The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Let’s get started, and happy Monday, everyone.
On Myanmar, we’ve been asked by many of you about the travels of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener.
What I can tell you is that we will continue to support ASEAN’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) important role, as reflected in the Special Envoy’s visit to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she held ministerial and other meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting on 24 April.
Timely and comprehensive implementation of ASEAN’s five points of consensus from that meeting will be important. They include a call for immediate cessation of violence and for all parties to exercise utmost restraint, ASEAN humanitarian assistance and constructive dialogue among all to seek a peaceful solution.
We continue to urge the release of all detainees and for the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Secretary-General and his Special Envoy continue to urge for a unified response by Member States and appeal for support to the UN system and regional efforts that can help deter further escalation of the crisis.
The Secretary-General is in Geneva, where tomorrow he will convene the informal 5+1 meeting on the Cyprus issue.
Stéphane [Dujarric] will brief the press in Geneva tomorrow morning to share more details on the meeting, including the heads of delegations.
Over the weekend, Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, voiced his alarm at the recent escalations in Jerusalem and around Gaza. He condemned all such acts of violence and reiterated his call upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and this politically charged time for all.
He said that the provocative acts across Jerusalem must cease. The indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israeli population centres violates international law and must stop immediately, he added.
The UN is still actively working to de-escalate the situation.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, expressed shock and pain yesterday at the enormity of the tragic incident that befell COVID-19 patients at the Ibn Khatib hospital in Baghdad on Saturday night. She offered her deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and wishes the injured a full and speedy recovery.
The Special Representative called for stronger protection measures to ensure that such a disaster cannot reoccur.
And I’d like to add that the Secretary-General shares those sentiments.
The Security Council met this morning on Sudan and South Sudan.
Briefing Council members, the UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, expressed hope that Sudan and South Sudan will continue to build on their improved relations. So far, he said that Sudan and South Sudan have been focusing on their respective political transitions and the fast-moving broader regional dynamics.
Mr. Onanga-Anyanga said he was pleased to report that significant progress has been achieved on resolving the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states with last month’s signing of a Declaration of Principles. This provides for the establishment of a civic, democratic, and federal state where freedom of religion, belief, practices, and worship shall be guaranteed.
Also speaking to the Council was Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, who noted that the general security situation in the Abyei Area has been relatively calm but is volatile and unpredictable.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Lacroix said the UN and its partners have continued to provide vital humanitarian and other assistance in Abyei.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative and the Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Nicholas Haysom, has arrived in the country.
He said that the United Nations is strongly committed to working with the people and leaders of South Sudan to secure stability and eventual prosperity for the world’s newest nation.
Mr. Haysom said that South Sudan is entering a new phase and people’s expectations are high, adding there is real hope for progress in the implementation of the peace agreement and, ultimately, achieving a more durable peace.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Now turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Today, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is warning that a surge of violence in the province of Ituri is worsening the plight of children.
Since January, nearly 175 grave violations against boys and girls have been reported. These include cases of recruitment of children into armed groups, the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence and attacks against schools and hospitals.
More than 1.6 million people are estimated to be displaced in Ituri, out of a total population of 5.7 million. Over 100,000 children under 5 are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Through its Rapid Response Mechanism, UNICEF has provided non-food and hygiene items to more than 8,000 people fleeing recent attacks.
UNICEF is appealing for additional support as its 2021 humanitarian appeal is currently only 18 per cent funded.
Turning to Ethiopia, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that the security situation in the Amhara region remains tense and volatile due to intercommunal clashes that have resulted in massive population displacement, and the looting and destruction of property and infrastructure. The number of casualties is undetermined.
Fighting erupted in Amhara’s North Shewa Zone on 18 March after a person was killed. Attacks two days later displaced at least 60,000 people across North Shewa and Oromia Special Zones. A second wave of attacks on 17 April, in urban centres and along major roads, caused much larger displacement and devastation.
Humanitarian partners haven’t verified displacement figures because of insecurity. However, regional authorities estimate that at least 330,000 people are displaced in both North Shewa and Oromia Special Zones.
Needs and risks assessments will be conducted once the security situation permits.
In neighbouring Somalia, the Federal Government, in consultation with the UN, yesterday declared a drought in the country following delayed and poor successive rain seasons and harsher, warmer weather.
