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16 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General — C40 Cities

This morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the closed virtual meeting with leading mayors supported by the C40 Cities.  He noted that cities are on the frontline of the climate crisis, with more than half a billion urban residents already facing rising sea levels and more frequent or severe storms.

The Secretary-General said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a global catastrophe, but investment in recovery is a generational opportunity to put climate action, clean energy and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies.

He called on all to take urgent action on three fronts.  First, to work with national leaders to make sure they engage, and they present ambitious nationally determined contributions, well before COP26 (26th Conference of Parties) in November […].  Second, to commit cities to net-zero by 2050, make ambitious plans for the next decade, and bring fellow mayors and local leaders with them.  Third, to use the recovery from the pandemic to accelerate investment and implementation in clean, green infrastructure and [transport] systems.

He emphasized that as we look forward to COP26, and this year’s other important conferences on energy, transport, biodiversity and [food] systems, let’s make 2021 a turning point — a make it or break it year.

His remarks were shared with you.

**State of the Global Climate in 2020

And on that note, to go back to our conversation about what is going on in this room, on Monday, at 11:30, right here, there will be a hybrid joint press conference with the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas.  They will present the report on the “State of the Global Climate in 2020”.

According to the report, climate change indicators and impacts worsened last year.  Last year was also one of the three warmest years on record, despite the cooling effects of La Niña.

The report says that extreme weather combined with COVID-19 is a double blow for millions of people in 2020.  We already shared with you the embargoed press release with key points of the report.

We will not have a briefing because the SG will be here.  The SG will make some opening remarks.  Professor Taalas will present the report in detail.  The SG then will take a few questions and then Professor Taalas will remain behind to answer more detail queries on the report.

**General Assembly

And as you may have seen this morning, in the General Assembly, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the memory of the late President of Tanzania, John Magufuli.

On behalf of the United Nations, he offered his condolences to the late President’s family, the Government and people of Tanzania.

The Secretary-General said that Tanzania has reached its ambition of becoming a middle-income country four years ahead of its 2025 goal.  He reiterated the commitment of the Organization to continue working closely with the country’s new President, Samia Suhulu Hassan, the first female President in Tanzania.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

And the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is telling us that the cities of Butembo and Goma are relatively calm today.  Commercial activity is progressively resuming in the Goma neighbourhoods where clashes occurred earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Head of the Mission, Bintou Keita, wrapped up her trip to Eastern DRC yesterday.  At a press conference in Beni, she welcomed a parliamentary initiative to create a commission of inquiry into the situation of insecurity in the eastern and north-eastern part of the country and noted that the UN stands ready to lend its full support to the work of this commission.

She also reiterated that the Mission remains fully mobilized to bring stability to North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri in support of security forces and the justice system.

**Nigeria

And our humanitarian colleagues in Nigeria continue to receive alarming reports of clashes between insurgent groups and Nigerian armed forces in the town of Damasak in Borno State.  Recently, they say, non-State armed groups have also been conducting house-to-house searches, reportedly looking for civilians identified as aid workers.

As you will recall, a week ago, humanitarian assets in Damasak were targeted.  At least five NGO (non-governmental organization) offices and several NGO vehicles, as well as a mobile storage unit, water tanks, a health outpost and a nutrition stabilization centre were damaged.  More clashes were reported this week.

These attacks will affect humanitarian assistance and protection to nearly 9,000 internally displaced people men, women and children and 76,000 people in the host community.  This morning, UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) said that up to 80 per cent of the population in Damasak has been forced to flee.  While many fled towards Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and to Geidam town in neighbouring Yobe State, other people crossed into Niger.

And OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) colleagues in Niger are planning an inter-agency mission, with local authorities, UNHCR staff and partners in both countries have also deployed assessment missions to identify the most pressing needs along the border.

**West and Central Africa

The WFP, the World Food Programme, said today that immediate action is needed to prevent a hunger emergency impacting millions of families in West and Central Africa.

More than 31 million people in the region are expected to be food insecure during the lean season this summer.  This is the period when food is scarce before the next harvest.  That number is over 30 per cent higher than last year.

WFP plans to assist nearly 18 million people in West and Central Africa this year and requires $770 million in the next six months to operate in 19 countries [in the region].

**Syria

And on Syria, a quick update on the UN cross-border operations.

On Wednesday, we dispatched 54 truckloads of humanitarian assistance from Turkey to north-west Syria via the Bab al-Hawa crossing.  These trucks are some of the hundreds that the UN delivers each month with essential and life-saving assistance.

In March, a total of 920 trucks delivered humanitarian assistance across north-west Syria.  Many more consignments are planned for the coming weeks.

