take their own national positions, but he must have a position on that.  He must have a recommendation how he wants to bring this into act… I mean, just to continue to call on the army to give up the power they have, it’s not going to help, isn’t it?  I mean, how do you want to reach that?

Spokesman:  Well, this is, as you know, something that his Envoy, Ms. Schraner Burgener, is in the region herself to deal with, and she will be talking with different Governments in the region.  She will be talking with the members of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).  And our hope, again, is that she can make it into Myanmar.

Ultimately, it strengthens the hand of our Envoy to make sure that there are concrete consequences to having a coup take place in a country, and we want to make sure that there are some form of effective consequences in place.  How that happens, ultimately, is something that we have to work out with respective Member States, and that is something we will work out together.

James Bays?

Question:  Following up… [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Go ahead.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Hold on.  Hold on.  You’re muted.  Try again.  Okay.

Question:  I’m not muted, but maybe someone’s muting me.  [laughter]

So, a follow-up on the same issue, and, first, if I can, on the tweet by the Special Envoy, can we be clear, because she… it was a tweet and there’s not much in that; was she told any reason why she could not visit at this stage?  And can we have the Secretary-General’s reaction to the fact that she’s not been allowed to visit?

Spokesman:  On that, simply, I’ll stick to what she herself has said, and the Secretary-General believes, along with her, that there is no solution to the situation that does not involve diplomacy and does not involve negotiations.  So, he certainly wants the Government of Myanmar, as with all Governments, to cooperate with the work of the Special Envoy.

Question:  Two other quick follow-ups on this subject.  Number one, you’ll have probably seen the generals have announced, the Tatmadaw, that they now say they did, when they carried out the coup, promise an election in a year.  They’re now saying an election in two years.  What’s the UN’s reaction to the fact they’re extending even further, even when they say they might re-allow democracy?

Spokesman:  Ultimately, we want a prompt restoration of the previous situation in the country that we had in place through January.  As the Secretary-General himself has pointed out, that was not a perfect situation, but that is one we want to go back to.  And we don’t want any time to be wasted in heading back to the same democratic structures that had prevailed at that point.

Question:  And final question on this, I’m hearing that there are advanced preparations now for an ASEAN leaders’ summit on this issue to take place this month.  What’s the Secretary-General’s view on that?  How urgent is it that ASEAN meet… leaders meet on this subject?

Spokesman:  Well, certainly, we appreciate any unified response that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations can have in dealing with this, and we have been working — and the Secretary-General has been talking — to the Member States of ASEAN to see what progress we can make on this issue.  We’ll leave any announcement in their hands, of course, but any step forward that involves the countries of the region is a helpful step.

And with that, I will turn first to Célhia and then after her to James Reinl.

Question:  Farhan, you talked about the number 600,000 doses of vaccine given to Libya.  How many of doses will be given to the migrants or displaced person?

Spokesman:  I don’t know specifically how many the migrants get, but we can check up on that, but certainly, we want to make sure that the migrants themselves also get the COVID… the COVAX vaccines.  But we’ll check for you whether there’s any way of breaking down that number further.

Okay.  Thank you.  James Reinl?

Question:  Thank you so much, Farhan.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Yeah, thanks.  I’m going back to questions on Myanmar, and we’ve had the Arria-Formula meeting just now in which Myanmar’s ambassador at the UN — forgive my pronunciation, Kyaw Moe Tun — he shifted his language on what the international community needs to do, and he used phrases such as “all necessary measures” and “responsibility to protect”.  Now, we at the United Nations all know what those kind of phrases mean, but what does the Secretary-General think?  Do we, the international community collectively, have a responsibility to protect the people of Myanmar and all that entails?

Spokesman:  Well, let’s be honest.  When… not just in Myanmar, but in any situation, when there are people placed at risk, when there’s violence on the rise, there is a responsibility by the international community as a whole to protect people.  How they go about it, how the Member States live up to their responsibilities we leave in the hands of the Member States.  But this is one such case where it’s very clear and we’ve been warning for some time that there has been a significant rise in violence, and the situation cannot go on like this.

Again, we’ll see how the members take up their responsibility, but certainly, the doctrine of the responsibility to protect is one that has now been well established.

Question:  And just… thanks so much and just a quick follow-up.  The gentleman who made those comments, Kyaw Moe Tun — I know there was a debate about it earlier — can you remind me, is he the acting ambassador or not?