More than 80 per cent of Somalia is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions, with the worst affected areas including parts of Somaliland and Puntland, and the central and Gedo regions.
At least 3.4 million people are projected to be affected by drought by the end of 2021, of whom around 380,000 are expected to be displaced. So far, more than 116,000 people have been displaced by severe water shortages and drought conditions between October 2020 and April 2021.
The UN and its partners have reached 353,000 people with temporary safe water services, 40,000 with improved sanitation and 25,000 with health services. But funding shortfalls are a major challenge in scaling up the response. So far, only 15.5 per cent of the $1.09 billion required to help 4 million of the most vulnerable Somalis in 2021 has been received.
The UN Refugee Agency [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] (UNHCR) and the UN migration agency [International Organization for Migration] (IOM) today said they’re deeply saddened by the loss of at least two lives after a boat capsized off Venezuela’s shores on Thursday.
According to local authorities, at least 24 people including several children are believed to have been on board the boat heading towards Trinidad and Tobago.
Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of UNHCR and IOM for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants, called for the establishment of regular and safe pathways, including through humanitarian visas and family reunification, as well as the implementation of adequate reception mechanisms to prevent the use of irregular routes, smuggling and trafficking.
On Colombia, the country has received its second shipment of 912,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Acting Resident Coordinator Jessica Faieta commended Colombia’s efforts to speed up vaccinations and to contribute financially to the COVAX Facility.
Also in Colombia, the UN team today rejected and condemned violence against human rights defenders, social and community leaders, communities and former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP).
The UN team reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for the immediate cessation of hostilities to enable a proper response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN team also calls for strengthening measures to effectively safeguard the life and rights of all people in territories affected by conflict and violence.
A new report released today by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) says that progress in protecting the world’s forests — and the people who rely on them — is at risk due to the devastating impacts of the pandemic and the escalating climate and biodiversity crises.
According to the report, the world had been making progress in key areas, such as increasing the global forest area through afforestation and restoration. However, these advances are being threatened by the overall worsening state of our natural environment, including land degradation, pests and invasive species, fires, storms and droughts.
The report is being launched as countries begin meetings of the UN Forum on Forests today, which will review progress of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 and its six Global Forest Goals.
More information is available online.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, today warned that while immunization services have started to recover from disruptions caused by COVID-19, millions of children remain vulnerable to deadly diseases. Campaigns to immunize against measles are the most impacted.
To help tackle these challenges and support the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and other partners today launched the Immunization Agenda 2030, an ambitious new global strategy to maximize the lifesaving impact of vaccines through stronger immunization systems. If fully implemented, the Agenda will avert an estimated 50 million deaths.
More information online.
The UN Refugee Agency today announced the appointment of popular TV personality Raya Abirached as a Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa.
Ms. Abirached has been working as a High-Profile Supporter with UNHCR since 2017 and is a powerful voice and advocate for the forcibly displaced around the world. She is the first female Arab to be appointed as UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
**International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day
Today is International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that today we mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 26 April 1986. He said that hundreds of thousands of people were affected by radiation and their suffering must not be forgotten.
The Secretary-General highlighted that the Chernobyl disaster was contained by Governments working with academics, civil society and others, for the common good. He added that it holds important lessons for today’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Secretary-General stressed that disasters know no borders, but together, he said, we can work to prevent and contain them, support all those in need, and build a strong recovery.
**World Intellectual Property Day
Today is also World Intellectual Property Day. This year, the Day focuses on the critical role of small and medium-sized enterprises in the economy and how they can use intellectual property rights to build stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
I have a senior personnel appointment to tell you about. Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica as High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
He will succeed Fekitamoeloa Katoa 'Utoikamanu of Tonga, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for her dedication and commitment to the United Nations.
Currently Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN in New York, Mr. Rattray brings to the position broad-based managerial and leadership experience with a focus on addressing the developmental challenges faced by countries in special situations, particularly in the area of development finance. Much more in our announcement being sent out now.
And last, but by no means least, we say thank you to our friends in Tokyo.
Japan has paid its full payment to the regular budget. We are now at 93 fully paid-up Member States. And we have just 100 more to go!
Once you are done with me, I will turn the floor over to Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. Before we go to him, we will take some questions.