We estimate that cross-border aid represents up to 50 per cent of all cross-border humanitarian deliveries.  Of the 4.2 million people in the north-west, over 75 per cent require humanitarian aid.  The cross-border operation reaches 85 per cent of these people every month.

We believe that a renewal of the cross-border authorization for an additional 12 months later this year is essential.

**Financial Contribution

And ending on a happy note, from Kingston, Jamaica, we are delighted that our friends in Jamaica have paid their budget dues in full.  And that brings us to 89.

**Questions and Answers

Célhia and then James.

Question:  Steph, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to reach an agreement on the Nile Dam.  Is the UN concerned about the growing tension?  And what can be done to resolve the situation?  Because if they go to war, it is going to be difficult.

Spokesman:  Obviously, this is an issue we’ve been following very closely, and the Secretary-General has been following, I’d say, personally very closely.

It’s… obviously, the issues of the dam can only be resolved through peaceful means.  He calls on all the parties to do whatever they can do to de-escalate tensions.

He has been in touch with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the AU (African Union) President, who has, as you know, been taking over from the President of South Africa.  He’s also been in touch with senior officials in Egypt, in Ethiopia, and Sudan.

We have… we stand ready to support in whatever way we can, and we’re very much focused on supporting the African Union-led mediation.

Mr. Bays?

Question:  Myanmar: There has been the declaration of a new national unity Government by the pro-democracy… those that support democracy and the imprisoned politicians joined by others that were not in the previous Government, including ethnic groups.  What is the UN’s reaction to this development?  And does the Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, plan to reach out now to this new Government?

Spokesman:  Well, she… for the Special Envoy, she has been in contact with a number of elected parliamentarians, members of the… what is referred to as the CRPH.  They play a critical role in Myanmar’s democratic movement.

She will continue to work with all key stakeholders for a return to civilian rule under the elected Government led by President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.  And, as you’ll recall, the Security Council continues to refer to them as “members of the Government”, and they did so in March and in February of this year.

Question:  Second question on a different subject, Hong Kong, 10 pro-democracy activists have been sentenced.  Some of them have been sent to jail; among those sentenced, the newspaper owner Jimmy Lai and the veteran political figure Martin Lee.  They… their crime seems to have been attending a pro-democracy protest.  The UN is in favour of democracy.  The UN is favour of the right to protest.  So, can I ask you, specifically on this case, no boilerplate words about countries around the world, does the Secretary-General condemn these sentences?

Spokesman:  Look, a number of points I’d like to make.  First, the Secretary-General has always affirmed his recognition for the principle of unity and territorial integrity of China, also his belief in respecting the will of the people of Hong Kong.  And as we’ve said before, on this case and others and as the Secretary-General said, there should be no prisoners of conscience in the twenty-first century.

Question:  So, given that, particularly the last line you read, does he condemn these sentences?

Spokesman:  I will refer you to what I’ve just said.

Ibtisam, I’m sorry, and then we’ll go to Ray.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  So, today, there was or actually still is a meeting at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), high-level meeting on vaccines for all.  So, my question is, does the… and many speakers say that it is necessary to have a waiver for intellectual properties in order to increase production, especially in the Middle East, Africa, etc.  So, what’s your… what’s the position of the Secretary-General on this?

Spokesman:  Look, I think, as he has said and as others, including Henrietta Fore, there are immediate steps that can be taken to increase the production to facilitate the transfer of technology, to facilitate the transfer of primary components that are needed to vaccinate… to produce the vaccine.  These are things that manufacturers and Member States should be talking about and working on.

On the specific issue of… which is really a trade question, on the waiver of patents, that’s something that the WTO (World Trade Organization) needs to take… has been discussing.

Question:  Yeah, but does he see that it is maybe… like in the situation with AIDS and other similar… different but have some similar issues that it is necessary to… I mean, what is his own position?

Spokesman:  His own position is that everyone involved in this, Member States, manufacturers, civil society, should work together in whatever way they can to ensure a rapid deployment of the vaccine to as many people as quickly as possible.

Ray?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have two questions regarding Libya.  Today, the President of the Security Council will announce the outcome of the Security Council vote.  It says on the draft that the Council notes the need for the constitutional and legislative basis for the electoral process to be put in place by 1 July to permit the adequate preparation of the elections on… held on December.  My question is, will be the United Nation involved to help the transition Government putting these laws?  And…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, we will continue to do what we’ve been doing, which is helping the political leaders in Libya and Libyans as a whole to move positively and as quickly on the trajectory of the elections in December and all the steps that need to be taken before then.

Question:  My second question is regarding the foreign fighters.  The Syrian Human Rights Council said that the Turkish Government start to moving out some foreign fighters from Libya, mainly Syrians from Libya, last March, by the end of March, then they stop, which means they transported just a chunk of these foreign fighters.  Do you have, like, a number to share with us how many foreign fighters what… I mean, where are we now?

