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15 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.

**Guest Today

As soon as we are done, we are delighted to welcome here David Shearer, the Special Representative (SRSG) for South Sudan and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and it is the last day we get to say that.  So, David, thank you for spending your last day here.  This will be his final press conference as SRSG for South Sudan.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Building on what we were briefed on Saint Vincent and the Grenadines yesterday, in response to the ongoing eruption of the La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock today announced an allocation of $1 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help provide urgent humanitarian assistance to impacted people, especially those who have been evacuated.

With the funds, UN agencies will provide drinking water and hygiene kits, as well as supplies to clean water sources and cash assistance to some of the most vulnerable and food-insecure people.

According to our humanitarian colleagues, up to 20,000 people have been evacuated from the “red zone” around the volcano, and about 4,500 of them are staying in shelters.

People living in close proximity to the volcano have been impacted by heavy ash fall and pyroclastic flows that have damaged crops and farming equipment and impacted livestock keeping.  This is likely to worsen food insecurity and poverty which was already on the rise because of the pandemic.

Most homes in Saint Vincent are without water and most of the country’s 110,000 people have been impacted by ash fall.

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) today said that eruptions are continuing daily.  Airports remain closed with economic implications for the country and for livelihoods and food security in the longer-term.

The WFP team is supporting the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to digitize evacuee registration information to facilitate the delivery of essential food, water and other items.  WFP is also deploying a truck and forklift to support the overall response.

**Yemen

Back here, as you may have seen, Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, briefed the Security Council on his diplomatic work, for which he has recently visited Muscat, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Berlin.  He also met leaders of the Yemeni Government in Amman.

In all of these capitals, the Special Envoy has discussed in detail the current efforts to end the war in Yemen.  And in all cases, he said, he has come across, at a minimum, a consensus in support of the four points on which he is seeking agreement between the parties.  He emphasized the need for the parties to agree to those points and to deliver Yemen from its plight.

Mr. Griffiths said that the urgency of progress towards a peaceful settlement makes the continued violence on the ground all the more concerning.  Marib remains the major centre of gravity in the conflict, he said, adding that the fighting there is showing dangerous signs of escalating once again.

Mark Lowcock, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, told members of the Council that the situation in Yemen is still getting even worse, with a new wave of COVID-19 infections taking place and large-scale famine already bearing down on the country.

He said that March was a deadly month for civilians, with a quarter of civilian casualties during the month, especially in the Marib area.  The Marib offensive, he said, is a threat to millions of people, with tens of thousands of people expected to move out of the area if the fighting continues.

**Somalia

I was asked in recent days about Somalia, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General is concerned over the latest political developments in that country.  He urges the leaders to resume dialogue and reach an inclusive agreement based on the 17 September Electoral Model and the Baidoa Technical Committee’s proposals.

The Secretary-General calls on all the stakeholders to do their utmost to facilitate inclusive agreement, exercise restraint and refrain from violence.  He remains of the view that inclusivity and dialogue offer the most viable path forward and appeals to Somali leaders to put their differences aside towards a consensual resolution.

And, as I mentioned to you, the Secretary-General spoke to President [Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed] Farmajo earlier this week.

**Lebanon

In response to questions I received about the activities of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL’s ongoing effort to enhance the use of cameras for monitoring at key UN positions along the Blue Line is being done in accordance with the Secretary-General’s assessment report, which was welcomed by the Security Council in a resolution last year.

**COVID-19 — Azerbaijan

A quick note on COVID-19:  In Azerbaijan, our UN team, led by Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai, has been supporting the national vaccination drive that kicked off nearly three months ago.

We are providing technical assistance and advice to health authorities and supporting logistics, including through the COVAX facility.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has trained doctors on how to treat COVID-19 patients, as well as on how to prevent infections.

UN agencies have provided cash, food and medical assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) has distributed medical equipment — including respirators and masks — to health workers and hospital patients.

**COVAX — Mauritania

A COVAX update for you from Mauritania today, which received nearly 70,000 doses yesterday.

These vaccines will go towards priority groups, including people over the age of 75, those who are chronically ill, health-care workers and border control officials.  These and future doses from COVAX aim to immunize 20 per cent of the population.

Our UN team has been supporting the national vaccination campaign that launched on 26 March.  We continue supporting authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as tackling the multiple impacts of the pandemic.

**Myanmar

From Myanmar, our colleagues at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) say that 71 journalists have been arrested, with more than half of them still detained since the beginning of February.  Some 24 people have been charged for allegedly spreading fake news.

Our team on the ground remains deeply concerned about the plight of journalists, as well as that of the thousands of people who have been arbitrarily arrested, with many subjected to enforced disappearances.