**Questions and Answers
I see there are a couple hands raised in the room. I think, in the front, if I can see more clearly… I can’t quite see who it is, but is it Edie? Please… please, you have the floor, Edie.
Question: First, a follow-up on Myanmar and Christine Schraner Burgener. Can you give us some details of who she met with in Jakarta? Did she try and see anybody from the Myanmar delegation that was there? And what specifically is she going to be doing to follow up on the five points in the ASEAN declaration? Then I have another question.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding that, yes, she had a number of engagements in Jakarta, including with a number of the foreign ministers who were present from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. And she also had a meeting with Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and she does aim to maintain her dialogue with all stakeholders in Myanmar, including military.
Your next question?
Question: No, a follow-up on that. In her meeting with the military commander, did she make an appeal to visit Myanmar without preconditions? What was his response? And what else did they discuss?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t think it would be particularly helpful to share the precise details of the meeting at this stage. The basic point is that she does intend to continue her dialogue with a number of Myanmar stakeholders, and that includes her intention to maintain her dialogue with the military, and so that will go ahead.
Question: My question was about Alexei Navalny and the suspension of all of his offices across the country while a court considers whether they are extremist operations. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this apparent effort to close down the offices of Russia’s leading opposition leader?
Deputy Spokesman: We are looking into these reports. Of course, we made our… clear our concerns about Mr. Navalny’s case, including, of course, our concerns about his reported health conditions and his need for medical treatment. But certainly, we expect that Mr. Navalny and all of his supporters are to be treated fairly, and we will continue to monitor to make sure that their treatment is, indeed, fair and is proceeding in accordance with respect, among other things, for human rights defenders.
Question: Farhan, it’s about Chad. Did the Secretary-General talk with the new President of Chad, Mahamat Idriss Déby? And following Edie’s question, did the Secretary-General had a talk about Navalny with the President [Vladimir]Putin?
Deputy Spokesman: On the question of Navalny, I can’t… I don’t have any details of any contact with President Putin to share.
But regarding your question… your other question, your question on Chad, what I can say is that Special Representative [François] Fall, the Head of the UN Office in Central Africa (UNOCA), continued his own consultations in Chad over the weekend, and he’s been there since last Friday. He represented the Secretary-General at the State funeral for President Idriss Déby Itno and has since been meeting with key national stakeholders in the context of his mandate for good offices and conflict prevention in the region.
The UN stands ready to support the efforts of the African Union and the Chadian stakeholders in this process. A consensual and inclusive return to civilian rule and constitutional order is essential to sustaining peace, and we welcome, in this respect, the appointment today of a civilian Prime Minister, Albert Pahimi Padacke. So, that is what I have to say on that.
I believe Majeed Gly has a question. So, Majeed, over to you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. I have two questions. The first is about Iraq. Turkey started a military operation… another cross-border military operation, against PKK fighters, and this resulted in thousands… or hundreds of villagers leaving their villages on the border. More than 500 villages, due to this continued operation, has been emptied due to this operation. What is the United Nations’ reaction for this? And after that, I have another question. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’ve made clear our concerns about the various armed actions throughout Iraq. And as you know, UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq) has been working with the various parties to make sure that the situation is de-escalated, but I’ll see, in regard to this latest incident, whether we have anything specific to say. [cross talk]
What’s your other?
Question: Yeah. It’s on Turkish military operations. So, second one is on what’s happening in Eastern Europe. I mean, just today, there was… in the last couple of days, there was more… most of the… I would say most of the Eastern European countries expelled Russian diplomats and, in return, Russia also expelled diplomats from Moscow. This tension seems to be rising in Eastern Europe.
Has the Secretary-General had any discussion with the President of Russia or any high-level Russian leadership and also the Ukrainians in that regard? Recently, I’m talking about.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding the situation between Russia and Ukraine, that’s a separate topic on which we’ve expressed our previous concerns, and I have nothing new to add on that.
Regarding the recent issues involving different bilateral relations between some of the Eastern European States, those are, of course, bilateral issues, and we trust and expect that the countries involved will resolve these issues diplomatically, and we express our confidence in them in that effort.
Correspondent: Thank you, Farhan.