Spokesman:  I, unfortunately, don’t have a way to confirm these things at this point.  What we want to see is all foreign fighters leave Libya.

Okay.  Let’s go to the chat.  I don’t see any more questions in the room.  Abdelhamid and then Majeed.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The settler violence is escalating.  The… one settler killed a Palestinian yesterday — his name is Ali Abulkheir — next to Jericho.  Two human right experts from Geneva issued a statement saying that these… violence of the settlers is [inaudible] and dangerous, and yet the man who is supposed to speak out also against this violence in Jerusalem, we don’t hear from him very much.  Why the coordinate… this coordinator in occupied Palestine doesn’t say anything about these violations?

Spokesman:  Well, he will no doubt report on these violations during his regular briefing to the Security Council.  We, of course, back whatever our human rights colleagues said, and we condemn violence, and we will continue to do so.

Majeed?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have a question about Iraq.  Couple days ago, rockets attack and drone attacks targeted Erbil International Airport and the US forces there, the Coalition forces, by ISIS… the whole Coalition is based there, also targeted the Turkish military base as seen and somebody… one casualty and there are others wounded.  Any reaction from the Secretary-General to these attacks that are… believed are conducted by Iran-backed militias?

Spokesman:  Well, we, of course, condemn these acts of violence, which are not conducive to the stability of Iraq.

Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  It’s April now, and is there any date when you expect that there will be announcements for whether the high-level week in September at the General Assembly will take place virtually or in person?  It would seem that people have to make hotel reservations or cancel them.  And is that something the SG would announce or the PGA (President of the General Assembly)?

Spokesman:  Well, the format of the General Assembly will be decided upon by Member States.  I’m not aware of any decision being taken now.  The… and I think it’s understandable, given the fluidity of the general situation with COVID around the world.  It’s not just what’s going on in New York.  It’s what’s going on in the world.  But at this point, there’s nothing to announce.

Question:  But is there any date where you thought there would be an announcement… Member States can’t make a decision if Bill de Blasio or [Andrew] Cuomo or the host country says don’t come.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, as it was in the previous year, these were discussions that were had with the host… obviously, with the host country and with Member States.  We will, on the Secretariat’s part, support whatever those Member States decide in their wisdom.

Speaking of which, Mr. Bays.

Question:  Yeah, I’ll follow up on that actually, if I can.  What you do have control over is this building, the Secretariat.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah.

Question:  You were asked a couple of weeks ago about this, but time marches on, and I’m assuming the proportion of staff in UN Headquarters, given vaccinations that everyone over 16 now, is growing and growing and growing.  What are the plans to allow staff to return to work here?  Is there a… is there a… an… actual dates for people to return?  What… when will this take place?

Spokesman:  No, there’s no actual date.  I mean, I think we have to wait a few more weeks until, I think, we see a greater proportion of staff having been vaccinated.  I mean, the rollout has gone really well in New York City, and I know, just anecdotally, that most of the people in my office are… have been fully vaccinated or are close to vaccinate.  We’ll, obviously, be looking at how to increase our presence here.  But in terms of the building, I have no information to share with you just yet.

Question:  Does it begin to start to feel odd when sporting events are reopening, restaurants are re-opening?  It sort of feels like the UN might be the last place in New York to re-open.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I don’t think we’ll be the last place.  I mean, the Secretary-General was very cautious.  And if you’ll remember, he was… this place shut down before other places in New York, and I think, in hindsight and without even any sight, he took the right decision because we avoided the UN becoming any sort of a hotspot.  But we are also… obviously, keep in touch with our… with the host city.  And when I have something to share with you, I will.

All right.  Mr. [Brenden] Varma, all yours.

Toby, are you waving hello or goodbye, or do you have a question?

Question:  Just a quick question for you, Steph.  On the recent killings by police in the US of unarmed young men, young black men, and also on this latest mass shooting, it seems we’re in a very violent period in the United States, and I’m wondering if it’s something that the Secretary-General is following.

Spokesman:  I mean, he’s, obviously, following the news.  I think, like everyone, we’ve been very much distressed by yet other examples of, as you say, young black men being killed by the police.

The Secretary-General has… and I’ll refer back, really, to what I said in June of last… of this year… no, last… sorry, June of last year, where he… I said… we have been saying in many other cases… we’ve seen police violence in this country and other countries that, obviously, each case needs to be investigated.  And we’ve also always said that police forces around the world need to have adequate human rights training.  There also needs to be an investment in social and psychological support for police so they can do their job properly in terms of protecting the community.

I think what is important is that every case be fully investigated and that those who are demonstrating and expressing their anger — and understandably so — do so peacefully and be allowed to do so peacefully.

That’s it.

For information media. Not an official record.