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23 April 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General — Cyprus

Just wanted to remind you, yet again, that, next week, as you know, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva, for the informal 5+1 meeting on the Cyprus issue.  Those meetings will be held from 27 to 29 April.  I will also be in Geneva next week, so Farhan [Haq] will brief you virtually, but the room will be open.

**Chad

I just want to give you an update on Chad, because we’ve been asked offline and online.  I wanted to confirm to you that François Fall, the UN Special Representative and head of the Office for Central Africa, has been representing the Secretary-General at the late President [Idriss] Déby’s state funeral today.  He will stay on in N’Djamena for several days to initiate contacts and also to meet with a range of stakeholders to encourage national cohesion in these difficult times.

Our current focus remains on the de-escalation of tensions, on sustaining peace and preventing violence and instability.

We understand that the African Union Peace and Security Council met yesterday to consider the situation in Chad.  We are working with them, as well as the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to explore options on how best to support peace and stability in the country.

We are calling on all actors to remain calm and to refrain from any violence that could harm civilians and further complicate an already difficult situation.

Throughout this pivotal moment, the UN Resident Coordinator and the entire UN system in the country continue to support Chad on all issues related to development, peacebuilding and humanitarian response, in coordination with national and international partners.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, we are advised by our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that there are armed clashes that are still being reported in some areas, including around Abiy Adi in the central region of Tigray, restricting humanitarian movement and response.  There are also critical water shortages in most parts of the region.

In response, humanitarian partners and the regional government have deployed 123 water trucks to several areas, including Mekelle and Shire — that targets about 280,000 people.  An additional 285 water trucks are required over the next three months, based on recent needs assessments.

The Government has also reported the arrival of 75,000 newly displaced people in Shire over the past week.  This brings the total number of internally displaced [people] in Shire to nearly half a million men, women and children.  Most of the displaced are living with host communities.  Others are in 15 displacement sites, most of which have reportedly not received any assistance over the past two to three months.

While there have been some improvements in humanitarian access in Tigray, we continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to scale up the humanitarian response to help all people in need.  More funding is also urgently needed.

**Central African Republic

And in the Central African Republic, the UN Mission there (MINUSCA) is telling us that the Deputy Head of Mission, Denise Brown, met with the President of the National Electoral Authority in Bangui earlier this week.  They discussed the 23 May legislative elections, including security-related issues.

Ms. Brown reiterated the Mission’s readiness to provide support to secure the polls and assume the responsibility for the deployment of electoral materials.  Our Mission colleagues will bring this material from Bangui to the prefectures and then to local offices of the national electoral authority.  The Mission will also assist in the repatriation of the results, in line with the Mission’s mandate.

**Myanmar

On Myanmar, the UN team on the ground today reiterated its call for the protection of health facilities and health workers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since 1 February, the date of the coup, there have been 120 recorded attacks on health-care facilities, resulting in 11 deaths and 48 injuries.  This comprises three quarters of all attacks on health care worldwide in the same period.

The UN team is also deeply concerned over the reported continued occupation by security forces of at least 38 health facilities across the country.  Many of these sites have reported a drop in the number of people seeking, voluntarily, medical help.

At least 139 doctors, including highly specialized health personnel, believed to be participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement have reportedly been charged under the Myanmar Penal Code.

Our colleagues stress that hospitals are, and must remain, a place of sanctuary and neutrality so that patients seeking care and health professionals providing care are able to do so without fear or hesitation or any sort of harassment or imprisonment, and that these people and their facilities are safe at all times.

**Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

A quick update for you from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines:  The first members of the UN migration [agency’s] (IOM) emergency response team arrived today to deliver essential shelter and emergency items to thousands of people who were forcibly displaced following the eruption of La Soufrière volcano.

The team will also provide technical guidance at shelters where more than 6,000 people now live.  A shipment of approximately 1,200 hygiene kits and cleaning equipment will also arrive from Trinidad and Tobago in the next few hours.

More information on the IOM’s website.

**Green Investment Forum

Today, the Secretary-General spoke, via a pre-recorded video message, to the European Union-Africa Green Investment Forum.  He said that, as the world works to address the pandemic and combat climate change, the Forum is an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and boost investment in Africa for the benefit of all.

He said that the two regions’ agendas converge around financing a green transition and greater resilience and he underscored the need to accelerate investments in key areas such as coupling job creation with green technologies, creating incentives for industry to transition to green energy solutions, investing in adaptation and resilience, as well as investing in start-ups and providing risk guarantees for private investments.