Deputy Spokesman: Thanks. Toby, over to you.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Nice to see you. Back to Myanmar for a second, I know that these are sensitive discussions right now, and we can’t go into too many details about the conversation between Special Envoy Schraner Burgener and the military commander, but can you tell us the conditions of their meeting? Like, how long did it last? Did they sit down together? Was this a formal chat? Can you, like, you know, give us the… a description of the conditions of their meeting? Thank you.
[Farhan’s audio and video unavailable]
Florencia Soto: Hi, everyone. So, Farhan’s WebEx just quit. He’s just restarting it now. Please bear with us. Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Hi. Can you turn on my camera? I know you can’t see me, but I’m back. I’m just waiting for my camera to be restarted.
Okay. while I wait for my video, I can take Toby’s question. Toby, you’ll have to restart it. I… my computer suddenly quit, so it’s back. So, can you please ask me your question one more time?
Question: Sure. Can you hear me, Farhan? Is this okay?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, I can hear you. I can hear you.
Question: Thank you. My question is, I know it’s a sensitive discussion that was had between the Special Envoy and the head of the military in Jakarta, so you don’t want to go into details on that. But can you tell us the conditions of the meeting, like, how long did it last? Did they sit down in a formal way? You know, what did this meeting look like procedurally? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have any further details to share. This is part of her… this was part of her engagement; basically, part of her engagement with people on the margins of the meeting of ASEAN in Jakarta. And so, it… one of those meetings was with the commander-in-chief, and she does aim to maintain her dialogue with all the various stakeholders in Myanmar. That’s as much as I can say on this for now.
Okay. James Reinl, I believe, had a question?
Question: Hi, Farhan. Can you hear me?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, I can.
Question: Thanks so much. So, yeah, earlier today, there was a meeting on the COVID pandemic or, rather, on pandemic preparedness and getting us ready for the next one. Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke at it, and it was jointly hosted with Argentina, Japan, Norway and South Africa.
Couple of questions. One of them is, there was suggestion that Kamala Harris, the US Vice President, was going to taking part. Do you happen to know if that did happen?
And also, was anybody from the Secretariat there? And if they were, what was the position from the UN about whether or not we’re ready for the next time a pandemic strikes?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah. On that, yes, this was not an open meeting, but I do believe that the Vice-President of the US, Kamala Harris, was there. The Secretary-General also had a video message to today’s event, which concerned “Pandemic Preparedness and Response Financing Architecture”.
He said that, to respond and recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need more investment in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He said, if we had advanced further on the SDGs, we would have been better prepared to weather the COVID-19 crisis.
He said that, as well as urgently tackling the pandemic at hand, we need to build a global system that deals with problems before they turn into catastrophes. And to end the COVID-19 crisis and prevent new emergencies, he pointed to five areas of focus: First, to work together in solidarity; second, to make peace with nature; third, to increase… to invest in risk surveillance and social safety nets; fourth, to act on pandemic preparedness; and finally, to anticipate crises and act early.
Okay. Wait one second. I think I can start my video now. [cross talk]
Question: Thank you. Sorry. Thank you, Farhan. Just a teeny-weeny quick follow-up. You said that was a video message. Is that one of those video messages that is the weekend access, or do you have a complete transcript of what he said?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s a video message, so we have the transcript as he delivered it to video. I will try to share it with you. We’re checking that, and we’ll try to share that around as soon as we can.
Correspondent: Thank you, dear.
Deputy Spokesman: Okay. And I believe Edie’s hand is up. Edie, you have another question? And then Abdelhamid after you.
Question: A follow-up on Myanmar and then a question on something else. Follow-up on Myanmar, what is the aim of Christine Schraner Burgener in all these meetings? What is she hoping to achieve?
Deputy Spokesman: The basic thing is she wants, in this case, to support ASEAN’s important role and take forward the five points of consensus, and that in particular includes the call for an immediate cessation of violence and also for utmost restraint, the idea of humanitarian assistance from ASEAN, and the idea of constructive dialogue among all for a peaceful solution. And along with that, Ms. Schraner Burgener continues to push for the release of all detainees and for the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Question: Thank you. On a sep… totally different subject, a leading Syrian human rights group today urged the entire international community to reject the Syrian election next month, among other things, because it does not follow what is required in the 2015 Security Council resolution, which calls for UN-supervised elections. Does the Secretary-General have any comment?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, about the elections, it’s clear that the election was called under the auspices of the current Constitution and is not part of the political process established by Security Council resolution 2254. We’re not involved in the election, and we don’t have a mandate to be involved in the election, and I think Stéphane made that clear last week.