**African Free Trade

Today, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union launched a guide to boosting intra-African agricultural trade under the new African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement.

This Free Trade Area began trading on 1 January of this year and is the largest free trade area in the world in terms of the number of countries covered.  It represents a market of 1.2 billion consumers.

The new guide is a blueprint for expanding agricultural trade among African countries.  Increased trade is an important part of the collaborative work towards boosting food security and nutrition for all Africans.

**Disarmament Video Challenge

Today, our friends at the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA) are launching a global video challenge for young people between the ages of 18 and 24.  I’m not sure that covers any of you in this room!  They are asking them to submit a two-minute twenty-second video.

Titled “What If – Spesterra Youth Video Challenge”, the contest will ask young people to imagine what the world would look like if more money were spent on peace and development and less on arms.

And if you wonder what Spesterra means, the word is coined from the Latin words spes, which means “hope”, and terra, which means “land”.  Submissions to be received before 15 July.

Fifteen winners will attend an intensive summer course on disarmament.  They will develop concrete recommendations on ways to reduce military spending in order to secure our common future, which they will [present], along with the winning videos, at a side event during the seventy-sixth session of the First Committee of the General Assembly.

**World Art Day

Today is World Art Day.  The Day was proclaimed at the fortieth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 2019 and aims to promote the development, diffusion and enjoyment of art.

In a Tweet this morning, the Secretary-General noted that art is one of the most powerful ways we can express our humanity and forge bonds with one another.  As we mark World Art Day amidst a global pandemic, he called on all to join him in thanking artists around the world for continuing to be a source of inspiration, solace, and connection.

**Questions and Answers

Speaking of artists, Mr. Bays.

Question:  Can I ask you about Libya?  The Security Council has put a new draft resolution in blue to be voted on in the next 24 hours on a monitoring mission in Libya, which was clearly recommended by the Secretary-General.  The draft resolution refers to a Secretary-General letter on 7 April, which I cannot find has been made public.  So, perhaps we can ask you, what’s in that letter?  How many monitors are to be deployed?  And what is going to be their exact role?

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, the letter is basically a report of what the initial mission that we had sent had come back with and proposals for a way forward.

What the Secretary-General is proposing is a phased deployment for UNSMIL (United Nations Support Mission in Libya), a ceasefire monitoring component, and that would be a maximum of about 60 monitors.  They would be deployed to Sirte once all of the requirements for a permanent presence have been met, including, obviously, security, logistical, medical and operational aspects.

And in the meantime, a forward presence would be established in Tripoli as soon as conditions permit.  The proposed number of UNSMIL ceasefire monitors takes into account the Libyan request, as well as measures to allow regular rotation of personnel in and out of Libya, while ensuring flexibility in the… sort of, the geographic coverage of the team.  They would be working alongside the monitors of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission.

Question:  And just to be clear, these are unarmed monitors, not wearing any sort of uniform.

Spokesman:  They would be unarmed.  As for the sartorial question, I do not believe… they would not be wearing military… they would be wearing some sort of garb that would identify them as working for the UN, but I’m… as far as I know, not wearing national military uniforms.

Question:  And just to be precise on their role, you say they’re being deployed to Sirte, which is the front line.  I understand that.  Is their role also to supervise the withdrawal of foreign forces and also, clear… if they’re unarmed, if they get into any trouble, what is the plan?  I know you have a small UN guard force in Libya.  Would they be called in?  And what are they… again, if they have problems, what are the medevac arrangements?

Spokesman:  No, I mean, we would… obviously, security arrangements would be made for them.  There is… and most importantly, their security needs to be guaranteed by all political forces in Libya, all those who also may be on the front lines.  This really pertains to the ceasefire, and that will be their focus.

Question:  Not… they are not to supervise the withdrawal of foreign forces, but it seems to be one of the biggest concerns… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, it is a big concern.  Their focus will be on the ceasefire.

Toby?

Question:  Thanks, Steph, and good afternoon.  First, can we have an update on Special Envoy [Christine] Schraner Burgener’s visit to the region?  Who is she talking to?  Is she going to get into the country?  What’s going on?

Spokesman:  Nothing to announce on any possible travel into the country.  Obviously, most importantly, she still remains in quarantine according to Thai public health regulations.

She’s continuing to work the phones.  I know she’s extremely concerned about what is currently going on in Myanmar and… as we all are.  We saw the violence… the last violence in the last 24 hours, this clampdown on journalists, but she’s continuing her contacts.

Question:  Is the channel between her and the Tatmadaw still open?  Is she working that connection?

Spokesman:  She’s doing whatever she can to ensure that she gets to visit Myanmar.