**Pakistan

You will have seen that, yesterday, we issued a statement on the situation in Pakistan, where we condemned the attack that had taken place at the Serena Hotel in Quetta on 21 April, and that has been shared with you.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he is actually in Goma today, in the east, where he met with people who have been displaced by violence in that area, especially in the north-east of the DRC.

Earlier this week, the High Commissioner travelled to the region bordering the Central African Republic.  According to authorities, 92,000 refugees arrived there in the past four months, following post-election violence in the Central African Republic.

Mr. Grandi said that poor road conditions make delivering humanitarian assistance in this isolated area a huge challenge.  He praised local villagers, who have shared their shelters and food with refugees.

As he concludes his three-day visit in the country, Mr. Grandi is calling for stepped up international support and solidarity.

UNHCR’s 2021 appeal for the area is for $204.8 million, and it is only 16 per cent funded.

**COVAX

A couple of COVID-related notes:

Today, Moldova has received its third shipment of COVAX vaccines.  These doses will target the elderly, teachers, social workers, security officers and journalists.  As of today, more than 100,000 people have received their first dose.

The number of COVID-19 infections among medical staff has dropped 75 per cent over the six weeks of the vaccine campaign.

Moldova is expected to receive another shipment from COVAX in two months.

In Mexico, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), which is WHO’s American counterpart, says authorities yesterday received more than 1 million doses of vaccines to support the national vaccination campaign.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic — COVID-19

In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, our UN team there, led by the Resident Coordinator, Sara Sekkenes Tollefsen, continues to support the national COVID-19 prevention and vaccination campaigns.

WHO and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in Laos are working on communications campaigns, including on safe behaviour during the pandemic, which has reached millions of people so far.

Our team has also worked to ensure that migration occurs safely and that workers in the garment industry know how to prevent COVID-19 infections.

**Smallholder Farmers

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today released research showing that the world’s smallholder farmers produce around a third of the world’s food.  According to FAO, five of every six farms in the world are smaller than two hectares.  These farms operate only around 12 per cent of all agricultural land and produce roughly 35 per cent of the world’s food.

FAO noted that the analysis highlights the importance of improved and harmonized data to obtain a more granular and accurate picture of agricultural activities for policymakers.

**Senior Personnel Appointments

A couple of senior personnel appointments:

One, the Secretary-General is appointing Leonid Frolov of the Russian Federation as Executive Director of the Office of the UN Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — that is the official name.

He succeeds our friend Vladimir Goryayev of the Russian Federation, who retired in 2020.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Goryayev’s leadership of the Register of Damage and his dedicated service to the United Nations for over three decades.

Mr. Frolov has served since 2017 as Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the State of Israel.  He previously served in the Foreign Service of the Russian Federation since 1994.  We welcome him.  More information is being sent out in a note.

Just to underscore that, yesterday afternoon, we sent out a senior personnel appointment that said that Achim Steiner of Germany has been confirmed as Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for a further four-year term.

Achim, as you know, has championed sustainability, economic growth and equality, and has been a vocal advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  We congratulate Achim and we are happy he will be with us for another four years.

**International Days

A whole bunch of International Days!

Today is the World Book and Copyright Day.  Do we know why it is celebrated on 23 April?  No?  Because that is the day on which William Shakespeare, and Miguel de Cervantes passed away — different years, same day.

Today is also English Language Day and Spanish Language Day, and that is also linked to that.

Tomorrow is a day that really should be celebrated every day, and that is the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace […], and it is also the first day of a very important week, and that is World Immunization Week.  With the theme “Vaccines bring us closer”, the Week this year will show how vaccination connects us to people, goals and moments that matter to us the most, helping to improve the health of everyone, everywhere throughout life.

And Sunday is World Malaria Day, as well as International Delegate’s Day.  I did not know there was an International Delegate’s Day — when is the International Spokesperson’s Day?

**Financial Contributions

Let’s end on some good news, coming to us from two places not close to each other — that’s Bridgetown and Cairo.  So, we thank Egypt for paying us in full, that’s 92.  Anybody know — Bridgetown is the capital of which country?  […] Yes, we thank our friends in Barbados and Egypt.  That took us to 92 [Member States who have paid in full].

**Questions and Answers

All right.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thanks, Steph.  Two questions.  I was wondering if the COVAX initiative has sent out any vaccines to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.  And also, do you have any update for us on who will be replacing the OCHA chief, Mr. Mark Lowcock?