At the same time, we continue to stress the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict in Syria. In this regard, resolution 2254 mandates the UN to facilitate a political process that culminates in the holding of free and fair elections in accordance with a new Constitution, administered under UN supervision to the highest international standards, and that are inclusive of all Syrians, including members of the diaspora.
Okay. Abdelhamid and then Mr. Sato and then Edie… and then Evelyn.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Today, Israel decided to shut off the beaches of Gaza to prevent fishermen to go on their daily life in trying to find some fishing. The number of people injured in Jerusalem, over 135. And the whole world has been commenting on what’s going on in Jerusalem except the United Nations. And when I ask Mr. Stéphane Dujarric last Friday, he took me back to the statement of Mr. Wennesland… to Mr. Tor Wennesland, which was three days or two days before but has nothing to do with what happened in Jerusalem. So, why is there is no specific statement from the Special Coordinator about what’s going on now in Jerusalem?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding what’s happening, we, that is to say the Secretary-General and we in the Secretariat, reiterate Special Coordinator Wennesland’s statement of Saturday, in which he expressed alarm at the recent escalations in Jerusalem and around Gaza and called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalations, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan, and we continue to make that call.
And meanwhile, Mr. Wennesland will continue with his work to de-escalate tensions. He met with Israeli officials today, and he’s going to travel tomorrow to Jordan and Egypt for further discussions. So, he is continuing with his work, and we are continuing to speak out in support of him.
Question: Can you confirm, Mr. Haq, that he received a letter from the Israeli officials threatening Gaza of major escalation if they don’t stop these rockets fired at the Israeli towns and settlements?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don’t have any confirmation of that. Like I said, he did meet with the Israeli officials this morning, so he is in discussions with them, and he will be in discussions with Jordanian and Egyptian officials, as well.
Mr. Sato and then Evelyn. Hi.
Question: Hi, Farhan. How are you? So, following up on Myanmar, please, so after ASEAN summit meeting, the member States of ASEAN, including Myanmar, seem to have accepted the Special Envoy of ASEAN, not of the UN. So, how is Special Representative Burgener is going to collaborate with and coordinate with the envoy of ASEAN to meet the UN goal?
Deputy Spokesman: She’ll be in coordination with a number of officials. She did meet the… besides the officials in Myanmar, she did meet with a number of different… of foreign ministers of ASEAN member States, as well. And so, she will continue her work with them and with the envoys of ASEAN. She believes it’s important that ASEAN play a key role in resolving this crisis, and she’s working with them in that.
And Evelyn and then Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do you read the chat? I’ve been trying to put a question in there. Anyway, good to see you. I have a couple questions. The first one is on the… on Myanmar, Burma, ASEAN. ASEAN did not… in fact, deliberately omitted suggestions that it call for the release of detainees, which the Special Envoy, as well as the Secretary-General, has called for. Has there… was there any follow-up after the meeting in this particular very important omission?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, as I said earlier, the Secretary-General and Christine Schraner Burgener continue to push for the release of all detainees, and that is part of her discussions with her interlocutors. And she is moving forward with that issue.
Question: Secondly, Venezuela, the United Nations seems to be playing a bigger role than before, and I wonder if you can elaborate on it. Will any of it be political or strictly humanitarian or what?
Deputy Spokesman: At this stage, there’s nothing particular that is new to say. You know of the work that Eduardo Stein is doing, and that is of a humanitarian nature. There’s nothing to say about any other profile at this point.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Thanks. And Iftikhar.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. You know over the weekend the violence in Afghanistan has escalated. What is being done in this connection to stop it?
And any update on the Istanbul meeting with… for which efforts are being made to fix a date?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, we continue to be in discussions, including through our Special Representative on the ground, Deborah Lyons, about a possible new date. There’s nothing to say about this right now. As you know, we will wait until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and we’ll see what date we can get after that.
And of course, we deplore all the violence that has been happening. You’ll have seen what our Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, has been saying, and we continue to work with the Government of Afghanistan in dealing with these issues.
Deputy Spokesman: And with that, I don’t see any further questions. So, I will turn the floor over to my colleague Brenden Varma. Brenden, over to you.