Question:  And second question on Afghanistan, the US Secretary of State is in… made a surprise visit to Kabul.  Who in the UN is making prognostications about the impact of this troop withdrawal?  How does that work from a UN planning perspective?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, our planning, I would say is constant and permanent.  We, obviously, are not blind to what is happening around us.  We will continue to adapt to the situation on the ground, but most importantly, we will continue to work for the Afghan people.

Ibtisam and then Alan.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have, first, a follow-up on Libya.  So, if they are not going to monitor the withdrawal of foreign fighters, so who’s going to do that?  And when you say they’re going to monitor the ceasefire, what does that exactly mean?  They are just… could you clarify that?  And then I have another question.

Spokesman:  They are there to help and support the Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which has agreed on ceasefires.  So, they will be reporting back through the UN Mission to the Security Council in terms of what is going on on the ground.

Your other question was on…

Question:  Who’s going to monitor the withdrawal of foreign fighters?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  We would expect all Member States and all those who have influence over those on the ground to abide by the Security Council resolutions and abide by previous agreements, and we will be reporting back what we know and what we see on the ground.

Question:  So, on Yemen, in his statement, Mr. Griffiths thanked basically everyone who’s on the Security Council and… including, of course, those who support the parties to the conflict.  And it wasn’t clear for me… and he talked about that everyone wants to finish the… or get to a political agreement and stop the war, etc.

So, everyone is… if everyone’s agreeing on that, what is stopping… what is standing in the way of getting an agreement?  Can you clarify that?  Because it wasn’t clear from his statement.

Spokesman:  Well, we all know where we want to get to.  I think the devil is always in the details.  The Security Council represents the international community when it comes to Yemen, but there are, obviously, other parties, notably parties on the ground, who may not be sitting on the Council.

What is important for us is that all of… that the Security Council, A, speak with one voice, which it has been… I mean, on Yemen, I think we’d say it’s been very supportive of the work of Mr. Griffiths and that those who have an influence to the parties on the ground use that influence to push them for that final mile.

Question:  But… as a follow-up, but it does… this support and the promises he’s getting doesn’t translate into actions.  So, could he clarify what exactly is stopping… what’s standing in the way…?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  He’s not… Mr. Griffiths is not going to negotiate publicly on all the… on how he gets the parties to where he wants to get.  We are, obviously… we are, I think, in a better place than we were a year ago.  Right?  But it’s… I don’t want to use a farm analogy, but it is a bit like herding.  Right?  And Mr. Griffiths is trying to push all the parties in the same direction and to remind them to put the interests of the people of Yemen first and foremost.

Mr. Bulkaty?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question on Russia-US relations.  A couple of days ago, you expressed your hope for the dialogue between Moscow and Washington.  There was a telephone conversation between Presidents [Vladimir] Putin and [Joseph] Biden.

Today, the United States impart several sanctions against several Russian officials, entities, and they’re going to expel 10 diplomats.  At the same time, Russia summoned the US Ambassador to the Foreign Ministry.

So, how concerned are you about the threat of possible collapse in dialogue between Russia and United States?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  I mean, we’re, obviously, well aware of the tensions between the United States and Russia and actions taken in that regard.  We continue to underscore the need for collaboration, for cooperation between the United States and the Russian Federation in… especially given their importance in the world, their importance as two permanent members of the Security Council that have quite a large influence on the world as it stands today.  And we will continue to do whatever we can to support that cooperation.

Okay.  Let’s go to the screen.  I think Mr. Klein had a question.

Question:  Yes, actually, two questions.  First question, Vice-President Kamala Harris, US Vice-President Kamala Harris, said yesterday at a Northern Triangle round-table that she was looking to internationalize economic development for the Central American countries that have been pouring migrants into the United States and looking to the UN specifically to help kind of lead that effort along with US allies.

Has there been any outreach by the Biden Administration specifically to anyone at the UN if you know of in this regard?

Spokesman:  In this particular regard, no, but I do know that the situation in Central America is one that is of concern to us that we are very much focusing on, on trying to look at it in a holistic and regional manner.  There are, obviously, a lot of reasons of why we’re seeing these migration flows, and it is something we are very much focused on.

Your second question, Joe?

Question:  Yeah, the second question is sort of a follow-up on Russia.  I know you remarked on this a little bit the other day, but I haven’t seen any formal statement from the Secretary-General on the recorded massing of Russian troops in and around the border of Ukraine.  Was there any further comment on that, or will there be a formal statement on behalf of the Secretary-General?