Spokesman:  On your second question, no.  As you know, the recruiting process is under way.  As soon as we have an announcement, I will be the first to share it with you, so I do not keep these things under my vest.

On the other issue, I would encourage you to check the COVAX website to see what has been shared with Bangladesh.  The… through the COVAX facility…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  No, no, I know, but what I’m saying is that we… through the COVAX facilities, they are sent to Member States, and then we very much hope that Member States share them with everyone who is living on their territory regardless of their status.  But check with the COVAX facility.  We can give you those details.

Yes, Lenka?

Question:  Thank you.  Any more update on who is going to meet the Myanmar ENVOY?  Is she meeting the authorities, or how many meetings is she going to have?  And will there be any update on Sunday?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Yeah, so, she is currently in Jakarta, as we had said.  This is part of her consultations in the region.  She continues to… having a number of meetings, including on the side-lines of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) leaders’ meeting.

We are… I’m not in a position to update you today on the list of meetings she has or she’ll be having.  If all goes well, we may have something on Sunday or, more likely, on Monday.

Okay.  I think I see Toby waving his hand, and then I’ll look in the chat, what else there is.  Go ahead, Toby.

Correspondent:  I had precisely the same question as Lenka, so I’m all good.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Jennifer, please, and then Abdelhamid.

Question:  Hi.  Thank you.  I just wondered whether you had any thoughts on the announcement today or overnight that Russia’s pulling troops back from the Ukrainian border.

Spokesman:  Well, I think we welcome any move that helps de-escalate tensions in that area.  We had expressed our concern at a number of events that had led to a rising of tensions.  I think any move that lowers the tensions, as we would expect this would do, is to be welcomed.

Correspondent:  Thanks.

Spokesman:  Who am I looking for…?  Abdelhamid.  Sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I was expecting that you mention what’s going on in Jerusalem.  According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, 105 Palestinians were wounded, some of them in… still in the hospital, after those Jewish extremists roaming in the streets of Jerusalem, beating Palestinians and destroying their cars.

As you know, Friday, there’s a Palestinian walk to Jerusalem to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque, and that’s where the confrontation started at the checkpoint, but it went through the streets of Jerusalem.  Why there is no mention of these important developments?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we’ve, obviously, seen what’s happened overnight, which was part of a pattern of things we have seen since the beginning of Ramadan, and Mr. [Tor] Wennesland addressed this directly in his remarks yesterday at the Security Council.

Okay.  Any other questions in the chat, anywhere else?  Raise your hand.  We will give Brenden [Varma] a chance to speak…

Question:  Just, I have another question…

Spokesman:  Yes.  Go ahead.

Question:  … on Western Sahara.  It seems that there is a deadlock now on selecting a Special Envoy, according to what we understood from the closed consultation of the Security Council.  Do you have any update, or can you share with us any glimpse of hope that there will be an agreement of the issue?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, we continue… as the Secretary-General often says, he’s neither pessimistic or optimistic; he’s determined.  And he continues to… his efforts to try to find a personal envoy.  It is not an easy task.  I mean, you have seen the same reporting as I have of different people being rumoured to have been blocked for one reason or another.

We will… on the Secretary-General’s end, the fact that there is no personal envoy in place is not from lack of trying, and he will continue to move in that direction.

Alan?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  as we all know, a number of permanent representatives are getting vaccinated already from COVID.  Does that fact… is that fact getting us closer to the moment when the Security Council will convene in person?  How do you think… what’s your opinion?

Spokesman:  Well, as we’ve often said, the Security Council are the masters of their domain, so they will… and we’ve seen over the last… since… I mean, let’s say over the last year, since the start of this lockdown, different presidencies approach it in different ways.  Right?

We, as far as the Secretariat is concerned, will support whatever decision is taken by the Council, whatever decision is taken by the presidency.  They’ve had some… they sometimes have meeting in the Council Chamber.  They’ve had meeting in the, I think, ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) or Trusteeship Council Chamber.  They’ve had online meetings.  Whatever they decide, we will be there and support, but it is their decision.

Okay.  Mr. Varma.  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Sorry.  Sorry, Steph.  One… One more question for you.

Spokesman:  Yes, Toby.

Question:  Thank you.  Were you able to check yesterday about what the definitive document from the UN is on the recommendation for a carbon tax?

Spokesman:  Personally, no, but let me check.  I don’t always remember what I’m supposed do, but I will… oh, I’m told there is… the answer is, from someone who knows more about these things than I do, there is no definitive document at this point.

So, on that note, I will see you in a week, and I will leave you in the hands of Mr. Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.