Spokesman:  Regarding Mr. Kyaw Moe Tun, I don’t have any change of status in the delegation of Myanmar to report.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  From what we reported on several weeks ago, that is… that situation remains as it is.

Correspondent:  Thanks, Farhan.

Spokesman:  Thanks.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Oh, thank you, Farhan.  This is a question regarding protocol, so excuse me if it’s out of place.  The Secretary-General issued a statement of condolences to the Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen.  Under what banner this letter of the condolences?  Is it because the spouse of the Queen or he’s a member of the royal family or because he’s the Duke of Edinburgh?  Under what arrangement this kind of letter of condolences had been issued?

Spokesman:  I think the statement speaks for itself, and I would just refer you to the language of the statement.

Stefano Vaccara?

Question:  Thank you very much, Farhan.  There has been a very interesting polemics going on in last hours between Turkey and Italy.  The premier… the Italian Premier called President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan a dictator, this after the diplomatic incident with the visit of the… the European officers were… there was not proper seating.  So, during the question… during the con… press conference, [Mario] Draghi called Erdoğan a dictator.  Turkey responded with some politicians say Italy should look at its past, that dictators are there, President Mussolini and so on.  President Erdoğan has been elected, and Draghi has not been elected and so…

So, my question is, apart of this incident, but for the Secretary-General, who is a dictator?  I mean when somebody could be called a dictator?  You need just to be not elected to be a dictator, or you can be actually elected, okay, in election, but still be a dictator if you, for example, start to put in prison journalists and so on.  So, for the Secretary-General, what is… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  If I may answer your question because I have a much shorter answer than the length of your question itself on this, which is to say that we’re not going to get into the question of defining these words.  That’s really a question for analysts more largely.  So, I will leave the answer to this in your hands, basically.  This is a judgment call that is not made by the UN, which, as you know, is an organization of many different types of Member States with many different types of government.

All right.  And with that, Mr. Sato.

Question:  Sorry.  Just a quick follow-up… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Thank you…

Question:  So, you mean that the Secretary-General will never, ever call any leader around the world a dictator?

Spokesman:  That’s not what I’ve said.  I’ve said that we’re not going to get into this particular question of defining whether this or that leader is or is not a dictator.  That’s hardly an issue that a diplomatic organization like the United Nations involves itself in, and we’re not going to get involved in this particular rhetorical dispute.

Mr. Sato?

Question:  Hi, Farhan.  Thank you very much.  I have a follow-up question on Myanmar, and today, Myanmar military announced that they have the capacity to kill 500 people in an hour.  Is there any comment… SG’s comment on such a remark by Myanmar military?

Spokesman:  I believe that any threats, any violence, any threats of violence against the people of Myanmar are unhelpful.  We are, of course, working to get back onto a path where all such violence and all such rhetoric are put to a halt.

And with that, I see no further questions, so I’ll wish you all a good… [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Farhan?

Spokesman:  Oh, wait.  Dulcie, your hand is up?  Dulcie.  [cross talk]

Question:  I have a question, yeah.  I’ve had my hand up for the whole session.  Yeah, I have a couple of questions about… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Camera wasn’t on you so I couldn’t see you.

Question:  Okay.  Well, I’m right behind Stefano here in the room.  The question I have about your UN envoy to Myanmar, since she now, it sounds like, is in touch with the military for the first time or at least that’s… this is the first time we’ve heard about an email exchange… no, we haven’t heard about… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, she had phone conversations with the Deputy Force Commander, so this is not the first exchange she’s had.

Question:  Okay.  Okay.  Does that mean she can have a conversation with them regardless of whether she visits the country?

Spokesman:  Well, she has been in touch.  Our hope, again, is that she’s able to get into the country, and we’ll work towards that end.

Question:  Will she attend the ASEAN meeting in… I believe it’s in Jakarta this month?

Spokesman:  We’ll see whether we have any further travels by her to announce at that point.  Right now, as you know, she’s in Bangkok.  All right.  [cross talk]

Question:  Right, but is she planning to go to the meeting in Jakarta?

Spokesman:  We’ll see whether there’s anything further to announce.  I don’t have a trip by her to announce at this point, but we’ll examine that.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesman:  All right.

Question:  And then I have a question about the Secretary-General.  Is he making any plans to travel himself now that he’s been fully vaccinated?

Spokesman:  In fact, he does, and we’ll try to make some announcements about his travels outside of New York sometime in the coming weeks, and we’ll let you know in due course.

And with that, I wish you all a good weekend.  Amy, over to you.

For information media. Not an official record.