Spokesman:  We’ve expressed our direct and very real concern about the build-up of tensions and the increase of tensions in Ukraine.  For us, it’s very important that the ceasefire along the line of contact be respected and that any provocation be avoided for the sake of the people of Ukraine and especially those in the eastern part.  And we’ve often talked to you about the humanitarian situation on the ground and one that is not getting better.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Maggie, I think you had a question.

Question:  Hi, Steph.  My question, a follow-up on Afghanistan, will the US and NATO withdrawal impact UNAMA’s (United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan) work at all?  Do they provide you any sort of security or humanitarian convoy escorts or anything that might impact your work?  Thanks.

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that we receive any sort of military security support from the Coalition, from the US, in terms of delivering humanitarian goods in Afghanistan.

The fact that it will have an impact on the country as a whole is clear and obvious.  We will continue to study the situation, but our work in Afghanistan will continue.  And the UN has been present on the humanitarian development end in Afghanistan for a long, long time, and we will continue to be there to help the Afghan people.

Okay.  Unless I hear or see… I see something.  James?

Question:  Afraid I’ve got a few.  Let’s just follow up there first.  Could we soon have a briefing, perhaps, on Afghanistan?  It’s the top diplomatic issue, a briefing from Deborah Lyons on the ongoing work of UNAMA and how it would be affected, a briefing on how these talks are going to work, all of that.  Either on- or off-the-record briefing would be very useful.

Spokesman:  It would be useful to you and me both.

Question:  Okay.  Two further questions.  One, a follow-up on your statement on Somalia.  The Secretary-General says he wants dialogue, and he told President Farmajo that.  Does the Secretary-General believe that President Farmajo’s plan to extend his term is consistent with his call for dialogue?

Spokesman:  I think I will let you do the analysis in looking at what we… in what we just said.

Question:  But clearly, the UN, doesn’t it want to send a clear message?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the UN has been sending a clear message, but it is… the UN is there to support Somalia, to encourage dialogue between the parties.  The UN is not there to impose a solution.  It is up to the Somali leaders to do what is best for their people.

Question:  Okay.  While we’ve been in the briefing room, the Security Council, in closed consultations, has been listening to the latest on Tigray and from Mr. Lowcock, who’s been briefing them.  I’m told by diplomats he says the situation has deteriorated.  He says a grave humanitarian crisis is likely to get worse.  He talks about systematic rape, gang rape, sexual violence, and particularly with regard to these atrocities, he says that all the reports of an Eritrean withdrawal cannot be backed by the UN and other humanitarian agencies and that there are even reports of Eritrean soldiers now wearing Ethiopian defence force uniforms.

So, given that from the UN’s own top humanitarian official, what does the Secretary-General think should be done now?  It’s six months.

Spokesman:  What should be done, one, is increase humanitarian access, to see real movements on human rights investigations, given the horrific reports we’re seeing from our own people, sometimes even from the Ethiopian Government’s own people, and a real reconciliation within the different groups in Tigray.

Question:  You said human rights investigations, but the human rights abuses, according to Mr. Lowcock and many others, are ongoing.  They haven’t stopped.  They’re happening right now…  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  But I think part of the increased…  [cross talk]

Question:  How are you going to stop this campaign?

Spokesman:  We also think that part of having increased humanitarian presence, increased humanitarian access, would also be a way to slow down these human rights violations.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan to speak to the President of Eritrea for explanation why his troops are still there?  And does he plan to speak again to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia?

Spokesman:  He’s had a number of conversations with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on not only the situation in Tigray but on the issue of the dam.  And contacts, as far as I understand, are also being had at the Eritrean level.

David, I’m done.  It is now your turn.

Correspondent:  Iftikhar here.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Iftikhar, did you have a question?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  I’m sorry.  I missed you.  Go ahead.  Then we’ll go to our…

Question:  All right.  Thank you, Stéphane.  The head of Alliance of Civilization, yesterday, issued a statement condemning attacks on mosques in western France.  Does the Secretary-General endorse that statement, or he plans to issue a separate one?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General fully endorses the statements from the Alliance of Civilization in this regard.

And Abdelhamid.  I’m sorry, David.  I just hadn’t seen those questions.  Abdelhamid, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  I’ll be short.  Last time, I asked you about COVAX supply of vaccine to the Palestinian people.  It was, I think, 64,000.  Have you sent any more vaccine to the Palestinian people?  The situation is very dire, and they’re appealing for some assistance.

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of any new shipments, but we will check right away.  [He later said that the total number of COVID-19 vaccines received by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health is 306,440 doses, including from the COVAX facility (61,440 doses).  According to the Ministry of Health, Gaza received 83,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including its share from the COVAX facility (21,300 doses).]

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  David, you are now on.

For information media. Not an official record.